can I bring my dog on a business trip, manager made up fake reasons for a firing, and more

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

1. Can I bring my dog on a business trip?

I work for a small firm that operates in two cities in the same state: one main office with the majority of employees and business, and a smaller office with one VP and myself about four hours away. I have a three-month plan with targets I have to hit in order to be eligible for a promotion, and as part of the plan they have asked for me to spend a week at the main office. They will put me up at a hotel on the same block as the office for my stay.

Question: is it weird for me to bring my dog with me that week? I live a very short walk from my regular office and normally carve out time in my day to come home and let my elderly dog out (I walk home for lunch many days anyway). The hotel they selected for me is dog-friendly. Even if I don’t have time to let him out during the middle of the day while I am at the main office, he’s fine making it a work day without going out, I just do it to make sure he is comfortable. Obviously I would pay the hotel pet fee myself. Is there any reason it would be frowned upon for me to bring him with me?

Bring your dog! Business travel can be really disruptive to your life and this is a way to make it less so.

If anyone asks about it, you can matter-of-factly say, “Yeah, it made the logistics of coming for a week a lot easier.” That’s perfectly reasonable.

2. I’m worried my coworker might be self-harming

I have a junior colleague with whom I’m friendly. We sometimes chat outside of work. I’m senior to him but not his manager.

He recently went through a rough time in his personal life which we have chatted about, and events came to a head last night. Last I heard before I went to bed, he was upset but okay.

Today he was unable to come into the office as he was in the ER after he burned himself badly when cooking last night. After he left the ER, he joined a virtual meeting and I saw the injury was bandaged. I am worried that it wasn’t actually an accident. I don’t have any evidence for this, but I have noticed scars on his arms which look like self-harm scars to me. He has mentioned previous struggles with mental health (without sharing detail).

Is there anything I can do here? Can I mention anything to him in terms of support? Can I mention it to his manager in case the support should come from her? I feel like I probably can’t, but I am worried.

It could be self-harm but it could also be a cooking accident! I think you need to take him at his word.

That said, he has confided in you that he’s been going through a rough time, and you can suggest support to him based on that. If your company has an EAP, make sure he knows about it. You can also check in with him generally and see how he’s doing. (Also, if he did go to the ER for self-harm, they should/would have done a risk assessment and created a safety plan with him, so hopefully that happened if it was needed.)

But I don’t advise talking with his boss about it, because it’s really up to him how much he shares with her and unfortunately there can be very good, self-protective reasons for people not to disclose mental health struggles to their manager.

3. Why would a manager make up fake reasons to fire someone?

My coworker and I have shared stories about our previous workplaces, and so I found out that he had entered my company in order to escape a performance improvement plan at his previous job, which was a clear sham to justify firing him. His place underwent a change in management, and it was clear that his new manager was seeking to just get rid of all the previous employees in order to replace them with her friends. In a week, he went from an annual review where he was given a good rating to having a performance improvement plan alleging months of problems, and problems that couldn’t just accumulate within a week. I didn’t get all the details, but at least part of the improvement plan were downright false things — things where there was direct evidence of them being made-up issues. Not to mention only hearing about “long-term problems” during a performance improvement plan, instead of multiple times before that point.

My question is why was that even done, when we have at-will employment? Clearly that employee’s previous manager was planning to terminate and replace all the existing staff, so instead of subjecting people to fraudulent improvement plans, wouldn’t it have been much more efficient to simply terminate them? After all, with at-will employment, there’s no such legal thing as wrongful termination, so justifying a termination with fraudulent documentation seems like a waste of time.

First, a quick correction: Even within at-will employment, there is such a thing as wrongful termination. It’s when a firing is based on something illegal, like firing someone because of their race or disability or as retaliation for engaging in legally protected behavior (like reporting discrimination or harassment).

Managers who use an obviously false pretense for firing someone are generally doing it for one or more of the following reasons: (1) They need to comply with the company’s internal disciplinary policies, which require them to present reasons, (2) they know it will cause internal issues (and potentially bad PR and consequences to their own reputation) to just announce “I’m firing you because I want to replace you with my friend” so they find it easier to claim it’s for performance, (3) they think a fake reason will give them cover in the event of any legal challenge or they misunderstand what they can and can’t do legally, (4) they don’t want the company to be on the hook for paying unemployment benefits, or (5) they’re engaging in some internal delusion, because they feel better if they tell themselves there’s a legitimate reason for their actions.

4. Are there legal limits on weird dress codes?

Is there a limit as to what you can have as a dress code in your business? For example, could the dress code say that you have to wear summer clothes in the winter and winter clothes in the summer

The only real legal limits on dress codes in the U.S. are that they can’t be discriminatory by race, gender, or other protected characteristics, and employers need to make reasonable accommodations for people who can’t follow the dress code for medical or religious reasons. (Employers can have different dress codes for men and women, though, as long as that doesn’t impose a significantly higher burden on one sex than on the other.)

So yes, legally an employer could require employees to wear summer clothes in the winter and winter clothes in the summer (as long as they made exceptions for anyone with a health or religious need) … but generally employers have a business incentive to do things that will attract and keep good employees, not drive them away for the hell of it.

5. Explaining I left a job because we weren’t being paid on time

I recently finished my master’s in the mental health field and completed my required internship at a local counseling agency, which I’ll call Agency X. When I started, I found that the vast majority of employees, even supervisors, were former interns and were relatively recent grads.

As time went on, I found out about some significant issues with the organization. Agency X regularly failed to pay their employees on time. They didn’t use direct deposit and would often issue bad checks to employees, to the point that employees started having to go to Agency X’s bank to find out if the check would clear to avoid bounced check fees. This wasn’t just a one- or two-time thing; in the six months I worked there, it seemed that every pay period employees complained about their pay coming late. It got to the point where the owner was paying employees through Zelle or Venmo whenever he could, which would often be a week or more late (and without paystubs), but yet they continued to hire more staff. At one point, I was told that an employee had to go to the hospital, tried to use her insurance, and was sent a bill because the agency had defaulted on their insurance payments and employees were unaware they no longer had health insurance. The agency agreed to pay for the hospital bill, but still. There were also some legal issues that I won’t get into but that could have ramifications on people’s licenses.

