boss won’t stop asking how he can thank us, interviews when your spouse is a candidate, and more

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

1. Manager won’t stop asking how he can thank us

My company gives out general bonuses quarterly. Being on the lower end of the totem pole, the bonuses that my coworkers and I get are far less than management, which is fine, it is what it is.

Recently, we got a new upper manager. He is young and still learning, but the way he wants to thank us for our hard work is irritating me. He has asked us to come up with ways for him and our other manager to thank us. I have sidestepped answering unless cornered and then am a broken record with my responses: “I don’t think it is my place to tell you how to tell us thank you,” “It is unfair for you to put this on us without any guidelines,” “I appreciate you wanting to do something, but you don’t have to — ‘thank you’ is good enough,” and “If you want to do something for us, go ahead, but that’s up to you.”

It is brought up a few times a week.

When pushed for a more specific answer this week, I told him to take us all to a movie some weekend. Where we live, that would be a huge expense; $94 for round trip ferry, movie tickets, hotel rooms (because of the ferry schedule, it would require an overnight). I thought this suggestion would take me out of the getting-an-idea-game, but he actually thought about it for awhile!

I do not know what else I can possibly say to get him to quit asking. At this point, it’s just annoying.

Bringing this up a few times a week is really weird.

But he’s asking, so why not tell him what you’d actually like? For example:

“Bigger bonuses would be great — thanks for asking!”

Or “I’d love extra paid days off.”

If he says he can’t do either of those things and there’s nothing else you particularly want, it’s fine to say, “In that case, nothing comes to mind” and, if necessary, “I appreciate you asking, but bonuses and extra days off really are the answer for me. If you can’t do those, that’s fine, but that will always be my answer every time you ask.” It’s also okay to say, “You keep asking me this, but I’ve told you all I can. Are you looking for some other answer?”

2. Interviews when my spouse is applying for a job in my department

My spouse is applying for a job in my department and is a finalist for the position. We would have the same boss, but work on different floors of the building and interact minimally during the workday. We live in a rural area, both have specialized skill sets (yes, we met in grad school) and this is one of very few possible employers within commuting range. It’s only the second worthwhile opportunity for my spouse in the two years since we moved here; it could be years before an equivalent opportunity arose elsewhere. I’ve read several of your columns about the perils of spouses working together and that’s been helpful in anticipating possible problems.

My question is, how should I handle the interviews? I work in higher ed, where the standard is an all-day interview with a presentation. Should I ask my boss to work from home on the days when the candidates are interviewing? Or should I just be polite to the candidates if introduced and participate as little as possible? I want to act professionally and not draw attention to myself or cause any drama, since I will need to work with whomever is hired. I also don’t want to give my boss any reason to think my spouse and I couldn’t work together professionally. What do you recommend?

Well, first, I’m assuming that your department head and whoever’s in charge of the hiring know about the relationship. If they don’t, you should tell them right away since that isn’t news that should be sprung on them after a hire is made!

But no, I don’t think you need to work from home on those days; that seems excessive. I’d just be professional and polite to all the candidates if you’re introduced. If your husband is introduced to you by someone who doesn’t already know about the relationship, you don’t need to pretend like you don’t know him or anything like that — it’s fine to just smile and say, “Oh, we know each other! Fergus is actually my husband. I’m recusing myself from all the hiring activities for this role for that reason.” (Obviously don’t then get into a conversation about what’s for dinner or anything else spouse-y.)

3. Telling a job candidate that I have cancer

I’m a hiring manager, and I’ve interviewed candidates recently for a position on my small team. It’s a support department in a medium-size company. Today at a follow-up interview, I told a finalist, Jane, that I have cancer. I’m close to making a decision about the role, and I felt it would be useful to her as she makes decisions about this job or any others she’s considering. Do you think telling her was appropriate?

It seemed like the right thing, because, while my prognosis is very good, my availability over the next few months will be diminished as I have treatments and surgery. That won’t change the scope of the position, but it probably will affect how I’m able to train and onboard whomever is hired. Also I might look very different by their start date.

I only gave Jane a few brief facts at the end of our conversation, and she took the news very calmly and graciously. Do you think typically a candidate would appreciate this kind of information, or find it overwhelming or too personal?

I think you’re fine here! It’s similar to explaining to a candidate that you have parental leave coming up or that you’ll be going part-time for a few months to work on a book outside of work or anything else that will impact your schedule and accessibility. It’s the kind of thing that isn’t likely to make someone turn down a job, but that people appreciate knowing about ahead of time.

When in doubt, erring on the side of transparency is almost always a good thing. Good luck with your treatments!

Read an update to this letter here.

4. Is it a bad idea to offer help to my boss in his job search if he doesn’t know I know he is searching?

My organization is undergoing some significant changes and while my team’s future hasn’t been revealed yet, many of my coworkers are jumping ship. Recently there has been some rumors about my boss and his intentions, which I prefer to ignore, but the other day on a web meeting he was sharing his screen and I noticed the tabs he had open. One tab included the Glassdoor profile of a competitor of ours, and the LinkedIn tabs led me to believe he was researching a position with them.

His mistake in not closing those tabs aside, I do have some contacts there. While I don’t know them personally and wouldn’t offer to connect him to them myself (I’d just give him the names) I believe these people would be the ones hiring for the position he is looking at.

It’s clear to all of us that he is burned out and needs to move on. I truly enjoy helping people into their next career step. However, I have hesitations here in pointing out “Hey we all saw yours tabs, what’s up with that?” as well as “I know these people because I spoke to them six months ago and passed on a job.” Should I try and help here, or should I stay out of it?

Stay out of it. He hasn’t shared with you that he’s job searching, and the info you have to pass on isn’t so valuable that it’s worth the potential awkwardness. (Names of people who you don’t know well aren’t something that’s likely to give him a significant leg up.)

5. Interviewing for a position that isn’t available yet

A mutual friend put me in contact with a CEO of a very successful but small company. They do really cool things and I have the technical skills they are seeking. During the phone interview, the CEO said they don’t currently have a position open, but they have work coming in where they will need my skills and want to interview me. Great. I interview, it goes wonderfully (spend a ton of time talking with everyone, my unique skill set is an excellent match, even help solve a technical issue one of the guys was having). At the end of the interview, I’m told again that I’m great and they hope to have a position available for me in “three to six months.” This was a bit frustrating because one of the engineers I spoke to made it sound like there was work available now.

Either way, what do I say in the follow up thank-you email? I want to thank the CEO for having spoken with me and tell him I’d love to be a part of his team but also want to point out that I’m looking in earnest now and probably won’t be available in three to six months. Do I just say “thanks” and leave it at that? I feel like I should have asked more about the whole “we are making a position”; is it ok to ask for more details in the “thank you” email?

I’m not going to hold my breath on this job even though I do think they will follow through on making a position (they have operated this way in the past and our mutual friend said this is “typical” for the CEO). So, is there a nice way to say “you guys are awesome but I’m not waiting around”? Or some other way to express a desire for the job while also conveying that I’m actively looking? Given the casual way I connected with these people, I don’t think they realize how serious I am about switching jobs (currently employed but really dislike what I do). I have a second round of interviews with another company in two weeks (something they didn’t ask about) that I would happily take. I’d rather have the “no position” job but that job doesn’t exist and I don’t know I’d get it once it does exist. Do I send them an email once I have another offer and see if that lights a fire under them? I know I can’t force someone to move faster than they want to, but how would you handle it?

My original instinct was to tell you to simply move on, and that they probably already understand that you’re searching now and may not be available in six months. But actually, people can be surprisingly dense about that kind of thing, and I think it would be fine to say something like, “I really enjoyed talking with you and I’m incredibly intrigued by the X work we discussed. I do want to note that I’m talking to several other companies right now, and I may not be available in the three to six month timeline you mentioned. If moving more quickly is a possibility, I’d love to talk to you about what that might look like.”

You’re better off saying that now rather than waiting until you have an offer — because it’s very unlikely that they’d move as quickly as you’ll need at that point. If they’re willing to expedite things, it’s better for them to realize that now.

{ 215 comments… read them below }

  1. Sami*

    OP#3: No advice as it sounds like you handled it really well. Sending good vibes that your treatments are successful.

    1. OP#3, Hiring Mgr w/Cancer*

      Thanks very much. Treatment and side effects have been tolerable, and my bosses and colleagues have been wonderful.

      Overnight my hair loss accelerated. What was a stray strand or two the past few days was handfuls this morning. As if I had cleaned out a very neglected hair brush. Twice.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        OP #3 – that’s what happened with my mom as well. She was able to get a wonderful wig through a program in our area at no charge with a prescription from her oncologist. It might be worth asking your care team about something similar in your area as I know good wigs can be very expensive. Good luck with your treatment and I’m sorry if this is a derail.

      2. Viola Dace*

        When my hair started to fall out I went to Supercuts and asked for a number 2. Basically shaved my head. Onc nurses had suggested this as a way to cut down on the itchiness and hassle of hair falling out everywhere. It was actually better than just waiting for it to fall out. Bit the bullet so to speak.
        If you are a female and will choose to wear a wig, I can’t recommend highly enough. Super easy ordering and you can return them. Get a synthetic. They look realistic and are light and comfortable.

  2. Ramona Flowers*

    #2 It would also be a good idea to check if your employer has a policy on this. I’d say higher ed is one of the areas where it’s more common to be required to declare any conflicts of interest or close relationships. That doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t work together, but it may mean you need to tell someone how you’re related either now or when your spouse is hired, so I’d double check.

    1. mondegreen*

      On #2, in the spirit of transparency, do people think it would be better to say “Actually, we know each other! Chris is my spouse.” rather than leaving the relationship vague? If the spouse is hired, people will find out, so using language that avoids mentioning the specific relationship seems a little off-key to me.

      I spent a little time in academia and spousal hires were definitely normal enough to have policies around them.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Ah! I’d assumed that the department head already knew about the relationship. If they don’t, the OP should tell them right away — they shouldn’t hear about it for the first time when introducing candidates around the building.

        And yeah, during introductions, if the person who’s doing the intros is some other person and they don’t know about the relationship, then the OP could say what you suggest, and maybe add, “So I’m recusing myself from all the hiring activities for this role.”

        1. jamlady*

          Haha this clears up so much for me. I felt like that was weirdly missing from your answer. I know how pro-transparency you are (same).

            1. OP #2, Fergus's Spouse*

              HR and the hiring manager (and lots of other folks) know that Fergus is my spouse. Sorry for not making that clear in the question!

