my emotionally fragile employee is sobbing at work multiple times a week

A reader writes:

I am in HR and one of my employees, “Brenda,” is a sweet, kind, sensitive, empathetic soul – she wears her heart on her sleeve. To know Brenda is to love her, and she is adored by everyone in the organization. A self-described empath, she cries easily and is a feeler’s feeler. (She feels things about MY life that I don’t even feel – especially to that depth.) She gets emotional when given any sort of feedback that isn’t glowing (and even sometimes over feedback that IS glowing) and when Brenda realizes that she has caused a problem of some sort – regardless of how small – she is often teary-eyed for the rest of the day. Until recently, I’ve been able to manage her fairly effectively, but the situation has escalated and now I’m unsure of how to set expectations without sounding particularly heartless.

Brenda is in the midst of a highly emotional season (since late January-ish) in which she is dealing with baggage from her own life that she has largely ignored for decades. (Frankly, we could all learn a lesson from her on that.) For the last several months, she has been a heartbeat away from a meltdown at seemingly every moment. Now, multiple times each day, she is sitting at her desk with tears streaming down her face, often for “no reason at all.” Sometimes it’s “ugly cry” sobbing – several times a week.

Brenda is well aware that her colleagues are walking on eggshells around her and she hates that, but she can’t help the tears. When the source of her angst is work-related, we talk it out and I do everything I can to fix it, help her work through it, etc. Her colleagues – both in my department and surrounding departments – are very sympathetic and empathetic … but the emotional roller coaster is taking its toll on everyone … and we are about to enter an extremely busy all-hands-on-deck season for the next several months. Brenda’s inability to control her emotions is affecting the efficiency and effectiveness of our team.

She does seem to be getting help, both from a counselor and her medical doctor for her mental health issues. She is currently on a three-day break from work, paid for by the organization, in order to get away from the office before the busy season starts. (This was offered to all members of my team and all are taking me up on it.) When she returns to the office, I know that I need to set expectations for her about controlling her emotions in the workplace, including, but not limited to, providing boundaries around what is appropriate from an emotional standpoint, coping skills, etc. I am prepared to discuss the ADA and reasonable accommodations as well. I want to be empathetic and supportive, but I need to maintain an efficient workplace/team.

I would love some advice on wording for that conversation that wouldn’t be completely cold and heartless.

I wrote back to this letter-writer and said, “This sounds exhausting! How is her work? Is it impacted by any of this? And any chance she can work effectively from home?” The response:

It really is exhausting. Her work is pretty good. A few details have been lost lately, but overall, her work is solid.

Getting her to work from home is a challenge, partially because she is social and doesn’t want to be alone. She’s single so she spends a lot of time by herself anyway. The other problem is that she does all of our new employee paperwork, takes minutes at some high level meetings, etc. There are definitely some things she could do from home, but it’s probably only about 30-40% of her job.

I am exhausted just reading about Brenda, so I can only imagine what it’s like for you and others in your office.

Full-on sobbing at her desk, multiple times a week? Sitting at her desk with tears streaming down her face multiple times a day?

That is so disruptive to other people’s ability to work that I’m inclined to say it’s downright prohibitive. As in, it can’t continue to happen, period. It’s not fair to other employees. It’s upsetting and stressful to hear someone sobbing on the reg at work. I guarantee you it’s affecting other people’s emotional well-being, and I’m certain some (even most) are avoiding Brenda so they don’t risk setting her off, even when that makes their work harder.

If Brenda is in so much pain right now that she can’t be at work without this happening, then she might need a leave of absence or other time off to work through this. Or you could explore having her go down to part-time and working remotely, doing the 30-40% of her job that can be done from home. But you can’t let this continue in the space other people have to work in.

The conversation you need to have with her is along the lines of, “I know you’re going through a difficult time and I’ve tried hard to give you the support you need at work. But we can’t have you crying at your desk multiple times a week — it’s disrupting the office and making it difficult for other people to work. So let’s figure out what to do. We can talk about options like a leave of absence or intermittent FMLA, or we could even have you work part-time from home while you’re navigating this. But we’re at the point where we do need to handle this differently.”

You can say all this in a kind tone. You can sound sympathetic. But you do need to lay out these boundaries. (And based on what you’ve written, it seems likely that she might cry. If that happens, that’s not a sign that you can’t continue the conversation. Plow forward — kindly, but firmly.)

That said, do talk with your HR team or a lawyer first to make sure you’re navigating any ADA issues correctly — but “you can’t disrupt other people’s work multiple times a week” is a reasonable principle to adhere to.

