my boss is being pushed out, a snorting coworker, and more

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

1. My boss is being pushed out, and I know about documents she may not turn over

My boss has led our charity for three years since the original founder died. I have been a full-time employee for 8 months, and prior to that a temp — the only full-time employee, as she is a consultant. I really like the organization’s mission, but a difficult situation has arisen that will come to a head in two weeks. I have become increasingly aware that the board of directors is unhappy with my boss and a week ago they informed me privately that they were going to let her go. They want me to run the organization on a day-to-day basis, and bring in a fundraiser as the head. All good, and necessary in my opinion.

My question: how do I let them know of information about my boss’s possession of emails, documents, reports, etc. that are stored in her personal online storage box, and not on the organization’s server? I am concerned that she will refuse to turn them over when they let her go. If I tell them about this and other information known to me that are important to the transition, my boss will know it came from me. She is influential in my city, and I do not want to make an enemy. At the same time, not having these things will make it very difficult in the next few months — just at the time I want to demonstrate my competence to the board. Thus my quandary.

Tell the board and explain your concerns. If you ask them to, they can almost certainly tell her that they asked you about where items were stored (as opposed to you volunteering it), which may mitigate her anger. Beyond that, that’s not much you can do — someone determined to go out in a blaze of hostility will do so no matter what precautions you take. (But you also might be underestimating her professionalism; refusing to turn over documents is pretty extreme and unusual, and so is the type of retribution you’re afraid of.)

2. Suggesting a non-native speaker work on his English skills

I supervise someone who is very smart. He is a great technical resource and prior to being an employee was also an outside consultant. My boss, rightfully, realized he should be hired, and he started a few months ago.

The problem is that English is his second language and he has a lot of trouble with writing written communication (emails). Often, instead of responding to an email, he’ll swing by my desk to answer a question because verbal is simply easier communication. My boss suggests I encourage him to look into some formal classes on communication — spoken (pronunciation) and written. How do I have that conversation (tactfully!)? I know it’s fairly easy and I think it would be received just fine, but is it as simple as “We really enjoy working with you and think you do a great job on x, but it would really help your development at [company] if you strengthened these skills?”* Would it be beneficial to look up some classes and provide them as resources during the discussion? I wish they would, but I’m 99% sure that our business wouldn’t pay for it.

*OK, it probably is, maybe I am just looking for some affirmation?

Yes, it really is that simple. Consider it like any other type of feedback you might need to give an employee, and be direct and kind about it. Your wording is good. And you might check with your boss ahead of time to see if the company would cover it, as he’s the one making the suggestion, after all.

3. No written offer, with start date fast approaching

I was lucky enough to be offered a job that I’m very excited for on Friday before the long weekend. During the verbal offer, it was reiterated multiple times that I would receive a written offer on Tuesday because they really wanted to get me moving quickly. (They really pursued and wooed me throughout the process.) They even tried to set me up with a start date of this upcoming Monday, but I told them I would like the written offer before we set a specific date. I emailed HR asking about a timeline after their self imposed deadline passed, but never received a response. How long do I wait before I try to contact them again? I feel like a week is much too short of a time for this to move, but the “start date” is just a few business days away and it’s making me nervous.

You didn’t agree to an actual start date, right? And they know that? Assuming so, email the hiring manager — not HR — and say that you’re excited to get started but that you wanted to check in since HR told you that they’d have the written offer to you by Tuesday, it’s now Friday and you haven’t heard anything despite trying to contact them, and you want to see if there’s an updated timeline. Keep the tone warm; you don’t want to sound like you’re complaining, just that you’re hoping to move forward.

4. My coworker makes awful noises all day long, but it’s not her fault

I have a colleague who sits near me and makes bar-none the loudest and most disgusting sounds I’ve ever had the misfortune of hearing. Hacking, coughing, nose-blowing, slurping, belching, and snorting. These noises happen every 10-15 minutes, like clockwork, and they’re too loud to muffle with my headphones (unless I’m willing to blow out my eardrums). It’s not just me who notices it either–people who have the misfortune of passing our desks while these noises are happening visible cringe and shudder. At this point, it’s getting unbearable, to the point that this problem seriously weighs on my decision to stay or go. I know your usual advice is: “Talk to them. Maybe it just takes making them aware to fix the problem.” But…there’s a but.

It’s relatively well known that this colleague has Tourette’s and/or some form of OCD, and they do mutter expletives and the like in addition to the phlegm sounds. The muttering doesn’t bother me because it’s controlled in volume (it just blends into office background noise). It’s the very loud “biological” sounds I can’t take anymore, but I have no idea if these may be related to their condition. As a person with a disability myself, I certainly don’t want to make anybody feel targeted, and the last thing I would want to do is get the company embroiled in a protected-class-tangle for complaining about behavior that may be related to a disability, but I don’t know if I can take this anymore! What do I do? Is this just a suck-it-up-and-deal situation, or should I risk talking about it with this individual, my manager, or HR?

Talk with your manager, and if that produces nothing, talk with HR. This sounds incredibly distracting, and they might be able to move your coworker into a more private space where the noises — if uncontrollable — won’t be as disruptive. You can say up front that you want to be sensitive to the fact that she has a disability, but that it’s interfering with your ability to focus, take calls, talk to others, and so forth.