This situation didn’t have too much effect on me since I was an unpaid intern, although there was quite a bit of disorganization and miscommunication within the agency that caused some stress, and the majority of the staff was disgruntled. Thankfully I found a job elsewhere that I love right after graduation. But when I interviewed at one counseling agency (not the job I accepted), they asked why I wasn’t pursuing full-time employment at Agency X. Not wanting to badmouth my current internship, I simply said that I had a great experience there but wanted to explore other opportunities. This was relatively easy for me to skirt as I was an intern, but if I had been an employee, how would you answer a question about why you’re leaving your current employer, especially if you’d only been employed a short time? If I had ended up taking a job at Agency X and then discovered the pay and other issues, I would have been job searching very quickly, but I have no clue how I would have answered questions from potential employers about why I’m leaving.

It’s fine to say, “They weren’t paying people on time.” Nobody you’d want to work for will find it concerning that you require a reliable paycheck in exchange for your work.

The convention of not badmouthing a previous employer in an interview is about subjective stuff (“my boss was a micromanaging nightmare,” “the culture was toxic,” etc.) because the interviewer doesn’t know you well enough to judge if your assessment is really accurate or if you’re difficult/have bad judgment/performed terribly. It’s not supposed to prevent you from sharing a quick, objective, highly understandable fact that will instantly explain why you left.

speed round — submit your questions

Tomorrow is the Ask a Manager speed round! On Wednesday from 2-4 pm ET, I’ll be answering as many questions as I can live on the website during that time.

To submit a question in advance, use the form below.

These will be short answers, obviously, so this is better suited for questions that don’t require lengthy, nuanced replies.

    Subject:

    Your question:

    how do I manage an employee who’s terrified of me?

    A reader writes:

    I’m a relatively senior manager who just moved to a new location within my organization, and have been having one-on-one meetings with some key team members as I try to get a handle on how this new location works.

    One of these team members, Tasha, is clearly terrified of me.

    Tasha is friends with a former direct report of mine from my previous location, Sarah. They do the same job, and I know they speak often. I went into my previous location knowing that Sarah wasn’t great at her job, but during my time there another employee came to me with overwhelming and convincing documentation of a number of incidents that, in a more functional organization, would probably have led to her immediate dismissal. I looped in my boss and HR, HR started an investigation … and then HR completely dropped the ball on it and nothing substantive happened.

    Sarah is still employed by my organization, and understandably the last annual review I did for her was … not great. The issues had been documented, but she had denied everything despite a fair amount of evidence. In the meeting she had some heated things to say about me, my management style, and my treatment of her. There are certainly things that I could have handled better, but the review was fair and nothing in it should have come as a surprise to her.

    But she has clearly been talking to Tasha, who clearly thinks that I’m a vindictive tyrant who will lash out unpredictably and who will stab her in the back at the first opportunity. The one-on-one meeting I had with Tasha was painful. Her voice was shaking at times when she spoke, and there were times when she almost seemed to be pleading with me to give her a chance.

    In the moment I think I handled it okay; the manager I replaced gave me a heads-up that Tasha was very nervous about me taking over. I asked her opinion on some issues, and she pointed out a problem that I think I’m going to be able to solve for her relatively quickly. The conversation ended better than it started, and I’m hoping to be able to reinforce that in further interactions.

    But also I know from conversations with her former manager that there are some performance issues with Tasha that I’m likely going to have to address soon, and I’m worried that any sort of criticism is just going to send her back into that spiral of anxiety. How can I effectively manage someone who is predisposed to thinking I’m an ogre?

    The most convincing thing you’ll be able to do is to show Tasha through your actions that you’re not the ogre she fears you are. That takes time, though.

    Meanwhile, there are some things that might help nudge her in that direction:

    * Ask for her feedback on things and show appreciation when she gives it.
    * Look for things to give her genuine praise for.
    * Solve problems/remove roadblocks for her so she can do her work more easily (as you’re already doing).
    * Ask if she has goals you can help her meet and then take clear actions to help (for example, if she’s interested in getting experience doing X, see if you can find ways to help her get that).
    * Be understanding if/when she needs flexibility (and the other side of that: encourage her to take time off if you notice she’s not doing it).
    * Make a point of being generally warm and thoughtful.

    If you’re thinking, “Well, that’s all just being a good manager” … yes! This is stuff you should be doing with everyone you manage. But managers don’t always do it all. Make sure you are (with everyone). Obviously it’s worth doing for its own sake, but it’ll also counter whatever perceptions of you that Tasha picked up from Sarah.

    She won’t trust it at first, of course. (And you probably won’t get honest answers to questions about her goals, given how fearful she is of you right now.) But keep doing it consistently and eventually she’s going to realize that what Sarah told her and what she’s seeing first-hand aren’t lining up.

    Also, when you need to address those performance issues with her, talk to her about how you handle feedback and performance issues generally so you’re conveying that this isn’t a prelude to trying to fire her (assuming it’s not). For example, you could say, “Since we’re still getting to know each other, I want to explain how I handle work issues and what support you can expect from me, and how you’ll know if you’re making the progress we want.” Or hell, if she’s looking obviously terrified, you could even say, “You look really worried right now, so I want to explain how I handle…” You should also try to put the performance issue in the context of her larger performance, if that feels like it will help — “I’m really happy with your work overall and while this is something you need to work on, from what I’ve seen so far I’m confident you’ll be able to do it,” or whatever you can say that’s genuine. (And again, this is stuff you should do all the time, not just with Tasha. But it’s especially important here.)

