my boss lies about deadlines, my work crush is upset with me, and more

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

1. My boss lies about deadlines

I’ve noticed that my boss uses lying about deadlines to members of our team and external service providers as his tool to get things done… and I hate it. It’s effective because folks are working to meet a false deadline that, even when missed, will meet the real deadline. Unfortunately, it creates this energy of chaos/being overwhelmed plus in my opinion, incompetence (folks miss the fake deadline with no repercussions) and lack of integrity. I realize that a good manager gets results, so do I just need to R-E-L-A-X about the whole thing?

Why not ask about it? He might be doing it not to be duplicitous but because he knows that there needs to be a buffer in case something goes wrong (or for others to sign off on the work once completed, or who knows what else). You note that sometimes these deadlines are missed, which sounds like a reason for building in buffers. I’d just ask him about it: “I’ve noticed we’ll often set deadlines for projects like X and Y earlier than their external deadlines. Is that to give a buffer in case something goes wrong?”

2. An employee asked me to put it in writing that we’re not replacing him

I’m a deputy manager. An employee on probation came to me saying that he has been told we have plans to dismiss him next year and that we have already hired a replacement. Due to poor performance, he will be dismissed if no improvement is shown, but nobody has been employed to replace him.

He asked for something in writing for piece of mind, so I wrote the following: “I certify that to this date nobody has been employed for replacement and that no plans are made for his dismissal.” But now I’m thinking I shouldn’t have written anything at all. Will I get in trouble with my superiors for this? And will this affect his dismissal at the end of probation? All procedures and constructive feedback has been done appropriately.

Whoa. You should not have done that. First of all, your company probably has strong opinions on whether they want to put things like that in writing, particularly for someone who they sound pretty likely to replace fairly soon, and depending on the exact situation, you may have really complicated the situation for them. Second, you also shouldn’t have indulged this guy’s request for his own sake; you did him a disservice not saying something more honest like, “If we don’t see the improvement we’ve talked about by (timeframe), then yes, it’s possible that we’d need to let you go. However, we’re not at that point yet and we’re still looking for you to show that you can make the changes we’ve discussed.”

At this point, you need to tell your own manager (and HR, if they exist) ASAP about what happened. If you don’t tell them and they’re blindsided later, it’s going to be an even bigger problem.

3. My work crush seems upset with me

I have been in my job for 3 months – halfway through my 6-month probation period. There is a coworker who has a crush on me and I like him as well. We talk when we run into each other, and he comes by to my desk to chat with me and another coworker who sits behind me.

The other day, I was busy with a piece of urgent work and ignored him when he came by. He took a day off the next day. I saw him when he came back and he said “hi” in his usual happy way. However, he has been ignoring me ever since. He looks upset. I caught him looking at me but when I looked at him, he looked away.

I feel like he has overreacted. I do like him but my work is also important to me. Shall I ask him about it? Or shall I keep being polite or ignore him. Im not sure what I should do as I still have to work with him.

If he’s reacting like this because you were busy with work and couldn’t talk one time while you were, uh, at work … he sounds awfully delicate. I’d just keep being polite and let him work it out on his own, which is the professional thing for him to do anyway. And maybe reconsider the crush, because he sounds like he might be exhausting to deal with.

4. Company car policy change has taken away a perk of my job

From 2000-2008, I worked for a jointly funded (City/County) Parks and Recreation Authority. As the executive director, in addition to the salary, I also had a vehicle that I could drive to and from work and on any official business. In 2008, the authority was abolished and the county took over full funding and oversight. They continued the policy of allowing my children and or wife to ride in the county vehicle, provided it was a direct route (i.e., from office to home or from park to home).

Recently, they changed their policy and now only county employees are allowed to ride in the vehicles. This causes a real hardship on me. My children are often dropped off at my office after school and ride home with me. Also, as I’m required to work many evening hours, my wife many nights would bring the kids to the park and drop them off and they’d ride home with me. We only have one personal vehicle, which is driven by my wife. Now, I’m in a position where I’ll have to purchase a second vehicle to be able to transport my own children. I’d like to negotiate a solution with my County Administrator/ board of commissioners. In essence, this new policy has taken away a perk of my position. What advice can you give me in my negotiations?

It’s not a crazy policy change; I’m sure this new policy is better for their insurance and liability. But you can certainly point out that the car was a major perk of your position, and the change has lowered your overall compensation, and ask that your salary be adjusted accordingly. You may or may not get it, but it’s not crazy to ask.

5. Asking if HR mistakenly rejected you for an internal position

I’m writing for some advice for my wife. She currently works part-time at the public library in a small town, and a full-time position at the same library opened up. The library director and my wife’s supervisors encouraged her to apply – the same people who would be responsible for the hiring decision. She’s qualified and did a great job on her application, but about two weeks after the application window closed, she got a form letter from HR with a non-personalized “thank you for applying but you’re no longer in consideration” message. Not even a first-round interview.

Is it probable that HR culled her resume before the decision-makers even had a chance to look at it? If her application made it through HR, I don’t think she’d be overlooked like this; everybody at the library knows her and would recognize her name. Would there be any benefit to her contacting someone – and would you start with HR, or going to the library director and asking if she ever saw the application?

It is indeed possible that HR rejected her without looping in the decision-makers, and that it would have gone differently if they had. It’s also possible that they did loop in the decision-makers and still rightly rejected her (other applicants might be stronger). But with an internal application like this, where her director was encouraging her to apply, it’s not unreasonable to at least check with them to be sure.

She could approach the director who encouraged her to apply and say something like, “I wanted to let you know that HR sent me a form letter rejection for the X position. I was hoping to at least get interviewed, and it made me wonder if something might have gone wrong somewhere — I hope I’m not being presumptuous, but do you think it’s worth checking into? If I just didn’t make the cut, that’s fine, of course — but I wanted to check.”

{ 360 comments… read them below }

    1. Celeste*

      +1, but I’ve always known it to be called slush. Maybe like a slush fund? Anyway, yes, not every situation is amenable to tight control.

    2. Eric*

      “How do you expect them to think you’re a miracle worker when you tell them how long it will really take?”

    3. fposte*

      Yeah, this is pretty standard in publishing and writing in my field; what does tend to happen is that people know it’s a fake deadline but still get things in earlier than the secret deadline, so it’s worth it.

      1. Kat A.*

        Agreed. I find the earlier fake deadline necessary. It’s really normal in my field and prevents problems.

    4. AnotherAlison*

      It’s not always a fake deadline anyway. I have deadlines to get things out by X date, but if I am the project manager, I’m not sending out your stuff without looking it over. If I have comments, then I need you to make updates and I need to review them again.

      Also, in project scheduling, things can be scheduled to levelize manpower, even though actual deliverables could be issued weeks later without impacting the overall project schedule. So, if you tell me you can’t get to something for another week, and I say okay, it might look like I gave you a false deadline, but you likely don’t see the overall project impacts.

      1. themmases*

        I agree, I was a research coordinator and gave people “fake” deadlines all the time. No one working on the project had the full picture or understood how many people would need to look over their work before it could be sent out– or they had an unrealistic idea that the person looking over their work would review it right away. The deadline is not fake; it builds in time for work other than just your own.

        The only time I gave out truly fake deadlines (i.e. I implied that the submission site would go dark at noon Tuesday instead of noon Friday) was with trainees. I did it in part because at some point a submission site would go dark, and you can’t have 3 people come to your office 30 minutes before that and all need help uploading if their work is ever going to see the light of day. People who have never submitted an abstract anywhere before, and are putting their mentor’s and our department’s names on it to submit to everyone’s pet professional organization. Of course half a dozen people need to review it, and are very busy doing the same favor for several other people.

      2. MissDisplaced*

        Agree 100%
        I work in design and communications and always give a “early deadline” to allow time for proofreading and/or other issues. As nearly everyone misses that first “early deadline” by a day it works out.

    5. C Average*

      Heh. Yeah.

      In my world, there’s also the localization factor as well as a whole snarl of interdependencies. Most of the content I create is about products or experiences that haven’t yet launched, and it’s for a global audience. So I have to create content (based on a dev environment and beta experiences) and ship it to legal, PR, and brand (who all must give approval) and then export it for translation, and THEN cross my fingers that the actual product or experience ships on time and as expected.

      It’s an absolute cluster of uncertainties. If I were to start getting precious about deadlines, I’d lose what’s left of my mind. We’ve had a few people who were very black-and-white about deadlines. They have moved on. You just can’t be that way here. We pencil in a deadline, pad it generously, work hard to bring in our deliverables on time, and pray that everyone else will, too.

      (Can I admit that THIS is the part of my job that I love? Juggling all this insanity? It’s a total adrenaline rush and I am good at it.)

    6. Clever Name*

      Exactly. Even when it’s just me working on something, I seem to naturally be pessimistic about how long things take, even taking into account that I work considerably faster than my counterparts, so when I say something will take 4 hours, and I finish it in 1, I look really, really awesome. :)

      I think it’s fine to tell your staff a soft pre-deadline so that things are ready by the actual deadline. After all, there’s a good chance your boss has their own things to accomplish regarding the deliverable, and they really do need it from their team 3 days in advance to give them a chance to review/tweak as necessary. It may not be the client’s deadline, but it’s your boss’ deadline, and that should be good enough for your team.

  1. Ann Furthermore*

    #2: Oh my goodness. And I really can’t think of anything else to say.

    Hopefully, the OP’s employer has something in their policies and procedures documenting that a single manager cannot unilaterally make that kind of decision. Or something.

    1. Anna*

      All I could think was this manager is going to get a serious talking to and that it will create problems, but cannot be legally binding since the manager didn’t have the authority to make that decision. At least, I assume the problems Alison was talking about were potentially legal ones.

  2. Unanimously Anonymous*

    Unless there’s something beneath the surface that I’m not understanding, OP#1 might want to count his/her blessings. At my company, not only are the timelines always unrealistcally short; the senior executives seem to be competing with each other to see who can do the “best” job of sabotaging our processes via procrastination, second-guessing and last-minute spec changes.

    1. neverjaunty*

      OP #1 is looking for advice on a problem. “Other workplaces are even MORE dysfunctional” is not really going to help OP solve that problem, right?

      OP #1, what about approaching your boss to instead set up a system of clear internal deadlines? Certainly there are fewer direct consequences to blowing ‘get this draft to my boss’ rather than ‘get the final version to the customer’, but if internal deadlines are treated seriously with consequences for missing them, that gets the same effect Boss wants (not blowing big deadlines) without having to lie to people.

      Particularly as the common fallout from fake deadlines is that people start assuming all deadlines are fake and padded, and sooner or later, somebody is going to blow a real deadline.

      1. MK*

        The thing is, I am not sure it’s an actual problem, instead of something the OP doesn’t like about her boss’ way of doing things. It depends. If the reasonable time for something to get done is 20 days and the boss tells the client delivery is in 25 days and his employees that they need to be finished in 15 days, that’s not a bad practice or even lying; it’s a sensible system to make sure the job gets done in time, while giving yourself a buffer of time for neccesary changes or unforeseen delays. If 15 days is not a reallistical deadline, that needs to be addressed. If the boss is telling the employees that the client expects delivery in 15 days (as opposed to “I need it to be finished in 15 days”), that’s lying.

        1. Ela*

          While I agree it’s completely fine to communicate a deadline like this, one problem remains: The OP states that there are no consequences for people not making deadlines. No transparency, no consequences- that’s the real problem here IMO.

          1. Illini02*

            I’m all about transparancy when it is needed, but I don’t think you manager has an obligation to be 100% transparent when they give you a deadline. If they say “I need this in 15 days”, well to me it doesn’t matter that they don’t need to deliver it for 20 days. To me it seems the OP just doesn’t like this practice, but I dont know that its really a problem.

            1. Elsajeni*

              Yeah, as far as transparency goes — sometimes giving the “fake” deadline without further details is just in the service of clarity. I sometimes work on reports that require input from 4 or 5 other people, and I pick a date about 10 days before my final, “real” deadline to give them. If I were fully transparent about when the drop-dead deadline is, and even more so if I went into detail about why I need so much buffer time, I’d be worried about confusing them, because that email would be a mess of dates — “I will need this information by Feb. 12th in order to have it ready to discuss with the dean on Feb. 16th, in advance of the final submission deadline on Feb. 20th.” A busy person glancing at that and focusing on the wrong date would be 1) totally understandable, and 2) a major problem for my ability to finish the report on time.

          2. HR Manager*

            But the cushion the manager provides is to precisely manage those who miss the deadlines, so no consequence is needed. If he feels this is better than the threats and endless nights of working late to accommodate the latecomers, I think this is perfectly acceptable. I have done this many times, and I see this quite a bit in the various offices I’ve used. You either threaten and still have people late, or you use a false deadline and minimize stress for all (except those late). I prefer the latter method as well; my experience, there is always someone late with something.

            1. Chinook*

              “You either threaten and still have people late, or you use a false deadline and minimize stress for all (except those late). ”

              And the reality is that there are certain people that only work well under such stress. Even if you moved the deadline to the so-called “real deadline,” certain people would still hand it in late (how many of us knew the classmate who would always hand in the paper 1 minute before the prof’s deadline despite knowing about since the first day of class?).

              It isn’t about giving those types of people enough time but a deadline that they can use that doesn’t harm those around them when their time management skills get lost..

            2. HM in Atlanta*

              I can’t agree – using fake deadlines for the sole purpose of in place of actually managing the people who miss deadlines? This is poor management. Especially when those poor performers – you guessed it – still miss the false deadlines.

              Deal with the poor performers. Don’t punish the people who actually meet the deadline by changing the timeline so you don’t have to deal with the low performers.

              1. HR Manager*

                Sometimes these deadlines have nothing to do with poor performance per se, but with managing to a deadline. If the late people are impacting customers work, there is no way that a consequence would not be addressed. However, a deadline is sometimes for precisely what others have noted – to build in time for you to do other work and you can flex a little on that. This is why not everyone has to be “dealt” with. By the way – in my world, the late people are often managers! Some of the worst offenders who do not believe that reviews are important, open enrollment deadlines. These people all get ‘fake deadlines’ because there is always someone who comes in with some excuse as to why they couldn’t do something in the time allotted.

                1. HR Manager*

                  I should also add – it’s not any less annoying that these folks are constantly late. You just have to manage to it by doings things like building the cushion in. I don’t pull deadlines out of thing air – they are real enough because I know of what it takes to make sure the actual submission is correct. It’s not up to a manager or employee to come to me and say s/he doesn’t respect my deadline and so will purposefully submit it late. I may just decide that I am not going to make an exception for you this time.

              2. Kat A.*

                Deadline buffers are needed for all sorts of reasons. Employees get sick or take time off. Upper management reorganizes people and consolidates teams. The client makes changes. Management needs time to review and tweak the work but may not know ahead of schedule just how much time they’ll need.

                Any unforeseen circumstance that can delay work, like a pipe bursting. (That really happened.)

                Et cetera, et cetera.

                Deadline buffers are a form of good management, IMO.

            3. AnotherAlison*

              But the cushion the manager provides is to precisely manage those who miss the deadlines, so no consequence is needed.

              The cushion is not always just to manage deadline-missers. As has been pointed out, there are other things that may need to be incorporated into the final deliverable (manager review, other dept. work, the big boss who is always out of town signing off). I work on capital projects and some deliverables will always have “float” in the schedule. The are not scheduled on “critical path” so yeah, we can technically get them out the door later than I have asked for them, but we might have a big manpower crunch if I let you slip on all the schedule dates, and then someone will bitch about why 10 things are due on the same day (when they were originally staggered but everyone decided it was okay to miss the deadlines).

              Staff should also not start thinking everything is a negotiable deadline, just because we sent something late once and John Doe didn’t see the consequences doesn’t mean we didn’t REALLY miss the deadline and have real consequences to the team.

              1. AnotherAlison*

                (By real consequences, I mean I had to smooth all this over with the owner and I just have not gotten around to having this discussion with the team yet. Or, I might not have the discussion with the team until it becomes a problematic pattern, as long as the owner is happy.

                Recently, I missed some deadlines, due to some of our vendors missing their deadlines. The client was fully in the loop on the vendor communications and had not squawked about us being late on our assessment report, but turns out they were mad about the missed deadlines & we should have done a better job managing expectations. No one but me and my co-Project Manager and above really heard they were pissed, but we considered it our fault, not the teams’.)

              2. Anna*

                I agree. The OP doesn’t seem to be worried about poor management, the concern seems to be focused on fairness. In this case I would say it’s only poor management if it’s causing actual problems in running the business or getting the finished projects to the customer. From the OP’s perspective, it seems only to be a dislike of how the manager is handling the deadlines.

