my manager said I need more confidence — what does that mean?

I’m off today, so here’s an older post from the archives. This was originally published in 2018.

A reader writes:

I just had my probation review for my new job and it went well! They seem pretty happy with me and the work I’m doing. Most of the feedback was stuff I agreed with and wanted to improve on anyway, so that was really great.

But there was one thing which they kept bringing up as a consistent issue that I have no idea how to tackle. Throughout my probation, my manager brought up that I need to have “more confidence in my abilities and knowledge.”

I have no idea what this is supposed to even mean. Like, don’t get me wrong, I try to show my skills and knowledge in my field to anyone who needs it or shows some interest but how do I “get more confidence”? My mind automatically jumps to strutting around the office as The Authority on All Things Teapot but that doesn’t feel right at all.

I guess what I’m asking is what do managers mean when they say you need to improve confidence in a certain field, and most importantly, how do I do that?

The specifics will vary depending on you and your particular circumstances, but here are some of things that “have more confidence” commonly means:

* You’re asking your manager or other people for input or approval when she wants you to go ahead and make the decision on your own (and she trusts you do that and get it right — or she trusts that even if you get it wrong, it won’t be a big deal).

* You’re double-checking things with her that she knows you know.

* You immediately defer to other people’s opinions even when you have thoughts or expertise of your own to offer.

* You’re speaking or writing in a tentative way. For example, you often say things like, “I’m not sure but maybe it’s X” or “This might not be the right approach, but…” or otherwise shy away from owning your ideas.

* You use a lot of words to make your point, and it’s coming across as if you think you always have to defend your ideas or explain your rationale even when you don’t — as if you don’t trust the ideas themselves to stand on their own.

* You get flustered when you don’t know an answer right away, instead of saying something like, “I’m not sure. Let me find out/think about it and get back to you.”

* Your speaking manner is coming across as nervous or uncertain — which could be anything from ending sentences with question marks when they should be declarations to rushing to fill silence instead of being comfortable with pauses.

The solution depends on exactly which of these is happening, but in general it’s about things like:

* Believe your manager if she tells you that she wants you to figure something out / be the decider / use your own judgment.

* Don’t seek reassurance from your manager or others that you’re doing something the right way, when at some level you know you’ve been over it in the past. (That doesn’t mean that you should never seek guidance, of course! Many times seeking guidance is the right thing to do. This is about if you’re doing it on the same items repeatedly, or if your boss has suggested you’re doing it too often.)

* Speak up when you have ideas or opinions, even if someone else in the discussion thinks differently. (You need to use judgment on this, of course, and factor in time/place/roles/seniority/standing. But if it’s a topic that you work with a lot of or affects you or if you’ve specifically been asked to weigh in, you have standing to speak up.)

* If you feel uncertain on exactly what decision-making authority you have, get clear about that by talking to your manager about it — so that you’re not guessing and can act with more confidence that you have the standing to take certain actions/make certain decisions on your own.

* Pay attention to what you’re conveying with your language and tone of voice. Don’t be afraid of making declarative statements, and don’t end sentences with a question mark unless they’re truly questions. Try to get rid of fillers that undermine your point like “I’m not sure but…” and “this might not be the right approach but…” (It’s okay to use these sometimes, when you truly mean it! But don’t use them if you’re just doing it out of habit or comfort.)

And if none of this resonates or feels quite like what you think your manager would be talking about, it’s okay to ask her! Whenever you get feedback and you’re not quite clear on the meaning, it’s always better to ask than to try to guess. You can say something like, “You’ve mentioned that you’d like me to have more confidence in my abilities and I’m interpreting that as meaning that you want me to make more decisions without checking with you, but I want to make sure I’m getting that right.” (This one is a little tricky in that you don’t want asking the question to reinforce her worry that you need more confidence — and if the issue is that she wants you to stop double-checking things with her, it might feel a little weird to then double-check this with her. But you do need to make sure you understand the feedback. And as long as you use that kind of language — “I’m interpreting it as X” — it should be fine. Hell, you could add, “I do see the irony in asking you this.”)

my employee keeps flipping from great to terrible

A reader writes:

I have a direct report who was at one time my star performer and was on track for leadership. She had some challenges in her personal life over a couple years, and over time her performance slipped until it became a problem. Accuracy errors, chronic lateness, and a general negative attitude that brings her peers down have come and gone over the last two years. It will get really bad, we’ll have a serious conversation about whether she wants to be here, she’ll pull it together for a while, and then she’ll backslide.

I’ve continued to hold her accountable to her job duties, but my question is whether I have to continue to invest in being excited, motivated, and supportive of her getting herself together over and over. It’s exhausting and disappointing to keep thinking she’s going to finally get back to where she was and then have her go down the same path over and over. Do I have to act like I have full faith that this will be the time she maintains performance, or can I be honest and tell her that when she maintains it for six months, we can start talking as though it’s the new status quo? She just emailed me her aspirations to be in leadership and the ways she’s going to turn things around, and all I can think is, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” But I also don’t want to demotivate her by giving the impression that I don’t think she’ll actually do what she says she’s going to.

