annoying coworker lurks near every conversation, am I over-dressing, and more

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

1. My annoying coworker lurks near every conversation

I work in a small office, nine employees total including my manager. One staff member has a hard time separating home and work life. She has a lot of personal phone calls, with complete disregard to everyone else in the room; sings or listens to music loudly; and brings in random objects from home, including a vegetable plant, which honestly has no place in the office. This is just a list of a few things that have happened in the past month alone.

But this doesn’t describe the actual issue I have with her. She has a huge fear of missing out, so much that it has made it completely uncomfortable or awkward to have both work-related or passing conversations with others. If she sees other coworkers talking, she will just stand there/linger in the back waiting to say something, even if it makes no sense to the conversation. Sometimes people just walk away, never finishing their conversion. Finally, the part that gets me the most, is when she interjects in the middle of when someone is talking to just add something, sometimes never allowing the person to finish their statement or story. It’s gotten to the point that when I see her coming, I just leave the room. How do I get her to stop, without it seeming like we are talking about her behind her back, which would be the only way to have a full conversation?

First, I think it’s awesome that she brought in a vegetable plant and I want to know what it is. I hope it’s something enormous like a corn stalk.

The other stuff … she does sound annoying, but I’m not sure that you’re focusing on the right stuff. The singing, loud music, personal calls, interruptions and general disregard for people around her are all legitimate issues to address, because she’s disrupting other people’s ability to focus and get work done. You get to say, “Could you please turn that down?” or even “Could you take that call in the hallway? It’s making it tough to focus.” And you get to raise it to her manager if that doesn’t work.

But the lurking around other people’s conversations isn’t as clear-cut. You can’t really exclude people from social conversations being held in common areas at work, even if they involve themselves in annoying ways. Sometimes having to deal with socially annoying people is just part of the deal at work. But work conversations are different; if you’re having a work-related conversation and she’s lurking, you can pause what you’re saying and say, “Did you need one of us?” or even “Can you give me and Jane a few minutes and then I’ll come find you if you need me?” And if she’s being disruptive, you can say, “Hey, could you leave this to me and Jane to hash through on our own, since we have all the context” or “Having more cooks in the kitchen will complicate this, so I want to keep this to me and Jane” or “We have an agenda to get through, so let’s talk later.”

If none of that works and she stays disruptive, you could speak with her manager about the work impacts it’s having. But try to really separate what annoys you about her as a person from what’s impacting your work.

2. Fellow intern has a perk I don’t

For a few months, I was the only intern on my team in a creative field. A few weeks ago, due to some internal restructuring, another intern, Kate, was moved from another team to ours.

I have noticed that this intern is never working on Mondays, and when I glanced at the team calendar, it turns out this intern has every Monday off. The topic came up once when we were having lunch, and she said she’d negotiated this perk so that she could “pursue other creative projects” on Mondays. I understand that this could be cover for a reason for these days off that isn’t my business, but it really does seem like she is telling the truth from the way she talks about these days. More than once, she has made comments to me like “wow, I really got nothing done this past Monday” and “I tried to do X project this past Monday but ended up napping.”

I do not have Mondays off and did not realize this was something I could even ask for as an intern. However, we are in the same profession and I also have personal creative projects that a three-day weekend would do wonders for. I also worry that this extra time off could benefit Kate’s performance, and we are in competition for very limited full-time roles at this company.

Am I wrong to feel weird about this, since we are both interns on the same team with otherwise the same duties? Is there a way I could try to get this perk for myself, or do I just need to accept that I’ve missed the boat on this? We’re just over 2.5 months into the internship and have about two months left, with the possibility of extending.

Yes, sometimes you can negotiate stuff like this before you accept an offer! And sometimes people do negotiate different perks for themselves; that isn’t inherently weird. Sometimes they get it because the employer really wants to hire them and this is a condition of their acceptance. Other times they get it just because they asked for it. You see this in non-intern work all the time — someone negotiates a different schedule for themselves, or extra time off, or a higher salary.

I wouldn’t try to negotiate it for yourself at this point; you accepted the initial set of terms, and it’s already pretty far into the internship. However, if you do get offered an extension, it’s definitely something you could try asking for at that point. (This assumes this is a paid internship; if it’s unpaid, there’s more leeway for saying now, “I spoke to Kate about her schedule and wondered if you’d be open to that for me too.)

Also, it’s something you could talk to your manager about in a mentor way — not asking to do what Kate’s doing, but saying, “Until talking to Kate, I hadn’t realized that was something interns could potentially negotiate for. If I wanted to do something like this in internships in the future, is there a way that’s effective to go about asking for it?” So you wouldn’t be asking for it now, but you’d be asking for guidance for future jobs, which is totally appropriate to lean on an internship boss for. (And who knows, there’s a chance it could lead to her telling you that you could do it now. Just don’t go in counting on that.)

3. Am I overdressing for work?

I know you just recently had a question on how to look pulled together in the workplace. As “women of a certain age,” my sister and I have been talking about what is most appropriate now. It seems that business attire is finally evolving. I think it has to do with the pandemic and people just feeling differently about work and clothing because of that. But she and I are both pretty old school and were taught to dress very conservatively. I mean, I only in the past couple years stopped wearing pantyhose all year! So for us, office attire is a suit, nice top or blouse, pumps (or other appropriate shoes, maybe sandals with a heel but never flip flops), and understated jewelry. Perhaps a scarf to pull it together.

My sister recently was in a meeting with a pharma rep who was much younger, and was wearing a lightweight summer dress and flip flops. Are we overdressing? Are others under-dressing?

I suspect we should dial back the formality a bit and maybe lose the scarf most of the time. Maybe even lose the jacket or go to a more casual blazer rather than a suit jacket. But I’m not sure. Also, we don’t want to revamp our entire wardrobes since we are both nearing retirement so hope to not be spending much money on these clothes in the near future. I don’t think we’d be comfortable in a sundress, but also don’t want to look like fuddy duddies.

