weekend open thread – August 6-7, 2022

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: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin. After creating a wildly successful video game, two lifelong friends contend with fame, love, and their relationship with each other.

I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.

it’s your Friday good news … with updates

It’s your Friday good news — but this week it’s a little different. Here are four updates from people who shared good news here in the past.

1. The person with the new teaching job (#5 at the link)

“I LOVE my job and could not be happier. My leadership team is amazing, my peers are amazing, and my work is fulfilling. Everyone is so professional, goes above and beyond, and are genuinely wonderful to work with. I have exceeded expectations in my role and was promoted after just 10 months with the company, which came with a 9.5% salary increase and a 3% bonus increase. I have had managers in other departments joke about poaching me, and my manager has made it very clear that she would support a move if my interests are elsewhere, but I have no intentions of leaving my team in the near future.

My manager frequently asks what my interests are and gives me projects to keep me engaged and challenged. I’ve been told by senior leadership that I have a very bright future with the company and will continue to promote quickly (if that’s what I want). I’ve made it very clear that work-life balance is my priority and have had nothing but positive feedback and agreement.

I was sure these jobs either didn’t exist or I would never be qualified enough to get one. I feel very grateful to have found your website because it made all the difference. I still get comments about “the magic question” that I asked in my hiring manager interview. Thanks Alison!”

2. The person with a new job after a horrible manager (#1 at the link)

“I have an update to this, about two years later! When I started the job I referenced in my post, in my very first meeting my manager told me she was leaving for a new opportunity. I was unsettled by that because I partially accepted the job because I was as confident as I could be that I would have a good manager after having a terrible one.

I helped hire my current manager and again was upfront about my values and how I work. I even said verbatim, ‘This job is not my priority in life and I need a manager that respects my work/life boundaries.’ She ended up being a fantastic manager – so much so that she supported me in leaving our department and accepting a role in the organization that pays about 20k more. The organization itself continues to be a great fit for me and we’re actually in the process of negotiating our first collective bargaining agreement for our union staff. I’m very active in that process.

So not only do I not have to hide what I value to fit in, I’m at an organization that actively welcomes dissent. I’m really glad I read your blog (still a devoted reader!) and worked up the courage to say what I actually want out of a job and the role that I want work to play in my life. It has paid dividends (including a huge salary increase for me) and your blog has been so helpful to me in finding a good workplace fit.”

3. The person who got the job they were sure they’d be rejected for (#1 at the link)

“As I mentioned in the Friday good news, I started my new job in September 2020. It was everything I had hoped it would be when I first wrote to you. By May 2021 I had been promoted from front desk to hiring specialist. There were a few very rocky moments, including a difficult and ultimately unresolved issue with the person who was supposed to be my lead and trainer, at which time I had to get our director involved. I was worried that speaking up to my director would sour things even more and make me look like a tattle-tale, but I was pleasantly surprised that whatever conversation they had seemed to fix our issues as much as they could be fixed, or at least get us to work together in some capacity. We never did have the working relationship I had hoped for, and I struggled greatly without someone to bounce ideas and questions off of.

The person I struggled to work with left earlier this year for a new opportunity, and I applied for her job, but did not get it. My director and I ultimately decided that it was a bad time for me to move into a higher position with more responsibility not because my director thought I was incapable, but because I too am leaving our workplace. In December, I was accepted into a masters program with our local college, my alma mater, and I start class in two months. I am so glad though that things have worked out the way they have, as due to a series of other unrelated events, our tiny department is going through 55% turnover including both joint directors. I am now in the process of training our new receptionist, the person who will be my position’s lead, and my own replacement. It will be a very busy but encouraging two months as I help these people grow into their new roles, and I know I will be leaving these jobs in very capable hands.

Thank you for all your advice, it came in very handy when I was interviewing and preparing resources for my grad school application. I look forward to being able to give another update when I secure an internship and post-grad job!”

4. The person who got a 25% increase in pay (#2 at the link)

“A year and a half later and I still LOVE this job. The work I’m doing is fulfilling and interesting and the culture fit is great. As a Zillenial it has always baffled me how people could stay at the same company for 10+ years and I totally get it now. The company continues to handle the pandemic fairly and ethically and they announced shortly after my last update that anyone who could be remote was encouraged to stay remote. There is desk space and conference rooms available for those that want to be in the office but no pressure to do so. The work that I do supports our main operations, primarily acting as a liaison between ops and finance. I also provide a lot of support to our senior leadership team and reporting to our parent companies. I’ve been given the opportunity to lead several major projects from beginning to end. Operations loves me and I get a lot of highly public praise from them to my manager and above. I was also pulled into an exclusive intensive leadership training that went on for about 6 months that has been truly instrumental in my development. I attribute a lot of my success to actually having started the role remotely–the constant feeling of imposter syndrome/being perpetually green has been a lot easier to push aside while meeting with people virtually over Teams than it ever has been working in the office.