I answer this question — and three 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:

  • I don’t want to eat all my meals with a colleague when we travel together
  • Exercise ball chairs in the office
  • Information interview requests from fellow alumni

my boss is annoyed that I stayed out late drinking during a three-day work event

I’m off today, so here’s an older post from the archives. This was originally published in 2018.

A reader writes:

I am a designer for an architectural firm and I was assigned to assist in a trade show, as our firm was one of the exhibitors. The show was held in my hometown so we needed to fly for the event.

The show proper is from 9 AM to 7 PM and fell on a weekend, starting on a Friday. As it was my hometown and my friends were living where the show was held, I decided to catch up with them for drinks after we ended the first day of the event. It was a way for me to de-stress as well. I went out at 10 PM, way after the first day ended, and ended up going back to our hotel at 5 the next morning, but I wasn’t drunk. Tipsy, yes. Blackout drunk, no. After that, I still managed to go to the show at exactly 9 AM. From 9 AM to 7 PM, I was fully-functional in manning our booth, fulfilling inquiries, and any other chores our boss needed me to do without a hitch. He even complimented my work for that day. We closed down our booth, and our boss and my coworkers went out to dinner.

During dinner, my boss asked me what time I got home, as I had asked permission from him if I could go out, which he allowed me to. I told him 5 AM and then he got mad. This is a non-verbatim flow of our conversation:

Boss: You shouldn’t have gone home at 5 AM because we are in the middle of a three-day event. If you didn’t go out, you could’ve done better today. You didn’t give out your full potential.

Me: Sir, I was at our booth at exactly 9 AM, answered inquiries diligently, fulfilled orders, and manned the booth with the way I do in the past shows.

Boss: You’re missing the point here. I’m not saying you didn’t do good today. If something happened to you in this city, which we are unfamiliar with, I am liable.

Me: Sir, this is my hometown. I know the city by heart.

Boss: Don’t argue with me. Going out for drinks even after work hours in a business trip is unprofessional.

His scolding continued and he was changing his points as I defended myself. I eventually shut up so that it wouldn’t escalate any further.

I was fully-functional and fulfilling work to be done on the day without any problems. My question is, was I really unprofessional for going out after work hours in this situation?

I wouldn’t say it was unprofessional exactly, but it didn’t show great judgment.

Going out after a work event is fine. But coming back to the hotel drunk at 5 a.m. when you need to staff an all-day event that starts four hours later isn’t the wisest thing to do.

Maybe you were 100% on your game and no one would have been able to tell that you were running on a few hours of drunken sleep. But for a lot of people, that would have affected their ability to be fully on for a full-day event, which tend to be pretty exhausting. It’s not surprising that your boss would want you to show up fully rested, or that he thought you were being cavalier about your work responsibilities. I’d agree with him there; it does sound you were being cavalier about them.

But your boss is also being weird in the way he’s explaining his objections — but probably more accurately, he’s just not explaining his objections well.

For the record, the thing about being liable for you in an unfamiliar city is weird. (And if you were a woman, it would sound grossly sexist and paternalistic, but I think from your email that you’re a man so we’ll stick to just weird and paternalistic.) And the idea that it’s always unprofessional to go out for drinks on a work trip is silly. People go out for drinks on work trips all the time, and it’s fine — as long as they’re reasonably well-rested and not hungover the next day.

But I suspect that he’s not articulating his concerns well and that they really just boil down to: “While you’re on a work trip, I expect work to be your first priority, which means that you should prioritize showing up well-rested and not hungover after going out drinking with friends. Even if you’re telling me you were fine the next day, there was enough of a risk that you wouldn’t be fine that this isn’t okay to do.”

And that’s absolutely reasonable, and it’s probably something he’s annoyed to have to tell you.

office lunch event is out of control, my friend doesn’t understand how work works, and more

I’m off today. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. Office lunch event is out of control

Once a month, my mother and her coworkers coordinate a potluck to celebrate birthdays and other special events. “Potluck” is the terminology my mother uses, although it does not sound like a typical potluck to me. These lunches have been going on for at least two years, and are definitely expected by the employees. The potluck is pretty extravagant. Each person is given a three-course meal that is catered from a local restaurant. In theory, if every employee contributes $10, this would cover the cost of food, drinks, plates, and cutlery. The company does not contribute any money, nor is there a company budget for this. These potlucks are 100% funded personally by employees.

Here’s where the problems comes in. Not every employee contributes money to the potluck, but every employee takes the food that is offered. I would say there are about 5-10 people who contribute financially, but there are about 40-50 employees who are eating. My mother’s contribution has swelled to $60, and one of her friends is contributing $100 to make up for the lack of funding from other coworkers. Even more annoying is that some employees who do not contribute financially will bring tupperware to the potluck so that they can bring food home to share with relatives or save for a later date.

