my manager is terrible at PowerPoint, having employees’ backs against racist clients, and more

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

1. My manager is terrible at PowerPoint

My manager creates PowerPoints that are very bad. Is this likely to hurt us in clients’ eyes, or am I nitpicking? The presentations are visually cluttered, filled with mismatched font pairings and cheesy stock photos, and spattered with inconsistent capitalization. This would be fine if they were internal presentations, but they’re exclusively for clients and prospective clients. Our website is similarly overwhelming and outdated, but because it was clearly professionally made, my manager thinks it’s good enough that it won’t hurt us.

He’s brilliant, of the overlooking-the-mundane variety. I used to make the presentations, but since sales have been down, he’s taken over significant parts of my role. (That’s a separate problem.) I’m afraid that it looks unprofessional, that our prospects will think, “You guys can’t create a professional-looking powerpoint, why would I trust you to create a $100k Specialized Tea-Pouring Analysis?”

We’re a nerdy company, so it’s probably not the end of the world, but is there anything I can do other than pointing out typos? Do you think it’s hurting us?

I can’t say from here whether it’s hurting you (they might not be so terrible, you might do the sort of work where clients don’t care, who knows), but it’s certainly a possibility that it is.

I’d say this: “You know, PowerPoint trends have really changed in recent years, and everything I’ve read says people increasingly judge them harshly if they don’t do X, Y, and Z. I actually like doing these — could I hold on to them as part of my role?” (You could skip that first sentence entirely and just use the second if you think it’ll go over better.)

2. Having my employees’ backs against racist clients

As the only white person in my office, I sometimes run into white clients who, for vague or microaggressive reasons, don’t want to work with my employees or partners; they want to deal with me. (“You don’t seem to understand English,” to a native-English-speaking employee is a classic, for instance.)

I let my partners handle their own clients, of course, but with employees I take an active role. Generally, I tell them that my employees are excellent (they are) and that I don’t have time to deal with them directly, and tell my employees that they have my permission to get strict with the clients, right on up to the point of saying “you can go hire someone else, then” if they want or need to. Most often, the employees handle the racism aspect of it rather than me doing it; if they do raise it, the client generally denies (“I have [race] friends!”) and then is apologetic and less unpleasant for a while, so that works reasonably well.

Is there a better way to handle this? I generally expect my employees to deal with a certain amount of unpleasantness from clients (albeit with free reign to be unpleasant right back, if need be) because that’s part of the nature of the profession. For this reason, when the employee feels confident in handling the microaggressions with my back-up, I’ve been encouraging that–but should I just be jumping on the phone with these clients, making it clear I know exactly what they really mean when they say I just “seem more competent,” and firing them?

Possibly relevant: many such clients are severely impoverished and we’re providing services to them via government assistance, which can be hard to get again if the client is fired–this is the source of a lot of my hesitance about jumping to that option.

I’d love to hear people of color weigh in on this, but my initial thought is that the best thing you can do here would be to ask your employees how they’d like you to support them in this situation and let them tell you what they prefer. In doing this, I’d make it clear that you’re willing to call out clients yourself and/or fire them, since your staff may not know that that’s on the table.

Given your last paragraph, I can see why you’re hesitant to cut ties with clients altogether, but that might be an option that you save for particularly egregious or repeat offenders. Or you might give them the option of firing themselves, by making it clear that a requirement of working with your organization is that they treat your staff respectfully and explaining that if they decline to do that, you’ll be unable to help them.

But ask your staff what they’d like; they’re going to give you the best answers on this.

3. Should I warn another organization about a terrible hire?

I am a director of a department in a mid-size city in an academic library. I inherited a really bad department manager. Cersei was a charming compulsive liar. She did not take direction. She did not complete her work in an accurate and timely manner. She blamed others for her shortcomings and lied about work completed, reassigned her work to inexperienced students, did not reply to email requests, and was rude to researchers and our friends group board. She was on a year and a half PIP. During that time, she filed multiple unsubstantiated greivances. (These were a time suck) In the end, we found almost $4,000 in donation checks un-deposited in her desk and a few hundred dollars in cash still in the donation envelopes, as well as valuable materials not returned to their secure location. (It was her responsibility to deposit these monies and return items to their appropriate secure locations.) She resigned the day she would have been terminated. I was at a conference, and the HR director and my supervisor held the termination meeting and made the choice to allow her to resign. This all happened around two years ago.

Today I discovered that she was hired a month ago in a position of responsibility in an academic library in a nearby private college where I teach as an adjunct.

I have concerns. It is a small world. My dean at that school has had negative interactions with Cersei at my library. Do I have any obligation to inform my dean that Cersie was now working at her college library?

Everyone deserves a second chance, yes? The hiring manager did not call or email me for a reference. Perhaps this is a case of “not my circus, not my monkeys.” On the other hand, if she has not changed during this intervening time, I have great pity for her manager (who I do not know) who should be extra alert for issues during her probationary time. Do I do anything? Nothing?

Ooof. Ultimately, I think nothing. If you were very close to the dean or the hiring manager, then yes, I’d speak up. But assuming that’s not the case, I’m coming down on the side of “not your problem” and also “no reason to poke at a possibly litigious former employee” (which I’m extrapolating from the multiple unsubstantiated grievances).

They should have done more due diligence and checked references (especially if this is a field where it’s standard to have year-and-a-half-long PIPs — whoa).

4. Surprise travel for work, every week

I have a question concerning my long-term boyfriend’s employment situation. For the record, he is less than five years out of college and this is his first professional position.

He works in culinary development for vegan food startup, a role that he previously had no experience in before taking this job. He started with the company by providing temporary help through another firm (think Task Rabbit), and was eventually brought on as a full-time employee with excellent pay and benefits, although he never had an official interview or received a job description or title. He started the position last summer.

Since then, he has traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and abroad for his job, usually with no more than a day or two of notice. He’s usually gone about two and a half weeks per month, and since taking this job, he’s basically become a traveling chef. He was never given any indication that travel would be part of the job when he first started, and when I’ve urged him to discuss this with his company, they tell him that it’s just the nature of working at a startup. I’ve also worked for a startup so I understand that job duties are rarely set in stone, but this has been going on for nearly a year and it looks like it won’t be stopping any time soon. Is it fair for his employer to make him travel so extensively if it was never mentioned with the job offer? Also, is it normal for an employer to require international travel with virtually no notice? All this unexpected travel has placed an enormous strain on our relationship, and I want to make sure that I’m not in the wrong for thinking that this is all pretty absurd. What do you think?

It’s not fair of them to spring this on him without mentioning it before he accepted the job — assuming that they knew then, which they may not have. But it’s the position he’s in, and he’s unlikely to be able to change it just by arguing fairness. If this is the job they need done, this is the job. That means that he needs to decide if he wants the job under these conditions or not. It’s probably not an option to keep the job minus the travel, since that it sounds like he’s raised the concern and not gotten anywhere (although if he hasn’t been clear with them that he would like to cut back, he should try that).

But is he upset about the situation? It’s clear that you are, but if he’s not, then the question of whether the employer is being unfair is less relevant than how you want to navigate what this means for your relationship.

5. Disclosing a pregnancy to my manager ahead of my start date

A company made me an employment offer when I was 21 weeks pregnant, I disclosed the pregnancy to the recruiter/HR and we hashed out the details of leave. I accepted the offer and have a start date in two weeks. I am now visibly pregnant and was not at the time I was interviewed by my direct supervisor. I asked HR but they didn’t confirm whether they passed the news to my supervisor and said I could reach out to her if I wanted prior to my start date.

We don’t have a pre-existing relationship and haven’t spoken since my interview. The suggestions I’ve gotten range from asking to meet for coffee and disclosing then, to sending an email or making a phone call to disclose, to meeting in person on the first day to disclose. Primarily my worry is that if she sees me visibly pregnant before I speak to her, I may come off as having pulled a bait and switch. On the other hand, I wonder if spending a special email or making a specific phone call to disclose is making the situation seem like it’s a bigger deal than it is. Primarily I wanted to disclose as a courtesy and for the chance to discuss PTO and flex time for routine doctor appointments. What is the best way to communicate this information while starting on the right foot in this new employment relationship?

I definitely wouldn’t ask her to coffee just to disclose this; it’s making too big a deal out of it and may be annoying if she has a busy schedule. I’d just send an email that says something like this: “Hi Jane, I’m so excited to be starting in two weeks, and wanted to touch base to see if there’s anything I should know about logistics for that first day. Also, I wanted to make sure that HR passed along to you that I’m X weeks pregnant. I talked with them about this at the offer stage, but realized that I didn’t know if they’d shared it with you, and I didn’t want you to be surprised on my first day if they hadn’t!”

{ 249 comments… read them below }

  1. Fawnling*

    In my IT organization it’s definitely looked down on as unprofessional if the Powerpoint Presentation and website looks like crap. There are so many great, free templates (for PP and website) that can make it look more professional, and I agree with Alison to bring it up to him in a tactful way. It may not be losing customers but I can guarantee that it is not making the best impression on what the business has to offer. Even people without design experience will pick up on that.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      I remember when powerpoint first became commonly used, about 1 in 3 presentations was eye-bleedingly bad. Animated fonts, images and text spinning into the slide, terrible colour combinations, fonts that were too small, images that were the wrong resolution, or unreadable because they were designed to be printed, multi-coloured picture backgrounds…. After a couple of years, the novelty of spinny fonts wore off, and people began to figure out what worked and what didn’t, and it settled down.

      I have no design experience, but if a slide is badly enough designed, I will be distracted from its content. Too small fonts, bad colour choices and gratuitous animation are the things that probably bother me the most. If someone’s trying to sell me something, it may make a difference.

      It’s like marking papers – trying to read an assignment in green comic sans font is annoying enough that the marker is not going to be charitably inclined towards you while marking. (And yes, I’ve marked papers in green comic sans).

      1. Merry and Bright*

        I apologise but the papers printed in green comic sans made me smile. Attracting attention for the wrong reason. Could be future novelty style tesume/CV writers. Ugh.

        1. Phyllis B*

          I keep hearing references to comic sans. I am not familiar with that font. Could someone provide an example? (Inquiring minds want to know!! :-)

      2. The Cosmic Avenger*

        But see, even though I may judge someone (quite harshly) for that style choice, I still recognize that it’s a choice, and not an invalid one. Misspellings, mismatched fonts, and messy layouts are not choices, they’re indicative of a lack of attention to detail, and for that I will not only judge, I will be very wary of that person’s work product. I have tried to become less judgmental about misspellings, but if it’s part of a presentation or sales pitch, I feel like that kind of product deserves extremely thorough proofreading and vetting.

        Of course, it depends on the industry, but there are few where the end product can be sloppy and inaccurate, and still of the same value as a very highly polished product.

        1. OP #1*

          Weirdly he’s actually quite attentive to detail (so no misspellings), he’s just not visual at all, so he can’t tell it’s bad design. No novelty stuff or spinning multicolored Papyrus, just things like the visual weight is off, there’s two shades of blue that don’t quite coordinate, or two sans serif fonts that don’t do each other any favors (because he doesn’t have the fonts to use the template I gave him, and he hasn’t let me install them for him).

          And he genuinely thinks that this is good enough people won’t mind, or even really notice.

