terse answer Tuesday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s terse answer Tuesday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Can my company prohibit me from being a reference for a former coworker?

My ex-coworker came in to the office today to ask if i would be his reference for a new job he applied for. My manager was also asked to do the same and we both said yes, but when my ex-coworker left, she turned to me and said, “You can give a personal referral, not a work-related one. The doctor doesn’t want you talking to anybody about the office, so you can tell him he’s a great guy but if they ask you any questions about working with him, you will have to say that you can’t talk about that.” I realize he was a little flaky and she didn’t like him, but I don’t see why I can’t give him a referral of my choice; it’s my opinion that they are asking. Is it legal for my boss to control who I give referrals to and what i say in them?

Yes, as long as you are employed there, your employer can enforce whatever policies they want about recommendations, including who can give them and what they can say. Once you’re no longer working there, you won’t be governed by those policies. However, your manager is an ass — she should have explained the company’s policy to the former coworker, not let him leave thinking that you could give him a professional reference when you can’t. (Plus, your message implies that she doesn’t think highly of his work; if so, she’s additionally an ass for not explaining to him that her reference won’t be glowing.)

2. Connecting with your parents on LinkedIn

Do you think it’s a good idea to accept a linked in invitation from my parents?

I don’t see why not.

3. Employee is constantly changing shifts and messing up our schedule

I have an employee who I hired and soon after she found out she is pregnant. She is continuously switching shifts with me and the other two employees. She also takes days off regularly. We dont really have a policy on days off, other than that as long as someone is always here, you can be off. The catch is that in the mornings and afternoon, people work alone, so someone has to switch shifts if she calls out. The annoyance is that we do not have a reliable schedule to base our personal plans on. It is creating a hostile working environment, because no one wants to switch but they do anyway to be nice. She is almost three months pregnant, but she has not had to miss work related to pregnancy yet.

Your problem is that you need a better policy about taking days off. Come up with a policy that applies to everyone and will prevent the problems you’re having now, and this should be solved. Alternately, you can talk to her and say, “Jane, you’re switching shifts so often that we don’t have a reliable schedule for people to plan around. We try to give flexibility for people when they need it, but generally we expect that no one is going switch shifts more than once a month” (or whatever). But given the pregnancy factor, you might be better off just creating a clearer policy that applies to everyone.

By the way, this isn’t a “hostile working environment,” which is a legal term. But if people are feeling so uncomfortable that you’re using that term anyway, point out to them that they can say no when they don’t want to change shifts with her.

4. What is a cover note versus a cover letter?

I am filling out an application right now and they ask for a “covering note,” “covering letter” and “CV/resume.” What is the difference between a covering note and a covering letter?

I have no idea. That’s odd.

5. Employer is requiring applicants to pay for their own background checks

I recently found out that a restaurant I used to work at is now requiring potential new-hires to pay $20 for a mandatory background check to be performed. (And they don’t get the money back, whether or not they get hired.) This can’t be legal. Is this a normal practice?

As far as I know, it’s legal, but it’s stupid. It’s a cost of hiring that should be borne by the employer.

6. How much notice should I give my boss that I’m planning to resign?

I want to leave my job, but I don’t want to put my boss in a spot. He’s a real nice guy. I would like to tell him that it’s not working out for me and that I’m going to look for a new job and he should start interviewing for my current position. We would both get what we want and walk away friends. Is that even realistic? Can they just fire me for telling them that?

How much notice to give depends 100% on how your boss and your company operate. Pay attention to how they’ve handled other employees who resign. Are people shown the door immediately? Pushed out earlier than they would have otherwise planned to leave? If so, assume the same may happen to you, and give two weeks and nothing more. But if your employer has a track record of accommodating long notice periods, has been grateful to employees who provide long notice, and has generally shown that employees can feel safe being candid about their plans to leave, take your cues from that. (It’s in most employers’ best interest to do the latter, but too few of them do, and they end up with employees who have no choice but to limit their notice periods to two weeks. This is counterproductive because it ends up denying employers a head start on the hiring process, which they otherwise could have had.)

And yes, they can tell you to go ahead and leave now. So you need to know who you’re dealing with, and act accordingly.

7. Managing in an environment where you can’t enforce consequences

I work in government manufacturing, and have a good working relationship with management. That being said, I’ve recently been promoted into the first-level supervisory position. I have 4 people who work under me, 3 of whom are under-performers and are not inclined to improve. What are some strategies I could use to help them get motivated? I want to work with them, and get them moving in a way that will foster teamwork and cooperation, but my background is military (I’m a former Marine) and my initial inclination comes off as a drill instructor… and isn’t productive in this environment. The employees know that neither myself, the supervisor, nor even several layers of management have any real disciplinary authority, as these are federal jobs. Any suggestions?

You can’t manage effectively without real disciplinary authority, and you can get that even in the government — it will take a long time and involves time-consuming bureaucratic hassles, but if you’re willing to deal with an outrageous amount of hoop-jumping, you can discipline and fire people, even in the government. I’m not a fan of hand-holding people who aren’t motivated to do a good job; I’m a proponent of holding a high bar, helping people meet it, and moving them out if they show they can’t/won’t. That’s the path I’d take with these people, bureaucratic hassles be damned. (And yes, I’m sure you can find someone to recommend motivational strategies for people who aren’t interested in improving, but I’m constitutionally unable to indulge that sort of thing.)

{ 130 comments… read them below }

  1. Stacy*

    About giving “extra” notice when leaving a job…

    This really does depend on the employer, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen an employer happy to hear that their employee is looking for other work while still with them, (the exception being companies that are going out of business anyway). I have given very advance notice though when I know I’m leaving for other reasons, (to go back to school or leaving the country for instance), which I feel has helped my relationship with previous employers. But then again, I wasn’t leaving them for a competitor, I was leaving for reasons mostly unrelated to them AND for things that I would obviously know about way, way, way in advance.

    1. AD*

      It really depends on what the reasons are. I have seen the following situations when people were supported by their managers in their decision to move on:

      1) Jane finished her master’s degree in a totally different field while working full-time. Jane now wishes to pursue a career in her new field.

      2) Jane’s child is starting school and Jane’s required work hours conflict with her ability to get her child off to school each morning. The nature of Jane’s work does not allow her manager to be flexible on this.

      3) Jane is an outstanding employee, but there is really no room for growth in the company, and her manager can see that.

      4) Jane is not a good fit and/or a sub-par employee.

      1. Anonymous*

        Another example I can give is when my manager agreed with me that my job sucked. I was a contractor and told them about a month in advance I would not except any more contract extensions. I knew they wouldn’t let me go early but didn’t really care if they did (the beauty of having a huge emergency fund). My manager at the company completely understood and actually quit himself a few months later. However, the staffing company I was working for was another story. They were really peeved because I was their only placement at this large company and they wanted to keep their foot in the door. But even though I told them very directly not to extend me again and find me something else, they ignored me and kept extending me anyway. I was there two years and told them I wanted to switch companies after about a year.

