Evil HR Lady, bedbugs and work, and more

On today’s episode of the Ask a Manager podcast, I talked with Suzanne Lucas of Evil HR Lady, which was a major inspiration for me in starting Ask a Manager a decade ago. We talked about Suzanne’s goal of demystifying HR for people, some of the weird misconceptions people have about HR, how to know if your company’s HR is good or not, and much more. And we also answered letters, including one about bedbugs (from someone who has bedbugs and is concerned about how her boss is handling it), one about overly invasive interview questions, and one about a boss who won’t stay away when she’s on vacation.

It’s 39 minutes long, and you can listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts (or here’s the direct RSS feed). Or you can listen right here:

Or, if you prefer, here’s the transcript.

Read updates to the bedbug letter here and here.

{ 98 comments… read them below }

  1. SoCalHR*

    Loved the podcast as an HR professional – also good for non-HR people to get a behind the scenes look a bit.

    Also, fully agree that “if HR does the little things well, then people will trust them with the big things.”

    1. BRR*

      I loved that they covered the topic of defining HR and addressing common misconceptions. In my (limited) experience, few people can accurately define what HR does and does not do (including my employer’s former one HR person!).

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      I had a boss once that said “A’s hire A’s. B’s hire C’s.” In other words, excellent hiring managers hire excellent employees. And not so excellent hiring managers hire mediocre employees.

        1. What the fork*

          By which time it’s too late to join in the discussion as everyone else has moved on.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes, that is the reality of it. I’m a one-person site and this is the best I’m able to do right now, but there is a ton of other (free!) content on this site. For what it’s worth, the majority of podcasts don’t offer transcripts at all; I’m trying to do what I can.

            1. Alldogsarepuppies*

              I really wish we wouldn’t’ have to have this discussion every week. There are also likely people that have visual impairments that mean they can’t read your site, but now can get your advice by listening, and there isn’t complaints that you don’t make audio versions of your blog. The fact that you transcribe at all is so honorable since it is the vast exception (and those that do often don’t do every episode, or only do it because fans do it for them). I’d imagine you are also editing fairly close to deadline which would make transcribe in time for release hard.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I do think it’s weird that this comes up nearly every week when tons of bigger, more-resourced sites than this one don’t do transcripts at all and don’t seem to be fielding constant complaints about it. And yeah, I’ll just start referring people to previous discussions of it rather than rehashing it here every week!

                1. RD*

                  It makes me wonder if it might be just one or two people making the same comment weekly but changing their name so the complaint seems more wide spread.

                2. Alton*

                  I’m not really in any communities or fandoms associated with podcasts, so I don’t know how other sites compare, but I wonder if part of the issue is that you have a really active and fast-moving comment section in general.

                  That doesn’t make it reasonable for people to expect you to do more than you currently are, but I wonder if some people are just really used to rushing into the comments section to follow the conversations. But with different types of content, there’s no easy way to accommodate everyone, and not all types of media will allow for the same level of audience engagement. It typically takes longer to listen to a podcast than to read an article or blog post, anyway.

              2. Detective Amy Santiago*

                Agree with all of this. It astounds me when people complain that something they are being given for free isn’t good enough.

                1. Annoyed*

                  Not only for free, but a butt load of stuff every single day!

                  Most sites *might* do one thing per day but usually one thing per week.

                  And no transcripts no matter how many times one asks for Dear Prudence to provide them.

                2. Detective Amy Santiago*

                  And Slate has to make good money. I paid for a year subscription and still see ads (even though I also have an ad blocker on my work computer).

                3. BRR*

                  I find it so odd that this comes up every. single. week. Not to mention people asked for transcripts and Alison provided them (!).

                4. Delphine*

                  Not to assume anything about your personal ability to hear/not hear but…I think it’s important to remember that the people making these requests aren’t complaining for the heck of it. The recorded versions of the podcast are inaccessible to them. Yes, it’s free, and yes, Alison can only do so much and provides transcripts as soon as possible–that’s excellent! But people *do* miss out on the discussion and those of us who are able to listen to the podcasts shouldn’t really sit around and imply that those who don’t have that ability are being entitled when they comment about it.

