coworker won’t stop consulting an ex-employee, my boss won’t wear a mask, and more

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

1. My coworker won’t stop consulting our former boss, who doesn’t work here anymore

Due to recent restructuring from Covid, the head of our department’s position was eliminated and now I and one other regional director report directly to the CEO. Instead of one person making a major decision, we have to come to an agreement and share our recommendations to the CEO to ultimately decide.

My co-manager is close with the old boss who was let go and is continuing to text him and have conversations asking for advice on several recent initiatives. My colleague then insists on a course of action because “that’s what he recommends.” I have tremendous respect for our old boss but he neither works here nor has all of the information.

I’m feeling undermined and made to feel like my own expertise is irrelevant. What is a good way for me to handle this? We generally work well together and I want to keep it that way. Do I ignore when this happens and hope that with time we settle into our responsibilities and authority?

Yeah, that’s not good. I could imagine there being one or two situations where the former director might have crucial info or perspective that you can’t get any other way … but not on the reg and, more importantly, this guy was laid off and is no longer being paid by your organization. Maybe he’s happy to continue to help, but your organization shouldn’t be comfortable continuing to let him. And that’s before we get into the very valid points you made about him no longer having all the relevant context, and others now being in charge. (There also might be confidentiality concerns, depending on the type of work you do.)

So I’d address it head-on: “I’m concerned about continuing to bring Bob into these conversations because the more time that goes by, the less he has all the relevant info. I believe (CEO’s) intent was for you and I to make these decisions ourselves. I’m also concerned about leaning on Bob for input when he’s no longer being paid by the company; at a minimum, I think the company would want to be aware that he’s being asked for input in this way.”

If that doesn’t stop it, talk to your boss about it; it’s a big enough deal that it rises to that level.

2. My boss won’t wear a mask

We’ve returned to working in the office for a percentage of the month. In addition to other safety precautions, we have all been asked to social distance and wear masks, as expected. For the most part, I’ve seen my coworkers comply with the mask rules. The one hold-out is my direct supervisor. Whenever they have a mask on, they always wear it below the nose. When they have approached me at work, they have either removed their mask completely or have just worn it incorrectly. I feel extremely uncomfortable, and am upset that they think this is acceptable.

The last time I was in the office and they approached me (again with the mask not covering everything it was supposed to), I got so tense that I probably wasn’t as personable with my responses as I could have been, and just tried to end the conversation as soon as possible (and it wasn’t anything that couldn’t have been sent in an email). I feel awkward and like I acted unprofessionally, but I am just so frustrated. We all know how to wear a mask, and I feel that intentionally not doing so is a sign that they believe their comfort is more important than my safety.

For a number of reasons, I am not super comfortable approaching this issue with them (for one, I haven’t been taken seriously when trying to bring up concerns in the past), but I’m not sure bringing it up to our manager is the best thing to do. I don’t want to be seen as a tattler. I’m also concerned that the failure to follow the rules stems from dangerous and ill-informed views regarding the pandemic and I don’t know that I want to open that can of worms. This sentiment is quite prevalent where I live, so it has definitely crossed my mind.

I really want to reiterate that my company is very serious about these safety rules. Our industry has taken a massive hit due to this pandemic, so it’s in everyone’s best interests that we all follow the guidelines. I know that if I spoke up, the concern would be addressed but I worry about how that would affect my reputation.

Your company is taking the rules seriously, has asked employees to take the rules seriously, and you’re confident they’ll address it. So please speak up. Your manager is putting people’s health and lives at risk. This isn’t tattling (a concept that doesn’t really exist at work, particularly around serious, substantive issues like this one); it’s giving your company important safety info. If your manager were driving company cars drunk on work property, would you tell someone? Same thing here.

When you report it, explain you’re concerned about retaliation from your manager and ask if it’s possible for them to keep your name out of it. Something like this is so simple for them to independently confirm that it should be easy for them to do.

3. If I give bigger gifts this year, am I setting a precedent?

I have two full-time employees and I always get them a $50 gift card from a large retailer with a professionally heartfelt note about how much I appreciate them. We’ve all been under great stress this year due to the pandemic. I’d like to give them more, but I’m worrying about setting a precedent. If I go to $100, will I then need to do that in all future years? Will it be too awkward going back to $50? I use my personal money for this as our organization’s rules don’t allow for using the budget for gifting employees.

Related, am I being too stingy? I’ve never had bosses that give me more than a small Starbucks gift card – and my current manager, the leader of the organization, doesn’t even give a card, much less a gift. Even though I’ve been a manager for almost 10 years, I wonder if I’m doing this right!

You are not being stingy! To the contrary, you’re being very generous.

If you want to put in extra this year, you can do it without setting a precedent. Include a note that says something like, “A little extra because of how hard 2020 has been.” I’m sure your employees would be very appreciative.