Yeah, there’s been a real move toward significantly less formal clothes. It’s possible you’re seeing people who are under-dressing (that’s definitely a thing that happens!) but a lot of industries have embraced the sundress level of informality. Flip flops are more controversial, although “nicer” flip flops — ones that are more sandal-ish — are fine in a lot of offices.

What adjustments might be right for you depend on your industry, your office, and what you feel like doing. There are some fields where what you’re wearing is pretty typical. But if you notice that colleagues around you are dressing more casually than you are — especially people who are doing well in your company — then yep, there’s likely a lot of room for you to de-formalize too! What to change and how far to take it depends on your office, but aside from the things you mentioned (no scarf, less formal jackets or no jackets), you could consider more comfortable shoes (like flats!), a cardigan instead of a jacket, and more casual fabrics (like fabrics that are lighter weight than suiting material; there’s a whole range of pants that are more office-y than jeans but less formal than suit pants — more like khaki-weight fabric).

It’s hard to say for sure without knowing your office! But I’d look at whether other women in positions of responsibility are wearing and calibrate based on that. (Assuming that you want to. You don’t have to change anything if you’re happy with what you’re wearing.)

4. Is it okay to want to quit because my boss moved?

Before the pandemic, I worked fully on-site at a corporate library. I enjoy most of my coworkers, and my boss was fantastic and always available if I ever needed anything. We all went fully remote in March 2020 until September, when a handful of people were in office a few days a week. During this time, my boss moved multiple states away. He’s in the same time zone, but it’s basically moving from, say, Texas to North Dakota.

While he’s told me constantly that he’s still available for any questions or if I need anything, I feel uncomfortable now that he’s teleworking 100% from across the country. I feel more like I’m bothering him if I need to reach out, and I don’t feel like I have the support I need for my position anymore.

There are several factors at play that have made me consider moving to a different job/company, but I’m wondering if having your boss move counts as a good reason to quit, both for myself and as a reason to give others. I have a litany of reasons why I’m considering moving on, and I don’t know if I should bring this one up even though it feels like it’s becoming a bigger factor. I don’t want to go out in a blaze of “here are ALL the reasons I’m leaving,” but it frustrates me and as I said feels like it’s near the top of my growing list.

If it’s going to be a reason you leave, ideally first you’d talk to your boss about the problems you’re encountering, because there might be more he can do to solve it than you realize. You’re not obligated to do that — you can leave whenever you want and for any reason you want — but especially if it’s a reason you give others, people are likely to wonder if you raised the issue first or not. (That’s especially true if you mention it in future job interviews.) At least from the way you wrote the letter, it sounds like the issue might be less with your boss (who repeatedly encourages you to contact him) and more about your discomfort reaching out to him. If that’s the case, at a minimum I’d try making yourself contact him when needed for a few weeks and see how it goes … and maybe have a conversation with him about the problem and see if he can help (for example, maybe you need more regularly scheduled check-ins).

On the other hand, if you have plenty of other things driving you to leave, maybe it’s not worth tackling this — but in that case, I’d focus more on those other reasons and not this one.

One caveat: If I were your boss, I’d want to know if I were losing staff in part because someone felt my move had made it harder to access me, even if that person hadn’t tried any of the stuff above. I’d probably be a little exasperated that they hadn’t tried after I urged them to, but it would still be useful to know that they felt barriers to doing it. So it could be worth relaying that to him when you leave, just not as your primary/only reason. (You’re right that you don’t want to present a long litany of reasons, but I could see mentioning it in passing.)

5. Should I reference video appearances and media interviews on my resume?

I, like many others, have been feeling burned out, so I’m starting to wade into the pool of looking for a new job. I work in the healthcare industry so Covid, for all the huge amount of stress and negatives, provided me with an opportunity to be fairly prominent. There are several professionally-made videos of me discussing things like vaccine dispensing, COVID data, or disease investigation. Is it appropriate to mention those or link them on a resume? Is it better on LinkedIn? Does it even matter? Or is it just a bad idea in general?

Similarly, is it ever a good idea to mention media coverage? Again, because of COVID, I have several prominent interviews (think scale of NPR, NY Times) in the media. My thinking is that these things show not only my knowledge, but my ability to discuss complex topics in an easily digestible way. Please tell me, is this just a bad idea?

Nope, it’s a good idea. You can mention them and/or link to them from your resume. There are a lot of jobs where hiring managers will be interested to see how you present in those situations — do you make cogent arguments, are you engaging, or whatever it is that makes sense to assess for the position. (That said, you don’t want a ton of links on a resume, so if there are a lot of them, you could set up a web page that links to all of them and just include the link to that page.)

The same goes for media coverage. You could include a line like, “Quoted in the New York Times and on NPR’s Morning Edition about XYZ.” If you’re the one who generated those interviews, mention that too — “Successfully pitched stories to the New York Times and the Llama Sentinel, resulting in front-page coverage of our viewpoint on XYZ” or so forth.

is it dishonest not to disclose you’re pregnant when you’re interviewing?

A reader writes:

I’m hoping you can settle a discussion between my parents and I. I’m not sure if our different views are because we’re from different generations (Boomers vs. Millennial) or because my view is colored by the fact that I’m almost six months pregnant right now.

I was considering applying for a different job within my current organization, since it would be about a 30% pay raise and I’m well qualified for it. I ended up deciding not to since I want to cut down on scheduling uncertainty given that I’m having my first kid this year, but when discussing the decision with my parents they expressed that they doubted the interviewers would want to hire me given that I’m currently pregnant (my organization gives eight weeks of maternity leave so I would be out for two months after giving birth). I pointed out that I would not bring that up before receiving an offer/being hired, and that given this job and my current one are fully remote right now due to COVID-19 and would only be Zoom interviews, they likely would not know beforehand.

My parents expressed that this was a dishonest approach and if they had hired someone who turned out to be pregnant and then went on leave they would be very upset as the hiring manager and it would negatively color their view of the new employee. My viewpoint was that it is illegal for the interviewer to factor my pregnancy into their decision so I would just remove that element from their decision-making. Additionally, this organization prides itself on being progressive and family-friendly, so I believe if they were inadvertently penalizing women for their reproductive choices, it would be in direct contrast to their stated values.

