headshots in your email signature, coworker gets more assignments, and more

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

1. Should I put my headshot in my email signature?

I’m curious as to what your position is on putting a headshot in your email signature. Personally I love receiving emails with photos, because I engage in a lot of correspondence with people I have never met in person. Thoughts?

Not a fan. For professional correspondence, it’s far enough outside the norm that it’s going to stand out to people as unusual, and while some will like it, it will feel a little cheesy/inappropriate to others.

It will also clog up people’s in-boxes because you’ll be sending an attachment each time you email.

(And for job-searching, definitely don’t do it — for the same reasons that you don’t include a photo on your resume in the U.S.)

2. Should I tell someone that my boss asks me to clock him out after he leaves?

My boss makes me clock him out hours after he leaves. He says it doesn’t matter whether he works the full 40 hours/week or not because either way, he gets paid salary, not by the hour. When he leaves the office, he leaves me in charge when he should be the one supervising. He’s decided to replace me with a new employee (that I referred!) and I’m thinking about going to corporate with this bit of information to go out with a bang. My question is, how much leverage do I actually have? Does corporate really care if management is falsifying hours actually worked? Can they get fired? And how should I go about this?

It depends. If he’s not paid by the hour, it’s much less of a big deal. If he’s asking you to clock him out because he’s out doing work stuff and not returning to the office, that’s also not a big deal. But if he’s doing it with intent to deceive, that’s something his manager would probably care about.

However, I think your judgment is probably being clouded (understandably) by the fact that you’re pissed off about being replaced — because you’re mixing it up with stuff that definitely isn’t a big deal, like leaving you in charge when he’s out aren’t a big deal; managers don’t need to be on the premises every minute to manage.

In any case, this isn’t really something that gives you leverage. You could certainly report it if you think his manager would be concerned, but I wouldn’t expect it to change your own situation, and if you’re doing it with that hope, you’re probably better off just leaving on good terms, preserving him as a reference, and moving on mentally.

3. Why didn’t my manager warn me I was going to be laid off before I took an expensive vacation?

I recently requested and took a 3-week vacation, which cost me a huge amount of money. The following week I got a pink slip along with a few others. Couldn’t my manager have declined my vacation and said, “There is a big event coming up and I suggest you wait”? I could have canceled all my flights and saved $4,000. What makes it worse is everyone knew but us.

It’s possible that your manager didn’t know — that decisions hadn’t been finalized or that she hadn’t been informed. It’s also possible that she knew and had strict orders not to say anything, which is pretty common in these situations. Navigating this stuff well is really tricky for employers — if they tip people off it before decisions are final, they risk causing panic unnecessarily, but if they don’t tip people off they risk situations like yours. It’s a hard thing to get right.

4. My coworker gets more assignments than I do

Recently I was selected from my department to train in another department. This was very exciting to me, as I have been looking for an opportunity for the last couple of years and was told that I was recommended (I had trained on my own previously). Another person was selected also. In a meeting, it became clear that he and I were selected to transition our department to this new technical workflow. We quickly went through some haphazard training and were thrown into it. It was clear to me the manager had no interest in training, and was more comfortable letting us just figure it out.

Since we started, I have noticed that the other person selected has been assigned more jobs. The scheduling department as well as the manager keep assigning him these files to create. I would get two jobs a day, while he would be assigned 8. I’m confused, as the only way to get better at this is to practice and do the task regularly. I mentioned this in an email and asked again if I could start completing these files. This morning, after the manager told me he had no work assigned to me, I saw the other person (who was there two hours before his shift) doing these jobs.

Please help me be more assertive. I do not want to get kicked off the rotation and want to prove I am capable of doing these tasks, but feel out of the loop and like I am losing traction. I know there are a lot of politics surrounding this situation, and I know that the other guy gives off more confidence than me, and is certainly more aggressive, but I need to prove that I am just as capable.

Go talk to the manager in charge of these assignments. Say something like, “I’ve noticed that Bob gets more of this work assigned to him than I do, and I’m wondering if that’s because there’s something you’d like me to be doing differently. I’d very much like to get better at this, so I’d welcome any feedback you can give me.” If she tells you there’s nothing you need to do differently, then let her know that you’d really like to take on more of the work and ask if it’s possible to split it more evenly with your coworker.

5. Do I need a local phone number for job-searching?

I just moved back to my hometown this week, and started looking for a job. Though I was able to find a place to live (and changed my address on my resume accordingly), I have yet to change my phone number. Will having an out-of-state phone number affect my job search, meaning will perspective employers not call me because I have an out-of-state phone number? And if I were to change my number now, what should I do as far as the jobs that I have already applied for?

If you have a local address on your resume, an out-of-state number isn’t likely to hurt you. Given the ubiquity of cell phones, it’s now pretty common for people to just move their old number with them to their new location, and employers are used to local candidates having phone numbers with all sorts of area codes.

If you’re truly worried about it, you could always get a Google Voice number with a local area code and have it forward to your current number, but I don’t think that’s necessary.

{ 286 comments… read them below }

  1. PEBCAK*

    1) This is where a link to your linkedin profile is perfect. People can click there and see your headshot, if they so choose.

    1. Non geordie beth*

      An email recently got trapped in our spamfilter because it had a link to the sender’s linkedin profile in the signature. I kid you not. Crazy, eh?

      1. Vicki*

        Crazy, yes. Unusual, no. A lot of companies block crazy things. Links. “Too many” links. Certain domains.

    2. Lamington*

      exactly, one of my contacts always attach her headshot, because she loves how she looks, but clogs my invox. It’s innecessary, just include a link to your LinkeIn profile.

      1. D.*

        I’m even leery of putting a headshot on Linkedin. I’m not really fond of taking photos for one, but moreover I do value my privacy. Maybe I’m too worried about any potential discrimination, but I worry potential employers may exclude you from potential hires because you’re too pretty, to fat, too skinny, to weird looking, etc. And, I’m actually a pretty normal looking person, who even being of a certain age still gets the old f-eyes at work.

        1. Meredith*

          I guess discrimination is a risk, but I really like seeing people’s headshots on LinkedIn. This is especially true if I have just done a ton of networking/business card collecting at a conference and I want to remember what people’s faces look like. Headshots are so helpful to me!

        2. monologue*

          this is totally true. The kind of mandatory use of LinkedIn that’s happening now is an end run around the rule against headshots on applications. Systemic discrimination of certain groups is a thing, even when hiring managers think they’re not discriminating.

        3. Vicki*

          Except that in LinkedIn, people are more likely to look askance at your profile if it doesn’t have a photo, because photos are the standard of behaviour on LI.

          No photo? What are you trying to hide? Why are you even in LI?

      2. Koko*

        At my office, everyone has to use one of two standard-formatted email signatures. One is text-only and the other includes a small image of our logo. It’s often frustrating to me when I’m looking for a file someone emailed me but can’t remember what they titled the email, so I sort my email by ‘Attachments’ so that the relatively few emails with files attached come up first…and it turns out every single one of the person’s emails have an attachment because they’re using the logo signature! So unnecessary.

        1. Michele*

          I am with you Koko. Whenever our owner sends an e-mail there are 3 or 4 attachments because of everything he includes in his signature. So annoying when searching for an e-mail!

        2. Complainer*

          Our office wanted everyone to have a profile picture uploaded so Outlook would bring up all of our pictures for internal emails. I had to change the setting to *not* show these pictures because there were some coworkers who I received several emails/day from, and I could not stand to see their faces popping up on my screen all day long. Ideally, you would not be annoyed by your coworkers’ faces, but one in particular reminded me of the line from Stepbrothers. . .”There is just something about your face, that just makes me want to punch it!”

          1. Anon.*

            Haha. If I had to see a picture of M. Nosey-Pesty-Kinda-Creepy with every email sent, I’d then have even more reason to contend with the “yuk” factor. I certain got tired of look-at-me-I’m-so-pretty-and-even-though-I-am-dumb-as-a-sack-of-doorknobs-yet-apparently-know-everything-and-diffuse-everything-right-backatcha in email. But I welcomed an email from Mr. Yummy any time.

  2. hayling*

    #1 I agree with Alison – I think it’s tacky. However, If you have Gmail, you can add a photo to your profile. I think this only shows to other Gmail users but a lot of people have Gmail.

    #5 I was in the same situation and although my cover letter clearly explained that I had just moved back to the area, I was also paranoid so I did the Google Voice forwarding thing too.

    1. Rat Racer*

      I still have the same cell phone number from my very first cell phone, which I bought in 1999. I was living in Northern VA at the time, and now (after several hops) live in California. No one bats an eye at the weird area code. I used to have trouble getting pizza delivered when I lived in Baltimore, (“We do NOT deliver to DC!”) but that was several years ago.

      1. Canadamber*

        Wouldn’t having a different area code lead to long distance charges every time you try to call someone? ;o

        Then again, maybe that’s not how it works in the US. I live in Canada, and I have a friend who has moved like 3 times in the past year and a half or so. Each time, she’s had to change her phone number in order to avoid long distance charges.

        1. Chinook*

          “Wouldn’t having a different area code lead to long distance charges every time you try to call someone? ;o”

          Canadamber, some companies let you set up your local exchange area for your number, but you have to ask.

        2. Natalie*

          US cell phone plans don’t differentiate between local and long distance – it all costs the same provided it’s within the US (or frequently N America).

        3. hayling*

          Pretty much all US cell phone plans don’t charge for long distance. Some older land-line phones still do, but most don’t. And certainly I’d assume that businesses consider long-distance calls part of their CODB.

  3. Jessa*

    The phone number thing is nothing. I’ve had the same Florida number for 15 years or more. I live in Ohio. Nobody cares. The only difference for me is paying an extra 4 bucks or so a month cause Florida says they’re owed tax because the number is in their jurisdiction. So does Ohio. It takes time to establish a residence and stuff, and nowadays it’s sensible even if you intend to change it to a local number, to give yourself time to make sure you’ve made your lists of everyone you need to get the new number out to.

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      Agree. I’ve lived all over the country with the same number. The only people who care, in my experience, is the occasional pizza delivery guy who gets confused and asks me why I don’t have a local number.

      1. Traveler*

        Yep. 5-7 years ago it was a bigger deal. I remember my apartment couldn’t use my phone to buzz people in because it was long distance and the pizza guy would refuse to deliver (if they are still doing this somewhere- UGH). Nowadays it’s so commonplace to have a cell phone and not a land line that I only really know a few handful of people (mostly those that have never moved or older people still wanting land lines) that have local numbers.

        1. Red Librarian*

          I had the same problem with my apartment when I first moved in 6 yeas ago: the system was old and built under the assumption that everyone had the same area code so it only took the last 7 digits of a number but mine was a different area code and I could never buzz people in. The eventually upgraded it a couple years ago and it is now awesome getting to buzz people in.

          1. hayling*

            My old apartment had that kind of system, so I gave them my local Google Voice #

      2. Dan*

        Back in 2002, I was working for an airline and doing some temporary work at O’Hare. They put me up in a hotel near the airport. I called for pizza delivery on the shuttle back to my hotel. They were NOT HAPPY with my out-of-area cell phone number. I argued with them, told them “look, it’s the phone I’ve got. If you want to make the sale, this is the number you will take. If you want to call me because there’s an issue with the order, this is the number I will answer.” I got my pizza, but geeze.

        These days, nobody cares.

        1. Dan*

          Oh, forgot to say it wasn’t that long where certain companies were trying to get cute and route your call to a call center based on your area code. But the call center was regional — even for a large cable company like Comcast. So even though I had a suburban DC address on my account, Comcast would route my call to California, and could never look me up. It was a royal PITA.

          1. AnonAnalyst*

            Ugh, I encountered this problem when I was moving from the west coast to the east coast a few years ago. Comcast was the main cable company in both areas. I had to call a different number than the main 800 number published everywhere to get the call center servicing the area I was moving to because otherwise I’d get routed to the one where I was currently living. (Also, you’d think that they could just update my existing Comcast account from my old west coast address to the new east coast one, but no. That would have been far too easy. Apparently, even though it was all Comcast, I had to open a completely new account. So inefficient.)

            Fortunately, it seems like they no longer do the location-based routing thing, for general service inquiries at least, since now when I call in from my CA cell phone number, whoever answers the phone is able to help me with my east-coast account.

            1. Chinook*

              My national insurance company also would route me to the local call centre based on the phone I was calling from. It was a pain when I would call from work in one province about insurance in another province (20 km away where I lived) and they would have to go through the rigamarole of transferring me from one office to another.

