my manager wants to advertise for “rock stars,” my employees aren’t volunteering for work, and more

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

1. My manager wants to advertise for “rock stars”

I’m a few weeks into a job where we’re recruiting developers. I’m super junior. My boss wants to “jazz up” our job descriptions–we’re a casual environment, so I softened the language to sound less formal. Cool. But I saw she’s changed the title on one ad to include “rock star.” For a senior role.

I’ve spent some time in start-ups (we’re not one) and until recently was applying to a gazillion jobs. I think that phrase is very cliche and would probably turn off someone with the level of experience we’re looking for. Then I googled to see what actual developers think of it and it seemed BAD, up there with “ninja.” We’re a fantastic, professional company, not one run by kids, and I think we should reflect that in our post. How do I gently tell her this is a bad idea without sounding arrogant?

Keep the focus not on your opinion of the term, but on what you know of others’ opinions of it. For example: “I’ve read a lot online about people hating terms like ‘rock star’ and ‘ninja’ in job postings; my sense is that a lot of good candidates are turned off by it. Would you be okay with me replacing it with ___ instead?”

If she asks you what people don’t like about it, you can explain that people believe it’s a red flag that the company is trying too hard to be cool or edgy (with a term that’s a bit past its prime), or even that it hasn’t fully thought through its job requirements.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. I let my employees volunteer for projects, and the same people keep getting stuck with all the work

I am currently working for a company in the aerospace industry, and I have an issue with the workload of my team. I have a few great employees who have a great work ethic and who I can depend on in a crunch, but I feel that their workload is unbalanced. I am using a wall-Gantt visual board to assign tasks and visibly show small task due dates that the employees have to volunteer for. My main issue is that if no one is signing up for the task, then one of my great employees will step up to the tasks even if they already have enough work to fill the day. How do I go about spreading out the workload?

I thought about having a rotation of employees for the tasks, but some employees are better at a certain tasks than others. I cannot really assign each employee to a task as some tasks occur more often than others. I have also given thought to limit the number of tasks a certain employee can take on until the work load is distributed more evenly. What are your thoughts on this?

You need to start assigning work. Otherwise you’re going to have exactly what you have right now: The best people stepping up when no one else is, resulting in uneven work allocation. Part of your job as a manager is to think about which work is going to which person and ensure that it’s spread out in a way that makes sense.

Limiting how much work someone can take on will just force you to assign work anyway (since your employees who volunteer will be restricted from doing it, and no one else is stepping up), so skip that step and go more directly to assigning work yourself.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t have some degree of volunteering built into your system, but before you decide to keep any amount of that, I’d look at how it’s impacting your best people: are they getting stuck with a disproportionate amount of the undesirable projects? Of course, you don’t need everything to be perfectly proportionate (you might even want to reward the best people’s work ethic by giving them a disproportionate amount of the interesting stuff!), but you do want to ensure that people with initiative don’t end up with worse projects or a higher workload than others.

3. I wasn’t invited to a conference that my manager knew I wanted to attend

Very early on this this year, I spoke to my manager to express interest in attending a particular conference conference and asked her to let me know if there were any complimentary seats. This is a conference that’s directly relevant to my work, with a couple of complimentary seats for our company. Usually my manager and few others from the company go to it.

Last week, my manager announced she is going to the conference this week and will not be available. I was shocked because she had not informed me about this earlier. And today I found out that the only other member from our team (we are a three-person team, including my manager) is also attending the same conference with my manager. I am very hurt and concerned. Shouldn’t my manager have informed me about the conference, since I had expressed interest very early on? Why did she pick my coworker over me? Why did my manager hide the fact that my coworker was attending the conference during last week’s team meeting? And why didn’t my coworker bring it up? It clearly shows stealthy and immature behavior. Should I confront my manager about this? Should I fear for my job?

There are plenty of explanations here other than stealthy and immature behavior: It’s possible that your manager forgot your conversation, since it was many months ago. It’s possible that your coworker asked to go more recently, and that’s all your manager remembered. Or it’s possible that she thought your coworker would benefit more from it for some reason. It’s also possible that no one was hiding this from you but it just didn’t come up in conversation. Or, sure, it’s possible that your interpretation is correct — but I wouldn’t assume that before getting more information.

Talk to your manager. Don’t confront her — that’s more aggressive than this calls for. Just say this: “I was disappointed to learn that I wasn’t on the list for the X conference this year. I don’t know if you remember that I’d asked you earlier this year about going and was really interested because of Y and Z. I’m assuming it’s too late for me to go this year, but would it be possible for me to attend next year?”

Or you could change that ending part to “Could you tell me a bit about how the people who will attend are selected?” — but you’d need to be sure to say it calmly and unemotionally.

4. I wasn’t paid for all my time working in a haunted house

I worked as an actor for a haunted house making minimum wage, thinking it would be a fun way to make a second income during my favorite time of year. Imagine my horror when I received my first paycheck three weeks in, and find out I’m only being paid when the lights are out and visitors are walking through the house. I was not paid for rehearsals, meetings, the time it took to get my makeup done each day (we were told to arrive an hour prior to showtime), or the time it took to clear the line after closing (which could be anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours after the end of my regular shift). I spoke to the owner and my manager, and they both advised me after the fact that all these activities were optional and therefore would not be paid.

I was never told they were optional previous to this time, and I think what they are doing is illegal because it puts me under minimum wage. Is this worth filing a wage dispute? I’ve since resigned and am awaiting my last paycheck.

You need to be paid for those activities because they’re a required part of the job, despite what your manager told you — since I’m assuming that you couldn’t simply decide to skip rehearsals and makeup or to leave at the end of your shift even if customers were still in line. And assuming that the meetings directly related to your work, you need to be paid for those too. I’d file a claim with your state department of labor.

5. How to ask for a coffee meeting with someone doing work that interests me

I recently heard that a new division is opening up within a company I really admire, and I would like to try and set up a meeting with its leader. I’m connected to this person on LinkedIn already, so I would guess that I’m at least somewhat on their radar and that I’m not coming from completely out of the blue. That being said, I’m hesitant to frame this meeting as an informational interview because I don’t think that this is what it is. I’m already employed in this industry, so I’m not (necessarily) inquiring about the field itself. And while I certainly want to hear more about this new division and what they’re looking to accomplish, I’m hoping to use this as more of a potential networking opportunity rather than an informational interview.

In my industry, because it’s so small, networking really is everything, so I’m fairly certain this person will know my reasons for asking to meet with them without me having to explicitly say so. However, what’s the best way to ask someone for a more pointed “informational” meeting? Should I follow the general protocol as requesting an informational interview and casually (but thoughtfully) reach out to them with a “would love to know more about this, would you be interested in having coffee with me” type of message?

Don’t call it an informational interview, because that’s really for people who aren’t yet in the field — and it’s not really what you’re looking for. Just say something like this: “I heard about the new division you’re putting together doing X and it sounds really exciting to me because of Y. My background is in Z, and (add something here that ties it all together and makes it clear why it could make sense for the two of you to connect). I’d love to talk with you and learn more about what you’re doing. Could I buy you coffee sometime soon and talk further?”

{ 332 comments… read them below }

    1. Kathleen*

      “Rock star” is a term that is used and abused in my field and I cringe every time. Aren’t rock stars stereotypically supposed to be self-absorbed and difficult to deal with, anyway?

      1. Sherm*

        Hmm, the boss I had that liked to use “rock star” was self-absorbed and difficult to deal with himself.

      2. moss*

        came here to say this. A rock star is someone who treats others around him like crap and constantly causes drama because they have so much “talent.” It’s not something a business should be seeking out. A truly good senior developer will be more on the quietly competent spectrum.

      3. Allison*

        Yeah, to me a “rock star” is someone who’s really good at what they do, confident and charismatic, inspires others and is well known for their expertise in the field (probably what the hiring manager is looking for), but it also conjures up images of someone who shows up at noon, smelling awful in last night’s clothes, lit cigarette in their mouth, either strung out or hungover, and being disrespectful to basically everyone.

        I know, I know, there are clean rock stars out there who are seriously awesome to everyone they interact with, but they’re probably a minority.

        1. Brrrrump*

          And a lot of ‘rock stars’ aren’t even technically that good at what they do, just at creating controversy or having a particular ‘image’ or charisma. Eg, not only was Liam Gallagher from Oasis never rated as a singer, he wasn’t even the best singer in his own band, yet he had that magnetism/attitude that people loved.

        2. Merry and Bright*

          I’ve seen this in some UK job ads too and assumed they wanted someone so good they rock at what they do. I’ve heard it verbally too – e.g. if someone has helped someone out: “Thanks, you’re a rockstar!”

          1. Allison*

            I’ve had people say that to me too, although I don’t think anyone’s said it to me since my intern days.

      4. Adam*

        When you consider that, in America at least, that rock and roll genre of music is kind of dead at the moment it seems even more comical.

    2. Uyulala*

      I would picture a Customer Happiness Ninja as someone who stealthily sneaks up behind unhappy customers and takes them out with a pea shooter and a poison dart. Eliminating the unhappy employees raises the overall happiness rating.

      I work in tech. And when I am actively looking for work I immediately reject the ads with horrid titles like that.

      1. A Dispatcher*

        Reminds me of a computer game I used to play when I was younger called Rollercoaster Tycoon where it was much better for your amusement park rating to drown unhappy/nauseated customers than let them continue to walk around and complain. Let’s not discuss how I discovered this… lol

        1. FD*

          The game actively encouraged you to discover this!

          Though I still play it today and think it’s one of the best min/max style games (and I prefer to play it with no peep death ;) ).

        2. Hlyssande*

          I’ve seen several videos showing how you can build a coaster that shoots the customers to the neighboring park so it logs the deaths in that other park and raises your rating. :D

          1. JMegan*

            Okay, that made me laugh out loud. I can think of some real-life customers where this would have been a very satisfying result!

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              If only they had a restaurant tycoon game back in the day when I was waitressing. I would have loved to kill all the non-tippers and snotty customers that snapped their finger at you like they were the only ones in the place.

              1. Chalupa Batman*

                Ugh. My daughter shook her glass at a server once…exactly once. I think she’d seen it on TV and was too young to understand the context that the person doing it was a jerk. Mr. Batman, who worked in food service for almost 10 years, corrected that misunderstanding with a swiftness.

        3. T3k*

          I loved this game! Is it sad that I learned this really early on? I also learned that if you raise a ground tile up, then dropped it quickly and raised it back up, the guest would fall through into the infinite space below and vanish.

        4. Newbie*

          Really?? In Zoo Tycoon, I used to drop unhappy guests in with the predators (especially dinosaurs), although they were usually too well-fed to actually do anything to them.

      2. seisy*

        I am stuck applying to jobs like that (in tech, too), but it is with much wincing and a certain amount of dread on my part.

    3. Kay*

      At one point in our job description, I honestly think we used the words “ninja”, “rock star” AND “guru”. I can barely express how happy I am that we’ve changed it. It was cringe-worthy.

