weekend open thread – September 25-26, 2021

throwback to baby Olive

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: Under the Whispering Door, by TJ Klune. I spent much of my vacation reading this! It’s the latest from the author of The House in the Cerulean Sea (which was my favorite book of 2020) and is about a man who dies, ends up in a tea shop between worlds, and … undergoes some changes. It shares a lot of DNA with his previous book, and I loved it.

 I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.

it’s your Friday good news

It’s your Friday good news!

1. I have a good news story. It’s not about me, but actually about my 15-year-old daughter. She has been talking for about a year about getting a job when she’s 15. She was volunteering last winter for a few months, and then the plague hit, so that ended. Other than that, she’s got no job experience at all. But she saw a local place was looking to hire. It’s a takeout food place (think salads, wraps, smoothies, that kind of thing) and since the pandemic began, she had started getting involved at home with dinner. Over the last year or so, she’s been the one working with me to meal plan, she grocery shops with me, and then 99% of the time she cooks dinner. So, even though she had no experience, I encouraged her to apply anyway.

Her resume was pretty light as you can imagine, but I talk a lot about your site and your advice. I told her about the importance of cover letters, and how to use them to show your skills and why you would be the best person for the job. So she did! She talked all about how her skills at home have prepared her for this job and her excitement about working with food and with the public. She went to her interview this afternoon and they offered her the job on the spot! The woman she interviewed with said she doesn’t tend to hire people with no experience, but my daughter’s cover letter was so impressive, and her interview confirmed her personality and enthusiasm, that she hired her right then and there. The woman said that she’s been hiring for these types of positions for years, and that my daughter’s cover letter was the best she’s ever seen. She never would have done this without my advice from your site, and now at 15, she is also a big Alison fan! Thank you so much for all that you do, and all the invaluable advice you provide. I’m a very proud mom today!

2. I have been a longtime reader of your website and I recently had some good news that I wanted to share with your readers. For the last 2 years, my work life has not been the greatest – bad managers, lots of bouncing from one short term assignment to another, mental health issues, feeling unhappy and stuck, not much career progression, etc. I made the decision to finally take my long service leave and use the time to finish my degree and focus on my mental health. I have now returned to work and have been placed in a role that so far I’m really enjoying and there is a good chance of getting a promotion in the near future. I am feeling much happier and more fulfilled at work then I have been in a long time.

But the best news is that upon my return to work I was tidying up some outstanding HR issues and it lead me to query why I had never been moved up to the top pay point for my classification level. According to our contract we are entitled to one performance based pay rise every year provided we haven’t already been promoted within the last 12 months and we don’t get any bad performance ratings. But even though I’ve always been rated as “meets required work standards” or above, I haven’t received a pay rise since August 2016. So I contacted HR and asked them to look into it.

Yesterday HR told me that an error had occurred in the system due to a previous manager failing to finalize the proper paperwork for my 2017 performance review (which is when I should have been bumped up to the top pay point). This error was then compounded by me being moved around to a bunch of different short term project teams. Nobody – not HR or any of my managers – picked up on the fact that I didn’t have an annual performance agreement logged in the HR system and therefore wasn’t able to formally record/ get sign-off on my any of performance reviews. I had performance discussions with my managers – there was just never any evidence of them. And the way our HR system works if there’s no paper trail then there’s no pay rise. I feel silly that I didn’t pick up on the issue sooner but in my defense that last 2 years have been a roller-coaster both personally and professionally.

Anyway, the end result is I’m immediately being moved up to the correct pay point AND getting back pay for 3.5 years of missing pay raises. I’m not sure exactly how much money I’ll get as I’m still waiting for payroll to confirm the final figure but money is tight right now so any extra cash is a huge help.

3. I wanted to offer this story for your Friday Good News even though technically, it’s not news — nothing has changed about my job except how much I appreciate it!

A few months ago, I started job-searching because of concerns that my employer might either get acquired by a bigger company or go out of business. I didn’t really want to leave, but I did find a few exciting opportunities that got me thinking about all the (pretty small) downsides to my current job. I got a couple of offers, but none of them were for the exciting things or, in fact, tempting in any way.

