interviewer asked what brings me pain, I reported a coworker for hitting a child, and more

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

1. Interviewer asked what brings me pain, my favorite color, and other inanities

I’m hoping you can give me some insight as to what exactly happened at an interview I had this morning. It started normally, I walked in, let them know I’d arrived, and sat down to wait to speak with the HR manager. We went over my resume, which was again normal, but then the weird questions started.

Questions included: what brings you joy, what brings you pain, what color were the chairs in the lobby, what was the hair color of the person you checked in with, what’s your favorite color, what animal do you identify with, among others. Then the logic questions started: if you’re in your car and only have room for one person, and you pass a bus stop where your best friend, the man of your dreams, and an old woman in need of medical attention are waiting, which one do you give a ride to? How can you make this scenario a win for everyone?

I could go on and on about how absolutely weird this was, and it was with the HR manager! From what I gather, one other person was supposed to be there but he was on vacation, and I have no idea if things would have gone differently had he been present. I feel like the whole thing was some kind of test to see how much I was willing to put up with.

I can’t afford to be picky about jobs right now and the position would be an amazing opportunity for me, but I have no idea what to even say in my follow-up email. Is this a thing people do now or should I run away from this as fast as possible?

At a minimum, this is an interviewer who has no idea how to hire. I mean, the questions about the lobby chairs and the receptionist’s hair color are obviously intended to test your attention to detail — although unless this is a job as a security guard or detective or other role where you need to be paying attention at all times, I’m doubtful they’re getting useful data from them — but the questions about pain and favorite color and animals are so laughably bad that we can write off the entire interview as evidence that this person sucks at hiring.

That could mean that the company sucks at lots of other things, or has weird ideas about lots of other things, or it’s possible that it’s confined to this HR person. It’s hard to know from the outside. If you were in a position where you had lots of options, I’d tell you to think critically about whether what you learned in the interview makes you interested in continuing to interview there, but since you don’t feel you do have many options, you might as well continue onward with them and learn more. But do it with a skeptical eye.

2. I reported a coworker for hitting a child

Today, I saw a man hitting a small child. I confronted him and he got very aggressive, insulting me, acted in a physically threatening way, and finally pushed me. I was able to find out his name and the incident has been reported to the police and social services. I also googled him, and it turns out he works for the same employer as I do, but a different department. It’s pretty unlikely that I’d ever run in to him at work. It’s a big employer and he works in a different building. Still, do you think this incident, the fact that I not only witnessed and reported him committing a crime but also pressed charges against him for the push, is relevant to work in any way? Such as, should I inform HR or anything like that?

I don’t know if this will go to trial, but I expect at least the child abuse will. We’re not in the U.S., by the way.

It might not become relevant to you at work … but it also might. For example, if you unexpected find yourself in a meeting with him, or if he becomes aggressive toward you in the parking lot, or if he finds out you work there and starts smearing your name … none of that might happen, but the situation is charged enough that you’re probably better off giving your employer a heads-up about it. You could talk to HR and frame it as “this will probably never come up at work, but I wanted to err on the side of caution and let you know about in case it ever does.” Make it clear that you’re not asking them to take any action, but that you simply want them aware in case it ever does affect anything at work.

3. My boss has a burping problem

I’ve been at this job for a couple of months now and work with a very small team, about seven, all under one manager. My manager is great, except for one thing — she has a burping problem. She’ll burp loudly throughout the day, every couple of minutes, and usually doesn’t say “excuse me” or pardon herself at all. It’s jarring and frankly irritating, and I find myself glancing up from my computer every couple of minutes when she does it. The office is very small (one room) so there’s no separation or anything.

I don’t know if there’s any sort of medical issue that could be causing it or if it’s just a bad habit. She will typically start each day with one to two bottles of soda, which I’m assuming may contribute.

I don’t know what to do here, or if there is anything I can do. I tend to be on the reserved side and avoid confrontation, personally, so I haven’t broached the topic with any of my coworkers to see if there’s more background/a reason/why no one says anything about it. I’m honestly just kind of nonplussed about the whole situation and thought I’d reach out to see if there was any advice!

Well, it’s possible that it’s a medical condition, which she wouldn’t necessarily disclose to people. (You might be thinking that if that’s the case, the soda is an odd choice as it might exacerbate it, but plenty of people drink soda without regular burping, so I’d come down on the side of thinking her beverages aren’t really our business).

If it’s not a medical condition, that is a lot of burping, so I’d lean toward assuming it is. And really, if it’s not, there’s nothing to lose by being wrong about that.

Regardless, there’s not really anything you can do to address this. If it’s a medical condition, it’s definitely off-limits … and you’re not likely to find for sure that it’s not — which leaves this in the realm of an annoying behavior that you have to learn to live with.

One adjustment to your thinking that might help, though: It’s probably better that she’s not saying “excuse me” each time — with it happening every couple of minutes, wouldn’t that be more distracting?