              I went the simple route and just asked my boss if they wanted me to take those days off or just stay in my office when the candidates visited. Boss chose the latter, and that’s what I did. No drama!

      2. Ramona Flowers*

        I thought this too, but I seem to remember conversations in more detail than most people so I’m not sure of my judgement here.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I was a little surprised, too, just because in my experience, higher ed has policies about how they handle job interviews for spouses/close relatives of current departmental employees because of the nepotism implications.

        If you haven’t spoken to the chair (or equivalent staff person if you are non-faculty), then I would do that first because chances are that they have a protocol that will answer your questions for you. At my current higher-ed job, when we interview spouses, the currently-employed spouse is entirely walled off from the process. But each department has caveats and nuances that make them distinct, so talking to your chair/boss is a good and helpful approach to figuring out those nuances.

      4. Fray91*

        In my last job, the management was completely corrupt and in a bid to gain control over everything and see what everyone talks about, she kept hiring family and friends. The last straw was when she hired her husband, who was managed by her best friend and her, who wasn’t qualified in anything and couldn’t do his job. They spent their whole time acting like strangers; we invited him down to eat lunch with us in the breakout room where she came to eat with us and as we were leaving she told us to never invite him again. Needless to say, he ended up overstepping the mark on several occasions because of who he was and ended up being suspended and eventually relocated to another department under another manager. He made lots of staff uneasy and he used to go back to her to tell her lies about us and he was the reason a few people ended up leaving because his wife would take his word as a junior and would bring managers up saying ‘my husband told me this…’
        So if the OP just keeps it normal and casual rather than making it an issue by avoiding it, staff would maybe relax more.

      5. Laura (Needs a New Name)*

        Yes, please be clear that the person is your spouse!

        This was not a hiring situation, but I didn’t learn that the faculty member whose office was across the hall from mine was the Dean of Faculty’s spouse until November of my first year on the job – when he answered the door for a social event she was hosting. They have different last names, he never mentioned her nor she him, and nobody ever gave me a heads-up. It would have been super helpful for someone to just mention – hey, this person who can hear everything you say when your office door is open is married to your boss. :D
        (Also would have appreciated a heads-up re: other faculty marriages/divorces/re-marriages that are not apparent through last names. HEYYY ACADEMIA.)

        1. Judy (since 2010)*

          Is there much difference between that and the person who (is in a book club/plays golf/knits those preemie octopuses/plays poker/attends the same church) with your boss? Anyone can have a closer relationship to your boss than you know. And anyone who doesn’t have a close relationship from your boss can repeat things anyway.

          And any two people at work could have some sort of grudge, to quote Terry Pratchett, “about what they said about our Sharon”

          Starting a new position has always been a political minefield.

          1. fposte*

            Admittedly, this is my life so it matters more, but to me there’s a huge difference–after all, this is a connection important enough that a lot of workplaces forbid it, and even academia has some limits. Additionally, a huge amount of faculty activity is based on co-working with groups of colleagues, self-governance, and voting procedures; you don’t want to nominate the husband and wife each to lead the two most powerful committees, for instance.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            No, there’s definitely a difference. People get way more personal about spouses and children, etc., and it has a much more demoralizing effect on perceptions of nepotism. Most people are ok with the fact that a candidate’s personal networks may make them more likely to get an interview or a job so long as that person is qualified. But most folks don’t feel that way about people who are related to one another because there’s an embedded presumption that that relative got their job without adequate qualifications and because of their relationship.

            Academia is a little different in that it’s common to hire spouses (if you want one, you have to help the other figure out their employment), but that doesn’t lessen the “appearance of nepotism” effect… which is why the minority of departments/colleges that are well-managed will try to build in controls to correct for those appearances.

            All that said, I would argue that you should try not to complain about your boss when you’re at work and in earshot of any of your peers, regardless of whether they’re related to your boss.

        2. Jessica*

          I agree! We used to have a situation where the IT person who supported our department was the child of a pretty powerful dean up the line of command from us. Never an issue in any way, but I invariably did quietly point out the connection to our new hires. I think these close family connections in the workplace are something coworkers have a right to know.

        3. Teclatrans*

          I joined a very small, new grad program as a student. Like, one chair and two faculty. I was choosing between them and some well-established programs at Ivy League schools. I ended up choosing the gamble because I had high hopes for the chair to be an awesome advisor. Turned out to be a crap experience where I could never trust them to be transparent, which I should have realized when it took over a month of classes to sue out that 2/3 of the faculty was married to each other. (I thought he was a bad teacher, unprepared and changing the syllabus all quarter long. I learned of the relationship after complaining.)

    2. Dankar*

      I agree. I actually think, if this is a public university, that working from home that day might not be a bad idea. There’s so much secrecy involved with interviewing candidates until the very last round, and even then they don’t want to reveal details that might end up getting out others competing for the job.

      When my supervisor was applying for his own job (long story, but the words “emergency appointment” were involved), I was asked to escort him around campus that day to make sure he stayed away from the areas where the other candidates would be interviewing.

      It would have been a lot less conspicuous and distracting if he had just been able to work from home that day. Alas, it was our departments busiest time of year.

  3. gladfe*

    OP2: This is pretty common in my experience with academia. Explicitly check whether there’s an existing policy or protocol, because this has probably come up before.
    For what it’s worth, in my department it would be normal to stay out of the office as much as possible during the candidates’ visits, but people here work from home a lot anyway.

    1. Seal*

      Same here. I work at a university in a college town and the running joke is that we need to have a separate organization chart for who’s married to or partnered with whom. In fact, I think our application system asks whether or not you have a relative that works at the university and if so what they do.

      I agree with Alison that you need to tell your boss ASAP if you’ve not already done so. When you do, ask them how involved they want you to be in the hiring process, given the circumstances.

  4. paul*

    #3 (Cancer treatments): It depends a lot on how you present it. You seem level headed so I’m assuming that you presented it in a “I’m undergoing treatment for cancer and that may impact the onboarding process in XYZ ways.” sort of fashion.

    If so that is *excellent* as it gives your candidates relevant info to help them decide if they want the job!

    1. OP#3, Hiring Mgr w/Cancer*

      Yup, thanks. I specifically told Jane, “For example, I might be in the office only three days of the first week of whomever is hired.”

      1. The Supreme Troll*

        OP#3, I applaud your thoughtfulness and caring. You seem like a boss that most people would love to be working for. Best wishes as you beat this thing quickly & completely.

  5. Ramona Flowers*

    #3 I’m sorry you’re having to worry about this. I’m not sure how helpful it is to hear this after the fact, but I think I disagree with Alison. Partly because, when you’re making a decision about a job, you really need to decide whether the position is a good fit based on more than just whether one particular manager who could then be unavailable for all sorts of reasons – someone could also get promoted, or leave to do another job, or become unwell after you’ve accepted, for example.

    It sounds like you might be doing one-on-one interviews (sorry if I’m guessing wrong!) and I wonder if a different approach might be to have more people there e.g. two or three of you so you weight the presence of people in the interview similarly to who they might work with ie not just you, as a one-on-one might give the impression of a similar set-up when she arrives.

    But also, it’s a very personal thing to hear and I’m not sure I’d quite know how to handle it. I think the fact she won’t work with you all the time is relevant at interview and offer stage, but the reason why perhaps less so – I think I’d be really unsure of whether to mention this in a thank-you note, for example, and if I didn’t get the job I might worry that my reaction to this was the reason, like did I not say the right thing or seem concerned enough.

    I personally think I’d appreciate being told this after accepting an offer, at the point where I needed to know that you might look different on my first day, and to have met other people who might be more involved in onboarding me.

    However, none of this is particularly useful to you now, as you’ve already told her. And while I’m not convinced this was the ideal timing, actually you’ve conveyed some other information in the process: that you think your availability as a manager is important and worth conveying to candidates, and that you like to make people aware of change ahead of time. Some people may feel you’ve also suggested you might overshare personally – but it’s really hard to know that without being in the conversation, and it doesn’t sound like it came across that way as you were explaining about your availability, not turning the interview into a counselling session.

    I wish you all the best with your treatment. And I also think it’s not worth using up your emotional energy on this question – while the responses may (or may not!) be useful or interesting, this isn’t the kind of thing that’s going to matter to you in a few weeks or a few month, so it’s also okay not to worry about it and to focus on the things that are important right now.

    1. caledonia*

      You know, I came here to say the same thing. I wonder if it’s a cultural thing as I think you are also British/live in the UK and that isn’t something we would do I don’t think.

      Personally, since my mum died of cancer, when I was 23, this would be too personal until I got to know you. Couldn’t you make it more vague and say “health issue” and explain due to treatmemt you might not be around etc? You also don’t know the background of your candidates, what if someone they are close to has been diagnosed recently?

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        Yep, I’m a Brit (work in London and live somewhere commuter-y). I think you make a really good point here – and I’m sorry to hear of the personal loss that has led you to make it.

        1. Kate in Scotland*

          Fwiw, I’m British and tend to think of myself as being on the private/formal side (and also lost my mum to cancer in my early 20s – sorry we have that in common Caledonia!), and I wouldn’t have a problem with this at all, as long as it’s presented as useful factual information rather than something personal. I’d certainly rather know at interview than find out on starting.

      2. BF50*

        I think if a candidate has someone who was diagnosed recently, it would be even more useful for them to know this sort of information. If it is going to trigger past or current emotional trauma, wouldn’t you rather know that up front before you accept the position? If you didn’t think you could handle working for someone going through cancer, wouldn’t you rather have the chance to opt out earlier?

    2. Wow*

      Yeah, I think Alison’s answer is very American, which makes sense because, obviously, she’s American. As a Canadian, I would not know to say if someone told me they had cancer in an job interview, except obviously, “I’m so sorry.” I often have to translate Alison’s answers into Canadian, haha. Make it a bit less blunt and more polite. :)

      However, I agree that the Op should not be worrying about whether or not she should have mentioned cancer.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        That said, my answer there was a bit geared towards America, as sending a post-interview thank-you note isn’t a thing here.

      2. Cath in Canada*

        Heh, yes, I once used “Alison-esque” language at work, almost verbatim from a script suggested in a previous post, and received feedback that it came across as too aggressive for our culture. Lesson learned, filters applied :)

    3. David S.*

      I’m American. I wouldn’t really want to hear if my interviewer had Cancer. I’d really have no idea what sort of reaction the interviewer wanted to get from that statement and probably feel like any reaction I could give was wrong. I don’t really see how that information would affect or be very beneficial to the job seeker at this stage.

      Also I’m a very private person so if I were the interviewer I would definitely not want to be telling the interviewee – or probably anyone else who doesn’t need to know.

