fast answer Friday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s fast answer Friday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Missed a promotion because I didn’t use a smiley face

What should I do if I work off-site and my manager just does not like me? No joke — I was left off a brand new team which has a real career path, more money, and more responsibility because I did not use a smiley when responding to feedback one time and the manager decided that meant I was unreceptive to feedback. Can your whole potential career path in a company be derailed just over the non-use of a smiley? Is that something you should be super aware of now when you communicate online and/or work off site? The group has added new members and instead of considering me for round two, others were chosen from my group, another group in the company and they are hiring outsiders! Is this a clear case of find a new job as soon as possible? I love my company but I want more to do and more opportunity and it’s clear to me that it isn’t coming my way now.

I’ve got to wonder if the real issue was that you’re creating a perception that you’re unreceptive to feedback in general, and your manager ineptly used the smiley face example as a bad attempt to illustrate that. That’s a ridiculous example, of course, but I’d bet there’s more to the message than a lack of an emoticon (whether or not she articulated it).

Talk to your manager. Say you want to advance in the company and ask what you should work on in order to best position yourself to do that. Listen to her feedback with an open mind, and be openly appreciative for it (even if you disagree). After that conversation, if you decide she’s full of crap or that you don’t think you do have potential to advance there, then you can starting looking at other jobs. But have the conversation first.

2. How can I take a leave of absence?

A year ago, I was hired for my current position due, I believe, to your pointers on resumé writing, interviewing and thank-you notes. Unfortunately, I now know that it’s job not the job for me. I’ve been trying to make it work here, but it only causes conflict and stress. I don’t tolerate either well.

I’d like to take a leave of absence but am uncertain of whether or not they’ll grant my request. (Are they required to?) My main conflict seems to be scheduling; I want to resume my volunteer work but my work schedule keeps fluctuating/expanding. I’ve tried speaking to all the managers about these commitments (which I have adjusted to accommodate for months straight) but I’ve come up with no solutions that the group can agree on. I feel like a sucker. My thought is: Go do some of the work I’ve put off. When I return, perhaps another job offer I’ve expressed interest in will be ready.

Generally people take a leave of absence to deal with a health issue or family situation or to return to school. People don’t generally take a leave of absence if they just don’t like their job or if it’s interfering with volunteer work. (It’s pretty common that a full-time job does interfere with volunteer work, so it’s going to seem odd to cite that.)

Employers are not required to offer leaves of absence and generally do so only when (a) they’re sympathetic to someone dealing with a serious health or personal issue, (b) the employee is highly valued and they want to retain them, or (c) it’s a legally required leave, such as FMLA or short-term disability.

It sounds like you want to leave your job, so start job searching. That’s a more direct route than a leave of absence.

3. Asking permission to be out of work, versus simply notifying your manager you’ll be gone

Should I ask a manager for permission to be absent at work to pass an exam, or should I just notify them that I’ll be absent? I sent a message to my manager, HR, and coworkers on Saturday, notifying them I’d be out on Monday and saying that I could possibly could come to work at the end of the day and work as much as I could. Nobody answered me and said I couldn’t be absent. The day I was absent (Monday), I made all the preparations in the morning connected with my coworkers, like answering the e-mails and doing tasks. My exam ended at 5 pm and at the end of it I was tired and told my manager I’d better go home. He wasn’t against it. So I went home and worked from home at the evening. We have a flexible schedule, but are required to work 8 hours a day. Surely, I didn’t work 8 hours that day, but I wanted either to sign a document about absence or work more during the this week or on the weekend.

I knew that the manager would most probably give his ok for my absence, so that Saturday I wrote my message in the notifying manner, rather than asking permission. But our HR said this manner is not acceptable and I should have asked the permission for absence. Is the HR right about the form or it’s okay to write in the notifying manner?

Your employer can set whatever rules they want. If they want to require people to ask permission for a day off rather than simply announcing they’ll be out, they can certainly have that rule. (They should make that clear to people in advance though, since at many offices — and especially with more senior positions — it’s normal to simply let people know when you’ll be out, rather than asking permission.)

Frankly, my issue would be more with why you didn’t notify anyone until Saturday about a Monday absence that it sounds like you knew about further in advance. But in any case, they can set whatever rules they want. Just apologize and tell them you’ll handle it that way in the future.

4. Contacting an “incumbent” about the job I’m applying for

I work in a large organization, and a job recently posted in the department in which I’ve always wanted to work. I’ve done some reading of the department’s web site and have figured out that the incumbent has been there fewer than 6 months. I’m a little concerned about this, because this very small department would not be adding staff (we have a hiring freeze).

