weekend open thread – May 28-29, 2022

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand.

Here are the rules for the weekend posts.

Book recommendation of the week: Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus. A scientist in the 1960s fights sexism, becomes a cooking show star (insisting the whole time that she is a chemist, not a chef), raises a dog and a child, and fights more sexism. It’s darkly funny, quirky, and satisfying.

I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.

it’s your Friday good news

It’s your Friday good news!

1.  “I have worked for the same company since graduating, and have been there nearly 8 years. I felt relatively well paid … until the company paused pay rises during the pandemic and that came at the same time as me taking on loads more responsibility. To their credit, my company did promote me (multiple times) but I didn’t get much extra pay with that. I knew that other people at my grade were earning significantly more, and though they also had more years experience, I was/am getting good feedback and knew that I do a good job!

I don’t want to leave, but also looking at the salaries other companies were offering, started to feel like I was leaving money on the table. And the others at my grade at my site are all men and I am a woman in tech who has had to work to not undervalue myself.

A good friend at my grade told me how much he earned, which was super helpful because it showed me that actually my company is not out of step with the market and they can pay the salary I would like. So I got some advice on the friday thread, then built up the courage to talk to my manager about it.

My manager, who is absolutely great and a key reason I am happy in my job, reacted really well. He couldn’t give me an answer in the moment but didn’t bat an eyelid at the amount I proposed as pay I’d be happy with, and was clear that they are invested in keeping me.

A few weeks later, I get the news that I’m getting a $28k pay raise (!!). I am so so happy that my company values the work I do and agrees I deserve more, and would like to thank AAM (both my regular reading and the helpful commenters) for helping me have the confidence to ask. I managed to phrase things in a way that made me sound invested in the company and the culture, without having to threaten directly to leave. My manager said that they were already aware my pay was not right, but I do not think they would have fixed it so quickly, nor necessarily have given me such a big bump if I didn’t ask. Thank you!”

2.  “I wrote to you about a year ago talking about how my job was very supportive with my name transition and everything else through my divorce. They have continued to be supportive in many ways, but I’d grown a little bit less in love with the job. I had grown the program I was running, making well above the projected revenue for the year and got enough new interested parties that it was looking like we were going to have to hire a part time person to help with the workload. I asked for a title bump during my annual review in January and was told that the conversation would happen up the ladder, but I haven’t heard anything about it since.

As of Friday, I don’t need to worry about it! I got a new, amazing job at a really cool company doing really cool stuff. And it’s one of those situations that I’ve heard of but never thought would happen to me where it was down to the top two candidates and they gave the job to the other person, but created a position just for me! The interviews were like a conversation, I asked the magic question, and I said something I don’t say out loud too often. I said I am smart. And it paid off! The new position is partly what I interviewed for and partly like what I’m currently doing. I was stunned! I didn’t negotiate on salary (which I know is a no-no) but I was absolutely gobsmacked by the 65% pay increase of their first offer! I just said yes! I did get a week off between jobs and a preapproved week of vacation in November for a friend’s birthday vacation.

There are so many exciting things with this job. It’s my first time in a new industry in over a decade, and it feels like a ‘big kid’ job, even though I’ve been a professional for a while. I’m just over the moon to be doing something so new and cool and to be making enough money to not have to worry about rent. Thank you for your resume, cover letter, and interview advice! I can’t wait to use your column to help me navigate my new office culture!”

3.  “I’ve been a reader for a few years…and your site and the commentariat have helped me to really understand that I work at a truly dysfunctional place. It’s a family-owned company which, on the face of it, isn’t a bad thing, but I share my time between 2 facilities and there is zero consistent leadership or direction and seemingly no adults manning the ship. There have been so many letters where I have thought, “Wait…that isn’t the way you should run things?” In my current role, during our peak production, we work 7-day weeks for up to 8 weeks, and I’m just not willing to do that anymore. I finally stopped seeing leaving as ‘betraying my coworkers’ and ‘leaving the company in a tight situation.’

In the last few weeks, I threw out a couple resumes just to see if I’d get a bite. I got one interview right away, and one with another company soon after. One HR director said my resume (built on your tips and pointers) was one of the best he’s seen in 15 years, and asked if I’d used a resume-writing service to create it. I went into a second round of interviews with an offer already in-hand from the first company, used your interview guide to prep, and they were openly impressed with your magic question. I told them I had another offer already, and scarcely made it to the car before I had a request to take a call from their top management that evening!

The next morning I woke up to an offer that was higher than I requested, from a company that I respect, where I can use knowledge and skills I’ve worked hard to learn, and where I already feel appreciated. I put in my notice today, and my boss (or, I wish I was exaggerating, one of my *SIX* bosses) told me, ‘I keep reading about the Great Resignation but I can’t believe it’s happening to me!’ Hm. Go figure? Another of my many bosses has called and hung up on me 3 times. Just in case I wanted to rethink my situation, this makes my decision even easier.