            1. LQ*

              This is dated, but I’m not offended by it. Is your company doing something that didn’t exist as a Thing when websites like this were cool and new? Is your company doing website design? Something that really needs to be bleeding edge? This sort of feels like a back third site to me. If the information was findable and up to date? I’m not going to mind. Is your industry a more conservative/older industry? If so it might be entirely fine.
              (If you do any kind of web design or development I’d be eyebrow raising, if you do something that has only risen to popularity in the last 2 years I’d be eyebrow raising, if you are a company that has been around since olden times? Whatever, if this is your worst problem it’s a very good day.)

              1. OP #1*

                We support Teapot Marketing at major corporations. We’ve been around a couple decades, but our services are bleeding-edge. Most of our competitors have much more up-to-date websites, but we’re a smaller firm competing against very fancy companies.

                1. LQ*

                  In this case I think it makes a lot more sense to focus on templates. Being able to use them to quickly update the look and feel of things to make them modern, the website, being able to use something that can have a new template applied easily rather than building a whole new website. And if your boss hasn’t see the power of magically updating an entire powerpoint through templates when you don’t add your own text boxes and such for each one that is worth showing. It could be a way to appear bleeding edgier without having to bleed for it.

                  The idea that you could rebrand everything over a few days (or hours depending on what you have) rather than a year might make him perk up a bit if you are really supposed to be bleeding edge.

                  (That said, don’t make the job harder by using custom fonts that have to be installed on the computer, if you can bake them into your tool, fine, if you have to touch the computer, skip it.)

                2. Dynamic Beige*

                  @LQ — I personally believe that if you have branding then all your marketing should reflect it. I have made templates specifically based on someone’s website because then it’s a unified message. A big issue I come up against is that there are print designers and web designers, but they also don’t know how to use PowerPoint correctly to make a template.

                  The problem is that even when you give someone a properly formatted template with instructions and sample layouts, they will still not follow it. *sigh* Even if OP #1 does that, she will still have to give it a quick once-over after Manager has done with it to fix whatever things he has done. In a case like this, if they do a lot of pitching and have a credentials deck, it would be a good idea to make a good version of it with all the case studies/whatever and then customise each presentation from the Original Deck — whether by deleting things that aren’t needed or just hiding them.

                  Your point about non-standard fonts is spot-on. Even if you can embed the font, some companies have software that will not allow anything to be installed on their computers. Fonts are software, they get installed. Embedded fonts may get installed temporarily, but they still get installed (which also may be illegal due to licencing). Arial may not be as exciting as Gotham, but damnit, Arial will be on 99% of all computers.

              2. Meg Murry*

                Yes, this has shifted my opinion from the header of “my boss is terrible at Powerpoint” to “my boss is only so-so at Powerpoint while I am awesome and he is hitting on all of my pet peeves”. Same with the website – yes it’s dated, but unless you are selling web design services I care far far more about whether the links on it are correct and up-to-date and I can find the information I need than whether it is blocky and doesn’t look super modern.

                As an alternative, can you point out that you noticed a couple of typos, why doesn’t he upload it onto the shared drive and you can correct them for him? Then you can fix the shades of blue and font variations.

                Then create some templates for him, using normal, everyday fonts that are installed on both of your computers and offer those to him.

            2. StellsBells*

              OP – is your boss a CPA? I ask because my spouse used to be and so. many. accountants. were terrible about this stuff. Drove him bonkers. It was a smaller firm, so he was able to get himself put in charge of the website and proofing all client comms before they went out (in addition to his accounting responsibilities).

            3. Creag an Tuire*

              Maybe it’s because your example is a CPA firm, or maybe I’m your boss, but I don’t see the problem. The site seems fine to me. Unless your problem is that he’s using a style more apropos to a CPA firm or a law firm or whatever when you’re trying to give off a “nerdy” tech-company vibe?

          1. LQ*

            Unless they are your Company Fonts, use a font that comes preinstalled. There are plenty that are fine. And if that is breaking the template and creating the issue then fix the template. It will also make it easier if you have to go to other computers, share the presentation, etc.

            Have you had people who aren’t designers look at this to see if they notice the difference? And how are they presented? If you are (please don’t) handing out the powerpoints then barely different colors of blue won’t be noticeable on the black and white print out. If it is on a mediocre projector in a large well lit room then no one is going to notice there either.

            1. myswtghst*

              Have you had people who aren’t designers look at this to see if they notice the difference?

              Not the OP, but this is something I do all the time! My brother works for the same large company I do (in a completely different role / department / etc…), so I often have him give my presentations a look because in many instances, he’s a lot like my intended audience. Plus, I can be super nit-picky (in part because I am the primary editor for my team) so it’s helpful to have someone a little further removed and a lot less picky tell me if I’m being too fussy. :)

          2. neverjaunty*

            Maybe that’s the way to phrase it to the boss, if he understands that visual intelligence and graphic design aren’t where his talents lie; that there ARE people who care about mismatching fonts and think it’s a problem, just like HE would think it is a problem if a teapot came with a plastic handle instead of a porcelain one even if most others wouldn’t care much. (Obviously, substitute whatever thing-boss-notices-and-thinks-it’s-important there.) There are people whose entire skillset lies in making PowerPoint pretty, why not let them handle it so he doesn’t have to?

          3. Sadsack*

            Well, you noticed. Other people in the office probably notice. So his clients probably notoce, too. Did you tell him that? Maybe you should tell him that it isn’t about your preference, but that all these issues can be distracting to his audience. Good luck!

          4. myswtghst*

            I know others have mentioned some of this, but I think you can address some of those issues in a few different ways.

            Give him a template which uses fonts he already has installed and which is easy to use, to minimize the weird default font replacement issues. Then, offer to proofread for him because it’s been shown it’s really hard for people to catch their own typos / mistakes when they’ve been working on a document (link to follow), and if possible, fix the colors. Then, cut him a break on the stuff most people won’t notice.

            Focus on the things you can control / change (like the template), then share one or two suggestions (based on whatever type of backup he prefers – a story like the Steph Curry one or data about how presentation impacts customer perception), and see how it goes.

        2. SL #2*

          There was recently a big article on ESPN about how Nike lost Stephen Curry’s endorsement contract because their pitch PPT to him featured another prominent player’s name in one of the mock-ups. According to Curry’s dad, that was the moment they all knew he wouldn’t be re-signing with them because it was clear that Nike didn’t value him enough to even proofread the PPT before the presentation.

          1. "Nike didn’t value him enough ...."*

            I’m sure Nike proofread a version of the presentation, obviously the wrong version. Heads rolled after the meeting, I’m certain. I’m not excusing it.

            I read that article too. The article mentioned Nike was not “into” Steph anyway, the presentation was just the final nail in the proverbial coffin. The failed presentation was just a self fulling prophesy. “Nike doesn’t value me. How do I know? They gave a me presentation that featured another prominent player’s name in one of the mock-ups.”

            1. Dynamic Beige*

              Thank you both for posting this! This is exactly the kind of thing I needed to have because I often get asked what the ROI is on a presentation (in other words, justify why hiring you will make us money). And, to be honest, I can’t. I can’t promise that a better deck will make anyone money, there are far too many variables at play in a presentation. I can only promise that it won’t turn people off what they’re saying or be distracting because it’s so awful. But this is a stellar example of that!

      3. Annie Moose*

        As long as you abide by the seven-by-seven rule, you’re usually good with PowerPoints anyway. That is, no more than seven words per line, and no more than seven lines per slide. If you can’t fit it all in, either rewrite until it fits, cut something out, or use two slides.

        1. KR*

          And don’t be scared to put things on separate slides even if they’re the same topic! It’ll make it easier to read!

          1. Koko*

            Also, don’t be afraid to have a bunch of stuff in your notes that isn’t on the screen. An engaging Powerpoint presentation is one where the audience is listening to the speaker just as much as they would be if there were no slides on the screen, not one where the presenter is just reading the slides aloud to the group and probably could have just given them a printed packet instead of bothering with a presentation for a presentation’s sake.

            You might wish to some key figures in brief bullets, but you don’t need to reproduce entire data tables (which will likely be impossible to read for most) and you don’t need to write out the entire context for the figures – they can find out that, “50% QOQ lift” means “our Q1 sales were at $50,000, but in Q2 we really outdid ourselves and sold $75,000 worth of product!” that from listening to you. If you’re going to write out everything you plan to say, there’s a very good chance that your meeting is unnecessary and you should just do your employees a favor and cancel the pointless meeting, send them your memo/brief, and let them have some of their day back.

    2. Sarahnova*

      Unless the company has very scarce skills or a reputation for being extremely good at what they do, the bad Powerpoints are hurting them. Maybe not crippling them, no, but even the least visually oriented clients are going to acquire an impression of sloppiness, even if only unconsciously. We’re all so exposed to good design these days that bad design gets less of a pass.

      1. OP #1*

        “…even the least visually oriented clients are going to acquire an impression of sloppiness, even if only unconsciously. We’re all so exposed to good design these days that bad design gets less of a pass.”

        That is exactly my concern.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          If you have a decent relationship, definitely speak up. Maybe soften it by saying (little white lie) a designer friend looked it over and had some suggestions? Might be the whimpy way, but it feels more comfortable to me (I’m bad at speaking up especially if I think someone’s feelings could get hurt)

    3. Short Geologist*

      As an industry scientist who sits through vendor presentations all the time, and who regularly goes to industry conferences, and works on proposals, I would absolutely think less of a presentation like that. ALL the presentations I’ve seen at least follow the basic PowerPoint formatting and have only a few typos. It doesn’t matter if your boss is “brilliant”. There’s a horde of underemployed PhDs who are brilliant and are trying to sell their new tech.

      A presentation that’s all over the place, style-wise, and has numerous typos and random extraneous clip art, says to me “my work will be sloppy and you won’t trust the end product”. Next!

      1. OP #1*

        Thankfully no clip art, just stock photos, and not many typos (he’s pretty attentive to detail). The things I’m worried about are bad visual weight, or two fonts that don’t help each other sharing a slide as header & text, or midnight blue paired with navy blue. Subtler things, that are then harder to manage up to fix.

    4. Construction Safety*

      And for all that is holy, do not throw a paragraph up there & then read it to the audience.

      1. Former Diet Coke Addict*

        Is there anything worse than a PowerPoint presentation that consists of nothing but a presenter reading every single word off every single slide…and then seeing the ticker at the bottom read “2 of 150?” No. There is not.

        1. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

          I did an online training for me HIPAA CHPA certification training that was exactly as you described. One of the most painful weekends of my life.

        2. S0phieChotek*

          Overall I agree I don’t like it. (and 2 of 150? Yikes)

          But on the other hand, if the presenter mumbles and does not speak clearly, then having the words typed out is better.

        3. many bells down*

          I took a class with some much-younger students about 3 years ago, and the PowerPoint they designed for a project was JUST like this. They took an entire 3-page paper and tried to fit it onto 3 slides. In neon green and bright red cursive font, over watermarked background images. I couldn’t read a word of it. I thought they taught PP in school now! I’ve got a copy of it saved because it’s SO bad I have to share it for people to believe it.

        4. One of the Sarahs*

          There’s one thing worse… when it’s all 12 point Comic Sans on the slide, in 1 block of text, with flashing animation and AAAAARRRGGGHH!!! I am having flashbacks…

          1. E*

            My high school teacher once made us create a Powerpoint, and required animation of some sort on each slide. I cringe thinking back now to how bad that must have been to watch.

      2. Cambridge Comma*

        I’ve seen more presenters who do powerpoint karaoke than presenters who don’t, unfortunately.