At the same time, I was trying to get pregnant, and I was much more successful at that than I was at finding a new job! My state has a paid family leave program, and if I changed jobs, I would lose my eligibility for that until I’d completed six months at the new job. Fortunately, with my due date getting closer, the looming crisis that was threatening my company seems to have either passed or receded further into the future, so I decided to stay put.

I was afraid of feeling a little trapped in my job after having thought so much about what else is out there, but I’m actually feeling rosier than ever! Working from home has been a great fit for us and, even if they called the staff back to the office, I’m confident I could get permission to stay at home through my pregnancy. If/whenever we do go back, my commute is only a mile, which I imagine will be a big advantage as a new parent. My boss has always trusted her staff to manage our time, and I can’t remember a single instance where I asked to adjust my schedule or take time off and she said no. She has supported me in taking on additional responsibilities at a reasonable pace over my 2.5 years in this job, so I’m often learning something new but without ever feeling overwhelmed or struggling to get things done within a reasonable number of hours.

Then, after I decided it was too close to my due date for a new job but before I announced my pregnancy, I made a pretty big ask for time off around the winter holidays. I said I knew it would be tough to accommodate and I was willing to compromise, but my boss INSISTED I take exactly the days I wanted and they’d make it work! Finally, last Friday afternoon, I told my boss I was pregnant. She was thrilled and her only questions were about how I was feeling. Less than 24 hours later, flowers showed up at my house with a card signed with the company name (she clarified on Monday that she only told her boss, who’s a co-owner of the company and asked her to send me the flowers — other than that it’s still my news to share). I feel so supported and so optimistic about balancing this job with parenting (after returning from my 12 weeks of paid leave!). This is my first job that is “just a job” (previously, I’d always worked in fields that people choose because they love them, which is wonderful in its way but sets you up to be treated by employers like you’re lucky to be there and shouldn’t expect a living wage/reasonable hours/decent management), so it’s still a bit of a novelty to leave work at work every day and to be able to prioritize my health and my personal life. This feels like exactly where I need to be with such a big change coming up!

open thread – September 24-25, 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.

a rogue admin, a silent snacker, and more

I’m on vacation this week. Here are some letters from the archives.

1. Our rogue admin has published her own strict rule book for new hires, without any authority to do that

Our organization has an employee at a satellite office, Jane, whose job description clearly states she that supervises no one; she is administrative support staff. At least weekly a supervisor travels to this office to check on one of the other four staff located at this office.

However, I recently found out Jane has published an unauthorized and very misrepresenting 7-page document she has been giving to new hires. This document is very misrepresenting; it reads as though employees are to answer to her. Although we hold a very organized orientation prior to any employee beginning work, with clear policies and procedures, she has taken it upon herself to not only publish her own “rules, policies and procedures,” and has written them so they read as if they have been authorized by organizational management. An example of one item is “if you are calling in sick, you must call Jane. Voicemail and text messages are not acceptable. Your supervisor may require you to call them also.”

She goes as far as to state in the document that you are to sign your acknowledgement and receipt for this document. This is absolutely outside the scope of her authority and her duties. The copy I got my hands on says “updated 7/02/2014,” so this has been going on for some time without management knowledge.

I have had staff refer to her as a “bully” during exit interviews and now I understand why. They travel 110 miles to our administrative offices for orientation and when they arrive at the satellite office to begin work, she is presenting them with this document. I can very well understand an employee being conflicted about who they answer to.

I am definitely traveling to discipline her for going beyond the limits of her authority and exercising power that has not been granted to her. Is this a terminable offense?

As in legally, can you fire her for this? You could. But why not first talk to her and find out what her thinking is, and tell her clearly that this kind of thing isn’t acceptable? You should also have a broader conversation about the nature of her role, the boundaries between her and other staff members, and how you expect her to treat (and not treat) people in that office. Let her know that your concerns are serious, you need to see immediate changes in how she’s behaving with other people, and her job is in jeopardy if you don’t. (And then you’ll need to watch her closely for a while, as well as soliciting feedback from the people who work with her, so you’re confident that you know whether or not she’s operating the way you need her to.)

