I want my manager to tell me our meeting topics in advance, my manager shoots down my team-building ideas, and more

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

1. Can I ask my manager to give me advance notice about what the topics of our meetings will be?

I frequently get emails from the admin assistant at my company stating that my boss (the CEO) wants to meet with me, and proposing a time for the meeting (usually an hour or two later). When I email her back to confirm the proposed time, I usually ask her to let me know what the meeting is about. She never knows. And given that the meetings are within the next couple hours, I’ve never felt that it’s appropriate to go to my boss and ask him what we’ll be discussing. So, I go these meetings without the faintest clue and without having done any preparation.

I feel I could contribute more if I had the opportunity to prepare or at lease cogitate on the topic of discussion prior to the meeting. Is it acceptable to tell my boss that I’d like some more info prior to meetings? Or, it is okay to ask his assistant to inquire about the topic when he requests meetings in the future?

If your answer is along the lines of “No, he’s he CEO, you just have to do what he says,” then I’d just like to put in a plea to all your blog’s boss readers: Please let your employees know what you want to meet with them about! Not everyone is great at thinking on their feet, so please don’t take away our ability to prepare.

Your boss probably just hasn’t thought about the fact that this would be useful to you. It’s perfectly reasonable to say to him, “I’d like to be able to prepare more for our meetings. Would it work for you to pass along the meeting topic to Jane when you ask her to schedule these, so that she can let me know and I’m not coming in blind?”

If your boss says yes, let Jane know about this too so that she can make a point of passing along to you any information he gives her — or to ask him if there’s a topic she should pass along to you if he doesn’t mention one.

2. I’m supposed to come up with team-building activities but my manager shoots them down

My department at the office has a Team Building Committee. Not until I joined this group did I realize just how tough it is to come up with different team building exercises that do not demean anybody, do not make anyone uncomfortable, and actually build a team.

We have had many different types of activities and it is just incredibly hard to keep coming up with more. The last activity that I suggested was more of a “camaraderie” type activity, and when I brought it up to my supervisor for approval (because although they seldom ever join our committee meetings or even provide ideas, they are quick to turn them down), she asked me, “What is the purpose of this activity? How is it going to build them team? What are we going to take away from it?”

So, I guess the activity was just too silly and not substantial enough.

I think that it would be helpful if they would join these meetings with the committee to kind of provide more feedback but, they really never do. It is becoming pretty stressful because my supervisor and manager want activities at the level of a paid consultant. I think that if they are so concerned about team building, perhaps they could invest in a professional. Do you have any team building suggestions that actually do work? This is such a dreadful topic but I would really appreciate any ideas because I’m all out of them.

I recommend you tell your manager that you’ve been looking into best practices on this and realized that you’re better off not doing them at all, because so many people hate team-building and find it a waste of time, and it can actually demoralize and alienate people, which is the opposite of what it’s intended to do.

But if you must do something, I have some thoughts here for things that aren’t traditional team-building activities, but will actually accomplish most of the goals team-buliding is supposed to achieve but generally doesn’t.

3. Personal use of company Mi-Fi

I’m curious what you think of this. I am an auditor for a government agency and travel away from home almost 100% of the time with a team of auditors who work under me. Because we need Internet service anywhere we work, and because the different places where we work may or may not have a way to give us access to the Internet, I have a Mi-Fi box assigned to me for me and my team to use. Up until recently, we had a limited data plan, but now we have unlimited data.

I know for a fact that other managers at my level have begun using their mi-fi on a regular basis to connect their personal cell phones, tablets, laptops, etc., both during in outside of work hours. I know that my boss and my boss’s boss do as well. There are official policies about personal use of laptops and the Internet during work hours but nothing really about this device. When I inquired whether this was ok, I was told it shouldn’t be advertised but that since the data package is unlimited, this is a perk of being in management. 

Part of me feels a little guilty about using this device freely. Should it bother me?

I don’t see why you should feel guilty. You have a plan that gives you unlimited data use, so your personal use while you’re traveling doesn’t cost your company anything extra. Plus, you have a job that keeps you on the road constantly; it’s reasonable to use perks like this to make that travel a little more comfortable. And again, there’s no cost to your company so I can’t see any reason not to use it.

4. Employee lied about how he was tracking mileage

My company pays corporate employees $.52/mile for miles driven on the company’s behalf. Employee A tells Employee B they track their mileage from their home address. Employee B mentioned it to me, I say WTF? That makes no sense, you track mileage from the office. You are expected to drive from your house to work each day without reimbursement.

Employee A tells me Employee B must have understood him and said he doesn’t track mileage from home, he tracks from office. Well, I could tell someone was lying. I looked back through Employee A’s mileage reports and did some quick Google Map analytics and found that some months, he was tracking from his home! Overall, it was $178 in mileage that should not have been paid.

My CEO thinks I’m being overdramatic. I say, if you will lie about mileage, what else will you lie about?

Yeah, the lying concerns me more than the mileage mishandling. How is this employee aside from this issue? This stuff tends to crop up with employees who aren’t great overall, so I’d take this as a flag to pay closer attention to him in general, as well as to address the lying. On the latter, I’d make it clear that you’re far less concerned about him possibly misunderstanding a policy and more concerned that he didn’t come clean when you asked him about it, and that being able to trust him, even on small things, is an absolute must-have for you.  (This assumes that you manage him, of course.)

That said, this is a pretty penny-pinching policy. I’m a fan of just letting people collect the mileage they drive for business, rather than insisting on calculating what it would be if you subtracted their normal commute.

5. Job ads that don’t list the company name

I am looking for legal secretarial / legal assisting work to gain experience until I get my master’s (I know your advice about master’s degrees, but it truly is a necessity for me, as I want to be a social worker in the legal system). I oftentimes use a reputable local job board to find jobs. Most of the times it doesn’t list the name of the law firm and it will just say “a busy downtown law firm” or “a large local law firm” in the description. I’m wondering if this is a common occurrence or should I stay away from them?

Yep, it’s pretty common. Most commonly it’s done when it’s actually a recruiting firm placing the ad; they don’t want applicants contacting the company directly, because they’re doing the work to recruit candidates and want to benefit from it (by getting a commission if they make the hire).

{ 222 comments… read them below }

  1. Kate

    How do you handle mileage when you are going to a different location further away from the office directly from home?

    I ran into this once and asked the manager at the other location how it is handled and they got offended that I even asked. The person at my home location said of course I get gas money since it is further than I normally drive into the office (about 50 miles each way) and reimbursed me.

    Who was correct?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      It depends on your company’s policy. Different companies handle it differently. Generally you’re just supposed to bring some judgment to it. If on a regular work day, you drive 50 miles to Client X first thing in the morning without stopping at your office first, but Client X is only 3 miles from your office, you’re not going claim 50 miles when your regular commute would have taken up 47 of them. But if it’s a significant amount above what you’d normally drive, it’s reasonable to claim it.

      1. Marzipan

        Our policy specifically states that you’ll get paid the shorter of actual mileage/distance from usual workplace. So, in Alison’s example, you’d get 3 miles (distance from workplace) but if you’re, say, starting the day by visiting Client Y at a site 47 miles from the office but 3 miles from your home, then you still get 3 miles (actual mileage).

        #4, this might be an opportunity to revisit the wording of the policy to ensure it’s clear with no room for interpretation. In no way would that excuse Employee A’s lie; but things like this give you the chance to look at the procedure while it’s come to your notice and see if it couldn’t be a bit better.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger

          Wow, that strikes me as a penny-pinching policy. But then, when I make site visits from the office I don’t count my commute, even if I go home from the work site. It just feels like the right thing to do since I have to drive right past my office anyway, and my employer is very reasonable, paying prepaid travel expenses (like plane tickets) the week after they’re incurred, even if you buy them months in advance. But when I’m working from home and I have to do a site visit, I count every tenth of a mile driven, because I wouldn’t have driven that distance otherwise. (My driveway’s only long enough for maybe three cars bumper-to-bumper, it’s not long enough to add on to the mileage. :D )

          1. A Bug!

            I agree that it’s a little penny-pinching, but if you’re in a position where leaving it up to employee discretion results in inappropriate mileage being billed, it’s kind of the only reasonable policy that’s really clear. If you’re going to have a policy, then it’s better to have one that’s not muddied up by a whole host of exceptions.

        2. AnotherFed

          Good point about the policy – the employee certainly shouldn’t have lied, but it’s within the realm of the possible that he was confused about the policy, realized it was wrong, and then was afraid to admit it.

          As a government employee, I have some experience with horrendously confusing travel and mileage policies. Ours are so confusing, though, that whenever there’s a new employee or new traveller, the supervisor just sits down and pretty much does the paperwork for them. There’s also the understanding that it’s easy to make a mistake, so when one happens, it’s addressed as ‘let’s fix this together’ and not ‘you’re defrauding the government.’

          1. JB (not in Houston)

            That’s a good point. But it’s still a concern because you need employees to not panic at having to admit a mistake and then lie to cover it up. Hopefully this was a one time deal and the employee feels embarrassed that they lied. But if it were my employee, I’d keep my eye on them going forward to see if there’s a pattern.

            1. Colette

              It also depends on who the OP is. If she’s the manager, I’d put more weight on the employee lying than if she’s an overly-interested coworker.

            2. AnotherFed

              Absolutely – it doesn’t justify lying, and it means you have to worry about the employee hiding other, possibly bigger problems. It could be the employee, or it could be that the culture doesn’t handle mistakes well. It’s like the Dilbert comic about lying employees – if they all are doing it, it’s probably because the management has trained them to do so by punishing honesty.

              1. De Minimis

                Ours has the penny pinching policy where you get paid mileage for the amount that is greater than your normal commute, but I think I may be the only one that abides by it.

      2. Kate

        We have no clear policy which is why I had asked and didn’t think it was an unreasonable question. I was annoyed at the implication I was being greedy for asking. Fifty miles each way longer than my normal commute is no small thing (home to normal work location is under 10 miles).

        1. CAsey

          That’s almost $60 (we’re $.57/mile) or 6,000 pennies — which would be really difficult to pinch. Psh, I’d submit that for reimbursement too. Don’t feel greedy!

      3. LD

        Our policy specifically states to track mileage from our office address to the address of wherever we are going. It makes the policy and the calculations consistent. The management says that they believe it’s less of a burden to calculate and that if once in awhile an employee drives to somewhere directly from home and it’s a little closer to home than office, they aren’t concerned. And they are correct, it makes it easy to track and if we need to we can just use one of the mapping applications to provide instead of our actual mileage.

      4. Confused

        Alison, I think you need to look into this because I think you are giving wrong advice. My understanding is that it’s not company policy it’s IRS policy on how to reimburse for mileage and that IRS regulation says that you have to subtract for normal commute otherwise that portion is taxable to the employee. This is an important distinction if so and could create tax problems for people if they are following wrong advice.

