manager keeps talking about astrology, recording video calls, and more

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

1. Manager keeps talking about everyone’s astrological signs

I work for a large, regionally significant nonprofit. My manager-twice-removed has been with our office for about three months. I have not interacted with them much, but every time we’ve met one-on-one they’ve asked me my zodiac sign and mentioned their own as the reason they hold certain viewpoints. On occasion, they’ve justified decisions they’ve made based on astrology. I’ve now heard from a colleague that, during his recent annual review, the manager discussed his sun sign and how it impacts how people perceive him and his relationships with others. He said he told them discussing astrology made him uncomfortable, but the manager persisted and later brought up his sun sign as their perceived reason my colleague decided to hire a particular candidate for his team over another (think along the lines of “you’re a Leo, of course you’d choose an Aries over a Taurus”). I have information from a second colleague that suggests the manager may also be selecting members of our office for professional development opportunities based on their zodiac signs.

I cannot approach my immediate supervisor about this because he gets along well with the new manager and has a history of retaliating against employees who raise concerns about management. We are not unionized.

I’ve always kept my head down but this worries me as it is uncomfortable and unfair. Is this worth approaching HR about? Does it matter that I’m not religious and all this astrology talk makes me uncomfortable as a non-believer? Should I just look for a new job?

It’s totally inappropriate for a manager to bring astrology into work decisions this way, just like it would be utterly inappropriate if he were doing that with a religion. In a reasonably functioning organization, it’s definitely something HR (or someone above the manager) would want to know about. Whether your organization meets that bar I cannot say, but one way to hedge your bets is to approach HR not just on your own, but with a small group of other concerned coworkers. It’ll be a lot harder for this manager to hold it against you if you speaking up about it as a group.

2. We’ve starting recording our video calls without everyone’s permission

Hoping you can weigh in on something which is becoming a “new normal” at my place of work (a large multinational company). We’re all still working from home and will likely continue to do so into the future, so all of our meetings are on video software.

Quite often at the start of project meetings, someone will ask if it’s okay to record the meeting. The usual reasons are because a key colleague can’t be present and they’re going to watch it back, or in case useful information is shared and we want to refer back to it. This is almost always met with one or two people saying, “Yes, okay with me” while the rest of the group is silent (is there really an option to really say no?). The meeting recording then starts.

I can’t nail the reason why but this makes me feel icky! I’m worried that I may slip up on detail during a question, or forget to mute myself while I baby-talk to my cat, or I commit a total faux pas and forget a colleague’s name. It would all be immortalized on video.

Also, I don’t have any control over where that video goes within our workplace. I don’t think it’s on a par with existing CCTV in our site offices, which is pretty unobtrusive where we are. This is a close-up video of my face, of my voice, etc. which can be accessed by anyone with the recording link. I’m a deeply private person (I don’t do social media) and feel as though I’m now having to compromise my principles around online privacy in order to participate at work.

I should say that I’m fairly senior within my division and have some say in our ways of working post-Covid, but I feel like pushing back on this makes it look like I have something to hide. Is this just something we have to live with now?

You can speak up! In fact, as a senior person you’re especially well positioned to do it. Rather than trying to tackle it in the moment when someone is asking for permission to record (which is likely to derail the meeting), bring it up separately with other decision-makers. Point out that with meetings having all moved to video, there have been more requests to record but no clear guidelines for when it is or isn’t appropriate to record, how that video should be stored, or how it can be used later. It’s very reasonable to propose creating guidelines for all of that.

That said, a lot of offices record meetings for various uses and I promise you it’s not to scrutinize anyone’s routine slip-ups!

3. Missed out on a scheduled raise because I gave notice

I work for a large tech company that has regular raise cycles. In order to be paid out for vacation days, they require people to give one month’s notice. My team has lost a lot of people recently so I decided to give three months notice.

The problem is the raise cycle recently came and I did not get any pay bump. Now, people who I manage are making more than I am. Technically the day raises are announced is exactly one month from my end date, so I could’ve waited to give notice. To an extent, I understand that they likely don’t want to give a raise to someone who is out the door, but I feel like I’m being punished for trying to do the right thing and give longer notice. Do I have any standing to go to HR and see if I can still get at least some money?