I can’t thank you enough for your blog and all its resources, and for the wonderful comments that helped slowly lead me from ‘this isn’t ideal’ to ‘this isn’t right’ to ‘this is toxic and I deserve better!’ I am ready to make 2022 my year! Thank you from the bottom of my heart…and my wallet!”

open thread – May 27-28, 2022

It’s the Friday open thread!

The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on any work-related questions that you want to talk about (that includes school). If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to take your questions to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please do not repost it here, as it may be in my queue to answer.

should I take a job where the CEO is a dick, coworker wants training on things that aren’t her job, and more

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. Should I take a job where the CEO is a dick?

I have a final round interview at a company that seems fine. In a previous round I met a C-suite person who said something along the lines of “the CEO isn’t a good people manager.” That C-suiter mentioned that he is good friends with a C-suiter at my current company (I just got laid off so I can talk openly about interviews). I asked that person if he knew anything about the company and he said “The CEO is not the type of leader I would want to report to.” My current boss had previously interviewed there and told me bluntly that the CEO is a dick. My job would be director level and there would still be three levels between the CEO and me (he would be my great-great-grandboss), so it doesn’t seem like the CEO’s dickiness would really affect me. Everyone I met who I would be working directly with has been there for 3-5 years and seemed perfectly happy, but my current boss strongly advised me not to go there. How much can a CEO with a bad personality affect a middle manager?

There’s often a sort of trickle-down dickishness effect when the person at the top is a dick. It can happen even if the managers under him are good people, because a dick at the top puts pressure on lower level managers in ways that can warp the way they manage. (I’ll never forget working with someone who had always seemed lovely, let’s call her Jane, and finding out she had lectured a remote employee for not answering the phone while they were in the bathroom. The reason? Her own boss, Bob, was a supreme a-hole who behaved like a tyrant most of the time, and the pressure from Bob was trickling down from Bob to Jane to Jane’s staff.)

Usually when you have good people managing beneath a jerk, they’ll try to act as a buffer for their staffs … but there’s only so much buffering you can do, and it really does tend to trickle down in one way or another.

If you generally trust your boss’s judgment, I’d put a lot of weight on her warning.

2. I said I’d leave this summer but I’m being pushed out now

I began working at this company in December 2020. Once I started I didn’t get trained properly, but I managed to figure out and implement a better system. I knew from the beginning I was overqualified, but I needed a job so I was grateful. When my boss noticed my work ethic, he started giving me other tasks that were outside of my job description. I asked for a raise because I was handling more duties and he told me no because I had not been working there for a year.

In December 2021, I submitted my resignation to go back to school to pursue my masters in January. My boss ignored me for two days and when I confronted him about it, he said that we should have talked before I resigned. I had explained in my resignation letter why I was leaving. I told him I wanted more pay and going back to school would make me more competitive in the job market, and that with my current position I cannot do school and work. He then managed out an employee and lied to us about the reasoning. He told me I would be taking over her position, which is a lot more work, and that I could work from home on the days I had school. I asked for a pay adjustment and he said no since he had already given me a raise for this new position and was doing me the favor of letting me work from home. I checked my paystub and there was a raise which happened in November, so that raise was not for my new position. It was also not what I had asked for, nor anything I had negotiated.

Three months later, I asked for a raise again because I knew damn well I am overqualified, and he said no. I told him that I was not planning on staying with the company for the full year and would resign in the summer. (I didn’t give him an exact month or date. I just said summer.) I thought I was being honorable by giving him a notice. But he just called me and said he found a replacement for me so I can stop working whenever I want. It feels like I’m getting let go, but he didn’t state that I am. He said I only have until June if I want to stay but he has a replacement already. I didn’t exactly understand what was happening since technically I have not resigned, but it felt like I was getting let go without getting let go. Should I even put in my two weeks?

Yeah, once you announce you’re leaving, you often lose control over the exact timing of when it happens. A lot of employers will start searching for your replacement at that point, and if they find one sooner than you’re ready to leave, you can end up getting pushed out before you planned to go. Good managers try to avoid this because it can mean no one else ever gives them a generous amount of notice ever again … but it definitely happens.

Do you want to stay longer, or would you rather leave now? It doesn’t sound like you’d necessarily need to give a full two weeks notice, but that’s something you should check with your boss. Once you’re at the point where you’d be willing to leave in the next two weeks, it’s fine to say, “Would you like me to give two weeks notice or would you prefer I wrap up now?” You don’t have to give him the choice, but ideally you don’t want future reference-checkers told you left abruptly. (Theoretically he shouldn’t say that since his whole point seems to be that you did give notice by saying you’d leave in the summer … but I wouldn’t trust him not to twist it if you give him the opportunity.)

