how can I keep my temper at work?

A reader writes:

I run experiments as a technician and there’s usually a lot going on, a lot to remember, and a lot to write down. Long lists of numbers and such. It’s a really nice place to work and I enjoy it.

I’ve been known to be snappy in the lab. I can’t really excuse it except to say it normally happens when I’m trying to do something and someone tries to get me to do something else. Recently I’ve been working really hard on not being like that and saying “just a moment, let me finish this” or similar. We’ve also tried me taking a time-out when I get stressed out, but sometimes that’s not possible.

Earlier I had a meeting with my supervisor and he pointed out that when an experiment had gone a bit pear-shaped earlier in the week and he’d stepped in to try and help me, I’d been quite short with him. I explained that at the time things had been going pear-shaped but I’d managed to stop it and was trying to write down a long list of figures when he was trying to get me to do something else. He said he can see I’m instantly contrite when these things happen and he understands WHY, but I need to figure out how to stop being short with people when under stress as someone else might not have taken it as well as he did.

I should add that I don’t say anything nasty, it’s more my body language and tone. It’s also not all the time, probably three times since April. My normally placid temper is being so difficult! I suspect that’s what makes it so jarring for people — normally I’m quite laid back and cheery. Can you give me any tips how I can deal with this? I’m still on probation here and don’t want to fail.

The thing about being snappish at work is that it can make people hesitant to approach you in the future, and it can give people the impression that you can’t handle the normal stresses of the job. It’s a big enough deal that just doing it once is alarming, and doing it twice is enough to make it seem like a real problem.

First though: I’m assuming that you see what your manager is talking about and agree it’s a problem. Sometimes people get feedback on their tone and demeanor when it’s really more about them not performing their gender or their race in a way people around them would be more comfortable with. That would be a different issue, but it sounds like you agree the feedback is legitimate so I’m proceeding on that assumption.

Some things that could help, in no particular order:

* Remember that part of what you’re being paid for at work is being reasonably pleasant to work with. If you’re so laser focused on finishing task X that you’re rude when someone interrupts you, you might write it off to just being really invested in trying to do your job — but only if you’re overlooking that part of your job is not snapping at people.

* It might help to assume from the get-go that part of the job is also dealing with interruptions and rolling with the punches when imperfect conditions occur, so that you’re not so thrown off when that happens.

* However, if there’s an ongoing issue with you being interrupted at particularly bad moments, that’s something you can address! How to do that depends on the specifics of your work but, for example, can you schedule particularly high-focus work for quieter times of the day, or ask colleagues not to interrupt you when they see you doing X, or even put up a sign that says “deep focus needed — please come back at 4:30”? If none of those ideas work, you could try brainstorming it with your boss.

* Have a few standard lines ready to go so that you’re not coming up with a response on the fly. “Give me a minute to finish this up” is a good one.

* If you do slip up again, make sure to apologize. Because it’s the right thing to do, of course, but also because sometimes making yourself apologize every time makes your brain less likely to do the thing again. (Not always! But sometimes.)

* Realize that it sucks for other people to work in an environment where they might be snapped at. Maybe you’re someone who wouldn’t be bothered by it, but a lot of people are … and even those who aren’t will still generally find it pretty unpleasant. I say that not to berate you, but because that might be useful to keep in the forefront of your mind.

One last thing: How do you do with stress in general? Is the problem confined to this one type of circumstance, or have you noticed you get snappish pretty easily when you’re under pressure outside of work too? If so, that’s a bigger thing to tackle, potentially with a therapist if you feel like it’s getting in the way of you moving through life in the way you’d like to, and especially if you come from a family that didn’t model stress well (many of us did not!).

how to be an ally at work

You should check out @robinrambles on TikTok … her videos on race issues at work are really good.

In particular, she’s done a series of videos where she plays a white ally addressing racism with other white coworkers, and in doing so demonstrates language that white people can use to combat racism in their workplaces. Some examples include speaking to a black coworker about someone who complained about their hair, telling a coworker to get people’s names right, standing up for a trans colleague, and having a coworker’s back when she’s being hassled.

And in this one, she explains why she thinks people are responding to the character, pointing out that not only are the videos giving white people the terminology to use to as allies at work, but other people like it because “there’s something healing about seeing a white southern lady who’s standing up for them.”

should I report my fatphobic boss or am I being too sensitive?

A reader writes:

I’m dealing with a boss now turned grandboss who has no boundaries and has some unconscious fatphobia that’s impacting her perception of me, and I’m not sure if I should report it or just let it go.

I started at my job at a mid-sized nonprofit that serves a very diverse client base a little over a year ago. At that time, Miranda was my boss. She comes from a pretty corporate background, and tends to have a bit of an old-school outlook on business practices. She struggles to accept that working from home is really working (except when she works from home), micromanages quite a bit, and struggles a lot with some of our organization’s more leftist policies. Professional boundaries with her direct reports can be a bit of an issue too. Some examples: asking really personal questions about medical procedures I’ve had, discussing another coworker’s ADA accommodations openly in the office, and one super awkward situation where somehow it came out that she was under the impression that my non-binary spouse was a trans woman and I got trapped in a conversation about my spouse’s physical anatomy (I’m a cis woman, and my spouse is an AFAB non-binary person who often presents feminine but uses she/they pronouns). She really does not respond to overt cues to drop sensitive topics, and will continue pushing until you answer her question. Most of these incidents were a while ago, and I’m just mentioning them for context.

