terrible bosses: the boss sending stripper pics, the bully boss, and more

Today is the final day of the week-long series I did with The Cut about bad bosses. Here’s the full week of entries:

Monday: my boss is always making racist jokes / my boss is inflexible and uncaring

Tuesday: my evangelical boss tried to convert me / my boss lied about salary

Wednesday: my boss texts pictures of strippers to my coworkers / my boss pushed me not to take bereavement leave

Thursday: my boss and his girlfriend bullied me / nannying is like being a better-paid indentured servant

Friday: my boss made me so mad I got fired / my boss yelled and threatened me

open thread – November 22-23, 2019

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

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

coworkers say we shouldn’t attend a work party, I feel insulted by my new job, and more

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

1. My coworkers say we shouldn’t attend the work party we were invited to

I am a new youngish admin in a law firm that is extremely hierarchical and old school. My department’s practice group leader (PGL, the head of a certain practice in a firm) is hosting a year-end party for our department at his home, which is out of the way for the administrative staff, though most of the attorneys live on the same block.

I have learned that none of the staff have ever attended any of the PGL’s parties despite annual invites. It seems to be part “we’re not really welcome there” and part “if you want to fit in on the admin team, we don’t socialize with the attorneys.” I had a paralegal angrily tell me that “the party is for attorneys, their wives, and paralegals. Staff doesn’t go.”

I would like to go, but when I express interest, everyone both at work and outside of it firmly insist I should not. On one hand, I am afraid of violating social norms at a new job and am worried that no one will speak to me due to the apparent attitude toward those who don’t bill. On the other, I received an invite same as everyone else, I know I can be quite the schmooze at parties, and think that as the only staff member to attend it might make me stand out as a team player. How do you suggest I proceed? My gut says to attend but I worry I’m being naive.

So he invites the admin staff every year, they never go, and they insist that you shouldn’t go either? That’s an awfully odd practice. But law firms can be very weird and it is possible that attending will cause further weirdness, either with your peers or with the attorneys you support.

Ideally, you’d talk to someone at the firm who has been there a while and whose judgment you respect — your boss? a mentor? the head administrator? — and get their take on this. While it’s ridiculous to issue invitations you’re expected to decline, I wouldn’t just plunge in and attend if people are angrily warning you not to unless you get more information from someone who’s in the know. I mean, yes, it could end up that you impress everyone there with your poise and gumption, but it could also end up backfiring spectacularly. You need to know the insider politics on this one.

2. I feel insulted by my new job

I’ve been at my new job for a month and today they had a potluck and a meeting. They put a sign up in the break room where we could write down what we were going to bring. I thought okay, I will keep it simple and get Hawaiian rolls. Well, to my surprise, someone who didn’t put their name on the list brought cheap ass rolls! I don’t know who did it, nor do I care ! Well, I did care because to me that was the first slap in the face to welcome me aboard! So instead of eating with everyone, I got up and went to work while everyone else ate. I thought it was rude to hang a sign up to bring a potluck and then people just bring what everyone else does. I mean, really! Why even put up a sign?

Then they started with the staff meeting, where I didn’t know what to expect because after all it was my first one. So we are sitting there and the slide says, “Let’s introduce the new people.” My name was first and a woman who started two weeks after me was on there. So he starts off by telling the other woman “welcome to the team, blah blah blah” and skips right over me and says nothing. I’m sitting there thinking I know this jackass didn’t skip right over me, but I sat there with a smile on my face and pretended I wasn’t upset. So he’s about to go to the next slide and someone speaks up and says, “What about Ann?” and he laughs and looks at me and says, “Omg, I didn’t realize you were new!” To me that was another slap in the face! I mean, if you don’t want me working for you, then just say so! So, I’m already mad over someone disrespecting me over bringing rolls which I said I would bring, then he skips right over me like I wasn’t even sitting there when my name was first on the stupid PowerPoint!

In your opinion, what the hell is going on? Was I wrong to walk out of the potluck and go straight to work? I think that makes a statement as far as I was concerned because I’m not going to hang around fake ass people. Now there is a Secret Santa and I’m not doing it! I don’t want any part of it. They can take Santa and stick it up their ass!

You are wildly overreacting, and it’s very likely that you are going to get yourself fired from this job.

