can I tell callers that my coworkers aren’t going to call them back, giving candidates interview guidance, and more

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

1. Can I tell callers that my coworkers aren’t likely to call them back?

Part of my current position involves answering phones and screening calls. Sometimes that means putting people through to voicemail when my boss or coworkers don’t have time for calls. However, one of the things I’ve noticed is that there are some companies out there that call regularly, sometimes several times a week, and my boss and/or coworkers have told me they will not take calls from them. Usually I just transfer them to voicemail, but then they call back later when they do not receive a response. This is ongoing, sometimes for weeks or months at a time. I feel for these people, making call after call and not getting anywhere. Is it rude or helpful for me to give them a heads up that we’re not interested and/or that the intended party is not going to call them back?

Many of these are sales calls, but some could be other calls. Sometimes they won’t give me very much information. My boss likes me to find out what the call is regarding before he decides whether to accept it. When they won’t tell me, he usually will let it go to voicemail (and most of the time they don’t actually leave a message, but just hang up). A few days pass and it’s lather, rinse, repeat.

If they’re all sales calls, it’s probably fine to say, “I’m sorry, but she doesn’t accept sales calls. Please take us off your list.” But I’d ask your coworkers if they’d like you to do that before just doing it — because you could cause a major relationship disaster for someone if it’s not a sales call and you say “Jane isn’t interested in taking these calls” to the wrong person (like, say, a client or a vendor seeking payment).

You should check with the people you’re screening for about this too, but it’s generally okay to say to people who refuse to share the nature of their call, “I’m sorry, but I can’t transfer you if you won’t share the nature of the call, but I can put you through to her voicemail.”

2. My employer offered me a demotion or said I could resign or be fired

For the last 6 months, I’ve essentially been on “probation” with my supervisor, determining if this manager role is a good fit for me. His conclusion is that I do not possess the skills necessary for this role. Instead of terminating my employment, they offered me another position – a demotion to a role that I was supervising. They stated they do not want to lose me. Even though I do not yet have another job lined up, I have decided to turn down this role. I do not feel it would be a good move for my career, nor for this team. When I turned down this offer, I had the option to resign or to be terminated. I chose to resign.

Given the situation, what should I tell my team and colleagues? I’m not leaving by my own choice – even though technically, I am the one who has chosen to resign because I did not want the other options. I don’t want to leave on bad terms or badmouth my boss, as I know that can haunt you later! But how can I be honest about the situation without tarnishing my reputation or my boss’s?

Often in this situation, people work with their manager on messaging that lets them save face a bit — so that you’re not stuck saying “they wanted to demote me” and they’re not saying “we asked her to leave.” One option people often use is a simple statement that they realized (either on their own, or mutually with the employer) that the role wasn’t the right fit. Some people will assume there’s more to the story, but it’s a good, basic line to use when you don’t want to get into details.

So, it might sound like this: “I appreciated the opportunity to work with all of you, but ultimately didn’t feel it was the right fit for me.” Or, “I realized that ultimately I’m looking for a role with more ___.”

3. Alternatives to traditional team-building

I am investigating how to bring a group of very diverse coworkers together (2 women, 16 men, and both women are very new to the team). I started googling team building and I think it’s a rotten idea. What else do you suggest?

We are currently a group of people in the same space who don’t really connect with one another except for the occasional testosterone-filled chest beating. This usually lasts about 20 mins – all the guys get together and complain about a situation they can’t fix (cuz we work for the government and some things just can’t be fixed). Then they all go back to their desks and continue being solitary.

Is it causing any problems that they’re so solitary? Do people need to working together in different, more effective ways? If not, then I”d question if you even need to take any action. If if the answer is yes, then you figure out specifically what the problems are that you want to address (“not connecting enough” isn’t one, but things like “working at cross purposes” or “not communicating well about work needs” are), and then you address those. For instance, if you’re finding that people aren’t communicating well and it’s harming their projects, then you figure out what type of communication would solve that and implement systems to get it. The typical team-building crap like group athletic events or trust falls have no place here, as you’ve rightly concluded.

4. Employer followed up on my job application by text message

I recently applied to a minimum wage job at an ice-cream shop. A couple days after I handed in the application, I got a text from the manager, asking me what my availability was and saying to text back with my name and phone number if I was still interested. (There were a lot of typos and hardly any punctuation.) I texted back with my name and time frame and added that she could call me at the number she was texting.

It didn’t end up working out, but I’m just wondering if this is a common thing to do – on the application I didn’t say that my phone was a cell phone, so it seems strange that they would choose to text instead of emailing or calling.

Not common or wise, but not unheard of either. It’s typically the province of relatively unprofessional managers with a fairly chaotic style.

5. Should I give inexperienced candidates some guidance on interviewing?

I’m about to start scheduling phone interviews with applicants for two open graduate assistant positions, and I was wondering if you have any thoughts on whether it’s worthwhile to give the applicants any pointers on how to prepare themselves for the interview.

The positions I’m hiring for are administrative/reception in nature, so it’s more useful to me that they be able to learn quickly, follow instructions, prepare adequately than that they innately know how to prepare for an interview. Because most of them will be coming straight from high school or college, I feel giving them pointers on preparation will give me a better sense of them as people and workers. Plus, as a recent graduate myself, I know I would have appreciated this kind of help during my own job search. So far, I’m thinking I’d suggest this:
1) Be familiar with our website, mission, and goals.
2) Be prepared to discuss your expected course load, schedule (if you have it), and potential availability over the next few months/semesters.
3) Be prepared to explain, briefly, why you are a good candidate for this position.
4) Be prepared to discuss your career goals as it relates to your current program of study.

What I hope to take away from the phone interviews is whether the applicant can follow directions; whether the applicant will actually have time for this job; whether the applicant can perform with preparation; whether the applicant is a sane, logical person; and whether this person has potential to fit with the chemistry/culture of our grad school. (The faculty and staff can be hard to work with.)

Last time, I did one interview over Skype, because we were interviewing at a weird time of year and were crunched for time. I hired that one person and was extremely fortunate. I don’t expect to get that lucky again without doing my due diligence. Thoughts?

I think that’s great to do — you’re working with an inexperienced group of candidates, and you want them to be as equipped as possible to show you whether they’re the right fit for the job or not. And you’re right that you don’t want to test how well they interview; you want to get beyond that and see who will be great at the job, so setting them up as best as you can to help you determine that is smart. What you’re proposing will help you see who’s able to take a small amount of guidance and run with it, and who isn’t or doesn’t.

{ 166 comments… read them below }

  1. Jessa*

    #1 when someone tells you they won’t take calls from x, that’s the exact time to ask “okay, when x calls what do you want me to do? Take a message? Shove it to voice mail? Request they not call back?”

    It’s really easy to train upward with people you take calls for, do it often enough and they’ll tell you without you asking “when Janet Smith calls, put it in voicemail, when Thompson LTD calls, tell em take us off their list. If Sam Winter gives you trouble tell him you won’t take the call unless he’s specific about what he wants and that I told you to tell him that.”

    It’s inefficient and completely unfair to you to have to be a gateway to people who are whinging about never being called back. Unless there’s a specific reason for you to take that kind of grief, the people who you answer for should help you avoid it.

    1. TheSnarkyB*

      I totally agree. Also, if these people have already told you they’re not taking calls from XYZ, they might be annoyed that they’re having to sort through the voicemails too. The people you work for may have meant for you to handle it all at the time of the call, rather than just push it back to voicemail status.

    2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      I’m going to disagree with this:

      It’s inefficient and completely unfair to you to have to be a gateway to people who are whinging about never being called back. Unless there’s a specific reason for you to take that kind of grief, the people who you answer for should help you avoid it.

      It’s part of the job of a receptionist to figure out what to do with unwanted callers. The more professional a receptionist, the more skillful he or she is in dealing with this.

      I am in a prime job position for nearly ALL of the incoming sales calls. Marketing, tech, printers, random people who want us to sell things online, trade shows, etc. etc. etc. If I talked to everybody who wanted to talk to me, I’d do nothing else all day.

      I don’t care what our receptionist does to make those calls go away. She can dump them in my voice mail (which I don’t listen to and primarily because of this stuff), she can tell them we don’t accept sales calls, she can tell them whatever. It’s not my problem. It’s her problem because that’s her job (which she does very, very well and with good humor).

      To the OP, nobody is under an obligation to take a cold call, no matter how many times a week that cold call calls. Stop feeling bad for the callers.

      (I have special dispensation to be hard on cold callers who are guilt mongers or pains in the tush because I’ve been in B to B sales virtually my entire career. I used to knock on doors and cold call myself, on straight commission. Still, I managed not to pester people, suck time and guilt monger around while doing it.)

      1. Betsy*

        The issue is when you’re expecting your receptionist to read your mind. You’re basically expecting your receptionist to make a judgment call about what should and shouldn’t be let through, when a wrong decision could be extremely expensive for the company.

        Maybe the receptionist doesn’t need an itemized list of “do this for X, this for Y, this for Z,” but I think he does need a basic rule book to follow.