3. My coworker wants to be trained on things that have nothing to do with her job

I have a coworker who has been at our company for three years. She was hired for accounts receivable and back up front office duties. Since coming to work here, she has shown a pattern of wanting to do everyone else’s job. At first, she tried to butt into my work and I politely tried to tell her that I had everything under control. Since then, she says she wants to be trained on running a forklift and how to run the production line, and has even gone so far as to say that she wants to be trained on how to maintain and repair large machinery. Most of her requests are largely ignored, but she does not realize that it’s not her responsibility to do those things and she has not been asked to do those things.

I was taught that you do your job, you do it well, and you focus on your own work. If management needs me to help in other areas, I am more than willing to help if necessary, but I’m not going to interject myself into a situation where I am not needed or qualified.

There have been times when she’s been needed in accounts receivable and isn’t available because she’s off “helping” somewhere else. Is this the new attitude these days? I’m not sure what to make of this situation.

It’s not the new attitude these days. It’s your one highly enthusiastic coworker and management that apparently isn’t reining her in.

Side point of interest: there has been a dramatic explosion in the number of questions I get asking if one strange situation is a new trend. I never used to see that framing much in my inbox, and now I see it multiple times a day. My theory is that it’s because so much has changed in the last couple of years, and so many things we used to assume would be too outrageous to happen have happened … so it’s hard to tell if something is one random weird situation or part of a bigger pattern of change.

4. Is a life update email a creepy way to keep in touch?

My peers occasionally write me emails subjected “Update” and share what’s going on with them. Sometimes they are long paragraphs and sometimes it is a few short sentences.

I want to do this too! But I am not sure how. What is appropriate or not appropriate? New job? New volunteer gig? Moving? Marriage or new kids? When does it cross the line? How frequently should update emails go out? How long should the be?

Who is the appropriate audience? A former colleague one job ago? Three jobs ago? A professor from two years ago? Professor from undergrad (half a decade ago)? Old classmates?

Just trying to figure out a way to keep in touch in a more personal (but not creepy or intense) way aside from LinkedIn posts and casual Twitter interactions.

Yes, it’s a good way to keep in touch with professional contacts who you otherwise might not talk to for years. Typically I’d say to aim for once a year or so, although two wouldn’t be excessive if you had really big professional news to share, like a new job. Your content depends on what you have to share. If you have a new job, that’s the easiest focus. But it’s also fine to mention stuff like volunteer work, an impressive new project, or interesting/impressive results from a project (just keep the details pretty brief unless you know the person you’re writing to has a special interest in that area). You can also include any big personal developments that you want to share, like marriage, kids, or a relocation. (I wouldn’t make the personal stuff your focus, but you can sprinkle it in there as additional things that are happening with you.) And if you don’t have big news to share, it’s fine to skip all/most of the updating and just frame it as “it’s been a long time, wondered how you were doing, thought of you this week when I did X the way you taught me to” or similar.

As for who — anyone you want to stay in professional contact with and/or might want to use as a reference or network with at some point.

interview candidates have stopped giving me their availability when I ask for it

A reader writes:

I work in the public sector as a manager of a library. I’ve been in this position for a little over a year, but have had other library management jobs for the past 5-ish years. Due to the lower wages (above state minimum, but by only like a dollar) and mostly part-time positions that we offer, we tend to lose people quickly and that has only accelerated since the pandemic. I totally understand, and a lot of our folks usually get a full-time job at another library location or local government office in the county, so we don’t really “lose” them (we’re more of a “foot in” or a stepping stone for their career ambitions) but we do have pretty frequent part-time turnover. It’s part of the market right now, and it means that I’m having to hire 2-3 part-time people every 3 months. I do what I can to keep people — I have no control over wages since they’re set by the board/county government, but we offer flexible schedules and training opportunities, recommend folks to full-time jobs or higher paying jobs with the county library/government when those positions open, thank staff for jobs well done, buy people’s favorite candy/food/coffee for the break room, give clear feedback, and offer chances to do fun or interesting projects when they come up.

My question is a change that I have noticed from candidates and whether there’s anything I can do to minimize how frequently it happens. When I set up interviews with candidates, I send an email that has info on the position, what the phone screen looks like, what the process is, etc. Then I’ll say, “We are setting up phone interviews for X, Y and Z days next week. Please let me know your full availability for those 3 days and I will get back to you ASAP with the day and time of your phone screen.” Prior to the shifts in the job market, about 80% of the time people would send back their full availability, and 20% would be vague, ask for a specific time due to schedule constraints, or decide they didn’t want to go through with it. Within the past 6 months, maybe 1 or 2 candidates total in each pool will give me their availability. The rest will just pick a time and act as though they’re the ones scheduling the interview. One of the most recent examples was a candidate who said, “Thank you for reaching out to me. I’ll be glad to consider your offer and look forward to speaking with you at 9 am on Monday.” No context, no “oh my schedule is tight so I can only do this one slot,” just “I’m picking my time.”