The two caveats I’d give are: (1) If your team gets larger in the future, you may need to lower your per-person expenditure at that point (simply to protect your own budget). But generally people understand that as a team gets larger, this kind of tradition may change. (2) Make sure you’re not inadvertently creating pressure on other managers to give significant gifts to their teams. With a two-person team, you’re probably not, but it’s something to be sensitive to. (I hope that doesn’t diminish your confidence in what you’re doing this year! It sounds lovely, and you sound lovely.)

4. My employer doesn’t understand I’m in high school

I am 17 and work part-time as a cashier at a big box superstore, where I have worked for about a month and a half. I typically work weekends and Thursday/Friday nights, and told them when I started that I wasn’t able to work before 4:30 on weekdays due to school. This worked well for up until the past week.

When I checked my schedule on Sunday, I found I had been scheduled to work at 3:30, 10 minutes after school lets out here, and 3:15 the following day (when class is still in session!). I talked to the manager of my department and explained I couldn’t work those hours because of school and got them pushed back. Water under the bridge until today.

I received a call today, while I was in class, from an an assistant manager, asking me to come in within the next 20 minutes or so. I told him I couldn’t and explained again that I was in high school. He told me I could come in later today, but am I right for being annoyed? Other than this, it’s a good job, but with this being the third time my request to not be scheduled during school hours was ignored, I’m lost on what to do.

Most likely, people are just going to keep forgetting and you’ll need to keep reminding them. That might be incompetence, but it could also just be that they’re scheduling a ton of people and can’t remember the specifics of everyone’s availability. Also, it sounds like multiple people get involved in finding coverage, and they’re even less likely to know your availability. It sounds like they’re good about backing off once you remind them, and so you might just need to remind them over and over. If you can see it that way — as opposed to them pressuring you to miss school or otherwise being inconsiderate — it might be easier to deal with.

5. Following up with an employer who said they might be hiring in January

I’m currently job searching. I had an informal interview with an employer that was recommended to me through my network. It went well, and I would be excited to work with them. In the interview in mid-October, they stated they were not currently hiring because they were onboarding a couple new employees and didn’t have bandwidth for an additional new employee. However, they thought they might be hiring in January. I was curious what the best way to follow up would be. Do I wait until January or reach out now since it’s almost December (so that I’m top of mind when January arrives)? Is it enough to restate my enthusiasm for working with them and to inquire about whether they are hiring now, or is that too direct?

It’s too soon to follow up. It wouldn’t make sense to ask if they’re hiring now, when they recently told you they might be hiring in January (which implies it’s pretty unlikely to be now).

I’d wait until early January to follow up. Normally right before their stated timeframe would be fine, but in this case that would be the last week of December, which is often a time where very little is happening. So, right after the new year starts.

When you do check back in, you can note that they’d mentioned they might be hiring in January and say you wanted to reiterate your interest if they are. Good luck!

HR is giving me bad vibes, but I like the hiring manager

A reader writes:

I went on an interview for a job in a different industry (academia), I’ve always had a passion for education so even though I knew I would likely be taking a pay cut, I still applied and was willing to take the offer if it was a good fit.

My first phone screen was with the HR manager, who asked why I would want to work there if they couldn’t match my current salary and seemed doubtful of my answer that I would be okay with a pay cut from my research of what academia paid for this type of role. Then he asked why I would want to work there if I lived so far from the work location (it’s about a 45 minute drive). I said in the future, it’s very likely that I will move closer to that location since my husband also works in that area and that I don’t mind a 45 minute commute if there was occasional flexibility for work hours/telework. He said this role would absolutely not allow for flex hours or telework because of the nature of the role, I thanked him for the information and we ended the conversation shortly thereafter. I assumed we would not proceed. Later, I got an email from him saying the hiring manager was interested in speaking with me. I was surprised, but I accepted the interview just to learn more about the opportunity.

The interview with the hiring manager was drastically different from my phone screen with HR. First, the hiring manager is a remote worker and she said she was definitely okay with flex hours (starting earlier to leave a little earlier) and occasional telework, and in fact many people at the organization take advantage of those options! She also observed I was highly qualified and asked if I was comfortable making less than I would in the corporate world. When I explained my interest in switching to academia, she was a good listener and believed me. She proceeded to ask some standard questions. I then proceeded all the way to final rounds, met the team, and had a good experience with everyone. The hiring manager hinted they would be making an offer.

Well, I got a call from the same HR manager after my final interview round, and he was snarky and honestly a little hateful. He asked again if I was REALLY interested in the role, as if he couldn’t believe I would be, then he implied he didn’t think I would be a good fit because I wouldn’t understand what it’s like to work in a different industry and was almost trying to tell me I shouldn’t take the job. It wasn’t from a place of trying to be helpful, but deterring me because he didn’t like me as an interview candidate. What’s the best way to respond in this situation?

Put way more weight on your interactions with the hiring manager than HR. The hiring manager is the person who will be managing you if you take the job, and you might have little to no interaction with this HR person ever again.

The HR guy sounds like he has very set views about things that the manager doesn’t share, on everything from changing fields to the length of commutes, and he’s attempting to impose those views on the selection process … but in a well-functioning organization, it’s the manager’s assessment that will count the most, and that sounds like what’s happening here.