These potlucks have caused resentment and stress for my mother. She is now getting into monthly disagreements with coworkers who she feels should not take food if they did not pay for it.

I’ve told my mother that she should opt out from the potluck, or even try to cancel it due to the lack of equal funding. However, she thinks it’s a better idea to create a list of those who do financially contribute to the potluck, and only allow those who paid to take food. I told her she has no authority to enforce that plan, but she’s all gung ho about it. Any advice you can offer would be great!

Yeah, these aren’t potlucks! Potlucks, by definition, are where everyone brings a dish to contribute. These are catered meals!

In any case, the current situation is obviously ridiculous. Your mom and the other coworkers who are contributing have four options: (1) They can continue paying up to $100 each (!) to buy meals for people who aren’t contributing anything at all. This seems absurd, and there are better uses for their charitable dollars. (2) They can decide this clearly isn’t working and cancel it. (3) They can opt out individually and decide it’s not their problem if their colleagues want to subsidize moochers’ meals, but they’re not going to do it themselves. Presumably this will then make the subsidizers’ shares rise even higher, which might prompt them to take similar action themselves, but who knows. (4) They can change this to a “lunch club” where anyone who’s interested in participating pays $X (the cost of their full share) to join in the meal, and anyone who doesn’t pay isn’t part of that month’s lunch.

#4 seems pretty reasonable to me. You said that you don’t think they’d have the authority to keep out people who didn’t pay, but this is a pretty common set-up in offices — “we’re ordering delivery, if you want in you can place an order and pay the cost of what you’re getting.” This is more of a prix fixe menu, but the concept is the same. They’d announce the change ahead of time, saying they’re switching to a new format and the cost is $X for anyone who wants to eat, and then if nine people sign up, they’d order nine meals only, with money paid in advance, and if someone else tries to take food, they’d say, “We only ordered nine meals and you didn’t sign up or pay for one, but you’re welcome to purchase one next month.”

2019

2. My friend doesn’t understand how work works

I have a friend who just started his first job (ever, never worked a part-time job) after graduating undergrad. He is taking two gap years between med school and undergrad, and he’s working in an admin position on campus in the meantime.

My friend really just doesn’t understand how work works! Though he is the most junior person in his office, he constantly gets annoyed if other people in the office ask him for help on anything. He says he doesn’t want to be a crutch for them to use. He seemed generally stunned when a coworker asked to send out a package when he is already sending several out for the office. It’s not that he is swamped with work – he just doesn’t want to be seen as the person who does everyone’s mail.

The rest of the lab IS swamped, while my friend watches TV shows daily. He also takes long breaks walking around campus, without alerting anyone, and then clocks all this time as time worked. Eventually his boss said something about needing to set hard deadlines for assignments because things were slipping through the cracks. He freaked out, saying that he doesn’t need to be micromanaged. But in reality, he is purposefully drawing out his assignments by watching TV, so they’re definitely not being completed in an effective manner. He’s in an isolated part of the building, so nobody checks in on him to see if he’s actually working or not. I don’t believe that anyone is aware that he slacks off, as he describes the methods used to look busy and to hide his TV screen.

He complains constantly to me about these issues, saying that he doesn’t want to be the “B****” of the office just because he is the youngest. In other aspects of his life, he is truly very hardworking, so I feel like he just really does not understand how work works!

It’s not my place to say anything, as I’m not his manager, but as a friend, I would like to make it clear that he’s acting unprofessionally. He’s counting on letters of recommendation from this office for his applications, and I don’t want him to jeopardize these. I normally act shocked when he says he watched TV or whatnot to show it’s not standard behavior, but it’s not getting through. Should I stay out of it or say something?

You can definitely say something as his friend, but you should be prepared for the likelihood that you won’t get through to him. But if he’s telling you this stuff, there’s no reason you can’t have a natural reaction when he does — like, “Dude, this is how work works — when you’re the most junior person and have time on your hands, of course they’re going to ask you for help.” And “Hey, are you still counting on this job for letters of recommendation? Because you’re putting those in jeopardy by the way you’re acting at work.” And “You’re going to get fired if you keep that up.”

But your friend sounds immature, and someone did him a disservice by not requiring him to have a job before now (or at least preparing him for how work works). It might be that nothing will get through to him until he experiences the natural consequences of his behavior. As a friend, it’s understandable to want to try, but it’s not on you if you don’t get through to him.

2018

3. Employee wants to retract his resignation — but we don’t want him to

We have an employee who resigned by email two weeks ago. He sent the email to our office manager, the head of HR, one of the VP’s, and the president of the company. Our office manager did not get it because the employee sent it to the wrong address, but everyone else got it. Fast forward to last week, when the employee told us that he wants to stay. (Evidently he had a job lined up but it “fell through.” In this business, that usually means they failed the drug test.) Well, there have been talks all week between project managers and the office manager who is on vacation, as well as corporate. Today I was told to call him to come in tomorrow (they work a four-day week) and terminate him. So, how do you terminate in this situation?

