my staff is selling multi-level marketing products at work, my coworker makes R-rated noises, and more

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

1. Staff selling multi-level marketing products at work

I manage a team of seven for a small advertising agency. We’re located in a rural-ish area. Our HQ is in a major city about seven hours away. I got promoted to manager after our last manager retired. I’m younger than most of my team (I’m 33) but we’ve all gotten along so well in the past that I’m at a loss for what to do with this issue.

Walking into work feels like walking past mall kiosks: each one of my staff is side-hustling with some kind of pyramid scheme/multi-level marketing product: oils, diet pills, jewelry and make up, leggings, kitchen gadgets, diet powders, and weight loss snake oil. I have bad opinions about this stuff to start with and I’ve had to correct my staff in morning meetings that somehow start to devolve into sales pitches that our corporate policy prohibits the sale of this stuff during work hours because it’s effectively time stealing. Just before the holidays our corporate office put out a memo reminding staff that only pre-approved philanthropic sales or fundraising was allowed in the office and that the sale of MLM products is against company policy and termination could occur on the spot if you’re caught selling products on company time. One of my staff told me it doesn’t apply to us because we don’t work in the HQ office.

I fully understand that people turn to these products and “opportunities” for fast extra cash but there is plenty of work to do around the office. We have great overtime incentives – not like gift cards or pizza parties but real time and a half overtime, bonus vacation days, and opportunities to work from home – and nobody takes advantage of it so I’m not inclined to believe that they’re doing it for extra cash.

We’re hosting corporate staff next month and I can’t seem to get my employees to stop flaunting their pyramid schemes. HR Policy dictates I start firing people but I’m hesitant. I think I’m being too soft in giving them way more chances than HR would recommend. What can I do to get through to them?

You’re being way too soft — and you’re doing your people a huge disservice as a result. If company policy says they should be fired over this, by not being clear about that rule you’re setting them up to be fired. It is not a kindness to people to let them think something is okay that actually isn’t, particularly when that something could have consequences for them. In fact, it’s the opposite of kind. Be clear with them about what rules they need to play by.

Talk to your staff today. Say, “I understand there’s been confusion about the company policy against selling products in the office that aren’t pre-approved fundraising campaigns. I want to be clear that rule does apply to this office, and I will be enforcing it, effective immediately. If you have products in the office that you’re selling, or catalogues, or are otherwise soliciting sales at work, I need you to stop, immediately. The company takes this seriously, and I’m going to take it seriously too.” You could add, “It can be very unpleasant for people to feel pressured to buy items from people who they need to maintain good working relationships with, and it’s a distraction to our work as well.” If people push, you can say, “It’s not optional and there’s no flexibility on this.” You can also say, “It’s a corporate policy, but it’s one I’d implement here even if it weren’t, given the distraction and discomfort it can cause.”

Then, if you see any more of it, you address it on the spot. If you see someone with wares displayed, you walk over and you say, “This stuff can’t be out here. I need you to put it away” and you stand there while they do.

I’d give people a week or so to believe you’re really serious since it sounds like you’ve sort of set them up to believe that you’re not — and you’ll need to consistently demonstrate that you are.

(Also, give some thought to whether you shy away from holding people accountable on other stuff too. I’m betting that you might.)

2. My desk mate makes sex noises while she works

I have a relatively new desk mate – we sit probably three feet from each other in an open office setting. She is very nice, but there is something about her that is driving me NUTS. Whenever she gets stressed or upset or is just concentrating a lot, she makes noises exactly like um, sex noises, about every minute or so. Heavy breathing, gasps, and moans … It is maddening!

I have my headphones up on the absolute loudest setting, but the noises are so loud and distracting and annoy me to the point I can hardly sit at my desk.. Can I say something? Or do I have to just suck it up since it is just breathing?

Oh my goodness. Well … you could try saying, “You’ve probably never noticed, but you do a lot of vocalizing when you’re stressed — heavy sighing and other noises. It can be distracting! I’m sure it’s unconscious, but could you try to rein it in?” You could blame the open office too, adding something like, “They have us packed in here so closely that stuff can be distracting that wouldn’t be if we had walls.”

This is likely to make her pretty self-conscious for a while, which isn’t ideal, but it’s also true that when you’re working a couple of feet from other people, regularly gasping and moaning is not cool.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. Interviewer asked detailed questions about unrelated jobs from years ago

After leaving school, I spent six months suffering through, and eventually dropping out of, a degree that was totally unsuitable for me. Rather than waste more of my parents’ money; I worked a series of odd jobs for four years: as a waitress, a bookstore clerk, an art gallery assistant, and a language tutor. Eventually, I found my way and I’ve been working a job I love for the last six years in a (totally unrelated) field. My resume is laid out as my most recent position first, along with a paragraph detailing my duties in said role. I do include the short-term positions as one liners, just so that recruiters don’t think I spent four years doing nothing. Plus, it always seems to interest interviewers, making for good small talk starters.

Anyway, I recently went to a first interview where they printed out my entire resume and insisted on going through every single one of my positions, asking me numerous questions like “What would your colleagues at Art Gallery say about you if asked?” and “What did you learn from your time at Restaurant?” and bizarrely “Do you have a reference for this totally unrelated job from 10 years ago?”

It took about an hour to get through these completely irrelevant positions (pushing the total interview time to two hours), and by the time we arrived at the work I’ve actually done in my field, I was exhausted. Quite frankly, the main things I learned in those jobs was that I did not want to do them.

My question: Is this normal? Should I prepare insights and answers around jobs I did that have nothing to do with what I’m doing now? Or would it be better to leave off the irrelevant jobs on my resume and just explain if asked?

Nope, it’s not normal. It’s of course not a bad idea to be prepared to talk about any job you have on your resume, but when you have six years of experience in a professional role, you shouldn’t need to expect that you’ll be interrogated about the five months you spent as a waitress years earlier.

It’s possible they were using a ridiculous hiring system called Topgrading where employers ask detailed questions about every job you’ve ever had, all the way back to high school, and is predicated on the idea that candidates will lie if you don’t imply you’ll be checking references for everything they say, even what they report about their grocery-bagging job in college, and that lesser-quality candidates will drop out when they realize how thorough the process will be. (In reality, lots of higher-quality candidates drop out when they realize how ridiculous the process will be.) This isn’t something you’ll run into much, but if you do, it’s useful to realize that’s what’s going on.

4. How to say I’m interested in someone else’s job, who I secretly know will be leaving

I’ve been in my role for about six months. For example’s sake, we’ll say I’m a coordinator, and I work with a team of analysts. A few months ago, before I was even out of my 90-day probationary period, my boss approached me and asked if I was interested in moving into an analyst role, anticipating a staffing shortage. At the time, I declined, citing the fact that I had only just started feeling like I understood my current role. The outcome of that conversation gave me the impression that the door was still open if I ever wanted to move up, and all I had to do was ask.

Now, I happen to know that we will be losing one of the analysts in the next 4-5 months. That information is absolutely not mine to share with our boss, I know. It seems reasonable to expect Boss to approach me again about moving into that role when my coworker does give notice, and at this point, I am interested in the position. My question is: can I proactively reopen that conversation before my boss does? Should I wait until my coworker actually gives notice, or can I casually mention the possibility of moving into that role, so my boss knows I’m interested when Coworker does give her notice? Can I ask Coworker about her timeline, to get a better sense of how to time my own conversation with Boss? (We’ve had some friendly conversations, which is how I learned she was planning to leave at all.) And perhaps most importantly, what do I say to any of these people? The only other time I’ve changed roles within a company, my boss came to me with the offer, so this is uncharted territory for me.

You can say to your boss, “I’ve been thinking about our conversation a few months ago where you asked if I’d be interested in moving into an analyst role. If that opportunity ever comes up in the future, I’d definitely be interested.” And if you’re close to your coworker, you can say to her, “Do you know what your likely timeline is for giving notice? At some point I want to talk to Boss about being considered for an analyst job, and want to make sure I say something before she starts making plans for your replacement.” (The key is to say that in a way that doesn’t sound like you’re impatient for her to go, or that puts any pressure on her. And really, this conversation isn’t even necessary; it should be fine to just stick with talking with your boss herself.)

5. Can I pre-schedule a mental health day?

I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it makes winters really difficult for me sometimes. I’m at a job with a generous amount of sick leave, so I have been planning to take a mental health day at some point in the winter when I really need it. I would describe this as a true “I am not well” sick day rather than a “burned out, need a break” day, but I do have some flexibility in when I can take it, as long as I take it BEFORE I have a breakdown.

Generally I like to give my boss and coworkers as much heads up about my leave as possible, but it feels weird to give that kind of lead time with a sick day—it would strike me as very odd to say “I’m planning to be out sick on Friday.” In this case, I have a psychiatrist appointment that day anyway, so I just told my boss “I have a medical thing on Friday and I’ll be out all day” but is there generally speaking a best practice for handling this? I do feel like I need to specify it’s health-related to my boss so that it makes sense when I charge sick leave on my time card instead of regular leave.

“I’ll be out for a medical thing on Friday” is a perfect way to say it. It is a medical thing, this lets you give advance notice, and it’s appropriately vague.

{ 584 comments… read them below }

  1. neverjaunty*

    What can I do to get through to them?

    When upper management fires you and them for this, I imagine the message will sink in.

    I don’t mean to be harsh, LW, because nobody wants you to lose your job, but that’s what you’re setting up: a situation where you are valuing being “soft” and keeping friendly relationships with your direct reports over managing them – to the extent that they are refusing to follow very clear direction and are pitching their goods during work meetings (?!?!?!)

    1. Willis*

      This is what I was thinking as I was reading the letter. If the company policy is termination, and they see or otherwise find out her entire team is selling stuff, has it out at their desks, and is doing it in meetings, OP’s job could definitely be on the line. Honestly, I think this almost looks worse for OP than her employees. If she’s the manager, it should be her job to correct misunderstandings of or blatant disregard for the company’s policies.

      1. Jasnah*

        Agreed, they may be thinking, “Well, HQ says it’s wrong, but my boss doesn’t seem to care. She won’t let them fire me.”

        I can also see them begging for their jobs to HQ, “We had no idea this was the rule! OP never said it was a big deal!” and then OP gets canned because she should have known better.

        Of course I hope it doesn’t play that way but OP, you are ultimately responsible for your team. If they do poorly because you didn’t manage properly, your company might blame you.

        1. valentine*

          OP1: You’re HQ’s rep in the room and it doesn’t serve your employees for you to let them set the culture, especially one in sharp contrast with HQ’s.

          1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

            I’ll second this. OP1, you may have once been their peer and want to be understanding, but that’s not your role. You’re their boss and you need to do the work your bosses are paying you to do. That includes being the person who says no and imposes sanctions if policies are violated (flagrantly, in this case). That’s why being a manager brings with it perks and higher compensation: you need to do some hard work.

          2. EPLawyer*

            Your employees don’t get to tell you what company policy is, you tell them. There can be questions about it. But once you say “this is policy” when it really is, that is it.

            You are not their friend anymore, you are their boss. Trying to be friends with your employees only leads to trouble for everyone. You need to lay down clear lines of authority now. Or they will walk all over you for everything, if anyone has a job after corporate comes by.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              “Trying to be friends with your employees only leads to trouble for everyone.”

              So much this.

              Employee: “It doesn’t apply to our office.”
              OP: “Yes, yes it does.” ::Stands there with arms crossed overseeing employees remove all the crap::

        2. Wintermute*

          In their shoes I couldn’t blame them for blaming the LW, there’s so much icky stuff bound up in social sales to co-workers that the company took an unusually harsh stance (I’ve never worked anywhere that summary termination was a part of the solicitation policy, that was reserved for violence and theft, basically).

          1. Antilles*

            I’ve never worked anywhere that summary termination was a part of the solicitation policy, that was reserved for violence and theft, basically.
            If we’re talking fire-on-sight summary termination, then no. In typical companies, the first violation of the solicitation policy would result in a little chat (formal or informal, depending) basically saying this needs to stop immediately or we will have all sorts of formal consequences.
            But in this case, HR has *already* given them one warning about the policy, via the company-wide memo. So HR is going to interpret the continued selling of MLM’s as a willful violation of the policy and deserving of formal consequences.

            1. Anna*

              I feel like this is key. The way the policy is worded, it sounds like it’s very pointed. OP1, your team may have already been warned and the harshness of the penalty for violating the policy may very well be because of your team. It’s not a good look to have that kind of attention on you and your staff.

            2. Wintermute*

              I’ve never worked any place that a policy reminder sent via e-mail is a substitute for a written warning in the corrective action policy. This company is taking a very hard stance if they are dispensing with verbal and written warnings for something that isn’t a safety or legal issue.

            1. Elan*

              Funny to be reading this on a day when I noticed I have a meeting invite on my calendar for some chick’s MLM show-and-tell AT THE OFFICE.

              1. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

                Normally I am a stay in your lane girl, but this would incite me to sing like a canary about misuse of outlook, company time, etc.

              2. TardyTardis*

                I wish someone had told a couple of managers I knew that Pampered Princess parties etc. run by them felt like pressure to attend (though they eventually stopped, so maybe someone higher up did).

          2. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

            I think the summary termination part is more of a CYA disclaimer. Most company policies anywhere I’ve worked have something to the effect of “we can, and will, immediately terminate you if you refuse to follow policy” just to keep their options open — unless there is a union agreement or specific laws against it. This way, lets say someone is already on a PIP or has several warnings about bad performance/attitude/attendance etc., and then one day they bring in their MLM stuff and management has.had.enough. and they terminate the employee. They are being terminated on one hand because of the MLM stuff, but really it’s the whole package. The disclaimer covers the employer from a claim that, “My PIP only says I could be fired for being late/rude/lazy…they didn’t say I couldn’t sell lipgloss!!!!”

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              Also let’s not forget that in the US almost all employment that doesn’t have a contract and/or a union, which is the majority of employment, is “at will” and it is at the employers discretion when to fire someone. Even in a company that has a specific procedure for most terminations can, if they choose to, fire someone on the spot, for any legal reason at all…or no reason really as long as it doesn’t violate legal protections such as religion, race, etc.

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          It’s just a little hop from “Cindy Leggings thought it didn’t apply to us because we aren’t at HQ” to “she thought that because OP said so!”

          1. Ama*

            Yes, given the amount of justification already happening, if they actually get called on this I have no doubt that their next leap is “well, OP never contradicted me when I said it didn’t apply to us so I thought I was correct.”

        4. JJ*

          They may not be receptive, but there’s a SUPER interesting podcast about MLMs called The Dream, which breaks them down, talks about their history, etc. It also points out that rural areas like yours tend to have more of them, and how it’s basically impossible to make money because the sellers are the actual MLM customers, and how MLMs rarely get reported as scams because people are embarrassed about being duped, which I’d worry about confronting your employees with. I learned a lot from it.

          1. Scully*

            Thanks for the recommendation! I was actually looking for something to listen to on the drive home.

          2. Jennifer*

            I loved that one!

            I don’t know if confronting the employees with it is a good idea, but it’s an interesting listen either way.

    2. Tyche*

      Yeah, I’d slightly modify Allison’s answer to include something like “If you won’t follow this company rule I’m obligate to let you go.”
      So they’ll know they could be fired.

      1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        I would do the speech to the whole team the way that Allison laid out, and then if anyone is still doing it after a week of reminders, pull them into your office for a very serious conversation. Tell them at that point that they WILL be fired if they do it again, and this is the last warning that they will get. Unless you have PIPs – then you would put them on a PIP.

        1. DaisyGrrl*

          I think in this case, it would be more appropriate to progress from general warning, to addressing individually with reminders, then written warning, then fired. PIPs are more for cases where a person’s work-related performance is not up to standard in some way and could conceivably improve with some additional effort/support. This situation is more about an unacceptable behavior and it is completely within the employee’s control to comply or not so could be considered a disciplinary issue rather than performance-related.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            Agreed. This is simple misconduct. No need for a PIP (but this depends on whatever HR’s policy is)

            This place sounds miserable.

          2. TootsNYC*

            I wouldn’t progress. There’s absolutely no reason this can’t be a hard switch.

            Stuff out of the office today.
            Agendas for meetings, and OP interrupts anyone who mentions a side business, plus asks them to stay behind for a reprimand.

          3. AKchic*

            They all know about the policy, though. They are all aware of it, and are all aware that they are flagrantly violating the policy.

            At this point, they should not get any additional warnings other than a stern “get it out of here or I will follow company policy and fire you as I’m supposed to” so OP doesn’t get fired.

          4. MassMatt*

            This is entirely t00 many chances, warnings, reprimands, talks, etc. They know the policy, they have been ignoring it and rationalizing why it shouldn’t apply to them. More individual meetings etc will result in more argument and rationalizing. Have a meeting, 0r send an email, tell everyone to get rid of it by the end of the day. From there either start firing 0r at least hand out written warnings.

            I would also start looking for replacements, with this kind of widespread disregard for norms I would expect that at least 0ne person would wind up getting canned and better t0 get the replacement process started.

            1. Snuck*

              I’m with you MassMatt… I’d also start considering replacements, because if they are this flagrantly rationalising and ignoring this policy… they are doing the same for who knows which other ones…. (well.. the OP knows… think about it OP… what else are they ignoring?)

              Sit them down, say “Look Head Office is coming (winter is coming!) and we need to get our ducks in a line. MLM gone as of NOW. Pack it up, get it out. No debate allowed, the policy applies to us. The other policies we’ve been skirting include X, Y and Z. The wriggle room is gone, and I am not going to risk your jobs over this. So… here’s the policies, printed out for you. Your attendance at this meeting confirms you have been issued it, if you are confused about the policy please email me your questions so I can find out the correct answers… otherwise it’s now a done deal. M’kay?” And let them fire back, repeat ONCE “It’s the policy, please take it, read it, and email me any other questions, I’m protecting your roles here folks” and … close the meeting.

      2. kittymommy*

        I would say that as well. I would also give them a deadline to have everything off their desks and out of site and I would make it by the end of the day at the latest (obviously if someone is not in that day that’s an exception).

        1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

          Agreed on this. After the general announcement take a moment to have them clear it off their desk…right now…in a drawer or bag. They need to have it completely out of the office by the end of the day or if there are reasons why they “can’t” then 48 hours. Then give it a week to see if anything reappears…you know…accidentally.

        2. AKchic*

          Off property. Don’t let them keep their catalogues, samples, or any product that is not strictly personal use only on the premises or in any company vehicle.
          They can keep their junk in their personal vehicles all they want, but they can’t store it on company property (desks, closets, filing cabinets, whatever) because that gives them a handy stockpile for someone to conveniently “stop by” for a quick “pick up” when they should be working, or “oh, I arranged a demonstration while I was on lunch, but they’re running late, you don’t mind, it will only take 10 minutes” and here they are, supposed to be in a meeting in 5…

          No, “At Home” business means just that. “At Home”. Not crammed into a spare office drawer, stealing space from your legitimate employer, and not stealing time from them either.

      3. Lindrine*

        Agreed. I’m surprised this was not in Allison’s script. They need to have it clearly stated to them that they will be fired if their behavior continues.

    3. mark132*

      Exactly, LW1 its you or them. In fact if this has been going on as long as you say, I would be concerned about your job already.

    4. Approval is optional*

      This! You have a month before corporate arrives LW (minus the time it took to get your letter published of course) – act now.
      I’d also suggest you access some good management texts, courses, look for a mentor etc . Transitioning to management is difficult under the best of circumstances; doing it when you used to be a peer of your reports, live in a small community, are ‘isolated’ from HQ and (I assume) your manager, and are younger than most of your team (or at least think that is significant) is hardly the best of circumstances.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Seconding this. The jump from peer to manager can be really, really tough, and there’s rarely any formal training offered to help you do it. Since your company isn’t likely to help train you, you’ll want to seek out training from other sources.

    5. Wintermute*

      I second this. In fact, if I were LW I would start job searching immediately, their actions have been absolutely termination-worthy. The company realizes how toxic MLM marketing and other pitches can be, how coercive and how manipulative… they’ve taken a hard line by making it a summary termination offense. Consider for a moment how rare it is for anything to be a summary termination offense that isn’t either an immediate risk to lives or matter of “call the cops, then call HR”, usually immediate termination is resolved for blatant safety violations in a high-risk role, violence, theft and threats, along with a handful of industry-specific things like violating government regulations.

      By allowing your employees to flaunt something your work feels strongly about. You have let that value completely lapse and turned the department into a sales bazaar. I would be in instant damage control mode, have that meeting, make it very clear, make it clear that it has to stop now, I would not give it a week, they take their stuff home tonight and it’s never heard of again, or you will apply the company policy. And then hope that no one that feels scammed, has been injured by a product (there’s a class action suit out there about a product making hair fall out and causing chemical burns), felt coerced to spend money they don’t have, or is upset that they were coerced into making someone else money as a downline while they lose money they can’t afford tells upper management what’s been going on.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think that’s quite an alarmist read, and the OP does not need to start job searching. She needs to clean it up now, yes, but a sensible company is not likely to fire her over this. I am fully on board with hating MLMs, but most companies are not going to fire someone over not enforcing this policy. They’re going to tell her to clean up, maybe give her a stern talk, and roll forward.

        1. Scarlet2*

          I’m wondering if word hasn’t gotten around about what LW’s reports are doing though. It looks like they received a memo out of the blue from HQ stating that this kind of behaviour would lead to immediate termination, which 1) is a pretty drastic measure and 2) seems strange as a general policy unless someone has concerns about an existing problem. Given how blatant they are being, I wouldn’t be totally surprised if some of the reports had tried their sales pitch on colleagues outside their office. They actually seem to believe that policy doesn’t apply to them (and LW hasn’t seemed to contradict them on that).

          1. Tyche*

            Maybe a client complained with the main office?
            The HR memo could be a warning for the visit?

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              A client complaining to the main office is a reasonable inference.

              OP, on top of the other reasons this is bad, side hustles are going to give your office a fog of desperation–like everyone either expects the business to tank within the next few weeks, or takes it so unseriously that they just use it as a way to get free office space for their main job.

          2. StudentPilot*

            Well the OP said it was just before the holidays, so my thought was that it was just a timely reminder not to sell these types of products at work, at a time when people are gift buying and more likely to cave to buying something from one of them.

            1. Scarlet2*

              It’s not about buying though, it’s about selling. I would find it very odd if my boss mentioned MLM marketing out of the blue like that, holidays or not. It’s a bit like saying “oh, BTW, don’t forget you can’t go through your coworkers’ purses”. I’d think there’s some kind of concern.

              1. StudentPilot*

                Let me reframe it as “It came at a time when people are more tempted to try and hawk these items since they assume/know people are more tempted to buy something.” It doesn’t feel out of the blue to me – like every spring we get memos about bears in the park around our building. Doesn’t mean someone was attacked, it’s a measure to forestall it from happening. I read the OPs letter in that vein – a reminder to staff not to do it, not necessarily prompted by anything other then holidays. (not saying someone didn’t complain, maybe they did.)

                1. Jaz*

                  The holidays are also a time when people are hoping for some quick extra cash for last-minute gift purchases, and whatever the company’s overtime policy, it’s probably not immediate cash in hand the way these purchases often are.

            2. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

              I agree with you. At my university, there are certain times of the year that reminders like these are sent out generally. We get reminders like this during Girl Scout Cookie “season” and our mailroom sends out reminders at Christmas that any packages shipped to the university are opened by the procurement department to log the contents for inventory, per university policy, and not to ship your personal packages to the university address — they don’t want to see your personal effects, and also the mailroom would get overwhelmed in packages if they allowed it.

              1. Curmudgeon in Califormia*

                Wow! That’s harsh. At my university all they do is tell people that they have to fetch their packages from the front desk/mail room within a day, that no one will walk it to their desk, and that they shouldn’t expect admin staff to handle their stuff for them.

