interviewing when you might be moving, coworker told people about my husband’s criminal record, and more

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

1. Interviewing when I might need to quit the job quickly

After two years in a freelance position, I’ve begun interviewing for in-house roles in my city. I’ve had some hesitation about doing this because, while I am really eager to find a consistent position, there is a strong chance my partner will be offered a job across the country. We don’t know when the offer might come, and we don’t know when we’d have to be out there if we decide the move is the right thing to do.

I’m beginning to hear back from companies about initial interviews, and the ones I have had so far have been positive. Of course, nothing is guaranteed at this point, but I’m imagining a situation in which I’m offered a job and then we decide to move. Knowing that that’s a possibility makes me feel a little bit dishonest if I leave it out of the conversation, but I also don’t want to bring it up before we know more about our plans. I’ve worked remotely for years, so I’m very comfortable with that, but to be honest, if we move I’ll be much more inclined to find a job in our new city (which has abundant and interesting opportunities for me!).

Do you have any advice about how/when/if I should be bringing this up with hiring managers? I suppose it would make the most sense to wait and see if this move will materialize at all, but since we don’t know how long that will take, I’m not comfortable putting my entire job search on hold. What would you say, or want to hear, if you were on either end of this situation?

As a hiring manager, I’d want to know very early on in the process so I could decide if it made sense to keep you in the candidate pool or not — but to be honest, unless you were truly extraordinary, I probably wouldn’t consider you further because it doesn’t make sense to hire someone who’s already thinking they may leave the job soon after. So, know that’s how a lot of hiring managers will feel and make your decision about whether to disclose it accordingly. (This assumes we’re talking about professional jobs where frequent turnover isn’t built into the model.)

But if you think you’re likely to know for sure in the next few months, it would be better to wait until then. I agree you shouldn’t put your job search on hold indefinitely for something that may never happen, but if you have the option to freelance a few more months, I’d strongly consider that.

2. My coworker is telling people my husband has a criminal record

About a year ago, my then-boyfriend came to visit me at work. A new colleague, whom I didn’t know or work with, told several colleagues that he has a criminal record, which she knew because her sister dated him years ago. Her stated reason for telling colleagues: she was worried that he was there for a job interview and she thought the company should know.

I approached my HR manager about the issue — that a colleague had brought in personal, sensitive information and spread it around my workplace. He recommended that I speak with her directly, which I did. I politely and firmly explained that this is not information that is hers to share. He made a mistake in his youth (a minor, non-violent offense, for which he paid very heavily and for which he continues to pay a heavy price). She apologized, the damage had been done, but we moved on and several months ago, I married him.

This week, I learned that this same person approached a family member of mine (the two of them are members of the same religious community), months after the wedding, to tell her about my husband. I have a small family, and they are very important to me. I was livid. What if my family decided to turn their backs on us? This person doesn’t know me or my husband, she doesn’t know what happened with my husband’s transgression, we’ve never done anything to her, and even her sister moved on years ago.

I have no power over this person. Do I have a justification for filing an official complaint with HR? Harassment? Hostile environment? Anything?

Probably not, I’m sorry. Hostile work environment, in the legal sense, needs to be based on race, sex, religion, disability, or other protected characteristics. It doesn’t rise to the legal level of harassment (which requires that the conduct be severe or pervasive, and also based on protected characteristics like the ones I just named). It’s possible your company has internal policies against gossip or would consider this otherwise problematic, and you could try explaining that your coworker is spreading gossip about you outside of work. But this is someone who shared info that’s factually true with someone she knows in her personal life. It’s not likely to look like a sustained campaign of harassment (even in the non-legal sense). And I suspect that the more you fight it, the bigger deal it’s going to make of something that you’re trying to keep a smaller deal.

Can you instead work on making peace with it? Your husband got in trouble for a minor, non-violent offense in his youth, as have millions of other people. That’s a fact of his life that’s not going away. It’s part of him, part of his history, and part of why he is who he is today. The more you can make peace with it and not see it as a dirty secret to hide, the easier this will probably get.

3. Email subject lines for death announcements

I wanted to get your thoughts on quite a tricky subject; deaths at work. I’m a communications manager and, sadly, during my career I’ve had to face and help communicate the deaths of colleagues number of times.

I’m fairly confident on how I’ve handled most of the processes around these — one-on-one conversations with people who knew them well or worked closely with them, sensitively worded emails to the wider team with next steps or what to do if they need to talk, penning straightforward and heartfelt obituaries for public announcements when needed. However, there’s one area that I feel I just haven’t been getting right (if “right” is possible) and can’t find much advice on — email subject lines.

It’s just a fact that some people will need to be notified by email rather than a face-to-face or a phone call. But I find it frustrating that the work I put into breaking such bad news in a sensitive way somehow needs to sit behind the blunt instrument of the business world — the email subject line. No matter how I phrase it, the subject line always seems too vague (“Sad news”), too specific and blunt (“Timothy Jones passed away yesterday”), not important enough (“Timothy Jones”) or too impersonal (“Notice of the passing of Timothy Jones”).

