how to handle a serious mistake on a self-evaluation, asking candidates what other jobs they’re considering, and more

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

1. How do I handle a serious mistake on my self-evaluation?

Near the beginning of the year, I made a mistake at work. It was the kind of thing anyone could do accidentally, but was very serious because of the context. We changed procedures to make it impossible for the same thing to happen, so it hasn’t been an issue again.

It’s time for self-evaluations, which involve rating ourselves on various categories and then writing a paragraph or two to justify the rating. To what extent do I incorporate my mistake into my ratings and justifications? I know I have to acknowledge it, but also want to make sure I’m not so hard on myself that it seems strange (I’m very self-critical over even minor mistakes that have no impact) or that I screw myself over (my supervisor copy-pastes a lot of what we write into our annual evaluations, so whatever I write is basically what my supervisor will submit for the evaluation that affects if I get a raise next year).

Can you focus on what you learned from it and what you’ve done differently since it happened? For example, you could frame it this way: “After billing a client for llama grooming instead of giraffe grooming in January, I’ve made a point of double-checking all invoices before they go out, and I’ve had a 100% accuracy rate in billing since then. I was able to work with the client to correct the error and apologize for the mistake, and I think the client’s trust in us has returned to its previous level.”

It’s also to your advantage that it was back at the beginning of the year. If it had just happened, it would be probably be looming more largely in your manager’s head. But you’ve had many months to show that you haven’t repeated it (or other serious mistakes, presumably) and that’s helpful.

If it were a very serious mistake, I wouldn’t give yourself the absolute highest rating in whatever category is most relevant to it — but if the rest of your work in that area was excellent, it shouldn’t cause you to give yourself a “needs improvement” type of rating either. Something like “good” rather than “outstanding” is probably what you’re looking for, assuming the rest of your work there truly was good.

2. Should I mail a non-returnable Christmas gift to my direct report who suddenly resigned?

One of my direct reports, Cersei, recently resigned. It was a bit unexpected as she hadn’t been with us very long and repeatedly said that she loved the job. When she resigned, we met for about an hour and she gave me a reasonable explanation: she had accepted a new role elsewhere. Cersei’s contract stipulated a one-month notice period, but she generously offered to stay six weeks in order to reach a natural handover point on her current project. I gratefully accepted the longer notice period and we made the relevant arrangements.

Then, about a week after resigning, she missed the company holiday party (she said for an urgent dentist appointment) and then called in sick for a few days. Today I was informed via HR that she will not be returning, not even to collect the personal items in her desk which she has said we can donate or throw away.

I was told her sudden departure is for medical reasons, but I am suspicious that’s the whole story. She’s always been very open with me about a variety of issues, including ongoing medical concerns, yet she didn’t come to me about this one and instead went straight to HR. She’s always been conscientious about doing her work well and is now leaving many loose ends. And I would have no problem mailing Cersei her belongings or personally bringing them to her, even if she had left under more contentious circumstances! My company gives us two weeks, paid, for the holidays so it seems strange that she would choose to leave without notice, forgoing those extra paid weeks. And then there’s the question of why she would choose to burn a bridge both with the company and with me personally (she is the mentee of one of my contacts and this person referred her for this role).

Today was our department’s small gift exchange (which she knew about) and I brought in a small gift I which I had purchased for her. The gift is personalised with her name in a very obvious way, so I can’t easily give it to someone else or use it. Should I reach out to Cersei to wish her the best and ask if I can mail her the gift and her personal items? My boss says I shouldn’t contact her, which further indicates to me there may be something more to the situation than I’ve been told. But I also feel like we’ve had a good relationship, so shouldn’t I at least say goodbye and good luck? Or should I leave it alone as one of those cliffhangers which may never be resolved?

Hmmm, I can see why it feels odd to you. It’s possible that her sudden departure really is for medical reasons and that she’s just being private about it, but yeah, it’s possible that something else happened too — anything from an upsetting encounter with someone at work that made her not want to return to something in her personal life that she didn’t want to share.

Since your boss told you not to contact her,I would drop the gift thing (even if that means the gift goes to waste), as well as the personal items thing, since she apparently said she doesn’t want them.

But it’s not unreasonable to say something to your boss like this: “I would normally reach out to Cersei to wish her good luck and offer to be a reference. When you said I shouldn’t contact her about mailing her belongings, does that means that I also shouldn’t send her that kind of routine good luck email?” And if your boss’s answer to that is yes, you could say, “I understand if you can’t give me details, but this seems so unusual that I’m left wondering if something else happened that you’re able to tell me about?” The answer to that might be no, at which point you’d need to accept that you’re not going to find out, but who knows, your boss might give you more context when she realizes that you’re concerned.

3. Asking a candidate what other jobs they’re considering

When we make a job offer to a candidate for an open position and the candidate lets us know that they’re simultaneously interviewing for other positions (usually in the context of asking for time to consider the offer), my manager likes to ask them what the other position is (she’d like to know the specifics, including the company it’s with). She’s not pushy about it, and if the candidate declines to answer, she says that’s fine (though I wonder if she privately actually thinks it’s fine). I find the question to be intrusive and puts the candidate in an awkward position. We definitely have other generational disagreements about interview protocol, but overall she’s a pretty good manager and mentor. What do you think of this practice?

Yeah, it’s awkward. Candidates are likely to assume she’s asking because she’s going to try to convince them that her offer is the better choice or just because she’s curious (which … not her business). It feels prying, which isn’t an ideal thing to do when you’re trying to convince someone that you’ll be an excellent person to work for.

I’m curious to know what her explanation is about why she does this, if you’ve asked her. I could imagine her saying that she’s trying to get a better understanding of the person’s professional interests and goals or something like that, but if that’s the case, it falls in the category of “interesting to know, but not important enough to make the person feel awkward over.”

4. Returning to work after taking six months off for health reasons

I had to quit a demanding job several months ago after my health hit a low (I have cystic fibrosis). After taking much needed time off to recover, I’m back in the job hunt. However, I’m not sure how to explain the six-month work gap on my resume during job interviews, without revealing I have a serious disease.

If I don’t mention I took time off for personal health reasons, I’m afraid I’ll look lazy and unmotivated. If I do tell them the real reason why I had to take time off, I’m afraid I will be judged and deemed “unhirable.”

I’m very talented and hard-working, and it’s not my fault I had to take time off to take care of myself. How would you go about handling the situation in a tactful way? And are hiring managers really that concerned about gaps in your resume?

Hiring managers wonder about gaps not because a gap is inherently a problem, but because they wonder if it’s a sign of something that could be a problem, like that you were fired for cause, or that you walked off the job in a huff over something minor, or that you were in jail for embezzling from your last job, or so forth. But plenty of gaps have perfectly sound, non-worrisome reasons behind them, and that’s fine.

Normally when you have a gap for health reasons, you can just say, “I was dealing with a health issue that has since been resolved.” You might feel like you can’t technically say it’s been resolved since you continue to have a serious disease, but you can certainly say a version of this — like “I was dealing with a health issue that’s now under control” if you feel more comfortable with that. They should not ask for details beyond that. Good luck!

5. How can I move past an awkward Slack conversation?

I am a PhD student, and part of a loosely-organized research group that conducts a lot of its business through Slack. I appear to have backed myself into an awkwardness corner with of my colleagues (let’s call him Hamish) on Slack.

In August 2016, Hamish expressed some sexist opinions of a colleague, and I called him on it. He got defensive, and in addition to speaking in person we used Slack DMs to hold a conversation that was tense but not, I think, unprofessional or disrespectful on either side. Ultimately I spoke to our supervisor and she spoke to him, and I think we have both moved on.

However, if I want to send him a new DM on Slack, I immediately see the extremely long letter which was his last comment on the topic, and to which I never replied in writing! Sending a quick message along the lines of “hey, where is X form” or “can you schedule me a meeting with Y” would look extremely weird as the next entry in the Slack chat, but it seems equally weird to revive such an ancient and contentious conversation.

I’ve been either finding other people to ask instead of him, or using email in desperation, but these workarounds are a bit weird and inefficient for the group. My involvement with this research group was minimal while I was focused on exams, but is likely to increase significantly now.

Am I doomed to never Slack Hamish again? Am I making a big deal out of nothing? Help!

Find a reason to contact him on Slack today so you can put this behind you.

I do totally get why it feels weird — suddenly this uncomfortable conversation is going to be right in both your faces again — but the sooner you send him something else there, the sooner it will be pushed off the screen. And this sounds like a situation where any awkwardness belongs squarely on him, so you’re being more thoughtful than you need to be by avoiding doing something that might require him to see a reminder of its existence.

Pretend it’s not there, send the messages you need to send, and pretty soon it’ll be out of the frame.

{ 191 comments… read them below }

  1. Ramona Flowers*

    #2 The cynic in me wonders if she’s just starting her new job sooner.

    It’s understandable to be curious, but I think you’ve been pretty clearly told to leave this alone so you are going to have to try to do that. I’m sorry the gift is going to waste.

    1. Bea*

      I had a feeling she was starting earlier as well and it shows another possible side to why she left. Granted I’m seeing it from the POV where I left my former job due to it being horrendous and still smiled at my colleagues staying I needed something closer to home and focused on my strongest skills. Only the big bosses knew my reason was because they were treating me terribly.