This used to be rare but now it is all the time. The most recent pool, I sent out 10 phone screen requests and all of them “scheduled” themselves for 9 am on Monday apart from one, who on paper is the top candidate, so them following the availability directions has been another point in their favor.

Our pools tend to be people right out of high school/college. Is this, like, new career advice that’s being touted somewhere? Is the email that I send asking for availability not clear enough? How could I stress that I need someone’s full availability so I can do the calendar Tetris game to fit everyone in?

As of now, I’ve just been slotting the first person to get back with me with the time they “schedule” and responding to other emails with “Sorry, I already have filled that slot — please give me your full availability for X, Y and Z days and I will email you back with your interview day and time.” But even then, about half the people will just pick another specific date/time and do the same thing again! Apart from anything I can clarify or change to smooth the process, if I continue to get emails from candidates who don’t follow directions, is there any reason I can’t just say “thanks for your interest, but with these schedule restrictions, we’ll have to pass on this round — keep applying to future openings if they fit your experience and career goals” and remove them from our interview pool?

This is weird!

I do think, though, that you might be making this harder on yourself than it needs to be. Can you figure out all possible interview times on your end first and then just create an online calendar with those openings and let people book what works for them, thus eliminating the back and forth?

As for why it’s happening, my hunch is that it’s a combination of:

(a) dealing with people right out of school who don’t have much experience with business protocol yet, including basic stuff like interview scheduling — because this current crop of new grads has less experience on average than new grads previously, because pandemic restrictions mean they’ve had fewer in-office internships and other on-the-job training

(b) the low-wage, part-time nature of the job, which means the strongest candidates with the best options (who are more likely to read, process, and respond to an email effectively) aren’t in your pool at all, especially in this job market


(c) maybe some resistance to the set-up from candidates who feel it’s an inconvenience to them to have to send over full availability for multiple days and then hold those times open for who knows how long before they hear back … something that could be drawing more resistance in the current job market, where more candidates feel empowered to assert more control than previously.

I’d bet switching to an online booking system would solve it!

interviews with a prison librarian, a brothel receptionist, an Arctic Circle lab worker, and other interesting jobs

Do you know this site has a whole section of interviews with people with interesting jobs? Here’s the complete list:

a former receptionist at a legal brothel

a lab worker at the Arctic Circle

an incredibly diplomatic person … or how to agreeably disagree

a former professional matchmaker

a prison librarian

a children’s entertainer

a professional belly dancer

a 16-year-old working her first summer job

a budget and money coach

a private investigator

a nanny for a famous psychic

an office admin in the adult industry

an employee at a majority-autistic company

an employee at an employee assistance program (EAP)

a person who responds to Glassdoor reviews for her company

an ombuds

should I let my parents help me network?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

My question is about networking and family. My parents and I are in the same field, and I definitely was helped from the very beginning of my career by their experience and connections. Now that I’m finishing graduate school however, I feel that I want to take a fully independent approach to my job searching.

My mother was unfortunately a bit upset when I turned down her offer to connect me with some people she knows in one of the companies I’m somewhat interested in applying to. My view is that I don’t want people to see me as someone’s daughter and have my merits stand on their own, and I don’t want to be swayed by my mother’s interests. Am I being stubborn and giving up on important information and connections by rejecting my mother’s help?

Probably, but you’re also allowed to be uncomfortable with it. Readers, what’s your take?

my boss hasn’t talked to me in a year, a coworker named Babe, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss hasn’t spoken to me in a year, but quitting feels like letting him win

I am a dept manager at a small nonprofit for a cause I’m passionate about. I report to our exec director. I’ve been here five years. it’s become clear that my boss does not care about our mission and I think he operates unethically. I have pushed back on some things I thought were inappropriate, and our relationship has deteriorated. For the past year, he will not meet with me or reply to emails with more than a yes/no. He sends me messages through other managers or my direct reports. It is unbelievably juvenile and it would be humiliating, except I have a good rapport with my staff and they do not respect my boss. I talked to one member of our board and he indicated they want to keep our director in his role. They seem to turn a blind eye to some of his more unethical practices because he keeps us operating in the black.

I know he is trying to force me out and I would like to leave. I know it would be better for my mental health. This organization is not effective as it could be and I obviously can’t succeed while being frozen out. But walking away feels like letting him win and it makes me so angry! My team does good work with crummy support, and I believe in them. Plus we are kind of a niche field, and I may need to change fields or move cities to find another job. What huge life changes to make because of this person.

Is it crazy to stay and try to make it work, accepting that my boss won’t speak to me and just ignoring it? I think if he wants me to leave he should say that directly, and part of me wants to stay just to spite him. That’s dumb, right?

