my employees say their coworker slacks off when I’m not around, explaining an 18-month internship, and more

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

1. My employees say another employee slacks off when I’m not around

I supervise three people (all at least 20+ years older then me; I received this promotion due to very odd circumstances). All of them are great, and wonderful workers. However, I am starting to hear more and more gossip. The two women who work the front are telling me that whenever I am out, either on vacation or working in another department, the woman who works in the back doesn’t do anything. They say that she works on her side business, makes personal calls, and goes off to run errands on the clock. However, I have no other way to vouch for this other then the word of the two women at the front, who do not like her.

I’m having a hard time trying to figure out if they are telling me the truth or if they’re trying to get this woman in trouble because they don’t like her.

Find ways to observe it for yourself. Since the allegation is that she’s doing this when she you’re not around, make a point of coming in in when you’re supposed to be somewhere else. There’s no reason you can’t say you’ll be out of the office for the afternoon or working in a different department and then pop in unexpectedly. Do it a few times, and you’ll probably get a better sense of whether there’s anything to this. And if you have any peers who are in a position to see this if it’s happening when you’re not around, discreetly talk to them too. You might even be able to enlist them in these spot checks when you’re not around. (Make sure that these are other managers who will handle this discreetly themselves.)

And if it turns out that you have staff members are who lying to you to get someone else in trouble, you have a big problem to deal with.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Can I mention an impressive job I was recruited for but didn’t get?

I have a terminal graduate degree, stumbled into teaching high school kind of by accident, and found I absolutely love working with teenagers (I know, I was surprised too). Fast forward a few years, and I’m leaving public secondary education because the system has just gotten too awful– insane workload, no resources or materials, salary cuts, no salary compensation for advance degree, no legal protection or job stability, etc.

I would like to move on to a more administrative/organizational position within something education-related (although not in the public school system) and am actively applying for jobs that loosely fall under the “community organizer” category.

I was recently approached by a departmental dean of a well-respected university to see if I would be interested in being director of one of their summer programs. I was recommended by the outgoing director, who is someone I’ve worked with for years in multiple different capacities (and I’ve taught at the summer program in question as well). I ended up losing out on the position to an internal candidate, but was really honored that they even asked me, considering I’m young (in my 20s), very barely qualified, and currently don’t have any official organizer experience– it shows a lot of faith in my abilities from the outgoing director.

When I (hopefully) get interviews for community organizer-ish jobs that require skill sets directly related to those of the summer program directorship, should I mention that I was approached for this job, even though I didn’t get it? On one hand, I think that saying “Hey, University X thinks I’m awesome enough to run this program, even though I’m only [20something]” could reflect well on me, but on the other, it seems iffy to bring up any failures in a job interview.

It’s possible that you could drop it into the conversation in an interview if you could find a way to do it naturally, but it would have to be done exactly right. You don’t want to sound like you think it’s more impressive than it is — because ultimately, they didn’t select you do it, and as far as your interview will know, it’s possible that the reason they didn’t hire you because they realized upon closer examination that they’d been wrong to encourage you to apply. So if you mention it, it has to be a true aside; it can’t sound like something you’re putting a lot of weight on. And once we’re at that point with it, it’s almost not worth mentioning at all. (Plus, I’m not convinced it would be a huge help anyway. Presumably once they’re interviewing you, they have much stronger reasons to be interested in you.)

3. My performance review keeps getting delayed

I am a young professional, and I started my first full-time permanent position last July, in a small consulting office. My initial 1-month review went well, and the principals of the firm indicated that they would most likely roll my 6-month review into the year-end performance reviews that normally occur in January. They mentioned mid-February that they would schedule them by the end of that month, and it’s now April and reviews have still not been scheduled. I understand that schedules get busy, especially as we had a conference to prepare for in January, and our busy season starts in April, but I am looking for a way to tactfully raise the issue, as I would like to get feedback and discuss becoming licensed in my field, as I have already started the process with their knowledge/approval. I don’t want come off as pushy, but how do it bring this up?

It’s not pushy to ask about this; it’s just appropriately assertive. Say something like, “We’d talked about rolling my 6-month review into the January reviews but we didn’t end up doing it. I’d really like the chance to step back and reflect with you on how things are going. Could we plan to do it sometime soon?” (Also, keep in mind that what you really want here is feedback; it’s not essential that it be in the form of a formal evaluation, so if it looks like there will be further delay, just sit down with your manager for a less formal discussion of how things are going.

4. Helping a manager with hair loss from cancer

My manager (a senior exec) is battling cancer, and she is losing her hair. She’s normally very tough and resilient, but I can tell that losing her hair is really bothering her and making her self conscious. Since her hair has started falling out, she styles it differently to cover the bald spots. When she talks to people, she frequently pats her head and smoothes her hair as if to make sure everything is still in place. She normally does not fidget with her appearance. I have noticed some people have stopped making eye contact once she starts fiddling with her hair. A couple of people have commented to me that they have a hard time seeing her and conducting business as usual while she appears to be suffering (with the chemo pack on, losing hair, thin frame with very loose clothing). Is there anything I can do or say to help?

Well, you can point out to your coworkers who find it hard to see the outwards signs of cancer treatment that it’s significantly harder for your manager to, um, be the one with cancer, and that the best thing all of you can do for her right not is to get awkward or weird around her or treat her like The Cancer Patient.

5. How can I explain an 18-month internship?

Like many recent graduates, I got stuck in the internship grind – I was at my last internship for 18 months. When I started in my senior year of college, I was told that the company liked to hire interns and I had many coworkers who had been hired from internships. After graduation, my supervisors reassured me that I was doing great work (I was there full time doing the same work as regular employees) and they hoped a position would open up for me soon. Fast forward 7 months, and I had been passed over for 2 positions in my department for external candidates. I know that an internship is no obligation of employment, but after all the encouragement I had received, I was feeling pretty humiliated and embarrassed and could no longer pay my bills on an intern’s paycheck. I was reassured by my supervisors (who weren’t doing the hiring), and even by those who were doing the hiring, that it was nothing wrong with my performance or attitude that had caused this.

How do I explain this to potential employers without coming off like a naive millenial? My experience at this company is getting me interviews, but I suspect that length of time I spent there without being hired is coming up a red flag.

I actually wouldn’t assume it’s a red flag at all. It’s not particularly shocking to spend 18 months in an internship; in fact, the fact that it wasn’t a shorter time can help you; you’ll look like you got deeper experience than if you were in and out in, say, five months. Keep in mind that to hiring managers, 18 months isn’t a long time at all; in fact for a non-internship job, that would be a fairly short stay. (Plus, they’re not going to know the details of whether this was paid, unpaid, terribly paid, or what.) So I wouldn’t worry about this at all.

{ 170 comments… read them below }

  1. Onymouse*

    #5: your supervisors are willing to provide good references right? I agree with Alison, it doesn’t sound all that dire in this day and age.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I would qualify that: it doesn’t sound all that dire or desperate in this economy. Plenty of people who have decades of stellar experience under their belt have been unemployed for 18 months, so staying in an internship might be seen as being due to the state of the labor market. It certainly beats job-hunting unsuccessfully for 18 months!

      1. Louisa*

        Agreed. I was in a paid internship at a non-profit for 16 months while in graduate school. I as well hoped to get hired, and an attempt was made, but not approved by the board.

        However, my internship was great, my supervisor was amazing and made sure I had relevant experience that aligned with my major. Even though the internship job didn’t work, I was hired at the end of the internship for a full-time position at another company. My internship supervisor supplied amazing references as well, so this is a big plus (having stellar recommendations) when it comes time to look for jobs outside of your internship.

        So this experience looks great, especially if you can/are picking up skills that can be applied to your potential job. So really, I wouldn’t worry about red flags here. At least you’re showing initiative by having an internship!

  2. Artemesia*

    Wow is this every a perfect example of how internships are used by businesses to essentially avoid labor laws and paying employees by hiring the employees they need. I’d love to see a legal barrier to this kind of exploitation. No one should be doing the work of a regular employee for 18 most at serf wages.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      We don’t actually know that in this case. We don’t know what she’s making or what kind of work she’s doing. If she’s being paid and/or is working at a nonprofit or otherwise in accordance with labor laws, there’s no reason that a consenting adult shouldn’t be able to decide this particular job is better for her than unemployment.

