I overheard my boss complaining about me

A reader writes:

The higher-ups in our company regularly have private meetings, which are usually very hush-hush behind closed doors. During a recent meeting of theirs, the door was left open and we (the rest of the team) could hear bits and pieces of their conversation-not purposely, of course, and not that it was worth listening to, but we would have had to leave our cubicles to avoid it. I wasn’t paying much attention until I overheard my name and my boss questioning my productivity due to a few deadlines that had been pushed back by my supervisor who, unfortunately, did not relay the information. So the deadlines seemed missed as a result of my seeming lack of productivity, and, despite my supervisor’s explanation, I couldn’t help but notice my boss’ irritation and disappointment, which is where my real concern lies.

I never thought of myself as someone with productivity issues (we’re a tech startup, so there really is no room or time for slacking off) and have only received positive feedback for my work ethic. Since that meeting, though, my boss has increasingly taken interest in managing my schedule and work, which he’s never done before. I’m absolutely open to constructive criticism and would like to improve in every way I can, but nothing has been brought up to me directly and this is starting to affect my morale. I’d like to approach my supervisor and/or boss, but given that I “eavesdropped” on a private meeting (which I know I shouldn’t have, but what’s done is done, regrettably), I’m not exactly sure how to address the issue. Any advice? Is this an issue even worth bringing up?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My boss left the company but still emails me daily
  • How can I avoid candidates shopping our offer around?
  • Did HR mishandle my sick coworker’s resignation?
  • How to decline a job offer after seeing the contract

{ 126 comments… read them below }

      1. pope suburban*

        I think this is exactly it. The scope and sensitivity of HR stuff means that getting someone in that role who’s a bungler is going to do a lot more damage than if they were, say, a file clerk (Not that disorganized files don’t cause problems, but they’re probably not going to be an ADA violation). I had an HR person at my last job who was pleasant but ineffectual, and that ended up causing a great deal of damage because she was just letting stuff slide that really required taking a firm stance. She wasn’t the worst employee there, not by a far shot, but the nature of her position made her errors have a big impact.

        1. DecorativeCacti*

          I think that’s a good point. Because of the nature of the work, a lot of people expect HR to be perfect all the time which no one can be. Especially when you’re dealing with potentially emotional topics. I think that’s why a lot of people just default to HR is The Worst Ever. It’s unfortunate.

          1. pope suburban*

            Yours is an excellent point as well. Even a really compassionate, precise, firm HR person is going to have to mediate situations where one or both people will leave unhappy. Some things in life are annoying to the jerk-eating-crackers level, but aren’t policy or legal violations, and aren’t any kind of harassment or actionable thing. And sometimes, a perfect accommodation simply cannot be made. We all like to think that we’re rational adults who can see this, and sure, I think most of us are and do, especially from the comfortable distance of the internet. But when it’s your workplace that sucks, and you’re not feeling heard, and maybe you feel like the other person (You have ten seconds to boo and hiss at the villain) “won,” then yeah, you might think that HR sucks or plays favorites or doesn’t do their job or shouldn’t even be a thing. I think generally, the idea that HR could be this arbiter of fairness (In which we all individually define what is fair) that can save you from a bad colleague or heinous cubicle is really appealing, and when it turns out that that’s not really the job, people feel frustrated. Which I totally get, but which still leaves HR folks holding the bag for a lot of stuff that no human being could control.

          2. Michaela Westen*

            One of the reasons HR is seen as horrible is betrayal.
            In 2002 I was hired from a temp position and the HR rep said to me, “you’re very talented, we’re glad to hire you.”
            In 2004 the creepy file clerk who had been chasing me transferred into my group at the same time my excellent manager retired and was replaced by a man who was too stupid to understand the technical work I was doing (and I had always had excellent reviews).
            When I asked for help with the file clerk harassing me, I was fired. The clerk was not. The same HR rep (and her boss) treated me like garbage.
            I’ve heard enough other people mention experiences like this to know it’s not unusual. HR only pretends to support us. :(

        2. Is pumpkin a vegetable?*

          I take a lot of pride in being a good HR person. Stories like these make me cringe, and make me sad. We’re not all idiots.

        3. Media Monkey*

          also if you are bad at most other jobs, it only affects a few people in the company – your colleagues and those people you work with your outputs/ need your inputs. a bad HR person affects just about everyone!

      2. fposte*

        Also HR often is taking the flak for bad company decisions that they just are the ones implementing–or for decisions that the employees dislike but aren’t organizationally wrong.

        1. Star Nursery*

          This is a good point. A lot of times HR didn’t make the decision on XYZ, they just are the spokesperson to implement what the upper management has decided.

