my office is in the lunchroom, I can’t get people to answer pages, and more

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

1. My office is in the lunchroom

I’ve been at my current job for almost 3 years. In the first year, my office space was relocated into our small lunchroom. The staff lost their lunchroom and I’m stuck with constant interruptions of people coming in there to use the sink or fridge. There is literally nowhere to eat your lunch (or a quiet place for me to work). Everyone is too scared to tell the owners how completely inconvenient this is to everyone, especially to me, who has to work in the interruptions and is forced to make small talk while I’m trying to work. I am on maternity leave and really don’t want to go back there and work in that environment. How should this be handled?

Is there anywhere else you could sit, even squeezing into another less-than-ideal space that at least wouldn’t be the lunchroom? If so, propose that: “I’ve found that it’s difficult to work in the lunchroom; I’m regularly interrupted and it’s tough to focus. Would it be possible to move to ___?”

I’m guessing, though, that there isn’t anywhere else for you to sit, which is why they moved you there in the first place. But maybe there are other solutions to minimize the distractions, like putting up a barrier (like a cubicle wall) between you and the sink and fridge. Either way, I’d still raise it with your manager, especially since you’re at the point of wanting to quit over it. There’s really no way to get this addressed without speaking up about it, and it’s a pretty reasonable thing to raise.

Of course, if the reason that everyone is scared to speak up about something so mild is because the owners are nightmares, that’s the real problem, and that’s where I’d focus your thinking about whether or not to return.

2. I can’t get people to answer pages when visitors show up

I’m the front desk manager at a large retirement community. It’s nearly impossible to get people to answer pages for phone calls and tours. I get the whole “don’t call or don’t come in without an appointment” thing, but if you’re out shopping retirement communities with your parents, sometimes you just stop in places. I usually give my spiel that “Ms. XYZ is in a meeting, here’s her card” but it rings so false. I’m exasperated. Help.

This is really up to the people who you want to take those phone calls and do those tours (or their manager). It’s their call whether they want to prioritize being available for unscheduled drop-bys or whether they feel other things are higher priorities. Either one of those could be a reasonable call; it just depends on the nature of the work and their jobs. Ultimately, though, it’s a decision for them and their manager(s). So, ask them to make that call: “Jane, how would you like me to handle it when someone drops by without an appointment and wants to speak with someone or get a tour? I often have trouble tracking people down, even when I try paging. Are there other things I should be trying, or should I just let people know that they should call to schedule a time to talk?”

(Or you could ask your own manager this, and if she says people should be making themselves available, then ask for her help in making that happen since I’m assuming that you don’t have the authority to do that on your own. If you DO have the authority to do that, then I’ve totally misunderstood the dynamics here; in that case, you’d just tell people directly what you need from them.)

3. I was offered a job after my internship but want to travel first

I was offered an internship with a company, and after several months I was offered a full-time position. However, I would like to travel before accepting this job, which had already been in my plans after I complete my internship. The thing is, I am scared that I am not too important to the company and that if I were to ask for time off to travel before I start this new job, they may hire someone else or pull the job offer. Please advise on what I should do. I really was not expecting a full-time offer from the company and traveling was already in my plans.

Just be straightforward! “I’d love to accept the job. I had been planning to travel for X weeks at the end of it. Could we set my start date for after I return, which would be (date)?”

If your travel is just a few weeks, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will even raise an eyebrow. If it’s a few months, that could be more of an issue. In that case, it would be good to decide before raising it whether you’d be willing to alter your travel plans or not, if they turn out to be a deal-breaker for your employer. If you’re open to changing them, then in that case I’d make that clear too — adding on something like, “I realize that might be longer than is reasonable to wait, and if so, I could shorten those plans. What makes sense on your side?”

4. Pregnancy leave when I don’t qualify for FMLA

I have been at my current job at a nonprofit for three months. When I took the job, I was unaware I was pregnant. Upon discovering the pregnancy, I was forthcoming with my manager and (after apologizing) explained that since I don’t qualify for FMLA, I will be leaving sometime during my last trimester. She was fine with this decision and happy I gave her plenty of notice.

Sometime last week, management pulled me aside and told me that they are so happy with my performance that they are choosing to offer me 12 weeks of unpaid leave. It seemed like a great deal initially, but I quickly realized that since I would have to take my leave early due to back problems, I would have less than two months with the baby and it isn’t enough time for me. Childcare is also a huge issue for my husband and me. I would like to take 6-8 months or a year, but know that this is impossible. It’s not a flexible job so negotiating part-time hours or telecommuting is not an option.

Should I bother to mention to them that I need more time (6-8 months) or should I flat out tell them that resigning is my only option? I’m still not entirely certain I am making the correct decision. My husband earns a very modest living and health insurance would be an issue, as would a large resume gap.

There’s no reason not to explain to them what your thinking is rather than just flatly saying resigning is your only option; you don’t know if they might be able to offer you what you want, after all, and it would suck to preclude the possibility of even finding out. As with the question above, just be straightforward: “I really appreciate that offer, but I think I’m going to want to take at least 6-8 months off and possibly a year. I’d love to come back after that, but I certainly understand that might be unworkable on your side.” Then see what they say — they might say no, or they might say yes, or they might say to contact them at the point that you’re starting to think about going back to work. Who knows? But there’s no reason to shut down that conversation altogether.

5. What could be the reason for this rejection?

I just got a disappointing response from a job that I was sure was a lock. The interview was arranged by a recruiting firm. I was being interviewed for a sales position, and during my interview the interviewer (the manager for the team I was applying for) went out and got the manager of the team handling higher accounts than his own, then continued to interview me. I could see the smile on his face during the interview and he consistently mentioned how each of my responses was excellent. We finished our interview, after which he showed me the different departments and different floors for the building.

I was then brought to meet with the director of sales, who introduced herself and immediately mentioned that she knew my current company’s VP, as she herself used to work for him. She mentioned that she had a lot of respect for him and “did not want to steal an employee from him.” She discussed the payment terms and offered me a salary that was significantly lower than I was quoted by the recruiter. I said that I would consider it.

On my departure, the manager for the position that I was applying for walked me out and said, “It’s no secret that I want you on my team; how quickly can you start?” I mentioned that I would need 3 weeks since I need to give a 2-week notice plus make plans to relocate from one city to the other. That is where I left it.

I received an email from the recruiter today saying that the company has decided to not pursue my candidacy due to me not appearing to be a fit for the company. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this one. What could be the reason?

All kinds of things: a candidate stronger than you emerged later in the process, or the sales director felt too uncomfortable hiring away someone working for her former boss, or that other manager who sat in on your interview didn’t think it was as strong a match as the hiring manager did, or someone else has input into the decision and prefers another candidate, or all sorts of other things. No job is ever a lock, no matter how well your interview seems to go; there are just too many other factors that you can’t see from your vantage point.

You also might be reading too much into the recruiter’s “not a fit” language. That tends to be standard boilerplate that’s often less about actual fit and more about just conveying “we won’t be making you an offer.”

{ 287 comments… read them below }

  1. Ultraviolet

    #5 – That’s so disappointing! In your place, I would definitely follow up with the hiring manager and tell him I enjoyed meeting with him and would really appreciate being kept in mind for any future opportunities. And I’d connect with him on LinkedIn, assuming that’s not too unusual for your field. (Maybe there’s even a chance he can shed some light on why you weren’t hired–but the primary thing is to maintain a connection with him since he seemed to think highly of you.)

    1. thisisit

      i agree with staying connected. and yes, so disappointing. it is a good reminder that it’s not a sure thing until there is an offer (and even then…. based on some stories here!). better luck next time!

      1. JM in England

        This is why I’ve always had the mindset “Until it’s in writing, you have nothing”………………

        1. jamlady

          And even then, I’m nervous until I’ve stepped foot into the new environment on my first day haha

          1. Elizabeth West

            I’m always nervous for the first WEEK. I’m afraid I’ll get in there and find something untenable and have to bow out. Or I’ll screw up and they’ll say, “Well, we obviously made a mistake!”

            1. thisisit

              i always worry that they and i totally screwed up on whether i was a good fit for the job, and they discover that i’m just a fraud and can’t hack it. i have a serious case of Imposter Syndrome. :)

            2. Jen S. 2.0

              Ha, seriously! I always says nothing is official until the first paycheck clears. My sister has been axed a few times on her 3rd or 4th day.

    2. little Cindy Lou who

      OP #5 had you verbally accepted the offer by the time the rejection came out? It seems possible, since they did make you a verbal offer at the end of the interview, and since you said you needed time to think about it plus an additional 3 weeks to give notice and move, they may have taken a lack of response to the verbal offer of more than a business day or 2 as you not being that interested. If you worked with a recruiter s/he may have some insight too as the usually take a survey of both sides following the interview.

      1. BRR

        There wasn’t a verbal offer though. The hiring manager didn’t say, “We would like to extend you an offer.” The manager should have probably not been so forthright in expressing who they liked as a candidate but it wasn’t an offer.

        1. Oryx

          Exactly. It was more of a, “If I *were* to extend you an offer, when could you start?” but it wasn’t an offer in itself.

    3. Kelly O

      Unfortunately nothing is a lock until you have the letter in your hand. I dealt with that during my job search, and Mr. O just got a rejection from something we were very VERY certain would work out.

      We were fortunate in his most recent case to get information about why he wasn’t chosen – something on his background from twenty years ago that’s never been an issue before – and while it helped knowing it wasn’t anything to do with him or his personality or work history or any of those things, it did not entirely help as much as you might think.

      Stay in touch with the manager if you can. The one thing I would caution is that if the person spoke out of turn about wanting to hire you, there may be things you’re not seeing regarding the company and this person’s interactions within that company. I’m not saying it’s a red flag, but I would be cautious in what I shared, just on the chance you’ve got an over-sharer on your hands. (Again, not a red flag, or even full on caution, but personally I’d keep an eye on other interactions.) It could be a clue about company culture you wouldn’t get another way.

      1. maggie

        Yup. My spidey sense tickled when I read the line from the sales manager and the current VP. What is strange, though, is that most sales orgs recruit from each other ALL the time. What I initially felt was that she went directly to the VP, not to get permission to recruit OP but to get an unofficial reference and the VP somehow chunked it for OP and the sales manager thought OP was too much of a risk, hence the ‘no fit’. The only reason OP wouldn’t fit (it seems from the interviews), was if there was some sort of egregious work flub or personality conflict back at VP/OPs org. In fact, I would probably stealthily find out what my ‘reputation’ is with VP as this could affect all future interviews since VP appears to be so well regarded in the industry. (note: I may be paranoid but my last job really opened up my eyes to the political underbelly of sales orgs. NEVER AGAIN.)

        Sorry OP, truly. Something will totally work out eventually. Keep your chin up! (and see if you can get more Sales Manager rejection background from the recruiter and tell her you’ll keep the input she received to yourself.)

  2. Apollo Warbucks

    #4 It’s a shame you felt the need to apologies for getting pregnant, it really shouldn’t be a big deal to your employer to ask to take another couple of months longer than they are offering. In the UK it’s very common to take 9 – 12 months and come back to work and I’m constantly surprised that the U.S doesn’t offer better leave for parents.

    I hope you can come to an agreement with your boss to get the time off, I like Alison’s wording and think that’s a good start to opening a conversation.

    1. MK

      The U.S. seems to have worse working conditions on a lot of areas, so it’s not exactly a surprise. But, because maternity/parental leave is not as common, they don’t usually have systems in place to cover for absent employees. So, saying that it shouldn’t be a big deal for the OP to take more leave is really not realistic; people going on leave does cause a disruption in the work, even in places where coverage is built in the system. Plus, it’s not a case of a couple of months more; they are offering 3 months, the OP wants 6 months (double) at minimum and preferably 1 year (4 times what is offered).

      Also, while I do agree that no one should apologise for getting pregnant, but I do think it’s politic to acknowledge that having a new employee go on maternity leave is less than ideal for the workplace. “I am terribly sorry I got pregnant and will leave you in the lurch” is neither expected nor appropriate, but “I realise this is causing an inconvenience for you and I am sorry for that” goes a long way to generate good will, especially with coworkers who might have to pick up the extra work.

      1. UKAnon

        I think the difference is that in (most – there are still some pretty backwards places) workplaces in the UK, pregnancy and parental leave aren’t seen as a disruption or a big deal any more than, say, breaking your leg or needing an operation. It would read weirdly too if somebody had said “Three months into a new job I broke my leg, and whilst I was sure to apologise to management…”

        Actually, it’s rather topical, as I do believe that today is the day when the new parental leave rules come into effect in the UK, which mean that fathers can take significant amounts of time off too.

        1. MK

          Actually, I think it would be politic to acknowledge the inconvenience in that case too, as in “You guys must be swamped with me on the sick list, I hope it’s not too crazy”. But I think the main distinction is that, if you are sick or injured, the workplace suffers your absence and you suffer pain and other pleasures of ill health, while, if you are pregnant, you at least get a cute baby at the end of it.

          1. Apollo Warbucks

            I guess it’s all down to perspective, maternity leave in the UK is a statuary entitlement (and anything company specific forms part of an employment contract) so there would be no need to acknowledge any inconvenience caused, just like I don’t make a habit of acknowledging the salary I collect for work or the holiday I take (especially the holiday as everyone I work with gets the same allowance so we all cover for each other and it balances out over time.)

            1. UKAnon

              Actually this is a much better comparison – and I’m with you, I’ve never known anywhere where women taking maternity leave was an inconvenience (and I hope that anywhere which does still take issue with this will lessen up once men start taking longer parental leave too)

              1. the gold digger

                I worked in an office of five women, including me, when I lived in Chile. Two of the women were out for three months’ leave at the same time. They got their full salary, so we couldn’t even hire a temp, not that we could have brought a temp up to speed quickly – one was the director of the organization, the other was the midwife.

                Yes, sometimes someone being gone is an inconvenience. There was a lot of stuff that just did not get done.

                (And yes, I fully believe in supporting women who have babies, but the reality is that losing that expertise and knowledge for months at a time can be hard on the people who are still in the office.)

                1. C Average

                  Yeah, this.

