mini answer Monday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s mini answer Monday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Asking for non-money perks in lieu of a raise

I’ve been with my current company for three years now. I received a raise after my first year, but I have not been able to get any pay increases since then. They did give me a small bonus last year and told me they would work to get me an actual raise, but the company has since frozen pay rates for the foreseeable future. They are very appreciative of the work I do for the company, but I doubt I’ll see a raise any time soon.

I am considering asking for some kind of office perk to make up for the lack of a raise. I’d like to ask to be moved from the front desk to an office, or to be able to work more flexible hours, or both if I’m really lucky. Do you think this is a reasonable request? If so, how should I go about asking? Would it be appropriate to do this through email? My supervisors are in the same building, but I feel that I would be better at asking through email.

You can absolutely ask for things other than a salary increase, although you should do it in an in-person conversation, not email (just like if you were asking for a raise).

However, if you’re at the front desk, it might not be feasible to move you somewhere else (if your job involves greeting visitors, signing for packages, and other typical receptionist responsibilities), and the same might be true of flexible hours. So before you ask, make sure you’re considering whether the specific things you’d like to request are realistic for your role or not.

2. Is this legal?

I am a salaried exempt employee. I was forced to use PTO because the office was closed two days for snow. We also had a computer virus and they closed the office for a day and I was forced to use PTO. Then my daughter spent two weeks in ICU, and I ran out of PTO time and have not been there long enough for FMLA, but I was still required to answer emails and phone calls and meet prospective clients for lunch but was told I was not being paid. Is this legal?

No, it is not legal! If you’re exempt, you have to be paid your full salary for any week in which you do any work (with some exceptions, like your first and last week in some cases). And if you weren’t exempt, they have to pay you for all time you spend on work, so they’d need to pay you for those emails and phone calls — so either way, they’re breaking the law.

3. Employee won’t stop staring at people and asking them what’s wrong

I have a question about one of my employees. I have noticed recently that anytime you engage in conversation with her, she is always asking “what’s wrong?” with a very uncomfortable stare, almost like she is trying to see through you. After you answer her that nothing is wrong, she never looks away and then asks, “Are you sure?” This whole time staring at your eyes, never breaking. It is starting to become a problem at the office because it’s making other employees uncomfortable. What do you think could be causing this sudden change in behavior and how should I handle it?

This is weird. But it’s also weird that no one has asked her what’s up. The next time she asks you what’s wrong, say, “I noticed you’ve been asking that of me and others a lot. What’s going on?” And if she’s truly staring other people down in ways that are making them uncomfortable, talk to her privately and ask her to cut it out.

4. Is there any harm in taking a later start date?

I was offered a position in a major firm earlier this year. I informed them that the earliest I could join was in June of this year. The HR manager was pretty flexible about this. I contacted him recently to confirm my start date in June and he gave me 4 options, two in June and two of these dates are first week and last week of July respectively.

Looking at this email, I am now thinking of taking a longer break off of my current position as I want to visit family out of country. Would it be okay for me to accept the late July date as a start date for my employment. Is there any perception problem with me deciding to accept the most later date as a start date for my employment?

Theoretically, it should be fine. In reality, however, there’s a small chance — very small, but still a chance — that the later start date gives them room to decide they aren’t going to move forward after all, which does sometimes happen. It’s rare, but it happens. But they’re offering you the later date (you didn’t request it), and it’s not unreasonable to assume that you can take them at their word.

5. Smokers are getting more breaks than non-smokers

I work in retail. The smokers seem to have more breaks than us non-smokers. How do I let my job know that I want a break too?

You can talk to your manager and point out that smokers are being treated differently than non-smokers, but a manager who’s already allowing this might be a manager who doesn’t care. Still, it’s worth a conversation.

6. How can employers screen out candidates who lie about their job history?

What are your thoughts about how we, as employers, can get around sites that let job applicants fake their job history (complete with fake references), to be sure we are hiring qualified candidates, not just those who are willing to pay to lie to gain employment?

Don’t stick to just the reference list the candidate provides you with but look for other people who worked with the candidate, look up reference phone numbers yourself rather than using the ones provided to you by the candidate, be alert to signs of integrity and honesty throughout the hiring process, and do skills testing and job simulations before ever making any hire. Beyond that, it’s still possible someone could lie to you, but if they can’t do the work, you’ll find out soon enough if you’re paying as much attention to their work as you should be!

7. Reapplying for a job when the instructions change

I applied to a position online. At the time I applied, the site only had a job description and an email address with no further instructions. I sent my resume and cover letter to the email address they provided. I make it a habit to see if the posting is updated, because this seems to happen often. Turns out It was updated; I checked back four hours after I originally applied. Suddenly there were instructions and an added “please mention this to let us know you’re read the whole posting.” I really want the job so I re-applied.

Does reapplying hurt my chances for being considered for the position? When I originally applied, those specifications were not there. What’s the deal?

