should I let my friend know his references are terrible, my boss is spreading germs, and more

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

1. What does an interviewer’s “wow” mean?

I recently interviewed for a job with a panel of five people. After the interview, everyone was friendly and shook my hand. As I exited the doorway, I heard one of the interviewers say, “Wow”. It wasn’t loud, but I heard it. What is your interpretation of that reaction?

Well, it could mean, “Wow, she was fantastic,” or it could mean, “Wow, she really bombed that.” Like most other things in job interviews, you’re better off not trying to read into anything and just waiting to see what happens. (That said, if you’re pretty sure you didn’t outright bomb, and you’re not the type who inspires wows about your arrogance/anger issues/overpowering smell, then it was probably a good wow.)

2. Should I let my friend know his references are terrible?

A number of years ago, I worked for company A, and I am still friendly with a few people there. More recently, my entire department at company B was eliminated and we were all laid off. One of my good friends and recent former coworkers (Mr. X) from company B applied for a management position at company A. One of my company A friends sits right near the hiring manager’s office and heard her calling around to a number of different people for references about him. What she overheard was not good. Apparently people within the industry didn’t have a lot of complimentary things to say about Mr. X. I have no way of knowing if these were references provided by Mr. X himself or if this was general community-pulsing; my friend at company A did not know who was on the other end of the line, but noted that there were multiple conversations, all involving Mr. X. Needless to say, someone else was hired. In addition, Mr. X came across as both desperate and aggressive with too many follow up calls, requesting information, etc. (I know – you don’t do that!)

So although I really wish I wasn’t, I am armed with incomplete but reliable and pretty damning information about my friend Mr. X. When he and I worked together, I personally saw him as very good at what he did, got along with everyone, didn’t seem to make mistakes or have any major problems, so I don’t know where this information is coming from. I can handle telling him not to be too aggressive, that can come up in a regular conversation when we discuss our job-hunting efforts. But what do I do with the information about his reputation (which he thinks is solid)? Do I keep it to myself or tell him? WHAT do I tell him, and how do I broach the subject? This could destroy his spirit. Plus, without knowing who was approached, he can’t even pinpoint anyone in particular (except his provided references, of course) to do damage control.

Ouch. I could argue this one either way. On one hand, this isn’t your problem to solve, you don’t have first-hand information, your friend probably wasn’t supposed to pass along what she heard, and you’re right that without knowing more specifics, Mr. X will have trouble figuring out where the problem is. On the other hand, knowing that he has some reference problems could allow him to do more thinking and digging and potentially figure out what the issue is and solve it — or at least stop offering up a particular person or persons as references, if nothing else. What do others think?

3. My boss has a cold and is spreading his germs all over the office

My boss is currently sick with a cold and he keeps sneexing and coughing without covering his mouth or washing his hands. He is constantly touching things and using my office supplies. I do not want to get sick as I just returned from having my appendix taken out. What can I do to prevent him from spreading his germs?

This is harder with a manager than it is with a coworker, but you can certainly say, “I hope you don’t mind if I keep my distance while you’re sick. I don’t want to get your cold.” In fact, because you’re recovering from surgery, you could go even further and tell him that you’re going to take some additional measures because of that and ask that he be careful not to touch your supplies until he’s recovered. (If you weren’t, though, it wouldn’t be out of line to say in a self-depracating way, “I’m terribly germ-phobic — would you mind if I protect my supplies from you until you’re better?” Not because you’re really germ-phobic, but because that will go over better than “you’re disgusting.”)

4. I gave the wrong answer when I was ambushed with a salary question

I met a former coworker for dinner, and after catching up, she surprised me with the news that she would like to recruit me for her company (she is the hiring director there). While she was describing the kind of position they want to create for me, she asked what someone in that role might make, and I gave her a general ballpark range. She said that number was right in line with their budget.

I have since met with the CEO and they are as interested in bringing me on as I am in joining them, but after doing some research on the job, I realized the range I gave my friend off the cuff was about $10K too low. I realize my mistake in this was verbalizing a number without any research or even a job description in hand (one does not exist yet). But I would like to see if I can still make this work in my favor. Should I allow them to make me an offer and then try to negotiate up from there, or should I try to discuss this with my friend before anything is put in writing?

Say this: “When we originally talked, I threw out a ballpark salary for a role like this. Once we started talking more seriously, I thought more seriously about as it as well and did some research into the market rate for this type of position. I think I’d be looking for a salary around $X if we moved forward.”

5. When my employer makes a new hire, they increase everyone else’s salary to that level

The public university I work at sometimes does “equity increases”–basically, if they want to hire a new employee at a certain salary, everyone who currently works there at the same “level” but makes less than that gets a raise to make them match. This is an insane policy, in my opinion. I’ve seen horrible employees receive 15% raises for doing nothing; they just happen to be working there when management wants to hire a new person in who requires a higher offer due to their salary history. Is this a common policy? I know you favor transparency when it comes to salary, but isn’t this one of the terrible things that can happen as a result of it?

Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever said that I favor salary transparency! But I don’t think this is a consequence of it — this is just a ridiculous policy all on its own, and one of many silly results that you see in work environments that don’t tie pay and other rewards to performance.

6. Employer isn’t returning my reference’s phone calls

I interviewed for a position I’m highly interested in last week. They told me that they wouldn’t contact my references until I was considered a strong candidate. They started calling my references on Monday! I was ecstatic and thought this was a great sign. However, one of my references missed the employer’s call. She tried to call back twice the next day. She left a voicemail and still no response. Why wouldn’t they contact her back right away or at least by some point by now? Did they change their mind? If not, is there a time frame in which I should hope they will return her call?

All kinds of reasons. They could be out sick, or on vacation, or busy with higher priorities. Or they might be moving forward with another candidate. There’s no way to know; you need to just wait and see what happens. You can certainly check in with them in a week or so though.

7. Do I have to work this extra week?

My contract stipulates that I give 4 weeks’ notice (and this is not a calendar month). I resigned on Monday, 29 July 2013, and technically 4 weeks from this date is Monday, 26 August. I asked my employer whether it will influence my pay if I did not work until the end of the month. He did not give me a direct answer but merely said that I must work the extra week until the end of August 2013.