It’s not a termination — it’s telling him that you’re choosing to let the original resignation to stand and are declining to take him back. That makes sense to do if you were relieved that he was leaving and you want the chance to hire someone stronger (or if you’ve already promised the role to someone else and don’t think he’s strong enough that you want to find another slot for him). It doesn’t make sense to do if it’s solely on principle.

But assuming it’s the former, I’d say something like this: “At this point, we’ve already begun taking action on your resignation and don’t think that it makes sense to change course. We’d like to keep your last date as (date), as you originally suggested.”

Ideally, you’d also explain your reasoning — such as that you’re heavily into talks with other candidates or changing course with the position, or that you had performance concerns that make you hesitant to renew the employment agreement, or whatever the reason is.

2015

4. My boss saw me guzzling chocolate in my car

After a particularly long day, I stopped at the convenience shop by work and got myself a well deserved candy bar. While waiting to merge back into traffic, I proceeded to shove it in my mouth, barely avoiding eating the wrapper. To my horror, my boss was the car waving me into the lane and witnessed me unhinge my jaw like a snake in order to get as much chocolate in my mouth as quickly as possible.

My question is, can I take FMLA due to dying of embarrassment or should I just email my resignation right now?

Just ghost the job entirely and let her think what she witnessed was part of your jubilance on your bacchanalian flight to freedom.

2019

weekend open thread – March 25-26, 2023

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand.

Here are the rules for the weekend posts.

Book recommendation of the week: The Sweet Spot, by Amy Poeppel. A young family moves into a borrowed brownstone with a bar in the basement and a variety of interpersonal messes ensue. It’s about family, break-ups, enemies, work, ambition, and the best kind of chaos …most of all, it’s about finding family in unexpected places. It’s funny, charming, and I loved it.

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

it’s your Friday good news

It’s your Friday good news!

1.  “My note goes out to all the women who have written in about gathering their courage to ask for a raise because their stories gave me the courage to ask for a raise!

My organization approached me about job training for advanced work, along with bumping me up the pay range. At the end of our meeting I said thank you, this sounds good, but I want to review the proposed pay increase. I went back to my desk and pulled up the pay ranges, and it was a nice bump, but did not equal the value I felt I provide my organization. I put in a lot of extra effort during Covid, including transitioning my organization to almost fully digital form processing, covered two vacant positions for most of 2022, and trained both new employees on a significant portion of their job duties. I considered my options, wrote up a summary of why I deserved more money, and asked for two steps higher, which changed it from a $6,000/year raise to a $10,000/year raise. A work friend proofread it, I slept on it overnight, and I sent it to my supervisors.

And they agreed! In the past I would’ve been happy to just accept what was offered, but having read so many examples of women asking to be compensated for the work they do gave me the gumption to ask the same for myself. Thank you!”

2.  “I’m in an extremely competitive yet notoriously poorly compensated field (I’m leaving it out for the sake of anonymity, but readers are welcome to guess!), and for years I had a job where I loved the team and the work itself, but was paid $45,000 in a high cost-of-living city and never received a raise, not even a COLA, despite having asked multiple times and being widely considered one of the company’s top performers.

I passively job searched but never put any real urgency into it.

My workload got much higher during Covid. I rose to the challenge and my output increased further, which grew the productivity gap between me and the rest of my team. I pointed all of this out to my boss, asked for a raise again, and I was told I was ‘top of the list’ whenever there would be money for it. I told my boss to tell his boss that I was job searching as a last-ditch effort to get a raise—I knew they valued me enough not to fire me. The message I received back was, ‘Good for you. You deserve better than this place can give you.’

I got a lot of interviews but wasn’t able to land anything—again, extremely competitive field, and my experience was in the awkward space between entry-level and mid-level, and I didn’t want to make a lateral move. Well, while on vacation in the middle of my job hunt, I got a call from a direct competitor with a job offer they thought I would be the perfect candidate for. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted—while my passion is in, let’s say, teapot painting, they were offering a position as manager of teapot assembling—but it would be a move up, and the pay was significantly better. (They offered $60k, I negotiated up to $65k.) So I took it and let my employer know. They started a frenzied attempt to counteroffer—they were envisioning a “senior teapot painter” role and matching the salary, but they had to get it approved by corporate. Alison, I was livid. It made my decision so much harder, since I did love the team, and senior teapot painter was my dream job! But I remembered your advice that a company that needs to counteroffer to treat its employees well is probably not worth staying in, so I told them not to bother checking with corporate and moved onto the new job.

New job was fine—the workload was way lower and I was making more money, which was great, but I still didn’t love the work itself. I slowly tried to take on more responsibility for things I enjoyed more, which came with stipends that collectively added about $6,500 to my annual salary. And after six months (!) I successfully asked to raise my base to $70k.

