job sends photos of mistakes via Facebook, forwarding emails when you’re on vacation, and more

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

1. Is it weird that I asked my employee to have his emails forward to me while he’s on vacation?

I manage a small team (me and three employees). One of my employees is getting married and leaving for two-week honeymoon in Fiji, which is awesome and mazel tov to him. Since we have a lot of ongoing projects–many of which need our attention at a moment’s notice–I asked him to auto-forward me copies of his emails so if something comes up, we can respond right away. I kind of think this is a reasonable request, and my employee agreed to do this, but I still feel just a bit scuzzy–like I’m intruding his privacy or something. Our company does not otherwise monitor emails or block any websites, or anything like that. Am I wrong to feel scuzzy about this? Is this a normal request? Did I overstep my bounds asking for this?

In some fields that would be unusual, while in others it wouldn’t be uncommon. It depends on the type of work he does and the types of emails he gets. Of course, if it is unusual for his role and feels uncomfortable about it, he’d probably feel obligated to agree since you’re his boss. And I do think a lot of people would feel awkward about this — since who knows if he occasionally gets personal emails there or other stuff that isn’t OMG Wrong but still not things he’d be thrilled about going straight to his boss.

A typical alternative is for the vacationing person to set up an auto-reply explaining that he’s away and asking people to contact Valentina Warbleworth at (email address) instead of him. If that would work in your situation (and maybe it would or maybe it wouldn’t), that would be the way I’d go instead.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. My job sends us photos of mistakes via text and Facebook

I currently work with interns doing career development, among other things. I also do a few shifts as a waitress and bartender at a local pub and restaurant. At my hospitality job, when I or anyone else does something wrong, they get a long ranting message on Facebook or via text message -sometimes with pictures of what they have done wrong. I feel that doing job review via Facebook is completely inappropriate, disrespectful, and ineffective. I care about my work, and receiving these kinds of messages really upsets me and does not allow for any dialogue where I could learn to do a better job. To be honest, if any of the interns I work with were treated like this by their employers, I would be in their office having a talk with them about appropriate channels of communication.

Am I just being over sensitive or is Facebook the wrong way to give feedback? If you agree with me, how do I communicate this to my managers?

What?! No, you’re not being overly sensitive. This is ridiculous — insulting and ineffective. Pictures of what they’ve done wrong? (At that point, personally I’d be sharing those to my Facebook wall as a way of acquainting my friends with just how ridiculous my workplace was, but the humor value in this doesn’t make up for how silly and degrading it is.) And what do they do about people who don’t use Facebook — they just don’t hear about their mistakes?

You could try saying this to your manager, but I’m skeptical that this person is open to reason: “I really appreciate knowing when I’ve made a mistake, but I wonder if we could get that feedback on the job rather than via text when we’re not working or over Facebook, which is really a social network? I’d like to be able to have a conversation about mistakes so that I can learn from them, and it’s jarring to receive these messages outside of work hours.”

3. Why am I in charge of our office electrical issues?

Over a year ago, I coordinated new cubicle/furniture installation in my company’s office (under the direction of the CEO).

In one cube, a coworker nudges her cube wall and it knocks power out. I am told that since it was me who coordinated the set-up, I need to fix the electrical issue. Obviously the cubicle vendors did not do a great job, and they are no longer around to provide support. So each time the power shuts down, I have to get underneath the cube, pull the paneling off, pull the socket off, and somehow magically fix it myself (I am not an electrician). After just messing with it for a long time, hoping not to electrocute myself, it tends to fix. The problem appears to be a loose bracket. Dont know, I’m not an electrician, and not familiar with office furniture electrical.

How can I kindly encourage my superiors, who believe in the “if you made the purchase (even under someone else’s authority), you have to fix it and handle it forever” philosophy, when the problem is an electrical/furniture issue that I feel like puts me in danger every time I am told to fix it?

That is weird. I hope your office never loses power entirely, or you’re going to have quite a challenge on your hands.

At a minimum, you should decide that “fixing it” means calling an electrician to come out and deal with it. But beyond that, is there someone else who would be the logical person to coordinate that — a facilities person or even an office admin? Because ideally you’d get that person to agree that they’re the logical point of contact for this in the future, and then direct any future requests to her (“Jane actually handles getting the electrician out here, so you should let her know”). If necessary, be prepared to say, “I don’t have any electrical expertise and I don’t feel safe messing around with it, so let’s bring someone in who’s trained to do it.”

4. Is “not enough experience” code for something else?

Recently, I made it to the test portion of a job I really, really want and know I could do. The job required a few more years of experience than I had, but I was optimistic because I’d already made it past a couple rounds of interviews.

After the test, I was told that the team was looking for more senior people, that it was a *very* hard decision, and that they were very interested in keeping in touch with me about opportunities next year. I’ve received this response a couple different times from a few different companies, and I’m starting to wonder if “not enough experience” is code for something different entirely… like are they actually disappointed in my personality/work and are just looking for a nice out? (Did I come off too aggressive by *gently* following up on Tuesday after they told me they would get back to me on Monday?)

They knew what my resume said going in, right? Or are they just being polite by saying they want to keep in touch?

It’s true that sometimes employers use “not enough experience” as a catch-all for “someone else was a better fit,” but plenty of the time they use it mean “not enough experience.” And yes, they knew your experience from your resume before you came into interview, but interviews usually flesh that out a ton — there’s all sorts of nuance about experience that you can only find out from actually talking to someone, like how involved they really were with project X, or that it actually was just 5% of their job and someone else led it, or that they’re less experienced with a particular aspect of X than you realized, or they their experience is solid but it hasn’t yet led to the type of really well honed instincts that you need. Or they might have seen you as a stretch all along, but wanted to talk to you and find out for sure. It can also just mean that relative to other candidates, your experience wasn’t as strong.

All that said, employers who tell you that they want to keep in touch usually mean it. They reject people all the time and they’re generally comfortable with that, so if they take the time to personalize your rejection in that way, you can generally take it at face value.

5. My company doesn’t announce demotions

I work for a company with about 100 people. New hires, promotions, and lateral transfers are all proudly announced by HR via company-wide email. Terminations are announced with just a form email saying “Suzy is no longer an employee. If she would return, she would have to present herself at the front desk as a visitor. We wish her the best. Etc.” However, demotions are not announced and it has bitten me twice.

Our logistics manager was demoted to logistics analyst because the department was underperforming. No announcement was made and I continued to send reports and emails to him until he had to tell me that he was no longer the logistics manager. In another case, our assistant sales manager asked to be demoted back to regular sales rep after six months as assistant manager for monetary reasons (she could make more with commissions than she could as assistant manager). Likewise, she was CC’ed on reports for weeks before she had to to tell me.

I guess it can be embarrassing for the employee if it’s an involuntary demotion, but just for the sake of internal organization I feel it should be announced like a transfer. How common is this?

It’s more common than it should be — but then it’s also weirdly common in some places to not even announce full-on departures (resignations and terminations), so at least they’re doing that part of it. I suspect they’re not announcing demotions because it can be awkward for people. It often reads as “Bob couldn’t cut it as logistics manager — he was a real disaster.” But you’re right that by not announcing it at all, they’re creating more weirdness than if they just said something polite and got it out there.

What’s even weirder is that it’s apparently taking the demoting people themselves weeks to mention that you’re sending them stuff they should no longer get — but again, I’d attribute it to the essential awkwardness of the situation. (Although with your second example, it doesn’t even sound like it should be awkward, so who knows.)

{ 259 comments… read them below }

  1. Stephanie*

    #5: Yeah, that’s a bit weird. A demotion at my job will be called a “transfer” or the announcement will say something like “Bob has accepted the position of [job lower in the hierarchy than former job].” Everyone knows it’s a demotion without it being announced. I’m guessing your company doesn’t know how to deal with the awkwardness.

    1. Christopher Tracy*

      I don’t think it’s weird at all not to announce a demotion. What I do think is odd is that if Bob is no longer logistics manager, someone else is or is at least in an acting manager capacity until they hire someone to replace him. So why not send out a company email stating, “John is now acting logistics manager. All correspondence for the logistics team should be sent to his attention.” Bob doesn’t need to come into the discussion at all.

      1. Sunshine*

        This is what I came to say. You don’t have to “announce” the demotion, but simply say “Effective immediately, please direct all TPS reports to Joe instead of Bob.”

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Yes, my thought exactly. And then you need only email the applicable departments and not the whole company.

    2. Hush42*

      Yeah my company doesn’t announce it when someone leaves- either by being fired or voluntarily. This makes it very difficult for my team when sales reps leave and no one tells us. Just last week one of my coworkers pointed out that Rose hadn’t turned in any deals in a couple of weeks so we asked the sales manager and his response was “Oh she’s be gone for over a month now”.

      1. LMW*

        My boss was fired on Tuesday and no one has told me yet. If he hadn’t called me, I wouldn’t know!

        1. Liana*

          WHAT. That’s crazy. What are they expecting you to do if you need to discuss something with management?

      2. CanadianKat*

        My organization with about 450 employees doesn’t officially announce when people leave. I learn about resignations of high-level people, as well as people that are important contacts for my team, from my manager at our weekly team meetings. They could have posted important resignations or retirements on intranet (in the past year: chief of staff, 2 of 4 executive directors, chief architect, and a few directors have retired or moved on to more exciting positions), – but that would mean making a choice who is important and who is not – a dangerous choice to make. Posting about everybody would be a flood of information (besides, they might then have to post about contractors – because we don’t normally know who is permanent and who is on contract).

        What happens instead is that when some people retire or move on to bigger things, they send a Goodbye email to the entire staff. Others may send to smaller groups.

        There are “Welcome” postings when new people join – and that includes everybody (well, maybe not summer students).

        1. Anonymosity*

          Mine doesn’t make any company-wide announcements for leavers either–but they have a page for employees who are no longer with the company in the directory. It doesn’t say why they left but it does give their departure date. Except for people retiring–they make a big fuss over that because most of them have been with the company for years.

      3. Kyrielle*

        I once told a client to talk to their account manager (what they wanted changed wasn’t a bug, it was a feature request), and they asked me who that was. Since their previous one had recently (1-2 months prior) left, I assumed that was why, checked the systems to be sure of the new person, and gave their name.

        They immediately responded with, “Oh, no, she was let go last week. Who is it now?”

        I assured them I would find out who it was and have that person contact them. I wanted to scream. Seriously, even if you don’t tell anyone, *update the records of who their account manager is*. But really, tell us all, because in many cases people just know that stuff and wouldn’t look it up anyway.

      4. Lemon Zinger*

        When I worked in sales, anyone who quit was escorted out immediately– like, IMMEDIATELY. We were only informed when a team member quit after he/she was gone, and it was only discussed in a brief meeting. Fortunately I was aware of the policy, so when I quit, I was able to send a hasty email to my teammates *seconds* before they came to walk me out.

        But the wider organization wasn’t aware of it, so fortunately people gossiped enough that word spread quickly.

    3. BananaPants*

      I would find it so sketchy to openly announce a demotion as a demotion. Since the affected employee wasn’t terminated, they’re still valued by the company and they should be allowed to retain some dignity in the process of going back to a role that’s lower in the hierarchy. It’s still awkward for a bit because everyone knows what really happened, but it’s the kind thing to do.

      This happened to my then-manager many years ago. Brilliant technical mind, but he can’t manage his way out of a paper bag. After 2.5 years in which the group dreaded coming into work and several new hires quit in frustration, he was technically demoted by being pulled off the management track and put back on the technical expert path – and has been quite successful in that role. The announcement was a dual announcement; it started with Wakeen being named the new manager of the Teapot Design Group, then thanking Bob for his tenure as manager and announcing his new role as the Teapot Manufacturing Systems Expert. Everyone knew it was a demotion but it allowed a valued employee to save face when he was not successful in a different role. If he had been humiliated by literally announcing it as a demotion he would have quit and we would have lost his years of technical knowledge and experience.

