an employee’s husband emailed me to complain

A reader writes:

Our corporate office manages several apartment complexes in other cities. One manager transferred from one complex to another when the manager position came open. Shortly thereafter, her husband emailed our boss, complaining about how his wife is treated by the company. He also said that he had not told his wife about emailing the company. I believe the boss emailed the husband back, although I have no clue what was written. Knowing our boss, it was probably a defense or dismissal written in a tone of absolute authority without appeal. Nothing further was mentioned to me about it.

Should it (oddly) happen again, what would you do? What would you have done in the previous case?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My boss asked my employee how often I’m in the office
  • Interviewing to replace someone being fired for lacking a can-do attitude
  • My new employer just asked for my references — after we’d already set a start date
  • Employees who deliberately work slowly in order to get more paid more

{ 152 comments… read them below }

  1. Pizza Boi*

    The restaurant shift lead’s problem is such a common one in this industry. I have dealt with that in similar ways to Alison’s direct appeal, but there are other ways of preventing it on a system basis.

    Almost every kitchen has ways of handling preclose duties that expedite closing. One thing I started doing was setting up kitchen cuts after certain cleaning tasks were accomplished. Flat top’s done? Okay, see you. Etc.

    Naming the expectation is the biggest one I think. But building your preclose routine into a formalized system helps the rest of the employees know what to expect, and it saves labor.

    1. NotMyRealName*

      My experience was that most of the closing staff wanted to get done as soon as possible, and worked ahead as much as they could. Our head manager had a rather unrealistic idea of how long it took to accomplish certain tasks so she thought they were trying to pad hours, but they really weren’t.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I have worked in restaurant/food service before at the end of the night everyone wanted to get done as soon as a possible. Most of us were working for minimum wage or close to it, so an extra 15/30 mins, was not really worth it. After the end of the shift people tend to move a bit slower then if they are fully rested. We tried to pre-clean/close as much as possible, but certain tasks you could not start until people were done or the building was officially closed.

        But I do agree with Pizza Boi have a formal procedure of what can be started at what time. Dish washing starts 45 before close, turn off and clean all stoves except for one 60 minutes before close etc…

        1. Pizza Boi*

          That’s real. I have definitely worked with the padding hours types though. Oddly enough it usually wasn’t about money in our case but the fact that everyone wanted to keep hanging out. I’m like folks, you can clock out and still chat with people.

          We also developed the “post clock out shift beer” at one place I worked and that solved the problem very nicely, haha.

          1. Liz*

            In my former PT retail job we had a manager who would do this. We all hated closing with her since shortly before closing she’d suddenly decide that oh, this display needs to be redone, or start some other project. So when it came time to actuallly close the store, and lock the doors, we’d have to prod her to start closing the registers and doing the stuff only she could do. And many of use who worked nights did it as a second job so we wanted OUT. She eventually was fired for performance, and this was on of the reasons.

      2. Antilles*

        Our head manager had a rather unrealistic idea of how long it took to accomplish certain tasks so she thought they were trying to pad hours, but they really weren’t.
        Even worse, such managers are often overly rigid in ways that cause major issues to the closing- “No sweeping/mopping the dining room until all customers are gone because it feels like we’re trying to rush them out the door” or “If someone orders at 9:55, we still let them sit down, even though it means they’ll be there after we technically close at 10” or “No kicking customers out, ever, even if it’s 30 minutes after close” or so forth.
        Which are fine, customer service is important…but don’t then turn around and start complaining the fact that closing takes so long when you kept us from getting started on tasks earlier.

        1. milksnake*

          I came to say the same thing.
          Sometime’s it’s the boss not understanding that their expectations aren’t realistic.

          I’ve worked in food service & retail and there’s no way we could serve someone at 8:55 and be completely shut down by 9:30. When I worked retail they wanted the whole store cleaned and money counted out in 15min.

          1. Emily K*

            Yep, when I worked food service we were always trying to do as much closing work before closing as possible, and a lot of what we did was technically against the rules (like sweeping with customer present, wrapping up unpopular food items or cleaning out part of the cold table before closing even though we’d have to unwrap/clean again if anyone came in and ordered) and we would get in trouble if the day manager/owner knew. Luckily the night managers are always a bit more laid-back.

        2. NotMyRealName*

          She was a real peach. I was the opening manager for a bit – we had a crazy long list of things to get accomplished in 45 minutes to get open and running. I had a deal with one of the closing managers that I would file his paperwork (so he didn’t have to wait for it to finish printing) and he would get a couple of small things preset for me to save me time.

        3. LJay*


          I worked in an old time photo studio.

          The photo shoot and the sales process were expected to take about 45 minutes.

          We weren’t allowed to do any closing duties when people were in the store (and if you were the only person closing, which was typical, you couldn’t, because you were with the customers the whole time they were there actively engaging with them). And some of them, like vacuuming, you weren’t allowed to do at all before closing even if there wasn’t anyone in the store because if they saw you doing it from the window it might discourage them from coming in.

          We had to take people up until the minute we closed. If we closed at 10, and someone came in at 10, we had to start the 45 minute + process then.

          After we closed we had to flip the closed sign and bring in the sidewalk sign, vacuum the studio (It was the size of a large apartment. I would say 1000 sq ft+). Empty the hampers, and re-organize all the costumes and accessories on the rack to ensure they were sorted by size with all hangers in the same direction (probably 100 outfits?). Quickly reorganize the sets (push in chairs, put props back where they belong, make them look nice. Count out the register. Prepare the deposit. Replenish the register. Distribute tips into the tip envelopes for each person who had worked. Make sure all the memory cards were accounted for. Turn out the lights.

          Management got mad if you were there more than like 30 minutes after closing time. If they wanted that, they needed to allow us to stop taking groups 15 minutes prior to close, and let us do things like vacuum prior to closing when people weren’t in the store.

          As it was, getting out on time was impossible unless we were dead the last hour before our close time.

      3. WellRed*

        I’ve been a patron at more than one restaurant where I wish they wouldn’t have started breaking down and cleaning up two hours early. Nothing like extra noise and chemicals with my appetizer.
        As a former retail person, we couldn’t wait to clock out when the store closed.

        1. Pizza Boi*

          I mean, if there are chemicals cross contaminating your food from preclose, I guarantee they aren’t following procedure during regular service either. Yuck.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, this was my experience also. One place I worked was near a shopping center with a cinema, and we dreaded nights when a film would let out right before closing. We had to close at 10 pm regardless; sorry, you can’t order this late and we’re locking the door no matter how much you scream.

        Same with my favorite Chinese place here. They close at 7 so you’re out of luck if you get there too late.

        1. Rainy*

          I worked at a restaurant once where everyone had specific end of shift duties, which is fine, but they also didn’t want us to be there more than 5-10 minutes after our shift ended, and wouldn’t let us start our end of shift stuff until after our shift ended. I tried repeatedly to explain that if you assign me 30 minutes’ worth of end of shift, and don’t let me start 90m to 2h before the end of my shift, so I can work it in around my other duties, I cannot clock out at or before 2:05.

          Like, what is time.