          2. periwinkle*

            Just as bad is when the company elects to call you during business hours in your area code rather than your residence. My phone has an Eastern time zone area code, the rest of me is on Pacific time. Do not bleeping call me at 6am my actual time…

        2. GrumpyBoss*

          You should’ve called me and asked me to order it for you :) My number I’ve been carrying around is a Chicago (312) number and that’s what I had difficulty ordering a pizza with.

          The most fun was when I lived in Detroit, where they had a 313 area code. When I’d place an order, it would always be an Abbot & Costello “Who’s on first” routine. “You mean 313?” “No, 312” “But we are in 313” “But my phone is not” “OK, so 313-xxx-xxxx” “ARGH! No, 3. 1. 2. NO three”


          1. Mints*

            Oh yeah, in Arizona there’s a 480 area code, but in California there’s a 408 area code. (I’m in California) I’m forever worried I’m going to accidentally type 48, let it auto fill, and send my only Arizona friend a weird text message

          2. Dan*

            MD has a 301 area code for their side of the DC suburbs. If you see a TV ad for something with an L.A. Area code with “310” (which is west LA/Santa Monica) they make a point of saying you’re calling a number in CA, so don’t dial 301 like you’re reaching an MD number.

    2. Loose Seal*

      It might matter depending on where OP is moving to. I moved to a place that still uses the seven-digit number to call whereas I was used to using the ten-digit. So I found that people frequently couldn’t reach me because they didn’t even notice my area code was different (both the local area code and my phone number’s area code started with the same number so I can see how it might have been overlooked).

      I lived here a year before I realized it was making a difference. I changed my number to a local number and it’s been a lot easier to get calls and to tell people what my number is.

      1. Canadamber*

        Oh, they did that here a few years ago (however, I am in Canada). It was so weird suddenly having to add the area code before every call to a local number! :o

        1. Vancouver Reader*

          Drives me crazy because even then it can sometimes be a long distance call, whereas before, if you were told an area code you knew for sure it’d be long distance.

  4. Dan*

    2. If you are a federal government contractor, time card fraud is most certainly a big deal, salaried or not.

    1. Stephanie*

      Yup, coming here to say that. Government contracting, you have to clock in and out even as a salaried person.

    2. The IT Manager*

      I’m thinking that there’s a reason that the boss is asking you to clock out later for him rather than doing it himself, and that reason is probably because he doesn’t want his bosses to know he’s not in the office. However as Alison said, he could be doing work off site.

      However if you had an issue with this (which in my opinion you should have since you’re being asked to help someone falsify info), the time to bring it up is when is started – not once you found out you are being replaced. You’re doing this for revenge only, and that’s got a good chance to backfire on you – ie no/bad references from him in the future.

      1. AVP*

        There are some cases where it makes sense – if he has to go meet with a supplier/client/etc offsite at the end of the day, it wouldn’t make sense to drive back to the office just to stamp your time card. If it’s something like that, it would look really silly to “report” him and leave everyone with a bad taste in their mouth come reference time.

        1. RobM*

          I don’t even think it makes sense then, or maybe I’m just viewing through the lens of how the jobs I’ve had work. If I’m off-site for business purposes I wouldn’t expect to drive back to work just to clock in or out under any circumstances.

          1. AVP*

            Oh, I think I was trying to agree with you – it makes sense that the boss would ask someone else to clock them out after an offsite meeting, because who would think to drive back and do it themselves?

            1. RobM*

              I think we’re along the same general lines, yes, but I wouldn’t ask someone to ‘clock out’ for me because I would have already ‘clocked out’ of being on site when I left for the meeting.

              If the company is too dysfunctional to cope with that to the point where it needs people to behave in a matter akin to fiddling their timesheet in order to make things right, then who punches in and out and when is likely to not be their biggest problem anyway…

    3. LQ*

      I can think of a lot of times when it is fraud even if you are salaried. And if someone is actually doing a time clock it seems a lot more likely to be a Big Deal even when salaried.

      I’m not sure that I’d treat it as quite the no big deal that AAM suggests. In general I think that not watching someone’s hours like a hawk is good, but if your company insists on tracking it they probably care enough about it that it is a Big Deal to them.

      1. Michele*

        I have had salaried positions in the past that I had to clock in and out for. We had to swipe so there was no way anyone could do it for you.

    4. NylaW*

      At a minimum it’s an integrity issue because I’m sure the boss’s bosses are expecting him to be clocking in/out himself. At worst, depending on your industry and/or state it’s time card fraud and it’s a big deal. I feel like the OP should let her boss’s boss know what’s going on.

      1. D.*

        Yeah, preachin’ to the choir, but clocking out for the boss after he’s long gone sounds fraudulent. On paper it gives the impression that he’s on-site in the office. Maybe his manager is ok with this, and it’s something that the department requires. But, if the boss is working off site, then why can’t he use a paper or electronic timesheet instead?

        1. Koko*

          This really varies so much from place to place. The GM at a sandwich shop I worked at sometimes forgot to clock out entirely and the computer would show he’d worked like 120 hours in one week, but he and the owner would just fix it on the back end because ultimately 1) he was salaried 2) he was working well over 60 hours a week and 3) when it came to the GM, the owner cared far more about performance than hours, so as long as the GM was keeping our store profitable, he didn’t mind just fixing the 120-hour week down to some reasonable estimate like 65. The GM was still encouraged to try to keep accurate hours to avoid having to fix it later, but the owner wasn’t worried about the GM slacking off.

          1. Saturn9*

            Correcting a timecard to reflect accurate hours is completely different (and, fwiw, required to comply with labor laws) whereas clocking someone else out hours after they have left is recording hours they did not work.

  5. Henry*

    I’m the OP for #5, and I had a feeling that this was the case. As a matter of fact, I received a couple of calls from recruiters for a local job (the same job, by the way) the day I sent this question in to Alison. What I take from Alison’s response, as well as hayling’s and Jessa’s comments, is that having the local address is more important than having the “local” phone number.

    Thanks for answering my question, Alison. :)

  6. Befuddled Squirrel*

    #5 seems to vary regionally. I live in an area that’s very popular to move to but challenging to stay in (mostly due to the high cost of living). Employers are reluctant to hire anyone who looks like they’re not well established in the area. That said, my brother has a phone number from the opposite side of the country and he managed to get a job. They found him on LinkedIn so the phone number wasn’t an issue.

  7. Stephanie*

    #5: Eh, I’ve had my Dallas cell phone number for about 12 years now despite not living there in years. No one really asks about it aside from the occasional bemused “Where’s that area code from?”

      1. Anonathon*

        I’m basically never changing my cell number for that reason. It’s always delightful when someone recognizes the area code! (Especially because I’m from a small-ish town that no longer has that area code. They got split into a new one, so my number is like an artifact.)

        1. Dan*

          That and its easier to screen out the wrong-number calls. These days, if I get a call from my “local” area code, I know it’s a misdial because I don’t keep in touch with anybody from back there.

        2. Ann O'Nemity*

          I’m reluctant to change mine because I still have one of the “cool” prefixes from my hometown. They’ve become really hard to come by, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually worth some money.

  8. EE*

    You need to nip this in the bud immediately. From experience I can tell you that there’s a terrible domino effect which happens when a manager thinks “OP’s coworker did a great job on the last project. I’ll give it to him.” And then it’s “OP has a track record of doing a great job!” And later, when he’s got a major headstart on you, there’ll be unflattering comparisons frequently because by then he will genuinely be better than you.

    Best of luck. It’s a nasty place but you can pull yourself out of it, especially if you are very specific about the quantum of difference.

    1. Outsider*

      Yep I agree. Address this head-on immediately, and strive hard to improve your visibility/interest in working and obviously ensure you are doing good work.
      I have been there – not a good place, so start communicating with your manager.

    2. majigail*

      I’ve got a bit of a different take on this… You say: “We quickly went through some haphazard training and were thrown into it. It was clear to me the manager had no interest in training, and was more comfortable letting us just figure it out.”
      I wonder if this is how you are phrasing it to people in your office. Depending on tone, it could come off as you’re upset that there wasn’t much training for you.
      An example from my office… we brought in a free database with no support or training (not my decision…) Everyone on staff had to pretty much train themselves. I delved in deepest, really learned the quirks and even wrote an internal manual for it. It really aggravates me when the people who weren’t working there when we got it complain that they were never trained on the database. No one was.
      Basically, what I’m saying is to monitor what you say about the project, keep it positive and proactive.

      1. AVP*

        Thats true. If I heard that kind of feedback from someone, I might be hesitant to assign them higher-level work because I’d be worried about their ability to take it on. (Of course as a somewhat decent manager I would probably probe farther and try to get them up to speed but well, not everyone is gonna do that…)

      2. Koko*

        This is a good point. I found parts of the letter confusing, but he mentions that the coworker is projecting more “confidence” which could simply be the coworker has a more positive attitude about it. OP also mentions needing more jobs in order to practice to get better, but it’s possible that OP’s coworker picked up the skill more quickly and is beyond the point of needing practice and can now just quickly and easily complete the jobs. It’s hard to tell where the job requests ultimately originate from or how time-sensitive they are, but if the requests are coming from a department/team OP and coworker don’t usually work with, and turnaround time is a factor, I can see that the other department starts to view OP’s coworker as the go-to person who will get a job back to you in a couple of hours, and OP is seen as the backup who can take the job if the faster coworker is swamped. There are dynamics like this at play in my office–it’s not politics, but I know when I’m reaching outside my team for help and I have multiple options, I’m going to pick the person who will clear the project back to me right away instead of the person who won’t get it back to me until tomorrow, because my own performance metrics depend on keeping my work moving along.

        I’m thinking back to the conversation we had a while back about comparing work performance to school grades and how in some ways work is harder. This is one of them. You may be doing everything correctly, but someone else is doing it correctly and quicker. You’re not bad at your job, someone else is just better at it. In school you’d both get an A, but at work there might only be enough rewards for one of you.

        1. Mallory*

          I took “projecting more confidence” to mean that the coworker probably adapted more readily to the less-structured training environment and therefore appeared to be more confident. OP could probably get just as good at the actual work as the other guy, but the other guy really got the jump, as far as first impressions go, by being able to thrive in the initial ambiguity, whereas OP seemed to flounder without outwardly-imposed structure.

          It can be kind of hard to come back from that if coworkers take the other guy as the more “natural” fit for the realities of the work environment. OP should definitely talk to the boss, though, to have the best chance of catching up.

      3. LQ*

        I agree about this. Some jobs have great complete training. Some jobs have next to none. My job they joked that not only do they throw us into the deep end of the pool and if you swim you stay. (If you don’t swim then there is another department that has a lot more training and structure that people can go to instead.) I’ve heard a couple people complain when they joined that they didn’t get a lot of training. Yup, that’s how this work works. Figure it out, ask for help, try, fail, try again, succeed.

        I don’t know that we know enough to know if this is that kind of job or not but it is worth keeping in mind that some jobs aren’t good fits for us.

    3. en pointe*

      Yeah, I think this is important to think about, even in the sense that often people just want to go with what’s easiest. Despite the fact that you’ve both been selected to learn these tasks, whoever’s assigning them may be favouring your coworker simply because he’s already done more (which as EE mentioned kind of amplifies the problem for you, as whoever gets more practice is probably going to be better).

      Conversely, they may view you as potentially needing assistance or correction, or taking longer to complete the same task, and may just see your coworker as the safer bet. I agree with talking to the manager as soon as possible.

  9. Variation*

    If you’re in Canada and in a similar situation to OP #5 (and you have a smartphone), consider downloading Fongo. It’s free- I’m using it to redirect calls to the mobile phone line I’ve had for ten years, and so far, it’s treated me well.

    1. Variation*

      Just as an afterthought- phone plans with free nationwide long distance aren’t as common in Canada as they are in the US, so this has been the easiest way for me to negotiate that cultural gap.

    2. Chinook*

      I agree that this is one of the huge differences between Canada and the US. There just aren’t as many area codes and they are province specific, though the area code areas are large enough (except in Southern Ontario, which means AAM’s advice would apply) that, as long as you have the same area code, you should be okay. (This coming from someone who’s Gatineau area code outed me as a Quebecer in Ottawa all the time despite being just across the river).

  10. Amber*

    #3 This may sound rude but your finances are not the concern of your employer. If you couldn’t afford an expensive vacation then you shouldn’t have taken it.

    1. Chris*

      They COULD afford the vacation before they lost their job. And then… they lost their job. I don’t know that this is the employer’s business, but what’s with the random attack on a pretty normal activity? We budget assuming we will continue to have jobs. I don’t understand why this is some reprehensible act.