Where does this leave me? Will my pay not be the full month’s pay if I only worked my 4 weeks?

If you have an actual contract and it says that you must give four weeks notice, then your obligation is to give four weeks notice, period. It’s possible that your boss is operating in bad faith here, but it’s also likely that he just didn’t recall the precise requirement in your contract.

I’d simply tell him that you checked the contract, confirmed that it requires four weeks, and so your final day will be August 26.

{ 175 comments… read them below }

  1. Elizabeth*

    For #1, don’t make yourself crazy speculating. The “wow” could even have been unrelated to you entirely – maybe right after you left the room, an interviewer noticed a rare bird outside the window, who knows? Keep your fingers crossed, but go on with your job search as if this job didn’t even exist.

    1. FiveNine*

      Ha! Great example! I was thinking something more along the lines of someone showing their Blackberry to someone else in the room and the Wow being in connection to yet another email from a coworker who won’t let something go. That just seems much more what the typical work-related Wow among coworkers is usually about.

    2. KarenT*

      Agreed. Don’t think anything of it.

      “Wow! It’s almost time for lunch.”
      “Wow! I can’t believe my fly is open.”
      “Wow! It’s been a long day.”
      “Wow! My back hurts from these uncomfortable chairs.”

      1. Ruffingit*

        Yes, because he thought they believed he killed Susan. And of course, they did, but he didn’t get to record that part :)

  2. Spreadsheet Monkey*

    #7 – I’m confused. There seem to be two different questions here. You gave notice with your last day as August 26th. That’s what the contract required you to do, so your boss is wrong that you have to work through the end of the month. But the employer shouldn’t be obligated to pay you for the entire month, only through the 26th, which is your last day. Or am I missing something?

    1. Min*

      That’s what I was thinking, too. I assume from the 4 week notice in the contract & the monthly pay that the OP is in a country like the UK where such things are common, but I can’t imagine expecting to be paid for the whole month when you haven’t worked it.

      1. Marmite*

        I was wondering this too, if you’re not working a full month, why would you expect to get paid for a full month?

        1. Elkay*

          In my experience if you leave in the middle of a month then your pay gets pro-rata-ed (I have no idea how to correctly type that as the past tense) for that month. My last job I left on the 14th of a month so I got about half that month’s pay. It’s the same as starting a job in the middle of the month, they don’t pay you for the entire month, although I wish they did because I started my job on 24th of the month!

    2. The IT Manager*

      +1 Exactly Mt thought and that Alison missed answering the second part of a two part question because the LW will miss 4 weekdays is her last day is the 26th (a Monday?).

      Side note: Why would you want your last day to be a Monday if you work a normal weekday week?

  3. Confused*

    If it was me, I’d want to know.

    I want to work there. You get a raise, you get a raise, every.body.gets.a.raaaiiiisee!

        1. Xay*

          Haven’t you heard? Only private industries have real money. Because they “earn” it (even when its a government subsidy, tax break or contract). Grants, research, patent income, foundations, etc don’t count.

    1. Brett*

      This missing thing from letter #5 is that that is probably the -only- situation where raises are given out.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It sounds good unless you’re a high performer who realizes that you have no incentive to work at a high level, and that you’re surrounded by crappy coworkers who get rewarded for no reason.

      1. Anon*

        Here’s the thing, though – for most states, public workers’ salary information is public record. That means they have no choice but to make it available to anyone and everyone who requests it. And then sometimes, media outlets decide to publish the salaries of every state worker in the state. I have seen first-hand the drama and unhappiness that arises in people who find out their co-worker just out of college is making $15k more than they are, despite the fact they themselves are overachievers who have been in their jobs for years. It makes for a very nasty agency environment. Public workers tend to stay where they are for 20+ years rather than look around for something better, so when things like this happen it just results in bitter, unhappy employees who complete their work and nothing more. And if they just do their work, and don’t talk back to their bosses or come in late, there’s no real way to get rid of them if there’s nothing to write them up for.

        And incidentally, often times (at least where I am) there is no such thing as a merit raise, even when you deserve it (thus why I’m leaving for greener pastures!). Managers are actually directly told not to give them, except for IT workers. It’s amazingly demoralizing for good employees like me.

        1. Anon Again*

          Meant to add – in this type of environment, when nothing about it is going to change (it never does), I think equity increases make sense in the absence of any other way to get a raise. Otherwise, as I said, there are serious agency-wide consequences to inequitable pay for the same work.

      2. ThursdaysGeek*

        It sounds good if you’re a high performer but a lousy negotiator surrounded by mediocre, lousy, and high performing co-workers who are being paid more than you.

        In other words, there are pros and cons, especially for me before I found this site.

      3. Brett*

        That does assume that employer compensation is your only reward too. A lot of academics see recognition and contribution to their field as a more important type of compensation. And a top performer can get far more financial compensation from summer grant salary (or consulting too) than they will from their 9-month institutional salary.

        1. Cassie*

          I wonder if this applies to both staff and faculty, or staff only. Faculty don’t usually get equity increases, do they? They get merit increases and promotions but equity?

    3. Lils*

      My institution does this. Combined with the fact that merit pay increases have been few and far between, and cost-of-living increases almost unheard of, I am ok with it. My salary already exceeded the last “equity” bump they gave out in my department, but it was nice to see my more-poorly-paid peers get a boost. My job satisfaction is less related to salary after a certain basic amount, and they were struggling to make ends meet. Yes, this applies to faculty where I work.

  4. Rana*

    #3 – I’d also get myself some Lysol wipes to run over the things he touches or sneezes on after he leaves the vicinity, and some hand sanitizer as well. I had a co-worker who did this when our student workers would show up with colds, and it really did help.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Coming here to suggest that as well. I also would not tell my boss I’m a germaphobe if that isn’t true. That seems an odd thing to say to the boss even when you’re not trying to insult him because she’s already got the very valid excuse of just having had surgery to stay away from someone who is ill. Use that, use the Lysol wipes, and move on.

      1. Vicki*

        I’d be perfectly happy to say I was germ-a-phobic in this sort of situation, because in this situation it would be true.

        I may not be a typical “germaphobe” but when you can practically see the germs heading your way, it’s fine to say you fear where they could land!