Obviously in my case, it is a non-issue since I decided to stay put for now, but I’m curious what you think? Is it dishonest to hide a pregnancy prior to an offer/accepting a job?

It is not dishonest to hide a pregnancy before accepting a job.

The reason we have laws against pregnancy discrimination is because employers discriminate against pregnant women. And like other forms of discrimination, much of it happens unconsciously. An interviewer might truly want to be family-friendly and support women, and could still end up discriminating against you — because that’s how bias works and why it’s so insidious. You don’t have to be a bad person to be unconsciously influenced by the biases of our culture. (Although I’d argue that to be a good person, you have to actively try to counter it in yourself.)

You’re actually doing employers a favor by not disclosing a pregnancy until you have a job offer or even later. As you point out, they can’t legally consider the information, so it’s better for them if they don’t know about it — so that it can’t unconsciously influence them and so they don’t need to worry that you’ll wonder if they illegally discriminated against you if they end up not hiring you. Legally the info must be off the table — so making that easy to do is a favor to everyone.

When people say they’d feel lied to if they hired someone who didn’t disclose a pregnancy, what they’re really saying is that they feel justified in breaking the law. Why would an employer need to know that info before hiring if they weren’t going to consider it in any way? Even if they just wanted to be able to plan for how it would affect the work, that’s something they’ll be able to do once it does get announced (just like with current employees who get pregnant) — and if “plan for how it would affect the work” means “consider whether I can put this person in the role or not,” that’s illegal so it’s off the table anyway.*

Sometimes you hear someone say, “It wouldn’t affect my hiring decision, but it’s going to be relevant to the work in X months when they go on maternity leave, and if they keep that from me I feel like they’re starting the relationship dishonestly.” Maybe they’re even right that it wouldn’t affect their hiring decision. But a candidate has no way of knowing if it would or not, and given that pregnancy discrimination is widespread, it’s not reasonable to expect a candidate to take that risk, particularly when the law says she doesn’t need to. It’s not dishonest not to proactively volunteer information someone isn’t entitled to.

Instead of “it’s dishonest for pregnant people not to disclose their pregnancies,” the narrative should really be “it’s crappy for employers to expect pregnant people to make themselves vulnerable to discrimination.”

*Note that that the law doesn’t apply to employers under 15 employees, so those aren’t the ones we’re talking about here.

my employee constantly talks about waiting for 5:00 and the weekend

A reader writes:

I have an employee who has been with my company about five months. She is smart, and easy to work with, but is not performing that well. It’s a tough job (recruiting), and I think she’s just not a good fit. She does something that drives me crazy, and I’m trying to figure out if this is legitimately annoying or if I perceive it that way because I’m frustrated with her performance overall.

Whenever I make small talk with her, she works in something about how she can’t wait for 5:00 and/or Friday. For example, I say, “How are you today?” She says, “Great, but I’ll be better at 5:00.” I say, “How’s it going?” She says, “Just waiting for Friday.” Every. Time. This week, at midday on Tuesday, I was answering some of her questions, and I ended with “Anything else I can help you with?” She replied, “Not unless you can make it Friday.”

I totally understand that many people are working for the weekend, and I certainly talk about looking forward to the evening or the weekend, especially in the context of having fun plans or in reaction to a particularly challenging day. But this occurs in every interaction and has since the day she started. Additionally, she doesn’t say much overall, so it’s not like these comments are tucked into a 15-minute conversation – they are often the only communication I get from her during the day. It also seems weird to me that she would constantly remind her manager that she doesn’t want to be at work. I mean, I know you’d rather be elsewhere, but I don’t need to be reminded of it every day!

She makes these comments to coworkers as well, and I’m concerned about how their frequency might affect morale.

Am I right to be annoyed, or do I need to let this go? Is this just a weird verbal habit, or should I take this as an indication that this person is truly and deeply dissatisfied with this position (or working in general)?

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

my company is requiring us to travel because “they miss us”

A reader writes:

My company’s headquarters are based out of a city where the Delta variant is currently climbing rapidly, and where travel restrictions have recently been added as a result. I am a remote employee based out of another part of the country, and over half of our department is remote as well. I’ve just found out that, despite this, our department head is requiring my entire team to fly out to our HQ in two weeks because they “miss seeing all of us” and think our next team meeting would be more enjoyable if it was in-person.

Is there a polite way to handle this? Our company does not require vaccinations to work from our HQ, and some team members will be traveling from areas where vaccinations are low. We also had issues early in the pandemic where an employee came into the office with Covid symptoms this past winter and caused a panic, so I do not have faith in leadership regarding our safety. I would prefer not to go at all, but I don’t really know how to handle this.

For the love of ramen, what the hell is wrong with your company?

I mean, I know the answer because the last year has taught us the answer in relatively devastating ways.

But really, while case numbers are rising and the Delta variant is climbing rapidly, they think you should travel because they miss you?

No.

Some things you can say:

* “I’m not comfortable traveling right now, with the rising case numbers and the CDC’s latest warnings.”

* “My doctor told me not to travel right now.” (You can call your doctor and explain the situation and this will be true.)

* “My doctor told me not to travel anywhere with high case numbers right now.”

* “This isn’t something I’m able to do right now because of Covid.”

* “I have high-risk family members and can’t put their health in danger.”

Please encourage your colleagues to do the same.

People are often afraid of taking this kind of hard-line stance, so please know that it works surprisingly often, particularly if you’re just very matter-of-fact about it — your tone should convey that of course any reasonable person would agree you can’t go once they hear this. And really, even unreasonable/reckless employers are very likely to accept “my doctor said it’s not possible” in this context. Truly, you’re much less likely to get pushback on this than you might fear. (That doesn’t mean it solves things 100% of the time. But it does a lot of the time.)

