short answer Sunday: seven short answers to seven short questions

It’s time for short-answer Sunday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

Showing sympathy to a colleague whose son died

My previous supervisor, now colleague, will soon have a sad anniversary.  A couple of years ago, her son passed away.  I was not working for her (or the organization) at the time; however, via conversation with her, I know of the date. I am wondering, to show a connection of humanity, what I should do (purchase a card or flowers, or an item I am not thinking of) and/or say.

It would be really nice of you to give her a card (or flowers, if you prefer) on that date and to let her know that you’re thinking of her.

My boss was my boyfriend’s mother

I have begun my job hunt once more and am worried about one thing in particular: my last boss. The whole ordeal was a bit unorthodox and I see now that it was a mistake, but she was my long-time boyfriend’s mother and I was hoping to get her to like me better by doing a great job. It ended up being that she would criticize me for not doing a good enough job (largely for things I was supposed to do after hours), and after many failed attempts by my boyfriend and I to talk to her, and the matter only getting more stressful for the both of us, I quit. Admittedly, I did so quite abruptly and was very unprofessional about it, but it had become so personal that it was hard to think on a professional basis. What do I tell interviewers when they ask me about my last job and my last boss? Things such as why I quit, didn’t list my manager as a reference, and how to let them know that the circumstances of leaving this job was only specific to THIS job, and it would not happen under normal circumstances? Especially without sounding like it’s either person’s fault.

Honestly, I’d probably just be straightforward about it and say, “My boss was my boyfriend’s mother, which ended up being a mistake.” I’d avoid getting into the details.

Do employers delete emails with attachments?

I read somewhere that a lot of companies delete any email that has attachments due to viruses. Is this true? Would it seem unprofessional if I send two emails, one without attachments (cover letter and resume posted in the email body itself) and one with attachments? Would it mess up my format if I send my cover letter and resume in the body of the email? How do you recommend we send our resumes?

Plenty of companies accept attachments, but those that won’t usually say so on their websites or in their ads. However, if you want to play it safe, it’s fine to both attach your documents and include them as plain text in the body of a single email — but don’t send two separate emails; that will just look odd. (If you send your documents as plain text in the body of the email, make sure that you re-format them to work in plain text.)

Working for a business that’s breaking the law

A friend of mine was telling me the other day about a family-owned business that she does occasional bookkeeping for.  Apparently, they’re dodging their taxes in a big way – taking cash from customers without ringing up the sales so they can keep both the sale and the taxes, pretending inventory hasn’t sold that has, and a million other little dodges that add up to a big amount.  From what she can tell, they’re behind over 100K in their taxes.

I am extremely concerned for her, because she is doing occasional bookkeeping, that if this company gets caught, she’ll be implicated in the crime.  What’s worse is that it’s *her family*, so even though she personally isn’t doing anything to help them hide their taxable income, who would ever believe that? Is there anything I can do to help her?  Do I need to worry that she’s going to jail when her family gets busted?

I’m not a lawyer, but I’d think that if she’s the bookkeeper for a company that’s handling taxes illegally, she has a strong chance of being implicated if caught — because, uh, she actually is complicit in the crime. I strongly recommend that she remove herself from this situation.

How to address a cover letter

How should you be addressing a cover letter in situations where you have absolutely no idea who the person who will be reading it will be? I know the ideal situation is to always address the applicable person by name, but in cases where this is not possible, is something along the lines of “Dear Human Resources” acceptable?

I’d write “dear hiring manager” or “dear (company name).”

What does this email from an employer mean?

I’d been looking for a job for over a year now and had several close-to-hire opportunities and then for one reason or another I don’t get the job offer after 6-7 interviews. Last month, I applied for a job, did 6 interviews and an assignment, and all went well. They asked for references, and my references replied after a week of not hearing back from them. I sent a follow-up e-mail and that is what I got:  “Apologies for the delay in getting back to you. We have spoken with your references and both gave positive feedback, which is great news. We are still finalizing the process with a couple of other candidates and should be able to get back to you Monday. Thanks for your patience, I know it has been a long recruitment process. Almost there!”

