here are another four updates from readers

Here are four more updates from readers who had their questions answered here this year.

1. I’ve had 85 interviews and no job offers and no one will tell me why (#2 at the link)

You suggested having someone call my references, but I decided to approach them myself first. I was shocked to hear that not one of them had been called! In most of these interviews, I had made it down to the final 2, but no one ever checked my references! I also took your suggestion and did another mock interview with a hiring manager – she gave me some great advice about my phrasing when it came to talking about my freelance work and a website that I run.

I did eventually land a job (the magic number was 96), but unfortunately, it is a part-time contract gig. Not ideal, but it was in my field and it was good enough for the time being. I gave myself a break from applying for jobs for a few months.

Then, with an amazing stroke of terrible luck, I learned I was being audited by the IRS. Apparently, my plethora of contract jobs/freelance gigs and subsequent varying income over the past couple years caused me to be flagged.

The audit has been an absolute nightmare even though my records are in order. I decided to jump back into the fray to try and find a regular job to keep the IRS off my back in the future. I am ONLY applying for regular, full-time jobs. Though I didn’t think my resume was an issue, I armed myself with a new one after reading more of your posts. I was using a functional resume format, which you advise against. I changed to chronological and grouped my contract gigs under a single heading. I applied for 2 jobs last week and have 2 interviews lined up for this week.

2. Company ID badges are causing people to stare at women’s chests

Unfortunately, my update is not a happy one. My friend is doing what I feel women have had to do in office environments for so long – gritting her teeth and putting up with it. She’s dressing to hide her anatomy (easier in winter, I know) and avoiding certain people who make her uncomfortable. On the one hand, the team she works with daily is great and she enjoys the work – she’s been at this company a long time and doesn’t want to give up the parts of the job she loves. But on the other hand, she’s been forced to change how she dresses, how she walks, whom she talks to, because of this top-down corporate policy.

3. I made a mess of asking for a raise (#2 at the link), and my old manager won’t hire someone to replace me (#1 at the link)

Thanks for answering my two questions this year. The first question regarded a botched promotion negotiation, and once I left that department I asked you about that department’s hesitation with hiring a replacement for me. Well, that department did hire a replacement, but last week they terminated 5 positions and my old position was included. I feel very bad for my replacement but I am so glad I left that department when I did.

Thanks to “Ask A Manager” for your advice. It helped me harness my courage to leave that department and find a much better job. 

4. My employee constantly cries when things don’t go her way

This situation was resolved when the employee resigned. She continued to have emotional outbursts and I brought in my boss so that we had a third party present during our conversations (and so that my boss could see what was happening – lucky for me my boss was very supportive). I pretty much used the language you suggested, letting her know that I’d give her time to get herself together before moving forward whenever she started getting emotional. This happened a couple of times before she resigned, and I think that she recognized that the behavior was not getting the result she wanted. There were other performance issues that I was attempting to address as well, and it appeared to me that she decided it wasn’t worth having to do the work.

In retrospect, I can see that the crying was just one of a number of emotional manipulations she was using in the workplace toward me and other colleagues. I definitely wasn’t able to see the situation as objectively as I would now (having had this experience) and I gave her way too much room for those inappropriate behaviors. I wish I’d have been able to see it for what it was earlier, but at least I learned something from going through this!

Your advice was invaluable – I don’t know how I would have been able to resolve the situation otherwise!

{ 40 comments… read them below }

  1. Simplytea*

    Not that I should be one to talk, but go to sleep Alison!! Also, your new winter logo is fabulous.

    I hope someone buys you a spa retreat for the holidays–I know that if you posted a donation link for a getaway for yourself, I would chip in.

    Thanks for all you do, as always. :)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Thank you! If it makes you feel any better, most of the posts for the next few weeks are already written and set to auto publish (as this one did). I was highly prepared for surgery :)

  2. Jeanne*

    The update to #2 makes me sad. I don’t have any great ideas. There are almost always unintended consequences to new policies. It would be great if companies could realize that and review things after a period of adjustment.

  3. Rebecca*

    #2 – When we had to wear ID badges, we had to use the company provided quick release safety lanyard. We had the same problem – the ID badges fell right in the middle of our chests. We couldn’t buy our own longer lanyards because we were restricted to using the safety lanyard (we all know how dangerous the office can be).

    Our badge holders themselves had little clips on them. Most of the women clipped our badges on the front of the shoulder area. We still wore the lanyard, as per policy, but this placed the badge above our chests and helped a bit with the feeling that someone was staring at our chests. Maybe this will help the OP in #2.

    1. periwinkle*

      I’m 4’10” so any normal-length lanyard keeps my badge hovering around navel-level. Ugh. I shorten it up by tying the back in a quick-release hitch knot or with a safety pin. The lanyard’s safety feature remains functional, but the badge ends up near shoulder height.

