employee lied about me on survey, companies that monitor how you organize your desk, and more

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

1. Employee lied about me in a customer survey

I was recently mentioned on a negative comment in our customer service survey. I found out that this customer was really an employee who I manage. He said I was rude to our customers and that is why he would not refer anyone to the company. When I asked him to explain why he said that, he told me it was the only way people would listen to him and his problem could be solved. He added that he was told the survey was confidential and wanted to complain about this too. He claims I’ve mistreated him and feels harassed by me.

I made HR aware of this and now he has filed a proper complaint and spoken to the head of HR and now I have a meeting with him to respond to the accusations. What he claims is false and a retaliation on his part for a bad performance review, but how can I defend myself and point out that he deliberately made a false statement about me without wanting to be identified?

You don’t need to defend yourself to him. You only need to explain to HR that his statement was false, that he attempted to cloak it in anonymity by using a survey meant for customers, and that it appears to be in retaliation for his performance review. Do not go on the defensive, particularly since you haven’t done anything wrong — instead, tell HR that you need them to support you in your management of this employee and not to undermine you by leading him to believe he can undermine you with false accusations. Say this like you of course expect them to agree with you (because they should). If you sound less than confident, you risk them thinking there’s an issue here when there isn’t.

And then tell the employee that if he has concerns about you, the appropriate way to handle it is to talk to you directly, rather than posing as a customer. And then drop it because it’s too much drama to continue focusing on, and get back to focusing on his performance.

2. Companies that monitor how you organize your desk drawers and your email

I am American, but I have been living abroad for the past five years and I am married to an Italian. I have been slowly trying to convince my husband that he would like living in the U.S. and that he would do really well in a merit-based system, as opposed to what they have in Italy, which is a system so completely overrun with nepotism that most people are still underpaid or unpaid interns at age 30. But I digress.

I have two Italian friends who recently accepted jobs at a company in Chicago and they are having a miserable experience and, to be frank, I can’t blame them. Their company has random spot checks which monitor how their email folders are organized, how their desk drawers are organized, and how much time they spend in the bathroom. They also have extremely strict policies about the start and the end of the workdays and you are not allowed to respond to your cell phone (even messaging) during the work day. While the latter two policies seem overly strict to me, the former seem absolutely absurd. I have tried to convince my husband that this company is an anomaly and not the norm in the U.S., but I have been having difficulties, particularly because I haven’t lived there in a while. So my question to you is, are these policies standard in the U.S.? Do you think that a company with these kinds of rigid rules is the norm or the aberration?

These policies are not standard. They’re far, far from the norm. They key is to evaluate a company before accepting a job offer, so that you know what type of culture it has.

3. Should you really send your resume cold to hiring managers without advertised openings?

I recently listened to a job searching webinar from a person who claims to be an expert on recruiting. She said a job seeker should send their resume, unsolicited, to hiring managers instead of sending it to HR managers. She even said to do this whether or not an open position is advertised, because 80-odd percent of job openings are not publicized. Ideally, she said, a candidate should contact at least 200 managers! I cringed when I heard this, because if I were a hiring manager, the last thing I would want is a flood of incoming resumes, especially if there weren’t any open positions. Do people actually do this?

This is one of those things where it depends entirely on how you do it. Do it really well (great letter and a resume that shows a track record of achievement in exactly what they happen to need), and it can sometimes work. But do it anything less than excellently, and it’s likely to just be a waste of time. Unfortunately, most people do it less than excellently, so you have a bunch of people trying this and wasting their time.

But either way, if you’re just sending out resumes to random hiring managers, you’re going to get a lot less bang for your buck than if you were actually networking — meeting people in your field, using your connections, etc. So I’m puzzled why an expert would recommend spending so much time on this when that energy would be far better spent on a different activity.

4. My uncle’s manager won’t give him any weekends off and we never see him

My uncle’s manager clocks herself in and then leaves, and at the end of the week her hours rack up to 50 even though she does no work. We can’t have family gatherings because he can’t have off on weekends; she won’t let him. He barely gets to see his kids and the manager’s boss knows what’s going on and does nothing. There has to be something we can do. Any suggestions?

“We,” meaning you and the rest of the family? You can encourage your uncle to start applying for other jobs, but you certainly don’t have standing to do any more than that. Your uncle’s options are to (a) accept the schedule that comes with this job, (b) push back and negotiate weekends off, or (c) change jobs.

I think you want a solution that involves the boss being punished or forced to do more work, but her own boss knows the situation and doesn’t care — so this is how that workplace works.

5. Asking for contract work once an internship ends

I’m currently doing an internship. I plan to offer to contract at the end of the internship, because I’ve noticed a lot of work that I could take on and value that I can add to the organization. The problem is I’m not sure how to suggest that to them diplomatically. It’s mostly weaknesses and mistakes I could correct. For instance, a lot of the customer documentation is out of date, hard to navigate, or vaguely worded. I definitely don’t want to make people feel defensive about their work, but I want to make the case that these are problems worth paying me to fix. This is a problem that’s kind of intrinsic to technical writing and editing.

You could say, “Have you ever thought of hiring someone on contract to do XYZ? As I’ve been here, I’ve been thinking about how useful it would be to do that, and I have a good grasp on what would help now. I’d love to talk to you about what I could do in that area and how we might structure a contract for it.”

Focus on how it would help them, not on how bad their current stuff is. Be prepared to be turned down, because they haven’t felt it was a priority up until now (apparently), but it’s certainly worth asking.

6. How to draw boundaries in an unpaid internship

(This is the second part of letter-writer #5’s question.)

I’m being allowed to determine nearly everything about the projects I’m doing: scope, deadlines, hours I work, etc. Luckily my program gave me a bit of guidance on project planning, so I’m not totally floundering. I think it’s a good opportunity to demonstrate my abilities but also to set boundaries. What do you think is the best approach if my goal is to contract with the company? Give them my all, but also give them an end date beyond which I can’t do free work anymore? Or give the impression of competence and submerged knowledge, but draw boundaries around what kinds of tasks and deliverables I can offer?