      1. Raine*

        For some reason there’s almost no sympathy for workers who have just bought a new house or car or what have you and then lost their jobs. I almost wish AAM didn’t even answer these questions because if it.

      2. L McD*

        Yeah, it doesn’t even say that she can’t afford it NOW, we’re just left with the assumption that the $4,000 would obviously have been more useful in a savings cushion now that she’s been laid off.

        That said, I agree with part of the sentiment – there is probably no way the manager could have navigated this any more gracefully.

      3. Lotus*

        I don’t think Amber’s statement was an attack. Some people plan their finances differently and are a little more conservative with their spending. I know plenty of people who would never take a vacation unless they had a nest egg to cushion them should something like this situation were to happen. It’s just a different perspective. I wish people weren’t so sensitive. There was nothing in Amber’s statement that made it seem like this was a “reprehensible act”

        1. Anon1234*

          Heh. Yes, we all should have everything perfect-you know years savings, heck a side biz and our retirement completely funded before we do anything. Most people on earth would not be here. Please.

          She went on vacation thinking she’d be employed and came back unemployed. Because employers can treat us like inanimate object she was screwed, not because she took a vacation.

          *Taking a vacation is normal- American’s lack of employment rights is the issue. There are laws regarding larger employer laying off folks-why not smaller? Our live matter too.*

        2. NoPantsFridays*

          Yeah, this is what I was thinking too. I’m shocked to find there are people who would take a vacation before saving up 12 months of living expenses, or at least 6. Virtually everyone I know saves first, so it surprises me, is all.

          That said, even if I had a nice safety net in the bank, the extra money spent on the vacation would mean more if I lost my job!

        1. Heather*

          Blaming the victim lets people convince themselves that they would never do something like that and therefore would never end up in that situation.

          1. Clinical Social Worker*

            Ah smug superiority. It can be comforting if you don’t think too far.

      4. Dan*

        I was in the same boat. Last fall, I had just spent a month in Europe, and a month after returning, got laid off. My layoff was a surprise to me, my boss, and my boss’s boss.

        And yes, I took the vacation with the expectation that I would have a job to return to when I got back.

        I’m trying to think about what I would have done differently had I known the pink slip was going to come when it did (I was expecting something more along the lines of this summer for a layoff.) But my airfare was free on points, as was all of my hotels except for three nights of a 24 night vacation. I probably would have gone anyway.

        1. Jennifer*

          I turned down taking a trip to Ireland because I knew I was at risk for layoffs. I didn’t end up being laid off, but a lot of the reason for turning it down (that and I really did not want to spend weeks on end unrelieved with the crazy religious bigot lady running the trip) was because I didn’t want to blow a lot of money pre-paying to do that and then having this situation happen. But I at least knew I was on shaky ground at the time, unlike the poster.

    2. GrumpyBoss*

      Having been on the other end of the table deciding on layoffs, I have to agree with you. Making the choice of who gets laid off is awful, and is best handled by non-emotional, work driven facts: seniority, productivity, criticality of tasks compared to others being considered. I don’t mean to sound cold, but being cold is the only way to make these decisions in a way that is fair and allows the team to be in the best position to continue to function after the event. Managers shouldn’t be thinking about who just traveled, who bought a new house, or who is under other financial strain when making a decision like this.

      1. MK*

        To be fair, the OP did not suggest that their manager should take their expensive vacation into consideration when deciding who to lay off, just that she shouldn’t have allowed them to take the vacation. Which, as I said below, is a pretty unreasonable expectation, in my opinion.

        1. GrumpyBoss*

          Agree. I reread the post and it may have been a bit harsh. But I stand by my position: a manager may have chosen to NOT acknowledge to the expense laid out for a trip to keep his/her decisioning more objective.

        2. AdAgencyChick*

          I actually feel really bad for OP here. If the layoff was coming only a *week* after she requested the vacation time, I have a hard time believing that the manager didn’t know ANYTHING, and if the manager knew something, it would have been kind to say, “Let me check everyone’s calendars and I’ll get back to you about approving that time” without having to disclose anything about the impending layoff. Especially if OP said, “Can I have this time off so I can go to Bali?” or otherwise mentioned something that would tip the manager off that this isn’t just a low-cost road trip, I personally could not in good conscience approve the time in that person’s shoes.

          1. Sunflower*

            Well she requested the vacation and then took it. The layoff came a week after the vacation so I’m not sure how much time was in between the request and the vacation. Not sure how her office works but in places I’ve worked, that vacation would most likely have to have been approved over 6 months in advance. I feel bad for OP but I’m not sure what the manager could have done.

          2. MK*

            But the layoff was not a week after the OP requested the vacation time, it was a week after the OP came back from the vacation. And considering a 3-week vacation must have been planned some time in advance, but probably only after the time off had been approved, the request must have come at least a couple of months before the layoff, at a time when the manager might not have known anything at all about it or at least not known anything definite.

            1. AdAgencyChick*

              You’re right, I misread this as OP making the request, getting approval, and then being laid off one week after making the request (before the vacation was actually taken, but after it was paid for).

              In that case, I can’t blame the manager at all.

          3. Jennifer M.*

            I think that it may be incorrect to assume that the manager had foreknowledge. When I was laid off in 2006, my manager had no clue. She was on an international flight to a project site the day that it happened and found out because I left her an urgent message with the front desk of her hotel to give me a call.

            Our company took about 8 weeks to lay off 50-60 people. I think the reason that it took so long is that as a government contractor we had many outstanding bids and any time we won a new contract it reset the calculus of the lay off. I was in the last batch of 10 people to get notice. My entire project team was blindsided by my layoff as we had one of the more profitable projects in our division. But since all of our salaries were indirectly billed to the project, it was more profitable to lay me off and move someone at the same title who made a lot less over from a project that was just ending. Granted, my manager raised holly hell because she felt like they had deliberately waited until she left for her 2-week business trip to give me my 30-days’ notice and to slot someone she hadn’t picked onto the team.

          4. Lynn Whitehat*

            In the OP’s shoes, I would much rather have taken the trip even if the timing ended up not being awesome. I would be really mad if I found out my boss denied me the time in order to “protect” me.

            This did actually happen to me once. I came back from a trip to Belize and came back to find out a bunch of us were being let go due to the draw-down in Afghanistan (defense contractor). I’ll always treasure my memories of my time there, even though the timing could have been better.

        3. Colette*

          Agreed. Ultimately, the manager is not responsible for the OP’s finances or vacation decisions.

          Even if the manager knew in advance that there were going to be layoffs and they would affect the OP, there are good reasons for not telling the OP before they can share details (severance package, last day, etc.).

          A subtle message isn’t necessarily going to help, either. “Can you believe my terrible boss? I’ve asked her to approve my vacation three times but she keeps making excuses.”

          Even if the OP knew, she might have decided to go anyway – because there are others going who will be affected if she backs out, because she’s been planning the trip for years and doesn’t want to miss the opportunity, because it’s already paid for and she’s out the money anyway. There’s no way for the manager to know that the OP could and would have cancelled without getting way too involved in an employee’s finances.

        4. Mike C.*

          It’s simply asinine to let someone take on a huge personal expense when you know they’re going to be laid off soon. I don’t care if it’s “difficult to do right” – by not talking you’re making a bad situation that much worse.

          1. Joey*

            I hear you but what’s your suggestion – send out an all call to employees asking if anyone’s about to make a big purchase? Or tell the people that share their business and don’t tell the people who are more private about their after work activities.

            1. hildi*

              “…don’t tell the people who are more private about their after work activities.”

              This is a really good point. Is this what’s called a double standard? For all the talk on here about how personal activities/issues are absolutely none of the employer’s concern, how can we expect the employer to stay out of our business, yet somehow be privy enough to warn us off of personal financial disaster?

              1. Cat*

                I don’t think it’s a double standard. I think you can give a heads up when you see financial disaster looming without being obligated to do so every time. Kind of like I don’t constantly monitor my neighbors’ houses, but if I happen to look out the window and see a break-in happening next door, absolutely I’ll call the police.

                1. Joey*

                  I would be livid if someone got a heads up about an impending layoff before everyone else. So much so that I would be looking for a reason why that person would get favorable treatment. And you can bet Id be looking at age, race, sex, etc.

                2. Mike C.*


                  You should be more livid that you management was keeping that information from you in the first place.

            2. Mike C.*

              No, my call is to tell employees as soon as possible that they’re going to lose their jobs and that they should prepare accordingly. It should never be a surprise for someone to lose their job. Ever.

              1. Elysian*

                There’s no indication here that the employee wasn’t told “as soon as possible.” The OP says “What makes it worse is everyone knew but us.” but I’m know exactly sure what that means or who “us” is (the family? the department? The people getting laid off?the employees who weren’t part of the management team making decisions? I’m just not clear).

                Are you suggesting that people should be told the second their name is potentially on the “letting you go” list? That doesn’t give management a lot of wiggle room to make good decisions. There’s no “take back” once you tell someone they’re being let go. Lay offs are frequently surprising by nature, they just have to be. That’s why the often come with a severance package, etc. No one would ever get work done if you announced “Layoffs are coming. Stay tuned for more details.” I think we should assume that the employee was told as soon as was practicable. It’s crappy, but you can’t really give hints or else your company will grind to a halt.

                1. Mike C.*

                  That’s not true in the slightest. Here in the US if large numbers of people are to be fired at once there are notification requirements (I believe it’s 60 days) and work still gets done. Those sorts of layoffs happen in my industry all the time and work still gets done. Workplaces in many other nations have notification periods and work still gets done. So this “if you say anything your company will grind to a halt” is pure nonsense.

                  But let’s pretend that it isn’t. If you don’t give employee warning then they will make different financial decisions than they would if they had a warning. Why is the suffering caused to people who are now going to have a harder time affording food and shelter a perfectly acceptable cost for the sake of having optimal business operations?

                  I say it’s a disgusting and unethical choice to make. It means greater harm to those employees and their families, and a greater cost of society as a whole. Why should I have to bear that cost just so a boss can feel like they’re “running optimally”?

                2. Elysian*

                  It appears that the laws you’re refering to only spring when (1) the employer has more than 100 employees and (2) either 500+ or more than 1/3 of the workforce (not including part-time workers) is being let go. I would think that those requirements wouldn’t apply to most general lay-off situations.

                  Some types of work will tolerate a layoff announcement better than others, I think – for example, construction works on contracts and the employment expectations are different there than they might be in an accounting office, or something. You mentioned below that your industry is “cyclical,” which makes me think it may be one that tolerates layoffs better than others. I think that in many industries, a “potential layoff” announcement would cause major problems without more details. I can understand why businesses would avoid such a thing. If I was told there were “potential layoffs” without more details, I would honestly spend most of the day sitting at my computer fixing up my resume instead of doing the work I need to get done. That may not be right, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who would react that way. My industry doesn’t tolerate layoffs well.

                  On a more personal note, it’s awfully rude to respond to people by calling their opinions and thoughts “nonsense” and ” asinine.” It really doesn’t encourage the kind of discourse I’ve come to enjoy on this site.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  On a more personal note, it’s awfully rude to respond to people by calling their opinions and thoughts “nonsense” and ” asinine.” It really doesn’t encourage the kind of discourse I’ve come to enjoy on this site.

                  Agreed — let’s keep this civil. Thank you.

              2. Colette*

                Often, things aren’t finalized until a day or two before. Should you warn everyone who might possibly be laid off? What will the impact be on them and the business if you’re wrong?

                1. Mike C.*

                  You act like this never happens! You act like people are completely unreasonable and that there’s no other way to do things!

                  Here’s what happens – you get a pink slip 60 days out. You get additional slips saying you’re out (or not) as people leave on their own or certain job categories are filled out. In the mean time families are able to make arrangements – cut personal costs, prepare and send out resumes and so on. Then cuts are made. Those who weren’t cut aren’t harmed – they still have a job and more savings and an up to date resume. Others have found work elsewhere and those left do indeed lose their jobs, but they were lost with a period of time to prepare.

                  In the meantime you continue working because if the company is laying people off, then they’ll certainly fire people for screwing up! But by warning people, it gives them a chance to find ways to reduce the burden, reduces costs on society and is actually better for morale than just surprising everyone with layoffs TODAY.

                  Why is this such a foreign concept?

                2. totochi*

                  @Mike C – Only certain layoffs need notification: plant closings and “mass layoffs” as defined in the WARN act. Go Google it.