        1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          I think that died an ignomious death about 8 years ago. I hope. I chopped its head off but that’s no guarantee.

    4. JL*

      I used to be in charge of the social media channels at ex-job. It took me several years to get everyone to understand I did NOT want to be referred to as a “guru”. Or a ninja. Why are the words “coordinator” and “manager” so hard to understand or use?

      1. Allison*

        Your comment just made me realize how condescending those words can be. Ninja and rock star? What about subject matter expert? Consultant? Lead? Senior? You know, grown-up job titles!

        1. JL*

          Exactly. These titles often come up for jobs that are already struggling to get respect (yes, social media is important. No, I’m not just clicking on Facebook every day). It was hard to be respected, the infantilising job title just made it so much harder.

        2. RHo*

          Because superstars in a field are a little different from your generic consultant.

          I get that people in this thread have some aversion to overuse of the words, but I think it’s silly. I also think real superstars in a field tend to have such name recognition and visibility that companies need to be directly recruiting them rather than placing classifieds like that.

          1. RG*

            … When have you ever seen a job description that included the term “superstar?” I’m willing to bet never, because it’s weird. That’s a term others use to refer to you, not one that you use yourself.

          2. Development professional*

            That’s true, but you just made the point as to why using these terms in an ad is problematic. It’s not (just) that they’re over-used. It’s that they aren’t useful for attracting outstanding employees. The way you get an outstanding employee is to describe what excellence looks like *in this particular role* and then engage in a thorough, thoughtful hiring process to find a person who can and would accomplish that. Simply putting words in your ad that are meant to signify “you must be excellent” neither attracts more excellent candidates nor weeds out less-than-excellent candidates. That’s why ninja/guru/rockstar/superstar ads are silly.

          3. Kyrielle*

            Yeah, “he’s a superstar” is a nice thing to say, but he still has a title usually. And it’s not superstar. And you don’t say “we want to hire a superstar” – you won’t likely get one, and you probably also won’t get the next tier down. You’ll get people whose ability to evaluate their own work is poor, or who are simply desperate and willing to try anything, no matter how silly the title.

            In general, those stand-out “superstars” don’t respond to job ads because *they’re already busy*. People come to them to recruit them because, as you pointed out, they have name recognition. So a job ad looking for a “superstar” (or a “rock star” or “ninja” which IMO is even less kind of a title) is probably a huge waste.

      2. LBK*

        To be fair, “coordinator” is as vague and meaningless as any of the buzzwords, it’s just older.

        1. anonanonanon*

          Also, “coordinator” roles vary in different industries. In my industry, it’s an entry level job, but in a different industry, it may be a mid-level job, and I’m sure that adds to the confusion for some job seekers.

          1. Honeybee*

            Yes, but “ninja” has the same problem. I would expect a job as with the title “something ninja” to be targeted at (presumably younger) entry-level workers, but a ninja conjures up images of a highly trained employee who does their work seamlessly. So…what are you looking for?

            1. Kyrielle*

              I don’t know. Maybe a “code ninja” is someone who sneaks up on the code, performs a few quick strikes to it, and fades away.

              Meaning they show up at noon, make a couple quick changes, and leave by 2.

              Hmmmm…that’s not making the term more attractive….. :)

          2. T3k*

            Exactly. I know someone who’s a coordinator and it’s most definitely not an entry level job and it’s a position that’s crucial enough that if she’s unexpectedly out, they go crazy. One time, they even sent a nearby coworker to pick her up because she was snowed in on her road and didn’t have a 4-wheel vehicle to get out, and they really needed her at work for an event.

        2. JL*

          On its own, it might be, but linked to something else, it makes sense. Just like ‘manager’ makes little sense on its own, but ‘project manager’ or ‘account manager’ are very usual and fairly clear job titles in marketing.

          1. LBK*

            Manager on its own is a pretty clear title, and even with those qualifiers not all titles are particularly. In my department alone we have reporting analysts, account specialists and contract coordinators who all essentially share the same work. Within a given field like marketing they may have a more standardized meaning, but that’s not the case across industries.

      3. Quirk*

        When I hear “guru” in software, my expectation would be something like a crusty old Unix administrator rich in knowledge of deep technical esoterica, someone you make the pilgrimage to in order to pick up system-wisdom.

        Using “guru” to mean “social media manager” hurts my head.

        1. showing my age*

          It makes me thing of the movie “Real Genius” with Val Kilmer (80s) who’s eccentric roommate Lazlo (they think lives in the closet), but he’s actually got a tunnel to the basement set up with all of his computers. “Guru” makes me think of him every time.

        2. Windchime*

          We had a guy who all the users thought was a “guru”. In reality, he was a guy who insisted on using an obsolete language and old-fashioned techniques to get things done when better, more dependable alternatives existed–he just didn’t want to take the time to learn them. So when he left our company (involuntarily), we were stuck with dozens of programs and secret little databases tucked away on workstations that were stored under his desk, written in old-school VB and running on scheduled tasks.

          So yeah, that’s what I think of when I hear “guru”. Basically the Wizard of Oz for programmers.

      4. Ad Astra*

        Oh, I feel this. People still informally call me a “guru,” seemingly unaware of the cringe-worthy connotation.

        1. Ad Astra*

          I would be careful about using “expert” if you don’t truly need an expert, but it might make sense in a more senior role like the one OP is describing. Personally, I’m not sure I’ll ever identify as an expert in anything.

          1. EarlGrey*

            agreed – both “expert” and “rock star” will turn off people who experience impostor syndrome or, the way I like to think of it, don’t have overconfident blowhard syndrome. If the job can be done by a regular human with Skill A and Experience B, don’t make folks worry about having to prove they’re exceptional.

              1. Mephyle*

                That was my first thought. Lead singer for the Dunning-Kruger Band. This is related to the idea expressed elsewhere in this thread that people who are true rock stars (in the good way) are not likely to be looking for jobs; they have to be hunted and lured away if an employer wants to get them.

    5. MashaKasha*

      I admit I’d never noticed anything wrong with “rock star”, but the commenters on this thread are right, “rock star” sounds like “diva”. “Ninja” sounds racist and should be avoided at all costs. Thankfully I’ve never seen anyone use “ninja”.

      1. LBK*

        Ninja is racist? I’m not sure I understand why, unless you’re assuming that means they want to hire Asians?

        1. MashaKasha*

          No, I just don’t like how using that term randomly brings a race reference into a job ad where it doesn’t belong.
          Kind of like if they said they are looking for a Übermensch. Nothing wrong with wanting to hire a superman, but somehow it sounds all sorts of wrong.

        2. AW*

          This is a little hard to explain but the problem is that they’re taking something from another culture and either changing the meaning of it, watering it down, or making it mean nothing.

          This is not quite the same and more extreme but the term “Grammar Nazi”* has the same problem.

          *I picked this as an example because most people have heard both the term and the argument against using it. I’m just trying to explain why referring to everything as a type of ninja can be seen as problematic, not trying to pick a fight or start a debate with anyone who’s used “Grammar Nazi” (or ninja for that matter). I know that some people don’t feel the same way.

          1. LBK*

            Hm, okay. I’m still not totally sure I understand. It doesn’t seem like it crosses the line of appropriation, unless there’s still a reverence or sacredness about ninjas in Japan that I’m not aware of? Like, is the Ninja brand of blenders just totally offensive?

    6. Lanya (aka Camp Director Kim)*

      I used to drive past a restaurant that would put up banners advertising job openings “For Rock Stars Only”.
      Not only did it make me cringe, it came off as so condescending to the general public that I never, ever ate at that restaurant.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        Was this one of those restaurants where they sing at you? That would be the only acceptable usage in my opinion. (But I’d still avoid the restaurant either way…)

    7. JC*

      To me, rock star or ninja means “we have the kind of culture where we play with nerf guns in the office.”

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Ha, totally! And coincidentally, my SO’s current place of employment is currently trying to settle with an employee who got injured by one of those things.

        1. MashaKasha*

          My son’s summer internship was at Trendy Software Company that is famous around our area for having two slides in their office building, that each go from the 2nd floor to the 1st.

          It’s a miracle that no one got injured on those yet.

        1. Windchime*

          Yep. We will use free pizza and ping-pong to distract you from the fact that you are working 70 hours a week and have no health care.

        2. BeenThere*

          Bingo! Also good luck getting any women to apply, this is exactly the sort of language that turns off technical women. If I see Rcok Star et al. I immediately think unprofessional, I won’t get career development and that your codebase will be a poorly maintained hot mess of spaghetti.

      2. Hiding on the Internet Today*

        I work in the kind of culture where we play with nerf guns in the office. (We give them to new hires as part of the basic office supplies package.)

        We’re still anti “rock stars” and “ninjas” preferring “competent”, “helpful” and “eager to learn new things” for our general sweeping requests.

      3. MashaKasha*

        Which to me, in turn, means “our employees never go home and neither will you if you work here.”

    8. Audiophile*

      I looked into a company that a position called “Happiness Hero”. I ended up applying for a job titled “Community Champion”.

    9. DK*

      Using terms like “rock star” and “ninja” in a job posting can be a turn-off for several reasons besides the cheese factor:

      – Every company wants to hire the best employees possible, and everyone knows this; stating it is about as pointless and redundant as those ubiquitous “Good communication skills, works well with others” bullet points you find in literally every job description ever written.
      – Anyone who would actually describe themselves as a “rock star” unironically is either going to be incompetent or insufferable, and quite often both.
      – At least in the IT industry these days, “rock star” tends to be synonymous with “we want to hire one person to do three completely different full-time jobs and be on-call 24x7x365 for all of them.” It also usually means “We want the best of the best, but we won’t pay more than 70% of the average market rate.”

  1. Uyulala*

    #2 – Just because you assign someone to do a single instance of a particular task shouldn’t mean that they always need to do that type of task. Couldn’t you just assign the single tasks to people based on their current workload and skills? Unless your tracking system somehow prevents it, assign the specific task with that set due date to someone. Don’t automatically assign every instance of that task to the same person.

    Every task should have more than 1 person experienced at the job anyway, to provide backup coverage.

    1. Windchime*

      I agree with balancing out the work. We have a team that is pretty evenly split between people who will volunteer and those who won’t. So that means that three of us have crushing workloads (including weekends) and have a difficult time meeting our deadlines, and others go home after 8 hours and enjoy restful weekends.

      Please, please balance it out. I think that other people on our team don’t volunteer because they think they need to be an expert before they work on something, when the reality is that you cannot become an expert until you dive in and LEARN about it first.

      1. MK*

        Why do you keep volunteering? If no one does, your manager will be forced to assign the work and you can have a discussion with them about your workload.

        1. Chinook*

          “Why do you keep volunteering? If no one does, your manager will be forced to assign the work and you can have a discussion with them about your workload.”