                1. Ela*

                  But the OP states that “folks miss the fake deadline with no repercussions” as part of their problem description – I read that as people missing deadlines will see no repercussions, and feel the OP sees this as part of their problem. Am I picking up the wrong message here?

                2. Anna*

                  This is to Ela. What I get from it is the OP doesn’t really get why the manager sets “fake” deadlines, but she knows he does this and wants to see consequences for missing the fake deadlines. The OP describes it as “lying” and then says she thinks it causes incompetence. But she doesn’t give any indication that people are being incompetent or that it’s causing problems with clients. She does say it creates an energy of chaos, but really all I get from the letter is that she doesn’t prefer it, which is just a thing. And asking why the manager does it and maybe getting a reasonable explanation will probably help her get over it.

      2. alma*

        I once worked for someone who used to screw around with deadlines — one of the other consequences was that it made it really, really difficult to independently prioritize because I had no idea what the “real” deadlines for my tasks were. It can be remedied with a conversation with your manager, hopefully, but it’s still a source of legitimate frustration.

        1. Zillah*

          I might just not be understanding your situation, but I think that the “real” deadline for a task is what your manager says it is. It’s not really up to the employee to make the call on whether a deadline is important.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Of course it is, that’s how you prioritize. Fake deadlines (as opposed to real, but internal, deadlines) mess that up. If I have two projects that have the same deadline, but one of them is going to sit on the boss’ desk for a week because that deadline is only there to keep Wakeen from procrastinating, that’s bad management and doesn’t help anyone address their workload.

            I’m completely baffled by the idea that internal deadlines are fake, have no purpose but to fool procrastinators, and come with no consequences. That’s management by way of Rube Goldberg.

            1. Zillah*

              But it’s still not the employee’s place to make that call. If the deadlines are making your workload unreasonable, you absolutely should talk to your boss about it and figure out how to proceed – but you can’t just make that call on your own.

              1. Illini02*

                I completely agree. If my manager says he needs something on this day, thats what my deadline is. It doesn’t matter whether or not it will sit on his desk. That is when he needs it, no matter the reason. He could have any number of reasons for it. It comes off incredibly entitled to question that.

                1. Red Emma*

                  I don’t think it’s “entitled” to expect honesty from a boss. If they will lie about one thing, it calls the question of what else they are lying about. It creates a culture of distrust. The boss may have good reasons for setting a deadline with some flexibility, but be honest about it.

                2. Zillah*

                  @ Red Emma – Sure, but I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about. It’s not entitled to expect honesty from your boss, but it is a little entitled to expect them to explain to you exactly why they’re asking for a report at a certain time.

                  I think the other issue is that I’m not actually clear on whether OP 1’s boss is truly telling lies. I understand that the OP feels lied to, but if the boss is saying, for example, “I need the report by Wednesday,” even though the external deadline isn’t for two weeks, that’s not actually a lie any more than “I can’t, I have other plans” is a lie when your plans are to hang out in your pajamas all day. I don’t see an issue with that at all. If, on the other hand, the boss is saying, “The report needs to go to the client by Friday” when the real deadline is next month, then that’s more of a problem.

                3. illini02*

                  Zillah, that is exactly my point. I don’t know that there is any lies happening. Saying that “Your deadline is December 1” isn’t a lie. Even saying “I need this by December 1” isn’t a lie. However, I would question the judgment of a manager whose deadline for his team is the same as the external due date. Just not that smart. But it is entitled to question WHY the manager picked that date, in my opinion

              2. Clever Name*

                Yes. It’s completely reasonable to ask about what the priorities are when you have competing deadlines and a heavy workload. It’s a manager’s job to establish priorities.

              3. neverjaunty*

                I agree, but realistically, if a deadline is fake – not merely arbitrary, or internal – then people are going to stop paying attention to it when there are other fires to put out. If Boss never really enforces a so-called deadline, then it isn’t a real deadline.

            2. Melissa*

              Why does it matter what the boss is going to do with it after you turn it in, though? If I have two projects of equal importance with the same deadline, they they have the same priority and I have to split my time making sure they both get done. That’s not necessarily bad management.

  3. Seal*

    #5 – Your wife should absolutely ask both her director and supervisor why she got rejected. As a long-time academic librarian I can safely say that this is a very common occurance. Every institution I’ve ever worked for has failed to forward applications for well-qualified candidates (including mine once upon a time) due to an HR screw-up.

    1. Mary*

      I agree, I think it would be worthwhile to say. “I was very disappointed to receive a rejection when I felt so encouraged to apply for the job. On what criteria was I rejected?”

      1. CNW*

        OP #5 – Definitely agree completely with Alison and the other commenters. Have your wife follow up as soon as she can. I’m not in that industry but many times there is a disconnect between HR and the business. Good luck!

    2. Summer*

      Yes, absolutely follow up. I had this happen to me as well – I was in a contract job that was ending, and was encouraged to apply for another job in a related department. I applied, and never heard anything until they announced the person who got the job. On my last day of work (with nothing lined up after), my boss called me into her office to ask what I was doing next, and to ask why I never applied to the other job. I nearly burst in to tears as I tried to tell her that I did apply (not my best moment, but I was under a lot of stress). I even emailed her the confirmation from the application software to prove that I had, in fact applied. A week later, I got a call from HR apologizing profusely for overlooking my application. The job was already filled, so there was nothing they could do, but it was nice to get an apology.

      There’s no guarantee that I would have gotten the job if I had followed up, but I’m pretty sure I at least would have gotten an interview. I thought it would have been rude to ask about my application status – don’t be like me! Ask!

    3. Mouse of Evil*

      This is what I was going to say too. I’ve seen that happen more than once in places where applications go through HR. If the managers haven’t specifically told HR–and not just HR, but often the person who is screening applications on a particular day, since that job is distributed in some HR departments–an applicant who has been encouraged to apply might get rejected mistakenly. Your wife should definitely talk to the people who told her to apply. They might be wondering why she hasn’t.

      1. Meg Murry*

        And doubly so if there is any chance of her name being different in the software than what she is known as. I’m pretty sure there was a story on here a while back, as well as cases I’ve known in real life, where the boss recommends HR pull “Peggy Smith”‘s application to put on the interview shortlist, but there is no Peggy Smith in the application database, only “Margaret Smith”.

    4. Bwmn*

      I agree with everyone else about following up – however it may also be that some part of the application resulted in HR having to reject the candidate. Something which can be corrected going forward.

      I had a friend who was heavily encouraged to apply for an internal position, and in a screening writing test about ‘taking meeting notes’ she used a lot of industry jargon and skipped some stuff because that’s how meeting notes actually happened in the organization. Well that’s not what HR wanted, and resulted in an automatic rejection that no one beyond HR could influence. However, she learned a lot more about the internal HR processes and what to avoid the next time.

      So even if this HR rejection can’t be fixed, there may have been something in your wife’s application that is triggering an automatic HR rejection that can be fixed.

    5. themmases*

      I agree, when I left my last job HR was giving my replacement a really hard time about promoting her (even though she would be doing my work and should obviously get my title, and had been working in our department long enough for us to know that she would be great at it) because she didn’t meet *one* bullet point on the list of general qualifications. Luckily this was an internal person we wanted to promote, not one person being considered for an opening, so we fought it out until it was right. But OP’s wife should definitely not discount the possibility that whoever was handling the applications just doesn’t get what they are looking for.

    6. kc*

      I agree with this. I am currently in a wonderful job I wouldn’t have gotten if I hadn’t asked inside connections (who then referred me) why I hadn’t heard about a position I applied for.

      Though I didn’t receive a form rejection until two months after I started with the company. Awkward!

  4. frequentflyer*

    #1: My boss does that too. We get things done to the best of our abilities (i.e. work done only on the most important things) within the unrealistically short deadline. Then he reviews it, and asks us to do additional work on the unimportant portions (which requires another week) – when according to the schedule, we are supposed to already start on the next project. Sometimes, the next project gets postponed because the boss says so. No repercussions.

    The thing is, our KPIs also include whether we are able to finish our work in a timely manner – so even if the deadline seems to be a fake one, the boss can definitely use it against us (the fact that we don’t meet the fake deadline) if he’s not happy with our performance.

    1. Interviewer*

      I used to have a boss with secret deadlines. For example, she would tell me on Monday that she wanted a project done by Friday. What she really meant was Wednesday morning. She never said it out loud, though. My co-worker, who had been supporting her for years, understood this intuitively after about 5 minutes of working with her, and tried to quietly train everyone on the team to move at her secret speed. If my co-worker had a piece of the project to work on, she would reach out to others on the team for their piece on Monday or Tuesday. Sort of helped poke everyone in the right direction. No one, including our boss, ever told her to do this. It was breathtaking to watch it all unfold sometimes, this delicate tango.

      When my boss got the report back in time for her secret deadline, she was delighted and pleased. Sometimes she had revisions, and so the extra buffer was good for that reason. But normally she wanted to surprise her bosses with the info ahead of their schedule. So if Thursday morning arrived with no report, she would send an email that something had changed on her timeline and she needed it sooner. And then she would thank you once you arrived with it, but not nearly as profusely grateful as if you had just met her secret deadline in the first place. So everything she gave me, I ended up doing as an ASAP rather than prioritizing my tasks based on her imaginary deadlines.

      Four years of this subtle unspoken dance, y’all. Oh, how glad I was to leave …

      1. Anna*

        This seems like a much larger (and weirder) issue than simply telling you she needed the report by Friday so she could look over it by the due date the following Wednesday.

        1. sstabeler*

          from the sounds of it, the order goes:
          assigned task
          secret deadline
          actual deadline

          as in, the manager got grumpy if the work wasn’t done a couple of days early- usually due to the manager wanting to surprise the bosses with the report getting done sooner.

      2. LeighTX*

        Am I right in thinking that deadlines weren’t the only thing she kept secret? I would guess that there were many other hidden landmines in that job that you didn’t know were there until you stepped on them. Glad you’re no longer there!

        1. Interviewer*

          Yep! Communication was definitely a one-way street. Loved my mind-reading co-worker though. I miss having someone around with that kind of magic insight.

    2. Clever Name*

      I’m confused as to why people keep referring to deadlines before the final deadline as “fake”. Maybe it would help to think of them as milestone deadlines?? I assign small tasks to other coworkers all the time, and sometimes I’ll think aloud when they ask for a deadline, “Well, it’s due to the client on Friday, so do you think you could get it to me on Wednesday so we have time to make any changes?” but sometimes I just say, “I need it on Wednesday. Does that work for you?” If I thought a coworker would get pissy about a “fake” deadline I am or am not communicating to them, I think I would find somebody else to give the work to (my company operates on the principle that the best people invariably have the most stuff to work on, so if people stop giving you work, there could be a problem)

      1. neverjaunty*

        They’re fake deadlines because there are no consequences if they’re missed and they are not enforced. If you have to have it Wednesday so you can review it, that’s a real deadline.

  5. Peridot*

    #1- First, are these internal deadlines realistic? It could well be that others see that these are not realistic and not external, and are getting the work done in a more reasonable timeframe. If you’re strung out to meet these dates, that’s not sustainable for anyone (speaking from personal experience).

    Secondly, is your manager following through with the project in a timely manner? I’ve had a manager that assigns deadlines with incredibly short turnarounds and then she herself does nothing at all with the product for days to weeks and then often doesn’t meet external deadlines. There’s nothing more frustrating that working your butt off to know meeting the internal deadline was just an exercise to see if you’ll meet a deadline. Not that I’m justifying missing deadlines, but are your coworkers noticing that the manager just has bad project planning skills?

    I’d second Allison’s advice in asking about why the deadlines are set. Getting some insight into the manager’s logic (or lack thereof) should help. You might also start asking about deadlines as they are assigned. So, if you’re told “The TPS reports are due by 4:00 pm” you might then respond “Will do- Is 4:00 pm so you can review and have them sent to upper management by 5:00 pm?” I would plant a big red flag if your manager can’t give you some kind of basic reasoning.

    1. Zillah*

      I actually strongly disagree with your last paragraph. It’s okay to ask why the deadlines are different, but I think that needs to be a clear and upfront conversation – I.e., “Jane, I noticed that often our internal deadlines are well before the external deadline for the same project. I’m curious about that – can you explain to me why we do it that way?”

      But that’s different. That’s a general question presented in the spirit of curiosity. Pressing your boss for an exact reason for a deadline she’s expressed would come off to me like the person was trying to either figure out whether the deadline was truly important or micromanage the boss… And both are pretty bad.

      1. Peridot*

        That question was simply trying to get the manager to communicate the project review process more concretely – and I agree that it should be asked with true curiosity. I’ve personally found using that type of statement very effective in showing that you’re thinking through the implications of the deadlines, which most managers have appreciated. But you’re right – that might not go over well with some people.

        While the whole thing should absolutely be addressed as a general open-ended discussion first, finding some way to have the manager be more transparent about the steps after the deadline would seem to go a long way with getting the team on board.

        1. MK*

          I think it would be ok to ask this a few times, to get an idea on how deadlines are set. But if you ask it after every deadline your boss gives you, you will sound as if you are demanding that the boss justifies every deadline to you.

        2. Zillah*


          In my experience, my managers generally wouldn’t have an answer to that question if I asked them, and my asking would come off as intrusive. I think that there’s very frequently not a concrete answer – for many people, workflow is not strictly regimented in a way that would give them a quick answer to your question. If my boss wants something by noon on Tuesday, it might mean that she wants to review it by Friday morning. Having it earlier means that she has more flexibility about when to include it in her workflow. If I challenged her on why she wanted it Tuesday at noon, I can’t imagine that she wouldn’t be pretty irritated.

          1. Marcy*

            This. If my boss asks for something by Monday at 5 p.m. then he gets it no later than Monday at 5 p.m. or at least gets a question about which project I should prioritize if it is not possible to get it done by Monday at 5 p.m. without some other project deadline needing to be moved. It does not make a hill of beans difference to me if the “real” deadline is Friday at noon. If I can meet his deadline, I do. If I can’t, I go to him, explain the issue, and ask what should be prioritized. He doesn’t need to explain to me why he wants it on Monday.

            1. Clever Name*

              This. I don’t manage anyone, but I’m starting to get annoyed on behalf of those who do. I mean, if there seems to be global problem regarding workload and unreasonable-seeming “fake” deadlines, then sure, have a general discussion with your boss about how to juggle workload and prioritize, but if I was asked why and my deadlines were what I said they were and second-guessed every single time, I would have serious doubts about an employee. Especially if that same employee frequently missed the deadlines I gave them (whether or not they are “fake” or “real” deadlines).

          2. Beezus*

            Agreed. I question my boss’s deadlines frequently, but in the spirit of helping me navigate problems and to help me prioritize my work. He often asks for things without knowing if it’s an enormous task or a small one, and assigns a conservative deadline that leaves him lots of time for review/redirection. I’ve learned *not* to open with “ummm, do you really need this by the end of the day?”, and lead with a brief sketch of the scope of work involved, any challenges, and questions about what are the must-haves and which are the nice-to-haves and how they stack up against the deadline and the other tasks on my plate. “I need Littlefinger to run a TPS report to get me the column of financial info you asked for, but all the other info comes from the King’s Landing Kitchens Bread Production Flow report that generates automatically. Littlefinger is traveling to The Eyrie today, but will be back in the morning. Do you want the analysis minus the financial piece by the end of the day, do you want it complete by 10 am tomorrow, or do you want me to send a crow after Littlefinger to see if I can get the information from him this afternoon?”

      2. Neeta*

        As a general idea, I don’t find it that unusual to work this way, with an earlier internal deadline, compared to the external one. As a software developer, it actually really helps to have someone test my work internally before I deliver it to the client. Then again it is possible, that such a procedure would be needlessly convoluted for other jobs.

        The bigger issue however, is the need for secrecy. Is your boss worried that people would slack if they knew that the “real” deadline was later? Does your boss think that the team produces better result when under duress? I’m not condoning this behavior of course, but it’s worth looking into it first, before getting annoyed at the difference between internal and external deadlines.

        1. Zillah*

          Yeah, that’s also a good point – I’m not really sure why the OP is surprised that the deadlines are different, or why she thinks it’s a bad thing. There are many, many reasons to do it that way.

        2. themmases*

          I would guess that the secrecy is because some people involved in the process aren’t reliable and the boss has chosen to manage things by letting them believe the hard deadline is earlier than it is. If that’s the case, you can’t very well tell Jane “the client needs to have it by noon Tuesday” but tell Bob “Actually I just need your draft on my desk by noon Tuesday” and have it be effective.