It’s true that bad HR sometimes can be a sign of problems with a company. But often the department you’d be working in can be great, even though HR isn’t. Sometimes HR is it own weird island, or just fairly irrelevant once you start working there. Other times not. But the hiring manager — the person whose team you’ll be working on — is far more likely to give you an accurate idea of the job, the culture, and the day-to-day realties of working there.

That said, if they do make you an offer, you can certainly ask the manager about this! As part of whatever discussion you’re having with her about the offer, you could say, “I’ve really enjoyed my conversations with you and the rest of the team, and I’m excited about the job. I wanted to ask though — the info I’ve been getting from Bob hasn’t lined up with what you and I have discussed around things like flex hours and occasional telework, and he almost seemed to be discouraging me from taking the job. I’ve put more weight on what you’ve told me since the job is on your team, but I wondered if you had any insight that would help me sort through that?”

how can I find new hires who will be comfortable with our “boys club” culture?

A reader writes:

I’m looking to add a new employee to my team, most likely a recent college graduate, and I’m not quite sure how to come up with questions to ensure a good cultural fit. Our team is a bit of a “boys club” with cursing and the occasional inappropriate joke made in smaller group settings. I know that some people aren’t comfortable around this type of environment (and I know this culture won’t change in the near future) so I want to make sure the person would be able to fit into this group. It seems awkward to ask, “How do you feel about cursing and the occasional crude joke?” Is this a legitimate question to ask in an interview? If not, do you have any other recommendations for how to do it?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Should we fire an intern for extending her vacation without permission?
  • My colleague didn’t hire my son
  • Working on maternity leave
  • Why did my interviewer mention another candidate?

we can only bring our spouses to the holiday party if we have kids

A reader writes:

I’ve considered writing in years past about my company’s Christmas party, but I never felt like I had any agency to change things. This year the Christmas party is cancelled (obviously) so when we resume next year (hopefully) it will be a chance to re-set the rules, so to speak.

Our company has about 80 employees. Christmas at our workplace is very family-oriented. It is a catered lunch during the work day, an employee dresses as Santa, and every single child under the age of 18 associated with the company gets called up and given a gift. This means kids and grandkids. We also have an employee raffle that is incredibly generous. It has ballooned into a huge ordeal.

There is a lot to like about our Christmas parties but one thing upsets me every year: I am not allowed to bring my husband. The rule is that spouses can only attend if you have a child. If it is a grandchild, then the parent(s) can also attend. Which means that those of us without kids don’t get the opportunity to introduce our coworkers to our spouses. I also think it’s especially rude because we have multiple employees who are in same-sex marriages, and this rule applies to them as well, as none of them have children. So for example, one older employee has three adult children and a total of 9 grandchildren under 18, so they will bring 12 guests, but my coworker is not allowed to bring his husband of 10 years because they don’t have a child together. It just doesn’t seem fair. I do like meeting my coworkers’ families. I think it helps us get to know each other on a more personal level and really connect with each other. But I’d like them to be able to meet my husband, too!

It is frustrating. I spoke with the party planner last year about a month before the party about it, and she insisted on the rule and said that some younger employees also complained to her because they didn’t have kids or spouses, but would like to bring a parent with them to see their workplace and meet all their coworkers. She said we simply cannot accommodate everyone. Then the party was kind of a disaster. I can’t say for certain but I think there were about 350 or so people in attendance, we ran out of chairs/tables, we ran out of food, and our party planner was near tears from stress and frustration trying to scramble for more food and seats. I ended up sitting at a table with a bunch of teenagers who were just waiting for their gift cards from Santa and refused to talk to me and were all on their phones. It was no fun.

Our office party planner is open to suggestions but seems to think there is no way for us to have a “family” Christmas party that it equitable for everyone, so people without kids just have to suck it up. Christmas 2020 is canceled so I’m hoping we can come up with ideas for Christmas 2021 that makes our party fun, fair, and not totally overwhelming! I was thinking a rule of children under 12 only, and no grandkids, and everyone else gets one plus-one. It would cut the numbers down drastically but the party planner thinks it would be agist and make our employees with grandkids unhappy to change the system. But after last year’s disaster of a party it seems clear that something has to give.

Do you have any ideas on how to fix this? Or is our party system not the problem, and just my attitude is? I don’t have kids and I’m not planning on them, so I can’t help but wonder if I’m just being a wet blanket about this.

This is a terrible system!

Some employees get to bring 12 guests while others can’t bring anyone, not even their spouse? It’s incredibly exclusionary, and I’m not sure why they think employees without kids would even want to attend on their own — when their coworkers get to bring their spouses and the rest of their families. And grandkids! You can’t bring your spouse, but other people can bring their spouse, their adult children, and their grandkids?

And your party planner says she can’t change anything because it would upset employees with grandchildren … but she’s apparently totally unconcerned about the people who are upset right now at being excluded?

The most generous reading I can come up with is that this isn’t really a party for employees; it’s a party for employees’ kids, and everyone else is welcome to attend. It’s possible that’s really what they intend, based on the family focus, the gifts to every child, etc.

