my coworker is pregnant with my boss’s baby, typing tests for senior-level jobs, and more

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

1. My coworker is pregnant with my boss’s baby

I’ve run into a strange situation that honestly borders on a soap opera storyline. I’m an personal assistant and my boss is one of the higher most people in the company. Let’s call him Fergus. My desk is right outside of his office and I take his phone calls, make his appointments, and run errands for him. The woman whose desk is closest to mine, let’s call her Jane, is several rungs lower on the ladder than Fergus. Fergus and Jane are both married and have kids but are engaging in an affair. I am 100% percent sure that they are together because I can hear their conversations, have delivered messages to them, and Jane talks to me about Fergus. Jane’s family is from India and she is in an arranged marriage and has told me how much she wishes she could be with Fergus instead of her husband.

Well, last week Fergus sent me to look for something in his office, and instead of finding the files I found a positive pregnancy test and a note from Jane. It basically said something along the lines of: “I’m pregnant and it’s yours.” I was shocked, of course. I immediately showed it to him and then I heard them fighting in his office. When she came out of the office, she told me that she had left her husband and kids for him, but Fergus has refused to leave his family.

It’s been about a week and she is still in the office. He can’t fire her because if he did then HR would find out he had a relationship with someone below him, which is against the rules. So what do you suggest I do to get out of this drama? Because she confided in me and because he’s my boss I’m right in the middle of it. I like my boss but this is too much. Should I keep quiet or report it to HR?

It’s highly likely that HR is going to find out about this at some point. You’d be entirely justified in reporting it to them; your boss abused his power by becoming sexually involved with someone he manages. There should be consequences to that, and you don’t need to protect him from those. (And when you say “he can’t fire her because then HR would find out” — that’s a good thing. You do not want to work for someone who sleeps with an employee and then fires her when it gets messy for him. If anyone’s getting fired here, it should be Fergus, the manager.)

That said, if you don’t want to go that route and just want to stay out of it, you can attempt to refuse to discuss the situation with either Jane or Fergus. If one of them tries to talk to you about it, say something like, “I don’t want to be involved in this so please don’t talk to me about it.” But as Fergus’ assistant, and given the location of his office, I don’t know that you’ll be able to avoid it altogether.

I’d start thinking about what it will mean for your job if Fergus gets fired. Will there still be a spot for you in your company? Or should you be looking elsewhere? It’s very unlikely that this is going to end quietly, and you’ll want to be prepared for that.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Employer had me take typing and spelling tests for a director-level position

I am currently unhappily employed, and so have been applying for jobs lately. I received a call about a position that would be a promotion for me at a company in my area. They invited me for an interview and asked me to come by the day before for “testing.”

Now, to put things into perspective for you, I currently make six figures and have an MBA. I work in marketing (not sales).

Today, I showed up for the “testing“ and discovered that I was expected to take the following tests: typing, proofreading, spelling, and writing a cold open email. These tests were expected to take upwards of three hours. I finished in less than two.

Am I crazy to think that this company is out of touch at best and clueless at worst? I have never been asked to take these kinds of tests before. Think of a director of marketing taking a typing speed test. That’s what this was. I almost walked out several times, but I figured, “what the hell, at least it’s a good story.” I am now so turned off by this company that I am considering canceling my interview tomorrow. It feels like they just wasted my time, and it’s sending up crazy red flags for me. Is there a reason I shouldn’t? Am I overreacting in seeing this as a sign of larger issues with the company, or at least with HR?

Yeah, that’s ridiculous. Best case scenario, the early stages of their hiring process is run by incompetent HR people but now you’re through their gauntlet and will be dealing with more sensible people. Worst case scenario, they’re about to waste more of your time because this job is not at all what they’ve told you it is and/or they just suck. Either way, it’s not great. If you’re okay with the possibility of having your time wasted, you could go to the interview and learn more … but it’s not a fantastic sign about them or the role.

By the way, once you saw the tests, you would have been justified in saying something like: “I want to make sure we’re talking about the same position. These are spelling and typing tests. I’m applying for a marketing director position — are these the right exercises?” And if they said yes, you would have been justified in saying, “I don’t think this makes sense for me to do. I’d love to talk about the work I’ve done and how I’d approach the position you have open, but this seems like you’re seeking a much more junior candidate. Best of luck in filling the position” … and then left. Obviously you can’t do this if you still want to interview for the position, but if you have options, this might be a time to exercise them.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. My coworker is returning after a sensitive leave of absence

A few months ago, a coworker who my team worked with daily attempted suicide at work. She was found by another employee, rushed to the hospital, and has been on leave. This week she returned to work, working by herself on projects not directly related to our team. Her manager reached out asking for our team’s discretion as she transitions back to work. We’ve been asked not to reach out to her at all at this time. Our team is respecting that, but understand that eventually she will transition back to her prior role, which means we’ll be interacting with her frequently.

I want to find the balance of integrating her after an absence without triggering negative emotions/responses for her. How would you recommend we professionally interact with her without seeming callous? I don’t want to treat her with kid gloves for the next five years as if she’s too frail to be a valued team member, but also don’t want to cheerfully say “We missed you so much! Glad you’re back!” and dredge up terrible memories for her. She was not an easy person to deal with prior to her suicide attempt, so I think we’re additionally worried that she’ll continue to be difficult without us feeling like we can push back.

Part of me feels that we should simply ignore it — not ask her about how she’s doing now, but just update her on changes to our team/workflow as we would if someone was on maternity leave but just be more vague in phrasing — something like “while you were out, we’ve updated teapot printing to use this new program.” And then push back if she’s out of line or difficult, just like we would with anyone else. Complicating this is that my team’s in another location, so we’ll interact via instant message, emails and phone calls, but the visual cues won’t be there.

I don’t think a quick “glad you’re back!” would be amiss the first time you talk to her. Just keep it brisk and breezy and don’t leave a long pause where she feels like she has to say something about her absence. So just something like, “Glad you’re back! I wanted to ask you about this teapot sale.”

And yeah, I think “while you were out, we’ve updated X, Y, and Z” is just fine. Be matter-of-fact about it, and don’t try to characterize her leave as anything other than “leave.” And yes, treat her normally, including pushing back if you need to (although at the same time, if you can cut her some extra slack there without it impacting your work, that would be a kind thing to do).

Read an update to this letter here.

4. Is it weird that I’ve never met my manager in person?

I started working in my current role in mid-July this year. My entire team and my manager are based in the U.S. and I am the only one in Europe. It’s now November and although I have had video conferences with the team four or five times and many meetings on the phone with my manager, I haven’t actually met any of them. I don’t have a “dotted line manager” anywhere, but I work with various teams in Europe and North America.

So I’m wondering, is it weird that I haven’t met my manager or anyone from my team in person yet or is this normal for organizations this size? Is there anything I can say to meet them? I feel like it’s easier to work with people once you’ve met face to face rather than being just a voice in the phone, but perhaps that’s a personal preference.

It’s not weird. It’s actually increasingly common as more organizations hire remote staff. Some people go years without ever meeting managers or colleagues face-to-face! That said, when it’s possible for companies to bring people together in-person on occasion, it’s smart to do; it can help build relationships in ways that benefit the work afterwards. Often, though, that might only happen annually (if that), especially when you’re on a different continent.

However, you could certainly say to your manager, “Will we ever have an opportunity to meet in-person? I’d love to meet you and the others face-to-face if we’re ever able to make that happen.” You might hear “oh yes, we’re going to fly everyone into a conference in Boston in the spring” or something else positive, but don’t be too thrown off if there aren’t plans to make it happen any time soon.

5. What do I say when a mutual contact introduces me to a hiring manager?

I’m job hunting right now, and actively using my network in coordination with my applications. My usual process is to see a listing, submit an online application, research the hiring manager/someone in that department, see if we have any connections I trust, then email my contact about the hiring manager. If my contact knows her well, I’ll ask for my contact to put in a good word.

Occasionally this ends up with my contact introducing the two of us over email. Which is great! But I’d like some advice on how to navigate my responses in that situation. My network is pretty good about following the double opt-in introduction rule, so I’m not in a situation where the hiring manager is surprised by the intro. That being said, I’m usually the person who responds first. I usually let them know that I’m in their system, reiterate my interest in the position, and add a sentence with career highlights, but I don’t make any specific asks. Should I attach my resume? Should I ask the hiring manager to meet in person? (That feels like I’m inviting myself to be interviewed.)

My industry is informal and backchanneling can be the most effective way to get your information in front of the right person. What’s the best way to communicate with potential bosses when the introduction is so casual? How do you best reframe “you two should meet!” into a more formalized hiring process?

I wouldn’t ask to meet in person about a job you’ve already applied for, since the ball is in their court on deciding about that once you apply. The fact that you applied has made your interest in interviewing known, and you don’t want to come across like you’re trying to circumvent whatever system they have in place. What you can say in this situation is something like this: “Jane suggested we talk because I have a background in llama therapy — I managed a llama counseling facility for six years and led a large-scale research project on llama brain development. I’ve actually applied for the llama therapist position you have open and if you think it might be a strong match, I’d love to talk.” (And yes, attach your resume.)

{ 468 comments… read them below }

  1. Aphrodite*

    “I immediately showed it to him …” This was your mistake OP #1. If it was in his office he either knew about it (but had to do something once he knew you knew) or he didn’t yet but would have found it later without your telling him. You involved yourself at this point, and now I don’t know if Alison’s good advice will be able to get you past this. I know I would have put it some place where I wouldn’t have been looking for the files and therefore would have plausible deniability.

    Now … I just don’t know. If you can get them to stop talking to you about it you might be okay. But I have a suspicion–and I hope it is an incorrect one–that the only way out of this for you is to get another job.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Oh, I don’t know. It was addressed to Fergus. I don’t think it’s the OP’s job to vet his communications and thus get sucked into being the arbiter of his terrible judgement. What do you think they should’ve done? Withheld it? Destroyed it?

        1. a Gen X manager*

          agree, MK.

          Isn’t “not seeing/not knowing/not hearing” a key part of being a personal assistant? It was a totally personal topic, not a meeting reminder, etc, so I would have expected a personal assistant to totally ignore it and not mention it to anyone (including Fergus!).

          1. LBK*

            I think it’s more about being non-judgmental about personal indiscretions; you could argue that it was her job to make sure the evidence was hidden before anyone else who might be less discreet saw it.

            1. Babs*

              uh, no, it is not a personal assistants or an admin’s JOB to “make sure the evidence was hidden before anyone else who might be less discreet saw it.” The kind thing to do is pretend you never saw it. It’s like finding someone’s dirty gym underwear on their desk. You move on, you don’t “hide the evidence”. They’ll see it soon enough and then they can pretend that you didn’t see it either.

              1. LBK*

                I think it depends what kind of personal assistant or admin we’re talking about. It kinda sounds like the OP is expected to be more involved in managing her boss’s personal life, Mad Men secretary-style.

                1. Anonymoose*

                  “I think it depends what kind of personal assistant or admin we’re talking about.” Yep. Especially if it’s the kind of PA that doesn’t work in a corporate setting. Their discretion is oooodles away from what we would expect from a corporate PA, and hopefully paid accordingly.

                2. Green*

                  Either way: OP works for the company, ultimately, not the “boss.” It is not her job to hide his personal sexual relationships that violate company policy. She might even be obligated to report it (although usually not, but ). At any rate, nothing good can happen to her from being this involved.

        2. LBK*

          I dunno, she had been sent into his office to get something and it sounds like it was pretty out in the open. I think that could’ve only made things more dramatic if the boss came in shortly after, saw it and then panicked wondering if the OP had seen it or not. The OP might not have had much plausible deniability about having seen it. I think there’s value in just being straightforward about an already fraught situation.

      1. Foreign Octopus*

        I would have pretended it didn’t exist.

        Put it back where I found it and act surprised when it all came out.

      2. CA in CA*

        Yeah, I’d have taken that knowledge to my grave. My mouth hung open when OP said they immediately showed it to boss. No effing way would I touch that with a ten foot pole.

            1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

              At least then we could have said, “Noooooo! Don’t mention it. Pretend like you never saw it”. Too late for that now, unfortunately. The drama lama is out of the barn

        1. CoffeeLover*

          Same here. It’s weird to say you don’t want to be involved on one hand and then to actively involve yourself on the other. I can imagine OP did this as a jerk reaction, but I dont think it was a great idea. It’s still possible to distance yourself though. I wouldn’t go to HR. I would just let it play out. This whole thing reminds me of the letter writer that knew about her bosses affairs. The whole thing blew up and resolved itself without her involvement. I think you should get inspiration from her OP.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Instead of finding the files I found a positive pregnancy test and a note from Jane.

            It seems unlikely that Jane hid the test and note in the dead files, figuring they wouldn’t be found for 6-12 months and then would *poof* be a lovely surprise, and it was a wild coincidence that OP was looking through that same file cabinet before then. A lot more likely that the test was where the next person to enter the room–or to examine the writing on all the stuff out on the desk and work table, at least–would find the knitted booties and balloons, or whatever it was.

            1. bookish*

              Oh, that’s a really good point for why she would have shown him immediately. No one involved would have wanted someone else to see that before Fergus was alerted to it.

              1. aebhel*

                Yeah, that was my thought. As awkward as it is to involve herself at that point, the alternative might actually have been worse.

            2. Ego Chamber*

              “the knitted booties and balloons, or whatever it was.”

              Is that how it works? You pee on the stick and a positive result is indicated by self-knitting booties and balloons shooting out?

              It sounds a lot less romanticized than you’re picturing, like a note on his desk with the positive test on top or near it (god help OP if it was in an envelope she opened and then delivered: there is no extricating yourself from the drama if that’s what happened). If Fergus’s office gets a lot of traffic, it was a kindness to make him aware of the note before someone else found it, but personally delivering it was a mistake. Telling him there was a note, and discreetly ignoring the rest of it, would have given the impression OP is wanting to cultivate now. When you’re already this involved, it’s a lot harder to shut the behavior down (it can still be done, it’s just harder).

            3. Anonymoose*

              Knitted booties. Hahahaha That’s terrible. And now I wish Jane had done that instead. Or made a crochet bootie FOR the pregnancy test.

        2. paul*

          Maybe it’s a bit juvenile of me but….you have to get pee on those things. No, I don’t want to touch it! I’ll clean my own kid’s up just fine but that’s about where it stops.

          Also, I think I’d probably opt on narc’ing if there’s an HR department that’s worth a damn. If there’s not I’m honestly not sure. But sleeping with your direct reports is a giant no-go for a decent manager. Even if it *is* entirely consensual it’s monumental bad judgement.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            Also makes me wonder if tests are different than they were 14 yrs ago. The results used to fade away. I mean, even if the “+” or double line or whatever wasn’t there, the note clarified the results, but I’m just curious now.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              Based on all the (in my opinion because I’m not super-into pee) disgusting pregnancy test reveals I’ve seen posted online, it does not seem like they fade after time.

            2. Turning that negative into a positive*

              The reason you’re told to check a pregnancy test right away is because any test, if left long enough, shows positive. So they actually do the opposite!

          2. Thlayli*

            It doesn’t actually say she picked it up, just that she showed it to him. Perhaps she called him into the office to show it to him. We don’t know.

            1. paul*

              I was reading it literally but it’s entirely possible you’re right. I just pictured her picking it up and taking it to him.

          3. Planet*

            Maybe a bit TMI, but you can also “collect a sample” in a cup and dip just the end in the cup. There used to be one that was a square and you used a doctor type plastic specimen cup and used a dropper to put the urine in the correct spot.

          4. Observer*

            I wouldn’t call it “narc’ing” – this is a mess not of the OP’s making, and it has the potential to really hurt her.

          1. Murphy*

            When I got pregnant, I asked my husband if he wanted to see the pregnancy test and he was like “Uh, no…you peed on that. I’ll take your word for it.”

            1. Alienor*

              I remember I called my husband into the bathroom to look at it, but I didn’t actually hand it to him. Although considering all the bodily fluids involved in getting the baby in the first place, it’s not like a little pee would have hurt anything, lol.

      3. Anon anon anon*

        I would have ignored it. Saying something was a mistake, but I understand where OP was coming from. She was responsible for delivering messages to him. And it sounds like both of them had already involved her. I don’t think she deserves full blame for being involved.

        If I were her, I would be looking for a new job. The boss might be nice to OP, but having an affair with a subordinate is sketchy by itself. Add to that that both of them are married, she’s an immigrant in an unhappy arranged marriage, they both have kids, he convinced her to abandon her family by lying about his plans, she’s pregnant, and they’ve made this all semi-public at work! This is terrible. This guy is a creep. I try to find another job asap.