    2. periwinkle

      I drive a lot around the metro area for meetings in my employer’s other facilities, almost always leaving from/returning to home since I work the balance of the day at home or the other site (parking at my regular office is… challenging). We are reimbursed for mileage beyond our normal commute distance so I use Google Maps to calculate the actual roundtrip distance I drive and subtract the distance of my normal daily commute. One of my regular visits is 26 miles away. (26 x 2) = 52 – 13 (normal roundtrip commute) = 39 miles on the expense report.

      1. Judy

        I’m pretty sure under US tax laws, any reimbursement for your normal commute would be considered income. That’s why many companies have the mileage equal the shorter of actual mileage or mileage from your normal work location to the destination.

        1. BananaPants

          Yup. I work in two locations, primarily our office but also in a test facility around 15 miles from the office. The test facility happens to be just a couple of miles from my home and is a much shorter distance than my normal commute to the office. If I start the day at the test facility and then drive to the office (or vice versa) I’ll claim one way mileage for the trip between work locations, but not the commute itself. The only time I can claim round trip mileage is if I actually make a round trip between the facilities.

          The IRS is pretty clear about what can be counted as mileage and what can’t.

    3. Meg

      At my previous federal job, we were supposed to note where we started from and where we ended. We were then supposed to subtract out the distance from home to work and work to home, if applicable. For example, if I was seeking reimbursement for a round trip to a field stop and never went in to work that day, I was supposed to subtract out 11 miles (the distance of my home from my work) for my way to work and 11 miles for my return trip. If I ended my journey at work, then I only had to subtract out the 11 miles from home to work since I wasn’t being reimbursed for the drive home from work. However, my former workplace’s policy was extremely clear and in written format so no one should have been surprised.

    4. CAA

      The IRS has a diagram that shows what mileage expenses are deductible on your personal taxes if your employer does not reimburse for them: http://www.irs.gov/publications/p463/ch03.html#en_US_2014_publink1000136362

      Generally, if something would be deductible on your personal taxes, it’s deductible on the corporation’s taxes if they reimburse you for the expense, so most companies set policies that are exactly aligned with the IRS requirements.

      Your company is allowed to have a different policy, but if they choose to reimburse more than they can deduct, then that becomes income to you and they and you both have to pay taxes on it. So if you can’t get a straight answer, default to claiming what the IRS would allow.

      1. Treena Kravm

        +1. The policy is usually the IRS regulations, even if they’re not enforced to a T.

    5. Vera

      At my current & previous company, we always deducted your total work commute. If it ends up negative, you claim nothing. I travel often for work, here are some examples:

      Example #1: Coworker lives about 10 miles north of the office. The airport is 30 miles south of the office. That’s 20 miles RT for a commute and 80 miles RT to the airport. They would claim 60 miles for reimbursement.

      Example #2: I live between the office and the airport. My total commute to work is 60 miles RT. My commute to the airport is 20 miles RT. If on my travel days I don’t go to the office, I don’t claim anything for travel to/from the airport because I otherwise would have spent more gas getting to the office.

      Example #3: If for some reason I had to go to the office the same day of my flight out of town, I would actual travel 30 miles to work + 40 miles to the airport + 10 miles from the airport to home = 80 total miles traveled. I would still not claim anything, because my normal commute would have been 60 miles on travel out day and 60 miles travel in day = 120 miles. 80 miles – 120 miles = -40, therefore, I don’t claim anything.

  2. Kate

    Oh and other location was in five opposite direction than the office from my house if that matters any.

  3. Brett

    #3 Unlimited is often not really unlimited. I also work for a government agency that has a similar “unlimited” data plan but it is really a pooled plan of a massive number of devices. The “unlimited” pool is the composite of the allowance for all the combined devices. Extra use does have a cost, but only really matters if the monthly unlimited pool is running. Personal use is audited by the telecommunications team and crackdowns do happen. This varies from provider to provider, but right now we use Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon and all of those are pretty similar (one of my office co-workers is in charge of the department-wide data plan).
    But… they care about excessive usage rather than personal usage. If you are not getting warnings, then you are not doing enough to impact the overall pool. Until telecommunications/IT tells you otherwise, odds are the pool is enough to cover everyone and you don’t really have a problem.
    One important aspect because you are a government agency… be aware of the relevant sunshine laws for your internet traffic and the extent to which your traffic is captured and recorded. There may be man in the middle monitoring of the websites you visit and private emails you send over a government paid network, and those could even be sunshine-able to some extent.

    1. Ani

      Yes, at the very least expect someday to see the GAO and/or inspector general – type public report to Congress on the websites etc accessed via government unlimited usage. Too, there could someday be a Freedom of Information Act request for all correspondence sent on the government time/dime.

      1. AnotherFed

        That’s true for everything, though – and presumably every time you log onto your government devices, you see that message. That doesn’t mean you can’t pay your bills on your gov’t computer outside of working hours (especially if you are traveling), it just means you should expect that to be logged. It’s not a big deal unless you’re sucking up a lot of data with streaming music/video (already against most gov’t policies) or you start to get investigated for something else and they see you’ve spent half of every workday on I Can Haz Cheezeburger.

        Since the OP indicated she’s an auditor, it’s quite possible that the government is already monitoring private communications, at least on a periodic basis, as part of anti-corruption or security measures. (Hello, NSA!)

        1. The Cosmic Avenger

          Well, I believe the OP said their coworkers are using their personal devices on the MiFi hotspot, so IMO the only issue is data usage. I wouldn’t have thought it was an issue, but Brett raised some interesting points on that. Still, my company even covers a limited number of personal calls a day when you’re on travel, since people may want or need to call home at least once a day. (Although most people now have unlimited long distance on their cells, I know this policy was in effect 10-15 years ago when it wasn’t the case.) So while it depends on the OP’s agency policy, I think personal use when away from home should be considered in a different light than while in the office.

          1. AnotherFed

            The MiFi hotspot is a government device, so there’s every indication the federal government would count all network traffic through it as use of a government device.

            I am not claiming that government policies always (ever?) make sense from the standpoint of retaining good employees, but government policies answer to Congress and the taxpayer, who rarely care about the long term impact over the immediate, easily quantified cost savings.

            1. The Cosmic Avenger

              Oh, I know, but in my client agency, using your personal device on the agency’s guest network is expected, and it’s only noted at all if you’re streaming gigs and gigs of data. Or even on the main network you’re allowed limited, reasonable personal use during business hours to do things like pay bills or send personal email. Of course the OP should find out what their agency’s policy is, but my client agency, while it doesn’t deal with intelligence or national security, does deal with some sensitive information, and so the whole network is secured and requires at least a Public Trust clearance to be granted an account.

    2. Engineer Girl

      I can’t imagine the IT department would be happy with personal devices attaching to the MiFi. That’s as much a security risk as devices attaching to the company internet.

      1. Engineer Girl

        The more I think of this the more it bothers me. Just set up a hotspot with your cell phone and laptop. Or get your own MiFi and sim card /data plan. Some are incredibly cheap. As a bonus, you can use it with the kids in your car etc.

        1. GovHRO

          #4. Don’t use the MiFi. When Congress gets reports of someone misusing internet, the IG will do a big audit and it will make the news that government workers are using public resources to fund 100s of hours of personal phone/intranet/etc. As public servants we should avoid even the appearance of impropriety. If you want to do it anyways get an ethics attorney opinion and or your information security officers blessing first for “safe harbor” first.

        1. AnotherFed

          Depends on how it’s set up – it shouldn’t be, if the individual computers on the network all have good security (which presumably they do if you were allowed to use hotel internet before you go this device!). What typically is the problem is when someone connects their smartphone to the laptop to charge it/download new music/whatever.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger

            Yeah, if they’re offsite, they probably are using a VPN with their work equipment, and using the same internet connection casually shouldn’t affect the security of the VPN that I can see, although I would probably check with my security people if I was the OP, because violating operational security is a much more serious issue than personal use of agency resources.

        2. A Non

          Shouldn’t be. A MiFi is a mobile internet connection, not a mobile your-0ffice’s-netwok connection. And at this point, a lot of companies are fine with people connection personal devices to the company wifi in the office. Unless you’re in a high security environment, it’s not a big deal. Just be aware that it all can be monitored if someone decides to look, so stay away from stuff you don’t want your coworkers knowing about.

      2. Student

        No, it isn’t. It’s a different network entirely. The MiFi is just a cellular access point to the general internet, not to a specific company internal network. They’re merely eating company bandwidth.

        It’s more analogous to having the employees plug their work laptops into the hotel wired network or the Starbucks wireless network while on business travel – which sounds like a perfectly ordinary and expected use of company resources for a group of people who are 100% on travel.

        If they need to access company internal stuff, they ought to be using a VPN on their company laptop.

        1. Anonymous Educator

          Connecting work laptops to a Starbucks wireless network is actually more insecure than connecting personal devices to a MiFi.

          1. Jamie

            Absolutely this. Depending on the settings Mi-Fi may not be a big deal, but public wi-fi would give me a stroke.

    3. Anon for this

      My husband has a work iphone that he is allowed (and encouraged) to use as his personal phone. It includes an “unlimited” hot spot. We use it when we travel or if our internet goes out at home but we don’t use it for our primary internet. They claim it isn’t monitored but I don’t believe that.

      1. Treena Kravm

        I have a work/personal phone, and I have the max deducted from my paycheck to pay for the personal use ($20/month), and I stream Pandora from it while I’m driving (both work and personal trips). I don’t do video or any other high-use, so I don’t have any qualms.

  4. Samantha

    I was advised, wrt mileage when leaving from home, to use either “home” or “work,” as the starting point – whichever was closer to the destination.

  5. Jeanne

    For #2, please take the advice. No one except managers who need metrics actually wants team building. My idea of team building? The work is distributed so that all do their share of working late. The boss keeps the team informed as to what is expected. Everyone gets the training they need. Etc. I’m sure everyone here could make a list of similar things.

    1. Snoskred

      One place I worked would block off time in the calendar for two teams to play board games against the other team. Games that were relatively quick like team scrabble, or uno were the favourites for the hour long sessions.

      Sometimes just an hour here or there, but if we met all our goals for the month they would block off an entire afternoon and put on a lovely do, they’d do some tasty sandwiches and treats, and all the teams would play – we had 4 different teams – we’d have one team member assigned to each game eg trivial pursuit, monopoly, scrabble, and every so often we’d all swap and move down a game.

      It was the time spent together that counted the most and though we have all moved on to other jobs, our team keeps in touch.