      1. Technical writer (Jen)*

        I agree. She is being paid (she mentioned “an intern’s paycheck”) and I don’t see anything stopping her from looking for another job if the “serf wages” weren’t enough. She decided to stay for a while, now she decided to leave – all perfectly valid decisions any adult would make.

          1. CT*

            I was really worried that two different people had the same avatar and I was going to have to keep track of them. I almost told “technical writer” that clearly Jen RO had already claimed that picture. :-)

      2. Confused*

        “I was there full time doing the same work as regular employees” +18 months + dangling job = smells fishy to me

        1. Artemesia*

          exactly. One could argue that the minimum wage is just fine because people accept it too. Workers have little leverage in a terrible economy and employers have seized on the ‘faux internship’ to essentially employ people to do full time jobs at below what they would have to pay for a full time employee. If someone is doing a job that would otherwise be filled then it is one more factor creating the ongoing poverty and lack of opportunity in the economy. Businesses are frankly doing this to not have to pay benefits or actually create a full time job. A whole generation with huge student debt is now being pushed into these holding pens with promises that maybe there is a job at the end of the internship.

          Internships used to be heavily school based, rarely last more than a semester and have their focus on the student learning to skills under supervision. I am betting this one does not involve a lot of faculty supervision, school projects and placing a priority on learning but rather is just a grunt in the trenches getting low wages and no benefits.

        2. LMW*

          It kind of reminds of “temp-to-hire” roles where you can stay for years and they never make it permanent but dangle the prospect in front of you (only to conveniently be on a hiring freeze whenever you bring it up). You do the same work, but you don’t get the same benefits. It might be legal, but that doesn’t mean it’s ethical.

        3. Bea W*

          I agree. Either hire her on as a regular employee with the pay and benefits that regular employees get or be honest. After being passed over on 2 available jobs for external candidates, I have to think either they don’t think she’s that good, in which case, they need to stop leading her on; or they are taking advantage.

          18 months of internship? Maybe is she were still in school, but she graduated quite some time ago. I get the impression she has been in this internship as long post graduation as she was while still a student.

          I think she’s right to look elsewhere, and I don’t think it will be a red flag for other employers. It is certainly better than being unemployed or working in an unrelated field, and wanting to leave because you can’t survive on intern pay and would like to start your career already is totally legit.

          1. Mimmy*

            18 months of internship? Maybe is she were still in school, but she graduated quite some time ago. I get the impression she has been in this internship as long post graduation as she was while still a student.

            Exactly. 18 months seems like an awfully long time for an internship.

            1. AVP*

              I don’t know, I had a part-time “internship” that lasted for two years while I was in school and it was a great professional experience. It was essentially an entry-level job, but they only had enough work for someone to do it 2-3 days per week, so hiring a competent student made more sense. And it paid $13/hr, which seemed like one million dollars to me at the time! This was pre-recession, obviously…

              1. Bea W*

                The difference there is “while I was in school”. OP graduated last year and wants to move on from being an intern.

    2. Stephanie*

      The internship may have been compliant, although I was a bit skeptical when OP said she was doing the same work as regular employees.

      1. Tina*

        I think the “doing the same work as regular employees” thing is only an issue if the intern is unpaid and they’re blatantly using the intern to avoid paying an employee.

      2. Lyssa*

        If she’s paid and working full time doing the same work as other employees, I’m not really clear on how she’s *not* an employee. Maybe this is more of a title/advancement issue than anything.

        1. Office Mercenary*

          They may have been paying less than minimum wage, eg, a stipend for travel expenses. I worked at an internship where I was paid $10 a day (in cash!) to work full time doing the work of an assistant. Even ‘paid’ internships can be shady.

          1. Bea W*

            She also likely would not be getting other benefits that regular employees get, health insurance, PTO, 401K, etc. Even if she is making a legal wage and they are not paying her in a hinky way, if she is doing the same work as regular employees, but getting paid much less, it really gives the impression they are taking advantage at this point.

              1. Bea W*

                We don’t know if they are or aren’t in this case, but if they are, she’s getting a raw deal.

      3. Sunflower*

        I think she mentioned that to reference that even though she was an intern for so long she thought it would turn into a job since she was given regular employee responsibilities and that she wasn’t naive

        1. some1*

          that’s what I got out of the question as well — she was concerned that it would look bad that she was an intern for 18 months without being hired as a regular employee.

    3. Lily in NYC*

      Maybe the reason isn’t nefarious – for example, my quasi-governmental office has strict head count rules, so we have a few long-term interns as way to get around it. They get paid well so it’s really more like a part-time job for the employee while they are in school. It works out well because they get great work experience and we usually hire the intern once a position becomes open.

      1. Calla*

        Yeah. It’s totally possible that they are being sketchy, but it’s also possible they’re not. My first “real” job was actually an internship over the course of two years (I was in school for some of that time though, so it was actually close to OP’s time there – a little over a year and a half of full-time work). I was given real responsibilities, and though it started out unpaid, within a month my boss had been able to convince TPTB to pay me a very fair hourly wage. They were just unable to get approval for a FTE, so I remained an intern in title. But that worked out because it was also easier to leave for a semester and come back than it probably would have been if I was considered a FTE.

        It was an extremely valuable experience, and after I left, interviewers never questioned that I was an intern for that long.

    4. Ann Furthermore*

      I don’t know if that’s what’s going on here, but I know how you feel. The CFO that I used to report up to was the world’s largest cheapskate. After being told repeatedly that we were seriously understaffed, and after I presented him with piles of data showing that other companies of our size had (for example) 4-5 AP people instead of just 2, and that the overtime my staff worked was enough to pay for another head in the group, his great idea to solve the problem was to hire interns. He yammered on about what a great opportunity it would be for college students, but really, he just thought of it as cheap labor.

    5. Senior HR Business Partner (HM in Atlanta)*

      At my company, you could have been an intern for 18-months, making 19-23/hour, for 20-40 hours/week (depending on you school schedule and time of year). However, you would change departments each semester. At the end of internship eligibility (graduating from school), there may or may not be positions available. Being an intern will 99% get you to the hiring manager for interview, and then we hire 75% of the interns who apply/interview.

      The other 25% – still great interns, but they weren’t a fit for that position. The intern would get great references from us, and we would love to hire them. It just needs to be for the right position and not plop someone into any headcount that’s available.

      1. Artemesia*

        An internship that is paying $23 an hour is less of a concern than the many that pay below minimum wage or nothing at all and string people along for months with no real academic supervision or component just using them for staff work. An internship during school, well supervised and with a focus on acquiring skills can be super valuable; once graduated, the whole internship business is a bit of a racket — cheap labor that exploits a lousy economy and adds to it.

  3. Lizzy*

    5.) The important thing is to mention everything you learned and everything you accomplished when interviewing with potential employers. I once had a 3-month internship turn into a 9-month internship because the employer asked me to stay longer. And while the experience was great, I secretly cursed under my breath when they hired an external candidate for a position I had been covering for (the employee moved on to another position 2 months into my internship).

    Still, there are more learning experiences to be had while doing longer internships, so make sure to look at all the positives. Many employers will be quite impressed, especially if you have something to show for it. Mine certainly beefed up my portfolio.

    1. Celeste*

      I agree, all you need to do is focus on what you got out of it. You did the right thing by deciding how long you would let this not-hiring situation go on.

      Wishing you all the best with the job search; much better that you were interning than being unemployed.

    2. The 18-Month Intern*

      Thanks for all of your kind words! For some clarification, I was being paid (and slightly above minimum wage), but not enough to afford a room in that city.

      Perhaps some irony – almost as soon as, in my frustration and desperation I emailed Allison, I was offered a really good job, in my industry. And, no surprise – being able to specifically pinpoint projects that I had worked on over that longer time, and to detail the things that I had done on them – was one of the things that impressed my manager the most. In the run up to all of my interviews, I was reading this blog religiously (and gained a lot from it!), and I’m beginning to think that when interviewers asked me why I was so long at my internship, it was less their suspicion than it was me overanalyzing it.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        And, no surprise – being able to specifically pinpoint projects that I had worked on over that longer time, and to detail the things that I had done on them – was one of the things that impressed my manager the most.