5. My employer refuses to confirm my employment so that I can’t get another job

I have worked as a cosmetologist at the same salon for 7 years. I have a chance to work part-time as a teacher in a private cosmetology school. she problem is that for me to get the job, my current employer has to sign a paper saying I have worked in his salon for 2 years. He doesn’t want me to work for anyone but him, so he refuses to sign the paper for me so now I can’t get the job.

Wow, he sounds horrible. Explain the situation to the school, and offer to prove your tenure there through other means, such as supplying past years’ W2s, which should confirm your employment. If they’re at all reasonable, they’ll be sympathetic and willing to work with you on some kind of alternate means like this.

6. My company stopped contributing matching funds to our retirement accounts, but hasn’t said anything about it

I’ve recently learned that my employer has decided not to deposit the company’s matching funds into our retirement accounts. They are also not telling us that they’re doing this or why, instead leaving it to spread via the company grapevine. Everyone is justifiably upset and wondering the same thing (sing it with me if you know the words): Is this legal? I am guessing the answer is, per usual, but thought I’d ask anyway. This feels like fraud or something…they’re reneging on an agreement. Is there no recourse for employees?

Your employer can change your retirement plan benefit at any time — including stopping their matching funds, which quite a few do when times are tighter — as long as you don’t have an employment agreement that guarantees the payments (which most people don’t). It’s odd that they haven’t informed you though — odd, but not illegal. (What they cannot do, however, is withhold your own contribution from your paycheck but not deposit it in a timely manner.)

7. Was my LinkedIn request to a recruiter inappropriate?

A couple years ago, I interviewed for a job out-of-state. I thought the interview went well, but a week later I received a rejection email from the recruiter I interviewed with. Bummer. I stayed in touch with the recruiter, and she would respond to my emails encouraging me to check the company’s website for new openings. She also viewed my profile on Linkedin periodically.

Recently I sent her an application for another job at her company, and she responded by asking me to come in to interview and I accepted. She greeted me like an old friend when I got there, and then I met with the supervisor and manager. A week later I got another rejection email from her. Double bummer. I replied by saying I appreciated the opportunity and I was still interested in a position with that company where I’d be a better fit. I then sent her an invitation to connect on LinkedIn.

Some time has passed and she hasn’t accepted it, and I wonder if asking her to connect on LinkedIn was inappropriate. What are your thoughts?

Not inappropriate at all; it’s a very common thing to do in that a context like that. But some people only connect with people who they know at least a certain amount — and she may feel that she doesn’t know you sufficiently. That doesn’t make the request inappropriate, just one she’s not taking you up on. (That said, recruiters tend to connect more broadly, so who knows.)

Or she may simply have overlooked the request, which happens plenty too.

{ 82 comments… read them below }

  1. Jessa*

    I’m with Alison on the language issue – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying that someone needs to improve their fluency. And there are free classes for adults available if the office will not pay for one. However, if it interferes with job time (IE the classes are at a time the employee needs to work) it would be nice if they’d arrange that so it does not impact the worker’s pay.

    Regarding the person with Tourettes – even reasonable accommodation is predicated on the employee doing everything they can to moderate their behaviour. Tourettes is not an excuse to do whatever they want and be allowed to continue. The first part of that conversation might include something about having the employee learn management techniques. Because the mere existence of a possible explanation does not relieve the employee from that.

    Part of the issue is the probable fact that the employee may have been coddled along by other employers or teachers and allowed to do whatever they want because “Tourettes,” and they were scared of a lawsuit or something. Not a lawyer, but a former Special Ed teacher…so it is possible to moderate behaviour.

    Yes it is also possible that the employee has genuinely TRIED all the available techniques, but I know a lot of people who haven’t because the minute they say “Tourettes,” people think “uncontrollable by any means.” And that gets them a total pass. Which gives a bad name to the people who have it who do not act like that. “You can’t possibly have Tourettes, you’re not cursing all the time.” Um. No.

    1. LisaLyn*

      Interesting information on Tourettes. Thank you for sharing your knowledge on that.

      1. Jo*

        I hope you don’t mind me having my input here. I have Tourettes and thought I might give a little insight on the ‘controlling’ thing. I (fortunately) don’t have any regular vocal tics (I say regular because only particular negative emotions such as extreme humiliation tend to set off my one vocal tic, but it otherwise isn’t a problem)
        But yes, it is controllable. It has taken me A LOT of work, patience and extreme mental self control but I can get through a whole working day without showing any signs in front of someone and ‘relieve’ my tics in private at home. They become more intense when you’re controlling, compared to tic-ing regularly – sort of like a choice of having a constant trickle of water or letting the dam burst every now and then. It is like having constant chicken pox, in a sense. The need to scratch the itch comes on very intensely at times although you know you shouldn’t and you won’t get any better by caving in to it, but still in the very short term it feels so much better to have scratched it. It’s not the best comparison but it’s hard to explain the compulsions to those who don’t have it. I’m still working on ridding it completely, though I’d be sorry to see it go because it’s become such a part of me now. One of those ‘humans are beautifully flawed’ things.

