my employer wants photos of my desk, contacting the person I’m replacing, and more

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

1. My employer asks to see immediate photos of my work-from-home desk with no notice

Our work-at-home company subcontracts with major large companies. I’m a fairly new employee of about six months and we take pretty complicated customer service technical support calls. Recently, they’ve instituted a policy whereby they contact you via chat during your shift as a “surprise inspection” and ask you to take a picture of your desk to make sure you don’t have any paper on it as they are a “paperless” company. They want to make sure no employee could be writing down customer information. I don’t write down customer info, and I signed an agreement with them when I was hired that I wouldn’t.

They time you during this inspection and you have to squeeze it in during the time you are supposed to be allowed to be wrapping up notes for your customer call that you were on, and it’s very difficult to take a photo, remove your USB headset and other tools, find the photo, and upload it and send it to them. You are only allowed one minute to do it. It’s extremely disruptive, and our family camera belongs to my son, it has hundreds of photos and new photos don’t come out on top!

It’s a pretty silly policy — either they trust you to abide by their rules or they don’t. It’s also pretty insulting since they’re essentially saying “we don’t trust you.” That said, it’s apparently part of the package that comes with working there, and it might be the trade-off for being able to work from home, which (to many people, at least) is a pretty significant benefit. Your best bet is really just to accept that it’s part of the deal and find an easier camera set-up (possibly your phone or a cheap point-and-click).

2. Reaching out to the person I’m replacing, who might be unhappy about losing the job

Late last year, a facility management position was advertised at my workplace as a full-time permanent role (rare in our environment). The timing was right, so I applied and ultimately landed the role. Next week I begin and my future supervisor advised me to contact the current facility manager to organize the transition. This person who I replace had been quickly installed temporarily after the previous manager left and had also applied to the permanent role when it came up.

I am nervous about contacting the person I am replacing as I had heard that the they had been very unhappy about “losing” the job.

How can I initiate contact so that they will respond helpfully? I have a feeling they might not. My future manager has arranged for me to have access to all server files, etc. in advance and that made me stop and think. I guess I just want the right way to say to them, can we please organize our transition period and handover without triggering their emotions about being replaced unexpectedly?

Don’t look for a way to do that. Assume that the person is going to behave professionally unless they show you otherwise. Even if they’re upset that they didn’t get the job, that’s a long way off from being anything other than professional during a transition — and it would be kind of condescending to assume otherwise. Plus, if you approach them too delicately, you’re more likely to add to the weirdness — and really, most people would prefer for you to simply be matter-of-fact about what you need and assume that they can handle their own emotions.

Just be direct about what you need: “Hi, Falcon. I’m the person who will be moving into the facilities management role next week, and Lavinia asked me to get in touch with you now to see if we can start planning for that transition.” If the person is resistant or otherwise causes issues, you can talk to your boss about it — but I’d start out by assuming it will all go fine, because it probably will.

3. Is a buzz cut unprofessional?

My wife and I have had a discussion regarding my haircut, as she says that my buzz cut (number 2 all the way around done monthly by my barber) is unprofessional and can create a less than optimal perception at work. I used to spend time combing my hair each morning, but I find this cut to be much more convenient and still think it looks clean.

I don’t think that’s unprofessional at all. I suppose there could be some industry out there where for some reason it would look out of place, but in general in most fields that’s not going to raise eyebrows at all.

4. Accepted one offer and then a better offer came along

Would it be career suicide if someone accepted their first job out of college and backed out before even starting the position because another offer came in that better suited his interests and was offering a much better package?

No. It’s not a great thing to do, but it’s not career suicide (unless it’s a tiny industry, where word can get around) and sometimes it’s just in your best interest to do it, even factoring in the obvious negatives (burning a bridge, going back on your word, etc.).

You can’t make a habit of it though. But just apologize profusely and tell them ASAP so they can start planning.

5. Applying to a job that I was fired from 18 years ago

Is it ok to apply to a job at a company that you were fired from? I was released from this same job at this company 18 years ago for bad performance. Since then, I have gotten a degree, married, had kids, joined the military, and am now a disabled vet and started a small business. I only want to apply so that I can supplement my current income but I am unsure how to approach them or if I even should at all.

I’ve matured so much since then, and I’m not even sure if the same people even work there anymore.

Well … you’ve got nothing to lose! Normally I’d say that you definitely shouldn’t apply to a job that you were fired from; the firing is just going to be too much of an obstacle for the employer to get past. Even if you know that you’re not the same person, there will be enough of a question in their minds about it that it’s usually going to be a lost cause. But in this case, it was 18 years ago — it’s entirely possible that no one will remember or care. It can’t hurt you, so if you’d really like to work there again, you might as well apply and see what happens.

{ 241 comments… read them below }

  1. Artemesia

    #1 is beyond stupid — I would have no trouble keeping copious notes on clients including all sorts of ID stealing info in the notebook I sweep off the desk for the photo. Ridiculous. Infantalizing.

    1. Stars and violets

      I’d have a box ready at all times into which I would sweep all my illicit notes. Seriously, policies like this just bring out my inner rebel.

    2. Ann without an e

      If a cluttered desk insinuates a cluttered mind, what does an empty desk insinuate? Albert Einstein…..

      That said its the company’s way of trying to enforce information security. It could be an agreement with certain clients…..it stinks that they don’t trust you, but it is something you have to comply with. I also wouldn’t try to cheat the system, it will make you seem untrustworthy when in fact you are, and could cause more problems than complying does.
      Your best bet is to set a time with your son where he can dump his photos to a separate location, which is good, it prevents him from losing his pics in the event he loses the camera. Or you could dump the photos, and clean the SD card periodically thus making it easier for you to find your photo.

      1. Artemesia

        Well the obvious thing is you have a dedicated card for the camera used only for this purpose — get a 2 or 4 card and keep it in the desk drawer. (of course you could use the same picture each time but you would have to be sure it didn’t carry time stamp information so it is safer to just have a dedicated card that you use to snap a new shot each time)

        But of course, entirely lame.

        1. Raine

          I think you can tell when a photo was taken and by what kind of camera by the Info stuff that uploads to the Internet. I wouldn’t try using the same photo or a pre-taken photo, because that would seem ground for immediate firing if they want to ensure you’re following the confidentiality requirements and they figure out you’re basically lying by showing them a photo that isn’t current.

      2. Chris

        I imagine the OP is already looking, but to me this level of disrespect really says “time for a new job”. A company that behaves like this doesn’t deserve to have adults working there. Unfortunately I think this kind of thing is more common in IT support (my own sector) simply because the technology lends itself to micromanagement, and the workers are seen as unskilled and disposable. Timed bathroom breaks are nothing unusual.

      3. majigail

        I’d suggest using your cell phone to do this if possible. you can email directly from it, thus no need to remove your USB headset and fumble to find the family cam.

        1. M-C

          +1. It’s not like artistic quality is needed here, so a fuzzy dark pic is all you need. And I’d just toss whatever you had on hand (grocery list, love letter, bank statement) onto the floor if needed. This is such an idiotic rule that you should feel no obligation to comply.

        2. Judy

          I’d assume you have to stick it in the chat window within that minute, with the chat showing. Or at least that’s what I’d do, if I were sending to someone, I’d put the chat font to huge and then say to take the photo, and put up some sort of numeric string. You could probably automate the “check for it’s the right photo” even if you can’t automate “check that there is no paper”.

    3. Dulcinea

      I used to work at a telemarketing center where we were forbidden to have any paper or pen on the desk while working (and cell phones had to be in your pocket/purse at all times). The purpose was to prevent us from stealing people’s credit card information. The supervisors said it was actually a law that they had to enforce this rule in order to keep their license for the business. Maybe OP’s employer has some similar compliance obligations and they have decided to try to enforce them this way. Obviously not a very effective policy because it’s so easy to cheat, but maybe having and enforcing the rule helps protect OP’s employer from liability/legal consequences in case one of the employees is stealing customer info.

      1. Chris

        A firm with those sorts of compliance requirements shouldn’t be allowing home-working. It’s a pretty serious failure of leadership to have set up working patterns where they can’t effectively supervise staff, and then compound that with such ineffectual but disruptive ass-covering. The photo inspections wouldn’t catch a reasonably clever thief, but they will alienate all the honest staff being treated like delinquent ten year olds.

      2. Not So NewReader

        Other companies allow pens and paper and their customers don’t get their CC numbers stolen. What’s up with that company? It’s not that long a number, many people could just memorize it.

    4. KH

      This policy accomplishes absolutely nothing. If they really wanted to implement a policy that would actually work, they would set up cloud-based webcams, pointed on each worker’s desk, which they could access any time without asking permission first.

    5. Healthcare Director

      Totally ridiculous that a company does a desk audit by impromptu photo racing against a time clock. Many large Fortune 500 require a photo of your work area when employees are telecommuters and dealing with protected health information. They require a photo before approving work at home arrangement but never again. This seems like a dictatorial and untrusting leadership style. I would be looking for another job. Plenty of telecommuting companies don’t require this in fact first time I’ve ever heard of such a ridiculous practice.