        And this is exactly the reason why someone might make the choice that they preferred staying in a longer internship than choosing unemployment or a higher-paying retail/food service job. It can make sense to make the calculation that the benefits the person is receiving outweigh the low pay, when they couldn’t get those benefits at any other job that’s currently available to them, which I think is often overlooked here when people rail against this kind of thing. In this case, it worked to her advantage.

  4. Stephanie*

    OP #5, don’t be ashamed that you left! I probably would left after 18(!) months of intern pay and being passed over twice. You have to do what’s in your best interest.

    I hope you were able to pick up some good experience and achievements from your time there.

  5. Becca*

    OP#4, I don’t know if this would help, but if a few people in the office started wearing fun hats? Not unprofessional hats, but there are a bunch of cute Easter hats that are on sale now. If other people in the office started wearing hats maybe she would find that hats would give her a sense of security. (Personally I love hats, but can’t pull them off bc of my face/head shape, unlike my sister who looks awesome in all hats).

      1. Tiff*


        I always wished I could wear cute hats, but so far my big head works best in knit caps – with plenty of stretch.

    1. Anonymint*

      This is a very kind and supportive idea, but one of those things that probably isn’t great in practice. As someone who had cancer, lost her hair, and worked through it, this would have made me really uncomfortable and made it seem like people were trying too hard to be supportive (if that makes sense).

      I just wanted everyone to treat me like things weren’t different – I had enough change going on in my life outside of work (like Pip says below), that I really wanted to come to work, work like normal, and have a few hours where I could pretend like everything was regular! If my coworkers started showing up in hats and scarves, it would have made me feel even worse.

      1. Lora*


        I HATED when people would do stuff for me. HATED it. Felt like it was such an imposition even though they wanted to do something. One of my friends did something awesome, though–she knew I was too tired to do much cooking, so she would have me over to hang out with the girls as usual, but somehow just make way too much food for the five of us, and send me home with the leftovers. LOTS of leftovers. We’re talking a solid week’s worth of food. The other women would take home smaller plates of leftovers, but they insisted on giving me the lion’s share. So I didn’t feel like she was cooking for me, I was just the beneficiary of her getting carried away trying new recipes for our social group–we had always had big potlucks and divided up the leftovers anyways.

        What I really appreciated was flexibility in my schedule to deal with the various appointments and generally feeling too crummy for work. Also, people sending me emails and gentle reminders rather than simply telling me things because I had chemo brain (forgetful, unable to focus).

        1. Ann Furthermore*

          Last year, one of my neighbors was very ill for quite a few months, in and out of the hospital, and barely able to get out of bed.

          One of our mutual friends set up an online meal calendar where friends and neighbors were able to sign up to make dinner for their family on specific days. I thought it was such a great idea. The only people given access to it were friends, rather than people mentioned in another post — those who want to do something but more to make themselves feel better than to actually help. And, choosing specific days avoided the family being buried by a casserole avalanche by well meaning friends and neighbors.

  6. Fish Microwaver*

    #4 – It sounds like your boss is dealing with her cancer by getting on with things. Your colleagues and clients should just deal with it gracefully and put their feelings of discomfort to one side.

    As for how you can reach out to her, you said it all in your last line. Ask her.

    1. Pip*

      Exactly. It’s hard when you are a reasonably compassionate person to see someone struggle – you really want to Do Something. But in this situation, the kindest thing may be to just do business as usual. Let her workplace be a breathing hole from the cancer circus and trust the healthcare professionals and her friends and family to take care of the rest.

    2. Chinook*

      I agree with Allison’s response to awkwardness of coworkers by pointing out that your boss has it worse. I also believe that the best thing you can do for someone suffering from something outside of your control or aid is to treat them like nothing special is happening. While at the same time making allowances for it affecting her work (I.e. Friendly reminders, willingness to r schedule on short notice due to appointments or fatigue).

      That being said, I would love to hear advice from those who have been through it. What would you appreciate from a coworker who is friendly but not a friend?

      1. Anonymint*

        From a coworker who is friendly but not a friend? I think I would have appreciated them acting like nothing was different, because that would only emphasize that things WERE different.

        When you have cancer, so many people come out of the woodwork to be “supportive” – mostly in a way that feels like they’re doing things to make themselves feel better and don’t really think about whether or not the sick person actually wants or needs whatever they’re offering.

        I hope this doesn’t come off as ungrateful to the people who are actually helpful, but so many people THINK they’re being helpful when someone is sick, when in reality they’re making things more difficult. Lots of acquaintances wanted to “keep me company” me in the hospital – the last thing I wanted to do was entertain near-strangers when I was hooked up to machines!

        The same goes at work – I wouldn’t have wanted well-meaning coworkers to point out that they were making concessions for me. I much preferred if they did it quietly without making a fuss. That was hugely appreciated!

        On another note: I would have been horrified if anyone let it slip or implied that I was making co-workers uncomfortable! Try to nip that in the bud before someone gets really weird.

        1. Lora*

          -Don’t ask every day if your colleague is feeling OK, how are they feeling, how are they today, how are they compared to how they were 15 minutes ago. The usual “hi, howareya” greeting is fine.

          -Unless you really, really know what they can and cannot eat, don’t bring them food without asking what they might like. Someone gave me a lasagna–ordinarily, I love lasagna, but at the time the very smell of tomato and cheese anything made me run to the bathroom. Driving by Taco Bell was enough to send me over the edge in dry heaves. Horrible.

          -Assume that they are currently, right now, getting the very best medical care ever, and have read ALL about their diagnosis. Unless you, personally, went to medical school and are currently board-certified, don’t want to hear it. Random medical advice and articles someone found on the internet were well-intended but really, really aggravating.

          -Sometimes, despite all these efforts, people die. They did not die because they didn’t try hard enough, didn’t try all the treatments you found on the internet, didn’t think enough happy thoughts, or didn’t worship the right deity. It’s insulting to imply that they are dying because they suck at life in your personal opinion. Yes, people say this. “You can’t just give up! You’re strong, you can beat this!” Or…not. You do get to a point where you’re like, “eff you guys, I’m gonna smoke a pack a day and live off cheezy poofs and chocolate.” Comments to the effect of “God has a plan,” or “these things happen for a reason” were similarly unhelpful. Oh, so God wants me to die slowly, in horrible pain? Gee, thanks…

          In general, people act SO weird about cancer that the second time around I didn’t tell anyone other than my very closest friends until it was all over and I’d been on the maintenance chemo for several months. But there are points when it’s unavoidable.

          1. Stephanie*

            Yeah, I really hate the warrior/fighter talk given to cancer patients as well. I can’t imagine anyone feels like a warrior when she’s puking from the chemo (my mom said she didn’t at least).

          2. Collarbone High*

            This needs to be mandatory reading for the entire population. A million times yes to all of this.

        2. the gold digger*

          When my dad was dying (stage 4 blue cell non-Hodgkins lymphoma), he was at the hospice in the hospital near where he had grown up but had not lived for 40 years. He was literally on his deathbed. His mom – my grandma – was at his side.

          This couple who was visiting someone else in the hospital had heard he was there so stopped in to visit. They were not family, they were not close friends – AND THEY WERE HOGGING UP MY DAD’S LAST HOURS ON EARTH.

          After a few minutes, I got the guts to stand up, walk over to them, touch the woman’s back, and say, as I was guiding her out, “Thank you so much for stopping by. We really appreciate it.”

          But we didn’t. Do not visit someone in the hospital unless you know you will truly be welcome. And unless you are family or a close friend, you won’t be.

      2. Lora*

        Oh, Anonymint just reminded me of something.

        -If you know their taste in reading, books are nice. You spend a lot of time waiting in rooms where you can’t really have electronics: pre-surgery rooms, infusion centers where one of your arms is a bit busy, hospital rooms shared with someone who doesn’t appreciate the glare/noise of your computer/teevee/video game. NOT books about cancer or inspiring poetry or self-help type of things, but I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy novels. The other nice thing about books (as opposed to movies) is that if you fall asleep in the middle of them, it’s not a problem.