Well, yeah. You’re prioritizing the principle of the thing over your mental health and quality of life — and your career too, since you can’t thrive in an environment where your boss is freezing you out (more on that here). This guy is a jerk and a terrible manager; who cares if he gets to feel like he “won” somehow? Buying into his worldview like that gives him a ton of power over you career and your happiness.

You lose by staying. You win by choosing a better situation.

2. I want to receive projects by email, not IM

I have a strong preference for receiving written task assignments and requests for work by email. I also have colleagues who prefer to send and receive these through our messaging platform. I’m not anti-platform! I use it cheerfully for many purposes, including answering questions, etc., that can be answered off the top of my head. And if I’m on a call or in person, I take my own action-item notes and that’s fine.

But I have a number of colleagues who like to send full-on requests for work through the platform: multiple paragraphs of instructions, documents that need my review or contribution, complex questions that I’ll have to research to answer, etc. Everyone is very gracious when I ask them to redirect to email (and explain that doing so will make sure the task stays on my radar), but I can’t help wondering if this is reasonable of me. On the one hand, if it only takes a minute to email myself the relevant info and it feels silly to ask other people to change their process to save me a minute. On the other, that minute multiplied by the number of requests does add up, and sending the email in the first place wouldn’t take any longer than sending it through the messaging platform. But is this a changing professional norm that I should be adapting to instead of cheerfully pushing back against?

Possibly relevant: I have a disability that means that I live and die by my organizational systems. I have an established system for managing my work that works really well for my role and for my quirky brain … and that system involves the use of email folders. I’m open to adjusting my systems when better ways present themselves, but I’ve not yet figured out a good way to get what I need from our messaging platform without pulling the assignment out of the platform altogether. So my resistance is coming less from a place of convenience than a place of being significantly more likely to drop a ball if it gets tossed to me via this one particular route.

Possibly also relevant: I’m a program manager and the messaging-based requests mostly come from more junior staff and occasionally from peers; my supervisory chain and most peers tend to share my approach. That said, I’m zero percent interested in inconveniencing junior staff if I’m being a jerk about this!

You’re not being a jerk about it. Every communication platform is good for some things and not for others. Instant messaging is great for quick, real-time questions. It’s not great for more involved things with lots of details that will get buried there. It’s entirely reasonable to say, “Could you please email that to me so I don’t lose these details?” And if you say it enough, over time you’ll likely train people to do it that way in the first place.

If your boss or others above you were doing this, you’d need to be more accommodating — although even then if it were a pattern there would be room for speaking up at some point — but with junior staff and peers, you really don’t need to dance around it.

3. A coworker called Babe

I used “Surprise me!” on your site, and found an old letter where a man who went by King was asked not to use that name on his new job. You said it was ridiculous that the company had asked him to change his name and that people should be called the name that they prefer. I agree but…

When I was a woman in my 20s, I worked on a small team of programmers. The company hired a new employee as our our team leader. His resume said his name was Michael and we called him Michael in his interviews. He did not correct us. I greeted him on his first day, calling him Michael. He immediately said, “I go by Babe.” I misunderstood him and looked a bit puzzled. He said, “You heard me. Call me Babe.” I tried at first, but he turned out to arrogant and unpleasant to women and I had trouble calling him Babe. If I called him Michael, he always said “Call me Babe” with what felt like sexual innuendo. To be fair, he also asked men to call him Babe though I am sure without any sexual undertone. If he had ever said something like, “Babe, you know like Babe Ruth” it could have felt totally different.

At the time, I spoke to other younger women in my office who had the same reaction. We went to our big boss and asked her if we could call him Michael. She said as long as we treated him with respect, we could call him by his real name and didn’t have to use the nickname. So to his face we either avoided calling him anything or called him Michael.

He didn’t last long. His project failed and he was a poor fit for our culture. So he and the problem disappeared. Now I’m wondering. I refused to call him the name he said he had been called all his life. And the company backed me up. What do you think? As the Reddit subgroup says, AITA?

It doesn’t sound like your discomfort was about the nickname specifically, but rather about this guy himself and the way he acted toward women. It’s reasonable to feel uneasy about that!

But people’s names should be respected. There isn’t an exception for “I think he might be doing this to make people uncomfortable” — in large part because it’s very hard to know that for sure, and if you make exceptions based on your personal discomfort or a suspicion, you open the door for people to be disrespectful about names that are really just people’s names. (The fact that he went by Michael in the interview doesn’t really mean anything. It’s not uncommon for people to use their formal, legal names in interviews but go by a nickname once they’re hired.) If you do think someone is messing with you, the best way to handle it is to just use their name flatly and matter-of-factly as requested without protest; if it’s their name you’re being respectful, and if it’s not your non-reaction will take the fun out of it for them.

4. My employee is sick with Covid, but still working from home

I just became a manager a few weeks ago, and one of my team members has Covid. She took most of a week off, but when we checked in the next week, she told me she was working from bed (we’re hybrid but obviously she’s exempt from in-office time right now), and frankly sounded horrible.

