I got scolded for letting my team chat while they work, taking on new work while job hunting, and more

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

1. I got scolded for letting my team chat while they work

Several of my subordinates and I sit at desks very close to one another in a large office. During slow times, we chat while we work. (During busy times, we have no time to socialize.) We enjoy these breaks as it gives us knowledge about each others’ ideas, beliefs, family, lives outside of work, etc. I have always looked at it as a strengthening of our team.

While doing data entry today, we were chatting about our families and different cultures, when our (newly appointed) general manager scolded me via email for allowing my team to have non-work related discussions that he could overhear from his desk. He acknowledged that while my workers did a great job during busy times, if they didn’t have “enough” to do when it’s slow I should send them home (they are paid hourly so this was a threat to take away their pay). I was genuinely shocked, not only at the suggestion, but that he couldn’t see we were working while talking, and at the idea that there is zero value in simple human communication between team mates. I’d like another opinion because I sure don’t trust his.

Well, it’s certainly true that there’s such a thing as too much chit chat, especially if it’s distracting other people (which is possible if he can hear it from his desk). It’s also true that it’s not realistic or wise to expect people to work like automatons and never talk to each other. I can’t tell from your letter which of these categories your team is in. In your shoes, to try to figure it out, I’d look at productivity — for example, are people much more productive on quiet days or days when other people are out? Do you have a backlog that would benefit from people working with more speed and focus? Are you hitting all your goals? Those answers should point you in the right direction.

On his other point, it’s true that there are jobs where it does make sense to send people home when there’s not much work — but if you’re going to do that, you should let people know that before you hire them. Otherwise, they’re counting on a certain amount of pay each week, and it’s crappy to take that away. You might point that out to him. Since he’s new, he may be used to a different way of doing things … or he could just be a bit of a jerk. Either way, it would be useful to hash this stuff out with him and get aligned on how you manage your team.

2. Should I take on new projects at work while I’m job hunting?

I work for a small company. One of employees recently resigned and her tasks and responsibilities are being divided among the existing employees. The CEO would like me to take on many of her tasks, including managing our vendors. I am more than happy to do the additional work. (I’ve had a lot of down time in the past and can easily fit it in to my schedule.)

However, I have been job hunting for a few months now and am hoping to be in a new job in a maximum of four months, so I’m not sure it makes sense for me to establish relationships with our vendors, change all of our accounts to list my email address, etc. only to have yet another person take over those tasks in a few months. Though I think our CEO knows on some level that I’m unhappy in my job, I don’t think he knows that I’m looking to leave, and I’d prefer not to tell him until I have a new position lined up. He is borderline obsessed with loyalty and I fear he would fire me on the spot if he knew I was applying/interviewing elsewhere (this attitude is one of the many reasons I’m looking to leave). I’m not sure if there’s a way to suggest those tasks go to someone else without tipping him off to the fact that I’m hoping to leave soon or if I should just suck it up and take on the new tasks, knowing that (with any luck), I’ll be gone in a few months and yet another person will need to establish new relationships with our vendors, change all of our account passwords, etc. What do you suggest?

Proceed as if you’re not leaving. There’s no way to get out of this without tipping him off, and the reality is that you don’t know for sure that you’ll be gone in four months. Even if you’re gone sooner, though, this is just part of doing business — people leave and there are inconveniences associated with it, but it’s not usually practical to pull yourself out of stuff that would normally fall to you until you have firm departure plans in place.

3. Reapplying to a company whose offer I turned down five years ago

I have a question about reapplying to a company that I had turned down a job offer from in the past. Five years ago, I had a few rounds of interviews at a company (let’s call it Company A), and I ended up receiving a job offer. I also received another job offer at the same time (Company B), and I ended up taking the job with Company B. I had a great interview experience at A and felt bad turning it town, but B was more in line with what I thought I wanted to do.

Now five years later, I’m regretting the decision and want to go into the industry A is in. (Similar industries, and my experience at B is in line with what I’d be doing at A). I saw that Company A is hiring again. Do I apply again to the job? If I do reapply, should I email the person I worked with during the interview process and who offered me the job?

Yes, apply again, and mention in your cover letter that they made you an offer for position X in 2011 that you weren’t able to accept at the time, but that you really enjoyed your conversations with them then and would love to talk with them about position Y. Then, after you do that, email the person you talked with five years ago (if she’s still there), include a copy of your application materials, and let her know that you applied through their formal system but that you wanted to reach out to her and let her know. Add something genuine about how much you enjoyed your talks a few years ago, and why you’ve remained interested in them this whole time.

4. How should my resume show a position that was first volunteer but then paid?

I volunteered for an organization for several months, after which I was lucky enough to be hired. My duties remained exactly the same – they just decided to start paying me for it. Should I put the two periods of time as separate entries in different sections, or as two positions under the same organization, one clearly marked “volunteer”?

Two positions under the same organization, with the first one clearly marked as volunteer. That will emphasize that they liked your volunteer work enough to begin paying you for it when they didn’t have to, which reflects well on you.

You can list it like this:

Chocolate Teapots United
Spout Inspector (staff) – May 2015-present
Spout Inspector (volunteer) – November 2014-May 2015
* accomplishment
* accomplishment
* accomplishment

5. Donating books to prisons

Remember the interview I did with a former prison librarian last year? She just sent this to me and I wanted to pass it along:

In the comments section of my interview post, a few people asked about donating books to prison libraries. This popped up in my feed today (I imagine they are rerunning it because of Making a Murderer, which I have no doubt may of your readers are watching):


I think it’s all for U.S. prisons, but it’s a start.