        1. Michelle*

          The LW did not say that Fergus ever said he would leave his family, so I don’t think he lied about his plans. Maybe Jane thought he would leave his family if she became pregnant.

          I totally agree that what has happened/is happening is awful and Fergus should have known better.

        2. GreyjoyGardens*

          Agreed. It’s a whole universe of sketch. Fergus may be a great boss for LW, but he sure isn’t behaving ethically here, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was firings and/or reorganizations, and LW will have to look for a new job eventually anyway.

          1. Thermal Teapot Researcher*

            I agree. I think it would be fair to assume that a reorg/layoff is imminent, and it could very well come in the form of “cleaning house.”

        3. Ego Chamber*

          “he convinced her to abandon her family by lying about his plans,”

          Where was this? I’ve seen plenty of office affairs break down when it turned out one person was more into it than the other person (and yeah, a distressing amount of them involved a pregnancy that wasn’t intended by at least one participant (ick)).

          Agree the guy was a creep (based on him banging a subordinate), but the OP didn’t say anything about any lies Fergus and Jane told each other.

      4. AKchic*

        When you are an assistant to someone, you have to practice discretion, regardless of whether or not the person (or persons) you assist practices discretion. Anything personal that you have not specifically been tasked to help with (because sometimes, personal stuff does get assigned, it happens) should be ignored and anything you DO see should be scrupulously treated as if you didn’t, unless you are under oath or under investigation and being questioned legally about it.
        When it comes to personal matters and your co-workers (and especially your bosses) – you are Colonel Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes: “I know nutzing!”

    2. Mike C.*

      I really don’t think the normal rules of boundaries and what not apply when it comes to something like this.

      1. Cyrus*

        Agreed. The OP said they’re a personal assistant. If they were directly employed by their boss and that person was their own boss (I’m thinking an A-list actor or something), they were having an affair with someone unrelated, and that person got pregnant, discretion would be the smart and responsible move, maybe even ethical depending on details. But that’s not the case. OP’s boss is high up in their company but not the boss, and the person their were having the affair with is their subordinate. This could get the company sued (non-frivolously), or anyone involved fired.

        In this case, the OP should definitely have made sure the boss was aware of the note soon after finding it. The only thing I’m unsure of is whether she should have told HR before that, or immediately after.

    3. Myrin*

      I honestly don’t see how the situation would be any different now if the OP hand’t alerted the boss to what she’d found – the only difference I see is that the boss might have seen the note later than he did, but everything else would be exactly the same. The OP isn’t involved in this situation because she drew the boss’s attention to the note, it’s because, as she says herself, Fergus is her boss, Jane confided in her, and she shares an office with them.

      1. Say what, now?*

        I agree with this wholeheartedly. The pregnancy test is just new information in a story that she already knew. They had already been relaying messages to each other through her and at least on the subordinate’s side it was something she was verbally looped in on. She wasn’t involving herself by showing her boss the test.

        However, she is very clearly biased in favor of her boss. What the OP needs to remember is that this situation may have been entirely mutually consensual but not every relationship with this power dynamic is. Sometimes things are held over the subordinate’s head (like growth in their role, better raises, protection from layoffs… what have you). There are rules with consequences to protect these people. The rules also protect a manager from keeping a subordinate from ending the relationship with threats of firing or retaliation. These are good rules not “that-darn-HR-rules.”

        1. Specialk9*

          Even if it’s mutually consensual, power dynamics inherently skew that… There’s a reason why office power imbalance scenarios are popular in adult films and writing.

          More importantly, the boss committed a huge and unpardonable breach of business ethics. One does not sleep with one’s subordinate.

          Them both being married *with kids* adds an extra layer of ick. (Though I’ll admit I have some sympathy for someone stuck in an arranged marriage.)

          OP, the ethics and business ethics breaches are rife. Did NOT attach yourself to either of them. They’re going to flame out spectacularly and publicly. Start planning hard for an exit strategy – go to sr managers who might need an admin and start making noises about a new position. Apply to other jobs. Or consider that talking to HR yourself may give you some whistleblower protection.

          1. GreyjoyGardens*

            I agree with the “start planning hard for an exit strategy” idea. This is not your badly-run circus and not your rabid monkeys. I can’t see any ending other than “very bad/messy” for this situation.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              “These are not your rabid monkeys” needs to go in the AAM handbook, next to “If you’re junior, don’t be a pioneer in a direction other than quiet professionalism” and “You can bribe people with food.”

            2. RVA Cat*

              This. The OP needs to get out of this rabid monkey circus.

              Let’s hope this doesn’t go completely soap opera with Jane’s husband showing up with a gun…. :(

        2. Elizabeth H.*

          I didn’t get the impression that the OP is clearly biased in favor of her boss, at all! I thought she described everything in an extremely neutral way and didn’t seem especially sympathetic to Fergus. All she said that indicated her feelings about him is “I like my boss but this is too much.”

          1. Pomona Sprout*

            I disagree because of the way she said, “He can’t fire her without HR finding out.” That implies to me that she would be fine with Jane being fired if he could do it and get away with it. She doesn’t come right out and say, “Darn, it would be so much easier if Fergus could just get get rid of her, ” but that’s the impression I’m getting. This doesn’t sit right with me, because firing Jane would be a highly unethical response to this situation on Fergus’ part.

            Personally, I would be inclined to report Fergus. He’s behaved atrociously hy having an affair withn a subordnate, and he deserves to face the consequences. I doubt OP will do that, since she seems to regard Jane, not Fergus, as the problem, so I hope tbe truth comes out in me other way asap.

            1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

              I read it that way, too. As a matter of fact, reading it, I thought that OP was writing about what to do to avoid complications for herself from the situation, but that statement put a different spin on things. It wasn’t a matter of, “I like my job, he’s a good boss, I just want to work and go home.” It became, “I like my job, he’s a good boss and he’s between a rock and hard place. If he fires her, there will be questions. If she stays, there will be questions.”
              Yeah, he is.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I mean, I guess it could have been even more dramatic if the pregnancy test were revealed by an important client, or her boss’s grandboss?

        1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

          Could you imagine if the OP had ignored it and then “let” the boss find it while with a client or grandboss? Still not OP’s fault that it’s there, but that would be a whole other issue. I’m not sure that I wouldn’t tell the boss what I found since I wouldn’t want to leave it not knowing who else might walk in and see it.

          1. oranges & lemons*

            Yeah, but I think that would be entirely the boss’s problem, since he was the one who decided to have an affair with one of his subordinates. The OP isn’t responsible for covering for him.

            1. The Strand*

              She’s not responsible, no – but she might lose her job even faster if it becomes a larger crisis earlier. Eg if other people found it because she pretended not to.

          2. Becky*

            This was my thinking. OP is his personal assistant, not Jane’s. She’d bring any memorandum on his desk to his attention. This one just happened to be a bit more. . .memorable. Not the kind of note you’ll forget even years later! :)

        2. Half-Caf Latte*

          I suppose Jane could have brought it into a c-suite/client meeting and dropped it in front of Fergus, declaring Trick-or-Treat!

        3. GreyjoyGardens*

          In this particular situation – I think the scenarios range from “terribad” to “a little less terribad but still awful.” Maybe if the LW had let Fergus discover the test himself, or someone else bring it to his attention, it might have been a teensy-weensy bit better, but not enough to really matter.

          I don’t think this particular situation of higher-up and subordinate sleeping together, which is against the company rules, *and* both happen to be married, *and* a pregnancy results, *and* at least one marriage is dissolving, can end any way but spectacularly, theatrically bad. No little decision on the part of LW could stem this particular tide of bad. Realistically, LW is best served by polishing up the resume and leaving this whole toxic waste dump of a situation far, far behind, and saving the stories to tell over beers with friends.

          1. RVA Cat*

            Yes, though I think these stories have crossed into at least wine and maybe hard liquor territory…

      3. neverjaunty*

        The OP would be less involved in the situation if she hadn’t drawn her boss’s attention to the note, and if she hadn’t engaged in Jane confiding in her.

        1. Anna*

          I don’t think she “engaged” Jane at all. That’s implies the OP was all “Ooooo, tell me more!” That’s not the case. The OP was involved because for whatever reason Jane and the boss decided to use her as a sounding board and message courier. And especially for the OPs boss, it’s difficult to say no, you don’t want to be involved. Again with the power dynamic.

          I’ll never understand it when people tell OPs not to get involved when it’s obvious they got sucked up into the situation rather than stepping into it.

      1. CoffeeLover*

        It does seem that way from the way the letter was written. On one hand, I guess it makes a little sense since she works closely with him. On the other hand, given the position of power he’s in, he’s definitely the one who messed up more. Regardless though, picking sides (even mentally) doesn’t help in the quest to stay out of it.

        1. Specialk9*

          I adore my boss, and have a lot of personal loyalty to him. But finding out he were to have done something so unethical would be a big problem, because one of the big things I most appreciate is his unwavering integrity. I’m not a big fan of protecting the crooked.

          1. The IT Manager*

            But LW knew about the affair before she found the pregnancy test and the situation blew up. So we can assume she’s fine (or became fine) with the a consensual affair between married subordinate and supervisor (IMO very inappropriate) until now when things get dramatic and someone leaves their spouse and kids.

            I understand why an employee might side with their boss whom they work closely with but the boss is the one in power and who deserves the most fall out for this. He should be fired, not the pregnant soon to be single mother.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Eh, I can see her figuring this was a situation she could handle by saying “Mmmmmhhmm” and eventually they would get bored and it would go away again.

              The pregnancy announcement is disruptive in much the same way a nonpregnant “Today Jane climbed onto her desk and delivered a musical song and tap number about how she is leaving her husband for Fergus, and expects him to leave his wife.” (Possibly with an improvised encore tap number about how he isn’t and he lied to her and he sucks.) It stopped being something OP could sorta pretend wasn’t happening.

              1. GreyjoyGardens*

                I agree – I can see LW thinking “this will blow over, and they’re both consenting adults” or something like that. Or even “it sure looks like Fergus and Jane are having an affair, but maybe I’m misjudging.” It’s a very reasonable position to take, until the Big Drama Explosion of pregnancy and marriage breakups hit.

            2. Chi*

              IMO they both should be fired. This is a poor lapse in judgment for both of them and a risk the company cannot afford to take.

      2. Blue Sky Jessica*

        It does seem that way, but it could be self-preservation. If forced to take sides, choosing the person with the power to fire you seems the most logical.

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          This is wild speculation – it seems like you are suggesting that the boss is some kind of Don Juan and that the letter writer has a crush on him or something. It’s inappropriate.

          1. Emi.*

            I just interpreted it as meaning that the boss is good at getting people to like him and let him get away with stuff in general, which wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

      3. Elizabeth H.*

        I said this above, but I didn’t pick up on any of that from the letter. I thought she sounded neutral and non-judgmental.

    4. stebuu*

      I think OP should report this to HR immediately. This IS going to blow up, and blow up bigly. Simply put, contacting HR is a good CYA move. That will most likely guarantee a few months of job protection, as nobody wants to fire the person who reported such a clusterfudge of an office affair.

      1. WeevilWobble*

        Everyone *wants* to fire the person who reports them to HR. Some people rationally understand that that would be a stupid thing to do. Some don’t understand that and will anyway.

        I don’t see how this can blow up in a way that hurts her. She’s done nothing.

        1. Say what, now?*

          I think stebuu is referring to protections against retaliation. I think he’s right. The OP will be protected from firing for a few months because it would be impossible to fire her without looking like retaliation.

          HOWEVER, WeevilWobble is also correct. Her boss will want to fire her. Knowing that he can’t just means that he can make it as uncomfortable as the Geneva Convention allows for her to continue working there. In essence, firing her by forcing her to quit. It’s icky but happens and it’s not out of the question so staying mute on this is also a valid response. She has to pay her bills whether he leaves his wife or not.

          1. Amber T*

            Fully agree, but that’s assuming Boss still has a job after this mess, or at least in this position. I could see the company wanting to fire him, or at the very least demote him to a non-managerial role.

          2. Safetykats*

            Any HR department worth anything will do their best to protect her anonymity after reporting, and to protect her from retaliation – including reassignment elsewhere in the company if necessary. OP just needs to tell them she wants out of the middle of this situation.

            My guess is that OP is more at risk if she does nothing. When this all comes out, as it will, one of the things that will likely come out as well is the extent to which she has been complicit in the whole thing – which it really sounds like she has been. Unless she can argue that she feared retaliation, that shows really questionable judgement. That in itself might be enough to take her down with her boss, depending on how it all plays out.

        2. stebuu*

          If this is an even remotely sane operation, the very senior married person who impregnated a lower level married person in the company is going to be sacked. The odds of retaliation from the boss are very very low.

          Also, as horndog boss’ assistant, OP can easily find the assistant job position closed because there is nobody there to assist. If I was horndog boss’ boss and I found out that somebody was intentionally sitting on knowledge of something so damaging to the company, I would probably fire that person.

        3. TootsNYC*

          If she -doesn’t- report it, but it’s clear she knew about such a HUGE violation of rules, especially one that puts the company at such risk, HR might well move to fire her.

          At the very least, they might eliminate her position when they eliminate her boss, because they want to allow the new person to hire her/his own assistant.

        4. Anon anon anon*

          I think she could get scapegoated. It’s hard to say how, but one or both of them could claim that she somehow supported or was involved in whatever was going on. That seems to be a common theme when someone in power does something wrong and gets found out – blame a lower ranking person, lying as necessary. I support the CYA and leave strategy!

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      It could have been in the middle of his desk, under a dozen stork balloons. In which case warning him before anyone else wandered in would be in the assistant job description.

      Moving it someplace you wouldn’t have been looking for files could backfire in many ways, when he then either fails to find it, or realizes you’ve been rearranging his office.

      1. oranges & lemons*

        I think protecting Fergus from the consequences of his own actions lies outside of the OP’s job description. If I were her, I would have just pretended to have seen nothing, even if it were really obvious.

      2. Lissa*

        Yes, this is my thought too. If it was *really obvious* then her not saying something would be even more strange – my impression was she went in, noticed immediately, then said “Fergus you better get in here.” When confronted with something wildly out of the norm, people don’t always do what we think is ideal anyway, but if it was as obvious as I’m picturing OP did nothing wrong.

        1. BeautifulVoid*

          Yes, I was envisioning something like this, not her grabbing the pee stick and racing through the hallways to track him down and let him know. And I think it’s a moot point anyway; he was going to find it, she was likely to find out about it, and OP being the first to see it has very little to do with the situation or the advice she’s seeking on what to do moving forward.

    6. Temperance*

      I honestly would have been so shocked that I would have done the same thing. I mean, my boss is a woman who is not cheating on her husband, but still.

      I also wouldn’t have touched it because those things are covered in pee, but YMMV.

      1. copy run start*

        I would not touch it either. Why does the gross stick even need to be there?? Surely a cell phone snap of the positive is enough.

        1. Browser*

          Because people steal positive pregnancy test photos off the internet and try and pass them off as their own.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            If you’re going to imply that’s common enough to discredit any pregnancy test photo regardless of context, better start checking whether Jane has any friends who are preggers who could have gotten her a positive test result, or suggest that she could have bought one on Ebay or something.

      2. Dweali*

        It’s possible coworker left the results from a Dr office visit confirming the pregnancy with the extra note on top of “it’s yours” than the actual pee stick

    7. JD*

      Ya I was wondering why she showed it to him as well. If it was sitting on his desk he’d have seen it and you would be far less involved already. Seems LW wanted to be somewhat involved in the drama.

    8. Artemesia*

      This. I would have put it on his desk but not inserted myself into a discussion about it. I agree that the OP should be looking for another job — perhaps even a transfer within the company. She needs to get out of that situation before she is out of a job when this all implodes.

    9. Anion*

      Exactly my thought. OP put herself in the middle when she grabbed the note and test and ran to show it to her boss, rather than leaving it on his desk for him to find as Jane intended.

      1. a1*

        She was already in the middle due to Jane and her boss talking to her about it previously. Whether she found the pregnancy test or not, she was already in the middle through no fault of her own.

    10. Sara without an H*

      Agreed. The least bad course of action would have been to have put the stuff back and said nothing.

      In the OP’s place, my next course of action would have been to update my resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile.

    11. RB*

      About once a week there is a letter in which the only thing I can think to say is, “boy that’s messed up” and this is that letter for the week.

  2. Emily Spinach*

    Answer #5 is so useful, thank you LW and Allison! I wonder about this kind of interaction regularly but never with enough foresight to check with a pro.

