my favorite posts of 2016

Here are my favorite posts of 2016.

10. Do you have to control your emotions to be professional?
Because this comes up so often for so many people, and it’s not always intuitive.

9. Here are things I’ve changed my advice on over time
Because it was fun to look back and see where I’ve changed.

8. Whoever told you to be creative in your cover letter has led you horribly astray
Because I love getting to reprint real-life letters of any sort, and because this one is insane.

7. Interview with a children’s entertainer
Because I got a balloon version of me!

6. You are reading too much into things employers say to you
Because clearing this up would clear up so much stress and angst for people.

5. I accidentally hugged the CEO
Because this is exactly the kind of mortifying thing I would do.

4. How could a vampire keep his true nature hidden at work?
I doubt I even need to explain why on this one.

3. My coworker wants us to call her boyfriend her “master”
Or this one.

2. How important is job satisfaction, really?
Because I think this question often plagues people.

1. My company wants to sponsor me for a service dog, but I’m not sure I should accept (and the update)
Because of happy endings.

Want more? Here are my lists from 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011.

{ 47 comments… read them below }

  1. Gandalf the Nude*

    I want a whole blog of fictional characters asking for professional advice. And the columnist earnestly answering bizarre questions about workplace safety in a wizarding school or COBRA benefits for your family when you’ve been trapped halfway across the universe.

    1. AthenaC*

      Oops – I made the mistake of linking to an old post and now my comment is stuck in moderation.

      Anyway, several people posed “Is my death hampering my job search?” -type questions. Maybe Alison (or someone else) should take a crack at answering.

    2. AthenaC*

      ” COBRA benefits for your family when you’ve been trapped halfway across the universe.”

      Now I want to see the Star Trek: Voyager episode when Starfleet realizes the Voyager crew was still alive and tries to recoup the death benefits paid to the family members. With only the lone SFAS(*) agent with the courage and mortal fortitude to track down every single family member shirking their Patriotic Duty(TM) to repay Starfleet.

      (*) SFAS = Starfleet Finance and Accounting Service. Like DFAS (Defense Finance and Accounting Service), but different.

      1. Liz*

        I found DS9 delightful from an AAM point of view:

        “Dear Ask A Manager,

        My new boss turns out to be a senior mystical figure in my religion. Is that legal?”

        1. AthenaC*

          Oh yes of course! Or how about –

          “Dear Ask A Manager,

          My new boss is someone I used to commit acts of terrorism against (he knows) but it doesn’t stop him from hitting on me. HR is useless because to them I”m basically a non-person. What do I do?”

          Or –

          “Dear Ask A Manager,

          One of my coworkers is the new host of my dead wife. It’s really emotionally tough to work with her, but I can’t say anything to that effect because Klingons do NOT talk about feelings. And my Klingon cred is only now slowly recovering after a lifetime of shameful exile and I do NOT want to screw it up. Furthermore, neither of us are due to be transferred until at least a year – how do I handle this in the meantime?”

    3. FD*

      I really want a webcomic about a long-suffering OSHA agent going around inspecting hideouts and lairs and insisting they be brought up to code.

      “Yes, I understand the Emperor is less forgiving than you are, Lord Vader, but you still have to install proper safety railings in all work areas.”

      1. AthenaC*

        Reminds me of an Eddie Izzard skit re: Darth Vader in the Death Star cafeteria –

        Cafeteria worker: You’ll need a tray, sir.

        DV: DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?!! I AM THE –

        Cafeteria worker: The food is hot, sir – you’ll need a tray.

        DV: Oh of course. (grabs tray) I’ll have the chili mac, please.

        Or something like that.

        1. Cassandra*

          If you haven’t checked out the “Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager” YouTube series, I think it might be up your alley.

        2. animaniactoo*

          I love that kind of humor. A friend and I had a skit based on laws that make no sense, like being illegal to commit suicide.* So you what? Arrest the dead body? “You have the right to remain silent… I can see that won’t be a problem for you. You have the right to an attorney… although an undertaker may be more useful.”

          *Apparently somebody figured it out eventually, because the law has been removed in pretty much every state that still had it when I was a kid and doing this skit back in the early-to-mid 80s.

      2. Gandalf the Nude*

        I very, very briefly tried a twitter for Hogwarts HR before I realized I didn’t know British employment law!

        Incidentally, that started after we did a role play in a Harry Potter Alliance meeting where we gave each professor their annual review. Defending my job as Snape was one of the highlights of 2016.

    4. Charlie*

      I’d love a Star Wars professional advice column.

      “Dear Alison: My boss keeps force-choking his subordinates, but the big boss doesn’t care. Should I go to HR?”

      “Dear Alison: I think my boss is purposefully designing the Death Star so there’s a cooling duct exactly the size of a photon torpedo that leads directly to the main reactor. I don’t want to get him killed, or make his boss mad, so how do I bring this up in a design review without stirring the pot?”