      3. J*

        At my last job, the qualified (but ineffectual – but not her fault; she had lousy company policies to contend with) Director of HR was replaced with someone with no formal HR training (she was a legal assistant by training) who had been with the company for a decade. Unsurprisingly, she was a TERRIBLE Director of HR. She ended up trying to force me to take vacation time when I called out after my partner was hospitalized with a life threatening infection, which, coupled with the terrible pay and high stress of the job, forced me to look for a new position.

        Then in my exit interview she yelled at me. So yeah, incompetents in HR roles can really shred the morale in a company, and damage the reputation of a company. I’ve told several people this story, and do you think any of them would ever work at my former work place?

      4. Wintermute*

        This is a good point but I feel like the fact that no other field is subject to quite as much domain competence issues (except possibly management!)

        Most people realize that they couldn’t, say, be a satellite uplink engineer without any training. Being a good, effective HR person takes just as much training and knowledge as working on microwave dishes, and the legal and potential personal consequences of “getting it wrong” are no less harmful (the FCC is quite strict about transmitters, and the EEOC, NLRB, SSA and IRS are very interested in labor and wage matters…). Sure you won’t accidentally microwave anyone like they’re a human burrito, but you might aggravate a bad health condition or affect someone’s livlihood.

        The problem is, people look at HR and thing “oh anyone could do that”, and often leadership falls victim to the same fallacy! A CEO wouldn’t think they could get by having satellite links without having an engineer, but somehow they think that they can get by having humans without human resources. The same owners that go nuts over 50 bucks in office supplies handle priceless human capital without a thought to preserving, maintaining and increasing the value there. No one would hire their idiot cousin for a position designing beam transmission systems, but they routinely do for HR because they think anyone can do it.

        So the problem is too many companies have no HR, and those that do often have HR that is just trying to struggle along on their own “know best” interpretations of law and conceptions of how to treat people, and that is where you get HR departments that act with a shocking lack of empathy or do things that superficially make sense from a business standpoint and “seem like they ought to be okay” but are actually completely illegal.

        1. Miss Anthropic*

          This really seems to fit with my current experience. I’m a middle aged business school student, majoring in management and my end goal is HR. I recently attended a panel

          1. Miss Anthropic*

            Attended a panel at my university with several HR managers and assistants. Not a single one of them had a business management degree, and only one had an actual business degree (in finance!) For all of these panelists, HR felt like an afterthought as opposed to a primary goal. Kind of discouraging, tbh.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      Confirmation bias. The only time we hear stories about HR on this site is when they do something egregious. The times they do their job correctly rarely get noticed or brought up. And that virtually never prompts letters to an advice columnist. So we only get stories about HR being incompetent, which leads people to believe it’s a general trend.

      1. Lava-Loving*

        This. I’ve been in HR for 10 years in a variety of role. It truly is the thankless job. If you do your job well (people are well trained, paid correctly and on time, fair policies are enacted and supported, situations are investigated and resolved with minimal impact, etc.), people kinda forget you exist. If you do your job poorly, it impacts a lot of critical aspects of people’s jobs.

        Working in HR is like being wallpaper. When it’s done well, its unobtrusive and makes the room better. When it’s done poorly, it’s all you can see and think about.

        1. Mike C.*

          Yet unlike pretty much any other position that holds the potential for serious harm, HR folks aren’t held responsible for the harm they cause.

          1. ytk*

            From my experience when someone’s actions in HR causes repercussions that end up involving Legal or Labour Relations – settlements, arbitrations, etc – said party is definitely held accountable. Even negative internal feedback is noted and reviewed on performance discussions too.

              1. DouDou Paille*

                My (American) company recently fired the director of HR for a data breach. In other companies I have also seen HR held accountable for serious matters that affect employees. Not always true of course, but it does happen, probably more than you think.

          2. Phoenix Programmer*

            Also my experience. Mainly I think because you can’t always prove the turnover is due to HR and even when you can a lot of companies are not good about controlling indirect not easily measured costs to the business like turnover and low moral.

          3. LBK*

            I think lack of accountability is pretty widespread across a variety of positions – take stock of how many letters here we get about completely incompetent workers who seem immune to consequences.

        2. J*

          Having worked at a place with terrible HR, I’m filled with gratitude for the fantastic HR department at my current job (and have told them as much – telling them that the culture of kindness and understanding here is a truly special thing). I can only imagine how thankless it can be, but do know there are people out there who are grateful for the good folks in HR!

        3. Jennifer Thneed*

          Much like being a sysadmin — when you do your job well, everything just works, and works well. So you don’t, well, “show up” to the average employee.