                  I think a line in the post about the transcript being released next week would help stave off many of these types of comments…

                5. zora*

                  @Delphine: The point is that there are approximately 16 other posts each week that are not podcasts, and that are fully accessible for the hearing impaired to contribute to the discussion for. That is a lot more content than other sites, and it is just one post each week that causes a problem for hearing impaired/hard of hearing listeners. It seems weird to be so upset about the 1/17 of free content instead of enjoying the 16/17.

              3. boop the first*

                Devices have apps that read text, that’s why no one complains about lack of audio. Audio is already built in (depending on how aggressive the ads are).

            2. KayEss*

              I admit I don’t know what the reality of producing podcasts is like, but it seems like this whole issue could be easily solved by delaying the release of each episode by a week so that the transcript can be done. I’m sure most of us would be more than willing to forego one week’s podcast post in order to shift things onto a schedule where people who need the transcripts can participate in the discussion. Is there any pressing reason that a given episode has to come out so soon after it’s recorded?

              1. Rose*

                That’s a fair idea, but really Alison should be able to release whatever she wants, whenever she wants. The site is free and really great. The transcript is a bonus. If we were paying for it then it would make sense to release at the same time but we’re not.

          2. Is this thing on?*

            Alison, now that you’re part of a larger podcast network, is there $$ support for getting a transcript prior to air? One of the things that is so amazing about AAM is that the commenting community is so supportive and the discussions are positive and valuable. It really is a disservice not to have the transcript available for a week.

              1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                I just heard an ad for your podcast listening to “This Day in History Class” (another HowStuffWorks podcast) :)

            1. whistle*

              A “disservice”? I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

              Alison, I’m very sorry to see you are getting so much push back on the awesome content that you provide for free. I’m amazed and disappointed and number of people each week who seem to think you owe them something. I hope this will not deter you from continuing to offer the podcasts.

              1. Annoyed*

                I can see transcripts, that she *pays for herself*, being just stopped all together (Alison most of us appreciate you!) because of this sense of entitlement.

                This is a personal blog/advice site, not Slate it WaPo, etc. People man…

                1. Ads Anon*

                  I can’t reply to Alison or Whistle below, so I’ll say here that there are two definitions to free. In the sense of are we, the readers, paying for it with money, no. So in that sense it’s free.

                  But is Alison getting paid for it? Very much yes. She’s not doing it FOR free.

                  I’ve specifically NOT turned off my ad blocker, because I recognise that this is Alison’s job. And she’s very good at the advice side of it. But like all of us of with jobs, sometimes there are bits that we aren’t so good at, and I think the comments management and general site management is not great here.

              2. Rose*

                I wish this comment could be upvoted. I hope Alison knows the majority of people feel the same as you, I certainly do.

          3. sb*

            Perhaps we could start a thread for last-weeks-transcript in the comment each week, for those of us who don’t do audio for whatever reason to at least chat amongst ourselves.

            (My audio processing is terrible; I can listen to podcasts, but it takes a lot more attention and energy, and then trying to reply in the comments without a transcript to refer back to to make sure I had heard something correctly before commenting on it would be difficult at best.)

            1. ThursdaysGeek*

              The thread is already there, and there’s nothing keeping people from commenting on older content. In fact, I just did!

              1. sb*

                Oh, huh, I thought comments here turned off faster than that. I guess I haven’t tried to comment on a week-old post; most places that move this fast turn them off in a couple of days.

                1. ThursdaysGeek*

                  The problem, however, is that most people have quit reading and commenting, so you’re mostly commenting into the void. People here move on very quickly, so if you don’t comment quickly, you’ll get little or no response. On the other hand, if you comment on older posts, you can get in the last word! :)

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      I think the transcripts are great! If I could make one suggestion, it would be nice if a link to the transcript was added to the discussion post after it’s available. I know every discussion post has a link to the previous week’s transcript, and every transcript has a link to its original discussion post (which is awesome). But adding one more link going the other direction would be the perfect storm of awesomeness.