    6. Melissa

      This! Or I could just have a standing picture of my desk that I use. Lots of cameras don’t have timestamps.

  2. Anon Fred

    #1 Or take a few pictures (from different positions, and with different other stuff on the desk) when you have nothing on the desk, delete all the metadata, and then when they ask for a picture, send one of them (and then delete it so you don’t send it twice).

    1. Student

      This is pretty much exactly what I was thinking.

      I suppose it could backfire if they expect to see something specific on your computer screen, though (or if the clock on the computer screen is clearly readable).

      I find it super-depressing that they apparently pay someone to look at these pictures to look for paper. And that they think people don’t just move the paper out of the way…

    2. Stars and violets

      Or have a stock photo ready to go when requested. Is there someone actually employed to scrutinise these photos for signs of non compliance or is this just a box ticking enterprise?

    3. NJ anon

      I immediately thought of the movie “Speed” where they continuously play a recorded video of the passengers on the bus to fool the bad guy . . .

    4. Chinook

      I can see them being suspicious of a lack of metadata. Of course, if you have an older camera, you could just reset it to the factory defaults and tell them you forgot to set the date on it.

    5. Raine

      I just think this is basically asking to be fired immediately. The photo-taking requirement might be ridiculous, but the customer confidentiality compliance they are trying to enforce is not, and anyone caught trying to get around the photo part of this (not taking the customer confidentiality thing seriously, from the point of view of the business and possibly government) would almost have to be terminated on the spot.

      1. Student

        I think it is the company that isn’t taking customer confidentiality serious, here. Anyone actually violating customer confidentiality can get around this trivially. This just wastes time and effort of honest staff. It is security theater.

        Try sending them a wrong photo, and see if they even notice. “Ooops, I meant to upload photo #335 of my desk, not photo #336 of my lunch.”

  3. A Teacher

    #3, it sounds like your wife doesn’t like the cut and is using your job as the reason for it… or maybe I’ve just read to much Dear Prudence, Ask Amy, and Carolyn Hax.

    1. Stars and violets

      Looking at some of the photos Alison linked to: as a wife, I’d be pretty happy with any of those guys so perhaps she does just have his career interests in mind.

    2. eemmzz

      I thought the same thing too as his hair sounds fine to me.

      What industry are you in OP? I guess in some fields this could be unprofessional. I work at a large broadcasting company and some people have bright green or purple hair (working in web programming so nowhere near the cameras) so I’m pretty desensitised to hairstyles.

      1. Jean

        LOL. I read “broadcasting” and immediately thought “radio!” Then got to the part about cameras and had to reread more carefully.

      2. Jamie

        I’m not the original poster but I’m a female financial advisor for a large insurance company and the men have pretty strict dress/grooming standards here (almost any length of beard is a no-go, for example). Plenty of male advisors who are client-facing have buzz cuts and no one bats an eye as long as they get maintenance cuts every couple of weeks.

        I think there might be something to the poster who suggested the wife just doesn’t like the cut.

        1. doreen

          I’m wondering if the wife means it looks “unprofessional” on the original poster rather than in general. Maybe because he doesn’t get it trimmed often enough or maybe because the style just doesn’t suit him.

    3. OhNo

      And additional thought: maybe your wife meant that you should get it cut more often? I have a partially-shaved haircut, and I usually have to trim it every two weeks to keep it looking good. If you’re only getting it done every 4 weeks, she might be hinting that you look weird and/or unprofessional at least one week a month (lord knows I do, if I let it go that long).

      Better idea: instead of asking AAM, just ask your wife why she thinks that.

      1. Elsajeni

        Oh, that’s a good point. I wear my hair quite short, with the sides and back at a #3, and by 3 weeks after a haircut the buzzed parts do start to look a little… fluffy. Like a little baby chick. I generally just put up with it — it’s like that for about a week, then it gets long enough to lie down and looks more normal again — but if it were my entire head rather than just the shortest parts, yeah, I might want to get a trim when it hit the fluffy stage.

  4. The IT Manager

    I am going to sort of agree with LW#3’s wife. A buzz cut always reminds me of a boy’s haircut. Maybe it’s because it what my brothers and many other contemporaries did when we were kids, but it doesn’t seem like an adult cut to me. And I was in the military where guys had to keep their hair short, but most of them did not buzz a single length all over.

    A more extreme example for the opposite sex is pig tails on a woman. Somehow a buzz cut on a guy evokes a similar sentiment for me; although, I would call it a childish-looking rather than unprofessional haircut.

    * However just to prove that this is not scientific or rational, a single length buzz looks fine to me for a guy who has gone bald on top. Maybe because he’s actually got two “lengths” going on or maybe a bald guy doesn’t look like a kid.

      1. Jen RO

        Well… I wouldn’t find them unprofessional, but I agree with IT Manager in that a non-buzzcut would look *more* professional to me.

      2. Mallory Janis Ian

        My two points of professional reference are academia (immediate past job) and an architecture firm (current job). A lot of the men at both jobs have adopted this hairstyle within the past seven or eight years, and it looks fine to me. And the pictures that Alison linked to look really, really fine — hubba hubba ;)

      3. AnotherAlison

        Well, obv if the OP is a model this look is *fine*. : )

        I have a 50-ish coworker who is not a model and has a buzz cut. It looks fine. He’s also a snazzy dresser in general. The two cases where this might not be professional looking is if you look like the 2000 version of Eminem, or you look like you stepped out of 1962.

        1. bkanon

          Heh, same here. I can’t imagine what would be wrong with a buzz cut. For many years, I hardly saw a guy without one!

    1. Cheesecake

      I am surprised to see these responses. Totally agree with Alison, it does look professional. Anything “neat” looks professional. What doesn’t is long hair (on a guy).

      1. UK Nerd

        Long hair on men isn’t uncommon in IT, and it doesn’t look unprofessional to me so long as it’s neat and clean.

        1. Cheesecake

          Thats my personal opinion and though i don’t like it, what matters is working the work. But still, men’s pony tail is not always neat and clean. Heck, as a female i know how painful it is to deal with long hair, so i just don’t get why men don’t cut it – 5 mins of grooming and it looks great vs 15 mins to only dry your hair

          1. Liane

            A good family friend had very long hair for many years, in a tail & it didn’t look unkempt or unprofessional, though his employer has a jeans & tee dress code (insurance industry, but no in-person jobs interacting with customers). I will grant you that he did tell me one of the main reasons he got it cut a few years ago was that he got tired of the upkeep, which I can understand as his was very thick & long.

            However, not all women would agree with you on “how painful it is to deal with long hair.” :) I am a woman with long hair, and 10-15 minutes is how long it takes me to dry *and* style my hair. And my fine hair isn’t the stuff you can run a comb/brush through and it just falls into place. Frankly, the few times I’ve had shorter hair, I find it more of a pain–less easy to style, even the lightest mousse/gel weighs it down too much, I cannot get it off my neck in hot weather, etc.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian

              My hair is easier to style when it’s longer and I can just let it hang down with a little hair creme in it. Shorter hair for me requires a lot more effort in styling it to look good, maybe because my hair is to coarse to lay down without either a lot of length or a lot of product.

              1. Cheesecake

                Ok, ladies, as “owner” of longer/shorter bob, i give you a credit for styling issues. Yes, when you can make a fancy pony tail out of 2nd-3rd day hair, we sometimes can’t. But what i mean is, long hair requires more time and more products to look good (if not in a pony all the time), it also thins down as it grows, so for me it is oily roots/dry ends. Once i chop that off, hair looks way healthier. And yes, i need to use flat iron to make book look more “done”, but while it takes me 2 mins, long hair took me 5-10.

                So, coming back to men, judging by husband and male friends, they are oblivious to what it is to keep healthy neat long hair. My husband will absolutely jump out of the window if he has to just use hair dryer. But the point is, why would he? He looks way better with short hair.

                1. Cheesecake

                  to Colette bellow: i specifically wrote “my hair”, because i was answering ladies who also talked about “their” hair. We can argue how hair behaves based on gender, age and religious preferences, but we can’t argue the fact that long hair requires more time and maintenance than short. And that was the whole point.

                2. Colette

                  @Cheesecake – But as others have pointed out, long hair doesn’t always require more time and maintenance than short hair. That may be true for you, but it’s not true for everyone.

                3. Cheesecake

                  Colette: But it does :) shortER hair as bob or shoulder length sometimes requires more maintenance to keep the form. But not shot, and defo not buzz cut.

                4. Colette

                  Buzz cuts don’t require styling, but they do require frequent haircuts, which is definitely maintenance.

                  And if we’re choosing haircuts based on ease, are you suggesting that everyone should get a buzz cut?