      But the OP makes it seem like the former employee does have health issues so that could indeed be the real reason.

      I agree you need to let it go, OP. Maybe if there is a backstory missing your boss will tell you more when the dust settles.

    2. WeevilWobble*

      That would be my guess usually. But not taking any of her personal belongings? She could easily have come in to work and taken stuff (not unusual for someone who has given notice) and then never show up again.

      Plus, the LW suggests she does have some health issues.

      1. Antilles*

        Agreed. Also, if it was something that simple, it could very easily have been cleared up with a simple statement like “OP, I know we were planning on a six-week notice period, but NewJob really wants me to get in the office next week so I can get the lay of the land before the holiday shutdown and really hit the ground running in the next year.”
        OP still might not have been happy about the situation if Cersei had emailed something like that, but it’s common and reasonable enough that most people wouldn’t hold a serious grudge about it long-term.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Meh, to me this sounds like the employee got flustered and shame-hid but yes, basically needed to start the new job earlier.

      2. Red 5*

        Yeah, every time I’ve left a job, if somebody was actually observant they’d see I was planning to because I actually took home my personal items the day or two before turning in my notice.

        Which admittedly she might have done, already taken home anything she actually cared about. My desk at work right now, there’s only one item that’s clearly visible that I’d feel a need to take, otherwise they’d have to realize I took home a couple things I leave in a drawer.

        That’s kind of intentional though, I don’t leave that much personal stuff at work because I don’t want a messy departure like I had from one of my first jobs.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Some parallels between 2 and 3–it’s normal to be curious, but that doesn’t mean it’s good to pry. There’s often a tinge (or bucket) of “Tell me the reason, and I’ll convince you that you’re wrong.”

    4. Cristina in England*

      My POV on this is very skewed by all the recent letters here where there was an upsetting incident and then the injured party disappeared. If the LW is a regular reader then she might be suspicious for this reason too!

      1. Samiratou*

        If I were the OP, I would ask my boss if they had any feedback for me or things I could improve on as a manager. If it was an issue with someone else at the office, I would at least like to make sure that person wasn’t me. It doesn’t sound like the OP is the type to drive someone off like that, but if it were me I’d want to make sure it wasn’t something I had said or done, or if it was, give me the chance to correct it in the future!

    5. LW2*

      LW2 here. I hadn’t considered this option because earlier she emphasized so much how she had negotiated this later start date with the other company. I will be watching her LinkedIn page to see if there are any clues down the line…

      1. Sunflower Gal*

        You know what? I think I can understand why she wanted to leave in the first place, and I think it has to do with you.

        You say she hadn’t been there long. You say she was open with you about all her health issues in the past. You say her leaving was sudden. All this to me says she hasn’t ever been happy with her job, she’s been looking for a while, maybe since she started, and she resented having to be so open about her personal medical business with you. Why do I say this? Because now that her job isn’t on the line, and she has an out, she doesn’t want to share these details with you anymore.

        All you have from her at this point is that she’s going through a medical emergency. You don’t know that she started her other job earlier, or that she’s lying for some other reason. All you know is what she told you. And yet you describe this as “burning a bridge.” Whoa, slow down! Do you really want to be the type of person who faults an employee for their medical emergencies? Maybe you are more dramatic than you think you are? Maybe you pry into your employees lives more than you should? You say she “repeatedly” told you she loved her job. Was she repeatedly coming up to you, unsolicited, to tell you this? Or was this something you were repeatedly asking her, either directly or indirectly?

        I agree with other commenters that if the medical story is a cover, then the real reason is probably something that happened that was so egregious that she felt she had to leave immediately. I could be wrong about all of this, of course, but then again, so could you.

        1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

          Wow, this sounds unnecessarily harsh. Alison asks that we take letter writers at their word. You are jumping to a lot of assumptions here.

        2. with a twist*

          I’m not sure what you hoped to accomplish with this comment, but between the rude tone and the massive leaps of logic, it seems really out of line.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I suppose that’s possible, but it’s all speculation and it’s pretty unkind to the letter writer to present it “this is what happened” when it’s one of many, many options.

        4. Bea*

          Maybe. But I’m inclined to believe it could be anyone at the company.

          I loved my job and loved everyone except the one person who flipped on me. Nobody saw it coming. They could have someone in there that’s rotten and I’m willing to think it’s not the LW. We have stories about one coworker being the worst and nobody else seeming to know or care so frequently.

        5. AKchic*

          I honestly have similar thoughts to yours. My first thought was “how much did the employee *really* like her job and how much was lip service?” followed by: who buys personalized gifts for a subordinate when they admit the person hasn’t been there “very long”?
          Something smells rotten here. I think the LW is being told all s/he is going to be told and s/he needs to drop it. No stalking the LinkedIn or other social media pages. No more asking around (because you’re not as stealthy as you think you are, trust me). No more “she burned her bridges here” “woe is her” “fie on her” concern trolling comments. You have real work to do, and it doesn’t actually involve the non-mystery of why she chose to leave.

          1. LW2*

            LW2 here. I’m not sure where in the thread to drop this comment in the thread, but I’m confident enough in our relationship to believe that Cersei didn’t secretly hate me. I get all the people I supervise gifts at Christmas, something specific for them. I don’t think that’s indicative of anything nefarious.

            Cersei could 100% have been lying about how much she loved the job, but if so she was a very convincing actress over quite a period of time. The comments were mostly unsolicited, other than, for example, the feedback that is requested on appraisal forms and the like.

            I haven’t been asking around about what happened behind her back or anything, I’ve just been carrying with my own work and the surprise of losing Cersei so suddenly.

          2. SarahTheEntwife*

            “Personalized” doesn’t have to mean expensive and fancy — it could be something like “got everyone mugs with their name on it” that doesn’t take a lot of over-familiarity but would still be weird to have hanging around the office or give to someone else.

      2. PB*

        Honestly, I think it would be kind to Cersei to let it drop. Maybe she left early to start her new job, or maybe it is health related, or maybe there’s something serious going on in her personal life, as others have suggested down thread. For whatever reason, leaving now felt necessary to her, and it sounds like your bosses and HR support her in this decision. I would advise respecting that, and not keeping an eye on LinkedIn for clues about what she’s up to.

        1. Justme*

          I agree with this. She made her decision, the mature and kind thing to do is to respect it even if you don’t understand or agree with it.

      3. Bea*

        I’ll be honest with you, I went from “I love it here” to “I need out now” within a week. Literally a week. I also had to pretend I needed a notice period because I worried about my new employer being concerned if I was ready to jump ship.

        I wonder if she gave you a lot of lip service to get into a safety zone before just bailing if something is up and she’s not comfortable in the company for any set of reasons.

        I know why this mystery makes you want to know more but she was good up until this moment. I would assume she has reasons and can’t tell you. Your boss knows something, that’s enough for me to cringe and hope she’s much happier now.

      4. zapateria la bailarina*

        I think you need to let it go, not resort to social media stalking. At the end of the day, the reasons for her leaving the position are her own, and you don’t need to know them. You’ve been told to let it go by your higher ups. You need to do that.

      5. Observer*

        While I don’t especially agree with SunflowerGal, I do think you’re going down a rabbit hole here. Leaving early to the new job is not the most likely scenario – it just doesn’t fit everything you’ve described.

        And, at this point why would you be looking to “prove” that she did this? I was surprised that you described the situation as burning a bridge. I imagine you don’t mean it this way, but it looks like you are looking for a reason to justify that negativity.

        1. Specialk9*

          It would be burning a bridge if OP hasn’t been told by HR that it was due to medical reasons. It is very odd that OP was told that and wants to keep pushing, and considers it a burnt bridge “both with the company and with me personally”. That is a problematic framing of someone who had medical issues.

          OP, on the off chance you are considering a negative reference in the future, don’t – you would be doing the unprofessional and unkind thing, and opening yourself up to a lawsuit. (Not sure you are at all, but I don’t know why else you would mention burning a bridge at company and with you.)

          1. AMPG*

            I understand this, though. Cersei made a lot of extra work for the OP by leaving this way, especially after a notice period had already been agreed upon. If it were really just due to medical reasons, I feel like a conscientious colleague would still reach out in person to apologize for the inconvenience. Hell, I got walked out of a job and still agreed to send them a short email with details of where I was in my various projects (I mainly did it to make life easier for my direct report, who I knew would be tasked with cleanup). I can understand why the OP feels like the relationship has been damaged.

            1. AMPG*

              However, I should add that I don’t think she should try to track Cersei down or do any Internet stalking to figure out what happened. Leaving it alone is the only reasonable thing to do at this point.

          2. LW2*

            Perhaps “burning a bridge” was a poor choice of language, but I have no plans of seeking her out to give a negative reference. In any case, HR only confirms dates of employment so that’s a non-issue.

            It does dump a lot of work on me and the team to have someone leave in this way, but we figure it out and make it work.

            I consider my company to be exceptionally tolerant of health issues of all sorts, including some of my own. During her time here, Cersei had asked for some accommodations and these had been agreed to. It’s entirely possible that something big and/or unexpected happen which has prevented her return and which she didn’t want to disclose. It just all seems so strange and, here’s the big issue for me, out of character for Cersei. But I am hearing the advice loud and clear – drop it and don’t try to reach out!