    4. OP#3, Hiring Mgr w/Cancer*

      Yes, I’m American. This was MY second interview with Jane but the third overall round in person. At the previous stage, she’d met the other members of our team plus my boss. And she’s been in regular phone contact with our internal recruiter.

      If it matters, this role and Jane’s significant experience are with large healthcare providers. Pronounced empathy for the patients is part of the culture, even for support departments.

      I’m definitely focused on my health, but the workload on my team is significant and I’m grateful my company is letting me add a position. Getting the right person up to speed will take months, and I don’t want a hire to feel shortchanged. I personally was in a similar situation years ago when a hiring mgr Lizzie told me that she was leaving the company. By my hire date, I overlapped with Lizzie only one week, then our small team was supervised nominally by the CEO, then a senior VP, then three months later by Lizzie’s replacement. Strange times, but when accepting the position I knew I was signing on for an unusual situation.

      I do feel I was kind, professional and brief when telling Jane. I hope it all works out. Thanks for all of the comments!

      1. Lablizard*

        I think it was an important thing to let her know that you weren’t going to be around all the time when she starts if she takes the job. I wouldn’t have been any more thrown off by hearing cancer than hearing parental leave, sabbatical, or anything else, since you put it in the context of her onboarding process. Has she met the person who she will be reporting to in your absence?

        1. OP#3, Hiring Mgr w/Cancer*

          Yes, it’s intermittent leave, so I’m there most days. But Jane did interview last week with my boss, who supervises my direct reports whenever I’m out.

          1. Lablizard*

            Then I think you made the right decision. Sure, it is personal, but is it really any more personal than parental leave, FMLA to care for family, surgery, or any other reason that might take you out of the office? She knows it is going to happen, knows why which avoids speculation, and knows who to go to if you aren’t there. Now she can decide if she wants to start work if this is going to be the situation.

            Good luck on your treatment!

      2. NJ Anon*

        I think you did the right thing. If I were contemplating a job offer, I would want to know if there was something going on that might initially impact the onboarding or training when starting a new job. Good luck, OP!

      3. JJ*

        Hey, good luck with the treatments! I’m an American who was diagnosed as well at 34, and had to deal with telling people at work. I got very mixed reactions, from the obviously stunned and uncomfortable (which made me feel terrible for burdening them) to “wow, what kind?”(which, omg no) to “I told all the rest of the managers, hope that was ok.” (It wasn’t, really.)

        I think it was good to give your candidate a heads up about your availability, but I would have just said you had medical stuff coming up and left it at that. People react all sorts of ways when you drop the big C, and if she’d freaked out or gotten uncomfortable, that could affect your perception of her as a candidate, which isn’t really fair.

        But in any case, good luck with the upcoming procedures! You got this. :)

        1. OP#3, Hiring Mgr w/Cancer*

          I’m a very open person anyway (single in my mid-late 40s), and because I have a big role at my company with numerous internal customers for our team, I wanted the support, understanding and lenience from throughout the organization as my priorities and time are different for a while.

          You’re right I could have said “medical stuff,” but I was concerned that by a start date for whomever we hire, my appearance could make it obvious that I’m a cancer patient.

          1. OP#3, Hiring Mgr w/Cancer*

            Actually, I’m concerned that my appearance could be scary like people will think I’m dying, when my prognosis actually is quite good.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Oh man, OP#3, this sounds rough. But honestly, I think you did everything right. I understand people’s squeamishness about not wanting to know something that “personal,” but I think you were entirely appropriate and thoughtful. This wasn’t an overstep, imo.

              Good luck with your treatment!

      4. Bea*

        Since you’re on treatments, she’d know rather quickly upon coming in. I think being brief but up front about it was a good decision.

        Best wishes for you and your loved ones during this time.

  6. Ramona Flowers*

    #1 I just don’t know what to think about this manager. It’s hard to tell if he’s feeling guilty about getting a bonus and being weird about it (or weird in general) or if he’s cack-handedly asking what you’d appreciate without giving specifics.

    You know how you said you needed guidelines to be able to answer? Maybe he actually needs guidelines and having his own vagueness handed back to him isn’t conveying that. So you could ask him what he means: is he asking for details of perks you’d welcome and if so what is and is not on the table? Is there anything small you’d actually really like to ask for like more flexible hours or working from home sometimes?

    But yeah, it’s weird of him.

    1. Nic*

      I like the suggestion of requesting details back from him.

      At one job I had previously (a startup) they weren’t able to do bonuses, but they wanted to find creative ways to thank and reward folks for doing well. They set up a google doc that everyone had access to and started with a few management suggestions to get the ball rolling (and give folks an idea of what types of suggestions they were looking for). They also divided it into small/medium/large ($50/$250/$500+ per) categories.

      It ended up with everything from theatre or sporting event tickets to massages to electronics. Knowing what leeway we had to make suggestions and having it in a document you could edit when you thought up something rather than having to hold on for a meeting or such made it much easier for folks to participate, as well.

      1. Em Too*

        That seems kinda odd to me – wouldn’t it be easier to give the money directly rather than this rather convoluted listing of what you want the company to buy for you? Mine gives giftcards for small amounts and you get to choose what company you want them for, which seems a simpler approach to the same thing.

        It’d make more sense to me if the list was for alternatives to sums of money or equivalents – like an early finish on Friday or them paying for a team lunch or something.

        1. PizzaDog*

          OldJob’s excuse for that type of “bonus” was that they were taxed differently. Monetary bonuses are taxed higher where I’m from, vs gift cards and the like just being purchased on a company card and written off.

          1. Natalie*

            Which is wrong, for what it’s worth. Gift cards have to be taxed just like cash (assuming you’re in the US).

    2. Midge*

      While I agree that the manager is asking about feedback too often, I think the OP’s attitude of “I don’t think it is my place to tell you how to tell us thank you” is kind of counter productive. First of all, if you think your bonus is too small, say something! Ideally, be able to point to comparable salaries in your region and explain why you think you’re underpaid. But also, use this as an opportunity to improve your work life in a way that is actually meaningful to you! Are you interested in learning a new skill or going to a professional conference? Ask if the company will pay for it. Could the process of annual feedback and evaluations use improvement? Ask for it. Do people in upper management not realize all the hard work that people at the lower end of the totem pole are doing? Ask for your boss to mention successful projects you’ve completed at staff meetings. You could ask for thinks like more vacation time, flexible hours, work from home days, even if you could bring your dog into the office. I think the boss is actually doing something right by trying to find out what would make you feel recognized and appreciated. But that’s being lost because he’s going about it in a bit of an inept way.

      If you’re looking for more ideas of how to thank employees, there was a post from the boss’s perspective a while back. (#2 I bet people chimed in from both the manager and employee side in the comments.

      1. AMPG*

        Yeah, I don’t understand the OP’s reluctance to weigh in at all. It’s actually a sign of good management that he’s trying to reward you in ways that will actually make you feel appreciated, instead of a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. It’s true that he’s making too big a deal out of it, but there was really no need for it to get this far in the first place. The OP could have just made a couple of suggestions and moved on.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I disagree. I think this is exactly what Caro has described downthread. Instead of managing his own feelings of guilt or wanting to do something nice, he’s burdening his employees by forcing them to manage his feelings.

    3. Snowglobe*

      Given that he’s a new manager who doesn’t really know the team yet, it seems to me that he’s just trying to figure out how to reward people in ways they will appreciate, given that he probably doesn’t have a lot of control over how much bonus money he has. And he keeps asking because he’s not getting any useful answers. I understand how that can be annoying, but I think he’s trying to do the right thing. I think this is better than the manager who just brings in sweets or something without thinking about whether that is something the employees would like.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        From old Miss Manners: Cash for the male maintenance employees, cookies for the female ones.

        1. fposte*

          IIRC, that was what somebody writing in to Miss Manners had as a practice, and she was scandalized at the inequity.

          1. Jessica*

            That’s absolutely right! I remember that letter too, and Miss Manners denounced the practice strongly.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            Yes, she figured it was tied to the idea that it is unseemly for A Lady To Do Paid Work, which is not an attitude that has any place at work. And that the building should give all their employees money as a bonus. Likewise for housekeepers, nannies, etc–it is hard to beat an extra week’s pay as a Christmas gift. (As opposed to, for example, the gift of a framed photograph of the family.)

            1. esra*

              Please tell me that is not something someone would actually give a nanny.

              Give your nannies cold, hard cash, people.

        1. The Supreme Troll*

          Maybe, but I’m sure that his heart is innocent and in the right place. He is trying to prove his gratitude in any way possible.

      2. LBK*

        I agree – I’m pretty surprised there’s such harsh criticism for someone who wants to rewards their employees so badly. Most employees would kill for that!

        I guess I’m confused why the OP doesn’t just give honest answers of what she would appreciate. Unless I’m missing something in the letter it doesn’t sound like she’s asked for an extra bonus or more vacation time or a work from home day or any of the extras most people covet. So…why not? Would she really not want more money if it were available? Or is she just uncomfortable saying that even when she’s being asked point-blank?

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          If he had asked once or twice, he wouldn’t deserve criticism. But the OP said he is asking several times every week!

          And she doesn’t know what is appropriate to ask for. He definitely can’t increase her bonuses (and I’m not even sure why she mentioned the bonus structure at all) and likely has no control over things like paid days off.

          1. LBK*

            Well he hasn’t gotten an answer! And who’s to say he can’t get her more money or more PTO? She hasn’t even asked.

            1. LQ*

              It’s such a weird way to answer the question too. I kind of wonder if there was a pervious boss who would get upset or some other outstanding factor that’s making the OP hesitate to say. “I’d like a raise.” or “I’d really appreciate a few extra days off.” or anything else. But this seems like a great thing for a boss to ask. Yes, even without parameters. I don’t know why you’d be demanding the moon without simply asking for a raise when your boss asks you what would make you happier in your job. It’s not a bad thing for the boss to do.

              1. Gen*

                I wonder if someone previously suggested something contentious (alcohol in a strongly religious workplace for example) and op doesn’t want to be blamed for the boss fixating on a ‘bad’ gift?

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah — the weird part is that he keeps asking several times a week even though the OP has made her stance pretty clear. I think the OP’s answers have been too rigid/coy, but I don’t get why he keeps asking and asking and asking in the face of that.

            1. fposte*

              Yeah, I do think there’s a chance he’s somebody who feels asking the question is demonstrating gratitude all on its own. But all the more reason to find a way for him to put the company’s money where his mouth is.