3. The head of another company sent a video of himself working out to one of my coworkers

A coworker of mine recently received an unsolicited, creepy video via text message of a person we work with doing a partially-clothed workout. If this were a fellow employee of ours, the path forward would be pretty clear — we have a (mostly) functioning HR department. However, this text was from a colleague from a different company that we work with on a regular basis. And this is not his first offense. Years ago, another coworker of ours received multiple unsolicited workout videos from this person and a senior member of our company stepped in on the coworker’s behalf to tell this person to cut it out.

What do you do in a situation like this? The same senior staff member stepped in again at the coworker’s request, but I think there need to be much more serious consequences for this person. For context, we are in a profession that requires us to be licensed by state boards and we work closely with the legal field. But I’m worried there’s not a lot we can do if this person doesn’t work for our company, and we’re in a small enough field that it will be very hard to cut contact/avoid them in the future. (We are consultants and the person is the head of his own small consulting firm. We sometimes collaborate, but since he’s the head of his firm, there is nobody above him to hold him accountable there.)

That last part makes it tricky! If he didn’t own his firm, your company should contact his company, complain about his behavior, and insist it be dealt with before the companies could work together again.

But since he heads his own firm, is your company willing to stop working with them altogether? Or at least willing to tell him they consider his behavior sexual harassment, won’t allow their employees to be subjected to that, and need assurance from him that it will not happen again if the business relationship is to continue? Really, they should cut him off now — he’s already had one warning previously, and how hard is it not to send unsolicited creepy videos of yourself working out? —  but if they’re not willing to do that, they should at least warn him that that’ll be the consequence next time.

I’d also strongly consider warning others in your field about him. And frankly, if he thinks this behavior is okay, he shouldn’t object to you sharing it with others.

4. How can I put a year-long assignment for a hiring process on my resume?

For the last year I was in the application process as author for a very popular programming-website. I was approached by them, and as this would be a wonderful side job and reputation booster, I of course wanted to be part of it. After I passed the first stages, they asked me to write a test article that should have the same quality as one that would be on the site itself, including the code necessary for that, and if they liked it they would publish t and pay me for it.

What I thought would take maybe 12-20 hours of my time over a month then turned into 12(!) months of feedback, suggestions, and change requests and took considerably more time than my initial estimate (at least 15+ hours each month). In the end, it was rejected.

Now I do not care about this job anymore and am actually happy that grueling application has ended. I’m using the material I created on my own website (which is legally sound, I checked our “agreement”). But how can I add this to my resume? While it was technically part of a job application process, it was on the quality level they have in their regular pieces, and I would like a way to show that I did do indeed work with that website (for one year, unpaid) and created a considerable amount of output for them, even if I wasn’t hired in the end.

You can’t, unfortunately. “I created X material for a website that they ultimately rejected” isn’t resume-worthy, and it risks backfiring because the rejection will imply that the work didn’t meet their normal quality. And you can’t frame this as working “with” them, for the same reasons that interviewing isn’t “working with” a company. (This was basically a really long interview, more or less.)

But for what it’s worth, no assessment process should involve a year of revisions or 180 hours of work (15 hours x 12 months), and while I’m not clear on exactly how that played out, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where that was at all okay for them to do.

5. Explaining to contacts why I’m job searching again after six months

After almost one year of looking, I took a job last summer that seemed like a good fit for my background. I knew that the company was having some issues (struggling to win contracts, low morale, etc.) but I needed the job so I took it. Now six months later, they have informed me that while I am great at a high level (think supervising and creating the overall strategy), they need someone who can do that AND execute the work at a more detailed level. So I’m not what they need right now and I find myself again job hunting. How do I tell contacts who I just approached six months ago to say I finally had a job that I am now looking again? How do I explain only being at the job for six months? I’m embarrassed to say, “Guess what? I’m looking for a job again even though I just told you six months ago that I found a job.”

This happens, and there’s no shame in it! You can frame it as, “I had come on board to do X, but it turned out they really needed someone to do Y. So I’m back on the market and looking for something more in line with my background.”

how should you address coworkers who take way more than their share of free food?