4. I accidentally ditched a peer at a conference and then cried publicly about it

Last year, I was a speaker at an industry conference. I was part of a three-person “package” with a well-recognized peer in my industry, Sansa. Sansa was super nice, helped to keep me calm, and I felt like we really hit it off. On the last night of the conference, she texted me after sessions to say she’d text me when she was going to the industry dinner so I could come with her and wouldn’t have to go alone, which was very kind as I’m a big introvert. I was exhausted but I said thanks. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go to dinner. But I took a short nap and went down to the hotel lobby just to get myself out of my room and motivated. Another peer, Arya, saw me sitting in the lobby and said she and a few other folks were going to the dinner, and did I want to hop in their Uber? I was iffy but she was excited, so I said yes, and off I went.

I was having a good time, with about 15 other peers (four of whom were at my table at the restaurant) when Sansa walked in. She saw me and had a look of shock on her face. I totally TOTALLY forgot she’d said she’d go with me. I missed several texts somehow, but she also emailed me and tried to contact me through LinkedIn and Slack, and email; she even tried to ask other people to contact me. In other words, she tried really, really hard. Her last message was, “Well, I’m going to go, I hope you’ll decide to join me!” — at least 45 minutes after she first tried to contact me. And I completely ditched her, but not on purpose. She was angry and frustrated, but not unkind. I told her to please sit next to me, let me buy her a drink, and I must have apologized 20 times, no exaggeration. And then … I started crying. Everyone at my table was uncomfortable after that. I think I was just so appalled at my behavior because I don’t often get included in things, and to know that someone was trying to include me and I acted so poorly, I couldn’t get past it. I wound up staying out for hours past when I’d normally go back to the hotel, going wherever she went, just to try to make it up to her. It was pretty obnoxious. She was still angry, and then annoyed, which I totally get, but she was still being fairly nice to me.

So now, it’s six months later, and I’ve been asked to go to this conference again and be on a panel with one other person: Sansa. How do I address not only ditching her, but worse, acting like that afterwards? She is more well-known than I am, and getting to do something with her again is very good for my career, so I can’t just say no. I’m cringing just thinking about it. I have to balance acknowledging how crazy I acted with being a professional adult person who knows how to control her emotions. Or maybe I don’t acknowledge it at all? Do I make a joke? Do I build a time machine to go back and not be so weird? Do I say something now, since we both have to figure out this panel thing, or do I say something later on?

This might be counterintuitive, but the best thing you can do is to put in the past and just move forward. Don’t apologize again — it sounds like the apologizing might have gone over the top last time, so you don’t want to start it up again! Don’t make a joke about it (too much risk of it not landing well). Really, don’t try to address it in any way. It happened, it got weird, you tried to address it at the time (and addressed it too much, it sounds like), and if you raise it again there’s too much risk of the old weirdness getting raised along with it.

Instead, make a point of being warm (but not too warm) and professional. Greet her pleasantly, shake her hand (if that’s a thing people there do), tell her it’s good to see her, and then treat her like you’d treat someone you know a little but not well. The message you want to convey with your behavior here is “professional person behaving appropriately at a conference,” not “abashed person trying to fix something.”

It’s okay if Sansa feels a little weird or is stand-offish with you. That’s fine! All you can control is you. Plus, this conference isn’t the final word in how people see you. It sounds like you’ll run into Sansa and others again from time to time, and over time you can build up a calm, professional image that will eventually be a strong counterweight to something that at some point will be many years in the past.

5. Can I negotiate when a pay ceiling was named earlier?

I was recently a casualty of mass layoffs. An old boss of mine reached out to me about another job right away, making it very clear he wanted me on the team. He told me off the record the base offer would probably be about ~$10K more than I was making at my last job, which makes sense — the job would be a step up in terms of responsibilities. However, when HR reached out to me about the position, they told me the budget they had for the position was $15K below the number my ex-boss gave. After saying that wouldn’t be doable for me, they called me back and said they could go up to $X, which is about what I was making in my last position.

Here’s where I’m getting tripped up: I’m not at the offer stage yet. This was a preliminary phone call to check if I want to move forward with the process, given their budget and my specified salary band. I am moving forward regardless because … well, unemployment, but my question is, if/when I get an offer, would it be tacky to negotiate more? I know under normal circumstances, it never hurts to ask, but given how early they gave me a ceiling, I don’t want to come off out of touch.

I am also curious in general how my negotiation power is affected given I got laid off — the salary would be a significant step down from my last position given the added responsibility, but I’m not at that job anymore. So is it actually relevant to negotiating?

I’d argue that your old salary is almost never relevant because jobs should pay based on their value (and too often salary history is used to depress wages), but sometimes it can be effective to use it to convince an employer to increase an offer. In your case, it’s true that it’s less relevant because you’re no longer at that job (so it’s not a case of “I’d need you to at least match my salary in order for me to consider leaving”) but it still does convey that your work was priced at a certain level previously.

The bigger thing here, though, is to talk to your old boss. It’s possible that when he told you the job would pay more, he was guessing and didn’t have hard numbers. But it’s also possible that he’d go to bat to get you that higher amount because you’re a known quantity and he really wants you, or would shuffle money in his budget around to make it work. So before assuming anything, touch base with him and say something like, “HR originally told me they’d budgeted $X for the role, then called me back and said they could go to up $Y. Since you and I had talked about $Z, I was wondering if you had any insight.”