            1. Astor*

              As someone who has been open about (some of) my health issues in the past, and who has asked for accommodations that have been readily agreed to, sometimes medical things just get complicated and weird. It’s not necessarily that I don’t want to disclose something big, it’s that what I have to disclose sounds stupid. I’m already spending a significant amount of my day frustrating and dealing with multiple levels of medical professionals and their front-office staff. Often, even though the health thing is relatively minor, my body’s reacting to it weirdly and so every little task requires more brain power than it should. So I can see myself just dropping everything to do with a job I’m already in the process of leaving, so that I can instead focus on recovery and moving forward.

              Seriously, I know that my boss thinks that I’m lying about one of my health situations because she clearly doesn’t think that it adds up. But… well, I’m telling the truth, it’s just that a bunch of things went wrong in various ways and there’s no good way to communicate that without getting into a lot of detail about how two medical professionals and two front-office staff at four different offices made minor mistakes that compounded into…

              I thought it might be useful for you to know that it could just be that it *is* something strange, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not medical.

            2. Sassypants*

              I worked for a boss who had a way of weasling info from his direct reports about doctor appointments, health issues. It was extremely annoying and violating. We had a colleague go into rehab. They called in sick one day and never returned. The boss dug and dug until someone gave up the reason the colleague was out. PLEASE GIVE THIS PERSON THEIR PRIVACY. FOR WHATEVER REASON, SHE LEFT AND SHE DOES NOT WANT TO DISCUSS HER REASONS WHY WITH YOU. What is so hard to understand?

              Our manager was let go for doing sh*t like this. We don’t miss him.

  2. Ramona Flowers*

    #3 If someone asked me this, I’d probably assume they were questioning whether I reall had other offers or was just calling their bluff – and feel conflicted/pressurised into answering as a result. And I wouldn’t be happy about that!

    1. bridget*

      #3 – In my field (law), this seems to come up fairly often, so I’m not offended. People always ask in “do you mind sharing” terms, but I’ve never felt comfortable declining. Sometimes it’s weird because I don’t have competing offers and I worried it would hurt my chances, and sometimes it was weird when I was obviously looking into very different types of firms.

      Now, on the other side of the table, it’s clear to me that my colleagues ask in order to discuss why our firm has advantages over our competitors in more specific terms. Notwithstanding their good intentions, I think I’ll mention it next time someone asks in an interview I’m in. Candidates do not feel ok not revealing, and it’s just as effective to discuss why our firm is distinctive or great to work at in general, or ask what types of firms/locations the candidate is considering (rather than outright asking for a list of offers).

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’ve noticed this, also (in law), and I find that helping organizations come up with robust exit interview protocols can make this less prying/pressure for departing employees. It also allows for better feedback that’s responsive to the specific questions the soon-to-be-old employer may have.

        Just a thought on avenues for feedback, if OP wants to consider rechanneling her boss’s questioning (assuming the boss’s reasoning is similar to what bridget describes).

        1. Kathleen*

          I frequently ask for general information – I do it to gauge what sorts of jobs the applicant is interested in – but I never ask for specifics. General seems fine to me, either as an interviewer or an applicant, but specifics would be needlessly intrusive.

        2. Specialk9*

          I find it intrusive and controlling. I don’t answer. I say something like “Of course I’m considering multiple options, but I’ve had a good impression of [your company] through my research, and have been liking what I’m hearing in our conversation so far.” Then use that as a segue into either something you like about them, or a question for them.

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        I agree with this. When I was coming out of grad school I was interviewing with a consulting firm, and at a public sector agency that is one of the firm’s clients. One of my references knew the hiring manager at the consulting firm pretty well and let slip that I already had an offer from the agency. The hiring manager used the knowledge to have a more targeted conversation with me about the difference in working in the public sector versus the private sector, and the fact that she knew my other offer definitely came up in the salary conversation.

        I didn’t end up taking that job (still at the agency, actually), but I can see how she thought it was useful and put her in a more informed position to negotiate with me to know where else I was considering.

        1. Specialk9*

          That would be very close to a deal breaker for me. It violates privacy and smacks of the way powerful people do sneaky backdoor channel negotiations that harm the little guy. Ick.

      3. nonymous*

        I know when companies are trying to sell themselves, it’s often using the statement “we’re better than competition because X”. Now, I’ve definitely been in the situation where I’m internally responding “No you aren’t”, but ultimately it’s not the company’s role to create and evaluate my pro/con list. Although that line definitely gets blurred when, as a job hunter I may not be aware of all the perks a company chooses to offer (so I don’t know to ask about them).

    2. Cassie*

      I would worry it was a mind game, because I work with IP. I’d think they were testing my discretion.

      If they were pushy and asked for specific companies, I’d start to wonder about sabotage/reverse engineering.

    3. Koko*

      I would also hesitate to answer because I’d worry that maybe the interviewer knows the other hiring manager (OHM) and could do anything from telling OHM she really likes me and can he please let her have me, to badmouthing me to OHM to make him lose interest in me. That kind of stuff is not unheard of. I wouldn’t want to give her a chance to torpedo another forthcoming offer.

    4. edj3*

      Maybe I’m the exception to the rule, but I’ve been asked this or a variation on this question every time I’ve interviewed. I don’t see it as invasive or a big deal. When I’ve been recruited, it’s been easy enough to say (truthfully) that I’m not actively looking. After all, they contacted me about their opening.

      Once or twice, I’ve had a couple of possibilities moving ahead at about the same pace. I gave the heads up to one company that while I was very interested in their position, I also had another company interested in me. In that particular case, the first company moved a little faster with their process.

      I guess I don’t see why it’s a big deal?

    5. Super Nintendo Chalmers*

      And if my answer were, “This is my only offer,” I would feel they would use this information to low ball me. Really there’s no good answer to this question.

    6. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I would wonder whether they were gathering intel to try to get the upper hand for possible salary negotiations if I were hired.

    7. Tuxedo Cat*

      I would be concerned that the question asker at organization A would use that info to inform other organization B. Not necessarily for malicious reasons but I could see it happening.

    8. OP#3*

      OP from #3 here. We are in the legal industry, so it’s interesting to know it’s more common. She would never use the info to do something nefarious, like sabotage another offer (even gently) or try to lowball a candidate. That being said, the perception or fear that the info might be used that way I think is a compelling reason to not ask the question. In case people are wondering, the reason she asks is usually to gauge the person’s genuine interest in the position and likelihood of taking it. We are a small non-profit and are often a landing place for people who are transitioning in their careers. So if candidates are waiting to hear from a big law firm, it would suggest something about their priorities to us. Or if the other position is totally unrelated to what we do, we wonder if they’ll just tread water with us until they get a job doing what they really want to do. Or if they’re interviewing with a big brand name non-profit, then we think they’re more likely to accept that other offer, but we don’t pull our offer or try to hardball them into giving us an answer sooner or anything. So we don’t do anything with the information – just a data point about them.

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    #5, in general, it’s better not to have serious discussions over Slack (or other written media). But you surely know that, now, and it sounds like Hamish was the one acting like a Fergus.

    I’m with Alison—send him a note today so that you can get past this. Although it’s awkward, the awkward is entirely on him. Also, doesn’t Slack allow you to delete chat threads? (Or does that feature only affect what you see, not what Hamish sees? Regardless, it might help you get over the fear of re-Slacking.)

    1. Etak*

      Even if it only removes what op sees, deleting it might be helpful! They say they don’t want to reignite the conversation, so they can remove the long message so they don’t have to see it every time they need to find a form or check a schedule

    2. OP #5*

      Thank you for your advice! (And to Alison for answering me!) I had decided to talk in writing intentionally, to make it easier to bring the discussion to our supervisor if needed. I was worried about a he said / he said situation. Though in the end, when I did involve our supervisor, she was immediately supportive, and I didn’t need my “proof.”

      I’m not sure whether using writing was the wrong call. But I definitely think I should have gotten over my email indecision and picked either his school/work email address (despite being unsure whether his student status was about to change) or his personal email address (despite feeling awkward that his personal email is also his mom’s and she would thus see our conversation). Email is built for individual conversations reaching their ends and getting shoved in the archive!

      A similar “but documentation….!” impulse is making me shy of deleting the old messages, but a couple people here have suggested it. I’ll save the exchange now Just In Case, and then delete it in Slack, so that when I have a questions about contracts it will be much less intimidating. I had no idea about this feature, but it’s a great solution!

      1. Yorick*

        You could take a screenshot, that way you don’t have to see it all the time but it you have it somewhere if you need it.

      2. Midge*

        He shares a personal email account with him mom? Uhhh, what? I know it comes up occasionally here that spouses sometimes share a personal email address. (My parents do, and it drives me crazy.) But I’ve truly never seen adults sharing email addresses with their parents. This guy is a fellow PhD student, right, and not actually a 12 year old?

        I get that it could seem awkward to email someone about this situation when that person shares an email address with his mom. But really, any weirdness that would cause is just a consequence of the weirdness of him sharing an email address with his mother!