                  While you’re at it, Google “SiPort” to see why you may not want to tell people they’re being laid-off then let them sit around for 60-days.

                3. Colette*

                  In my experience, advance warning of specific layoffs doesn’t happen. (General warning does, but often people who should listen don’t.)

                  Here’s why it doesn’t happen.

                  You have a company of 20 people. You need to cut 4. You don’t know which 4, and figuring out who will be cut is a delicate task. You have to consider who can pick up new tasks, what tasks you just don’t need anymore, and whether there are things you can outsource to another company.

                  You want to be a good person, so you warn your 20 employees.

                  Your three top performers hear about the layoffs, and they find new jobs.

                  One of your employees decides to go back to school.

                  This works out great – no severance, and you’re down 4 people!

                  Except … no one can pick up the work your top performers were doing, and the person who is going back to school was key to the new organization. You need to hire.

                  Except you can’t increase your headcount, so you still need to lay people off – and they all think they’re safe, because you’re down 4 people.

                4. AnonAnalyst*

                  @Collette: Yes, this. This exact scenario happened in my previous company. For 2-3 months, we heard about how revenue was down and there would be layoffs. Besides massive turnover (there was also still a layoff), morale went from being pretty good to terrible in that timeframe. Everyone was reminded over and over that there would be layoffs, but there was no indication about which areas might see cuts (most likely because it hadn’t been decided). From an employee perspective, it is seriously draining and demoralizing to be constantly thinking about whether you’ll have a job and feel like you’re fighting everyone else you work with Hunger Games style as everyone tries to prove their value.

                  And the people who actually got laid off? Every one of them absolutely shocked that they were the ones to go.

                  I think it would have helped with morale and retention if those that were being let go could have had advance warning, but my understanding is that the decisions weren’t made until shortly before the people impacted were notified. Management made a lot of missteps with the way the layoff was handled, so it wasn’t just the advance notice that killed morale, but that was certainly part of it.

                5. Sunflower*

                  FWIW we don’t have enough information to determine when OP is actually getting laid off. She could be receiving a solid amount of notification and is just upset because she feels that this was all decided before she went on vacation

                6. Natalie*

                  “This works out great – no severance, and you’re down 4 people!”

                  This is exactly what is happening in my company right now. We got news that implied layoffs were coming in March, specifics were announced in June, but due to the specific situation no one is being terminated until October. Practically everyone was half checked out all spring because they were looking for new jobs, and so on. Once the specific cuts were announced, we started hemorrhaging people but the workload doesn’t drop until the transition date. It’s been a mess.

                  (FWIW, the severance the company offered was fairly generous, so they’re not using the long lead time to make up for being broke or stingy.)

                7. Mike C.*


                  If your best employees leave then your company did a terrible job retaining talent. They shouldn’t have been on the firing list to begin with and if they’re going to leave at the first sign of layoffs, then they’re going to be leaving sooner or later anyway.

                  You fire based on need. You split people up into groups who can do A, B, C, …, N+1, find your weakest links and give them advanced notice of being fired. Offer others (but not your best!) the chance to bow out. Once you’ve had your first round of folks who bow out, you rebalance your groups, renotify and so on until you get the mix you want. There are common ways to do this to ensure you have the proper mix of people that you need while retaining good talent and getting rid of bad. Much like voting systems, while there is no ideal system, the most simple methods are often the least fair and the most harmful.

                  And yes everyone, I know what the WARN act is, and how it only applies to specific situations. That doesn’t mean similar policies cannot apply to smaller organizations, or organizations outside of the United States.

                8. Jennifer*

                  I just laugh at the idea of “top performers” being that precious and special in a layoff situation. If you need to do layoffs, you’ll just do what everyone else is doing: shuffle off the work around to everyone who’s left even if you aren’t left with the cream of the crop any more because the best found other jobs. If you can’t afford the very best, then you get by, same as everyone else. It helps if people take themselves out by finding other jobs, but once they start laying off, it’s only a matter of time before they get to getting rid of most people.

              3. Jaime L.*

                I work for a nonprofit organization that recently restructured (one program closed; others expanded). The industry has changed a lot over the course of the 150 years the org has been in existence, and due to technology we are serving people in new ways. The old structure was not sustainable.

                Everyone at the org leading up to the announcement knew that the executives were looking toward long-term sustainability. The ED of the org had at least 2 all-staff meetings about it and invited everyone to talk to him personally.

                At one of these meetings he specifically said we can’t know what the Board of Directors will decide, and if you can’t live with the uncertainty, we certainly understand if you need to seek employment elsewhere. We won’t hold it against you.

                I had a coworker who needed to buy a new car, and she asked him about it. He asked her to call him on his time off. He listened to her concerns and talked it out with her. I imagine he did similar with others.

                When the announcement came that the program was closing, everyone was in tears but no one was surprised. The Board of Directors lined up consultants to come in and give job hunting/resume building workshops, and everyone involved is getting severance packages.

                Obviously this situation is sad for everyone, for those directly impacted as well as those who are losing coworkers they worked with for years. It’s an awful situation, but I believe it was made better by the honesty of the Executive Director. As soon as the executives and BOD started looking at restructuring, he made it clear to the entire staff that something like this might happen even if we didn’t know the specifics.

                I like the way they handled an awful situation. I understand in some corporate situations layoffs are more of a secret that people find out on the day of. This is a smaller charity though so that might have made it more possible to do it this way.

                1. Mike C.*

                  It’s all about HARM REDUCTION. Layoffs sometimes need to happen. But they can be done well or done poorly. Surprising people is doing it poorly.

              4. YALM*

                Whether I tell you this morning that your job is gone as of now, or whether I told you a week ago that your job will be gone in a week…Surprise! No more income and bennies for you!

                It’s a gut-check either way.

                1. Jaime L.*

                  It is a gut-check either way, absolutely; however, one of those circumstances allows you more time to prepare.

                  In the situation I laid out above, people had notice for 1 year that layoffs were coming. Some were able to secure employment elsewhere before the layoffs came. Some decided to stick it out in the current situation, but everyone had time to prepare in the way that they wished. Those that stayed ending up staying despite the risks.

                  I would personally rather have a head’s up.

                2. Mike C.*

                  Having the extra time is still better than not, I’m not sure what your point here is.

              5. Joey*

                That’s tough to do for the following reasons:

                1. Frequently you know they MAY happen, but you can’t be sure exactly who they will affect until final decisions are made. And frequently it takes a long time to finalize those decisions.

                2. You cause panic among everybody if you piecemeal the notifications. Its much better to notify everyone in a coordinated fashion so you don’t leave people hanging.

                Although I agree that companies should be telling employees layoffs will happen and this is what may happen and this is when it will happen.

                But beyond that it doesn’t make sense to treat people differently based on their personal financial situation.

                1. Mike C.*

                  1. Mostly “won’t” rather than “can’t”. Outside of a black swan event, the rest is something that should have been seen, expected and planned for long in advance.

                  2. You do not cause panic if you piecemeal it. I live in an area dominated by a very cyclical industry. That’s how it’s done here, and it works. I’ve been through it myself, and I’ve seen people go through it multiple times. People get upset, but it’s much, much better than surprising people. It’s all about harm reduction.

                  By giving that warning, you give people a chance to find work elsewhere – reducing the amount of people who need to be laid off. You give the community a chance to prepare safety nets. Maybe it’s a chance to go back to school. By giving people that extra time, they’re allowed more agency to have a softer landing in a bad situation. That’s worth more than any sort of disruption you might imagine. And those who do disrupt get fired making the whole process easier. Why would an employee do something stupid when there are layoffs happening?

                  Furthermore, I’m not calling for people to be treated differently based on financial situations – those situations only serve as examples why it would be good to tell everyone early. Everyone has personal situations where being told ahead of time will help them, and thus everyone should be given as much notice as possible.

                2. Joey*


                  I think we’re all agreeing that business should give employees a heads up, but that the heads up should be across the board, not based on someone’s financial situation.

                3. Colette*

                  I’m actually not agreeing that warning is better (except in the very hypothetical sense of “layoffs can happen anywhere, plan your life accordingly).

                  I’ve gone through layoffs both ways – with advance warning and without – and the ones with warning were far, far worse. The problem is that the stress each individual is going through multiplies when everyone is going through it. You have people sitting in the kitchen saying “my husband got laid off last year, what are we going to do” and others saying “crap, I shouldn’t have bought that new car last month” and people cancelling trips they’d planned for years. Everyone is stressed, not just the 5% or 10% or 1% that will be laid off. (Layoffs always affect everyone, of course, but not always financially.)

                  And, of course, people individually ask their managers whether they’ll be affected, and the managers can’t tell them because they don’t know yet, and they don’t have an official date when they will know, and they don’t know what the severance packages will look like, and …. It’s a terrible position for everyone – people being laid off, people being laid off, managers trying to make the decisions.

                4. Anon Accountant*

                  Agreed Colette. I’ve seen both sides of the coin where employees had advance warning and have experienced personally where there was no warning- just walked in and a few hours later called into a meeting and told we were being laid off.

                  And I don’t know how other companies handle this but a former company I worked for you could’ve asked your manager outright “Jane am I going to be laid off” and she wasn’t permitted by her managers to tell you if you were or weren’t.

                  If she did she’d have found herself without a job in the future or angered her managers greatly.

    3. MK*

      I am assuming that the OP could afford the vacation, but would not have taken it, if they had known they were soon to be lose their source of income. However, I agree that the OP seems to, rather unreasonably, expect their manager to concern herself with the OP’s finances.

      To begin with, a 3-week vacation was probably approved some time back, probably mong before the decision to lay off the OP was made. So, it wouldn’t have been a case of declining the time off, but of rescinding the decision to approve it (without beinf able to quote a solid reason, if the manager was asked to not tell anyone). Also, it’s possible that the manager a) didn’t know the OP was taking an expensive vacation and b) didn’t realise that the OP could/would cancel the trip, had they known about being laid off (plane tickets are usually not refundable, if it’s too close to the flight dates).

      I do think that there are circumstances that a decent human being would give a hint to their employee that they are about to lose their job; if, for example, a manager knew that the employee was about to buy a house or take a substancial loan or make some kind of momentous life-decision while counting on being employed for the forseeable future. But micromanaging an employee’s finances to the point of “this is a bad time for yout to blow money on small luxuries” is definitely not a manager’s obligation.

      1. majigail*

        I’m guessing a 3 week vacation means huge seniority to be able to cobble together that much time off. That said, the OP’s manager might have assumed that everything was non-refundable.

      2. Sunflower*

        I agree 100%. It just so happens in this instance, that the OP would have canceled the trip if they knew about the layoff. But someone was being laid off and still could have afford the trip, I could see people freaking out about the employer meddling in an employee’s personal finances.

        1. Mike C.*

          I can’t think of a single example of an employee who, when given an early warning about an impending firing, would respond with “you should have kept this a secret from me, now I can more responsibly manage my money!”

          Are you being serious here or is this some kind of joke?

          1. Sunflower*

            I’m 100% serious about an employer telling me what to do with my money. Yes, in this instance, the employee would have canceled the trip but I would be flabbergasted if an employer implied that because I was being laid off, I should not be spending my money somewhere.

            Also, we don’t know how long the manger knew about the lay off. You can’t just go around telling people they might be laid off so watch out.

            1. Monodon monoceros*

              But I think the point is giving the employee the choice on whether to spend the money, given all the information. If they decided to still take the vacation, then whatever, it’s their money.

            2. Mike C.*

              The point of an employer giving you an early warning isn’t to say “you must do this with your money”, it’s to allow for more time to adapt to the new situation, which is most likely going to include saving money and cutting expenses.

              Why is this so difficult to understand? Am i not being clear, or do people simply not understand the value to knowing when you’re going to be fired and being able to better prepare for it?

              1. Sunflower*

                Well being fired and laid off are 2 totally different things. It’s totally different to say ‘Things aren’t working out so we are going to have to let you go’ and ‘Sorry we just don’t have the money to keep you on for budget reasons’. When lay-offs occur, it’s not always decided right away who is going to go and things can change last minute so giving a lot of heads up and causing panic isn’t always the best idea. No one is saying there isn’t a lot of value in knowing you’re going to be let go but as a manager, you need to find a balance between what is best for the company and your employee and sometimes it’s going to fall on the company side

                Also I think it’s highly likely the manager didn’t even know the OP was being laid off before she took the vacation and even if he did, he wasn’t allowed to tell. And I wouldn’t risk my job disclosing information that isn’t going to change any outcomes.