  4. Amy*

    Some lanyards have adjustable lengths so it can be higher on the chest. It might be possible to get away with shortening it.

  5. CIP*

    Alison, the first link in #3 isn’t working because the (#2 at the link) is included at the end of the url.

  6. Not So NewReader*

    Nice update from the last OP here. It’s easy to get sucked into people’s upset, but I think that you will never have to go through it to this degree again. People that are having an off day (or are momentarily off track) act very different from people who use upset as a way of life. And it’s not always easy to tell the differences, especially if you do not have a long history with the person.

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      That is well put. I have struggled with telling the difference with a new employee, but I’ve got it down with the old ones. You have to respond differently, too. With an established staffer who is upset, I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest they take the afternoon off (without taking PTO) and tell them I hope they can rest, relax, and feel better. With a new person, I don’t want to be unfair and yesteryear differently, but I don’t know whether I should feel manipulated, because there hasn’t been time for a pattern to develop.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This is a very rough rule of thumb but when you see a particular behavior three times that means you have a pattern.

        I have even used this rule of thumb training my dogs. Not to equate employees to dogs- no, no, no- but to say this can be a handy rule of thumb with many applications.
        Once is a one-off. Second time, yellow flag. Third time- must address this behavior.

        Clearly, this is not the magic bullet answer but it is a starting point. And there are some behaviors where the first occurrence MUST be addressed because the behavior is so far off course.
        This made it easier for me when I supervised people. There are some things that are clear cut- this is against company policy. So I would tell them the first time I saw it- giving them my benefit of doubt that they were aware of this not-so-obvious company rule. Of course, that laid the ground work for deeper conversations if the person did it a second time.

        There were some things that people did that I did not recognize the fallout until later on. So I would say “Yes, I know you have been doing X, but it’s not working out. Here is why [fill in with relevant explanation] and here is what is needed instead [explain what is expected].

        In the example you are using, there are some extremes where it is just logical to let them have the afternoon off. Something such as their grandmother died, or the house caught fire. You can kind of tell yourself that “yeah, letting them go home is the right thing”. For requests that are in a gray area I have told people, “Look, if you need to leave then you need to leave. However, I will encourage you that your absence will become part of your work record here. So it is entirely up to you to figure out if this situation is that important to you that you absolutely must leave work early.”

        I can’t control their decisions for them. And who am I to say that X is not important and they should stay and work. All I could do is encourage them that not everything that happens in life is equivalent to a five alarm fire. And I could remind them that their requests to leave early were being tracked.

        I think some thought I was a total witch. And I think some thought that having to decide what was important and what was not important made them think about how important this time off actually was to them. Yet, others, decided that “hey, I have the right to ask for this time off, do I actually need it or can I find another solution?”

        1. Mister Pickle*

          Heh, I don’t know who might have been the original source, but to me it’s always been:

          Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, it’s enemy action. – Auric Goldfinger (Ian Fleming)

  7. BRR*

    My fake awesome person inside would go to HR and file sexual harassment claims against all the people staring at my chest. I would also just try a “Don’t stare at my chest.”

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, really. Telling people point blank can be so startling that they never do it again. Conversely, a person can say what to do “Please look at my eyes/face when you are talking to me.”

      For a person to hugely alter what they are doing in order to cope with this problem is disturbing to me. But until this person decides they want to handle it differently, the problem will continue.

  8. Ludo*

    Its unfortunate that the company in #2 cannot/will not allow a minor modification to make their female employees feel less ogled. I’ve been there, working for a company that required chest height badges. My company allowed them to be anywhere in the top half of your torso, however.

  9. Sourire*

    #2 Both the update and the original question make me happy I am somehow blissfully unaware when people are staring at my chest. It’s like I have blinders on or something. I have had colleagues and friends come up to me and exclaim they can’t believe I didn’t call out so-and-so for staring at my chest and I haven’t a clue what they’re talking about. I think the behavior is wrong and deplorable, but I’m unassertive and know I would have a hard time calling people out on it. So I guess I am glad I can at least be ignorant of it happening. For those of you who do notice and speak up about it, keep fighting the good fight :)

  10. Clerica*

    Ugh, we have a #3 at work and I wish someone would tell her to excuse herself or take PTO for the rest of the day when she starts up like you said in the original post. I’m a crier when I’m upset, but I get embarrassed and step out on my own. I can’t stand people who cry and then sit there waiting for your response. I’m not a nice person so I’m gleefully imagining that moment when this one realized for the first time that she wasn’t going to get the response she wanted.

  11. MissDisplaced*

    #1 I’m glad to hear that things, while not perfect, seem to now be moving in the right direction at least! I’ve been there myself back in 2009-2010 and it is incredibly demoralizing to go on so many interviews and still not be able to get a job. I wish you the best of luck.