    5. Three Thousand*

      True, just the fact that there are so many free templates and DIY design tools out there really makes bad design inexcusable, especially from a nerdy company. If someone didn’t know their PowerPoints didn’t have to look that bad, I’d be wondering what other common knowledge they somehow lacked, or what else they thought was beneath their notice. Or worse, I’d wonder if they even realized how bad it looked.

    6. K.*

      At my old job I used to get PowerPoint presentations to edit just for content, but I ended up re-designing them 95% of the time – and I’m not a designer. There were so many “let me cram ALL the design elements onto one slide” presentations that looked ridiculous and amateurish, and I would think “I just can’t let the company go into a client presentation like this, we’ll look stupid.” It was embarrassing.

      1. Arjay*

        I’m not a designer either, but neat, clean, and legible will take you pretty far in the right direction.

    7. Dynamic Beige*

      I’m probably going to dox myself but: I have been doing PowerPoint presentations for corporate clients for a long time now. Everything from full storyboarding and design to just taking the USB stick and running whatever you’ve got on it. Let’s just say I have a different perspective on this.

      I completely agree that a bad presentation makes you look bad. I have sat through (since it’s my job) more bad presentations in just about every industry you can name than the average person will ever be subjected to. But in dealing with the clients either directly or in passing certain themes emerge.

      1. All PowerPoint is bad. There are people who say that all presentations are bad, so why do them? Why bother to clean them up or put time or effort into them? So bad that I recently ran across someone who did a bad presentation *on purpose* as an ironic “meta” statement about Kickstarter videos. Uh, no, you just looked bad and while I was interested in your project, once I saw your presentation, I was no longer interested in giving you my money.

      2. It’s my one chance to be creative! People associate “creativity” with “visual art”. They don’t see their jobs (or their lives) as constant acts of creation. This leads to the problem that they don’t want their one chance for creativity pried away from them because it’s their one time they can play! Generally speaking, these same people are extremely proud of their presentation and hate for it to be modified in any way. This same pride extends to people who have done their presentation for them. I once had a client whose teenage son had done his presentation. It had red text and a yellow background. It was based around some song by Nightwish, the lyrics were on one slide and everything. Papa’s buttons were practically flying off his vest he was so impressed by what his son had done. Oh, and this was for a medical conference where he was presenting his research to peers in his field. IME, doctors are the worst offenders.

      3. Some companies mandate that the person giving the presentation do the PowerPoint. When you’ve been told to do your own presentation and you haven’t been properly trained in design or communication, unless you’re some kind of savant, it’s pretty much a guarantee that you are going to make a mess.

      4. Unless you have someone in your office who is very skilled, no one wants to spend money on presentations. Companies will spend a fortune on branding or a website or a glossy brochure but because they can DIY their presentations, why would they pay anyone to do them professionally? In some cases, people are astonished that there are actual PowerPoint professionals. When I told someone what I did, the response was an incredulous “and you can make money at that?” I do more than “just” PowerPoint. Illustrator, Photoshop, I even use 3DS Max to create some artwork for specialty applications. Hell, I even proofread and I have a design degree.

      5. Even if someone has decided they do want to spend the money and put in the effort and even hire someone, they are not willing to take the advice given. I’ve made suggestions and been rebuffed with a “I know what I’m doing!/this is how I want it!” OK, then. Or I’ve created custom artwork and animations that get messed up because the client thought they had the mad skillz to change it themselves… only to learn differently.

      PowerPoint is a deceptively simple program. But underneath that, there is a lot of complexity that only the user can control. People forget that the presentation isn’t about *them*, it’s about their audience. The audience is passive, they don’t control what information they get or when, that’s up to the presenter. It takes training and practice to be a good presenter, just as it takes training and practice to design good presentations. Time and effort that, frankly, most people don’t have because they are doing whatever their job is. So they leave their presentation to the last minute, stay up until 3am working on it and then toss it off with a “all PowerPoint is bad!” when their output doesn’t live up to their expectations of it.

      The really funny thing is that when a presentation is good, no one mentions the visuals. People get jazzed about Apple keynotes where they release news of their goodies, but I have never — not once — heard someone say “oh, and their slide deck was *terrible*!” Only the bad stuff is ever commented on, and held up as examples of why PowerPoint is Evil and Must Be Destroyed(tm). The places where the money is spent and the time is put in — car launches, for example — no one ever notices the visuals because they are doing what they’re supposed to, putting the spotlight on the people/products on stage.

      1. OP #1*

        I completely agree. These presentations aren’t as bad as Dr. Nightwish, nothing worth commenting on at dinnertime if I were on the receiving end, but they don’t seamlessly support his points. Which is sad, because he’s an excellent speaker with interesting things to say. (I have a lot of respect for my manager. I hope that’s coming through in my letter and comments.) He just doesn’t have the same design skills as he has speaking skills (problem #3 in your list!), and it’s causing a problem that he doesn’t fully recognize.

        1. Dynamic Beige*

          Dr. Nightwish! I think I’m going to steal that as a name for a character in a novel… or my fanfic sequel to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog. Dr. Nightwish’s PowerPoint Karaoke. I’ll have to get some pyro for that.

          You know what’s really crazy here? Your manager has nailed something that most people don’t — public speaking. A lot of the “let’s put everything I’m going to say on the slide” stuff happens because people are scared crapless to have to speak in front of people and they don’t take the time to really prepare/rehearse what they’re going to say. They read off the slide “cue cards” and then they’re just wooden, robotic, boring. I once had a speaker who had no slides at all, he had no script. He just stood on stage with a baby spotlight and spoke. You could have heard a pin drop, everyone was glued to their seats. When you know your stuff and you practice, amazing things are possible. That’s what everyone loves about TED. People have to petition to speak there. They have to stick to their time. They have months to prepare and hone what they’re going to say and how they’re going to do it. That amount of time and commitment is not really feasible for everyone in all businesses. But imagine if it was for more people.

      2. KellsBells*

        Longtime lurker here–had to comment because of Nightwish! That had to have been hilariously painful to sit through. :)

          1. VX34*

            + Another for Nightwish! There are far worse bands they could have used! Who wouldn’t want symphonic female fronted metal in their PowerPoint??

        1. I'm a Little Teapot*

          I’m dying to know which song. One of the mermaid/siren ones? The one with the evil circus music? “Nymphomaniac Fantasia”? So many wonderfully inappropriate possibilities!

          1. Dynamic Beige*

            “The one with the evil circus music?”

            OK, I’m going to have to go spelunking in my archives to see if I still have that job somewhere and look it up. It never occurred to me back in the day to Google the band, I was just so, so gobsmacked by the whole thing. Whatever it was, Dr. Nightwish said that he thought the lyrics fit perfectly with (whatever it was that he does/did). It was about a decade ago, so I may not have it. Unfortunately, even if I do, the unwritten rules about this kind of stuff forbid me from distributing it in any way.

        1. Dynamic Beige*

          Seriously, you wouldn’t want it! But also, I think that’s the first time ever that anyone has envied me what I do… which I find somewhat odd given how many people have literally sneered at me when I’ve said what I do. I’m not exaggerating, the disdain is palpable from certain corners.

          To be honest, presentation work is something I fell into after college. I needed a job. I got a job doing slides (yes, actual slides! Little pieces of film in mounts!) and it just kept rolling from there. Slides gave way to digital presentations. Before PowerPoint was bundled into Office95 (? I think, might have been 97) it existed only on the Mac. I first saw PPT3 on a Mac. Until then, if you wanted slides done, you had to get a professional to do them because the software and hardware required were insanely expensive. Businesses need Word. They need Excel. They need an e-mail program and when you buy Office, you get all of those things and it’s like you get PowerPoint for free!

          And like I said, it just evolved from there. I’ve had to teach myself new stuff as I needed to learn it and I’ve been freelancing for over 15 years now. I’ve gotten to the bottom of why PPT does $X and figured it out. I’ve cleaned more slides than I even want to think about. Boy, could I tell you some tales of late nights/all-nighters and otherwise crazy deadlines and working conditions. Right now, the industry is undergoing some changes and I’m trying to get clients directly — not work for agencies as much — but it’s hard. I wish that I could say that work just flows towards me and I get to pick and choose my projects, but I don’t. Feast or famine. How do you get a job when you’ve never had a job and how can you prove to someone they need your help when they think they’re doing just fine on their own like OP #1’s manager? *sigh*

          1. OP #1*

            Dynamic Beige, I wish I could email you directly. I’m fascinated by what you do, and I love your perspective on it. If you’d like and Alison’s willing, perhaps she can give you my email address so we can connect. I’d love to have your business cards in my back pocket for when the subject comes up with contacts.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I try to avoid doing that because if I open up that possibility, it’s going to end up being more work than I want (because it won’t just be this one request to do it), but the LinkedIn group is a good place for this.

            2. Dynamic Beige*

              And I’d love for you to have my business cards in your back pocket! But, as AAM says, this is not the place for that. Perhaps one day you’ll find my stuff somewhere out there in the wilds of the Internet ;)

    8. Elizabeth West*

      I know when I was job hunting that sloppy materials–including a company website–would send me running in the opposite direction. It felt as though they couldn’t be arsed to care how they appeared. And in at least one case, it was due to a manager like this one, who insisted on writing the web copy himself even though they had a marketing department. :P

    9. NaoNao*

      I’m going out on a limb here, but I’ve worked in companies that provide proprietary, ‘bleeding edge’ services to clients (SEO, marketing, big data analysis, all using custom processes) and their presentations were consistently “off” and…no one seemed to care! The flash and jazz of the salesperson (a VP making high six figures) seemed to over ride the not-great PPTXs. Internal presentations for things like sales conferences (rah rah sessions to get employees excited) were often REALLY bad: clip art, art taken from Google with a *watermark still on it*, internet memes as illustrations, you name it. But people seemed to respond to it!
      I totally, 100% agree that a badly designed and executed PPTX will make me think much less of the company. But people who care about that may be, sadly, in the minority.

  2. Chocolate Teapot*

    4. Whilst I have no experience of startups, it sounds as if the company did not realise they required (global) travel initially. It may be that it calms down in the future (more employees as chefs in those locations), but at present it is necessary.

    1. MK*

      On the other hand, it could be straight-up miscommunication. It sounds as if the boyfriend was hired full-time without much of a process; it could be that he was really hired for a different position than the one he was part-time/temping for, and the company failed to communicate that.

      In any case, this is only an issue if he objects, and any mention that he minds the lifestyle his job imposes on him, including the last-minute international travel, is conspicuously absent from the letter. And this seems to be the nature of the job; the only thing I can imagine he might negotiate on is being given more notice about the traveling, assuming that it’s possible.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Yes to more notice. But also sounds like he has no official job description, so I’d ask what exactly that is. It all sounds very ad-libbed.

      2. myswtghst*

        Based on how informal the hiring was, it might be a good opportunity for the boyfriend to sit down and talk with his manager. It doesn’t have to be defensive or accusatory, and he doesn’t even have to ask for less travel, just to get a realistic idea of what to expect going forward. For example, asking the boss “When I started, we didn’t really discuss how much travel my role would require, and now I’m seeing it’s quite a lot. Can we talk a bit about how this is handled going forward?”

        And as you mention, MK, it’s a good opportunity to discuss how much notice he receives for the travel – it might be worth framing it as an opportunity to save the business money, as last minute travel does not come cheap, so being able to plan in advance (even some of the time) could allow them to scout better fares.

    2. Random Lurker*

      This sounds like startups I’ve been at – especially if you get in at the ground floor. The company and the vision will grow, and early employees will find themselves doing many different things than they had anticipated. The no title and formal responsibilities seems normal from my experience. It sounds like he’s pushed back and they’ve pretty much told him the same thing.