                1. en pointe*

                  Sure, but in a specific situation where you know a particular person is about to make a big purchase, I don’t think a discreet heads up about the mere prospect of layoffs is too much.

                  Obviously, rumours get around and there’s no guaranteeing the employee’s discretion, but I think employers should be as forthcoming as they reasonably can be with the prospect of lay-offs anyway. As Mike C. mentioned, employees can then make informed decisions and start being more frugal (including possibly rethinking buying houses or holidays), and looking at the job market to lessen the impact if they are hit.

                  While the make-up and extent of layoffs, and even whether they happen at all, can change, I don’t think the mere prospect should ever come as a blindside.

                2. PNW*

                  Going slightly anon for this.

                  We just had layoffs where I work and I agree with Sunflower. The bigwigs told the director-level people that X number of layoffs needed to happen in our department. Several people who were being laid off were managers, and others were not. There were ongoing discussions of which roles to keep and which they could do without; names went on and off the list. It would have been horribly cruel to say, “Jane you’re being laid off. Whoops, just kidding…you’re staying and Susan is getting let go. No, wait–it’s James who is leaving.”

                  Nobody came to the department as a whole and said, “Layoffs are coming”. Part of me wishes they’d done that so people could have a heads-up, but on the other hand, it might have caused a mass exodus of people whose jobs were never in danger at all. At any rate, anyone who was caught by surprise (at my workplace) was foolish; the signs were all around for anyone who was paying attention.

                3. Colette*

                  @PNW – even if they’d mentioned there were going to be layoffs, some people would have assumed that it would be someone else, and some of them would have been wrong.

                  I once worked at a company that had laid off (at that point) 2/3 of its employees, and some of the remaining people were sure they would not be laid off.

                4. Mike C.*

                  It’s not cruel in the slightest. Having that time to prepare and finding out that you didn’t need to is a much better place to be than being surprised and not having the time to prepare.

                  That’s like saying you’d rather get sick and not have insurance rather than the other way around. That’s nuts.

                5. Jen RO*

                  @PNW: This is exactly what happened in my previous company (in a country where it’s impossible to fire/lay someone off without notice, btw). The list was finalized literally the night before it was announced – management knew, but I am happy they didn’t say anything, at least I got to spend a couple more months in peace.

                  (It worked out really badly for the company – they wanted to lay off 15 people, had to settle for 8 because of the local laws… then 20+ more people left on their own accord.)

              2. CEMgr*

                I do understand your point, and I agree with the value of the knowledge to most people.

          2. Doreen*

            I can imagine someone saying “You should have told me after I got back from my non-refundable vacation that I couldn’t even enjoy”

            The OP was notified a week after returning fron a three week vacation. Notifying before the vacation would have required four weeks additional notice, and that may not have been possible. And I say additional for a reason-we don’t know when the layoff was to take effect . At my job,layoffs require 60 day notice (don’t know if it’s because of a law or union contracts)

      3. Mike C.*

        It’s not micromanagement in the slightest to say to someone “you’re going to be fired soon, you might want to reconsider that huge vacation/new car/house”. I don’t get why people aren’t understanding the damage being done by surprising people with this information.

        1. KerryOwl*

          My boss (an owner of the company, and a renowned doomsayer) has been advising people not to make big purchases for three or four years now. If I listened to him I would never do anything.

          I see what you’re saying, but so many things have to line up just right (how much notice the manager had, how far in advance the vacation was planned, how much the manager knew about the extent of the vacation) that the scenarios in which the manager could have been helpful are few and unlikely. In my opinion.

        2. Windchime*

          They’re not being fired; they’re being laid off. People here tend to use the words interchangeably and to me they are different. If someone is being fired for performance reasons, it absolutely should almost* never be a surprise. There should be a PIP process and it should not come as a shock when a person doesn’t meet the terms of their PIP.

          Layoffs are different, in my opinion. Layoffs usually mean something like, “For budget reasons, we need to let 15% of staff go” or “The Dark Chocolate division is no longer profitable and we are melting it together with Milk Chocolate”. In those situations, I think it’s tougher to give individual people months of notice because it’s often not clear who will be staying and who will be going.

          *There are some instances where immediate firing can and should happen without notice.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes, they are very different. And layoffs generally come with severance in part because of the lack of notice; the severance period serves as the notice period (you’re just not working during it, but you’re being paid).

            1. Mike C.*

              And then you lose out on the additional time to help people prepare and the ability for employees to choose for themselves to leave (via retirement or moving on to a different job/schooling).

              Also, lots of places don’t offer a severance, and the business still, has to deal with a reputation for not treating their employees respectfully and transparently. How much is that worth?

          2. Mike C.*

            As I’ve said repeatedly, there are plenty of ways to figure this out while being transparent about the process. In fact, it’s required in many countries. Things like offering buyouts and early notice allow employees an amount of control over a bad situation that a “surprise you’re canned!” type announcement does not.

            I’m getting a little frustrated by continually hearing “it’s hard, it’s too difficult, how would this be done, it’s too hard, it’s complicated” and so on. Google it. See what companies in other countries do. Check out a book. “It’s hard” isn’t a good enough justification for not being transparent and respectful with your employees.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              I can only hope that some day we have this as our norm.

              I doubt I will see it in my life time.

              You’re right though, it can be done.

              A major plant went out near me. They seem to be helping workers find new jobs, etc. Going on behind the scenes they were firing everyone closest to retirement so that they did not have to payout retirement monies. This company’s reputation is permanently stained. It will take generations for the stories to die out.

          3. De Minimis*

            PIPs are far from universal, although I do think with firings the person usually gets some manner of warning, at the very least some kind of conversation about their performance. I was cut loose from my previous job but knew I hadn’t been hitting the mark and that eventually I was getting the ax.

            What I did see at my last job were layoffs disguised as performance based firings, and that was just dishonest. It didn’t happen to me, but did to a large group of people I knew and whom I knew were good performers. The company had a lot invested in giving the impression of “We haven’t been laying people off,” so they fired them instead.

    4. De (Germany)*

      Just because you wouldn’t have done something knowing you would be out of a job a week afterwards doesn’t mean you couldn’t afford it in the first place.

      1. Janis*

        Laid off worker, I have been you! August 12, 1996 — yes, a day that will live in infamy at a previous employer when they laid off an entire department with the surprise of Pearl Harbor. In my case it was a newly purchased wall unit, which was a pretty big expense for me at the time. For my coworker it was all new cabinets in her kitchen, and for the department VP it was a new house. It went on and on. So, although I have great empathy for you, I don’t see how your boss or the powers-that-be who made the decisions could have acted differently. Just so many moving parts.

        Years later, with another layoff on the horizon, a friendly admin I’d known for years took me aside and asked if we could take a walk. She told me that my name was on the list for the next month’s layoffs and I needed to get my resume in order, but I could not tell anyone else because it could mean her job. I never did tell anyone and you bet I got my house in order.

        Perhaps what she did was unprofessional, but I always think of her with gratitude. That’s how you find out you’re on the chopping block — through a sympathetic insider.

    5. Mike C.*

      Gee, it’s almost as if there’s been a sudden and unexpected change in one’s personal economic situation!

      By the way Amber, it sounds rude because it is rude.

    6. Brett*

      When you lose your source of income, you cannot “afford” to eat. Should you stop buying groceries? The OP simply would have to re-prioritized that savings towards future expenses instead of using it on a vacation now. That is very different from the irresponsibility that you are implying.

      1. Janis*

        Amber, you are not rude. You said exactly what my parents would have said to me and my mom and dad are not rude.

          1. Cat*

            Also, talking to a close family member who you have a long history and established pattern of interacting with is different than a random stranger.

        1. Mike C.*

          No, that statement lacks an incredible amount of empathy and makes light of another’s unfortunate and unforeseen situation. It’s a terrible thing to say.

          1. Janis*

            Well, I guess we are going to have to agree to disagree, Mike C. and Artemesia and others, but my parents and Suze Orman might have also said to laid off worker (with whom I greatly empathize, BTW, having been in her shoes), that that much cash outlay or credit card debt might not have been wise without a strong emergency fund for the “life happens” stuff.

            1. Cat*

              I think that’s reasonable advice but we have no idea whether the OP has a good emergency fund or not. Personally, I have a decent emergency fund but given how long you hear about people being out of work for, there’s no way I’d take an expensive vacation if I knew I was about to be unemployed. Even if it would probably be okay.

              I guess you can argue that nobody should take a vacation unless they’re financially independent, but that’s just not realistic advice, I don’t think.

              1. fposte*

                Totally agreed. Saying “I wouldn’t have bought this luxury” is not the same thing as “I couldn’t afford this luxury otherwise.”

              2. Sunflower*

                I have a lot of sympathy for the OP but I think what maybe Amber and Janis are trying to say is the OP needs to take some personal responsibility for this. OP is pissed(reasonably so) and thinks its somewhat the company’s responsibility to tell her they were laying her off so she could cancel her trip. It sucks but at will employment means you can be let go at any time. If you choose to take an expensive vacation and you get let go, you can’t blame your company.

                I agree I’d be pretty pissed and I do have a lot of sympathy for the OP but this is not the company’s fault. In fact, I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault really, it’s just the way stuff happens.

                1. Sunflower*

                  @Mike C- No the OP should take responsibility that she booked an expensive trip knowing full well she could lose her job upon return- I’m assuming she has at-will employment. Now obviously we can’t all live our lives being scared of losing our jobs or no one would ever make big purchases but it sounds like OP thinks the company should have been responsible for notifying her before her vacation and that just isn’t the case.

                2. Ezri*

                  @Sunflower – I agree that it isn’t the employer’s responsibility to manage an employee’s finances, but your comment still implies that the OP made a poor financial decision by making a large purchase when she *could* get laid off at anytime. That’s true of nearly anybody.

                  I think that OP is in a rough situation, but unless some serious firing warning signs were missed or every penny of savings was spent on this trip, I don’t think it’s fair to claim the vacation in and of itself was irresponsible. We should try to avoid pinning the ‘spender stigma’ on someone when we don’t know their financial lives.

              3. abby*

                I agree with this. I also have an emergency fund, but if I knew my source of income would end, I would much rather keep my money in savings.

                After I was laid off four years ago, I took a vacation while unemployed. It had been planned prior to being laid off, so I couldn’t get a full refund. But I definitely changed my activities and spending while on vacation in order to minimize the hit on my savings.

            2. De (Germany)*

              A 4000 dollars larger emergency fund is almost always appreciated in these situations. Even if the fund would usually suffice.

            3. Mike C.*

              Why should I give a crap about Suze Orman? That’s nothing more than an appeal to authority fallacy. Why should I listen to someone that preaches about the terror of credit card debt, then sells her own overpriced financial instruments?

              The fact of the matter is that even with a strong emergency fund, having the vacation funds added to it makes it that much stronger. As I’ve said repeatedly, there are so many better ways to do these sorts of things that allow employees greater agency in their situations. Telling people they should have had 20/20 vision is completely asinine.

          2. Kelly L.*

            I once knew someone who said that a guy who got fired while his kids were elementary school age, should have opted not to have kids because he might get fired 5-10 years down the road. If we had to plan with that much foresight, no one would ever have a kid or take a trip!

        2. Artemesia*

          If you took a vacation and were surprised with a layoff and your parents said that to you, they are more than rude, they are unkind parents to their own child.

          Just what someone wants to hear when they have been shafted at work. ‘Well dear, it is all your fault’

          If that isn’t rude, what would you classify as rude?

        3. Anonl*

          Because if we have learned anything from AAM, parents are an unquestionable source of workplace advice.

    7. Artemesia*

      I know someone who lost their job unexpectedly just a couple of weeks after signing a mortgage. The boss knew layoffs were coming and knew the guy was planning to buy a house. I think it is really shabby of an employer to not give someone a heads up under such circumstances. A person is not irresponsible to take a vacation or buy a house when they have a good job; most of us wouldn’t do it if we knew we had a good chance of losing our income.

      1. en pointe*

        Yeah, I agree. Ultimately, people are people first and employees second. It could very well get me in trouble one day, but I will never watch a guy about to buy a house, with layoffs looming, and not say something.

        1. Monodon monoceros*

          Yes! I know business is business and all that, but there are some situations where I hope for a little human compassion. This would be one of them.

      2. Sunflower*

        Well the other issue is how much money is a ‘big expense’. I’m not saying $4,000 isn’t a lot of money(any trip over $200 is a lot for me) but you can’t really compare it with buying a house. Buying a house is signing a multiple decades long contract to pay double/triple/more your annual salary- it’s hard to compare with with a one time trip that might be non-refundable- and I’d be pissed if someone told me I was getting canned right before a 3 week trip that I had paid a lot of money for.