A reader writes:

I have a question sparked by this part of a recent letter about the coworker who was eating much more than his share of food at a work event:

“At one point I had to remind him that the appetizers were for the entire five-person table and not just him, and he still proceeded to eat most of a sampler platter. He didn’t just eat absent-mindedly either, we’re talking full-on food shoveling and then going back for more. I saw major stake-holders giving him the side-eye at multiple meals.”

I read your column regularly and like anyone else here, I’m aware of all the drama surrounding office food. How and where do you draw the boundaries in the gray area of office eating if it’s company-provided food at a company event?

If the coworker above (I’ll call him Cyril) were eating all the appetizers for the table of five, and three of them were clients, would you say something to him later? If this were instead an office-provided buffet, with many guest attendees and some staff, would it be okay to say something in that case?

I am emphatically not trying to start any drama. Like a lot of readers, I find the food issues a fascinating microcosm of office life. As the person managing the catering for our frequent conferences, I find myself laying out different sets of rules for different events. Sometimes the food is *only* for the guests. Sometimes it’s for the staff as well, but only after the guests have gotten theirs. Sometimes it’s simultaneous, in which case the expectation is that my coworkers will take modest portions. Sometimes I have to quietly direct staff away from, say, the vegetarian option if I’m concerned we’re running short. Generally I let staff know either during set-up or via email what their options are.

We have had actual instances where young interns with hearty appetites have jumped in line and I have literally stepped in front of them and told them quietly that they’re to wait until after guests have eaten. I’ve chased coworkers away from trays of desserts. I’ve also said things like “please take only one” or “no, we’re not serving staff yet.” I figure this traffic-directing is part of my job. (Clarifying that all of these events are in our actual office building during business hours, so staff has access to their usual dining options, they’re not trapped in a convention center. Also, most of the time, the staff invited to help eat the catered food are not involved the event.)

I feel like I would be really, really tempted to tell Cyril he needs to take smaller portions and/or not come back for seconds if it’s a regular issue. What do you think?

People are really weird about free food! Well-paid people who aren’t in any way hurting for cash can devolve into near-savagery when free food is on offer. (We must never forget the guy who hid breakfast tacos in his desk drawer so no one else could have them.)

So you’re right to lay out clear expectations ahead of time when there are rules people should be following about food or restraint they should be exercising. Often people assume everyone is playing by the same rulebook on this kind of thing, so they don’t give guidance beforehand … and then are horrified when colleagues decimate the buffet table and leave with pot pies stuffed in their pockets before clients or VIPs have had a chance to get any food.

Of course, even when you do set clear expectations ahead of time, people sometimes still do that kind of thing.

To answer your hypothetical about Cyril eating all the appetizers at a table of clients: In the moment, you’d want to be gracious about it so the clients didn’t feel uncomfortable. You could say something like, “We’re going through these faster than we realized — let’s order some more so everyone gets a share.” And then yes, talk to Cyril in private afterwards, especially if you’re his manager / the event organizer / the most senior person at the table / otherwise have some authority in the situation. You could say, “When we’re eating with clients, please just take a single serving of any shared appetizer and make sure they’ve had a chance to take the food they want before you go back for seconds. Jane and Gulliver didn’t get any appetizers until I ordered a second round. Our top priority at these dinners is making sure clients have a nice experience, even if that means we’re compromising on our own preferences.”

The same thing holds with buffets. Ideally you’d lay out expectations beforehand (“please let our guests go through the buffet and fill their plates first” or whatever it might be). But then if you saw problems at the event, you’d either address them in the moment (as you seem to be doing an excellent job of!) or afterwards. And yeah, with repeat offenders, it’s not unreasonable to give standing guidelines like not coming back for seconds or only taking a single dessert.

Free food, man. It’s apparently a visceral, biological imperative.

Ask a Manager in the media

Here’s some coverage of Ask a Manager in the media recently:

I’m on NPR’s Life Kit podcast talking about holidays at work, including forced cheer and awkward parties.

I’m in USA Today talking about why bosses shouldn’t date employees.

I’m in the Guardian talking about why bad managers spawn more bad managers.

I talked to CNBC’s personal finance site Grow about tough conversations and some of the most interesting letters I’ve received.

I also talked to Grow about companies that are implementing mental health awareness/support activities all wrong.

I’m in Slate talking about how being bad at technology can harm job candidates and whether it should. (I got to talk about sharing an email address with a partner and people who use email “stationery.”)