          Because Windchime has the type of work personality where she is willing to do anything to get the job done and hate to see the company or a project fail just to prove a point. I am one of those people (which is how I somehow got appointed president of a community group) and I actively work to make sure that people like Windchime know that a project failing is an okay option because sometimes that is the only time when others will step up to the plate (including managers who suddenly are pushed to assign work). But, watching it happen is nerve wracking to those of who were either raised or wired this way. To outsiders, we look like martyrs but from our point of view we just think that if we don’t do it, then nobody will.

          1. Windchime*

            Exactly. Everyone else just stands around and stares at the ground, so I (and a couple others) volunteer because if we don’t, users don’t get what they need today. Our team looks bad if we can’t/won’t get things done. I’ve been working on either not volunteering or pushing back when things are assigned to me (by a coworker, not a manager) because my workload is crushing. One of the other people who always volunteers told me yesterday that he can’t go on much longer like this because of the pace. So managers who do not balance out the workload could end up losing a guy who does loads of high-quality work.

            1. Ad Astra*

              When no one’s volunteering for something, would you feel comfortable saying, “Hey Percival, I know you’re really good with teapot handles. Wanna take on this project?”

              1. Chinook*

                “When no one’s volunteering for something, would you feel comfortable saying, “Hey Percival, I know you’re really good with teapot handles. Wanna take on this project?””

                there is an added advantage to this – some of your less experienced/less confident employees may be thinking “Wakeen always does teapot handles and I wouldn’t want him to think I am taking over his job” and, by assigning it, you are giving Percival the opportunity to step up.

                Again, I work in a volunteer context, but I have been floored by the number of women who will step up to the plate and do something if I ask them but never said boo when I made a general call for volunteers. Often, they would comment about how they didn’t want to step on the toes of our more experienced members (who were actually getting tired of doing everything) and make them feel pushed out of the way.

            2. Crazy Dog Lady*

              We had this happen on my team – my boss used to send out projects to the full team and ask for volunteers. We had a few people claim that they were always too busy to take on new things, so a few of us (two colleagues and me) were always taking on the brunt of the work. It was because nobody would volunteer, and so someone would have to step up to get the work done, and I can’t just sit there and watch that happen. Last year, our team added a senior member responsible for managing the team’s workload, and she divides up projects based on workload/expertise. We track our projects on our intranet, so she can see the team’s workload at any given time.

              It has been life-changing. I was on the verge of burnout before, and now the work is very fair. The same colleagues (and myself) still take on a bit more, but we are rewarded – and those who claimed they were too busy before are the only ones complaining. We meet weekly to go through our projects, so it’s transparent – before, our boss thought that as long as the team was getting things done, it didn’t matter if the workload fell on only a few people, so all projects were treated as team efforts.

            3. Sketchee*

              What you’re describing is called enabling. If the team failed, others in the company would be forced to fix the situation. Allowing the situation to continue when you fully know that it is not working does benefit you by making you look like a martyr and it’s not great for the company or department. The department ends up “looking bad” because it has a process that needs to be fixed. Treating the symptoms is preventing others from noticing them when they are the ones who can provide the cure =)

      2. Apollo Warbucks*

        Stop taking on so much extra work, until everyone does their fair share of the over time that is needed. no one shouldn’t be doing so much more than other people in the same team.

      3. Anon for this comment*

        Is there any incentive to go above and beyond like that? I am slowly beginning to figure out that no matter how hard I work, how much initiative I show, or how many hours I put in, I will NOT get a raise, and there is no where for me to be promoted to. I am exempt, so I will not be paid for overtime. When I divided out my salary by the total number of hours I was actually working the past year, I learned I make less per hour than before I was “promoted” and made exempt. So I am doing my stated job duties and doing them competently. I enjoy my evenings and weekends with a clear conscience. I refuse to be a martyr any longer.

        1. AW*

          Is there any incentive to go above and beyond like that?

          It could be that there’s a punishment for *not* going above and beyond. So Windchime either volunteers and at least gets the basic cost of living raise or projects fail and nobody gets any kind of raise because nobody volunteers.

        2. Windchime*

          Actually, yeah. My position (and, I assume, pay) is several notches above most of my coworkers because I have a reputation as being a hard worker and someone who will get things done. I’ve been given several special assignments to do advanced work alongside the director. So it doesn’t go unnoticed. I just get tired of being the person to always volunteer.

        3. Alienor*

          I’m also in a position with no possibility of promotion, and it really is a motivation killer. We do have an internal recognition program, but I don’t need any more plaques and certificates (I’ve already won enough of them to fill a wall in my nonexistent office), I need more interesting work to do.

      4. Sketchee*

        I think it is silly for people to take on work unfairly. The volunteers are often resentful if their own choices. The people who work all weekend seem to have poor time management. Why don’t they speak to their bosses about their work load? I’m working my eight hour day unless requested not to. As the post says, this is exactly why managers are hired.

    2. Ad Astra*

      I think the OP is hoping for a completely equal distribution of tasks, and that’s probably not going to happen. It makes sense to consider the strengths, interests, and workloads of everyone on the team and assign (most) things as they come up. It might make sense to have a certain task always be the responsibility of a certain person, but the bigger projects are going to require OP to use some judgment.

    3. RCW*

      There is no current tracking system to assign tasks to employees based on their current workload and skills, which is part of the current issue. The tasks are assigned as the projects come in and based on when the projects are due.

  2. Jeanne*

    For #2, you have learned who cares if your department does well and meets goals and who does not. You do need to make changes to balance out the workload better. But first take the time to let those employees know you appreciate their extra effort. Maybe even ask them for ideas for the best way to distribute work. A little appreciation can go a long way.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Yes, and recognize those who go above and beyond at meetings with the whole team. Maybe even implement a bonus program if you can get approval. There’s clearly no incentive currently for the ones who never volunteer.

    2. INFJ*

      I agree. If any of the frequent volunteers are bitter about the uneven workload, they may have a solution in mind but are hesitant to speak up.

    3. Blurgle*

      Or you have learned who is the extrovert and who is the introvert.

      Or who has been smacked down in the past by previous bosses for being too “forward”, “bossy”, or “pushy”.

      Or who needs a more structured workplace.

      Or who is afraid of you.

      NOT who is intrinsically the best worker.

      1. ImprovForCats*

        I volunteered plenty at jobs I increasingly disliked/felt out of place at, not because of some abstract work ethic, but because I have such a fine-tuned guilt complex that unless something is literally, physically impossible for me to do, I will feel obligated to do it.

        So yeah, I wouldn’t necessarily write off all the non-volunteers as having less work ethic; I can see potential for a lot of different dynamics influencing this besides laziness or apathy.

        1. Sketchee*

          I found in one job that I would try and volunteer and the ones who took on more work would find any opportunity to take work away from me. I’d get random emails that say “I’m going to finish this.” When I had half way completed a project. I now just let them do it. I already get the most creative projects and now I have more time to do them.

    4. Jill*

      Another good reason to start assigning tasks is so that you RETAIN your best people. Otherwise you risk them leaving or the quality of their work sliding purely because they are becoming burnt out…or you risk the culture of your office taking a downward shift if your best people start becoming resentful that the workload is so imbalanced.

  3. Cambridge Comma*

    #2, what if the board were open until Monday lunchtime for people to express any preferences they had by assigning themselves tasks, and then you assign the rest of the tasks for the week? That might increase the take up, although it might also lead to the lazier people getting in first to snap up the ‘easier’ tasks.

    1. nofelix*

      Or whoever has their easier schedule Monday lunchtime. It’d suck for a hard worker if they were always tied up with work and missed out on the best assignments.

    2. SevenSixOne*

      Maybe.. but it sounds like the laziest people aren’t taking any extra work under the current system, so creating a system that requires them to take *something* could still be a net gain.

    3. RCW*

      There are meetings every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to sign up for tasks due to parts moving quickly through the area. I like the idea of leaving the board open for tasks to be assigned but I am not sure how easy that would be with the turn around time.

  4. The Bimmer Guy*

    #1 — I’m currently looking to change companies, and am searching for a web designer/developer position. I see “coding ninja” and “rockstar designer” all the time. It seems like an industry that’s ripe for awkward and forced “youthfulness”, but as a 22-year-old, it’s kind of off-putting, especially when it’s an insurance company or something like that. I would explain to the Powers That Be that their job advertisements can be warm and somewhat friendly, but should focus on hard skills and experience they’d like to see from candidates, not on personality types or edgy buzzwords.

    1. Allison*

      “awkward and forced ‘youthfulness'” is pretty spot on. I work in tech recruitment and I often have middle-aged bosses trying to write “hip” job descriptions and it makes me cringe. I get the desire to get away from the overly corporate descriptions, but they go way too far in the other direction. How about instead of some contrived drivel full of memes and millennial lingo, just write like a normal person talks!

      1. Honeybee*

        Why do they think we want that anyway? I’m a millennial and admittedly on the older end of the generation, but most of my peers and I would orefer a normal job description – but a well written one with some detail about the job itself and accurate duties, but a half page describing the company and then a vague paragraph about the position.

        1. RG*

          OMG yes! From a millennial in the middle(?), please spend less time trying to make your company seem uber cool and more time making our clear which skills and experience are required and which are preferred.

    2. Ad Astra*

      Oh, it’s so off-putting. You might as well throw in “epic” and “fa shizzle” to show you’re truly stuck in 2005. Maybe add “cray cray” if you want to update it to, like, 2009. Gross.

      In my experience, the people who identify with terms like “rock star” tend to severely overestimate their competence. “Experienced” is probably a better adjective here. Even “star” would be better than “rock star.”

  5. Quirk*

    With regard to OP #2, I’d be careful about jumping into directly assigning tasks to people. If the company style is usually more collegial (and I can think of at least one blue-chip aerospace company I’ve worked with where this is definitely true) this could raise some hackles. There are huge differences in normal custom and effective management style between e.g. running a fast food outlet and being the Scrum master for a software Scrum team, and this sounds closer in ethos to the latter.

    I’d suggest instead taking advantage of a related team meeting to get people to talk about what they’re working on and planning to work on. Then, when your hard workers offer to take on some of these tasks, suggest that they’re already very busy and look for other volunteers. If you can get the others to verbally agree to take the work on in such a meeting, you have leverage later to make sure they stick to that.

    1. Meg Murry*

      Yes, I agree with this.

      I think before you get straight to assigning work, I think you need to talk to your employees that are at the far edges of the spectrum (the ones who always pick up more work to make sure things get done, and the ones who rarely volunteer) individually. Let the people who aren’t picking up tasks know “hey, I need to be more proactive and take on more tasks, you aren’t pulling your weight” and let the high acheviever know that they don’t have to pick up all unassigned tasks – to encourage other people to pick them up.

      Is the wall-Gantt organized by person or by due date? Is it really obvious that Bob has 7 tasks and Joe only has 3? As the manager, you can also scan the wall and see where things look imbalanced, and then go to Bob and say “I see you’ve volunteered for 7 tasks. Thank you very much, but I don’t want to stretch you too thin. Are there any tasks you’d like me to re-assign or that someone else could help you with?” Then if Bob gives you 1 or 2 back, you go to Joe and say “Bob is stretched too thin today, so I need you to pick up this task as well”.