        Also, “the people who you answer for should help you avoid it,” doesn’t necessarily mean they should take the calls. It means they should give the receptionist the tools he needs to proactively deal with the repeat offenders.

        1. YoungProfessional*

          I HATE sales calls and always get flustered so I’m glad this is being discussed. I work in an open office so I’m always afraid I’ll get in trouble for being abrupt.

          1. en pointe*

            I used to get flustered too, but my boss HATES sales calls, and will actually lose her shit at me if I put one through accidentally, so I got good at it fast. (Super-unprofessional on her part, I know, but she’s the owner of the company.)

            I realise that your being abrupt is probably just a side affect of being flustered and not something you advocate, so I’m definitely more musing rather than directing this at you, but I think it’s important to always be pleasant and polite to unsolicited sales callers too (without wasting too much time on the call).

            Usually, the person on the other end of the line isn’t writing the scripts or making the rules about who and how many times they have to call. Plenty want to be making sales calls and thats fine, but others are just trying to make a living (and jobs don’t exactly grow on trees). That obviously doesn’t make you in any way obligated to indulge their pitch, or transfer them to others in your company or whatever, but I think it’s important to be polite, even when it frustrates you. For me, I just remember that even though I hate taking unsolicited sales calls, I’d hate to be making them so much more.

            1. Felicia*

              I had a job making unsolicited sales calls and i HATED it. I cried every day. So just remember that the person making the call might hate it as much as you and just be nice. The people who would say “So sorry, we’re not interested, but thanks so much for the offer!” and told me to have a great day made me cry much less.

              Also in the case of #1, at my sales calling job, which was horrible, we were required to keep calling back until we got a firm yes or no, so if I kept being sent to voicemail, I’d be required to keep calling back whether I wanted to or not, so I think you should be able to say not interested on behalf of their boss.

              In my sales calling job I thought the product wasn’t that great and I hated calling people, but it made me much nicer to unsolicited callers of all kind, because I figured a lot of them probably didn’t want to do it. And the person you’re talking to on the phone has very little power or control in their company, so yelliing at them is pretty pointless

              1. en pointe*

                Massive +1 to your second paragraph. I think that’s really common.

                It’s why I always do the “Thank you for calling but X has asked me to let you know we’re not interested.” (Because sometimes the salesperson’s management requires it to come from the decision maker, and mine has asked me to let all salespeople know we’re not interested.) “We actually don’t take unsolicited phone calls, as we prefer to source directly from the market ourselves. Could you please take us off your list? Thanks Jane, have a great day.”

                We very rarely get the multiple calls per week that the OP is talking about after that, (and if we do, I get much firmer) because that’s the kind of response that means many salespeople are actually allowed, by their management, to stop calling us repeatedly. (They don’t always take us off the list, but we don’t hear from them again for 6 more months, at the least.)

          2. AVP*

            @youngprofessional, I dont know if that’s something you need to worry about. My receptionist had the same problem
            and I gave her a script and role-played with her on how to be abrupt and get people off the phone asap (99% of the sales calls we get are completely irrelevant to our company).

      2. LBK*

        I think the issue isn’t so much deflecting sales calls, it’s knowing which calls are sales calls vs. other calls when the caller won’t specify. Presumably there are actually some people who call your office that you want to talk to, no? How does your receptionist know to let those go through to you?

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          Well, in my case, I’m low maintenance. Everybody who is conducting business with me legitimately knows that email is the best way to reach me + my direct dial number is in my email signature (bypassing reception) + people who might need me urgently have specific instructions to press 0 to have me paged in an emergency.

          I always answer my pages and I don’t duck phone calls from people who have a reason to be calling me.

          The original question in the OP, though, wasn’t about grey situations. The original question was what the OP should do after she’s been told that the callee will not take calls from the caller and that the OP felt bad for these people who kept calling and calling.

          I don’t really know how my receptionist handles the persistent printing sales people, or persistent SEO consulting firms or the persistent (whatevers), she just does because that’s what she does. If she asked me for help with a certain caller, I surely would get on the phone and tell them to buzz off but I don’t have to because she handles it.

        2. en pointe*

          My boss doesn’t care how I do this either. She made it clear when I started that it’s my responsibility to handle this stuff so she doesn’t have to, and when I’m not there, she delegates it to one of my coworkers.

          You ask questions like:
          “May I ask what it’s in regard to please?”
          “Have you been in contact with X previously?”
          “Is X expecting your call today?”

          You can generally get enough info to judge whether it’s sales/client/vendor/job applicant, etc. and act accordingly. I’ve never accidentally fobbed off someone legitimate, and I’ve put through salespeople by accident extremely rarely.

          If someone is stonewalling you then they go to voicemail (as the OP does).

          1. OP1*

            I definitely already use “May I ask what it’s in regard to?”, but I really like “Is X expecting your call today?” That one may be particularly helpful.


        3. chewbecca*

          I’m always surprised about the cagey people who refuse to tell me what they’re calling for. For instance, I recently had someone call and ask for accounting, but are four different people they could need to talk to, but when I asked what it was regarding, they refused to tell me, and just kept repeating accounting louder and louder.

          I don’t need or want the entire reason you’re calling, it wastes both of our time. However, I do need to know if you want AP, AR or the person who handles all the accounting for our contractors.

          I don’t understand why they don’t want to tell me. It’s most likely not very interesting, so it’s not like I’d going around telling everybody in the office that Apollo from Chocolate Teapot Emporium called because he needed a W9 – OMG! Scandalous!

          1. OP1*

            LOL! Yeah, since I do all of those things, when they ask for accounting I take care of those calls. And I don’t have much trouble when they ask to speak to “the person in charge of your office supplies/printer lease/benefits administrator”. Those I know are sales calls and I can dispose of them fairly easily. It’s when they call and ask, “May I speak to Jane” and I don’t know if they have a relationship with Jane or how they got her name… Ugh.

      3. OP1*

        Because we’re a fairly small company, I’m pretty familiar with clients and vendors. There are a couple of people that one coworker in particular has asked me to always put to voicemail. I’m not actually a receptionist, I do payables, receivables, billing, payroll, basically everything, phones are just the icing on the cake in my job. When these people who I’ve been asked to put to voicemail call back multiple times, it takes time away from other more important tasks.

    3. OP1*

      I try to do this as much as possible, I guess the irritation is with the new callers and the fact that my boss can be unpredictable about which calls he’ll take and which he won’t depending on what’s going on that day.

      It’s also irritating because I’m not a receptionist. I’m an office manager that does pretty much all the paperwork and accounting work for a small office and these calls can take me away from more important tasks.

      1. AVP*

        Okay, I have been in this exact situation so I have some thoughts here…

        Since it’s taking you away from more pressing things, can you frame this to your boss that way and ask if you can institute a more regular way to handle sales calls? Instead of “you’re very unpredictable and I don’t know what to pass on,” maybe go more in the direction of, “I could process the accounting a lot faster if we can all agree that all sales calls will result in me taking down their name and number and emailing it to you with a note about what they’re selling. If they won’t say why they’re calling, I won’t pass it on (or patch them to your voicemail).” If you can make your boss realize that they’re wasting resources (i.e., your time) on this, it becomes a business case.

      2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        If the rest of the office is having you screen phone calls for them, and if you are feeling responsibility for the people who are calling multi times, then defacto you are a receptionist (in addition to your other duties).

        AVP’s advice is excellent.

        If your boss doesn’t want you spend X hours per day being a receptionist, which is the role they’ve put you in, everybody else needs to pitch in.

        Many bosses engage in magical thinking, imagining that these resources they need (in this case, call screening for the entire office) appear out of nowhere just because the boss wants them to. Everything has a cost, money cost or opportunity cost.

    4. Aisling*

      Also, one thing I noted when I was a receptionist: nearly every person who refuses to say why they are calling, are sales people. They know they won’t get through if they say they are sales, so they are hoping you’ll just transfer them if they don’t say anything at all.

      1. Mallory*

        Yep. The people who won’t give at least a vague description of why they’re calling are, nearly without fail, selling something.

        I had one call just today and ask for our dean by name. It took me quite a line of questioning to get the salesperson to admit that they were selling something.

        They kept talking about us placing an article in their publication. I finally asked, “And this would be a paid article?” and they made some indirect noise of cagey assent. I put them to the voicemail of our communications director (they were representing the national chapter of our student professional org, so maybe she’d want to do something with them).

        They certainly didn’t need to speak with the dean, though (unless they were in the mood to have their head bitten off).

        1. iseeshiny*

          “#Ocelot I had the same thing happen to me! Best thing I did was chalk it up to a weird personal quirk and resolve to ignore it.

          To OP #Dugong, have you considered saying something to them directly? If that fails, mention it to your manager only in the context that it’s affecting your ability to do your job. Keep the judgment out of it.”

          1. jmkenrick*

            Those generic responses just made me laugh out loud. Can we have a satirical AAM post one day?

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        It’s been awhile since the world has been introduced to an entirely new system for math. I think you are a visionary.

