I can’t fire an awful employee, coworker wants to standardize email subjects, and more

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

1. I have an awful employee I can’t fire

I am a supervisor at a facility that serves the public. Our job can be very rigorous and requires working long hours on our feet in all kind of weather conditions. It is often labor intensive and very active. One of my team, Jerry, was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, just months after he was hired. I am very proud of our organization for supporting him throughout his treatment. The kept him on and were very flexible with the time off he needed for treatments and recovery.

But here’s the tricky part. He’s actually a pretty terrible teammate for reasons totally unrelated to the cancer. He has a terrible attitude. He is racist (I’ve heard him use the N-work more than once). He has enormous knowledge gaps for his field, and has no interest in filling them or continuing professional development. He has been given a “light duty” assignment, but puts forth the barest minimum effort, leaving work well within his abilities to his other team members who are already struggling to keep the place running while understaffed and underfunded. His attitude with visitors is surly and customer service is horrible. There have been several complaints about him in online reviews, which management has seen.

Any attempts to bring up concerns about Jerry with higher-ups are met with a scolding about how “he’s been through so much” and “Jerry isn’t going anywhere.” He had even been terminated once because of a failed random drug test, but appealed it and was hired back on! Meanwhile, he sees himself as overseer of the rest of the team, constantly asking if they have done this or that yet.

If Jerry were making any attempts to make his coworkers lives easier, I would be more sympathetic, but what I see is someone milking a government paycheck and benefits for all it’s worth at the expense of our facility and my team’s morale. I am constantly fielding comments like “must be pretty nice to sit in the A/C all day” or “how come he makes more than we do even though he does next to nothing?” I have tried saying I am grateful knowing that I work for an organization that would take care of us so well if we got sick, but my words feel hollow knowing that I would fire him in a skinny minute if I only had the power. I don’t know what to do to keep the rest of my team’s morale up in the face of such gross favoritism.

As Jerry’s supervisor, you should be able to push hard for this to be handled differently. But if your management has heard all this — the racism, the laziness, the surliness, the complaints, and the effect on morale — and is still telling you “Jerry isn’t going anywhere” … Jerry isn’t going anywhere. That’s awful management, but it’s on them, not on you. You can ask them, however, how they want you to handle the demoralization on the rest of your team. (I suspect they don’t care, but it could be a revealing conversation.)

You can also figure out the limits of the authority you do have in regards to Jerry. Can you tell him point-blank that he needs to stop trying to manage or direct others — and call him on it every time it does? Can you coach him incessantly around his bad customer service skills? It’s possible that by managing him very, very closely, you can mitigate some of the problematic behaviors (although not all, if he’s realized he’s not getting fired), or even spur him to leave if it finds close oversight annoying enough.

As for the rest of your team, stop telling them you appreciate how your employer has handled Jerry, because you don’t and you’ll lose credibility with them. All you can really say is, “I see what you see and I’m working all the levers I can to improve the situation, but the amount of control I have is limited.” That’s not awesome for your authority, but it’s the truth — and as long as the “working all the levers” part is true, it’ll get you more respect than pretending this isn’t a problem.

2. My coworker wants to “standardize” email subject lines

I’m head of a regional office. My office is currently working with a partner organization who work in a similar field to implement a project over my region and another region. The head of the other regional office recently sent an email to me, my staff, and our partner staff saying that he wants all emails sent to him “standardized.” He would like the subject line to include the project number, location, and project title only.

For me, this feels like a huge overreach. I don’t think he should be emailing my staff with these requests and rather needs to find a better way to manage his own email inbox. I find it absurd that you could ask coworkers to only send you certain subject lines and it just makes me not want to include him in on the emails. How do I respond to this?

Eh, it’s not entirely outrageous; I can understand the impulse. But it’s also impractical to expect that every email he receives will comply with that. He’s going to get copied in on email chains that already have a different type of subject line, and even with new emails, people are simply going to forget. Plus, how helpful is it going to be to have 20 different email chains with the same subject line?

Ultimately, yes, it’s on him to manage his inbox. He can request this kind of thing from people who report to him (if he wants them spending their energy that way) but he can’t really require it of others. He can, however, explain that it’s helpful for him if you do it when you can — and from there it’s up to you to decide when/whether/how often to.

You could say in response, “We can try to do that more often, but it won’t be practical every time — like when you’re copied in on a conversation that’s already in progress with a different header. And it’ll make things harder over here if we’ve got a bunch of different email chains that all have the same subject line. But we’ll try to do it when we can.”

3. Can I ask my boss to buy a more comfortable visitor chair for her office?

I am a “woman of size.” In the course of my daily work, I spend at least 30 minutes but usually more (2-3 hours sometimes) in my boss’ office. The chairs in there have arms, and while I can squeeze into the chair, it’s far from ideal. My comfort seems to vary; some days it’s fine but other times it can be pretty excruciating. My solution to this has been to mostly suck it up because I was too embarrassed to say anything.

But now I’m on my third boss in two years and this one is someone I have really clicked with, and I’ve shared my discomfort with her. She’s sympathetic and has once or twice talked about getting a different chair for me without any follow-through. I will occasionally roll my desk chair in if I know I’m going to be there for a while, but for the most part I don’t do that because it calls attention to the situation with others in my office (who I have not shared this issue with).

I’m hesitant to talk to HR about this because it feels weird to say something after all this time. I’ve considered buying a chair myself and bringing it in, but I’m afraid that will draw too much attention. Especially since I am unlikely to find a chair that looks like the one that’s already there and people might wonder why it is different. While I am less embarrassed about these kinds of situations than I was even a few years ago, I am still somewhat embarrassed.

But the thing is, when I’m thinking about how uncomfortable I am in my chair, I believe it can be detrimental to my work. I need my whole brain to be on the task at hand, not on my ass. Any idea what I should do? Or should I do nothing?

It’s entirely reasonable not to want to be in physical discomfort during long meetings with your boss. And it’s great that she’s offered to get a new chair, but it sounds like you’ll need to push her to finally do it.

So talk to her again. Say this: “You’ve mentioned in the past that you were open to buying a chair without arms that I could use when we’re meeting. I’d be really grateful if you did! Is there anything I can to do to help make that happen?” She’ll probably feel bad that she hadn’t followed through previously and say she will. If there’s no chair a few weeks later, it’s completely fine to say, “I wanted to check on that chair! Do you know when it’s supposed to arrive?”

4. How to advertise our organization’s great work/life balance

I’m the HR manager of a small nonprofit. We have a hard time staffing our business office positions because our standards are very high, and while our salaries are competitive for the nonprofit industry, we definitely can’t come close to what’s offered in the corporate sector. So when we hire for say, an accountant, most of our candidates are very junior and not up to our standards despite how explicit I am about our experience requirements and the responsibilities of the position.

Everyone in my department is a working mom, and it’s the perfect job for us. We work 8-4, our boss is flexible if we have to come late/leave early to take care of our kids (he doesn’t even make us use PTO for a couple of hours here or there), we get all the school vacations off, and remote work is an option once you’ve proven you can stay on top of your workflow.

I’m a bit at a loss for how to express this in our job postings for these positions. I want to advertise our great work/life balance and supportive culture, I just don’t know how to do it in a way that sounds genuine. Do you have any advice?

The more specific you can be, the better! So don’t talk about work/life balance because that’s a buzzword that often doesn’t have real meaning behind it. Instead, say something like, “We encourage working parents or others with commitments outside of work to apply! We typically work 8-4 but can flex our schedules, and we regularly work with employees to accommodate their scheduling needs. We offer X weeks of paid vacation per year and X amount of sick time.” (If you’re closing for school vacations on top of that, definitely mention that as well! I wasn’t sure from your wording.)

Note this language isn’t specific to parents — you don’t want to make it sound like you only offer that flexibility to parents because there are lots of other people who would appreciate it too. But the more detail you can use to spell out why someone who’d benefit from flexibility would like your office, the more believable and appealing it will sound.

5. Reapplying to a job when I previously turned down an interview

Last year, after a fairly lengthy pre-interview application process, including producing sample work, I was invited to an interview for a dream job six hours away from where I’m currently based. Unfortunately, as the date rolled around, I suffered a mental health relapse and couldn’t imagine traveling for the interview, let alone making the necessary relocation away from my support network to take the job. I emailed them to apologize and let them know I would be pulling out at this stage.

Now, thanks to some excellent help, I’m in a position where relocating seems feasible again, and I’ve noticed that they’re advertising for the same role. What do I do? Do I apply through the regular channels and hope they’ve forgotten my name? Do I email them and explain myself? Can I reuse my cover letter and sample work? It was good enough to get through to interview the first time! Help?

This isn’t a big deal! People pull out of hiring processes all the time because they get better offers, decide it’s not the right time to make a move, or so forth. You probably feel like you were flaky, but truly, this is not an obstacle at all.

Apply the regular way, but note in your cover letter that you’d been invited to interview for the same position last year but ended up not being able to pursue the position at that time. (You don’t need to explain why, but if they ask later in the process, you can say you had things in your personal life that would have prevented you from relocating then, but that it’s been resolved and you’re fully available now.)

I wouldn’t use the same cover letter again — you can probably use some of it, but it should be different enough that it doesn’t seem like an exact duplicate. You should be able to use the same sample work if the assignment is the same, but include a note that you’re doing that (so it doesn’t seem odd if they notice on their own). Even there, though, I’d review it to see if there’s anything you want to tweak this time around (I always have things I could improve when I look over old work, and it’s good to seem like you’re invested enough to want to).

{ 419 comments… read them below }

  1. EitherIther*

    ““We encourage working parents or others with commitments outside of work to apply!”

    I realize that “other commitments” is meant to cover non-parents, but this still feels more parent-specific than not, as if hoping for parents… I think it could be a turn off for some hires. It seems like an unnecessary addition, anyway.

    Also, would this flexibility actually extend to single people to the same it does for parents? If everyone in the office is a parent, it’s not quite clear if the less urgent (or even just as urgent) aspects of single-person life would be treated the same way.

    1. Approval is optional*

      I agree. I think cutting out that sentence and just using the rest of the ‘script’ is better. Assuming, as your say, that the LW’s org would offer the same flexibility to non-parents/guardians (whether they have ‘other commitments’ or not).

      1. Willis*

        I agree. Maybe just say what the benefit / flexibility is and let people figure out whether that’s something that appeals to them, whether it’s because they’re parents, caring for other family members, or just want to have some freedom/flexibility in their schedule for other stuff. (Assuming, like you say, that any new employee would be given flexibility at roughly the same frequency as the current, all-parent staff members are.)

        Or, if you need some “exciting!” intro: “This is a great opportunity for applicants looking for schedule flexibility!”

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          +1 This is perfect:
          “applicants looking for schedule flexibility!”
          I used to know some nationally ranked athletes who selected their day-job largely on flexibility for training & competitions. As well as people whose physical therapy appointments kept them supplied with enough spoons.

        2. Washi*

          I think this is a good intro as long as plenty of details follow, since I think someone could read that and think “great, maybe I can work 12 – 8!”

          It sounds like there are a lot of informal rules around flexibility, and if the OP is in HR, maybe this would be a good opportunity to nail things down a little more to what the core hours are, policies regarding school vacations, flexing schedules, etc, and then put those in the ad.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            It kind of read like rampant favoritism was possible, and with low pay no less. Eeep. Clarifying policies may be the least of their worries – but yes, good advice.

        3. Tupac Coachella*

          I agree, this wording is inclusive of various reasons for needing flexibility and would raise all of my green flags if I were a seasoned professional who was at a point in my career where I’m willing to trade some of my income for more control of my time-i.e., exactly who OP is trying to attract.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I agree that the phrasing seems unduly focused on parenting. I would consider framing it as “We encourage individuals with caretaking to apply.” I’m also not entirely sure that the script actually signals work-life balance. The cynic in me would wonder if they’re targeting people who may be at greater risk of economic insecurity, and consequently, might have less bargaining power.

      I do remember seeing a job posting by someone who prioritized people who may need telework accommodation or who had caretaking responsibilities for young children. It was a nice touch, but it also definitely dissuaded anyone without children (but perhaps with caretaking responsibilities) from applying.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yikes, missing word: “Individuals with caretaking [obligations/responsibilities] to apply.”

      2. NL*

        I wouldn’t know what caretaking meant. I’d picture someone doing home health aid work or along those lines.

        I think ‘parents or others with commitments outside of work’ gets the point across well. I would be excited to see that in an ad because it’s so often just parents and so seeing a company go out of their way to acknowledge ‘or others with commitments’ would be a good sign.

        1. Zip Silver*

          Plenty of folks do elder care for their parents, so home health aid isn’t too far off the mark, and it can be just as much (or far more) work as child rearing.

          1. NL*

            What I’m saying is that I wouldn’t think that applied to me if I wanted flexibility to attend a class or work on a hobby. It’s probably better to be as broad as possible and not specify caretaking.

            1. AcademiaNut*

              I’m not sure from the OP’s description that there is that sort of flexibility – they mention working 8-4, but specifically mentions flexibility for looking after kids. So it sounds like pretty standard hours (not flex time), but the ability to occasionally leave early or come late due to childcare issues, and no problem using PTO when needed.

              If there are flex hours (you could work 6-2 instead of 8-4 to accommodate a class, or stay late the next day), they should describe that. If it’s a general flexibility for unavoidable life stuff (children, caring for non child family members, medical appointments, waiting for a plumber) they should word it more generally, but if it’s specifically for parents, they should be up front about that, so that non-parents don’t take the job and get frustrated because they don’t have access to the flexibility.

              1. AJ*

                If that flexibility is not currently open to non-parents, then in the interest of addressing the current recruitment issue they ought to consider changing policy. They cannot compete on salary alone to get the standard of candidate they want. If they hope these perks would be the difference-maker, they need to make them available to all.

                1. Mel*

                  I’m guessing from the letter that it does apply to everyone, but it’s not flex time for a hobby or something, it’s flex time for normal life stuff. Like the electrician’s window is 7am – 10am, so I’ll be a bit late today. Or, I have to drop my dog at the bet and they don’t open till 9. Or whatever.

                2. Emily K*

                  The line between those two things can get blurrier than you might think, though – I’m generally of the view that it’s too dicey to get in the business of evaluating reasons for wanting or needing flexibility.

                  Like maybe the electrician can only come in the middle of the workday, but what if my salon has evening appointments but they’re so in-demand that you have to book 8 weeks out and I’m never that on top of planning my haircuts? What if my doctors office offers evening and weekend appointments but there’s a surcharge for the convenience? Or rush hour traffic in my area is terrible and I’d rather go in the middle of the day when it will only take 10 minutes each way instead of 25? What if I need to paint my house or mow my lawn and I’m struggling to find time on the weekends because it keeps raining or my weekends have been scheduled with other commitments, so I’d like to do it early on a Wednesday morning and come to work a little later that day? Or I would rather walk my dog at 4:30 in the winter instead of waiting til 5 when it will become dark before we can get back home?

                  Ultimately I think the focus should be on what the workplace can feasibly accommodate in terms of flexibility, and tell employees that within those bounds they can exercise their own judgment. Like, you must work at least 35 hours every week, at least 6 hours a day have to be within our core business hours, your calendar must be kept up-to-date and accurately reflect your availability, you have to be meeting performance standards and completing your work on time, and quarterly reviews must be attended without exception – as long as you meet those criteria, you can leave at 4 every day to do tai chi or walk your dog, or maybe you didn’t get enough sleep last night and need to knock off early and take a nap before resuming work in the evening, or sure, maybe it’s the electrician that needs to come by. The manager doesn’t have to get into the murky territory of whether this is optional/hobby-related or unavoidable/responsibility-related and risk alienating employees who feel they’ve been treated unfairly, e.g. child-free individuals who think that parents are given greater flexibility because childcare obligations weight more heavily than pet care obligations when there’s no work-related reason why the non-parents’ roles need to adhere to a more rigid schedule than parents’.

                3. Scarlet2*

                  100% agree with Emily. Saying people can have flexibility for certain things but not others opens a huge can of worms. There’s simply no objective way to determine what is “normal life stuff” and what isn’t. That’s going to create resentment all around.
                  And it’s particularly bad for a company that already has trouble attracting the kind of people they’re looking for because their pay isn’t great…

              2. AnotherAlison*

                8-4 is pretty standard, but I work at one of those places in one of those roles where it’s expected 8-4 may be your schedule, but you regularly work 7-5 or answer emails at night, and if you need to work 7-7 to get something done sometimes, you do it no questions asked. I would personally appreciate some elaboration in an ad so that I can understand the actual culture.

              3. It's me, OP4*

                This is a good point. We’re all in the office about 8-4 because that works for us, but a previous co-worker used to come in at 8:30/9ish. leave at 2:30, and work from home for a few hours in the late evenings…as long as all work was done there was no issue there (but this person had a history of proving they could stay on top of their workflow).

                I don’t think that say, noon to 8pm would be approved though…I guess it’s not truly 100% flexible in that way.

                1. Emily K*

                  My org is international but most of our offices are spread across the 4 continental US timezones, and each office has 9a-5p operating hours but staff within the offices have somewhat more flexibility. The general expectation is that you’ll be available for 6/8 of the “core hours” of the group you work most closely with. For most people that would be 10a-4p and you fit in your other 2 hours anywhere else you like, but I have a colleague who works out of our California office while most of his team is in New York and DC, so for his group, core hours are 10a-4p ET, or 7a-1p his time.

                  The basic rationale behind the expectation is that we don’t want things to slow down because everyone is working wildly different hours – where Donna Dayshift sends an email at 1p that Ned Nightowl doesn’t see until 5p, which is after Donna’s left for the day, so she won’t see his response til 7a the next day…and so on (this is how projects with our colleagues in India progress because of the time difference). Or there’s only a couple of hours a day when team meetings can be scheduled because there’s so little overlap. So asking everyone to aim for six hours where everyone’s schedules put them at work at the same time ensures that there’s plenty of time for meetings and back-and-forth collaboration to happen within a single day.

              4. TootsNYC*

                I don’t think you can advertise a job as being intended for parents. You need to be careful with that.

            2. WellRed*

              Agreed, NL. None of this language in the post or otherwise says this is a job for me. The letter itself is very Working Moms! Club.

              1. Yorick*

                Yeah, as a woman without kids, I probably wouldn’t apply. It seems like I’ll always be the one expected to stay late and work holidays and do other undesirable thing.

                1. AnotherAlison*

                  TBH, I’ve been a working mother my entire career, and as a manager, the couple of people on my team currently who are not quite pulling their weight are people without kids. One is married, no kids yet, and the other has adult children. The woman on my team with small kids has a SAHH, and the man with small kids is the type to answer the phone at 10 pm or 6 am.

                  Not to say the culture at the OP’s company isn’t exactly how you say or that you personally have not been stuck pulling the weight for others, but I do kind of resent the broad brush painting of all working moms as people who pass their work on to coworkers at 4 pm. Heck, even as a kid myself, I remember my mom coming home at 7 pm on month close days and having me (a middle-schooler) walk to my sister’s daycare to pick her up.