        Anyway. Yes, back on track; I learnt to control mine out of embarrassment that I might look like a freak (My main tics are to wildly scratch my neck and/or to flail my arms. Very annoying.) but my feeling is that if everyone has been quite supportive of them and tiptoed around the issue, they haven’t felt the complete need to get it under control. If it were me I’d probably be a little touchy if approached in the wrong way (only because I’m quite conscious of it) but under any circumstance I’d still understand and put professionalism first. Offering access to support would be a good step where they can learn to manage it would be a good idea. Alison has approached this well, as has the other commenter – Sorry that I wasn’t as useful as I’d hoped but I hope I contributed something in the way of ‘the other persons’s POV’ haha

        1. Jessa*

          I think you contributed just fine Jo. And it is important to remind people that Tourettes is not just “people cuss a lot,” which is a terrible media trope on the subject. And it does help to hear the other side where the employee is making their best effort to be professional and in control at work. Thanks.

          1. EnnVeeEl*

            Yes. So true. The same thing with autism – people think it is “Rain Man” and it is SO NOT. Great movie, but it has successfully made the job of educating family about autism and Asperger’s very difficult.

        2. EnnVeeEl*

          Hi Jo. Thanks for this letter. Someone I love has Aspergers, and part of this is “stimming” – repetitive body movements, maybe hand flapping, rocking, etc. I work very hard to help him control this – as in, we don’t do it at school or out in public, but in your room alone, rock and flap away if it helps calm you down. I know there are schools of thought out there with stimming, etc., and perhaps with tics associated with Tourette’s that it’s part of it and shouldn’t be controlled at all in any setting. But it sure helps a person facing challenges with these disabilities get along better in this world if the whole world can’t obviously see there is something going on.

          As we can see here, it affects people socially, academically (teacher picking on people for “acting out,” etc.,) at work. I feel for the letter writer and the person with Tourette’s. It’s just a bad situation all around. And I will continue to work with my loved one, because he just doesn’t need this type of grief, or to aggravate people around him. Life with a disability is tough enough.

        3. LisaLyn*

          That was totally helpful and useful! Thank you so much for taking the time to share!!

          BTW, I am a pathetic cynic, but this is an amazing attitude:
          “One of those ‘humans are beautifully flawed’ things.”

  2. Anonymous*

    #1 AAM must live in a bubble. Good and BAD things do happen. Assuming everything will turn out o.k. is presumptuous. I guess I don’t always agree with her answers.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I didn’t say everything will turn out okay (although there’s a good chance it will). I said that there’s not much she can do beyond asking the board to frame it in a certain way to the executive director.

      1. Anonymous*

        Must be living in a field of daisies. I have seen retaliation and retribution in blatant and subtle forms from managers that are a bunch of poor power hungry fools. So expect the worst but hope for the best.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’m not living in a field of daisies. But this manager is about to leave the organization, and the chances of her badmouthing the OP once she’s gone simply because the board asked her to turn over documents is pretty unlikely. There’s nothing here to even indicate the the manager is going to try to hide the documents, only that she’s stored them on her personal accounts, which is certainly bad practice but not necessarily nefarious at all.

          1. Rob Aught*

            It is entirely possible the boss has simply overlooked that these documents were not properly stored.

            That said, I stopped worrying about retaliation a long time ago. I know paychecks are important and I am the sole provider in my home. All the same, I’ve stood up to horrible situations and made a point of doing the right thing.

            This DID get me fired once. I am not living in a field of daisies at all. There can be repercussions. However, my willingness to do the right thing and my reputation for integrity got me a very lucrative job offer later.

            Doing the right thing is hard sometimes. It’s still the right thing to do.

          2. Rob Aught*

            Really need an edit feature – I’m agreeing with Alison, not criticizing. When you let bad bosses bully you it empowers them.

            1. Cassandra*

              I am the OP for the first question, and I appreciate all the comments. Some further info might be appropriate. The material stored offsite is not by accident; several times my boss has implied that as a consultant, these are hers — and they are in her personal account.

              Secondly, as much as I would like to believe Alison’s suggestion about her professionalism, she is incredibly passive-aggressive — will yes you to death, but, as a vendor that has worked with her for many years — she sets you up for failure. I couldn’t agree more. And I know she is very angry.

              So my concerns are two: we get along well and I would really need her for references if I look for another job (I’ve been out of the job market for a while due to illness, so she is only recent reference), and two, I will need to be confident, and competent in the transition if I am to be promoted should this organization survive all this turmoil.

              I do take Alison’s main point, which is that I can’t have it both ways — to alert the board about this, and to be totally “protected”.

              1. Rob Aught*

                I know what I would do, but I’ve been accused of going where angels fear to tread so please keep that in mind.

                I would talk to the board, get in good with them, and see if possibly getting in good with one of the directors well enough that they could be my reference should I need one later. In fact, I’d feel better about that option than trying to keep the old boss happy in the chance she isn’t already angry at everyone and may not pan out regardless of what you do.

                Being upfront and honest with the board may be a career opportunity all its own.

              2. LisaLyn*

                Ah, thanks for the additional information, because I was sort of wondering if maybe your boss didn’t understand that files stored in the “cloud” are in a different place. Some very intelligent people don’t get that. But, ok, it’s different if she is doing it on purpose and that she’s already mentioned that she thinks they are hers.