I encouraged her to take the time she needs, but she said she was worried about using all of her sick time. I sent her info about our workplace’s short term disability policy, told her to rest during the day as much as she needs to, and we took some things off her plate. Is there anything else I should be doing? Bottom line — I feel horrible that she is working! And angry that all the early-pandemic extra sick leave is gone (but that’s just another aspect of my general rage about everyone deciding that Covid is over).

She shouldn’t be working while she’s sick.

She also has limited sick leave, and an understandable fear of running out of it when she’s still got seven months left in the year.

Telling her “please don’t work; you need to rest” sounds good in theory, but it might be out of touch with the reality of her situation, even though ideally that’s what you’d do. So … can you take the lead on finding other options for her — whether it’s starting the paperwork for short-term disability (with her permission) or speaking with HR about options? In most cases, I’d tell you to also speak up loudly in your organization for better sick leave practices, but since you’re brand new you likely don’t have much capital yet.

5. Application wants me to submit a current pay stub

I was filling out an online job application recently, and the first page asked for file uploads. They had a spot for a resume and a spot where they asked for a current pay stub “to verify employment.” They didn’t have a place for a cover letter, and the rest of the application was essentially re-typing your resume.

Is it normal/legal/at all reasonable for them to request a current pay stub? Aside from the pay equity issues that would arise from them having exact salary information, it would also give them details like what optional medical benefits I’ve elected to pay for, how much sick time I’ve taken so far this year, and how much I contribute to retirement. All of that seems like it could be used against me. I don’t see the benefit or why a potential employer needs to verify that I’m employed now, since having a job isn’t required to get a job. Plus this position requires a government clearance, which you will definitely fail if you’re lying about your employment.

It’s a bizarre thing for them to ask for at this stage, particularly given that they’re not going to need to verify employment for 99% of their candidates (since most people will be rejected before that part of the process) so they’re collecting a huge amount of personal information that they don’t need. It’s not illegal unless they’re in one of the growing number of states that prohibit employers from asking about your salary, but it’s definitely weird and problematic.

However, if you want to move forward and can’t without submitting this, you can redact the private info on your paystub. If they really just want to verify that you’re employed there, they don’t need all the specific numbers on the paystub. Redact all the numbers you don’t want them to see (which might be all of them) and send it that way.

the popcorn calamity, the chair battle, and more stories of dramatic reactions to small changes at work

Last week, I asked for stories about weirdly dramatic reactions that you’ve seen people have to small changes at work. The comment section was full of fantastic stories — so many that I had to split my favorites up into two posts. Yesterday was part one, and here’s part two.

1. The picnic table

A new unit was added to my state government division, and the unit’s purpose was bitterly fought in the media by locals losing the power to do this function. Because it was a new unit, a large percentage of the team were new to government service.

Outside the exit door near the unit was a lovely picnic table under an old tree. Shady, cool, comfortable – and it gained a lot of use as the new unit staff spent breaks and lunch hours there. Unfortunately, it was on a main corner, and our agency had only been in the building for a few months, so the use was highly visible to passersby. Complaints about lazy state workers were made, and so the command staff decided to remove the table, especially since a new outdoor area was constructed where it wasn’t visible to the public. This was not acceptable to new unit.

New unit went ballistic. It was bitterly complained about at staff meetings, and then division meetings. The suggestion box was stuffed. A petition was signed and submitted to the director. Finally, one Friday, they walked through the halls of our office with large hand drawn picket signs, shouting, “No table no peace!” After marching around for 15 minutes, they headed off to the director’s office. They didn’t come back for an hour, and when they did, they were silent, and all talk about the table ended.

2. The new phone system

My office switched to a new phone system because the previous one was ancient. The new system has such wild features as … the ability to put a call on hold! The ability to transfer a call to someone else! My colleagues lost their minds, even though the new system had features they specifically requested. But the best part was that after the installation of New System, anything and everything that broke in the office was blamed on New Phone System. Copier started jamming? It must have something to do with New Phone System. Printer ran out of toner? New Phone System is to blame. My all-time favorite was when the COFFEE MAKER broke and several of my colleagues genuinely believed the New Phone System was somehow responsible. It took everything in me not to crack up with laughter explaining that the phone system was not connected to the coffee maker *at all*, and there was literally no way one could affect the other.

3. The Slack resistance

Our office exchanges a lot of correspondence with each other, and email imboxes were imploding – and many emails were just single sentences, or the sentiment in the subject line itself. To help reduce the sheer number of emails, we created a Slack for the entire 40-person office, and I assisted with making sure each team had various channels for their projects. The launch was pretty seamless, and the majority of the teams loved it. Except one team.