                2. Aquawoman*

                  I have an amusing memory of work that needed to be done over Mother’s Day weekend and four working moms each volunteering because the others shouldn’t have to work on Mother’s Day, while the only guy in the group was like, “not me.”

                3. Kathleen_A*

                  I don’t want to speak for Yorick, but I think I understand what he means. The implication isn’t that *parents* are at fault here. Who’s at fault is the *company* that allows parents to leave early and expects those without kids to pick up the slack. The emphasis is on the company’s failings, not the parents. I personally have no problem with a parent who needs to leave early for Child-Based Commitment A and Child-Based Commitment B. But I would have a big problem with a company that allowed a parent this flexibility but didn’t allow me some flexibility too.

                4. Decima Dewey*

                  As a childless spinster who is now officially an orphan, it would be a yellow flag that every one currently in the department is a working mom. I may not have family obligations, but other things will crop up in my life, and I’d worry that I might not be given the same flexibility because it isn’t kid or parent related.

                5. ugh*

                  Me neither. Some of the worst places I’ve ever worked were “family friendly” which just meant if you didn’t have children you got dumped on.

                6. Yorick*

                  Thanks Kathleen_A – this wording gives the impression that things are very flexible IF YOU’RE A PARENT, which sounds like childless people have to pick up the slack.

                7. LawBee*

                  AnotherAlison – some offices are like that, some aren’t. I’ve worked in both types, as a single person without kids. Working moms get the brunt of the broad brush but I’ve worked with many a dad who was allowed to miss the Big Important Meeting because their kid had a soccer game. And I have been the person who was assumed could stay late, to the point where everyone else was packing up and I thought we were being let out early, but nope. They all had kid-related things to do, which I learned when I got the stream of emails asking me to cover this or cover that, since “I didn’t have any outside obligations”. This office also scheduled me to work the day before and after Thanksgiving while giving everyone else time off (because it’s not like I had to cook a feast for all of my friends who were coming over) and the day before and after Christmas (because it’s not like I had presents to wrap or again, a feast to cook, or a flight to catch to my family that was several states away), and snow days (because it’s not like I had to keep kids at home because the schools were closed, it was totally ok for me to do the scary drive on black ice to the office).

                  I agree, it’s a broad brush, but it isn’t without basis. It happens more than you think, just not in your specific office.

                8. It's me, OP4*

                  so interesting to hear this…I never really considered that non-parents would feel excluded. I notice others have commented they would feel left out of office chit-chat….I NEVER expected someone to say that!! I’ll definitely keep this in mind as I communicate with candidates

                9. MV*

                  Came to say just this! Working with 100% working mom who are used to having their kid stuff catered too sounds like a total nightmare, I was cringing so hard reading this letter. BUT I think its great she plans to make this clear when you apply though. I would say something about someone with caretaking responsibilities being the ideal candidate. this way I will know its not for me. I know someone will jump on here with some comment about how its the child-free that really cause this issue but thats not true anywhere I or other friends have worked. My wanting to get home and snuggle my cat or go to Yoga will always be a distant second to little Suzie’s game or little Jonnie’s play or whatever.

                10. Kate2*

                  Can’t really nest this, but I completely agree with LawBee, I have experienced this too at several different offices!

        2. Approval is optional*

          But do you need other commitments to be afforded the same flexibility in the org? One would hope not. The LW says they are trying to recruit the best – not the best parent/caretaker or whatever – so why risk giving the impression that if you don’t have outside commitments you won’t be able access the flexibility that is supposed to make up for the lower-than-corporate salary?

      3. Temperance*

        I don’t love that phrasing, because it’s still signaling that they’re looking for parents or people with family obligations. To me, this would signal that childless folks pick up the slack.

        1. Alex*

          This is exactly how it sounds to me as well. I once worked for an employer thst would flex 100% for people with children – and zero! for eceryone else.

          Want vacation? – Will only be granted if every single parent in the department was asked first if they might want vacation at that time… etc.

          Parent comes in an hour late? No problem.
          You come in 5 minutes late? – Problem…

        2. Kathleen_A*

          To me, it doesn’t necessarily sound as though this flexibility is only or mainly offered to parents or others with major family responsibilities. But it does kind of sound as though the company can’t imagine any reasons other than family-related why someone might want or need flexibility. So it kind of spells “lack of imagination” to me rather than “those of you without kids are just going to have to suck it up.”

          1. smoke tree*

            I doubt any companies intend this, but if the company culture is focused on flexibility for parents, sometimes it just works out that way. If your four coworkers all have to leave early this week to pick up their kids, there might not be much flexibility left for you to leave early for your pottery class. For holidays, if your coworkers all have family plans, there might be additional pressure on you to pick up the slack.

            1. It's me, OP4*

              Luckily we’re not structured this way – me leaving early or coming late doesn’t mean someone has to be here to cover my desk. Honestly many of our employees happen to be parents or young singles early in their career…I feel like this is VERY common for education non-profits…so when we think of the reasons people need flexibility it’s usually either for family commitments, health stuff, or grad school responsibilities…all of which are fine as long as you’re on top of your workflow. That being said, I don’t know how it would go over if someone asked to leave early once a week for a hobby commitment or fitness class…somehow I think that would come off as out of step with the organization.

              1. smoke tree*

                I’m glad it doesn’t work out that way at your company! I didn’t mean to imply that was necessarily the case for you, just that it sometimes happens that way without anyone necessarily intending to prioritize parents. It just becomes a pattern over time.

              2. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

                Why should it, though? Pottery class or working out for fitness are very important aspects of life; pottery class is an enjoyable hobby that allows one to destress, and working out to stay fit keeps one’s health going. It just seems weird to me that the organization would look askance at these things. I mean… huh? Very much screams “Children are more important than anything else!” to me. *shrugs*

        3. Dust Bunny*

          Yeah, this. Or that you have to have other commitments to avail yourself of schedule flexibility instead of, say, just wanting to come in and leave earlier to dodge the worst of rush hour traffic. If I think that because I don’t have children and my parents are able-bodied I’m going to be held to standard business hours, I’m not going to be super eager to apply.

        4. TootsNYC*

          I think you could say something like,
          “Moderate schedule flexibility is ideal for those with evening classes, hobby or community commitments, caregiving responsibilities, and the like.”

    3. Beth*

      I’m also wondering about flexibility for non-parents. OP’s description is pretty specific to child-related flexibility–which could legitimately be because that’s their personal experience with needing it! But it could also be because the company is great in that area but isn’t set up for, say, someone who needs flexibility for caregiving responsibility for an aging parent but isn’t necessarily working off the local school schedule. Or because the boss knows why children require some flexibility but wouldn’t be as understanding about needing to come in late because of a sick or aging pet’s needs.

      If the flexibility is genuinely largely child-centered, then it makes sense to stick to the current parent-specific language. If it’s genuinely for everyone and all sorts of reasons, then broader wording would be good.

      1. rayray*

        I agree. I worked in a place that had flexible scheduling, wasn’t necessarily just for parents and it was great! However, sometimes it seemed like parents got more leniency, or that their needs for days off or leaving early were considered more valid than that of a single person, and I know that’s fairly common. I would maybe word it differently to emphasize good work-life balance, and maybe then in an interview, while talking about company culture you could say something like ” The flexibility works well for those with kids, x responsibility, y situation etc”

    4. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I also don’t love the wording that ties flexible scheduling with parenthood or other caretaking responsibilities.

      OP, you said all the employees in your department are working moms, but what about the other departments? Do you have non-parents working for your organization? How does the flexible scheduling benefit them? If you’re going to add information about flexible scheduling to your job advertisements, it should be done in a way that can appeal to a wide variety of potential candidates, not just people who serve as caretakers for family members.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        Yes, I’d be curious as to what flex time means for someone who isn’t a parent or caregiver and just wants to work earlier or later hours, or has appointments.

        My department’s core hours are 8:30-4:30; however, people are allowed to change it up and do 7:00-3:30, or maybe 9:30-6 if they want to. Or if they have an appointment, they’re free to leave early/come in late and just make it up during the week, regardless of whether they’re exempt or non-exempt.

        I personally don’t see 8-4 as being flexible; it seems to be the company’s working hours based on OP’s wording. Maybe I’m wrong? Also, does everyone get school vacations off, or only working parents? That would seem unfair as someone who doesn’t have kids. I’d like that same perk.

        I think the wording in the job ad should be more generic, such as, “We encourage those with a need for flexible hours to apply.” Assuming that’s true for anyone who wants them, of course.

        1. Important Moi*

          Who is this flexibility geared towards? This seems geared towards parents. Here are some questions based on experience:

          Is me wanting to leave early to see a play wrong but a parent leaving a early to see a play their child is in acceptable?

          Is me wanting to leave early to watch an athletic event wrong but a parent leaving early to see their child(ren)in an athletic event acceptable?

          Is me wanting to leave early to prepare for a trip wrong but a parent leaving early to prepare their child(ren)/family for a trip acceptable?

          Is me wanting to leave early to provide a ride to someone for #reasons wrong but a parent leaving early to provide a ride to their child(ren)for #reasons acceptable?

          I hope the OP is able to find language that feels welcoming to all potential applicants.

    5. Delta Delta*

      This screams to me, someone who isn’t a parent, that I would be unwelcome. I understand the sentiment but I’d likely steer clear if I were job searching.

      1. Joielle*

        Yeah, I’d stay away from mentioning parenting altogether. I get that it’s sort of shorthand for “people who need a lot of flexibility” but if they’re parent-focused enough to mention it in the ad and not see any issue with that, I’d assume that I, a child-free person, might not fit in. Just say that the work schedule is flexible and briefly describe what that means.

        1. Kat in VA*

          I was wondering about that phrase: People who need a lot of flexibility.

          I mean, honestly, isn’t that pretty much everyone?

      2. Feline*

        I would be cautious about applying for a position whose description basically said “bring on more parents!” because I would expect to be a bad cultural fit in office chitchat. Never mine the less-than-comfortable situation to be the non-parent in the office expected to pick up the hours the parents are allowed to flex while you aren’t for your own commitments or family.

        1. Name of Requirement*

          One shouldn’t have to always cover for others, but if you self-select out over chit-chat, the ad might be a helpful heads up for you.

      3. Jennifer*

        I don’t see where people are getting that at all. It clearly mentions those with commitments outside of work.

        Not directed at you, but generally, I honestly think childfree people who complain about parents getting all the flexibility just don’t ask for the same flexibility but just complain when they see them leaving early/coming in late. I don’t have kids and have never had a problem picking up the slack for people that do because when I ask to leave early or come in late for appointments or other commitments, it’s usually approved. Just ask.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          Speaking as someone who doesn’t have kids, I’d say it comes from feeling as though any reason we give to want the same flexibility (if the boss asks–some do) is not a valid enough reason. I’ve been fortunate in my last two jobs that everyone, regardless of whether they’re a parent or not, are treated the same and given the same flexibility. But there have been places where that wasn’t the case; parents had much more flexibility and non-parents got stuck having to pick up the slack.

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Sometimes it might be that people don’t ask for flexibility, but that’s not always the case. At one of my previous jobs, I had a coworker with a kid in elementary school and another coworker whose husband was in physical therapy. And my requests for schedule flexibility were usually answered with things like “oh, your friend is having a once in a lifetime experience on Thursday? How wonderful! No, I can’t let you leave early to be there because Sandra’s daughter’s school has early release on Thursdays,” or “The post office only takes passport appointments on Wednesday mornings? No, that won’t work because Wednesday morning is when Julia takes her husband to physical therapy.”

          And to be clear, I didn’t begrudge my coworkers their flexible schedule. Somebody has to be there to get small kids from school or take adults who can’t drive to necessary appointments, and I’m not suggesting that my requests should have bumped theirs. But it’s exhausting watching your coworkers get to flex their schedule and live their lives when every request you make to do the same is denied.

          And we truly don’t know if all the flex time at OP’s company is parent based or if that’s just the benefit OP herself has received from it. But I think it’s still an important thing to consider if the OP is looking to add information about the flexible scheduling to job advertisements.

        3. Temperance*

          I can promise you that this is absolutely not the case. For example, my CS jobs, that “required” holiday coverage, and for employees to work “2 out of 3” major winter holidays exempted parents from the requirement, and lied to the rest of the staff about it. Or my job that occasionally required OT coverage mandated that I handle all requests *unless* my coworker with a kid was available, and then she automatically got the OT since it was apparently “unfair” to her otherwise. Somehow.

    6. Rexish*

      As I’m reading this letter, I’m not really convinced that it comes across as GREAT work life balance. Maybe my stnadards are different. Anyways, I would never apply for a job that had the word parent (unless followe by company) in teh listing. If these flexibilities are only available for parents then it mght be worth mentioning.

      1. Assistant to the Regional Manager*

        Yeah this seems like very normal work life balance to me. 8 hour days? Salaried employees being able to take off for appointments? Federal holidays off (this is pretty standard in the non-profit world)? Nothing about this screams amazing work life balance, if the job description also mentioned parents I would run in the other direction.

    7. anonaccountant*

      I can’t speak to LW’s exact org, but I worked in a similar situation. Pay wasn’t great, but most other people were working mothers and the schedule and time off was flexible and awesome. I was a caretaker for a grandparent that required a significant amount of planned and unplanned time off. I felt that I had the same flexibility the parents did. We also had someone with a chronic medical condition and she was able to keep her schedule very flexible for frequent appointments.

      As for non-caretaking/medical things, that’s something I’d be interested to know about from LW, also. Are they that flexible with hobbies or volunteer activities, or only more ‘necessary’ time off? Mine was, but I’m not sure what the experiences of others are.

    8. Jennifer Thneed*

      Please do not equate being single with childlessness. Your comment is about being a parent, and marital status is unrelated.

    9. It's me, OP4*

      OP here . Thanks for all the input!!! The flexibility definitely applies to parents and non-parents alike (as long as you’re not using it to put in hours at a side job or anything like that, that would sort of come off as a bit unethical). But say the person was taking classes, had medical appointments, something like that, they could flex their schedule. Our boss is very fair and promotes work-life balance no matter what your situation. It just happens to be that we’re all parents so we tend to use the flexibility for kid-related stuff.

      But honestly the school vacations and hours are also a huge perk – a week off in december, april, and february, lots of 3 day weekends, and most of the time we’re out the door by 4pm. It’s a 12-month position, so you get all school holidays except the summer, PLUS vacation days (which you can obviously use in the summer).

      I’m going to review all of the suggested language and update our posting – there’s some great ideas here!!

      1. Scarlet2*

        And yet you say upthread that
        “That being said, I don’t know how it would go over if someone asked to leave early once a week for a hobby commitment or fitness class…somehow I think that would come off as out of step with the organization.”

        So it seems like there’s a double standard when it comes to flexibility…

      2. Willis*

        I don’t have kids, but an automatic week off in Dec, April, and Feb would be a huge perk for me (assuming it’s paid and I would still have a decent amount of PTO to use flexibly). So I’d think that would be something worth spelling out in the ad vs just saying closed for school holidays, which I’d interpret as federal holidays + a couple random other ones. Maybe folks who already work in education would get it more intuitively, but if you’re recruiting for an account or IT position where someone may be coming from any industry, making the volume of holidays explicit may help.

  2. Zip Silver*

    #4 – isn’t hiring based on family status prohibited? I would err on the side of caution about mentioning parenthood in the advert altogether. It seems like you’d be a screenshot away from getting sued by a single candidate without kids who got passed over got other reasons, but has the job ad saved.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      At the federal level, no, but different states have different provisions re: parental, marital, or family status.

      1. Zip Silver*

        Ah yeah you’re right. A quick Google search tells me that the family status thing I’m thinking of is a housing discrimination bab, rather than an employment description ban.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          It exists in employment, too! But you’re right that the majority of marital or familial status anti-discrimination statutes focus only on discrimination in housing.

    2. NL*

      Why would it be different from saying ‘women and minorities encouraged to apply’? You can’t hire based on those things but you can talk about them in your advertisements.

      1. Zip Silver*

        Again, a screenshot away from a white male getting passed over suing you. It’s not something I would put in a job advert. The standard “We are an EEOC employer” tagline is better.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          The language NL quoted is so common, however, that I think it would be pretty difficult for a white man to get past the motion-to-dismiss stage over a job advertisement encouraging folks from marginalized communities to apply.

          1. Zip Silver*

            Perhaps, but if the workplace is like OP’s, 100% working mother’s (or whichever protected group the job advert specifically asks for), and the white male has the screenshot, you may not be getting that dismissal and have to hash it out.

            1. Loose Seal*

              Of course, that assumes they don’t hire another white male instead of disgruntled white male. The last job that I applied for that wanted women and minorities (I am a woman) hired a white guy. I’m very bitter about that, especially when I look at the pictures for the rest of the people at that level (90% white guys, are you surprised?).

              1. Kat in VA*

                I have, gently and not-so-gently, given my exec chaff about the company hiring yet another white guy for the c-suite position that was open to round out our (now) entirely white-male set of C-suite executives.

            2. Dan*

              Practically speaking, I wouldn’t sue for an underpaying job unless I was looking for a quick payout. And most non-profits aren’t known for their deep pockets. White guys who would have a legitimate shot at the job (and an actual chance at winning the suit and thus options elsewhere) are far more likely to take the higher pay somewhere else and let sleeping dogs lie.

              Because of that, what worries me more is how this cycle contributes to the gender wage gap, and I don’t say this to be inflammatory. If one’s org is paying below market wages and marketing the company to non-white males, then they will continue the cycle of non-white males making below market wages.

              1. Jaydee*

                Yup. You’ve got an organization full of working moms. Not working *parents*, just moms. Not people with family caregiver responsibilities in general. Moms.

                That’s exactly how the wage gap comes to be and is perpetuated. “Women are more motivated by flexible scheduling and other benefits than by salary.” “Women don’t work as much/as hard as men because they need time off to do things with their kids, so why should they be paid as much?” “If women want to make more money, they should go get higher paying jobs.”

                Then, when families need childcare or elder care or housekeeping or any other sort of domestic work because the woman is working, the calculation of the reasonableness of the cost is based on her salary and work-related expenses, not the salary and work-related expenses of a male partner. So the income of again, primarily women, in caregiving and housekeeping jobs is artificially deflated because its value is capped on the income of women in other professions, which is lower than the income of men in those professions.

              2. CmdrShepard4ever*

                But I would argue that they are not pay below market rates. OP said in the letter they pay in line with other non profits, that is a better basis for market rate. Yes they do pay lower than private sector employees but I think that is a different market.

                I do get what you are saying though about contributing to gender wage gaps, or non-profit jobs attracting people who don’t need the money and thus keeping salaries artificially low. But another problem with non-profits is also the overhead cost to mission cost ratio (I forget what the name is) people want to donate to organizations that have a low admin/overhead cost score, but what people don’t realize is that means paying employees as low as possible.