You can try but it’s unlikely to happen. Raises are retention devices and when you’re leaving, they’re not going to see a real business reason for them to give you a raise. You could try arguing that by handling it this way, they’re making it less likely that people will give them generous notice periods in the future … but they’re still pretty unlikely to give you that raise. I’m sorry!

4. Manager can’t give out contact info and has to report requests for references

My husband is classified as a temporary employee for the length of a project and won’t ever be considered “permanent” but he has been at his job for 10 months now. Every few months, the company puts him on a new team with a new supervisor. The other day he was told it was his current supervisor’s last day with this team, and he has had a great rapport and great reviews from this supervisor, so before the teams were changed my husband asked him if he could have his contact information to use him as a reference for jobs sometime in the future. They work remotely and the only way to ask this was using internal communication.

The supervisor replied that it is against company policy for him to share his contact information, and, not only that, he was required to report to HIS supervisors that my husband had asked to use him as a job reference. My husband was shocked! Have you heard of this situation? How does one navigate this?

Some companies do prohibit individual managers from giving references and instead everything to go through HR, but not being allowed to even share his contact info and having to report the request is highly strange. He could have just said, “I’m sorry, we’re not allowed to give references at all.” Either the manager misunderstood the policy (and doesn’t really need to report it / is allowed to give out his own damn contact info) or this is a very odd company.

As for how to navigate it, one option is to ask the manager if he’s able to give a “personal reference” (which as a rule are pretty useless, but when the person giving it is your former manager, most reference-checkers will consider it a professional reference while the manager gets the cover of saying he’s not speaking for the company). But if he refuses that too, then the only real remaining option is to find out if the company’s HR department will at least confirm the basics, like dates of employment and your eligibility for re-hire.

5. Giving notice to the wrong person

My coworker is giving his two week notice. He isn’t going to our/his immediate manager with the news, he is going to her manager (the CFO). Granted, this coworker doesn’t really like our manager and is leaving for a better job, but isn’t this the wrong way to handle it?

Eh, it’s not a big deal. Yes, in general you should give your notice to your manager, but it’s not a disaster if you give it to another appropriate person instead (whether that’s because your manager is out, or hard to reach, or you just can’t stand them). In fact, if he’s leaving because of your manager and wants to explain that, it would make particular sense to speak to her boss instead.

update: I accidentally threw a sandwich and it caused a work crisis

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, where all month I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose coworker accidentally threw a sandwich, which hit their elegant, frosty grandboss, leaving an oily splotch on her suit? The grandboss mistakenly thought a different coworker, Renton, had patted her on the ass … and then when Renton was gone for two days, the office rumor mill was speculating that he’d been sent for mandatory harassment training as a result. (It’s hard to briefly summarize the details of this letter in all its glory; you should read the whole thing.) Here’s the update.

Things rather sorted themselves out. Diane (the owner of said sandwich) was very much uninclined to rectify the situation, so I spoke to Renton on my own. He burst out laughing at how terribly ineptly we handled it and he explained that he was actually on a new roster, which was why he was missing for those days I erroneously assumed he was out for “rehabilitation.” So he was in training, basically, to learn how to deal with idiotic situations. *blushes, looks around sideways*

I distanced myself from Diane, and Renton and I have actually become good friends — we snuck out for some afternoon footie today (AHEM. The Euros have started, people, don’t get salacious!) because PATIOS ARE OPEN! So I lost and gained a friend, but I have, I think, better judgement now on how to deal with absolute ridiculous happenings. I’m still pleasant with Diane, but this changed my view of her a bit, to be frank. She still uses our dictionary as a sandwich press, and FrostyBoss has worn the suit since. (I cannot lie: I had been charting her outfits. We’re talking Excel spreadsheet. So now I have wonderful ideas around how to “dress for the role you want, not the role you have”! ….I just need about an extra 40% salary increase to achieve it!) So I think it’s all good?

I also started to chat with a couple of our more chatty folks, and tried to downplay the rumours by saying that didn’t sound like Renton AT ALL, and everyone I spoke to agreed with me, and between that and our being mates and him being tagged for a seniorish role, it died off well quick. Now the big question is who on earth would have started such a ridiculous story? This might be me showing my immaturity again, but … I just rather nope out of those blathers, and say I’ve got some revision to do!