One team insisted on continuing with email. They go as far as to ignore direct messages on Slack and reply via email that they only communicate via email. These folks were also the ones responsible for the majority of the one-word, one-sentence email replies, and often send multiple one-sentence emails back to back about the same topic … you know, things that could just be Slack messages!! The inability to adapt is mind-boggling to watch. We only do office catering and other fun announcements via Slack now … and these folks have been mad they haven’t been “notified via formal communications.” It’s free cookies in the breakroom, Mark – we’re not going to send you a special email just because you won’t join our Slack!

4. The reycling

A company I used to work in decided in an effort to be greener to introduce recycling bins at all sites. Four separate bins: glass, tin, paper, general waste. There was such backlash! One guy even tried to start a mutiny; he didn’t want anyone to use them until we’d “received proper training.”. My dude, they’re bins with pictures on them! Put your paper in the bin that says paper with pictures of paper on the side. I could never understand the outrage that caused.

5. The free popcorn

Free Popcorn Monday being taken away. Well, not taken away but the person who’d pop it retired and despite many emails asking for others to volunteer to do it, no one signed up. Yet loud and numerous complaints about it would occur, and when you told them they could volunteer to pop it, they’d always have an excuse. I do feel gender did play into this as the complainers were exclusively male and the person who retired was a woman.

6. Perfect WordPerfect

I worked for a large government office where people would stay for 30+ years. This meant I had colleagues who had started in 1985 and learned how to use computers while on the job. One in particular decided that WordPerfect was much better than Word, and therefore that was the program he would learn. In the 2010s, the office decided to officially remove WordPerfect from the system and force everyone to switch to Word (yes, 2010s – it was not only the employees who were averse to change). When the colleague found out about this, he decided to refuse all updates and upgrades to his computer. Six months later, his computer was incredibly slow and failing to start half the time, but he refused to let IT touch his computer, and filed a grievance with the union when our boss tried to force him. The end result was that he was allowed to keep WordPerfect on his computer.

7. The oatmeal

Six months into my first post-grad job (2007), the hospital cafeteria steps away from our offices changed the price of a cup of oatmeal from $.55 to $1.25. We were incensed: that’s a 227% increase! … to $1.25. The sense of injustice and outrage was incredible in our office: so many conversations about the price of oatmeal these days; laments about the old days when you could grab a decent breakfast with whatever change you may have found in your desk (who did that?!); They Just Can’t more-than-double the price on anything like that; rumors started about all the doctors who probably filled their cups 2/3 full of walnuts/other expensive oatmeal toppings and now we’re paying for their dishonesty, etc. etc. for WEEKS.

Anyone who attempted to express how horrible this was to anyone outside the office was soundly ridiculed, with good reason. Even now I intellectually know this is ridiculous, and yet…

8. The meeting

I work in IT for an enormous organization, so I have about 50 million stories like this from internal customers. One of the weirder ones that comes to mind, though, is from my team. I took over a team that had been around a long time when they were reorganized into my area. They had an exorbitant number of standing meetings, and they ALL attended ALL of them (a team of ~7). I was trying to cut down on the team’s meetings to free up time for other work. I decided to pull most of the team out of this one particular meeting, and keep it to a select group of people. The people I pulled had no business reason to be there. But when this was announced, you would have thought I announced they were being fired. Two people in particular were very upset, and made it known that they really wanted to be put back in the meeting. One of them literally loudly sang, “I want my [name of meeting]” to the tune of “I want my baby-back” (from the Chili’s commercials) over and over in a large team meeting.

I eventually settled on “Ok, you are an optional attendee in this meeting. You can go if you have no pressing work, but this is your lowest priority.” They now all attend that meeting every week again, just like old times. It drives me a little crazy, but it was NOT a Hill to Die On for me.

9. The pens

We had ACTUAL TANTRUMS and a petition (signed by about four people…) when we changed stationery suppliers and a particular brand of fine liner pen was no longer available.

10. The intranet redesign

We redesigned our intranet many years back and people went MAD. The old site was built on the most un-user-friendly platform I’ve ever seen, and the homepage was this godawful list of random links (not kept current, and missing a lot of info so people couldn’t even do a search on the page to find what they needed). The navigation was nonsensical and outdated, so most of the links didn’t even work. The search function for the site didn’t even work anymore. There was no grouping of similar pages into sections; it was basically just a bunch of pages with completely outdated information in places that you couldn’t find unless someone sent you the link they had bookmarked.

We built a new intranet using a more modern platform. The search worked, the homepage had more general info but still had some icons that linked to the most-used pages, there were separate “sites” for different departments, and it no longer looked like something a teenager built in 1996. Hundreds of employees (out of several thousand) were furious at losing the old site. These were people that had been employed for decades and were angry we would deign to update to something more usable when they relied on a bunch of bookmarks in their browser (because even they knew the old site was unable to be navigated).