But if that’s there case, it would be understandable if you and your other colleagues without children decided not to attend at all. I’m curious how that would go over — would anyone care? Or are you pressured to be there, especially since it’s during the workday?

If you want to push back on it, I’d talk to someone other than the party planner since she doesn’t seem to be able to see past “this is how we do it.” Her reasoning — “we can’t accommodate everyone” while letting some employees bring 12 guests — says pretty clearly that she’s not bringing logic to this discussion. My guess is that she figures this is the system you have, it would take effort and some political capital to change it, and she either doesn’t know how or isn’t willing to deal with the complaints event planners get with any change … so you need to go higher.

Ideally you and your other coworkers who object would go over her head and talk to someone with more authority. Explain that it’s alienating to be told you can’t bring your spouse while others bring a spouse and 10+ guests, and ask if the party can be re-envisioned to be more inclusive of all your employees, not just those with kids.

Since it seems like your company really wants to do something for kids, you might get more traction if you suggest keeping the event for kids, but adding an adult party that all partners (or any plus-one) are welcome at.

HR won’t let me do anything about my horrible employee, coworker plays music all day, and more

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

1. HR won’t let me do anything about my horrible employee

I have an hourly worker who routinely comes in 5 – 7 minutes late and leaves 5 – 7 minutes early. I’ve been told by our HR department I can’t “legally” require her to be here on time (start of shift) and stay until end of shift, because we have the round up/down policy — anyone who comes in up to 7.5 minutes late rounds back to the start of that hour, and is considered “on time” and leaving 7.5 minutes early gets rounded up to the next hour — so according to HR, I can’t legally penalize her or insist she be here by the start of shift or stay until the end of her shift. This is a problem for me because she is supposed to be relieving someone when she comes in — mostly student workers (we are at a university) who have to leave to get to class, and I can’t make them late to class by insisting they stay until she shows up. She also has to open on Saturdays, and she keeps the rest of the staff waiting to get into our area while she strolls in 5 – 7 minutes late every week. HR says it’s a violation of the FLSA to require her to be here on time and stay until end of shift.

She is aware of this policy, and I believe is intentionally using it to inconvenience the rest of the unit (she is openly rude and dismissive to the student workers — this “late” issue is only the tip of the iceberg) and to be covertly insubordinate. She is later than the “allowed” seven minutes an average of about once a week, but she’s perceived by the rest of the staff as being late every day, and they are resentful.

She is a recent transfer to my unit, because her previous job was eliminated. She is openly unhappy about the transfer (she had to apply so it’s not like she was forced). She refuses direct assignments or delegates them to others if it’s something she feels is “beneath” her. Having her behave this way is causing a major drop in morale. I’ve got student workers asking to change shifts so they can avoid working with her because of her attitude, and she has twice made her views regarding transgender people quite clear (she refuses to use their chosen pronouns or names if not “officially changed” in the school records — she doesn’t believe transgender people exist), which has caused at least two student workers to ask to be reassigned so they can avoid her. Morale is plummeting in our unit and while my immediate supervisor sympathizes, HR is tying my hands since I’m not allowed to speak to her about the “sort of” late/early issue, as HR says that’s not really late or leaving early. I don’t know what to do.

Good lord.

First, your HR people are wrong about the law. It’s true that if you have a practice of rounding people’s hours up or down, you must do it in a way that doesn’t always advantage the employer (i.e., you can’t always round down). But that’s about what time people get paid for. The law in no way says you can’t require people to be on time or stay until the end of their shifts, and you absolutely can discipline people (including firing them) for routinely shortening their shifts. (That said while legal, it would be overkill to do that over a 5-7 minutes, unless the person is in a job where coverage matters and you’ve warned them repeatedly — both of which are true in this case.)

But you don’t even need to fight with HR about this because there’s so much else here that you should fire this person over: first and foremost, deadnaming colleagues and refusing to use their correct pronouns, but also being rude and insubordinate, refusing assignments, assigning her work to others. If HR is giving you a hard time on the lateness, pursue the other stuff. Each of these things should be fireable on their own, and you’ve got an obligation to your other employees to deal with those aggressively.

2. We have to bring “sources of consternation” to our meetings

I work for a state agency, and we have been working from home since mid-March. Just before the pandemic, we were supposed to begin a new organizational policy that involved an enormous amount of paperwork. I asked if we couldn’t streamline the process by having all the paperwork reduced to a shared spreadsheet, but I got shot down because they wanted it done the same way throughout the agency. I pointed out that everybody has different styles, and some people (like me) get very twitchy and unfocused when surrounded by mountains of paperwork, but I was brushed off because the agency wanted to use the new policy exactly as written. Then we all began working from home and the new policy was put on hold for months until they finally decided to do it virtually, and, just as I originally suggested, they ended up doing it with a shared spreadsheet. But they plan to return to the mountains of paperwork as soon as we’re back in the office.

