How can I get my staff to stop socializing in front of clients, interviewing with a noticeable rash, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. How can I get my staff to stop socializing in front of clients?

Can you suggest a few phrases I can use to redirect my team during quieter periods of time when they all get chatting about their personal lives? I work in a veterinary office, and I’d like my team of client service representatives to be a bit more professional. How can I positively encourage more polished behavior, get them to stop talking about their personal lives, especially when there are clients in the waiting room.

Rather than waiting until it’s happening and addressing it in the moment (and in front of clients), and potentially having to do that multiple times, I’d talk to them about the pattern, not a particular incident — and lay out your expectations for how you want them to operate, whether you’re around or not. For instance: “I’ve noticed that sometimes when clients are in the waiting room, they’re able to overhear personal conversations and that can appear less that polished and professional. When clients are around, we should keep the conversation work-focused and not chat about personal lives.”

After that, if it continues to happen, address it with the individual perpetrators as you would anything else in their work that you needed to correct — remind them of the standard of behavior that you expect, ask them to operate differently, and address it with escalating seriousness if it continues after that.

2. My company plans to lay people off with no notice

My particular organization is highly matrixed; I very recently became the lead for ~10 people at a large onsite project but all of us have an actual supervisor who is not onsite. As such, I have no supervisory authority over anyone out here. I do get a high level of input over what level of staffing our workload supports, however, I do not have control over HOW adjustments to that workload are done, those is handled by our supervisor.

Workload is down, and there have been layoffs. Up until now, these have been trimming the “fat,” if you will. This next round is going to involve folks who people like, who work hard, who do a great job, and who would be rehired in a heartbeat. We work in a highly cyclical industry, so the occurance of layoffs is not “uncommon” and our dwindling workload is public and not a secret. HR is (and by forced proxy, my supervisor) going to take a policy of “Do not tell until the day of!” which is going to be ~2-3 weeks in the future.

I am new to an “official” leadership position out here, and I am struggling with this policy. The individuals in question can, in my opinion, be completely trusted to be professional and to get their remaining work done. As well, it provides them the heads up to smooth over their own transition. Unfortunately, I am in the “need to know” loop, but if I was not in this loop, and somehow had foreknowledge of these events, I don’t know what I’d do, but it would probably not be intelligent.

Is there anything I can do to help? Is this normal? Is this smart? In a reciprocal situation, handling layoffs in this manner would completely de-prioritize me coming BACK to work for the current company from whatever post layoff gig I would establish. This is long term hugely problematic as we rely heavily on “experienced folks” for this client. Our success is directly tied to keeping this experience in-house in many people’s opinion.

This is very, very normal and often how layoffs are handled. Whether it’s smart or not depends on the issues and people involved, but often no, it’s not smart; it often leaves the laid-off workers feeling even worse than they otherwise would, and it leaves the remaining employees feeling shocked and concerned that they’d be treated the same way.

If you were more senior, I’d say that you should use your position to advocate for handling things differently, but because you’re not, there’s less of a chance that it would help (and could potentially make you look naive, simply because this is so common) … but if you do have credibility and capital to spend, this is a worthy usage of it.

3. What did my manager mean when she said my lack of confidence is holding me back?

I’ve been in my position as a mid-level manager for 2.5 years. My manager recently told me my lack in confidence is keeping me from “getting to the next level.” That’s a hard thing to change. What does she want to see different in me that would prove to her I am ready for “the next level?”

There’s no way for me to know that from here. But you should ask HER. If your manager ever gives you feedback that you don’t understand, don’t rely on guessing — ask for clarification. In this case, you could go back to her and ask for specific examples of what you should work on changing.

4. Interviewing with a noticeable rash

I developed a rash along my jawline and neck due to a new shampoo I was trying, and my doctor says that it can take up to a month to completely clear up. Of course, during that time I’ll be interviewing for my dream position. I can cover up the redness pretty well with makeup, but the bumps are still visible. There’s a grouping near my chin (on my face, not my neck) that’s pretty obvious, and you can tell it’s not acne.

Should I be immediately up-front about it at the interview and tell them what happened, or do I not worry about it?

It’s hard to say without seeing what it looks like, but if it’s pretty glaring and you’re self-conscious about it, I’m a fan of giving a quick explanation just so that you don’t go through the whole interview feeling self-conscious about it and wondering what they’re thinking. Adapt this to fit your own style, but I’d say something like, “Please excuse this allergic reaction — the last thing anyone wants for a job interview!” and then move on.

5. How should my resume list a job that changed after six months?

I have a question about how to list my current job on my resume. I accepted the current job at Pay A and Title A in Department A. After about six months, a new department was created and I was shuffled into it. About six months later, after the new boss got to know us, our skills, and what we do, our new positions were finalized. So, basically, I then had Pay B, Title B, in the newly formed Department B.

As I am now starting to apply for other positions, I was wondering if I should list two separate positions on my resume or if I should just go with the most recent title and department. If I list them separately, like two different jobs (in some ways they are – Title B is a step up from Title A), I’m afraid it will look like an extra job hop after six months or at best a year. I feel it would give an inaccurate impression since the change wasn’t my idea. What do you think?

It doesn’t count against you as a job hop because you stayed at the same company. You can probably get away with just listing the most recent title, or you could list it like this:

Title B (dates)
Title A (dates)
* accomplishment
* accomplishment
* accomplishment

(In other words, keeping it as all one grouping and just being clear about how the title changed.)

{ 91 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    OP #2, can you push for a generous severance? I’ve been on the receiving end of this situation, and it SUCKS!

    1. OP#2*

      I cannot. I am just a lead, no managerial/supervisory responsibility at all.

      However, our firm’s severance policy is surprisingly pretty decent. Were I on the receiving end of a severance, I would feel it was relatively generous.