In general, you don’t want to hear a pay range at the outset, agree to move forward in the process, and try to negotiate for more at the end — that’s seen as operating in bad faith and wasting people’s time. But if you can genuinely frame it as “as I’ve learned more about the position and talked with (former boss) about the role’s responsibilities, I’m hoping you can go up to $Z, since in my experience (including at my last job), jobs paying $Y generally don’t including managing a large team or doing so much travel” (or whatever).

how do I stay in touch with former managers?

A reader writes:

I started a new job about a year and a half ago with a manager who was amazing — very supportive and patient. He was one of the perks of the job. He recently found a new opportunity and moved on from my organization a little more than a month ago. When he left, he told me to keep in touch and that I could use him as a reference in the future.

I’d love to keep in touch but have no idea what to say! I feel like the standard advice is to send relevant articles and say why I think they would be interesting to him, but he’s moved to a different industry and is more than 10 years senior to me. Should I just reach out and ask him how the move went and how the new job is? How do I follow up after that? Appreciate any advice you may have on keeping in touch with past managers!

Yeah, don’t do the thing about sending him articles, unless you run across something that truly makes you think of him. If it’s a genuine “Oh, Brian would love to see this” moment, then yes, send it along. But don’t go looking for articles that you could send him as a way of staying in touch — that’s not a good use of his time (or yours), and it can come across oddly unless it’s really genuine.

Honestly, I think the advice out there about staying in touch with past managers tends to overstate how much you need to do it. Generally I think the reasons you reach out should be genuine ones, even if that means that quite a while goes by in between contacts. If the relationship was a strong one when you worked together, you can let a few years go by without contact, and the manager will still welcome hearing from you about a reference or an update about your life or a request for professional expertise or so forth.

But if you worry about going that long without contact, aim for an email once or twice a year. (My personal opinion is that once a year is fine, unless it develops organically into a closer relationship than that.) Tell him what’s going on in your life professionally or personally. If you can connect professional updates to things he helped you with, that’s ideal — a skill that he helped you build, or something he coached you in, or something you learned from watching him, or something he said he could see you doing one day. It’s super gratifying to hear about that kind of thing from former employees! On the personal side, big life events can be a good reason to email, like getting engaged or married, having kids, taking an amazing trip to a destination you’ve talked about with him, etc.

Alternately, you can ask him to catch up over lunch once a year or so as well. Some people are lunch types, some aren’t, and you’ll probably have a decent sense of whether he is from working with him. (I’m not so that’s probably biasing me into more caution here than is necessary; I suspect more people are up for lunch with old contacts than are not.)

Mainly, though, the thing is to make this all genuine. Don’t look at it as “I need to check off specific actions in order to stay in touch with a former manager.” Look at is as “We worked together, I liked him, and he’s now a person I know and will occasionally talk with” and that’s far more likely to lead you in the right direction.

how can I tell my boss to stop commenting on my food and my weight?

A reader writes:

I recently got a new job in a new city and I love what I do.

Recently I have lost a bit of weight. My boss has made several comments about how I’m so skinny and how she wishes she could diet like me. Really all I have done is started running again, because my schedule finally affords it. We ran into each other one morning while I had a coffee in one hand and a brownie in the other, and it was, “Look at you and your diet!”

Long ago I had some serious body issues and never really felt comfortable in my skin until a few years ago. These comments, whether about my weight or diet, have really started to affect me. I’m tracking my weight and I’m constantly thinking about how to cut calories. Luckily, I can recognize the slippery slope I’m headed towards, but I don’t know how to address it with her. I’m uncomfortable going directly to her, but our office is so small, we have no HR person and the next higher up is our executive director.

How do I go about asking her to please keep comments about my weight to herself without admitting to serious problems in my past AND keeping our relationship professional? Our one office space is entirely women, and it is becoming apparent that it is a frequent conversation.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • How to follow up up on a promised raise
  • Shouldn’t this recruiter be … recruiting me?
  • Managing someone who doesn’t want to move up
  • I’m getting conflicting instructions at work

do I need to work with the woman my father had an affair with?

A reader writes:

I am employed by a nonprofit that works with low-income students. I love my job and think my doing it has a positive impact on others. I like my boss and coworkers. We also have an employee who kind of works as an assistant who does data input and organizes our lecture schedules.

We are hiring a new person for that position and our manager sent us a shortlist of people she was considering. She asked us if we had any input/prior interaction with the candidates. The problem is, I do, and I don’t know how to broach it with her.

I don’t think I can work professionally with one of the candidates — let’s call her Cersei. We used to be friends and she was my roommate for a brief time, including when I was hired by this organization — so they know I know her.

However, a few months ago I walked in on Cersei and my father having sex. It turned out that they had been having a full-blown affair for as long as we’d been roommates. Apparently one of the reasons she’d moved in with me was to be closer to him.