            2. LBK*

              I dunno. I just can’t be mad at him when he hasn’t gotten any kind of useful answer yet; it would be one thing if the OP answered, he ended up not being able to deliver what she wanted but then continued to badger her. I think the OP’s being just as weird as he is.

              I also don’t like the idea of discouraging a manager who actively wants to recognize his employees more; even if he’s doing it in a misguided way, I’d take a pesky over-recognizer than someone who never even thinks about recognition. Those are a lot harder to fix.

              1. Jessesgirl72*

                If he isn’t getting any useful answers, then he needs to stop asking. It’s the whole “definition of insanity” thing.

                I also doubt the OP has listed every single suggestion she’s giving him, and is she the only one he is asking and no one is giving him an answer that he could use?

                And she is absolutely right that it’s not her job to figure out how he can thank her! He needs to just do something, and if it isn’t the perfect thing, oh well.

                At this point, it seems more like virtue signalling to me, than real gratitude.

                1. LBK*

                  It’s just bonkers to me that a boss wanting to recognize you is somehow a bad thing. I can’t wrap my head around it. And from the OP’s phrasing, it does sound like she’s only suggested the one thing mentioned.

                  And she is absolutely right that it’s not her job to figure out how he can thank her! He needs to just do something, and if it isn’t the perfect thing, oh well.

                  But if he has the opportunity to do the perfect thing…why not try? People whine here all the time about receiving perks they don’t find useful. Again, I’m just baffled that a manager trying to do right by his employees is somehow being criticized.

                  At this point, it seems more like virtue signalling to me, than real gratitude.

                  Ugh, I hate that phrase. But I don’t see how it even applies here – that would make more sense if he lavished praise on them but never actually gave anyone a raise or a promotion.

                  He’s trying to express his gratitude in a concrete way and his employees are being weirdly dismissive about it without even giving him a chance. I suppose he can just chuck some money at them and be done with it, but I’m still just really confused by the idea that what he’s doing is somehow a bad thing. Most people would kill for a manager who asked this kind of question.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  It’s not that it’s a bad thing. It’s that she’s told him she’s not interested in providing ideas (rightly or wrongly) and he keeps asking and asking anyway. Repeatedly asking someone the same question (several times a week for weeks on end) when they’ve told you that they’re declining to answer is strange behavior, no matter what the question is.

                3. Falling Diphthong*

                  OP hasn’t listed any practical suggestions, though. If he asked, and her first four responses were “money, paid time off, the chance to go to the Teapot Ball on the company’s dime, or a new computer with such-and-such capabilities” and he said “Well we can’t do those” then her attitude absolutely makes sense. But it seems odd as a starting position–they don’t have a long intimate relationship as friends and relatives do, so he’s unlikely to guess that tickets to the Indonesian puppet show would be the way to make her feel truly valued.

                4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I think Alison and Jessesgirl72 have really nailed this. It sounds like the manager’s intentions are good—a boss wanting to recognize their employees is good. But it’s not just the outcome (thanking employees/demonstrating appreciation) that matters, the means matter, too. And that’s where things are going sideways.

                  The weirdness is that he keeps asking even though OP has made her position clear and nothing has changed. To be sure, OP’s communications sound a little stiff (but maybe it’s because she’s been asked so many times and is losing her filter). But if someone isn’t giving you the answer you want, you shouldn’t keep badgering them about it.

                5. anonderella*

                  @Princess Consuela Banana Hammock
                  I 100% agree.
                  @Falling Diphthong
                  I shouldn’t need to have a personal connection with my boss (ie: them knowing I enjoy Indonesian puppetry) to get to feel valued. The option for impersonal compensation (ie: money/paid leave) should be an option, if that’s what people really want. And if that’s what I want, and those aren’t options, then please stop asking.

              2. Myrin*

                Ha, I definitely agree with your “both are being weird here”.

                I can’t understand why OP keeps redirecting and almost implying that it’s somehow inappropriate for him to ask her about something that would have a positive outcome for her. It’s great that he seems to want to show appreciation and recognition which a lot of managers definitely wouldn’t, not some huge misstep.

                On the other hand, I can’t understand why what he takes away from her non-answers isn’t “OP seems to be 100% happy as she is” or “OP seems to be uncomfortable with being asked to ask for something” (which I know is the case in some cultures) or something like “Please don’t hesitate to ever bring it up when you do come up with some way you’d like to be recognised” and instead basically goes “Do you want something? Now? Now? How about now?”.

                I feel like here we have a meeting of two personalities who are different in such ways that they might go on in circles forever.

                1. fposte*

                  Heh. Every morning, instead of “Good morning,” “Good morning,” it’s “How can I thank you?” “I appreciate the thought, but you don’t have to.”

            3. Erin*

              The only thing I can think of is that it’s coming directly out of his pocket. Upper management doesn’t know about this.

        2. Lablizard*

          I was wondering the same thing. He might stop asking if he got an answer, even if it is something that he can’t do right now. Shoot, if enough employees ask for the same thing, he might be able to push for it eventually when he has been in his position long enough. Or he could meet them somewhere in the middle (e.g. can’t give more money, but will allow each employee one day off without using leave each quarter; can’t give more leave, but will let people work 4 10s or 9 9s). Why not just say what you want, OP1?

          1. LBK*

            Agreed – the worst that happens is he says he’s not able to do whatever she asks for, and then that gives her a very firm stopping point for this by saying “There’s really nothing else I’d prefer if I’m not able to get extra vacation days. In lieu of that, I’m genuinely happy to just have you provide me consistent feedback and support my development; that’s enough of a thank you.”

        3. NLMC*

          I agree. He’s trying to figure out what she would appreciate the most as a thank you. I have on several occasions offered gift cards versus time off and different people have different preferences. And often someone who would always chose a gift card over time off just doesn’t understand why someone else would make the opposite choice.
          I’ve had people get upset when letting the whole team go home early (paid of course) because they want to be at their desks increasing their numbers while other people are ecstatic about the time off. There really isn’t a way to please everyone and it sounds like he’s trying to find what works for you.

      3. The Other Dawn*

        I agree with Snowglobe. Yes, he’s asking quite frequently, but it seems as though it’s because he’s a new manager and doesn’t want to make any major missteps (like I did with my new team), and he’s apparently not getting useful answers. If what would make OP happier is an extra paid day off, a little extra bonus, or a box of cookies, she should just say so. He’s asking. Why not tell him? Once he knows the team better, it’s likely he won’t ask anymore because he’ll be able to come up with meaningful ways to say “thank you.” If answers are given and he still keeps asking, then yeah, OP should move on to pointing out that she already said what she wanted.

    4. kittymommy*

      I get the feeling he’s young and has the right intentions but no experience on how to go about it. I think it’s sweet but can see how it works be super irritating. I think the advice was spot on, just tell him the truth.

    5. paul*

      Our HR ask us that during an annual meeting, and that’s awkward/annoying enough (give me more PTO and a better 401(k) match or quit asking already). Can’t imagine continual harranguing from the boss about it.

      1. AMPG*

        But the difference is that you said what you wanted (more PTO and better 401(k) match), right? It’s one thing to keep asking the question because you don’t like the answer, but it’s a lot more understandable to keep asking when you can’t get an answer at all.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But it’s not really understandable to keep asking the question over and over. The OP says he’s asking several times a week. That’s weird. If she doesn’t have an answer, and she’s told him that, he needs to stop pushing. It would be like this kind of thing:

          Boss on Monday: Do you have any ideas for project X?
          You on Monday: Nope, I don’t. Whatever you think is best.

          Boss on Wednesday: Do you have any ideas for project X?
          You on Wednesday: Nope, I don’t. Whatever you think is best.

          Boss on Friday: Do you have any ideas for project X?
          You on Friday: Nope, I don’t. Whatever you think is best.

          Over and over for weeks. That’s weird.

          I do think the OP is being weird herself in the way she’s answering, but the boss needs to hear what she’s saying to him.

          (That’s a bad example because when your boss asks for project ideas, you should try to come up with some. But my point is it’s weird to ask ANY question over and over and over.)

          1. LBK*

            I don’t think it’s the same because this is a question that only you personally know the best answer to. When it’s something work-related, it makes more sense for the boss to just make a judgment call if you don’t have any particular input. But who’s going to know better what makes you happy other than you?

            I understand the annoying aspect of it. I just don’t understand not answering the question; at the very least it would’ve moved the conversation along. I think the OP is being at least as weird and annoying as the boss is.

            1. Myrin*

              OP might be really bad at thinking of concrete way to improve her job – in which case, maybe some of the suggestions in this thread have given her ideas! Regardless of her reason, though, it is strange for him to not accept that she doesn’t seem to have an answer. He could leave the door open by saying she should approach him should she think of something but he’s not doing that. In a way, he is indeed not hearing her – “I don’t have an answer” is an answer and he is ignoring it.

              1. LBK*

                I agree that either of them could’ve steered it in a different direction. To be clear, I’m not saying he’s blameless or that he’s in the right to be asking over and over like this without at least helping her try to come to an answer (eg by offering suggestions for her to choose between). But I can see him floundering a little because he wasn’t expecting someone to give a somewhat bitter response like “It’s not my job to answer this question”.

          2. AMPG*

            I definitely agree that the boss is being weird about it at this point, but I would absolutely expect him to come back to a question at least once or twice when his first attempt was stonewalled so completely. In fact, I would probably be escalating the conversation if I were in his shoes: “I want to talk about why you seem to think it’s not your place to tell me how best to show appreciation. This is part of my job and it’s important to the team culture I’m trying to build that managers and direct reports work collaboratively on morale for the team. I understand if you don’t have any ideas right at the moment, but these types of conversations are an example of the two-way feedback I want to establish throughout the team, so I want you to make a good-faith effort to think this through.”

    6. valereee*

      I am just flummoxed by how many people think this is annoying or weird. I would find it so much more annoying to have a manager who didn’t care what I wanted than one who is going maybe a little overboard to find out. Sure, he should be giving some parameters, but I don’t see the OP saying he/she ASKED for any parameters, either. From my read of the letter it sounds like OP is saying “It’s not my job to help you figure out what I want.” Why not just say, “Well, money and time off are great, of course, but I suspect you knew that already — were you thinking of suggestions like flexible hours and the ability to work from home, or were you more thinking of company-sponsored social events or gift cards or something? Because for me, I’d love company-sponsored social events, but I know Fergus would love to be able to leave early on Wednesdays so he can run his kids to their violin lessons.”

      1. LQ*

        Me too. This has been the greatest change my boss has made in the past couple years. He’s started asking at my reviews what he can do to keep me happy. And I’ve been telling him and he’s been making it happen. That’s awesome. I don’t get the animosity about it.