        -We know, when we are skeletal-looking and bald, that you’re just saying we look great to be polite. Thank you, it’s a kind thought, now please never say it again. One of the nicest things one of my colleagues said after I had recovered somewhat, was “you look so much happier!” Yes! I do! I am very relieved and happy that this horrible stressful thing is at the very least on hold for a good while! You are correct, I was not happy when I was sick. Thank you for noticing! I might still look ten years older than my chronological age, I might have scars in unfortunate places, but I can definitely look HAPPY! And, importantly, you can look happy even when you get a terminal diagnosis (see below, cigarettes and cheezy poofs).

        1. Artemesia*

          I have found books to be really well received. I usually give three because I always like to have 3 different types of books by my bedside — so perhaps one non-fiction science type thing like ‘The Fish Within”, one fluffy pop fiction (helps to know the kind of fluffy pop fiction the person is into whether a romance or mystery) and one more serious novel — a Pulitzer or historical novel or something more serious. People convalescing whom I have given this gift pack to have always been very effusive about it — particularly having the options to pick up something light, serious lit, or non-fiction. Obviously you tailor it to tastes if you know them e.g. I love science non-fiction but know people whom I would choose a history oriented book for instead.

        2. CanadianWriter*

          Books are the best! The last time I was in the hospital I read like ten of them. Buy a wide variety for the person and you can’t go wrong. Maybe stay away from the fluffy feel good books unless you know that’s all they want. I read mostly crime thrillers and horrors and gave myself nightmares. :)

      3. Harriet*

        I wanted them to ignore it. As far as they were concerned, it was not a topic of conversation unless I brought it up, or it was business related – ie, “Bodicea, you’re out of the office next week, right? Where are you with handing over projects X, Y and Z to Stanley?”

        One thing you can do is try to compliment her on completely unrelated things – if she’s wearing nice earrings, or cool shoes. If she feels like she’s able to distract people from obvious signs of her illness she might feel more in control.

    3. Jean*

      Nothing to add on the main subject here–y’all have already covered it beautifully–but I wanted to tell you I love your “name”!

    4. Diane*

      When I had a bad flare of crohn’s and dropped 40 pounds quickly, I really appreciated how my boss and coworkers rallied to keep giving me work, helping out when they saw I had a bad day and couldn’t concentrate, and especially closed ranks when well-meaning idiots tried to “help” (like the woman who asked if I had anorexia, or a higher-up who congratulated me on my weight loss). They also let me decide who to tell. I expect I would have heard from the well-meaning idiots whether they knew or not, just with different advice.

  7. Peter*

    #4 – When my mother started to lose hair due to cancer treatment, she seemed really bothered by it. Then after long hesitation she got a wig and it made her much happier and allowed her to live the remaining months of her life with one less discomfort to worry about. Could the company offer the manager a discrete benefit of wig-consultation, or something to that effect?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This. Hopefully, one of her doctors or nurses will notice what the OP is seeing and discuss it with her. My aunt got a wig and it was awesome. I could not tell it was not her own hair. Likewise with a friend of mine, had I not known it was a wig, I would have thought she just got a new “do”.

      I am hoping that in a short time, your manager will change and do something different. Understandably, there is a resistance to the wigs at first. Totally understandable. But the wigs I am seeing now are very well made and compliment a person’s appearance. I think once your manager sees that, then she will just start wearing one.
      Or NOT. My aunt had nice skin and a pretty face. Plus she had something inside her that keep her going forward in spite of all the crap she was going through. (Your boss has this, too.) My aunt could go without the wig and be okay- some women can do that. It varies from person to person.

      In short- let nature run its course here. This will change in some manner in the near future.

    2. fposte*

      I think it’s fine if the employee chooses to wear a wig, but I don’t think the organization or her co-workers should bring up the topic. It risks being taken as a suggestion that people are uncomfortable seeing her head and she needs to cover up.

      1. some1*

        Agreed. It would also feel patronizing to me if I were in that woman’s situation. It’s really not the employer’s place to make guesses on why she’s not wearing a wig or a scarf.

        If a close friend or relative wants to make offers or suggestions, that’s another thing.

    3. Ann Furthermore*

      A former boss, who I’m still good friends with, went through cancer treatments a couple years ago. She also got a wig, and it was a really good one. We met for lunch one day, and had I not known what she was going through, I would not have known she was wearing a wig.

      She wore it for awhile, and then started going without it and/or wearing hats, because she said the wig was really kind of a pain, and sometimes very hot. It was just a matter of her coming to terms with losing her hair, and being comfortable enough to go without it. It’s hard for women — for many of us, our hair is a Very Big Thing. And of course that’s not to say it’s not hard for men too, but since I’m a woman I can really empathize.

      Another friend of mine is going through chemo treatments right now, and she said she was going to look on the bright side of not having to worry about doing her hair every day, and starting a collection of cute knit hats. I so admire her outlook.

  8. Sandrine (France)*

    1. My employees say another employee slacks off when I’m not around

    Honestly… while nothing in the letter indicates this… it sounds like petty revenge tricks to me. The OP mentions that the women don’t like the other employee…

    OP, please please please do NOT act on anything they said without a thorough investigation.

    And yeah, if it turns out they lied and tried to make the other employee look bad… please discipline them. Maybe not a firing, but something to show them that this is NOT okay.

    1. Chris80*

      But could it be that the two women don’t like the 3rd woman precisely *because* she slacks off when the boss isn’t around? I’ve had a few coworkers that are good as gold when the boss is around that become very unproductive when they’re left without supervision. It’s frustrating, and yes, it makes me not like those people very much! Since we don’t know whether they dislike her because of the slacking off or if it’s for some other reason & they’re trying to sabotage her, you need to find a way to get to the bottom of this, OP.

      1. Sandrine (France)*

        Yeah, that’s why I’m saying that “nothing indicates this” (re the revenge tricks) . Either they don’t like the woman so they decided to “tattle” , OR they reported behavior because the person is unprofessional.

        Let’s just hope OP finds out quickly before the “reporting” gets out of hand and damages the reputation of the other person, if there is nothing to be reported in the end.

        1. Celeste*

          I have seen more drama come from a “three females” scenario than anything else. Whether it’s friendships, roommates, or the workplace something bad happens when two females can square off against a third. I’m not ruling that out here even though I do think the OP needs to find a way to personally verify her work output.

          1. Harper*

            Eh, I know it can seem like that, but we are conditioned to view the actions of women as “catty” or “drama” rather than men. I have worked in many places where I was the only woman and there was just as much gossiping, backstabbing, and drama as any place else.

            1. Celeste*

              I have been the only woman, too. I’ve certainly seen men posturing and doing other obnoxious aggrandizing behaviors. I still think 3 females is a special kind of toxic.

          2. some1*

            I think this is more about a triangle thing than a gender thing. I know groups of three siblings, friendships, roommates, workplaces where it was 3 guys, 2 guys and one woman, or 2 women and one guy and someone is always the odd one out.

            I’m the middle child of 3 and only girl — I felt like the odd one out the majority of childhood, but my brothers felt that way, too.

      2. KrisL*

        I know that I’ve started disliking people when they turn out to be serious slackers. It’s very frustrating.

    2. Jen RO*

      I don’t know the nature of the work, but is it possible to measure the amount of work the “slacker” does? I was in a similar position (“tattling” on a coworker) and, once the boss started checking coworker’s work personally, it became obvious that the coworker was NOT doing his job – missed deadlines, half-assed documents. From the outside, it might have looked like the rest of the team was ganging up on him, but we were just tired of covering up his mistakes for a year!

      1. Mike C.*

        This is what I keep thinking – if the person isn’t doing their work, wouldn’t it be obvious?

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, I’m coming back to that point too. My other question is how often is the OP not around? If she’s rarely present, she needs to find ways of assessing *all* of her employees’ productivity, which doesn’t seem to be happening; if she’s almost always present, how much trouble could this really be causing?

          1. Celeste*

            Yes, this is a great point. Look at all productivity. The front ladies want to point a finger at the back room lady, but let them have scrutiny as well.

