managing someone who doesn’t want to move up, conflicting instructions, and more

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

1. Managing someone who doesn’t aspire to move up

I’m a fairly new department head with two direct reports. This is my first experience managing full-time staff (I’ve previously managed numerous short-term interns), and I’m curious if you have any advice for how to lead these two employees with very different career goals. One very much reminds me of myself and is very ambitious and interested in advancing in her career. Because she wants to take a similar path to mine, I find it easy to mentor her and teach her how to be a leader in our field.

My other employee is very competent but is not interested in advancing outside of her current position. I have no issues with that because she’s an asset to our department, but I’m struggling with how to provide her with a similar level of mentorship/direction that I give to my other staffer. She’s good at her job and doesn’t ever want to leave, so I don’t know what I should be pushing her towards. Perhaps I’m overthinking this, but as a new manager with aspirations of managing far larger departments, I want to develop myself into an effective leader for all personality types–not just those who remind me of myself. Any suggestions?

It’s really good that you’re thinking about how to adapt your approach for each of these staff members, rather than applying a one-size-fits-all solution. In this case, though, it sounds like you need to go even further with that — rather than trying to figure out what to push your “happy where I am” staffer toward, perhaps you shouldn’t push her toward anything at all. Is she great at what she does? Is she happy to stay where she is for the foreseeable future? Is your company okay with that? If all the answers to those questions are yes, just let her do what she’s doing. You don’t need to push everyone toward something.

On the other hand, if she’s good but not great at what she does, you could help steer her toward great. Or if your company has more of an “up or out” culture, you’d want to be candid with her about that.

Either way, you might be explicit with her about your thinking so that she understands why you’re taking the approach that you are, and also let her know that if her aspirations change in the future, she should talk with you so that you can jointly formulate a different approach.

2. I’m getting conflicting instructions from my boss and my boss’s boss

Recently I’ve been assigned a very high priority project, which is fantastic! My problem is that both my immediate supervisor and her supervisor – the director of the organization – are both giving me directions on how to proceed. Generally that wouldn’t be a problem, but since their directions are conflicting, it puts me in a position where which one to follow which is sometimes paralyzing. Generally I have been following the directions of the director and wondered if that is the smartest move because it does not please my immediate supervisor at all.

You need to bring the issue to the surface and ask how to handle it. For example, say this to your manager: “Jane asked me to do X, and I know you had told me to do Y earlier. I’m not sure how to proceed.” If she insists that you should do it her way and that you should ignore her boss, say this: “I’m uneasy ignoring direct instructions from Jane. If you’re sure I should, I’d at least like to send her a quick email and explain that we talked about this so that she doesn’t think I’m just ignoring her.”

Or, you could also raise it in the moment to your manager’s boss when she tells you something that conflicts with instructions from your manager: “Cressida told me to do X earlier. Would it make sense for me to grab her for this conversation so we can figure out what to do?”

You could also raise the larger pattern: “I’ve noticed that I’ll often get different input from you and Jane, and it’s leaving me unsure how to proceed. What’s the best way to handle that so that we’re all aligned on how I’m moving forward?”

3. Giving candidates a writing assignment before an in-person interview

How do you feel about giving candidates a writing assignment after a phone screen and prior to a face-to-face interview? I’m the hiring manager for a newly created nonprofit PR/communications position, and I’m looking for candidates with a specific style of writing. The position is an entry-level one, so the candidates may not necessarily have the kinds of samples I need in their portfolio yet. I also want to make sure they can follow instructions, pay attention to details, and succinctly convey our mission and the need for our programs (which is much easier said than done). If giving a writing assignment is the way to go, how much time should I give them to complete it? And what is an appropriate/reasonable amount of time to expect a candidate to spend on the assignment at this stage?

Yes, yes, yes. Don’t waste your time or theirs by bringing them in for an in-person interview (and all the prep time that involves on their end, including possibly taking time off work) without first seeing if they actually have the skills you need. Doing an exercise after the phone screen and before an in-person interview is the perfect place to do it — you’ve invested some time in them and made an initial assessment of fit, and they’ve had a chance to learn more about the position, but neither of you have invested tons of time yet.

However, it’s not reasonable to ask people to spend more than an hour on an exercise at this stage. That means that of all the things you want to test — writing ability, following instructions, attention to detail, and ability to succinctly convey your mission and the need for your programs — you probably can test the first three at this stage but not the last one. In order to really test their ability to convey the need for your programs, they probably need a lot more information and coaching than you can reasonably give at this point. Come up with a writing test that tests the rest of it and don’t put quite as much emphasis on the piece that’s so customized to your organization.

I’d give them a few days to send it back to you, since your candidates have other commitments in their lives.

4. Do I need to cover up stitches at work?

I recently had a biopsy come back positive for skin cancer on my neck. The subsequent procedure to remove more tissue (which came back all clear, for which I am blessed) left an incision 3 inches long with stitches. Surgeon is happy to have dressing off after 48 hours, but stitches stay in for 12 days after that. Is it expected to have the stitches covered up at work?

I feel more comfortable without it covered up now that the 48 hours are up. Am I being too (having trouble finding the right word) pushy…rude…inconsiderate…going back to work with the stitches uncovered? The site is dry but swollen. I feel fortunate to be in no pain.

I don’t think you need to cover up stitches, and if I’m recollecting correctly, it’s actually better for them to be left uncovered after the first few days, in which case you definitely shouldn’t cover them up just for other people’s comfort.

5. Putting degrees on your resume that are still in progress

Should you put degrees in progress on a resume? Or only a degree that you have already completed?

Yep, degrees in progress are good to include. (Although if they’re in a totally different field than the one you’re applying in, you should realize that the employer may assume you’re not likely to stay once you graduate.)

List it this way:

Teapot University, M.A. in Cat Politics (expected May 2016)

{ 282 comments… read them below }

  1. themmases*

    Re. #5, you should definitely include in progress degrees. Some jobs– even full time jobs– are perfect for current or soon to be students. For example, I used to be a medical research coordinator and we loved to recruit from my coworker’s post-bacc premed program.

    If you’ll apply to any jobs intended for students it’s even more important. When I transitioned to grad school from full-time work, I included my in progress degree but kept it at the bottom of my CV as before. I got feedback from the PI who eventually hired me as a research assistant wanting to make sure I was a current student since I didn’t put it front and center.

  2. Nursey Nurse*

    OP#4, please follow whatever instructions you got from your surgeon regarding care of your stitches! Sometimes they want you to leave them covered, and other times they tell you to uncover them after a certain period of time (usually 24 to 48 hours). It depends on the site, type of suture, and lots of other things. If you didn’t get specific instructions then please do whatever makes you most comfortable. Pain and discomfort have been shown to lengthen recovery times so we want you to do what feels best to you unless it is medically unwise.

    Sorry, it’s not that I think you specifically wouldn’t follow doctor’s orders, OP#4… it’s just that you’d be surprised how often patients take instructions like that as guidelines and end up jeopardizing their recoveries because they don’t realize that postsurgically even little things are important. I’m thrilled you got such a good result from your surgery and best wishes for a continued recovery!

    1. Nursey Nurse*

      Whoops, just looked at your letter again and saw your surgeon is okay with you having your sutures uncovered at this point. If that makes you more comfortable, please do that!

      1. ScottySmalls*

        Make sure you follow up with your doctor about it and understand their instructions. I had two biopsies at the same time while working a summer job so I would cover up the sites and pull at the steristrips because I was worried about how it looked. I ended up with an inflamed incision site and a bigger scar as a result.

    2. the gold digger*

      My husband’s father continues to lie to his oncologist about how much he drinks.

      Technically, he does have one drink or two.

      It’s just that the one drink consists of six ounces of bourbon.


      1. Vex*

        If it makes you feel any better, my mom was a nurse and she says she almost always mentally tripled whatever amount of alcohol the patient admitted to drinking regularly.

        1. blackcat*

          And this line of reasoning once got me grilled by a doctor when I said I have a glass of wine with dinner most nights. A glass, certainly not a bottle (!!) which is how the doctor interpreted it.

          I’m a highly compliant patient… except for when it’s gotten in the way of work (staying off my feet was impossible while a teaching). OP might be similar to me in that regard.

          1. Allison*

            Unfortunately, waaay too many people who drink a lot will use the “oh just a drink with dinner” line, so I can’t blame doctors for being skeptical. Those fibbers ruined it for everyone!

          2. AnonAnalyst*

            This happened to my brother a few years ago. He ended up getting a long lecture from his new doctor when he truthfully said he has a drink or two most nights of the week. It made him so uncomfortable that he switched doctors.

            1. Ife*

              Ugh, the doctor lectures. I am coming to you and telling you these things because I expect you to help me, not judge me! Or at least help me after you finish your judgement. Unfortunately, it seems harder and harder to find a doctor who does the “help” part well.

        2. Ad Astra*

          I always assumed my doctors were doing this, which is why I tell them I have about three drinks a week when it’s really closer to 2-3 drinks, three nights a week.

        3. Anon369*

          Please fight the good fight for real honesty between medical people and patients. . . some of us really are honest about how much we drink and don’t need tripling! We’ll agree to be honest if docs agree to not triple (and maybe not lecture?).

          1. Alma*

            I schedule a “new patient appointment ” when I decide or need to change my primary physician. The MD gets good baseline stats before I come in too sick to want to be there. I take the opportunity to leave a copy of my Advance Directives, and discuss with the MD my quality of life, spiritual view/”readiness”, family of origin dynamics, pain threshold (none), and how my work impacts my life. The MD gets a complete list of Rx’s I’ve typed out, names and addresses of other MD’s, and has the opportunity to ask questions about previous illnesses, family history, and see me before I am in the office, sick as a dog, grumpy with my whiny voice, which really pays big dividends.

            The staff appreciates it, too. They know my pharmacy before they need it. My chart is ready before my first visit. And the insurance card has been verified. They have also been told that I am known by Alma, but my legal name is (insert full legal name here).

        4. BananaPants*

          This line of reasoning caused an ER doctor to interpret symptoms of concussion as intoxication. Granted, I was an 18 year old college student brought in with scalp lacerations and I admitted to having one beer, so they just assumed I was completely trashed. No amount of insisting that I really only had one beer would convince the doctor that I wasn’t drunk (and I was there for 2+ hours waiting to be stitched up). I went to my personal physician the next day, 12+ hours after I was supposedly intoxicated, and still had signs of concussion – my doctor was horrified.

          (Long story short – I enjoyed one beer while working on a paper that was due the next day, and my roommate’s intoxicated, abusive boyfriend came home from a party, got mad at me because I wouldn’t leave the dorm room, and beat me up. He got away with it by claiming I was drunk and it was an accident.)

          1. Anna*

            Wait. He beat you up, they took his word for what happened, didn’t do a sobriety test, didn’t diagnose a concussion? Holy cow. So many awful implications! Grrr!

            1. BananaPants*

              Yeah, the triage nurse figured it out as he sat with me for 2 hours (a DUI rolled in right after my ambulance arrived and I had to wait) because I wasn’t “sobering up”. The ER doctor ignored the nurse when he tried to tell him that I didn’t seem intoxicated. My family physician was so concerned that the ER doc had just assumed I was drunk and missed a concussion that she contacted the state licensing board, but I don’t know if anything ever came of it.

              I blacked out when my head hit metal and split my scalp open. The only people who witnessed the attack were my two roommates, one of whom accompanied me to the hospital and the other (his girlfriend) who lied to the campus police and residential life about what happened.

              1. blackcat*

                Ugh, that’s so awful. I really, really hate it when I see doctors ignoring nurses–the nurses know what they’re doing!

                Particularly given that intoxication can mask some signs of a concussion (a head wound+ intoxication should immediately tell a doctor to check for concussion), it’s really good your doctor reported him.