      Also, make sure that all tasks are being captured, even if they aren’t related to the project. For instance, Joe may only have taken 3 tasks today, because he always does the safety audit on Wednesdays and that takes up half his day.

      In addition, I imagine aerospace requires lots of documentation, i dotting and t crossing to make sure everything is up to snuff and nothing falls through the cracks. I’d watch to make sure your people that are cranking out the most work aren’t doing so at the expense of getting their paperwork done, or putting off cleaning up after themselves if these are lab tasks. I got in the bad habit of being one of those people who got 10 things done a day, while my coworkers were only doing 6-8. However, I did so by only doing the bare minimum on my paperwork, planning to “catch up with it later” – which resulted in the paperwork taking way longer than it should have, by the time I got around to it since it was so disorganized, and I’d have to take on no tasks at all for several days to get caught up. So for a week or two it looked like I was getting so much more done than my coworkers, but over a few months it probably actually nearly averaged out – and if we had ever been hit by a surprise audit, my coworkers would have been prepared, whereas my mess could have been a major problem for the company.

      1. nofelix*

        > “Are there any tasks you’d like me to re-assign?”

        If it’s likely that Bob isn’t going to be able to do all 7 tasks as effectively as if they were spread out then there shouldn’t be debate on re-assigning, it’s necessary. Presenting it as a choice could make Bob feel pressured to keep them all.

        1. Meg Murry*

          True, fair enough. Better phrasing might be “which of these can I take off your plate?” or “which of these haven’t you started yet so I can assign them to someone else”

          Or if boss knows their working style well, it may be better to say “have you started task 123 or 456? No? Ok, which of those should I give to Joe so you can concentrate on your other 6 tasks?”

          In general, I guess what I was trying to say was “talk to your employees, and focus on assigning work to the people that aren’t voluntarily picking up tasks, and let your awesome employees know you appreciate them but they don’t have to be martyrs.”

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          My concern isn’t with him not doing them effectively, but that he may be slightly butthurt that the boss is taking them away. Op has to be implicit in that it’s only because others are slacking.

      2. Ad Astra*

        I think before you get straight to assigning work, I think you need to talk to your employees that are at the far edges of the spectrum (the ones who always pick up more work to make sure things get done, and the ones who rarely volunteer) individually. Let the people who aren’t picking up tasks know “hey, I need to be more proactive and take on more tasks, you aren’t pulling your weight” and let the high acheviever know that they don’t have to pick up all unassigned tasks – to encourage other people to pick them up.

        This would drive me insane at my workplace, but it sounds like you have a better understanding of the culture you might find in aerospace companies. To me, this is reminiscent of The Breakup’s “I want you to want to do the dishes.”

    2. RCW*

      We do have meeting every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to sign up for tasks. I think that it needs to be clear when an employee is full, such as the grayed out idea, and to look for other volunteers. I also agree that it needs to be explained in a way that Bob won’t be hurt by having some of his jobs taken away.

  6. Daisy Steiner*

    #2 – I’m not sure exactly how your system works, but is there a way you can ‘grey out’ or otherwise mark as ‘full up’ the employees who have a full workload? Then give the remaining employees an opportunity to volunteer for the free tasks, before assigning them around yourself. Once a ‘full up’ employee has cleared a task or is no longer responsible for a process, they can go back into the pool of volunteers.

    1. Fish Microwaver*

      We have a system like that, where staff are “closed ” to any further work when their allocated workload reaches a certain level. They are then free to work on their list without interruption until their tasks are complete or reallocated. However this only works to a degree, because it doesn’t take into account new work which comes via the phones and must be entered and tracked immediately. And only certain people get closed, despite others having similar or greater workloads. It creates quite a bit of bad feeling because the rockstars get hammered with work and the hobbits are rewarded for being pathetic.

        1. Fish Microwaver*

          My manager determines it. But she sucks in a lot of ways and is prepared to sacrifice her best workers, who work hard, don’t complain and do a lot of unpaid/unrewarded overtime, for those who are barely competent at their work and who throw hissy fits when they don’t like something and have their stuff on their desks ten minutes before quitting time.

  7. Mike C.*

    I think the worst part of the “rockstar/ninja/guru/sherpa” (outside of an odd obsession towards orientalism…) is that fact that this is a given! Of course an employer wants to hire the best people they can get their hands on. To say it out loud is like a candidate talking about how they happen to be detail oriented or can multi-task.

    1. Cat*

      I hadn’t heard sherpa before (what’s it supposed to indicate?) but you’re right – the orientalism is pretty striking.

      1. MashaKasha*

        Yup. It is. I’ve never heard “sherpa” either, though.

        I have an idea. How about switching to dog-related terminology? The dogs won’t mind. Like “we’re looking for a German Shepherd” or a Saint Bernard. Or a Border Collie – intelligent and agile. I would totally answer an ad for a Border Collie. If it’s a management position, say you want a pack leader.

        Damn, that breakroom cofee must’ve been extra potent today for me to have come up with this.

        1. PontoonPirate*

          I’d love to see a job description that’s just a series of dog photos. When you add them up, it’s a list of both job duties AND desired characteristics.

          “We seek a [border collie] with a [dachshund’s] instinct for [irish setter] to [pitbull] and [husky]. [Saint Bernard], [labrador] and [papillon] required! EOE.

          1. Windchime*

            I want that job. Two 15-minute hard core play breaks where I chase a piece of crumpled up paper around the room or bat at invisible bugs, surrounded by hours-long naps in the sun. I could dig it.

      2. Ad Astra*

        I think the idea of a sherpa is you’re a subject-matter expert in a new or emerging field that nobody else in the company has much experience with. It implies a bit more leadership than the rockstar/ninja/guru.

        And I totally never noticed the orientalism until now. Weird.

        1. Cat*

          Oh, I guess it makes sense and is less offensive than “person who carries things” which I’ve heard Westerners use it as before.

          1. Charlotte Collins*

            I think of it as “person who makes sure naive Westerner doesn’t get self killed and spend a lot of time sighing and rolling their eyes behind Westerner’s back.” My longer version includes wondering why client’s mother never taught them to clean up the mountain when they’re done using it.

      3. Mike C.*

        “Sherpa” is the latest fad name that I’ve come across, so it’s likely not as widespread as others.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Though there’s been a Life Sherpa advice column in my area paper (not sure if it’s syndicated or actually local) for ages.

        2. Charlotte Collins*

          I think this is ironic since the real sherpas have had some labor disputes in the past few years. Does this mean the companies plan to ill treat their hires?

  8. Testy Red*

    #1 – Another reason to not use rockstar is that it comes across as quite gendered, in this case male. This means the company will be turning away a whole bunch of potentially excellent people because people, particularly women, will rule themselves out as it isn’t a term they associate themselves with. Same with ninja and guru and similar terms for that matter.

    1. Fish Microwaver*

      I’m a woman and I refer to myself as a rockstar because I am one. And I’m not self absorbed and high maintenance.

      1. Testy Red*

        Self identification as a rockstar is great; I think it is excellent when people own their awesomeness!

        Rockstar doesn’t read to me as self absorbed or high maintenance though…

        1. Jazz*

          My ex-manager used to self-identify as a rockstar, when she changed companies every year without fail, often leaving halfway through projects where she was the lead. I’m sure you’re great at your job, but there’s always people who charm their way thru life then bail when they get found out

      2. Brrrrump*

        But how is it professional to talk about yourself like that? It comes across really awkward to me, like something you’d see on The Office. Why would, say, a professional accountant describe themselves as a rockstar, when they could self-describe as experienced, accurate and thorough?

        1. LBK*

          Eh, I think it’s about context and culture. I can’t imagine working at a hip start up and describing yourself that way – it would come off a little stuffy.

          1. Anna*

            The thing is, rock star is a non-description. It gives nothing, so even in a hip start up, if you said “I’m a rock star” it would literally mean nothing. At what? What do you do? Even if you say, “I’m a rock star at handling difficult coding” you would need examples.

            I think my issue is that when you say you have experience with something, you should automatically be able to give concrete examples of that experience. When you say you’re a rock star (and it’s weird to me that anyone would describe themselves that way without being somewhat facetious), it’s not as concrete. Your example better be something amazing.

    2. Daisy Steiner*

      That’s a really good point. It’s not like women can’t be rockstars, but I think for many people the imagery that word conjures up is male.

      1. Fish Microwaver*

        I’m stuck trying to think of a female oriented equivalent. Goddess is the closest but it’s not quite right.

          1. The IT Manager*

            Just NO.

            Rock Star is not gendered, but Diva is and has all sorts of negative connotations. Rock Star describes a musical artist in the rock & roll style who has made it big and become a star. Some are self-centered and high maintenance, but the key common factor is that they are a STAR. They’ve succeeded, hit the big time, beloved by millions.

            Diva does have as a possible definition “a woman regarded as temperamental or haughty.”

            1. TL -*

              I believe the official definition is: a diva is a female version of a hustler. :P

              That being said, any term used specifically to refer to female success tends to have negative connotations, unfortunately.

              1. Charlotte Collins*

                I thought a diva was a term from opera – it comes from “goddess,” but it has connotations of a star who’s so good people put up with all her nonsense.

            2. Honeybee*

              Eh, I think it’s kind of equivalent. The original definition of a diva was a famous female opera singer. It’s supposed to mean someone who is good at what they do even if they are difficult to deal with, which honestly is what I think of when I hear rock star too (Pink’s song referenced below and the song “Party Like a Rock Star” both conjure images of self-absorbed people who destroy property and break rules deliberately to annoy people).

              1. neverjaunty*

                It’s not equivalent. “Diva” has the connotation of someone who has let her fame to go her head and is unreasonably difficult.

        1. The IT Manager*

          Ha! My knowledge of current music is pretty much nil because I only listen to podcasts and audiobooks now-a-days, but Pink was the obvious female Rock Star that came to my mind. Further back Pat Benatar and Joan Jett.

          Modern female artist tend more toward the Pop Star rather than Rock Star, but that’s just a difference in the genre of music they play not about the level of fame/popularity which when you think about it it’s not about competence. It’s about popularity.

          1. LBK*

            Arguably the biggest female pop star (Beyonce) is a self-described diva, which I think is interesting in light of your comment above about that term.

            1. Steve G*

              Yes! My first record and I saw her this year in person finally. The only concert I’ve been to where the live voice/music was just as good as the recording

      1. LBK*

        Same – I think the term is so far removed from its original meaning in this context that the gendered association goes away too, unless the reason it has a gendered association is because the actual position has one (ie a “rock star programmer” is stereotypically male).

        1. Chinook*

          “(ie a “rock star programmer” is stereotypically male).”

          Sorry, but when I hear “rock start programmer” I think Felicity Smoak (but I may or may not watch too much Arrow).

