short answer Saturday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

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

1. Asking for a far-off start date

I have an interview coming up soon for a job that is a little over two hours away from where I currently live. The job site is in a popular beach location notorious for horrific traffic in the summer and there is no public transit on weekdays. So, I will have to move to take this job if offered.

I am anticipating they might ask me in the interview how quickly I could be ready to start and the truth is, the ideal time for me would probably be about 4-6 weeks from receiving the offer. This will give me time to find an affordable place to live, pack up my current place, and wrap up some volunteer work I am doing, as well as receive my tax refund to help pay the moving costs. However, if it’s going to make the difference between them hiring me or someone else, I *can* start earlier and just pay through the nose for a hotel until I find a cheap place. I can leave most of my belongings with a friend and live out of a suitcase. This would be a real hardship for me but one I’m willing to suffer if necessary.

What are your thoughts on how I should answer the question if asked, and whether 4-6 weeks is a reasonable time to ask them to wait in these circumstances? Also, is there an appropriate way to say, “hey, if you guys want to give me an advance of $1,000 or so I can start in 3 days!”

Say, “Because I’m moving, ideally I’d love to start 4-6 weeks from receiving an offer, but I do have some flexibility if you need someone more quickly than that. What kind of timeline are you hoping for?” I wouldn’t say that you can start within days if they give you an advance; most places do not do payroll advances for employees who haven’t even started working there yet (since you may not show up or work that full period).

2. Should I take a lower salary when changing fields?

I want to change careers from a science background to HR. I am currently in school for my Associates in Business Administration, but am chomping at the bit to get a job that will develop my business skills.

I have the opportunity to work for a staffing firm performing administrative tasks that really interest me and will add much needed experience to my resume. The problem is, the salary is much lower than my current salary. The wage is what the position is budgeted for; they didn’t drop the pay scale just because I’m a newbie to the industry. My question is: when changing careers, should I expect to take a lower salary because I’m essentially starting fresh? I’ve put many resumes out there with no bites, and I know it’s because I need some serious experience. My current position offers few transferable skills.

Yes, you should expect to take a lower salary when changing careers and starting at the bottom. They’re not going to significantly raise the pay range for a junior position just because you have experience in an unrelated field.

3. Addressing staff problems when you’re friends with your employees

I am a manager of a small satellite office of six employees. I know that as manager I should not be friends with my coworkers, but our office is so small it is unavoidable. Also, I personally like to work in a fun, irreverent office so I foster that kind of culture. Typically it works out really well. Everyone has fun and works well together. But occasionally I have encountered incidents where my coworkers have crossed the line with me. For example, they feel like they can be curt or rude to me when they’re angry, which is something I would never do to my manager, no matter how close we are. How would you recommend handling that kind of situation, when I am walking the line between being a manager and a friend?

Is there any way other than directly addressing the problem with the coworker, which in the past has not worked particularly well? For some reason, when I’ve actually addressed behavior, it seems to cement the resentment.

Well, you’re basically saying, “I don’t want to have an appropriate manager-managee relationship with my staff, except on some occasions when I want the benefits of it without the work.” If you blur the boundaries, it’s no surprise that your staff thinks the boundaries have been blurred. And I can’t really let you get away with saying that this is “unavoidable” because it’s not, and plenty of other managers in small offices do manage to avoid it.

In any case, if you’re addressing issues head-on and “it’s not worked particularly well,” then you need to be firmer in your approach and you need to set and enforce consequences. And if you have people acting resentfully toward you, you need to address that too. You’re their manager — you need to act like it. Every day, not just when there’s something you want to address. And honestly, this isn’t really optional or something you get to decide not to do just because you prefer to run things differently. Unless you’re the owner of this business, you have an obligation to act like a manager, because that’s the job you’re being paid to do.

4. Using a .edu email address when you didn’t graduate

I am no longer a college student, but my school still lets me forward my .edu mail to my own email account. Now, I did not graduate. Is it okay to use this .edu address for job search/business? Also, I have a habit of changing email addresses and forgetting my passwords/security Q&As. But I never forget my .edu login information. So, using this .edu address would be convenient. What do you think?

Sure, it’s fine to use a .edu address in job-searching, and there’s no reason that you can’t use it just because you didn’t graduate. But find a better way to track your other passwords.

5. Telling non-local employers I can only fly out once for interviews

I am in the process of relocating, and I have had several phone interviews and a couple of face-to-face interviews. I come to town once I have at least four interviews set up. My last trip, the guy who was to interview me couldn’t make it, but I did get to interview with the HR rep. Now they are asking me to come back in a month once I get settled (I was looking to move in a month). My problem is that I can’t move without a job and I can’t continue to fly back and forth at $250-$350 each trip. I feel like these companies are acting like I just drove from 15 minutes way. How do I convey to potential employers that I need to interview all at once and that coming back and forth is too costly? I am not working now due to a recent layoff so I’m available but it’s not cheap.

You can certainly say, “Would it be possible to meet with everyone I’d need to meet with on this trip since I’m flying in from out of town?” But it might simply not be possible. Employers have different stages of interviews, and they might not decide until after round 1 who they’d like to meet with in round 2. Plus, keep in mind that many employers don’t interview non-local candidates at all precisely because they don’t want to deal with this kind of inconvenience (hence the “call us once you’ve moved here”), so you’re not really in an optimal position if you want a long-distance job offer. It’s much, much easier to get a job when you’re already living in the location, unfortunately.