Well, about a year into my job, my boss told me the company was thinking about creating a teapot painting manager position, but that it would be hard to hire for. I told them I’d like to throw my hat in the ring, and they were thrilled! I got promoted without them conducting an open search, and I got yet another raise, with another stipend for a specific responsibility I was taking on. My annual pay now is close to $90k.

I’m doing work I love, getting paid nearly double what I was two years ago, and for a company that recognizes talent and compensates accordingly. I’m so SO grateful I took the advice not to accept a counteroffer. While I would have loved the work, I never would have gotten more money beyond the $65k match, and the raises I’ve received in my current company have literally been life-changing.

This is a long one, but I hope it can serve as inspiration for some of your readers: It’s OK for progress to be incremental. Sometimes it takes a few stepping stones to get to where you really want to be.”

3.  “I spent six years at Old Company. For the first three of those years, I got no pay raises, partly due to having a boss who didn’t want to be a manager and wouldn’t make a case to the business for our team. Even though the whole company was building its strategy around our work, HR thought our pay scale should be the same as other divisions of the business.

I kept seeing job postings at higher rates of pay than mine. A lot of the jobs sounded imperfect, but I put some applications in, got some interviews, and eventually jumped for a slightly different specialty which will broaden my expertise and a 40% pay bump.

The best part? Apparently my departure was the last straw, and now all the roles on my old team have their own pay bands — a fair bit higher than they were.”

4.  “After being at Old Job for 3.5 years, I knew it was time to move on. I loved my colleagues and the actual work I was doing, but there was no room for growth, HR was awful, and I wasn’t confident the company was going to exist in 10 years. An oversaturated field (libraries/museums/archives), geographic limitations, and the need to make X salary to survive in my East Coast metro area meant I could only apply for certain positions.

A year of searching got me a few interviews at places that would have been a bad fit, so I was resigned to staying at Old Job for at least another year before trying again. But then Dream Job came up and I couldn’t not apply. I used all your tools to feel confident in the interviews, show the hiring team that I knew what I was talking about, and get the offer! I also used your tips to negotiate for time off for my wedding a month after my start date. After I started, my boss said that I was the most impressive candidate they interviewed and I credit a lot of that to AAM’s advice.

I’ve been at New Job now for 9 months and of course it isn’t perfect, but it is lightyears better than Old Job. I don’t feel like I have to work as efficiently as possible every minute of every day to make sure my work outlives the company; I don’t have to deal with company members with absolutely no boundaries; I don’t have an HR department who forgets my department exists.

I emailed you twice during the whole year-long search  (asking about vacation time when job searching and then freaking out when my offer letter at Dream Job was revised) and so appreciated your grace when answering. Thank you, thank you for all the advice on the blog!”

5.  “I’ve been an avid reader of your blog for over five years and I am happy to say I have a success story to share!

After following your site for tips on cover letters, resumes, interviews, and job offers, I am happy to say I have accepted a new position making 96.0370% (yes, I did the math) more than I did, I’m on a tenure track, and I get half days on Friday! Now into the wild world of academic libraries!”

open thread – March 24-25, 2023

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.

HR doesn’t want me to fire an employee for lying, coworker blew up when I asked about her retirement plans, and more

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

1. HR doesn’t want me to fire an employee for lying and falsifying records

I manage a small team, and one of my employees has been having performance issues. Recently, they made a series of mistakes that resulted in a patron receiving a charge four times more than what was expected. My employee insisted that their review process showed the expected charge rather than the actual charge, and showed me the review file. However, the original data file (which they then copy into the review file) showed the actual amount charged, and when I looked at the version history of the review file, I saw that an earlier version showed the actual amount charged. I asked about the original data file, and they doubled down on their insistence that they didn’t edit it. I have not yet addressed the version history I found with them. I did save all these files and take screenshots. The review file has since been altered to show the actual amount charged.

I can’t find a version of these facts that doesn’t involve my employee lying, and I’m very concerned about continuing to employ someone who lies, particularly when they are the person who processes all our revenue. I addressed this with my own manager, and we met with our director of HR. In this meeting, my manager stressed that we can’t lose a team member, as we’re already understaffed. The director of HR pointed out that we don’t know for sure that my employee lied, and said that when we ask them about the series of events, we need to be careful that we don’t accuse them of lying. Additionally, HR was very pointed in stressing that we need to put this person on a PIP that outlines a timeline for improvement (and suggested six months), and that the goal has to be that we want the person to stay.

I am feeling quite frustrated and unsupported here. I don’t want to fire my employee without exploring the possibility that there’s an honest explanation here. But if there isn’t, I’m not sure how to create a PIP that suitably addresses this. We’re already understaffed, and I have two new employees, who frankly both show a lot more promise and initiative than this employee. I am worried about my full attention being pulled into double-checking everything this employee does and missing out on the chance to mentor these new employees. Aside from these management concerns, I am responsible for keeping my department running, which involves a lot of work outside my supervisory responsibilities! Do you have recommendations for how to approach this?

