interns stole alcohol at a work retreat, vacationing with a friend from work, and more

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

1. Interns stole alcohol at a work retreat

I recently started a new role, and last week we had a three-day annual retreat with the whole organization (about 30 people). It was a great experience overall, but it ended on a sour note: on our last evening, after a team dinner, two interns and one junior employee (who is still in their probation period) got very drunk, broke back into the restaurant where we had eaten after it closed, and stole an expensive bottle of alcohol.

None of us were aware of this until the next morning at breakfast, when the owners of the event space came into the restaurant, identified the three thieves through security camera footage, and demanded that they pay the full price of the bottle — $250. The interns and the junior employee seemed suitably embarrassed and went back to their rooms to gather up the money.

I was seated with a group of other managers and the CEO, and their conclusion seemed to be, “Well that was embarrassing, but if they pay for the bottle that’s the end of the story.” Personally, I thought that it should have been taken much more seriously — it seemed like a major lapse in judgement, and had it been my decision to make, I would have fired all three. I am a manager, but none of the three involved report to me directly, so it’s out of my hands. Still, should they have faced consequences from our organization as well, or was the fact that they were called out publicly and had to pay for the bottle enough?

For what it’s worth, there was wine served at the final team dinner, but it was far from a debaucherous free-for-all; there were speeches from the CEO and VP, a quiz about our organization’s history, that kind of thing — convivial, but no one other than the interns was getting drunk.

Yeah, I’m with you. You don’t commit a B&E during a work retreat!

It’s easy to leap to “I’d have fired them,” and that was my initial response. But when I reality-tested that by asking myself, “Is that really what I’d do in that situation or is it just the easy answer when it’s a hypothetical rather than reality?” and “What if this were an otherwise excellent employee with a great track record?” There are some situations where I could imagine not immediately firing the people involved and instead having an extremely serious conversation along the lines of, “This is unacceptable behavior to associate us with and a lapse in judgment that has broken our trust, and the consequences of that are….” (Even then though, are you ever going to be able to comfortably send that person on a business trip or out with clients? So it also depends on what their job is. And you’d need a lot of history of strong judgment and good work before this to even bother.) But two interns and a junior employee still in their probation period — i.e., people without a track record to counter-balance this incident? I’d be a lot less inclined.

What’s interesting to me about this isn’t that they weren’t fired, but that the organization’s response seems so mild in general. Like it wasn’t even a big deal as long as they paid for the bottle? That part — the lack of any serious concern — is pretty weird.

(Note: Much of my response is because they broke into the restaurant. That’s a big deal! If it was more like they swiped a bottle that was sitting in plain view somewhere, it still wouldn’t be okay, but I’d be less shocked by the lower-key response.)

2. I hate my workplace, but I don’t want to accept an alternate offer (I think)

I work at a mid-sized nonprofit that, to put it bluntly, is a mess. It’s an unhealthy work environment, everyone is charging towards being burnt out at an accelerated rate, we’re all overwhelmed, communication is a nightmare, we’re building the plane as we’re flying; you name a problem, and we probably have it in spades. But, I find the work I do enjoyable and fulfilling, like a handful of my coworkers, and have good enough work-life boundaries that my work problems rarely bleed enough into my free time to be a problem.

I spend probably an equal number of days excited to go to work in the morning as I do considering slashing my tires so I can get out of going in.

I recently received an offer from a sister organization to transfer to their branch. I have worked at this branch before at a part-time capacity with a lower title than I have now, so I know a bit about the environment and what would likely be expected of me. To be clear, since this is a sister organization, my status, benefits, pay, or title will not change at all. The only things that would change would be my workplace, work environment, and extra duties as assigned.

They’ve given me time to think about it, and I’m flabbergasted that as of right now, I don’t want to leave my current job.

When I think about the differences between the two, my current job, for its many, many flaws, feels more exciting and full of opportunities, including opportunities to make things better. The offer likely would provide a more healthy and stable day to day environment, less extra work, and somehow, that feels more boring to me. And yet, logically I know I would be stupid to stay.

Have I somehow Stockholm Syndromed myself into wanting to stay at a job that makes me miserable at least half the time? Am I being delusional about what the potential benefits of staying versus leaving?

Any chance it’s not so much that you want to stay where you are, but that you’re not excited about this specific other job? Is it possible you’d be more enthused about leaving for a different job altogether? Maybe you shouldn’t be comparing Current Job vs. Sister Job, but rather Current Job vs. something else entirely and should job hunt more broadly.

Or, it’s possible that you’re nervous about leaving something that’s comfortable. People often feel anxious about leaving bad jobs — because you like your coworkers, or you know how to get things done there, or everyone respects you, and on and on. It can be hard to leave that situation for something unknown, even if you hate it some of the time.

Or who knows, maybe you like the chaos. Some people do! In that case the solution might be to reframe the frustrating parts in your mind so you see them more clearly as trade-offs you’re intentionally choosing and are okay with. That can take some mental gymnastics, but if you can get that kind of clarity on it, it can make the difficult parts more bearable.

I don’t know which of these it is for you, but those are the questions I’d be gnawing on in your shoes.

Related:
feeling anxious about leaving my bad job for a better one

3. Is it OK to vacation with a friend from work?

I recently took a promotion, which meant I moved to a different state/work facility for my job. I now oversee a handful of associates as an assistant manager.

I have been good friends with one of my coworkers, “Brad,” at this site/department for a few years now. We started chatting on a business trip, and we’ve been friends ever since. Our friendship has always been strictly platonic, and this hasn’t changed since I’ve moved to the area.

Since the move, Brad and I have gotten into the habit of hanging out one or two times a week, including him introducing me to some of his non-work friends. We’ve grabbed dinner and watched movies, met up for drinks, or even just hung out at my apartment pool. It’s been a good transition so far, because I’m new to the area and didn’t know anyone else before I moved.