                5. NewishAnon

                  The issue here is not the length of the hair. It’s whether the person is choosing to maintain it or not. There are plenty of women who choose to make the extra effort to style their hair, long or short. Why can’t men make the same choice? Why are only women allowed to choose their style but men have to have short hair because you think it looks better? What if he prefers long hair?

                  Also, there are plenty of women who let their hair become rats nests, so it seems unfair to say that men are the ones who can’t take care of their hair.

                  My husband used to have long hair and it was so beautiful women were always envious of it. Lol

                6. Cheesecake

                  NewishAnon:
                  “Why can’t men make the same choice?” My exact question, dear men, why can’t you make the same choice? Btw, what people argue about bellow is that “upkeep” is not an issue whatsoever. But i agree with you: by all means, keep your hair long, but take care of it.
                  What i see around me is men who have long hair and don’t really bother. And these are not lucky ones with wash&look fabulous hair.

                  And yes, some women, i can’t even…But on men it is more striking, because they are in minority with long hair. I am not sure why i am attacked for my personal experience, but it is what it is, i’d rather see men with luscious locks, but i don’t. When i see what i see, my first thought is “why???”

              2. Lady Bug

                My hair is easiest to style between shoulder lenghth and bra strap length. Without the length to weigh down the waves I need a ton of product to keep me from frizzing out whether I go straight or curly. And I only wear pony tails at the gym or when I’m doing housework.

              3. teclatwig

                Hunh? Cheesecake, I don’t know where you get your “known facts,” but I can say that my own experience is evidence against that claim. My hair is generally between my shoulders, but I have grown it down below my bra line (and I have a super-long neck), and my hair has never thinned out. I wish! My hair is ridiculously thick (and fine, FWIW). With a really good haircut, I can go 3 months with it looking good and 4-5 months with the shape disappearing but no split ends. I have to go at least 6 months before I get any split ends, at which point I cut off an inch or two.

                And viz what others are saying, I found short hair to be a PITA, mostly because I would wake up with bed head, and it would take a ton of styling (and usually a shower) to make both sides settle the same. And I have a curl that goes the same direction for my whole head, so I always had an under-flip on one side and a flip-out on the other. So much work!

          2. Kathlynn

            around halloween I cut my hair from below shoulders to ear length. It takes more effort and time to style my hair now then it did before.
            Now I know that really short hair is a different story. But shorter doesn’t always mean easier to take care of.

          3. KerryOwl

            i just don’t get why men don’t cut it

            I think probably because they like how it looks better when it’s long. Men have opinions too!

            1. De (Germany)

              Well, personally, as a woman with *gasp* short hair I don’t get why anyone wouldn’t cut it short ;)

              (Kidding, of course, there are a lot of men and women with nice long hairstyles)

              1. Liane

                :)
                And for the record, even though I have long hair (comes to about to bottom of shoulder blades); don’t think it is a daily pain to maintain *most* days; & couldn’t deal with my hair the few times I had it short(er)–doesn’t mean I don’t like others’ short hairstyles. I do! I *love* the way they look on many people, just not on me.

            2. Allison

              This. I used to have really long hair, and I had it long not because I liked maintaining it and styling it, but simply because I liked the way it looked, and to me that made the “hassle” of having long hair worth it.

              1. Cheesecake

                What i was arguing about is that without this maintenance long hair doesn’t look good. Noone really enjoys all that maintenance routine, but a lot of men just don’t know/bother.

                1. AnotherAlison

                  Where I’m at, groomed beards and mustaches are a big thing now. Think trimming, creams, waxes, etc. Plenty of men are jumping on this trend, and do bother with the maintenance.

                  At the moment, I’m not a huge long-hair-on-men fan. My dad turned 60 and thought he needed to grow out his white mane and beard, so yeah, I’m not loving that.

                  But, back in high school and college in the 90s, I was definitely a fan. It did not get much better than Axl Rose or Anthony Kiedis. Popularity of male long hair is definitely a cyclical thing.

                2. Cheesecake

                  fposte: you are either a lucky one with “wash-go-fabulous” hair or have short(er) hair. Long hair needs additional maintenance for a lot of reasons, all googlable.

                3. fposte

                  No, *some people’s* long hair requires additional maintenance, and it’s often in order to meet non-universal standards, so how much maintenance will depend on where you’re showing up. Seriously, there’s no overall “you have to work harder to make long hair presentable” rule that covers the planet–you’re talking about some hair and, I suspect, your particular field’s standards of appearance. It really doesn’t apply to my field nor to most of the hair in it.

                4. AnotherAlison

                  Ack, Cheesecake, this is killing me. I’ve had my hair literally 1″ long and bra-strap length.

                  When my hair is long, I have hair that is just the right amount of wave to dry into “beachy” waves if I don’t blow dry it. When my hair is anything more than 3″-4″ long to shoulder length it is a huge PITA. I have to blow dry and flat iron it, and some ends want to flip out, while others turn under.

                  When my hair is 1″ long, I have to get hair cuts all. the. time. or it gets weirdly poofy on the sides over my ears. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Now, I can stretch hair cuts 4 months. I do have to start “maintaining” more then, but I can curl it and get away with untrimmed ends.

                  All that said, I choose to put more effort in my hair because I get cold if I leave the house with wet hair. I dry & flat iron my hair, but it’s a choice, not a must-do. When my hair is shorter, it is a must-do or I look like a muppet.

                5. AnotherAlison

                  Plus, when my hair is long, I don’t wash it every day (unless I’m working out). I can stretch it into 3 days without washing. #yepIcanbelazy : )

                6. Zillah

                  Yeah, I’m with fposte – it really depends. My (curly) hair requires a lot of maintenance in that I absolutely have to wash it every day and I can’t comb it out unless it’s soaking wet, but I don’t have to do anything else to it to make it look good. (It also looks terrible short.)

                7. fposte

                  @AnotherAlison–plus there’d be finding a new way to cover my sticky-outy ears. There’s all kinds of labor that needs to be accounted for :-).

                8. Cheesecake

                  I am absolutely flooding here, but just out of curiosity. It is a known fact that long hair gets thinner with split ends. Short-er hair doesn’t have these problems due to regular haircuts. So here is my question: does long thin frizzy hair with split ends look presentable to you?

                9. AnotherAlison

                  Cheesecake, re: long hair & thin split ends. Sure, that would look like crap.

                  But, I have thick wavy hair that grows fast. I’ve had my hair long (and we’re talking bra strap long, not butt long), for 4 years. I don’t have thin scraggly split ends at all. FWIW, I work with a woman who does have butt-length hair that is very thick and probably best defined as “luscious”. She’s had it like that forever, and there are no thin scraggly ends.

                  Why do you continue to insist that no one has a hair type that works well with long hair?

                10. Cheesecake

                  AnotherAlison
                  But i don’t insist. All i said is, it is easier for men to have short hair (short, not shorter) than long as long requires maintenance most of time so why bother. Let me say it again: “most of the time”. An example is drying your hair. Now, out of nowhere came comments on styling long-ish hair, short-er hair, women’s hair. I think i am done for today.

                  OP #3, if you read up to here, all i wanted to say is keep your buzz cut. It looks professional. For me personally long hair on men is what does not look good. For me. Personally. Men with long hair that doesn’t require any maintenance, i envy you!

                11. fposte

                  @Cheesecake–is that like the known fact that jumping up in a falling elevator will save you :-)?

                  Some hair gets split ends, some doesn’t. Some hair gets split ends after a week, some after twenty weeks. Some people with long hair get their hair trimmed every week; some people with long hair never get their hair trimmed at all. (And most people with short hair are getting it cut too, so it’s not like that’s a particular burden borne only by the long-haired.) I’m not sure what you’re meaning by “thinner,” but if you mean overall you have a less thick head of hair, there’s nothing particularly universally office-unpresentable about not having thick hair.

                  Sure, there are workplaces that have different demands; some workplaces also require manicures and makeup, too. But that’s really far from universal. It’s good to be aware of the culture in your own industry and workplace, of course, but the standards in my field really don’t require anything different of the long-haired and the short-haired.

                12. ThursdaysGeek

                  @Cheesecake – I have very long hair, down past my waist. I shower at night, braid it wet and go to bed. That takes some time (10 minutes?), but I braid the two braids together after awhile. In the morning I unbraid it and comb it out, which takes only a few minutes. Because, as you say, it does get thinner with age, and I’m looking back at 50. My hair also has age, since my last (and first) hair cut was when I was 6, and my last trim was years and years ago. But I don’t get split ends at all.

                  Does it look good? I’m a geek, so it looks good enough to me. My spouse likes it. Most people don’t shriek and run away when they see it, so I guess it’s ok.

                  I can see why old ladies do the poofy short hair, to make it look like we have more volume. But I’ve also seen an old lady with white braids, and since mine is long enough to wrap around my head when I want it out of the way, I’m keeping it. It really takes much less time than other people when they talk about their hair. And the older I get, the less I care about what other people consider think. :)

                  Although, I also agree. Long hair cut straight at the bottom: that’s something I wish I had thick enough hair to do (and still keep it long).