    2. Kou*

      Agreed, and god I hope it’s enough. I had a supervisor who had some insane terrible flu who just *had* to come in to work and sit right next to me and my coworkers and cough and hack right in our faces and touch things with her coughy hands to give to us directly oh my god. We asked her not to and she got really angry.

      Of course I caught it and I had to miss a big event I’d been planning my part of for months. I’m still kind of mad about it and it’s been years.

      1. Malissa*

        I had a boss do that to me once. Then I ended up out sick on a Friday & Monday. But she was way sicker than me because she missed a whole week of work…..But she felt fine on the weekends.
        I almost asked her who she think gave me the f’ing flu to begin with. Instead I rolled my eyes and went back to work. Thankfully I had a new job a month after that.

        1. Kou*

          Oh yeah, she did this at the end of the week and when I called on Monday saying I was sick she was *so* huffy about it. Like I’d decided to try to capitalize on her suffering to get out of work.

  5. Pussyfooter*

    OP #2,
    Why not bring up the topic of “periodic touching base” with references to make sure that the job seeker and they are all on the same page, no awkward concerns a job seeker ought to know about, etc. If you’re a regular Aam reader, you could just point to an old post on the topic and say, “have you checked this lately?”….

    1. Ruffingit*

      Good strategy for this! Perhaps the OP could offer to call Mr. X’s references for him and he could do the same for her just to “check.” Easy way for her to present the info to him because she would then have it first hand. And of course, she needs to tell him to back off on the aggressive calls to the potential employers and such.

  6. Sarabeth*

    #5 – not sure if you are on the academic or staff side of the university, but this is actually not uncommon for academics. It’s a way of dealing with the extreme inflexibility of the academic labor market, in which it is very very common to stay in the same job for 30 years or so. In this situation, if there aren’t regular merit raises (and very often, there aren’t), then the salaries of senior people start to lag behind those of their junior colleagues – this is called salary compression. It happens not because the junior people are more qualified or better at their jobs, but because there is so little movement between jobs at anything after entry-level.

    In many places, the only way for senior people to get a raise is to go on the market and get a counter offer. This is not a great system, because people end up spending lots of time and resources applying for other jobs that they don’t even really want. The academic job search process is extremely time consuming – in my field, to apply for and be offered a single job would involve at minimum a half-days work on my application materials plus probably five or six days of travel and interviewing (two rounds of interviewing, one at my field conference and the second on campus at the university in question, both potentially requiring a full day’s travel each way).

    So equity raises are one way to guard against salary compression, which can be very very bad for staff morale, as well as leading to lots of fruitless job searching. Not the only way, perhaps not the best way, but it’s not a crazy or even particularly unusual system.

    (For those who are curious, my campus has a different strategy – a uniform pay scale based on academic rank and years of service. The assumption is that everyone is doing well enough to get past a rigorous tenure review, and that merit differentials can also be rewarded through research funds, teaching releases, better committee assignments.)

    1. EJ*

      This issue happens in private industry too and I’ve seen good, experienced people leave because they couldn’t get that 15% raise (a huge raise) to match the newcomer base salary. Salary compression is a real problem and performance based raises don’t always cut it to cover the difference in fast moving markets.

      This is an interesting solution to the problem.

      1. Judy*

        I’ve had twice in my career as a software engineer, after a few people left and reportedly their exit interviews were about salary, had the entire group get an extra “market raise” , once 5% and once 9% for me. I’m not sure if everyone got the same percent, but I’m pretty sure everyone got a raise.

        1. Judy*

          I should say, that one of those was to institute a new pay ladder for software engineers, as they had used the same ladder for mechanical, electrical and software until then. We got new pay grades, and new ranges on those grades.

        2. Cathy*

          We also have a budget for market raises that is separate from merit increases. It’s useful for engineers who are in the first 5 years of their careers when salaries tend to escalate faster than the 2 or 3% merit increases allow; or for people who’ve been in one place a long time and are falling too far behind what we’d pay for similar skills if we hired on the open market.

          I can’t use this money unless I sit down with HR and go through the salary survey to justify it, and when I do use it, it’s lumped with the merit increase into a single raise.

          1. Anon1*

            That is similar to our system as well. Normal increases can per no more than x%. Market raises must be proven and will only be given to good performers. Last year ended up getting almost a 10k increase. I was able to find a nearby city with job postings showing significantly higher salaries as my market based back up. I don’t suggest taking this approach unless you have a very good relationship with your manager as you risk coming across as actively looking for a job.

      2. [anon]*

        I did have one experience at a nonprofit where come January 1 of a certain year, everyone got an 8% raise–because salaries had fallen *so* far behind (even by nonprofit standards, which is really saying something) that they pretty much couldn’t retain anyone.

        As I had just been hired in September of the previous year, that was some pretty nice timing for me. ;)

    2. Anonymous*

      That’s usually a function of an inefficient merit pay system or the lack of COLA’s.

      Compression can be good though- I’d much rather have a fairly new person who’s kicking ass making more than someone who been doing only what’s required for the last 20 years.

      The problem with tenure raises is that they’re essentially guaranteed regardless of performance. So they become an incentive to do only what’s required (to keep your job) and no more.

        1. Joey*

          Same problem- if you raise the standard that becomes what’s required. Some will still do more.

      1. LeeD*

        The issue isn’t necessarily that people are just doing what’s required. It could also be that there are factors making it difficult to give merit raises even to exceptional performers. In some places, faculty unions fight *against* merit raises.

        1. Joey*

          This is a real obstacle for unions. On the one hand they’re supposed to represent ALL union members-hence what will make the most (the average) happy is if everyone gets the same increase. On the other hand what makes the most business sense is to give graduated raises based on performance. Unions have a hard time swallowing this pill because the top performers (who will be happiest) usually represents a small portion of their membership. Most will be average.

    3. Jessa*

      Also it would tend to equalise any pay equity issues caused by gender or race. As in if 5 years in they hire a man who has had years of making more money than a comparable woman (not due to skills but due to unfair market issues,) having the woman then brought instantly up to fair standard rate, means that she’s now paid fairly. It takes away a lot of issues that have NOTHING to do with skill or performance. It also assures you’re paying market rate for the job. If the person in the job is getting a raise they don’t deserve, that’s a performance issue that needs to be addressed separately to the market rate for “job title x.”