                I learned this when, as a stupid college student, I got a concussion while drunk. I got good, compassionate medical care… the next day because I had no idea I was concussed at the time. I went to bed thinking I was just drunk. This is a terrible, terrible idea, but apparently very common. Particularly among stupid college students. *Hangs head in shame of 18 year old self*

      2. Gene*

        When my Father-In-Law had a stroke, Mother-In-Law didn’t want to look bad to the doctors, so she said he had one or two drinks a week. Truth is, he had one or two bottles of gin a week, they were both long-term alcoholics.

        So FIL (whom I liked, much more than I like MIL) got to go through DTs while in the hospital with no help, because she wanted to maintain appearances.

        1. the gold digger*

          Both MIL and FIL have gone through DTs in hospital recently. My husband has had to tell the docs what he thought was going on.

          There is information I will keep from even my closest friends because I have done things I am not proud of, but I have never lied to my doctor. I care about my health.

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      And whatever you do, make sure threy dont take the stitches out too soon. Inhad some skin cancer removed from my forehead last October and he took the stitches out a week later and when i woke up the next morning it had dehisced (opened back up not sure if i spelled that right)! Sobi had to go to emergency room to get it stitched up again! The ER Dr said my derm did a poor job and he should not have taken them out that soon. Dont want to scare you but concur with following directions but also ask if anything seems off

    4. LD*

      To OP #4: To add to that about following instructions from your physician, a close friend had to have stitches on his head. After the first couple of days he left the stitches uncovered by bandages, but kept it covered with an antibiotic ointment, as per doctor’s instructions. He was very compliant and today you would not know he’d had stitches. The wound healed so well that unless you are searching for it and know exactly where to look, the scar is imperceptible. Take care of it and I hope you have the same good results!

    1. Collarbone High*

      I’ve heard it’s easy to get tenure in that field, since the professors only tend to live for about 15 years.

    2. Lizabeth (call me hop along)*

      What’ s the difference between a PhD in Cat Herding and Cat Politics?

      I thought that “all things Cat” were pretty much the same.

      1. DataMonkey*

        Cat Politics is more theoretical and Cat Herding is more applied. All and all though, very similar job outcomes.

          1. Nashira*

            No, it’s not BS: just use a laser pointer or a bag of treats. Boom, cats herded.

            For office cats, try a tray of brownies or (Missouri) a meat and cheese plate.

            1. louise*

              Missouri here. Bwahaha!

              But now I’m hungry for *both* meat’n’cheese (one thing) and brownies.

                1. Nashira*

                  @limenotapple: I hear you. My partner and I are plotting a move to somewhere like Colorado Springs or Denver, soon as I graduate. Must. Escape. MidMo.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Missouri here too. Brownies are HEAVEN. My coworker is evil because she likes to bring them in, and she knows I cannot resist them.

                I’d like to get out of here!

            2. Lizabeth (call me hop along)*

              Now I have an image of using a laser pointer with with the old job boss (where I earned the PhD in Cat Herding) and them chasing it! Ugh!

    3. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I actually started a Ph.D. in Cat Distraction, but I washed out because I couldn’t pass String Theory.

        1. AnonInSC*

          Yep – It does! And before 10 am (my time anyway :)

          There’s a Schrodinger’s cat joke in this somewhere…….

    4. ThursdaysGeek*

      I read that as ‘Surly Cat Politics’.

      I was thinking more of the aftermath of the degree holders. I’ve always thought a group of crows should be called a Caucus of Crows, because they sit around and caw and don’t get anything done. But I can also see cat politicians as being almost as useless as the human ones: some yowl, some fight, some sleep, and still nothing gets done. But at least it is pleasant to observe the Cat Congress with my Siamese Senator and your Ragdoll Representative.

  3. Stephanie*

    #3: I’ve done writing samples before as part of interview processes.

    A couple of examples:
    -Bad: I interviewed for a science writer role and the manager basically wanted me to do free work for her. Her writing test was exactly the work I would have done in the role and would have required at least a day’s work. This was unpaid, of course.
    -Good: I interviewed for a data analyst role where report writing would have been big. Company sent me to an online portal where I had 30 minutes (or maybe it was an hour) to respond to a question. No outside knowledge or work required.

    1. Laurs*

      I second the good/bad examples however would have one thing to add. Make sure that whatever short writing test you give is relevant to the job that candidates would be doing, so a sample press release or something. I’ve been asked to do some strange things as tests, like “write 200 words about something you love” – asking them to review a page about your programme and write a press release is actually easier as they don’t need to spend time thinking up a subject.

      It’s also worth having either a model answer or a list of key points that you’re looking for to ensure that a) you’re marking everyone to the same bar and b) you and anyone else involved in the interview panel agrees what you’re looking for.

      1. Connie-Lynne*

        Yes, definitely have a grading rubric so that you can ensure consistent scoring.

        And if someone does something you like that wasn’t on your rubric, call it out as exceptional.

      2. chiefcookandbottlewasher*

        For my very first job, I had to provide a translation sample and a copywriting sample (advertising copy and slogan) before the phone interview. The company provided technical terms candidates couldn’t be expected to know/find out using available resources. Both product and press release were fictional. The whole thing took me about an hour, maybe an hour and a half.

    2. Jen RO*

      Most tech writing jobs I’ve applied to included a written test in their interviewing process (tech writing is a new field in this country, so most candidates have zero to little experience, therefore a test is needed). The tests usually took 30 minutes to an hour and did not include anything specific to the company.

      (And my current company’s policy is to ban all tests across the board… we’re starting a new hiring round and I get to – once again – try to assess someone’s writing without actually seeing their writing…)

      1. Revolver Rani*

        I am a technical writer in the US. We often recruit people with domain expertise (in the technical areas in which our customers work) rather than technical-writing experience, so it’s not uncommon for our candidates not to have a suitable writing sample. And in such a case we absolutely give them a writing exercise before they come in for the interview.

        Typically we will point them to some piece of functionality in our product and ask them to write procedural instructions for using it. Our internal styles and guidelines are complex, so we don’t expect to get shipping-quality work out of the candidate – the goal is not to obtain content for free, nor is it to identify candidates who won’t need training. We just want the candidate to demonstrate the ability to think through a task from a task-oriented, user-focused perspective. We are really looking for clarity of thought and communication – the mark of someone skilled or talented enough to be trainable in the stuff we actually do in our department.

      2. OP#3*

        Why did your company ban tests across the board? Just curious. I can’t even imagine trying to hire someone for a writing position without actually seeing their writing first. Yikes!

    3. Susan*

      #3: I am currently the manger of a team of writers and we were using a writing test as part of our hiring process. The writing test was given after the phone interview but before onsite interview (similar to what you describe). The problem was candidates were basically cheating on the test. We had a few situations where we hired a candidate and they admitted on the job that someone else helped them with the test (duh). We also had a recent hire who submitted a writing test that looked strong and their first one the job writing submission to me (their manager) looked completely different (in a bad way) from their test. You may want to consider the possibility that candidates will have their submissions reviewed, edited, or even ghost written by another party if you give a “take home” type of test. Needless to say, we’re switching to an onsite writing sample.
      P.S. Before this experience, I was naïve enough to think that no one would cheat in this way because if you can’t do the test how are you going to do the job? Boy was I wrong!

      1. Fact & Fiction*

        We had that same problem in a previous job of mine. Unfortunately it was for an online company where we all telecommuted so the in-person test wasn’t an option. Very good idea for on-site positions, however. Even just a brief paragraph or two sample test on day of in person interview in addition to a longer one sent after the phone interview could help oust any cheaters.

    4. KT*

      Writing samples or common, but I echo the “bad” samples–some companies use this as a way to get free blog or website content for free. A good example should be very hypothetical, or a past event, so that way you can show your skill.

    5. MissDisplaced*

      It’s very normal and common with some professions (graphic design, communications, journalist, etc.) and often even somewhat expected. I’ve been asked to write a sample press release + 2-3 Tweets or a short article for the newsletter, and to design a sample ad or promo page for a a company product.
      But whatever you decide upon, keep the project short, so maybe an hour’s work for the applicant and no more. I’ve also done these tests in-house as part of an interview screen, but occasionally also been given it as a take-home assignment. Personally, I like to both give and take the assignment in-house, as I think you can get a better idea of how the person will work in a real setting (with some stress) but I guess it depends on your objective.

    6. Paige*

      A writing test is usually a great idea, if people are reasonable about it like you and Allison describe. I’ve had good and bad with this as well. Most recent (bad) example…

      Interview 1: Phone call, half an hour. (Great)
      Writing test one: 3 questions, took me <2 hours, no background knowledge needed. (Good)
      Writing test two: Skim 70 page report, write one 2-page piece, one half-page piece about it conveying essence of report and mission of the organization, timed at 4 hours max. Acknowledge receipt, saying you'll get back to them shortly. (Not good)
      Step four: Ignore candidate (me) for two months. After multiple inquiries, eventually tell candidate they went with someone else (almost three months after all this hoopla). (Bad)

      So, if you ask for it, at least do something with it and have the decency to acknowledge that someone spent almost a full day's work jumping through hoops for you – BEFORE an interview!

    7. Bwmn*

      In addition to the Bad – do not create writing tests that are well over an hour and it’s also worth an idea of testing out your writing sample on a colleague/friend to see if it actually generates what you want to see.

      I’m a fundraiser/grant writer, and writing tests are common as well as encouraging use of the website/provided materials to generate the sample. Around last Thanksgiving, I had an interview where in addition to the initial samples requested taking hours – apparently one of the letters I composed, that while it met what was requested did not exactly meet what they apparently wanted to see from a sample. So they came back asked me to do it again as well as some additional writing samples. At this point, I just got fed up with the process (which had not taken into account Thanksgiving when making requests on when materials should be completed and when they wanted to schedule interviews) and withdrew my candidacy.

      So, make sure ahead of time that the writing samples are accurately measuring the writing skills you want! Some writing jobs are more organizing existing materials into the proper manner, so it’s more of a structure/editing test than writing from scratch (i.e. grant writing). So depending on what you want, make sure the writing test gets you there.

    8. JMegan*

      I had a really good writing test for my current job. It was basically “Here is a project which is common to this job, and which you should have encountered a dozen times before if you’re at all qualified for this position. Write a briefing note to managers explaining the project, why it’s important, and a rough plan for completing it.”

      I was given an hour, immediately post-interview. (And they had told me ahead of time that this was the plan, so I knew to expect two hours in the office.) They gave me some basic assumptions, and stressed that it was fictional and I wasn’t expected to know specific details of how the office worked.

      It was a really good assessment of my ability to the job – and certainly a better test of my knowledge than the scripted government interview questions, which they also used.

      1. Bwmn*

        Personally, I am a huge fan of the “in the office” writing test because I think it gives a far more realistic sample for the employer and employee.

        I had one in-office writing/editing test where you were given a mock project report from the field, and you were supposed to make edits as needed/ask questions where clarifications were needed. It was a job where a lot of field staff were very busy non-native English speakers, and a number of the issues in the report reflected that. The report was also about 50 pages and you were told that it was not expected for a candidate to make it all the way through. That being said, I’m sure they had an idea of how far a candidate should make it. So if you only made it to page 10, and were rewriting everything that was equally as problematic as making it to page 50 and missing major mistakes.

      2. themmases*

        I had a similar one and thought it was really fair. I was hired to do literature reviews on kind of an innovative topic so there wasn’t much out there yet. I was given the program’s one-page description of the topic and told to write up a summary based on finding no more than 2-3 articles about the topic.

        The task was my job– I ended up using my writing sample as a jumping off point when hired– but there was no expectation that I produce something usable in the 40 or so minutes I was given because the topic couldn’t be understood in that amount of time (it was a policy topic). The sample was usable by me later only with further research and editing.

    9. Green*

      I think it’s better to be specific about what kind of writing sample you need, and let them provide it if they have it (or create it if they don’t have it).