Do you have thoughts on how to approach this? I know it’s going to continue being something I need to handle and I want to do my best to treat it with the solemnity that it deserves across everything it touches.

There’s no good answer for this because it’s just an awful situation. I would go with “sad news.”

4. Why do people accept LinkedIn connections but refuse to communicate?

I’m confused about a piece of LinkedIn etiquette. From your blog, I understand that it might not be the best idea to contact hiring managers directly to check in about your applications status. That’s great.

But there’s this company I wanted to work at for years. I’ve done all of the research I can possibly do. The big gap is not knowing anyone, so I connected with a manager in my field who works there and reached out to express my interest in the company and let them know that I’d love to learn more about the company from him. He never answered. I tried again a while later because he’d written a post on LinkedIn that I shared my admiration for. He never answered.

I get that strangers have no obligation to answer people on platforms like LinkedIn and I’ve moved on, especially since realizing through other means that I don’t want to work for a tech company. But what confused me is why this person accepted my connection request to begin with. Why would you connect with someone, opening that door for communication, if you’re not going to communicate with them at all ever? It doesn’t make any sense. I understand that he might not have had anything to do with jobs I was looking for like I thought, that maybe he was already inundated with messages, and so forth … but then don’t connect with strangers who can clearly see your position at the company? It makes LinkedIn connections seem very hollow if people are collecting connections who they’ll refuse to communicate with.

Some people accept all/most LinkedIn connections without thinking about it at all, and it’s not any deeper than that. But also, he might be open to some types of conversations and not others. He might be up for responding if you sent him a question about a paper he authored, or asked for a reference for someone he worked with, or had questions about a particular piece of his career path. Those are all more compelling than “I’m trying to get hired at your company,” which is what your message boiled down to. He might get a lot of those messages. He may prioritize spending his time on other things.

Asking a stranger to spend time helping you in your job search is a big favor to ask. Some people will respond if you look like an unusually good candidate (and some not even then). Some people will respond if they’re actively hiring (and some not even then). Some people will respond if you come through a mutual connection. But in general, people don’t prioritize cold contact from total strangers looking for a job. It’s just not what people are on LinkedIn for. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t respond to something that held more interest for him, though.

5. Can I reach out to the person who used to have the job I’m interviewing for?

During an interview process, is it strange to reach out to the person who held the position before you, i.e,, your potential predecessor? I’m very early in the interview process for a position. The person who had the position previously has left the organization already and was there for only a year, which to me is a potential red flag (and I’ve heard a couple other things that concern me as well). But also, who knows — it might be a completely great organization. I want to try to identify them and reach out, but before I even try to do that, I’d love to know your thoughts on whether doing that is weird in the first place.

In contrast to question #4, this is a good example of the kind of LinkedIn query someone might find more compelling! Or not, who knows, but it’s worth a shot. It’s not inappropriate to do, as long as you’re under serious consideration for the job (it doesn’t make sense to do it at very early stages of the process, when they’re still making lots of cuts). Just make sure you’re diplomatic in your approach; your initial message should be one you’d be okay with the employer seeing (because at this stage you don’t know if she’s still super close with her old boss and might mention it to them).

I recently coached someone through doing this (like you, she was seeing potential red flags and wanted more info) and she ended up turning down the job over what she heard.

is it okay to drink before a presentation?

A reader writes:

Presentations are a small but regular part of my role, but I often get nervous and end up hurting my message by criticizing my slides, adding excess caveats to my points, and just general blunders from lacking confidence.

Last time I presented, I discreetly took a few swigs of vodka a few minutes before, and everything went better! I didn’t weaken my message, and I was smoother answering questions on my feet. At the same time, I realize I’m taking a risk and how this sounds.

I’ve gotten empty positive feedback on all of my presentations; I don’t trust my boss or peers to give honest criticism. I don’t need to give excellent presentations, but I want to do better for my own sake. I’ll probably try this again, but I wanted to get a second opinion.

Hmmmm.

My initial reaction is, “No, don’t do that.” But some people get prescription pharmaceuticals for exactly this type of thing, and I’m not a big fan of the idea that only officially sanctioned drugs are effective. So I think we need to parse out exactly why Ativan is fine but alcohol isn’t in order for that to be a logically sound stance.

And honestly, if you said you had a glass of wine beforehand and found it smoothed away your nerves, I wouldn’t think that sounded totally unreasonable. But “a few swigs of vodka” is more extreme, given its higher alcohol content.

That said, if you could be positive it worked and had no ill effects, I wouldn’t be the one to tell you it’s unacceptable under any circumstances. But I worry about your ability to self-assess that! You felt the presentation went better, but can you know for sure that other people felt that way? Maybe they did! But alcohol can mess with your ability to accurately assess that.

Normally you could test that by seeking feedback from your boss on how it went, but you don’t trust her to give honest feedback. If you’re going to try it again regardless, it might be wise to record it to listen to later with sober ears.