      1. Joey*

        Not everybody is supposed to make the market rate. Market is basically and usually what the average employee in essentially the same job in comparable companies make in your geographical market make. There should be some below and above.

        1. Anonymous*

          What’s your justification for that? It’s true that market rate is essentially the “average” rate, but why should a company deliberately enforce unequal standards of pay if they don’t have to?

              1. Imogene*

                Doesn’t that leave you in a very bad place when the salary inequities become general knowledge? I seen that happen a few times and it always got very ugly, very fast. Morale tanked, performance dropped like a stone, and the level of staff bickering, which had been almost zero, hit the red zone.

                1. Joey*

                  If you do it right and help people understand the justification the only ones who feel like they are in a bad place are the low performers who don’t get raises. And that’s usually fine from an employer perspective

              1. Chriama*

                Ok, but if new people are hired and everyone is brought up to market value, can’t you still differentiate by bringing in merit raises and performance bonuses? My understanding was that the school does this to make sure their salaries are in line with the current market. Granted, it’s not as effective as, say, getting salary surveys every few years, but if they hire infrequently and people tend to stay a long time (as long as they’re being compensated appropriately) is this policy inherently bad?

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  You’d have to give the merit raise at the same time that you brought everyone up to the same level, which doesn’t sound like it’s happening. Plus, it makes no sense to give raises to low performers who you should have on their way out anyway.

                2. Chriama*

                  Ok, I read further down the thread and it seems like everyone gets the exact same pay, which is… weird. But anyway, if people are getting hired only infrequently and staying for a long time afterwards, and merit raises do exist (not sure if this is the case for the OP, but in general), isn’t this just a way to ensure their salaries are in line with the market? Or would it be a bad policy regardless?

                3. Joey*

                  They shouldn’t be bringing everyone up to market. They should only be increasing based on cost of living increases.

        2. Judy*

          My understanding in the companies I’ve worked for, and I was not a manager, so I wasn’t in the actual discussions, but what we were told was: They would verify a given salary range within the ladder vs market averages. If there was a difference, they would consider adjusting the range. Once they did that, they would look at employees within each range vs. median, and verify that the employees were where by performance they should be.

          So if the range moved by 7% (beyond the 2-3% annual pool), they might adjust everyone 5-9% with most of them moving 7%, because hopefully the pay within range was already positioned based on performance.

          1. Joey*

            The way it SHOULD work when you adjust for market conditions is you compare the average salaries in your company and if that number is different from market you adjust everyone’s salary by the %difference.

        3. AgilePhalanges*

          My company uses market rate (specifically, the median) as the number you’re supposed to be working for. I’m new to my field, so making way below that number, but as you start approaching that number, your increases decline, and if you’re right about AT market rate, you get only a cost-of-living increase. If you’re above your market rate (which remember, is the MEDIAN, not the maximum, or even the top quartile or anything), you get a smaler and smaller raise, possibly zero if you’re too far above it (we’re talking like 5% above it). Oh, and absolutely no performance-based pay or increases. Strictly market-based. Ask me how motivating this is.

    4. Kou*

      My org has the exact opposite issue– new hires cannot be brought in at a higher rate than the top earner at their level who already works there. I don’t know if this is across the board, but in general they’re known for paying pretty noticeably below market rate for most things. There are probably a number of factors but I’ve wondered before if tamping down new hire pay like that has something to do with it.

  7. LauraUK*

    I think I’d leave well alone here for a number of reasons. Firstly, there are just too many degrees of separation from what was actually said and what has been conveyed to you. Hiring Manager was on the phone and a friend of yours heard only the Hiring Manager’s interpretation of what was said, friend of yours overhears this and conveys it to you… etc. There is just no way to get to the bottom of what was said and know it’s really reliable. Secondly, to tip Mr X off will involve some breach of confidentiality from the minor issue of the friend feeling embarrassed that she has been implicated to the hiring manager getting to know about it which could cause big issues. You may also be regarded as the messenger who needs shooting from Mr X’s perspective for passing this information on, however you try to do this. I can however totally understand why you feel you can’t stand idly by. If I was desperate to help I think I might casually ask Mr X who he was using as references and then say “I was just asking as I wondered if you’d used Ms Y – we both worked with her and you seemed to work really well” (this is in response to your point about your experience with him being very good). Of course, and we don’t have the information to establish this, it could be that there is information about his performance that you simply weren’t privy to when you were working together. I had an outwardly very hardworking, diligent and personable member of staff once who I later found out was actually not performing half of the tasks that they were meant to be but it took me 18 months to realise the complex cover-up he was creating to disguise this.

    1. Jessa*

      I agree. It’s just too divorced from the actual conversation to transmit any useful data and if I’d been the friend in this I’d just be panicking about something I can’t do anything about trying to wrack my brain to figure out who was bashing me and for what reason. I’d take an unnecessary confidence hit.

      Unless you have or can get more detail than your question poses, I’d think twice.

    2. Anon234*

      Since your friends with him and can figure out how to bring up the “don’t be too pushy” tactifully in job search convos… can you also bring up to him that maybe you are checking in with references to see what they will say and maybe he should too?

  8. Mike C.*

    What’s the difference between the equity raise mentioned in question 5, and giving folks a raise to adjust for market conditions? At my company they regularly look at different salary groups and adjust up or down depending on their market research, so isn’t this a fairly crude example of the same thing, or am I missing something here?

    1. Brett*

      Equity raises react a lot slower. It can be years, or even decades in a small or adjunct heavy department, until a new hire comes on. Since there are no merit raises, the market lag behind the market can get very severe. (See Sarabeth’s post above.)

      1. Mike C.*

        Right, but they’re still adjusting for market conditions, as the hiring price of the new employee is a direct market signal, is it not? If that’s the case, why is it such a terrible policy?

        Even if a mediocre employee is given a % raise, it’s still based on their current salary (taking into account any merit raises and the like) so I don’t understand the moral outrage. Additionally, if the skills of this average employee become increasingly sought after by the marketplace (as indicated by the increase in cost to hire a new employee) shouldn’t their salary go up lest they leave?