      2. Elizabeth*

        It also depends on the industry. It is very common for teachers to let their schools know that they will not return next year months and months in advance. The schools appreciate it because it lets them get a head start on hiring, but the teacher continues to be a valued member of the faculty until they go. Schools are kind of unusual in that they have such a clear hiring season each year, however.

        1. Anonymous*

          Agreed. I’ve worked in the K12 school system and it is one of the very few jobs where you could give a year’s notice and not really worry about losing your job. I believe others districts in the area weren’t even allowed to hire you unless you gave a certain amount of notice. Waiting until the last minute almost guaranteed your school wouldn’t find a good replacement because the best teachers were hired in late spring/early summer. You were stuck interviewing candidates nobody else wanted or who had some weird circumstance like relocating at the last minute for a spouse’s job.

          1. Elizabeth*

            I do have some fantastic co-workers who were hired last-minute, but it’s always more of a gamble than if you start the hiring process in March! Also, hiring after school lets out is a pain because it’s harder to get committees of teachers together to meet candidates, and you can’t have the candidates teach a demo lesson (at least not easily).

          2. jmkenrick*

            Given the needs of students, I think that requirement is totally fair. When we were in the 7th grade, our math teacher quit mid-semester because the commute was too long.

            The whole class’s grades fell while the school scrambled to find a replacement – and the new guy was far too timid to handle a class of rowdy pre-teens – we got away with *everything*.

            I still remember the dean supervising our class one day and she could barely conceal her anger/annoyance when she talked about the teacher who quit. It was one of the first times I realized that grown-ups had just as much drama going on between them as kids.

            1. BCW*

              Yeah, I can speak to that as a former teacher. The problem is, teachers shouldn’t be looked down upon for leaving a job just because its not convenient for the other people. Most of the time when people leave jobs, its not convenient. But for some reason, people expect teachers to stay somewhere for months after they are miserable.

              1. Long Time Admin*

                Don’t teachers sign a contract for each school year? If you have a contract and decide you don’t like the commute, you can’t just leave without expecting consequences. Teachers do have more responsibilites than say, an admin (like me). If you have a contract and leave unexpectedly, you *must* know how many lives you are affecting (how could you not?). You would be leaving not only the principal the lurch, but the students, too.

                I say, suck it up for the term and give your notice as soon as you know you’re going to quit.

              2. KellyK*

                I think that because teaching is built around the school year, the hiring cycle is very different from most other jobs. Because most teachers finish out the school year before switching to another teaching position, and because new grads are looking in spring and summer, it does really put a school in a bind if a teacher quits in February. And it can screw up the education of the kids in their classes. They might end up with a long-term sub who has no experience in the subject area.

                I wouldn’t say “Always finish out the year,” because sometimes you can’t. But two weeks’ notice isn’t enough to be helpful, and even a month may not be enough.

                Quitting mid-school-year without a month or two of notice is a pretty crappy thing to do except in really unusual circumstances. (For example, if your spouse’s job was unexpectedly relocated across the country, I don’t think anyone would reasonably expect you to maintain two residences and not see your spouse or your kids until summer. But even in that situation, you’d give as much notice as you could and leave detailed lesson plans for as far in advance as possible.)

                Not liking the commute is something you should be able to suck up for a month or two at least, and probably finish out the year.

  2. G*

    I agree that it depends on the employer for giving notice. In my first job, I gave my two weeks notice and was told the next day would be my last. I’m relocating this summer for personal reasons, and told my current boss as soon as it became the ‘plan,’ and he and I have worked together to find and train my replacement (who starts next week). It will be a 2 month training period, as I’m leaving the end of July.
    But, my boss is awesome and not many are like that. If I’d been leaving for a competitor, or just another position in the same town, I don’t think the situation would have been the same.

    1. Laura*

      I’m doing the latter as well; I am relocating for graduate school and let my employer know well in advance what I will be doing, so that hopefully towards the end of my time here, we will be able to have a smooth transition. I think these circumstances are quite rare though, and like yours, my boss is awesome :)

  3. Vanessa*

    Re: #5

    While I am upset that it cost me a considerable amount of money, I thought this was common practice. When I applied to teach, I had to pay for both federal fingerprinting and a state-level child abuse clearance….all before being guaranteed a position, all without reimbursement. When I was laid off, I also had to pay to be fingerprinted again because some schools won’t accept data that is more than 1 year old….again, all without the promise of employment, all without reimbursement.

    1. Elizabeth*

      Ugh. I had to get fingerprinted for both my most recent teaching jobs, but only after getting hired (offer contingent on me passing the background check, of course) and I was reimbursed for it. I’ve had other work- and job-search-related expenses, of course, but at least not that one.

    2. K.*

      And see, that shocks me, because I’ve had to have background checks and drug tests and I’ve never had to pay for it (not even with the promise of reimbursement), and I would really really balk at being asked to do so. I’m not a teacher but know a lot of them (including one who is job-hunting) and I’ll have to ask if they’ve had to incur these costs.

    3. BL*

      At least in some states, it is common practice for public schools to require potential employees to pay for their own background checks. In my experience, it is done after an offer has been made and the position is contingent on a passing the background. My first post-college position was in a school district but my degree is in engineering so I thought this was strange too. When I got an offer email with details about the meeting to complete paperwork and sign my contract I was startled to see that a check for $39.95 was on the list of items to bring. I asked around with friends who were education majors and they said this was normal and they had all paid before they could complete student teaching.

    4. Danielle*

      I thought this was the norm in education.

      I had to pay to get finger-printed and for some other things I can’t recall just to get my teaching certificate, which was required to graduate at my school. This was for a bachelor’s degree in Michigan. I don’t know how it is everywhere else.

      I don’t think it’s that strange.

    5. ThatHRGirl*

      In the private sector it is not the norm. And it’s ridiculous to me, because if the company would get a contract with a background screen company, it should cost no more than $25 for basic, $50 for more in-depth.

    6. Marie*

      I’m in HR and we require a background check for all employees. This is done after the offer has been accepted. We never ask for the employee to pay for these services.

      I’ve had background checks done when I was applying for other positions and I’ve never had to pay for them

  4. Anonymous*


    I would almost say that you are talking about my work except that no one in my department is pregnant.

    Take it from someone who works with people who let work work around their personal lives rather than having their personal lives work around work. Set rules! It is very annoying to those who take their jobs seriously, like myself, when others are being granted time off left and right. Then, you will see yourself giving into that one person but being the tough guy with the rest because you know the rest are more reliable than the one. You will create hostility. And like how I’m starting to feel, the good ones will start to slip – showing up late, taking more than usual time off, etc. I’ll tell you that I’m testing the waters by doing so to see how much I can get away with, and so far it is working. So I suggest you put your foot down (without being discriminatory) because the others will throw their hands up eventually and say to hell with it.