I’ve completely cut Cersei out of my life (my father is obviously also complicit, but my mom is staying married to him, so). I don’t really trust myself to interact with her without going all Septa Unella SHAME on her — and now there’s a chance she’s going to be hired into a position I’d have to frequently work with her in.

My questions are these: the manager asked us to tell her if we had any input on the hiring decision. What do I say? Do I have the grounds to say anything? Because I actually think Cersei’s a decent fit for the position but there’s no way in hell I can work with her. If Cersei is hired, how can I work with her? Because I love this job and don’t want Cersei to be the reason I quit.

You can absolutely say something to your manager, and you don’t need to divulge the entire situation (unless you choose to).

If I were considering hiring someone, I’d sure as hell want to know that it was going to make one of my existing employees so uncomfortable that they’d need to quit — and I’d want to know that before I made any hiring decisions, not after.

Sometimes in this situation people feel like there’s something fundamentally unfair about “preventing” someone from getting a job for personal reasons like these. But managers consider interpersonal issues all the time in hiring. It’s not uncommon to take into consideration that there’s tension between a candidate and a current employee, or that they have a bad history, or that something about the relationship might introduce weirdness that your workplace would be better off without. Hell, even when there are no negative emotions in play, relationships can still be relevant — like you might choose not to hire someone onto a small team where their spouse already works, or even their sister-in-law or so forth. We are humans, and relationships matter at work — often deeply matter.

So if your manager is decent, she’ll want to know that you don’t feel you can work with Cersei. What’s more, she’s asking you for your input!

There are a few different ways you can say it, depending on how much you want to disclose.

One option is to say, “Cersei and I had a serious falling out, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable working with her. If you’re seriously considering hiring her, would you talk to me first?” That way, if she doesn’t end up a finalist, you don’t have to get into any details — but if she does, you’ll have flagged that there’s more you want to say before any decisions are made.

Another option is to say, “Cersei did something that really hurt me and members of my family and caused a lot of pain. I’ve had to end all contact with her, and she’s not someone I could comfortably work with.”

If an employee said that to me, that would be all I needed to hear — and doubly so with a fairly low-level position like this one where it’s unlikely that good candidates are scarce.

But if your manager seems to need to hear more, there’s nothing wrong with briefly filling her in, if you’re comfortable doing that. “She had an affair with my father, and apparently moved in with me as a tactic to be closer to him” is and should be damning.

If your manager is willing to hire Cersei after hearing what a major problem it would create for you and why … well, that’s a crappy manager, and I bet it’s not going to happen.

my boss wants us to go on an all-day rafting trip, coworker’s parents are threatening to call HR about our friendship, and more

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

1. My boss wants us to go on all-day rafting trip

My company hired a new director (Michelle) a few years ago. Since then, there have been several new managers hired by her who really share her same outgoing personality. That’s not a negative in any way. But since then, I’ve noticed a lot more emphasis on team-building events. Some have been lunchtime learning, while some others border on silliness (like performing a short skit based on random objects). And about a year ago, we were all asked to do an online personality survey and then Michelle coordinated an off-site day where we were coached on the 16 personality types with the emphasis on leveraging success by knowing each other better.

Earlier this month, invites went out for a company sales conference in August. I’ve been here for seven years and this was the first time I ever got included. I’ve been very involved on several successful new product launches over the last three years. Part of the event will be more team-building, coordinated by a group they hired. It turns out that I was assigned to Michelle’s group (she is the team leader). There are about eight of us on the team. Michelle had a conference call to kick things off, and we have to pick a name for our team and submit designs for t-shirts. She also mentioned that we will be doing an all-day rafting trip as a break-out event. I emailed her a few days later to see if i could skip the rafting trip as I am a weak swimmer who is not comfortable around deep water. She replied saying that the event is still four months away and that she’d rather see me focus on how to meet a challenge rather than how to get out of it. She compared it to when she was afraid to do a zip line two years ago, but got through it. I was a bit floored.

My wife, who met Michelle at our holiday party and really likes her, is convinced that Michelle is testing me to see how I react and that is is my opportunity to impress her. With all the changes in our company, I can definitely see myself directly reporting to her someday and don’t want some silly decision to harm my standing. Can you offer your opinion on what you would do?

Personally, I would tell Michelle, “For safety reasons, I won’t be able to participate in this. I’ll plan to spend that day working on X and Y unless you prefer I spend that time differently.” Note that language is telling her that you won’t be participating, not asking her for permission to sit it out. You get to simply state that you’re not participating in something like this.

I’d also consider adding, “There may be other people who have health conditions that make participating iffy, and I’d love to see us pick a more inclusive activity.” Because that’s true — an all-day rafting trip is a big deal and there are a whole bunch of conditions people shouldn’t have to disclose to get out of that, including things she’s probably not even thinking about, like IBS.

Take a look at this and this. And hell, for good measure, this too.