      If you openly demote people and announce it as such, that’s a warning to your employees that they should not step outside their comfort zones into new roles for fear of embarrassment if it doesn’t work out. That’s a crappy way to do business, IMO.

      1. CyrusB*

        Agreed. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a demotion. You’re describing an occasion when it makes sense for all parties and maybe that should happen more often, but the fact is that it doesn’t, at least in my experience. (10 years in at least somewhat professional jobs, for the record, in at least three workplaces and maybe six depending what counts.) People stay where they are, they get promoted, they make lateral moves, they get a better job elsewhere, or they quit or get fired. But I’ve never seen anyone go from a higher-status job (status, money, responsibility, etc.) to a lower-status one within the same workplace.

        1. Roxanne*

          Oh, I have seen someone go from a higher one to a lower one…and it wasn’t necessarily because he was valued and to save face.

          He was a director of a small team (that had their own department number) that were busting their butts producing and trying to generate revenue but they were bleeding money. He was effectively demoted to team lead and his entire team was rolled into a different team (same field, but under a different department number). No matter how it was spun when the announcement was made, it was clearly a demotion. He quit three months later. (I was surprised he took that long.)

          And I saw it done at least one other time and the way this company operated, it was likely done more often that I didn’t see.

          Even if you don’t announce demotions or firings and layoffs as such, news should be sent out to affected people – by email, on the intranet, etc. – of where to send things to or who to communicate without making it look like someone left under a cloud. I once left messages and tried to reach someone for three weeks…only to find out that she was long gone but no one bothered to update the phone list or change her voicemail message.

    4. MoinMoin*

      Agreed, it also allows the demoted to control the message a little more too- instead of everyone assuming the worst and tiptoeing around them, it opens up the conversation a little so he or she can spin it like they want.
      “Oh, Robb, I hear you won’t be Da King in Da Norf anymore?”
      “Yeah, my wife and I both felt like it wasn’t really a good fit and we’ll be following Ned’s path instead. I really think Jon will keep the position in good order while Sansa and Arya finish up their Nymeria certs, though!”

  2. MillersSpring*

    #5 Ugh, yes. I hate it when job changes are not announced. Companies like to keep everybody in the dark about layoffs, terminations, resignations or demotions. It’s like the executives are embarrassed, or worried that employees will be upset, but for the most part, people simply want to know who to contact about what.

    1. Super awesome fun times*

      Once upon a time, I was working to coordinate a delivery of a super sensitive and urgently required shipment, and I had been emailing the proper corporate contact for over a month. Turns out she had retired and no one told me until I asked her boss is something was wrong. People, do others the courtesy of making an announcement if you’re leaving the company!

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        Aaaargh! I have NO idea why people don’t leave an Out-of-office when they leave somewhere! A pet hate is IT deactivating an account immediately – I wish it was standard to have that “leave the account live with an out-of-office saying who to contact instead and a clear subject line” everywhere.

        (ranting to myself now!)

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          I have NO idea why people don’t leave an Out-of-office when they leave somewhere!

          Because some people work at companies that ask them to leave as soon as they give notice, or the person leaving was told by their manager not to tell clients or anyone internal they’re leaving so the company can control the message. Both scenarios have come up here before.

          And it could also be as simple as the person leaving has a million things to wrap up on their way out and an out-of-office is the last thing they think about. If I’m leaving a place, I don’t care about any of the emails that are going to come in for me – that’s my former employers’ job to make sure the emails get to the person who’s handling my tasks now that I’m gone.

          1. One of the Sarahs*

            But for the “leave right now” offices, then surely the boss should ask the IT person to add an auto-reply to the person’s account, as it’s even more important that people know the person’s gone?

            1. Christopher Tracy*

              No, a lot of those places just shut the account down immediately so anyone emailing it will get a bounce back. It’s annoying on the sender’s part, sure, but at some companies (like mine) the employees email is also used to give them access to proprietary systems. Deactivating the whole email account then deactivates the systems access as well.

              1. One of the Sarahs*

                Could they just change the password, so the outgoing employee can’t access it, and then leave an OOC on for a month?

                1. Christopher Tracy*

                  They probably could, but that’s a pain in the ass for them when they can just shut everything down at once and be done with it.

        2. Joseph*

          Many companies don’t give you the chance (particularly if it’s a layoff/firing). In fact, some companies won’t even tell people. That said, the whole “keep it quiet” can backfire if you have a chatty employee and/or your employees are friends outside of work.

          On the day I was laid off from my previous job, I actually was cleaning out my office with the assistance of the office manager and I got a call on my desk phone about a project. I answered it by reflex and told the person on the other end that I’d just been let go as part of the upcoming round of layoffs and couldn’t help. The office manager looked oddly horrified for some reason.

          I later found out that this person immediately asked their manager what to do (who also was not aware of the impending layoffs) and the whole thing spread around the entire office immediately. Apparently the layoffs were intended to be kept quiet, but my reflexive honest answer had pre-empted the official announcement and wrecked their entire messaging about the round of layoffs.

          1. hbc*

            I don’t know why anyone thinks layoffs can be kept quiet once the laid off people are informed. Even if they didn’t say one word to their coworkers, there’s the newly-empty desk, the tell-tale walk to your car with your personal effects, calls and emails that mysteriously go unanswered, and so many other signs.

            1. Allison*

              When I was fired from my firs job, they told me not to discuss it with anyone for “morale reasons,” so I had to quietly clean out my desk in the middle of the afternoon while everyone was still in the office and could clearly see me packing everything up, and I couldn’t say a word about why.

              1. Christopher Tracy*

                Yes, because nothing keeps up morale more than seeing a coworker packing up her desk and leaving without a word. I know I’d feel safe in my job afterwards.

                1. Allison*

                  To be fair, I was fired for having an attitude problem, and I’m sure most of the people who worked near me were happy to see me leave.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              Yeah, there was NO way to keep our layoffs quiet at Exjob. I came back from lunch and Marketing Guy was packing up his desk right in front of everyone (small office, pretty open). Then he walked over and shook my hand, said, “Goodbye!” in a loud and sarcastic voice, and BullyBoss escorted him out then came back and went into the HR office. I’m surprised they let Marketing Guy say anything to me, but it wasn’t like they could stop him–I was standing right there with my mouth hanging open. Seconds later, my phone rang. It was my turn! I had to pack up with my boss hovering over me—it was just very obvious. I don’t know why they didn’t wait until the end of the day. :P

              (Off-topic, but when I went to the vet’s office to tell them I couldn’t find Psycho Kitty a couple of days before she died, BullyBoss was in there. He apparently uses the same vet for his tinydog. He didn’t recognize me at first because my hair is blonde now. After he left, I was like, ew ew ew ewwwwwwwwwwwww. But I now know where he works so I can avoid it, LOL.)

          2. BananaPants*

            When we had layoffs several years ago, some affected employees found out because their computer logins were deactivated a day early. When they called the IT helpdesk to find out why they couldn’t login and start their work for the day, they learned that they were no longer listed in the system as employees BEFORE they had the chance to be called in for an “HR meeting”. Oopsies.

            The first batch to get the news were escorted back to their desks to retrieve purses/phones/car keys only and were not allowed to touch computers or send out a farewell email, but some had the chance to tell others over cube walls what was going on, at which time other employees with “HR meetings” later that day started freaking out and panic spread through the entire organization. My boss at the time blessedly came through our row of cubes and said to us, “I can’t officially tell you what’s going on until later, but you’re all smart people and can figure it out. You are all safe.” I was pregnant and my husband had just been laid off a week earlier, so to say that I was stressed out wondering if I was next was an understatement!

            Then later there was a coordinated reading by managers of a statement from the VP of HR about the difficult but necessary decision to adjust headcount, that we thanked our valued colleagues for their many years of dedicated service, blah blah blah. What bothered me was that the laid off employees were not allowed to send out a farewell email with personal contact info, which is standard practice for employees who resign. These were people who had worked here for 5, 10, even 20 or 30 years who were out of work through no fault of their own, and they were treated the same as people who get fired.

        3. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I had to contact someone at my university yesterday about setting up training fit a new employee. She had an Outlook auto reply that said she was no longer with the university and that directed people to the person who would be handling such matters in her stead. It was nice to be able to immediately contact the correct person instead of waiting days and days for a response that was never going to come.

        4. Nervous Accountant*

          At my company, the emails will go to a single person, and it’s their job to forward that email to the appropriate person. So for example, if Lucifer’s client emails him, not knowing that he’s gone, and the client has been transferred to Lucy, Lucifer’s emails will come to my inbox and it’s my job to forward that email to Lucy. The person leaving does send out an email to their clients letting them know they will be leaving and who their new point of contact will be, but that’s not always the case. Now that I write it down, it sounds more stressful than it is, but I haven’t experienced it done any other way so I can’t say if that’s the best or worst.

          1. Joseph*

            I can’t definitely say it’s the “best” system, but that’s actually quite good.

            1.) The person leaving gets a chance to inform people directly.
            2.) The emails actually get answered, as opposed to sitting in limbo forever.
            3.) The client doesn’t get the completely ambiguous “Undeliverable message / mailbox does not exist”, which provides no information.
            4.) The emails are (presumably) sorted by someone who’s actually familiar with things, rather than getting in a run-around.

        5. Roxanne*

          IT was slow on the ball the morning I was laid off and I was able to prepare a quickie out of office directing everyone to the manager who just laid me off as my manager and HR took care of nothing on what I did for weeks once I went out the door.

        6. Kalli*

          I went out on medical leave and my auto reply was like
          ‘I am out of the office on Monday’
          Probably still is; I’m still not allowed back to work. ;) But not everyone actually plans to leave – and as I said below, people have access to the mailbox anyway, so they just had to deal with it.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        See, and that’s really weird because usually when an employee departs like that, someone would be monitoring their email and it would auto forward to their replacement or their manager for a while.

    2. Cambridge Comma*

      I don’t think you even need to announce the demotion. It would take a little time, but you could just write to each person who interacts with the demoted person and say: We have reassigned some tasks in the spout kinetics department. From today, please send requests for spout kinetics data to Wakeen.
      Sure, people will put that together and suspect that the person has been demoted, but they will do that anyway, but more slowly and after having wasted more of the time that the company is paying them for.

      1. Colette*

        You don’t always know who regularly interacts with them, let alone who interacts with them on occasion. I don’t understand why they’re not forwarding the requests to the person who now handles them, though.

        1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

          This was my concern.

          My expectation would be that the demoted person would forward the message on with a note, that said something like, “thank you for your message, Sally is now handling XX, and I’m sure she would be happy to help!”

          1. Kyrielle*

            Yes! Announcing that X is now handling the expense reports reports seems reasonable – most of the company needs to know where to send expense reports, I’d guess. But announcing that Y is now handling the teapot lid analyses – well, maybe only a few people need to know that, and I can see not bothering. In that case, the person who used to handle the teapot lid analyses and is *still there*, should forward the requests to Y, cc the asker, and notify them of that.

            And if they’re completely gone, setting up an auto-reply or removing the email account altogether is far better than leaving the account up but not monitored.

    3. Not Me*

      A long-term, valued employee left my workplace four months ago. She resigned voluntarily (after having been put through the wringer of bad management). Departures are usually announced with a nice email and sometimes even a little party with cake (“We will miss you!”). For this employee, there was no announcement at all. For months, mail has been accumulating in her slot. Many people in other parts of our department still don’t know that she is gone.

      Nothing says, “You don’t matter” like management totally ignoring it when you leave.

  3. Mike C.*

    Re: OP3


    Given that the first thing you should have listed (but didn’t) was to lock out and tag out the circuit, you are risking serious injury or death by attempting to fix it. Yes to everything else Alison said, but please don’t risk your life over stupid bullshit like this. I’ve seen the results of electrical accidents at work, and it’s really, really bad.

    You know you don’t have the training, testing and repair equipment, safety gear or regulatory knowledge to do this work. We talk about “hills to die on” and your personal safety is one of them. If you feel pressured or see other co-workers pressured in your place, let OSHA know.