I wonder if the atmosphere is high stress, or the other people are difficult to work with. Is it okay to contact the current person (he is still employed in the position according to our directory) with questions about the job and atmosphere? Should I ask if he is, in fact, leaving and if so, why? I don’t know him or anyone in the department personally.

I have been in my current position for less than a year and the only reason I’m considering this is because it is (at least on paper) my dream job. I don’t want to be seen as trying to job hop if I wouldn’t want the position anyway.

I think that’s fine to do because it’s an internal position. If this were an external position, this would much stickier, at least at this stage (before you were well along in their hiring process).

However, keep in mind that anything you say to him may be passed along to the hiring manager, so you want to be diplomatic in the questions you ask and the rest of what you say to him. You should also keep in mind that jobs and coworkers that are stressful, hard, or unpleasant to one person can be perfectly pleasant and satisfying for another, so don’t take whatever he says as gospel.

5. Resigning when I said I wasn’t looking for another job

I really enjoy my job but it is part-time and I am seeking full-time employment. I am just finishing my MBA and would really like to obtain a better job, as I have student loans. I currently work for a nonprofit and I enjoy it. My dilemma is my supervisor is leaving at the end of the month and I am suppose to assume the position, but I don’t feel prepared to do so, nor has any pay adjustment been suggested as I will be assuming more responsibilities. I recently interviewed for a position and want to take it, if it is offered. The reason this is a problem is because I had another job offer that I declined and the boss found out and asked was I leaving, I said no and really meant it. How can I let the boss know I am leaving if I get the position without seeming as I misled them? This job would allow me to utilize my degree.

Explain that it fell in your lap and was too good to pass up. However, totally separately: Since you don’t know if you’ll be offered this position, you meanwhile need to deal with the fact that your office is assuming you’ll take a promotion that you apparently don’t want. You need to speak up about that.

6. Promised salary review didn’t happen

I was offered a promotion 3 months ago at my company, moving from the service department to the technology department. The terms were that we (two of us were hired for this work) would be on a “probationary” status for 3 months, at which time the company would decide if we were suited, we would decide if we liked the work, and if all were in agreement, the position would turn permanent, at which point we would discuss the increase in compensation.

Now, the 3 months has gone by, we’ve been granted the permanent position, and when I ask when we will talk about the increase, they say “we decided not to.” So we can’t get our old positions back (we actually make less now, without the previous performance bonuses), and we have higher positions with significantly more work and responsibility, but less compensation. The agreement was verbal, so I don’t think we have a foot to stand on, though it is clear that they indicated a raise with the promotion. What do you think of this? Does the company have any commitment to meet? My guess is no, what we get shafted, intentionally.

I think they’re jerks without integrity, but you’re right that if you don’t have a commitment in writing, there’s not much you can do — although it’s worth going back to them and saying, “We agreed to a specific arrangement that included a salary increase if I remained in the position after three months. I took on significantly increased work with that understanding, and I need the company to hold up its end of our agreement.” But again, if they refuse, you can’t make them … but you can certainly start looking for another job.

7. Telling my boss a resigning coworker tried to recruit me

I am extremely loyal to my job. I am lucky in that I wake up every single day and I am truly excited about having the opportunity to work where I do. I am former military — loyalty and dedication are very dear to me.

I have been working with my director trying to fix motivation, workplace attitude, morale, team work, and retention, and to lower turnover. Recently it seems like turnover has been really high, and my boss loves and is implementing my ideas on correcting all of these. Problem is, a worker leaving who is unhappy and accepting a better offer just tried to recruit me. I am flattered — but this is exactly what I am trying to correct. Can I tell my boss? And how? I am not looking to gain a raise, promotion, or even leverage, but I feel this is critical knowledge that affects my entire team. But I know this can be touchy.

Sure, you can tell your boss, but I’m not clear on exactly why you think you need to. It’s not uncommon for people to recruit others away with them when they leave and you can’t really ban it. (Well, you can have people sign non-solicitation agreements when they first start working with you, but that’s pretty unusual and not the best way to address it.) What you CAN do to combat it is all the other stuff you’re working on to improve morale. The way to have a staff that’s immune to recruitment attempts is to have a staff that is treated and compensated well and has rewarding work and good management. Address the source, not the symptoms.

{ 43 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon*

    #2-At this point you need to decide which is more important, your job or your volunteer activities. Decide and then act accordingly. AAM is right, this isn’t a “leave of absence” type of situation. This is a “back off on your volunteer activities or quit” type of situation.

    #5-Don’t stress over it. When you answered “no” before, it was probably true then. It doesn’t mean it’s true forever. And you do need to say something about the position you think they want you to fill.