        1. Cat*

          Yeah, it might not be the absolute best way to handle this, but it doesn’t seem terrible either. And I’m not sure anyone goes into academia because they expect cutting edge business principles to be applied to their compensation.

        2. Anon1*

          The problem with this automatic mechanism is that the uni doesn’t differentiate between high mid and low performers. Market should be different for each group

          1. Lillie Lane*

            Additionally, it’s very difficult to get rid of low performers. This is not always the case, but in my department, you have to do something egregious to be fired.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Just to be clear, it is not and should not be difficult to get rid of low performers unless you are in a dysfunctional environment. Just want to make sure we’re not reinforcing the mistaken idea that it’s hard in general.

              1. Lillie Lane*

                No, I agree with you — but since this referenced academia, that was what I was referring to.

                1. Ruffingit*

                  So many businesses are completely dsyfunctional. I’ve seen places where the good performers get fired while absolutely horrendous performers are allowed to stay because the latter are related to the company owner. Nepotism at work in more ways than one.

                  I’ve had friends participate in exit interviews where they flat out told the interviewer they were leaving because of the dysfunction, verbal abuse, etc. No one cares. And then they wonder why they can’t keep good employees.

  9. Brandy*

    #6: perhaps they got in touch with your other references and no longer needed to chat with the one they missed. Don’t worry about it and good luck!

    1. some1*

      This happened to me once. I gave three references to an old company and the HR guy got ahold of one of my references first and was extremely complimentary about me. Unbeknownst to me, they actually knew each other because their kids went to the same daycare, so he trusted her opinion because he knew her personally and he confided in her that he was resigning due to that company merging but taking care of the hiring for that position was one of his last tasks. Based on all that, he apparently didn’t feel the need to return my other references phone calls. I got the job.

    2. COT*

      When I used to check references I wouldn’t always talk to every single one. If we asked for four, usually speaking with 2-3 was sufficient. I might leave messages for all four expecting that some of them may not return my calls quickly. Assuming we got to speak with the most current supervisor, speaking with a colleague from a few years back might not provide much more useful information.

      When I applied for my current job a few months ago, they only spoke to two of the four references I offered.

      1. Julie*

        This makes sense. However, the reference called back and left a message (twice, I think). The hiring manager could at least return the call to say, “thanks for returning my call, but I have all the information I need about [person’s name].”

        1. TheSnarkyB*

          Yeah, I’d also say OP should tell the reference not to call twice in one day if there’s not a good reason for it (i.e. the voicemail cut out or something). Employers shouldn’t necessarily judge you on the behavior of your references, but this would annoy me if I were that employer, and it might leak into my decision making.

    3. Leelee*

      Thanks so much! It’s just so nerve racking when you have to sit and wait to hear about a position you really want. Sometimes people tend to think worst case scenario. I was only concerned because they didn’t call the reference back to at least let her know and they also had me fill out 3 separate reference forms so I thought 3 would be required. Who knows though! Fingers crossed! :-) thanks again for your feedback!

  10. BCW*

    For #5 why does this bother you? Are you in charge of the budget and things getting tight there? Are you upset because you think you deserve more than other people? As someone else pointed out many companies basically give everyone a standard 3% cost of living increase. So its a very similar thing, just higher percentages.

    Not too long ago on this blog there was a conversation about sometimes its unfair that when someone else comes in to do the same job that they may make a different salary than someone who has been there because of various economic factors. This is a nice way to avoid that problem. In fact, I think its a very nice policy.

    1. Mike C.*

      I have to agree here, and I don’t understand the anger over someone who isn’t “an absolute rock star” making more money. The only paycheck that matters to me is the one deposited into my bank account, and so long as my ability to earn more isn’t hampered, I don’t care how much my coworkers are making.

      In fact, I see such information as useful, because it signals to me that my potential earnings could easily go up.

      1. Colette*

        I’m reading the policy to be that if someone gets hired at a salary of $X, everyone else in that job gets a raise to bring them to $X.

        If that is the case, the high performers are making the same amount as the low performers. This will be demotivating for the high performers (who you want to keep) and will keep your low performers from leaving (because they may not be able to make the same amount somewhere else).

        1. The IT Manager*

          Well if your low performers are doing that badly, you should fire them.

          Frankly I think it is even more demotivating for a high performer to make less than a low performer which I think happens at a lot of places.

          1. Colette*

            Agreed. But even if you have average performers and high performers, you’re going to lose your high performers if everyone’s salary is the same – either they’ll leave the organization or they’ll put less effort into being a high performer.

    2. Joey*

      I think it sucks. There are certainly people who I wouldn’t want to give a raise to and others who deserve more.

      And most people would be pretty demoralized getting the same increase as a lower performer.

      1. BCW*

        I see your point, but I’m more concerned with myself than with other people. If I’m making what I think I should be making, why do I care what someone else makes. If you are making what you think is a fair salary, to want more just because someone else who YOU perceive to be a lower performer is getting the same, really doesn’t make sense to me. Now if you think you should be making more, thats a fair case to make.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There’s no incentive to perform at a high level if your salary is going to be the same as those who perform at a low level. And from a management perspective, that’s a terrible message to send.

          1. fposte*

            There are still some incentives, I’d say (as somebody in a situation where there are no merit raises), but they affect people more disparately. It’s interesting to see who’s a high achiever under that structure and who isn’t.

            1. Joey*

              Yes, there are usually 2 types. The types who will wait for a promotion an the types that leave because they don’t want to wait.

              1. fposte*

                No, what I mean is that there are other incentives than money, and people working at a university are quite likely to be employees who respond to those.

                I work at a public university, and while it doesn’t follow the protocol described in the post, it also doesn’t do merit raises (I don’t think even for civil service, but I know they don’t for the academic staff). And the result really isn’t what you describe; sure, some people want to work at private institutions instead, and nobody’s turning down money when it comes our way, but there are non-salary advantages that people find rewarding and worthwhile too. Not everything in the economics of value is money.

          2. Rana*

            Eh, I’m not entirely convinced of that. I can imagine higher performers being rewarded with things like more authority, more interesting projects, greater flexibility in hours, that sort of thing. Not all rewards are salary-based.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      They’re not doing percentage raises. They’re raising everyone to the same salary, which means a low or mid performer is making the same as a high performer.