There are more caveats too. If anyone sees you swigging from a vodka bottle ahead of time or smells alcohol on your breath, those are bad things. Or if drinking made the presentation go fine but then you were sluggish through the rest of the meeting or way too friendly with people afterwards, those are problems too.

Plus, I imagine this worked by relaxing you and slightly lowering your inhibitions (as alcohol does), but there are a lot of inhibitions that need to remain in place when you’re at work. And you can’t really tell vodka to lower your public-speaking inhibitions while preserving your “don’t make bad jokes about the CEO/flirt with the hot bookkeeper/divulge how annoying the client is/overshare about your divorce” inhibitions.

So — is it okay? It depends on all the factors above, and we’d need an independent observer (not slightly intoxicated you) to weigh in on those for us. And, crucially, it could go fine once and then not fine the next time. So I’d say it’s a fairly significant risk.

do I apologize to my employees too often?

A reader writes:

I’m a new manager at a company where I’ve worked for years. In trying to adjust to the role, I’m realizing that I’m the sort of person who says “sorry” a lot. I’m not always doing it to take the blame on myself; I’m often doing it because to show empathy and sometimes make a situation less confrontational. Do you think this will hurt my effectiveness if I don’t change? I think I can apologize in ways that are still appropriately firm (e.g. “I’m sorry, I know this is piling onto an already-busy week, but I need you to add X to your plate and get it done by Friday”), but am I actually undermining myself by doing this?

If it matters, I’m a man. (I hear this is a more common or more problematic issue for women.) And I’m in my mid 30’s, roughly the same age as the majority of coworkers.

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:

  • Employee’s personal life is derailing work conversations
  • Job candidate called coworker “annoying”
  • How to support employees when they have abusive customers
  • Starting a new job when pregnant

my assistant uses eating to avoid working

A reader writes:

I am a new manager at a nonprofit and have just been assigned an entry-level administrative assistant who has been failing to make deadlines, has been repeating preventable mistakes, and has major issues with focusing at work.

She tangled with her last manager because she felt attacked when asked to explain missed deadlines and now has been passed off to me. In my team, we are all exempt workers and are all given some flexibility regarding when we take meals and how long they are. We don’t have set hours but we typically work 9-5, eat breakfast before we start work, and typically take an hour or less for lunch breaks. We don’t have a break room, so most of us eat lunch at our desks.

One large source of distraction for this person is that she will spend up to four hours a day eating and when she is eating her work trickles to a halt. It is not unusual for her to arrive after 10 AM with breakfast in hand and spend an hour slowly snacking with a bowl in one hand and a spoon in the other. She will order takeout for lunch that requires leaving for an hour to pick it up (we are in a traffic congested city) and then she will munch on it over the course of another two hours. Slurping noodles or soup is a regular occurrence and after an hour it gets pretty old. A snack or lunch leftovers are picked at from 4-5 PM. While she is eating, her laptop is open but very little work is getting done or she is scrolling on her cell phone. On most days she only has 3-4 productive hours in the day. None of this extended snacking would matter if she was doing adequate work, but now when I get handed poor work with excuses, all I can think of is the two-hour spaghetti slurping break that took place while she was supposed to be working.

We work in an open plan office, so all of this is happening within feet of other team mates who have admitted to being distracted by this drawn-out eating ritual. It feels like eating is being used to avoid working, but I don’t know how to address it with her without seeming like I’m picking on her. Other people do eat at their desks but they all get their work done and don’t distract others while they eat. I’m also sensitive to the fact that many people have complicated relationships with eating. I wouldn’t like it very much if someone made me feel self-conscious about eating at work.

This isn’t really about the eating, it is about the time spent not working. I really wouldn’t care if she ate crunchy tortilla chips for eight hours straight as long as she got her work done but she is regularly dropping the ball and also not working full days. I’m a new manager and don’t want to be unprofessional but I also don’t want to be a doormat and don’t know what to do.

Eating issues aside, I’m very skeptical that you’re going to be able to keep her. She spends four hours a day barely working, misses deadlines, repeats mistakes, and “feels attacked” when she receives feedback. It’s very likely that you need to replace her, so start planning with that in mind (meaning that you should find out what the process is for doing that in your organization and begin that path right away). And given the history, you should assume she’s going to feel attacked when you talk to her about these issues, and plan for how you’ll respond to that (there’s some help here, here, and here).

Which, conveniently, ties into how to handle the eating: Focus on her performance.

If she stopped the eating completely but nothing else about her work changed, you’d still have big problems, right? So your primary focus should be her productivity, her work quality, and meeting deadlines. It’s time for a serious conversation about those things, which you should frame as, “In order to stay in your job, I need to see X, Y, and Z.”

Make that your primary focus. But as part of that conversation, you can also say, “I’m concerned that you’re spending a lot of time focused on things other than work — like eating, being on your phone, and reading online. I’d like you to eat breakfast before you arrive at work so you’re not distracted once you get here, and I’d like you to confine your lunch to your lunch break so your work has your full focus the rest of the time. I’d also like you to keep your cell phone put away while you’re working.”