    1. Jesca*

      Me too! I always feel so awkward trying to navigate these situations, but never think about them until I find myself knee deep in one.

      1. LW #5*

        Oh, I’m so glad this was helpful to other people! It’s one of those situations that’s equally fantastic and fraught with awkwardness, and I needed a sanity check on my responses.

  3. kb*

    For #3 – a simple smile and a, “It’s good to see you” works too when someone’s coming back after a very difficult/emotional time off. Someone at my company recently lost her baby very late in her pregnancy. She took about 2 months off, and when she returned, we were instructed to say that it was good to see her, we had missed her, etc (rather than “How are you doing?” and “Are you doing okay?”). We made sure that everyone in the office knew what had happened so people wouldn’t ask her about the baby (she had been about 8 months along), and that seemed to go okay. She wanted to come back to work to have the distraction from everything, so we all just tried to focus on the work and follow her lead in terms of casual conversation topics.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Agreed. I think being kind and letting her know you’re glad she’s back (without the sad/commiserating eyes folks sometimes put on unintentionally) would be perfect. No need to go further unless she takes you there. I think treating her normally would be one of the best approaches.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      That’s kind. When the answer is “honestly, just barely holding together and not bursting into tears” a barrage of well meant “Are you doing okay?” is awful.

    3. OP #3*

      Thanks, this would work well for most, I think. We’re complicated by being at another location, so we’re stuck with that “you can’t see us smile kindly” interaction over the phone/IM. I like your suggestion of taking her lead in how the interactions should progress.

      1. TootsNYC*

        True, she can’t see your face, but she can hear in your voice that you’re happy to talk to her.
        I’ve never actually attempted suicide, but I’ve seen the edge of that from a distance, and it was bolstering that someone was pleased I was around.

        So, “Jane! Good to hear your voice. I have a question about the Teapots Conference next week.”

      2. logicbutton*

        I predict that being in different locations will work in your favor, actually. You won’t have to audit every pause and moment of eye contact for just the right balance of supportiveness and professional distance, and neither will she. A quick “glad you’re back!” at the beginning of a message paints the rest of your words with the same sentiment that a kind smile would.

      3. Marty*

        No, but she can probably hear it. A smile does carry on to the voice after all. So it works for a phone call.

    4. SystemsLady*

      Also, if you notice that she’s lost weight, PLEASE don’t comment or compliment her on it. If you ask me that applies in general, but especially when people have been sick, depressed, or burnt out, the weight loss may not have been intentional or desired.

      1. Artemesia*

        The only time weight should ever be complimented is if the person is talking about a weight loss regime and is thus inviting praise.

        A secretary in another department who had twins, gained enormous weight. She was very short and she kept the weight and was almost square. when 17 years later she lost that weight, she looked terrific. The first time I met her after this, I said ‘You look terrific.’ She beamed. No way weight was ever going to be mentioned. When someone has a health issue, it is even more important. People with cancer lose weight; people with depression lose weight. Even if the weight loss is attractive — don’t go there.

      2. Fictional Butt*

        Seriously cannot upvote this comment enough. (Especially since we don’t have an upvote button!)

        When you’ve lost weight unintentionally due to something bad, it’s so incredibly hurtful for people to try to spin it as a positive thing.

      3. Annie Moose*

        Oh man, yes. I lost a bunch of weight due to depression at one point and it’s like… no, I didn’t lose weight because I’m working out and dieting, I lost weight because I stopped being mentally capable of preparing and eating dinner. Or breakfast, for that matter.

    5. a Gen X manager*

      SO MUCH YES, kb.

      This is advice that would greatly benefit anyone who has had a loss! The how are you doing’s and are you okay’s make it extremely difficult to hold back the tears and to let work be a much needed oasis from the grief. I wish so much everyone could hear this advice.

    6. SarahKay*

      Agreed. When I was having a tough time emotionally with a break up a few years back I absolutely didn’t want to get into it at work, and couldn’t cope with sympathy at all, which reduced me to a sobbing mess.
      I really needed work to be my ‘normality’ zone where I didn’t have to think about it, or discuss it.
      Just act as normal as possible, and keep the tone of your emails or conversations friendly-practical, if that makes sense.

    7. Matilda Jefferies*

      I’m curious about the instruction not to reach out to her at all. Did that come from the coworker herself, or the manager? Are you sure that’s what she wants? Obviously I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but if I were coming back from a LOA and nobody said anything, I would feel pretty rejected and ignored. I mean, we can assume she doesn’t want a welcome back party with balloons and confetti, but if the instruction really is to not say *anything* to her, I would double check to make sure that’s what she wants.

      1. OP #3*

        Her manager was very explicit that we are to leave her alone during her transition back to work. I don’t know if that’s at her request or the manager’s, but we’re respecting that. There’s also the dynamic of the fact that there are others at her location who found/saw her after the attempt, so I assume there’s a focus on ensuring the broadest group of people are not traumatized further, but I don’t know specifics.

        1. Many Emails*

          What was the company’s response towards the employees who witnessed the suicide attempt and cared for her? I hope they have been given the same compassion that has been given to the employee who attempted suicide. I’m sure those employees are also having to re-live the event now that the employee is back.

          1. OP #3*

            Our EAP was engaged at the time for on-site counseling, phone discussions, etc. It was quite traumatic for the person that found her, of course. And they’ve engaged the EAP again for the return, as well as managers making themselves available. The company’s done an amazing job.

          2. Wintermute*

            This is what is staggering me, I can’t believe they’d allow her to go back to work with the same employees after that! how cruel to them!

    8. TootsNYC*

      yeah, I’m thinking this a lot lately: don’t ASK. Just STATE.

      you want to show support, so do that–say, “I’m glad you’re here” or “I’ve been thinking about you and wishing you strength.” And then move right along to the topic at hand.

      But don’t ask questions that people have to answer. The world would be a better place if people asked fewer questions and instead learned to simply make statements of support.

      (And people who are asked those “supportive” questions could hopefully learn to respond to them as if they are simply statements. So, “how are you doing?” gets “thanks for thinking of me” or “thanks for the good wishes.”)

      1. A Turtle Without A Shell*

        This is really good advice I’m going to be sure to remember. Kind statements, rather than the standard (well-meaning!) questions.

        I know, as someone who struggles mightily with depression, that a question as innocuous as “How was your weekend?” can set off a painful internal firestorm. Of course I’m not advocating doing away with warm small talk! Just saying that when someone is grappling with something internally, having to supply answers to questions that are part of the normal social contract can be…challenging.

      2. sap*

        “I’m thinking about you and wishing you strength” is definitely not something I would want to hear in this situation. OP’s colleague is probably mortified that their coworkers all know about, and may have witnessed, something very difficult and not improbably kindof shame-inducing for them. They don’t want to hear “I’ve been thinking about you” in that context.

        Nor do they want to hear “I wish you strength,” which certainly for me, a person who has lost a partner to suicide, calls up a whole lot of unhelpful tropes about suicide being a sign of weakness and would make me want to punch the speaker in the face.

    9. paul*


      It’s impossible to know for 100% sure just exactly what an individual would prefer, and even asking can be dicey, so what KB’s suggesting is a good safe approach.

      Your coworker’s been through a rough spot, and a spot of normalcy is *probably* welcome.

    10. phyllisb*

      That is a very kind approach. Many years ago I had two miscarriages. The first one no one but family and my immediate supervisor knew about because it was so early in. The second one I was over four months along and just made THE ANNOUNCEMENT the week before. I was off work for two-three weeks. When I returned, one of my co-workers came running up to me, flung my coat open, and screamed “I WANT TO SEE!!!!!!!!” I said, “see what?” “THE BABYYYYYYYYYY!!!” (she was a kind person, but always over-the-top.) I couldn’t help myself; I said, “There’s nothing to see because I lost it!!!” Of course she fell all over herself apologizing. I probably should have been a bit more tactful, but I was stunned. I did go on to have three other children with no problems. But the next pregnancy I announced like two weeks before I went out on leave.

      1. sap*

        You should not have been more tactful. A coworker who takes off your clothes to look at your stomach deserves an equally tactless response, even if the stomach is currently housing a healthy pregnancy.

        1. Dot Warner*

          I agree. Phyllisb, you did nothing wrong. Your coworker acted like a jackass, and she should be grateful that you were as polite as you were.

    11. DaBlonde*

      Just chiming in to stress making sure that everyone knows that she was out on sick leave, even if they don’t need to know the details.
      There is nothing worse than returning from sick or bereavement leave and having coworkers ask if you enjoyed your vacation.

    12. Arlie Ermy*

      I suffer from chronic major clinical depression – I am actually officially disabled because of it. I want to mention another part of this disease… Many people think depression is being sad all the time, or in a dark place. But (and this is why it is disabling) it also robs one of energy – both mental and physical. I get to park close to the store because by the time I’ve gotten the items I need, I am so tired I can barely walk, and so mentally depleted that I am close to tears.

      Keep that in mind when you work with her; she may be slow/late with work; she may go home early; she may call in sick a lot.

      Good luck to her. I hope she can come back to normal. Deity bless her.

  4. I am good at dealing with people*

    Unless OP 1 works for “Maury” and can test Jane, Fergus, and Jane’s baby’s DNA, the OP honestly doesn’t know whose baby it is.

    1. BuildMeUp*

      The issue is the entire affair and how it’s being (mis)handled, not just the baby. I don’t think it changes the advice if OP1 doesn’t know for 100% certain that it’s Fergus’s child.

    2. Myrin*

      So? BuildMeUp’s point aside, I’m not seeing the problem with that. Technically, unless we work in a DNA lab, we don’t know anyone’s parentage for certain but it’s not unreasonable to assume that it’s like the parents say. Jane thinks (or probably knows, for that matter) that Fergus is her child’s father, so OP doesn’t do anything wrong when she believes her.

    3. Mike C.*

      This actually doesn’t matter. What matters is that the boss and the non-OP subordinate are certainly acting like there’s and affair going on and that’s disruptive as all heck.

    4. Infinity Anon*

      The paternity of the baby is irrelevant. The fact that he COULD be the father is the problem.

    5. CableGuy*

      But OP does know that boss was having an affair with employee and that’s a BIG problem right there.

      1. Mike C.*

        I’m really torn here. I know there have been a lot of good discussions about this in the context of sexual harassment in the news recently. At the same time lots of regulated industries rely on everyone being willing to say something as a backup to their normal processes to ensure the safety of the public.

        1. Mary*

          I think a company that wants to make it mandatory to report an apparently consensual (if dodgy) affair being carried out by your boss and punishable if you don’t needs to have some very clear policies and training to that effect. It’s definitely not something you can just rely on people doing as a kind of general common sense type thing!

          Even for more clear things like sexual or racial harassment, if you want a mandatory reporting system for third parties, you need very clear policies backed up by VERY explicit training.

      2. Gadfly*

        But now that it is likely to explode, OP should try to be on the good side with HR if OP wants to survive their cleanup of this mess.

        I would talk to them for that reason alone. Because at this point getting rid of all 3 would be tempting to me.

        1. eplawyer*

          LW1 job is gone. Even if she is not fired, everyone will know she knew about the affair and maybe it will be assumed she helped cover it up. Or they will hate her for blowing the whistle. The best thing to do is start job hunting now when you can say it was time to move on rather than say you got fired because your boss had an affair and got found out.

          Office affairs are messy. This is why offices have policies against dating co-workers even.

          1. Samiratou*

            I would think so, but there was the LW who was an assistant to a philandering boss who had to do things like buy jewelry for his mistresses and fetch his stuff from a “massage parlour” and that all blew up for him yet left her unscathed. Granted, she didn’t go to HR (at least, if I recall correctly), but any halfway competent HR would provide a way for her to report it anonymously or keep it confidential.

            Because, let’s be realistic here, OP, the boss and Jane aren’t the only ones who know (or at least very strongly suspect) about the affair, unless they’re the only 3 in the building or something like that.

            1. OhNo*

              But in the update for that letter, the LW says she got out of that job before things exploded, which is honestly probably the only reason she made it out unscathed by that mess.

              Though to be fair, that might be a good strategy for this OP to take, as well: get out ASAP, and once you’re clear of the firing line, then decide if you feel comfortable letting HR know or if you just want to sit back and watch it crumble around the boss’ ears. The only thing that’s not up for debate here is that it will go to crap, and probably in a hurry.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            Eh, if the affair came out through a channel other than OP, I think other departments wouldn’t hold it against her. LOTS of people have known about the illicit affairs of their coworkers or superiors, and hoped the situation would resolve itself in a way that didn’t splatter. She’s probably far from the only person at the company who knew this was going on.

          3. Kyrielle*

            In the LW’s shoes at this stage of things, I’d report it to HR and start job searching. The advantage to reporting it to HR is that LW is likely to be in good or at least neutral graces with the company, albeit bad graces with her current boss and Jane. That’s a lot better than reversing the two – it’s entirely possible LW might work at this company in the future, especially if they respond the way I’d expect and fire her current boss. And she might be able to negotiate a good reference from the company.

            But yeah, *this* job is gone, one way or another. If it’s not, that’s not a company you want to stay at given the dynamics.

      3. Dot Warner*

        Oh, I agree. I brought it up because if there are consequences for not reporting, OP should take that into consideration, and maybe that will give her the courage to report.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Maybe, but when your manager pressures you into helping you break rules, whether it’s an inappropriate relationship with a direct report or embezzlement, it’s reasonable to fear for your job if you report them. It really depends on how serious the company is about protecting whistleblowers and about doing the right thing in the first place. If the company has stringent policies against inappropriate relationships and always takes appropriate disciplinary action, the OP probably should have reported it. If the company sweeps it under the rug and transfers the subordinate to a satellite office in Siberia, then the OP has a very reasonable and realistic fear of retaliation, whether it’s from the company or Fergus.

      Personally, I think the OP’s biggest mistake was agreeing to pass notes for Jane and Fergus. That’s usually the hill I will choose to die on, being pulled into unprofessional behavior, because firing you for refusing to help hide a firing offense is incredibly risky for the manager. The fired subordinate then has nothing to lose.

      1. Temporarily Anonymous*

        ” If the company sweeps it under the rug and transfers the subordinate to a satellite office in Siberia, then the OP has a very reasonable and realistic fear of retaliation, whether it’s from the company or Fergus”

        Yes. This. OP#1 needs to REALLY take workplace culture into account before deciding what to do. I think AAM’s option of “attempt to stay out of it by refusing to discuss” is a wise one as fear of retaliation/repercussions is a perfectly reasonable explanation to others (like HR) for -not- whistleblowing. There’s a spectrum of management responses; let me share an extreme:

        My employer has many departments – Teapots, Llamas, Teacups, Aardvarks, etc. I’m in Teacups. The (married, kids) Head Llama started having a not-particularly-hidden affair with the (never-married, no kids) Senior Llama Manager several years ago. Grandboss deliberately failed to see or act upon it. Head Llama committed an obvious and egregiously inappropriate act (making others in the Llama department do extra off-hours work specifically and exclusively for the personal benefit of SLM) so a few of the other Llamas went to their respective bosses and to HR. One of the lower-level Llamas got fired, theoretically for other reasons but the temporal relation was unmistakable. Several of the mid-level Llamas got transferred. Nothing happened to the highest-level complaining Llama but he was encouraged to (and did) take a transfer.

        Meanwhile the Head Llama was made to financially compensate our organization for the extra work but otherwise was not penalized. Less than a year later GrandBoss promoted Head Llama to a newly-created Head of China and Animals position (in so doing, Head Llama became my boss.) Senior Llama Manager was promoted to Senior Llama Director. Affair was off-then-on again. Three years ago GrandBoss retired; new GrandBoss did not take visible action. Less than six months ago, the Senior Llama Director left for a different job in another state. Just this past week the Head of China and Animals announced he was stepping down from that position but would remain within the organization and would continue to act as an Interim Head of China and Animals till a new one could be found.

        So think carefully about what would most likely happen in your company, OP#1, and act accordingly. Best wishes.

        1. Shelby Drink the Juice*

          At the company I work for a few years ago they announced in January or February the CEO Llama was retiring at the end of the year and Llama COO was going to take his place. A year for transition.

          In November there was an ethics complaint against COO Llama. He was having an affair with someone at the company. They brought in an outside investigator and COO Llama resigned two weeks after the complaint when the report substantiated the affair for the ethics violation.

          CEO Llama announced that no one is above our ethical standards and the next in line behind COO was to become CEO at the end of the year.