                I wonder if at this point, if you are concerned about retaliation, you should even bother. That’s your call, of course, but could it be that even if you bring this up to the board, that she will refuse? I hate to see anyone get away with that bullying behavior, but …

                1. Cassandra*

                  I take your point — but my answer points out my quandry — without that material, it may be difficult to “shine” in an audition for a new role in the organization. So I can either do the right thing and point this out — and I’m not sure it will even matter (as I haven’t seen her contract and am not sure how the board can force her) or it gets very messy and they force her and she knows it came from me.

                  If I don’t do this, it may be very difficult for the organization to function — at least in the short run and the assumption might be that I’m not up to the job. That’s why I’m stuck, but there may be no perfect answer, and I’m just trying to figure out how to mitigate the peripheral (me) damage.

                2. LisaLyn*

                  Yeah, I saw that you actually need the information. Thinking about it again, I do think, IMHO, that you have to say something to the board. Otherwise, you risk being forced to bring it up later because things aren’t going as smoothly as they’d like (maybe) and then I could see them being like, “Why didn’t you bring this up before?”

                  Ugh, sorry this is going on! Good luck!!

              3. EnnVeeEl*

                Are you really sure you want to use your manager as a reference in the future?

                She’s getting pushed out of her job, she is hoarding documents as “hers” that she knows full well aren’t, she’s angry and passive aggressive.

                I’ve had managers in the past I “got along with.” I do not use them as references for many good reasons.

                And I agree with AAM’s advice. Best of luck on this one. I hope this ends up being a non issue for you and she does the right thing and hands over “her” documents.

              4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                When you’re torn between two options (alert the board or be more protected), pick doing the right thing. Seriously.

                Totally agree with Rob on this, so won’t repeat all his comments here.

              5. FiveNine*

                My experience is that a consultant at the level of your boss typically has a contract that makes it very explicit: The work done is the property of the organization. The boss could of course still make things messy for the short-term transition by not volunteering the documents and instead making the organization request them document by document or — and I can’t imagine why she’d let it go this far — waiting for them to file a lawsuit for her to turn over their property.

                1. Frenchie*

                  You need to address this with the board now for several reasons 1) the documents are the organizations property, 2) the board needs to understand that this is info you need to be effective and succesful in your new role, 3) by having advance warning they can seek legal counsel if they anticipate a problem when the woman is terminated and 4) by w/holding information you are blindsiding the board.

                2. Another Evil HR Director*

                  Excellent point, and one I was thinking about when reading this post. Is it possible that whatever agreement existed between the board and this consultant did not properly outline the ownership of work product? If this is a relatively small non-profit, that is possible.
                  While ethically, the documents (or more specifically, the content) should belong to the organization, if it wasn’t spelled out, the consultant COULD be within her legal rights to maintain control of her work product. Just a thought.

              6. fposte*

                I have no help to offer aside from good wishes, but I think your choice of user name is brilliant. (Unless it’s actually your name, in which case it’s a little spookily apt.)

  3. CoffeeLover*

    #2 Hits me on a personal level. My parents and I moved to Canada when I was quite young. While I picked up the language quickly as kids do, my parents have struggled with it for decades. This letter could have been written about my dad. He’s very successful and skilled in the technical work he does. While the job itself isn’t impacted by his language (it’s all numbers), the level of his position now requires decent communication both with the people he manages and others (sales, customers, etc.).

    Anyways, what I’m trying to say with all of this is that its possible the language lessons won’t help. It depends on how old he is, but learning a language to perfection (or close) gets extremely hard as you get older. The other thing to consider is that this man has probably taken a plethora of language lessons. My dad is currently taking one-on-one language lessons at the expense of his company. He tries hard (practicing at home and such), but there hasn’t been that much improvement. It takes him about 20times as long to prepare a presentation and to this day I’ll read over important communications before he sends them out.

    I’m starting to ramble. To me the issue sounds like its not about language, but rather its him interrupting people too much instead of using written communication. Instead of wasting time on lessons, I think you should just try to encourage him to email more saying that’s the preferred mode of communication and explaining how it minimizes unnecessary interruptions.

    There’s nothing wrong with asking him to take lessons (although I think the company should pay). If you don’t see that much improvement, then just remember why you hired him. You didn’t hire him for his written communication, but rather his technical skills. This might just be something he can’t do, and you’d have to accept that.

  4. Daisy*

    #2) You shouldn’t feel awkward at all suggesting language classes. Speaking more than one language is a workplace skill like any other.

    This is slightly a pet peeve of mine, because I live in an officially bilingual area (English and another language), and loads of jobs, particularly government or university jobs, require employees to be a speaker of the second language, or if not to agree to take lessons up to certain standard. I hear loads of monoglot English speakers bitching about this, and it annoys me: it’s a requirement of the job and a necessary skill. If they’d asked employees to agree to, say, learn a particular computer programme and they didn’t, would that be unfair? Some people seem to have the attitude towards languages that they’re some magical attribute fairies sprinkle on you at birth. It’s a skill like any other, and if it helps the job you should be willing to acquire it.

    1. Chinook*

      Speaking as someone who once worked in Ottawa where being bilingual English/French is an asset, I know what it is like to be not quite fluent in the 2nd languagae and looking at a job where it states that bilingualism is required but know from experience that it is a skill that won’t be used in the job but more of a bragging point. Case in point, one place actually chanegd a job description in order to hire me from “English/French required” to “bilingualism prefered, English required.” My French was mroe than good enough to answer phones and would have passed on any complicated questions to a biilingual coworker regardless of the langugae because of the content.