      2. Mike C.*

        I don’t know about you, but I get my information from multiple sources including my own experience. They all point towards the very same thing about HR in general. Some good people who are competent, way more who cause inane screw ups and unflinchingly parrot the company line. Ever see someone happily, repeatedly and publicly defend a pay cut because it “brings the company back within industry standards”? I’ve seen it three different times. My own promotion was delayed for three months because the HR rep “lost the paperwork” that I emailed her – I work in an industry that is heavily regulated and me losing paperwork could easily result in tens of millions in fines.

        Just dismissing it as confirmation bias also neglects the incredible amount of damage an incompetent HR rep can do.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          I’m very hesitant to draw such sweeping conclusions based on a small sample of anecdotes. My general observation is that HR employees follow the same distribution on the competence spectrum as the rest of the employees.

            1. SarahJ*

              How do you even know that the HR person wasn’t reprimanded?
              I don’t think these conclusions are logical.

            2. Trout 'Waver*

              That really depends on your industry. There’s no HR fuckup that’s going to cost a life.

              1. Phoenix Programmer*

                Umm. In the US losing your job can easily lead to death through no health insurance.

                1. bonkerballs*

                  Losing your job can also easily lead to death because you got upset, drank too much, and got into an accident. Neither are the fault of HR.

                2. Phoenix Programmer*

                  My point being that HR screw ups can lead to death especially on examples like Mike C gave.

        2. Phoenix Programmer*

          I feel you Mike. I think some of the issue is that, in a lot of circumstances, HR is played off as the bad guys so any legitimate complaints are hand waved away as “not understanding that it’s just business”.

          EvilHRLady explains this better in her intro about her blog.

          But yes my experience has been the same as yours re: HR mess ups ignored, tolerated, and even defended at the cost of many facets of the business.

        3. Mananana*

          What should the HR person said in reference to the pay cut? Should she undermine the policy that was likely made at a level above her? Should she have bad-mouthed the bosses? Sounds like HR was at the junction of Hard Town and Rock City; I blame the person who put her in the position of HAVING to defend the pay cuts. (And I say this as a non-HR person.)

    2. Amber T*

      It’s also what my college boss used to call the “letter of the law” versus the “spirit of the law.” The letter of the law says X – so in this case, the employee gave no notice, so she must be walked out. The spirit of the law requires a greater understanding of why the rule is there in the first place, why it’s necessary, and when/if there’s room to bend it (and, a certain comfort level in the authority of the person making that call). So yeah, a lack of common sense could definitely be a reason, but was it a junior HR person making the call who was afraid to make a different call, or wasn’t aware that a different call could even be made?

      In either case, that sucks OP – I’m sorry you lost a colleague that way, and I’m sorry for that coworker who was marched out like that.

      1. aNon*

        Thank you for this. I work in HR and I’ve been both empowered to make decisions on policy and disempowered from anything but the strictest interpretation of policy depending on where I’m at and the industry I’m in. Some HR people can get away with spirit of the law but others work for companies so afraid of a lawsuit that we get in trouble for not following the letter of the law. Even when nothing bad happened as a result. It’s a tough line to walk and if you are new to a industry, company, or supervisor, HR is likely going to err on the side of letter instead of spirit. I care very much for my employees but I’m not going to break a rule for them or bend it if it’ll get me in trouble. I might fight it behind the scenes but in front of my employees, I’m enforcing policy albeit with sympathy when it ends up with a bad situation.

      2. Specialk9*

        It’s weird though that they didn’t even ask about long term leave. I’ve almost died several times, which uses a lot of sick leave — I went on short term disability twice. It sounds like this wasn’t even suggested.

        Also, monstrous behavior.

      3. Michaela Westen*

        And as someone who’s been sick twice in the last month and has a chronic health condition – being sick is when we most need support and comfort, and I can only imagine how much worse being treated like this made OP’s colleague feel.
        OP, I hope you and her other friends are able to contact her and give her some support. :)

    3. Bea*

      Many people simply have no common sense. I’ve learned over the years that they’re everywhere and this is why there are laws making employers give bathroom breaks and requiring them to pay you on a schedule. Common sense says we all pee and common sense says if you’re not allowed to, you should quit that god forsaken place. Instead we made a law to just make everyone do the right thing.

      1. A Nickname for AAM*

        I can vouch that I currently work for a boss who is trying to actively prohibit my staff from taking bathroom breaks during six hour shifts because “I don’t think they’re responsible enough to not abuse the privilege.”

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          Ugh. He’d provably hate me. I have an overactive bladder which means a) 6 hours without a bathroom break is not physically even possible for me, and b) when I have to go, I. Have, To. Go. NOW. or very unpleasant things WILL happen. The only way to avoid either of the above is to cut my fluid intake to the point of risking dehydrationn.