      I think Alison nailed it though in the last paragraph. Is this a career question by proxy, or is this data for a discussion that you think he’s traveling too much for your relationship? If it is the former, even if he wasn’t told up front about the travel, it is obvious that’s the expectation now, and he needs to factor that in when deciding if he wants the job or not. If it is “fair” is irrelevant.

      1. Bwmn*

        This is very well put.

        I will also say that how travel is perceived by employees can vary greatly based on personality, age, time in life, etc. While I don’t work for a start-up, my business has definitely seem some unpredictable changes in what kinds of travel is expected. For a number of staff (and they’re actually the most senior staff), you can just see the light in their eyes when they’re in a situation when coordinating last minute travel plans. No matter how negative or irritating the reason for the travel, the idea of needing to spend an emergency 48 hours in Boise or Abu Dhabi clearly gives them an adrenaline rush.

        This is obviously not everyone and not everyone forever, but as I think a lot of this question is a bit more personal than professional – there are likely lots of young job seekers that would see such a position as fascinating. What may very legitimately be a negative job aspect to many people (frequent unplanned travel) is an exciting perk for others. Depending on who the OP’s managers are, if they respond positively to the travel aspects – the push back may also not be something they personally relate to.

        1. Koko*

          Here here. I went through that shift myself over the years. When I was a junior employee I was so envious of my coworkers who got to go on these “fancy” trips, expense their restaurant meals, see new places, etc.

          Then I got a job where I actually had to travel quite a bit. There were three or four months of the year where I was away more than I was home, though fortunately there was very little travel the other eight or nine…because boy did those “fancy” trips get old fast. I went from finding airports overwhelming and semi-awe-inspiring to considering myself a pro traveler who glided through airports with ease to an embittered and beleaguered traveler who despises everything about airports in the space of about two years.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Yep–a lot of our employees travel and it’s not fun when you have to do it for work. They don’t have time to do anything. It’s not the same as when I travelled for personal reasons and worked while I was gone.

          2. Bwmn*

            You’re definitely not alone, but I also know some people (and definitely work with them) who really thrive on statements like “I’ve been living out of my suitcase for the last 3 weeks” and “what’s the fastest way for me to be in rural northern Kenya by Friday?”.

            Not liking this in no way makes you weird!!!!! And being irritated by someone in your life who is perpetually canceling plans or not making any because they don’t know if they’ll be in town is also completely normal. But the flip side is that there are jobs where that’s just the reality and so it’s a personal decision on how to go forward. Be it as a couple or as an individual job seeker.

    3. neverjaunty*

      It’s actually pretty common for companies to lowball how much travel is required in a job.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Surprisingly, we just posted for and hired someone to do 50% travel, but we all have bets going on how long before they’re burnt out and ask to travel less (last person lasted 3 mos). I’m giving it six.

  3. Mookie*

    I’m confused about why outdated websites (but “professionally made”?) and unironically tacky PP presentations wouldn’t hurt a “nerdy” company, which may be down to my understanding of the complex taxonomy of nerds/geeks/dweebs and other assorted nerkles (unless LW1 is literally eating live critters for a living, but that’d make her a geek, now wouldn’t it). For a short time, I processed soil/plant/water samples for an environmental testing lab, and our website was unhelpful, deadlink-laden, and with a slightly solemn air of Geocities about it, but our client base were loyal, local, and generally associated with nearby ag colleges or city landscape contractors, so they wouldn’t have had any reason to visit it, anyway, and typically of a demographic who wouldn’t know better even if they did.

    1. LQ*

      I have to agree.

      When I went to the website for the leather repair place I took my shoes to and it was basically only their location and hours? Totally fine!
      When I went out to websites looking for a podcast host? I really wanted something extremely user friendly, not outdated, not clogged with bad information.

      I guess it depends on what nerdy is. Glasses repair? Pocket protector sales? You might be ok, maybe.

  4. Chrissie*

    Maybe it is an option for the employees to firmly state “When we work together, I prefer our interactions to be polite and professional, otherwise you should seek assistance with a different business.” To me, this is more to the point than “If you don’t like our service then you should hire someone else”, because it conveys to the client that the collaboration can also be cancelled from your side. Knowing that they will have a hard time getting the same assistance elsewhere, it should incentivize them to be more courteous. If not, you have warned them and you don’t need to be too guilty about firing them.

    1. LW2*

      Thank you! I like this phrasing a lot–I’ll raise it with my staff. (We do talk about these issues, but I’m a bit of a talker by nature, so actively setting out to get their input a la Alison is a good plan.)

      1. JMegan*

        I like it too, although I would use stronger language and say “I need our interactions to be polite and professional,” rather than “I prefer.” It’s not a personal preference that clients not be rude or racist, it’s a requirement of continuing to work together.

        So glad to hear you have your employees’ backs on this!

      2. Job Seeker*

        I like that approach too. It turns it into a learning opportunity and gives the client a second chance.

    2. Liza*

      I like that a lot, but I think “I need our interactions to be polite and professional” is even better than “I prefer our interactions…”

      1. neverjaunty*

        Nitpicking further, I would take out “I need”… “Our interactions need to be polite and professional”, which makes it about the interactions, and not about the worker wanting something that the client may not want to provide.

    3. The Expendable Redshirt*

      I’m going to be using the statement “Our interactions need to be polite and professional” in the future!

  5. PurpleNovember*

    I work in a similar environment– providing shelter to high-needs, high-risk, often homeless clients. Some of them are bigots. Some of my co-workers, and many of our clients, fall into categories that bigots attack. We have a fairly solid response: “Language like that is considered abusive. If you choose to keep using it, we will ask you to leave.”

    When their response is “I have a right to free speech!”, our response is, “Language like that is considered abusive. If you choose to keep using it, we will ask you to leave.” And so on– we don’t fall into the “what about freedom of speech?!” or similar traps. They have a right to say what they want– but not a right to make others their audience.

    Sometimes, that escalates to “we will completely discontinue services”, unfortunately– but a solid 90% of the time, the client in question cuts it out (at least while they’re here).

    1. LW2*

      Thank you! Fortunately, we’ve essentially never run into actual slurs, just coded speech, which makes it slightly more complicated to call out, but calling them on what we can does seem to help.

      1. LSCO*

        I think in that instance, it might be worth playing the “I don’t understand what you mean” card. If a client says they only want to deal with someone who speaks English, you say something like “Wakeen speaks fluent English and no other clients have had an issue understanding him.”. If you get any push back “I don’t understand what you mean. All our staff speak fluent English.”. Essentially you force the client to either back down from their bigoted stance (which is the desired outcome), or outright say what their *actual* problem is (which you can then deal with with the language PurpleNovember suggested above).

        1. PurpleNovember*

          There you go! When in doubt, ask for clarification– like when you’re at a sportsball party, and someone makes a “joke”, and there’s that awkward moment when you don’t quite know how to respond? “Gosh, X, I don’t get that joke! What do you mean?”

          One of two things tends to happen: X will either keep explaining until it’s obvious their “joke” was bigoted, or they’ll slink off, pouting.

          RL example: A client who didn’t want to share living space with “those people”.

          Staff: What people?
          Client: You know, THOSE people.
          Staff: No, I don’t know. What people? (repeat several more times, until…)
          Client: Those blacks! They’ll steal from you as soon as your back is turned!
          Staff: Language like that is considered abusive, etc.

          The catch, as we all know, is that you have to keep your responses calm, polite, and as brief as possible… which is hard to do when you want to lean over and say “You DO know this isn’t Civil War-era America, right?!” You can’t be disrespectful yourself, and you can’t get dragged into an argument. Set the boundary, and stick to it.

          1. Roscoe*

            Just out of curiosity, why is it a “sports” party where you choose to mention these “jokes” happening. Maybe you meant nothing by it, but as a sports fan and kind of a jock myself, its pretty insulting to always see comments like that implying that sports fans can’t possibly be civilized enough to not make derogatory statements. Think if I said something like that but it was something traditionally associated with women or minorities.

            1. my two cents*

              …seriously? they were just giving an example of a social interaction with mixed company/friends/acquaintances, hence the term ‘sportsball’.

                1. PurpleNovember*

                  For the record, the circle of geeks I hang out with use “sportsball” as an all-purpose term for sports-based gatherings. This weekend is Wrestlemania (some of us watch, all of us talk about Star Wars and Pandemic and Game of Thrones and jobs and kids and pets), there was a hockey thing this week (mostly people getting REALLY EXCITED on Facebook), last weekend was college basketball.

                  Sometimes everyone at these things are the same group of people who’ve known each other for years– and who all know that bigotry is wrong, and who will not put up with it. But at larger gathering (Homecoming, Super Bowl, etc), we get casual guests who think it’s okay to say crappy things, and aren’t used to getting called out on the spot. We prefer to use the technique noted above because it shuts the offender up pretty fast.

            2. BuildMeUp*

              I honestly can’t tell if you’re just taking a flippant comment very personally or are trolling. Do you honestly think someone using a sports-related party as an example is in any way comparable to making a sexist or racist comment?

              1. Roscoe*

                I think its making a broad generalization about a group of people. The same comment could have been make without the “sportsball” part and nothing would have changed.

                1. BuildMeUp*

                  Or PurpleNovember goes to a lot of sports-related parties and that’s the first “get-together” type of event that came to mind. Or PurpleNovember had an actual recent experience at a sports-related party where someone made a “joke,” and used it as an example because it actually happened.

                  I know it’s easy to feel targeted when someone talks about a group you belong to, but I think it’s worth it (on this site, at least) to give people the benefit of the doubt and not assume there’s negative or malicious intent behind their comments unless they’re clearly stepping over a line, which I don’t think happened here.

                2. Kelly L.*

                  Women and POC go to sportsball parties too. You also have no idea of PurpleNovember’s race or gender.

            3. Sue Wilson*

              As a sports fan, and kind of a jock myself, I hope you understand being blind to the oppressive dynamics of sports culture sounds privileged. There may be pockets of places where people are “civilized” but frankly a lot of negative social dynamics are embedded in the way fans and professionals talk about their respective sports, from tennis to rugby.

            4. Oryx*

              Roscoe, I feel like this is the second time this week where you have felt personally insulted by a comment made in a very broad and, in this case, innocuous context.

          2. RegularAAMPoster-InNewField*

            I like this approach and successfully used it myself with a staff member who insisted upon hijacking an important review where we were already pressed for time and turning the spotlight on himself and his not-so-clever jokes about gay people. Since then, he’s made it clear that he’s not interested in the basic respect or kindness our company culture requires and has abandoned his stand-up routine for the practice of attempting to insert himself as the “manager” of older, more senior women in the office. AAM’s advice has been invaluable for handling this of course. This week, as he ratchets up his antics, I’ve found myself wishing more and more often that basic courtesy and appropriate behavior weren’t impossible asks for co-workers like this.

        2. Katie the Fed*

          ah I should have scrolled up – was just recommending the same approach below. It works so well, and you get to mess with racists for an added bonus!

        3. Zillah*

          I think the issue, though, isn’t just what the OP says to these clients, but what their employees say when confronted with it, which is a different dynamic.

          1. Government Worker*

            And also what OP says to the employees, as the only white person working among POC. She has a bit of a fine line to walk – employees need to know she supports them and has their backs, and she has to, you know, manage these employees, but it could also come across as tone-deaf or condescending to have the lone white person in the office instructing people of color in how to handle racist behavior by clients.