      2. Diane*

        I wonder if this is also a case of the two coworkers not understanding what the third does, so what they perceive as slacking is her reading work-related documents online or taking part in conference calls.

    3. kelly*

      My response would be to thank Regina and Gretchen for their concerns about Karen’s work and tell them that you will look into it. Also, include that it really isn’t their concern and remind them that they have their own work and projects to concentrate on. I would then look at all three’s output to see if Regina and Gretchen are also not slackers in your absence. It does sound like they have too much time on their hands and need something to keep them occupied. If I ever got into a management role, I wouldn’t want my subordinates spending the time they were supposed to be working playing lunch room monitor. It’s not a productive use of their time or my time dealing with their reports.

      1. Britt*

        Also, remind Regina and Gretchen to send out that memo that Aaron’s hair looks sexy pushed back.

        (sorry, had to)

        1. So Very Anonymous*

          Glen, however, would like to add how happy he is with his four-candy-canes raise.

      2. Steve*

        Also, include that it really isn’t their concern and remind them that they have their own work and projects to concentrate on.

        But I do think it’s important that if they have concerns that affect how they are doing their job that they be able to express those concerns to their manager. As Alison has said before, there really is no such thing as “tattling” in the workplace if it’s done for the right reasons. Saying “we were unable to meet this deadline due to the fact that Karen is turning tricks in the copy room when you’re not here” is a fair bit of information to pass on to the manager. It’s not the same as saying “I don’t get to turn tricks in the copy room because Karen always gets there first.”

        1. Kelly L.*

          “And if she keeps turning tricks in the copy room, I’m going to put a hex on her.”

        2. KrisL*

          I agree that this isn’t tattling if it’s true. One slacking person can make a lot more work for everyone else, and it messes up morale.

          1. Laura*

            I completely agree. But one thing to keep in mind is if the 3rd person’s workload doesn’t overlap at all with the 1st two employee’s, then the slacking off might not actually make more work for them. It just frustrates them because they wish *they* had more time to screw around during the day.

            For all we know, the Slacker CoWorker really just finishes her work at a faster or more efficient pace than the others leaving her with more down time.

      3. Sadsack*

        I think thanking them for the notification and telling them that you will handle it from this point forward is sufficient. Telling them to mind their own business while they are at it is punishing them for being proactive ( as long as they are being truthful). If I learned that my manager made such comments when I came to her with a valid concern about productivity, I would never go to her again.

        1. Harper*

          I agree. The two employees could have very valid information about a workplace issue that needs to be addressed. Telling them immediately, before looking into the matter, to mind their own business would be a mistake, IMHO.

    4. KrisL*

      If the 2 women are lying about this, they are terrible people.

      If the other woman really is slacking off, she’s got some issues.

  9. Apollo Warbucks*

    Do you a security pass / swipe card entry system that might prove if the employee is coming or going during the day when she shouldn’t be. IT can almost certainly give you a list of web sites visited and phone calls made.

    Obviously you should think carefully before requesting these records as there are privacy and legal concerns, in no way should it be routine to get these records for all employees. To my mind it is something to do after you have enough suspicion / probable cause and need confirmation of what you already suspect.

    I will say that I’m in the UK and it is very much easier for employees to bring unfair dismissal cases before a tribunal and win damages if a disciplinary or termination case is wrongly handled, so you might not need the level of proof I’m talking about here.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      A similar idea: Does the alleged slacker use a computer? Can you check history on the computer? Or can you give assignments that you know take x hours to complete and check to see if the assignment is done in the expected time frame?

      My husband worked off-site. His boss would call him randomly through out the day. The boss did it with grace and finesse, but my husband still realized that the boss was checking to see if my husband was doing what he was supposed to be doing. Since my husband was an honest, diligent worker, his response was to just shrug it off. “Yeah, I am doing my job. Check on me all you want. I am here and I will help you in whatever manner possible.” The check-ins became a non-issue.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        This is what I’m thinking. If someone is doing a job, that job should be measurable in some way, right?

        If you’re in a receptionist or customer service kind of role, customers should be able to get ahold of that person. If that’s the case, is she actually answering phones and emails from customers? This should be trackable.

        If you’re in a more project-based role, you should be completing your projects. Is she actually getting projects done? Are they high quality?

        This is kind of a follow up to the “my co-worker wrote a novel at work” post from a few days ago, but doesn’t it ultimately matter whether she gets her work done or not, and shouldn’t that work be measurable?

        If this co-worker is taking personal calls, running errands, and working on a side business and can still do everything she’s supposed to do up to standard or beyond standard, then maybe it’s not really a big deal (unless the personal calls and side business are using the actual company phones and preventing company calls from coming in, or she’s so loud on those calls that it’s distracting to others around her).

  10. Chocolate Teapot*

    3. From experience, performance reviews can get delayed, especially if urgent items crop up. In larger companies, there may be an online performance review programme and the comments need to be saved in the system to complete the review process.

    That said, at a previous job, I had been moved to take on a new role and was wanting feedback on my performance and how to improve in the future. My performance review kept getting delayed and postponed (although a few brief chats had been positive), then all of a sudden, I was informed that I was not going to be doing the new role and would be moved back to what I had been doing before. It later transpired there had never been any intention of me doing the new role.

    To add insult to injury, the performance review I had was a hatchet job on why I was not fulfilling the tasks of the old role. It was hard to respond politely to that one.

    1. Jean*

      YUCK (on your supervisors not on you)! I hope you were able to get out of Dodge & into a better fit & workplace.

    2. NW Cat Lady*

      Wow, did we work at the same company? In my case it was a matter of being moved into a new job that didn’t actually exist, and then making up reasons why I wasn’t fulfilling duties that hadn’t actually been related to me (e.g. I *thought* I was going to be doing A, B, and C, but my new boss decided I should do X, Y, and Z, but didn’t tell me, then dinged me on not getting those tasks done).

  11. Katie NYC*

    #2. I wouldn’t mention it. It’s a big job you didn’t get. I’ve been approached about a few big jobs that didn’t end up working out, and I assume that the same is true for a lot of people who’ve been in the work force for a while. I think it’s pretty difficult to name drop things like that “just right”, and you might shoot yourself in the foot. Also, you might end up turning off potential employers, who might think that you’re after working for a large university, and less interested in their small programs.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I agree. I think it is a huge ego boost but not something to share with others. I would take it as encouragement that I am on the right track and will eventually land a similar impressive job. But that would be a thought inside my head, not something I would say out loud.

      1. Chriama*

        I totally agree. Use it as a confidence booster that will really help you view the interview as a 2-way street so you can find a job AND a company that is a good fit for you.

    2. Tiff*


      I would tell my husband and my best friends, but at an interview I would focus on why the people I’m interviewing with chose to bring me in rather than pointing out a job I didn’t get. I think that would seem weird.

  12. R2D2*

    >18 months isn’t a long time at all

    Is that still true? I’m a bit younger, but have about 6 years of “professional” experience, and I’ve only ever had 1 job that lasted longer than that, a company I left when it started bouncing paychecks. Everything else has been contract, temporary, or has gone out of business. At least among people I know in my age group, this seems to be pretty normal.

    1. Tina*

      Most of the employers I’ve worked with would not consider 18 months a very long time. Getting closer to the norm than it ever was before, but for employers who put significant effort into training and development, they may feel like they barely got any return on their investment.

      1. R2D2*

        >but for employers who put significant effort into training and development, they may feel like they barely got any return on their investment.

        Maybe that’s the difference… only one of my jobs has had a formal training program of any sort, and only two have had any written training materials (the one with the formal training program, and the other in a binder that had been gathering dust in a corner for an unspecified number of years). It’s always been an uphill battle with management to convince them to train, because they assume that it is cheaper to hire staff and have them figure it out on their own, letting them go if they can’t. I felt really accomplished when I convinced a couple bosses to let me write training materials for past positions.

    2. FiveNine*

      Just a day or two ago there was a letter about locking out on a balcony a coworker who had only been there a year. Lots of people in the comments said this was a basically a total newbie; others disagreed and said one year on the job is hardly just starting the position. But anyway, 18 months is still relatively new in many companies.