    1. JessaB*

      I was coming here to say exactly this, thank you for saying it for me. The first thing I thought was OMG did they not switch the power off before working? Or did they just leave the lock/tag procedure OFF the email. How on earth is it appropriate to be dealing with a power thing with no training.

      Not to mention, this appears to have happened more than once? This is a fire waiting to happen if just bumping a cubicle causes this kind of short/failure.

    2. Stephanie*

      Yeah, I’m primarily a desk jockey at an industrial facility and I had to do several trainings on lock-out procedures just because I walk around the equipment. This is bad they’re ok with you trying to fix the wiring on your own.

    3. Elder Dog*

      Yeah, #3, call OSHA. Not only could you electrocute yourself, and not only could some other employee be electrocuted trying to find out why you’re not moving and seem to be smoking, you could trapped when that short catches the building on fire.

    4. Marzipan*

      I’m curious when #3 says the company are ‘not around to provide support’ – is that as in, they’ve gone out of business? Because otherwise, I would absolutely expect them to come back and fix the issue. Properly, permanently fix it, not just tinker with it in a hair-raising fashion. With any sort of building or installation project, odd bits and pieces will be not quite right to begin with, and getting the people who did the work to come back and snag it once those defects have become apparent is very normal.

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        It sounds like the cube people didn’t set them up properly to begin with – I wouldn’t want them coming back to fix electrical problems anyway. I second Alison’s suggestion of calling a licensed electrician to come out and fix this issue.

        And frankly, OP, you also need to remind your company about the potential workers’ compensation claim they’ll have on their hands in the event that you get injured because they’re too cheap to hire an electrician to fix this. They would be 100% liable for this, and they better hope you all aren’t domiciled in a state that allows employees to both file for work comp and sue the employer directly.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Thank you – I was just coming in to point out the WC liability element. Their WC insurance carrier would NOT be happy to hear they’re pushing someone with no electrical knowledge or training to undertake potentially dangerous work without appropriate safety precautions.

    5. FurnitureLady*

      Hi! I actually work in the commercial furniture field and just want to note that it’s HIGHLY unlikely that OP would be harmed with a cube power system. I agree an untrained person should not be messing with power! However, these systems are effectively giant extension cords – in most jurisdictions it’s legal for anyone to install the system in the panels but the actual hookup from the system to the building has to be done by a licensed electrician.

      What’s likely happening is that a connection inside the raceway of the panel is undone. OP, if you google “office furniture installers” in your area they’ll be able to fix this quickly even if they didn’t do the work originally.

      I do agree this isn’t your responsibility and absolutely don’t do anything you are uncomfortable with!

      1. blackcat*

        Even if it’s basically like an extension cord, any electrical system that is cutting in and out is likely do to a short. A short at a point where you basically expect the same current as a wall outlet (so this includes extension cords!) is dangerous. Damaged extension cords are actually super dangerous and a very common source of electrical fires. ALWAYS unplug from the wall/flip off the appropriate breaker at the breaker box before handling extension cords or other things that seem to not be working. If the LW was consistently turning off the system of panels before messing with it, it wouldn’t be dangerous.

        120 volts is 120 volts. If it’s attached to a system that uses breakers that trip at relatively low currents (like a power strip), it’s highly unlikely to *kill* the LW, but it can still hurt and/or do damage. And 120 V on a breaker can kill you if the current makes a circuit through your heart. When I worked in a lab with lots of high voltage equipment, I was told to only ever touch anything with one hand at a time.

        I followed that rule. And I got 500V at a few amps up one arm due to malfunctioning equipment. I have permanently reduced feeling in the entire arm, though it’s fully functioning. But following the one-hand rule meant that I got hurt, rather than killed.

        I understand electrical stuff pretty well, but I’ve also been electrocuted a couple of times (the arm incident was just the worst). I always call in pros.

        1. Oryx*

          Last day of Ex Job I burned the socket behind my desk because our IT guy set up my computer using the ol’ extension cord in an extension cord trick. I had never noticed and it was never a problem until I plugged something new in and the whole thing fried.

          I told my manager it was my going away present. He was not amused.

      2. Grey*

        I’m sure the wiring is fairly simple, but Mike C it talking about proper lock out and tag out procedures. In other words, power should be cut at the source before fixing anything. It should be tagged as such. Do you really want a bare wire in each hand when a coworker comes along and says, “Hey look, something tripped the breaker. Let me just switch that back on”?

        1. Grey*

          And if you think that sounds crazy, I’ve actually seen it happen. About 30 years ago, I worked in a shop where the overhead lights were turned on every morning at the breaker box. We arrived early one morning and my coworker figured it was a good time to repair a damaged outlet. He’s thinking the boss is smart enough to know that the lights must be out for a reason. But, no. The boss walked in a few minutes later and thought, “Looks like the guys forgot to turn on the lights”. Zap.

          He lived, but why risk it?

      3. A Safety Consultant*

        Extension cords are the reason so many houses burn down in December. They are not safe just because they are common. Yes it’s true that you don’t have to be a licensed electrician to work on things such as cords and sockets, but you absolutely do have to be trained and qualified. Electricity from a cord or socket can kill you. Don’t mess with it.

        1. A Safety Consultant*

          While on the subject, I’ll just throw out there that even many licensed electricians aren’t qualified to perform electrical work according to OSHA’s standards because while they know the installation codes, they have not been trained on safe work practices, namely 29 CFR 1910.333 or NFPA 70E. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, stay away from the circuits!

          1. Phyllis B*

            I know what you’re talking about, (my husband is an electrician) but I STILL wouldn’t touch it.

    6. Hlyssande*

      YES, THIS.

      Do not touch that socket, do not even try. It isn’t safe and can literally kill you.

    7. I'm a Little Teapot*


      OSHA’s top inspection priority is “imminent danger” and I expect untrained people being expected to rewire sockets would qualify. According to their website, you “may have the legal right” to refuse to do work that would put you in danger, such that you’d be legally protected from retaliation.

      Of course, these protections aren’t anywhere near what they should be, and fines for safety violations are shockingly low, because we can’t upset the mighty Job Creators by seriously expecting that they care about people’s lives. But OSHA is better than nothing.

      1. A Safety Consultant*

        OSHA just upped their penalties effective August 1. One instance can now cost an employer $12,471. If the employer is found willful (known or should have known better), $124,709.

        1. Anna*

          This sounds really silly, but thank you for doing what you do and knowing this stuff. I appreciate it.

    8. Artemesia*

      I don’t even know what ‘lock out and tag’ means and I’ll be the OP doesnt either. I hope she takes these messages to heart and doesn’t touch live electrical systems again. I have known a couple of people killed in industrial accidents and in both cases it was someone doing something incredibly stupid because they ‘needed to fix something’ and didn’t know how to go about it. One was a manager killed in a pulp digester — about as horrifying as it gets.

      1. Judy*

        In case you’re actually interested…

        People who work maintenance in factories have locks with serial numbers on them. The power feed for each piece of equipment is in a conspicuous place, and the boxes have locations for locks. When someone is working on the equipment, they turn the power off and lock the box. If 5 people are working on the equipment, there should be 5 locks on the box. The equipment should not be turned on until everyone has unlocked their locks, for safety sake.

        Some places use tags instead, where they put a tag over the switch. This is considered much less safe.

        1. BananaPants*

          Our facilities guys have to LOTO when they’re replacing lightbulbs or fixing an outlet. They actually have plug lockout devices, switch lockouts, all sorts of things that can be used to make sure de-energized equipment stays that way.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        There was a place near where I used to work where an employee climbed inside a press to do something–I don’t know if it wasn’t properly locked out and tagged, or what exactly happened, but the machine became operative while he was inside it. It squashed him. Younger guy, with a family. :(

        They later removed the machine–I saw it (or what I assumed to be it) going out on a big truck one morning not long after, when I was driving to work. It apparently had had problems before.

        Our entire shop was really quiet for a few days–no doubt our guys were thinking, “Wow, that could have been me.”

    9. I'm Not Phyllis*

      Totally agree and I know nothing about electricity at all. Get a licensed electrician in to fix it – and simply tell your employer that you don’t feel safe doing it since something is obviously wrong. If they push back, just keep repeating that it’s a safety issue.

    10. BananaPants*

      YES. OSHA does not consider OP3 to be a qualified electrical worker and she is at risk by being expected to fix a live circuit with an electrical fault. For OP3 to continue safely she would need to know how to properly ID an energized circuit, de-energize and LOTO if possible, and follow safe electrical work practices. It’s easier and safer for her company to just hire a professional to deal with it.

    11. Stranger than fiction*

      (Her boss is probably one of those people that fixes everything in his house with duct tape.)

  4. JessaB*

    Um, why would an employee not have a separate email for work? I mean with gmail and other free services, even if the company doesn’t provide them with a Wakeen at teapots dot com address, they should be able to get a gmail or something that’s appropriate (wakeen_teapot at gmail dot com or whatever.) And I can’t see why forwarding a work only specific address to the boss would be outrageous, even if you once in a blue moon get a personal email at work, you’d think that people you know would know you’re out.

      1. LBK*

        I think JessaB was referencing this line:

        And I do think a lot of people would feel awkward about this — since who knows if he occasionally gets personal emails there or other stuff that isn’t OMG Wrong but still not things he’d be thrilled about going straight to his boss.

        Saying that if he’s getting personal emails at his work address, that’s not really the boss’s problem because he shouldn’t be (which I don’t necessarily agree with, but I also think you shouldn’t be getting anything to your work address that you wouldn’t want your boss to see).

        1. Koko*

          It does happen sometimes, though. I once got an email from a vendor who wanted to put me in touch with a competitor (who was a client of the same vendor) who wanted to consider me for a new role they were creating. The first thing I did was give my personal email address to continue the conversation. I didn’t end up being interested or pursuing it, but I would not have wanted my boss to see that one of our competitors was putting out feelers about poaching me.

          Even though it’s a work email address, your contacts generally expect that you are the only one reading it unless it’s clearly a shared account. And the vendor who emailed me? Worked with another team in my department, not my own, and so she would have had no idea if I was on vacation because she almost never emails me. There’s always the possibility of situations like that arising with infrequent contacts.

          1. LBK*

            Oh yeah, if it’s someone contacting you unsolicited that’s different, I’m talking about intentionally doing personal correspondence through your work email.

          2. Observer*

            Actually, if your contacts are in business, they should absolutely NOT expect you to be the only one who looks at your email. Between autoforwards, non-obvious group emails, and all sorts of filters that companies have, that’s not a reasonable or realistic expectation. Just be aware that unless your employer gives you some reason to believe otherwise, you have no expectation of privacy. And, you certainly should never expect any company to not be looking at their staff’s email.

            1. Koko*

              That might be logically sound and correct in theory, but the reality of the situation is that many people will email you assuming that you’re the only one reading it (especially if historically you have been), and you have no control over what other people send you. You can scold them after the fact but you can’t prevent it from happening.

              1. Observer*

                You have no control over what people send you, and you have no control over what the people you send email to do with those emails. While it’s reasonable to expect a private person to keep your email private, it is NOT reasonable for you to expect that email you send to a private account will stay ONLY with the person you email, with very few exceptions.

                The point being that arranging to forward your emails or giving someone other access to your work emails when necessary is NOT a breach of confidentiality. You have no obligation to treat it as such. If someone has that expectation, it’s unreasonable and their problem, not yours.

                By the way, I would consider and email like that to a work address to be a red flag. Never mind forwarding your emails. Do you realize how many companies have all sorts of automated scanners on their email systems? And how many more have people who are looking at emails on a regular basis for one reason or another? This is not nefarious. But it does mean that something like that should absolutely NOT go through someone’s business email.

        2. Anonymous Educator*

          I’m a big believer in keeping work and personal emails separate, but I know I’m more the exception than the rule. I’ve run into a number of colleagues in various jobs who do banking, Facebook, even job searches through their work emails. Letter #1 isn’t an outrageous situation, and it’s all the more reason to keep your work and personal emails completely separate.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If I’m reading it correctly, JessaB is outraged that the company hasn’t provided a work address and thinks the OP is being asked to forward his personal address, which is not the case.