          1. MCs*

            I’ve been reading AAM for about a year, and have never seen you post before, Shelby Drink the Juice. I am laughing so hard at that username!

  5. JamieS*

    #2 That’s ridiculous. Considering I can knock out an average typing test, email, and proofread a document of reasonable length in under 10 minutes I have to wonder exactly how long those tests were that they took around 2 hours to complete.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Also, writing a cold open email is a stupid test. Marketing people don’t just sit down one day and randomly think up copy.

      1. Anon for this one*

        As a 30+ years marketing writer let me assure you we do indeed sit down (daily) and randomly think up copy. Our clients pay us a lot of money to turn around good copy very quickly and you do need to type fast, spell well and be able to digest information and put it into a variety of content in a short time. I would expect an entry-level writer to be able to crank out a short email in a few hours. We pay our full-time writers well into the six figure range and yes, you do have to complete a pretty intense writing exercise as part of the interview process. To that end, we do pay you $500 for what should be a 4-5 hour writing project so there is that.

          1. Cobol*

            I’ve been at the supervisor level (one below director) and both myself and my manager did that regularly.

    2. DCGirl*

      On the other hand, at my last job, we had someone promoted into marketing from another area of the company who had ZERO Microsoft Word skills. ZERO. She couldn’t even turn on track changes to edit. She didn’t know what a tab was; she’d just put a million spaces in things until they lined up, sort of. We had to interrupt our work to help her, and I spent hours fixing the formatting in the proposals she worked on.

      If there isn’t going to be admin support for a position, the person in the position has to have the requisite skills. Everyone who has MS Office on their computers is going to say they have familiarity with the programs. How do you determine if that’s actually true?

      1. Mel*

        This was my thought. Being charitable, I’d guess that they got burned with someone with no such skills, and instituted the tests because of that.

        1. Alice*

          Well, now they are going to get burned by people who have strategic-level skills being turned off by a 2-3 hour test.

          1. Cobol*

            This is the key in my opinion. Even if it didn’t matter to OP, it will matter to others, which means OP wouldn’t be able to hire the best for their team.

      2. Natalie*

        For mid and high level positions, I think the risk of that is low enough that you’re going to lose a lot of good candidates either through annoyance or concern. You’ll find out if your brand new employee can’t type pretty quickly, at which point you can make them take a class immediately or let them go and proceed with other candidates.

        But also, it doesn’t sound like the situation at your job was a failure of testing. Why didn’t the employee’s original department warn anyone that she didn’t know how to use MS Word?

        1. Infinity Anon*

          The test should be shorter and at a later stage, if done at all. Doing a final check of basic word skills after deciding you want to offer them the job? Not as big of a deal. Then at least they know that it is worth a little bit of time wasting. Making everyone take a three hour test is excessive.

          1. fposte*

            Oh, to me that’s way worse. “You’ve given us an hour-long presentation, met the C-Suite, and negotiated your bonus package–now let’s make sure you can hit at least 60 wpm.” You also would have to decide what to do if the candidate you’re invested in says pleasantly that they don’t feel it’s appropriate to spend time on a basic skills test. Because there will definitely be good candidates that will say just that.

            1. Infinity Anon*

              If it is an actual requirement for the job and made clear early on, I don’t see why a short test would be a problem. Emphasis on short. But I might be biased because I’m used to filling out forms that are pretty pointless but a part of hiring process after getting the offer.

              1. fposte*

                Some of it’s definitely a matter of convention–but when you’re competing for a strong candidate, breaking convention is always going to be a risk. Tons of stupid forms? Convention. Last-minute drug test? Convention. Last minute typing and spelling test at the offer stage for a high level job? Not convention.

              2. Anna*

                You still wouldn’t do it for a director. I would hope that someone at the directorship level would have proven themselves in other areas that you don’t need to know how many words they can type per minute.

        2. DCGirl*

          To respond to “Why didn’t the employee’s original department warn anyone that she didn’t know how to use MS Word,” I think that there were a number of factors. The work she did was not directed at external audiences, the quality didn’t have to be at the same level as something going to a customer or potential customer, at least according to the vice president of that group. I disagree — every time I got some thing from that group, I’d cringe at the quality.

          She also was not particularly easy to work with, and I think her original department was happy to see her go.

      3. Krin*

        This. I have come across newly hired or promoted senior managers who have no admin skills and it creates more work for everyone else. That said there are subtler ways to test some of these skills. For example, the written assessment that I use for new hires (communications work) includes typos in the background document and a request to turn on track changes and do a copy edit. In my evaluation I also look for signs of a clear, well organized, tidy document (e.g. no orphans, use of headings etc.). If someone didn’t know how to use centre I could catch it here.

        1. Been there*

          I don’t really understand this, shouldn’t a senior person be focusing on the senior level skills?

          I do understand that a senior manager + needs to be at least proficient enough to use the daily tools, but at the end of the day you’re hiring for their advanced skills and not their admin skills.

          This seems crazy to me.

          1. Jesca*

            This is because, at least from what I have seen, that unless you work for huge corporations anymore, you are expected to do a lot at senior levels. This is mostly due to the fact that they don’t want to pay an extra person to update a sales spread sheet or type up important emails. This is because these tasks can be performed very quickly and only constitute a couple solid hours a month. What a lot of mid-size to smaller companies are finding is that a lot of senior individuals coming from larger companies don’t have these skills, and find themselves in situations where the new person cannot perform key functions of their jobs. They don’t want this stuff pushed off onto subordinates for a whole slew of reasons, and really need someone who can complete these short basic tasks when needed.

            1. Been there*

              Right, but a Sr level manager would likely have staff to delegate to, who would in turn delegate and so on until it hit the appropriate level. I would argue that a Sr level person shouldn’t be doing things like updating a sales spread sheet in the first place. The email typing is valid, but even the worst typist (yes even two-finger typer Bob) will get the job done and speed up with practice.

              For reference I’m a sr. level manager without an assistant; I do a lot of this stuff like data analysis, metrics building, etc., and honestly it’s holding me back and I’m actively working to stop myself from doing it and delegating the tasks, because it is taking time that I should be doing other things.

              1. Jesca*

                I understand. But unfortunately that is just not an option in many companies. They need senior staff to do it themselves.

                Me personally? I am thankful for long chains of command, because it keeps me employed. My skills are in such things as QMS process development and analytics. But even in the last place I worked, I still too had a full on job I still had to perform. Therefore, I really needed my new director to really pick up the slack on abnormal projects and stop assigning me additional work. We were in a bind, and he really needed to step up. The thing is though, he couldn’t or wouldn’t. And I would be lying if I didn’t say that was a huge motivating factor for me leaving. I was their rock star, and he lost me and it didn’t end well for him from it. A lot of companies don’t have top heavy management. They have like one or two layers and that is it. Everyone else has full time jobs – where they manage processes and not people.

                1. slick ric flair*

                  It’s interesting to me the difference in viewpoints here – I can see where you are coming from Jesca but think that it’s tough to see the full value in putting admin-level tasks on senior managers. Yes it frees up time for more junior/functional staff to do their tasks, but it also keeps the senior level from engaging in more valuable strategic directions.

                  For example, my perspective in a role that is (most of the time) senior-level account management & sales – I feel it’s a waste of my time to be doing reports, admin work, day-to-day account support, but find I have to do a lot because my support team isn’t up to the task. This creates real bottlenecks in achieving larger strategic goals. Does it mean my team doesn’t spend a lot of time doing reports or basic admin, yes, but at a pretty large direct dollar cost.

          2. Krin*

            A senior manager (especially in communications) is reviewing and signing off on the work of others. They need to be able to use track changes and recognize when a document is not formatted correctly (which they cannot do well if they do not know how to do it.) And pretty much anyone working a desk job should be able to send attachments and have basic word processing skills or think of the extra time and effort they will have to exert to do their job. For context – I have worked in environments (in different industries) that require a lot of reports, presentations and professionally executed correspondence with important stakeholders. And while there is sometimes admin support for senior leaders, the expectation is that have basic capabilities. Also, this may not be a popular opinion but up to a certain level of management I expect that a manager understand the work of their team very well and, in a pinch, could do most of it.

            1. DCGirl*

              This! In the case of the person who transferred into our department not knowing how to turn on track changes and tab, she couldn’t not pitch in in any meaningful way to help if we were short handed. It also devolved into a situation where me and one other team member could not be out of the office at the same time because she couldn’t do the work.

            2. Just Jess*

              I completely agree. In addition to having a broad understanding of how to do a direct report’s job, a 30-60 minute sanity check to make sure that the person doesn’t insist on using a typewriter, isn’t a technophobe, and can communicate reasonably well in writing is perfectly acceptable for an office job.

              It sounds like this particular organization went overboard and frustrated OP #2. But I’m also getting a sense of “how dare they assess ME on something so basic!” My gut tells me the assessments are a result of being burned by candidates in the past.

              1. medium of ballpoint*

                “But I’m also getting a sense of ‘how dare they assess ME on something so basic!’ My gut tells me the assessments are a result of being burned by candidates in the past.”

                Agreed. It’s odd to me that just because a candidate has demonstrated high level skills that they shouldn’t also be assessed for lower level skills. Pushback on this would leave a bad taste in my mouth.

              2. Conference Call Disruption*

                A few years ago my department interviewed someone who answered “What’s your biggest weakness?” with “I’m not a good speller.” We work in communications. The candidate was still hired and has been a good employee. But a director flipped out when the anecdote was told later on. (It was the first interview, which the director wasn’t part of.) Ever since then, all candidates for sub-VP positions are given basic tests for spelling, grammar and writing profiency. Some have scoffed in the same way as OP #2, and I am 100% we have missed out on some good candidates because of it. But most people take care of it as soon as possible without comment.

                1. New Window*


                  All the spellcheck in the world won’t save someone from the misused their/there/they’re, or it’s/its, or countless homophones, or typos that are still words (earn → ear).

          3. anon for this one just in case*

            I don’t think it’s too crazy. I’m fairly high up in my org, and when my boss writes something, 50% of the time I heavily rewrite/reformat it (with her permission) and the other 50% of the time I cringe at the writing/formatting of stuff she sends out. She has great ideas and energy, so I see what you mean by valuing the “senior level” skills – but I wish I didn’t have to spend so much time on editing her stuff.

      4. One of the Sarahs*

        Yeah, I’ve worked for various companies where admin support has been cut out for everyone except the very top, so I can see why they might want to make sure they’re not going to be stuck with someone who can’t type their own emails.

        I can see why the OP would be taken aback by it, but I don’t think the tests by themselves outrageous. It could be they’ve done this after bad experiences with previous hires – BUT I think they should probably have explained it to the OP, or put it later in the hiring stage (like maybe before the second interview, after explaining the process in the first?)

        1. Here we go again*

          Glad I’m not the only one that feels this way. Theoretically, a senior level person should be able to handle all of this and it should just be a given, but having worked with many incompetent directors and VPs before who managed to talk their way into a job, I can completely understand the reasoning this company has. It may not be the best approach, but I don’t feel it should be a major outrage.

        2. One of the Sarahs*

          Having seen the follow-up below, I want to change what I said a bit:

          I don’t think *good quality tests* are outrageous in themselves, but it sounds like these weren’t!

          1. Been there*

            I think that’s the key here.

            I used to hire data analysts. I gave a test, but it was to weed out those who couldn’t perform a basic 101 level skill that was critical for the job. The best analyst I hired was shaky on the language we used as he had been scripting in another language in his current role. He was able to show he understood the concepts. That plus the rest of the interview told me that he would be excellent in the position. So I hired him knowing I might have to send him to a refresher class.

            When I hire, I am hiring for a specific skill set, if I find someone who has the core qualities I’m looking for, I’m willing and able to get them tools or classes to fill in anything that may be lacking. This goes for non-senior positions as well as more senior ones. That’s why I find the tests as described as ridiculous for a Senior level manager.

      5. Clever Alias*

        Do we… do we work for the same organization?

        Seriously. We had someone who yes, had strategic high-level skills but could not use basic MS Office to save her life. It took so much extra work to do anything, because we had to do everything for her.

      6. Cimaria*

        A senior executive? Wow. Those are things that, if you really need at that level, one can learn in a day or less.

      7. JulieBulie*

        Just give them the writing test and have them do it in Word. From that, you can determine whether or not they have basic Word skills, and if they type like a chicken.

    3. Specialk9*

      Yeah OP, I feel you – super weird and insulting that they made you take a remedial test for that level position.

      It’s especially weird because that test would weed out dyslexics and other people with learning disabilities, and often people with dyslexia+ are very creative and hard working, and think in interesting ways. Weeding out based on neurotypical brains seems ill-advised.

    4. Victoria*

      That’s great… for you.

      A friend of mine had to teach the branch manager at a bank that you could minimize a window without closing it altogether. She was closing it every time she needed to be on a different window. And since the bank no longer has brochures, all the info is on their intranet, they kinda need senior staff that have basic computer skills.

      Way-hay-haaaay too many people have been promoted that are unable to check their own email without help. IT people and admins end up dealing with them, and doing half the job of these people. And since a lot of management no longer have admins due to budget cuts, then management needs to either prove they can do it, or get training.

    5. Anon anon anon*

      I think it sounds dubious. On the other hand, I think testing people’s basic skills is a good idea. I have worked for people who really didn’t have the basic knowledge that their position required. I mean like managing a team of software engineers without ever having written any code or understanding the basic concepts of how it works. But those kinds of tests should be brief if done early, or more of a final step if they’re more extensive.

  6. Hj*

    For number 3; I attempted suicide and returned to that workplace shortly after. It was hard to walk in feeling embarrassed and vulnerable that my professionalism might be judged or someone would put me on the spot about the attempt.

    There are some little gestures of support you can make that don’t involve talking about it, or drawing attention to her return; grabbing her a coffee once in a while, making normal social chit chat, giving an occasional little feedback on a thing she does that is positive, including her in relevant planning emails, things that express that she is valued and seen as as a competent colleague. You might have to tailor this to your workplace culture and how well you know her.

    This is just my take on things; I carry a little leaflet in my purse of local suicide support organisations. It’s handy, on occasions where colleagues or relatives have confided in me and I’ve been caught off guard, I can listen then offer them someone to talk to who is qualified to help them sort out those feelings. Suicide is an emotive subject that doesn’t have to be scary; if you can think about it as something many people experience and get help for. On average, 1 in 4 people in any workplace in my country are experiencing mental ill health right now. Chances are, your colleague is not the only one in your team/building/conpany to struggle in some way Your colleague may not be suicidal again and she might have good support in place; but it might settle your mind to know what an appropriate response would be if she disclosed suicidal feelings to you. That way you don’t walk on eggshells for fear of triggering her (which is not your responsibility.)

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      If OP’s coworker discloses suicidal feelings then it is helpful to be able to provide details of a suicide crisis line (befrienders dot org is a pretty comprehensive worldwide list so you could look for your country there) but it is absolutely not your job to deal with something like that alone or to feel solely responsible.

      I am an attempt survivor also but I was in secondary school so my experiences here don’t translate and I don’t have tips from my own experience. What I will say is that I would take your lead from her manager, and also it might be nice to say to let you know if she needs help catching up on the latest teapot news.

      Try to watch your language and not make casual references (this meeting is so boring, just kill me now; I can’t believe I screwed up the teapot report, I just want to die) which you have time to think about when communicating remotely.

      The other thing to bear in mind is that surviving a suicide attempt is in itself a traumatising thing, whether or not someone gets compassionate care afterwards (and I very much didn’t – I complained years later and ended up receiving a full apology) and that waking up alive doesn’t magically make things better. So I’d avoid implying that everything is all better now, not that you sound likely to.

      If in doubt maybe ask her manager?

      1. MsMorlowe*

        Great advice.

        I would add that if you screw up and do make a casual reference to death or suicide, just let it go and don’t do a shocked-face stare at the survivor.

      2. OP #3*

        Thanks, this is very helpful. Striking any casual references would be a small thing, but could mean a lot. Great advice.

      3. Specialk9*

        “waking up alive doesn’t magically make things better. So I’d avoid implying that everything is all better now, not that you sound likely to.”

        Oh my gosh, are there people who think that?! (Sputter sputter) Do they think that a suicide attempt happened in a vacuum, and that fixing the attempt magically fixed the underlying despair and anguish?!

        I’m having violent thoughts against the people who let such idiotic thoughts pass their lips to you and to others. Argh.

        1. nonymous*

          >Oh my gosh, are there people who think that?! (Sputter sputter) Do they think that a suicide attempt happened in a vacuum, and that fixing the attempt magically fixed the underlying despair and anguish?!