You should definitely negotiate an end date and how many hours you’ll work per week until then (and ideally would have done that at the start, but if you didn’t, it’s not too late to do that now). But as for deliverables, that really depends on what you agreed to when you accepted the role. If you agreed to work on X, Y, and Z, and since this is an unpaid internship, it’s reasonable to say that you’re hesitant to do A and B without pay as well, since you’d typically charge for that type of work. But it wouldn’t be reasonable to say you won’t do Z after all, since you already agreed to that at the start. And you should do the best you can on the agreed-to work, not hold back, both because you’re trying to get contract work from them afterwards and because that’s key to building your reputation.

7. Can I use customer emails praising me when applying for jobs?

For my annual reviews, I complete a form to give my manager a friendly reminder of my accomplishments from the past year. It’s been helpful also to attach copies of emails documenting when I’ve gone above and beyond or really pleased a customer or internal representative. A recent example is of a customer emailing my boss to tell him that I saved the account from taking their business elsewhere. These sort of messages aren’t common, but I have received quite a few unsolicited. Is there a way to use these emails in applying for other jobs?

You could summarize them in a cover letter or on a resume — such as “regularly received accolades from customers for XYZ” or “convinced largest client to renew its account, when it was expected to leave.” But I wouldn’t present the emails themselves. Unless you have one that’s both over-the-top glowing (not just positive, but truly extraordinary) and detailed about why you’re so fantastic, in which case you could bring that one to an interview or forward it after a phone interview. But I wouldn’t include them otherwise.

{ 118 comments… read them below }

  1. Jessa*

    #1 What Alison said completely, it’s critical that you do not come off as “sour grapes,” that you have your ducks in a row about the employee’s behaviour and the reasons for the poor evaluation. You want to make sure that it doesn’t sound personal because of the complaint. You want to sound professional and not whingey about it. It’s something that I have to work on a lot, not to sound like “OMG he was sooooo mean, etc.”

  2. EngineerGirl*

    #3 It is true that a lot of jobs aren’t posted. It is also true that you find out about them through networks. Work on building relationships instead of spamming people. The relationship will be there 10 years from now where the spam will be in a deleted items folder.

  3. Chocolate Teapot*

    Great Answers to Tough Interview Questions recommended the approach described. It also had a chapter on how to phone somebody up to get an interview.

    One morning at work, our receptionist found a CV in the letterbox. No envelope, no cover letter, just several pages of job history and so forth. I think our HR was informed, then it got filed.

    1. AP*

      I occasionally get those by fax, even though I don’t think our fax # is listed on our website, and there IS a general email address that gets checked regularly. I don’t know how they find me!

  4. Anon*

    #5 I feel like you must have graduated from the same school and program I did just from a few words you used. As far as I know, the curriculum isn’t hugely standardized.

    1. LW5and6*

      I did just graduate from a tech writing program at a community college in Canada, but there are a few of those around, and I’ve heard working tech writers use words like deliverables. It’s possible that I know you, I’ve recommended this blog to a few of my job-hunting classmates :)

      1. Jenna*

        Also a graduate from a tech writing program at a community college in Canada, but in 2004 :)

        One thought about getting a contract. See if you can get some metrics to prove to management that the documentation is vague and unhelpful. We tech writers know just by reading it, but upper management may not be able to see the same thing. If you have a support department that takes calls from customers, see if you can tap into them. Ask them what their three most common customer complaints are. Then look at the documentation and see if how it is put together is the cause, or at least contributing to the complaints. Put this into a business case with some numbers:
        Top three complaints are x, y, and z.
        Each call takes x minutes, average hourly wage of a support worker is x so each call costs x. Total cost of calls for the year is y.
        1 year contract for me to fix documentation is salary of z.
        The overall point, show that the cost of leaving the documentation how it is now is more than the cost of having you in to fix it, and also show costs decreasing once you are done as the support calls will decrease.

      2. Bea W*

        Certain functions in my field use “deliverables” all the time. It’s a common contracting work type word.

  5. Windchime*

    #1 — It doesn’t sound like your “anonymous customer surveys” are very anonymous if it was that easy to find out who wrote it! (I have a suspicion that “anonymous” employee surveys aren’t really anonymous, either, so I’m not sure how honest people are on those.)

    1. Bea W*

      I just assume “anonymous” company surveys are anything but, especially if you’re filling them out from your work computer where they might be traced back to a specific user.

      A company I previously worked for asked team members to fill out a survey at the end of each project in preparation for the lessons learned meeting. There were only 6 of us, and we all decided we didn’t care if it was really anonymous or not because the experience with the client was really that awful across the board.

      Indeed the results were kept anonymous to my Dept. Director, and that turned out to be not a good thing, because she blamed me for the comment calling the client “abusive” when I hadn’t written it. I told my manager that I hadn’t written that myself, and it had come from another department, but the Director of my department fixated on that one comment and was rather furious to the point she retaliated. So the fact that it was anonymous didn’t matter and ended up hurting more than helping.

      For the record – the client was verbally abusive, cussing out another member of the team on a regular basis. So while I didn’t write the comment, it was absolutely not false.

      1. Cruella Da Boss*

        I once tried to skip an “anonymous employee survey”for a group project, only to have that project coordinator come to me and ask why I didn’t fill it out!

        So much for getting my honest feedback after that.

        1. Laufey*

          Most of the (informal) survey systems I’ve used will show who has filled it out, but will strip the account ID from the survey. So, you can end up with a bunch of filled-out surveys and have no clue which one belongs to which person, but still be able to tell who has filled the survey out or not. I assume if this feature is included in free/cheap software, it would also be a feature in more formal programs.