{ 119 comments… read them below }

  1. gnarlington*

    For #4, I have this issue in my résumé as well, where I was a volunteer and then hired on. But this nonprofit provides stipends to all their volunteers, so I was technically paid for all my work… and even before being hired on, they actually increased their stipend rate for me specifically and asked me to start invoicing instead of filling out their volunteer timesheet. I don’t even know how to list all that on my résumé!

    1. FuzzFace*

      I don’t think whether you were paid or not as a volunteer matters in this situation. I think your format would be the same as Alison suggested above!

  2. OP 2*

    Thanks for the advice, Alison! I figured there was really no way out of this, I just felt bad about making one of my coworkers basically redo a lot of what I’m being asked to do now! I guess that’s the nature of work, though, and people often wind up doing things for only a few months before they leave. I have started to create a master list of passwords, vendor contacts, bill due dates, etc. (surprisingly, one did not previously exist) so that when I do leave, (which I know may be after 6 months or even a year, but for my own sanity, I’m still hoping is by this spring) it’s easier for someone else to take over these tasks.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Just remember, if the CEO was a reasonable, rational person, you would have told them to make other arrangements. But he’s not. And there’s no reason you should lose your job just to prevent your company from having a bit of a bump in the road, especially when a decent CEO wouldn’t terrorize or interrogate their employees in the first place. So you can feel bad that your CEO’s attitude might cause headaches for the coworkers you leave behind, but please don’t feel responsible for them.

      1. OP 2*

        Thank you for the kind words! I feel like I have to remind myself often that he is the one being unreasonable! (Not just in relation to this, but to many different things.)

        1. neverjaunty*

          OP #2, it’s VERY COMMON (and very normal) for people in toxic workplaces like this to feel guilty about leaving and like they are the ones being unreasonable, particularly in that their co-workers will still be dealing with Mordor Boss after they leave. Trust me, you have nothing about which to feel guilty, and your plan of keeping everything in one place to hand to you successor is all you should be doing to cushion the result of your leaving.

          1. OP 2*

            Thank you for the encouragement, neverjaunty! I definitely do feel guilty, even though I know I shouldn’t.

    2. Wanna-Alp*

      Yes, think of it that way, that you are in a position to make really good hand-over materials that will greatly help your colleagues after you go and they have to do the same thing. That should hopefully ease your highly-commendable sense of work efficiency.

      1. M-C*

        Exactly! You can improve your successor’s life immensely by documenting the job in detail. And incidentally, you can ask IT for a generic position email (‘vendors@nonprofit.org’) rather than use your personal one. It’s a good idea no matter what job you do where, because there’s no reason you should have to change the address over and over with outside contacts as personnel changes. Create some continuity for the organization, then put all that on your resume ;-).

    3. Erin*

      Well there you go, you can’t possibly be doing anything else. Always, always proceed as if the job offer hasn’t happened (because it hasn’t, until it does). Worst case scenario you’re still job searching for awhile, but all your current work is super organized.

      1. Murphy*

        Which everyone should do anyway. I call it my “if I get hit by a truck” file, since once I did get hit by a truck and was suddenly off work for 4 months. That’s just good practice and will make whoever follows you very happy (and grateful).

    4. Persephone Mulberry*

      This might be a good opportunity, though, to suggest setting up a generic “purchasing” email address rather than putting everything under your address – you can frame it as a convenience for the company if you get ill, take a vacation, etc. or if they decide to transition the purchasing responsibility to someone else in the future (not even necessarily because you’re leaving!).

      1. Artemesia*

        While maybe a good idea, I would not do this if I were the OP, you don’t want any blood in the water when you work for a shark. The OP sounds conscientious and not letting a hint slip may be difficult. She feels guilty. That shows. She shouldn’t feel guilty; the boss created this situation. And I hope she finds a great job and is out of there in two months.

      2. M-C*

        Sorry, I duplicated that suggestion before reading :-). Yes, OP2 wants to be careful about not awakening the shark’s suspicion. But she can also point to examples elsewhere of organizations doing just that, and suggest to implement that for the whole place, not just herself. Then she’ll just seem like a smart person, not just on her way out. And be sure to assign the shark a generic email too..

    5. Shan*

      I was just in your shoes! Seriously, exactly the same situation. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I actually ended up getting a job offer within 3 weeks of my coworker leaving. We weren’t even done putting everything in my name yet, so I was able to give notice and right now I’m working on making that master list of passwords, vendor contracts, etc. My boss, who is never complimentary, actually told me with how impressed she is with getting everything together for the new employee(s), so it’s really great that you’re starting to collect that information now. Good luck on your search!

    6. OP 2*

      I’m on a quick break, so I don’t have time to respond to everyone individually, but thank you to all for the encouragement and the suggestion to set up/have the firm set up one or more general e-mail addressees that are forwarded to multiple people. Also, several of you have me pegged-I do feel guilty, even though I know I shouldn’t!

    7. Pinkie Pie Chart*

      You might see if you can set up a generic email address for billing purposes. That way, the contact information won’t have to change every time someone leaves. It’s not a perfect solution and it’s likely that your vendors will want a “real person” as well as the generic, but it might help.