                  My company is probably as well-equipped as any to handle maternity leaves: we’re big, we’re diverse, we cross-train aggressively, we have a sabbatical program so we’re used to really key people stepping out for a few months at a time. And I’ve still seen places where a pregnancy (or in some cases a cluster of pregnancies on one team) really did cause some inconvenience, and it’s always been acknowledged with a kind of self-deprecating, “Yeah, I could’ve timed this better.” It’s not ongoing, abject groveling; it’s just an acknowledgement that the team will have to work harder without that person and that the person’s aware of that.

                  I’ve heard similar language used to apologize for long-planned vacations that turned out to be badly timed, long absences due to illness or injury, etc. It’s not saying “I screwed up by doing this.” It’s saying “I get that all of you have to work harder while I’m away, and I notice that and am grateful I’m part of a good team who support each other in this kind of situation.”

                2. fposte

                  Right. The additional kindness of workplaces comes from other staff taking on extra work. Which isn’t a deal-breaker, but somebody else has to get that work done when people are out, and it’s tough whether it’s a pregnancy or an illness.

                3. DMC

                  And then some states allow for mandatory pregnancy disability leave upon hire (CA, PDL, for example). And there is no limit to how many times (but up to four months per pregnancy). Unpaid, of course (though there is state disability/paid family leave wage supplement benefits). I support giving employees leave here and there, it’s necessary and the right thing to do (we all gotta live our lives); But yes it does inconvenience the employer, and if you have three people going out at once and you’re not some HUGE corporation, that’s a problem (it can be a problem even in a huge corporation, depending on who those people are and what roles they perform). Then there are the people who are just out all the time. It’s perhaps not the norm, but in the company I worked for at one time, there was a woman who got pregnant once a year. She’d take off four months every year. Totally her right, of course. However, that kind of long-term repeated absence creates some significant operational issues, unfortunately.

              2. Beancounter in Texas

                I think it is a greater inconvenience with small staffs. When I became pregnant, there were two bookkeepers – me and a half bookkeeper-half receptionist. It was not feasible for one person to accomplish both jobs in a reasonable amount of time.

                1. Elizabeth West

                  I never understood (other than cost-saving) why people wanted the person answering the phone to also keep their books. Too many interruptions leads to mistakes!

                2. Pennalynn Lott

                  When I first started working, I was a half-accounts-payable clerk and half-receptionist. I answered phones in the morning and processed payments in the afternoon.

                3. jcsgo

                  I’m in a similar arrangement. How did the company manage its bookkeeping? Did they hire someone as a temp or ? Curious what your experience was.

              3. Retail Lifer

                If you work in a small company, it can be a huge inconvenience. In my previous job we only had three people, so one person gone meant a ton of overtime and a crazy schedule. We weren’t even allowed to hire anyone temporarily when a woman went on maternity leave. We just had to deal with it.

                That being said, starting or adding to your family is obviously a thing that most people are going to do. Companies here in the US could do a much better job at dealing with that inevitable fact.

              4. MK

                It depends on the field and, frankly, on how easily replaceable the employee is. To get my job (goverment), you go through a 6-month long admission process and an 18-month training, so getting a temp isn’t an option. When someone is out on leave (and it’s often maternity-leave, female-dominated profession, but there is sick leave and sabbaticals), the work usually gets spread out to the rest of the people working in the department; in special cases, when the amount of work becomes compeltely unmanageable, we might get someone temporarily transfered from another city.

                I don’t begrudge anyone the leave they are entitled to by law, but, yes, it can cause inconveniences.

        2. Labyrinthine

          I have an interesting perspective on this. Our corporate headquarters are in the UK, but I work for the US branch. We are forever being notified of “so and so, the maternity coverage for this and that.”

          I think one thing that plays a critical role in this is that it is very normal to have 9-12 month maternity leave in the UK so it is very normal to hire someone on contract specifically to cover that. It is not so in the US, and if someone requested it here we would have to 1. find someone that wanted to work only 9-12 months, and 2. get staff used to the idea that they’d have someone new for that time. It would be very odd.

          I think we need to do better on maternity leave. But maybe it is just a cultural thing that I don’t think we need to do 9-12 months of leave. That just seems like…a lot.

          1. Kyrielle

            It is a lot! But at the end of a year, babies are mobile, have or are close to first words, have clear personalities, and are sleeping better. They’ve bonded to their caregivers, and those caregivers are going to be less thoroughly exhausted than they were at three months or even six. (I can tell you, going back to work, that until about 9-12 months, I was a zombie every day. I mean, you’re up in the night with the baby, sometimes multiple times.)

            9-12 months is probably a pretty good range in terms of the well-being of the baby and the effectiveness of the average mother, from what I’ve heard and read and experienced. Three months (and half of that was unpaid for me; not everyone has the luxury of doing that) is hard. (But not half as hard as the people who can only take a few weeks.)

        3. Ted Mosby

          But breaking your leg is an unexpected event. It could be perceived as deceitful to start a job and then announce you’re pregnant and want to take time off. Obviously OP hasn’t done anything wrong, but I think it’s smart to clarify that this was a surprise. It’s always nice to apologize when you’re going to inconvenience someone.

          While we really do need a better system for parental leave in the US, it really is a huge deal to take of 6 or more months. I think OP is great for wanting to do so, and I hope they do find a way to hire her back, but I think it’s placing a completely unfair burden a business, esp a small business, to just suggest they be short staffed for the better half of a year. In a lot of places, you’d be completely throwing your coworkers under a bus.

        4. Kelly O

          The other thing is that the OP didn’t know she was pregnant at the time she was interviewing.

          I once worked with someone who found herself in a very similar situation. She came on board and things were going really well, and after a doctor’s appointment for what she thought was one issue, she came back and told our boss she was expecting, and was actually fairly far along. (Suffice to say she thought her issues were related to being Of a Certain Age, and pregnancy was nowhere in her mind.)

          We were able to work with her, and because of the way our benefits were set up, people donated sick time to her so she didn’t have to take a completely unpaid leave. It was inconvenient, as we were in finance and her baby arrived right smack in the middle of budget season, but we all worked together to make it happen.

          I think her logic in being apologetic is that for the most part, people plan pregnancies. Sometimes they do come unexpectedly, but usually that’s something you want to plan (at least most people I know, so your personal mileage may vary.) I’d be a bit apologetic if that happened to me too. Nothing wrong with that, just acknowledging the odd timing and inconvenience to the employer.

      2. Apollo Warbucks

        I was talking in general terms about being surprised by the lack of parental leave in the US as a whole, not just what this employer is offering, and my thinking is that whatever plan is good for 3 months can be stretched to 6 months with out a lot of hassle.

        UK companies manage to get round these problems and there is no where I have ever worked that has inbuilt maternity cover, it’s dealt with on a case by case bases by using internal secondments and fixed term contracts.

        Yes it would be polite to acknowledge going on leave has an impact, but my view is it’s a cost of doing business that the company has to deal with and offering an apology for wanting to take leave does women a disservice by re-enforcing the idea that taking leave isn’t a normal reasonable thing for a someone to do.

        1. Jen RO

          It’s also odd to me to read about all these inconveniences (where I live 1 year of maternity leave is the norm, some women take 2) because, well, it’s just seen a “fact of life” here. One of my coworkers is on maternity leave and we simply picked up her part of the work. It does mean that everyone is handling more tasks for a year, but it’s not impossible and not unusual, and it has a set end date. (I’ve also not heard of any woman who decided to not return after maternity leave.) Temporary contracts are not that common and I think are used mostly for higher level positions.

          1. Carrie in Scotland

            (I’ve also not heard of any woman who decided to not return after maternity leave.)
            When you say this are you meaning not at all, as in gone to be a SAHM? I know plenty of women who go back part time, which again may cause some shuffling around in the workplace. I’ve also heard of people not coming back (for a variety of reasons) after their maternity leave.

            1. Jen RO

              I’m obviously working from a small sample (two companies), but all of my coworkers who had babies came back to work full time (or close to full time -one of them worked 6 hours a day for 2 or so months afterwards). I also don’t know of any mother in my group of friends and acquaintances to have quit her job after maternity leave (though a few have taken 2 years off).

              I’m not saying it doesn’t happen – it probably does – but there are a lot of factors that are probably different from the US or UK (or most of Western Europe, I guess). Nannies are expensive, but creche and kindergarten are fairly affordable on an average corporate-drone-type-salary, meaning that a working mother will still have money left over after paying for kindergarten. There is probably a cultural element also at play: most grandmothers are expected (and often happy to) take care of the grandkids, so many mothers have that support net in place.

            2. Elizabeth West

              Most people I knew came back, but I was working low-level jobs (and so were they) and it just wasn’t possible for them to stay home and live on one income. Or none, if they were single.

            3. Clever Name

              I know of one woman who went on leave and resigned during her leave. We ended up fortuitously moving across the country shortly after my son was born, and I ultimately took a 2 year break from the workforce. I never intended to stay at home, and 2 years was on the edge of my limit. I actually wanted to go back when he was a year and a half, but it took about 6 months to find a job.

          2. Just Another Techie

            All the women I know (in the US, highly paid technology jobs) who didn’t go back to work after kids, all *tried* to go back to work and found the overt misogyny at work too much to bear. Everything from suddenly new strict late policies that conveniently only applied to the new mom, to mocking comments from colleagues, to bosses saying “Well since you obviously aren’t going to be staying we can’t assign you to the cool projects/give you leadership roles/pay for professional development.” And what do you know? When faced with such egregiously nasty working conditions, they chose to just walk away. My friends who have supportive, family-friendly employers all went back to work after a few months leave and are still working.

            1. Jen RO

              Ugh. I am very happy that, while my company does have its faults, there are a lot of mothers in management* – some of them were already managing when they got pregnant, some were promoted while pregnant, and some had babies and successfully came back to their management jobs.

              * My location only has positions up to the middle-management level. I’m pretty sure the top management of the company is old white men :)

            2. Judy

              I was very lucky my management supported me. A manager who sat near us once said to me “I see you’re taking a half day” when I was leaving at 5pm once soon after I was back to work, and I’m pretty sure someone in my organization heard, because he apologized to me two days later.

              I did have a few bumps in the road, but once I brought things up, I was backed by my management. Some of the stories from the women who were in the organization with kids 10-15 years older than mine were horrible. I’d hope that it’s even better there since that’s been 10 years ago.

          3. Rachel

            I never really thought about this until reading all these very interesting comments, but that attitude is the same here in Israel. Maternity leave is just looked upon as a fact of workplace life. No biggie. We just reassign things to other people and get on with it. I’ve never worked at a company where it was such a big deal. Granted, Israeli maternity leave isn’t as generous as in many European countries – here, you are entitled to 6 months leave. 14 weeks paid (by the govt) and 12 weeks unpaid. It is against the law to fire a woman while she’s on mat leave, or even for 2 months after she comes back to work. Most companies are very family friendly- many women change their going home time to 3:00 while they have small children at home. I hope this attitude becomes the norm in the US someday.

        2. cardiganed librarian

          I’m not sure how common it is for people to be hired to cover maternity leaves in the US because of the very short duration of most of them. I know that I’ve frequently seen online discussions where Americans have a hard time imagining a team functioning without someone for that long, while those of us in places where longer leaves are the norm assume someone will be hired to fill the position. Most people (especially in my field, which is very female-dominated) started out in the field with a one-year mat leave contract.

          1. Oryx

            It happens frequently in the education field — substitute teachers will be given long-term assignments to cover mat leave. I know a few where that turned into a full-time job for them.

            1. A Teacher

              Yes, we have long term subs while we are out but no it doesn’t usuallu result in them getting hired for our jobs. Every teacher that I’ve worked with in 11 years has come back to at least finish up the school year and then if they chose to stay home, the position was filled with a qualified teacher. Many subs, at least in the districts I’ve worked in across the state of Illinois aren’t necessisarily qualified to teach. You just need s sub certificate that you can get with a bachelors degree.

              1. Judy

                My son’s teacher this year was a long term sub last year for his last year’s teacher who was on maternity leave. The last year’s teacher is still at the school, but when there were openings at the school, the principal hired the teacher who had spent 3 months at that school. His teacher this year had taught in the Chicago area for years, and her husband was transferred here. She spent one year subbing and was hired.

                That’s how my mom got back into our school corporation after leaving when I was born. Once my sister was in school, she subbed for a year, including 2 long term subs) and then was hired. (Of course that was in the 70s.)

              2. Katie

                Interesting, I teach in Illinois (in Chicago and the suburbs) and that’s not been my experience at all. Day-to-day subs just need a sub certificate, which is easy to get with a bachelor’s, no criminal record, and a pulse, but all of the school districts I’ve been in will only hire subs with full Illinois teaching certificates in the appropriate content area for medical/ mat leaves. While the regular classroom teacher obviously comes back to replace the sub, if that sub does a good job, it often opens the door to them working for the district as a classroom teacher as positions become available.

              3. Oryx

                Oh, sure, the teacher on mat leave often comes back but if there is a future opening or someone retiring, I know a few long term subs who have managed to get that position and I imagine it’s from having already worked for awhile in a long stretch in the district.

              4. Lindsay J

                My experience in NJ is that short term subs just need to be qualified to be subs.

                However, long term subs (half and full year) are generally qualified teachers who haven’t been able to full teaching job for whatever reason. They don’t usually take the job of the teacher they are subbing for, but if they do well with their assignment they are more likely to get a job with that district if the appropriate opening comes available during the next school year because they are now a known quantity.

            2. BananaPants

              Education is the only area where I know it’s common – mainly because in most school districts in our state, public school teachers have child-rearing leave written into their contracts. The leave is without pay and benefits and is capped at 90 school days for un-tenured teachers and 1 year for tenured teachers. I have friends who are tenured teachers who were able to take a full year off because of it, and in those cases long term subs will be hired for the entire leave.

              This sort of thing is extremely unusual in the private sector in the US. Most employees in either the public or private sector are limited to FMLA if they’re eligible. I was out of work for 10 weeks with my first baby and 12 with my second, and my coworkers were expected to cover critical tasks and the less-critical stuff was just not done for that period of time. The company doesn’t hire a temp to cover it (it would be very difficult to do so even if they did).