    1. Anonymous*

      (OP#5 here) AAM and Anon, thanks for the advise. I most definitely will speak to my supervisor on Monday. What I found really weird is the supervisor told me to speak to the director for support for this position. That seemed odd to me. I have heard other managers complain about the lack of communication and because of the department which I work, I notice as well.

  2. the gold digger*

    Generally people take a leave of absence to deal with a health issue or family situation or to return to school.

    And sometimes, to run for public office.

    Working is easier. If my husband ever runs again, I think I might have to divorce him.

  3. Ivy*

    I have a subsequent question to #3. It has to do with wording. I work in a place where you just need to announces absences, but I spent many years working in places you had to ask. I find my wording a bit strange. i.e. I usually say something like “I’m planning to take x day off. Just want to make sure that’s alright?” I’m notifying in a question way. Even though I don’t need to necessarily ask for permission, I don’t want to leave people hanging if they were planning to get my help with something. Should I take out the “is it alright” part all together?

    1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

      I would say it more like “I’m planning to take x day off. If you have anything you need me to complete before then, please let me know!”

      If you have specific projects you’re working on with that person, you can also give an update on what that will mean for the project, like “I’ll make sure to have the Chocolate Teapot 4th Quarter projections finished before I leave on X.”

      1. Jane Doe*

        This is what I do too. Unless I’m planning to take more than a day off and it’s during a really busy part of the year, I don’t clear it first with my boss. There are also times when it’s just not possible to re-arrange my schedule (like it I’ve had a doctor’s appointment scheduled two months in advance).

      2. Kethryvis*

        i usually word it similarly… s0mething like “I’d like to take x-y days off, just want to make sure that won’t interfere with anything!”and doing the same, mentioning specific projects/milestones that i’ll have done before i leave. But it’s kind of the same thing… informing, while at the same time making sure that everything is approved beforehand.

        i usually clear it with my boss, since he often knows what i’m up to and if there’s something else on the horizon that i may need to be around for. Then i’m also a dork and check work email while i’m gone in case something really big comes up and i can either triage it or deal with it (if it won’t take too long).

      3. Colette*

        I do something similar “I’m planning to take x day off, let me know if that’s an issue” – but I’ll usually talk with my manager beforehand to give her a heads up.

        Of course, that implies also giving enough notice (except in unplanned, emergency situations) – and notifying her on a Saturday that I’d be out on Monday wouldn’t qualify.

      4. Lynx*

        Thank you all guys for giving your variants of the permission/notifying of absence letter. I think it’s more suitable for an adult to say something like “I’m planning to take x day off. Just want to make sure is it all right?” rather than “May I take a day off on x?”. And I’m planning to use this adult-style phrase in future.

    2. Eric*

      I use the phrasing “I will be out of the office on XX/XX. Please e-mail me if there are any concerns.”

      1. Jamie*

        This is mine as well – I like the austere approach. The only thing I add is to tell people if I have limited email availability.

        1. Anonymous*

          I don’t think I’ve asked permission to be off in nearly 40 years. I just tell whoever I report to that I’ll be out from xx through yy. If there’s a problem, I assume they’ll speak up.

          For making sure that everyone knows, we have a calendar on a sharepoint and block out time there to notify the department as a whole. For my manager and our team members, we send an invite to their Outlook calendars for a 0 minute meeting at 9am for each day we’ll be out so that we get a daily reminder. Incoming emails get an OOO message with pertinent information as a response.

    3. jesicka309*

      Sometimes you actually do get told no!
      On a team of ten, a maximum of three can be on leave at any time, otherwise the workload is too high. We don’t know when we each have leave, so quite often the manager has to push back and say “actually, it’s short notice, and Bob, John and Sue are already out tomorrow. Can you take Thursday instead?”
      Not ideal. But if you have a legit excuse way ahead of time, you’ll get approved no worries

    1. Anonymous*

      Yes, it would have been…. an interesting side note, I have a standard title for the position, just like the rest of my team. So, if they grant the hourly increase to one person that transitioned, I’d think that they would be somewhat more inclined to offer us the increase as well. Same work, same position, same pay, right? …probably not.

  4. Vicki*

    Re #3. Asking permission to be out of work,

    Alison – I read the letter as the OP sending the notification on the Saturday _before_ the Monday and also speaking to the manager on Monday evening (not waiting until the Saturday at the end of the week after the exam.)

    As for what is proper or “standard”, it does depend on your job and company. I used to “ask for permission” when I was much younger and newer in my field… until a manager gently told me that I was expected to attend to my own time like an adult and simply let the right people know.