    I have tried being the good one – doing everything I can to outshine the rest – but when I just need a long weekend, I was given a squirmy answer (well, maybe, we’ll see if so-and-so can work), I realized it didn’t matter how I worked.

    But I’m glad you’re asking questions to set things straight.

    1. jmkenrick*

      I agree that rules should be set. It’s frustrating when the onus is on the other employees to make sure the sechdule runs smoothly. Isn’t that why managers make more money?

      1. Tamsin*

        I have known managers that would call this type of thing “empowerment.” As in, I’m making YOU do the scheduling in order to “empower” you, when actually they are just being lazy and passing off work.

        So Alison…where is the line drawn between delegating tasks in order to “empower” employees, and passing off work because the manager is too lazy to do it? How does an employee know when she is being taken advantage of by a lazy manager, or if she is just complaining?

        1. VintageLydia*

          I remember complaining to one boss that he sucked at scheduling (much more diplomatically, I’m not an idiot!) because he’d constantly leave an hour without coverage or schedule people during times they weren’t available, or schedule other people to our department without giving them any training in it, etc. So he “challenged” me to write the schedules for a couple weeks with the idea that I’d realize how hard it was and just shut up about it. It WAS difficult at times since he hired some people with weird availability or students who had to account for testing schedules or whatever but I was still able to do it successfully for almost a year with only a few rare snafus, most of which entirely unavoidable no matter who was writing it. I only stopped writing the schedule when the entire scheduling system changed and became mostly computer generated (which had other problems but at that point even the general managers didn’t even have control over the schedule, let alone one lonely cashier.)

        2. Victoria*

          Tamsin, I’m not sure if you’re genuinely asking, but I tend to redistribute work (including work that had previously been mine) to employees when it aligns with their professional development plan and/or their skills. When I do that, I look at the entirety of the workload (across all employees, including myself) and move other projects or responsibilities to accommodate for the new work someone is doing.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Tamsin, I’d say that it’s reasonable for a manager to delegate anything that will help her do her job better. For instance, if the employer gets more bang for its buck if the manager is focused on A and B, and C can get done perfectly well by someone else, there’s no reason the manager shouldn’t delegate C to someone who is capable of handling it and has the room on their plate to do so. (There are other considerations, of course; ideally the manager would delegate it to someone who is interested or at least willing to take it on, although there are some tasks where no one will be enthused about picking them up.)

          With something like a schedule, I have no problem with the manager delegating it — as long as the scheduling process continues to run smoothly. If it doesn’t — because the person it’s delegated to doesn’t have the skills or the authority to do it well — then the manager needs to spot that and step back in.

          1. jmkenrick*

            To clairfy my previous comment – I have no problem with employers allowing employees to switch-shifts between themselves (that can be a perk in certain circumstances).

            But I do feel that if someone is gaming the system/taking advantage of loopholes the onus is on the manager to deal with that issues. Employees shouldn’t have to be policing each other.

          2. Tamsin*

            Thank you for you replies! Victoria, I was genuinely asking, because I have worked with managers before who appear to me to not be doing anything. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to delegate tasks to someone who can get C done well, as Alison said, which would allow the manager to focus on getting A and B done better. However in my experience, A and B were not completed by these managers, in fact A and B were passed off to other employees and the managers did nothing at all (as it seemed since they were often late to work, left early, and had odd reasons for not being in the office).

  5. CatB (Europe)*

    As a non-American, I’m puzzled by #1 and #6. Here, these would be non-issues. For #1, the company canNOT prohibit you from giving professional references. You can be held responsible only if you disclosed secret things (very unlikely in such a situation, but even then, those things are mandated to have been categorized as classified and the employee to have signed a non-disclosure document, or those things to have been listed as such in our equivalent of the Employee Handbook – we call it Interior Order Regulations Handbook). So, as long as you did not disclose trade or other kind of secrets, you’re safe.

    For #6, again a non-issue here: each and every employee MUST have an employment contract with the company, stating monthly salary, work hours, medical accomodations (if needed), work and safety clothing a.s.o. Most of these contracts have indefinite validity (some are signed for a limited period of time, but even then the company has strict limitations as to the number and max duration of said contracts), and in each and every contract the law requiers each party to a notice between 15 working days (low-leve jobs) and 30 working days (executives). And firing an employee requires strict adherence to a certain legal procedure that – usually – lasts anywhere fron 1 to 6 months. There are provisions for immediate termination in case of gross misconduct, but ex-workers win a legal argument more often than not.

    Clearly the legalities differ a lot; that said, when it comes to people working together the human aspects are all the same…

    1. AD*

      #1 is a very common policy, as the employer could be held liable for references that were shown to be both untrue and damaging to the subject’s candidacy. Ideally, employers would not ban references, but give some guidelines on how to handle them, but that’s probably more work/expense.

      That said, many of us do it anyway.

      1. CatB (Europe)*

        the employer could be held liable for references” – that’s the main difference. Here no one with half a working neuron would sue a company for a job reference from one of it’s employees (be it the very owner) and no half-witted judge would even consider such thing. The maximum extent would be libel/slander (even for written references there cannot be a “false documents” claim, as these are not formal company documents (unless they bear the header, the signature of the legal representative and the stamp – but that’s an entirely different thing, legally)).

        1. AD*

          I suspect it is not at all a common thing, as references are almost always treated as confidential, but it could be one of those things that happened once, cost a company some money, was written up in the WSJ, and every HR person in existence suddenly felt a need to write a policy on it.

          1. CatB (Europe)*

            Well, I must say that (at least) here references are viewed as *personal opinions* and nothing more (ant not many recruiters check them anyway). So, under the law, no one can hold you accountable for a mere opinion (we have provisions for discrimination which – are crimes -, for libel/slader – which are not crimes, but what you might call, I guess, misdemeanors – but that’s all.

            Things change when you bring in provable facts, but it’s always a person-to-person legal matter, it never involves the company.

      2. fposte*

        Though, to clarify, there’s no evidence that they could be held liable so long as they’re saying what they believe to be factually true. It’s malicious deliberate falsehood that’s going to get you in legal hot water, not mistaken disapprobation.

    2. Adam V*

      #6 is very different in America (at least for me in Texas). I’ve never had (or heard of anyone who had) an employment contract. At my first job, I gave my notice on a Wednesday, and my supervisor said “okay, today’s going to be your last day”. I knew that was likely to happen, because that’s how it had been for most of my former coworkers.

      At my next job, I was called into my boss’s boss’s office on the day after Christmas and told “we’re making some departmental changes and we won’t be needing you here anymore”. No warning, no opportunity to discuss, a minor amount of severance and an official letter stating “he was let go due to company cutbacks, he was not fired”.