      2. Joey*

        You’d be surprised at how often they really are anonymous and how people don’t realize that if they provide responses that are too specific its pretty obvious who wrote it.

        I’ve done anonymous surveys through third parties and have had people question how it can be anonymous since the third party site would have their IP address and since they’re a client they would obviously provide it to us. Or if its done on a work computer under their work logon we obviously can dig out their responses on our server. Some people are that paranoid. Really? We have better things to do than to go searching for who said what.

        I’ve also seen someone get in trouble for something really random then talk about that random act on a survey. Or I’ve also seen long novels from people who are known to write long novels with a similar writing style. C’mon people just because its anonymous doesn’t mean you can’t out yourself.

          1. Bea W*

            In a smaller company doing their own internal surveys, it really wouldn’t be that hard, certainly not more work than reading racey emails going through company servers, and yes, IS employees at one company I worked for really did that. My own mother gave them quite an eye full!

        1. A Teacher*

          Boss did mine work computers for people’s responses –all the new people had filled out the survey, all the old people didn’t.

        2. tcookson*

          Faculty and staff are asked to complete annual “anonymous” ratings surveys of school administrators (deans and department heads), and we’ve had administrators put their heads together to try to figure out (through interpreting individual written speech patterns coupled with process of elimination) who wrote every single comment. Knowing, as I often do, which people actually wrote many of the comments, the administrators are pretty good at pinpointing individuals.

          1. tcookson*

            FWIW I would never, ever confirm or deny anybody’s comments . . .

            Remember that old line, “We dance round in a ring and suppose, But the secret sits in the center and knows”? The administrators are “we” and I’m “the secret”.

          2. Cassie*

            Back when our univ had paper course evaluations, it was up to the dept secretary to type up the comments – I guess so the professor/instructor couldn’t figure out who wrote what (based on handwriting?).

        3. Rana*

          That’s a good point. I’ve noticed that on student evaluations too, which are indeed anonymous (and held until after grades are in). When you have an evaluation that complains about the student discussions being boring and pointless, in the midst of a bunch of other ones that either praise the format or are neutral, it’s not hard to guess that that particular evaluation was written by the one student who always sat in the back zoning out or trying to play games on their phone while everyone else was attentive and taking notes and asking questions.

        4. CathVWXYNot?*

          I completed a supposedly anonymous survey at work last year. When we all got the answers back to review, each answer was indeed anonymous… but also date and time stamped. It was ridiculously easy to figure out who wrote what, because if you answered even one question in a way that made it obvious who you were, then you could link it to all the other answers submitted in the same session.

        1. Windchime*

          I’m glad you said that…..I originally read this last night and I was thinking ,”I could swear I saw that it said anonymous!”. :)

    2. Jazzy Red*

      A long time ago, I decided to include my name on all company surveys, whether they were “anonymous” or not, since I knew they weren’t anonymous at all. I have never, ever received any feedback on any of those surveys.

    3. The gold digger*

      They claim the employee engagement survey they give us at work is anonymous, but

      1. you get a unique identifier to log into the survey
      2. the results are broken out by workgroup – there are only six in my group.

      Result? I answered two questions on the survey and left the rest blank. No way am I giving my honest opinion on something like that.

      1. Jane Doe*

        Yeah, at my last job I declined to fill out the survey because we had to identify how long we’d been at the company, what department we were in, and how long we’d been in that department. Really, really easy to identify people when your department has 10 people.

        1. Jessica (the celt)*

          Exactly. We have had several “anonymous” surveys over the past few years, but they’ve always asked what “group” you’re in. My group is the smallest group in the place. They then ask identifiers such as number of years at the company, which REALLY narrows it down even more for my particular group, as none of us started at remotely the same time…

          I’ve generally opted out for these reasons. If they really wanted the feedback and wanted it to be anonymous, it wouldn’t matter how long I’ve worked there or which group I’m in. (These are surveys that actually matter which group the feedback comes from, so it’s unnecessary.)

          1. Bea W*

            The point of those questions is to identify trends by company demographic. Of course that doesn’t mean some really nosey or even unscrupulous people won’t use the information in other ways.

  6. Anonymous*

    #1 Anonymous survey and you were still able to find out which employee wrote the comments? Sounds like it was a computer survey and somehow the company was able to identify him. The only anonymous survey is if it’s a hardcopy survey and you can submit it in the mail.

    If you are in a “Right to Work” state it’s only a matter of time before you can find a reason to let him go. He needs to look for another job and it should be a “lesson learned” for him if this was computer generated survey to never trust them again. Personally I think he has a right to be upset you were able to find out it was him who complained. Many employees feel their concerns will never be addressed unless they do it anonymously.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      I don’t think he does. He was being deceptive — pretending to be an ordinary customer when in fact he was an employee. I don’t think the normal expectation of customer survey confidentiality applies because he’s an employee who is abusing a system meant for someone else.

    2. EngineerGirl*

      Excuse me, but the employee committed fraud by a) representing himself as a customer and b) making false claims against the lead. It gets muddled because the “anonymous” survey was misrepresented. But fraud was committed with the intent to do harm. That should get you fired.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        I just realized that the OP said confidential, not anonymous. Confidential means that the data won’t be shared outside the company, not that it isn’t identifiable. In this case the company hasn’t really done anything wrong.

      2. Cat*

        Pretending to be a customer is fraud be we don’t know if he thought he was lying about the lead. We know her side of the story but she may sincerely believe she didn’t do those those things while he sincerely believes she did.

        1. Rana*

          I don’t think it matters what he believes, though, nor whether it’s true. What matters is that he used an inappropriate channel to express his disapproval of his manager’s performance, instead of talking to her openly, or HR, or her superior(s). That’s strange and unprofessional, regardless of the other factors involved.

    3. Natalie*

      I think your thinking of “at will”. “Right to work” laws cover whether or not you can be required to join a union.