    If you do all this and a few months from now she still seems terrified of you, it might be worth naming that (in a conversation that will no doubt terrify her further but might help in the long run). At that point you might even consider saying, “I know you’ve worked closely with Sarah and she might have told you I’m tough to work for. I want to respect her privacy, but I do want to say that sometimes — not always, but sometimes — there can be more to a story than what someone tells their coworkers, and I hope I’ll be able to earn your trust over time as you see how I work with you and others.”

    From there, I’d trust that at some point Tasha’s own perceptions are going to outweigh what she heard from Sarah.

    a real-life salary negotiation, with emails

    A reader writes:

    I wanted to share my success story with negotiating a higher salary for a job offer I received. I work in the social services/addiction/mental health field. I’ve worked in this field for 11 years. I was working as a front-line supervisor for a program for adults who had major mental illnesses when I was encouraged to apply for a position at a different employer that would be a step up.

    Prior to the interview, I connected with colleagues who worked for similar organizations in similar roles and asked them about the time commitment, stress, responsibilities, and salaries they had. During the interview, I asked about the advertised merger with another health system, the status of the record system, and other key things that were going on based on my understanding of the field and the news. I also asked the outgoing director about the time commitment this position entailed, and she confirmed what I suspected with it needing time outside of the advertised 40 hours.

    Afterward I spent time thinking about what it was worth to me to switch jobs. I loved the job I had at the time of the interview. Loved it. Working in that program, in that role, was all I’d wanted for years. However, I knew that this new role could offer me more financially, which would be beneficial to my family and me. I spent a long time thinking about this, and the dollar amount for me to feel it was worth switching from my professional love to something more administrative with more headaches was, well, high.

    When they made me the offer, it was initially with a 32% pay increase for me. While substantial, it wasn’t enough to offset the headaches. Perhaps not the best response, but one fitting with my lack of need to change jobs, I said no in the moment and followed up with an email thanking the organization for considering me and explaining why I felt I as a candidate, and this role, were worth more money than they were offering. The organization called me the next day (on a Saturday!) and offered me the position again at a 60% raise! Because of this raise, my husband and I have been able to make so many good moves for our family. And the headaches of the role don’t feel as big because the compensation is great!

    Here is the email exchange we had (details changed for anonymity):

    From: New Job HR Recruiter
    To: Me

    Good Morning Clarice,

    Thank you again for taking the time to talk this morning about our offer for you to join the High Inland community as the Director of Misfit Toys. As we discussed, our offer is for an annual salary of $70,000, which is based on a 40-hour week.

    I invite your counter offer for us to review and consider as we keep the conversation going.

    Thank you.
    Yukon Cornelius

    From: Me
    To: New Job HR Recruiter

    Hi Yukon Cornelius,

    Thank you for following up with me via email! And, to clarify, I would love to come work at High Inland! However, recognizing the challenges the department is up against currently as we try and get behavioral health back on track from the previous administration, the impending transitions with the electronic health record and the ArcticHealth merger (and what that means for managing and supporting the staff of the department through those transitions), and the amount of work hours the position actually demands, it is too low for me to accept, as indicated on Zoom.

    In my mind the responsibilities of the role, which include overseeing the front line supervisors and the direct care staff (and all that comes with it), managing the budgets for all of the programs and the outpatient department as a whole, filling in for direct-care duties as needed, developing programming, fine-tuning programming, community engagement, and working with ArcticHealth and ABH, are worth more than $70,000. Largely because the time spent to do this job well will invariably be more than 40 hours per week, as I confirmed with the current director, Santa, in one of my interviews. My kiddos are just too young for me to be comfortable trading that much of my time for work without remuneration to accompany it. Additionally, a good friend of mine is the manager of the reindeer team at North Pole General Community Care. The role isn’t dissimilar from this one in its scope or “level” within management. He reports to someone at Herby’s level at North Pole General, for reference. My friend makes $84,500 per year. We have the same education, employment history, and background.

    I hesitate to email back a specific number to counter with. Instead, my ask is can you take the information above and reconsider the figure offered to me?

    Thank you again,
    Clarice

    From: New Job Recruiter
    To: Me

    HI Clarice,

    As a follow up to my voicemail I just left, thank you so much for your email. I was able to share with both Herby and Mrs. Donner yesterday evening and I am very happy to be responding to you that we are able to raise our offer to a salary of $84,500 per year.

    Please do not hesitate to call or email with any questions or further thoughts you might have.

    Talk soon.
    Yukon Cornelius

    I sent my boss a long, angry email … but I turned out to be wrong

    A reader writes:

    I jumped to conclusions after misunderstanding someone else’s statements, and responded quite badly.

    I have worked at my current company for six years, under the same manager. The first five years were virtually incident-free, and we had an extremely positive working relationship. Last year, he lost some faith in me after I got into some personnel drama in another department. That drama ended around 10 months ago, after most of the involved parties left the company. Our working relationship was still good, but I could tell that his opinion of my professionalism had been compromised.

    Last week, we had an impromptu conversation to discuss a very high-stakes project that we own, which is ~80% complete. He expressed that while other key players were confident in the strategy we were using to tie up the remaining loose ends, he was not so optimistic. In order to get cooperation from others, we had to agree to try their approach. But he still had reservations about it. He emphasized several times that I/we “were getting a bad performance review” if progress was not made.

    I went into panic mode after hearing that. Based on what he said, my performance review was going to be all or nothing, and only that one thing would be taken into account. We’d had several conversations four months ago where we discussed multiple items that would heavily influence my review. But now it sounded like the entire thing was going to be decided by one project, and the performance review was only a month away. I started thinking that it was too late to turn things around … that my contributions to other projects earlier in the year had been in vain, since they would have little or no impact on my impending review … and that the things we agreed on four months ago had not been honored.