Today my team of about a dozen people received an email saying that at our team meetings from now on, we are each required to describe something at work recently that has been a source of consternation for us. I am horrified and predict that it will cause a lot of tension and not be a productive use of our time at all. Even if nobody uses the time to lodge inappropriate complaints that would be better addressed in a one on one with our team lead, I still don’t like that we are being asked to focus on negative things as a group.

I should add that I’m sure this new task was not my team lead’s idea, as he dislikes meetings almost as much as I do, keeps them brief, and ends them if nobody has anything to bring up. I plan on addressing my concern with my team lead at my next one-on-one, but I fully expect that I will not get anywhere because pushing back against red tape has failed before. I can and will speak up, but I do not have the standing to effect change to an agency policy. I also cannot stand the idea of regular meetings where we all have to talk about something unpleasant. I’m hoping the agency realizes it’s a terrible idea and discontinues it after the inevitable drama results, but if that doesn’t happen and we’re stuck with these terrible meetings, do I have any option other than just leaving?

So … I think you might be overreacting. Or at least reacting prematurely.

It sounds like your team is being asked to bring problems and challenges for discussion at your meetings — which is a very normal and common thing to do. If I’m wrong and they literally just want people to name problems with no focus on solving them, that would be odd — but it would be so odd that it’s much more likely it’s about problem-solving, not complaining (and not about interpersonal drama either, unless your team is highly dysfunctional). Either way, why not wait and see how it goes before drawing any conclusions? It’s possible it’ll be different than what you’re picturing, and if it does turn out to be unconstructive, you can raise that then. If you raise it now, it’s likely you’re going to be asked to wait and see how it goes anyway — and it’ll be much easier to raise concerns after you’ve given it a chance and seen what it’s really like.

It’s possible you’re assuming or even creating drama where it won’t exist. Or not — but wait and see how it goes.

To answer your actual question, though, if it turns out to be as bad as you fear, you can talk with your manager and talk with your coworkers and encourage them to push back on it too, but if management above you is committed to keeping these meetings, then yeah, you’d need to decide if you can live with that or not. Unless they’re truly dreadful, it doesn’t sound like something that would warrant leaving, but everyone draws their lines in different places.

3. Coworker listens to music on speakers all day

I have a coworker who listens to music on speakers at his desk in our open office, all day. I’ve mentioned to our mutual manager a couple of times over the past year how distracting it is, and she just told me she would ask him to turn it down. He does turn it down for a while after she speaks to him, but I still can hear it, and it always creeps back up over time. I have discussed this with other coworkers who sit in our office and they are also distracted by his music. We all wear headphones or earbuds in part to drown out his music, but what we all really want is for him to wear headphones too. A complicating factor is that the coworker who plays the music is a favorite of our manager (he clearly gets special treatment in other ways) and becomes a drama lama to all the staff if he feels he’s been slighted. How do you recommend I talk to my manager again about this?

Have you talked to the music-playing coworker directly? You’ve talked to your manager and you’ve talked to other coworkers, but is anyone talking to himIdeally every time you can hear his music, you’d say to him, “I can hear your music and it’s making it tough to focus — could you use headphones?” If you’re not doing that because he’s difficult when he feels slighted — well, this isn’t a slight, and if he chooses to take it that way, that’s on him. You could also try asking your manager for a rule that music can’t be played out loud, period, and that everyone needs to use headphones. It’s possible that would be more effective than her conversations asking him to just turn it down (and that’s a very reasonable and common rule for offices to have).

But most likely, you’ll need to take it to the coworker directly. If he hears from enough of you, there’s a decent chance he’ll eventually comply, even if begrudgingly. (And if none of this works … well, then at that point you know he’s an ass and your manager sucks too, but it’s worth taking these steps first because they might work.)

4. Should I send a note telling an employer I’ll send in a resume soon?

I have worked in a deadline-oriented position in print media for numerous years. Because of declining sales in this area, all of the employees at my company were moved to contractor positions with no benefits two years ago. I love my job, but I’m at a stage where I need to seriously save for retirement for the next 10 years, and the new contracted position offers less money and much less stability.

Enter: a posting for a similar job with a slight reduction in title, but a huge increase in stability (and I’m presuming benefits). But because I haven’t needed to have a resume for over 10 years, I’m having to rewrite my resume from scratch, which is time-consuming! And, I’m on deadline for current job so I literally am sleeping/eating/working only for another week.

Would it be appropriate to send a letter of interest (which I feel very confident writing after following your cover letter advice for years), saying that a resume is forthcoming? I feel like they might understand the time constraints involved, and might even be glad to hear about my deadline dedication? That being said, I don’t want to potentially jeopardize this opportunity by turning them off or by letting the job get filled while I’m overbooked. What do you think?

Nah, not unless they’ve asked for applications by a date that you’re otherwise going to miss. On the employer side, it’s not really useful to get a note that a stranger’s application is coming. Without a resume I have no way of knowing if this stranger will be a strong candidate or not — and if they are, I’m going to see that when they apply anyway. It doesn’t help me to hear that their application is forthcoming; just send the application when it’s ready and I’ll look at it then.