      1. Jazzy Red*

        It’s much more difficult to fire a union employee than a non-union employee, so both terms are correct in a case like this.

        1. fposte*

          Being in a right-to-work state doesn’t mean you’re a union employee, though; the issue is the at-will employment.

        2. Natalie*

          I can see how my phrasing may have been confusing.

          Some unions negotiate a “closed shop”, meaning anyone who gets a job at that particular unionized place must join the union. In a right to work state, those agreements are void and new employees of an already unionized shop get to choose whether or not they join. Right to work is commonly confused with at will, but it’s not relevant to this situation.

    4. k*

      I worked in a retail job that relied heavily on customer feedback surveys. I can see how they be useful to management at the store and especially at the regional and corporate levels. When regional and corporate make visits to stores, they see a Potemkin village instead of what the store is really like. Everything is visually perfect and all the employees are exemplary and attentive to the customers’ needs. Anyone who has worked retail can tell you that that is a sham. It was actually really funny seeing the crabby office manager respond politely to a customer’s question about a problem with the store credit card billing in the presence of the regional manager. If the regional manager hadn’t been there, she would have been her usual rude self. These surveys do bring some reality of the actual shopping experience and employee behavior to corporate’s attention. I’m not sure they use all the feedback they get and make constructive changes, however.

      I don’t hesitate to fill out surveys for both good and bad experiences shopping. I feel that the wonderful, pleasant and customer focused people should be rewarded and the ones who make your shopping experience difficult need to be called out on their behavior. My sister and I went shopping for some housewares for her apartment and she has a very specific color scheme in mind related to her alma mater. The sales clerk had no filter and was running her mouth how she didn’t like said school and never had. She told me to give her some negative feedback about how the clerk needed to learn to keep her opinions to herself and not irritate customers with her ignorant views. I didn’t mind doing so because the woman didn’t call for backup and was more interested in having conversations with customers than making sure people were helped.

      There are some exceptions – one coworker got negative feedback because she told a customer we don’t have anything to do with the credit unit and any billing questions have to worked out with the third party credit card company. She told her the correct, corporately approved answer but unfortunately the customer was a regular who knew that the office staff had some numbers that hadn’t been disconnected that they could call. Poor girl got written up, not knowing about this back office method that corporate was trying to shut down. The ones who should have been reprimanded instead of the poor high school girl making minimum wage and working two weekends a month were the full time office staff.

  7. AdAgencyChick*

    #7: I wouldn’t use an email like that in a job *application* (although you could put a choice quote in a cover letter, if it’s well worded and you can work it in to highlight a particular strength of yours). But where these types of communications can be especially useful is internally, when it’s time for your annual review or you are trying to negotiate for a raise or promotion. Then that becomes part of your case — “I saved our team 20% on the cost of chocolate teapot supplies over the last year, and our biggest account even wrote in to say they stayed with us because of me, so I deserve XYZ.”

    So definitely save every email like that that you get, even though they’re not particularly useful in the application process!

    1. En Pointe*

      They also could be useful at the interview stage. No need to present tangible copies of the emails but for those “Tell me about a time when you’ve gone above and beyond etc…” type questions, it sounds like you’ve got some great examples to talk about.

    2. businesslady*

      a big part of my job is helping out a certain group of constituents, & I have a block of excerpted quotes from them in the “key achievements” section of my resume–actually substantive stuff, not just “great work!” it’s a small percentage of the overall content, but I figured it was an effective way to quantify something that’s not easily conveyed otherwise (besides, “trust me, I’m good at this”).

      I’ve had success with this resume, but does anyone think this is weird, bad, or something I should tweak? I’m curious.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        If the quotes are phenomenal, I really like this. The problem is when people do it and the quotes aren’t — then it ends up sounding like they don’t really know what top performance looks like. (Doesn’t sound like the case with yours.)

    3. OP #7*

      I’ve got some that are solid, above and beyond type of stuff, and then one that is just pure gold. I just don’t know how to “spend” it. Internally would be nice, but my boss has already seen it. There doesn’t seem to be much more I can do internally, though I wish that wasn’t the case.

      Using them at the interview stage or cover letter is a good idea, and I want to make sure I do that well. My personality is that I’d rather avoid tooting my own horn. I don’t wear pride well.

  8. Bea W*

    #1 – Guess the survey was not so anonymous. Did this guy out himself?

    #2 – The desk/email/bathroom thing is totally not normal in the US. Many companies have policies around personal phone use and some jobs have specific start/end-of-day procedures. Some are stricter than others, but the rest of that is just bizarre. I’m curious. What type of job/company is this?

    1. Chinook*

      #2 I agreeb that policing desk and email organization is weird unless this is a company that either shares desks or has security concerns (though I do like the idea that they are enforcing standardized naming protocols on their network. It makes finding things much easier). The clocking in/out and no personal phones is logical if they are hourly.

      Also keep iin mind that you are hearing only one side of what is happenning and that it is being filtered through a “foreign” lense. Is the company being strict when compared to Italy (which may have a more relaxed attitude) or is it strict even for an American company?

    2. Jazzy Red*

      This could be a foreign owned company. They usually bring their own sometimes crazy rules with them, and then wonder why the employees aren’t happy.

    3. Maris*

      Actually – depending on the job role – this can be very normal in the US in US owned companies.

      Eg: workers processing health, insurance or financial information documents. Most companies that provide those services go to great lengths to ensure their workers can’t write down customers’ name/address/social security/account numbers. This includes prohibiting personal cell phones (no pictures able to be taken of sensitive information); open internet/network access etc.

      1. Anonymous*

        Thanks for the responses. As I said, I wasn’t really sure what to think when I started to hear some of the feedback from these people. To me it just seemed really out of place considering my previous experiences working in the US and those of my colleagues/friends/family. But in any case, it’s nice to hear that the country hasn’t changed so drastically in the five years that I’ve been abroad and that this treatment isn’t the norm.