      On the negative side, when you have a great team and some of them start to move on, it can be really hard to keep working somewhere without them.. :/

      1. Marcy

        I would actually hate this. So would most of the people I work with. If I have met my goals, then reward me by letting me go home early. Playing games at work is not a reward- I would rather just be given more work.

        1. Cheesecake

          I agree, to enjoy that you must absolutely adore the colleagues, each and everyone in the team. Otherwise, yes, day off please

        2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

          Yes. Yes. This kind of thing is not fun if you are a person with lots of obligations and little time to yourself outside of work. For a sleep-deprived parent, a person dealing with chronic illness, a busy worker who never has time for dates with their partner, the person who came to work even though they have terrible seasonal allergies, someone caring for an older relative etc….being required to sit at work and play games when you are desperate for some time to get things done is really frustrating. Let me work while I’m at work, and then let me go home.

        3. mdv

          Working in a university office that MUST stay open the predetermined hours and answer the phone for the same, leaving early if all my work is done isn’t an option. But the times of year that we’re slow enough to play board games, we do.

        4. Jamie

          I’m with Marcy – going home early is a treat…playing games at work so I need to stay later to finish is a cruel prank.

        5. Snoskred

          We worked in the city and generally most of us had set in stone ways of getting home – my partner would drive in to pick me up, so going home early was not really an option.

          This was a call centre outbound calling to current customers role, and everyone on my team absolutely loved their job and we all got along incredibly well, so any time we got to spend together was a bonus, but to have those game sessions at the end of the week if we hit our targets and that once a month huge session was brilliant.

          The building had a floor which used to be a work cafeteria back in the 70’s, and the once a month games afternoon we all got to go up there and it was set up so beautifully.. Had they given me an option to go home, I would never have taken it!

          This golden time did not last especially long – 9 months into the role the company changed everything – we went from having our own desk to hot-desking, our shifts were changed to either morning or afternoon, and within 2 weeks of this, most of my team was gone and I was already interviewing to get out.

          It is still unbelievable to me that they took high performing teams and threw them down the toilet – and from all reports – they never got anything like that performance out of the new staff they had to hire to replace us.

      2. Felicia

        I wouldn’t hate this, but wouldn’t love it, and often would rather go home (but sometimes would like it and want to stay). It depends on the day for me.
        Two things I hate about fun and games in the workplace is if they’re mandatory, especially if they take up
        time that would otherwise be my free time. If they’re during the workday i’m a little better with them since i have to be there anyways. I also hate if they involve anything physical, as that leaves a lot of people out, both people with disabilities and many others. I also hate anything competitive just in general.
        I do get what you’re saying about a great team though. I work in an office of 3…me , my boss , one coworker. I get along great with both of them, especially my one coworker to the point where we’re almost outside work friends, and work together well in addition to getting along well. She’s been with teh company way longer than me and I feel like she might move on soon, and it makes me sad to think of working without her.

      3. Cath in Canada

        I’ve participated in a couple of vicious games of monopoly on work trips (on the iPhone app, in the airport and on the plane) that almost destroyed a collaboration.

        OK, I’m exaggerating, but not by much!

      4. Treena Kravm

        I picture the type of office that would enjoy this is similar to the one in The Office. Primarily sales, they made their numbers, but they can’t leave the office because they need to be there if a customer calls.

    2. Jen RO

      I’m sure arguments could be found against every single team building exercise on the planet, but there are people who enjoy them. My company organized a huge team building event for 500+ and, while it wasn’t free of silly exercises, it was a huge hit because it ultimately meant a day out in the sun on the company’s dime.

      Let’s not generalize, ok?

      1. Marcy

        If it is voluntary, that’s fine. I would rather work than socialize with coworkers.

        1. Jazzy Red

          Yeah. We used to have a saying in our office: “I may have to work with these clowns, but I don’t have to drink with them”.

          Jeanne’s answer was right on. A great workplace will have all the employees feeling like they’re all on the same team (with the exception of those who grumble about everything).

      2. illini02

        Totally I agree. I like some of these things. So while yes, time off is always preferable, if its the “team building”
        (the type many people seem to hate) or nothing, give me the team building any day. I get this varies by office, but I think they usually come from trying to do something good. Maybe people should just try to enjoy things sometimes instead of going into it hating it.

      3. Kyrielle

        Agreed. For most team-building exercises, there will be some who will enjoy them and some who won’t.

        The hard part is finding ways to do them that work for the team(s) you’re dealing with.

        (Yours sounds like my personal misery, unless it was fall or winter. I love the outdoors, but not all day, and I have allergies and don’t do well in heat. I might like the activities! But not the space. On the other hand, I would enjoy the board games mentioned above…. Different styles!)

    3. Cheesecake

      I think problem is in the name, because when i hear “team building” i immediately think about awkward team exercises. My husband had one recently where they had to do “laughing yoga”: they stood in a circle and tried to laugh. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad; their whole function is so overworked and they had entire day for this teamstuff so a lot of them were working weekend to pick up. Anyway, if not called team building and this is just a get together as Jen Ro described – why not?

      1. CatDog

        Ex-Job (an outdoorsy company) proudly announced that we were going to have a day of team building, at one of our centres we owned in a national park. The centre was created to offer fun activities, like archery, climbing, canoeing etc.

        It turns out that we were going there to paint walls and sort through cupboards of junk. That was our “team building”. Would’ve been better if they had just said that they wanted cheap labor.

        1. Colette

          Unless you make less than professional painters and cleaners, it wasn’t cheap labor – although I agree it’s not really a team building activity.

        2. AntherHRPro

          My company encourages community service, so about once a year each department will have a half day community service day where we all go and work at a charity. The work is typically cleaning, painting, yard work, etc. I always laugh seeing so many of us do this work for a charity when a great deal of these very people pay others to do this work at their own home. :)

          That said, it is very nice. It does a little team building but also is self-rewarding helping others. And it is great working for a company that encourages this.

    4. AnotherFed

      I don’t actually think that statement is true. We tend to be a collection of introverts here who think forced socializing or time away from getting real things accomplished is horrifying, but some people actually really like it. They want to feel like their coworkers are their friends, and they’re more relationship oriented even at work. I find this baffling, but if they’re willing to meet me halfway and not get insulted if I forget to add the polite noise to conversations, I’ll appear at their May the 4th event long enough to eat their Yoda-shaped cookies. :)

      1. Jamie

        I’m not exactly gregarious myself, but I’ve made friends at every workplace I’ve had. And with very rare exceptions have had excellent professional rapport with most and all of this was forged by working with them.

        Showing up at a party to eat a cupcake and pretend to mingle is necessary at times, sure, but the people who like the socializing can totally do that without needing the office to sponsor the forced socializing you’re talking about. They can go to lunch, go for drinks, play softball on weekends, whatever…but if they want to feel like co-workers are friends they should know that forcing people into it never works.

      2. Revanche

        Yeah I feel the same generally but even I’ve worked with people I like enough in the past to voluntarily spend some time with them off work hours. Key: it was voluntary!

    5. John

      The one team building thing we do which is kind of nice is when we do community service projects. It’s meaningful — not just an exercise — and you get to know people better.

      1. OriginalEmma

        Paid and during work time, I hope. It’s one of my pet peeves that employers want to demonstrate how “community oriented” they are…but won’t give emploees a paid day to perform community service or won’t cover the full cost of an employer-sponsored community service event (e.g., making employees cost-share when the employer sponsors a group service via Habitat for Humanity).

        1. Retail Lifer

          They tried to force us to “volunteer” at a food pantry. On a Saturday. At 6am. Half the people I work with are tough to get along with, and EVERYONE is tough for me to get along with at 6am on my supposed day off.

          1. Jaune Desprez

            I would fight this to the death. I’m an early morning person, and I’ve previously volunteered at a food bank and found it rewarding! But I will never, never, never be voluntold.

        2. Hlyssande

          My company will pay you for 8 hours of volunteering…as long as you’re volunteering for one of the United Way-approved/sponsored things. None of the charity ventures I support have anything to do with UW, so I can’t take advantage.

    6. "What are you thinking about?"

      I’m not a fan of “team building” exercises, but

      … she asked me, “What is the purpose of this activity? How is it going to build them team? What are we going to take away from it?”

      I’m not seeing how these are particularly bad questions to ask. Admittedly, the answers may be subject to some debate, but these are questions I myself would want to ask of my management if I were selected to take part in some such team building activity.

      1. Michele

        I agree. I don’t think those questions are indicative of shooting the ideas down, they are just questions to be asked. If MUST do teambuilding exercises, at least have them serve some sort of purpose.

    7. Artemesia

      I used to teach college grad courses for working professionals and classes were often heavily team based and taught on weekends (since we were in class up to 8 hours a day, obviously a lecture or even seminar discussion format would not be effective and so there were lots of different activities during the course of the instruction). Part of making such a class work is how you start it off and the kinds of get acquainted and team building activities you begin with. ANd even in this situation, I would never use the kinds of silly pointless activities so often hawked by consultants for ‘team building.’ My standard was the activity needed to help team members get to know each other by working on a relatively fun or interesting task together that also introduced the subject matter of the course. There are books full of orientation activities that do not do this and lots of students hate them and I hated to give up valuable class real estate on them. At the end of the orientation activity that we would use, we would always move into laying out the goals for our learning and expectations for the course. The activity itself which often drew on people’s experiences related to the subject matter of the course set that up and served the social needs of the team.

      I think this goes double for workplace team building. I have experienced both kinds of activities and the one that doesn’t leave people shaking their heads at the waste of time is one that actually helps the team address a communication problem or try out a new problem solving approach using the actual challenges of the workplace.

      And if you are building a tower out of toothpicks and marshmallows or doing other stupid stuff, better have a way to relate that fairly quickly to some actual issues the team faces if you don’t want to be a joke. Or better yet, stop the sillies and focus on the real team issues of the real team.

    8. M-C

      I’d add a little twist to this #2 – can you resign from this committee? If you can do it while mentioning that all you read about the topic leads you to conclude it’s not just pointless but something most employees actively loathe, you might make a useful and lasting point :-).

      But don’t do it if it’ll get you pegged as noncooperative and get you the side-eye from management. If so, then just stop bringing in ideas so actively, plead extreme busyness and just pitch in for visible busy work if there’s some that can’t be avoided.

    9. Joe

      “No one except managers who need metrics actually wants team building.”

      Argh! Why is it that people on either side of this debate so often have to state it in absolutes? “Everyone loves this!” “Everyone hates this!”

      I have learned, over the years, that there is value in team building if it helps the team to develop better relationships and work better together as a result. When you only interact in a work context, it’s easy to see people through the lens of their work alone, and not respect them as human beings. When you have personal interactions with them, you will often work better with them.