Well, ideally when you re-applied, you included a note saying something like, “I applied earlier today, but at the time you hadn’t yet added instructions to mention your note, so I’m reapplying to let you know that I did see it.” But if you didn’t, it’s not a big deal; they’re probably going to figure it out on their own.

{ 102 comments… read them below }

  1. MJ*

    I’m quite delighted that there’s a “is this legal” question to which the answer is “No”! It’s a rarity on AAM! :)

    1. Runon*

      I think there is a little astrisk on the AAM 8 Ball on the “Yes, it’s legal” answer that says, unless this relates to your non/exempt status. Those are the only ones that ever get the No! answer. But I do think there are a decent amount of those questions.

      1. Jessa*

        * when it’s to do with payroll and sometimes with protected classes (age, race, gender, sometimes orientation, religion, disability, etc.)

        1. Natalie*

          Don’t forget protected activities! (Discussing pay and working conditions, unionizing, and other activities protected under NLRA)

  2. ew0054*

    In response to #2: I have been in the same situation. If you say anything you have a target on your back. Employers break laws and squeeze all the time. Not saying I agree with it, but it’s life. Small business owners are the worst.

    In response to #5: I quit smoking, so if everyone else got 10 minutes per hour fro a smoke break, I took 10 minutes per hour as an eating break. I said nothing until finally the manager asked me why I wasn’t working, I asked would it be better for me to pretend to smoke? I’m not looking for anything extra, just what everyone else seems to be getting.

    1. Chinook*

      #5 – is it possible to ask the manager for a “health break?” It is very likely that the reason the smokers are getting more breaks because they are asking for them whereas us non-smokers never think to ask for a mini-break while we are working.

  3. Sharon*

    #3: For some reason this makes me think the employee is doing one of those college psychology experiments where you do something outside of social norms, like facing the wrong way in an elevator, to see what people’s reactions are. Agree that it’s inappropriate for work. If that happened to me, after she kept staring at me, I’d ask her “What’s wrong with you?”. LOL

    I always wonder how weird people get hired. At a place I used to work, we had one programmer who seemed way deep into the autism range. He might have been brilliant, but nobody was sure because he was completely unable to explain his thoughts in words. Even his fellow programmers couldn’t understand when he tried to explain a bit of code. Whenever a woman walked into the room, he would stare like she was an alien and he couldn’t figure out what she was. Seriously, how in the world do you get through an interview like that?

    1. Jamie*

      If that programmer wasn’t adding value to the company I doubt they’d have kept them on. I’ve also been known to bemoan the lack of communication skills in co-workers, but it’s very true that they often are good enough at their job that communicating isn’t a deal breaker.

      It’s human nature to wonder why people are hired (or not fired) but it’s important to keep in mind that co-workers only see a slice of each others jobs and not the whole picture. Maybe employee X is not awesome at task A and that’s where you interact with him – but he kicks 7 kinds of ass at task B but you wouldn’t know because that’s not in your wheelhouse.

      And just ftr – none of the things you mentioned seen egregious or rude and people who have autism are often really great employees and that’s no reason someone shouldn’t be hired.

      1. Cat*

        Agreed. I work with a couple of brilliant people who’s behavior more or less fits that described above. It can be frustrating; and communication skills are important. However, they’re also not the be-all-and-end-all of work skills, and I think a healthy office dynamic can figure out how to use people’s skills while directing them away from things they’re not as good at.

      2. nodumbunny*

        Very nice phrasing to point out that people who are “weird” or on the autism spectrum or have any number of other behavioral or mental health issues that place them outside the norm still have value.

      3. anon o*

        I think the point is more questioning how they get through the hiring process. There are conversations on this site all the time about how things like typos will keep you from getting a job. Is anyone arguing that people who make typos aren’t good employees? No – but it sure makes it harder to make it to the end.

        Considering how difficult it is for ANYONE to get through the hiring process, even if they’re amazing, I do wonder how people who are essentially working with a handicap make it! I’m sure some of them are referrals or know somebody. And luck is probably a part of it, like it is with all hiring.

        1. Cat*

          And unemployment hasn’t always been as high as it is now – when the economy is closer to full employment, certain things are no longer dealbreakers.

        2. Jessa*

          Depending on the person they may interview very well, or they may have known someone and got recommended. Or even they may have been placed by a vocational rehab counselor or job coach. There are very nice tax breaks to hiring persons through voc rehab or certain state run coaching services.

        3. Vicki*

          I;ve often wondered the same thing, e.g. how did a person who can barely speak English (as a second or third language) get a job in telephone Custmer Service?

          Sometimes, it’s because the interviewers are trying very very hard (too hard?) to be politically correct.

          I was on a team that hired a contractor (W2 temp). He was, to put it bluntly, enormous. He was the most rotund person I had ever met. And I kept thinking to myself “I must not be biased. I know other fat people. I’m overweight myself”.

          You may be expecting the moral of this particular story to be something like “and wow he was a great writer!”. Actually, he wasn’t. He missed deadlines, took off a lot of “sick” time, and fell asleep in meetings. They ended the contract after a few weeks.