          It could be that the boss is a bad manager who needs to be more direct with Jane about deadlines. Or it could be that the boss has no direct authority over Jane and this isn’t the hill she wants to die on.

          I had a few situations in my old job where I gave out fake deadlines (i.e. the submission site won’t work after noon Tuesday when it’s really noon Friday) to trainees and people I knew from experience wouldn’t get me their work in time any other way– people I had absolutely no authority over but whose failure to turn in their work would reflect on me. In those situations, we of course did not let the hard deadline get out– it would have defeated the purpose. Only people in my role and my big boss, who completely approved, knew.

      3. Jamie*

        I agree – if the tone is just right it could be okay now and again – but if every time I set a deadline someone wanted details I would feel like they were questioning my ability to schedule.

        Everything for which I set deadlines for other people have a lot of moving parts with multiple departments. Unless you have a reason to think I am falling down on this curiosity about the big picture is great and I encourage that – but not asking me to justify myself. It’s a fine line.

    2. majigail*

      I’d be hugely frustrated with an employee if they asked that last question that way. It implies that as a manager, I have nothing better to do than to sit around and wait for TPS reports to review. Honestly, I got to the point of assigning specific times because I had an employee who would consistently miss deadlines. I’d say, “TPS reports are due on the 1st” and she would procrastinate and then would be in the office at 9 p.m on the 1st still doing them. (Before you ask a about workload, I frequently observe her work to see if she has a reasonable amount on her plate and it’s not that she has too much, but that she won’t delegate the things that should be. ) Now I say, “TPS reports are due at noon on the 1st.” I get them with plenty of time do a through review and send to my board sometime on the 2nd.

      1. Steven M*

        *shrug* If my boss tells me the report is due on the 1st I will assume any time on the first is fine. 9pm would not be late/past deadline, and I’d be annoyed with a boss who said it was. If my boss says close of business on the 1st, or another specific time on the 1st, then it’s late at that point in time. Just ‘the first’ makes it on time any time that is still the 1st.

        1. Zillah*

          Sure, but if it’s taking you well into the evening to meet a deadline on a regular basis, there’s something wrong.

        2. Melissa*

          I would assume in most regular 9-5 office jobs that due on the first means by close of business on the first.

  6. Mike B.*

    Good god, #2. That’s…well, that’s so bad that I don’t even think it’s redeemable. To grant that request without so much as asking your manager? That’s judgement so poor I honestly don’t think you should be managing people yourself, and I think it’s very likely that your company will agree.

    #5: If that wasn’t a clerical error, your wife’s library has some management issues that should give her pause. An internal candidate who is both qualified for the new position and valued in her current role should never be rejected with a form letter.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Good grief. OP #2 made a huge honking awful mistake, but it’s a pretty huge leap to assume that OP’s judgment is permanently impaired (as opposed to being the result of a lack of experience and training). After all, s/he has good enough judgment to realize that maybe this was an error and to ask AAM about it.

      OP #2, the reason everybody is clutching their heads here is that the co-worker manipulated you into making what he, at least, thinks is an Official Statement by the company, by pretending to you that it was just for his ‘peace of mind’ – as if the company couldn’t have just turned around five minutes later, hired somebody else and fired him. But when (not if, I’m guessing) they do fire him, he’s going to wave that piece of paper around to say it’s Not Legal, and if he files a lawsuit for wrongful termination or somesuch there will be a lot of uncomfortable questions about it.

      You really do need to talk to your manager immediately to get this straightened out. Mr. Probation should get bounced out the door immediately for pulling that little stunt, but if he isn’t, you’re going to have to deal with him, knowing how much trouble he talked you into.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        “Good grief. OP #2 made a huge honking awful mistake, but it’s a pretty huge leap to assume that OP’s judgment is permanently impaired (as opposed to being the result of a lack of experience and training).”

        Agreed…BUT – OP#2 needs to realize, very quickly, that she’s an asset of the company, not the employees under her. It’s one mistake, but it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what her position is, and I’m concerned she’s being manipulated in other ways by employees as well.

      2. Mike B.*

        In light of day, I think I was a bit cranky when I wrote my above comment. Yes, this can be recovered from; yes, I’ve made pretty dire mistakes too. And if there were indeed plans in the works to get rid of this employee, the company was asking for trouble by not keeping his manager abreast of them–OP could say all sorts of things in total innocence that would throw a wrench in the works.

        That said, OP really has to appreciate the gravity of what they did, both by making assurances that they lacked authority to and by memorializing those assurances in writing *at the employee’s request* (because the employee clearly intends to use them to protect himself). This is news they will want to break with the utmost of care.

      3. Ann without an e*

        I wish OP#2 would have written to Alison about weather or not to write anything at all. That would have made things so much easier for the OP. Hopefully its the mistake of a first time in-experienced manager, then the response might be training. I hope it doesn’t cause legal issues, any lawyers that can weigh in?

        1. Zillah*

          There’s so much that we don’t know that I don’t think any lawyers could give a concrete answer to this.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Agreed. That said, if I were the manager in this situation, I’d meet with the employee, say that I understood the OP had provided him with a written statement about the situation, use the language that I used in the post, explain she wasn’t authorized to do that, and give him a clear explanation of the situation, being explicit that it superseded anything else he’d been told. (“We need to see improvements XYZ. If we don’t see those by January 30, we would need to consider replacing you. We hope it won’t get to that point, but I want to be clear that that’s a possible consequence so that you’re not blindsided.”) I’d also follow up by summarizing it in an email to him, being clear that I was doing so to replace the earlier written statement.

            I think that would almost certainly take care of any possible legal problems stemming from the OP’s actions.

            1. hayling*

              Also if the OP is a Deputy Manager, the Big Boss can say that s/he was not actually an “agent” of the company?

            2. Melissa*

              This is not necessarily a direct response to your comment, Alison, but in these situations I wonder why the employee doesn’t focus their time and energy on actually improving their performance rather than trying to secure assurance that they can keep their job if they remain below standards.

      4. Jamie*

        I think it’s illustrative of how many times we don’t do a great job preparing people for management. I know I was tossed in and learned by the seat of my pants and I am not the only one – and of course we can prepare people for every scenario – but new managers make a lot of mistakes and even some big ones because they had never been faced with making these calls before and they just act on instinct and we don’t have managerial instincts as a species.

        Even big mistakes are recoverable (most) if one owns it, brings it to light before it hits the fan, and communicates clearly that they know where they went wrong and gives tptb confidence that it won’t happen again. And doesn’t get pissy that they will likely be watched more closely for a while.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          Yay and amen to that:

          I think it’s illustrative of how many times we don’t do a great job preparing people for management.

          and that:

          they just act on instinct and we don’t have managerial instincts as a species.

          My primal instinct is, if somebody feels uncomfortable, to try to make them feel comfortable. And if there is a silence, to fill in the gap, with whatever. Things that I said in my early management years…. :/ Just practicing not gap filling took years.

    2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      Please. Almost everybody does something mind crushingly dumb at some point . The recovery usually isn’t that hard.

      “I have done something mind crushingly dumb. Please forgive me. I will never do this thing, or anything else close to this dumb again.”

      If your work is good enough otherwise, you get one. And then it’s just a bad memory. And then at some point you can laugh about it.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Yes to this. Thank god for bosses who overlooked some of my dumb rookie mistakes. There were plenty!

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          Should I tell the story again about how I forgot to mail 30,000 catalogs? And I weren’t no rookie.

          On topic: In my early years of management, I had bad brain to mouth filters. I’d say things in the moment to an employee because I felt “on the spot” and five minutes later be banging my head against a brick wall that I’d said that. I definitely made promises or assurances I shouldn’t have. Nothing as epic as the OP to tell, but of a similar “you said what??” kind.

          1. the gold digger*

            The customer changed the color for the brochures we were designing and having printed. Customer called me with the new color. I wrote it down and added it to the print order, but did not remove the color swatch of the color they no longer wanted.

            Printer matched the swatch, not the number of the color.

            We had to reprint. Cost $30,000. I was making $20,000 a year at the time.


            1. Mike B.*

              In repentance and humility, I offer my own:

              I was proofreading a promotional brochure with a line graph, and on one round of revisions the key to the graph disappeared. I noted to the art director to restore the key for the next round; when it was back, I noted that the correction had been made and moved on.

              Some months later I was called and asked why the variables identified in the key were the drug we were promoting and placebo, not our drug and a competitor, as was correct. The art director (herself not having the best of days) had retyped the key rather than pulling it out from a hidden layer, and she’d remembered it wrong. I had assumed it was correct without checking, and on subsequent rounds of revision the mistake was invisible to proofreaders who didn’t know the product well.

              I was never told how much money the agency lost on having that brochure reprinted, but it was a sizable full-color piece that was in the hands of hundreds of reps, so…not my finest hour.

              I somehow was not fired, and in fact was eventually promoted. So there’s always hope if you learn your lesson well.

              1. Monodon monoceros*

                Oh god you guys are freaking me out. Right now I’m in the middle of going back and forth with the printers on a book we are printing. I’m living in fear right now of finally telling them to go ahead and print it, then having some HUGE mistake be found once I have the book in hand.

                1. Mike B.*

                  This is where process and protocol are critical. If you’ve gone through an established number of quality control steps and documented them, you can credibly say you did everything within your power to eliminate errors. It’s not always a great comfort to authors/publishers/clients/etc, but it can save a person’s job.

                2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

                  Wrong phone number.

                  200,000 catalogs.

                  Just saying. :p

                  (you’ll be fine. Be sure to get “fresh eyes” help. and check the freaking phone number)

                3. NotMyRealName*

                  Just remember that good things can come from mistakes. NORAD’s Santa tracker is the result of a wrong phone number published for a Santa line.

                4. fposte*

                  Speaking as somebody who reviews them and screeches with fury every time she has to run her own errata notices in the journal, mostly I just think “There for the grace of a lucky proofreading run go I.”

                5. LMW*

                  We once had a book published with a typo in the title on the title page. As far as I know, no one was fired for it.
                  I also once had a book go through with all the drops caps in the first page of the paragraph sliding into the body text. I had been told my (temporary) boss (who didn’t like me) would proof it and I didn’t need to. When the printed copies showed up with the huge error in every paragraph, she tried to throw me under the bus and say it was evidence that I wasn’t able to do the job (yet — she had a real issue with my age). Fortunately, I was able to pull out the huge stack of proofs that had been manually signed on every page and show that the last version I had was correct, and that she had signed off on the errors. I’m still angry that there were no repercussions for her actions on that. (I ended up moving to a new department, where I had a wonderful, supportive manager.)

                6. Natalie*

                  This was fairly minor, expense wise, but a tenant lease once went through multiple levels of review with no one noticing a fairly significant error in the rent schedule. The lawyers had to draw up a one page clarifying amendment, where the issue was blamed on “scrivener’s errors” – lawyer-speak for typos.

                7. Chinook*

                  Monodon monoceros, I say that after ac ertain point you just have to admit that you have done your best (because you have, right?)and let it go.

                  Today there was acutally a quote today from Pope Francis stating that those who plan everything to a “T” don’t allow themselves to be surprised by the “freshness, fantasy and novelty” of the Holy Spirit. Perfection leaves no room for creation.

                  Which is why we have the Norad Santa Tracker and actual elves answering Santa’s mail when it is sent to Canda (postal code H0H 0H0).

                8. Mike B.*

                  My favorite typo: my company issued a binder with a series of numbered inserts, with more inserts (paper booklets a few pages in length) to be sent to members periodically. During this process, the staff copyeditor quit and was not replaced.

                  There were two inserts that went out with the same number (printed very prominently on the cover). I believe the second had to be printed and mailed to thousands of members again.

                  The topic of the second insert? Environmentally sustainable practices.

                9. E.R.*

                  In my book publishing days, someone once okay’d an entire print run of our biggest title, accidentally attributing the book to a competitive publisher, logo and all.

              2. Jamie*

                I’ll throw mine up – tense day at the company, I was newish, sent out a link to a website advertizing custom clothing for goats to all users.

                “Testing the links in email – sent something absurd so everyone would know it wasn’t work related – should have mentioned it was a test.” I think that fooled 2 people.

                It happens.

                1. Jamie*

                  thank goodness it’s still up. Although it used to be a bigger site and had a much larger selection. They still have both dress and casual shoes, but the hightop sneakers seem to be discontinued.


                  and can I just say I want to work for a company where the website says…”All investors interested in pursuing this incredible opportunity please send a note with a goat or email us a cheque.”

                  I want people sending me notes with goats.

                2. Jamie*

                  Sorry – misinformation in my post in moderation. They are still offering the goat sneakers – just on the home tab. Thank goodness – I was concerned.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            I’ve told the story before about how I failed to insure two very expensive packages sent through FedEx –if you don’t put a direct value on it, they’re only liable for $100. The packages were $4,000. EACH.
            And of course, they lost them. And we had to redo them. >_<

          3. TheLazyB*

            My manager, the CEO, wrote a highly sensitive board report about restructuring the directors. I was supposed to give it to board members only. Not to the directors, who attended the board but weren’t members, and who didn’t have a clue what she was up to.

            When I realised I hyperventilated for a little while then called to explain and hope she didn’t sack me. She was clearly very annoyed but just said ok. (She was at home 50+ miles away and I didn’t have a car so I couldn’t apologise in person.) I left an apology in writing in her office and she said she appreciated that.

            I expected repercussions for like a month, but 5-6 years later I’m still there and I’m pretty sure she didn’t even mention it to my line manager(who’s now left so I can’t ask).

            I still feel ill when I think about it.

            1. Mike B.*

              Oof. This reminds me of one I’d almost forgotten.

              I was working for a medical journal, and one of my responsibilities was to edit the response letters to manuscript submissions according to the specifications of the editor-in-chief, my boss. One day I didn’t fully understand what the instructions he’d given me were. He replied “I meant that the author needs to do such-and-such in order to satisfy Dr. So-and-So’s critique.” Which I typed, more or less verbatim, and sent to the author.

              As the author then pointed out to me, Dr. So-and-So was a blind peer reviewer.

              In retrospect, I also seriously erred by not telling my boss what I had done, rather contacting Dr. So-and-So to tell him that I’d compromised his anonymity. Fortunately for me, he seemed to take it in good humor and the matter ended there.

              1. Monodon monoceros*

                Did you see the somewhat recent paper that was published with the comment “Should we cite the crappy Gabor paper here?” still in the text? I won’t put the link because of moderation, but just google “should we cite the crappy paper” and the story comes up in Retraction Watch. As a journal editor, that is my nightmare.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  Ha! At the bottom of the article is a link to AAM, Cautionary Tale is talking about turning off “Track Changes” before sending in a resume.
                  Kudos, Cautionary.

                2. Melissa*

                  One of the reasons I don’t put snarky comments in my papers during the revise-and-resubmit stage (even though I am tempted to! especially with this most recent one, with a nitpicky reviewer) is exactly this. I’m afraid it’ll go to press with a slip-up still in there.

        2. C Average*

          Oh, gosh. I’ll play.

          My company co-brands a product line with a big, big brand. (To put this in perspective, both my company’s brand and our co-brand have logos that are among the ten most recognizable globally.) About six years ago, we’d come out with a major new product for our co-branded line. At that point, I was moderating the bulletin board on our website for this product, and we had many thousands of active posters on that board. I thought I had the green light to post the announcement of the new product on the bulletin board and did so.

          Except that the press release hadn’t gone out first as had been the plan. The other company actually wanted me fired for the error. My department’s director defended me–there was an email chain backing me up–but it was ugly for a few days.

          Lesson learned, though. Since then, whenever I’ve written anything that was slated to go live AFTER another publication, I’ve always checked the other publication in the live environment to make sure we were in the right cadence.

      2. fposte*

        Aside from the glorious tales of individual screwups, I’ll note that face to face with one person can be an easy time to make a mistake (I think, anyway). In bigger meetings, you’re likely to be more careful and guarded, but with an individual you may be figuring you can wing it, you may not have had time to prepare or choose the moment, and you can get sucked into their wavelength.

    3. Be the Change*

      Just ordered two lunches for a big event. The first lunch was ordered months ago by someone who then left for a new position, and I forgot all about it so I ordered a second lunch. Got a call the morning of the event from the caterer saying, “We have a lunch for 100 and a lunch for 200 for the same event for the same place — which is it?” /$1800 and plenty of crow…. [I did wonder why the caterer didn’t notice earlier that week and call.]

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        I have yet to make a mistake, but these are some great tales…Glad you all have recovered from these gaffes!

  7. Apollo Warbucks*

    #2 That’s quite some mess I can think of a couple of out comes of having written the note none of which do you any good.