A few months ago, we had a restructuring of the office, and Miranda is no longer supervising me. She’s supervising my new boss Andrea, who I love and get along with very well. Before this restructuring, Miranda went on a months-long leave (her idea, not a statement from leadership in any way) and recently returned. It’s been a rocky return, to say the least. As a bit of a micromanager, she’s really struggled with not assigning tasks to me and my coworkers. Andrea has had to talk to her often about not going around her and that Miranda is no longer our manager. Andrea’s style is very much not micromanagement. She is the best manager I’ve ever had, and we all feel so much better with her supervising us.

So here’s where it gets sticky. When I started this job, I was a women’s size 20, and had been that way most of my adult life. While Miranda was on leave, I had a medical issue that resulted in pretty dramatic weight loss and diet changes. I’m healthy now, but lost over 70 pounds in five months. I wear a size 12-14 now. There’s a thing that happens when you go through something like this and get significantly thinner. People comment on how great you look, how it’s so nice that you’re “taking care of yourself” now. And I was prepared for that (I was healthy when I was fat; my medical issue was entirely unrelated, so these comments can feel super crappy when you realize what these people must have thought of you before). What I’m finding the most difficult are the people who are suddenly nicer, who give me the benefit of the doubt when they didn’t before, and who interact with me with a higher level of respect for me as a professional. It should come as no surprise that Miranda is one of these people.

Miranda constantly makes comments on how great I look. At one point she suggested that my introversion would disappear with the extra weight, another time she talked about how my “whole energy is different now!” and generally she no longer feels the need to micromanage me. To be fair, some of the micromanaging has been curbed by Andrea, but from what my coworkers say, it’s been more dramatic for me than for anyone else.

This all culminated in an event I led recently where I was dressed a step above my usual business casual, and instead of focusing on the event I planned and led that had many clients and business leaders present, every interaction she had with me was focused on how great I looked. Some of these interactions included guests at the event. I was trying to talk to guests about our services and mission, and Miranda would intervene to tell these guests how amazing I looked and allude to this being a big change for me. I really dislike comments on my body in any context, and it made me deeply uncomfortable. I attempted to redirect the conversation several times, but she ignored it and I eventually gave up and just steered clear of her the rest of the night.

My organization does have HR, and my spouse thinks I should report Miranda’s recent behavior. I’m not sure it really rises to that level. I don’t have a lot of interaction with her anymore, and I’m kind of enjoying the relief of not constantly being managed or directed by her. Even if it comes from unconscious fatphobia on her part, her having a more positive impression of me is making my job easier, and I’m not sure I’m ready to burn the relationship entirely. It’ll be time for me to move on from this position soon, and she has a lot of connections and relationships in our field that would be helpful. That being said, her behavior at the event in particular was pretty upsetting for me, and might have an impact on how community members in attendance see me.

What do you think? Should I report? Am I being too sensitive? Is there another option I’m not seeing?

Ugh. You’re not being too sensitive. Miranda is making your body a constant focus — at a professional event you were leading, no less. She interrupted your business conversations to do it. That’s not okay. And neither is any of the rest of it. She thinks you’re more competent now that you’re thinner! She thinks your weight loss will make you an extrovert! (??) She’s weirdly focused on your body in a way anyone would find uncomfortable and inappropriate.

As for whether to report it … you wouldn’t be overreacting if you did. If you wanted to report Miranda, I’d fully back you up. But it also doesn’t rise to the level of “you must report this” so it really depends on what you want to do.

Some things to consider: The company should have an interest in knowing a manager is so focused on an employee’s body. It’s also possible that there have been other complaints about Miranda and this would help flesh out that picture or, together with the rest of the reports, be the ammunition that moves the company to act (if not now, then in the future when someone else reports her). Best case scenario, they could end up making it clear to her that this needs to stop and they could act to protect you from any possible retaliation from her. Realistically, though, it’s also possible that it could go differently — lots of HR departments aren’t good at anticipating and preemptively guarding people from retaliation after they complain about a manager, and so sometimes complaining about a boss ends up having repercussions. Those repercussions can be subtle ones — “you’re fired!” is pretty easy for HR to guard against, but things like not getting the projects you want or getting a lukewarm recommendation instead of a glowing one can be trickier. It’s really important to know that these repercussions don’t happen every time someone reports a boss to HR! Plenty of times it’s fine and things roll forward without major fall-out. But because those things are possibilities, it’s smart to include them in your thinking, along with what you know of how things are done in your organization.

You do have some other options though if you want to explore them. One is to talk to Miranda directly. I don’t know if you’d be comfortable doing this and it’s perfectly fine if you’re not, but in theory you could tell Miranda directly, “You might not realize but you’ve been talking about my weight loss a lot, especially at last week’s client dinner. I prefer not to talk about my body or my weight at work.” Even if she doesn’t like hearing that — and even if she tells you she’s just complimenting you (which I’m quite sure she’s going to say) — she might stop doing it if you hold firm. And if she doesn’t stop after this conversation, that’s extra ammunition if you do later decide to talk to HR.