        Also, not sure about you guys but I have absolutely no idea how much vacations cost for people- what makes everyone think the manager knew how much OP paid for the vacation? If I wanted to go on vacation for 3 weeks it could cost me a couple hundred or a couple thousand or even on the upwards of $100,000.

    8. Ezri*

      I don’t think this is a completely fair comment. When you have an income, you are going to make decisions as if you have that income. 4000 is a lot, and it’s easy to accuse OP of being irresponsible, but we don’t know the entirety of his/her financial situation.

      Maybe OP had 10000 in the bank, and spent 4000 to go on vacation. Despite ‘being able to afford’ the vacation, having 4 grand less to work with during employment would still be upsetting. Hindsight is 20/20, after all. My point is, we can’t use OP’s letter to make financial judgments, because we don’t have all the info.

    9. RobM*

      I feel sorry for the person who lost their job but I have trouble with statements like: “What makes it worse is everyone knew but us.”

      Really OP? You can’t sleep at night because that weird mail-clerk that nobody likes knew you were out of a job before you came back from vacation?

      It’s horrible to lose your job unexpectedly. It’s happened to me. It’s happened to people I know. But all I can say is that the best thing to do is move on rather than feel bitter about a boss who may not have known what would happen, or if they did would have potentially been out of a job themselves if they had said anything.

      And don’t worry about what ‘other people’ might or might not have known. They’re probably much more worried about their own jobs than those of other people.

      1. HM in Atlanta*

        It relates to the employer not telling him, but at the same time not keeping it a secret. If employers don’t tell people a layoff is coming (as often happens), they must keep it need-to-know. Otherwise, it can cause problems like thinking “If they creepy mailroom guy knew in advance, then I could have known in advance and not gone on this extended vacation.”

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah. Tell all or none. I have seen a lot of that telling some and not others and it can be (not always) a way of saying who is on the inside and who is on the outside. I’ve seen it used in a mean way a lot.

  11. Megan*

    This whole phone number thing never ceases to amuse me. I’m Australia and last year went to America. I started in Boston, and got a mobile. The lady from AT&T asked what area code I wanted. Huh? Just assign me a number! Eventually I said I didn’t care and think I was assigned something in the mid west. Almost EVERYONE commented on it.

    In Australia, our mobiles look like this: 4 digits 3 digits 3 digits. They all start with 0, and most go 04-something something. So a typical number might be 0413 444 555.

    I found it incredibly confusing as mobiles and landlines look the same in America ie the same amount of digits.

    In Australia landlines are 4 digits 4 digits. So eg 9567 8899. If you’re calling out of state to another state you add the states code to the front. New South Wales – where Sydney is – is 02. So a number becomes 02 9876 6543 when calling from Melbourne for instance.

    So moving to another state in Australia you would absolutely keep your mobile number – you’d never change it!

    I have another question though about American numbers – why are house numbers so large? For example I made friends with people in Houston Texas. They lived in a small court. Their house number was 12538. WHY! By my count there was 9 houses in their court and they were last when you count from the left. Therefore, if in Australia, they’d be house number 9. Why such large numbers?! I don’t understand the logic. In Australia it’s first house is 1, second is 2, and so on. The only houses that are number 12538 are on extremely long highways (say rural areas where there are farms). But even then it’s not typical. You seldom get over a house number 100. Can an American answer?! I’d really like to know :)

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      Re: house numbers. Historically, a house number represents how far from city center it is. So a house with an address of 12538 would be 125 blocks away from downtown.

      Not sure that this is the case anymore with planned developments, suburban sprawl, etc.

      1. Megan*

        Oh, thanks Grumpy! That makes sense! I just couldn’t figure it out for the life of me!

      2. The IT Manager*

        I did not know that (cool!), but the reasons numbers skip especially in cities are the way blocks are ordered. Each block has 100 possible adresses so that you get the 100th block, 200th block, 300th block, etc, but of couse blocks are not long enough to contain 100 lots. That also does rather explain 4 and 5 digit addresses too actually when you have a road long enough that there 9 or more blocks, you get to 4 digits. 5 digits – well 99 blocks is still alot. Of course now that I think about it, blocks are not a mile long so Grumpy Boss’s explanation doesn’t jive with mine.

        1. Koko*

          Right, it’s by blocks, not miles.

          The other neat thing about this system is it means that the 800 block of all the east-west running streets are exactly in line with each other. So if I’m at 800 West Grace Street, I can go straight up or down North Harrison Street (the north-south running cross-street) to find 800 West Grove Street, 800 West Floyd Street, 800 West Franklin Street, etc. It makes it very easy to navigate a city without maps because all the numbers are in alignment.

        2. CC*

          In many places with grid pattern streets, 8 blocks makes a statute mile.

          It makes the map drawing easier, to be sure.

      3. Sabrina*

        Where we are this is true. Our building number is 14832. So we’re 148 blocks from the city center. However, where my dad lives his number is 43261. Has nothing to do with blocks, if you look at a map of his county, he’s in the 43N 26W region. I guess his house is the first one in it? In some parts of the US you’ll actually see the directionals as part of the address. And then there’s rural routes, which is being phased out but still exist in some areas. Those are entirely for postal purposes and don’t really help you find a house, which is why they are going away, they screw up emergency responders.

        1. TK*

          I grew up in a rural county that went off rural routes when I was a kid, in the mid-90’s. The next county over still uses them, though. Where I’m from, the new addresses that replaced them are referred to as “911 addresses” because they solve the problem of emergency responders you refer to. In my county, the new house numbers refer to literal miles, making it as easy as possible for the emergency responders– my parents’ house number is 2383, which means they are 2.383 miles from the beginning of the road.

    2. Rye-Ann*

      I dunno how typical having a 5-digit number is in America, but in my experience it’s not typical – I don’t think I’ve seen anything bigger than 3 digits where I live (yes, in the US, though not Texas). Sometimes (heck, actually most of the time from what I’ve seen) numbers are skipped though, and I don’t know why. *shrug* Actually I can only think of one street I know of with numbers starting at 1, more or less in order, with no skips.

      1. Megan*

        I know you said you didn’t know, but what is the logic behind skipping number?! It doesn’t make sense!

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          The two main places I’ve seen five-digit street addresses are Houston, TX and Los Angeles, CA… usually (though obviously not always) on extremely long boulevards.

          In terms of the skipping numbers, I think the logic is that there is enough space to potentially build houses in between. For example, my parents’ house is 155, and the next house is 165. Theirs is a rather large lot of land, and in theory you could build four houses in between (157, 159, 161, 163).

          Typically, in the United States, one side of the street is odd numbers and the other side is even. So one side of the street might be 2, 4, 8, 10, 16, 24, 26, 30, and the other side of the street might be 5, 11, 13, 17, 23, 27, 33.

          1. Megan*

            Yep we have odd and even sides of the streets in Australia, however they still follow 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 etc in order – no skipping. Some larger lots will be called say 210-212 but again, no skipping.

            If a lot gets divided – say a house is torn down and three units go up instead – it will be still called 20, but unit 1 / 20, unit 2 / 20, unit 3 / 20.

            1. Rene*

              When I was young, the road our house was on was extended and a new housing tract was built. Someone wasn’t paying attention, though, cause they had the same house numbers as our end of the street! It caused a lot of confusion, then they changed the old numbers! I’d always wondered why; I guess we were further from the center of town.

              1. Liane*

                Sounds a little like where I grew up. The street numbering in our neighborhood was a little odd. Most places there you could figure out roughly where a given address would be on a given road but not ours or a cross street. My dad sometimes grumbled about city workers telling him he didn’t know his own address because they didn’t realize.

              2. Ellie H*

                Here we have a few roads where half is in one city and half in the next, across the city line border. The house numbers start over when you get into the other city, on the same road, so there are two “60 X Roads” on the same block. My friend’s address is “60 X Road, Y Town” but “60 X Road, Z Town” is a business so people are always knocking on her door looking for the business.

                1. Windchime*

                  My house number starts with a 24, and my immediate next-door neighbor’s house starts with a 23. That’s because I’m closer to 24th Ave, and they are closer to 23rd Ave. But we are both on 12th Place.

                  Very strange.

          2. GrumpyBoss*

            I’ve seen a lot of 5 digit addresses in Northern Virginia as well. Also, not uncommon at all in very large cities (land mass wise, not population wise), such as Detroit.

          3. cv*

            Sometimes a new development in a place like the Houston suburbs will use one numbering system for the whole development. So they build a couple hundred houses at once (or more), mostly on brand-new small streets, and they number them so that there are no duplicates. So you end up with streets of 6 houses with multi-digit addresses. I’d imagine it saves some hassle at the post office, and it can make it easier to find a little side street in the non-grid street layout since numbers near what you’re looking for are probably near your destination. It would be pretty easy to come up with numbering conventions that got you to 5 digits in a situation like that. In many parts of the world building essentially a new town’s worth of houses according to one master plan isn’t common, so the number system would seem pretty weird from that perspective.

          4. abby*

            I live in southern california on a fairly short residential street and my house number is five digits. The numbers go up and down by 10, so the house next to 12345 would be 12355.

            I don’t know the actual reason for skipping numbers, but it’s probably related to what anonymous educator states: to make room for more houses. Or even subdividing lots. Or building second dwellings on a single lot. Who knows.

          5. EvilQueenRegina*

            The next street to me has 1 Name Street and 1A Name Street, because there was a big plot of land for a house, but it had gone from 1 to 3, so when a new house was built it ended up becoming 1A.

            One street where I stayed on holiday years ago skipped the number 13 for superstition reasons – that does happen here but I don’t know how common it is.

            My grandad’s old street used to be an oddity in that it had the odd numbers as usual and went 1, 3, 5 all the way up to 27, but there were only houses on one side of his street and there were no even numbers at all. I never got why that was. What you describe above is the norm for the UK as well.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        It wouldn’t occur to me that 5-digit addresses are strange. I have one, as do all my neighbors. We’re rural, so it’s very easy. Everything is a square grid. My house is 119xx, so you know I’m near 119th street.

      3. Brett*

        Blocks are always supposed to be allocated odd/even parity so you can determine side of the street based on the number.
        Next, numbers are distributed along the length of the block based on the lot size. This way, if a lot is subdivided in the future, there is likely to be enough skipped numbers to fill in new addresses with the correct parity and in the the right order.
        Many jurisdictions use proportional assignment. Your assigned address is based on the percentage you are along the block. So, if you are at exactly the midpoint on the even parity side, you get XX50 even if you are the only house on the block.

    3. Anonymous Educator*

      Very strange that the lady at AT&T didn’t assign you a Boston area code (e.g., 617, 508, 781). Why would she pick one from the Midwest?

      1. Megan*

        I’m not too sure! I asked the people I was staying with and they shrugged and said something about picking ‘desirable’ area codes. That made me think of SATC where Carrie loses her Manhattan/NYC area code and has a meltdown.

        I swear, EVERYONE commented on the area code! I travelled a bit – but never to where the code was from – and everyone would comment. In Australia you can’t tell where the mobiles are from as they’re all the same: 04XX XXX XXX. Simple and easy, and no one ever would change their mobile numbers if they moved houses/states.

        With landlines, you could de-code where the number was from, but only if you knew and it wasn’t a big deal at all. For instance 9439 was Montmorency, a suburb in Melbourne – where I grew up. Most businesses and home landlines started with those four digits. But no-one would ever question you if you transferred that number and took it with you if you moved elsewhere in Melbourne.

        1. Sabrina*

          You can do this with landlines too in the US, to an extent. The first 3 numbers are your area code, similar to your state code. So for instance, 847 is the area code for the northern suburbs of Chicago. The next three numbers are the exchange, usually the city or neighborhood. So 395 is the town of Antioch, Illinois. (They also have 838). Then the last 4 are your individual numbers. In larger cities you can keep your number, but if you moved from Antioch to say the next town over, Lake Villa, you’d have to give up your 395 or 838 and go with 365 or 265. Unless you have an internet phone, then you can have whatever number you want if it’s available. Confused yet? :)

        2. Stephanie*

          For some people, the specific area code’s a regional pride thing. Certain area codes are tied to specific parts of town (like Carrie with the Manhattan number) and/or show that you’ve been in an area long enough to have the original area code. So my cell phone number starts with 214, which originally covered the city of Dallas. 972 and 469 covered the suburbs. Some people (I could care less) want the 214 code since it’s the original code for the city.