6. Mentioning client names in a cover letter or resume

Is it bad practice to mention the name of a client company in a cover letter or resume? For example, I used to work at a consulting group (Teapot Consulting, Inc.) that conducted research for client organizations in a specific sector. I worked on projects for Tiny Teapots, Teapot University, Teapots Unlimited, and Organic Teapots. Now I am applying for an in-house research role at Inflatable Teapots. Should I mention the names of the companies I did work for? Or would a more general statement about experience in the teapot industry — without mentioning company names — be more appropriate (while still highlighting my successes of course)?

How impressive will it be to mention them? If it will be impressive, and if it doesn’t violate any written or unofficial policy of your current employer, then yes, mention them. Otherwise, a more general statement is fine.

7. Explaining why I’m job-searching during a restructure

For the past three years, I’ve worked in a regional office for a nationally known not-for-profit organization. We have a new president who is conducting a reorganization of the company. He has already eliminated one department, and nobody feels their job is safe. Rumors are flying everywhere, and a lot of us are job hunting. There is no direct indication that my department is in jeopardy, but I don’t want to be caught unprepared. When interviewing for jobs, how can I best answer the question of why I’m looking to leave my current position?

“My organization recently brought in a new president who is doing a lot of restructuring, and it’s causing some upheaval.”

{ 80 comments… read them below }

  1. Lily*

    #3 I had the same problem. Some employees could deal well with it and recognize when I have the boss hat on and when I have the friend hat on. One who did told me that I invite the openness. However it results in too much ugliness with those who can’t recognize the different hats, so I’m much more distant now. Someone who I have been working with for the last half year told me she couldn’t believe that anyone could think that I was not the boss, so I guess I’m firmly the manager now.

    My friendliness now comes from praising their performance or praising their effort while telling them what they need to do to improve their performance. People who performed well before probably see me as friendlier now, because I pay more attention to them. Some need more supervision, and they appreciate the feedback. That was a win-win situation, because they improved their performance and I can be friendly (I LIKE being friendly!) Others don’t want performance feedback and you have to follow Alison’s advice!

    I’ve started to look at the people around me and decide whether they would make good employees (for me) and realized that people I like a lot and enjoy talking with would not work out as employees under me. For example, a friend was telling me how she refused to do work that her boss hadn’t convinced her about and I had sympathy for both.

  2. Sandrine*

    #3 makes me sad.

    The ONLY time it becomes a problem is when the employees and the manager are idiots. No, really.

    Why ? Because a rational logical human being (hint, me, for example) who understand boundaries knows that friendship is one thing and work is another.

    In fact, I was at an interview this week for a kinda supervisory-type position where I could, from time to time, evaluate former peers work (didn’t get the job which is a bummer, bu still) . When asked if I could handle evaluating someone who I am friendly with, I said yes. Why ? Because work is work, that’s all :) .

    OP, you need to tell your friends that. You need to tell them that even though you are friends, when you’re at work, you’re at work first and THAT is the priority. Just because someone is angry at you for whatever reason does NOT mean they are allowed to be rude in any way, shape, or form.

    So we were talking about “life coaches” the other day… Can I become an “employee coach” all over the US pretty please ? I don’t want to be the exception anymore :( .

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think it’s about managers or employees being idiots when this doesn’t work. It’s about human nature. A lot of people have trouble switching from one hat to another, and a lot of people have trouble recognizing when a manager/friend needs to do that switch. A lot of people just can’t have tough conversations with people they consider friends, let alone lay off/fire them if they need to. They’re not idiots; it’s just human nature for many people.

      There’s a reason managers are typically expected to maintain professional boundaries with people they supervise, and it’s similar to reasons why they can’t date them. There’s too much room for conflict of interest, inability to do some parts of the manager’s job, power dynamics that don’t belong in a friendship, and perception by others of unfair/un-objective treatment (whether the perception is accurate or not).

      Fortunately, there’s no burning need for managers to cross boundaries with their staff; they can find friendships elsewhere. And it’s really part of the job to accept that condition, just like it’s part of the job when you’re a doctor to accept that you can’t date your patients. It’s not about being an idiot if you can’t manage that professionally; it’s about recognizing that the relationship too often doesn’t allow it.

      1. Lora*

        See, I am the opposite–I find it easier to have hard talks with someone I have a more personal connection to, not harder.

        Don’t know why, but I’ve always been able to say, “hey, dude…what’s up with this, it’s not like you to not get X done?” or “how is Project going? it kinda seems like you’re struggling, is it giving you a hard time?” or “this sucks, and I know it sucks for you, but here is how it is and I will do my best to help you through it,” or “oh, hey, that is not cool, you need to knock it off,” to people I know and like well. Random strangers, where I have to rely on, “Lora is the Boss, do what she says or face the Pit Of Despair,” not so much.

        Downside of that career-wise is that my style of management does not look very manager-y to people who are habituated to a strict command-and-control military ranking style, where respect is given by means of title rather than by building mutual relationships. When I’m stuck working in an organization where rank is everything and people get things done by means of who shouts the loudest, I try to leave as soon as possible because it’s always a bad scene for me.

    2. likesdesifem*

      ha ha! “Logic” is overrated. There are few human beings who are strictly logical.

      I would imagine there are very few people who would discipline or fire one’s spouse, parent, sibling, boyfriend/girlfriend, friend, or any other close person in a manager/subordinate relationship. AAM is right to cite it’s a human nature issue.

      1. Sandrine*

        Yes, if you take it that way, it’s human nature, sure… and me using “idiots” was probably way too harsh (I would like to apologize for this).