Brad invited me to go to his family’s vacation house in Florida for a few days. We both have time off work, and I think it would be an awesome couple days hanging out by the pool in Florida. We would each have our own bedroom/bathroom, but it would just be the two of us. My question is, is this crossing the line into “ick”?

Both of us have the same manager at work, and we work together in the same department/office. We’re both the same hierarchical level due to my recent promotion, but I am a newer manager and there is lots of room to move up in the future. He mainly does project work as a “technical expert” and does not manage people. Neither of us are going to mention the Florida trip at work or to mutual friends/coworkers, but does this cross the line? I can’t shake the feeling that this would be a really bad idea professionally, even though we’ve been friends for a few years before we started working directly together in the same department/site.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with taking a trip with a coworker who you’re friends with outside of work.

If you think you might ever be promoted to a position where you’re managing Brad, I wouldn’t go because that could really complicate things. But otherwise, it doesn’t have to be particularly line-crossing.

However, can you dig in deeper to where your discomfort is coming from? Do you feel weird because he’s a coworker, or because he’s a male coworker? (Obviously you’d want to feel confident that Brad also sees this as purely platonic and you won’t end up spending a few awkward days trapped together after he makes a move on you by the pool, but it sounds like you do.) Is it because it would intensify the friendship to a level you’re not sure you want? Does it feel like it’s blending worlds (work vs friends) too much? Would you just feel weird if people at work knew about it, and wouldn’t want anyone to find out?

“It just feels like crossing a line that I’m not comfortable with” is a perfectly good reason not to go, as is “I can’t shake the feeling that it would harm me professionally in this particular workplace.” So are any of the reasons in my previous paragraph. But if it’s just a worry that it’s inherently inappropriate to travel with a work friend, I don’t think it is.

(Full disclosure, I once went to Vegas with a male friend from work and it was awesome.)

4. Can a church require employees’ spouses to tithe?

I work for a church in Illinois that requires employees to tithe 10% of their income. However, this church also requires tithing based on household income, including my wife’s income, even though she is not employed by the church. They estimate spouses’ incomes and track our giving monthly. If we don’t meet the required amount, they can fire me or withhold yearly raises. Can they legally require my wife to tithe?

They sure can. But I’d love to know how they’re “estimating” your wife’s income.

5. When can I call someone’s cell versus a main number?

If you do not have a previously established relationship with a business contact, and they list their mobile number alongside the “direct” or “main” business line in their email signature, which is it best to start with if you have to call them (with no previous arrangement in place)?

Pandemic times shifted norms considerably regarding the role of personal cell phones and the workplace, and I’m unsure where things have landed. Sometimes the person answering the office phone thinks it’s weird that I’m calling and it seems like my message will never reach my contact, but then sometimes the contact is blindsided if I try their cell. I’m also wary of accidentally calling their cell on a day off or if there’s a time difference I’m not cognizant of. That’s never good. What’s the general consensus these days?

If they list a cell and a “direct” or “main” number, start with the direct/main number. If the person who answers there doesn’t instill you with confidence that your message will reach the person, say something like, “I do have her cell — should I try her there instead?”

If you have their email address and the query isn’t time-sensitive, you can also just start with an email, even if it’s just to ask to set up a time for a call. There are plenty of industries where an unscheduled phone call is still the norm, but lots of contexts where emailing first works well too and makes all this a non-issue.

And of course, once you’ve established some initial contact with the person, you can always ask which number they prefer you use in the future.

former coworker stole my work and keeps contacting me for help

A reader writes:

I have a weird issue that I need help with. My former coworker, Lulu, joined my company about seven years ago as a relatively inexperienced but enthusiastic junior team member. I trained her on some of her duties and, due to the nature of our jobs, we worked closely together for a time.

All was (mostly) well, but I noticed Lulu’s sensitivity and immaturity about some things, mostly about feeling “left out” of projects that didn’t concern her. Because she would claim to be hurt and disappointed by being left out, our manager began including her in recurring meetings she didn’t need to be in. She’d rarely contribute to these meetings but insist on attending; often, we’d need to move the meeting to accommodate her increasingly messy calendar, which was full of all the meetings she insisted on joining. If we didn’t move the meeting at her request, she’d have an urgent meeting with our boss, complaining that we were going behind her back.

Lulu received a significant promotion a few years into her tenure, and her behavior worsened. In meetings with my team, she’d bring up how being “left out” negatively impacted her work. We’d explain that she didn’t need to worry about the project in question, and then at meetings with our mutual manager present, she’d repeat the whole performance again with more dramatic flair.

She also started claiming ownership of things only tenuously related to her job. At one point, I created a company account on a free software tool for other departments to do work related to a specific project. Lulu complained that due to the nature of the software tool, she should have been consulted before anyone opened the account or used it. In other words, she was very good at borrowing trouble where there wasn’t any and bogging down workflows due to her own hurt feelings and self-importance.

I was supposed to continue working with Lulu, but it was extremely difficult. Several times, I approached her about working collaboratively on new initiatives, but regardless of how I worded the request, she interpreted the conversation as me trying to tell her what to do. Maddeningly, Lulu frequently did tell me how to do my job. The only way to work with her was to give her “approval” power, even when it made no sense. This grated on me because she was very green in many areas of her own job, and not at all knowledgeable about mine. So, eventually, I just avoided working with her whenever possible. Our team performance suffered because of this, but since our boss coddled Lulu there was nothing more to do about it.

A month or so ago, Lulu got another job and resigned. In the days leading up to her departure, she quizzed me intensely on my day-to-day work, asking how I did or approached certain things. This tripped a wire in my brain, and after Lulu left my company, I looked at our internal knowledge center and discovered she’d “checked out” and downloaded several of my own guides, frameworks, and templates.

She is now essentially doing my job at her new company – the same title/type of work, but also literally my job because she’s using all my collateral, which I also suspect she used to get the job in the first place.