        3. Dan*

          Since we’re on the subject of “original” area codes, all area codes with “0” and “1” in the middle are the originals. (I.e., 212 for Manhattan, 202 for DC, 312 for Chicago, 214 for Dallas.) Also, the biggest cities have the “lowest” first and third digits. Again, reference the examples. In Chicago, some burbs got 708, and in DC, you see 703 (for NoVA) and 301 (for MoCo.)

          The theory behind all of this dates back to rotary phones, where the lower digits “traveled” less and therefore were quicker to dial. So the big cities got the aforementioned area codes.

          Population and technology growth necessitated having more numbers than any area code could provide, so you see those supplemental codes like 571 in NoVA, 972 in Dallas, 847 in Northern Chicago, etc.

          1. Mallory*

            Everyone was so mad in Arkansas when we went from one, state-wide area code to two, then three, area codes. The original area code is 501, and it is used in the central part of the state near Little Rock. Everyone in the whole state wanted to keep the 501 area code and some are still envious of those that still have it.

    4. KayDay*

      re: phone numbers – the first three digits (often writen in parenthesis) are the area code, and you only needed to dial them when calling someone who lived in a different area code. So for most local calls, you only had to remember 7 digits not 10 (very helpful back before cell phones were ubiquitous). So if I am at home and want to call my mom’s cell phone while she’s at the grocery store its the same, I just have to dial 7 digits. In most big cities, they now have so many people/phones that there are actually multiple area codes. Therefore, people always have to dial an area code, and it’s really no big deal if you have an out of state area code.

      re: house numbers. It completely depends on the area. South of Philly (on the east cost, don’t know about west) the number are very logical and as Grumpy Boss said, based on distance from downtown. In those towns, you can often get a good idea of where something is knowing the address and nothing else. It the north, it’s a little less logical. However, I rarely see anything larger than 4 digits…was this waaaay out of town on a country highway? In suburban subdivisions, they normally have really short numbers, frequently just 1 or 2 digits….growing up, my street was one of the very few streets in town that had more than 2 digits in the addresses. I was oddly self-concious about this in highschool.

      …and that there is everything you didn’t need to know about numbers in America :)

      1. Megan*

        No I really appreciate it! I always wondered.

        So, I’ve Google Mapped my friend’s address and without giving too much away they live in Bay City, Texas, about an hour out of Houston. It is new estates, however going from what Grumpy said surely it’s further away than 125 blocks from the city centre of Houston?!

        I can’t believe you were self-conscious about your number in high school, you poor thing! Most people that I know seem to have mobiles that start with 0413 (I have that) or 0403 or 0415 or something similar but not having one like that certainly isn’t grounds for picking on someone! I wouldn’t even give it a second thought.

        That makes more sense re area codes. We don’t use them for mobiles in Australia so I guess that’s why I got so confused. And everyone just *knows* in Australia that if you want to call a landline in another state, chuck on the state area code – two digits – before you dial. So 03 is Melbourne. (This is the same with post codes, all in Australia are four digits and the first digit is the same as the phone code, so all Melbourne’s post codes begin with a 3. The CBD is 3000, and Sydney’s is 2000 and area code 02 etc).

        1. ExceptionToTheRule*

          KayDay’s explanation is roughly accurate, but you could tie yourself in knots trying to apply it to every location. The midwestern city that I live in hews pretty close to that, but when you get into the newer parts of the suburbs and the same street may have 3 different names as it passes through 3 different suburbs, the numbering convention falls apart.

          1. ella*

            One of the things that happens a LOT in the US is that our systems were generally once a lot of different local systems (schools, railroads, phones, highway numbering, money, etc) that eventually needed to be united somehow for ease of travel and because companies bought each other up and tried to standardize this or that system, or just because of the passage of time and systems evolving. A lot of the time the unification (for lack of a better word) is sloppy and incomplete. So you have general rules, but you’ll have just as many exceptions to those rules.

            I think the cell phone saleslady was either playing a joke on you, or she was incompetent. No phone salesman should default to giving somebody a non-local cell phone number. That’s definitely not the norm.

          2. Brett*

            In some states, addressing authority rests with the county, and the numbering _inside_ cities is consistent with the numbering in unincorporated areas.
            In other states, addressing authority rests with the city, so each time a road passes into a new city, the city restarts the numbering system and could apply a new street name. The one restriction is that often county 911 has the authority to reject any duplicate address. Since the city’s want their internal numbering to be consistent, they rename the street instead to avoid duplicates.

        2. EvilQueenRegina*

          We don’t use area codes for mobiles in the UK either (they start with 07, a standard type one might be 07712 345678), but I remember this really used to confuse my grandmother – she’d dial just the number without the area code and wonder why she wasn’t getting through, and then she couldn’t understand how I could be on the same mobile number in my home town and uni town, which were about 600 miles apart.

      2. Chinook*

        The US still allows you to dial 7 numbers within thee same area vode? Lucky! We up here have 10 digit dialing all the time. What is funny, though, is that you can tell the locals/old timers from newbies to the area because old timers just give out the 7 digits and assume you know the area code (I consider an “old timer” anyone who remembers when the province had one area code that it shared with the territories and not the 3 we have now).

        I am envious, though, of Australia and Europe and their distinctive cellphone numbers. That must make moving so much easier.

        1. Diet Coke Addict*

          Not everywhere yet–in the Maritimes they still dial with 7 digits, and won’t have to start using 10 digits until the end of this summer.

        2. TL*

          You have to be in-state for 7-digit dialing, in my experience. (I have a Texas number and can call my parents from anywhere in TX without using the area code – except sometimes Houston – but as soon as I leave the state, even going to NM, I have to use the area code. Sometimes it’ll dial out to the wrong number – like in NM – and sometimes it’ll just refuse to dial – in MA.)

          also, our area codes tend to be divided up by city, so people will not include area codes a lot, including billboards, if the city is covered by 1 area code. (not a lot in NM has 505 included, even though they got a second area code a while ago.

          1. fposte*

            Oh, that’s interesting–I only just happened on that with a friend’s number and wondered what was going on!

        3. HM in Atlanta*

          In Atlanta, it’s been 10-digit dialing since the late 90s. It came as a result of making a big group of people change area codes in the late 80s/early 90s (a BIG DEAL in the mostly landline days). Then the phone co telling them a few years later, “Oh yeah, we’re going to make you all change again since we didn’t plan this well and we need to add a new area code.” People emphatically said no more changes, and we received 10-digit dialing.

      3. Ellie H*

        We (Boston area) switched to ten-digit dialing at some point while I was growing up. I can barely remember when. My memory is that you had to dial the area code when it was outside your own area code, but that anything within your own area code you could dial seven digits only. We also switched to 781 from 617.

        When I was in college Chicago switched to ten-digit-dialing too and I remember that at the condo complex my professor lived in, everyone’s apartment phone-entry-system stopped working until they reprogrammed it for the area codes. I actually thought the whole US had switched to ten digit dialing so I was surprised when I was in Providence recently and saw numbers listed with only seven digits.

            1. Dan*

              Never heard of that.

              As a kid, though, I never liked the TV shows that had you call an affinity phone number (or whatever you want to call it where they advertise the number with letters/words/acronyms instead of numbers).

              You see, on my phone, we only had the numbers printed, and I was wondering when we were going to get a phone with letters on it so I could call those numbers too.

              1. fposte*

                Wikipedia provides:


                As the article notes, it’s mostly visible now as a legacy in some popular songs of the era (and I think it comes up in murder mysteries), but I grew up at the end of the changeover and still remember people using the letters when they gave their phone number.

                (BTW, my family used to take our vacations in Price County, so the 715 area code is filled with nostalgia for me.)

            2. EvilQueenRegina*

              I often used to wonder about that! I’m from the UK where we never had that, and I remember when I was a kid, reading the Babysitters Club books and their number was KL something and I never understood how someone could dial that!

              1. Kelly L.*

                I didn’t understand it when I was reading those books in the US! The author was drawing from her own youthful memories, I think, and the letters were obsolete by the time the books were written.

          1. Windchime*

            Yeah, it was 5 digits when I was a kid; in fact, I think we could still do it when I was a teenager. The whole eastern half of Washington State is so sparsely populated that there is only one area code; everyone on that side of the state uses 509. I kept it because it means my parents can still dial me “locally” from their home phone, even though I now live near Seattle. People here always include area code when they’re giving their number, but it’s not common on the other side of the state because everyone already knows it’s 509.

        1. Kay*

          Yeah, when I was a kid, Houston switched from having one area code (713) to having 2 (281). It was supposed to be 713 inside the Beltway and 281 outside, but they quickly ran out of numbers and added 832. Just last week, apparently we got a 4th area code, 346… Apparently the Houston metro area is enormous and has more phones than it needs… I remember only having to dial 7 digits, but 10 isn’t that much worse.

    5. doreen*

      There are different systems for house numbers in the US. Where I live, an address of 125-38 (and there would be a hyphen) indicates that the cross street is 125th St or Avenue.

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        I’ve never run across a hyphenated house number before! I wish all 5-digit house numbers did that.

        The one I’m curious about is in neighboring Wisconsin – some house numbers are preceded with a letter, like the address might be N1234 Shepherd Street West. I assume it’s a directional of some kind, but never could figure out the rhyme or reason behind it.

        Another interesting localism: I grew up in a rural area, and in addition to a street address, every property had a unique 5-or 6-digit identifier (which had a special name that I cannot for the life of me remember at the moment) for emergencies. If you had to call 911, you gave both your address and your property number, and your property number was on its own, government-provided sign at the end of the driveway. This dates back to before the rural areas had mail service, so there were no mailboxes with house numbers on them – emergency personnel would look for the lot sign instead.

      2. MaryMary*

        My college town in rural Ohio would sometimes use 1/2 to differentiate two homes on one lot. So, if you lived in a duplex or in a garage apartment or carriage house, your address might be 34 1/2 State Street.

    6. Mints*

      Okay, all of this is really interesting. I had no idea some street numbers were so well organized

      But I did want to share this: My extended family in a very rural area RECENTLY was given street names and addresses. Like I remember being told this a few years ago. Before that, addresses were just Mrs. Jane Smith, Podunk, KS #####

      Now it’s there’s a street name and am avenue name, but it was big news when it happened

      1. Loose Seal*

        Not too long ago, the place I was living in upgraded their 911 system and every address had to be verified. I was living on a very short dirt road at the time that had no name as far as I knew and there weren’t house numbers. One afternoon, I get a call from the 911 office on my landline and they asked where I lived (I think to verify that the landline number matched the physical address?) and discovered they hadn’t mapped out my section yet. We spent about half an hour on the phone with my describing the houses that lived on the road and trying to figure out what the numbers might be based on how much potential space was between the actual houses, i.e., could the current lots be broken down further. Then, as a bonus, they asked me what the road should be named and I got to pick the name — Dogwood Cove Rd. About six months later, they installed the street sign. I think most people named their road after themselves because as the signs started to go up, I saw a lot names like Phillip’s Pl., Thomas St., Patterson Rd., etc.

      2. Chinook*

        “But I did want to share this: My extended family in a very rural area RECENTLY was given street names and addresses. Like I remember being told this a few years ago. Before that, addresses were just Mrs. Jane Smith, Podunk, KS ##### ”

        Still happens in rural parts here in Canada. DH told me about filling out next of kin contact info during army training. One of the teachers got on the case of one guy who didn’t enter a street address and said, “If you up and get killed, how do you expect us to contact your family without a proper street address to find their home.” Guy replied, “If two men in uniform showed up, everyone would notice and probably make it to my parents’ house ahead of you, so all you would have to do is follow the crowd.”

        1. De Minimis*

          Still know many people around these parts who only have rural routes as their address, like RR 4, box 33.

          Don’t know if it’s still like this, but I’ve also known of smaller towns in my state where everyone’s address was “General Delivery.”

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I had that here, until we got 911 service. Then we were assigned house numbers, so we could use number and street name.
            Still pretty rural though, it’s amusing to me because some people here would still get their mail if the envelop just showed last name and zip code. (No one else with that name in this zip.)

            1. Mints*

              That would probably work for my grandma, too. I’m a little tempted to try that out haha

              1. Jillian*

                I have an envelope from 1967 that was a letter sen t to my Grandma addressed to “Gramma Jane, Podunk, Indiana”. And she got it 2 days after it was mailed, in a town with about 3500 people.

      3. class factotum*

        My grandparents were in such a small town – no stoplights – that all I had to write on an envelope was

        Helen J.
        HerTown, WI

        Everyone knew everyone.