      Without a contract, there’s a lot of leeway in how companies deal with employees who are leaving – the one thing I know they *can’t* do is force employees to continue to work for them beyond that notice period. (I’m reminded of a story from The Daily WTF where the supervisor didn’t “accept” the two-weeks notice and tried to say “oh, and you’re going to need to keep working here for three weeks, it’s cheaper than hiring you back as a consultant”.)

      1. CatB (Europe)*

        Well, the legal system is very much protecting the employees. At-will employement would probably start revolutions here. The paperwork for hiring isn’t much, but the legal provisions are heavily biased towards the employee. There is no work without written contract (that MUST get a visa by the local Employement Bureau) and in the contract there must be noted: salary (in a monthly gross amount), daily working hours (switching from 8 – 16 to 9 – 17 technically requires a renegotiation), average monthly hours, medical accomodations if any, types of working and protective gear that the company has to provide… lots of stuff. And letting go of an employee who doesn’t want to go… it’s like dancing hula-hoop with rabid bears.

        That said, IMHO this system puts a way too heavy burden on companies, thus reducing their competitiveness and unnecessarily hindering a natural workforce turnover. Probably a system somewhere in between might prove viable – if only voters could accept a reduction of privileges…

      2. Flynn*

        I’ve never had (or heard of anyone who had) an employment contract

        See, my brain actually has trouble processing that. If you don’t have a contract, how can you have a job?

        (2 weeks or 1 month notice is standard in NZ too. The idea of not warning your manager that you are leaving until the last possible minute seems rather extreme).

        1. CatB (Europe)*

          Same here, Flynn. That would be (the equivalent of) a federal felony: prison for the legal representative of the company and / or whoever approved of the employee being on-site at work. And also a hefty fine for the said worker. It is regarded as “workforce black market”.

          1. Amy*

            You sign some initial hire paperwork that amounts to proving the company actually hired you, and acknowledging that you’ve read the employee handbook which explains company policies and procedures. Beyond that, think of it like this – we all have unwritten verbal contracts. If either party believes that the other one is breaching the contract, they can consider this to be the terms of a new verbal contract (continue to work/continue to employ), or they’re relieved of their own end of the deal (employee can quit or manager can fire).

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              And actually, that new hire stuff isn’t even required. Lots of smaller employers don’t even bother with that. It’s more to protect the company than the employee. The only thing truly required is tax forms.

        2. Anonymouse*

          Fun factoids about the US:

          Employment is almost always at-will. They can fire you instantly if they decide they don’t like your shoes.

          Health insurance is provided through your employer (if offered at all), it’s ridiculously expensive, often has sparse coverage, and you can end-up living in a refrigerator box if you have a serious illness.

          We get exactly zero legally mandated vacation time; it’s at the discretion of the employer. It’s generally customary to offer two weeks vacation per year, but only for full time employees.

          We have no job security, and no healthcare security. And yeah, it kinda makes us hotheads.

          1. Rana*

            And, mysteriously, we’re prone to considering ourselves The Greatest Country on Earth.

            Some days, I’m really depressed to be living in a country that’s not only sucky, but self-deluded.

    3. Emily*

      Interior Order Regulations Handbook sounds about 1,000x cooler than Employee Handbook.

  6. Corey Feldman*

    The background check is interesting. If it becomes common practice I am see the EEOC ruling against it as discriminatory. And I agree, hiring cost should be the employer’s responsibly.

  7. Anonymous*

    @ #3: My last job had a rotating oncall schedule and it was always a big deal when somebody wanted to switch weeks off. It usually meant multiple people switching weeks to ensure nobody was oncall two weeks in-a-row or two weeks in a three week period. Oncall was typically a nightmare that could easily mean working around the clock depending on the problems. It wasn’t a matter of if you would get calls in the middle of the night, but how many you would get. Once it almost started an actual fight because one guy had his week changed without his knowledge. In that situation, a person that constantly changed weeks off would cause a serious issue.

  8. Wilton Businessman*

    1. Your manager is an ass. Your manager should grow a pair and tell the candidate that they wouldn’t be a good reference or the office doesn’t do references.
    2. Would you accept a friend request on Facebook?
    3. This sounds like everybody else likes the flexibility having someone cover for them when they want to take off, but when somebody else has an issue… I agree, you’ve got to have a policy about the frequency of it.
    4. A covering letter is usually used when you are sending an extensive CV. CV and covering letter are customs for some European companies and academia, not typically used in US corporations.
    5. That sucks.
    6. Depends on your environment and the circumstances. If you’re going to a competitor, make sure your employer knows that and let them deal with it. Also, if your company is one of those that show their employees the door, make sure you let your new employer know the situation and if there is any flexibility that you could start early if that happens.
    7. Live by the union, die by the union.

    1. Wilton Businessman*

      Oh, and with #5 you could probably take it off your taxes as a job hunting expense?

      1. Anonymous*

        But only if you meet the min. threshold of “other business related” (I think it’s 2%?) or if you itemize at all.

        1. Anonymous*

          I looked into this about a year ago, and at least at that point it was 2% of your income.

          Seriously, reading the perspectives of European commenters, I’m realizing more and more that American workers are really getting shafted.

          1. Esra*

            Not just Europeans, as a Canadian I’m also dismayed to hear about the way American workers are treated.

            1. Marie*

              I agree,

              In Quebec the workers are better protected, it varies from province to province and for federal workers, but I’d say we are better off.

              Of course there are still problem areas and a lot of people (especially in agencies) are treated poorly, but the frame is there to protect most of the population

          2. CatB (Europe)*

            As long as the legal frame is involved, yes, employees are better protected (at the expense of the company, though). That aside, many horror stories about managers I read at AAM could very well be hapening here also. After all, nuts and jerks will be nuts and jerks, no matter the passport color.

  9. Joey*

    7. If you are a govt supervisor you normally can discipline, you just can’t do it haphazardly. Consult your HR department about your underperformers and if they’re worth a crap they’ll help you navigate the process. As with most supervisory positions in govt be prepared to have your management of theses folks put under the microscope.

    And I disagree. I think it’s very much part of a supervisors job to motivate. It’s such a cop out when managers say being employed should be your motivation. For a lot that’s motivation to do the minimum. How many employees are going to bust their ass year in and year out just because. Not many. They want to see that their hard work is rewarded and/or that theyve become more valuable through the experiences and skills they get in their position. You have to find a way to reward and/or grow top performers.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If you have the right people, you shouldn’t have to motivate them. You should create the conditions in which the right people will feel motivated, of course — by doing things like giving them meaningful roles with real responsibility, helping them feel like they’re making progress toward ambitious (but attainable) goals, giving them a sense that they’re learning, reminding them of the bigger picture of what the work is adding up to, and so forth — and of course, you need to be careful that you’re not de-motivating them, by being a bad boss. But taking someone who doesn’t really care if they do a good job or not and trying to turn them around is generally not a great use of a manager’s time and energy, particularly when there are so many other people you could hire who would bring their own motivation and energy to the job.