      1. CAA*

        I’ve been in the situation where I survived a layoff and the company gave ample notice to those who were being let go. Working alongside the people who had been laid off while they finished their last few weeks was very disheartening and unproductive for everyone. We were all professionals, and we got through it, but I’d never recommend that a company do it that way.

        I’ve never been laid off myself, but having been through it a few times as an observer and as a manager who had to conduct a layoff, I truly think the best way is to tell people as early in the morning as possible, preferably on a Thursday or Friday. Let the ones who are laid off say their goodbyes and leave; then have an all-hands meeting with those who are left. Answer questions as honestly as possible and provide whatever reassurance you can.

      2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        OP #2 – I think that the decent severance package gives you your answer. Good severance is the answer to avoiding the risks of telling people about a layoff ahead of time. There are plenty of good reasons not to tell them and then ask them to keep working, so the company is showing they care about their employees by giving them an opportunity to find something else while they are still getting paid. As much as it sucks to lose your job, it sucks more to know that you are still going to work everyday, with little to no free time to look for another job. So – wait they wait to deliver the news, they are ensuring that their employees remain productive. Once they tell them, the employees will have the opportunity to spend their time looking for a new job without having to go to work everyday too. Yes – employees will feel awful if they knew that people knew for several weeks beforehand, but managers often don’t tell employees things that the employees would like to know for a variety of strategic reasons. In this case, I don’t think you should feel guilty about being in on the secret – their severance will give them the time to get on a new path before their income stops. Good for you for taking the time to think through this and following your gut when it tells you something feels sad, wrong, or questionable.

      3. Anon*

        I once worked with someone who was given 3 MONTHS notice that his position was being eliminated. And no one else was supposed to know. I found out not long after he did when he broke down crying in front of me at his desk one day. He was to receive a nice severance package, but those final 3 months were torturous.

        Considering a generous severance package is being given, please do not feel guilty for not giving advance notice. The alternative is incredibly cruel.

  2. Amy*

    #4 – So you need to draw attention away from your neckline and the rash on your face. What’s your hair like? Could parting it on a different side, or curling it to add more volume?
    I suffer from scalp psoriasis on my hair line and forehead. this is what I do: I have mid-length hair and curl mine with a curling iron, then brush the curls completely out. The end result is great shape and volume to the hair. It covers up, and takes away some of the redness on my hairline. I also shampoo with Neutrogena T-Gel (this is for people with scalp psoriasis – AWESOME product)
    Makeup:- I have fair Irish skin, with red ruddy undertones. Stila helps cover that up. Just a suggestion. :-)
    Clothing: No necklace. it will draw attention to your neck where you say you have some of the rash.
    Good luck!

  3. Prickly Pear*

    OP3: I think we are kindred spirits. I just had my weekly lecture from my manager about leading by example, which I’m doing to his satisfaction (I think) but also noticing and pointing out others’ issues. I’d probably have an easier time roller skating blindfolded- I avoid confrontation like whoa and fervently wish for invisibility on the best days. I read a lot of AAM’s archives and randomly came across a post about Impostor Syndrome. Two things I tried at work today- admitting when I didn’t know an answer but following up with further resources to help, and being a rock star with the part I’m really good at. I must’ve had something right- I had so many comments at how helpful I was today.

  4. Anonymous*

    1- have you observed how the waiting rom reacts? It’s possible that it makes things more comfortable/bearable for your clients. It’s a very subjective situation – but for me it helps to humanize the process. Definately a mmv situation.

    1. Anonymous*

      +1. So long as the work is getting done, clients/telephones aren’t being ignored, and the chatter is innocent (as in, no wild drug stories etc) then this may not be an issue for clients and in fact may put them at ease a little.

      1. Sharon*

        I agree. I worked one place that clamped down hard on us chatting with each other during the workday and it really stifled us emotionally and removed the joy from our work. Even the janitor who used to chat with us as he went around emptying our bins noticed the chill and we couldn’t explain to him that we’d get in trouble if we chatted with him. Please don’t take it that far!!!

    2. L McD*

      This. I think it’s harsh to basically forbid the staff to talk about their personal lives. OP doesn’t even say that they ONLY want them to refrain in front of customers in the waiting room, but just ESPECIALLY when there are clients in the waiting room – which given my experience of vet’s offices, is probably all the time anyway. But regardless, it’s odd. The desk staff usually has personal conversations whenever I’m at the vet, and I’ve never been taken aback by it. Obviously they shouldn’t be distracted by it while in the process of helping customers, but after they’ve been checked in and are waiting for a vet? That seems a bit “high school detention” to me.

      If the content of their conversations is inappropriate that’s a different discussion to have. But that doesn’t sound like the case here. I realize a lot of situations at the vet can be difficult and stressful for clients, but as long as the staff isn’t loudly guffawing over something, it’s not like I am going to notice their conversations while I’m absorbed with worrying or grieving over my pet.

      If I were a member of your staff and you said something like that to me, I would get resentful pretty quickly. I’ve worked in plenty of customer-facing positions before, and never forbidden to talk about my personal life except when in the middle of helping them. It would make me feel like my boss didn’t really value me or my comfort as a human being, but rather as a work-producing robot – which isn’t really a great feeling.

      1. Trixie*

        I don’t think as a customer I ever mind the chitchat but I do have an issue with the staff finishing or just continuing their conversation before addressing me. Pretty much as soon as a customer is present they should have your attention. The level of appropriateness is a whole other issue that should pretty easy to identify and discourage.

        1. Windchime*

          Yes, this. I get annoyed when I have to patiently wait while staff laugh and finish up their conversation. Taking care of customers should be the first priority; if the staff is immediately stopping the conversation and dealing with customers, then a little bit of (work appropriate) chit-chat doesn’t seem like it would be too big a deal. If they are visiting all day long and not getting work done, that’s a different issue.