            Which is why I like Alison’s suggestion to talk to the employees about it. OP can communicate that there are lines beyond which clients will get fired, but a big gray area leading up to that where the employees have latitude to push back/switch the client to someone else/have OP intervene/whatever makes them most comfortable.

            (This coming from a white woman picturing how I would feel to have a male boss telling a bunch of women how to handle sexist jerks. I’d definitely want him to be supportive but let me make some of the decisions about what I was comfortable handling myself, and how aggressively.)

            1. cbq*

              I wanted to weigh in as a person of color who has had to deal with lots of coded language from my donors (I’m in fundraising). I would recommend, as Alison says, that you ask your employees how they’d like to deal with it, give them tools they might need to deal (see LSCO and PurpleNovember). I also would monitor the situation and follow up with the employee afterwards – and give them the option to hand the offending client off to you as a manager. My situation is a bit different since we are, in fact, asking our “clients” for $$ (different power dynamic) but I’ve had several managers bungle this issue by acting like it’s a mere annoyance when it’s in fact embarrassing and upsetting, asking me to continue soliciting said donor one-on-one when the behavior hasn’t improved, etc. You are asking all the right questions!

              1. LW2*

                Thank you! This is really helpful to me. I’m definitely going to be following up on the recent instance that prompted this letter, in particular–it’s an ongoing client relationship and I want to be sure the employee who’s dealing with the client continues to feel supported with whatever decisions she needs to make, particularly if the current post-call-out apologetics fade back towards bad behaviour.

            2. LW2*

              Thank you! This is exactly the line I’m trying to walk. It doesn’t feel like I should be jumping in to have the whole conversation with the client–not least because it’s sort of giving them what they want (dealing with me)–because part of what seems to work a lot of the time is that they have to deal with the pushback directly from my staff. It sets up my staff as being able to say “I’m the one you answer to, not just my (white) boss.”

              Alison’s advice is also spot-on. I’ll be addressing that question individually, I think–different employees have different comfort levels and different roles/relationships to our clients. And when it comes up, I’m going to try to have many more question marks than periods in my “okay, let’s do this” client-specific conversations.

              1. Person of Interest*

                It sounds like you are on the right track. You could probably even be upfront with these clients who try to come to you and say something like, “I completely trust Wakeen to handle your situation. He will let me know if there’s anything in your case that needs my attention.” Just to hit home the fact that clients aren’t really supposed to go around your employees to you.

              2. myswtghst*

                It’s great that you are so supportive and seem to be willing to listen and learn. :)

                I think your second paragraph is especially important to keep in mind as you meet with your staff. As you mention, different employees will feel differently about these situations – some of them may be perfectly happy to handle these situations on their own, knowing they have your full support; others may want you to get more involved, or may want to have an “out” (like pulling in a peer, as mentioned in other comments) when these things happen. Giving them the opportunity to tell you want they want / need is definitely a good starting point.

      2. Not Today Satan*

        Ugh, I feel your pain. I work in social services, am white, and often am subjected to coded comments from white clients. Like for example many of them make comments about OTHER people on welfare, in a way that implies they’re talking about black people. I hate it so much because if I say anything they could be like “what are you talking about?? *You’re* the racist!” So I mostly just ignore them or give them a look.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yep, that’s what the “code” is for. Imply, imply, imply, and then try to make the other person look bad when they correctly infer what’s being implied. Plausible deniability. It’s gross.

    2. anonanonanon*

      I’ve always found that some of the most bigoted people love to use the “I have a right to free speech!” argument or invoke any of the amendments without actually understanding them. If I’m exasperated enough, I’ll fire back that free speech means I have the right to call them out for making bigoted and abusive comments. It usually shuts them up.

      1. JustALurker*


        I also love to point out that they have the “right or responsibility” to deal with the “consequences” of “free speech”! Usually nothing but crickets after that.

  6. nofelix*

    #4 – Your boyfriend may want to look at other positions he’s now experienced enough to apply for. Obviously interviewing will be hard if he’s away with little notice but hopefully possible. Once you see what pay and benefits he could be getting it’ll put the travel in perspective as either worthwhile or unnecessary. It’s unfortunately the problem with start-ups that they are often not very organized and do things like this.

  7. Katie the Fed*

    #2 – one thing I think is kind of fun with racist people is to play stupid until they get really overt about it. For example:

    Client: I’d rather talk to you – you just seem more competent, if you get what I mean.
    You: Oh, my employees are very competent! Which one didn’t seem competent to you? I’ll have a talk with him.
    Client: Oh, um, I um, I just meant…I’d rather talk to someone with a less urban vibe.
    You: Urban? Oh, I grew up in a city! You probably want to talk to James – he’s from the suburbs.

    And so on, until they either give up or finally come out with it. Either way you’re showing that you’re not going to budge an inch, and you get to screw with them for extra fun. Because they deserve to be called out on it, but if they want to keep using coded language, you’re not going to play that game.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      This approach works great with any kind of passive-aggressive insults! Just act puzzled, and like you’re trying to figure out what they want, but it would never occur to you that someone would be racist/sexist/ageist/otherwise bigoted….makes them squirm almost every time!

      1. Elizabeth West*

        It works fantastically with bullies–you act as though their pointed jokes are very serious and answer their questions like they meant them. Takes the wind right out of their sails, because they’re expecting you to get upset/flustered and when you don’t, they don’t know what to do. I used to do this with Bullyboss at Exjob all the time. :D

    2. Zillah*

      But I think the OP isn’t just talking about what they say to these clients – it’s also about what James says to the clients when they use vaguely racist and coded language at him. Playing dumb is less effective in those situations, IME, both because it’s harder to play dumb and because they’re less likely to be cowed or embarrassed by what they’re saying. The OP can correct me if I’m misreading their letter, ofc!

      1. LW2*

        You’re right; I don’t think me playing dumb would work, unfortunately, as they don’t think there’s anything racist about their “preference” for my direct help. I definitely do use that technique in other situations (social situations, especially).

  8. Katie the Fed*

    #4 – If it turns out you and your boyfriend are on different pages on this, you should come by the weekend open thread. I think lots of us have spouses or significant others who travel a lot and we can give you tips on making it work better.

    1. Annie*

      Agree… if he was your fiance or husband, you would likely be more tolerant of his work travel – as many of us are tolerant of our spouse’s work situations. Having said that, he’s not a fiance or husband but rather a boyfriend – so IMO, you don’t have to put up with his work situation. He may be enjoying himself, and that’s okay. You have to decide whether *you* want to put up with it or not; that’s what dating is about: weeding out the prospects. Ask yourself, if his work situation continues, do you want to put up with it the “till death do us part?”

      1. The Butcher of Luverne*

        This seems unnecessarily dismissive. LW has said he is her long-term boyfriend and the travel puts on a strain on their relationship. Does every couple have to be engaged or married for this situation to be taken seriously?

        1. Creag an Tuire*

          I don’t think Annie is saying DTMFA, but it’s not dismissive to say “if your SO likes his road-warrior job and doesn’t want to change, do you still want to be in this relationship?” The fact that they’re -not- married implies that there’s more room for the answer to be “no, this won’t work out”.

      2. TootsNYC*

        Actually, I would probably be LESS tolerant of that kind of work travel if it was my husband or fiancé. Because, as you point out, I’m stuck with him now; I can’t easily break up with him if I’m not happy (I mean, I can, but that’s not the point of getting engaged or married).

        But many people have a pretty serious and interwoven life with their boyfriend or girlfriend.

        1. Creag an Tuire*

          Right, marriage is a very serious life commitment, and if OP had made that commitment most of us would she would be more entitled to say “even if you’re okay with all this travel, I’m -not-; this isn’t what I signed up for and we need to talk about a solution.” Whereas since he’s “only” the boyfriend it may be a lot more feasible, and kinder in the long run, to end the relationship and let him live the life he wants.

          Of course, we don’t know what else is going on in OP’s relationship, so it’s possible the “married” script is appropriate.

  9. Le Social Worker*

    There are some good responses up thread but I was wondering if there is a pattern to this behavior? Do they become upset and request to speak to you when they’ve been denied a benefit or given an answer they don’t like? I’m not sure what type of benefits your organization administers but applying for and obtaining benefits is a pretty emotionally charged experience. That does not give anyone the right to be abusive, racist, or otherwise bigoted, but it does sometimes help explain the behavior and help to make it much less personal. I’ve had clients jump down my throat because I’m a woman or because I’m young or because I’m overweight but it’s typically after I’ve told them something they don’t want to hear such as “I’m sorry but you have been provided with the accurate calculations for your SNAP benefits. I’m unable to assist you in obtaining a higher amount. If you would like, I can review a list of local food pantries with you.” When they become abusive or use coded language (“I know that John would be able to help me, he’s better at his job and knows what he’s doing”) I just smile and remind them that they are working with /me/ and that I treat all of my clients in a respectful manner and I expect my clients to do the same to me.

    Something I’ve personally found helpful to keep in mind is that privilege is multidimensional. So for example, a male client could benefit from male privilege and engage in covert or overt prejudice against women but when I am working with him I am in a position of privilege in a different way. I am a woman, but I’m an employed woman with an advanced degree and I am an authority figure. That alone can set someone off because even if they can’t verbalize it, the power differential is something they aren’t used to and they need to regain the position of power by berating /you/ or your colleagues. They need the upper hand, and so they’ll do whatever they can to reestablish their authority.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      This would be helpful advice if LW#2 was one of the front-line employees who are directly encountering bigoted behavior and asking how to keep equanimity… but I’m not sure this is really a good direction when it comes to how a manager should be supporting their staff. Advising other people to depersonalize microagressions and bigoted behavior can be a pretty fraught course, especially if you don’t share those same characteristics that are being insulted. For example, this is all stuff I seriously would not advise LW tell their employees!

      1. KWu*

        I think it’s probably still a good idea for the manager to work with the frontline staff to see if there are any patterns in when this comes up from the clients to figure out an appropriate strategy and for the manager to let the employees know about the boundaries of what they have leeway with. And good perspective for the manager to consider of what their employees may be feeling already, though yeah, def not to inform them they “should” feel this way instead.

  10. Le Social Worker*

    I wasn’t suggesting that the OP tell this to staff, I was just stating what I have found helpful in coping with this. Clearly I misread the letter.

    1. LW2*

      Your response was helpful to me, actually, thank you! We do have good conversations in the office about some of these dynamics. We don’t provide a service as vital as SNAP, but it’s still one that’s important to our clients’ lives, and not something I think we should just cut them off from as long as they back down from bad behaviour once it’s addressed.

    2. TootsNYC*

      But, if you’ve found this perspective and outlook helpful in dealing with that sort of discrimination, why would it not be a helpful thing for one of the LW2’s employees to hear?

      Not that she should say, “Oh, look at it this way,” but if they’re having a conversation about “how will we as a unit, me as a manager, and you as a front-line employee, cope with this unpleasant situation?” why couldn’t this perspective be one of the things that gets thrown out?

      I’m not a person of color; I have a pretty high privilege level in almost every situation I’m in, so I admit my tone might be really off. But to have this outlook be mentioned as “one more possible tool in everyone’s toolkit; use if you find it useful”–would that be so bad? Especially if it’s given as Le Social Worker’s technique (“some social worker on the Internet said this was an outlook that has helped her cope with the unpleasantness of being on the receiving end of that stuff”), and not LW2’s “wisdom from on high.”