I’m in Bustle talking about how many drinks you should have at your office holiday party.

I’m in the Deseret News talking about social media etiquette at work.

I was on Kiplinger’s Your Money’s Worth podcast to talk about how to ask for a raise. (My segment starts at 7:25 and is about 10 minutes long. Or you can read the transcript here.)

how to discuss moving for a job with your partner, when your partner might not want to move

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I’m in my last year of a PhD program and am currently on the job hunt. This graduate program has been a really long process — I was meant to graduate earlier, but some family and health issues came up that pushed the graduation back a few years. When I originally started the program those many years ago, my husband and I discussed the strong likelihood of us needing to move after graduation (a normal thing for academia). However, at this point I’m really tired of academia and am looking into industry or governmental research positions. This does open up the field a bit for local positions, but only slightly.

A while ago, I interviewed with an amazing agency in a different state and had a great outcome. I really enjoyed speaking with everyone on the team in our interview, and am excited about the research they do (even though it’s different from what I’m studying). I got a tentative offer and was asked to come to the office to meet with everyone, which I’m excited about.

However, there is one major catch — my partner. Because my grad program took longer than expected, he understandably has been putting down roots at his job in order to support us. He worked so hard and hustled his way from a contractor position to a full-time internal position within a local agency. This almost NEVER happens at that contracting company — it was only his hard work that made it happen. He’s made several good friends on the job and in the city we live in. While he’s said he would always support my decision regarding moving for a job, I know he really would rather stay here. The agency I applied to unfortunately doesn’t do spousal hires, so he would need to find a new position if we moved. He’s my best friend, and I would feel like such a jerk if I basically said “thanks for everything you’ve sacrificed and worked for these many years — now I need you to throw all of it away and start over.”

That being said, I think this agency I applied with would be a really great move and offers a lot of room for advancement. And I know my partner could find another great job in this new state, because he’s done it before several times and I’m aware there are lots of opportunities in the area. Even if this offer fell through, I imagine other jobs in the future might require us to move, as many of the ones I’ve been applying to are clustered in this general out-of-state area.

Alison, readers, do you have any advice for how my partner and I can talk about this with respect and kindness, so we can find the best option for both of us?

Readers, what’s your advice?

I don’t want to work with my estranged father, changing in front of coworkers at the gym, and more

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

1. My amazing new job has a catch: my father

I just started a new job at what appears to be a great company. On my first day, I learned that my new company is owned by the company my father works for. I also learned that interaction between the companies is expected to increase, and while it’s not probable, it’s possible that I could end up working with my father. At least one of the higher-up members in my division even knows him. (Aside: this company definitely has no concerns about relatives working together.)

The problem is that my father and I have not spoken for three years. I might be able to have a very distant professional relationship with him, but, to be frank, almost any interaction at all would make me want to quit. 

It’s known that my father works for the parent company, but no one knows that we have had an intense falling out. Should I mention this to my team lead? I’d obviously couch it in professional verbiage, a la “My father works for [parent company], but we do not get along. If at all possible, I’d prefer that any work that might involve him or his team be delegated to someone else.”

This is literally my second day on the job, and I’m worried about coming across as full of drama. I’m also worried that even though it was my father who disowned me, my reporting our soured relationship will make me look bad, but I specifically want them to know that this goes beyond the potential awkwardness of working with family so that they never intentionally put us together. And, finally, I’m so new to the company that I have no metric with which to gauge how reactions to this information would go.

Yes, mention it to your manager. Your wording is good, but I’d tweak it to this: “I hadn’t realized the extent to which [this company] works with [parent company], but now that I do, I feel I should let you know that my father works for [parent company] and we’ve been estranged for several years. I wouldn’t want that to cause any awkwardness in a work context, so I’m hoping that if we ever have work that might involve him or his team, it could be assigned to someone else.”

Companies generally don’t want to invite family drama into their work, and it’s pretty likely that if there’s a way to keep you from having to work with your dad, they’ll try to accommodate that. (There might not be, of course, but it’s a reasonable thing to flag.) You’re not going to come across as full as drama as long as you don’t … come across as full of drama. In other words, if you conduct yourself professionally and maturely (as opposed to, say, complaining about him all the time, sobbing in meetings when his company name is mentioned, etc.), that’s not going to be outweighed by having a difficult family connection.