This was 10 years ago and people STILL complain. Just wait until we migrate the intranet into a new platform next year…

11. The chairs

At a former workplace, it was decided that all the desk chairs would be replaced. The existing chairs came in two styles – a standard, green upholstered office desk chair, and then for certain offices/people, an “executive” desk chair (these were nicer, with wooden handles and leather upholstery and such).

It is worth noting that the design scheme of the building was rigorously adhered to in all things, so everything matched. All the wood furniture was the same wood tone. All the upholstered furniture had to match. You weren’t allowed to bring anything in without approval (and you rarely got approval).

So the new chairs are ordered, and we are notified that they also have two options – they were both the same style, but one was simply wider than the other.

It caused an uproar the likes of which you would not believe. The few people with executive desk chairs were wondering why they were not being given nicer chairs again and complained about that. Others just didn’t want to give up their existing chair (even though the chairs were over 10 years old at that point). Passionate speeches were given in the breakroom about why people should be able to keep their old chairs. Meetings would be derailed with chair talk. It consumed people.

The day before the switch happened people were hiding chairs wherever they could. I went into the restroom and there was a chair sitting on top of a toilet in a stall. I had a vault in my office, and multiple people stopped by and asked if they could stash chairs in it.

The day the switch actually happened must have been the least productive day in the company history. People were going from suite-to-suite looking at other chairs (again, even though they were all the same color/style), people were gathering in the hallway to complain. Every time I passed an office window there was someone bouncing up and down in their chair and complaining. People were filing complaints with HR, a couple of people went home early in protest, some people that had stashed their old chairs pulled them back out and were sitting in them again, which made other people upset so there was a lot of “Steve is sitting in an old chair! I just want my old chair back!” so then they would go and take Steve’s old chair and then Steve would be upset about that. I ended up leaving early because I was just so tired of hearing about it.

12. The copier

When I used to volunteer to make copies at my kid’s school, the other parent volunteer who trained me was really upset because one of the copiers had been turned to the side so that the paper was easier to load. It was the same machine, it was just turned 90° to the left. She kept saying how sorry she was, like it was some kind of embarrassing faux pas.

13. The pizza

I once got called in to my manager’s office because of pizza. Yup. I dared to suggest we order from a different place. The chaos that caused was mind blowing. The person who usually placed the order freaked out because she “didn’t know how to order from the new place.” No one could make up their minds what they wanted. Everyone was upset because it wasn’t their usual place so I got reprimanded for causing disruption. In my defense, the pizza from their usual place tasted like ketchup flavored cardboard. Yeah, that place was toxic in more ways than one. I did not last long there.

14. The shoe

This one isn’t about dramatic responses to mundane changes; it’s a quitting story. But it was in that thread and it must be shared.

A coworker (a manager at a large retail store) was walking to work and stepped in dog poop.

He walked in, came up to the register counter where we were opening tills for the day, put his soiled shoe on the counter, said “I quit.” and walked out only wearing one shoe.

update: employer wants friends and family to participate in 360 feedback reviews

Remember the letter-writer whose sister’s employer who wanted friends and family to participate in 360 feedback reviews? Here’s the update.

Thank you for answering my question about filling out a 360 review for my sister. The letter was published on a day when I had spotty cell/wifi reception, so I couldn’t participate in the conversation, but my sister and I read every single comment.

By the time the letter was published, we agreed that her company was being inappropriate with its request but couldn’t quite figure out why they made the decision (my favorite hypothesis was that they got wowed by a sales pitch and didn’t critically think about how dumb the policy was). I also decided I wasn’t going to respond to the survey, but part of me wanted to respond with family-related issues only to see if they put them in her performance review (“She’s too tall so I can no longer borrow her clothes” “Mom always makes me help cook for family get togethers- she gets to hang out and socialize” “She forgets that mom is terrible at keeping secrets and it messes up family surprises”). I would have died of laughter if my sister had to put ‘cooking at family get-togethers’ as her yearly performance goal.

Afterwards, we had further discussions about her company, which uncovered a myriad of concerns. To try to simplify things, let’s say she started as a generalist, but worked very hard to achieve certification in a very specific area (like starting in chocolate teapot production and becoming certified in making the teapot molds). She was promoted to supervisor of chocolate molds but wouldn’t tell her the pay—they claimed they needed to hire another person to be a mold admin. This hire did not have certification and no experience in chocolate teapot molds but was still offered a salary 10k higher than my sisters. They did eventually raise her salary to match his, but then decided that she shouldn’t have the supervisor title, and essentially demoted her to being an admin (despite being the only staff certified in molds with experience in the specific mold of the company).

My sister was conflicted about staying or leaving; she was hoping to make this job a long-term career, but the run-around eroded a lot of trust she had for the company. She found another company that was looking for someone certified in chocolate molds and was offered a job that had both the senior title and a hefty pay bump. When she resigned, apparently her old job was completely shocked that she would leave.

The company has not reached out to me to ask my opinion on my sisters’ resignation.