You’re concerned about the job being filled before you apply, but an employer isn’t going to hold off on hiring because someone they don’t know said they plan to apply in a week. You might not even apply, and now I’ve held the job unnecessarily! Or you might apply and not be competitive with my current top candidates. (Which, statistically speaking, is the case for most candidates.)

Send everything at once.

5. Gifts for less than $7/person

I work as a manager in the IT department of an academic medical center. In March, our department became remote for COVID. In May, that decision became permanent and we will be remote going forward, so my employees now work from home.

Typically for Christmas, I get my direct reports a small gift in addition to our Secret Santa gift exchange. There are 14 of them this year, and this gift comes out of my pocket. I enjoy getting this gift for my team, but I do try to keep it to less than $7/person. I haven’t found anything that I like for that price point, and I’m having to factor in delivery or shipping this year. Any ideas?

$7/person including shipping … I’m going to throw this one out to commenters to weigh in on. Personally, I’d skip the gifts at that point and just do notes to each person about what you’ve appreciated about working with them this year — which I think people will appreciate more anyway.

weekend open thread – November 21-22, 2020

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

Here are the rules for the weekend posts.

Book recommendation of the week: Cobble Hill, by Cecily von Ziegesar. It’s about four families — including a former rock star, a school nurse, a renowned but struggling novelist, a performance artist, and their spouses — and how their lives intersect in unexpected ways. Not a lot happens but it’s fun.

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

it’s your Friday good news

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

1. For a decade, I’ve worked in a field that while highly coveted, is also extremely demanding and toxic. Everyone thinks the job is glamorous — think entertainment, high level politics, or Madison Avenue advertising. But frankly, after a decade it’s grueling and just not worth it anymore. I’ve been trying to find a way out for a few years and always met with, “Why would you leave? You have the dream job!”

Through the pressure, attention, and work-life “balance” I have somehow managed to find myself a healthy romantic relationship, and just don’t envision having the life I want while having this career. By reading Ask a Manager, and a fair amount of therapy, I’ve landed an amazing new job. I’m so excited to begin this next chapter of my life, and even managed to navigate a graceful exit. A number of people have remarked they are “sad but not surprised to see me leave” and commented that the ways I brought attention to chronic issues in the field has been eye opening and that losing my talent is a loss for the field. While it’s too late for me, I feel I’m leaving the field in a better place than when I started. And my new employer is THRILLED to have someone with my experience and clout on their team. After years and years of pressure and demands of never being good enough, I feel released and ready to healthily share my talents with the world.

2. I negotiated hard when I was looking for my current non-profit grantwriting job. I wanted a minimum of $60,000 (for an individual contributor role), and I went on several interviews with employers who wanted to pay me $45,000, with a promise of a promotion. Others balked at that number. $60,000 at a nonprofit might seem high, but I did my market research and knew it was possible, and I knew I was good at my job. I also knew that – as a single woman in my early-mid 30s – a smaller salary would lead me to look for my next job in 2-3 years instead of staying for 4-5.

When I interviewed with my current organization, they asked me on a phone screen if $55,000 would be enough. I responded that “$60,000 is the amount that will allow me to stay at a place for many years – which is my goal- but I understand that benefits also have monetary value and would be open to negotiation.” Then, they really liked me in subsequent interviews, and my now boss convinced the board to up the salary to $60,000.

I am SO happy I negotiated, because human services got hit really hard during the pandemic, and I’m not going to get a meaningful raise anytime soon. The lesson I learned: You can negotiate at nonprofit! and you should think about how much money you will need to live in 2-3 years, not just as soon as you start! (Also, I included numbers here so that people can know what nonprofits can and will pay, because there’s a lot of salary obfuscation in the industry because you’re supposed to work “for the mission, not the paycheck!” Eyeroll.)

3. About two years ago I left my nonprofit job to stay home with my daughter. I was so worried about going back to work after a gap in my resume, especially because my last job wasn’t related to my field. Pre-pandemic I started applying to nonprofit jobs again but I wasn’t getting anywhere-no interviews, canned rejections, nothing.

I took a break from applying and then this fall read every article of yours I could find about cover letters and rewrote mine. I’m happy to report that I received a job offer from the first place I applied to, and will be starting a part-time nonprofit job next week which fits perfectly with my family situation right now. I even used your advice to interview while pregnant with my second baby! I’ll be working until February when I take maternity leave, then going back part time. The pay isn’t quite what I hoped for, but the hours are perfect for us now.

4. I’ve been waiting and hoping to be able to share this great news with you!

I started job-hunting in February but was derailed by the pandemic. I finally got back to it a month ago. I followed AAM’s advice on my résumé and cover letter. I thoroughly researched each company and the people I’d be interviewing with. I even read testimonials managers had written for other people on LinkedIn, because that told me what they value in a colleague. I also spotted connections to a couple of people in my network and asked them to put in a good word for me. From five applications, I got two interviews.