          Also, making people “hold it” when they have a legitimate physical need to go can lead to lots of different health problems. I don’t if he’d care about that, but he might care about the possible rise in health caew costs that this could lead to.

          I wonder if it would do any good to give him some stuff like this to read:

      2. Michaela Westen*

        There are many examples of this in every industry. Was just discussing with some of my friends, the law that pharma reps can’t give anything, not even a pen, to doctors – because the abuse of this concept was taken to the nth level.
        Then the same people who abuse the system cry about govt. interference… don’t get me started…

    4. Phoenix Programmer*

      I think that a lot of it also stems from the fact that HR is not consistent across industries. Some companies expect you to be the first line of defense for legal liability, recruiting top talent, internal organanizational policies, training, education, monitoring moral, scheduling interviews, and managing all operational processes. That’s a lot!

      1. bonkerballs*

        There’s also the problem with many organizations not having anyone actually trained in HR and thinking the accountant or the admin assistant is good enough.

        1. laylaaaaaaaah*

          Oh, absolutely. If you’ve got a minimum wage, overworked admin handling HR stuff way over her head, that’s going to hit your employees, sooner or later. But apparently that’s too much to grasp for a lot of people, I guess because the potential costs are hard to quantify?

  1. ArtK*

    For #5, I wouldn’t even bother trying to negotiate. That all adds up to a company that knows that its employment is sub-par and tries to hide that. Any and all of those things are stuff that an honest company could/should have stated up front. On the other hand, I hope that the LW learned to ask important questions like “What’s the PTO policy?” “What training is available?”

    1. Eye of Sauron*

      Agreed… there seems to be enough red flags cited by the LW #5 that this doesn’t seem like a great place to work.

      1. Anony*

        Unpaid training and unpaid holidays (or no holidays) are unusual enough and undesirable enough that they should be mentioned early in the process. The fact that it wasn’t mentioned at all and that it took 2 weeks to get the written contract really makes this seem sketchy.

    2. hbc*

      Yes, plus even if they’re not deliberately hiding things and they agree to every request? The kind of company that’s willing to pay you for holidays but only if you ask is going to be dreadful to work for. You’ll have to do a song and dance every time you want something better than rusty tapwater to drink, a $3 folding chair to sit on, and a window that closes in the winter. They’d rather have 99 people plead for what everyone should get on the off chance that the 100th will be quiet about getting less.

  2. Michelle*

    I overheard my boss complaining about me
    I would definitely speak up since the supervisor did not set the record straight re: pushed back deadlines. He really should be communicating with the boss when he needs to push the deadlines back to avoid this type of situation. You are doing as you were instructed, but the boss thinks you aren’t productive.

    1. Myrin*

      It seems like the supervisor did set the record straight, though, the boss just somehow didn’t accept it, which makes this whole thing seem really weird to me. (OP says her supervisor “unfortunately did not relay the information” at the time the deadlines were pushed back, but apparently gave an “explanation” during the talk she overheard.)

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        I wonder if the boss is not so concerned about OP, but about OP’s supervisor. If the boss is concerned about the supervisor passing on relevant information, one way to avoid that in the future would be to bypass the supervisor and go straight to the OP.

  3. Eye of Sauron*

    I think I have to give HR the benefit of the doubt (a little bit). The way it went down was ham-handed but I can kind of see how it happened.

    HR has a policy for ‘quit without notice’ employees. They presumably followed that policy even though it wasn’t ideal for this situation. It’s a stretch, but it could be argued that a person who was quitting because they were sick and had run out of vacation and sick time could be bitter and sabotage if left to their own devices. It doesn’t sound like this is really a worry here, but I guess theoretically it could be.

    I guess that it doesn’t surprise me at all that when notice of her leaving came out it didn’t go into details of the why. I would hope that they wouldn’t since the reason was tied to a health issue.

    1. A Nickname for AAM*

      Yes, but why was an ill employee pushed into a “you must quit today” situation after running out of sick time in the first place? It sounds like the whole office knew she was ill and therefore had time to come up with a more reasonable or even amicable version of the same solution.

    2. Mike C.*

      It’s a dumb policy and they should have the understanding that human adults have to know that such a policy doesn’t make sense to apply here.

      1. Eye of Sauron*

        I’d say it’s not a dumb policy (I agree with the idea you don’t want employees who just quit to hang around) but I do agree there should be latitude to adjust for circumstances such as in this case.

        1. hbc*

          That’s the problem I’m having with HR right now at my work: mistaking a good general practice for a good policy. Or I guess not being clear about which policies are hard and unbreakable rules versus guidelines that can and should be varied from as the situation warrants. To me, it’s not too hard to lay out expectations clearly rather than coming up with a policy that can be misinterpreted as being a hard and fast rule.