    1. Jamie*

      This is how it happened to me as well. Although it wasn’t so much gently as “What are you asking me for? Just let me know what your schedule is.”

      It was kind of liberating and oddly embarrassing all at the same time.

    2. COT*

      I think Alison read it the same way–but was concerned that the OP only gave two days’ notice when she probably knew about the exam much further in advance than that.

    3. KayDay*

      hmm, I usually ask permission for multi-day vacations and tell for things like doctors appointments or half day absences. I’ve always thought that was standard. I actually thought it was more common for people to need to get formal approval for vacation? (I just ask my boss, and put it on the calendar.)

      1. Agile Phalanges*

        I think I’m similar–technically asking for permission for longer vacations, though not worded in a pleading way, if that makes sense. Usually, it’ll go something like, “I’m thinking of taking two weeks off in February–do you see anything coming up that would cause that to be a problem?” I’m not always in the know of stuff coming down the pike that far in advance, or may have simply forgotten about something I was told about, so this way, it gives the boss a chance to say “actually, Major Project is due in March, could you go after it wraps up instead?” For a one or maybe even two-day absence, I would inform, but leave it open for objection. For a couple hours out of the office for an appointment or whatever, I just put it on my calendar, though I’ll usually mention it in passing on the day of, just as a heads up (so they don’t wonder where I am and have to bother looking it up on the calendar).

    4. Lynx*

      I’m the author of the question and I’m not on a junior position. This is my fault I said about the exam only on Saturday.
      As for the form – I was pretty sure I can plan my attending time myself and just notify, but seems like it is not.

      As I understand it now, the problem was in getting a prior “ok” from the manager. Instead, I wrote a notifying letter to all: manager, coworkers and HR.

    5. Judy*

      My team is virtual (across several states and countries) so what I do is: 1) as soon as I know, put it in the spreadsheet on the shared drive, there’s a row for everyone and a column for every day in the year to put V = vacation, H = holiday (different for each country), T = training, 2) once it is within the whiteboard calendar month in my location, put it on there, since there are several teams in our office and 3) send a notify email the week before to my main contacts, stating who to call, if I’ll be checking email, etc. If it’s more than a day or two, I also put a postit on my monitor, in case someone comes to see me. Steps 2 & 3 are also followed for any business related travel.

      1. Judy*

        I should say, I’m an engineer, and my projects last from 4 months to 4 years, so I pretty much know when the busy times are going to be several months in advance. I can look at the overall project schedule and determine when we’ll be releasing for testing, etc. (The 3&4th week of a 6 week testing cycle seems to be the best time for time off. ;)

  5. Colette*

    #2 – I do regular volunteer work (after work one day a week), so one of the questions I ask in job interviews is about what hours people in the job usually work, how often unplanned overtime happens, etc. If it’s the kind of position where every week there’s an emergency, it’s not the job for me. (That would be the case even if I wasn’t doing volunteer work, btw.)

    On the other hand, if there’s an occasional busy period and I have to work when I’d normally be volunteering, I make other arrangements for the volunteer position.

    I don’t know what kind of volunteer work you do or what line of work you’re in, but you need to consider how they’ll interact before you accept the job.

  6. Work It*

    #6 has happened to me twice, and I hear similar stories all the time. Don’t believe it unless it’s in writing, and even then…

    1. Julie*

      I think I may have mentioned this in the comments about another posting, but… I had it in writing that I could get a review after three months, and it didn’t happen. This was only my second corporate job, and I didn’t know that I should bring it up and that I could discuss it with my manager. The company ended up going out of business a few months later, but at least they gave us about three months’ notice, and at the time, I figured that made up for not getting a review and raise when it had been promised.

  7. Katie*

    #1: You weren’t passed over for lacking an emoticon. Either your manager is very bad at communication, or you fixated on the emoticon detail from a broader conversation about your hostility to criticism because it’s ridiculous and made it easier to ignore the rest of your manager’s critique. Either way, if your boss says your problem is you aren’t receptive to feedback–and you’re choosing to question your manager’s judgment rather than take their feedback to heart, so I’d say it’s probably a spot-on assessment–you should start listening to their feedback. Also, if this is actually a problem you have, going to another company isn’t going to solve it, because it will be a problem that will follow you and continue to kill any upward mobility you have in a company because people don’t like other people who refuse to hear, much less act on, valid critiques of their job performance.

    #2: If you can’t find appropriate work-life balance at your current job and it isn’t a good fit for you, you should find a job that actually does that for you rather than stringing your current employer along.