Another option is to ask Andrea for her advice. She might be well-positioned to talk to Miranda (and if she’s witnessed any of Miranda’s comments firsthand, she could even do it without saying you’d spoken to her) or to talk to HR on your behalf or to advise you about whether or not talking to Miranda yourself makes sense. If nothing else, as a supportive boss, she’d likely want to know that this is happening and that you’re struggling with it.

But ultimately it comes down to how you want to deal with it. If I’m reading your letter correctly, you’re not itching to talk to HR, you’re leaving soon, you’d like to benefit from Miranda’s connections, and you’d be okay with just knowing she’s an ass and leaving it there. If that’s the route you choose, that’s okay too! You can take action, but you’re not obligated to take action. (Whereas you would be obligated if, for example, you were a manager and you saw her doing this to other people.) So I’d say to weigh the potential costs and benefits to yourself of each option and what you believe will get you closest to the outcome you most want, and decide that way.

That feels like a cop-out! I’d love to say “yes, report her, end of story.” But this stuff often has so many more considerations than that.

should you put stay-at-home parenting on your resume, I don’t want to train my new manager, and more

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

1. Should you put stay-at-home parenting on your resume?

I was scrolling through LinkedIn today for work and saw this listed in someone’s experience:

Stay-at-Home Mom
Feb 2005 – May 2015
Volunteer position requiring training in child development and behavior. Job required strong skills in time management, dispute resolution, communication, accounting, procurement, and cost reduction. I was required to work with no supervision or coaching while making fast decisions regarding the family organization.

I don’t know if it is on her resume but I thought it was a cheeky yet truthful way of filling the stay-at-home-mom job gap. Does it belong on a resume or LinkedIn?

No. It would be different if it were just a brief mention to explain why the person was out of the workforce for X years. But the issue here is that it’s written in a way that frames caring for one’s own kids as a professional job rather than a personal one.

It’s not that parenting isn’t hard or valuable work; it is. But as a general rule, work that you do for your family or household doesn’t belong on a resume. Largely that’s because you’re not accountable in the same way you would be at a paid job. An employer also has no way of knowing if you did terribly at it (and they can’t find out since it’s not an area that would be appropriate for them to probe into in an interview or with references). Additionally, if something is a common life activity, it’s generally not going to be resume-worthy (and indeed, you don’t see working parents listing their own child-rearing work).

Related: can I put running my household on my resume?

2. I don’t want to train my new manager

About six months ago, my direct supervisor (Phyllis) retired, leaving no one in her position (we normally have two people at her level doing complementary jobs). I work in government, so it’s taken a while to hire even one person to replace them both, and the person they hired (Pam) doesn’t yet have a start date. We’ve had people filling in, but for the past few months I’ve been handling most of the responsibilities for my program. I’m fully capable of doing this higher-level work (I’ve done it before in a different location), but it’s been a lot to take on, especially because I get no bump in pay or title.

I was interviewed for Phyllis’ position, but didn’t get it. I understand they went with Pam because she has significantly more experience than I do, but from what I know Pam has never worked in my agency before. I have worked in this type of department in both this agency and the private sector, and I know that the procedures, software, etc. in this agency are often drastically different and present a significant learning curve. I entered the agency about three years ago and had to learn all of the processes and quirks with very little help because I had an ineffective supervisor (not Phyllis). It was difficult (lots of tears), but I’m now pretty proficient and some people in other locations even come to me for help with some of our processes.

Since Phyllis left, I’ve been reporting to her boss (Michael) who, because of how our larger department works, knows very little about our program. I am one of only two people at our location with the institutional knowledge to train Pam, and the other person now has a different job entirely. I know if I let it happen, I will be the one guiding Pam through the convoluted maze of our specific program. How do I tell Michael preemptively that I don’t think it would be fair for them to ask me to train my new supervisor? I’m wondering if my bitterness over not getting the job is clouding my judgment, but having to train someone who is supposed to be the one training me feels like a slap in the face, especially because of the drastic raise in pay and benefits that I am not receiving.

You can’t really say that. It’s very, very normal to be expected to show your new manager how your team does things. You’re not training her in the substance of how to do her job — you’re training her on your department-specific procedures. For example, if she were hired to manage fundraising, I’d expect that you might need to train her on how to use the internal donor database, common processes your team uses for mailings, how to use the finicky calendaring system, and so forth. I wouldn’t expect you to train her in how to develop fundraising strategy, set the team’s goals, or manage your performance; those are skills she’s presumably bringing with her, and the reason she’s been hired. But the stuff that’s specific to how you do things internally is normal to train her on.

It does sound like you have a legitimate beef about the significant increase in your workload and responsibility, and it’s reasonable to ask for that to be recognized (whether with a one-time bonus or a raise or so forth). But you can’t really say “I’m not going to show our new manager how we do things” without it reflecting very badly on you.