    4. The IT Manager*

      I agree with BCW mostly. I work for the government. Everyone in my pay grade makes the same base salary with designated increases for years of experience. While this does mean low and high performers in a pay grade with the same experieince makes the exact same, it doesn’t bother me. That’s the way it is. People who want a pay jump will apply for jobs in a higher pay grade.

      It’s not the best way of providing equity and doesn’t reward successful performers without them voluntarily competing for and winning a promotion, but it is fair in that everyone expected to do this level of work is paid the same. It avoids the problem of high performers with experience making less than new hires or even poor performers because of changes in the job market. In those situations you have people changing jobs in order to get a pay raise. That’s not a good situation either.

      This is an unsual way of doing it, but it doesn’t seem any worse to me than those places that don’t award performance with pay raises. And there are a lot of those.

      1. The IT Manager*

        But I will admit as to being confused about a budget that could obsorb giving a whole department a big raise just because the job market changed and they hired a new person.

        1. Forrest*

          That’s what I’m confused about too. What if the perfect person comes along but they’re not hired because the company can’t afford to move everyone up to that say pay?

      2. Joey*

        And I bet a lot of people are out the door at exactly quitting time, right?

        And I bet there are long timers coasting making tons more than a naive new person busting their ass, huh?

        1. De Minimis*

          I wouldn’t say tons more. The pay increases slow way down after the first few years. It takes almost an entire career to get to the top of the scale, depending on when you started.

          I’m at the first step of my grade. My co-worker is at the last step and is about to retire, I think she makes maybe $14,000 a year more than I do. I will have to leave in a few years for a position in a higher grade if I want to do better than that [and sadly, if I want a decent lifestyle in retirement I’m going to have to leave whether I like it or not.]

        2. GeekChic*

          My last two jobs had a pay structure exactly like IT Managers and none of us were out the door exactly at quitting time if the situation demanded otherwise. Mind you, our managers often preferred us to be out the door on time because all of us earn overtime (at double time).

          Just because you would be a lazy twit under those conditions doesn’t mean others work similarly or have a similar work ethic.

          1. Joey*

            I was referring to exempt workers. There’s always an incentive to work more hours for non-exempt.

          2. De Minimis*

            My department is not allowed overtime except under special circumstances, but we have as many deadlines to deal as any other job does, so we actually have to work harder to get as much done within the constraints of the 40 hour week as we can. Think that’s the case with a lot of government jobs.

            If deadlines are missed you will hear about it at evaluation time, and if it gets bad enough you will lose your job. I keep hearing about these agencies where it is difficult to fire people, but I don’t work for one of those.

          3. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I wouldn’t be a “lazy twit” under those conditions, but I would certainly feel annoyed that my company paid the same for my higher performance as it did for someone else’s lower performance, and I would go somewhere that rewarded me for what I achieved, not for the role I held.

            1. De Minimis*

              But a lot of this involves tradeoffs that people are well aware of when they go into government employment.
              No, you probably won’t get a lot of merit based bonuses [although they can happen, just not that often] but you will probably have much better work/life balance and stability [although again, may not necessarily be the case depending on where you are and what’s going on.]

              In government, high achievers often move on to higher level jobs, so in the end I don’t know if it’s all that different, it just may take more time and work.
              What I do like about it is that we don’t have the “up or out” mentality that has existed in other jobs I’ve held.

              1. Anon1*

                I question the concept of high performers necessarily “moving up”. Some people are terrific individual performers but may not have the skills or desire for the mgmt or political skills needed to be a high performer in higher level positions. You end up with the Peter principle where everyone is promoted to a level where they are now incompetent.

  11. BCW*

    For #2 I think it depends on your relationship. If you are actually friends with this person, then absolutely give them a heads up. Thats what friends are for right? If its just more of a colleague that you are still friendly with, I may be more inclined to not say anything because of the lack of solid information.

  12. Jazzy Red*

    OP #2, there is just no way you can come out and tell your friend that someone you know told you that they overheard someone else on the phone checking his references, and it didn’t sound good, on this end.

    However, you can suggest to your friend that he check with his references and makes sure they know what he wants them to emphasize. I have a feeling this guy didn’t even ask people to serve as references for him, although if he did, he should have gotten a feeling they were, at best, lukewarm about him. References should always be your A-Team Cheerleaders, which may not be your former bosses/supervisors/directors.

    If you feel you must tell him, you’ll have to take a roundabout way, and when he checks with his references, he will need to take a roundabout way as well.

  13. VictoriaHR*

    #2 – I would offer to check Mr. X’s references myself. I’ve done that before with friends who weren’t getting any traction in the job market – called the references and said I was a prospective employer and what would they like to tell me. Then report back.

    1. Jessa*

      This could work out well. I like this conceptually better than the “I heard maybe this, about that, kinda, sorta, well, you see…” approach.

    2. Anon234*

      Just make sure you have reaistic questions to ask them and that you use a phone number that doesn’t show up on caller ID as recognizable to that person.

  14. Jazzy Red*

    OP # 3, don’t touch anything this clueless dolt has handled. Get some Lysol wipes, and wipe down everything he has touched, your entire work surface, your keyboard, mouse, telephone, and anything else that’s out in the open. Do this at least a couple of times a day. Keep some pens, pencils, and whatever else you need in a desk drawer, and use those. Keep a couple of pens on your desk for him to borrow, and when he goes away, pick them up with a wipe and clean them. I don’t think telling him he’s a germ-ridden disease-spreading knucklehead and you want him to stay away from you will do any good, nor will letting him see you cleanse your area every time he leaves. He’s clueless, and he’s your boss. Offend him, and sooner or later you’ll suffer the consequences.

    Years ago, when my partner and I had to share a cubicle, I had a cold and Lysol spray was our best friend. She never got so much as a sniffle, so I swear by the stuff.

    1. Jessa*

      I hate people who will not keep their germs to themselves. Big fan of gel alcohol and stuff like it myself. Not so big on antibacterial stuff (tends to promote resistant germs) but the gel alcohol stuff plain will kill bunches of stuff. Also those dilute bleach wipes are also good. Try however to get the gel alcohol that has a softener in it or it will dry your hands like crazy.