          4. Wren

            I’ve always been of the opinion that pretty much everyone looks better with long hair. There have been 1 or 2 exceptions, but that is about it. I LOVE long hair on guys.

          5. Kas

            I used to have a buzz, and it needed trimming every few weeks, which I found to be a nuisance. Now I have long hair (past my shoulders), which I usually wear in a ponytail, and I get it trimmed maybe twice a year.

          6. Melissa

            A friend from my department has very long, very shiny blonde hair. He usually wears it in a ponytail (that he keeps very neat and tidy), but for special occasions he wears it down. I don’t know what his styling routine is but his hair’s pretty awesome, and it looks professional and always neat and clean.

            But then again, I am in academia…one of my coworkers has blue streaks in her hair. I’ve worn red twisted into my hair and nobody batted an eyelash.

        2. MK

          I think the problem is that it very often isn’t neat (I wouldn’t presume to question anyone’s cleanliness). Long hair does require some effort (maybe even considerable effort if it doesn’t behave itself naturally) to look neat and unfortunately many men make that effort.

          1. Cheesecake

            +1000, exactly what i meant. Most of men don’t make effort and it looks yuk. If you don’t want to bother – cut it.

        3. Mike

          One of my early life goals was to grow the long hair and beard from the 1970s computer engineer look. Sadly my hair isn’t the right type to do that.

        4. manybellsdown

          Mr. Bells is a ponytailed-programmer-dude. It’s never affected his career in any way. But he’s also worked in jeans-and-tshirt environments his whole life so his “professional” is a little different than most.

      2. voluptuousfire

        Disagree. It’s only inappropriate if it’s unkempt, which is unfortunate because some long haired men do not keep up with their hair.

        In my last job, I worked in the Financial District in Manhattan and I saw a long haired gentleman in a (rather snazzy) suit, with his hair knotted in a bun at the nape of his neck. He looked very professional and was actually rather attractive. I probably would have made an effort to see in which direction he was going (for migratory purposes, of course ;D) but it was just a bit too late for that.

        1. Liane

          Once, at a short-lived job, there was a man in Sales who kept his long ponytail tucked beneath his shirt & jacket, I guess to make it less obvious. It would drive me crazy to feel my tail against my back all day.

        2. Nashira

          The cello player in my new favorite band (Cloud Cult) often seems to bun his hair on stage. It looks yummy, and I’m not even attracted to men.

    2. BRR

      I think I have only seen one guy with a buzz cut in the office but it looks fine. His clothes are always very nice looking I don’t know if this balances it out or if it would look fine on it’s own. Thinking of all the men in the office right now, I think I judge how professional they look more by their clothes than their hair.

      1. MK

        As a general rule, one styling choise won’t damn your whole look, unless it’s wildly eccentric/inappropriate.

    3. Helen

      I used to ride the train with a businessman who had a buzzcut, and he looked very nice and professional.

    4. Fabulously Anonymous

      Personally, I think a buzz cut is fine. And I wear my hair in a pony tail every day. I’m 45.

    5. illini02

      So this is going to be shocking based on many of my past posts, but I think this reaction is COMPLETELY looking at this only from a white person point of view, when we know nothing about this. Many professional black men have “buzz” cuts (although we don’t necessarily call them that). I doubt many people would say a black man with short hair like that is unprofessional.

      Aside from that though, I think they wife may have more of a problem with the difference in hair cut/style as opposed to the style itself. Its like some guys aren’t super happy when their wives or girlfriends get their long hair cut short. Same type of thing here.

      1. Observer

        Not just a “white guy” but a PARTICULAR kind of white guy. After all, the idea the a buzz cut is a “boy’s” style is kind of silly even for white guys if you include all the white guys who are in the military or were in the military and have continued to wear that style. And, as I noted elsewhere in the comments, Orthodox Jewish men (who are predominantly white) tend to wear buzz cuts. In fact, long hair is a toddler thing, and hair that is long enough to style is generally seen only on boys in some communities. I’d be willing to bet there are other groups as well.

    6. INTP

      I see it as more comparable to a lifeless bob or other very plain, not styled cut on a woman. Probably fine in most environments but if you’re expected to look more stylish or groomed or, for lack of a better word, more monied than the average person due to your industry or position, it might not work. It probably isn’t adding anything to your image unless you’re in a military related field. (And as shallow as this sounds, a really great haircut can add a lot, at least help compensate on days when you’re very tired or your clothes are wrinkled or whatever else might go wrong.)

    7. soitgoes

      If we’re speaking subjectively, I prefer a short cut on a guy with a great face. It lets me see the face!

    8. Connie-Lynne

      Oh no. I wore pigtails to work just yesterday. And they were up above my undercut, which is basically a buzz. I committed both of IT Manager’s hair crimes at once! (*grin* — gentle teasing, IT Mgr).

  5. Decimus

    My thought if I saw a man in a buzz cut isn’t “that’s unprofessional.” I’d be more likely to ask “were you in the Marines?”

    1. Malory Towers

      The military was my first thought too. Unless LW3 wants to be regularly asked this question/mistaken for an ex-Marine, perhaps he should go for something more mainstream.

        1. The Maple Teacup

          My boyfriend has a buzz cut. He shaves his own head for the sake of simplicity. I grew up on a military base with *every male* sporting short hair. I vote that the haircut is indeed professional.

  6. Sandy

    Was there anything in #3 to indicate that the LW is a man? I would say that a buzz cut on a woman would definitely send a different message than on a man.

    1. dragonzflame

      Haha, true! I’d say the fact that they go to a ‘barber’ to have it done suggests it’s a dude, but you’re right, we shouldn’t assume.

    2. nep

      Female here — Had a blast when I got a buzz-cut a few years back. What’s the message it sends? I’ve got an idea what you mean but just wondering about people’s take on this.
      (I was living overseas and when I and colleagues would be in the bustling downtown market areas, young men who would normally be pretty mouthy and borderline disrespectful were quiet and stepped back, thinking I was a US Marine. (I know because they’d ask my colleagues — ‘Is she military?’))
      For the record I think a buzz-cut on a man is clean and very professional-looking.

        1. Knitting Cat Lady

          Over here (Germany) very short hair on women is often seen as a sign for being (butch) lesbian.

          It’s complete bollocks, of course.

          I had a buzz cut (9 mm all over) last year. Ended up wearing a hat for the first two weeks because while it was June we had a cold spell and my head was freezing.

          My usual style is 9 mm on the sides and in the back and about 3 cm on top.

          1. Jazzy Red

            On The Walking Dead, Axel thought Carol was a lesbian because she had short hair. (He was the prisoner with the cool mustache who “liked his pharmaceuticals”.)

        2. fposte

          I don’t think Sandy’s has to be a pejorative statement–clothing, hair, makeup, and other presentations aren’t read the same for each gender everywhere, whether we think they should be or not. A presentation’s being gender non-standard means it reads different right there. That doesn’t mean it’s automatically a problem, but given that this started with a question about a hairstyle’s ability to be accepted in the workplace, I think it’s legitimate to note that the answer may vary with gender.

          (I actually like a buzz when it’s just growing out and looks like fur.)

          1. Anonymous for this

            +1

            And there’s nothing wrong with noting that a haircut can give people a certain impression – that impression might be exactly what they’re going for.

            It was when I had short hair, anyway.

          2. Sandy

            Thanks for the benefit of the doubt. It was *definitely* not meant as a pejorative statement. I actually wanted to use the word “heteronormative” but figured I’d sound like a jerk, all things considered.

            As you can see from my reply below, my experience with a buzz cut is that it elicited a wide range of assumptions, none of which are the same ones as I’ve seen apply to men.

          3. nep

            (For the record — I didn’t take the statement to be pejorative. Nothing negative there. I was just interested to hear people’s take on it.)

        3. AnotherAlison

          Hmmm, even if the message is that the buzz cut owner is a lesbian, I don’t see that as an issue of professionalism in the work place.

          I actually see it as more of an issue if the buzz cut owner is not a lesbian. For others I think it could be more of a rebellious look or political statement (like Miley Cyrus was trying to make with her short ‘do), where for some lesbians it is part of a every day, mostly socially acceptable style.

          1. fposte

            I also think it depends on how the rest of the appearance codes. Floppy sweatshirt and track pants, elegant tailored trousers suit, flowing dress and big earrings–they all bring their own messages.

          2. Alma

            The most beautiful photo I’ve seen recently was a friend who just celebrated her one year anniversary of her bone marrow transplant. Her hair is just starting to grow back, and it is a lighter color, so it does resemble a “military” cut.

            And when I was very young, my Dad took my 3yr old brother to get a haircut. He ran into the house to show Mom his new crew cut (they were all the rage), and Mom broke into tears. He had dark hair and an incredibly white head, and it did look pretty awful.