We recently completed our performance review cycle and I received an exceeds expectations rating along with an 8% pay bump plus a 3.25% bonus which I’m very pleased with. Which while may not sound super significant to some, the context here is that our HR is managed by our parent company and they are very corporate in that – a formula typically drives merit increases based on performance rating and where you are at in your pay band. Typically the largest merit increase is 4% and more than that takes good justification, but my manager went to bat for me and got the additional pay bump and bonus. The review overall was really productive. My manager came to me with some great ideas for growth and development opportunities so that I can get the additional training/experience I need to lead bigger projects and become more involved in supporting senior leadership/ownership and also creating a position that would report to me, supporting some of my tedious/technical tasks so that I can gain supervisory experience and work on larger, more complex projects, as we explore what a promotion at my company would look like.

Thank you so much for putting your knowledge out there on AAM. I know I’m not the only one who credits successful career moves to you.”

open thread – August 5-6, 2022

It’s the Friday open thread!

The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on any work-related questions 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 take your questions to other readers.

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

I gave notice 2 months ago but I’m still here, I can’t get a raise without taking on more work, and more

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

1. I gave notice two months ago, and I’m still working here

I have been working at a part-time job for the past three years. For various reasons I became very dissatisfied with the work conditions, and after finding a new job I handed in my letter of resignation. That was two months ago.

The day I was supposed to quit, my boss (the owner of the company) told me that she still hadn’t found a replacement yet, and could I please, pretty please, stay on for one more week? I agreed, because the hours don’t overlap with my new job. It does make for a very long and grueling work day, though.

“One more week” turned into two more weeks, and then three, and now it’s been six weeks since I was supposed to leave that job, with no end in sight. The boss claims that she had lined up several replacements, but they all flaked out at the last minute, so she’s still searching. We are desperately short-staffed. I’m exhausted and my performance at both jobs is suffering.

If I walk out now, my overloaded coworkers will be left to pick up the slack, and I know how hard it will be for them. Two of them confided in me that they are thinking of quitting, too. Should I just leave, without a backward glance?

Yes.

You gave notice two months ago. Your company’s staffing issues are not your problem! There’s absolutely no reason why you should be accepting long and grueling days rather than simply leaving, as you originally intended to do. I understand you’re worried about the impact on your coworkers, but this is not your problem to solve — you need to be able to leave when you want to leave! This is business, not a situation where you have an obligation to sacrifice your own interests for someone else’s. People leave jobs all the time and the people left behind make do, or they decide to leave too (which might be a sensible response for them).

You’ve done more than enough. And I mean that literally — you have done too much here; you need to stop sacrificing yourself to save a company that isn’t even yours. You’re jeopardizing your new job (and at exactly the time when you’re still creating a first impression of yourself, which can be lasting). Tell your boss today that you can’t extend your notice any further, your new job needs you, and this is your last day.

2. When I ask for a raise, my company asks what more I’m willing to take on to justify it

I work for a small, family-owned company as an administrative assistant. I am the only one serving multiple execs/managers in my role. I like my job. It’s challenging and diverse, but can also be hard and stressful because we are so small. I’ve been with the company for five years now. I received a generous raise about three years ago but not since. There have been no cost of living increases.

Whenever my coworkers ask about raises, management has the same response: what more are you willing to take on to justify an increase?

I know discussing a raise means doing your research and making a case for an increase but I’m not sure how to respond to that question and research seems to show my hourly wage is average so I’ve been hesitant to bring up the topic.

I’m already doing a ton of work. I already don’t have enough time to do it all each day. I can’t take on more work to justify an increase. Does that mean I can never get a raise and am stuck at my current salary forever? That’s not sustainable and expenses certainly don’t stand still. So does this mean this is it and I’m just… stuck?

Asking what else you’re willing to take on to justify a raise ignores (a) the increase in cost of living in the last three years and (b) the fact that you are probably contributing at a higher level than you were three years ago because you’ve gotten better and better at your job over time. If your employer genuinely doesn’t think you’re better at your job than someone in their first year would be, then there are real problems — either with your work or with their ability to realistically assess performance. Most likely, though, they’re just stingy and this is their way of avoiding paying people fairly.