2. My coworker’s parents are threatening to call HR about our friendship

I’m close friends with a girl at work. We are both over 18 and talk often, about all kinds of topics. I’m the person she calls when she’s stressed and life isn’t going well. Hour-long calls are not infrequent with us and she’s taken me to antique stores to train me to find things she likes, and I’m quite good at it. (This is all to give you the gist of how close we are.) We also work at completely different locations (so have very little face-to-face contact unless I come visit her). Moreover, we both have a huge thing for each other. We are both in agreement that if we ever both end up single, we are going to try for a relationship.

So, fast forward to now. She still lives with her parents and they pay for her phone. They saw some of our messages to each other and are threatening to call HR at our company for sexual harassment. The thing is, she doesn’t feel harassed, they are just not listening. Should I be worried? How would you handle this in my place?

Sexual harassment is about unwelcome conduct. If this had been one-sided, or if she’d asked you to stop but you hadn’t, or if you were subjecting her to unwelcome advances or sexual talk, that would be a problem! But a mutually welcome friendship is not harassment.

So as long as your friend isn’t going to tell HR that this contact has been unwelcome, you should be fine. And really, a parent calling an adult’s workplace to report sexual harassment based on a mutual friendship is … weird, and it’s very likely that your friend will be able to quickly shut it down with HR if they approach her about it.

One precaution you could take, though, is to explicitly confirm with your friend that she enthusiastically welcomes the relationship you have, and that she doesn’t feel any of your contact with her is unwanted. Make it safe for her to say no — frame it as something like, “I want you to know that if you ever don’t want this level or type of contact with me, I would fully respect that and not make it weird or tense for you” (and of course mean that).

From what you’ve written here, this sounds like a mutual friendship … but there’s also a version of this where a person A tells person B she won’t date him because she’s seeing someone else, and then B takes that as “we’ll date when she breaks up with her boyfriend” when that’s not what A meant … and where some of the other details can look different depending on who’s telling them. So especially when you have someone raising concerns, explicitly confirming that you both enthusiastically welcome the contact is always a good thing.

3. The details in my offer letter aren’t what we discussed

I recently accepted a job offer with a start-up nonprofit. Due to a tight timeline for their desired start date and a long notice period in my current role, I had to resign quickly, without having the offer letter in hand. I know this is not best practice and in retrospect, I should have worried less about inconveniencing either employer and insisted on the formal letter.

In any case, I then received a formal offer letter (over a week later) that has a contractual period of only six months, subject to renewal. We had no discussions of this previously, so it was quite a surprise. I’d expressly asked about how I would be hired – with a contract, regular staff, at-will, etc. – because of the org’s start-up status. They had told me I would be hired as regular staff and that the project would run for three years.

They also agreed to a few things in negotiations – revisions to the title, flex time – that they say cannot be put in the offer letter but is an “informal agreement.” But of course, the offer letter itself expressly says that this represents the only agreement between me and the employer.

Because the organization is still starting up, it’s working off the HR and legal structure of a parent organization it’s only loosely affiliated with right now. I am sympathetic to those potential limitations. But nonetheless, it’s made me uneasy. They seem like really nice people and I like the potential for growth in the organization and role. But I also want to be treated respectfully and fairly in my next role and I feel like I made a good faith commitment to them and they are acting surprised (saying my request is “exceptional”) that I’d ask for the same. Am I making a big deal out of nothing or is this in fact a tremendous warning sign?

It depends on how they respond to you pushing back. Try saying this: “We’d talked about this role being regular staff and titled as Frog Decorator, but the offer letter says it’s a six-month contract for Junior Frog Decorator. I’m excited about coming on board, but I want to make sure the offer letter reflects what we’ve agreed to.” If they say no, then what’s in the letter is what they’re offering you. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to put the correct details in the letter, so if they decline to, I’d assume those are the correct details. One way of pushing back if that happens is, “I’d love to accept the role we talked about on the phone — a longer-term Frog Decorator position — but I wouldn’t feel comfortable coming on board with an offer letter that describes a different role.”

It’s possible that their parent org really does have internal rules about not putting other stuff like flex time in an offer letter, but that doesn’t mean they can’t agree in writing outside the offer letter. To do that, send an email that says, “I understand you don’t include details on flex time in offer letters, so I just wanted to memorialize here that we’ve agreed to (details). Would you confirm that’s correct?”

If they balk at any of this, the answer to “is this a tremendous warning sign?” is yes.

4. My new office doesn’t recycle

Less than two weeks ago, I started a new job that I love. There are many great things about this job that I value. The one problem: there is no recycling at this office. None. No recycling bins anywhere. I’m shocked. In my section of the office, we get tiny plastic bottles of water, the kind I can drink in four gulps. Then I have to throw them out. The water fountain is kind of a long walk away. I’m not the biggest environmentalist by a long shot, but I try to recycle whatever I can at home and this feels extreme. I’d rather not collect all my water bottles from throughout the day to bring home to recycle.

Should I or can I do anything? I’ve been here less than two weeks, so I’m very new with almost no power. We’re moving to a new office building very soon, so maybe things will change, but I have no way of knowing if they will or not.

