new employee keeps trying to go over my head, getting people’s attention when they’re wearing headphones, and more

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

1. New employee keeps trying to go over my head

My team has a new employee, and as part of my responsibilities (I am a team lead) I have to tell her about regulations and policies that impact what she is allowed to do at work. We’ve also discussed things like what type of schedule flexibility will be possible with our work schedules. Everything I tell her is either clearly spelled out in written policy or something I’ve discussed with our manager beforehand, but she reacts as though I’m on a power trip and “appeals” things to our manager.

How do I say “Tywin and I are in agreement on this and I need you to discuss your concerns with me rather than wasting his time” without sounding like I’m saying “you need to respect my authority and I don’t want you to talk to our manager”? I feel like this is undermining my ability to effectively manage my team’s workload, as well as making me look bad to our manager.

You need your manager involved in this one. When she goes to him to appeal your decisions, he needs to say to her, “I’ve asked Lucinda to manage these sorts of things, so you should speak to her rather than to me.” That should shut the behavior down pretty quickly.

If he doesn’t seem to see the need to say that to her, say this to him: “Jane has established a pattern of going to you when she doesn’t want to accept guidance or decisions from me. Can you start redirecting her back to me when she does that, and explain to her that you’ve asked me to handle these things? I’ll explain that to her too, but I think she needs to hear it from you as well, or we’re just training her that she can routinely go around me to you.”

And then as for talking with Jane yourself — once you’re positive that Tywin’s got your back on this — say this: “I’ve noticed that you’ve been talking issues like X and Y to Tywin. He’s asked me to handle those things on his behalf, and I need you to bring those things to me, not him. Can you do that going forward?”

2. Getting employees’ attention when they’re wearing headphones

What’s a good way to get someone’s attention when they are listening to music with headphones or earbuds?

I have a staff of three in a fairly small office and don’t mind at all that they listen to music on headphones while they work, but sometimes I need to get everyone’s attention for an announcement or just one person’s attention regarding a question or comment. I feel uncomfortable tapping them on the shoulder, and if I just start talking they don’t hear me. Usually I just hover until they notice me, but that feels weird and like an invasion of personal space. My employees have missed important information in the past because I thought they were listening to me but they had earbuds in. Any advice?

Usually, standing directly in their line of vision (and I mean directly — not off to the side) and making eye contact should work — but when someone is absorbed in work, it may not. I’d actually explain the problem to them and ask how they want you to handle it: “I sometimes have trouble getting your attention when you’re listening to music on headphones, and I don’t want to tap you. What’s the best way for me to quickly get your attention?”

It’s also reasonable to ask them to be alert to someone approaching them when they have headphones in — most people will be happy to try to do that in exchange for not losing your okay to have the headphones in at all.

(Depending on the dynamics and workflow in your office, I.M. can also be a solution to this — as in, I.M. them “got a minute to talk?” rather than walking over to them.)

3. Getting a manager a gift when she fires someone

About a year ago, my team added a new member. Since then, a lot of things have gone poorly, and it’s pretty clear he’s not working out. I am about to talk to my manager about a few more areas of his lackluster performance, and I have a feeling it could be one of the final nails in the coffin.

If and when this team member goes, it will be a huge relief for me. This is something that has been stressing me out almost ever since he was hired. At the same time, I think my manager is amazing, but I know that terminating an employee will be difficult for her. Would it be inappropriate to get her a small, slightly impersonal gift? I was thinking wine or whiskey – and my workplace culture wouldn’t make alcohol an odd gift.

Yes, inappropriate — don’t do it. It’s too close to celebrating something that is really crappy for another person (the fired coworker). Firing can be unquestionably the right decision and a huge relief, but it’s never really the occasion for a gift for anyone involved.

4. Can I use my network to help my boyfriend find a job?

I work in a field that is very much about networking and who you know. I am currently in grad school and doing pretty well. I left a major city to come back and get my masters, and have established many professional connections there who I regularly keep in contact with and hope to work with again, once I’ve earned my degree.

My boyfriend also works in the same field and will be moving to that same city this summer. We have worked together professionally for over a year, in multiple capacities, and I would highly recommend his work (though I might be a bit biased.) He is looking for a job in this city, and I want to use my network to help him – but I’m not sure how to go about it. It would be easy if I still lived there, and could give a casual recommendation over dinner or drinks, but it feels strange to cold email from many states away on someone else’s behalf. I don’t want to annoy anyone. How can I best approach an old boss or colleague to recommend him?

Because he’s your boyfriend, you can’t recommend him (as in vouching for his work), but you can refer him. The reason that you can’t vouch for his work is that people will assume that your relationship biases you and so aren’t likely to see your recommendation as credible, no matter how objective you actually are.

However, you can certainly introduce your boyfriend to people in your network — for example, saying something like, “My boyfriend, who’s an experienced teapot maker, is moving to Chicago this summer — would it be okay if I suggested he reach out to you to talk about what the field’s like locally?” or “My boyfriend, who makes award-winning rice sculptures, is moving to Chicago this summer — any chance he could connect with you about your company’s rice sculpting apprenticeship?”

5. Listing on your resume a task that you were trained in but never did

I was trained to do a task, but I never got the chance to do it. I include on my resume and cover letter that I was “trained to administer xyz tests.” I feel like most people would assume that I had actually done it, and I’m worried that a hiring manager might think I tried to trick them if it comes up in an interview. However, I don’t want to write that I was trained to do xyz but never did it, because writing what I didn’t do in a cover letter sounds really odd, but I also can’t leave it off, because the training is relevant. How can I phrase it so as to not mislead hiring managers?

Hmmm, are you sure that it rises to the level of being worth including if you didn’t actually do it? In general, I’d lean toward just leaving it off — but if you’re sure that it really does strengthen your candidacy, then I think the wording you have here — “trained to administer xyz tests” — is the way to go.

{ 222 comments… read them below }

  1. Turtle Candle*


    Usually, when I”m in the office and I’m on my headphones, people IM me before they come over (like Alison said), like, “Got a minute to talk?” And then I know to take headphones off as they come over.

    But on the occasions where that doesn’t work, I find that a brief knock on the end of my desk or the side of my cube works, I think because the vibrations more than the noise get my attention. I know that some people don’t like desk-knocking, but if it’s done from a few feet away (not right next to me) and if the person is smiling when I look up, it isn’t offensive/awkward for me.

    1. Beatrice*

      I also like the knock on the desk or cube, as both the knocker and the one wearing headphones. In addition to the vibrations, just being a more staccato sound helps.

      1. Allison Mary*

        I was just coming to say exactly this. I ask others to knock gently either on my desk or the wall of my cube if I’ve got headphones in, and I’ve gotten into the habit of doing this when I’m approaching others with headphones in, if I can’t get myself into their line of sight.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          I’m often wearing headphones at work, and ask coworkers to knock on the end of my desk, or wave a hand in my peripheral vision – the knock or the motion will catch my attention, even if I’m concentrating. I’m also a bit weird about being touched unexpectedly, so that solves that problem as well.

      2. Shishimai*

        I was about to recommend this. Knocking on the desk can get someone’s attention even if they’re totally embroiled in something else and not listening or looking for visitors.

        Whether you want to disrupt someone who’s focusing that hard is another question, of course.

        I like IMs, but when I get really elbow-deep in a project, I tend to ignore them, so they’re not a reliably fast method of communication for me. That may be different in other environments, with other people.

    2. Irishgal*

      I’ve no problem with being tapped on shoulder. I’m there to work and being allowes to wear headphones is a privilege so someone needing my attention gets priority. Plus not every company has IM.

      1. DuckDuckMøøse*

        I think the tap on the shoulder depends on the person. I have a strong startle reflex (as in, when I’m startled, my body tenses so hard, I can get strong/painful muscle spasms in my back or stomach) so this is actually a *really* bad option for me. But then again, most ways to get my attention are bad options *for me*.

        It really needs to be worked out ahead of time, because some people have really odd/rude notions of what is an appropriate attention-getter in that situation. I’ve had people stomp their feet; slap their palm on the desktop, right next to me; touch/poke me; or shake my chair. The gentle knocking thing is probably the least invasive.

        I agree that you should consider whether the person wearing headphones truly needs to be interrupted at that moment. I don’t wear mine often, but when I do, and someone “busts in”, it is rarely for anything important or urgent – just like most of the times people interrupt me when I’m NOT wearing headphones

        1. Afiendishthingy*

          Yes, I tend to jump about a foot in the air if unexpectedly tapped. My preference is for the person to wave a hand in my field of vision.

          1. DuckDuckMøøse*

            A wave is pretty good, too, but for some reason, people don’t go to that as an option as often. I guess too many people are hands-on types :(
            P.S. love your name, Afiendishthingy – White cliffs of Dover? ;)

          2. aebhel*

            Same. Waving a hand in my field of vision or tapping my desk are preferable, if only to save everyone some awkwardness.