      4. Sharon*

        Jamie, what you say is totally true. I did get a clue about that particular person’s situation when his manager quit one day and he was fired the very next day. No idea how he got through the hiring process (and Anon O is explaining better than I did what I meant about that – yes, when interviewing is ALL about communication skills, if you have none, how do you get hired?), but that told us all exactly why he kept his job. I’m not casting aspersions on people with autism, just trying to describe his behavior. He was really, seriously a strange person – perhaps not autistic at all, but very very… not right…?

        1. Jamie*

          I agree communication issues are a problem – I guess I just wanted to go on record that there are people on the spectrum who have a lot of talent and things to contribute.

          One of my sons is on the spectrum. According to the CDC 1 in 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls are being diagnosed somewhere on the autistic spectrum. So as a society we’re going to need to make room in the workplace for people who are bright, talented, and hard working (try to match the focus!) but who might not have neuro-typical social skills. Because otherwise it’s a lot of wasted potential out there.

          I’m not advocating for a free ride – just sometimes the best candidate truly will be the best even if they won’t ever be on the party planning committee. :)

          It’s frustrating for me because I see my son, who works harder and is one of the most determined people I’ve ever known unable to get a part time job in part because he isn’t great with small talk and eye contact initially. Once you get to know him you’d question the diagnosis – because he just seems profoundly shy and awkward around new people but perfectly pleasant to be with if he’s comfortable.

          It’s hard to be “that weird kid who keeps to himself” and it’s even harder to sell an interviewer on that when you are as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

          My son will never be in sales. But he is an excellent artist so if that’s what you need, does it matter how charming he is to strangers? It took all the courage he had to join the chess club freshman year in highschool. He was so nervous about all those strangers it was as scary for him as jumping off a building would be for most people. But he did it – by senior year he was president of that and VP of the anime society. He’s awesome when he’s comfortable – it just takes him longer to get there than most.

          I liken it to putting a toe in the water. He needs way longer than the average bear to keep his toe in before he jumps. And society rewards faster jumpers…I get that…and I’m not saying business should change how it works. The people who can more easily put themselves out there will always have an advantage – that’s darwinism of the 21st century.

          I just like to take the opportunity, when it arises, to make the point that sometimes if you look past the norms there is a lot of hidden potential in people who may not be all flash and glam on the surface.

          And I know you didn’t mean to be derogatory – and I’m not trying to be all PC because I understand intent and no offense taken…but it’s really important that we don’t equate weird guy at work = maybe autism. Okay, maybe…but totally maybe not. I’ve known tons of creepy people in my life and not a one of them was on the spectrum.

          I had a colleague that would take a deep whiff of my hair because he loves my coconut shampoo and complain when I was wearing plain socks and not the stripey ones that he likes. Totally weird and no where near the spectrum.

          1. Runon*

            I agree with all of this and very much want to emphasis the last point. Just because someone is a creepy doesn’t put them on the spectrum. And assuming that only ostracizes people who are on the spectrum and gives creeps a pass. Some people are creeps. Some people aren’t. If someone is being creepy, tell them to stop, directly, not subtly, not expecting they should know, not telling a coworker and expecting them to overhear, directly. If it is someone who doesn’t mean to do it? They’ll stop. If not, creep.

            1. Jessa*

              This so many many many times, this. It also does not mean they’re on the developmental delay spectrum either. It could be that they’re just creeps. And the way to handle that is to run it up the management flag pole.

              Because even someone who is developmentally delayed or on the autism spectrum, or who has a psychiatric disorder, has to be able to behave properly at a job to keep it.

              It may be slightly harder to dismiss them without making attempts to teach them that behaviour x is not permitted, but anyone with that kind of disability who can work, should be able to be be taught these things.

              (Former special ed teacher, not former HR person btw.)

          2. mas*

            Jamie, maybe next open thread, I’d love to hear about how you as a parent are trying to prepare your son for the workforce, and what his realistic goals and opportunities are. I agree that we are going to have to make room for people to work who want to work but who may have some different needs, and I feel like it is going to be a big struggle in the coming years to deal with that. I have a few friends who have similar struggles and it pains me to see them being told to get onto disability when they have studied so hard and want to hold down a normal job.

            1. Jamie*

              Actually, I would love to read comments in the next open thread from parents with answers.

              My son is still in college and I have no answers – other than constant worry. I’d give up everything I’ve ever had to have the answer to this problem.

              1. mas*

                I’ll try to remember to ask this next open thread for sure.
                One thing I will say from seeing my friends struggle is that health insurance coverage is one of the big issues for them, as it is not financially feasible for them to go without coverage, and that does limit opportunities. Not sure how old your son is, and I am sure you know the new law is that kids can be covered under parental insurance for a period of time after graduation, but from what I’ve seen friends deal with, it would be worthwhile to think about backup insurance options as he approaches graduation, just to know what the options may be in the future or if you loose your own coverage, etc.
                PS I know I only know you from a blog comments section, but from what I know, your son will already have the best possible start in life just by having a concerned and involved mom like you.