      2. Ad Astra*

        It doesn’t technically leave out women, but I would guess that words like “rock star” and “ninja” are more likely to attract male candidates. Sure, women can absolutely be rock stars and ninjas, but the terms still conjure up images of men. If this is a field or position where women are underrepresented, these words certainly won’t help that. It’s not offensive or sexist, but it’s not the best way to attract a variety of candidates, either.

        1. Wanna-Alp*

          I have read that this is indeed the case (sorry, can’t find a reference to the study), that women apply less to developer jobs with certain buzzwords in the job description, “rock star” being one of them.

          1. LBK*

            I honestly don’t think most people know that or even think of ninjas as being male-only. Maybe a male-associated image, sure, but I doubt most people know what a kunoichi is. The term has been wildly removed from its original context in English at this point.

      3. Honeybee*

        I think it’s less about the term itself and more that women are likely to evaluate their skills less favorably than men, even at the same level of expertise.

        1. Fact & Fiction*

          I know you that’s true for me (in part due to my stupid anxiety disorder). I love on a big employee award less than a year into my editorial job and my boss tells me often how valued I am and I still struggle with imposter syndrome.

      4. Testy Red*

        Rockstar isn’t a sexist word – rather that it is language that is coded as masculine, which means that women are more likely to self select out. There is a range of research showing that job advertisements subtly show gender bias based on the words that are used within them. Other words that are viewed as masculine include aggressive, dominant, competitive, driven, fearless.

    3. Chinook*

      Rock star is gendered? Really? Stevie Nicks, Alanis Morrisette and Madonna all come to mind easily when you say rock star. Ninja too? I happen to know that was a job that women excelled at due to their physique (think lighter than average male and more flexible) Guru I can see because I normally see a grizzled old man with a beard as long as him.

      Now, if you are referring to females usually suffering from imposter syndrome more than males, I sort of can get that but that also doesn’t mean that there aren’t tons of guys out there that underestimate their abilities.

      1. steve g*

        I know I’m forgetting people from my list, so thanks for bringing up stevie nicks!

        Yeah my references are getting old but there isn’t much (if any?) pure rock coming out now to reference

    4. Sharkey*

      Exactly. Sure, not all women will feel this way but in a field dying to get inclusion, this isn’t the way to go about it. It will only lead to fewer female and fewer older applicants applying. Why would the boss want to do something that will inherently narrow their pool of candidates?

    5. steve g*

      Uh…not really, unless you have a thing about good music. the rest of us know and love blondie, the pretenders, Courtney love, Melissa Ethridge, Joan Jett, siouxe and the banshees, Patti smith, Jefferson airplane, heart, garbage, fiona apple, no doubt, Joanne osbourne, janis joplin, etc. In addition to less rock but solo rockstars nonetheless, including bjork, tori Amos, Cindy lauper, Joan baez, etc etc etc

        1. Steve G*

          + the Bangles, the Motels, Lene Lovich, Mazzy Star, The Cranberries….OK I’ll stop, I think I made my point.

          1. Charlotte Collins*

            You must not be into Riot Grrl/Grunge. They’ve been around since 1994 and are still together. They’re considered one of the most influential rock bands of the past 20 years.

            1. Steve G*

              Oh and let me just share a punk/rock band from the 90s I LOVE and LOVED even though I was 90% into dance, techno, freestyle at the time – the Lunachicks. They were awesome. Such unique, strong rock melodies + over the top outfits/performances. Not sure how popular they are, I saw them at semi-local places in NYC, IDK if they are just a NY thing. Never understood why they weren’t more famous. But I’m adding them to the list and also making a recommendation for you if you’re into that type of music:-)

  9. Pipette*

    #2, that’s exactly how things were done at my old job. In a team with about 2/3 of clock watchers and 1/3 of the kind that gets the job done no matter what. To add to the fun, we had flex hours and some part-timers in the team, and a lot of the clock watchers started super early so they could glide out at 3 PM feeling satisfied that they had done “their share” even though they hadn’t taken a single task from the team’s daily unassigned pile. Argh, I get angry again just thinking about it!

    That kind of system clearly does not work in certain teams, so please stop with the unassigned pile and start assigning tasks as soon as they come in. And be open with why you are doing this.

    1. Lizzy May*

      This is my life currently and it sucks. It’s hard to maintain a positive attitude and stay engaged when I know my coworkers are watching YouTube videos and chatting while I’m powering through all the incoming work. It’s a struggle and there are days when I straight up want to walk out.

      If OP doesn’t make a change she could end up with her stars disengaging and have no one doing great work.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        Absolutely. Or wind up with the best employees job searching if/when they get fed up. Better to start assigning work now and head some of that off.

      2. same thing*

        Heya! awkward question, but we share a name, and I’m also job searching, and I’ve been seeing your comments on here (whci h are fine!) and concerned about a googling hiring manager (which could lead to… questions). Would you be willing to modify your username on this site?

        1. nofelix*

          It’s a pretty common name, and the comments already posted aren’t going to change name retroactively. Seems pretty rude to ask someone else to change their name. Presumably they like their name as much as you do.

        2. Honeybee*

          If the comments are fine, why would you be concerned about a hiring manager finding them? I also just googled “Lizzy May” and this page wasn’t in the first five pages of Google search (they were mostly of a cellist who has that name).

        3. Scotty_Smalls*

          When you google your name do these blog comments show up? I can’t help but feel this is a non issue.

        4. Lizzy May*

          Hi. I’m sorry but I’m not willing to do that. My alias is one I’ve been using for my sporadic comments on this site for well over a year. It would feel quite strange to change it now.

  10. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

    I use a similar method with my marketing people. I call it “shopping” a task or project. I can’t remember the last time I assigned one.

    Works well for me (even though our tasks aren’t rocket science, do you see what I did there, please appreciate it) because it’s a small group with high ability and an equal level of masochism for rotating who grabs a nasty one. If the nasties weren’t being picked up or picked up unevenly, I’d still shop the projects but say Fred and Wilma did the last two grodie ones, Barney and Betty can one of the two of you pick up this one, and then next round we’d be down to Betty can you take this one.

    Worth noting: nasty or annoying projects in our marketing world are spoken of that way which could backfire with the wrong group but works for us because it produces camaraderie with and appreciation for the person who just completed this awful thing to do. “Wow, that was awful. You are amazing! Look what you did!” is equal to “Wow, look at that beautiful result you achieved (on that plum and fun one you got)!”

    1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      As an example, I sent out for a Thanksgiving store two weeks ago and it was like Jeopardy contestants all going for their buzzer, complete with “Ha ha I won!” and someone who was working remotely cursing coffee because she was five minutes late to the email (getting a cup off coffee). You’ve never seen a project completed that quickly because who doesn’t want to play with turkeys?

      The person who won that project just wouldn’t grab the next super fun one that goes through, she’d defer. I don’t have to police that.

      I love the people I work with. :-)

      1. F.*

        “I love the people I work with.” You are obviously a good and respected manager who knows how to manage for the best results.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

          OR, I have really good people who make me look good. Not being flip. It wasn’t always that way, having great people to work with, and I might have looked like a management disaster back then. I know I felt that way.

          1. Anon for this one*

            Your workplace always sounds so great, both in your management style and the awesome employees you talk about. I’m more than a little jealous! (any chance you’re hiring ;))

            1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

              Sure, it’s all fun and games when there are turkeys. :-)

              We have fun. There are plenty of drawbacks.

                1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

                  Well no actual and real turkeys in the office. I don’t care for birds much so I think I would hate that.

                  Turkey themed teapots and cartoon turkeys. Cartoon turkeys are fun.

    2. Quirk*

      This is a great example of a high-functioning team. In situations where you have such a dynamic, I think you want to preserve it and make only such minor readjustments as are necessary when things are getting off-balance – having to move to a model where the manager assigns all work strikes me as intensely demoralising to the team and very much a last resort.

    3. SirTechSpec*

      I see what you did there and I appreciate it. :)
      I also think this sounds like the best system, but it requires people to understand the system and be willing to participate. In a place where you have some people who volunteer because they want to see projects succeed, and some who don’t, it’s important to assign stuff to the ones who don’t (and treat it like a performance issue as well – unless they really just aren’t comfortable volunteering, but are diligent once something is assigned to them, which happens sometimes).

    4. RCW*

      I really like this idea as it helps distribute the bad jobs around so that way not just one employee is working on it. I can definitely work this in but I know I will run into an issue of projects that are a higher quantity than another, which will take more tasks and more time. However, I can break them down into smaller tasks so that is something I can figure out too. I do appreciate your humor, it rocks!

  11. Random Joe-ette*

    Whenever I hear someone say, “We need a rock star!” I always respond:

    Think of the stereotype of a rock star. Do we really need someone who thinks they’re so great that they will want to rewrite every rule to fit what -they- want, who will have a laundry list of things they need before they can ‘perform,’ and who might change their demands at a moment’s notice? And then refuse to perform unless all their demands are met?

    And it seems to be true. I’ve found that if you try to go hiring a “rock star” you get to interview a lot of people who are self-inflated.

      1. Jazz*

        “You should check out my soloing during the bridge!”. Seriously, I would feel real second-hand embarrassment for anyone using that title in earnest. It’s something that a failed candidate from The Apprentice might say. What’s wrong with self-identifying as high achieving or being results-driven?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Interestingly, that Van Halen brown M&M thing was for good reason! They did it as a test of how detail-oriented the venue was and how much they were paying attention to the terms in the contract (they had a bunch of safety terms in their contract because they used so much staging, sound equipment and lighting) . If they left the brown M&Ms in, the band knew that there were probably going to be safety issues that they’d need to address before performing. There’s a fascinating piece about it here:

          1. ImprovForCats*

            I love that story. A few years ago, I was supervising some outside design work for my company (with a designer I wasn’t involved in picking, though) and they would send me back tons of “revisions” and new ideas–but they still kept spelling our name “Founder and Founder,” instead of “Founder Founder LLC,” after multiple corrections (and it being in my e-mail signature, on our website. . .). That “and” was my brown M&M (although I heard it on This American Life as green M&Ms) and it helped me convince my boss to let me get some other bids, from people who at least weren’t so sloppy they couldn’t get our name right.

          2. Random Joe-ette*

            When I was young and full of too much energy, I used to work for a company that did sound and lighting stuff for concerts. We once got a “rider” (a technical contract for bands) that said that “lighting should consist of (specific types of lights) or the headlights of a VW Bug.”

            We almost did the Bug, but at the last minute couldn’t get it in the door of the venue.

    1. steve g*

      + someone who won’t be around long…they’re gonna do a huge amount of stuff then go out with a bang. good for a “change agent” role but not if you need some routine stuff processed as well.

  12. Chy*

    #5. i have a question related to this.
    I am interested in a particular line of business within the company, that is different to my current LOB.
    Last year i had a different conversation with HR and i indicated my interest in moving to that LOB in the future and was told there are not many opportunities there (i’m guessing this has to do with the mobility, i’m based in Nigeria and the role lead for my region is based in South Africa).