          3. MsChanandlerBong*

            I punched the woman sitting next to me at “Phantom of the Opera” because I was startled by the cap gun they used toward the end of the show. Fortunately, she was a good sport and didn’t try to sue me or anything. I am VERY easily startled.

        2. ReanaZ*

          This: “I agree that you should consider whether the person wearing headphones truly needs to be interrupted at that moment. ”

          It’s hard to get my attention when I’m wearing headphones because I am deliberately wearing them to help me ignore everything going on around my bustling office so I can concentrate to actually get work done. I know it depends on office culture and the nature of the role, but I’d be pissed if my boss wanted to regularly stand up and make random announcements to the whole office. Unless there’s cake or something’s literally on fire, that’s what scheduling meetings is for.

          1. BeenThere*

            Yep. Whenever previous boss was in town thought it was perfectly okay to interrupt me with useless non urgent things with an extremely aggressive loud knocking on my desk… on my deaf side. Who knows ho many time he would actually knock. Every single time I reminded him that he was better off coming on to my good side. He never did. I found out he was fired not long after I started new job. The schadenfreude was strong after I got that news.

      2. TootsNYC*

        I think tapping on somebody is rude. Really rude. I can’t explain strongly enough how rude I think it is.

        Touching them gently is, I think, impolite, but it’s not nearly as rude as tapping someone.

        I’m not sure I can unpack why I feel so strongly that it’s rude; perhaps it’s because it feels as though you’re treating them like an object (a door or doorjamb). or perhaps it’s because it’s such a preemptory gesture.

        1. DuckDuckMøøse*

          I think tapping can work on the autonomous nervous system, innervating the body into a quick countdown towards fight-or-flight mode. Your body doesn’t like the tapping, and has to send signals to the brain to explain it’s in distress. The brain tries to quickly map the signal to its own understanding and vocabulary. So, the brain decides : tapping = rude. Hopefully your conscious mind takes over at that point, using that definition as the premise for a solution on how to react. That’s my theory, anyway. It’s totally separate from conscious thoughts about “how rude!” I’m sure there are people who aren’t as bothered by tapping – lucky them? ;)

          1. TootsNYC*

            I will also say that the only time anyone actually tapped me, he was a major asshole, and it was a major “I’m reminding you that you are shirking your duties as I see them [by being across the room in a conversation when work arrived on the work table], and I’m annoyed at you.”

            And it hurt.

            So, there’s that. But I think tapping is rude.

        2. ECH*

          @TootsNYC: My mom and one of my good friends tap on my arm once in a while. It always gets me upset, and I thought it was just me … but I’m glad to know I’m not just being overly sensitive! Thanks!

      3. Annie Moose*

        That’s fine if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind being touched by other people, but for those of us who dislike being touched, do not touch me without my permission. I’m not comfortable with my mother randomly touching my shoulder, let alone a coworker. I’d rather you poke me with a stick or throw something at me than touch me with your hand unexpectedly. (but hopefully you can find a less invasive option, like waving your hand in someone’s vision or knocking on their desk/cubicle wall)

        1. JessaB*

          OMG yes. I jump when I’m touched and I have back damage, this kind of thing can send me home in the middle of the day with spasms. It took that happening once to train a certain manager not to randomly put hands on me. Unless you really, really know the person, touch is not the way to get someone’s attention. Wave a hand, flick the light switch (I’m deaf, so I’m used to the light trick, some people would freak,) come in and get into line of sight, but no, don’t touch people unless you’re 100% sure that physically or socially (some religions really really frown on people touching under certain conditions,) it’s okay to do that.

      4. Crystal Vu*

        I *hate* being touched by people I’m not close to. I don’t have fibromyalgia or a bad back or anything like that, but it still trips my stress response. I don’t wear headphones at work but if I did, I’d prefer you got into my peripheral vision or waved your hand (not too close to my face though).

        Touching someone else should never be the default action, especially when you don’t know them well.

        1. Talvi*

          Yes yes yes. Unless I know you really well, do not touch me! That said, although I frequently wear headphones, I generally have the volume quite low (often, the volume is on the lowest setting and I still find it kind of loud). Unless it happens to be a really noisy environment, forcing me to turn up the volume, or I am concentrating especially hard, I will probably hear you coming.

    3. Sparrow*

      #2 – There’s already a wide variety of responses on here with different people’s preferences for how they’re interrupted. Have you asked your employees if THEY have a preference? Shoulder tap, desk knock, shouting their name, etc? If there’s just a few of you, it seems that could be the most effective way of navigating this.

    4. Nobody Here By That Name*

      Yup yup yup. As someone who needs my headphones to focus and who gets freaked RIGHT out if somebody touches me when I’m unaware, the knock on the desk or cube wall is the way to go.

      1. Amber T*

        Oh my god this happened to me last week. I was just given headphones because there’s some (minor but loud) construction happening outside my cube, and they work amazingly (can’t hear anything!). In my old cube, my back was back to the opening. Our CFO stood in the entryway calling my name I don’t know how many times and I just didn’t hear him. He finally tapped me on the shoulder and I JUMPED and probably squealed. (It was to tell me to go home early because of the noise.)

        I now face the entryway so I can see people who walk in, but every once in a while if I’m facing the wrong way my supervisor will surprise me. I just told him to throw a balled up piece of paper at me (he has, it works!).

          1. Amber T*

            Apparently they’re the ones that came with old school Blackberries (when those were super popular in the business world). They go deep into your ear which I don’t love and took some getting used to, but it’s better than listening to loud noises. Alone they block out a lot of noise, but once you put on music you can’t hear anything. If I didn’t get notifications on my computer screen I wouldn’t even know my phone was ringing.

    5. The Other Dawn*

      I knock lightly on desks also. The way the computers are situated in the cubes means their back is almost always to me and they wouldn’t see me approaching. I feel like tapping them on the shoulder would startle them.

    6. LQ*

      A knock on the desk is a great way to do this. Also if you can’t stand directly in front of me (because that’s where the computer that I’m working at is) then make sure to get as much in the line of sight as you can.

    7. Edward Rooney*

      If they wear ear buds, ask them to leave one earbud out. The music should still be enough to “distract” them on everyday tasks while still allowing them to hear the outside world. Then, if they are working on something that really needs concentration they can put in the second earbud. This would also tell you that unless your topic is especially important to let them continue in their groove a little longer. This is what I do 90% of the time.

      1. Edward Rooney*

        Also, with headphones, you can set one offset without making them feel uncomfortable

      2. Lily in NYC*

        We sit way too close to each other for that – I really don’t want to hear music leaking out of someone’s dangling earbud. I just stand off to the side and wave – the movement gets the person’s attention and doesn’t startle them.

        1. Windchime*

          Yeah, I don’t want to hear music out of a dangling earbud, either. And listening to both music and office noise is like listening to two radios tuned to different stations at the same time. I can’t focus on either one and it’s hugely distracting so I can’t do the one-earbud thing.

          I have a mirror set up so when I’m looking at my screen, I can see when someone is approaching me from behind. Usually that, in combination with a knock on the cube frame, is enough to get my attention.

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            I’m in the “don’t want to hear music out of a dangling earbud” crowd.

            I used to have a coworker who would leave her music running and set her earbuds down on the desk…I couldn’t concentrate the whole time she was gone.

            1. Koko*

              It seems like the problem/solution in both cases is about volume. If people can hear music out of a dangling earbud, the volume is high enough to be causing hearing damage. If they aren’t noise-isolating headphones and they can’t hear a reasonably loud voice standing right next to them, they’re probably loud enough to be causing hearing damage, too. I used to wear headphones at work and I never had any problem keeping the volume low enough that I could hear if someone was speaking to me.

              1. Turtle Candle*

                Although it isn’t necessarily as simple as “doesn’t hear it = volume is too loud.” For example, I’m a deep-focus worker. When I am deeply into a piece of work, in ‘the zone’ on it, it can take a few repetitions of my name to yank me out of that headspace and into paying-attention-to-the-world mode even with no headphones on at all. (Used to drive my parents NUTS when I was a kid, that they could stand in front of me and say “Turtle. Turtle. Turtle!” when I was reading a book, and I wouldn’t notice until #3.) Add in an extra layer even of quiet music and it might take quite a while for my brain to notice ‘hey, someone is trying to get my attention.’

                (For some reason, and I do not know why, knocking on my desk is much faster to penetrate even the work focus zone than speech of any kind is.)

                1. Turtle Candle*

                  (Actually, the problem that I have the most is when I don’t have headphones on but I’m deep into a piece of writing and someone comes over. They will start in on “Hey Turtle, just wanted to swing by and talk to you about the specs for the new teapot lid, it says that white chocolate will work but I hear the tensile strength isn’t the same, so blah blah…..” Except that it takes a few seconds for my brain to go through the process of a) notice I’m being talked to, and b) disengage from the work and return to the world-of-paying-attention, at which point I’ll have to be like “I’m sorry, I missed the first three sentence of that, can you start over?” At least when I have headphones on, there’s a pretty straightforward visual cue for whether they have successfully gotten my attention…)

                2. Amber T*

                  The ability to deep focus like that is a blessing and a curse. I can focus like that too, and it’s great when you’re working in a semi quiet with distractions work place (here’s looking at you, college library). But yeah, when someone needs to get your attention, it takes a little while.