    1. Fjell & Skog*

      Eh, I can see it being potentially awkward. I am very strict about keeping work email and private email separate, but there could be work stuff I wouldn’t necessarily want my boss to see. For example, she’s known by all to be a bit difficult, so I’ll occasionally get an email from a colleague asking me a question that really should go to her, but the sender wants to run it by me first, and they might say “because you know how she can be…” Even though I didn’t say it, I wouldn’t want her to see it.

      1. DoDah*

        Yup. My boss is full on difficult. I’d really he not know how much effort and energy I spend “managing” him so we don’t look like a bunch of buffoons to the rest of the organization.

      2. Natalie*

        Or things that blur the boundaries, like benefits stuff. My FSA emails notifications to my work email that include the name of the medical provider, which I might not want my boss to know about.

      3. Anonymous Educator*

        I don’t believe in trying to humiliate co-workers or go out of your way to make other people look bad, but I do believe in natural consequences. Whatever emails you send (i.e., whatever you put in writing) at work should be not embarrassing for your boss to read. That doesn’t mean your boss should be snooping into your email. It just means everything should be aboveboard.

        Also, if I’m understanding #1 correctly, it isn’t the boss having direct access to the employee’s past emails but just having future emails forward on to her.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            You don’t have to be thrilled, of course. But it’s generally a good idea not to write things like “Isn’t so-and-so such a jerk” or “Oh, you know how she is….”

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              But I’m not talking about stuff like that. I’m talking about a not inappropriate but still personal/social email from a former coworker or someone forwarding you a job opening they think you should consider or so forth.

              1. Random Citizen*

                And in this case, like Fjell & Skog was saying, another colleague emailed her saying “Oh, you know how she is…” about F&S’s boss. She obviously has no control over what colleagues send her, but it would still be awkward for the boss to see.

    2. Alton*

      Even if there’s nothing super personal (like e-mails from family and non-work friends), a lot of people use their work e-mails for broader stuff like networking, membership to professional organizations, participation in the company softball team, lunch plans with coworkers, etc. Not to mention, even in a professional context, colleagues can develop familiarity that can affect the style of their communications. I don’t say anything in e-mail that I’d be ashamed to have someone find out about, but I would feel a little awkward if I’d sent an email to someone I had a familiar working relationship with and it went to their boss, whom maybe I’d address more formally.

    3. Christine*

      I have had jobs where you access to each other e-mail accounts when the other is out. You do not have the individual’s password, but you can do things on each other’s e-mail accounts; respond to e-mails etc. as a proxy.

      Some people will not like this; but your work e-mail address is your employer’s property. Not yours. But I think the response should be the auto reply. Is an employer is working the full time; and doing a lot of personnel business on their employer’s time; they shouldn’t be getting that many personnel e-mails.

  5. Dan*


    You know what? While auto-response emails are typically the way to go, as an employee, I wouldn’t think twice about a request from my boss to have my emails auto forwarded while I was out on leave. (I take month long trips out of the country, so I can be gone for a long stretch.)

    I’m a firm believer in the “separation of church and state” if you will, and keep my emails all strictly work related. The other thing is, even without me forwarding my emails, IT can still go in and read them, so I really have no privacy. I know that, and act accordingly.

    Keep in mind that you’re not asking for passwords or access to his personal email. IMHO, it *would* be a scuzzy request if you asked for his work password.

    1. Stephanie*

      That was my initial reaction as well. I don’t assume my work emails are at all private (and don’t give my work email out at all for anything sensitive or personal), so I wouldn’t have a huge issue with this.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But lots of people do use their work email for occasional non-work stuff (and their employers are fine with that. So it just depends on the person, the office, and the role.

      1. Kalli*

        I had to ask about this at my internship because I gave my work email to my mum for emergencies since my grandmother was very sick at the time, and she started emailing me to make sure I got there and what she did that afternoon etc etc. The response was “it’s a work resource, paid for by work (and since it was a nonprofit, therefore by donations/fees), so personal use is stealing”. It’s great if some employers allow personal use, but to me it’s a perk, a good retention/morale strategy, but there should be a social media/personal internet usage policy (preferably separate), outlining acceptable usage and consequences for not using it appropriately/it interfering with work/using Facebook to harass coworkers/no online shopping/no downloading anything over 10mb (generic email size, to prevent piracy on work plans)/only allowed to use in lunch breaks/must only go to whitelisted sites/etc. Partly that’s fair to everyone, partly it gives management the ability to discipline people without taking the shiny away from everyone, and partly so people have a guide in case they’re coming from a different environment. (Same with cell phone usage, if the plan or phone is company-provided – no using company minutes to buy app tokens/keep work in a separate profile/etc.)

        Otherwise someone on FB all day who isn’t doing social media as their job can ruin it for everyone, or someone running their personal life through work can have it broadcast since it’s not really private. Occasional is fine, but if there are clear limits, then if the situation in the letter does arise, everyone knows what they’re getting into (and that can be included in the policy).

        I’m a huuuuuge fan of policies. ;)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          You ran into a weird employer. Decent employers will not tell you that reasonable personal use of work email is stealing. The examples of policies that you’re giving here would in many cases be overly restrictive / a bit infantilizing / the kind of thing that good professional employees would balk at. I think consider that your internship may have given you weird ideas about what’s normal!

          1. Artemesia*

            No kidding. What precisely is ‘stolen’? It isn’t as if the electrons were used up and unavailable to others. What a maroon.

            1. Jaguar*

              I think the whole thing is absurd, but a case could be made that it’s trespassing. And given that other clearly trespassing (“stealing” digital content, using hacked passwords, etc.) is culturally viewed as outright theft, it’s maybe not too surprising that some people crazy enough to see this as wrong would also see it as theft.

              1. Kalli*

                The idea is that it’s using a resource that the company is paying for. With data plans being packaged as, like, 250GB/month (just an example, please don’t jump down my throat), if everyone is sending personal emails, even if they’re 5KB, they add up and take away from the quota, meaning the company could run out. That 5KB is admittedly small, but if there are 50 people in the office, all sending or receiving 5 emails a day at 5KB, that’s a megabyte a day. Anything longer than a sentence, or with a work signature, bumps that up, so it could end up that each of those emails, once you add in the name/address/title/logo/do not print/confidential signature, could be 15KB. That’s all paid for by the company, with the company logo on. If you did that on a company notepad, or sent it through the franking machine, it would still look minor, but the physical cost to the company is much more tangible. If the company goes over their limit for the month, they might be charged extra at a higher rate per megabyte, or have to buy a whole new data package for one day.

                Looking at it the other way, if you’re using your home internet or personal cell for work things, there’s a sizeable amount of people who would expect that work should make that up by either supplying the phone and data plan, or paying a phone allowance.

                Then if it’s like “hey, let’s get stoned this weekend” or “hey, let’s get blackout drunk and throw rocks at people” (also examples), there’s the issue of bringing the company into disrepute, which is a fireable offence and companies’ rights to do that have been enforced here (not in America, I am)

          2. Umvue*

            My company has the double whammy of forty billion policies prohibiting the Internet and not enough work to go around. So now I have a smartphone. Policies only go so far.

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              Hahah yep. There’s one department here that has been “punished” with restricted internet, so what do they do now? Use their phones of course!

          3. Elder Dog*

            Do you think it was likely it wasn’t the email use that was bothersome, but the fact her mom thought it was ok for her to chat on work time? Even if it wasn’t that much time, perhaps they wanted to nip it in the bud, her being an intern and maybe not knowing any better?

            1. Kalli*

              It was a blanket policy; I just asked about it because my dad was allowed to do personal things at work and I wanted to be sure about what was allowed, since there were other people disregarding it in much more serious ways. I rarely responded, and it was never noticed, because I got all my work done and my supervisor was quite happy to let me do her work too, even though that was illegal, to the point where she took off for a month and they had an unpaid, unqualified intern giving legal advice.

              The other issue, which isn’t exactly relevant in most situations, is that something coming from can be interpreted as representing the company, so if the content of the email is contrary to the company’s image, having their domain on it is considered pretty much the same as going out and getting stoned or drunk in work uniform. There’s also the issue of classified information getting out (see: Hillary Clinton). Here, people have actually lost their jobs and the courts have decided it was fair because they posted on Facebook things that weren’t in line with company ideals and had their employer listed on their profile, and it was deemed as affecting the company’s image, so having a policy cuts down the chances of litigation on that front, and emails have been held to that same standard. Because we’re not at-will, it’s probably a significant culture difference on this point.

          4. Kalli*

            I’m well aware that my work history isn’t normal, thanks, that’s why I have PTSD.

            However, these kinds of policies are remarkably common in my area and are often requested by unions in order to prevent the situation where employee’s social media use _outside_ work is used for disciplinary purposes, and to clearly outline what is and what isn’t available as an excuse for disciplinary action. Where I am, policies are considered a term of employment, because we don’t have such a concept as ‘at-will’, so the attitude towards them is probably different, but it’s generally considered better to have it in writing rather than people wondering where that employer draws the line. An employee can point to it and say ‘but you said it’s fine’, and an employer can point to it and say ‘yeah, we told you not to torrent the entirety of Game of Thrones’ without he said/she said. The reality is, though, that taking a work resource for personal use is a bit dodgy – the hard equivalent would be someone taking home reams of paper and stationery.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              But most offices don’t actually consider occasional personal use of work email dodgy. That’s why I’m saying that it sounds like your sense of what’s normal has been warped by this job.

              1. Kalli*

                Where I am, it is considered as only allowed as per a policy, and having specific policies is so common that it’s weird if places don’t have one, and if there isn’t one it’s generally not allowed, or it’s folded in with a conduct policy. In that particular location, the decision was made as the office ran entirely on membership fees (income-scaled), and donations, and anything that was unnecessary to the job was disallowed. I explicitly stated that I think allowing some use is a good thing, and I have tried to explain how it’s managed here although apparently I’m failing miserably at that.

                I’m well aware that I have worked in some very weird places and been expected to do things that are not normal and definitely were illegal, but this is not one of them, in my location and field. I also suspect that policies are handled very differently elsewhere, as here having a thing on the intranet that says how personal use is allowed and that if IT finds out it’s a warning, is considered acceptable.

        2. Joseph*

          First off, coming down on you for keeping up on the status of a *sick grandparent*? What the hell. I don’t care what your policy is, this is one of those situations where any decent human being makes an exception.

          That’s not normal. That’s far, far more restrictive than most companies. In fact, in today’s world, I’d actually say that “No personal use” is way too restrictive unless you’re in a few specific industries (e.g., banking) with legal requirements on computer usage. Every professional workplace I’ve had has a policy which can be best summarized as “You’re a professional adult. Act like one.”

          The “work resource paid for by work” is absolute bullcrap FYI. Having an email server is (within reason) basically a fixed cost – unlike physical letters with stamps, you aren’t paying per email. The only exception is size-related issues, but the size of quick personal emails was negligible even when the Internet first came into businesses back in the 90’s. If you send *one* work-related email with a document or PDF, that single email attachment is bigger than dozens or hundreds of short two-sentence personal emails.

          1. Joseph*

            If you’re using it excessively, yes, it is wasting donation money. But no reasonable person (not even your donors) would be mad about a couple quick emails – especially when it’s a very sick family member. The fact your employer jumped to “stealing from the company” over a couple small daily emails is way out of line.

            *First post went off before I finished.

          2. Christopher Tracy*

            Yeah, I worked at a law firm that blocked the Internet during the workday expect during the lunch block (11-2). We were even told not to send personal emails to each other or IT would flag them and we’d be fired (and they kept that promise by firing several people for this). But they were highly dysfunctional in every way, so I would not presume that most places behave like this. In fact, I work in another highly regulated field and we can do whatever we want online as long as it’s not related to porn and we’re actually getting our work done.