              2. Chinook (a.k.a. Eeyore)*

                Jamie, I tutor, in the evenings, teens with Asperger’s and other issues. The thing I tell most parents is that the kids just need confidence that they can make the right choices and that they have the skills they need to succeed and know the work-arounds that work for them (and youa re an IT person, so of course you would have talked abotu work arounds with him, right?). The confidence to succeed and the idea that failure isn’t a bad thing as long as you learn from it, I find, are the most important things to having them succeed.

                I also point out to the parents that 9 times out of 10 that their children are more normal than not and that the issues are sometimes just part of being a kid but that it is hard to see that when you have to live with special need coloured glasses.

            2. Chinook (a.k.a. Eeyore)*

              Mas, I am not picking on you but you bring up a point that keeps coming up and I want to point out that people with this social skills issues have always been there, we just knew them to be odd or eccentric (think of all the Winnie the Pooh characters, created 100 years ago, and how they fit in our modern understanding of psychological issues).

              We really aren’t “making room for them” so much as ensuring that they are not being judged on skills that have no bearing on the job. I think the biggest difference now-a-days is that we have fewer manual labour jobs that allowed you to ignore “social niceties” and more office jobs that require a certain level of social sophistication.

              I don’t know if I explained myself well, though. Sorry if I confused anyone.

              1. Jamie*

                I think you hit it right on the head. The more as a society we move toward knowledge based jobs where you need a degree for almost everything the harder it is to find a niche where it doesn’t matter so much.

                I’m not even saying that’s a bad thing – something can be good for society and not so good for my son (although if I were omnipotent screw society and I would make life easier for him. :) Good thing I’m relatively powerless, huh?) But there has been a shift and I think we’re in a painful transitional phase for a lot of people.

                On a somewhat related tangent, we were talking at work a while back about some show on History or Discovery about life after a mega-disaster…where the clock was set back and survival skills outside of typing were needed. It was decided I am completely and utterly useless – I’d be used as bait…or food. You need someone to skin a fish, or build shelter, make fire without a BBQ lighter and my skill set has zero value.

                It’s all about finding your niche – and I truly believe everyone on the planet has one. We all have gifts and something we are supposed to contribute…it’s just that discerning exactly what that is can be tricky sometimes.

          3. Chinook*

            Jamie, I agree with your points about needing patience about dealing with those who don’t fit the norm when it comes to social interactions. I think the flip side is that those who work with these people who happen to know they are awesome at B,C and D but are horrible at intercommunication skills need to be willing to give them strong recommendations when asked that go with the heads up warning that their social skills are not indicators of their work skills.

    2. Joey*

      They typically get hired because the hiring manager doesn’t really interview for those skills. You’d be surprised how many managers hiring for technical positions place so little weight on non technical skills. They barely look (if at all) at managing ability, communication skills, sound decision making,etc.

      You’d also be surprised at how well a really good manager with no technical skills can manage in a technical environment or really any environment.

      1. Jamie*

        I don’t know. I think in some technical environments it’s hard to cultivate the respect you need to be an effective manager if you don’t have at least the technical basics.

        1. Joey*

          In some disciplines yes, but I’ve had a lot of success hiring folks to manage in a lot of fields (even IT) that had little if any technical knowledge, but functioned phenomenally as a manager. They were good at methodically creating efficiencies, managing a budget, managing and leading people, making smart business decisions, researching and implementing best practices. Those kinds of people don’t need technical knowledge. Their skills are transferable to almost any field.

      2. Runon*

        When you say no technical skills I assume you mean they have strong basic technical skills and at least some interest in a technical field. Because any manager who has no technical skills (assuming we are talking computer tech here) is going to have a hard time doing their job. And at this point in time it is hard to find someone with no technical skills who doesn’t have a negative attitude toward technology.

        I would have zero respect for a boss who didn’t believe in the work the department was doing.

        1. Jamie*

          Even if it’s non-computer tech skills, I see the same problem if you have a manager with zero tech skills.

          I work in manufacturing – I couldn’t manage a department full of welders or other technical production personnel. I don’t their processes as they are shown on a flow chart, but having never done the work myself I can’t possibly get out in front of problems for them or advocate for my department as effectively as if I had a knowledge base.

          I also wouldn’t be able to vet serious problems from minor, the way someone who had actually ever welded something could.

          1. Joey*

            Why not? You don’t have to be an expert welder to manage welders. Why couldn’t you have a resident expert welder and just be a really great manager. How would you solve other business problems that you don’t fully grasp? You talk to people that are dealing with the problems, look for objective info or data that supports the problem, and look at the ROI of the potential solutions.

            1. Runon*

              There is a big difference between not being an expert welder and not knowing anything about welding. I don’t think either Jamie (sorry if I’m stepping on toes Jamie!) would say you have to be an expert.

              I don’t think that you could do it without a solid understanding though. If you don’t you won’t even know what questions to ask to figure out the problems.

              You might be able to supervise (schedule time, check off time cards, make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be) but I think that is very different from managing.