                1. Autumnheart*

                  It’s not a different market, it’s just an excuse to, well, pay people below market rate. It’s not like the work is easier, the job security is better, or there’s a better retirement plan. You just get paid less for the same work.

        2. Jennifer*

          It’s not discrimination to encourage people from marginalized groups to apply. It’s not the same as saying “we aren’t hiring white men so don’t bother applying.”

          This reminds me of when the actress Brie Larson said she was going to give the advantage to women and minority journalists on her Captain Marvel press tour, and so many white dudes lost their ever-loving minds despite the fact that they still hold the majority of those types of jobs and weren’t excluded from the press tour at all.

          1. Crivens!*

            To be fair, making a certain type of white dude lose their everloving minds over incorrectly perceived injustice is like shooting fish in a barrel.

          2. LabTechNoMore*

            This. It’s one thing to try and ensure you’re getting an applicant pool sufficiently diverse and representative of the population, it’s another to make a hiring decision based on it. Also the boilerplate nature of the language and similarity to the “We will not discriminate based on race/sex/religion/sexuality”-type statements makes it pretty meaningless in practice.

        3. EA in CA*

          OMG this reminds me of a news story I saw recently about two families getting notice of a human rights violation complaint against them for not choosing this guy (single, white male) for babysitting jobs posted on Kijiji (it’s like Craigslist).

    3. Zip Silver*

      You know, that I think about it, phrasing how to specially mention that you offer great work/life balance isn’t the issue here (sidenote, I wish it were possible to edit comments), this issue is OP’s standards for a below market value position:

      ” We have a hard time staffing our business office positions because our standards are very high, and while our salaries are competitive for the nonprofit industry, we definitely can’t come close to what’s offered in the corporate sector. So when we hire for say, an accountant, most of our candidates are very junior and not up to our standards despite how explicit I am about our experience requirements and the responsibilities of the position.”.

      The problem is that the orgs standards are too high. If they want a CPA with 5 years of experience but can’t pay what the private sector can, then where are they going to find these people? Magically find a woman who recently had a child and is willing to take a $30k paycut because they can leave an hour or two early some days to handle childcare?

      It seems that the solution is to lower your standards to match your pay rate. Perhaps a CPA with less experience, or someone without their Masters but more experience, or someone with their Masters but no experience.

      Unemployment is at 3%, companies need to catch up, it’s a sellers market right now. You can’t demand as much as you could during the Recession.

      1. TL -*

        Honestly, this was my thought. That kind of flexibility isn’t terribly unusual in white collar jobs (in my experience) and it would be more valuable to someone at the start of their career with less options than to someone who is experienced enough to be competitive for a job that’s both well paid and flexible.

        1. Dan*

          Yeah, I wrote my own post below, but the OP isn’t offering anything notable to a candidate that would meet their high standards. They’re actually offering the bare minimum to that sort of candidate.

          I’m not much of a WFH guy (I go into the office pretty much every day) but WFH is freely available when I need it. I can definitely say that I’m at the point where I pretty expect it given my line of work. So the notion that I have to “earn” it or be on some probationary period actually comes across as a bit patronizing and wouldn’t earn a potential employer any bonus points.

          1. Liz*

            Yup. I am the same way. in my dept, everyone works from home at least one day a week, or in the case of my new boss, maybe when his kids are off, and childcare isn’t available. they’re old enough not to need constant supervision so WFH isn’t an issue, but not old enough to be left at home alone.

            I personally don’t like to WFH, but its nice when the weather is crappy, as i hate driving in snow, etc. or I have a delivery, or even an appt. after work, closer to home, where its more convenient to leave from there vs. work, and i just have to text or eamil my bosses and say hey, working from home today…as long as i get done what needs to be done, which I do, its good.

          2. boo bot*

            Yeah. I don’t know how much of an experience gap you’re seeing in the applicants, but I wondered if it might make more sense to take on some of the junior people who are applying and invest in doing some training – that would be incredibly valuable to someone looking to move up in their career.

        2. Joielle*

          I did think this as well. I’m in the public sector but well-paid for my position, and the flexibility the OP describes is like, the bare minimum that I would expect if looking for a job. At the start of my career, I would have been really impressed – now, not so much.

          Certainly, OP should emphasize the great culture in the job posting, but I get the sense that OP thinks the culture is the key to getting ideal applicants – like, if only they knew about the flexibility, they’d be beating down the door! But I hope OP is not disappointed if, even with a job posting that describes the culture well, she doesn’t get the caliber of applicants she would prefer. People have more options than they used to.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Nonprofits can absolutely have high standards about who they hire! There are a lot of highly skilled candidates who specifically want to do work that’s meaningful to them and are willing to take less money in order to do so. (Otherwise everyone staffing nonprofits would be second-rate or junior level, and they’re not.)

        The trick is to find those candidates — which is partly about how you write the posting and how you talk about the things that might appeal to those candidates other than pay (culture, flexibility, meaningful work with the chance to make a real impact, etc.), but it’s also about what strategies you use to build your candidate pool. You’ve got to be thoughtful about where you’re looking for candidates and you’ve got to mine your networks and be really proactive about your overall recruitment strategy.

        It’s also about making sure you’re genuinely an attractive place to work — well managed, etc.

        1. Zip Silver*

          Sure, everybody’s entitled to their own standards, I certainly have my own when I hire. But the reality is that unemployment is very low and there isn’t a glut of highly experienced and skilled job seekers willing to work for a lower salary like there was 5-10 years ago during the Recession is still there. Plus, people often say that “job requirements” in postings aren’t necessarily “this person has to tick all the boxes”, but more of an ideal, however the impression I get from the OP is that she’s looking for people who only tick all the boxes.

          I just think she ought to consider reassessing how important each requirement actually is when going through candidates.

          1. Gaia*

            As a highly skilled worker in a very competitive and in demand field, I left high paying jobs at for profit orgs because I wanted to do work that was meaningful to me. I took a big pay cut to do so. My org is packed with highly skilled workers, most of which came from higher paying jobs.

            Tons of people will make this trade off even in the current job market. The OPs org just needs to find them.

            1. Dan*

              I bet it would be very helpful to the OP if you could give some advice on how to recruit and market for this sort of job seeker.

            2. One of the Sarahs*

              It does depend completely on the non-profit field, though. It’s not all non-profit = amazing cause to get behind. Some are pretty pedestrian or (like the ones I worked at in the beginning of my career) working on harrowing or depressing subjects.

              (I may be biased – I left charity work because I burned out on urgent pushing for the cause, and at well-below-market-rate-but-some-other-charities-pay-worse, it just wasn’t worth the stress. Like others, I wonder if OP sees that the benefits feel great compared to other non profits in her area, but doesn’t realise they’re pretty standard for public sector and a lot of private)

            3. Allypopx*

              I have also spent my career thusfar getting paid well before market value to work in nonprofits. And my husband is a teacher, so. I hope when I finish my MBA my pay potential will go up a bit, but things like job flexibility and other perks are a big part of what attracts me to jobs.

              1. Gaia*

                Dan, my advise would be to talk BIG about the mission and get the ad in front of people interested in the mission. It is a smaller market, sure, but it isn’t impossible. And I also like the advise of being willing to invest in some folks with less experience wanting to grow their career.

                One of the Sarahs, I agree that not ever non profit is for everyone. I work at one that is very uplifting to me. I couldn’t work at one dealing in something like mistreated children or elderly no matter how much it paid. We’ve all got to find our fit :)

                Allypopx, good point. To be fair not all non profits pay below market wages. Mine is actually pretty close to market pay but I came from a way above market pay industry, this my paycut.

          2. Lucette Kensack*

            The nonprofit sector is it’s own little world. In my experience (15+ years in the sector), nearly everyone is a lifer. As long as a salary is competitive for the nonprofit sector, it’s not going to be a hindrance for an organization in hiring.

        2. Dan*

          “There are a lot of highly skilled candidates who specifically want to do work that’s meaningful to them and are willing to take less money in order to do so.”

          AAM, I know you have a background in non-profits so you know of what you speak. But the “work for less pay if the mission is good/work is meaningful” is more true for people/roles where the role is specific to the work’s mission. It’s less true for back end support roles, which the OP specifically calls out as being problematic. I’m no accountant, but I do work in tech in DC and non-profits cross my radar (hell, I work for one.) As far as I’m concerned, if the role isn’t central to the org’s mission, there’s no “feel good” discount for my services.

          And I’ll be honest, I work where I do because the pay is quite decent, if not good; the benefits rock, and the work/life balance is through the roof. I’m a single-income household, and I gots bills to pay, so I don’t work at a discount unless I have darn good reasons for it.

          It is possible to find people willing to work at the non-profit “discount”, but with unemployement at historic lows, it’s getting harder and harder. And when employment is this low and the labor market this tight, orgs have to rethink their comp policies whether they like it or not.

          1. AcademiaNut*

            That’s a good point. I work in academia, and there are lots of people who would work for significantly less than they could make in industry because they love research and want an academic career. So there’s a long line of qualified people who want the jobs, and low turnover.

            Finding really good IT people who are willing to work for what we can pay them and capable of doing what we need is a lot harder. If we’re lucky, we get a brilliant but eccentric Unix type who loves the university environment and the need to be an expert at a variety of disparate things, and is not too concerned with money. Otherwise, you have to resign yourself to getting a lot of junior people who get some good experience, then go off to triple their salary in industry (these days we lose a lot of machine learning experts this way, too).

            Fundamentally, it’s going to come down to just how big the difference between corporate jobs and what the OP is recruiting for, given the level of employee they want to attract. A flexible schedule, school holidays off, and the chance to work for a good cause are definitely worth something, but if you can’t afford a decent daycare, or an apartment within a reasonable commute, or decent health care, it’s not enough of a draw. It also occurs to me that when there’s a big difference between non-profit and for profit jobs, and a high cost of living, you have a trend where people leave the non profit sector when they want to start a family, because it’s not financially practical to support someone on what they earn.

            1. blackcat*

              My institution has a good policy on this: IT folks have a shorter timeline for being able to take free classes. So we hire a lot of talented young folks who want some specialized masters degree. They stay 4 years, accept the lowish pay in exchange for a free masters degree. And I have zero complaints about our IT team. (Our HR is terrible. HR needs to pay more!)

            2. M*

              True about IT and academia. I worked at an Ivy as senior leadership and some of our IT people taught themselves. My university paid very well and had excellent benefits but they still struggled to hire IT. I tried to get HR to, like the OP, focus on families mainly because of our good work/ life balance, and how our university paid for school and college for children. It was an excellent benefit not known to most people. It was still difficult even though our university could pay good (6 figures) salaries it could not compete with IT who had say 15 years of experience and salary at private sector. Our very top people were excellent but it was very difficult to hire IT.

              1. A Non E. Mouse*

                I tried to get HR to, like the OP, focus on families mainly because of our good work/ life balance, and how our university paid for school and college for children.

                The second part (tuition for my children) would interest me, but the first I would think was complete and utter B.S.

                The longer I’m in IT, the worse my schedule gets. Who gets calls at midnight? Me. Because despite my dedication to documenting everything, the night guy still ran into a problem he couldn’t solve on his own.

                Most server maintenance is done during off hours. Sure, I can do most of that remotely from home….but I’m still working on a Saturday, aren’t I? That it’s in my jammies is only a small consolation.

                I know this is a level lower than university, but I can tell you that our local school districts run into problems hiring IT, and while some of the administrative staff rave about following the school schedules (so that work/life balance is great *for them*), the IT staff are still there on the days off – hell they are actively scheduling stuff for those days everyone else has off! It’s the perfect time to install new hardware, run new cabling (no one in the way or kvetching about losing connectivity), reboot that cranky server, etc.

                So back to my original point (sorry! Long-winded today!): if I saw a job ad saying that as an IT person I’d have an academic calendar-driven work/life balance, I’d think they person writing it had no clue how IT actually works. They’d have to be WAY more specific – like making it clear on-call time was evenly distributed, that IT staff had rotating “academic schedule” calendar time off so that everyone got to enjoy some time during the summer, that the place hired enough people to actually make all that happen, rather than staffing at 50% of their actual need and hoping for the best, etc.

                1. A Non E. Mouse*

                  Addendum: an example would be “Fully-staffed IT department with rotating long weekends in the summer and flexibility with local district academic calendar, WFH encouraged” would catch my eye.

                  “Work/life balance” would read to me to mean “we’ll let you leave early for a doctor’s appointment without docking your PTO, but *only* because you just spent 20 hours last weekend upgrading the VM stack” and I’d PFFFFTTTT at it out loud.

          2. Liz*

            your company sounds a lot like mine! Mine is a classified as a “not for profit” and is a member service org. for a specific industry. Pay is decent, esp. for where I am, which has a high cost of living, but the benefits? Amazing. and the closer i get to retirement (just under 15 years) the more important that is. And i can say with certainty, there is no way I’d go somewhere else and get even a fraction of the benefits i get here.

            Also a single income household, which is just me, so i pay it all. and do it all. So while yeah, i might think about working for a non-profit if i believed in the mission, but not really sure that my bank account would allow me to!

        3. MK*

          Alison, the fact is that the OP’s organisation is struggling to find candidates that meet their standards at the salary they offer. It may be that people who meets those standards and would be willing to accept that salary exist and it’s just a question of finding them. But I am doubtful that the only problem is the wording of the advertisement; it’s at least possible that part of the problem, maybe even the main part, is that those standards are simply not to be got at that salary. It’s something for the OP to consider.

          Also, the work/life balance to me sounds good but not amazing, and to get someone to choose this over a much better paying job, it usually has to be amazing (or the person has to be really invested in the cause). Is it really so hard for accountant to find work with set hours that they would be willing to take a huge pay cut?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I didn’t mean to imply the main issue is wording in their ad. It’s far more likely to be about how they’re building their candidate pool and targeting their recruitment efforts more than about the wording in an ad. It could also be salary, of course.

            But I’m disagreeing with the idea that you can’t be highly selective about who you hire while paying salaries that are competitive among nonprofits but not outside the sector. There are nonprofits with incredibly rigorous/selective hiring, and they fill their positions with excellent people. (That said, I have no idea what salaries the OP’s organization is paying so don’t know if they might be the obstacle after all.)

            1. MK*

              Ok, but my question is this: If you are offering the same or slightly higher salary as other nonprofits, are you also expecting the same level of skill and expierience as they are? If not, you are not really offering a competive salary, or more accurately, the comparison is irrelevant. The OP put emphasis on their high standards, so I am wondering if they are demanding more than thye can reallistically get. If they are offering the same/a bit higher salary, but other orgs are willing to hire new grads, while they want 5 years expierience, their candidate pool will be very small. Also, if the same positions in other nonprofits are typically filled by less quaified candidates, that might be an extra problem, because it might feel like a quasi-demotion as well as a paycut.

              1. Annony*

                Exactly this. How competitive is the salary if you only look at non profits? If they have very high standards and a below average non profit salary, they may need to change one of those things.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                This is just not how it works in nonprofits, in my experience. People who want to do mission-based work* are highly motivated by that and will know the deal with nonprofit salaries. Having rigorous hiring can actually be a draw to candidates if they can see it’s tied to rigorous management or a prestigious organization, which it often is.

                (* There are nonprofits that aren’t mission-based, and I’m not talking about them here.)

            2. JamieS*

              Sure they can be highly selective and may possibly find highly skilled talent willing to work at below market. However that doesn’t change the fact that it’s harder to find candidates that meet those expectations compared to paying market rate so it’s more likely a below market employer will have to adjust their standards from “exceptional” to ” pretty good”.

              Also the fact OP specifically said they’re mostly getting junior applicants is suggestive that the standards are too high. “Passion in the mission” only goes so far and occasionally leaving an hour or teo early probably isn’t enough of a benefit to outweigh the drawbacks of being paid junior salary for senior demands.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                If we take her at her word, she’s not paying below market for her market, which is nonprofits. It’s worth her confirming that’s really the case, though.

                1. JamieS*

                  She’s not paying below market for non-profits but that tells us nothing about the pay compared to the for-profit market or whether her non-profit is one where it’s more likely someone is willing to sacrifice salary for the mission. The exact positions she’s trying to fill may also be a factor (such as community outreach coordinator vs accountant).

                  All we know is there are apparently very high standards and her candidate pool is filled with junior candidates. That suggests a strong possibility, but not an absolute certainty, that looking at the full picture either the demands are too high or the salary too low.

        4. triplehiccup*

          The high standards themselves can be part of the marketing, especially if the organization becomes well known for excellence. It worked very well for the last nonprofit I worked at. People were willing to make a little less because they were proud to work there. The org stands out on a resume, all of your coworkers are highly competent, you learn constantly, and all of your work samples for future jobs are excellent. The training and feedback I got there is responsible for the work sample that clinched my current job at a significant increase. But this didn’t happen by accident – it was a long-term strategy.

        5. EventPlannerGal*

          I don’t think anyone has said that non-profits can’t be selective? The issue is that this non-profit is being *exceptionally* selective, while also offering competitive but not exceptional pay by non-profit standards and some benefits that, while nice, aren’t terribly hard to come by these days. If that’s the case, they’re basically relying on exceptional people feeling passionately enough about their mission to take the unexceptional pay, in which case they can’t really be surprised if it takes a while to find those people. Focusing exclusively on how they describe one benefit in the ad seems like it’s really missing the point of why they’re finding it hard to recruit the type of person they’re looking for.

        6. K. H. Wolf*

          This question intrigued me, so I found some articles. I was surprised that the non profit paycut is actually pretty low, depending on job title and seniority. For a non-managing accountant, they may be over-estimating the appropriate paycut for working in a non-profit.

          Government Study from Census Data

          Broad Private Survey (Intent was to see how perceived meaningfulness of work affected pay)

          For full disclosure, I’m an entry-level accountant working in an educational non-profit. I applied because I’m earning more than I would in a comparable for-profit entry-level job, by about 10%.

        7. Dust Bunny*

          I work for a nonprofit with high standards and below-market pay and it’s pretty well understood that certain positions will turn over every few years–people are hiring into them to get experience that will help them get jobs at bigger, better-compensated organizations. So if the OP wants to hold onto these employees, they need to either expect less or pay more.

      3. TechWorker*

        It’s not entirely clear from the letter but if the office basically shuts down during school holidays (my company used to have that set up for some folk in accounting/recruitment because the work was part time and seasonal) then that’s a major benefit for working parents – well beyond ‘leave a bit early to get your kid’

        1. MK*

          I think it’s pretty unlikely that the org shuts down for weeks at Christmas and Easter and months in the summer.

          1. doreen*

            Probably not for the summer (although it’s possible*) – but the letter says “we get all the school vacations off”, so it seems the organization does shut down for the week-long vacations.

            * An organization that works very closely with schools ( such as an afterschool program located in a school ) might keep to the school schedule.

            1. WellRed*

              Or it means all the parents get them off while others elsewhere in the organization do not. Which is not terribly appealing.