Sorry if I sound desperate but I just need to know if you can tell anything from such an email.

Nope. It’s just a polite email updating you on their timeline; it doesn’t indicate anything else. Take this stuff at face value; trying to read anything else into it is a recipe for frustration and stress.

But on a different topic, multiple jobs where they asked you to interview 6-7 times? That’s a lot of interviews per job.

Kids these days

I am in my mid-forties and was taught, and believed, that punctuality is important in getting and keeping a job. In recent years, I have had the opportunity to work with several people who are in their twenties, a different generation. They seem to have no respect for punctuality at all, coming in to work 15, 20, even 25 minutes late on a day-to-day basis simply because they cannot get up from bed early enough to be at work at the same time as everyone else. Most days they are willing to work later to make up for lost time, but does that make it acceptable? Am I just “too old” to see that it’s alright to come and go as you please instead of following the hours set by the employer and followed by the rest of the employees?

I think you know the answer to this question. If an employer requires a specific time of arrival, that’s when employees are expected to arrive. However, more and more employers are relaxing what used to be more rigid rules in that regard, recognizing that for many jobs, a person’s results are more important than whether she was at her desk 20 minutes late or not. (There are some jobs where this isn’t true, of course, such as jobs where phones must be answered during particular hours.)

It may be that these employees’ managers simply don’t care that much about time of arrival (within reason) as long as the work is getting done well.

{ 37 comments… read them below }

  1. Bob*

    Not only does she need to remove herself, she needs to get her own lawyer. When there is a company breaking the law, you are better off getting a lawyer before talking to local, state, or federal law enforcement. I have been there before. I was working for a company ended up in a high profile case. Before I went and spoke with the FBI, I got a lawyer. The company’s lawyer will look out for the business owner’s needs, not those of the employee.

  2. Anonymous*

    I agree that the friend should extricate herself from the tax dodgers. But if its a small, privately/closely held company the IRS generally will not go after employees, it’s the responsibility of the business owner to correctly file and pay taxes. But getting out of there and lawyering up if the irs does come to call is a good idea all the same.

  3. Samie*

    Thanks for the advice! I’ve been lucky enough to not have anyone ask yet. I think it might be largely be that since I was they’ve never heard of the place that they assume it must not be doing well.

    And I have to agree with the last question. I’m in my 20s and I insist on being punctual, though I do know that there are jobs that are a little more flexible on it and don’t care as long as you get your work done. My boyfriend has a job like that, and his friend had a job like that. It depends on whether they hired them as students and they’re only required to put in a certain amount of hours.

  4. M*

    I’m 29 and I guess I’m a bit “old school” when it comes to punctuality, regardless of what my employer will let me get away with. I make a point of being punctual, but I also consider myself a results-oriented person so as long as my work is done, it shouldn’t matter that I take 10 extra minutes at lunch/break a couple of times per week. However, I make a point of keeping regular hours because it annoys me when I need people and I don’t know if/when they’ll be in. Plus, I was brought up to be punctual and I most days I just don’t want to stay late. At least my colleagues know that they can always find me between the hours of 8am and 4pm.

    I can see what the OP is getting at. 25 minutes late is a bit much, even with flexible start times….I’d call ahead if I was going to be that late.

  5. a.b.*

    In regards to the last question– “managers these days!” It’s not good for an employee to consistently come in late, but if the boss isn’t cracking down, the boss is implicitly condoning it. Young people who are starting their first full-time jobs really do need to be told what the rules are (especially since the office environment is changing). I’m sure when you were first starting full time work, someone was making the same generalizations about you. Only there weren’t blogs then.

    Please remember that “kids these days” statements don’t do anyone service.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Good point about needing to be explicit with expectations for those without much experience. I think we all tend to think certain expectations will be obvious, and they aren’t always!