(In fairness, it’s possible to have a health condition where it helps to be steadily snacking throughout the day. If she tells you that’s the case, obviously you’d accommodate that. But even then you’d say, “Right now your level of productivity is plunging when you’re eating. Having a snack out is fine, but it can’t slow your work down the way it has been.”)

But keep the focus on her performance and what needs to change there, and make it clear you need to see significant, sustained improvement quickly — meaning within days, not months.

One last thing: You mentioned your whole team is exempt. I’m skeptical that an entry-level administrative assistant qualifies for exemption (something that’s determined by government rules; it’s not up to your employer). That might not be something you feel like taking on within your organization as a new manager, but it’s very likely that she’s actually supposed to be non-exempt (meaning you have to pay her overtime), which is all the more reason to get this under control.

I was forced to sing at a company dinner, coworker ties up our only bathroom, and more

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

1. I was forced to sing at a company dinner

Recently I left a job of 10 years because of a great opportunity. Two weeks into this job, I’m at a dinner with my whole team, high bosses, and special guests. One of the high bosses told me and the other new employee we had to sing right there and then. We ignored it at first, thinking surely he was kidding. Then he said, “You can either sing here and now, or you can turn your badges in on Monday.” When someone tried to stop it he said he needed to “haze the new hires.” We sang, but could we have gotten out of this somehow?

Your boss is a jerk, but I’m skeptical that he’d really fire you over this. I mean, I get that he explicitly said he would and you didn’t want to take the risk, but I’m still skeptical that he’d do something as counterproductive as going through an entire hiring process, cutting loose other candidates, starting to train you, and then firing you because you declined to sing. Maybe I’m wrong — certainly some people abuse their power in absurd ways. But there’s a decent chance he thought it was all in good fun and thought you knew firing was never seriously on the table.

As for getting out of it, you could have tried, “Ha, sorry, I’ve got a sore throat and there’s no way” or “I’d never subject friends to that” or offering up a limerick instead or all sort of other evasions — and with an even semi-decent or semi-reasonable person any of those would work. But maybe he’s not semi-decent or semi-reasonable.

Power abuses are awful precisely because of this quandary: the person with less power doesn’t feel they can risk finding out what happens if they push back.

2. Coworker ties up our only bathroom

I work in a small office, and we have only one bathroom. One of my coworkers tends to take extremely long bathroom breaks. Just now, they were in there for around 50 minutes, and I was busting to go. As I came down the (fairly noisy) stairs, they flushed and started to finish up, leading me to think that they’re just on their phone in there and getting distracted, and were jolted back to reality by the footsteps.

How do I handle this tactfully? I’m sympathetic that they may just need that much time to do their business, but I’m getting pretty fed up with having to hold it for so long.

The noisy steps are your friend here. If you need to use the bathroom, tromp loudly down the stairs. If your coworker is just goofing off in there, presumably that’ll alert them that someone is waiting. It’s also not unreasonable to knock on the door after waiting a few minutes, to confirm there’s someone really in there (unless the, uh, auditory feedback is such that there’s no way you wouldn’t know).

But really, this is an office problem. One bathroom might not be workable for a group of people. Some people have medical reasons that longer bathroom stays are necessary, whether or not your coworker is one of them. It might be worth raising the issue to whoever manages your space and asking about alternative solutions. (Realistically, there might not be anything they can do — small offices do sometimes just have a single bathroom. But if the problem is on your radar, it should be on theirs too.)

3. Did I blow my chances by mixing up the interview time?

I recently had an interview with a top notch company. It was a phone interview scheduled for 9 am EST, but I thought it was CST. So when I received an email asking where I was on the conference line 30 minutes before I thought I was supposed to dial in, I was mortified.

I didn’t get in touch with the hiring manager until 30 minutes after the scheduled interview but it seemed to go well. They seemed engaged and pretty interested in our conversation.

I apologized for the oversight and while I was told it was okay, I am sure they wouldn’t just outright tell me a blew it because I screwed up the timing. Did I totally blow my chances at landing this gig because I got the time mixed up?

It’s impossible to say from the outside, but I wouldn’t assume you blew it. This kind of time zone mix-up isn’t uncommon. As the interviewer, I’m mildly annoyed when it happens but not enough to reject a candidate who’s otherwise good (although if there are other signs of disorganization/lack of attention to detail, it will contribute to an overall picture that’s more likely to be a deal-breaker). There are interviewers who will consider it a major strike against you, though (just like there are interviewers who are will reject you over a single typo too — although they should read this). So there’s no way to know until you find out whether or not you’re advancing.

4. Should I take a lunch break if I’ve missed part of the workday?

If I miss part of a workday due to a doctor’s appointment, should I still take a lunch break? For example, I have to leave today for an appointment at 2:50. Is it weird/wrong for me to still take my lunch from 1 pm – 2 pm?