    3. CAA*

      So you graduated 6 years ago and you have 5 jobs that are not internships on your resume? I would not interview you unless your cover letter had a really good explanation for the job hopping and some indication that you were looking for a place to settle down for a long stay.

      1. Sunflower*

        She mentioned that a lot of the jobs were contract or temp so once factoring that in, it’s not as ridiculous as having 5 regular full time gigs in that amount of time

        1. CAA*

          I don’t think it’s ridiculous — I just think she needs to make sure her application materials clearly describe the situation. Without an easy way to see why she left each job, I’m going to assume it was voluntary.

      2. R2D2*

        What would a good explanation look like? One of the companies went bankrupt, one was a non-profit that lost its grant-funding and dissolved, one was a contract position, one was a temporary position, and then there’s where I’m at now. The past four jobs have all been in the same town, which I assumed would show a commitment to settling down — is there another way to demonstrate it?

        I guess I was surprised because this seems to be the sort of job history most of the folks my age that I know have. I can only think of one person who has had a “straight ahead” career path where they graduated from college six years ago and are still working for the same firm, a place where their aunt is in an important position.

    4. Sunflower*

      18 months is not long by any means but I wouldn’t call it a ‘short stay’ either. It depends on industry too. Also contact/temp jobs are a whole different ballgame than leaving a full time, regular job after a year every year- make sure you note your temp/contact jobs on your resume

    5. Us, Too*

      I think it depends on your industry and your role. Some industries and jobs move faster than others. If your field of choice is aerospace, odds are 18 months isn’t that long a time period. If your field of choice is web development, that is a lifetime! LOL.

      1. Bea W*

        For temp/contract work in my industry 6 mo – 1 yr and rarely longer than that. It’s very odd to see someone doing contracting work at the same company longer than that.

  13. TotesMaGoats*

    #1-Do the random pop in. I had an employee committing time card fraud and we had to do a surprise visit to catch it. It’s entirely possible that the front desk women and the back office person are all in the wrong. The back office person may indeed be slacking off but the front desk people could be over-exaggerating for effect. Not that the slacking off shouldn’t be dealt with but there is a difference between taking a call from the kid’s school and talking on your phone the entire day.

    1. Frances*

      I’ve seen both sides happen to coworkers – a coworker who really wasn’t pulling their weight because their manager worked in a remote location and shrugged off all complaints as the on-site colleagues being too demanding , and a coworker who was accused of “always disappearing in the middle of the day” when the truth was that they had to make an emergency supply run twice in six weeks but that happened to be the exact two times a particular coworker came looking for her. So I’m glad the OP is taking the complaint seriously on both sides and is trying to get at actual truth.

      1. CEMgr*

        Good point about making this a real, data-driven inquiry into the functioning of the whole organization….not just a “gossip”-fueled look at one person.

  14. Lily in NYC*

    #1 – My guess is that the coworker probably does slack off a bit when you are gone but that the other coworkers are exaggerating the level in order to try to get her in trouble. If she gets her work done then I would probably let it go (but I like Alison’s advice to pop in unexpectedly).

    #5 – I screen lots of resumes and wouldn’t bat an eye at an 18-month internship. It is much more common than you think (my office has interns that have been here for even longer than that).

  15. Celeste*

    #1 It might be just as simple as giving the employee in question some assignments to accomplish while you are out, something you know will take that amount of time. Pop in or don’t, but then you can judge if the work is getting done. I presume that’s what matters most. This takes the gossip girls out of the equation because it’s on you as the manager to judge what got done or didn’t.

    If she turns out to be okay, then I would handle the next round of tattling with a chat about how you are aware they don’t like her and they don’t need to keep reminding you. When you like somebody, they can’t do anything wrong, but when you don’t like somebody, they can’t do anything right.

    1. Alano*

      #1 I think Celeste’s suggestion here is a good one if the “popping in” suggestion doesn’t work. A couple of years ago I had a similar experience with an employee who I strongly suspected was slacking because the total amount of work he was getting done just wasn’t where it should be. At first I thought it was a training issue, but after several months of additional training, his productivity was still quite low. I wold also try “popping in” to his cubicle unannounced to see what he was doing, but I found this approach inconclusive. (For instance, I think he would always make sure he had work-related stuff open on his computer to make it look like he was fully engaged. And a couple of times I noticed his personal iPad out, but when I asked him about it he said he was using it as a second monitor.) Finally I gave him a data entry project where it was easy for me to monitor and measure his progress, and I made sure his schedule was clear of other projects. And that’s when I finally had verification that he was slacking.

      1. Tiff*

        I agree with this approach as well. Answering the question “Is this employee getting her work done?” is much easier than “Is this employee slacking?”

        And really the front desk staff may benefit from some added responsibilities as well.

    2. Mike C.*

      Why would you be assigning employees busy work? Don’t they have actual work to complete?

      1. Celeste*

        We don’t really know what their work entails, but if it’s measurable then it should be possible to say that you want to see X and Y done when you get back. It doesn’t have to be busy work.

        1. Mike C.*

          Oh, you’re talking about defining deliverables, not assigning extra work for the sake of work, my mistake.

    3. KrisL*

      The problem with this approach is that if the employee is smart and a slacker, she may realize that you’ll expect the task done and won’t slack off this time but will wait until you’re not paying attention.

  16. jenniferM*

    OP #3, I could have written this post myself about my 2 year review (I let the 1 year review slide by because I was pregnant). I reminded the two principles periodically about my review. Generally via an email every month or so. If your office is anything like mind, I’ll warn you about what happened to me. About 6 months after my 2 year anniversary, principal 1 called me into her office. Both principles were there and said they were going to do my review then. I sat down. They looked at me and the bossier boss said “you called this meeting. we assume its because you wanted to talk about something.” I stumbled around for a few minutes before launching into a monologue where I spilled all of my frustrations from projects to clients to other project managers. It was absolutely unprofessional because I was completely unprepared. We ended up having a conversation after that and I did get some more traditional annual review-type feedback from them that was very good and included talk about promotions, future potential to become a principal and finishing the steps to get my professional license. I’m planning to insist on having an annual review conversation again with them later this year but I will be sure to be prepared. I’m going to take some time to think about what we talked about and I’m going to do some kind of a self evaluation. I’ll probably type up a few points. I think if its the kind of office where annual reviews can get pushed off, its pretty likely that there is no formal procedure for conducting them either. Good luck!

  17. Tiff*

    #1 – It may be worth it to view this from an output angle. Is the employee in question getting their work done? I would check on her work output and performance. There are ways to spot check for this even when you’re not in the office, which IMO is better than a pop up. Unless you catch her in the middle of something truly grievous she’s just going to fix herself up and behave once she sees you.

    Another possibility – if the ones complaining are at the reception desk they may not have a good sense of what the lady in the back does, and they jump to the conclusion that she’s slacking. Front desk tasks tend to be visible – answering phones, greeting visitors, making copies, ordering supplies, working on spreadsheets – and reception desks are notorious for having little privacy.

    I can’t imagine an office job where no personal conversations happen, no one ever pays a bill online and there is never a personal call taken. To me it’s more important to focus on whether or not goals are being reached. If the employee is not meeting deadlines and goals I’d still focus on that rather than what she’s doing at work.

    1. Data Architect/ETL Coder (Windchime)*

      It seems like there is a slacker in every office, though. There are a couple of them in my office; they don’t have time to get their assigned work done, but they have time to stand and chit-chat for an hour every morning before the boss comes in. (That’s not an estimate; it’s a full hour of visiting about non-work related stuff). I mentioned it a couple of times to the boss and haven’t said anything about it again because if he is choosing to let it go, that’s his prerogative. He’s the boss, not me.

      1. Tiff*

        Totally agree with that first sentence. But as a manager I would wonder if the slacker is the woman in question or the women who spend a lot of time questioning her.

        1. Windchime*

          A lot of people here seem to be making the assumption that it’s the people who are complaining about the (perceived) slacker who are really the ones who are slacking. Maybe they are; I don’t know because I’m not there. But I know I spend a lot of my day trying to block out laughter and goofing around while I’m working. I normally don’t complain to my boss (I do it here instead), but when I do, that doesn’t automatically make me a slacker who can’t mind my own business. It makes me someone who is sick of being distracted by people who don’t seem to have enough work to do.