    8. TootsNYC*

      You wrote: “making one of my coworkers basically redo a lot of what I’m being asked to do now!”

      The thing is, you’re in a position to make it -easier- on them. Because as you establish things now, you can create documentation that will help someone take over for you.
      You can keep good records, set up automated or modular things (like, maybe a mailbox for JobFunction “@” Company name, which is then auto-forwarded to someone) that make it easier to hand things off.

      If you were working these responsibilities for a year or so, it might actually be more work to hand them over in an orgnaized manner, because you’d be backtracking.
      This way you can organize it in a way that sets it up for an easy hand-off.

      And in the meanwhile, that setup work (which it sounds like you’re already doing) will make your life easier–and will be an accomplishment you can tout in interviews or on your resume.

  3. Anonymous Coward*

    Re #2: This stuff will have to happen as people leave or take over new responsibilities; sometimes it just happens frequently. In my last position, I made initial contact with one rep at a vendor, then was handed off to her coworker the next week because she was going on maternity leave. When I got the notice a few months later that he was leaving, and a third rep would be taking over for our account, I had to respond with my own heads-up that I was leaving MY company soon, and Coworker Jane would be their contact from now on. Aaaaaaaand then the next week, Coworker Jane gave her two-week notice.

    1. OP 2*

      Thanks for the reassurance, Anon! I know it’s still not ideal, but it’s nice to know that vendors are accustomed to having changing points of contact! And I’m making a master list containing a lot of information (due dates, contact people, etc.), so the next person to take over these tasks has an easier transition. A lot of my time thus far has been spent just trying to sort everything out. The last person left on not-so-great terms, so everything is kind of a mess!

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Your post made me think that if we all lived as if we might give notice within the next few months (as far as keeping files and how-to information updated as we go along), transitions would be do much easier. Not to mention just being able to easily lay hands on necessary information.

        1. Bailey Quarters*

          That’s been my philosophy for a while. Document procedures and store information. I tell staff and co-workers that it’s in preparation for the Cancún scenario: if I hit the lottery and run off to Cancún, everyone will know what to do in my absence. So much nicer to envision a tropical getaway than getting hit by a bus!

          1. MKT*

            When I started my current job, they had no such “In Case We Win The Lottery” plan.
            They looked so lost. I was like, “or we can call it the “Hit By A Bus” plan. You pick. I prefer the lottery, but either way, ya’ll need a contingency plan and a How-To book for whomever takes your spot when you “Win The Lottery” ”
            It’s maybe my favorite project I’ve undertaken here.

          2. Mallory Janis Ian*

            I started a job in June and I have been impressed with how well-documented everything is. Anything I want to know is either on a shared drive or on the company intranet. There are habits in place for saving everything electronically, with folders set up in a way that makes good sense. I’ve seen filing systems before that seemed haphazard and random and in which only the person who set it up could find anything. At this job, anyone could come in and find things. I worked at my previous job for eight years, and I could always find anything I needed, but I also kept a lot of information in my head. I wish I’d been better about documenting back then, but I feel pretty good about my habits now. Having a system already designed by someone else that I can just work into helps a lot.

          3. Mpls*

            I used to work for a bus company. We did not use the “hit by a bus” language :) Of course, they weren’t really good about having a person-leaving scenario, either.

  4. BobtheBreaker*

    OP2: If there are functions that require the use of email, and it needs to be durable or heritable (like this vendor services stuff) it would be better to have a generic email facing those contractors. For example, vendorservices@teapotfactory.com or something to that effect. You’ll find that this works for you two-fold, it aligns to your goal, and can be billed as a process improvement.

    1. OP 2*

      Thanks for the suggestion! I will bring it up at our weekly staff/”check-in” meeting tomorrow.

    2. Noah*

      This was going to be my suggestion too. We have several email “groups” that only route to one email address. Way easier to have IT update the routing instead of distributing a new email address to everyone.

      This even works for internal promotions. I was the safety rep for a certain department, and the email was deptname.safety@company.com. After a promotion I now work directly in the safety department and that dept specific email was passed along to my replacement.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Most of our groups actually go to 4 or 5 people, only one of which is the manager or primary contact. Usually the others are people who are likely affected by the request, even if they won’t be the primary person to implement it. But yes, I second the use of email aliases that can easily go to one or more people. Heck, I do that with my personal email; a good portion of the aliases at my vanity domain go to both my wife and myself, like the one we use for our daughter’s teachers or for home improvement work.

        1. new reader*

          Having more than one recipient for general email addresses is a great idea and I do that as well. That reduces the risk of messages falling through the cracks if an employee is out unexpectedly. I switched roles last summer during one of the busiest times for the office I was leaving. I continued to assist in that area until a new person was hired and trained. Having the general email being delivered to both of us during the transition time was very helpful and seamless to customers.

        2. TootsNYC*

          and those secondary receivers can be coached to set up an inbox rule that routes all those messages to a folder out of the way.

    3. NJ Anon*

      We do this just for sanity’s sake! Having that separate email kept those from mixing in with my regular email and potentially getting missed.

    4. Hlyssande*

      Yeah, I was going to say that too.

      Much easier than getting vendors to remember that it’s no longer x person but now this other person, and you can just add new people to the inbox with whatever permissions they need as things change.