    What you’ve just given the employee is false reassurance that their job isn’t in danger if they take the note at face value and later get fired they are likely going to be confused, upset or angey. They might also use the note to assume that they have now made sufficient improvement to keep there job or in the worse case scenario you might be explaining the note at an employement tribunal defending a claim of illegal treatment. I can just see the employee saying “I can’t have been fired for performance issues, look at this note I was given in December, now all of a sudden I’m being told my work isn’t good enough. I think the reason I was fired is because I am … (Insert protected class here)”

    I’d follow Alison’s advice and talk to your boss immediately and ask how they want you to proceed, but another conversation with the employee might be needed to clarify the situation and make sure they understand what is required of them to keep their job.

    1. fposte*

      If they’re in the US, there’s no such thing as an employment tribunal or illegal treatment. She can say he’s wonderful on Thursday and fire him on Friday. But it’s bad management, it makes companies nervous in case there are other things going on that he might consider suing for in the US, and it makes a termination more unpleasant for the reasons you state. (That said, I suspect this employee may be pretty unpleasant to terminate, period.)

      1. Jamie*

        Yep – it’s not a protection but it’s something that will make the labor attorney and HR fighting UI very not happy.

        1. fposte*

          Right. We talked yesterday in the open thread about the fact that if you’ve been in a car accident, the one thing you don’t want to do is apologize; it won’t necessarily make it your fault, but it will certainly make your insurance company crazy. This is pretty much the office equivalent of apologizing after an accident.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Exactly! And also, unfair to the employee, as it undermines the seriousness of the performance warnings he’s already received, by telling him those issues aren’t really a big deal that could impact his job.

  8. Zillah*

    Oh dear, OP 2.

    Go talk to your boss ASAP. Asking you to write a note for his “peace of mind” sounds less than innocent to me, and unfortunately, you played right into his hands. I suspect that he asked you for it because he sees the writing on the wall and he’s angling for ammo.

  9. Jennifer M.*

    OP #2, I don’t want to pile on, so let’s focus on what you can do. As Alison and others have already written, please go immediately to your manager and HR to see what can be done. It may be as simple as issuing him another written notice that explicitly states that he is still on probation per the original terms of his employment and that this written notification supersedes the written notification of X date and get someone higher up the food chain than you to sign it. But whatever it is, it needs to happen ASAP!!

    Let this also be a reminder that it is not your place to issue written documentation to your staff on employment matters whether it is good, bad, or indifferent. That is the role of the human resources department. In the past I have received form letters from my HR department to print and sign and distribute to my employees (basically letters notifying them what their annual bonus is and when they’ll get it), but I have never had the authority to write or edit such communication.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      OP, this is a great idea, to just write a note that supersedes the previous note.
      Going forward, when someone asks you an odd question like that use a stall tactic so you can think about it or find out more from your boss. A good stall would be “Okay, I have to think about that. Right now, I must complete (unrelated) X. I will get back to you in a bit.”
      It won’t always be this way, either. You will catch on to more and more of this stuff and you will know how to handle it. This will happen faster than you think it will.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Yes, I agree that they may be able to write a note that supersedes the previous note. But OP#2 should not be the one doing it – at least, not until they talk to the higher-ups about what was already written, whether to write the note, or what the note should contain.

        1. Mike B.*

          The OP should DEFINITELY not be doing anything regarding this matter that isn’t directly approved by HR and/or their own manager. Trying to correct one’s own mistakes is all well and good, but they could potentially make a bad situation worse here. And even if this idea turns out to be helpful, given that the problem arose in the first place because OP overstepped their authority, they’ve got to be very careful not to do so again.

  10. llamathatducks*

    Could someone explain why the note written in #2 is such a big deal? I don’t see why the employee wanted such a note, but it also appears that everything in the note is true and consistent with still letting him go if he doesn’t improve.

    (Sorry for my cluelessness; management and hiring/firing are pretty foreign to me…)

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      The best it does is introduce confusion and contradiction, the employee should only be getting one message about the security of their job. At worst the note is evidence to be used in a discrimination or unfair dismissal law suite.

    2. Jennifer M.*

      While it was not the intent, it could be construed that this note saying there is no plan to dismiss him means that the previous written feedback saying he needed to improve is now null and void. However, there is in fact a plan to dismiss him if he doesn’t improve.

    3. neverjaunty*

      “I don’t see why the employee wanted such a note” – he wants the note because he knows his job is hanging by a thread, and by cozening a note out of management that says he has no replacement and they’re not firing him just yet, he’s hoping that this is somehow going to give him insurance against being fired (or ammunition for a lawsuit if they fire him).

    4. AdAgencyChick*

      Because the employee may feel (in fact, very likely feels) there is now a legal agreement not to fire him. I would also argue that even if he squeaks by and gets out of *this* probationary period, should he ever be fired in the future, he will whip out that note and lawyer up. OP is an employee of the company and therefore, although I don’t know how the law would see it, I’m sure the employee sees it as a guarantee of continued employment. He has no such thing, because he is still on probation. OP’s managers may simply not have discussed an increasing likelihood of needing to fire him with OP — or maybe they haven’t decided yet, but the possibility is still there.

      The big deal is that unless OP has the final authority over this person’s probation — and it doesn’t sound like she does, because if she did she could have simply declared the probationary period over — she should not have put a statement like that in writing, because she has now, at best, introduced an issue that HR and senior management have to deal with (probably by issuing ANOTHER written statement that OP did not have the authority to make any promises counter to the probation, and the initial terms of the probation remain in force), and at worst, created grounds for a lawsuit if this employee is eventually terminated.

    5. Katie the Fed*

      Well, there are two issues in my mind:

      #1 – legal stuff. The employee’s request for this in writing indicates he’s going to try to fight any dismissal, and while I doubt this will hold up, it at least gives the employee belief that he has a fighting chance. It’s going to make firing him more difficult, potentially.

      #2 – Mixed messages. Nobody likes to tell someone “if you don’t shape up, you’re going to be fired.” Except that’s what needs to happen, and apparently already did happen with this guy. In her efforts to give him “peace of mind” OP #2 undid all that good managerial work and told this guy he’s safe. He’s not. Not he’s going to be surprised because he thinks his job is safe, when it’s not.

    6. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      It’s a legal nightmare.

      Depending on the company, that note might preclude them dismissing him for another year. If the company is involved in any employment litigation at the moment, or was recently, that note would probably be forwarded to lawyers to decide what the company could/should do next re that employee.

      I’m not exaggerating.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Really? How though? It didn’t promise that he wouldn’t be fired, just that no plans were under way.

        Ugh, what a mess. People who are underperformers are often experts at finding loopholes and exploiting weak links in the system. Ironic!

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          Private sector here, waves hi! :)

          Whenever we are in employment litigation which, unfortunately happens even if you are the bestest place on earth to work, any terminations during or directly after have an extra microscope look on them. We have to delay routine terminations an extra 90 days because the lawyers said so.

          If this incident happened in our place atm (yep, lawsuit going on), we’d have to send that note to the lawyers and let them decide what we do next. Since we are taking the current issue to trial, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that they’d tell us to wait until after trial since this termination would no longer be routine.

          1. fposte*

            I might differentiate an in-house legal nightmare that whips the lawyers up into a frenzy from something that means you’ve obviously broken the law and have a court nightmare on your hands. Obviously the lawyers are in a frenzy because they’re trying to avoid the second, but lawyers also get into a frenzy if you give a bad ex-employee an honest disrecommendation.

            1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

              Good catch, thank you.

              What I meant was “nightmare of the legal people involved in defending something else” not “illegal, this is a nightmare”.

              I’ve been involved too closely in the is most recent thing (three years +), and I know wayyyyy too much about how these things work now. (Fortunately, not about anything in my division or me. Unfortunately, I happen to be a key witness because I was too freaking helpful about something.)

              I can’t gripe about lawyers being cautious about certain things at certain times because I’ve learned, reasons.

              1. fposte*

                And that’s why they get their money–to go into a frenzy at risk. They’re the barking guard dogs. It’s up to the company to sometimes say “Shush, that’s the letter carrier” and pay attention when it’s not.

          2. ILiveToServe*

            This. In the convoluted world I live in with Union rules. Bad employee, not meeting the minimal expectations of the position. For the first 6 months, I was permitted to go over her job description and job duties, weekly to point out that she was not completing tasks, not responded to email and in person requests in an accurate and timely manner, not completed her tasks in an accurate and timely manner. And that she must do so and I will be documenting her success during this time period.

            At no time was I permitted to say…or you will lose this position…or we will find someone who can…or perhaps your skill set is not a match for what is needed for a person doing this job. These would be deemed threats, the language considered prematurely disciplinary and trigger grievances that claimed lack of due process.

            It was 6 months later when we had been through coaching meetings, negative job review, and months of documentation, I was permitted to present a letter of expectation that included the language that one of the consequences could be termination. After that the union rep sat in on every meeting.

            1. fposte*

              And I haven’t even been thinking about unions in this–they’ll definitely complicate a situation.

          3. Poohbear McGriddles*

            That’s the problem, IMO. It’s not that the note would help the guy win a lawsuit – it’s that it would make him think he has a case at all. And of course any lawyer with an ounce of gumption is going to shake a stick at the company and see if a settlement is offered. At the end of the day, the company at least had to spend money on their own lawyers in order to defend against it.

        2. Jamie*

          I’m with WTL all the way. Just having the letter is going to make some ptb nervous enough about how it will complicate things for termination and it will be thrown into consideration fighting UI and every factor adds delays and that costs money…

          The path of least resistance and least legal wrangling with UI hearings is to start from square one and don’t terminate until you have enough post letter with the requisite documentation to do so. It’s easier to keep an incompetent or sub-par employee around for a while longer than have a million hearings to determine UI – and the chance that he wanted it in writing in case he was let go so he could sue…even frivolous and totally bs lawsuits cost time and money to fight.

          This would be a very BFD anywhere I worked and would absolutely bought him a lot more time.

    7. bridget*

      He could also use it to allege that he had an employment contract. Those cases are usually pretty open and shut because of the presumption in most states that employment is at-will absent a specific contract to the contrary, but this piece of paper could at least muddy the waters enough to make litigation much longer and more expensive than otherwise.

      1. fposte*

        I would be doubt that–what the OP wrote is actually extremely limited, and it guarantees nothing about term of employment.

        1. bridget*

          Pleading standards are actually pretty low, as long as somebody can allege that an agreement (verbal, written, express, implied, whatever) was made. I have a client who has paid me a lot of money to get rid of a lawsuit on just this basis, and there were fewer words on paper in that case than this guy has in his pocket right now. He definitely wouldn’t win, but if he wanted to be a pain in the ass about it, he sure could be.

  11. silvertech*

    OP2 reminded me of a similar request I got a few years ago from one of my help desk techs. He had made a huge mess while working on site for a client and he was already performing very poorly. I warned him that I would investigate the matter, write a report for the higher ups, try to fix his mess (which BTW I did, thankfully) and that it was very likely he would get written up for what he had done. He had also tried to blame the mistake on me and my other tech who was on duty at the time. I was pissed.

    The day after the mess, when we were desperate to fix it and working on it pretty much full time, this guy phoned me and told me that if I was so disappointed with him, I should write a signed note where I stated that I no longer wanted him on my team and he should quit the job. I said he could forget it and alerted my boss. Besides the fact that I had/have no authority to issue such a document, he was clearly trying to get ammunition. He knew he was performing poorly, we had put him through specific training and told him he needed to meet clear standards if he wanted to stay. A few days after being written up, he resigned with no notice (which is compulsory where I live, for the type of contract he had). It was a huge relief, because this guy had made my work life look like a circle from Dante’s Inferno.

    Long story short, it’s important to be extra careful with this kind of requests.

    Go straight to your boss OP2, and good luck.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      !!! That’s brazen! Well done, you.

      For OP’s situation, a better response would have been — depending on how much information her managers were comfortable sharing, either “I haven’t heard of any such plans” or “I can’t answer that,” followed by “We want you to succeed, and to do that you’ll need to [insert areas of improvement from probation plan], as we’ve discussed.”

  12. Question Mark*

    #3 – I’m actually stunned that Alison didn’t give you different advice. Therefore, here’s my 2 cents: you are 3 months into a new job and still within a probation timeframe. Therefore, you shouldn’t be worried about work crushes and dating. You should be focused on doing a great job and impressing your supervisor. You don’t need to be the subject of gossip regarding any type of flirtation or workplace romance.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      ” I’m actually stunned that Alison didn’t give you different advice”

      Ha, I am too :) Alison seems like the last person I’d come to for workplace romance advice, because it’s so completely inappropriate!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But I want to answer those questions anyway :)

        Sometimes people write to me about stuff that’s totally unrelated to work in any way — I’ve gotten questions about dealing with apartment managers, relatives, all sorts of stuff. And I always want to answer them, because if you think that workplaces stuff is the only area of life where I’m opinionated, you’d be mistaken. But I (usually) resist. This one I felt was close enough that I could justify it :)

        1. The Other Katie*

          I’d love to hear your advice on those letters…any chance of getting a monthly post of some of the best?

        2. Katie the Fed*

          Ha, I’m sure you have opinions on them. I’d just imagine you’d be more of the tough love advice giver (“your boyfriend is an idiot”) – not sure I could handle the honesty! :)

    2. Graciosa*

      Yes – this entire letter is exhibit 1 in any discussion of why this is Not Done at work.

      To OP#3, you already know that this individual is not mature enough to manage even a mild precursor to a relationship (not even a single date yet!) without bringing drama into the work place. You cannot pursue this relationship at work without impacting your job.

      Pick one.

      1. Observer*

        Actually, you already know that this individual is not capable of handling even a mild precursor to a relationship without bringing high drama to life in general. What happens when you refuse to eat lunch with him? Or when you don’t get off the phone with your mom/friend/sibling/whoever when he comes to chat?

        Stay away from this guy. You don’t want to deal with his drama. And you do NOT want to be associated in any way with it either. You need to assume that if he can take a day off and then give you the silent treatment over not chitchating with him when you had work to get done, there is a very good chance that there are going to be other issues with this guy and his performance of relationships with other employees. You do NOT want to be associated with all of that

        1. Adonday Veeah*

          I’m wondering if you read a different letter than I did. You assume a lot to say that, based on what was written, the guy is “not capable of handling even a mild precursor to a relationship without bringing high drama to life in general.” I’m interested to know what you’ve read into this that made you come to this conclusion. And then you leap to imagined problems for scenarios that we can’t even assume are part of their interaction.

          1. Observer*

            Well, I did leave something out. IF – and this really is a big if – the OP is reading the situation correctly, his behavior is a HUGE red flag. A person who reacts this extremely to someone he’s known all of three months at work ignoring him has huge problems.

            In fact, in thinking about it, I think that the reaction is so over the top, that I have to agree with the others who have pointed out that there could be tons of other reasons for his behavior.

            If that is correct, then it’s a good time for the OP to take a deep breath and rethink how she handles workplace relationships and to think about how to avoid un-necessary drama.

            In either case, I think walking away and sticking to professional demeanor and work related conversation is a smart way to go.

            1. Adonday Veeah*

              Consider this, Observer. If you assume (yeah, yeah, I know what they say…) that the OP and the crush are very young, say, just out of college, and are new to the work force, then this could read very differently. They’re just kids who don’t have their act solid yet, and are still learning how to behave in the adult world.

              Either way, your last sentence above is dead on. And yet… oh, I blush to think about some of the things I did in early adulthood. Everything was soooooooooooo important!

      2. YaH*

        There’s no clear connection between “I ignored him” and “that’s what he’s upset about” in OP’s letter. She or he could easily be wildly personalizing coworker’s actions. OP #3 sounds really young and/or inexperienced in the professional world and needs to take a step back and realize that too much focus is on this work crush. They’re supposed to be fun, but they shouldn’t get in the way of professionalism.

    3. Ann without an e*


      OP#3: It is unprofessional to hook up with or date a co-worker, there are very few exceptions and this case isn’t one of them. The risk to your career isn’t worth it. Also, its been three months, you know nothing about this man, it takes months or years for peoples reputations to surface to new employees. There might be a reason he is targeting the new girl, or not, but there is no harm in being cautious.

    4. kozinskey*

      Agreed. To me, the phrase “work crush” is problematic in and of itself. Let go of the crush, focus on your work, don’t bring junior high level drama into the office.

    5. Mike B.*

      Yeah. It’s all well and good to have a work crush (I have a small fleet of them), but if your amorous feelings toward a colleague become relevant in a professional context, you’ve most likely taken a wrong turn.