    #3: I would almost guarantee that the real issue is that you notified your company of a Monday absence on a Saturday, and your boss–and presumably the rest of the team and anyone who would need to provide coverage for you–didn’t find out until they showed up to work on Monday. If it’s an illness or other unforeseeable event, that’s one thing, but for an exam you knew you were going to have to take, that’s flaky and rude. Now you’re being asked to request permission first because you demonstrated you don’t have very good judgment when it comes to making plans for time off or communicating that to anyone you work with.

    #7: Don’t be a tattletale. I don’t know what you think that would accomplish anyhow, except make the entire office think you’re a rat who runs to the boss every time they catch wind of unsavory behavior. Informing your boss serves no real purpose other than to make people less receptive to your ideas, so keep the information to yourself.

    1. Lynx*

      Please, Katie, don’t be so straight-out about the question #3. I’m the author of the qeuestion and the HR told me clearly that in my case the reason is not the late note of absence, but the form.

      Btw, I knew that nobody had to provide coverage for me, that Monday (also I tried to minimize this situation by making the necessary preparations on Monday morning).

  8. km*

    #1 — Anyone else wondering if we’re not getting the full context here? I’m imagining the OP writing something like “This feedback was as helpful as drinking bleach” and thinking it was obvious this was a joke, the manager NOT thinking it was a joke and then saying something like “I’m not sure how I was supposed to know that was a joke, it’s not like you put a smiley face after it or something.” I think the manager is guilty of not more fully explaining that there’s a right and wrong way to respond to feedback, but I think the OP may have dug the hole a little more than they’re admitting here.

    1. Ellie H.*

      Yeah, it seems like there is some very specific incident being referred to which I would very much like to hear more details about!

      1. Charlotte Z*

        I’m the OP for #1 and I realized I didn’t give enough context, sorry. I was actually told by the manager that it was a specific incident where I did not use a smiley thus he didn’t feel I was upbeat enough about the task I had completed. He even stated that I seemed closed off and unhappy because I did not put a smiley! In reality, I was done with work and letting him know and thought nothing of it as I signed off. It was pretty awkward to continue the meeting after being told that. And KM, I’m actually receptive to feedback (good and bad) and have never been told anything at all before about not being receptive until I asked specifically why I was not chosen as it had been discussed just a month prior and I was on the team, and had heard nothing but good feedback. My manager did go on to cite the fact I asked and he had to meet with me to discuss it as another reason I wasn’t right for the team!

        1. Jamie*

          Seriously, that’s crazy. FWIW I don’t use smilies in business correspondence, ever. I save that for personal email and texts…and you all.

          I wish I had wisdom on this, but I dont think you did anything wrong nor something you can fix. I hope your career take should into the path of more rational managers.

          1. aname*

            Like Jamie I believe that smileys shouldn’t be used in work correspondance. The only times I’ve used them is to co-workers who are like OP1’s boss and they hate you if you don’t act like you are practically flirting with them!

            I think I’ve used a smiley at work about 4 times. They aren’t necessary and if the manager believes they are I want to avoid him!

        2. Ellie H.*

          Wow, that sounds weird. Personally, I do use smileys in work email (I admit, pretty much for the purpose of signifying I’m upbeat about something, and only when I already have established a more colloquial context with the coworker I’m emailing) but the idea that someone would bring non-use of a smiley up and act like it was a legit complaint is crazy.

  9. Lynx*

    As an author of the question #3 I’d like to thank Alison for answering.
    Sure it’ my fault not to get the prior note, because I had the possibility to tell about the absence not 2, but 4 days before. I’ve already learned this and will coordinate the absence time as early as I can.

    As for this concrete issue I’m pretty sure now that the problem is about getting prior “ok” from the manager instead of writing a notifying/asking for permission message to everyone.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      The rule is “don’t surprise people”. Absences, late deliveries, problems, etc. An early heads up with accompanying ways you are mitigating the impact will get you points every time.

  10. anonyMiss*

    Im the OP of the second question. My thanks to everyone for their input which I’ve used to redirect my decision. Some other details I hadn’t included are for example: My husband & I have ALWAYS done volunteer work. I explained how important a part of my life it is. It’s my reason for choosing part time work. I just had a mini epiphany- I realised that its also quality time for us as a couple.

    Additionally because ours was a new location, I was asked if I could make some adjustments for a few months while the store got on its feet during its Grand Opening period, which I did. I believe that, ultimately, was my undoing.

    On the bright side I’ve learned that I love this line of work (not many people can say they look forward to going to work!) I’m good at it, and I plan to pursue it. I’ve also learned, or rather been reminded, that there’s no shame in admitting that I took the wrong job.

    I pray this other offer comes through, but even if it doesn’t, I know I’ve made the right decision.

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