            2. De Minimis*

              I worked for a similar nonprofit that always closed the last two weeks of the year. I think it’s not unheard of just because it’s difficult to get a lot done during that time because so many people tend to be out of the office.

              We didn’t have any other times where we’d be closed for an extended period though.

      4. fhqwhgads*

        I was thinking about this as well. OP said “competitive for nonprofits” but still way shy of for-profits. I suppose it may vary significantly more than just what I’ve experienced, but it seems to me the higher end of what you’d get for a non-profit gig should be closer to the lower end of what you’d get in for-profit. So possibly this is not actually “competitive” at all, even for non-profits. Perhaps it’s just in-line with most similarly sized non-profits are offering, but if the comparison isn’t to other non-profits with the same exacting standards then…that’s not actually competitive. There is a limit to how much schedules flexibility and extra vacation/holidays/sick pay will make up for $$, and highly skilled people with options will do that math. There may be no magic language OP can use to get more applicants that meet their standards and are willing to make the trade, depending on exactly how big the gap in pay is.

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, based on your comment about Jerry appealing a dismissal, it sounds like Jerry may be covered by a CBA or other civil service due process protections. It’s not clear to me if management is ignoring the problem because they’re incompetent, or if they’re ignoring it because they don’t want to be bothered going through the steps required for separation. Obviously neither of those scenarios is great, but your strategy may change based on whether this is incompetence or it’s a failure to manage.

    It may be helpful to see what you need to do (or not do) in order to build a defensible case for separation—this often requires a lot more documentation than other processes. But if he continues to be horrible, all you can do is try your best to keep his inappropriate behaviors in check (e.g., checking on others’ work) while insulating the team from him. Unfortunately, he’s going to continue to be a morale suck.

    1. blaise zamboni*

      If this is the case, I wonder if it’s possible for the company to put him on an extended paid leave? I do think that, jerk or not, no one should be fired while dealing with major health crises like this. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the team needs to be subjected to him for the duration. Even a reduced schedule or a partial- or full-WFH situation might help team morale, and it would alleviate his customer service impact. Personally I’d just want him out of the way completely, though.

      My friend’s company recently put someone on a very, very, very long paid leave because his family member was under investigation for defrauding the company and breaking all sorts of laws related to their industry. It was a shocking event and it definitely affected morale, but things were markedly improved (at least from her perspective) once the guy had been on leave for a couple of weeks. Out of sight, out of mind type of reaction. There was still a sense of unfairness and resentment, especially from his team which was left understaffed, but not having him around to remind them made a big difference.

      1. blaise zamboni*

        Actually, I just reread and realized that Jerry has already recovered and is just…coasting off an old diagnosis? Jerry sucks. Sorry OP. I don’t know the protections PCBH is talking about but totally agree that you should check with management regarding his situation, and see what you can do on your end to document and challenge whatever is going on with him.

        1. Pants*

          As someone who has been through cancer and is fine now, I believe the cancer card can only be played for so long. Years out is well beyond the cancer card’s expiration in my opinion. Of course, this varies based on all sorts of mitigating factors, but since Jerry sounds like butt boil in general, I’m betting he’s beyond the statute of limitations.

        2. OP#1*

          I appreciate your sympathy. My organization is notoriously terrified of lawsuits. It’s been my suspicion for awhile that they are afraid any attempts to fire him will be turned into an ADA-related lawsuit. I don’t have any evidence, of course, but it’s honestly the only explanation I can come up with at this point. Jerry drives me nuts and he’s the kind of employee that gives us government workers a bad name.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            …and they’re not afraid of racial harassment/discrimination lawsuits from the people Jerry says the N-word to?

            JFC. White supremacy at work.

            1. Kat in VA*

              Jerry strikes me as the kind of guy who rails that Mohammad the neurosurgeon is STEALIN OUR JERBS.

              Because he doesn’t work but pulls a paycheck, is coasting off an old diagnosis and really really milking it for all it is worth, threatens (?) to sue if someone decides to actually force him to do what he is paid for, is lazy, rude, and a RACIST BASTARD to boot…he’s still divinely entitled to his position and all its benefits because he’s a white dude and therefore somehow a special, protected class.

              The mind boggles.

    2. Quill*

      Absolutely document the racism even if you don’t think it can be directly used to build a case right now, if only to CYA.

      1. JohannaCabal*

        This. Plus, if Jerry says something racist to a client or customer who films it, that’s just asking for it to go viral. Then your org has a PR nightmare on its hands.

      2. LizM*

        Also document your attempts to report it. In my agency, as a supervisor, I can be disciplined for failing to address harassment. If someone were to rule a formal complaint, I would want documentation I’d followed policy to the best of my ability to address it.

      3. Gazebo Slayer*

        Seriously! You don’t want to wake up to find you org is the next trending hashtag for all the wrong reasons.

    3. Brett*

      If this is public sector in the US, then Jerry has Loudermill rights (actually all employees have them to some extent, but it only matters for employers covered by the 5th or 14th amendment). The most important part of this is that most public employees have a right to a post-termination hearing to challenge evidence against them used for a termination. (There is a pre-termination hearing as well, commonly called a Loudermill hearing, but that one is not required to be a full evidentiary hearing.) No cba, civil service rules, or union membership are required to have these rights.
      Most employers are not prepared for the legal scrutiny of the post-termination hearing (especially if it gets appealed to the court system), and that can easily result in an overturned termination. Unpaid suspensions are subject to the same process, and can result in penalties against the employer if they lose the case (which is why paid suspensions are so common in the public sector).
      PCBH is absolutely right that you need to build a defensible case. Sounds like Jerry used the post-termination process once, so he will likely use it again. I have seen a case built for a termination that stuck, but it has to be well documented pattern with lots of notification to the employee.

    4. MysteryFan*

      As a former supervisor in a large US Government agency, I second the suggestion to document, manage, correct, require sensitivity training, etc etc.. with as much energy as you can muster. You may not be able to persuade Jerry to quit, but you may at least be able to show the rest of your team that you are doing all you can. As Civil Service employees themselves, they likely know how difficult your job is and how limited your options are, but don’t give up on being a conscientious manager. they will appreciate it!
      As a side note of personal experience, it is easier to terminate an employee for a Conduct violation (ie drug test, cheating on his timesheet etc.) than for Performance issues. So keep a sharp eye out for anything he is doing that could rise to that level. It is harder for upper management to ignore. Best of luck OP#1.

  4. Zip Silver*

    #1 – Jerry sounds about like the average USPS employee inside every post office I’ve been to.

    Anyway, I manage customer facing employees who work with the general public, and typically when I have customer service issues with staff, I try and correct it in the moment. Not necessarily in front of the customer (although if he’s being outright rude, you might as well do it and take over the situation/customer interaction), but definitely shortly afterwards. You may not be able to fire him, but you can micromanage him up until he either until he changes or until he gets annoyed enough to leave it transfer elsewhere. Normally I wouldn’t recommend micromanaging folks, but you can really discipline him otherwise.

    1. Mike C.*

      That’s odd, all the USPS employees I run into are hard working, ethical folks who will literally go to the ends of the earth to make sure mail is delivered.

      1. Sharkie*

        Can I move to your area? The mail people in my area are not that great- Smoking inside and blowing smoke in my face, opening my birthday packages and taking special treats from home, straight up not picking up mail from personal mailboxes because ” we don’t do that on this route- the post office is less then a mile away you can drop it off yourself” (????). You get the picture.

        Zip Sliver I totally agree with you. I am in a semi public-facing position and this is the strategy our managers use- I guess it is easier for them to micromanage bad employees to subtly annoy people to leave then straight up firing people.
        OP I would also add that you should document everything especially if that word is being thrown around.

        1. Sharkie*

          Also a disclaimer on the USPS thing- Some employees are amazing, others not so much. Like any large company, there are going to be some not so great locations :) My old post office was amazing and I miss it so much, 2 newest ones are/ were meh.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            They’re also moved around a ton, based on a region’s need, especially now that Amazon is doing their own delivery. So this can often affect their level of competence IN THAT LOCATION. At home they’re probably rock stars.

            – a happy mail junkie with a crapload of post office experience as a customer….yes, I always have the pretty stamps. ;)

        2. I'm A Little Teapot*

          If they’re opening your packages, that may be a federal offense. File a complaint. I have zero qualms about getting people fired if they’ve earned it.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            They can open packages but they’re supposed to leave a note about it. They are allowed to inspect packages under certain circumstances.

            But that aside, it’s next to impossible to get a USPS employee fired for their gross misconduct in lots of areas since they have such insane standards for the hiring process and steel CBAs.

        3. SheLooksFamiliar*

          I got a UPS mailbox years ago because my small, local post office was so imcompetent and rude. For example, my ex was able to get my mail forwarded to his house several times, despite my repeated demands they never do that unless I came in person to request forwarding. My neighbors tell me the service has gotten better because there’s a new regional manager, but I’m not sold. A lot of the old staff is still there, and they acted like they were invincible because they really didn’t face consequences – much like the OP’s Jerry.

          By contrast, the post office north of my town is awesome.

        4. Lucy Preston*

          Ditto. Some are nice, most are awful. If you complain you get told “they’re union”, so there is nothing the supervisor can do because it’s a two-sided story.

          In one of the neighboring cities, one delivery person just dumped all of the packages in the middle of the street and left.

          To OP #1, my sympathies. I currently have, and have had other Jerrys.

      2. Quill*

        My local post office is full of friendly people who are generally speaking a heck of a lot stronger than me due to all the box lifting.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          Mine, too! This is the small town I live in, but actually, even the folks at the main post office at the city I work in seem like pretty good folks to me. A little rules-obsessed, maybe, but polite, detail-oriented and hard-working.

      3. 2 Cents*

        The mail carriers are that way. Anyone I’ve dealt with at the actual post office acts like I’m taking up their valuable time…even though they are paid to help me with a package. Plus, there’s someone here who’s stealing from mail (why would every birthday-looking card I receive be pre-ripped open otherwise!?).

      4. Goldfinch*

        What an odd fanboi response.

        My tiny town is the training point for the local USPS hubs. We get all the new people, all the time, and they get rotated out the second they gain any visible competence. If you’re old enough to remember Cheers, there was a scene where Cliff the mailman leaves an apartment hallway, and all the doors immediately open so the residents can exchange their wrongly-delivered mail. That’s my life.

          1. Goldfinch*

            “Acknowledging reality” =/= “acting disrespectfully”. There are incompetent people in every field, and acting like any particular job is populated by nothing but diligent saints is disingenuous.

        1. Louise*

          How is it a “fanboi” response to point out that assumptions about government workers who are underpaid and underfunded and underresourced are often inaccurate and, if I can add, coded with classism?

      5. De Minimis*

        As a former USPS employee, thanks for your support. I worked with a wide range of people there, most were really hardworking and conscientious, and sadly there were a few who did live up to the stereotypes. Management fostered a toxic environment [think it’s safe to say that’s universal throughout the USPS] and unfortunately that allows the bad behavior to persist. Glad to be out of there.

        1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

          I think he was serious and my experience is the same as his.

          My mailman is Gus and he’s awesome!

    2. BadWolf*

      I was thinking the same (not about USPS) — annoy him into doing his job or leaving. But enthusiastic micromanage sounds like a better way to phrase it.

    3. LQ*

      Idunno sounds like every for profit call center employee to me. I don’t think it’s a great thing to just be like all these people are the worst and we should get rid of this very critical public service. (Yes, mail matters.)

      That said, I think that micromanaging him is absolutely the way to go. Document the life out of it. Make clear, simple instructions and when he doesn’t follow them document it and push again.

      Around here leadership will often say no to firing someone, but that’s because supervisors come in and are like, “Jerry is rude and racist and we should fire him.” BUT If they go to leadership with, “I’ve been managing Jerry’s performance closely for the last year because it’s out of sync with the rest of the team and with the expectations for public service that are a part of our mission and I haven’t seen any improvement. Here are the 40 pages of documentation about tasks I’ve given him that he’s refused, items I’ve coached him on repeatedly that his coworkers excelled at after the first mention, and instances of inappropriate language with customers and coworkers. What should I do next?” Those Jerry’s have been fired. But it’ll take about 6-9 months of about half your time. So part of this is do you want to spend that time to get him out. I recommend it, but it’s a lot of work.

      1. Dino*

        This is the best comment I’ve seen about this. While the cancer angle does change things a bit (there might be still more pushback even with documentation, at least up to a point) I think this is the way to go. It’s labor intensive and aggravating, but it has the best chance of getting Jerry out and returning morale to a positive place.

    4. WellRed*

      Yes, micromanage him until he’s not having fun anymore. Says something racist? Call him out on it. Rude to a customer. Call him out on it and give him a CS refresher. Tries to boss coworkers around? Tell him to cut it out (frankly, I’d kinda like you to do that in front of his coworkers) and in private say, “I’ve asked you not to do that, can you tell me what’s going on?” Over and over and every single time. It sounds like, because the big bosses have told you Jerry’s not going anywhere you’ve decided not to manage him, but you can to a certain extent.

    5. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

      My post office has AMAZING staff whom I love. Not only are they great to work with in the post office, but here is a thing that happened to me:

      I ordered a dress through Amazon for a wedding. It shipped a day late, via USPS. the tracking showed that it had arrived at the post office that morning. Freaking out. I needed the dress by 2pm! I called the post office to see if they physically had the package and could they hold it for me to run and pick it up. They said, nope, we got you. We’ll put it on a truck and deliver it to you right now.

      I had my dress in 30 minutes. Try that with UPS.

      <3 <3 <3 <3

      1. blackcatlady*

        Agree with the micromanaging and documentation route. We had someone in at my work that did have some health issues but the biggest disability was total lack of work ethic. Finally person was allowed to retire after several months of intense overseeing.

        1. nonymous*

          oohh yes! in addition to cya documentation might be able to justify that Jerry should really be on disability.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It drastically depends on location.

        I’ve got amazing postal service one place and awful stereotypical service others. Rural areas are incredibly hit or miss.

        I say this as someone who’s had personal and business experiences with them.

        But the actual 1-800 number experience has been obscenely awful every time. Including trying to report carriers who have been seen purposely destroying mail, theft of mail and refusal to deliver because of utter BS reasons (aka they don’t want to get out of the truck, they have prewritten “sorry we missed you” paperwork prefilled.) Along with lost package hell of course.

    6. LawBee*

      “#1 – Jerry sounds about like the average USPS employee inside every post office I’ve been to.”
      I wonder if there’s something about you that’s causing them to react that way? I’ve lived all over, and the postal service employees have either been lovely or professionally neutral.

          1. Louise*

            Right?? Something tells me that it folks are maybe telling on themselves with how they treat public service workers if *all* their experiences have been so negative…

        1. Former Employee*

          “Nice try, though.”

          People reporting their own experience and wondering why theirs is so much more positive than what someone else related isn’t a “nice try”. That’s like saying that the negative experiences are factual while the positive ones are based on life in a parallel universe.

      1. SweetFancyPancakes*

        I agree. The last carrier I had at my old house was a bit grumpy because my chihuahua always barked at him, but he never stopped delivering my mail for me, and in my new town (which is very small and very rural), the staff has always been really nice. In fact, last Saturday I ran into one of them at a community event and she mentioned that I had a package waiting for me. I told her I knew it, but I hadn’t gotten in early enough to pick it up, so she had me meet her at the back door and she went in and grabbed it for me.

    7. EH*

      From what I hear (I am acquainted with a couple of current/former USPS workers), the postal service overworks its people horribly and always has, and it’s only gotten worse with Amazon demanding lower rates for faster service.

      Makes me a lot more patient with the annoying or otherwise not-great USPS people I’ve interacted with.

    8. CheeryO*

      Maligning an entire agency’s employees based on your limited personal experiences is a weird flex, but okay.

    9. emmelemm*

      Yeah, let’s not malign the entirety of the US Postal Service. Just like some for-profit businesses, they probably have some poorly managed locations and some well managed locations.

      My mom was having problems with her mail carrier misdelivering a lot of mail and a couple of other kind of obnoxious things, and she complained at her Post Office, and a supervisor came to her house to apologize!

  5. Marmaduke*

    OP3, while you’re talking to your boss you might also consider offering to send over an email reminder. Since you have good rapport with the boss I think it’s likely that it just slips her mind, and an email can be really helpful because she can pop in an order on the spot as she’s reading.

    1. Pony tailed wonder*

      Perhaps you could include in the email a few chair options with prices and links listed as well? She mat not know which are better choices.

      1. Venus*

        I completely agree with this. Most people are too distracted with other problems to spend a lot of time researching chairs (there are so many options so it could take quite a bit of time), and more importantly she may not want to commit to anything because she doesn’t know what will be better for you. If you helpfully pick out a couple options then I think the chances of having a new chair greatly increase.

      2. Michelle*

        This works well with my boss. If I need to ask for something, I always have options that I can present and it usually gets approved.

      3. AnnaBananna*

        I was just coming here to comment this exact thing.

        Since New Boss Is New, it might be kinder to do a little pre-shopping research and find examples of the same chair but without arms, and see how low you can get the price, so Procurement doesn’t have to stew on it so long. Then bring the list of options to the next 1X1 you both have. She’d probably really appreciate the assist. :)

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah. Chairs are such a personal choice. What I like isn’t what my friend likes and so on. My boss let me pick out my chair, so I would have exactly what suits me. I decided to stay with the one I have.
      And I noticed around the house here how different style chairs add to my back pain. No one would know this but ME.
      It’s reasonable to assume, OP, that your boss started looking at chairs and got stuck. Either she became baffled by so many choices OR she was not sure how to reopen the conversation with you in order to buy something you actually like. Or it could be that she is just too busy, this would be my boss. “Get a chair”, and then I hear nothing further and it would be up to me to pick something out and show her for approval.

      I think that you should go ahead and pick a couple chairs. I’d recommend picking different price ranges, but make sure that each choice is something that works for you. My boss is big at looking at the online reviews. I like to look at the negative reviews because those can be specifically telling. Print out your choices because the paper copy is sometime easier to handle for conversation purposes.

      1. AnnaBananna*

        Speaking of back pain. Now that I’m older (and am chronically ill), it really doesn’t matter which work chair I have, they all hurt. The only way out of it is if I pull both feet up to the seat (picture me hugging my knees).

        OP, I feel your pain.

    3. BadWolf*

      Is there an approved catalog/website that you order office stuff from? Can your manager give you a general budget? Maybe you could select a few and send her links. Make it as simple as possible for her to order (or give you the power to order). Something like, “Hey manager, to follow up on possibly getting a new guest chair in your office, I know you’re busy and don’t have time for chair shopping. If you give me a link to where we can order furniture from and a budget, I could make a list of few chairs.” Or whatever is appropriate for ordering in your office.

      I don’t know if it helps, but as someone who is generally short and rather short waisted, arm rests are often uncomfortable for me too (either too high if my put my elbows on them or my elbows are wedged in and that bony bit is rubbing against the armrest). I wouldn’t mind a no-arm rest chair myself.