And of course, if you get pushback on “this isn’t safe for me,” that puts you squarely in GET OUT GET OUT territory (to whatever extent you’re not already there).

cutting off a hired mentor, dealing with pushy new grads, and more

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

1. How do I tell a business mentor I don’t want to continue meeting?

I am trying to start a small business. Several months ago, I hired a business mentor who came recommended from a friend in the same field. Early on, their support was immensely helpful, though I found their tendency to be upwards of 15 minutes late for appointments annoying. Following this, it got worse. They often don’t respond to emails that ought to be answered (e.g., scheduling things, payments, requests for receipts), and they are routinely 15 minutes late for meetings, which I am paying for, and it got to the point where they have even just not shown up for meetings a few times.

This person also ghosted me for 6+ weeks with no explanation and by the time I hunted them down, we should have been done with the mentorship program. I had emailed several times and even messaged them on social media before getting an explanation but no apology. I’m honestly so fed up with the lack of professionalism that I no longer want to continue with sessions.

I don’t know how to tell her that I no longer want her services due to her poor communication, chronic lateness or absences, etc. without fully burning that bridge. Yes, I no longer want to work with her, but we may cross paths again due to some overlap in our professional circles and I would rather not have it be *a problem* if I encounter her again in the future. What should I say? (Money-wise, we’re even; I’ve paid for what she’s done so far but not more than that.)

It shouldn’t burn a bridge to say something like, “We’ve had so much trouble scheduling these sessions that I think it’ll be easier to wrap up here and not keep trying to schedule more. Thanks for the help you’ve given me, and all the best with everything you’re working on!”

If she tries to convince you to finish the remaining sessions, you could say, “I appreciate the offer, but scheduling has gotten so tough. Stopping here makes sense for me.”

That’s the shouldn’t-burn-a-bridge version. But personally, I’d want to be more explicit and say something like, “When you’ve scheduled sessions and then not shown up or shown up very late, it’s really messed up my schedule. To hold time for our meetings, I push other things back or don’t schedule them at all, and I’ve had to put a lot of time into tracking you down. I appreciate the help you’ve given me, but I need to be able to count on a reliable schedule.” And frankly, that version shouldn’t burn a bridge either! It’s factually true and it’s not like you’re calling her names, but since you’re concerned about keeping things low-key, it’s fine to end it without getting into the details about why.

2. Dealing with pushy grads seeking mentorship or a job

I’m an art director, and I work at a small studio where I was hired after graduation. I have grown up with the company and now lead a team that I built under me. I’m considered a success story by my art college. As you can probably imagine, getting a job after art school is a numbers game and luck as much as skill.

I frequently get contacted by students, who are eager to have their portfolios looked at and get validation, mentorship, and … probably primarily … a salaried job.

However, while I am polite and I participate in school-run portfolio review events, I prefer to keep myself distanced personally. Now and then, I get students who continue to reach out to me by my personal email or Instagram and seek to forge a connection with me, show their portfolio again, or ask how they can become more appealing to my workplace.

The truth is, if they have submitted their portfolio and haven’t been hired already, they probably aren’t going to unless their work changes or improves. Being pushy will only hurt their chances more. In some cases, artists have been on my radar for years and I hired them once the opportunity seemed to match their skillset. If those artists had bugged me, they wouldn’t have been considered.

It puts me on edge when these grads try to contact me by my personal email and social media. I’m not their friend and while I’d love to see them succeed, I’m sick of being treated like their special connection to a job. We aren’t the only studio in existence. What sort of reality check is appropriate to give them? I worry I’ve been too kind in the past (I’ve given canned answers and brushed them off, but not given personal reviews or advice). It feels about time to be more direct, and perhaps warn them off doing this to others.

I’m sympathetic to them — they’ve probably been told they need to do things like this to network their way into a job in a highly competitive industry. I agree that it’s generally unhelpful and frequently annoying to be on the receiving end, but it’s good to remember they’ve been told to do this.

The kindest thing is to be more direct — not rude, but honest. For example: “We get a tremendously high volume of interest from prospective applicants. We really try to funnel people to our formal hiring process and can’t offer much help outside of it, due to the sheer number of requests we’re fielding. I’m sorry I can’t help!”

Any chance, though, that you’d be willing to write up a quick FAQ that you could send along with that response or point them to online? I bet you get a lot of the same questions over and over, and by directing people to something like that you’d be (a) doing everyone a service with just a one-time, short investment of your time and (b) reinforcing that there are a lot of people making these same requests.

3. New colleague is obsessed with changing my team’s name

I’m going to use teapots as a stand-in for anonymity. I work in teapot support at a small company that sells teapots of all kinds, from small personal tea sets to large industrial-size tea machines. My department has been Teapot Support since the beginning, our public email is teapotsupport@teapotsupply.com, and we are known as Teapot Support to our customers and our colleagues.

Recently, our company began to expand its industrial-size tea machine business, and these industrial machines require a level of expertise that Teapot Support can’t provide. The industrial tea-focused team is building their own Industrial Tea Machine Support team. That’s great! We can’t do what they do, and we’re happy our customers have industrial tea machine support to meet their needs. We answer the initial and simpler questions, then hand off the trickier issues to this team.

However, the manager of this team started at our company recently and is hell-bent on changing my team’s name, because our department names being similar is “confusing.” He has brought this up during or after every meeting I’ve had with him. He tells his employees that my team’s name is “Teapot Service” (it isn’t), repeatedly calls us entry-level, and questions our capacity to answer more complicated teapot questions, even ones unrelated to the industrial tea machines. (I also found out he tried to change another team’s name that sounded somewhat similar to his! And that team doesn’t even work with customers.)

This feels like a weird, petty power grab. It’s also annoying – I don’t want to waste time debating titles and names. There’s a lot of work to be done, and we need to work together. And honestly, if one team is going to change their name, it’s his, not ours! We are larger, more established, and most importantly, we are customers’ first point of contact for all issues. Changing our name would be way more confusing both internally and externally than changing his team’s name.

I am tempted to correct him when he tells other people that we’re actually “Teapot Service,” to tell him his pet project doesn’t matter, and to focus on real problems. But he is part of an important, growing side of the business, so I know it’d be bad to burn this bridge. Also, the sort of person who would spend his first few months at a company trying to undermine another department is probably not someone I want to cross. But … I’m not wrong, right? This is a ridiculous thing to be obsessed with? How should I handle it?