Yeah, this is BS (assuming, of course, that it does turn out the employee lied and changed the record; you do want to hear them out with an open mind before concluding that, although it sure doesn’t look great so far). You don’t put someone on a PIP for something like this; you use a PIP when you need to see someone improve their skills or work habits, not their character. Lying and falsifying a record should be a firing offense. (What would the PIP metrics even be — don’t lie? It’s ridiculous.)

I don’t know if you’re dealing with a single incompetent HR person or if your whole HR team is like this, but it’s worth going over their head to see if someone will overrule them. HR is supposed to help the organization meet its goals while ensuring you don’t violate the law — and their edict here does neither of those things. In your shoes, I’d be lobbying your boss hard to explain why you’d rather manage your team without this employee than with them (despite being understaffed) and pushing to escalate the HR decision. If they won’t budge, at that point you know you’re working somewhere that has completely disempowered you from managing your team effectively — and you can make your decisions from there.

2. My coworker blew up at me when I asked about documenting her job before she retired

I read this post about ageism and it got me thinking about a past experience when I was explicitly hired on a contract to document, improve, and create processes for a one-person team at a small organization. The person in this role had always functioned by just doing what needed to be done but without any long-term planning, documentation, a cohesive set of goals, etc., and now they were planning on retiring but didn’t have time to document anything so they hired me.

I have always been of the mind that your documentation and objectives should be up-to-date because you could leave. This seems like a best practice. However, I went to talk to my colleague about their retirement and broached it as, in effect, “I know you’re planning on retiring, so I’d like to document the plans for how to transition the role and how a new person can start when the time comes for you to retire, or anyone else who might hold this role in the future, so can you let me know when you have time to discuss this?” I got chewed out for mentioning this and accused of being ageist. I was blown away because I was literally told that one of the reasons my role was created was because this person wanted to retire, but I was being treated like I was trying to force her out for having a matter-of-fact conversation about having transition plans in place. Was this person just reacting badly? Or was I unknowingly being insensitive about the fact that she was planning on retiring? How could I have handled this differently?

I’m wondering how transparent the organization had been with your colleague about why they were hiring you and the project you were charged with. It sounds like maybe they had been clearer with you than they were with her. If that’s the case and she had no idea people were discussing her retirement (or no idea that they had discussed it with you), her reaction would make a lot more sense.

3. Is worrying about the candidate pool a bad reason to apply for a promotion?

The excellent and widely liked manager of my department recently left, and I’m trying to decide whether to apply for the job. I’m having trouble deciding in general — I’ve tried writing out a pros and cons list, and there are big factors in both columns. But one reason to go for it that I keep coming back to is that I’m concerned about who might end up in the job if I don’t apply. The last several people in the role had all been internal candidates. I know no one else in my (small) department is planning to apply, our government salaries are far from competitive with private industry, and our peer departments within the bigger organization tend to have weird political stuff going on that I’d be worried about a candidate from those departments bringing with them. Upper management have also said they’re hoping to keep the search short, which they mean to be reassuring, but it makes me more worried that they’ll settle for someone just-okay for the sake of filling the seat. I feel like if I did apply and there ended up being a really awesome external candidate, I would be pleasantly surprised and fine with staying where I am — but, definitely surprised.

I’ve enjoyed my current job for several reasons, but my former manager’s approach definitely played a big role. If we end up with someone who micromanages or plays politics differently or is a bad manager in other ways, my feelings about my job could change quickly. I suppose that’s a risk anytime there’s a new manager somewhere, and I suspect it’s probably not a great reason to apply for a job, maybe? It’s also not at all my only reason for considering it or for thinking I’d be a strong candidate. But it’s still weighing pretty heavily for me right now. Is this a valid thing to factor into my decision, or should I try to set it aside?

If it were your only reason for applying and you were otherwise unenthused about the work, I’d try to steer you away from it. Managing can be stressful and thankless under the best of circumstances, and even more so when you never wanted the job in the first place (not to mention the harm a reluctant manager can cause to their team).

But if you think you would genuinely enjoy doing the job and would be good at it — but just aren’t sure if you should pursue it — it’s perfectly fine to factor this in as one of your reasons. It shouldn’t be your only reason, but it’s okay to give it some weight in your calculations.

4. How to invite rejected internal candidates to a meeting to explain the decision

Luckily, we had 18 internal applicants for an opening on my team. Based on qualifications and prior ad hoc experience assisting our team in aspects of the job, we advanced 11 people to the first round. In the next two weeks, I want to have 10-15 minute 1:1s with those who were not interviewed or not advanced to the second round in the interview process.