    I wrote him a rather long and aggressive message, explaining how I felt that I had been blindsided about the criteria that was going to be used in my review, and how the criteria had seemingly changed at a time it was too late for me to do things differently. Phrases I used included:
    • “The rules were changed halfway through the game”
    • “I felt I was misled and deceived by inconsistent messages”
    • “Hit a constantly-moving target”
    • “Not conducive to building trust and reliability”
    • “I was shocked and surprised to learn that only one thing would decide my review”
    • “I don’t think it would be fair if work I did in the past (work which was considered important at the time it was done) gets treated as unimportant afterwards, because something else later became a higher priority”

    Three days later, my manager reached out to me. He was visibly upset and said he was shocked that I would say these things about him, and that none of the things I wrote was an accurate interpretation of what he said. I explained what had led me to think that way. He was even more surprised that I had interpreted his comments that way. He insisted that he never said my review would only be decided by one thing, or that nothing else would be taken into account. What he meant was that the part of the review related to that specific project would be graded badly, but that the rules had never changed: the overall review was always going to take multiple things into account.

    He acknowledges that he did say that I “would get a bad review” if the current approach to this project didn’t work out. But he thought it was wild that I interpreted this to mean the entire review (and not just one part of it) would be decided by a single thing.

    The conversation ended with him suggesting that I was lashing out under pressure. It is true that I have been more negative and irritable than usual in the past two months, because we suddenly had a wave of Covid-related absences from other key employees closely involved in these projects. He advised that I take one to two days off and think more about what I wrote, and then we would reconvene to continue this discussion.

    In retrospect, I realize this entire situation could have been avoided if I had simply asked him to clarify his comments. But I freaked out after hearing those initial statements, and didn’t think that they could possibly mean anything else. Rather I took them at face value and thought that I was doomed to get a very lopsided and imbalanced review. Then I wrote a very long, inaccurate, and defamatory message based on what I thought he meant, and not what he actually meant.

    If this results in my getting a bad review, I am ready to accept that. But I may have done irreparable damage to our working relationship. What can be done?

    Oooooh. Yeah, that’s not good.

    For future reference, never do stuff like this by email. If you’re upset or angry or feel yourself getting heated, that is a flag to back away from your computer and talk in person. Not just because that will minimize miscommunications or clear them up faster — although it will — but because email just isn’t an appropriate medium for heated conversations. With anyone, but especially with your boss. There are a ton of reasons for that:

    * Sending a long, incensed email means you’re essentially just delivering an angry monologue. If you talked in person, you presumably wouldn’t open with a speech; you’d have a back and forth (and in this case you would have realized quickly that your interpretation had been wrong).

    * It can be easy to find yourself sounding harsher in an email than you would be willing to sound when talking in person. Talking in person usually (although not always) tends to have a moderating effect on tone and word choice, particularly in work situations.

    * Most managers will see it as a worrying sign about your judgment and professionalism that you chose to put this all in an angry email rather than just having a conversation, and will worry about what might be happening in your email communications with others too.

    * Committing this all to email means there’s a written record for your boss to see in the future; it won’t fade from memory in the same way that an in-person conversation can.

    So I’m less concerned that you jumped to the wrong conclusions (you’re stressed and overworked, it happens) and more concerned that you decided an email was the right move. Combine that with the drama with colleagues from last year (which apparently lasted until the other people left the company) and if I’m your boss, I’m going to be worried about your professional maturity.

    I suppose my question for you is: Is that something you’re taking seriously? Do you see a connection between what happened last year and this recent incident, and do you see how they both tie into judgment and professionalism, and is that something you’re committed to working on? Because if not, my worry is that stuff like this will continue to happen and really damage your reputation. (To be clear, without the incident last year, this would be different. If it were a one-time thing, it would be much easier to dismiss as the result of stress and overwork.)

    As for what to do about your relationship with your boss: The smartest thing you can do is to own it. As in, “I’m embarrassed that I sent you that message rather than simply talking to you, which as you pointed out would have cleared it up right away. You’re right that I’ve been under a lot of pressure the last few months, and that might have played into this, but I’m still responsible for the choices I make and I was wrong to handle it that way. In the future, if I’m feeling strongly about something like this, I’ll take that as a sign to have a face-to-face conversation to sort out what’s going on rather than sending an emotional email, and also to hold off on assuming anything before talking it through. I wish I had done that here.”

    If I were your boss, that would be the most reassuring thing I could hear. It wouldn’t lay my concerns completely to rest, given the stuff from last year, but when you’re worried about someone’s maturity and they respond professionally, own their error, and draw lessons for the future, that’s about as good as it gets … and it will likely buy you some time to demonstrate that you are in fact working on all of this.

    I disagree with my partner on how to run our business, another manager dislikes my employee, and more

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

    1. My partner and I disagree on how to run our adult business

    I am a partner in a social club for “like minded adults.” When my partner and I first started this club, we agreed on “no sex with our members while we were open.” This did not last long with my partner. His girlfriend is our bartender and didn’t know this. Now our club has grown, and now he wants to “interact” with our members while we are open (probably with his girlfriend as well).

    I think this is a terrible idea and neither one will back down. Of course, he can use the club on the days/hours we are not open. It has gotten so toxic, that I am seriously thinking of selling my half and leaving. I gave him examples of how management does not eat their meal during the dinner hour; they eat their meals before or after.

    Am I wrong in my thinking? This is our job. I explained in other jobs, you don’t “interact” with your members-customers during opening hours. Any advice you can give me I would appreciate.

    If he’s having sex with members while you’re open for business, he’s not available to do his job during that time — meaning that you’re left carrying the full burden of keeping things running while he’s otherwise engaged. Then there’s the fact that having sex with an employee raises the potential for abuse of power and legal liability. And then there are the potential conflicts of interest involved; for example, if there’s an issue with a club member that the two of you need to resolve, he’s far less likely to seem impartial  (people will need to wonder if he’ll favor those he’s interacted with sexually, or be biased against a member who has declined his advances, and so forth). So it’s a really bad idea, on multiple fronts.