            1. Bea W.*

              Wow. That’s harsh and weird. Most employers just user filters to block or limit access to things that are blatantly non-work related. I guess no one needed to do any kind of online research, or they had to plan to do it between 11 and 2.

              1. Christopher Tracy*

                We had a law library and clerks onsite, so I guess they figured the clerks (and the rest of us too I suppose) could look up answers the old fashioned way.

                1. Triangle Pose*

                  What year was this? It’s a gigantic waste of client resources to have a lawyer pick up a phone, call a clerk, explain the research assignment or question, then have the clerk physically (?!) look it up. What if the printed resources are out of date and can’t be shepardized or updated? This sounds nuts.

        3. Observer*

          Policies are good, if they are sensible. And, goofing off while you are at work is bad, regardless of whether it’s through email or not.

          But, your boss was a lunatic, if you ask me. Unless you were intern ~20 years ago, when email and email storage was a scarce resource, calling this “stealing” is just so over the top, I don’t even know where start with it. There are some good reasons to forbid any personal use, but “theft” is NOT one of them.

          1. Observer*

            By the way, I don’t think that forbidding persona use is a really good policy in most cases. What I mean is that while there are some cases where it makes sense, “theft” is never one of them.

            And, I do agree with Alison that some of the policies you outline are a bit much. I don’t think that everything needs to be regulated to be “fair” to the lowest common denominator. And, a workplace CAN discipline someone for misuse of resources / inappropriate use / not getting their work done even without such detailed policies. (Some won’t though.)

      2. Dan*

        My company sent us through “email training” a couple of months ago, and it was pretty much, “If this would embarrass you if it were front page news on The Washington Post, or you would be uncomfortable if it were made public through a lawsuit, don’t stick in your work email.”

        Don’t get me wrong, my org uses email to organize company related social events, like a department happy hour for a departing employee.

        Things I don’t want my boss to read? They don’t go into a work email. No company that I know of guarantees any sort of email privacy (in fact, they explicitly tell you that they can read your email whenever they want).

        It’s why I don’t think the LW should feel scuzzy for at least asking his employee to forward emails when he’s gone for an extended period of time. Is it any different than a company who keeps a departed employee’s email box active and monitors it for a period after they leave? Not really. The real issue is, if you have something in your email that you would be uncomfortable with your boss seeing, it shouldn’t be there.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That’s fine that you do it that way, but there are many people who don’t and their approach is legitimate too. That doesn’t mean that they’re sending emails that would be embarrassing in a lawsuit; it can simply mean that they occasionally receive personal emails that the sender didn’t intend to end up with their boss, and which normally their boss wouldn’t be looking at.

          Most professionals these days understand that their company could look at their email if they wanted to, but that doesn’t mean that the only reasonable course of action is to never use your work email for anything remotely personal if your company culture is one that’s fine with it. You can understand that your employer could conceivably look at your email (and can know that you’re not sending anything that would get you in trouble if they did) while still not particularly caring to have all your email forwarded to your boss.

          1. One of the Sarahs*

            Yes, this – it’s not about what *I* send that would worry me, but things other people would send me

          2. Government Worker*

            I totally agree with this. The idea of forwarding all my email to my boss gives me the same prickles on the back of my neck as if he were standing behind my chair watching me work all day. I hate being watched when I’m working, I hate having people see my work in draft form before it’s ready, and I don’t like other people having total access to my email. It’s just a level of scrutiny that’s unnecessary in my line of work and it makes me uncomfortable, even when I’m not doing anything wrong.

            1. Alfonzo F*

              OP here. You are completely correct. If senior management did this to me, I’d hate it. Again, I only asked because we may need to act on a moment’s notice based on an email only he would receive.

              1. Infinity*

                So, that sounds like the root cause of the problem. If you don’t want to be the manager that is requesting emails be forwarded–can you create an email address for those “act on a moment’s notice based on an email only he would receive”? He would have access to that account, but so could whoever needs to cover for him?
                We do this here and I’m sure there was some transition issues, but that was year ago. It’s worth whatever effort it takes to get it set up.

            2. Calliope~*

              I’m contracted to the state.. been here for several years now and I recently noticed when I send an email- the outbox always shows 2 outgoing emails. Every time. I watch in my outbox when it flips from one to two.. that second one is on the screen for only a second but it weirds me out for sure

                1. Callietwo {not Calliope~ anymore}*

                  I know, right? It’s very odd but it’s not just me, I’ve checked with others. I can’t think of a reasonable explanation for it. Its an Outlook Exchange Server so they’ve got copies of all our emails if they want them so where is that second one going or should I say: To Whom is that second one going?

                  Nothing has ever been said but I’m ~mostly~ careful with what I say, to be sure.

            3. Dan*

              What the OP is asking for isn’t “total access to your email”, it’s incoming forwards for a limited period of time.

              Total access is like your entire inbox for your entire time at the company.

          3. I'm Not Phyllis*

            My “personal” emails at work are usually along the lines of a meeting invitation to meet a friend for lunch (since I still suck at keeping a personal calendar). I don’t think these cross the line although I’ve worked for places that would see it that way. I don’t really care if my boss sees them, and I know he technically can any time he wants, but I don’t know … I just don’t love the idea of all emails being forwarded.

          4. Dan*

            I think people are confusing “having all of my email forwarded to my boss *while I’m on vacation*” with “having all of my email forwared to my boss, period.” Would I want my boss reading *all* of my email? No. That’s a far cry from having him read incoming mail for a finite period of time.

            If you wouldn’t want your boss (or your co-worker’s boss) to see something in an email, DON’T PUT IT THERE. There’s many reasons for it, including the accidental mass “reply all” (that seems to be a common one) or forwards gone amuck.

            Strangely, I learned the email lesson while I was actually in grad school. I had a prof who was extremely sensitive about the things he would discuss in an email. I asked him why. He said, “It’s too easy for the wrong thing to get out, get taken out of context, and then you’re screwed. Better off avoiding the mess in the first place.”

            I’m not saying everybody should never discuss personal things over work email, but it’s like speeding and complaining when you get caught. Yes, everybody does it, including me. But I know the cops are out and ticket speeders.

            1. Koko*

              The problem is that email is a two-way communication. I can only control what I put in email. I can’t effectively control what other people put in emails they send me.

        2. Koko*

          Well, the big difference between monitoring it while I’m still an employee and after I leave is that after I leave my boss has much less power over me. If I quit 3 months ago and a competitor emails me about a job opportunity my employment isn’t suddenly endangered because my boss was tipped off that I might be searching. If I still work there, it’s a problem.

      3. JB (not in Houston)*

        Not to mention, as someone mentioned above, sometimes you have emails that are technically work, but you don’t want your boss to see them. I have several coworkers who are actually friends, and so even though our emails to each other aren’t inappropriate or embarrassing, I don’t want my boss reading them. And my boss can be difficult, and sometimes people will email me to run something past me first to make sure it’s not going to ping any of my boss’s pet peeves. I’d hate for them to have to deal with the fallout from those being read by my boss.

        1. Dan*

          Are they sending you these things while you are on vacation? While I wouldn’t terribly mind my boss reading my email while I’m out for a few weeks, I wouldn’t be thrilled for my boss to read Every. Single. Email. Ever. The people who know me well enough to send personal stuff over email also know me well enough to know that I’m OOO for awhile…

          I tend to take month long vacations, and don’t like checking my email while I’m out (company policy is that we cannot have work email on personal phones) so if my boss wanted to “make arrangements” while I’m out, it wouldn’t raise my hackles too much. But that’s different than having my boss read every email ever sent to me.

          My outlook now tells me when someone has an auto-respose set up *before I even write the email*. That’s actually a nice feature.

    3. Alfonzo F*

      OP here. The employee and I discussed this a bit–he is a GREAT worker, and I really want to generally keep him happy. We deal a lot with contractors and other people who are bad at email, so although he did send out a number of “please contact Valentina Warbleworth at (email address)” emails, he and I agreed that the contractors probably won’t bother remembering that…they’ll just respond to his last email and assume that’s fine.

      Also a factor in my request was that Fiji is 16 hours ahead on NY, so many of these emails will come in while he’s asleep. If he were only a couple hours’ time difference, I would gladly have given him the option of glancing at his phone every few hours and forwarding the relevant stuff.

      Is it worth noting that I promised him I’d pay little attention to irrelevant emails, and if it looks personal, I’ll delete it from my inbox? FYI, I actually plan on doing that–as I said, he’s a great employee, and I want to respect his privacy.

      1. TR*

        I think the suggestion was to set up an auto-reply, so that when the contractors email him, they will get a reply giving the instructions for who to contact. So they won’t have to remember his earlier email, just forward their message to you once they get the auto-reply.

        1. Alfonzo F*

          Have you ever emailed contractors? It won’t happen. They just send an email and assume, “The recipients will figure it out.” The best contractors are often the worst at communicating…

          1. Ms. Anne Thrope*

            If you use outlook it shd be possible to set up a rule where emails are forwarded to you ‘except if ____’ which can include from certain ppl, w/ certain words in the subject line, etc.

            1. Alfonzo F*

              Not a bad idea…I have no idea if my employee did that, but I’d be fine with it if he did.

          2. Stranger than fiction*

            Yeah, our customers aren’t contractors but similar. I’ll get an email from one and politely answer and copy the correct rep and say “so and so is your rep, I’ve copied her here so you two can discuss further”. But nope. They’ll continue to email me and then I give up and just forward to the rep that supposed to handle it. We also get emails that are replies to emails from two plus years ago because that’s all they could find, even though we’ve sent plenty of emails since then. Or they’ll write to the generic Info or Sales emails from the website (again, even tho sales and support contact them regularly).

        2. INTP*

          A lot of people are dumb/lazy about email and won’t bother reading the auto reply, let alone writing a new email to the address listed.

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            I had an issue with this while one of my staff was on vacation. A client kept emailing her writer and ignoring the out of office reply that said, “I will be gone until ___, please contact Not the Droid if you have something that needs to be completed before _____.”

            It wasn’t until her account manager called me irate and screaming (because he had been yelled at by her) that we had even found out she was looking for edits to be made.

            1. Koko*

              This is blowing my mind that there are professional people with that little ability to follow through. How do they keep their jobs? When they are asked to upload a report and an error message comes back saying the file isn’t formatted correctly do they just shrug and move on to the next task on their list?

      2. BackintheSunshine*

        Instead of a blanket out of office message, you could set up a rule to forward messages meeting certain conditions such as from “client XX” or with “Project X” in the Subject.

        This way the OP doesn’t get ALL the email just ones which might need action which the employee is away.

      3. The Cosmic Avenger*

        It won’t help you this time, but I suggest you ask your IT department about a mail group. You may even be able to set it up yourself, depending on how your mail server is configured. It’s pretty easy in Outlook, but in just about any mail system, you should be able to set up an address for “”, and set up rules for that account that all mail gets forwarded to you, Employee, and Other Employee. Then, from that point forward you only give out that address to contractors who deal with your Spouts department.

        This also makes it trivial when an employee leaves, for whatever reason: just take them off the group list!

        Sure, it may take a long time before you can get all of them to use it, but if you don’t implement it, that day will never come!

        1. Perse's Mom*

          Yep, we have a department of folks who all work closely with clients. They recently changed over to teams of 3 or 4 people who have one internal company email for each team for all of their collective clients to use. The individual folks still have personal emails, but the team email system works much better for making sure nothing gets missed (because if Bob is on vacation, the client’s request will still be picked up by Sally and John).

      4. Brandy in TN*

        Can you just go into his email as his manager, and work the emails? When we go on vacation here, we use out of office and also my boss goes into my email, only for work emails. She could monitor anytime, like if I abused it. But we know this and she left the work emails in there that she worked, but marked them as read so Id know.

        1. Not Me*

          This would be strictly forbidden at my workplace. Giving someone else your password is a fireable offense. If someone has my password, they can do anything they want and it will look like I did it.