        1. Anonymous*


          It’s the chicken and egg thing.

          Without the proper environment, great employees become “just do the minimum” employees. And without great employees, the environment doesn’t matter.

    2. Anonymous*

      I have to agree with this. I know I do a great job; no one on my team has performed at my level, and yet my boss only provides feedback to me when she doesn’t like something or a minor mistake is made (I’ve yet to make a major mistake). But she almost never gives me positive feedback. The few times it has come back to me, indirectly (others telling me that clients loved what I did), she would smile, agree, and then immediately point out what she didn’t like about it. I can take constructive feedback (in fact, I encourage it), but never receiving any positive feedback is making me feel uninspired and burned out and now I’m job searching because of it. It’s not enough just to set a high bar. It’s important to provide motivating feedback so that one knows their efforts are recognized. (I do get that recognition indirectly by her giving me new projects and asking me to take leadership on important projects, but the lack of any positive feedback has become demoralizing.)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Right, but your boss isn’t a good manager, because she’s not giving you feedback. That’s different than a manager needing to motivate someone who’s inherently unmotivated.

        1. Anonymous*

          Well she is giving me feedback, just the negative kind. (I seriously worry about her as a future reference because it’s not in her nature to be enthusiastic about anyone, but that’s a different issue.) Maybe the problem for the OP’s team is that the previous manager didn’t give feedback and now they are unmotivated. It can create a negative feedback loop. So maybe the OP can try and see if a new management approach would be helpful first?

          1. Anonymous*

            This actually was my boss until my last performance review when I pointed out to him that I might have a better attitude about taking constructive criticism if I ever received positive feedback. He asked me for an example, and I showed him an email in which the director of our company (who NEVER gives out compliments) told me what an excellent job I did on something. His response, “Holy crap. I’m a total a**hole.” Since then, he’s been better about balancing his positive with his negative feedback. Then again, I work for a lawyer, and good lawyers do not always make good managers.

    3. Cassie*

      I don’t think it’s a supervisor’s job to motivate. Not getting fired or laid off, having money for food/clothes/luxuries, contributing to society – these are all valid motivators.

      For me, in addition to all that, I want to do a good job because I believe in it. Not because I get a gold star or a pat on the back. Sure, it’s nice to be acknowledged, but isn’t baby ballerina class at the community center. Not everyone gets a sticker.

      The problem with government positions (in the US, at least) is that it is usually difficult to deal with underperformers. You can get written up for stuff like sleeping in your cubicle or taking excessive breaks but these “write-ups” mean little. And if you have a thick skin, you can waltz into work each day, get reprimanded by your supervisor, get your paycheck and even get a raise each year with all the rest of your coworkers. There are no consequences if you don’t do a good job.

      What you end up with is employees who do the bare minimum and want motivation (e.g. more money) to do a good job. When did the bare minimum become acceptable?

      1. Flynn*

        When did the bare minimum become acceptable?

        Well, by definition ‘bare minimum’ means ‘this is the lowest limit of acceptable’. If it wasn’t acceptable, it wouldn’t BE the minimum :D

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think Cassie’s point — which I agree with — is that great employers aren’t looking for employees who do the minimum. We’re looking to hire (and retain) really great ones.

        1. Anonymous*

          Alternatively, great employees are not looking for and will not stay with employers who do not provide positive feedback, recognition for good work, and a sense that they and their efforts are valued (i.e. good management).

      3. Anonymous*

        I completely disagree. It ABSOLUTELY is the manager’s job to motivate his team. Not getting fired is motivation to do the minimum required to not get fired, it is not motivation to excel.

        Sure, some people are motivated by an honest day’s work, but I believe most people get their warm and fuzzies from spending time with their families, participating in their hobbies, and watching TV. Why do you think the lottery is so popular? Everybody’s trying to get away from their boss.

        On the other hand, if more managers made it their job to motivate their employees with positive feedback, recognition for good work, and decent pay, more of us would look forward to going to work.

        Another reason it’s the manager’s job to motivate his team is that if the team under-performs, the manager will have to answer for it in his review. It’s probably obvious I’m no manager, but I doubt that, “They’re sub-par employees and it’s not my job to motivate them” would be an acceptable response to senior management’s concerns.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Managers should give positive feedback, recognition for good work, and decent pay because that’s good management that gets the best results in the long-term, not in order to motivate people who would otherwise turn in sub-par work. Managers who don’t do those things are bad managers and shouldn’t be surprised if great employees don’t want to work for them.

          1. Op*

            Positive feedback I can do, recognition, I’ll see what I can do, I’ll figure something out. Not much I can do about pay, what with the federal pay freeze and all, and I like the previous idea about pairing the highs and lows together I’ll try to give that a shot. I appreciate all the suggestions, I’ll implement what I can, and hopefully turn our trend around.

      4. Rana*

        When did the bare minimum become acceptable?

        It seems to me that this question should also apply to supervisors and managers as well as the people they supervise and manage.

  10. Tamsin*

    #2 – Depends on the parents. I have been connected with some great people because of my parents, particularly my father. However I do try to present myself as a professional and not just “Daddy’s little girl,” because I can see how that might come through.

    #6 – I’m not sure I would give any longer than 1 month notice unless I trusted my manager 100%. I’m about to start a new job with a former manager whom I loved – I told him up-front about looking for a new job when I left that work place, and he was completely supportive, because the place we both worked was a terrible environment (and now he is starting his own business and hiring me as his first employee – hard work pays off sometimes!). My new job won’t be ready until the end of summer though, so I am not letting my current employers know until about 1 month out. I really want to tell them earlier than that but I’m not 100% certain they will be cool with it, even though it’s obvious I don’t have any room to grow in my current position.

  11. HR Gorilla*

    “By the way, this isn’t a ‘hostile working environment,’ which is a legal term.”

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Alison for mentioning this! So often, employees (and managers! eek!!) call me and categorically state, “we have a hostile working environment here.” With the employees, I kind of get it: they’re unhappy about something that is, to them, fundamental to their workplace. But when managers call me and say it I absolutely cringe. Just because your employees are, well, miffed about the air conditioning settings or someone’s hairstyle (true story), does *not* mean there’s a hostile working environmoent, and a manager throwing that legal term around could be dangerous for the company.

    1. Josh S*

      People say “hostile work environment” when they mean “lousy work environment” or “untenable work environment”. It’s just that people have heard the word ‘hostile’ and don’t bother to look up the actual legal definition (or don’t realize there is one).

      This happens about a billion times with a variety of legal terms. I’ve somewhat stopped caring, simply because to correct them all would leave me like this guy:

    2. Joey*

      Or workplace harassment. Ive had employees complain that they’re boss keeps harassing them about doing their job.

      Or discriminating against me because I don’t do my work.

      I love those kinds of complaints.