      To give a personal example, I used to work with someone that I had a lot of difficulty with. Things I needed from his team would take a long time, we butted heads over how to tackle some complicated problems, etc. Then we went to a conference together (along with a couple of other people) in Vegas. For three nights, we spent a couple of hours together at the poker table, having a good time in a relaxed atmosphere. The impact was profound, and after that, we were able to work together much better. He was more open to my input and my team’s timing needs, I was more open to the idea that there were valid reasons behind his thinking, etc. The walls we had put up between us disappeared.

      Yes, I know, this is one anecdote, but I have seen this kind of thing time and again. When things are great, you don’t need team building, but when relationships are strained, spending a little time on the personal things can make people work better together.

  6. Short and Stout

    I feel your pain OP1. Exboss used to do this the whole time, and then used to comment on how uncomfortable I looked in the meeting. This was an academic environment that I left pretty quickly as we had such different work styles that I found I couldn’t get anything done.

    1. Matt

      I can so relate to that … for me it’s the same with phone calls rather than meetings. I loathe receiving phone calls because I’m not good at thinking on my feet and hate being put on the spot. Every now and then someone doesn’t reach me by phone (as you can guess, I’m not quite eager to pick up on every call ;-) and then sends an email just saying “please call me back”. Can’t they at least give me a hint what it’s about?

      Meetings with secret agenda are a very rare thing at my place, thank God.

      1. Artemesia

        It probably goes back to experiences I had when I was 3 years old, but even as a seasoned professional in a responsible management position, I always got a little frisson of fear and paranoia when asked to ‘call the boss’ without the topic being given. I think lots of people tend to imagine the worst when they get a phone call from an authority figure. How much kinder to leave the message, ‘Please call Fred to discuss the TPS reports.’

      2. Graciosa

        I do sympathize with being stuck in a position where you’re expected to do something (like think on your feet) that is not one of your strengths, but it might help to remember that this may be coming from someone who enjoys this type of approach and has no malicious intent behind keeping the agenda “secret.” The person may honestly not know exactly what they’re going to discuss.

        I admit that I’m guilty of this – but only with highly trusted deputies I use to test my ideas. I normally have multiple topics that have built up on which I want some input, and then think “I need some time with Percinet to talk these over.” If someone asked me for an agenda, I would probably say that I just wanted to talk over a few things – which I admit is not helpful in preparing, but I’m not expecting preparation.

        The very few people I’ve done this with get to hear what’s really going on in my brain in something close to real time, which can be a great gift for someone in a junior role. I’ve covered ways in which I’m thinking about reorganizing the team, solving difficult business problems, developing employees, restructuring work, handling relationships with other departments, responding to changing business conditions or strategic direction from the C-suite, and a host of other topics. I’m normally juggling many of these at once, and I’ll start talking over whatever is at the top of my mind until that topic is done, and then pick another one.

        Obviously, I don’t have the same issues thinking on my feet, and I love strategy discussions (I’m an INTJ) although I don’t expect everyone else to. What I’m looking for in these meetings is a sounding board, and I have had deputies tell me that I wasn’t considering X, or my plan would do serious damage to Y unless I found a way to do Z.

        This is one reason why those individuals had my trust – they told me negative things I needed to hear without worrying in that moment about the fact that I also did their performance reviews. It does show up in their performance reviews – I did have someone who was surprised about this the first time! – as a major positive and a great strength. This type of input is unbelievably valuable to a leader.

        I watch for signs that someone isn’t comfortable with this type of sounding board role – candidly, they are of no use to me in such a meeting if they’re not, so why waste the time? – but I’m pretty careful in selecting my deputies at this point. It is a significant compliment when I ask for this type of meeting and input.

        I absolutely agree that the OP should ask about an agenda, and her boss may not be looking for the type of meeting I describe at all – but she should keep in mind that some of the disconnect may be a gap caused by different personality types or misunderstood expectations. If the boss likes to have these types of sounding board meetings, he may not realize that the OP either doesn’t have the natural ability to respond as quickly, or simply prefers as a matter of style to feel that she is more prepared for the meeting.

        I would urge everyone to keep in mind that people with different personality types do think differently. The boss may be thinking these meetings are a great compliment, and assuming that the OP would love to be able to participate in these discussions (I would have!) without realizing the OP dislikes it. The OP may – as you did, Matt – assume that there’s an element of rudeness or carelessness in not giving the OP information needed to prepare, which obviously everyone would want (unless you’re a different type that does not care about this).

        Try to avoid imputing evil intent where the problem may be just a matter of style preference.

        1. OP1

          Thanks for your thoughts! Thinking back on some of these meetings, I bet my boss had probably intended them to be along the lines of what you describe: casual discussions to throw around ideas, etc. Though I sometimes feel bad that I go into the meetings unprepared, it certainly is possible that my boss specifically does NOT want me to take the time to prepare. I do wish I was better at thinking on the spot, but I can at least work toward feeling more comfortable in these situations so as to not hamper the small bit of spur-of-the-moment ideas I may have deep down inside.

  7. M

    OP5 – I’m a legal assistant, and yes, this is absolutely normal. Especially for bigger firms. In my area it’s rare for any firm to advertise directly unless they’re very small or have no budget for recruitment whatsoever. I am actually more suspicious of firms that don’t go through a recruiter, mainly because I’ve worked (briefly and painfully!) at a small firm which had been blacklisted by every recruitment company in the city – recruiters don’t get to keep the commission, generally, if the candidate doesn’t stay 12 months, and turnover at that place was outrageously high.

  8. Buu

    For #6 copy and paste a few phrases from the ad into Google. If it’s placed by a lazy agency they often just copy entire phrases from the companies job ad. If I didn’t get the job listing through a recruiter then I’ll just apply direct. If I did then at least I have some idea of who it’s likely to be.

    1. INTP

      This is not necessarily a lazy practice, just a practical one. The recruiting agency gets a job description from the HR contact at the client company. That job description is how the client company wants to represent the job, so it’s the safest bet for advertising it accurately. We pretty much just edited the job descriptions if they were ridiculously long, inaccurate (after confirming via a chat with the hiring managers), or missing key qualifications. It would be unethical to change the content of a job description without confirming with the client and pointless to reword the same content unless it was poorly written.

      Sometimes you’ll have luck applying directly with the hiring company (and yes, you probably can find it if it’s posted). But there are also situations where only the agency is actively recruiting for the position, yet won’t work with you if you’ve applied through the company because they won’t get paid. For ex, we’d work with tiny tech companies with one HR generalist without the time or background knowledge to work much on filling the most technical positions. Or we’d have an agreement that we had X days to work on a position exclusively before the internal recruiters did, even though the job was posted on the company website automatically.

    2. TootsNYC

      Yeah, how is that lazy? It’s efficient. (Full disclosure: my slogan at work is, “I don’t make manila folders for the individual projects; we can just use the hanging file folders, and then a binder clip for archiving. Because I’m lazy, and I don’t want to do unnecessary work.” I say “I’m lazy,” but really, I don’t like being wasteful.)

      And with a job description, as the hiring manager, I wouldn’t want the recruiter to go tweaking the language to get creative! I’ve picked those phrases for a reason!

      Nonetheless, that’s a smart tactic, especially if it gives you more information to research the company before you interview.

      1. Anonymous Educator

        It’s not just efficient… it’s actually ethical. I would be extremely annoyed as a company hiring manager if we sent a job description to a recruiter, and the recruiter decided to get creative and make her own description or reword ours!

  9. Apollo Warbucks

    #4 Its not penny pinching. I’m not sure how it works in the US but in the UK you can’t let employees claim for their normal journey to work with out there being tax implications for the firm and the individual, and if mishandled it would be breaking the law.

    The normal commute is not a business expense so should be excluded from any claim, or the accounting process would need to allow for the portion of the claim for the regular commute to be recorded separately so it could be excluded from any returns made to the internal revenue service and the tax income tax owed by the employee would need to be collected.

    1. Carrie in Scotland

      This is true for students claiming expenses at my workplace. When they go out on placements their normal journey expenses/miles are excluded as they would have to come to university regardless (return journey). If their return journey to uni is more than their placement journey, they don’t receive any expenses as it works out to be a negative number (I think – my officemate deals with the travel claims, not me)

    2. Not So NewReader

      It could have changed in the last ten years, but it seems to me that in the US it matters if you regularly go to one specific work site OR if you normally go to various sites.

      And example of a person who goes to one specific site would be a retail worker. Meetings in other stores would require subtracting out the normal commute distance and paying a rate for the difference.
      However, someone who does onsite computer repairs at the customer’s location would be different, since it is expected that their first call in the morning would be different each day.

      I think that if OP looks at tax laws, she will find that it’s NOT the company that is being ridiculous. sigh…

  10. sophiabrooks

    Our policy is that it is always from work– apparently even if home is a shorter distance! My boss once submitted a trip that was 5 miles from her house and 10 miles from work, and was told she had to submit the 10 miles! I think it was just a very rule bound accountant, but it made me laugh and it made my boss livid (she was very frustrated with our school and later quit).

    1. Case of the Mondays

      My husband worked somewhere with a similar policy. They always claimed to and from work regardless of where you lived. This was in part because they worked a job where keeping their identity private was paramount and their expense reports could be subject to FOIA. You don’t want your home address on that.

  11. Rebecca

    #2 when I think of team building, I remember that awful time in the 90’s when the HR department at my first job thought it would be great for us to listen to speeches by Lou Holtz, do three legged races with one person blindfolded, and of course, trust falls, among other things. One poor woman had just had back surgery and had come back to work, and was expected to participate in that stupid 3 legged race! She rightfully refused, due to the fall risk, etc. and also was exempted from the trust falls. The only thing I remember about that whole stupid thing was that my work backed up on my desk while we were fiddling around with that nonsense. Ugh. Just UGH!

    1. Artemesia

      Ah yes my other big complaint about ‘team building’ i.e. being subjected to jerks yelling or being shown films of coaches yelling at teams. A huge number of people in leadership positions seem to have abusive half time speeches by bullying coaches as their model and define ‘leadership’ as yelling and telling. I once taught undergraduates an HR/training class in which the big project was a half hour instructional session designed and delivered; a lot of athletes wanted to do training on leadership that used that model even though most of them had taken courses on leadership previously that were much more sophisticated. Although each class member was in a team of 6 for these presentations, I had to sit through all of them of course and it could be a long day if I had not headed this off in earlier consultations on topics and design.

      1. Not So NewReader

        I equate yelling with loss of control, period. If you are not in control you are not capable of leading. I have seen the yelling coaches videos, I wasn’t impressed. I guess it reasonates with some people though. Generally, when someone starts yelling then I am done listening.

  12. Xarcady

    For #2, my question is, why does the team need such constant “re-building” that there’s a committee for team building? As a manager, I’d be taking a good hard look to find out what is keeping the group from functioning as a team–are there barriers to being a team? Physical layout of the office space, a bully on the team, just plain old too much work, boring work?