              1. Katie

                I think it’s also common in education because it would be impossible for teachers to not be replaced by someone while they’re out on leave, unlike other positions where it can create a of hassle and shuffling around of work, but won’t usually make everything grind to a halt.

                1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

                  And, in many cases, teachers are unionized and so have negotiated for these kinds of benefits and protections.

            3. StarHopper

              That’s how I got my foot in the door in my district. I covered someone for a semester of maternity leave, then had a leg up on the competition when applying to other jobs in the district because I had principal/head teacher recommendations and was more of a ‘known’ quality.

            4. Lindsay J

              This is how my mom got her full-time teaching job.

              She got a maternity leave assignment and did well, so when there was an open full-time position for the next school year she was the natural choice.

          2. Xarcady

            Two women had babies within three months of each other at my last job. They both worked in the same department.

            They each got 6 weeks unpaid leave. This was more than the company was required to do–the company was too small to meet FMLA, and could have just let the women go. One of the women did some work from home over her leave, to bring some money in, and came back at half-time for 3 months, so the company was pretty flexible about maternity leave.

            No one was hired to replace them. Another staff member was briefed on their responsibilities, and some people had to work overtime–we tried to give the overtime first to people who wanted it for the money (the jobs could have been classified as exempt, but the company wanted to pay overtime where overtime was due), and then to the rest of the department on a rotating basis, so no one got stuck with huge amounts of overtime.

            In general, the six weeks of medical leave, for whatever reason–having a baby, breaking a leg, having another serious medical issue–isn’t seen as long enough to hire a replacement. Training a temp might take almost the entire six weeks, so not a good option. Mostly, the remaining staff are expected to pick up the slack.

            Companies look at the lost income from having an employee out for 6 weeks. If the company continues to pay their share of the employee’s medical insurance, that’s an additional cost. Add in the cost of a temp, and it is seen as being way to expensive. (Not saying that’s right, just saying that’s how a lot of management sees things.)

            1. Kyrielle

              Ahahahahaha. I’d have loved to work somewhere that picked up the cost of my medical insurance during my leave! Once my paid leave ran out (I banked PTO like whoa before each leave, but I simply couldn’t bank 12 weeks worth due to the cap), I had to pay both halves of the medical/etc. Sending your company a check: a whole new level of weird.

            2. fposte

              And a lot of jobs in the US don’t have temp equivalents anyway.

              I’m always torn on this one, because I’d like to be kinder to new parents, but giving my colleague a year off would mean I’d have to take her job on in addition to mine, and that would mean I’d have to step down from my current position to handle that–I couldn’t do both.

              1. RG

                Right, but we could make temp equivalents. I doubt that the workforces of countries that do have temp contracts, like the UK, consist solely of factory and fast food workers. If they can find a way to make it work for a good portion of their jobs, then we can too.

                1. fposte

                  The closest thing we have to temp equivalents right now for higher-level work are adjunct professors. It’s not a great life.

                  I don’t think you can change this one thing in isolation in a different system.

              2. thisisit

                i work in a field where i could easily work for a US-based org, or a foreign org, or an international one, or a multi-site org (i could also work in the private sector, public sector, non-profit, academia, etc). the orgs with locations outside the US are always hiring for maternity cover (4 months to a year) from entry-level to managerial. they don’t have any issues with taking on temps for those positions, all of which would have US equivalents.

                now that i live outside the US, i can also see that other sectors – banking, tech, etc – are also always hiring for maternity cover with little trouble. in fact, this is happening at companies with locations (and presumably similar positions) in the US – Google, Facebook, Deloitte, etc, so it could easily happen in the US, at least logistically. culturally is a different question. in some fields, short-term contracts are no big deal. it’s different in others.

          3. Koko

            The danger of taking a long maternity leave here as that they may decide to hire on the temp who filled in for you. I have seen it happen both to a family friend who lost her job because the company ended up liking the temp better, and to a family friend who was the temp and got hired full-time at the end of the maternity period. The company lets the new mom come back for a few weeks and then lets her go.

            1. Cheesecake

              Well, in Europe (can’t say in every country though) employee on maternity leave is protected and you can’t just let her go when she comes back. Employer is obliged to give the same or equal position or pay severance package.

          4. the_scientist

            I also find the mat leave discussion to be really interesting, especially when it’s comparing the US to everywhere else. A 1-year mat leave seems insurmountably long to American employers because structurally, no coping mechanisms exist and because there are few legal protections around mat leave (as compared to other developed countries), employers haven’t had to make those structural changes. To be honest, if federal law changed tomorrow to mandate one-year mat leave, employers would figure out ways to make it happen, because they would have to. The US is literally the only developed country in the world without extended maternity leave, and maybe this is a bit of anti-Americanism showing, but honestly? Other countries are doing just fine. There are structural, cultural, and legal frameworks in place to make the mat leave process as smooth as possible for employees and because employers are used to operating in these frameworks, they make it happen. That involves hiring/training contract replacements, redistributing work, promoting internally (using the “acting” designation) and other creative ways of ensuring things get done. Because it’s a cultural expectation that women take their full year, I’ve never heard coworkers complain about someone’s mat leave and that they’re “taking on extra work” or seen anyone sink under the additional burden, nor have I witnessed griping and resistance to hiring a replacement. Admittedly, I’m working from a small sample….but I just can’t understand American resistance to extended mat leave.

            1. The Office Admin

              +100
              I also don’t understand the general US state of mind that 6 to 12 weeks unpaid leave is “fine” and should be apologized for and not much else is to be expected due to inconveniencing the employer. Obviously the UK and the rest of Europe don’t see maternity leave as an “inconvenience” I think some countries even have incentives for people to have children, if I’m not mistaken?
              I think there’s a reason countries that have state healthcare, long maternity leave and paid for college live longer and report a happier, more satisfied well being than the US
              Also, I don’t hear much about helicopter parenting overseas, which is reason enough to give out long term maternity leave IMO

            2. Decimus

              The US, for various historical and cultural reasons, tends to a strong bias against “socialism” – by which is meant government intervention in the private sector. This is different than Europe, where government intervention itself isn’t necessarily associated with an ideology. Bismarck put in the first pension plan to undercut the socialists, after all.

              While most Americans aren’t libertarians, there’s probably a stronger general pull towards libertarian ideas. It also doesn’t help that the nature of the federal structure means that there can be a race to the bottom on certain issues. If, say, New York mandated a year of maternity leave (on a state level) and no other state did, it’s easier for larger employers to simply move out of the state. I think it’s less likely and more difficult for a company to decide to move from Germany to Austria to avoid some German regulation.

              1. Artemesia

                There has been a very well financed and organized attempt to convince Americans over the past 30 years that any economic problem they have is their fault and that anything an employer wants to pay is ‘what you are worth.’ This is an old strain in American culture, but it has been hyped by media and politicians until it is a near hysteria today. So we have people who finally have health insurance after decades without and are having serious conditions cared for being quoted as ‘opposing Obamacare’ and wanting to vote it out — even though it makes all the difference for them. And people who couldn’t live without food stamps and disability benefits who say ‘but we shouldn’t be getting that.’ All of this has helped create the situation where 12 people saw their net worth climb by 158 billion in the last two years while so many are making less than they did in 1975.

              2. Apollo Warbucks

                That’s an interesting point but there’s free movement of people between all EU countries I could pack up tomorrow and move to anyone of 25+ countries without needing approval or even a visa. There’s a big difference in the tax codes of different member countries and there’s plenty of big companies who seek to minimise their tax bill by shifting their corporate HQ around Europe.

                That’s said a lot of employment law is established by he EU so applies equally across all member states.

              3. Case of the Mondays

                I think there is also the general belief by many, right or wrong, that having children is a choice and not a basic human right. That one shouldn’t have to pay for another’s lifestyle choice. The counter to that is usually “without babies, society will die off.” In general though, others argue that the world is overpopulated and running out of resources and having babies doesn’t help society as a whole.

                The most interesting study I read about this is that the American policy leads to discouraging educated middle and upper class people from having children while rewarding less educated lower income people for having children. Our society could have an interesting change in dynamics as population density changes over time.

                1. Hlyssande

                  I have to wonder what kinds of “rewards” lower class families receive for having children, especially when the right wing is pushing left and right for cutting benefits like reduced/free lunches, SNAP, and even bus service to and from school.

                2. the_scientist

                  I think this is a good point, but it’s incredibly short sighted because the reality is that we all pay for each other’s lifestyle choices to an extent. You choose to drive a giant SUV and have an enormous carbon footprint? The world is paying (albeit not financially) for that choice. If you choose to participate in extreme sports and break your leg and can’t work for 8 weeks, your co-workers are going to “pay” for that choice. You might oppose the death penalty but if you pay federal taxes, you are still supporting it. You wind up paying for a lot of things that you ultimately don’t support or believe in because once you pay your taxes, you can’t exactly dictate where those dollars are going. Also consider that welfare is a “handout” but C-level executives can write off tens of thousands of dollars annually as business expenses….

                  The broader point is that countries with better maternity leave policies also have a stronger social safety net, as well as all-important universal health care, so we’ve already committed to “paying for other people’s choices” on a fundamental level. The “socialist” ideal is so entrenched in political and moral values in countries with strong safety nets that anti-socialist paranoia is pretty hard to find (unless you’re reading internet newspaper comments, apparently).

                  And yes, also interesting that countries with the strongest social safety nets (the Scandinavian countries) consistently report lower stress, higher life satisfaction and higher overall levels of happiness than in the US. I wonder why? /sarcasm, I actually don’t wonder at all.

                  Sorry, so socialist.

              4. DMC

                I agree with this, and the other part of that goes with an idea that capitalism works for the business world and the U.S. population doesn’t want to pay 60% of their wages to the government as taxes. So, there’s a balance. The U.S. has FMLA and CFRA for employers with 50 or more employees, and then various states have their own protections in addition to that (CA being one of the most employee and union-friendly state or, on the other hand, business-unfriendly; so much so that Texas was courting CA businesses). There is a balance, and just because much of the U.S. population doesn’t want to mimic the EU on this issue, doesn’t make the U.S. some backward place. It means we’re a democracy. When it becomes important enough to citizens here, it’ll be done (and, in fact, I see it probably coming soon, anyway). And there are some companies that already offer generous leave policies because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the EEOC, etc. Of course, this is mostly unpaid leave, and I *don’t* think we should require businesses to pay for months and months of leave (and then have to hire a second person). I do think using sick and vacation time, state benefits where they exist (such as Paid Family Leave or State Disability) and/or creating more flexible workplaces (telecommuting, temporary part-time schedules where possible) are good solutions and balance the interests of employees with their employers.

                1. esra

                  Canada has healthcare and mat/pat leave and we don’t pay anywhere near 60% of our wages in taxes. I’m not saying America is backward, but not having maternity/paternity leave on its own is pretty backward.

                2. the_scientist

                  I’m going to actually disagree with you here. I do think that not having one year mat leave or universal health care is completely and utterly backwards. Like I said, the US remains the only developed country in the world that doesn’t have either of these things. And we certainly don’t pay 60% of our salary in taxes (at least in Canada).

                3. fposte

                  @ DMC–If by CFRA you mean the California Family Rights Act, most of the US doesn’t have that, as you can tell by the name. I was around when FMLA was in the works, and it took *nine freaking years*–it even got presidentially vetoed once. Most people in office weren’t in favor of that balance you talk about–and I doubt they’d pass the act now.

                  It’s not so much about the US being a democracy–most of the countries we’ve been talking about are democracies–as the US belief that private enterprise is always the solution. FMLA and all yer crunchy granola California labor laws like CFRA got passed because private enterprise hasn’t been doing such a great job.

              5. Not So NewReader

                ” If, say, New York mandated a year of maternity leave (on a state level) and no other state did, it’s easier for larger employers to simply move out of the state.”

                This is a really important point. So many employers are leaving NYS already. Major employers. The taxes here are awesome. My county is one of the most expensive in the state. And the county has no money. Almost a quarter of the county budget goes to medical care. Nothing else come close to the expense. And you can see it, when you drive down our roads full of potholes and NO guardrails. Oh, this is attractive this will bring employers. NOT.
                It’s a rock and a hard place, shall we put more laws in to drive out even more employers? What to do, what to do.
                My take on it is treat the employees better and, in turn, you will get workplaces that are more productive. But that is just me, I guess.

                1. Case of the Mondays

                  I’m a super liberal person but I can admit that my state benefits greatly from its low tax structure. Many large companies relocated here and cite our tax policy as the reason.

            3. Koko

              When you’re talking about such a significant change, it’s more appropriate to blame inertia and political gridlock than public opinion. We didn’t just wake up and decide to have this system – economies are iterative, thus it’s much easier to make incremental change than to radically restructure a massive web of interdependent factors. The reason we don’t have year-long mat leave is because of all those interdependent factors and the difficulty of changing so many things all at once, especially in the current political climate which has become so partisan that our politicians spend more time and energy torpedoing the other side’s efforts than they do working on their own stuff. It’s not because the American people are opposed to the idea.

              Americans as a whole have been very unhappy with our government for quite a long time – the only time in the last 50 years that more than 40% of Americans approved of Congress was during a brief moment of uber-patriotism immediately following the 9/11 attacks. Our main problem isn’t what the public wants or doesn’t wants – it’s that our government hasn’t truly represented us in a long time, and is very good at suppressing/co-opting/neutralizing forces that have tried to change that.

              1. Not So NewReader

                Yep. Well said. Personally, I believe that when our leaders speak, they are not showing the world who we, the people, are and what we, the people, believe. I often wonder how much the world realizes that.

            4. Nobody

              I think the resistance comes from the fact that maternity leave costs money. Whether it’s the “government” (i.e., taxpayers) paying for it or the government forcing employers to pay for it, it’s expensive to pay an employee for work she’s not doing, and on top it, pay for an additional person to actually do the work. Americans generally are not huge fans of paying more taxes, so it would be a hard sell to ask citizens to pay more taxes to pay for maternity leave.

              If federal law changed tomorrow to force employers to provide one year paid maternity leave, employers would have to find the money to pay for it. That means they’d have to cut money from somewhere else, and since this would be viewed as an employee benefit, it’s likely that other benefits would be cut. Insurance premiums would increase, sick leave and vacation time would be reduced, etc., and you can bet employees would be annoyed.