                But people would probably get mocked, at best, if they started shilling for MLMs. Girl Scout Cookies, OTOH, would sell well (charity, community service, yada yada, etc.)

          3. AKchic*

            Some employers send out notifications at certain times reminding staff not to send their children around with school fundraiser packets, extra-curricular fundraising raffles, foods, etc. (Scouts, team raffles, etc.) because in large office building (think 10+ stories) with potentially a thousand parents of school-aged children, it could get pretty crowded if even 300 kids showed up on any given week trying to sell to the office departments.

            This is why I’m glad for online fundraising for school events. Or the option to just donate cash rather than buy cheap, overpriced junk for my kids’ school fundraisers.

          4. Wintermute*

            You hit it on the head with “pretty drastic measure” which is why I don’t think I’m being alarmist. The company is taking an unusually extreme stance towards a non-solicitation policy which means that the stakes are higher here.

        2. Katie the Fed*

          It sounds like she’s coming in and faced with changing a longstanding culture too – there’s probably an understanding that this might take a little time.

    6. Lena Clare*

      Right! I was thinking that LW might be feeling uncomfortable asserting the policy because s/he used to be their peer, and colleagues in the team may be blatantly disregarding the LW because s/he is younger than them AND used to be their peer.

      I do think there can be strange dynamics going on when someone in a team is prompted to team manager. I’m not condoning it, I just think it’s harder for a new manager to manage in that situation that become a new manager elsewhere.

      Also, where is LW’s boss? What’s the training programme and support available for new managers? What’s the system for going straight from “you can’t do sales schemes here” to ” I told you you can’t do sales schemes here, now you’re fired”?
      I think even good managers would find this hard, right?

      I am imagining too that some team members won’t take the LW seriously and may continue to flout the rules – then LW might find themselves in the position of having to fire several people at once. I an imagine that’s tough and not something they’re relishing, but necessary to show other people you mean business.

      LW, Alison’s question is a good one, about examining where else you may be lax about holding them accountable.

      1. Lena Clare*

        I’m so sorry, I did not mean to imply that LW wasn’t a good manager – what I should have said was that even experienced managers find firing hard.

        1. Dragoning*

          And this is OP’s entire team….firing every single one of their staff members is going to be difficult, if not impossible to do simultaneously like this.

          1. Cacwgrl*

            I would bet they’re all banking on that. I’ve seen several situations where this mindset was freely flowing through the toxic work group and in one case, we actually fully did it, but two other times, we did take out one or two and the whole group understood it was not a joke and stopped the behavior very quickly.

            1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

              LW doesn’t specify, but would they have support from HQ in doing what’s necessary to create the culture change? Because I’ve been tasked with doing such a thing…and then undermined by my boss, whose bottom line was “Well we need them so we can’t fire them, so you’ll just have to put up with the bad behavior.” At that point, written warnings, PIPs, suspensions, and terminations were off the table, and the staff figured that out and kept doing whatever they wanted.

              If LW knows HQ is going to respond this way, LW is in a pretty bad spot.

    7. snowglobe*

      I’ve also wondered about why that email from corporate was sent. It seems a little too specific to just be a coincidence. I suspect that someone in the office may have complained to HR about the sales pressure that is going on in the office. Which means that OP can’t just hope that everyone puts their stuff away when the folks from Corporate come to visit. I think it’s highly likely that they are already aware of what is happening.

    8. Works in IT*

      … huh.
      If it’s really the entire team doing it, and they don’t listen when OP 1 tells them to stop… what is the protocol for firing literally an entire team all at once? That seems like it would be incredibly disruptive.

      1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        If you fire the worst offender or the one who refuses to listen the most the rest might realize it is serious and stop it. At this point they don’t think there will be consequences.

        1. Works in IT*

          If they’re all doing it, how do you identify the worst offender? It seems like one of their reasons for continuing in defiance of the company policy is the fact that they don’t think everyone can be fired at once?

          1. Elise*

            I’ve worked with people who participate in a variety of MLM schemes, and there were always ones you could point out that were worse than the others at using staff time to sell. I’d target the ones who bring it up in staff meetings first if it came down to it (hoping that they aren’t all doing that).

          2. Katie the Fed*

            “If they’re all doing it, how do you identify the worst offender?”

            Start with essential oils, then diet shakes, then leggings, then face creams

            1. Owler*

              Katie the Fed: personally, I would start with the diet shakes. Those sellers always seem to have the pushiest sell.

              1. Curmudgeon in Califormia*

                This. Those and patented supplements are the worst snake oil out there. They make Amway seem downright honest, forthright and practical.

          3. Totally Minnie*

            There’s a spectrum when it comes to MLM salespeople. If Jan’s just got a catalog and a half dozen samples at the end of her desk, that would warrant a different conversation from the one I had with Marsha, who shoehorns Rodan and Fields into every conversation and tries to make all her coworkers and clients into her own personal customers.

            That’s not to say Jan shouldn’t still be informed that this is a fireable offense. But it probably won’t take as much to get her to comply as it would take with Marsha.

          4. TootsNYC*

            you just pick someone

            The person who was snottiest when you spoke to them
            The person who seems to be a bit of a ringleader
            The person you’d rather get rid of anyway

            At this point, it doesn’t matter. You just need the first firing.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              Yup. I think spotting the ring leader would be pretty easy actually. It’s the one with the most I am untouchable” attitude. I’d bet real money that OP already knows the hierarchy because 1) again, easy(ish) to spot, and 2) OP has worked with them as a peer and so probably has already been subject to their various sales pitches.

      2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        That’s why I share the concern for OP1’s position. It is difficult to fire an entire team. It is easier to fire the one manager and bring in a new one who will ensure compliance with company policies.

        1. Amyway no more*

          Yes this. Remember it’s never the entire football team that gets fired, it’s just the coach.

      3. Colette*

        If the OP gives them the warning Alison has suggested, some of them will probably comply – and if they don’t, entire teams have been replaced before. (But before the OP does that, she needs to come clean with her manager and work out a plan.)

      4. Falling Diphthong*

        It’s an unrooting the cancer approach–you have to disrupt the old patterns enough that they don’t just reform around the absence of one person.

        Like the letter writer whose office tried to leave the New Person to cover for everything while they had their Friday Beer Run Bondings. And tried to hide a dozen people behind the thyme-sized fig leaf of “If our whole office spends a lot of time drinking in this brewery every week, then the brewery will hire us to do their financial stuff!!! It’s a business ploy!”

        1. JessaBee*

          Hi, sorry to derail, but which letter was THAT? Was is the cliquey manager one? I seem to remember them doing bonding beer runs and purposefully excluding the “older” staff member on the team…

            1. Phrunicus*

              Wasn’t there a third, later update where it seemed that the LW had gotten some therapy, started a non-management position, and had finally started coming around on why everyone was so against them? Or was that somehow a DIFFERENT “LW is the one in the wrong” set of letters….?

      5. Margaret*

        If it’s really the entire team doing it, why are they all apparently deeply involved in pyramid schemes while holding full time jobs? A side hustle is one thing, but this doesn’t sound like Jodi from finance having tupperware parties and Janet running her etsy shop to monetize crocheting.

        I might find myself openly insubordinate about this kind of thing if I was underpaid.

        1. Sunshine*

          But these things almost never make any actual money, and they’re not taking on overtime. So this doesn’t sound like a financial thing.

        2. TootsNYC*

          also, how much money are they actually making by doing this at work? How many customers could they possibly have, over and over? It’s a closed universe.
          Especially w/ sales pitches at meetings.

          Even if clients are coming in from outside, how much revenue is one of these side hustles generating from work?

          1. Decima Dewey*

            I’d hazard a guess that each MLM seller is buying from the others to make them want to buy their stuff. So everyone thinks they’re making money, but no one really is.

            1. BeautifulVoid*

              Kind of like how a lot of couples in our friend groups all got married around the same time, or at least within a few years, so we’d joke that we were all basically passing around the same $200 as a gift and no one came out ahead.

        3. Jadelyn*

          Okay, but being underpaid means you fight for better pay or you find a job that pays you better, or take the overtime offered at your current job. Not get involved with an MLM and then willfully ignore directives to stop hawking that stuff at work.

          1. valentine*

            Someone in an open thread explained that MLMs tell their marks that regular jobs are the real scam. (Reply was to a commenter whose colleague quit because her Ponzi scheme plus tax evasion will help her husband evade child support for her stepchildren.)

        4. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

          There’s a whole… I don’t know…philosophy(?) about it — #girlboss. It’s less about the individual companies or products and making extra money, and more about “female empowerment”, which to me reads like part of the whole MLM programming — “don’t pay attention to the (lack of) money your making…the critics are just trying to keep you from actualizing your potential!”

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            I really want to believe that your comment isn’t meant to imply that the only people who fall victim to MLM scams are women, but using “#girlboss” (how infantilizing), and talking about “female empowerment” makes it seem that that’s exactly what you are saying.

            Many, many, many males fall victim to MLMs, Ponzi schemes, etc. all the time. In fact I would lay odds that more males than women get involved in this stuff.**

            Tupperware, Avon, and Mary Kay have been legit money making opportunities for women for decades. While I wouldn’t do them, and very few people actually get wealthy from them, there are plenty who have made decent livings with them. It’s not like we’re talking about Amway here.

            I think the actual —philosophy— behind these things was best articulated by PT Barnum: “there’s a sucker born every minute.”

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              Ack! I forgot my footnote.

              **I have no evidence, just a lot of observation and watching every single episode of “American Greed.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

            2. LGC*

              I don’t think that’s what Pay no attention meant – although you’re right that MLMs target all sorts of people, men included.

              My read was that they were saying a lot of MLMs (especially the ones with more stereotypical feminine wares) do “weaponize” female empowerment to get people in the pyramid. I don’t think that’s saying that women are especially vulnerable to MLMs (my downstairs neighbor is in an essential oils MLM, although thankfully he’s never seriously pitched to me). It’s stating that the MLM industry is really good at targeted recruiting, and that’s one facet of it.

              1. RUKidding*

                That makes sense. Thanks for the second set of eyes. I’m pretty giid at spitting sexism, but sometimes I’m not entirely sure (like here) what I’m seeing…

              2. The New Wanderer*

                They absolutely do weaponize female empowerment. Isn’t #bossbabe another hashtag related to MLMs? The point isn’t that women are more easily duped. The point is that MLMs target women in this specific manner, by exploiting typical friendship rules to get and keep recruits.

            3. SciFiSeamstress*

              But there is evidence that the majority of “sellers” in MLMs are women and the promotional materials for some of them do target that type of messaging. Some above recommended the podcast “The Dream”, which has some experts elaborating on just this in one of the episodes. Short summary – there is evidence that women are getting something social out of the MLMs as well as it being attractive to women who have children/time constraints as a way to be their own boss despite being shut out (for many reasons including societal structure, patriarchal norms, etc.) of conventional entrepreneurship.

              I’ve been fascinated by MLMs since I was a kid because my dad got taken in by one (NuSkin – anyone remember that one…we had a lot of apple scented shampoo as he tried to make the quotas), and I’ve done a lot of reading over the years on them.

      6. Johan*

        This is why the OP’s own job is in danger. The issue needs/needed to be managed. The notice went out during the holidays, and now corporate will be visiting next month. “HR Policy dictates I start firing people but I’m hesitant.”

    9. AKchic*

      This is my thought too. If I found out that a manager was allowing blatant schilling of MLM on the job when it clearly states in company policy that the garbage isn’t even allowed on company property, I’d be getting rid of not only the hawkers, but the ineffective manager too.

      OP 1 needs to shut it down and shut it down hard. Send out an email: “Effective immediately, all non-company product you are selling must be taken out of the office. You have 30 minutes to box it up and get it into your vehicles. It is company policy and as you all know, a terminable offense. There will be no second warnings. There will be no debate. [Previous Manager] allowed it and is no longer here. I cannot allow it, nor will I. Anyone breaking policy after today will be handled per the company policy.”

      Also, let HR know what is going on, how it was allowed under the previous manager, and that you have tried to softly handle it, but that you are going to be firm on this. Cc HR on the email so everyone understands that this has gone up the chain and that there is corporate bite to the threat of termination.
      It is going to be very frosty for a bit. People are going to cold shoulder you. Let them. You’ve taken their fun and made them actually do their jobs when the previous manager gave them free reign. Too bad. They are there to do a job, not hawk junk. They can decide which is more important: a guaranteed paycheck or their gimmicky MLM stuff. You may lose an employee or two who thinks that you (and the company) can’t do without them (you and the company can), or someone will try to rebel and be sneaky. Stay firm. The policy is in place for a reason, and I wholeheartedly approve of it.

      (Disclaimer: I 100% abhor MLM/pyramid schemes and think they should all be prosecuted as harshly as possible, abolished and made illegal if possible)

  2. Annette*

    LW1. Time to let these grifters know you are the boss. They see you as an easy mark because you prioritized avoiding conflict over clear communication. You say you can’t get them to stop but you haven’t really tried. Start now.

    1. Bilateralrope*

      Sure, it sounds like it might not get better until somebody gets fired. So give one warning that you will now be enforcing policy. Then fire the next person to violate it.

      1. Wintermute*

        It may not get better until someone is fired. LW’s concern right now needs to be making sure it’s not *them*.

      2. SavannahMiranda*

        Honestly a firm warning combined with starting formal write ups the next day would get the point across.

        Let people be called in, sit down and read their written reprimand, sign it, and leave the room, and go tell everyone else what just happened to them.

        They’ll carry the news more effectively. And for the workers who get salty about now being written up, a firing can still be on the table at the next violation. Some may not react well and rebel. Then fire those. But issue formal written write ups in order to whittle down to those who will not come in line.

        I’m a big proponent of letting a few bees carry news home. Then see how the hive handles the new reality.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Unless she absolutely *has to* go through that kind of process, I advocate for firing any offender on the spot. After the official announcement of course. HQ policy does say “immediate termination,” ergo I would take that to mean that OP doesn’t need to jump through a bunch of hoops.

    2. Ice and Indigo*

      They’re much more likely to be victims than grifters. That’s another reason for OP to step in, really: MLMs are something you need to get some psychological space from so you can work out that you need to cut your losses. A workplace full of them is only foing to keep everyone enmeshed.

        1. Ice and Indigo*

          They could; they could be anything. But given how MLMs work, ‘victim’ is a near-certainty, ‘grifter’ an optional extra, and too harsh a word for hustling under economic coercion in an environment that apparently normalizes it. And blaming those at the bottom is exactly what the psychopaths at the top want people to do; that’s how they stay out of jail. Given that OP’s actions need to be the same either way, ie stopping the selling, why assume the worst of them?

          OP, you might also want to share this with your staff: it’s the FTC advice for MLM victims.

  3. Annette*

    LW2 – whatever you do you must not call them sex noises. Come up with specific examples but avoid the s-word at all costs. Lawsuit waiting to happen. Protect your neck.

    1. Approval is optional*

      I’m not sure I agree about the lawsuit potential, but I agree with the advice to not call them sex noises. That’ll just bring a level of awkward to what could be a straightforward request to be more aware of noise impacting on coworkers.

      1. Mystery Bookworm*

        Yeah, it risks making a reasonable request come off as, well, kind of mocking.

        But I agree, I don’t see a lawsuit in there.

      2. Aveline*

        I agree. I’d also point out that brining up sex or bathroom usage to a coworker will not just cause embarrassment. It will cause thermonuclear-level embarrassment. When that happens, people can get defensive, they can blame-shift, they can shut down, they can break down crying, they can lash out.

        Why hurt the co-worker unnecessarily? Why bring up something that is likely to cause the conversation to be counterproductive or even make the situation worse?

        Focus on actual behaviors or simply state that the coworker makes noise. Don’t bring in details that, while true, are neither necessary to the discussion nor likely increase the chances of a good outcome for all.

      1. MK*

        No, she doesn’t. Sex noises are noises people make during sex, and her co-worker is not having sex at her desk. Moans, gasps and heavy breathing are not by definition sex noises, humans make them in a variety of situations, and it’s unfortunate that the OP’s connected them with sex in this instance.

        Also, if this is an open office, how are other people reacting? I would think a moan that is loud enough to be heard over the loudest setting of headphones would have people calling for an ambulance!

        1. Cambridge Comma*

          Yeah, unless the coworker is intentionally doing a Meg Ryan, these could just as easily sound like exercise noises, whatever. It reminds me of the sexist way people went on about the noises Monica Seles makes.

        2. Iris Eyes*

          Yes! This.

          It may be triggering memories of sex or watching sex but that’s happening in the LWs head and is there’s to deal with.

          Treat it like any other thing that humans do that is causing you annoyance but isn’t actively harming.

        3. anonop2*

          OP#2 here. Regret using the term sex noises– of course, I would never classify them as such to the colleague, but rather wanted to illustrate how it sounds to convey how awkward the conversation would be — its not a harrumph or ugh, its a groan, moan and gasp– to those who classify them as Meg Ryan noises- nail on the head. Appreciate the advice here – I think asking her if she is ok in those moments is the best course of action.

          1. Sloan Kittering*

            Yes! I did this with a coworker who’s regular snorting was driving me nuts. “My goodness, are you okay over there? I ask because you’re making a very alarming noise!”

          2. AKchic*

            Yeah, in this case, a “are you okay over there?” might suffice. Especially if you ask in a concerned, yet skeptical way, as if you think she might need you to call someone to help her, but you’re not sure if you need to call an ambulance, the clergy, or a janitor.

          3. Zombeyonce*

            I want to put in that I’ve had coworkers do this sort of thing, and I always eventually figured out it was because they wanted you to ask why they were so exasperated so they could complain about something to someone. As annoying as it was, they just wanted to vent but didn’t want to “interrupt” by actually coming and talking to you; they wanted you to ask them what was wrong.

            It was incredibly annoying, but also happened more in the offices where people were more separated by cube walls, versus rarely happening in open offices where they’d just start complaining to their captive audience of other workers in sight. I don’t know how long she’s been doing this, but if you think this could be her motivation, talk to her about it once and then ignore every time she does it. Eventually she’ll give up unless there are other people around that engage.

        4. Anna*

          This right here. When I read the letter, my first thought was that the OP should reframe how she describes the noises. They are distracting and frequent. That’s enough without adding a whole ‘nother layer of discomfort to the situation.

      2. JSPA*

        A tight diaphragm or intercostal muscles can be a stress response, or interact with stress to cause gasping or moaning breathing, sort of like a waking version of sleep apnea. (So can certain heart, lung insufficiency and genetic muscular problems). Some medications can also cause gasping or moaning breathing. If you’ve only encountered strained or labored breathing during sex, it’s a sex noise TO YOU. But that doesn’t make it “a sex noise.”

      3. Detective Amy Santiago*

        The LW is categorizing them as “sex noises”. That is vague and broad. People make all sorts of different noises during sex. Unless the coworker is actually having sex, LW has no lawsuit.

    2. Wintermute*

      I don’t think that is accurate. Sexual harassment doesn’t just mean “mentioning the word sex” it requires concerted, repeat, pervasive behavior.

      That said I agree with your central point that using that word is not going to be conducive to a productive discussion because it could cause a shame shut-down. Name the behavior directly, just like the script said “vocalizations” covers it nicely.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        Agreed. The noises would be just as disruptive if the co-worker were barking and whining like a dog or chirping like a parrot. The type of noise isn’t the issue….it’s the loudness and frequency. The co-worker could be just as shameless as the one in a previous letter and have her hand down her pants every day…and it would not matter (that’s an entirely different discussion). The issue is the noise itself.

    3. LQ*

      I totally agree about not calling it that, but more because I think it will make the LW more able to dismiss them. Because even if the OP asks the coworker to stop, it is likely a long ingrained habit and won’t just stop (especially the breathing part). It’s fairly likely that the coworker may always heavy breathe when frustrated in a way that annoys the OP because, sorry but humans breathe. So asking to stop or be aware is fine. But absolutely stop in your head thinking of it as sex noises. Think of it as hard work noises. These are the noises you make while mucking out poo in a barn. Or cleaning the bathroom. It will make it easier to be mildly annoyed and easier to say, “Hey Sally, I can hear you’re frustrated, do you want to take a break and grab coffee?” (Because friendly and kind and also I can hear you.)

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        If she’s doing it innocently, she’ll be mortified; if she’s performing frustration as a passive-aggressive way of getting attention, then she gets exactly what she wants. Neither of those is an ideal outcome.

    4. thankful for AAM.*

      We have a coworker, in our open office space, who growls and makes noises too – it is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. Idk about what to call the noises either. And it is clear the office policy is something like, “we cannot ask coworker to stop bc those are involuntary noises and we dont want to violate any medical privacy issues. I feel better knowing this happens to someone else, I hope you find a way to solve your issues.

    5. Just following along*

      “How about you keep it down over there? It’s distracting.”
      Might be too harsh/too the point, but that’s what I would do, FWIW.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Yeah, this is the level of honestly you have to get down to in a tight open office. You learn it when somebody does it to you over something you thought was innocuous! (I’ve been told I type too loudly, can I keep it down. And you know what? I did try to be more mindful of it after that!).

    6. Jessica*

      My first thought was this person might have some type of disability that causes that, like tourettes or autism. OP needs to tread really lightly.

      1. Anna*

        I don’t think jumping from “makes noises” to “has Tourette’s or Autism” makes much sense, honestly. The OP doesn’t need to tread lightly for any other reason than being polite and kind about it are the better approaches.

  4. Mark Roth*

    “Decades ago we discovered a “truth serum” that works, scaring off candidates who are low performers and those with fudged resumes. With only honest, high producers left in the candidate pool… candidates arrange reference calls with former bosses and others, giving you “no phone tag” verification of what the candidate told you.”

    That is what topgrading says about itself. Who would want to do that unless they are desperate for a position. Is the goal to hire people so desperate that they will never leave or push back?

    1. Annette*

      That’s idiotic. I’m a so called high producer. Therefore I have better things to do than track down my restaurant manager from 15 years ago. No logic here.

      1. Willis*

        This. Plus, how am I supposed to get any sense of the job and how it would fit my skills/interest/etc. if a bulk of the interview is spent discussing a job I had at Build A Bear 20 years ago. I’d think the interviewer was an idiot and/or didn’t really know much about the actual job or industry they’re hiring for. And I’d assume I would be put through similarly ridiculous exercises as an employee. No thanks.

        1. Mary Ann*

          But I do think that how you respond to a question about what you learned from working at Build a Bear can speak a lot about what values you have.

          1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

            I agree with your statement. What I’m learning from the Topgrading discussion though, is that the interviewers aren’t asking about the work skills you learned, at Build a Bear, the interviewers are testing you to see if you worked there.
            They aren’t asking how you handled a double booked birthday party or a delayed delivery of the new bear. They are asking “What was the biggest seller in 1992?” How many different sports outfits does the store carry?
            To see if you really worked there.

            1. SophieChotek*

              And that could vary so much from store to store. I work at a Coffee Shop and two of our best-selling bakery items (that we ran out of every day) were not company-wide good-sellers, so they were taken off our menu, even though our customers loved them. So that could skew things too!

          2. Willis*

            It would speak to how much I value my time, cause I’d be unlikely to continue with their application process. (And I don’t have part-time jobs from high school on my resume, so if they were really inquiring about this, we’d already be pretty well in the realm of “why are you asking me this??”)

          3. Not Today Satan*

            Maybe…. but while I certainly learned things from every job, my memories from my first jobs are so faint that it’d be pretty hard to speak in a meaningful way about them.

            1. Mockingjay*

              The only thing I learned from the pizza place I worked in 35+ years ago is that cheese pizzas are the easiest to burn, because the cheese cooks faster than the crust.