      So, sometimes, the bitching is about the perception of a skill is being used as a code for wanting only someone from a specific ethnic group because those outside that group will never have the language skill unless born in in the place (i.e. I learned Parisian French in Alberta and had a friend who spoke fluent Acadien French (and was constantly teased about her accent) but fluency was based on Quebecois schooling.)

      1. Daisy*

        Well frankly, this is exactly the kind of attitude I said I dislike.

        Firstly, if a position says it requires fluency in a language, it requires fluency- whether it’s for practical reasons or to meet some requirement of the organisation is irrelevant. If you don’t have the skill, you don’t have it, and it seems ridiculous to me to argue otherwise. To call it a ‘bragging point’ seems completely oblivious of the realities of how bilingual organisations work, not to mention pretty bloody arrogant from a native English speaker. French isn’t perhaps in immediate danger of being overwhelmed by English, but the language I’m talking about certainly is, and protecting it is an explicit goal of organizations such as universities.

        Secondly, the job that hired you, hired you despite you lacking fluency, which is exactly the position the OP’s colleague is in, and exactly the position my ‘bitching’ friends are in. If you are hired because you’re the best person for the job, despite lacking a desired skill, I don’t see how it’s unreasonable for your boss to subsequently suggest it might be good for you to develop that skill.

        Thirdly, the idea that asking for a language competency is some sort of ethnic selection is playing into this myth that language is an innate thing that is in every case impossible to learn, which I find ridiculous.

        Your opinion isn’t uncommon, but it’s exactly what I was arguing against in the first place.

  5. Schmitt*

    #2: I work in Germany and German is my second language. I was fortunate enough for my first company to pay for some language lessons of a higher quality than the ones I’d been taking myself.

    When I got my first raise at the next company, although they had never said anything negative, I used the $$ for tutoring lessons and arranged to do them on my lunch break in the extra conference room.

    But what has helped more than anything else is my boss and boss’s boss telling me that if my grammar is not perfect, it does not matter, especially for internal communication. It is extremely awkward to communicate in your second language sometimes and knowing that there is tolerance there has helped immensely.

    For external emails, I have several coworkers who are always willing to proof before I hit send. And for other external communication, I am lucky to have clients who do not mind the occasional fumble.

    1. Chinook*

      Schmitt, you bring up a good point about needing to feel confident in your language usage. If you know your coworkers are willing to ignore your mistakes, or gently correct them, you are more willing to take risks. My Japanese fluency only took hold once I was able to speak with friends in mangled Japanese and they allowed me to keep the pace of the conversation going by inserting an English word when I couldn’t think of the Japanese one (they would then give me the word I didn’t know).

  6. Rob Aught*

    Already a lot of answers for #2 but here is my experience

    In software I’ve worked with people from all over the world (which is pretty cool if you like learning about other cultures) but mostly Indians.

    Most Indians I’ve worked with have been very hard working and want to be seen as intelligent and resourceful. Most of them have been very receptive to improving their English skills. They’ll often appreciate the feedback, even if they might seem frustrated at first.

    Yes, I keep saying most, there are always exceptions and egos to deal with.

    Be polite but direct. You’ll be doing them a favor.

    1. Judy*

      When I get a new team member who is a non-native speaker, fairly early on, I ask them directly if they want my feedback on the use of the language. Specifically if they want my comments on subtle things, like connotation of words. Pretty much everyone says yes, and has been receptive. I also express, that if I use any words they don’t understand, or any slang, I am willing to explain.

      Many of my colleagues use perfectly correct English, but have some subtle connotation issues. Much of our communication is by IM and email so it helps.

      1. OP#2*

        That is a really great suggestion. It is not typical of us to have a lot of staff who have language challenges, so I wouldn’t have thought to do that.

        1. Judy*

          It helps that we’re in a technical field, so the actual “work skills” are not threatened. I’m not a manager, I’m a team leader of a multidisciplinary team where each person is supervised by others. And many are in other countries, not working local to me, so they don’t have the immersion aspect that an ex-pat or immigrant would have.

          It does also allow them to improve their skills in a very tangible way, that makes them more marketable.

          So there are a group of engineers running around Brazil, India, Poland and Italy that speak English like a 45 year old Midwesterner. ;) I’d say in total over 40 of them, even though my team has never been larger than 9 people, and many times only 3 people.

          1. Jean*


            As a 50+-year old Midwest native (and longtime East Coast transplant) your comment makes me smile. Can you share details? This isn’t fishing for stereotypical examples such as “you betcha;” rather it’s a request for details about the slang, figures of speech, and youth-originating vocabulary (e.g., “whatever,” “awesome,” “dude!”, “hey” versus “hi”, etc.) you find yourself translating. Oh, yes, and do you find yourself using and explaining phrases that originate from other regional or ethnic subsets of the U.S., such as “fuggedabout it” or “enough already!” from New York city; various Yiddish words that have gone mainstream (e.g. “schlep,” “kvetch,” and the wonderfully dismissive prefix of “schm” as in “information schminformation”); and one of my personal favorites, “hornswoggle” (Southern, usually rural, meaning to hoodwink, pull the wool over someone’s eyes, or deceive, although I think it can also be used to express amazement in the faux-cussing sense of “well, I’ll be!”).

