4 updates from letter-writers

Here are four updates from people who had their letters answered here this year.

1. We have a mandatory all-staff jamboree on Election Day

My update is boring and anticlimactic, sorry to say. In a small office consisting of four shareholders and four support staff, collective action was never really an option, and so nothing was said. However, at a subsequent event planning meeting, it was announced that myself and coworker T.–coincidentally enough, the two most politically engaged of the unwilling support staff–were to be assigned to hold down the fort in the home office on election day, just the two of us, and not summoned to the evening event. Again, nothing was said about why, nor did we ask. We took our luck and crept away.

I’m not sure there is a lesson to be learned here. Cowardice rewarded? Sometimes things break in your favor? Maybe sometimes your immediate supervisor knows you better than you think they do?

2. Asking to work from home during office renovations (#2 at the link)

I ended up getting pretty lucky, as it turns out I wasn’t alone in being upset about the construction. A person very high up in the organization was also bothered by it and was concerned for the group of us who were subjected to the brunt of the work. Since I had this person on my side, I was confident when asking my boss about working from home during the renovations, and she was overwhelmingly positive about helping me make arrangements to do so. However I didn’t even end up needing to work from home, as they finished the renovations way ahead of schedule and I only had to deal with the construction for a few more weeks. I have a hunch this also had to do with the higher-up. In any case, if I’m ever in such a position of influence professionally, I’ll be sure to pay it forward and help out those who might feel hesitant to speak up.

Furthermore, I asked the contacts (who I no longer consult for career advice) why they don’t like the idea of millennials working from home, and tried to explain to them that being a millennial has nothing to do with it. They didn’t really concede to my point, but admitted that their companies struggle to recruit exceptional young talent because they have to compete with companies who can provide more flexible schedules and the option of working remotely (they all work in the same industry, which is very similar to mine). So I think their comments may have stemmed from a little bit of bitterness regarding that whole situation.

Thanks for the advice Alison, and thanks to the readers for your support!

3. My exempt employees are confused about how to manage their own time

First, based on your advice and some helpful commenters, I changed some of my language around schedules and PTO. I started saying, “Don’t use PTO unless you’re going to be gone half a day or more” and talking more in terms of core hours and flex time. In response to advice that it’s kind of crappy to tell people they have to use PTO if they want a day off after working a particularly long stretch – I can’t do anything that sounds like I’m giving them x hours off in exchange for x hours worked, but I’m making a point of encouraging them to arrive late, leave early, or work from home (or, you know, “work from home”) if they just put in a lot of time.

My team member who was especially confused about this never did seem to understand it, and kept sending me requests for 1-2 hours off, even after I’d decline them and say, “You don’t need to use PTO for this.” I’d started noticing other behaviors that made me think that we just weren’t the right culture for her, and a strong expectation of a consistent 40-hour schedule was one of them. She ended up finding a job in a different sector that’s a lot more rigorous about such things. I do want to emphasize that her performance was good and there were no hard feelings on either side.

I mentioned staff in another department who were similarly confused. Some of that is still going on, but at this point I think it’s just a few individuals who have been micromanaged in the past and are slow in adjusting to the idea that their boss really trusts them to manage their time.

Thanks for all the great advice – I read your blog and the comments section religiously, and I especially love the updates!

4. My coworker asks where I’m going every single time I leave my desk

I actually practiced saying your suggestions and some of the suggestions from the comments out loud to my boyfriend in an attempt to feel less embarrassed about speaking up.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t brave enough to use the more straightforward language you recommended, but a combination of things eventually did stop her constant questioning. Instead of telling her where I was going every time she asked, I started answering, “What’s up, do you need me for something?” She said no every single time, to which I replied, “Ok, I’ll be back soon.”

At the same time, in helping her with something else, I realized she wasn’t aware of the Outlook calendar feature that allows you to see other people’s busy/free time. I showed her my calendar as an example and pointed out that she could see which blocks of the day I was in meetings or away from my desk. Also, her project ramped up significantly, and she started having more meetings and spending more time working with her own teammates.

I’m not sure which of these factors ultimately did the trick, but it’s been almost three months since I wrote in, and her annoying habit has completely disappeared. Thanks again for the advice!

{ 26 comments… read them below }

  1. k

    #1, I suspect that it’s no coincidence that the two most politically active employees were selected to not have to attend this event, it sounds very much thought out. Whether they were being nice by guessing you’d prefer not being there, or if they were taking the easy way out and hoping this would mean no one would bring up the issues, it seems to have worked out this time. Hopefully they’ll use this as a lesson and do a better job scheduling future events.

    1. AMG

      I thought that as well. So nice that they were thoughtful and considerate of the fact that Election Day is so important to you.

  2. Koko

    I love how many happy endings we’ve been getting lately that don’t involve, “I got the hell out of there and found a better job.” Nice to know problems sometimes get solved!

    1. Marillenbaum

      It does sounds awfully like Scouts, complete with the enforced merriment and horrible shorts. (Apologies if anyone here is/was a Scout, but I have some residual bitterness about certain groups constantly taking over the church rec hall as a kid).

  3. Rocky

    I love happy updates! Thanks to the letter writes for giving us all ‘closure’ as I believe you say in the US :-)

  4. AMG

    I like #4 too. It was a very subtle way of saying, ‘Why do you ask?’. I’m glad your coworker got some tasks added to her workload–it sounds as though she needed it!

    1. AthenaC

      #4 in particular made me smile. Probably because I’ve shown various technology tricks to my share of people to make them more self-sufficient.