  5. ReadItWithSpanishAccent*

    OP1 writes ” He [the general manager] acknowledged that while my workers did a great job during busy times, if they didn’t have “enough” to do when it’s slow I should send them home ” so it seems there is not a problem of too much chit-chat or loss of productivity. It is a problem of crappy general management. Nobody can seriously expect “only work-related chat or otherwise monastical silence” at work .

      1. Brock*

        I don’t know if it still happens now that offshore outsourcing is common, but years ago I knew someone who was the middleman for companies outsourcing highly confidential data processing to enclosed monasteries and convents. :)

        1. Artemesia*

          I know a tech company that does this. One of the honors for new employees is getting to brew the next batch.

    1. Oh anon*

      I had a boss once that would have argued otherwise. She didn’t even want us asking coworkers their opinions on work related topics, such as how they handled a specific situation that you’re now facing. It was the most horrible working environment I’ve ever been in. The “no talking” rule was just the tip of the ice berg of dysfunction though.

    2. Bwmn*

      While I entirely agree with this – I do have a personal flip side to this. Where I work – the office has an odd dynamic of a largely quiet office space but where our walls have basically no insulation and very little noise privacy. Where my office is happens to be particularly bad every by our office standards, to the point where you should basically assume every conversation you’re having can be overheard. Door open or closed.

      There’s often a learning curve for people when they’re assigned to this corner (oh, you can even hear that??) both in terms of what is/isn’t private and how to tune out others’ conversations (be it work related or otherwise). To this manager, this may possibly be a case of being bothered the noise level more so than the conversation.

    3. brighidg*

      Also, it kinda seems to be a new boss thing with people who are insecure in their new role. They act tough because they think walking into a new job is like walking into prison for the first time? Idk but I’ve seen that bs before.

    4. pop tart*

      Ugh I worked at a place that expected that for years!!!! We worked for a website so no clients or customers, and it was an open layout with only a few offices so we shared group tables. My reviews EVERY YEAR were that I did great work, I had taken on loads of responsibilities, but I chit chatted too much. The HR/office manager would come out of her office if we talked for more than 1 minute and be like “There’s too much chit chat, do I need to separate you?” as if we were children. It was so disheartening and morale-deflating, especially when we were working so hard and going above and beyond expectations!

      1. Cath in Canada*

        My first ever office job (summer job during uni) actually had a separate desk away from the main area for my team, which we called “the naughty chair”. Our manager would send someone there if they were the main person causing an outbreak of chatting. I never got sent (I’m a rule follower by nature); one co-worker got sent all the time and just thought it was hilarious. I was quite shocked!

  6. TL17*

    #1 – 2 things popped out to me. First, the chit chat sounds like it happens while work is being done, albeit low-energy work. The GM might not realize that while Lucinda updates everybody on her son’s college search or Fergus talks about how good his chiropractor visits have been, that they’re actually doing work. He might not realize everyone is being productive while talking to each other.

    Second, it’s possible he just doesn’t like the noise. If he can hear the talking with his door open, it may be distracting him from his work. The nicer thing to do, of course, would be to say it that way rather than to threaten to take people’s pay.

    1. Rebecca*

      My coworkers sometimes have hour-long personal conversations in their cubes, and it is SO distracting. People don’t realize that their tone of voice changes when they are talking about personal things – they tend to get more animated and joke-y, with greater fluctuations in their vocal tone. A 10-minute convo or random interjections are fine, but hours long? No.

      1. I@W*

        So true. ++++1

        I’m facing that right now, even asking politely if they can move their conversation elsewhere–like to the other person’s cube (which was received not so well after months of endless details about personal stuff, but I don’t care).

        Anyway, this is a lot about perception. Maybe there’s a way to have a “meeting” in order to have a “team building session.” I see how these people are perceived and it’s not good.

      2. madge*

        +1000. I was in between two chatty Patty types for years and it was miserable. OP doesn’t say if other people are working in the area or if boss is the only other one. I don’t agree with how boss handled it but if it’s distracting others, OP’s group does need to speak quietly.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        Totally. While I sympathize with the Op, I sit on a busy corner near a printer/copier where 3 or 4 of my coworkers in particular like to have conversations with their “outside” voices as they’re picking up their copies and heading back to their desks. Drives me bananas because it breaks my concentraion. So I see both sides to this, the Op sounds like a great manager and is clearly running a great team, but the new manager probably just came from a quieter environment and/or is just more conservative. I think this calls for a conversation with Mr. New Boss and perhaps they can come to a compromise or some sort.

      4. The Bookworm*

        OP 1 – this is just an FYI –

        You & your group may be able to talk & get your work done, but it could be a major distraction to others in the area.
        Unfortunately I don’t have the ability to block out the chit chat, so anything I’m working on has a higher rate of errors & it takes me much longer to get it done.

        1. Sunshine*

          Good point. One of my teams is a very tight-knit group, all excellent workers. But, when they ALL get involved in a conversation it can get pretty boisterous. They’re getting the job done, but sometimes disturbing other teams.

          Not to say this is the issue with the OP, but worth considering.

    2. Glasskey*

      What I found interesting about this situation is that the boss did this via email. Why not just get up and ask everyone to keep their voices down to quell the immediate issue and then have a separate face-to-face with OP?