The latest development is that she periodically emails me and asks for help. These emails are obsequious in tone and are things she could easily google for herself. I can’t decide if she thinks I’m dumb enough to help her out or if she believes she is so charming that I couldn’t possibly resist her request.

I am torn between pretending I don’t get these emails (or just responding half-heartedly enough that it’s no longer worth her time to even send them) or telling her outright to figure things out for herself. She made my job incredibly difficult for years; I am not inclined to help her.

If this were a movie, you could send her bad advice, which she would then steal, ultimately torpedoing her career due to her own incompetence and underhandedness. You, meanwhile, would get a promotion and also a handsome boyfriend.

This not a movie, so don’t do that. But you definitely don’t need to help or even respond to her emails at all. Just ignore them.

If you feel awkward doing that, the next best thing is to take a long time to respond and then, when you finally do, be vague and unhelpful — or just say, “Sorry, I’m swamped right now and I don’t want to hold you up, so don’t wait on me.”

But really, you could just ignore her. Set her emails to go straight into your trash if you want. You don’t owe this person who made your life difficult, and who apparently stole your work, anything. You definitely don’t owe her help doing her new job.

If you could prove she had stolen your work — or your company’s property, more broadly — and taken it to her next company where she was presenting it as her own, that would be worth tipping off your boss about. Your company might have Feelings about that kind of theft (especially if she’s at a competitor, but even if she’s not), but it doesn’t sound like there’s conclusive enough evidence to go in that direction (even though I agree with you that it looks pretty clear), especially given your boss’s coddling of Lulu.

my employee puts on a show of being busy, but they shouldn’t be

A reader writes:

I manage an employee who’s in a job that I used to do myself, so I have a pretty good idea of the work required and the amount of time it takes.

This person does a good job on the tasks and is competent and well liked. However, they put on a big show of being busy, often announcing that they will be working late, coming in on the weekend, cancelling vacation days, and working when sick. I admire their commitment to the job, but that level of time and emotional commitment is simply not required and, to be honest, I find the complaints about staying late really annoying, particularly as it’s not required to complete the actual tasks.

I’ve encouraged them to take days off, hand off tasks to me if they need to be out, go home at the end of the day, and not come in on the weekends. Is there anything else I can do? Or should I just decide it’s none of my business if this person has no desire for a personal life or leisure time and listening to them complain is just something I need to get used to?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My boss wants me to hire his daughter
  • Candidates research me and bring up their findings awkwardly

my boss is a terrible restaurant guest

A reader writes:

I’ve worked for my C-Suite boss for almost five years. We are in a line of work where we attend a lot of lunches and dinners at nice restaurants, most often as guests of vendors and clients. While I generally enjoy the fine dining opportunities, I find my boss to be an insufferable restaurant patron.

My boss considers herself a “foodie” so she is often the one who suggests a restaurant for these meals; she prefers to go to places she has not been before when someone else is paying. She rarely deems a restaurant good enough to go back to more than once!

Like clockwork, at the beginning of every meal she peruses the drink menu, announces that nothing sounds good, and asks the bartender to make her something off-menu (usually with lots of instructions and ingredients). Without fail, she does not like that custom drink and sends it back in a way that implies that the server didn’t take all of her instructions or the bartender is bad at his job.

She often complains loudly that a dish is missing “something” or another vague criticism, and if she’s loud enough for the server to overhear and inquire, she asks for the dish to be removed from the bill. If the server isn’t paying as much attention as she would like, she comments to the table about how the tip should be lowered (particularly cringy when we are not the ones paying).

Instead of ordering dessert, she will start her meal over and order a cocktail and appetizer while everyone else drinks espresso, a move that usually confuses our dining companions and also can throw off the servers, not to mention it extends the meal another 30 minutes or longer just when we were close to wrapping things up.

Admittedly, I may be more sensitive to her particularities because I waited tables in a high end restaurant to support myself through high school and college. That experience has trained me to be a much more gracious, patient diner and to be a lot more forgiving when things aren’t perfect.

However, I find it so embarrassing to eat with her that I’ve been turning down invitations (and missing some important networking opportunities). While I know her poor manners are a reflection on her and not me, I have noticed that our hosts are more frequently asking for me to pick a restaurant I think she’d find “acceptable” or suggesting that we “skip the meal this time.” So I get the feeling others have picked up on this as well. Should I say something to her?

Your boss is an ass!

Her behavior would be boorish in any circumstances, but particularly in a business context (where there’s generally an assumption you’ll overlook small issues because the food isn’t the point of why you’re there) and particularly when someone else is paying (because her behavior conveys that the host’s choices have displeased her). But even if this weren’t a business context and/or she were the one paying, her behavior would be rude — and mortifying to any decent person she was with.

As for what to do … what’s your relationship with your boss like and how does she take feedback generally? Would she be open to something like, “I think Lucinda and Jeff were embarrassed that you seemed so unhappy with the food and service” or “I think it made them uncomfortable when you kept sending the drinks back”? Or even a more direct, “Contacts have been suggesting we skip dining recently, and I think they’ve noticed you’re often unhappy with the food and service” or “When you criticize the restaurant, people we’re eating with get uncomfortable — it’s landing like you’re criticizing their hospitality”?

If you think she’d be willing to hear that — and, importantly, if she’s generally a reasonable person when she’s not dining out — you could give that a try. But I’m skeptical that she’ll be open to hearing it; people who behave this way are usually eager to tell you why they’re justified, and you’ll probably be inviting a rant about bad service.

Most likely, you’re better off reminding yourself that your boss’s behavior really doesn’t reflect on you. You’re not the one sending back drinks or berating the server, and people aren’t going think you endorse her actions; they’re aware of the power dynamics in play (and it sounds like they’re subject to them a bit themselves too). If you really want to underscore that, you could mention how much you enjoyed your meal or how delicious your appetizer is — but even if you don’t, it’s likely to be clear that you don’t stand with your boss on this stuff. You could also make a point of warmly thanking the server, or even going out of your way to find them as you head to the bathroom and thanking them for their patience or saying that the rest of you are enjoying the food. The subtext will be clear.

coworker refuses to talk to us, demoted and can’t move back up, and more

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

1. I was demoted and now can’t move back up

I’ve been at my company for over a decade, and have a track record of being an asset to the company. A year ago, I mutually agreed to step down from a management position. The proposal was I was better suited to a different, soon to be open position. I’d temporarily go back to entry level, but the door was open to quickly move on to something more challenging.