It depends on how your office does things. At most places, if you were leaving at 2:50, it wouldn’t be cool to take an hour-long break just beforehand, but a shorter break or a break earlier in the day would be okay. But other places have rigid policies about when lunch must be taken (or have state laws requiring that non-exempt workers take a break of X minutes after Y hours of work). As a general rule, though, if you’re leaving early, you’ll look like you’re not managing your time well if you take an optional hour-long lunch right before you head out.

5. Can I use acronyms on my resume or must I spell things out?

I’m updating my resume and am having a hard time deciding what to do about acronyms. In my profession, acronyms are rampant and vary from being widely recognized across the country, to specific to one state or sometimes even one localized area. Some sample lines that I might include on my resume would be “Facilitated SLT through ABCD cycle and implementation of sitewide EF and GHIJ” or “Coordinated services including AAB, BAC, and AEL training for 300 clients annually.”

Those are fake acronyms, but the gist of the lines are right from my resume. If I’m applying internally within my company, must I spell out each acronym at least once before using acronyms only?If I applied with those lines exactly as-is, hiring staff viewing my resume would know all of the acronyms, but I still wonder if it’s better to spell them out to be safe (they’re just so long!). If I were applying out of my company or out of state, I’d probably try to gauge which ones are universally recognized in my field, and in that case should I also still spell out each acronym at least once?

Spell them out. If you’re using them multiple times, spell them out on first use and put the acronym in parentheses. There’s too much chance that someone reviewing your resume at some point in the process won’t know what they are, and that you’ll look like you’re so steeped in jargon that you’ve lost your sense of what is and isn’t intelligible to laypeople.

how do you deal with professional insults followed by with “I’m just kidding”?

A reader writes:

Fortunately this isn’t a problem I’m dealing with anymore. The offending party left my company. However, the tactic they used still bothers me, and I was wondering if you had any advice about it. The problem coworker was a manager in another department. I count my lucky stars that I didn’t report to them, as I would likely have quit.

This manager had unreasonable expectations regarding timelines and priorities. Any time they needed something from my department, it was matter-of-course that their issue should be our top priority. It often wasn’t. We were juggling tons of obligations. When unhappy with our responsiveness, they’d insult our department, or us, in a way that was really difficult to address in the moment.

For example, say I worked in accounting and they needed an invoice processed. If I’d contacted them to tell them it would be finished on X day (even though I knew they wanted it by close of business), they’d respond back with something like: “That’s okay, I don’t expect quick turnaround because you’re not a real accounting department. Haha, just kidding.” And then they’d immediately change the subject.

They’d smile and say “just kidding” in a jokey/upbeat tone, and immediately move on before the insult could sink in. I know they were doing it so they could land the insult without suffering blowback or consequences. It was obvious to anyone in earshot, but they’d breeze right past it without slowing down, and toss in some variant of “just kidding” or “you know I’m joking, you guys are great.”

As a result, you’d come off as weirdly petty or sensitive if you tried to address it. They’d already be on another topic, already “non-poligized” for their remark, and responding would get awkward too. What would you say?
• “We are a real accounting department.” (Defensive.)
• “Well, I don’t think it was funny.” (Defensive and petty?)
• “Real accounting departments have many priorities.” (Eeeh?)

The employee eventually left my company, but I’ve never thought of a good response and it’s bothered me. Is there a clever or even handed way to say “that was insulting” when the offender is trying to so deftly bypass exactly that response?

Oh, that’s so obnoxious!

Why do people do this? It’s like they know they’re being jerky but think the “I’m kidding” will somehow absolve them.

If your coworker had a genuine problem with an answer you gave, they should have explained that and had a real conversation about it — not hid behind snarky digs with “just kidding” deniability.

Sometimes the best option for responding to this sort of thing, especially when the other person is senior to you (and thus “dude, cut it out” might not be an option) is to insist on taking it seriously. For example:

You: “We won’t be able to get to this today, but I’ll have it for you by Friday.”
Coworker: “That’s okay, I don’t expect quick turnaround because you’re not a real accounting department. Haha, just kidding. Hey, look at that bird outside!”
You: “Whoa, that doesn’t sound like a joke. What do you mean by that?”
Coworker: “I’m just joking, you guys are great.”
You: “You’ve made a lot of remarks like that, so it doesn’t sound like a joke to me. Do you have a concern about how quickly we’re doing the work you send us?”
Coworker: “Haha, no, I’m just joking around.”
You: “It doesn’t seem like a joke when you say it repeatedly, so if there’s a problem, please definitely let me know.”

If you do this every time, it’ll make these encounters so tedious for your coworker that there’s a decent chance they’ll stop (or even realize how obnoxious they’re being).

But if you do this a few times and it’s still happening, then you can escalate to this:

You: “This invoice is a little trickier, so we’re going to need an extra day to process it.”
Coworker: “That’s okay. I should have known you wouldn’t know how to handle it. Just kidding! Did you see Paul’s shirt today?”
You: “You know, you keep saying things that sound like you have serious concerns about our work. Should we set up a meeting to sit down and figure out what’s going on?”
Coworker: “No, no, I’m just joking. Ha ha!”
You: “You make those jokes so often that I don’t feel comfortable ignoring them. At this point, it sounds like a real concern, not a joke.”