                3. Rana*

                  Yup. Both my husband and I need a moment to register that someone’s talking to us. We’ve learned that when we’re talking to each other, we should assume that the first half of the sentence wasn’t heard, and repeat accordingly.

              2. Vicki*

                “If people can hear music out of a dangling earbud, the volume is high enough to be causing hearing damage.”

                Um… no.
                I can hear the music from your dangling earbud; I guarantee it.

              3. Lily in NYC*

                A lot of it has to do with the quality of the headphones. The ones that come with smart phones are complete crap and even a moderate volume leaks through. And the ones that go over your ears also leak noise more than the ones that go in your ear. I have an expensive pair (I have an earbud purchasing “habit”, sigh. It’s my weakness) and you can’t hear my music leak out even at the top volume.

                So if I can often hear music while someone is actually wearing their earbuds, I will definitely be able to hear it if there’s one dangling.

      3. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

        A lot of the music I listen to was in the early days of stereo, when they’d put parts of the track in one ear but not the other. So if I left one earbud out, I’d lose the entire drum section or all the trumpets or only get the background vocals. No thanks.

        1. Vicki*

          At one job, many years ago, a friend had a small stereo in his cubicle, about30 feet from mine. There was a long, curved, wooden wall along one side of the aisle between our locations and the acoustics were just right for me to get the bass part of whatever he had playing but not the treble. So I’d get up, walk over, and listen for a few bars to get ab idea of what he had playing, then go back to my desk.

      4. Vicki*

        Oh, no no no. One earbud out would be horrible for people like me.

        I don’t even have music most of the time, just noise isolating earbuds or plugs under noise isolating headphones.

        It’s always fun to watch the person who just came in to talk to me as I put up one “wait” finger, remove the headphones, “wait” again, remove the ear plugs, nod, yes?

        (And, of course, work “flow” state is now destroyed for at least 30 minutes. This had better be both important and urgent.)

    8. dackquiri*

      I don’t even mind a hand waving between my face and the screen (like you said, though, a smile when I look up goes a long way). I feel more embarrassed that I was ignorant to someone’s presence than perturbed when that happens.

      (I wouldn’t advise a shoulder-tap, though. I have a friend with fibromyalgia who understandably strongly dislikes when people touch him without asking.)

        1. TootsNYC*

          I don’t think your fibromyalgia has anything to do with this.

          I think it’s just generally rude to touch other people in most situations.
          And even inside close relationships, where touching is acceptable, I think it’s rude to touch people without warning. So touching them when they can’t hear you or haven’t seen you is rude. Even if they’re your wife or child.

          Move into their line of vision and indicate you want their attention. But don’t touch them or do anything else (like shaking their chair) that affects their body.

          1. DuckDuckMøøse*

            I mean, that fibro is why I have can have an extreme reaction when being startled (that was stated in another comment) Touching should never be an option, unless the person gives you permission in the first place. Too many people do not understand simple boundary issues, nevermind that people with invisible illnesses may have even more boundaries. I keep trying to educate my boss on this issue, and he chooses to think my rules as me just being silly/difficult, taking it personally, then suggesting I need to look for opportunities elsewhere :( Seriously?!

        2. Granite*

          I just don’t like to be touched. Have never understood the appeal of manicures / massages / etc..

          1. Koko*

            I also strongly dislike being touched, but for me it’s all about the presumptiveness that our relationship is close enough to permit touching, and I am very reserved and don’t easily open myself emotionally to others. So I enjoy massages and pedicures because I have paid good money to not have to have a relationship with the person who is touching me. It severs the touching from its association with intimacy, so I can enjoy the pampering physical sensation without all the interpersonal stuff that makes me mentally uncomfortable.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        I am not even injured (in a physical way, I mean, the way someone with fibro might be) or offended by being tapped, it’s just embarrassing for everyone involved because my startle reflex is so strong! A friend came over one time and playfully tapped the top of my head with a toy lightsaber while I was working (to be clear, this was not a jerk move; we had the kind of relationship where that kind of casual physical contact would often be fine), but since I was deeply in my work and didn’t see him, it triggered my startle reflex and I leapt about six inches into the air and yelped, which in turn startled him a bit, too! Taught him pretty quick that while I don’t mind being bonked with a toy lightsaber in fun generally, that it’s not going to be a great idea if I’m not expecting it…..

    9. Elizabeth West*

      Late to the party since I was at an all-day work conference yesterday, but I vouch for the knock. The sound comes through the music (I rarely have it THAT loud unless it’s super loud in the room) and since my back is to the entrance to my cube, I’m more likely to hear that than if someone says Hey or Excuse me. I actually have a sign at the front of my cube entrance with the Gate of Moria on it — at the top, it says “Speak Friend and Enter” and at the bottom it says, “Or knock if I’m wearing headphones.”

      My coworker ignored that the other day and spoke, then came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder and I whirled around in panic and nearly smacked her with my headphones as I ripped them off. DO NOT DO THAAAAAAT

  2. anonanners*

    I’m guilty of using headphones to purposefully ignore a coworker…

    …because that person constantly brings up inane and unrelated tidbits, or goes on long rants/stories about things unrelated to work.

    So the only way for him to really get my attention is to send my an IM. I prefer it that way.

    I’d never do this to my boss, of course, but he’s also far too busy and perceptive to tie me up with useless conversation when I’m clearly in the middle of an important task.

    1. TootsNYC*

      So do you vaguely hear them through the headphones and just pretend you can’t?
      But actually respond when it’s someone else?

      After all, volume can vary so much, right? ;)

  3. Rob D*

    In professional workplaces — and especially for knowledge workers — headphones are the cubicle equivalent of a closed office door. They are the only way for some people to concentrate in noisy disruptive environments. I would first strongly reconsider your need to immediately interrupt this person. If this is a problem for you because it occurs frequently, you might be interrupting them too often and breaking their concentration or “flow” and exacerbating the problem.

    1. Monique*

      There are many people who wear headphones all day long just for a bit of music they like, so I don’t think this is necessarily universally true.

    2. Mike C.*

      I’d have to agree with Rob. With all the offices going towards “open plans” where folks are attending meetings remotely, the headphones are really the only way to get anything done.

      1. Monique*

        I definitely use them for that too, but in our open plan office the music is generally terrible so most people have their headphones on most of the time, regardless of whether they’re in project mode or happy to be interrupted.

        1. the gold digger*

          our open plan office the music is generally terrible

          They force you to hear music? While you are working?

          That is torture. I had to endure it when I worked at Macy’s one year over Christmas and felt powerless to change it, but in an office environment, it really is uncalled for. How is anyone supposed to concentrate when being forced to endure “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” for the fourth time in one day?

          I like quiet.

          1. ThatGirl*

            When I first started at my current company, Muzak was piped in all day. The music was mostly inoffensive but not very good, and definitely repetitive. People started getting up on chairs to turn off the overhead speakers, and eventually it stopped all together.

          2. Anne*

            I worked at JCPenney over the Christmas break the first year I was in college. The music was so awful, it seemed like they just played the same CD of random Christmas pop tunes over and over. I hated Christmas music for years after that.

            1. Turtle Candle*

              Oh gosh, yes. I like Christmas music, so even just hearing Christmas music all day by itself wouldn’t be so bad, but the grocery store that I worked for had one approximately hour-long CD that they just played on a loop. So if you were on an eight hour shift, you heard each song, in the same order, eight times. Times however many days you worked. I about lost my marbles.

              I still do like Christmas music, but the specific covers that they played on that CD are still on my hate list to this day! And I bet I could name them in order still…..

              1. Anonymoose*

                My first job was at a movie theater, where the CD they played over the loudspeakers was 45 minutes long. I know, I timed it. Consider that I usually worked an 8-hour shift, and you see why I can no longer listen to Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day.”

            2. Talvi*

              I remember the days of working retail over Christmas… I like Christmas music just fine, but (like most people, I expect) I have very particular tastes in Christmas music. By all means, play things like Carol of the Bells or O Come, O Come Emmanuel! But if I have to listen to Santa Baby or Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer one more time…

          3. DuckDuckMøøse*

            They piped in Muzak-type stuff into my office, when I first started working, in the late 80s. The worst part about it was how distracting it was, because it usually sent me off into mental tangents of trying to figure out what song that was, being mangled. I’m easily distracted :( A lot of ceiling speakers mysteriously ended up being chewed by rodents with very precise incisors ;) That is, until they sent a memo telling people they couldn’t do that, because the speakers needed to function for emergency announcements.
            When I first came into my current office, there was someone who felt it was appropriate to play top 40s radio without headphones, thereby inflicting it on everyone within earshot. Top 40s, which means you’d hear the same song 4-6 times in an 8 hour period… To this day, I have homicidal tendencies when I hear “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt :P

            1. Emmy*

              Oh goodness. When I read that I thought you meant “Top Songs of the 40s” and pictured your whole office jitterbugging on the way to the printer. Now, I’m sad that it isn’t so.