  2. Grouchy 2 cents*

    Regarding bed bugs. I know in New York you can call the city or county to report bedbugs and they will come down on landlords like a ton of bricks if they aren’t fixing it. (I had bedbugs in my building and they were required to send out a multi-page memo with all kinds of information. Luckily my landlords were good and the bugs never got further than the originating apartment which was nowhere near mine.) I think the LW should do all she can on her end (calling the city etc) and reporting this to HR when she speaks to them. Also, it kind of feels like her manager is shaming her for having bugs. Which isn’t cool and HR can hopefully frame whatever solution they come up with in a less “Shun the diseased” kind of way.
    (One last thing: if the Company is that big I guarantee there is more than one employee with them so the full burn it with fire treatment isn’t going to encourage anyone to come forward in the future.)

    1. Bedbug LW*

      Thanks for your sympathy and understanding- it definitely felt like I was being shamed and ostracized. I totally get why people have that instinctive response, but it made an already stressful situation that much worse.

      Re: the landlord, my city doesn’t do much about it- sure, I could report it, but since my landlord is already hiring exterminators to fumigate periodically, technically they’re fulfilling their duty under the Residential Tenancies Act. This is also a really low priority for the Landlord and Tenant Board, and their enforcement is notoriously lax. So I don’t have high hopes there. What I ended up doing was heat treating my bed frame with a heat gun, sealing every crack in the baseboards with caulk, washing everything that I own, and showering my home with diatomaceous earth. I also put the legs of my bed in plastic containers filled with an inch of soapy water, to deter the bugs from climbing in. All this took about two days. (Just putting this all here in case anyone else reading needs tips; in which case, my condolences.)

      1. animaniactoo*

        Fwiw, there’s also non-toxic stuff you can spray on your clothes immediately before you leave which will kill most/any bugs that have managed to hitch a ride.

        Things that can’t be washed or run through the dryer can be bagged and stuck in the freezer for 48 hours.

        We had the unfortunate experience when my grandfather was in his last hours of discovering that the bedbug treatment of his apartment had not been nearly effective enough. There was a lot of scratching at that funeral. And odd items in all of our freezers (my son’s boots for example, a couple of “intimate” items that wouldn’t stand up to high heat, someone’s hand-painted tote bag…)

        1. whistle*

          Another option for stuff you can’t dry is to put the items in black trash bags and leave them in your car in the sun for couple of hours. The items need to get up to 120 degrees iirc to kill the bed bugs. I have been instructed that freezing does not kill them, but I don’t know if that’s correct.

          1. justsomeone*

            You are correct. Freezing doesn’t kill them, but heat will. It does have to be sustained heat though. :/

      2. Bea*

        Shivering. You don’t fumigate for bedbugs. You have to heat treat. They just retreat and don’t die by pesticide, they resurfaced after being nearly eradicated because they developed resistance to chemicals.

          1. boop the first*

            Our building was solved of bed bugs because of the spray. And thank goodness it did, because I was not sleeping by the end of it.

            The thing is, they have to do it every week for a few weeks – just like lice. The eggs are resistant, so if they just do it once periodically, after the eggs hatch they get too much time to breed. And they have to get every single unit in the building each time.

            We didn’t even have to throw out any furniture or other belongings, it worked just fine.

      3. A username for this site*

        Dust mite covers help, too. They’re not 100% impermeable unless you duct tape the zipper, and even then they’re not perfect, but they significantly reduce the available area of your mattresses and pillows that the bugs can get into.

        1. Bea*

          They have bedbug covers. They put one on for me after they heat treated my apartment. The zippers are made to be without gaps.

      4. KHB*

        If we’re sharing tips, here’s one for those who (like me) have platform beds that rule out the “put the legs in plastic containers” trick.

        I moved the bed away from the wall and took off all the blankets except a sheet (i.e., everything that could inadvertently hang down and touch the ground). I put a (supposedly) bedbug-proof cover on the mattress, and inspected the rest of the bedding to make sure no bugs were hiding there. Then I got a pack of poster paper and put pieces between the mattress and the bed base, extending 3-4 inches out on all sides. (The idea is that the only way a bug can get from the floor to the mattress is to crawl out on the underside of the paper and then some how flip around to the top side.) I brushed all the exposed paper surfaces with diatomaceous earth for good measure.