              1. Joey*

                Sure there’s a learning curve, but why can’t you rely on the people actually doing the work to help you get a solid understanding. They’re the experts after all. Why would a manager who doesn’t weld have to know how to weld? Why wouldn’t he trust his expert welders to help him understand the issues?

                And trust me all it takes to hear about problems is sharing with staff what your overarching goals are and holding them to expectations. If there are barriers they will definitely let you know.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  The other piece of this is that the higher you go, the more unrealistic it becomes to know how to do all the work of those you’re managing. The president of a company might have the heads of IT, finance, program, and other divisions reporting to her; she’s not going to be an expert in all of them, nor does she need to be.

                  It’s more of an issue at low-level supervision, more than actual managing.

                2. Jamie*

                  @Alison – I agree that if you’re talking about upper management that’s different. I’m sure the COO doesn’t need to know how to run a spot welder. I was thinking along the lines of production managers – I work with great managers that can work with upper management and on higher level goals…but they still know what to do when there is a practical problem on the floor or with one of the machines. Come to me about why one machine is using too high an amp voltage and I’ve got nothing except to find someone to help.

                  Also, when you’re dealing with a lot of entry level people you need someone who knows what they are doing to oversee training and make sure things are being done properly.

                  Maybe it’s just my environment, but in production there is a lot of value to the managers knowing their way around the tools in their shop.

                  It really depends on the level of management and the environment, imo.

                3. The IT Manager*

                  It’s more of an issue at low-level supervision, more than actual managing.

                  This is the key. At the low level (front line) management to have the repect of those you supervise and to be successful you have to have a very good understanding of what the workers do. The higher you go in management, the more strategic you become, the broader areas you are responsible and the less you need to understand the technical details of what goes on at the lower levels. Even then, though, a lot of the times the CEO will have risen from the operational side of the business since that’s a business’s core competency and what he needs to understand most.

                4. Joey*

                  Yes, you have to have the technical people in place, but when you do it can make sense even at lower levels.

            2. Jessa*

              I agree with you. If you’re a really good manager, and you have a concept of the process (or, heck just have them SHOW you what they do,) you can be a good manager. You just have to figure out how to tell if your people are doing the job properly. Once you do, you should be fine. Although, yes I’d make a huge effort to live on sites about the particular tech, and to LEARN the basics, even if I couldn’t personally do it.

        2. Joey*

          I bet you would have way more respect for someone who listened to the problems you faced at work, the solutions you thought would work, and actually did something to fix them over a technical expert who ran things the way he thought they should be ran, no?

          1. Runon*

            This seems like a very false dichotomy though.

            You can have someone who understands the work and listens to the problems and solutions and fixes them. That person exists. (Many of them.)

            1. Joey*

              Of course there are. But the pool is much bigger if you include people who necessarily need the technical knowledge to perform phenomenally.

  4. EnnVeeEl*

    #6: Just saw a news story about a woman who got a very good paying government job – and EVERYTHING on her resume was a complete and total lie: jobs, degrees, even her street address. The address she listed as her home address was an empty lot. I am just a worker bee, and I know people personally who lie about having degrees, certifications, embellish job descriptions.

    Take the time to do a background check, and save yourself a lot of heartache and embarrassment.

    1. Lindsay*

      I didn’t even know these existed! Where can I get one??? It sure would make my unemployed-job-searching-life easier! LOL!

      1. The IT Manager*

        If you have to ask how, you’re probably not a devious enough or a good enough liar to convince a hiring manager that all your lies are true long enough to get hired.


    2. Janet*

      In this wonderful world of google and linkedin I have caught so many former co-workers outright lying on their resumes. One woman had been a one day a week on-camera host at a small local TV station doing movie reviews. The station was owned by the same company that owns CNN. This somehow became “Entertainment reporter at CNN” on her resume. Not even joking.

      1. EnnVeeEl*

        And yet so many people don’t even call the references a job seeker provides. They just take a complete stranger at their word. A month later they are writing into AAM about this psycho they just hired…

        1. Yup*

          People usually assume that someone else earlier down the pipeline has already checked and verified. So the can just gets kicked ever further down the road. Also, it seems like the bigger the lie, the less likely it is to be questioned.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        My sister had advised me to puff up a title on my resume, and I flat out told her no. In this day and age, it’s really easy to find out if someone lied, and digital stuff can follow you around FOREVER.

      3. Lindsay J*

        I don’t understand why people do this. It’s so easy to verify this information – and, more importantly, so easy to tell that somebody is lying.

          1. Lindsay J*

            I guess that’s true. If you’re desperate and about to lose your house or apartment then making things up in hopes of leveling the playing field seems like it would be a lot more attractive/reasonable.

            When I got fired recently I wound up taking the first job offered even though it was a significant pay cut and not a management role. I figured some money coming in was better than no money, and it was in my field and there’s significant opportunity to advance once I’m trained and up to speed. I was so worried about finding a job at all, especially with the way the economy is and especially now having to answer “yes” to that “have you ever been fired or asked to resign” question. I guess I made the right decision, looking at this. I wish there was a way to stop companies from discriminating against the unemployed that would actually have an effect. However, I’m guessing even if laws were passed it would be almost impossible to prove anyway.