And then if necessary: “If they’re truly jokes, could you stop making them? It obviously raises concerns on our side, and it could cause real problems for us if someone else overheard and took it seriously.”

In other words, be incredibly un-fun about this. Have no sense of humor — not that these “jokes” are funny, obviously, but this person is counting on you to feel pressured to play along, so don’t.

If this doesn’t work, you can fully write them off as an asshole, but this is worth a shot first.

my employee has a bad attitude

A reader writes:

I manage an employee with an attitude problem. Kevin is a couple years out of college, and he has management ambitions. He did excellent work for several months after he was hired, and the quality of his work isn’t the issue here.

The problems started about a year ago when I promoted another team member with a little more experience and a lot more professionalism, Kate, to team lead. He was angry, and he showed it by acting like a child — pouting through meetings or derailing them with side conversations, making jokes about wasting company money, and telling us all about how drunk he’d been that weekend. He spent a team lunch staring at our intern silently because he thought it was funny (the intern was uncomfortable). He also came to me directly for permission to do something after Kate told him he couldn’t, and I assented without realizing that she had already told him no, for perfectly valid reasons.

Kate addressed these issues individually with Kevin, but there always seemed to be something else. I had a come-to-Jesus meeting with Kevin a few months ago, and we all thought he was back on track, until recently. Not long ago, our company began to require more meetings, and when a (different) team member politely complained there were too many, Kevin guffawed and yelled “BURN!” in the middle of the meeting.

Personally, I’ve had enough. I decided to manage him directly from now on. I also went to my manager (Randall) to recommend that Kevin be given some form of disciplinary action, but Randall isn’t so sure this behavior rises to the level of a corrective action. How else can I get through to Kevin and help him see that he’s got to behave more professionally if he ever wants to be a manager himself?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

our boss told us to camp in tents when we travel for business

A reader writes:

I started on staff at a small environmental/conservation nonprofit. My coworkers and I are PR, fundraising, and outreach staff. All of us are brand new due to turnover. Today we received an email from our boss that says:

“When we are traveling for work, we try, when possible, to stay at a state park — cabins in the winter, camping ‘normally’ in the summer since most cabins are booked for a week. The state agency responsible for camping fees provides us a waiver so that we stay for free. Print this waiver.”

(By camping “normally” in summer, she means outdoors in a tent. Although she has a camper and uses that herself when camping).

We are affiliated with a state environmental agency and although I can’t swear, because I haven’t looked into it, I don’t believe the governor requires state employees on travel to camp.

I know at least one of my new coworkers feels as I do — we’re not going to camp alone in a park in a tent.

I can’t believe this. Advice?!?!

P.S. Even if we book a cabin (which have limited availability), we’d have to take bedding, etc. And our boss has previously told us that many of the state cabins have bed bug problems.

What.

Noooo.

It’s absolutely not reasonable to expect people traveling for work to camp rather than having standard business lodgings.

I get that you’re an environmental group. It’s still not reasonable.

You need to show up for business meetings rested, washed, and productive — which an awful lot of people would not be after sleeping in a tent.

Even plenty of experienced campers wouldn’t want to camp the night before work meetings. And beyond that, plenty of people — including even some environmentalists — don’t like camping. Or they want to do it once a year, with friends. And alcohol.

And then there are people with medical needs that make camping impractical or impossible.

This would be bad enough if it were some once-a-year, misguided team-building event for your whole staff. But as your routine lodgings for regular business trips?! It’s wildly unreasonable and out of sync with any business norm.

If your boss enjoys doing camping on business travel herself, that’s fine. But it’s not okay for her to impose it on others.

If the organization can’t afford to pay for hotel rooms, then it can’t afford to send employees on work trips, period. Just like if it couldn’t afford the airfare or train ticket, it wouldn’t be okay to suggest you hitchhike.

Say this to your boss: “Can you clarify the travel policy? You mentioned camping, but that’s not something I’d be able to do for a business trip. My plan is to book affordable hotels instead.” If she holds firm, feel free to say, “It’s really not an option for me and I’ll need to stay in hotels. I’ll of course make sure to choose budget options.” If you want, feel free to say, “There are lots of reasons why people wouldn’t be able to camp — including health concerns that people shouldn’t have to disclose in order to get standard business accommodations.”

Even better, get a group of your coworkers to push back and say “no, this won’t work for us.” There’s power in numbers.

Tents! It’s ridiculous.

my boss jokes about my work “suitors,” my coworkers barged into my house when I wasn’t there, and more

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

1. My boss jokes about me having work “suitors”

I work in a clubhouse for a community with a high volume of lonely old people. I have always been a conversationalist, and I don’t mind lending an ear when people want to talk, since it’s part of my job. I have a handful of people who I really click with, who I talk to for about an hour whenever they come in. We talk about things like music, fine foods, history, and their youth. It’s incredibly nice and I love that I get to do this professionally.