      1. Honeybee*

        I’m a person of color who understands, and mostly agrees with, Le Social Worker’s comment. I think it’s important to remember that privilege is multidimensional.

        I think the reason it feels kind of squicky, though, is because people of color (and people from any disadvantaged group) are very frequently engaged in conversations with people about privilege in which those people shoot back “Well, I’m not privileged because of X” or “Really, you’re the one who’s privileged on Y dimension.” While it may be true…it’s often irrelevant in the course of the conversation, and it’s usually used not actually to clarify or add nuance but rather to remove responsibility from the person who’s being rude/disrespectful.

  11. The IT Manager*

    Once someone has been doing a job that includes traveling for a year or 9 months the time to push back on something that has been going on since Day 1 has passed. Yes, it is odd not to discuss such significant travel in advance of hiring. But once it started if he had a problem with it he should have talked to his boss then if he had a problem with the travel. I’d have a problem with the short notice aspect myself.

    If it is exhausting him now, he can talk to his boss about being worn out and ask if his duties could change, but it is possible they can’t. Whatever he was hired for now, your boyfriend is the traveling chef and a key part of the job is the traveling if he refuses to travel or cuts down on travel he may be out of a job.

    But honestly the vibe I get is that you have a problem with this and your boyfriend does not which sounds like a relationship problem and not a job one.

    1. KR*

      I think it might be reasonable for him to request more notice now that he’s had months to see the impact on his life and relationship. It’s hard to live your life fully when you’re being whisked away with little notice. I do agree with you that if he had a problem with it, he should have raised this issue a long time ago. I also got the vibe that the boyfriend didn’t have a problem.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Or he might not have known how to approach it, and so hasn’t brought it up. Maybe he thinks there’s nothing he can do so there’s no point in asking / talking about it.

    2. neverjaunty*

      No, the time to push back has not passed – quite the opposite. “I understood that as things were getting started with the business/new position/season that there was going to be a lot of travel, but now it seems as though this is going to be a permanent part of the job.”

  12. Dangerously Cheezy*

    #3 makes me cringe… my last boss actually went and ‘warned’ another organization to not hire a bad employee we had. I would admit that the guy was a train wreck, he couldn’t focus on doing his job and things were falling apart around him. He ended up quitting after the boss started to make things difficult for him – the particular incident was the day he screamed at him because his toddler was sick and he had to pick her up from daycare.

    But it wasn’t enough for them to just put him out of their sights, they then called an organization that extended him an offer (heard through social media) to tell them what a bad employee he had been. This organization did not solicit any reference from my boss…

    After that the poor guy was unemployed for 6 months and lost custody of his daughter because he couldn’t care for her. He is now working in a similar field and is apparently doing amazingly well and struggling to get his life back together.

    It bothers me whenever I pass him on the street because I know that my boss played an instrumental role in ruining his life. I would never fault someone for being honest when a reference is requested or expected due to a relationship but in this case I think the guy just wasn’t a good fit for our organization, it didn’t mean that the guy didn’t deserve to work anywhere.

    1. Sammie*

      I’ve seen this too. My last employer (the former EVP now CEO) was known for going out of his way to blow the ground from under departing employees feet–both good and bad. This vengefulness included hiring an investigator to “keep tabs” and calling their new employers to “give them a heads up.” It was awful!

      1. Jack the Treacle Eater*

        This probably illustrates why it’s not a good idea to voluntarily give other employers ‘heads up’ about your departing employees. Said other employers may well feel it says a lot more about you than it does about the employee…

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        If anyone ever witnesses a colleague doing this out of vengefulness, point out to them that they could be hit with a tortious interference suit — tortious interference is a legal cause of action for intentionally damaging someone’s business relationships. The exact laws vary from state to state, but I bet hearing this would cause some of them to back off.

        1. RegularAAMPoster-InNewField*

          This is a great point. There’s a really promising new project manager at my company who apparently had to deal with similar vengeful behavior when departing a prior field (incidentally, the same one I departed). In this case, it was a client attempting to exact vengeance for the purpose of not paying a bill he decided he’d retroactively rather not pay — after already using more services than he agreed he’d pay for, no less — but our now-project manager handled it in exactly the way you suggested: pointed out that if the plan for vengeance were enacted, the client could expect to be hit with a lawsuit. It was very effective. The threats from the client stopped immediately.

    2. Mazzy*

      Wow. Were the jobs similar at scope? I could see the logic if the two companies were almost identical, as were the jobs. Otherwise what an absolutely horrible situation.

    3. Kit*

      I was a pretty bad employee of my last job, but I left and in my current position have never received a performance review that was any less than spectacular. Sometimes people are not good fits, sometimes they’re going through a rough time, there are lots of reasons a person could be bad at their job without being bad at all jobs.

      1. sunny-dee*

        This. My ExManager constantly complained about me and put me on a PIP to prevent me from transferring to a different department (seriously, HR stepped in and blocked it). But any issues I had were 100% because of the management team. I hadn’t had any previous issues, and I’ve been at the company for almost 10 years. And I hope not to have any similar issues with NewJob (I am trying to work through the PTSD!). But bad managers — or other circumstances — can play such a major role in someone’s performance, real and perceived.

          1. JustMe*

            Toots, sometimes they would rather push you out of the company. In other words, make your life a living hell until you quit and go elsewhere, or not have a job. There are some really vengeful people out there.

            1. Alice Ulf*

              +1 to JustMe

              This seems to be the MO at my place of work–block the employee from moving to another internal position while simultaneously making the employee miserable enough to quit the organization entirely. Pushing out seems to be the real endgame.

              We have an overabundance of very petty managers.

      2. Snazzy Hat*

        Wow. Thanks, that was actually a huge bright spot in my dismal job search. I believe I’ve mentioned here that I quit my last job a lot more spontaneously than I originally wanted, so seeing the application process through a lens of “your future employer might not have any issue with your fit at another organization” is refreshing.

      3. RegularAAMPoster-InNewField*

        I agree with this. About 7-8 years ago, had to put a direct report on a PIP. The direct report was exceptionally skilled for both the age group and level they were in, but as their position with our company continued, decided they’d rather not comport themselves with a basic level of professionalism and began leaving early, refusing to do basic tasks they’d always managed, and toward the end, going over my head to “assign” their work to others. The direct report blew the PIP intentionally by the third day and was gone at the end of the first week. Now, this person lives in another state and is successfully working in a similar position, as well as starting their own business. Their work is very good and I’m sure their attitude has improved; otherwise, I doubt they could’ve reached this level of success. I think this direct report was struggling with the company generally and since they had been hired after being refused by another manager who was known for making inflammatory racial and gender-based comments, I was always afraid that we started out on a sour note. In hindsight, my boss should’ve gotten rid of the racist/sexist manager who was making people feel unwelcome, as this person was the source of multiple serious problems over the years.

    4. AMG*

      I can understand the temptation to do this, especially if the boss at the new org knows Cersei. I guess that’s why you check references.

      I have a former coworker who was the stuff nightmares were made of. I worked from home because the company could not ensure my safety around this person. After a year, he finally got a new job someplace where I don’t know a single person (unusual for this industry). I would have been very, very tempted to say something if I had known someone there.

      1. OP #3*

        Background- More than 20 years ago when I was the same age as my bad employee. I have been a terrible employee in a similar position. It was more than me- it WAS a bad fit. And it was agreed that I would be “laid off” but really I was fired. I got another position in the same industry, I did well enough, so I know the Cersei could turn it around. I eventually was able to move into an ancillary position that played to my strengths.

        Mazza-It seems that the position that she has gotten is very similar in responsibilities to the one in my department.

        It is my fervent hope, that Cercei does well in her new position and wouldn’t want to “taint” her new supervisor’s opinion.

        I spoke to my supervisor and she felt that I should just let the board member know that the former employee was employed at the her school. As the board member has had her own experiences with Cersei and has a relationship with that library director, any action is up to her. I did that in very neutral language.

        I am not trying to black ball or “tank” Cercei. It is a small world that I work and live in.

        1. "Nike didn’t value him enough ...."*

          I glad you responded and explained. I was getting an uncomfortable feeling about your post.

          Let me just add, “presentation vs. perception.” You can present any information you want about the former employee. You have no control over how the audience will perceive the former employee or you for the presenting the information.

    5. RVA Cat*

      Wow, he made someone lose custody of his child because of his vindictiveness – when said boss yelled at the person for *taking care of his child*?!

      I am so glad your former co-worker is employed and getting his life back together. Your former boss is a horrible person and that will come back to bite him someday – I just hope it’s not to the extreme of someone he destroys like this going postal.

    6. Anon for always*

      I really struggle with this, as an employee at an organization that hired a bad employee. Granted it’s complicated by the fact that the hiring manager barely works with this person and feel sorry for him (to the point of mothering him meetings). But, it’s a small industry, and the horror stories came out from other people after we had hired him. I wish someone would have contacted us in advance to warn us. It may not have made a difference, but at least we would have gone in with our eyes open.

      I get everyone deserves a second chance or third chance. But, when you are on the other side of the issue it’s difficult to not wish you were warned.

  13. Hannah*

    #4: Basically, some jobs do require last minute travel and some jobs do require 50% or greater travel. Those things by themselves are not at all unheard of. A good paying job and free travel all over the world? I know it’s not glamorous all the time, but a lot of young people would kill to have this problem! If this job morphed unexpectedly, and your boyfriend doesn’t like that lifestyle, he could try to switch into a role where he can stay local, or change companies. But keep in mind that this would be considered a great opportunity by many people, not a bad thing.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I’m not a young person and I’d probably be okay with it, especially if I liked what I did. For a while, anyway. But if I had a family or a serious relationship with someone who couldn’t go with me (due to work, money, whatever), I might have to reconsider.

  14. Myra Breckinridge*

    #2 – Is it even possible to fire a client for this reason if the service you’re providing is public assistance? I guess I’m having trouble figuring out what kind of business this could be.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Sure. It could be an organizing providing housing, mental health or drug abuse counseling, free tax services, etc. These days much of these kinds of services are delivered by private organizations receiving grants from government agencies. There may be some rules about who they can and cannot turn down, but they are not obligated to serve everyone.

    2. LW2*

      Yes; our service isn’t food or housing, it’s closer to the free tax services suggested by Victoria. (Not actually what we do, but a good corollary.) The clients can do the task themselves if they have to, and other kinds of supports are available to them, but not as thorough a form of support as what we provide.

  15. Former Retail Manager*

    OP #2….just another perspective, sort of. If the majority or all of the clients that are making these veiled comments never come out and overtly make racist comments, and you or your staff do ultimately “fire” them as clients, could there be any consequences to you or your staff from above should they complain after they are fired and state that you or your staff misunderstood them? At that point, I see it devolving into a he said/she said with an economically disadvantaged individual who has the potential to make this into a bigger deal just to “get back at you.” Hopefully, you have the full support of your own boss, and maybe even their boss, to fire these clients and this won’t be an issue.

    While I’ve never worked in social services, I’ve known several people who do, and they have all told me that they were told when they were hired that it’s really just part of the job, happens frequently, and not to take it personally. They are all armed with the responses mentioned above about abusive language but are told that refusing to provide services to clients based on their comments, even when blatantly racist, is frowned upon by upper management (not frontline management, which it sounds like you are).

    And for what’s it worth, sorry that you and your employees have to deal with this.

  16. Temperance*

    LW3, what’s your organization’s policy regarding firing clients? If you’re government funded, you might have more strict rules.