      1. Duffel of Doom*


        Not to mention, it concerns me a bit that the boss is new and already wants to impose a standard that drastically changes how the office operates. This could greatly alter the culture of the place, and should be thought through before implementation.

    3. kayah*

      I’m the OP of #1 , sadly wasn’t here on the day this was published so I’m only now getting to read responses. I apologize for not posting before.
      Thank you to EVERYONE who have given a thoughtful response, including those who pointed out the difficulty in working with a chatty atmosphere. I agree, and just for clarification, it is only my team working (and talking) in the area. During our busy times, we work long hours, madly(!)with very little personal conversation. Our business is seasonal, and wintertime is slow time… Getting databases updated and customer files in order, simple easy tasks. We are a small team of 4 people (plus me) and yes we are very close-knit and talk openly about our lives… actually I should clarify that, and say that I don’t necessarily as I feel being a manager I need to keep a bit of distance. I would stop immediately anything that was over the line or inflammatory in any way.
      It’s been some time since this incident occurred and unfortunately, it has become obvious the new GM was just trying to be the Boss… albeit in a rather sneaky way instead of just coming out and speaking to everyone about keeping the noise down. He has since show no reluctance to confront people directly and loudly about something he perceives as having been done incorrectly. Unfortunately, he does not ever ask questions, not for clarification sake, or even to find out what our jobs are.
      He is a new person in the company, not someone who has worked their way up. He knows very little about the way the company is run and jumps to far too many conclusions mistakenly.
      Since then, we have all unhappily noted the long and loud conversations he has, door open, about everything from his son to the latest football game. Hypocritical and disheartening. He seems to be a big talker and has yet to contribute anything to our company that we can see.
      Example: He had to ask someone how to forward an email, and I have come to the conclusion that he’s kind of insecure and unsure about how to do his job, let alone manage people who already know how to do theirs.
      I think that this us just how it is, sadly. We are all hoping the owner of the company will see the truth.
      ( when I talked to the owner of the company about the situation, he told me we would all soon be in a new office and then we could talk as loud as we wanted and no one was to be sent home under any circumstances.)
      Discouraging :( but that’s just the way the chips have fallen.

  7. Michelle*

    In regards to #4- off-topic but I just heard on the radio that the prosecutor in that case, Ken Kratz, had his license to practice law revoked. Did anyone else think he had the creepiest voice?

      1. neverjaunty*

        I was really pleased to see the Appalachian Book Project listed – they’re good people working in difficult circumstances.

  8. Khaki*

    #3 This is perfectly timed. I’m thinking of applying to one that I turned down two years ago and was wondering what to do.

  9. Bea W*

    Perfect timing on the book post. I am about to weed through my collection and wasn’t sure what I was going to do with books I don’t want to keep. The donation drop off for my state is even just one town over. Thank you!

    1. Purple Dragon*

      It’s perfect timing for me too. I’ve found an organisation in Aus that sounds great. I don’t know why I never thought of that before!

  10. Chocolate lover*

    I’ve volunteered for the Prison Book Program in Massachusetts (it’s in the list) and found it very satisfying. Reading/literacy is one of my favorite activities to participate in. We read requests from prisoners, and tried to identify appropriate book selections from the available donations, packaged them up and prepared postage.

    One thing they said they ALWAYS needed, and I didn’t see on the list (unless I read too quickly) was dictionaries. It’s the most common request they get.

    1. blackcat*

      I’m in the Boston area and clicked on that link–since you’ve volunteered with them, I have a quick question.

      I have plenty of dictionaries to donate– 1 regular English, 3ish English-Spanish, and 4ish English-French (I’m not exactly sure on numbers because these live in boxes…)

      A few of the foreign language ones are pocket dictionaries. Are those useable? And is it even worth donating the English-French ones? I’m sure the English-Spanish ones are useful, but I’m uncertain about the French ones.

      1. Chocolate lover*

        Good question. I’m not positive, but I think with older ones it’s more about the condition of the book. Different prisons have different regulations about the types and conditions of books they will accept. I would think any dictionary in good condition would be appreciated, as far as the English and Spanish ones. I’m not sure if there would be as much need for the French one, but you could ask them.

    2. LizB*

      I’ve volunteered with the Women’s Prison Book Project in Minnesota (also on the list) and really enjoyed it. I love books, and it’s very satisfying when you can pick the perfect book for someone’s request, or send someone a book you’ve enjoyed in the past that fits with their tastes. The most difficult thing is getting requests for things that the prison doesn’t allow — romance novels, particular authors (Toni Morrison was banned by a couple of places), blank notebooks… there was one prison on the list that just wouldn’t accept books at all, and if women wrote in from there we’d have to send them a pre-written note apologizing that we couldn’t send them anything. I definitely recommend volunteering with them if you have time, though. It’s a really interesting experience.

    3. themmases*

      I volunteered for Chicago Books to Women in Prison and it was really eye opening. We had a similar process where we would look for the exact book, then look for a book in the same genre. We were consistently low on African American romance and fantasy books, to the point that partway through the shift there were none left on the shelf and I was looking around for anything else that might just be fun to read. I am not a big romance reader so I never noticed this issue before, but it was hard to read another request for Brenda Jackson, have given the last one away, and be looking at a romance shelf full of Southern belles.

      It was a lot like a food pantry, with some of the same problems. Lots of donated books that no one could have honestly thought someone else would want, and others that I’m sure were well meaning but not well thought out. At the time CBWP was getting ready to move and really didn’t want more donations, but money would have helped.