  6. Mike C.*

    Ask a Manager, why do you suggest that the bookkeeper simply leave rather than report the tax dodging going on to the IRS? Why shouldn’t crimes like these be reported?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, in this case, it’s her own family. I think it’s probably more realistic to just urge her to remove herself from the situation than to report her own family.

      1. Mike C.*

        I missed the part later where she says “her family”, and only saw the “family-owned” part.

  7. Anonymous*

    M, you think that you’re being “results-oriented” makes you superior to those who can’t drag their behinds out of bed in the morning. Actually, it doesn’t. It means that YOUR body clock is wired to work well in the morning. It doesn’t mean you’re any more “results-oriented” than someone who peaks in the afternoon or evening. There have been plenty of studies that prove people operate on entirely different body clocks and to force them to be fully functional at the wrong time of day is a recipe for failure. Employers must finally catch up to the scientific facts and provide flexible work schedules that accommodate all of their talent, and not just those who are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at dawn.

    1. M*

      I think you’re missing the point. Plenty of my colleagues keep a 7:30-3:30 schedule, others like the 10-6 shift. It’s about being reliable, regardless of when you start. If you say you’re going to be in at 10am, be there at 10am. Not 10:10 or 10:25. Like a.b. mentioned above, I think employers need to explicitly state the rules.

      1. Karthik*

        See my reply below for more, but — I see your point, and have to agree with others that it completely depends on the office. I do scientific research for a company, and while we do work with colleagues we need time dedicated to sitting by ourselves and just thinking deeply without distractions for hours on end. So, if I’m going to be in my office with the door closed…

        I agree that if there’s an expectation of start time, it needs to be made clear.

  8. Karthik*

    Maybe the starting times is just a difference in culture. My colleagues like to come in at 9, spend the first 20 minutes drinking their coffee while catching up on the news or browsing email. I come in at 930, having had my coffee and read my email at home. Because of the way traffic works, my commute would be 45 minutes if I wanted to come in at 9, but shrinks to 20 minutes by starting at 9:30. I come in more rested, less annoyed at the world, and stay at least a full workday (that is, at least 30 minutes beyond everyone else).

    Obviously if you are working at a restaurant, construction site, or manufacturing plant and have a shift time to meet , are part of the armed forces and have a duty time, or in another field where time is critical, then of course being on time is of utmost importance. But if you’re an accountant or engineer and you’re not scheduled for any meetings that morning, how does it really matter as long as the work gets done on time and at or above the required level?

  9. Liz T*

    Agreed on “it depends on the office manager” in terms of punctuality. When I worked in the Artistic Office for a theater, I came in 10 minutes late one time. I apologized to my supervisor, who waved it away–as she put, we all worked so hard, she gives people 15 minutes leeway.

    (But then, theater’s a feast-and-fast schedule. It’d be a 60-70 hour where lateness was UNACCEPTABLE followed by a 30-40 hour week where we all got to relax.)

  10. Anonarealius*

    Being on time is the minimum expectation regardless of location.

    This isn’t about age… being late even taking 5-10 extra minutes on the employers dime falls under theft of time. Anyone compensated/receiving any form of consideration for their work needs to honor the agreement of hours worked including the agreed upon start (you actually start working at that exact moment) and end times.

    jmho I don’t care if your work is exceptional when you’re working, a late employee is unreliable, exhibiting unacceptable behavior. This contradiction blows me away – how in the world is an employee that can’t meet the minimum behavior a star? Those that would argue that their overall performance is good, are you serious? Unreliable is unreliable.

    I am genuinely astonished that employees continue to see what they can pull with so many qualified, reliable, responsible applicants looking for work.

    1. Karthik*

      How is coming in 5 minutes late any more theft from the company than being asked to stay 5 minutes extra to finish something is theft from the employee? If I’m in the middle of something, I’ll stay until it’s done, and if I have a backlog I will work late to cut through that log simply because my employer treats me like a professional and does not get on my case about start times. If they get on my case about being 5 minutes late, then I will insist on leaving exactly 8 work hours later.