          1. KrisL*

            For years, I had to work with a slacker and ended up being the person who management asked to work on issues that the slacker didn’t get to. It was very frustrating. Fortunately, he’s no longer with the company.

    2. chewbecca*

      I sit at the front desk, so I can see how the two people up there could think that the back of office person was “slacking”. Like you said, their work is more visible.

      I can also see how they might be a little bitter that the woman in the back gets more flexibility than they do, simply because working front desk is really rigid about being able to leave early or stepping aside to take/make a call. It’s something I struggled with for a little bit when I started here, but I’ve gotten over it.

      It’s probably a combination of the front desk workers not seeing what the back office person does + maybe she does slack off a little when the boss is gone. I think everybody’s done it at one point or another.

      1. Laura*

        +1 I have a coworker who works at the front desk and is super bitter about the lack of freedom in entails to the point where she’s monitoring other employee’s arrival and departure times all so she can complain about how unprofessional they are.

  18. Sunflower*

    2. I would not mention it unless it came up in conversation but that would be pretty difficult. As Allison said, it needs to be done exactly right and that is too hard to gauge so I would just not mention it. The things is, you weren’t selected for the job and bringing it up could have the interviewers mind wondering why you weren’t selected. Also, every organization operates differently so what you see and know to be prestigious may sound run of the mill to a different company.

    What i would do though is use the outgoing director as a reference since it sounds like she thinks very highly of you. Talk to her about help with finding job opportunities since she probably knows a lot of people that could open doors for you.

    1. Connie-Lynne*

      I second this. If OP#2 wants to leverage being invited but not hired for a position, the best thing to do is ask the person who invited her for a letter of recommendation, or if appropriate, to be a professional reference.

  19. C average*

    The slacking accusation kind of depends on what the actual expectations are of the employee. Are the job expectations based on output/deliverables or busy-ness?

    The team I’m on has a lot of deliverables, but they tend to be cyclical in nature. When crunch time hits, we come in early, stay late, work weekends, and have our noses to the grindstone the whole time. Fourteen-hour days become the norm. And then things slow down and we . . . slack. Not egregiously, but probably in ways that would be noticeable to a bystander. We surf the net, chat with each other, take long lunches, and catch our breath before the Next Big Project.

    Because our colleagues in other teams don’t generally work outside of business hours, they don’t have awareness into all the work we do to more than compensate for the occasional slacking.

    Our boss knows we do it. She doesn’t care. As long as our deliverables get delivered on time and we’re responsive to emerging needs and proactive about the big stuff, she figures we’re grown-ups who know when to get off AAM and get to work. If someone outside our group accused us of slacking, she’d show them our shared productivity/project tracker to assuage any concerns and then politely ask them to keep their eyes on their own paper.

    So I’d ask this: Does the stuff the third woman needs to get done get done properly and on time? Does she respond to emerging needs appropriately? Is she actually slacking off, or just not looking as busy as her colleagues think she should look?

    1. Kelly L.*

      Yeah, I’ve definitely had this kind of job too. Instead of 100% busyness at all times, it was more like 20% busyness at some times and 567% busyness at others.

    2. Persephone Mulberry*

      The slacking accusation kind of depends on what the actual expectations are of the employee. Are the job expectations based on output/deliverables or busy-ness?

      While not directly parallel to the OP’s issue, your comment reminded me of a situation I had at a previous job. I was salaried, and over time, mostly through my streamlining some very antiquated practices, what started out as a 40 hour a week job dwindled to about half that, and there was only so much additional responsibility available, and not nearly enough to fill a typical full work week. My boss and I butted heads over this a little bit – despite the fact that we agreed to a salary rather than an hourly rate, she couldn’t wrap her head around paying me the same rate for doing “half as much work.” I finally asked her point blank – “are you paying me to have my butt in this chair 40 hours a week, or to do X, Y, and Z? If the main benefit to you is that you don’t have to do X, Y, and Z, what does it matter if it takes ME 40 hours to do it or 20?”

      1. AAA*

        This is why I wish I were salaried! When I started my position it was a full time (40 hrs/week) job. I got permission to reduce my time (but not the amount of work) to 30 hrs/week so I could teach part time. I’ve made things more efficient, so much so that I only really “work” 20 hours of this time. Though I’ve asked, there’s not a lot more responsibility I can take on in my current position.
        I’m dreading the end of the semester when I have to go back to being here for 40 hours a week with nothing to do half the time!! I don’t want to be a slacker…there’s only so much thumb twiddling I can handle.

      2. Chriama*

        On an employer’s side, it matters because they’re paying you for 40 hours. That’s what a typical salary is based on, after all, and it’s imprudent to pay for full-time when you only need someone part-time. Of course, there are other jobs where people get paid just to be available (e.g. receptionist who only answers phone), but if this wasn’t one of those jobs, your boss had every reason to be concerned. Obviously, the way to address it wasn’t to tell you that she couldn’t wrap her head around you doing “half as much work”, but it was still a valid concern.

        1. Persephone Mulberry*

          That’s exactly the question, though: when you’re on salary, ARE they “paying for 40 hours” or are they paying for outcomes? Is my value to the company truly worth less because I’m more efficient with my time?

          1. MJ*

            Technically, I think when you are salaried you are paid for the job, so variations from 40 hours may be allowable, but the job description usually identifies about 40 hours of expected work. As you streamline the work, the job itself changes. When this happens where I work, we consider that we have a valuable employee, we add new things to their job description to fill the 40 hours, and we give them a raise. Having anyone at your place of business who is slacking is demoralizing to everyone else.

            For AAA above, who has asked for more responsibility and did not received any, I would suggest looking for things on your own that need doing and taking a list to your manager. Sometimes a manager is too busy to think of things or simply lacks imagination!

            1. Chriama*

              The thing is, are you more productive than the typical worker, or did you just streamline an unproductive process? If they brought someone else in, would they be as productive as you? If the answer is yes, then the job has changed. It is no longer a full time position. Obviously, you don’t want to penalize the worker who brought increased efficiency to the business by paying them less — which is where MJ’s recommendation makes sense. You obviously want to reward workers who will seek greater productivity because that improves the business’s bottom line. However, it makes bad business sense to pay someone for full capacity when they’re only operating at half.

          2. Rev.*

            Most companies around here that pay salaried employees make sure they overload them with work. Props to you if you make salaried status work in your favor.

          3. R2D2*

            From my understanding (could be wrong, but this is what they told me in my business courses), they’re not paying for 40 hours in the case of good management. The point of putting employees on salary isn’t cost savings, it’s to normalize cashflow. It’s cheaper in the long run to pay a predictable amount each week even if it is ultimately slightly higher on average then it is to have to keep extra money in reserve for payroll in case the workload drastically increases all at once.

        2. Tiff*

          I think that responsibility falls on the manager – if you take the stance that you want 40 hours worth of work you need to give 40 hours worth of work.

    3. AB Normal*

      I was coming here to say something similar. OP #1 says the 3 workers “are great, and wonderful workers”. If in fact the complaint from the other 2 is true, what seems to be the case here is that the worker does not have enough work to be busy all the time, and to avoid the appearance of slacking, she waits until the boss is not around to do other stuff to pass the time.

      Otherwise, I assume the OP (who doesn’t have 40 people working for him/her, which would make it more difficult to monitor individual employees) would have noticed slacking / delays / missing deadlines etc., and would not be classifying the worker as “wonderful”.

      In the OP’s place, I’d ignore the gossip and focus on monitoring the performance of the worker more closely. Are you having frequent one-on-ones to discuss the workload? Is he/she taking unreasonable amounts of time to get a simple task done? Are there other tasks that could be delegated if his/her workload is currently too light? I’d start there, and also provide feedback to the other workers so they only come to you with problems that are affecting their work, rather than gossip about the other worker.

      1. Decimus*

        I agree it’s all about the end product. If the complaints are “When the manager is out of the office Jane browses the internet and as a result WE have to answer phones/make all the teapots” that’s one thing, if it’s just “Jane browse the internet” that’s a different issue.