      I would never want to discourage anyone from donating, but it’s a sad fact that more people need to stop and think before cleaning out their closets or bookshelves on these organizations. If you think some things on your bookshelves won’t be allowed in prisons or won’t be requested by prisoners, you may want to check with the organization to see if they can accept store credit at the used bookstore where you turn them in.

      1. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

        God, yes. Look I am a MLIS holding librarian, and I give you permission to throw away books. Is it really old? Does it smell bad? Did you drop it in the tub or leave it in a garage for 5 years? Just throw it out. Was it poorly written, annoying, is it propaganda? GOODBYE.

        No, the inner city public library does not need the castoffs you scavanged from the college library dumpsters and thoughtfully hauled over to get the tax receipt.

        1. The Strand*

          Not to mention that doing it for the tax receipt would be pretty dumb. When I had a lot more time on my hands, I made a bit of dough from the books dumped by local college libraries and professors, reselling them online.

    4. notfunny.*

      Great – I’m hoping to start volunteering with the Prison Book Program this month! Are any dictionaries accepted (do they need to be very recent or are older ones ok too)?

    5. Oryx*

      As the former prison librarian from #5, I just have to say thank you to all of you that volunteer for these various programs. I had virtually $0 budget so it was so helpful knowing the inmates had other means of getting books to read.

  11. LBK*

    #1 – I’m erring heavily on the side of the OP here based on the fact that the manager did this scolding via email. I can’t picture a good manager with valid complaints raising them via email when we know for a fact he’s close enough to be in earshot, so it would take 2 seconds to walk over and do it in person (ie the right way). And why isn’t it within his own realm of authority to come over and ask everyone to keep it down? Why go through the supervisor for something this simple?

    I’m curious if he’s a new manager overall or just a new manager at this company, because this feels like someone who’s awkwardly trying to figure out how to handle his new power – thinking he needs to be strict to appear managerial but isn’t comfortable doing it to someone’s face yet.

    1. Bleu*

      Or, you know, I’ve had jobs where it was perfectly normal to send people home if there wasn’t work. Those were my first kinds of jobs — like in fast food, or in a big box retail store. Heck, it was true even at a call center.

      I mean, it’s not clear to me at all that these aren’t the types of positions where the hourly people are sent home in times like that. If it is a place like that, and he’s hearing them chatter and laugh, then yeah, shooting OP an email makes perfect sense if it’s not the noise itself that is the issue but the fact that there are too many people on the floor (or whatever the equivalent is). I was taken aback that the first thing the OP did was jump to the conclusion that this was a threat to cut pay, when it might not have been, or not intended to be, or he’s not familiar with how hourly work is treated in this office.

      If they really are entering data and all need to be there (or this is a place where hourly workers really do work full time, regardless), then OP needs to talk with the manager about what the real issue is. As many people have said, non-work chatter has a way of being much more distracting in an office than people engaged in it seem to realize, and perhaps they could just tone it down.

      1. Bleu*

        (OP seems to believe the manager is threatening to basically cut their pay as punishment for non-work talk. That to me seems a highly adversarial first interpretation of his action, which can have several perfectly reasonable explanations, and I think that as OP reports to this person it’s borderline dangerous to automatically assume the worst or the extreme.)

        1. LBK*

          I agree with Who Watches the Watcher’s? below, though – the fact that it’s such an extreme interpretation suggests to me that it would be way out of sync with the office norms to send people home, not that the OP is trying to be adversarial.

        1. Ineloquent*

          If I need to ask someone to stop doing something their doing, or to point out a relatively minor mistake, I prefer email. It documents and is more private, so I don’t need to be verbally admonishing Joe for failing to file something correctly. I don’t know if I’m wrong or not, but I prefer to praise audibly and correct privately.

      2. Who Watches the Watcher's?*

        IDK though. The fact the OP took the managers comment as a threat to cut pay makes me think they’re not in a job/position where it’s normal to send people home b/c of lack of work.

        I would hope that if that was a thing for their jobs, they would know about it ahead of time like Alison said. And also then not be shocked to get that kind of comment from their manager.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        Well yeah, I see your point. But some businesses get busy in spurts throughout the day. My work gets slow certain days/times of the month, but it could pick up at any moment. And, I need to be here because I’m the only other person other than my two managers that has Admin rights to our database, and often one of them is out or they’re both in meetings. So, while I see it normal for businesses that have generally predictable slow times, that’s not always feasable. And, I’d have an absolute cow if they suddenly decided to make me part-time because we encounter slow periods here and there.

      4. Ann*

        “Or, you know, I’ve had jobs where it was perfectly normal to send people home if there wasn’t work. Those were my first kinds of jobs — like in fast food, or in a big box retail store. Heck, it was true even at a call center.”

        Yes, this! I thought exactly this when I read OP1’s letter. I’ve worked retail, in food service, and at a call center and it was typical to be sent home is there was little or no work. In fact, the call center I worked in was unionized, which meant we still got paid for our shift if we were sent home – so it’s possible he doesn’t even realize that his words could be construed as threatening peoples take home pay.

      5. LBK*

        I think it’s pretty unreasonable to expect an office to be dead silent all day whenever anyone is doing work. I agree that long discussions with a lot of people can be distracting, but it’s also just kind of part of working with other people that there will be background noise. You have to learn to deal with it if you’re going to have a career that involves being in an office.