          I had one acquaintance claim that b/c his sister’s suicide attempt was highly ineffective she neither deserved support recovering from the attempt nor the underlying issues that triggered the incident. He was advocating that the extended family circus engage in a tough-love policy.

    2. AKchic*

      All great points.

      For me (suicide attempt survivor, and left behind when other friends have successfully completed suicide), I would also add this:
      Many of us do NOT want to hear any religious stuff (“it wasn’t your time”, “it wasn’t meant to be”, “He will take you when He is ready”, etc.), or anything remotely resembling “thoughts and prayers”. I know I am appreciative when I hear someone else shut down people who start in on screeds about suicidal people being “damaged” or “broken” and “selfish”. It saves me wanting to get extremely violent.

      Just treat us normally. Kid gloves aren’t necessary, because if they were, your co-worker wouldn’t be back at the office yet. If your coworker decides to open up to you, great; but I wouldn’t count on it. I’m not saying that to be negative. Some people DO open up after a suicide attempt. Partially because of medications and therapy, sometimes because they are desperately trying to change themselves and take risks and grasp onto any humanity they can.

  7. Some sort of Management Consultant*

    In addition to Alison’s great answer:
    If Jane attempted suicide *at* work, please consider the needs of your other employees who might have found that upsetting or traumatizing. A general reminder of your EAP or even counseling brought in especially for this (voluntary and anonymous, of course!) might be something to consider.

    1. ToledoShark*

      I’m wondering what kind of structures or supports the employer might have in place for the employee returning to work? I’m going to assume that she feels well enough and ready to come back to work and that a medical professional has agreed to her returning to work. As a manager it’s something I haven’t dealt with so am curious what a good and supportive way to handle it would be.

    2. OP #3*

      Yes, our EAP was engaged at the time for on-site counseling, phone discussions, etc. It was quite traumatic for the person that found her, of course. And they’ve engaged the EAP again for the return, as well as managers making themselves available. The company’s done an amazing job, I just want to make sure my team does too!

      1. Marillenbaum*

        That’s totally reasonable! Good on you for reaching out–I think it speaks well to how you’ll handle this going forward.

      2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        OP #3, you are an obviously thoughtful leader at a well-run company. Your sensitivity and professionalism shine through in your letter and comments. Be confident that you and your team that you will handle this appropriately.

  8. MommyMD*

    Perhaps Company wanted to make sure Marketing candidate had proficient basic skills before proceeding with the interview. I wouldn’t take it so personally. Maybe they’ve been burned. I’ve seen highly educated people be a mess with grammar and spelling and peck out words on the keyboard.

    1. JamieS*

      At first I had a similar thought but a test expected to take 3 hours is way over the top. That’s like a company wanting to be sure a candidate knows how to read so they have him read Moby Dick or something equally preposterous.

      1. Hard Boiled*

        I wonder whether the cold-open email may also have involved developing some kind of strategy or idea around which the pitch was being sent. That would take more time. OP did say they finished it in 2 hours, so I figure they gave three hours to do a two-hour task to remove the time pressure that can sometimes stunt people’s creativity.

      2. CoffeeLover*

        Ya I’m with you on this. 3hours is overkill. Having to do it in person is also overkill. They could have just sent him an online test.

        Maybe it was poor planning more than anything else though. They wanted to test certain skills, but instead of giving a brief test in each, they didn’t know how to prioritize/eliminate unnecessary stuff and ended up with a 3hour test. I would also bet on a runaway HR department. This sounds like an HR type of thing to do.

        1. Conference Call Disruption*

          My company used to send a link to the online tests so as to not drag someone in for it. About a year after one person had been hired, they said that they totally cheated on all of the tests. Since then, we drag everyone in for those tests.

      3. K.*

        Three hours is nuts. I did some admin temp work to fill a gap at the height of the recession and none of the skills tests I took (I was registered with a bunch of agencies so took a bunch of tests) were intended to take anywhere near three hours.

    2. Hard Boiled*

      I also think this company may have been burned before and was not as outraged by the tests as Alison and the letter writer.

      I’ve worked for a boss who two-finger types at an infuriatingly slow pace. I wouldn’t want to pay someone six figures to two-figure type out emails or drafts of marketing documents if there were other candidates who were similarly strong on the ideas side of things.

      As for the proofreading test, I think it’s perfectly likely that the marketing director would have final approval on marketing copy. Or make last-minute changes to it. They need to be able to spot others’ mistakes (something even good writers can’t always do) and it’s reasonable not to want to hire someone who doesn’t have an eye for typos to that role.

      1. anony-mouse*

        Yeah, I think there could be valid reasons for a short test of this type. But two hours seems a bit much.

        We do a similar test in the first part of the interview – but ours takes good candidates about 20 minutes.

        It’s just that there are some basics that you absolutely have to be able to do in your sleep in this job, otherwise you’ll use all your brain power to figure out the basics and won’t have any left for the important stuff.

        1. anony-mouse*

          Also, our test doesn’t involve touch typing speed – you can learn that in a week with a training programme if we think you need it.

          Our test is about math and very basic programming skills, which we can’t teach you in a week because people usually need at least programming 101 or some equivalent experience to figure this out.

        2. Koko*


          You can measure someone’s typing speed in 5 minutes, give them 10 minutes to proofread a short document, if all it is is a basic check to make sure they have reasonable competence…it’s the length of the tests moreso than their content that makes this so weird.

        3. fposte*

          Though an employer needs to differentiate “preventing being burned again” from “a useful hiring action.” It’s frustratingly easy to just make a new mistake rather than improving the process, and it sounds like that’s what they’re doing.

      2. Specialk9*

        I’ve had a 2 finger typer boss too, but you know what? He was being paid for the sophistication of the thoughts in his head, not his typing skills.

        Yes of course there’s this nearly irresistible desire to say ‘just let me’ and take over the keyboard… But it’s not the key skillset for someone at that level.

    3. hbc*

      I agree. It’s unusual to test in this way, and I would never put the skills test before the interview, but I absolutely have had people in positions as high as that lack basic computer and literacy skills. I almost always find some way to get a feel for those skills (though not a WPM count or anything), and would make doubly sure if the last person in that position needed an assistant to turn their hand written notes into emails.

      1. Queen of the File*

        I’m with you. The tests were certainly overkill, but we’ve also had a few senior managers here without admin support that have been so incapable of operating a computer that it really negatively impacted the work. Pulling non-admin staff off other duties to help them print emails, format documents, etc.

    4. SarahTheEntwife*

      Wouldn’t that lack of skill have held someone back at previous jobs and thus be likely to come up in competent reference-checking?

      1. Coalea*

        You would think so, right? However, I can think of at least 3 people off the top of my head who somehow managed to achieve very senior roles despite extremely limited computer skills – I’m thinking of an old boss who used to have his admin print out hard copies of all his emails, would write out his responses longhand, and then have the admin type them up. He also wrote out all his PowerPoint slides by hand and the admin created them on the computer. How in the world could someone like that have risen to a very senior role???

        1. Specialk9*

          I don’t understand why you think that precludes having incisive strategic thinking and wisdom. This boss had an admin to do the typing, right? Then that’s a fashionable accommodation.

          Part of why I’m pushing back so hard is that my family is full of brilliant – brilliant – dyslexics. People act like they’re idiots for misspelling things and having trouble with listening and writing at the same time. So hey, here’s your cookie for having been born neurotypical, now let’s talk about getting the accommodation they need to go on being brilliant.

          1. Coalea*

            It certainly was not my intent to disparage people with dyslexia or anyone else who is non-neurotypical. I apologize if I caused any offense. Thinking of my own experience only, my former boss’s way of working was inefficient and the value that he provided to the organization in other areas (eg, strategic thinking and wisdom) wasn’t sufficient warrant this accommodation.

          2. Judy (since 2010)*

            During my career, admin support has become quite a bit more scarce.

            In 1991, an engineering manager with 8-15 engineers had an admin, and that admin supported the manager and the engineers. The engineers didn’t have to do expense reports or anything like that. If we were doing a prototype build, we could give her a list of things and she would order them.

            In 2001, several engineering directors would share an admin. Every so often that admin would do something for the individual engineers, more frequently she would support the 3-6 managers that reported to those directors.

            Today, we have one admin for a company with about 85 engineers. She does order office supplies, but beyond that she’s support for the company president and vice presidents. The engineering director and the 4 engineering managers do not get any more support than the individual engineers.

          3. Doreen*

            It doesn’t preclude strategic wisdom or thinking. But it is inefficient. If I need to send a very simple email to my staff to schedule a meeting, it’s quicker and easier for me to tell my secretary the date and time and have her send it. But if I am writing anything more involved than that , it will take me roughly the same amount of time to write it in longhand as it will take me to type it. It doesn’t actually save any of my time for her to type it – and it takes up some of hers. And then some more of mine while I proofread it – because a spell checker won’t notice if she left out a word or a sentence.

            The people I’ve known who did the “print out my email, I’ll scrawl the answer and then you type it and send it” were not dyslexic. Some just didn’t want to learn anything new at that point in their lives and for others , it was also a status thing. When one of them wanted to speak to me on the phone, he would have his secretary call and I would hear ” Please hold for Mr. Brown”. He must have been the last man alive doing that- and this was only about 5 years ago.

        2. Hc600*

          Yup. There are partners at my law firm who straight up don’t use Word or PowerPoint because they rely on associates, paralegals and secretaries. Everything is printed and given to them and they write and edit by either handwriting or dictating and don’t know how attachments on emails work.

          1. Been there*

            Extreme, but if I’m a client hiring a lawyer, I don’t think I care who writes their word documents or prepares their power points as long as the lawyer knows the law and is good at that part of their job.

        3. Not a Morning Person*

          There are people in the workforce who rose up in the ranks before personal computers became ubiquitous. Even first level supervisors had secretarial staff. If they were promoted into a senior role based on their experience in the organization and their leadership skills, then the organization knew what it was getting. If the person was from outside, then perhaps not so much. Some of those higher ranking people are now retired or have learned what they needed to know in office software so they can continue to be effective and work without administrative support.

      2. AKchic*

        Not at all. I have known many people who got to C-suite levels who are the hunt-and-peck typers, have poor grammar skills, and can’t use the Microsoft Office Suite to save their lives. They rely on admin assistants to do their administrative work while they “handle the meat and potatoes” of the job.
        Example: a former boss of mine. He started out as a clinician. He was quickly promoted to program manager because the program manager was transferred (there were “issues”) and he had the seniority. He blustered and bluffed and made claims about how well things were going, when everything was actually shoestrings and bandaids and he was covering up his ineptitudes.
        He managed to convince the CEO that he’d be perfect for a new role in the expanding C-Suite (we were legitimately expanding). He got the position and moved to the administrative building. As the receptionist, I noticed I was getting more and more of his administrative work to handle. I didn’t have a lot to do anyways, so no biggie, it kept me busy. Then we were awarded the contract that wanted. He started claiming he needed a fulltime assistant, did I want that position. Oh, and he needed a fulltime manager for the contract we were awarded. Both positions approved. I started handling ALL of his administrative tasks, and did so for almost 5 years until he over-extended himself and did some very shady things that finally pushed the board (and the CEO) to fire him. Cleaning up while he was there and after he was gone – neither were fun, but he was an interesting study. I never did get him to learn how to use his voicemail, but I did finally get him to learn how to use the header and footer of a word document.

    5. Infinity Anon*

      If they have been burned before I could see doing a shorter test after identifying the top candidates or even just the top candidate as a final formality before officially offering them the job. Why put everyone through three hours of testing before even talking to them?

    6. logicbutton*

      Editing is literally my job and the proofreading assessment that candidates have to take when applying for it is ten minutes long. What is even in the test LW had to take, if finishing in under two hours is considered fast?

    7. Terby*

      MommyMD – that is why my organization (education) is having on-the-spot skills tests for our most senior level position. We think the previous person in the role may have hired someone to write her application materials/complete the take-home exercises, because on the job she could not perform anywhere close to what was expected.

      I also wonder if the level of prestige of the company that OP2 is coming from is playing a factor. Maybe it is a smaller/less well known company. Maybe the company where she is applying has seen some questionable work from OP2’s current organization in the past. OP2 – thoughts on this?

  9. MommyMD*

    It’s not weird to not meet your remote manager in person. A relative has been working for Amazon remotely for a while and hasn’t met anyone. The workplace is evolving with technology. That’s a good thing.

    1. Chocolate Teapot*

      Yes, my old company rearranged teams so that everyone with a particular function in the different locations all reported to one boss in one country.

      I found it helpful to have video conference meetings so at least I knew what Fred in the distant office looked like!

      1. OP #4*

        Thanks, this is the first time I’m working without a manager or someone to report to in the same office.
        Do you find you work as efficiently as if you had met in person? I think it’s easier to build a rapport once you’ve had a face to face meeting

        1. Doreen*

          I’ve often worked without someone to report to in the same office. Sometimes they were down the block, sometimes in an office in a different part of the same city and for about five years my immediate supervisor worked out of an office about three hours away. I saw him about once a year at a large meeting. And he was probably the one I had the best working relationship with. I suspect the distance may have been part of the reason – he was just too far away to do certain things that annoy me.

    2. Koko*

      I work for an international organization as well. Some employees travel a bit more frequently – each department has their own budget and discretion over allocating travel funds; some prefer to spend more money bringing remote team members in say, once a month, while others allocate all their travel funds for conferences/development and never bring remote team members in.

      One of my closest coworkers who I have spoken with daily for the past half a decade works in another office across the country and the only time I see him in person is at our annual company-wide staff retreat each year. I actually really look forward to retreat each year for a chance to put in face time with him and other remote colleagues.

      1. OP #4*

        Yeah I’m finding some people are travelling every other week and some not at all even if they’re in similar positions so I’m not sure what that’s about.
        The other thing is my manager is one of those people that travels every 2 weeks so perhaps she’ll be paying a visit to the UK st some point…

    3. NW Mossy*

      I’ve had remote employees as long as I’ve been managing, and I have only ever met one of them in person. There’s effectively no budget for hey-how-are-you trips in my org right now, so unless I need to go to their site for some other business purpose, we’ll continue to lean on video calls.

    4. TrainerGirl*

      At my last job, I didn’t meet my manager in person for a year and a half. I am in the US…he is in Australia. Even when I went there to do training, I still didn’t meet him because we were in different cities. No one on my team was in my office…they were all either remote or in other offices. It was quite strange at first, but you can definitely make it work. It’s not strange.

  10. Jen RO*

    OP4 – it’s not weird. I am also in Europe with a manager in the US and I met him about a year after I was hired. He usually comes here once or maybe twice a year, for a week at a time. (We never travel there, my company is very stingy.) Another coworker of mine, whose manager is in another European country, has been here for about a year and a half and never met her manager in person. She is traveling to her manager’s location this month for the first time.

    1. Misquoted*

      No, not weird. I work remotely for teams in other states (U.S.). I’ve worked here for over a year, and haven’t met my manager (my original manager retired; I’d met her once). I also haven’t met some of the newer employees. Working through email, phone calls, and the occasional video meeting can work well, but yes, you do miss a lot of non-verbal cues and it’s something to get used to.

    2. Engineer Woman*

      Here to add to: not weird.

      Definitely meeting face to face at least once or from time to time is desired, builds working relationships, etc. But some companies are cheap and I’ve know one to not have an employee working remotely to meet in person until 2 years working together.

      1. OP #4*

        As I asked above, do you guys feel you work as well together as if you had met in person? I’m starting to wonder if it’s just me now

  11. Ramona Flowers*

    #5 I just want to say that the double opt-in rule is an excellent rule. Good luck with your job search!

    1. LW #5*

      It’s so smart, isn’t it? Following that rule adds an extra few steps in the process, but it eliminates so many potential disasters.

      And thanks for the luck! I need as much as I can get right now!

  12. Myrin*

    That is a very harsh reading of an OP who sounds reasonable and understandably concerned about a number of things, and also not at all in line with the site’s commenting policy.

  13. Some sort of management consultant*

    I read it more as a general expression of surprise “this is how weird my life has gotten” rather than exploitation or unncessary drama.

    1. LizB*

      Yes, or “I know this weird situation might be hard to believe because it lines up with so many cliches from fiction, so I’m going to acknowledge that up front”.

  14. Star*

    The OP obviously doesn’t want to be involved in this drama, the “soap opera” phrase was used to acknowledge that this situation must seem very dramatic from the outside, and will probably struggle to “mind her own business” as she is the boss’s personal assistant and sits so close to both Boss and Jane. She hasn’t become involved with this on purpose because she wants to be involved in some workplace drama. Your response is very harsh and doesn’t seem to reflect at all what the OP wrote in her letter.