      2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Dunno. I’d find it annoying to be asked that multiple times a week, but I think OP1 is sort of inviting that by not giving a straightforward and actionable answer. “More PTO” or “Increased schedule flexibility” would give him something to work with.

  7. nnn*

    #1: My first thought is that the more he asks you, the less you should stick to what you know for certain is possible in your suggestions. So the first couple times you mention things like working from home one day a week, or extra paid time off, then you move on to bigger bonuses and higher pay, then to, like, private offices for everyone and a more comprehensive pension plan.

    But since you say that he’s young and still learning, you might also take the opportunity to make sure he’s doing things like advocating for your team upstream and to clients, and adding positive notes to your employee file so you look just as awesome on paper as you are in real life.

    1. Hey Nonnie*

      If I had a boss that refused to put limits on that question to me, he would surely live to regret asking. :)

      1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

        “I would like to relocate our corporate office to Magic Candy Rainbow Island and replace the company cars with flying unicorns.”

    2. valereee*

      Because that’s such a helpful way to address the problem. Why not give him a sincere request for parameters and then actually, oh, give some thought about what besides money and time off WOULD make you happier at work?

    3. Bobert*

      I’ve had managers in the past ask this question but they also added “keep in mind this is limited to things that are within my power or can be handled in my existing budget”. She also gave examples: I can’t give you more PTO but I can let you leave at noon on Friday because you worked the previous weekend, I can buy gift cards or take us all to lunch but I can’t increase your salary or give you a bonus, etc. But she also said she had a few ideas but wanted to get our ideas first. I liked that she already a plan but asked for input before enacting it. That way if we gave no feedback, we couldn’t complain about her ideas.

  8. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

    #2- I work in Higher Ed and it’s rather common for spouses to work in the same general department or even specific department with no issue. In my wing of the building, one side is my program and the other side are the faculty offices for various graduate programs for a particular major department (think Food Science, Art, Kinesiology). One of those professors is married to an adjunct for the undergrad program. It’s not seen as an issue – his undergrad program doesn’t really feed into her specialized graduate program except in a very general way, but since she’s in “prime baby making years” as she said at the birth of their 4th child three months ago, it’s handy having her husband able to take her office hours or they can cover classes for each other.

    As long as your Chair/Dean is aware of the relationship, I don’t think there’s any issue. Though I would definitely encourage you to be out of the office during the candidate visits.

    1. Lablizard*

      In my grad program we had one professor, her husband, her son, and her daughter-in-law (all PhDs, all faculty). That was an extreme case, but it seems like having a couple of people who are related to each other is the norm at universities, especially since spouse placement is often a part of the hiring negotiations. OP2, as long as the PTB know about the relationship and you complete any documentation/follow any protocols that might exist, you should be fine. Personally, I would work from home that day, since I wouldn’t want to make my partner nervous. Interviews are hard enough, so I wouldn’t want him to worry about how he was responding to me (e.g. Was I too familiar? Not familiar enough? Shoot, I keep looking at her when I am thrown by a question)

      1. Kowalski! Options!*

        Funny thought (grad school humor), but family connections like that would make for some interesting contrasts among theoretical frameworks if they’re a) all in the same field and b) dysfunctional as all get-out. :)

  9. Coco*

    #1- This sounds like my new supervisor. He’s young, inexperienced, enthusiastic, and focused on people feeling like “part of the family.” This is nice in theory. I’ve told him many times that I am very eager to get an increase in shift hours and a modest raise. The last time he brought up “making me happy,” I repeated my wishes, and he said in a tired tone, “Yes, you’ve made that very clear.” Well, I don’t know what else to tell him. It’s clear he’d prefer I say something easy and superficial like “put my bio on the website” or “take me out to lunch once in a while” instead of bringing up basic compensation. If you get the impression your manager is fishing for something like that, resist all urges to give it to him. Good for you to sticking to your original answer!

    1. Bookworm*

      I realize there are often good intentions behind those offers, but frankly, it can feel condescending.

      I don’t need the company to be my family – I have a family. (And many people I know who drew a poor hand with their genetic family often have created their own from friends, they’re not all relying on their bosses). Of course, it’s nice to get along with coworkers and enjoy the occasional perk, but the idea that the company can offer a faux-intimate lunch to distract you from raises is absurd.

      At the end of the day, we’re all working for the “thanks” of a salary.

    2. Ramona Flowers*

      Ah, Hobson’s choice. He wants to make you happy, but you can only choose to be happy about X.

    3. Caro in the UK*

      I also have a young, inexperienced manager who does stuff like this. I think he feels bad because the company overworks and underpays us, and he wants to make it better, but doesn’t actually have the clout to do so. So he keeps trying to make it better with stuff that doesn’t matter at all.

      It actually drives me insane, because instead of helping, it actually puts the burden back on me to make HIM feel better about how bad HE’S feeling about my workload, on top of you know, actually having to do all of my work.

      1. GingerHR*

        Maybe try explaining this to him – he won’t learn if no-one tells him. “Dorian, I’m grateful that you can see we have a huge workload at the moment, and I know there’s not much you can do to change that, but sometimes when you ask me for my ideas to change / improve / reduce etc, it can start to feel like an extra task. I’d always be up for looking at this, but realistically the only things that would really improve it at the moment would be adding an extra person or increasing salary, and I know we don’t have the funds for that” – or something along those lines that would work for his personality. His manager probably doesn’t see this side of him, so without it being reflected back he’s never going to realise.

        1. Caro in the UK*

          I’ve have tried, using almost exactly that wording! He agrees and it seems to work for a while, then he slides back into it as soon as we get another big project. I think it’s one of those things that he’s knows isn’t good when he actually stops and thinks about it, but does it without thinking a lot of the time (an emotional response to the situation rather than a rational one).

          1. GingerHR*

            I think you can feel quite justified in saying “if I think of anything I’ll tell you” and then putting it entirely out of your mind.

      2. Coco*

        This is exactly true and so well put. They put the burden on us to make them feel better about overworking us.

    4. valereee*

      You love your job so much that nothing within his power would make you happier at work? Nothing? Not getting rid of that one task you hate so much? Not getting rid of that squeaky desk chair that sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard every time you move? Not a coffee machine that frickin’ doesn’t burn EVERY pot of coffee once it’s got less than half a pot left? Nothing? If truly nothing your manager has within his power can make you any happier, then why would he bother trying?

      1. anonderella*

        Here’s the argument :
        Coco says “The last time he brought up “making me happy,””; your argument is “make you happier”. Coco obviously doesn’t think those milder forms of ‘happiness compensation’ are worth as much as the ones she really wants, and has expressed to her boss already. If Coco’s working conditions are poor, but the major issues are unlikely to change, the smaller forms of compensation may not be enough to keep her at a moderate level of happiness. It’s not just about improving your bare minimum of what you’ll put up with at work, but being able to expect that your boss understands you’re an individual who shouldn’t be taken advantage of.

        “If truly nothing your manager has within his power can make you any happier, then why would he bother trying?” (ps – I truly want to throw that back at some managers I’ve had/I think it’s the point of this whole post)
        At least in a lot of places I’ve worked, there is a balls-to-the-wall adherence to policy and hierarchy that supersedes common sense; the manager may truly want to change conditions for the better, but it’s out of his/her hands. And that(dismissal of valid suggestion for compensation)’s how it’s (somewhat unintentionally) expressed. The error is that it unfortunately can come off as brushing off the expectations of the lower worker, when the manager offers bandaids for heavy bleeding.

        As Coco said, “This is nice in theory.”

        1. Coco*

          “If Coco’s working conditions are poor, but the major issues are unlikely to change, the smaller forms of compensation may not be enough to keep her at a moderate level of happiness. It’s not just about improving your bare minimum of what you’ll put up with at work, but being able to expect that your boss understands you’re an individual who shouldn’t be taken advantage of.”

          Exactly, thank you for putting it so well

      2. Anonymity*

        You’re strangely insistent that everyone should be grateful if their boss expresses any amount of appreciation, even if it’s in empty gestures.

        “I would like more hours.”
        “I can’t do that, but here’s a better coffee pot!”
        “How about a small raise?”
        “Nope, but we’ll get rid of that squeaky chair!”


        1. Hey Nonnie*

          Yeah, you know, if my boss dismisses a legitimate need of mine in favor of an empty gesture / pat on the head, that’s not going to make me feel appreciated. I will feel dismissed and taken for granted, though; it would definitely come across as a “shut up already” gesture.

          I had one job where, for the better part of a year: all my suggestions for process improvement were ignored; the responsibilities I had applied to the job for were handed over to co-workers without my input or even knowledge until I got the work product back from them; responsibilities that were NOT in the job description and were well outside my area of expertise were added, and when I pointed out I had no training, experience, or knowledge of how to do them, I was told “figure it out” (boy, I bet the IT manager regrets spending so much time and money on that IT degree when Google is all you need…).

          Then in December, my boss surprised me with bookstore gift card. I managed not to SAY it, but my reaction was “what the everlovin eff is this?” A $30 gift card does not make up for multiple months of treating me like crap — she had already made it clear how much she truly cared about my “happiness” at work. It would have been a less negative experience had she not given me anything. Instead it felt like her demanding my gratitude and participation in the fiction that she was a good manager.

          Gratitude — and gestures thereof — needs to be genuine. It has an obvious stink if it is not.

        2. valereee*

          OP never said he was offering empty gestures instead of the things she really wanted. She said she never even told him what she really wanted but instead expected him to guess. My point was that, okay, maybe he can’t give her more money or more hours, but that certainly there must be -something- she does want that -is- within his power. I get that being asked over and over again would be annoying, but asking over and over again and getting coy anwers must be kind of annoying, too, and as a boss would make me decide this person must be happy with literally everything in his power, so why worry?

      3. Coco*

        I understand what you’re saying, but there is literally nothing like that in my job *that he has the power to change.* I would like the office to be cooler, but that would require spending $$$$ on fixing AC, and I’ve asked, not happening any time soon. I would like to not have to attend 3-hr staff trainings on teamwork, but the ED says they’re mandatory for all staff. Even if there were more of the smaller things, my point is that I shouldn’t have to feel satisfied with small stuff just to make him feel better about overworking and underpaying me.

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          “You work too hard for too little money and I feel bad! So I’m going to demand some free emotional labor from you too!”

  10. Myrin*

    #1, I agree with Alison that since he’s asking, you might as well say something that you’d really like and that’s realistically achievable. I do wonder what his deal is, though, and why he as a manager can’t think of something by himself if he feels so passionate about it – getting more money is basically universally well-liked, why doesn’t he seem to be thinking of something so obvious?