        In my last job I’d be more prone to browse the internet if my manager was out of the office, but that’s because I’m a “spurt worker” – I do short highly focused bursts of work, pause, short bursts of work, pause. And my job was all about the end product – I made sure to meet the deadlines, and the only delays were things outside my control (e.g., the supply order I sent in was delayed, so I ran out of supplies and had to change projects until new supplies arrived). When my manager WAS there (40% of the time) I didn’t want to look like I was slacking, so I just worked more slowly but steadily. I was less efficient overall, though, because I had to stop and pace myself and force myself to stay focused instead of spurt-stopping.

        1. Simonthegrey*

          This. At my current position, I am on a grant. They need to have someone to tutor in Writing for 20hrs per week, every week. If I am busy, I may help students solid for five hours. If it is slow, I may help one student over the course of that time. Because I have to be available in case anyone drops in, I can’t do a lot of other work (I do a little straightening, grade for a class I teach, anything that means I can stay at my desk) and yes, I spend a fair amount of time perusing AAM and other sites. It isn’t slacking exactly because I have to be here, in my chair, whether or not someone requires me. So the grant is paying for my time, not my output. Sometimes I feel guilty when the center director comes past, if I am online, but I also realize that I can’t help with the reports for the center because I don’t have the clearance for viewing private student information. That’s restricted, for obvious reasons. However, having me and the dedicated math tutor here frees up the director and counselors to help students in planning, instead of homework.

    4. Ann Furthermore*

      This is exactly the way my job works too. I do ERP implementations, and when you’re on a project, the closer the launch date gets, the more hours you’re working. This of course also means that the stress levels go through the roof too. In the last 90 days leading up to the launch, everyone is working nights and weekends. It’s the final charge for the finish line, and you just do what you gotta do.

      Then you go live. You spend the first month or so holding your breath, hoping that everything works the way you thought it would. If you’ve done a good job, it does, with support needed here and there to fix minor issues, or to an odd scenario you didn’t think to test for.

      Then you can relax and slow down a little bit, catch up on minor little things that you weren’t able to address during the project, take things at a slower and more leisurely pace for awhile. Then, you get assigned to another project, things ramp up, and off you go again.

    5. Tiff*

      Agreed. This could be a case of a co-worker who is slacking but it could just as easily be a case of the two complaining co-workers not knowing enough about what the 3rd woman does.

  20. Us, Too*

    #1 – The work, itself, should be measurable and if you can’t tell if someone is doing their job or not without watching them do it, you probably have a (lack of) performance metrics issue there. Who cares if she is “busy” all the time as long as her work is getting done? Does she produce x widgets/shift as required? Does she process y customer orders? etc.

    Sure, pop in if you want, but all that’s going to show you is that she’s doing something that seems work-related. It doesn’t actually show you that she’d productive and the latter seems far more important IMO.

    1. Alano*

      This strikes me as a valid point. I think anytime somebody appears to be slacking, one of the first questions should be what expectations have been communicated to them. Some people are naturally motivated to look for work that needs done, but for some people you really do have to spell it out along the lines of, “If you run out of your normal work, you need to work on x, y, or z. Or, “Please let me know if you run out of work, rather than keeping that information to yourself, because there are usually additional projects I can send your way.”

  21. Bea W*

    I wonder if the person mentioned in #4 senses the discomfort from her co-workers and it is just contributing to her being self-conscious about her appearance. I think the best thing to do would be to quietly encourage your co-workers to interact normally with her and not avoid making eye contact. I’m willing to bet this is something that is just glaring obvious to her and just making an uncomfortable situation more uncomfortable.

    You can set the example yourself. I think if people can see yourself and others interacting with her like anyone else and not averting your gaze or acting as if you are uncomfortable, they will also feel more comfortable and follow.

  22. (Internal) Management Consultant*

    OP1- Perhaps having defined goals/measures the back office employee is supposed to hit would help eliminate relying on other’s observations. If she does take personal calls or whatnot while you’re away, but still hits her goals, then it’s probably not as big of a deal as it may seem. If she doesn’t hit her goals, then it doesn’t matter that you did not witness what was going on while you were away.

    This would probably be a good practice for all of your direct reports. It would focus them on their own goals/measures instead of on watch-dogging. Plus, it would free your time up from policing.

  23. MJ*

    #2 I would not mention it. I hate to suggest this, but because the job was given to an inside hire and you have acknowledged that you were barely qualified, it’s possible you may have been asked to interview for a position for which they already knew who they were going to hire. Hiring practices in some institutions come under scrutiny, and often promotions without an application and hiring process to consider outsiders as well as other interested current employees are not allowed. Whether or not this was the case, someone interviewing you for another position might see it that way, and then your assertion might suggest naivete on your part and might also be a distraction from your actual qualifications.

    Lest you start feeling unsettled by the thought that you might not have been an actual contender, please understand that 1) this may not have been the case at all; 2) you would not have been interviewed unless you were considered a credible candidate – you are obviously well-thought-of; and 3) the university gave you valuable interview experience whether or not you were being seriously considered.

  24. EmmBee*


    We’re dealing with a similar situation. A coworker on my team (not my direct report) has been a slacker for literally years. We covered for him for years (in addition to having one-on-ones with him to convey issues about his workload). It finally got so bad (he was having personal problems that began affecting his output even more than his general slackerness did) that our boss took notice. So the rest of my team and I spilled all — the years of frustration, the complete lack of output — all documented by emails. Boss was shocked that this had been going on for so long.

    Now, the boss has him creating a weekly log of his work — x minutes on this project, y minutes on that. (The problem is, and the boss has realized this, is that he’s saying his projects are taking four times longer than they take the rest of us, so that’s how he’s justifying his outrageous productivity loss.)

    All this is to say: OP, at the end of the day, are you noticing a lack of work? If so, then follow up and request a time/project log. If not, keep an eye on it but there’s nothing else you can do.

    I will say dealing with this slacker coworker has been and continues to be the #1 reason why I am looking for another job. It’s exhausting putting up with this for so many years and getting nowhere when you try to tactfully present the issue to executives.

  25. AGirlCalledFriday*

    OP#2 – I really feel for you. This is why I am trying to get out of teaching, and good luck trying to get a job doing something else. This is an excellent example of why so many teachers are leaving the profession. And normally, it’s the very best who leave, and it has nothing to do with not wanting to teach – it’s everything else.

    I know that most people here don’t work in the field of education, but many of you have children who are students, and it’s the parents and the community who can really make a difference in the field of education for teachers and students alike. I wonder if some of the parents here, if they are interested, might consider being advocates for their child’s teacher. So many parents just focus on their child and what the teacher is doing right or wrong, but it would be soo helpful if parents made an effort to be concerned with the school in general.

    I’ve worked in schools where parents insisted that teachers not be allowed to work 10+ hour days every day, that teachers be provided aides or volunteers, where parents assisted in planning events so that teachers can focus on classroom work, and every interaction was one that showed respect and a willingness to work with the teacher. If perhaps some people paid more attention to what was going on behind the scenes in schools, there would be a better quality of education for all students.

  26. S*

    OP #1-
    I have this happen at my work places in the past. My co-workers would come in late, leave early, take a longer lunch, chat on their cell phones with friends /family, spend 2-3 hours per day on the web planning/booking vacations and more…
    In one situation an employee with more seniority spoke with the manager about a slacker. The manager did not do anything about it! I think that in his mind there was nothing to say since the employees always got their work done. And that was the most important part of the job to him.
    I didn’t care for his management style and was looking for another job (I knew that he was passive-aggressive, a micromanager and one of the slacking employees was his favorite employee)! It was time to leave!

  27. Tara T.*

    I agree with S (April 19, 2014), who wrote that there was favoritism going on also. Sometimes there is someone who is not doing as much work because they are The Pet, and they get away with it. However, as several noted above, there are also cases where there are no Pets, but coworkers do not like each other and want the boss to think one is not doing the required work, and might be exaggerating to make it look like the coworker who made a few personal calls was doing it all the time. It is a very difficult situation and the boss should secretly investigate before taking any actions. As AAM wrote, the boss should come in unexpectedly and find other ways to check up on the employee without the employee (or the coworkers) being aware.

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