            I am of the opinion that the wearer of the hair gets to choose the style (unless dictated by the military, or other institution).

          3. nep

            For me it fit quite nicely into my everyday routine (wash and wear, baby!) and lifestyle. I don’t get why an issue for a non-lesbian, by the way.

                1. nep

                  Of course. — get that. When I read it again, my initial phrase ‘non-lesbian’ struck me as odd is all.

            1. AnotherAlison

              Hell, I don’t know. . .my grandma has worn a buzz cut since the 1980s, and she is straight, not a skin head, never had cancer, and certainly isn’t Brittany Spears-crazy. (but those were the issues I had in mind when I wrote that!)

              It’s kind of like Forrest Gump. . .he couldn’t just like running. Was he doing it for a cause? I think if you shave your head and the reason isn’t obvious people will ask questions or make [false] assumptions. You couldn’t possibly *just* like daily low-maintenance. ; )

              1. Not So NewReader

                My aunt had chemo. When her hair came back in she kept it clipped really short. She looked awesome, she was 70 y/o but her face and skin were pretty. She looked a like a “cool” modern grandma.
                She looked good with out hair, too. Some people just have a way about them that they can carry it unusually well.

                1. Elizabeth West

                  That’s cool. Awesome auntie. I always thought if I needed chemo and lost my hair, I’d just go around bald and stick little temporary tattoos on my head. If people didn’t like it, they could just go soak their own heads. :P :)

      1. Sandy

        As someone who used to have a shaved head, I can say that people’s reactions ranged from assuming that I was a lesbian, that I was some kind of “rebel”, that I had cancer, or I had lice.

        For guys, they (seem to) assume either that they were in the military, or their wife cuts their hair.

        Slight difference in perception.

        1. Judy

          A female engineering co-worker that I was friendly with got a buzz cut 15 years ago. I had lots of people asking me if she had cancer.

      2. Mallory Janis Ian

        My high school senior daughter recently got a buzz cut (with just a little shorty bangs area left on) and dyed it blue, and she’s having a blast with it. She says she can’t imagine wanting to go back to have that requires combing or any other effort. I’m a little envious :)

      3. Karyn

        Hell, when I had a pixie (photo here), I would CONSTANTLY be asked (yes, ASKED) if I liked men. I have absolutely no idea why.

        On a related note, people also lose their sense of personal space when I have a pixie and decide for themselves that they’re just going to touch my hair without asking. They assume a pixie is “so easy to style,” so they don’t care if they ruffle it. Maybe it is for some women, but for me, because my hair is thick and I have a cowlick in the back, it actually takes MORE work to get it to lay right than it takes to style it long. Every time I cut it, I kick myself after a week because I always forget how hard it is. So when people just randomly touch it, I’m like, “Do you not understand that it took me forty minutes to get it to look right? STOP TOUCHING ME.” If I take a nap? GAME OVER.

        My brother has been doing a buzz cut since he was about twelve, and he’s 23 now and in his first job. He’s an engineer and works with a bunch of nerds, and, while I think he could DRESS a little more professionally, and I take issue with the ridiculous thing on his face that he calls a “beard,” I don’t see anything wrong with his hair.

      4. Elsajeni

        I wouldn’t say there’s some specific message, but it’s certainly true that a buzz is much more noticeably unconventional/unusual on a woman than on a man; if the question is “Is this a professional look?”, I’d say the answer is pretty much always “yes” for a man, but more like “mmmaybe, if your workplace/industry is not super-conservative and traditional, but it’s a risk” for a woman.

      5. C Average

        I got my head shaved a number of years ago after losing a bet.

        For the first couple months, I often got asked if I was in remission.

        And for about the first year post-buzz cut, I attracted a lot of interest from other women, and even got asked out by women a few times. (I’m straight, but hung out with a young and very open crowd at the time.)

        For me, it’s SO much easier having long hair! It’s naturally quite wavy, and when it’s shorter or in any structured style, it takes a lot of time and product to make it behave. When it’s long, as it is now, I just wash and go, pulling it back in a braid or a bun if I need to look more together.

        I’m married to a guy with a buzz cut. He’s a very successful engineer at a large microchip manufacturer. His hair is a non-issue. I work with plenty of buzz-cut guys and a few ponytailed ones, too. They’re all well-groomed and competent, and I don’t think anyone cares about their hairdos.

        (And finally, losing that bet was really valuable: whenever I’m inclined to feel judgy about someone else’s inexplicable fashion choices, I simply say to myself, “maybe they lost a bet” and move along.)

          1. C Average

            By all objective measures, the Mariners WERE a better team than the Orioles in 1997, and should DEFINITELY have lasted longer in postseason.

            Thanks to the outcome of that bet, I now know that the most flattering hairstyle for me is a Jackie Kennedy bob, but that it only works in a dry climate and with a lot of work. Looking awesome is fun, but it’s too much work. Plus I’m a serious runner, so I’d have to deal with the daily nuisance of making myself look nice and then destroying my own masterpiece, just to have to recreate it again. Ain’t no one got time for that.

            I’m perfectly content with the easiest hairstyle, which is all one length to the middle of my back and nearly always worn up, in a bun when I want to look businesslike, a ponytail or braided ponytail when I’m going for sporty, and Heidi braids pinned to the top of my head when I’m going for a quirky hipster look. It’s thick and shiny and well-cared for, and I find it fun to do lots of different things with it.

            I never make bets anymore. Never ever.

      6. Tinker

        I’ve done #1, #2, and no guard buzz cuts at various times. Have commented to my coworkers about the prospect of people reading weird things into it and have gotten the answer “Reading into what? Your hair? Is something different about it? You cut it? When did you do that?” NB: I work in tech.

        Have kind of gone away from it now because I think it goes a little bit too far into the “distinctly female person bearing masculine style elements in a way that ultimately enhances a female presentation” territory for my preference (vs. “person who cuts their hair in a masculine style in a way that is not meant to emphasize a contrast”, for instance). In any event, I don’t typically get questions related to my sexual orientation — folks who aren’t clued in to the latest in queer culture assume that they know, and folks who are ask a… different category of question.

    3. RecentGrad

      There’s one woman at my office who has a buzz cut, and she rocks it! I’ve known a few others too and they actually can look really nice/good and professional. Same for men — all the men with buzz cuts I’ve seen look as professional as they would with longer hair. My brother used to buzz his own hair with an electric razor and it looked good. He sometimes did a 2 on top and 1 on the sides (IIRC) which looked fine too. I just realized that my (male) manager has a buzz cut, it never struck me as anything but professional. There are even a few bald men at my office (whether or not they were balding anyway, they’ve clearly shaved their heads) and they look professional too.

      I am female and wish I had the guts for a buzz cut. I already get my hair cropped just about as short as it can go while still being socially acceptable and providing some warmth/cover for my head! I already have the sides and back practically buzzed off…and I wear hats anyway.

      1. voluptuousfire

        I think buzz cuts and similar short haircuts really take a lot of guts to pull off. Also, anything that stands outside prescribed gender roles (long haired men, short haired women) tends to throw a lot of people off. I have a short pixie myself and especially if you happen to walk with confidence and have a no-nonsense attitude, it somehow equates to “lesbian,” which I find hilarious.

        The guts to go against the status quo is always going to irk people in some way. I went with a pixie because my hair is fine and there’s a lot of it and once it’s past a certain length, I can’t do anything with it aside from putting it up. It deflates like a sat upon whoopee cushion. Short hair works a lot better for me–wash and wear, dry in less than 10 minutes, been using the same thing of product for about two years now and only used about half of it. The only bad thing is when the back grows in and it looks like I’m contemplating growing a mullet.

    4. Allison

      If we’re talking about women and buzz cuts, I wonder if people consider a “professional” appearance to simply mean an appearance that makes one look intelligent, mature, and capable of doing one’s job, or if specifically having a customer-friendly appearance is part of that. If a woman is working in a client-facing job somewhere in the Bible belt, I could see how having very short hair could be incompatible with her job, even if it doesn’t make her seem immature or sloppy, simply because many customers may make dumb assumptions and be turned off by her appearance. But in many industries and in many areas, especially liberal ones, short hair on a woman is generally acceptable as long as it’s neat, and the rest of her outfit is in keeping with her office culture and dress code.

    5. ThursdaysGeek

      Years ago, when a female co-worker got a buzz cut, the message that was sent was that she wanted to cut it before the chemo made it all straggly. Is that the message?

  7. Matt

    #1: One minute? WTF? What if you are on a bathroom break when the chat message arrives? Do you have to wear diapers and aren’t allowed to ever leave your desk during a shift?

    1. Fucshia

      It sounds like they are monitoring calls and computer use so they send these things when OP is actively working. The post says it must be done during the time they are writing up the call notes.

  8. Jen RO

    OP 1’s company is making ridiculous requests, but come on, you need more than a minute to take a photo? I don’t even understand this sentence… “our family camera belongs to my son, it has hundreds of photos and new photos don’t come out on top”.