And remember, lots of people have tough family dynamics. You’re not weird or dramatic for having one too.

2. Locker room etiquette when your gym is full of coworkers

My office recently added some cool new perks on top of our employee benefits. My favorite? They’re now offering anyone who wants it a free membership to the gym right across the street from our office. It’s been hard for me to work out previously because of my commute, so I’ve been taking full advantage of this perk since it took effect a couple months ago. Lots of my other coworkers have jumped on this perk as well, and I’ll run into them at the gym frequently. Overall, it’s been positive, but there’s one thing I don’t know how to handle — the locker rooms.

I’m pretty comfortable in my body, and I’m not that awkward about changing in your standard locker room full of strangers. But the prospect of a coworker — or worse, my boss — walking in on me changing has me feeling incredibly awkward. So far, I haven’t been seen by my coworkers while changing and haven’t walked in on anyone else from my office, but I know it’s only a matter of time. This is a situation I’ve never encountered before — I didn’t know anyone who worked out at my previous gyms. What should I do if I run into a coworker in the locker room while one or both of us are in various states of undress? Should I just change in the toilet stalls to avoid anyone seeing me? I might be making a bigger deal of this in my head than it actually is, but it has me feeling really uncomfortable.

It’s pretty much the same locker room code as always: There’s a collective agreement to ignore everyone else’s nudity.

The last time this came up, a commenter offered this, which I really liked:

“I think there’s a big difference between functional nudity and casual nudity at the gym. Functional = in order to change, I have to take off my clothes. I am no longer 12 and trying to hide my body at all costs, so if someone glances over at me while I am changing, they will see me naked. Casual nudity = I am wandering around naked, blow drying my hair naked, etc. This is fine generally in a locker room, but is best to avoid at a work gym. Though I would totally blow dry my hair wearing a bra and not a shirt to avoid getting hot/sweaty.”

In other words, make any nudity fairly quick. Don’t linger.

But it’s also completely fine to decide you’re just not comfortable with locker room nudity around coworkers at all and change in a stall. There’s no shame in that; you’re not being weirdly prudish if you got that route.

3. Why don’t companies reimburse for pet and child care when you’re traveling for work?

I travel for work approximately once a month. Often it is just an overnight trip, but frequently enough it is for two to three nights. I live alone and have two cats in one of the most expensive cities in the country. Having someone stop by to feed them often runs me upwards of $200 for the multi-night trips. I recently asked my boss if this was something I could expense (a past boss at the same company let me do this for a week-long trip out of the country), and I was turned down on the account of “then people would want to expense child care.” My thought is, this is an expense I am incurring due to a mandatory work trip, so I should be compensated. If a colleague was incurring childcare expenses they don’t usually incur due to a work trip, that should be compensated as well. We shouldn’t be losing money by going on work-required trips, right? Or am I wrong, because I agreed to a certain amount of travel when accepting the job? (And yes, I try to have friends stop by to feed them, but there’s only so much you can put your friends out!)

There are some companies that will reimburse for pet care or child care when you travel, but (a) they’re much more the exception than the rule and (b) even then, it’s often a small yearly limit that doesn’t cover the full costs. More typically, companies just don’t cover it. But you’re right that in general you shouldn’t have to lose money when you go on work trips, so I can’t make a logical case for why this is; it seems to just be convention.

Generally the expectation is that if you’re taking a job that involves travel, you’ll factor that into your salary negotiations and ask for a salary that allows you to do the travel comfortably (both in terms of not taking a loss on things like this, and in terms of compensating you for the quality-of-life impacts of business travel). But that’s not the entire explanation for why we do it this way, since that doesn’t cover people who just get sent on a trip once or twice a year without it being a thing they explicitly signed up for.

One situation where you can sometimes get an exception made is when you’re doing the travel as a favor to the company — like they need someone to go at the last minute, or it’s a hardship trip that you could say no to, etc. In those cases, you often have more leverage to say, “Well, I could do it but I’d incur $X in pet-sitting — if you could help with that, I could say yes.” The rest of the time, though, it’s mostly seen as a personal expense rather than a business one.