And it’s not cold or heartless. You’ve gone above and beyond in supporting Brenda up until this point, and it’s not callous to be honest that you can’t continue accommodating her at other people’s expense. In fact, I’d argue it’s ultimately kinder to a larger number of people — her coworkers — to have this conversation than not to. And it’s potentially even kinder to Brenda herself, since it sounds like she doesn’t realize the impact this is having on others, and that she’s someone who would care about that if she knew.

Also, I feel awkward asking this but … is Brenda really adored by everyone in the organization, as you wrote? I’m skeptical that people are even comfortable around her at this point. I’m sure some of them are sympathetic, yes, but everyone has been in a tremendously uncomfortable position for months at this point. If no one is complaining, I’d bet it’s because they’ve absorbed the message that everyone has to tiptoe around Brenda, and that’s not good.

I’ve got to think most people are wondering why this situation — painful as it is for her — is still allowed to disrupt the office every day. You’ve got to act for their sake.

coworkers’ kids are noisy at work, SAT scores in a cover letter, and more

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

1. My coworkers’ kids are making it hard for me to focus

I am a little over a month in at a new job that I really like. Most of the staff is working out of the office most days (we are in the health field). Two colleagues regularly bring their kids to work. I am assuming this is because schools/camps/daycares are still closed in our area, and I am extremely sympathetic to working parents who are trying to juggle it all!

The problem for me is, two of these kids are usually set up in the empty cubicle next to mine. They usually play games together on a computer or tablet and often get loud and animated, as kids do. I have tried to wear headphones and tune out the noise, but I find it pretty distracting, especially as the noise isn’t typical office background noise.

Any advice? I feel if I had worked here longer, I would have more standing to bring this up, but I know I am still new and don’t want to rock the boat with coworkers. Should I just try to ignore it?

It’s not okay for people to bring their kids into work if they’re not going to take responsibility for ensuring they don’t disrupt others. But you’re right that this would be easier to bring up if you’d been there longer. As a new hire, you don’t necessarily know all the politics that might be involved in this.

In your shoes — having been there only a month — I’d ask your boss if there’s somewhere else you could work because the kids are sometimes loud. That would bring it to your boss’s attention without you complaining about it and might spur her to intervene in some way. Or it might just get you a quieter work area, which would be a good outcome too.

2. Should I talk about my SAT scores in my cover letter and interview?

I am currently in the process of switching careers. The career I would like to move towards is much more technical and mathematical than what I’ve previously been doing (I’m going from a manager-level job in entertainment marketing to something in data science/data analysis). I’ve been studying programming languages and I have reason to believe I would be very good at what I’m trying to do, but this new career path is not anywhere close to what I studied in college and it’s only a small part of my job currently.

My parents have repeatedly encouraged me to bring up my SAT score in cover letters and interviews. While my score was very high, it feels weird to me to bring up a test score from nearly a decade ago in an interview. But on the other hand, it is something impressive from my past that objectively shows I am good at logic and math, which might be helpful going into a new career path where that’s important. I did add it to my LinkedIn, not prominently, just under the “test scores” section. Are my parents right? Should I bring it up? Or will it make me seem young, immature, and out of touch?

Noooo, do not bring it up, and take it off of your LinkedIn! Test scores from high school don’t belong in job application materials, especially when you’re 10 years out.

The exception to this is if you’re applying in a very small number of fields that actually consider them still relevant (some segments of finance and consulting, but even then generally only if you’re a student or a recent grad). To everyone else it will look strange.

3. I share a name with someone with a weird reputation on the internet

I graduated with my bachelor’s last May and am still job searching. When googling my name, I’ve learned that I share it with a YouTuber who has reached minor fame. He seems to be very well-known in his niche hobby and Internet community, but I imagine that the average person would be unaware of him. But he seems to be a rather contentious figure with as many critics as fans. The majority of criticism is focused on continuous unprofessional behavior on his part, with a deluge of screenshots and video evidence (things like making inflammatory statements in his videos, getting defensive in response to negative feedback, and writing divisive political posts when politics is not the focus of his community).

I have a LinkedIn profile, but when I google my name, almost all the links on the first page are about him. I like the advice you gave to previous letter-writers to use my middle initial and to make my LinkedIn picture look as distinct as possible from his online pictures, but his sheer online presence dwarfs mine. Since I’m fresh out of school, I feel like it’s too early in my career to get my own domain or write articles like you suggested to the previous letter-writers. I also don’t use Facebook or any other social media with my real name, nor do I post photos online aside from my LinkedIn photo.