        1. OP #5*

          I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks it’s weird! This may be really off topic, haha, but yeah, his personal email address is literally hismom’, and he lists it as a contact, uses it to email us things, etc, with no indication that it’s him and not his mom until you get to the signature at the end. I can imagine it being an overprotective parent thing at first; I think my parents had my email password when I was in elementary school, to keep an eye on the friends I made in Sailor Moon forums. But when I applied to univerities I got myfullname@gmail to supplement queenhobbity@hotmail, and didn’t give my parents access to the new one… There are a lot of natural life points at which to get one’s big-boy email.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This totally makes sense! And I understand the desire to document, especially when someone is being sexist. You can definitely save the “receipts” (i.e., download the messages, keep screenshots) saved away while deleting what now appears on your screen. That way, you’ll have the documentation you want without the triggering/cringing each time you Slack with him.

        I don’t think having the conversation in writing is inherently bad. There are lots of situations where it makes sense—for example, as you noted, when keeping a record matters. It’s really tricky and office/field-dependent, but I tend to think having the initial conversation in person can be helpful for nipping things in the bud. You know your situation best, though, and it sounds like writing was what needed to happen!

        1. OP #5*

          I honestly considered writing Ask A Manager about it the first time! It’s so contextual. In this case I thing we had definitely reached the time for writing, though. We had two verbal debates in a group setting, both of which had to be cut short to accomplish a work agenda. I’d wanted to follow up one on one because the groups both basically dogpiled on him (deservedly, but I could understand why in the moment he would be unusually defensive) but he brushed off my attempts to talk casually before/after meetings. We’re based on different campuses so we weren’t going to run into each other more casually. Honestly, I wish I’d gone to our supervisor earlier, in retrospect, but since we’re the only two men in the lab I thought I was well-placed for some peer intervention. I could also have minimized the current awkwardness by not leaving his last message “hanging” at the time, but it seemed clear that he wanted to get the “last word”… Thankfully it is all in the past now, and knowing that “awkwardly ignoring the old messages” is by consensus the less-weird option, I feel better about just shoving a holiday card in there and asking for the paperwork to renew my contract to push this conversation off the screen.

          1. Handy Dandy*

            This is an old thread that I’m responding to you but maybe this will be helpful to somebody else. You can’t delete slack messages that were sent by somebody else you can only delete your own messages.

            BUT! A handy trick in case you need to use it for any other reason is to send an article or a link that is relevant for whatever reason to that person. In slack it will attach the link but then also s several inch tall preview to the website. It’s fat enough to change the whole context of whatever the previous message was.

      4. Brett*

        Is this a paid slack workspace? If so, the message may not actually permanently delete. You can check with your workspace owners, and they can retain the message for a period of time even if deleted.

    3. Flower*

      I think it’s interesting you say not to have serious conversations over with media. Aside from the documentation concern, I personally find it much easier to have those conversations in writing – easier to formulate what I want to say, easier to not be defensive, easier to mull over what the person is telling me, easier to ensure there’s no interruption happening… It’s just easier to have a fully fleshed out “this matters and we need to address it” conversation that it is in person, where it’s harder to say exactly what you mean and easier to blow up rather than step back and breathe for a second (also, I’m one of those people who cries when I get frustrated, especially when it’s a frustration based on my inability to communicate something – so maybe that colors my feelings).

      1. Peggy*

        Agree completely and almost commented something very similar! Right down to the frustration with showing emotion when trying to professionally resolve conflict in person. I’m all for resolving in writing, and a chat app is no different from email or text or handwritten note in my opinion. I think it’s very professional to have a thoughtful and carefully worded conversation in a way that can be documented with a log or screenshot that shows both sides of the conversation.

      2. Cassie*

        This can be very office-culture-dependent. In places I’ve worked that focused on IP and/or discoverability, spoken conversations were heavily stressed as the appropriate procedure.

    4. rachola*

      I dont really like rules, but I always follow this rule: never ever badmouth or make fun of anything or anyone in written form–Slack, email, Social media, whatever.

  4. Etak*

    Op #5, I totally get it. In my personal life, I always hate the weirdness of trying to return to normalcy in written communication after any sort of super serious discussion or arguement. As you’re writing, the last message is right there staring at you! Luckily because this is work, I feel like you have plenty of opportunities to bury this a bit (not the issue obvi, just having to read the message every time you communicate) in all the smaller mundane ways you might have to reach out to him.

    1. Audiophile*

      I use Google Hangouts to talk with a few people. If there’s been uncomfortable conversations, I always find myself switching platforms, even if it’s only briefly.

    2. Kelly L.*

      Anybody else remember the letter a few years ago where a manager wouldn’t let his direct report text or IM him (I forget which), even though he let other people do it? The direct report was the OP, and IIRC, the commentariat sussed out that he had said something inappropriate last time (there was some kind of story behind this) and didn’t want it to pop up for her again.

  5. peggy*

    #5, it doesn’t erase the fact that the conversation happened, and it doesn’t make it disappear on the other person’s view, but you can delete individual posts in a slack DM the same way you can delete comments (your own or other people’s) on your own Facebook posts. If the “out of sight out of mind” method helps you, hover over the posts, click the 3 little dots that indicate more actions, and click delete.

    Or go to the direct message section, hover over your DM with this person, and just delete the thread. When you go to start a new conversation, on your side it won’t look like you’re reviving an old conversation, it’ll appear that you’re starting a new one. (For all you know, he’s already done the same!)

    Or you could find some sort of reason to include someone else in a group DM with him, and start a new chat with 2 people, avoiding the old chat with just you and him altogether.

    1. Mookie*

      I don’t know from Slack, so this is very helpful, peggy, thank you. Glad to hear there may be a solution for the LW beyond “write him as soon as,” just because I’d feel doubly awkward about it (knowing that the last conversation in the medium was tense and carried over into meatspace and that my secret motivation for returning to the medium right now is to put some distance between that former conversation and the next necessary one. LW’s mileage may vary considerably there, though).

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      I cannot delete DM threads on Slack. I wonder if it’s because it’s a work account? I can delete individual messages that I sent, but I don’t see any way to delete whole DM threads or someone else’s posts.

  6. Elizabeth West*

    #3—That would tick me off. It’s none of their business who else I’m interviewing with, and I would have serious doubts whether I wanted to work with someone who would pry like this. I would wonder if they had other boundary issues and how that would affect me on the job. It’s a bad question, and she shouldn’t be asking it.

    1. Gordon*

      I’d be inclined to answer with a question of my own: “So, can you tell me about some of the other candidates you’re considering for this role?”

      1. Mookie*

        I mean, that may be snark talking but it’s not such an unusual question, except for the framing. There are serviceable scripts* for trying to gauge, without being a pest, where you fit in compared to other promising applicants, and where a hiring manager might note deficiencies in your skill set / experience / education / certification. That doesn’t mean you ought pry for specifics or revealing details about other candidates, but there’s also no reason to appear to believe you’re the only person being considered. (Likewise, employers shouldn’t presume an applicant is counting on an offer from them because they have no interest in working for anyone else or in earning a living. In general, they should assume this is so and, unless the applicant is demonstrating poor judgment in considering an offer from another organization with a bad or shoddy record, it shouldn’t make a difference for hiring managers contemplating making an offer.)

        *don’t ask me what they are because I am forever a nervous ball of energy preparing for an interview and, sadly, rarely interview with a specific strategy in mind (beyond don’t make an ass of yourself)

    2. Mookie*

      It was useful for me to read from commenters above who say such conversations during interviews are commonplace in their fields, because I, too, would feel slightly uncomfortable with any answer (and the question, in general). If I were to pause and appear taken aback or hesitant, I’d fear appearing unprofessional, like I can’t handle an adult conversation or nimbly decline to answer a question I’m uninterested in answering definitively; if I were to be hearty, gladhanded, and eagerly transparent about it, I almost feel I’d be committing an obvious faux pas, because in my industry and role (working for a private company on a public contract, and presumably I’d be interviewing to do the same) it’s definitely not the norm. The other hiring employers wouldn’t like it, and there’d probably be some informal conflicts-of-interest within most interview panels because of how figuratively incestuous the local labor pool is. That being said, it has happened to me and I attribute a few lost opportunities to answering / failing to answer. Sometimes there’s no Right Answer because it involves weighing issues of decorum and expectation against issues of transparency and ethics against common sense behavior during screening, where many people instinctively want to please the hiring manager even in instances where doing so can be self-defeating. Framing the dilemma for applicants in that way, if it applies to your specific field, LW3, might help your case if you do decide to give your manager feedback on this technique.

    3. JHunz*

      The one time I received and answered this question, it served as a useful negotiating tool for the offer with the company that asked. I ended up with an offer from them that was about $5k more than their initial, although I ended up going with the company I was more excited about regardless.

    4. Brett*

      Maybe it’s an IT thing (or an IT thing in my region), but it is considered pretty normal for candidates to talk to companies about other companies they are interviewing with if they are late in the process with those other companies (e.g. 3rd round+ or offer stage).