        Still, human nature or not, doesn’t it make you a little sad in some way ? I’m not strictly logical and, of course, in no ways perfect. But truth be told, I wouldn’t hesitate to fire a spouse/friend/boyfriend/girlfriend in such a situation. Sure, it would sting. And sure, I might lose a friend in the process. But I would assume that anyone knowing me would know (since I’d prove it and tell them too) that I’m not doing things for the heck of it, so if they weren’t able to accept that a decision was justified, then good for them…

        In fact, come to think of it, I’d rather have a manager friend firing me than a manager manager firing me. Because then I know it’s not because the person doesn’t like me.

        Yeah, I’m odd, go figure :D

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It doesn’t make me sad :)

          Some roles have inherent restrictions that come with them. Bosses can’t date their subordinates, therapists can’t be friends with their patients, priests can’t date anyone, a 22-year-old teacher can’t socialize with her 18-year-old students, and managers can’t be friends with their employees. Because they’ve taken on obligations that in all cases trump whatever their social interest might otherwise be. Fortunately, there are plenty of other people one can be friends with — it’s not a huge hardship to accept that some roles come with restrictions. (And if is, you can choose not to take those roles.)

          1. Sandrine*

            I do understand that there are obligations that trump the rest.

            However, to me, if I’m going to be a boss and someone’s friend (as opposed to simply friendly, as differenciated in other comments) I would still make it very clear that work is work, period. To me, friendships come in all shapes and sizes anyway, and I have enough people coming in and out of my life that I would understand if someone dropped me as a friend for whatever reason.

            The key here though, is that it has to go both ways for it to work. Personal motto is to follow the boss’ cues and to act accordingly while maintaining a professional attitude at all times.

            So, for example, if I worked for you, Alison, we could be friendly-ish-but-not-quite-and-get-back-to-work-Sandrine-finish-this-report, and with, say, Lily, it could be how-about-karaoke-tonight or something.

            And then Lily would fire me because I messed up a client’s file and lost us our biggest grant of the year and I’d cry a bit and go apply somewhere else while eating bacon and mac&cheese… but I’d still get to go to dinners or karaoke parties with her from time to time and woohoo life is good.

            There was a time when something like this could have stung too hard for me to be able to handle it properly. Fortunately, I managed to realize that it’s up to me to adjust my attitude to make the most out of life, and that’s one of the things that helped… Find friends wherever, even if they’re “above” you, since no two friends are alike anyway and being someone’s friend doesn’t mean you’ll call them at 3 in the morning because your house is on fire :) .

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              The problem is that while it might work just fine for you, there are way too many people who don’t handle it well (both managers and staff), and even when they do, it often causes perception issues with other staff members who suspect favoritism or special access.

              It’s not a good idea.

            2. Lily*

              As you’re imagining that I could fire you, I hope you don’t mind if I comment. :-) You’re saying that our personal relationship wouldn’t be over if I fired you. That’s very understanding of you! However, you also said that you are now capable of separating business and pleasure and wouldn’t have been able to in the past. As the boss, how will you figure out whether your subordinate is able to separate business and pleasure and will be able to be friends as well as your subordinate? That’s the problem I can’t figure out the answer to which is why I’ll be distant and miss out on friendship with people who would have been able to deal with it, because I can’t identify them.

              BTW I can’t imagine firing someone just for making a mistake. The mistake would have to be compounded by the employee’s refusal to acknowledge the mistake and / or propose a solution and carry it out.

              I’m very lucky that I have not yet encountered anyone who is trying very hard but just not making the bar.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Exactly — you can’t know ahead of time who can handle it and who can’t. You usually don’t find out until there’s a problem. (Also, you sometimes don’t know if you can handle it, until there’s a problem and you end up not handling it quite the way you would if you had more distance.)

        2. Jamie*

          I wouldn’t hesitate to fire a spouse/friend/boyfriend/girlfriend in such a situation.

          I think it’s great that you can compartmentalize work from personal to such a degree – but the part I quoted above I think shows that your take on this isn’t typical.

          Being able to fire a spouse without hesitation? Not to get sappy and I certainly don’t think my husband is perfect – but I’d take a bullet for him. I would go to great lengths to avoid deliberately causing him any kind of pain or rejection. And I won’t even pretend I would be able to view him objectively in any work sense. I love him enough that I vowed to spend the rest of my life with him. I chose him as the father for my children. We share money, a home, and a bed…I do his laundry for crying out loud…which I wouldn’t do for any co-worker. Ever.

          I don’t know anyone who could be objective with that kind of relationship. And it doesn’t have to be spouses – but any kind of serious long-term relationship in which there’s personal commitment. There’s ‘a you and me against the world’ thing that can’t co-exist if you’re the one who gives them their pink slip.

          To think most people can put personal feelings aside just because it’s work isn’t doable…and it’s so rare even if people could do it if I’m a co-worker/bystander I don’t trust that that’s the case because it’s completely apocryphal in my world.

  3. Esra*

    Also, I have a habit of changing email addresses and forgetting my passwords/security Q&As

    Could I ask why? Even if you feel the need to have different emails every now and then, it would be a good idea to have a standard one (ex. for job applications and people know you to get a hold of you.

  4. Jenny*

    @ #4 I would highly recommend KeePass or Password Gorilla to set up your passwords. They are password safes to be used to keep track of all the passwords, usernames and URLs of these services. It’s encrypted, and you then only need one master password (a really, really, really, REALLY good one). I would suggest KeePass over PG because KP is cross platform and you can install it on your phone as well, if you have a smartphone. DO NOT lose that master password, or you’re SOL.

    Good luck.

    1. Windy*

      I have been using KeePass for years and love it. You can copy/paste your passwords without revealing them or set it up to auto fill using hot-keys; which is an added bonus in this day and age of keyloggers.