  15. No Longer Lurking*

    That’s a very unkind view of the OP’s motivations, not to mention inaccurate! There is nothing in the letter that suggests that she’s “exploiting other people’s trauma”. I suggest you read the commenting rules…

    1. JD*

      I don’t think that it is too inaccurate. SHE went to tell him about the test, that was sitting on HIS desk, which HE would have seen on his own. She injected herself into the situation.

      1. Susan Calvin*

        I don’t know, I could see myself going into blind panic mode there, wanting to get rid of the ‘time bomb’ (what if someone else walks in to drop something of? What if Fergus isn’t alone when he returns?*), and since OP couldn’t exactly dispose of the evidence herself, alerting Fergus was the logical choice.

        *arguably, trying to keep everything under wraps is the worst possible strategy for OP, but I can see why the instinctual response would be to avoid conflict

  16. Justme*

    OP’s boss made it her business, and the entire office’s business, by sleeping with a subordinate and then having OP deliver his correspondence. Save your righteous indignation for Ferguson where it belongs.

  17. MuseumChick*

    OP 1, follow Alison’s advise and simply do not engage with their affair. If you need to you can say “This situation puts me in a very uncomfortable and awkward position. Going forward please do not discuss it with me.” But if becomes an increasing issue, you can always go to HR.

    OP 2, Keep it simple, “So glad your are back.” is a perfectly normal thing to say to a co-worker who has been gone for a long period of time. Keep the conversations focused on work or general office chatter “While you were gone [insert updates on projects].” “Oh, did you hear? Lucinda had her baby.” etc.

  18. Cautionary tail*

    Op #4, On a business trip I was with two people who had worked together for 20 years via telephone (pre video conferencing) talked every day, knew all about each other’s families and more but had never even seen what the other person looked like. It was an emotional meeting and you could see the genuine friendship that had evolved over time with these two.

  19. Fake old Converse shoes*

    Sure, because OP chose to be right in the middle of Jane and Fergus’ love story…

    1. fposte*

      Now I have this image of somebody who deliberately job hunts with an eye to scandal proximity. She’s got scandar.

        1. fposte*

          I have whatever the opposite is. I am scandal-deaf. I am always the person who doesn’t notice when it’s awkward and never knew Lucinda and Bob were a thing.

          1. SarahTheEntwife*

            Solidarity! 80% of the time it makes me a really chill coworker who gets along with everyone, and the other 20% of the time someone ends up mad at me because I asked what I thought was a totally normal question, no realizing there was drama behind it.

            1. cornflower blue*

              Soooo much this. I put my foot in my mouth once because I didn’t know two coworkers were married to each other. They never acted like it!

          2. paul*

            Right there with you. Peacefully oblivious until it blows up and I’m hiding in my office to avoid the awkward. hate hate hate it.

  20. Lady Phoenix*

    OP #1: I’m sorry OP, but you were long involved in this affair before the pregnancy. By delivery their letters without checking them, listening to their comments, and kinda being therebto cocrr for them while they “talked” — you got involved.

    I say the best move would be to take this to HR and request a transfer.

    1. Justme*

      Checking the letters? Who actually opens a letter that their boss gives them before they deliver it to someone?

      1. Lady Phoenix*

        I dunno how they are giving corresponses. I mean, if it is just “Tell Jane I have the hots for her” I would tell the dude to stuff it.

  21. Post-it*

    #3: assuming it want something you did (or work related) that lead to the suicide attempt in the first place I don’t think there’s any reason for behaviour around her to change. wouldnt a return to normality make more sense?

    You say she was difficult to work with and that makes me wonder if this was just a tactic to ensure she gets her way. Choosing to attempt suicide in a place where she’s almost certain to be found (while still risky) is hardly most effective strategy.

    1. Language Student*

      I think that last comment is rather unfair. “Difficult to work with” could mean anything.

      People who attempt suicide aren’t always thinking logically – and attempting in a public place could have any number of reasons behind it (don’t want friends or family to find you, you want to die but you don’t want it to work, you want to be found so you can get help, etc.).

      Ultimately, it isn’t our job to figure out what was going on behind her attempt, and it’s not helpful to the OP.

    2. OP #3*

      Yeah…… I don’t believe it was a tactic to “ensure she gets her way.” She’s a difficult and prickly person at times, but really has always had a good heart for what’s best for our clients, she just doesn’t have the best instincts on how to accomplish her goals and resists correction. I don’t think the two are related in any way.

    3. SarahTheEntwife*

      Repeating the idea that people use suicide as a negotiating tactic is incredibly unkind and potentially dangerous as it can inhibit people from asking for help for fear that they’ll be brushed off as dramatic.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        +1. Please don’t say things like that.

        Signed: a suicide attempt survivor who read this post shortly before learning that someone in my own workplace took their own life yesterday.

        1. Lora*

          I am so, so sorry Ramona. Sending you a virtual drink and hoping you can sneak out early because that is a LOT to process.

      1. Post-it*

        Sorry, that probably came out too harsh. I think about suicide on almost a daily basis and this scenario has never played out in my head before. But yeah, every person’s rationale and reasoning is different so I retract my comment.

        Apologies again.

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          Yes, it did come out harshly. But many of us have been there, where something sounds different in your head. Thanks for clarifying.

          I’m sorry to hear you think about this yourself. I’ve posted some links to resources higher up the thread in a comment that’s awaiting moderation.

        2. Louise*

          Appreciate the apology, but I do think it’s worth saying that it’s not just that the comment came out harsh—is that it’s an incredibly damaging concept, on both a personal and a cultural level. People who suffer from mental illnesses already have so many stigmas to overcome, including that we’re doing it for manipulation. Had I not been told so many times that my self-destructive behaviors were “just for attention” or that I was just doing it to get my way so often when I was young, I almost certainly would have sought the help I needed much earlier on and would have saved myself (and frankly others) a lot of pain.

          I don’t mean to pile on. I just think that it’s really important to recognize that comments like this can actually have life and death consequences, beyond just hurting people’s feelings. I also think it’s important to recognize that if you feel as though the only way you can have your needs and wants recognized, that’s a serious and valid issue! Instead of criticizing others for acting in that way, if that was in fact their motivation, paying attention to the circumstances that pushed them towards that behavior is really important.

          Anyway, I hope that if you are in need of help and support, you’re able to find it. As someone who has been there, I know what a scary and confusing place it can be. Please be kind and gentle with yourself, and don’t judge yourself for the things you want and need.

    4. Assistant Village Idiot*

      You received a lot of pushback that you handled well. The advice was ultimately good as a practical matter – that you should not be saying such things out loud and introducing them to the discussion, neither here nor in a live situation. But that is because you don’t know, and you have no way of knowing, not because this never happens.

      I get to say that. I have worked in psychiatric emergencies for 40 years and there are indeed people who use suicide attempts as a manipulation. Not many – most are genuinely sad, desperate, anxious, numb. But I’ve had people tell me flat out that their attempt was an attempt to achieve some other goal. So people shouldn’t be jumping on you for even thinking it.

      That said, you shouldn’t say it, and you shouldn’t act in any way as if it even might be true. I wouldn’t even say it to a person who had repeatedly told me that their attempt(s) were manipulative. They might be wrong, and too hard on themselves. You don’t ever know, and the possible harm in one direction is a hundred times greater than the other.

      Hope you’re okay after the reactions you got.

      1. Louise*

        I’m sorry, but this is really disheartening to hear from a medical professional. Even if someone attempts suicide to “get something,” that doesn’t mean they’re undeserving of sympathy or support. If someone is in such a position where they feel the only way they can get what they want or need is by hurting themselves, that’s a really serious issue.

        I just really hate the idea that there are good mentally ill people who deserve our sympathy and bad mentally ill people who don’t. It’s so damaging and it makes me really sad to hear this from someone who works in the field.

        1. Doreen*

          I don’t think that Assistant Village Idiot was talking about good mentally ill people who deserve sympathy and bad mentally ill people who don’t. I’m pretty sure she’s not talking about people who truly feel they can’t get their legitimate wants or needs met without hurting themselves. She is talking about people who are not actually suicidal but feign an attempt to manipulate their circumstances – maybe to avoid legal consequences or to get moved from the prison to the hospital or to guilt an adult child into not moving out. They exist. It shouldn’t change what you say or how mental health professionals treat them in the moment because of the risk of being wrong- but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

          1. Pommette!*

            My reading of Assistant Village Idiot’s comment was similar to yours. I found his/her suggestion helpful and empathetic to/respectful of both the poster and the survivor whose story is discussed here. It seems like a post from someone who is well acquainted with the diversity and complexity of suicide.

            Some people threaten or attempt suicide in order to have an effect on others, or to obtain something from others. People who do this aren’t bad people, and they are fully deserving of help and sympathy. They may in fact need specialized help (including help developing more effective, and safer, ways to relate to others).

  22. Red Reader*

    #4, when I first hired into my org, it was something like eight months before I met ANYONE in my department – even my interviews were all via phone – and I live about 30 minutes from our central office. I’ve now been here three years and I still have three people on my (fully remote) team that I haven’t met in person.

  23. MicroManagered*

    Maybe this is a weird take on OP2, but I kinda wish more employers did this kind of basic computer comptetency testing, regardless of the position. Several hours of testing does seem a bit excessive, but I’ve worked for/with a number of educated, high-ranking employees who lack some pretty basic computer skills, type emails in ungrammatical fragments, can’t follow basic spreadsheets, etc.

    I think we’re in a strange liminal state with technology in the workplace where some people are basically functionally illiterate on a computer. And, for the record, I don’t think it’s really an age thing. I’ve worked with people in their 50s and 60s who can pick it right up–they’ll ask questions, retain what they’ve learned, and use it going forward. I’ve also worked with some people younger than me–late 20s & early 30s–who just don’t get it.

    I think it’s a good idea to test for basic computer competency as part of pre-employment screening and won’t be surprised if it becomes more common in the years to come.

    1. One of the Sarahs*

      I think we’re also in the situation where in people’s working lifetimes there have been typing pools, admin support, and people who will hand-write emails and have someone type them up/people who won’t learn to use the photocopier because they see that as beneath them. As you say, it’s not an age thing – people of all ages can be invested in hierarchies, or see admin as something they shouldn’t do as they’re too educated.

      But as technology changes, it becomes less efficient to have that level of admin. I was temping in a place where a director just couldn’t get his head round the financial system, and it caused problems, for example.

    2. Grapey*

      The thing in my company is that we value the high skills more than, say, typing. Ahmed knows the right biostatistics formula to use in any application off the top of his head, and that’s more valuable to our company, so he can type with one finger for all we care.

      1. MicroManagered*

        And I suppose, if you want to hire someone to type for him or adjust his workload so that he can take 2-3x as long on a task, Ahmed is a great hire for your company.

        Maybe I should amend my original statement to say: For employees who would be expected to perform their own computing functions? I just think, conceptually, it’s not a bad idea to test for basic computing skills.

    3. cornflower blue*

      I see your point at a certain level, but I can also see computer literacy being an “are you smarter than a 5th grader” type of issue. The higher your level of speciality, the less often you may use more generalized knowledge. For example, a letter earlier in the week had people talking about what is considered basic knowledge of Word. I use specialized software for hours every day, and I can run circles around any of the iterations of it. But when I was required to use Word to write my thesis, I spent more time struggling with that stupid program than I did performing the research and coding to actually complete the project.

    4. Artemesia*

      I think it is insulting to give someone applying for a management position a typing test. I think the OP should raise this in the interview and be very alert to whether the position is as high level as she thinks. I’d state that I was frankly insulted to be asked to complete low level secretarial tests for a position that was not likely to use these skills much and want to be reassured that this was not in fact central to the job. She can afford to be pointed about this because she already is considering withdrawing from consideration. It could be a roque or idiotic HR department. My son was once approached about a high level soft ware job and then HR followed up inviting him to a ‘job event’ at the company. He increduously said ‘You mean, a ‘job fair’?’ And it was. He declined. An hour later a high level person called to try to arrange to fly him in for interviews and was apologetic about the job fair thing, but for him that ship had sailed. He had lots of great options; this one was of mild interest only but they might have sold him; after that, he just wasn’t interested. I would think this company would discourage precisely the kinds of people they want to be directors by treating them like they are applying to be AAs.

  24. OP #2*

    OP #2 here.

    To clarify, I was not informed ahead of time that these tests were expected to take 3+ hours. They didn’t tell me that until I showed up, and that’s my fault for not asking. I think that’s part of the reason I was so steamed – it felt kind of disrespectful of my time.

    I do understand that the company may want to double-check basic computer literacy. I could have shrugged off the typing test, maybe – it took 5 minutes. But the spelling test was legitimately just, “here’s a piece of paper and a pencil, circle the correct spelling of ‘friend.’” The cold open email took me a long time, because that is *not* what I do. That’s why I mentioned that I’m in marketing, not sales. And the proofreading was bizarre; they gave me a list of standard proofreading notations and asked me to use them when comparing a document before and after changes. They didn’t want me to correct grammar – they wanted me to check that the notated changes had been made in the final document. Most of my time was spent trying to figure out what the (handwritten) proofreading notations meant.

    I actually did go to the interview the next day. I went because I really wanted to ask, “So, what’s the logic behind vetting high-level candidates with these kinds of tests?” But I didn’t get a chance – the interview started 15 minutes late and wasn’t with a company employee, but with an outside consultant who is currently managing their marketing department (!). In the 45 minutes that I spent with this (admittedly very nice) person, I didn’t get a word in edgewise – she didn’t ask me a single question. When she realized we were out of time, she asked if I could stay longer and I said no.

    I think there’s just an overall culture of poor time management and a lack of understanding the role they’re hiring for.

    It’s been a really bizarre experience all around.

    1. HannaSpanna*

      Oh my goodness, sorry for all your wasted time OP, but at least as you said in yout letter, you’ve got a good story out of it.
      The best spin I can make is just feel grateful that they showed their disfunction loud and clear now, rather than finding out after starting work there.

    2. dr_silverware*

      Good lord. Your letter made me annoyed on your behalf already, but these details really pile it on. I’d be pretty steamed as well. I’m in software development, and my first job required a similar test–some stuff kind of relevant, most stuff just simple logic puzzles, grammar tests, spelling…let me tell you, you dodged a bullet, because that company really did not respect anyone’s time.

      1. OP #2*

        I actually used to be in software development, and I’ve taken my share of those tests – writing the solution to a problem in pseudo code, etc. I get that. And for this position, I would have understood a case study or “critique this brand plan” or something along those lines. But lord, a spelling test?

        1. Artemesia*

          Exactly. Practical tests are a good thing. Insulting irrelevant tests completely inappropriate and likely to scare off people with talent like yourself.

    3. Construction Safety*

      “In the 45 minutes that I spent with this (admittedly very nice) person, I didn’t get a word in edgewise – she didn’t ask me a single question. When she realized we were out of time, she asked if I could stay longer and I said no. ”

      Stereotypical consultant.

      Good instincts on your part.

    4. Been there*

      I hope you stopped and treated yourself to a drink after that fiasco!

      Sorry that this didn’t go well, it’s hard enough looking for a job when you’re unhappy but worse when you run into screwball outfits like this.

    5. fposte*

      Oh, holy cow. To all of it, but as somebody who does proofread, *I* can’t remember most of the proofing marks.

    6. Specialk9*

      Wait, they didn’t even ask a question in an hour long interview?! Did they just natter at you? What on earth about?!

      1. K.*

        I had a two-hour interview once. The timing was set ahead of time. I assumed I’d be meeting with several people. Nope! One person. About half an hour of the two hours was spent on me answering questions; the other 90 minutes was her yammering on.

      2. OP #2*

        About how her consultancy works, about the company IT department, about pretty much everything you can think of *other* than the specifics of the position or anything about whether I was qualified.

      3. JulieBulie*

        Oh yeah, that’s a bona fide “interviewing style.” I had an interview like that and guess what, that’s what all of our “meetings” were like, too. (Sometimes she would stop talking to me… so that she could take a lengthy call on her phone. She’d hold up a finger to signify that she’d be done in a minute. Like 20 minutes.)

        The good news is that if your interviewer does all the talking, you really can’t say anything to ruin your chances.

    7. a different Vicki*

      Very bizarre.