    But since the OP can’t do that, perhaps asking someone exactly what the “team building” is supposed to be doing would help. If they want people sharing ideas more, then some activities where they share ideas.

    A good team trusts each other. If there is a lack of trust in the department, with people stealing each other’s ideas, or gossiping, or spreading rumors, or trying to undercut each other, or stealing sales, then all the team building ideas in the world won’t help.

    1. Cheesecake

      We used to have a committee for all activities and initiatives going on and once a year a team building or annual event was discussed. But a committee dedicated to team buildings? That’s a good point: why does a company need this at all? :|

    2. AnotherFed

      Where I work, the team-building committee is really the special events committee. They do all the various events, from holiday parties to organizing events for charity to diversity events to bring your child to work day. I think it’s just because some people like that sort of thing, or feel like they should like that sort of thing, but many of us just ignore the events.

      1. Jen RO

        Yeah, my company has a similar committee (well, it’s actually the HR team) and they organize all kinds of events – we have “theme Fridays”, some stuff for kids (Easter, Christmas), and so on. I tend to enjoy them, but they are easily ignored. We only had one big team building (participation not mandatory but strongly encouraged), which was very successful. Because so many people participated, it was easy to get lost in the background if you didn’t feel like participating in the actual activities – I spent half the time chilling in the sun (and got the mother of all sunburns…).

    3. Feline

      +1

      In my experience, it’s the lowest performing employees who throw themselves most enthusiastically into the teambuilding, team activities, holiday party planning, and anything but the actual work required by their jobs. Is there any wonder that these activities create additional resentment?

      I would rather see a manager deal with situations inequities in workload, holding everybody equally accountable for deadlines, etc. than try to wallpaper over these issues with a “morale building” team activity that just takes time away from getting the job done.

      1. Demanding Excellence

        This. At every job I’ve ever worked at, it’s either the lowest-performing team members who LOVE to plan social events, or it’s the most entry-level employees who get stuck with it under the guise of “getting to know more people at the company” or “getting exposure to other parts of the company.” Yeah right.

        I believe someone said this earlier in the thread, but no amount of team building can fix true dysfunction. I need to put that phrase on a T-shirt and see it on CafePress.

  13. INTP

    For #5, besides the recruiting firm’s own benefit, often the clients have rules about when the recruiters can disclose the company name. It often turns off the candidates but confidentiality rules have to be respected. We had one client that wouldn’t let us disclose the name until they chose to schedule an interview. The candidates would often get mad and accuse us of scamming.

    Just throwing that out there because I tend to see a lot of outrage about recruiting firms and the ways they inconvenience candidates for their own business needs. It’s legit even if it’s the recruiters’ choice but it sometimes isn’t.

    1. Cheesecake

      Clients don’t want to disclose themselves for various reasons, one being: they want to replace a person and didn’t announce it yet. And yes, this is such a common occurrence, i am surprised by OP’s surprise :). But not announcing company before the physical interview? What?

      1. INTP

        They would let us announce it at the time of scheduling the interview with the client, so they didn’t go in blind and could research. But many candidates expect to be told the company right away during the initial phone call with the recruiter and they were not happy when we wouldn’t say until they had interviewed with a recruiter, been sent to the hiring manager with our notes, and the hiring manager had expressed interest. The client was in the defense industry so maybe it was just a culture thing to keep everything on a need to know basis. I think they thought there wasn’t really a job. Sometimes recruiters do fake interviews for office help type jobs to have people vetted and ready to call for tiny temp jobs that come up but not for engineers (at least not that I’ve heard of).

        1. Cheesecake

          Ok, i didn’t get it right. I thought i’d come to an interview with recruiting agency and they’d explain everything about the role…but still no company name. So i will know the name only when the actual company decides to interview me

  14. Barbara in Swampeast

    #2 – The best team building activity is out of your control: management training.

    All the “team building” exercises in the world won’t compensate for poor management and corporate culture.

    1. danr

      Yes… and take the money that would be spent in ‘team building’ and give everyone a small non-merit raise. Do this two years in a row and watch morale improve.

    2. Chickaletta

      “All the “team building” exercises in the world won’t compensate for poor management and corporate culture.” So very true. The worst places I’ve worked have used team building as a band-aid for their problems. The best places don’t use team-building exercises because they don’t need them.

  15. Crystal

    #4 Mileage should be reimbursed from the office to the alternate work location, and then if and only if it is longer than the normal commute.

    If the employer has a policy that differs from this rule the reimbursement is taxable income. If the employer has a policy that differs from this rule and is not treating the reimbursement as taxable income it puts the employer’s entire accountable plan (reimbursing employees for expenses incurred based on receipts) into jeopardy and the IRS could get aggressive and treat ALL reimbursements as taxable income.

    So if you don’t like the penny-pinching approach, write your Congressional representative.

  16. Eliza Jane

    Op#5: I don’t respond to listings that don’t include the name of the company, because I have been burned too many times by recruiters who don’t actually have a listing at all, but are putting up a “shell” posting to try to build up their portfolios. I went through a period where I’d apply for a job, get a call from a recruiter, and wind up having to fill out paperwork and go in for an interview with the recruiter only to have the “job” that they were advertising for remain maddeningly vague, and then vaporize.

    1. Miss Betty

      I’ve always been concerned that I’d be responding to an ad my own firm placed. It’s not as if the support staff is advised that the firm is hiring more support staff, after all.

    2. KarenT

      I’ve never been burned, but I find it kind of annoying when I’m contacted by recruiters who won’t tell me the name of the company I’d be applying to since I’m happily employed and knowing who the company is a factor for me. I work in a small industry, so I know most of our competitors from either working their myself or close contacts leaving to work for them. I once replied to a recruiter that if it were company A, B, or C, yes, I’d like to apply but if it were D, E, or F, count me out.

    3. Amy

      Yes! I’ve been job hunting for the past 4 months, and this has happened to me three times. Not one of those agencies has found me a job. They just lure you in to talk about ‘a range of vacancies on our books’, none of which are the ones you applied for, and often not even remotely similar.

      They call periodically to “check if I’m still looking for work”. I snapped at the latest one to do that and said “Why, have you found me any?”. She said no, and I told her not to contact me unless she did. I doubt I’ll ever hear from her again, and I’m fine with that since no calls beats pointless weekly Saturday calls at 9am.

  17. la Contessa

    Every vendor I’ve used charged mileage portal to portal (his home door to the destination’s door, and back), so that’s how I did my mileage, even if I had to drive right by my office to get somewhere. I normally took the train to work, so it actually was extra mileage on my car to even drive past my office. I only insisted that my vendors calculate mileage from a local office when their entire local office was booked and they had to bring someone else in from farther away (I’m not paying more because you’re understaffed).

    1. Emily, admin extraordinaire

      Don’t get a Masters just to get a Masters. You have to look really hard at the field you want to be in– is it actually required? Do you have enough experience that it will be looked on as an asset rather than being over-educated? Are you going to accumulate $80,000 in student loans so that you can earn a $30,000 salary?

      I have an MA in English. I intended to go on to get the PhD, but it wasn’t a good fit in a lot of ways. While searching for jobs, having that MA hurt much more than it helped. I was viewed as overqualified, or likely to move on quickly, or both. I would have left it off except that it made my job history look even more spotty than it already was (laid off 3 times in 3 years).

    2. Sunshine

      Thank you! There is a field I am really interested in, and I would get 90%-100% tuition remission (I work at a university) It seems silly to me not to do it. Would I do it if it weren’t free?-absolutely not. After the load of debt from undergrad I wouldn’t pay that amount for education again.

  18. Joey

    i know there are tons of people here that hate any activity that requires them to get to know co workers, but my team always likes it when we do personality/work style type tests and discussions. There are tons of tests like true colors, disc, strengthfinders, etc. They usually give people a little better perspective about how people think and operate.

    1. Artemesia

      That sort of thing CAN be helpful although it usually isn’t; the key is linking it then to actual performance issues. I served on a national board of a professional association and it was a very frustrating experience for years since the group never seemed to follow through and get things done needed for the effectiveness of the association. One year at the annual meeting of the board they had a consultant who did a MB type assessment of types and then grouped us — it turned out that I and one other member (equally frustrated) were results driven, plan the work, work the plan types and everyone else in the group was touchy feely, share and care, let us gather flowers in May and dream a thousand dreams types. Of course the group never got anything done. This was very enlightening to the group as these results were related by the consultant to our goals for the organization and each type brought to the table. Things did improve and people did see different approaches as different strengths rather than irritating personal differences.

    2. Mike C.

      But those tests are usually nothing more than bullshit. There’s little to no evidence backing up the results, most results cluster in the middle rather than giving clear results, and said results are highly mutable and change frequently when subjected to repeated testing.

      If you’re going to do that, why not save some money and get a horoscope book? You’ll have the same info without the unearned facade of scientific precision.

      1. LBK

        Really? The one I took was absolutely dead on in assessing my strengths and weaknesses, but moreover it was nice because it providing advantages and disadvantages on each end of the spectrum for the various categories. I’m not sure what you mean by “evidence backing up the results”.

        1. Mike C.

          You do realize that there are a number of confounding factors when you perform an experiment on yourself only once without a control group, right?

            1. Mike C.

              It’s not meant to be. There are all sorts of cognitive biases that affect how we perceive the world around us, and proper experimental design takes those into account.

        2. fposte

          I’m with Mike C. here–the same happens when you give people their horoscopes. Now, that doesn’t mean it can’t elicit useful discussion whether we’re talking horoscopes or something else, but it’s not worth putting a lot of money into.

          1. Joey

            They’ve been pretty cheap when I’ve done them. And I agree even if you think they’re bs just having the discussions about what if anything you find accurate is a good exercise.

            Even some of the free versions I’ve found online got positive feedback.

      2. Joey

        No I’m talking about knowing how people think and using it to better communicate. For example, now my team knows that Ii like rational decisions based on facts and data and that I will always look for a better way regardless of how good their idea is. And now I know who on my team likes constant reassurance and who see it as patronizing.

        1. Jamie

          I’ve never been part of any kind of testing thing at work, but everyone I know can tell who they work with who likes constant reassurance, who thinks it’s patronizing, who really loves kicking around ideas in meetings because they work best with a lot of collaboration and interaction, who prefers to come together after they’ve had a chance to research and prepare and feels extemporaneous brainstorming is an annoying waste of time, who cannot work in quiet, who cannot abide chatter, who needs to think out loud, who are more big picture people, who excels at the details, who wants to take the visible lead, who prefers to work the background.

          Hell, I can even tell you who amongst my 25 or so closest co-workers who are morning people and who typically does their best work later in the day.