Thank you for the advice, and also to the commentary for the laughs.

remember the manager who wouldn’t let her best employee attend her own graduation?

Remember the letter-writer whose best employee quit on the spot because she wouldn’t let her go to her college graduation? The employee — who had grown up in foster care and worked full-time while taking night classes to earn her degree — had worked late/come in early/worked overtime for years to cover for other coworkers, but the manager refused to give her two hours off to attend her graduation ceremony.

Here’s that manager’s opposite (click the image to read the full article):

(Also, we’re not done with updates for today yet! Check back later for a much-anticipated update…)

I’m afraid I’m terrible at my new job

A reader writes:

I was laid off from my sales job due to COVID and scored my “dream job” at another startup as an account manager. I was so proud and excited to start this new-ish career path and felt qualified but also that I was going to learn so much, and I am.

The problem is, I just don’t feel like I’m great at the job, and I don’t feel I can get to a point where I’ve mastered it, or at least to a point when I don’t need my manager’s support on every issue I encounter. I feel like I’m sorely underqualified for this role with regards to strategic thinking and supporting accounts of this size.

I’ve been at the job for almost six months. When should I be feeling comfortable? I started off with tons of enthusiasm, but it’s waning now and I’m pretty much just doing prep for upcoming meetings but have lost motivation to go the extra mile for strategic planning for my accounts. Part of it is that I just don’t know what to do, and part of it is that my anxiety is paralyzing. I sit and stare at my screen and try to figure things out and can’t focus. My manager has told me it took him a year to feel comfortable, but at the same time, he had an incredible amount of success in that year despite not feeling comfortable, and I’m not awesome at the “fake it til you make it” mindset.

I feel like the company loved me during the interview but are now disappointed in me, although I have no real feedback indicating this. I’m not going to hit my upcoming set of goals, but the company also understands they created these targets based on unreliable data and my entire team is in the same boat. I have yet to have my 90-day check-in, and we currently don’t have any metrics to assess performance so honestly, I don’t know HOW anyone would know if I were doing well or not.

At what point should I look for a new job if I feel like I’m not able to do the one for which I was hired? Do you have any tips on how to get my managers to tell me what would be an indicator of whether or not I was a good fit and if I had potential to really excel? I don’t want to sit around hoping I’m doing well and wondering when the other shoe will drop and they’ll discover I’m actually terrible at my job. 75% of my team is new, and we don’t really have any visibility into what each other are doing. It’s also my first job where my performance is not 100% connected to attaining specific targets. Is this just imposter syndrome? Is this the company’s fault for not supporting me more? Am I passing off responsibility for my performance?

I don’t have the energy to keep fighting for feedback or for something that helps me measure my performance. I should note, I am the only woman on my team and the only one who seems to be worried about whether or not I’m doing OK. I know this is a more common thing for women but I don’t want to brush it off as just being that.

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

should I warn our terrible managers that most of our team is about to leave?

A reader writes:

I work in a government department of about 25 people. Due to a poorly executed reorganization and COVID19, we lost about 5 people to other jobs, retirement, or budget cuts in the past year. Obviously, it’s never optimal to lose 20% of your staff, but that could be recovered from if it wasn’t for the incredibly horrible and downright disasterous management that has, from my count, at least 9 other people actively looking for jobs to leave by the end of the summer.

I don’t think I need to go into the reasons all of these people (myself included) are looking to leave, but a general overview would be expanded duties with less staff and no pay increase, lack of respect and outright disrespect of non-professional staff, punitive policies that change weekly, and the refusal of management to acknowledge any issues or even areas where staff are excelling. (Think being written up because I asked why they were tripling my job duties without telling me which of my original duties I could step back from. I was accused of being chronically negative and put on a “positivity plan”.) They just smile and say things like “you should be happy to have a job,” “all companies have communication issues,” and “you need to get on board and be a team player or maybe this isn’t the job for you.”