I’m sure you can see where this is going. The position didn’t materialize as there was a hiring freeze and now they are not replacing head count. That means I’m trapped in a role I outgrew 10 years ago, and it is devastating. As someone who actively seeks a challenge and always wants to do more for the good of the team and the business, I feel extremely limited by my current role. I still go above and beyond, and management still feels I’m adding value, but I feel like I’m using one-fifth of my potential. To be honest, I’m literally bored to tears.

I’m doing my best to find ways to do more, but I’m limited by the parameters of my position. I’ve asked my management team for more of a challenge, but they have nothing. Their opinion is that I am adding value in my role and I am an asset, and if I don’t see it that way, they can’t help the way I feel. There’s nothing open and not even a project or additional responsibilities they are willing to consider.

I want to stay with this company, but I don’t know how much longer I can continue in this role. My company recognizes my capabilities, but how can I get active interest in letting me actually using them?

You need to change companies, I’m sorry. You’d been at the company for 10 years and were in a management position and they moved you to an entry-level position you’d outgrown a decade ago? That is not the sign of a company that has faith in you or plans to move you anywhere near the level you’d been at. It doesn’t sound like there were even specific plans to move you back up (“you’ll move to X job in three months once it’s open”), just that the “door was open” to something more challenging. And now you’re “adding value” in this entry-level role so you have to stay put? Something doesn’t smell right here.

This is their long-term, possibly permanent, plan for you. I don’t know why — maybe it’s something that happened in your last role, or maybe someone in management really doesn’t like you. But this is their plan, and they’re telling you that pretty clearly. It’s time to look outside the company.

2. My coworker refuses to talk to us and management won’t do anything

I work in a bookstore, and our location is fairly laid-back. Several employees have friendships outside of work, but even among those who don’t, the relationships are friendly. Think casual greetings as people arrive, offering to help cover an area if someone is having a rough day, etc.

A few months back, one of my coworkers (Ann) became rather standoffish. This came out of nowhere. She talks to one other coworker and to our managers, but if any of the rest of us says anything — up to and including “hi!” — it’s like we don’t exist. She ignores us entirely. The coworker she does interact with will talk with us if Ann isn’t around, but if Ann is in then neither of them will speak to or acknowledge anyone other than the managers. This has been brought to the attention of our managerial team a few times and by multiple coworkers, and while they’ve spoken to Ann, nothing has really changed.

We just lost an employee, Sam, who is moving in a couple months. He told the team that he could have stayed another month but left earlier than necessary due to feeling pushed out by Ann and her friend. When one of my coworkers brought this to a manager, she was told that as far as management is concerned, they believe Ann is being unfairly bullied. It seems unlikely that they’ll be taking any further steps to sort this out. What do I do? Go to upper management? Accept that Ann is going to pretend the rest of us don’t exist? I don’t need to be best friends with everyone I work with, but acknowledging that I’ve said something doesn’t seem too much to ask?

Expecting a colleague will acknowledge when you’ve spoken is not too much to ask; that’s basic civility, and your management shouldn’t be okay with employees being ignored. But multiple people have talked to them about it, and they’re not intervening. At this point, the easiest path is to accept that this is how Ann is, internally roll your eyes, and stop caring. Unless it’s actively interfering with your ability to do your job, it’s not worth escalating to higher level management.

I am curious about what led them to conclude Ann is being bullied. Did something happen that led to Ann ignoring everyone? It’s possible you might not know about it if something did. I’m also curious how people have been treating Ann since she shut down; there are certainly ways people could be reacting to her standoffishness that could read as bullying, like trying to force a greeting or shouting “hello” loudly to make a point, etc. Regardless, though, everyone is better off just accepting that Ann, for whatever reason, isn’t going to talk to most coworkers and letting that go. That doesn’t mean it’s okay or that someone higher-up shouldn’t intervene! But they’re not going to, so this is the path with the least strife and drama.

3. Surprise baby shower

One of my coworkers sent out a meeting request for an on-site meeting during work hours to our full team that was billed as a meeting to brainstorm group goals and group activities. I thought it was odd that it was coming from this coworker rather than our department head, and that it was on-site without a lot of notice since much of our team is hybrid/remote, but it was a day I was already scheduled to be on-site so I accepted without really thinking. After I’d already accepted the meeting, my coworker sent a follow-up email to everyone except for a member of our team who is pregnant that the actual purpose of this meeting is to have a surprise baby shower for the coworker who is expecting.

I had already contributed to a group gift organized by another coworker and am happy to celebrate my coworker’s impending arrival — but from a distance. I have had my own fertility struggles which culminated last year in emergency surgery for an ectopic pregnancy. Other than my immediate manager, my team is unaware of the reason for my surgery and I am not interested in sharing details beyond “unexpected abdominal surgery” with them. While I am genuinely happy for my coworker and was happy to contribute to the group gift, going to a baby shower would hit hard on my sadness over my fertility struggles and the way they ended. When I even think about playing baby shower games, I start to cry.

My immediate manager is on vacation this week so I cannot discuss this with them. Since I would rather not share why I don’t want to attend to anyone else, is there a way you’d recommend handling this?

You’ve unfortunately developed a scheduling conflict with the meeting and won’t be able to attend, but hope they have a great time! That’s it. If that requires altering your schedule for that day, go ahead and do that. Really! You’re not obligated to attend this bait-and-switch shower, and the politest way to decline is to develop a conflict.