3. Strange recruiter interaction

I just had a strange interaction with a recruiter from a big name recruiting firm. She messaged me on LinkedIn claiming a former colleague from Company X had “spoke[n] highly” of me and described an attractive job without listing an employer name. When we finally got on a call, she refused to tell me who the former colleague was. Also, rather than telling me about the job opening or identifying the employer, she asked me in an open-ended way to describe what I was looking for. I gave a quick summary of the two kinds of opportunities that could entice me to leave my current job. She declared the original job wasn’t a good fit because I prefer to be remote, didn’t mention any other roles, and wrapped up by wishing me luck on another job I mentioned I’m currently interviewing for.

I would just write this off as a recruiter with a very strange approach, but I’ve worked in recruiting and my spidey sense is tingling. Could my current employer have put her up to this? I wouldn’t put it past my grandboss! No recruiter would agree to do this, right?? Please tell me I’m just being paranoid.

It’s unlikely that she was on a fact-finding mission for your boss. It’s more likely that she was engaging in that common recruiter behavior of not disclosing the client/employer name without first establishing that you’re interested, either because she doesn’t want you applying on your own (since she works on commission) or because the employer wants discretion at this stage. It’s also possible that the colleague who spoke highly of you was fictitious — that she uses that as bait to get potential candidates on the phone — because otherwise it’s weird that she wouldn’t tell you who they were (although it’s also possible that that person asked not to be named so their own search remains secret).

4. Should I delete a short stint from my LinkedIn profile?

I started a new job, and I updated my LinkedIn profile that same week. Unfortunately, three weeks later, the company downsized, and I was laid off. I was nervous about being visibly unemployed on LinkedIn while applying to new jobs, so I left the company on my profile as “2022 – Present.” Now, I’ve successfully found a new role, and I’m wondering if I should delete the other one from my profile entirely (leaving a five-month gap in employment), or if I should amend it to show my actual start/end dates (one month apart) with a note about the layoffs. It was not a big enough company to make headlines for layoffs, but it is respected in the industry.

Remove it. Three weeks isn’t enough time to strengthen your profile, and the short stint will just raise questions that will detract from the stronger points you want to highlight. (I’d keep it off your resume for the same reason.)

5. How can we make our department appear more occupied?

My team had some success with a “Bartleby the Scrivener” tactic of simply ignoring orders to work in the office. However, the boom has been lowered — we’ve been told we need to keep up appearances because other teams have complained that we’re not coming in.

Our bosses don’t really care and have said if people have a specific need to stay home on a given day, that’s fine. The key metric is that our desk area look generally occupied when office busybodies walk by.

One team member suggested we decorate for holidays to increase the “lived-in” look of our cubicle pod. I’d love to hear suggestions (both serious and wacky) from the readers on how to maximize the appearance of attendance, using less than 100% of our team on any given day!

(Ridiculous side note: the building was painstakingly crafted to maximize hip collaboration spaces, outdoor seating with strong wifi, etc. Plus a lot of us will be in conference rooms attending meetings most of the day. So we could all be in the office 40 hours a week and still not be seen in our cubicle area!)

Scarecrows? Holograms?

I’m happy to throw it out to the readers, but it sucks that your bosses are going with “your desk area needs to look occupied” as their key metric rather than pushing back against the office busybodies. I realize they might have higher priorities for where to spend their capital right now, or might have correctly judged that pushing back won’t get them anywhere and risks drawing more attention to your team’s quiet rebellion — and your team might prefer this plan to the alternative — but it still sucks.

should I quit my high school job?

A reader writes:

I’m 15, a girl, and work at one of Canada’s top grocery/retail employers.

Late August, I decided to get a part-time job because I felt like a lot of my classmates had one. I applied, got trained without an interview, and started shifts, which wasn’t a problem when I didn’t have school and other commitments to deal with.

My parents already pushed for me to work a max of 10 hours/week instead of the usual 15 hours, which they talked directly to my scheduling manager about. My manager was apparently reluctant and not happy, but she agreed in the end. My availability per week is limited to weekends and Monday and Tuesday evenings due to extracurriculars, so I’m basically working five-hour shifts on both weekend days every week unless my manager decides to give me a weekday evening shift.

I want this job for the basic reasons: university savings and financial independence (for entertainment, gifts, etc.). Also, it just seems like the next step in growing up; I feel like I‘m supposed to have a job by now.

I’m well into September now and some problems have been showing up:

1. I’m spending less time with my family. Both my parents were proud when I first got the job, but when they realized I would be sacrificing most of my weekends (which are usually reserved for family time) for work, they were unhappy. For example, today I had a shift until 9:30, which was when the rest of my family was at home making a cake for my grandpa’s birthday. I already felt bad about missing it, but it wasn’t totally preplanned and I didn’t think to ask for the weekend off beforehand.

2. I’m struggling to balance my studies with work. I‘m taking an exam in early December which requires a lot of rigorous practicing to prepare for. I’m also learning a new instrument for my school program, which again requires a lot of practicing. My after-school extracurriculars are starting up again. I‘m not struggling *too* much right now, but I feel like I will when mid-terms start, when club activities get settled, etc.

3. I feel like I’m ”wasting my youth.” Maybe this is influenced by my parents, but I’ve been cancelling plans with my friends and dismissing oppurtunities like learning a martial art, a language program, and volunteering at my local hospital because I doubt I’ll be able to schedule it in my life alongside work. I’m going to be in grade 11 next year, so now is like my last year of relative freedom not spent completley on shaping my future.