      2. Adam*

        Not your fault. My friends all have kids who are entering “the terrible twos”. It’s a reflex at this point.

      3. Camellia*

        It is a sign that each question should be in its own post. :)

        Seriously though, that suggestion has come up before. Is there any hope that it will happen? Sometimes I would love to participate in a particular discussion but simply don’t have the time to wade through all the comments trying to find a thread for the one in which I am interested.

        1. Adam*

          Have you tried the “Find” feature in your browser? It’s usually Ctrl + F. And most new comments will put a # and then the number. So if I want to check out comments on question 2, I just [Ctrl + F and #2] and advance through all the instances. It works pretty well and you’ll get most of the comments directed at the topic you’re interested in.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I don’t have current plans to make that switch, but that doesn’t mean I’ll never consider it. However, the coming changes to the comment sections (ability to expand/collapse replies) might make it easier to wade through.

  2. TheSnarkyB*

    #3- Team Building
    I don’t know you and I’m just guessing here but I’m doing it bc it mY be helpful to you:
    It sounds like your problem isn’t a “disconnected” or “not bonded” working group, but rather an overly or overbearingly male/masculine environment. A couple things pointed me to this- 2 women and 16 men doesn’t mean you have a “very” diverse group. It sounds like there may be other personality or background differences or even clashes that are making you call it that. Also, the testosterone-filled chest beating. This sound like it could be a really uncomfortable office culture, both for the men who don’t feel a part of that (if any) and the women. It also sounds like you have a singular culture where things for in pretty neatly or not at all, which means you’re likely missing out on a lot of good ideas from people who don’t want to speak up in this environment. I’d think about looking at gender and office culture in your workplace and reading up in the AAM archives or talking to other managers (your peers) about how they cultivate a gender-balanced and comfortable culture for their teams. (If you think there’s any merit to what I’m saying. And even if you don’t, think about getting someone else’s perspective on it.)

    1. Liane*

      Yes! This was my first thought, too. OP3 could use some tips on communicating that the chest-beating rituals have to stop immediately, if not not sooner.

    2. Betsy*

      Yes! 2 women and 16 men means you have a very similar group with a few outliers, which is a different problem from a very diverse group. The group’s default culture is going to trend strongly towards the majority when it’s that heavily tilted, and the challenge is making certain that the culture works for everyone.

      1. Chinook*

        I work in an office with 4 women and 16 men and we are quite diverse, just not gender-wise (though diversity is hard when there are only 2 options). instead, we cover ages 20 to 60, 5 different countries, 4 different first languages and only 4 locals (i.e. born in the city). Diversity is much more than gender.

        As for team building, how about taking everyone for lunch using the team building funds? Giving people a chance to talk about something other than work may help.

        1. Betsy*

          That’s true: diversity is about more than gender. However, the OP said: “I am investigating how to bring a group of very diverse coworkers together (2 women, 16 men, and both women are very new to the team).” The phrasing of that suggested to me that the gender description was an elaboration of what she meant as “diverse”. If the issue was other kinds of diversity, I don’t think that was clear in the letter.

          1. LBK*

            Agreed, if the diversity were in race/age/etc I would expect those categories would’ve been listed out instead of their genders.

          2. TheSnarkyB*

            Right, I agree but then it’s a misuse of parentheses, so I chose to assume that they were calling the gender situation “very diverse.”
            And Chinook- yep that’s what I meant. There’s such a thing as gender diversity, but this ain’t it. And if you have men and women, you’re probably scaring yourself with the “diverse” label, and calling something one problem when it’s actually another.

    3. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Not only is this not a diverse group, but *I* wouldn’t feel comfortable with “testosterone-filled chest beating”, and I’m a middle-aged guy. In fact, I’m in government contracting, and while we do sometimes complain about clients not being clear or asking for one thing, then asking for the complete opposite a week later, too much complaining (and despite the attempt to masculinize it, that’s what it is) can make morale worse.

      When I get annoyed, I try to remember 1) how much worse many others have it, not just in contracting but in other industries I’ve worked in like retail or non-profit fundraising, and 2) what I actually like about this gig, and that I prefer it to the alternatives (taking a gamble on a new client or a new job).

      If you don’t prefer what you have to the alternatives, don’t whine about it, just go ahead and pick the best alternative, dammit!

      1. MaggietheCat*

        Other industries like Coal Mining (much respect to miners)! That’s what I always remind myself when I feel sorry for myself at work.

    4. Susan*

      Maybe I should define the diversity I see more clearly:

      Of the guys we have 14 are post military with no degree. Several have been in their positions for decades – earning tons of experience, but have no supervisory authority. The boss is young, educated and a little ADHD Impulsive. He recently hired another young educated guy fresh out of college = no experience and put him on equal footing with the other guys (if not slightly higher).
      I am a program support assistant (a jumped up secretary), so I don’t cause many waves because I don’t do the technical work the guys do – I do all the stuff they can’t do.
      Because we are a govt agency who serves post military men and women and is staffed with largely post military folks there is a unique culture here. It’s been really interesting, as a non-military person to watch from the outside. I’ve been here 10 years and hope to stay for decades more!

      So the communication issues we have are between the boss and the older guys, and between the older guys themselves. The chest beating comes out when the guys are faced with a situation they can’t change (which is fairly common in the govt). They come away from their desks – and gather in the center of our shop (which is just outside my door) and talk about “back in the day:” “it SHOULD be:” “that idiot who made xyz decision:” etc. then they all feel better and go back to work.

      I think the worst problems are when the boss makes a decision that goes against “the way we’ve always done it”. He has the authority to make them do it – but they hate it, he leaves the shop and the chest beating begins.

      I don’t have a dog in the fight. I’m new to the department and often the changes don’t affect me except as a person who supprts the changes (arranging meetings, sending emails, creating schedules, etc etc) so I am often the face of the change – but all the guys are mature enough to only shoot the messenger in a kidding manner. I know, and they know it isn’t about me.

      Our boss wants us to move beyond a shop and into a department, and then beyond a department into a center of excellence for the areas we service (1 huge facility, and mulitple state wide off shoots).

      The “guys’ just want to do it the way they’ve always done it.
      Enter the NEW GIRL – post military and somewhat educated. She’s an unknown at this point, she’s only been here a week and is learning the computer system and doing all the new employee stuff and her head is spinning. I’m not sure where she will fall in with the guys, but I want to ask you – this community – for help in furthering the communication in the shop so things smooth out. We can’t serve our facility well in the manner we are going – but pulling the guys (kicking and screaming) into anything new is rough.

      I appreciate all the thoughts and comments below and any follow up! Thank you everyone. I will for sure look in the archives for more info on gender balance.

      1. TheSnarkyB*

        Thanks for this extra info- I see what you’re saying about the diversity, but I still think the main issue is the gendered and likely exclusionary culture in this office. It sounds like you’re not in a position to do a whole lot about it but I’d bet the boss guy hasn’t thought about it much, and maybe simply as a guy doesn’t have the perspective to see if the problem is real and actually affecting the women in the office. I’d think about ways I could point out what’s going on there (ie- “It’s not a team building issue.”) if you’re comfortable, and perhaps also discourage language like “new girl” (pet peeve of mine and others’ – she’s not a girl)

        1. Chinook*

          If the new employee is post-military like the other employees, I don’t think you have to worry as much about the male/female thing as she would have been dealing with it for years (or atleast that’s how it goes in the Canadian military – I know the US is different). And, if you start doing things differently because a woman is involved, you are triggering the gender bias already, IMHO. If the culture needs to change, then it is because of the culture, not because a woman has entered it.

          Now, it seems like the staff get together to vent their frustration and then go back to work, which might be healthy if they don’t harp on it. It seems like you all need to work on a plan to look at the big picture. Maybe you could do a team bulding exercise that flows around just that – how do they see their program going from the shop to a larger audience. They may have ideas that no one has thought about or, by working through the exercise, they may end up buying into it because they are part of the solution and it is not just an order.

          It would be best to do this in an environment where this is all they focus on and where there are no consequences for bad ideas, which is why it best done outside of the office (no phones and interruptions). Have them brainstorm what woudl work, what wouldn’t and solutions for any problems. Throw in food for while they work and you may just get some camaraderie and buy in to the new vision.

      2. jennie*

        You may want to look into change management instead of team building. Resistance to change seems like more of a problem here than cohesiveness.

      3. Fabulously Anonymous*

        Based on this, it seems to me that is more of a seniority issue – old timers vs new timers – as opposed to male vs female.

    5. OhNo*

      Yeah, the way this was described makes me think the same: this may be a traditionally “masculine” kind of office, and these two new-ish women employees are finally making the OP realize it. My suggestions would be:

      1. Make sure it is a problem. As Alison says, it may not actually be an issue that needs to be fixed. You specifically mention the “testosterone-filled chest beating” – why? Is this something that bothers you, or is it something that bothers some of your employees? Are you just assuming that it bothers the two new women because it’s “manly” and they don’t participate? It’s entirely possible that they don’t care, and they just don’t want to engage in pointless complaining like the guys do.