I’d approach it this way: “I’m contributing at a significantly higher level than when my salary was last set three years ago. For instance, ____ (examples). I’d like my compensation to reflect my growth in my position, as well as the significant increase in cost of living since then.” You could also add, “I like my job and would like to stay here, but the market rate for my work has increased and my salary has not kept up.”

If they won’t budge, then you know you’re working somewhere that isn’t willing to pay people fairly. You still wouldn’t be stuck though; you could seek a more competitive salary somewhere else … which you should strongly consider, because what they’re paying you has far less buying power than it did three years ago, meaning you’re receiving a pay cut every year you stay.

3. I’m seeing more people being put on PIPs — is this a trend?

I recently had a coworker leave in a huff over a PIP. (I was not their manager but was in conversations with HR about it because I do QA for their team and was having to track improvements or lack thereof.) Several other friends have told me they have had to put direct reports on PIPs after months of conversations failing to get their work up to par. While I’ve read letters in the past to AAM where people report PIPs being a needed opportunity to turn things around at work, almost everyone I know managing one is also dealing with an employee who refuses to admit not only that they could improve but that their work isn’t perfect.

This is obviously just my social circle, but I’m wondering if this is part of a larger trend where companies or managers were cutting people more slack during the height of the pandemic and all that goodwill is burning out at the same time? And/or in some industries, we all lagged a bit in 2020 and 2021, but as things ratchet back up, we’re seeing the limits to some people’s skills as the people around them grow and develop and they fail to?

I wouldn’t be surprised if that accounts for some of what you’re seeing. Realistic companies did make adjustments (sometimes significant ones) to what they expected of people when the pandemic started … and as companies return to pre-pandemic expectations, some people will struggle with that, whether it’s because they genuinely aren’t equipped to meet those expectations or just don’t want to (or possibly formed new habits that they’re having trouble shaking) or because the pandemic is still impacting them in ways employers are no longer accommodating as much (see, for example, the child care crisis).

It’s also true that in the last two years a lot of managers didn’t address performance problems as forthrightly as they might have previously, because they were inclined to cut people a lot of slack (often rightly so) — but now they’re starting to, and so you’re seeing a couple years of performance management that’s been saved up and is now happening all at once.

4. Do I still need to include locations on my resume?

Do I still need to include locations on my resume? Per the traditional advice, I include the city and state for all of my professional, educational, and volunteering experiences. However, the location line takes up a lot of real estate, and in addition to saving space I’m wondering how much sense it still makes in today’s remote era. For example, my current job is 100% remote, so the location would just be … where I currently happen to live. Another example, my degree is from a well known state school — whose state is in its name — and it’s not like the city makes any difference to my qualifications. I think it would look odd to be inconsistent, though. Maybe include it for jobs but not degrees? Or only for in-person based experiences, versus my remote work/volunteering? I’m not sure. Is the norm on this changing?

You haven’t really had to list the location of your school in at least a decade or two, so skip that entirely. And it’s not strictly necessary with volunteering either, so you can save some space on both of those.

But you should keep listing the location (just city and state) of employers because it helps verify that they actually exist and can add useful context (for example, different locations might have different focuses, or it’s helpful to see that you’ve dealt with small communities vs. larger cities, or you have experience with a particular market, etc.) … and most employers just expect to see it. If the companies where you’ve worked are well known or in the same town you’re applying to jobs in now, you might be the exception to this — but generally you should include it.

If you’re remote, you should still put the location of the company for the reasons above, but you can put “(remote”) next to it.

do I have any recourse when an employer ghosts me after saying a job offer is coming?

A reader writes:

I’m really frustrated at the way employers treat potential hires and would like to know if I have any recourse for the way I’ve been treated.

Over the last three months, I’ve been interviewing for executive assistant roles. I have made it to the offer stage three times. Each time I meet in person with the executive who I will be supporting at the final stage, and each time at the end they say I will be receiving an offer letter via email either the next business day or within the week. Each time I’ve been ghosted. Literally ignored when I follow up with the exec, the recruiter, anyone I can get contact info with. Ignored.

This is unacceptable behavior. I’m starting to have something like interview PTSD for fear of going through the whole process again and getting ghosted over and over. I’m crying just typing this. I’m just wondering what if any (legal or otherwise) recourse I have available to hold them accountable and protect myself and other job seekers. I’m in Washington state applying for jobs mainly in Seattle.