You could move straight to firing her, and if she’s toxic enough to colleagues, that might be warranted — but in general it’s much better practice to warn people before firing them, so that they have a chance to hear your concerns and improve. Often people do! Not always, of course, but unless something is truly egregious, it generally makes more sense to talk with the person about where they’re falling short and give them the opportunity to fix things. You also want everyone in your office to know that if you’re unhappy with their work, they’ll hear about it and be able to try to fix it rather than just being fired out of the blue one day.

Read an update to this letter here.

2015

2. Should I contact my boyfriend’s boss?

I have been planning a surprise trip to New York for my boyfriend of five year’s birthday in November. I had him ask for a total of three days off work. He is fairly new at his job, having only been there for four months, but he is given so many vacation days that he is to use by year’s end. When he mentioned the vacation days to his boss, they stated, “It should be fine, it’s your vacation days.” My boyfriend was specific about the dates I told him, but still told them that he’d confirm the days via email.

I am now only a month away, so since they told him that he should be okay to take off, I purchased flight, hotel, and tickets for a Broadway show (about $1700) without insurance. And of course, a few days afterwards, the bosses told my boyfriend that those dates are not good dates. Once he told me, I explained (without telling him where the trip was) that I have already made the purchases and to try to see if he can do anything else about it. He mentioned it right away to his boss, who then stated that we should not have jumped the gun but that he would ask anther manager for their opinion. It’s been a week and they have not brought it back up yet and since my boyfriend is still so new, he does not want to bring it up himself.

This situation needs to be figured out soon so that I can figure out what I need to do to try to get some money back. Would it be unprofessional for me to email his boss and explain the situation and that it was my fault for making purchases and whatnot?

Whoa, definitely do not contact his manager yourself. This is his to handle and you risk making him look bad by interjecting yourself into his work situation. If they had given him approval (real approval, not tentative “email us the dates and we’ll see” approval), then he should talk to them and point out that nonrefundable tickets were purchased based on their okay. But if there’s any chance that their okaying the dates was tentative, he may need to let it go. Either way, though, you’ve got to leave this to his judgment to handle, since it’s his job and his relationship with his boss, and he’s the one who can best judge how to approach this.

2014

3. My manager doesn’t want me to tell my new coworker that I resigned and this is my last week

Last week, I gave my two weeks’ notice to my company. At the same time as I gave my resignation, they were preparing to bring a new hire into our department. I realize that my resignation might be badly timed for them, but I’ve held firm even when presented with a counter-offer.

The new guy started today, and my boss has told me to speak to him as if I wasn’t leaving. My last day is Friday, and apparently they haven’t told him I won’t be there next week! What makes this worse is that the company was planning for the two of us to work fairly closely. I feel bad for this guy, because this company has a fairly consistent pattern of dishonesty. Apparently he was told he’d be working closely with me and they chose to let him keep believing it even when they knew I was out the door. Now I’m supposed to keep my mouth shut while they “get their story right.”

I’m not willing to lie to a coworker, and I’m sure not going to lie for this company, but I’m not sure it’s my place to tell him I won’t be around next week. Any thoughts?

Not only is your manager wrong to ask you to lie by omission, but they’re not doing themselves any favors with the new guy either — come Monday, he’s going to figure out what happened and he’s going to be pretty damn unnerved to discover that your manager hid this from him. (Unless your manager’s “story” is going to involve you leaving without notice, either voluntarily or involuntarily — which is another thing I’d be worried about.)

How about saying to your manager, “I don’t feel comfortable misleading Bob about the fact that I won’t be here after this week. I realize you don’t want to freak him out so we can coordinate on messaging if you’d like, but I do want to tell him today.”

2014

4. The silent snacker

I work on a small team of five people within a larger institution. Four of us are super friendly, chatty, funny, hard workers. The fifth team member, who I’ll call “Silent Bob,” joined our team a year ago, is good at his job, and never (and honestly, I mean NEVER) engages in conversation with us (or anyone else here at our institution). At first, we just thought he was super introverted, which is totally fine–he does his job and goes home.