            2. Jadelyn*

              I also have really terrible memory, so you can ask me about those jobs all you like but my memories are going to be hazy as hell. Not because I fudged my resume, but because that was 8 years ago and I struggle to remember things from 2 years ago, much less any older.

          4. Spencer Hastings*

            Hmm, that’s kind of an interesting point…but if that job was 20 years ago, your values could have changed dramatically since then. Plus, isn’t that sort of experience pretty generic? Such that “what I learned from working there” and “what you learned from working there” are likely to be rather similar?

            1. Jadelyn*

              Honestly, most of what I learned from the one retail job I had longer than a few weeks, was that 1: People are incredibly rude to service workers, and 2: I never, ever want to work retail again. Oh, and 3: corporate can and will punish you for things you have no control over, or let you be put in situations where there is no right answer – no matter what you do, they’re going to punish you for it.

        2. Zennish*

          This. If I’m applying for a job as head of teapot design, and the interviewer fixates on the eight months I worked at McBurgerjoint 25 years ago in high school, I’m just going to assume something is deeply wrong with their hiring process and culture, and bow out. (Besides the fact that I couldn’t remember my manager’s name there on a bet, and I think they tore the building down about 10 years ago.)

          1. Not Today Satan*

            “and I think they tore the building down about 10 years ago.” Hah. I stopped applying to ridiculous online application systems for multiple reasons, but requiring addresses and phone numbers from every job ever was certainly one of them. Most of my pre-recession employers don’t even exist anymore….

            1. TootsNYC*

              I’m in publishing!

              I had to draw up a professional bio for a friend’s visiting group of college students, and I had a lot of fun writing “that magazine folded.”

            2. AKchic*

              I feel you on this.
              The vocational school I went to for my Microsoft Certification (which, is so outdated it’s not even funny) closed down 2 months after I left. They never re-opened, I never had the owners’ last names, I have no forwarding address, I never had my teacher’s last name, I have no contact information. I don’t even have the actual Microsoft documentation, just school-issued “certificates” printed out on their printers with the school’s logo saying I passed THEIR classes (I did take the actual Microsoft tests, but didn’t get anything official, because it was going to be mailed to me, per the owner’s wife). I have always been hesitant to even claim any of that education on my resume, but without it, I wouldn’t have gotten any office position because you pretty much need it to get any kind of office job in my state. They’ll pay you minimum wage to be an entry level receptionist, but you’d better have 3 years experience and be Microsoft certified.

            3. AnotherKate*

              I remember this driving me nuts right out of college. One of my best “experience” jobs was tutoring English during my year abroad. The school’s HQ address literally didn’t fit in the American website forms for places I was applying to.

              If an HR department doesn’t want to bother Googling a company to see if it’s real because “Town, State, Country” isn’t enough info for them, I don’t know why I should want to work there. But me-in-my-30s can afford to be a lot pickier than fresh-out-of-college me.

              1. Not Today Satan*

                It always makes me wonder, are they going to write them a letter or something? Obviously not, they’re just thoughtless in the way they design their ATS and don’t care about what burden that puts on applicants. No thank you!

            4. Curmudgeon in Califormia*

              This. I have had jobs 15 years ago or more where a) the company no longer exists, b) the building no longer exists, and c) another newer company now has the same name!

              I remember going to one personnel service where the address sounded familiar, and I didn’t know why. That is, until I drove there and realized they were in new buildings built on the site of a former employer that had been sold off and gone defunct! It made me feel very old, to say the least.

              I tend to only go back 10 years on a formal resume, although my LinkedIn profile is longer.

              I would never be able to answer “What was the full name of your first manager?” in an interview (sorry Rita.) Being asked would be irritating.

          2. twig*

            Dude, I JUST threw away my managers business card from the Barnes and Noble that I worked at 19 years ago.

            I hope no one asks me his name… (Keith something? Kevin?)

          3. Dove*

            I would understand the interviewer fixating on the four months I worked at Inbound Phone Help Desk from five years ago, but that’s because it’s…the only job I really have to put on my resume at all. But I certainly wouldn’t be able to name anyone I worked with or who could verify that I had worked there – I’m not sure the same people would have been there within a year of me leaving, the turnover wasn’t great.

      2. Wintermute*

        What about people like me who simply COULD NOT locate some of them? I could locate my very first professional boss I list on my resume, he still works in the same role. The second? it was a temporary research project she’s long since moved on and I can’t even remember her name 15 years later. The third? I know his name but it was a fairly informal crew of door-to-door marketers, he left to take a job in Iowa somewhere, doesn’t have a facebook, and I’ve never been able to locate him.

        1. Hekko*

          I’d be tempted to just make up some ridiculous, outrageous stories.

          Fergus became an entomologist and moved to Paraguy to study local beetles. He should be available for a short chat next March.
          Anna decided to join a mission and is currently teaching underprivileged children in Thailand.
          Wakeen sadly died in an incident involving a flame torch, a hippopotamus, and a bounce castle. The hippo is okay.

              1. Wintermute*


                I’m reminded of the time I had to advise a friend to stop putting “no” on “can we contact your former employer” because they had died. It was flagging them suspicious when the real point of the question is “may we?” not “are we physically able to?”– I told him “They want to know if it would be sensitive or if you think they’d give you a bad reference, not if it’s physically possible. The fact it would take a Oiuja board doesn’t change the fact that you’ve nothing to hide”.

                1. Curmudgeon in Califormia*

                  Or they want your former boss’s email and address, and you have to tell them that that former boss doesn’t have email. When they ask why, you tell them that the person is deceased. Watch them squirm as you appear to be trying not to cry…

                  Yes, I’m mean like that.

        2. can'tremembermyusername*

          I once had to fill out a form requesting the contact info of all previous bosses. Impossible, I’ve had four bosses and aside from my current boss I couldn’t fill it out. My first boss is dead (so no contact info), my second retired and I don’t know how to contact him, my third doesn’t speak English (a job I had overseas) and timezones mean if they call him during their work hours he’ll be asleep and even if they got through he speaks no English.

          When I contacted them to ask how they wanted me to handle this I was treated like I was trying to weasel out of giving references (I had references). Yeah I didn’t apply for that job. I’m in my twenties but most people (especially if older) will have at least one dead or retired boss.

          1. ssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

            I think I have at least two deceased former bosses. What I have also is a lot of former jobs that no longer exist: place burned down, place replaced by a gas station, place turned into a chain, place bought by a larger competitor…

          2. Lily Rowan*

            When faced with that kind of application, I just put the main number for the place I worked. Because eff that.

          3. sofar*

            My friend’s first job out of school was teaching English abroad. She had it as a one-liner on her resume to account for the year after college. The school she taught at had closed down upon the death of the former owner. She was able to find a former coworker to vouch for her time there, but the company she was interviewing for was “suspicious” that there was no person in a “managerial position” to confirm.

            As they couldn’t verify a one-year English teaching gig in Asia from 15 years ago, my friend got “Topgraded” out of the hiring process.

        3. Quickbeam*

          I’ve been working for 48 years. Many of my former bosses are dead or long unavailable. When I was looking for my current job in my 50’s I was asked about early bosses….I did mention that most are in St. Virgil’s cemetery in New Jersey. Good luck with that!

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            lol, I had never thought of that, but yes that is definitely something that will happen a lot after one has been in the workforce for a long time!

          2. LadeeDa*

            I had a company rescind their offer because they had to verify 12 years of work history- well ok, but 12 years ago I lived in a different country, working for a company that was bought out/absorbed by another company, and the one person I could remember a name for had died. The company couldn’t verify my employment- no kidding, I worked there in 1999- whatever HR system they used way back then wouldn’t still be used, they would have purged data, AND it is no longer the same company.
            When the recruiter or hiring manager told me they couldn’t offer me the job because of that, unless I could produce W2 (or equivalent) , I literally laughed out loud.

            1. Anonandon*

              I had that happen to me in my current job – they wanted me to produce a W2 from an employer in 2003 that had since gone out of business. The IRS doesn’t even make you keep records for more than 7 years! I explained that the employer had gone out of business and that I had gotten divorced in the meantime, so I did not still have the W2. I only worked there a few months, so I’m not sure why it was so important? Very strange.

              1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

                I keep enough old personal phone books, business cards, etc on file that I could *probably* get a list of at least the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all the places I’ve worked over the years, I think only the largest & most immovable (an amusement park) is the INLY one that is both 1. Still in business and 2. Still in the same location as when I worked there, though I can guarantee there have been multiple changes of ownership, management, departments, hiring process, and so on, which was the case even during the periods of time I worked there.
                One place has the same owner (and is thriving) but completely different location and entirely different personnel. Many physical locations no longer exist; many *businesses* no longer exist; no former management or coworkers left at the ones still extant, and few I’d know how to find or contact. And there’s nothing nefarious about it, it’s just the effects of Time.

            2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              My current employer could not verify my education. The bg check company they’d hired kept calling my school during the two weeks when everything in Home Country shuts down for several national holidays in a row. Oddly enough (/s), they could not get anyone to answer the phone. The HR director told me to come into work anyway and not to worry about it. This was in the kinder, gentler times of CurrentJob, before the mergers/acquisitions and leadership changes. Don’t know how this would have played out if it happened now.

            3. Armchair Analyst*

              If it was so important – to, say a federal agency (Ok, I’m thinking FBI or CIA or something here…) they’d be able to track it down.
              If they can’t track it down, it’s not important.
              Weird that that was their excuse to not hire you… seems like a subtle form of age discrimination, but I’m pushing 40, so….

              1. Curmudgeon in Califormia*

                It is. Asking for every job since high school, and references from each one is designed to weed out older people. I’m in my 50s, and that kind of BS on an application is a red flag for me.

            4. LJay*

              In some industries this is the norm. In mine you need to be able to provide 10 years of work history. (And w2s won’t suffice, but pay stubs will). The requirements here are based on federal regulations, though, and HR provides alternate ways to account for time if you cannot for some reason. (And it’s less of an, “what if they are lying and got fired for tardiness in that job they had 9 years ago,” and more of a, “what if they were in a terrorist training camp or in jail or something?”)

              1. LadeeDa*

                Government work I understand, but this was just a normal public company that didn’t have anything to do with any kind of government contracts. It was really weird.
                So LJay, would happen in a situation like I described? And most countries outside the US have much stricter privacy laws, in some places I have lived a company won’t even verify years of employment without written consent first. In the last 20 years I have lived in 6 countries and worked for a lot of companies.

              2. emmelemm*

                Why would pay stubs be *better* than W2s? It seems easier to fake a pay stub of some kind than an actual W2.

                I’m pretty sure I have my W2s going back about 20 years, since it’s just one piece of paper (and I’m not that great about purging, like, my tax paperwork and stuff), but I certainly don’t have any pay stubs from my jobs 20 years ago.

          3. Elizabeth West*

            Not a boss reference, but I answered a sales call that way once. Someone phoned and asked to speak with the head of the company (long deceased but the company was named after him) and I said, “You’d need a Ouija board for that.”

        4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Right?! My first and second job in the US, I am not on speaking terms with my boss (posted about him here before, he wanted to date. I stayed in touch for a few years, but finally cut contact after his wife died and I called to give condolences and the man told me, “you want to start seeing each other again? I’ve got more time now.”) First job, the office shut down. Second job, the office may still exist but pretty sure everyone that worked there at the same time I did is long gone – the place had one hell of a turnover rate. Next job after that, same thing. This happens a lot with small companies. And if they want to track down my very first job in Home Country, best of luck to them. I do not know if the place still functions or not, and anyway, I was the youngest in that office by at least ten years, and the retirement age in Home Country, until recently, has been my age plus four years for women, and my age plus 9 years for men. Everyone I worked with is now retired. And these are just the jobs in my field. I understand they are looking at part-time and side jobs too? best of luck with those, mine were in the early 90s and in the Home Country, pretty sure every place where I worked those jobs has long shut down. Hmmm, this makes me wonder. Is using this information to weed out the “lying candidates” a subtle way to filter on age? I mean, it is far easier to account for your first job if you had it in 2010 than in 1980.

        5. Aveline*

          It’s also likely to be ageist. Those of us who are older than 40 likely had bosses that are no longer above ground.

          I know of at least two of my former employers who are now deceased.

        6. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          Agreed. I work in a field with high turnover. In the last 12 years, I’ve had four bosses terminated for cause, one pushed out for getting pregnant, and four who disappeared into the ether because they got fed up. That leaves me with one reference from each job I’ve worked at.

          I could theoretically track them down on social media, but I simply don’t see how I’d get a good reference out of someone leaving under those circumstances.

      3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        Ha. I had a year plus at my last job where I didn’t *have* a manager. My old manager left, and I kept on doing the things I had been doing before, and different departments asked me for help on other things, but I didn’t really need supervision so they never bothered to assign me to anyone else. It wasn’t a healthy environment, but if I was asked there was literally no one I would point to who would have admitted to managing me.

      4. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

        Not to be totally morbid but what the heck are we supposed to do when multiple managers from old jobs die? You want to contact a manager from 18 years ago when I was a teen at a low level job? Ok well I hope you have a candle and a Ouija board.

      5. whingedrinking*

        Mentally flipping through the catalogue of jobs I’ve had, I know for a fact that at least one of my previous bosses immigrated to another country, and at least one more is actually deceased. What am I supposed to do with that?

    2. Jessica*

      Wow. I just read the Wikipedia page for this nonsense and I can’t believe it doesn’t have a Criticism section. I can only assume no one’s been able to stop laughing long enough to type one up.

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        Yeah it’s bizarrely hostile. I do not want to work for anyone whose starting position is that I’m lying about my job history and I’m too lazy to contact my referees.

      2. Shark Whisperer*

        I went down a wikipedia rabbit hole. On the Topgrading page, it says that in a study, the “mis-hire” rate went from like 70% to 10% after companies started using Topgrading. So, of course, I had to go read the study. It was a dude’s dissertation. As far as I can tell, he got his numbers by just calling up the CEOs of companies that use Topgrading and just asked them what their “mis-hire” rates were. It’s nonsense. Also, if your “mis-hire” rate was 70%, how did your company not collapse?

        1. Jadelyn*

          And like…how are you defining a “mis-hire”? Someone who left within a month? Three months? Six months? Someone who was put on a PIP during their first year? HOW??

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Nope, generally not.* But they tell you to walk them through your entire history, including things not on your resume.

        * In the OP’s case, it sounds like that stuff was on her resume because otherwise she’d only have a single job to list.

        1. OP #3*

          Yep. It also answers the question of “What were you doing for 4 years after school?” at a glance.

          Plus, they serve as talking points. When I was interviewing for my current position, we spent a good 10 minutes chatting about our favourite authors.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            I think in your situation that leaving them on as one-liners makes sense – we had to do the same thing with my husband’s resume when he was job-searching with only one professional job but a good stint temping through the same agency for quite some time. It’s gone now that he’s got more professional stuff, but it made sense before he accrued that time.

            I have also had more than one team lead that like to see food service and retail work because they firmly believe that, if you can deal with the general public, our client-services position will be a cake walk for you.

            1. Sloan Kittering*

              I actually think as you gain more relevant experience, these jobs should still drop off. It can be good to have a talking point, but it would be better if the talking point was how excellent you are at a relevant job function, and over time nobody should notice a four year gap from ten years ago anyway. Just my two cents.

          2. wittyrepartee*

            Also, having waiting experience means something- at least, it would to me. That’s hard work.

            1. MCMonkeyBean*

              Yeah, while going super in depth about jobs from that long ago is weird I disagree with OP’s insistence that the jobs are completely irrelevant. I think they should consider preparing some thoughts about what they learned at all their various jobs. Even if the actual work seems unrelated to your current field you likely picked up some soft skills along the way.

          3. TootsNYC*

            I can also see a brief, “So what did you learn from waitressing?” question providing an insightful answer (or not, depending on the interviewee’s skill).

            Like the person upstream who said their coffee shop’s best selling pastries were eliminated because the they were low sellers nationally. And maybe that would teach the importance of not overgeneralizing, and watching out for assumptions, or maybe just being prepared that some smaller aspects of a process will falter, and that’s a price you pay.

            There ARE opportunities in listing them. But small ones.

    3. Clay on my apron*

      Um, what? I thought this was a satirical comment until I read all the way through and saw that this is really a thing. Truth serum?!?!?

      This lack of respect for my time and inability to prioritise would have me walking out of the first interview.

    4. TechWorker*

      My favourite thing about the Topgrading website is the way it implies that anyone who disapproves of the hiring methods is a ‘C performer’ deliberately trying to screw up the hiring process because they’re threatened.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Ah yes! The classic “disapproving of my witch hunting techniques is exactly what a witch would do” strategy.

        1. Foreign Octopus*

          “You’re a witch!”

          “I’m not a witch.”

          “Exactly what a witch would say. Burn her!”

      2. hbc*

        I’m guessing the definition “C performer” for anyone who is drawn to this antagonistic interview method is “employee who does decent work but annoys us by pointing out flaws in our processes that we’d rather pretend don’t exist.” So the internal logic holds together, anyway.

      3. Totally Minnie*

        And it starts from the base assumption that not only is your applicant lying, but their former managers will A) have a perfect recollection of the six months they managed you 17 years ago, and B) tell the complete and unbiased truth about you. There are several former supervisors that I wouldn’t trust to do that.

        1. SophieChotek*

          Good point – assumes every must be lying. Kind of sad in itself, even though I have heard that (some) people pad their resumes etc.

        2. Curmudgeon in Califormia*

          Seriously. I have one former boss that would lie like a rug about me – he did it in my (quarterly!) reviews. He was a spiteful, vicious man who literally belittled my coworkers and myself in meetings, even with people from other groups, and that was the least of his problems.

    5. Rae*

      Crazy. Thinking about my managers.

      Last one-petty ahole who outright admitted she didn’t like me and blamed me for her lack of advancement
      One before- advanced to the director under the ceo and would never have time for reference bs
      Job before- manager retired with degenerative disease, no longer works or even cognitively reliable
      Job before- company was bought out
      Before that it’s my work in college and it’s zero percent likely that anyone I worked with still works there.

      I don’t think those circumstances are all that unusual…..this system would be a mess!

      1. an infinite number of monkeys*

        It is, isn’t it? I was running through old bosses in my head and ran into a dead end with Bill, only three jobs (17 years) ago. I am 100% sure Bill would give me a good reference if asked, and almost 95% sure that he also had a last name.

        1. Rae*


          My dad was always anxious about what would happen if he ever had to change jobs. Not because of his work or what he could do or demonstrate (he could easily) but because he was primarily remote and worked with clients. He had a boss for 5 years that he never met and even though he worked with her on a regular basis it was more or less in name only. He more or less worked for the 3-4 major clients he served. The whole reference thing kept him up at night.

          1. Lord Gouldian Finch*

            In that specific circumstance you can put clients down as references. I did consulting work and used to put down two or three client contacts on my reference list because they knew my work really well and, after all, were paying my employer for it so satisfying the clients was equally important to satisfying my manager.

        2. SophieChotek*

          Same here…he probably had a last name, and even a phone number….but that was my food service manager when I was still a sr. in high school; I had no idea I needed to keep in contact with him for the rest of my life….

        3. Cercis*

          I remember Bill, his last name was of germanic origin, right? LOL, I have a Bill of my own, who was my 4th supervisor at that 2 year job. Nice guy and I’m sure he’d give me a great reference if I could remember his info and find him.

          My last job didn’t end well with a new director who started pushing everyone out (I was the 2nd to go, none of the folks I worked with are still there). The one before that, my supervisor has retired (I do have his info but he’s asked me not to give it out because he’s RETIRED). Before that was my boss who sabotaged my efforts to move on and has also since retired. Actually, of the jobs I’ve had the last 20 years, only one supervisor is still working for the company.

          I do somewhat maintain relationships with people from previous jobs, so if I had to, I could find someone to vouch that I worked there and was well liked. A major downside for me of being self-employed is finding people to be references. I’ve basically given up on finding a job through traditional means now.

      2. Ama*

        Two of my previous managers were fired for cause — I wouldn’t use them as references even if I knew where they went after they left my then-employer, because both of them turned out to be pathological liars as well as unethical.

        I see an inherent flaw in a system that assumes candidates are untrustworthy, but managers will absolutely tell the truth.

        1. miss_chevious*

          I see an inherent flaw in a system that assumes candidates are untrustworthy, but managers will absolutely tell the truth.

          That’s what I was thinking! I was fired from my very first job at a grocery store for “theft” because my drawer was off by more than $50.00 three days in a row. But I wasn’t stealing, the shift managers were, which the owners figured out as the thieves worked their way through the write-up/firing process with a number of cashiers, including some who had been there for almost a decade. So, yeah, even if I could track them down, they wouldn’t be great people to use as references.

      3. TardyTardis*

        “All the old people who loved me back at the nursing home 47 years ago are dead now, and so are the nurses who supervised me, probably–I was pretty young then.”

    6. Ellex*

      There is literally no one to call at the company I worked at for 12 years and left in 2009…at least, no one who still works there. The company (which wasn’t big to begin with) downsized massively, went in a new direction, and doesn’t even seem to have a physical office anymore. I still hear from my former boss occasionally (who also no longer works there), and she’s been very kind about being a reference, but I’ve run into several interviewers who wanted to talk to someone still working at that company.

      I haven’t even bothered to include several jobs that lasted a year or less right after college on my resume. I spent about half a year working for Kmart back around 1996 – how do you supply a reference for a company that in effect no longer even exists? Or for a seasonal job as a horse trail guide for an outfit that has changed hands at least twice since I worked there…I think it was 1997?

      Although I actually do mention the horse trail guide job in passing sometimes – handling people and horses at the same time was a great learning experience.

      1. BRR*

        Have they explained why they want to talk to someone who still worked at the company? That’s so strange and shows such little understanding that people move jobs but worked with you in that position.

        1. Ellex*

          I assume they wanted to talk to someone at that company because I’d been there for 12 years, and I only had 2 jobs after that. but I was in both of those jobs for 4+ years and could supply the names/numbers/emails of my bosses and multiple coworkers for those. All I could offer for the 12 year position was my former boss, who was already one of my references, and she left that company about a year after I did. The general manager died only a few months after I left and they never replaced him, which didn’t help!

          I only encountered that insistence on a current contact for that company at 2 interviews, both of which only occurred about a year ago. In interviews in the last few years, I often got the impression that a lot of people stay in touch with former coworkers for years after leaving a job, which I guess is a side effect of the rise of social media…but I’m not one of those people, and my social media footprint is both small and anonymous.

    7. Falling Diphthong*

      Bwa ha ha ha ha.

      “When people see how many ridiculous ho0ps they will have to jump through to even get in the door, only the high performers who feel they have plenty of less ridiculous options will stay!”

    8. Seifer*

      Topgrading is so awful. Before I left my last company, I found out that they decided that everyone had to fill it out if they wanted to be hired, including people that worked down in manufacturing. If I had had to fill that out in order to be considered to work assembly, I probably wouldn’t have even bothered, since when I had the job, it paid $9/hr. And arranging reference calls with former bosses and others? My clearance paperwork didn’t even require that much work on my part.

      1. Aveline*

        Companies are always looking for shortcuts to avoid the intense effort required to really, really screen and evaluate people. They are also looking for magic bullets that do not exist.

        Using systems like this is a mix of laziness and wishful thinking. Real, true vetting of people requires work that cannot be turned over to a computer, a “system”, or a survey.

        That’s true in an employment context, a dating context, airport security screening….

        1. Aveline*

          PS Even if you go to the bother of properly vetting people, you will always have a risk that someone is a rotten egg that has heretofore never been caught contaminating the air.

          Some companies believe snake oil salesmen who tell them they can take the risk out and save money.

          1. TootsNYC*

            they’re also lazy because they don’t want to have to manage anybody after they hire them. Either to get the best work out of them, or to discipline or fire them.