My parents both grew up not in the western world, so they’re not really well versed in the culture of having a part-time job as a teenager. I understand that they’re looking out for me, but I kind of feel like they’re treating it like an extracurricular rather than an actual paying job. Are there even places that hire where you can just work once a week? I don’t even know how to quit a job — is it acceptable to quit after working for less than a month?

In short: I want a job to make money for my future, my parents want me to quit because I’m dedicating less time to my family and friends and studies, and I don’t even know how/if it’s acceptable to quit after less than a month of working.

You’ve got to weigh the advantages of having the job (money, presumably) with its disadvantages (its demands on your time and the things you need to sacrifice to earn said money).

In some obvious ways you’re in a different situation than an adult who’s trying to decide if they want to keep a job, since you don’t need the money (whereas for independent adults, having some sort of income is usually necessary even if it keeps them from doing things they’d rather spend time on). But in other ways it’s not that different: In both situations, the fundamental question is whether the trade-offs of the job are worth it to you. Someone living independently would have to weigh those trade-offs differently than you do, but ultimately you both have to decide if what the job offers is valuable enough to justify the sacrifices you’re making to keep it.

I can’t answer that for you. Neither can your parents, for that matter! (They could order you to quit, but it sounds like they’re leaving it up to you, at least so far.) You’ve got to weigh the benefits and disadvantages yourself and decide where you fall.

That said, here are some things you could factor into your thinking.

* If you don’t need the money for your own expenses or to save for college, then having a job at 15 is really optional. Lots of people don’t work at 15, especially during the school year, and that’s okay.

* There is value in getting work experience in high school, but one option is to only work during the summer — when you’ll presumably have fewer demands on your time and more hours available for an employer. You’ll still end up needing to make trade-offs during the summer — you’ll still miss some fun things your friends are doing, and you might miss occasional family events too — but you probably won’t be stretched as thin.

* While there’s value in getting work experience in high school, there’s value in all kinds of other things too, including studying, learning an instrument, and spending time with your family. I do not agree that you’re wasting your youth by keeping this job (10 hours a week just isn’t that, unless you only have one very specific idea of what your youth should look like), but you get to decide that you value those other things more than you value work right now. Most people have a limited period of time in life where they can decide that, and it’s okay to take advantage of it.

As for whether you can quit after only a month of working: you can always quit any time you want. You should take commitments seriously when you make them (you shouldn’t accept a job planning to leave in a few weeks) but if you realize that the job isn’t what you thought it would be, or it conflicts with your life in ways you didn’t foresee, or it otherwise just isn’t working for you, you get to leave whenever you want. Leaving after only a month will most likely burn that bridge and you should be aware of that (it means that you probably won’t be able to get hired there in the future — although in this specific situation, you might be able to arrange to contact them in the summer when you have more availability). But really, high schoolers find themselves in this situation with some frequency, you’re unlikely to be the first high school student they’ve seen quit after a month for similar reasons, and while they might be annoyed it’s unlikely to be a huge thing.

In any case, my vote goes to the summer job plan, but my vote doesn’t count — this is about you sorting through what you want.

my employee wastes too much time on bad ideas

A reader writes:

I am a manager for a small but extremely busy office. I have one employee who is part-time and comes in only a few afternoons a week. She wastes a huge amount of time pontificating about every little detail about her job, always making suggestions of how things could be done better, and constantly seeks my advice for even the smallest thing. I am always open to suggestions, but when she makes suggestions it is normally a long-winded conversation about how and why, etc. and I often end up explaining we have tried to do this before and it hasn’t worked and these are the reasons why, but I am extremely busy and I am finding it really frustrating and a waste of time. She is also very quick to put other staff members down to me about mistakes she finds, even though they have more complicated and busier workloads and are all there full-time.

I always recommend staff email me suggestions for the next team meetings, but she has emailed me more suggestions herself then everyone else put together. She has also started to text me on my day off even though there are senior staff members to address queries to on that day. Any suggestions of how to handle this would be really appreciated.

I answer this question — and three 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:

  • Should we consider a candidate’s hot-button political views in hiring?
  • Can I ask for a chance to process things at work before responding?
  • I don’t want to hire someone I worked with in the past

my performance evaluation is based on activities outside of work

A reader writes:

I started my new job about six months ago, and I knew from the beginning that things like professional development, networking, and community involvement were highly encouraged at this company. What I didn’t expect was for these things to be mandatory to the extent that my performance review is based on them. Activities I’m expected to do “on my own time” (aka unpaid) include things like participating in a formal mentorship program, attending a certain minimum number of educational webinars and networking events, and joining committees for professional associations in my industry. These are all explicitly listed on my performance review as my “goals” for the year, whereas my performance review includes very little about the work I’m actually paid to do during work hours.

To me, these activities are certainly beneficial and should be encouraged, and I would willingly do some of them even if they were optional. But it feels somewhat unreasonable and unfair to be formally evaluated at work based on how I spend my time outside of work. My job responsibilities are highly technical and project-oriented, and at my previous company, performance reviews were always focused on my actual performance in terms of project deliverables and the quality of my work.