4. Explaining I’m leaving because of looming layoffs

About 18 months ago, I took on a great job. I have enjoyed the work and feel like it’s putting my career in the right direction. I got a great performance review and have a good reputation in the company. Recently, it was announced that our company will be acquired by another. Over the next few months (and years), we will be having significant layoffs. While it’s possible my job will survive, my lack of tenure at the company and fear of getting laid off has me looking for other jobs. I want to use my success at my current job to help me get my next job. How can I explain why I want to leave without looking like I am being forced out or that I am afraid of change? I don’t want to seem like I’m not adaptable in today’s environment where layoffs are the norm.

“We’ve been acquired by another company and expect to have significant layoffs in the next year. I’ve enjoyed the work there, but am looking for stability.”

Interviewers hear this kind of thing all the time and it won’t raise any eyebrows. Also, wanting to avoid an involuntary layoff doesn’t mean you’re afraid of change or not adaptable! It means you’re making sensible and understandable decisions for yourself.

5. How do I describe subcontracting work on my resume?

I’m trying to build a resume after having freelanced for the majority of my career, and I’m at a loss as to how to describe my experience. Say Big Llama Inc. and Llama Co. both have ongoing relationships to hire Small Farmers to handle their llama production, and Small Farmers hires me to handle grooming. I could say I worked with Small Farmers, but that would look essentially meaningless (no one outside the industry would have any idea what Small Farmers did or that the big companies outsource their work — plus, I’m not their employee, they just happen to be my only client). I want to say that I have worked on projects for Big Llama and Llama Co., which is true, but they never hired me personally, nor do I have any relationships with them, only through Small Farmers. I don’t want to be misleading! What’s the best way to describe this?

Like this:

Llama Groomer — contracted via Small Farmers
Jan. 2015 – September 2018
* Groomed llamas for Big Llama Inc. and Llama Co
* Cleared four-month grooming backlog for Big Llama Inc. in three weeks
* Increased llama satisfaction surveys for Llama Co from 64% “highly satisfied” to 91% “highly satisfied” over six months
* Another accomplishment
* Another accomplishment

my coworkers come by my desk to check on emails right after sending them

A reader writes:

I am hoping that you can shed some light on the best way to deal with my most dreaded work pet peeve — people who send an email and call immediately afterwards to see if I received it, or who send a non-urgent email and then follow up no more than a few hours later.

I work in a mostly client-facing role, so the majority of my day is spent on the phone or meeting in person with clients. I’m often away from my desk or, if I am at my desk, working on urgent time-sensitive matters for clients.

However, I also work with our accounting team and administrative team for support with client invoicing, etc. The admin staff has this habit of sending me emails and then calling or coming over to my desk immediately after (usually no more than 10 minutes) to ask if I’ve seen it, and usually when I am right in the middle of something.

Is there a nice way I can tell them that yes, I have seen their email, but it is not a priority, and I will get to it when I am able? The nature of our roles are very different, in that I need to be “on” and available to clients during the day and responding to clients and often catch up at night/after hours on administrative work. They work 9-5 and have a much more routine day to day.

If it makes a difference, the items that they are asking me for answers on are items that will ultimately be delivered to me, such as a final client invoice. I understand they want to check the item off their to-do list, but I am aware that I am holding up my own deliverable and am okay with that, as there is something I’ve deemed more important that I need to take care of first.

Is there a nice way to say give me some space and I will get to it when I can?

Yes!

Try saying this: “You often send me an email and then call or come by to check on it pretty soon afterwards. Can you plan to give me at least a business day to get back to you? I focus on client work during the day and catch up on administrative work in the evenings, so usually won’t be able to give immediate responses. If something is more urgent than that, let me know, but otherwise assume I’ll get back to you within a day or so.”

(You could also say “a few days” if that’s more in line with the expectations you want to set.)

With some people, you could skip the big-picture conversation above and just say this a few times: “I won’t be able to look at it until I’m done with some other projects today, so it’ll be a while — possibly tomorrow or Friday.” Some people will hear that a few times and get the message. But with other people, you need to be more explicit.

my employee is openly job searching at work

A reader writes:

I am the team lead of a two-person admin team for a sales department. I am the supervisor of the second person, Jane, but not her manager; however, most critiques are expected to flow through me first unless there is a serious problem.