          How is getting this information in the form of test results more helpful than just paying nominal attention day to day.

          I’ve worked for people who want a CBA and some rough numbers before any request or proposal. I’ve worked for people who would be annoyed that any numbers were run before a general conversation was had about the project overall. It takes very little time to figure this kind of thing out.

          1. Joey

            It sounds elementary, but many people read into things unnecessarily. For example it’s understanding that Jane sometimes is grumpy and antisocial it’s that she’s always in a good mood but that social stuff is really taxing for her. And it’s understanding that the boss isn’t an impossible to please tyrant it’s understanding that even away from work he’s wired to look for ways to improve things and he’s making efforts to curb it.

          2. Ultraviolet

            Picking up on all that would require a lot more than nominal attention from me! I doubt I’m alone, though I don’t have enough experience to say how much less perceptive than average I am about other people’s personalities.

            That said, I’m not sure yet whether I’m in favor of doing personality assessments for team-building at work to get around that problem.

      3. Artemesia

        I know the research literature is sketchy but in my experience these tests do in fact seem to resonate with the people who take them and are rather enlightening when groups are having trouble working together. Some people really are results oriented and some are better generators of ideas. When that is surfaced the former can see the value of not rushing to judgment which results oriented people sometimes do to the detriment of the organization and those who have trouble getting on with it can recognize that that can impede getting things done. I have seen groups function better when these differences are seen as strengths.

        We all know people who charge full speed ahead, who are better brainstormers of ideas, who are more sensitive to the interpersonal needs of others etc etc and groups function when all those skills or inclinations are present.

        1. Mike C.

          I’m waiting for the link to come out of moderation, but there are two problems –

          1. People tend to cluster into one large normal distribution rather than distinct categories, meaning that the splitting up of people into “types” doesn’t really mean anything to most people.

          2. Retesting shows significant change. If people are easily split into different “types”, then why do they keep shifting around?

          1. Anonymous Educator

            Because it’s a continuum and not a split. One is usually not an E and exclusively an E with no I tendencies. Think of it like the Kinsey scale for gay/bi/straight. Saying that someone has to be either totally straight or totally gay is ridiculous. And no involved (even online random) Myers-Briggs test I’ve seen has said you are either E or I and can not be both to a certain degree.

            1. Mike C.

              With the Kinsey scale, it’s clear that there are statistically significant clusters, despite the fact that it allows for a continuum. When you have MB and everyone tends to cluster around the middle for multiple categories, those distinctions lose their descriptive power.

      4. Graciosa

        I think Myers-Briggs has been pretty well validated at this point. My employer uses this a fair amount – an assessment is included in leadership training – and it has been quite useful. It has absolutely helped me understand and address some work place issues, including a problem I had with a previous boss as a result of a style mismatch.

        I value the emphasis Myers-Briggs has on identifying preferences and tendencies rather than labeling certain styles good or bad. So much behavior that used to drive me crazy was not intended to, and just knowing that there was no malice involved helps to defuse the emotion.

        1. nona

          MBTI has not been well validated. About a third of its support has come from people who have a financial or professional stake in promoting it.

          1. fposte

            And to me the main problem is the results seem to predict or correlate to absolutely nothing. You might argue that horoscopes are actually more predictive, because there are situations wherein birth month makes a difference in a way that MBTI doesn’t seem to.

            I think it’s fine for people to have schemas to think about themselves–heaven knows we all do it–but Myers-Briggs gets overrelied on as if it’s a scientific diagnosis rather than essentially a convenient narrative device, and there are, I suspect, cheaper ways to get the same end.

            1. Jamie

              I’ve never experienced it in a work capacity, but MB is determined by ones answers based on their preferences and how they behave. The main problem with that is it’s almost impossible to correct for personal bias where some people will answer how they think they should be rather than how they are – and of course some dissonance with how one sees themselves as opposed to how they actually behave.

              I am curious as what situation would ever make birth months more predictive? How would something so random have any bearing?

              1. KarenT

                Read The Outliers by Malcom Gladwell. He didn’t originate the theory, but he does some up much of the research on it. And it’s fascinating–those born in January-March are more likely to succeed academically where the admittance for kindergarten is based on a January-December birthday schedule. It’s because those kids are cognitively further along than kids born later in the year when they start school. The phenomenon repeats itself for schools whose intake is based on a September cut off date, with the ideal birth months being September-November. The phenomenon also repeats in soccer, hockey, and baseball where league play has a minimum age (the January kid who is 11 is almost a full year older than the December kid who is 10).

                1. AnotherFed

                  That’s about success, though. It’s been a while since I read it, but I don’t remember anything about predicting problem-solving styles or traits like MB based on birth month.

              2. KarenT

                Agreed. I think that’s what fposte is referring to (and if I’m mistaken, what I am referring to) though, that birth month is more predictive of success than Myers Briggs.

            2. catsAreCool

              I’ve never felt like my horoscope fit me the way my Myers-Briggs test did. Seems to me that if a test asks a bunch of questions on how you prefer to do things, and you answer them honestly, wouldn’t it be able to help group people based on the answers?

              The introvert/extrovert can be pretty obvious in extremes, but some of the other differences are more subtle, and it’s nice to have a handle on them. For example, I’m a Thinking type and a female, and knowing that helps me understand why sometimes people might think I’m not being Feeling enough – 2/3’s of women test as Feeling. Doesn’t mean those people are right, but it helps explain it.

        2. Mike C.

          Myers-Biggs has significant problems.

          Here’s a list of literature on the issue. The summary is fine, but the real meat here are the links to the research.

          And here are several more casual articles –

          As I said before, if these tests were actually functional, they would place people in distinct groups according to a bimodal (essentially two different groups) distribution rather than one large normal distribution, and the results wouldn’t be so open to change in repeated testing.

          On a more personal note, the next time I see one of these things put “analytical/mathematical/scientific” skills on an opposing axis with “creative/artistic/musical” skills I’m going to smack someone. I guess all those symphony people I played with who were math/science/engineering people were just make believe…
          https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/give-and-take/201309/goodbye-mbti-the-fad-won-t-die

          1. ThursdaysGeek

            I thought math/scientific and music/creative went together too. I didn’t know (nor have I observed) that they were supposed to be on opposite sides. Or, they go together, expect when they don’t.

            1. Mike C.

              I’ve seen more than one of these work personality tests go on about “right vs left brained people” or argue that you can either be creative or analytical, but not both.

      5. nona

        +1

        One time in college, a teacher asked my class if any of us knew our Myers-Briggs types. I was one of a few students who did. When we told her, she read the descriptions of our types, and asked how much we related to them. Of course, I related to mine. It totally sounded like me.

        Well, she had read the descriptions of our exact opposites.

        Google “Barnum effect.” And look up the opposite of your MBTI type and see how much of it describes you.

        1. Anonymous Educator

          I don’t doubt your experience, but I’m an INTJ, and this is the description of an ESFP:

          As an ESFP, your primary mode of living is focused externally, where you take things in via your five senses in a literal, concrete fashion. Your secondary mode is internal, where you deal with things according to how you feel about them, or how they fit with your personal value system.

          ESFPs live in the world of people possibilties. They love people and new experiences. They are lively and fun, and enjoy being the center of attention. They live in the here-and-now, and relish excitement and drama in their lives.

          That sounds like the exact opposite of me. No Barnum effect here for me. I’m very internally focused, and I don’t love people and new experiences. I’m not lively and fun, and I actually hate being the center of attention. And definitely no drama for me, thanks.

          1. Judy

            INTJ here, taken MBTI maybe 6 times over 18 years, same result each time.

            That opposite description certainly doesn’t sound like me at all, either. I’m internally focused, intuitive and would prefer being left to my own devices in my cave, where I plan for everything.

          2. Jamie

            Thanks for saving me the trouble – INTJ here, also (although twice I came out as ISTJ – my N and S are always quite close, but N usually prevails.)

            And I agree it’s not me at all either – and if you read the second sentence to anyone who knows me and asked them if it described me you’d be waiting a long time for the laughter to die down.

          3. Tinker

            One thing I do note — although I certainly don’t buy the notion that my “opposite” profile is equally as good a description of me as my identified profile (roflcopter) — I do sometimes wonder if the MBTI model is better at describing certain people than others.

            I certainly notice that there are some people who can’t seem to see any type description that describes them better than any other, and I think that probably does reflect their actual experience. Also, although there are some major sources of potential bias in terms of who I end up talking to and what I tend to notice, but it seems like to me whenever I see someone saying that their type description is “distinctly” them they’re an INTJ or INTP — or, at least, it seems somewhat skewed to introverted thinkers.

            So I wonder sometimes if what the MBTI “really” does is pick out systematizers and introverts, and maybe the rest of it is less useful, or something like that. Or maybe there’s some flock of people in some social circle that intersects with mine exactly none, who are marveling at how distinctly extraverted and sensing they are or something.

            1. Mike C.

              I think that’s a distinct possibility, much like Newtonian physics is really useful until you start dealing with very large or very small scales.

            2. INTP

              I could believe that. I I also think it might be helpful only in the areas where someone has a pretty strong preference. I find it very helpful as one of the rare-er types (especially for women) with a VERY strong I, N, and P because the vast majority of the population thinks very differently from me so I need to adjust to function. I can see how if you’re one of the more common types or don’t have strong preferences, it wouldn’t be very valuable. But as someone who lost friends in elementary school because I answered honestly when they asked if they were fat or couldn’t get through a sleepover without getting so irritable I started a fight, then discovered MBTI in high school, you cannot tell me that learning about thinkers and feelers and introverts and extroverts wasn’t valuable for my ability to function in the world.

              I also think a lot of people focus too much on each type description and not enough on the different dimensions separately. It can teach you the ways you function differently from other people but the descriptions are just predictions based on those patterns. You should never assume you’ll have every trait or choose a career based on the list it gives you. It’s not a window to your deepest soul.

            3. catsAreCool

              I think last time I checked, introverts were about 30% of the population, and iNtuitives were about 25-30%, so people who are introvert-iNtuitive’s are more likely to feel a little different than the norm, which might be why the descriptions feel so right.

        2. Graciosa

          I have – and my opposite does not describe me at all.

          Part of this may be the fact that I have very strong preferences (and this shows up in the measurement). Those who have only slight preferences in the last group I tested with felt that their preferences on that trait / pair were pretty ambiguous – but that was consistent with the test results those individuals received, so I don’t think that’s evidence against either validity or reliability of the test.

          I have read some literature from professionals who prefer Hogan, which I haven’t taken. I’m not saying that there’s nothing better than MBTI – there may be – but MBTI has been both reliable and valid in my experience, and that of my colleagues who have taken it across multiple groups. Our results have been consistent with those reported in the literature. The fact that the test has also been evaluated by people who use it doesn’t invalidate those results – it’s just another piece of data.