We are about to lose the backbone of our department and be left with almost no institutional knowledge, anybody to train incoming people, and worse, in my opinion, nobody to help this department carry out its mission. The people we support may very well fail because of this mass exodus of staff.

I know that nothing short of a complete management overhaul will get people to stay at this point, but I’m wondering if there’s a way to tell (incredibly toxic) management that this is about to happen and that they need to prepare (or completely change their initiatives and focus on staff morale)? I don’t want this department to fail and have the people we serve lose access to our resources just because our upper management is a glorified train wreck that is little talk and even less action.

They won’t listen.

These are managers who wrote you up because you asked what to take off your plate when your workload was tripling, and who tell you that you should be happy just to have a job. These are managers who threaten you when you express concerns.

If you warn them about what’s happening, they won’t listen. They might even find a way to blame you for it.

I know the angst that comes from seeing people you serve at risk of losing access to services they need or, more broadly, from seeing work you care about fall apart. I wish you could solve that, but you cannot.

Sometimes the only thing that prompts real change is letting things implode. It’s hard to do when you care, but the reality is that you don’t have the power in this situation to do anything else.

it’s time to close the life insurance gender gap

And now a word from a sponsor…

You probably know about the gender pay gap – but did you know there’s a gender gap on life insurance too?

While 58% of men have life insurance coverage, only 47% of women do.1 But women are just as likely to need coverage.

If you have people in your life who rely on you for their well-being – spouse, kids, or others – you generally need life insurance. Life insurance payouts can be used to help pay the mortgage, debts, child care, future college tuition, and the many other day-to-day expenses families have.

What’s more, coverage is usually more affordable for women (because statistically women live longer and are more likely to live past an insurance policy’s term length). For example, the average monthly cost of a 20-year term life insurance policy with a $500,000 death benefit for a healthy non-smoking 35-year-old woman is $25.23. The average cost of that same policy for a healthy non-smoking 35-year-old man is $30.03 a month.2

And even if you have some life insurance through work, employer-provided policies often aren’t enough to provide the full coverage your dependents usually need. Typically they provide only one to two times your annual salary – so if you make, say, $70,000, your beneficiary would receive $70,000 – $140,000 … which can run out quickly if you help provide for  a spouse and kids. (Experts usually suggest getting coverage that equals five to 10 times your salary.)

One misconception women sometimes have is that you can’t apply for insurance while you’re pregnant – but you can. In fact, it’s often smarter to do it then instead of waiting, in case you develop any conditions during or after pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes, that can make it harder to get a good rate. (That said, even if you do have health issues, qualified independent insurance brokers – who work with multiple insurance companies rather than just one – can often help you get a better rate.)

If you don’t yet have enough life insurance coverage in place, one company to consider is Bestow, which is using technology to make affordable term life insurance more approachable and accessible. Bestow offers the only 100% digital (no physical exam needed) way to apply for and buy term life insurance policies up to $1.5 million. That means that what used to take weeks can now be done entirely online in as little as five minutes.

Buying coverage sooner rather than later could help you get a more affordable rate, since the cost generally goes up each year that you get older. Additionally, most term life insurance policies offer “guaranteed level premiums,” which means you lock in that pricing for the duration of your coverage.

Visit Bestow today to get a quote. You can apply online and, if approved, start coverage immediately.

This post is sponsored by Bestow. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

1 According to the 2021 Insurance Barometer Study by insurance industry groups Life Happens and LIMRA.

2 From https://www.forbes.com/advisor/life-insurance/what-women-should-know/

when HR cuddles with an employee, asking kids what they want to be when they grow up, and more

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

1. My wife, the head of HR, cuddled with an employee

My wife is the head of HR at her small nonprofit, and has had a very close friendship with somebody who, for a long time, reported to her. My wife was a big advocate for this person getting promoted to her current position.

My wife and her friendship with her report have made me slightly uncomfortable, as I have thought it was overly-familiar for a work relationship. (For what it’s worth, we are not monogamous. She has been with many women and I am not jealous in the slightest. The professional context is what is getting to me, as detailed below.)

Anyway, my wife shared with me that she gave her report/peer a ride home, and then went inside to her report’s house, and then they “cuddled” for a while before her report admitted an attraction. To which my wife replied, “Let’s just stick with cuddles.”