              1. DuckDuckMøøse*

                I wouldn’t mind that! Well, in short bursts, maybe ;) I’m sure the Andrews Sisters and Big Bands get a bit annoying after a while ;)

              2. Baroness Octothorpe*

                omg, I temped in an office in the late 80’s where they played the top 40 radio station all day every day. To this day I can’t hear “The Wind Beneath My Wings” without breaking out in hives.

          4. anncakes*

            At my job, management recently put out some speakers on some of the shared computers and encouraged everyone to stream music during the day. It’s supposed to “boost morale.” I’m one of the only ones who freaking hates it because not only do I strongly dislike the Top 40, hip hop, and country music everyone loves to play, I find it incredibly distracting and annoying to even have music playing in the first place. We often answer the phones or have to make client phone calls, and I’m always reaching for the mute button so I can DO MY JOB. It’s terrible, but enough people like it that playing more music throughout the workplace is one of management’s actual goals for the year.

          5. Chameleon*

            Our speakers are connected to one particular computer next to the workstation of a guy who listens to the most godawful experimental prog rock station. It makes me want to claw my ears out, but everyone else seems to love it, so I either leave the area or put on my headphones.

          6. Stranger than fiction*

            Yeah I’ve worked in offices where they think everyone must certainly like top 40 pop music and love ballads. Thank goodness no music here but they do play about 15 seconds of something obnoxious whenever someone sells something. It’s almost worse because it startles me whereas if somethings on all the time, after a while you don’t notice cuz you’ve learned to tune it out.

            1. anncakes*

              True, you can learn to tune it out sometimes. But other times, you can’t get away from it. If it’s loud enough that I can hear it in the pharmacy area, I have a hard time focusing on counting 120 tiny tablets with all that background noise and the annoying twang of some dude singing about his pick up truck and Jack Daniels.

          7. Elizabeth West*

            Agree–this sucks. I’ve worked in offices where we had easy listening stations piped in all day. I cannot ever listen to Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” ever again.

        2. Monique*

          We have a Spotify account per floor, and people can take turns to play music of their choice over the speakers. However, with 60 people to a floor, there’s a good chance you’ll have to listen to something you hate every now and again, without knowing who’s playing it, which is when the headphones come out.

          I do appreciate I work at a rather unconventional place. For me, it’s not at all an indicator I don’t want to be interrupted, though I appreciate I may be the exception here!

    3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      That’s an interesting point! It may or may not be the case for the OP’s office, but it’s true that I use headphones as a way to shut out the rest of the world when I need to dig into something.

    4. Vicki*

      “headphones are the cubicle equivalent of a closed office door. ”

      I beg to differ. I’ve had both and the closed door is the only one that really works.

  4. Rob D*

    In professional workplaces — and especially for knowledge workers — headphones are the cubicle equivalent of a closed office door. They are the only way for some people to concentrate in noisy, disruptive environments. I would first strongly reconsider your need to immediately interrupt this person. If this is a problem for you because it occurs frequently, you might be interrupting them too often and breaking their concentration or “flow” and exacerbating the problem, making them wear headphones as a virtual DND sign.
    If you sincerely believe you are interrupting them on a reasonable schedule, say something like “I don’t want to interrupt your work all the time, but I am unsure how you would like to be approached about urgent issues when you are wearing headphones. Is it OK to IM you? Can we set aside some time every couple of hours for a checkin?”

    1. Colette*

      Depending on the nature of the work, hours of uninterrupted concentration may not be a reasonable expectation. And since the OP seems to be in charge, it’s up to her to determine whether she’s willing to take a potential productivity hit to talk to people.

    2. Oryx*

      This depends on the office — where I work, a good chunk of people spend the day with headphones on (myself included) and it’s not a DND sign. We like listening to music, podcasts, audiobooks but because of the nature of our work know that there are times when we may be interrupted and it’s okay.

    3. Lily in NYC*

      It really depends on the workplace. For example, the only reason we all wear headphones is because we sit in an open floorplan/bullpen. It is incredibly distracting to hear your neighbor on a conference call so we all wear them as noise control. They are worn all day, every day unless there’s a meeting. So we always interrupt when we need to speak to each other – and the nature of our work means setting aside time to check-in later is not feasible.

    4. Analyst*

      Might also be a misalignment of an extrovert “I want to talk in person” boss and some introvert “I’d prefer email so I can process a thoughtful response” workers. IF this is the case, OP, make sure you’re meeting your employees halfway in the communication department. Sometimes face-to-face talk is warranted, and other times (IMO most times), email is the way to go, or IM if something’s pressing. There should be a balance.

  5. Hot Chocolate*

    Both my manager and my colleague wear big headphones that cover both their ears, so I just say “Excuse me” and their name loudly until I get their attention. I only wear one bud and I’m positioned so I can see when someone walks over to me, whereas they both are not, which I think is ridiculous. Those big headphones plus their inability to see someone hovering nearby really cuts them off from the person who needs them. I suspect that is the intention, though, as they don’t like to be disturbed. This was really frustrating when I first started work and needed to ask a lot of questions. But eye contact is important and they’ll take the headphones off to listen to a colleague.

    1. Oryx*

      If they have their ears covered, saying their name over and over to get their attention strikes me as a little passive aggressive. Even if they can’t see someone hovering, wouldn’t it be easier to just get up and go over to them and get in their direct line of sight?

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        The direct line of sight thing confused me – don’t most cubicle workers sit facing an interior corner of their cube? I do. To get into my direct line of sight you’d have to go to the cube diagonally adjacent to mine and be tall enough that you are visible above my monitor.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            But don’t you face away from your door? Even with lower cube walls (mine at about shoulder-height when I’m standing, with glass inserts in the top 2 feet) you’d have to be in someone else’s cube to be in my line of sight.

            1. TootsNYC*

              There’s parenthial vision.

              Ooops, peripheral. (The “parenthial” term was one somebody used mistakenly, and I’ve always loved it. She say in parentheses.)

            2. Oryx*

              I don’t face away from the door of my cube, no. I’m perpendicular to the entry: I face a wall, the opening is directly to my left. I don’t have a fourth wall, not even a partial one.

        1. Melissa*

          I’ve got my cubicle turned so my back is to shelving, and I face the walkway. It doesn’t help with some people. Most know to just come into my line of sight…but there are a few people who come IN to my cubicle from the side, stand behind me, and silently wait for me to notice them. It’s infuriating, because I notice everyone going by in front of me, and anyone who stops in that zone of the walkway gets immediate eye contact from me. In fact, a lot of the people just walking by get eye contact, too.

          I’ve started barricading the entrance to my cubicle with a cart of paperwork/books, so the sneaking up people will stop it.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I wish I could change it so I don’t face the corner, but I don’t see how we can do that. I need the diagonal because of the way I have my keyboard / monitors set up. If it were more like an office, with space for me to get in and out behind the desk facing the door or entrance, that would work. But I think the cube surfaces attach to the walls.

    2. Windchime*

      This wouldn’t work with me. My big headphones are noise-canceling, and when I have them turned on and am playing a white-noise app or music, there is no way I will hear you calling out to me. Ever. Because that’s how they are designed.

      I’m glad that the dangling earbud works for you, but it would make me crazy to have two totally different sets of noise coming in, one in each ear. Can you IM your colleague to get their attention?

      1. DuckDuckMøøse*

        We’re not allowed to have noise-canceling headphones, so our only option is to turn the volume up – I enjoy having to choose between suffering with obnoxious co-irker noise, or risk damaging my hearing

  6. Chaordic One*

    #3. I agree with Alison. Although it was not your intention, purchasing a gift for your supervisor could (and probably would) be perceived by your co-workers as celebrating something that is really crappy for the fired person. Office gossip would make you look like an insensitive jerk and a cad.
    After the person is fired, you can tell your supervisor that you support the decision and she’ll probably appreciate your support.

    1. Monique*

      I agree – I don’t think there’s any way this could be done in a way that is appropriate, and without it seeming a celebration. It’s also not something a gift is warranted for, there’s no celebratory occasion, no favour, no huge achievement, just a really awful day.

    2. Sadsack*

      The OP didn’t really describe the coworker as being a terrible person, just not being suited for the position. I don’t think OP intended it to be a celebration of someone else’s misfortune, but I think that’s what it will certainly seem like to everyone else, especially the coworker if he were to find out. I especially think the manager would really be put off by such an act because I am sure (I hope) the manager isn’t necessarily happy about having to fire someone.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        And even for the boss, it’s not cause for celebration. It was probably an agonizing process with a disappointing ending.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          This. Even in the worst situation where I’ve had to fire someone (like so bad a PIP/warning couldn’t even be on the table) it was a miserable experience.

          It’s even worse when it’s a person where they are just not a good fit.