As much as I love my career and appreciate opportunities for professional growth, I also have my own hobbies, social life, and commitments outside of work. I’m fine with working overtime to meet a deadline or participating in the occasional happy hour with coworkers, but I hate the idea of regularly sacrificing my evenings and weekends just to talk shop off the clock. I feel burnt out even just thinking about all these activities I’m supposed to be doing in my already-limited free time! The craziest part is that my new company really emphasizes work-life balance, and several of my coworkers have mentioned that the work-life balance is great here! It feels like I’m the only one bothered by all the “mandatory fun” outside of work hours.

Are these unpaid obligations normal and/or unavoidable if I want to be successful in this job? Am I just too introverted? Since I’m required to have some “goals” related to social relationships and community involvement for my performance review, is there still any way to shift the focus away from activities that happen outside of work hours?

Ooooh, I don’t like this.

There are some jobs where networking and community involvement is genuinely part of your success. And while in theory I’d like to say that if that’s the case, those things should happen during work time, the reality is that a lot of jobs don’t work that way (particularly since those jobs are usually exempt). But it’s bizarre that your performance evaluation focuses on these things while including very little about the work you do during work hours, or your actual results.

Frankly, I’d be fine with them including one goal in your evaluation that looks at this stuff more broadly (combining it all into one “relationship-building and community involvement” category), if indeed it’s a legitimate expectation of the role. But it sounds like it’s the primary focus of your review, which doesn’t make sense.

There’s a good chance that this is a poorly constructed review form (which are legion) rather than an accurate reflection of the relative important of work vs. non-work items to your company. But it creates a useful opening for you to have this conversation with your manager! You could say, “I noticed that the goals on my evaluation are nearly all about things I’d do in my own time, like networking, rather than about my more direct work goals like XYZ, and it made me wonder to what extent I’m assessed on those out-of-work activities versus my project deliverables.” You could also say, “I appreciate opportunities for networking and community involvement, and I’d seek some of those out no matter what, but I also value down time and room for other commitments. I know the company emphasizes work-life balance, and so I’m hoping we can talk about what this would ideally look like in practice.”

It’s possible that you’ll find out that the review form is giving you an inaccurate idea of what’s really expected. (Which would be a huge problem with the review form! But that’s not uncommon.) Or it’s possible that you’ll realize that you can meet those goals with activities during work hours, like that your manager assumes you’ll do that mentoring work as part of your work day and even carves out time for it, or that people routinely take comp time if they spend an evening at a community event.

Or you could find out that yes, you are indeed expected to spend a significant amount of your own time outside of work on this stuff. If that’s the case, you could say something like, “Because I have commitments outside of work hours, can we talk about how I could meet these goals during the workday?” (Ideally you’d come prepared with some proposals for how to do that, like joining professional committees that meet during work hours or attending webinars during the workday.) If your boss isn’t open to that — or if she okays it but it’s clear that you won’t have time to do those things during the day without compromising the rest of your work — then at that point you’d need to figure out if you want the role in that configuration (and probably talk to colleagues to find out how much they’re really doing of that / how they manage it). But have that conversation first before you conclude anything.

is “have a blessed day” inappropriate at work, promised promotion never happens, and more

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

1. Is “have a blessed day” inappropriate at work?

Is it appropriate to end your professional voice mail greeting with the phrase “Have a blessed day”? I find it jarring to encounter in the context of work as a non-Christian.

I find it mildly jarring too (also as a non-Christian), although it’s a really, really common thing to say/hear in the south … so common that a lot of people would be surprised to hear that anyone takes issue with it (which is a problem and reflects the privilege of the dominant faith to not even be aware that some of its words and trappings aren’t secular).

Outside of work, it’s easier to simply take the phrase as a general expression of well wishes. At work though, the bar is higher; people should keep religious statements — even mild ones — out of work communications (including their outgoing voicemail messages). You’re going to have an uphill battle arguing that among most of its adherents though.

2. I’ve been promised a promotion for years and it never happens

I have been at my institution for eight years. In that time my role has expanded significantly but my title and compensation have remained largely unchanged, save for the annual flat 2% raise that all employees get and a 2021 “adjustment” to make my salary level with comparable jobs at competitor institutions.

During this time, I have had five vice presidents, two direct supervisors (and two years with no supervisor), and three mid-supervisors all with varying degrees of interest and control over my job. The transitions and gaps in leadership have meant that promises from past supervisors have gone unfulfilled. Even our HR department has gone through two complete changeovers from when I began, and my evaluations have been incomplete or completely absent for years.

My director (who says she adores me) has told me that she’s been pushing for a promotion for me for three years. A year ago when I brought up my frustration with my stagnant position, she told me that the vice president told her that she must wait for a new mid-supervisor role to be filled and that person would be able to promote me.

Fast forward to when that person was hired and my supervisor and I told her that I was looking to be promoted: that person immediately told me that she had to wait until the vice president was brought into these discussions. When I brought that up to my supervisor, she suggested I wait another three to six months and bring it back up.

I feel like this level of buck-passing is a clear answer that my work is either not valued … or it is taken for granted. And after eight years, I suppose I really can only blame myself for waiting so long. Am I jumping the gun if I jump ship now?


No, no, no.