              Now, unpaid maternity leave is a different story. If employers aren’t paying for a worker on maternity leave, they can more easily pay for someone to fill in. If this situation became the norm, employers would learn to deal with mothers being away from their jobs for a year at a time, and there would probably be people who could make a good living doing short-term contracts to cover maternity leave. But then, there would be a lot of women who couldn’t afford to take advantage of it because they can’t afford to lose their income for a year.

          5. Hillary

            I’ve covered two maternity leaves as a temp, both of which resulted in long-term jobs. Not something I’ll pursue in the future, but it was a great way to advance early in my career. I learned a lot and it was less risk for the company than bringing me in permanently as an unknown.

          6. Elizabeth West

            It does happen, though it tends to be a temp situation because of the short duration. I worked at a previous job to cover a six-week maternity leave once. I was between jobs and went in to see if they had any openings and they jumped at it because they hadn’t hired anyone and didn’t have to train me. And right before I got the offer for my current job, another called and offered me a temporary gig for the same reason.

        3. Future Analyst

          I completely agree. Apologizing sounds like you’re doing something that you shouldn’t– why can’t parental and family leave be factored into business as a standard part of having people (parents, children, spouses) working for you? I would never expect someone to apologize for taking time off to take care of sick spouse or parent– I would simply find a way to get the work done in the meantime. Apologizing for being pregnant really bugs me: I would find it unprofessional. The alternative is considerably worse: how would managers and coworkers react if this woman went around to everyone and asked when it would be convenient for them to have her be out of maternity leave?

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Come on, that’s not what anyone is suggesting. It’s acknowledging the inconvenience on her team, not apologizing for actually being pregnant.

            1. BananaPants

              Yes, when I told my manager I was pregnant I did apologize for the inconvenience for the team to cover my (too-short) maternity leave. I acknowledged this to my colleagues as well and thanked them for taking on the additional tasks in my absence. It’s just acknowledging that because of how most US workplaces are structured, having someone absent on maternity leave is likely to temporarily increase the workload on that employee’s coworkers.

              I was NOT apologizing for being pregnant, nor would I. As my boss pointed out, at least with maternity leave the staff gets plenty of warning to make sure the important stuff is covered for a couple of months – if an employee gets in a car accident and is out on disability for 3 months you’re not going to have the same kind of forewarning. No one would apologize for getting hurt or sick and being on disability, or for having to take a month of FMLA to care for a sick family member, but they should acknowledge that it creates an additional burden on their colleagues to cover for the absence. Even if the company can afford to hire a short term temp, not every job is amenable to such a thing (mine certainly isn’t).

            2. Future Analyst

              Apologies, I misunderstood what was being said by the OP– I thought she was apologizing for being pregnant. (And yes, my alternate scenario is completely ridiculous. I did not intend to imply that anyone would actually do so, just that becoming pregnant rarely happens on the best schedule for everyone invoved.)

              I’m still not entirely sure that apologizing is the way to go: surely there are ways of acknowledging the inconvenience to the business/boss/coworkers without sounding contrite? I bristle at the thought of women apologizing all the time, especially in situations like this. I cannot imagine that most men go around apologizing so constantly. ** Again, apologies being very different from acknowledging the inconvenience.

    2. Rebecca

      At my company, maternity leave is 6 weeks with pay of $200 per week. If you want more time, you can apply for additional unpaid family leave, and can expect to have “a” job when you return, but not necessarily the job you left.

      I wish companies in the USA would step up and be kinder to their workers, but without laws forcing them to do so, I doubt it will happen any time soon on a large scale.

      1. blackcat

        There’s also the issue of maternity leave *pay.* In the US, its your employer or disability insurance (which is often employer subsidized). In so many other countries, the government pays all or a significant chunk of the cost.

        My current position allows up to 5 months of unpaid leave. It’s great that there’s that much allowed, but it sucks that it’s unpaid. It means that taking 5 months becomes impractical for financial reasons.

        1. Oryx

          This. It’s not just whether or not you get time off and how much, but is it paid or unpaid? I know very few people who take that long of time off without money coming in, *especially* considering they just had a child and the added expenses of that.

        2. Rebecca

          In this case, it’s disability pay, and we (the employees) pay the premiums. It’s not provided by the employer. And it makes it very difficult for people to take more than 6 weeks.

    3. Artemesia

      How is it not a big deal to an employer to hire someone who is then pregnant when they start and will need a long time off (perfectly reasonably)? When most places hire someone, it is because they need that work done. Having someone who then almost immediately can’t do the work that needs done is a major imposition. I understand that having a baby takes precedence over other things in life but it is nevertheless a major imposition on a place that needs things done. Many employees are not just cogs in a machine that can be easily substituted.

      It is a credit to the OP that her work is so excellent that they are trying to work something out and I agree she should feel them out for a longer leave and that being up front about this need is the way to go. But businesses hire people when they need the work done; any huge leave or need to leave a short time after hire is going to be difficult whether it is caused by pregnancy or by an unexpected family crisis or illness. Acknowledging this is a sensible thing to do.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

        Agreed. Having babies is totally normal. Needing time off is totally normal. It’s also totally normal that it is not convenient for the company, co-workers, etc., and that someone in the office may have to do extra work because of the pregnancy, at least on a short-term basis. While I am genuinely happy for my employees who have new additions to their families, and I bend over backwards to accommodate them so I don’t lose them, it is not convenient or easy at all. At the very least, we have to go through an additional hiring process, train someone to fill in, etc. What is not appropriate is expressing anger, frustration, etc. to the pregnant person. In my opinion, it’s not really appropriate to feel those things toward the pregnant person. However, it’s totally reasonable to find the situation, and the extra work created to be frustrating. It’s silly to think that it’s “no problem” for companies to have their employees out for an extended period, regardless of the reason. Fact of life or not, it causes additional work and costs money.

        1. RVA Cat

          Yet it is also a fact of life that employees unexpectedly need to take medical leave for other reasons. Sometimes these are at least partially under the employee’s control. However, it does seem like people place blame on pregnant women in ways that, say, they wouldn’t on a man who needs time off for a sports injury – “Hey buddy you should’ve been more careful playing basketball this weekend, how dare you have your ACL surgery when we’ve got a deadline?”

          For many women, pregnancy is the result of months or even years of trying, so it’s not something you can time to be convenient to your career.

          1. fposte

            I agree on the blaming, but it’s still not comparable: in one case, the absence is in service of a highly desired outcome, and in the other, it’s an unintended and undesirable consequence.

          2. GH in SoCAl

            I think I (and many others) react to that poorly-timed ACL injury the same way Ashley described reacting to the need for maternity leave: with appropriate compassion and sympathy toward the employee with the medical need, and with private irritation and frustration at being short-handed.

            I have a friend whose back injury kept her away from work for more than half the weeks of a 36-week contract. She was not renewed. I can’t fault her employer for that decision, regardless of the high quality of her work when she was available.

      2. Guy Incognito

        Let’s start with the fact that having children is something that society including companies can be reasonably expected to help with. The add in the profound effect of marginalising women in the workplace has. Then consider that many (if not all) industrialised nations outside of the U.S. manage to solve these problems.

        This might only be anecdotal but I work for a top tier consultancy firm and the most senior woman in the UK member firm took maternity leave that coincided with her promotion to the board, she has since been elected CEO and will take over the firm when the incumbent retires. She is widely considered one of the the most influential woman in London’s financial markets. If her the impact of someone of her caliber, being missing from the firm for 6 months can be mitigated sufficiently then why not for other woman?

        My direct supervisor took two years out of work to have two children. It’s a very technical job and it took some effort to restructure the team but we managed very well and the end result was very good for everyone concerned. I got to take on a lot of stench assignments I wouldn’t have had a had a chance to otherwise, one of the accounts payable guys got to join he team and gain some excellent expirance where he would have left the firm otherwise.

        The obstacles can be over come and I think it’s a cop out to suggest its to hard to do and not worth doing.

  3. AdAgencyChick

    #1, are we coworkers? My company has packed more and more people into the same amount of space over the past couple of years, and there are indeed people sitting in public spaces, including parts of the kitchen.

    Based on my own experience — I don’t sit in a public space, but I had a direct report who had to, I asked whether he could be moved to a more desirable space, and I almost got my head bitten off by my normally reasonable manager for even asking — you may not get far. I doubt they’re sitting people in the lunchroom unless they’re REALLY trying to save money by avoiding adding on new space or renovating the existing space to accommodate more people. That being said, this is a conversation I’d approach by bringing a solution (that doesn’t involve a giant expense for the company, like renting more office space or a renovation), if you can. How about asking to work from home one or more days a week, or having the company pay for noise-canceling headphones?

    1. AdAgencyChick

      PS, I think the reason my usually awesome manager was so pissy about this is that he was fielding complaints about the space from all sides. If you’re the only one who has moved into a problematic space, things may be different on your end — but if you’re not, that’s why I would suggest bringing a solution to your manager, so that she doesn’t hear you and think, “God, ANOTHER person whining to me about the space?”

      1. In the Lunchroom

        Thanks for the feedback. I am the only one in the lunch room. It’s such a small room as it is that if they put a wall up, I wouldn’t be able to get out! They took the table out to put my desk in there and didn’t make any room for another lunchroom. They literately have no room anymore unless they renovate or rent the office next store. I have asked to work from home and with what I do there apparently is no way. I feel stuck. I have also expressed my lack of enthusiasm for my new office and they said it’s only temporary…. 2 years later….

        1. Kyrielle

          Are there others whose jobs might support WFH, who would like it? That you could back, on the theory that if they mostly WFH, you may use their desk when they’re not using it?

          Or – are there positions (yours or others) who could shift so someone comes early/leaves early someone else arrives later/leaves later and desk share? That’s brutal unless the people *want* the other schedule, tho.

        2. peanut butter kisses

          We have space issues as well. One thing that has worked for us is to have several employees share one desk but have their shifts spread out so they don’t need to be at that desk all at once. It helps that one employee likes to come in very early – Sunday-Thursday, one leaves very late – Tuesday-Saturday, and the part timer fills in on the weekends and the odd shift in the middle of the week. The people who share they desk are well known for being team players and although I haven’t asked, I am sure it figures in when it is evaluation time.

        3. Sadsack

          I wonder if, in the past two years, they have had other employees come and go. Why do you have to be the one to sit there? Maybe you can make a plea that you have served two years, can it be someone else’s turn?

      2. Mike C.

        What kind of solutions are there when the owner is too cheap to get a location with enough space?

        1. John

          We don’t know all the realities here. They may be locked into a lease. Or maybe they’re not convinced their growth will be sustainable.

          1. AdAgencyChick

            Yup, that’s our situation. We’re part of a giant holding company who decides who gets what real estate, and they are EXTREMELY cautious about granting more space in case an agency loses accounts and therefore ends up shedding people. They’d much rather we get stuffed to the gills.

            Others in this thread have posted some good places to start. None of it is ideal, as in “move me to a desk in a good location,” but hopefully OP’s manager will be open to doing at least something to make it better.

          2. fposte

            Or they can afford the lease but not the move–or the lease and not all the employees. Or the new bigger location is farther away from town with no public transport. Or they’re using that money to offer employees paid maternity leave.

            Most employers aren’t cackling over their gold coins and muttering “my precious,” they’re making zero-sum decisions about how money should be spent.

        2. Green

          A lot of places in NYC have office-mates. If they aren’t doubling up and there’s space to do that, sharing with one other person makes a lot more sense than putting someone in a lunchroom with the common refrigerator/microwave/faucet.

        3. Ask a Manager Post author

          I have a friend who’s dealing with this right now in the office it runs and it’s causing huge amounts of stress for him because moving would mean breaking a lease at huge cost and moving somewhere that would be far less convenient for a lot of his employees, and he’s not confident he’ll be able to sustain the costs of the new space in the long-term (business with fluctuating revenues). In his situation, it’s not about being too cheap. It’s about navigating realities of keeping a small business running and trying to treat people well.

          Mike, I think you frequently default to “it must be the employer being a jerk,” and that’s just not always true. I think you’d make stronger arguments on this stuff if you considered what the other side might be!

      3. Allison

        That makes sense, no one wants to field constant complaints from something, but shouldn’t they figure that if lots of people are complaining, something isn’t being done properly, either in regards to communication or organization? If they really can’t add more workspaces, they need to explain to the people being affected why their space is so sucky, why this is the best (or only) solution for the time being, and they can’t accommodate requests to move at this time.

    2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      While we’ve never sat somebody in the lunchroom, we’ve twice now thru my long tenure gone through needing to jam people in sub optimal working spaces when we’ve outgrown our building.

      Building before this one, all of the public spaces and conference rooms went until the tiny lunchroom was also the only meeting space. Personally, I was working in a very large storage room in the back of the warehouse, along with five other team members that we “converted to office space” by painting the concrete walls pink and throwing down carpet. I stepped over skids to get to my “desk” (really just fancy tables at desk height) every day.

      You bet I bit off the head of anyone who complained to me about their circumstances. :p We were trying! We were building and the township was holding up all of our permits in their endless circus of town meetings with amateur urban planners who had to be heard. What’s the alternative, fire half the staff?

      Agree about bringing solution. I was at my wits end. I would have agreed to any solution that anybody thought of because I was out of them.

      p.s. I HATE PINK. I hated it before I had to stare at a concrete wall painted pink for probably two years and I hate it even more now. I’d specified an entirely different color and I got pink.

      1. Merry and Bright

        Hmm, I can’t picture a pink background for a high quality teapot enterprise…

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

          It was awful.

          And nothing looked high quality in those Last Days. We looked like bunch of refugees.

      2. Sharon

        Instead of biting off heads, why not just call an all-hands meeting (or with just the teams affected) and explain the situation rationally once and for all? That should alleviate the complaints and individual questions. If lots of people are whining/asking on a one-to-one basis that tells me management should communicate better!

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

          Well sure. We couldn’t have hid an entire building being constructed, even if we wanted to.

          I didn’t state what I thought was obvious though: everybody knew what was going on. (Progress was well covered in the local press also.)