      Given the applicants-per-job, I’m unwilling to jump through additional hoops when it could be accomplished by something in my portfolio of work. About the only hoop I’ll jump through without being compensated is a cover letter, basic application (which, since everyone has their own special system requires copying and pasting your resume each time), requested writing sample/transcripts/references, and interviews. I may not be your target employee, but there are also enough jobs out there that I can skip over any of them that require disproportionate effort or skills testing or behavioral testing or anything else I don’t care for. I can’t be the only efficiency-loving person who would just move on if presented with this, no matter how interested I am in the job.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’ve always used exercises before moving people to in-person interviews, from junior positions to very senior ones, and I’ve only had a very small number of people decline to participate. I think most people are willing to do it and see the benefit to themselves as well as to the employer if:
        – it’s an hour or less
        – it’s clearly connected to assessing your skills in a way that an interview cannot
        – it’s not work the employer will use
        – it’s clear that the employer is only giving it to promising candidates, not to everyone

      2. Bwmn*

        In addition to this probably being more industry/profession specific – I think a reason why writing samples usually don’t achieve the evaluation needs necessarily is that often the “writing” that needs to be done isn’t often unique writing, but collecting, arranging, and summarizing information.

        A typical grant writing test that I’ve seen is to take a set of materials to be able to produce a two page concept note. It ends up testing an applicant’s knowing of what a concept note is and how they summarize the organization’s work. And for a lot of grant writing/reporting work – showing that when you’re copy/pasting from 3-4 different documents that you take the time to align tenses/dates/figures and write functional intro/outro sentences is far more important than independent writing.

        Learning that just based on someone’s previously submitted writing sample is going to involve far more guesswork.

      3. OP#3*

        The position I’m trying to fill is an entry-level position, so most of the candidates are fresh out of college and don’t have much in their portfolio. Do you feel an hour-long assignment is a disproportionate effort? I actually think it saves the candidate time at this stage – they would most likely be spending more than an hour preparing for/traveling to an interview. And many candidates have to take PTO from their current job to interview in person. I’m really trying to be respectful of everyone’s time and effort (including my own) so giving the writing test seems like a good solution to me.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          An hour is reasonable. It’s in their interest too, for exactly the reason you say: If they’re not right for the job, it saves them time to find that out now.

        2. Bwmn*

          Completely reasonable.

          All writing jobs are also not the same. Some are more editing heavy, some more content production, some more summarization skills, etc. Additionally, what your organization may see as a very reasonable 1 hour test might be someone else’s 4 hour task. So it’s going to also better help candidates better self select if they’re right or wrong for you.

  4. Saurs*

    LW #4, very happy for you and the all-clear on the second procedure. It’s not inconsiderate to have had surgery, and you’re making things difficult by following the surgeon’s recommendations.

    On the flipside, I do take umbrage with this M.A. in Cat Politics business. Preposterous bunk. There’s no way they’d let a naked, blustering ape in on enough cat dirt to flesh out a whole Master’s degree. (If they did, though, I know where I’d like to spend the next five or six years floundering miserably before dropping out a week before my thesis revision.) Maybe an Associate’s, or one of those post-grad certificates (in Advanced Cat Box Cleaning and Backward Stroking of the Belly, or summat practical).

    1. Saurs*

      Crikey: you’re not making things difficult by following the surgeon’s recommendations. Not. Sorry for flubbing that.

    2. Connie-Lynne*

      I’ve completed the coursework for a certificate in Treat Delivery and Cat Physical Fitness (my focus area, “opening the door, letting the kitty in, then immediately letting the kitty back out again” involved some pretty intense fieldwork), but I just haven’t gotten around to filing the graduation paperwork yet.

      1. Monodon monoceros*

        I am working on a course in “keeping the food bowl at the perfect level of fullness” right now…been on the course for 20 years, multiple study subjects, and I can’t seem to get it right. 3am seems to be the subject’s favorite time to strenuously object to the level of the food in the bowl.

          1. Fact & Fiction*

            Or blearily mumbling, “Shut up cat!” While half asleep. Doesn’t usually work but makes me–er, one–feel better.

          2. ThursdaysGeek*

            We teach our cats to sleep through the night, and are successful at it. Both cats hop on the bed at night, curl up, and often sleep all night. They know it’s useless to ask for food until we get up, so they might as well sleep.

        1. LBK*

          Have you tried using an automatic feeder? It took my cat a while to adjust to her food coming from that instead of from me but she rarely pesters me anymore (occasionally around bed time but she hasn’t woken me up in the middle of the night in years). I think part of it is that it goes off while I’m not here so the “human = keeper of the food” link has gotten detached. The machine also makes a very distinctive whirring sound when it’s kicking on so there’s a Pavlovian element of knowing she’s not getting food unless she hears that noise.

          (Feel free to ignore if you were just making hyperbole, which for the record I did laugh out loud at :)

          1. TheVet*

            I had an automatic feeder for my cat. She figured out how to put her paw up into the chute to release the flap. It was like a kitty slot machine and she was regularly hitting the jackpot.

            1. LBK*

              Ha, I specifically went with one where the reviews said the cats couldn’t get into it for that reason :)

      2. Hellanon*

        I just haven’t gotten around to filing the graduation paperwork yet.

        Are your test subjects sitting on it, by any chance?

      3. No Longer Passing By*

        Add to physical fitness knocking item on floor, watching item get picked up and restored to original area, and then knocking item off again. Rinse and repeat….

  5. Vicki*

    #1 – “You don’t need to push everyone toward something.”

    Thank you, Alison! As I read the letter, I was thinking “This employee is me. Please do not try to “push” me toward anything. I’m happy… but I do not like to be pushed.”

    So many of my past managers have wanted to “push” me to something else -usually a different kind of work than what I was happily doing. They only ever succeeded in pushing me… out.

    1. Sans*

      This is me, too. Even when employers say they are okay with you “growing in place”, they aren’t. I think it’s because the system is set up for development plans, and my only development (as a writer) is to write for different formats (web, print, etc.), learn more about my subject matter, get to know more people in my organization that I can work with to get info, etc. But they keep trying to push me into giving presentations and doing other work that I DO NOT WANT TO DO. That I hate, actually. And that isn’t necessary for my position. Now, I have no problem presenting potential themes/layouts to a meeting – that’s part of my job and I’ve done it for decades. But giving a powerpoint presentation about some random theme? I suck at this, it’s part of the reason I never want to be a manager. I hate management. I hate everything having to do with management – hiring, firing, presentations, politics. So stop pushing it at me. Because if this keeps happening, it will cause me to leave a job that I would otherwise stay in for a good while.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Me me me me. So me. I don’t mind being an admin. I don’t want to manage either. I can’t deal with the math stuff surrounding hours, payroll, etc., and I don’t want to deal with the people stuff. Just give me something to do and leave me alone!

    2. danr*

      At my old company there were many folks who stayed in one position for their entire time with the company (years). While the job title stayed the same, the work didn’t. It changed with the changing times. The output was the same, but how the work was done changed radically. The ones that handled the changes in the methods best were those who learned about how the new methods worked. You can do the same for the employee who is not interested in moving up. If there are changes in how the work is done, give her an opportunity to learn more about those changes. If there are professional meetings or conferences in the field, make sure that she can attend.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Or, on that same note, let her be involved in process changes and improvements

    3. MissDisplaced*

      I think the challenge for this manager is to find ways to keep the employee motivated and challenged, even if they enjoy where they are at. I agree that not everyone needs to be “pushed” toward moving up and onward, but I’ve unfortunately also seen people just coast along and stagnate because they have a stubborn refusal to learn or do or try anything new.
      I’m sure there must be ways to do this, no matter the job, to help them be the “best” at what they do. Whether it’s keeping up with new software or getting involved in the more social aspects of the company’s initiatives (organizing something, etc.).

    4. TootsNYC*

      What about being encouraged to add skills that make you better where you are? Like, you use Excel, maybe, so you take a course to deepen the skill you have. A new technology arises, and you get training on it, and are asked to think about how you use it.

      Or, you get the assignment to codify department processes, writing up procedures, tips, training materials, etc.

      The same job–just deeper, broader, more detailed.

      Or, there is the idea of redefining your job in a way that fits your value system (i.e., the janitor stops looking at his job as “cleaning the gunk off the floors” and sees it as “creating a welcoming and encouraging place for my colleagues to come to work”).
      And that some employees will redefine the job a few different ways over the years (like, in a few years, the janitor starts to think of his job as “preserving the financial value of the physical plant” instead).

      Maybe a boss can help someone like you identify and realize this sort of “adding value” to your existing duties. So you duties don’t change, but your emotional/mental/psychological reason for doing them does.
      And maybe this is already going on, and a boss simply needs to recognize and reward it, so boss and employee are on the same page, and the employee sees that her manager (and the company) value what she does. And that her contribution to the company is clearly defined and clearly visible.

      So you are doing something that freshens your job, but it’s the same job.

      Because the thing I’m thinking is–there is going to come a time when this job is boring to you. I want to be in front of that, as your manager.
      You may not want to move up now. Or out (I think of myself as prepping my people for their next job, even if it’s somewhere else–bcs they can only move into my job, and I’m not leaving).
      But that time will probably come, so I want to have done something that makes you ready for that whenever it is. Deeper or broader skills. A better sense of how to present the concept of “how this added value to the company,” so you can make a case for yourself when asking for a raise, interviewing for a job, presenting a change in procedures.

      1. Sans*

        I totally agree with deepening the skills you need for your job, and staying up to date with new methods and technologies. If I look at the first writing job I had in the 80s — what I did then vs. now — it’s a huge change. And that’s fine. Actually, that’s good, because I couldn’t do the exact same thing with NO change for 30 years. In the 80s, I wrote direct mail for a publisher. Now, I do no direct mail, some print, a lot of web copy, for a totally different industry. As long as I’m writing and not managing, I’m fine.

        If I feel like I’m in a rut here, then I’ll go to a new job writing about something new. But from past experience, I’m able to last at least 5 years and maybe even 8-10 years before I feel like I might start to go stale. And that’s a pretty good longevity for any job these days.

    5. BananaPants*

      Yup. I know it’s hard to believe but some of us are content to be individual contributors forever. I have zero desire to manage people or projects. The worst managers I’ve had were engineers who were shunted into management without really wanting to do it, because it seemed to be the next logical step in the career progression or was the only way to pay them more – it has never worked out well for their direct reports.

    6. snuck*

      Not everyone wants to climb the ladder…

      They might be climbing other ladders elsewhere, or they might have other pressures on them… and appreciate work being just work. A few of my best employees were ones who were content to come in, do their hours, and go home, without fanfare, for long periods of time. They’d do a bit of overtime when asked nicely, they would sit quietly in the various large corporate road show love ins… and then they’d get back to the pile of whatever it was they did… and they did it well. They were wonderfully easy to manage! Two admitted openly that work was work, it paid the bills, and they were happy with their jobs, but they loved their off time more. Which was fine – it was true, and they performed well a their roles… so no problem right?

      I’d caution the OP from assuming that up is the only way (it sounds like the OP is realising this!)…

      In managing those staff who are happy in their jobs I’ve looked at hte following:

      What motivates them? If it’s their outside pursuits then motivate them with that – can you reward them with a magazine subscription related to their hobby instead of a day’s training in a stretch role they’ll never perform, can you give them training in the next step SIDEWAYS in their role… let them become experts at an element of their role that doesn’t mean they are climbing, can you offer flexible working arrangements seasonally (school holidays, summer or winter sports or during a finals TV season) that lets them enjoy their other hobby and love working for you even more. Payroll entry has to be done on time, but office hours don’t have to be 9-5, you could do a 7-3 deal for data entry if there’s another person who can pick up the 3-5 portion etc. I had an employee who used to take a Friday or a Monday off all the time and have three day surfing weekends – eventually I told him ‘why not go 80% FTE and save us all the grief – right now you are facing firing because you are away too much, your work is good but we need you here when scheduled… so let’s change your schedule. Yes you’ll take a 20% pay cut, but the reality is you aren’t being paid for these days off anyway… so… it will be the same, with less drama!”