The people I networked with from previous positions know who I am, but what about recruiters who google me? My LinkedIn link is on my resume, but I’ve also heard advice from a close friend of mine that I might not get a position if a company feels they should not risk any mistaken association by hiring me. Is this true? (Even though my namesake has, from what I’ve read, never gone to college or been employed?) How do I build a solid Internet presence when this person has not only seven years’ worth of his own content online but also seven years’ worth of critics talking about him, all across different social media platforms?

Would you be open to including your full middle name rather than just an initial — so you’d be, for example, Xavier Falcon Mulberry rather than just Xavier F. Mulberry? The middle initial is good, but the full name would differentiate you even more.

It’s not too early to get your own domain (anyone can get their own domain!), but it also isn’t likely to solve the problem unless you post prodigiously there, which likely doesn’t make sense. But I might consider having more of a social media presence with photos if you’re up for it — just to create more of an “obviously not the other guy” trail.

I don’t think many companies will not hire you out of fear someone could associate you with the other person; the concern is really just about employers thinking you are him. The middle name should help with that.

4. Job listings that say “remote” when they’re not

I’m looking at remote positions and have noticed a glut of job listings that will say they’re remote only, but then find out that they’re only temporarily remote due to COVID. Should companies really be listing these jobs as remote? It’s driving me batty to see what looks to be a promising job listed as remote only to click on the listing and find that it’s not a permanent situation. Is this common practice right now? And if it is, can we all collectively will it to stop?

We can and should try collectively willing it to stop because you’re right — if these positions are only temporarily remote, it makes no sense to advertise them as remote to someone across the country. Those aren’t remote jobs. They’re on-site jobs, temporarily being done from home.

5. Paying taxes on gifts from employers

Last night, my mother-in-law was talking about her job. She’s a nurse at a local hospital that has numerous locations in multiple cities. She told us that gifts from the hospital are added to their salary and they have to pay taxes on them! What? She has had to pay taxes on gift cards and cheap mugs that have the company’s name on them. Is this normal practice? Taxes on gifts seems to defeat the purpose of a gift.

IRS rules do indeed say that most gifts from employers are considered taxable income because they’re a form of compensation. The only exceptions are gifts that qualify as “de minimis fringe benefits,” defined as goods or services where the value is so small that accounting for it would be unreasonably or administratively impracticable. Exceptions include “traditional birthday and holiday gifts of property (not cash) with a low fair market value,” “occasional cocktail parties, group meals, or picnics for employees and their guests,” “coffee, doughnuts, and soft drinks,” and “flowers, fruit, books or similar property provided to employees under special circumstances (for example, on account of illness, outstanding performance, or family crisis).”

Typically companies use $25 as a cut-off (so I’m somewhat surprised by the mugs), but cash and gift cards are always taxable, no matter their amounts.

my coworker’s meetings run on and on … and he knows we’re all trapped in our houses

A reader writes:

I have a question about etiquette re: booking meetings and going past the set end of the meeting.

I have a coworker, Fergus, who is senior to me, although he and I report to the same boss, and with whom I have a good working relationship. Our mutual boss, Tabitha, is incredibly mindful of ensuring that the meetings she books end on time (or within a few minutes, if something is particularly pressing).

Fergus … not so much. It’s routine that he will book a meeting for our 10-person team for 30 minutes or an hour, and we’re still on the call 45 minutes to an hour after the scheduled end of the meeting. Tabitha is not on these calls. People who have meetings scheduled back to back are good with jumping off, but the rest of us often have time set aside to get things done, and the Excess Meeting is never structured, but a constant parade of “Oh! One more thing!” until I want to tear my headphones off, throw them across the room, and die.

This is particularly taxing when it’s a meeting booked at the end of the day, from 4-5 or thereabouts, and then we’re on until 6:30. We don’t have anywhere to *be*, since we’re all in our homes, but it does feel disrespectful to our lives, particularly because it happens more often than not. I would absolutely be fine staying on until 6:30 if the meeting was scheduled until then, but because the agenda devolves into “while I have you on…” it’s difficult to estimate, I suppose.

I don’t necessarily feel like it’s something I really have standing to bring up to Tabitha, since at the end of the day, we’re all stuck in our homes and *could* take these lengthy calls. I’ve thought about mentioning it to Fergus, but don’t know a productive way to do so that doesn’t make it sound like I’m lazy.