    6. Jamie*

      Sure – that’s great advice but people are human. Feelings of romance and attraction – either powerful or light and amusing, have the power to sneak past all logic and good intentions and pop into your brain unbidden.

      I’m with you on acting on it – for sure – but not to be worried about it isn’t advice people can follow. You feel what you feel and you worry about what worries you.

      Imo workplace romances are best avoided (hence the age old wisdom to not poop where you eat) but an awful lot of people meet at work – you spend a lot of time there and if you’re single and on the dating market as it can be hard to do what’s smart when you get to know someone who has all the right pheromones and is smart, funny, whatever you’re looking for.

      I’ve always felt grateful I’m happily married because if I wasn’t the only place I could meet anyone would be work. Unless they were going to show up in my house out of the blue and introduce themselves (Fred Stoller had a funny bit about this years ago) – because work and home kind of the only two places I am likely to be.

      And I’m a little biased because my parents met at work and he was her boss so I’m the product of what today would be a nightmare for legal and HR. :)

      But I’ve worked with a lot of people who handled the relationship at work well – most didn’t even know – and others who made it a nightmare for everyone in the vicinity. High drama people should never get involved at work – or anywhere where I have to hear about it. That needs to be a law.

      1. Adonday Veeah*

        “High drama people should never get involved at work – or anywhere where I have to hear about it. That needs to be a law.”

        Alas, these people fail to notice this feature about themselves…

        1. LBK*

          In fact, I often find the highest drama people can be easily detected by how frequently they say that hate drama. The more they say they don’t get involved in drama, the more they tend to cause it.

          1. Ann without an e*

            I’ve only seen a work place romance do well once. They were together for two years and then got married. Their job functions are so different they never cross paths at work and if not for a company event offsite never would have met at all. Honestly, I’m not sure if their coworkers know they are married, to each other…

            I’ve seen it go bad for lots of others. All you have to do is date, especially casually, more than one co-worker and now your the office harlot….if the guy you date is in management or friends with managers and you will be fielding all kinds of accusations. If you are a guy that doesn’t hesitate to introduce him self to the new girl now you are the office perv…..

            Get to know him in a completely platonic way if it was meant to last then the friendship will make it stronger and it will be worth the risk.

            1. Shortie*

              I completely agree with you even though I’ve been married to my “office romance” for ~15 years. I think what helped is that we only worked together for a few months. I was entering the company as he was getting ready to leave it. Unfortunately, people did snicker behind my back about being willing to go on a first date so quickly (for some reason, it was fine for him to ask me, but not for me to go). Am I glad I did it? Yes, or I wouldn’t be married to this amazing man. Would I advise others to do it? No, because adults in the workplace can be just as childish as middle schoolers.

          2. Katie the Fed*

            “In fact, I often find the highest drama people can be easily detected by how frequently they say that hate drama. The more they say they don’t get involved in drama, the more they tend to cause it.”

            WORD. This is 100% true in online dating :)

      2. Observer*

        I agree with you. The real issue here is not that it’s a work relationship, but that this guy is trouble.

        One of the common signs of a potential abuser is pushing to too much commitment, too soon. Now, it’s hard to tell if his behavior is the sign of an abuser or of someone who has never gotten past age 2, emotionally speaking, but neither makes for a very good partner.

        1. Adonday Veeah*

          I think this is a huge overstatement based on the info we’ve been given. It’s entirely possible that this guy is a) oblivious, or b) preoccupied, and the OP is misreading the signs. I don’t see any signs of potential abuse or pushing for commitment in the info that was shared — just two young people trying to navigate a working world they may be new to.

          1. Observer*

            That’s partly true. The part about it being possible that the OP is mistaken is true. In which case the guy is not trouble, but the OP is setting herself up for problems.

    7. jelly roll*

      I would also advise against a workplace romance. I used to date someone from work and we got engaged and he jilted me at the alter. The drama at work was intense. My boss even transferred him to another division which is known for making their employees miserable. I have no problem with the guy, it was a good call on his part although I didn’t see it that way at the time and only realized it about six months afterward. I would have been able to work with him as before with some initial awkwardness at first, but it was the reactions of my co-workers which were the most problematic.

      1. jelly roll*

        Also, people at work didn’t realize that we were dating until about six months into the relationship and that was only because we said something. We kept it for after work except for one day when I had received bad news and he came over to give me a hug and a pep talk in my cubicle when no one was around.

      2. jelly roll*

        Also, the drama was from others, in case I didn’t make that clear. Endless questions, etc. And weirdly, some people vowed to never be friendly to him ever again. Which was strange because I had no problem being friendly to him at work on a work basis.

      3. Mike B.*

        …this situation needs a whole lot more context than we’re getting here.

        But the takeaway is that it’s easy to tangle your coworkers up in any drama you may have, making matters still worse when love goes sour.

  13. I Get That*

    #2: Ooo, I hate that manipulative “can you put that in writing” trick. It’s a big red flag that there’s a lack of trust between a manager and employee (not a surprise here), and it’s really hard to explain to employees why you as a manager don’t want to do what they asked. The real reason is something Alison alluded to- because certain things in writing come back to bite organizations so it’s best to handle them differently. But that explanation, or a sanitized version of it, isn’t generally acceptable to employees in cases like this (see trust issues above). So you end up with a more upset employee who adds to their complaints “and they wouldn’t even put it in writing!”
    Anyone have good strategies for dealing with these cases?

    1. HR Manager*

      On this occasion, I would have responded to the employee “If you are worried about keeping your job, that is exactly what the intention of the probation plan is. We were clear to inform you that you need to improve your performance, or your job is very well at risk. While the intention is not to cause you undue stress, you do have to understand the consequences of not meeting the goals we’ve discussed for your job.”

      I’d also start the conversation with “Please tell me what you hope to accomplish with your request.” Usually there is no good answer, and if there is, you go into the verbiage above. The almost always knows that there is no guarantee about firing; they’re doing this to delay an inevitable outcome.

      1. Jamie*

        I’d also start the conversation with “Please tell me what you hope to accomplish with your request.”

        Bingo. My immediate thought would have been to ask why, and your wording is so much better because a bald “why?” can seem confrontational and yours is perfect neutral fact finding.

        I’m stealing this for any time I need to toss a why out there.

    2. Case of the Mondays*

      A lot of states require certain employment terms to be in writing to be enforceable. When employers don’t want to put them in writing, it is a big red flag. I prefer the terms of my employment to be in writing.

      1. Anna*

        The terms of the guy’s employment were in writing in the form of his PIP. This maneuver was only to get some sort of guarantee that despite the PIP, he’d still have a job. The PIP employee made an incorrect assumption that it would protect his job and the OP made an incorrect assumption they were doing the right thing.

  14. Katie the Fed*

    Wowsers – what a set of questions.

    #1 – It’s normal for a manager to build in some time for review before sending things to the customer. That’s just smart.

    #2 – Wait, what??? Your employee doesn’t deserve peace (not “piece”) of mind. Your employee SHOULD be nervous because your employee is on very thin ice already. I’m concerned that you’re not prepared to actually manage a problem employee. Your focus should be on improving performance, not reassuring bad employees. You’re in the position you are for the benefit of the company, not the people under you, and you need to keep that in mind in future interactions. Yes, you should tell your supervisor and HR ASAP what you’ve done, but you also need to focus on what YOUR job is.

    #3 – No. Completely inappropriate for this at the workplace, Jim and Pam. This is why you keep romances out of the office. You’re at work to work, not flirt and have minor romantic dramas on company time.

    #4 – They should have given you warning, but the policy isn’t unreasonable. Taxpayers aren’t fans of perks like this for public employees, nor should they be.

    #5 – Always a good idea to let the hiring officials know you applied so they can make sure HR passes the resume.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      #4 It looks to me like the op isn’t incurring any additional mileage or costs its just a matter of convenience that the kids ride with the op on the same journey he is already making. Certainly in the UK incidental usage of company cars is acceptable. For example you could stop to get dinner from the super market on the way home even if it meant a slightly longer journey but taking the car to the super market every Saturday would not be allowed with out it becoming a taxable benefit.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Oh, I agree. But in terms of liability – that is a cost/potential cost that’s being passed on to taxpayers. My point is more – it’s a perk very few people get so it’s not necessarily a huge hardship that they’re taking it away. But it does suck as it changes OP’s calculations and processes.

        1. fposte*

          Though as I note downthread, I’m finding the “take the car home” policy to be pretty common for county employees. So if you’ve “grown up” in that system, that’s a big change.

        2. Joey*

          On the flip side this is the attitude that prevents govt from attracting and retaining the best workers. If I had the choice between a govt job that wouldnt let me ever use govt property for personal use and a private company that realized its a small expense compared to what I’m producing can you guess which job Id take?

        3. John B Public*

          This is a perk that helps compensate for the lower pay that many municipal workers get. It doesn’t cost very much if anything (perhaps a small increase in the fleet liability insurance), but it has a measurable impact on the expenses of the employee. As a taxpayer, I’d be delighted to have this as part of a city employee’s compensation. It has real value to the employee but little impact on my taxes.

      2. MK*

        Since this is a change in policy, I am guessing there is a reason behind it; probably something happened that affected the decision. It could be anything, from a member of the public noticing this use of county cars and complanining to a question of insurance. If, for example, the county was offered a great deal in insurance premiums, on the condition that only employees ride in the cars, they could hardly justify not accepting it.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Katie, THANK YOU for pointing out that it’s “peace”. PEACE of mind. So one can have PEACE. *ahem* :)

      #3… I agree with you for the most part, especially in this case, with the concession that work crushes and mild (MILD) flirtations can make the work day smoother. However, they should never be taken seriously and should only be conducted by people who don’t get butthurt when people don’t say hi to them and by people who don’t get angst-ridden when their crushes don’t “crush” anymore.

      1. Anon for this*

        I want to gently point out that the word “butthurt” is generally considered a gay slur, as it’s intended to conjure an image of humiliation and weakness associated with being forced to receive anal sex. I realize a lot of people use it without realizing this, much like the word “gypped” is used by people not realizing it’s a slur against gypsies, so I’m just sharing in case you didn’t know and maybe would like to.

        1. Mike B.*

          Really? I’m gay and I’d never thought of it that way.

          And I’d hate to lose that word; it’s quite useful.

        2. Kelly L.*

          I heard this a few months ago and it did give me pause. Interestingly, it wasn’t how I’d been interpreting the word–I always thought it meant you were acting like a baby with diaper rash.

        3. fposte*

          Do we have some documentation on that etymology? I’m willing to believe it could be true, but some of those notions of slur origins get retconned, too.

          1. Jamie*

            I am interesting in this as well. I just assumed it was like “butt load of money” or “dead ass tired” or “get off my ass” or “you bet your ass I did” or “I lost my ass in Vegas” in that it’s a body part that works it’s way into a lot of idioms.

          2. Anon for this*

            It’s hard with slang. AFAIK its origins come from live online gaming, where players who lost are described as having been “raped” by the winning player, and a losing player who becomes upset about it would then be described as “butthurt” because, as an all-male environment, presumably the rape was anal.

            Urban Dictionary is another place where you can see some evidence of it.

            Here’s the #1 definition:
            “An inappropriately strong negative emotional response from a perceived personal insult. Characterized by strong feelings of shame. Frequently associated with a cessation of communication and overt hostility towards the “aggressor.””

            So most people agree that it describes someone who should be strongly ashamed of the way an aggressor has treated them.

            And more telling, here is the #3 definition:
            “Some one who doesnt know how to take a joke, and they take the joke like they just took it to the [expletive]”

            And of the 20 “related words,” 3 are gay slurs and 2 are gendered slurs against women (also commonly applied to men who have failed to act manly enough), again suggesting this insult is specifically meant to liken the target to a woman or an effeminate man.

            1. fposte*

              Right, but shame doesn’t make it a gay slur, and Urban Dictionary is, shall we say, a highly descriptive rather than prescriptive source. I can see that this may have been the origin, but it could also be like the widely believed but incorrect notions about “handicapped.”

              I might dig around to see if scholars have dug into this–it’s an interesting question and I’d like to know.

              1. LBK*

                I’d be interested to hear if you find anything. I’ve never associated it with being a homophobic slur – I’ve used to plenty of times myself as a gay man without a second thought. I honestly never thought about the implications, it’s kinda just one of those terms you hear and repeat without considering the literal meaning too much.

              2. fposte*

                Right now what I’m mostly finding is speculation. Know Your Meme has some more thorough historical documentations, and it says the origin is spanking; Gawker has a speculative piece that suggests it’s inappropriate because it’s demeaning to women (I never get why “douchebag” seems to fly under the radar on that score), Persephone has a speculative piece that suggests it’s homophobic, an Escapist magazine forum claims it’s a reference to raping women, and none of them have any documentation to give their claims the slightest bit of weight. I haven’t checked scholarly stuff yet–there may be silence there. I’ll report back if I do.

                Right now I’d say that none of it has weight beyond speculation, and it may be a term that didn’t have a clear semantic reference–like many imprecations, the sound is more important than the sense. That doesn’t mean some people aren’t using it homophobically, but it doesn’t seem to have been a notable or documentable part of its origins.

                1. Kathryn T.*

                  I think “douchebag” is explicitly NOT demeaning to women — it’s saying that whatever is being so described is NOT, contrary to marketing hype and misogynist body-shaming, essential for a woman’s health, wellbeing, and social success, but is rather expensive, unnecessary, and downright harmful.

              3. John B Public*

                I’m curious too- I always thought it was what happened after one got his ass kicked- he was butthurt.

            2. Snork Maiden*

              I agree with “Anon for this”, it’s not a term I am surprised to see this word being used on this site as most often commenters are considerate and professional. Also, it’s lazy writing.

              1. Snork Maiden*

                er, that should be “It’s not a term I consider polite and I am surprised to see this word being used on this site”

          3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            I’m not buying “butt hurt” as a gay slur.

            The only place I ever heard that was in the comment section here one time, and, frankly, it made me a little butt hurt because I use it all the time.

            1. HM in Atlanta*

              IRL, I’ve only ever heard that term used as a gay slur . I’m wondering if it’s a regional thing.

            2. AvonLady Barksdale*

              I’ve honestly never heard it used in anyway that was a slur, but I do apologize if it’s offensive to anyone. Honestly never even crossed my mind, but I do believe we learn something new every day, so that was my “new” for yesterday.

              1. C Average*

                Me either! I figured it came from the same general mentality (immature, potty-mouthed, hilarious) as “butt-munch,” “butt-rock,” etc. In other words, the Beavis & Butt-Head demographic, which likes to append “butt” to various words just because it sounds funny.

        4. Poohbear McGriddles*

          I would imagine being forcefully penetrated anally would hurt regardless of one’s orientation.

        5. Melissa*

          I actually don’t think it does. I think it comes from images of spanking – it implies having a reaction much like a small child would.

    3. LBK*

      #3 Referring to someone as Jim and Pam is not going to make me think their dating is a bad idea. I still struggle to believe that John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer aren’t a real couple.

      Also, I think it’s totally plausible for two coworkers to end up in a relationship that doesn’t impact the workplace. Can it get messy? Sure. Can it also end up in a happy marriage? Sure. I don’t think a blanket rule is fair, nor particularly easy to enact when it comes to romantic attractions you can’t control.

      1. Carrie in Scotland*

        I worked in a bookshop once upon a time and the amount of relationships that happened between staff members was by far the largest I’ve ever encountered. Currently there are one married couple who work there and a couple in a long term relationship that I know of (I have a friend who works there still) but when I worked there, there was no less than 3 relationships going on at the same time – only one was a disaster…

      2. Mike B.*

        It may or may not end well. You have to weigh the potential of any relationship against the potential for damage to your career. Which is very real; if the other person turns out to be unstable and starts, say, instigating screaming public fights with you when you decide you want to see other people, you won’t be a blameless party when the matter is investigated.

        Given that we rely on our jobs immediately for food and shelter, and in the longer term for a professional reputation that will benefit us in years to come, the advice you’re going to get here is to steer clear. (I say that as someone who has been *dying* to respond to the OK Cupid ad of a coworker for some months, and will do so within hours whenever one of us moves on.)

        1. LBK*

          I fully agree that there’s risk involved, I just think it’s often easier to give that advice than it is to follow it.

    4. Melissa*

      I’m a taxpayer and I can’t say that I care whether or not a parks and rec employee drops his kids off to work in a municipal van.

  15. BRR*

    #3 I’m not sure by your letter but did you actually ignore him or did you tell him you were busy and will talk to him later? Either way he sounds a little dramatic and you should think about the possible scenarios if you do get more involved as he might act like this in the future. People really don’t like when relationship drama gets dragged into the office.