        2. Koko*

          And also, this is a standard if difficult part of her job. I don’t expect to be given gifts for doing my job, because I’m a professional. I would feel like my professionalism was being called into question, that I’m being perceived as so fragile I can’t emotionally handle my work without being coddled.

    3. The Bimmer Guy*

      I don’t even think that telling your manager you support her decision in this instance is helpful. In office-politics speak, it still says, “I’m pleased this person was fired.” You might ask what you could do to take on some of the workload that person ostensibly left or to make the transition time to another hire (if it happens) easier, and that’d be much more helpful than a comment like that.

      1. Anna*

        Especially since hiring and firing is part of the manager’s job and might happen whether or not the OP agrees with it. It’s great that the OP recognizes that firing someone is difficult, but there’s something odd about celebrating someone doing part of their job. (Aside from it feeling like you’re celebrating someone else’s misfortune.)

        1. Sharkey*

          Yeah, at best I’d stick with a conversation after the firing that is more general in nature, particularly because it puts the manager in an awkward spot to bring up the firing as she may not be able to or want to discuss it with another employee. Something along the lines of “Hey, I just wanted to take a moment to tell you that I think you’re an amazing manager and I appreciate all that you do” would probably be more appropriate.

    4. Crystal Vu*

      Yeah, I think the only appropriate action you could do to express your pleasure is to wait until you’re at home and do a little happy-jig in your living room. Nobody at work needs to know about it.

    5. A good old canuck*

      #3 When I was at my current job, I was about halfway through my 6-month probation period, when a colleague (who was also still on probation, but further along in the process) was fired (and it was a justified firing because she made some serious errors during her probation). First, as someone that was still on probation, this made the idea of being fired during probation very real to me (and caused me a lot of anxiety – at a time when I was already struggling with anxiety). Second, if I found out that a colleague gave a manager a gift (which I would interpret as celebrating) because she was fired a person, I would feel very unsettled about having to work with someone who appears to delight in another person’s pain (I would question if the person “celebrated” in other difficult work situations). A firing is a very serious thing and needs to be taken seriously. Firings can be justified and even if you think it is, I think it is important to respond with compassion.

  7. Ann Furthermore*

    #3: Even though it will be a good result for you and your manager, it’s still going to be a wretchedly awful day for your former coworker, who will suddenly find himself out of a job. Just because he didn’t work out, it doesn’t make him a bad person. Even if your intent with a gift is to say, “Wow, that must have been a really hard thing to do and I feel for you,” someone will take it to mean that you’re celebrating, which will make you look horribly insensitive and mean. Plus, she’s the manager, and that’s part of her job. She wouldn’t get a gift for assigning work to her team or having staff meetings.

    After it’s done, tell her, “I know that must have been awful, but it was the right decision.” It probably won’t make her feel any better, since firing people is a really crappy thing to have to do, even when there’s no other alternative. But she’ll appreciate your support.

    1. Mookie*

      Yes. This is her job. It’s great she’s finally doing it, with respect to this employee, but it’s probably not all that remarkable (and if it is, your workplace sounds, at the very least, bureaucratic if not toxic). Voicing your support will be enough.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        Another thing the OP could do is to voice her support for her manager if other people on the team are griping about the former co-worker being fired. It would be inappropriate to share all the gory details, but saying, “I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision, or something that anyone took lightly,” would be a nice thing to do too.

    2. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      This is weird timing!

      I did actually buy one of my managers a “gift” for terminating someone this week. She’s my direct report and it was a bad termination. We weren’t expecting it to be that bad, he’d only been with us for 6 weeks, but it was a bad one. She was shaken up afterward and I said “omg, that’s terrible, I will buy you presents!” . Which made her laugh and then I bought her lunch with a promise for lunch the next week also.

      Mostly, I was trying to make her laugh after such a bad experience. I had an entire riff about housewarming presents, what do you need? (she said a car), etc.

      While 100% Alison right as most always, it’s appropriate for senior managers to show their managers compassion and appreciation (if not exactly cars), when the managers do tough things.

      1. A Dispatcher*

        I think it also makes a bit of a difference that OP sounds like they are roughly in the same place in the workplace hierarchy as the fired colleague.

        In your case it seems much more like supporting someone you manage who just dealt with a tough situation whereas a gift from a subordinate to a boss after a firing definitely comes off as celebratory, even if that was not the intent.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

          Oh, I agree completely. I was surprised at the weird timing of the letter appearing the same week our incident did.

          There’s a “thing” to about how much you can complain about a termination after you do it. Unless you are cold hearted, you know that as bad as that termination was, the terminated employee had it way worse because you still have a job.

          I’m surprised that doesn’t come up more in our conversations here, what the person who terminates does with how bad they feel after a bad experience. My manager was shaking, not wildly, but shaking. (She had our HR director with her so she had support, btw. She didn’t have to do it alone.)

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            This is funny, because I was going to suggest that while a gift is a little inappropriate, checking in on your boss afterwards and maybe even inviting them to lunch to talk about it (or get their mind off of it) would be a nice gesture. The boss will probably be a bit distraught afterwards, as even when it’s necessary, firing someone can’t be easy.

            1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

              FWIW, I would never discuss (or even acknowledge any difficulty with) a termination for someone who isn’t in management, and even if they are in management, I wouldn’t discuss (or acknowledge difficulty) if it was at their peer level.

              I don’t know why but anything else feels wrong. “Just doing my job, ma’am”

              1. Colette*

                I agree -the manager’s manager can offer to listen, but a subordinate can’t. I can’t articulate why, but it’s the same reason it would be appropriate to complain about bills to another adult but not appropriate to complain to your child – you’re in charge and should not delegate stress.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Totally agree. Part of it is because a manager should be minimizing drama for her staff, not adding to it. And part of it is that it’s inappropriate to share firing details downward.

      2. Bwmn*

        Wakeen, given your recent experience if the situation was the other way around where you had a difficult termination – given the relationship that you have with one of your reports, is there something they could do that would feel appropriate? In my office, the impulse might be to offer to take a manager out for a drink or at least the availability to join a manager for a drink. This obviously significantly depends on the nature of the relationship between manager and reports, but it was an idea that came to mind and I wondered if it would be more appropriate?

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          Me, personally?

          My direct report managers are awesome and I would be able to have (have had) a stress let down with them (usually individually) after a bad term or bad encounter with an employee. “Here’s a brownie!” would be nice, if a brownie was on hand, but I’d never want a fuss or attention drawn.

          Me: “Well that was terrible.”
          Them: “God, I’m sorry, that sucks. Here’s a brownie.”

          And that’d be the end of that.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah — something beyond that is going to come across as inappropriate, I think (of the employee to ask and of the manager to take them up on it).

      3. Vin packer*

        I was going to say that the specifics make a difference too–a bottle of fancy champagne with a ribbon around it would be really tone deaf, but an unadorned fifth of Jack might get the actual intent across a little better. But your point about the manager/employee dynamic makes sense; OP should probably just skip it.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I’m w/ Hornswoggler: I came here to suggest this to #5, and you’ve done it for me.

      I might have suggested adding something like, “It was hard for me to work with him, and it means a lot that you were willing to do the tough part of managing in order to look out for our workflow, our team, and the company. It gave me a lot of respect for you.”

      Point out that the benefits are real and are business related.

      And then most important of all: Do your job with renewed energy and zeal, with cheerfulness and cooperativeness.

      Provide her all the positive reinforcement that she deserves!

    4. TootsNYC*

      Oh, another thought: Gifts are celebratory-occasion markers, especially when they’re flowing up (because your boss’s wedding or new baby or Master’s Degree is almost the only time you can properly give a gift that flows up).
      And your manager is NOT going to feel like celebrating.

      You don’t normally give gifts when you’re commiserating.

  8. A Signer*

    #2, I was going to suggest just waving your hand in their line of sight until you got their attention, but I’m a hearing ASL student and I’m so used to Deaf culture that I forgot it is considered rude to wave like that in hearing spaces! IM seems like a great solution, unless they don’t mind a little handwaving, haha.

    1. Myrin*

      It is? I had no idea! Waving would actually be my first and automatic reaction but then again I’m not in the US so maybe there’s different standards? Fascinating.

      1. Beezus*

        I wonder is A Signer meant waving a hand closer to the person’s face. For example, if I am sitting facing a corner absorbed in my computer, and you walk up behind me and wave your hand in my line of sight between my face and my screen – that would be very effective, but a tad rude.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yeah, I was thinking of the thing kids did in high school if they thought you were daydreaming, which consisted of waving their hand up and down right in your face, so close they could thwack you in the nose by accident.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            Yes. I think there’s a big difference between standing in someone’s peripheral vision and waving, and the kind of ‘are you spacing off?’ hand-in-front-of-face thing. The latter is undeniably more effective, but at least to me, it has such associations with either jerks in high school or jerks when I was working customer service (ugh, the number of people who waved their hand in front of my face when I was trying to count up my register before closing out…) that it automatically triggers a ‘rude!’ instinct in me.