      5. Kesnit*

        I worked retail for about a year, and ran into this with the store manager. The assistant manager and department supervisors realized that customers would mess up the store the minute they came in, so if one of them was opening the next day, the store had to be organized, but not spotless. The store manager had a delusion that the condition of the store at opening would remain the status throughout the day, so if we knew he was opening, we always had to stay later in order to get the store to his specifications. (This isn’t to say we slacked otherwise.)

        1. ThatAspie*

          Thankfully, where I work, we’re not forced to work off the clock. Sometimes late, but that’s usually a matter of the customers not appearing to know what “closing time” means. That said, now I am worried that my boss thinks that when I’m slow st night, I’m doing it on purpose!

    2. Nacho*

      Never worked in food myself, but I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about people being asked to work late and off the clock because managers gave unrealistic timelines for closing. Definitely make sure that the timelines are realistic, and you’re not assigning them the slowest jobs, or maybe you have one or two unreasonably fast workers you’re holding everybody to the standard of.

    3. Lepidoptera*

      Pre-cleaning certain things should get people fired. It’s dangerous. I worked with a line cook who would NOT STOP mopping while we were still open because he was so desperate to get out of there. I went down hard on the wet tile floor with my arms full of entrees, and my left knee was seriously messed up–needed PT for it. There were no consequences for him. I quit soon after.

      1. boop the first*

        You mean, it was dry any other time that no one was mopping??? Whoa.

        I’m guessing they didn’t require you to wear non-slip? I wasn’t required, but it was a personal preference after slipping once (not even mopped, it’s just always greasy/wet in kitchens). Never slipped again.

        1. ThatAspie*

          We’re required to wear non-slip shoes. I think most restaurants do now. The whole “if you slip in non-slips it’s our fault but if you slip in regular shoes it’s your fault” was given as a major reason to those who refused to comply…but, yeah, the reality of a restaurant is, floors get slippery!

    4. I have never watched Game of thrones.*

      Uh! I would worry about expectations to be overly positive about things when a little critical thinking is what’s needed.
      I once had a (utterly incompetent) boss who wanted the “can do spirit”, like opening an eleventh register when we only had ten, or greeting every single costumer, as in locking eyes and then saying hi. We were a busy supermarket.

      1. nonegiven*

        I think our supermarket must have that rule. It hits me as pretty creepy to walk in the door and have 3 cashiers turn in unison to greet me, while they are each serving a customer.

    5. ThatAspie*

      I’m wondering if the restaurant manager knows for sure that the employees are working slowly on purpose. Especially given that their boss is pressuring them to get things done faster.

      (Also, this might just be my own paranoia talking, but…now I’m worried that I’m who they’re talking about. If that’s the case, no, I don’t do things slowly on purpose, I swear! I just wanna make sure it’s done all the way, and sometimes that takes a while for me! And sorry I got hurt on Sunday! I’ll be more careful next time!)

  2. Psyche*

    I’m not sure I agree with #4. I would be a bit concerned as well. “Can-do attitude” means different things to different people. I have seen people get upset when a coworker or employee says they can’t do something because it is explicitly against policy but the asker doesn’t want to go though the hassle of doing it correctly. Sometimes it is even illegal. I would definitely be looking for any signs that the boss is unreasonable or lax in following policies and procedures.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      While true, there is no way a hiring manager is going to say “When I order Griselda to do illegal things, she says no.”

      1. fposte*

        Right, and there’s a reasonable chance it’s a reasonable expectation. I wouldn’t use the phrase myself because it’s a little hokey/dated to me, but I think a lot of hiring managers ask for eagerness and proactivity in different ways, and it’s not usually because of illegal plans.

        1. Psyche*

          Could be. I just find the phrasing nebulous, like the OP. But part of that could be because I have a friend in purchasing/inventory management who has to constantly push back against project managers who want her to order things or release inventory without the proper forms. They complain that her predecessor had more of a “can-do attitude” when her predecessor made a complete mess of the inventory and frequently ordered the wrong item.

        2. fposte*

          I will say, looking at the original letter, that a later comment from the OP raises some additional flags, though.

      2. Psyche*

        I agree. That’s why I would be nervous. Why cite a “can-do attitude” instead of simply competence and productivity? That reads to me like “I need someone who will do whatever it takes to get the task done and have blind confidence in the achievability of this goal.”

        1. Emily K*

          Yeah, an employer specifies the need for a “can-do attitude” and I hear “you’re going to need to overcome working conditions that routine demoralize the entire staff into apathy and gridlock.”

        2. De-Archivist*

          Yeah, I’ve fallen into this hole at Current Job a couple of times. I have a very can-do attitude because I like to learn things and can (usually) do it pretty quickly.

          I have some novice-to-intermediate graphic design and digital editing skills that are self-taught. Need a flyer for an event, a photo cropped or lightened, or a basic infographic? I can do it.

          Sometimes, though, I’m asked if I can photoshop things in a photo or quickly(!) edit a couple of hours of video. I can’t. I mean, I can learn it, eventually. There are tons of tutorials and guides online on how to do anything (I’m teaching myself PremierePro, tbh), but it’s not something that is easy to learn or that I just know how to do.

      3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Several things – in my career I’ve been asked to do illegal things (and unethical things, too) – and refused.

        One illegal thing = I was once asked to sign an order to our print shop – they wanted to knock off 40 copies of a manual, and it was a clear copyright violation and I refused. I said “You sign it” to my manager and got a “what are you, nuts?” look – I guess they pirated the copies somehow, and I do not know how they did that.

        Unethical? They were shooting a non-union picture in the vicinity of our office. They needed 500 extras who would NOT be paid, and you had to cross a picket line to do it. And it was off hours. I was accused of a bad attitude, etc., but having “extra’d” in films and receiving scale for it, I said I wasn’t going to cross a picket line and scab a project. Of course a lot of people DID cross the line, going ga-ga over the fact they may see themselves in a movie. Go figure.

        Another time I was asked to falsify a report to get someone fired. Refused to do it, they backed down.
        Another time I was asked to write an assessment – with a pre-determined outcome – and refused. They said “do this , the way we want, or slse”. I resigned. Next day we came to an agreement – I would do the report, keep a copy , they would get a copy and do with what they wished.

        1. Okay, great!*

          Awesome that you stuck to doing the right thing. Hard to do when your job is on the line.

      4. pleaset*

        Maybe the problems is she isn’t a rock star guru who can sweat the small stuff while still thinking big picture!

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, this. Maybe it means the person was a stick in the mud, but maybe it means managers/general culture expected too much. Too much workload, too many hours, (too little pay for effort?), etc. Maybe this person actually wanted to go home in the evening and on weekends and pushed back on covering excessive workload created by slacking or absent coworkers.

      1. fposte*

        The thing is, you can find possibly negative implications for pretty much anything a hiring manager states as a hope or expectation. This might be how the manager in today’s earlier letter describes the decision to let Jane go, too.

        So sure, maybe this is a problematic workplace. But an actual can-do attitude is a valid thing to want–this isn’t like “we’re like family,” where that’s actually a bad goal. I think it’s fine for the OP to be alert to her read of the job, but there’s only so much you can get out of the single phrase tea leaves on this one.