I have told her that it is wildly unprofessional to be this close to anybody in a work context, particularly somebody who used to be a report, and particularly when you are the de facto head of HR. I think she’s finally coming around to believing me. I just feel terrible because there’s a junior employee who’s 10 years younger whose reputation is at stake too. My wife’s report shouldn’t have to field accusations of unfair advantage or have her pay scale questioned. (My wife is currently arguing to a budgetary committee that this employee needs a raise. Imagine if the raise goes through and then any of this comes out.)

What now? Is this salvageable? I told my wife she needed to stop seeing this employee outside of any context that wasn’t the office, that any meeting outside of the office needed to be treated as an extension of the workplace, and that any communication needed to happen through work email or slack. Period. Full stop. But I also think she should apply somewhere else and get out before any of this gets out to other members of her team, the CEO, or the board. She thinks the situation is fine and just will be awkward for a while. I worry that if she waits and this comes out, she’ll not only be potentially fired, but her reputation will be so damaged she won’t be able to find work anywhere else. And I don’t know. Maybe she’s right. It was a one-off cuddle session on a couch at her report’s house. But still. I don’t know. It just feels like she needs to get out, and get out now.

Whoa, okay. As you well know, your wife should not be cuddling with any employees as the head of HR or with anyone whose salary she has influence over. It sounds like she urgently needs to step back and reassess her beliefs about relationships at work while she’s in this role, because the problem isn’t just this one specific situation but also the fact that she didn’t think it was a problem at all until you really pushed her to see it.

Is it salvageable? I don’t know. It’s possible that she can establish better boundaries with this person and it’ll never be brought up and that’ll be the end of it. It’s also possible it’ll come out at some point and reflect really badly on her (which could mean anything from being seen as having terrible judgment to facing a harassment complaint). I don’t think your role as a spouse can be to insist that she quit, but you certainly have standing to talk through the implications of what happened and her philosophy about this stuff in general and then figure out if you’re comfortable with where she stands on it all.

2. Is my old job calling about the Glassdoor review I left?

Earlier this year, I left the company I had been working for for the last three years. Two years back, we were told to leave a Glassdoor review while working for the company. We were a small team of 10 people so any review you left could easily be detected. I don’t think anyone left an honest review. I know I didn’t.

After leaving in February, I wanted to remove my previous review and add a new one. But I chose to delay it so that I could think things over. Last month, I left a new review and deleted the old one. I wrote stuff like good pay, no hierarchy, plenty of opportunities to wear many hats, flexible timing, extremely collaborative and stimulating environment. And the cons were small team hence heavy workload, no work-life balance, flexible timing but doesn’t matter you’ll be working all the time, inefficient processes, lots of miscommunication, and lack of trust, lots of micromanagement, useless meetings, extremely harsh feedback, complete lack of praise, open office structure causes plenty of distractions, impossible to do deep working, no avenue for constructive complaints, etc. In the end, I mentioned that some of the issues were being addressed at the time of my leaving.

I thought I’d finally move on with my life but within a week I got a call from HR. I didn’t pick up because I was taking an afternoon nap. As soon as I saw the missed call, I knew it was regarding the review and immediately recognized I’d made the mistake of not leaving it anonymously. I included my designation and the number of years I had worked there. I didn’t think it through and deep down I guess I wanted them to know it was me.

I spoke to other people about this and many said that they could be calling to discuss tax and payroll stuff. Some said they want more details on future improvement. But when I left I’d already spoken to them regarding taxes and payroll, and everything was taken care of. Besides, they could’ve emailed me since I wasn’t picking their call. As for future improvements, they’d be better off asking people who are still working there.

Their attitude was always “work first,” not relationship first (not that companies have to prioritize building relationships with employees, balance is the name of the game) so when the work is done, I’m out. So I never called HR back. But today I got a message from my manager asking me how I’m doing. If I reply, I believe he’d want to talk to me. Any advice on how to handle this situation?