          1. Jamie*

            I think work appropriate is the key word. I don’t notice it, if it’s not loud and the subject matter isn’t personal…but I know that one of the admins at one of my doctor’s offices has issue with her landlord, financial trouble, is lying about her address so she could enroll her kid into a better school district, has a finance with legal trouble…it’s kind of endless.

            And she isn’t happy with her salary.

            Oddly enough she’s pleasant and cheerful, but it’s an endless stream of consciousness of things I don’t need to know about a stranger. (And because of people lying about residency is why we needed to show 1000 items of proof each year, so yeah, that really pisses me off since it was my district she was lying to get into. Huge pet peeve.)

            A little casual conversation which isn’t too personal that ends immediately the second someone needs something doesn’t bother me. But when you feel like you’re interrupting them to get an eta on your appointment which the doctor is an hour late for that’s an issue.

    3. fposte*

      I wonder if the concern is a particular topic or a particular tendency? If the staff is talking about more R-rated stuff, I could see wanting them to leave their bar exploits out of the front-facing conversations, and if there’s shriekings of laughter, that could get wearing as well. But that should be addressed in its own right rather than shutting down conversation entirely.

      In fact, I’d say that hushed silence can be a little unnerving in a place like a vet’s office; I suspect even the humans can be a little stressed when coming in, and the friendly chat of people there can help de-magnify the experience.

      1. JFQ*

        As someone who once heard his dentist in the examination room next door talking in detail about her recent colonoscopy, I encourage erring on the side of caution.

        1. A Cita*

          Hey, that could be a public service announcement too. We should all embrace the notion of a colonoscopy in our futures. It’d be mad not to! :)

        1. fposte*

          I confess I wasn’t sure how the rating system works anymore– since I can get in to all of them I’ve stopped noticing.

          1. TL*

            There’s actually no set standards; it’s done almost completely on a movie-by-movie basis.

            There are some very interesting trends, though – like violence against women generally gets a lower rating than featuring women’s sexuality.

    4. Gjest*

      Yes, I think it would be better to just have a conversation with staff about appropriate topics for their conversations, and also letting them know that they should be regularly giving updates to the people waiting. And make sure that even when they are chatting, they make it obvious that people can ask them questions at any time.

      Most of the time in my vet’s office the receptionists/tech staff are chatting about their pets, so I like hearing their conversations :)

      I wouldn’t want the front desk to be deadly silent while I’m waiting. I like it better if it seems like there are real, friendly people working there and not just robots. There’s got to be a balance between inappropriate conversations/bad customer service and dead silence.

      1. Deedee*

        I only get annoyed at personal conversations if it means they are not paying attention to the clients. If I have been greeted pleasantly and all business has been taken care of attentively and now I am just sitting in the waiting room I don’t object to the staff talking amongst themselves. And I don’t mind what topic they discuss actually, more fun to overhear something a bit wild I think!

      2. Mints*

        Yeah, vet offices have alot of waiting time, so if I get checked in right away, then need to wait for the actual vet, it’s totally fine for there to chatter. Again, with the caveats it should be work appropriate and not outrageously loud.
        Medical offices are nerve-racking for anyone, and a bit of casual conversation is fine.
        Just let the people know what they’re waiting for, and what delays are, periodically

        1. Mints*

          Oh I just remembered something you should always ban, though–never talk about shifts/breaks/”I’m supposed to go to lunch right now”
          Because I’m always going to think, “No you should be helping me with my cat first”

  5. Bar*

    I was laid off a few years ago. But I’m not sure if “laid off” is the right time. I worry I was fired.

    I worked at a restaurant. I was hired during the busy season, and lasted for several months after our staff started shrinking. The restaurant closes for early spring. I was told as finished up my day that I wouldn’t be coming back.

    Is that fired, or laid off? I wasn’t given a specific reason, and the manager on duty seemed upset that I was leaving. But was it my fault for not being one of the best employees? If I was better, I wouldn’t have been laid off…so is it really ‘through fault of my own’?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I would chalk it up to a seasonal job, if anyone asks.
      You were not the first to go, so you must have done something right.
      Let’s say this is true that maybe you could have been a better employee, then the other half of that is they could have been a better employer and told you what they needed you to improve on.
      But it sounds like you were left to guess.

      Seasonal jobs are not representative of workplaces as a whole. Seasonal employers tend to be wishy-washy in the context of one day they like you the next day they don’t. In my early working years I spent too much time thinking about those seasonal jobs I had. That was a total waste of time. The employer did not spend one second thinking about any of their help. And I was able to work the jobs off of my resume. It all became a non-issue.

      But I did learn a lot about how NOT to treat people!

    2. Paige Turner*

      That definitely sounds like being laid off or working a seasonal job, not fired- don’t feel like you did anything wrong!

  6. FRRibs*

    #2 – I’ve been around more than one plant closing, and my current employer does mass layoffs all the time. Some people are just not able to deal sensibly with losing their job and do things like drive a forktruck through a wall (no kidding!).

    Instead of coming right out and saying there are going to be reductions in force, you can very pointedly tell folks to make sure their resume is current. Most folks understand what you’re saying without feeling like they violated some management compact.

    It wasn’t too clear from OP whether not informing workers was a suggested course of action or the party line; in which case you may want to be a team player if you plan to stick around.

    1. Graciosa*

      What you’re proposing is the same as telling them – this would definitely be career limiting when the OP has been told not to share the information. There is no exception for actually communicating the information without using some particular magic words.

      I’m trying to envision the OP having to defend this behavior, and it doesn’t go well.

      Manager: You were explicitly told not to share this information, and you told Tom, Jane, and Chris that they were being laid off. How could you violate our trust?

      OP: I didn’t tell them they were going to be laid off – all I said was that they should update their resumes! And make sure that their finances were in good order. And minimize the number of personal items kept in the office, which is, after all a business environment. This is always good advice – I just happened to give it for the first time after I found out that they were on the list!