    1. Rob Aught*

      “Stuff like not using contractions, jargon, slang, etc.”

      That is excellent advice as well. We can be proactive in helping someone with their English skills by cleaning up our own.

      1. the gold digger*

        This is making me laugh because I work with some non-native English speakers who have the nicest turns of phrase.

        For example, a Japanese engineer, when questioning the results of an analysis, titled his email, “What happen is that?”

        And a Chilean co-worker, talking about how our boss is unlikely to agree to any working from home plans, sighed and said, “He is from the school that is old.”

    2. fposte*

      I think that’s a good guide for some situations, but I’m not sure it’s what’s relevant here. It’s all about receptive issues, and the OP is talking about expressive issues–and for expressive issues you actually have to master contractions, slang, etc. (one reason why it’s all so difficult) so avoiding them in speaking to him.may be counterproductive.

      1. Anonicorn*

        I was thinking perhaps part of his trouble with expressing himself might be tied to not understanding others as well. But good points here.

        1. fposte*

          And I think that’s a great document for people to know about anyway, especially for people who find this blog post out of interest in the issue.

    3. fposte*

      It also occurs to me that it might be useful to focus on the writing piece specifically, since that seems to be the biggest issue and progress in spoken language can require very different skills than progress in written language.

      1. OP#2*

        I concur. Both would be good, but the written language is a bigger barrier to success.

  7. Miss M*

    #6 – I think AAM may be incorrect on this one. If the retirement plan is a 401(k), which it sounds like, since it has “matching contributions”, the employer is required to have a summary plan description provided to employees outlining the features of the plan, and any material changes to the plan require a summary of material modification (SMM). This is required to be provided to plan participants within a certain number of days after the change. (I’m not a lawyer or accountant, but I just checked the IRS website. My employer sends out these plan modifications just about every year.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think — although I’m not 100% positive — that that doesn’t apply to the employer’s matching contributions, but I’d be glad to be proven wrong on this one! Does anyone know for sure?

      1. RG*

        It’s possible that the summary plan description lists the employer contribution as optional/discretionary. For example, if the employer DOES contribute it has to be at X% or under Y circumstance , but the employer has the option to not contribute anything at all. It really depends on how the plan was drafted. So, the OP should DEFINITELY check their Summary Plan Description (which they still have, right?).

        1. fposte*

          Is that really enough to get around a disclosure law? That seems one heck of a loophole.

          1. RG*

            If it’s written into the plan that employer contributions are discretionary, then the plan participant is on notice that it could happen. Whether the participant is reading the SPD, or just relying on the spiel someone tells them, is a whole other story

            The material change notification would be necessary if the plan was changing from one where the contributions were guaranteed to a plan where the contributions were discretionary.

            1. RG*

              That being said, a plan with a discretionary contribution gives up the safe harbor protections that a plan may have to avoid non-discrimination testing. There are actually quite a few features that you may have/not have in a 401k/retirement plan, so they can vary from employer to employer.

              1. fposte*

                Thanks for filling me in! It’s one of those things I’ve never thought about before and it’s always fascinating to hear about the intricacies behind stuff you take for granted.

    2. HRAnon*

      Miss M & RG are correct on this one- the plan terms would be spelled out in the SPD and/or the Plan Document, and they have to follow the terms of the plan. And if you don’t have those, they have to give them to you if you ask. Matching contributions do not have any special status as optional just because they are matching contributions, but they *could* be optional under the terms of the plan.

      It is also correct that you would have to receive a SMM if they change the terms of the plan, and again the notice requirements should be spelled out in the plan itself. One possibility that no one has mentioned here is that the contributions may not be required to be made until the end of the plan year- even if they have elected to make them along with employee contributions in the past. So they may still plan to make them, just delaying due to cash flow or some other reason. So in short- ask, and ask for and read your summary plan description and plan document. (Dry reading, but important!)

    3. JohnQPublic*

      OP#6- Ensure your resume is updated, copy your contact list from your work email and bring it home, and grab as much info and documentation as you can relating to your own performance. Talk to people you know about openings that might be a good fit for you or those you know. Start examining your finances with an eye towards being out of work for some length of time. When a company starts playing accounting games like this AND doesn’t tell their employees, it almost always means trouble. One or the other could be mismanagement. Both together is sending a different signal, and forewarned is forearmed. Could it be nothing? Yes. But do you want to take that chance? I’d start looking at job postings and get a feel for where you might land next.

  8. Anonymous*

    #4. Aah! I have a housemate who lives in the room next to me who also does this ALL THE TIME. It’s mostly throat cleary, cough-hacky noises, they’re very slurpy and wet etc and there is no possible way to put it into words HOW CONSTANT it is. It’s incredibly loud in my room and when I invite friends over it takes a very short time before they quietly and sometimes awkwardly request we go elsewhere (ie. leave the house) because the noise is so ongoing and disgusting.

    Since it’s my living situation and not my job, I’m basically planning to move out when I reach the end of my contract in 3 months from now as it’s at the stage where it’s completely unbearable.

    1. Windchime*

      Ugh, how frustrating!

      I used to work with a guy that had lots of vocal tics, including a strange kind of throat clearing. He also spoke very slowly and LOUD, and would be nice to end users while he was on the phone with them doing customer support, but then when he would hang up the phone, would mutter curse words.