Also, this is a weird way for your coworker to manage the shower! I can see why she might have disguised it as a meeting for the coworker being celebrated, but she shouldn’t have lured the rest of you to accept under false pretenses, especially since most people would think the sort of meeting she billed it as was a lot more mandatory than a shower. (And I hope she knows for sure that the pregnant coworker will appreciate a shower! Not everyone wants them, either at work or in general, and sometimes for reasons related to religious customs or medical situations. Surprise showers are risky if you don’t know for sure.)

4. As a new manager, can I take over hiring from my team?

Last year I took over managing a 10-person technical team that I had previously worked on for five years. A few months ago, I had my first chance to hire a new employee. The previous long-time team lead had always involved everyone in the hiring process — some people screen resumes, others conduct interviews, and the team brings one or two candidates to the lead for a final interview. I liked this idea so I kept the tradition. But my team brought me duds. So I went back through the applications myself, found strong candidates that my team had missed, interviewed them and hired one. The new hire has been a huge success, and people on my team have come to me privately to thank me for not hiring any of the initial candidates.

But now I have a problem. We’re about to hire again, and after my last experience I’ve convinced myself that I’m a better judge of candidates than my team is collectively. I’m tempted to just do the hiring process myself as it will be faster and I’ll be more confident in the result. I’m worried though that this will show a lack of confidence in my team. I’m not generally a micromanager; I give my team lots of latitude to manage their own tasks. Will they be offended if I keep the hiring process to myself?

Why not reverse it — do the initial screening and first-round interviews yourself, and then bring the finalists to meet with your team? You should be clear that this isn’t a vote; you’re the one making the hire, but you want their input before the final decision. If anyone asks about the change, you can say, “I didn’t think the old system worked as well as I wanted when we used it last time, but I want people to have an opportunity for input once we have solid candidates.”

This is a reasonable and  very common way to do it.

Also! Involving everyone in hiring might sound good in theory, but will often collapse completely unless you invest real time in getting everyone on the same page about exactly what you’re looking for and how to rigorously assess it, as well as training them in things like how to interview effectively and combating biases as they evaluate. Otherwise you’re likely to end of with a hodgepodge of candidates who people just liked personally, thought would be a good coworker, or filled some side agenda they might have that doesn’t align with the must-have’s for the role. In fact, even with people playing a more limited role this time, you should still invest in doing some of that work.

5. Giving notice when your boss is on vacation

I have a good problem, I think, in that I have been through three rounds of interviews with my dream job, and they seem (???) excited about me. No guarantees, of course, but based on what they’ve said I am hoping to see an offer early this week!

The problem? My boss leaves for a two-week vacation on Wednesday. I am crazy excited about this new opportunity, but I have also loved where I am now. It’s a small company and they’ve taught me so much. I don’t want to put my current boss in a bad situation, either by telling her right before she leaves and ruining her vacation or by giving a short notice if I wait until she’s back. What’s the most professional way to handle this — assuming, of course, that everything goes right with the new job?

Is there anyone else you could reasonably give your notice to while your boss is gone — like your boss’s boss or your boss’s deputy? If so, give it to that person. They’ll be best equipped to decide if it’s something your boss needs to/would want to be alerted to while she’s on vacation. And you can just let that decision be above your pay grade; you’ll have given your notice and the clock will be counting down on your notice period.

But if the company is so small that there’s really no one else to resign to — like if it’s your boss, you, and a handful of peers — you probably do need to call her while she’s away. Yes, it sucks to have to deal with something like that from vacation, but that’s part of the deal when you’re running a really small company. Apologize for the timing and explain you’re bothering her only because you didn’t want to blindside her with just a few days notice when she’s back. If she decides she doesn’t want to deal with it until she’s back anyway, so be it — but let it be her call.

I was rejected for a job, but I see no signs the new hire has started yet

A reader writes:

In April, I did a job interview at a small employer (less than 15 staff). I’ve often been told that I interview well, but this interview was probably the best interview I’ve ever done. The interviewers repeatedly told me how impressed they were with me, I built a great personal connection and rapport with the interviewers (who were laughing and smiling throughout the interview) and at the end, when I asked if they had any concerns about me, the only concern they raised was that I might get hired somewhere else.

But I guess they liked someone else just a tiny bit more. They told me that they hired someone else, but the decision was very difficult. They didn’t specifically say that I was second choice, but they strongly implied it. I replied to the rejection email to wish them well with their chosen candidate and to encourage them to contact me if anything changes. That was a little over three weeks ago.

Here’s the thing. They have a “Meet Our Team” page on their website with photos and little bios of their staff and there’s still no new employee listed. (I’ve also tried doing a Google search for “employer name job title LinkedIn” and nothing comes up, but I know not everyone updates their LinkedIn profile regularly.) I don’t want to get my hopes up, but if the new employee doesn’t show up on their website in the next few days, then I’m thinking it’s one of three possibilities: (1) they’re slow at updating their website (but they have a large communications team, so that seems unlikely), (2) something delayed the new employee’s start date (like an illness or a weird emergency), or (3) the new employee reneged or is considering quickly quitting or something like that.

So I’m not sure what my best course of action is. Should I just wait patiently and trust that they’ll contact me if they need me? Or, maybe at the four-week mark, should I try reaching out to them to re-express my interest in the position? If so, then what do I say without sounding like a creepy jerk who doesn’t respect their hiring decision? But if I don’t reach out and the first choice reneges, then will the employer feel too sheepish to reach out to a rejected candidate who they were worried might get hired elsewhere? This job would be a really great job for me, so I want to play my cards right. (Of course, all will be moot if the new employee’s picture shows up on the employer’s “Meet Our Team” page.)

You are reading too much into things.

It’s only been three weeks! It’s entirely possible that the new person isn’t starting for a month or even two (or potentially even longer — I’ve waited three months and longer for the right candidate in roles where getting the right person was more important than having them start quickly). Their start date might still be in the future. And once they do start, lots of organizations take a long time to update their online listings of employees.