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      It seems like OP might not have said “Money. It’s fungible.” In which case, do so!

      Or “The ability to take an extra paid day (or half day) off without using PTO,” the other obvious universal answer to this question. Maybe he really does need the hint that a gift card to the sporting goods store is far less useful than two $100 bills, and that money is truly not too impersonal a thank you for extra work for your employer. (Whereas forcing it on a friend who helped you move furniture, or a passerby who helped you change a tire, is icky and like you’re trying to turn a favor from an equal into a paid job from a lower status person. But at your paid job, money is a very appropriate thank you.)*

      It’s weird that he’s asking so frequently, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying “Money. Or time off” every single time.

      *Rereading the part in parens, I am reminded that a lot of recent questions come down to ‘behavior that is okay amongst actual close friends is not okay between coworkers’ has been a bit of a recurring theme of late. If you were friends, and you spent all day Saturday helping him put in a raised vegetable garden, then a potted plant or certificate for a manicure might be an appropriate thank you (assuming it’s based on some idea of what you enjoy, which is what he keeps asking about) while ‘here’s a few $20s’ would be icky and inappropriate. But if you spend Saturday putting in a bunch of hours on the O’Hara Project, and he hands you a potted nasturtium at the end, that’s going to feel weird and out of touch.

    2. valereee*

      More money may not be on the table. Or he might already be working on that, who knows? In which case, yes, it would be helpful if he instead asked, “Given that more money isn’t in the realm of possibility/is already on my radar screen, what else would you like?” So he’s not perfect. He’s asking for his subordinates’ input into what would make them happier at work. That makes him better than 90% of managers I’ve worked for. And FWIW, more money doesn’t make people happy at work. Too -little- money can make them -un-happy, but assuming the pay is what you could make elsewhere for the same work, more money isn’t going to make a worker who is unhappy because their hours aren’t flexible (or they can’t work from home or they’ve got tasks they dislike or too much work for one person) into a happy worker. Just a richer unhappy worker.

      1. anonderella*

        “He’s asking for his subordinates’ input into what would make them happier at work. ”

        He’s asking – not listening.

        “And FWIW, more money doesn’t make people happy at work.”

        Yes it does, if they are underpaid and overworked. People like feeling valued, they don’t just dislike feeling undervalued.

        1. fposte*

          He sounds like he absolutely is listening–the one suggestion he got was seriously considered.

          1. anonderella*

            But the OP wasn’t even being genuine about it when she said it – the manager took a dumb idea and ran with it, real far, until he exhausted himself, like a puppy.

            Fine, it’s OP’s mistake in bringing up a disingenuine suggestion. But that manager sounds absolutely clueless. What did he expect after OP answered already A BUNCH OF TIMES (haha!!), and then he didn’t do any of those things, and when she rattled one off-the-wall answer, which she mentions she did so so he would go AWAY, he poured a bunch of energy into what would have been a one-off company event (that didn’t even occur!) and then went right back to asking. It doesn’t sound like he did any 360 perspective on this, or think through how it would turn out. Just caught a scent of moral unrest and flew off with it; now he’s fluttering back to the same beginning of the same cycle.
            I’d have lost my faith in this guy, too.

            1. LBK*

              What did he expect after OP answered already A BUNCH OF TIMES (haha!!), and then he didn’t do any of those things

              You seem to have completely fabricated this; it’s nowhere in the letter. If you’re going to take such a drastic view of the situation please at least stick to what’s actually described.

              1. anonderella*

                She told him to stop asking her and figure out something himself – she said this different ways, and he didn’t do it.

        2. Stop That Goat*

          He’s asking but I don’t think you can say that he isn’t listening. It sounds like she isn’t giving him any answers which I think is more unusual than him asking honestly.

          I don’t think the problem in this situation is that he’s asking. It’s the frequency.

          1. anonderella*

            Right – shouldn’t he realize how boorish his behavior is? If I was getting that kind of blank-wall response from my direct reports, I’d reevaluate whether this is the right time/climate to be asking. Not asking at all, but definitely asking this much. He shouldn’t be driving people up the wall to get creative about their own compensation. Ask, evaluate; confirm, reevaluate; if no traction, drop it for a bit and let the fish bite if they’re hungry; come back in an appropriate time frame and start over.
            I guess, for me, this guy’s lack of self awareness would make me lose confidence in his ability to actually produce the results he’s so wound up about.

            1. Stop That Goat*

              Her reaction to the questioning is a bit boorish as well though. It’s not helping her case.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        If you’re reasonably happy at work–you feel you’re fairly compensated and working conditions are fair–then more money in the form of a bonus is usually welcome. Maybe you’d been thinking for a while that you could really use new dining room chairs, and the bonus is a chance to do that. Or it pays for a weekend away. Or it puts some padding in your savings account, so 4 months from now when your car needs $1000 in repairs it’s not a big deal. Very few people are going to say “more money–blech.” Some would value some form of time (PTO, flexibility) over more money, so it makes sense to ask. But money isn’t a bad idea.

  11. Marcy Marketer*

    Op #2: When I’ve been in academia, many professors were married in the same department. I think sometimes positions were even negotiated together (one of my professors said the reason he moved to my school was because his wife was also offered a job and finding not one but two tenure track positions was amazing).

    If I were you, I’d ask your question on an academic advice forum or even ask any of your cohort you might know of who works with spouses. Nothing against Alison here, but higher ed is a different ball game.

    1. Anononon*

      At my college, two professors in the same tiny three-person department were divorced. My friend and I used to joke that the department meetings must be super awkward.

      1. ACA*

        At my university, two professors in the same department had an extremely acrimonious divorce – to the point that she still couldn’t stand to be in the same room as him years later! When they both ended up on the same thesis committee, it made scheduling committee meetings difficult, to say the least.

  12. valereee*

    OP#1 — I don’t understand why you’d not want to just tell the guy what you want! He isn’t a mind reader. I wish more managers would ask what their employees want. Telling him it’s his job to figure out what you want with no input from you is asking him to be a mind reader. You really can’t think of anything you want? Flexible hours? Early release on Fridays? Ability to work from home when possible?

    1. Hal*

      Yep. Just answer the question. I think the OP is lucky not to have been written off by the manager after such snotty answers.

    2. Yorick*

      This guy wants to say “thank you” with things like cookies instead of doing these things, which are his actual job as a manager. Bringing in bagels or whatever is really nice in a healthy department but kind of insulting in a dysfunctional department.

      You don’t need to ask what someone wants from their manager in exchange for doing their job. Everyone wants their manager to give positive feedback (formal and informal) and give or at least advocate for more money, more flexibility, etc.

      This reminds me of a former manager. I couldn’t get him to do a single useful thing that I needed to perform my job, but he did once give me a handwritten card that said “thank you for serving the department.”

      1. valereee*

        How in the world did cookies or bagels ever come into this? The OP is not saying the manager is dysfunctional, only young and still learning.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          It’s a bit of a recurring theme–a company has awful morale for reasons of pay and workload and awful management, and they try to counter it with Organized Fun Or Else. While swapping all the toilet paper in the building for one-ply.

      2. LBK*

        Yes and no. Sure, there’s things that generally have universal appeal, but some rewards do matter more to people than others; I love to travel and I already make enough to pay for it, so extra vacation days would be a much better benefit to me than an additional bonus.

        I think you’re projecting your experience with your old manager here. It doesn’t sound like the OP’s boss has been there long enough to be providing feedback or helping his employees get the tools they need – it sounds to me like he’s still getting the lay of the land. But you can realize pretty quickly when someone’s probably being undervalued; I’ve twice had new managers give me raises because as part of reviewing everyone’s compensation they decided I was underpaid. I really appreciated it not because more money was obviously nice, but because it communicated that my value was so apparent that they could tell even within a few weeks that I was bringing more to the table than I was being compensated for.

        1. Lablizard*

          I’m the same. I make plenty, so extra vacation would be my preference. Other people would prefer the cash. Others have long commutes and might want to telework most days. Others might be looking to develop new skills and would prefer getting training, a degree, or certification paid for. Different people have different needs and wants.

        2. anonderella*

          “I think you’re projecting your experience with your old manager here. It doesn’t sound like the OP’s boss has been there long enough to be providing feedback or helping his employees get the tools they need – it sounds to me like he’s still getting the lay of the land.”

          I agree with you, that it’s unfortunate this manager is inexperienced; *however* I don’t think the lower-tier workers should have to bear the brunt of that. His inexperience isn’t providing him with real-time consequences, even though he *may* deal with those later if he doesn’t improve quickly. But his inexperience does have real-time consequences for lower-tier workers who might get burnt out/stressed/need more sick time or vacation/etc.

          “But you can realize pretty quickly when someone’s probably being undervalued”

          That doesn’t mean anything happens about it; I think you were fortunate.

          1. fposte*

            It doesn’t mean anything doesn’t happen about it either, though. If the OP for some reason doesn’t want to ask for things and find out she can’t get them, she can also ask “What kinds of things are you empowered to change and improve?”

            But the odds that this is a trap are pretty small; the likeliest bad scenario is she doesn’t get what she asks for, and she’s already there. And there’s a reasonable chance something in the list of possibilities could actually be changed, so why not ask?

              1. LBK*

                When he’s the one asking 10 times a week, I think it’s pretty safe to assume he’s not going to get angry or hold it against her for answering the question.

                1. anonderella*

                  It’s also unreasonable to ask that many times, and he didn’t change his approach. Who knows where he’s coming from?

                2. LBK*

                  Most normal people would assume he’s coming from exactly where he says he’s coming from. Why assume nefarious intent without any reason to do so?

              2. fposte*

                Asking, ever? For anything? Even when you’re specifically invited to answer?

                I mean, sure, there’s always a risk in speaking, but there’s also always a risk in *not* speaking, and that one doesn’t get credited nearly as much (because risks of omission are always underweighted), and it can come with some pretty severe costs as well. And the OP apparently doesn’t think it’s that great a risk to respond, because she already has once. So I think there’s very little risk in responding again to firm up some possible suggestions in answer to the manager’s direct question.

                1. AMPG*

                  Right – at this point, I would think it would be MORE costly for the OP not to answer. If I wanted to have a conversation with a subordinate about how I could best make them feel appreciated at work, and they shut me down with the type of responses the OP has been giving (it’s not my job to tell you, etc.), I would find them to be strangely uncooperative and it would affect my opinion of them. Granted, I wouldn’t then take to asking the same question multiple times a week, but that’s sort of beside the point here.