      1. HR Gorilla*

        Ha ha ha ha! Joey, I so relate. A couple times, when I’ve answered the phone and it’s an employee claiming that their manager is “harassing” them, when in reality their manager is simply holding them accountable, I’ve pulled up notes from a previous similar “harassment” claim and updated the names, and then just altered any minor details the current complaining employee provided. It’s funny/sad how little the story varies, though.

    3. Nikki*

      Well, I wasn’t miffed about the a/c settings. I was Frozen.Solid. I shouldn’t have my nose run, eyes water, numb fingers or need to be wrapped in a blanket (a supervisor saw me in my cocoon and was like WHOA! I guess it is cold in here) because it’s so freakin cold!

      But, we aren’t allowed to have space heaters! Finally broke down and got one like everybody else, to heck with it, if they want me to work, they force me to break the rules.

      1. fposte*

        On #3: I want to expand a little on the legal side, which Alison alludes to, about the pregnancy factor. Keep in mind that there is federal law (and, depending where you are, possibly state law) prohibiting discrimination against pregnant workers, so make sure you don’t single her out for attendance problems that aren’t limited to her. That doesn’t mean that you can’t discipline or fire her, but it does mean you need to make sure you do the same thing to any employee, pregnant or no, with the same behavior.

        1. ThatHRGirl*

          Correct, and I find the statement “She hasn’t had to miss work so far due to pregnancy” a bit strange. Considering she is 3 months pregnant and has been calling off frequently the last few weeks, it could very well be related to pregnancy. It’s hard to tell based on OP’s description of their business, but it sounds like a company that is too small to have FMLA…. if this were my employee in my large workplace and I was made aware of her A. pregnancy B. attendance problems that could possibly be related to pregnancy, I would have an obligation to let her know her rights and responsibilities under FMLA for intermittent leave.

          Regardless both you (fposte) and Alison are right that they need more consistent policies so that they can avoid discrimination issues.

      2. Adam V*

        Sorry, we have to keep the A/C running so much because the CTO overheard one of the techs ordering a new fan to “prevent the PCU from overheating” so he forces us to keep the A/C at 60 degrees.


        1. Anon*

          ooooooo, where do you work? I would LOVE to work somewhere so chilly. :) I could actually wear sweaters to work in the winter time and not start sweating.

  12. Josh S*

    Regarding #1 on references:
    A simple solution would be to call up your former co-worker and just say, “Hey! I wanted to let you know that after you left, the boss said __________. I wanted to tell you for two reasons–first, it sounds like the boss might not give you the glowing reference you thought, and second, I’m going to be somewhat limited in what I can say. I’d love to praise your work to no end, but I also want to respect my current employer. If you still want to use me as a personal reference (with only hints as to your work), I’m happy to, but I may not be able to be the stellar work reference that I’d like to be.”

    It gives him the heads up so he doesn’t put the boss on his list of references, and it gives him the info he needs to make a decision about whether to include you too.

    1. KellyK*

      Good idea. He definitely deserves to know that you can’t give the kind of reference he needs.

    2. Shane*

      Should think about what you actually can say about the person as well.

      Also consider that although you might not be able to talk about the work that they actually completed but you can speak for the person’s personality, mannerisms and how they have certain traits that you admire in a co-worker (time management, communication, punctual, etc.). You may be restricted when talking about company processes, projects, or specific events/examples but nothing is stopping you from talking up the reasons why you think they make a great employee.

      As a co-worker rather than a supervisor that is probably all a recruiter will want from you as a reference anyways.

      1. Shane*

        Side note: if you don’t think that the manager will give a good reference you might suggest that they have a friend call to verify before they start giving that number to potential employers.

  13. K.*

    #2: I’m connected to both my parents on LinkedIn but neither on Facebook. (Well, they’re not on Facebook and won’t be. A few of their friends are and they go on my “restricted” list.) There are a lot of people I’m connected to on LinkedIn that I’m not connected to on Facebook; I view LinkedIn as a professional tool and Facebook as a social tool even though they’re both under the “social media” umbrella, so people I only have a professional interest in (that sounds colder than I mean it to) go on LinkedIn. I’m connected to some friends on LinkedIn, but not many. (Twitter is kind of a mix.)

  14. Mark*

    Regarding #7
    I’ve never worked in the federal government, although I do work in academia now (as an administrator), which operates very much the same in terms of disciplinary action for underperformance. I also worked closely with federal employees as a contractor when I was in the private sector, and all I will say is that I wish there were more managers in the government like you, Allison. I grew up and worked for a long time in the D.C. metropolitan area, listening to feds talk about how important their agency’s mission was for their lives but I just had to roll their eyes. Either they don’t get or don’t care that their agency’s mission is highly impacted by their inability to deal with underperformers.

    There’s no doubt that the federal workforce has talent in it – personally I believe that their hiring process is such that it tends to draw talent. But talent and enthusiasm are not the same thing, and the system that they have in place seems built around championing mediocrity. I don’t just mean because it is obscenely difficult to terminate a problem employee – I also mean systemic facets like the General Schedule, which treats everyone exactly.the.same. regardless of performance based upon seniority. So do I agree that it’s a problem of motivation? Absolutely, and the environment of the government is such that there is very little to motivate employees to excel at their jobs. But even realizing the realities of the federal workplace, a gutless manager who is unwilling to get their hands dirty is not going to be helping anything. Stop wasting our tax dollars.

    1. Anonymous*

      Unfortunately, upper management is unwilling to sign off on disciplinary action, even to the point of forcing the supervisor to change several performance appraisals for said employees to make it harder to discipline them in the future. As an organization, one of our biggest problems is rampant nepotism, and it shows. The way our processes work, it’s difficult to create those ambitious but attainable goals, as we are just one cog in the machine repairing naval ships, sitting in dry-dock just outside our building. The sad truth is that, up to this point, our only options were to suffer through them, and let our best mechanics burn out, or promote them out of the shop (which shows why management is the way it is). Sure, I could take them to the gear locker for an attitude adjustment, but that would only cost my job. I guess, given our particular situation, we’d need a tailor made approach, however, I will try to find some sort of carrot to dangle. Would an after-hours social gathering, hosted or funded by the supervisors, be appropriate?

      1. Joey*

        Can you tie performance to something like dibs on time off? Or voluntary OT? Can you give them more prestigious duties? They always look at me crazy when I tell managers to discriminate. Treat top performers more favorably in every way you can. And tell them you’re going to do it.

        If you’re best are leaving you.might try getting some specifics from them on exactly why they’re leaving. Quantify it to management and propose some remedies. Might not work initially but it’s hard to ignore strategies that increase production and lowers costs.