      What is the next step for this role – not up, but process and procedure and software wise… make sure this person is skilled effectively in all those, and that they are well equipped to do the job they love. Promote their skillset in their chosen career and let them become a true professional at it.

      Involve them in decisions about their job – they know and love it well… ask their opinions, just because they don’t want to climb doesn’t mean they think it should stay the same.

      Redefine ‘climb’ … people and project management aren’t for everyone, climbing can include moving into technical roles, other departments that have a different focus but need a similar skillset (so a payroll data entry person might appreciate developing skills in accounts payable for example, and have the opportunity to pick up overtime there)…

      Ask the employee why they like the job. I’ve had a few afraid of change, who dig in deep and refuse to move – they are recalictrant problems that need to be addressed when process and software changes come along (or when they hoard work sigh), but I’ve also had as I said above… others who like the job for what it is…

    7. Joe*

      Very late to the party on this one, but have to add something: It’s all well and good to be comfortable with what you’re doing, and not want to move up. I’ve known some excellent people who were like that, and had very fruitful careers doing what they were good at. But it’s also important to recognize the limitations that will put on you: you might not get raises (at all, or beyond cost of living increases) if you’re not taking on new responsibilities or skills, you won’t get to “advance your career” (for various such definitions), etc. Some people are fine with that, but some people want to keep doing the same thing, but get paid more for it, or be given extra recognition by dint of having done it longer, and that isn’t always going to be possible.

  6. Student*

    #4 Do what’s best for your health. However, should you get into a situation where you are leaking noticeable bodily fluids (stitches get torn), then it’s best for everyone that you deal with that immediately – get them fixed or stay home or whatever. Showing stitches = no big deal. Body fluids = health hazard.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Actually, no. Unless you’re spewing them into the air or dripping onto everyone’s desk, a little leakage from a wound might make some people queasy, but it’s not a health hazard to others. Especially with a site on the neck, where it’s very unlikely to spread to the OP’s hands, the surest way to spread an infection (which is also an assumption) to other people.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Sorry, I forgot to say that it could be a health hazard to the OP, they should get it looked at to make sure it doesn’t develop an infection if there is seepage/leakage and they weren’t told that would be normal by the surgeon.

  7. JamieG*

    What would a degree in cat politics entail? Priority uses for the litterbox? Equitable distribution of catnip?

    1. the gold digger*

      The inequity of forcing one cat to eat from a bowl filled with tennis balls while the other cat gets to eat from the regular dish – that would be my dissertation, along with a subsection of “The Impact of A Tennis-Ball-Filled Food Dish on Cat Vomiting.”

      1. NonnyNonny*

        Except at HBCUs (Historically Black Cat Universities). They add a stripe of white.

    1. GOG11*

      It should be noted that the fabric type is equally important. The eyelet stuff does a fantastic job of capturing and displaying a wide variety of cat hairs.

      1. Anna the Accounting Student*

        So do fabrics with a nap, like velvet and chenille. That stuff’s cat fur velcro.

  8. Kara*

    I am the employee #1 is talking about.

    I am extremely good at what I do. Not humblebragging or egotripping, just stating fact. I am good at what I do because I like it and I like it because I’m good at it. I have risen to a level where I have some responsibility but not so much as to make me have to live and breathe my job outside of regular work hours. I intensely love that I can do what I do, be very good at it, be recognized for being good at it, and leave it at work 90% of the time (occasional department crises or crazy deadlines notwithstanding).

    I’ve had bosses who think I should be “more ambitious” or that I am destined for “better things” try to mentor me up and out. They have their career goals and they think that everyone else has (or should have) the same goals. But you know what? I don’t.

    I have a very rich life outside of work. I have a lot of hobbies and relationships and outlets that bring me joy and that provide a different creative outlet and mental or physical stimulus from my job. My current job is demanding enough to challenge me and yet lets me enjoy the rest of my life without guilt or pressure. I work to live, not the other way around.

    So, OP #1, if I am your employee .. live and let live. Rejoice that you have someone who works for you who loves what they do and is happy to do it to the utmost of their ability. Don’t drive them away by forcing them to make work their life. You’ll only make them unhappy, feel pressured, feel belittled for “not wanting more”, and ultimately leave … and you’ll be in a lesser place for it.

    1. Rebecca*

      +1 to this “I have a very rich life outside of work.”

      I feel the same way. I just want to be paid to work my 8 hours and be done with it. I don’t want to move up. Moving up means putting in more and more hours, usually on an exempt basis, and I just don’t want to give up my personal time. It’s not worth it to me. Just let me do my job, and let someone else who wants to waste 12 hours of their life every weekday and spend time on their laptop on weekends do it. No thanks.

      1. Merry and Bright*

        +100. This is me exactly. Also, a move up for me would involve having people report to me and I know I would not enjoy this. Just would not. As things are, I can concentrate on what I do enjoy and am good at, and also have a good amount of autonomy. Am happy to learn new skills and widen my role as I go, but do not want to move up.

        I am so glad I am not alone in this.

        1. Revolver Rani*

          One of the reasons I know my current job has decent management: A few years ago the department head came to me and said, “I get the feeling you aren’t interested in becoming a manager, is that right?” She then went on to describe a different, very interesting, contributing role she wanted to offer me, and said she just wanted to make sure she wasn’t misreading my goals before she steered me in that direction. It’s a good thing about my department (though I can’t speak for the organization more broadly) – there isn’t room in the org chart for everyone to become a manager anyhow, and they don’t push people to do it who don’t really want to; they will find other ways for good workers to make high-impact contributions if they want to.

    2. Sarahnova*

      Kara, out of curiosity – I am guessing you DO have things at work that you would like more or less of, even if it’s “greater flexibility” or “not to be responsible for refilling the damn copier”. Would you respond well to a management approach built around “can I help you continue to exceed by making your job more enjoyable?” Are there still things you’d like to learn and/or develop that you could use a manager’s help or support with?

      I totally agree with you on “don’t ‘push’ me”, but I’d love to hear your input on whether a manager could still support, develop, coach or motivate you in these ways in your current role.

    3. GOG11*

      This! I have had quite a few people who have tried to get me to go to graduate school or to get me to go back to consulting because they think I’m wasting my potential in my current job. While it isn’t a super great fit for me in terms of what I’m doing, the set hours and nature of the work allow me to leave work at work, which is indescribably important to me. I tend to fixate and if I had the ability to take my work home with me, I’d never stop working.

    4. KT*

      ^This. I like my job. I love my job, even. I do fantastic work. But i have nor eal motivation to get to a higher level. I like what i do, I LOVE my life outside of work, and my income keeps me comfortable. AND THAT’S OKAY.

    5. Allison*

      +1, part of why I like my role is that I can be successful within normal working hours; I can come in early and leave early and my schedule isn’t dictated by a series of meetings that go until 5 or 6 in the evening. I also don’t have work that needs to be done at night like some of my colleagues, so I’m able to leave at 4:30, leave my work behind me, and go have a life. There may be a time in my life where most of my evenings will be quiet nights in where checking work e-mails will be both necessary and feasible, but not right now!

    6. NicoleK*

      +1000. I have a direct report who is like OP#1. Great at what she does and has no aspirations to ascend to upper management. I make sure she feels supported and has opportunities to grow in the way she wants.

    7. Ad Astra*

      I’m starting to realize that I feel the same way. I do have plenty of room for improvement still, and I’m willing to at least dabble in new tasks, but I don’t want to climb. I used to want to be one of those people who live and breathe for their work, but it turns out I have a very low FOMO threshold. It didn’t take very many working holidays or missed family events to realize I wasn’t a live-to-work person after all.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Me too–I don’t mind learning things that help me do my job, or new processes and procedures (unless they’re restrictive or stupid). My outside interests are geared toward my books, though I can’t make a living at that yet. Still, I don’t think of it as a hobby (even though lately I’ve been less than stellar about discipline, arrgh), and I don’t want a day job that follows me into my writing time.

    8. MissDisplaced*

      I’m sure though there must be a few things you can still do to enrich your work. Even if it’s just keeping your software skills sharp or the opportunity to get out of the office to help with an event or the like occasionally. Surprisingly, a lot of companies ignore this stuff!

    9. YourOwnPersonalCheeses*

      To anyone in this thread who talked about their jobs: I would love to know what kind of work you do, because so far your jobs all sound pretty much like something I’d enjoy! :D

  9. MK*

    OP1, there were a couple of things in your post that are a bit troubling. One is the assumption that you have to mentor all your reports. Surely a mentoring relationship is not assumed just because you are someone’s manager. Some people might not want a mentor, or they might already have one, or they might not think you would be the right one for them. It’s great that you are taking an interest in your reports’ overall careers, and if you mentoring them develops naturally or they ask you, that’s great. But you don’t get to just decide that you are someone’s mentor.

    The other thing is that you speak of “pushing”. Maybe it’s just an unfortunate choise of word, but the only pushing you should be doing involves the work that you manage. Even with reports that have specifically asked you to mentor them, it’s not a good idea to try to heavy-handedly interfere, rather than advise and support. For example, don’t just assume that you know what your other report wants because you two seem to have similar personalities and ambition. She may remind you of yourself, but she is not you.

    1. Cautionary tail*


      And please understand that you really can’t mentor a direct report because mentoring means you are giving unbiased direction, feedback, etc. The very nature of a manager or supervisor and employee relationship is biased. You can share, help, guide and more as a boss but you can’t mentor because you have a direct vested stake in the outcome.

    2. LBK*

      I think pushing is appropriate to a certain extent. It can be easy to just get tunnel vision and stick to your day to day job without adequately preparing yourself for whatever the next step will be (assuming you want there to be a next step). A good manager can help push you to take classes/certifications, go meet some people in the area you want to work in, give you some stretch assignments, etc. all in service of helping your career – but these should all be following a conversation where the employee outlines what they want to do.

  10. Apollo Warbucks*

    #1 is there a way you can help your member of staff develop within their current role?

    Ask your employee what development they would like and extend that definition to complimentary skills for their current job.

    For example I work with databases and Microsoft do a really good training course and certification that would enhance my skills for my current job, I’m also taking an interest in computer programming, whilst I’ll never been a full on application developer it’s a great skill to compliment the database skills I have and I’d love for my firm to pay for a course in that, which would be useful to them too.

    Also if your member is staff is solid then give them as much autonomy as you can, let them take decisions where you can. That’s likely to shown them they are respected, trusted and valued.

    1. Ella*

      +1. I was also wondering if the employee has aspirations outside of moving up at this company (maybe she wants to learn architectural drawing and move to a different department completely?) and the boss could….not assist her in leaving her job, obviously, but at least not stand in the way.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Technology changes so rapidly today. I love employees that want to update their software skills to keep up. Surprisingly, this is an area many companies ignore, and they often don’t want to invest in the employees they do have.

  11. hbc*

    #4: Some people are really squeamish about stitches, so as much as I’d leave them uncovered most of the time, I’d be prepared to cover them up for large meetings, maybe for an hour or so. Or maybe take a spot in the room where they’re less noticeable. You don’t *have* to do anything and there’s certainly nothing shameful about stitches, but if you’ve got a fainter in the room or just have a lot of staring, going uncovered 23 hours in the day might feel more comfortable than 24.

    And congratulations on the good result from the removal!

    1. GOG11*

      I am definitely squeamish and probably* a fainter, but I don’t think OP should cover anything up unless she is medically OK to do so. If comfort (not feeling conspicuous) is more important to OP than whatever the setback would create, that’s OP’s choice to make, but please don’t feel like you need to compromise your health for someone else’s comfort, OP.