    9. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yeah, that “truth serum” would make me question the judgment of the company using it as a hiring method and make me withdraw my application, and I am neither a low performer nor do I lie on my resume.

      Things like this remind me that I really need to do something nice for my normal, functional, responsive HR and recruiting folks. The more I read as AAM, the more I believe that they are underappreciated and unusually good.

    10. Marthooh*

      Well, if you define “high producers” as “anxious people-pleasers who obsessively hoard data and are easily pushed around” this is probably a good strategy.

      1. Tupac Coachella*

        Exactly. None of the qualities that past and current bosses say make me a “high performer” (things like common sense, creativity, analytical thinking, and collaborative attitude) are represented in this strategy, but a lot of my negative qualities (anxiety, data hoarding, excessive wordiness, competitiveness) would show up in spades. I can’t say I’d have much interest in working in a building full of people chosen for being the worst version of myself.

    11. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

      On those applications that require you to list all your work experience since high school (!), I didn’t realize checking the “no” checkbox for “may we contact your manager” next to each of the jobs where the company is gone or boss has passed away actually can be construed as a red flag and you don’t get an interview (at least at my current organization) because it’s viewed as an admission that you won’t get a good reference, rather than a logistical impossibility.

      It made no logical sense, but once I learned to check “yes,” (always with the thought ‘knock yourself out’), I started to get through the process.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I think they are using the wrong modal–they must not have had a kindergarten teacher who said, “I don’t know, CAN you go to the bathroom? Do your feet work? Oh, I see they do. And so yes, you MAY go to the bathroom.”

  5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, you have to shut this down and are definitely being too soft. I think you’re interpreting “on company time” too narrowly. Having displays on your desk during work hours is conducting MLM business on company time. The corporate office’s memo applies to all offices, not just HQ.

    This isn’t selling Girl Scout cookies at lunch—it’s conducting an entire second job at your primary job, using both company resources (creating desk displays, making pitches during meetings, requiring HR’s attention because they ignore explicit directions) and time. There’s no way folks are only selling out of the back of their trunk (or their bag) during break times; they are selling all the time and using the office as a marketing forum.

    If you’re hesitant to fire them because you’re in a rural area, you have to toughen up. Having worked in depressed rural communities for a length of time, my experience is that people will conform to policy change if they think their primary job is on the line. Right now they don’t think there’s any risk because you are being soft, and they’re engaging in escalating insubordination.

    You have to stop internalizing your discomfort and hold them accountable. Be clear and firm, and be ok with things being uncomfortable for a while until the culture resets.

    1. Wintermute*

      I also think they’re making a serious mistake not accounting for the fundamental nature of MLM. It has you hire people to work under you thaat you make money off of, and 90% of people involved with them lose money. They have employees not just trying to sell, but trying to recruit other employees into spending money that makes them money. It’s a recipe for a conflict of interest BEFORE you get into all the other potential nastiness involved (products that make unfounded health claims, the FDA actions, the class action suits out there about harmful products, etc, etc)

      1. media monkey*

        if you want an eye opener, listen to The Dreanm podcast. It is all about MLMs and their history and it is shocking how little even the high performers within them make!

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          That’s the nature of MLMs. It’s certainly *possible* nobody is doing it at this particular workplace, but I’d be very surprised.

        2. Antilles*

          The letter doesn’t, but the nature of MLM’s is that you need to push to recruit others. There’s just so much in the way of required purchases, ‘encouraged’ trainings, etc that it’s pretty much impossible to break even (much less make money) without an extensive chain of recruits also selling for you.
          Given that they’re so brazen to be interrupting work-related meetings to sell their products, I have to think that they’re absolutely trying to recruit each other.

      2. LadeeDa*

        I lived and worked in a rural area for a short time, and it was shocking how MLM is just the norm. It wasn’t just people trying to make a quick buck or get rich, it was everyone! My neighbors were a middle school principal and their spouse was a college Dean- and in the 2 years I knew them they sold; vitamins, protein powder, jewelry, and some cleaning cloth thing. Everyone I met either they sold something or their spouse did, or their mom. It was everywhere!

        1. Matilda Jefferies*

          There was an episode of Schitt’s Creek about exactly that! Which left me wondering how it works in a small town, which is effectively a closed system. If I buy your candles and you buy my leggings, aren’t we just trading money back and forth? The net amount of money changing hands would have to be pretty close to even, so wouldn’t it better if we just kept our money in the first place?

          Same with the recruiting – if I get you to start selling leggings for me, and you get me to start selling candles for you, now we’re both selling literally the exact same two products, to the exact same market. And presumably that market is already pretty much saturated, if there are other candles-and-leggings sellers in town as well. It all seems very odd to me.

          1. LadeeDa*

            Exactly! It was really weird. They held parties all the time, but it was all the same people- it is a tiny town in rural Saskatchewan. All the people I knew were middle class– they all seemed to be doing fine financially. It was embedded as part of the culture there, they all just bought from each other. They all used Princess House home stuff, they all wore giant gaudy 5th Ave jewelry, and everyone could be seen drinking pink stuff in their water bottles.
            I never understood it, and I am very anti-MLM and have a strict rule against supporting it. I had to make a bit of an exception when I lived there or else I would not have had any type of social life.
            I have wondered how that town compares to other rural towns and if it was the same in other places.

            1. valentine*

              This is what I don’t understand about the success of the fraud. How do people not see it’s not just unsustainable, but, in this case, not possible?

            2. JSPA*

              It’s part of that weird social contract dance; it’s about the transactions and the trust exercises and power plays. We don’t use giant stone money and slaughter more pigs than we own in the name of maintaining social standing, but it’s all the same obligation-economy phenomenon (that runs largely in parallel to and separate from our regular concept of budgets and economy, then veers and intersects at the most awkward times).

              Recognize the social implications–that is, don’t shame it, just because it makes terrible FINANCIAL sense (any more than you’d ask pro sports or organized religion to make financial sense to their adherents). But draw a clear line all the same; it’s one of those many important parts of life that DO NOT BELONG AT WORK.

          2. Forrest*

            >>The net amount of money changing hands would have to be pretty close to even, so wouldn’t it better if we just kept our money in the first place?

            It’s way worse than that, because presumably with each transaction a % of that money is going up the pyramid to whoever they’re buying the products from. And they’ve all been taught to account it so that this is an “investment” and any day now they’re going to turn a profit.

          3. TootsNYC*

            ” effectively a closed system. If I buy your candles and you buy my leggings, aren’t we just trading money back and forth? The net amount of money changing hands would have to be pretty close to even, so wouldn’t it better if we just kept our money in the first place?”

            It’s not actually a closed system!

            Some of that money that’s changing hands is LEAVING the community and going to the MLM companies. (that’s how Betsy DeVos’s in-laws got so incredibly rich with Amway)

            So yes, it would be infinitely better if everybody just kept their money.

        2. sofar*

          I grew up on a small town. Literally everyone I graduated from high school with is shilling some kind of MLK product on Facebook.

        3. Kelly*

          I live in a more urban/suburban area and the MLM is normal here as well. I’m a big fan of going to and supporting local art and craft makers, so there’s a decent number of shows in the area. Most of the groups that organize them won’t allow MLMs to participate. Their emphasis is on promoting small, local, and handmade vendors. Most honestly likely barely break even after participating in these shows, but do them for the chance to network with potential customers, stores that might want to stock their product, and promote their own website or Etsy shop. You really only see the MLM vendors at shows organized by church groups or PTOs, usually held at schools or churches.

          I have family that are starting to get sucked into MLM selling. It’s makeup and body care and I’ve avoided buying because I have products that I’ve been using for years that work for me. I don’t think the products are that great compared to what I use, and honestly are more expensive too. I think it’s the second line that one person has gotten involved in and I’m sure there will be more.

      3. some white dude*

        I don’t understand how MLM’s are legal. Something like 99.7% of people in them lose money. That is a con, not an opportunity to make money.

        1. Shark Whisperer*

          Listen to the podcast “The Dream.” It goes into how these things are legal. Basically they aren’t legal. They are pyramid schemes. BUT they also are really good at lobbying the government so that the FTC isn’t given any latitude to go after them. Case in point, our current Secretary of Education is a DeVos, who own Amway, the biggest MLM there is.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Put me in charge. I’ll fix it. I’ll also fix rent-to-own, payday loans, and title loans. Bye bye, loan sharks!!

            But seriously, OP’s company is right on the button by outlawing this in the workplace. Not only does it involve pressuring other employees and takes time away from their actual jobs, but can you imagine all these coworkers snarling and fighting over territories?

        2. Totally Minnie*

          They’re technically legal because Amway’s lawyers found a loophole in the ’70s (I think it was), and every MLM since then has said “we’re not like those illegal pyramid schemes, we’re like Amway!”

    2. Gyratory Circus*

      I agree with all this. The company I work for includes this in our annual compliance certifications that we have to complete, and periodically sends out reminders so that no one can say they didn’t know. They even sent out a humorous video not long ago using real employees to illustrate how this is absolutely not allowed.

    3. Old Admin*

      @Princess Consuela Banana Hammock and @AAM:
      Would it be a solution to not terminate the MLM hustling employes (after a warning of course), but to put them on a PIP?
      As in “If there is absolutely no MLM activity in the next X weeks (and of course after that), you get to keep your job”? It is, after all, a performance issue if someone is selling goods in the office instead of doing the work at hand.
      I’m just thinking of how to shake employees in these economically depressed areas out of their complacency without firing them and ruining everything…

      1. Totally Minnie*

        I don’t think this is a case for a PIP. A PIP is for job performance that needs to improve. This isn’t a job performance issue, it’s a behavior issue. If you want to put something in writing over this, it should probably be a warning rather than a PIP. Something like “The behavior you have been engaging in is counter to company policy. If you continue to behave in this manner, you will face disciplinary action up to and including termination.”

  6. Clay on my apron*

    OP1 the most puzzling thing for me is that you have a tiny office, who are they selling to?

    But yes, you need to out your foot down. It might make things uncomfortable especially in such a small office. But it’s your job to manage even when people don’t like it. What else are they getting away with?

    1. SS Express*

      My guess is they’re just selling to each other – the best customers for MLMs are the people working for other MLMs.

    2. Lucy*


      There are *seven* people. Even if they’re all generously supporting each other’s “businesses” (ha ha ha ha) how much selling can they seriously expect to be doing?

      In OldJob one colleague was also an Avon rep, and another a Slimming World consultant. AvonLady would casually mention that there was a new catalogue, and some people would ask her for a copy and place an order or not. Slimming World lady could tell you Syns for any lunch or snack off the top of her head, and would find you a suitable class near your home if you asked her. That’s about the maximum level of franchise/MLM style mutterings I would expect in a professional environment. Those who weren’t interested could have gone months or years without remembering that either of those women had a side gig.

      It’s much, much harder to stop an established thing than to nip something in the bud – whoever was in charge when the first bottle of Aloe slop arrived should have been able to say “whoa there, not in the office” and it’s a shame that opportunity was missed.

      Just before the holidays our corporate office put out a memo reminding staff that only pre-approved philanthropic sales or fundraising was allowed in the office and that the sale of MLM products is against company policy and termination could occur on the spot if you’re caught selling products on company time. One of my staff told me it doesn’t apply to us because we don’t work in the HQ office.

      I think this timing is fortuitous. I think it gives LW an opportunity to say “I checked with HQ because I wanted to be sure Anna’s understanding was correct, and it turns out that it does apply to us here in the branch office as well. I’m going to need every product and leaflet clear of the office by close of business this Friday and we’ll leave it at that. I’m happy to remind you that overtime is available for [project] and [busy period] so do come and talk to me about that if it’s of interest.”

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I think this is good wording for the OP to use. Since someone already said this to her and she didn’t push back, it covers her pretty well — at least with the employees. But she needs to be very proactive about doing it NOW, so her managers don’t come down on her for letting it slide.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      I assume they’re also going after anyone who comes into the office–clients, water jug guy, UPS.

      1. Funbud*

        I thought the same thing and imagined these seven lonely people in an office in a “rural-ish location” (surrounded by nothing but cornfields) selling to each other and whatever other hapless folks stumble in (the cleaning person, the FedEx guy, somebody’s sister who stops by).

        But then I figured that the OP’s team is just seven persons but there may be other departments/divisions of the company in the same location (If so, how come no one else has ratted them out to corporate yet?). Or, it’s an office park setting and they have employees of other businesses as their customers. If so, it must be incredibly distracting to have flea market going on each & every day in your office! No to mention, what about security concerns with the patrons of this side business coming and going?

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I imagined these seven lonely people in an office in a “rural-ish location” (surrounded by nothing but cornfields) selling to each other and whatever other hapless folks stumble in.

          The Z-nation episode almost writes itself.

      2. AKchic*

        That would be my thought too. And to be perfectly honest, if I walked into an office for one thing and was given a sales pitch by one (or more) of the people in the office for side “hustles” like good little #momboss sycophants and looked around and realized that it appeared that this was the office culture? Oh yeah… I’d be calling corporate to say something. Especially if it happened more than once.

    4. LizM*

      There’s a good chance none of them are actually making money. My agency has a lot of small offices in rural communities, and I’ve spent a lot of time there. The people I see doing MLM are doing it either because (1) there is a social expectation that everyone have a “side hustle” and they’re doing it to keep up appearances, and/or (2) it’s a social activity in town. That’s just what you do on Saturday afternoons, you go to a leggings party or buy candles or whatever.

      I mean, it was a different time, but my mom sold Discovery Toys when I was in elementary school. She made enough to supplement my parents’ spending money, but it never replaced a full time salary. But it was also something to do and got her out of the house when she was home with us and didn’t want to take on a job that would require her to put me and my sister in daycare. I have no idea how the economics of Discovery Toys worked, and if it was as much of a scam as the companies nowadays, but she enjoyed it at the time.

      So all that is to say, I would not cast any judgment on the wisdom of MLM schemes, because they may have non economic reasons for participating. The bottom line is, they’re not allowed and selling them on company time is time theft. The same as if someone were running a consulting business or building the next Facebook or Google on company time. That’s where I would focus any discussions.

  7. FaintlyMacabre*

    #3, I once had an interview where we went through my resume almost line by line. I mean, they asked me how I felt about the neighborhood I lived in, I had to summarize every position listed on my resume, and a brief explanation of why I volunteered in the places listed under volunteer experience. And then they started asking me normal interview questions. It was a long interview!

    My takeaway is that some people just don’t know how to conduct an interview.

    1. Jasnah*

      I wonder what’s a good way to push back on stuff like that? Would it be out of line to say, “I’m sorry, that was many years ago/in a completely different industry. Could you explain to me how it pertains to this role?”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’d answer the first question — thinking maybe it was just curiosity. But once it became a pattern, you could say in a pleasant tone, “I’m surprised you’re asking in such detail about retail jobs from so long ago. Can you tell me how that might tie to this role?” (The tone you want is “I imagine it must tie in some way to this job and I’m curious about what it is,” not “this obviously can’t be relevant” … although you might eventually get to the latter.)

        1. Clay on my apron*

          I’d also ask about the structure of the interview because if they spend this much time on irrelevant nonsense, there’s a good chance the interview will go well over the scheduled time and/or you’ll have no time left to ask *your* questions. Maybe Allison can suggest a script for that.

        2. Jasnah*

          This is very helpful, thank you! I hope I never find myself in a situation like OP but at least now I feel empowered to deflect the pattern with a kind script.

    2. 1.0*

      “how I felt about the neighborhood” oooh boy, in context of everything else, that sounds like a terrible interviewer! On its own, though, that strikes me as a HUGE red flag — I live in one of the more segregated cities in the US, where there is some pretty heavy racial bias in which neighborhoods are perceived as safe/dangerous. I’m not white; the idea that I’d get interrogated over where I live is seriously getting my hackles up

      1. On Fire*

        Hmm, I didn’t read it that way at all. I was thinking more “oh, (area) – you like it there?” Almost small talk. Since we moved a while back, we get asked that regularly: “do you both like living t/here?” It’s just conversation. BUT – I’m white, and I fully acknowledge that things are sadly different for POC.

        1. 1.0*

          Maybe it was small talk for faintlyMacabre’s interviewer, although I don’t really think that’s much better, frankly — I’ve had small talk / “just conversation” that has derailed rapidly into white coworkers using extremely racially coded language to explain why my neighborhood is so much more dangerous than predominantly white neighborhoods with comparable crime rates (usually it boils down to, “black people use the public park and that’s very intimidating and scary”), which is not great to navigate in the best of times – nothing but nothing gets white people defensive faster than the implication that they’ve been racist

          Second, that’s why I said “On its own, though, that strikes me as a HUGE red flag” – much like supposedly innocuous questions designed to ferret out if you have a car or took a bus, it might be innocent but I’ve absolutely run into people using it to determine if you’re “the right cultural fit for this company”.

          1. Forrest*

            I’m a white person who lives in a not-very-white part of my city (though in the UK, so we don’t have the same history in terms of legally segregated housing), and I have had so many conversations of, “You live there! Oh! Well, it’s – it’s – you know, it used to have a very bad reputation, but I’m sure it’s very different now!” And that’s the least racist stuff.

          2. FaintlyMacabre*

            In this case, I lived in an area that was a mix of expensive houses and cheap(ish) apartments. I felt the question was a combination of “why haven’t you bought a home yet?” and “will this person be priced out of the city and move” which is slightly fraught. On the other hand, I had an interviewer say that they lived in my neighborhood and it just felt like small chat. Definitely can go either way.

      2. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I’m completely with you. “Oh, you live in Eastville. I’m right down the road from you!” is not red-flaggy. “How do you like it there? What do you think of it?” would raise my hackles too. Then there’s often the follow-up, “Hasn’t it chaaaanged? How do you feel about it?” When I lived in NYC, I used to get some strange comments about where I chose to live from both New Yorkers and visitors. It’s weirdly probing, with, occasionally, a side of, “How could anyone ever LIVE there?” Small talk = stick to basic facts, stay away from too many opinions.

      3. CheeryO*

        I’m with you. I’m white, but I live in a diverse area of a pretty segregated small city, and every time I tell people where I live, they give me something along the lines of “Oh? How… interesting! Do you like it?” with a tone that tells me they can’t believe I would choose to live there. It’s annoying, especially because my neighborhood is super quiet because it’s mostly families and old people.

      4. Just Another Techie*

        Huh. I often ask about how candidates like the area in interviews, especially candidates who had to travel to interview, and candidates who are still in university or graduate school nearby but list a permanent address in a different state. For the former I want to know “Will our godawful miserable climate make you leave after your first winter here?” and for the latter “Will you leave after you realize you have much less time to visit distant family with 3 weeks PTO vs an academic calendar with generous summer and winter vacations?”

        Is there a way I can phrase my questions that doesn’t flag as the kind of racist/red-lining sort of thing you’re referring to?

        1. 1.0*

          Talking about geographic region (the city, the midwest as a whole, etc) is way less fraught than specific neighborhoods. Asking how someone likes New Orleans compared to Boston is way different from asking a native leading questions about their street address.

          “I see you live in [neighborhood with poc in it], how do you like that? Is it safe? Have you seen any gang activity?” is a very different beast from, “did you get in safely despite the storm? Today is atypical, but it’s a lot colder here than LA!” Its the difference between making small talk about how long someone with an out of state ID has lived here vs asking a complete stranger, “where are you REALLY from?”

        2. JustaTech*

          That’s a different question! You’re not asking them about where they live now, you’re asking interview-relevant questions that are about the location of the job.

          Like, if you’re in Minneapolis and a interviewee lists Miami as their home address, then it’s job-relevant to ask how they feel about winter (because maybe they grew up in Albany) and traveling to see family. Heck, the interviewee *should* be asking you about things like that (or at least thinking about them).

          What would be sketchy would be if you said “Oh, you’re from Miami. How’s your Spanish?” or something else irrelevant and edging racist.

    3. kittymommy*

      Honest, I don’t think I can remember much about every job since high school, I don;t include them on my resume, so I wouldn’t even be able to tell you dates. What are the main things I learned by working at Walmart, Eckerds, and Winn Dixie?? Retail is a thankless job, the public is horrid and obnoxious, and retail workers should get hazard pay and bonuses for not maiming or killing someone at least once a year.

  8. Bizhiki*

    For OP #2, are we sure the co-worker doesn’t have some sort of (respiratory) illness that is exacerbated by stress? Is that even a possibility? I’m thinking of something like asthma or anxiety that can disrupt typical breathing patterns.

      1. Carbovore*

        Was going to chime in with the same–As of last week I was officially diagnosed with endometriosis which has affected me in numerous ways, one of which is a constant dull pain that builds up to a really bad “wave,” as it were. I’ve found since my diagnostic surgery last week that deep breathing (deep inhales, longgg exhales from my mouth) helps with the pain and sort of “rallying” myself after a bad wave, getting myself calm and at a level where I can function.

        My supervisor noticed it the other day on a walk back to the office and I had to explain I’ve found it helpful–now I’m a bit mortified to wonder if other coworkers have heard me doing it in our cubicle-farm open office! D:

      2. Statler von Waldorf*

        I was thinking that it might be about pain too. I had my left knee shattered a few decades ago, and now sometimes I have good days and sometimes I have bad days. On my bad days, I’ve been told that I make unusual noises too. I try to keep them as minimal as possible, but sometimes they sneak out despite my best efforts. Any painkillers I use that are strong enough to dull the pain leave me too muddle-headed to do my job, so I have no real choice other than suffering through it.

        I don’t think this means that the LW can’t bring this up, but I would strongly recommend that they use as much empathy as possible when they do so. And for the love of god, don’t call them sex noises when you do. If I had a co-worker complaining that the sounds I make when I’m trying not to scream out in pain sound like “sex noises,” well let’s just say I would almost certainly not respond kindly.

    1. CR*

      There are certainly conditions that could account for loud breathing and other noises.

      I certainly can push out some loud exhales when I’m anxious and the occasional low hum. But if that’s the case for this coworker, I’d be really concerned about their anxiety levels on the job. Maybe a “Hey, are you all right?” the next time it happens is a good way to broach the subject!

    2. Lynca*

      Pain can do it. I have fibroids and woo boy, some times grimacing and trying to regulate my breathing is all I can do to keep from yelling.

    3. H.C.*

      Or on a more “medical oddities” note – is that person affected by persistent involuntary orgasm disorder? (Of course, don’t ask the co-worker that!)

    4. shartheheretic*

      I used to work in a office where one of the sales guys had Tourette’s Syndrome and would make interesting noises throughout the day (more when he was stressed). The sales guys had offices, but we could still hear him in the cubicles (and even in my office area when I moved up to middle management). After a while, I didn’t notice it…but I’m also pretty good at blocking out noise when I’m busy.

  9. Close Bracket*

    OP1- remind your team not just about the policy but also that they can be fired for doing it. I didn’t notice that in any of the scripts that Alison gave.

    Are you the highest manager in the office? I’m just wondering, if there is a layer of management above you in the office, what’s going on with them. Is there anyone at a higher level of management who you could talk about this with? If nobody gets fired, it’s going to be pretty clear that people aren’t actually going to get fired. Whereas if you do fire someone , then it’s pretty clear that you are starting to enforce the policy, but I could see it being devastating to morale if people are getting fired for something that was previously tolerated. That could really break the relationship between you and your team, even if it is per HR policy.

    1. Sharikacat*

      Make the blanket announcement tomorrow that the HQ policy will be followed. If you anticipate the team ignoring it anyway, have the write-ups ready in advance. While “termination could occur on the spot” for violating the policy, most companies would like a paper trail to avoid claims of wrongful termination or other illegal firing. First write-up is the documented correction to show that you’re serious. Second is the final warning that clearly states further violation can result in termination. Next violation gets them fired.