      2. Identify the specific behaviors that need to change. If you get your group together and tell them to communicate better or get along more, that’s not helpful. If you tell them, “The pointless complaining needs to stop. The chest-thumping and posturing needs to stop. The prioritization of “manly” rituals and behaviors, which are unnecessary and deliberately excluding two of our new employees, needs to stop, and here’s why,” that will be much more helpful.

  3. Befuddled Squirrel*

    #2 – Yay! Great to hear Allison shares my opinion on “team building”. I loathe most of these exercises. All too often, someone ends up feeling alienated or intensely uncomfortable and doesn’t think they can speak up about it. Plus a lot of them cross lines that ordinarily wouldn’t be crossed in the workplace such as separating people by gender, bringing to light health issues that otherwise wouldn’t have to be disclosed, etc.

    #3 – What happened to #3?

    #5 – This sounds like a great way to interview people.

  4. Laura*

    #3–My workplace sounds similar–I’m a scientist at a government agency, and our work tends to be very solitary. I think most of us like the solitary part, but one thing that has helped me connect with and get to know my coworkers has been occasional (no more than once per month) staff meetings where our manager will ask us to each briefly describe a project we’re working on. She’ll usually ask just a few of us to prepare something for each meeting, and she’ll talk with us ahead of time about which of our projects would be of most interest to the group. She rotates through so we each get a chance every few months to talk about what we’re up to. It’s done more in a spirit of “FYI” than because we’re going to need to be up to speed for future collaboration on a particular project.

    It’s a nice way to be able to share a few of your accomplishments, and I’ve really enjoyed hearing what my coworkers are up to as well. More than anything, it gives me a sense of how my work is positioned in a larger whole, and more of a sense of purpose for what our team as a whole is accomplishing.

    If you think it’d be a good fit for your team, I’d recommend giving it a try!

    1. Monodon monoceros*

      I think this is great. When I was in grad school, this is similar to how our lab meetings were run (although with a lot of focus on getting input on why my experiments were going horribly wrong…).

      Anyway, I absolutely hate “team building” activities. Laura’s situation is a good example of what team building at work should actually be like; time spent getting to know what your team members are up to, talking about work but hopefully doing it somewhat casually, so you can get to know them as people, too. Not doing silly activities together that have nothing to do with your actual job.

      1. Susan*

        Monodon – I think our guys are similar in personality to what Lab folks would be – solitary – perhaps not entirely socially wise…SMART folks.

        Please dont’ anyone think I am disparraging smart folks – I married one (and was raised by 2). But there is a thread of truth to the highly intelligent folks who just are not interested in playing nicely with others, are socially awkward sometimes and can feel that their perspective is the only one that matters (due to their high IQ blah blah blah). I’m not a slouch, but I can’t hold a candle to many of these people – educated or not!

        1. Monodon monoceros*

          I will admit I’m not the most socially graceful person, and the people I work with tend to be the same. I don’t know if it is correlated with intelligence or not, but we tend to be a bit weird. Not completely socially awkward, but solitary folks bordering on awkwardness. Maybe this is why I think Laura’s example of a team building type of thing is great. I do better in situations where I’m given a specific work-related task to discuss, and can more easily branch off into casual conversation with coworkers from there. But the traditional team building games and tasks to me just feel like they put me on the spot physically or socially and I just freeze up and hate them.

          Maybe your solitary folks would do better in a structured “team building” kind of thing like the meetings where they present what they are working on and get feedback from the group.

    2. Chinook*

      Now that I think about it, that is one of the benefits of our bi-weekly staff meetings – people who often work alone get to talk to each other and “brag” about their accomplishments. Chit chat is not discouraged but we do focus on work (which my sexist brain thinks may be due to use being a largely male office. Even new babies only get 5 minutes of discussion, and most of that is filled with questions from the women).

      1. KerryOwl*

        Really though, how much can possibly said about a new baby? New babies are terribly boring.

        1. Tina*

          I’m a female and I’d prefer not to chat about new babies for more than 5 minutes either, at least in the context of a staff meeting.

          One of my pet peeves with staff meetings in my former office is that people got off-topic constantly and chattered on about things the whole group didn’t need to be part of. Not that I didn’t want to socialize, it was a very cohesive group and that was a great thing, but it became a colossal time waste.

          1. OriginalYup*

            I read something once about meeting overload where a bunch of people, when questioned about why they value meetings, answered “socializing with my coworkers.” This could be an introvert/extrovert divide, but I wanted to run screaming into the street when I read that. 5 min chatting about stuff is fine but I’m in this meeting to get stuff done, not bond with people. GAH.

            1. Tina*

              I am an introvert, so I’m sure that’s part of it, combined with my preference for people just getting to the point. It really was a great group of people to work with, and I *did* want to socialize with them (many of us regularly had lunch together). Just not necessarily in staff meeting, when we usually had quite a bit of shop talk to get through. Not to mention, people often talked over each other so often, and I had such a hard time hearing and understanding everything, I actually went to get my hearing tested! The meetings had me so stressed out about not being able to understand the conversations, I thought it was a hearing problem. Nope, my hearing is fine, I’m just one of those people that has problems with separating out background sounds and what not.

      2. Chinook*

        I also want to add that age diversity and cultural diversity are not always possible at the same time if you are in an industry or community going through a demographic shift (like we are in Alberta). If you want people with local experience and 20 years ago the only people applying for jobs were white males, then the only people with 20 years experience now are going to be white males. (it may be different in other areas, but I do come from an area where a current colleague asked if I went to school with her brother. I didn’t recognize the last name until she pointed out they were the black family in the school.)

        1. Susan*

          I have to laugh because I was raised in a small midwest town and it was momentous when the first Black family moved in. I had never seen a black person except on TV.

        2. Case of the Mondays*

          This is such an important point and one that my city and many businesses and non-profit boards are struggling with. We are a city that was extremely white for many years. Over the past 15 years there has been a huge refugee population relocated here plus a good amount of general immigration. Our demographics have changed drastically. However we have mostly first generation immigrants and the second generation are just entering their 20’s. We recognize that given our population we really need more racial diversity in our leadership positions. However, the only way we can get that is to recruit from other more diverse cities for people with the experience and degrees or to accept local people who do not have the experience and degrees. I suspect that in ten years we will no longer have this problem when the second generation has been through college and gained work experience. Usually such discussions are met with a raised eyebrow and someone saying “are you telling me there are no qualified black people in your city?” There certainly are a handful of very qualified black people whose families were here long before this population shift. What we are referring to is a population of mostly Sudanese, Haitian, Somalian and others that have been granted political asylum and mostly lived in refugee camps before coming here.

          1. Chinook*

            “I suspect that in ten years we will no longer have this problem when the second generation has been through college and gained work experience. Usually such discussions are met with a raised eyebrow and someone saying “are you telling me there are no qualified black people in your city?””

            That is Calgary in a nutshell. The accounting firm I worked in had this issue. You could tell they were grooming a diverse population for partnerships, but that takes time and it would do more damage if they put someone there without the experience. Plus, if someone has decades of experience in one community, there would have to be a very good reason for them to uproot and move to a new one (expecially if they see that community as culturally inferior). Accepting that change takes time and verifying that there are no official or unofficial policies blocking that change are all that anyone can do.

            BTW, the proof that this works is that Calagary elected a Muslim, immigrant mayor (he came when he was very, very young) and everyone outside of Alberta was shocked. Locally, though, we knew that we only look for the best person for the job and no one cares about your ethnic background. But, if we had been pushed to have a mroe diverse city council, there would have been a backlash because suddenly things that are not relevant to do the work are becoming a requirement., which is just not done here (in general).

      3. Susan*

        I wish our meetings had that kind of feel.
        Our weekly staff meeting is usually our boss needing to practically pull teeth to get a report from the guys. Most of the time the guys just throw out the latest acronym for the project they’re working on – teen style – coupled with grunts and monosyllablic sentences.
        It’s painful to watch.
        Of course there’s that ONE guy – who brings a list a mile long and gives a detailed description of his doings. Not sure yet if he is doing it sarcastically or brown nosing…which means that he’s doing it well – no matter which.

      4. neverjaunty*

        I’ve been in largely male offices where it was the men engaging in non-work discussions. But of course since they were dudes and talking about sports, nobody called it “chit chat”.

  5. GrumpyBoss*

    #4 – it’s an ice cream shop, not Goldman Sachs. The manager is probably either someone very young, or a small business/franchise owner (read: not someone who may have a lot of strong management skills). I certainly wouldn’t judge anyone based on this.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      It is a good heads up about how the place is run, though.
      Having seen this type of thing first hand, if OP went to work there she could expect to receive text messages that say “Can you be here in 30 minutes?” on her day off.

      Some people don’t mind working like this, other people can’t do it.

      The fast-paced nature of some work environments lead to methods similar to this, sometimes. I have also seen things like this if the manager feels underpaid and/or over-worked.

      I agree that the place is probably not very structured and things are accomplished more by luck than actual planning.