HELP. Part of what keeps me sane during quarantine is a pretty structured “wind-down” schedule after the work day concludes, especially since I live alone and this period has been pretty difficult for me.

The fact that you don’t have anywhere to be doesn’t mean you don’t have other plans for that time. You’re not obligated to cede all control over your day to a colleague just because you’re staying at home!

You’re allowed (at least in most offices, and certainly in all healthy/functional ones) to say, “I’ve got to jump off this call now because I’ve got something scheduled right after this.” That “something” can be a block of time you set aside to work on X or Y, or it can be dinner, or it can simply be the end of your work day. It doesn’t need to be another meeting.

It also helps to announce at the start of the call, “I’ve got a hard stop right at 5, so I’m going to need to jump off then.” Then when 5 rolls around, no one will be surprised when you excuse yourself to go.

You could also mention this to Tabitha if you want to. It sounds like she values good meeting management, and she might be interested to know that someone she manages is regularly letting his meetings go more than double the amount of time they were scheduled for. Again, it doesn’t matter that you could stay on the calls. It matters that you have other uses for that time, and running meetings this way is disrespectful and ineffective.

An easy way to bring it up to Tabitha would be to couch it as a heads-up that you’re going to start being more assertive about it yourself. For example: “I’ve been running into an issue with the team meetings that Fergus schedules. He regularly schedules them for 30 minutes or an hour, but they end up taking up to two hours, usually without an agenda or much structure. Sometimes they’re going as late as 6:30 when we were scheduled to end at 5. I’m going to start being more assertive about speaking up when I need that time for other things, but I wanted to give you a heads-up about it since I didn’t know if you knew it was happening so often.”

Or you can skip that and just start excusing yourself when the time you set aside is up.

my employee wants to be micromanaged

A reader writes:

I have an employee who wants to be micromanaged. She seems to be paralyzed unless I explicitly give direction to get something done. If I don’t respond in what she deems a timely manner, she will text me while I’m in meetings or on phone calls, looking for direction.

I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried being direct by saying, “I need you to be more confident in your decision-making and just move on things. You have my blessing.” I’ve tried just plain ignoring to see if the pressure will make her move. I’ve tried hinting, which I hate because it’s passive-aggressive. None of it works. I’m out of ideas and wondering what else I could do to ameliorate the situation. It’s very inefficient and quite frankly, I have decision fatigue at the end of the day.

I answer this question 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.

my boss sent a friend to spy on me at my house

A reader writes:

I work for a very large company and am working from home. When I spoke to my manager on the phone recently, she hinted about whether I was watching TV while working. I told her I can’t watch TV while I work because it’s too distracting, but I listen to podcasts for background noise, as I did when we were in the office.

Now I see that she sent a friend of hers to check on me from outside of my house. I saw her stop on the road in front of my house on her bike, text, then go around the block, come back in front of my house, and stop and text again. She was obviously peering in. I saw her since I was working at the kitchen table, and she didn’t see me since she was looking in my living room windows.

I understand if they want to track what I’m doing on my laptop (I know they do this) and I have no problem with that, but I do have an issue with her friend spying on me in front of my house. Is this legal? A friend thought this would be harassment. What are your thoughts?

What on earth? This is both incredibly intrusive of your manager and incredibly passive (a weird combination). If she has concerns about whether you’re really working while you’re at home, she needs to address that directly and examine your actual work output … not send a friend to peek in your windows.

And aside from the ridiculous privacy violation and general absurdity, what was she expecting to accomplish? If the friend saw you preparing food or doing laundry instead of working, what would that prove? It would tell her nothing more than that you took a short break just as you might do at the office. She’d need to either spy on you for hours or see something truly extreme for it to be any use, like spotting you passed out in a sea of beer cans or perhaps putting the finishing touches on an intricate tattoo that you’d clearly been at for hours.

It’s surprisingly foolish.

Anyway, a lot of jurisdictions do make it illegal to deliberately loiter and peek in windows (see Peeping Tom laws), but I don’t think that angle is your best bet here. If it were happening repeatedly and after you’d attempted to address it with your manager, maybe — but for now, your better bet is to talk to your manager and ask what’s up.

I’d say this: “Something strange just happened. Your friend Jane was just here and seemed to be looking in my windows! It was incredibly unnerving. Do you know what’s going on?”

That alone might ensure it doesn’t happen again, since people who engage in bizarrely amateur spy games often don’t like being called out on them.