      1. BadWolf*

        Although now that I’ve said that an armless chair is better for me, some people need the arms to push off from to get up from the chair. Tricky.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          It sounds to me like the existing chair-with-arms wouldn’t be going anywhere. There would instead be both the existing chair and the new chair in boss’s office and a visitor could choose which to sit in when they meet.

      2. smoke tree*

        Yes, I was going to suggest this too. Do a little “managing up” by researching some options and ask the boss if she’d prefer if you order it for her. I wouldn’t worry about trying to find one that looks similar enough to the old one that no one will notice the difference–if she’s asked, I’m sure your boss will just say the old one has worn out.

        1. OP "of size"*

          Thank you to everyone for the suggestion and encouragement. We don’t have an office manager currently so I think that offering some suggestions of some modestly-priced chairs that would work will go a long way towards getting this done.
          There are two chairs in there now so she might opt to keep one of the old ones, but in any case I won’t choose something that others wouldn’t feel comfortable sitting in.
          Lastly, I’d just like to say how much I appreciate Alison and this blog. Anywhere else, I’d be concerned that the conversation would devolve into diet advice and that’s exactly what I don’t want/need.

      3. Veronica*

        With some chairs you can remove the arms by undoing the bolts. They did that with my old desk chair. :)

  6. Lyys*

    The guy in #2? I’d like to work with that guy. An actual conversation I had at work this week after coordinating something-
    Me-“Okay good. I was worried I was being an anal control freak.”
    Coworker-“You kind of have to be.”

    1. Troutwaxer*

      If someone is working heavily with a ticketing system or project management system, noting the project number is probably a helpful necessary courtesy, particularly with a big organization with tens or hundreds of projects in the system. Otherwise, it’s “Riverside project?” The one in California or the one in Ohio?

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        Sure, but it doesn’t have to be the ONLY subject line – I prefer the reference plus the reason for email (“llama herding – feed shortage”, eg)

        1. Kate*

          While it’s super annoying that this coworker just took it upon himself to email everyone and request that all emails “to him” have the subject line template. But… I have to say – some level of standardization can be helpful. Not every single email is going to fit that template. Certain types of requests, requests for info, whatever makes sense for that job – can certainly require some key info in the email subject line. It does really help everyone track and respond to emails, and also makes it easily to quickly understand who the client/project is, what the request is, and if there is a date involved (event date, delivery date, due date, whatever), it helps everyone gauge the appropriate level of urgency. If you send a panicked email about something that isn’t important for another 60-days… and then someone else has an urgent need but doesn’t necessarily write a panicked email… and then it turns out that one is due tomorrow…

          Anyway – I think it makes sense to frame certain emails with a template format like “Project Name / Number / Due Date: and then say what you need here”

          Super annoying the way the idea was shared; but I wouldn’t write it off entirely – I’d say it’s a chance to level set reasonable expectations and maybe put some framework around emails into place for the ones it makes sense to do so!

    2. PollyQ*

      You’re not bothered by the fact that every email on that project will have exactly the same subject line? That seems like the opposite of efficient or effective to me.

      1. Lyys*

        It depends on how you organize them. All emails about Project A go in the Project A folder. They are then separated into various other folders. Depending on the project and how information is moving, folders can be labeled by date or by topic or whatever. I find it all very…soothing I guess is the closest word. I would end up adding more steps to the process. There would be an Urgent (to be dealt with today, no exceptions) folder, and a Reply by [Date which is changed regularly] folder. As each was handled it would be moved to its appropriate subcategory. After the first week, I’d be into the rhythm and it would be automatic. That might seem like a ton of work to people who don’t enjoy the process. For me, it would provide a neatly organized mental inventory and a neatly organized digital inventory and would take minimal time.*

        *See above “anal control freak”

        1. Angelinha*

          Right, I think that’s what PollyQ is saying. If you’re already going to put emails about Project A in the Project A folder, how is it helpful that each email subject line is “Project A 13993” rather than something descriptive about what that particular email contains?

          1. Lyys*

            If it doesn’t make sense to you, it doesn’t make sense. It’s a difference in processing and storing information mentally. You might be a person that color codes. I’d rather have a clearly written label because I don’t easily associate colors with information so color coding adds a “wait, is this pink? Was that supposed to mean sort of urgent or is it not all an offshoot of red means important?”

            I mean, there’s a reason this person wrote in. Because identical subject lines sounds nuts if it doesn’t make sense to you internally.

          2. Decima Dewey*

            Yeah, how do you tell “Project A 13993 is running according to schedule” from “Project A13993 is illegal in Nebraska” or “Project A 13993 requires input from Federal Agency X which we didn’t take into account”?

              1. Deanna Troi*

                But I don’t have time to open 300 emails with the subject line “A13993” when my boss is frantically looking for information about them being illegal in Nebraska. I want it to be in the subject line. Where I work, we have County, Project Number, then topic.

      2. AcademiaNut*

        I work in projects that use a ticketing system, and we have email mailing lists related to particular areas in the project (software, hardware, etc). When you send an email to the list, it’s assigned a tag for that area, plus a sequential number, followed by the subject of the email.

        It works really well. You can easily automatically sort stuff into folders if you want, but you can also look at an email subject line and have an idea what’s in the email without opening it, and you can thread stuff intelligently. It also makes it easy to refer to previous emails.

        Getting twenty or more emails in a day with the same subject and wildly different contents sounds chaotic.

      3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I currently have 50+ live cases and might work on up to a dozen in a single day, so for me it’s absolutely crucial that the subject line identifies the case or at least case-family with accuracy. My spouse on the other hand works on one (maybe max two) projects at a time so for him it would mean every single email for months on end would have the same subject line.

        Either way, standardising subject lines across an organisation can have uses – at mine we make sure to have the file number in the subject line, but in a big projects organisation perhaps you’d agree certain keywords such as “purchasing”, “bid”, “finance” or “materials”.

        I also think it depends on the volume of email you receive. A manager who is fyi-cced into hundreds of emails per day wants to be able to scan the subject line to decide whether it’s even worthwhile opening the email, whereas an administrator who really only receives email that she has to act on will always have to read the full contents.

        1. doreen*

          I’m indirectly responsible for over 900 cases, so I want the subject line to identify the case – but I also want the subject line to identify the issue. I think there’s a difference between a ‘standard subject line that consists of the case name” and one that includes the case name- and I’m not sure which the type the OP is referring to.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Now I’ve reread, I’m less sympathetic to the coworker. He isn’t suggesting a standardised format across the company/group, or even for his department’s outgoing email, but rather he is requesting (requiring?) the format for just-his incoming email.

            Even framing it as “please include the project code in the subject line to help me direct or answer your request” would get a better response, I think.

          2. CrookedLily*

            In the letter:

            He would like the subject line to include the project number, location, and project title only.

            This would mean having to open every single email to see what it actually discusses. Not very productive.

            1. Decima Dewey*

              I’m imagining swearing as I go through an entire folder devoted to Project X trying to find the email that refers to the issue I’m currently dealing with.

        2. EPLawyer*

          When emailing opposing counsel I always put the case name in the subject line then a dash with a descriptor like Smith v. Smith – discovery. Or whatever. Because while *I* know what case I am emailing about, opposing counsel does not necessarily know just because they see me as the sender. It’s a courtesy to help them know what you are talking about.

          I don’t see the request from the other boss to be all the out of line.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Mine would generally read e.g. “Smith v Smith (our ref 12345J, your ref AWS54321)” but yes, same principle. The person sending the email knows what it’s about and can do a <50-character precis!

            I suspect that the requesting coworker spends far too much time wading through emails with subjects like "Quick Question" and is desperately looking for a way to reduce that wasted time by getting at least SOME useful information in the subject line. Perhaps requests direct to a particular person/department have fallen on deaf ears and coworker thinks it's time to get the sledgehammer out.

            I also suspect that the LW isn't the culprit nut this sledgehammer is aiming to crack, if she is already putting something meaningful in the subject line.

          2. Observer*

            Two problems.

            Firstly, the guy is “requiring” that there NOT be the second half. The second is that he’s trying to “require” things from teams that he has no authority over.

          3. Coverage Associate*

            Yes, case name and claim number as the subject of almost all emails is pretty typical in lots of areas of law.

            We have an interesting wrinkle in coverage that often the insurance litigation has a different caption than the claim. On the phone, I rattle off a bunch of parties because I don’t know how opposing counsel calls it. “I am calling on behalf of insurer A about Smith’s claim against our mutual insured, Jones. You represent insurer B.”

          4. smoke tree*

            I find that a lot of people just don’t think about adjusting their subject lines or file names to be helpful to the person they’re writing to. My job involves dealing with permission requests, and about 90 percent of the subject lines I receive are “permission request” and close to 100 percent of the documents I receive are “[my company] document”. I would think that if you’re sending someone a request, you might want to make it easier on them than this.

      4. Quill*

        If I had a unique identifier for my document requests I might actually be able to find them… but I have multiple dozens of the things and after a while “singapore import llama pedigree” means nothing to me – which breed of llama? What is the llama’s destination?

    3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Also me. This may be field/role specific, but I definitely appreciate good subject lines. Please include the case number!

      Anything like “please review” or “fyi” or “options for glazes” can be in the body of the email if you’re likely to want to search for it later.

    4. anon*

      I can absolutely see the value in what Letter #2 is suggesting.

      For me, an email with: File #/Location of facility/’reason I’m emailing’ is gold dust. Some people just put FYI, or a file number and it’s not terrible, but it really helps to refer back and call up old emails if you need to. Of course, I’m also flexible with my emails, but for file-related stuff why not try this for a why.

      Perhaps the OP is too quick to dismiss this idea and bristling a bit too much at something that strikes me as helpful.

      1. londonedit*

        I have a colleague in a different department who I work closely with, and they recently asked for subject lines to be standardised to ‘Project title – brief summary of what the email’s about’. Makes total sense. They work across many different projects, and ‘managing their email’ involves keeping on top of all sorts of updates and managing the flow of projects across their desk. So it’s vastly more helpful for them to have an email with the subject ‘World Book of Llama Grooming – updates to second edition’ than just ‘More updates’.

      2. Lora*


        It doesn’t have to be totally standardized a particular way. Not everyone has to do it, you are free for me to lose your email or not read it in a timely fashion if you prefer. But I typically have multiple projects, some very similar and closely related but for different facilities, at any given time. So if you want your email to go into the correct folder rule, and you want me to look at it before the next big deadline on that project, then you are best off putting “Project Number – feed tank controls” or something similar in the subject line.

        I mean, you don’t HAVE to do that. Your email can be lost or ignored, and then you have to IM me to pester me about it. It’s more work for you though.

      3. Observer*

        Except that this is NOT what the guy is asking for. He is asking for subject line to include the project number, location, and project title only. (I put in the bold) In other words do NOT put in the reason for emailing.

        For most of the situations that people are describing, limiting the header the way the guy wants is almost as bad as “Quick question” etc.

    5. Lynca*

      We’ve currently implemented a version of this so we don’t get incomplete information. We have so many projects (thousands) and we’d get emails with just RE: Problem and have NO idea what project it was, where it was, what they wanted us to do, etc. And of course it was marked high priority. So we’d have to spend more time tracking down what they wanted than it actually took to answer them when we had all the info. So at minimum they have all the ID info in the subject line.

      The only thing I could see pushing back on is having a hard time referencing emails without a bit more in the subject line. I get that. But that’s something that I can live with versus spending an hour trying to get info for something I could turn around in less than 10 minutes if you had included it.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      I work with people who are in other agencies/companies. I tend to go with a format of “main topic- subtopic”.
      This could look like “llama groomers- new brushes” or “teapots- order for Jan 2.” This is just a the overall idea of what I aim for.
      Once in a blue moon, I modify the subject line. I do this when it seems like that particular conversation has wrapped up but something new suddenly popped up. I’ll tack on, “new info” or “please keep reading”. I probably do this once or twice a year.
      The one thing that jumped at me is that not every email is going to fit a particular case and that email itself is a good example as he is just talking about general procedures.
      His overall idea is a good one and probably people could be convinced if the idea were presented as, “let’s make this easier for all of us”.

    7. Mainely Professional*

      For LW2’s guy requesting this, really what he should request is that info in brackets. That makes it much more searchable. Then the LW can put a real subject that’s useable to them after the brackets. [PROJECT # – OFFICE – WHATEVER] Teapot Spout Production Issue.

      When he needs to organize his emails searching “[BLAH]” makes it much easier.

    8. Quinalla*

      I get wanting to standardize the beginning of the subject line, I think that is a reasonable request (though I agree that is can’t always be met), but then there should still be room at the end to put an actual subject so emails can be differentiated. I’ve had clients make this request of me, people who have a ton of different projects on their plates and get a ton of different emails, it is the only way they can keep it all straight. We do project number then the standardized project name then the subject. It makes the subject line long, but it is fine.

      I’m not in a position to so explicitly ask people to standardize, but I don’t hesitate to ask clarifying questions when someone is not referencing a project clearly. By doing that, I get the information I need and if I work with the person long enough, they start including that information in some way in their emails.

      1. Observer*

        but then there should still be room at the end to put an actual subject so emails can be differentiated.

        This is the key problem. Even assuming that all emails would fall into that format, it’s incomplete enough for most cases that it’s almost useless.

  7. nnn*

    For #1, if it isn’t possible to fire or discipline Jerry, is it possible to adjust his work assignment?

    This may or may not be possible (depends greatly on the nature of the organization and the work, which I can’t tell through the internet), but is there something that needs doing in a back room somewhere where he won’t be in contact with the public or with colleagues? Rearrange the team’s duties so he’s doing all the paperwork for everyone? Since it sounds like you’re a government organization, is there some more suitable role in some other government organization to which he could make a lateral move?

    You could pitch this to the higher-ups with the same language they use to justify keeping Jerry on. “He’s been through so much”, and it’s apparent he can’t cope with customer-facing work (c.f. surliness, racism), so let’s put him somewhere else that’s a better fit.

    The risk here is that this could be worse for your team’s morale if there are team members who see doing non-customer-facing work in a back room as more desirable than doing their usual duties. And, of course, the feasibility of this depends greatly on the nature of the work. But it’s an alternate approach to think about.

    1. Trek*

      I had an argument once with an HR manager over not being able to fire someone. She was difficult, argumentative, and wouldn’t follow company policy. I was told same thing she’s not going anywhere. Later in front of the higher ups HR manager made her case for an additional headcount in her department. After a lot of non committal responses I spoke up and said I have an employee I can transfer and my department can absorb the headcount. HR manager knew who I was referring to but I kept stating how the client loves her she be great in HR. While HR chose to drop the request and I am still stuck with employer, I would tell higher ups if they want to keep him he should work for them. Then make sure you document everything. At one point your employee will cross the line with the wrong person and you will want to be prepared to defend yourself from everyone accusing you of not getting rid of the employee. If you have any VOP visit make sure he takes care of them with no warning.

      1. Sharon*

        I was thinking something like this. “Promote” him to another department where you don’t have to deal with him and he no longer affects your team. Ideally the new position would work to his strengths but if that’s not available then at least a position where he’s sort of neutralized.

      2. smoke tree*

        I would love to see the LW suggest that Jerry take a position as the unhelpful managers’ personal assistant.

    2. Brett*

      “[I]s there some more suitable role in some other government organization to which he could make a lateral move?”

      We used to call this pass the trash. Poor employees would end up all landing in the unit where they had the most minimal impact. In the agency I worked for, everyone knew what unit this was. Of course, this eventually resulted in a lasting scandal when a news agency discovered that everyone in that unit was sleeping on the job (literally everyone).

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I have to think that that’s the price institutions pay when they make it too bloody hard to fire people.

        1. Brett*

          It’s not necessarily an institutional issue. In the US, public sector employees have a right to a post-termination hearing in most cases. That post-termination hearing has high evidentiary rules that can overturn an organizational decision (with additional financial penalties) regardless of how easy or difficult it is to fire people in that organization. The institution might want to fire employees at will based on nothing by a manager’s decision, but the courts will say otherwise.

  8. Dan*


    I’m sorry to say this, but if your management isn’t supporting you in your job, it’s probably time for you to explore other options. Managing this dude would drive me up a wall, and there’s only so much of it I could take.

  9. bookartist*

    LW#2 – This may not be useful for you but let me toss it anyway – if all electronic comms are kept inside it, a project management tool like Asana or Wrike will send email notifications and reminders with consistent email subjects, with no effort of the part of the people writing the emails. Of course it requires some admin overhead so maybe not *entirely* free.

  10. Clementine*

    I think it’s totally reasonable for the letter writer who needs another chair to wheel in her desk chair. I don’t think anyone is going to care or much notice. It’s totally reasonable for anyone who wants to sit by their boss’s desk (possibly) and look over her shoulder. Of course getting a chair without arms should happen, but don’t sit in discomfort in the meantime.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      OP may also be able to suggest removing the arms if the chair is a style where that’s possible. Many are designed to double as an of the old-school “typist chair”.

      1. juliebulie*

        Yes, I’ve had arms removed from many an office chair because of my elbows (long story). One time it was so easy I was able to do it myself with a screwdriver I keep in my purse.

    2. cmcinnyc*

      Also, if you have a facilities team, ask your boss if you could reach out to them directly. The boss probably hasn’t handled this because it’s One More Thing on the to-do list, but it’s entirely possible there’s a serviceable chair somewhere else in the building and your facilities team could bring it over the same day. Maybe not, but if the business is big enough it almost certainly has at least a few employees who handle the building and furnishings and repairs (or book plumbers, etc). They often do the actual furniture orders, too. I had a coworker who needed a special lumbar support chair and they took care of it.

    3. smoke tree*

      But since the LW spends a pretty significant time in that chair every day, I think it’s also totally reasonable to just replace it with a more comfortable one. It sounds like the boss is on board, just distracted. I mentioned this upthread, but the LW might get more traction if she does some of the legwork researching a replacement chair.

      1. Veronica*

        LW, if your company has a facilities dept., check with them to see what the procedure is before you spend time researching. If they don’t have a chair and aren’t going to get one for you, then you could see about researching and having your dept. buy one. :)

    4. Triumphant Fox*

      One of my coworkers has this issue and regularly wheels his chair into other rooms. I hadn’t realized that the chairs in my room were uncomfortable until he sat in one, so now I schedule meetings in our conference room (it’s rare we meet at all). We are planning on moving soon, and I’m requesting new chairs at that time – might as well have maximum flexibility and you never know when a guest will feel uncomfortable.

  11. Sarah Biffy*

    LW1 should keep track of every incident. However, my husband is a manager at the IRS. It is not only nearly impossible to fire a federal employee, so is trying to accomplish anything productive with upper management about their horrifying behavior. Even if the most traumatic thing that has ever happened to him is his pet goldfish died. It is intensely frustrating, authoritatively underming and bad for morale. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this and hope your employees take their complaints about racism to the union, the public forces the “leaders” in your organization to do something, or Jerry does something so egregious it can’t be ignored. Good luck.