      After the first person gets written up (heck, probably most of them on the same day- march them into the office one at a time), they’ll talk among themselves to vent, and despite the grumbling, it should stop there. The main thing is that you can’t be afraid to fire someone over this because they’re putting your job at risk instead.

      1. valentine*

        If your outline isn’t the policy, OP shouldn’t implement it to further delay firing, extending the time she’s violating the policy.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Just to be clear, wrongful termination (in the U.S.) means you were fired for an illegal reason, like discrimination. It’s smart to document disciplinary conversations, though, so that if someone later claims that they were fired because of their race/religion/sex/disability/etc., you have documentation about what actually happens.

        But you don’t need three separate warnings for something like this. One warning is sufficient. (Well, legally you don’t need any, but it’s good management not to fire people out of the blue.)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          One more thing: There’s just no reason why an otherwise good employee should be getting fired over something like this, and it’s on the OP to make sure that doesn’t happen. That means the OP needs to communicate that the policy is a serious one and that there aren’t exceptions. A manager who makes it clear she takes that policy seriously and won’t tolerate MLMs at work isn’t going to have good employees continue to violate that and get themselves fired over it — but the manager HAS to do their job of ensuring people are clear about the situation.

          It makes no sense to end up needing to fire an outstanding employee over something like this, and if the manager does her job, in 99.9% of cases she won’t have to.

          1. Jasnah*

            This was my thought–to me termination seems more like a threat than an actual outcome the company expects to see happen. And if tomorrow OP fired anyone, that would be more to send a message to everyone else about the severity, and pretty unfair to suddenly spring on the fired worker. As Alison says, I think OP has led her team astray by letting this go on, and she would be wronging them just as much by letting someone get fired for this.

          2. hbc*

            Yeah, I think what it comes down to is that an otherwise good employee won’t play chicken with you on something like this. If you get to the point of firing them, it’s because they’re blatantly and repeatedly defying clear policies, not because they absentmindedly set down a pamphlet on their desk

        2. Wintermute*

          The legal concern I would have is that when a rule has gone un-enforced for some time, the first time you apply it, you can run into a claim of unlawful termination. The Employment Law Handbook lays out the reasoning but basically it boils down to “if you never enforced it before, the employee can wonder to themselves “why now?” and if the reason they come to implicates a protected class, they’re liable to sue or file a complaint, and because you are treating people unequally, the government is more likely to agree”:

          The relevant passage:
          “Upon reaching this conclusion [that they think there may be a discriminatory reason for the fact they were punished not anyone else], whether justified or not, the employee becomes more likely to contact an attorney or a government agency seeking help to determine if discrimination occurred. When presented with the fact that another employee was treated differently, the attorney or government agency is more likely to spring into action, because different treatment is the hallmark of discrimination. If the employer is not able to establish that they treated the employee differently for a justifiable, non-discriminatory reason, the likelihood of losing the lawsuit goes up significantly.”
          -Employment Law Handbook “The Perils of Inconsistency”

          1. LQ*

            Yeah, but the solution to that isn’t no rules…The solution is clearly laying out the rules, the consequences, and then adhering to them. If OP hasn’t been before they can start now by doing just that.

            If OP walked in and the first person who said something MLMey they just fired on the spot that could be an issue, but that’s not what was proposed.

            1. TootsNYC*

              it wouldn’t be an issue if she also fired the second person who said something MLM’y.

              And saying, “the first person who says” is pointing to a behavior, and firing people for behavior is often much more defensible.

          2. JessaB*

            Which is why there likely won’t be any discipline for any of the workers until they disobey the rule after the OP actually sits them down and explains that Corporate is cracking down on this and they do not want sales in the office and they’re willing to dismiss people over it.

            They have to have that conversation first and then start warning people.

          3. Lord Gouldian Finch*

            That’s why you document, yes. But in this case (1) the company sent a memo from HQ. (2) OP has a documented conversation with all staff announcing this is a change in procedure (this could be documented by handing out a memo from HER to all staff to make this clear). (3) OP may then have documented followup conversations. (4) Termination after this would not be seen as discriminatory (at least not in this circumstance. If it was, say, a change in policy about hairstyles to require straight hair only, that sort of thing, could still be potentially discriminatory, but that’s not relevant to MLM sales).

        3. Sharikacat*

          If there isn’t any documentation, then the fired employee can claim that they were fired for any reason, including an illegal one, and the company can’t easily prove otherwise. From a “gotta cover the company” perspective, the first write-up let’s them know you’re serious and the second shows that you made an effort to coach the employee and correct some issue, both to benefit the employee and to show that any firing afterwards is indeed based on legitimate reasons. Granted, particularly egregious issues should call for immediate termination, but for a policy that already has push back but you have to enforce anyway, this might be the happiest middle ground for handling it.

        4. Statler von Waldorf*

          Given how much American culture leaks into Canada, I sometimes wonder if the “warn them three times before you fire them” is an example of Canadian culture leaking into the US. In Canada, since we don’t have at-will employment, the rule of thumb as decided by the courts is that three warnings is usually considered sufficient to fire someone for cause. If you don’t have legal cause, you can still fire an employee, but you have to pay out severance based on their length of employment. This results in most employers up here making sure they have at least three documented incidents before they fire an employee.

  10. Auburn*

    I feel like I’ve made better hires since spending a bit more time talking through someone’s job history and a bit less time on behavioral questions. So I often do spend a bit of time on questions about older jobs that may not seem relevant. But I would spend maybe 5 minutes each on older less relevant jobs. Not an hour. But especially for younger or less experienced hires where a record of accomplishments isn’t that deep I feel like it helps you understand what someone’s growth trajectory is. What drives transitions for them. Do they make a move every time they get restless for example vs leaving only for growth opportunities — it’s just something that helps round out a picture of someone. I can’t imagine calling every boss someone has ever had though. Some of my bosses from 15 years ago probably don’t even remember my name. It sounds like something only a consultant creating new things they can charge for would ever have time to do.

    1. Clay on my apron*

      I’m glad this works for you, but I wonder how your candidates feel about it. Are you able to communicate to them the relevance of talking about previous roles so they understand what you want to get out of those questions?

      1. Auburn*

        I usually just say at the top that I’d like to start out by running through your resume just to get to know you a bit and then we’ll dig into the things that are most relevant to this role. If stuff comes up that’s interesting along the way that feels relevant we talk about it. In one interview for example someone who worked a lot of retail in college talked about how much she hated retail but how she leaned so much about managing across difference in those jobs since she was supervising a very diverse group of people ranging from high school kids to women her mothers age. And that she was the go to person for soothing angry customers and that she enjoyed the satisfaction of that even though the work was tedious. Both things that turned out relevant in her job now even though they were in very different fields. More experienced candidates tend to only list more relevant jobs. And with Sr people the conversations tend to look very different overall so I’m not really talking about those. I should note I don’t ever interview for technical jobs. So I’m not like, asking a programmer with specific technical skills and a relevant degree about a waitressing job. Mostly I’m talking to smart liberal arts background folks with artsy and activist backgrounds. So jobs where people come at it from very different paths and where soft skills matter a lot more than technical ones.

    2. mark132*

      If someone lists 12 jobs on a resume you are already up to about an hour at 5+ minutes each. I agree discussing work history is valuable for judging the candidate. But it shouldn’t move the focus of the interview to the past rather than the current opportunity.

      1. Natalie*

        That’s kind of on the candidate for listing 12 jobs on their resume then. They shouldn’t include them and then not expect to be asked about them.

      2. Matilda Jefferies*

        And lots of jobs don’t require five minutes of discussion, either. I worked in a bookstore, more than twenty years ago. In that job I…
        …sold books
        …recommended books to people
        …unpacked shipments from vendors
        …entered new books into inventory
        …shelved books
        …packed books for shipping.

        That’s what, 30 seconds of conversation? I suppose I could add another 30 seconds or so talking about what kind of bookstore it was and what the customers and other staff were like, but that’s really stretching it. There’s no way I could get to five minutes on that. And even if I did, there was another bookstore job before that, which was exactly the same except for a different subject matter and customer base. How much is there to say?

    3. OP #3*

      I agree that getting a holistic view of a person is important. Usually these one line jobs help in that regard: “Oh you worked at a gallery, are you an art lover?” etc.
      But this felt like I was being grilled over the finer minutiae of completely irrelevant things I did years ago.

      1. Auburn*

        Yeah your experience sounds like someone read an article about a technique and just dove in abandoning all logic along the way. Interviewing is so hard and stressful. Sounds like you handled it as well as you possibly could have.

        I did have a good chuckle at the idea of finding a reference from my first job working at a hospital gift shop 25 years ago. All the little old ladies loved me and I’m sure if they could remember my name they would give a glowing reference. Of course they would be pushing about 110 these days if I could track them down. Lol.

    4. londonedit*

      Most job interviews I’ve had have been similar to this – the interviewer usually starts by asking me to give them a brief run-through of my employment history, how I ended up where I am, etc. It’s not an in-depth analysis of every job I’ve had, but they’re looking for me to talk for maybe five minutes about how I came to the industry and how my career has progressed. ‘I started out with Entry Level Job, which was great because I spent a year getting to speak to people from different departments, and I learned a lot about the industry as a whole. That made me realise I wanted to specialise in Job X, so when a vacancy for Assistant Job X opened up, I applied and was promoted’, etc etc.

      The interviewer will then ask more in-depth questions about my more recent job history – I have a six-month stint at one company followed by four years of freelancing, and those are always things people ask about – but in my experience being asked to talk through my overall job history has been a fairly usual thing. I’ve never had an interview where someone has gone into great detail about a job I did 15 years ago, though.

      1. Fergus*

        I had one person one time ask about about a 4 year gap in a resume 8 years back. I stated it with jobs outside my field, and i gave examples. I have a security clearance so I wasn’t in prison. She just came across that I was lying and I was in prison. She was a dumbass.

        1. Ellex*

          There are so many reasons for a gap of several years: having children, having elderly/ill relatives that need care, going back to school, a series of short term jobs (especially just after high school/college), or – as in your case – working in a different field. At a certain point, keeping work history on your resume that’s irrelevant to the job you’re applying for just makes your resume prohibitively long.

        2. londonedit*

          Prison is a massive leap! How bizarre.

          To be honest I’m quite glad that the question I get is now ‘So you were most recently at Company A for six months, and then you were freelancing…can you tell me why you wanted to make that transition?’ because before that, there was a section on my CV that listed Job A, redundancy/freelancing, Job B, back to Job A again all within a fairly short space of time. People were soooooo interested to hear all about that! Now, more than 10 years on, I’ve condensed that bit on my CV and no one even asks about it.

  11. Maria Lopez*

    I disagree with Allison on one thing. They do NOT need a week to get it together. She should tell them as a group that effective immediately all selling must stop, and all those associated materials must leave the building at the end of the workday. This should be followed the same day with an e-mail outlining what was said, and that immediate termination will be the consequence of not following these instructions.
    Unfortunately at least one person is going to lose her or his job before the others take this policy seriously.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The thing is, the manager has set them up to not take her seriously. The reason they’re not following the policy is because she’s let them think they don’t have to, and that’s on her.

      It’s really better not to lose good employees over this, and giving them a week to see she’s now serious isn’t unreasonable when she’s been wishy washy on it previously. The goal isn’t to be punitive; the goal is to fix this. You really don’t want to have to fire good people over something unrelated to their work and five days to let people see this change is a serious one is not a terribly high price to pay to avoid that. (Now, if they’re not good employees or if this is a sign of more general insubordination, that’s a different issue.)

      1. Approval is optional*

        I agree in principle (I’m sure that is welcome news lol :) ), but with the visit from corporate coming up, the LW may need to adjust the deadline to give herself enough time to deal with any ‘refusals’ before said visit.

        1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

          Yes, get it done now before someone who has taken all their MLM stuff home complains about to HQ about a co-worker who is still flogging snake oil on company time.

      2. mark132*

        I wonder if the letter writer really has bigger concerns here. Mainly her own job vs her employees jobs. And having interacted with cubicle based entrepreneurs they seemed less good employees then their less entrepreneurial colleagues on average.

        I think to save her job she needs to enforce the policy, and if needed make an example sooner than later.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Maybe, but like I said above, if these are good employees, it shouldn’t get the point where she needs to fire someone over it, once she manages the situation more clearly. You really shouldn’t need to fire good employees to make a point or set an example, if you’re managing well.

            1. Scarlet2*

              And how will LW explain it to her higher-ups without incriminating herself in the process? She can’t really pretend all her reports started selling stuff at the office overnight.

              1. Aveline*

                And many, many MLMs pray and naive, vulnerable women who don’t have a lot of choices b/c of poverty, child care, lack of education, etc. It’s not like there are tons of jobs out there where a single mom who works as an office admin can make extra money on the side without impacting her current job or childcare.

              2. Tupac Coachella*

                You also have people who genuinely like the product, but aren’t particularly business savvy. These companies imply (incorrectly and irresponsibly) that they handle the business side and you just have to be social and collect money. It would be great if everyone asked the right questions, but I can see how easy it would be to say “I love everything I’ve bought from LeggingsWorld, what’s the harm in giving it a try?” especially under the encouragement of high pressure tactics. The fact that a raccoon knocked over my trash can doesn’t mean I’m stupid for not being more knowledgeable about raccoons.

            2. Aveline*

              That’s waaay harsh. Particularly since there are gender and class components to whom is involved with MLM.

              For some women, particularly those economically desperate, this seems like the only choice.

              It’s not stupidity, it’s naivety and desperation.

              If you are interested in why women actually do this, there’s a great article “I Was Young, Naive, and Poor: How MLM Schemes Dupe the Vulnerable” that you can google.

              1. Chinookwind*

                There is also a regional/cultural component. OP mentioned she is in a ruralish area. Those of us who grew up in these areas before internet shopping was available got to know MLM marketing as the only way to access some of these products because we couldn’t easily access the stores that sold similar ones. Fancy candles, higher quality make-up, plastic dishes, sex toys and good kitchenware just weren’t available without driving an hour or two. And, if you saw your mother doing this sort of thing as a way to socialize and earn a few extra bucks, you end up thinking that it isn’t such a bad idea now that you are her age.

                Doesn’t mean they are a good idea, but jumping to the conclusion that they are only used by stupid or dishonest people can easily paint a whole region as stupid or dishonest.

                1. Aveline*

                  OH, absolutely. I forgot about that component.

                  For example, back in the day, the only way to get plastic ware was to buy it at a Tupperware party.

                  It’s way more complex than the person who was overly harsh.

      3. Wintermute*

        My concern there is that this is absolutely a risk to the LW’s job. And a week might be too long to let it go on. When you realize you’re walking through a minefield, you stop where you are and retrace your steps immediately…

        Now, I wouldn’t go right for termination because then people would, naturally and expectedly, go to upper management complaining it was always allowed and that puts the LW at further risk. But I would TELL them to clear it out, anyone that doesn’t I’d take aside and talk to seriously, I wouldn’t give it a “wind down” period, I would just string out the actual hard-line punishment longer than I would for other cases where I’ve said “this cannot happen again, I have to be very clear if it does your job is in jeopardy.”

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’m not suggesting a wind-down period. I’m saying to put a stop to it today, taking a hard line that it all stop now, and then give it a week of enforcement before taking more serious action, so they see she’s serious this time.

          1. Lord Gouldian Finch*

            I think (forgive me) Alison’s proposed timeline would go more like:
            Monday – Announce all MLM sales must stop and all stuff must be gone by the end of the week.
            Friday – Tell people that you’re serious and if you see this stuff next week when you come in Monday terminations will follow.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Thursday (today) – Announce all MLM sales must stop and all stuff must be gone today. Tell people they could be fired if they don’t comply.
              Next five days — Serious conversation with anyone has hasn’t complied, warning them this is their final warning.

              1. TootsNYC*

                I agree. This is the hard line I’d draw.

                For the next week, if people mention their MLM in a business meeting or at their desks, they get interrupted and reminded; if they don’t react the way I want, they get called in my office and told this is serious, and maybe even there’s a write-up in their file.

                Talking about it is a habit of speech, and I think that deserves some time to break, but it needs to be short, and the manager is going to have to exert energy about it–both in providing support and in providing discipline.
                Some support in the form of having clear and firm agendas for meetings; the OP needs to be in every meeting before many people gather, and needs to run the meeting tightly, with little chit-chat time (especially at the beginning and the end) for people to mention their side-gigs.
                And discipline in the form of interruptions, reminders, and maybe even formal reprimands.

            2. Someone Else*

              Or possibly:
              Monday: Announce all MLM activities and stuff must stop and be gone by EOD
              Tue-Fri: Anyone who continues gets pulled aside for a stern talking to (plus or minus written warning if that’s a thing with this company), reminding them OP doesn’t want to fire them over this but is obligated to and they must stop immediately and this will be the final warning
              Following Monday: still doing it? Fired.

      4. Anon today*

        I think a good way for OP1 to make her point is to bring empty cardboard boxes to the meeting. Pass them out, give everyone a free block of time after the meeting to pack up, and be clear that the boxes need to be taken home at the end of the day (presuming everyone drives, if not, a longer time frame).

        OP can walk around during the pack up time and make sure it gets done–and then also monitor for leftover boxes the next day.

    2. Wintermute*

      Here’s the problem with going immediate hard line: practically, the LW needs to sweep this under the rug and hope no one complains.

      If they go in there cracking heads then if they do have to terminate someone, that person is going to either conclude they’re being singled out for something else and complain (possibly to glassdoor, possibly to the company publicly, possibly to the government if they think it’s because of a protected class) or they’re going to try to justify themselves to HR or upper management trying to save their job. Naturally the first point of evidence they have is going to be “everyone is doing it” and that means this wider situation is going to get a lot of high-level visibility quickly.

      The ideal for the LW is that the employees realize that their manager was being lax with them but are aware that situation can’t continue because LW can’t stick their neck out any more, they buy in to it without complaining to anyone that investigates what’s been going on, and the situation is resolved without anyone, including the LW, losing their jobs.

      1. Aveline*

        Agreed. I think the best approach is to forward the notice to everyone who reports to her and state “In case you missed this….” with a firm declaration that all selling must cease immediately and any catalogs, goods, etc. need to be out of the office by the end of the week.

        1. TootsNYC*

          why the end of the week? Today.

          I just don’t see the value in saying, “I’ll give you a few days” for that. Put it in a box or shopping bag, take it to the car. Now. Let’s start now.

          1. Dove*

            End of the week gives a little more time for *all* the stuff to be hauled out – everything that’s been squirreled away in desk drawers or supply closets, and lets people pretend like there’s only one bag or box that needs to be hauled out (instead of it being clear that they’ve got their entire MLM stock at the office). And it gives more time for people to adjust to realizing that OP actually is serious now.

      2. TootsNYC*

        I agree with the idea of getting the buy in (and I’d say that the OP needs to lean heavily on the idea that she is PROTECTING their jobs by being firm).

        And the OP doesn’t need to fire people.
        But she needs to move quickly to “no MLM stuff inside the office” and “no MLM conversations on company time.” And be hair-trigger about reminders and maybe even chastisement or write-ups.

    3. TootsNYC*

      They can get all the stuff out today. Now.

      There’s no reason they can’t make this a hard switch.

      Now, maybe the OP doesn’t fire them after today–maybe she gives them a couple of weeks to build the new habits of speech, so she interrupts MLM comments and has conversations with people about them, and maybe even moves to letters or reprimands–but her enforcement needs to be strict and it needs to start now.

  12. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    You have a small office of less than 10 people. Who are your staff selling their goods to? Each other? Anyone who walks through the door? Either option is not appropriate in an office setting. It’s your butt on the line, if HQ does an inspection and finds your office looking like a mall after explicit instructions forbidding office sales, you will be the one who is fired.

  13. Indie*

    I think OP1 is struggling with the dynamic of being the boss because she is younger and used to be part of the ‘friendly’ team. This really stood out: “One of my staff told me it doesn’t apply to us because we don’t work in the HQ office”. At what point did you say ‘well that’s not true and it’s a fireable offence’? OP, your staff aren’t the ones who should be communicating the rule to *you*! It’s your job to communicate the rule to them!

    I mean, in their minds all they have to do is point to you and say you allowed it. You haven’t fired or warned anyone, so it clearly isn’t a big deal. You seem to want them to ‘get it’ without having to do anything awkward like manage them. You’re uncomfortable saying anything serious about firings, or unacceptable behaviour, but that’s your job. You’re their boss, not their friend and they need you to be one before they all get fired.

    1. Marthooh*

      That line stood out to me too. It’s like they all think they’re playing a game of reverse-Mother-may-I, and they don’t have to follow rules unless the boss proactively answers all objections before any are made. One of the staff says “Oh it’s okay because we’re not at HQ” and OP apparently just… agreed?

      If you don’t take this seriously, OP, then none of your reports will. And sadly you will be the one who deserves to be fired first.

    2. Plain Jane*

      Yeah, the part of the letter where the employee told the LW that the policy didn’t apply to their office and she apparently didn’t correct them was the record scratch moment of the letter. I’m guessing this is part of the MLM training where they figure out how to get around “the haters”.

    3. Decima Dewey*

      “One of my staff told me it doesn’t apply to us because we don’t work in the HQ office”

      Except that HQ sent a company wide memo that it’s company policy across the board.

    4. Elle Kay*

      This was what got me too.
      That was the *exact* opening to say “Yes, that policy does apply to us and if you don’t comply you will be terminated” The fact that LW let it go now implies agreement that it doesn’t apply here.
      Given that I’d say something like “I double-check and, yes, the MLM policy does apply to us, here, at this location and I’ll be enforcing that policy going forward” I would also consider printing out a list (if one exists) of the “approved” fundraising options– “If your MLM is not on this list then you CANNOT sell it or have it in the office.”

  14. OP #3*

    OP #3 here. Alison, I think you’re spot on.
    They asked who my supervisor at the bookstore was, and when I couldn’t quite remember her name (it was 10 years ago), the interviewer frowned and scribbled something down. Honestly, the whole experience made me feel like I was somehow in the wrong for not having valuable insights about the time I spent hungoverly recommendeding Tolkien.

    Also, before the interview, I had to complete two rounds of quite lengthy written assignments. My job centers around writing, so that seemed quite standard. But the next round, should I pass the interview, is what they called (prepare for an eyeroll here)… a “real life workplace simulation”. This entails spending an entire day working for them FOR FREE so they can “see how you operate in real time”.

    And here’s the punchline: this is a recruitment company!

    1. London Calling*

      Do they realise that ‘real life’ and ‘simulation’ are contradictory terms? and FREE? I don’t know about you but I don’t work unpaid. This is just a variation on ‘pay us to consider your candidacy’ that skanky agencies use.

      1. OP #3*

        It’s actually pretty fishy, since my main duty would be idea and strategy generation. So what, would I just be expected to give away the hot sauce for free?!

        But I actually doubt it’ll come to that. Since I was only supposed to be away from my current job for an hour, I was distracted and off my game during the actually relevant portion of my interview.

        1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

          Ugh, reminds me of the job I once shamefully took in desperation that involved robocalling people to convince them to take surveys.

          Among the many many red flags, they had a full day of paid training, but the training was only paid if you stayed working there a month (which I actually suspect is illegal in my country, but it wasn’t worth pushing it).

          Don’t worry, I broke down and quit within an hour!

          1. Becky*

            I did a survey job like that once! I utterly hated it but I needed the money. I worked on a particular project and then when the project was up they’re like, “we’ll call you when we have more work” and then 3 months later (when I had gotten another job obviously) they called letting me know they had another project.
            Doing surveys was a teeny tiny step up from telemarketing but only just.