Right now you’re too new to have standing to tackle this, but after you’ve been there a while (like maybe six months or so) you certainly can! (The exception to that if if you’re in a role that puts this in your purview, like if you work in operations.) Meanwhile, though, you could talk to whoever’s coordinating the move and ask if they know if there will be recycling at the new building, which might at least put it on their radar if it hasn’t been. (Even for that, though, I might give it a month or so. You are still very new.)

When you do bring it up, how to tackle it depends on your role. In some contexts (especially smaller offices), it might make sense for you to take the lead on researching recycling options in your area (local regulations, companies that handle it, etc. — some city governments will provide a guide) and even help put something into practice, and in others that would be overstepping for your position and you’ll need to just make the case to someone who does have that authority. Whichever route you go, keep in mind that if they’re not receptive, you might also suggest some interim measures, like a bottleless water cooler instead of all those tiny plastic bottles.

5. Is it time to give my employee a formal improvement plan?

I’m new to a management role and inherited an employee (a former peer) who was never held accountable by his previous manager (for example, he completed a major web software overhaul nine months past the deadline with no consequences). As a result, I’ve been vigilant about giving him feedback every time he doesn’t do something he says he’s going to do when he says he’s going to do it. I’ll often see improvement after these conversations, only to see this habit creep back up again after a few months. It’s usually something small — like saying he’ll send me a preview of the newsletter or update me on a project and then not getting to it or explaining why he didn’t. Overall, I know he’s getting a lot done, but all of these little things add up to me as someone who I can’t count on for major long-term projects.

So, is it time for a PIP? Are you supposed to warn someone before putting them on a PIP? Is there something between routine feedback and a PIP? The reason I’m hesitating is that to me, a PIP signals that I’m about to fire someone — but I’m not sure I’m ready to let this person go. Do I just have new manager cold feet?

A performance improvement plan (PIP) should indeed convey “these issues are serious and if you don’t improve in the following ways by the following timeframe, I will let you go.” So yes, if you use one, you’d want to be prepared to fire him at the end of it if he hasn’t made the improvements you need. That said, given that he improves for a while whenever talk with him, he’s likely to meet the terms of the PIP but then backslide again later on, so you’d want to clearly state that you need to see sustained, permanent improvement and if the pattern recurs again, you wouldn’t do a second PIP.

You don’t need to warn someone before a PIP (unless your company procedures require that), but what I’d do in your case is sit down and have a serious conversation with him where you say, “We’ve talked multiple times about the need for you to meet deadlines and follow through on agreed timelines, and while you often improve temporarily, the pattern keeps recurring. This is serious because it means I can’t count on you for long-term projects. I need you to get this under control permanently, and if you don’t, it could jeopardize your job here. If it keeps happening after this conversation, we’ll need to move to a formal performance improvement plan, so I want to make sure you understand that we’re at the point where I don’t have much leeway left to give you.”

weekend free-for-all – April 20-21, 2019

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand. (This one is truly no work and no school.)

Book recommendation of the week: Normal People, by Sally Rooney. I’ve been dying for this to come out because I loved her first book so much,  and I devoured it as soon as it was released this week. It’s the story of an on-again, off-again relationship that starts in high school and continues into college, taking different forms as the two people themselves do. I actually think Conversations with Friends was better, but I will read anything Sally Rooney writes from this day until the end of days.

open thread – April 19-20, 2019

It’s the Friday open thread! The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything work-related that you want to talk about. If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to talk to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please don’t repost it here, as it may be in the to-be-answered queue.

I bombed in an interview I asked for, employee wants to skip lunch and leave early every day, and more

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

1. I bombed in an interview I asked for

I’m in a customer-facing role at a large company, and I’m interested in advancing into a management role. I’ve held management positions in the past, but happily took a “step back” in this job because it’s a great company, good job in itself, and it supported a family-related interstate move.

I recently asked my grand-boss for a 1-1 meeting to discuss advancement opportunities, and he was very supportive of the conversation. Knowing this was effectively a job interview, I came prepared to discuss staffing, training, expectations, client engagement, priorities and goal setting, etc. Unfortunately, what my grand-boss wanted to discuss was systems, metrics, repeatability — more of the systems-thinking side of the job than the human-thinking side of the job. And it’s a job that I tend to approach in a very human-thinking sort of way. That was reasonable of him, but I wasn’t remotely ready for that conversation, as I’d been very focused on the people side of it.

It wasn’t the worst professional conversation I’d ever had, but it was easily in the top three. He even left me with the advice “If you ask for a meeting like this, you really should prepare for it, which is impossibly embarrassing to hear. That he thought I needed that advice feels like I may as well have needed to hear “don’t drop your pants in front of the CEO. Of course I know that, but I’ve clearly made a terrible impression.

My gut reaction was that I’d blown any opportunity at advancement (and my current job is great, but it’s not a career). But I didn’t, exactly. Grand-boss left the door open, offering another shot at a “career development” call with him, suggesting we talk in a few weeks. He’s been gracious about the whole thing, even while reinforcing the message that the conversation itself we did have was completely unsuccessful in promoting my candidacy. (If I hear “you really should prepare…” again, I’ll probably die of shame.)