      *When my ex husband had surgery, I couldn’t stand without the room spinning. I couldn’t even see the stitches, but I knew they were there. If I had been stubborn and stood for long enough (probably about 10 seconds), I would have passed out. Wounds/injuries make me queasy, light headed, and oddly emotional, and sometimes I get a bit hyperventilate-y. I can’t speak for other people who are really squeamish, but it just seems like these temporary, emotional discomforts aren’t worth someone’s recovery being impaired.

      1. AmyNYC*

        Ah! This is me…. just READING about these stitches is making me feel squeamish. If you share office space, I’d preemptively email people and ask if they would be uncomfortable with the stitches – and if so either you or they could work elsewhere for the time being, or you could loosely cover them at the office. But I agree with covering them for meetings. Happy recovery!

        1. Observer*

          I honestly don’t think it’s at all reasonable to ask someone cover up a surgical wound on her neck – especially in the summer!

        2. BethRA*

          I’m all for giving people a heads-up, but officemates feeling squeamish or uncomfortable does not take precedence over doctor’s order or someone’s physical health. Why should OP 4 have to deal with a longer healing time, possible increased scarring, and a higher risk of infection?

          1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

            I agree. It’s not like OP just chose to have a wound on her neck. If someone needs to move, it should be the squeamish person.

            1. Fuzzyfuzz*

              I agree as well–this would be the squeamish person’s issue, not the OP’s. You can’t ask someone to refrain from doing something totally reasonable connected to their health and well being just because it inconveniences you.

            2. Kyrielle*

              I am a squeamish person, and I agree. Now, if the doctor says it’s fine covered or uncovered at this point, and OP #4 doesn’t mind covering it for others’ comfort…sure. But if OP #4 doesn’t want to cover it, or if the doctor has said it should be uncovered – then anyone squeamish is the one who has to address the issue, because OP #4 doesn’t deserve to slow their healing or worse, just because of that.

              And OP #4, if you are not sure whether your doctor meant “it’s fine either way” now or “you can uncover it now,” as in you should – call and ask! I’ve dealt with doctors whose wound-care instructions were perhaps a little wishy-washy about what was the better course of action, when there was one.

        3. Case of the Mondays*

          Just curious – do visible body piercings bother you? My dad gets super squeamish about them and can’t really look at them without getting nauseous which I find amusing.

          1. GOG11*

            Nope, not at all. I have my ears pierced in several places and I have another facial piercing, as well. If I saw someone getting pierced, or if they talked about it (or about being tattooed), I’d have trouble, though. I’m sure if I thought about how they got that piercing, it would make me feel a bit ill.

      2. the gold digger*

        I am a fainter. I can’t even watch someone giving blood or getting a shot on TV. When I have to give blood, I pass out.

        But I completely agree with you, GOG11. That’s my issue, not OP’s. It would never occur to me to ask OP to cover up for my sake. I would, however, think it would be a good reason to focus on eating some Emergency Chocolate to distract me.

      3. Case of the Mondays*

        Also, these reactions can come out of nowhere. I’m generally not squeamish. I worked in a jail and had to take a resident to get stitches at the local hospital once. I was doing fine until the person in the bed next to his, with just a curtain between us, had a far more painful injury and was making a lot of pain noises. They were discussing removing said impaled object from his hand and I apparently almost passed out. I say apparently because I thought I felt fine but my face lost all color, my lips turned blue and my eyes did some fluttery thing that the nurses knew leads to fainting. They got me in a chair, feet up, giving me orange juice. Meanwhile, my co-worker (always two person transport) is cracking up laughing that I’m now a patient too. They had to send someone down from security so there were still two people “working” until my BP was back to normal and I could return to work. You never know when something like that will hit you.

        To OP though, you do you. Everyone else needs to work around it.

        1. GOG11*

          I always thought it was blood that got to me, but the older I get, the more I think it’s about the pain. If someone else is in a terrible amount of pain, I start to feel ill. It’s like sympathy vomiting (or whatever it’s called), but with pain. I just can’t take it if someone else is suffering.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Aww, the poor guy–that must have been agonizing. And poor you!

          I’m not usually squeamish; I can handle blood and I would actually watch a procedure with some fascination. You’re right about not knowing how you would react to things, though. Case in point: I’m usually okay with some seriously gross stuff, and we had a homicide class during my criminology major where the instructor (a judge who is a former prosecutor) showed us a LOT of crime scene stuff. TRIGGER WARNING! GROSSNESS MENTION AHEAD!

          I had no trouble with any of the corpse pics and the shotgun murder crime scene video. What got me was a medical examiner photo of the decapitated head of a murder victim. NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE. When that photo came on screen, I said, “GAH!” and everybody snickered (except the non-crim majors, who had their hands over their eyes by that point).

          The instructor teased me about it for a while afterward. (I bet if I ran into him today, he’d probably say something!) Of course, looking at pictures is much different from being at the scene or at the autopsy, where smells and sounds contribute to the gross factor. And he admitted that the head had bothered him too. I imagine he had a similar reaction at the time–he probably thought he would be fine, but it freaked him out a little. I was like, “Thanks for sharing your nightmare, Judge!!”

    2. kozinskey*

      I agree with this. As much as it’s medically important to leave them uncovered, if I were interacting with anyone in close quarters I’d probably find a light scarf or something to wear for that time. Nothing too constricting, obviously, just something that will keep the squeamish ones from feeling uncomfortable.

      It might not be a bad idea to give a heads up to your manager that your doctor has told you to leave them uncovered, either.

      1. Anna*

        Nope. Doesn’t have to be concerned about your discomfort if it’s not medically advisable to cover it up.

      2. Observer*

        Why? I really, really don’t get it. If it were an area that is normally covered in day to day life, I could see it. But this is really so much more than that. Why would this be the problem of the person who is recovering?

  12. AdAgencyChick*

    #1, I think part of mentoring someone who doesn’t want to move up is to be clear about what that means in your company. Are there people who have been in the same job for years? Does your employer look at people’s salaries and say “we don’t need someone with 12 years of experience in this role; we could hire someone with 2-3 years’ experience for 30% less”? How long do you imagine YOU will be in your job — that is, how often will she have to prove that she’s an asset to the company when she gets a new boss, especially if the new boss is trying to figure out ways to cut costs and/or bring in people she likes?

    I imagine not every industry is as unkind to the so-called “B players” as mine is. If your industry or your company is, though, part of being a good mentor is making sure she knows that and can decide what, if anything, to do about it.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      Thanks. I was trying to think how to write pretty much exactly what you did. Saved effort.

      One concern with not moving up or expanding or advancing is when it’s coupled with a desire to make more money. It’s hard to sit across from a Great Billing Clerk and tell them, you do a great job but there’s only so much to pay a billing clerk and you’re making it already.

      So, we run into this occasionally.

      There’s usually a way to get around it with flexibility on the employee’s part . Adding advanced responsibilities doesn’t have to mean management track or 60 hours weeks (in my world).

    2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      Yes. I have run into this more than once with people who wanted to stay right where they were and make more and more money. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to pay more than $x for that position. At that point, I’d need to have a conversation about the fact that the person has maxed out the range for their position and their salary may never increase significantly, if at all (unfortunately, we aren’t able to do COLA every year). While an employee with 5 years’ experience might be worth more, in general, than a person with 2 years experience, it’s an issue of diminishing returns – someone with 16 years’ experience likely isn’t very different from a person with 19 years.

      I do agree, however, with Wakeen, that someone you can give someone more skilled/challenging tasks that don’t involve leadership or management.

      1. BeeBee*

        Yup! I’ve had this with a very good production artist. Yes, he was good, but he steadfastly refused to try any “design” work or anything else for that matter and didn’t even want to increase his software knowledge. He was was with the company a long, long time, and so got paid pretty well (above what most production artists make as they are typically more entry-level). It became hard to justify paying him more than the junior designer who DID want to learn and do more. He still thought he should get an increase every year, but it really became a matter of “You are only going to make $X per hour and that’s it.”

    3. TootsNYC*

      “we don’t need someone with 12 years of experience in this role; we could hire someone with 2-3 years’ experience for 30% less”

      I ran into this! There was a general cost-cutting, and they laid off all of us who’d been in the job for more than 8 years. And I have to say–I totally agreed with them. Even paying me severance, they saved money in less than a year, because they got someone for quite a bit less.

      So I agree that a manager who is looking out for her team would be doing a good deed by pointing this out.

    4. Stephanie*

      Friend works at a white shoe law firm and says this happens on occasion. They have a very up or out culture, so most people usually GTHO once they realize they won’t make or don’t want to make partner. On occasion, he says there are like 8th-year associates who have questionable value for the firm as the firm can’t bill them out cheaply (relatively speaking of course) in relation to their salaries and they aren’t bringing in business like a partner would.

  13. Workfromhome*

    OP #1

    You need to consider that employee number 2 is not necessarily uninterested in change. They may simply be uninterested in the career path your organization encourages or allows. Many organization seem to present a very narrow path. Start as assistant teapot maker and learn the technical skills needed, then be promoted to teapot maker, if you become a really good teapot maker or stick around long enough then become a teapot MANAGER where you mange the other teapot makers but don’t make teapots yourself anymore. There are a TON of companies out there where as AAM says you either move “up or out” and up means Management. There are many brilliant ambitious people who don’t have the aptitude or desire to be managers. It does not mean that they will simply be happy and effective doing what they do for 20 years if you just leave them alone.

    Employee number 2 may not want to be “pushed” towards a management track. They may not want to be “pushed” towards anything. That doesn’t mean that they don’t want “more” than the exact situation there are in today. The key is to ask them! Maybe they have a special interest in improving the spout design on teapots they make or maybe they are really good at and enjoy teaching new teapot makers how to be more efficient or maybe they truly enjoy just being left alone to make teapots so they can leave at 5 and go rollerblading. You won’t know unless you ask. Then rather than pursing them to a path as a good manger you can see what you can do to offer them a path that keeps them good happy and productive. Maybe is staying in the same job but being on a team that looks at spout improvements or maybe its flex time so they can leave early 1 friday a month. Sorry for the long post but what I am saying is just because someone doesn’t want to be in management or to change titles doesn’t mean they will be happy with the staus quo and no rewards forever. There are other ways to move employees ahead in their career than promoting them to management.

    1. Ad Astra*

      Really enjoying the mental image of someone packing up his teapot supplies for the day and rollerblading away.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Yes yes yes! In a good company, there should be plenty of lateral moves or skills that could enrich the employee’s day-to-day. I second the advice to ask. You never know what the person might be interested in.

  14. Sarahnova*

    As a multiple cat owner, Alison, I am guessing you are close to earning your PhD in Cat Politics.

    1. Cautionary tail*

      I think I’m close to earning a PhD in cat international politics. My border collie herds my cat continuously, running circles around her and faux nipping at her. Cat meanwhile sits there licking her paw and thinking, “Really dog? Get a life.”

      1. the_scientist*

        I’m personally shocked that your border collie can successfully cohabit with a cat! Mine thinks cats are for chasing; they are his mortal enemies (along with squirrels, bunnies, bicycles etc.)!

        1. Bekx*

          I think my BC is afraid of cats…..

          We went to petco one time together and they had a cat adoption area. I walked her past it (you pretty much had to because it was in front of the store) and she stopped, stared, and sort of like dug her feet in and refused to walk closer. She’s nuts.

  15. TM-7 Ultra-Distortion Scrotum Smasher*

    #2: Argh! There are few things in life that are worse than having two bosses!

    I’ve been victim to this a couple of times. It’s never worked out well: I tell one boss that their instructions are in conflict – and they say “oh, OtherBoss just doesn’t really understand the project – do it my way.”