    2. Jasnah*

      This company sounds like one of those recruiting companies that sucks up bright eyed young people, chews them up and spits them out. I understand having to do your time to get experience, but I don’t think this company is a good one for you.

      OP, you have done nothing wrong. Everyone should read Tolkien!

    3. DrakeMallard*

      OP, I went through a very similar situation last year. They asked me to describe, in detail, a conflict I dealt with in each job I had listed on my resume. When I explained the oldest positions on my resume were odd jobs I’d done in college that didn’t really have any conflicts, they kept insisting I tell them something until I finally made something up just to get the interview to continue! This was the same company that was hiring for a full time salaried position but then tried to offer me a summer internship instead (I’ve been out of school and working professionally for several years). Looking back, that interview was full of red flags and I removed myself from the running.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        I’ve had jobs with some wacky characters, now I’m almost hoping someone asks me about conflicts I’ve had with someone.

        “Well, one time we had this man who kept indecently exposing himself to our staff, and I had to really press my boss to get him banned from the building, because my male boss thought indecent exposure was a victimless crime that didn’t really hurt anyone.”

    4. Elizabeth West*


      They cannot make you work a whole day for free. I’m pretty sure that is illegal! Run, run like the wind!

    5. Loux in Canada*

      I worked for a car company back in the summers of 2015 and 2016. I was in two different teams. I remember the first names of both of my supervisors, but I would be extremely hard-pressed to remember their last names. In fact, I’m not sure I ever learned the last name of my supervisor the second summer. I remember the first and last name of my supervisor at my retail job, but that’s because she was the mom of my best friend at the time, and I frequently saw her at my friend’s house. It’s just… not super relevant, honestly? For the car company, my supervisors were prohibited from giving out references anyways, that was handled by HR, so it wouldn’t have mattered.

  15. in a fog*

    OP #1, it sounds like there are some pushy people working for you who might raise a stink when you put your foot down. I’d come to the announcement prepared to say that you circled back with HQ about the policy and that it *does* apply to your office, because I bet you’ll get challenged as to why (even if they know it’s an official policy). And the upcoming corporate visit gives you the perfect timing to drive it home — they *will* be in your office and they *will* be checking, so everyone should take everything home ASAP and just leave it there so you’re fully in compliance going forward.

    I’m fairly conflict averse myself, so I get it. Prepare yourself for the potential pushback in whatever way makes you comfortable to stand your ground and less likely to falter under pressure.

    1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      Yeah these both seem like great reasons why this change is happening and why the op is now putting her foot down. They are true, of course, but I think having a team meeting to explain that you’ve checked and the policy definitely applies to your office and because HQ is coming for a visit everything needs to be gone (maybe by the end of the next day so people can bring in boxes etc?) or else everyone in the office is at risk of being fired on the spot. The OP definitely shouldn’t have let it continue this long, but I think the way to fix it is to be very clear that you were collectively mistaken about the policy and you are all equally at risk.

    2. Bagpuss*

      I think this is sensible. I would start with the script Alison suggests, but if they push back about it not applying, then you repeat “No, I have clarified with head office and they are very clear that it does apply and will be enforced.And that enforcement does mean that people can and will be dismissed if they continue to break this policy.”

      You could add something such as “I value you as a member of this team and would hate to have to dismiss you, so please make sure that all of your materials are out of the office by the end of tomorrow”

    3. Totally Minnie*

      Yeah, this isn’t going to make OP popular with the workgroup, and that’s something they need to be prepared for going in. OP, your employees are going to be mad at you. They will not like you for a while. But you still need to do this.

  16. Jen S. 2.0*

    OP 5, you are putting WAY too fine a point on it. Perhaps you should start thinking of it as health leave as opposed to sick leave; you are taking time off for something health-related in your sphere. Many of those things can be organized in advance. Sick leave doesn’t only mean you suddenly got sick.

    I know different offices have different policies for the type of leave you can take for different reasons, but I would take sick leave for a doctor / dentist / therapist appointment, visiting an ill relative in the hospital, or taking my elderly parent or young child (if I had one) to a medical appointment. I likely would know about all of those things in advance. (I even took sick leave last year when my cat died; I rushed the sick cat to the vet at three in the morning, and when it was time to get up I hadn’t slept, so I told my boss I was taking a sick day and went back to bed. She was fine with it.)

    A mental health day is legitimately and 100% health-related. If I somehow found out later that you had taken a seasonal affective disorder-related mental health day, I would not think anything of it if, at the time, you had said you were taking the day off for a “medical thing.”

    Side note: In general, I have cut back on being super-specific about why I am taking days off. Why I am out is really not the important information. The important information is that I am not there, when I will be back, and who will be covering for me in my absence. If I unexpectedly need to take a sick day, I generally tell my boss that I am really not feeling well and am taking a sick day. I don’t feel the need to go into details about how sick I am and exactly what ailment I have. When I know in advance that I’ll be out (on either vacation or sick leave), I just tell the people who need to know that I’ll be out on Thursday and Friday, or whatever. So in this case, you really just need to say you’ll be out on Friday. Only your boss or the person who sees your time sheet really needs to know whether it’s vacation or sick leave, and those people really don’t need the gory details as to what kind of health you’re tending. (I have seen letters here about bosses who get picky about whether you are “sick enough” to take time off, but OP 5 did not mention that being the case. )

    Also, good for you for taking care of yourself.

    1. Maggie*

      Yes, this. At my office, any pre-scheduled doctor’s or dentist’s appointment is considered sick leave. Scheduling sick leave in advance is both acceptable and normal, since some types of doctors only are open M-F from 9-5. While I try to schedule outside of work hours, sometimes that’s just not possible. I don’t think your coworkers will find this as strange as you fear they might.

      1. Asenath*

        We’re different – medical appointments are often handled by simply making up the time later, and they don’t like sick leave forms that say in advance that you’re going to be sick. Recently, I was feeling absolutely miserable, and told the person who tracks my attendance, as I handed her a sick leave form, that I wasn’t going to be in the next day. The day after, she had me fill out another form, because the one I gave her was dated the day before I was sick, and she thought that might cause problems. I think even when I knew I had to have a couple weeks off for medical reasons, I let them know in advance, and submitted the forms and doctor’s note afterwards! We also have a “family responsibility” category, which covers a wide range of needs – not just the obvious care for a relative, but also things like “The plumber/appliance repair person etc is coming and their “window” is “sometime tomorrow””.

    2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      A pre-planned sick day can get me through my own mental health cycles. Even if I don’t request it, I will sometimes target a day and schedule non-urgent projects onto it so if I need to, I call in and no harm done. (And if I don’t call in, then it’s an easy quiet day of paperwork… win/win…)

    3. CheeryO*

      My only comment is that if you have nosy coworkers who can see that you have a full day of scheduled sick leave, they will probably wonder if you’re getting some kind of procedure done (and, if they’re like my coworkers, will ask you point-blank what you have going on). Personally, I find it easier to just call in morning-of and say that I’m feeling a little under the weather, but my work is also independent, so there’s no real benefit to giving advanced notice as long as I don’t have any meetings scheduled.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        I think the OP can definitely tell nosy coworkers, “Nothing to worry about! Just a couple of appointments that make it not worth coming in!”

        (Appointment #1 = psychiatrist. Appointment #2 = couch, or wherever the OP will spend the rest of the day.)

      2. OP #5*

        Fortunately my coworkers aren’t particularly nosy, and I can just say “I’m going to be out on Friday” without even specifying why – it’s just my boss who needs to know that it’s sick leave vs annual leave for approving my timecard. My coworkers might raise an eyebrow if I don’t elaborate, but they won’t pester me for reasons.

    4. OP #5*

      I definitely overthink things sometimes! My boss never asks for details, although our leave request tool asks if the sick leave is for illness, medical appointments, caregiving, etc. But I just barely checked and I don’t think those checkboxes are required. I would just feel a little odd checking “illness” in advance or “medical appointments” if I didn’t have one, but it’s not verified in any way.

      1. Parfait*

        I had a boss at an old job who told me that all I had to say if I was calling in for a mental health day was “It’s one of those days.” He was a good boss.

    5. ThursdaysGeek*

      I also take a day of sick leave when I have to be the driver for my spouse on his out of town eye appointment. It’s fun to get a long weekend away (because we set the appointment on a Monday), and other than me needing to drive a few hours after his eyes are dilated, it feels like vacation for me. But it’s legitimate sick time, and it’s often scheduled a year out.

    6. Edith*

      Just a question: I often see burnout mentioned as more being tired and stressed in general, and not as a medical condition. In my (other contry with universal healt care) burnout would be something you go on, often long, medical leave for and something you might not fully recover from. What is it in the US (or is it jus one of those depression, anxiety, ADHD-things that gets overused and – unfortunately – watered down?)?

  17. Myrin*

    Ugh, #3 reminds me of an interview for a scholarship/funding for my dissertation I had in late 2017 (a scholarship I ended up not getting, probably to a not-unsignificant part because of said interview; there turned out to be several upsides to that, actually, but at the time, it sent me into a bit of a panic).

    I had practiced with my advisor beforehand, who said these interviews normally take about half an hour, an hour tops, Well, mine lasted more than two hours (in the evening, after I’d had to travel almost three hours to get there), mostly because the professor who conducted it had these really strange tangent questions and even if they were directly related, he wanted to know an excruciating amount of details.

    The most ridiculous one was asking about why I changed my minor. I started uni in 2010, only the second year after a major upheaval of what amounts to literal centuries of an extremely similar university structure in my country, and put bluntly, unis didn’t know what they were doing yet. I had chosen a very generic, broad, taking-bits-and-pieces-from-a-dozen-subjects minor and found out very fast that this kind of no-structure wasn’t for me, so I changed my minor to something much more straightforward in my second semester.

    This professor wanted to know what that minor was, exactly (not strange per se since it’s something unique to my alma mater, but certainly weird in that I hadn’t had anything to do with it in six years by that point), and really probed why I’d changed it. Thankfully, I really did have this very good reason of no-structure I mention above, but he was so weirdly insistent about it. I would have understood the concerns he very obviously had if this had been only the first incident of my undecidedly jumping from one thing to another, changing majors three times, trying everything and finishing nothing and so forth, but this minor change (hah!) was literally the only thing that wasn’t straightforward during my studies (or my life, really, but he obviously didn’t know that); I finished both my Bachelor’s and my Master’s in the alotted time, I got all my credits in both my majors and my minors, had consistently very good grades, had a clear special interest in one part of my subject very early on and chose my courses accordingly, all that. And yet he needed to know exactly what drove me to change my weird minor after one semester at uni several years ago.

    I’m still mystified by that and my advisor was totally aghast when I told him and hasn’t stopped making snide remarks about that professor whenever he gets the chance which has been very satisfying. Doesn’t change the fact that I still find this ridiculous to this very day, though.

  18. Traveling Teacher*

    OP1, I would definitely recommend checking out “The Dream” podcast for some additional info on just how skeevy MLMs are and just how much money your employees are losing in these schemes.

    I absolutely devoured the podcast, and it helped me feel a lot better about taking a hard line in my personal life against buying or going to selling parties, even for close friends. It might also give you some additional talking points for if you get complaints (though, “it’s strictly against corporate policy” is definitely enough!)

    1. media monkey*

      i recommended it up above as well – it’s great. shocking that the lady who was one of the top people in her MLM (I forget which one it was – some for of handbags?) was basically earning $40k a year before tax with no benefits and working crazy hours.

      1. Traveling Teacher*

        Yes! Even those who are “successful” aren’t making the “quit your job and buy a Ferrari” lifestyle they’re selling.

        I was even more horrified by the detailed explanation of how sellers have to buy a quota of merchandise to maintain their status every month or quarter and the amount of shame hoarding and credit card debt people get into to appear successful when they’re actively losing hundreds or thousands of dollars/month….

      2. Kesnit*

        I just listened to that episode, and almost fell over when she said how much (little?) she made. Granted, I think that was net, not gross, which does change the math some. And she lived in what sounded like a very rural, low cost-of-living area. But still…

        1. TardyTardis*

          In a rural area, a job with benefits makes you aristocracy. And most of those people can’t move, or they would have already.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      It’s a delightful podcast, but frankly OP doesn’t need any talking points beyond “HR said this is against company policy.” And these people are trained to counter every argument you can come up with – literally anything you say is an opening for them to respond. Say little – just execute the policy immediately.

  19. HarveyW*

    Topgrading sounds like an incredible waste of a hiring manager’s (and the interviewee’s) time! Yikes!

    1. irene adler*

      It sounds like the Spanish Inquisition.

      Are bad hires really that prevalent? Or really that bad? Yes, everyone has a horror story or two, but really, what per cent of hires turn out to be bad ones such that fancy (read “abusive”) techniques -like this topgrading- are required to suss out the evil?

      1. londonedit*

        That was my thought, too – are there really so many people lying about their job history that a whole new and ridiculously invasive interviewing style is needed to flush out the few genuine candidates from the slew of liars?

        Doesn’t exactly strike me as a positive or useful way to look at recruitment, if you’re assuming that a large percentage of the people you’re interviewing are actively lying to you and it’s your job to ‘catch them out’.

      1. Asenath*

        It doesn’t change the advice, but if the co-worker has a tic, it’s unlikely the advice would be helpful since tics are far more difficult to control than a mere habit.

        Odds are, though, it’s just a habit, and the advice might help.

      2. Loux in Canada*

        I have Tourette syndrome… It’s difficult, not impossible, to control tics depending on the nature. And it varies between tics too. Some tics, good luck to me trying to control them for more than a few seconds. Others I can redirect or stop from happening for a short time. I believe TS falls under the ADA (although I am not American), so if this is indeed what’s going on, I guess the coworker should probably work with her manager to figure out a solution. Personally, since my verbal tics are not too bad (quiet squeaking, mostly; my motor ones are slightly more pronounced), I haven’t had many issues in the workplace, other than occasional rude people back when I worked in retail (loud noises, stress, lights etc all aggravate the tics so they were much more pronounced then).

  20. Seeking Second Childhood*

    OP#4, I say go for it! Maybe your boss would want like to have you train as a backup for vacations & emergencies.

    1. OP #4*

      Thanks! It’s my understanding that the last person in my role ended up as an “auxiliary analyst” as well – I don’t know how much of that was her vs management vs the needs of the business making that happen, but even in the initial interview, I got the impression that no one would be particularly shocked if after 6-12 months I wanted to transition into the analyst role.

  21. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    Op4: I agree with Allison. Have a low key “hey, I’m thinking about my next step” conversation with the manager” and don’t worry about the analyst who is leaving. Just get the bug in their ear and be visible enough that you’re the one they think of when they get the news that she’s leaving.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Who knows, another analyst might leave sooner for another reason. Or as noted, training as a back up for vacations and emergencies. This way, no matter what happens with the one likely to leave, OP will still be considered for advancement.

  22. NYWeasel*

    OP2: No advice beyond what Alison has already provided but I just want to commiserate! Whenever my coworker feels put upon, she clucks, sights, tut-tuts, or makes other noises fishing for the rest of us to stop what we are doing and ask her what’s wrong. It drives me crazy—I can’t even imagine how irritated I would be if it were as ridiculous as the noises you’re being subjected to!

    1. ONFM*

      I have a coworker who loudly sighs, moans, and groans CONSTANTLY. Drives me up the wall. You can hear him sighing down the hall before he ever comes into view. It’s become my BEC. Like, mid-meeting. He’ll give a response, moan. Groan, then another sentence. Standing in my office, moan. I’m sympathizing here bc he and I are actually good friends and I know there’s no medical reason for this. He’s just an older guy who is slowly becoming a bulldog. I am so sorry, OP2!

    2. Lucille2*

      I used to sit next to a colleague in an open plan office who would audibly react to every email that graced his inbox. I came to the conclusion that in his mind, everyone was an idiot, and every email that was addressed to him was the bane of his existence. His heavy sighs and under-his-breath cursing were early warning signs that he was about to start a diatribe about our incompetent colleagues. It was the grace period I needed to put on headphones or have an urgent meeting I suddenly had to leave for.

  23. Iain C*

    OP2: You have had real advice above, but I’m picturing normal colleague mutterings like “Hmph”, “dammit”, “blasted stapler…”, and thinking you need a better R rated life!

    (More sensibly I presume there’s mosnibg involved, not someone doing a When Harry met Sally each time they print correctly?)

    1. Jenny*

      If you have known a person who makes sex noises not in the content of some sexual situation, it’s very jarring. I know what the OP is talking about and it’s very uncomfortable. Very similar to that When Harry Met Sally scene.

  24. Jenny*

    2. Not necessarily work-related, but my sister makes sex noises sometimes when she’s eating something she really likes. I have told her to stop, it makes me uncomfortable, but she totally dismisses me. It’s very frustrating.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Yeah, well, food and sex stimulate the same pleasure receptors. Especially if it’s chocolate
      Really excellent European chocolate is swoon worthy!

  25. Lady Jay*

    I know we’re months away from updates season, but eventually, I’d love to hear one from OP 1!

    I haaaate MLMs, but feel for OP! Sure, she’s made a mistake. But it’s tough to learn how to enforce things, especially when you want to be accepted/good/liked (hint: that third one is a problem). Good luck to you making up for lost ground! I hope things come out okay!

  26. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

    Regarding mental health days: being burned out IS being unwell. One kind of health problem, mental or otherwise, isn’t more legitimate than another.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Right. The LW’s question is: how can I take a sick day BEFORE I get sick (burned out/having a break down)?

      That’s a legitimate use of sick time but can be difficult to communicate (and uncomfortable, if the LW doesn’t want to share details of her Seasonal Affective Disorder). Hence the question about how to describe it (and the answer: don’t! A vague description is fine).

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But that post isn’t about taking days off for actual mental health issues. If you read the letter, it’s using the colloquial use of “mental health day,” meaning “I can’t stand the thought of coming to work today.”

        A day off for an actual mental health issue is not that. It’s the same as a day off for any health issue. (Although that post says the former is fine to do occasionally too.)

        1. OP #5*

          Oops, I left out some words in my comment. I meant more I see them *framed as/perceived as* “I want a sick day, but I’m not really sick.” That is, I have reservations about using the term “mental health day” when I mean “I am not well” because I am concerned people hear “I just don’t want to come to work today.” Ultimately I guess it doesn’t really matter because I’m not obligated to give details of why I’m staying home, but it does make me less likely to use the term myself.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, “mental health day” is usually used to mean “I’m not really sick.”

            But you wouldn’t need to use those words any way. You wouldn’t say “I need a colon health day” for IBS or “I need a lumbar support day” for back pain. Same thing for mental health — it’s just a “sick day.”

  27. Delta Delta*

    #1 – this is really very easy, if OP frames her thinking that it’s easy. “I got a reminder from corporate that we can’t have MLMs/side jobs/whatevs operating in the office, so they all need to stop now. I don’t want to see any of us risking our jobs over this, so clear it out by the end of the day.” And that’s it. I’d also suggest if someone continues, have a 1:1 conversation with them before initiating any sort of formal disciplinary process so they have another warning to stop. If these are good employees, OP should make sure not to lose them, but also make it clear this is a hard boundary that needs to happen. If an employee chooses that he or she wants to leave to go sell knives or leggings or scented candles or whatever on a full time basis, that’s a choice that person makes.

    Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people who are actually relieved by this.

    1. CM*

      I like this approach — it’s less “I’m going to start firing people” and more “Hey, it’s time to enforce this rule. Take your stuff home.” Especially “I don’t want to see any of us risking our jobs over this” — it makes it clear that firing is a possibility but stops short of a threat. However, if people don’t listen, I think the 1 on 1 conversation with them should be, “No seriously, I’m going to have to fire you if you don’t stop this immediately. You have until the end of the day.”

    2. TootsNYC*

      I don’t want to see any of us risking our jobs over this,

      Love this.

      Yes, OP–frame this as “I am protecting your job.”

      And step up in terms of governing the agenda of meetings, and helping people break the habit of talking about their MLMs.

  28. Sara without an H*

    OP#1: There seems to be a difference of opinion among the commentariat as to how fast to proceed to shut down the MLM sales in your office — but you’ll notice that there’s general agreement that it has to stop. It will be unpleasant, but you have to do it.

    I have some other concerns. You seem to be an inexperienced manager, working in a location remote from HQ. Are you relying on your staff for “friendship”? Once you force phase out of the MLM trash, your staff may not be as “friendly” as they used to be. (Actually, you need to be prepared for some grand scale sulking.) Don’t take this personally. In relating to staff, you need to be warm, personable, and fair — but they’re not your friends, and you are not their friend.

    I’m concerned that, since you work in a remote location, you don’t have a mentor. And how often do you have contact with your own manager? Your manager needs to be briefed on this situation, way before HQ staff visit your office. If your manager is any good at all, he/she/ze won’t object to your asking for advice on how to proceed. (I’d be flabbergasted if this were going on and my direct report didn’t tell me.)

    Meanwhile, spend some time in the AAM archives. Talk with your manager and HR people about training and career development opportunities. In management, there’s a sweet spot between being Mr. Rogers and being Attila the Hun. Get some support and development so you can find what that is for you.

  29. SigneL*

    OP #1, I would suggest that if you want things to change, you need to indicate that by your body language, tone and even dress. If your coworkers dress casually, dress a little better. Keep a serious look on your face, and use a direct look in the eye, the look that says “I mean business.” I personally think it’s easier to make big changes all at once, and your words and manner must indicate this is not optional.

  30. Aunt Vixen*

    Is it reasonable in cases like OP3’s to answer something like this:

    Q: What would your colleagues at Art Gallery say about you if asked?
    A: [blink] Gosh, I expect they probably wouldn’t even remember me – I was there for such a short time such a long time ago.

    Q: What did you learn from your time at Restaurant?
    A: Honestly, I learned that I can do it to keep the bills paid but restaurant work wasn’t for me long-term.

    Q: Do you have a reference for this totally unrelated job from 10 years ago?
    A: I’m afraid not – it was such a temporary situation for me that I haven’t stayed in touch with anyone from that job. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve all moved on as well.

    ? I mean I guess there’s a chance those would be disqualifying answers to someone practicing this Topgrade nonsense. But if they’re just asking these questions because they think they should, should this type of answer satisfy them? Or does it sound evasive?

    1. Blue Eagle*

      Your example answers seem evasive. My take of the colleague answer is that there was a problem there that you didn’t want to tell me about and of the restaurant answer is that you just put in your time and didn’t learn anything from it.

      For the colleague answer, did your colleagues find you hard-working?, creative? playing on your phone all the time? sense of humor? surly with patrons?

      For the restaurant answer, did you learn anything about management style? working with customers? menu items that worked/didn’t work? or just ignored everything and weren’t able to take anything to future jobs?

      As a hiring manager, the evasive answers would make me think this candidate would be a low performer who would only do what they were told and wouldn’t be capable of much independent thought.

      1. irene adler*

        I’m always curious how often such an assessment as “low performer who would only do what they were told and wouldn’t be capable of much independent thought”, which is based on Aunt Vixen’s responses, rings true? I realize this would be hard to demonstrate.
        It galls me to see such things. I can’t recall things from work 10+ years ago. And finding former supervisors- forget it. Have no clue where they are.

        1. londonedit*

          I had a summer job while at university 18 years ago – none of the people who worked there at the time still work there (it was in the office of a small hotel, which has changed ownership at least twice in the intervening years) and even if you could track any of them down (difficult, as I can’t really remember any of their names except for the two actual owners, who no longer live in this country) I’m pretty sure they a) wouldn’t remember someone who worked in their office three days a week for four months 18 years ago and b) even if they did, wouldn’t have anything beyond a vague ‘Er…yes, I suppose I remember her? I guess she was probably fine??’ response.

          1. irene adler*

            Yes! And how would such a response help an interviewer determine the candidates fitness for the position? I can’t see it.