But our small team holds a regularly scheduled weekly snack break for when volunteers are helping us. The other four of us, in addition to our volunteers, have taken turns bringing in snacks or treats. Silent Bob still joins us and partakes heartily of these snacks/foods but has never once brought in anything for the group or even said “thank you.” It has been like this for a year now, and I am now beyond annoyed. Silent Bob is no longer coming off as shy, but rude. We write down who is bringing the weekly snack on a calendar, and I’ve tried holding up the calendar and saying “Okay, you can feel free to sign up too, Silent Bob!” but to no avail. I would even be appeased a little if he said “thanks.” Any other suggestions on how to talk to him about doing his share, or at least, that it would be only polite to acknowledge the treats that others are providing?

Stop hinting and tell him directly that he needs to sign up to contribute snacks if he wants to partake of them. The next time you’re doing the weekly calendar, say directly to him, “Bob, which week do you want me to put you down for?” or “Bob, it’s time we got you in this rotation. Which week do you want to bring in the snacks?”

2016

5. My boss does my coworker’s laundry

I recently learned that my boss has been doing one of our coworker’s laundry. I was a bit taken aback by this because my coworker had moved to new housing closer to our workplace about six months ago. I had heard them make comments before about my boss doing his laundry, but I thought she was just joking around. I am also a manager and could understand offering to help one of my staff for a short time after a move, especially if they live close to me, but my boss and coworker live an hour apart. This would mean she is picking up his laundry, taking it home to do it for him and bringing it back to him (and as I said, this had been going on for at least six months). The only reason I can think of for this is that he does not have a washer or dryer at his house, so my boss views it as “teamwork” and just helping him out.

I personally felt like this is crossing a professional boundary line, especially when I consider how this could be viewed by other staff if they knew this was going on. Am I wrong to think this way? What would be the best way to approach my boss with these feelings?

Wha…? Noooooooo, this is super strange and inappropriate. I mean, maybe she’s not actually driving to his house to pick up the laundry and then driving back to deliver it — maybe they’re making the switch-off at the office. But it doesn’t really matter; it’s still super, super weird and inappropriate. And yeah, if people hear about it, they’re going to assume all sorts of concerning things about that relationship, as well as about each of them individually. At best, the boss will look like she’s inappropriately mothering him and he will look like he’s too immature to be wash his own clothes. At worst, it will look like something really icky is going on between them. Either way, it will look like she has zero clue about boundaries with the people she’s supposed to manage.

If you happen to have a very good and close relationship with your boss and she takes candor well, then you could say, “Hey, I don’t know if you’ve realized what this looks like to the rest of the team and I’m concerned people are going to draw pretty alarming conclusions if they hear about it.” Or if you see signs of favoritism toward this employee (aside from the laundry), that’s something you could raise. But otherwise, I’d just file this away as Something Very Weird Is Happening.

2017

don’t pretend to have a question just so you can talk about yourself — in interviews and in life

I’m on vacation. This post was originally published in 2016.

When your interviewer asks what questions you have for them, this is your cue to ask legitimate, genuine questions that you have about the work (or the company, or the team, or so forth). It is not appropriate for you to use the time as a sales pitch, by asking questions that are thinly disguised opportunities for you to try to market yourself for the job.

I’m talking about this kind of thing:

Interviewer: What questions can I answer for you?
Candidate: What’s the most important thing you’re looking for in candidates for this job?
Interviewer: I’d say the most important thing is experience creating high-impact rice sculptures for an audience 55 and up.
Candidate: Oh, great. I have a ton of experience doing that. Let me tell you about my entry in the Baby Boomer Rice Sculpture Competition, blah blah blah.
Interviewer: Anything else I can answer for you?
Candidate: Will this person play much role in mentoring junior staff?
Interviewer: Not formally, but our team tends to have really collaborative relationship, and our junior folks in particular have told me how much they enjoy being able to work closely with more experienced rice sculptors.
Candidate: Let me tell you about the person I mentored in my last job, etc. etc. etc.