Our team has LOTS of outside helpers who pitch in throughout the year. A good comparison is a training team who uses people outside of the team to deliver sessions, act as mentors or on-the-job trainers, update materials, etc. I want to give the candidates feedback and encourage them to stay engaged/start to engage with the team, but what I don’t want to do is send them a meeting invite that makes them think it’s an interview or that they got the job.

How do I word it in a way that conveys that? Again, seemingly low stakes, but I’ve been on the receiving end of a meeting like this that was titled in a way that made me think it was an interview. It was not a pleasant experience, and I want people to leave these 1:1s knowing there are other opportunities to pitch in and get more experience with what we do.

I’d actually send them the news of the rejection in an email first, and in that email suggest meeting to discuss it further. The reason for that is that a lot of people strongly prefer to receive job rejections privately, so they can process it on their own rather than getting the news in person and needing to control their face and emotions for the rest of the meeting. Also, giving them space to work through any disappointment privately first will make it easier for (some) people to benefit from the conversation you’re offering, rather than expecting them to do both simultaneously.

my boss disapproves of our snow day policy

A reader writes:

I work for a post-secondary institution in a location where the odd winter storm shuts operations down. Pre-pandemic, the policy was that the school was closed and all students and staff had the day off, akin to it being a holiday. During the pandemic when everyone was remote, they updated the policy so that we did NOT get a snow day off (students still had virtual class, and employees still worked virtually … but I don’t think we ever actually even had a snow day anyway). Now that in-person operations have resumed, they updated their policy again to reflect that all students and staff would get snow days off, even virtual classes are cancelled, and even fully remote employees get the day off.

My team is currently working 100% remotely. When I woke up this morning, I was so excited/giddy — it’s like being a kid again! Our HR representative sent our team (he knows we are all remote) an email letting us know we have the day off, or to let him know if we prefer to work today and take an in-lieu day another time. I messaged back thanking him and letting him know I’d like to work today given some upcoming deadlines, but that I will bank an in-lieu day. I also messaged my manager to let her know that’s what I would be doing, and she said, “Okay.”

My manager is also working today, and when we logged onto our planned meeting, I mentioned how exciting it was that it was a snow day. She immediately said something along the lines of, “The whole premise is simply ridiculous, like come on, if you’re remote, I’m sorry but you give up that privilege of getting a day off.” I gave a polite/lighthearted laugh and kind of changed the subject, but in all honesty it really upset me.

From my perspective, this is a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence (we get a snow day maybe once every two years) that is a tiny unique perk of working for a school. Our salaries are much lower than similar positions in other industries, so the benefits and perks granted to us are what make working here worthwhile. So, when a small perk is criticized as if it shouldn’t exist, it makes me feel unappreciated. There is long-term value in terms of employee happiness when we know we are supported in taking advantage of a free bonus day off when it rolls around once every couple years, so it upset me to know we are not supported. I get that it may be an issue if everyone took the day off all at once, but since we are taking in-lieu days all at different times, I am uncomfortable with how the comment came across as if we basically don’t deserve it.

This comment has made me feel awkward about asking to take the in-lieu day when I eventually want it, since I need to ask my manager for her approval first before booking it with our HR rep. Any thoughts or advice here so I can take a well-deserved break via using my in-lieu day and stop feeling so guilty? I’m not concerned that it won’t be approved, I just feel weird that it will be approved despite the fact that I know secretly that she has shared with me that she does not actually approve of the idea of getting an extra day off in theory.

It actually is fairly unusual that if you end up having to work on a snow day, they’ll give you an extra day off to take at a later time. Typically if you have to work on the snow day because of the needs of your job, you just … miss out on the snow day. It sounds like your employer decided it wasn’t fair for some people to get stuck working on a day they’re canceling everything else, and that’s pretty great of them — but it’s definitely unusual, and I suspect that’s driving your boss’s reaction.

I don’t agree with her logic — there are plenty of reasons why someone remote might still need to take a snow day (like if their young kids’ school or daycare is cancelled, for example) — but I do think a lot of people would think, “Okay, we’re closed for people who can’t get to the office, but you’re remote and you’re working today anyway, so why are we giving you a whole extra day off later on?” The answer to that is “because everyone else is getting the day off and this is an easy way to avoid resentment.” It’s like saying “we’re closed for Memorial Day, but if your workload requires you to work that day anyway, bank the day for later.” It’s a simple way to be fair and boost morale. I’d like to see more employers do it.

I don’t think your manager’s comment was outrageous though — other than the fact that she said it to someone she manages and so now of course you’re in a position where you have to worry about using your extra banked day. The best way to handle that is to remind yourself that you’re following your employer’s policy and using the benefits that they have willingly given you as part of your compensation.