      Kinda made me feel a bit bad for the coworker as initially described – she was perpetually afraid the OP was walking away for an hours-long meeting and wouldn’t be available!

  5. Joseph

    Glad to hear #2 no longer listens to those contacts for career advice. The advice from the original post was bad enough (pro tip: Millennials span people still in high school all the way to mid-30’s professionals with families – kinda hard to classify them as universally anything!), but their argument here is even worse.
    If the companies you’re trying to recruit for don’t have excellent benefits, why exactly is that your candidates’ fault that they choose to go elsewhere? If your companies won’t offer it, that’s their choice…but it’s no different than if they refused to pay a competitive salary.

    1. the gold digger

      Yeah, I am getting tired of seeing the argument that a place has to run short-staffed because they want to pay only $X an hour. (Or, worse, that they want to be allowed to issue more work visas so they can pay people only $X an hour.)

      Pay more money and you will find more people willing to do the job. Experienced welders are worth more than $12 an hour. If McDonald’s is paying $10 an hour and you want someone who can sell expensive evening gowns, pay more than $10 an hour. If you can’t find someone to bale hay at $10 an hour, offer $20.

      1. AthenaC

        Exactly. I remember enough from my economics degree that when I see office after office with “Now hiring receptionist!” signs in the windows, and my own office suffered with an incompetent temp receptionist for many months, the obvious reason is that no one is paying what a potential receptionist needs. And the obvious solution is to pay more for the position.

        1. The Rat-Catcher

          I think you are exactly right, and how this is getting missed continues to befuddle me. I see ads for companies all the time wanting receptionists at $9.00/hr, part-time yet must be “flexible for varying shifts” (aka available always so that you couldn’t work another job simultaneously), familiarity with whatever weird industry-specific software they use, and years of both frontline and supervisory experience.

          …I can’t even.

          1. eliza

            I work in exactly this kind of office. I’m a clinical receptionist and also handle some of our clinic’s MVA insurance billing, and started at $9/hr (although I’m at 12.5 right now). It’s ok for me because it pays better than most retail and works around my school schedule (also very easy to take off from work when I need to), but the fact that the office manager, this incredibly competent woman that handles all of their health insurance billing as well as double checks literally every other employees’ work because of their frequent mistakes, is only making $15/hr is mind boggling to me. We’re frequently told that we’re the bets employees at this office, but our pay doesn’t reflect the quality of our output and we’re both planning on leaving soon.

            1. Christine

              Doctor’s are known to be cheap. I have a friend that manages a doctor’s office, she makes in the early 40’s. But that is in Florida.

              1. alter_ego

                My aunt (who isn’t a doctor, but is married to one and manages his office) once complained to me that new HIPAA laws were making it so expensive to be a doctor it wasn’t worth it any more.

                A week before leaving to visit their second vacation home in Florida for the 6 month visit they take every year.

                I weep for them, truly

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                My experience is that they’re cheap everywhere, especially when they have their own solo practice. After his third office manager quit, I had a conversation with a doctor who wanted to draft a contract that required that they stay for a minimum amount of time, give weeks of notice but also give up all of their access to the scheduling system and office keys during the notice period, and a bunch of other terrible (and sometimes illegal) ideas. He was awful to work for, and when he said he thought people kept quitting because he paid too little, I asked him why he didn’t pay them competitive living wages for the work they were doing (which was much more than a normal office manager’s workload). He was appalled and explained that office managers’ lives are literally worth less. Not that their time was worth less than his, but that their “life choices” had led them to take jobs in which they couldn’t support their families, so they deserved to be underpaid (I’ve heard attorneys say this, too, fwiw). People are a-holes.

        2. copy run start

          Yes, low wage = few qualified candidates. What I’m seeing happen lately is the employer assuming that there are no qualified candidates (not that they aren’t paying enough), so they scream “skills gap!” all over the place until someone creates a training program and floods the market with qualified candidates, suckering people into the low wage position because there’s suddenly competition for it. And also creating a group of people who trained for X skill and can’t get a job in it.

          1. Junior Dev

            I went to a coding bootcamp that was partially paid for by the state and I think this is exactly what has happened with the “learn to code!” trend of the last few years. Not that programmers as a whole don’t make enough money, but I see 1) news articles about how “there will be a shortage of x programmers by y year” 2) a glut of fellow code-school grads who can’t find long-term work in the industry 3) a sometimes predatory, totally unregulated code school industry snapping up dollars from individuals and government programs 4) hiring managers at tech companies rolling their eyes at bootcamp grads 5) postings that say things like “entry level junior programmer wanted, must have a CS degree and 2 years experience and be an expert in XYZ technologies.” It’s all kind of a mess.

            1. Christine

              When the office I worked in (clinical research) closed down some of my coworkers took the medical coding classes since we were all ready working in a medically related field. None of them got jobs in doctor’s offices or hospitals.

            2. Jill

              Yikes. I work for a large public school system and we teach coding to elementary aged kids the same as we would teach Spanish or German. In another few years knowing “how to code” will be just another language that most kids “speak”. So “training programs” like this are really becoming a scam. It’s a shame.

          2. paul

            my take on skill gap is alsot hat employers are less willing to train than in the past. It’s something I struggle with at work; we keep pushing votech and college education to help reduce poverty, but so many of the votech programs are *so* niche that I can’t help but feel that maybe the dang employer should be training its hires…

      2. Rey

        I employed by one of these companies. I get paid $0.24/hr more than a McDonald’s cashier to sell expensive evening gowns, according to Google. It is so draining, because the companies that do this still expect to get $20/hr worth of employee for that $10/hr pay.

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