How do I recover from this? I doubt my aspirations will survive another disaster-meeting. I feel like I shouldn’t wait too long to reengage, but this has become the only interview I’ve ever been hesitant about. I normally delight in job interviews, but this was my worst interview failure ever, and I’m feeling bruised and full of self doubt. How do I approach the next round? Do I address my past failure as incorrect rather than absent preparations, or just let it go? Is it reasonable to stall for a month or two while I collect my thoughts and my confidence, or should I get back on the horse quickly? There’s no open position currently on the table, so it’s all about putting myself in position for when a seat opens up — which could be soon or could be well into the future.

I’m a big fan of just putting it out there, on the theory that if they don’t like your thought process on something like this, that might be a sign that they won’t like it on other things too, and better to just be transparent and figure out if that works for them or not. So I’d just be candid about what happened. And it doesn’t need to be a big deal (shouldn’t be, in fact). It can just be something like, “I want to be up-front with you that I’d prepared for a different conversation last time. I’d come prepared to talk about staffing, training, expectations, client engagement, priorities, and goal setting. I’m ready this time to talk about systems and metrics.” And then move on quickly — you don’t want it to sound like excuse-making, just quick context, and then move right into what you’re there to talk about. In fact, you could even could address it when you reach out to schedule the next meeting instead — as in, “When we talked, I’d prepared to talk about X — and I appreciate you refocusing me. This time I’m going to be prepared to talk about Y. Would the first week of May work for you?”

On the timing of the meeting, don’t stall — the sooner you have the second meeting, the sooner you can recover from the first. And you’ll show that you’re able to take criticism, incorporate it, and move right along without being rattled by it. (I mean, don’t reschedule so quickly that you don’t have time to thoroughly prepare — but don’t stall just because it feels awkward.)

2. Replying to the wrong optional emails on vacation

My colleague, “Sophie,” is on holiday. In our office, there is no expectation that staff should check their emails when on vacation but many people do. Sophie has been replying to emails, but only non-urgent or even trivial ones that could easily wait until she gets back. I also know that there are some more urgent requests she has received and not responded to (not necessarily labour intensive, some just need a confirmation from her).

Our manager is frustrated but doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t want to encourage anyone to work while out of the office, but since Sophie is already taking the time to get work done, our manager would prefer she redirects her efforts.

Do you think it is worth even bringing it up? If so, how would you approach this?

I’d leave it alone. Any attempt to address it is going to undermine the idea that people aren’t expected to check email on vacation. At most, I suppose someone could reply to one of her non-urgent replies and say something like, “If you’re checking email, I’d love your thoughts on the message about X — but no pressure if you’d rather wait until you get back.” But even that is signaling that you want her to do work on vacation. And who knows, maybe she’s answering trivial emails because they’re an easy break for her brain, but she doesn’t want to deal with things that require more stress or more thought.

3. Two people giving notice at nearly the same time

I am hoping to get your perspective on how my colleague and I should handle giving our notices, when it looks like we are both going to be a leaving our professional services firm at nearly the same time.

We both work for a small company (<30 people) and have both been here for about five years, which is relatively long. We are both senior managers with some but not all overlapping responsibilities, and we both report directly to the CEO. It is likely that if only one of us was leaving, the other would assume most if not all of the other’s responsibilities, including taking on direct reports and client accounts.

We independently decided to search for new positions for various reasons, both personal and because of some concerns about the direction of our current employer. Not coincidentally, we are both good friends outside of work who are at similar stages of our careers and with similar family situations, work styles, and personalities. We are both nervous to tell our current boss we are leaving because he has taken resignations personally in the past and because we recognize the short-term disruption we will cause with our timing. We have already discussed with each other where all our work could be reassigned without overloading the team, as it has been a slow time for the past few months.

So, how do we handle giving our notice? Do we go one at a time and the first person pretends not to know about the second? Do we speak to our boss together even though our decisions were independent? What is the least hurtful way to break the news?

Don’t talk to your boss together; that’ll be weird and it will look like you coordinated more than you actually have. Hopefully you won’t get job offers on the exact same day or need to give notice on the exact same day, so whoever accepts an offer first will give notice first, making no mention of the other person. Then when the second person accepts an offer, they give their notice at that point and can say something like, “I know the timing isn’t ideal with Lorraine leaving as well, but I have some ideas for how to reassign work that might make the transition go more smoothly.”

If for some reason you both do end up having to give notice on the same day, you should still do it separately. In that case, whoever gets to go first (and thus sticks the other one with a more awkward conversation) should probably buy the other one several drinks.

4. Employee wants to skip lunch and leave early every day

I have an employee who often doesn’t eat lunch. He sometimes stays at his desk and plays on his phone, or sometimes visits with friends on their lunch hour, but seems to rarely eat lunch himself.

It is common knowledge on my team that if you need to leave early for the day, you’re allowed to skip your lunch break and leave early. This team member asked me if he could skip lunch every day and leave early. I am hesitant to agree to this as an every day option because in the past I’ve read multiple articles saying that skipping lunch breaks or working through lunch is bad for productivity, and often leads to burn-out (and I have some personal experience with this as well). Additionally, we work in a collaborative environment and while I don’t dictate set working hours, I do like people to generally be available to their teammates for questions, help, etc. I allowed this policy because I really try to be as flexible as possible for my team, but I just don’t feel right about making it every day. Am I overthinking this?