      1. Chloe Silverado*

        My sister actually worked in an ice cream shop with an owner/manager who communicated primarily through texts riddled with abbreviations and slang, and it was a nightmare. The schedule was texted despite employee requests for a posted schedule. This manager made frequent mistakes including forgetting to send texts, sending wrong shift times or days, etc. My sister would typically confirm, but still got frantic calls that no one was at the shop and she needed to get down there ASAP even though she was not scheduled. The shop was also constantly understocked and had broken equipment.

        One day she arrived for work and found an out of business sign on the door. Two weeks later she received a final paycheck for about half the hours she had worked. Obviously this was a worst case scenario, but in this case the manager’s communication style was indicative of his disorganization and poor management.

        1. LBK*

          Sorry, I just don’t believe that using texts as a method of communication is indicative of anything in this example. I used to text my employees all the time as a retail manager.

          1. OhNo*

            I don’t think it’s the text as a method of communication, so much as it is a text riddled with spelling/punctuation errors, no professionalism, not much common sense (what if it was a land line number?), and little to no respect shown for the possible employee (what if they didn’t have a texting plan and couldn’t send/receive texts or had to pay extra for them?).

            I would have the same opinion about a manager who sent me an email or called me, if they displayed the same issues.

          2. Chloe Silverado*

            You’re absolutely right, indicative was the wrong word. I probably should have written something like “in this case, the manager’s communication style contributed to his disorganization and poor management.” I also should have clarified that I don’t think texting equals bad management. I’ve had great, organized retail and office job managers who communicate via text. It’s definitely convenient.

            That said, I do find the OP’s situation (the very first communication during the hiring process being text when she didn’t specify if it was a cell or landline) a bit odd, and it would probably cause me to keep an eye out for other issues to avoid a situation like what happened in my example. My sister’s manager also initiated communication via text riddled with typos and slang and continued to make major texting errors that lead to inconvenience for his employees throughout the duration of her employment. Like I said, indicative was the wrong word, but his poor communication, conducted mostly through text, was one of his major shortcomings as a manager. Had he answered the phone when an employee called to clarify one of his texts and posted a schedule in addition to texting, he could have avoided scheduling issues that were caused by typos, sending texts to the wrong person or forgetting to hit send.

      2. LBK*

        Requests for last-minute shift coverage are just part of the expectation of working a service industry job, I don’t see how that would have anything to do with the manager’s planning abilities. If someone calls out, what other option do you have other than asking someone else to come in? And those requests are going to come whether it’s via text or by phone call. I don’t quite understand your line of thinking here.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Chloe was pretty clear that many of the missed shifts were likely due to the manager’s inability to clearly and reliably communicate the schedule: “This manager made frequent mistakes including forgetting to send texts, sending wrong shift times or days, etc.” I don’t quite understand what you don’t understand about that. Last minute changes are not in and of themselves an issue, but a manager who not only doesn’t handle problems well but actually is the source of many of them certainly is a serious management issue.

        2. Elysian*

          Phone call is inherently better than text for a ton of reasons – For instance, you know the person received or didn’t receive it, you can get an immediate answer on whether they can come in or not. With a text, if the person doesn’t answer right away, you don’t know if they saw it and they’re on their way, or if they didn’t see it and you need to call someone else. It’s just not a good communication method for important business.

    2. LQ*

      I agree about the ice cream shop. Though I do think you can judge someone based on this I’m not sure it’s a bad sign. I think it could be that the manager is used to dealing with people who respond best to texts and so starts the conversation that way rather than struggling to get people to respond other ways.

      Also I think that the manager gave a clear message of what needed to be returned was a positive indicator.

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        Exactly. We all have ways we like to be communicated with. But I think context here is important, which is the point I was trying to make. In a small business in the service industry, you are going to get a very different type of manager than you would in corporate america. This isn’t a slam on either style, but really more that the manager in a small business is more of an office/business manager and less of a people manager.

        And all that being said, if the text was clear and gave concrete directions and expectations, I think that’s better off than most of us get on a daily basis, even face to face! :)

    3. LBK*

      I agree, I was kind of surprised by Alison’s answer on this. If it were a corporate environment texting about an interview would be very weird, but texts are probably a common form of communication at a place like an ice cream shop (it has been at all the service industry jobs I’ve worked) so the manager was just doing what they normally do for business-related conversations.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think it’s one thing if you’re doing it with employees. (Still not a fan, but that’s personal preference.) But for a first contact with a job candidate (and where you don’t even know if you’re texting a cell phone or a land line), I think it’s different.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Yeah, I’m seeing more and more the assumption that a phone number given will accept texts, which completely eliminates those who give a landline number or who don’t use texting.

        2. Mints*

          I love text; 90% of my social interaction that’s not in person is through text (10% is facebook). If I’m exchanging numbers with a new friend, I’ll say: text me when we can hang out.
          But I completely agree with Alison, that it makes a different when it’s first contact. I use my home phone for job hunting, so that I can screen calls and then introduce cell phone if I want to (including when I worked retail). I don’t think it makes sense to take text as a given, unless people explicitly say “text me.”

        3. NoPantsFridays*

          Yeah, I used to have only a landline for years and I got texts to the landline constantly, even from people who knew it was a landline. And then they would get mad that they got charged for text-to-landline service. Thankfully these were friends/acquaintences, not potential employers.

    4. FiveNine*

      This. And in service industry jobs, it used to be my experience that managers did frequently call on the fly when, for example, they needed an extra server on the floor — I mean, sometimes I’d get those calls several times a week. I would not be at all surprised if texting now is faster, more comfortable (most people I know freely admit they’re more likely to read a text then actually answer the cell phone), and probably as widely used or more than calling. Email? I really am pressed to think of a service job I had where we even had access to email or the internet. And yes, applying and interviewing for these jobs — and when to expect callbacks, etc. — is different (someone within the past week or so was asking whether it was strange a manager had called back within two days of applying, for example).

      1. LBK*

        Yeah, texting is preferred for a lot of those conversations because a) the time of the shift is in writing, so both the manager and employee are clear on the expectation and there’s no room for “oh sorry I thought you said come in at 4, not 3” and b) the employee can read/reply at their convenience. Especially if they’re in school or have another job, it’s a lot easier to quickly read and answer a text than to pick up your phone or listen to a voicemail and call back. And if the manager is on the floor, it’s usually faster to send the text while you’re walking around monitoring activity than stepping off the floor to make a call.

        1. K-Dog*

          I don’t see anything wrong with communicating through text. I am sure a few years back it was weird to get an email from someone. My boss walks right past me and goes into her office and emails me : “what are you working on?”

          1. FiveNine*

            Oh yeah. I’ve had a coworker sit right next to me while we were working at a call center, we’d be on the phone with customers while IM’ing. He’d often respond “LOL” but I was sitting right there (and he definitely wasn’t laughing out loud). Life just keeps getting stranger.

    1. Alter_ego*

      As a woman who works for a company that just hired their second woman engineer, out of the 30 total engineers we have, it’s hugely relevant. These are men who are obviously not used to being around women, and so every few days is some variation on “you look prettier with/without makeup”, or “you’re single because you don’t know how to tell a man he’s right” (the man in question was wrong), or being told to “calm down sweetie” every time I bring up an issue. I’m absolutely not seen as a peer in the same way, and part of that is age, but there are 4 men there that are my age that are definitely treated with more respect.

      Now, I have no solution, of course, but I could totally understand the two women feeling isolated by weekly testosterone filler chest banging, and their gender is hugely relevant to those feelings.

      1. Colette*

        At a previous job, there was a guy who had a cubicle in my hallway who wouldn’t speak or look at me. (I didn’t work with him at all, so I just thought it was funny.)

        Gender can be very relevant.

      2. GrumpyBoss*

        Alter_ego, as a female in a male dominated industry (that like yours, has some stilted social skills), I agree 100%. Over 20 years in, I no longer care. But there are double standards that are alive and well. Men never comment on each other’s appearances, but apparently women are fair game. Women’s relationship status is commented on all the time. And my all time favorite: men are assertive where the same behavior from a woman is viewed as aggressive/bitchy.

        Once I accepted that these things happened and learned not to respond to them, I did a lot better. In a perfect world, that wouldn’t be necessary, but adapt or die.

      3. Chinook*

        “These are men who are obviously not used to being around women, and so every few days is some variation on “you look prettier with/without makeup”, or “you’re single because you don’t know how to tell a man he’s right” (the man in question was wrong), or being told to “calm down sweetie” every time I bring up an issue.”

        Alter_Ego, do you call them on this behaviour? Since they are not used to working with women, maybe they truly are clueless on how to react. Even if they are sexist idiots, sometimes having someone stand up to them is enough to get the behaviour to stop.

        1. Alter_ego*

          There’s one really bad offender, and depending on the situation, I’ll say something. When he told me I look better without makeup, I said “thanks, but I’m not doing it for you”. He said I didn’t have to be so aggressive about it, and I said he didn’t have to make comments on my appearance, especially not insulting ones. He got kind of flustery and just said we should get back to work.