            (Though I still don’t see why you would make up something like being a reporter for ESPN, which would be pretty easy to confirm/deny.)

  5. Mike C.*

    RE: #7 I applied for a job about two years ago that changed the application to require three letters of recommendation. I was so mad, what the heck is that about? I’m not going to bother people to write letters on my behalf just for a job application that they will most likely never respond to me about!

    1. EnnVeeEl*

      I would have passed on this one too. I would not have felt comfortable asking anyone to do that. People do want to help, but you have to have some sense in what you ask of people.

      I wonder how many applications they actually got.

    2. Runon*

      I think this is a thing in academia. I know an intern I had asked me to write a couple when she applied for a bunch of jobs in the land of academia. (I just wrote it once on our letterhead and gave her a few copies which apparently was the norm then.) I guess if you can use the same letter 20 times it isn’t a big deal, but I can’t imagine different letters, different focuses, different people, making them fill out a form, anything like that. I’d only make my references crabby.

      1. Liz in a Library*

        I’ve had colleagues ask for recommendations that are required at the point of application for public school districts as well.

        1. Jessa*

          Yeh but in academia even at the local school level, reference letters are the in thing. Most people in academia are used to having to write the things.

          1. Rana*

            Yep, it’s absolutely normal in academia. If you work there, you get very used to writing them, and probably have a few standard templates that you adjust to meet the particular needs of the person you’re writing on behalf of.

            There are even online services for handling these letters – the candidate sets up an account, references submit their letters – either tailored or generic -(and indicate whether it’s okay for the candidate to see them or not, and the service handles the mailing.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            Yeah, I had to do it for a job I applied to at the local school district. Everyone wrote the letters but when I checked back, they hadn’t been contacted at all. I never did get any word from them. I apologized to my references and never applied there again. Just not worth the trouble.

  6. Mike G.*

    Thank you so much for answering my Is this Legal? I had a feeling they were in the wrong but they insisted they could not pay me for the two weeks.
    I really appreciate the response. I am so glad I found this website and look forward to looking at it regularly.

  7. ThatGirl*

    Smokers are serious about their breaks so you have to be serious as well.
    What I’ve done in this situation is, I say I’m going for a smoke break but instead I walk around the building/parking lot for the allotted amount of time.

    One thing I would advise is to make sure you are going out as consistently as the smokers (even if you don’t feel like) that way you establish a precedence of needing your breaks (like the smokers).

    When I first started doing that, I did get some push back from management but I pointed out that the smokers always got their breaks because they needed to smoke to relieve work stress. I needed my walk around the parking lot to relieve my work stress- same horse just a different color.

    It took a little time but they started to understand that I needed my breaks as well.

    1. Lindsay J*

      Yeah, when I worked a restaurant job I always took non-smoke breaks. I would stand out and chat with the other workers who were smoking, or just take in a little fresh air and clear my head for a moment. It really is good stress relief, and my managers never gave me much pushback about it.

  8. JuliB*

    #5 – At my first FT tech position, another colleague and I decided to join the smokers on their breaks. Neither of us smoked, but decided we should not be penalized for not smoking.

    After a week, word came from down high that only smokers were allowed to take smoke breaks. I stopped going out. My colleague continued, and nothing happened to him. Sigh…

    1. Lindsay J*

      Maybe I’m a pain in the butt, but I would have asked one of the higher ups how they could justify that policy. Then I would have asked them where the line for smoking really was – if I’m holding a cigarette am I smoking? What if it’s lit? If I bring it up to my mouth but don’t inhale the smoke?

      Seriously, I hate places that allow this weird little division to persist. People choose to smoke to begin with. And even if they are now to the point where they can’t quit, we don’t facilitate other people’s addictions to the detriment of other workers – we don’t let people with gambling problems spend 15 minutes every couple of hours play online poker and we don’t let alcoholics have a drink every so often to keep them from coming down, while we tell the non-addicts or non-alcoholics to keep working. I just don’t understand why smoking is an established exception.

      I don’t want it to seem like I have a problem with smoking, because I don’t. I just don’t see how so many businesses can justify allowing special treatment for a group of workers due to a choice that they make, and the addiction part doesn’t fly for me since we don’t accomodate others’ addictions in the same way. Either you allow everyone – smokers and non-smokers alike to take the same short breaks – or you don’t allow anyone to do so. No “okay, smokers can have extra breaks, but non-smokers can’t.”

  9. MovingRightAlong*

    OP #3: is this new behavior from your employee? I hate to be the one ringing this bell, but your description immediately brought to mind the sort of behavioral changes seen in a person who has suffered brain injury or is experiencing abnormal pressure on her brain. It certainly wouldn’t be my first guess as to what’s going on, especially if there’s no history to suggest this is abnormal behavior for *her*, but not out of the realm of possibility.