When you’re ready to schedule that day, you don’t need to highlight that it’s a makeup day from the snow; you can just say, “I banked an additional leave day that I need to schedule, and my plan is to take it on (date) if that works for you.”

updates: my new boss scolded us about our private chat messages, and more

Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. My new boss scolded us about our private chat messages

First off, thank you so much for answering my letter. I sincerely appreciated your nuanced take on the situation, and it was so interesting to read through the debate in the comments over expectations of monitoring chat messages on company platforms.

So, as you can probably imagine, things got so much worse after the incident I described in my letter. Meetings with my boss now regularly go over the scheduled time by at least 1.5 hours, and she is consistently late by 15-30 min with no heads up she is running late. She refused to learn our calendar platform, and instead chose to roll out a second scheduling system, meaning we now need to manually keep two calendars updated with the same information. During many meetings, she stated that the “powers that be” were not impressed with our performance (a statement that went against all the positive feedback we were consistently hearing from the higher-ups), but could not back this up with details about what specifically they had issues with other then that she herself was frustrated with how we asked clarifying questions about her confusing policy changes instead of just accepting what she said without question. After one long meeting, where there was a lot of pushback against a policy change, she sent out a passive-aggressive email where she included a screenshot of the org chart and stated we all needed to listen to her without question because we report to her. She consistently takes 1-2 weeks to respond to time sensitive emails or chat messages, which makes getting work done hard since we are all remote. She has also yelled at people on the team for things such as pointing out frustrations they are experiencing with their work, reaching out to those higher up in the organization to get answers to work questions instead of going through her first, or doing anything she perceives as questioning her authority. I could go on and on, but to keep this short let’s just say it’s been a mess of bad communication, power tripping, and short sighted, confusing policy changes which change constantly and have us all running around like ants with our heads cut off.

All of this, on top of my company stating we shouldn’t expect any title changes or salary increases for the next 5 years, had me rocketing into my job search, and I’m happy to report I found a fantastic new job at a great company with a big increase in salary. I am currently finishing out my last week of my notice, and then have two week off before starting this new job. There have been a lot of others on the team who have also resigned, and I’ve heard from many other coworkers (through text messaging on personal phones or in virtual meetings and never written down in any company platform because we have learned our lesson) that they are actively job searching. It seems that most of the team will probably be leaving within the next few months. Needless to say, it’s been a wild few months, and I am so excited to be getting out and moving on to bigger and better things!

2. My boss is discriminating against my pregnant employee

I wrote in a couple years ago about my boss “Ron” discriminating against my pregnant employee “Jane” for being pregnant.

Ron still has knee-jerk reactions (he’s gotten better about this – we’ve talked about it and he agrees it’s a problem) and a tendency to worry that people are taking advantage of him, but I’ve learned that he’s pretty easily persuaded to see reason. In the last couple years I think I’ve become much better about calling him on it, and I’ve tried very hard not to let his attitude impact how I manage my employees. These days, I make decisions about how to manage my team and then just make my case with Ron afterwards if he doesn’t agree with them – he usually ends up agreeing with me.

Jane is still working for us after her maternity leave, still in the same role but with slightly reduced hours to fit around her childcare that she can flex when needed. In general, we’ve been really happy with her work. We’ve enrolled her in some certification courses she’d need to eventually move to the B2B team, which she says it’s something that she might be interested in eventually but doesn’t feel ready for yet. This isn’t a move we had discussed with her when I wrote the original letter, just a move I had suggested to Ron for later down the line.

Overall, the workplace has become a lot more family-friendly/work-life-balance-friendly. We’ve moved to a 4 day/30 hour workweek (with no decrease in salary), and we’ve instituted 5 extra paid emergency childcare/compassionate leave days for everyone. We’re all working on a hybrid schedule, half our days in the office and half WFH.

In the comments, I was warned about staying at the company if I was planning to have a child. I’m happy to say that I’m currently pregnant, and Ron has taken it surprisingly well. He’s offered me an extremely generous maternity leave package, and seems genuinely happy for me. I think he was relieved that I’m only planning to take 6 months leave rather than the full year I could take (we’re not in the US).

I was really grateful for your advice and that in the comments; I wasn’t even aware how much Ron’s attitude was affecting my own management. Now, if I feel uncomfortable with something, I feel much more secure in pushing back.

3. What am I allowed to do on sick leave? (#2 at the link)

I really appreciated your firm and positive response to my letter. It’s been ages but I happened to read another answer recently and it reminded me: I should send an update!

So I followed the advice and did everything I thought would help fix the anxiety – shops, walks, museums, cafes, the lot. I started small and then decided at the end of the month to book an additional week’s vacation time to go on a short holiday abroad (for context, I’m in Europe, so that’s only a two-hour train away). It was hard, but successful.

18 months on, I’m one of the more outgoing members of my team again. I travel frequently for work, did well on all my appraisals, and while anxiety is there in the background, it’s super well-managed. I think in part that is because, rather than getting into a hole of staying home and doing nothing while off sick, I made the most of all the treatment, including sunlight, friends and activities. Grateful to you for the response and the encouragement.