      No one is going to buy this.

      It can be very difficult to keep this kind of a secret, and I understand that – but it is a requirement when your employer trusts you with confidential information with very, very few exceptions (we’re talking clear illegality and actual law enforcement activity, not just disliking a management decision).

      The choice to breach an employer’s trust can be career ending, and I would expect the employer to see it that way – whatever words the OP chooses to use while doing it.

      1. Sharon*

        I agree. The only way this would work is if you regularly/periodically remind your staff to keep their “options open”. If you never do that and then suddenly one day bring it up that’s as good as being told it’s about to happen.

        I think it’s also good in an environment like this to let new hires know that it’s a possibility before they agree to work for you. Sort of like my first programming job, my soon-to-be manager told me that I wouldn’t get rich there but I would learn alot and she asked me if I would feel the job was worth taking if my project got cancelled after a few weeks. I honestly told her yes, took the job and successfully finished/launched it (it had been started and failed before), and left on my own after a few years! But I always respected her for being so straight about the way things were there.

        1. Julia*

          OP sounds like a nice manager!
          I was made redundant during mass layoffs. My manager used to say to me that my role was not on the layoff list. Then, out of the blue, he gave me a phone call to inform me that I was let go.
          Why lie to me? I still do not get it.

        2. OP#2*

          Yes absolutely! I am not in everyone’s “mentoring stream”, but for those that I am this is always a weekly reminder, “Hey, have I told you how important it is to keep your resume up to date?!”

          Managers like the one you describe are the ones that everyone wants to work for. 100% honesty and the ability to be upfront with them about your own development.

          Our manager now is just like that, a great person to work for. Their hands are just tied by HR like everyone else.

      2. No smiling fool*

        Career ending? No, job ending at a place already laying people off.
        Get solid references and a good reason for leaving job.

        The phrase “career ending” is used too much in the comments. How do we really know? Really? Maybe their honesty will diffuse a tense situation? I don’t know. I do know people start over again
        and life goes on.

        1. Graciosa*

          I am afraid I have to stand by it in this case – it is a huge breach of trust and loyalty. I do check references, and this behavior would eliminate any chance of hiring the individual (not only in my eyes, but in those of the other managers I work with).

          Now, I am willing to concede this does not mean the individual would never get another job. If the OP started a new career in a different line of work and got lucky enough to find an employer who does not check references for jobs that appear to be unrelated to the new position – well, I admit it’s probably likely that the OP could develop a new career – with luck – in a different line of work.

          But in this one? The OP’s reputation would be unsalvageable – not because of “honesty” but because the OP cannot be trusted to keep confidential information confidential.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, there’s no way I’d hire someone for a manager job who had done this — it’s too big a breach of the confidentiality you need in that role. Maybe if it were many, many years in the past and they had a stellar record since then — and I might hire them for a different role, depending on the context — but not for anything that required managing or maintaining confidentiality/judgment.

            1. OP#2*

              Nor should you.

              Thankfully, I am not a manager, just a “lead”. I could be a “non-lead” tomorrow with no change in pay or perception. Not that that changes ANYTHING though…

              But, for a supervisory/managerial role, I agree, the ability to keep confidentially is critical. Any smart hiring manager hiring someone for a supervisory/managerial role would be wise to poke at and get a gauge at said individuals ability to do so.

              Any reference saying “Nope, they blew it in this one instance” would be enough for me to say no.

          2. No smiling fool*

            Many places don’t even contact supervisors. And people get jobs, start businesses and move on every day. I only commented because I have been reading these dire prediction comments- when in reality we don’t know. Maybe someone they worked with will move on, remember them and give them a job? I don’t know. With your reasoning anyone who is fired, should end their career and find another. Where’s the research to back up this presumption?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Sure, some places don’t call references, but good employers (the ones you presumably want to work for) do. Do you really want to risk losing jobs that you want in the future on the gamble that no one you want to work for will call references … just so that you can violate the confidentiality that comes along with your role? If you feel that strongly about it, doesn’t it make more sense not to accept jobs that come along with confidentiality expectations?

              1. OP#2*

                I agree. Confidentiality as a requirement was made clear to me.

                In this instance, I am unwilling to risk my future employment as well. The industry is small.

                References can and WILL be verified for leadership positions.

                1. No smiling fool*

                  Dumping people w/o notice and creating an atmosphere a manager can’t even say “hey this makes no sense” is not a system I want to support. It’s crazy and cruel. Companies (of all sizes) should have to give real notice to employees of layoffs. But it particularly sad to read the OP writing they will do anything for their reference- yeah I get it- but it’s self defeating (they may be victim next) and perpetuates a system in which we are all cogs. The American way of business is inherently inhumane. But I guess some think they may get to that golden parachute level….Loyalty should not be a relative term, but is today. The gap is widening and too many are just trying desparetly to prove their loyalty to side that pays, until it doesn’t.

                2. No smiling fool*

                  Sorry, OP I did read you would act in some instances, like safety sorry to be so sweeping in my judgement.

                3. OP#2*

                  OP#2 here – @No Smiling Fool
                  I very much understand your sentiment. While I am not fond of “companies should be forced to do XYZ” kinds of situations, I do think our firm would generate a LOT of goodwill with said employees by being up front and honest with the process when it is put in motion. Getting these folks BACK when we have work (versus losing them to the competition, which is likely to get work around the same time) is a long term benefit.

                  You are absolutely right; I am liable to be next on the list! And truthfully, given how the workload goes, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if that was the case! One should expect it in my industry!

                  Anyways, I just want to stress that I feel I am a cog in this machine as well. I do not have supervisory authority (career/pay/hire/fire wise) over these folks; I am just a person who says this is the specific work you’re working on, is responsible for getting the projects done, and reports up the chain when we’re overstaffed relative to the work coming in. The machine above me decides who goes and when (if they go, as often they re-assign people elsewhere), and that machine has designed in consequences to my actions that go counter to its motives (like giving people heads ups).