    #5 I second Alison’s advice. I think the key is mentioning not being presumptuous. People hesitate to give direct feedback about hiring because they’re worried it will turn into an argument. I can easily see HR not advancing you but I also know the library field is one of the most competitive out there.

    1. LBK*

      #3 Yeah, if you just flat-out pretended he wasn’t there, that’s weird. But I really hope I’m incorrect in my inference that he took a day off of work as a result of being miffed at your ignoring him, because if he called out due to his feelings being hurt…uh, yeah. Run. That’s nuts.

      1. Marcy*

        It happens, though. When I was a teenager and didn’t realize it was a bad idea to mix work and dating, I left a guy, who I thought had been flirting with me, a note on his car asking him out. He went out and read it and then came in and quit on the spot. Ouch. Anyway, I learned dating a work was not a good idea because it sometimes makes things so awkward someone wants to quit and I also learned that some people have a tendency toward overreaction.

  16. doreen*

    #4 Be very aware of your agency culture and the difference between unofficial agency “policies” and official county policies before you make any requests. My agency had all sorts of unofficial “policies” ranging from work hours (people were literally working 20 hrs a week and being paid for 37.5) to vehicle use (people were using official vehicles to travel from home to a commuter rail station , leaving them parked there all day and using a separate vehicle for official travel) to not disciplining people who used official business parking placards on personal travel, all in violation of official state policy. If someone had tried to get additional compensation to make up for these “perks” being taken away, at a minimum they would have been seen as crazy.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      “(people were literally working 20 hrs a week and being paid for 37.5) to vehicle use (people were using official vehicles to travel from home to a commuter rail station , leaving them parked there all day and using a separate vehicle for official travel) to not disciplining people who used official business parking placards on personal travel,”


      (sorry, that was my inner inspector general screaming).

        1. SerfinUSA*

          Also a state (university)worker, and those kind of perks are reserved for upper level b’admin. B’admin perks have been defended as a way to demonstrate the prestige of the university. A poorly perked b’admin makes a bad impression on potential donors, or so we have been told.
          We lowly classified types are told to be grateful we even have jobs, let alone expect these unicorns called Perks.

  17. BRR*

    Also for #2 do you think they should be looking for a new job? It’s pretty serious and I think it depends on their workplace but it’s something to consider. I’d love for others to way in though.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      You mean should OP#2 be looking for a new job, or should the employee be looking for a new job?

      OP#2 made a mistake, but that’s it. A good manager will have her back and make sure she doesn’t do it again. Mistakes are part of learning and growing.

      1. BRR*

        I mean the OP. I wasn’t sure how serious this was. Just brainstorming and was hoping for others to give their thoughts.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I don’t think the OP, herself, needs to look for a new job. Just go in and talk it over with the boss. Promise never to do it again and so on. If she goes to the boss rather than waiting for the boss to come to her that will be a point in her favor.

      Her employee, he’s not doing that well. At all. He could probably start looking.

    3. Mike B.*

      While I’ve backed off my initial “you have no business managing anybody” response, I disagree with Katie and NSNR; if this alters plans the company had regarding this person’s continued employment, then it could indeed be a firing offense. But a company prudent enough to take the memo seriously is probably not going to fire the OP impetuously over a single event.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Actually, I agree with you, if the person’s continued employment causes some major interference in some unforeseen way that we don’t know about from OP’s letter. But I am willing to bet that the company is -as you say- wise enough to work this through without firing OP.

  18. Laura the Librarian*

    For #5, I hate to be the naysayer here but I’m not surprised by this. I do think it is worth mentioning it to your boss in a “Can you give me any advice on how I can be a stronger applicant next time?’
    I’ve been in libraries for over 15 years and have seen this happen multiple times. Often there are tons of applications for a single position and there may have been someone with more experience, or HR encouraged the managers to go a different way with hiring- for example they may think an outsider may have fresh ideas etc.

    1. Sophia in the DMV*

      I think the issue is OP received a form rejection after being asked to apply, not necessarily that OP was rejected.

    2. Christy*

      Yeah, the library market is quite insane right now, and not in any way that’s going to help a part-timer looking to go full-time.

  19. TotesMaGoats*

    #4-Um. Unless your kids are able to go play at the park, which I’m hoping is what they are doing, I’m wondering why your kids are at work so much. Are they sitting in your office or lobby doing homework? I think this falls under the heading of “things you should never bank on staying the same” like getting certain days off during the year.

    1. MK*

      I am under the impression that the OP’s workplace is a public park, that’s why his children are spending time there.

      However, I have to say that the use of this car is a major perk of the job only because the OP has made it so: he and his wife have arranged for their children to be dropped off to their father’s workplace after school (instead of at home, where presumambly someone would have to wait for them, if they are still little) and for the wife to drop off the children at a park and then not have to pick them when it’s time to go home. I think it would be best if the OP got rid of the mindset that a “major” perk of his is taken away; the perk (having a car to use to and from work and on official bussiness) has stayed much the same; it’s the OP’s ability to take extra advantage of it that has changed.

      1. Mochafrap512*

        I personally am not fond of the car even being driven to and from work, at att- kids or no kids.

        1. fposte*

          Do you know what’s current policy for your own county on that, though? Some of your discomfort may be because you weren’t familiar with the norm, not because the OP was outside of it.

          1. TotesMaGoats*

            I know this question wasn’t for me but I’ll share. When my state university had a car pool that you could use to do to longer distance (but not flight-worthy) travel, you had to be a university employee to use it. We are all essentially state employees and had to abide by those pesky state rules. They might have different rules at the county level but I haven’t seen many “county” cars aside from police/DNR etc.

            1. fposte*

              Right, my state university has that too. Interestingly, I’m finding counties are much different from states or municipalities on this; the stricter counties are the ones that are basically Big City Area, like Cook County with Chicago.

              To be clear, I’m not claiming to have done a systematic search, but what I’m hitting really does suggest to me that different levels of government operate even more differently than I had imagined. Sort of interesting.

  20. some1*

    Just my 2 cents but I’d imagine the employee in #2 is more likely to to use the LW’s statement for unemployment rather than a lawsuit. I mean, it’s certainly possible, but it’s much easier and definitely less expensive to fight a company’s denial of UI than sue them.

    1. Raine*

      I’d think that maybe if the OP had come up with the idea and voluntarily written and offered the letter. But when this whole thing is a product entirely of the employee’s mindset and manipulations? I tend to think the employee will use it in any way possible, including ways not even contemplated here, given how brazen and out-of-the-box the whole thing already is for someone on an improvement plan.

      1. Mike B.*


        In the scenario you describe, Raine, the employee might be grateful to receive such a letter but not have any idea of its potential value. This employee knows very well what he’s doing, and OP played into his hands.

        1. fposte*

          Well, the employee knows what he’s *trying* to do; it’s quite possible he has a completely erroneous notion of the legal implications of this note. I think that means more trouble rather than less, though, since it’s likely to lead to more adversariality than less.

          1. Mike B.*

            The employee doesn’t need to have a winning case, he just needs to present enough of a threat to save his job. If the consequences of his poor performance are fairly minor, then even the remote possibility of a successful lawsuit against the company might be too much for them to accept.

            1. fposte*

              I don’t think we’re disagreeing, in that we’re both saying the employee did this deliberately to make getting rid of him difficult. I was just noting that it isn’t necessarily because the OP understands the legal implications correctly. (Now I’m thinking of all the people who believe that a cop has to say yes if you ask her “Are you a cop?”)

              1. Mike B.*

                Oh, definitely. By “the employee knows very well what he is doing,” I didn’t mean that he’s accumulating documentation with a specific end in mind, just that he’s doing it for reasons that go well beyond his own peace of mind.

                1. fposte*

                  Yup, definitely agreeing. And the whole narrative where he approached the OP–without, from what I can tell, a planned meeting–and pushed for this suggests to me somebody who’s planning to be trouble, period.

      2. some1*

        Absolutely they can and should be prepared for that possibility — I’m speaking from a purely from a practicality standpoint at what is most likely to happen. If/when this employee is terminated for cause and files for unemployment and the company denies it, I would almost guarantee he would try to fight it based on that memo.

  21. Ela*

    #3 This sounds like high school drama to me. There are so many assumptions at play – e.g., why assume The Crush doesn’t talk to you because if your behavior a few days ago? Maybe he is just in a bad mood, or realized he wants to focus more on work while he is, actually, at work.
    I’d advice you to not make assumptions like “X doesn’t like me because I did Y” simply because X and Y happened in the same week – that’s a recipe to create unnecessary drama and misunderstandings.
    Clarify it if with Mr Crush if it bothers you.
    And avoid drama in the workplace, especially 3 months into the job.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I thought of Mr. Crush as Mr. Moody. This guy sounds like a roller coaster of emotions, OP, that you don’t need in your life.

      Treat him as you would everyone else who works there. And for, goodness sake, stop checking to see if he is looking at you. If you do not put your foot down, this guy could derail your job for you.

    2. fposte*

      Or the boss told Mr. Crush to knock it off and quit bothering the female employees, or Mr. Crush’s girlfriend told him that the flirting-at-work days are over.

      The goal here should not be to get back to flirting with Mr. Crush in your workplace.

    3. HR Manager*

      Agreed. I was wondering — how is this even work-related (aside from the office setting)? Sounds like someone trying to navigate an office hook-up scenario.

    4. Elsajeni*

      Yeah, I’m surprised to see so many people treating the situation as “wow, the work crush hugely overreacted to being ignored one day, he must be overdramatic and moody and you’re better off without him.” I mean, the OP is probably better off not putting a lot of energy into a crush at work, I won’t dispute that. But it seems like a leap to suggest that the crush did something overdramatic or obnoxious by disengaging from a workplace flirtation, exactly like we’re suggesting the OP should do — even if it does happen to be because he felt snubbed.

      1. Observer*

        Let’s put it this way. If the OP is right, then this is someone she really needs to not have a relationship with. On the other hand, if the OP is wrong and the guy has simply decided (or been made to decide) that the crush behavior needs to end, then she needs to just accept that.

        Either way, the advice to just stay away and not try to get him to chat etc. is sound.

    5. Windchime*

      I dunno, does Mr. Work Crush even realize that he is the object of the OP’s affection? It’s possible that he is totally unaware and his change of attitude has nothing to do with the “snub”. The OP states that Crush took a day off and when he came back, said, “Hi” as he normally does. My guess is that he is totally in the dark about this whole crush business and his actions or lack thereof have nothing to do with the OP.

  22. some1*

    I agree in general that workplace romances are a bad idea, but we’re all also human and are bound to find a coworker attractive at some point. The thing about workplace relationships is that if the person screws you over, you have to see him or her everyday and still be professional. If nothing has even happened with this guy and you are already spending time worrying about why he’s pulled back from you, workplace relationships probably aren’t for you.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      The thing about workplace relationships is that if the person screws you over, you have to see him or her everyday and still be professional.

      This is why I avoid them like the plague.

  23. Helen*

    Re: #1. My last job involved management of projects with strict deadlines that relied on input from several people. I needed a buffer of a few days since many were late in giving me their part, plus I had to factor in a day or two to review the complete package with my boss. In my emails to the staff, I’d say “Please return to me by January 10.” There were always a few people who’d shoot back, “When is it actually due to the client?” I found it infuriating, especially because those ones were always the worst offenders in terms of being late.

    1. LMW*

      This happens to me all the time. And people that I work with think it’s okay to ask freelancers for overnight turnaround. I refuse to ask the people who actually meet their deadlines to work odd hours just because my reviewers can’t get it together. So we have big buffers built into our production schedules.

    2. Serin*

      those ones were always the worst offenders in terms of being late.

      Of course they were; that’s why they wanted to know the drop-dead-line.

      I’ve worked with that type, too. Some of them compounded the crime by being more mistake-prone than other people, so that their work required more careful proofreading in less time.

  24. De Minimis*

    #4–It can really depend on what level of government, we have US government vehicles here and they are adamant that no one is ever to ride in them other than employees on official business. My wife used to drive state vehicles for her work and apparently it was permitted in some cases–if it was overnight travel and the spouse was travelling with them. But even then, I’m not sure if that was actually okay to do or just something that the boss permitted.

    I’ve seen exceptions though even with the federal vehicles, we were at a meeting a couple of weeks ago and we took the GSA vehicle to lunch–one of our passengers was not a government employee, he was an outside official attending the meeting. Not sure if it was officially okay or not, but my boss was there so I guess it was.

  25. soitgoes*

    #4 is the kind of thing that coworkers see happening and get gradually more annoyed with. It was lovely and convenient that OP was able to have his kids at work and use the company car to drive them to school, but now that things have changed, he might just need to pay for childcare like everyone else. The fact that he was factoring off-books use of the company car into his real-life budget is the kind of extended expectation that skews the whole conversation. He was never supposed to be taking advantage of these perks to the extent that he was, and I think he should spend some time observing and talking to his coworkers to gauge actual norms before making any special requests.

    Obviously it’s a financial blow and it’s coming as a surprise, but I don’t understand the reluctance to become a two-car household when both adults work and there are two children in the picture. If that policy loophole had never existed, they would have needed a second car long before now, and if he ever got a new job (or his wife’s schedule changed), they would have needed a second car anyway. The idea that the policy change is FORCING them to buy a second car strikes me as willful misinterpretation of what’s really going on.

    1. Illini02*

      I didn’t see it that way at all. Often when you are provided a company vehicle, you are able to use it for some personal needs as well. I don’t see anything that says that he was getting special treatment, just that he was already using it in that way.

      1. Jamie*

        But it’s a perk – no one issues a vehicle where the intent is family use. It’s a perk that saved him some money for a while and not he has to pick up his own expenses.

        My office buys lunch for everyone between 1-3 days a week. It’s a nice perk and saves people some money – but if they stopped doing it it would be beyond entitled if someone asked for more money because now they have to pay for their own lunch each day.

        It’s a freebie not an entitlement – you can enjoy it as long as it lasts but you can’t expect compensation for it being discontinued because you now need to pay what you’d have had to pay all long if not for someone giving you a free favor.

        If signing on the car thing and use was in the offer letter, part of the negotiation and why they were cool with X salary because they saved on transportation that’s different. But I don’t believe that’s the case here.

    2. MK*

      This struck me as well. The OP states “I’m in a position where I’ll have to purchase a second vehicle to be able to transport my own children”, as if it’s a major imposition, when almost everyone has to buy a car to transport their children.

      1. soitgoes*

        Exactly. Casting himself as a victim of the new rules isn’t going to get him anywhere. If a policy change at work is having such a marked effect on the OP’s home life, he needs to consider that perhaps he was abusing the policies, or at the very least stretching them. If none of his coworkers are affected by the changes, OP was always going beyond what was technically allowed and/or acceptable.

        1. LBK*

          Yeah…I have a feeling if he raises this, the response is going to be “Wait, you were using the car to drive your kids home every day!?” It seems to me it was really just intended for work purposes with an exception for a rare time that a family member might have to accompany him. Using it as a main mode of transportation sounds like a stretch, even if the policy did say it was okay to have immediate family members in the car.

          1. Natalie*

            From the letter: “They continued the policy of allowing my children and or wife to ride in the county vehicle, provided it was a direct route”

          2. Mochafrap512*

            They probably noticed and wanted to “nicely” put an end to this clear taking advantage of the perk, so they just made a blanket rule for everyone.

          3. Elysian*

            Yeah, I would be really, really surprised if a government agency, who is supposed to be a good steward of public funds, was offering employees general all-purpose government-paid transportation as a job perk. I might be reading too much into the letter, but I don’t think that this government car was ever meant to function as a replacement for an employee’s personal vehicle, and that sounds like how the OP was using it.

            1. Elysian*

              After another read, I feel like while the OP may have been within the letter of the policy, it doesn’t seem like he was within the spirit of it. My understanding of the policy was more like “If a family member happens to be in the same place as you at the same time, we’re not going to stop you from driving them home in the car if you were already headed that direction.” Like Joey points out below, its like requiring that government computers not be used for personal things. The cost to the government is nominal, since you’re set up with the equipment, etc, anyway.

              But the OP says this – “My children are often dropped off at my office after school and ride home with me.” Is the OP manufacturing a situation that will allow him to use the car within the policy? That’s what it sounds like. If the OP’s other option would be to pick the kids up at school, but he can’t do that because it’s not on his way home, I don’t think having the kids dropped off at his office makes it better. It may be within the letter of the policy, but I don’t think its within the spirit. Plus it introduces the whole issue of kids in the workplace, which just compounds a problem with another problem.

              So yeah, while he may have been following the policy before, and now the policy has changed, I don’t think this is worth bringing up. OP should be happy he was able to enjoy 14 years of having a second car on the government’s dime (because that is a really big perk – cost of car + insurance + maintenance, etc) and accept that now the situation has changed.