The lovely thing about not working there anymore is that you don’t have to talk to them if you don’t want to. They can’t make you! Still, though, ideally you’d stay on reasonably good terms with your manager because he might be asked for a reference for you in the future. That doesn’t mean you need to get on the phone with him though. Email him back (even if he called you) and say, “Got your message. I’m doing well! Anything you need me for? If so, I’m hard to reach by phone these days so email is best.” And if it turns out that he does indeed want to talk about your review, you can decline to respond at that point or say “hmmm, I know a lot of people thought those things so it could be anyone” or “I don’t think companies should try to influence online reviews” or whatever response (or non-response) you’re comfortable with.

3. The problem with “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

As a parent of a four-year-old, I’m having an increasingly hard time with people asking kids, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I don’t think it’s healthy for anyone (especially kids) to define themselves by their work. I sometimes feel like I was socialized to go to college and then graduate school, and now I have a ton of student debt that I will never pay off. I have a nice job in my field, but I’ve scaled back to part-time to spend more time with my child and no longer have the passion I once had for my career. And I’m perfectly okay with that, as I have lots of interests outside work, but I’m sure I’d have been find learning a trade and having less schooling and less debt. I want to avoid shoehorning my kiddo into something that might not be the best choice for her, and in fact I’d like to avoid her identifying so strongly with any type of career field, especially as a child but really at any point in her life. I’m just curious what you think about this, and if you have any ideas on what other questions we should be asking kids that make them think about their future/their values, but don’t involve picking a hypothetical career and defining themselves by it.

I agree that too many kids are raised with problematic ideas about the role work must play in their lives, but I don’t know that the ubiquity of “what do you want to do when you grow up?” is a major contributor to that. For most kids, the ideas they have when they’re little (astronaut, artist, vet, etc.) don’t have much correlation to what they end up being interested in when they’re eventually of an age to think seriously about a career. (That’s not always true, of course; I’m speaking generally.) And most kids have little to no idea about the full range of career options out there and end up picking from a very limited knowledge of their options. I do think, though, that by a certain age (11? 12?) we’d be better off asking kids about their interests rather than specific career paths.

This is all pretty off-the-cuff though — what do others think?

4 Editing an intern’s work when she’s a non-native speaker

I am a very new, first-time manager, and I have what is hopefully a low-stakes problem that I want to get right. I have one direct report, essentially an intern, and she is not a native English speaker. Her spoken English has always been excellent. However, she has just given me her first written report to review, and while the English is not bad, there are places where her phrasing is a little odd-sounding. It’s mainly a matter of tone, unusual (but not incorrect) word choice, or of being slightly too wordy.

I feel very comfortable correcting actual errors (there are one or two, but I’d expect that from anyone, native speaker or not), but is it reasonable of me to edit her document when it’s not incorrect​, it’s just not how a native speaker would write? We do not have a “house style” and this would be an internal document. Is it worth potentially giving her a complex about her English when she is a good worker and this is really just my opinion?

A lot of editing is “just” someone’s opinion — but that’s how documents end up with better clarity and flow. Editing and being edited is a pretty normal part of work; it doesn’t need to give anyone a complex.

In this case, you should edit if (a) edits are needed to make the document clear and easier to understand or (b) internal readers will assume the document reflects your edits and sign-off.

But there are lots of jobs where a more junior person writes and a more senior person polishes and edits. If you end up doing that here, you can explain that to her — it’s not necessarily about her written English skills, but a normal part of the job (if in fact that’s the case).

5. Indicating medical leave on a resume

If a person is injured at work and needs to take time off to heal from that injury how are they supposed to list it on their resume? Should there be a gap? No gap and still listed as working there during the time even if it’s 6+ months?

For my employer, even when women take a maternity leave, it still gets added to their years of service and I’ve seen that they don’t put a gap year on their resume (I live in Canada). Is this the correct way to handle it?

Yes! You’re still employed there even if you’re on medical or parental leave. You don’t need to, and shouldn’t, subtract out that time on your resume.

updates: the meditation and yoga office, the detective, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, where all month I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

1. My company wants us to meditate and do yoga and alternative healing

As of a few weeks ago I no longer work for said company, and a few other colleagues have been fired or left, with morale plummeting but the bosses very much going deeper into their world of wellness. One thing that increased steeply was using vague wellness concepts to critique employees, basically giving them no way to argue with the higher-ups (like, doing a yoga class then telling an employee afterwards that they sense they have negative energy, based on nothing but how they looked on video).