        3. Tinker

          So, I’m an INTP, and reading the description of an ESFJ I think two things:

          As a description of me, the ESFJ profile comes off as… ludicrously wrong. Most people who have even a relatively casual acquaintance with me would, shall we say, not think to describe me as a gender-conforming traditionalist person who both cares intensely about other people’s feelings and is good at perceiving and managing them. I’ve had people try to float assertions like that about me based on personality models other than MBTI, and they’re distinctly recognizable as being off-base. So, even considering that I might give the benefit of the doubt to a teacher who was explaining a new set of concepts to me, I think applying that sort of description to me would still fail the sniff test.

          Also, independent of how good the descriptions are of people, I find it a little odd that the descriptions the teacher gave apparently weren’t recognizable as being of types — like, to take the INTP / ESFJ division, usually even a bad INTP description hits points like “intensely analytical, asocial, eccentric” and distinctly lacks points like “gregarious, oriented to feelings, conformist”. If someone read me an ESFJ profile and told me it was an INTP one, ordinarily I’d think it should be recognizable as “not an INTP” even if it wasn’t recognizable as “not me”.

          That’s not to say that it’s necessarily anything different than, like, classifying people by the four humors or whatever, but I don’t really buy the assertion that all sets of MBTI type descriptions are interchangeable in the way that is asserted.

        4. Tinker

          Something else I’ll throw out there, come to think of it, is that I’ve read explicit advice to the effect of that if you’re unsure whether you’re one type or another based on reading those profiles, read the profiles of the opposite type to each; the one that makes you go “aaaaaack” is more probably the opposite of your “actual” (for whatever value one applies to that) type. Which fits more closely with my experience than what you describe — close to opposite profiles, in general, read to me as “ehhhh I’m pretty dubious” (though I’m also a very strongly expressed introvert, and things that lead off “you love all your many friends and want to spend all your time with as many of them as possible” don’t really go), whereas my reaction to the opposite, again, is closer to “aaaaaaack what no hahahaha also no”.

          That doesn’t necessarily say anything about whether the thing reflects any deeper knowledge than “Are you a party animal y/n” or whether some of the claims about reflecting consistent traits or returning distinct values for most people are true (about that, I feel like I do not understand all of humanity well enough to say for sure) but it does speak against the assertion that any profiles, or opposite profiles, are trivially interchangeable for all people.

      6. The Strand

        It’s really not crap. It’s dumbed-down or made to be shorter: True Colors is a watered down version of adapted Myers-Briggs material which also owe something to Keirsey’s personality assessments.

        There’s also a lot of evidence backing up things like the Big Five personality indicators (such as extroversion and neurotic traits), and thoroughly studied theories of personality psychology, all far more accurate than astrology. There is at least one scientific journal just on personality assessment.

        1. Mike C.

          Just because someone publishes a scientific journal on a specific topic doesn’t mean that the journal is of any valid use. There are journals out there which specialize in publishing bad studies that wouldn’t be published elsewhere.

          1. Joey

            Are you saying personality traits in general are bs or that you find the exercises inaccuarate?

            1. fposte

              I would say that Five Factors seems to have more to it; it also includes negative traits, which seems like a weird omission from MBTI.

              But I think people who are spending money and time on these in organizations should be clear what it is they hope to achieve. If it’s just finding templates to initiate conversation about work styles, fine, though I think it would make sense to go for something less expensive; if it’s to predict anything, then use something that’s had a record for doing that instead. My guess is that most organizational uses don’t have that specific a goal–it’s a thing companies do, therefore they’re doing it.

              1. Joey

                But some of them are fairly predictive. Disc and strengthfinders have always been pretty spot everytime I’ve used them.

                1. fposte

                  They may be better; I don’t know those. But the proof would need to be something other than you finding that people turn out as the test told you to expect, because that’s riddled with bias possibilities that invalidate the results.

                2. Joey

                  if you’re looking for validity strengthfinders i believe was developed by Gallup and based on their research over 30 years

            2. Mike C.

              Right here I’m simply pointing out the existence of sham scientific journals. I don’t know specifically if the journal The Stand is referring to is such a journal, just that said existence is not sufficient evidence that personality assessment is a useful, well tested thing.

        2. A Definite Beta Guy

          MBTI is crap, even if it is fun crap, and I say this as a person proudly self-identifying as INTJ.
          MBTI is based on the concept of cognitive stacks. Sensing vs. Intuition, Thinking vs. Feeling. Then based on an Extraversion vs. Introversion preference, and then a Judging vs. Perceiving preference (which is REALLY funky, because that’s based on what you ‘show the world.’)
          Real-life humans do not break into these stacks. At all. As Mike C pointed out, there is no Introversion vs. Extraversion. I mean, it exists, but it isn’t bi-modal, with a large group of human introverts and a large group of human extraverts. There are a lot of people in the middle.
          Thinking and Feeling aren’t polar opposites.

          Then, even within function types, the breaks don’t make sense. Introverted feeling vs. extraverted feeling? Okay, Introverted feelers stand by principles, extraverted feelers try to create group harmony…everyone does both sometimes. But that’s not allowed in MBTI. As an INTJ, extraverted feeling is a shadow function, IE, it doesn’t even EXIST for me.

          So it’s not scientifically valid. By modern standards, that makes it crap. At least Newton had the scientific method backing him until the late 1800s.

          What I will say is that the Scientific Method is overrated. Scott Alexander over at Slate Star Codex has a good post called “The Control the Group is Out of Control,” which basically is about setting up a control group for the Scientific Method. Such a thing already exists, it’s the paranormal psychic community, which regularly publishes replicated studies on stuff almost everyone agrees is complete nonsense.

          This suggests you should assign a healthy dose of skepticism to anything produced by the Scientific Method.

          Which isn’t how our society works, because Science has been elevated to religious status. Yes, yes, I know, if ONLY we could teach people to think better! We’ve had centuries to teach people the scientific method, Scientific Society doesn’t work any better than Communist Society and the Scientific Man doesn’t exist, anymore than the Communist Man or Homo Economicus.

          It’s okay for something to be crap. Some crap is useful crap. It grows food. You know what doesn’t grow food? Lecturing “A is A” at the ground.

          1. Not So NewReader

            “Thinking and Feeling aren’t polar opposites.”

            Thank you.

            And we see this belief that thinking and feeling cannot co-exist all the time. Grief is a prime example. “Gee, my loved one died, I am so sad.” (feeling) And at the same time we will say things like, “My loved one was in so much pain, it would be selfish for me to expect this person to continue on.” (thinking) Then we get confused by these conflicting thoughts.
            But this is how we are supposed to function. We are supposed to feel emotions and think at the same time. It’s normal. But some people find it frightening and some sources seems to unwittingly encourage that fright. The worst leaders I have seen usually run at either end of the spectrum- they are solid emotions (feeling) or they are so focused on outcomes/appearances/whatever (thinking) that they seem to have no clue how they are impacting people.

      7. LQ

        Thank you for mentioning this.

        The amazing thing about human beings is that we aren’t one thing always and forever. You take the test every day for a week, or once a month for a year and you’ll get different scores. Plus there isn’t a hard line between any of these things even if were unchangable. Add to that the absolute lack of scientific evidence to back them up, and the lack of total scientific basis for them in the first place and you have a fun party game.

        It is good to think about other people and how they might prefer to be interacted with (say not being forced to participate in a Meyers-Briggs assessment that will dictate how they are treated from then forward), but ideally we can do that without having to label people for ever and for always by a set of 4 letters or a color.

        1. Joey

          I’m not sure what you’re point is. are you trying to argue that other people shouldn’t find them valuable or are you just saying you don’t ?

          1. LQ

            I think other people shouldn’t use them to make important decisions (hiring/firing/promotions). If you find them valuable because they remind you that other people aren’t like you that’s fine. But that’s really as far as it should be used.

            1. Joey

              Isn’t that what we’re talking about though in the context of team building. No ones talking about using them for employment decisions.

            2. catsAreCool

              From what I’ve read about the MBTI, they make it clear that this isn’t to be used for hiring/firing/promotions. It can be helpful for a person to understand why he/she is good at and/or likes the things the person likes. It can be helpful to understand why someone might hate, for example, doing data entry for more than a short amount of time or might be drained/energized by having people around.

              In a lot of ways, the MBTI seems more designed for helping people learn to communicate with each other when they have very different styles of looking at and dealing with the world.

        1. Mike C.

          Do you care to say why? Why should I believe a classification system that shifts around and has normal rather than bimodal distributions?

          1. Joey

            Are dismissing all personality tests in general or is it just Meyers Briggs you have a problem with ?

            1. Mike C.

              MB specifically, but any other that relies on similar methodology, has similarly poor results or is otherwise untested would also earn similar scorn from me.

              And look, if there’s a consensus as to certain types that do work great, but MB comes up all the time so that’s why I’m picking that one out.

      8. Jillociraptor

        I’ve had the most success with these kinds of exercises when using them as a jumping off point for discussing actual behavior and preferences. My Strengths Finder assessment did lead me to some really solid insights about my preferences that I might not have explored independently, but not because it empirically marked me as having this or that theme, just because it offered a different lens through which to explore my experience.

        The opposite is also true: when discussing results with employees, they’ve sometimes gotten a result that really surprised them and didn’t comport at all with their own preferences or goals. It was just as interesting to think about why their answers might have given that result, when the result really didn’t resonate.

        I don’t know all that much about the empirical validity of these exercises but on every single one I’ve ever done, it very, very clearly states that it isn’t a diagnostic tool and shouldn’t be used as such.

    3. C Average

      I’ve been through a number of such exercises. They seemed fine at the time, but I question their long-term value. An informal poll of my colleagues once revealed that nearly all of us had taken the same test before and nearly all of us had forgotten our results. I’ll bet this is pretty common. When I think about good teams I’ve been on, I think of teams that came together to accomplish something difficult or impressive, not teams that took a personality survey (or climbed a wall or played games).

      I don’t hate this stuff with the fury that some people do, but it doesn’t seem very useful to me. It seems shallow and ephemeral.

      1. LBK

        I’ve been part of a team that took them pretty seriously and it was kind of a rite of passage to take the test. We got laid off 3 years ago and most of us can still recite our traits (empathy, intellection, maximizer, input and strategic were mine).

        1. ThursdaysGeek

          And I’ve taken tests like that and get a different result every time. Of course, that’s because most questions either have 3 of the 4 answers that fit, or none of them (but I still have to choose). That implies there could be a pretty large set of people out there that doesn’t have a box to fit in, that there are categories that are being completely missed.