That’s transparent, and it’s annoying.

When interviewers ask what questions you have, they want to know what you’re genuinely wondering about. Interviews are two-way streets, and if they’re interested in you, they want you to be able to make an informed decision about them and about the job. If you’re just focusing on more ways to make yourself appealing to them, you’re going to lose the opportunity to do that (and to a lot of us, will come across as inappropriately salesy).

A similar version of this is true of questions that people ask not because they really care about the answer, but because they think the act of asking the question will look good. That’s not what this time is for, and it’s often pretty obvious when someone is doing it (because they tend not to appear to be thinking critically about the answer, just running down a list).

Other versions of this:

* calling with questions before applying when you’re really just looking for an opportunity to “stand out” or get special treatment

* taking up Q&A time at workshops and presentations to ask questions that are just thinly disguised ways to talk about yourself

* asking for an informational interview when you don’t really care about the questions you’re asking and are just hoping it’ll form a connection that will give you a leg up when applying for a job (or that it will generate job leads on the spot)

People don’t like to have their time used up so that you can try to sneak in some form of personal gain that they didn’t sign up for. Don’t do it.

how do I manage a great employee who finishes everything ahead of schedule?

A reader writes:

I have an employee who is extremely efficient. He finishes tasks in about half the time of his predecessors. I give him additional work, but he still ends up with significant downtime. I’m inclined to ask him to search for efficiency ideas but success in that will lead to more downtime. Any ideas? I certainly don’t want to tell a great worker to slow down but in all honesty I wish he would!

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 employees are distracted when customers need them
  • My contacts want to apply to my old employer, but it’s a terrible place to work
  • Telling a job candidate that I have cancer
  • Figuring out if the manager at a new job is about to leave

how do I not feel jealous of my wealthier coworkers?

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

I grew up in deep poverty with an extremely dysfunctional and abusive set of parents. It was not the “money and food were tight sometimes, but we always had love” kind of poverty. I ultimately aged out of the system when I was 18 and managed to accumulate a massive amount of student debt and graduate right into the recession. I have little contact with my family.

However, I currently work at a wealthy university. Most of the students and my colleagues are way more privileged than I can ever hope to be. Most have very little, if any, student debt, and supportive families. I am often the only person like this that they know. I am never sure how to handle situations where people are discussing things that are so far out of my league, like buying houses, traveling, kids and families, etc.. People aren’t doing it maliciously or to rub it in my face, but just part of the everyday conversation. I don’t want to be a martyr and say that their experience is nothing compared to mine because I understand that everyone has their own personal issues and trauma and it is all valid. But at the same time, I get tired of the pity and the false “proudness” that people give me when I explain my background. Sometimes I wanna scream when people talk about how they got this house for a steal at $250,000 or how they had to alter their yearly European vacation when I am over here proud I have a checking and savings account with actual money in it. How do I handle these situations and not feel jealous all the time?

Readers, what’s your advice?

employee got pregnant to avoid working on Christmas, I told my boss to F off, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters from the archives.

1. Employee said she purposely got pregnant to avoid working on Christmas

My good friend and I are at a stalemate and I was hoping you could help. She’s a pharmacist in a very busy medical clinic, which is open on holidays. During this time of year, she tries to make the schedule as fair as possible to accommodate people’s travel, time with family etc. There are a few employees who do not celebrate Christmas and/or New Year’s, and because they receive double pay, they typically don’t mind working those days. However, there is still some crunching of shifts that just has to be done.

About a month or so ago, she overheard one of her lead techs (who was very pregnant) tell another tech that she’d gotten pregnant on purpose so she’d automatically be off during the holidays…again. This pregnancy is this woman’s second child; her first was born last year, two days after Thanksgiving. She returned to work in late January. This new baby arrived a few days before Thanksgiving, and she’ll probably return from maternity leave around the same time next year. My friend then heard her say something to the affect of “Anna (my friend) screwed me over a couple years ago and I wasn’t going to let that happen again.” Apparently the year before last, they were short staffed and this woman had to work the evening shift on Christmas day. She was paid double and my friend even made food available because she knew that this employee was upset. But she was given a month’s notice that she would be required to work that day.