                  My loyalty to and my years working with these folks is exactly why this situation bothers me. In a reverse situation, I would want to be informed, but, if I found out that the person informing me was taking a potentially career limiting risk, I’d be very concerned. Thankful, but very concerned for them… in my personal case, 3 weeks of heads up is not worth someone I trust and like risking their career. For someone else though, their personal situation might very much benefit from 3 weeks of heads up… know what I mean?

          3. OP#2*

            OP#2 here. I agree with you completely. This would be breach of trust and I would consider it career limiting. Any smart hiring manager would fish something like this out with a reference check. Were I hiring someone, and I knew about some action like this, I would definitely ask… And hope they had a stellar answer. Only a stellar answer would assuage me.

            In this situation, I don’t feel I can justify saying anything.

        2. OP#2*

          OP#2 here. Career ending does get thrown around a lot when folks really just mean career limiting.

          In this case, my best case estimation is breaching confidentiality in this specific case would be “career limiting” within my company, “career impactive” within the industry locally but not necessarily limiting, and have little to no effect were I to move to a different region.

          Again, not something I am willing to risk in this instance. No ones physical well being is at stake… no safety issue, etc.

    2. OP#2*

      OP#2 – You are right I think. No matter how well you know someone, throwing someone a bomb like this is bound to result in some unpredictable behavior.

      Telling specific people to get their resume current would be interpreted directly as “I have knowledge of your impending layoff.” It would also be viewed by my management as breaching confidentiality.

      In general though, I do find myself as a mentor to more junior employees who haven’t been through one of these cycles. In these instances, I do very much try to do exactly what you indicate… make sure they’re aware of the importance of staying current on their resume, as you just never know! Plus I have some doozey stories from previous layoffs got awry.

  7. Not So NewReader*

    In this economy, 2-3 weeks is not enough time to find a new job. So even if they were told now, it’s too late.

    Small comfort…no not really.

    Maybe OP can encourage TPTB to use a different plan.

    Or maybe OP can ask if or when these people will be brought back from lay-off. That knowledge might be helpful in some way. OP might be able to open up a conversation that people need to be treated in a manner that they WILL come back.

    I am sure that some employees will have difficulty trusting the company after this. If the employer trusts the employees to finish their work, then why is the employer acting like it does not trust them?

    1. OP#2*

      OP#2 here.

      Good point on the 2-3 weeks… that is barely enough time to get any kind of headway.

      Truthfully, folks in my industry know layoffs are a way of life. In general, it happens, and people ultimately come back to work.

      I am really mostly struggling with the personal aspect of this, it is just 2 steps to harsh, and necessary.

      I am also concerned that these folks will immediately shack up with our competitor, who might take a longer term view on running a loss to keep talent.

      I think given how far TPTB are separated from this process, my supervisor and I are SOL… nothing we can do but fall in line.

      1. Jazzy Red RETIRED (almost)*

        OP #2, you sound like you are quite young and new to the world of business. I’ve been laid off several times, and I’ve survived many layoffs. Here the one thing you need to know:

        In every company I worked for, leaking information to individuals who were getting laid off was a firing offense.

        It’s taken very seriously by TPTB, and it shows a lack of integrity, maturity, and good business judgement. I imagine it would be hard to find a new job after that. If you’re considering getting into management, you need make the decision now that confidential information will never ever be disclosed by you.

        You think it would help people to know they are being laid off, but actually, even when you know it’s coming, it’s hellish (BTDT). And that doesn’t even consider what people are capable of doing when they know they’re being laid off. At my latest place of employment, one guy deleted all the project files and IT (for whatever reason) was not able to restore them. It was devasting for the group who was working on that project.

  8. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #3

    When I was a manager I had someone reporting to me who also suffered from a lack of confidence. She would often second guess herself even though she had years of experience and the knowledge to back up the decisions she thought she should make. Rather than make a decision and carry it through, she would come to me with what she thought she should do and wait for me to answer yes or no. And these weren’t usually decisions that would cost us money or cause any problems if the wrong decision was made. She just didn’t trust herself that she could make the right decision. After turning it back on her (“I don’t know, is this the right decision? Why?”) just about every time, she eventually was able to make more decisions on her own.

    It could also mean OP avoids any kind of confrontation or doesn’t speak with authority when talking to employees.

    1. Graciosa*

      Very good examples of confidence issues. Another place this can crop up is participation in meetings. The OP needs to be ready, willing, and able to speak up, offer suggestions, and debate alternative positions. Sitting in silence (or worse, asking after the meeting if X would have been an acceptable thing to say) adds no value to the company.

      Oddly enough, even speaking up about business can still read as a lack of confidence if this is the only time someone speaks in a culture where this is some level of pre or post meeting chatter.

      I’ve also seen “confidence” issues that were really communication / presentation issues. For example, when a speaker uses a rising inflection at the end of a sentence, this is interpreted as a question rather than a statement (for very firm conclusions, the vocal cue is a drop in tone instead).

      Sitting at the perimeter of a meeting room instead of taking a seat at the table reads as a lack of confidence. I’ve read of people being trained to be more assertive being coached on claiming more space on tables and desks using props like papers or a coffee mug – personally, this strikes me as a little stagy, but I do understand that different people need to find options that work for them.

      I’m not sure what has triggered the manager’s comment to OP #3, but hopefully some of this will provide food for thought – until the OP works up the never to talk to the manager.

      Not asking an obvious question immediately and wandering away to wonder in silence definitely shows a lack of confidence.

        1. IronMaiden*

          An effective manager would have offered examples of career limiting lack of confidence in the OP. To merely say “you wont get ahead because you lack confidence” is unhelpful and confidence sapping. It comes off s a slightly personal jibe, which can damage the relationship between the OP and manager.