          The point is that suggestions that include a viable solution are likely to get green lighted whereas stating-the-obvious-unsolvable- complaints don’t help anybody.

    3. Meg Murry

      I agree that the best way to approach this is to offer a solution, not just a complaint.
      Ideas:
      -work from home a few days a week
      -share a desk space with someone else who also works from home a few days a week, or take turns trading off
      -is there another corner/hallway the fridge can be moved to?
      -if the lunchroom has a door and that’s part of the distraction (creaky door opening, door banging shut, etc) – take the door off its hinges and just leave a doorway?
      -cubical walls, a folding screen, etc to block off the space
      -a laptop so OP can go camp out elsewhere when she really needs to get something done without distractions

      At a minimum, I would recommend OP do the following
      -re-arrange the desk/workspace so she isn’t in direct line of sight with everyone walking in the door
      -consider wearing large headphones, even if there isn’t any music actually playing
      -don’t engage in the small talk of everyone who walks in – acknowledge with a head nod or slight wave and keep working

      I also wonder – if part of the problem since OP is returning from maternity leave she will need to pump and doesn’t have a private space to do it? That might be a reason for her to petition to be switched with someone to a more private space – because they will either have to setup a space for her to pump in separate from her workspace, or they could give her a more private office so she wouldn’t need a separate pumping space.

      OP, sometimes its the little things that can make the difference between a pleasant workspace and one you dread daily, but I think you should give this one a try before you throw in the towel and don’t go back. Or if you really don’t want to go back and would prefer to be a SAHM (and your circumstances allow for it) then go for it, but I wouldn’t quit without at least trying to address the office space, if that is the only thing holding you back.

      1. In the Lunchroom

        Thank you for the feedback. You gave some really good ideas about solutions. The problem is, the office/lunchroom is so tiny that there is no where to reorganize anything. They bought the biggest monstrosity of a desk and crammed it in there. Let me draw you a picture. When you walk in through the door, you are directly looking at the counter space which has a small fridge under the counter, a sink, coffee maker, cupboards above on the wall. Then you look directly to your right and there’s me with my huge desk with hutch on it (which i don’t think is needed) and the giant printer that everyone uses right beside me along with my files. So basically people need to bend over my filing cabinet to get to the printer. I really need to think about some clever solutions….

        1. Xarcady

          Off the top of my head–can the fridge and printer be moved? Out into a hallway if necessary? That would stop some of the traffic into the room.

          Can you move the desk so that the hutch forms a blockade between you and the door? If it’s an open hutch, over the back of it with poster board or fabric or something, so that people can’t see you.

          At least move the printer so people can get to it more easily.

          When you approach your manager about this, frame the issue in terms of your productivity, not the constant annoyance of people trampling through your work space. Point out that your work needs concentration, and that you are continually interrupted throughout your day. Bring a list of possible solutions–working from home, moving appliances, getting a cubicle wall, moving your desk within the lunchroom to a better position–and let the manager choose what will work for the company.

          Our break room has no place to sit–it’s just a sink, fridge, a couple of microwaves, a few vending machines and a toaster. It is constantly busy, all day long. I cannot imagine anyone sitting in there and trying to get work done.

          1. AdAgencyChick

            This is great. Moving the printer sounds like a more than reasonable first step.

        2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

          Losing all of that furniture sounds like the easiest and best improvement. I’m claustrophobic just reading your description. Pink concrete walls sound better.

          Good luck!

        3. Meg Murry

          It seems like the fact that you are sharing the space with the printer and the coffeepot is as much (or more) of the problem than the lunchroom aspect. Is there anywhere else those could go? Or could they at least be moved to right next to the door so people could grab what they need and go? I’ve even seen an office where the printer was sitting next to a hole in the wall so people reached their hand in through the hole from the hallway to grab their printouts.

          I hear you though – I love having my own space, I would hate for other people to be constantly barging into my workspace. At a minimum, I would suggest what I said before of trying not to engage, and if you have a good relationship with the worst of the chit-chatters, maybe say something to them like “I know you have to come and pick up printouts often, but it really interrupts my work flow if you stop to talk to me every time. Could you wait and we’ll catch up at lunch instead?” So you don’t have to feel rude for not engaging in the small talk.

            1. In the Lunchroom

              I am going to take all of this and stew on it before i go back. I have 3 more months left. Thank you for EVERYONE”S help!!! I am sure I can come up with something with all of the suggestions. I really like the smaller desk/less furniture solution. Unfortunately, the printer is so big there is no where else to put it. If it was to go into the main reception area, it would obstruct patients and people walking to and from the bathroom and to the exam rooms. It really is a ridiculously awkward office space. I have mentioned a few of these before such as not being able to concentrate and because all of the equipment is in my “office” there will always be constant interruptions. I have spoken to the manager about this and she would put up a sign on the door saying not to disturb, but that didn’t do anything. It’s the owner/president of the company who doesn’t “seem” to care. I bet if she worked in that space for a week she would understand, but she works out of a different city and only comes by about once a month. Oh, and i have numerously gotten kicked out of my “office” so the owner and managers could have meetings or interviews. Yep. Now that I am writing this and reading it out loud, it makes me want to just find another job. The people there are absolutely amazing but i’m not there to make friends, i’m there to do my job which i love. I’ve got a lot of thinking to do….
              Thanks again.

              1. MAB

                I work in the lunch room/QC office/my office. Its bigger then what you are talking about but not much. Is the printer on your desk? Can you move it to the counter top since it is a shared printer? My desk 44″ by 25″ with a pull out typing tray, I have a tiny monitor, a tiny phone (IT tried to give my a big one and I pushed back with lots of photos) and hell the smallest chair I could get away with. My files are in a different room as much as I can and I regularly wear head phones and ignore people walking through. I do get kicked out of my office on occasion but I just go for a walk or find something to do on company time. I get kicked out of my office I make sure I am paid for it.

                I am not afraid to tell talkers who are not leaving to find another location to talk. I have even ask the remote manager to this facility to please find another place to talk as I was on the phone and having a minor crisis. There is nothing wrong with telling people “Hey I’m sorry but I am trying ot get stuff done here, could you please take this conversation elsewhere?” Best of luck!

          1. jamlady

            I actually smaller desks with a lot of above and below storage – keeps things nice and tidy. I feel like that would be a good solution – it’s hard to know all the reasons the OP’s management hasn’t fixed the situation, but I’m more inclined to believe it’s just what works for them rather than them being purposefully uncaring. Instead of totally changing everything, improving the current situation is probably going to be the easiest thing for them.

    4. Stranger than Fiction

      Here too. While I don’t have much advice to offer the Op in the kitchen, I can relate. We’re like sardines here, as well, some people are next to large noisy printers, others are right next to the bathroom and can hear/smell things…

    5. Sally Forth

      #1. Part of this is the chit chat / interruptions going on. We have a nice lunchroom, but for a quick water fill up, the closest spot is a tiny closet with a fridge and sink behind the HR receptionist’s desk. She has her desk set up so she faces the wall when she is on her computer. She does a great job of being friendly with everyone to her left, at the reception counter, but does not engage if you are just there for water. At the same time, we know from her that it is acceptable to walk behind her and not make idle chat. Just make it clear you would love to chat but are working.

  4. "Find yourself a cup; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things."

    #5 I agree with Alison when she says about “fit” being a boilerplate excuse from recruiters. Although good fit is one of the most important things in a job, it has become almost a default response so it has become a bit meaningless. Generic feedback isn’t much help from a practical point of view. The real test for “fit” is actually doing the job of course. Nobody in the hiring process can ever be 100% sure until you start work, so I take this feedback with a pinch of salt now. I used to think “What is wrong with me that I don’t fit in anywhere?” even though common sense told me I had been a good fit in the past.

    Emailing an interviewer to say thank you when I have got the interview from a recruitment agency has come back to bite me very hard in the past so I only do this now for a direct application (not because it seems to help much but at least they can’t claim they don’t have my email address!) . Plus it looks professional. After that, though, I tend to put the thing out of my mind by getting on with my job search elsewhere. If they want me, they’ll get in touch.

    And I like to have signed on the dotted line before I say “Phew – hopefully that’s it for a few years!”

    1. Mdz

      Thank you for the feedback on this.
      After the interview I got in touch with the recruiter via e-mail.

      The hiring manager e-mailed me himself without me reaching out; and he did this 15 minutes after the interview so I did respond promptly and thanked him for his time.

  5. Rebecca

    #1 – not sure if you could work from home, but would this be an option, at least a few days a week so you could have some peace and quiet? I can’t even imagine working in a kitchen area with all that distraction. I suspect if a manager had to do this the entire seating situation would be resolved very quickly.

  6. Merry and Bright

    On #5, I think it was very unprofessional – to put it politely – for the manager to say he s/he wanted the OP on the team if the decision didn’t like with them. In fact, I think it stinks to say that, true or not, before a final decision has been made.

    Likewise for the sales director. If you don’t want to “steal an employee” OK, but don’t waste everyone’s time by doing the interview. If this isn’t a deal breaker then why not just make a mature business decision and choose who you think is the best candidate? Making this comment to the OP seems inappropriate and just piles on the stress anyway. The post shows this.

    1. MK

      Frankly, I am baffled by the whole “steal an employee” concept. It more or less sounds as if the sales director put her relationship with the OP’s manager over the interests of the company she works for. I can understand avoiding hiring employees from a major client, for example, because it makes business sense to not displease people who pay you, but doing it out of “respect” for the candidate’s manager? How is it a sign of disrespect anyway?

      This makes no sense and, coupled with the low offer, makes me think it’s possible that the sales manager didn’t want to hire the OP and was grasping at straws to make it not happen.

      1. Ella

        That stood out to me too. The OP isn’t a paperweight on the VP’s desk, OP is a person with agency and the freedom to make decisions. If the director of sales doesn’t think the OP would be a good fit, that’s one thing, but to basically trap the OP in a job because you don’t want to “steal” something that it inherently unstealable? That’s just kinda silly.

        1. Anon369

          While this is generally true, there could be reasons that the new company is contractually blocked from hiring someone – for instance, in corporate mergers, a potential acquirer may sign a non-solicitation agreement at the outset, so that they won’t raid the selling company’s employees. No information here to suggest this is the case, but I wanted to raise it as an instance where the rights of the company trump the rights of the employee.

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        We don’t know that though — she might have put the interests of the company first, if hiring that person would have caused tension with her old manager in a way that would have caused issues for the company.

        Plus, if you have enough standing in your job, people do let you say, “Hiring this person would cause issues for me, personally.” And why shouldn’t they, if they value you enough? They’re making the business call that keeping you happy is worth more to them than hiring an unknown quantity.

        1. Student

          This kind of thing can also be considered collusion to keep wages low, though. I’m not saying this specific case is an example of that, but mere perception of that can really poison employee/management relationships.

        2. MK

          Oh, I understand what you mean in general. But that assumes 1. the OP’s VP was someone the hiring company wanted to avoid displeasing for whatever reason and 2. the VP had somehow communicated to the hiring company that they didn’t want to lose the OP. In this case, it sounds as if the sales manager was reluctunt to hire the OP out of some sense of “respect” for her old boss, which struck me as a bit off. There could be any number of things going on in the background and her decision might have made business sense; but going by what’s actually in the letter, it doesn’t come across.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I don’t think #2 is a given. People often make assumptions that this kind of thing will cause tension in the relationship, without actually having discussed it.

            1. MK

              Basing a hiring decision on how you think your old boss might feel about it seems more odd to me than actually doing him a favour, to be honest. Which was my original point: barring some piece of information we don’t have for the hiring company to want to be on good terms with the OP’s boss, the sales manager comes across to me as weirdly deferential to her old manager’s feelings. So, I think it might be basically an excuse, even if there is an element of truth there.

          2. Not So NewReader

            She left her old boss. Now she is worried about other people leaving her old boss? I think she could do a little more thinking on that one. It could be that she and her old boss just agreed not to take employees from each other.
            Then the next hurdle is what does “take” mean? If someone shows up on your doorstep of their own free will, that is hugely different than recruiting a specific person or from a specific group of people.

        3. MK

          And, frankly, using your professional standing to keep your employees from getting other jobs is profoundly unethical, in my view. If you need them so damn much, it’s your job to retain them. I would certainly “value” anyone who tried to pull this on me a lot less.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            But the old manager may not have done that (in fact, probably has not). It can all be based on assumption about how the person will feel.

            1. Mdz

              Thanks for the feedback on this. My current VP, who in fact is not my immediate boss but the person my boss reports to doesn’t strike me as the person who would do this. I personally don’t have facts to back this up; it’s just a gut feeling.

        4. CAA

          Maybe it’s not a big deal if it’s just two people affecting a small part of the labor market, but there’s no question that it’s illegal when it’s on a larger scale. This type of behavior cost Google, Apple, Intuit, et al over $300M in settlements for the High-Tech Employee Antitrust Litigation last year. My DH got a nice little bonus out of that.

  7. it happens

    #4: Can you find another solution with your husband? Is he eligible for FMLA? Can he take 12 weeks unpaid after your 12 to provide continuous home care for the baby’s first five months? Maybe you can take only three weeks off before the baby is born and ask your employers for 15 weeks unpaid leave to give you 12 weeks with baby and then your husband takes over? You should both be part of the solution since you’ll both be dealing this little bundle of joy together for a very long time.
    Good luck

    1. blackcat

      It may be that he out earns her by a significant factor and/or they can’t afford to lose so much income (12 weeks for her + 12 weeks for him is nearly 6 months total lost income). While it would be ideal for them to both take time off, it is not the norm in the US, and it could also impact his job negatively (I have had progressive dude friends get major side eye from employers for taking more than a week or two parental leave). It’s not fair, it’s not good for families, but that’s the way it can be.

      Also, if OP intends to breastfeed for 6+ months, that could factor into her decision. I have had several friends who were not allowed to take pumping breaks upon going back to work and had to stop breast feeding way sooner than they’d like (I also have someone in the office now who was able to leave out her “pump wipes” and other accessories. Office cultures vary.)

      1. Not Today Satan

        Are you in the US? They passed this law a couple years ago: “Employers are required to provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.” Employers are also required to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”

        This might not have been in effect for your friends, but it is the case now if the employer is of a certain size.