    What do you do with clients who are generally rude or mean? I’m sure that racism isn’t the only issue your staff sees.

    We fire clients, only rarely, but ours are through nonprofits and we engage them separately.

    1. LW2*

      We often let regular rudeness and meanness slide–or rather, we address it, but it’s not generally a firing offense unless it’s particularly egregious. I’m stricter on rudeness that’s aimed at support staff, vs my direct reports/myself/my partners, on the basic principle that the latter group are professionals and are to some degree paid to put up with that kind of thing, while our support staff shouldn’t be subjected to it. Everyone in the office has free reign to be strict and set boundaries and enforce them, but we’ve mostly defaulted to internally rolling our eyes and getting through the tasks.

      That’s also, more or less, what we’ve been doing with the subtle racists to date: some pushback, continuing to assist them if they back down a bit.

      There are rules about firing from our end but mistreatment of staff would qualify.

      1. Observer*

        The thing is, you need to clarify how the government funder define “mistreatment”. Depending on the agencies, and who is staffing then in your area, what you describe might not be considered “severe” enough to qualify.

        What sometimes helps in those types of situations, where you recognize that stuff is over the top, but the gov’t agency sees it differently, is to talk to your lawyer and ask them if what you are seeing would be egregious enough to lose a case in court. If your lawyer believes that this is severs and / or pervasive enough to be a legal problem, you can have a conversation with your counterparts at the agency where you lay out the problem as one that you both share. The fact is that the last thing these guys want is one of your employees suing you for harassment. And, it’s not *you* threatening them – it’s obvious that you don’t want that to happen either, but…

        1. LW2*

          I’ve been cagey about the nature of our work for privacy reasons, but both I and most of the employees in question are ourselves lawyers, so I promise, liability and application of rules is always topmost in our minds. Thanks, though!

  17. Erin*

    #3 – Tough one, but I do think I land on the, not your circus not your monkeys side. I do firmly believe in second chances, but possibly more importantly than that, I agree with Alison they should have done their due diligence in hiring. Their hiring process and how they ended up choosing her is up to them – you have no control over that – and you have no way of knowing how much or how little she may have changed in two years. It was up to them to decide if she was a good fit or not, and apparently they think she is. Let the chips fall where they may.

    Also, if I’m reading this right, your specific question is if you should tell that dean who already dislikes her that she is working in *her* library. At her school. Separate from your school, right? I’m not versed in the academic world, but I’m assuming at some point she is going to realize this woman is working there. I DO think if the dean specifically asks you about her you have the right to be fairly candid, but I wouldn’t be the one to bring it up first.

  18. Mockingjay*

    #1: Make him a PowerPoint Template.

    Create a Slide Master, then save as the file as .potx or .pot. Office Templates lock down most of the formatting [headers, footers, background, page numbers, font, bullets (descending), logos] and allow users to simply enter info – text and images.

    Do you have a style guide? Standard letterhead? The template should reflect other documents for consistent presentation of your company brand.

    1. Fawnling*

      +1 Great advice. He will still need to work on his spelling and grammar but at least it will be less (visually) distracting.

    2. KR*

      +1 for everything, especially the style guide. Most companies have something like this, and this is something that could be implemented department or company wide.

    3. little_J*

      +1 this! In previous positions where I encountered sloppy client emails, PPT, brochures, etc. I developed a series of templates and taught the teams how to use them. I also found that if you make a few template options you help address the ‘pride’ issue — people get the autonomy to choose which one to use but you get the peace of mind that they are within your brand style guidelines.

      1. OP #1*

        That’s a great idea, thank you all.

        His spelling and grammar are great (aside from the times when he wants to Capitalize A Non-Header for emphasis), it’s subtler things like shades of blue, the fonts, visual weight on a slide. This would help a lot of that.

        1. Mockingjay*

          OP #1:

          I just now got out of a meeting in which the senior engineer had prepared a PowerPoint. Rather than using our mandated template, he made up his own.

          You can lead a horse to water…


        2. Elizabeth West*

          LOL the capitalization.

          An old boss at a previous job had the marketing person order a big sign to hang in the break room that ended up looking like this:

          The Greatest Widget Company In The World!

          It made our marketing person gnash his teeth. Luckily, no one saw it but us!

          1. Janice in Accounting*

            At least it didn’t have random apostrophes:
            The “Greatest” Widget Company In “The World!”

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I’m surprised it didn’t–one time this same person wrote me an email about birthday announcements and said,

              Put them on the board for “each on” their special day.

              She’s very nice, really, but OMG LOL.

    4. Zahra*

      I like that one! I was going to suggest showing to him some excellent PowerPoint presentations and website layouts. Then you can put both side by side so he can see the difference. Of course, it’s tricky when that person is above you in the org. chart. It really depends on your relationship with them.

  19. Erin*

    #2 – I’m usually a bleeding heart type, but it’s hard to have sympathy for these folks. They’re receiving much needed government assistance – they should be very, very grateful for that. They don’t get to pick and choose (by race!) who they get to work with. I completely understand where you’re coming from, but if you need to fire them, fire them. That’s not on you; it’s on them and their unacceptable behavior.

    1. Temperance*

      There’s a huge amount of shame and disgust typically associated with public assistance, though. For many people, it’s a very shameful thing to not be able to support yourself or your family without help.

      I highly doubt that the racists are the only problem clients, but trying to choose your counselor (or whatever service this group provides) is a way to take your power back.

    2. Anonnn*

      The thing about government assistance is that it’s actually a right you’ve paid for. Are you expected to be grateful for your roads? ARE you grateful for your roads? If the thought has never crossed your mind, then maybe lay off judging the people who are collecting a benefit that you or I or anyone else might also some day need.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I agree. These particular people are assholes, but these services are for everyone who needs them, and we all pay into them at some point, and there but for the grace of $Deity and so on.

        1. Erin*

          Hm, I’m sorry if I misrepresented myself. To be clear, I’m happy these programs exist and I’m happy to pay tax dollars towards them. Yes, I do think people receiving these benefits should be grateful for them – especially since they really need them – as I am grateful for the benefits I receive, such as the aforementioned roads.

          But to bring it back on topic, with the OP, no, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who act disrespectful and *racist* towards those who are working to provide them with these much needed services.

          I need food, but that doesn’t mean I’m allowed to act racist towards grocery store cashiers, asking for a Caucasian person to ring me out. And if I did, I wouldn’t be surprised if my right to buy food at that establishment was revoked.

          So again, if the OP decides to fire certain clients because of their racist behavior towards her employees – granted, after discussing with said employees how they’d like to handle this, as Alison mentioned – then…she needs to do so, and I don’t think she needs to feel guilty about it.

      2. Erin*

        I am very grateful for my roads! :) I’m happy to pay tax dollars towards them, and to provide government assistance for those who need it.

        It’s the sense of entitlement that’s getting me, here. Also, that whole pesky racism thing.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I agree with you that the racism is disgusting, though the racists would be so even if they weren’t receiving assistance. I’m really glad the OP wants to support her employees who have to deal with it.

          Having been there, however, I understand their pissy attitude, to a degree. It makes you feel like a giant failure to have to navigate this system, even if you know it’s only temporary, and it doesn’t put you in the best of moods. Plus, even going to the office of a service takes a long time–you have to wait, you have to fill out tons of paperwork, if you forget one thing you have to start all over, no one can answer your questions, etc. etc. If you’re frustrated and upset, then you can easily lose control of your words. And the last thing you feel is grateful–you feel resentful that you have to be there at all.

          I AM NOT SAYING THAT IT’S OKAY—I’m just trying to point out where the whiny part of it might be coming from.

          1. Observer*

            It’s also worth noting that many service providers, both government and non-profit, have their own negative attitude towards aid recipients, and it’s often rooted in racism, sexism and classism. If you’ve been spending time being talked down to, dismissed and just being treated poorly in other parts of the system, it’s much more likely that you are going to come to your encounters in a mood that’s not designed for polite interactions.

            That doesn’t make it right, but it does help to understand this.

  20. Observer*

    #2, before you do anything else, talk to your contacts at the government offices you deal with. For one thing, you want to make sure that you are complying with all of the relevant regulations and expectations of each government agency involved. Secondly, you want them to know that you are dealing with this problem, that when (and it WILL happen) one of your rude clients complains, you’ll be starting from a position where they have a clue about the problem.

    Also, document your head off. Someone IS going to complain, and may very well accuse you of discrimination or otherwise breaking the rules of the program. You need to be able to document that it was not discrimination, and that you didn’t break the rules.

  21. Kathy-office*

    OP#1: Offer to make a PPT template, so that the visuals are of a consistent quality, and then that takes one thing off your manager’s plate. If the content is otherwise good, a template should help with that issue.

    OP#2: Ask your employees, but also be prepared to do a little research on how to handle this. Your employees may not feel like they can say that they’d rather have you handle these racist clients. And even with an understanding boss, I’d be looking for a new job if I had to regularly deal with racist clients, even if I did get to tell them to take a hike. It’s a stressful, draining situation to be in, but everyone handles it differently, so asking is best. I think putting your word in consistently when clients act up can help your employees feel supported, even if you know they can handle it.

    Also, you may want to think about what’s going on with your clients. Having so many racist ones would be a concern for me as an employee, but I don’t know enough about the context to really say more than that.

    1. Prismatic Professional*

      Just to springboard off of Kathy’s comment – OP2 if you can, make sure your employees are doing appropriate self care. Taking time off to recharge, doing hobbies, what ever it is that refreshes them. Burnout is a huge danger in our line of work. :-/

      1. LW2*

        Definitely–that’s a huge part of my management style (such as it is). I’m the voice saying “go home, don’t come in on the weekend, make sure you take a vacation”–out loud, and probably also the annoying voice in their heads when they do work late, etc ;)

  22. Pokebunny*

    It never ceases to amaze me how many people out there really, truly believe that because they have <race> friends, they can never be racists.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I am really opposed to racism.

      But I have to acknowledge: I am racist. I don’t like it, and I fight against it, but there’s some down in there, even if it isn’t very much; I can feel it now and then. It’s a huge goal for me, to spot it, and to refuse to let it out.

      I don’t believe ANYbody who says they’re not racist. I kind of think we all are–to some small degree.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, it’s actually a huge problem when people deny they have any bias in them, even subconsciously, because all that means is that they’re not going to do the work to try to counteract that bias. We live in a society that socializes people to have bias; good people need to acknowledge that and learn about how they can counter it.

        The Harvard Implicit Bias Test is a pretty interesting thing for anyone who wants to explore this in themselves:

        1. Lady H*

          I agree with TootsNYC and Alison, and 100% agree that privately acknowledging your racism/privilege is important and taking steps to counter it. But I also think it’s important to recognize that admitting that you’re a racist/benefit from white privilege publicly can put people of color in the uncomfortable position as having to either make you feel better about it or feel like you’re fishing for compliments for owning up to it.

          I don’t think that was the intent here at all. It is just something that it’s good to be sensitive of because white people talking about their own racism can take up space better served by listening to POC.

          1. One of the Sarahs*

            I’m white and I co-sign this completely, from interactions I’ve seen across minority groups – there can be a weird vibe where the person with the most privilege is taking up the most oxygen in a conversation in exactly the way you describe.

      2. Former Retail Manager*

        Agreed….1,000%! I have never met anyone who doesn’t eventually disclose bias.

  23. AFT123*

    #5 – Congratulations!! I love Alison’s advice – just a casual reference to the conversation with HR is perfect. You made a great decision by disclosing it to HR so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Happy pregnancy to you!