    2. Monique*

      I do a version of this – stand to their side and awkwardly wave a hand where I’m guessing their periferal vision starts. It’s a pretty common one at my work and tends to startle people less than a knock on their desk or chair or a tap on the shoulder.

      1. Chloe Silverado*

        I do this too. Sometimes a tap on the shoulder or a knock can be startling to anyone who is very focused their work, with or without headphones. I’ll usually try the peripheral wave first, and if I can’t get the person’s attention I’ll knock lightly.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          The way our office is set up, for most people, you would have to be much closer to them to wave a hand in their peripheral vision as opposed to tapping them on the shoulder. And there’s no where to knock that makes sense either. It’s very awkward!

      2. Rye-Ann*

        Yeah, I totally do this. Standing in their line of vision usually isn’t an option, because generally when people have headphones in they are facing their cubicle wall/their computer.

    3. Afiendishthingy*

      I don’t think it’s rude! I posted above that I prefer coworkers to get my attention this way if I’m wearing headphones. I am wound pretty tight and this method is the least likely to give me a heart attack.

    4. Mockingjay*

      I wave in peripheral vision. Our L-shaped cubicles are arranged so that the monitors and laptops are catty-corner in the bend. Which means you can’t see anyone behind you, but you can sense motion at the sides. I make sure that I am standing back and on one side, so when they turn I am not on top of them.

      I don’t EVER wave in front of someone’s face. That’s rude and startling, not to mention a violation of the Personal Bubble Space.

    5. Kyrielle*

      I’m hearing and not at all part of/familiar with deaf culture, and waving would be one of my first impulses. It would be rude if it was too close to the coworker, but say 2 feet away and in their visual space, it might work quite nicely – and the motion will get more attention than just standing there silently. This wouldn’t trouble me at all.

    6. Kimberlee, Esq*

      I also have a gut feeling that I’m being rude if I wave at a person to get their attention like that, if I’m at all close to them… I feel like, for me, it stems from being in the service industry. I don’t want people to feel like I think they’re at my beck and call. It’s probably a bit absurd, though. I usually go with a very light tap on the shoulder.

    7. Anna*

      I ran into this at one job. One of the men I worked with was deaf and his computer faced away from the cube opening and I had no idea how to get his attention, so I did end up scaring the crap out of him once or twice. Ugh.

    8. Trillian*

      But not too close. Someone within reach waving in my peripheral vision would freak me more than if they just tapped my shoulder.

    9. stevenz*

      But if we’re talking about hearing people, since they are listening to headphones, waving is the best. It’s obvious, it doesn’t bother others, and it works. IM seems less convenient and a bit impersonal, and will they even notice?


  9. Hornswoggler*

    Re No. 1 – it may be worth pointing out to Tywin that if the new employee is not shut down on this, he will end up spending a lot of time dealing with her when he really needs to be doing other things. Also, it might worth taking the employee aside and pointing out that it’s not good for her to become someone who is viewed as a nuisance by her boss’s boss.

  10. hbc*

    OP3: The biggest gift you can give your boss is to have all the documentation lined up for her. Dates of problems, emails where expectations were laid out clearly, signed reviews. If your company has forms related to termination, fill them out in advance. If your company doesn’t, google up some samples and fill them out as best you can. Make clear that you’re willing to sit in on the termination meeting if she thinks that will help.

    The second biggest gift is to not send any signals that you think she can’t handle it. The hardest thing about the first time I fired someone wasn’t the actual firing, it was hearing through the grapevine that a few people thought I was incapable of actually doing it. This is her job–don’t send the message that you think she’s not up for it, or that you need to give her a treat for doing it.

  11. Myrin*

    #1, I don’t really think that is it, but is it at all possible that Jane doesn’t know you’re officially the team lead? If you’re technically just coworkers and all of you report to Tywin and no one has explicitly spelled it out for her, she might well think you are indeed on some kind of “power trip” and wonder why you’re always telling her what to do, seeing as you aren’t actually her manager.

    Again, I don’t think that’s it because such a kind of confusion probably would have come to light by now but it would explain why she is so constantly and bizarrely (and annoyingly, seriously, this would get on my nerves so quickly) doing this.

    1. Not Today Satan*

      But it sounds as though the new employee is in the very early stages of working there and that LW is training her. Honestly in that case I don’t even think it matters much that LW is team lead–the new employee shouldn’t be running off to the manager about everything LW trains her on regardless. (But LW being team lead makes it worse.)

      (But I’ll admit this is close to home for me:I’m currently training a new coworker who thinks she knows more than me about everything–even though she’s never had this type of job before–and it is SO incredibly frustrating and annoying.)

      1. Myrin*

        Oh, I totally agree. I was just thinking about a somewhat reasonable explanation her behaviour could have and her not having a good sense of the hierarchy in her team is what I came up with.

        (I actually experienced a very minor similar case just last Friday: I teach a class for people currently in the “Introduction to [my field]” seminars, to help them with problems they had in the regular course. So, these are super duper new students who really don’t know a lot about the field yet. And last week, one of them was reading a book before class and complained about the editing. Editing happens to be my speciality, so I asked her what her problem with it was in this case. And she started to bemoan things which are all completely normal and very standard. I explained this to her but she brushed me off (in a “Well yes, okay, but it’s dumb!” kind of way) and I repeated that there’s a reason for why it’s done that way and that she’ll find this in every edition from that time and, again, it’s very normal. And she just brushed me off again and proceeded to complain about the very same thing! I chose to find it amusing instead of annoying, partly because she’s very nice and eager to learn otherwise, but man. Please accept this one thing I happen to know quite a bit about.)

      2. Raine*

        I would definitely be annoyed at a nee hire who was basically “appealing” all of the apparently even basic instructions — for one thing, the employee seems to be taking as a personal challenge every edict (even those literally already written and routine). But my own experience made me see this first not as the employee having had bad team lead instructions in her past. For some reason my first thought was either that the employee already knows the manager from another context (I don’t mean anything scandalous) OR that the employee really is someone rather green who doesn’t know the work world is not like the graduate classroom where every statement by the assistant can be challenged both on the spot and appealed to the professor.

      3. Roscoe*

        I’m going to disagree. Someone training you isn’t by default your manager. I’ve had people train me incorrectly. If this person is a team lead, that needs to be spelled out. But the person training you doesn’t necessarily have authority over you.

        1. CMT*

          Sure, but if the person training you says, “The policy is XYZ and here’s where it’s written out” then it does make you kind of a jerk if you appeal that. Also, I think a new employee should assume that the person training them *does* know what they’re doing until they see signs to the contrary.

          1. Roxanne*

            But just what is the new employee appealing? Flex Fridays? Making up time from going to doctor’s appointments? BYOD policies? I’m confused as to why she feels the need to appeal anything in regards to company policies in place. My first thought (which may be off base and wrong) was: is this some kid who feels that things need to be changed to accommodate her all the time and she’s playing “mom” against “dad” when she didn’t like the answer she got from “mom, ” know what I mean? (Dad, Mom said I couldn’t get next Friday off! Make her change her mind!)

      4. Lou*

        Can I just say I love your username, Not Today Satan? Also, yes, I agree with your comment. I wonder why the manager hasn’t nipped it in the bud.

      5. Stranger than fiction*

        We too have a new employee in training that’s telling the rest of her team how to do things. It’s baffling. Like she’s brand new. I would never dream of doing that at a belt and new place I’ve yet to learn all about. I may write some ideas or questions down for later but geez. At least she’s not running off to the boss, though. More like her teammates are about her.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Wow my autocorrect is doing some doozies lately. Not even sure what that belt part meant.

    2. Ella*

      Yes, Jane may have had experience with a self styled ‘team lead’ and now be wary of giving credence to anything that doesn’t come directly from her boss.

      1. Judy*

        I’ve once or twice been trained by someone, and when I’ve followed their “procedure” instead of looking at the written procedure, I’ve been called out as wrong. As in, I was told to do X, I need to do A, take it to B, who will enter it into C, then I need to do D and tell B it was completed. Turned out that I needed to do A, enter C, then do D, then tell B it was complete. Trainer had done it incorrectly for a while, but the admin B was willing to do some of the work for him, but not necessarily for everyone in the group.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I think it’s important to have stuff like this spelled out. Some people don’t really get the idea of a team lead, and then they end up thinking, “My coworker thinks she’s the boss of me. But she’s not.”

      These things are easiest to navigate for everybody when they are clearly spelled out. And the manager needs to do the spelling out. Because if the OP *were* just an officious colleague, she might well say much those sorts of things.

      When you delegate authority, it’s tremendously important that you be clear about it.

      1. New Girl*

        I had that situation once, at a workplace with very firm ranks, and rules about what ranks are and are not allowed to do. A lateral coworker one rank above me took me aside to tell me that from now on I would be funneling my work product for our supervisor through her, and feedback would come back the same way. And I told her no, that wasn’t allowed, because that made her my supervisor and you’re not allowed to supervise anyone that close to you in rank. And she was *completely* stunned that I did not just take her word for it and happily be her minion. But she was an officious buttinsky jerk (whom I’d also already witnessed taking credit for my work)! Why would I take her word for it that this was what my supervisor wanted!