In my own case, there was a major breach of trust regarding the private life/work life divide, and concerns about other employees’ mental health were dismissed in a way that felt over-the-line. I feel relieved to be out of there but also know I probably have a lot to process that I haven’t even thought about yet! I did consult a lawyer but also had to consider my income/salvage some $$ above all else, especially mid pandemic.

So, a happy ending, in a way. Not sure how the company will succeed without retention and with so many potential legal problems, but I guess stranger things have happened in the startup world.

2. A detective showed up at my job on a day I had called in sick (#3 at the link)

I took your advice and let it go, and it was the right call. Six months after I wrote to you I was promoted and I no longer work for the supervisor I’d described it my letter, but we are on good terms. I wonder if she even remembers the detective. It seems so insignificant now.

3. My office is reopening and I don’t feel safe going back

I wrote in asking for advice about a year ago during the first few months of the pandemic being worried about going back into the office too soon.

Some things that I wanted to clear up — people were confused as to the timing that my coworkers and I were expected to go back into the office. We were sent an email very late in the day on a Friday being told that we had to prepare to come into the office the Monday after next (so a little over a week for the people that got the email in time to ruin their weekend, or a week for people that had already departed for the day).

Also, commenters asked what sort of safety measures would be in place. The office is completely open, with no separation from one workstation to another, and no way to actually be 6+ feet apart. The only precautions that they agreed to put in place was that everyone would get hand sanitizer on their workstation, and they would hire a cleaning crew to come in once a week. The only mask requirement would be that you would have to wear a mask when you got up from your desk, but you could sit at your station maskless. Also, with this reintroduction back into the office, the sales people would start traveling, including out of state, to see clients. They would not be required to quarantine or take tests unless they started to feel ill.

There was also discussion of this sentence, “They’ve been communicating to us that there isn’t a ‘hard date’ that we’re expected back in the office, but recently they completely flipped that stance and now expect us all back at the top of next month.” For clarification, their attitude about this whole thing was really night and day. They went from initially being flexible and stating there would be a slow return or a staggering of schedules so that everyone was comfortable, to a sudden email with a week’s notice that everyone was expected back, no exceptions.

There was a small group of us that were very uncomfortable with how everything was being handled, and we went as a group to discuss our concerns. We were essentially told that this was how it was going to be, and they needed a decision from us on Friday on how we wanted to move forward.

I got multiple doctors’ notes strongly recommending that I don’t return to the office. Even with that, I was let go.

I was incredibly lucky in that I wasn’t down for long. I found a remote position with a significant pay bump within a few months of being let go. I’m incredibly grateful as I know this wasn’t something that seemed possible at the time.

Looking back on my time at this company, I was surprised at how much unprofessional behavior I tolerated. While I loved what I did, the signs that I was working in a toxic environment were written on the wall, but the pandemic really brought out the worst in my bosses and the company at large.

I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my letter. I also appreciated everyone taking the time to comment – I really felt like I was alone in this and the AAM community really helped me realize that I wasn’t. So, thank you.

4. How can I discourage my coworkers’ daily intense socializing? (#3 at the link)

Some of the commenters picked up on the situation for what it was – an office romance. All the more scandalous because one of the two is engaged (to someone else). Most of the office would have a bit of a chuckle about what was going on because Jane and Fergus were so incredibly indiscreet, so that validation made the discomfort somewhat bearable until the whole thing mostly fizzled out.

Ultimately, I really appreciated the perspectives and advice from all of the commenters. Everyone was so incredibly helpful and I was really grateful to view the situation differently. At times the “secret” rendezvous could be quite uncomfortable — I recall being told on several occasions of others having “stumbled upon them” when retrieving items from a secluded storage area. They tended to (and somewhat still do) have an unusual work “friendship” where neither of them seemed able to play it off smoothly if their duo somehow turned into a trio, so mostly if they had paired themselves up they’d be avoided by everyone so they could have their space (and so no one else would subject themselves to what would inevitably be an intensely awkward encounter).