  24. babblemouth*

    Presentation skills are so important, and I’m SO glad my university insisted so much on them. Most useful thing they taught us, by far.

    Just this morning, I sat through the absolute worst presentation I’ve ever had to suffer through. During the presentation I was mentally trying to make my phone ring so I could pretend an emergency to leave. Afterwards, I had the greatest giggling session with several of my colleagues. That’s one hour of my life I’m never going to get back.

    (That client will not be getting out business. OP1, I hope it wasn’t your company!)

  25. On number 2*

    There are unfortunately some situations (luckily few and far between) where putting up with verbal abuse is part of the job requirement. I’ve worked a couple of those jobs. A few that I can think of are corrections officer, police officer, state social worker investigating neglect/abuse, any staff in a mental health facility, any staff in a nursing home and the list goes on. Basically, working with anyone that either doesn’t know what they do, can’t control what they do, or are in a place of last resort.

    Part of working at that job is just deflecting. Ignore what they say and just keep moving on. Other times, the proper response is to give and give the client what they want not to appease the racist client but to protect your employee from harassment. An inmate that repeatedly abused female staff stopped having female staff in charge of him. It is a fine line to walk though because you can’t prevent minorities from taking certain positions just because it is harder for the client. It has to be reserved for extreme scenarios.

    In the nursing home context, it is usually left up to the staff. A staff can choose to keep treating that patient or if the words are too much they can request another staff member take over with no repercussion.

    In the OP’s situation, it sounds like these are people that do know what they do and not a location of last resort so my advice might not be as helpful. I just wanted to chime in that I have been there.

    1. Brianna*

      Yeah, that’s similar to what we did when I worked with emotionally disturbed children. If they acted out around women, then we’d find a male assistant to be with them most of the time. If they were afraid of a certain ethnicity, we’d assign them to a person of a different ethnicity. The main purpose of the program was not to teach tolerance, but learning to read and coping skills (i.e. not hurting their classmates, teacher, or themselves). Tolerance was addressed of course, but sometimes you can only work on one thing at a time. Usually after a year in our program, they would relax enough where they could be around any adult.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I love the idea of approaching it from the view of “what’s best for your colleague,” and not in terms of giving the client what he wants.
      Which leads to another possible tactic for your team, LW2: if one of them just can’t take this racist bullshit today, they can transfer the client to some other colleague (not a manager) who has a better tolerance for it today.
      So the negative gets removed for your employee, but not necessarily for the client.

      The ability to spell one another, to spread it around based on someone’s emotional fortitude that particular day, might make it easier on them all.
      And of course, they can transfer the client to you.

      1. LW2*

        That’s a good point. I hate the idea of “giving in” to the client’s racial preference, but on the other hand, why should my employee have to put up with a racist when I can handle it for them?

  26. OlympiasEpiriot*

    I’m in a technical field and if there is slovenly formatting on Power Point slides I absolutely hold it against the presenter and the company. If you aren’t detailed enough to catch random capitalisation, you aren’t detailed enough to catch technical errors.

  27. animaniactoo*

    LW2, you might also want to try some version of “I am glad that you think I am so competent. I need you to understand that I work with my staff, I know what they are capable of, and I have full faith in their competency and trust them completely to be able to handle your issue(s). Please take this back to Wakeen and work with him on it.”

    Yes, they will have gotten their “way” to the extent that they got to see you – but the outcome really won’t be a “win” for them in that you are still not going to handle their issue personally.

    If they argue back about it, that makes an easy transition to the kind of thing that somebody above suggested “If you don’t want to work with Wakeen, perhaps it would be better for you to work with another company.” with an allowance to switch from Wakeen to Lucinda – but still not you.

    1. LW2*

      Thank you! I like this phrasing better than my usual (which is more like “she’s fantastic, you’re lucky to have her, I don’t have time for your needs and she does, I’m not going to listen to you about this”–gets the job done but not nearly as artful as yours).

  28. animaniactoo*

    #5, I think would also delve into why HR can’t confirm whether they’ve informed your manager or not. Casually, inquiring into policy, etc. “Thanks for letting me know to reach out to Anya directly. I am somewhat curious as to why this would not be handled by HR. Is there a policy I should be aware of that explains this, and would it be relevant anywhere else in terms of who should follow up with you or Anya on any other issues relating to my pregnancy?”

    Because from over here, it’s just flat-out weird that they’re fulfilling a position for an employee, and not filling them in on an extended leave situation that will impact them in a few months to head off precisely this kind of “Gotcha! Surprise!” feelings on the part of that manager.

    1. Late op*

      Op 5 here literally a week behind. I also thought it was weird. I phrased my question as basically I know you guys know and I’m currently visibly showing so I wanted to confirm if you’ve communicated this or should I and what would your suggestion be for broaching the topic. They answered how I should broach it (email) but not what they’ve communicated if anything. I think I will reach out again because like you, I’m curious about their policy.

  29. neverjaunty*

    OP #3 – AAM is right that you shouldn’t go out of your way to warn people about Cersei, but please, please, that toxic saying “everyone deserves a second chance” needs to be killed with fire, shot into the sun, and THEN killed with fire again, probably. It really means “you can get away with anything the first time you do it.”

    People who make mistakes should get a chance to learn from those mistakes. People who acknowledge they screwed up, fix their messes and resolve to do better may have earned another chance. But it’s not true that everybody is morally entitled to a second chance, no matter what they did or why they did it or how they behaved afterward.

    1. Erin*

      I’m a big fan of second chances but have to admit I loled at the first paragraph.

      “People who acknowledge they screwed up, fix their messes, and resolve to do better may have earned another chance.” – I agree.

    2. fposte*

      I’m so glad you said that–I had a similar, if less picturesque thought. Lots of people deserve second chances and lots of people don’t–and even when people do deserve second chances, that doesn’t mean it’s obligatory that it comes with this particular time, place, and person.

      1. AW*

        even when people do deserve second chances, that doesn’t mean it’s obligatory that it comes with this particular time, place, and person

        I find your and neverjaunty’s ideas interesting and I’d like to subscribe to your newsletter.

    3. Observer*

      The thing is that the OP has no way to know if this person learned any lessons or not, so she needs to act as though it’s a possibility. And, I would say it is. She knew enough to realize that she was going to get fired and try to ameliorate the problem (although I doubt it helped as much as she expected it to.) So, although she might still think that she was not treated fairly, she may have learned that if she wants to keep a job, she needs to behave in a certain way.

      1. neverjaunty*

        No, that’s backwards,. The OP has no way to know if Cersei learned any lessons at all; therefore, OP needs to act as though Cersei is the same person as when she worked with the OP. The best predictor of a person’s future behavior is their past behavior.

        If we’re going to speculate about what Cersei “may” have learned, from what OP said, perhaps what she learned is that she can get away with behaving badly at a job for years, that a PIP is meaningless, and that if she’s in danger of getting fired she can preserve her reputation by resigning instead and moving to another job where she can start all over again. And people like Cersei get away with serial misbehavior precisely because people don’t like thinking not-nice things about others and say stuff like ‘everyone deserves a second chance’ and ‘give her the benefit of the doubt’ and ‘well, surely she learned not to do that again’.

        Of course, AAM’s advice still applies; there’s no reason for the OP to do anything proactive about this situation.

        1. Observer*

          Given everything that the OP does NOT know about the situation, your scenario is, at best, no more likely that mine.

          Of course, had the library approached the OP, that would have been different – I certainly would not want her to speculate, in either direction, about what Jane might have learned. Just say what you know, how you know it, and when your knowledge dates from. In this case, though, the real possibility that she’s learned something just strengthens the ethical case that the OP needs to not be proactive here.

  30. AW*

    we’ve essentially never run into actual slurs, just coded speech, which makes it slightly more complicated to call out

    Important thing to note: You don’t need the clients to agree that what they just said is racist in order to ask them to stop.

    Client: *engages in dog whistle racism*
    Employee: “That language is considered abusive…”
    Client: “What? I wasn’t being racist/abusive/whatever!”
    Employee: “I don’t need you to agree that what you said was abusive, but I do need you to stop if you want to get assistance.”

    The “playing dumb” tactic almost certainly works but it takes more time and requires listening to the client repeat whatever bigoted thing they just aid over and over, with the potential of them eventually saying something worse. I’d personally find that mentally/emotionally taxing. I’d want the abuse to end as fast as possible.

    But definitely ask the how they’d prefer things be handled because I’m betting some would rather handle it themselves, knowing they can have the client fire themselves and others may prefer you stepping in sooner.

    1. Snork Maiden*

      This is an excellent template for handling bigoted online interactions as well. If you want to interact with me, and you continue to use that language after I’ve informed you it must stop, I cheerfully go ahead and block you. It’s amazing how some people value their right to say a certain word over interacting with me, a fantastic person (I may be biased.)

  31. Deanna*

    LW #2,

    I think it’s great that you’ve given your employees free reign to deal with this. I don’t think I’d bother calling up each one of the offenders to talk about it, unless one of your employees tells you that the person has been abusive towards them and they can’t take working with them anymore. If you give special attention to each offender, you’re just giving them what they want.

    Not that there’s anything you can do about this in your current situation, but I wonder if the structure of your organization is communicating a tone that you don’t intend, i.e. the only white person in the office is the boss.
    You could experiment with ways to make this less obvious–maybe have one of your employees be the first point of contact for your organization? Or possibly arrange your furniture/cubicles/office nameplates in such a way that it would be hard to tell what the hierarchy is.

    1. LW2*

      I’m only one of the bosses and none of the other bosses are white, but most clients only ever meet one boss–that’s a good point about figuring out a way to make sure they realize what the actual make-up of the office is. I’ll have to think about how to work that.

      1. Observer*

        Do you do promotional literature? A web site with “about us”? You can’t get better than nice shot of the leadership team with a bunch of non-white faces.

        Also, if anyone has stereotypically non-white names, try to make those names be more prominent in your materials than the “white” names of the same level. So, if you have two directors that you want to reference, and one is Joaquin and the other is Tom, you mention Jaoquin and Tom rather the reverse, because Joaquin is definitely going to be seen as Hispanic, and Tom is plain vanilla.

  32. EE Lady*

    I wouldn’t think of being hired while pregnant as pulling a “bait and switch.” Lots of women get pregnant and it’s very common to not mention it during the early stages. Thinking of it as a bait and switch makes it seem like women should have to apologize for being pregnant! Just be casual about it and don’t worry that you’re somehow negligent by having the audacity to get a new job while pregnant.

    (Maybe a liberal arts type person can articulate this better for me, but I feel like working women should never have to feel guilty about getting pregnant.)

    1. Brianna*

      Thank you for saying that. You’re completely right–if an employer wants to continue to have conveniences like running water, electricity, roads, airplanes, police, and hospitals after the current workforce retires, then he/she needs to accept the short-term inconvenience of an employee on maternity leave!

  33. Chameleon*

    Re #4: I know this is utterly unhelpful to the LW, but I have to say that “internationally traveling chef” is basically my dream job.

  34. yep yep*

    #2- Language matters. The LW wrote this: “As the only white person in my office, I sometimes run into white clients who, for vague or microaggressive reasons, don’t want to work with my employees or partners; they want to deal with me.” And then goes onto describe more… I would rephrase- they “sometimes run into racist white clients who don’t want to work with people of color, they want to deal with me.” They way they show their racism may be vague or coded or microaggressive but it is still racist, from the way the LW describes it.

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