        1. J.B.

          That’s in the fair labor standards act. So if you are exempt they can say no. I assume that abuse is rampant among employers of non-exempt mothers.

          1. fposte

            Just in general, though, it’s worth checking with your state laws–quite a few states have protections that extend to exempt employees (mine does).

        2. J.B.

          Also, pumping is no fun, if one were leaning towards staying home nursing a baby is much more pleasant than hooking yourself up to a machine frequently. If the OP wants to stay home for 6-8 months then I think the impulse to quit would be the only workable option with most employers. Not to say she shouldn’t talk about it, but I doubt they’d want to be that flexible.

        3. blackcat

          One was exempt and so got nothing upon request.

          One was allowed 2 extra (unpaid) ten minute breaks and the designated room was a 2-3 minute walk away. Which follows the letter of the law, but not the spirit, since it takes at least 10-15 minutes to pump for most women.

          Both were in states w/o extra protections. It sucked.

        4. BananaPants

          That’s the FLSA amendment, and it does not apply to those of us who are exempt workers. I have state laws on my side so my ability to take pumping breaks was never an issue, but not everyone is so fortunate.

          I gave up my normal lunch break for 9-10 months with each baby, so that I could pump 2-3 times during my workday without having to extend the time I was at the office to fit in my expected hours of working (i.e. arriving at 8 AM and leaving between 4:30-5 PM). Once we got a lactation room (after I’d been pumping in a bathroom for 8 months for my first baby) I was able to bring my laptop in and work during my pumping breaks. It was so freeing to pump wean at the 12 month mark and get that half hour or so back!

      2. JC

        12 weeks for her + 12 weeks for him is nearly 6 months total lost income

        Just want to point out that they are already planning to have 6+ months of lost income when she quits her job. (But yes, I understand that the other factors you listed might play a role, including that his income may be more than hers.)

      3. Anna

        Hey, op number 4 here- thanks for your comments! Unfortunately my husband can’t assist much on this. He works for a tiny employer and is ineligible for FMLA or even a personal day. He’s searching for another job but is in the initial stages. He does earn a big more than I do but not by much and is unable to adjust his schedule (he works long shifts). We can live on his income; it would just be tough. At the end of the day, I acknowledge that the first year is an important parental bonding experience and it’s important to me that I’m around for it. I guess I have no choice but to quit.

          1. Anna

            I definitely plan on talking to them first. Thanks for the great advice :) I’ll speak to them and take it from there.

    2. Meg Murry

      Yes – I noticed OP said “Childcare is also a huge issue for my husband and me.” OP, have you explored your childcare options at all beyond you staying home for 6 months? I know this is extremely important to some people, and if that is what you want to do, that is understandable, but I think you should at least tour some daycare centers or meet with some in-home providers before you assume that your only option is to quit working for 6 months. Because what would you then do at 6 months?

      I understand that if live were ideal OP would stay home for 6 months, then go back to working – but it sounds like if she did that she and her husband might not have health insurance for those 6 months? And if she quits during her last trimester she might not have health insurance when she gives birth, if I’m reading that right. OP, do you know how much it will cost to not have health insurance when you give birth? At a minimum, you need to figure out whether you can qualify for insurance (through the marketplace, CHIP, Medicaid, etc) and then look at all your options – which are the ideal situations, and which are the “less bad” options for you, and how realistic are those options.

      I know it sucks to think of going back to work and leaving a 8-week old baby in someone else’s care. But having tens of thousands of dollars in medical debt and having to desperately try to find a new job with health insurance with a 6 month old would suck too. So I would highly consider the offer your company is making you before you outright quit. If they are offering 12 weeks, maybe they would be ok with 15 if you have pre-birth complications? All you can do is ask.

      1. the gold digger

        And if she quits during her last trimester she might not have health insurance when she gives birth, if I’m reading that right.

        If she is in the US, she can take COBRA. Also, if her husband has insurance through his job, he can probably add her, because her quitting her job would be a qualifying event.

        1. Case of the Mondays

          COBRA only applies if the place employees 20 or more people. Also, I’m not sure if it applies if she quits. I think she would have to go into leave without pay status and be terminated to qualify. She needs a life event. COBRA is also insanely expensive.
          http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/faqs/faq-consumer-cobra.html

          I really think OP has to look at her long term future here. Yes, bonding with your child is important. However, having the means to support said child and your family is also very important. It is hard to break back into the workplace. If OP has a job now that is willing to hold her position while she is out then she really should consider trying to make that work and take a 12 week leave. I think it is actually more the norm in the US to take a 6-8 week leave.

  8. TeapotCounsel

    re #1-#5 and virtually every post I read here:
    I’ve been on this wonderful blog for several months, and I’ve noticed a pattern in the discussions here, as well as what I observe in my own workplace. The root of almost all the problems seems to come from an inability (on the speaker or listener) to communicate candidly about concerns. We see it here again with #1, in which there is fear to mention a problem to the owners.
    Allison correctly identifies this in her responses—nine times out of ten her advice is to have the candid conversations.
    This observation seems obvious when I write it out loud like this, but it’s a lesson that escapes most. Our culture of not saying our true thoughts due to perceived conventions of politeness or not making people angry creates the problems I read about here.

    1. olives

      I actually give people a fair amount of credit here. Most of the cultural scripts we see for hard situations (from books, TV, news, etc) are very dramatic and adversarial, and so most people don’t actually know how to present their needs calmly, or how to support their desires with a solid business case. Part of the service AAM provides here is helping people have a neutral view of whether their request is in line with normal ways of doing business, and giving people calm words to ask for the things they need. Often it’s useful to get somebody else’s viewpoint on a situation before attempting to “communicate candidly”, because you can end up injecting a lot more fear, hostility and mistrust than is truly warranted by the situation.

      1. fposte

        Additionally, most of today’s situations, with the exception of #3, aren’t likely to be solved just with a conversation. It’s the next step, but a conversation isn’t likely to get OP #1 out of the lunchroom, OP #2 people answering their pages, OP #4 6 months leave, OP #5 the reason for the rejection.

        I do think it’s true that a lot of Alison’s questions boil down to saying something, but, as olives notes, that’s proof right there of the need for assistance in that area. And just saying “Tell people stuff!” isn’t enough to automatically change people’s ways, because that’s not how humans work.

        1. Colette

          I think, too, that a lot of time the OP is looking not just for a way to ask but for reassurance that it’s reasonable to ask.

          1. Future Analyst

            +1. It can be immensely helpful to have outside input as to how reasonable one’s request is.

        2. Merry and Bright

          Also, in some workplaces people feel they are walking on eggshells a lot of the time.

          1. Not So NewReader

            This. Some workplaces any type of question make the person wide open for whatever. Hopefully, Alison’s strategy gives OP some footing here.
            While I agree that it seems that some questions are just about talking to the person, I think the real trick is talking in a persuasive manner. Many people do not like to be asked the same thing multiple times, so finding the right framing for the question/idea is critical sometimes. The OP has to say it in a persuasive manner the first time, they cannot ask repeatedly.

      2. LBK

        Totally agree. Wording advice and sanity checks are probably the two most valuable and underestimated things AAM provides, even if they seem obvious after reading this blog for a few months.

      3. Mimmy

        I think you hit the nail on the head….TV and movies are poor examples to follow. The characters may seem confident and not willing to give in, but it’s only meant to boost a good story. Real life does not work that way.

        1. oaktown

          my ex and I used to love watching TV together, but we spent an inordinate amount of time yelling at the tv that if the characters would just ****communicate**** the whole episode wouldn’t even have to happen.. it cracked us up constantly.

    2. Amber Rose

      A lot of people are scared to speak up or don’t know how to say what’s on their mind in a wat that clearly gets their meaning across. Half the time I read these letters not as a request for what to DO, but rather what to say. When you’re nervous, a script provided by someone you respect is a beautiful thing.

      1. Mimmy

        It sure is. In fact, this whole pattern kinda makes me feel better in the sense that it’s not just me and that I’m not stupid just because I don’t know what to say in certain situations.

      2. In the Lunchroom

        I totally agree. I have a hard time coming up with the right thing to say especially if it is a tough situation. Then I will go back to my desk and think of something I “should have” said. It’s very frustrating.

    3. nona

      Well, yeah. I think a lot of people write in because they don’t know *what* to say. We don’t have a script for most of this.

      1. Ella

        I think a lot of people don’t know what to say, and a lot of people don’t have a good sense of scale in their head. You get desensitized to a situation after awhile, and don’t realize how messed up it is. They write in with what they think is a basic question and then Alison and the comment section get filled with “why are you putting up with this what in the actual fuck is wrong with your coworker (or some variation). I’ve seen a lot of updates from former letter writers saying that the outside perspective of commenters really helped them assess their situation in a way they weren’t able to do from the inside.

    4. Xarcady

      And don’t forget the cultural expectations that are heaped on women. To always be “nice,” pleasant, non-demanding. When there’s a load of baggage telling you that it’s wrong to even ask, it’s difficult to find a way to start the conversation.

      1. Allison

        Generally speaking, I feel that women are expected to be a source of ease, comfort, and happiness. I need to smile, look pretty, go with the flow and help others. Not that any of those things are bad, but I do anything to the contrary – If I speak my mind, assert myself, or do anything to cause friction, or even just act like a human with feelings and needs that aren’t always convenient for those around me, especially if I don’t immediately apologize for being such a bother – people will yell at me and then distance themselves from me, taking action to get rid of me when necessary.

      2. PSophie Pseudonym

        Yes, this. When I wrote in to Alison, what I was looking for was less “how do I fix this?” and more, “do I have any right to even start to try to ask about the possibility of maybe fixing this? Also, am I insane to think this is even a problem?” (She was incredibly helpful, and the answer was “yes” :) Thanks again, Alison!)

        1. PSophie Pseudonym

          Um, answer to the first question was “yes.” Alison did not tell me I was insane.

    5. Stranger than Fiction

      “Our culture of not saying our true thoughts due to perceived conventions of politeness or not making people angry creates the problems I read about here.”

      So true! Conventions of politeness, political correctness, fear of retaliation, for women fear of coming off as aggressive, etc. etc.

      I’m guilty of it too. I have a hard time with confrontations like these, even though I agree with Alison that they need to happen.

  9. Gwen O'Brien

    I composed a short email and asked directly how to handle the unannounced tours, (I have to email because I don’t see everyone on a regular basis and I don’t get to leave the front desk very often).

    We’ll see…..

    Thank you!

    1. Merry and Bright

      Fingers crossed for you. When you are public facing you can be so torn between following your employer’s guidelines and policies, and providing an awesome customer service.

    2. Meg Murry

      I’m assuming you are OP#2. Can I suggest flipping your script a little bit? It sounds like when someone shows up unannounced without an appointment, you are saying “let me see if I can find someone to give you a tour”, then paging/calling, and then when you get no response to your pages and calls, are doing the “Ms. XYZ is in a meeting” spiel. So of course the spiel seems false, because its obvious to both you and the people dropping in that no one has actually answered your call.

      Instead, I would suggest saying “We usually schedule tours and appointments in advance. I can see if anyone is available to take you on a tour, but they may already be in a meeting or giving another tour.” Then you can try calling/paging, and if no one answers, then you can give your apologies. Rather than just giving out the sales team’s cards, you could also ask them if there is a form or standard info they would like you to take down, so they can follow up with a phone call.

      I don’t blame the sales team for not taking drop ins all the time – they may be currently giving a tour or on a phone appointment with someone else, and that would be incredibly rude to the people that did make an appointment. Do you use calendaring software in Outlook, Gmail or similar? Is there any way you can get the sales people to give you permission to see their free/busy info so you can tell if they are all blocked off or if one of them is available who you could call directly? Or maybe they would respond better to an IM rather than a phone call/page?

      It’s also distinctly possible that they have found over the years that drop-ins rarely convert to actual sales as compared to actual appointments, so they have decided not to prioritize the drop-ins. I think you did the right thing in asking directly how they want drop-ins to be handled, rather that try to figure it out yourself.

      1. Franny

        In addition, maybe an “on-call” schedule could be worked out so that Bill handles morning walk ins and Suzie takes the afternoon today, but tomorrow Jamie has the morning and Jack has the afternoon. That way they can plan their schedules for interruptable work in that time frame, and know that someone else will cover it in other time frames while they get other work done AND you know who you need to be calling.

      2. manomanon

        In addition to being able to see their calendars, who is responsible for scheduling these tours? If they call the main number to schedule will they get your desk or an assistant in the sales department or someone else altogether? If it’s you can you schedule them for a tour while they’re standing there after you have used the script Meg Murray suggested? It wouldn’t be for right that very second but it would allow you to still provide good customer service and send away walk-ins.

        1. Same girl

          I am not permitted to see their calendars so it’s really a crap shoot. Sometimes they see people and sometimes they don’t, but I am striving for consistency. Having to handle the same phone 2, 3 and 4 times, is just maddening.

          1. Artemesia

            I really think this is not your problem. You need to put it as a problem to the director of the place. ‘Here is the problem. Do you want drop ins to have tours or should I just be booking appointments with them? If you want them to have tours then we need to have people who are assigned to see drop ins, perhaps on a rotating basis and those people then need to respond to pages during their shift. Or is there another way you want to handle this. It is embarrassing now because most of the time no one answers the page to assist these people. What would you like me to do?’

            I am assuming you have no authority over the people not responding, so this is not your problem, it is the director’s problem.

      3. ReanaZ

        Yeah, I work for a large aged care company (high care, low care, and independent living communities), and it is currently a strategic priority NOT to allow drop-in visits to our residential homes. For one, it is a very poor and disruptive time-wasting activity for our “sales” team (they would never call themselves that, but that’s the fucntion) to give tours and on-demand meetings to people who have not made appointments and whose interest and suitability have not been verified through our normal verification process. (There’s no use giving someone a tour if their health needs are not suitable for the facility.) But even more importantly, it’s bad for our residents to have their /homes/ and living spaces and care interrupted by unscheduled tours. Aged care facilities are facilities, but they’re also people’s homes. Visits need to be scheduled with care staff (or in the retirement community, with coordinators) to minimise impact on residents and planned activities, as well as respect existing residents’ privacy as much as possible.