But you also need to address the bigger issue, which is the apparent total lack of trust she has in you. I would say, “This happened right after you asked if I was watching TV while working. Do you have concerns about how focused I am on work when I’m at home?” … followed by, “Could we take a look at my output for the last few weeks so you can see what I’m getting done? I don’t want you to have doubts about my productivity, and I think looking at the work I’ve done will hopefully set that to rest.”

Of course, none of that will change the fact that you’re working for someone who sent a friend to peer in your windows and spy on you. That’s probably not salvageable in any real way.

my boss says grad school will prove I’m serious, being micromanaged after a great review, and more

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

1. My boss says I should go to grad school to prove I’m serious about my field

I’ve been with an association for close to five years now, and have consistently evolved in my role. I started as a coordinator for a particular department, and have moved onward to assistant project managing a few key initiatives. This aspect of my job is challenging and exciting and what I would like to be doing full-time. However, I’m also still managing a lot of administrative tasks for other groups, like scheduling calls and ordering lunches, which I would like to move away from.

In every performance review, I’m consistently given feedback that I’m doing a great job, that they recognize my intelligence and drive and value my contributions. However, I have repeatedly asked the organization to invest in me by allowing me to attend conferences or trainings, and they have ignored these requests. I recently received feedback from my supervisor that the only way I will advance in the organization is to get a master’s degree in the field that I’m working on. Not specifically because of the knowledge I will gain, but because it will prove that I’m serious about the field. Should I take this advice seriously? I’ve always thought about grad school, and wanted to continue my learning, but I could only do an online program, so that I can still work full-time. I’m also not sure how long I want to stay at this organization, and I know that it can be more challenging to find a job with a master’s. If they are telling me I’m not going to advance, I should leave, right?

Going to grad school to “prove you’re serious about the field” is terrible advice! You go to grad school if you need the degree to achieve what you want in your field. Or perhaps if you’re have a love of learning, don’t care if it helps you professionally, and are either independently wealthy or fully funded. You don’t go to prove anything. And really, you could get the master’s and find out you still can’t advance in your organization because they have you pigeon-holed as someone who does admin work.

You’ve been at this organization for five years, which isn’t a bad time to start thinking about moving on anyway (and especially if you’re not advancing). Why not look around? If you realize you need a master’s for most of the jobs you’re interested in, then you can make a decision based on that. But don’t do it to prove something to an organization that you’ve already proven yourself to through five years of excellent work.

2. I’m being micromanaged by a new manager after a great review

I recently had a six-month performance review in which my work was rated very well. All metrics were met and the higher-ups praised the work I’ve been doing.

During the review, I was made aware of the fact that I have a manager other than the one I’d originally been working with. I was never told this person was my manager or supervisor in any capacity, and until after the review, he’d never come off as someone in a leadership role.

It’s been weeks since then, and my new manager is constantly checking up on me. He is piling more and more on my plate than ever before. He is giving me a dozen tasks and checking up to see if I’ve done them all within an impossibly short period of time. He is micromanaging and making me go over every decision I make with him, whereas before I was able to work relatively independently.

I’m feeling deflated at this point. Previously, this job was the perfect mix of collaboration and independence. Now, I constantly (and I mean constantly — dozens of check ins during an eight-hour day, every single day) have someone breathing down my neck. I don’t understand why the response to my stellar performance review was to put this kind of supervision in place. It wasn’t discussed at all.

It wasn’t the stellar content of the review that triggered it — it was that something happened then that made this person aware he was your manager (which somehow no one knew before that, which is weird). And so now he’s managing you, and he’s terrible at it.

I’d go back to the person you thought was your manager previously, the one who wrote your review, and talk to them about what’s happening. Explain what’s changed and how miserable you are and ask if there’s a way to be moved back under their purview. (They clearly thought they managed you earlier, since they wrote your review!) Point to the outstanding feedback you had, and use the words “demoralized” and “interfering with my productivity.”

There’s no guarantee they can or will step in, but in a functional organization that would light a fire for someone to address this.

3. I don’t like the way my employer is screening us for COVID symptoms

I work at a relatively large organization in a large U.S. city. We are starting to have people coming back on-site. As part of this, we are asked to do a virtual health screening each morning that we’ll be on-site. This screening asks if we are experiencing a list of COVID-19 related symptoms (coughing, fever, etc.) or if we or anyone we have been in contact with has received a positive COVID test. You select either yes or no and if you select yes, you cannot come in (understandably).