      I’m a copyeditor and proofreader, and I just asked a freelance client whether he knows those symbols or whether I should mark up the PDF file without using them, just circle the text to be changed and type in the replacement. My client isn’t any sort of editorial professional, he’s a science professor who hired me to edit a grant proposal, and there’s no reason to assume he knows the specialized terms and symbols of my line of work. “Find the errors in this” might be a reasonable thing to ask for the kind of work you do; “double-check that Jane, who made the corrections after Fergus proofread the document, didn’t miss anything” is too finicky unless they’re hiring someone as an editor or proofreader.

    8. Matilda Jefferies*

      Wow. That’s…really something!

      Although the good news is, now you know for sure that the place is as ridiculous as you first thought. If you had skipped the interview, you might have wondered if you had passed up on a good thing because of that one really weird screening test. But now you can say with 100% confidence that it’s definitely bizarre, and you definitely don’t want to work there!

    9. Frustrated Optimist*

      I understand that people are saying that this is too many red flags, but where are you with your further interest in the position? Are you hanging in there to see what happens next, or are you withdrawing your application?

      1. OP #2*

        My curious (and masochistic) nature mean that I’m hanging in there, if for no other reason than to see if they make me an offer. I want to see how much weirder this can get.

    10. TootsNYC*

      “To clarify, I was not informed ahead of time that these tests were expected to take 3+ hours. They didn’t tell me that until I showed up, and that’s my fault for not asking. I think that’s part of the reason I was so steamed – it felt kind of disrespectful of my time.”

      No, it is not either your fault for not asking.

      If an interview is going to take longer than an hour, it is incumbent on the interviewER to alert the other person how much time they will need.

      The person who makes the appointment has ALL the responsibility for being thorough about what it will entail, including how long it will go.

      1. OP #2*

        I mean, that would be in her best interest. That said, I got the impression that the tests came from the company, not the consultant.

    11. Just Jess*

      Dear Lord! That is an unimaginably poor selection process and I would have changed my previous comment if I’d known. I’m very pleased to hear that you walked out of that rambling interview.

    12. Viva*

      I’m sorry that you got jerked around like that, with loads of wasted time, but thank you for sharing your update with us. These kinds of details really help me (and I assume many other AAM readers) regarding assessing professional norms and sussing out red flags.

  25. Geoffrey B*

    OP #4: In my main job, I had one direct report who was located two time zones away. We worked together for something like a year. We only met once, at the end of that year just before he moved to a different team. I think meeting up early on is a very good idea, but we made it work without that; IME it has a lot to do with the individual and their work style.

    And in my secondary job, I’ve worked for the same company for nine years, and I’ve never met any of them, but it’s freelance editing so that’s a bit different to a standard office job. We have a great working relationship, entirely via email/phone/courier.

    1. OP #4*

      I’m also at a 6 hour difference from the rest of my team but it’s good to see that there are others that are or have been in the same/similar positions

  26. Falling Diphthong*

    How is she “exploiting other people’s trauma”? By not jamming her fingers in her ears and yelling “na na na na I can’t hear you” every time her boss, or the person at the next desk, touched on something personal? Most people find that an unworkable approach to their coworkers, much less their direct supervisor.

    Or as Lineby put it, Fergus is this you?

  27. WellRed*

    Well, the OP found the test and showed it to her boss. Why? She certainly cast herself in a walk on role in the soap opera at that point. She should have left it where it was, backed slowly away and closed the door. I mean, what did she hope to accomplish at that point?

    1. eplawyer*

      It’s kinda her job as his assistant to do things like that. Uh Boss, you need to see this — it’s important. And make sure he sees it before anyone other than her does. That’s what a good assistant does. She actually did a good job there. Too bad the actual information was so bad.

      1. Lehigh*


        And how many times have we heard that if you see something confidential you should come clean about it? It was not her fault that Jane and Fergus have absolutely no boundaries or discretion.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        This. I think people should not assume that:
        • The only other person in the entire office who could find the little baby announcement display was her boss.
        • Once he became aware of it, via whomever, he wouldn’t realize that his assistant must have seen it when she went to look on his desk for the files. But then failed to tell him.

        If we’re placing blame for things done this week, I’d heap most of it on Jane for deciding that special surprise announcements of extramarital babies should be done at work. It’s a weird idea if you work with your actual spouse and they’ll be pleased, much less when the message is “Honey, I’m blowing up both of our marriages. And our jobs. Now we can be together!”

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          I think Fergus deserves a share of the blame, too: Cheating on his wife with a married woman and going against company rules by, ahem, “fraternizing” with an employee lower in the chain of command.

          Neither Fergus nor Jane showed sterling judgment here. I feel sorry for everyone’s kids.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            In the entire situation, Fergus get most of the blame because of the power differential.

            This week, Jane needed to think through “How do I tell my married boss I’m having his baby? …. At work! With a cute surprise display he’ll eventually stumble over, possibly after a few other people have found it!” until she came up with a second idea.

      3. Mike C.*

        Uh, yeah, seriously. That’s the sort of thing assistants bring to the attention of the people they’re assisting.

    2. Murphy*

      Because she got sent into her boss’s office to look for something by him. Kind of hard to pretend she didn’t see it if he knew she was in there. I’m assuming it was just sitting on the desk.

      1. WellRed*

        But then she could assume he would see it himself, not feel a need to bring it to his attention. I mean, we all have the potential to see lots of stuff that are never meant for our eyes. The boss filed for bankruptcy? Coworker being sued for child support? The manager just tested positive for herpes? You don’t…bring it to their attention. Especially when it’s something someone else peed on.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          I’d tell my boss ASAP if it were me, because what if the next time he’s in his office he’s bringing in a colleague etc?

          And it’s no-win for the admin here – if someone else saw it, and she didn’t warn him, she’d be in trouble; if she tells him, she’s injecting herself into the situation.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          All of those examples are things you should alert your boss to, if they are supposed to be confidential but are instead someone set them out where anyone who pops in to leave something on his desk will see it.

          Same goes for Eyes Only documents sitting around the shared printer tray for hours.

      2. fposte*

        I don’t disagree with the people who say it might have been better for the OP if she’d pretended not to see it, but it would have taken hours, maybe days for me to have had that realization and had it overpower my immediate “holy crap, I gotta tell Fergus.”

        1. Murphy*

          I would agree if she’d stumbled upon it while he was out of the office and he wouldn’t know, but since she found it when he sent her in there, I don’t think she really has plausible deniability.

          And I agree with One of the Sarahs above. It’s really a no-win either way.

  28. Temperance*

    Yeah, that’s absolutely NOT what is happening here. OP’s boss and her colleague are engaging in a very dramatic, very public affair, and she can’t help but be sucked into it. She’s not exploiting anything. If anything, one could argue that the boss was exploiting his report by having sex with her.

  29. For LW3*

    LW3: It would totally be worth visiting a therapist/psychologist/psychiatrist to ask about this. Remember, they’re not just there to help you with your own problems– you’re hiring them for their expertise, and it’s totally OK to seek one out for their perspective on how to understand or help someone else.

  30. Lehigh*

    “Exploit other people’s trauma”? What universe are you reading this letter from?

    The OP had been very vocally involved in the affair by both of the participants. She’s not barging in on anyone’s “trauma.” Good grief.

  31. Em Too*

    But wouldn’t ‘get the director secretarial help’ be a better solution than passing over the otherwise-best candidate?

    1. One of the Sarahs*

      I disagree. It’s 2017, we have a ton of mobile technology that enables people to work in different ways. I don’t think everyone should be doing everything, but if someone can’t use a basic level of word, email, and other systems that are necessary, it’s so inefficient to create a new post to support someone who bluntly, could learn.

      And what happens if, for example, the director can’t use the online financial systems? There can’t be one office-wide system for anyone else, and another for someone who is bad at tech.

      Of course, if there are reasons like dyslexia or visual/hearing disabilities etc etc, there should be all the accommodations made – but that’s a specific situation.

    2. hbc*

      Usually, no. That is a really big “otherwise,” and it would take a lot to overcome it, especially if it’s a position where a dedicated secretary isn’t common (or they have better stuff to do than taking dictation.)

      Think of it this way: You’re willing to pay $100K for this position at the start. Does this candidate bring an extra 25-35% value to the role, because that’s what you’ll be paying an assistant to make them actually functional. I’ve maybe met one or two people in my career who were brilliant enough at their core work to be worth it.

    3. One of the Sarahs*

      I have more thoughts!

      How would you hire the dedicated admin support? Permanent contract means you’re left with a superfluous post if the Director moves on, but short-term contract has issues too. And how would you then handle the other Directors, who don’t need admin support, but would like it? How do you explain that new Director get extra resources allocated to them because they don’t have basic skills their peers are expected to have?

  32. Cube Diva*

    Re: #2. Everyone at my company has to take ridiculous IQ, math, reasoning, etc. tests during the interview phase. They’re not really even used to measure against a job description. Ex- I was hired to be (mid-level) PR/Content, and I was “measured against” Marketing Assistant. Everyone takes the same tests, including my boss, the VP of Marketing.

    It’s strange to me that some companies rely on IQ and pattern recognition testing, but job-related tasks like typing, etc. for a Director-level job is even worse. I’d be turned off, too.

    1. McWhadden*

      Woah. I would say that’s even worse than what the OP had to do (and I agree with her that that is ridiculous.)

      Maybe the reasoning tests make sense. And math would for jobs that require it. But IQ is a notoriously poor indicator of actual intelligence and quite biased. That’s an absurd route to take.

      1. Cube Diva*

        I 100% agree! They weren’t “ridiculously difficult” tests, just noticing pattern differences, etc. BUT utterly strange to have to complete elementary school adding tests as quickly as possible for a content job.

        The IQ test is what bothers me the most. As you say, it can be a terrible indicator for actual intelligence.

    2. Specialk9*

      The US State Dept (diplomats) have a wicked hard entrance test before you can even apply for jobs. The FBI too, though it’s even harder than State, and physical tests too.

    3. cornflower blue*

      I had to do all that, plus a psych profile as well. Supposedly several top-notch candidates over the years ended up being turned down after failing the psych test.

  33. Coalea*

    OP #4 – I am part of a team that includes employees based in both the US and the UK. I’ve been on the team for almost 5 years. Of my UK-based colleagues, one I have never met and one I met for the first time last month. I have had 3 different managers. The first was based in the US but worked remotely in a different location than me; we met for the first time while attending a conference. The second was based in the UK and I only met him in person after he had moved on to a different team. With my current manager, it’s back to the original scenario – we’re both in the US, but in different states, and we see each other a few times a year at conferences. It works okay for me, but it did take some getting used to, since I was accustomed to daily face-to-face interactions.

    1. OP #4*

      Right, this is the first time I’m not reporting to someone in the same office as me, and I feel like I’m not getting as much collaboration on projects as I’m used to. I put it down to formalities because we don’t have the comfort that’s established when you can talk to someone face to face, even if briefly.

  34. Emi.*

    You do not want to work for someone who sleeps with an employee and then fires her when it gets messy for him.

    You do not want to work for someone who sleeps with an employee and then fires her when it gets messy for him.

    You do not want to work for someone who sleeps with an employee and then fires her when it gets messy for him.

    Fergus sounds like a terrible boss. Please report him and find a new job.

    1. Specialk9*

      Yes. That was worth repeating!

      He wants to take away a paycheck from the women who is bearing his child and no longer has a husband to help out financially. He wants his child not to have FOOD, because it’s awkward for him.

      There are few things more evil than this.

      1. RVA Cat*

        Plus if they are in the US, Jane could lose her healthcare and go bankrupt just from having the baby.

        The problem with working for backstabbers is that eventually their knife will be in *your* back.

    2. Murphy*

      Is he trying to fire her though? (I think having an affair with an employee is bad by itself, it’s just not clear to me whether Fergus is actually trying to fire Jane.)

      1. Thlayli*

        It’s not stated clearly but it’s heavily implied, since OP lists her boss’s reasons for not firing the coworker.
        It’s possible the boss was not considering firing his gf but OP clearly thinks that not only did boss consider it but he decided against it only because it would get him in trouble with HR. if OPs understanding of this is correct then Emis comment is sound advice.

    3. Detective Amy Santiago*


      But please update us on how this plays out because I am a terrible person who enjoys these kind of stories.

    4. Elizabeth H.*

      I don’t know if it’s clear that he told OP#1 that he wanted to fire Jane, or even that he WANTS to fire Jane! It could have been OP#1 thinking aloud or imagining the worst case scenario or trying to imagine some outcome that would result in her not having to hear or think about this episode again.

  35. CBH*

    For OP1’s situation…. I might be looking at this wrong, but I think if the boss wanted to keep his affair secret, then OP finding out is on the boss. What I mean is the boss has a person, an assistant who directly reports to him, the position involves OP being in and out of his office, dealing with correspondence. It’s logical to think that at some point OP was going to come across something regarding his personal life. In addition the boss being higher up in the company, he has a responsibility to act ethical. I’m not getting into the reason “why” behind the affair or pregnancy, but to me it seems the boss and coworker knew they were playing with fire. I know a few people said OP put herself in the middle of this by showing the pregnancy test to the boss, but what if part of OP’s job is to look out (in an extreme example) for boss in a way to prevent blackmailing or preserve a public image. OP may not have had the whole story and stumbled upon something.

  36. Specialk9*

    #5 – I don’t really understand this question. So OP applied to jobs, found contracts with the hiring manager, got an intro and then is basically applying again (resume and all)? Why wouldn’t this turn off a hiring manager, for trying to back door the process?

    1. Frustrated Optimist*

      Alison advises against cold-calling/e-mailing a hiring manger out of the blue, but in this case, if your contact is willing to put in a good word for you, it’s not exactly a “cold-call” at that point. In other words, you’ve sort of been “introduced” at that point.

      And I think if you’re going to contact the hiring manager under these circumstances, it makes sense to send her/him your cover letter and resume, so they have it at their fingertips.

      Am I right, Alison?

  37. Half-Caf Latte*

    After yesterday’s letter about reaching out, I was so attuned to it here! It never registered before.

    And also “asks” as a noun, which was in yesterday’s comments.

  38. Manager-at-Large*

    for #2 – this seems out of line for a director position in my concept of director – that is, right below VP with managers as direct reports. Seems like once again, a company had a situation in the past (technology challenged person in some position at some time) that they are now trying to prevent with a poorly thought through remedy.

    for #4 – I have had managers I have never met in person and direct reports I have never met in person. It is the nature of distributed teams. I have directs right now that are not in the US that I have not met in person – and I have never met my boss in person (opposite coasts in US). This is not an unusual situation and you shouldn’t read anything into it in and of itself.

  39. Manager-at-Large*

    for #4 – Do you work from home or in a company space that has at least people from other teams, even if not your own? One of the concerns with remote management is that there should be a “manager-level” person local to you in the office, if there is an office. As managers are always the face of the company, this person would be the face-of-the-company for you all if there was a serious matter to be addressed on site or one that occurred elsewhere that needed to be discussed. This wouldn’t have to be a dotted-line relationship at all – it could be a completely different arm of the organization. At OldJob, we had a VP on-site within a different organization, but we knew if there was an emergency or an issue or something came down, that was the local person who could be counted on to start the process to address it. I also knew that if some emergency happened on our floor or in our building or even some announcement needed communication, I was the manager-in-charge, even for the people who were not in my own organization.

    1. OP #4*

      I work in an office but there is no manager level person here for me to go to and no “face of the company” either. If I find any kind of issue that I need to discuss I wait for my manager to come online and then email her. We don’t have a relationship where I can just give her a call even though we both have work phones. If she’s out of office I just find my way around to see who the next b st person to talk to us.
      This was one of the reasons for my concern because I feel like a one woman team working on some very high visibility projects and I don’t really have the comfort of support from the rest of my team. I put this down to not having a connection on a personal front because they’re all voices on the phone for me atm

      1. Cathy*

        OP 4, I have always been in remote reporting relationships with both my own boss and my direct reports (US/Europe/Asia). Even though technology is great, I do agree that initial in person meetings really help establish connections for an ongoing relationship online. But as Alison said, it’s a perfectly normal question and I would just ask your boss about travel plans or even request an introductory trip over. In my organization, even if regular in person meetings aren’t the norm, either the new hire or a manager would still travel to provide in person contact during the initial on boarding weeks.

  40. FormerLW*

    Several years ago, I attempted suicide (not at work). I only remember bits and pieces and impressions of the day, but I do recall calling in sick and speaking to the office receptionist. I’m sure I sounded seriously unhinged.