    1. Blunt Bunny*

      Yes my thought was to place him on a PIP. Also I think this leaves you open to lawsuits the hostile environment for the racism, the pay differences between employees and if any other employees have been dismissed for a failed drug test but you let this man stay. Also I don’t know if there is laws against endangerment if he has failed a drug test, like if he works with vulnerable people. If he failed a drug test could you subject him to regular tests as a condition of his job. If he fails another one then he is fired.

      1. WellRed*

        One would think someone that failed a drug test but remained on the job would be subject to regular drug testing.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          It depends on the findings at his hearing.

          You’d have to have the union agree to more than a lottery draw for him to be subjected to mandatory regular screenings. Most likely the union wouldn’t agree to that because it goes against most of their principles overall.

      2. Sarah Biffy*

        The federal government has their own pay structure. You can’t just get a raise because you do good work. They have the grades, then steps within the grades. Each grade and step has a set pay amount. They can receive step/grade increases based on time and job. So while the pay difference is frustrating, there’s not much to do about it unless he receives a demotion.

        1. Blunt Bunny*

          I doubt they will be able to demote him. It is hard to prove pay discrepancies are the result of discrimination but I was thinking that having the lawsuits would cause bad press and then the whole story enravels.

  12. Dan*


    I work for a non-profit that actually pays half-way decent (pretty much everybody except the most junior staff makes six figures) and has *awesome* work life balance. We have to do 80 hours in a two week pay period; it doesn’t matter when, and it doesn’t matter where (work from home/telecommute can be done without even asking). When we want to take vacation time, we don’t “ask permission”, we “tell.” So when another company says they offer “great work/life balance” (and a non-profit at that) this is the standard I compare it to.

    I hate to say this, but your description of your work environment doesn’t sound like anything that sets you apart from other companies, at least not in a way that would make me want to accept a lower salary for a position that isn’t core the delivery of the org’s mission. To me, it just sounds like you’re “competitive” in 2019. By that, I mean most people expect to not get nickled-and-dimed for a couple of hours of PTO here and there, expect to be able to leave early to deal with a kid, expect to work from home when the job function allows it, and unless they’re doing true shift work where coverage is an issue, expect to get the major holidays off without having to haggle for it. What you’re offering is pretty much the bare minimum to be “competitive” in 2019. I would say that this is more true for more established professionals — I’d expect (and TBH, would accept) nothing less.

    What you *could* do is drop the “WFH once you’ve proven yourself” and just offer it out of the gate on a partial-week basis. That’s something that could go a long way to appealing to folks who might be willing to work for less salary in exchange for flexibility. That may not sound like a huge difference, but for the sake of conversation, let’s say you’re a non-profit in the city-center of a major city and a lot of your staff lives out in suburbia. WFH is only a selling point (and a salary reducer) if I can count on it. If I have to “earn” it, now I have to wonder what your standards are for earning and how honest you actually are about the whole thing. I might have a three month time frame in mind, and you may have a one-year time frame in mind.

    For the sake of brevity, you could say something like “part-time WFH after 3 months.” That would add some certainty on my end without it being an overly long waiting period, while making it clear on your end that you expect me in the office while I’m getting up to speed.

    That said, there’s something that bugs me a little about the “not up to our standards” phrasing — I hope your employees don’t know you feel that way, otherwise morale will sink. I do think you have to be realistic about what you can get for what you’re willing to pay, and this will be very true for your back end support staff. I’m a software and data person, and I have my pick of all sorts of jobs across a variety of sectors, non-profit or otherwise. While I work for a non-profit, I’m also the sole wage earner in my household, so I’m looking for the best combination of work/life balance and money that I can get. Since my current employer knocks the work/life balance out of the park, orgs who pay less have to try really hard in other areas, and most of the time there’s nothing they can do.

    1. FairPayFullBenefits*

      +1 Unless there’s also a huge number of vacation/PTO days, this seems at best like what I’d expect in most offices. If anything, not getting to work remotely until “you’ve proven you can stay on top of your workflow” makes it feel like they’re a little behind the times.

    2. Tyche*

      Thank you. You have expressed everything I wanted to say about this letter.
      I’d like to add that, as childfree woman, all this emphasis on parents and children is red flag for me, as I imagine I’ll be the one to “pay” for it. For me OP4’s non-profit will be a no-no for me.

      1. Half-Caf Latte*

        Yeah, for me the “ we’re all moms and it works great for us ” statement definitely made me give the OP some side eye.

        That language signals that this might be a clique-y environment, and that at a minimum someone leaving to go to class/other obligation might not be treated equally.

        I’m a 30somwthing mom who really values a job that prioritizes results over butts in seats, and I’d still be wary of a place that employs only one demographic, even if it’s my demographic.

        1. Allypopx*

          Clique-y is a vibe I definitely get from it. I’d wonder if my requests for flexibility would be de-prioritized because I don’t have kids and/or don’t fit into the culture as well, if my work would be scrutinized differently, if I’d be a complete outsider in the office. I would run not walk from this job ad.

        2. Yikes*

          Same. I’m also a working mom in my 30s at a relatively flexible workplace, but when I envisioned the work environment she described I thought, hoo boy, I would not fit in. My other primary thought is that if they can’t fill the position at the advertised salary, then they need to pay more. I am not an accountant, but I would imagine that accountants with years of experience do not have a hard time finding jobs that value quality of work product and work flow over butt-in-chair. Most professional jobs are flexible like that.

        3. Joielle*

          Yeah, I was trying to put my finger on what was bugging me about that letter and I think it is the WE’RE all MOMS thing. I hate to nitpick the OP’s language, but it’s just so reminiscent of workplaces I’ve been in that have been really cliquey (and anyone who didn’t have kids to talk about was definitely an outsider).

          I have to suspect that obligations other than child-raising (MAYBE caring for an elderly relative) would not be given the same flexibility.

          Like you said, no matter what the demographic is, it’s not great when there’s only one demographic.

        4. smoke tree*

          I didn’t really read it that way, but based on the description, I do wonder how well a childless person would fit into that environment. In addition to the concerns others have noted about being pushed to pick up the slack, I wonder if this is a workplace where much of the socialization revolves around children. That’s not to say that it’s necessarily intentionally cliquey, just that it can be hard to be the odd person out.

          1. FairPayFullBenefits*

            Exactly. And at my last job, “we all work 8-4” meant “the child-free people stay late to pick up the slack because they don’t have an excuse to leave earlier.”

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Ditto from me. My problem is that I have all the empathy in the world for people taking care of family and I would get roped right into filling in all the time. Then after a bit I’d wonder why I was not happy at the job.

        Some bosses “get it” but many don’t. I had a retail job where I volunteered to work a double on Christmas. My boss said, “Okay if you are going to do that then you are off for Thanksgiving and New Years. NO discussion, those days are off for you. It’s up to others to do their share also.” I was impressed. However, this type of thing almost never happens.

        Added wrinkle: The ones who keep showing up are the ones whose needs don’t get noticed. I worked at a place where I did not call in for at least 18 months straight. Then one day I needed to leave 1 hour early for an appointment. I got a Big NO on that request. So I figured out that this is why people call in a lot at that place. And they were a “friendly” organization and “concerned” about their employees. When I see that in writing I no longer believe it.

        If anything, OP, I would undersell and over-deliver. I think that saying something like “we offer some flexibility in scheduling” is the most I would say. Honestly, if this is the biggest thing a company can offer me then I am not terribly interested anyway. You might do better with the idea of launching people’s careers. One place I volunteer for works that way. They cannot offer a big paycheck. They do offer a pleasant environment, a willingness to try new ideas and a way for a person to start their career. And off in the distance, “Oh yeah, BTW, you can pretty much write your own schedule.” I am happy to report they get excellent candidates and manage to hire rock stars.

      3. Mainely Professional*

        This is true, and not just about perks for parents. (I am not a parent). I give this letter real side eye. No way a non-parent’s obligations get treated the same way, ever, in this group of people. This reminds me of other perks, though: employers that offer free parking but nothing comparable or equivalent in monetary value for employees who bike to work.

        The LW basically said “I want to hire another mom to work with us, so how do I attract one?” And as Dan points out, you certainly aren’t going to attract anyone “up to [their] standards” if this is what you offer.

      4. anonintheuk*

        Yes. I’d be worried that it would involve the assumption that I have nothing to do after/before work of any importance and could therefore pick up everyone’s slack

      5. Sunflower*

        Yes this so much!! Totally agree with letting ppl WFH off the bat. My current job allows it once a week after 6 months- I started doing it after 3 months. When I go onto my next job, I won’t consider a company that doesn’t allow it from the get go- many of my friends who work across different industries feel the same and we are all about 7 years deep into the professional world so not very senior.

        The line (he doesn’t even make us use PTO for a couple of hours here or there) would actually worry me! Not needing to use PTO for a few hours is a standard expectation of most jobs!

        These are definitely nice things that should be advertised but these perks are the ones most job seekers gloss over in a ‘checking the box’ sort of way. But I don’t think these things are going to make people think ‘wow, nice!’ It’s also unclear to me if you’re targeting corporate folks to make the jump?

        If your pay is on-par with your non-profit competitors and you’re having trouble staffing, that’s probably a sign that your perks and/or other things aren’t on par with your them.

    3. Antilles*

      I hate to say this, but your description of your work environment doesn’t sound like anything that sets you apart from other companies, at least not in a way that would make me want to accept a lower salary for a position that isn’t core the delivery of the org’s mission.
      Thank you for saying this so eloquently, because that stood out to me as well. So much of the “work life balance” described here is fairly vanilla. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely appreciated and good you do that, but I didn’t see anything in the post that struck me as unique or overly impressive.
      Take the flex-time thing: Letting people leave early to attend doctor’s appointments without needing to burn 8 hours of PTO for a 1 hour appointment is good business practice to avoid antagonizing employees…but it’s such a common perk that it’s actually more notable when companies *don’t* do that. Presenting it as “hey, we offer a lower salary but you can leave early on occasion for a doctor’s appointment” isn’t impressing anyone.

    4. Trout 'Waver*

      I agree with this completely. There are some key things I’m picking up on in OP#4’s letter that would send me running. First, they view some pretty standard stuff as amazing perks. It’s the biggest red flag to me when employers expect me to be grateful for my compensation package. Second, describing people as “not up to standard” is a pretty lousy way of referring to people. Third, “work from home when you’ve proven you can stay on top of your workflow” is problematic. Who do I have to proof myself to to be deemed worthy? Can I be deemed unworthy at a later date? Just lay out the expectations and let me manage myself.

      Others have commented on the mom-clique vibe. I’m picking up on it too, but I don’t feel the need to restate what others have already said.

      But overall, people work for money. You get what you pay for. Budget accordingly.

      1. Antilles*

        Third, “work from home when you’ve proven you can stay on top of your workflow” is problematic.
        It’s also not likely to be valuable as an incentive for candidates since it doesn’t actually clarify anything concrete about what the arrangement looks like.
        Companies use the phrase ‘work from home if you can handle it’ to mean almost anything you can think of – literally the entire spectrum from “it’s fine, but it’s really limited to special occasions like waiting on a plumber” to letting you go months without setting foot in the office.

    5. 2 Cents*

      You elucidated everything that rubbed me the wrong way about OP 4’s description of her workplace. Even at my crappiest salaried job, I never had to use PTO hours to leave early for a doctor’s appointment. And when I was looking for a new position, I ran away from anyplace with WFH stipulations like “once proven.” If you can’t tell I’m doing work or what I’m accomplishing, it doesn’t matter where I’m working.

      1. 2 Cents*

        Oh and you’re probably getting new grads or people with little experience because you don’t pay enough, like at all. And the benefits you numbered don’t make up for it.

    6. Observer*

      Another reason the “WFH once you’ve proven that you can manage your workflow” is a problem. You claim that you are looking for fairly high level professionals with experience. By definition, these are people who can stay on top of their workflow. If you are doubting that, then you are not doing your due diligence, and you are also treating experienced employees like newbies. No thanks!

      I do see why you might want someone in the office full time till they get up to speed – but for that you’d do something like Dan suggests and expect people to be there for the first 3 months or something similar. But otherwise? No. If you want to hire professionals, TREAT THEM LIKE PROFESSIONALS.

    7. Allison*

      I completely agree with Dan. What the letter writer has described is actually much less flexible than all my previous jobs the last 10 years or so. I think of work/life balance as not having to work a high number of hours regularly, in addition to flexibility.

      However, all the extra days off described above does sound like a great perk! That should definitely be emphasized.

    8. BenAdminGeek*

      I’d say that getting extra 3 weeks off throughout the year outside of individual PTO is a pretty solid perk. Maybe I’m just out of step with what other companies are offering, but a lot of what OP4 said sounded fine. I’m not in a spot where I prefer flexibility over money, but in OP4s sector, that may be more important.

  13. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    It’s worth bearing in mind that some very wide and large chairs without arms may be very uncomfortable for people who are not ‘of size’ (I’d certainly slide off a bariatric chair and find it very hard to sit down or get up comfortably without the arms to lean on) so it might not just be you that needs to be considered in the purchase of a new visitor chair, such as other visitors and interviewees.

    1. WS*

      A mix of chairs is always good – people with leg or back issues may have trouble getting up without help from the chair arms, people with wide hips have trouble squeezing into chairs with arms.

      1. Filosofickle*

        I am a member of Kaiser Permanente (a big health group in the US) and was recently at one of their physical therapy offices. It was so great see all the different kinds of chairs! Arms, no arms. Singles, doubles, extra-width. High, low. Grouped, separate. Granted, they’re a medical center. It should be expected they’d have chairs for all types of humans who have all types of needs, but sadly it isn’t common.

        Personally, I have sciatica and prefer a hard, straight chair. (Ideally with low or no arms because I’m short and they’re too high.) I can’t hardly go to the movies anymore because most have gone to squishy, reclining chairs that cripple me. You better believe I use to roll my chair into meetings or stand when I had to. It felt weird at first, but pain sucks and the more I stood up for what i needed the better I felt, emotionally and physically.

    2. Allonge*

      There are also good office chairs where the distance of the armrests can be adjusted. For working 2-3 hours in a place, an ergonomic/adjustable chair should not be overkill!

    3. anonagain*

      ” it might not just be you that needs to be considered in the purchase of a new visitor chair, such as other visitors and interviewees.”

      True! The addition of a larger visitors chair isn’t just an accommodation for the OP; it allows the company to accommodate those outside visitors/job candidates who also need larger chairs.

    4. Lucette Kensack*

      That’s not really relevant to this LW’s question, as the existing chairs already accommodate people for whom a narrow, armless chair is most appropriate.

    5. somanyquestions*

      Do you really think there is no way to buy a chair that can suit multiple people? Your comment seems to be saying you think she should be uncomfortable for hours a day as opposed to changing things at all. I get the feeling you think she deserves that.

    6. Dahlia*

      Lucky for you they don’t seem to plan to immediately banish the other chair from the office. OP just wants to not be in physical pain when they sit.

  14. One of the Sarahs*

    The thing that makes me question Alison’s advice for OP1 is the overt racism of their employee. There’s a difference between the rest of the team being disgruntled because he’s a lazy ass (though that is a morale killer) but if he’s been openly discriminatory, and if that’s in a customer-facing environment, doesn’t that change things?

    OP, can you at least get management to give you a hard policy on dealing with active racism/discrimination by staff? They may not fire him, but at the very least they should support you in shutting this down.

    1. violet04*

      I feel like if the public got wind of the racist comments that would push the organization to take action. Jerry sounds awful in so many ways, but his outright racism and the fact that the company won’t fire him is so infuriating.

      1. Sarah N.*

        Yeah, if this is a government agency, can you call an anonymous whistleblower line to report that you’re being subjected to an employee who repeatedly uses the N-Word at work and is not ever disciplined?

        1. LizM*

          Are you suggesting OP call the tipline? I’d be really careful with this. In my agency, supervisors can be disciplined for failing to address harassment.

          This agency may have no issue throwing Jerry’s direct supervisor under the bus when the you know what hits the fan. I’d want a very clear paper trail that shows OP tried to address the racist language and was explicitly told not to.

          I don’t disagree that the agency has an obligation to act here, I’m just worried this route could blow up in OP’s face.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      In talking about finding leverage on this situation, OP, I think this is your number one lever. This place can be sued if this guy does not close his mouth. Use the law to help yourself here, OP. And let’s look at it this way, YOU are the supervisor, if YOU let this go on guess who is going to be named in the lawsuit?!

      I have had a few times when my back was to the wall. I have said, “I am not willing to be personally liable for something going on at work. Now. What are we going to do to fix this.” Notice the period at the end of the sentence. I am not asking them, I am telling them. This is No Way on this Green Earth that I am going to suffer personal finance loss or personal freedom (jail) for a company. No how, no way.
      [I am angry on your behalf OP, I hope that is clear.]

    3. EPLawyer*

      As Alison said, you can’t fire him, but you can coach him. Closely monitor him and after every incident have a “coaching” session. Jerry, here is a better way to handle this type of client interaction, first of all, we don’t use the N word here. Repeat as necessary for every problem. Jerry will eventually get sick of being coached and either hide his surliness better or move on to another job.

      Above all DOCUMENT DOCUMENT DOCUMENT. You can fire federal workers, you just have to document the hell out of it.

    4. LQ*

      That is absolutely the strongest case, especially if there is anything like a respectful workplace policy or an antiharrassment policy. Invoke HR to come in and help manage that. They might not fire right away, but they can make your case for an eventual firing a LOT stronger if HR has already had to discipline him for hostile behavior multiple times. Every time racism comes up take it to HR. And make sure that your employees know that you’ll fully back them when THEY go to HR because that’s much stronger, especially if it’s a union environment. Your complaint and your employees’ complaints are not equal here. (Which, yeah I know…but…)

    5. Malty*

      A fellow Sarah! Yeah I came to say this too. This guy sounds bad over all but the racism is an urgent issue, especially if he’s using the n-word. If management aren’t aware of that they need to know that’s happening

    6. JohannaCabal*

      I responded to another comment that if a client/customer films Jerry saying something racist, it could go viral. And there are plenty of examples of this happening. If you can, you may want to point this out to management. Forget a lawsuit, if a member of the public posts a video of Jerry online or sends it to News Channel 7, the blowback could be very bad.

    7. LabTechNoMore*

      Thank you! I was also thinking one of these things in not like the other. OP 1 has a duty to protect their workplace from hostile work environments. Even if none of your employees are black or PoC, you need to have a workplace where anyone from any background can start in a posittion at your workplace without being called racial slurs!