    I am really working on owning my career and want to find out is it okay to contact the Lead role on my interest/opportunities? I am also open to taking this as a stretch role to improve my skills. At least if no opportunities come up in 2016 i will be equipped to find another job.

    1. misspiggy*

      Alison might say it depends on your company culture, but you might get more responses if you post this in the Friday open thread.

  13. Katie the Fed*

    #3 – I think you’d benefit a lot from trying to put yourself in your manager’s shoes when trying to understand this or other situations. You’re assigning a lot of malicious intent when the most likely explanation is that the manager simply forgot.

    This conference was really important to you, so it’s easy to assume that your manager would remember and keep track of that. But you’re one of many people on a team, and your request is one of probably dozens that your manager has to keep track of at any given point. And you made yours MONTHS ago – at the beginning of the year!

    What should you have done? Reminded your manager about this when the conference details were announced and registration was open. You can’t assume she was keeping track of your request from early this year. If it’s important to you, then don’t assume anything – follow up.

    I say this as a manager of a very busy team. I am constantly balancing dozens of requests from every source – my employees, my own leadership, administrative requirements, customer demands, etc. It’s amazing how fast I can forget about things. I’ve screwed up majorly too – I recently offered a choice assignment to someone, forgetting that I’d promised it to someone else who asked me about it a few months ago. That person handled it really well and asked me what happened, and I felt AWFUL. I just forgot. I fixed it and apologized, but there was no malice on my part at all.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*


      Can we please remember managers are Human Beans. We have to be allowed to make mistakes, too.

    2. some1*

      You might have missed in the letter where it says this is a 3 person team, and the manager and other team member are going. So I can see why the LW feels slighted. But I agree with you that she should treat it as an unintentional oversight when she asks her manager about it.

      1. S*

        Yea, but it sounds like the op never brought it up again after the initial request. If they really wanted to go, then as soon as registration opened they should have gone back to the manager with dates and costs. It sounds like they sat back and waited for the manager to come to them while their coworker may have been more proactive in getting approval to go.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Yep, all that, plus maybe the boss not only forgot, but thought the Op would be the most capable of handling the dept. while they were gone.

      2. LBK*

        I’m assuming that means there were only 2 seats available, not that the manager could’ve taken both of them and just chose to exclude the OP.

        1. some1*

          I agree with both of your points but Katie wrote “you’re one of many people on the team” and the LW is not, which I think is worth pointing out.

          1. LBK*

            Ah, I see your point. I think a manager still has priorities to juggle for a lot of people, though, whether they’re specifically on their team or not.

      3. INFJ*

        While I agree that it’s completely human of the manager to forget the OP’s request, I do think it’s unusual that OP didn’t know until just before they were leaving. Not “unusual” meaning there’s malicious intent, but just… unusual. Wouldn’t it show up in a department calendar? Or be mentioned at a meeting? I guess it depends on the communication culture of the office.

        Also, despite the fact that the manager may have simply forgotten the request, I can understand why OP feels slighted because a coworker was chosen instead (in a small team) to attend. I think it’s OK to allow the OP to feel disappointed in the outcome, regardless of the circumstances behind it.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          True, that part is odd. Maybe they’re just a really hectic environment with poor communication? If it does turn out the Op was slighted by the boss, at least she knows where she stands and can perhaps start looking for a job elsewhere.

          1. Afiendishingy*

            But on the other side of that, if there were a conference I really wanted to attend, I would make it my business to know when it was. I’m sorry OP, but it sounds to me like you dropped the ball on this one. Ask your boss if they think you can go next year, and what steps you’ll need to take when to make that happen.

    3. LBK*

      Agreed completely – if this was a brief conversation where you just mentioned interest back in January, I’m not surprised your manager either completely forgot or didn’t realize how seriously you wanted to go. We don’t have verbatim phrasing so I’m not sure how the conversation went, but if it’s as the letter describes and was more along the lines of “Can you let me know if there’s a seat available?” and not “I really want to go to this, please sign me up!” then she may not have gauged your level of interest to be as strong as it was in your head.

    4. The IT Manager*

      I agree with Katie. Additionally (this could just be wording), but the LW makes it sound like she asked early in the year and forgot about it herself – saying she was shocked to hear that her boss was going makes it sound like it was off her radar. I would not assume that my boss would give up her seat for me to attend so I’d expect her to go and hope to be the second from the office to go.

      I think the LW should assume her boss completely forgot about their conversation many months ago. She should let her boss know that she’d like to attend next year now, but then watch the calendar and remind her boss a month or so before the announcements are made. Have that fresh in her mind when the boss is asked to provide a list of names to attend next time.

    5. Ad Astra*

      Yep. I can totally understand the disappointment and frustration this OP is feeling, but assuming malicious intent is rarely accurate or helpful.

      It’s worth (calmly) bringing up, though, because there may be some interesting reason the manager chose not to bring OP along.But it’s also quite possible the manager just forgot OP was interested.

    6. SunnyLibrarian*

      I can understand that #3 feels slighted, and I don’t want to pile on. I think some of the wording is a bit combative and maybe you might be a bit dramatic at work? (I am not saying this to be mean, but to give insight.)
      When I was reading this, I was thinking “I wouldn’t want to go to a conference with this person.”

  14. The Cosmic Avenger*

    So, if “rock star” is a bit of an outdated term, does that mean that the interview question about rock star vs. just good at the job should be updated? Should we ask about “superstar” vs. just solid performer?

    (I really want to know, because I have another interview today!)

    1. Helka*

      When I’ve asked that question I’ve just generally phrased it as “What would take someone from performing the job competently to really excelling at it?” No buzzwords at all.

      1. LBK*

        Yeah, I’ve used something similar like “What would be the difference between an average employee in this position and someone who excels?”

      2. IvyGirl*

        I think that’s a paraphrase of the “best question to ask in an interview” post here from AAM. :-)

    2. Anon for this one*

      I feel like it’s one of those terms that’s ok to use conversationally, but that sounds much more clichéd when it’s written down in a job advert/description. And surely no sane hiring person is going to shake their head at you for one word, right?!

      Good luck!

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*


        (I wanted to say “Luck? Pfft! It’s not luck, it’s skill and preparation!”, but that sounds obnoxious, doesn’t it? See, I will use that discretion in my interview today! :D )

        1. Chinook*

          “I wanted to say “Luck? Pfft! It’s not luck, it’s skill and preparation!”, but that sounds obnoxious, doesn’t it?”

          Yes and no. Skill and preparation only take you so far if you don’t have good timing. I have had amazing jobs pop up at the right time that I was prepared for whereas other times I had the same skill set and preparation but there just was nothing there and I settled to make money serving coffee instead.

    3. Ad Astra*

      I think “superstar” is a lot less buzzwordy than “rock star,” but I like Helka’s phrasing the best.

  15. Cautionary tail*

    Wrt the term rockstar I too believe it is trying to target a population segment, although not a male/female split. To me, a company advertising for a rockstar is advertising for someone who has no committments and will work 25 hours a day / 8 days a week. This pretty much targets people in their 20s because as soon as a person has responsibility for others including a spouse and/or children their committments/priorities must change both out of need and desire.

    Seconfly, and no less important, I assert that sel-described rockstars have never been the victim of a layoff because again your priorities get instantly reordered. Pleae refer to any number of layoff related PSTD posts on askamanager to see this.

    In my 20s I rockstarred and sometimes slept under a table in the computer room after working 20 hours straight because I was putting my whole self into my job and doing everything possible to get the job done. I was awesome and my spouse almost never saw me. Later we had the most wonderful little baby who loved to hug and hold my finger/leg/etc. and my heart melted and my priorities changed. A few years later this same company that I had been giving my blood, sweat and soul to laid me off as part of a corporate reorganization. After being treated this way do you think I ever felt the need to put my work ahead of my family and other comittments?

    1. cautionary tail*

      Apologies for the typos. My phone only gives me a 1/2″ high window to type into and doesn’t scroll well.

    2. RVA Cat*

      But don’t you know, the company wants their “rock stars” to burn out and croak at 27 so they don’t have to lay them off! Plus it keeps the benefits costs down.

    3. MashaKasha*

      I missed so many of my kids’ school events because I was on call. I’m long gone from that job and have very little recollection of what I did there. But I won’t ever forget that my kids wanted me to take them to the Pirates Of The Carribbean premiere and I couldn’t. Or that my oldest wanted me to come to his 4th grade picnic and I couldn’t. The kids are 22 and 20 and no longer care, but I do. You’re right, rockstarring is overrated.

      1. Kyrielle*

        You are making me so glad for my change in jobs to one that isn’t demanding as much of my time and has no on-call, from one that did have on-call.

        My oldest is in first grade, and I missed so much of his kindergarten year. :/

    4. Honeybee*

      That’s also the connotation I see when I see jobs that want rock stars. Especially at a “hip” start-up. I generally avoid those ads.

  16. Scott M*

    I know that some haunted
    attractions classify their employees as independent contractors. I don’t know if this might affect how people are paid. Perhaps somebody else has more information?

    1. Could be anyone*

      If you mean temporary seasonal work there are lots of loopholes without classifying them as contractors. They don’t get benefits or time and a half for overtime (but must be paid for every hour).
      But for some job where the employer isn’t an on going concern I can see them claiming everyone is a contractor so they don’t have to deal with all the taxes (paper work) involved. In PA (where I am) that would be federal, state, local, local services tax, unemployment, social security, and medicare. And regarding your question about pay it should still be controlled by state laws and or the contract. I would not agree to be a contractor with out a signed document laying out expectations. although if you mean how you receive your pay there are various ways. Daughter worked for an amusement park and was treated as employee as far as pay and payment went (checks with taxes taken out) and at a temporary Halloween store where they also treated her as an employee as regards pay and taxes but she was paid on a debt/gift card. Only managers got checks/direct deposit of their monies.

      1. Chinook*

        “t a temporary Halloween store where they also treated her as an employee as regards pay and taxes but she was paid on a debt/gift card”

        No snark, just curiosity because I don’t know if pay by gift card is allowed in Canada. How does that work? Are the gift cards only for that store (which sucks if it is a seasonal store) or is it one you can use anywhere? Do the cards have expiry dates (I remember gift cards used to here until they were outlawed)? Do they have service fees that chip away at the balance every time you use and/or monthly?

        1. Rat in the Sugar*

          I got paid on a card when I worked a restaurant in college–it was just like a debit card, it would swipe anywhere and you could withdraw cash from it with PIN. That was in America, though, I’m not sure about Canada.

        2. Ad Astra*

          Like Rat in the Sugar, I’m not sure how things work in Canada, but many U.S. companies will pay employees in the form of a VISA Gift Card, which works essentially like a debit card. You can use them anywhere that VISA is accepted (so, like, everywhere), and some or all of them have a function that will let you take out cash as well. It’s a common choice for people who don’t have bank accounts, since there are typically fees associated with cashing a paper check. You probably see it more often with seasonal and contract work, since most people with steady jobs would (I assume) eventually just get a bank account.