  7. Amyyyy*

    #4 I had the same thing happen, and I said pretty much exactly what Alison suggested. Recruiters told me not to say that though; they told me that the hiring manager won’t believe it’s resolved, and if it’s between me and someone who didn’t leave for a “health reason,” there’s less risk with the other candidate. It’s not because they’d think I was lazy but because “What if the health problem comes back and I quit suddenly.” They told me to find another reason why I left. :-/

    I’m not posting this as an advice-giver, but as someone who’s literally in the same boat and not sure what to do…

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      So they want you to make up a lie to explain why you left a job with nothing else lined up, when you have a perfectly reasonable explanation? And they’re telling you that hiring managers are going to break the law to discriminate against you? That’s infuriating advice. I have no doubt it’s true for a handful of bad hiring managers, but “I was taking care of a health issue” is a very normal thing to say, and managers who will be reasonable about health issues (who are the ones you want to work for) are not going to operate that way.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, it’s illegal to decide not to hire someone because of a protected disability — so if the condition happened to be covered under the ADA (which the employer won’t know, but many are), it would be against the law.

          1. Mookie*

            Alison, you make frequent and good use of legal chums and colleagues when answering certain questions that may involve the law, so I’m wondering if you have any feel for how often this is successfully litigated.

          2. Database Geek*

            Sure it’s against the law but it only works if you can prove they didn’t hire you for that reason. Most of the time you just get a canned “we went with another candidate” response. You have no way of knowing if they really had a better candidate or if they didn’t hire you because of a health reason (or in my case disabilities)

            1. Anony*

              It can also affect the interviewer subconsciously. Even if they don’t actively think “This person has health problem. I should hire someone else” they could decide that their gut feeling is that candidate B is more reliable.

              1. Sloane Kittering*

                Yeah, to be completely honest, an employer isn’t likely to want to hire employees that have suddenly quit jobs in the past and are likely to do it again – because turnover is very expensive for a company. Of course this is not something you did deliberately, OP, but I might suggest you try to find a way to phrase the issue that reassures a new employer that you don’t expect to do this again. Try to frame it mentally as it’s not the health problem that’s an issue (CF), it’s the action (quitting on short notice) that they’re mostly worried about. Also, “it wasn’t my fault” is completely true but I wouldn’t frame it that way in an interview – an employer probably doesn’t really care whose fault it is, they just don’t want people who are more likely to quit on short notice.

                1. Natalie*

                  The letter doesn’t say anything about quitting on short notice, just having to explain the resume gap.

            2. Alton*

              I think this is true and something that’s worth bearing in mind, but I also think that this falls under the category of things where you have to decide if you’d really want to work for someone who’d hold it against you. Obviously, not everyone is in a privileged enough position that they can afford to be picky. But I know that if I had a chronic health condition and had a choice, I would prefer to work for someone who’s understanding.

              This is one of those things, I think, where it’s good to acknowledge that bias could exist but advising people to go out of their way to avoid exposing themselves to it isn’t always helpful or viable.

      1. Lars the Real Girl*

        You don’t want to work for a company that doesn’t understand that (shocking!) sometimes people have health issues, or a death in the family, or a sick kid they have to take care of. Reasonable employers show compassion and understand that even healthy 22 year olds can get hit by busses. They don’t penalize people because their past has had the same ups and downs that everyone will face at some point in their life.

        1. OtterB*

          This. The “health issues, now under control” approach has the advantage of being truthful, plus if the company is going to be difficult about health issues, you’d probably rather not be working for them anyway.

          1. Legal Beagle*

            I agree in principle, but it’s hard to take the long view as a job seeker. When you need to get back in the workforce and earn a living, taking a job with a not-great employer puts you in a better position to search for something better than remaining unemployed with a (growing) resume gap.

            I’m not saying the OP should lie (I don’t think she should); just offering a perspective on why “you don’t want to work for that company anyways” isn’t always a practical response.

            1. Anony*

              I have a lot of chronic health problems. I have been lucky enough that I have been able to screen out bad fits by disclosing them during the interview, but I have never had to interview while unemployed. A flexible schedule is also fairly typical in my field, so the fact that my health can make my schedule less predictable is not a huge problem to productivity. It really is a luxury to be able to screen that way.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Plausible lies also can backfire, especially (see yesterday’s update about copping to a mistake) if people find out you lied–it immediately puts everything you ever said in a dubious light.

        I think “I left to take care of a sick relative, who has helpfully died, and I have no more relatives” might be more reassuring, but it could prove hard to back up.

    2. Mookie*

      [T]hey told me that the hiring manager won’t believe it’s resolved, and if it’s between me and someone who didn’t leave for a “health reason,” there’s less risk with the other candidate. It’s not because they’d think I was lazy but because “What if the health problem comes back and I quit suddenly.”

      For what it’s worth, ADA addresses that precise concern when it comes to cancer (and, I imagine, is applied to other conditions covered under ADA:

      Often, employees with cancer face discrimination because of their supervisors’ and co-workers’ misperceptions about their ability to work during and after cancer treatment. Even when the prognosis is excellent, some employers expect that a person diagnosed with cancer will take long absences from work or be unable to focus on job duties.

    3. Jennifer Thneed*

      > Recruiters told me not to say that though; they told me that the hiring manager won’t believe it’s resolved

      And now I have a new rule-of-thumb: if a recruiter has not actually themselves BEEN a hiring manager, I’m not going to believe that they necessarily know what the hiring manager wants. They are working with *clients*, not sitting in the interviews. And their own personal experience in interviews? They are sales people. Their interviews are going to be really different from anything I experience.

      I’ll take a recruiter’s advice on a lot of things. I’ll trust them to know about responsibility levels and dress codes and general stuff about a company’s culture. But they’re not fairy godmothers, they’re salespeople. And besides, the ones I’ve worked with don’t even talk to the hiring managers directly – they have account managers who do that!

  8. The Supreme Troll*

    For OP#2, I feel for you, because your intentions are very generous and caring. I hope that your boss trusts and respects you enough to be honest about the real reason that Cersei is leaving (whatever that may be). Good luck.

    1. Important Moi*

      OP#2 sounds curious as opposed to caring to me. Cersei went to HR indicates to me who Cersei wanted to inform. Also OP’s boss said don’t contact.

      Finally, Cersei has burned a bridge? If boss says no contact, I see OP’s involvement as a reference very limited or completely involved. Since OP mentioned Cersei “is the mentee of one of my contacts and this person referred her for this role” Sounds like OP wishes to let someone know that Cersei left in a way she didn’t like.

      1. The Supreme Troll*

        I don’t know; I certainly didn’t read OP#1’s intentions that way, but, yes, she may also be curious, which is normal. I think, also, that the OP might be feeling that her boss is hiding something from her that could be a reflection of how Cersei personally felt about her.

        I’m going to assume that the OP was earnest in her intentions, and having that honest input from her own boss could be something that the OP can reflect upon on how she is possibly appearing in the eyes of her employees. I’m not even saying that that is the issue at all, but if it possibly happens to be, this could be helpful to the OP.

        1. Important Moi*

          I actually don’t disagree that curiosity is normal. OP may be earnest in her intentions and having that honest input from her own boss could be something that the OP can reflect upon on how she is possibly appearing in the eyes of her employees. I trust that if OP’s boss issues with OP’s behavior something would have been said to OP. I feel that this possibility is being brushed aside by many of the comments.

          Something about Cersei notifying HR, the boss saying don’t contact Cersei , OP using the term burning a bridge, and even the follow up about checking on Cersei’s LinkedIn page makes me uncomfortable. Sometimes you just don’t get answers and that’s it.

          1. LW2*

            LW2 here. I’ll admit to being very curious! I do try to be caring to my team as well. I have no plans to inform on Cersei to her mentor.

            When she resigned initially, Cersei positively gushed about me and the mentorship/training I provided her during her short tenure and how she was really sorry to be leaving me (but there were other aspects of the role/team she wasn’t thrilled about), so I’m not worried about how this employee perceives me. I’m not the perfect manager, but on balance I think I treated this employee well.

            One thing I wonder is if Cersei didn’t really understand how going via HR would work or that I would be cut out of the loop. Considering our professional relationship, I even wonder if she would find it strange if I was NOT in touch with a final good bye. But yes, I may need to just come to terms with not getting answers.

            1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

              Well, perhaps instead of trying to contact Cersei directly you could let your contact know that you are happy to be a reference in the future if Cersei asks. Obviously don’t push for details or a reply.

  9. The Supreme Troll*

    OP#1, Alison’s advice was excellent. You don’t want to downplay the mistake if it was indeed a big, noticeable one (it would show very obviously to any reasonable manager), but putting it in context next to things that you achieved or learned during your year, you don’t need to dwell on it or keep beating yourself up over it.

    1. Mookie*

      Yep. An error serious enough to warrant a change in policy is serious enough that the LW1 needs to acknowledge it here. Appearing to forget it happened or failing to address it would actually seem a little incompetent and irresponsible. Acknowledging it and assessing it in a positive way (“here’s what happened, here’s what you did to make sure nobody else does it again, here’s what I’ve done this past year to ensure I myself make no related or similar mistakes again”), demonstrates conscientiousness. And the LW sounds very conscientious here anyway.

    2. Koko*

      Each year in my self-evaluation I rate myself on the scale according to my outcomes – since I usually hit or exceed all my performance targets I rate myself good or excellent on them all. But I also honestly discuss every mistake I made during the year, what I learned about why it happened, and what I changed as a result. I’ve gotten glowing praise from as far up my chain as the VP for how honest and reflective my self-evaluation was.