My friend thinks she should speak to this employee when she returns from maternity leave. I think she should leave it alone. I mean, sure, she could’ve kept that fun fact about her planned pregnancies to herself and it was thoughtless, but I don’t know if it rises to the level of “needs a talking to.” I feel like if there were other issues going on with her performance, then that should definitely be addressed, but my friend is pretty set on speaking with her upon her return. What do you think?

Good lord, no, she shouldn’t say anything to her.

First, I’m skeptical that this woman is truly making her reproductive decisions based on not wanting to work around a holiday, and it’s more likely that the timing just happened to accommodate that. Second, if the comment was 100% sincere, what is your friend going to say — “you need to make reproductive decisions without regard to holiday scheduling”? Of all the things that are none of a manager’s business, an employee’s personal reasons for how she times a pregnancy is high on the list.

Your friend needs to let this go.

2016

2. I told my boss to F off

Last night, some of my coworkers and my boss were at a dinner for a coworker who is getting married. My boss told us earlier that day that she would pay for dinner but not drinks (alcoholic drinks) because it was not a work event.

As the night went on, some coworkers and my boss were at the end of the dinner table talking and laughing. Apparently something was said to my coworker about something that I had said about her (I had said that she was a tough nut to crack in the beginning), and she got mad and left (upset and embarrassed).

My feelings were very hurt because it took a long time to get to know this woman. I don’t want to start over. I started to get angry, so I went to the bathroom. When I got out, my boss said something to me and I reacted by either telling her to “F OFF” or “go screw yourself” (thanks for ruining my relationship with that woman). I was thinking and speaking at the same time. I ended up leaving the restaurant and got a ride home.

Later that evening, I received a text from my boss that said, “DO NOT come to work tomorrow. I talked to Ron and you are suspended for three days without pay and during that time I will decide what I want to do.” I responded with, “Can we talk, I’m home. We weren’t at a work function…I’m sorry I got mad. Whoever told (the woman) what I said was wrong.” My boss’s response was, “Please stop texting me. I will not change my mind. You are suspended for three days while I try to clean up your mess. I will meet with you Thursday morning off site and we can talk.”

Can she suspend me for this? I have no idea what or why she is angry about (I mean I do, but she never actually told me or texted me). This was NOT a work event. I looked up the word “insubordination” and it talks about being IN THE WORKPLACE and getting suspended.

You told your boss to F off! Or to go screw herself! That’s a really, really big deal. They can indeed suspend you for it. Hell, they can fire you for it.

It doesn’t matter that this wasn’t an official work event. Your employer is allowed to take a stand on how you interact with coworker outside of work. After all, if you had punched a coworker or harassed them or used racial slurs at them, your employer would be right to make that a work issue, because it impacts your working relationships and reveals something about how you operate.

Your best bet is to stop arguing that it wasn’t a work event (because that doesn’t matter) and apologize profusely. I have to say, though, if I were your boss I’d have a hard time continuing to work with you — both because of what you said (it was hostile and unprofessional) and because it feels like such an overreaction to what sounds like a fairly minor event. I’d have a hard time trusting your judgment in other situations, unless there were some compelling evidence that this was wildly out of character.

2015

3. Colleague is dressing down on charity dress-down day but refusing to pay

I have a bit of an unusual situation. In my office, we’ve started having a “charity dress-down day” at the end of every month. Each employee can donate £1 in order to dress down for the day, and a different department each month gets to choose which charity the donations go to. They usually organize games related to their charity as well to raise extra.

There is one guy who dresses down every single time, but refuses to donate the £1. He says that he was under the impression that the company would match all donations and as that hasn’t happened, he won’t donate till they do. The thing is, I send out the emails about these charity days and I remember that I told him it wouldn’t be matched the day before the first dress-down day. So he knew in advance that it wouldn’t be matched and chose to dress down anyway — and has carried on doing so every month since.

Now other departments are getting more and more upset/angry about it every month that goes by. I have people coming up and asking whether this guy has donated. They feel like he’s getting away with something that no one else would be allowed to (which is true). His manager is a lovely guy but seems completely unable to force him to either stop dressing down or start paying his £1.