      He was a nice person, which made me feel worse about complaining but there were days when I just couldn’t stand all the loud throad clearing and hollering into the phone.

    2. Marie*

      When my dad was sick I used to clear his throat all the time. It drived me crazy… but it wasn’t his fault, the meds he took had that side effect.

  9. Steve G*

    #7 – I wouldn’t worry at all. I’ve noticed some people take weeks to get to my requests on linkedin; not everyone logs in frequently.

    Also, I don’t think your request was unreasonable at all. I’ve had people add me to their linkedin after meeting me just once – and I accepted, because they were nice and our companies jive, so why put off getting to know each other better?

    1. Evan the College Student (now graduated!)*

      Second this point. I’m one of these people – I think I’ve got some connection requests from months ago that’re still outstanding just because I’ve never gotten around to it.

  10. Anonymous*

    Regarding #2, as his manager, a lot will depend upon your attitude. If you approach this from the perspective that he is a resource worth developing, he is more likely to appreciate your interest. If you appear to be embarrassed, he may sense that his lack of skill in written English communication is a cause for shame. Self-consciousness is an impediment to learning.

    I have supported global teams for years, and managed a number of non-native speakers. Cheerful, good-natured support goes a long way. This includes paying attention to your own language use, checking for understanding, and being very open to questions. I have frequently asked, “Would you like some feedback on the writing as well as the content?” and have never received anything but an enthusiastic “Yes!”

    As a manager, you should also be creating an environment in which your team members help each other out. Pamela writes beautifully, but has a terrible time with presentations. Jorge does great presentations, but can’t create a pivot table to save his life. Chuntao is a whiz at pivot tables, but has trouble writing emails. If your team is truly a team, none of this is a secret, and people are happy to be asked for help and comfortable doing the asking. If you don’t currently have this environment, create it.

    1. Jean*

      Very clearly worded suggestions for fostering a workplace that reinforces the strengths of each individual and transcends everyone’s inevitable shortcomings by encouraging all workers to share his or her particular strengths with his/her colleagues for the collective good.

      I have no plans to become a manager but I will draw on both your specific examples and your marvelous underlying spirit of acceptance in relating to my present and future peers and supervisors.

      I’m currently job-hunting but in informal life I still have both “peers and supervisors” (in volunteer groups, continuing education meetings, congregational and even plain old social situations). Don’t we all! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone went through life with your tolerant, nurturing outlook?! Thanks for really cheering up my Friday.

  11. A Bug!*

    #5: I have no useful advice, but that salon owner is being extremely short-sighted by screwing you over, here. If the owner was smart enough to cultivate a strong relationship with you and write you that letter, you’d be in an excellent position to help the owner with later job openings by referring promising students.

    Now, if you get in at the school, when students ask you who the good employers are and who they should avoid? Well, I can tell you which category I’d place an employer who actively sabotages you out of some messed-up sense of ownership.

    Just a question here, are you looking at staying at the salon while also teaching at the school? You mentioned that it’s part-time. If you’re planning to work at both places be prepared to be terminated at the salon if you go through with getting employment at the school.

    1. OmarF*

      “Just a question here, are you looking at staying at the salon while also teaching at the school? You mentioned that it’s part-time. If you’re planning to work at both places be prepared to be terminated at the salon if you go through with getting employment at the school.”

      I read it this way. The boss is saying he doesn’t want someone working a second job while in his employment. Is this full-time work in the salon?

      I can see different viewpoints here. On one side, it’s a feather in a business’ cap to have an employee that is good enough they are also teaching. On the other, the teaching could be a distraction and will likely cause scheduling difficulties that he doesn’t want to deal with.

      Bottom line, he’s had bad experiences in the past with employees who had second jobs. He just doesn’t want to deal with it. I don’t agree with the approach he took though.

      1. Forrest*

        You’re inferring a lot in your last two paragraphs. There’s no evidence to suggest any of that in the OP’s letter.

        1. OmarF*

          “You’re inferring a lot in your last two paragraphs.”

          You are right. Yes, I am inferring a lot. All I have to go by is this simple statement from the OP (“He doesn’t want me to work for anyone but him”).

          From that, I’m inferring that the OP doesn’t want to quit, and the employer doesn’t want employees who are working two jobs. I only tried to add potential reasons why the employer might not like that. It might not be this particular situation as much as having bad experiences in the past, particularly with scheduling issues. I’m assuming salon staff do need to adhere to shift schedules.

          1. A Bug!*

            Those are reasonable things for an employer to consider when faced with multiple-job-having employees. However, refusing to sign a letter confirming employment is not the way to address it. Especially since, from the sounds of the letter, the employer is being less than forthcoming about the actual reasons, here.

            As the letter reads, he’s simply being obstructionist because it sounds like he doesn’t want to be inconvenienced (either in dealing with an employee with two jobs, or in finding a replacement).

            He’s kneecapping her to prevent her from doing something that she should have the freedom to do. The employer should sign the letter, and warn her that he will terminate her if she takes a second job. Then the employee can make an informed decision based on that information.

            1. OmarF*

              I was focusing on the “why” this boss wouldn’t sign. I forgot to include a statement that the “how” he chose to express his concerns wasn’t right. I agree that he should have been upfront about things.