          1. The Other Dawn*

            Yes, the manager should have given examples, but if none are given it’s expected that the employee would at least ask the question, rather than walking away and stewing about it. Both people should be active participants in the manager-employee relationship.

    2. ClaireS*

      Great suggestions. I was also thinking that the OP’s nerves about asking her manager directly what they mean by “lack of confidence” shows exactly that.

      By asking what the manager is seeing and asking for tips on how to improve, that’s a huge step forward to showing more confidence.

      Also, every once in a while I remind myself that they hired me because they think I can be successful. A little self pep talk always helps. Good luck!

    3. Lindsay J*

      Yes, these exactly the traits my assistant manager exhibits, and everybody would definitely classify his issues as “lack of confidence”.

      Decision making paralysis – not being willing/able to make any decision without running it past the higher-ups first.

      Double checking steps even of processes that he knows by heart and knows are right if he has the manager near him. Instead of just doing something (closing procedures, for example) he’ll go “And then I do this, right?”

      Not speaking with authority. Instead of saying, “Soandso, please do this,” or even, “Soandso, I need you to do this,” he says “Soandso I guess you could go do this,” or even “Soandso, if you want to you can go do this.” Worse, these all sounded the same to him, so he would get annoyed at people being insubordinate when they didn’t do what he wanted, even though what he wanted was worded more as a suggestion than a command.

      Also lots of verbal inflection and tone things. When he gets upset he gets a little squeaky instead of remaining calm, and his voice has no “force” behind it – I guess it’s a lot of head voice rather than speaking from the diaphragm.

      Not carrying himself with authority. This one is harder to quantify for me, but when you look or speak to him he doesn’t carry himself like somebody who is in charge. I’m guessing posture, fidgeting, and eye contact make up a lot of this, but I’m not sure.

      Avoiding confrontation – he lets employees walk all over him. People walk out before the end of their shift, he doesn’t say a word. They’re blatantly insubordinate, and he lets it go.

      Not being concise. If asked for an explanation of anything he’ll repeat points as if they weren’t heard the first time and kind of talk in circles to make sure everybody gets it and that he gets every word possible related to the issue out.

      Apologizing before giving disciplinary action or feedback. This isn’t one that I’ve seen from him but one I know I used to do. I would apologize before giving attendance write-ups (and some other types as well), blaming it on “the system” or “HR policies” rather than taking ownership myself. Same with performance evals – I would deliver them almost apologetically rather than framing it as a conversation that was beneficial to both parties.

      These and the other various manifestations of lack of confidence can be career killers. I know there’s no way he’ll ever be promoted until most of these confidence issues are solved, and there’s even been discussions between him and the higher ups about whether or not him stepping down is the right thing to do under the circumstances.

  9. Mary*

    OP #5: Here is how I solved this on my resume – since both jobs are for the same company, I listed the titles on a single line, with the junior one first, and then an arrow pointing to the senior one. So it looks something like this:

    Teapot Specialist –> Senior Teapot Designer
    Alison’s Chocolate Teapots, New York, NY

    But instead of my crappy arrow, it’s an arrow symbol.

    Then I list the things I did in both roles.

    Alison’s suggestion is also good, though.

    1. Anon*

      OP#5 – I previously worked in a civil service system so the positions Librarian I and II were flexibly staffed. That is, an opening for that could be filled as I or II; Librarian II’s could exercise some supervisory responsibility and had to have at least a year’s professional experience. There was no real change in my responsibilities after I promoted to II. So I list the position as: Librarian I/II, Big Public Library, City, State, Dates
      And then include a bullet with the date I promoted from I to II.

  10. Audiophile*

    #4: I notice people on LinkedIn do this a lot. They get promoted, which LinkedIn announces in emails and the news feed type section, but they list the senior position only. It can be a little confusing since LinkedIn blasts it to everyone that person is connected to.

  11. Anonymous*

    OP #1: I was a tech for 13 years, so I know what you’re talking about. I doubt you can actually prevent the conversations, but I think there are a few things you can do to minimize impact (on clients and staff):

    (1) My biggest worry with this was that clients would think we weren’t busy and were ignoring them—clients can’t see through walls, so they don’t know the people talking are also reading cytologies, filling scripts, cleaning, etc. So if conversations were happening in the hall while clients were in rooms waiting for doctors, I would periodically check in to let them know we knew that they were there, usually I’d say something like, “We haven’t forgotten about you. There are more of us than there are doctors! As soon as Dr. X is available, we’ll be back in.”

    (2) Sometimes, we are not aware of how loud we are. I think it’s completely fine to shush overly-loud tech conversations. Not that I think you should have to, but it happens. A good exercise also is to take techs into a room, shut the door, and then have people talk in the hallway. In our clinic, you could hear every word. It’s an eye-opener.

    I think the larger issue here is client perception. I found that clients actually liked knowing that we are a big family at my former clinic. They didn’t mind hearing some chatter in the halls, as long as they had status updates and knew we weren’t just wasting their time.

    I think for the waiting room, it really helps if the techs communicate delays or waits to reception, so we can start managing client expectations from the moment they walk in. IME, everything goes better when you are up front with clients about the schedule.

  12. Anonymous*

    As far as phrases go, I think, “Hey guys, it’s getting kind of loud, keep it down, we have a lot of clients here” works fine.

    P.S. One very important thing to do is communicate to everyone if an exam has turned into euthanasia. If you have a flag system, don’t just put up the black flag, actually tell the staff. There is nothing more mortifying as a tech than realizing you haven’t been quiet outside a room with grieving people!