What’s the solution here? Are people being too sensitive about a £1 donation, or should we push harder to make this be taken seriously by management? What can realistically be done even if they do look into it?

Someone in your company needs to decide how serious they are about this whole set-up. If they’re serious about it, then this guy’s manager needs to tell him, “Hey, what you’re doing isn’t cool and you need to either participate in the charity drive or quit dressing down.”

If you’re the person who’s organizing it or otherwise are in a role where you have standing to raise this, you should talk to his manager and point out that this guy is undermining the charity drives and needs to be talked to. Or you can talk to him yourself and say, “It’s fine that you don’t want to donate, but you’re continuing to dress down without donating, and it’s removing the incentive for other people to participate. If you don’t want to participate with a donation, can you please ignore the program entirely so that you’re not undermining other people’s ability to raise money for charity?” If it continues after that, it presumably should be treated like it would if he were repeatedly violating the dress code in any other circumstance.

All that said … I’m no fan of the whole concept, for the reasons here.

2015

4. Our manager got injured at a concert that we all went to

Our manager tagged along to a concert with us, got hurt, and now won’t talk to us. And everyone at the company is spreading rumors about what happened.

I work in a smallish tech company that has a pretty young mix of employees. There’s a group of us who we all found out are in to heavy metal, hardcore, and punk music, and we’ll occasionally go out to concerts after work as a part of a larger group. A few weeks ago, we were sitting at lunch and talking about a show we were going to go to that night and how we had an extra ticket because one of our friends couldn’t make it. Our immediate manager, who’s only a few years older than us, kinda invited herself along. We weren’t really sure about it and tried to ask her if she was up to seeing Napalm Death, Pig Destroyer, and Power Trip. She said she was game, so we figured why not and gave her the ticket.

We get to the show and about halfway through the show, our manager gets elbowed in the face and gets her nose broken. We take her to the hospital and once she’s checked in, we call her boyfriend and she tells us to go home so we leave. The next day, we show up at work and she’s been kind of avoiding us ever since. She won’t tell anyone at work what happened besides “Things got out of hand.” So everyone at work is talking about what we could have done. What do I do to get people to stop wonder what happened and how do we apologize to our manager and get her to start talking to us again?

Stop treating it so delicately — be more matter-of-fact about it! Go talk to your manager right now, ask how she’s doing, and say, “That sucks! I’m sorry that happened.” Note that that’s not you taking responsibility for her injury — you’re not responsible for that. That’s just you expressing sympathy.

She probably feels a bit embarrassed — like she’s the Old Person who went to a concert that she couldn’t handle. By treating her normally, you’re likely to help her feel better. (Hell, if you have any good injury stories yourself, now’s the time to share them.)

And with others who ask what happened, it’s fine to explain. “It was a rough show and someone in the crowd accidentally elbowed her in the face.”

Really, just be straightforward. If you dance around it, it will seem like something scandalous happened and make everyone feel weirder. Be matter-of-fact, be kind to your manager, and assume that all involved will move on, as they should.

2017

5. Should I add a P.S. to the end of my cover letter?

I have been seeing all this stuff on adding a P.S. to the end of a cover letter. Would you recommend doing it?

Nope. It’s gimmicky. P.S.’s make sense when you’re writing by hand and realize you have something more to say. When you’re writing a business letter, they make no sense — they come across as salesy and gimmicky. If you’re relying on gimmicks, it means the content of your letter isn’t strong enough to stand on its own. Focus on the letter itself.

2014

CEO’s wife ruined my job prospects

I’m on vacation. This was originally published in 2017.

A reader writes:

I have been going through a very rigorous interviewing process for a permanent job in a firm where I have been undergoing a two-month post-college training program/paid internship which is very prestigious and only very few trainees are offered the permanent job. It would be my first proper job after finishing university. I have worked very hard during the training and have been very much appreciated by all colleagues. I have successfully passed all stages of the internal recruitment and have been told repeatedly by HR that I would definitely be offered the job. All that was left was to do a final interview with the company CEO and another director, scheduled for an early afternoon on Monday. However, everyone treated this as a mere courtesy meeting or just a sort of final formality.