          1. Brandy in TN*

            Its just regular Outlook. I don’t use a password to log into it, I do for my secure email to hospitals, but those we do use passwords and we don’t share those. My boss just has access. Ive never given her a password. Its just the way it is. For internal emails between reps here only.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          That’s what they do here. In fact my boss has gone into my neighbor coworkers office three times today already to check her voicemail and email.

      5. WellRed*

        “I would gladly have given him the option of glancing at his phone every few hours and forwarding the relevant stuff.”
        Wait, what?? He’s on his honeymoon and you think this is OK? Yikes!

        1. OfficePrincess*

          I do think there are some (probably few) who would rather do that than have all of their email forwarded. It’s not a great plan, but if it’s a more comfortable alternative for the employee then I can see it happening in an otherwise good work environment.

        2. Cube Ninja*

          Exactly the same thing I was going to say. We don’t know if this employee is exempt or not, but either way, a two week vacation for a honeymoon is a pretty reasonable time to expect minimal work presence.

          I’m not understanding why an auto-responder isn’t sufficient in this situation or simply having the manager’s e-mail permissions flagged to allow for review of the employee’s inbox during this time. Maybe the company isn’t using Exchange or another enterprise email thingy?

        3. Liana*

          Meh. I think there are some people who’d be fine with that, honestly. Judging from the OP’s comments here and the fact that he’s clearly spending a decent amount of time trying to find a fair solution, I doubt he’s demanding the employee stay plugged in during his honeymoon. I’ve kept up with work emails while on vacation, and I know people who have checked emails during big life events and they genuinely don’t mind. If it’s presented as an option he’s free to decline, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad idea.

        4. I'm Not Phyllis*

          This would be an expectation in some of the places that I’ve worked at! Unless the cost of having coverage in that particular country was outrageous, no matter why you’re away you’d be expected to keep up with work.

      6. Dan*

        I have to be honest, if my choice was “monitor emails multiple times a day while I’m on vacation and trying to forget about work” and forwarding you all of my incoming email, I’d choose the later.

      7. Marisol*

        OP you sound like a really cool boss–just wanted to tell you that! A little empathy goes a long way, and I bet your employee values you as much as you value him.

      8. Observer*

        The other thing I would do is make sure that the forward is set to put email in his inbox AND go to you. Depending on who sets it up and how it’s done, you could wind up setting it up to ONLY go to you, which you don’t want to do.

        The fact that you told him that you would ignore irrelevant and personal emails is a good thing – it shows that you really aren’t looking for a reason to to poke through his emails.

        And, I do think you don’t have much of a choice. We do use the autoresponder solution, but we ALSO forward, because people just ignore it, and we often can’t afford to let that happen.

    4. Lily in NYC*

      My office doesn’t care if we get personal emails so this would not be a request I would like very much (but no one here would ever ask to have someone’s emails forwarded to him/her). However, I would comply and my poor boss would probably never ask me again after receiving multiple emails from my mom with photos of whatever she cooked that day! The woman is obsessed with sending me photos of food and of my beloved little brother (the dog).

      1. MoinMoin*

        My recently retired father has just discovered MMS, so his texts to my sister and I are an extensive running photo journal of all his meals, dog walks, shopping excursions, and general opinions about life. It’s entertaining and I love him, but it’s really deadened me to the thrill of getting a new text.

        1. Formica Dinette*

          But does he sign his texts?

          “The tulip tree on the corner is in full bloom.


        2. Lily in NYC*

          Aw, that’s pretty sweet. My mom is not sweet. She also likes to send me pictures of things she knows creep me out (scary clowns and this terrifying doll called Tippy Tumbles that scarred me for life when I got it as an Xmas present – mom kept it in a closet and threatened to bring her out whenever I was naughty).

    5. Alton*

      Depending on the workplace, there can be a lot of gray areas. I work in academia, and my “company” is very big and has a lot going on. We get a lot of emails that relate to the university, our employment, or employee benefits, but not to our jobs per se. I doubt my boss would be interested in getting copies of event announcements, calls to join staff fitness challenges, confirmations of my lunch appointment to talk to the retirement plan rep, etc. Anything truly personal goes to my personal account, but I use my employee email for anything that isn’t super private and that’s related to being an employee of the university.

    6. BananaPants*

      Some companies send benefits-related email alerts automatically to covered employees’ email addresses. Every time I manually schedule an HSA transaction, details come in a confirmation to my work email, categorized as being for medical, dental, prescription drug, mental/behavioral health, etc.. Likewise for every time I have a dependent care reimbursement. I don’t really care about the latter, but the former is none of my boss’ business.

      Our standard practice is an out of office message with the name, email, and phone number of the employee’s manager. It’s never been a problem.

      1. Dan*

        That I can understand. But FWIW, the responses from some people in this conversation come across as if they are thinking about their boss having 24/7 access to their email forever. In reality, we’re talking about incoming email for a finite period of time. Would you be scheduling an HSA transaction on vacation? I wouldn’t.

  6. Panda Bandit*

    #3 – Definitely tell them you’re not doing any more electrical work. You’re at risk for getting electrocuted and it’s horrifying to see they don’t care. That poorly made cubicle system is also a fire hazard.

  7. Washington*

    #1 This isn’t weird or outside of professional norms for any company I’ve worked with (from the one with 44 employees to the one with ~36,000) – especially when someone is customer-facing and out of the office for more than 1 week. An autoresponder to a customer might work. If it doesn’t, it’s still a reflection on OP’s org. Rightly or wrongly.

    Work emails are business documents. At this point in technology, it’s very easy to keep your personal email separate from work. There should be no expectation of privacy in a business email account.

  8. Kalli*

    #1 – In some fields access to other people’s emails are expected as part of the job. It’s a work email, right? So it belongs to work. If personal things are going to it, then they should either be very urgent (like “you can’t have your personal phone at work and I’ve texted you 8 times already so I’m emailing to say your grandmother died get on a plane ASAP”), or networking for work (i.e. not work related but work still benefits).

    At pretty much everywhere remotely professional I have worked, all the professionals have had to give their admin email access (not just forward emails, but actual access, like in Outlook as a user). In one job, it was routine for admins to actually handle emails for their professionals, and the only way you could tell from the outside was the signature (e.g. Catelyn on behalf of Ned). In another job, it was there but only to be used if the professional or another admin was away. The idea was that anything urgent would still be picked up even if the person didn’t email someone else.
    It can work well (it did in the first one above). It can be terrible (in the second one, one of the professionals stopped assigning work to their admin because “they can get all my emails and they know what to do so I don’t have to give instructions”).

    It’s also a redundancy, because you can go in and see if there are things that have been left for months (same professional above routinely left urgent emails sitting there for months, then everything was assigned on the last day, and only with access to her email was that actually proven and able to be acted on) or badly managed. It doesn’t sound like you need it to act like that.

    The thing is too, it can be confusing. If someone gets an autoreply and decides it’s not important enough to deal with a stranger over, then the stranger contacts them out of the blue, it can actually damage the relationship. The person dealing with the client regularly has a rapport that you may not, and it can be jarring for some people (to say the least). Having someone respond to enquiries while someone’s out of the office generally requires a bit more than just the auto-reply; if the employee has planned their work around their absence, arrangements might be made with a brief introduction – “hey, I’m off for two weeks, Ned’s going to be looking after you while I’m gone, here’s his email” – in which case the auto-reply serves as a reminder, and if the work is truly urgent, needing instant action, that workload should have been sorted out before the break. It’s common enough for employees to take a few days off in a row, so some places have a back up system (Arya backs up Sansa, Sansa backs up Bran), or have multiple people with knowledge of a matter (Client deals with Arya, but Sansa knows enough to step in for big things and is known enough to be Arya for a day or two). In that case, the auto-reply just signals that the other person handles it, or they might have been cc’d on the email.

    I would recommend, if sharing emails makes you uncomfortable (even though they’re work property) and there’s no other reason to (see above), working with your team to develop a back up system, rather than just rely on the auto-reply and hope for the best.

    #2 – It’s very wrong, especially as Facebook now have the rights to all those work emails, to serve and store and edit them in perpetuity.

    #3 – I too would have read that as “it’s your job to call someone in”. But I do know about electrical things, enough to change the bracket and reinforce the powerpoint, but here it would also be illegal for me to do that. Letter writer, you might want to check that for your area as well – it might be flat out illegal for non-licensed people to do electrical work in commercial buildings.

    1. Colette*

      Many, many people don’t have admins. And the impact on the client relationship depends a lot on the type of client and issue. Most business issues are impersonal, and the client just wants it fixed.

      1. Kalli*

        I just gave an example of how it worked from my experience. You can, of course, apply it with reference to other set ups.

    2. BananaPants*

      My admin assistant has 40 employees to assist; if she had to manage everyone’s email she’d never get anything done. The only thing she can do is plan travel on my behalf and I had to set her up as an approved travel arranger in that system.

      We have single sign on, so my email password for Outlook is the same as my employee self-service (HR) system, benefits website, and logins on multiple internal systems. Someone logging into my Outlook inbox would have access to not only my personal private information but also export controlled and even classified technical information. We are expressly told not to give our login passwords out to anyone within the company for information security reasons, and that includes admins and bosses.

      In my field/industry having emails forwarded to your boss or another employee is just NOT done. If the email sender finds an issue important enough, they’ll contact the person listed in the out of office message. Otherwise it waits until the initial recipient is back in the office.

      1. Judy*

        From a quick google, Outlook allows Account Delegation and Folder Access. I’ve been in situations where I’ve delegated access to my account (in Lotus Notes) while on vacation, and removed that access when I’ve returned. Since I’ve been at a place that uses Outlook, I’ve not had to use that feature, so I’m not sure how well it works.

        I do know that the admin sends things from the director’s email sometimes, as it is noted “Jane, sent by Wakeen” on the address.

      2. Kalli*

        Basically all it is, is that you can go into Outlook and set a second person for your emails, and they can open your inbox when they’re logged in. They can’t do anything that you don’t let them. You can even set it just on one folder, so if you have things filtered on arrival they might only see the inbox, or things filtered to the folder you choose. You can set it so they can only read, read and reply. They don’t get to delete anything, and you choose if they can see your tasks/notes/contact/etc. They don’t get access to your everything else. They don’t even get your password, so they can’t access anything else with it.

        And it was an example from my experience, that’s all.

  9. Marzipan*

    #1, as someone who sends and revives emails, I would be pretty horrified to find that I’d emailed what I thought to be one person (who I knew) and that actually my message had gone to another (who I didn’t; or who I knew in a different and more formal way).

    In my workplace, a bit of personal email use is perfectly acceptable (it’s in the policy) and since my work email is the one I have open all the time and synched to every device, it’s the one family members tend to use to contact me. Ask yourself: would you want to be reviewing the plans for my mother’s gravestone which my dad sent me a while back? Or seeing the photo of my cousin’s new backpiece tattoo which my aunt thought I’d like? Those were things I received and dealt with on my own time, but they came through my work account, quite legitimately.

    Similarly, within the organisation I sometimes send emails to colleagues who are also friends, which are phrased slightly differently than they would be to pure colleagues, or include other things (so, like, “Hi Wakeen, how are the teapot projections coming along? I could really use figures for my spout presentation. Also, here’s the recipe for that lemon cake you liked – try not to drop it down your shirt this time!” or whatever). Nothing offensive, or obscene, nothing I’m not perfectly OK to do; but I’m addressing someone with whom I have a shared history. You are not someone with whom I have a shared history. So, unless your organisation makes it very clear that no personal use of email shall ever happen, I’d advocate for having your employee set up an out-of-office instead. The fact that you feel a bit scuzzy about it suggests you’re thinking the same thing.

    1. Alfonzo F*

      Fair point about the emailer being horrified to have his email read by someone else. I have no plans to respond to any of his emails except for the time-sensitive ones.

      An out-of-office won’t work here, for various reasons. That’s why I chose this.

    2. Cat*

      This. And I bit surprised more people haven’t mentioned this.