          -“Escort anyone who quits or is fired with no notice out of the building immediately” = bad policy
          -“Escort out anyone who there is reason to believe will spread ill will or cause damage, including most firings and heat-of-the-moment resignations” = reasonable policy

  4. Trout 'Waver*

    What could we have done better up front to keep her from even thinking about shopping her offer around?

    Holy heck, #3. You seem to be taking this very personally Of course people will shop offers around because people like making money. Everyone would take more money if you offered it to them. That’s the whole point of working. People get multiple quotes on toasters. Why wouldn’t they also get multiple quotes on the value of their labor?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well said!

      I think there’s a thing with employers sometimes that’s like “our goal is to be such a great place to work that it won’t even occur to people to think about leaving or turning down our offers.” But this is money — of course people should consider options.

      1. MassMatt*

        It’s money AND a whole lot of other things (PTO, benefits, opportunities for career advancement, training, etc) as you pointed out in the original response.

        Where you work is likely to be one of the most important decisions in your life, aside from who your partner/spouse is. It’s natural for people to weigh it thoroughly and compare offers.

    2. Breda*

      It also sounds like they came in high to begin with, since the other place was asked to match their offer. So they’re pretty much doing it right anyway, AND they have a new employee who is confident that she’s choosing them for many reasons and not solely because they offered more money.

    3. Irene Adler*

      True. Maybe they don’t want to be in the position of learning they lost a good employee over something small, like $1,000 difference in salary or 5 days PTO.
      They might ask for the opportunity to meet/beat any other offers the candidate is fielding.

    4. LKW*

      Unless the job seeker had niche skills that I really needed, I’d be really tempted to rescind the offer. Once employed, would this person be any less amenable to taking a better offer – regardless of how much time, effort, skills, developed by my company?

      I don’t know – there is just something really off putting about someone who gets an offer and then immediately uses it to get an offer somewhere else. To the toaster experience, it’s more like selecting a toaster off the shelf, walking it to the front of the store, getting on line, putting it on the conveyor belt, having the cashier scan it and then holding up a finger in the “wait a minute” pose and calling another store to see if they’ll price match.

      1. Lehigh*

        But the difference is, getting the cashier to scan the toaster is not the only way to find out how much the toaster costs or what its specs are. Often, getting an offer is the first point when the candidate finds out what the pay & benefits package actually is. Therefore, it’s the right time to shop around.

      2. Frank Doyle*

        You’re demanding loyalty from someone who doesn’t even work for you yet. That’s not reasonable. I’d argue that it’s not reasonable to demand blind loyalty from your employees, either — they should stay because they like working there and feel that they are paid and treated well.

        1. Specialk9*

          Yeah. Very disturbing and weird.

          No company gets my loyalty, because no company will give me loyalty. It’s a business transaction, with hopefully some individual socializing. A good person, though, gets my loyalty.

        2. Michaela Westen*

          My boss has plenty of flaws, but he has won our loyalty by appreciating our work and accomodating things like medical, time off, and pay upgrades.
          A company can win loyalty like this too – but the company has to *win* it.
          Companies who expect loyalty from employees they treat like disposable, replaceable parts are living in a dream world.

      3. Canadian Teapots*

        I would look at it like this: things work like this when the unemployment rate is low – workers have more options and maybe that means you get a better worker down the road who values your company’s culture and fit more than the first one would have, because the new worker -also- had the option to choose and chose your company.

      4. Cordoba*

        Companies have proven that they are often very “amenable” to sourcing labor as cheaply as possible – regardless of how much the time, effort, and skills of the current employees have contributed to the company.

        There are whole industries devoted to helping big employers reduce their payroll expenses in ways that are detrimental to their existing staff.

        Continuing the toaster analogy, if I were a (sentient) toaster and knew that you were always looking for a way to make toast cheaper and send me to the scrapyard I would be a very foolish toaster if I was not always looking for another person would would appreciate my bread-toasting-skills more than you do.

        Employers are generally not loyal. It amazes me that they expect employees to behave any differently.

      5. Trout 'Waver*

        I have long held the position that someone who punishes you attempting to negotiate is showing you exactly the type of boss they’d be.

        Also, why does it matter if they have niche skills or not? Pay the market rate.

        Furthermore, why wouldn’t anyone take a better offer if one came along? Most companies these days have no loyalty towards their workers. Why would workers go against their own interests out of loyalty to someone they don’t even work for yet?