    2. Al Lo*

      LastPass is another option. I love it — it also has the option for copy/paste, auto-fill via a browser extension (so that if something happens to compromise the security of your computer, you can change the master password and all of your saved login information is cleared), and it has options for 2-step security — requiring a special code from a USB as well as your master password to access your account on a new computer. (Plus it has an app, so you can also carry over the security and convenience to your mobile devices.)

      I typically use a password generator for my actual passwords, so they’re very strong (but totally unrememberable), and then my LastPass password is a strong one that I only need to remember on its own.

      1. Al Lo*

        Another thing I appreciate about LastPass is that they have a “security audit” feature, where it analyzes all your passwords and tells you how many duplicates and weak passwords you have. With close to 100 passworded sites (between work and home accounts, online stores, and the myriad of other sites we all sign up for), I started out with a lot of duplicate passwords that weren’t really all that secure. Over the past year, I’ve been working on going through and changing my passwords to unique, secure ones that are then managed by the app, so that if one site is hacked, the others can’t all be accessed as well.

  5. FiveNine*

    This is sort of just a rhetorical question: What routes has the manager in No. 3 left open for an employee who might be uncomfortable with the irreverent and freewheeling workplace atmosphere to safely raise any kind of professional concern with the manager that are appropriate to raise with any other manager? The manager knows the atmosphere in the satellite office already departs dramatically from the larger company’s culture. So let’s say someone who excels at the company is transferred to the satellite office and suddenly has a manager who has fostered the breakdown of the professional boundaries and who wants to be seen as friends with those she manages even though she knows this is wrong. How does someone safely bring up ANY professional issue that should be appropriate to bring to a manager when the manager values an irreverent atmosphere and doesn’t want to be seen as the manager? I’m just wondering if this isn’t another problem raised by cultivating such an atmosphere (and if there isn’t a little more resentment beneath the surface among more of the workers than the manager realizes than what is coming out in the occasional, direct crude or rude comment to the manager).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yep, it’s a huge problem. The manager also has no way of knowing if everyone on her staff really enjoys the environment as much as she thinks they do, because plenty of people wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking up if they didn’t.

      And I suspect you’re right that there’s more resentment than the manager realizes. There’s a really unfair power dynamic in these “friendships,” and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these employees want a manager, not a friend who can’t really be a friend but acts like it because it’s more fun for her.

      1. Jessa*

        Exactly. I think the person that feels odd about it would have a hard time letting the manager know this.

    2. Waiting Patiently*

      I had a manager like that and when s**t hit the fan that was when she tried to manage the unruly atmosphere she had foster. I had alwys did my work and was asked why I was so quiet. Then when gossip started about her in my presence I, along with culprits, were pulled aside and reprimanded. It was a joke. While I had no respect for her as a manger, I did not show it. Not long after she was fired not only because of her mangement style but deposits came up missing.
      I would go further and ask if she is being “curt and rude” in a playful manner …blurring the lines. And lastly what purpose is it serving to have a fun and irreverent environment. I get wanting the workplace to be fun but irreverent? imho it makes it easy to pass the blame. In my situation my manager was stealing deposits and I’m sure she blamed it on the incompetence of others. Not saying this is the case but food for thought.

  6. Zee*

    #4 – The OP there might want to check with her former college about how long she is allowed to keep that .edu email address. My university allows alumni to keep their email addresses for a year after graduation, and I would assume it’d be the same for those who left the school without graduating. So don’t be surprised if one day you go to check your email and it is gone! Although, the school should warn you first with a warning email.

    1. Bess*

      I second this. It depends a lot on the school, so she should definitely check — my very small undergraduate institution cut off your access a month after you graduated, while my very large graduate institution lets you keep your .edu address essentially indefinitely. It’s worth finding out if she doesn’t already know.

      Off topic, “Inflatable Teapots” made me laugh. That’s a wonderful mental image.

      1. Seal*

        Also, some universities allow you to keep your .edu email address if you join their alumni association.

      2. Zee*

        If I went back to school there, they would be able to resurrect my old email account, which was It looks like it depends on the institution so it never hurts to make sure the OP knows that college’s particular procedure.

        In my opinion, however, I prefer to have my own account from gmail with my name as the email address. I don’t know how it looks to have an email account from my university to potential employers when I have been a few years removed from graduation. Plus, since this OP never graduated from there, I wonder if that could mislead an employer, accidentally.

        1. Zee*

          Sorry Alison, I didn’t realize it would come out highlighted. It’s not a real email address as far as I’m aware.

  7. AdAgencyChick*

    #6 — yes, list your clients! It’s de rigueur in my industry to do so, and it’s not just that if you’ve worked on a big name, that impresses employers. It’s more that listing your clients can give the hiring manager a fuller picture of what you’ve been doing. Let’s say your clients for the past few years have been Teapot Handles ‘R’ Us, Spouts Inc., and Teapot Lids Unlimited — a hiring manager will look at your resume and think, “Teapot assembly expert!” And if your clients have been Ghirardelli Teapot Division, Teapots de Godiva, and Hershey’s, the hiring manager will know you’re a chocolate guru.

    When I review resumes, I always look at the client list to get this kind of sense of where the candidate falls in the spectrum. It’s not that I’ll accept or reject a candidate based on that list, but it lets me know in what direction I can take the interview and how this person might fit in with the experience of those who are already on staff.