        1. Op*

          As it is, no, Joey. Time off and OT are governed by the union, insofar as who gets time off when and who gets asked to work OT ( whoever has the most leave accrued, and whoever has worked the least OT, respectively). As far as prestigious assignments, they tend to backfire. People know that doing an excellent job on a high profile assignment only gets you another, while the underachievers get promoted to make them go away. I’ve argued several times that we should give the high profile jobs to the underachievers, make them sink or swim, so to speak, but supervisors always give those jobs to the minority of people who are competent enough to do the job, hence the burn out. Alison, believe me, I’d love to find other employment, but with a wife and kids to worry about. the govt has the best pay and bene package around, so I have to find a way to fix this from the inside. I never was a quitter, and our mission in the Corps was, first, mission accomplishment, the at a distant second, troop welfare. I’ll find a way to make this work, regardless of my own frustrations.

          1. Anon*

            So what is under your control? It sounds like many things (like project assignments) that cause you frustration are not under your authority anyway. What kinds of behaviour are you attempting to motivate? Are we talking basic attendance/attitude, or more along the lines of “no one is ever fired if we don’t hit our target date, so we’re not going to put ourselves out by working faster/more efficiently”?

          2. Joey*

            Tough situation. Youre in a losing battle if you don’t have the power to give good or bad consequences.

          3. Malissa*

            Food is always a good bribe in the absence of any other motivator. If we, as a unit, can meet X goal then I’ll buy everybody pizza for lunch one day.
            Another tick I’ve seen work is pairing high performers with low performers. Often the result is good.

    2. Joey*

      Ah yes, layoffs usually favor those with more seniority. It’s easy for problem employees to transfer. Good luck finding a govt agency that provides significant rewards to top performers. Promotional raises are usually capped. Some give raises based on seniority regardless of performance. And as a result of those things there are a lot of folks who coast, including managers. There are a ton of things that come with working in the public sector that make managing (and working) frustrating if you’re a high performer. That’s why you have to consciously think about motivating when you manage in the public sector. Some of those things you can’t change so you’ve got to find alternatives.

  15. ThomasT*

    “Covering note” – perhaps they mean a bank note? Biggest note gets the interview?

    My best serious guess is that for some reason they are formally requesting what many applicants do anyway – a brief note in the email body stating interest for Job X, and noting that the cover letter and CV/resume are attached. Like AAM (I now know) I prefer the cover letter in the body of the email, partly because it removes the question of what to do with the body of the email if you’re attaching the cover letter as a document.

    It’s still a silly and puzzling request.

    1. CollegeCareerServicesThatDoNotSuck*

      That is exactly what I was going to say. About the email–not the cash.

      1. #4 Writer*

        That’s what I did in the end – thinking of it like a “covering note,” to cover the package of letter and CV. I hope I get hired so I can ask them about it one day!

        Still, the comments here have made me feel more confident about my decision. Or at least they have made me feel more confident that others will make the same mistake I did ;)

    2. ThomasT*

      BTW, the commenting system stripped out my angle-bracketed- “joking” after the first paragraph. (Reasonably so – it looked like rogue HTML.)

    3. Emily*

      The covering note can just be a $20—enough to cover the cost of your background check!

  16. ThomasT*

    Also, on #6, even in the most positive employer/employee relationship, I can’t imagine telling the employer that I was *looking* for a new job and that they should start to find my replacement, especially in this job-seeking environment. Unless the current situation is working so badly that you’d rather be unemployed and searching full time. It’s very difficult to start and run a hiring process with an open-ended start date.

    There were several examples of special situations – new degree just finished, specific hiring season, where saying that you’re looking might work out. But if your situation is that it’s just a poor fit, but your plan is to stay in the current job until you find something else, I just don’t see the benefit of telling him now. Maybe once you’ve gotten a second interview – he might be willing to serve as a reference, and that gives a useful lead time to him, but that would be with all the already-stated caveats about the environment and your relationship.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It really depends on the boss and the employer. There are places where it’s possible to say that you’re looking, months before you plan to leave.

      I’ve always tried to create an environment where employees know they can safely alert me to their plans to leave, without having to worry about being pushed out early, and as a result I’ve rarely had employees give only two weeks notice; in fact, I’ve had employees give as much as 10 months notice at times. But it’s solely because they had seen how other people giving long notice periods had been treated. Otherwise I’d have no right to expect it. This is so very much to my advantage as a manager (in terms of being able to plan) that it baffles me that other employers don’t see and want that same advantage.

      1. Charles*

        Yes, it does depend upon the manager being a good manager, which in my opinion is somewhat rare. Most managers are okay – not super. (Personally, I think it all comes down to training; but, we all know that I am biased in that regards, no? – so, either you are well trained, Alison, or are you self-taught?)

        What does strike me as odd with the OP is that she states that she would like to part ways and still remain “friends.” I don’t mean to be rude – but this is rather naive to me. This is work – not a social setting!

        OP, I hope that you realize that your manager might be a “nice” guy; But, he still has a job to do. Telling someone that you are leaving with no defined date is odd and could put him in a spot!

        What if it takes you months to find a new job? Are you planning on staying that long? How do you think this will help your manager? Are you expecting him to keep you on for a long time knowing that you are leaving as soon as you find a new job? What if he finds a replacement next week? Do you expect him to NOT let you go so that he can hire your replacement? What if you find your “dream job” and they want you to start tomorrow? Will you then quit on the spot (because you already “gave notice” weeks ago), or pass up on that rare opportunity just to be a nice guy back?

        If you want to give a month’s notice, then go ahead. If you want to let him know that you are starting to look could be okay; but, expecting that you both get what you want is not always realistic. Be aware of that.

      2. Malissa*

        I’ve given my boss over a year’s notice. I told him at my review last year that my plans were to get my Master’s Degree and find other work. He’s been really good about it. I only have to write a procedure manual for my job before I’m cleared to go.

  17. Amy*

    Are there any tips if you work for a small company that rarely sees turnover? I have been with my current position for 2 years and in that time only one staffperson has left–he was let go for being bad at his job, and given about one month notice to finish out his work and then one month’s severance pay. I believe my boss gave him honest but fair references, explaining where his work was good and where it was not. I generally think this was all very considerate towards the guy who was fired–though he also had children, and I wonder how much that influenced my boss’s generosity.

    When the time comes for me to move on, I’d love to be able to give my boss a good three months’ notice and hire and train my replacement. I know my boss doesn’t expect me to work here forever, and we have a good working relationship, but it’s still such a big gamble to show one’s cards when one doesn’t have an emergency savings fund to cover any potential period of unemployment.

    Are there any other signs an employee can look for, or a way to test the waters or even ask my boss without directly arousing suspicion that I’m job-searching myself? I’m actually not job-searching currently, but this is something I think about because I know in 1-3 years I will have outgrown this small company and need to move on to a bigger pond, and I’d like to be prepared to deal with that in the best way possible for everyone involved.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The most reliable is watching how they’ve handled it with others; it’s really hard to make a confident prediction without that, unfortunately. I suppose you could say something like, “I was talking with a friend who’s trying to figure out how much notice to give when she resigns her job. It made me realize that I can’t imagine only giving you two weeks, because I’d want to give you enough time to find a replacement and for me to help train them. But I know not every employer wants someone to stick around once they’ve given notice. Believe me, I have no plans to go anywhere, but assuming that I won’t be here for the next 40 years, at whatever point I am thinking about other options, what would you like from me?”