                2. LBK*

                  Agreed with AMPG – I would be pretty put off if an employee told me it’s “not their job” to figure out what would make them happier. Honestly, that sounds like an employee who’s so unhappy that they need to leave the job.

                3. anonderella*

                  Thanks for the snark.
                  And yep, that’s my experience. Apparently, it’s yours too, as you mention in your second paragraph.

                  Look, I’m not saying any definites on THIS manager. I’m arguing for why this was a bad approach on the part of the manager, because the tilt will always be in the direction of pro-higher-up-the-chain, and the manager should know better than to be this bullheaded and cavalier about creating positive change if he wants it to be taken seriously. It rolls downhill, as they say, and there’s enough of a presence of this kind of worker-product-boss dis-cohesion in our culture that the overbearing presence of the question, combined with lack of driven-ness or quality behind asking it, is disingenuine, to me. The manager doesn’t have to be experienced to know about that dynamic; he just has to watch TV or read an article on current workplaces.
                  And yeah, it does pull at the strings of my past experiences. You don’t have to take my word for it that I’ve only had truly awful bosses. But I’m going to take the OP’s word for it that this dynamic is annoying, and that she might not actually be in a place to change it, because that’s always been my experience as well.

                  “So I think there’s very little risk in responding again to firm up some possible suggestions in answer to the manager’s direct question.”
                  I see risk there; if what I want can’t be given, or that even asking for it leads to a worse relationship with my boss, I’m not going to ask.
                  I’m not going to sit and complain about it, either; I’d do what I had to do until I could get out and get a better job. And if the questions about “what could be done to make me happy” kept coming after I’d made that decision with myself, I could see myself writing in similarly. And that’s where I was answering from.

                4. fposte*

                  @anonderella–there was no snark in my answer; I was asking questions about what you meant.

                5. anonderella*

                  @ fposte
                  “Asking, ever? For anything? Even when you’re specifically invited to answer?”

                  There was some ..pretty definite.. at least, perceivable snark, there, for me.
                  But you got your answers : )

                6. fposte*

                  @anonderella–honestly, no. I was somewhat surprised but also confused. That’s really not snark. I’m seeing a pattern here between your read on the OP and your read of my comments where you’re assuming bad intent as a default. And I get you may be in a situation where that’s wise, which sounds pretty sucky, but I don’t think it bears true in the wider world.

                7. LBK*

                  Wow. I think bad experiences have dramatically colored your world view in a way that’s not reflected in the average person’s career, and I don’t think it produces productive advice for most people. Being this paranoid about something as simple as answering a question about what kind of recognition you prefer isn’t normal and it will taint relationships with reasonable bosses.

                8. anonderella*

                  @LBK, Ok, we will disagree on that. I still think it’s a valid approach worth arguing.

                9. anonderella*

                  @ fposte-
                  Wait, actually:
                  So, I’ve recently had a pretty crazy situation at my workplace – it’s been developing over the last couple weeks, and I’m *still* not ready to bring it to the open thread – and it entirely revolves around managers dropping the ball. To the point where meetings were called about it, some including me and some only those higher than me (I’m the lowest-tier worker at my job; receptionist.) To the point where apologies were made, to me, by all involved (that was 2 days ago). Because that is how epicly they screwed up, for an entire year and a half.

                  The reason for this wind of change? A new boss (really an old boss, stepping back into the picture).
                  You bet your bottom dollar I’m nodding along to everything I’m told about change, while keeping one eye very open and aware. And my “new” boss sees this, agrees silently, and appreciates it; the future w new boss looks good, but it doesn’t change my reflex for making sure I can’t be laid to blame for things I never learned or touched (aka, being taken advantage of by my boss to be a scapegoat; aka, the previous HowThingsWereDone,AlbeitQuietlyAndWithMuchPassiveAggression).

                  /end rant. So sorry, I know that’s all a bit off-topic (please delete it if too much so). Just meant to provide more context of why I’m arguing so strongly from that perspective. Not the same situation, but again, my reflex for that defense is still pretty raw and ready. And it’s been like sitting quietly on my hands in a snowstorm.

                10. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I’m really sorry you’re stuck in this situation, anonderella. It sounds awful, and it does sound like it’s paranoia-making (and for good reason, based on your experiences to date!).

                  But, fwiw, I don’t think fposte was being snarky. I think those were genuine questions to try to understand where you’re coming from, and it was helpful to know that you’re working in a place where the norms are extremely skewed and unsafe, which has made the risk (or your perception of possible risk) significant for you. It changed how I read the exchange between you, LBK, and fposte—I think for the better, tbh. I understand it didn’t feel that way to you. Just wanted to offer a third-party perspective in case it could be helpful.

                11. anonderella*

                  @Princess Consuela Banana Hammock
                  Yeah, that was my read on the exchange as well. It’s unfortunate I couldn’t find better words to either express myself or change the trajectory of the conversation; but I tried, until it didn’t seem to be a group effort.
                  I started off by responding to comments that came from only 100% ‘the manager is at least asking, so what’s the problem?’, by answering w ‘a) it’s how it’s being done, and b) here’s my personal reasoning on why that’s wrong.’ But what I feel was taken from that was ‘that’s not how it is everywhere, so stop overreacting.’
                  I never didn’t realize that, I just didn’t think my perspective had to be in the majority to be worth discussing.

          2. LBK*

            But his inexperience does have real-time consequences for lower-tier workers who might get burnt out/stressed/need more sick time or vacation/etc.

            Can you explain what you mean by this? I really don’t understand where this came from in the context of the letter.

            1. anonderella*

              If there *are* morale problems the manager is failing to solve (at least by this method) then that failure could lead to employees getting burnt out/etc more quickly.

        3. Yorick*

          I’m definitely projecting a bit. I also wouldn’t think of aspects of the compensation package as a way for your manager “to say thank you.” In some companies, that kind of verbiage tends to be used to relate to “extras” that they think will distract you from real issues in the workplace.

          1. LBK*

            I think that’s how bad managers do it, but it’s not universal. I definitely get thanked via my annual raise and bonus, among other things.

          2. fposte*

            I would interpret it as broadly as possible to ask for what I most want first, without overfocusing on what a request like that might mean. That’s because 1) there’s almost always more possibility for movement on the big things than people realize; 2) it makes a life improvement ask seem cheap by comparison and 3) there’s too much history of people, especially women, restricting themselves into asking for what they think it’s okay for people to give them rather than what they want.

          3. TootsNYC*

            I do agree that “to say thank you” usually means “extras.”

            Becuase most places I’ve worked, and especially where I’ve been a boss, people are appropriately compensated. And because a higher salary isn’t a thank-you.

            But I don’t think that always means companies are trying patch over flaws!

  13. MicroManagered*

    OP#1 the phrase “low end of the totem pole” is inaccurate and offensive to many Native Americans. I don’t want to derail the discussion, but I see this phrase used a lot on this site and didn’t know myself until a Native American friend pointed it out to me.

    1. Triceratops*

      Yes. I’ve seen “bottom of the heap” as an alternative suggestion that conveys almost exactly the same thing. Shoutout to @NativeApprops on Twitter!

  14. Zathras*

    OP#4, Alison is spot on. There are also other plausible reasons he might have had those tabs open. Maybe he’s been asked to give a reference for someone applying to work there and was looking at the position description, or trying to figure out why Competitor hires away so many of his best people, or something along those lines.

  15. Antilles*

    OP#4: You really need to stay out of this.
    First off, while you might have a good reason to think he’s searching based on the tabs, just seeing the names of tabs on his windows taskbar doesn’t necessarily mean that he is – it’s possible that he’s just keeping watch on the competition’s hiring practices and Glassdoor reviews to watch how they’re doing.
    Secondly, the names are completely useless to him. Even if they are the actual hiring managers (which you don’t seem certain about), companies typically have specific hiring processes and trying to circumvent that process by directly contacting someone who isn’t listed as the contact is a serious violation of professional norms, so much so that plenty of hiring managers will throw your resume right in the trash for doing so.

    1. kapers*

      Agreed– you don’t know why those tabs were open. Even if he were earnestly searching, people are VERY SECRETIVE about this topic. (For good reason– say he interviews, doesn’t get the new job, and his boss finds out he was dying to leave: awkward at best.) So I think it would backfire. Plus you’d have to explain how you came to see the tabs, which would be hard to do without sounding like you were snooping.

      The other part I can see backfiring is you giving names when those folks are not really your contacts. You never worked with them, they don’t know you–hiring processes are pretty formal so it’s not a leg up to have names if you have to go through the same process as everyone else to apply. I get you’re trying to be helpful but it could come across like you’re just being nosy/a busybody trying to make yourself look important and insert yourself into matters that aren’t your business.

  16. Whats In A Name*

    OP#5: I am really torn on your predicament and it does intrigue me. I know you are actively looking, but what if a job doesn’t come up in 3-6 months. I feel like you should tell them you are actively looking but I worry if you say “I might not be available in the timeframe you mentioned” that they might hear “I’m only available now” and think you are either using it as a tactic to get hired or write you off and not create the position.

    I wonder if you use part of Alison’s script “I really enjoyed talking with you and I’m incredibly intrigued by the X work we discussed. Ionly think it’s fair to note that I’m talking to several other companies right now. Of course that doesn’t guarantee I won’t be available in 3-6 months, but there is also a chance my availability may change in that time.

    I realize it’s the essential same message but I feel that saying the words “won’t be” or “may not be” might be taken as a definite. I also think asking them to move up the timeline based on your letter might and what you said your friend has said about this being the process and there not being a position that might rub them the wrong way.

    I could TOTALLY be wrong, not a lot of experience here. Just trying to come from their perspective.

    1. Allypopx*

      Nope I had the same thought. It’s important to make it clear that you’re not just trying to strongarm your way through their hiring process.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I had the same thought as well.

      I’d avoid the negative.

      Say something like, “I am actively looking, and would hate to miss out on the opportunity to work with you because a solid offer came from someone else in the meantime. Let’s keep in touch. And, should another offer materialize, would you like me to contact you as I consider it?”

  17. LQ*

    I think start with things like money and time off. But there are a lot of other things. I know my boss can’t do those two things (other than the standard raise). But I’ve asked for software that is related to my job, but that I’d really like to learn how to use personally and would make my job more fun. Occasional flexibility (there are reasons, bad ones, but reasons we can’t do it all the time, but he’s willing to quietly let me do things flexibly which is huge) and if you have a less rigid work place, flexibility if you don’t have it is big. Additional training. Projects that are stretch, fun, outside your wheelhouse, or in the area you’d like to go. Going to conferences, presenting at conferences, etc…

    I’d also say that your boss might be someone who thinks everyone wants to be thanked the same way he does so he’s sort of waiting for you to say that. Food, public praise, title bump are all things some people really like.