If for some reason the new hire did fall apart, it’s very, very, very likely that the organization would reach back out to you if you were indeed their second choice.

Contacting them three weeks after they rejected you to say that you’re wondering if they want to hire you after all because you haven’t seen them update their website with the name of the new hire would come across pretty weirdly. Not “never consider this person again” weird, but a little off. If they want to get back in touch — and especially if they thought you were as strong a candidate as you believed — they will.

You’re overly invested at this point. I think that’s probably because you let yourself believe the interview went so well that a job offer was highly likely. But the things you describe that led to that belief — the compliments, the rapport, the laughing — those can all happen even when you don’t end up being a finalist for the job. Sometimes that’s because you’re one of the first people to be interviewed, and they don’t really know where you rate relative to the rest of their candidate pool until they’ve talked to more people. Sometimes it’s because they’re just nice people who genuinely connected with you, but that’s not the same thing as being exactly what they’re looking for (which can be extremely nuanced and difficult to assess as a candidate). Sometimes other people are just stronger. And yes, they told you their only concern was that someone else might hire you, but that can be a kind of throwaway remark in response to a question that put them on the spot (“do you have any concerns about me?”) and to which they weren’t prepared to provide a thoughtful answer off the cuff.

That can be a painful lesson to learn, but it can also be a liberating one because it can stop you from overly investing in jobs before you have them.

Or who knows, I could be wrong about all this in your case! The new hire could be stuck at a bottom of a well somewhere. But again, if the hire doesn’t materialize and you were the recent strong second choice, they’ll contact you.

The best thing you can do is believe the book is closed on this, as they told you it was, and let yourself mentally move on.

my employee is patronizing when I correct his work

A reader asks:

My employee, who is fresh out of college, is often not very thorough or good at his job. He’ll submit work that clearly lacked any attention to detail. And 90% of the time, there are errors that I end up pointing out. I am fair, factual, and give context to why the error is important to avoid. I never reprimand, just state the facts and move on.

He always responds with an excuse like “oh, I thought you said it was this” (even though I clearly wrote the answer out in the email to him) and then he follows up with a “good job” or “cool, great catch.” It’s always in a tone that feels condescending and patronizing. I’ve been in my industry for years. I don’t really need to hear compliments on how great I was at catching that 1 + 1 isn’t = 40. To me, it’s 100% not the same as saying “oh, thanks for catching that!” It’s like instead of appreciating that I was there to help him fix something, he pats me on the back for doing my job?

It’s really weird and I’m not sure how to address it. Another observation is that he is not like this with my colleagues, most of whom are male, and I’m a smaller Asian woman.

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

can my employer make me give four weeks notice when I quit?

A reader writes:

When I started at my current job (an entry-level administrative job, no state secrets here), my offer letter stated that I would have to give minimum four weeks notice when I left or I could open myself up to legal action from the company. I also live in an at-will employment state (New York, if it helps), so technically I could also be dismissed at any time without notice or reason.

Whenever I tell people about this, typically the reaction from friends, mentors or networking contacts is “that doesn’t make sense, they can’t do that/legally enforce that.” I had one mentor suggest that since my job is so low-level and I make a comparatively low salary, even if I did break this rule, my company likely wouldn’t pursue legal action because it would be too great of an expense. I can see that logic, but my company is also very large and wealthy, and they have good lawyers in the legal department. I wouldn’t want to go up against them if it came to that; plus, I would like a good reference from them in the future.

My main reason for writing in is because I’m in the final stages of interviewing for a new job that I’m excited about, and if all goes well I’ll be receiving an offer soon. I’m worried that they’ll balk if they hear that I need to give four weeks’ notice, or that they’ll ask me to start sooner.

Can my employer legally enforce the four-week notice period, and if so, how can I explain that to my new employer?

Some final notes: I would prefer to leave my current employer on a positive note, but I do really want this new job. I also think my current employer would like me to train my replacement if possible, which I understand, however with this being a low-level administrative position I also don’t think it would be a major hindrance if I wasn’t able to do so.

It’s highly unlikely that that’s enforceable.

For it to be legally enforceable, you’d need a signed, written employment contract where both sides agreed to specific terms around separation — which would include your employer making guarantees as well, such as agreeing not to terminate your employment without similar notice to you, or pay in lieu of notice. You almost certainly don’t have that kind of contract, because most U.S. workers don’t (and entry-level admins almost never do).

They could also put in your offer letter that you can’t leave until you’ve supplied them with three drops of your own blood, or the feather of a rare bird. It doesn’t mean you have to do it. An offer letter is just an offer letter; they can change the terms of what’s on offer at any time (such as by cutting your pay, as long that’s not retroactive, or by changing your benefits) and so can you (by declining to continue offering your labor — i.e., leaving).

That’s what at-will employment means: either of you can end the relationship at any time. In fact, look at your offer letter again and there’s probably some language in there about your job being at-will. But even if there’s not, if you don’t have the kind of contract I described above, then you’re at-will, like most American workers.

That said, legal considerations aside, it’s possible there could be other ramifications. Take a look in your employee handbook and other written policies. Some employers have rules that if you don’t give X amount of notice, your unused vacation time won’t be paid out when you leave (if you’re in a state where it’s not legally required). You also might be ineligible for rehire if you don’t give the amount of notice they want. But they can’t stop you from leaving earlier, or sue you if you do.

Of course, you might burn a bridge by giving less notice than they want. But even that is fairly unlikely as long as you handle it well.

When you resign, just give a standard two-week notice. Don’t say anything like “I know you wanted four weeks.” Just give two as if of course that’s a normal and reasonable thing to do, because it is. If they mention that they wanted more, you can say, “Unfortunately the other job was firm on the start date and two weeks was the most I could negotiate.” (Note: it doesn’t matter if this is true or not. In fact, if you can negotiate a start date further out, I’d encourage you to take a week off in between jobs to recharge, not to use the additional time working for your old employer.) This almost certainly happens to them all the time, and they’re well aware that two weeks is the professional standard, and it’s very likely not to be a big deal.