        1. Washi*

          Right, the hiring manager could have said something about productivity or punctuality or whatever, and it could still be possible that they have unreasonable expectations.

          I agree with someone above that the phrase “can-do attitude” is a little hokey, but it might be a result of being unsure of how to politely/professionally communicate to an applicant why someone is being fired without giving too much detail.

          1. fposte*

            And the candidate absolutely can follow up, as Alison indicates, by asking questions about what kind of employee does well here.

            It’s worth remembering, I think, that hiring managers aren’t necessarily wordsmiths, and that in an awkward situation awkward phrasing might occur. That doesn’t mean you should ignore your antennae, but I wouldn’t put too much weight on any single phrase in hiring.

            1. LawBee*

              yes yes yes this. Most people are terrible at speaking off-the-cuff, and the perfect word choices we need aren’t always immediately accessible.

        2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*


          If you remember the screwball situation described in these columns – a manager complaining that an employee walked out because he was overworked – and told / warned his management that he couldn’t keep up the pace. And complained that it was unprofessional that he up and left.

          And the follow-up was I guess, “good news” – they hired two people to replace the guy who quit and “split the rest of his work across three people” … ok… yeah, right.

          1. fposte*

            Sure, but my argument isn’t “There are no bad workplaces or managers.” It’s “a single phrase isn’t a dead giveaway of anything.”

    3. kitty*

      I wondered about that too. I’ve worked with people who had a really bad concept of the best practices associated with my field of expertise and wanted me to work in a way that would be inefficient and wasteful. Gently pushing back and suggesting that they’d get better results a slightly different way labeled me as a troublemaker, particularly because my managers were more concerned with making other teams happy than creating a pleasant working environment. Sometimes it really is the workplace and its culture, not the worker.

      Regarding the husband calling the boss–not cool. BUT maybe it’s an opportunity for some self reflection on the part of the employer. Things like this often happen for a reason. Maybe there’s some toxicity in the corporate or organizational culture that isn’t been acknowledged.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        Yes self reflection on the employers part can’t hurt. But even if my wife’s job was the most toxic, overextended job I would not contact my wife’s job/boss/co-workers. I would encourage my wife to quit/find a new job asap but I would not talk to the employer.

        I can’t even make up a situation where I would contact my wife’s employer on her behalf that does not involve her being physically unable contact them herself or being missing. Maybe if my wife was on vacation or working across the country and I happened to know of some imminent danger at her workplace I would contact the workplace without talking to my wife about it.

    4. Blue*

      I had the exact same thought. I probably would’ve responded in the moment, “What does a can-do attitude look like to you?” which may or may not have gone over well, but seriously. What does that even mean?

    5. CoveredInBees*

      Yeah. I wondered about this too and it could be difficult because people seem to have very specific ideas of what a “can-do attitude” includes. There is probably a lot of overlap but I know at least one manager who expects a perky, high level of enthusiasm for everything as part of a can-do attitude. Another who thinks it means dropping everything else to do a task at a moment’s notice or to work whatever hours it takes to complete things within a certain deadline, regardless of when it is assigned. Having worked for these managers, I’d get anxious about the workplace I was stepping into as well.

    6. Nacho*

      Eh, I wouldn’t expect the interviewer to get into the details about why he’s firing somebody in an interview. “Doesn’t have a can-do attitude” could very well be a nice way of saying they’re lazy, incompetent, or any number of things that you can’t actually say about somebody in a professional context like an interview.

  3. Engineer Girl*

    A#1 – Absolutely discuss it with the employee. People need to know when others are interfering with their employment.

  4. L. S. Cooper*

    When I was working food service, we always wound up closing later than expected when I was on. I wasn’t stalling for time; I was a 16 year old with zero prior work experience, and there were often not very many of us working on closing. Is it possible these slow people are just, well, bad at closing? Because I definitely was.

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      Either is a problem, but yes, it definitely has to be identified as to what the problem is.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      When I worked food service, there was A LOT of cleaning to do but since we were closed, management had already sent some people home, so we were doing it all with fewer staff. Some of that stuff takes longer than you think it should to do it properly.

      1. Rainy*

        As a teen working at McDonald’s, I closed 3 nights a week and opened one morning (no clopens thank god), and my closing manager was constantly whining about how long it took me to sweep and mop the front (lobby area and dining). “Everyone else does it in 5 or 6 minutes, why are you so slow?!” The opening manager was constantly praising me. “Even before I look at the schedule, I can tell when I unlock the doors if you were closing last night, Rainy.”

        Everyone else swept and mopped the bit the closing manager could see from the office as he was doing his own closing checklist and that was all. I actually swept and mopped the whole thing. We could seat close to a hundred. It took more than 5 minutes.

        1. boop the first*

          I was always worried because I would do cleaning faster than my coworker (who’d been there at least 11 years), and naturally I thought maybe I was missing something important??
          In hindsight, I’m pretty sure he took longer on purpose so he could stick me with messier jobs later :/

      2. House Tyrell*

        When I worked food service at 17/18, one of my managers always got mad at us for how slow we closed and I closed a LOT. But he’d usually cut people so early on in the evening that at closing there were like 2 of us for the whole restaurant that sat about 200 people and we closed at 2AM every night except Sundays at midnight. I made $2.13/hour so there was no incentive for me to work slower and I really just wanted to go home (especially because I didn’t have a car until I was 22 so I biked or walked to work/home unless I could get a ride after 2AM.) He always accused us of trying to scam money from the company (who was actually in a lawsuit for illegally underpaying tipped employees) as if we wanted to be there any longer than necessary to earn a few extra pennies.

        Management always assumes cleaning shouldn’t take as long as it actually does. *eyeroll*

        1. boop the first*

          Didn’t somebody somewhere make a case for changing wages for service staff during time spent after closing? Since no one is there to tip, the company is required to pay the difference.

  5. CmdrShepard4ever*

    I know this is old but to OP 5 I would really try to look inward and see if the people are truly working slowly or if maybe you have an expectation that is hard to meet for most, except for a few exceptionally fast people. Working in a restaurant the hourly wage is usually lower than the standard minimum wage. For some people the extra dollars might be worth it, but working an extra half-hour/hour at $2.13 an hour (federal minimum wage for tipped employees) does not seem to be worth it if they are not getting tips also.

    1. MsChanandlerBong*

      I agree that they need to take a look at their expectations. At my company, we hire seasonal writers who work for us FT for a flat hourly rate (as opposed to our usual freelancers, who get paid a flat fee per assignment). Our (my boss’s) expectation is that they will produce a certain number of words per hour. Not a single one of the people we have hired has managed to hit it. I suggested yesterday that we take a look at the expectation and determine if it is realistic. If one out of three people couldn’t do it and two could, then maybe that one worker is slow. If all three have failed, then I am thinking the expectation is not reasonable.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        That is another good point. The restaurant/food service industry tends to have a high turnover rate and use a lot of kids new to the workforce. So even if the expectations might not be high for someone who has been in the same position for 6+ month, those same exceptions will not be realistic for a new employee.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Agreed. When I worked in food service, we busted our butts to close. We weren’t drawing out closing because we all wanted to go home—closing often just takes longer than anticipated, especially if you have lingering customers.