    My office did everything right during my three week absence and return to work. It was so helpful for my recovery to be treated like a normal, valued colleague. While I have no doubt that everyone knew my hospitalization was for mental health reasons, I was shielded from any gossip. No one asked prying or insensitive questions. My work wasn’t sidelined and it did not affect me professionally. I still work there and I’m doing well today. My breakdown had to do with trauma in my personal life. Work was absolutely a source of positive interaction, solace, and self worth at a time when I believed I was worthless and very, very alone.

    Please treat your colleague as if the incident never happened. It’s not “being fake” or “sweeping it under the rug”. My chief emotion after I was out of the immediate crisis was humiliation. I’ll forever be grateful that my work colleagues spared me that by focusing on work and regular levels of friendliness.

  41. Yuppers, it 's me.*

    #2 I don’t think it’s ridiculous at all, seeing as how I have worked in higher ed for more than 20 years and have seen my share of applicants that have been admitted to a graduate program, including an MBA – that can barely write in proper English. (Whether English is their first or second language. I don’t know how some of these folks ever earned a bachelor’s degree…) The essays – are insanely awful. Along the same lies, the budget here has been cut so drastically over the years that many of the faculty/high admins don’t have clerical staff so they would be required to do some of the communication themselves. And… what I have seen can be pretty alarming.

      1. Yuppers, it 's me.*

        I see your point, but my supervisor – who is pretty high up the chain – hunts and pecks. Over the course of a day, a week, a month, a year – that time-suck adds up. I guess it would chalked up to “efficiency”, which is an important part of most jobs.
        Another person relatively high up the ladder indicated during her interview that she was a wiz at Word. She came to me the first week, asking how to add a picture to her document… She was also one of our master’s degree graduates…

    1. Artemesia*

      I don’t think anyone is saying tests are inappropriate. They are saying that they should be related to the job. I would expect someone in marketing to have to demonstrate marketing related skills; a graphic designer might be asked to create a design with some material provided; a teacher should never be hired if you haven’t had them teach a class for you; software developers who make 6 figure incomes expect to have to develop code while people watch. A typing and spelling test is insulting for this position and will alienate anyone with the talent they are seeking.

  42. Etak*

    Re the tests. We just fired a senior director for a myriad of reasons but one was definitely that she had absolutely no knowledge of Microsoft Office. The interviewees for the position now have to submit a word & excel test. We had just assumed that anyone coming into a leadership role would have those skills so we hadn’t tested before, and it came back to bite us. Spelling and typing seems a little much, but I do get the impulse if the prior employee had major issues with it

    1. Narise*

      I have worked with someone who should have had knowledge of Office and specifically excel to work here. She was hired to run a team and could provide little to no help on anything related to the computer. Very frustrating. I make it a point now to ask in detail during interviews about their skills and while we don’t require testing for this level if I have any doubts I would not make a job offer.

  43. ss*

    A Marketing Director has a lot of external exposure so they are frequently a public face of the company to outside clients. It is imperative that this person can spell correctly, and has the ability to communicate through written channels efficiently. Although they are not an “admin” who might spend the day churning out large amounts of typed material, they have to have polished communication skills so I don’t find it inappropriate to give them basic typing and spelling tests to weed out people who cannot communicate clearly through written means. They are also responsible for others in their department so they need to have the ability to identify potential mistakes in work being done by the others that they manage.

    1. Artemesia*

      Heck I have written books and published many articles; can’t spell worth a curse. Thank goodness spellcheck exists.

      1. Yuppers, it 's me.*

        Sadly, spellcheck can’t help those that don’t know the difference between “their”, “there” and “they’re” . . . and mistake “effect” for “affect” . . . and all of those others that fall under this umbrella. “Track” rather than “tract” is one I’ve heard a tad too often.

        1. LNZ*

          The newest Microsoft Office actually can. You hover over the recommend spelling and it gives a definition. I’m dyslexic and almost cried tears of joy when i saw that.

    2. Epizirco*

      But the skills you are testing — spelling and typing — are only slightly related to the skill you want — excellent written communication.

      My son and daughter are both severely dyslexic, with horrible spelling, but both are excellent writers. They have learned to use spell check function in word processors. They have learned to use speech-to-text software, which is now remarkably powerful and can be faster than typing. They have learned to use text-to-speech software to read documents. (My son reads through text-to-speech at speeds which sound unintelligible to me. His comprehension is excellent.) They use text-to-speech as one of their proofreading tools — this is a great way to catch the form/from error.

      When you test, make sure to test for the skill that is actually needed. Spelling and typing — we have computers for that.

  44. Employment Lawyer*

    1. My coworker is pregnant with my boss’s baby
    Lawyer up ASAP.

    I say this because you may be exposed to significant collateral damage. If you know, you’re in trouble with the company for not reporting; if you tell you may be in trouble with the boss or coworker. It is dangerous to be a messenger.

    A lawyer in your state can help you make sure that you properly document and report so that you are at less/no risk of being fired as a result of your report. For example, you might be fired if you’re relaying gossip, but you might be protected if you follow internal rules and processes regarding mandatory reporting of harassment.

    My gut tells me that probably need to report this to HR–but you should lawyer up first.

    1. LBK*

      I’m kind of confused about what laws would be coming into play here – are you saying that the OP should report this as sexual harassment so that way she might be protected from being fired since it could be considered retaliation?

      1. Employment Lawyer*

        Yes, that is one example of what I am talking about. If she is clearly protected as a reporter, then she will want to make sure she qualifies *in a documented way* for that protection. That is not the only way, however, which is why I suggest a legal consult. A lawyer would consider the employee manual, contracts, and sexual harassment reporting guidelines of the firm, and of course they would also know state law, and so on.

  45. LW #5*

    Thank you Alison! Your wording is super helpful. But I have a question about using the word “love” in professional communication. Years ago someone (my dad, maybe?) advised me to avoid it and it’s tricky to come up with an alternative. “I’d be very enthusiastic to talk!” doesn’t quite work.

    It’s probable that I’m overthinking this and the anti-“love” rule is from an earlier era. For instance, my father still begins all of his texts (texts!) to me with “Dear [LW #5]” and ends them with “Love, Dad” so his communication style is not the most current. Is it okay to “love” freely now?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I see it in cover letters all the time. I think it’s likely it might not fly in conservative fields in law or finance (although you’d need someone in those industries to say for sure), but it’s quite normal otherwise.

      1. Little Twelvetoes*

        Since finance exists in all companies with varying cultures, it might depend more on the company culture. Also, it might make a difference in what you are saying that you love. “I love reviewing payroll journal entries!” (I don’t believe you.) “I love creating complex Excel formulas!” (Let’s meet!)

        I think “I’d love to talk about what I can bring to the role” or something similar works fine.

        1. LBK*

          And conversely, within the finance industry I think it depends what role you’re going for. I think that would be too effusive if you were applying for a sales role at my company, but on my business intelligence team we definitely appreciate nerdy enthusiasm.

          1. LBK*

            (In fact, I recommended hiring someone heavily based on the fact that she lit up when we started talking about data analysis in her interview.)

            1. Forrest*

              Ahh, I love that moment! I was doing a mock interview with a student a few months ago and started off asking about her degree, and she shrugged and said, “Um, Music, I’m a pianist. But I know I don’t want to do that professionally, so, um.” and looked blank. Not very promising! Then I asked her about her part-time job, and she lit up and started telling me about craft beer and how it’s made and how the market’s changing and although she’s only supposed to be bar staff she’s been getting involved with the business development side and it’s SO INTERESTING and and and and….! Couldn’t stop her after that.

    2. JulieBulie*

      Let’s talk
      I hope we can talk about this
      It would be great to talk
      Maybe we could talk
      I’d be so freakin’ stoked to speak with you about this
      I’d like to talk
      I’d like to reach out to you and backchannel the optics of our potential synergies

  46. VermiciousKnit*

    I’m sure I’m in the minority, but as an exec assistant, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve wished that staff and executives were required to be proficient with typing, spelling, using Outlook and Word, etc. Not only is it really frustrating to be responsible for continually correcting other’s mistakes, it both can impact the impression the exec has if they don’t run something through an assistant first and it’s full of errors, AND it can negatively impact the perception of the assistant when the boss doesn’t understand how software works.

    1. Little Twelvetoes*

      I might be a nice thing to have, but if a director has all the important leadership skills, I’d say typing and spelling are way, way down the list of priorities. Give me a boss who is awesome at being a boss, and I will happily check their spelling and type stuff out for them.

      For my old boss, we would give him copies of documents so that he could type in them and then we could extract out what was needed – otherwise, it would take forever to fix what he did to the formatting. But he was smart (regardless of his bad spelling), kind, and a great advocate. I’ll take that any day.

      1. Mary*

        >>Give me a boss who is awesome at being a boss, and I will happily check their spelling and type stuff out for them

        I always say to my students that it doesn’t matter if you’re not the greatest at spelling and grammar, as long as you *know* you’re not, and you *know* when it matters!

        My brother’s dyslexic and has asked me things like “how many Bs are there in “abuse”? He also earns a six-figure salary managing extremely technical and safety-critical bits of teams working on decommissioning major bits of industrial infrastructure. When he had a pay dispute with his employer, one of their biggest clients went to his employer and said, “oi, pay M whatever he’s asking, or we’ll hire him and pay him directly, because we don’t want to work with anyone else.” He is extremely good at what he does, and he doesn’t need to spell perfectly to do that. But he also has no qualms or hang-ups about his terrible spelling, and he is quite happy to send a quick internal email to a colleague with a your/you’re error, and make sure that anything that is going to a client is checked over by someone else.

        The big problem, IMO, is if you’re crap at spelling or grammar and don’t know it, or you’re sensitive about it and hate other people editing your work, so you send out what should be professional and perfect documentation or communications with errors in them!

  47. The Other Katie*

    OP#4: I’m part of a team that’s deliberately spaced around the globe for 100% availability. One co-worker is in Dallas, and another in Bangkok, and in seven years we’ve never all been in the same place at the same time. This is increasingly common.

  48. Theodoric of York*

    Haven’t read all the comments on LW1, but I don’t see a way out for the OP. Go to HR or not, once the affair and its after-effects become public, the OP will be blamed either way. Keep the secret and be considered an accessory; don’t keep the secret and be considered untrustworthy.

    The only way this doesn’t happen is if Jane quietly disappears. In this case, ethics aside, self preservation argues for keeping the secret.

    1. Lady Phoenix*

      Yeah, OP has long since been involved the moment the assigned her as the messager between their loadons.

      The best thing OP can do is to either quietly transfer out (like a previous LE did) or send thw report to HR and request protections and a transfer.

  49. MS*

    Re #4: I have worked in my department for approximately 10 years and indirectly with this department for 7 years prior. Until some new hires last year, we were all located in different cities across the country and almost all work remotely. It wasn’t until last year that we actually had a team meeting and met in person. Other departments that we support have several meetings together each year. We were always promised a meeting eventually but of course it wasn’t ever in the budget for our department. While I am extremely happy to work remotely, this made me and several others in our department feel unappreciated and disrespected. We didn’t want a meeting even yearly but a meeting every 2 to 3 years or so would have done much for morale. It’s disappointing seeing other managers stick up for their departments when my manager only seems to find excuses in my opinion.

  50. Terby*

    OP2 | LW2 | Two

    I think that is ridiculous and you should be very skeptical.

    That said – my organization (education) is currently hiring for our most senior position. That is a six figure position. We will be doing an on-the-spot Excel and writing exercise. Why? Because the last person who was hired for this job either hired someone or had a friend complete the interview exercises that were allowed to be done at home. That person interviewed and presented well, but could not write or use Excel. Those two skills are two of the biggest parts of the job – writing grants and using analyses of our data for said grant applications. Due to the nature of this organization and how difficult it can be to fire people in education in generally, they stuck around for way longer than they should have.

    1. Terby*

      I think that some skills tests for senior level people could be appropriate. Typing seems a little basic. If there was a senior level person who could write very well, but took a while to type, I don’t necessarily see a problem with that. They could have a secretary whose job it is to write out emails, and for other projects that don’t need to be typed out quickly, like grant applications, it would be okay if they weren’t the world’s fastest typist. Maybe Marketing is different, though. Maybe this position needs to be filled by someone who can send out emails/other things quickly and under pressure.

    2. Viva*

      This makes sense. But I think the candidates should be told in advance that’s you plan to have them do, and explain why. I can see losing great candidates because they’re assuming a major red flag.

  51. Nugget*

    A few months ago I had a very lengthy phone interview with the CEO of a real estate company who asked me to come into the office for some extensive “testing” that he gives to all of his employees. I too am a professional being paid six figures with an advanced degree, so this was a huge red flag for me and something in my gut told me to run the other direction, which I did. I withdrew my candidacy and didn’t bother wasting my time coming in to take the tests. I don’t understand employers who expect to attract quality candidates if they start things off by treating those candidates like children.

  52. Quiet One*

    I don’t see anything wrong with requiring those tests for any kind of administrative position. You know how often I’ve had to proofread the email of someone higher than me and practically ended up rewriting the whole thing? Too many times! Typos that could have been caught by spellcheck, grammatical errors so basic it’s not even funny, ellipses absolutely everywhere.

    Just because you know how to do those things you’re already ahead of the vast majority who would absolutely fail those very basic tests.

  53. azvlr*

    #4 – I have been in my role at a major corporation for 3 1/2 years, and have never met my boss in person. It’s totally normal, but not without it’s challenges. I come from a very different background than anyone else on my team, as well as being new to the industry (Our department trains to build teapots. The rest of the them were teapot experts before. I have a training background).
    The challenges including difficulty to build trust (I often ask questions that someone who knows the business would not be asking), and feel I must be extra transparent about my work since they don’t have an opportunity to observe my day-to-day work ethic. I also feel I miss out on the little interactions the rest of the team gets to do: Asking about family, swapping weekend stories, and running jokes.
    To mitigate this, I have gone out of my way to meet people when/where I can. I met with one person who worked in the city I was traveling through on my vacation, and showed another colleague around town when they visited. Not that they were unprofessional or bad before, but my interactions with these folks improved vastly after these in-person meetings. Highly recommend if you can somehow swing it.

    1. OP #4*

      That’s exactly it. I work much better with people once I’ve met them because a more personal connection is a made. I understand what you mean about extra transparency as well because they don’t know me at a personal level at all. This is a big organisation which can be very political and unless I have backing I’m an easy target to blame because if the above :/

  54. annali*

    I took a sensitive leave. I was a little hurt by my coworkers short welcome back. I wasn’t updated with anything. My boss was the only one who made me feel welcomed back. I had a bipolar episode which made me behave in uncanny ways. Some people caught the change in personality and new immediately what it was. During my episode people never asked me how I was feeling. It ultimately made things feel worse and lead to my suicide attempt. I don’t see anything wrong with asking how someone is doing after a sensitive leave of absence. Its showing you care about them. Just don’t pry.

  55. Quickbeam*

    For number #2….I am an RN and interviewed for a clinical specialist role many years ago at a residential facility. I have a very unique skill set ( interpreter, pediatric nurse, extensive special ed background) that they sought. It was an internal consultant and assessment position.

    They told me I’d have to show them how I’d make a bed. Like with sheets. That was a required task for hiring consideration. I made the bed ( perfectly) and told them good luck finding a clinical specialist, it won’t be me. They closed the facility 2 years later so dodged a bullet.

  56. RB*

    OP #2: Please continue on with the application process at this very bizarre organization — this might make for a pretty interesting update if more weirdness happens along the way. It really has me quite curious about their whole process and what other degradations are in store for you. It would also give you an opportunity to have a WTF conversation with them about the tests.

  57. The claims examiner*

    #4 – my company recently introduced the ability to show your badge photo as an avatar in Skype and Outlook. Our team in the branch felt like it made a difference in how it made the home office workers feel more familiar. We still feel disconnected when information isn’t shared, but putting a face to a name was nice.

  58. Anon*

    Discretion is important in any job. You may come into contact with info you don’t need and shouldn’t know, in which case you should studiously Not Know it. I have had this happen to me (nothing personal as OP 1 has) but generally I just don’t acknowledge knowing info I shouldn’t have. Sometimes it can be helpful to know stuff so you can be sensitive to what’s going on, but I certainly don’t get involved in stuff that is Not My Business. And absolutely do not confront people or share that info.

    Ironically, a side effect of this is that people will trust you and tell you more things you don’t want or need to know…

  59. Milton Waddams*

    #2: You would be amazed at how many huffy Important People fail typing tests, because they Became Important early enough that they could shuffle off basic computer literacy onto their secretaries.

    If you’ve ever worked for an out-of-touch boss who made your life help because of their inability to do simple and obvious things, you’d be thankful for a company that insists on basic skills tests for their older and higher-class employees.

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