      I don’t use my work email for personal communication and there’s nothing worse than PG-rated gripes about coworkers in my work communication but this still feels past the privacy line line to me. Past the “IT can read all your emails anyway” privacy line, that is. To me, there’s a difference between IT having the ability to read all your emails and someone else actually reading all of them.

      I guess I’m just having a hard time wrapping my head around an industry or situation where OOO messages are straight up ignored. (Side bar: It would be awesome if the OOO reply included your original message to make forwarding on to another person as easy as one click.)

      1. Observer*

        It’s a very, very common thing that out of office messages are ignored. I’m not really sure why people get away with it, but it’s a reality that most places can’t afford to ignore.

  10. BarManager*

    I think the ‘texting photos of wrongs’ thing is very dependent on the industry in which you work – I’ve been everywhere from three Michelin star to the bottom of the barrel and this is something incredibly common in the hospitality sector… with the sheer number of folks working in or responsible for any given area, there are things that people will deny with every ounce of energy but they are responsible for.

    1. Jack K*

      I agree. I wouldn’t say it’s a “denial” thing, really; the nature of part time shift work is that often a given manager won’t be able to talk to a given staff member in person for a while. By that time, the person who made the mistake might not remember that they did it or why they did it, especially if it’s a lack-of-focus error. And retail or hospitality workers usually don’t have work e-mails. So personally, I think a snapshot and “hey, try to be more careful about this” is better than giving feedback much later and/or secondhand, and also feels less grave.

      But that would apply to corrections over small things, definitely not for anything complicated/distressing/contentious or a rant — which really doesn’t have a place over any method of communication.

      1. Raine*

        Yikes, I waitressed for years and never saw this and can’t imagine any “mistake” that would warrant texting or posting a Facebook photo. Seriously. That’s bizarre.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            It’s both weird, and I also worked in service industry for many years. The whole “let’s use social media for shaming” thing has just gotten out of control.

    2. Mookie*

      It’s definitely common in hospitality (catering, cruiselines, hotels, restaurants) and certain kinds of retail. Before mobile phones were readily available, there were backroom walls of shame (mostly polaroids for three-dimensional errors and xeroxes with red pen mark-ups for the two-dimensional kind), and probably still are in some places. I think if it’s important enough to be addressed as soon as the error is detected but impossible to do so in person, I’d prefer the private messages, sent afterhours, because at least they’re less public and give the employee the space to process the mistake and prepare to talk about what happened, why, and how to avoid it moving forward. But I don’t condone the practice in most instances (although I co-sign Jack K’s remarks that, when presented accordingly, it can actually de-escalate a potentially contentious confrontation over something innocuous or an error likely made by a new hire. And if de-coupled from information that might identify the employee, compiling real examples of common mistakes and incorporating them into operations manuals and training materials is pretty helpful. That’s separate and distinct from nerve-wracking, uncontextualized YOU FECKED UP text messages, which are unnecessarily hostile and utterly unconstructive).

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Oh my goodness. None of the restaurants I ever worked at did things like that. They’d do quick shift meetings and remind us of things that maybe some people weren’t doing correctly or mistakes that were happening too much , and longer meetings with the whole staff on occasion. But shaming notes I’ve never seen. And if someone was f’ing up too much, they’d simply get pulled aside and talked to or maybe even sent home.

    3. One of the Sarahs*

      I can get the texting, and if it’s not aggressive, sending a photo could be super-helpful (eg “you’ve been setting tables up like this, and they should be like that”) – but facebook? Especially if it’s a public facebook message. And ranting at the staff is just counter-productive, in any industry.

    4. Liane*

      It isn’t texting to one person; it is Facebook, where anyone with access to the erring employee’s page can see it. It doesn’t even look like the employer is using FB messaging where there could be a conversation.

      1. Kyrielle*

        It said “message on Facebook ” – this could mean using Facebook messaging, which goes only to the recipient and is never on their wall….

        I still would be very uncomfortable with this, but I don’t think the messages are necessarily being shared with anyone but the recipient. (If they are, that’s horrible.)

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          I took it as the facebook messenger app, rather than a wall post.

          I find that a lot of people in my social circle treat FB messenger like texts…

    5. Michelle*

      I have a friend who works stocking in the local “mart” store. Since the manager is a rare sight, he has started leaving notes for my friend (and his other employees) if he thinks they made a mistake. I say “think” because if he would actually come in and observe a few shifts, he would see that the reason the milk crates where left in the cooler is because there is no room to stack them in the usual place and all the managers with keys to that location are MIA as well or pulling employees to work in other departments.

      I wouldn’t take kindly to my mistakes being sent via Facebook. Other commenters are saying this is normal in the hospitality industry, but it would come off as snarky and aggressive to me.

    6. Mike C.*

      Even though it’s common doesn’t mean it’s reasonable, useful or should otherwise continue. It’s unprofessional as all hell to be perfectly honest.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Also just crappy. People are off-duty and in a social space (Facebook) and then they get a message about some mistake they made at work? It’s like someone coming up to you at a cocktail party and wanting to talk about a work mistake you made yesterday.

        1. Mookie*

          It’s like someone coming up to you at a cocktail party and wanting to talk about a work mistake you made yesterday.

          Oh, Alison, you make it sound absurd (and I agree that it is awful and can’t be very common), but this has literally happened to me multiple times, by my own managers, and I’ve witnessed it done to colleagues. Not at cocktail parties though–me and mine aren’t swank enough–but work-unrelated “supper clubs,” a book reading club, a garden-planting party, and a musical recital for the boss’s kid (though I was attending in support of another parent and had no idea both children attended the same school). I have the worst luck and, obviously, terrible professional instincts; I’m like a moth to warped, toxic employers. They exude warmth and stability up until the moment they cook you to death.

        2. Anony-turtle in a half shell!*

          Waaay behind on this topic, but I worked at a church during the week and was pulled out of Sunday service by one of the pastors to be yelled at because I left my stapler, Kleenex box, and some programs on my desk and a three-hole punch that a volunteer was still using (one of those massive heavy duty ones) on the counter when I left Friday. How did they handle it? They literally picked everything up, opened the closet door (where I just finished organizing and where it had never been organized before–and suddenly I knew why), and threw everything they found in the closet before shutting the door. They didn’t place anything on a shelf or cabinet: they threw it in and it landed wherever it ended up.

          I think they thought I’d clean it up right then (during service), but I said, “I won’t leave things on my desk again. May I return to the service now?” and turned around and left, trying not to cry because I was so taken aback. (I left soon after, because that was only one of many dysfunctional things about that place!)

    7. I'm Not Phyllis*

      You’re probably right, but it shouldn’t be. It’s a really passive aggressive way to manage your staff. If they do something that you think warrants a text or a photo on Facebook (!) you should probably be talking to them right away instead of sending them stuff like this when their shift is over. (This assumes, of course, that there is either a supervisor or manager on duty – but even if there wasn’t, talk to them during their next shift instead.)

    8. Calliope~*

      This is where I would block the person responsible for sending them so they could not access me via FB. It is simply uncalled for, there are more professional ways to contact a subordinate, their social network is not one of them.

  11. anon again*

    #1: For some types of jobs, an auto-reply works well. The sender receives notification that the recipient is not available and is provided with contact information of someone else in the company that can be of assistance in the interim. And then the employee can hoe through all of their mail when they return to the office.

    I did once have an employee that was going to be out for up to two weeks for jury duty. The type of emails she received were generally about updates to a database. Senders wouldn’t typically resend the information to the contact person listed in the auto-reply. They would assume it could wait for the employee’s return to the office. But we wanted to get updates in as quickly as possible. So she auto-forwarded her email to me during her absence.

    Not only did updates get made timely, but the employee knew that she didn’t have to spend time checking into every single email to determine if the updates were made. Had we used auto-reply, she wouldn’t have known which emails might have been resent based on her auto-reply.

    So there are situations where auto-forward can be the best option.

  12. anon again*

    #4: I’ve been involved with quite a few hiring committees and it’s often very hard to determine a person’s exact experience from a resume. With resumes being a marketing tool, it can be tough to suss out what “proficient with Excel” actually means. Did the applicant use Excel spreadsheets someone else created; did she heavily utilize functions; does he even know what a pivot table is? While a good resume highlights a person’s skills in relation to the job being hired for, there are nuances that need conversation to discern.

    Our HR office recommends that hiring committees not assume anything, but rather continue applicants through the phone and in-person interviews. We give applicants the benefit of the doubt that they have the desired experience if it’s unclear until we have evidence to the contrary, which often comes out through interview questions.

    So it often does come down to telling applicants they don’t have enough experience as the reason for their not being the chosen candidate. And as Alison noted, that’s often experience in relation to the chosen candidate. One candidate may have good Excel skills, but another candidate has advanced skills. The first candidate would have been acceptable, but the second candidate is preferred because of his advanced skills.

  13. Caledonia*

    #1 When I’ve supported teams and gone on holiday, what I’ve done is email my team the day before/Friday before saying I am on annual leave and please email Boss/Supervisor (email/phone). I then stuck ‘out of office’ on with Boss/Supervisor’s details on it.

  14. hbc*

    OP1: I’ve had a lot of people who either don’t notice or don’t receive those out of office messages, and if you’re in a position where you might be dealing with people who are already ticked off (customer support, for example), some people can get irritated that you’re making them take an extra step and resending the email.

    Even if you use your email for some personal use, you should assume that anyone will be reading it at any time. Put a couple filters on the forwards to help out if, say, you’ve got a couple of friends who email you pictures of your perfectly-legal-but-not-work-appropriate outings or your mom calls you a nickname you don’t want your colleagues to know–the filtering is good practice simply so the receiver doesn’t get inundated. But if you can’t really filter because Jane from accounting might be sending you important stuff or might be gossiping, or you have a couple dozen people emailing inappropriate things, you’re not using work email in a good way. The problem isn’t the forwarding.

  15. Matt*

    #2 – I get the impression they are using the messaging feature on Facebook, and not sharing it for all to see. Many people use Facebook Messenger as their main messaging platform nowadays. That is significantly different than posting it directly on someone’s wall.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      I really, really, REALLY hope you’re right. If that’s what’s happening, I am no longer horrified (especially given the comments above that showing photos of mistakes is common in the hospitality setting, and I do see how that could be a useful teaching tool). I’m still not loving the idea that employees are expected to friend their managers, though.

      But if this is being done on people’s walls, thereby allowing people who know the employees outside of a business context to see the posts, I’m horrified. More so because ther are interns involved and they may come out of the experience not realizing this is Not Normal.

    2. AF*

      That was what I was wondering – if they’re posting to your wall, unfriend and change privacy settings (so they can’t see your page) immediately!!

  16. Patrick*

    Not to drag OP #5’s question off topic, but are there companies/industries where demotion is so common that what the OP is talking about would be a serious problem?

    Maybe it’s just my field but generally the response to unsatisfactory performance is a PIP, coaching or possibly termination, not demotion (at my current job we occasionally will also move someone into a different role, but those are generally a full on pivot and are only given to people with a great track record and some tenure with the company.)

    This could just be because I’ve seen it happen so rarely, but outside of demotions that were initiated by the employee it always feels like a “soft” termination.

  17. One of the Sarahs*

    #1 My problem with having everything auto-forwarded to my boss is that when I came back, I wouldn’t know what had been dealt with and what hadn’t, when I came back, unless my boss had the time to run through my entire inbox with me.

    Having an auto-reply that says “I’m away until X, if you need a reply before then, please contact Y” means that I can assume that anything that came in urgent while I was away had been dealt with and I didn’t need to do anything with it.

    1. Colette*

      I’d assume the opposite. If everything is forwarded, I’d assume my manager would have dealt with everything critical (and could check in to make sure). If there’s an out of office, I don’t know what got resent.

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        Well, if it was time critical, I’d assume they saw my OOO message, so would have dealt with it another way (and anyway, it’s passed the time critical stage, now I’m back).

        1. Alfonzo F*

          Well he and I discussed this, and basically agreed that I would only act on one type of email, which is the time-sensitive one we’re worried about. Everything else can wait till he returns.