  8. #3 Manager*

    In my own defense, it’s not always easy to know when you’ve maintained the proper boundaries. I’ve worked in a lot of different work environments, and in almost all cases I had supervisors who considered me a friend too. It’s especially hard in my current workplace where we work very closely together and in stressful conditions. Creating a fun work environment is a critical way to help manage that stress, and most of the time it works great. (And for the record, the culture of my office is fairly reflective of the whole organization – we are a laid-back nonprofit after all.)

    Over the years I’ve learned to be more distant, especially with newer staff. But the reality is that I do have to wear two faces sometimes – the one that is joking over lunch, and the one that is at work. So what I need are not the pitfalls of having a fun environment – I’ve learned those myself over the years, and learned how to manage things better – but tips and suggestions on how to wear two hats effectively and monitor for moments when someone might be crossing the line or feeling uncomfortable.

    1. Sam*

      But “fun and irreverent” for you may mean “unprofessional and disorganized” for other employees. I speak from my experience at another non-profit I worked at- the manager wanted to foster this fun atmosphere by trying to be everyone’s friend and it was a disaster. Inappropriate jokes, too familiar physical contact, calling me into his office to ask for advice about his girlfriend, etc.

      Why can’t managers be satisfied with just being friendly with their staff rather than than their friends?

      1. KellyK*

        Why can’t managers be satisfied with just being friendly with their staff rather than than their friends?

        Exactly! You don’t have to be “friends” with everyone to maintain a friendly work environment. If you want to chat with people about what they did on the weekend, joke around a little bit, bring in bagels on a Friday—whatever, go for it. You just can’t develop social relationships that create a conflict of interest and keep you from being able to actually manage people.

      2. Jamie*

        But “fun and irreverent” for you may mean “unprofessional and disorganized” for other employees.

        Yes – irreverent was a big red flag to me. Without exception people with whom I’ve worked who have prided themselves on being irreverent regularly violated professional boundaries and blamed others for being uptight when there was push-back.

        I am a big fan of irreverence in many instances, but never at work. Everyone has a different line of offense – that’s why we have professional standards of behavior in the first place.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hmmm, it’s actually all the more important that you manage people effectively if you’re at a nonprofit; the stakes are a lot higher because your mission is (presumably) more important.

      Anyway, the answer is really that you have to … well, manage. You have to set clear goals and hold people accountable to them, hold a high bar and give people clear feedback when they’re not meeting it, have tough conversations and make tough decisions. I don’t think you’re currently doing that, because you have employees who aren’t behaving appropriately, and you don’t want to be direct.

      You really shouldn’t be looking for ways to walk the line between being friend and manager. You cannot be their friend. At least, you can’t be their friend and do your job well. You can and should be warm and friendly, of course, but not friends. It’s really not an option.

      1. #3 Manager*

        That sounds simple but it’s not. The reality is that there aren’t two polar types of managers: the one who’s trying to be your friend and is a horrible manager; and the one who maintains boundaries, is always properly distant, and does all the tough managing very well. Just because an office is “fun” doesn’t mean someone is not managing. And just because occasionally an employees behaves rudely does not mean I as a manager routinely fail to manage. I say that not to be defensive, but because it doesn’t help me to say “just manage.” I’m pretty conscientious about trying to be an effective manager even though the work environment is light. Otherwise I wouldn’t be on this site looking at management suggestions all the time!

        All managers I’ve had are some combination of the above. Most people are trying their best to be a good manager and also on the friendly end. And sometimes – as in my most recent situation – the employee who crossed the line is one of the people I’ve worked with for the longest, and who knew me when I was not as effective a manager. The newer ones are much easier to draw boundaries with, but when the friendship happened organically over years, during which time you are also learning to become a better manager, it’s hard to re-establish boundaries that were not established well at the beginning.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Friendly, but not friends. That’s the message here — and I think you might be overlooking it. You can’t be an effective manager when you’re trying to wear those two hats. You’re asking for tips on managing when you’re hat-switching — but what I’m saying (and others are saying) is that the problem is the hat-switching itself.

        2. Anonymous*

          There’s a huge difference between being friendly and being someone’s friend as a manager. I’ve had realy amazing managers who created an atmosphere where people would support each ther and liked each other, but I never thought those managers were my “friends”.

          Please please keep in mind that what you think is “fun” other people might think is alienating. People are different, and I, for one, would have a much more pleasant experience at work if my boss was focused in doing the tough lifting of managing rather than making sure everyone was having F U N!

        3. Lily*

          I’m having the same problem with someone who has been around for a while, so this topic has been on my mind lately! I was thinking about saying, “We’ve known each other for a long time now and I think you’ve lost sight of the fact that I’m the boss. Now, I haven’t wanted to emphasize that in the past and it was wrong of me, because I think it’s going to be painful for you to behave differently, but I really need you to do A, B, and C in the future. I hope you will understand because I really value your contribution, but I also need you to make these changes. Can you?” I don’t want to ignore the past but I don’t want to cause confusion either. Would I be mixing the messages too much if I said that?

          If she is really friends with you, you could have a real back and forth discussion instead of just telling her, like I am thinking of doing above! However, I’ve also had someone who I really thought was a friend react very badly.

          1. #3 Manager*

            Thank you!!! This is exactly the kind of concrete suggestion I was looking for! I think that’s a great idea. Handling the conversation well is tricky if you’ve known the person for a while, which it sounds like we both have. I’ve also heard one good way of providing feedback is to focus on the behavior, using the words: “When you do X, it causes Y outcome …” Good luck with your conversation!

          2. fposte*

            A few things strike me about that. It seems too long if the problem isn’t huge and too short if this is a good out of work friend and a problem that’s really totally out of hand at work.
            I have really good friends in my workplace, and I could envision a situation where we’d need to have a deeper conversation about how we have to change our handling of the boundary lines, but that’s not a one-line-scriptable meeting.