        The poster paper trick was of my own devising. I don’t know how much good it actually did, but it did mark the transition point between getting a new bite every 2-3 days (my infestation wasn’t terribly bad to begin with) to getting none at all, which may or may not have been a coincidence.

      5. phedre*

        Bedbug LW, you have so much sympathy from me! I had a minor case of bedbugs 5 years ago – it turns out I’m highly allergic so I figured out that we had bedbugs immediately and we were able to get our apartment treated before the infestation grew. Even that relatively minor infestation was traumatic and expensive – to this day when I have a bug bite I get a moment of panic that maybe it’s bedbugs.

        I really hope this resolves for you soon!

        Things that I found that worked well were buying mattress encasements to keep bedbugs from getting in/out, buying bedbug climbup protectors for furniture legs, steam cleaning rugs, buying a handheld steam cleaner and using it to clean furniture (but you have to be careful to not get your couch moldy), spreading diatomaceous earth, laundering what you can at a high heat, and then putting all of your clothes (including dirty clothes) in the big ziploc garment bags and then put those garment bags in those big rubbermaid containers. Anything that can’t be cleaned has to be double-bagged in airtight heavy-duty garbage bags that can’t be opened for a year.

      6. Kat in VA*

        I have nothing to add other than I feel for you. Bedbugs are a terrible thing and people can get legit PTSD from them. They’re not “dirty” any more than lice are “dirty” (theory goes that lice actually like nice clean hair!)

        I’m sorry you have to go through this and I hope that you get rid of them quickly, never to return!

  3. Bedbug LW*

    Hey! Bedbug letter writer here. I wanted to respond and give an update on my situation.

    My situation has more or less resolved- I do still have bedbugs, and will have them until I move. It is not possible to get rid of them in a building like the one I live in. But I’ve done a lot of work in my unit to mitigate the problem, and it’s gotten a lot better.

    I did go to HR, and the representative I met with assured me that I would not have to leave work or try to work from home (which wouldn’t be possible, since the nature of my job requires me to be on-site). She suggested that I move, which was frankly laughable and a bit insulting (our city is notorious for having a f*cked up housing market, and I can’t afford to move- that’s why I live where I live). But I certainly would move if I could, and the rep was really sympathetic to my situation and kind about it.

    I’m trained in legal research (though obviously this didn’t extended to an understanding of the term “hostile work environment” at the time I wrote in- I have since learned what the term actually means) so I did, and do, understand that my employer has a duty to protect its other employees, and that this extends to my supervisor’s obligations. I brought this up when I met with HR as well.

    One point that I’d like to bring up is that, contrary to popular belief, it’s not common for bedbugs to travel on someone’s body or clothing outside of the “infected” home. (Yes, this is something I researched as well.) It’s possible, but not common. Bedbugs are nocturnal, and like to stay in enclosed, warm spaces like beds, hence their name. They are also very slow-moving, and blind. It’s my suspicion that a lot of people, perhaps subconsciously, are ascribing their preconceptions about other insect infestations (fleas, for example) to a bedbug situation. Fleas travel. Bedbugs generally don’t.

    In any event, I appreciate you taking the time to answer my letter, and I hope that the advice you gave will be helpful to others.

    (As an addendum: I definitely don’t want anyone else to experience this. It’s been hell and has really done a number on my mental health. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone but my very worst enemies. I barely slept for months. This undoubtedly affected my ability to, as Evil HR Lady said, “flip it around” and see it from others’ points of view. I would just hope that anyone listening, or reading this comment, understands the duress I was under.)

    1. Hills to Die on*

      I am so sorry you are going through this. I hope it gets better and that this is the last of it.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      HR: You should move.
      You: I should. I’ll need you raise my pay rate by X% in order to afford that. When can I expect that in my paycheck?

      1. Bedbug LW*

        Ha, that’s exactly what I said- though to my partner and not HR. I will be negotiating for a pay raise at my next review, though, since I’m underpaid relative to my peers with the same education in the field. (This is unrelated to bedbugs, though.)