  12. Susan*

    #4 – here’s something I’ve wondered for quite some time. What’s the etiquette of nose-blowing at your desk? For someone with allergies (nicely controlled by OTC medication, but still, every once in a while, you just need to blow), I keep a box of Kleenex at my desk. Is it inappropriate to blow my nose at my desk – which is a cubicle, with other folks in cubicles around me? Should I be walking off into a hallway or into the bathroom? I’ve always wondered if this grosses other people out, to overhear a good honk.

    1. Rob Aught*

      If I have to choose between someone blowing their nose loudly every minute or sniffling every 10 seconds, I’ll take the honking.

      Everyone gets sick and lots of people, myself included, suffer from allergies. Seems like a time sink to step away to blow your nose but at least you are handling it like an adult.

      It’s the constant sniffling that drives me over the edge.

      1. Anonymous*

        I’d much much much rather have someone blow their nose. I work in a cubicle farm, it’s allergy season, and for some reason all of the sufferers around me seem allergic to Kleenex and sniffle/snort constantly. Much more annoying than a noseblow.

    2. Rana*

      Speaking as someone who has low-level, year-round allergies, another thing is that you can work on the “honk” so that it’s less disruptive. When I’m home, I don’t care, and can be quite loud, but it’s possible to blow one’s nose effectively with only a whooshing noise. It’s all in how you let the air out, where you place your hands, etc. It might be worth practicing, if you’re worried about it.

  13. Meg*

    #2… I work a lot of Russians and Ukrainians. I am thankful that I was raised in a household where Russian was spoken frequently, but short of kindergarten, I had never had formal lessons. (Background – my dad and his side of the family is Russian… well technically Volga Germans, but that’s another story… they’ve adopted Russian culture in the last 150 years or so, so I consider it Russian at the least).

    While my Russian isn’t the best (I haven’t spoken it regularly for 13 years, since my father passed), I can usually follow along conversation. I have a coworker on another team that I was working with developing an application who is Ukrainian (I think), and while I’m actively working on the application, I prefer to communicate via Lync (MS Office IM) so I don’t have to get up and go to their cubicle on the other side of the building to ask about details as I’m building it. I know, I know, communication is key… but this application was developed in an Agile environment with scrum (and he is the scrum master), so we have daily stand-ups and 2-week sprints.

    But whenever I asked him a question over IM, he would come to my desk and it would disrupt me. He says its because he didn’t understand what I was asking. I don’t know if that’s a language barrier or just misunderstanding the question, but how hard is it to say, “What do you mean?” via IM? Besides, I prefer to see it in writing because when we talk about it, I’m likely to forget or having nothing to reference to unlike an IM or email.

    I’m pretty outgoing, don’t get me wrong, but if it’s something that can handled over IM, then yeah, cool. If not, come see me/I’ll see you.

  14. Mary*

    An employee was relocated to our floor – I think ‘Joe’ had Crones disease or IBS; To be delicate, Joe passed gas loudly all day long. They even put Joe in his own office and had someone share their office with him. The person sharing the office didn’t last long at all and was moved. Joe, should have understood that he had his own office because of his condition; and should have just kept the door closed so the rest of us we would not have heard so much.

    Finally someone complained to the VP of our group and she arranged to have him moved to a more isolated area.

    Maybe your co-worker can be given her office and/or moved to a more remote location where her noises aren’t heard as much.

  15. Vicki*

    #4 – a reminder about headphones.

    Get _Noise Isolating_ headphones (not noise-cancelling, not regular headphones).

    The headphones themselves will reduce the sound a lot. Then you can play music without ruining your hearing.

    1. Another Emily*

      Another thing you could try is putting ear protection earmuffs over ordinary earbuds. Then outside noise is reduced so you don’t have to crank your music, but it’s not too expensive an option either.

  16. OP#2*

    I definitely prefer email, so it does make it hard because it can be an interruption to my work progress. I understand why he does it, so it doesn’t bother me (it occasionally does when other coworkers do) – and it’s not that he doesn’t understand my message, just feels more comfortable replying verbally than in writing.

    1. Another Emily*

      Tell him to start emailing you so that he can get the practice he needs to improve his writing. This is the perfect area to practice.

  17. Jules*

    I am not a native English speaker and I appreciated it when my boss suggested an English language class to deal with my grammer especially when it’s on the company’s dime.

  18. Anonymous*

    I appreciate Jo’s input as someone who has Tourette’s. I’m the sibling of someone with Tourette’s. I’d like to add that not everyone who has Tourette’s is able to control their tics, though it is true that some people can control some tics sometimes.

    As much as you are bothered by your co-worker’s tics and noises, your co-worker is likely 10 times more aware of and bothered by these tics and noises. You think it’s hard for you to concentrate? Try working and concentrating when it’s YOUR body that’s moving and making noises that you can’t control.

    The point I’m trying to make is that yes, it’s annoying and frustrating and difficult for you to get your work done because of your co-worker’s noises, but you can go home at the end of the day and escape them, while your co-worker has to live with them all the time. I wish I had a solution to offer you, but I don’t. I guess what I’m saying is be thankful it isn’t you. And maybe try to put yourself in your co-worker’s shoes before making a big deal about this and embarrassing him or her.

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