My boss jokes constantly about my “boyfriends.” It never really bothered me, and I chuckled along, but now when she introduces me to other employees or volunteers, she always brings it up and makes it sound inappropriate.

Many of the people in my “fan club,” as it’s affectionately called by my boss, are older men who are retired and usually single. I have a couple older women as well who I chat with. I don’t wear anything revealing at work and our conversations never go anywhere innappropriate. I never see them outside of work and they have never done anything out of line in any way.

My boss knows my SO, and tells them about how I’m cheating with my “boyfriends.” They laugh it off because I’ve explained and talked about them before, but it still seems odd. I felt weirdly guilty when she was telling a new person at work about my many “suitors.”

I work in hospitality, so I’m always charming, attentive, and polite. I’ve had residents make sexual comments about my figure in the past, and I quickly told them that that is not appropriate and told my boss immediately. She said that I did the right thing by telling them that it was not correct. I feel like I’m getting mixed messages. I don’t know how to address this with my boss without making things awkward with her.

The next time she does it when it’s just the two of you, say this: “Jane, can I ask you not to joke about me having ‘boyfriends’ or ’suitors’ here? I know you’re kidding, but it makes me uncomfortable.”

If she’s a good person, she’ll hear this and stop. But if she continues, it’s okay to be firmer about it: “I was really serious when I asked you not to do that. It feels really uncomfortable to be talked about that way.” You could add, “You were so supportive in the past when I had harassment issues, and so I know you will be sensitive about this now that you realize how much it bothers me.” (Often framing things that way will make people want to live up to what you tell them you “know” about them.)

I hear you on not wanting to make things awkward with your boss (even though she is the one making things awkward!)  but you should be able to say this and then briskly return to whatever else you talk about. With awkwardness around this kind of thing, most people, even managers, will take their cues from you and if you demonstrate that you’ve moved on, chances are high she will too.

And for what it’s worth, in addition to this being unwelcome on your side, I’ve never understood why this sort of comment isn’t also seen as diminishing to the older people it references, since the subtext seems to be that age desexualizes people and it feels like a weird patronizing head pat in their direction.

2. My coworker showed up at my house when I wasn’t there and served my housemates bad food

I’ve been working for my company for two years, alongside my coworker “Laurie.” Laurie’s a bit of an odd bird, but we’ll save the encyclopedia of her antics for another day. When I first started, I was broke and didn’t have a car, so Laurie gained my trust and friendship by sharing some of her lunch and driving me home every day until I was back on my feet. Fast forward to about a month ago, and I’m now working in a different department but we still talk.

I went out of town for my birthday, and as I’m eating brunch with my friends, I received a text from my roommates. Laurie is at my apartment, unannounced, feeding my roommates Chinese food that she was “trying to hide from her husband” (it gave my roommates food poisoning) and leaving out gifts for me that were toxic to my cats. She never contacted me saying she was going to do this, and according to my roommates she just invited herself in, which they were very uncomfortable with. I’m mortified. I never invite people over to my place without making sure it’s okay with my housemates first, and the fact she thought her actions were okay in any way has me questioning my friendship with her. I’ve known for a while that she thinks that we’re closer friends than I’m comfortable with, but this crossed a major line. Is this something I can bring up to my boss? And how do I go about it?

Nope, but it’s something you can bring up to Laurie. If you raised it with your boss, her first question would be whether you’d addressed it with Laurie directly — and it would look odd (and frankly bad) if it turned out you were complaining to her without first attempting to resolve it directly.

Talk to Laurie! Tell her you’re a stickler for making plans in advance and not having guests drop by uninvited and ask that she not do that again. There’s also advice here about creating more social distance with a coworker. (But keep in mind that it’s not unreasonable that Laurie considers you a friend, after sharing her food with you and driving you home every day! Barging into your house without permission and when you weren’t there is decidedly strange and something you can set clear boundaries around, but her overall belief that you’re friends doesn’t sound unfounded.)

3. I feel overdressed in a casual office

I work in advertising, and I have for over five years. I joined a new small firm six months ago. Now that the winter is here and the polo shirts are put away, my button-downs are making me feel overdressed. I’ve never felt this way in my other agencies.

A typical outfit for me is plaid/checkered button-down shirts tucked into dark wash jeans with either brown leather sneakers or boots. (I’m a man.) My coworkers are a t-shirt and hoodie crowd. How can I dress more casually while still looking presentable and put together?

Are you comfortable leaving the button-downs untucked? If you find some that are the right length for that, that’s one way to do it. Alternately, there are shirts that are partway between button-downs and t-shirts — for example, this or this — which could be easy ways to casual things up. (Henleys, in particular, might be what you want.)

4. Participating in my husband’s company’s March Madness pool

My husband owns a small company, less than 15 people. It’s a very casual (but generally genuinely professional) atmosphere. Initially he hired only folks from his previous jobs in the same industry. Until last year, he’d known everyone who works for him for at least a decade. I am also friendly with most of them and have hung out many times over beers or lunches and have done a tiny bit of work here and there over the years (very tiny). Last year, he hired five new people. I have never met any of them.