            Funnily enough, I remember the sketchy or poor performing co-workers and reports more vividly than the ones who performed satisfactorily. There are stories about the sketchy performers that we re-tell to this day.

        2. Catwoman2*

          I feel like I had something similar to this for an interview this summer! I have 7 years of really strong experience: 4.5 years in one job, 2.5 years in the job I was in at the time. I received promotions in both roles. I had a job before the strong experience started, and left after 6 months as they weren’t interested in training me up, and I had an opportunity where I could gain more experience.

          Normally my answer of “it was a nice place to work, but they weren’t going to train and give me higher level experience. I found a job that did this, and left” works fine. Every interviewer has looked at my resume after I said that, realized it made perfect sense, noted that I stayed in the subsequent jobs for a good amount of time, and moved on. This job asked me if it was temp or permanent, and then asked me what I did between 2009 and 2011 (when I interned, worked retail, and attempted to find a job in a tough market, after finishing grad school).

          I was somewhat put off from all of this (some of my friends/family had a different reaction), but it definitely gave me the sense that we had differing expectations on how they viewed my role (which is support staff in professional services, but requires an advanced degree).

      2. Southern Yankee*

        Your take is pretty hard line. I might think “too evasive” if I heard the no reference/no contact response about a recent, relevant job, but on a filler job from 10+ years ago it seems overly pedantic. Same on the colleague answer. Also, I would likely find the restaurant answer refreshingly honest – especially if delivered with the right tone/body language and not whiny or dismissive.

      3. Jasnah*

        What if they were a low performer? As in, they didn’t have the best attitude at the restaurant because they were just doing it to pay the bills? And they didn’t really learn anything because they just swept the floor and washed dishes?

        Does that mean they’d be bad at teapot painter, or any other completely unrelated job?
        Does that mean that their attitude towards work is the exact same as it was 10 years ago, despite their increased maturity and experience?

        I don’t see how being mediocre in one field years ago translates to being mediocre in another field years later. This isn’t recent or relevant experience so all you’d learn is “is this person able to spin anything to sound good.”

      4. Jasnah*

        What if they were a low performer? As in, they didn’t have the best attitude at the restaurant because they were just doing it to pay the bills? And they didn’t really learn anything because they just swept the floor and washed dishes?

        Does that mean they’d be bad at teapot painter, or any other completely unrelated job?
        Does that mean that their attitude towards work is the exact same as it was 10 years ago, despite their increased maturity and experience?

        I don’t see how being mediocre in one field years ago translates to being mediocre in another field years later. This isn’t recent or relevant experience so all you’d learn is “is this person able to spin anything to sound good?”

  31. Lady Phoenix*

    OP #1: Your coworkers are not your friends, they are your employees.

    Remember that because I gurantee that once you put your footbdown on these scams (effectively immediately), they are going to have a MASSIVE rage fest. You will most likely be a “bitch” or “tyrant”, you will not see any invitations to eat out with the team, you will hear a lot of rumors about you, you will be the target of multiple glares and grumbles, and they will probably throw massive shade your way.

    And I am not saying you DESERVE any of this hate, but I gurantee they will serve you this like a flaming bag of dog poo on your doorstep. And you need to get the heads up now so that you may also mentally prepare for when you might also have to do the dirty job of disciplining one of these MLM sellers (or anyone really who steps out of line).

    Find some friends who don’t work with you. Use meet up. Try some online dating or friending. Join a club, volunteer, sport, something. Make friends with people from the outside. Build a team you out there, because you might not have in work.

    And in the meantime, learn that coworkers will often have a different degree of intimacy that is not found between friends, lovers, and family (or at least they SHOULD). Being polite is fine, being friendly is ok, but being friends or being “friends” is not.

    1. LQ*

      A lot of MLMs have a very big story around how evil it is working for a company and how companies (including all variations) are all evil because you’re working for someone else. I would expect some of that flare up as well. You’re killing their dreams kind of a thing.

      Sensible people will grumble a little and then realize it doesn’t belong at work where they actually get paid, but MLMs can really mess with your head and your perception so it may take a little while to get back to a place of normal.

      1. Lady Phoenix*

        They may also take their ball and go home—taking a lot of “sick days” at inconvenient moments, arriving late/leaving early, no shows, and lots of passive aggression.

        You will probably have to do a lot of discipline, but you can’t treat each one like you are shooting Old Yeller. Otherwise, you’ll break yourself and will weaken your place as manager.

        1. Sara without an H*

          “…you can’t treat each one like you are shooting Old Yeller.”

          Perfect! Lady Phoenix, you have made my day.

    2. Sara without an H*

      Actually, I think OP#1 is more likely to get a Deep Freeze than a Massive Rage Fest. This is, after all, a “ruralish area,” and the staff may be unwilling to act out to the point of getting fired. But massive sulks and the silent treatment — definitely.

      The longer I read AAM, the more I think it’s a serious blunder to promote new managers from within an existing work group, especially if the appointee has no prior management experience. I am making a mental note never to do that.

      1. LQ*

        This makes me very sad. You’re basically saying you’ll never help develop anyone and if they ever want to grow they have to leave.

        The solution isn’t never promoting anyone, it’s actually managing the person you promoted. Helping them, developing them, supporting them, training them.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          This. Never make the mistake that because someone is good at their job, they’ll be a good manager–but on the flip side, almost nobody is just naturally a good manager with no experience or training. Everyone needs guidance because it’s a completely different job in and of itself, with a different skill set.

      2. WellRed*

        Yeah, don’t do this, unless you want your employees to leave. I can’t be promoted any further unless my boss leaves (I don’t actually want her job). But, it’s been a few years and I really have … no motivation any more.

      3. Lady Phoenix*

        You probably shouldn’t unless you want an employee who stays for maybe…. 1-2 years before realizing they won’t go anywhere in this place and leave for you competition with a shiny new offer.

      4. Katie the Fed*

        It’s not a blunder, but new managers usually need a lot more coaching and support than they’re likely to get.

      5. Totally Minnie*

        I wouldn’t go so far as to say “never.” It’s true that it’s incredibly hard to become the supervisor of the team you used to be a member of. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that no one will be able to do it. If you’ve got a team member who’s up for the challenge, and you’re willing to give them the help and support they need, then I think promoting from within the team could work. But I do think it would have to be an incredibly strong person for it to go well, given that they would have to essentially give up their work friendships. Management is a lonely job already, and I imagine it would be all the lonelier if the people you manage used to be your friends but aren’t now.

      6. Sara without an H*

        OK, I’ll revise my thinking on this. But I would be sure the new manager had lots of support going in. It sounds like OP#1 has been kind of put in the role and abandoned.

  32. Hopeful Future Accountant*

    #2 – by all means, talk to them about it, but try to be a bit sensitive when you do. Don’t be accusatory or combative. There could be a reason she’s doing it that she can’t control.

    For instance – I have Tourette Syndrome. When I’m stressed or anxious about something my tics can be exasperated. But there’s also times when they act up for no reason at all. I know I’m very self-conscious about them – especially when I know they may be distracting to others or could be considered inappropriate.

    If your coworker tells you there’s nothing she can do to stop the noises, then maybe the two of you can work together to find a way to help you be able to concentrate still.

  33. Jump To Conclusions*

    LW#2’s co-worker made me think of Anne Hathaway’s character in Valentine’s Day.

  34. Allison*

    #1 Definitely shut these down because they straight-up suck, but you may also want to look into why so many of your employees are into MLMs. It could be that they’re just really popular in your area and they’ve all just happened to get roped in with promises of extra spending money, but from what I’ve observed, people are often more prone to being recruited into these things when their regular 9-5 isn’t cutting it somehow, either isn’t paying enough or isn’t offering enough fulfillment or opportunities to advance into leadership positions. It’s not my intention to imply that you’re not giving people these things, but you may want do a gut check, making sure you’re paying fair market rate, offering decent benefits, and giving people opportunities to move up.

  35. SigneL*

    OP #1, another thought: as boss, you will have to do things that may make you uncomfortable, like performance reviews, decide who gets a raise, and even fire someone. I understand that these people were your peers and probably friends, but that relationship has changed. That’s part of being a manager.

    1. Southern Yankee*

      Exactly! It’s hard to do, especially at first, but it is definitely your job.

      I found addressing bad employee behavior the hardest thing as a new boss. I didn’t worry that much about being liked, but I did want to be a good manager. Problem was, I hadn’t figured out exactly what that looked like or what my boss and the company expected. I worried about what to say, how to say it, how they would respond…running the conversation in my head a hundred times. I felt oddly guilty for reasons I didn’t even understand. I wasn’t sure how to find the balance between doormat and complete jerk.

      OP #1, I assure you, being nervous and unsure is completely normal. It does get easier with practice. That doesn’t change the bottom line though, you MUST address this, and the sooner the better. Definitely build a support system of appropriate people (i.e. that you can share confidential info with) to give you advice, help interpret policy and culture, and even just to vent. Your boss or an HR rep are probably good choices, and should already expect to advise a new manager on issues like these. Get the conversation done. It may go better than you expect and even if it doesn’t, you will have taken a big step. We’ve all been there and it can be difficult, but you’ll be fine. Good Luck!

  36. Hailrobonia*

    I never realized how much I sigh, and how loud and exasperated my sighs sound, until my coworker in the cubicle next to me pointed it out.

    1. irene adler*

      Yeah. I bet most folks don’t either.

      I had a co-worker who sighed a lot. This was usually followed by a bit of mumbling. Not too annoying; I got used to it. He was kind of a “sad-sack” guy. Gloomy in nature. But polite.
      One day I was sitting rather close to him as he was running a lab experiment. He sighed, then the mumbling began. Only I realized he was talking-not mumbling. He said, “I wish I were dead.”

      I soon realized all the mumblings were variations of “I wish I were dead.”

      Do I say something? Do I ignore this? I wasn’t sure what to make of his mumblings.

      He was laid off a short time later.

    2. Lucille2*

      I was told once by a coworker that I type loudly. Every now and then, I get self-conscious about it. I guess I hit the keys harder than most? I don’t know. At least keyboards are getting quieter than the old clackity clack ones. Open office plans really are the worst.

  37. Tobias Funke*

    OP1, check out the Facebook group Sounds like MLM but ok. There will be a lot of support there. MLM are basically cults and the temperature in the office may change once you regulate on their sales. You are doing the right thing by not allowing this any longer.

  38. Blue Eagle*

    #3 – My company offered an interviewing training and one of the things the instructor said is that while you can’t necessarily believe everything an interviewee says, you can get alot of information about how they respond to questions – and tailor your questions accordingly.
    So, if you are interviewing for a job that requires decision-making, ask “why” questions and see if the person can give reasons for why they chose their college or their jobs, etc. What college they chose is less important than seeing if they could articulate a reason for choosing it (i.e. how did they come to that decision)
    If you want to see if the person has insights from experiences, ask what they learned from unrelated jobs. What they learned doesn’t matter so much as whether or not they learned anything and whether or not they can articulate what they learned.
    If the job requires that a person is a logical thinker, ask a question about a prior experience that requires you to show in their answer the logical steps to a problem they previously solved.
    If the job requires strict attention to detail, see if the person answers the question you ask or if the answer goes off on another path that they prefer.
    This method of interviewing stresses analyzing “how” the person answers rather than “what” they answer to see if they have the skills that the particular job requires. Perhaps this is what your interviewer was getting at.
    I know that several of my interviewees for a job requiring critical/logical thinking skills mentioned to the outside recruiter that they did not like this method of interviewing, but it provided valuable information when people could not respond in a logical manner, could not clearly articulate why they chose a work path, could not articulate what they learned – for a job that required those skills.

  39. Mouse Princess*

    OP #2 – I feel your pain! My desk-mate, who is also my boss, loudly moans whenever she yawns. Like cartoon yawning! It’s awful.

    1. Time Is Valuable*

      My desk mate is given to saying things like “I’m just going to shoot myself” or “I’m going to jump out the window”. We’re on the fifth floor, windows don’t open and are earthquake-safe glass. I don’t think she’s seriously suicidal, but that’s the only way she seems to know how to express frustration, and she manages to be louder than my podcasts that I’m listening to while I work.

  40. LQ*

    #4 I think it’s important that you don’t assume your boss will come and check with you when this person announces they are leaving. I do think you need to go and ask. There are lots of potential outcomes that are very good here. And I don’t think you need to mention at all the coworker leaving. Just go and bring it up. If you have regular meetings bring it up then. Hey I’m ready for the next thing is a good thing to bring to your boss.

    1. OP #4*

      Oh, for sure, I won’t say anything about Coworker leaving – it’s not my place to share that information, and it wouldn’t be for a few months yet. I did end up mentioning it to Boss yesterday – slightly bad timing on my part, as they’re working on transferring two analysts from a sister location to fill the two vacancies that already exist here, so if I had spoken up a week ago I could already be transitioning into the role! *sigh* Oh, well. She knows I’m interested now, anyway.

      1. LQ*

        It sounds like there are opportunities, so it’ll come now that you’ve asked. Good job on speaking to your boss! You always have to assume you need to advocate for yourself. (And now I’m going to go and take my own words of wisdom and make a plan to talk to my boss :) I’ve been inspired, thank you!)

  41. always in email jail*

    #1 I’ve had to address this before (not to such an extreme extent, though) and I found this line helpful: “You cannot sell your products on work time, any more than you can work a shift at Starbucks while ‘on the clock’ here. This situation is just as serious as that would be. Both are theft of the organization’s time, and it needs to stop immediately, or we will have to escalate to next steps in the disciplinary process.” For some reason, clearly explaining to them that working a second job on the organization’s time is not OK, even if they’re doing it from their cubicle, helped them to see why it was such a big deal.

  42. Morticia*

    OP #1, I wonder, from reading your letter, if your staff are perhaps underpaid if all of them have a side-gig? I know you say OT is available, but OT cuts into work/life balance. And I believe MLMs are sold as not really being work. So, maybe you should look at salaries to see if that’s something that needs to be addressed. No one should have to work overtime to make a decent living wage.

    1. LQ*

      MLMs are fairly expensive, they aren’t doing them to make money. They may say that, they may believe it, but they aren’t making money. That’s not how MLMs work. I’m all for a living wage, but there is nothing to indicate that these folks are paid subliving wage. It feels like a weird attack on the OP to demand that they increase wages because all of the employees are trying to scam each other.

      1. fposte*

        I think that’s not quite correct–people very much are doing them to make money, same as they buy lottery tickets in hope of making money. It’s just that in both cases they’re almost always wrong.

        1. LQ*

          Ok, they may think they are doing the MLM to make money, but they aren’t making money. They may be being lied to, they may be lying to themselves, and they may be lying to others. But they aren’t making money unless they actually own the MLM, in which case they are only making money until they go to jail (hopefully…)

          But the point still stands, that these people doing MLMs does not mean that they are underpaid. And in fact I’d guess that they are spending a lot of money from this job on the MLM.

          1. Jennifer*

            Many people who sign up for MLMs or that buy from MLMs are low-income. You should watch a documentary called Betting on Zero. And there are some MLMs where you don’t have to invest a lot of money upfront.

            1. Traffic_Spiral*

              Yes, but just because someone’s into MLMs doesn’t mean they’re low-income. It means that they’re easily taken advantage of.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I would agree with this, given the amount of people at Exjob who sold stuff via MLMs. And Exjob is one of the highest paying employers around here. I know those women (they were all women) were making more money than me and all their spouses were employed too.

                Granted, I don’t know how they were spending it, or what else was going on with them. But I was a damn admin and they were in higher-level jobs than mine, so I wouldn’t categorize them as minimum wage struggling.

            2. LQ*

              Absolutely. MLMs specifically prey on people with low-incomes. But it’s still a strange thing to say that the OP is underpaying people because they use MLMs. Especially since MLMs breed MLM friendly environments. I don’t think that there is anything in the letter that should make the assumption that the OP is paying a sub-living wage (or that the OP could change that if it were true). It’s very nonsequitery.

        2. Jennifer*

          Yes, many people have gone DEEPLY into debt because of MLMs. They all buy into the dream that they will be rich if they just work hard enough.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I know you say OT is available, but OT cuts into work/life balance.

      MLMs cut into work/life balance!!~!

      Well, I guess it doesn’t if you steal time from your employer instead of using your private time to do the selling and contacting and promotions and planning, etc.

      1. TootsNYC*

        my sister was trying to do Jamberry. Not at work.

        And she needed to spend a lot of time driving around putting up signs, asking shop owners if she could organize a giveaway for their customers in exchange for the advertising opportunity, planning and attending parties, etc.

        Sure, some of it she could do at home, or on a Saturday morning.
        But it took time. And that’s why she never really made money at it.

  43. Yikes Dude*

    Can I just say thank you for referring to casually referring to Topgrading as ridiculous? One of the most random but heartfelt tips I can give to workers is that a company adopting “Topgrading” is basically just the modern business version of the Emperor’s new clothes monomyth.

  44. OP #4*

    OP 4 here – thank you, Alison and commenters, for your advice and encouragement. :) I’m a longtime reader, first-time writer. I actually had a conversation where I mentioned my interest to Boss yesterday. The office already has 2 vacancies, so right now they’re working on transferring two analysts from another office to ours; if I had spoken up a week ago, I could already have been transitioning into the role! Ahh, well. There’ll be another vacancy soon enough, and now Boss knows I’m interested. I got the impression during even the initial phone interview for this job that no one would be caught off-guard if within 6-12 months I wanted to move up. The last person in this coordinator role also was basically an analyst by the time she left, for personal reasons.

  45. Trendy*

    OP#2 I think I may have worked with that person. Always moaning but in a fashion that made me instantly think about “sex noises.” I never got the nerve to tell her to knock it off, but can understand your pain of having to listen to it.

  46. Shannon*

    #3 – I still remember a phone interview I had when I was about 26. I was in my first “real” job at the time, in my field, and looking for the next step. I scored an interview with a great, national, reputable nonprofit with a local office in a job that on paper seemed like great fit and next step. After saying hello, and the interviewer telling me she invited someone else to the call who also had a position open (not advertised, not told in advance, so no prep for that position) the interviewer said:

    “Okay, tell me everything you’ve done in the past 10 years. Go.”

    I said: “10 years ago I was a sophomore in high school, do you want me to discuss high school activities?”

    Interviewer: “I said 10 years, didn’t I?”

    I had my college graduation year on my resume, so it would have been easily deduced as to how old I was. Some people have no idea how to interview. And I quickly realized that I would not want to work for someone who threw questions out there that way.

    1. Jennifer*

      I hate that! I’m just getting to the age where I would have 10 years of legit work experience. The early part of my twenties was part-time gigs and retail. Some of those places are out of business. The ones that are still operating I highly doubt employ the same managers I worked with, if I could remember their names. Why do they need to know about the winter I spent working at Macy’s if I’m applying at a law firm?

  47. Lady Phoenix*

    LW #3
    Maybe this is just me, because I happen to be a woman, but do you really have to associate all of your coworker’s noises as “sex noises”?

    Those noises you describe could easily be her having a hernia for all we know. Unless she is masturbating/having sex/deliberately pulling a Meg Ryan… you coworker is jus king noiss, and assoscoating them with sex is a YOU problem. If you report it as that, you’re going to either been seen as weird or creepy (not sexual harassment, creepy nonetheless).

    It is bad enough when men try to paint every thing we do as secxual and flirting, to the point where I am self conscious about eating bananas and popsicles in public… but when a fellow woman pins us as doing sexual things in nonsexual situations… it kinda results in making is feel like we’re back in Puritan timez.

    1. Jennifer*

      I don’t know if that’s fair. I have heard people laugh or sigh in a way that sounded sexual. I’m not a Puritan. The OP heard it, not us. I’m going to take their word for it.

      1. Lady Phoenix*

        Once again, I feel this is a “you” problem. It is fine to be annoyed at sounds, but I think labeling them as sexual when their is no sexual/romantic context… is once again labeling the woman as sexual beings that need to be policed.

        See all the teen/tweenagers getting sent home for being “distractions to their male classmates” over leggings or some shirts.

        If people decided I can’t make any sort of noise because it is “sexual” when I am either trying to lift something heavy or being fustrated at a hard task or having a bad cramp, I would definitely feel unconfortable being near them.

        1. Jennifer*

          I don’t think that’s the same thing as girls being sent home for being distracting at all. She said she wasn’t going to frame it that way when she talked to the coworker and Alison’s script doesn’t mention sex at all. I think she compared them to sex noises because we aren’t there and can’t hear them. She wanted us to get an idea of what they sound like. It’s descriptive. Nothing more. Turning minor things like this into a sexual harassment is alarmist and harms actual victims.

    2. Someone Else*

      She’s not going to frame them as such when talking to the coworker. She was just describing it to Alison to give the full picture and reasons for why OP might currently feel more awkward here than if it were more run of the mill sighing/mumbling/noise.

  48. Amethystmoon*

    #3 I thought one was only supposed to list relevant jobs in a resume. I’ve also been told to limit your resume to either 2 pages or just the past 5 jobs you have had. I suppose it does depend on what you are applying for, but I used to temp a lot and am so glad now I don’t have to list those jobs anymore because I’ve been with the same company for a decade now.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I was told to keep it down to the last 15 years, so as not to give away your age (and to keep it relevant. Nobody cares that I programmed in DinosaurPro in 1989). My last 15 years now only include three jobs with three Large Companies, which I am happy about. I hope no one tries to make me go into the several-months-long stints at various now-defunct Mom and Pop Shops from last century. I am puzzled as to what purpose that would serve (other than to, like I said in a comment above, figure out my exact age).

  49. Anonandon*

    OP 3 – Before I landed my current job, I had an interview with a large European retailer that was looking to expand in the US and needed a seasoned HR person with retail experience (which I had). When I went in for the interview, the interviewer started that topgrading stuff, going all the way back to when I was in college (I graduated in 1990, so that gives you an idea of how many years we were going through). She kept asking me about my college experience and I finally said, as politely as possible, “I’m happy to answer any questions you have about my work experience or skills, but I’m curious to know why you think my college experience from 25+ years ago is relevant to what I can offer you in this role?” She looked at me like I had grown a second head, and then closed the interview. Needless to say, I was not offered that job, which was probably a good thing as I noticed recently that the large retailer doesn’t seem to be doing well.

  50. Jennifer*

    #1 Unfortunately this isn’t unusual in rural parts of the country. Everyone is selling to someone else. I’m not even in a rural area but a lot of people in my last job sold Avon, but they did it in a really discreet way that I don’t think the higher-ups knew. I know people here who have their own businesses they work on while they are here. One girl makes homemade soaps. The issue is people don’t make enough money to make ends meet and have a lot of things to do outside of work and can’t take on a second job or do overtime. It’s sad, but this is a violation of company policy. I’m shocked at how blatant they are about it. Most people know the side hustle has to be on the DL :)

    Again, I know this is wrong. I’m just saying I know a lot of people do it.

    Real question – Is this very different from people that sell their kids’ girl scout cookies or wrapping paper for the school fundraiser? I really don’t want to be pressured into buying anything at work, whether it’s from an MLM or little Timmy’s school.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      agreed about soliciting at work in general, but it’s very different than girl scout cookies. MLMs steal money from people in downlines to make people at the top rich. Your best case scenario of success involves someone else’s failure. They’re immoral. Girl Scout Cookies are just fattening.

      1. Jennifer*

        That’s true. I guess with any organization there are going to be people that disagree with some of their practices, even the Girl and Boy Scouts have been in the news recently.

        1. LQ*

          Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are very very very different organizations and should not be mushed together as if they were the same.

          1. Jennifer*

            I don’t know much about either organization beyond what I’ve read in the news. I mushed them together because they both have the word “scout” at the end.

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        This MLMs are a scam that only succeed if you manage to con others into it, like some financial version for those The Ring movies. Also, everything they sell is crap.