      1. Del*

        Back when my roommate had strep and I worked in a call center (ie, talking for 10 hours a day), we managed to find a giant jug of sanitizer gel that had aloe mixed in with it, and we both used the stuff religiously. It really helped with the drying out issue!

      2. Elizabeth West*

        The Germ-X with aloe is nice. I keep the Target version of Gold Bond Ultimate lotion on my desk also.

        At Oldjob, one of my bosses was very paranoid about flu germs. She had me pick up the huge industrial-sized alcohol sanitizer jugs when I got break room supplies, and we kept them all over the office. Despite this, she still liked to come up to my desk and steal squirts of my Germ-X. I had to put it in the drawer to keep it away from her–I paid for that with my own money!

      3. Jazzy Red*

        Another plus for the gel hand sanitizers is that it removes ink stains from the fake wood work surface. It’s a good over-all cleaner!

    2. fposte*

      And if you’re really concerned about contagion for a particular health reason, do this regularly anyway whether the boss is near you or sick or not. Everybody’s carrying stuff on their hands, not just the boss, and the people who fight the virus off or are just coming down with it can spread it to you just the same.

      It’s the microbial equivalent of defensive driving.

      1. Rana*

        Yup. I treat public transit like a contamination zone: don’t touch my face while riding it, and either wash my hands or sanitize them as soon as I get off of it. I’m far less worried about people sneezing or coughing on me than me picking something up from touching something, and transferring it to my eye or nose if I scratch.

        So far, so good… (knock wood).

    3. Loose Seal*

      If you want to really know how far cold secretions can travel, look at the Mythbuster’s episode 147: Flu Fiction. It’s streaming on Netflix.

      We watched it the other night and there were a lot of loud gasps coming from our living room couch.

  15. bearing*

    On “wow:”

    My college roommate for one quarter freshman year was French. (Great for me, as I minored in French, and the practice was fun and helpful.) I remember hanging out with her and her friends once. They were shaking their heads over difficult aspects of the English language, and one of those things was “wow.”

    “‘There’s a cool party tonight, you should come.’ ‘Wow, that sounds fun.’

    “‘My mother died yesterday.’ ‘Wow. That’s too bad.’

    I think in the end they decided that American English was a tonal language.

    1. Ruffingit*

      My boyfriend is from Germany and he speaks English fairly well, but there are things he doesn’t get. Expressions are one of them. The other day I used the words “We’re running out of paper towels.” I had to explain the “running out” because people from other countries will sometimes take those words literally. We’re not running as in jogging. LOL!

      It’s also fun to explain the complete mash ups of language that are supposed to be plays on words in a way. Things like Dafuq :)

      1. De Minimis*

        Had the same experience with exchange students back in high school….guess it’s just a confusing expression! I never thought that they might have taken it literally.

        1. Ruffingit*

          My boyfriend understands that we’re not jogging out of paper towels, but when I say they take it literally, I mean they translate the words literally. So running out of would be “jogging away from” something. He often stops and asks me about expressions he doesn’t understand. His English is really good, but this language is really crazy sometimes :)

      2. dejavu2*

        I saw the movie “Legally Blonde 2” with a German. At the end, the printed update on the screen says some guy proposed. My friend turned to me and asked, “What did he propose?”


    2. Rana*

      You’ve heard the joke about the use of “dude” by Californians, right?

      I don’t think I can do it in text, rather than aloud, but it basically consists of an entire conversation with no word being said besides “dude,” just in different intonations.

  16. Brandy*

    Alison – you answer to #7 states “It’s possible that your boss i operating in bad faith here”. I’m thinking that should be “is”. Thanks!

  17. Out of here*

    As a followup to question #7-our personnel policy states that all professional and non-professional employees shall give one month’s notice of termination. As a professional employee with one foot out of the door (I have been sent to “counseling” by HR), I am thinking about giving only two weeks notice. Thoughts?

    1. some1*

      Not a lawyer but I don’t see how this “policy” can be enforced, unless you have some sort of contract. If they were going to fire you, I doubt they would give you a month’s notice.

      That being said, it all depends on your personal situation about how much notice to give. If it were me, and I really needed to stay on good terms with that employer (because it’s a tight-knit industry or I don’t have a lot of relevant experience so I need them to give me as strong a reference as possible), or I was in a hard-to-fill position and felt a lot of loyalty to my manager, I might suck it up and give them the 4 week notice.

      1. Out of here*

        Some1: No contract. And none of the above apply. I’ve got a lot of experience, plus this job is somewhat out of my field. I doubt I will use them as my reference, as my previous supervisor was fired and escorted out of the building.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Keep in mind that you don’t always get to choose your references. You might not put them on a reference list, but a future employer may ask to talk to them anyway.

          1. Out of here*

            Alison, as I have been sent to counseling, I don’t think my reference here can get much worse.

            1. Del*

              You’d be surprised.

              And if nothing else, keep in mind that the way you leave is going to be their last (and therefore likely strongest) impression of you. If you can do anything to ameliorate the impact of whatever got you sent to counseling in terms of how they remember you, it’s probably worthwhile.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Oh, it can get worse. If you give the amount of notice expected, you avoid burning the bridge and can possibly negotiate a good or neutral reference. If you leave without the amount of required notice, you burn the bridge and the reference can be much, much worse.

              1. Jazzy Red*

                But be prepared to be escorted out of the building without picking up your personal belongings.

        2. MaryTerry*

          If you don’t give the required notice, you may not get all accrued vacation. Plus, people remember this – one of your coworkers may know a hiring manager in your future and mention that you didn’t give/work out the required notice when they knew you at X company.

        3. Anonymous*

          Make sure that you really don’t have a contract. Depending on the local law, a “policy” could become a contract in some cases. For example, if you had to sign an acnowledgement that you read the policy and will comply with it, that could be considered an “agreement”. The fact that they use the word “shall” (if that is indeed the language) points to an obligation. Often employee handbooks and similar policies say that the employer “requests” or “expects” a certain notice period.

    2. Colette*

      If you have a new job to move to, but you want to give two weeks notice, I would suggest you talk to them and explain the situation. If they really want to get rid of you, they will likely be willing to work with you.