            But if it’s just that you’ve set an atmosphere that you’d like to change, then it’s not that huge or painful a deal and I don’t think it would be helpful to frame it as one. So I’d think more about “Because we’ve known each other for a long time, it’s become easy for us to lose sight of the fact that I supervise you. I’ve made a mistake in not keeping that professional aspect of our relationship in the foreground before, but now we need to be clear that in workplace, it’s important for me to rely my staff professionally, which means I expect you to do A, B, and C in the future. I hope you will understand because I really value your contribution, but I also require you to make these changes.” (Note also that I’ve changed “need” to “expect” and “require.”) And then be okay with the person not liking you for saying this.

            I also am not sure what “Can you?” is there for at the end–that seems to be the same sort of insufficiently managerial tone that got you into the situation; if people are, say, piling furniture in the fire exits, you just say “Stop doing it” without adding a “Can you?”

            1. Lily*

              You have brought up some very relevant issues. Differentiating between expect and require makes a lot of sense. I do generally take more responsibility for problems than I should, so I’ll change the framing as you suggest. “Can you” is supposed to be an invitation to discuss possible obstacles instead of just agreeing and then not delivering, but then I should say that.

              I will be okay with the dislike and I even accept that employees will complain about me and I can’t comment. That took a long time for me to accept!

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                “I even accept that employees will complain about me and I can’t comment.”

                If it’s occasional, sure. But if you have a chronic complainer on your staff, you can and should address that.

    3. fposte*

      Well, you don’t *have* to joke over lunch, so that’s a little misleading. But the thing you really need to avoid is relying on them for your own social life–no moving as a pack that includes you, whether it’s going out drinking after work or spending an evening together at a report’s house. That doesn’t mean you can never spend after-work time with them, but they shouldn’t have to see you after hours all the time, because if you’re an active manager it’s actually not all that fun for them, at least not in any good way.

    4. Lily*

      I’ve always had good relationships with my supervisors and that is why I thought I could also be friends with my employees! My supervisors thought they could confide in me and I don’t think I took advantage of it. However, I haven’t been good at predicting which of my employees can deal with it and which can’t.

      I’ve read about managers who wear a black suit to work when someone is due for a reprimand. Maybe you could literally put on a black hat or a Boss T-shirt?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I wouldn’t do quite that, since it will signal to people that you’re not the manager the rest of the time, which of course you are and need to be!

        1. KellyK*

          Not only that but, why freak out everyone who *isn’t* due for a reprimand? That just seems like a way to create needless stress.

  9. Cat*

    I feel like there’s another side of #3, which is that it sounds like the co-workers might not have appropriate relationships with each other either, which might be the root of some of the problems. Because the issue is not that you should never be rude to your manager; it’s that you shouldn’t be rude to people you work with period. There are ways your interactions with people you manage need to be different from interactions with your co-workers* but it sounds like the small office might be revealing to the manager how these co-workers have been talking to everyone when they’re annoyed, and it doesn’t sound like a good tone for anyone. (Which, of course, doesn’t change the ultimate solution, which is for the manager to manage, but may change the target a bit.)

    * Though I think friendly joking and chatting at lunch is not necessarily one of them; you can maintain friendly and cordial relations with your staff without being inappropriately close to them.

  10. Jen*

    #3 Manager – do you have any examples of how your workplace environment is fun and friendly? Is it the conversation topics, socialising, specific events, how colleagues communicate? It might help you figure out specific areas you can change and what other areas you are strong in.

    1. #3 Manager*

      Jen, thanks for asking. It’s mostly a group communication style – there is a lot of humor that everyone engages in, and the level of the humor depends on the makeup of the staff. In the past there have been more conservative staff members and everyone else has toned back their humor accordingly. Most of the time, everyone has been good at reading those kinds of cues. We also always make sure to eat lunch together on Mondays and recognize things like birthdays, etc. If we didn’t have fun together people would burn out, because the work is stressful – we deal with a lot of vicarious trauma in our work.

      1. Waiting Patiently*

        The examples of fun you mentioned are okay, lunch on Monday and the recognition of birthdays but, as someone else mentioned maybe it’s the tone of communication between you and the co-workers or the workers amongst themselves. To me that it is where you definitely have to set the example and manage.

        “Also, I personally like to work in a fun, irreverent office so I foster that kind of culture.”

        I may be a little hung up on your choice of wording here from your letter but irreverent mean a lack of respect. You essentially can’t foster an environment of disrespect and expect to be respected. –Unless you mean lack of respect for traditional office values…which again for me goes back to same thing… You can totally have fun without being inappropriate, disrespectful and rude to others.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          To me, it’s also in whether you consider yourself their friend and conduct yourself that way. If you do (and it sounds like you do, but please correct me if I’m wrong!), then that’s a dynamic that’s going to cause problems on both sides.

          They will either:
          1. See you as their friend and resent it when you change that dynamic at times that suit you, and act in ways that make it tough for you to do that (see your original letter), or
          2. Not see you as their friend since they know you’re their manager, and will lose respect for you for acting as if you’re friends, which can also lead to problems like the ones in your letter

          1. #3 Manager*

            Yes, that is a good point and I agree that is the problem. The challenge is how to set those boundaries day to day. It sounds like some people find it very easy, but I personally find it be difficult and a constant struggle.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I think it probably goes to your fundamental beliefs about your role. In your original letter, you wrote that you prefer this kind of culture, so I think you probably need to get really clear on why you need to operate differently, and really clear on what the role of a manager is.