There isn’t really legal recourse.

If they had made you a formal offer and you accepted it and then you made plans with monetary significance based on that offer (like quitting your old job or moving to a new state), a legal concept called “detrimental reliance” could potentially be in play. Detrimental reliance means that you relied on the employer’s offer to your detriment and suffered damages as a result. However, those claims historically have been difficult to win, partly because you could have been fired on your first day without legal recourse since employment is usually at will. A related concept called promissory estoppel works similarly.

But in situations where you didn’t receive a job offer and were just told to expect it, it’s unlikely you’d have much of a case. And assuming you didn’t move, quit a job, sign a new lease closer to their office, or otherwise suffer financial harm, it would be hard to argue for damages.

You can post your experience on Glassdoor so others know how the company operates. But beyond that, there’s unfortunately not much recourse.

Frustrating as this advice is, the smartest thing you can do is simply to know that ghosting is really common, accept that it can happen at any stage of interviewing no matter how promising things seem, and don’t put too much stock in promises (even clear ones like “we will email you an offer tomorrow”) until you actually see the follow-through. That’s aggravating and you shouldn’t have to bring that level of skepticism to a job hunt … but in reality, you do and it’ll be better for your mental health to plan for it so you don’t feel like the rug has been pulled out from under you each time.

Also, given that it’s happened at such a late point in the process each time, make sure that there’s not something coming up in your references that could be behind it.

I’m sorry this keeps happening.

updates: the awful summer intern, the too-low salary, and more

Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. I have an awful summer intern, and I can’t fire him (first update here)

Thanks so much for taking my original question! I wanted to reach out with a somewhat amusing update. I appreciated your, and the commenter’s, advice so much and I tried to be diligent about incorporating that feedback, as well as your general advice given on your site, into my management style going forward.

Last summer and fall, I somehow inherited an even worse intern. To use Stranger Things as an analogy, Bad Intern was the Demigorgon, and Somehow Worse intern was Vecna. And of course, he was brought in by the literal top person in my organization. On his second day, I brought him in to join a conference call with a service provider that works with a niche population with specific needs (let’s say, former cat owners). While we were talking about sending more of my volunteers to help the former cat owners, my intern started spouting off about how they could start educating and including current dog owners as their priority going forward. He 100% didn’t understand what they did, why they do it, or why it’s important to serve former cat owners. I jumped in and immediately clarified that Org did a wonderful job of the important work of serving disadvantaged former cat owners, and we are so honored to be a part of it, and briefly explained the importance of the work.

After that episode, and another less egregious but still mortifying meeting, I looked at your site for ideas on how to handle someone being obnoxious in meetings. I found this letter (https://www.askamanager.org/2016/12/update-my-coworker-keeps-hijacking-team-meetings.html), and adapted the advice to my specific situation. Knowing that Worse Intern was still learning professional norms, I decided to let him know expectations for every meeting he came along to. I would brief him and my other intern, letting them know that a certain meeting was going to be quick and we were largely attending to learn about a project vs. providing feedback actually worked really well to curb the mortifying “let me tell you all how to do your job” attitude he had on the first few calls. I included them both in some volunteer projects, and briefed them about how to work with the team; it was successful enough that Worse Intern was able to work with one of our corporate clients on an important project and they complimented his contributions to me.

I am so incredibly thankful to you for running such an awesome website. I regularly recommend you as a resource whenever work issues come up, and I can honestly say that, as someone who comes from a disadvantaged background with parents who didn’t work in white collar industries, I feel like I’m caught up with my peers on office norms and job searching because of you. So thank you!

2. Ending an interview when the salary is too low (#3 at the link)

After seeing your column, my husband finally got the reassurance to understand that it’s an affront to him for being underpaid and that he doesn’t owe the interviewer anything. Our personalities are pretty different when it comes to work/interviewing whereas I’m more outspoken and he’s more reticent. I think he really needed to see another outside perspective to understand that he’s really worth that much. He quickly got another interview with an amazing company that’s at the top of his practice area and got the market compensation that he asked for. Your site has been invaluable in his job search and mine since we’ll be relocating. Thank you and the commentariats for your sage advice and reasonable outlooks.