    Scheduling a ‘sit-down’ would seem like a logical step … but surprise! One or both of them has an emergency come up and can’t make it.

    I tried writing down any direction I was given, and then emailing to both bosses. It felt weirdly passive-aggressive and was ineffective, too: I wouldn’t hear a word back from either of them. For all I know they were both laughing it up, wondering when I would renounce one or both of them. I had various friends would stop by who would urge me to quit. I got frustrated and went to my immediate boss and tried to ask him what was going on and he said (basically) “hey, I am what I am, and that’s your boss – do it my way!” So I went back and slogged through it and did it his way. The end result was not great, but my career recovered – I got a new secretary, some new direct reports …. But I still miss all of the people I used to work with.

    God forbid it should ever happen again – I wonder if the thing to do might be to do two separate projects, one for each boss?

    1. No Longer Passing By*

      Those bosses sucked. If there was a conflict in instructions or revisions in my office, it is the managers’ job to resolve it. The subordinate alerts us and then we (managers) meet to proverbially duke it out. Then 1 of us reports back to the employee the reason for the disparity and the end result. Why throw the employee in a political warzone?

    2. Chickaletta*

      I’ve been a victim of warring managers too. At one job, the CEO was a super-micromanager who my manager always disagreed with. My manager was a VP two levels below the CEO. I was not allowed to communicate directly with the CEO, and doing so would have been a major fubar for my job. So, I was often put at the end of a long chain of communication that got reinterpreted every step of the way. Like the telephone game.

      Manger: “CEO Bob doesn’t like the font here, he wants something with more ‘energy’, but I’d like something more subtle”.
      I fix it with the font my manger wants. Two days later:
      Manger: “CEO Bob doesn’t like that font. He still wants more ‘energy’. Let’s try something else.”
      Me: “What does he mean by ‘energy'”?
      Manger: “I don’t know, but I like classic fonts.”
      Me: “Can I email Bob to find out more about what he’s looking for?”
      Manger: “No, that’s my job. Do not bother Bob.”
      Me: “I don’t know what he wants then.”
      Manager: “Who cares? My suggestions are better. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

      Repeat ad nauseum for the next two months. We end up using Mistral. I go home and pour myself a few drinks.

      1. OfficePrincess*

        And that just made me super thankful for my boss who will frequently tell me to give big boss what he wants to get him off both our backs, even if it sometimes means I do things the stupidest way possible.

    3. ThursdaysGeek*

      I worked at a place where one of my co-workers found herself with two bosses: brothers who were co-owners. She would get conflicting directions, and since they were at the same level, there wasn’t anyone to make the final decision. She tried to find a medium area where they both were reasonably satisfied, and finally just left that job.

      1. No Longer Passing By*

        i don’t understand. The brothers would just dig in their heels and not come to a compromise???? They wouldn’t speak and resolve it amongst themselves?

        Starting to appreciate my own family company more and more….

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          She really needed to speak up (as Alison says), clarify the requirements were clashing, and ask them to resolve it. I think she tried, but they were both busy, just wanted it done their way, and didn’t spend the time needed.

          Usually the differences were such that it seemed it would be possible to find a compromise that would work for both, but after a few back and forths, it would be clear that there actually was no overlap. Then the discussion was not only trying to find a compromise, but also explaining how and why there was no overlap, using details that neither brother was really interested in, nor wanted to spend the time to understand. She had her skills, they wanted her results, in just enough of a different way that there was no way to provide one result that they both loved.

  16. Jill of All Trades*

    I considered changing my major to Cat Politics, but sadly I couldn’t bring myself to sign up for “Hairballs: An Exploration of Timing and Placement”.

        1. LBK*

          I’m sure there’s some actual scientific explanation like wanting to sit somewhere that feels comfortable and safe when she’s sick but it sure seems like my cat just really enjoys making me wash my throw rug once a month.

          1. GOG11*

            Honestly, I think it’s more to do with after the vomiting is over. At least with one of my cats, the first thing he tries to do is bury it. I imagine out in the wild, the foul stench of cat vomit might attract other cats or predators, which would be a pretty bad thing. Carpeting probably feels/seems closer to the type of surface that a cat could “manipulate” to cover their tracks. Throw rugs and loose fabrics definitely allow the cat to cover the vomit. Or maybe my cat’s just an a-hole.

            1. Abhorsen327*

              My cat takes it a step farther – if there’s dirty laundry anywhere on the floor when she needs to vomit, she makes sure to do so right next to the dirty laundry, and then pull the item of clothing over the vomit to cover it. Sigh.

              1. Melissa*

                Eww lol. I was almost convinced to get a cat by a friend’s truly lovely cat, but this is making me pull back, lol. When my dog vomits she just hangs her head and walks away from it like “Sorry, can’t help it.”

                1. Abhorsen327*

                  Well, I just look on it as encouragement to pick up after myself ;) Plus, vomiting is not actually a super common occurrence; I brush the cats regularly to avoid hairballs, so they really only vomit when their stomachs are upset (switching to a new food unexpectedly, etc)

      1. LPBB*

        Don’t forget “Gracefully Sidestepping the Newspaper That the Big Hairless Cat Just Frantically Shoved Under Your Head”

        1. Jill of All Trades*

          That is also a dog maneuver. They will actually delay the “event” to keep moving away from the paper. Really? We’re choosing this moment to be picky, but this morning when you found squirrel poop it was “oh boy! Squirrel poop!!!”.

      2. Aunt Betty*

        What is with that!? I had a cat once who managed to deposit a hairball right on one of my (very nice, actually) flip-flops – which was sitting in the middle of a cement floor. It’s like he aimed on purpose.

    1. Lizabeth (call me hop along)*

      Plus positioning of said hair balls to guarantee that sleepy owner will step on them (and they’re icy cold by then…) on the way to visit the bathroom at any given time of the night.

    2. abby*

      Yeah, I dropped that class and signed up for “Hairballs: Strategies for Minimizing”.

  17. Random Commenter*

    This writing assignment thing intrigues me. I am getting my doctorate in a scientific field (chemistry) and have been published. One of the things I am looking at post-graduation is a career in scientific editing for a journal, but I am not sure whether I have the training for it. Will my thesis and publications be enough to reassure a prospective editing board? Should I talk to my adviser about auditing a technical writing class as well?

    I looked into my university’s Journalism department, but it’s getting a lot smaller and most of the focus is on magazine/newspaper features. Which probably covers the majority of journalism jobs, but isn’t particularly helpful to me.

    1. Mary (in PA)*

      I have lots of academic publishing experience and a good buddy of mine is a managing editor for a science journal. I don’t know how much time you have left in your program, but honestly, a technical writing class would not hurt you one bit and would probably help you in whatever career path you choose. (The ability to communicate clearly and succinctly will always be necessary.)

      Copy editing is a little more tricky to get experience with if you don’t have any to start out. I would check your aptitude for such work in the following way: do you have any non-native English-speaking students in your program? Do they write papers that need to be submitted for publication? I might ask them if
      they’re willing to have you take a look at their writing and provide feedback. Its a good litmus test for you and will help them improve their work, which is probably scientifically sound, but may be having issues with publication simply due to the language.

      (It takes a special kind of editor to deal with academic ESL writing on a regular basis. I once edited a thesis written by a native Chinese speaker about autonomous robotics, and I’ll always remember this sentence from his work: “To fight of a fire, a resource of hydrant is required.” Imagine eighty pages of writing like that.)

      1. Random Commenter*

        Thanks for responding to me! I’m already the go-to editing person in my lab group. I’ve helped edit manuscripts, theses, and grant proposals. I have lived in the US and abroad, and am somewhat familiar with parsing the writing by speakers of other languages. Maybe I should try getting some part time copy-editing experience while I finish up my dissertation, something I could put on a resume?

        1. Mary (in PA)*

          Awesome! In that case, I would definitely compile the titles of those into sort of an “editing portfolio.” What I did was add another page to my personal portfolio, formatted similar to my resume, that listed all the papers that I had edited. (Now it’s over 100, which means I have to take it into digital form.)

          I list that work on my resume as another job that ranges from June 2003 – present, and pull out some highlights of the papers that I’ve worked on. Two papers I edited have won awards, so I specifically mention those. I have my name on a book published by the NCBI Bookshelf, so that gets called out. And I highlight the book that I’m currently working on by saying, “anticipated publication in 2015” because as far as I can tell, it’s still on track for that.

          You clearly already have the editing experience to work for an academic journal in your field of study, so I’d absolutely concentrate on making that as clear as possible to anyone who sees your resume. I could even send you over my resume if you’d like to see how I call that stuff out – if you want, you can send me an email at mary dot vantyne at gee mail dot com and we can take this discussion out of this comment thread.

          1. Random Commenter*

            Thank you! I just saw I had a bunch more responses to my questions, I kind of thought all the commenters moved on to the new letter. I just found out this website existed last week. Sorry I didn’t respond earlier.

        2. BeeBee*

          Most universities also have a writing center that helps advise undergrads, so maybe you could volunteer there to be an proofreader/editor? Not that you have tons of free time or anything! :-)
          But seriously, I would think undergrads could use a more advanced student to help them, especially with their scientific papers, and I think the setting is more formal than just “helping friends” and would look good on your resume or give you a possible later reference from the director of the center that could speak to what you did.

        3. TootsNYC*

          I hire copyeditors in consumer publishing.
          Set up some samples–before and after–of the next few things you edit. Maybe take the “before” and mark it up by hand, so it’s very visible. Just a page, maybe/

          Be able to talk about editing using the right terms (I call this “blind them with science”): “International students have trouble with the prepositions; they choose the wrong ones, or include too many or even leave them out. They seem to distrust transitive verbs” (which is what’s going on in that “to fight of a fire” thing).
          And “The most useful tactic is to break up sentences; I find that the other students writing on our projects tend to go on too long, and then it gets hard to parse.”
          And “stacks of adjectives is another problem–the best solution for that is a combination of inserting hyphens to create compound modifiers and creating prepositional phrases.”
          Throw in phrases like “subject-verb agreement” and “dangling modifiers” and “inserting a comma in the middle of a compound predicate.”

    2. GOG11*

      I minored in a writing area that had a big emphasis on technical writing, which I absolutely adored. In my program, I was lucky enough to work with professors who didn’t just teach the how or what to do, but they fostered the systems-based thought processes behind technical writing. Who are we writing for? What do we want to accomplish? What is the context for the piece and how does it impact what we need to convey? How can we utilize formatting to carry some of the weight of the task? It’s hard to describe, but it taught me a new way of thinking about problems that has bled into other aspects of my life.

      1. Random Commenter*

        This is also good to keep in mind. I’ve gotten a lot out of writing classes when I’ve taken them, but it’s fairly unusual for someone who is ABD to start taking classes again. I think I will contact the department about auditing before I bring up the idea to my adviser.

    3. Ad Astra*

      I majored in journalism and took a technical writing course through the English department that was pretty cool. It was probably 60% STEM majors, and a handful of them spoke English as a second language, so they learned a lot about clarity and sentence structure and passive/active voice — stuff they hadn’t really looked at closely in the writing they did for STEM classes. (I remember the teacher trying to explain to the international students why we say “half an inch” and “.5 inches” and realizing there is no good reason.)

      It could definitely be a helpful course if you manage to fit it into your schedule.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Well, I’d say that one chooses “half an inch” when one is writing in a conversational or informal style, and “0.5 inch” when one is writing in a context where emphasizing accuracy is valuable.

        They mean the same thing, but they have very different vibes.

      2. Elfie*

        My husband (who’s an engineer), gets disproportionately annoyed by things such as “.5 inches”, because he says it’s mixing metric and imperial measurements. Obviously, I haven’t ignored him as thoroughly as I like to pretend!