        I know you want to provide good customer service, but it is entirely unreasonable for someone to go “shopping” retirement communities without scheduling an appointment first. I can’t go shopping regular houses and just show up on people’s lawns with For Sales signs expecting to be let in. The “drop ins” are definitely the ones being rude here if they are demanding tours and in-person meetings (and not just wanting to pick up some info and poke at public spaces) without so much as a heads up call.

        If people drop in, they get an info and application packet, instructions on how to make an appointment, and invitation to any upcoming open houses, and a no-apology polite explanation of why we don’t offer on-demand tours.

    3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      PTB is either serious about greeting potential customers professionally or they’re not. You should be able to get buy in from your boss or your boss’s boss because that’s not how you treat potential clients. I think it is great that you care. I’d like to see buy in in the form of an on call schedule. If it’s not somebody’s job then it’s nobody’s job.

      1. Same girl

        That is exactly where I am at with this. I can speak from personal experience that often time if of the essence in choosing a facility. And with that being said, someone should be on hand to talk to potentials. I do care with my whole heart, having been a family member first, I really know that that everyone’s situation is the most unique and the most pressing to them.

        1. Meg Murry

          But why should the person who shows up at the front door get preferential treatment to the person who made an appointment? Or the person who’s paperwork the salesperson is in the process of filling out to move in – should the salesperson drop that? I agree that you need to have a procedure for how to handle walk-ins, but understand that the walk-ins may not be getting 100% best service that way. It also makes a difference how full your facility is – if you are 100% full with a 6 month+ waiting list, whether or not the sales teams sees someone that day isn’t going to make a difference, as you don’t have any open beds/rooms.

          Also, if you recently wrote this question – there may be a higher volume of drop ins around holidays or times like spring breaks, because that is often when out-of-town children visit their parents. At a minimum, you can keep a log of how many walk ins you get a day, so you can pass that on to the sales manager, and he/she may decide that they need to keep times open for walk-ins during those busy times – that’s how it works where my friend is in sales at a retirement community/nursing home.

          1. Same girl

            I didn’t say preferential treatment. And communication is the key here. It’s frustrating for a person or person already scared out of their mind at the thought of “putting their loved one in a nursing home” as the Front Desk, I really can’t give out marketing information. But I do think because of the sensitive nature of our business it should be the admissions/marketing person’s responsibility to say, “please make an appointment with me so we can discuss this further” . I sound so insincere (maybe to myself only) when I say my spiel.

            1. John

              I don’t think it should have to be up to them. You need a script (“spiel”) that you feel good about. Perhaps you could share what you’re using with the sales manager for input.

              “We’re not generally able to give unscheduled tours. We know this is a big decision, so when we meet with prospective residents and their families, we want to be sure we can devote sufficient time to make sure you’re receiving all the information you need and having all your questions answered by someone extremely knowledgeable. To try to do it any other way just wouldn’t be fair to you. If you’d like to schedule a tour, we can generally arrange them with X days notice. You will meet with either Morticia or Fletcher, and you will have their full attention and they’ll make sure you don’t leave her without a real good sense of whether Shady Acres might be a good match and all your questions answered.”

              And when people try to push back, “But we just want a quick peek around…” you revert to your talking points: “As I said, to try to do it any other way except with the guidance of someone really knowledgeable who can have made arrangements to ensure you have access to all the areas you want to see, and with someone knowledgeable who can answer all of your questions, it really wouldn’t be fair to you. I can have Morticia call to schedule some time if that works…”

              1. Not So NewReader

                Some places have security and non-residents cannot just wander around escorted.

            2. Meg Murry

              But you are the gatekeeper to the admissions/marketing people. I think if you are really concerned, can you ask the head of admissions/marketing to take time to talk to you to make sure you are giving the info they want. Is there a spiel you can give. And why can’t you have a brochure or something to hand out, along with the business card? I think, unless marketing tells you otherwise, that is is your job to say “please call and schedule an appointment so you can discuss this further with intake”.

              I understand where you are coming from, and I understand you are trying to be sympathetic with the people standing in front of you. But you have to remember that you were hired not just to be helpful to that person, but also to help the admission/marketing people able to do their jobs, which may be being on the phone with the exact same scenario as the person in front of you right now. So think about it that way too. You can be sympathetic, while still doing you job – which is not necessarily getting the people in front of the intake people this minute. After all, if you showed up at your doctor’s office, you wouldn’t expect the receptionist to drop everything to get you a doctor right away, correct? They would tell you to make an appointment just like everyone else, or go to the emergency room. You are the same as that receptionist in the doctor’s office.

              1. John

                Agree with everything you say.

                Most of us want to give the customer what they want. In this case, if the reality is that the company doesn’t want to make unscheduled tours a priority, it is up to OP to represent that position, using an agreed-upon script to help guide the customer to, ideally, a place of understanding.

                1. Not So NewReader

                  Yep. Sometimes giving the customer what they want does not work out so well, also. The customer receives something that is not up to standards or worse yet, is useless to them.

            3. Artemesia

              But why is ‘I would be happy to make an appointment for you to discuss this. Unfortunately our staff is tied up with other visitors and we don’t have someone free at the moment.’ not a reasonable response? Either the director of the facility will assign people to be available for drop ins or you will need to book appointments or some variation.

          2. the gold digger

            someone should be on hand to talk to potentials

            Because sometimes, the child is dragging the parents kicking and screaming to look at a place, even though the parents have promised and promised that they will do it. Although, as someone noted, those kinds of visits might not convert to contracts, so might not be worth a salesperson’s time.

            Another script might be, “Did you know that you are not allowed to go barefoot into the dining room? Did you know that we ask men to wear a collared shirt into the nice dining area? Did you know we do not have an indoor pool and water aerobics?”

            Because those are all, apparently, completely legitimate reasons for someone to refuse even considering moving into a facility.

              1. the gold digger

                :)

                The only excuse I have heard so far that I find acceptable is, “They won’t take pets.” My husband and I are not going to take his parents’ mean cats. We have two sweet cats and they don’t deserve to have mean cats added to their household. (I love cats and would happily take more, but the in-laws’ cats really are mean!)

                And I don’t think pets should be put to sleep just because someone wants to live in a certain assisted living place. (It would be hard to find new homes for two elderly, mean, miss-the-box cats.)

          3. LBK

            I don’t see it as preferential treatment because as far as these customers are aware, they’re operating within the normal policy. If the company hasn’t established that they don’t do walk-ins or that they only take walk-ins from 2-4 or whatever, it’s not “preferential” to try to service people who are following the policy the company has outlined, which is that they accept walk-ins at any time. At this point it’s the company’s fault for not appropriate staffing to support that policy or not holding the salespeople accountable for attending to walk-ins.

            OP, I’d echo what Alison and others have said – you need to get your manager’s take on how to handle these situations, and if they tell you that you are indeed supposed to be paging salespeople for all walk-ins, that’s when you can ask for support in enforcing that policy. I was a phone operator at a retail store for years and had the same issue where no one was ever free to take calls until I got the buy-in of management to start cracking down on people, and that made a huge difference.

            1. Same girl

              Working on that too, which makes all the difference in the world, but so far she doesn’t really act interested. We shall see.

          4. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

            Same Girl is coming at this from compassion, and I’m coming at it from sales. Chasing away potential clients with “by appointment only, nobody to help you now” isn’t a great idea. Maybe there’s no time for a full tour, but a warm handshake from someone who can answer brief questions, provide contact information for more questions, and make a personal appointment for a tour at soonest availability is all the difference.

            Has to be something PTB wants, though.

            1. Merry and Bright

              Agree here. A good impression is really important especially if you are considering a retirement community for an elderly relative. Warm and welcoming is much more likely to sell you to new clients. This approach would be much better and the organization might consider a brochure too pending the full tour. The OP’s role might be as gatekeeper but the bigger picture for the organization must be business, surely.

              1. Same girl

                I so agree Merry and Bright—and that’s eventually what it all boils down to. And since I am not permitted to give out any marketing information I just feel like all my warm and fuzzy efforts ring insincere. And people are often desperate for information, but like everyone has suggested I will try again to go to upper level management and see if we can hammer out a policy. Although I feel like a a minute or 2 with someone from marketing is worth all of the brochures in the world.

                1. the gold digger

                  Wait. They won’t let you give out marketing information? It’s next to impossible (I have heard from my in laws, who are not necessarily reliable narrators) to get information online – they will not tell you prices, etc. (again – take this info with a grain of Sly and Doris salt)- but there is not even a brochure they will let you hand out? That must be maddening for you.

                2. abby

                  Responding to “the gold digger”: Your in laws may be right.

                  We are starting to look at retirement communities for my mother in law. She lives in a small desert community and wants to stay in the area. So far, I have found only two to consider. Both have websites that show nice photos, but both websites are missing the details that I really need. So we would have to visit.

                  Mother in law is resisting this, even though she is losing her eyesight. We have proposed a few options and want her to make the choice, we don’t want to have to do it for her if she were to injure herself due to her fading vision. We are trying very hard to get her to at least look at the two places in her community. If we ever get her to agree, I suspect we would be out the door immediately to visit and not bother making appointments.

                3. Same girl

                  I have several brochures with all of the services we offer, but it comes down to the real deal of: A-do we have availability? and B-how much? Those are questions I simply cannot answer. Not in person, not on the phone. So if any of you have been in this situation, you know that you need questions answered now. I still stand by the marketing person at least speaking 2-3 minutes with a prospective admission, personally handing them a card, or better yet, have an available time ready. It may not be today and the potential resident may go 2 or 3 more places, but having an appointment in hand feels very secure. I have been that person.

                4. Meg Murry

                  Responding to “Same girl”:
                  I understand that the people showing up at your door want to know “do you have a room available” and “how much”? However, the answer to both of those may not be so easy to come to – there is a lot more to it, such as: does the person need skilled nursing? Can they feed/dress/bathe themselves? Do they have dementia or need memory care? Will they be full pay or Medicaid/Medicare? There is a lot more to it than just “yes we have rooms” or “no we don’t” – it’s a lot more complicated than that. And sometimes the answer is also “it depends on whether anyone died last night” – which is really not the answer you want to give, but in nursing homes it is often the truth.

                  I understand that when you were searching for a place for your loved ones you prioritized getting 2-3 minutes with sales/marketing, and I think you are right to point this out to the sales person. However, if that isn’t going to happen, you need to have your Plan B spiel in place, and practice it until you feel comfortable with it. And sometimes you are going to have people throw fits or make demands or otherwise make your life difficult – so talk to your boss about how to handle that. Because the person that throws a fit when everyone can’t bend to their schedule right this instant is going to be the same resident calling you at the front desk when no one has come after they pushed the call button 1.5 minutes ago. I agree with you that if you are able to make the person an appointment on the spot, that might be a win-win for everyone.

                  For reference – I have a close friend who is the sales/marketing director at a nursing home, and I get to hear about her complaints all the time. While she will make those 2-3 minutes for walk-ins when she can, some days that just isn’t possible – and you aren’t helping anything by insisting that she should be able to. I agree that it may help “close the sale” on the person in front of you – but it could lose the sale or otherwise tick off the person she is currently with. All you can do is ask “if you can’t see the person for 2-3 minutes, what should I say”? Or are there multiple sales people in the office? In the case my my friend – in her last position there were multiple sales people, and it was a commission based role. So it was in the interest of people who were behind their numbers or wanted a bigger commission check to let the front desk know when they had availability.

                  However, the lack of caring could be because in the case of my close friend – she has stopped caring after the commission structure her pay is under was pulled out from under her, cutting her pay almost in half, and she’s giving her notice today. So if your marketing director quits today – that’s why.

  10. LBK

    #4 – If they really like you they may just let you have the 12 weeks of paid time and then have your resignation take effect after that; definitely don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot and lose that possibility by rejecting the offer outright! It sounds like they’re impressed by your work enough to try to retain you since they already came up with an offer without you prompting them for anything, so I wouldn’t categorically rule anything out even if you know they’re unlikely to have the financial capability to provide a longer leave.

    1. MK

      While I doubt even the most generous employer would be prepared to just give you 12 weeks pay as a parting gift (that’s what it would be essentially, calling it leave when everyone knows you are not coming back is a stretch), I do think the OP should share the details of her situation with her boss. At best, since they seem intent on keeping her, they will be able to come to a solution. At worst, they will know that she wanted to make it work and that she appreciates their offer; just saying “resigning is my only option” feels too abrupt.

    2. fposte

      It doesn’t look like they’re offering her the 12 weeks paid, though; she says it’s unpaid. Basically, they’re offering her an FMLA equivalent.

      1. LBK

        Agh, I misread. That changes it considerably. Either way though I do agree with Alison that it should be discussed – don’t make their decision for them.

      2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

        But are they covering her health insurance during that time? I gave a valuable employee extended maternity leave a while back, but we only covered her health insurance for the standard 3 month period. Depending on the size of the company, it might be a lot to ask them to cover health insurance for 6 months to a year – especially for a new employee. At the very least, I do think it’s okay to ask if they would allow you to take that much time unpaid with no benefits, knowing that you could come back to work at the end. I’ve done that for more than one person (although neither was new)

        1. fposte

          Yeah, I think the new bit is what really complicates it here. It’s likely that she’s hoping for more time off than she’s worked for them.

          Benefits are a good point, too; just to be clear, you’re not talking about taking them off the rolls, just that the employee would cover the employer’s portion–kind of like what employers are allowed to do if employees don’t certify properly during FMLA?

  11. Amber Rose

    I’m terrified of pregnancy for this very reason. I need to work a year to qualify for paid leave (only been working a month), and even then it’s only something like 60% of your normal pay. Less if you try to work.

    I really don’t understand how anyone ever affords kids! Parents are basically penalized for being parents.

    1. Judy

      You work to get your expenses to less than the 100% of one salary and 60% of the other, and save the rest for the next 11 months. That way you’ll be OK on the reduced salary and have some savings for emergencies. You then have the 40% to use for childcare and kid expenses when you go back to work.

      I know this sounds privileged, and you can’t plan for everything.