3. I’m not included in meetings about my team’s work (#2 at the link)

Thanks for responding to my question! It’s been a while since I wrote in and I feel more at ease in my role now. I’ve improved communication with my team and try to focus on their workload, clashing priorities and whether my support is needed. When I got a clearer view of the bigger picture, I found out that some tasks within my team have been very unequally distributed, which has caused tensions within the team. I’m now working on counteracting that.

As I mentioned in a comment to my question, originally my main problem was related to meetings with other managers (without any of my team members). That situation had already improved by the time I wrote to AAM, but in retrospect I can see that it set me up to be anxious about being left out in general and to be uncertain about the expectations of my team.

In fact, now that I’ve recently completed my first year as a manager as well as annual reviews, I’ve done a lot of reflection and have come to realize just how much of a struggle I’ve been through this year. Just within my first few months as a manager, first my direct supervisor (John) was busy being the acting division head, then we got a new externally hired division head (Liza), and then John went on a LOA for 6 months. The handover from John was too brief and left me uncertain about the expectations for my new role. I had a set of objectives that I didn’t know how to achieve and the whole situation was really overwhelming.

In addition to that, very soon Liza was questioning the division’s organizational structure, which made me feel uncertain about my future. In fact, shortly before I wrote in, Liza had just informed me that my position would be removed upon John’s return (meaning I would be demoted). It was so hard to be confident and to feel useful when I knew I’d lose my position! But I just kept trying to do my best and worked with my team to improve what I could.

In the end, it all worked out fine. When John came back I kept a low profile and about a month after his return I was informed that there would be no reorganization at the moment and that I could keep my position! I’m still not sure about my long-term future at this company, but for now I’m quite happy with the progress I’ve made and John is pleased with what I’ve achieved. I know I still have a lot to learn about management and will continue to read AAM for advice!

should employees be paid differently based on where they live?

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

I’m curious about your thoughts on a question some of the smartest people I know fundamentally cannot agree on: should a salary be based on the value of the labor, or the subsistence of the laborer?

For context, I recently left my last job after 5 years — a large national nonprofit with competitive salaries in a high cost-of-living area. Prior to Covid, in-person work was very much the norm, and most employees lived within commuting distance. During the pandemic, the vast majority of employees went fully remote, with the exception of a few designated “on-site essential” technical staff. When it became clear that Covid wasn’t going away, the company formed a committee (that I served on) to help come up with equitable policies that would reflect the “new normal” of flexible and remote working for the future.

While evaluating the financial implications of remote work for the company, questions around salary came up, and sharply divided committee members’ opinions. It boiled down to: If an employee living in a high-cost area was hired at a certain salary, elected/got approved/was required to begin performing work remotely during the pandemic, then chose to move to an area with a lower cost of living — with no other changes in the terms of their employment — should that employee be asked to take a pay cut? Think Google vs Reddit.

Rationalizations in favor:
– Location-blind salaries could create a perceived inequity between remote positions and hybrid/in-person positions, with remote employees able to get more “bang for their buck,” so to speak, by moving to a much cheaper location that wouldn’t be possible for an employee that needs to commute.
– Labor is already regionally banded across many (if not most) industries — a project manager in Arizona is not going to make the same salary as a project manager in NY — so the “market value” of a job changes when employees move.

Rationalizations against:
– A salary should be based on the value of the labor being provided to the company, not what it costs for any given person to survive while performing that labor; you’re paying for work, not a person.
– It’s inequitable and demoralizing to pay employees differently based solely where they live. And where does that calculation end? At a state level? City? Zipcode? Is is fair to pay residents of poorer neighborhoods less than those in wealthy neighborhoods, because it’s cheaper to buy a house there? Seems like a minefield of DEI issues at play in that evaluation.

Honestly, I’ve heard really compelling arguments on both sides of the coin. On principle, I firmly believe in paying people what their work is worth, no matter what. But real-world application can make things really hairy in practice, and I know it’s not always helpful or wise to ignore reality in favor of principle.

I honestly don’t know; like you, I think there are compelling arguments on both sides. So let’s throw this out to everyone for opinions in the comments.

my coworker is being a jerk because she’s pregnant, working near a throat-clearer, and more

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

1. Should my coworker be allowed to be a jerk to me because she’s pregnant?

My coworker Maria is pregnant and due any day. I have not been pregnant but between family and friends, I know the end stage is deeply uncomfortable and puts people in bad moods. Maria has been overtly nasty and snippy on emails, especially towards me. She works from home while I have to report to work (think equipment and samples). While I have evidence and logical reasoning (that my manager agrees with) to defend myself on the issue Maria is particularly upset about, I feel uncomfortable approaching her because of how hostile her emails have been.