You could also discreetly ask around about how others have handled this. If you have coworkers you trust who have been there a while, ask if everyone really gives four weeks notice or if two is common. You’ll probably hear two is common (and they might even be confused about why you’re asking, because a lot of people don’t even remember what was in their offer letters).

coworker pries into my romantic life, telling an employee to be less uptight, and more

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

1. Coworker keeps prying into my romantic life

I’m a woman who’s not straight, and not out to anyone where I work. I’m in my mid 20s, and a coworker who has to be in at least her 60s is constantly making remarks about me having/getting a boyfriend. In one instance that happened today, I was typing something on my phone and when she saw this, asked if I was “texting my boyfriend.”

Even though it doesn’t sound as if she means anything malicious by it, her comments still make me really uncomfortable. I’m not sure how to best address this because I’m not a very confrontational person, and I don’t want to out myself accidentally. Do you have any advice for how I can respond to this coworker if she does this in the future?

Give her a weird look and ask, “Why are you always asking me about a boyfriend?” Or: “Why are you always asking me about boyfriends? It’s a weird thing to keep saying.” You said you’re not very confrontational and so you might feel rude saying this, but I want to stress that it’s not rude! It is really odd of her, and if she’s well-intentioned, she’d want to know that she’d making you uncomfortable / coming across strangely.

But if you want a softer option, let your face look visibly unhappy/uncomfortable and say, “Could you please stop making comments like that? It makes me really uncomfortable.” This is also not rude to say! This is letting someone know they’re doing something they probably don’t intend (making you uncomfortable) — and again, if she’s well-intentioned, she’ll appreciate knowing (like if you kindly tipped her off to a massive chunk of spinach in her teeth). There’s also, “I prefer not to talk about my dating life at work, thanks for respecting that.”

There’s a certain breed of person who, once out of their 20s/30s, assumes everyone in their 20s has a wild dating life or wants a wild dating life, is possibly wistful about not being in that mode anymore themselves, becomes intrusive on the topic while thinking they’re being supportive, and nearly always assumes heterosexuality. You’re allowed to correct these people’s boundaries and tell them the comments are unwelcome. (There are other explanations for the behavior too, but this one is especially common.)

2. My dad says I shouldn’t ask what kind of training I’d get as a new manager

I have applied for and received an interview for a new position. The position is manager level, and it would be my first time managing a group of people officially. Throughout my 10+ year career, I have led various projects and teams of people, so “being in charge,” delegating workloads, delivering feedback, and other various managerial tasks will not be new to me. In my opinion, not having an official people leader role on my resume is my biggest weakness on paper. I fully believe in my ability to be a manager; it does not scare me.

I know you typically advise against taking job-searching advice from parents, but my dad works in the same industry. I was discussing with him the list of questions I had for my interviewers, which included a question about what type of training the company provides for new managers. My dad said that I should not ask that question, or any question relating to leadership training, because it will come across like I am doubting my ability to manage and would require training to be able to do it.

Part of the reason I am interested in this role is the potential for advancement beyond the manager level, so I am curious about how this company prepares their people for advancement. Is asking about manager/leadership training a terrible idea? Is there a way to frame it so it doesn’t come off like I doubt myself?

Don’t listen to your dad. When I’m interviewing someone who would be formally managing for the first time, I want to see that they have a healthy appreciation for the challenges of moving into that role and that they’re not assuming everything will be smooth sailing or that they have nothing to learn. Formally managing for the first time is a huge learning curve, and it goes far better when the new manager understands and expects that. You don’t want to seem insecure, of course, but you also don’t want to come off as cocky or like you don’t think you’ll need any support.

And for you as a candidate, it’s far better for your first management position to be with a company that offers new managers support and doesn’t just throw you in to sink or swim.

The one tweak I’d make is that rather than just asking about training, I’d ask about what kind of support you’d get as a new manager. Formal management training is fine as far as it goes, but you can get much the same from a book or myriad YouTube videos if you’re motivated to; what you really need is ongoing support and mentorship.

3. Career opportunity vs. marital sacrifices

For over 20 years, my wife has dedicated herself to the same company, now serving as an executive who genuinely loves her job. Since 2015, she has been able to work remotely, which allowed us to move three times to accommodate my career. Throughout this journey, her patience and accommodation have been remarkable – I am truly fortunate.

We’re currently residing on the east coast, but our situation could change yet again. A year ago, I experienced a mental health crisis that led me to leave my job. Since then, I have taken a dead-end role in a field outside my expertise. Not only is the work unfulfilling, but the pay is also inadequate. An incredible opportunity has now presented itself – an amazing role that aligns with my experience. However, accepting this position would necessitate yet another move across the country.

The prospect of constantly restarting in new communities at our age (in our 40s) is daunting. Moreover, the time difference between the potential location and the east coast would strain my wife’s remote work situation with her colleagues. I am torn – I don’t want to remain in this dead-end job or settle for any available position just to stay put. Yet, I also cannot fathom negatively impacting my wife’s health, happiness, or career, for she has been more accommodating than any spouse should ever be expected to be.

We are at a crossroads, weighing our options. We could stay on the east coast, where I would either continue searching for a new job or potentially not work at all. Alternatively, we could relocate across the country, which would mean my wife working 2-3 hours behind her colleagues and the arduous task of building a new local support network. A third option would be for me to move alone, leaving us to navigate the challenges of residing apart while finding ways to visit one another regularly. None of these scenarios seem ideal, as they all present significant sacrifices. The question that weighs heavily is, how can we strike a balance, pursuing our respective careers while nurturing the profound commitment of our marriage?

You’re putting an awful lot of weight on this one single job. If it’s not right for your family (because it would strain your wife’s work situation, ask something grueling that she’s already done quite a lot at this point, or require you to live apart), it’s okay to decide it’s not right for your family and keep looking. That doesn’t mean that you’re dooming yourself to the job you’re in now. It just means that one across the country isn’t right for you.