    As Alison said, consider it a trade off if the company treats you well in other respects.

    1. neverjaunty

      Presumably work doesn’t actually provide the camera or instructions for its use.

      Those people are idiots, OP #1. See if you can find a better employer.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        See, I think that’s too harsh, without knowing more. If she’s otherwise happy there and feels treated well, there’s no reason she should leave over this. Otherwise good employers can have the occasional silly policy. If this is her biggest complaint, that’s really not terrible or worth leaving a job she likes over.

        1. neverjaunty

          It’s not just a ‘silly policy’ though – as others have pointed out, it’s a ridiculous and poorly-conceived policy, and does nothing to actually accomplish what they claim it does (preventing people from writing down customer information). It’s not that the policy itself is a huge burden to follow, but it’s a huge red flag re management. “No coffee mug on your desk” would be a silly policy. This policy says that the company thinks it has an obligation to protect customer information from disclosure, and has no idea of how to actually implement such a policy.

          1. fposte

            But a lot of times, these policies aren’t core samples–they’re one random thing that’s compensated for in other ways. My workplace is like that, and honestly, I suspect most workplaces have at least one really irritating policy.

            I also think the “flag” terminology makes more sense when you’re job-hunting than when you’re actually in a job. Finding out about a policy like this when you’re looking at a company is an alert to investigate further to see if it’s reflective of an overall approach that would make you crazy. That’s not the same thing as considering it to be an automatic dealbreaker because it means the company itself must be overall horrible to work for. But when you’re already working there, you know how the company is overall, so either you know it’s part of general suckage or that otherwise they’ve been okay to deal with.

            I also think that there aren’t that many single-point dealbreakers where it really makes sense for somebody to walk based on just a policy, assuming the policy is legal. Organizations are like people–they’re usually a mix of strengths and weaknesses, and most of the time you’re better off evaluating the overall picture than making a call based on one factor.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Yep, exactly.

              Also, TONS of people want work-from-home jobs and can’t find them. No way would I advise someone to walk away over this single policy.

            2. ThursdaysGeek

              So very true. If you can find a job that only has one or two annoying crazy aspects, it’s probably a keeper. It’s hard to find a job that has competent and pleasant co-workers, interesting work that you’re good at, competent management that you can respect, decent pay, and a pleasant working environment, and sometimes settling for 4 out of 5 is good enough. Sometimes even 3 out of 5 is so much better than the last job that it’s worth keeping.

          2. Observer

            I agree with fposte. Also, as HR Manager noted downthread, you don’t know if the folks who made this policy are the managers (sometimes IT or Info Security or Compliance gets to make some across the board policies that mostly don’t affect the rest of day to day operations), or if the people who instituted this policy are doing this because they think it will work rather than to check off a box.

    2. Katiedid

      I completely agree with your final sentence, but I got the impression that it was less the picture itself and more the whole process that takes more than a minute. The OP talks about having to remove the USB headset, so I assume it’s a computer with just one USB port. So, what she’s saying is taking longer is getting the camera ready, taking the picture, finding it on the digital camera by scrolling through all of the pics, hooking it up to the computer after removing her headset (which, if it’s like my computer, inevitably involves waiting for the camera drivers to be recognized), and then uploading it. I can see that taking a couple of minutes at least.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule

        Yeah, even if I take the photo on my iPhone & stick it in my dropbox to access on my laptop, it’ll take more than a minute.

      2. Elizabeth West

        You can buy a little hub that plugs into the USB port and has more than one port on it. I use one all the time because my little laptop only has two ports, and one has my wireless mouse thing in it constantly. If I want to plug in my phone so I can download music onto it and my flash drive is already in the other one, I’d have to eject it and then log back in when I reseat it (it has BitLocker on it). It’s a PITA so I use the hub.

        She could have a simple point-and-click with a USB cord already plugged into the hub, and then when the photo call comes, just take the picture, download it, and go. I bought one early last year that will actually share the photos online, so that might be an option too.

        I agree, though, that the policy is stupid.

    3. AvonLady Barksdale

      Sounds like she’s using a point-and-click, and not her phone, to take the photo, and then she has to connect it to the computer, find the photo, upload, etc. I can only assume she doesn’t have a phone with a camera, but it’s been really long since I’ve seen one of those. I’m also curious if there’s a webcam on her setup, because that’s the only way I can imagine the employer makes this work. I think OP #1 should ask someone how they do this picture thing from a logistical standpoint– they may be able to give her some ideas of how to make the process quicker.

    4. Amethyst

      It just takes a second to snap a photo, but she also has to send it within that minute. For me, if I had to rely on my camera instead of my phone, that would be difficult. Just getting my computer to recognize my camera after I plug it in often takes a minute. Sometimes it recognizes it automatically, and sometimes I have to unplug it, turn it off, plug it back in, turn it on again, turn it on and off again once plugged in, etc.

      And it sounds like LW has to scroll through to the “bottom” of the camera’s memory in order to see the most recent pictures, which just adds to the time. If I open my folder of pictures on my computer, it can take a minute or two for the computer to load all my pictures and let me select a file. Unless LW has a separate SD card just for work desk photos, a minute timeline is impractical.

      1. Artemesia

        Nothing is easier than having a separate SD card for those photos though. She should have the camera at hand during the work shift with the correct SD card in it or have a phone that allow her to email the photo quickly.

      2. Anon Accountant

        Mine too. Mine takes at least one minute for the computer to recognize the camera is plugged in and it’s a relatively new computer and camera.

  9. PB

    Thanks for answering my question Alison (OP2). I bit the bullet and wrote to them. Their email replies have been great although I still feel I’m being avoided in person. But I am confident handover should be fine.

    1. EE

      If I was in the position of the person you’re replacing, I would feel awkward around you and would prefer correspondence rather than conversation… BUT I would want things to go as smoothly as possible. I think you two are probably on the same page there.

  10. CAinUK

    I think the reasoning of the company in #1 is silly for reasons pointed out: if it’s about checking on their paperless policy, it seems patronizing and there are work-arounds (just shove it all in a drawer) that make it moot.

    But I have worked in places where those working from home had to send photos of their work environment and get it signed off for health and safety reasons – and there would occassionally be unscheduled audits via video/Skype. But that was mostly because the company didn’t want litigation.

  11. Matt

    I find the time limit of one minute extremely ridiculous … grabbing a camera, making a photo, downloading the photo from the camera and sending or uploading it somewhere, and all of this in 60 seconds that are mercilessly ticking away? This reminds me more of something one has to do in a crazy TV game show like “Minute To Win It” than of a reasonable task one has to perform at his/her job …

    BTW, what would be the consequences if the time limit is missed and you (OP) make it, let’s say, only in one and a half or two minutes?

    1. Sharon

      I’m totally guessing that the one minute time limit is because they don’t want people clearing the desk before they take the picture – essentially they are trying to simulate a spot inspection. I agree with everybody that it’s completely ridiculous and I would just take one pic of a clear desk and keep it handy to send them whenever they play the “gotcha” game. I’d lay odds they’ll never notice that the pics are all the same. :-)

  12. AMD

    A lot of times, a digital camera with a memory card will have limited internal memory to store photos without the card – maybe a dozen, vs hundreds on a card. It might speed up finding the photo if you removed the memory card and saved your desk photo in internal memory – less photos to dig through.

    1. Liane

      Then there’s how long it will take to get the picture sent, even if you have an email to send it right from the phone. With my old cell ph, for example, it took several minutes to send a picture, not counting the time to type in the email addy (never did figure out how to get this ph to let you select the addy out of contacts.)

  13. Not So NewReader

    OP #1. Ask them to send you step-by-step instructions on how to accomplish this in 60 seconds. Tell them you would like to see the brands/specs on the equipment necessary to accomplish this and you also want to see the time line so you can pace yourself to remain in compliance with their rules. The instructions should also include how to not lose in process work.

    Although I have cable here, my upload speed is really terrible. I don’t know if you are uploading or emailing, OP. But if you are uploading find out what your upload speed is and be sure to include that when you are talking with them. (I would think they would already be aware of what your upload speed is…)

    I’m not a technical person, but I think Alison has a good idea about using a cheap camera. I totally get how unnerving this is- if I could not find an way to do this easily, it would be a deal breaker for me and I would move on from this job. These demands can morph into incredible stress as time goes on. I think these people are foolish and do not know how to manage people.

    (The way my desk is set up here, I could probably hide a ream of paper in two or three seconds- I have that many nookies and crannies around this desk.)

    1. Technical person

      If you’re e-mailing, you’re uploading. Anything that involves transferring data from your computer to another computer on a network is uploading.

    2. Kay

      I also think it would be completely reasonable to ask the company to supply a camera for you to use for this purpose. What if your son didn’t have a camera? Or if he took it for the day because he was going to the beach… I know every smartphone has a camera, but if you still have a phone that doesn’t take pictures (or doesn’t take them well) you might need a dedicated camera for this purpose.