    But it also seems like the two of you have fundamentally incompatible ideas about how to run your business. You’ve tried to convince him to change his behavior, and he’s not willing to. At this point it sounds like you need to assume he’s not going to change his thinking, and decide if you want to continue to be part of the business as he’s currently operating it.

    2. Another manager doesn’t like my employee

    I joined my current company a little less than a year ago. At that time, I had a boss Peter, who managed Mike. Peter and Mike had been at the company for a few years prior. When I joined, I did find them to be a bit disorganized and definitely outspoken, but didn’t think it was a big deal.

    Peter has since left, and now I manage Mike. Another manager, Nina, who worked with Peter and Mike has complained about Mike’s past behavior — more than 1.5 years before I joined — to me repeatedly. The complaints aren’t exactly about work quality, more that she thought he was arrogant, dismissive, etc. While Mike could definitely improve his soft skills, I’ve realized that whatever happened 2-3 years ago left a bad impression on Nina. Her comments verge on personal/vindictive and unprofessional vs. just a work complaint about a colleague. I also think that there is more internal politics involved here and the “arrogant attitude” probably came from Peter or even higher up, and blaming Mike is scapegoating him.

    I looked up Mike’s old performance reviews, to get some color on what was happening before I joined, and the 360 reviews say nothing like what Nina said.

    How do I handle this? Should I speak to Mike about performance issues that I don’t see? When Nina responds to new project ideas with “Mike did this wrong two years ago” how should I respond? I’ve been trying to just be matter of fact and forward looking, while acknowledging that there was some issue in the past. Nina is senior to me but not my boss.

    The next time Nina complains to you, say this: “I can’t speak to what happened a couple of years ago, but I can tell you that I haven’t seen those issues with Mike since I’ve been managing him. I can’t manage a situation from before my time, but if there are any current issues, I can make sure those get resolved now. Can I ask you to give him another chance and see if you find the same issues popping up? If you do, I’d work with him on that right away, but I’m hopeful that you’ll have a different experience now.” (And then work with Mike closely during any work he does with Nina so that you can spot it early if there is going to be another clash.)

    Meanwhile, you shouldn’t speak to Mike about performance issues you don’t see any evidence of, but since you noted his soft skills could use some work, it’s worth figuring out if there’s coaching you need to do there — totally aside from the Nina situation.

    3. Etiquette on getting work done after layoffs

    My company recently went through a round of layoffs, and my department was particularly affected, with some teams being completely decimated. The communication has been left up to individual managers with no centralized source of information and we’re relying on word of mouth to know who is the worst affected.

    Some people were asking regular workday questions as the layoffs were ongoing— in many cases tagging people in Slack who had just been told that they were let go. Obviously they had no way of knowing, but I opted to focus on individual work on the day of for obvious reasons. But now it’s been a few days, and I’m not sure to what extent I should be going back to “normal.” I do a lot of collaboration with other teams, and I’ve accumulated a lot of questions for them which I would normally ask immediately … but they’re not strictly speaking urgent, and I’ve heard through the rumor mill that some of these teams have lost 60-80% of their staff. We’ll need answers eventually— and I’m expecting in some cases the answer is going to be “We can’t take this on anymore, you’ll need to start managing it,” in which case we should start figuring out those transitions ASAP to hit our deadlines.

    But I really don’t want to be insensitive to the turmoil and emotion. My own team lost a lot of people, and I’m sad and angry about it, and I know that there are still a lot of open questions about how certain holes will be filled. It seems rude to go to someone who’s lost most of their teammates and start asking about the TPS reports when they probably have much more immediate concerns! What’s the etiquette here? How long do you wait for the dust to settle and for people to process before you start trying to get back to “business as usual”?

    It would be insensitive to do that on the day layoffs were happening, yes, but it’s been a few days and you do need to be able to move work forward. It would be insensitive if you appeared to be oblivious to the fact that their teams had been decimated, but you can acknowledge the situation and how it might impact their response. For example, send over your questions and include a note like, “I know you have a lot of your plate and may not be able to get to this any time soon. Just let me know what’s realistic.”

    Depending on your role, it might also make sense to reach out to the manager of any teams you work with regularly and ask if they need you to change anything about the usual workflow between you and their team. (If you’re pretty junior, though, this is generally something for your manager to do instead.)

    4. My husband is in detox and I need to talk to his boss

    As a long-time reader, I know that normally talking to my husband’s boss about work issues is forbidden. However, he was admitted into detox last night (I highly doubt his employer is aware of any issue). I called his boss last night to say my husband will be out of work for at least this week because he is sick and has a medical issue he needs to have treated, but I am not sure how to handle follow-up. I am sure he will be out for more than this week and I will likely be applying for FMLA for him, and I am not sure how/when to update his boss. He is extremely concerned about his job and while I want to convey to his boss how much he cares, I also feel like I should keep it concise and to the point. Side note, he has a great relationship with his boss and when I called him he seemed very understanding and just said to let him know if my husband needs anything.

    Your instinct to keep it concise and to the point is good. Stick to the logistics that his manager needs to know about right now — he’s expected to be out for X amount of time, how to get them the FMLA paperwork, etc. You can certainly throw in something like, “He asked me to make sure you know how eager he is to get back to work as soon as he’s cleared to” but that’s all you really need to (or should) say. When someone is out for emergency medical treatment, good managers aren’t generally thinking, “Hmmm, do they really care about this job?” They’re thinking, “Oh no, I hope he’s okay.”

    As for timing on when to update his boss: once you have a better idea of how long your husband might be out. If you don’t get a better idea this week, check back in on Thusday-ish to explain that (“it’s not clear yet exactly how long he’ll need, but I think it will go past this week and I’ll let you know once I know something more certain”). You can also continue to keep it vague — “medical issue he’s having treated” is accurate.