      It’s possible to be reliable and still do a crappy job. I would rather work with someone who shows up at 930 +/- 30 minutes but is an absolute genius who contributes to the bottom line through discoveries on O($1MM-10MM) than someone who comes in at 930 sharp and is so bad that they’re causing us to lose money.

      It absolutely does matter what location we’re talking about. My girlfriend does cancer research and lives on “cell time” — if cells (as in, single celled organism) need to be worked on at 3am, she’s in at 3. But don’t expect her to be in at 9 am sharp the next day. Likewise, if I’m in my office or lab until 1am…

      But this is not the case in every industry, and even within a single industry, this does vary based on office. Our HR, accounting, and shipping/receiving people are 9-5 and they’re in on the dot. So saying that it’s a “minimum expectation regardless of location” just doesn’t make sense.

      1. Michelle*

        Academia (including scientific jobs in private industry) is a completely different environment altogether, so it’s tough to compare it to the traditional corporate environment. It’s definitely a job where results matter way more than just showing up at a certain time and doing your work. If you don’t get results, you don’t publish academic papers, and a lack of solid results makes it tough to secure more funding for future research.

        Ultimately, I agree that it really depends on the company culture, your personal preferences (I like to be on time or sightly early), and/or your manager.

        1. Anonymous*

          The difference between stealing extra time on a break and staying over 5 minutes is that the 5 minutes over is paid under DOL…

      2. KellyK*

        How is coming in 5 minutes late any more theft from the company than being asked to stay 5 minutes extra to finish something is theft from the employee? If I’m in the middle of something, I’ll stay until it’s done, and if I have a backlog I will work late to cut through that log simply because my employer treats me like a professional and does not get on my case about start times. If they get on my case about being 5 minutes late, then I will insist on leaving exactly 8 work hours later.

        Exactly. An employer deserves to be given just as much slack as they cut their employees.

        The “theft of time” argument assumes two things that aren’t necessarily true. First, that the employee is hourly rather than salaried, and second, that they don’t make up the time at the end of the day. And hourly employees are often punching a clock anyway, so they aren’t getting paid for that time unless they make it up.

        We have this idea that waking up early is virtuous, but like Anonymous (March 13, 4:00 PM) said, some people are morning people, some people aren’t. Some people have quick commutes; some people have ridiculous ones.

        I think that in environments where people are working independently, a set start time may be unnecessary and even counterproductive. If you need to be at a certain place at a certain time for things to get done, to me, that’s the only valid reason for a set start time.

        I do think that if your company has a designated start time, you should show up at that time because that’s the rule, but discuss it with your supervisor if it’s a problem for you (like having to leave the house at 6 to get in at 8, when you could leave at 8 and get in at 8:30, better-rested and less frustrated). Better to make your best attempt to follow the rules and explain the issue than to just not show up when you’re expected to.

    2. BB*

      I am genuinely astonished that anyone can function in today’s job market with this attitude, unless… Anonarealius, do you run a call center or something? Even if you do, meaning employees are paid hourly, how is it stealing if they’re not even clocked in yet?

      Others have already commented about just how ridiculous and out-of-touch with reality this poster is, but on the off-chance that Anonarealius means _salaried_ employees are “stealing” time from their employers by being late, what about this example from today? (I’m salaried)

      I was up until 4AM completing a project and the related presentation to be ready for already-scheduled meetings happening this morning, so instead of arriving at my usual 8:30, I was “stealing” from my employer by not getting to work until 9:30…?

      (I’m really tired – please tell me Anonarealius is just trolling…)

      1. Anonymous*

        “no respect for punctuality at all, coming in to work 15, 20, even 25 minutes late on a day-to-day basis simply because they cannot get up from bed early enough to be at work at the same time as everyone else”

        The OP’s post is specific to their culture and start time. Working in a hospital, until 4AM, easy commute, bad traffic, good nights sleep, not fully rested, with coffee or without pop tarts doesn’t really fit the OP’s concern.