        I also think the “people are talking = there isn’t enough work to do = people should be sent home” logic is a gigantic leap because it assumes that people can’t multitask and that the amount of work will remain light all day. Working in retail (an industry where it’s common to cut people on slow days), it was normal to have big rushes around 11AM and 6PM. If the options were cutting half our staff after the morning rush and screwing ourselves for the evening rush vs. keeping people and understanding that might leave people hanging around chatting in between the rushes, the latter seems obviously preferable to me.

        Finally, I can’t see a way the boss’s email can be interpreted that doesn’t suggest he thinks his employees should be robots doing literally nothing but working from the minute they enter the door until they leave. It’s insane micromanaging. If that’s not what he meant, he should’ve done this as an in-person conversation rather than an email edict, like I said.

    2. Perse's Mom*

      Depending on the managerial dynamics at the company and/or the new manager’s experience, it might not be seen as appropriate for him to say anything to people who don’t report directly to him. So he says something to their boss instead, expecting it to filter down.

      This letter could have been about my office and my department – we chat on and off throughout the day, but it provides a boost to morale and a sanity break even when we’re super busy. Despite the chatting, two members of this team were nominated for company-wide MVP last year, so we must be doing something right.

    3. OOF*

      Or, the new manager chose to email because he didn’t want to make the whole group feel that they were being publicly chastised, and wanted only to bring it to the tram’s manager’s attention to be handled more thoughtfully.

      1. LBK*

        Asking your employees to do something isn’t chastising them. It’s literally your job as a manager: to manage.

    4. TootsNYC*

      I would do it in email to the team lead or the manager over the group.

      Why would I want to publicly chastise the entire group to their face, jumping right over their boss? That’s disrespectful to their boss, who is also my subordinate. And it’s kinda harsh for them, when their boss might be able to say in a less dramatic way, “let’s dial down the chitchat; I know we’re working, but it’s important that we not be seen as getting slack or not having enough to do.”

      I take my problem to my subordinate (partly because I’m coaching her as well) and she figures out the best way to dial down the chitchat in the group.
      And she hears the message, “if people don’t have enough to do, we won’t want to pay them, so watch out for that risk.”

      I don’t think this was the best way any boss has ever done those things; I’m not saying this manager’s choice of wording was the best. But I’d take my problem to my subordinate, and NOT to the people who report to her. She can do that.

  12. Jenna*

    Regarding post #4, would one use the same format if they started as an intern at a company and later got hired into a full-time position? I was an intern for ~4 months before my organization created a full-time position for me, and I’ve always wondered what’s the best way to note that. The duties are pretty much the same, but my role expanded with the full-time position.

    1. ThatGirl*

      I would use basically the same format, you can always explain in an interview that your role expanded when you got hired full time (which I think most people would assume, anyway).

  13. Bend & Snap*

    #2 I knew I was about to lose my job (due to a poorly soundproofed conference room) and basically used the remaining time to create handover documentation and tie off my projects. It was the right thing to do for the company, it helped prevent communications after I was let go asking about where things were etc., and it helped me mentally separate from the job.

    I would highly recommend that approach for anyone thinking of leaving.

    1. Hlyssande*

      And it probably made them think better of you after the fact.

      Sucks that you got let go, though.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      It’s easier to create hand-off documentation if you start doing it when you’re hired, too. I came into a job that had a lot of very exacting procedures, and my predecessor had made a whole file of hand-off stuff because she actually left before they hired anyone. I was so grateful for that–it really helped me get up to speed. In subsequent jobs, I started making procedurals when I started, which both gave me something to refer to as I learned tasks and provided coworkers or successors with instructions. I just kept them updated if anything changed.

  14. Mimmy*

    #4 – Ahh thank you for this Alison. I have one job on my resume where I was a volunteer for a year, then part-time temporary employee for a few months off-and-on the following year. Right now, I have it all combined as one entry on my resume:

    National Association of Teapot Makers–MyState chapter
    Project Assistant / Conference Assistant – 1/2009 – 10/2010

    Here’s the catch: The volunteer work was primarily creating, essentially from scratch, a special database to eventually be used (and still being used) by association members; the paid work was mostly to help with the annual conference (e.g. facilitating registration, putting together workshop presenter packets) along with occasionally helping the Continuing Education staff with other tasks. So it’s not quite as clean-cut as the OP’s situation.

    The other catch is that the paid work wasn’t straight through for the entire year – I worked for about 3 months with the conference, then later in the year, came back for another couple of months to help the CE staff again. I had combined everything to give the appearance of a steady position. Not lying per se, I don’t think–I just wasn’t sure how to lay it out because of the short gap between the two paid stints.

  15. notfunny.*

    #3: One suggestion – be SURE that you’re interested in working there, or at least learning more. There is no more efficient way to burn bridges than to turn down a second offer… Yeah.

  16. NarrowDoorways*

    #1 I am about to quit my second job because of this no talking crap.

    The upper management has gotten so extreme about people not being allowed to socialize even while working that it’s become impossible to even speak to coworkers about work issues without upper management swooping in to berate us.

    No, seriously. I can’t talk to my boss about work without her boss power walking over and telling us to break it up. And if we explain what we’re talking about, we’re either told we’re lying or still told to stop speaking. I can’t get anything done!