      We all make mistakes, and you can be good or even excellent at your job and still make occasional mistakes. People just want to see that you’re not cavalier about the mistakes you make, not that you never make them.

    3. Garrett*

      OP#1, I made a huge and costly error several years ago at my job, which involved me spending long days in our warehouse opening up cartons of product, replacing an erroneous document (that was the error I made) and then closing them back up. Pallets and pallets of these cases. So much fun (not).

      It happened in the summer and when it came time for my assessment, my boss didn’t even put it in there. I didn’t get rated as highly as I could have and he acknowledged that I had worked hard to get past this mistake and he had made big errors too and that’s part of the cost of doing business – s**t happens! It was great that he was on my side and even though most people in the company were aware of the issue, it isn’t in my “permanent record” to haunt me in the future.

    4. Changed*

      Probably goes without saying, but you said the policy/procedure was changed so it couldn’t happen again – if you were involved in that update, then emphasizing that and what you learned could probably turn the whole thing into a net positive even though it stemmed from a mistake.

  10. Observer*

    #2 I’d be surprised if Cersei left in this manner because she was starting her job earlier. In that case I could see her making up an excuse and asking that her stuff be mailed to her. But not even asking for her personal stuff? Also, if she were starting her job sooner, I would have expected her to take her stuff home with her. It wouldn’t have been all that odd, because she was leaving anyway, so if anyone noticed she could have just said that she’s getting things tied up sooner rather than later.

    OP if you ever find out what happened, I think we’d all be interested in an update.

    1. nonymous*

      I had a coworker leave to greener pastures (same industry, so we see each other at conferences and stuff), but left the most disgusting cubicle pile on departure. Stuff that I thought was personal (drawings by his kids, university team memorabilia, personal reference books) mixed in with hard copies of work in progress, and a good amount of clutter/garbage. After his last day, it looked like the cubicle was still fully occupied. Despite giving notice and leaving on fairly good terms after a decade of service, he did not give a full accounting of the work needing hand-off (my boss found surprise work files when cleaning out the cubicle).

      It was like 3/4 of the stuff in the cubicle was stuff he never got around to putting (or throwing) away. I thought leaving the kids drawings behind especially strange.

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

        Some people just don’t value their possessions the same way as others. And, well, my niblings produce a lot of drawings. I’m sure plenty of them get thrown away all the time.

        I’ve had colleagues leave behind all kinds of tools and such after going to another job. But it would have been nicer if they had actually cleaned and sorted things for themselves.

  11. LS*

    #2 A colleague left suddenly under similar circumstances – no contact from anybody allowed, didn’t even come back to pick up her things – and it wasn’t until nearly ten years later that I saw her again, sharing her story as a sexual assault victim who now working as a crisis counselor. It turned out that with three weeks of her notice period left, she had been violently sexually assaulted by her partner. The company had been extremely helpful and had offered her a great deal of support, including financial support, all in strict confidence. Considering all the gossip that happened at the time, I felt pretty bad.

    I hope that Cersei’s reasons for leaving suddenly are a lot more benign, but I really recommend that if the boss says not to contact her, don’t contact her.

    1. Coywolf*

      Oh my goodness, that is so horrible. This really goes to show that you can never know for sure what somebody is going through or carrying around, making it important to treat everyone with kindness and respect even when they’re not around.

    2. LeRainDrop*

      I don’t know why, but that’s immediately what my mind went to when I read #2 — that something serious or traumatic had happened at Cersei’s home. I think Alison’s advice is spot on. If your boss does not give you more details or holds firm that you shouldn’t contact Cersei, I think the kind thing to do is to actually heed that direction.

      1. Mookie*

        Yes. Barring a terrible workplace incident the LW doesn’t know about, I’d say the decision to do this is less likely to be about the LW’s company and/or the other company’s offer, and more likely to be the result of an unexpected life event hitting her at a bad time. The other alternative is that the job switch was necessary because the employee was already dealing with something in her personal life and she needed to alter her professional life in order to free up time and energy (or relocate, or secure a higher salary) to better manage the problem.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Thirding. An outside hammer seems most likely, followed by the workplace thing OP doesn’t know about.

          And while “Ooooooh, what was it?!!” is a normal human instinct, LS’s example is why you really shouldn’t pry under the perkily flapping banner “Curiousity!”

        2. Caro in the UK*

          This is where my mind went too. Especially with the information about her being a good person and a conscientious worker.

      2. Observer*

        It looks like a lot of us went to “something really serious and traumatic hit suddenly”.

        It just fits with the way the whole thing happened.

      3. JulieBulie*

        I thought the same thing – but that’s also why I sympathize with OP#2. If I had someone quit so abruptly, not saying goodbye and not wanting any of her stuff, I’d immediately fear that something horrible was happening to her.

        And if I were then told not to contact her, I’d wonder if it had something to do with me. If it did, I’d be satisfied with a vague but meaningful “it’s confidential and we promised Cersei we wouldn’t discuss this with anyone else.”

      1. Koko*

        Yep, somehow the vibe I got reading it just made me flash back to a previous time where shit hit the fan in my personal life so badly that I quite literally could no longer afford to care about anything else because nothing else mattered nearly as much as what I was facing. A few personal photos or plants or a lamp I left at the office? That would have rated so low on my list of concerns that I would have told them to do whatever they want with the stuff because I no longer care about it. I wouldn’t have cared if they’d mailed it to me anyway, but I wouldn’t have seen the point in asking them to spend time and money on something I have no interest in.

      2. Murphy*

        Yeah. This obviously isn’t as serious as an assault, but we had someone up and disappear maybe 2 weeks after accepting a full time position (up from part time). Turned out that she had broken up with her fiance maybe a month or two before the wedding and moved back in with her parents across the state. In this case, management told us, but I would have understood if they kept that info to themselves.

        1. Broadcastlady*

          I did that to get out of a physically abusive relationship. I Called my parents in a neighboring state at 5 a.m. while he was gone and said: “Come get me.” I was entirely out of the shared apartment and safely across the state line by nightfall. My mom called my employer and explained I wouldn’t be back(I was 20 and a mess), I broke my lease, and I never returned to the community college I was attending either. A lot of people probably wondered what happened to me.

      3. Kyrielle*

        Yeah, I was thinking back to the coworker who vanished (she hadn’t been job searching) and we were told she was on medical leave. And then we were boxing up her things to give to her husband, because she’d passed away from whatever she’d been dealing with. Terribly sad.

        And of course we were curious, but personal situations are personal; HR/whoever has the details really shouldn’t share them with those who don’t need them.

    3. sub rosa for this*

      I walked off a job when my mother died. Left so many things in my life hanging… and I didn’t care in the slightest what happened to my coffee mug. Still don’t.

      I told HR; the company sent flowers. I don’t remember much else. It’s all kind of a blank, tbh.

      Horrible things happen. I hope that Cersei is OK, and I hope that OP will find peace and closure as well.

    4. LW2*

      LW 2 here. LS that is quite a story. I hope that’s not what happened to Cersei, but your story (and others posted in response) remind me that you can never really know.

      1. LS*

        And I would never have known the outcome if she hadn’t (much later) started talking and writing about it in public as a positive example of how employers can help in family violence situations. So I’m glad she’s doing well, but I definitely didn’t approach her!

  12. Foreign Octopus*

    In regards to #3, this was common practice when I was in recruitment (and I hated asking the question).

    The reason my boss had us asking was so that we could generate leads with places that were hiring. I remember lying when he asked where I’d been interviewing because I had no other interviews but that one and wanted to make it look as though I was being proactive.

  13. Miles*

    #2 the company asking people to not contact her sounds like a lawyer is involved. In that case it’s probably not a good idea to reach out for any reason as it could affect her case and closure will have to wait until you run into each other by some coincidence a few years down the road

  14. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP5 – if slack pushes older messages to the top and off the screen – could you separate a longer message into a few shorter ones for your first contact – that way by the time he looks at it it will be off the top and not immediately visible?

    1. Fabulous*

      That’s what I was wondering as well. I’ve never used Slack, but most messengers I’ve used have the option to delete or archive a conversation history, or even individual blocks of text.

  15. NYC Weez*

    OP#5: I get it. In a different but similar situation, my last text to a favorite coworker was an excited note of encouragement right before she was going in for a C-section for twins. Unfortunately there was an issue and she lost one of the babies. She was then out of the office for maternity leave with the surviving infant, and we were asked to give her space to grieve.

    I didn’t have a reason to text her for months, and then every time I considered it, I saw this text that I knew would be incredibly painful for her to see. I finally just gritted my teeth and sent a boring text that only needed a couple of super quick answers so that we could push the old message off her screen. The more mundane and easy to answer, the better so that they don’t have to think or linger on the screen to answer.

    1. OP #5*

      What a terrible situation. Compared to that, I can definitely suck up some office awkwardness to ask some boring questions. Picking something with quick and easy answers is a good idea, too. Thank you for sharing.

  16. Thomas E*

    I don’t know slack but many messenger apps allow you to include images. Just send a nice electronic Christmas card and greeting. Job done.