Every year they do a March Madness Pool. Everyone contributes to the pot, winner takes all. I’ve always joined in and didn’t think twice about it. Until last year. For a couple of weeks it looked like I might take the prize, which would have meant me, the owner’s wife, taking money not from my husband’s pals who I’d hung out with at bars, but from employees that I’d never even met.

I felt super uncomfortable with this scenario, but my husband thought I was crazy. Luckily, I didn’t win. But it’s going to come up again this year. I really love March Madness and my own office doesn’t allow a pool. But I just can’t be in his office pool. Right?

I don’t think it’s absolutely unacceptable for you to participate it, but I’d advise against it. In a lot of companies (maybe this one, maybe not), the boss’s wife winning the pool just wouldn’t look great. Why risk the resentment?

And as your husband’s company grows, it’s a good idea for you to have clearer boundaries with it and his employees anyway. The bigger it gets, the more potential there is for weirdness about your presence (which you might never know about, but can still exist).

5. Job application asks for salary history despite state ban

I am currently applying to a job which asks applicants to submit past three years salary history to the chair of the search committee. I live in Connecticut which banned employers and potential employers from asking for salary histories in 2019. Do I ignore it or address it?

Ignoring the question altogether is an option, although that carries the risk that they’ll reject you over it. (If you’re a stellar candidate they probably won’t, but otherwise some employers would.) Another option is to say something like, “I wanted to bring to your attention that the request for salary history probably wasn’t still supposed to be in your application instructions, since Connecticut prohibited those inquiries as of last year.” Framing it as “whoops, someone might have forgotten to take this out” rather than “you are breaking the law” can be a less adversarial way of making the point. (There’s nothing wrong with “you are breaking the law” — because they are — but usually when you’re applying for a job it’s better not to put people on the defensive if there are other ways to achieve the goal you want.)

my new coworker seems to be asking us if he should cheat on his wife

A reader writes:

We recently hired a new person, Tulio, to join my team. Our structure is such that there are two groups to our team, group A (which I am in) and group B (which he was hired into). We both report to Wanda, who is remote and currently finishing up medical leave (we have an interim boss who we are transitioning out of reporting to). Tulio’s role has been hard to fill (there are about four of them covering different geographical territories). Since I started a bit over three years ago, we’ve had four new people in these roles, only one of whom has been good at it, and two have been let go. This particular role that Tulio is filling has had four people in it in six years.

Tulio started at the beginning of this week with a long career in our type of work. As a get-to-know-you thing, we took him for lunch yesterday. In the course of this lunch, my coworkers Charlotte and Bethany mentioned they were both divorced.

This seemed to open the floodgates for Tulio because he then spent the rest of lunch talking about how he and his wife have lost the love in their marriage and how he’s trying to rekindle it, but she refuses to do anything to help. They’ve been together at least 30 years. He told us in detail about how she even went so far as to invite her father to temporarily live with them to “avoid the issue.” (I used quotes because I’m not so sure if that’s the case, or the father was in poor health; he seems to think it was an avoidance strategy.)

Then he told us about a widow friend who he spends a lot of time with and that he has feelings for her he’s never had before, and that maybe this is what true love is. At the very least, he is emotionally cheating on his wife. He then asked Charlotte and Bethany about the divorce process and mused about whether he should leave his wife for this woman. I believe he was asking for our permission? It was very unexpected and every attempt to steer the conversation away seemed to fall on deaf ears. We were very uncomfortable.

Is there any reason to tell my boss, Wanda, about this once she is back full-time in a month? I have scripts for avoiding it in the future from you (it was just all very sudden and unexpected, so I didn’t use them). It’s more that he is in a client-facing role (traveling to sites and closing deals) and is remote from us in another state. If he got this comfortable from being with us for an hour for lunch (after maybe a cumulative hour together the days before), is there any reason he wouldn’t do the same with a customer? I’m hesitant because maybe he’s just like this with coworkers? It makes me question his boundaries and whether he can separate his work life from his personal life. But maybe I’m overreacting?

You’re not overreacting. It’s extremely weird.

I don’t think it’s “call Wanda at home on her leave and sound all possible alarms” weird, but it’s weird.

Telling your brand new coworkers about your marital troubles and the emotional affair you’re having with a friend and asking about whether to leave your marriage is … very bad judgment, at a minimum.

And frankly, sometimes people have terrible judgment in their personal lives but do perfectly well in their jobs. But this is his professional judgment that was on display. His professional judgment told him this was an appropriate topic for conversation with coworkers he just met, and his professional judgment told him no one was uncomfortable or weirded out by it.

So yeah, I’d be worried about what his professional judgment is going to tell him about clients.

If I were your boss, I’d want you to mention this within my first few days back from leave. Frame it as, “My interactions with Tulio have been pretty strange, and I wanted to mention what happened to you in case it’s something you think could come up in his client work.”