      But of course, someone can answer this one way and behave another way, so it still comes down to knowing who you’re dealing with.

    2. Adam V*

      I’d probably start by preparing the groundwork now. Ask your boss what opportunities there will be for you to expand your horizons within your company. If he realizes you’re starting to hit your head against the ceiling, he won’t be all that surprised if you start looking for new opportunities elsewhere.

      There’s also the possibility that this will open you up to other possibilities you haven’t considered – maybe your boss wants to try his own hand at managing a different department, and he’d be willing to recommend you to take over your current one (or recommend you to be the manager in the other department). Granted, this may not be a possibility in a smaller company.

      (Alternately, if he doesn’t think you’re a candidate for upwards movement, he would hopefully tell you why not, and you will probably want to fix those behaviors before you start searching.)

      1. Amy*

        Thanks for the advice. I have generally discussed my career goals with my boss during my semi-annual performance reviews, and she herself has asked questions like: where do I see myself in five years, and what experience can she give me now to help me prepare for that? (In one such review I told her candidly that in five years I wanted to be doing “this, but for more money.”) So I believe she understands I will need to move on after a few years–but of course I’m still nervous about she would handle the specific news rather than the general notion.

        I’m currently the “head” of my one-person department and I report directly to the head of the company, so there is truly no position above me for me to move into. When I outgrow this job, and when I start a family and need more salary than this company will be able to provide, the next step is for me to move into a similar position with a larger company.

    3. AD*

      First of all, I’d be talking about your career path with your manager long before it gets to the point where you feel you have to leave. If you have an on-going dialogue about what you want (and hopefully, it’s not just money), your manager will understand that you are looking for things she cannot provide, and should not take it personally when you pursue a different position.

      Also, the fact that the guy who was let-go was treated well bodes very well for you. I have actually never heard of a fired employee being allowed to continue working; usually it’s straight to the door, even if they do get paid for another month.

    4. Anonymous*

      Personally, I wouldn’t give tons of notice to protect myself from losing the new job somehow. As they say, life happens. What would happen if you gave three months notice (which employers would absolutely love) and then a month in you get into a serious car accident or maybe you were relocating with your spouse and they were hurt, died or had their offer pulled? I have a friend who was in a similar situation. If he was still an employee in good standing (i.e. hadn’t given notice), his company had a track record of going to ridiculous lengths for employees during hardships. Instead they just wished him good luck.

      I have a habit of trying to do what’s best for my company but I really need to worry about looking out for number one instead. I think a months notice is very generous considering almost everyone gives two weeks.

      1. Adam V*

        A month is more generous than two weeks, sure, but often a month isn’t enough time to go all the way through the hiring process – open up the position, take in resumes for a week or two, screen resumes and do a bunch of phone interviews, take the best of *those* and bring them in for in-person interviews, negotiate an offer… and then wait for *their* two weeks to end.

        Alison’s point is if you treat your employees well when it comes to moving on (and don’t fire them immediately once they bring up the possibility), they’ll be more inclined to give you much more notice, giving you enough time to get the process finished.

        Not only that, they can sit in on the interview process (“I liked interviewee X, they had a lot of experience with program Y, which I use all day”) and teach the new employee the ins and outs of the position before they move on.

    5. Long Time Admin*

      Everyone is over-thinking this one. Give 2 weeks notice after you get a written job offer. What happens at your soon-to-be-former company after you leave is not your responsibility.

      I’ve seen too many people treated very badly when they tried to give as much notice as possible when leaving their jobs. It will backfire more often than not, and if you don’t have the kind of job that will bring the world to a grinding halt if no one is doing your job (or if you are a teacher under contract for the school year), don’t worry about it.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Like so many things, it depends on the workplace. There are places where four weeks is the norm. And there are places where the culture is such that you will preserve your relationships better if you give your boss a heads-up that you’re thinking of moving on (and where you won’t be penalized for it). The key is to know your workplace.

      2. fposte*

        There are definitely work situations where you know you’ll get the minimum and know it doesn’t make any sense to give more than the minimum. But there are a lot of workplaces where the relationships continue to exist after the employee leaves, starting with a reference that goes beyond mere employment verification and going on to mutual networking and industry associations. If you’re at the latter kind of workplace, you’re just cutting your own opportunities off if you go for a name, rank, and serial number departure rather than a more foregrounded approach. As is usual with playing defense, there’s something to be lost as well as gained.

      3. Amy*

        I see where you’re coming from with your concerns. However, I genuinely appreciate the mentorship my boss has provided for me these last two years, and I believe in what my company is doing and genuinely want them to continue to succeed after I leave–whether it’s my “responsibility” or not. My boss has really helped nurture my professional development by allowing me to try out new projects in order to gain experience that will help make me a more competitive candidate for other positions in the future. She’s also very successful and highly respected in our field (in her mid-30s, running our company, sits on the boards of about six related companies), and having her actively advocating for me in the future could be what tips a future employer in favor of making me an offer. I hope that I’ll be able to continue a professional relationship with her even after I leave here.

      4. Malissa*

        I could only give two weeks notice when I leave, but I don’t want to be called 10 times or more everyday to answer questions. Chances are when I leave I’ll actually work a split schedule between new place and old for at least a couple of months to ensure a smooth transition.

    1. Anonymous*

      Yeah, it’s disgusting that we’ve gotten to the point where employers are abusing applicants this way >:-[

  18. MaryTerry*

    #2 So Alison, I’ll tell my parents you said it was alright to connect with you on Linked-In…

  19. Carrie in Scotland*

    #5 – The last 2 times I’ve had to have a background check (called a PVG/Disclosure here) the company (local council/govt) have paid for it.
    when you’re unemployed, another expense is hard to bear, no matter what it’s for.

  20. Joe*

    Re: #3 – “no one wants to switch but they do anyway to be nice.” I am a big advocate of maintaining a pleasant work environment, getting along with your coworkers, etc., but remember that friendliness is a two-way street. If you’re all bending over backwards and rearranging your personal life to accommodate her, and she’s not willing to change her personal life to accommodate you, you have no obligation to be nice to her all the time. Sometimes it’s OK to say “no” when someone asks you to switch shifts.

  21. Karen*

    I’m always dumbfounded when I hear of employers showing employees the door early when the employee provides ample notice that they’re leaving or looking for a new job. In most cases, the employee is just trying to be courteous to the organization, and make sure that someone can be hired and/or trained without putting the company in a crunch. To just shove someone out because you’re upset that they’re leaving, or considering leaving, just screams butt-hurt and petty to me.

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