You are never jumping the gun for deciding to look at other options after eight years, even without all of this stringing you along. But throw in eight years of empty promises and delays and constantly moving timelines, and your manager would be remarkably obtuse if she didn’t realize that of course you’re likely to be looking and of course they may lose you over this. (That doesn’t mean she won’t be surprised or disappointed; she might be. But she shouldn’t be.)

They’ve had plenty of time to try to keep you. They haven’t, and they’ve given you no reason to think that will change anytime soon. Make your decisions accordingly.

3. My company intranet shares every employee’s home address

I just started a new job at a nonprofit with kind of … patchwork operations protocols. I’ve just realized that in the intranet staff directory, you can see everyone’s home address. This is not good, right? That’s info HR should be keeping private?

Yeah, that’s not good! There’s no reason that every employee of your company needs to know where every other employee lives. That’s personal data that should be restricted to people with an actual need to know (like payroll people).

4. Should I tell my interviewer I’ve already accepted another job (which I’d be giving up if I got this one)?

I recently accepted a job offer. It’s far from perfect: it’s an entry-level job, part-time, and only for a couple of months, not-so-great salary and it’s starting in two months. But it’s a job, which I desperately need at this point after being part-time or completely unemployed for a while.

This morning I was called for an interview for a much higher level job for a longer period, full-time, and matches my degree much better. If I manage to get it, I will definitely take it and I believe the other job will understand. My question is: I should keep quiet at the interview about the other job, right? Or could it somehow make me seem a better candidate? After all, it’s showing that I’m not completely useless (like I feel after months of desperately trying to make ends meet and sending endless job applications) and I’m not planning on staying home and waiting for opportunities. These jobs have nothing in common, if that matters.

Don’t mention it. Your reasons for taking the first job but also interviewing for the second make complete sense, but there’s too much risk of making your interviewer uneasy about whether you’ll continue interviewing once you’re employed with them as well. (To be clear, that wouldn’t be particularly reasonable since that the first job is lower level, part-time, and temporary, but it’s a risk nonetheless.) And knowing that someone else wanted to hire you doesn’t carry enough weight to cancel that out.

5. Should I let my manager know that I’m expecting an excellent review?

My Fortune 500 company uses a nine-block matrix during annual performance reviews, with the two axes being Behavior and Performance. Example: An average employee is in the middle box (as-expected behavior, as-expected performance), while an outstanding employee would be in the top corner (great behavior, great performance). These boxes affect our raises and bonuses. I have been told by my previous manager that getting the highest box is quite hard and reserved for an especially impressive year, and that some luck is involved in having a year with enough opportunities to prove yourself. Therefore, most high-performing employees like myself are regularly placed in the top middle box (great behavior, as-expected performance). I have only been in the top corner box once in six years.

I have had an especially successful year this year, including successful completion of difficult projects, booking additional customer contracts based on that work, and taking on many new responsibilities outside of my standard role. I have numbers to support these claims. Can/should I let me manager know of my intention to be considered for a top box review?

My previous manager would not have needed the reminder, as she was a fierce advocate for our team and our results. However, she left the company earlier this year, and my new manager is a little different. For starters, she is located at a different site and we have only met in person a few times. With the departure of my previous manager, my new manager is now overseeing our group in addition to the group she has managed for years, and my group has noticed a slight bias towards her original group. She is also very conservative in her approach, always wanting to have all the ducks in a row before making a claim. I am concerned that even though she has been complimentary of my work, she may overlook that I have had the type of year that should be considered for the top box. A lot of things had to fall into place to be able to achieve my results this year, and I don’t want the opportunity to be missed!

I would like to send a short email briefly listing my accomplishments (more detail would be included in our official review form) and stating that I would like to be considered for a top box based on these results. What are your thoughts? Is this inappropriate/too pushy? Although this wouldn’t really be true, should I include a phrase indicating I understand if she disagrees?

It’s not too pushy if you can back up your case with specific achievements, and you can. It’s a good idea. If nothing else, it tells your manager that she should be prepared to explain why she disagrees if in fact she does.

I would not include a mention that you will understand if she disagrees; that will water down the strength of your argument a bit. (And it’s not like not including that implies that you’ll throw a fit if she reaches a different conclusion than you did, since presumably she knows you to be reasonable and professional.)

the locusts, the un-appreciation kits, and even more stories of corporate gifts that didn’t quite work out

On last week’s post about corporate year-end gifts, some readers shared even more stories of company gifts that went terribly wrong. Here are 10 more that made me laugh.

1. The locusts

“My prior company gave everyone a small tree and encouraged people to plant it. Now these were small seedlings maybe 2 inches inside of a small cup used by dentists for mouthwash and what not. Upon receiving them we read the name ‘Honey Locusts.’ They literally gave us locusts for employee appreciation. They also recommended we plant these on our property or randomly plant them on some one else’s property. These trees grow to be very large and my property couldn’t accommodate. Two weeks later an email went out stating, ‘Please do not plant your trees at work, we do not own the property.’”