        1. Jennifer*

          “Also, everything they sell is crap.”

          Some might say the same about cookies, wrapping paper, candy bars, magazine subscriptions and other things people sell for their kids. I don’t like MLMs either, but the issue here is the theft of time and pushing people to buy while they are at work, not the ethics of the organizations these people are selling for.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I remember my mom’s reaction to Amway when it hit our town: “I like their soaps, and I’ll happily use it instead of the grocery store version, but SOMEbody has to buy the products.”

          It used to be that Amway’s products were competitively prices, but lately the few times I’ve had someone suggest a product from them, the price was WAY high.

      3. Clisby Williams*

        Plus, Girl Scout cookies don’t have to require any time theft. Where I’ve worked, it was more like somebody would send out an email saying “My daughter is selling GS cookies if anyone wants them. Email me at if you’re interested, and I’ll send you the information. I can deliver during lunch break at work if you like.”

        1. Jennifer*

          I have known people that went from desk to desk selling them and spent a significant amount of work time writing up and delivering orders.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Well that’s a problem coworker you had there. The Girl Scouts aren’t to blame for that.

        2. Jennifer*

          Also, someone could presumably send a version of the same email for an MLM as well. I don’t really want to get either.

      4. TootsNYC*

        also, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofits.

        That might make a difference to some employers, and it makes a difference to some customers/colleagues.

        That said, I still wouldn’t want them to be disruptive.

        I was lucky w/ my kids’ school candy sales–I put up a sign in the kitchenette and left the box on my desk. And made out like a bandit (had people telling me I should have gotten more boxes of candy after it was over)

        1. Jennifer*

          The way you did it sounds like it wasn’t disruptive and worked out well for you and your coworkers.

          My point is that disruption is disruption, whether it’s an MLM or a school fundraiser. I’m not really interested.

  51. Mockingdragon*

    OP5, I’ve never had a problem with pre-scheduling a mental health day. My coworkers have generally known I have anxiety, but I never worried about being specific. It probably helped that I’ve always had a single pool of PTO and didn’t have to differentiate sick time from vacation time.

    Generally I’d go to my boss and say that I needed a day off in the next week or so, does Monday work? And she’d say yes or no, a day would get picked, and on the schedule it went. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that :) (unless, again, your PTO is too different…)

    1. Jennifer*

      Same. We request days off online so I just pick a day that works for me and add a note that it’s for a personal day. I have to do it every so often to manage my anxiety. Pre-scheduling it works out for everyone because I can plan ahead with my work so no one has to pick up my slack, and I can make sure there’s nothing important planned that day. Also, my boss knows not to book anything important.

  52. The Ginger Ginger*

    OP1 – Depending on how much stuff is out, maybe if you give your employees bags or small boxes or something when you make this announcement, it may make them take you more seriously. “I’ve brought supplies for you to pack this into, and I expect it to be taken home by the end of the (day/week).” Then there’s no room for an excuse about how they can’t carry it all or whatever. If they still protest, tell them it cant be in the building, and at least has to be go out to their cars. It can’t be on the premises for any reason.

  53. SomewhereOver*

    Not at all work related, but post #2 made me think of this. I was in the sauna at the gym (I lay down and close my eyes – it’s my wind down time), and about 5 mins in two women come in (I was previously in there alone). Suddenly there’s ALL this noise. Lots of moving around (it’s wood so it was creaking a lot), heavy breathing, moaning. Keep in mind my eyes are closed so I can’t see anything and they’re behind me so I can’t look without being obvious. In my mind I was like freaking out and going WTF are they having sex! It sounded so sexual!! (I had recently read a story about people having sex in gym hot tubs and this was top of mind. I was thinking maybe they do it in Saunas now too!). Anyways I finally got up the courage to up and leave and sneak a peak as I did. One woman was just stretching VERY aggressively.

    1. Shannon*

      I’ve had this happen to me. Only the aggressive stretcher was completely nude and in the middle of the room, and using the benches for deeper leg stretches. It was awkward to say the least.

  54. Stopped lurking to say...*

    OK I’m here to defend Topgrading, which I can see is going to make me unpopular, but here goes…. I’ve used this approach for many hires and it works really well for a number of reasons which i’ll go into. But just to get out of the way: I can see that it’s not always used very well and needs some judgement or do you could spend hours – but just needs a bit of planning, In the example given by OP3 here, for example, I would have grouped together those first few jobs out of college and ask someone what they learned in this period etc, rather than go one by one. I also didn’t feel you needed to do all the ‘when I call them’ stuff, you can just ask questions about ‘what would your team have said about you’ for example.

    So for those who don’t know the principle behind top-grading – it’s not “scientology woo-woo” as someone said above (!), it’s based on principles from occupational psychology around flow states, motivation and what leads to good performance: it may not be your bag but it’s not made-up. The way it works is that you get people to tell you the story of their career, starting with college and moving forward. For each job (or as above, maybe group of jobs) you’re asking what you were hired to do, what you were good at, what went badly, what would the team you worked with say about you, why you moved on. And you progress forward through their career. (And you can ask things in different ways – e.g. if people won’t answer about what didn’t go well, I’ll often ask ‘how would you coach your younger self now’ etc).

    It works for a few reasons. The narration isn’t about a truth drug, but by telling the story forwards you really do start to see patterns emerge, both good and bad. The people who’ve really been thoughtful and built a career based on their strengths vs the person who leaves whenever it gets hard, the person who backstabs every boss they ever worked for, the person whose every single time something difficult happened had some petty revenge story that they proudly told … I’ve seen all these three, and not hired them. You also get interesting things like the person whose ‘what went well’ never managed ‘what I was hired to do’ – OK so is this a person who just can’t stick to what they were hired for and goes wandering off on their own beat, or was it because they grew and developed and led to the ‘why I left’ and so on. It really does help you look at how this person performs, works, treats their career.

    The competency based approach – tell me when you did X – leads to a greatest hits compendium of the finer points of their career. But you have no idea whether these were one-offs or part of a pattern, what they’re like to work with, or how their career is progressing, or where this role you’re hiring for fits into the story of their career.

    I have used the top-grading as the first in-person stage after an initial phone sift, and to get from say 6 candidates down to 2, who then come back for more detailed and substance on the issues I work with. But it works well for the ‘is this person going to fit well in the team, make a career here, make my work life better’ assessment.

    I would say the interviews are a bit longer – maybe 1hr-1hr30 plus – but honestly to people saying ‘I’m not going to waste my time’ I’d say, look at all the people miserable in their roles that pop up on this website! Yes, we enjoy the drama, but investing a bit more time at the interview stage (on both sides) may have helped weed some of the cultural fit issues in some cases…

    OK so it sounds like I’ve drunk the kool-aid! But I’ve used this very successfully for about 8 years now, have hired lots of people and had a much higher success rate of people performing in their role than any previous method, so I’m sticking with it. Oh and am still in touch with a lot of the people I used to manage, now as friend / mentor.

    1. Mockingdragon*

      It does make sense the way you describe it, but I think the big question is what you do if a candidate says some of what you’ve seen in these comments – “That was so long ago I can’t remember,” or “Ultimately I learned I hated restaurant work”. Do you just move on or do you dig in and expect everyone to be able to say something substantial about their whole life?

      1. Stopped lurking to say...*

        Well, I think ‘ultimately I hate restaurant work’ is quite interesting – why did you hate it? What did you learn from it? Is there anything you do now that you picked up then? I think there are follow-ups that could unearth something interesting. Like many I did loads of restaurant stuff to gain work experience when I was a student miles away from what I do now but there was definitely stuff I learned beyond just that I hated it! But I wouldn’t expect to go in deep on that – but those formative things tell you something, even if it’s just ‘be nice to servers’.

        1. Ellen Ripley*

          But wouldn’t most of the replies be, “I realized I wasn’t the center of the universe, life is hard sometimes, and we should all do the best we can and be kind to each other,” i.e. growing up out of teenagerhood? This is some deep personal growth shiz, and I’d normally only talk about it with close friends/family or a therapist, not some job interviewer I’ve just met and who I may have to interact with on a professional level in the future.

        2. Mockingjay*

          I hated it because of terrible hours, little pay, and nasty work conditions. I only did it because I was poor, living in a rural area in the middle of a recession, and I couldn’t get anything else. It wasn’t life changing, it was just hard work for very little reward.

          I’d probably self-select out of the application process, because I just don’t see the value in going back that far in my work history.

          1. Stopped lurking to say...*

            Well maybe I’m not expressing it well, but it’s definitely not therapy. Though if someone treated a job interview like therapy that would also give me a lot of information…

            A better example than the stuff you do to make ends meet as a student (though if you do think about it I can think of a ton of work — not life – lessons I did learn from that era) is the first few years out of college are things like – deadlines, delivering high quality work when you’re bored as hell (obviously expressed better) and what I didn’t want to do which led to my next role… etc etc.

            Do people really not think that those sorts of formative experiences are not, well, formative?

            1. Val Zephyr*

              The problem with focusing on these early experiences, regardless of whether they are formative, is that they are usually not relevant. Everyone learns the importance of deadlines and delivering high quality work in their early jobs. What’s more important is how they have applied those skills to their more recent jobs.

            2. EventPlannerGal*

              I just find the whole thing quite vague, really. “It can unearth something interesting” – you could say that of almost anything. You could question someone on their favourite childhood games or tastes in interior decor and spin that into an insight into their character if you were determined to do so, and IMO it would be about as relevant as the details of a two-month college barista gig. Regardless of being “formative”, I just don’t think there’s significantly more useful information to be gained from this type of questioning than you’d get from most standard interviews.

            3. Lucille2*

              I have to agree somewhat on this point that some skills learned in early service jobs are transferrable to long term career positions. Today’s letter is the first I’ve heard of Topgrading, so I have no opinion of it. However, I spent many years in various customer service jobs before getting my career off the ground. I learned I did not want to spend my career in customer service, but I also learned some other valuable skills.
              I developed some conflict resolution skills that I might not have learned otherwise. I also learned about what it means to work for a company that pays attention to its customers’ wants and listens to the staff who are customer-facing, vs. the company who treats customer service staff as unskilled kids. IME, the latter is quite disconnected from its customers and that can have a direct impact on revenue.

    2. Ellen Ripley*

      The thing is, people are rarely objective about the story of their own lives, so what you’re getting is how they think of themselves, not how they actually are. I could spin my life as an utter failure or some kind of comeback montage in a movie, and the ‘truth’ is somewhere in the middle. And I’m a self reflective kind of person so I’d be aware of the discrepancy and thus self conscious during the process, probably in a way that comes across like I’m being disingenuous.

      In any case, I hope you’re warning people ahead of time that you’re going to be talking about jobs from long ago, especially if your interviewee is 40+. I’m only 42 and I’d have a hard time remembering all the jobs I’d ever had in order, let alone form some sort of accurate narrative about them on the fly,

      1. Stopped lurking to say...*

        But *any*interview gives you a subjective view on how people think they are, it’s not unique to this process. If you ask someone ‘tell me about when you did X’ they can still overinflate their own role, take credit etc.

        And it’s not about accurate information, but really as I said what did you learn from that, how did it shape the rest of your career etc. Really we’re all a product of all our experiences, positive and negative – deciding not to do something or leaving a job is as important as a decision to stay.

        And I’m 45, and would be happy to talk about any of my jobs, again not with accuracy but those aren’t the questions. I know how they form a trajectory and what I learned – good and bad – from each.

      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        I hadn’t heard of Topgrading before today so I’m not here to defend it, but what you’re saying (“people are rarely objective about the story of their own lives, so what you’re getting is how they think of themselves, not how they actually are”) is true of literally any interview conversation. The skill in interviewing is how to get beyond someone’s personal narrative to an understanding of how the candidate will or won’t be effective in your role.

        1. Ellen Ripley*

          Very true. But the top-level comment about Topgrading suggested that there’s something magical about this long narrative about all your work experiences that you couldn’t get using any other interview method.

      3. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

        I don’t even have anything on my resume from before grad school which was 19 years ago. My first job was when I was 14 (camp counselor) and I have worked consistently since. I can’t even tell you what I learned from my HS jobs because I barely remember them

        1. Stopped lurking to say...*

          yes exactly, leave them off if they’re not relevant, and like you’ve said you choose your start point. But what’s weird to me here is people saying “I’ve put X on there but don’t expect to be asked about it”. If it’s on, it’s information. You decide what to include on your resume – if you’ve put it there, it’s legit for me to ask about it.

          1. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

            Oh yeah, if I listed it on my resume it is fair game, but if someone inquired about my earlier work experience I’d be put off. If it was relevant it would be on my resume. It isn’t, so it isn’t

          2. Mockingdragon*

            OK yeah, I had the impression that the point of this exercise was to go back farther than the resume lists.

            1. Pomona Sprout*

              Me, too. And as a person with decades-long job history, the very LAST thing I would want to talk about in a job interview is the horrible jobs I had as a teenager and in colege and the mistakes I made when I was young and stupid and didn’t yet have a good understanding of how the world worked or even what made ME tick. Glad to know this Topgrading thing doesn’t HAVE to work that way.

              It’s not that I didn’t learn something from every one of those jobs. I just don’t want to talk about it in a job interview, because it’s fricking fracking embarrassing. At a job interview, I want to put my best foot forward and make the best possible impression. Talking about my misspent youth is not the way to achieve those goals!

    3. Gazebo Slayer*

      Your experience is not representative; most people do not stay on close terms with all their previous managers!

      Also, checking alllll the references from decades ago is immensely discriminatory toward older candidates, as well as toward candidates who have moved to another country; language barriers pose a problem, as does people’s reluctance to accept international phone calls.

      Also – a lot of people have had numerous temp jobs or freelance gigs. Which is enough of a problem for normal interviews, let alone this malarkey.

      And I seriously question the judgment of anyone who sees the ridiculous “truth serum” marketing spiel and doesn’t immediately toss it out as obvious snake oil.

      1. Stopped lurking to say...*

        You don’t check all the references: there’s part of the original process which is that you say you’re going to do this and then that makes people honest or whatever. I don’t really buy that, so don’t do it. But even in that process if you’re following it to the letter you take several references, but certainly not all.

        1. Mockingdragon*

          That helps – I think expecting references from every job ever is a big reason people are having a bad reaction to this idea.

          1. Stopped lurking to say...*

            I do think it’s one of those things where if you read the original book you sort of want to throw it across the room, and is quite sales-y and extreme. But that’s business book speak. I’m advocating at looking beyond that, adopting the principles and then adapting a bit – especially for more junior jobs. But with recent grads I’ve got a lot from probing about their undegrad days, what else did they get beyond the degree (not judging how social they were!) but how did you approach your coursework, are you a last minute person or a planner etc? It’s also worth noting that not all of it is about rejecting / accepting someone but having a really good idea of what they’d be like to work with, if you do hire them.

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          So part of the process is that you’re supposed to tell applicants you’re going to check all the references, but with no intention of actually doing so. In other words, to be dishonest, in a method supposedly based on rooting out dishonesty among applicants.

          Seems like a lot of this Topgrading crap is projection. Funny how it’s OK for employers to lie to employees, but the other way around is just dreadful.

    4. The New Wanderer*

      If I sat through a 1.5 hour interview that was someone asking me in detail about every job I’ve had since college (25 years ago) with what sounds like the same weight associated with every job, I think I would opt out. What’s in it for me at that point? I think I would conclude that the interviewer isn’t clear on what the job requirements are and that doesn’t instill confidence in me as a candidate.

      I have a definitive career arc (not everyone does) and I would still dislike the interrogation method of asking me what I learned from each and every job, what I thought people would say about me, how I would coach a younger me, ad nauseum. I could summarize most of that in 5 minutes and have done, when asked what inspired me to take the career path that I did. If you need to know more than that, then ask a specific question about some part of my history and I’d be glad to elaborate. But this blanket pattern-seeking approach doesn’t offer me anything as a candidate except maybe a de facto therapy session.

      If you’re trying to avoid obvious bad hires (like the petty revenge people or the martyrs with a constant string of bad past managers), you can get that much more quickly by running a competency based or behavioral interview. But I’m not convinced that you can derive any more useful info about how the person will succeed at the job on offer using Topgrading than by focusing only on their directly relevant experience.

      It’s possible that this kind of interview could be conducted effectively IF you know where the value is (and very few interviewers are I/O psychologists). It’s far more possible that people with no idea how to focus the interview to capture the value just go by the letter of the Tograding method (ask the same level of detailed questions about previous jobs, no matter how long ago, how short of duration, or how irrelevant to the current position).

    5. Val Zephyr*

      Do you give interviewees any advanced warning so they can prepare? When I prepare for interviews, I prepare to answer questions about skills and behaviors I used in my most recent and relevant jobs, not talk about what went badly in my first job. I wouldn’t be able to answer a lot of these questions on the spot. I wonder if you’re screening out otherwise good candidates by doing this to them.

      1. Stopped lurking to say...*

        I think if you’re preparing for an interview then you should be prepared to talk about anything that’s on your CV, if it’s there you shouldn’t be surprised about someone asking about it!

        I go pretty fast through anything short or didn’t last long – but if someone has hopped around a lot yes I want to dig and find out why.

        I think people are reading a lot that’s nefarious into it, but it’s really just saying we’re all a product of our experiences (good and bad) and those shape us and our performance at work. Digging into that you learn a lot, and I’ve got soooo much more out of this than what I consider a dumb question “what are your weaknesses?” that drives me crazy, when we all know people learn and then give a fully rehearsed answer with a non-weakness. Asking people “what did you learn from X” is so much better, whether or not you do it through this process or not.

        Also doing one of these interviews on yourself as an interview prep in a job application process is REALLY good prep. I made myself sit and really go through my CV like this before my last job application and it was quite a lot of work but really worth it. Of course I did all the competence example prep as well, but just knowing the story of my own career gave me a coherent narrative.

        Sorry this became a very long answer!

    6. LQ*

      The you’re going to make me do your job by scheduling all the calls with all my former bosses is so absurd that the moment I heard of this I’d assume the person doing the interviews is totally lost it, regardless of if you do that absurd part or not. I’m not going to read past anything else because 1. Dead people. 2. I don’t know where the nondead ones are. I assume at least one of the bosses I had at a job in high school is in jail (because recidivism is a thing).

      Also of course you can have better interviews if you prepare. But making me seance in my boss from when I was 12 does not get you a better interview.

      Reading my interview and having good questions will make for a better interview. Me reading about your company and having better questions will make for a better interview.

      Topgrading also assumes there is no such thing as growth, change, or development. It abandons the job of a boss by saying people are all good (A’s) or worthless (everyone else). So if you have someone who isn’t perfect you as a boss get to toss your hands up and say, they weren’t an A so rank and yank.

      Also the culture fit thing? Did you read the posts about the manager who wanted everyone on the team to be a culture fit and harassed out the really excellent employee and then got fired and still was mad? Culture fit is fine if we are talking all meetings in the office, no work from home, but less fine when you drift into “work hard play hard!” kind of we expect everyone to work 70+ but won’t be honest about it. If you are just explicit with what your culture actually is you can clearly get people who aren’t a culture fit to opt out. “We expect a 70 hour work week, but we pay really excellently to compensate.” Ok now I can make a decision.

      1. Stopped lurking to say...*

        Actually top-grading assumes the opposite – that there is growth and learning, hence ‘what did you learn from that’, ‘why did you leave?” – those are digging into exactly that. Did you walk out because things got tough (no growth), or did you find a new opportunity which built on the skills /experiences that you learned in that job (growth?).

        1. LQ*

          It breaks people into 3 immutable groups. The perfects, the eh it’s fines, and the failures. That’s not growing people. That’s giving up on people. The whole idea that people can be shoved into categories of successes who will be successes or failures, and never shall that change. What if a job is a bad match because my skills are elsewhere? Topgrading doesn’t care. What if I’m new to doing this kind of work? Topgrading doesn’t care.
          It’s like throwing everyone into the deep end of the pool with cement shoes. I’m tall so I’ll be fine but the rest of you all drown because I’m not going to stick out my arms to help anyone up.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            This. You can’t slot people into categories this broad. This is a gimmick designed to sell books, aimed at employers who decided they didn’t want to do the actual work of interviewing and are looking for buttons to push with pretty metrics to give to their grandbosses.

            It’s like the DISC crap. That’s no better than a horoscope, really. It does the same thing–slots people into broad categories that don’t take their unique personalities and experiences into account. I would not want a job that interviewed me this way. I would assume they can’t make real use of my skills, because they’d have already put me in a box.

            1. Stopped lurking to say...*

              Honestly i’ve used it a lot and never slotted people into categories or even read that into it so maybe people are reading version of it online, not the actual original book or materials. I don’t know. For me it’s a tool that I’ve used as outlined (at far too great a length!) above, for checking fit with the particular job I’m interviewing for at that time. I’ve used it for different roles, and it’s very obvious that a role that’s a good fit for one person is not a good fit for another. That’s what it helps you work through, not categorizing people.

        2. Close Bracket*

          Yeah, but the reasons you walked out 20 years ago might not be the reasons you would walk out today—or maybe today you wouldn’t walk out at all! Maybe as a teenager, you didn’t learn anything from that restaurant job bc you were a teenager, an age group not known for self reflection. Maybe today if you were laid off and went back to restaurant jobs, you would learn a lot. See, people grow and change, and whatever was going on with them 20 or even 10 years ago probably isn’t going on anymore. So what’s the point in asking about it? I mean, wow, you know 20s me really well! Twenties me is not 40s me, though.

    7. Anoncorporate*

      Now that you put it this way, I would love interviews where I just talked about my life story.

  55. MsChanandlerBong*

    “It is not a kindness to people to let them think something is okay that actually isn’t, particularly when that something could have consequences for them.”

    I love this. I just had a conversation with my colleague about someone we want to terminate. My colleague said he sent him a “stern” email and warned him about something. My colleague’s “stern” is everyone else’s version of marshmallow fluff, so I asked him, well did you explicitly tell him he needs to improve X and Y or else he could be suspended or terminated? My colleague said, “I didn’t say explicitly that he needs to improve. But that would be the point of such a warning. Do I need to hit him over the head and tell him, “Now, Wakeen, the point of this is that you need to improve.” Yes! Because now that we want to terminate him, I don’t have any documentation that he was explicitly told what was wrong with his work and what he needs to do to improve it.

  56. gawaine42*

    OP3: There have been a few times where I’ve ended up going back to older or unrelated jobs where (small world), I know other people at the jobs in question, and may have heard something negative about the person involved. I had a recent interview with someone who had worked for company X last year, and one of my leads had worked with them for the last five years before joining me last year. My lead called her old boss and heard some things that concerned us about her work ethic. We didn’t tell her we had a bad reference, but we asked open ended questions about things she’d learned in those jobs. It worked out and we offered her the job.

  57. Database Developer Dude*

    I’ve been working on a regular basis since I graduated high school….in 1985. When I was first in college after high school, I drove a taxi, delivered pizzas, had a paper route, worked retail, worked fast food (McD’s, Burger King, AND Wendy’s), worked in a call center, waited tables (only job I got fired from)….and did various other things until I joined the Army in 1989. Left active duty in 2001 and have been a contractor ever since.

    If any interviewer spent more than a minute on any jobs I’ve had before 1989, I’d end the interview right then and there.

  58. Noah*

    OP#3 – those are stupid questions, but when you’ve only had one professional job, it is Totally Normal to ask about your prior jobs. Alison’s answer is inconsistent with my experience and, in my opinion, is not a great idea if you’re hiring somebody who only has had one professional job.

  59. Anoncorporate*

    I remember an interviewer asking me once “what was your least favorite job?” This was a weird question in general, but especially weird as I was a recent grad with little job experience at the time. I came up with “barista”.

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