        1. Ad Astra*

          Yes, and I think the international students, who were all pretty advanced English speakers (it was a 400-level English class, after all), also had trouble understanding why we say “zero inches,” because apparently in their languages it would be the equivalent of “zero inch,” since 0 isn’t actually plural.

    4. moss*

      For scientific editing , I know at one time Eli Lilly (now called Lilly I think) did an editing test that applicants had to pass to be considered. It looked super-rigorous to me but I know ZERO about editing. But it’s a great field to be in with lots of potential especially for a Ph.D.

      1. moss*

        also to add that being the goto person for looking over someone’s paper is TOTALLY NOT the same thing as formal editing. There are specific marks, etc that you have to know, so take a class in editing somewhere (online or whatever) to learn those first before you try to jump into the tech editing (not medical writing) field.

  18. Sunshine Brite*

    #1: I’d be wary of pushing. Especially since as the manager you’re unlikely to get the full picture of this employee’s life. There was recently a supervisor hiring round at my job which is a mix of people staying in one position, moving laterally, and promoting so in the end, any decision is ultimately supported if you find yourself growing in your role, staying up on the new things, etc. There were a number of internal employees who would’ve been shoe-in candidates if they just threw their hats in the ring.

    One I was close enough to ask her and her answer was simple. The lack of flexibility as a supervisor doesn’t fit her lifestyle. As an employee she could flex her time more which fit her outside goal of starting a family soon. Supervisors are frequently in meetings and some find their creativity stifled which stops some of the others. Others didn’t want to give up direct client contact. Figure out what your employee likes about the position and foster that and if you need to push, push her to do better at her current role.

    1. LBK*

      But why can’t the employee just say that when the manager tries to push them towards a new role? There’s nothing preventing them from saying exactly what they said to you to their manager.

      1. Kara*

        But why does the manager have to “push” and why is the employee obligated to explain or defend her life or career choices?

        And especially if those choices revolve around having children – I would NEVER put that out there as a reason for my career choices. That’s risking that only do you not get pushed up, but you eventually get pushed OUT. Too many companies still think “oh, she’s on the Mommy track and we’ll lose her in 2-4 years, so just start phasing her out now.”

        Aside from that, not everyone wants to be a General and if everyone was a General, there wouldn’t be any Privates or Lieutenants or Captains to command.

        1. LBK*

          Because for probably 90-95% of employees, they do want to prepare for the next step and it’s usually considered one of the marks of a good manager to help employees develop and get promoted.

          I also don’t think that you have to be so specific about it being due to children, but I don’t see anything wrong with saying “I’m pretty comfortable with the schedule I have now and I know that moving to a supervisor level would mean being available outside of normal business hours a lot more often than I am now.”

          It’s not about defending life choices – I’m not sure why you’re seeing the manager as an adversary in this case. A manager is there to help you, not ruin your life.

          1. Kara*

            See fposte’s comment below.

            It’s not about making the manager into an adversary. It’s about the manager not being adversarial about making choices for their employees. :) Getting irked or annoyed or upset because the employee doesn’t want to move in the same career path the manager thinks he or she should, and making them explain why, is kind of unreasonable.

            Also I think your 90% – 95% number is likely way higher than it really is. There are a LOT of people who are perfectly happy being the worker bees.

            I’m also a little annoyed by equating enjoying being a worker bee with being unmotivated, apathetic, or hating/resenting management. I am absolutely a motivated employee. I enjoy my job, I enjoy my co-workers. I lead a team and the people I lead like and respect me (at least they’ve said they do). I am continually educating myself and taking on projects that enhance my role and my contributions to the company.

            I just have no desire to take on more responsibility beyond that because I value my life outside work. That doesn’t make me a slacker. It means I know what I want and know what makes me happy.

            1. Sunshine Brite*

              Agreed, plus, if everyone gets promoted/moves on. My area loses tons of valuable knowledge that doesn’t get shared as easily/needs to be re-learned. I’ve been here a year and a half and just getting comfortable. The people who’ve been here 3+ years are the go-tos for a reason. The knowledge you build upon happens and it’s always difficult when someone ‘good’ moves onto something else to try and fill that void. We all have access to all the policies but no one person can hold all of them to memory.

            2. LBK*

              I’m totally with you. I should’ve clarified that a manager pushing an employee should only be along the path the employee has stated they want to take – which is a conversation I think the manager can still initiate, but if the employee says they’re happy where they are, there’s no need to push them beyond that. I just disagreed that a manager can never push because they don’t know what the employee wants; well, if that’s the case, talk to the employee about what they want!

              And I don’t think that 90% number is wildly overstated – even if most people don’t want to move into management, most people want to move up in their current role, make more money, learn new things, etc. I think people who are perfectly happy doing 100% exactly the same thing they’re doing now for the rest of their career are rare.

            3. OP#1*

              Oh boy. I’m not anywhere in the realm of “irked or annoyed or upset” because she doesn’t want to advance, nor did I demand that she explain her reasoning. I work in an industry where it’s acceptable/normal to change jobs every few years, so I’ve spent my career trying to learn as much as possible to prepare me for the next promotion and the next new challenge. I understand that everyone doesn’t have the same goals, though, which is why I sought out suggestions from AAM about being a good manager to someone not on the same path as me. The conversation with my employee did come first – which is how I know she’s happy where she is.

              1. Kara*

                Hi OP.

                I wasn’t saying you were any of those things or that you did (or didn’t do) any of those things. I was responding specifically to the scenario that was played out in this particular thread of comments, in which LBK asked me why I was making the manager into an adversary (which I don’t think I did).

      2. fposte*

        From a manager standpoint, I think it makes more sense to talk to your employees about what they want before pushing or encouraging them in a direction. The pushing (I don’t like that word) comes *after* you’ve discussed their own goals and interests, not before.

        1. LBK*

          I did clarify in one of my other comments on the subject that I think the pushing should only occur once the employee has stated what direction they want to be pushed in, if any – my bad for not making the same caveat here. I agree that a manager shouldn’t take it upon themselves to decide an employee’s career path for them (which has happened to me and it was extremely frustrating – I do not want to be a sales person, stop grilling me to take the sales licensing exam!).

          1. Kara*

            I think maybe the key here is the continued use of the word “push”. Even if the employee wants to move in a certain direction, most likely she isn’t going to want to be “pushed”. Helped, guided, mentored, led, encouraged, enabled … all of those are good things. But pushed? No. Thanks anyway. :)

      3. TootsNYC*

        Well, employees often think they can’t “talk back” to their manager or resist their manager’s instructions.

        And that’s why “mentoring” isn’t really the right phrase for the OP#1 to have used. She can’t really mentor someone she’s supervising.

        So a manager who wants to encourage, coach, enable professional development etc., should be inquiring about what the employee wants in terms of professional development.

        1. LBK*

          Well, employees often think they can’t “talk back” to their manager or resist their manager’s instructions.

          Which I think is silly, but that’s a topic for a whole other thread.

          1. Rana*

            Well, it’s silly until you work for a boss who’s big on hierarchy. Then you learn to keep your head down, or leave.

        2. moss*

          I agree with this and it’s also often not politically prudent to admit you aren’t constantly striving for advancement. The go-get-’em types will think you don’t care and might treat you worse.

    2. Mephyle*

      For many it isn’t that they don’t want to stretch and grow, nor is it that they already live a full enough life outside work. It’s about wanting to keep doing what they do (produce) instead of moving to a different job (managing) that would mean that they had to stop doing what they like best (make teapots) and start doing something that doesn’t attract them (manage people).
      When they grow and stretch, they want to do so in the direction of making better and better teapots, or using newer technology, or improving the teapot process, or inventing new innovative teapot designs. But not in the direction of becoming a manager.
      This has been alluded to a few times, but I think could be emphasized more, so I’m mentioning it again, explicitly.

      1. Anonymosity*

        I think a person at my old job could have used this advice. He had a middle management job and had participated in product innovation and improvement; he’d been there for a long time and had a good track record and several significant contributions to the company. When the owners left after a buyout, he took over as GM and had a whole new set of management responsibilities. I don’t think he was very happy doing it and he wasn’t very effective at it.

        The new VP canned him. :( I thought that was a huge waste of talent–the guy had decades of product knowledge and most of the employees were okay with him. He could have been moved back into his old job or had a similar position created in the restructuring, and the company could have benefited from his continued input.

        Of course, with management you never know what kind of problems are going on–despite their sometimes annoying way of doing things, the old owners were pretty transparent. When the big conglomerate took over, doors started to shut and secret meetings abounded. A LOT of managers ended up getting pushed out, some of them really good ones, even though our company had held its own better than others throughout the recession. I know VP probably wanted to assemble his own team, but there is something to be said for valuing long-time employees.

  19. Sabrina*

    I should have majored in Cat Politics. Would have been considerably less useless than eMarketing!

  20. Allison*

    #1 that second employee sounds a lot like me. I like what I’m doing, and I don’t want to move into the role that most people in my position eventually move into, nor do I necessarily want to become a manager. That doesn’t mean I don’t ever want to change! I see myself either staying in this field and eventually adding “senior” to my title, or having a more specialized role, maybe involving analytics or something. I could also see myself moving out of this field and into something similar. But what I don’t want is to be pushed in the direction of something I’m not interested in, just because that’s where people who do what I do usually go.

    1. Allison*

      then again, this may have something to do with the fact that in my first job, I did want to move into a leadership position, and I did tell my manager this, but he didn’t think I was cut out for leadership and thought I should look into other, more specialized positions if I wanted to move up. Since then I’ve pretty much figured I’m inherently unsuited for leadership role.

      1. BeeBee*

        True. A lot of people don’t like the office politics or visibility that go along with a leadership role.

        1. Allison*

          I . . . don’t know, really? I just sort of took his word for it and decided it was best not to have those aspirations. Management is tough, after all.

          1. No Longer Passing By*

            Whoa!!! Decide because you don’t want it, not because you think that your former manager knows better than you what your career aspirations should be!!!

      2. Kara*

        Ya know .. there are lots of different kinds of leadership. You may not have been suited for a leadership role at that company or in that environment. Or maybe you aren’t interested in a strict hierarchical leadership structure. But I wouldn’t take that one situation and let it limit you if you’re really interested.

  21. the gold digger*

    RE stitches. I fell off my bike last year on my way to work and ended up with six stitches in my eyebrow. (And an enormous bruise on my face. It looked like someone beat me up. And a $4,700 ER bill, even though I went to urgent care and to my doc’s office first – they all refused to treat me. So much for being a responsible consumer of health care.)

    Anyhow. It never even occurred to me to cover up any part of my injury, although the only way I could have would have been to wear an eye patch and that still wouldn’t have gotten everything. But I really don’t care if other people are bothered by my $2,700 – my share of the costs – injury.

    Now I am wondering why I did not take advantage of the chance to wear an eye patch. I did not do it right.

    1. No Longer Passing By*

      ooh, you could have called yourself “Rachel Duncan” pre-neolutionist (Orphan Black)

  22. The Other Dawn*

    I’m happy to see letter #1. I’m about 7 months in at my company and I manage a team of 4. One is VERY much like I was at her age: very driven, ambitious, always wanting to do more, and thirsty for knowledge. The two that started at the same time I did are new to this particular area so their job is to be a sponge for the time being. The 4th? She’s like OP’s employee. I struggled at first, not really knowing what to do with her. Especially because she’s older than me and she was offered the position, but declined. After talking with her it seems clear that she’s happy where she is. I no longer feel like I need to push her the way I do the others, which is a relief. But I do sometimes struggle with whether she’s bored or not, mainly because we’re just inundated with so much routine work much of the time. It’s difficult to get out from under that and work on bigger picture projects.

    1. TotesMaGoats*

      Some people really, really like routine stuff. I had one staff member who LOVED it. They were great about being detail oriented and really just enjoyed that kind of stuff. It’s a blessing as I hate it.