I wanted to take the emails to our boss since we had a discussion about email tone a couple weeks ago and the boss said to take anything to her that was not friendly. But my line manager feels that since Maria is pregnant she gets a pass on not being “nice” and says I shouldn’t bring it to our boss. I feel like I am coming in every day and constantly being targeted by Maria. How much grace should pregnancy give you?

How hostile are these emails? If Maria were just showing some mild frustration on occasion, I’d agree with cutting her some slack. But if she’s being openly hostile or rude, that’s not okay, pregnant or not. There’s no physical condition that grants anyone free rein to be a jerk to coworkers on an ongoing basis. (For that matter, I’d also be wary of concluding that Maria’s behavior stems from her pregnancy. Most pregnant women aren’t jerks to their colleagues, and it’s possible there’s something completely different behind it.)

If your boss specifically told you to loop her in on stuff like this, you really need to loop her in on it. It’s reasonable to say to your line manager, “I agree with cutting people some slack when they’re having a rough time, but this is ongoing open hostility. I’d let it go if it were once or twice but it’s daily. Jane specifically asked to be looped in on this kind of thing and I don’t feel like I can ignore that instruction.”

2. I work across from a throat-clearer

I recently received my social work license and found a well-paid job in the field. I started yesterday at a large social services org, where I will be working as a psychotherapist. For the first time in my career, I have my very own office, in a cluster of four offices.

Across a small hallway is a colleague who clears her throat with a very distinctive mumble-grunt-gasp noise multiple times a minute, probably hundreds of times an hour. It is loud, intermittent, and extremely annoying. All I’ve done so far is onboarding, and even that is almost impossible to concentrate on. She doesn’t close her office door, though I keep mine shut (which I’m worried is going to make it hard for me to meet people in the agency, but it’s all I can do). The sound can be heard very clearly through the door, and it startles me every time (it sounds sort of like she’s choking?).

I feel terrible for being so annoyed. I suspect this is a symptom of some sort of physical health issue, or maybe a tic. Obviously I’d like to have good relationships with my new colleagues. But I am like 10 hours into working in the office across from her and I am losing my mind. I also want to try to have a relaxing environment for patients!

What do I do? Noise-canceling headphones don’t help because it’s intermittent. I’m planning to get a white noise machine. Is it okay to ask her to close her office door in the hope that helps? Is there a script to bring it up, even though I am brand new? Do I just grit my teeth and hope I can get used to it?

Oh no. I don’t love the idea of you keeping your door closed all the time in a brand new job; unless lots of people do that, you could come across as out of sync with the culture and/or stand-offish. (Although if you’re seeing patients most of the day, it could make it normal and a non-issue.) But it doesn’t sound like that strategy is working anyway since you’re still hearing enough of the noise to regularly get startled by it.

Asking your coworker to close her own door isn’t a great solution either, for the same reasons. But a white noise machine is — ideally one for both of you. You could say to her, “Would you be up for adding white noise machines to both our offices? I’ve found that even with my door closed, sound really travels in both directions and I worry patients won’t feel they have privacy if they can hear noise from other offices — but I thought white noise machines might easily solve it.”

3. Coworker always signs cards another language for no reason

I have a coworker (American born, native English speaker) who studied Chinese in college, and took a couple trips to China during her college years … well over a decade ago, and before her tenure at our company. She brings it up every so often in the office, which is fine. No one in our office speaks Chinese or has a need to speak Chinese so it’s somewhat irrelevant but harmless.

This is where it gets weird. When there are birthday cards, condolence cards, or anything else being passed around to be signed for a coworker, she writes her note in Chinese. Again, it’s kind of harmless, except for the fact that no one knows what she’s writing. On one occasion, I’d had a miscarriage and received a card signed by everyone in the department. Her note, again, was in Chinese. Perhaps it was the emotions of the event I was dealing with, but I felt it was inappropriate and totally lacking in consideration to write a note in another language to someone who clearly won’t be able to read it.

Much time has since passed, but for the next situation in which a card is being passed around, how do I (or perhaps her manager, which is not me) say something to her about this? It smacks of her just trying to draw attention to herself instead of actually having any good will to the recipient of the card.

I was reading along thinking this wasn’t a big deal and you should leave it alone … until I got to the part about the sympathy card for your miscarriage. You’re right, that is really off and comes across as all about her at a time when it shouldn’t be.