But this is also very specific to your marriage, and to your wife. Maybe your wife is the rare person who enjoys moving around and starting over socially. Maybe she’s not daunted by the prospect and is encouraging you to do it. But since you’re citing the work challenges for her and considering living separately, I’m guessing that’s not the case. So where does she stand on this? If she’s anything other than wholeheartedly enthusiastic — this person who has already uprooted herself three separate times for your career in the past — then I think you’ve got to decline the west coast job and keep looking locally. That’s a sacrifice, yes, but she’s already made a bunch of them and it may simply be your turn.

4. How do I tell my team member to be less uptight?

I am the manager of a new marketing writer, “Adam.” Adam joined my team six weeks ago and I am finding his uptight nature at odds with company culture and the work that we do.

Adam is very reserved and incredibly polite. All his interactions on chat and email are formal: hope you’re well, etc. In meetings, he is very scripted, reeling off actions and status updates. There is no banter, light-heartedness, “how was your weekend?” or joking about.

When we interviewed him, I really warmed to him as someone who was quiet, but pleasant and cared about doing well. Now in employment, that has translated into awkwardness and a reluctance to say when he is finding things hard and needs help.

My company is in a classically traditional, corporate space but we are actively about not being like that, and being creative and conversational and interesting instead. I have found Adam’s uptight nature filters through into his writing, which is dry and corporate—even after he has made efforts to make it less so. Adam is unlikely to pass his probation period at this stage.

As a manager, I am casual and friendly, swear like a sailor and like to have a chat as well as talking shop. This is the same for other team members, so the cues are there that it’s okay to be more informal. How do I get Adam to lighten up? I want to tell him to relax, but I know that will only make him self-conscious.

Separate out the work issues from the social ones. If Adam were doing great work, wouldn’t it matter much less that he’s formal in emails and meetings and doesn’t banter or relax? Those things aren’t — or shouldn’t be — the reason he’s unlikely to pass his probation period. But the work issues very much are, so focus there. Right now, he’s not writing the way the job requires, so give him clear and direct feedback about where his writing isn’t hitting the mark and what needs to change. Give that feedback on individual projects, but also talk to him about the pattern — be clear that this is a broad issue with how he’s approaching the work in general, not just small tweaks to individual pieces of writing. And if you haven’t been up-front with him that you can’t keep him in the job if this doesn’t get fixed, be honest about that; he deserves to know so he can make good decisions for himself (like starting to look around at other options now rather than being blindsided when he’s fired one day).

But try to separate out the social stuff. You’re seeing it all as part of the same problem — and perhaps it is — but the really relevant and actionable pieces are the ones about his actual work.

5. Did my old company own the rolodex I created while working there?

Years ago, I worked as a paralegal at a law firm. When I started working there, I had come from a much larger firm where one of my tasks was to request medical records. At the new firm, it turned out that this task was the bulk of my job and I quickly noticed that many of my colleagues used Google to locate contact information each time they needed to call a facility. I decided to create a rolodex for myself to keep track of contact info for the places we routinely requested records from. It just seemed silly and inefficient that I would request information from ABC Medical Center three times a week and would have to google their number every time I needed to follow up with them.

At first, the rolodex was hardly useful and only had a few names and numbers. But by the time I left, it was full with almost every single medical facility you could think of, their main telephone number, their direct line to the medical records department, and the name of the person handling the records, plus a supervisor’s name. At my desk I even had taped up lists for entire medical systems with all the hospitals/clinics in the system and all their contact info. People often came to my desk to browse the rolodex and would sometimes leave post-it notes or email me asking for contact info. All that to say, if you needed to get a real person on the phone, I knew who that was and how to reach them.

About a year before I left, they hired Jane. She was inexperienced and had a rough time getting used to the job. Eventually I moved on and when I did I took my rolodex with me. I heard through the grapevine that Jane did not improve and soon after an old coworker told me that when management pressed Jane about some of her issues, she blamed me for not having the proper contact information. That same week I got a call from my boss practically breathing fire and threatening legal action because I had taken my rolodex. She said that my rolodex was the firm’s intellectual property and I had no right to it and was keeping Jane from doing her job well. I was confused and initially refused to “return” it because in my opinion it never belonged to them. It was something that I created for myself to make my job easier, that no one else at the firm had seen fit to do, and that everyone else benefited from while I worked there. After my boss spent 10 minutes speaking legalese at me, I offered to make her a copy but told her that I needed the rolodex in my new role. She was less than nice about that suggestion, and I got upset and flat out told her that it wasn’t my fault that people relied entirely on me for something that I didn’t have to do — something that anyone else could have done, that anyone else could still do if they felt like it (or, ya know, they could go back to googling like they were doing before I got there). We were at a stalemate and as I was young I got the “this is how the real world works” lecture with veiled threats about how this could impact me and my future career. I thanked her for her “concern” and hung up.

My old coworker recently joked about it but framed it as if I was in the wrong. Something along the lines of, “Remember when you told Old Boss to shove it and they couldn’t have their rolodex back? Haha.” That mildly annoyed me but got me thinking. Was it “their” rolodex and not mine? Should I have just handed it over? Again, I was more than happy to make a copy but old boss wasn’t just upset that they didn’t have it. She seemed more upset that I was using it to “thrive elsewhere.” Quotes as those were the exact words she used. How should I have handled it?

Yeah, legally they owned it. It was your idea to create it and your work putting it together, but that was done as part of your work for that company, so it falls under their legal ownership. (Just like if you had the idea to create any other new initiative while you were there; if it’s done as part of your work for them, legally they own it.)

Your boss handled it really terribly, but she wasn’t wrong on the fundamental ownership question.

weekend open thread — June 15-16, 2024

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 Paris Novel, by Ruth Reichl. When her difficult mother dies, a woman is left a plane ticket and instructions to go to France, where she finds the unexpected.

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