    1. Runon*

      I had this thought as well but I’ve also been reading a bunch on neuroscience and brain injuries and maladies so I thought it might just be my brain jumping at shadows.

  10. Ellie H.*

    The coworker in #3 seems like she is legit acting strangely, but getting asked “What’s wrong?” and “Are you okay?” is the single greatest bane of my existence. A few weeks ago I was sitting in front of the library reading the paper and noticed a young woman nearby staring at me in a weird way. I assumed she was judging me for throwing out not recycling a section of the paper and felt guilty, but she crossed the street and I forgot about her. Lost in thought, I was contemplating whether to read the Margaret Thatcher obituary or the op-eds next, when she, who I repeat had crossed the street away from me, crossed back and asked “Are you OK? You look distressed.” The problem is that as soon as anyone asks me this, it upsets me so much that I give them the stare of death and become very clipped and impolite. I really, really don’t like acting rude to people, but I find it so incredibly offensive, bothersome, and inappropriate that I cannot suppress this negative response. I worry I am seriously going to lose it and scream at the next person who does this to me. It’s just so aggravating. I would really not take this well, at all, if I were one of the people being repeatedly asked this question by the coworker. I think it is the height of rudeness to comment on the perceived emotional state of someone you don’t know or have a professional relationship with.

    1. Cat*

      I don’t know; the described behavior is strange, but I think there’s something to be said, in the abstract, to paying attention to whether your co-workers are extremely upset and asking if everything is okay if they are. I mean, they don’t have to answer but . . . well, sometimes they’re not and something needs to happen but not everyone is going to be okay about coming out and saying it without being asked (and a lot of times these are all work-related things).

      1. Jamie*

        My take on this is maybe she’s not okay and would like someone to ask about it.

        Like how when people get a new haircut they compliment your hair so you’ll return the favor and notice theirs – or whatever.

        That’s about the OP – not Ellie’s comment. As usually I agree with Ellie in that people really need to stop doing that. I haven’t had it happen in public with strangers, but I don’t get out much…I can tell you I am just really tired of people I know mistaking focus for being upset/ill. If I could change my countenance when focused to look more neutral I absolutely would…I know that knitting my brows when I concentrate looks like a scowl. I just don’t know how to change that.

        1. Cat*

          I agree about strangers, and I agree that you should know your co-workers well enough to know what they look like and not constantly pester them about whether or not okay. I guess I read her comment more broadly – I don’t think, if we come across a co-worker who looks like they’re on the verge of tears, that we should stop saying something sympathetic, I guess, or that if we see a co-worker crying, that we should pretend we don’t.

          1. Jamie*

            I agree with that in theory and I certainly agree with your sentiment to be sympathetic – I just know for me if I’m trying to hold it together and not cry the absolute worst thing that can happen is to be nice to me, ask me if I’m okay. I don’t know what it is – but the kindness has some kind of let-down effect on the tears.

            I just meant maybe the OP keeps asking everyone is they are okay because she really needs someone to ask her if she is.

            1. Cat*

              That does seem like a good theory.

              I know there’s no perfect solution re other people, except getting to know people well enough and paying enough attention to their signals that you know how individuals prefer to be treated when they’re upset.

          2. Ellie H.*

            I really go back and forth on this. With close friends and family members, of course it is appropriate (and would be inappropriate not to) to be able to tell if they are bothered by something, and ask them what’s wrong. The same is probably true of coworkers you are very familiar with. But people who are maybe having personal problems most likely look at work as a place that they they can relate to others professionally, in a non-emotional way, and put aside emotions. I’m not saying that you should ignore someone who is in tears in a callous way, but I’m not sure what the exact balance to strike is.

          3. Kelly L.*

            Yeah, after a number of years I do sometimes wish people would catch on that heat and cold make my skin flush, and if I’m suddenly tomato-red after being outside for fifteen minutes, that’s just me and that’s just what my skin does, and always has. And yes, I’m OK! LOL.

        2. Nikki*

          I was wondering if something was wrong with her eyes and she keeps seeing other people ‘not looking okay’, so she asks..

          As said above, if this is a *change* in behavior, she could be sick and not even know it.

      2. Lynn*

        OK, but if you’re asking more than very rarely (maybe once a year per person, on average?), either you have a hell of a dysfunctional workplace, or you’re WAY over-using this question. The OP uses words like “constantly” and “always”, which is far too much.

    2. Four Border Collies*

      Carry an employee review form with you at all times. If they ask you that again, just laugh. If they persist, say aloud…”Oh! That reminds me!”, pull out the form, and start writing furiously.

      [This idea first appeared in the Dilbert Principle”, which I believe should be required reading. See the chapter titled on mutually assured destruction review process.]

    3. -X-*

      There’s a difference between someone asking if you are OK based on:

      a difference between what they thing is normal behavior and your normal behavior


      Your behavior in the past and a sudden change to new behavior.

      The latter is about you, and their concern that something happened to you. The former is as much about them as you, and is understandably annoying.