    1. Peggy*

      Slack lets you embed giphys which is even better. Best when they’re sent at random with no context or relevance. Type in “/giphy [nicolas cage]” and just see what comes up. Nothing clears the air like a gif from the classic film Face/Off.

    2. OP #5*

      This is BRILLIANT. We are a very giphy/image-heavy slack and it would totally make sense for me to send him something. Thank you for the suggestion!

      1. Emily*

        I love slack for this! We have a slack channel where I work called visuals-only which is nothing but people sending gifs and emojis, no text typing allowed. Our custom emoji library is at least equal in size to the one that came with it. We have multiple party parrot emojis.

      2. businessfish*

        also, sending a picture or something else that takes up screen real estate along with whatever message may actually push the older conversation up higher so that he’d have to scroll to see it. I don’t know how slack works, but this is what I do with awkward texts.

        1. Space Hamster*

          Website links and google docs (if you use them) take up a lot of screen space on slack and direct your gaze to the image of the thing being linked which is at least a couple of lines further down the page than the top of the message. Coupled with the way slack divides messages older than a day and depending on how large he keeps his slack window it might push the previous message off the screen completely.

  17. High Score!*

    OP1, Last time our company tried the self evaluation, it was awesome, we all gave ourselves top scores and plenty of compliments. If you can’t praise yourself, who will? They never let us do it again but it was great for the self esteem.

    1. nonymous*

      lol. that totally depends on the office culture.

      A good reminder to OP1 to maybe ask around coworkers (or even boss!) to gauge expectations. It definitely could be that self-evaluation is just a way to generate the list of good works that an employee accomplished, and it is management’s role to come up with the constructive elements.

      1. AMPG*

        Even if you’re supposed to be mainly positive, it will be good for you to at least acknowledge that you had this setback at the beginning of the year (I completely agree with Alison’s advice to focus on what you’ve learned as a result). A healthy workplace will appreciate your willingness to own your mistakes.

        I once had a direct report who complained about a mediocre year-end evaluation when she had been on a PIP for three months out of the year. She honestly felt that because it was a “one-time error” and she had fulfilled the terms of her PIP, that she was entitled to a “meets expectations” ranking. Needless to say, she did NOT get her evaluation changed and she further damaged her reputation with management.

  18. Ainomiaka*

    LW2- the only thing I think you can really do is say to your boss that the situation with Cersei concerned you enough that you want to ask if there are any issues or incidents with your team that you need to be aware of. That’s the part that is truly your business.

    1. Observer*

      I agree. That really is something the OP has standing to ask, and should. Not “what happened to Cersei” But “Is there anything about the situation that I or my staff should have done differently.”

  19. Say what, now?*

    OP #2: You could still donate the gift to goodwill or some place along with Cersei’s other stuff. It may not seem likely that someone out there shares her name, but who knows! Maybe someone will get a nice personalized gift that their loved one wouldn’t otherwise be able to give if you donate.

    1. a different Vicki*

      Or someone who doesn’t mind, or is amused by, the personalization might buy it: I knew someone who had at least a dozen shot glasses personalized with different strangers’ names, and someone buying props for a show might not care about what name was on something if it otherwise fit.

  20. MilkMoon (UK)*

    LW1: Think of it this way – if you hadn’t made the mistake they wouldn’t have been able to plug that hole in their system. These things happen, and in the long-run you’ve helped the business. Acknowledge it, but absolutely don’t beat yourself up about it.

  21. Naptime Enthusiast*

    OP #1, last year I made an error that became a Big Deal and included a whole root cause/corrective action investigation that spanned multiple departments. As a result, I had to come up with a new procedure and guidelines to prevent the same issue from happening again. When it came time for self-evaluations, I gave myself a 3 out of 4 because of all the work I did to prevent it from happening again. Manager gave me a 4 for recognizing the gravity of the error, dealing with it in a professional manner, and driving it to closure for an end of quarter measurable objective.

    I’m not saying that your situation will be exactly the same and your manager might not be so generous, but definitely highlight what you did to correct and prevent it in the future rather than beating yourself up on the mistake itself.

    1. Mischa*

      I also made a Big Deal error at my previous workplace. Sent a confidential voicemail with extremely sensitive information to the entire organization. I was trying to send it just to my boss as the message had been left on my line. The only ones who knew about said information in the voicemail were me, my boss, a few higher ups, and the police — it was not a good situation. Instead of handling in a reasonable manner, the higher ups freaked out and called an emergency staff-wide meeting to basically say, “You didn’t hear that, please delete it, don’t talk about it,” which could’ve been handled in a quick email, as IT was able to delete the message from everyone’s phone within about five minutes of it being sent out. The meeting caused more gossip than it prevented. Even though I was horrifically embarrassed, I survived, and developed procedures to never repeat that error. Thankfully my boss was very understanding and didn’t hold it against me. (We didn’t do evaluations at all, so I have no advice for that.)

      1. Naptime Enthusiast*

        I did not know you could send voicemails to everyone, that’s almost as terrifying as “replying all” by accident.

        1. Samiratou*

          IKR? Makes me grateful I don’t actually know how to get to my voicemail and rely on the emailed recordings. Theoretically I could forward that to the entire org, but it would be a challenge.

          Regarding your original comment, sometimes mistakes can uncover “it could have been much, much worse” scenarios and end up being blessings in disguise. You can’t take credit for the error, obviously, but if you lead the process to fix the things so neither your scenario or the worst-case can happen anymore, that can more than make up for the original mistake.

          1. Naptime Enthusiast*

            In my (and my manager’s) opinion, the situation was blown incredibly out of proportion, but of course we kept that out of all written communication on the subject. Yes it was an issue, but it was not an issue that necessarily had to be brought to the department directors. It could have been worse and I think that’s why they made it a Big Deal, to make an example out of the situation.

  22. Been there*

    #2… How weird. As a manager I would dying with curiosity on the inside to know what happened.

    I would probably talk to my boss about it only to to find out if there was something going on that I should know about. Personally I would also not read too much into the ‘don’t contact her’ as it could be as simple as your boss has a mentality of once an employee is gone they are persona non grata. Especially if she just ghosted on her agreed upon departure.

    I also would find it unlikely that there was some personal tragedy going on to precipitate the sudden departure. If you had even a halfway decent relationship with her, I would assume that you’d be in the loop since she was your direct report and even if you weren’t given the details by HR they would have at least said something vague to explain the sudden departure.

    I guess I would agree with the others… toss or donate her stuff and don’t contact her. I also wouldn’t be too keen on being a reference for her without the full story of why she suddenly left.

    1. Been there*

      Oops, I reread and realize that HR did give the medical reason for the departure… ignore that pre-coffee error.

  23. MsSolo*

    OP #1, think of it as telling a story. The mistake is the meetcute or Mcguffin. You can’t tell the story without it, but you’re really only including it to kick off the important stuff, like how you handled it professionally and personally, and what happened next, and why there’s never going to be a sequel.

  24. Rebelina11*

    To OP#2: Since I am in HR, people come to me with all sorts of things that they’d rather not discuss with their supervisor, trusting that I will treat the information with the utmost care and privacy (and here, in the US, it’s the law). I had an employee approach me because she needed leave to go to rehab for heroine dependence. That kind of thing is not something that anybody needs to be privy to – and I approved her leave, only telling the supervisor the absolute minimum that she needed to know – that the employee needed time off for medical reasons, period. What you’re feeling is entirely justified – it IS odd. But, conversely, if she had a problem that would rise to this magnitude of severity, she wouldn’t want anyone to know about it at all, but apparently reached out to your HR – which was the right thing to do. Wish her well in your mind, be kind to her in your thoughts, and… let it go.

    1. Natalie*

      and here, in the US, it’s the law

      Just the opposite, in fact – the US is one of the only first world countries without a fairly robust privacy law. And the ones we have are relatively limited in scope.

        1. Natalie*

          That seems to be a law that applies to patient records, not HR departments. HR isn’t anyone’s doctor.

    2. fposte*

      Just so people don’t get the wrong idea and start confessing all kinds of stuff to HR–there are some laws that affect what HR can share in some areas, but there’s no overall federal legal confidentiality requirement for HR.

    3. Rebelina11*

      Wow with the nitpicking… I guess I should have been specific and said HIPAA laws – which the writer would probably have a hard time understanding, since he’s from a country where employees are under contract, which isn’t in (much of) the US. I figured the laws wherever the writer is from are a bit more complex or have a larger scope, and I could make generalizations. But, okay, duly noted…

      1. fposte*

        Most HR doesn’t even constitute a covered entity under HIPAA. If I tell my HR I have Crohn’s and am quitting, it’s federally legal for them to tell people I have Crohn’s. It’s unwise, but it’s not illegal. (FMLA, however, does require certain protections of confidential medical info.)

          1. fposte*

            Good thought; it seems like the paperwork is subject to the same hygiene requirements as FMLA. Interestingly, a quick dive suggests that the EEOC did at least in the past claim broader privacy protections for the ADA but haven’t always won on that in court. (In one case they told a prospective employer on a reference check about their former employee’s migraines and problems with calling in. The employer won that one.)

        1. AKchic*

          42CFR Part 2 (covers substance use/abuse and rehab) is what covers that issue, and it is much more stringent than HIPAA.