        1. KHB*

          When I told my landlord I had bedbugs, his advise was to “discard my bed.” My bed cost more than most professional heat-treat services, and I was already pretty sure that most of the bugs were hiding elsewhere in the room anyway, so getting a new bed wouldn’t have done a goshdarned thing.

          (Where I live, landlords have no responsibility to deal with infestations unless more than one unit is affected. My landlord told me he’d received no other complaints, and when I offered to check with the other tenants to make sure, he threatened me. Good times.)

          1. tink*

            There are some mattress protectors that are multi-seal to protect from bedbugs (and other allergens). If you can get your mattress free of bedbugs, a protector like that could help you out a lot. They’re fairly affordable too (worth the investment, imo).

    3. Bea*

      We’ve been a year clear of the devil bugs and I still start freaking out if I get an itch while sitting on the couch. I’m so sorry you have to continue to live in those conditions. It took my property manager a day to respond and a month before the team could get us on the schedule for treatment. That was torment. They even gave me a giftcard for all the laundry involved. I refused to take my clothes out of their sealed tubs for six months after the treatment.

      1. animaniactoo*

        It took me more than 3 years before I stopped freaking out about an itch. And as far as we have ever been able to determine, only one bed bug actually made it into my home (see above about grandfather’s apt/exposure).

    4. Annoyed*

      No worries. I know that my response would be to want to just walk away from my house and everything I own. Just leave it all behind and start over somewhere sterile. I am so sorry you have to deal with this.

    5. WellRed*

      And now you’ve become an expert on a topic you never wanted to. I hope I never need it, but I appreciate all the information you’ve provided

    6. stk*

      Good luck ongoing, Bedbug LW! Bedbugs are awful.

      I work with pest control professionally, and you’re right bed bugs don’t just travel on everything all the time like fleas, but they do travel in fabric – bags left on beds is the typical one, but clothes or other fabric that touches anything with bedbugs can get infested. Which is gross!

      For other people wondering about this, it’s maybe also worth noting that in lots of places, like the UK where I am, your employer would have a legal duty to protect your colleagues from bed bugs, and wouldn’t have much choice about telling everyone.

    7. Alton*

      You have my sympathy, and I’m glad that things seem to have gotten better even if it’s not a perfect outcome (yeah, my understanding is that it can be challenging to totally eradicate bed bugs from apartment buildings–and it sounds like your landlord isn’t doing a great job to begin with).

      I had a possible bed bug scare (had some weird bites but couldn’t find any evidence beyond that), and just being in a watchful mode can be exhausting. I can definitely see why treating an infestation can be so traumatic for people. But I also think that the stigma and inaccurate information floating around makes things worse. Bed bugs have a sort of mythic quality to them that inspires fear. Google Chrome on my phone will still suggest click-baity bed bug articles to me sometimes because of my search history (thanks, Google…), and a lot of these articles will have headlines with language like “ambush” or “attacked.” Bed bug infestations can definitely feel like an ambush to the people dealing with them, but I’m not sure it helps for the media to characterize the bugs that way.

      1. Temperance*

        Bedbugs are no joke. Two summers ago, Booth and I got attacked by some kind of insect while riding a bus. We were both covered in ugly, extremely itchy, red welts. We tore apart our entire house looking for evidence of an infestation. Thankfully, we were fine.

        I ended a friendship over bedbugs, TBH. Friends of my husband invited us over to meet their baby (aww) but I had a cold. A week later, they reached out to me for legal help with their severe bedbug infestation. So basically, they wanted baby gifts and free legal advice and didn’t care about exposing us to their infestation.

    8. OyHiOh*

      I juuuuuuuuuuuust discovered bedbugs. Kids told me they were getting mosquito bites and, truth, the window screens in this old house are not exactly robust and it has been relatively wet recently so I didn’t think much of it. Took clean bedding to children’s beds a couple days ago and discovered BUGS! That was not a happy discovery. I’m using a lot of the hard won lessons in this post to deal with our problem, which most likely came in with a house guest who traveled internationally, multiple very large airplanes/hotels/other shared and bedbug prone spaces to get to us.