  15. A. Traveller*


    I worked with “Jerry” for many years, and it’s horribly demoralizing and sets a bad example. To make matters worse, every time we complained about him, we were told to stop bullying the poor guy, which eventually led to some pretty serious workplace bullying of yeah, That Guy, because no one else seemed to be stepping in. It was a bad situation for all parties, and led to a highly toxic “us vs. them” culture. He ended up getting fired when the firm finally realized he’d been swindling them for 10+ years, which in turn led to a culture of general mistrust of the worker on the floor, because if he could get away with THAT, then what weren’t we getting away with? Never mind that we’d been complaining out loud to anyone who’d listen throughout – all that seemed to be forgotten after his exit interview, where he no doubt smeared us his coworkers like their was no tomorrow. And yeah, some of that was no doubt justified – it’s hard to keep the faith for so long.

    I’m so happy that I got out of there.

    But here are some tips for showing people that you are on top of the problem, and possibly managing Jerry out the door:

    1. set clear but fair deadlines for his tasks. If you catch him asking others if they’ve done this or that, ask how his stuff is coming along.
    2. set a trusted colleague to help Jerry, when he fails his deadline. Then hold 1:1 with both of them for status updates.
    3. When you see Jerry leave early, catch him in the door. Express your concern, ask if he’s ok, or if there’s anything that needs to be adjusted to help him manage his workload. Suggest fewer hours, perhaps lighter, less challenging work, like photocopying reports and archiving them in the basement.
    4. Hold regular (daily if possible, otherwise weekly) meetings with Jerry to get status on his tasks. Make clear goals and document why he doesn’t meet them. Make sure to have him come up with solutions that can be implemented directly and will have a measurable impact within a short timeframe. Have him be an active part in coming up with solutions to specific problems (“You got a bad review, why did this happen and how can we prevent it from happening again? Maybe we can relieve you of customer service and have you in charge of keeping the kitchen clean instead?”). Make it all about communication and support.
    5. Don’t give general negative feedback, like “we all need to pull harder to make this deadline happen” – make it all personal, and give it immediately when warranted, in a private setting. Praise good efforts immediately as well, both publicly and privately, and do it often. Show your workers that you see them and their contributions. Get on the floor, talk to people and be present. Show them that Jerry may be getting away with shit, but you are still there, you care and you are willing to work hard to make this a good workplace, so they have a different example to follow, and feel that they are being seen, even if you can’t directly touch Jerry.
    5. Document EVERYTHING.

    I know, some of this walks a thin line, and you may wanna find someone in H&R that you can ping-pong with, but I’ve seen these used (and been on the receiving end of a couple of them). They work.

    1. Autumnheart*

      I’d add 6. Give extra rewards to those workers who are tasked with helping Jerry. Bigger raises, better reviews, comp days if that’s an option, put their name forward for promotions. Make it clear that not only do you understand that they are doing more because Jerry is doing less, but that it tangibly advances their career. And it also makes it pretty clear to Jerry that doing less = getting less.

      There are few things more demoralizing than knowing that you’re expected to give 125% and prove that you’re a solid performer and contributor to the team, but are considered more expendable and less valuable than the racist a-hole who phones it in every day.

    2. CheeryO*

      Careful with #2 in a unionized environment. A little help now and then is fine, but if it starts looking anything like essentially supervising a peer or superior, you could get in hot water fast. No one really wants to do extra work to get around the missing stair, either. That’s incredibly demoralizing, especially when there’s little hope of the situation changing.

  16. Charlotte*

    #3 if you keep wheeling your chair in to that office every time you have a meeting that might remind your boss that you need a bigger chair.
    Although I’m surprised that they’d see you struggle each time to fit into the chair and not made the offer already.

    1. ...*

      I always wheel my own chair in places for meetings just because its better and we have a chair shortage. Someone asks me why I’d say “my chair is comfier”. If the boss is down to buy a new chair that’s awesome but using her desk chair seems like a work-able solution too. Or maybe it is just my office where we all wheel around our own chairs lol

  17. WS*

    LW3 – I have very wide hips to the point that even when I was average weight I didn’t fit in a lot of seats! The only people who’ve ever made a fuss or tried to make me feel ashamed of this request have been medical professionals. Everyone else has been totally fine about it, and I suspect your boss will be, too.

    1. Auntie Social*

      Yes. Plus I think Boss doesn’t know what to order–arms, no arms, weight rated, etc. I ordered a reinforced secretarial chair after an overweight paralegal had broken her third chair (I saw little wheels go by my office one morning) so I know the heavy-duty furn is complicated. Oddly enough, she was adamant about not having a reinforced chair, even after breaking three. Her denial cost us about $2,000 in chairs.

      1. ACDC*

        Yeesh I would be humiliated if I were her. Do weight reinforced chairs really look that different from regular chairs? I can’t imagine that being more embarrassing than people seeing you break multiple chairs.

  18. CM*

    #2 — depending on how invested you want to get in this, you could try talking to him to find out why he wants standardized subject lines and whether there’s something less intense your team could do to help him out.

    1. Half-Caf Latte*

      Yeah when I read the headline I thought it was going to be a more mild request.

      I loathe receiving emails with the subject lines:

      1. 1234*

        I think some people were never taught how to write business emails so I try to give them some slack. I’ve learned to be more specific with email subjects such as “Follow up – Meeting Date for XYZ Project” rather than “Follow Up.”

    2. DYS*

      It may not be feasible for LW, but standardizing email subjects can make a huge difference in how people approach and use their email. Almost all the internal emails in my dept follow the same standard their colleague wants – “client site name (client site #) / company job # / job status”. That’s all the info you need to find all the documentation we have on a job, and it makes indexing and searching after-the-fact a lot easier. Supervisors often auto-sort emails based on job status so they’re only notified about emails that require their input or review. It’s not for every company or field, but it works well for us specifically because it puts everyone on the same page.

      1. Observer*

        I think that what a lot of people are overlooking is the way the other supervisor wants to standardize. For most situations the format he’s suggesting just won’t work for larger projects. And when you are working across departments, it’s especially important to be cognizant that while a specific format may work well for your specific needs, you probably need something that’s a bit more generalized once you’re moving beyond that.

        I think CM is right – talk to the other guy and see if you can come up with something that is more useable for you that is also helpful to him. Not to guarantee that ALL emails will be that way, but even if most of them come in that way, that can help.

        1. JustaTech*

          You’re right about project size being an important factor. At my work we use lot number in email subject lines, because we might have a dozen lots in a night, so it’s a very specific thing. But if you worked in a place where one lot might take three months to make? That’s going to be less useful.

          For the LW a compromise might be that the subject line *start* with project number, location and title, but then also have what specific *part* of the project the email is about. Like “1584, Springfield, Llama grooming, clipper sharpening”, so you know it’s not about the llama shampoo or whatever.

  19. LGC*

    LW1 is…a trip. You have my sympathies, and I hope you’ve been documenting.

    LW3, I hate to say this, but…maybe your boss has slow walked the chair because she thinks only you will use it? (For what it’s worth, I don’t think she’s being malicious about it,) In that case, it might help to present it as other people benefitting from the chair as well – I’m pretty positive you’re not the only one that is uncomfortable.

    As for now, I hope you can continue bringing your own chair in! You deserve to be comfortable.

    I have a few thoughts about LW4’s hiring issues…but not about the letter directly. I actually think the answer itself is fine, and LW4 should play up the perks. However, some of the details read as minor warning signs to me.

    LW5, you had a medical emergency. Go forth and apply!

    1. LGC*

      So I’m just going to dive into my Concerns with LW4 – as usual, I’m reading WAY between the lines. Two other things I might look at is compensation vs. requirements and the ability to see different perspectives.

      On the first part, I’m concerned that the organization might be paying WAY below market rate for the employees you want. And it seems like that might be a concern you have:

      So when we hire for say, an accountant, most of our candidates are very junior and not up to our standards despite how explicit I am about our experience requirements and the responsibilities of the position.

      If the wage is a major step down (like you’re paying $50k for something that normally pays $70k), it’s going to be hard to make up the difference with work flexibility in any case. So you might either need to pay closer to $60k…or be willing to hire people that don’t quite meet your requirements.

      The other thing is…this caught my eye:

      Everyone in my department is a working mom, and it’s the perfect job for us.

      I feel like what’s implicit in this is that since you’re happy with the job flexibility, and so are your coworkers, everyone else should be as well. And I think that’s…kind of short sighted. Plus, as an outsider I kind of saw this as shutting down any disagreement – that is, if I were to take this job, I MUST be appreciative of everything or else something is wrong. And that’s kinda off-putting.

      So, I guess…I know this wasn’t the question you asked, LW4, but I think you should try to meet your candidate pool closer to halfway, and that might help. Your organization really does sound pretty nice to work for! But it might not be the first or second or third choice for a lot of people as things stand right now.

      1. Joielle*

        Yeah, for me it would be really off-putting to lean hard on the “working mom” angle. It makes it seem like anyone who’s not a parent isn’t going to fit in there. And especially if the salary is on the entry-level side, you may be looking at younger applicants who don’t have kids (yet, or ever – much more common these days!). I’ve been in a couple of workplaces where EVERYONE but me had kids at home and that was pretty much the only topic of conversation, and it just wasn’t the culture for me.

        My advice would be to lean on the flexibility angle and then make sure you actually honor that even if the person needs flexibility for a hobby or pet or elderly relative (or no reason at all, honestly).

        1. LGC*

          That was actually my read on it – it did scan as a bit exclusive of people who aren’t like LW4, especially with the rest of the letter.

          Overall, with all due respect to LW4, I don’t think the real problem is that the candidate pool doesn’t understand their organization’s flexibility. It’s that…to be honest, not that many people that meet the standards the organization wants share those values. (Or to be blunt, people love money, and “BUT WE’RE A NON-PROFIT” only goes so far.)

    2. juliebulie*

      LW3 is sitting in that chair for several hours each day. That’s probably more time than all of the boss’s other visitors combined.

      1. LGC*

        I’m not arguing that the boss is right if that’s the case! But I think that it can provide extra force behind the request – not only will LW3 be comfortable, other larger people who visit will appreciate it as well.

        The last line was intended to mean that I wanted LW3 to not hesitate to bring her chair to her boss’s office in the meantime. I’m not gonna get in the weeds about body issues, but…I got the feeling that LW3 was ashamed she had to do that, and I don’t want her to be ashamed of herself! Her comfort is valid. But also, even getting a new chair might not be an immediate thing.

  20. Xandria*

    #2- I work in an industry with fairly standardized subject lines. I send at least two nightly emails to the entire team thats basically a wrap up of everything we did/what we need for the next day/step etc. What you’re co-worker is describing sounds super annoying though, do you think theres a compromise you could reach?

    Ask everyone to include the project # and then the rest of the subject? Ex. “Proj. 345- Llama’s in the Office”. This is basically what we do, but with a title&date not a #. All my subjects tend to look like “Llama’s on Parade- 9.24.17 Lets talk about which llama’s need blankets!” or something like that, and I know that people who have to get my emails, but don’t need to read them every night will set up a filter so all emails with the subject “Llama’s on Parade” in them filter in to a folder and they can skim the expanded titles all in one sitting.
    The downside is sometimes people will abbreviate to “LOP” instead of Llama’s on Parade, so numbers might even be easier! We usually have to agree on an abbreviation at an earlier meeting. (Which is always hilarious, right now I’m working on “SP” and “Hound” and one we haven’t agreed on yet but I really want to be “DANCE” )

    1. Llellayena*

      Yes, I always send my email with the project name (or abbreviation) first, then the subject. It makes the inbox easy to sort AND easy to find specific emails within a project. If the guy wants to have all emails with exactly the same subject, I’d love to be there when he’s looking for the email for Issue A and has to open a bunch of Issue B emails before finding it. It sounds like he set up an automatic sort program but doesn’t quite know how to get it to work.

      1. Psyche*

        Yep. First, examine your workplace culture and make sure that you aren’t only giving flexibility to parents and expecting non-parents to pick up the slack. Then advertise flex time without mentioning parenting at all. I would interpret a job ad that mentions it is good for parents to mean that it is not good for non-parents because someone has to cover.

      2. Xandria*

        Seriously! The idea of all emails having the same subject line is so stressful and ultimately defeats the purpose of subject lines all together.

        So caveat on my original comment, the compromise is to make co-worker feel better/lay off etc. I wouldn’t let him push and push until everything he wants is listed in the subject ‘Project #459834, Llamas Go Dancing, 9.25.19 – “actual subject line”’ will still be annoying in your inbox if you have a preview and only see the first (standardized) third of the subject.

  21. Mel*

    I don’t have kids, but I think Allison’s suggested wording is fine.

    I’ve seen how hideous it is to be a parent at a normal office and I know how much I’ve hated parents for destroying our work flow with their sick kids and flakey babysitters.

    It can only be worse to actually be the parent in question. So a place where that isn’t the case, should say so.

    But, of course that flexibility should apply to everyone and thay will widen the pool of candidates even more.

    I work somewhere flexible. They pay below market, but they’ve got good staff because the flexibility they offer means people are willing to come from farther away for this job. There are other good perks too, but it’s mostly the flex.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I would leave out the “parents” part of the description. I have a stepson, but he’s older and I rarely have to leave work early to take care of him. But I’ve seen companies where they’re super flexible with parents, and they’re the complete opposite with non-parents when they need to take care of something personal. If I were looking for a job, the mention of encouraging working parents would turn me off from applying.

  22. Manchmal*

    OP3, you deserve to be comfortable when you’re working. Your boss has already agreed to replace one of the chairs, now she just needs reminding. I suggest doing that reminder once, but from here on out–do not sit in that uncomfortable chair! If you go in to her office, ask if it will take longer than a few minutes and go and get your own chair. If it only takes a few minutes, stand. If she asks why, just say that her chair is so uncomfortable for you, you’d rather stand. After a few awkward meetings with you standing, or her waiting for you to go get your chair (don’t rush back, now), it will become a slight annoyance for her and she’ll order the damn chair. As for people judging you about it–people have all kinds of reasons for needing a certain kind of chair, particularly back issues. If anyone asks, just say “Oh, I find the extra chairs in Boss’ office to be really uncomfortable.” No one is going to press you on it. There’s enough stigmatization of fatness in our society, don’t do it to yourself!

  23. Captain Radish*

    #3: I am a somewhat skinny guy and I can’t stand chairs with arms on them. My desk chair at the office is the only one that doesn’t have arms on them…because I removed them when we received the chairs! It does make it easy to find which one is mine when someone borrows it (which is often as I am very rarely at the office). My wife is a “woman of size” and she doesn’t do arm chairs for probably the same reason you do.

    Now I’m not really sure if you have this issue, but there’s nothing wrong with being big. Everyone deserves to be comfortable when they’re working, regardless of what (fortunately a shrinking part of) society says.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Chairs with arms slow me down when I am trying to work, especially if I am trying to push along on a project.

      But once every few years my back goes out and I need a chair with arms to sit down and stand up without falling.
      OP, I hope that I can encourage you that weight is not and shouldn’t be the main point and there are many things to consider when buying a chair.

    2. juliebulie*

      I’ve had nerve injuries due to pressure around my elbows from chair arms, so now I always get rid of the arms when I can.

  24. Fed Employee*

    OP 1 – If you’re a government employee in the US, you must have some sort of Inspector General’s office or equivalent in your organization. Document everything, all of Jerry’s actions, and your conversations with management, and then report the situation to the Inspector General. Let them handle it. Additionally, your organization probably has a way to directly report instances of discrimination such as racist behavior directly to a central office that skips your management entirely.

  25. Detective Amy Santiago*

    For #2 – Is he requesting this for emails that are being sent to him that he is expected to take action on or for every single email he receives? If it’s the former, I don’t think it’s an overreach at all. As someone who has worked positions where I received a large volume of email, having standard subject lines allows me to work more efficiently on my tasks and utilize rules to manage my inbox.

    1. ninabee*

      Agreed. From sender’s POV, it’s polite to put job numbers/names into email subject rather than some generic phrase (like “Updated file attached”, etc) as it makes quick scanning/searching so much easier for the receiver later down the line (probably what you referred to). I always try to do that when sending important job-related emails. I’ve had to ask a similar thing when I was getting multiple job briefs in emails and some got lost in the reply chain… it made it so much harder to track as they were coming in (and it was a very fast turnaround type of environment). Just common sense really.. clearly there were enough people sending confusing emails to the boss/manager in order for him to make that request.

  26. Asenath*

    I’d bring my own chair if the manager didn’t respond to follow-ups on the request for a new one for her office. I’d just ignore any stares from co-workers. Moving chairs around is not unusual in my office – it’s not putting it back in the right place that causes complaint, but OP wouldn’t have that problem because it would be her own chair.

    And as an aside, when providing comfortable chairs for an office, there should be a variety available, of course, but have some with armrests for those of us who like the support when getting up! And avoid very low or very soft ones.

    Now someone’s going to post that they can only sit in very low, soft, squishy chairs – I just mean, don’t have only them!

  27. PMgr*

    OP3 – is there an office manager or facilities person at your office who could sort out the chair situation for you? Your boss may have no idea how the office acquires furniture, so going direct to the person who handles those things may be more effective.

    1. Auntie Social*

      Maybe go with an office furniture catalog with three or four post-its on chairs that would work, and why.

  28. Environmental Compliance*

    Hmm, I like #2’s email subject lines. I would just add a section for “brief summary of email contents” ie Anderson Project 39489 – Kalamazoo – Follow up on IDHS inspections

    It really is a lot easier to keep track of what’s going on where, because otherwise I get 3924082398 emails stating “inspection” (okay, what are you inspecting? do you need something?) or “project” (super helpful…) or, my favorite “help” (for a project? or should I be calling 911?). Or, my least favorite “update” (on what? what is this even for?). Especially when it’s a message that’s been forwarded 18 times.

    1. CrookedLily*

      Except that the coworker wants the project number, location, and project title only. He doesn’t want the “brief summary of email contents”.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Yes, which is why I added a section. I can see where he’s starting from, he’s just….doing it strangely. But having standardized emails in itself isn’t a bad thing.

    2. pleaset*

      There definitely is a need for more clarity in email subject lines, and the approach you mention is great. Maybe not as a rule, but as a guideline on how to do it. And the organization should back that us, with leaders modeling it.

  29. Mike C.*

    If you aren’t attracting the talent you want, then it’s difficult to claim that your pay is actually competitive. I love flexibility and days off, but PTO doesn’t pay the bills.

    1. Mama Bear*

      True. Other things that I would care about would be what kind of health insurance is offered and how much the company pays. If they company pays all/most, then that’s more $$ in my pocket. Do they pay for parking/transit? If they’re going to offer school holidays off, how does that factor for people without school aged kids? Do they get floating holidays? Maybe everyone should get floating holidays, since it’s probable that not everyone’s kids are on the same calendar/schedule. Or just be generous with the PTO, knowing that people will likely take x amount of time during the year.