          My state’s unemployment office also offers the cards as a way to collect benefits.

          1. Blurgle*

            I’m pretty sure pay by Visa gift card (…what the…) contravenes labour laws in every province.

            Quickly checking…in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, and BC (haven’t checked elsewhere) wages may only be paid by cheque, cash, or direct deposit into a savings or chequing account at a registered financial institution. That means a chartered bank, credit union, or (in Alberta) ATB Financial.

            It’s trivially easy to get a bank account here.

          2. neverjaunty*

            And as a way for the state to make a profit off the card company, which often charges people to do certain transactions with it.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Jobs that classify their workers as independent contractors don’t say “oh yeah, that stuff we told you to do like showing up an hour early? We retroactively decided that was optional and we don’t have to pay you”.

      This is wage theft, and particularly stupid and clumsy wage theft.

  17. Cato*

    #4 – Alison, you state “You need to be paid for those activities *if because* they’re a required part of the job.” Are you leaning more towards “if” or “because”? The word choice changes the conviction of your answer.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      I think its a typo and should say because, saying that the OP should file a wage claim is a pretty clear conviction

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      I think she meant because. Since she mentioned rehearsals and getting into makeup are in fact requirements, the boss was just trying to blow off the Op by saying they weren’t.

  18. Naomi*

    I don’t mind “rock star” as a compliment–e.g. “This is Jane, she’s our teapot polishing rock star”–or people using playful job titles. (At my last job, my business cards read “Code Whisperer”.) But I find “rock star” intimidating in job ads. To me it implies, “You might be competent at this job, but people who aren’t MEGA AWESOME SUPERHEROES need not apply.” Of course companies want to hire the person who would be best at the job, but describing the ideal applicant as a “rock star” seems to be fishing less for the best person than for the person with the most inflated opinion of themselves.

    Also, it reminded me of this:

  19. Bekx*

    #4…I know if you’re a Disney Face Character they are sketchy about paying you for your makeup too. It might take you half an hour to do your makeup & get dressed, but you are punished if you clock in too early before your shift. But your shift starts and you are expected to be in costume. What most people do is arrive at work, do their makeup and get dressed and then clock in so they don’t get a point on their record for clocking in too early.

    1. Development professional*

      Yeah, this is interesting. The costumes/makeup are clearly part of the job, but I also wonder how the law draws the line. I’m expected to have showered, put on professional/non-pajama clothing, and done my hair before I get to work. If I come and try to do those things after I arrive, that would not be allowed, and no one thinks that’s weird. I still agree that the OP should be paid for time getting into elaborate special effects makeup and costumes but I just wonder how to technically draw the distinction.

      And not being paid for rehearsal, staff meetings, etc. is straight up wrong. Any union of performers would tell you that, although certainly OP is in a non-union type of position.

      1. Chinook*

        “The costumes/makeup are clearly part of the job, but I also wonder how the law draws the line. ”

        I would have to think the line is drawn over whether or not the company allows you to travel off-site in costume (especially at Disneyland, but I don’t know the laws). When I worked at a historical interpretive site with different time periods, you weren’t allowed to “time warp” between the different time periods in costume, so you clocked in at the front entrance and then had to walk (sometimes over a kilometer) to your section of the park and change there. I was a volunteer, so I never saw how it worked on pay cheques, but we still checked in and out the same way so they knew who was still on-site when they closed at the end of the day, but the total travel and dressing time was accounted for in our volunteer hours.

        1. Kelly L.*

          And at Disney, don’t they keep all the costumes and makeup on-site and they’re shared among employees? I can put on my officewear at home, but Cinderella can’t put on her blue dress at home and drive to work–not only is she probably not allowed to run around offsite in costume, but it’s kept at work anyway and is not her personal property.

        2. Ms. Piggy*

          #4 – Sorry you had such a crap time at your “fun” seasonal job.
          In a union performing gig (stage or film/TV) you would be paid for your time getting into hair, makeup, and costume. I manage non-union performers myself, and consider a set amount of pre-show time part of their work call. For example, everyone must be on site 30-45 minutes before the show (exact call depends on type of show), and that is considered work. If a performer felt they needed more time, that would not necessarily be paid. (This rarely comes up for me though, because my performers are paid a weekly salary rather than hourly.)

          There are a number of community theatres that only pay a stipend or even nothing to their performers, but those essentially function as a club/activity or a volunteer role. But the way this haunted house business is running sounds a lot more like any other minimum wage job, and they should definitely pay you for all of your required time.

          1. OP#4*

            Thank you for all your comments. The owner and manager told me after the fact (three weeks later when I saw my paychecks were short) that getting into costume was unpaid because “I could have put on full makeup at home” instead of coming in to utilize the professional makeup artist. The previous haunted house I worked for didn’t give us that option and paid the hour it took to get done up by the artists so I had no reason to think any different. They keep us usually at least a half hour after closing to go over who got the “best scream,” hand out bonuses, talk about techniques, roles and upcoming events. I was never told this was optional either. Very disappointed to say the least. I would say I’m an employee not independent contractor because I’m not choosing what to do for the night, I’m given an assignment. And we can’t take off or choose our own hours. I will definitely be filing a claim with DOL.

      2. neverjaunty*

        The specific costumes and makeup are part of the job. I assume your employer doesn’t require you to leave your professional/non-pajama clothing at work and to change into it only when you get there, and doesn’t dictate how you put on eyeliner.

  20. Solidus Pilcrow*

    #2, volunteering for projects — Another thing to consider is that maybe the ones that always volunteer also always take the better assignments first and the ones that get there late for whatever reason get stuck with only the uninteresting, hard, and undesirable assignments to choose from. It’s not a good motivator. Why bother to volunteer when all you get is the dreck? Spread the good and the bad around and your team will feel better for it.

    1. Fish Microwaver*

      Volunteer promptly and miss the dreck. I don’t see why the willing volunteers shouldn’t get the plum jobs, although from the OP it sounded like the main volunteers were the ones who were hard working at their regular assignments anyway. Why should they get stuck with the crap? It’s better to demotivate non performers than performers.

  21. The IT Manager*

    For #2, be a manager by managing. That means that you assign work to people. It’s your job; it’s not “mean” to tell someone to do a task if that is what you’re worried about. You should phrase it nicely, but you need to tell your employees that they need to do the tasks.

    I’m saying this because your solutions all seem to be ideas that keep you from having to actually telling your employees they have to do a task:
    – volunteer
    – rotating tasks among everyone
    – assigning an individual to each type of task
    – limiting work effort so your hard workers can’t volunteer for too much but still relying on others to volunteer

    1. LBK*

      Totally agreed – I wondered while reading if the OP is newer to management, because it sounds like someone who’s really uncomfortable exercising their authority. Your employees are expecting you to assign them work because you’re the boss and they’re the employees. That’s what you’re there for!

      The whole volunteering phase of this process needs to be scrapped. Assign out all the work, period. I suspect some element of this is that you like letting people choose their favorite tasks, but you can still assign them those tasks. They don’t have to volunteer in order to end up being the one who does them.

      1. LBK*

        Although I will say the rotation isn’t a bad idea for some of the more tedious tasks, as long as you’re assigning the rotation and not expecting your employees to figure it out amongst themselves. I’ve worked in departments that did that so one person didn’t always get stuck doing the crappiest work.

    2. LCL*

      Yeah, you are going to have to start assigning work. But talk to your employees informally first, to find out what jobs they like. You may be surprised to find that some people like jobs that you consider excruciating, and they will get annoyed when you try to reassign those tasks. Not that I would know about that…

  22. Lily in NYC*

    #5 – I have spent the last 15 years as an assistant to various very high-level people – and every single one of them absolutely hated being asked to have coffee with people – most of them had some sort of tenuous connection, like a mutual acquaintance, so my bosses generally felt obligated to meet with most of them. But they dreaded it. I don’t think people realize how many requests high-level people who work in “interesting” fields get for these sort of meetings. Usually several a week – add that to their normal meeting schedule and there’d be no time to do any actual work.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      Would there another way of reaching out for information that might be more convenient to the person being asked for help?

      1. Bostonian*

        I also scheduled meetings for a very busy person who got a lot of this sort of thing. Especially if your connection is more tenuous, asking for a short phone call (under half an hour – I’ve suggested 20 minutes when I’ve done it) is usually less of an imposition. Someone downthread asked about Skype – unless you’re sure they use Skype all the time, phone is probably easier because they won’t need to worry so much about getting set up, and they can take the call in a much wider range of locations.

        The closer you are to their level, the more attractive the meeting typically is to them, I think. The Executive Vice President may not have a lot of time or interest in talking to the undergrad who wants an internship, but the Teapot Associate might be able to give an undergrad more time and still offer a lot of useful perspective, and may be more in touch with the undergrad’s point of view. So don’t always shoot for the highest-level person you can possibly find a tenuous link to, and for high-level people maybe even ask if there’s someone in the X role you might be able to speak with about Y.

    2. JMegan*

      Following, because I’m about to try to set one up as well. The person I’d like to talk to isn’t particularly high-level, but I imagine she’s very busy – would love to hear if there’s a better way of getting some time with her!

    3. Honeybee*

      Would asking via email work better? Like asking if when they had time they could shoot back a little email describing the project?

    4. the gold digger*

      I am not even high level and I would be annoyed to be bothered like that. When I am at work, I want to get my work done. The amount of work I have does not diminish just because I might spend an hour having coffee with someone. What a person is really asking is for an hour of my free time, which is precious. I also do not want to write an email describing a project. Again – time away from getting my work done is time out of my free time.

      1. Bostonian*

        I know it really depends on the industry and type of job, but I think in general some amount of mentoring, doing informational interviews, referring people to jobs, responding to networking requests, and serving as a reference should be considered a standard part of having a professional career. Sure, it can be annoying and inconvenient, and each person certainly has a right to say no to particular requests and to limit the time it takes up in their lives. But I’ve benefited enormously from these things as I start out in my career, and I expect that I will benefit again in future job searches. It would be really unfair of me to just refuse to pay it forward or return the favor.

    5. Development professional*

      I’ve gone through waves of getting these kinds of requests when I’ve worked at very high-profile organizations, and it’s true it can get to be too much. My advice would be to word your request in a way that makes it easy for the person you’re asking to change the timing and format of the meeting to suit them. Something like “I’d like to buy you coffee sometime, or connect with you in whatever way you might have time for.” When I was getting a lot of these, it was really hard/annoying to find time to meet in certain weeks, but if the person was open to shifting times to early morning or mid-afternoon, and to coming to my org’s cafeteria for the meeting (which meant doing it before they closed for the afternoon), or possibly shifting to a phone call depending on schedules, that made me much more amenable. And don’t take it personally if timing doesn’t work out. I could always tell when my university’s career center had just done something or other to prompt students to reach out to alumni, because I would get a whole bunch in a 10 day span. If you get caught up in one of those times or right after one, the person might not have time for you. But if you circle back a month or two later, it might still work out.