          Or when he told me he wanted my mom’s number so that he could tell her she raised me with no sense of humor (because I didn’t laugh at a shitty joke he made), I handed him my cellphone, and told him to go right ahead. I try to call him on his bluffs when I can.

          But a lot of the stuff is subtle enough that there’s not really anything to call out, and plausible deniability about it if you try.

          I’m an electrical engineer, so I expected this when I picked my career path, and like I said, it wouldn’t be better elsewhere, so I just learn to live with it until I can vent to my roommates when I get home.

    2. Monodon monoceros*

      I think gender is relevant in the OP’s situation in that they need to find a way to have a cohesive team that does not include such overt male-ness, and is more inclusive to other genders.

      So yes, I get your point that gender shouldn’t matter, but it does when you are trying to make the situation more gender neutral.

      1. UK Anon*

        But the OP seems to be making it gender filled. OP says: “This usually lasts about 20 mins – all the guys get together and complain about a situation they can’t fix.” Moaning isn’t a gendered thing…

        If OP had said that it was mainly women who got together to get hysterical about things they can’t change, would you have felt differently about gender being included?

        1. straws*

          The sentence you extracted wasn’t gendered, but it was preceded by “We are currently a group of people in the same space who don’t really connect with one another except for the occasional testosterone-filled chest beating.”

          I would absolutely be concerned if a group of employees were being excluded on a regular basis, whether it’s because of gender or any other reason. I’m not going to turn away from a situation just because it does include a gender bias though. I happen to work in a company with more women than men, and we do have to be careful that all activities aren’t always excluding the same people. It’s a concern whether the activities are “traditionally gendered” or not, but when everything is driven by a like-minded group (who in my case happen to be all women, and in the OP’s case happen to be all men), it needs to be considered.

          1. UK Anon*

            I completely agree that activities should be inclusive – and if it were that all the men in OP’s office were, IDK, routinely going to strip clubs or somesuch other thing then sure, mention gender. But the only example OP can give of the (rather offensively described) “testosterone-filled chest beating” is that they moan a bit. Which is hardly excluding to women.

            Yes, the OP needs to find a way to bring the group together, and good on them for doing that. But I can see no evidence in the letter that this actually has anything to do with gender, and so OP needs to move away from that stance to deal with the problem.

            1. straws*

              Hmm. Fair enough. I guess I need more info on what testosterone-filled complaining actually entails!

            2. Not So NewReader*

              I can see how at first glance it looks like the men are on one side of the room and the women are on the other.
              But I do agree that looking at the situation closer it sounds like the actual problem is the complaining. New hires will tend not to get involved in complaining- so this is a conversation that would exclude new hires.

              I worked one place where the “cool” thing was to stand around and gripe about the boss. I would listen to it for a few minutes and then go start my work. One day the boss caught me walking away from the group.
              “You just walked away from them and they were talking to you!!” Oh my, you would have thought it was the end of the world. I could not tell her that I walked away because I did not want to listen to them raking her over the coals for the nth time.
              Everything that was being said about the boss was true, the fact remained that I had to work with her. I could not maintain a good working relationship AND listen to endless complaints.

              OP, if I was working in your place, I might walk away from these men, too. Not because of testosterone issues. But because I need to keep a good attitude about my job and do my best every day.

              1. danr*

                You could have given a general response such as “It was just the same old stuff. I didn’t need to hear it again”.

        2. Liane*

          If I was OP3, I would still want to fix the problem if it was “We have 2 men and 20 women, and there’s a group hysteria-fest every day about some little thing.”

        3. Jen RO*

          Yeah, I don’t think it’s a gender thing here. All the guys = all the people who have been in the team for a longer time. The new people just happen to be women. In my experience, new people (of both genders) are less involved in a team’s “life”, and become more involved as they gain experience.

          1. ella*

            I agree that I think that the important thing is making sure the newbies are welcomed and included, but I also think that the OP needs to at least keep the gender aspect of it in mind. When you’re new to a team, it’s hard to tell what difficulties you’re having because you’re new and what difficulties you’re having because you’re the only woman/Korean/Muslim/whatever.

            I was once in a situation very similar to this–the only woman on a team of about twelve guys, many of whom knew each other and had already worked together for some time. Some guys went out of their way to try and be welcoming and change their language to include me. Some were kind of hyper-assertive about not changing their behavior to accommodate a woman. For me, I actually kind of appreciated both strategies (or maybe it’s that I appreciated there being both; I’m not sure how I would’ve felt about all of one or all of the other), and more importantly, I could tell that the guys valued having me around and that the important thing was that we get work done. We got to the point that it didn’t make a difference that I was the only woman, but it took a little while. The gender thing was definitely a factor in my experience of being new at that job.

    3. Kate*

      It matters when there is such in unbalanced group. If there were 14 women and 16 men it wouldn’t matter as much. Also since there are new women to the group that matters even more.

    4. Tomato Frog*

      I suspect the OP just failed to get explicit about how s/he views it as relevant. E.g. “Currently the only modes of communication that are going on exclude the women employees. What are some ways I can make a cohesive group in a male-dominated environment?” But, yeah, as written it didn’t seem terribly relevant to me, either. Standing around complaining is one of the great gender neutral activities!

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think this is a little like saying “who cares about race?” The reality is, it’s easy to say that as the majority race in a group, but try telling that to minorities who are quite aware of the many ways racial differences play out. It’s not always the case that you should be color blind or gender blind; it’s often that you need to figure out how to be truly inclusive in ways that acknowledge that yeah, this stuff does impact how people relate to each other, what norms people bring to the situation, etc.

      1. sally*

        gender blind and color blind is the ultimate goal. Sure there are sometimes short term compromises that we have to make since some people are incapable of being blind. However, its critical we never lose sight of the goal.

  6. HR "Gumption"*

    #5- That is awesome you are doing that and it will give you great insight to your candidates as well as give them good direction they can take forward.

    Years ago I was hiring seasonal workers in group settings and would actually go over line by line our application instructing in how best to complete. Amazingly there were still a good number that left many key elements blank.

  7. Not So NewReader*

    #2. I had a situation with a toxic boss, among other things would proclaim that she would never have any female direct reports. Because of her many, many statements it was no surprise to my group that I resigned. I found that in the end it was not important how that resignation came about. The most important part was just letting the group know that x day would be my last day and that I enjoyed working with them. No one asked about the reason why. I did have a couple people say “Couldn’t you just tough it out a while longer?” I said “No, everyone has their load limits and I had reached mine.”

    YMMV. My rule of thumb is if the boss is toxic they will hang the employee out to dry, or if the boss is nice (professional) that boss will do everything possible to keep things smooth right up through the last day of work. I do believe you do not owe anyone an explanation for resigning. (Except the boss, who should have some idea.)
    My boss was shocked I did not take the demotion. I never offered a reason why. Her boss stopped speaking to me and would not even acknowledge me in passing. All these behaviors only verified that I had made the correct choice.

    1. AGirlCalledFriday*

      But what if your toxic boss was the one who was given the choice to be demoted/resign/be terminated?

      This happened to me. My boss was pretty awful to most of the staff, and unlike them I wasn’t on contract. She fired me, despite the fact that I had done nothing wrong, because of a complaint that turned out to be a misunderstanding. She knew her job was in jeopardy and the complaint was in relation to how I was handling something that she had pretty much hinged her job on. The day after she fired me (I was finishing out the week) we were all told that she was stepping down from her position. But in total fact, she was demoted to a position where she would have zero contact with staff and clients because of all the complaints directed against her, and was to resign after the end of her contract. She went on to get a different position with the same title. For myself though, I’ve been unable to find another position in the states, primarily due to the black mark of being fired wrongfully.

  8. Betsy*

    #3 – Team building exercises are awful. Opportunities to be social and friendly in the office are sometimes really helpful.

    Consider buying pizzas for lunch and have a casual team lunch. Bring in ice cream at 3PM and call for a 30-minute break to eat. If you think your team would like it, see about bringing in someone to talk about stress management or workplace exercises or healthy eating over lunch. Have a bring-your-family tailgate party. Do this every few weeks. Make it low-pressure and low-stress. Don’t turn it into a big event. Keep it opt-in instead of opt-out. Don’t try for 100% participation. Tailor it to what people might be interested in.

    I think a sense of team is really valuable, but it doesn’t come from a day of sitting around a campfire or trying to figure out how to climb a wall. It comes from a workplace dynamic that says, “We are friendly and relaxed with each other, and can enjoy time spent with in the same place.” You get that slowly, by creating places where people can interact positively.

    1. Jen RO*

      Incoming: all people on diets, gluten intolerant, allergic to chocolate, shy, etc. I’m just being snarky, but sometimes organizing team activities sounds exhausting judging by the AAM comments.

      1. Clever Name*

        Heh. We have birthday celebrations with whatever treat the birthday person wants. I always pick a chocolate ice cream cake. Others pick pie or traditional cake. There are gluten-free folks and others who don’t eat sweets or who just plain don’t like ice cream. They all act like adults and join in the conference room but don’t partake of the food. No big deal.