Finally, I did invest in a good pair of noise cancelling headphones and I couldn’t recommend them more highly. They block out many distractions but don’t leave me looking so unapproachable that no one comes near me if I’m wearing them (a blessing and a curse!).

update: my coworker is upset that I’m pregnant

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who shared an office with someone who’d been struggling with infertility and started treating the letter-writer coldly when she suspected she was pregnant? (#2 at the link; first update here) Here’s the update.

I wrote in last year and sent in an update about my coworker, who was upset that I was pregnant. I wanted to give everyone another (final?) update on my situation, and clarify a few things from my last letter.

Jane does have a son. He’s in school, but I’m not sure exactly how old he is. Some people speculated that she was undergoing IVF, and that’s why she announced she was pregnant. While I won’t speculate her motivations, she said many times that IVF wasn’t an option for her.

Shortly after my December update, Jane let everyone know she was having major surgery in February. In early January we hired Fergus, who would be covering for Jane while she was out, and then for me while on maternity leave in May. Immediately after his hire, Jane requested she be moved back to her old desk, because it “wasn’t right I be left alone with a man in my condition”. I told our boss I was totally fine working with Fergus, and the requests stopped. Surprisingly, all coldness Jane expressed towards me evaporated, seemingly overnight. Jane came into my office at least twice a day to ask me a question (she would have emailed before). I was cordial and friendly, but not as much as I had previously been.

Jane was supposed to train Fergus on some of her job responsibilities, but that never came about. When she went on leave in February for surgery, Fergus and I were left with a pile of work, some of it time sensitive, that hadn’t been touched. It was a hectic few weeks, to say the least. It quickly became evident that Fergus and I worked very well together. Tasks were being completed with more efficiency, even though we had more work to do. Fergus suggested some adjustments that worked at his old job. Some were great, others didn’t work, but we definitely improved how some things run!

Jane decided to return to work a month early, against medical advice (or so she told me). The first week she was back was incredibly stressful. Jane took back tasks that had previously been hers, but claimed they were done all wrong, or she didn’t remember how to do them. The best example I have is Fergus dated a document 21-03-15, when she would have marked it 3/15/21. Neither are wrong, just different (this didn’t affect how the document was saved – the name didn’t change, and it was still in the same folder as always).

Shortly after her return, HR and our manager pulled me into a conference room to discuss maternity leave. They then asked if I preferred working with Fergus or Jane. I did hesitate, and offered that there were advantages to working with both. When they explained that there didn’t seem to be enough work in our department for three people (true), but too much for two (also true), they were looking at filtering off some of our tasks, as well as some from other employees who were overburdened and create a new position. I was still hesitant, but did admit that I preferred working with Fergus over Jane. By the end of the week, some of Jane’s work had been shifted back to us, some of our tasks were shifted to her, and she picked up some new responsibilities. It was neither a promotion or demotion, and she was still in her same office.

My coworkers decided to host a small baby shower for me the Friday before I went on leave. Jane absolutely gushed over me (to the point that it was uncomfortable). I gave Fergus a thorough debriefing of the things I could (our work tends to have a short turn-around time, so I finished what I could and handed off the few things I couldn’t), and told him I’d be as available for questions as I could be.

The first day of leave, Fergus called me and told me that Jane had quit that morning, with no notice. I was actually surprised; she seemed more like herself after her surgery. But this means Fergus is working alone basically through July. Some of Jane’s work has been shifted around to other employees until I get back, and then we’ll reassess. I’ve assured Fergus I’ll try to answer his questions when I can.

Oh, and I had my baby last week! Thanks again to the commenters who offered well-wishes. We had some (expected and unavoidable) issues, but overall things went well. I had a little girl three days after my own birthday, so now myself, my daughter, and my mother are all May Tauruses. Kinda cool if you ask me.

Once again, thank you for all your wisdom and help. You and the commenters are great!

did Covid kill office dress codes?

Lots of people got used to working in sweats and slippers this last year. Will they really go back to business casual (or business formal) as offices reopen?

At Slate today, I looked at how people who went remote last year are feeling about returning to collared shirts and pants with zippers — and argue that employers should take this moment to reassess what dress code requirements truly make sense. You can read it here.