        Finally, the way you make your workers less amenable to taking better offers is by paying them fairly, treating them as valuable contributors, and doing your job as a manager to find out how to motivate them and make them successful. The way you make your workers jump ship at the first opportunity is to impose draconian restrictions on them that attempt to make them unable to determine the fair market value for their work.

        And now, a bit of snark. Don’t ever go to an auction, LKW. You’d be appalled at how they’re conducted.

      6. Czhorat*

        I really disagree with this.

        We could discuss what obligations one has to ones current employer, but I have never felt any obligation towards a *potential* employer who’d merely given me an offer.

        The prospective employee owes the potential employer professionalism, but really nothing more.

      7. Mr. Rogers*

        I feel like people often forget this on both sides but… LKW, there’s a reason you have to pay your workers to be there, and it’s because they wouldn’t be doing this for free. “Would this person be any less amenable to taking a better offer” later? Uh, no? Do you really expect people are never going to leave once hired? They’re not going to stay at your business out of a sense of charity toward said business. Again, there’s a reason you have to pay them to be there. And of course people often define “better” offer differently, so it’s not just a dollar amount thing.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          And stability, and a pleasant work environment, and benefits, and a reasonable commute…

  5. Cordoba*

    OP1: No reason to pretend you didn’t overhear, not your fault the bosses didn’t pick someplace more private for their super secret meeting. Sounds like you need to have a talk with your supervisor about why they’re not letting the bosses know when they change your deadlines.

    OP3: As a job candidate I would be foolish not to shop your job offer around. Remember, I’m only doing this whole “working” thing in order to benefit myself and make money.

    A “bidding war” is in reality just “establishing the actual value of an employee on the open market”. I want very much for there to be a “bidding war” for my services, and will actively work to instigate one. Why is this a problem? It’s essentially the same thing that employers do when the interview multiple people for a job.

    If you are making competitive offers out of the gate (not starting with a lowball offer and then requiring people to hustle and deal in order to get realistic compensation) you don’t have much to worry about. If you frequently find that you lose candidates who “shop around” then it’s either time to improve pay and benefits and/or your culture and working environment need to change.

    1. Married*

      Not to mention that in many (most?) industries, like academia, it’s normal to ask people to match offers. Heck, isn’t this standard practice in any job negotiation (ie- asking the company you’d prefer to work for to match another one’s offer, not multiple rounds of bidding)?

      1. Cordoba*

        I genuinely think that some employers hope/expect that people will take any offer that will allow them to feed and shelter themselves.

        This is the “Be glad you even have a job” theory of compensation planning.

        In some circumstances people will indeed take almost any offer due to desperation, a burning desire to work at one particular organization, or to get their start in a competitive industry.

        However, most people who are in-demand enough that they are entertaining multiple potential employers at once are probably just going to ignore substandard offers as evidence of the company being either hopelessly cheap or totally out of touch with the labor market in their own industry.

    2. Eye of Sauron*

      “If you are making competitive offers out of the gate (not starting with a lowball offer and then requiring people to hustle and deal in order to get realistic compensation) you don’t have much to worry about. If you frequently find that you lose candidates who “shop around” then it’s either time to improve pay and benefits and/or your culture and working environment need to change.”

      I think this is going to be an interesting adjustment period for employers. For quite a long time we’ve been in an ’employers market’ and there are people in the workforce now who have never experienced a ‘workers market’. It used to be normal for people to have to weigh multiple offers against each other.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Yes, and I’d add the last time we were in a “workers’ market”, we still had mostly the old school thinking that interviewing was a one way street. So this is a new era so to speak.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yeah I disagreed that that’s something I’d be willing to do with a significant other. I’ll see you tonight, honey. Let’s save something to discuss over the meatloaf.

        1. CBE*

          My husband and I use email during the work day all the time. It’s perfect for “I need to tell you this before you get home but don’t want to interrupt you if you’re in a meeting” type stuff. I’ll text for something urgent like “Got the message to pick up Annie from school because she’s sick, I have a light afternoon and I know you’re taking support call this week, so I’ll take this one, we’ll be at home the rest of the day” or call for something really dire like “Two oldest daughters were just in a car accident, please meet me at Regional Hospital!” but most stuff is more like “Hey they tore up the off ramp at usual exit, you might want to get off the freeway the exit before when you come home.”

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Yeah, I would still disagree (but also not date someone who thought that was reasonable). If a boyfriend started emailing me every day thinking I was obligated to respond – he’d probably be an ex boyfriend pretty quick!

      1. Bea*

        We only email things that don’t require a response anyways. “Check out this article I’m writing.” and then if it requires a response we’ll text or wait until we see each other.