        To respond to all of the comments above:

        1) the don’t have communal desks, and they definitely don’t have communal emails so having policies about how individual email inboxes are organized just seemed incredible to me.

        2) They are salaried and not hourly workers, so the strict entry and exit times, and the bathroom policies seem a bit out of place.

        3) It is definitely stricter than an Italian company and I had no doubt on that issue from the start. But for me, it seemed extreme even for an American company. I spoke with friends who actually have “Tap Rooms” in their offices and they open them up to the employees to drink beer on Fridays. Obviously that is the other end of the spectrum, but still, policing desk drawer organization seemed absurd in comparison.

        4) The company (I think) was founded by a foreigner, but as far as I know, it is now US-owned and has been for years with most of the managers being Americans as well.

        5) I definitely agree that in some sectors more security is necessary. I have worked on government contracts which required me to leave my cell phone outside, enter using fingerprint ID, etc. But this is a private company so I was just a bit surprised with the whole thing.

  9. AdminTO*

    #2 But how likely is a new hire to know about these bizarre policies before starting work? Unfortunately the policy book is not included with the job offer.

    1. Bea W*

      That’s why it is so important to ask questions about the work environment, typical daily routine, and expectations of employees during the interview process.

      1. Judy*

        For me, the answer to both this and the next comment is my network. That’s why I’ve linked to lots of people on linkedin from all parts of my life. So I can find out that my church friend’s neighbor works at Chocolate Teapots Inc. And I can ask for an introduction to ask about the culture in another way.

        I’ve talked to former co-worker’s kids, cousins of my kid’s teacher, etc. to ask about things like expected work hours, cliquishness, etc. Based on past experiences I don’t ever want to be told a position is 7-4 and find out it’s really expected to be 7-7, I don’t mind a few times a year to have several weeks of push to get something completed, but I have other things in my life. Another past experience I had was that everyone in the department I was hired into golfed together on weekends, and went to the same church. I didn’t golf, and I go to another church. Very bad culture fit for me.

  10. Anonymous*

    They key is to evaluate a company before accepting a job offer, so that you know what type of culture it has.
    Alison, can you elaborate? How does a candidate do that kind of evaluation?

    1. VictoriaHR*

      You can ask to speak to current employees who are in a similar or peer role; you can ask for a tour of the facility; you can research sites like glassdoor that posts reviews by current and former employees (although you should take that with a grain of salt; you can search your network for new contacts who work there or used to work there, connect with them, and ask them.

      1. Jazzy Red*

        If they won’t give you a tour of the workplace, or if they won’t let you talk to any employees, that would be a possible red flag. I had a friend who asked to talk to some of the people she would be working with, and they wouldn’t let her. So after a bit, she asked to use the ladies’ room, and chatted up the women who were in there. She found out a lot that wasn’t good and didn’t take the job.

    2. Lisa*

      Be careful though, I once took a job that had the happiest employees I ever met and thought the culture would be awesome. BUT… I failed to distinguish those happy employees as people that would not work in my dept at all. My dept sucked and were not happy, but everyone else in the company was happy and loved it there.

      Lesson – watch for culture clues of the dept you will work in, NOT the company as a whole. Though both are important, ask questions related to your everyday work life like being allowed to work from home may be in the stock job description for all jobs, but in your accounting dept it may be a NO NO, but sales team can work from home whenever they want. “We have BBQs and friday lunches” all the time could mean the annual BBQ and the sales team has catered lunch and you can scavenge the left overs.

      1. Chinook*

        The other thing to remeber that the culture may shift drastically if one or two employees/bosses change. I once hired on at a school with an amazing principal and a really good atmosphere in June. When I started in August, the principal and had moved on to another job and the new one was incompetent and ended up losing most of his staff within months (including some long time ones). If the new principal had been the one doing the hiring, I would have run away screaming, but he wasn’t.

        1. S from CO*

          “The other thing to remember that the culture may shift drastically if one or two employees/bosses change.”

          Yes, this is so true. Same thing happened to me at my last job. Hiring manager was an excellent manager. He left after 2 years (he was promoted) and we got stuck with a manager=passive/aggressive/sociopath.

  11. Felicia*

    One of my internships had a problem like #6. I was told when I accepted the internship that I would be required to do A and B, and I was ok with that. Then day 2 of the internship i was told, oh by the way you need to also do C and D, and that is not what I wanted to do, and I wouldn’t have agreed to that. I ended up mostly doing it anyways because I was in such a low position as an intern and was scared of losing the internship, but I really should have told them that I didn’t want to do tasks i didn’t agree to for free.

  12. Jamie*

    #2 who is the manager there, Monica Geller? The day I have to do spot checks on the tidiness of anyone’s drawers is the day I reall reevaluate my life choices.

    That’s seriously crazy. (Except the phone and hours thing. Without more info on the positions that could be due to valid reasons.)

    1. Sydney Bristow*

      The bathroom thing is what gets me. I have repeatedly avoided getting staffed on a project at a location where you have to lock up all your stuff including your phone (for security purposes) and they make you sign in and out for using the bathroom. While I understand the security concern for some jobs, in my case everyone on the project is an attorney and if we stole information we would not only lose our job but also would put our license to practice law at risk. Not going to happen for the vast majority of people.

      If phones, lost productivity because of unorganized desks or computers, or excessive bathroom breaks are an issue why not deal with the individual? Why make everyone go through all of those things when most of them aren’t part of the issue? Drives me crazy!

      1. Anonymous*

        The phone thing could be because of the job, fab labs cannot have cell phones at all. Hospitals also don’t want distracted nurses, so cells stay in lockers. But an office job? That is stupid.

    2. Ruffingit*

      +1 for the Friends reference. I’m totally with you, when the focus is shifted to tidiness of drawers and time, something is really, really wrong. I always think that when people have time for things like that, they must not have a lot of other work to do.