You sure don’t sound wrong to me. It’s one thing for someone new to come in and say, “Huh, with the emergence of our new team, it seems like it would be clearer if y’all were Teapot Service instead of Teapot Support” but then back off once they hear why that doesn’t make sense. But that’s not what he’s doing. It’s strange that he’s pushing it this hard, particularly to the point that he is deliberately using the wrong name when he talks about your team. And what’s up with him also trying to change another team’s name? He is strangely fixated. (To be fair, maybe there are details I’m not privy to that make him right about the name — but if that were the case, his actions would be so far from the right way to handle it that I’m skeptical it is.)

If you’re the manager of your team, you should be able to take this up with him and, if necessary, someone above you. Don’t tell him his pet project doesn’t matter, but correct him when he uses the wrong name for your team, and at some point you could say, “You’ve brought this up repeatedly and I want to be clear that our name isn’t changing, for all the reasons we’ve talked about. It seems like we’re discussing this every time the two of us meet, so I want to be clear it’s not on the table and it doesn’t make sense for us to re-litigate it every time we talk. Is there some piece of this you feel still needs discussion before we put it to rest permanently?” If you’re not the manager of your team, ideally your boss would be the one would do that — but even so, you can do most of this aside from the “it’s not on the table” bit (and even that might be fine, depending on your role and the politics there).

4. Should I tell my coworker the quote in her email signature is wrong?

Here’s a relatively low stakes question for you. I work at a very large international company. A coworker who is senior to me but in a different segment of the company joined our team for a sales presentation to a potential client. In working with her, I noticed she has a quote in her email signature. I’m not a huge fan of putting anything beyond basic contact information in your email signature, but it fits her personality and is relates to her role. However, she is attributing the quote to the wrong person.

Her misattributed quote is not quite “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” — Albert Einstein. But it’s close. I think most people won’t know it’s incorrect, but some will. Should I tell her? And how do I do it without coming off as “well, actually…”?

Nah, leave it alone. It’s not so dire that it must be fixed and you don’t know her well. I share your impulse to want to fix things when they are wrong (I used to have to restrain myself from marking up errors on restaurant menus) but it’s actually very liberating to realize you don’t need to fix everything.

5. Docking holiday pay if someone misses the day before or after a holiday

I work in healthcare and am a new-ish manager. Our company policy is that employees do not get paid for holidays if they call out the work day immediately before or after a holiday. The reason behind it is solid: we approve PTO as much as possible, but we also have minimum staffing requirements and need everyone scheduled to be there. This policy has been in place at past employers as well.

Unfortunately, one of my direct reports had a family emergency the day after a paid holiday and found out today that they wouldn’t be paid for the holiday.

My employee has not asked for me to intervene. I’ve always considered the policy harsh but fair. I was very nearly in the same situation, though, and my husband was horrified to hear that I could have had a reduced paycheck. Now I’m second-guessing it all!

My question is this — is there a difference in how these policies apply to hourly vs salaried or exempt employees? If there is, how would you approach this with HR? Is this a thing in other industries?

It’s a thing in some industries, particularly ones where coverage is important and they want to disincentivize people from calling out to extend a long weekend, but it’s a crappy policy if it doesn’t allow for legitimate emergencies. You could try pointing out to HR that it’s unfair and demoralizing to deny someone holiday pay in a situation like this, but if these policies are standard in your field you might not get very far.

(On exempt vs. non-exempt: This policy can’t apply to exempt employees since you can’t dock an exempt employee’s weekly pay except in very limited circumstances.)

weekend open thread – July 31-August 1, 2021

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: The Kitchen Front, by Jennifer Ryan. Four very different women compete in a British wartime cooking competition during World War II.

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

it’s your Friday good news

It’s your Friday good news!

1. I recently left my job in the Middle East after four years to move back to the U.S. The environment was austere and dangerous and I was looking forward to returning to a normal life. Last fall, I reached out to a member of senior leadership with whom I had worked in the past and let him know that I was interested in leaving my current job site but wanted to stay with the company, which is based in the area I wanted to move to. He jumped at the opportunity to keep me in the company and put me in touch with the head of the division that best fit my skill set. After just a 30-minute call, she let me know that she’d be requesting a new position be added to her team for me and I’d be able to transition back to headquarters on the schedule that worked best for me.

While this definitely qualifies as good news (and I was so excited to tell you about it!), I was very disappointed with how she managed the negotiation process. She had initially told me verbally that I would be paid the same salary as I was making abroad, but when I received the offer letter, the number was 40% less. She didn’t apologize or explain why that was the case (though I wasn’t surprised since working in that environment means a hefty hardship bonus) and wasn’t willing to negotiate on that salary. I tried instead to negotiate for maternity leave since the company doesn’t offer any paid parental leave and I want to start a family soon and was immediately shut down. She gave me the impression that I should be grateful for the offer at all since I had asked for it and she was creating a spot on her team for me. Not a great start, but I accepted the job anyway, since it got me back to the states and I was excited about the work itself.

As I was transitioning out of the Middle East, I was contacted by a recruiter on LinkedIn, who asked for a call regarding a job doing very similar work to what I’d been doing abroad, but for a tech company based on the other side of the country and with significantly more ownership and seniority. My LinkedIn profile included an abbreviated version of my resume, which I’d revamped using your tips and made it accomplishment-based instead of duty-based. Even though I had a job lined up, I agreed to an initial call to discuss the position (what could it hurt, right?). After talking to her and sending her my full resume, I researched more about the company, its mission, and the job and got really excited about the opportunity. They apparently felt the same about me and moved me through the next steps almost immediately.

While I was moving from one continent to another, I went through an extensive interview process, including a take-home assignment that I completed my first weekend in my new house surrounded by boxes, and five hours of interviews with the team (split into two sessions, after business hours of my first two days on the job with headquarters). A week and a half after I started the position with my original company’s headquarters, I received an offer. Not only did they match the salary I was making in the Middle East, they offered significant bonuses, four months of maternity leave, great healthcare coverage including fertility insurance, and fully remote work, even after COVID, so I didn’t have to move again.