        My supervisor never, ever brought the idea up with me. She probably approved the idea, but she clearly didn’t have the courage (or, like, the engagement) to speak to me directly. It will not surprise you that I did not last long at that establishment.

      2. Artemesia*

        Absolutely. It is the managers job to make this totally clear to the employee. And this is something for the team lead to deal with asap and clearly; first with the manager noting how disruptive it is to the process; then with the manager and the employee for clarification.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        Yeah that should have been made clear if it wasn’t. I’ve only ever had one job where I had a team lead in addition to my manager and my manager introduced her as such in day one. (And after that I almost never saw manager again)

        1. OP1*

          It has been made clear, from the interview stage and on day one.

          Now that I think about it, though, the person is new to professional work and may not know what team lead means.

          1. TootsNYC*

            That would be a really good way for your manager to approach this with her (and for you to frame it as well, simply because the non-confrontational, non-condemning approach sets off fewer defensive mechanisms, etc.)

            Educating her on what a team lead does. And also, on what her boss expects of her, whether the “team lead” terminology is used or not.

    4. Vicki*

      Has anyone else noticed that the OP and the employee are both “Jane”.

      (Alison – it’s a minor nit to pick, but this was confusing on first read.)

  12. Mookie*

    LW5, does the position you’re applying to heavily involve administering that particular test? Is it difficult to do so accurately and with ease without any experience? Will it involve using judgment you could only adequately possess if you’ve administered these tests before? Under normal circumstances in your industry, are people new to administering these tests allocated a mentor or more seasoned colleague to supervise? Are you liable to be replacing someone who administers them regularly?

    In other words, would having the experience you lack make you such an asset to your employer that without it, they might hesitate in interviewing or hiring you? Or is the training relevant only insofar as it is an infrequent task normally associated with the position you’re applying for and not something the company needs from you or something only you can provide? If it’s the former, you’ll need to clarify what your experience actually is during the initial interview or phone screening, or put out a few subtle feelers about the company’s policies regarding the tests, whether they have staff to allocate (either administering the tests themselves or shadowing you as you do), how this may possibly affect their bottom line, how soon and how readily can you get the necessary experience, etc.. If the latter, you probably can wait for them to broach the subject themselves if they want to.

    1. OP 5*

      Hmm thanks, those are good considerations. These are all research assistant (and therefore entry-level) positions. I think for some jobs it’s a useful detail, but for others it’ll be better to focus on other experience.

  13. A Dispatcher*

    #3 I’m sure this isn’t your intent but making complaints to your boss that may end up being a deciding factor in getting someone fired, and the buying a gift for your boss is going to look shady, like super duper shady. As if your thinking your boss for doing you a favor by firing someone.

  14. Katie the Fed*

    #3 – Yeah, PLEASE don’t do that! It’s part of your manager’s job to make tough decisions like that. That’s why she’s being paid more. Also – she’ll make the decision because it’s the best thing for the company, not just for you – even if it does feel like a great moment for you.

    Firing people is really, really hard. It’s the most difficult thing I’ve had to do as a manager. The best thing you can do is just not give her any grief for a few days, and a few weeks later comment that things seem to be running much more smoothly without the former coworker around

      1. Murphy*

        Right? If I had to fire someone I’d be sick about it, even if it’s the right decision. Celebrating that would go over like a lead balloon to me (and make me feel even worse, honestly).

    1. Laurel Gray*

      Totally agree. My workload temporarily consists of a manager who was let go for performance issues recently. My boss is great and definitely gave this manager a chance and time to improve but that didn’t happen. People were mostly surprised that it happened but in meetings we tend to focus on the improvements made and issues or processes that have been fixed and not on the fired manager.

  15. DR*

    #2: Don’t yell at them or bang on things. That pretty much covers it. If you don’t do either of those things and the person has an issue, then the problem is with them and they shouldn’t wear headphones. Trying to cater to everyone’s preferences just sounds like a waste of time. I’m not going to remember that Jane wants me to tap her on the shoulder, Bob prefers I wave, and the new guy wants me to knock on his desk. Be polite and you should be fine.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I would add, “don’t touch them unless as a last resort.”
      And then you need to do it gently and briefly. No tapping.

  16. The Alias Gloria Is Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

    #2 – sometimes tapping or “knocking” on the desk itself works. At my work my cube faces in, so you couldn’t get in my line of sight unless you went outside and jumped up and down in front of the window, and somehow managed to jump high enough over my cube wall. (Yes I have a cube wall in front of a window, just like Office Space!) But yeah, IMs work too. I wish people would do that here.

  17. Bwmn*

    #5 – My thinking around this largely goes to whether or not the training comes with certification (something like CPA training) or if the training is particularly expensive/laborious.

    In a job many lifetimes ago, I worked with a number of clinicians trained at giving various IQ/learning tests to children. To round out their resumes, I know that a number worked on training and giving practice tests to adults so that they could add that to their skills despite only working with children. Obviously giving tests to your fellow volunteering coworkers is not the same as doing it professionally, but it was a way to at least add the skill for future resumes or keep the skill somewhat fresh.

  18. Allison*

    #2, I’m usually aware of my surroundings when I’m wearing headphones, but sometimes I do use them to isolate myself because all the conversations around me are super distracting. Because of this, if someone needs my attention their best best is to send me an e-mail or IM, or tap on my desk if they’re already right there.

    #3, seems a little too “ding dong the witch is dead” for me, and it seems odd to want to reward someone for firing a coworker you didn’t like.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      I read letters like #3 and realize that people are so used to working in environments where problem employees aren’t managed out or put on a PIP that something like a firing seems like the manager went above and beyond. Like Katie the Fed said up above, it is part of a manager’s job and probably the worst part, but it is part of their duties and definitely shouldn’t be rewarded by a subordinate under any circumstances.

  19. Dip-lo-mat*

    #3–Anything laudatory you can send to your manager’s boss that could be used in an annual review? Or send her an email that she can put in her performance review file? We do that a lot in this little world I live in. “Filippa–I wanted to take a moment and thank you for your dedication to our team’s productivity and morale. You navigated a difficult HR process, had difficult conversations that others may avoid, and led by example. I’m proud to be on your team. Thanks, Jarvis.” Filippa tucks it in her kudos file and uses it later as an example of being an excellent manager.

  20. No Longer Just a Lurker*

    I only put in one ear bud so that my other ear is free to pick up on anyone speaking. Several of my other coworkers do the same thing and it works well for us.

    1. Rabbit*

      #2 – I’ll put headphone in without music sometimes just so people leave me alone while I’m working. It’s kinda great.

      1. Windchime*

        I wish that worked in my office! When I finally put on my headphones due to distractions, it’s like waving a huge flag that says, “Come and bug me!” I don’t think people do it on purpose; it just seems that people all the sudden need to talk to me when I’m wearing headphones.

  21. Journal Entries*

    Would flipping the lights off and on to get the attention of multiple people on headphones for an occasional important announcement be weird?

    1. LQ*

      I’d say yes in general and SUPER yes in some cases. For us flipping the lights would cover about 50 or so people and like a range of 3 different departments. So first make sure that only your people would be involved. Second it feels a bit odd to want to get the attention of a bunch of people, if it is enough to maybe need a conference room send an appointment for right now and mark it urgent. If it is just we 3 are going to huddle around someone’s cube the doing a knock or wave on the desk of the beckoned person and then going to the desk of the huddler makes sense. (Though that better be urgent because whenever my boss comes to my desk with someone else that means there is a Giant Problem.)

    2. themmases*

      Yeah, it is weird. You don’t come into someone else’s office and start messing with the lights; if they’re out in the open you’re affecting other people who either aren’t involved or weren’t even wearing headphones. It’s also a way to get a classroom of elementary school students to quiet down… The implication is that everyone is doing something wrong and so you’re going to treat them like young children.

      1. Isben Takes Tea*

        Also, lights flickering doesn’t just get your attention, it gets your adrenaline going, since it usually is a sign that the environment is unstable or in danger. I would be super pissed if someone did this and it wasn’t an emergency.

        1. LQ*

          Yes! Emergency. That’s what I’d think if the lights were flipped here.
          (Unless you are trying to get people to go back into the theatre after intermission, I’m ok with it there.)

    3. Anon Moose*

      No, don’t do that. That would be very very annoying. Also much more of an emergency connotation.

  22. TO OP#3*

    Please explain more about your office culture. So far you state that alcohol wouldn’t be odd gift. What are the other occasions you would give someone a gift?

  23. Mockingjay*

    #5: I would list it in the Education or Skills section of your resume, along with any other courses or certifications.

  24. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    “Yes, inappropriate — don’t do it. It’s too close to celebrating something that is really crappy for another person (the fired coworker). Firing can be unquestionably the right decision and a huge relief, but it’s never really the occasion for a gift for anyone involved”

    Too close to it? TOO CLOSE TO IT?!!! It is celebrating something that shouldn’t be celebrated. It’s not just inappropriate for a gift occasion, it’s just downright inappropriate.