      That said, “Are you OK” is not the best phrasing in any circumstance as it seems to be requiting an explanation. A better way to phrase it is “I hope you’re OK but let me know if I can be helpful in some way.”

      1. Ellie H.*

        Yes! This is a perfect distinction. It also gets at why it is so presumptuous for strangers to make assumptions about your mental state – because they don’t have any point of reference for your normal behavior or demeanor.

        1. Jessa*

          I get this, I really do, and I know it’s terribly annoying, but you know what? I’d rather do it and annoy someone than not do it and find they’ve totally zoned out and are ill or unable to properly communicate. People who are okay move occasionally, focus is usually not the same as someone staring at the same page for far much longer than it takes even a slow reader to get through it, etc. So given my history and my knowledge base, if it looks like someone is in distress (and not just tuning out the world,) I’m going to do SOMETHING to check that. I’d rather get 100 people snarking at me than miss 1 person who just had a minor seizure and genuinely needs help, even if it’s just re-orienting them to a waking state.

          1. Jazzy Red*

            Hurray for you, Jessa! It’s nice to know there are some caring people around.

            People who are concerned should not be getting their heads bitten off by asking if someone is OK. A simple “yes, I’m fine, thanks” would suffice.

            1. Jessa*

              Thank you.

              Now if you know the person and see them every day, obviously you don’t have to keep bothering them (unless they tell you “hey I’ve blood sugar issues, if I look zoney lemme know.) That’s not the same.

            2. Ellie H.*

              I completely understand that it is meant well, but I am not sure that I have the intestinal fortitude to respond nicely to everyone who does this to me, every single time, being an imperfect human. If it doesn’t happen to you, maybe it’s impossible to understand how incredibly unpleasant it is. Though I also realize that not everyone who it happens to may feel the same way I do.

              1. Rana*

                I lean towards Ellie H.’s position on this. The few times a random stranger has asked if I was okay, I was either (a) fine, and annoyed that someone thought I looked odd enough to be concerned, or (b) not fine, and trying to hold it together until I could deal with my emotions somewhere private and safe.

                Is it really that hard to let other people be? I mean, if I’m lying on the ground bleeding, yes, I’d like help, but otherwise? Not so much.

              2. Rana*

                I mean, I wouldn’t necessarily bite their head off just for asking, but I wouldn’t feel happy about the encounter either, which would seem to be the exact opposite effect a helpful person would want to produce.

    4. Lindsay J*

      +1. I had a boss that would ask everyone this several times daily. I know it was just her way of checking in with us and she wasn’t really a nurturing type so I think she had been told that she had to care more about her workers and this was the way she was trying to show she cared.

      I hate the question, though. If I’m not okay and I want you to know about it, I’ll tell you.

      If I haven’t told you anything, either I am okay and you asking me five times about it is just annoying and makes me want to snap “I was until you asked me five times. Now I’m annoyed,” or there is something going on with me that I don’t want to share at work for some reason, and you asking me is both annoying me and making me more upset and more likely to break down.

      1. Jessa*

        Yeh. It’s one thing to ask. But not 5 times, and not if you’ve been told the person is okay. Also your boss should KNOW you by now. I think that if you think it’s “conversational checking in,” that maybe a discussion needs to be had about “I get that you wanna check in, but constantly being asked if I’m okay is really an issue for me. If you wanna talk, how about coming in and saying “you got time to talk or something?”

        But it is possible to be “not okay” and NOT be aware of it. I’d still rather err on the side of being cautious. But ONCE not a zillion times til someone snaps at me.

  11. Jane Doe*

    #3. I’d be tempted to answer “I have this coworker who won’t mind her own business and could stare down Charles Manson.”

    1. PJ*

      My tempting reply: “Nothing that is any of your business. If that changes, I’ll let you know.”

  12. Kristina*

    #7, thanks for answering! Your comment “they’ll figure it out” really put it into perspective. They’re people! LOL! Thank yo

    1. Kristina*

      #7, thanks for answering! Your comment “they’ll figure it out” really put it into perspective. They’re people! LOL! Thank you

  13. Rob (Bacon) Bird*

    You: “Are you ok?”
    Me: “Actually, no. My doctor just diagnose me with Chordata Mammalia Primates. It’s a rare condition where whenever anybody makes eye contact with me, I perceive it as a threat and I go all Silverback on them…..are you…..starring at me??”

  14. AngieB*

    I have to comment on #3!! I worked with someone like that before. She was constantly asking me if I was “ok”. Once, she told me that I looked like I had been crying. Finally I had to pull her aside and assure her that I was completely fine and that by her constantly asking me if I was ok, I was getting very self conscious about my appearance. I told her that regardless of her intentions, when she told me that I looked like I was upset, I was taking it as I looked tired or ugly. Therefore, I would rather not have her ask that question since I dont want to feel like I look tired or ugly. After that she stopped asking me that question, but I still saw her doing the same thing to other people in the office…. how strange!!

Comments are closed.