        1. NoPantsFridays*

          Yes, the problem is when you have some coworkers who take issue with others not partaking and won’t leave them alone about it.

          The problem is not that someone is gluten intolerant, has allergies, is on a diet, etc. — the problem is that they have to publicly explain it to the whole room to get out of partaking in the group event. “No, thank you” is not a sufficient answer.

          1. NoPantsFridays*

            To be clear, I am the kind of person who will just say “no” and leave it at that, change the subject, etc. I tend to be able to do that without difficulty. But even then, I can still tell that the “no” is unacceptable without an explanation.

      2. Vancouver Reader*

        And being mostly men, they would hate that sort of thing. Sorry I know that`s a very generalized statement, but my husband comes home and bitches about that sort of team building exercises when his workplace tries to do that sort of thing and I know the rest of his male co-workers are the same way..

        1. Jamie*

          I know just as many women who hate this stuff as men – and I know some men who love it.

          I haven’t seen this fall on gender lines, ime.

  9. Scott M*

    #3 : Team building. In my opinion, teams need 3 things. Everyone needs to know the goal of the team. Everyone needs to know how they contribute to that goal. And everyone needs to know how their team mates contribute towards the goal.

    Whatever you can do to strengthen those three areas will help build your team.

    For the team goal, you need to sit down and list everything your team does. This might even include responsibilities that technically aren’t yours, but your team does them anyway. This is not a once line ‘mission statement’. This is a detailed accounting of the responsibilities of your team. Along the way you might even realize that your team’s purpose is too diffuse and scattered – maybe some of those responsibilities can be better handled by other teams. group the responsibilities into team goals that you can reference.

    Then you need to make sure that everyone understands how they contribute to the goal. Find out what everyone does. Everything! And link everyone’s activities to a goal of the team. If someone is doing something that doesn’t support a goal, perhaps they don’t need to do it (maybe it should go to another team). Or perhaps you need to add a team goal.

    Finally, and this is the most important part, everyone needs to know everyone else’s responsibilities. This helps knit the individual contributors together into a team. They don’t need to know all the details. But they should know who to go to for help and who to refer other people to. They should know when their work affects someone else.

    Sure there are a million other things you can do to help the team along. but you’ll need this base to start with. I think that most team leads don’t think of this and focus on the personality aspect (which is important, but doesn’t work if you don’t have the basics down).

  10. en pointe*

    #1 This is part of my job too. I don’t think it’s at all rude to give them a heads-up that you’re not interested and that their call won’t be returned, if you’re completely sure it’s an unsolicited sales call, and/or you’ve cleared it with the person they’re trying to reach first.

    I usually don’t have too much difficulty figuring out whether it’s sales or not by asking “May I ask what it’s in regard to, please?” If they won’t give me an answer, as you mentioned you’ve been experiencing, I ask “Have you been in contact with X previously?” (The caveat with that one being that if the salesperson has been put through before, they can technically, honestly say yes.) Or “Is X expecting your call today?”

    Obviously not foolproof, but I’ve found that when I ask questions like that, and it’s actually a client or vendor or someone similar, it usually spurs them to tell me more information, because they know that I’m going to fob them off otherwise. Moreover, while a salesperson could easily lie through their teeth, in my experience, that actually happens very rarely. Probably because a) many of these people do have plenty of integrity; they’re just doing a job that I imagine for some of them is often not all that pleasant, and b) the ones without integrity know that their lie would be exposed pretty quickly anyway.

    If someone’s completely stonewalling you, so you have no idea what it’s about, and your boss/coworkers haven’t okayed you telling them not to call again, then yeah, I’d go the voicemail route just to be safe. But I can generally always get enough info to know broadly what calls are regarding, and conclusively judge which ones are unsolicited sales, and which ones to put through or not.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, I wondered if maybe the OP was just looking for a little reassurance that her actions and her workplace’s policies were okay and not some hideously rude practice, and they are absolutely okay and even necessary. The staff are not required to talk to everybody who calls any more than they’re obliged to answer every spam email. “My boss likes me to find out what the call is regarding before he decides whether to accept it. When they won’t tell me, he usually will let it go to voicemail” is actually pretty standard.

      1. OP1*

        “I wondered if maybe the OP was just looking for a little reassurance that her actions and her workplace’s policies were okay and not some hideously rude practice, and they are absolutely okay and even necessary.”

        That’s exactly it. I’m trying to protect their time (and my own) as much as possible, but wanted to make sure I wasn’t being rude or unprofessional in some way.

        1. fposte*

          Totally normal. My guess is that your supervisors aren’t even aware that you’ve had some concerns about this because of how standard it is. You can still check with your manager to make sure you’re on track with your organization’s particular expectations, as people here have suggested, but a lot of reception is exactly this kind of speaking politely to people while making sure they don’t bother the person they’re chasing.

    2. Felicia*

      As someone who formerly did unsolicited sales calls (and hated it), if you don’t tell them you’re not interested, they’re often required to call back until you give them an answer either way. But then I’d always be honest and detailed as to what my call was regarding

  11. TotesMaGoats*

    #3-If the work is completely within deadlines and accurately, does it really matter if the team isn’t connected? Sure, you should be having some sort of regular staff meeting to make sure all are on the same page. But if your department is more individual contributor than team driven then solitary workers makes sense.

    And unless these “chest beating” sessions are using derogatory language towards women, why can’t the women join in? I love a good whine-fest. Just because the men are the instigators of it doesn’t mean the women can participate.

    I guess I’m in camp “suck it up buttercup” and put yourself out there. Who cares if the are more men than women? But then again I’m also trying to start a campaign called #bebossy. I might be a smidge of an outlier.

    1. fposte*

      I had a different take on the whinefest that got to the same “does it matter?” place. It could be that there are two really productive employees who are bored by the periodic grumping and would rather get their work done.

    2. LBK*

      I’d be more concerned about the whinefests allowing negativity to brew than whether it’s done by men or women. For a certain type of person, venting like that can be helpful because it allows them to get it off their chest, drop the subject and move on with their day. For most people, it just makes the annoyance and frustration build up and continue to distract you. I hate working with coworkers who whine all day because it puts me in a negative headspace – it’s hard to stay motivated when you’re surrounded by people dragging you down.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Yes, and whinefests and an atmosphere of negativity can in my experience have a particularly strong effect on new people. The veterans might know, “Oh, that’s so-and-so, he’s a curmudgeon but he means well,” or “Yeah, we get together and vent, but then we do our jobs and it’s fine,” but a new person who sees a lot of complaining can get a very different impression that may be difficult to shake.

      2. VintageLydia USA*

        People ask me all the time why I take things in stride. The reason is I used to be the negative nelly and let me tell you, it just made me feel worse and made everyone want to stay away from me. I would not be happy in this work environment.

    3. Colette*

      Making sure the environment is open to all genders matters, so I think it’s a good idea to pay attention when the dynamic changes, as it has done in this case. Not all men are comfortable working with women, nor are all women comfortable being a minority in the workplace. Most people are fine with it, but there are outliers.

      That doesn’t mean mandatory team building, but looking for ways to build connections within the team is a good idea.

  12. ella*

    #5–It may have just been how your question was worded, but be aware that it’ll be a rare student who knows anything about their schedule more than one semester in advance other than “I plan on taking a full-time courseload” or “I expect to be working on my dissertation by then.” Students should have their fall schedules now, but they won’t have their spring schedule until they register for spring semester.

    1. OP #5*

      Yes, that’s a good point. Thanks! My husband is grad student as well in another grad school on our campus. It truly depends on the school and program how well a student can project. Most can say, though, how many credits they plan to take each semester, or when they plan to graduate, etc. Even then, though, things change. It’s the challenging thing with hiring graduate students…their first priority isn’t their job with me!

      1. JMegan*

        In which case, you’re not looking so much for a specific answer, as how well they can articulate that answer.

        “I’m thinking about taking X% of a full course load, and anticipate graduating in Y” is a good enough answer, especially if they can also talk intelligently about what courses they’re planning on taking, future plans, etc.

        …which, as you said in your question, is exactly what you’re trying to evaluate anyway! This sounds like a great idea, and I love the way you’re prepping the candidates for the interview. Please update and let us know how it works out!

        1. OP #5*

          Exactly! Also, though there are rock stars out there who can handle a full course load and work a part-time job, it is good to know ahead of time what commitment level GAs will be able to offer for the times that extra hours are needed for events and busy times. There are also extra-curricular activities on campus, research teams, clubs, etc. that will impact availability and cause their job to sink further on the priority list. I want to know what I’m up against from the start!

          I’ll be sure to update after the fact. Thanks for the comments!

  13. M. in Austin!*

    #3- I love the team building activities I’ve done at my last two companies! Maybe they weren’t typical team building activities? Basically, it gave the team a reason to not for work for a couple of hours. We’d go have a long lunch, go volunteer, or go have a small gathering (really not quite a party, I guess kind of like a barbecue?) at someone’s house. It was nice to get to know my coworkers and find some common ground. I should mention that these two companies were very large, but extremely casual.