    When my boss asked me this question at my review I said a raise (money) and someone to take over some of my ….boring job duties. I think they are boring at least. And he was hiring someone to fill a position and I know he looked for someone with interest in taking on some of the things I do, so I’m currently quite happily passing off a bunch of tasks to the new guy who is picking them up much more quickly than my other coworkers have. So there is redundancy and I’m freed up to do some more interesting things.

    Yes, money is nice, but even if your boss can’t/won’t offer money is there something else?

    1. valereee*

      What LQ said. Of COURSE we all want money and more time off, but given that those things aren’t going to happen, is there really truly nothing that would make your work life happier? Why not just tell the guy what they are instead of getting annoyed that he keeps trying to find out. I guess it would be better if he just figured, “Okay, literally nothing I can do to make OP#1’s work life happier. That must mean that, short of doubling her salary and cutting her hours, I’m doing everything right as far as he/she’s concerned.”

      1. LQ*

        Yes, it’s weird that people talk like there is never anything else at the job that makes them more or less happy. But I think nearly all of the letters aren’t about money.

        My boss isn’t a mind reader and I don’t want him to be. But that means that I need to be specific and ask for what I want. (Last year I got to go to a big training that was a important thing at my org. This year, I get to pass off boring work. They are both because I answered when he asked.)

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Sometimes it really is that straightforward.

          And it can be a frustrating side effect of over-strict budget categories–if you offer to send me to a conference OR buy software OR give me tickets to a sporting event OR give me a lot of bagels, but the cash equivalent of those is Just Not An Option, it’s frustrating. Just like if someone needs a new monitor because theirs has gone dim and flaky, and you explain that there’s nothing in the tech budget until next quarter but you CAN give them a new guest chair, would that be good enough?

          1. LQ*

            Yes. I’m in a place where cash equivalent for those things Will Not Happen. But it is helpful to understand that is true. And in my case my boss is never going to be able to change it. Being frustrated at it, won’t change it. Nothing short of a complete and total change of the entire will of the people will change it. So either I find a job at a place where that isn’t true, or I have to look to other things that will help.

      2. LBK*

        I’m confused why people are saying time off and money aren’t an option. Am I missing something in the letter?

        1. LQ*

          Nope, not missing anything in the letter at all. I’m just saying if they aren’t but HECK YES ask if you want those! It just seems like the OP has been saying nothing. Not money, time off, or other things. But I was saying that it isn’t always possible to get money or time off (for me specifically I know it’s not beyond what the contract says), but even if those aren’t possible, there are other things you can ask for.

          I can’t think of a better thing for my boss to do than ask what I want actually. Yes, I would like a raise and a interesting new project please.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, I get that it’s annoying that it happens every couple of days, and it’s possible the OP is pretty aware that the manager’s power is limited, but now’s the time to buff up and haul out your wish list! Start with more money and more vacation, and then go to early closing on summer Fridays, casual dress, better coffee, catered pastries, newer computers, subsidized gym memberships, daycare benefits, better 401k providers (I swear 90% of companies with 401ks don’t realize how much they’re screwing their employees with the providers), FSAs, charitable giving program, better office chairs, upgrade the breastmilk pumping facilities, napping sofa in a back room…I could go on and on. Work you way down them according to your priorities until either you get something or he gives up on asking.

  18. agmat*

    OP 2 – just want to commiserate that it can be SO difficult to find jobs for two people with similar training in a rural area. My spouse and I don’t work for the same employer, but we interact quite a lot, both with each other and with each other’s colleagues (he educates people in a field that my employer inspects for compliance – I signed a non-disclosure agreement to not inspect any of his activities related to the field).

    So in that vein I do find it difficult to address to some parties our relationship to each other. With colleagues it’s easy, and also quite helpful because we can point each other in the right direction on who to speak with in our own networks. But for the clients we both work with? I haven’t found the best answer for that yet. They don’t automatically assume (I didn’t change my last name) but sometimes it just comes up in discussion. “Oh, what’s your wife do for work?” Well, I am literally the only one in this area with the job so it’s not easy to hide who I am.

    And I just want to add my +1 to the comments that, from what I know of higher ed, it is extremely common for married couples to work in the same department, or closely related departments. Honestly, when I moved around the academic world from what I could tell no one batted an eye at those relationships, unless one in the pair was obviously way less qualified. Just keep your boss in the loop and only ever be professional with your spouse during work – which means no touching! :)

    I was on the phone with my husband about work stuff with my coworker next to me. We got off the phone with just “okay, bye” and coworker says “what, no I love you?” “Not during work hours!”

    1. fposte*

      We’ve got three married couples, I think, on faculty or mixed faculty-staff in my department.

  19. LBK*

    1) I’m mostly just wildly curious where you live that going to the movies requires taking a ferry. It sounds like something out a ASoUE.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      I am too, but only because most of the Islands (lots of them all over the US) like that would also not have too many offices on them either.

    1. fposte*

      We try to keep discussions on-topic around here to be fair to the letter writers, but there’s an open thread starting in about an hour where you’d be welcome to post this. We’ll look for you there!

  20. Carola*

    #1 His question may be clumsy, but maybe you could think about it and respond in earnest with a statement about what makes you feel appreciated or what motivates you. “The best way to reward my work is through increases in salary or bonuses. I would also be pleased to get a job title that is more reflective of my responsibilities.” While most people are motivated by pay, some are also motivated by formal recognition, greater flexibility in their work arrangement, being trusted with additional responsibility, a preferred schedule, a better desk arrangement, getting to let go of an undesirable task, getting to have a place at the table during certain decision, opportunities for professional development, etc.

  21. TootsNYC*

    The only thing I might say to OP#3 (telling a potential hire about your upcoming cancer treatment) is that it might be better for someone in your shoes to be a little more vague (I have health treatments coming up that might mean I have to delegate a lot of training in the beginning).

    Here’s why: Cancer is still such a shock word. We don’t hide it as shameful anymore, but I think we do collectively react very strongly, and it might be wisest to leave that out of the dynamic.

    I think being mildly vague also indicates a respect for boundaries. It might make the employee feel that SHE won’t have to share her specific medical diagnosis, if it comes up.

    Best of luck with your treatment! My life has been full of people surviving cancer (including me), so I hope you feel that the fight is worth it.

    1. OP#3, Hiring Mgr w/Cancer*

      Very good points. I agree that the impact on my current coworkers has been significant by telling them I have cancer compared to if I had merely shared that I have upcoming health treatments.

      My main goal was for Jane to be aware that my availability would be impacted. Unfortunately my changed appearance will make my condition obvious very soon, likely by the start date of whomever is chosen.

      Thanks for sharing. It’s great to hear from survivors.

  22. ZTwo*

    LW #1 I definitely agree he needs to stop asking so much, because that’s annoying, but also it’s to your benefit to give real concrete answers. In addition to the things he’s asking for it might be worth adding ways you like (or don’t like!) to thanked. For example if you hate public attention, him praising your work in a large public meeting will suck but there are definitely people who would love that.

    Focus in the tangibles of what you want, but if he’s new and nervous giving him a little more info about the ways you personally appreciate recognition could be very helpful.

    1. LBK*

      This is a great point – even if he ends up not being able to deliver on what you want now, you’re at least arming him with information he can use down the line when he has more clout or when the budget opens up again next year. If it’s something that would require a long-term cultural change (like letting people WFH), he can also start doing the work to reshape that now.

      1. ZTwo*

        Yea and I’m hearing a sense of dysfunction or low morale in the OP’s letter. She gave the ferry response mostly to get out of being asked anymore and is surprised that he actually considered it (and that it didn’t get her out of suggesting things).

        It’s totally reasonable to read a lack of sincerity into the boss if it’s that kind of situation, especially if it feels like he’s pestering you. But I would urge the OP to take the boss at his word, particularly since he’s actually considering the suggestions. At the very least don’t see it as part of his job to magically know what works for you. Sometimes you can read people in that way and sometimes it’s best to ask, albeit less often. It’s not bad management to ask employees questions about themselves!

        Also another way for you to deflect is to tell him that you have an easier time picking from options, so if comes to you with idea X, Y, and Z you’re happy to tell him which one you’d like best.

    2. Casuan*

      What ZTwo said.

      For several reasons, I don’t like the movie suggestion although all that matters is if you & your colleagues would really like this. My most relevant reason against the movie night is that it plants the seed of “group events outside of work are fun for everyone” & this is not my thing [sorry for projecting on this]. It would be better for the manager to know that thanks for a job well done can be a literal thank you or letting one leave an hour early with pay. They don’t all have to be group thanks.

      My impression of your manager is that he’s applying his book learning to his real-world job. He read “a good manager thanks his employees by asking what they want, like a dinner or party” which conflicts with the reality of “just say thank you” or “this intangible perk that you’ll just need to trust I want/an extra 30mins for lunch tomorrow would be great.”

      Also, if you have a good relationship with him & if you think he will appreciate the feedback, you can tell him that the continual questions are getting a bit too much because he should have the information he seeks by now & it makes him look weaker as a manager.
      This can be very tricky & you’d need to phrase it much better than I just did. Although good managers know what they don’t know & be willing to take cues from those they manage. If you can pragmatically & kindly tell him how he’s coming across, that will help him grow into his managerial skills.

  23. Hooptie*

    #1 – I think a better way to ask (and answer this) is – how do you like to be recognized vs asking how they would like to be rewarded.

    Wouldn’t you want to be ‘recognized’ for great work vs ‘rewarded’ for doing your job?

  24. Librarianne*

    Letter #5: I guess this is an example of the difference in typical pace of hiring in the private vs. public sector. I’ve only ever had career-type jobs in the public sector, where it isn’t uncommon for six months to a year to pass between the interview and the start date. (In fact, for my current job, I applied two years before being called for an interview, and started six months after the interview.) Of course, my job is almost exclusively held by public employees, and the idea that we’d find any other place hiring any faster is laughable– at least, not in our career field.

  25. LittleLove*

    My husband’s desk is about 15 feet from mine. I can throw things at him if I want. Our employer knew that because we live in a small town where pretty much everybody knows everything. There are days I WANT to throw things at him and I’m sure he feels the same but we are adults and professionals and it works out fine for us. I know some people who are ASTONISHED I can work 40 hours a week staring at my husband but we manage. Maybe 40 years together helps. Or my Prozac prescription.

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