      1. Bee*

        Yeah, even the places where I was making $8 or $9/hr, I could 100% say that taking an extra 15min to close would not be worth the $2 it would make me. And frankly, I would’ve been mad at any of my coworkers who kept me from going home.

    3. Lindsay gee*

      Agreed. I had a similar situation in retail, where the company decided we should be done 15 minutes after close instead of 30. Some nights, if it was slow, this was fine. Other nights, not so much. Truly look at the expectations and make sure they are reasonable and achievable by your average staffer, not just that the employees are being lazy.

    4. De-Archivist*

      This could also be a manager/delegation issue. Early in my former career in retail/food service, I also had trouble motivating people and getting out on time. I eventually learned how to keep people on-task by managing all of our time more effectively (fostering a sense of urgency, so to speak). My employees eventually got to love me because they stayed busy and got off on time. Those that wouldn’t keep up ended up moving on.

      There are always going to be nights where things happen outside your control and you get stuck at work late. There are even going to be jobs where the workload is too much to accomplish in a short amount of time. But I found that if I was consistently having a crew that dragged their feet, the problem wasn’t them – it was me.

  6. That One Person*

    The second one had me for a moment where I was a little annoyed by the thought until I realized…well…they could just be trying to figure out good communication time. Working in the mailroom there are some folks I just automatically email because I know in general they’re busy running around tending to various things. Luckily they don’t take it personally either as they know either we want emails saying its okay to drop packages off or signatures for whatever we’re delivering to them as much as possible, and it’s added reassurance we want them to receive whatever it is they ordered. We’ve even had one person who requested she be emailed so she can let us know when she won’t be busy and we won’t be disturbing her with a drop off.

    As for the first one…reminds me of multiple other AAM posts about emailing bosses or being emailed by spouses where it’s easily seen as concerning since it might be a controlling partner – like the person who didn’t like their significant other being sociable with her boss on business trips and wanted her back in the hotel room by a set time (or along those lines). I could swear there were a few others that just aren’t forming as solid examples because I’m pretty sure this isn’t a one-time dealio (and more so because the writers were concerned about their employees and how to respond to each situation).

    1. Indigo a la mode*

      2: Or the boss may have been asking lightly, being a little concerned about the fact that OP never takes time off! I can imagine stopping by an employee’s desk with a mock-conspiratorial “My goodness, how often is she HERE?” and walking away like, “I need to get her to take a break.”

      1. House Tyrell*

        It’s always concerning to me when LWs talk about how they never take a sick day or vacation! IMO, that’s not really something to brag about and doesn’t make you a better employee or person than people who do take time off. Don’t come to work when your sick! Take vacations because they are good for you, even if they aren’t extravagant! If you have the privilege of having these benefits, you should use them (maybe I’m just jealous because I don’t have either and have never had PTO, but I think there are multiple posts on here and studies saying you should take time off if you have it.)

  7. LaDeeDa*

    If my husband ever contacted my employer for any reason other than I have been in an accident and I am unable to communicate for myself, I would straight up divorce him.
    The letter from the nurse whose husband resigned for her, always gets me worked up- no matter how many times I have read it.

    1. Yvette*

      Same here. And remember the one about the boyfriend who emailed the boss about how much time his girlfriend spent with him (boss) after hours on a business trip, making her unavailable . The boyfriend seemed to feel he had cut the boss a major break by not contacting HR. I also raised the question below (before I saw this) as to whether or not there was a culture where this was considered acceptable as there have been several of these.

      1. LaDeeDa*

        That one from the boyfriend is linked above, I had forgotten all about that one!

    2. cmcinnyc*

      A significant other communicating behind an employee’s back is an abuse red flag to me. I probably wouldn’t respond to the email at all, and would privately let the employee know about it.

    3. Tigger*

      Honestly same. I honestly don’t get it at all. The only times family should contact their love ones work place is if
      a. employee is in a coma
      b. employee isn’t reachable and haven’t shown up where they were expected (my dad had a coworker who fainted when he was working late alone and his wife called his boss who had the night guard check on him. Thank god)

  8. That Girl From Quinn's House*

    Can do attitude: If the job you’re interviewing for involves any sort of safety or regulatory compliance, this is a red flag.

    When I’ve worked in jobs with safety/regulatory compliance, I’ve had angry managers give me lectures on “why are you telling me things you can’t do all the time, you should be more optimistic!” when they were actually asking me to do things that were workplace safety violations, labor law violations, Board of Health violations, violations of our terms of insurance, violations of our childcare license, etc. To these bosses, the ends very much justified the means, even if the means were illegal.

    1. Amtelope*

      Yeah, I think it’s really context-dependent. I can visualize myself asking for something like a “can-do attitude,” although maybe not in those words. What I would mean is not “please break the law for me,” but “when we are dealing with challenging deadlines, I need people who will make a good-faith effort to get everything done, not just throw up their hands and give up.” I’m willing to push back when our team really gets assigned more work than we can do during reasonable work hours — we don’t expect people to work ridiculous overtime. But most of the time the work really is doable even at crunch times if we just … try hard. And it’s frustrating to work with people who would rather complain or drag their feet.

      1. LJay*


        I work in a fairly compliance heavy area.

        And while I probably wouldn’t use the phrase “can-do attitude”, if I did I would just be contrasting it with an existing employees I have that – when asked to do something completely reasonable and within all laws, regulations and company guidelines, and that every other employee does without hesitation – complains that that wasn’t the way they did things here 15 years ago, come up with a list of other people who should do it instead of them or why something else should be done instead of what was requested, and then gossips with their buddy in another department about how terrible everyone else is, and takes way more time doing all of those things that they would if they just did the task to begin with.

        Her work product is otherwise good. She has a lot of institutional knowledge. She does, after going through this emotional process, do what is requested of her. The attitude is bad enough I would be looking to replace her if the people around her weren’t used to her and if she weren’t planning to retire in the next year or so.

        So I can see myself, if I were replacing her, saying I was looking for someone with a “can-do attitude” when really I am just looking for someone who doesn’t balk at any little thing they’re asked to do.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      Today I have learned: don’t say “we/I can’t do that” if the reason is regulatory in some way. Instead, say “we are not allowed to do that because xyz”. (And then try to suss out what end result is desired, to see if that can be accomplished some other way.) Of course, I hope that conversation never happens at all.

  9. Yvette*

    Re #1
    Over the years there have been more than a few letters about spouses or significant others emailing the boss on the employees behalf. (and please correct me if I am wrong, but they mostly seem to involve male spouses/SOs and female employees) This just seems so out of line and odd to me, however, I wonder if perhaps there is a culture where this is considered acceptable and appropriate.