      2. Bea W.*

        And I go with the third option which is assume nothing and check in with my back-up person and/or boss before acting on anything that came in while I was away.

        It’s also important that whoever is providing back-up cc’s the person on vacation on any responses, so when they look through their messages, they can see which things have been addressed already and which things might be still waiting. This is probably the only time I sort my inbox by subject/discussion.

    2. Newish Reader*

      When I had an employee that auto-forwarded her email to me during an absence, we established a system to ensure she knew which emails hadn’t been dealt with during her absence. In our case, the majority of the messages would be handled in her absence, so it was a small number that would be left. There are a number of ways to do that – have the boss forward those messages back to you; drag and drop them into a shared folder; etc.

    3. Persephone Mulberry*

      If I were the manager in this case, I’d be cc’ing my OOO employee on everything I addressed (and also forwarding any communications that didn’t get reply-all’ed).

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        That’s how I handle it.

        A lot of our clients will actually cc my team member on their fwd to me as well, which is great!

  18. Bea W.*

    #1 – Not odd at all, especially where you guys are 4 people and busy, and he’ll be on some tropical island paradise with this new wife, probably not reachable and certainly not wanting to answer work questions. You may get bonus points for allowing him to enjoy his vacation knowing someone is keeping up with anything important that might come in. It really depends on the nature of the work.

    We don’t blanketly forward all emails in my office. That would be overwhelming. What I have done myself is along with my OOO message, is set up rules to forward certain emails to whomever is covering for me. People I work with outside of my office are pretty good about reading the OOO message and contacting the person I’ve named there. So that’s another option. We also notify people by email of any leaves and the contact information for back-up, that seems a bit less effective than the auto-reply OOO message. In addition to using the OOO message, we change our outgoing voicemail in that rare case someone calls instead.

  19. S.I. Newhouse*

    Regarding #2: After this and a number of other recent posts, I’m starting to wonder if anyone who works should have a Facebook account at all. It just seems like a major booby trap. I’m awfully tempted to get rid of all my social media aside from LinkedIn. (Being constantly reminded of everything going on in the news every time I log into Facebook doesn’t help matters, either.)

    I really, really hope you and your employees are being sent *private* messages and not wall posts, as another commenter mentioned above, but even that is skeevy. Good luck to you.

    1. Bea W.*

      I keep my personal social media accounts locked down and not searchable, except for LinkedIn, which is still semi-locked down due to an ex-stalker bf who doesn’t need to know my employment history or where to currently find me during the day.

    2. Mike C.*

      I think the better approach is to advocate for better respect for each other and setting limits and boundaries than having to give up a tool simply because some employers are absolute jerks. It’s new and we’re still figuring out how to integrate things into society so it’s a bumpy road but I don’t think the best way is give up.

  20. CeeCee*

    #3 – No real advice other than: Dont’ touch the electric things unless your an electrician.

    I mostly just wanted to let you know that I sympathize with you situation. It happens a lot in my office where, simply because I am the one doing the ordering, I am expected to be able to troubleshoot things. And it becomes frustrating for everyone involved when my boss expects me to be knowledgeable about fixing it when my only defense is: “Jane sent me a PO with what she needed ordered. All I did was type in a part number and pay for it. I barely even know what this is.”

    Just because you helped coordinate the purchase or installation doesn’t automatically make you the go to expert on the product.

  21. Christine*

    Ref: 2. My job sends us photos of mistakes via text and Facebook
    Dear OP: Please clarification are the errors coming to your personnel FB account or company/division FB page? If it is your personnel FB Page, block them. I would be so offended. Makes me wonder if you have a young and/or inexperienced manager. If they were sending this to your personnel FB; you should have a few friends; reply …. “what”

  22. Christine*

    oops, hit “enter” in error.

    WTF??? or some odd responses back to the posting; or share it right back to the employer’s FB page . If a few employees have a friend or two do it; they might get a taste of their own message.

    OP — Let us know how you decided to handle it; and the response.

  23. Lily in NYC*

    #4 – My guess is that you were “beaten out” by another candidate during the testing round. Our candidates do a case study if they make it to a 2nd round of interviews, and that’s where we do our main weeding. But it usually has much more to do with the performance on the case study than fit/personality. The people we don’t think would be a good fit personality-wise don’t even make it to the second round. I know you must be bummed, I’m sorry.

  24. BUT HOW*

    #2 – Why would you (hypothetically) be talking to interns’ employers for them? Shouldn’t this be something you teach them? I think the consensus here is it is almost always wildly inappropriate for anyone to talk to your boss on your behalf. Is there something I am missing?

    1. OfficePrincess*

      I interpreted it as OP is the internship coordinator at a university or something similar. If the internship is for academic credit, there’s often someone at the school checking in with the site at least once or twice per semester. This is especially true when it’s an internship that was fully coordinated by the school (the SW internships at my alma mater were like this – you listed your preferences and got matched to a site. I think the same was true for nursing and teaching fieldwork).

      1. BUT HOW*

        It seems like such a disservice to run internships like this. A big part of the point of internships is to learn how to deal with these things on your own.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Um, I think a better analogy is that with certain types of internships, the university/op is acting as the go between like a third party recruiter would normally do for some companies placing employees. They still have to create their own resume, polish their interview skills and, you know, perform well on the internship. The Op in this case is simply the matchmaker.

    2. Persephone Mulberry*

      Part of the goal of an internship is to learn office norms, and chastising staff via Facebook/text is definitely not the norm (or shouldn’t be). And an intern doesn’t have the capital to push back against an unreasonable practice/policy like this, even to an extent that a regular employee would. Were I in OP #2’s role and one of my interns brought me this scenario, I might first try coaching them through how to address this with the company, but I would also be prepared to have my intern’s back if needed.

      1. BUT HOW*

        Which helps explain why Allison gets letter after letter of people with problems that could simply be solved by people having a temporarily uncomfortable conversation.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        I think the Op has two different jobs here – coordinating interns for a school and working at a restaurant/bar. I think they mentioned the intern part for if she’s also friends with them on Facebook and doesn’t want them thinking that’s normal.

  25. Anna*

    #1, I think it is perfectly reasonable to have workers’ emails who are out on vacation forwarded to someone to handle the work, BUT this should be the procedure that is spelled out and in place at the beginning of the worker’s tenure, not introduced right before that worker is about to go on vacation. That way, the worker can have a different relationship with his email (ie, no personal stuff, ect.) from the start, and not have any expectation of privacy. I work with a company that does this (one of our vendors, not my company) and that is just “how they do things” when one of them is on vacation. But if my boss suddenly decided to read all my emails, I’m not sure I’d be so comfortable with that, as I’ve had the expectation of privacy for a long time.

    If this wasn’t laid out from the beginning, I think the auto response is the way to go. This method has the added bonus that you only receive emails from people who really want a response, vs. getting every minor or spam message that goes into that worker’s inbox.

  26. Jodi*

    Re: #3 – Would it be unreasonable to ask the woman in the cube to be a little more careful? How does she keep nudging her cube, knocking out power, and not realize that she should maybe try alleviate the problem a bit herself?

    1. Aisling*

      That may take care of this instance, but not the problem that her bosses think OP #2 should deal with all issues. If anything else happened, the OP would have to deal with that as well.

  27. Former Retail Manager*

    #1…unless you do work that is life or death, I don’t see why an auto reply, directing them to contact Manager, wouldn’t be sufficient. I have limited personal stuff that comes to my work e-mail (think restaurant spam/coupons) and I still wouldn’t have my e-mails forwarded to my boss. As someone else mentioned, people will often ask me questions and/or complain about something boss said/did, etc. and it would be detrimental for Boss to see those e-mails. To my knowledge, auto forwarded Outlook e-mails don’t notify the sender that their e-mail is being auto forwarded. If that’s incorrect, then obviously it’s a different story. Another option, if the important e-mails are only coming from certain people, would be to set up rules in Outlook and only have those e-mail auto forwarded rather than all e-mails.

  28. I'm Not Phyllis*

    #1 We do the auto reply with a contact person’s info as well. I raaaarely get personal emails at work, but I have to say I’d still be a little uncomfortable with this. I know that technically there shouldn’t be any expectation of privacy on work email but it still wouldn’t be my favourite thing.

  29. Academia is Fun!*

    Over at Teapot University, our awful, awful Deputy CIO was demoted in terms of power, having all but one small team yanked out from him and having his former direct reports elevated to the leadership team, but no one was told, inside or outside the organization, and his title remains the same, so he gets to pretend to the rest of the campus that he’s in the same position of power, and only a careful look at the org chart (or a conversation with someone who knows) will prove otherwise. So yeah, I wish announcements like this actually happened.

    1. periwinkle*

      That seems to be how our org works, too. I know of one manager who has floundered in terms of what was really needed in her role. She was not demoted – same title, same role – but the org chart shifted around her and she’s basically two levels below where she was before with most of her direct reports gone. From the outside it still looks like she’s in charge of that function but from the inside, nope, big power reduction. I don’t know if it would make a difference if there had been an announcement because the demotion is irrelevant to outsiders and those who need to know already figured it out (and, well, were not displeased by it). Promotions in the managerial ranks, on the other hand, are always announced here.

  30. azvlr*

    #4 Take a look at the experience you have in other roles and state it in terms that relate to the new role.

    When I was in the process of changing careers, I heard “not enough experience” all the time. I read through job descriptions carefully to pick out the language they were looking for. In my old resume I stated “Wrote lesson plans and tests for 7th grade district-wide science curriculum”. In my new resume, I wrote “Designed, developed and implemented new science curriculum.” Changing the phrasing worked either because key word detectors picked them out or because they show that I’m familiar with ADDIE, which is a design model in my field.

    In other words, you may be qualified for the job even if you don’t have experience in the field. You just have to think about how you market yourself. Best of luck!

  31. Persephone Mulberry*

    #3 – I can’t help but wonder if when the company says “you’re in charge of fixing this” they actually mean “as the person who set up the install, you’re the most knowledgeable about the situation and therefore you’re in charge of getting someone in here to fix this and communicating the issue,” and not “you’re in charge of crawling under the desk and wiggling stuff until the power comes back on.”

    1. animaniactoo*

      Harumph. This is the result of our office losing internet, the ac, and the servers for the past 45 minutes. I couldn’t post before you did! Take it back!

  32. Persephone Mulberry*

    Forwarding my email to my manager (or whoever) if I received a lot of time-sensitive communication wouldn’t phase me at all, but then I am also one who writes every email with an eye toward who else might be reading it later. (It was standard practice in my last job to keep the email boxes of departed staff archived for anywhere from a few months to forever. I am sure people are digging through my email history on a weekly basis looking for some documentation or other.)

    I am also the person with a personal-for-family email, a personal non-family email, a personal junk email, a personal work email, a company-assigned work email, and a job searching/networking email….

  33. SL*

    If someone needs to answer all of these emails right away, they should probably have a “group” account where any emails sent to that address go to a distribution list which includes all the people in the group.

  34. animaniactoo*

    LW3 – I’m curious. Were you told that the way you’ve been fixing it is the way that they want you to fix it? Was this your interpretation of “You have to fix this”, or were you specifically told “You personally must get down there and fix it when it goes out”?

  35. MoinMoin*

    OP #1 Some departments in my company that work with external clients and vendors have a similar set up for coverage and it works pretty well (I think they actually do something with Outlook that allows temporary access to their inbox but I’m not sure how it works). But when they respond they always put “Jesse Pinkman on behalf of Walter White” which really helps keep tabs on why someone else is suddenly responding with minimal research or assumptions (which is good, given how little forethought tends to go into a lot of reactionary, constant-crisis-mode, email threads).

  36. uh*

    #1 That would be totally weird. As mentioned above autoreply would be sufficient, perhaps also an updated greeting on his phone direction people who need help to person x. If my boss asked me to forward my email I would “forget” and be “OMG so sorry” when they found out. (And I do not have or expect anything my boss could not read . . )

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