I still felt guilty about leaving a job so quickly, but I searched through your archives and asked for advice in the open threads and was reassured that I had to do what was best for me. Even though I knew I’d be burning bridges with my old company, I resigned my position and offered to work a two-week notice (technically longer than I’d even been in my new job). They were more gracious about my resignation than I expected and offered to let me stay on if I needed the paycheck or, if not, to take a two-week break before I started the next job. I took the next two weeks off and started my new job this past Tuesday. I’m so thrilled with my new company, the job, and my new manager, and I keep pinching myself because I can’t quite believe how well everything worked out. Thank you thank you to you and your readers for giving me the reassurance and confidence that it’s okay to leave a job if something much better comes along (and to pay attention to red flags!) and that it’s a business decision for me as much as it is for them.

2. After just under a decade in my current position, I’m moving on to a dream of a job. A career-changing move that comes with a 60% pay increase, a stipend for professional development, and a positive work culture.

I can’t emphasize how hard this search was. I was ready for something new, but it had to be the right fit – I had spent too long working for crappy organizations. I was the finalist 6 different times over the last 18 months. I’ve had offers rescinded because I tried to negotiate a small bump in pay and last-minute decisions to not hire anyone. It took a lot out of me, zapped my creativity and self-esteem, and left my family in consistent limbo. Near the end, I was crying from stress after nearly every interview. (BTW – Zoom interviews are emotionally draining! Teams, cut your interviewees some slack and crack a nod or a smile every once in a while.)

However, I knew I was lucky during this search. I was fully employed during the pandemic, and not overwhelmed. I had suffered long-term unemployment during the last financial crisis and I was always grateful that during this search I could still provide for myself – something I’m well aware isn’t the case for far too many people right now.

I feel empowered with my next career steps, like I’m shedding a skin of past managers who weren’t leaders, coworkers who weren’t teammates, cultures that only supported the status quo. I will forever be thankful for your blog and book that helped me get out of my head, and keep my eyes on the horizon.

3. I’m so excited to get to send a Friday good news to you! I’ve been at the same non-profit organization for almost four years and it’s my first career job out of college. I started in my department as an assistant and worked my way up to having a good amount of responsibility in a moderately technical role. But while I always loved the org, I also always felt like my job wasn’t quite right for me and didn’t use the skills that I really wanted to grow in.

At the beginning of the year I started job searching which helped clarify what kind of roles I was looking for and what I wanted to pursue. My org had a department of one that was doing the work I wanted to do and while I was always very friendly and had a great relationship with the head, I never thought I could make that lateral move. Well, I was wrong! After getting an offer doing similar work at a different org, I put in my two weeks. A few days later, I heard from the head of the other department that she was finally hiring for a role as her number 2 and asked if I was interested! After more conversations and an official job offer, I decided to stay at my current org and make that lateral move. I’m so excited to stay at an org I love (that really went above and beyond to keep me!) and do what I want to do. I read so so so much askamanager in the span of my job searching and this new twist and really am so thankful for the resource!

4. It’s my turn and I can’t believe it! I left a job I’d held for more than a decade about 2 years ago. I was broken, and probably should have left it long before then, but I felt stuck. I picked up reading your blog just before that departure and I credit your help for helping me find a good position – great fit for my skills and exactly the field I wanted to get into. I kept reading, and your advice and your readers’ questions helped me recognize that the management structure was lacking in this new position. I gained perspective into what was appropriate and professional, and what actions my coworkers and management had that were unacceptable. I had the logical sense that I lacked in my previous position, and I found another position and am making a quick exit.

Your blog is the whole package – I used bits from all areas: interviewing, references, dealing with problem management and coworkers, negotiating (a GREAT offer!). I’m just so grateful to you for sharing your knowledge with the professional community. I truly believe without this information I would still feel meek and unheard and afraid to speak up. Thank you for giving me the courage and confidence in myself to recognize a bad fit and LEAVE!

5. I bookmarked this post of yours years ago, shortly after I got fired for Just Not Completing deliverables.

I’ve never read something that sounded so much like my own words. Frazzled. Disorganized. Anxious. Falling behind, my whole life.

I tried every coping mechanism the commenters suggested, from pomodoros to post-its. And I managed to keep my ducks mostly well-aligned for a couple years.

Last month, I felt myself slipping, completing Tuesdays work at 4am Thursday because.. well, I don’t know. I just couldn’t. So I followed another suggestion in the comments and talked to a doctor, and voila, I meet every diagnostic criteria for ADHD.

That post was a big part of helping me realize I’ve been doing the best I can with the brainmeats I have, and that I need to think differently about how I operate differently. I’ve spent my entire life treading water and not knowing why. And now, at almost 40, I make sense to myself.

So thanks! You and your readers have changed my life and that’s pretty neat.

open thread – July 30-31, 2021

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.

company didn’t even read my application, forced to take a promotion you don’t want, and more

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

1. Company said they didn’t even read my application

Recently I applied for a job for which I met all the required and most of the preferred qualifications. I spent about a week on a cover letter (using all your tips) and had several people read and give me feedback. I followed all of the instructions on the site. This position is in the same institution where I currently work, but in a different area. It is in an academic institution, but the position itself isn’t an academic one.

This is the rejection I received: “Thank you for your interest in the (redacted) position with (redacted). Unfortunately, there are occasions when we are not able to review all resumes submitted for a position. In this instance, your resume was not reviewed and you are no longer in consideration for this position. We wish you the very best in your employment search and encourage you to continue to review and apply for positions with the university at (redacted) Careers.”

I’m not upset at the rejection, but I’ve never seen one that said “hey, you’re clearly a loser so we didn’t bother to read your application” (I know that’s not what they mean, but it’s hard not to read it that way since I can’t think of why they wouldn’t have!), and I was just wondering if this is something new (new-ish)–I’ve had plenty of rejections in my career, but they usually just say something like, “unfortunately, we had a high volume of applications and you are no longer being considered,” no reasoning given.