  12. Allison (not AAM!)*

    #3 happened to me a few years back; I took a planned week’s vacation to Paris, and when I came back, I was laid off. Boss’ reasoning? He didn’t want to spoil my trip.

    1. Robin*

      Yes, I think it’s possible that the boss thought she was doing the OP a favor by letting them have a stress-free vacation before the layoffs.

    2. Traveler*

      Yeah. I would bet as AAM pointed out, that the manager’s were not allowed to reveal anyways – but even if they did know, and knew you were taking an expensive vacation, and that the layoff was inevitable – they still might reason this way, thinking that your vacation was probably not refundable (as many these days aren’t) and that you should be able to enjoy your trip before you have a whole lot of worry laid at your door.
      I’ve been in the position before where I had to give bad work news to someone and decide whether to do it before or after their vacation and I’ve always done it after for that exact reason.

        1. Traveler*

          Sorry! I just wanted to make the point that it wasn’t necessarily done out of malice, and might have actually been done in an effort to be thoughtful. My first impulse is to tell people a.s.a.p. but I got advice from multiple people I looked up to that in some situations, it can do more harm than good if there’s nothing they can do to change it.

          I can totally understand being paranoid though. One of my bosses was super tight lipped about everything, and it always made me nervous when she was particularly quiet/jumpy.

  13. ProcReg*

    #5… I had a cell phone in college that is an in state number, but makes it appear that I would be driving two hours to work daily. I was afraid this was making a difference, so I picked up a Google Voice number.

    My interviews did pick up after that.

    1. Persephone Mulberry*

      Yes, I can see how an “almost local” number could raise more questions than having one from across the country!

  14. Not So NewReader*

    OP #2 (time clock punches). At most I would tell the boss that you are concerned about the legality of punching for someone else and therefore you can’t do it anymore. I’m not sure how much more time you have left with the company, if it is a very short amount of time then I think I would just ignore the whole thing. There’s bigger fish to fry.

  15. Eden*

    #5: I did this when I moved. The only thing I would caution anyone about is that not all big phone systems can successfully dial a Google Voice number. The place I work now (large state university) could not call the number–it wouldn’t ring–and fortunately they sent me an urgent email or I’d have lost out on my second interview!

    But you should get a Google Voice number just for the sheer entertainment value of the transcribed voice messages. Here’s one I recently received from my brother:

    Hi eating this is Henry I was calling about the baseball game tomorrow Raffi seems like he’s coming down with some sister infection so we maybe calling it off. As far as our partners, anyway. If you get a comprehensible message from Google, my, try me on my cellphone. You Guys, mention organizing urine, trooper. So anyway. I will be in touch bye.

    Dying to know what the “organizing urine, trooper” actually was, but even my brother couldn’t shed any light on that.

    1. Persephone Mulberry*

      Bahahaha. Google Voice Transcripts could be the next Damn You Autocorrect.

      Occasionally GV numbers will give me a headache, because all the phones in our office set the outgoing number as “private” for client confidentiality purposes. So, cautionary tale, if you use GV, please don’t use the setting that just blocks the call and gives me a message to “unblock my number and try my call again” because I can’t – *67 doesn’t work on our system – and you will be the one who loses out. (Same with Magic Jack).

    2. MJ*

      I find Google Voice transcriptions wildly entertaining. I once got a message from a friend who goes by the drag name “Donna Sugars”– which Google helpfully transcribed as “Dr. Shoulders.”

      Just as hilarious are the mistakes that pop up in medical offices thanks to voice recognition software. At my mother’s old employer, Dragon insisted they had a doctor named “Bitch Foreskin.”

  16. ali*

    #5. A Google Voice number is free and it works really well. I have a non-local cellphone that is my primary phone and a Google Voice number that is local and forwards to me. I also like that it sends voice mail to my gmail.

    The biggest issue for me is that I moved somewhere that still has 7-digit dialing in the local area code, so I’ve had people say they can’t reach me and my phone number is wrong because they’ve dialed the local area code with my last 7 digits rather than my cell’s area code. And every time you go to a store and have them look up your rewards card or something, the cashier will automatically put in the local code and then roll their eyes at you when they are inconvenienced by having to go back and change it.

    1. Dan*

      Which area do you live in? I grew up in Northern WI, where 715 literally covered half the state. But in the DC metro area, there were three “old school” codes — one for NoVA, one for DC, and then another for the MD side. So here, we’re always used to “area code first” and never assume.

      1. ali*

        I’m in Indianapolis. People are constantly dialing 317- or completely leaving off the area code instead of calling my Denver-area cell number. Denver switched to two area codes probably 15 years ago, so it didn’t occur to me that when I moved there might be an issue. I’ve had deliveries not make it to my house because the delivery person just isn’t dialing the area code. Or worse, they are completely ignoring the area code on the order and dialing it as 317 instead.

        (My husband is 301- for his cell still so I completely understand your DC-area comment.)

  17. Nicole*

    #1 – My boss started requiring us to put a headshot in our email signature as a “personal touch.” I hate it.

    1. en pointe*

      My boss tried that last year. One of my coworkers had been emailing back and forth with a client over a project and, because of the new requirement, one email suddenly had her picture in it. The guy emailed back saying “I’m married”. She was absolutely mortified and replied “So am I”.

      We all flat refused to go along with it after that, saying it made us uncomfortable, and she got rid of the requirement. (My boss still includes her photo but she’s the only one.)

  18. Sabrina*

    #5 I think it depends on your city. Some places it would be no big deal. Where we moved it was a necessity, I think, I got more calls after getting a local Google Voice number. It’s a very insular community IMO though.

  19. Joey*

    #1 I think it would be kinda cool. I’m imagining if it were here. I think itd be kinda nice to put a name to a face if you frequently deal wth people you never actually see which happens quite a bit in large companies

  20. Case of the Mondays*

    Number 3 – I worked for a place that was constantly laying off associates. One guy got a prestigious clerkship. Normally you return to your regular firm post clerkship. It is an honor for the firm for you to get it. He had something like 8 months left at the firm before the clerkship started. The clerkship would involve him living elsewhere for its duration. His lease was up on his expensive city apartment. He point blank asked the guy who did the hiring and firing if he was on the chopping block. If he was, he’d live at his parents place until the clerkship started. If he wasn’t, he would re-up the lease. Manager assured him his job was safe, he re-upped the lease, and practically a week later was canned. That manager was a spineless jerk.

  21. Tiff*

    Our job loves photos with emails! It may be a tad cheesy, but it is really helpful. We’re a relatively large organization, and the running joke is that you can email and talk to someone for years and not recognize them at the company bbq because you’ve never seen them. I have literally identified people by voice.

  22. Anonypants*

    #5: Will your phone number keep you from getting a job? No, it won’t be a roadblock, but realistically it could get in the way. Whether inconsistent information actually sends your resume to the trash depends on the employer, hiring manager, recruiter, or other members of HR personnel, as well as the role they’re trying to fill and how many qualified applicants they get. Some people who’ve worked in the hiring process for years have been burned by applicants lying about their locations for so long they won’t bother with anyone who *might* be lying, or anyone who seems to move around too much. Others may see the number and proceed with caution, knowing you might be lying or too transient for a permanent position, but also knowing the role is so hard to fill they can’t afford to pass over a qualified applicant based on details like that. Others still won’t notice it, or won’t care.

    It’s not necessary to get a new number for job searching, but if you can do it, it may help.

  23. Anon1234*

    #2- the clock is there to enforce that THE person clocking in/out is doing it. It is outrageous the manager asks you to do this- this is circumventing the company policy. Rightly or wrongly- clocking in/out is supposed to be done by employee. Will this dude give you a good reference? Could you burn bridges telling on him? Ask yourself if telling will effect you negatively in future- getting him may be soooo good now, but suck for you later.

    I don’t know- but I HIGHLY DOUBT the company asked him to punch in/out with the expectation another employee would do it for him. If that’s the case-why make the manager punch in/out?

    1. Ezri*

      Maybe it’s my inexperience talking, but this is where I stand on this. My gut feeling is that you should never, ever, be clocking in and out for other people – if they have job-related circumstances that require it, then they need to find a way to get it done (or ask the management for one). In my mind, either a) it’s okay, and going to management will confirm that or b) it’s not okay, and you risk your job by continuing to do it.

      If it’s not against the rules and you get any backlash for asking management about it, then you don’t want to work there. They should understand why it would be an area of concern.

  24. Episkey*

    #1 – I work for a real estate agent and both my boss & I have our head shots in our email signature. That being said, I’m sure it’s this specific industry as it’s fairly standard for Realtors to do so. This is the first job where I’ve ever had my picture in my email. :)

    1. Persephone Mulberry*

      Real estate was the first thing that came to mind as the exception to the “headshots in emails are weird” rule.

    2. KerryOwl*

      Yeah, what is it with realtors and insurance agents always having pictures of themselves in their marketing materials? So weird.

      1. Eden*

        I wonder this also. Is there some market research that suggests people pick real estate agents based on appearance, or something?

        When I finally met my real estate agent (after months of email correspondence containing his photo), he looked nothing like his email headshot. I wouldn’t have recognized him!

        1. Chinook*

          “When I finally met my real estate agent (after months of email correspondence containing his photo), he looked nothing like his email headshot. I wouldn’t have recognized him!”

          Had this happen with one rela estate agent – she was atleast 20 years older than her picture and the years of tanning and hair bleach had not been kind. We should have taken this as a sign of how she would misrepresent things to us.

        2. Episkey*

          I’m not a licensed agent (that would be my boss), but a few of our clients have commented that I look, “just like [my] picture” when they meet me in person, so I think it can help to build rapport or a sense of familiarity.

      1. Mighty Mouse*

        And so begins the derailment of this thread into a debate of whether or not to capitalize realtor.

      2. Jennifer M.*

        Realtor is a service mark and that is what it is capitalized (I believe NAR would actually like it to be all CAPS rather than just capitalized). It’s kind of like Kleenex. Kleenex is a brand name for a specific facial tissue but we (at least in America) use it as a signifier for all facial tissue. No, I am not a real estate agent, just a repository of random factoids.

  25. Biff*

    Hey Alison, you said “managers don’t need to be on the premises every minute to manage.” Generally I agree with you, but there are a reasonable number of jobs where this isn’t true. If the letter writer is in a retail position or a ‘shop’ or ‘warehouse’ job, this might be a big deal. I might amend your advice to say that if the LW knows it is against company policy OR safety regulations, they should definitely mention it.

  26. Anon*

    RE: Number 5- I moved from New Hampshire to New York and was job searching in Connecticut, all with a NH area code. People would comment on it occasionally, but it never was a problem. As long as your address is in the area, you should be okay. Depending on the types of jobs you’re looking for, it may be appropriate to include a line in your cover letter/initial contact stating that you recently moved to the area. For example, when I was looking for nanny jobs (no attached resume) I mentioned the move, but for teaching jobs I did not, as it was pretty evident by my resume that I had, in fact, moved from NH recently.

  27. Contessa*

    After reading this post this morning, I received my very first email with a photo in the signature. It was from another attorney, and it was really creepy. It was like he was staring at me while I read his email. I am not a fan.

    1. Dan*

      My company has our Outlook configured to show the sender’s employee photo in the email. Kinda creepy sometimes.

  28. Nancypie*

    Re: number 1; I work at a large, global company where everyone was encouraged to add a photo to our profiles. Everyone who had done this has a photo attached to every email. So imagine a division wide email with 200 photos at the bottom. I don’t know if this happens on external emails also, but I assumed it does. I haven’t added my photo, so I come up as a blank profile. You can manipulate ypur outlook view so you don’t have to see all of the photos.

    1. Jen RO*

      Actually I am pretty sure the pictures go away for external emails, since those people won’t have access to your Exchange server.

      I think it’s pretty cool to have photos internally – I work in a big company and it *really* helps sometimes. We upload them in our profiles (I forgot how, tbh) and they are displayed in Lync and Outlook. Then, if I remember that I need to talk to “Andrea from QA”, I can just look up all the Andreas and see whose pic looks familiar. They definitely aren’t displayed when we email people outside the company – that would be weird as hell.

  29. EvilQueenRegina*

    #4 – I think I remember a similar question being posted here not that long ago, but I’ll give the same advice again anyway. Is it feasible to have some kind of central in tray and/or inbox for work assignments that you and the other guy both have access to, and all work to go via that system rather than to an individual, so everyone gets the same shot at the work? That was what was done at my last workplace when a similar situation arose.

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