  12. YWD*

    OP4, I’m really impressed with how you handled the situation and it sounds like the best resolution for both you and the employee. Thanks for the update!

    1. Preston*

      I am a guy, so this may offend, but regarding the badge story, don’t assume a guy is “ogling” you.

      As for the length of a badge, if the female employee really has a problem with it, wear the badge lower/higher and see what happens. If someone asks then she could address her concerns. More then likely nobody is going to say anything… well at least no male coworker.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I can see if it happens once or twice. I mean, they could actually be reading the badge. But if she is dealing with the same people doing this for months, then that is a different thing entirely.

      2. Mister Pickle*

        Yes. I’m a guy. I’m also a computer geek and I have a touch of ADHD. I have on occasion found myself staring at a person’s badge hanging in the middle of their chest. If it’s a woman, I’m very embarrassed. The point I want to make, however, is that people like me will with some frequency be “looking” at stuff inside of our heads and not really paying close attention to what our physical eyes are doing. I’m not trying to excuse myself for this, but it may help to know that I (and, I suspect many others) are not getting a prurient thrill out of it.

        This is not to say that I have never “checked you out”. But like the vast majority of guys, if I’m doing that, I’m trying to be as un-obvious as possible.

      3. AW*

        “don’t assume a guy is “ogling” you”

        That’s like telling someone not to assume the sky is blue even though they’re outside on a clear day staring at the sky.

        The co-worker is right there. She can see where his eyes are pointed. She can see when they haven’t moved elsewhere. She can even see the look on the rest of his face. There is no reason to tell someone not to “assume” something they can see happening.

        Don’t stare at women’s chests. It doesn’t matter *why* you’re staring; don’t do it.

        1. Zillah*

          Yeah, this. I find it really uncomfortable when someone stares at my chest, and I think that it’s far more reasonable to expect someone to just not stare at women’s chests than it is to expect women to swallow their discomfort. Why is it too much to expect some sensitivity and basic human decency, but not too much to force women into situations that make them feel uncomfortable and objectified? It’s absurd.

          There is usually no reason for a person to be reading a coworker’s badge at all, let alone frequently. If you’re security and you don’t recognize me/I’m at an entry point, fine. Otherwise? If you know me, you don’t need to look, and if you don’t know me, ask my name – there’s no reason to stare at the badge.

  13. Weasel007*

    Badge location: I did not read all the comments on the original thread but wanted to add this in case it hadn’t been said. Get a longer lanyard. I wear one that puts my badge just a few inches below the boob zone. It takes the focus off the chest.

    1. AcademicAnon*

      In the original post, OPs company refused to allow them to modify the ID badges and lanyards in any way.

  14. NurseB*

    So glad I don’t have to wear a lanyard. I do have to wear a name badge in both my current positions but I wear it at regular name tag height, which is much above my chest. I have an ample chest (well, huge really) and a name tag right in the middle of my boobs would drive me insane.

  15. Dawn88*

    In a corporate office setting, I always made sure my blouses passed the “lean over” test. I sat at a large L-shaped desk, with a 4 foot high return with shelf across the front. People would walk up to my desk, and stand over me at the shelf, and look down at me while I was sitting. Every top, sweater or blouse I wore to work was checked for cleavage for this reason.

    When in my 30’s-40’s and encountered the “chest stare” from male employees, brokers, clients…I just took my right hand, palm facing me with fingers spread (like how many are 5?) and would wave it up and down in front of my chest, just once. It looked like I was “brushing off” lint or whatever…this broke the stare pattern behavior in seconds. I think it woke several of them up!

    If that didn’t work, and the Starer was a subordinate I would be giving an assignment, and they started the stare routine, I would pause and calmly ask, “Did you hear me?” That usually helped.

    Now at 61, they’d be staring much lower! LOL! So my solution is shorten the lanyard to the 24″ necklace spot. Or if possible, insert your ID badge in a clip-on laminate holder, so you can clip it to your collar.

    The good old days of perky chests and glazed over eyeballs….I used to get so insulted and annoyed. Those days are long gone….sigh….

  16. Advice to OP #1*

    OP, I’m sorry to hear about your IRS troubles. I’m just curious, have you ever dealt with an accountant directly regarding your taxes? It’s true that self employment income is flagged the most, and it’s a good habit that you’ve kept good records, but simply varying degrees of income shouldn’t flag the IRS. If you can afford it, I’d hire a CPA or Enrolled Agent to help you deal w the audit and make it less of a nightmare.