  4. Teapot librarian*

    Re: invasive interview questions. I wondered while listening to the letter if the positions the LW is applying for are in the social work/social service arena where they might be looking for personal background that would (theoretically) make the employee better able to relate to the client. Otherwise yeah, those are pretty terrible questions.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Are those kind of questions common in those fields?

      The idea that in order to be an effective social worker one has to have experienced some sort of trauma makes me feel icky.

      1. Ingray*

        I’m in the mental health/social work field, I have never asked an interviewee invasive personal questions nor been asked them in an interview. It’s generally understood that while a lot of people have person experiences that bring them to this field, you 100% have the right to keep those experiences to yourself. The only exception I can think of is certain positions that require a “lived experience” component, and possibly substance abuse, where at least at one time there was an idea that you had to have been an addict to treat other addicts (I’ve never worked in substance abuse treatment so I can’t say for sure).

    2. Sue*

      I thought that as well. Social service type non-profits maybe or maybe just interviewers who highly value overcoming adversity and haven’t thought through the best ways to discern that

    3. Trout 'Waver*

      But that would be an even bigger red flag in a social work setting, because presumably someone in the field of social work would know better than to go digging for such stories. Ick.

  5. essemess*

    Alison, I stumbled upon a comment you wrote in 2015 stating that you’d love a podcast. Now you have one! I’m delighted that your goals are being achieved and that all the diligence and kindness that you put into the world is bearing good things in your life. :)

  6. Trout 'Waver*

    “Where do you most experience scarcity in your life?”

    “Well, I’m not in a situation where I can own a dog and would like one.”

    1. Ali G*

      I could have a lot of fun with that one:
      “My body has recently rejected red wine. I miss a good spicy Zin.”
      “My tomatoes keep getting eaten off the plants by squirrels and I have yet to have any myself.”
      “Not enough weekends.”
      “I’m losing my hair.”
      “I could only afford a 700 square foot condo, and really wanted 1000.”

      1. Positive Reframer*

        “Where I currently work has only one size and color of sticky notes (and not Post-it notes either)”

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      “There is a distinct lack of good quality Mexican and Thai restaurants in my area.”

      1. The New Wanderer*

        We have great Mexican and Thai but no good Chinese food! Apparently that is a scarcity in this region.

        1. Beth Anne*

          Yeah that question is so weird! I’m not even sure what kind of information they are trying to get…and I don’t even think the interviewer knows. But yeah the things I thought of was money or food related hahaha

  7. Snickerdoodle*

    I saw “bedbugs” and nearly thought it was from a coworker. A coworker found what she thought might be a bedbug in her work area and asked everyone about it, and another coworker suggested that the recent construction project forced out a homeless camp, so maybe the bedbugs had moved into our building. At that point our HR rep shouted “NO!” and that was the end of that.

  8. Amy Farrah Fowler*

    In reply to the discussion about why people might believe that HR has to keep things confidential: I honestly think that this may relate to some of the things that HR does do that are generally confidential things. Many times HR is where you go for information about your benefits, insurance, retirement accounts, etc, and we would expect them to keep those sorts of things confidential. “Hey, I need a special chair because of my sciatica” isn’t something that HR would (or should) spread around the office.

    I think people extrapolate those things out and assume (never healthy to assume) that other things would be kept private as well.

  9. beckysuz*

    Ok so I hopped over to EvilHR lady’s site, and what I really want to know is this….Alison, how could you guys NOT talk about the co-worker cuddling she posted about on the 20th ?? I have to assume you recorded the pod prior to that because that may be the worst team building exercise of all time and I’m desperate to talk about it. You should do a post about it so we can all discuss the horror of forced cuddle time with Bob from accounting

        1. The Vulture*

          “required to switch partners after two hours” EXCUSE ME TWO HOURS OF CUDDLING ONE OF MY COWORKERS, I DON’T THINK SO.

          Give me a quick sec, just have to go scrap all the skin off my body. Should release a lot of oxytocin!

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      oh my god there are no words

      we could discuss this in the open thread tomorrow but I feel like it would just be a lot of OH JOHN RINGO NO

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