        Based on what’s posted it would seems there’s an expectation of punctuality in that workplace. Until the OP answers the hourly/salary and what business is it of theirs question, I think it’s safe to leap to either hourly and mismanagement or myob.

  11. Anonymous*


    I am of the generation the OP writes about; however, I had been taught well on how to be on time – whether it was for family/friend events or college classes. I have the once in the greatest while late moment (literally, a minute).

    I have been made fun of for being punctual and heaven forbid I have that one minute late time. That happened one time at this job one of my co-workers had to look at the clock and say something like “oh we were wondering where you were.” I’ve noticed ever since then when I come in, which typically is 15 minutes early, that co-worker has to look up at the clock. I don’t know if I’m being paranoid, but it does cross my mind as I wait for the comment.

  12. SAN*

    For timing, it really depends on the company. My place really just wants your tasks done. So some people get in at 7, some at 9. Do these young-uns miss meetings or other things scheduled? If not, why worry as long as they make up the time and get things done assuming they don’t have to cover phones, etc… starting at a strict time.

    1. Maddy*

      I agree. I don’t think it matters what time you get in as long as you get your work done. However, I do think the latest should be 10 am; anything after that is just pushing it. I get to work by 9:30 am, not because I am lazy, but because i get to miss rush hour. If I leave my house at 7ish-8 it would take me over 2 hours to get to worke vs leaving at 9 and only taking 30 mins. Vice versa for on the way back..

      email attachments- perfect advice. The more I read (articles giving job advices) the more confused I become. There are just too many different opinion on what is the right way that I don’t know what’s the right way and what’s the wrong way anymore.

  13. Stephen*

    Re: the bookkeeper who’s company is breaking the law.

    My aunt was the bookkeeper for a company that was taking cash payments. She wasn’t aware of WHY they were taking cash (they did it in the early mornings before anyone else showed up) but the owners would give her thousands of dollars in cash to deposit.
    When the owners got arrested, so did she. She ended up spending 15 years in prison because she didn’t report what the jury felt that she should have known about. Both her lawyer AND the judge thought she would be found not guilty but the jury felt differently.

    I’d suggest getting a lawyer and talking to your family about coming clean before they all end up in court. Better to face up to it now vs. regretting it when they are caught later.

    1. Mike C.*

      If the judge felt differently s/he should have set aside the verdict. That’s really odd.

  14. Talyssa*

    I work in an IT division of a “traditional corporation” and my experience is that AGE has nothing to do with “late”. Its more about personality and – frankly – the fact that there’s no punishment associated with being late.

    We have core hours here – as long as you are in before 9:30 and don’t leave til 4 (not that you can work 9:30 to 4, just that you can’t work 6 am to 3 or 10am to 7) you’re ok – and that’s plenty of time to schedule shared meetings with people.

    The crazy thing is that we actually have someone who can’t make it in consistently before 9:30 — and there’s been zero punishment for it other than stern talking tos and the implementation of those core hours (originally we were totally on flex time but everyone got fed up with waiting til 10:30 or 11 for her to show up).

    I do suspect that Gen Yers (Being one myself) are more likely to be less concerned about obeying a rule they think is stupid. I know plenty of people in their 20s who are always on time for their jobs at stores or call centers where they have shifts or specific opening times – because its an important part of your job to be there on time. But I also know plenty of people in their 20s who are like, software developers, and even at a company with strict ‘start at 8am’ rules they’re likely to show up 10-15 minutes late. Because a super strict start time for someone who works independently on their own projects is stupid. Also if you implement and enforce them, you’ll never get to hire good people if the rest of your industry is flexible. Butt in chair is NOT the same as productive.

    1. Mike C.*

      To add to this, whenever I hear complaints about “kids these days” not following the rules without concrete examples of loss of productivity, I have to wonder about how much productivity is being lost worrying about these obviously useless rules in the first place.