          1. fposte*

            Oh, I didn’t know that one–thanks. It looks like that applies to the same covered entities as HIPAA, though, so I don’t think people should assume HR is automatically going to have to keep that information confidential.

  25. LKW*

    OP #1 – Not entirely similar but years ago I made a mistake on a project that was blown way out of proportion. Nonetheless, I learned from it and did my best to make the situation better. My manager however decided that I had made a mistake in protocol (different cultures) and slammed me in my project review. It was vicious. Career-ruining language. I refused to accept it as is, however, I discussed the feedback with my manager’s boss and acknowledged that the points made were valid, but they were framed as if I had made the mistake in a vacuum (they were both on the phone with my client when I made my “mistake”) and made it sound like I had kidnapped the client’s first born and sacrificed it to Satan. It was that vicious. So I requested that the grandboss think about my feedback for a few days and that we work together to adjust the language to reduce the inflammatory language and acknowledge the steps I took to fix the issues.

    A few days later the grandboss came back to me and said that he reviewed the feedback again and acknowledged the language used was uncalled for and that he appreciated my approach to calmly and professionally acknowledge the salient points and offering an approach that kept that information on record without it damaging my career. We fixed the feedback form, I requested that I no longer reported to boss because clearly he could not be trusted to use good judgement and I finished out the project.

    1. Been there*

      I had to check to see if I had written this :) Same thing happened to me, except I was following written documentation that was faulty and during the recovery/fixing stage (which made things worse) I was following my bosses instructions. She roasted me in my evaluation that year with the added bonus of not even having the guts to present it to me herself, instead having my new manager deliver the review.

      Poor man just handed me the eval and said, ‘ This is going to piss you off and we’ll figure out if there is anything we can do about it’ He was right it did piss me off. I went the director of operations and told him what had happened and he made her sit down with me (and my new boss) to revise the eval. It turned into a neutral one.

      It’s important to note she had be relieved of all of her direct reports by that time because she was such a train wreck.

  26. Cassie*

    To give yet another anecdote regarding #2 and how life circumstances can make you appear unprofessional:

    At one of my previous jobs, the satellite campus was closed and employees had to decide whether to be downsized or move across the country. My husband and I seriously considered moving, and flew out the the area to meet my potential new boss/colleagues and explore the city.

    While we were gone, my mother-in-law had her second major heart attack. We dropped everything and frantically flew home, and in the ensuing mess I had to abruptly take the downsizing. My potential new boss was confused and aggravated that he had “wasted time” playing tour guide for us, and expressed his displeasure quite clearly.

  27. bopper*

    Cersei wanted to leave sooner for whatever reason, but couldn’t just tell you for whatever reason. Your instincts are right, but you should still not contact her.
    I had an office mate that was going to resign. She notified her boss by leaving a message during a holiday weekend. She said it was because her inlaws were putting pressure on her to stay home with the kids. We all said “why not go part time” and other reasonable compromises. No no, that wouldn’t work she said. But who turns up at a local peer company? The officemate. We suspect because she is of a culture that values “face saving” that she left the way she did , but who knows.

  28. accidental manager*

    #2: Nope, don’t contact her to ask if you can mail the present and personal belongings, and don’t just mail the present either. You already heard that she doesn’t want her belongings sent; extrapolate that to her not wanting any contact with the office, especially contact that she would be expected to reply to. You sound like you’ve found a loophole or exception to the instruction, and this is not an appropriate situation for loopholes.

    This is especially important because of what Miles pointed out, that the instruction not to contact her might be due to legal proceedings. I had been intending to write that the only suitable present to send on would be the impersonal and liquid kind, i.e. money, but once I read Miles’ post I realized that would be a very bad idea too.

  29. NK*

    OP#1: I don’t know how detailed your self-reviews are, but I would be inclined to leave off the mistake entirely, especially since it happened at the beginning of the year. I do agree with Alison that you shouldn’t give yourself the highest rating in the applicable area, but I wouldn’t specifically call it out. If your manager would like to, she can include it in your final review. But especially since you note that you can be particularly self-critical, you may call more attention to it than necessary if you address it in writing.

  30. Anonymous, thanks*

    #4 – Fellow CFer here. Wrote in recently to Allison actually asking about how to/if I should tell people at work. I’m glad you’re feeling better now.

    Even if they don’t believe the health issue is really resolved, I’ve found that many people tend to be sympathetic toward these sort of things. I had a former boss with Crohn’s disease, my current boss has a son with autism, etc. When it comes to taking time off for doctors appointments and things like that I’ve had very good luck. I’m pretty confident it will be the same for you when interviewing.

    Now, if you have any advice for ME on how to deal with a chronic cough at work without driving everyone around you crazy I’d love to hear it!

    1. Letter Writer*

      Love hearing from another cfer! I told everyone at work I had cf after I was hired and everyone was very kind about it. The reason I couldn’t stay and got sick was that I ended up working 10-16 hour days and I just couldn’t take care of myself anymore. Any advice on career fields that would be more flexible with cf?

      1. GG Two shoes*

        Another CFer here! I’m glad you wrote in. I was having this question recently, though I haven’t been out for more than a week at a time I was wondering how to navigate if this happened if/when I were to switch jobs.

        As for the flexible with CF part, I have found that many organizations are cool with flexibility, but almost entirely if you are salaried. I have asked to work at home in the PM’s when I am sick or need extra treatments and it’s never been denied. At my latest review, I mentioned to my boss (who knew I’d been pretty sick because of travel) that I would be looking more carefully at the travel schedule next year because I didn’t want to make my situation worse. Generally, folks are sympathetic as so many people have health issues or know of people that do.

        Last thing… Remember that in the grand scheme of things your health is the most important. You can’t do anything without it. ;)

      2. Anonymous, thanks*

        Hm, probably field where you can work from home part of the time if there might be days when you’re well enough to work but don’t feel up to coming into the office. This is becoming more common in a lot of fields, I think. It might be something to bring up at the offer stage when you’re discussing benefits and etc. Good luck!

  31. AKchic*

    Letter 2 bothers me. So much closeted indignation and masked frustration/anger that I know I’m projecting some of my own issues onto the story, but I really do have to consider the reason the employee left is because of the LW. Hadn’t been there long but is continuously singing the job’s praises and reassuring the LW that she loves it there. S/he has already purchased her a personalized gift, and on top of that, s/he knew she was leaving the company anyways. Claiming that the woman is “burning her bridge” with both the company and him/her personally for leaving the way she did, without actually knowing what’s going on because he/she wasn’t in the loop (because it’s not his/her business).
    In a comment above, the LW actually mentioned checking out the woman’s LinkedIn profile to find out more. Um… the woman wants no contact and now you’re using social media to essentially stalk her. At best just to satisfy your curiosity. At worst, because you were the reason she left.

    You actually do have real work to do at your company. It’s time to focus on that. Let HR and your supervisor handle this woman’s departure. It looks like she doesn’t want you handling it at all. From the way she left, it doesn’t look like she will be using you as a reference, and if she did start a job elsewhere, it doesn’t look like she used you as a reference to begin with. Just let it go. Your curiosity doesn’t need to be sated.

  32. Snarky*

    #2 – If Cersei felt uncomfortable or unable to ask her new employer for a longer period before starting her job and she also knew she had a contract that stipulated she give you a month’s notice, she may have felt trapped. I hate to admit this but when I was younger, I would have told my new employer that, yes, I could start in two weeks while telling a story to my current employer about how I negotiated a six week notice in order to make it less obvious that I was breaking my contract. I’d think that I’d get raked over the coals if I tried to break my contract whereas having a medical emergency obviously something that can’t be helped. I’d have taken home the things truly important to me and left behind the things I was willing to sacrifice to keep that story alive.

    If you saw signs that Cersei was a people-pleaser and/or had a tendency towards conflict avoidance, that might be the explanation. When I was prone to doing the above, it was because I saw supervisors in a parental light and dealing with HR was far easier as it was very impersonal. If that fits at all, she is likely just at a stage where she is still growing and learning how to properly navigate the business world. I’d let it go because sometimes the journey isn’t about you, and I suspect what is going on here is internal to Cersei. The good news is that my professional growth helped me to deal with such situations in a far more direct and productive way and it may be the same will happen for Cersei, too.

  33. Caraval*

    LW2, having once had to leave a job suddenly due to an ongoing, mysterious (at the time) illness, I’m here to tell you this isn’t that suspicious. If your report has been juggling 1) old job, 2) new job, 3) staying at old job longer than initially planned because she’s a nice person (which also potentially means some hand-holding of the new job), and 4) illness, that can just be too many balls at a time. 3 is the easiest one to drop. Even ‘small, non-threatening’ illnesses can be long, energy- and time- consuming, and one job is all of that already.

    She may just not have the energy or inclination to deal with old job stuff. I know what personal items I had at my job were nothing I couldn’t replace, and definitely not worth the trouble and energy to either go back to get or deal with someone else trying to mail them. It’s probably the same.

    If you really can’t shake the anxiety (that you did something, I guess?) then ask your manager if there’s anything they need to tell you about your performance (or the team) based on her leaving. Be prepared for a “What? No ~weird look~” response. And if that’s what you get, STOP WORRYING. People leave jobs. It’s usually not because of a disaster.

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