      Also, and I think this has come up on this site before, please DO NOT use the phrase “pick your brain.” It comes across as seeking something for nothing and is super irritating for some people.

    6. Stranger than fiction*

      I’m far from high level and don’t know much about this, but I would think if this is something busy Execs dread, maybe suggest a brief chat over skype instead?

      1. the gold digger*

        Again, I am not an exec, but for me, the issue is not the method of meeting but the fact that someone wants my time at all. Still, ten minutes over skype is a lot better than an hour getting to a coffee shop, waiting in line, and talking in person to someone.

    7. #5 - OP*

      Hi Lily, thanks for this feedback! I totally hear what you’re saying and that’s something I definitely want to respect. In your experience, was there any differentiation between informational interviews requested by people brand new to the industry and people who were a bit more established in their careers? As I mentioned earlier, while I would love to hear more about this person’s new initiative, I wouldn’t be asking for advice on how to break into the industry or advice on how to do the job–it’s really more to just connect with this person and see if there might be a potential fit at some point in the future. There’s no actual job listing posted (publicly, anyways), so if this person does agree to meet with me, it would be completely on their own terms.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        People aren’t usually asking top-level execs for informational interviews; it’s generally all the sort of thing you’re going for. But you can still ask (see my comment below).

    8. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Very, very true, although I currently have a client who’s a CEO who actually welcomes the chance to connect with potentially great future employees, so it’s not universal. I think the ones who don’t want to eventually figure out how to politely say no out of necessity. So I still think the OP is allowed to ask; it’s on the other person to say no if they don’t want to.

      And there ARE ways to politely say no, and it’s an essential skill! I’ve written about it here:

  23. Carrie in Scotland*

    Op3: something I don’t think has been mentioned and may play a part is the fact that in a small team you all can’t be out at once.

    Hopefully the next time a conference comes up you can go and your office mate can man the phones.

  24. JMegan*

    For #4, I *think* flight attendants are in kind of a similar situation – my understanding is that they’re only paid when the airplane doors are closed. So arriving at the airport X time before departure, clearing security, getting passengers on board the plane, are all unpaid. Same thing at the end of the flight – as soon as the door opens, the time clock goes off, and everything related to deplaning is also unpaid. None of these activities are optional, but they also don’t get paid for them. (I’m not 100% sure about this, so someone please correct me if I’m wrong!)

    When I was teaching a continuing ed course at a university, I only got paid for class time. I had to develop the curriculum from scratch, plus of course marking, and whatever contact I had with students outside class time. I think I did about three hours of work for every hour I spent in the classroom.

    Could you be in a similar situation with this job? It sucks, but it looks like some jobs are just set up like that. Did you check with the other actors to see if they’re in the same situation? Maybe someone with more experience than you can let you know what the expectations are, so you can be better informed for next year.

        1. Lindsay J*

          Flight attendants and other airline crew are not subject to typical labor laws. They’re covered by the Railroad Act, which IIRC basically says that their labor agreement can be whatever their labor union and their employer agree upon.

      1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

        The same is true for pilots. All the pre-flight checklists, the time it takes to get through security and walk to the plane, etc., are unpaid. They start getting paid when the airplane door closes, and stop getting paid when the door opens. Source: my best friend’s husband is a pilot.

      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        When I was a teenager, I had an otherwise great job in which we were paid only for the hours we were “on.” (We took ponies to kids’ birthday parties, so we were only paid when we were at a party, not the time we spent grooming our assigned pony, driving to the parties. etc.) We were paid a crazy-good rate for the parties, so it wasn’t something to complain about – it would still have been good pay if it were divided between all the working hours, although sometimes bad weather or traffic made it less so. Anyway. Crappy that pilots and and flight attendants are doing that too.

        1. Lindsay J*

          The hourly rate thing is pretty relevant in this case, and with the flight attendants etc.

          Likely if your employer compensated you hourly for the time spent picking up the pony, grooming the pony, driving to the party, etc, your hourly rate would have been lower. You would have likely gotten the same compensation overall as it seems they were able to find people willing and able to work that much and that it is over minimum wage.

          Same with flight attendants. If they were compensated for the time getting through the airport, doing pre-flight preparations, etc, their hourly wage would be lower and their overall compensation would be the same. However, all that time would be difficult to track effectively which I believe is part of why their current pay structure is the way it is.

      3. Lindsay J*

        Flight attendants and other airline crew are not subject to typical labor laws. They’re covered by the Railroad Act, which IIRC basically says that their labor agreement can be whatever their labor union and their employer agree upon.

    1. Development professional*

      I believe this is a slightly different issue. It’s not that flight attendants are paid hourly. This issue is about the number of hours they have been on duty, which affects how much time they have off before they are scheduled to work again, and how many hours they work in a week. The issue is that the airlines have only been counting the hours with airplane doors shut in determining how many hours they are “on” even though they have all these other duties when the doors are opened, as noted above.

    2. Chinook*

      “When I was teaching a continuing ed course at a university, I only got paid for class time. I had to develop the curriculum from scratch, plus of course marking, and whatever contact I had with students outside class time. I think I did about three hours of work for every hour I spent in the classroom. ”

      As a former teacher, this sort of makes sense because, over time, your prep time should take less time as you would have previous work to refer too (I know mine was always short in year 2 of a class). And most teachers are considered professionals and are exempt from overtime.

      As for flight attendants and pilots, that fact always shocked me.

      1. JMegan*

        Oh, I wasn’t bothered by it! It was a second job, I had plenty of time, and I was lucky enough to not need the income – it was more like a hobby for me at the time.

        I’m just pointing out that some jobs do seem to be structured this way, where you’re paid for X but not Y, even though Y is clearly part of the job and you wouldn’t be able to do X without it. And wondering if acting is a similar sort of pay structure. I hope the OP gets it sorted out to her satisfaction!

      2. Ad Astra*

        Yeah, it might be different for adjuncts, but my teacher husband worked the most hours when he was student teaching (which sucks, because that was like 60 hours/week for $0). His first year of teaching, he spent a significant amount of time lesson planning and grading and all of that. Now that he’s been teaching for 5 years, he spends a lot less time lesson planning — really, he only has to draw up plans when he’s trying something new. He’s also found a way to structure his courses so that the amount of worksheets and other take-home work is minimal; a lot of it is participation grades or stuff they grade together during class. He only comes home with a big stack of papers to grade once or twice a semester.

    3. Dan*

      Pilots and flight attendants are governed under the Railway Labor Act, which is a whole different set of pay rules.

      But pilots (and I assume flight attendants) actually have a minimum “guarantee” every month, even if they don’t fly at all. This minimum guarantee actually makes them “salaried” employees for the purposes of the FLSA (if that’s even applicable.) To be considered salaried for the purposes of the FLSA, you just have to have a minimum amount of pay that you are guaranteed, it doesn’t matter if your pay fluctuates based on hours worked.

  25. HRish Dude*

    I’m advertising for “rock stars”: I want you to come in three hours late to work reeking of groupies while completely smashed because you “sound better when I’m drunk”.

  26. MashaKasha*

    Might’ve missed it, but I haven’t seen anyone comment on this part of #2 yet: some employees are better at a certain tasks than others

    My two cents… and they always will be if they’re always being assigned that kind of tasks, and no one else is. This might be a good argument for rotating tasks, so everyone on the team has some knowledge of how to do everything that the team needs to get done. To use the popular argument, imagine that employee A, who excels at gluing handles to teapots, and is always the one that glues the handles to teapots, wins the lottery and resigns tomorrow – the handles still need to be glued on, but now no one on the team really knows how to do that.

    1. Ad Astra*

      Cross-training is SO important, and so neglected in many offices! It’s ok to let employees specialize, but you’ll be better off if every important task is something at least two people can do competently.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Yep. And if Wakeen doesn’t want to be assigned teapot-gluing duty, he’ll be careful to make sure he isn’t very good at it.

    3. ImprovForCats*

      Agreed. Having everything be done by volunteering might actually intimidate some people who would be willing to take on a new task and improve at it–but Jane has been making the shiniest teapots for so long, and Jill isn’t sure she can hit the ground running with that level of shininess right off the bat, and she feels like she might get judged less on “is this a solid teapot?” vs “eh, she’s no Jane.”

  27. Slimy Contractor*

    Oh my gosh, Alison, THANK YOU for telling the manager in #2 to start assigning work! I have a manager who expects tasks to magically get done without assigning them to anybody, and we’re always scrambling at the last minute to complete a task that’s about to be overdue. I’m probably not the only one who’s felt resentment at my other team members for a crisis that’s actually the manager’s fault to begin with. Hey, managers, MANAGE. That’s why you get paid more than I do. Thank you.

    1. Sketchee*

      Thank you and second this! Most of us do want to do our jobs. Volunteering leaves a lot of employees wondering what they’re expected to do. Or even if you’re a great employee, you see how the ones who step up are taken advantage of by working all weekend.

  28. John*

    I’m so glad I read #1! I’ve seen such a high number of job descriptions in the software development field with “rockstar” and “ninja” in them, that I started to wonder if anyone would think I was qualified without me being an arrogant know-it-all.

    I’m willing to bet that if you ask the top people in any field—the TOP people—they would not go along with being called “rockstars” or “ninjas.”

  29. Fish Microwaver*

    Just as an example of demotivating your rockstars, I’m currently at a level where I could be closed to more work, plus I put my hand up for a rush job, but I am not closed, I’m going to be late to lunch and I have just been handed one of our most mundane chores to perform “when you finish that”. I want to walk out, go to a bar and get hammered. Maybe pick up some groupies.

  30. SynapticFibrillation*

    The only time I’ve heard the term rock star used in this context was “we’ll treat you like a rock star.”
    That had some appeal.

  31. Anon21*

    Employer in #4 sounds like a pack of dishonest scumbags. There is no way they forgot to tell OP that these activities were “optional” before the first paycheck–this is a deliberate wage theft scheme, and I really hope OP does pursue it with the state department of labor. The employer is likely counting on the fact that minimum wage workers often aren’t aware of their rights to get away with this, but it should be stopped.

  32. Marilyn*

    There was a huge gala/event that my managers were going to. I was at the supervisor level. Well, everyone was quiet about it, until the morning of the event. Suddenly it’s all people talked about. Since I was under the impression that it was just upper management, I was a little surprised to know some of the people that were going. I mentioned something to my supervisor who immediately got defensive. “Oh, it’s just a managers, really.”

    Turns out – my own subordinates were not only at the event, but were given outlook invites 1-2 months in advance. I wasn’t invited and not a single person was going to tell me. I know this, because the pictures were posted I the shared drive.

    My yearly review was not long after that. My direct boss said “We noticed lately, you seem very disengaged.” Hmmm, I wonder why! Perhaps because you alienated me, left me out of a major event, maybe that would clue you in? I have terrible memories of that place

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