If it will inconvenience your team to have him unavailable for the last hour of the day every day, it’s perfectly reasonable to say no to this, and to explain that it’s fine to do occasionally but not every day.

But I wouldn’t base it on worries about burn-out. Some people do fine with working through lunch; others don’t. You don’t want your reason for banning this to be that it can be bad for some people, when others do just fine with it and even prefer it. Keep the focus on how it impacts what you and your team need from him.

5. I’ve been asked to give a reference for two people for the same job

I work in a fairly competitive, but still small, field, where getting a job is all about who you know. There is an opening at the company I work at that two people who I have worked with in the past are going to apply to, and both want to put me as a reference. I think both would do a great job, and I had agreed to be a reference in the past, not knowing that both would be applying for the same job at the place I am working.

Is that weird? Do I need to talk to my HR manager and explain? Should I tell them not to use me?

It’s not weird. When you give a reference, you’re not saying, “Definitely hire this person over all your other candidates.” You’re ideally saying “Here is a detailed assessment of this person’s strengths, work habits, and challenges, and it’s up to you to decide how this person fits in with your needs.” So you can definitely give a reference for two people for the same job.

The exception to this might be if you think one is significantly stronger than the other — especially since this is for a role at your company, meaning that you’ll want to be very candid. In that case, it might be fairer to say to the weaker person, “I want to be up-front with you that I’ve been asked to be a reference for someone else applying for this same job, and I think they’re a really strong match with the role. I’d still be glad to be your reference as well, but I wanted to be transparent about that in case you’d prefer to use someone else.”

why don’t we teach new grads about workplace norms?

If you’ve worked with recent graduates who are just getting started in the work world, you’ve probably seen them make their share of professional faux pas. I recorded a piece for the BBC arguing that we need to do a better job teaching students and new workers about how to navigate an office (and I talk a little about those interns who petitioned to change the dress code).

updates: the manager’s peeing dog, dressing like your boss, and more

Here are four updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

1. My boss brings her dog to work and he pees by my desk

I promised to update after quarter end, which comes up in July, but I just wanted to shoot over a quick update before then, because there has been at least some progress. To warn you: it’s kind of a mixed bag.

Christie has now begun to put Ricky in her office with the door closed and work in an empty space on the other end of the office so that he won’t distract her. This is, obviously, worse than the previous situation. I have on two occasions (so far) snuck him out for a walk while she’s gone and put him back in her office before she notices. I also bought him a few relatively cheap toys (a treat puzzle and a squeaky bone), which I keep in my desk and pull out when she’s otherwise occupied. Quarter end will be overtime hours, and I’m not sure it’ll be a sustainable system then, but I just wanted to let you know that Ricky is at least getting walks now.

Your commenters have also been very helpful in making me reflect on Christy as a person rather than her management style, and though it’s not a fun feeling, I have come to accept that it’s okay to not like her because of this. I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt as much as possible, but this isn’t the mark of a good person. So thank you AAM community! :)

To the person who advised stealing the dog: my friends and I have been debating the difference between “stealing” and “rescuing” and we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not a feasible solution at this time. But it’s a good dream.

2. My boss and I keep accidentally wearing the same thing (#3 at the link)

I wrote to you earlier about being worried about dressing too much like my boss, and I’m so glad I did! Everyone was so supportive in the comments, and it really eased my mind. It’s my first office job in years (I was in healthcare before, so everyone wore scrubs) and I wanted to be sure I wasn’t being weird. But my manager thought it was hilarious that I wrote to you (I told her about it), and now we laugh about our “twinning” outfits. We’re both wearing pretty pink shirts and jeans today and my boss made a joke about our “spring time look connection.”

Thank you for all the support!

3. My coworker reacts badly when I won’t come in on my days off (#4 at the link)

I finally took the advice of everyone and laid down the law with the problematic coworker. As a result, she no longer asks me personally to fill in for her but simply has resorted to exaggerating injuries and claiming that she needs physical therapy so that she can take weeks off with no notice and continue doing whatever she’s doing during work hours.

On the other hand, I learned through this experience as well as the comments on my original ask that these things are way beyond my control and that I was not in any way shape or form obligated to fill in for her when she demands just to make her happy. Her supervisor was away on personal leave but when he returns, I will be reporting to him regarding her transgressions.

4. Is sex a bad example in a work presentation? (#2 at the link)

Thank you for answering my question. Your last point about possibly encouraging inappropriate comments from others was something I hadn’t thought of at all but I do take very seriously. So I will use other examples where I can and do without where I can’t (and thanks to commentators for suggestions). For clarification we’re not in a related field, though we work in an area where we do have to consider the occasional messiness of real lives so I’d expect colleagues to be reasonably grown up about things.

As it happens my second best examples on a number of points are around drug-taking, but this does seem to be a case where drugs are better than sex.