    1. Beth Jacobs*

      Nah, I think it’s pretty universally out of line, but so are numerous other letters we get here. Keep in mind, nobody writes to AAM: “My job is fine. I wrote a report, my boss gave me feedback and my office mate was quiet and polite all day.” And if someone does, Alison isn’t publishing it :D

      I will agree there’s a gendered element, stemming from a general patriarchal culture of controlling women. But, there have been quite a few letters here as well with female spouses:

      1. LaDeeDa*

        WOW! Those first two are complete trainwrecks, thanks for reminding us of them.

      2. Paperdill*

        I work in healthcare and I can confirm that there are cultures where it is considered entirely appropriate, indeed, the “right” thing to do for the head male relative, often the husband, but sometimes a brother or father, to act on behalf of a woman. I have gone to great lengths with some clients to try to explain why, in the country we are in, this is not considered appropriate or even legal. These families will also have stories about similar interactions with employers, banks, legal issues – all sorts of situations. I’m not saying this is the case all the time, but there are definitely cultures that do it.

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      I’ve seen a few where a wife contacts someone in their husband’s workplace. IIRC, usually a female coworker, out of jealousy.

      There may be subcultures in the US wherein it’s considered appropriate for the man to make decisions for the household, to include communications with his wife’s employer. And if she works for a place within such a subculture–a local corner store, bakery, religious school, whatever–then it wouldn’t be something to write here about. But if the wife works in the outside world, they’re going to be butting up against different norms.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yeah, it seems to go:

        Women: either jealous about another woman at work, or overly invested in “Mom-ing” their spouse and doing everything for them.

        Men: Controlling.

        1. nonegiven*

          Only thing I’ve emailed is, “Our accountant says this form is incorrect because x.”

  10. Workfromhome*

    My experience with #3 has also been different than the advice. Yes sometimes someone accused of not having a “can do” attitude is a complainer. More often (in my experience and especially in smaller companies) “can do attitude” often means do whatever I say without saying a word no matter how ridiculous, illegal, out of job scope etc it is.

    I was on the other end of this being told I needed to change my work route and schedule to one that would require me to work essentially doubling my hours (I was exempt) and driving upwards of 6 hours a day 5 days a week. When I laid this out using maps and other data I was told “Maybe you aren’t suitable for the job you need to have a can do attitude and do what’s best for the company”.

    I’d take this as a red flag unless/until you get a clearer explanation of what constitutes a “can do attitude”. Its totally reasonable top ensure the expectations for a new job are reasonable.

    1. Kathleen_A*

      “Can-do attitude” is a perfectly normal phrase and can be used to describe perfectly normal expectations. Of course it can also be used to describe outrageous expectations – as it has in your experience, Workfromhome, and my sympathies for how it has been used in your case! – but then, so can many other expressions. It all comes down each interviewee evaluating each particular interviewer and the particular workplace – but then, doesn’t it always? People can say all the right things but do all the wrong things.

  11. Elizabeth Proctor*

    Tangential, but #2, if it’s been almost 3 years and you haven’t taken any vacation time, you should do that. Soon.

    1. gwal*

      honestly that didn’t feel tangential to me. is it possible leadership are suspicious this person spends a substantial amount of time out and about and has never needed leave?

        1. Eponymous*

          Or is worried that the employee will burn out, quit, and need to have three years’ worth of vacation time paid out.

    2. WellRed*

      I noticed that too. Not taking vacation is not something to be proud of and if that’s how your company thinks, yikes.

      1. Eponymous*

        Isn’t it primarily an American attitude? I’m in the US but my early job experience was unusual and my next job was in a country that had at least one no-work national holiday every 3-4 weeks, and Tuesday and Thursday holidays meant you also had Monday or Friday off.

        My current employer has tried to get its staff to take vacation by having all PTO hours (we have combined sick and vacation time) beyond 40 expire in early April. Which would be fine except the average employee has an all-work, no-play mentality and we often are assigned to projects that last weeks or months; so vacations aren’t explicitly discouraged, but it’s a bit difficult when you’re acheduled 8-12 weeks out and you have to find a replacement person for any day you take off. As a result most people forget about vacation until the expiration comes up then they all take the same few weeks off leaving the rest of us scrambling to cover everything.

        Also, vacation doesn’t have to mean flying partway across the globe! One of my reasonable supervisors occasionally takes a day off when it’s nice to do yard work. I’m trying to swing some half-days in the future for visiting local museums when some old friends pass through my city.

        1. fposte*

          I don’t think it’s exclusively American (Japan is a work-hard country, for instance, and it was in London that the banker died of overwork a couple of years ago), but it isn’t universal either.

          1. CarolynM*

            The Japanese even have a word for “worked to death (overwork death)” – karoshi

    3. Lizzy May*

      That jumped out at me too. On top of the reasons it’s important to take vacation for your own well-being, vacation is a part of your compensation and you’re short-changing yourself by not taking it

  12. HappilyMovingOn*

    OP4 reminded me to thank Alison and all the commenters on this blog – I have been a reader for a couple of years now, and have learned a tremendous amount from this blog, but had yet to be able to actually put any of it to practice, until NOW! I was just offered a position on Monday at a new company, which I happily accepted! In my industry, it is normal for the employer to do background checks and reference checks, as well as a medical screen (including bloodwork and a drug test). I’m sure that sounds needlessly invasive to some, and I tend to agree, but that is how it goes in my industry, so what can you do? (It makes sense for certain types of jobs in the company to require this, but I am not accepting one of those types of jobs). However, the standard practice is to do all of that AFTER the job offer, which I still don’t understand. But it seems to go that way in most or all companies in my field, so I never thought to question it. I was put in a situation during the pre-employment phase at my current job that made me feel very uncomfortable and uncertain, so that experience combined with Alison’s frequent objection to this practice, helped me to push back with HR at the new company. I told them I would not be giving notice at my current job until all of the necessary steps had been completed with them. Her response implied that it’s not the way they normally do things, but she obliged. Thank you Alison and the commenters for helping to give me the power to stand up for myself!

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      Medical test with a blood screen? What sort of industries need those?

      1. HappilyMovingOn*

        I work in healthcare. The blood test is for titers, which determines whether or not you are immune to things like Hep B, measles, the chicken pox, etc. So I guess I could see why a nurse would need to be checked for these things. But I am not clinical and would never be interacting with patients or fluids, so I never understood why this is required.

        1. Zephy*

          I guess maybe if you’re really siloed off in the admin side of things, like an external billing department that does everything electronically, you wouldn’t be any more at risk of exposure than anyone with an office job. You don’t get measles by reading about them, after all.

        2. New Jack Karyn*

          I came back to read answers, and realized my question sounded super snarky. I’m sorry, that wasn’t how I meant to sound. Thank you for taking it at face value and answering anyway!

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I work for a hospital, and certain immunities are required. I never got the chicken pox vaccine, I just had chicken pox as a kid, so because that was missing from my vaccination record, I had to have a blood titer done to verify the immunity. Now, not only do I not have a patient facing job, but I work fully remotely from my own home — however, the vaccination requirement applies to all employees at hire, regardless of their position or worksite. (Caveat: I don’t know what happens with folks who have medical reasons for not being vaccinated, because that did not apply to me, or whether other exemptions are approved. I know medical exemptions, and only medical exemptions, can be approved for the annual flu vaccinations though with a doctor’s signature.)