    3. Elle D*

      I had an internship once where a VP would go around and check people’s drawers. If he found that someone’s wasn’t neat to his standards, he would actually start re-organizing it. It was INSANE.

      1. Windchime*

        I would not do well in that environment. I’m a messy cube dweller. I have lots of stacks of papers around, sometimes an empty diet Coke can or two, stuff like that. Fortunately, I am not in the public eye and nobody really cares about my clutter.

        1. Courtney*

          Mee too! Not a cube but I share an office and luckily my officemate isn’t a neat freak because my paper piles are slightly out of control at the moment.

          If a neat desk was a job requirement I would have been fired years ago.

      2. Rana*

        That would drive me nuts. My workspace may sometimes look cluttered, but I know precisely where everything is, and can put my hand on any given item or document immediately. I’m also very visual, so someone who thought “organized” meant “in drawers and out of sight” would not be using the same logic as I do, making it even harder for me to figure out where things got to.

        1. Rana*

          Also, if it were the VP doing this, I’d be wondering why they didn’t have more important things to do than lining up pens in an intern’s drawer.

        2. AgilePhalanges*

          Oh, yes. I had a boss who insisted that I’d be more efficient if I had all my stacks of paper (usually very tidy, with each stack on top of each other, just offset by an inch or so to keep them separated) filed away in a drawer. He proposed a priority system of folders. No matter how much I insisted that I am “out of sight, out of mind” when it comes to things like this, he insisted I’d be more efficient without it. Luckily, he was also a bad manager in that his style was to “suggest,” not “require,” and he never actually wrote anyone up even for far worse things than not using his organizational style preferences, so I just ignored him and did it my way, for the most part. I tidied my desk if I was going out of town for more than a few days, and set a reminder in my calendar to pull the piles out of my drawer when I got back so I didn’t forget about them. :-)

    4. Lyda Rose*

      I worked for a capital management company, and desk checks with written evaluations were conducted weekly, and at any random interval at the department manager’s discretion. We worked with a lot of live financial data, so it made sense to me. Had I been a customer, I sure would not have wanted my account information left lying around.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Checking for data security is one thing, but checking to see if a person has lined up the staples correctly on the left side of the desk drawer is ridiculous.

        1. Maris*

          Agree on tidiness, but it may be that they’re checking drawers to be sure the employees haven’t written down names/addresses/SSNs on a crumpled post-it or napkin or other trash.

          I wish I could say it didn’t happen – it does, and the processes in that type of security dept (where you get audited by regulators, external and internal auditors etc) have to be written to prevent/detect that type of issue.

          1. Ruffingit*

            Again, I’d be OK with looking for data security issues, but when the purpose of opening the drawers is to see how tidy they are, that’s just weird. Opening the drawers is not a problem, it’s the reason they are doing it.

            1. Pussyfooter*

              When I worked in a call center, I watched some Xmas temps get escorted out for using the info they handled at work to commit fraud. That job illustrated lots of ways I could “turn to the dark side” if I wanted to.
              I could remember 4 digits at a time of a target’s id#, or their address one tidbit at a time, over a few days. I don’t need to write anything to gradually assemble data outside work and use it unethically. So this amount of effort spent on micromanagement is a waste of time/productivity. 95% of employees (hopefully more) are not interested in stealing, or harming anything. That’s a lot of unnecessary operating costs.

  13. VictoriaHR*

    #1- if the employee can’t provide documentation that he brought his concerns to you directly, or to someone else in management at your company, then he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

  14. LV*

    I’ve never been in a position to hire anybody, so maybe I just don’t know what I’m talking about, but a line like “regularly received accolades” on someone’s resume would do nothing for me. I can’t wholly put my finger on it. It strikes me as too braggy, and impossible to prove unless you do bring copies of those emails. Also, anyone who’s great at their job would regularly receive accolades (unless they work for jerks?) – it almost seems like one of those things that goes without saying.

    These are my pre-coffee thoughts on this matter.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I actually think it doesn’t go without saying! There are people who do the basics of their job, and then there are people who go way behind that — and the trick with resumes is to convey that you’re in the latter group.

      1. businesslady*

        haha, I think my resume might actually have that exact phrase on it somewhere! (or, at least, past versions of it did.) it wouldn’t bother me from a hiring perspective, but I’d definitely take that as an opportunity to ask, “so…what kind of accolades?” & if they couldn’t give specific examples, I’d assume it was just filler. (& of course, an assertion like that wouldn’t override a lack of experience or dispel any other concerns I might’ve had about their qualifications.)

  15. nyxalinth*

    #3 Sounds like she’s read “What Color is Your Parachute?” one too many times. Aside from advice to network, which is great advice, he does advise the cold approach. Worse, the calling people cold approach, even in the most recent edition. He needs to move out of the 80s already.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Yeah, cold calling people is ridiculous. No one has time for that, nor do they desire it in general. Sending resumes to a variety of places you’d like to work that aren’t currently advertising jobs might be OK, but that is dependent on a number of factors such as you not doing that as your sole job hunting strategy. I do know people who have gotten jobs from a resume blast to targeted places, but it wasn’t their only strategy either.

  16. ExceptionToTheRule*

    #4 – I worked weekends for a number of years, both in college and post-college. I signed up for those jobs knowing that if I got a couple of weekends off a year it would be a lot and that I would miss any number of family events, from potlucks to graduations to bridal/baby showers to weddings. It was a career decision that I made. I didn’t always like it, but that’s the way it was and most days it was fine. Weekends had their advantages – like the boss wasn’t hovering over me.

    What made it truly hard was when my family started guilting me about missing those events or saying they couldn’t have them unless I was there, instead of being understanding and supportive.