              1. LBK*

                “Within the letter of the policy but not the spirit.” Yes, that’s exactly the phrase I would use to summarize my feelings on the situation.

            2. fposte*

              Actually, when I search around it seems pretty common. It’s been usual for many police forces for a while, and I found stuff about counties that permit it for staff ranging from district attorneys to water, transportation, and HVAC folks. Admittedly, I’m finding it in newspapers because it’s getting talked about as something to examine, but I think this is not an uncommon SOP.

              1. Elysian*

                Maybe I’m just thinking from personal experience – I know a police officer who had an undercover car, and while it was really nice that he could park it in his garage and use it for his commute, there were a lot of restrictions that made it not a replacement for a second car (maybe that was due to the nature of the car itself, though). And I know that federal law places a lot of restrictions on the use of federal government vehicles. Maybe you’re right and I shouldn’t extrapolate that to all state/county/municipal governments, though.

                1. fposte*

                  Guessing again, I suspect this is kind of a good old boy/machine perk that’s increasingly under scrutiny (the best list I found was for Onondaga County, because the legislature finally said “Hey, we have no idea who’s got these things and how much they cost, and that’s absurd”). Which is another thing the OP may wish to consider before he brings this up to the board of commissioners.

                2. De Minimis*

                  Federal is really strict, and in a lot of cases the agencies basically lease the cars from GSA. The agency reports mileage and other expenses each month, and pays GSA each month depending on mileage.

                  I’m guessing other levels of government might have more flexibility, just because they most likely are handling everything themselves, so it’s entirely feasible that a city government might have allowed some level of personal use for city vehicles.

                  When my wife worked as a state contractor, at one point the governor got rid of most of the state vehicles. Apparently they figured out that most of the time it was cheaper to just pay employees mileage and have them use their own vehicles instead of maintaining a permanent motor pool.

              2. the gold digger*

                When friends of mine have had company cars (private sector), they have had to pay mileage to the employer for personal use of the car. So it wasn’t forbidden, but it was not free, either.

      2. Zillah*

        This struck me as well. The OP states “I’m in a position where I’ll have to purchase a second vehicle to be able to transport my own children”, as if it’s a major imposition, when almost everyone has to buy a car to transport their children.

        This argument doesn’t sit well with me. It’s way too close, IMO, to responses like, “Well, other people have it worse, so quit your bellyaching.” I mean, sure – most people do have to buy a car to transport their children. But that’s not the point – the point is that the OP had a significant perk for many years that’s being taken away, and he’s not pleased.

        IMO, this is similar to an employee who worked out a 7:30-3:30 schedule with their boss so they could pick their kids up from school being upset when they’re told after several years, “No, you need to be here 9-5 from now on,” because it put them in a position of having to spend a lot of money on childcare. Most people have to spend money on childcare, but that doesn’t make the employee’s feelings invalid.

        I think that’s particularly true because many people are happier to accept lower pay when they have perks that make a significant difference in their quality of life. Better health insurance, regular telecommuting days, more vacation time, flexible work schedules… all of these things are perks that people routinely accept in exchange for lower financial compensation. I don’t see why the car is any different.

        There may not be much that the OP can do about it, but this idea that they’re just whining and being ridiculous doesn’t sit well with me.

        1. Jamie*

          If this was part of the negotiations of why he took that salary you’d absolutely have a point. But if it was a perk that came up later as a convenience it is different.

          And all the things you mentioned would suck to have change at work, no argument, but nothing is static. The vast majority of people wouldn’t be happy keeping the same salary they signed on for, or the exact same job with no growth, forever just because that was the deal when they started. It would be absurd for a company to refuse all raises forever because people agreed to X when they started – it’s also unreasonable to expect that none of the environment or job conditions will ever change, either. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse and of course employers should try to avoid the ones which will cause major hardship (changing hours on someone who needs that schedule, etc.) but things will change and if you don’t have a contract to the contrary you have a couple of choices:

          1. Ask for additional accommodations/compensation for your added inconvenience/expenses due to the change.

          2. Reassess your situation and determine if the job still works for you with the changes or if you need to find something else.

          I know leaving a job isn’t easy and I’m not implying that it’s a casual thing – but you can’t force a company to refrain from changing fundamentals or policies unless they had agreement from each employee.

          And there is a huge difference between losing benefits or change in hours than losing what was essentially a perk/favor.

          1. Zillah*

            Absolutely – I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said here. My issue isn’t so much with the idea that the OP needs to figure out a way to deal with this new restriction as it is with the way some commenters seem to be attacking the OP for a pretty level-headed letter explaining the issue and asking Alison’s advice for how they should approach it. It’s not like the OP came in with “Is this ethical? Is it even legal? CAN I SUE?”

            Things change, and often, there’s nothing that can be done about it. That is what it is. But the OP is allowed to be bothered by it without having people jump down their throat about how they were “never supposed to be taking advantage of these perks to the extent that he was” (which none of us can know one way or the other) and how “almost everyone has to buy a car to transport their children” (which isn’t any more relevant than whether most people get any number of other perks).

            1. soitgoes*

              I think people are bothered that the OP thought his use of the car was reasonable to begin with, because it wasn’t (arguably, but that seems to be the way this conversation is pulling). Sometimes it makes sense to not answer the question that was asked (because the basic premise is ridiculous) and to instead weigh in on the overall situation.

              Not the same thing at all, but if someone asked you, “I’ve been stealing from the same store for 10 years, but they just changed their locks. How can I keep stealing from them.” Again, I’m not suggesting that the OP is this “out there,” but would you answer the question as it was asked, or would you take a step back and address the OP’s flawed thought processes? Just because a question was asked in certain terms doesn’t mean that the conversation has to be limited to those parameters, especially when so many commenters are ending up in a completely different area of thought.

              1. Zillah*

                But how is it your place to decide that the OP’s use of the car is unreasonable? More commenters trending in that direction doesn’t make you right. Whether the basic premise is ridiculous has nothing to do with your preconceived notions and everything to do with the OP’s specific situation.

                And, in this case, the OP said that they used the car in this way for eight years before funding was knocked back to the county. When that happened, the county explicitly said that the old policy of allowing the OP’s wife and children to ride in the car provided it was covering no extra distance would continue. There’s no indication that the OP misrepresented the situation to them, so I’m going to assume that they knew exactly what they were okaying.

                That they did so makes the premise far from ridiculous, and since the OP was only doing what the county had already explicitly approved, I’d say it makes their usage pretty reasonable.

                The stealing analogy is completely out of left field. It’s not about whether the OP is that “out there” – it’s about the fact that one of those acts is a crime and very clearly immoral, and the other is not. How I would approach that has absolutely no bearing on this letter, because they’re so radically different.

                1. soitgoes*

                  I think we’re talking in this circle because, if the OP brings this issue to his employer’s decision, his employer is going to say, “You never should have been using the car for that purpose to begin with.” We can employ rote logic all we want, but that doesn’t change the fact that, in the real world, the OP wants something that many people think is unreasonable.

                2. Zillah*

                  I think we’re talking in this circle because, if the OP brings this issue to his employer’s decision, his employer is going to say, “You never should have been using the car for that purpose to begin with.”

                  But my issue with this statement has nothing to do with rote logic. It has to do with the fact that there’s absolutely no way you can make such a definitive statement, especially since this reading seems to me to directly contradict what the OP says in their letter – that the county which is currently in charge of the rules for this vehicle explicitly approved this usage six years ago.

                  They changed the policy for a reason – my guess is that it dramatically lowered the cost of insurance, and if that’s the case, they likely won’t budge on it. However, even if that’s the case, it doesn’t follow that the OP “never should have been using the car for that purpose to begin with.” According to the letter, the county okayed this usage.

    3. Natalie*

      “The fact that he was factoring off-books use of the company car into his real-life budget is the kind of extended expectation that skews the whole conversation. He was never supposed to be taking advantage of these perks to the extent that he was”

      Given what the OP has reported, I don’t think this is a fair statement at all. Their letter indicates they were using the vehicle completely within policy, then the policy changed, and now the vehicle is less of a perk than it once was. There’s no basis to claim that he “was never supposed to be taking advantage” of this car.

      This car and the allowed us of the car *was* a perk, and it seems totally normal to me to factor a perk into other decisions you make in your life such as a budget. How is this different than a transit pass, company cell phone, gym membership, or any other non-wage benefit?

        1. Zillah*

          But that’s a larger policy question, not something directly related to what the OP is asking. Working for the government does not and should not make you into a martyr – it’s as reasonable to advocate for yourself there as it is in any job. You just have to accept that there are probably more limits to what you can get.

      1. Elysian*

        I just don’t know many government agencies that offer the perks you mention. I’ve seen all those things in the private sector, but not in the public. I mean, there are some places that have discounts or deals (cell phone, gym memberships maybe) and I know of some tax-advantaged transit options, but all those things still require the employee to pay, albeit at a discount. Government compensation, including perks, are usually pretty strictly limited. If this was a private sector job, I would tell OP that it makes sense to speak up. But as a government employee, without more information, his use seems like an overreach.

        1. Natalie*

          It may not make sense to speak up, I just don’t think it’s fair to castigate the LW for using a perk that was offered to him and factoring it into his budget.

        2. fposte*

          I’m seeing a lot of it when I Google. Which makes sense to me, given what I see parked in people’s driveways around here.

          Just doing some handwaving, but my guess is that less urban county governments are particularly prone to this because of the mileage factor–if your employee is driving all around Cupcake County for the job anyway, it’s easier to just let them finish up near home and park there than to make them come in again and figure out how to garage everybody’s private cars.

      2. OhNo*

        See, I see using the car as a perk like working from home is a perk. It’s nice to have, but that doesn’t mean you should bet on it continuing long term.

        If OP was working from home, got told that he wouldn’t be able to do that anymore, and complained because it meant he’d have to pay for child care because he wouldn’t be able to watch his kids during the day anymore, his manager’s (an all of our) response would be, “What?! You weren’t supposed to be doing that in the first place. Working from home isn’t a substitute for child care.”

        Same here. His boss’s response is going to be, “What? You weren’t supposed to be depending on it like that. Having a car for work purposes isn’t a substitute for having reliable transportation for your children.”

        1. fposte*

          Conversely, you might say that if regular working from home was a big part of why a job worked for you and why you hadn’t gone elsewhere, the removal of the work-from-home privilege would be significant enough for you to talk to your boss about possible ways to compensate for the change. What I’d avoid doing is talking about the hardship of having to drive your kids, same as I wouldn’t go into details on child care, etc. on the elimination of working from home, but I think you can still bring it up as a perk that made this job valuable to you.

          I think that with the OP being in government there’s about a snowball’s chance in hell that they have any flexibility on what they can do for him now, but speaking more generally, I think it’s okay for perks to be part of the job decision and part of a conversation about compensation if they go away, and that’s true whether it’s vacation days or work from home or car use.

          1. OhNo*

            I agree that if this is something that really meant a lot to the OP, then it’s fine to bring that up and ask to keep it.

            But it’s not okay for that conversation to focus on how inconvenient it is for his family, because that is not the boss’s problem. At all. In the letter, all the OP mentions is the impact on his family. And if that’s all he can think of, the only reason he has for complaining about it, then it’s just not worth kicking up a fuss, because no one is going to listen.

            1. fposte*

              I think we’re probably agreeing–it’s fair for it to be a factor for him, but it’s unwise for it to figure strongly in his pitch for compensation.

              1. Joey*

                I know lots of people that factor in having a company car into their compensation negotiation. Why should this be different? If he can no longer use the car for personal needs that’s potentially a huge expense that might cause him to reevaluate whether he needs/wants more compensation.

                1. fposte*

                  I don’t mean the car, I mean the driving-the-kids. I don’t think he should make the same explanation about how tough it will be for his family to drive kids around to the commissioners that he did her.

                2. Zillah*

                  I agree that he should present it differently and more generically, but I’m with Joey – this new restriction essentially means that he can’t use the car for personal needs, and that’s a big difference.

        2. Zillah*

          Same here. His boss’s response is going to be, “What? You weren’t supposed to be depending on it like that. Having a car for work purposes isn’t a substitute for having reliable transportation for your children.”

          But how on earth can you know that?

          The OP says:

          In 2008, the authority was abolished and the county took over full funding and oversight. They continued the policy of allowing my children and or wife to ride in the county vehicle, provided it was a direct route (i.e., from office to home or from park to home).

          That, to me, says that the county (and not his boss, incidentally) explicitly okayed the OP bringing their family in the car, as long as they weren’t doing any extra driving than what was required for work. I don’t see any indication that there were additional limits expressed, and since the OP had been using the car like that for eight years when the county took over, I doubt it was a huge shock – there’s no indication that the OP misrepresented how often they use the car in that respect to the county.

      3. soitgoes*

        He was using the company car so often that, upon losing the privilege, OP is realizing that he needs to buy a whole new car to make up for the transportation access he no longer has. I agree that it was most likely technically within the letter of the policy, but the fact that so many of us are uncomfortable with the extent of his perk-usage makes me somewhat confident that using the company car as a legit second household car is not the intended purpose of the car. OP’s wife worked her entire childcare routine around the expected use of the company car. That doesn’t sit well with me, but then again, I’m not a fan of having kids at workplaces as a regular thing, particularly if this is a government employee.

        1. Natalie*

          “the fact that so many of us are uncomfortable with the extent of his perk-usage makes me somewhat confident that using the company car as a legit second household car is not the intended purpose of the car.”

          Again, I think you’re assuming facts that haven’t been provided by the OP. The OP specifically says that the prior policy only allowed wife and/or kids to ride if it was a direct route OP was already driving. That’s not making a government car your second household vehicle. We generally take the LW at their word, and they haven’t indicated they were skirting the policy in any way.

          Having lived both carfree and car-light, I know from personal experience that one doesn’t need to use two cars frequently for both to be necessary. It can be one trip a day, but the timing makes it impossible to do with one car and thus a second car is required. (Fun fact, most cars spend 95% of the day parked.)

          It seems like some here are uncomfortable with any perks provided to government employees, not the actual situation the LW described or asked about, and are getting distracted by that.

          1. soitgoes*

            I don’t see the distinction in your last paragraph as making a difference to the direction of this discussion. When people ask for solutions to their problems, I find it helpful to look for the reasons those problems exist. His government job scaled back on perks. I actually find that the specifics matter less than the overall fact that OP was stretching his perks too far.

            1. Natalie*

              With the “government employee” factor out of the equation, the letter is someone who had a perk they liked and relied on and now has lost that perk, wondering if it’s all right if they could ask for additional compensation to make up for it. Would you have told them that they were stretching that perk too far, taking advantage of it, or that they shouldn’t have factored it into their budget, as you have told this OP?

              1. soitgoes*

                The fact that it’s a government employee inherently changes the question though. IMO the angle of “but what if he WEREN’T a government employee?” is a bit of a straw man. What if he were a volunteer? An intern? An employee who didn’t have children but had no other car and therefore used the company car to drive his wife to work? The details matter with this one.

                1. Jamie*

                  @Joey – because government workers should know that whatever perks they get can and will change if they become an issue to the taxpayers.

                  A privately held company can do what they want with their money, but if you have a personal perk which costs the taxpayer money (and there is no way this didn’t save them a significant amount on insurance) it’s naive at best to think that’s a permanent ride.

                2. Joey*

                  Jamie ,
                  I’m not saying it doesn’t happen I’m just saying that most people don’t really take an informed look at issues. Its the equivalent of your favorite sports team taking direction from all of the armchair quarterbacks out there. It’s ridiculous to think most people have enough know how to make a smart business decision when most of them are basing it on a sliver of relevant info.

              2. Elysian*

                I don’t think you can take the government employee factor out of the equation. First, government workplaces have a really different culture around compensation and perks. Second, lots of government compensation and perks are set by statute or by a board or agency head, the politics in it matters. The OP might not even be ABLE to ask for money compensation to make up for the perk, because his compensation might be set by statute. If it is and he tries, it’ll look out of touch and knowledgeable. If compensation isn’t set by statute, its probably at least lock-step to some degree. I just don’t think you remove the “government” from this question.

                1. some1*

                  Absolutely. When I worked for the government we didn’t get any of the perks I take for granted in the private sector, and it was set by ordinance. No employer paid coffee, water, parking, food or beverage of any kind (like for parties), or long-distance phone calls.

                2. Jamie*

                  In the government areas where I’m familiar you also can’t go in and negotiate for more pay for something like this and someone being okay with it because you are such a kick ass employee – but don’t tell everyone. They would be in deep crap if it got out that a new policy got someone compensation and not everyone. And pay raises are bureaucratic, usually salaries are pretty transparent, and based on grades, position, and time and in some cases merit is irrelevant.