It’s actually the opposite of “you’re clearly a loser” — they didn’t read your application at all so they have no way to pass judgment on you in either direction. You could be the strongest candidate they’ve ever had; they wouldn’t know because they didn’t look at your materials.

I can’t imagine not taking at least a quick look at every application I receive (and I say that as someone who once had to go through 900+ applications for one position), but I’m guessing they had a really high number of candidates, found some excellent people in the first, say, 200 applications they looked at, and decided it wasn’t a good use of their time to review hundreds more. It’s interesting that they told you that rather than just sending a generic “focusing on other candidates” email, but hey, at least they’re being transparent.

I know it suuuucks to spend all that time on an application and then hear “we didn’t even read it” though.

2. Didn’t accept a promotion, but was promoted anyway

I’m wondering if you can settle something for a friend and me. My friend, Jane, works as an administrative assistant for a nonprofit. A few weeks ago, her boss, Karissa, emailed her saying she was being offered a promotion, which would keep her original duties but also be given a lot of new responsibilities, including managing several direct reports for the first time. But when Jane received the offer letter from HR, it said that her title and salary would not be changing. I told Jane that this just seemed like the company trying to load more work onto her without increasing her pay and pretending it was a promotion to make it seem attractive, and advised her to turn it down.

Jane emailed Karissa back saying that she wasn’t comfortable accepting the promotion unless there was a change in title or salary. Karissa replied that the company was in a hiring freeze and couldn’t offer those. Jane never signed the offer letter.

The next day, Karissa sent an email to the whole team congratulating Jane on having been promoted, implying she’d accepted the promotion, and began assigning Jane the new duties. Jane has been doing them ever since.

I told Jane she should have emailed Karissa back saying something like, “As I said in my earlier email, I declined this new role — was there a miscommunication somewhere?” However, Jane feels that she needs to keep her mouth shut and do the new duties (despite the fact that they are not at all what she signed up for and she doesn’t like doing them) because she’s afraid that she’ll get fired if she speaks up. To me, this seems like something that would be absurd to fire someone for, and I feel that if she’s fired for sending an email like that this isn’t a manager she should be working for anyway. Who is right?

Probably you, although Jane knows the reality of the politics there better than you do.

You’re 100% right that Jane shouldn’t accept the promotion if it’s not worth it to her without a change in title or salary. (And a hiring freeze doesn’t prevent them from changing her title.) It would be perfectly reasonable for to go back to her boss and say, “Whoa — I think we’ve miscommunicated. I’d said I wasn’t up for taking on this new role without the corresponding title or salary.” (She should do that in person though, not via email. This needs to be a conversation.)

So I’m curious whether Jane has good reason for fearing she’d be fired if she did that (has she seen coworkers pushed out in similar situations? is her boss vindictive?) or whether it’s just a general fear of asserting herself when her company is saying “this is the way it will be.” If she thinks this is the type of thing people get fired for in general, that’s wrong. But if she’s seen signs that it’s the type of thing people get fired for at her company, that’s a different thing — highly dysfunctional, but possible. And of course, it’s easy to say “if she’s fired for that, she shouldn’t work for them anyway,” but the calculation is different when you’re the one who would be paycheck-less.

Typically, though, she should be able to get the title change and at least a promise to reassess her salary in X months, but she’ll lose leverage the longer she waits. (And to be clear, a promise for the future isn’t enough, but practically speaking, it might be all she can get right now. And if they don’t come through on the salary later, she can always parlay the promotion into a better role somewhere else. Which still wouldn’t make it okay to have done all the work for a lower salary meanwhile, but sometimes this is the reality of it.)

3. My employee, who knows about my miscarriages, is talking a ton about pregnancy and babies

I work in a really small team and have two employees reporting directly to me. In the past nine months, I have had three miscarriages. One of my employees knows this because I told her when she suffered from an ectopic pregnancy. She has often said she couldn’t have got through it without my help and support. She knows she isn’t going to be penalized or pushed aside for having a child as a result of this.

I’m pretty sure she is pregnant again. Obviously I’m really happy for her (genuinely, the idea of someone going through what I have been through is horrific to me). But she’s handling it in what to me seems a bizarre way. She hasn’t told me directly but every other thing she says is about babies and children and she’s constantly going on about her symptoms. I know symptoms can be bad, I was 12 weeks pregnant three weeks ago, but the vast majority of people just suck it up and get on with their lives.

The thing is, I don’t really know what to do. I obviously don’t want to tell her I what I suspect (she has the right to privacy if she’s not ready to tell me), but equally from an emotional point of view, I’m finding her so draining with the constant complaints and constant talking about babies when I’d rather just forget. And it’s weird because after her etopic pregnancy she couldn’t stand to talk about babies or hear about anyone being pregnant for months (which is totally understandable).

The other employee has also noticed and actually said to me that they were concerned because of how much she was complaining about feeling sick and tired all the time. In a time of Covid, it’s not ideal to be coming into an office and complaining about being ill.

You certainly could note that people have expressed concerns about how often she’s talking about feeling sick and tired and ask that she be mindful of people’s concerns about Covid, but I don’t think that’s going to solve it.

If you were a peer instead of her boss — and since she already knows you’ve been dealing with miscarriages and, crucially, the two of you have had pretty personal conversations on that and related topics — in your shoes I’d consider saying, “Sorry to ask this, but hearing so much about babies and kids and symptoms that mirror pregnancy is tough for me right now. I’ll always be happy for anything in your life that makes you happy, but I’d be grateful if you could be aware of it around me for a while.”

But the power dynamics in the relationship make this different coming from her boss than it would be from a peer. Given that, I’m less inclined to tell you to speak up … although then the conversations you’ve had with each other in the past push me back toward thinking it’s okay. What do others think?

4. Manager sold his house to an employee

One of the senior managers at my company sold his house to his direct report. In this transaction, both saved the realtor commissions and this manager made significant amount of money. He is moving to another country and has direct reports across the globe. Does this cloud his decision when it comes to awarding promotions and even delegating the projects? I think it does and I am curious to hear your opinion.