  13. ChristineSW*

    #1 – Hmm…I’ve always been mixed about conversations in client-facing areas. For me, it depends on the situation. I don’t mind hearing friendly chit-chat as long I can tell that work is getting done and that I have the full attention of the person who is serving me. Someone upthread made one good point: The doctor’s office. I get irked when I’m waiting and waiting and waiting with no update. I can’t think of any examples where I heard hallway chatter during any of these delays, but rest assured that I’d be pretty annoyed if I did!!

  14. ChristineSW*

    #4 – I’d be concerned about putting makeup over a rash. I am prone to rashes, particularly during the spring and summer (had an evil breakout a few months ago–absolutely miserable!), and would avoid makeup for fear of irritating it further. No, I don’t have an allergy to makeup, but when my skin is flaring, I don’t take chances with anything.

    If you can tolerate it, maybe cover up what you can with your hair or clothing. Definitely agree with whoever suggested not wearing a necklace.

    1. Gjest*

      The makeup may irritate it, but if you think it might break your concentration or confidence during the interview, I’d do whatever I needed to do to feel more confident (i.e., makeup), then after the interview find a bathroom and immediately wash it off.

    2. Blue Dog*

      I like AAM’s quick dismissive way of addressing the elephant in the room by touching briefly on the “allergic reaction” and moving on.

      I wouldn’t use the word “rash” which has a bit of an ick factor. It can also tend to make people recoil and not want to shake hands (and can imply things other than allergies). People will be much less concerned if they know it is a temporary allergy and not something they could catch.

  15. Anon*

    OP#1 – I think it helps to clearly identify the reasons why you want them to be less chatty. In my workplace, I see customers hesitate to ask questions or have to wait because staff are having personal conversations. Customers will sometimes end up finding another employee to ask their question because the actual customer staff are “busy” with their private conversations — and then that person’s work is disrupted while the actual customer service staff have their chat.

    And I think professionalism is a concern, too: workplaces aren’t families. You can be a friendly and decent manager and coworker without trying to treat your reports and colleagues as family as personal friends. I’ve seen a lot of dysfunctional workplace situations arise because coworkers tried to treat each other like family rather than professional acquaintances. Staff need to understand there’s a time and place for certain types of conversations.

    One of the best tips I ever got on addressing recurring behavior issues was making sure you are targeting the correct aspect of the problem. The first time it happens, the problem is the incident, and you talk about that with your employee and what you’d like done differently. If it happens repeatedly, the problem is the pattern, and your conversation with your employee has to be about the pattern (as Allison says). And if it continues after that point, the problem becomes your relationship: the fact that you, as their manager, have asked them to address a pattern, and that by the continuing to do that thing, they are now violating the trust in your relationship. Yes, you’re still concerned by the actual problem behavior, but you’re much more concerned that the employee is either struggling to or refusing to act on feedback you are giving them.

  16. No smiling fool*


    You are in an awful spot. My condolences. You can provide stellar references though :-) I have experienced situation in which I was merely advocating for say just raise ( not for myself) and felt the weight of BS. There’s how it’s supposed to work and then there’s the system. I have to say, I did learn not to ask, not to believe the door is open. Not that I didn’t know it in the past, but this was a new situation, so I thought I could make a normal request.

    Best of luck-

    1. OP#2*

      OP#2 here – Means there is the official company management chain that does hiring and firing and reviews etc. and then the project side which as leads, and project managers, etc. that have authority locally, but don’t have anything to do with an individuals supervision… if that makes sense.

      Blurs lines on who is management… supervisory… etc.

    2. Judy*

      In a design organization, you would have “functional” groups – our teapot company might have handle design group, spout design group, lid design group. Then you have the project teams, so a project lead for the economy line might have people matrixed in from the functional groups.

      Basically the org chart looks like a grid, with functional managers along one axis (top?) and project managers along the other (side). A project manager would have the ability to say “I need two handle designers, one spout designer and one lid designer for my project” but the functional managers would define who those people are, and can move people between projects at will. The project manager would assign tasks to the designers, but next week could have different designers.

  17. holly*

    i interviewed once after a semi-sleepless night with a mosquito in my bedroom. it gave me 10 bites on my face (yay…) so i looked not my best and also didn’t feel my best. but i still got the job! so yea, just mention it at the beginning so they know why you might not seem to feel great and then move on.

  18. Cassie*

    #1: I was at a department store one Saturday morning and I couldn’t help but notice how chatty the store clerks were. They were, no doubt, working – folding clothes, putting them back onto shelves or hanging them up, etc – but the constant chatter and giggling made for a less than ideal experience.

    It’s not that I expect stores to be deathly quiet and it may just be that I’m sensitive to noise, but it gave the impression that the clerks were more interested in socializing than in working. FWIW, it may have just been an anomaly because I’ve gone to that store at other times and never experienced that atmosphere again.

    When it comes to an office place, like where I work, I’d expect people to behave professionally or at least like grown-ups – to me, that means keeping socializing to a minimum or at least make it brief and occasional. Maybe some staff can chat and do office work at the same time – I can’t and I doubt many people can (at least, not for extended periods of time). It would make me look negatively upon the quality of work being performed there, and of management for letting it happen.

    1. Anonymous*

      Thank you, Cassie. Well stated! That’s exactly what I’m talking about. The chatting is not delaying clients being taken care of. It’s more a matter of the impression being put forth that once the immediate responsibility is taken care of, it’s social hour. I’m just looking for the staff to be more professional and less social.

  19. Anonymous*

    I’ve been through a layoff and I would not have wanted any notice. It would have been too difficult to do the my job to the best of my ability when I resented my employer.

    1. Ruffingit*

      There is something to be said for both ways here. On the one hand, there can be some resentment depending on the job and also just a case of malaise because you know you’ll be gone soon.

      On the other hand, some notice allows you to plan at least a little bit and the knowledge that you’ll have two more weeks (or however long) of income. That’s helpful.

      So yeah, I can understand either way. Both have their upsides and downsides.