                  Not all government agencies – but I’ve never heard of one where it’s as informal and based on merit or legitimate proffered argument rather than the rules. One of the huge differences between gov and private sector.

          2. Joey*

            fwiw that’s a common view- that taxpayers shouldn’t fund any perks. This frequently means no budgets for things like employee appreciation events, no using govt computers for non business stuff, no long distance dialing, no personal phone calls on govt phones. It’s actually quite a ridiculous viewpoint when you think about all of the personal things you do while at work. When the only news stories you hear are of excess govt waste it makes people think all govt workers are slackers and can’t manage their own workers.

            1. Natalie*

              Oh, I’m aware it’s a common view, and I tend to agree with you that it can be taken to a ridiculous length.

            2. Jamie*

              I think it can be taken to the extreme and I find it ridiculous that some can’t even get coffee at work – but the fact of the matter is corporations spend their own money and the government doesn’t.

              They are stewards of other people’s money which puts a higher burden on not wasting it.

              1. Joey*

                Id argue its wasteful not to buy the coffee. Who in the hell wants to work somewhere where they won’t even spring for a cheap ass cup of folgers when other companies have stocked keurigs? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the best employers get the best workers.

              2. Nerdling*

                That’s true, but this is also the sort of mindset that results in being penny wise and pound foolish: We save money on coffee and paper plates and Christmas parties, but we’ve cheaped out on simple perks that keep us from being able to recruit from among the best and brightest in a lot of areas. As a result, all that brainpower is going to the private sector — loads of my college classmates would never dream of working for the government because the compensation doesn’t match up.

                Combine that with the constant litany of “government workers are overpaid, lazy mooches who should stop sucking off the government teat and get real jobs” and you get what we have now: A society where civil service is increasingly appealing to the young and disheartening for those of us already in.

                1. Jamie*

                  I completely agree and I personally have zero problem with allowing government offices to run with the same typical things like coffee, appropriate celebrations, things a normal office takes for granted.

                  I think it’s ridiculous that a manager in a government office needs to go out of pocket to do the occasional pizza or donut reward. No one is going to leave to get a donut or cup of coffee on the company – but stripping anything not strictly utilitarian can’t be great for morale.

                  And the vast majority of government workers aren’t over paid and do good work much of which is necessary. But the ones who make the news for the lavish excesses and inflated salaries are the ones who make the news.

                  Cut down on the crazy excess of a few and it would more than fund normal business perks of everyone in the government sector with money left over.

                2. C Average*

                  This whole conversation reminds me of some funny observations my dad (a 30-year Forest Service employee) would sometimes make.

                  I remember when his office got something called the DG (Data General). It was this computer terminal (the first their office ever had) that connected to computer terminals at the other offices. Yes, it was the internet. (This was, like, mid-80s.)

                  My dad was absolutely incensed that the organization would pay good money for this stupid computer when the district had work trucks that needed to be replaced and riparian management projects that weren’t getting funded. And in these discussions, coffee would come up Every. Single. Time. “We have to bring our own COFFEE to the office, but we have this absolutely useless overpriced machine!”

                  The animosity toward the DG pretty much cleared up once everyone realized it was really fun to send jokes over the DG. I think jokes and job openings were literally the only thing people used the DG for.

                3. Nerdling*

                  Ha, C Average! That’s pretty much how the first computers here were accepted, from the things I’ve heard.

                  Jamie, I think it’s less that the excesses of the few would fund the normal perks for the many, because I don’t think there’s that much excess in that particular pool (there are any number of pools of excess that come from redundant systems and the stupidly lavish and so on), and more that there’s this expectation that government won’t spend a dime more than is absolutely necessary to carry out mission-critical functions. There will always be people who throw a fit over even the appearance of government employees having anything nice, and because taxpayer money is involved, we’ll always be bare bones on that stuff. It’s just easier to do to try to avoid the negative publicity.

                4. Joey*

                  Honestly I think it has more to do with the way lots of government entities function. The majority of politicians are more useful for policy direction. Too many feel the need to insert themselves in the day to day operations where they get more interested in scoring political points than making a smart long term decisions.

                5. Nerdling*

                  That’s a good point, Joey. And the heads of most agencies are political appointees at the federal level, rather than someone who has risen through the ranks and worked his/her way up, so there is sometimes a disconnect between what would be politically expedient when it comes to spending and what is necessary for the agency to function.

              3. TheLazyB*

                Our CEx hasn’t got the authority to order tea/coffee/food. He gets around it, but letter of the law he’s not allowed. It’s insane.

            3. De Minimis*

              There are strict rules in particular about food, but most of the places I’ve seen people will chip in to pay for coffee.

              I have seen requisitions for coffee makers and those were sort of borderline to me, but I’m not supposed to approve things based on whether I think they’re appropriate or not, I’m only supposed to determine if we have enough money to pay for it.

              As far as phone, computer, and printer use my agency basically has a policy that as long as it’s not causing an excessive use of resources [or cost] a reasonable level of personal use is allowed. A lot of our systems are such that we’re paying the same no matter the level of usage.

              One thing I don’t like is people submitting unreasonable requests for mileage, but it’s usually something where those above me are okay with it so I feel obligated to approve it. What tends to happen is that early in the year there is less scrutiny, and later in the year they start cracking down.

              What’s interesting to me is that I worked in the private sector back in 2008 and by 2009 it was more or less identical to the government as far as not wanting to pay for anything…no food, no parking, etc. I guess government is more or less permanently ran like a private company that is undergoing hard times.

    4. Nerdling*

      In response to some of the above comments, it is hard to take being a public sector worker out of this one, in large part because it will likely restrict just how much bargaining the OP can do to make up for the added expenses he will now have to incur. He’s probably just going to have to suck this up — and he’s probably not the only one going through it — as much as I know it rankles. I’m not unsympathetic to him, because this is a major added expense that is suddenly dropping on him, but the change doesn’t surprise me, as it has been our policy for years. I suspect he isn’t going to have much choice aside from starting to look for another job.

      I think the OP for #4 also has to be mindful of how/to whom he complains about losing this perk around the office. If not everyone has a take-home car in the first place (especially if they get paid less and/or his position is one that already has more perks than others), he’s going to generate some eye rolls at the least and possibly resentment at how out-of-step he is with everyone else.

      We have one class of employees who have take-home cars. During the recent budget issues and the soaring gas prices, they were restricted from driving between home and work. They’re already in the highest-paid position and receive a number of other perks. So when they started complaining about the unfairness of the situation (and it was not one that snuck up on them — management had been trying to get the gas budget under control for over a year), they found very little support from much of the rest of the workforce, as we already have to pay for our own vehicles and gas. It was a valid issue, but their complaining also showed how out of touch they are with what the rest of us deal with every day.

      1. De Minimis*

        From what I can tell, government jobs at the OP’s level [executive director] may tend to resemble the private sector more as far as things like negotiations. This would be even more the case since this is a county government and not federal. Even with federal, higher level jobs are handled more like the private sector. Our CEO had some kind of relocation perk involving the selling of his home [think the gov’t agreed to purchase it or something if he could not otherwise sell it.] He told me though that it’s still not a good deal and the offer they make is almost always below market value.

        Things definitely operate more like the private sector when it involves hard-t0-fill positions where the government is having to compete for the candidates–positions like doctors for example.

        1. Nerdling*

          Kind of depends. I know that the home buying program is available to anyone who gets a cost transfer with our agency. And while there is some negotiation, it’s primarily in the beginning stages — when it’s possible to negotiate what grade and step level you’ll come in at, whether you’ll be SES or GS, etc. Once you’re in, there frequently isn’t the kind of wiggle room in the budget to go too far. At least with my agency.

          I missed that he’s executive director. That possibly does give him more negotiating power but definitely reinforces the point that he needs to be careful to whom he expresses displeasure about the change. His lesser-paid employees are unlikely to be impressed if he’s venting to them.

  26. Illini02*

    To me this is similar to in non-work life, people give a fake meeting time to be somewhere because people are constantly late, in hopes that they will actually meet by the time they need to be there. While I hate when this process is done to me (I’m always early or on time), I actually do it. For example, I manage my group of friends softball team. I know that if I tell them that the game starts at 7, they will show up at 7, or 7:05. So I tell them it starts earlier. Or if I don’t want to flat out lie, I’ll just say “Be there by 6:45” which implies that its game time. Point being, it works. Now I get the argument that in a work place as a manager, you should be able to count on people to meet deadlines. However, as Alison pointed out, there could be very valid reasons. Just because a manager says “I need this by the 15th”, doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with it if he doesn’t have to submit it until the 25th. He probably needs to check it over and have buffer time for sickness or whatever unexpected things come up. OP doesn’t like it, and thats fair, but there is nothing inherently wrong with it if it is getting the desired results.

    Now if your main problem is that people aren’t held accountable for missing deadlines, thats a fair point. However, you don’t know what is going on behind closed doors. Maybe this people are on a PIP or something. Either way, if you aren’t the manager, its not really your call.

  27. Joey*

    #4. Id be careful. Raising the issue of the car also raises the issue of your kids being dropped off at work. I worked in a similar environment and one of the big issues was staff’s kids hanging out in staff areas, whether they interfered with work, and what looked like inappropriate PDAs to citizens.

  28. Sam*

    Regarding #3. Is it possible his attitude is because that day off was due to a family emergency? He could have something personal going on, hence the day off, and it may have nothing to do with you at all.

    1. Zillah*

      Yeah, I agree – OP 3, if he was out one day and has been a little removed since then, that indicates to me that it’s probably about something else in his life that your aren’t privy to, not you ignoring him one afternoon.

  29. HR Manager*

    #2 – A lot of opinions on OP2 already. I think it’s definitely a bad rookie mistake, but not an unrecoverable one. If the manager and HR are reasonable, they will definitely reprimand OP for not consulting on this before taking action, but also realize OP may need more coaching and hands-on management in these matters.

    From my experience the note will not prevent the employee from being fired, but as noted, it could delay firing him. He has a note that may directly contradict previous conversations around performance, disciplinary plans, and possible terminations. It’s a bigger deal if the employee is in a protected class, as the employee might claim unfair dismissal or a discriminatory termination when the ax is set to fall. Timing and showing a sequence of progressive coaching and management is important in litigation around these cases, and so a note showing a contrary opinion upsets that timeline. They go from bad performer — to maybe he’s ok — and then an attempt to re-label him as bad. Confusing to say the least.

  30. PM soapbox*

    #1 – this is not a lack of integrity, this is good planning. He may be managing to a false deadline in appearance, but it reality, is managing to a true deadline. People are really good at working towards a deadline (procrastinating) and also at being delayed because they think other things are more important. Your manager has probably encountered people turning things in late before, or documents needing to be reworked and edited, and he is planning for these contingencies. You shouldn’t R-E-L-A-X you should learn from the planning ahead. If you miss a client deadline because you haven’t budgeted for these things on internal deadlines, the last thing you’re going to be doing is relaxing.

  31. Jamie*

    My work crush seems upset with me

    As I’m in one of the busiest times of year for me I read this as crush of the workload – the other meaning didn’t even occur to me. So I just sat baffled for a second about how that’s all I need – for workloads and crushing deadlines to become anthropomorphized and start copping an attitude with me.

    (Is that the right term when something intangible like a workload rather than an animal or object? If not please just gather my inference as I have no time or idea how to google the proper word.)

    1. Rex-a-ford*

      personification, where you give a personality, or personship to an object, or evil force that feeds you.

      anthropomorphized is pretty similar… but I think it’s specifically more… for… Living Non Humans… but I don’t know any of this for sure.

  32. EJxo*

    #3 – There are also other possibilities with the work crush, other than wanting to focus on work being in a bad mood. He could be giving you shade because they may already have a significant other. You shouldn’t assume that just because he is flirty in the office, doesn’t mean there isn’t someone at home. You could even speculate that there was a fight at home about him being flirty in the office, so he’s distancing himself from that behavior. Who knows!

  33. Grand Mouse*

    See for #3 I assumed that instead of him taking a day off because he got his feelings hurt (which would be really bizarre and high drama), that instead something else is going on in his life.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      He could even have had the day booked off long since and it was just coincidence that it happened right after this thing with OP.

      IF he is acting this way because he thinks OP was blowing him off, then yes that is strange behaviour and OP is better closing the door on the crush (which can be easier said than done, trust me I know) but from what we can see here, the other explanations of him having other things going on in his life or having been warned not to flirt in the office are equally possible.

  34. Not So NewReader*

    One thing about the fake deadlines, I had a boss who used this regularly to motivate people. Used as a motivation tool it’s a nightmare. No one trusted the boss and the boss was probably one of the most hated bosses I have ever had.
    To bosses out there contemplating this motivational technique, watch yourself. Everyone understands that something has to be done by x date so the next person can work with it. But no one understands killing themselves in effort to meet a fake date and then watching their work sit for weeks or even months. (This happened over and over and over…..)
    Your employees will knock themselves out if you need them to do so, be careful about asking them. People do notice when their work is not passed along as expected. And they do keep track of the numbers of times that happens. Little did that boss know, but that boss had the reputation of being the worst boss in the company.
    /rant. Feeling better.

  35. Cassie*

    #1: I can see the “fake” (internal) deadlines causing problems if the internal deadlines are causing employees to work at 200% because of the shorter timeframe. Over time, that’ll wear people down, especially if it seems like these deadlines are arbitrary.

    But as for claiming the “fake” deadlines are causing incompetence and lack of integrity? Well, I don’t think it’s a lack of integrity unless the boss specifically says “the customer’s deadline is X” when it’s really “Y”. If he’s just saying “please get this to me by X” or even “the deadline is X”, he’s not lying at all.

    And the internal deadlines are certainly not causing incompetence – I bet that happens with or without deadlines! As a rule-follower, it may be frustrating to see people just ignore deadlines, but that’s for the boss to deal with (not a peer). I give my students a deadline to turn in their monthly timesheets – it’s earlier than the actual deadline because I need to double-check their accuracy, get their boss to sign off, enter in account numbers, and then submit to the timekeeper. If a student misses the deadline, I’ll send a reminder but I’m not going to chastise them (I could, but I’m not going to; it won’t change their behavior anyway). The whole reason I set an earlier deadline is so that I can get everything done by the official deadline, even if some students are stragglers. (There have been times where everyone except 1 person submits early, so I do email that 1 person and ask them to submit so I can move forward with the process – I bet that 1 person thinks I’m just arbitrarily moving deadlines).

  36. Greg*

    #3: Others have offered all the appropriate professional advice, so I’ll just skip to the life advice: I’m not going to judge OP for her behavior, since Lord knows my romantic misadventures extended well into my post-collegiate life, but I will say that the sooner you can move past this junior-high BS and approach your relationships like an adult, the happier you’ll be. If you like a guy, don’t sit around flirting and then obsessively reading tea leaves to try to figure out how he feels, just talk to him and express your interest. Or don’t (which is probably the right thing to do from a professional perspective). Hell, there’s nothing wrong with flirting per se, as long as you recognize that’s what you’re doing.

    With the benefit of hindsight, I look back on all the time I spent mooning over my romantic interests as a pure waste of time, especially since the ones that led to relationships never seemed to require nearly as much brainpower.

    The point is, there are lots of things you can’t control when it comes to relationships. This isn’t one of them.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      “With the benefit of hindsight, I look back on all the time I spent mooning over my romantic interests as a pure waste of time, especially since the ones that led to relationships never seemed to require nearly as much brainpower.”

      God, yes. I was amazed how easy things were with my husband. He liked me. I liked him. No drama whatsoever. Just really, really easy.

  37. UrbanLibrarian*

    I’m a bit late getting to this because of the Holidays, but I really wanted to comment on #5.
    Public Library hiring is weird and confusing. especially when that hiring is tied into a larger municipal government. At my public library, I have encouraged my employees to apply for positions that I think they would be good at, but I have absolutely no input in the process of deciding who will be interviewed. That is decided by the HR department for the city, not even the library’s HR department. City HR chooses the list of candidates, based on things like meeting qualifications listed in the posting, years of experience, etc. People who are lower down on the seniority list, or who don’t have much experience with the requirements for the job may not get an interview at all, depending on how many people apply.

    The process is done in this way to avoid any possibility of patronage or cronyism. So, while it certainly couldn’t hurt for the wife to speak to her director about not getting an interview, I would view that conversation more as an opportunity to learn more about how the hiring process works at this particular public library, rather than in the hopes of finding out someone in HR made a mistake.

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