    5. Was I really “temporarily furloughed”?

    In May, I was temporarily furloughed after the restaurant I was working at hit a slow patch. I was told it was because my boss couldn’t afford to pay me, and because I was bored. (I was the dishwasher and was told by her to wait for dishes come, and not to send the dish rack in partly full.) So I would do as asked. Even on a day that was not slow, I would do as told. So I don’t know why she said I was “bored.” Anyway, after a while she never called me back although I saw on social media that business was picking up. She then said I was “laid off.” Then when I saw they were hiring, she said they were looking for cooks, and that they were back to doing the dishes themselves. I worked my butt off for that restaurant, even one of the bartenders vouched for me. What do I do? I sense that she fired me, but didn’t have the heart to tell me.

    I’m not sure why it unfolded the way it did: did she intend to let you go from the start but didn’t want to be up-front about that, or did she really not have enough work for you and then decided not to bring you back later? Or are they really not hiring dishwashers yet? But regardless, it does sound like you’ve been laid off rather than temporarily furloughed, and you should assume the job isn’t coming back, no matter what does or doesn’t change there. I’m sorry!

    update: I’m working 2 full-time remote jobs — is this unethical?

    Remember the letter-writer who was working two full-time remote jobs and wondering if it was unethical? Here’s the update.

    I wrote to you late last year about how I was working two full-time director level jobs and was debating the ethicality of doing so. I’ve seen a lot of requests in comments for updates so here it goes.

    I’m still working both jobs. I’ve outlived both of my hiring managers who have left for new roles (one within the company, the other to a different company) and have received positive (meets or exceeds) performance reviews at both jobs. I’ve even received a performance-related raise at one of them.

    To clarify some things that have come up in the comments, I do not have direct reports at either job. I am not pushing any of my responsibilities onto any coworkers, and have even volunteered for additional duties here and there that are typically outside my “scope.” The hours I’m working have definitely gone up since I was a newbie at both jobs last fall, but I don’t feel like I’m killing myself, and I do have ample time for family, hobbies, and even volunteering in my community.

    I did read and respond to as many comments as I could, and I realize there will still be naysayers/haters and people who think I didn’t give their opinions and views a second thought. Truthfully when I wrote in, I was on the fence about whether or not I should continue the roles and I pondered all points of view, including discussing them with people I am close to and trust. I have actually been very open about what I’m doing with family, friends, and former coworkers (from the place I worked prior to my two current companies), and no one has told me they think there is an ethical concern. Granted these people all know me well and know that I am not an asshole in real life and have been able to use the money to not only save for my future, but to help people I’m close to and to donate to causes I care about.

    Thanks to all who commented (positively or otherwise). It was interesting to see how strongly people felt about the subject!

    my employee won’t stop pushing for a job she’s not qualified for

    A reader writes:

    An employee I manage, Elizabeth, wants a job that’s open on another team. She has no experience and doesn’t have the education or certification required for it. If she were given the job it would be like hiring a person who never went to law school, never passed the bar exam, and never set foot in a law firm to be a lawyer. HR explained to her why she wouldn’t be considered, but she has responded that she disagrees and asked to be reconsidered. She thinks showing initiative and being a quick learner is enough when it isn’t. Besides an internship, this is her first job.

    I’ve tried explaining to Elizabeth why she can’t have the job but she still wants it and is arguing her case to anyone who will listen. It may seem obvious but I am out of ideas.

    I answer this question — and two 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:

    • I think I hurt my assistant’s feelings
    • I cried on a call with a client

    my boss wants us to help his coach get certified in pseudoscience

    A reader writes:

    I work for a successful small business that has acquired two even smaller businesses in other states over the past several years.

    Our company president really wants to create a unified company culture and help the employees in all three locations feel more like a cohesive team. This has been hampered by distance and the pandemic preventing us from gathering in the same place in person.

    Over the past year, the president has been working with an executive coach whom he has found very helpful. The coach has recently decided to get certified in a modality of pseudoscientific personality typing that is supposed to help people change their mindsets and become more productive at work. She needs to work with a certain number of people in order to obtain her certification and has offered to lead a program for our company for free. The president has seized on this as a great opportunity to help out his coach and do some team-building at no cost to the company.

    This coaching program will require a significant time investment (two hours/week for about two months, no reduction in workload, and several employees who only work part-time) and will involve all of us taking pseudoscientific personality assessments designed to pinpoint our personal weaknesses so that we can help each other confront them and be more positive. It also requires meeting regularly with a coworker buddy to track and share our progress.

    Based on our initial meeting about this, a few people are excited about the program, a few of us are horrified, and most people seem noncommittal but willing to go along for the sake of team-building.

    Those of us opposed to the program have raised our concerns about its not being scientifically based and the potential for people’s results to be weaponized against them by coworkers. The president thanked us for sharing our concerns, suggested we raise the pseudoscience issue directly with his coach, and promised to guard against people weaponizing results against each other. He is a thoughtful, conscientious boss who is usually quite logical — he’s just really bought into this coach! I am not optimistic about our chances of convincing him not to do the program, especially since most of us objectors are junior employees without much capital to spend and the senior employees are either enthusiastic or neutral.

    I really don’t want to do this program! I am a very private person and high performer whose primary productivity struggles are due to diagnosed anxiety, depression, and ADHD, for which I am receiving medical treatment and therapy and which no one at work knows anything about. Having my coworkers all up in my personal business reminding me not to “give in” to “negativity” sounds like my personal nightmare.

    How do I get through this “training program” without either letting my coworkers in on my personal health information or being labeled a non-team-player for not participating fully? Do you have any tips for navigating personality-based testing with minimal invasiveness or friction? Are there any answers I can give that will make my coworkers continue to think, “Wow, she’s nice, good at her job, and boring”?

    Before you resign yourself to having to do it, please consider trying to opt out!