      3. Eponymous*

        I work in an industry where I may potentially be exposed to hazardous chemicals and substances like asbestos. I have to complete a physical exam every year, which includes a blood screen and chest x-rays. My job wasn’t contingent on me “passing” the physical exam (just the drug urinalysis, which was separate), but I have to do one in order to continue working.

      4. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

        We’re drug tested and pre employment physical. I work in local government.

    2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      It’s the law in some states, to do background checks, etc., after extending an offer instead of before conducting an interview. It’s to reduce discrimination against criminal offenders- you get to evaluate the person as a prospective employee before hearing of their criminal record, so you’re more likely to hire them. In reality, most companies will pull an offer for a criminal record so it just gets the applicant’s hopes up and wastes the company’s time.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        In California, you definitely have to do the check when you’re at the “extend the offer” stage (after the interview, after the candidate is selected, but before an offer is communicated). I don’t think we have enough evidence, yet, to know if people pull the offer once a criminal record pops up (the ban the box laws are fairly new). There’s some indication that people are less inclined to discriminate against a previously-incarcerated person once they get to know the candidate through the hiring process.

        For certain insurance policies, background checks are mandatory for the employer to maintain coverage. So sometimes this isn’t really about wasting time or getting hopes up, but just a reasonable part of the cost of hiring.

        1. HappilyMovingOn*

          I had to sign something stating I understood that if something came up in my background check, my offer could (would?) be rescinded.

          1. nonegiven*

            Also have them sign stating they understand you are not giving notice until all contingencies are met and you will start two weeks after that

        2. CmdrShepard4ever*

          My understanding is that most “ban the box” laws (this is a generalization laws vary by states, city, etc) the idea is that once you make an offer and run a criminal back ground check you the company has to be able to reasonable justify why the prior conviction would mean the person should not be eligible for the job currently offered.

          For example someone who has been convicted of fraud, embezzlement, most likely should not work in a position dealing with money/finances. But if someone got in a bar fight and was convicted of assault, that does not necessarily preclude them from working with money.

          If the position is one that deals with kids, and someone is a convicted child molester they should not work in that job. But you have a candidate who stole a car when they were 18, but has been living an honest life for the past 20 years they should not be barred from working with children.

          Again not all “ban the box” laws have this written in, but that is usually the idea behind giving an offer before a background check. This way the company has to actively justify why certain crimes do not qualify someone for a job rather then allowing them to automatically disqualify everyone with a prior criminal record.

      2. LJay*

        My industry relies pretty heavily on contingent offers for this reason. You go through the whole process and make an offer to one candidate. That offer is contingent on passing the background check. You don’t schedule a start date until after the background check has cleared.

        We would (have to) pull an offer for many types of criminal conviction, or a positive drug screen, or some other issues. But that’s made clear to the candidate throughout the process, and made really clear at the point where the contingent offer is made. And we make it clear to the candidate that we don’t expect them to give notice to their current employer until they hear from us that the background check has been passed.

        It keeps within the laws for those types of things, while also not putting anyone in a position where they’re out of a job because they failed the background check for us but already left their previous position. Pretty much every other company in the industry that I know of works the same way.

    3. HappilyMovingOn*

      And just to clarify, I don’t have an issue with companies conducting a background check after the offer has been given/accepted. I think it’s bizarre that these companies expect someone to resign at their current job before the whole pre-employment process has been completed.

      1. Someone Else*

        Normally if you’re doing the background check after the offer, the offer itself makes it clear it is contingent on a background check. IE it should not be a surprise. If they’ve made the offer, not indicated it’s contingent, dealt with plane tickets and start dates, they’re either acting in bad faith, or there’s almost nothing in the check that would actually result in rescinding the offer (save things like fraud convictions for a finance job).

  13. Oogie*

    In my restaurant experience (including management). The allotted time to open/close wasn’t ever long enough. Especially as others have pointed out if you have new staff, young staff, etc. You probably need to give them more time.

    1. Yvette*

      And with closing, take into account that it is the end of the day, not just the end of a shift. Most of those people probably put in a full day elsewhere, school, another job etc, and now they have spent hours on their feet. They are tired!

  14. QueerHR*

    Quick information point on background checks after an offer is extended, in case anyone is curious: HI, MN, DC, and CA all have a law that you can only do a criminal history/background check after a conditional offer has been extended and accepted. Various cities in MO, OR, WA, NY , and CA have additional restrictions. Others have rules about doing them after the person meets qualifications or after an interview. This is a fun little tool to see what the rules are, if you’re curious

    On references: It’s pretty rare to get a bad reference, since most folks give reference names that will speak highly of them. Honestly, about 3/4 of the time I use them to learn more about the learning style of the person, where their growth places are, and what we should let them run with on their own.

  15. Rainy days*

    When I worked in retail, the company had strict rules about hours so the policy ended up being that all employees would be sent home on time except for the shift lead and the manager, who would stay as long as necessary to clean up between the two of them. I’m sure there wasn’t as much cleaning to do as in a restaurant, but it was a big store and could sometimes take hours. We honestly did not envy the shift lead the extra $7.25/hr she was earning, all worked after 11:30pm.

    Now in my city the minimum wage is $15 even for tipped workers, so maybe more worth dawdling for? Honestly not sure…I think I would still rather go home.

  16. LawBee*

    #2 – it sounds to me like the new-to-LW boss has a legitimate question. They’re new to each other, she’s out of state, she’s trying to find out what the norms are. I’d want to know the same thing, and it wouldn’t be for nefarious reasons. Just, what’s the status quo?

    1. fposte*

      Yes, I agree. I think this is a request that hit a button with the OP, since attendance is so clearly important to her–I’d say disproportionately so, in fact. So I think this may have felt like calling her proud achievement into question, when maybe it’s worth asking why that’s elevated as a proud achievement.

      1. fposte*

        That’s an interesting question, isn’t it? I think there are possible innocuous reasons, but I can’t blame the OP for wondering what’s up.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      I don’t know – I used to be an executive assistant and I’ve had more than one boss ask me to perform reconnaissance on suspected slackers.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Yikes, I didn’t mean to imply that OP was a slacker! I was referring to my situation with my own boss and coworkers.

      2. Kat in VA*

        I’m still an executive assistant and yes, I’m asked to eyeball certain folks but in a more general sense, as in, “I’ll be out of the country for two weeks, let me know if Bob bothers to show up in the office at all while I’m gone.”

  17. Princesa Zelda*

    When I worked at a restaurant, it really did take at least half an hour longer for anyone to close that wasn’t one of the two closing superstars — and if we were busy, they took just as long as everyone else. It wasn’t a matter of padding hours (they would all have gladly paid me the $7 the company would have paid them to get out of it), but of unreasonable expectations.

    When I was promoted to Assistant Manager I took 4 closing shifts a week and busted my butt to make sure we were closing on time as often as possible, especially making sure pre-closers were on top of their assignments. I also made it a matter of course that if we finished closing before their scheduled end-time, we could wait until that time to clock out. It’s a nice treat to end a long day with 10 minutes of being paid to sit down, and boosted some of my employees’ morale a little.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      I think in that situation, it makes sense. In my experience, the mandatory break was always right before the end of shift. I definitely did not think of it as getting paid to sit down. My thinking was: I’m done working? Let me go home. That 15 minutes was worth about 83 cents.