    3. neverjaunty

      That’s a great idea. And I suspect the answer is going to be some protracted version of “ummmm….er….okay, never mind.”

  14. Apollo Warbucks

    #1 Talk about a false sense of security, there is not protection to the firm or the firms data. Its a simply a box ticking exercise to give the appearance of a control and check being in palace. I would talk to your boss or maybe even internal audit, risk and compliance or similar and inform them that the check is so easily subverted in offers to protection or deterrent whatsoever maybe they’ll have a rethink and find a more meaningful way to protect the firm.

    1. HR Manager

      Agreed, but it might be something required for compliance or insurance purposes that is out of the hands of the business. I work in a heavily regulated industry, and there is a reason why we have so many paper-pushing/checking jobs that is all about filling in the absurd paperwork or fulfilling the reporting requirements for compliance purposes that do nothing to guarantee what the regulators think they are checking for.

    2. Observer

      HR Manager is right. And, on the other hand, someone might just react to a conversation like this with “OHO, so OP is looking for ways to break policy. We’d better watch this one!”

      Sure, that’s a stupid reaction, but we know that this is a stupid policy.

  15. Rayner

    OP#1, while that is a crappy company policy, there are a couple of ways to make it faster. For one thing, when you’re sorting through the pictures on the computer, right clicking and choosing “Sort by…. date” is usually an option for every computer (in my experience. Jaime might have something to say about it), and then the most recent picture will be easier to find rather than having to find it manually.

    Also, why are you keeping family snaps on the camera in the first place? That’s a recipe for a disaster if the camera is lost or broken. It might be easier to transfer them to a cloud drive or an external device. Also, if you own ANY kind of apple device, or have a googlemail account, you get free storage. Likewise, there’s photobucket and its ilk that can be set to private. That way, there’s only a few pictures on the camera at any one time.

    1. fposte

      I think that since it’s her son’s camera, though, we have no idea if they’re being stored elsewhere or not, and she may not either.

      1. Rayner

        Might be an idea for the OP to prompt her son to check that kind of thing out if he hasn’t alreadypurely as a heartache saving measure. That’s the worst feeling, loosing everything because of one moment of clumsiness or forgetfulness.

    2. jordanjay29

      I’d never want to upload family photos to a cloud account, why should (Google/Apple/Yahoo/Photobucket/Facebook/Twitter/etc) be able to see my personal family moments?

      1. Rayner

        I mentioned them because those options are free. Not everybody has the option to pay, like I did, for an external hard drive. I’m not wild about them either but when those are your options…

    3. ThursdaysGeek

      But you have to move the pictures from the camera to the computer first before they are sortable. Backups are such a good idea, and one that is not done nearly often enough. It’s pretty common to see cameras and phones with hundreds or thousands of photos on it.

      1. Rayner

        On my computer, when I’ve plugged it in, I can still sort pictures on an external device. You don’t have to move them to sort tem.

  16. Ali

    #4 is interesting to me. I’ve been working part-time for a company that wants to take me on full-time, and I love the company and feel the same. However, I’ve recently found out I would be considered a 1099 employee, which means no benefits, no taxes taken out and all that other self-employment stuff I’m not into.

    I have an interview coming up this week at a nonprofit that, I assume, would consider me more of a W-4. I feel bad a little for taking the interview, knowing I want to work full-time at Part-Time Company. And I’m worried that if I get offered Potential Job, it’ll look bad to take that, even though it would be more practical for me money and benefit-wise. It sucks, and I don’t want to burn bridges with Part-Time Job should I get a more stable full-time offer. They seem like they would understand if the salary and tax stuff kept me from coming on board, but it’s tough.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Unless you have a firm offer from the current place that you’ve accepted, there’s nothing to feel weird about here. You haven’t made any commitment to them, and it’s totally reasonable to continue entertaining other offers until something is locked down.

  17. grailsDev

    #1. I would recommend an inexpensive web camera. You can plug it in when you unplug your headset and just save a pic on your desktop. If you delete the picture after sending it you wont have to search through older photos each time. Also, if you have a free usb port on the back of your machine, you can leave it plugged in there. I agree though, it’s a stupid policy.

    1. Aardvark

      OP #1 could also get a USB hub at the same time they get a webcam–that way they could plug in both their headset and the webcam at the same time. A cheapo hub is about $7 on Amazon.

      1. Liane

        There are even cheaper ones. The store I work at has these cute 4 or 5 port hubs that look a bit like a stick figure or some sort of cartoon critter for about $5

  18. Former Diet Coke Addict

    I may be biased because my husband’s hair is short (#2 on the sides and trimmed/thinned on top), but a #2 all the way around just looks to me like the ultimate in generic “I have hair on my head that I keep trimmed.” I can’t imagine it seeming unprofessional unless you’ve been shaving patterns or words or a city skyline into it.

    1. RecentGrad

      Oh yeah, I think buzzcuts look fine/professional, but please do not shave anything into it. No logos, patterns, words, symbols, etc. (Unless OP is a professional athlete, in which case that will probably still be professional)

    2. Brisvegan

      I agree. My husband is partially bald and has very sparse hair and trims it to a number 1 once a month. It looks way better than grown out hair on him. He has a great shaped head for it, too. I think he looks very handsome with the super short buzz cut and love that it’s so soft! :)

      Most guys look fine with a buzz cut. I know plenty of successful lawyers and academics who buzz cut. It’s particularly popular here for men who have thinning hair or are balding, but a lot other guys do it too.

      I totally see the attraction and convenience, as a long term wearer of a short pixie cut, mostly to cut the styling time in my life.

      Having said that, there may be few men who don’t look great. If you look like a skin-head (ie neo-nazi, in our part of the world – mostly to do with clothing choice, rather than just the hair cut, these days) or the buzz cut is really, utterly not suited for your head shape and features, you might think carefully about it. That would be pretty darn rare, though.

  19. Melly

    #4 – I did this. First job out of grad school, I had been searching for like 8 months and got a low, low salary offer from a major university for what would have been a good first job out of school. I was crushed by the offer and their refusal to negotiate because I had no experience, and they knew I was unemployed and had no bargaining chip. We set up my orientation for one month later. In the meantime I interviewed twice for a position with a local government office (different kind of work but also relevant to my degree), I got their offer but had to go through background check hoops. I went to the two-day University orientation and my first day of work there, then quit when I found out all was good to go on the other gig. I felt like crap doing it, but it was a $10k difference in salary. I worked at the local gov office for 5 years, and guess what, now I am at the University making $20k more than their original offer to me 5 years ago. Experience counts, but having a higher starting salary in my career gave me a higher jump-off point for the next round. Had I started in that initial position I’m sure my salary wouldn’t be where it is now.

    1. Helen

      I worked at a law firm that paid attorneys significantly below the market rate. Very frequently, attorneys would take the job, then get another offer a week to a month later and leave. IMO, that’s what you get when you pay rock bottom. I wouldn’t feel guilty about it.

  20. Name

    OP #1: Have you ever been tempted to leave weird items on your desk? I’d love to have prank items left out and see if they notice. My sympathies though, they sound like an obnoxious company if they do spot-checks on your HOME office.

    1. Tinker

      Yeah, I got to say, I would totally break into the Special Fun bag and cover my desk with wobbly things if my company started doing spot inspections of my home office. Well, that and I’d go looking for another job, of course, but in the meantime “What? It’s not made of paper…”

      1. Liane

        Yeah, I’d just make sure my little Yoda figures or the custom dice used for some of my favorite games were on the desk.

  21. Observer

    #1 I’m with Alison that this is a stupid policy. And, as the others pointed out, it’s way to easy to game, anyway. But, I also think you are making this WAY too hard. If the computer is less that 5 years old, you should multiple USB ports, so there should be no reason to have to take out your Headset, etc.

    Get yourself a dinky, cheap camera (I’ll reply to this with a couple of links, to avoid moderation), and leave it plugged in. At the end of any day that you had to take a pictures, delete them from the camera. This way taking the picture and uploading it is a very quick process.

      1. majigail

        you can also email them directly from the phone (an iPhone at least.) This seems like a simple option.

        1. Colette

          Assuming that they have a phone that can take pictures and send email. There are still people out there who don’t have a cell phone, or who have an older model.

    1. Matt

      I still think that for me it would be more like a hit-and-miss game to accomplish this in one minute. 60 seconds, this is really, really short. Even under best circumstances with fast equipment and nothing to plug in and out I’m not sure I could make this. Now that I’m curious, I think i’m gonna try ;)

      1. Frustrated Home Worker

        I have to make a usb port available to upload a photo which currently has headset and other equipment plugged into it.