I did intensive interview prep. Your guide’s advice is very applicable for the video interview era; for example, the reminder to try on my interview clothes the night before led to me setting up my video call backdrop the night before as well. I wrote up four pages of bullet points: answers to common questions, my desired salary range, and my own questions. I practiced saying them out loud so I would sound more natural. During the call, I had the job ad, my document, and a blank document for notes all open in front of me—much easier in a video interview than in person!

For references, I called up three people I’d worked with in different capacities and gushed about the job so they would share my enthusiasm and eagerness. I gave the hiring company a skill-based summary of my working relationship with each reference: “Jane supervised me at Llovely Llama and is extremely familiar with my llama grooming skills.” Then I sent the reference a heads-up and a gentle prompt: “Hi Jane, Vincent from Llamatastic will be emailing you. The role calls for a lot of rare breed grooming, so I hope you can speak to my abilities in that area.” With this guidance, the references reinforced what I’d said in interviews and emphasized how my experience makes me the best person for the role.

I prepped similarly for the offer negotiation and wrote out the sentence: “Can you go up to [top number I gave in my initial salary expectations]?” At the appropriate time, I read it out and stopped talking. They said yes immediately! So I’m getting a 20% raise over my current pay and have a mental note to ask for more at my first annual review. My partner just got promoted to a managerial position (double good news!), and I think my determination to ask for what I’m worth, plus the tips I learned from you, inspired him to negotiate for more of a raise than he would have otherwise.

I’ve been treated so badly by my current job. I felt useless because I couldn’t handle my impossible workload and worthless because my manager never gave me positive feedback. Job-hunting can be stressful, but interviewing for other jobs has given me back my professional confidence—even before I got an offer, I felt so much more appreciated and valued just from people wanting to talk to me! And having to talk myself up in interviews helped me appreciate and value myself too. I’m still nervous about the new job, but I think it’s going to be great.

I encourage anyone who’s feeling trapped or miserable to try looking for something better. There ARE open jobs, there ARE companies that are hiring and paying well, and you DO have options.

open thread – November 20-21, 2020

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

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

I’m working 17-hour days, ex-employee left a bad review of our vendor, and more

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

1. I’m working 17-hour days every day

I graduated from university at the end of last year, and I’ve had some internships and retail jobs during and after my studies. After months and months of job hunting, I finally got a job at a company, which I was grateful for, but almost three months in and I find my mental and physical health being heavily affected by the stress and workload.

Since I started, I’ve had to work overtime almost every single day. I did my best to cope with the work hours and workload, but the during the last couple of months I have been working from 9 am to 2 am+ every single day, seven days a week.

I have spoken to my manager when I was having mental breakdowns and had to go seek medical help. I appreciate her understanding, but the best she could do was allow a day’s medical leave.

My coworkers are all as overworked as I am and despite their friendliness and helpfulness, I see this has been a long-term working culture of the company. Even my supervisor left after three weeks when I first joined!

I do not have time and energy at all to find another job while I’m employed here. I only have five days annual leave until the end of the year and almost no weekends to spare. However, I fear that leaving so soon during my probation period will hurt my career.

9 am – 2 am? Every day?! This is not normal, and completely untenable. Some jobs might have a small number of days like that per year, but it would be (a) extremely unusual and (b) acknowledged as a hardship. To have it happening regularly is beyond the pale, unless you’re in one of the rare industries where you know going in that’s part of the deal (and generally are compensated accordingly). There’s a reason that first supervisor left immediately.

Are you in a position financially where you could simply leave? That’s not advice I give lightly, especially in this job market, but even if you weren’t having health effects, I’d suggest you do it if at all possible. I know it must be awful to contemplate that after a long search, but this is not a situation you can stay in.

2. My former employee left a bad review for one of our vendors

My small nonprofit, for which a positive public image is very important, laid off one of our employees a few months ago for financial reasons. They left on good terms. I heard today from an important vendor that this former employee left a bad online review of that vendor. That review reportedly caused them to lose at least one prospective client. They wanted to be sure our relationship was in a good place.

I checked the review, which was written very shortly after their last day in the office (but not their last day on payroll). It did not identify us, but some quick google searches by the name of the employee could probably reveal who we are.

This employee had regularly complained to me about the vendor. The complaints seemed valid to me and some of the vendor’s reported behavior was concerning to me. However, it never rose to the level of concern that would lead to what I consider the nuclear option: a negative public review of a company we had an ongoing contract with! It seemed more like a “yeah, you all should work that out” sort of issue. Looking back, perhaps I should have been more directive about this.

I apologized to the vendor and noted that that employee was no longer with us and appeared to write the review after the last day, that I did not and would not authorize such a thing, and that I wanted to reset the relationship. They were appreciative of my response and are ready to move forward. After consulting with our equivalent of HR, I contacted the former employee and in a carefully worded email asked them to remove the review, stating that it was not helpful for our attempts to restart the business relationship in a more positive way. They responded, saying they had written the review after their last day specifically so that we could disavow it, but that they stand by their review. I am surprised and disappointed by this response.