              I don’t usually push my book on people, but it might really help in this case — especially the first chapter on the role of a manager, as well as the “so how do you actually put that into action” theme throughout the other chapters. Just one suggestion – I’m sure there are others!

        2. #3 Manager*

          Sorry, that was my poor use of word choice. By irreverent I meant the type of humor, and not the attitude towards people, the office, or the organization. Since I came from a corporate setting, I’m more prone to maintain some traditional office protocols than the other managers in the organization.

          1. Waiting Patiently*

            Haha! Irreverent humor….I see! I’ve been going back to reread just to make sure I put things into proper context…
            Still would be tough to manage and not blur boundaries.

            AAM advice is spot on that

            AAM:”In your original letter, you wrote that you prefer this kind of culture, so I think you probably need to get really clear on why you need to operate differently, and really clear”

          2. AB*

            My previous boss often would go out for lunch with his team. You wouldn’t be able to tell at the table who was a manager, who was not. Everybody talked as friends, discussing travel, technology news, etc.

            Part of the group would also do things together over the weekend. It started with everybody being invited, but since some never went, only part of the team grew closer and would often go out for movies, dinner, etc. (We are all from different places, and the workplace ended up being the easiest way of making friends in our new city.)

            Back at the office, you wouldn’t be able to distinguish the people who were part of this circle of friends and who were not. In the work environment, managers and subordinates always addressed each other in a friendly and respectful manner, leaving their personal relationships out of it.

            I can understand this sort of arrangement working well for people who are able to make a clear distinction: Jane as a coworker or manager (which is the only hat used at the office), and Jane as a friend (hat used only outside the office).

            I would say that the same boundaries we had at work with the manager who was part of the group of friends we had among colleagues: the fact that we’d visit each other’s houses over the weekend didn’t mean we would express more familiarity or increase the level of informality in our exchanges at work.

            I suppose what made it work for us was that being at work meant “being friendly” with EVERYONE. After work, we’d “be friends” with the circle that became close naturally, but we’d never let this closeness affect our professionalism or cause any favoritism at work. It’s like at work we completely forgot we even knew each other socially.

      2. EM*

        This doesn’t sound too different from my office. I don’t know about everyone else in my office, but i don’t see my coworkers and managers as friends. Sure, I can laugh at the honey badger YouTube video at work with them, but they’re coworkers, not friends.

        1. Cat*

          I think part of the issue is that different people mean different things by “friends.” For some people, your friends are the people you call when you’re in the hospital or your boyfriend just broke up with you; for others, friends are also the people who you can watch the honey badger video with and not expect anything else from. And the latter can be okay at work, as long as everyone is clear that that doesn’t transmute you to the first category of friend.

  11. Christine*

    #3 – I totally understand the double-edged sword of friendship in the workplace. On the one hand, it can be fun and feel supportive; on the other hand, I think it can create dysfunction if the lines get too blurred. There can definitely be resentment if it feels like the lazy or mean coworker is allowed to stay because he “friends with the boss”. I remember at one job, after having terminated the senior data person, our manager said he considered the newly-terminated employee to be like a son. No wonder he stayed on for so long, when I felt he should’ve been let go loooooong beforehand!

    I think a good manager strives for a reasonable balance right from the get-go, rather than waiting until something like the OP’s situation occurs. To me, that looks like having good working relationships but restricting the BS-ing to breaks/lunch or the occasional (and voluntary!) off-hours event.

  12. likesdesifem*

    With reference to number 3, I think he is not as good a manager as he purports.

    I don’t think a manager should ever be literal “friends” with a subordinate. One can be on friendly terms, but never “friends” per se (the two are not the same). There can be jokes and fun, granted. But there also needs to be boundaries set and maintained, as well as expectations of good behaviour and work conduct.

    The issue as I see it is that he is not enforcing these boundaries properly, and frankly letting his subordinates walk all over him.

  13. Gilbey*

    It is interesting reading this. I am facing a problem now with a co-worker.
    My manager and her are a little more chummy than I think they should be.
    My position is to take stuff off her and another workers desks to free them to do other things. Seems simple enough. Who wouldn’t want to transfer part of their work load? Get rid of it and you have nothing to do with it anymore.
    The problem is the co-worker thinks this is her cue to boss me around and micro-manager me. Literally calling me her assistant to others, asking me to do things and then butting in and taking over. ( no I am not screwing up she is just likes to be the boss). The processes and she becomes very inefficient because she is too busy trying to micro-manage she puts more steps then needed.

    The problem I am having is I don’t trust the relationship between her and the boss to be able to discuss to with either one. I don’t trust the gal won’t twist things and I don’t trust the manager will believe that this ” great” worker , her buddy is capable of being the way she is.
    That is the problem with when a manager is too chummy with staff. The perception of others with it. I see a buddy buddy relationship and not the boss and and the subordinate.
    Not sure how to tackle this problem…..

    1. AB*

      Gilbey, did you try going to your boss with facts and explaining how your coworker’s behavior is causing a negative impact in your work?

      “Boss, when I’m in charge of doing XYZ, Jane sometimes will attempt to help by taking over some of the work, when I’m already in the process of getting it done. This is ends up introducing more steps than needed, and making the process much less efficient. How can we make sure we can prevent this from happening in the future?”

      See, as long as you don’t phrase it with the same words you used here (“butting in”, “she is too busy trying to micro-manage”), I don’t see why you can’t have a productive conversation with your manager to explain how her behavior is causing performance issues to get you into any trouble.