That said, you aren’t the person who should address it. Her manager could have a quiet word with her about it, but if she’s not doing that for whatever reason, I’d put this in the category of quirks that you can be privately annoyed by but which don’t rise to the level of something you should address.

One important caveat: This assumes she’s writing full notes in Chinese. If she’s just signing her name in Chinese and there’s nothing to read beyond that, ignore everything above and just figure that for whatever reason it’s her signature.

4. How do I say no to work I physically can’t do?

I am newly cancer-free and have taken a full-time admin job at a big company. I am fully capable of everything that’s actually in the job description: a lot of emailing, using various computer programs, and some light filing. To be a team player, I sometimes push myself to carry paper documents about a quarter mile to make sure they reach their destination on my schedule, or to get a last-minute signature that can’t be digital. On days when I do that, I typically have to spend the whole evening resting and need to have a family member make dinner or to order in. This is okay with me — I am happy to be back at work contributing to a team.

A team member casually mentioned yesterday that our boss’s plan for Friday is for me to organize our storage room. The storage room is full of items I cannot just casually move around. There are old printers, full file boxes, boxes of copy paper, and more heavy things in there. Pre-cancer I would have happily organized it, and once I have had more time to recover from everything my body has been through, that may be the case again. But it’s absolutely not an option right now, and I am not at all willing to try.

I just started this job and have no social capital. It’s important to me to be seen as a team player who is happy to contribute. But this is not the work I signed up for, and I am not willing to overextend trying to do it. How can I shut this request down in the way that best demonstrates my willingness to help where I’m able, and with the sort of tasks I agreed to when I took the job?

Being a team player definitely doesn’t mean doing things beyond your physical capabilities or jeopardizing your health! And it’s not at all uncommon for people to have invisible conditions that prevent them from doing some types of activities; hell, just having a bad back could be reason enough to say no to this.

I’d say it this way: “Normally I’d be happy to, but I’m still recovering from a health issue and can’t do that kind of heavier physical activity right now. I’m hoping that won’t be the case long-term, but for now I can’t move heavy items around.” That should take care of it!

5. Turning down a job offer after I told them they were my first choice

I have two possible job offers coming my way. One company has taken forever to even set up an interview and the second company was pretty quick. As things were progressing at the second place, I lit a fire under the first company because, at the time, they were my first choice and I told them that. I explained I was expecting another offer and said, “FirstCompany is still my first choice, so I wanted to see if there was any way to expedite the process.” After that email, they immediately scheduled my final round of four interviews — but in those four interviews, I realized that while I thought this job would have better work-life balance, in reality it seems worse than the second company.

Is it normal for them to be upset if I choose the second company after telling the first place they are my first choice?

You didn’t tell them you’d definitely accept an offer if they made one; you just told them they were your first choice, which was true at the time. You’ve gotten new information since then; sometimes that happens — after all, interviews are as much for you to learn about the job as they are for them to learn about you. Sometimes you learn things that change your thinking (or simply get a more appealing offer from somewhere else).

If you do end up turning down their offer, I’d just include a note of appreciation to them for working with your timeline. For example, you could say, “After a lot of thought, I’ve made the decision to accept a different offer. But I really appreciate the time you spent talking with me, and that you were able to expedite your process when I shared my timeline constraints.”

I own a game store with a terrible manager who I’m afraid to fire

A reader writes:

I own a small (game store) retail business and the store manager I hired to run my business sucks. The store sales have been terrible. The orders he’s been placing of merchandise for our shelves have been terrible and he’s buying way too many items that we don’t need or won’t sell and doesn’t buy the actual products we need that customers do want. He keeps the place a mess and it’s honestly embarrassing and frustrating to walk into trash and leftover food everywhere all the time. He even sucks at hiring new employees. Everyone he has hired we’ve had to fire because they’ve been terrible and he isn’t training them properly. He’s extremely lazy and has no drive or initiative to improve the store. He does the bare minimum and he does a very piss poor job at it.

The problem is there’s a handful of customers who really love him because they’ve been friends for many years. We would love to find a replacement for him, but he’s well known in the community and we are afraid that if we let him go we will take a hit in the community and lose a lot of customers. But we feel like we are already taking a huge hit with him being the manager so it’s hard to figure out what to do in this situation. He’s been with us three years and we’ve had plenty of heart-to-heart talks with him to try and boost his confidence and build him up to hopefully produce better work, but it has been fruitless.