    I’ve been in some pretty bad corporate cultures in a 43 year career , but giving a gift to a manager for a firing is just not appropriate. Wreaks of a junior high thing.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But the OP doesn’t intend it as celebratory; she intends it as “hey, you did a hard thing.” It’s still totally inappropriate and Not To Be Done, but I think we can take her at word about her motives.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        “If and when this team member goes, it will be a huge relief for me. This is something that has been stressing me out almost ever since he was hired.”

        It sounds like she wants to give a thank-you gift for the manager doing the firing. But let us agree to disagree.

  25. ThatGirl*

    Alison, housekeeping note, the site keeps crashing my Firefox browser. I think it’s the video ad in the top right corner. I get an error that says a script is unresponsive and eventually the whole browser stops responding. It seems to be OK on Chrome.

    1. Anon Moose*

      Not really on Chrome. It crashed the Shockwave Flash and I was kicked out of the website once.

  26. Ella*

    #2–I’ve had several coworkers strategically place mirrors on their desks specifically so that they can see anyone coming up behind them. If your coworkers’ desks are against the wall and you’re having trouble getting into their line of sight to attract attention, that might be an option.

  27. SaviourSelf*

    Whenever I had to fire someone, my boss at ex-job would buy me a bottle of my favorite alcohol afterwards. It wasn’t really a gift as much as a – here you’re probably going to need this…

    1. Kyrielle*

      What Isben Takes Tea said – if this came from one of your employees, a peer of the person you fired, it would come off really weird, especially if they’d been the one bringing most of the issues that led to the firing to you.

      From another manager not reporting to you, or even moreso from your boss, it comes across as a sympathetic gesture, rather than a form of gratitude or celebration. The direct report may mean it as a sympathetic gesture, but it’s not guaranteed to read that way to everyone (or anyone).

  28. Lou*

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but it would’ve been quite something to read a submission titled, “My employee gave me a bottle of wine after terminating another employee,” or “My coworker bought our manager a gift for firing another coworker.”

    1. Annie Moose*

      Or “I heard through a mutual acquaintance that an ex-coworker bought my ex-manager a bottle of wine after firing me.”

  29. Pam*

    #3- I think your intentions here are good, but Alison’s advice is correct. Your manager is human, and firing is always tough. So, depending on your relationship, you could just say something like, “Hey, I know that’s not an easy thing to do. For what it’s worth, I think it was the right move.” Sometimes a manager really appreciates that kind of thing.

  30. TheAssistant*

    OP #2, why are you using office-wide announcements to convey important information that can’t be missed? Perhaps this is why your employees are wearing headphones to begin with – they’re being continually interrupted by announcements. Have you considered email or Skype for questions and announcements?

    1. TootsNYC*

      I don’t think it’s completely fair to question the OP on whether her interruptions to her team are warranted; she knows her own workflow, so I’d assume that her interruptions of their work are appropriate.

      I don’t agree with you that email or Skype is best for important stuff that can’t be missed.

      Skype is for when the people aren’t there; these people are there.
      Right now (unless things have changed), you can’t do a group Skype. It’s a major waste of a manager’s time to have three conversations instead of one. And you run the risk that stuff gets left out of one conversation. Or the last person raises an important point of clarification, and how you have to go back and tell the first people about it.

      And people can miss emails.

      If you have their eyes on you, all of them at once, you can convey in ONE conversation information to THREE people. And they can ask questions or make suggestions where everyone on the team can hear it. The manager can ask for verbal confirmation of the message and see nonverbal feedback (“You look hesitant, Damian–is there something you’re worried about?”)

      Plus those person-to-person interactions are what make your team feel that you actually “see” them, that you consider them to be worth your time and attention.

      Sure, a manager wants to not interrupt people when it’s not important, and to keep from interrupting people when it’s not necessary. And maybe it’s a good idea to hold some of those announcements for a preset check-in time 3x a day or something.

      But a group announcement to everyone is WAY more efficient than Skype. And often more thorough than email.
      (if there’ s a complicated procedure, you can always send the nitty-gritties via email and stick to “here’s the general gist; see your email for details” in the group announcement.

      1. Annie Moose*

        You can definitely have group chats in Skype! As a participant in a number of long-running group chats, I assure you they are both possible and easy.

      2. techandwine*

        I totally agree that Skype is the wrong avenue here, but I just wanted to clarify that you absolutely can do a group Skype call. Which is great when people are in different locations/ catching up with a friend group.

        But yeah, when everyone is in the same office a group Skype call is so beyond necessary. A group email or a group IM would work just as well. We use Slack channels for those types of communications. It’s great because it lets you alert the entire channel that there’s a message they need to see.

  31. Mando Diao*

    OP1: I’ve been known to go over lead/management’s heads when I’ve received contradictory information, or when I’m driven to the point of “Oh my God, can someone just give me a cut-and-dry answer to this question?” At that point, I go to the boss, since she/he is the one who will being penalizing me for errors, and get an answer that no one else can argue with.

    You bring up scheduling specifically. Are the policies written in stone, or do other employees routinely get away with not following procedure?

    1. OP1*

      We do try to be flexible on scheduling. In this case, the employee was told that a flexible schedule she wanted would not be possible because she needs to be available for X work at Y time. She responded by saying OK, then going to our manager with “do I really have to do this?” and “how much work is there anyway?” type questions.

      1. Roxanne*

        Oh……, no, no. How new is she? “How much work is there anyway?” is a bigger red flag to me than going over your head. If she’s new, then she has no business whining like that at the start of her job. I just started a new job and I was told my hours are X to Y, and we always need coverage for the managers. X to Y does pose new challenges to my personal life and I’m working it out; but I don’t dare start to try to get myself different hours at this point – I’ve only been here four weeks and at the bottom for seniority!

        1. OP1*

          I agree it’s pretty early for asking to flex, although by itself that would be ok. She’s pretty new to the professional world, so I’m trying to give her the benefit of the doubt here (comments above regarding the professor/student dynamic are probably spot on).

          Thanks for all the supportive comments and suggestions everyone. I was really trying to handle this myself, but after reading Alison’s response and the comments, it’s clear that this needs to come from our manager.

      2. Beezus*

        Wow, that’s really not okay! Is she transitioning out of a job where she had a lot more autonomy?

  32. Steph the PM*

    OP#5 – Here’s what I do on my resume, in the case of “Trained but not Certified” (which isn’t totally your scenario, but it might be close enough that it’s sort of what you’re thinking). I have about 15 years of PM experience, and I’ve sat through the PMP classes twice (offered by my company, on company time). I have never sat for the exam because…it’s $500 to take it, I travel a lot/often without notice, I have a lot of family commitments, and some other random conceptual disagreement with that test specifically as a tool for evaluating someone’s aptitude to be successful as a PM. Yeah, excuses. That being said, I recognize professionally that it’s popping up a lot of places as a “requirement” or “preference.” (which I’ll set aside to rant about separately.)

    I put, “Completed coursework in preparation for the PMP exam” on my resume, in a section with “Additional certifications and training.” I do this so the “PMP ” keyword gets picked up by searchwords, and I make it clear that I have had the training.

  33. Eyes on the back of your head*

    Has anyone heard of office rear-view mirrors? I immediately thought of them when I read letter #2. I sit with my back facing the open side of my cubicle and I’m constantly getting startled by people coming up behind me. I’ve considered attaching a little “rear view mirror” to the top of my monitor so I can see people approaching. They sell these on Amazon; just search “desk mirror” or “office rear view mirror.”

    My biggest fear is that people will think this is weird, or that I’ll look like I’m scared of being caught slacking off. Nope, I’m just naturally very jumpy. ;) I also wonder if it could end up being a distraction though… (constantly checking my face/hair/makeup in the mirror)

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      I have one, and it’s one I’ve had for years. In the cube next to me, my co-worker has put a decorative mirror on the wall, which also works.

  34. Hot Ice Hilda*

    Re #2, I had an office-mate for a few years, and whenever she wanted my attention she would walk the five steps from her desk to mine and then just….hover. She would never tap me, knock on my desk, say anything. Just stand there. Sometimes I had no idea how long she’d been there! Eventually I would just get that creeped out feeling like I was being watched. It was so weird, it’s been four years since we worked together (and we get along very well now), but I still feel paranoid when people are standing around behind me at work.

    So whatever you decide to do, #2, make sure you don’t do THAT.

  35. stevenz*

    #1. Nip this in the bud. It’s more her power play than yours. Unfortunately, the weakness of the position you’re in is that people can go around you. There is a time for that, but your responsibilities need to be made clear by your manager, to both her and you. If exceptions are made for her, then she will keep pushing for more, and eventually it will totally undermine your authority with that person which will look really bad to others who you supervise. If your manager won’t help then suggest sweetly that he take over managing her because you will be manipulated to hell by her.

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