      If you just want to quit without the specified notice to make life difficult for them, that kind of attitude can easily come back to haunt you in the future, and you should reconsider.

        1. Chriama*

          Honestly assess what you have to gain by giving them 2 weeks notice that you would loose by giving them 4. Like Alison says, don’t know when a hiring manager ends up talking to someone at your company about you and they hear “oh, they were in HR counseling and then didn’t give full notice”. Only you know what your priorities are, but I think you should try to leave on as civil terms as possible.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, that was my thought–if there’s nothing to be gained in four weeks and it’s horrible, then two weeks is worst of all, giving you none of the professional credit while you’re still dealing with the misery. You’re leaving without adequate notice, according to the company’s terms.

            1. Out of here*

              fposte-you have an excellent point. I had not thought of it like that…Worst of both worlds….Thank you.

        2. Colette*

          Right, but why? If it’s to move to an exciting new opportunity, you might be able to negotiate only giving two weeks notice.

          If it’s just because you don’t want to stick around for the 4 weeks they expect, it can hurt your reputation with your coworkers/bosses/industry contacts. The price is high. And if you’re not moving to a new job, you’re better off to work that time, get another 2 weeks of pay, and leave without burning any more bridges than you have to burn.

  18. some1*

    Question #2: Mr.X’s aggressiveness when applying may not have been such a turn-off if the hiring manager was bothering to check references, unless that person just has a lot of time on her hands or a propensity to like to get dirt.

    Then again, I used to work in an industry that is super-close knit in my area. Everyone I worked with had worked for one of our competitors or knew people there. One of my co-workers had been in an something of a support role, but showed interest in being a Teapot Designer and she was trained on the job, but most of my colleagues didn’t feel she her skills or knowledge were very strong. After the org was re-structured, they instituted a policy that all Teapot Designers needed a BA in Teapot Design. My co-worker applied at our competitor that my friend used to work and, and actually helped create the Teapot Design test for candidates. The Hiring Manager called my friend when she saw she worked with my co-worker, and my friend said there was no way the co-worker would be able to pass the test.

    TL/DR: Sometimes if you know someone who’s opinion you trust, a 30-second phone call can confirm that a candidate’s resume can go right in the trash.

  19. Mike C.*

    OP #3:

    This procedure is good enough for sterilizing lab counter tops against most things outside of mold spores and prions. Plus it’s cheap and incredibly easy.

    Take 70% alcohol, the kind you find in the drug store, not the fun kind (save that for later). Don’t use 99%, you need the water mixture to ensure enough contact time.

    Put it in a spray bottle, and lightly spray down your desk. Open a window, leave it there for ten minutes and you’re good to go. Additionally this is a method that does not encourage the growth of resistant bacteria.

    It’s a bit extreme outside the laboratory setting, but it works.

  20. OP #4*

    Hi All! This is OP #4 with the “salary ambush” question. Thank you for your advice, Alison. I just spoke with my friend using the wording you suggested, and she didn’t seem to have any problem at all with considering the higher range I suggested. We will see how it all turns out. I am very glad I got your input, because I might not have said anything otherwise. Thank you for this and all of the other wonderful advice you give.

  21. kasey*

    Re #3- I had a boss that often worked from home, except for when he was sick and would come in so we could bare witness to him being a trooper? And get sick ourselves, of course. I am not sure, but he did that all the time. Maddening. One time in particular, his germ ridden nose dripped all over my desk and keyboard and then he proceeded to answer my phone. Lovely.

    I kicked him out of my office and went to work de-germing it. Needless to say, I was very sick for weeks after that.

  22. Brett*

    #5 I think there is a mistaken assumption that everyone is being paid the same. Only the people below the level of the new hire are brought up to the new hire level. This is normally only the case for people in the first few years of their career. Other faculty are going to be much higher due to their administrative duties, outside duties, and research activities (especially surgical researchers who can add a hundreds of thousands of dollars in summer research salary). If you are a top performer, you will get grant dollars and administrative dollars and the equity raise will have little or no impact on you. If you were hired 4 years ago in the midst of wage freezes (wage freezes do not effect hiring salaries) and have no seniority for administrative duties and not enough body of work to get summer salary funding, then the equity raise brings you up to what you would be if you were hired now instead of four years ago.

    (I am honestly stuck in this position, where I was hired a job title above entry level at the discretionary max for my title at the beginning of a wage freeze and hiring freeze. Now that the hiring freeze is lifted but the wage freeze is still in effect, I am earning 20% less than new hires at the lower job title. We obviously do not have equity raises.)

    Merit raises to base pay are EXTREMELY unpopular with the public right now too. The trend is towards small one-time merit bonuses. Public sector merit raises are probably not coming back any time soon.

    1. fposte*

      It sounds like you’re talking only about faculty there, though. We have four times as many staff positions as we do faculty.

  23. Ashley*

    #7 – Employers are not required to pay you for time you didn’t work, especially after your employment has ended. If you work a partial last month, you’ll get a partial paycheck. If you want a full paycheck, you need to work the full month.

  24. Jack*

    I sure would have liked #5 at my previous job – I was brought in early in the development of my department. The job got increasingly specialized, merit raises were tiny percentages because it was a big company, so even with “high performer” raises, I was making about sixty cents more than I’d started at and new people were being brought in at two and three dollars an hour more than me. Eventually, the half-dozen of us who were still there from the early days made enough noise about looking elsewhere (and a few people brought it up in their exit interviews) and those of us who remained got the equity raise.

    Mind you, it wiped out all of my “merit raises” too, but at least I was making as much as the newbies I was training.

  25. Bystander*

    #3 Some people feel the need to be around people when they are sick. I had to explain to my boss that since I can’t get a vaccine as I am allergic to the ingredients, I need to distance myself from people with the cold, flu or I could be off work due to sickness. That worked.

    1. Jamie*

      I know some people want to be around their loved ones when sick, but co-workers?

      When I have a bad cold or the flu I want my family not so much around as nearby enough to fetch things and to express abject sympathy while bringing me soup and tea…and then to vanish and pretend they aren’t there until I need something else.

      I’m a difficult patient.

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