Originally I assumed this information was being received by my manager who was cross-checking it against those of us who were coming into work that day. While I don’t love my manager being given info about my health normally, I understand that right now he needs it in order to do his job of assigning work and ensuring coverage. However, I recently found out that it isn’t my manager receiving this information — it is a few of my peers in another department (not HR, a similar department to mine, think marketing or graphic design), who then let my manager know who is cleared or not.

I … don’t like this and I can’t fully articulate why. I understand we’re in a pandemic and that some things are necessary, but these colleagues don’t need access to my medical info to do their jobs, and they are not trained on handling personal medical info. I realize that this is a pretty limited amount of info, but I think it should go to as few people as possible and only those who really need it. I’m not likely to make an issue over it, and so far I haven’t had any symptoms that would require me to answer yes, but I’m curious as to your thoughts on this and if I’m just being overly sensitive. I used to work in healthcare so I have pretty strong feelings about sharing medical information and that may be affecting my perspective here.

Not to further alarm you, but your boss might not be trained on handling personal medical info either. If you company is smart, they did train those coworkers and your boss as well — but the rules for healthcare workers are different than the rules for most employers. (One major difference people often don’t realize is that HIPAA doesn’t apply to most employers.)

I imagine your employer set it up this way because your manager’s time needs to be spent elsewhere, and/or because it’s easier for them to train one set of workers to collect this info rather than to have every manager collecting it for their own teams, and/or because they want a firewall between managers and employees on this — so that your manager is just receiving the final verdict (cleared/not cleared) and not hearing personal health details from people.

If the people receiving the health info are generally responsible, trustworthy, and discreet, I wouldn’t worry about this. If they’re not, that’s the angle I’d address it from — not that they’re not your boss.

4. How do I express concern without prying?

I’m a manager of an employee who’s had to take some time off for doctor’s appointments, and it seems like there have been more as a result of others. This is not someone who would take advantage of time off, so that’s not my concern, and is also someone I have a relatively close personal friendship with. What’s the best way to express concern or support for their well-being without seeming too intrusive or sounding like I want to know more?

“I don’t want to pry, but I hope everything is okay, and please let me know if there’s anything you need from me!”

They can then either offer more if they want to, or can ignore it and move on.

That said, there are times when I wouldn’t recommend saying even this. If you’re a manager who does tend to pry or who has expressed skepticism about someone’s sick days in the past, this can come across as fishing for info or signaling you’re watching their time off. But in a healthy environment, it will be fine.

5. My company wants to know if I’m willing to travel this year

I am an account executive working four years in the same company. Last year, due to turnover I was given an opportunity to spend a month abroad (Canada) visiting various clients. I don’t mind travel and welcomed the opportunity, wrongly thinking it would help progress within the department.

Fast forward a year and due to Covid there is no clarity on whether and how this same travel duty will play out. Normally these visits occur annually, around summer. Due to a specialized skill set, it would be difficult to have another employee replace me for this and virtually no one else is trained on the required tasks. With a work-from-home structure set up four months ago, I imagined travel was off the table until 2021. Yet twice management has asked whether I am open to traveling this year. I felt I couldn’t flat out decline but was direct in stating my strong preference to delay travel until conditions are safer.

Having been approached again about the travel conditions I’d feel comfortable with, I responded with questions such as will the company cover any potential treatment needed due to corporate travel (especially if treatment is required abroad) and would they cover any costs if I’m required to quarantine abroad and am prohibited from returning home? Legally I doubt there is precedent on this and I’m floored this discussion is even taking place and want to ensure I’m not being overly pessimistic or negative.

Well, wait. They didn’t come to you and say “you must travel.” They asked if you were open to traveling this year, and you didn’t explicitly say no. You said you preferred to delay it until conditions are safer, and so now they’re asking what that means to you. Why not go back and say, “I’ve thought about it and, given the current data, I’m not comfortable traveling this year at all”?

I get that you’re worried that a flat no wasn’t an option, but you should take them at their word until they show you that you can’t. They asked if you’d be up for doing it and you’re not — so just tell them you’re not.

If you feel weird about backtracking now, you can say that the recent spikes have changed your comfort level, or that simply thinking through what benchmarks you’d want to see first has made you realize it won’t be this year.

weekend open thread – July 4-5, 2020

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: Carrie Pilby, by Caren Lissner. A former child prodigy hits adulthood and struggles to connect with people. It’s quirky and charming.

* I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.

it’s your Friday good news

It’s your Friday good news, with more accounts of success even in this weird time.

1. I just wanted to say a huge thank you! I left a job in November due to ill health, and got a new job in March. I got amazing feedback from the recruiters thanks to your advice, but two weeks after I started, lockdown began, and two weeks later I was furloughed.