On Sunday evening, I was travelling home on a packed train with my bike. Suddently, I was approached by a lady who asked me, rather rudely, to give my seat to a man, her father, who was travelling with her. Since I was sitting on a regular seat (not a seat designated for disabled passangers) and had to read some materials to prepare for my interview, I ignored her. Unfortunately, when I was getting off the train, I accidentally moved my bike in a way that it caught and left dirty stains on her coat.

I did not think much of this till the next day when I ran into the same woman and one of directors in the lift in my office building. It transpired that she is the CEO’s wife. She said nothing and did not acknowledge me, but it was very clear to me that she recognised me.

My interview that day went very well. However, I was not offered the job! I was given some feedback about the skills that I have to develop but that was all. I am not sure HR knows about the above as nobody mentioned it. The HR person who handled my recruitment was very surprised, in fact he was in shock about this. In any case, I am very disappointed as I am sure that this is the result of the said woman badmouthing me to her husband. I have worked so hard to get this job and feel it is extremely unfair to be rejected for something that has nothing to do with my performance and ability to do the job.

I am thinking that I should complain to HR and also should request the meeting with the CEO and the second director (who interviewed me) to explain myself, or maybe even to offering to pay for dry-cleaning or reimbursement of the ruined coat?

Don’t complain to HR. And don’t ask for a meeting to explain yourself. It’ll come across as if (a) you feel entitled to a job that you aren’t actually entitled to and which you might have ended up not getting for other reasons, and (b) you’re only offering to pay for the coat now because you think you lost the job over it.

It’s unlikely that this is about a dry cleaning bill. It’s more likely that this is about … well, character.

Ignoring someone who asks you to give up your seat to an older person who needs it is, frankly, pretty rude. If you had a medical need to sit there, it’s of course fine to explain that. But claiming the seat for yourself because you were reading and didn’t feel like standing is pretty crappy. And not even acknowledging the request is worse. There’s a social contract around this kind of thing — you give up your seat to someone who needs it more because of infirmity.

The bike thing was just icing on the cake. I don’t know how you handled it when you bumped her and stained her clothes, and if you were mortified and apologized profusely, okay — stuff happens that you can’t always control. But you don’t mention apologizing or interacting with her in any way.

If I were your interviewer and happened to be on that train and witnessed all of this, it would give me serious pause about hiring you. I’d worry that I had just learned something about your character (rudeness, selfishness, callousness) that in time would cause problems at work too.

This isn’t all that different from losing a job because you were rude to the receptionist. People care about how you behave to others. Sure, it’s not exactly the same as the receptionist scenario because the person you slighted was the wife of an employee, rather than an actual employee … but if they’re hearing it from a credible source, it’s fair game for it to matter to them.

You could certainly offer to pay for the dry cleaning now (framing it as “I realized that you’re married to someone whose coat I stained on the train and now that I know how to reach her, I would like to pay for the cleaning bill”), but you should offer it just because it’s the right thing to do, not because you’re trying to change the hiring decision.

The hiring decision probably isn’t changing. I know that must be hugely disappointing, but I really urge you not to see it as unfair. Rather, take it as a way to learn early in your career that manners and kindness matter, and that attempts to determine how important someone might be or might not can easily go awry.

Read an update to this letter here.

when should you go to HR — and when should you not?

If you’re like a lot of people at work, you’re not entire sure what HR does – and when you should or shouldn’t seek their help and whether you can trust them when you do.

Some people think HR is a sort of referee between employees and management (they’re not!) or between employees and other employees (they’re usually not that either). At Vice today, I answered these questions about HR:

  • What does HR do, exactly?
  • Is it true that you shouldn’t trust HR?
  • If I talk to HR, don’t they have to keep it confidential?
  • If I’m having problems with a coworker, should I talk to HR?
  • What if I’m having problems with my boss?
  • What if my company doesn’t have HR at all?

Head over there to read it.