    Yes, the president brushed you off when you and your coworkers raised concerns earlier, but it sounds like you might not have been firm enough about not being willing to do it. You raised concerns about the program not being scientifically based and whether people’s results might be used against them … but why not raise it again and say, “I’ve thought about this more, and I am not comfortable participating. I’ve looked into the program further and it crosses boundaries that I’m not comfortable with at work. So I’m planning to opt out and wanted to let you know.”

    This will have more weight if you can convince some of your coworkers to say the same thing — and then it can be “we are opting out” — but you can do it on your own if you need to.

    Also, note that the language isn’t “can I opt out?” It’s “I am opting out.” If your boss truly wants to force you to participate as a requirement of your employment, make him say that … but it’s pretty likely that he won’t, since you say he’s normally thoughtful, conscientious, and logical.

    I know you’re concerned you don’t have the capital to spend on this, but you’re bothered enough by it that it’s likely worth doing. If you were just annoyed but ultimately not that upset, I’d agree that you might as well play along. But you sound genuinely upset by it — you’re calling it a personal nightmare! — and have serious concerns about it violating boundaries around your mental health. It’s reasonable to take a firmer stand.

    Whenever someone is bothered by this kind of thing, they’re always sure to hear from someone who feels differently, “Give it a chance! It’s not that bad! It helped my team learn to communicate better,” etc. etc. etc. But you’re being asked to spend two hours a week with no reduction in your workload on something that violates your boundaries and is potentially contraindicated with the private work you’re doing in therapy. It’s not outlandish to opt out.

    If you do end up participating, though, I wouldn’t worry terribly about figuring out what answers will make your coworkers continue to think, “Wow, she’s nice, good at her job, and boring.” Personality testing is going to put you all into broad groupings and you’re not likely to end up categorized in a way that makes people think you’re something shocking (and definitely not that you’re not nice, bad at your job, or plagued by scandal). But if you’re worried, you can always pick the answers that feel the most bland or that represent traits you know are valued by your team.

    I’d be more worried about the part where you “help each other confront your personal weaknesses and be more positive” and share your progress with a coworker. Without knowing exactly how this particular program works, it’s hard to advise on how to navigate that — but if you have the option, I’d choose incredibly bland weaknesses or ones (real or fake) that you won’t mind having to discuss, like “improve my work-life balance” or “disconnect from email more often” or “read more industry news.” Also — and this is important — try to ensure that your progress “buddy” is one of the coworkers who’s opposed to the program like you so you can agree to do as little of it as possible.

    It also might be interesting to push to know what work you should set aside so that you have two hours a week for this. And if that doesn’t happen, you and your similarly opposed coworkers might be able to fall back on “We didn’t have time for (pseudoscience coaching) this week because we needed to focus on our deadlines for X and Y.”

    But really, try just matter-of-factly opting out.

    our desks were packed up and photographed without our knowing, offering to help my replacement, and more

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

    1. Our desks were packed up and our belongings photographed without us knowing

    My team has gone through a number of reorgs in the past year, resulting in some of us changing reporting lines twice and six folks getting laid off. All of this has been horrible, but after the announcement of the last reorg, my team — specifically — was sent an email indicating there were physical problems with our office and we should not come into the office for a whole month (when our reporting line officially changes).

    When one of my colleagues went in to retrieve personal items, all of our desks had been packed, and one of my colleague’s offices had been given to another person who had already moved in. All of this was done without our knowledge or consent. This happened to those of us who were laid off and those of us who were moved to another part of the organization. Additionally, the low-level workers who packed our desks were asked to photograph everything to “prove that everything was still there.”

    When we met with the department head about this, he apologized and indicated that communication was the issue. I mean, I guess, yes? But I’m also of the mind that (1) I don’t see a reason to lie about physical conditions to keep my team out of the office when everyone else is working on the floor without issue and (2) I think it’s completely inappropriate to box up my desk when I could have done it myself, if it was in fact needed. I can’t even deal with the photographs because it’s so ridiculous and invasive that I feel like I’m on Candid Camera.

    The department head is defending his admins who did this and strongly implying that our reaction, not the action, is the issue. What are the circumstances wherein it would be reasonable to keep people from their office and pack their belongings (which, for me, included things like notes from confidential meetings and self-evaluations, etc.)? And how can I address, in particular, having those photos permanently deleted from wherever they live?

    It’s definitely weird that they didn’t tell you what was going on.

    Were there actually physical problems with the offices or was that a lie to keep people from coming in? If that was a cover story, that’s bizarre and messed up. But is there any chance that was really true, and they just neglected to tell you? It seems possible that there was some physical problem, stuff got boxed up so they could fix it, and then they decided to move you to a different part of the building … or maybe they always knew they were going to relocate you but there was also a physical problem in the middle of it and the “communication problem” your boss is referring to is that no one bothered filling your team in on any of it, which could be a result of the chaos of the reorg that was happening at the same time.

    That said, while boxing up your things without you knowing isn’t great (they should have given you the chance to do it yourself if you wanted to), it’s not really an outrage either; it’s a thing that sometimes happens. It happened to a ton of people who went remote during the pandemic and later learned all their stuff had been packed up during the months they were working at home. I don’t know how extensive the photographing was, but they were presumably trying to ward off complaints like “I’m sure I had my signed first edition of the Oatmeal Encyclopedia in there and now it’s missing.” The assumption is normally that you don’t have super personal items at work that it would be invasive for someone else to see (just like you should assume coworkers might need to look through your desk for something while you’re on vacation or so forth). But you can certainly ask that the photographs be deleted once you’ve confirmed that you do indeed have all the belongings you’d expect to have.