      “Dear Alison: I’m concerned that none of my squadmates know how to shoot. They always miss Rebel infiltrators, and we’re currently running a 57% casualty rate. This is really bad for morale. How do I gently encourage them to spend more time at the range?”

      1. AthenaC*

        (Best Alison impersonation)

        1) Should you go to HR? Maybe – more on that in a minute. But whatever you decide, do it quickly before you become a victim of force-choking and no longer have the option. This is also a good time to update your resume and look for a different evil empire to work for. No evil empire is perfect, of course, but not all of them have such a lousy workplace safety track record.

        The way I see it, there are two possibilities:

        1) HR already knows and your complaint will be ineffective. Surely someone reasonable would suspect something when they have to process all those death certificates and take these people off payroll. Or maybe someone high up in HR has been threatened into compliance with the threat of force-choking if they don’t comply.

        2) No one has been telling HR about these employee deaths. In a geographically spread-out organization like the one you work for, it can be very easy for normal workplace communication to be neglected. In that case, these employees are still being paid and there is the additional problem of payroll fraud. I’m not saying your boss is necessarily the one benefiting, but given his obvious character flaws both as a manager and a human being, I can’t say I would be surprised if a fraud examination revealed he had been pocketing the paychecks of some of these deceased employees.

        I’m sorry to say it’s a big risk either way, and I can’t give you a solid answer without knowing more details about your situation. Whatever you decide, please write back and give us an update!

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          “But check your on-site death policy if your employer is in Coruscant [California?], because Force-choking is illegal there, even if your manager is a member of the Empire.”

          (these answers were amazing, Athena C—I literally laughed out loud)

      2. AthenaC*

        3) Unless you’re one of the supervisors, I’m afraid this isn’t really a problem for you to solve. It’s possible your supervisor isn’t aware of the poor morale, so it may be worth it to sit down with him, tell him what you’re seeing, and ask, “What can we do to be a more effective team?” Notice the we, which sounds more like collaboration and less like complaining.

        Now, if your supervisor were writing in, I would tell him that he should consider making a certain number of hours at the shooting range mandatory, or, after a notice period, requiring a certain minimum marksmanship score to maintain employment (assuming he has the authority to do so).

    5. Candi*

      Myth-fortunes, scene: a world that is having a lot of construction accidents on a pyramid scheme.

      “I have Cobra, but he can barely keep up!”

      I always wished Robert and Jody had gone more into that.

    6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes! I particularly would love a Hogwarts edition:

      Dear Alison, I just started my dream job teaching Defense Against Dark Arts at Hogwarts. But recently, we have had a pest problem with deadly magical creatures infiltrating our hallways, and one even killed another teacher. Is this legal?

      Dear Alison, the Ministry of Magic recently commandeered my place of employment, and management has adopted an authoritarian approach that includes torture as part of its progressive discipline system. How do let my boss know that the Black Quill is undermining employee confidence and making my coworkers resent my boss? I’m really worried about morale.

      Dear Alison, when I enrolled at Hogwarts, I was told we all had to abide by the same rules, or we risk receiving demerits as part of our department’s employee evaluation program (it’s based on a points system). But recently, our newest hire (I’ll call him “The Chosen One”) has been allowed to break curfew, go off-site during work hours, go maverick when the team has reached consensus on an approach, telecommute (and teleport), and underperform in classwork. Despite breaking all the rules, he keeps getting rewarded and promoted! I work hard, study, and play by the rules, and my manager is constantly criticizing me, while the Chosen One gets away with everything and contributes very little to our team. How can I make my manager see that he’s a total drain on the system?

  2. KarenD*

    I loved each and every one of these.

    But. At the risk of sounding sappy, what I really loved is the sage, sane counsel that keeps coming day after day. Some advice columns out there highlight the ridiculous and prioritize entertainment over trying to help. Others seem to enjoy finger-shaking and chiding the people they are purportedly advising. And some just flat-out give crummy advice.

    None of that happens here. And Alison’s leadership very much sets the tone for one of the best comment sections on any blog anywhere. So many smart people have gravitated here!

    Over time, reading this blog has made me a better employee, given me tools to roll with the workplace punches and the insight to know when a situation has really headed south. I’m really grateful for this … seemed like as good a time as any to say so :)

    1. JuniperGreen*

      Ditto! This is a wonderful site to find sanity and wisdom, humor and good will.

      Thank you, Alison, for making this incredible corner of the internet!

    2. Stardust*

      Agreed! Really appreciate this website and the sage advice, good humor and wonderful commentariat!! Thank you Alison and everyone for making this a great place to share and learn!

    3. Candi*

      I particularly love that, between Alison and the commentators, not only does the direct question get addressed, but so do between-the-lines issues. Sometimes that’s where the poisoned root lies, too.

  3. Lovemyjob...Truly!!!*

    The I hugged my CEO literally had me laughing out loud. I may have even snorted a time or two while laughing. OMG I could totally see myself doing that. I once high-fived a VP who was raising her hand to get our attention before leaving a meeting room. I was mortified. I’m also really fair skinned and blush so easy so it was painfully obvious how embarrassed I was. She was cool about it though. She thanked me, said what she needed to say, and then gave high fives to the rest of the group as they left the room.