    #5- You should absolutely do this! During the interview process for my first corporate job, the interviewer gave me similar advice (specifically, “read our website, get familiar with us”). I wouldn’t have thought to do that on my own! (I was only 20). It helped me so much. Sometimes people new to full-time or non-retail/food jobs just don’t know these things because the hiring process can be so different.

    1. M. in Austin!*

      Oh, and the team building activities were totally optional. That’s a pretty important element, I think.

      1. Befuddled Squirrel*

        Yes, that really helps! Ours have always had mandatory attendance, i.e. no PTO and no sick days.

    2. Scott M*

      While I usually don’t like socializing with team members, it sounds like your experiences were done the right way. They were done during work hours and were optional.

      I still don’t quite understand how socializing with coworkers can help you work better with them, but I understand I’m in the minority there.

      1. Case of the Mondays*

        “During work hours” is so key. My old job had all kinds of “perks” like retreats with stays at fancy hotels and whale watching trips and the like. They were mandatory. On the weekend. We could bring our families along usually but it really became forced friendship. I’d actually rather be hanging w/ my spouse at home than hanging w/ my spouse and boss even if there is an open bar.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          I’m busy on the weekend, and I had those obligations (church, clean laundry) before I started this job. That would be a deal-breaker for me.

      2. Joey*

        The idea is people are more likely to work better together when they have a good relationship with the person. Sort of going the extra mile not because you are required to, but because you want to either because you like the person or at minimum respect them or the job they’re doing.

        You may disagree, but people almost always do a better job when they have a good or better relationship with the person they’re dealing with. Socializing is just a vehicle to develop the relationship.

        1. Scott M*

          I think it’s possible to have a good business relationship with someone without needing to socialize or get to know someone on a personal level. But I guess I understand that some people need that personal aspect in order relate to coworkers.

    3. Turtle Candle*

      I also really enjoy my company’s team building things (things like long, casual team lunches, the occasional day trip someplace fun [like, trip to the beach or theme park fun, not “trust exercises” “fun”], cake or other snacks brought in to celebrate milestones, etc.). I think it’s key that they were during work hours, entirely optional, and fairly low-key. They wouldn’t have made up for crappy management or other serious problems, but on a functional team they were great.

      1. M. in Austin!*

        During work hours seems to be the key. It’s nice to take a break from work, get to know your coworkers a little, and talk about work in a more relaxed environment.

        If these were scheduled after work hours, I’d most likely skip! That’s ME time! (I mean really, we get so little time off already!).

  14. Juni*

    If your office just is anti-sales-call, OP1, you can suggest a policy to your boss or the decision-makers that says that prospective vendors must submit proposals in writing in February of every year for the following fiscal year. I’ve suggested it here before.

    It usually goes like this:
    Sales Caller: “Hi, this is Jim from NewDatabaseCo, can I talk to Sue please?”
    Receptionist, who doesn’t know this person: “Thanks for calling! Are you a current vendor or a prospective vendor?”
    Caller: (flustered at having to answer this very pointed question) “Prospective, I guess.”
    Receptionist: “Great! You should know that our company policy is that we take proposals from prospective vendors during the month of February. If you’re interested in being a vendor with us, please mark your calendar to send a proposal for your services in writing in February. You can send it to Sue’s attention.”
    Caller: “Okay, thanks.”

    Sometimes you have to repeat it so they get it, but just keep saying, “We don’t accept calls, and we do not accept proposals outside the month of February. I’m afraid anything you send outside of our bid month will not be reviewed. Callers who try to circumvent our process don’t tend to be received warmly here.”

    Every February, our office gets some written proposals, which is fine, since we’d have to have whatever we’d consider in writing anyway rather than via a slick sales call. I’d say in any given year, 10-25% of the callers we’ve put off actually submit proposals in February.

  15. Befuddled Squirrel*

    #3 – Here’s a team building activity that works. Pair co-workers up to have lunch together. Set it up so that every week, you have lunch with a different co-worker until you’ve had lunch with everyone.

      1. Kelly L.*

        And I read at lunch. It’s my decompressing time. I can just imagine a lot of these lunches being awkward-fests as people have trouble thinking of things to talk about for an hour.

        1. Diet Coke Addict*

          “So, you….work here….too?”

          God, I can’t imagine anything worse than forced lunch with random coworkers.

    1. ChiTown Lurker*

      No, just no, unless you think of a team mutiny as a team building activity. Forced lunches with the team are an acceptable part of work life. Forced lunches with individual team members are just plain cruel.

    2. Joey*

      There is no one activity that’s going to build a team. It has to be a sustained effort on the part of the manager to do the following:

      1. Provide opportunities to work as a team.
      2. Allow teams the flexibility to make decisions, determine direction, or make recommendations as a team.
      3.Keep people informed of what’s going on in the organization, especially the things outside of their area.
      4. Solicit and incorporate input from your team on important decisions.
      5. The manager should be modeling the behavior he wants from his team. I can’t stress how important this is. Everything from having a positive attitude to harmless fun to walking the walk.
      6. Recognize good work and the people that contributed to it.

    3. Anon for health-related comment*

      I would LOATHE this. Hugely. I am not fond of the occasional team lunch meeting but I understand they are generally expected and necessary, but this? Oh no.

      Food is not a social time for me with people who aren’t friends/family. I have IBS and stress causes it to flare. Interacting with someone I don’t normally is mildly stressful; worrying about whether my IBS will flare and I will have to dash to the bathroom or hide cramps in front of a co-worker is much more so. (Yes, ironically, this means anxiety about it, triggers it. And no, it’s not major enough anxiety to call for medicine. Yes, that’s based on discussion with a doctor. It’s just the joys of having IBS.)

      This – that I have IBS – is something I haven’t had to disclose at work because I can keep it from interfering. Mandatory lunch stuff might force my hand. (And even before I had IBS I would have considered that really annoying and uncomfortable. I like most of my coworkers, but I either want to get paid for my lunch, or have it be down-time.)

    4. arjay*

      If you’ve had success with this, that’s great. Just reading the suggestion though is giving me hives. I would hate this with a passion, and be completely freaked out (anxious and non-productive) on the days this was supposed to happen.

      1. arjay*

        Oh sorry, I see my thoughts have already been adequately addressed. I should have refreshed before I posted. :)

  16. Elizabeth West*

    #1–Unwanted calls

    I had no problem dealing with sales calls. What bugged me was when coworkers wouldn’t take calls from customers, who then called back numerous times complaining that they always got voice mail and didn’t get a call back. This was really a problem and it was just rampant at Exjob, because a skeleton crew couldn’t handle all the work and they were super busy and didn’t have good time management skills. Also, one or two of them just didn’t like taking phone calls–but when you’re in inside sales/customer service, THAT IS YOUR JOB. I got so tired of lying to people about why they weren’t getting through. If I hadn’t gotten laid off, I might have quit over that issue alone.

    Answer and return your calls, people. Even a quick email to say “Hey, got your message; I don’t have any new info for you right now but you’re still on my radar,” is better than radio silence.

    1. OP1*

      Yes. Absolutely. One guy at my office will try a new piece of software and software sales people are the WORST. He’ll try something out and then 3-4 different sales people will each call 2-3x per week and he has me put them all in voicemail. that’s ~a dozen calls a week for just one random thing that he felt like trying out. They’re like vultures! If he would just take the time to talk with them and say “Yeah, I tried the product, it’s not what we need. Please take us off your list” life would be grand, but he’s too “nice” to be direct with them, so they just keep calling.

  17. YoYo*

    I found social events with my former co-workers exhausting. They were extremely cliquey, never really talked to me or asked me anything about myself, so I often stood there listening to their inane, anti-intellectual conversations and gossip about other people and hating every minute of it. I am shy and tried to make an effort with them for the first 6 months, but felt like it was one-sided. Team-building exercises with those types are doomed from the start. Some people prefer the status quo and are not welcoming to dynamics shifting, if even for the better.

    1. Vancouver Reader*

      That to me sounds so much like being back in school and would make me hate my workplace that much more. I think if there`s a way to keep the socializing aspect out of team building, there would be more buy in.

  18. Omne*

    #3- I don’t want to sound too harsh but you may want to start by examining your attitude towards your coworkers, it really comes across as condescending and negative. You stated: “except for the occasional testosterone-filled chest beating.”

    If I referred to a group of women in my workplace and said ” except for the occasional PMS induced bitching session” I would expect to get hammered for it. If your attitude is really what it looks like you may not be the best person to try and build a team friendly environment.

    1. NoPantsFridays*

      Good point — if they are complaining/whining/negative, maybe that’s a problem, but the problem is certainly not that they are, in fact, men. Men are not intrinsically negative whiners…neither are women.

  19. mel*


    Hmmm… Good thing you had a cellphone I guess. We get texts to our landline all of the time and not only is it incredibly difficult to understand the messages, but there’s no way to really “respond” to them. So businesses are now assuming that landlines are no longer a thing?

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