Yeah, that’s a conflict of interest. I don’t think it’s the most outrageous thing in the world, but I’d hope the company was at least in the loop and keeping a close eye on how things went down. I’d be especially concerned while the transaction was still in progress; I have trouble believing that manager would give fully objective work feedback to someone he was in the middle of negotiating on repairs or closing terms with.

5. Should I call a hiring manager about a job when I recently interviewed with them?

I applied for a position at a small nonprofit agency about a month ago, and I went in for a casual interview. The hours they needed for that position didn’t end up working for me, and when I expressed that, the interviewer asked if she could keep my resume on file for future positions, and also said to give her a call if I changed my mind.

A few days ago, I saw a job listing that I’m very interested in with the same agency. It is a job with a significantly different role, but one I think would be a great fit for me. Since I interviewed with them so recently and she asked to keep my resume on file, should I call her to ask about the position and if she thinks it might fit my skill set? Or should I just apply and mention the previous interview in my cover letter?

This is a bit complicated by the fact that my name has changed since I last interviewed (I got married right before the previous interview and hadn’t legally changed my last name yet, and I have since changed it), so if I just apply, it would be under a different last name than I have listed on the resume they have. It would also be my first job after graduating from undergrad, so I don’t have a lot of experience in job searching at this level. My husband suggested calling the interviewer, but I’m not sure what language to use if I do that, and I don’t want to appear like I’m attempting to circumvent the hiring process.

Don’t call; that’s too much of an interruption for something that isn’t time-sensitive, and hiring managers generally don’t want applicants calling them before they’re in the interview process. But do email her. Before you do that, go ahead and apply like you normally would. Then, send her an email referencing your conversation last month, letting her know you applied, and saying you’d love to meet with her if she thinks this role might be a good fit. Include something like, “I recently married and changed my name, so I submitted my application as Clementine Bailey rather than Jones.” Attach your resume and cover letter to this email so she has them right in front of her if she wants them. Good luck!

can I refuse to do a self-assessment?

A reader writes:

I work at a university where the staff is more or less divided into Professional or Technical/Clerical. I’m a long-time technical/clerical worker, which means I’m in the union. I have no real feelings about my union one way or another — I see both the good and the bad. One of the things about being a union member is that I never get bonuses; we get yearly raises under the terms of the contract. It also means that I have no way to stay in the union and be promoted. I’m both at the top of my pay scale/step AND the highest grade I have can have (the jobs are graded A-E, A being the most entry level, E being not applicable in my instance)

Every year or so, the university gets in an uproar about self-assessments and every time it comes up, I refuse. No one claims that it’s mandatory, but HR sends out pseudo-perky THIS IS FOR YOUR BENEFIT emails, but no one will say what exactly is being done with the information once the form is submitted. Professional staff are also expected to fill them out, which I understand. They have bonuses and yearly raises and the self-assessment makes a difference for them, since they have measurable goals/expectations and sitting down with their supervisor will play a role in their bonus.

Since there is no benefit at all for me, personally (and honestly, no benefit for any union member), am I wrong to refuse? I’ve been in my position for a very very long time, I’m good at my job, I’m considered (or so people have told me) extremely knowledgeable and helpful well above and beyond my grade. I make a generous salary. Frankly, I find it slightly insulting to be asked to fill it out, not only because of the above mentioned no benefit whatsoever to me in my position, but the implication being I’m not self-aware enough to know what my weaknesses are and that I wouldn’t take my own steps to work on these weaknesses.

I’m semi-sure I’m overreacting, but I guess I just needed a reality check. What is the point of self assessment in my situation? Do you know?

In theory the point of self-assessments is that it’s useful to set aside time to reflect on your work, what’s going well, what could be going better, and work goals for the coming year, and it’s useful for managers and employees to make sure they’re both on the same page about those things. If I’m your manager and I have concerns about your work in area X and your self-assessment is glowing about X, then clearly we have a disconnect and it’s useful for us both to know that so we can try to figure out why we see things so differently. (That’s not code for “so that your manager can tell you that you’re wrong.” It’s possible that you have info your manager doesn’t, and that sharing that info will change her perspective. That’s actually really common.)

That stuff is valuable even if it’s not tied to raises, bonuses, or promotions. It’s about your work and how you do it, and even if you know that you regularly reflect on those things on your own, part of the value here is doing it in combination with your manager.

That’s in theory. In reality, a lot of self-assessments, and review processes in general, are badly done and of limited value. Often that’s because they focus on the wrong things. They should focus on what you’ve achieved, how you achieved it (because meeting goal X isn’t so great if you did it by, for example, alienating all your coworkers), what you’re striving to achieve next, any places where you and/or your manager would like to see you improve/grow, and what support you need from your manager along the way. Too often, though, they focus on goals that don’t reflect what your focus really needed to be during the time in question or goals no one ever even informed you of, or they aren’t given any real weight and are just a box-checking bureaucratic exercise, or are mostly fluff, and/or are never discussed with your manager and thus appear to go into a void.

If some of that is the case with yours, I can see why you don’t see any value in doing them. And hey, if you can flat-out refuse to do it without any consequences, I’m not going to tell you that you need to. (It’s also really intriguing that you’ve just not been doing them and no one has said anything.)

But in your shoes, I’d want to be sure there really aren’t any consequences. Yes, you haven’t been fired or disciplined for not doing it — but is it making you look adversarial or difficult to work with? Is it making your boss conclude you’re not someone to consider for higher-level responsibilities or promotions, and if so do you care about that? Is it contributing to an overall impression that you’re kind of a pain in the ass (and thus making it more likely you could be the one who gets cut if someone needs to be cut someday)?

You might know for sure none of that is happening. You might be widely hailed as the department rock star for all I know, in which case more power to you! Or you simply might not care about that stuff; not everyone does.

But this is a pretty minor hill to take a stand on if there are any consequences.

Since most of your objection to doing a self-assessment seems to be “what’s the point?” … why not ask your boss that? Tell her you’re not clear on how they’re used or how to make them of value, and see what she says. If you’re not satisfied with her answer, so be it. But since you’re taking kind of a stand here, it’s worth at least having that discussion and hearing the answer.