Jane spends most of her time in our reception area (answering phones, greeting visitors, etc.) It can be slow, so my manager is very flexible about internet usage. Recently though, I have noticed that Jane is spending quite a bit of her time at the front desk searching for a new job. She is doing this on the office computer, which is visible to guests and anyone who walks through the reception area. My office is absolutely the type where people notice what other people are doing on their computers.

My problem isn’t the idea of her leaving; this job has a high turnover and it’s expected most people will eventually leave the position because the room for growth is minimal. But I am not comfortable with her spending her time this way, as it feels inappropriate and unprofessional to use company time to find a new job. I am not sure if I am overreacting and I don’t want to create unnecessary conflict if there isn’t a need. Should I approach this with her, take it to my manager, or leave it be?

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:

  • My manager refers to me as her “supermodel”
  • I lied on a job application and my offer was pulled
  • How to ask a prospective employer for a schedule where I’d leave early
  • Interviewer rejected me when I said I’m going to school full-time

I’ve been accidentally dating my boss’s husband

A reader writes:

I’ve been accidentally dating my new boss’ husband, and I don’t know what to do.

I landed my dream job at my dream company. My boss is usually supportive and competent. My only issue is that she’s made some homophobic comments (I’m a gay man), but this is a conservative area and I’m not out at work It’s not a big deal for me personally because I’ve dealt with this kind of comments at every job I’ve ever had and honestly, she’s not as bad as many of the people I’ve dealt with.

I also recently started a relationship with a guy. We were keeping it quiet because I’m not out and he told me he isn’t either, but I really liked him and he was smart and funny and everything I’m into. It wasn’t just sex; we were dating for six weeks.

I might have gone on like this for some time, except there was a work party to which it was okay to bring a plus one, and my boss brought her husband, who turned out to be the man I was dating. Needless to say I broke it off with him ASAP, but I’m not sure if I should tell my boss. On the one hand, it’s going to look very bad (compounded by me being gay, and I don’t know that I’d be comfortable outing him) if I confess now, but on the other hand, if she finds out later the fall-out might be even worse.

I feel like I’m not thinking clearly because I’m still very pissed at him but still not over him, and I don’t know what to do. Help me, please?

Oh noooo. What an awful situation — and not one of your making at all.

So much of this hinges on whether she knows her husband dates men. Given her homophobic comments, I’m guessing she doesn’t know he’s gay or bisexual and this isn’t a situation where he has her blessing to date men on the side. Which means that he probably didn’t go home from that work party and announce, “Guess what, funny coincidence…”

And if those assumptions are correct — she doesn’t know he’s interested in men and she doesn’t know he sees other people — then I’d guess that the chances of her hearing about this from him are pretty low. That’s a huge assumption, obviously, and it doesn’t mean it won’t come out in the future, especially if he decides to come out to her at some point and wants to come clean about everything.

On the other hand, if you tell her now, you’re not only outing her husband, but there’s the risk she’ll have a spectacularly bad reaction.

Or not! Who knows, maybe she’d be remarkably mature about it, thank you for telling her, and go on working well with you for years to come. Maybe she’d be logical enough to see that you didn’t do anything wrong here, and there’s nothing for her to hold against you.

But a lot of people don’t respond that way.

There’s no good answer here! It’s a really horrible situation. You’re left having to weigh the risk of her having a bad reaction now (which could be fairly high) against the risk of her finding out later (which might be fairly low).

If she does find out later, I don’t think you’ll have made things significantly worse by not speaking up now (especially since you did break things off once you knew). If it’s going to be a crapshow if she finds out, that’s likely the case whether it’s now or later. So that might point you toward saying nothing, figuring their marriage is none of your business, and trying to wipe it from your mind … which has the additional benefit of not outing someone who may not be out.

I think my advice would be basically the same if you were a woman who had inadvertently dated her boss’s husband, although in that situation I’d be more inclined to think about you seeking protection from your company (by telling someone what happened and your fears of repercussions). I’m less inclined to suggest that here because you don’t have the same federal protections (and in some states could even be fired for being gay) and it sounds like you might be in a fairly homophobic area.

I hate to say it, but the best thing you can do here is to find a way to stop working for her. Is your company large enough that changing jobs internally is a possibility? If so, that’s where I’d focus — that would give you some protection and peace of mind that none of the other options do.