But after a bit of moping and really thinking through what I wanted, I managed to land an amazing new job near me- and they’ve just offered me a salary that’s 10% higher than I was even going to ask! Thank you so much for your advice and sample CVs/cover letters, I feel so relieved and excited about this next chapter.

2. I have been reading the blog for some time and over the years I have picked up that it is completely appropriate to ask an interviewer for their salary range for a position before revealing what you are looking for. Today I had an initial interview with a recruiter for a position closely aligned with the work I’ve been doing for years but at a completely different kind of organization. The figure I’ve had in my head that I’d put out if I needed to reveal my goal first was 20% above what I have been earning, but the amount the organization has budgeted is nearly twice my current salary. I am optimistic that I am well positioned to fill this role and thrilled to know that if I do join them, I will be compensated at a market rate that far exceeds my current industry.

3. I have some Friday good news to share!

I have been in my current position for a little less than a year. To say this is not a good fit is an understatement. My boss is an overwhelmed but can’t help himself from micromanaging everything I do. Blame culture is prevalent, and morale is low. The project I was brought in to work on has serious structural issues that prevent me (or anyone really) from being successful. Rather than acknowledging these structural issues, my boss chooses to blame me for everything going wrong.

I was in the early stages of looking elsewhere when the pandemic struck. While we are all working from home, the micromanaging ramped up – think twice daily check-ins and the expectation that we are available to work outside of normal hours.

However, I continued my job search and landed an interview with a similar organization! I was nervous about leaving one dumpster fire for another. I used your advice in terms of interviewing and especially questions to ask and felt confident that the team I was interviewing with has more structure and is a more supportive environment than my current one. I was offered the position, recieved a pay increase, and start next month!

open thread – July 3-4, 2020

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 do not repost it here, as it may be in my queue to answer.

we have to live within 100 miles of our director, company said paying me more would be “unfair,” and more

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

1. We have to live within 100 miles of our director

I work for a small nonprofit that went remote for a trial period last year. This year the board approved a permanent move to remote work, with the restriction that we all live and work within a 100-mile radius of the executive director’s home. The exact wording was, “All workers must be located within 100 miles of X city proper (using my address as the start-point location).”

I understand this is legal, but I’m wondering is how common this type of restriction is. We are based in an expensive metro area, and I was hoping to benefit from remote work by moving somewhere more affordable. As the sole earner for my family (and a renter) while other staff are dual-income homeowners, I feel a little slighted by the restriction.

It’s weird that they’re using the executive director’s home address as the starting point, but maybe they figured they needed one and there were no other obvious candidates. (It’s still weird though, since the ED’s home is not the organization’s headquarters.)

But this kind of “must live in local area” restriction isn’t uncommon. Often it’s because they want to know you’ll have the ability to meet in-person if it’s needed. Sometimes it’s because they want to ensure that if they need to revoke the remote arrangements in the future, their workforce won’t have scattered all over the country. It can also be because there are costs and legal ramifications to having workers in other states (see #2 here — although if that were their concern, they probably would have just limited you to the state).

There’s no reason you can’t push a little on the policy and see if there’s some hidden flexibility. Explain you were hoping to move to X because it’s lower cost and ask if they’d be open to it. Even if they say no, though, there can still be significant cost savings to being able to work from home full-time (you save on commute, business clothes, pricier lunches, etc.).

2. Company told me paying more would be “unfair” to other employees

Just had what felt like an odd conversation with an HR rep liaising on my offer, hoping to get your take. Keep in mind I’m new to the type of role, a little new to the industry, but have mid- to near-senior professional experience and many directly transferable skills.

In the verbal offer, they dropped the listed job ad salary (full-time equivalent for a contract gig) due to my lack of direct experience. I asked if they had flexibility to a salary about halfway between the two numbers, conceding lack of experience but with the (at first unspoken) rationale that I’ve been working for nearly 10 years. The HR person said that salary would be “unfair” to other employees with the same job role currently working at the company, because they don’t make that much.

This seemed like a bizarre rationale to me, or at least to share with a potential new employee. I sort of appreciate the transparency but seems an odd rationale given that different candidates always have different backgrounds and contexts — thus a salary band. What do you think? Odd? Not odd?

It’s hard to say for sure without knowing more about your background and the needs of the job, but in general, there’s a movement toward being more deliberate about pay equity and ensuring employers can justify differences in salaries based on actual qualifications — and that’s a good thing. By “unfair,” at a minimum I’d assume they meant “we can’t justify this salary compared to what we’re paying other people doing similar work” — and they might also mean it would cause inequities in their salary structure along race or gender lines, which is illegal and something employers are increasingly working to avoid.