        You are assuming everyone is also married/lives with their SO, not all of us do :)

  6. hbc*

    OP3: There are some things you can do to prevent shopping offers around, I suppose, like making the offer good only for 12 hours or warning them that any shopping around will be met with a revocation of the offer. Those will probably work towards that narrow goal.

    But if your goal is to have good employees who are confidant they made the right choice in your company and that your company doesn’t have to play games to get them, then no, there’s nothing you can or should do.

    1. Science!*

      I was given a 12 hour window once. I turned down the job. It wasn’t the first red flag, but it was actually my bigger offer (more money than my other two) and I decided that it wasn’t worth working for the guy. He was also very aggressive about the offer, emailed twice, called twice (no message so I actually didn’t know who had called initially and with no message I didn’t call back) and then texted twice, all in a 12 hour span of time.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        False urgency is a huge sign the person you’re negotiating with is an asshole. I definitely agree that you made the correct call on that one.

        If there’s a legitimate business need for an answer in 12 hours, they should be paying more.

        1. Macquarie*

          “False urgency is a huge sign the person you’re negotiating with is an asshole. ”


      2. LouiseM*

        Nopenopenope. If you want to recruit top talent you have to give them more than 12 hours to respond to an offer. It’s that simple.

    2. Workfromhome*

      This should prevented people shopping your offers-it should also be quite good at preventing people from accepting your offers. Even after having multiple discussions around an offer and having involved my wife through the whole process I’ve always instead on taking at least 24 hours. Big decisions like these should always be slept on. If they cant give you a day to digest things and discuss with whoever you need then I don’t want to work there. The idea that you warn me that any shopping around means it will be revoked would make me say no right there and then. If you are confident its good fair offer why be afraid?

    1. Handy nickname*

      I- I’ve sent friends pictures of my plants :/ but it’s more of a hey, my cool new cactus bloomed!! and only to friends who like plants a lot, and also via text or snapchat, definitely not email. Didn’t even realize I was being weird (but wouldn’t be the first time lol)

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        So, this is really interesting. Can you tell me why text and snapchat feel better to you than email, for sending pix of blooming cacti?

        (I say this as someone who’s computer desktop picture is often a big pot of fuschias on my back deck, but currently it’s a pic of 2 storks doing a mating display.)

        (Also, I know I’m terribly out of the loop, but I think snapchat is the one where the picture disappears after a few seconds? Which confuses me, but I guess would keep the storage on my phone from filling up with texted pix.)

        1. laylaaaaaaaah*

          I think for me, stuff like texting/messenger apps feel better for quick daily images because there’s less pressure on the recipient to give an in-depth response? They can ignore it, or just do a quick ‘nice!’ or thumbs up or something, whereas email feels like it requires at least a sentence. It feels more formal, anyway.

          (And you’re right, snapchat does vanish the pictures, though you can take a screenshot and save the picture before it disappears. It’s really handy for storage.)

    2. Bea*

      This is what Instagram is for or even Facebook. He’s technological enough to email, with all that free time he should move to social media, doh.

      I send some stupid random stuff via text I’ll admit but it’s to friends and they do the same thing. I can’t imagine emailing my old boss all “wut up? Got a dog, see my plants are growing?”

  7. AllieJ0516*

    #4 – Could you work with some of her coworker friends to arrange a visit (or lunch or coffee, etc) to give her the opportunity to catch up and say a decent goodbye? Or circulate a goodbye card TO her and have everyone sign it…enclosing their personal contact info if they’d choose so that she could privately say goodbye to those whom she’d like to? A cold cutoff like that is terrible, and HR should be ashamed!

    1. Specialk9*

      Yeah great idea. One time way to make a flaming turd of a situation worse.

      (“You’re massively ill? Ok, let’s take away your insurance and money so now you can become homeless and die. But first we’ll give you the perp walk and start gossip that you were fired so you can never work again, on the off chance you don’t die. Have a good day. USA! USA!”)

      1. Specialk9*

        Sorry, that first sentence shoulda read:
        Yeah great idea. One nice way to make a flaming turd of a situation BETTER.

        (Not sarcasm like it like, but sincere!)

    2. laylaaaaaaaah*

      Seconding this! I left my old office rather abruptly, without really being given a chance to say goodbye, and I’m still grateful to the one coworker who reached out and made the goodbyes happen properly.

  8. Peggy*

    Possibly dumb question re: first OP: what’s the difference between a boss and supervisor?

    1. Bow Ties Are Cool*

      I’m guessing the supervisor is a senior person in a role similar to the LW’s, who oversees the group’s project work while also contributing to it, while the boss is strictly a manager.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I usually hear it the other way around — supervisor is lower level, boss is more senior. But there are no set definitions to these words; it just comes down to how people use them.