  17. Audiophile*

    I had a question similar to #7. I’m a contractor with a financial company, I’ve been praised by internal employees both verbally and in internal emails that have been passed on to me. How could I mention this is a cover letter? Would using a sentence similar to what Alison said above work? I’ve tried to mention it in interviews, but I don’t think it’s coming across the way I want it to.

  18. Twentymilehike*

    The first thing I thought of when I read the post about the survey was that there’s something about the culture there that makes the employee think he can’t bring his concerns to someone. Maybe he’s just being a PITA, and maybe be really is an unreasonable person, but IME when employees and employers don’t communicate to the point where something bothers someone enought to push them to go this route, then there is a communication and culture issue that should be addressed. Hopefully the PTB will see it for what it is.

    OP, I’d probably take this as a sign to work on your relationships with your direct reports. Good luck.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Could be, but it’s also true that an awful lot of low performers have complaints about their managers, and this guy happens to have just received a poor evaluation.

      1. Twentymilehike*

        True. It couldn’t hurt to take a step back and evaluate manager/employee relationships though. I mean, overall, it may be a good opportunity to say to the staff, “I want to make sure you guys are comfortable addressing any legit concerns, etc. I hope you don’t feel you have to resort to anonymous surveys to feel like you’re being heard.”

    2. Joey*

      You can really draw that type of conclusion from one response. Some people tend to get really brave when they hide behind the cloak of anonymity there will usually be some outlier type responses. You have to look at the trends of the data to make conclusions.

    3. Forrest*

      IDK, even on this board people say to leave an anonymous note when they don’t know anything about an OP’s relationship with their coworkers.

      I just think people don’t like to address potentially negative things.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Yes, some people have a hard time addressing negative things. There is also the fact that people will often not take in the message, but rather the messenger and base their reaction on that. For example, if you have a co-worker you don’t like and she tells you that your report needs some corrections, you are more likely to dismiss her opinion based on your personal feeling about HER. If another co-worker that you do like suggested the same corrections, you are more likely to take it as the constructive criticism that it is. So there’s that.

  19. Anonymous*

    #2 – Those exact policies aren’t especially common in the US, but things like nepotism do exist in the US, just like they do in Italy. The corruption may be less bad in the US than in Italy, but I certainly wouldn’t call it a “meritocracy”. In the first place, there usually isn’t one single objective measure of “merit”; maybe the company your friends are at considers being clean and organized to be a major indicator of merit?

  20. some1*

    #4 It’s really awesome that you want to advocate for your uncle but not all extended families hang out every weekend. It’s great that your family is close enough to want to do that but it’s not a reason a business should give an employee weekends off. And if they come from a family they only see at weddings and funerals it won’t even make sense on a personal level.

  21. Nutella Nutterson*

    #2, If those employees are somewhere other than P&G it means there are two companies in the u.s. obsessed with desk layout… Talk about a misuse of efficiency research!

  22. Reix*

    To OP #1:

    I have not read all the answers to your question and I have a very emotional response to it as I had to deal with a psycho subordinate who lied about me in the past (while I was working reduced hours due to health issues while pregnant, no less):

    Everything that AAM said: don’t appear to be sour, don’t appear to be furious, be very professional about it…


    Do not EVER trust this person again. Interact with him in writing as much as possible, instead of verbal communication,to set tasks, workloads, goals, deadlines, etc with him. Try to have witnessess.


    Try to get rid of him/her ASAP. Out of the company is better, don’t trust he will stop lying about you if you transfer him to another team/department.

    REALLY: don’t hesitate, as this person has already proved he doesn’t hesitate in damaging your reputation.Believe me, I know what I am talking about.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I agree that I’d probably try to get rid of this guy if possible. Not sure it’s possible or smart to repair the relationship.

      Sorry you had the same experience Reix. What ended up happening in your situation?

      1. Anonymous*

        Thanks for asking.

        I left the company, mainly because my current boss, who knew me because both companies worked for the same client, contacted me to offer a job at that time. It was godsend.

        As for psycho employee she is now working for the client, as she developed and affair with one of the top managers at the client company. Some times people at the client company come and tell me how terrible she is. On the one hand I like hearing people bad mouthing her (I have a dark side, see), but I try to cut this kind of conversation before it starts as I know it actually is poison for my mind and soul.

        Psycho subordinate was the main emotional factor in my decision but, to be fair, new company is a much better place to work and offers better growth opportunities.

        So it was kind of a soap opera with a happy ending. And I learned a lot on management too.

        PS: I am the first to admit my response is very emotional, maybe OP #1 and his employee situation is different.

        1. Ruffingit*

          Wow. I am truly sorry you had to deal with psychotic behavior at a difficult time with the health issues/pregnancy. I’ve had more than one crazy work experience so I know how those can drain you. Going through that while also dealing with a difficult pregnancy would have been beyond my capabilities, I am sure. Glad to hear you got out and are happier. I suspect your former employee will get hers in the end. Karma may be slow, but it does its job eventually.

          1. Reix*

            Thank you.

            It was a great learning though. My biggest regret is not having been able to protect another team member from psycho employee. This other girl finished leaving the company and I do feel guilty about this.

  23. JenTheNiceHRGirl*

    #2) A friend of mine works at a company where they have a “2 items on the desk” rule. Once day she left a sweater on the back of her chair and her manager actually went into her office, took it off the chair, and shoved it in her desk drawer. I guess companies like these probably have some kind of reason as to why they do this (Maybe they feel it increases efficiency on the job??), but I personally like the cozy office with the coffee mug on my desk and the sweater on my chair. Having an overly anal organizing policy would drive me nuts! However, there are others who would just love this.

    1. Bea W*

      I couldn’t function in that environment! My brain is firmly wired in an “out of sight, out of mind” configuration.

      1. AdminAnon*

        Absolutely! I’ve tried and tried and tried to keep things filed away in my drawers, but unless I leave myself all sorts of notes/calendar reminders, I will never get them back out. So instead, I use filing racks on my desk and on the table in my office–if I can see something, I will remember it. And anyway, it’s possible to have things on a desk without it looking cluttered. I would die if my company had a “2 items per desk” rule.