    1. NW Mossy*

      I accidentally fist-bumped the VP of HR at our internal career fair a couple of years ago. I still can’t figure out how it happened, but since he doesn’t actually know me, I try not to sweat it.

      1. Charlie*

        I gave a fist-bump to our director of business development once, thinking he was someone else. He bumped, then did the little explodey follow-on, with sound-effects – pacheeeew.

    2. Future Analyst*

      I have to read the comments on that one in little bits, because I don’t want to laugh out loud in my office. So many hilarious stories!!

    3. Muriel Heslop*

      I would totally hug the CEO without thinking. After one of my first conferences as a rookie teacher, I hugged the parent when we stood up from the table. Mortified! I’m a fair-skinned redhead and blushed deep maroon. She was really nice about it, but the student came in the next day and announced to the whole class of eighth graders, “My mom said you hugged her!”

  4. Whats In A Name*

    …..the advice in the comments, makes me smile huge and goofy.

    I love it when updates include such vivid descriptions. Of course I teared up; and smiled a huge goofy smile.

  5. Volunteer Enforcer*

    Alison, as the OP of 4, I’m absolutely thrilled that has made it into your favourite posts of 2016 list! Keep on rocking.

  6. Megpie71*

    As a long-time Final Fantasy VII fan (video games), I’d love to get your opinion of the HR practices of the Shinra Electric Power Company. Have some highlights (low lights? Whatever)

    * The company is apparently a power company which has evolved into the One World Government. It’s implied in-game that a lot of this evolution occurred in the last thirty years or so.
    * It has its own military (two branches – SOLDIER, who are all super-soldiers produced by genetic experimentation; and the regular Shinra Army (Department of Public Safety), who are largely ordinary grunts) as well as its own secret service (The Department of Administrative Research, aka “The Turks”), who also act as the Dirty Deeds brigade.
    * The company decided at one point (apparently starting approximately fifteen years prior to the beginning of the original game) to invade one of the few countries where they weren’t the dominant political force and take it over by force of arms. They’ve since largely withdrawn their military and left this nation in a devastated and degraded state.
    * Their Science Department doesn’t appear to have ever had any serious protocols regarding ethical experimentation, or any sort of ethical review board. Promotion by way of “dead men’s shoes” is apparently perfectly reasonable in the upper reaches of the department. So too is human experimentation, Mad Science, kidnapping, and vivisection.
    * The corporate headquarters is based in the city of Midgar, which is largely situated on a large disc (the Plate) suspended approximately 100m above the previous townships in the region (now known as the Slums). Entry to Midgar is apparently possible only on the “Hotel California” plan – leaving the city requires a special key, a ticket or pass, or actual permission from the Shinra Corporation. Basically, you can check out any time you like (and go live in the slums) but you can never leave.
    * The Weapons Research department appears to specialise in building robotic attackers, in various shapes and sizes, as well as creating a colossal cannon which is mounted at the centre of their main harbour base in Junon, apparently pointing directly toward a friendly coastline (Costa del Sol, one of the major tourist destinations on the planet).
    * Their Space Program has produced one rocket, and one failed launch, which resulted in the total withdrawal of funding and the apparent collapse of the economy of an entire town.
    * At one point, as part of a corporate cover-up, they allowed a village to be burned to the ground, and subsequently re-built it and staffed it with actors to impersonate the original inhabitants. There’s no mention of how anyone who hadn’t previously lived in the town takes this…
    * The President of the corporation believes dropping an entire eighth of the upper Plate (and the residential/commercial districts thereupon etc) onto the Slums, killing multiple thousands of people, is a good way to deal with a terrorist group which at the time comprised a maximum of six people, at least two of whom were fairly physically distinctive (you have a short blond guy carrying a sword almost bigger than he is, who has glowing blue eyes; and a giant of a black dude with a metallic gun-arm. I doubt either of them would be all that difficult to miss in a crowd).
    * In the course of at least three games and a movie (the original Final Fantasy VII, the “Advent Children” movie, the “Crisis Core” prequel game, and the “Dirge of Cerberus” spin-off) there’s never any mention of such presumably useful sections of a corporate entity as Finance, Human Resources (or even Non-human Resources… look up the details of SOLDIER, you’ll see what I mean), Information Technology or even the people responsible for the actual business of selling and connecting the electricity business side of things.
    * Oh, and their primary method of generating power appears to be heavily polluting, to the point where it destroys all capacity for normal plant and animal growth in the areas surrounding their mako reactors.

    The corporation collapses during the course of the original Final Fantasy VII storyline, in part due to the actions of the protagonists, but quite frankly, I’ve long believed it would have collapsed in a frenzy of backstabbing and incompetence no matter what else had happened. I’d be interested to hear the opinion of an actual HR person on the matter, though.

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