        1. LBK*

          I think that’s actually what BTAC was saying – the supervisor is the senior person *within the team* who does a mix of individual contributor work and leadership (like a team leader), while the boss is a step up in the hierarchy and only managers (ie doesn’t contribute directly to the work).

      2. Autumnheart*

        I guess I always thought of it as someone who has hiring authority vs. one who doesn’t. Not a perfect distinction but workable in most contexts.

    2. Cordoba*

      I’ve always understood both terms to mean the same thing.

      I’ve often observed “supervisor” just being used as the softer form of “boss” by organizations or people who want to downplay the sometimes negative baggage that comes with the word “boss”.

    3. Casuan*

      Every boss could be considered a supervisor although not all supervisors can be a boss?
      …or the inverse.

      I tend to think in terms of lead-supervisor-manager-boss with Boss being the most senior.
      That said, in general conversation the terms can be used interchangeably although in reality the meanings vary per regional & company culture.

      On AAM, when I read an OP’s letter I assume that if different terms are used then they refer to different individuals.
      eg: “My boss did this. Later my supervisor did that.”
      I read this as two different people, not that the terms were interchangeable.

      Peggy, your question isn’t dumb.
      signed, She Who Recently Asked for Thoughts on Colleagues vs Co-workers

  9. e271828*

    I’m hesitating to ask, because Our Host would have mentioned this and I don’t want to derail, but—wouldn’t the sick coworker who has used all her leave be eligible for some kind of disability leave, via the company? Is this one of those “depends on what US state they’re in” things (and apparently I have been fortunate to work in the good ones)? I thought there were federal protections, though?

    I do know that a lot of companies will resist using disability for employees and fight it with ugly lawyering.

    1. atalanta0jess*

      I don’t think so. Not all employers provide disability coverage, and some/many that do, the employee has to opt in and pay for it. There is no standard “disability” provided through employers. The protection we have federally that would possibly help her would be FMLA, but I think that can run concurrently with your sick/PTO, so it may be that she had run out of both; or that her company didn’t qualify for FMLA.

      I mean, employers CAN just choose to keep you on and let you take unpaid leave for awhile….there’s no reason running out of sick time means that you are out, but depending on the situation that may not be practical for anyone involved.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      In the US, we all get short-term disability leave automatically, but it’s only good for short term. I’ve used it twice for 6-week recovery periods after surgery. I don’t know how long it lasts but probably 12 weeks at most.

      Long-term disability insurance is something we have to purchase separately, but it’s often available thru our employers which makes things much simpler.

      (Oh, I see you’re probably in the US. Well, I’ll just say that this has been my experience in California.)

      1. Bea*

        California requiring ST Disability is fantastic and showing it’s progressive labor laws. It is not required in any other state on the Pacific coast though.

        Google tells me it’s California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Ney York and Rhode Island.

    3. Bea*

      The US has laws regarding disability and illness but it’s all for large employers and unpaid after PTO is exhausted.

      A few states and cities are working towards fixing it but other than mandated paid sick leave not much is happening out there.

      If she has disability insurance then thankfully that follows her and premiums can be easily transfered if the employer is paying the fees associated with them. I just purchased disability policies because I finally have an employer who opened the door for the option. $40 a month so that if I’m sick AF and can’t work for awhile, my rent and basics are paid. Most adult decision I’ve made in years I’d say.

      When my dad needed care during chemo, my mom took her 6 weeks PTO then took unpaid FLMA for 12 weeks. They were so worried about losing her, to keep her on payroll after that she worked 2 part time days a pay period for another 8 weeks or so until he was okay enough for her to return full time. So depending on your employer things are incredibly up in the air about employment when illness happens.

  10. Bea*

    Holy moly the emailing exboss is so cringe worthy. I’m sad for him, he sounds friendless and jobless, what a mix.

    My former boss and I check in. We take anywhere between a day to a week to respond. However she’s fully employed and caring for an ailing spouse who was my original boss prior to her stepping in. I do describe some mundane BS sometimes but we’re friends and she’s more of a mentor and as much as we try not to liken powerful women to mother figures, she’s my second mother (very much her own wording, she introduced herself to my mom as such and gushed about my work and how much I was appreciated/loved).

    So yeah, I would try to distance myself but steer him to hobbies or job sites to fill his time if possible.

  11. Nanani*

    OP5 – Bullet DODGED
    “obligation to source clients” in particular makes me think of pyramid scheme selling knives or some other fake job.

    Don’t feel bad.

  12. HRQueezy*

    Honestly, as an HR professional most people outside the department don’t know the law and therefore think HR professionals are incompetent when they just aren’t getting their way or blaming HR when really the decision, direction etc… was given by management and/or the c-suite.

Comments are closed.