    2. EA*

      2 Items on the desk?? There’s no way I could ever manage that. I have a fairly clean and well organized desk without much clutter. I have 20 items on my desk right now. Of those, 8 are essential to performing my daily job (2 monitors, mouse, mousepad, keyboard, wrist rest, docking station, and desk phone). I also feel that my cup full of pens/markers/scissors, fan, water bottle and box of tissues are also fairly useful on a regular basis.

      With that being said, I can understand the restrictions on personal phone use, and bathroom permission, espicially if it were in a call center or similar environment.

      1. Jamie*

        How does that even work? computer monitor, phone, keyboard, mouse have to be on the desk and that’s already up to 4.

        On my desk at this moment:
        1. 4 monitors
        2. 2 dell towers
        3. pencil cup with dry erase markers
        4. Printer
        5. 3 keyboards
        6. 1 netgear switch
        7. 1 usb hub
        8. 2 speakers
        9. post-its
        10. iPhone
        11. 3 mouses (mice?)
        12. desk phone
        13. in box
        14. 5 boxes of cd storage
        15. HK cup
        16. hand lotion
        17. 3 binders
        18. box of kleenex
        19. notepad
        20. 2 sticks of RAM
        21. stapler
        22. paper clip holder
        23. tape dispenser
        24. pencil sharpner
        25. tray with highlighters
        26. pencil/pen container
        27. can of compressed air
        28. hand sanitizer
        29. file folder stand up holder thingie
        30. clip board
        31. juice bottle
        32. cable tester
        33. external hard drive
        34. my glasses

        They would so fire me, even though I’m very neat. But stuff expands to fit the space.

        2 items is positively draconian.

        1. EA*

          You need a good KVM switch. (that being said, your desk sounds a lot like my backpack that I carried when I was in school … I always had at least one power cable, 2-3 Cat5 cables, an RJ-45 “female-female” connecter, an RJ-45 crimp tool, RJ45 ends, compressed air, “PE” Recovery CD’s, cd cases, USB flash drive (back when 256 mb was considered huge for portable storage), and a Fluke NetTool. Plus all my textbooks and notebooks)

  24. Cathi*

    Unlike Reix above, I had a fairly gut-emotional response to #1, because I had an unstable and abusive manager, and really wondered what the full story is.

    I was in a similar situation, where said abusive manager was really horrible to all the employees and often pretty awful to our customers as well. I brought my concerns to the General Manager, asking for my concerns to be confidential, only to be confronted by Abusive Manager the next day. He too accused me of spreading lies about him, told me it wasn’t his problem if I was “too sensitive”, and implied he was going to make my work life hell as long as I was at that location.

    That manager never got better. I would desperately wish customers would call corporate to complain about him by name, or do the guest satisfaction survey to lodge complaints (since corporate values its guests more than its employees, it often seems), and I did sometimes seriously think about faking guest complaints because I really did feel that was the only way to be heard. I never did, I just transferred locations after my apartment lease was up.

    The point of the long story is this: LW #1, you know yourself and you know your motives. Your subordinate may very well be an immature, disgruntled and vindictive hourly. But if this person seems to only have a problem with YOU, take a good, hard look inside yourself to see if maybe you might be a little overbearing, or perhaps sometimes petty, or on a bit of a power trip. If you think the employee’s complaint might have had merit, and you’re reacting this way out of defensiveness and skin-saving retaliation, please don’t try to destroy the employee in your quest for self-preservation.

    1. Cassie*

      Agreed. Had a supervisor who was a Mean-Girl – nobody would say a peep to her face because she was so vicious. Clients would kowtow to her because they knew not to get on her bad side.

      A few staffers talked with her boss about her behavior – the unprofessionalism in the way she communicated with staff and clients, the way she bullied them, etc. Her boss nodded and said he understood. He had experienced one of her temper tantrums himself – although he didn’t tell her that behavior was unacceptable or anything because he wanted to take the high road. And yet, the boss still did nothing. Didn’t even talk to the Mean-Girl about staff concerns so she had absolutely no clue how people felt.

      I too had thought about submitting anonymous complaints about her, but didn’t (there wasn’t a mechanism for feedback anyway). Mean-Girl’s general attitude was that people avoided her and weren’t friends with her because of her job title (supervisor). She didn’t *get* that people just didn’t like HER – it had nothing to do with what position she was in.

  25. Anonymous*

    What perturbs me most is the fact that #1 actually confronted the alleged employee. If the survey was meant to be confidential or anonymous, #1 should honour that. Now, the trust factor is completely broken. Maybe because I am seeing it from an employees perspective, but I think #1 should stand back and take a look at her own behavior. I have seen too many managers retaliating against such comments in surveys and will start painting the alleged employee as a poor performer just to save their face. #1, this will go against this thread and blog, but I don’t trust you. I got a feeling you are vindictive. For employees, my advice is to not bother with such surveys. They are just lip service and a public relations effort. Rarely anything good or change comes out of it as management puts their own spin. Don’t forget, management will always support their fellow managers no matter how terrible one may be. This is a longstanding code.

    1. Ruffingit*

      We need more info from #1. She said this complaint happened after the complainer was given a bad evaluation. I would question how the relationship was between OP and the employee BEFORE this happened. If it was relatively congenial, then I would call this sour grapes on the part of the employee. If it wasn’t, then it could very well be a problem with OP.

      Regardless though, I think it’s always good to look at where improvements can be made and OP should be doing this for herself as well as handling the issue with the employee. Does what he said have merit outside of the circumstances that caused it? OP claims that his complaints are false. Are they? Wouldn’t hurt for OP to look at her own actions and see if there’s a problem. If not, then all is well, but self-reflection never hurts.

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