      2. Colette

        I think one of the main advantages of those tests is recognizing that not everyone approaches the world the way you do, and that their way is equally valid.

        1. AnotherFed

          Totally agree. Some teams get to that understanding just fine without tests or team building, and others need some help to get the “AHA!” moment where they figure out that Jane does not think exactly like Wakeen.

        2. sophiabrooks

          Myers-Briggs changed my life because of this. It isn’t really the typing of people or any sort of predictor of behavior that helped me, it allowed was taking behavior or reactions that frustrated me or made me angry and turn them around so at least I could create a narrative in my mind of WHY the person was doing that. I became so much less frustrated when I think “this person likes to think out loud” than “why does this person keep changing their mind”. It also lead me to realize that my instructions to people must be really frustrating, because I was giving instructions the way I like to receive them, which is with a lot of options of the possible ways to do something AND letting the person know they could also do it there own way.

          1. fposte

            Yeah, I found that with an interesting book on enneagrams. It’s really a paradigm shift to understand that other people aren’t rewarded by the things you are or disincentivized by the things you are.

          2. Ultraviolet

            Yes, me too! Learning a framework for how other people might be thinking was really helpful for me. My boss really likes to be spontaneous and keep options open for as long as possible, whereas I prefer planning ahead and reaching conclusions. That difference resulted in a lot of (mild) disagreements that I didn’t really understand until I remembered that the M-B model could explain these as different preferences for decision-making. It’s really helped me talk to him better because I can explicitly address his concerns of shutting off options too quickly while still advocating for making progress in at least one direction. I don’t really care what “type” that might make him or me–I’m just glad to have help getting outside my own head.

            As far as I can tell, this is why people value the introvert/extravert model so much. It helps explain differences between people that not everyone picks up on without help.

          3. catsAreCool

            ““this person likes to think out loud” than “why does this person keep changing their mind”.” This!

  19. JMegan

    #2, the best team-building activities I have participated in were as Alison suggested – low-key, informal, and voluntary.

    At several jobs, we have had a “TGIF” type activity – one Friday a month, everyone is invited to the break room for coffee and snacks. New people are introduced, milestones and successes are announced, everyone has a bit of a chat and goes back to their office. Everyone is invited, and attendance is not taken – you just go or don’t go, depending on your workload and personal preference.

    And my previous job had a really good one as well. It was an annual event, at a picnic grounds halfway between our two offices. Attendance at the event itself was mandatory, but participation was not, and the agenda was very loose and informal. It went like this:
    ~Arrive, set up potluck
    ~Optional activities included a walk in the woods, volleyball, board games, standing around chatting with your friends, or relaxing in a chair by yourself
    ~Lunch
    ~Baseball for those who want to play, spectating for those who don’t
    ~”Thanks for all your hard work this year” speech from managers
    ~Cleanup and go home (usually by 3:00, so most people got home early as well.)

    There’s no way to please everybody in this kind of thing, but I’m a big fan of this choose-your-own-adventure style of team building. You’re expected to be at the event, but there’s no requirement to participate in anything you don’t want to do. So you actually do get to relax and get to know your team members, and people are happy to keep coming back the next year.

    1. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)

      Fancy meetings (meaning with food) have been helpful for us. Basically we get to gether to do work, but we are also having a group lunch or breakfast and chatting. Another is that we are throwing a party to celebrate the refurbishment of one of our libraries.

      We are a newly (within the last 18 mo) mixed team of librarians who work out of different locations who are now united by a merger of two very different hospitals. The majority of our team are not exactly introverted, but really have been empowered to be innovative and salesy–there’s very little we won’t do for our users, or a space we won’t stick our noses into to market ourselves. Our newest team member has been micomanaged into submission by previous managers, but we’re all integrating and scrambling with changes.

    2. Ineloquent

      If you must have a productive team building activity, please make it something that’s not just a load of bull crap. Send everyone to some sort of training to improve their job performance or that would be good to know (like a training on new tempering techniques for chocolate teapot lids, or even something like a CPR class) and then pay for their lunch. Poll the team to see where they want/need training. Don’t make adults suffer through stupid carnival games. If the intent is to build a strong team, help them grow their skills at the same time that your growing their interpersonal trust and communication.

  20. Someone Else

    #4, am I the only one that noticed that they are paying below the standard reimbursement rate @ $0.52/ mile… I hope the employees don’t relaize that the actual reimbursement should be $0.575/ Mile for 2015, $0.56/ mile for 2014. Cause then you’d proabaly have to pay everyone back a lot more than the $158 you think this employee owes the company back.

    1. AnotherFed

      As far as I know, the mileage rate isn’t at all mandatory. Many companies peg them to the federal rates, but that’s just because it’s easy and not because they have to.

      1. Someone Else

        Wow, then I am glad my company pays the Fed rate…. but then again, we do not claim mileage for business trips that are in route from our house, and subtract the miles we would have driven during our regular commute.

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yep, it’s not mandatory. Companies actually don’t have to reimburse for mileage at all (except I think in CA, where they’re required to reimburse business expenses).

    2. Judy

      I’m pretty sure the IRS rate is the maximum you can reimburse and not be considered income.

    3. ExJourno

      All the places I’ve worked in my (admittedly short) career paid in the range of $.30-.40/mile. You can claim the rest of the $.57/mile on your taxes, but it’s only helpful if you’re in a position to itemize. Everyone I knew (entry level or a few years past that, making less than $40K with no kids or house) took the standard deduction, so that money was just lost.

  21. Slippy

    For #4 I think there is a bit of a rush to judge that the employee is lying. Some companies have notoriously complex mileage reimbursement in order to save money. The OP did not really detail whether the policies were clear, or even explained. Also things like changing client locations and other reimbursements related to commuting (like parking fees) can make the calculations get very wacky, very quickly.

  22. TootsNYC

    Regarding #1:
    Alison suggested this: “…so I’m not coming in blind”

    I would suggest instead phrasing this so it benefits your boss:
    “…so I can gather any information you might need.”

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      That risks the boss not telling her when he doesn’t feel he needs her to gather info. It’s okay to be honest about the real reason.

  23. Sans

    I rarely travel for business – maybe once a year. The only mileage I have is driving to the airport, which is about the same distance as driving to work. But I’ve always put the mileage on my expense reports and it’s always been paid. It’s interesting to hear that many companies, since the distance is the same, wouldn’t pay.

  24. Ann Furthermore

    #1: I completely sympathize with you here, OP. I absolutely hate being scheduled into a meeting that has no stated topic or purpose, especially if it’s with someone higher up in the management chain. Even if I don’t have to formally prepare something to present, I like to have time to put some thought into what we’ll be discussing beforehand. I can sometimes come up with a good idea on the spot, but I’m much more likely to have a workable solution if I’ve had time to think things through.

  25. Stranger than fiction

    I just wanted to say to Op 1 that I know how she feels. We have a similar issue here – whenever the president of the company schedules a meeting with a group of people he does give a topic but then detracts from that for an hour or more. I give him a pass though because he’s getting older and not in the office regularly anymore so I think he just ends up having a lot more to discuss

  26. Isben Takes Tea

    OP#3: I would also look at your company handbook/policies; while mine doesn’t have MiFi, it’s pretty explicit that if you connect personal devices to the company’s WiFi network, the company has the right to monitor your activity and even inspect your device, if needed. So it may be allowed, but you should be fully aware of the implications if you decide to proceed.

    1. Wilton Businessman

      Yup. My network, my data. No such thing as personal business when you’re on my network, it’s all mine.

  27. Wilton Businessman

    #4. It Depends. When I was in the consulting biz, I used to have the policy of the lesser of Home->Client Site vs. Office ->Client Site. I had an employee that lived 40 miles east of the office. But I hired him knowing that half the time he would be servicing clients east of my office. I’m not going to pay him mileage of 40 miles plus 30 miles back towards home both ways. I’d pay him for the 20 miles (10 miles each way) and he’d go from his house to the client and back.

  28. Katter

    #2: My last workplace showed me both the best and worst team-building stuff I’ve experienced. The worst was when we had to stand in a circle with our eyes shut and find each other by touch (I think we were supposed to put ourselves in order by name or something?) and kept getting told off by the director for opening our eyes. This was a staff that largely knew and liked each other, but we still didn’t want to blindly touch each other!!

    The good team-building stuff, though? Well, the one that was instituted as a deliberate program was a series of brown bag lunches, one held every other week or so, in which people from one department would tell people from the other departments what their jobs entailed and what they were currently up to, and then everyone would just chat about it. “Hosting” and attending was voluntary, but there was pretty good turnout for the whole series and it helped people understand what was going on outside their own little circle and sparked a few ideas on how departments could better cooperate.

  29. Bee Eye

    #4 – I was once accused of cheating on my mileage reports. We used Google Maps to run mileage checks between addresses and Google made some updates in between me turning in my report. After I got run through the mud, I went back and recalculated several months worth of previous mileage reports and found, thanks to Google, that the company actually should have paid me more money.

    Ultimately, they made a policy that all mileage is calculated based on round trips to the office address and that settled it. This was because we would frequently go from client to client and often never even report in to the office.

  30. LP

    #5 This is extremely common for law firms where I’m from, especially small private firms. They will typically also use a newspaper mailbox rather than their own address as well. I don’t know why all the secrecy, unless it’s so that internal employees won’t know they’re hiring. The interviews I’ve been to when I was a legal secretary weren’t even through recruiters, so I have no idea why they don’t give their name.

  31. brownblack

    Oddly enough, we had a situation like #4 come up in my office just yesterday. I’m the assistant to a department head, and one of her report’s reports had to come to me for a mileage reimbursement signature because her boss was out. I was a little perplexed that the mileage reimbursements were for many hundreds of dollars, and I realized it was because she was calculating everything from her home, which is far to the north of our office (and the meetings were all far to the south.) In essence, the reimbursements were double what they should have been.

  32. chicken_flavored_deodorant

    Former mileage auditor of trucking companies here:

    Be careful about pressing too hard on the mileage issue. Many mileage routing programs will use a routing method (fastest, shortest distance, only major highways) which may not match that used by actual people. As a result, electronically routed totals can vary from actual distance driven.

    Also, many mileage routing programs are flat out inaccurate. Some consider the northbound lane to be the same distance as the southbound lane, but this is not true for long enough roads that bend to the east or west; one lane can be a few miles longer due to a larger radius. If there has been construction which affected the path of traffic, that can also have an effect.

    As somebody that has been there, done that and had all of the arguments you can possibly have about mileage: be careful and be kind. If you think you’re getting ripped off for anything under $2000 per year, it’s probably more work to fight it than to recover the money.

  33. AMT

    OP #5, I have nothing to add to Alison’s reply, but feel free to reply to my comment if you have questions about being a social worker in the legal system — I am one!

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