    2. Should I bother applying to jobs if I don’t meet all the qualifications?

    I am a former teacher who is exiting the profession after many years of intensive work. I worked as a special education teacher, so I am very used to preparing extensive, legally binding paperwork, supporting my team and supervisors, meeting multiple deadlines with few resources, and in general being detail-oriented and highly organizational. With this in mind, I have mainly been applying to executive assistant, office manager, or paralegal positions (my state requires nothing besides a college degree to be a paralegal). For each application, I tailor my resume, write a cover letter highlighting my strengths that apply to the job posting, and hear nothing back — not even an interview! Often I have every qualification listed in the posting except direct experience, which is usually stated as 1-2 or 2-3 years desired. One I applied to recently had 18 qualifications listed — I met 17 and still nothing!

    Should I even bother applying for these positions that state a qualification I do not have? If so, what should I be doing to make myself a more attractive candidate? I’ve waffled back and forth with directly addressing the discrepancy in my cover letter. A few times I received a short questionnaire after submitting an application — the first question was always about experience, which I answered honestly. I feel that as soon as these companies saw that no, my application was disregarded. I need help!

    You can be a strong candidate for a job without meeting every single qualification that’s listed, but some of those qualifications will be more important than others and some will be non-negotiable. Very often, experience is one of the qualifications employers aren’t interested in compromising on — or won’t have any incentive to compromise on if they have other good candidates who do have experience.

    So the message to take away isn’t “don’t bother applying unless you meet every single qualification.” It’s to know that experience will nearly always be highly valued, whereas some of the other qualifications might be more flexible. (And yes, it would be good if employers always noted which qualifications are true requirements versus which are merely preferred, but a lot don’t … and sometimes they won’t know which is which until they see the applicant pool and can compare candidates to each other.)

    Related: every job posting asks for more experience than I have

    3. Should I contact my replacement and offer to be a resource?

    Eight months ago, I left a management job that I had for six years. It was the absolute right move for me even though I really liked my previous role and company. I left primarily because of lack of advancement opportunities, but I left on good terms. I keep in touch with many of my former peers and direct reports.

    I recently learned that my former employer has (finally) hired my replacement. Because I work in a niche field, in a smaller city, it’s pretty easy to figure out who the hire is. I really care about my old team and the company I used to work for. Is it weird to reach out to this person and let them know that I would be happy to be a resource? I would envision connecting with them on LinkedIn and offering to buy them a coffee or something similar. I certainly wouldn’t push the issue and would let them decide if they wanted to respond or not. I feel like I could be of real help to this person given the complexity of the organization and job, but I’m just torn about contacting them.

    I don’t have unlimited time to offer but would be happy to help with questions or offer some of that historical perspective on the company and role. But is that odd? Is it meddling or does it look like overreach? I know that I don’t need to be this invested in a former role, but I am surprised at how conflicted I am about wanting to connect with this new hire.

    If you want to, it’s fine to make the offer! I’d give the person at least a couple of weeks to settle in at the new job before you do, so they have a chance to start forming their own impressions first and will be likely to know what questions they want to ask you. And, as you allude to, use a light touch — not “would you like to get coffee next week?” (which they’re likely to feel more obligated to say yes to) but more like “if you’d ever like to grab coffee or send over a question or two, let me know.”

    But I also want to note this: You sound like you’re still pretty invested in this former job. I get it — six years is a long time, you liked the work and the people, and you’re still in touch with colleagues there. But it’ll be good for your quality of life to emotionally disconnect and not care as much. I might be reading your letter wrong … but if you’d be disappointed if you make this offer and your replacement doesn’t take you up on it, I’d take that as a sign that you do need to disconnect a little more than you have. (If I’m wrong and you wouldn’t care either way, then ignore this paragraph and carry on!)

    4. Changing “us” to “them” and “you” to “we” at a new job

    I work in a large library system and recently went from being a desk person at one branch to an assistant manager at another. Right now I’m struggling to change my language from “how we did things at my old branch” to using “how they do things at that branch.” Additionally, I’m finding it difficult to switch my verbiage about asking questions from “how do you do X?” to “how do we do X?”

    I’m working really hard on trying to correct these slip-ups, but do you have any suggestions? Or is this just a time thing that gets better? I’ve been in my new role for about a month.

    It does fix itself in time, but a lot of it is mindset — work on reminding yourself that, language aside, this team is your “we” now.

    But it’s not a big deal if your language doesn’t transition immediately. I wouldn’t think of your examples as slip-ups or stress about trying to avoid them. It’s good to give yourself a mental nudge on the language, but your mind will transition on its own as the new branch starts to feel more like yours.

    However! If “how we did things at my old branch” is coming up enough that you’re writing to me about it, you might be talking about things at your old branch too much, regardless of whether you’re saying “we” or “they.” It’s not that you should never share a good idea from an old job, but when you’re new it’s better to be focused on learning how the new place does things and why. (It can also be pretty annoying to people to keep hearing “well, at my old job…” That might not be what’s happening, but it’s something to be aware of!)

    5. How do I word this achievement on my resume?

    A few years ago I was on Sales Team A, and Sales Team B was under-performing. Not entirely the staff’s fault — all of their management left in quick succession before a replacement could be found, so for almost three months no one had feedback or coaching — but the difference was obvious.

    Managers decided that a few high performing agents from Team A would perform a month of serious coaching, each of us spending at least a week doing nothing but retraining these guys to do their jobs correctly again and “get them on our level.” This was a very rewarding if awkward experience, since it gave me a chance to gain coaching experience. The results were great! We got them to perform on par by the end of a month.

    Fast forward to now, and I am applying internally for a QA position, which specializes in providing coaching feedback. Obviously, I would love to reference the above events. My problem is I can’t figure out how to word it. “Provided coaching as part of an initiative where high performing agents were chosen to bring (Team B)’s standards up to par with company standards” sounds close? But seems passive-aggressive in a way I do not intend.

    “Part of a small group of high-performing agents selected to intensively coach a struggling team, resulting in the team’s dramatically improved performance”

    If you can quantify the improved performance or add specifics about what you coached them on, that will strengthen it further.