  20. Poohbear McGriddles*

    OP#2: Given that work is normally cyclical in your industry and everyone is aware that business is slow, perhaps the employees have a pretty good sense that layoffs are coming. Especially since there has already been a round of layoffs to trim the fat.

  21. Some guy*

    They’re not hiring someone because of a skin imperfection/rash these days? Ridiculous.

    The judgmental nature of the hiring process never ceases to amaze me… I’m sure HR and hiring managers are all super models.

  22. Some guy*

    Maybe, but there’s no doubt that every aspect of the candidate is under a high-powered microscope in an interview. All with the aim to find one tiny thing ‘wrong’ with each and every person that enters your hallowed offices. All of this is repeated through multiple interviews of multiple people. After all of these interviews (and tests, free work samples, blood tests, Google Stalking, and FBI background checks, no one is hired because it turns out that ( gasp!) no one is perfect.

    Who knows… Maybe this woman’s rash is purple and she is this mythical 30-32 year old polyglot supermodel ‘purple squirrel’ with the Ivy League JD, MD, MPH, and PhD (willing to work for $14 an hour) for which every employer in America is holding out.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Every candidate who is hired has multiple “tiny things” wrong with them. If that were an obstacle to being hired, no one would have jobs. Hiring managers look for the best fit for what they need; if they required perfection, they’d never hire anyone.

      1. Some guy*

        I sincerely wish this were true more often than it is. I’ve stopped counting the number of times I’ve seen positions that friends, former colleagues, and I have interviewed for these positions whose postings re-appear every 6-8 weeks, all with ever-bloating and tweaked requirements. No one is hired. They are kick the tires (us) and it is starting to hurt.

        The purple squirrel mindset is there. Peter Capelli and others have chronicled the search for this cryptozoological beast.
        Unfortunately, hiring for purple squirrels is all too common and scarily resembles a woman’s search for Prince Charming. Eventually firms (and people) have to settle, right?

        Otherwise, we should all sit back and indulge our fantasies of purple squirrels, Prince Charming., etc.

        Heck, maybe Sasquatches and the Loch Ness Monster too! They’ve gotta be out there– maybe we can tempt them through social media and have them jump through our ATS, take personality tests, undergo four interviews, etc, etc…

        1. Some guy*

          P.S. Forgive my typos and sloppy writing above. It was a rushed response on an iPhone on a blog… I just wanted to acknowledge these for the sake of the pedants in the house. Peace.

        2. Glorified Plumber*

          My buddy and I always comically refer to your ye old purple squirrel mindset as a “Unicorn Safari.”

          My Non-HR/Engineer mindset just can’t help but wonder about the value brought by finding the “perfect candidate” vs. a “really awesome candidate.” Especially because so much money (and open requisition time) is invested trying to find these 99.999% fits when its infinitely cheaper and quicker to take a 90% and mold them for a few thousand dollars in training.

          My buddy works in process control for a large process plant, which at least in the engineering world is one of the WORST job functions where people doing hiring routinely initiate a unicorn safari every time they need to hire.

          “Must have 5 years DCS programming experience, even though it is really no more than 2.5% of what you do and is not complicated and one can surely pick it up pretty quickly as long as they are intelligent and know the fundamentals.”

          He recently took a new job that on paper makes him one of these 99.999% candidates (people we refer to as “Jedis”)… and he gets 1-2 recruiter pings a DAY from recruiters hiring for companies who just “HAVE TO HAVE” his skillset RIGHT NOW wasting their time when they have zero chance of wooing him away to such beautiful places like Texas…

          For 60% as much money and a few grand (pittance), they could get a relatively recent and very competent new hire with “similar” and “applicable” experience and mold them quickly into the Jedi they seek.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Sure, some hiring managers are like that. But the majority hire people with flaws, since there’s no one without flaws. Otherwise you wouldn’t see any position getting and staying filled.

  23. EvilQueenRegina*

    With regard to personal conversations, the only time I get annoyed about it is if people are having the personal conversation and I’m there waiting to be served, but getting ignored in favour of the personal conversation.

    At the moment we have people due to be laid off at the end of March but have known since before Christmas. On the one hand it is good that it gives them time to look for something else. On the other, it does make things awkward. One person is telling anyone who’ll listen that come March she will be living in a tent. My predecessor is being laid off and has had to train me, and while he’s been nothing but nice to me and professional about it I feel guilty about this situation (logically I know that whatever the reasons are for each individual layoff, which I don’t really need to know, they’re nothing to do with me and it isn’t my fault, but that was easier to look at that way when the only person I knew personally getting laid off was the tent woman who I don’t get along with and has performance issues).

  24. KH*

    Regarding #2 – one can expect employees to handle the news with grace and keep up the good work, but it rarely goes that well in reality. There will always be anxious employees that become less productive over time or angry employees who will sabotage any transition activities. It is not always possible to identify in advance which employees will not respond we’ll and how they will react.
    Your own work will be more predictable and orderly with ‘day of’ notification.
    If you are worried about fairness to the employee, add an amount to the severance package equal to what you would normally consider to be fair notice.

  25. Tom*

    1. I guessing you maybe wanting to turn your work place into a cold, zombified state?

    I feel as long as the jobs are being done, clients are not being ignored and the conversation is none offensive and appropriate,
    there isn’t really a reason to stop people talking.

    We send a lot of time in work and I feel maybe turning it into a cold environment of none talking, maybe not good for clients, not good for staff engagement and not good for retaining good staff.

    Here’s a question, would you want to be stuck in a possible cold, zombified work place and if you have the required skills to move on, what’s going to stop you from making that jump?

    1. Tom*

      The conversation should be appropriate in nature and time, but as long as clients are not been ignored and it’s not happening while they are working with the client (all attention is given to the client in front of them) I don’t feel that banning all conversation, all of the time, is a good idea.

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