      1. Windchime*

        And it doesn’t even mean that it’s “routine stuff”. I’ve been a programmer of some sort for 15 years and I love it. I have absolutely zero desire to go into management; why would I do that? I wouldn’t get to do what I love any longer (or at least very much of it), and I’d have to spend my days going to meetings and dealing with personnel issues. No thanks! I like doing what I’m doing. I will say that I’ve moved up as far as titles…..Programmer to Programmer/Analyst, to Senior P/A, Lead P/A, and so forth.

        But regarding the “routine stuff”….I have a friend who is perfectly happy doing the exact same, routine job day after day. She’s done it, or a version of it, for 20 years and she’s as happy as a clam. She has no debt and when she gets up and leaves her desk for the night, she doesn’t have to think a thing about work until the next morning.

    2. MsM*

      I think as long as you just do semi-regular check-ins or keep an eye out for longer-term projects that seem like they’re in her wheelhouse and can be worked on in between the regular daily tasks, and ask her if they’re something she’d be interested in/willing to take point on, it’ll be okay. And like Totes says, some people genuinely like routine.

      1. BeeBee*

        Agreed. You have to keep an eye on them. There are some people who won’t speak up, so just be sure this is really what they want and love.

    3. TootsNYC*

      Also–in terms of routine stuff:

      I read recently of a way that people in routine-ish jobs add richness to their work life.
      It’s in how they *define* that routine. I used the example higher up on the page of the janitor.
      He mops the same floor every day. But maybe mentally he doesn’t think of himself as “the guy who mops the floors every day.” He thinks he’s “the guy who creates a welcoming and encouraging space for his colleagues to work in.” And he aligns himself with the people who work in the space.
      Then a couple of years go by, and that pales. Now he starts to think of himself as “the guy who prolongs the value of the physical plant and avoids lawsuits,” and aligns himself with the people who manage the facilities.
      A few more years go by, and he thinks of himself as “the guy who helps keep employees feel motivated because their physical space is maintained,” adn he aligns himself with the manager of the people who work in the space.

      Same tasks. Different way of looking at it that’s very motivating.

      I do it myself! Some years I think of myself as doing my tasks on behalf of our company’s customers. Some years I focus on how my tasks make things better for my colleagues. Some years it’s those colleagues’ managers. Others, it’s the top cheese at my division. Some years it’s my subordinates.

  23. TotesMaGoats*

    #1-If the answers to all of Allison’s questions are yes, then please take her advice and don’t push this employee to bigger and better things. I’ve had to manage staff (my first managerial position) who had been doing their job for a long time and it was all they wanted to do. They didn’t want to move up or leave. If you push them on this, you’ll just make them miserable. See if there are professional development things that they might enjoy (not what you might enjoy), like special training on certain software or something like that. Or even just making sure that they get the vacation dates they really want or can leave early every now and again. Whatever perks you can give that makes them want to come back and be a great employee the next day.

  24. Frances*

    OP1: “Either way, you might be explicit with her about your thinking so that she understands why you’re taking the approach that you are, and also let her know that if her aspirations change in the future, she should talk with you so that you can jointly formulate a different approach.”

    I love this part! People’s interests change so this is nice language to let the employee know that she can approach you in future if she wants to.

  25. YandO*

    I just had a writing sample assignment. They gave me a question over the phone, then asked me to email my response within the hour.

    Question was: why would you be a good fit at this organization?

    It really tested my ability to express myself on a tight deadline. I think I went a little wordy and did not have time left to proofread as much as I wanted it. But it told them what they wanted to know.

    1. OP#3*

      Oooh, this is a great idea! As much as I would like for the candidates to complete the writing assignments in-house (to prevent cheating, etc), we are tight on space in the office and there are way too many distractions (always lots going on here). So giving the instructions over the phone and letting the candidate know they have an hour to email the assignment back to me is a great way to impose a deadline. Thank you!

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Just make sure you give them this assignment when they have an hour free. If you call them and they’re at work, they shouldn’t (nor should you want them to) spend any time on it at all at that time.

        So, maybe let them know that you want to give them a writing assignment and it should take no more than an hour. And then ask when you should call with the test, when they’ll have an hour available.

        1. OP#3*

          Absolutely! I think giving them a heads up about the process and what to expect is definitely key.

    2. Ad Astra*

      Did the same company ask you for a cover letter with the application? Because this assignment sounds pretty much like a cover letter, so I don’t think it would be helpful to have both.

    3. Cath in Canada*

      Did they tell you in advance that you’d need to clear your schedule for an hour after the call? If so, that approach sounds reasonable; if not, it sounds awful!

  26. Another HRPro*

    OP #1: First off, it is great that you recognize that not all employees have the same aspirations and that wanting different careers is ok. This often trips up new managers, especially when their employee’s aspirations are so different from their own.

    I recommend you consider how your employee’s job may evolve over time. Very few positions stay exactly the same. Companies/organizations often require more as years go by. To help your employee achieve their aspirations (i.e., continue to be successful in current position), think about how their job may change. How can you help her be successful in her job for the long term, not just right now? What skills are becoming more important?

    I have an employee like this. She is great in her job and wants to stay in it until she retires. Which is wonderful. I also know that as time goes on, certain technical and social skills will be critical for her long term success in this position. I do not want her to let her skills become antiquated or for others to not recognize her strong contributions. By framing development conversations with her like this, my employee understands the importance of continued development so that she can continue to be a super-star in her job.

    1. BeeBee*

      Yes exactly!!! They can still grow, change and evolve IN the role. You just don’t want to see the person who is still stuck using Office ’97 when the rest of the world has moved on. I do think this is a legitimate concern for any manager, and I’ve personally seen it with some employees who use the “being happy in their role” as an excuse to not change. Sadly, they are often the ones who get let go in a restructuring.

  27. Ad Astra*

    Writing assignments are a great idea, especially for entry-level positions. A lot of who applicants are quite capable of writing in the tone and style you’re looking for, but they haven’t had the professional opportunity to demonstrate that in their portfolios.

    Most of my experience is in editing news and sports copy, so applying for marketing/PR/corporate comms jobs was challenging because I had so little proof that I could write. One of the writing samples I submitted was from my personal blog, and the other was one of the handful of crime briefs I wrote at my last job. Neither sample matched the kind of writing I actually do at this job, but I guess they demonstrated that I can word good, because here I am.

    1. TootsNYC*

      “The tone and style I want” are not the things I would test for or look for.
      I would test for grammar, syntax, idiom, clarity of thought.

      Someone who can write clear and grammatically correct (and tone appropriate) crime copy, AND who can write clear and grammatically correct (and tone appropriate) blog copy, will be able to write (eventually) in tone-appropriate marketing-speak.

      1. Ad Astra*

        Exactly! My current managers apparently came to the same conclusion, though apparently not every potential employer I talked to did.

      2. OP#3*

        I see what you’re saying, but it’s the “eventually” that is problematic for me:) I need someone in the position that can write clearly, grammatically correct, etc. AND in the appropriate tone and style right from the get go. We have several staff members who are GREAT writers, but they aren’t a good fit for this particular communications role because they can only write in one tone, no matter what. Everything comes out sounding like a government grant proposal. Which is PERFECT for actual grant proposals, not so much for social media content to engage high school students.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, I think tone and voice is important for the same reason. I recommend giving some basic instruction on tone (like 2-3 sentences describing the voice you want and maybe a few links to examples of it on your website), and then seeing what they can do with that guidance.

          1. OP#3*

            That’s what I was thinking, too! Thanks, AAM! I really appreciate your advice and feel so much more confident about using writing assignments in the interview process.

  28. BethRA*

    Hi LW 4 – yay! for a good prognosis!

    Speaking as someone who once spent two weeks in an office with stitches on her face – please don’t feel you have to cover up for anything but doctor’s orders and your own well being. You might want to email folks and give them a heads-up (which will also give you a chance to head off questions you don’t want to be answering all day), but after a day or so people will get used to seeing the stitches and it’ll be fine.

  29. OP#1*

    OP#1 here. Thanks Alison for taking my question, and to everyone else for the thoughtful replies. I did have a conversation with my employee shortly after I took the role, where we talked about our department and how all of our positions interact with each other. I said that I loved having her on my team, but if she ever wanted to move to a new position/company, I’d support her and be a reference (this was in the context of talking about how long she’d been with the company, so it wasn’t as random as it may sound here). It was then that she told me she had no plans to ever leave.

    To address the comments about needing to “push” my staff, perhaps that wasn’t the best word choice. I go out of my way to find interesting assignments for my other staffer because I know how to develop her skills so she’ll thrive in MY job someday (which is what she wants). I just didn’t want my other employee to feel left out because her role requires that she do the same type of work every day. We certainly don’t have an “up or out” culture, so I just want to be a good boss for someone I know will be here a long time.

    1. Sunshine Brite*

      There’s clearly something she enjoys about your company or the work itself. I’d keep looking at that and see if she is interested in any of the other projects. Just because you’re grooming the other employee doesn’t mean that you can’t give some variation to the one who wants to stay.

    2. LBK*

      I don’t think you have to worry too much about the disparity in assignments; if she’s said she’s happy doing what she’s doing, I’d assume that means she doesn’t want the stretch assignments either. I’d just make sure you’re compensating and recognizing her appropriately as time goes on. Consistency throughout a long tenure is often undervalued, especially in comparison to the star performers who end up leaving. All too often people who stay in the same role for a long time get burned out and become burdens on the department, so I’d want to ensure you show that you appreciate her staying motivated over time.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I’d assume that means she doesn’t want the stretch assignments either.

        Well, I’d want her to have -some- stretch assignments. Just not necessarily the ones that stretch her to new-job skills.

        1. LBK*

          Good point. You can still utilize her expertise and tenure to give her bigger/more challenging projects within her current role.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That makes perfect sense. I do think the word “pushed” threw people off and pushed the discussion toward something that wasn’t quite directly about your situation!

  30. Schnauz*

    For Op#4 – does it make a difference if Op is in food service or retail? Or some other role that is largely customer facing? My first thought was that they must be in food service or retail, because I can’t see how most other jobs would even care.

    Speaking from a customer point of view, I would not care unless I saw bodily fluids oozing out.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Good question. At the cafe in CA, an employee showed up one day with serious road rash all over her face and arm. She had had a moped accident (fortunately no serious injuries). Its appearance was far worse than its actual severity. But my boss ended up sending her home until it healed up some because she really did look rather mangled.

  31. seisy*

    What would you do in regards to an in-progress degree that you may or may not finish? I spent the last two years working on a PhD (in the UK, so no coursework) before funding issues put the whole thing on indefinite hold and sent me back home to the US. I may finish it within a year or two, but it’s become kind of a personal project. (Technically, I’ve ‘suspended my academic studies’ but not dropped out).

  32. OP4*

    Thanks for all the great feedback. Turned out to be a non-event. Anyone who has asked about it today has expressed concern for my well being and been very supportive.

    Soap Box: please take the time to have any suspicious lumps or oddly colored skin checked out. I was LUCKY that it was caught early.


    1. 2x melanoma survivor*

      Glad to read this! I was going to comment upthread, but then read this. I’ve had a ton of biopsies and more than my fair share weirdos, basal cells, and melanomas that required more cutting. Once I got to the point where covering stitches was optional, I would normally cover them during the day, mainly to keep things clean and to avoid possible snags on clothing, etc. Then I would leave uncovered at night. I have learned I am a very fast healer, though, so this might not work for everyone.

      I completely agree about getting anything suspicious checked out. I am very lucky that we caught my first melanoma in 1998 early enough that I had no complications and I am still here and healthy! I had one more that we caught even earlier almost a year ago. These things are highly curable if caught early!

  33. Lisa*

    I would never answer to writing up for any interview. I was recently working at Amazon and was told to do a write up, after all the interviews which was fine and landed the job. I would not waste my time (unpaid) to do a write up for anyone.

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