    2. Joey

      This is one of the reasons why good employers have their reputations. It’s because of shitty maternity leave benefits that people seek out better employers. Leave their asses and show them that their crappy benefits are costing them good employees.

        1. Pontoon Pirate

          That’s not wholly typical though. In my company, you get FMLA and that’s it. I have to pay my own short-term disability insurance just to get six measly weeks, and the rollover cap on my PTO means that unless I never want to have a day off before or after kids (and I time things perfectly), I still can’t get to 12 full weeks with some kind of pay.

        2. Joey

          It’s only not crappy relative to no pay. It’s absolutely crappy when you ask how folks are supposed to actually make it work at one of the most challenging times of their lives.

          1. fposte

            Sure, but this is the folly of the U.S. system–why would the employer be responsible for sustaining somebody during that time? In general, in the countries with the parental leave policies we’re all admiring in this thread, it’s not the employer who’s providing income during that time; it’s the government or a government-run insurance program. I wish we had that system, but in the absence of it, I don’t think it’s fair or realistic to expect employers to offer European-duration leave with European-style income coming out of their own budgets.

            1. Joey

              Except it is in the interest of employers to do it if they want to retain great folks.
              I see it as the folly that are US companies. They complain about finding great employees yet usually don’t train or do much to attempt to retain them through what most people consider normal life events.

              It’s not like qualified folks aren’t out there. They just don’t want to leave employers that are making real efforts to retain them.

              1. fposte

                I don’t think any US company offering 60% pay for a year for maternity leave would struggle finding good people (I realize we’ve determined that Amber Rose is in Canada, but that’s the starting point for the conversation). When it’s a closed system, people aren’t leaving for competitors offering full pay for two leave years, because there aren’t any.

                Now they could step up their game for making sure that when the employee returned to the workforce it was with them, or pay more so that people could afford day care while they were working. But the US average benefits for maternity leave are low enough that I don’t think there’s much loss for people who go higher than the average, even if it’s lower than what we’d like.

                And I still don’t get where you think the money would come from and why it would be financially advisable to do this. Private industry has already decided that pensions, perhaps the primary method of supporting people in non-employee times, aren’t viable and have moved away from them; again, the countries we’re comparing ourselves to generally don’t rely on private support for retirees. I just don’t think it’s viable to try to create a system like, say, Finland’s but with the employer covering all the expenses that the government does. That’s been the rot at the heart of US health care.

      1. Amber Rose

        It’s a government program. In a sense it’s nice because no matter where you work, if you work for one year you get a year at 60% pay for mat leave.

        But, no matter where you work, you’ll never get more.

        1. Lynne

          Actually, some employers do top it up, so it’s possible to get more than what EI gives you, depending on where you work.

    3. Green

      You could equally argue that if there’s excellent parental benefits, then non-parents are “penalized” for not being parents because it’s a “benefit” they don’t ever get to use and get to pick up the slack for other colleagues who go on leave without getting the leave themselves.

      I think jobs should recognize that people have other priorities in life and provide leave, support, etc. as they are able and as much pay/flexibility as possible during those times (for example, end of life care for parents/spouses, etc.). But it is ultimately parents’ job to care for their children (and to plan financial, cut expenses, etc. to be able to do it), and paid time beyond the same granted to others for medical necessity, is a lovely benefit, not a “penalty.” 60% of normal pay is similar to most long-term disability insurance policies. I’m not sure why choosing to take time off to be with children is a decision that should get you full pay while disability isn’t?

      1. Amber Rose

        That 60% is disability pay. Essentially mat leave is considered long term disability and the government pays accordingly. I don’t agree with that in either case.

        1. Us, Too

          “mat leave is considered long term disability and the government pays accordingly.” Not quite, at least for me, in the US.

          FMLA allowed me to take 12 weeks off, but made no provisions for how/if I would get paid.

          My company’s disability package (having nothing to do with the government but just my company) applied ONLY as long as my doctor said I was disabled. For a vaginal birth that is typically 6 weeks, 8 for a c-section. In other words, disability pay applied only while I was recovering medically, not for my entire leave. And I REALLY needed that 6 weeks to recover so I think there is no question that this was a legitimate disability pay situation.

          My company is relatively awesome by US standards and I was permitted to use sick time (if I had it) to make up the difference in pay during that physical recovery period. If/when sick time ran out, they would pay the remaining pay for “maternity leave” benefits for the first 6 weeks. So I received 100% of my pay for the first 6 weeks due to a combination of disability pay, sick time that I had banked, and maternity leave pay.

          The remaining 6 weeks I had to cover through NON-sick (because I wasn’t sick anymore) PTO (that I had accrued), or no pay at all.

          1. Amber Rose

            I’m in Canada. We are a little more forgiving.

            But I was partly wrong, or rather, I identified the wrong program. It’s not disability, it’s employment insurance. The government EI program pays out for long term disability and mat leave.

            It’s Monday. My brain is only half functional. -_-

      2. Joey

        how are you being cheated out of anything if it’s available to you but you don’t want it?

          1. fposte

            I think Joey is saying that you’re not being cheated out of a benefit associated with child rearing if you chose not to rear a child; kind of like you’re not being cheated out of an employee gym benefit if you choose not to use the gym.

            1. Green

              I didn’t say “cheated”; I said “penalized” and it was in the context of a reply to a post that used it.

              The way one could get “penalized” under this theoretical system for not having a child is by having to cover for your colleagues when they have children and are paid for taking time off; they’re thus doing less work for the employer while earning the same rate of pay, while you’re doing even more than your “share” of the work while earning the same rate of pay without taking time off.

              But the primary point is that the poster isn’t being “penalized” for having children because you’re expected to do your job in order to get money in exchange for doing it. In the US, it’s a “benefit” not an entitlement. Better benefits make happier, healthier workers with more sane lives, which should include (but not be limited to) parental leave. Whether “A Good Thing” (parental leave) should be *required*, an *entitlement* or subsidized by others is a separate question.

    4. Retail Lifer

      I’ve never worked anywhere that had paid leave. Any place I’ve worked at has had whatever unpaid leave is legally mandated, probably taken after you’ve exhausted any vacation time.

      I’m so glad I’m not having kids. How do people afford this?

  12. Merry and Bright

    For #1, if a company has a slight problem they do sometimes like to wave it aside as temporary. Fast forward 2 years…

    Another thing strikes me here. When things are mega busy I appreciate being able to move away from my desk for a few minutes to get a coffee. It is such a small thing but a real sanity saver sometimes. If my desk was actually in the kitchen I wouldn’t get that.

    (I might be the next subject of “Dear Alison, my coworker spends too much time in the bathroom”.)

  13. Cheesecake

    OP #5 i hear this so often “…and they showed me the place where i might be sitting…i will defo get a job”. I steer clear from doing office tour with a candidate and getting carried away by exhibiting floor arrangements; it sends people so many bad mixed signals. If i have to give one job hunting advise that would be Alison’s “mentally moving on” one. Do not assume anything, even if they are nice even if they show you the desk; anything can change.

    Also, about the salary that they offered. If it was so much lower than what recruiter has told you, why were you so eager to go? This is a bit of red flag for me.

    1. fposte

      We give people tours quite frequently, but I agree with you on the overinterpretation; I’ve been interviewing and I smile at all my candidates, and they’ve all given really good answers. It doesn’t mean any of them are a lock.

      1. Cheesecake

        Our current office is set up the way that meeting rooms are in front of actual working space, but i used to have office where candidate would pass desks on the way to meeting room and i’d say “here is our marketing team and here is our sales, the opening you applied to is with this team in far left”. But saying “that free space there is where you will sit…” is a little mean, however i see that a lot simply because manager really liked candidate.

        Recently my friend had a office tour after her interview and she took it as a sign offer will be made tomorrow. And i had to calm her down a little :)

        1. fposte

          Yes, any of the “You will…” and “You would…” locutions raise hopes unnecessarily.

          1. Suzanne

            Yes, fposte, those words do raise hopes unnecessarily. A pet peeve of mine because it’s such a simple thing to avoid if you are interviewing. It seems simple. Say “If hired, you will…” rather than “You will…”

            1. fposte

              I would even avoid that, because in my experience candidates are going to tune out the first part and focus on the second. “The person this position will…” “The Teapot Smasher will…”

              However, I know how hard it is to avoid that when you’re interviewing somebody; it’s not as simple a thing as it seems. You’re talking face to face with a person and it’s tough to keep your speech to the abstract.

    2. MissLibby

      I had an interview recently that included an office tour. The hiring manager did point out the office where the person hired would sit, but I did not take this in anyway that an offer was forthcoming..he did not say this is where YOU will be sitting. The manager was actually very proud of the building and how it was designed for productivity…I almost felt like the tour was more for him to show off his building than for my benefit! When I was sharing with my spouse and friend that the interview included a tour they both exclaimed that for sure meant I was getting the job. In the end they hired an internal candidate. Agreed, never assume until the written offer is in hand!

    3. abby

      We do not give full tours, but we do show where the position would work. This is particularly important for certain positions, as we are in a temporary location and one department in particular is very crowded. The workspace that is designated for a position we are currently recruiting for is really awful (in my interoverted opinion) and could be a dealbreaker. In fact, the last person who held that position complained about the work location, so we think it’s important to show it up front. But to be very clear that the “successful candidate would work here” not “you would work here”.

    4. Mdz

      Thank you for the feedback on this.
      It was an exciting job prospect and the manager was fairly clear, in so many words that he would like me to come aboard.
      The entire issue is revolved around the sales director and I personally felt that her decision was made on personal reasons as opposed to professional.
      Here is a run down of what I ran into;
      I walked in and she mentioned that before they make a formal offer they have to do their due diligence including references and background check – this to me is no short of a decision already being made. This is 4:40 pm on a Friday and I was declined the position Monday morning.
      She sat back with her arms crossed, mentioned my VPs name and made the ‘not steal’ comment; further saying that you should think hard before taking this position and eventually asked me to let them know what I have decided the following week. Before I came back with my decision I was already declined and told that I was not a fit.
      All of this rubbed me the wrong way and my only concern is the ethics involved.
      I have no intentions of ever entertaining an interview with this company; I simply needed to gain some insight of what the workings could have been.

  14. Carrie in Scotland

    Alison:
    I’m finding the differences between maternity leave a fascinating discussion – is there any chance of opening up a post for this specifically? (or maybe just the Friday thread?)
    But it might be nice to hear from a mum, a manager, a co-worker whose workload increased etc – a discussion about the impact and what certain places could learn from others.

    As a UK citizen (I’m not a parent) we get much more mat leave than the US generally do – and yet, we still lag behind other EU countries in various aspects and our childcare costs are quite high (I think).

    1. fposte

      Not to mention the possible glass ceiling implications for women in countries with higher mat leave, too.

    2. Green

      There have been really interesting pieces on why paternity leave can actually be critical in shifting gender roles in the Atlantic.

    3. Cheesecake

      In some EU countries you can have up to 3 years of maternity leave (not all paid obviously), just saying.

      1. Rana

        Although the problem with the open threads is that they are so huge, and it’s impossible to tell what’s in them from the feed link. (These days I don’t have the time to wade through them, alas.)

  15. DrPepper Addict

    #1 – I was in almost the exact same situation as you. My cubicle was located directly across a small hallway from our lunchroom. It was incredibly distracting as you describe. People would congregate and talk and hang out while I was trying to get work done (in a call center environment no less!). The worst was when someone would bring fish and warm it up or burn the coffee in the coffee pots. The smells would linger all day!

    Luckily, I have always been good at tuning things out and after a while it didn’t bother me. But being IN the actual lunchroom would make it even tougher. Is your job one where you could work from home? If not, I agree with Alison that you should bring it up. It’s unfair to put someone in that situation and expect them to perform.

    Also, are you the only person in there? I was on a team of 4, so moving us all wasn’t an option, but if you’re in there by yourself I think it would be more doable. Also, my company had some cubicles on them that had doors that could be shut to create an almost office-like atmosphere. Depending on how much your company is willing to accommodate you, that might be something to look into. Good luck!

  16. FJ

    #3 – Definitely reasonable to ask about travel. My first job out of college was similar to your situation. I interned with the company the summer before, then was offered a job once I graduated. I graduated in May and started in August, with travel in the middle. I had two positions I was interviewing for and it was feasible to start late for one position, but not for the other. I’m still with the company after 6+ years, so it worked out well. (Side note – obviously some risks to waiting… the 2008 market crash happened right after I started and then there was a hiring freeze, so I’m not sure what would have happened I had tried to start later.)

  17. Allison

    #1, I was in a similar situation at my last job. They had me working with my team in a conference room, but then they had to take over that room for a project, and told me I could work out in this open space where people often ate lunch, congregated, or worked when they were visiting the office. Working in that area was awful, so much activity around me, so I ended up working from home most of the time, which my boss didn’t seem to mind. Of course, I ended up being let go due to budget reasons, and I’ll always wonder if my frequent absences from the office had something to do with it.

  18. Retail Lifer

    #1 – Seriously – how can anyone expect you to get much done in such an environment? Is there a janior’s closet you can duck into from time to time? Or a single restroom?

  19. hayling

    Regarding #5, since you got this interview through an external recruiter I would follow up with them to find out why you didn’t get the job. IMHO that’s an advantage to recruiting firms. Every time I’ve had an interview through a recruiter, I’ve gotten feedback from them. It’s to their advantage to make you a better candidate the next time (to increase the chances of them placing someone and getting paid) so they tend to give feedback.

  20. Mdz

    Alison I wanted to follow up on your comments regarding my question:

    All kinds of things: a candidate stronger than you emerged later in the process – Couldn’t have been since my interview started at 2:00pm Friday and ended at 4:40 pm and I was declined the position Monday morning

    or the sales director felt too uncomfortable hiring away someone working for her former boss – Possible

    or that other manager who sat in on your interview didn’t think it was as strong a match as the hiring manager did – the first manager is the one who called in the manager for the higher post. The manager of the higher post is the one who mentioned that he would love to have me on the team

    or someone else has input into the decision and prefers another candidate, or all sorts of other things. – Also possible

    Overall, this was an eye opening experience and I appreciate everyone’s feedback on this.

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