      1. Princesa Zelda*

        I think it was the principle of the thing more than anything else. The rest of management would force people to work through breaks and off the clock, and I refused to do that. It wasn’t about the $1.25ish, really, but being able to take a paid break at all. If someone wanted to go home they were free to go if they were done though! My two rockstars (and I, in a different direction) had to walk home several miles so they weren’t usually in a hurry, but one guy was an 18-year-old high school student and he always left the second he was done when he covered closing.

  18. Anonyme*

    Have there ever been updates about this employee, the nurse whose husband resigned for her, or the woman whose boyfriend emailed to complain about the boss? I worry about them.

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      Well, the nurse got very “How dare you say my husband is controlling! He’s only controlling because he cares! Also I was in an abusive relationship before and it totally wasn’t like this so he can’t be abusive!” Then she said a lot of things that made it clear she was deeeeply in denial about it all – so unless she comes to her senses and leaves the guy she won’t be back to give an update.

  19. Financial Analyst*

    I have to say I’m surprised by Alison’s response to OP#3 and I agree with those above who are saying that OP should take “can do attitude” as a red flag until further information can be learned. I’ve definitely experienced management who feel that one “No” to a task means that the employee lacks a “can do attitude.” Even if the employee is competent and has said yes to many other things. Whether it’s regulatory issues or even just taking on extra work, employees are allowed to say “No” to managers and there are some managers who will always feel slighted by that.

    In another vein, I’m not sure the gender of the employee who’s being let go, but women are often seen in a worse light for rejecting work even if the reason is valid. I think OP should press for more info. The interviewer doesn’t have to provide the nitty-gritty about the person being let go, but he/she should absolutely be able to define what a “can do attitude” is.

    1. Czhorat*

      It isn’t quite a red flag for me, but it’s a yellow one. If there are any other flags you might want to think twice on this.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      So much this. I just about spit nails when I was informed by a senior partner at a firm I was working for, that I wasn’t being “committed” enough, when I had had to leave a conference call at 8:00 PM, and that I wasn’t going to get ahead if I kept putting my children ahead of my career.

      To which, I pointed out that HE was in Vancouver, a 3 hour time zone difference, and I was in Toronto, and that I had done him the favour of working 3 hours past the end of office hours.

  20. Elizabeth West*

    #3–In my experience, it’s usually a big fat red flag if the employer is telling you tidbits about the performance of the person you’re replacing. I’ve had bosses who snarked about their past hires; they’re typically hard to please. When you inevitably leave, they’ll snark about you too.

    I usually ask why the position is open. If I get an answer like “Stark Industries is growing and we need to add to our arc reactor documentation team,” or something innocuous like “The person in this position is moving out of state,” then I feel better about it. Even “Our last hire wasn’t a good fit for the position,” without details, is acceptable, though I’m probably going to probe a lot further than I would otherwise.

    I like the wording of the question: “Can you tell me about what kind of people do well in this role and what kinds of people struggle or don’t excel?”

    I’ve added that and the question about contingencies to my interview questions form. Thanks, Alison!

    1. Nacho*

      Maybe I’m reading too little into this, but LW only said that they inferred that the interviewer was preparing to dismiss the person who currently holds the role. It sounds like they gave a very brief response to the question of why the position is open without going into too much detail.

  21. Grad Student*

    For the references–could it be that the people making the decisions have definitely confirmed the hire, but that the employee management software requires references for every new hire and they just need something to fill in the field? I once had to submit a resume for a (part-time, extremely temporary, supervised by people I already knew well) position after getting hired just because they needed something to put in “the system”.

  22. Ricky Ricardo*

    A “tone of absolute authority without appeal” is absolutely appropriate to take with the husband. He has no business contacting his wife’s employer.
    I would, of course, hope that there would be no repercussions for the wife, since the husband contacted the employer without her knowledge. But the employer is correct to put the husband in his place.

  23. Atlantis*

    For #5, I used to work at a job where we had to close the building and clean everything after everyone left. On a good day, we were able to start doing a lot of the work 1-2 hours before we closed. On bad days, we couldn’t start until we had completely and totally locked the gate so people couldn’t come in to use the bathrooms as we were trying to finish cleaning them. We usually only had 3 people closing, and so it still took us 30-45 minutes depending on the state of the bathrooms. Worse still were the nights where I was the only female on duty, so I basically had to clean the ladies restroom on my own, which took forever. I didn’t mind doing them usually, but one of our head guys was a jerk, and wouldn’t let the guys help me if I was the only female even if the gate was already closed. That is, until one night he called in to ask me to hurry up, and I came out carrying a bag full of smelly, dirty diapers I had collected from the stalls, and cheerfully told him I was almost done, but would he help me out by putting this in the dumpster for me so I could finish up? He never asked again, and didn’t stop the guys from helping me take out the trash, mop, etc.

    Long story short, please actually make sure that if your employees seem to be taking a long time to finish up, that your expectations aren’t too high. If you want the work to be done well, sometimes it will take longer. If you’re restricting them from starting tasks until just before closing, then it’s definitely going to take longer.

    Also, contributing what you can during those times will go a long way towards both getting an idea of how long everything takes, as well as showing your employees that you are also willing to help out. This doesn’t always apply to all supervisors and pay grades, I’m aware, but if you can, it will help. I never expected my boss to help with cleaning the bathrooms or carrying in the equipment every night, but he would usually lend a hand with some things – especially actually making patrons hurry up so we could finish on time. That meant a lot, knowing he was on our side. I can promise that unless they’re making a ridiculous amount of money per hour, they’re not doing it to get the extra pay. They may just honestly be tired after a long day.

    1. LJay*

      Am I reading this right that he wouldn’t allow the men to help you clean the women’s restroom even after the place was closed so no customers would be coming in to use it?

      Was he afraid they would get cooties by being in the wrong bathroom or something?

      1. Atlantis*

        Yes you read that right. He was a jerk. Luckily it was a situation where he was only a few years older than me (I was in high school, he was in college) so my diaper bag thing didn’t cause me extra problems. This was also the same guy who would just sit in the office reading a book even on days we were absolutely swamped and could have used an extra hand. He wasn’t even a supervisor, just the most senior of us, so he got a little extra pay and a little more responsibility, but that shouldn’t have prevented him from doing our job. I was glad he was only there for my first year. None of the senior people after that ever had that same problem.

  24. CoveredInBees*

    OP1, definitely bring this to your employee’s attention. Be clear that she’s not in trouble but that the company is not going to be discussing her employment with any 3rd parties.

    Depending on the situation, I have some sympathy for OP1’s spouse, although it was definitely the wrong thing to do. There was a time when I desperately wished that I could email my husband’s boss. My husband was unhappy about something at work to the point it was probably hurting his productivity. However, he is super conflict averse regarding anyone in a position of authority. However, I knew exactly how inappropriate this was and how poorly this would reflect on my husband. Instead, I gave him a sympathetic ear and as much coaching as I could on dealing with the problem himself. He ended up laid off and quickly got a job where he’s been much happier and better paid, but I know I made the right call.