3. Old job is still contacting me with questions eight months after I left

Last summer, I was laid off from a job I’d held for several years. It was a highly toxic environment which negatively impacted my mental and physical health, and it was honestly a huge relief. I was given an okay severance package, and part of that agreement was to be available for two weeks following my last day to answer any questions remaining staff might have. I answered a couple of questions outside that time frame, but not by much, say a month after my last day. I was still unemployed, so it wasn’t a big issue, and I still needed references for any future jobs.

Things quieted down for awhile, then another question popped up about four months following, which I answered with a simple, “I’m not sure.” Since then, I’ve gotten a few questions, mostly about where files were stored. It seems to be cyclical, in that certain materials are only relevant during a certain time period (i.e., tax season). Based on my knowledge about my former coworkers, I’m assuming that they are texting me as a first step, rather than as a last resort.

It’s now been about eight months since I left, and I’ve had a new job for about five of those months. Am I still obligated to respond to these questions? As I said, it was a highly toxic place that I was in for years, and I’m still working to undo the damage. I’m in a much healthier environment, with a much better job, and I don’t particularly want to continue relationships there.

It’s been eight months; it’s ridiculous that they’re still contacting you. Feel free to stop responding entirely or to only respond with “sorry, can’t recall because it’s been so long!” (and perhaps wait a few days before sending that so they learn you’re not at their beck and call).

They asked you for two weeks of availability for questions. You gave them that. Out of good will and/or desire to preserve the reference, you continued to respond after that. But at this point, eight months later, your obligation is zero and they’re abusing your good will. You can cut them off.

4. Survivor’s guilt after furloughs

Back in April, a few of my colleagues with the same position as me were furloughed, leaving only two of us left. My coworker and I are extremely relieved that we weren’t furloughed but are feeling what we believe to be “survivor’s guilt.” Every day I think about my coworkers and how it must feel to be furloughed, knowing that other people with the exact same job as them haven’t been. I feel for them, and I know my boss didn’t do this because she wanted to (she audibly teared up on a call in April announcing the furloughs, but gained control within moments). I have now been told that the furloughs will be extended, thus making this feeling even worse. I guess my question is, is there a way to cope with this? In a perfect world my coworkers would come back ASAP, but COVID seems to have other plans.

Survivor’s guilt is a real thing with layoffs and furloughs! It’s normal; you’re a compassionate person with empathy for your colleagues who might be struggling. I don’t think there’s one way to deal with it that works for everyone, but something that can help is to contact your furloughed coworkers to see if you can do anything to help — job leads, moral support, virtual coffee, or whatever it might be. (That said, some people prefer not to get that kind of support from colleagues and that’s okay too; just be alert to their cues when you talk to them.) And if you find that it’s really challenging your ability to cope, a few sessions with a therapist might be helpful — not because there’s something wrong with your reaction, but if it’s been upsetting you daily since April, a therapist could help you figure out strategies to more easily move forward.

What advice do others have?

5. Should I change my resume and cover letter when reapplying to an internship?

There’s an internship I’m applying to right now that happens twice a year, once during the summer and once during the fall. This past March, I applied for the summer internship. I was really proud of my cover letter and my resume, but unfortunately— because of Covid-19 — the summer internship was cancelled.

Now, the organization is having the fall internship (it will be done remotely), and I’m applying to it. How much, if at all, do I need to redo my cover letter and resume?

As I said before, I was really happy with both documents. I had them reviewed by a career advisor from my university’s campus about a week ago, and she said that both were very good, but never addressed my question about if I need to make any changes because I’m reapplying.

I don’t know how far into the applications process the organization got for the cancelled summer internship, so I don’t know if they even saw my application documents before the internship was cancelled, though they very well may have. The position that I’m applying for now is exactly the same as the one I applied for in March, except for the change to working remotely.

You don’t need to change your resume at all, unless you have more recent experience you need to add to it.

And this is a rare case where you don’t need to change the cover letter much. Normally if you’re reapplying for a job, I’d say that you shouldn’t use the same letter, because (a) it’ll look too perfunctory and (b) it didn’t get you an interview last time so you should change it up. But in this case the position was cancelled — you weren’t rejected — so it should be fine to use the same letter. That said, I’d update it a little to note that you applied for the summer spot before it was canceled so they know you have an ongoing interest in working with them.