      1. Marie*

        Gilbey, your situation is a perfect example of why blurring the manager/friend/subordinate lines can be such a mess. If you have a manager who manages consistently and transparently, then AB’s suggestion makes perfect sense. However, if the manager is more invested in his friendship (whether he admits it to himself or not) than in managing well, it makes it very difficult to feel that you can approach your manager or coworker to resolve the problem.
        I know exactly how you feel, Gilbey, about being reluctant to bring up the issue. My previous manager was all about being “friends” (or sometimes “family”) in the workplace at the expense of running our small dept effectively. Unfortunately, one extremely manipulative, bullying coworker of mine took advantage of the situation and ingratiated himself to the boss, to the point that boss once said to me (when I brought up work concerns such as yours), “But I really like Wakeen; it’s so nice having a guy-buddy around the office.” Needless to say, Wakeen quickly learned that he could do ANYTHING because he was buds with the boss. Made for an extremely frustrating work experience for the rest of us. Hopefully, you have a manager who will see your side of it, but if things start to spin out of control, you may have to think about looking for a new position. Good luck!

      2. Gilbey*

        Thanks for your reply. No I wouldn’t use the words I use here of course. That is why I love this blog. Get it out of your system here!

        I have not done anything yet as I wasn’t sure what to say and how. I know approaching the co-worker is always the best to try first but I can tell you it wouldn’t work. She knows exactly what she is doing and why.
        My manager and I can chat about non-work stuff. She is truly a nice person and trusts us to do our jobs, backs us up and when I thought of an idea she brought it up to the exec’s, they liked it and she gave me full credit.
        But I am conscience of going too overboard with the buddy stuff.

        You have put it well how I should say it. Thanks

        1. Gilbey*

          Thank you both for replies. I was referring to AB specific suggestion on how to word it.
          Marie, what you said is what I am kind of afraid of. But my manager is not stupid and I hoping just a little talk like AB said might be enough to alter the situation a little.

          1. AB*

            Gilbey (and Marie), I’ve have been in your shoes many times, and the script I gave you worked beautifully, even when my manager and my coworker were very close (in fact, last time the manager was even the godmother of the coworker’s daughter).

            I’m glad you said your manager is not stupid — I have a good feeling that the type of conversation I suggested will make things much better for you. Good luck, and come back to update us later :-).

  14. #2*

    #2 here. Thanks for the reply, AAM! I was getting well intentioned, but misguided advice from family which was essentially “you have so much experience in your field, that has to count for something”. No, not really, no.

  15. AG*

    I don’t understand why OP#3 feels s/he has to be “distant” in order to be professional. You can still be friendly and joke around and be interested in your employees’ personal lives. You just shouldn’t *be* their personal lives (at least not the majority of the time).

  16. Jill*

    Re #3 – sometimes the problem is with perception. For several years, I’ve had a regular once-a-week lunch with 4 women and an after work drink/dinner 3 or 4 times per year. We all worked in different departments at the same company. Friendly, but not close, never been to each others homes, etc. About a year ago, one of the women transferred to a new internal position about the same time I received a promotion and I’m now her immediate supervisor. It’s not been a problem at all for us, she’s a great employee, we work well together, and upper management is fine with it. But I’ve heard a couple of snarky comments from others in our department that it’s not fair she has an “in” with me, and I’ve sadly decided I need to opt out of the lunches most of the time from now on. I enjoy her company, and that of the rest in the group, but I feel like I have to stop this for the sake of department unity. Unless AaM says I don’t have to?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think you’re probably right to stop, because perception really does count for a lot, and in this case it does look like she’s getting special access to you.

  17. felipe*

    I’d be careful, #7. I left a job because unclear restructuring with no real leadership was breaking down the entire office. When I interviewed for other positions and said I was looking for a new job because restructuring was causing instability in the office, more than once I was met with a negative response from my interviewers. One said, “Well, we are currently restructuring our department, too, so we want someone who can be flexible.” Then I had to go on the defense and try to explain myself. Another interviewer said, “Well, we are looking for someone who can work in a high pressure environment and who can wear many hats.” They basically thought that I was fleeing from an “uncomfortable” situation and that I had no perseverance or adaptability. I stopped using the restructuring explanation for the reason I wanted to leave and gave much more vague and positive-sounding reasons (“I’m looking for a new challenge”, “I’d really like to expand my knowledge”, etc.) and finally snagged a new job.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I should have been clearer. The point isn’t that you can’t handle restructuring; the point is that everyone’s job could be in jeopardy because of it.

  18. Elizabeth West*

    #4–edu email/passwords

    I use something called A-Z Notebook. It’s a little program that stores information in different pages, called notebooks. (You only get one with the free version.)

    You set a password for the notebook and then you can put all your other passwords in it, and you only have to remember the one. It’s by Bad Wolf Software, an Irish company (yes I know!) I use its PageFour word processor for book writing and I love them. Also, when you watch their tutorial videos, you get to listen to a lovely Irish accent. :)

  19. #7 Original Poster*

    I’m the person who asked the #7 question about explaining my reasoning for job hunting while my company is going through a restructure. I feel the suggested answer is too blunt. I don’t want it to sound like I’m bad-mouthing the company or that I’m desperate to leave a sinking ship. I guess I was hoping for a more PC answer to give prospective employers. I’ll have to think about this some more.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I mean, the company is restructuring and it’s fine to say it’s restructuring. People understand what that means; it’s not offensive.

  20. VictoriaHR*

    #4 – I use Evernote to keep track of all of my website usernames and passwords. You can access your Evernote account from any computer or mobile device. There’s plenty of cloud programs out there that you could use, so you’d only have to remember one login.

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