      Let’s turn the question around then – why are the “older folk*” so afraid of the results only work environment? Why does it matter if someone clocks in at 8:00am or 8:05am if productivity is consistent?

      *Of course the term older folk is as silly and demeaning as younger folk, but just go along with it for the sake of the question at hand.

      1. Justin*

        I’ll tell you why some folks are threatened by results or productivity oriented workplaces, it’s because……(wait for it)


        I’ve met plenty of people in my limited time in the workforce, and many of them think that being on time and having their shirt tucked in = good work. It doesn’t.

    2. Kelly*

      I agree that it depends on the workplace. In retail and other environments where you have set shifts, it’s extremely important to be on time in order to maintain constant coverage. Also, if everyone is on time and leaves when they are scheduled to, the people in charge of payroll are kept happy. It also keeps relationships between employees happier because based upon experience working in retail, one huge irritant was my replacement being late to relieve me after a long shift.

      In an environment where you work more as an individual, it’s important to be on time but as long as you get your work done in your scheduled time, that’s what is important. It’s counterproductive to show up on time and sit there when there’s nothing to do. I’d rather come when there’s work to do to keep busy.

      My initial reaction to that poster was mind your own business. If it doesn’t affect you directly as a coworker or a manager, then it’s not your problem. If they’re in management, then they have every right to be concerned. If they’re a nosy coworker who gets bent out of shape about little things, then they need to find sometime else to do to occupy their time and let the management team worry about it. If management doesn’t say anything to the person, then either they are happy with how that employee is doing or they have other concerns beyond people’s punctuality. It’s not their job to be the hall monitor and pseudo manager/time keeper, it’s their job to be as valuable to their employer as possible.

  15. Erin*

    The answer to the last question really depends on the culture of the office and the expectations set. At my current job, most of the office workers have flexibility. We can show up anytime between 7:30am and 9:30am; as long as we get our work done, they don’t care. At my previous job, I was expected to arrive at work at 9am, every day and I managed to do so. Just because I choose to take advantage of my employer’s flexible schedule, doesn’t mean I’m incapable of coming to work at a set time if need be.

    If the letter writer’s company doesn’t care what time people show up, then the letter writer may be better off at a company where starting work at a set time is mandatory if it bothers them so much. On the other hand, if people truly are coming in late, then I’d say the issue is one of ineffective management.

  16. Emily*

    When I don’t know the hiring manager’s name, I usually open my cover letter/e-mail with “Good morning” (or afternoon if applicable) to avoid the stiff, form-letteresque “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear [Company Name].” Is this too colloquial?

  17. Kate*

    I think results based culture is where it’s at. Four or five core hours with a grey area where meetings may be scheduled outside them allows workers (who don’t need to serve clients during retail operating hours or other time-based activities) to work when they are most productive, eliminates time wasted in rush hour, and allows necessary appointments for health and family to take place with minimal fuss.

    “Late” should only be considered for scheduled events, such as regularly missing the start of core hours. 10 or 11 am is not too late for core hours to start. Imagine if the employee is partnered with someone on a night shift, and has children, and needs to transport the kids to daycare. What if the employee is a student at night school during their entry level years and must do an additional 4-6 hours work and travel nightly on top of other life commitments? In jobs where serving clients at particular times of day is not the priority, haggling over to-the-minute punctuality for daily shifts where meetings are not missed is a waste of time. Employees who are well-rested and have lower life stress are far more productive and valuable in terms of what they will give and put effort into for the company’s bottom line. Clock-watchers obsessed with their own virtuous punctuality should ask themselves why they are less concerned about working smarter than just showing up.

  18. Anonymous*

    The punctuality question hit a nerve but I think people are reading things into the question that aren’t there. Being exempt/salaried myself, I know when I’m expected to work regardless of where I am or when I last worked. And that includes when I work from home.

    Punctuality isn’t necessarily about punching a clock, it’s being on time. At work, when expected, working.

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