  25. Avatre*

    Just adding another voice to the “never enough time to do closing tasks” crowd. I used to work in a grocery store bakery where I was often the only one working from 5-9 P.M. Let me tell you, there will *always* be someone with a long question at 8:45 while you’re trying to wash an entire sink full of dishes and then sweep and mop and god help you if all the *other* work isn’t done by then. I found it pretty much impossible to not be done half an hour late, unless the store was REALLY dead. And this was with daily mental weighing of which corners could be cut that night to save time.

    Our department baker worked 2-3 hours of off-the-clock, unpaid overtime almost every time she was in, for much the same reason—too much to do, not enough time. I do not know if management was aware of this, but it certainly didn’t help expectations for the rest of us.

    1. Princesa Zelda*

      The cake maker at my store used to do the same thing!!! Our supervisor noticed and corrected it, and salaried management got very upset that cake’s numbers went down dramatically. They’ve finally hired a new cake maker, thank god, now that they realized that an entire part-time positions’ worth of cake sales are on the line. It’s been nearly 7 months but better late than never.

      1. Avatre*

        Yeah… there’s no way our department managers *wouldn’t* have noticed, but the higher-ups probably had no idea.

        I wanted to be a cake decorator for a while, but I could never get them to finish training me on the department-standard cakes. Or give me sufficient time to do it myself (I know how to decorate a cake, just give me a binder with some freaking instructions and I’ll figure out our specialties with a little practice!). I was “allowed” to do cakes if I had spare time, but gosh if it wasn’t like pulling hen’s teeth to find spare time.

        Then I guess management wised up enough to hire two cake decorators instead of one, and then I *really* never got to decorate anymore. :(

  26. Traffic_Spiral*

    I think the only acceptable response to getting emailed by a spouse for something like this is to say “Employee is a competent adult, not a minor or individual under guardianship, and even if she was, we have not received notification that you are her legal guardian. As such, there is no reason that we would discuss any aspect of her work performance with you.”

    And bcc the employee on the email, then call her/him into the office to say “so if you’re in a dangerous situation and need to leave, the office will support you – and also we consider you an adult so you need to directly discuss employment matters with us – not have someone else do it.”

  27. Jeff A.*

    To LW#4:
    At my last job, I received a phone call from HR *months* after I’d been on the job stating they were in the process of checking my references. I had already been working for them for months, on payroll, etc. They called me *on my work office phone at EMPLOYER*. I was so confused. I think I managed to say something to the effect of, “You realize that I’m a paid employee here and that you’re calling me at my desk in the adjacent office building, right?”

    Anyway, I don’t know what would have happened if at that point they couldn’t get a hold of a reference or there was a problem. It was bizarre.

    Actually, thinking back, this was one of MANY bizarre things about the way that employer operated.

  28. rageismycaffeine*

    OP#5 reminded me of my first job out of college, a temp-to-perm data entry job that involved going out to county courthouses and entering information about real estate transactions into a database (many, many years ago, before this information was easily available on the Internet). You were paid by the hour, regardless of how many entries you managed to get done in that time. At my wpm I could easily do 500+ in a day and be paid the same as people who hunt-and-pecked their way to 150. There were quarterly bonuses for productivity… that they declared me ineligible for after I won three in a row.

    Anyway, I definitely slowed my productivity way the hell down. Being paid hourly made no sense in this circumstance (pay us by the record!), and it gave me a lot to think about with regards to how people are paid.

    No real insight into the particular situation in #5, really, just that I can kind of understand wanting to drag something out.

    1. JustaTech*

      When I was a kid my brother and I would work for my parents assembling binders. On our first day my (younger) brother loudly announced that, if we were getting paid by the hour we should work really slowly so we could get paid more.
      After that we got paid by the piece.

  29. Just a Librarian*

    While I’m suspicious of how “can-do” attitudes can be used to exploit people to do more with less, phew boy, do I have a good example of not having a can-do attitude and how it might get someone fired (it didn’t, but did get them spoken to). I’m currently working with another department on a big project. I am the team lead, but the 7 members of my team are in the other department and I report on this project to the department head and to the department head’s boss. (I also report generally to my own boss and this is all cool, it’s like a temporary loan) Essentially I am the only person not in said department and even then I’m kind of provisionally in said department.

    That department has an assistant, Ermengarde. As I’ve been wrapping up our project, the dept head said “ok, ask Ermengarde to set up a big presentation for you, dept member 1, and dept member 2, to present library-wide.” I asked Ermengarde if she could do this. It’s a very complex process, something she does all the time and I’ve never done before. Of note, my own dept does NOT have an assistant, there’s no barrier to setting up those for people outside your dept, and she was well-aware of my physical presence in the dept and leadership role on project. I’d never asked Ermengarde for work or presume to use her time just because I’m temporarily working in said department.

    Anyway, her response was “you don’t work here, I don’t set up these for people who don’t work here.” I apologized for not being clear and added that dept head had told me to ask her, otherwise I wouldn’t presume. She said “I don’t set up these for people who don’t work here.” I asked if there was a technical barrier I’d missed re: my formal reporting line. Nope.

    So I went to Dept Member 1 and said “dept head wants Ermengarde to set up this thing, she won’t for me, can you ask her for [stuff] and tell her to make ME the main contact person on it.” Team Member 1 put in request. Ermengarde set thing up. There was absolutely nothing stopping her from setting it up in the first place, or at least once I’d clarified the request was from dept head (her boss!).

    From a financial perspective, she wasted paid time by me, herself, and Team Member 1. It also left me, Team Member 1, and I would guess Ermengarde herself (because I told dept head I’d had to ask Team Member 1 to ask Ermengarde and dept head spoke to her) in sour moods for the rest of the day. She stayed absolutely within the letter of her job, fulfilling all requests from people in her dept. But her unwillingness to recognize a request from dept head when conveyed through someone not a member of the department is the exemplification of not having a “can-do” attitude.

    1. Adminx2*

      I have to kinda shrug as an admin. My response is a lot more enabling and “Ah ok sure I can do that, can you send an email making sure to copy Boss just to make sure all the details are there and we’re on the same page.”
      So yes, it’s punting back to you, but it’s setting the expectation I’m happy and willing to do it.

      I need to make sure my boss REALLY knows what’s going on my plate for who/when/why, and expecting him to just remember isn’t enough. Getting an email lets me track for CYA and just for smart process keeping.
      Same result as Ermengarde and maybe for similar reasons? I’d never say “I don’t do it for people who don’t work here” unless there really is a specific billing concern or you’ve really gotten on my bad side.

  30. Adminx2*

    It is a bit sad- my partner can wear a long sleeve button up shirt and tie, but not a clean formal to the knee kilt, even if others can wear to the knee skirts.
    I just accept dress code irregularities part of the social weirdness we accept when choosing office work. But that doesn’t make them less irregular and inconsistent.

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