Whether the review is factual or not is not my main concern. That’s disputable. My main concern is what sort of reference for this employee I might give if called. I have no interest in going back and forth about the review, even though I could probably make a case that he was still on payroll and should remove it since it was not authorized. When this person, left, I made clear they would get a very positive reference from me, but this has left a sour taste in my mouth. For some reason they’ve decided this is a hill to die on. For what it’s worth, this employee hadn’t had to interact with the vendor since March, and the review was several months later! Am I overblowing this? If I get a call, what do I do? Ignore this? Mention it? And if I can no longer give an unreservedly positive reference, do I need to let the former employee know?

Aggggh, that’s aggravating. They were working with the vendor as a representative of your organization, and they shouldn’t decide on their own to do something that could blow up the relationship just because it was after their last day. It’s an odd emotional investment in something that they should be willing to drop at this point.

As for the reference … I’d want to know more about what you think of this person’s judgment generally. If they’ve always had good judgment and this is an aberration, I wouldn’t bring it up (although it’s also understandable if it makes you slightly less enthused about them in a general way than you were previously).

But if you’ve seen other instances of bad judgment from them before and this fits that pattern, it’s fair for this to move those concerns more to the forefront, and for you to reassess what you think you could honestly say about their judgment in a reference. In that case, though, I’d talk to them about it, since it’s a change from what you’d told them previously. (But if you’re at all torn, I’d err on the side of letting it go.)

3. Formality in chat programs

I’m using my company’s messenger more than ever due to COVID (mostly for work topics). Our company uses Microsoft Teams which has built-in emojis and gifs. I tend to be less formal than email and use a hybrid formal-relaxed style of grammar. For example, no capital letters but I use punctuation. I’ll use the thumb-up emoji quite a bit but rarely use any of the others. I sparingly use PG gifs with very close coworkers. So my Teams chats are more loose than my emails but definitely not on par with how I would text with friends. Assuming I work for a company with a “normal” level of formality, do you think this is appropriate? Some of my coworkers message exactly as they email, but some are more casual like me.

I’d also be curious what others are seeing at their organizations. Maybe we’re all setting the the norms for widespread business messenger use right now?

Sounds perfectly fine and well within the range of normal. Messenger programs are an inherently less formal medium.

4. We have to work from home without pay if we have Thanksgiving outside our homes

Even though I work 100% through phone and email, my office has kept us coming in person day in and day out even during the stay-at-home order when it was in effect. It was tough, but we all adjusted. My employer isn’t quite known for its flexibility. When people started to travel again, it was up to the department heads to decide how to handle testing. I myself had to test three times in a week and was able to work from home during this time.

However, today we received an email about the holidays. We were told that if we celebrate Thanksgiving outside of our immediate households, we have to quarantine. I think this is good practice, but here’s where I stop agreeing. If we need to quarantine and test, we must take vacation time to do so, but work from home. Is this legal? There’s no reason why we couldn’t just work from home without PTO and get tested. So it’s really starting to feel like a punishment just for existing outside of work. I’m personally live alone so if I don’t leave for the holiday, I can’t celebrate it.

The first part of this — ordering you to stay home based on your Thanksgiving plans — is generally legal, as long as you’re not in one of the few states with off-duty conduct laws.

But the second part — telling you to work while taking vacation time — is ridiculous. Those two things should be mutually exclusive. But it’s legal in most states too; the law cares that you get paid for the work you perform, but it doesn’t generally care whether your employer charges that pay to “work time” or “PTO time.” (California may be an exception to this. There’s a longer explanation here.) But legality aside, it’s absurd — and really, if you’re going to be charged vacation time anyway, why would any of you work during that time? People should just take that time off, since they’re going to lose the PTO anyway. (Well, really, you should all push back on the policy, but if that fails and you’re made to use time off, actually take the time off.)

5. Do I use my company email address when applying for an internal position?

I’m happy at my current company, but I think I’ve learned all I can in my current role and would like to move on to a different position. How should I provide my contact information when people on the hiring committees are likely to be colleagues who interact with me frequently? Do I use my company-provided email address? Do I use my regular gmail (firstinitiallastname7@gmail.com)? Do I need to create something more professional? I wasn’t sure what was appropriate in an internal move like this. I don’t want the committee to think I’m being shady (though I won’t be mentioning my interviewing until I’m certain I’d be accepting a position, if that matters).

When you’re applying for jobs externally, you’d always use your personal email address; you wouldn’t want hiring-related communications sent to you on your current company’s network or for an employer to think you’re using your current job’s resources for job-hunting.

But it’s different when you’re applying internally. Then it’s generally fine to use your company email address for hiring-related communications; you’re all colleagues, after all.

send in your updates!

This is a reminder to send in your updates if you haven’t already!

Every December, I publish a slew of “where are they now” updates from people whose questions I answered here in the past.

If you’ve had your question answered here in the past, please email me an update and let us know how your situation turned out. Did you take the advice? Did you not take the advice? What happened? How’s your situation now?  (Don’t post your updates here though; email them to me.)

Your update doesn’t have to be positive or big to be worth submitting. We want to hear them all, even if you don’t think yours is that interesting.