  17. Deb*

    My employee constantly cries when things don’t go her way
    I do this — but not because things don’t go my way, but because I’m bi-polar. I’m an emotional person and just about everything hits me as emotional. I’m never thinking about the issue at hand when I cry — I’m thinking about the fact that I’m going to cry, I know it, I hate it, but I can’t stop it. I’m doing all the stuff I’m supposed to: taking meds, seeing a psychiatrist and counselor but it’s still there and I can’t stop it. I want to apply for disability because this problem eventually makes me totally embarrassed and I don’t think I’m effective when all of the time I’m thinking about trying not to cry. You might think this is a silly problem that I ought to be able to overcome — but I’m 60 and this has been going on for a long time. I hope you’ll give this consideration rather than just assuming that she’s trying to be manipulative.

  18. RJ*

    I also had a bipolar diagnosis and it never caused me to start sobbing at work. For any person struggling with anxiety or depression, I would suggest that they look into the MTHFR defect (methylene tetra hydro folate reductase). MTHFR is the enzyme needed to process folate (people without the MTHFR defect can break down folic acid into folate for the body to uses). Folate in the brain is the necessary building block for many neurotransmitters (including serotonin). The simple solution is to find a methylated B complex and take it twice a day, as well as a methylated sublingual B12 supplement. The methylated part is important. This can be very helpful as an adjunct to medical treatment (in addition to whatever your doctor prescribes for your anxiety/depression).

    A large segment of the population has inherited a defective copy of the gene that makes this MTHFR, a condition that makes it harder for folate to get into the brain. These patients have an increased risk of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia; it also predisposes them to be resistant to medical treatment. Usually, they have a strong family history of psychiatric disorders as well. Nutrition is also very important, and a diet rich in vegetables and other nutrient-rich foods will help.

    I did have a coworker who used sobbing, tears, and her private medical diagnoses to manipulate people and get her way. Like many of the other commenters, I think that inappropriate displays of emotions and sobbing had been reinforced in her world as an effective way to get what she wanted. Our manager, a thirtysomething woman with no prior management experience, was cowed by her tears for a very long time. I think that she was uninformed about the ADA and did not realize that even if someone has a medical condition (or is regarded as disabled), that does NOT mean they are untouchable.

    However, once the manager finally realized that she had to stop reacting and simply remain calm and professional (exactly as AAM suggested), the coworker’s behavior became even more outlandish and attention-seeking. I decided to take a leave of absence from work so that my manager could work with the employee one-on-one without me doing the employee’s job for her. Unsurprisingly, once the manager got to deal with this ridiculous, inappropriate behavior firsthand, she came around and started documenting the employee’s performance. Eventually our manager wised up and fired her. I could not believe that she got away with that type of behavior for as long as she did.

  19. so and so*

    I had an incident at the beginning of my current job where I royally screwed something up and was appropriately reprimanded for my mistake. Unfortunately, due to experience with a previous job and some issues outside of work, I ended up crying in front of my manager. It was humiliating. I did everything I could to de-escalate the situation and, thankfully, was able to get myself under control and apologize for my behavior, own the mistake, and develope a check system for myself to insure that I’d never repeat it.

    I can’t imagine using that behavior intentionally to get my way. My emotional reaction definitely harmed my standing with my boss, he treated me very delicately for ages after until I proved myself capable and strong again. How are people like the employee in the OP still employeed at all? Who is caving to that childishness??

    1. RJ*

      A lot of people view crying publicly as a SERIOUS thing. If someone is crying openly, they think that something must be terribly, terribly wrong to push another adult to tears like that. I have also noticed (not to paint everyone with the same heteronormative brush) that a lot of men are seriously freaked out by crying, and there are some women for whom crying is a type of release.

      However, in the United States (where I live), strong displays of emotion are not really viewed positively here. Additionally, “negative” emotions such as anger are highly repressed, particularly in women. Throughout my school and career, I’ve seen many women who view anger as a toxic emotion, so they are completely unable to process that emotion or deal with it when it comes up, except through tears. Anger can certainly be expressed in a toxic manner, as has certainly been vouched for by all the commenter’s descriptions of insufferable rage-a-holics, but in a healthy person anger is the smoke alarm that is telling you something is wrong or that a boundary has been violated. Many times, these folks who view anger as a “bad” emotion will become overwhelmed and the only socially sanctioned way for them to express it is through crying.

      Because many people still favor the Protestant work ethic and stiff upper lip, if someone witnesses an inappropriate display of emotion in the workplace, such as crying, their first thought is typically that something is seriously wrong (such as a person who is bereaved or emotionally unstable). If it happens more than once, I think most people will probably wonder if the tears are manipulative, or if the person is emotionally unstable.

  20. AW*

    Update #2: There are other good jobs. In fact, I’d say that there are better jobs because there are jobs that don’t require you to change how you dress, how you walk, and who you talk to in order not to feel ogled. Let’s face it, if you’re doing all that in an attempt to change (or avoid!) the behavior of your male employees, you probably end up feeling like crap anyway.

    You can do the work you love someplace that won’t make you feel like crap.

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