      1. neverjaunty*

        Looking around on the floor for my jaw. Seriously, “you’re lying”?

        I wonder if upper management is terrified you’re trying to unionize. Either way, good riddance to those losers.

        1. NarrowDoorways*

          Oh, but. We are in a Union.

          I wonder if I can bring this up to my rep as a form of harassment. I feel harassed!

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      NarrowDoorways: “Boss’sBoss, I need to talk to Boss about how to decorate the spouts on our NextHoliday run of teapots. It will take me about 5 minutes. I could also do it over email, but that will take approximately 2 hours of back and forth, and we need get started before lunch. May I have permission to talk to my boss about work?”
      Boss’sBoss (clapping hands over ears): “Nyah, nyah, I can’t hear you!”

  17. anon this time*

    I occasionally volunteer at a nonprofit called Inside Books Project. They’re based in Austin, TX and mail free books directly to people incarcerated in Texas prisons. There are similar organizations that donate books to prisoners directly (as opposed to donating to prison libraries). I’ll post a comment with a link to the IBP resource guide, which lists similar organizations.

    In my volunteer experience, the most popular/frequently requested categories of books are: dictionaries. Thesauruses. DIY law books. Textbooks of any kind, but especially Spanish language learning. Pulp fiction (mysteries, thrillers, scifi, fantasy). YA fiction, especially blockbuster series like the Twilight books. Erotica (great way to get rid of the 50 Shades books you got as a gag gift this year). History, especially Mexican history, WWII history, and Civil War history (or military history in general). LGBTQ books (fiction and nonfiction). African-American books (philosophy, theory, politics, history, etc).

    Check out if you have an analogous local organization. The people who write in are often extremely grateful for the chance to get new reading material, educate themselves, enjoy escapism, or keep up with the books that are cultural phenomena on the outside (Hunger Games, etc). Many have no family and no resources and are facing long, lonely sentences. I’ve really enjoyed being able to fulfill their requests and send them books that they are able to keep for good (or, as many people have said, donate to the prison library after reading them).

    1. Oryx*

      Erotica is popular among prisoners, yes, but most prisons won’t allow anything that sexually explicit.

  18. KatieBear*

    I have some free time and would love to organize a book drive to donate to both men and women’s prisons. I’ve written down every suggestion in the comments so far as a starting base. Could I get some more suggestions about books for both men and women’s preferences?

    I really respect the cross section of commenters here and think it would help. For example, I never would have thought of dictionaries! Or that Civil War and WW2 would be so popular.

    Thanks in advance to the most civilized and knowledgeable commenters I’ve ever encounter :)

  19. Hannah*

    #1: I get chatting while you work, but talking about your ideas, beliefs and different cultures? These are things you talk about with your family and friends/religious community, and it sounds like your team is very close, but are you sure this was really work appropriate chat? Could your boss have been reacting to the topic of your conversation in particular? When everyone knows each other really well it might seem fine, but to an outsider, these don’t seem like really “safe” topics to explore at work. What if talking about your beliefs and ideas makes other people uncomfortable?

    I would be really annoyed, personally, to hear my coworkers talking about anything like religion or politics or musing on any kind of cultural stereotypes when I’m basically a captive audience if I want to be at my desk working. It would be at best distracting and at worst might be offensive, or make me lose respect for someone for things I really didn’t need to know about them to be able to get along at work.

    1. Blurgle*

      I would be squirming if I had to listen to a group of people talk about their religion – even if I shared that religion.

      And I have to wonder if talking about “different cultures” is really more politically charged back-slapping – the old “we’re right about those so-and-sos and we know it, let’s be all smug and self-congratulatory, smug smug smug” – than any actual comparison of cultural norms.

  20. OP #4*

    Thanks for the advice re: volunteer and paid listing, Alison! That was the way I had it in my draft, but I just wanted to make sure, and I thought there must be others out there who had the same issue.

  21. Burkleigh*

    Related to #5–in graduate school, I volunteered with the Jail Library Group in Madison, Wisconsin. Whereas many prisons have a librarian on staff, the Dane County jails rely solely on volunteers to provide reading materials to the inmates. If anyone is interested in donating to the Jail Library Group, they will accept just about any paperback books and magazines, used or new. Any items not sent to the jails go into a biannual book sale that helps fund the group.

    Some of the most common requests when I volunteered were dictionaries (regular, Scrabble, and bilingual), rules for card games, popular YA novels (Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games), popular fiction (Stephen King, James Patterson, etc., any books that are currently getting a lot of media attention), urban fiction, vocational/career books, poetry, Spanish-language materials, and men’s-interest and women’s-interest magazines.

    Here is their website, which has a wish list for the most popular items: http://slisweb.lis.wisc.edu/~jail/donate.html

  22. Lionness*

    OP 1, I feel for you. I manage a team that is offsite from the rest of our group. We have a General Manager who we do not report to on our site (our GM is actually at a different site with the rest of our department). GM at our site regularly complains to me that my team is online during work hours. I’ve tried to explain that our work is very busy but with occasional (once or twice a day) breaks of about 3-5 minutes. Not nearly enough time to do something else productive, but enough time to quickly check FB. I have a highly performing team and I am -not- going to criticize this.

    He refuses to get it. We have this conversation weekly. I take solace in the fact that our director gets it, our GM gets it, our VP gets it.

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