You need to fire him; he’s apparently totally unsuited for the job and is destroying your business.

Isn’t whatever hit you might take from people upset that you fired him outweighed by the hit you’re taking right now from having a messy, embarrassing store with bad merchandise, low sales, and terrible employees? And that’s if there even is a hit once you fire him. Even people who are friends with him are probably able to see the store isn’t in great shape. Sometimes it’s really clear to people why their friend was fired.

But you can minimize your chances of fall-out by managing him in a way that preserves his dignity as much as possible. If things weren’t as much of a mess as they are, I’d suggest trying to make his departure more of a mutual decision: “We are losing money and I need you do X, Y, and Z. We’ve talked about this a lot and nothing has changed. Understanding that I need to see XYZ from you right away, meaning within the next few weeks, and given that those aren’t metrics you’ve been able to meet in the past, does it make sense to give it one more shot, understanding I’d need to let you go in a month if there haven’t been significant changes, or would it make more sense for us to start planning now for an amicable transition that gives you time to find something else?”

But given how very bad he is at the job, I don’t think you can offer him another month. Instead, I’d go with a conversation where you thank him for the energy he’s put into the store, are honest that his strengths (name them if you can!) don’t line up with what the job needs, and tell him you can’t keep him on.

Normally if you hadn’t clearly warned someone that their job was on the line, I’d urge you to do that first — giving a clear warning of what needs to change, a short timeline to do it in, and a clear statement that you’d need to fire them at the end of that time if you don’t see those changes. But in this case (as is often the case with very high-up positions), he’s in a position to do so much damage — and has already done so much damage — that you need to cut to the chase before he does more.

You should also consider offering severance. Severance is made for these situations, because the person receiving the severance typically signs a legally binding non-disparagement agreement in return for the money.

And then once this is all behind you, you’ve got to figure out how this went on for three years! Anyone can make a bad hire, but it’s worth looking at how you made this one in particular (did you check references? how did you evaluate him in the interview?) and how he ended up entrenched there for so long once the problems became clear.

update: my employer made me a counteroffer, then rescinded it

Remember the letter-writer whose employer made them a counteroffer but then rescinded it? Here’s the update.

I wound up taking the job at LargeCorp. When I wrote you, it was the same day grandboss had revoked his commitment. The next day, when you published my letter, he told me I could stay, in a job position I didn’t want, and isn’t my core competency, for about 20% of the raise he had committed to originally. I took the weekend, but on Monday I declined his offer, and gave one final week’s notice. I start at LargeCorp this week, for a substantial raise and signing bonus.

The commentariat was so helpful in settling my feelings. I particularly liked the comments that 30 years of experience should make me the majority shareholder, CEO, president, or Pope. It solidified the complete ridiculousness of that comment!

Fortunately I had not given up the job at LargeCorp- the Friday I had been told my promotion was good, I had a sense that it wasn’t fully settled- one of my conditions of staying for the promotion was that grandboss would announce my role change to the line of business, so there wouldn’t be as much of a chance he would revoke his decision. Because I felt unsettled, I committed to myself that I wouldn’t jettison LargeCorp until my promotion was announced, and that cynicism saved my bacon. As it is, since grandboss wasted time with his games, I wound up staying an extra week and got paid my production bonus, which I’d been willing to walk away from for the raise at LargeCorp. Grandboss’ one act of decency was to not deny me that bonus. I think he also knew not to trifle with me, because I am well known in SmallCorp, and we are a rather gossipy institution, so certain people know exactly what happened, and are probably sharing some version of the truth with others. I did make sure not to implicate anyone else in the disaster- it was truly all on grandboss, and so I emphasized that the new leadership didn’t play a part in my treatment.

It’s pretty bittersweet to be leaving- I am really close and attached to my team–they’re great people and I’ve worked with my boss for more than 8 years; he has been the best champion of my career, and supports me leaving for greener pastures. Grandboss is retiring in just a month or so, and his replacement is a great person, he just didn’t have any ability to fix the trainwreck Grandboss caused. Another executive who is too rigid is retiring in 6 months, and the appointed new leadership is young, vibrant, and hungry to make changes to what is, at its core, a great institution. Both of these oncoming executives have given me an open invitation to come back any time, and they acknowledge that grandboss mishandled this whole thing. So, if it doesn’t work at LargeCorp in terms of an institutional/cultural fit, I know I have a home back at SmallCorp (just not with Grandboss there…what a jackwagon).