2. The blown glass

“I once attended a conference where everyone got a blown glass sculpture. An incredibly fragile blown glass sculpture. Throughout the final session, and the bus ride back to our hotel, the sounds of breaking glass could be heard – if it touched anything, it went kaboom. Also, I was flying home the next morning! So I took every article of clothing I had to spare, packed them around the stupid thing as tightly as I could, and hoped for the best. Somehow it survived, but many did not. It was really pretty, and I’m sure it was expensive, but…who thought that was a good idea?”

3. Whoops

“In January of 2020 we all got a pack of Emergen-C with a note saying ‘Bring it on 2020!’ (in reference to cold and flu season) and it aged like milk on a summer day.”

4. The hammers

“My company usually just does hoodies or jackets, one year was really nice laptop backpacks, another year they got everyone these really good emergency car kits — big red bags, first aid, mylar blankets, tire inflation, reflecting cones, flares, those cut the seatbelt tools, and more. Usually a success. Then came the new lady who convinced the partners that $100 gift cards were good.

You think, ‘No problem,’ right?

Welp … you’d be wrong. They came in these big boxes which you’d open to find a hammer and a chunk of concrete that you had to bash your way through to get to your card … which were to things like auto parts stores or Cabellas or bass pro shops.

That was a loud afternoon followed by a damage assessment because we had desks smashed up, a ridiculous number of wireless mice destroyed … one guy missed his rock and slammed his cell phone dead center … a broken monitor and one dented hood by a guy who figured hurling it off the loading dock would be faster.

Been all hoodies ever since.”

5. The parade

“At a previous job, during the busy season, everyone salaried was required to work a certain amount of weekly unpaid overtime, maybe 10-12 hours. In ‘gratitude,’ the company owners would periodically PARADE through the office handing out small gifts. Very small, cheap gifts — once it was a packet of off brand tortilla chips and a shelf-stable container of ‘nacho cheese.’ During this little parade (owners and their assistants, toting a Bluetooth speaker blaring music), we workers were expected to drop whatever we were doing to CHEER for the owners as they benevolently handed out cheap snacks, like aristocrats handing pennies to the peasants.”

6. The deck of cards

“My old company gave everyone a deck of cards with the company logo on it. OK, fine, everyone needs a deck of cards, not the worst gift ever. But then we opened them.

Instead of the standard, suits and numbers, the cards had the Company Values on them, with symbols corresponding to those values. The top card contained instructions for a go-fish-type game we were meant to play with them. ‘Do you have any Innovation? Go fish.’

So basically, the only thing you could do with the cards was play this stupid game. A bunch of us punched holes in our card decks and strung them together and hung them around the office like holiday garlands.”

7. The rock

“I once received a rock with the word ‘trust’ written on it in sharpie. Morale was particularly bad at the time and management thought “trust rocks” would help. Some rocks were thrown.”

8. The fire blankets

“I worked in a nursing home tied to a large international religious charity for eight years. They gave us an annual gift, which is unusual in my country. There was no need for any gift, it wouldn’t have come off as weird or cheap. But year after year they gifted us fire blankets. The first year I thought this was useful. The second year I wondered if they had forgotten about last year. The third year I wondered if they had just received a massive fire blankets donation they were going through slowly. The fourth year I wondered if they just assumed we regularly set stuff on fire and went through one blanket per year. The fifth year I understood we were trapped in an endless loop. The sixth year I started a blog about it. The seventh year I looked up if there was an aspect of that religion I had overlooked that somehow connected to fire and blankets. The eighth year they finally broke me, and I looked forward to receiving my well-earned blanket, no further questioning of The Blanket.

I still have three of them, 12 years after leaving that position.”

9. The appreciation kits

“My husband, a middle-school teacher whose school decided to rush headlong back into in-person classes in fall of 2020, was given an ‘appreciation kit’ by his school on the first day of class (as were all the teachers). One tiny bottle of hand sanitizer, two 5-count packets of disinfectant wipes, a T-shirt in the school colors that said ‘we’re all in this together,’ and a booklet with the number and website for the local mental health crisis line.

Approximately one-quarter of the teaching staff left after the 2020-2021 school year. For some reason.”

10. The SIM card transfer

“A few years ago, I was working in a telecoms company. This was before ‘smart’ phones were a thing — and to transfer your contacts from one device to another, you needed to manually copy them to your SIM card, then insert your old SIM into your new phone, transfer them to the new phone, and then finally put your new SIM card into the new phone — a complete pain to do!

One year, as part of an employee ‘Christmas stocking’ full of otherwise unobjectionable things, the company gave us a handy little device to help automate this transfer. You put your old SIM card in one end, and the new one in the other and voila! contacts transferred. Except this thing did not work. At all. What it did instead was wipe your old SIM card of all information — so that could be hundreds of contacts completely lost — and this was from a time when people didn’t back up their contacts (and some phones didn’t let you copy contacts, only move them, so the contacts were lost from the old phone too). Needless to say, this didn’t generate much Christmas cheer.”

return-to office-incentives aren’t working … here’s what workers want

When millions of office employees started working from home in 2020, the plan for most was eventually to return to work, not stay remote forever. But two and a half years later, many really don’t want to go back to the office, and companies are struggling to figure out how to convince them to return, offering enticements like free food, prizes, and even alcoholic beverages.

At Slate today, I wrote about how companies are trying to lure workers back … and what it will really take to do it. You can read it here.