        1. Frustrated Home Worker

          And, I should add, my son’s camera had so many pics on it, it took them 9 minutes to load before I could even begin to search out the photo I’d just taken. It was a debacle. Also, we have so many applications running at the same time on the virtual server, as well as documents and work email running on our own desktop that sometimes there’s not enough memory for the camera app to load. I’m sure that I’ll get it figured out, but I it’s not a high-paying job and investing in things beyond what I’ve already invested is not an attractive endeavor at this point. I don’t see it happening in the time frame they’ve allotted without me either finding a work around that isn’t entirely without deception. Even going to a different computer to upload is going to take longer than a minute. Yes, I could purchase a cheap phone with a camera, but I don’t think I should be required to. I’ll make it work for now and be a bit more motivated to get off this hamster wheel type of employment. I really just wanted to know if it was legal.

    2. soitgoes

      I kind of agree. Even low-end cellphone models have cameras. They’re lousy cameras, but you can still take a picture with them and text them to an email address. If OP has a phone with any kind of camera (even those flip phones that serve as free interim replacements) she can take a picture and email it without messing with her USB wires. I would be really, really surprised if OP doesn’t have some kind of camera in her phone, and I doubt the company expects people to use digital cameras for this spot-check. They assume people are using their phones. Talking to the company about this and bringing up an actual camera is going to be met with, “…You’re supposed to be using your phone.”

      1. Frustrated Home Worker

        Yes, believe it or not, there are some people, including me who aren’t cell phone users and only have a basic model for emergencies without a camera. It wasn’t part of the required equipment list to be in compliance for the job, but a wired computer and a landline was necessary. That’s plenty in my book and I had no problem with that as that’s my preferred setup anyway.

  22. John Vinall

    Well, I was in the opposite position to OP#2 (being the one who was being replaced) after a merger between two universities – I worked for the little university and the guy who did the same job at the larger university got the combined job, making me redundant.

    I had to handover all my staff and all my work to him over a period of about a month.

    He hated it. He avoided me, he was awkward whenever he saw me, he clammed up when I walked in the room – eventually I grabbed him and said “look, this is a sucky situation but it’s not your fault and it’s not my fault. You’ve got to do this job in the future so can we please just sit down and thrash this out?

    Got a lot easier after that.

    TL;DR – don’t assume that the other chap isn’t perfectly happy to do a handover in whatever form you’re wanting. If they’re rational they’ll understand that life’s too short to be an ass about this kind of thing :)

    1. fposte

      Oh, this is a good perspective. Additionally, it’s clear that awkwardness begets awkwardness here, so a straightforward dealing with the situation is less awkward for everybody.

    2. PB

      Funny you should mention this type of working environment as it is a very similar situation :). I am finding it is not as bad as I feared. The team I am taking over is also really suppportive which is helping.

    3. PB

      Funny you should mention this type of working environment as it is a very similar situation :). I am finding it is not as bad as I feared. The team I am taking over is also really supportive which is helping.

  23. Ann O'Nemity

    #1 Yikes, this is a dumb policy.

    I think a cell phone is probably the easiest and quickest tool to use to accomplish what they’re asking. I just tried this on my smart phone. I was able to snap a photo and email it (from my phone) in less than 10 seconds.

    If you’re trying to use a regular camera, I imagine it would take much more time to sort through the library, transfer the right photo to the computer, and upload it as an email attachment. I have a relatively new and nice Canon digital camera, and the USB transfer speed is surprisingly slow.

  24. Lamb

    Re: LW3
    The thing that occurs to me (not knowing exactly how short a “2” is) about buzz cuts is that they aren’t just hair, they are also a lot of scalp. I could definitely see LW3’s wife’s concern being about if LW3 has splotchy or birth marked skin on his scalp or bad dandruff.
    My other thought is that a buzz cut is (as has been mentioned above) a very military look. Are you somewhere where the military has a negative reputation that she might be trying to distance you from? Or conversely, is there a strong veterans community in your area (assuming you are not a veteran)? Because she could worry people will assume you are adopting a military style to gain undeserved prestige.

    1. Observer

      It’s interesting how people assume that this is a purely military thing. I can tell you that among Orthodox Jews, a buzz cut is totally typical. And, in my experience, it’s something that no one thinks twice about, unlike some other items. Given the link that Allison provided, I’d have to assume that there are other areas where this is not uncommon.

    2. Iro

      I personally find buzzcuts childish, unless they are in the military. It’s just one of those quick easy haircuts that I normally see on children fresh to kindergarten, or on all the boys post a lice scare in the day care. For me it just evokes that image.

  25. C Average

    Re #1:

    One quick note about the suggestion many have offered about using the camera on the cell phone. If this is a PCI compliance-related request (and it sounds like it is), the LW would also most likely be forbidden from having a cell phone at her workstation. My team works closely with our outsourced call center, which maintains PCI compliance standards, and the agents are not allowed to have internet-connected mobile devices at their workstations.

    I have no idea how a company would attempt to enforce this with a home worker, but it could be part of the reason the LW is using such a clunky system for taking pictures.

    1. soitgoes

      Wow, that’s interesting. But it also opens up more questions. Lots of people simply don’t have separate digital cameras anymore because cellphones take pretty good pictures and are more convenient to carry. Personally I never replaced my old camera when it broke because I’d gotten an iPhone in the meantime and I have no need for additional tech. Is the company supposed to be providing the cameras?

      1. Liane

        Maybe for PCI, but WAH is not an issue for HIPAA. Medical transcriptionist/editor/Quality assurance are commonly home-based, and I did this for quite some time. I had to use a computer provided by the company that I couldn’t use for anything else or put any other software on it.
        Also, Good Friend is currently a Claims Analyst for a mental health insurer. He is set up to telecommute when he needs to, and often does when he is ill or something; and tells me that a number of their customer service people are WAH.

        1. Observer

          Just because they are doing this doesn’t mean they should. At least you were using employer assigned and controlled equipment, which the OP clearly isn’t. But, I’d be willing to bet that one day this is going to come back and bite someone, possibly pretty hard.

          As for your claims analyst friend, I see two possibilities. One is that there are some aspects of his job that he can do at home that are not directly tied to sensitive customer data – there is a lot of non-customer specific work that can be attached to jobs like this. Or, his insurance company is also asking for trouble.

    2. Chinook

      “My team works closely with our outsourced call center, which maintains PCI compliance standards, and the agents are not allowed to have internet-connected mobile devices at their workstations.”

      That was what I was wondering – what would stop an evil version of the OP from taking a photo of the confidential informaiton on her screen with the exact same camera required to take a picture of the clean desk?

      1. Frustrated Home Worker

        You’re right–doesn’t seem like a well-thought out solution for the company. While I can’t speak for WAH in other departments, mine doesn’t have access to any credit card numbers, or complete social security numbers; we only see names, addresses, and last 4 of social, which I suppose it personal enough, but not all that private in this day and age.

    3. Frustrated Home Worker

      They have actually encouraged us to use a cell phone and upload the picture if necessary, i.e. if you don’t own a digital camera. The monitor(s) are supposed to be turned off in the requested photo for compliance regarding these rules. This may change in the future, but for now, this is where we are.

  26. Wren

    My husband wears a buzz cut. He uses the #1 comb, even. My first thought was to wonder why OP#3 has a barber do it instead of doing it at home.

    In any case, my husband did hold off on wearing this cut until he had his first job out of school for fear of it hurting his prospects, but it doesn’t seem to have ever brought him negative attention other than one time, a gas station attendant locked the pump remotely because he thought from afar that my husband might be of a criminal element. But one glance at my husband up close and he could tell my husband was harmless.

    OP#3, I think your wife just doesn’t like your hair ;)

  27. Frustrated Home Worker

    Allison, thank you so much for answering my question about desk photos while working at home, and a thank you to all those who commented on it as well. As many have pointed out, this silly tactic doesn’t really prove anything except that in the competitive BPO industry there is a lack of trust and they are feeling a need to prove that they have something in place to show due diligence in monitoring employees as it applies to privacy and security for their clients. I do get that, and who knows how it will all evolve in the end. It is sad that it creates almost a need to be deceptive in an honest employee who only writes down non-personal info such as equipment types and models. Most of us use virtual sticky notes that we delete at the end of every shift, but some things are just easier to write and help the flow of the technical support we provide and none of it would be of any value after you end a call. They are running off some of their finest by making it so difficult to do your job.

    It is indeed a trade off that is temporarily worth it to work at home, but thankfully it provides motivation for me to put my knowledge and experience to good use and become self employed, or at least work in an environment that is less restrictive where contact with a person’s personal information is less frequent.

  28. A Jane

    #1 — I feel like for an April Fool’s day joke, send a photo of your desk with a bunch of scrolls and feather pen set. Or maybe some crayons and butcher paper.

  29. Tiffany Youngblood

    1) I’d take having to take a picture when asked any day over the security camera I have to have on, showing my desk and whole area around me (it rotates 360 degrees). It has to be on during my entire shift (I’m also doing tech support over the phone from home) and my supervisor looks at it without notice at least once a day (through remote access).

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