      I keep getting pinged by LinkedIn about jobs that are significant pay cuts. No amount of PTO (well, maybe unlimited) will encourage me, a mid-career person, to take a $20+K pay cut. I realize that non-profits struggle to compete against corporate salaries but is the offer really as competitive as they think? The company may need to increase a few salaries and invest in a few more experienced folks and then fill in the rest of the positions with junior people under them. Or just accept that their offer is only going to attract very junior people. You can’t get a Lexus on a Kia budget.

      1. 1234*

        And also the interview process to actually landing the role.

        My last job search, I had interviews at a handful of them. I never ended up with an offer but it usually started with a phone interview (normal) but then the next step was written assignment, another phone interview with someone else, then an in-person, possibly another written assignment, some more in-person interviews…All for a non-management job. Think Coordinator or Senior Coordinator.

    2. JustaTech*

      Yeah, the only way I can see flexibility having a significant monetary value is if it lets you *not* pay for something like after school care, or a morning visit by a home health care aid or some other kind of human-watching-human activity, because those are very expensive.

      Getting the early bird parking rate isn’t going to make a meaningful difference to your salary unless you’re already getting peanuts.

  30. Middle Manager*

    #1- From one government supervisor not allowed to fire people to another, my condolences.

    I otherwise love my job. I really struggle to understand how upper management fails to see how demoralizing this is to me as a supervisor and much more importantly to all all my terrible employees peers who are understandably sick of being required to do more work for the same pay to fill in around the wasted position.

  31. MuseumChick*

    OP 1, I have several friends who work in government positions and they have the exact same problem getting rid of problem employees. Others have mention this above but I’ll repeat it here: Start keeping detailed records. Dates, times, exactly what he said or did (or did not due) names of witnesses, etc.

  32. Rose's angel*

    OP 2 sending emails out with the project numer and name is standard where I work. Though for us usually its project number, name , short reason for email. The higher ups regularly get 500 or so emails a day. One of them considers it a good day of he gets his inbox under 200. Standardizing emails this way make it easier tonsee if something needs to be read now or can wait.

  33. Amethystmoon*

    #1 I had wondered for several years if something like that was happening with a previously terrible co-worker. Thank goodness, he left the company on his own, but not before I found a different internal job. Can you maybe encourage him to find another job for more pay, more advancement potential reasons? Perhaps he’d be willing to take a different internal job if there was a raise included (preferably, to a manager who would be able to hold him accountable)? Doesn’t have to be a huge raise. Some people will change jobs to get even a small amount more of pay.

    Could you create a reason for him to quit? For example, giving most of his work that he does badly at to other people and leaving only a small number of relatively boring tasks for him? Don’t do anything that would get yourself in trouble, but just make his job annoying enough that he won’t want it anymore.

  34. Don't Blame the Ozone Layer*

    4 – Sounds like you want justification to pay less than value, so you are trying to figure out how to target young women.

    1. Red Sunglasses*

      I’m curious where the OP is located. She mentions specifically hiring very junior employees and in my area (Northeast US), most working mothers are not very junior. I know when I was very junior(and childless), I gladly would have gladly accepted any time off but wouldn’t care if it was school holidays. Having a flexible schedule on the regular would have been rather useless to me also.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No, that’s unfair and against the commenting rules here, which ask you to give people the benefit of the doubt. She already said the salary is competitive for her industry.

  35. SongbirdT*

    Hi, OP3! I, too, am widest where chairs are narrowest, so I literally feel your pain sister!

    In your shoes, I would go ahead and wheel my chair in every time I knew I’d be in the office for an extended period. Look, even straight-sized folks find chairs uncomfortable for one reason or another. And they would think nothing of accommodating themselves without embarrassment if, say, the visitor chair wrecked their back or cut off circulation in their legs. Just because the world has decided that your body is bigger than “normal” – whatever the hell that is anymore – doesn’t mean you don’t have the same right as everyone else to be reasonably comfortable and productive.

    In all honesty, most people wouldn’t notice or care if you wheeled your chair in. And if they do, well… That’s their problem.

    Final thought – yeah, all of this is easier said than done when you’ve internalized all of the body standard messages over a lifetime. Personally, I have found a fake it till you make it approach effective for building my confidence with stuff like this. You deserve to be comfortable today, as you are. Give yourself permission to do what you need to.

    My heart is with you, sister. Good luck!

    1. JSPA*

      Agreed–people bring their own chair all the time, for all sorts of reasons.

      Unless your workplace has almost no actual work to do, most people will be to busy with their own business to notice or have a conscious thought about it at all.

      Most of those who do formulate a thought will land on something vague along the lines of, “OP must really find that chair comfortable.” Or, “good idea.” Or at worst, “those wheels squeak” or “that’s where the scuff marks come from.”

      The few who will think something specific about your particular physique are either in the same boat (and should do the same thing if they’re tempted to) or, eh, yeah, they’re already (“always already”) silently passing judgement. Or having feelings about your body. Or about weight and food in general. Or about fearing / daring to be comfortable in the workplace. Those are all a “them” thing, not a “you” thing, and it’s not on you to manage those feelings for them.

      Keep your wheels oiled so they don’t squeak. Try not to lean on it as to mark up the floor. Then trundle it about as needed, without a second thought.

      Otherwise, some person who has trouble getting up and needs an arm to lever themselves up will be doing the chair trundle instead; there’s no “ideal for everyone” option.

      1. chairsforall*

        I came here to say this too! From your letter it sounds like you don’t want to draw attention to why you need a different chair. I’d agree with the comments above and try to think of it as the same as if you had chronic back pain or an issue with your knee. I know that’s easier said than done and asking for accommodations due to weight can be very emotional.

        I also sometimes find it helps, when I’m worried about what others will think to think about how I would feel if someone else was making the same request. I don’t think you’d think twice if a colleague asked to use their own chair because the visitor chair was uncomfortable. We’re often too hard on ourselves and forget that other people want to help and support each other.

        As SongbirdT said – you deserve to be comfortable at work. The reason you are uncomfortable in the first place is no one else’s business. I hope you get your chair! Much love to you!

  36. Lemon Ginger Tea*

    Re: 4. How to advertise our organization’s great work/life balance

    For employers who love to say this in interviews and then don’t really think about it again… please be very clear with yourself and your employees about what exactly that means.

    I was told during interviews that my office is super family friendly, flexible, ‘no one is watching your time’, and so on. I’m a parent and my partner also works full time so of course there are sick days, snow days, doctor’s appointments, parental chaperone field trip days (in addition to my own appointments). I keep meticulous track of my time and finish each year with PTO to spare (3 weeks total for personal and vacation). I was flabbergasted when someone mentioned during my review that I have “a lot more appointments than the average employee” and they “just hope it’s reciprocal when overtime is needed”.

    UM. No one’s watching my time so I guess no one noticed that I haven’t had a single paid period *without* comp or overtime the entire year, or that I’ve got plenty of PTO left. Cool cool. This is a remarkably effective way to torpedo employee morale, I’ve learned.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This comment probably gave me more frown lines. What a bunch if nonsense! That’s enough to get me back on the job hunt but I’m prickly AF when you lie and nitpick.

      This brings to mind the reference I was just asked for… they asked about a former reports use of sick time. And I’m like “lol wut? No they used it responsibly and within our guidelines.” And I got pressed for what our guidelines are

      Ngl I didn’t tell them we allow unpaid time off if someone runs out of sick time. And I’m never using that against someone. Their ef’ing sick. They didn’t choose the amount of germs they’re subjected to or their bodies reactions to them. Yuck.

      1. rayray*

        I wish more bosses/companies thought this way. People get stressed and come into work sick when they realize they only have x amount of sick days. It’s frustrating because the ill person comes in, and then takes down the rest of the office. I admit, I’ve done it before but I felt like I *had* to go to work because what if I ran out of the sick days?

        If someone gets their work done, let’s remember they are human with needs that need to be met, yes, even between the hours of 9 AM and 5 PM on the days Monday-Friday. I know some people would be just flabbergasted at the very thought, but no, illnesses don’t time their selves to occur only on evenings, weekends, or federal holidays.

      2. JustaTech*

        I had the strangest version of this when I did grad school for working professionals. Like, everyone in the program had a day job and most people had kids. And it was a distance-learning program.
        In one class where we had a huge group project, just at the end of the class (after most of the work was done) one of my group got mono, and was put on bed rest. So she’s obviously so sick her doctor insisted that she not work. And she’d already done her whole section of the project.

        But the professors came to our group and were like “are you OK with her sharing your grade on this, since she’s sick?” And we were all “yes, of course, she did plenty of work and people don’t choose when to get sick, and if this were at work you wouldn’t dock someone’s pay or mark down their review just because they got sick.” We were all honestly confused.

      3. Lemon Ginger Tea*

        I worked for a public health organization a while back and one of the things they really got right was that they gave people more sick time than they could possibly use under normal circumstances, and they meant it (they also had stellar medical leave policies). They’d send people home if they showed up with an obvious cold, that kind of thing. I left that job after less than two years with over 100 hours of banked sick time. It was my first job out of college and I had no idea how sweet that setup was…

  37. S*

    #1 I worked with an Earl and it can be incredibly draining and demoralizing. My Earl had less experience but tried to act as a team lead when he had no clue what he was doing. It made our boss look really, really bad when he talked over him at meetings and set precidents for our team when he had no business doing so. Earl was not particularly intelligent and felt the need to tell us what to do and was often wrong or had no idea what he was talking about. He ended up driving several team members away.

  38. StaceyIzMe*

    For the person wondering about an office chair that is more comfortable- rolling your chair might be enough to nudge her into action. It’s annoying to have to think through the optics and the politics of this, but it’s a silent, salient reminder that since your job requires you to be present in her office for a significant amount of time on a daily basis, your reasonable comfort should be top of mind. Also, in future, it’s better to speak up sooner rather than later. Yes, it carries the risk of being exposed to an uninvited comment or having to make an explanation. But- asking for what you need to do your job is a reasonable standard! It’s no different than a magnification program on the monitor for someone who is visually impaired or a thermostat setting that the office has settled upon to accommodate a few people with hot flashes without freezing out the remnant. I guess that having the confidence to ask for what is needed, even if it isn’t completely essential, is something that comes with practice?

  39. BossLady*

    Related to OP #3- has anyone had success in getting arm free chairs in conference rooms? Most of ours our good, but two that I have to personally be in a lot have older furniture and the chairs are downright painful for me for anything beyond 30 minutes. I have pulled in other chairs for one, but for the other, it would really challenge my shame (it’s not close to other rooms with better chairs, so I’d be dragging a chair pretty far and very visibly). They will eventually get replaced in the rotation, so maybe it’s not worth spending capital on? But then again, I’m sure I’m not the only one in pain.

    1. nonymous*

      Try moving a few of the armless chairs into the offending room and leaving them there. You can do this over a few days or enlist the support of someone else, but frame it as responding to a general request and own it as a separate activity (like a boring task you do at end of day when it is slow) if anyone asks. Maybe put a sticker on the new chairs with the room name. If the room has a bunch of older furniture, it will be seen as a transition step to getting new furniture. It’s pretty common for different people to prefer different types of chairs – not a source of shame at all!

    2. Anon Y. Mouse*

      They replaced all the chairs in one of the conference rooms I often have meetings in. Replaced all the armed chairs with different armed chairs.
      But because I was always asking about a chair without arms when they had the old chairs in there, they also bought a special chair for me and put them in the corner of a couple of the rooms where meetings are held regularly. Little embarrassing to have a completely different chair just for me, but definitely a relief to know I’ll be pain free when I’m in there.

    3. StaceyIzMe*

      Evil me would be so tempted to head over to Frontgate and find something that folds up, is ridiculously comfortably and very light weight! No one should have to do something like that- but it’s better than toting/ rolling a chair. Bonus points if you can also pull off a silver flask for your Starbucks drink and a wee silver saucer for the accompanying biscuit but that might be a hair too far…

    4. LQ*

      Yes, we have a mix of arms and no arms on conference room chairs. It was actually brought up by the vendor that we should have a mix and that weirdly went over better than it has in the past when folks have brought it up, so if you have any ability to have a nice quiet side conversation with the vendor and suggest that they suggest that I recommend it.

    5. Nowhereland*

      We recently replaced all our conference room chairs (very small office, so not a lot of chairs). I requested that we have at least some bariatric chairs, and we ended up installing a mix of armless and with arms chairs.

      I had luck with phrasing it as necessary to serve a diverse group of employees & clientele, and I also said that it would be embarrassing if we had visitors or employees that were unable to find a comfortable seat.

  40. Just another fed*

    OP #1: From one public servant to another, you can fire this guy. I fired mine, but it was not an easy, straightforward, or quick process.

    You’re going to need to be scrupulous about your documentation, as others have said. You’re also going to need to be meticulous in following all policies and procedures in relation to Jerry and be equally meticulous in applying those policies and procedures to the rest of the people you supervise–you can’t leave any discrepancies that Jerry can point to and say “But when Fergus did this same thing, you didn’t treat him the way you treated me when I did it!” You must have an HR office with someone responsible for Employee and Labor Relations: talk to them before you do anything and make sure you’re covering your hind end.

    For the stuff that’s beyond the pale, such as the overt racism–take that straight to HR. If HR isn’t listening, take it to whoever oversees your agency.

    And document everything as thoroughly and neutrally as possible. Don’t make value judgments; just report dates and times and facts. Make sure your dates and facts and times line up and don’t contradict each other.

    You can deal with this guy. It can be done. Just be aware that it will take a lot of time and effort and doing–in my situation, it took around three years. At times I wanted to tear my hair out, but I’m also a stubborn stubborn person and that saw me through in the end.

  41. Mama Bear*

    OP #1, does your organization do “skip level” meetings? Would it be beneficial for the managers who are stonewalling you to hear from the people most affected by Jerry and their inaction on dealing with his behaviors? My spouse has a difficult coworker and complaints were being passed along, but going unaddressed. At a skip level meeting this employee’s peer-level coworkers detailed their frustrations to upper management. Perhaps key was to detail x behavior causes y problem. While it’s not been perfect, it has been better. I think upper management needed to hear the frustration direct from the other employees, face to face. Maybe yours does, too.

  42. DataGirl*

    I can sympathize LW 1. I have worked with the awful employee that HR refused to fire because they were afraid she’d sue (also cancer survivor, but the many many ways she was awful had nothing to do with her medical condition). The result was one by one everyone left the department until there were only 2 people left, her and the boss. I heard about 6 months after the last person left (me) they disbanded the department altogether, outsourced everything, and the boss moved on as well. Not sure if they were finally able to let her go at that point. Anyway, if I were in your shoes I’d try to emphasize the impact on morale and caution about losing good people, but it sounds like you are pretty stuck. In that case follow Allison’s advice and let the other employees know you are in the same boat as them.

  43. Kiwiii*

    Re Q2: A couple jobs ago I worked in a TA mailbox and we regularly asked our clients to not just use the specific jurisdiction in the subject line, but then include which aspect they were asking out in a form. The subject line wasn’t always only the jurisdiction (though it often was), but they way that we had to treat that mailbox was to organize it to who was responsible as quickly as possible, and then that person would actually look at it/deal with it/respond. Repeat subject lines happen all the time at NewJob also, where the email is usually “[program name] Helpdesk – [Jurisdiction]”, though it skews more to 50/50 than the 95/5 of the other job.

  44. Phillip*

    I feel like if someone is routinely spending up to 3 hours in someone else’s office, it’s totally reasonable to get an extra regular office chair in there. Those other chairs are meant for brief visits, whereas they are practically coworking in a shared office for almost half the day on the long end.

  45. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I feel for the struggle to sell a job that has great perks from your POV that override the subpar pay scale you’ve got to work with.

    However I’ll never take a salary cut for flexibility. The for profits still have you beat. I have all that flexibility and understanding… along with the market value pay.

    I would still hype the flexibility and WFH because someone will bite. You’ll be next to someone’s home or something desirable to the individual.

    You do need to take a hit to your too high of standards given you’re wages being low. Otherwise you’ll be in this spot until death do you part and that’s miserable. You cannot always get the already rockstars you desire, some have to be built from the inside of your agency.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It’s not even only my bills in my case and I think it’s the case in a lot of others too!

        I live frugally enough [thanks to my parents who drilled down on “Don’t just live within your means, live within your means if you’re on unemployment next week.] I don’t live as frugally as my parents, I told my partner my only rule is that I really don’t’ ever want to live in another trailer park [we lived there because it was cheap not because we couldn’t’ afford better].

        But I have hopes, dreams and aspirations that require money banked away for later. I busted my butt working for less than I was worth for awhile because I lived, loved and breathed a company that was actually not a non-profit. It wasn’t their mission, it was their ownership who let me grow within them that I stayed on so long for. They brought me in as a kid and let me fly and learn, while paying me as well as they could [even better than they could in the end]. But they earned it, they didn’t sell me a “work life balance” or some other “perk”, they sold me experience and we grew to respect and adore one another [which is why I’m telling the OP to please, think of creating her own superstar!]

        If it’s a cause I care about, I’m over here working for the money and I’ll be a donor before I’ll ever work there because you know, I don’t donate my time anymore unless it’s a volunteer kind of setup or very part-time.

        I would take this job if they needed a very part-time accountant and wanted to pay me a paltry wage for it. You’ll also need to give me room to breath and not touch me when it comes to my schedule. I make my schedule. You stay sat over there while I do my thing. I’ve done favors for people before, I’d do it again for the right one but don’t think I’m going to invest my time, my life and my ability to have this nest egg I’m building for a comfortable retirement and to help my parents in their old age!

        1. RB*

          Just wanted to say I’ve really enjoyed your posts regarding #4. They all mirror my sentiments exactly. This one has really hit a sore spot for me.

    1. LQ*

      I think that building someone from inside is a really important point here. It kind of sounds like OP wants people who are already polished, but really if you are paying that much less it can be really helpful to position yourself as a place where people can be polished, supported, developed. You have to be willing to work with people and help them develop into your high standards which you absolutely can have, but maybe you spend time developing folks who aren’t already there. They’ll be more likely to be loyal long term and you can earn a reputation as a really excellent first job for folks which isn’t a bad thing at all.

    2. smoke tree*

      The mission of the nonprofit could also be a fairly significant draw, though. If it’s a good place to work and has a mission that appeals to a lot of people, and pays well relative to other nonprofits, that will attract a certain type of candidate. Of course, that assumes that the pay isn’t a complete nonstarter for the area where the organization is located.

  46. TootsNYC*

    To Jerry’s boss:
    A process and management expert I respect once told me: “Make it visible.”

    Make sure you’re not a barrier between your other employee and upper management.

    You should be a funnel and a filter–but you need to be sure your filter is not removing the important stuff.

    And the resentment that’s building is important stuff.
    As the filter, you need to arrange the news in a way that doesn’t leave the other employees vulnerable but also that doesn’t hide the truth from upper management.

  47. Elenna*

    OP #3: If you have the time, it might help to give your boss a “short list” of chairs that work for you and where to order them? I imagine part of the problem is likely that she’s busy enough that “research chairs for OP” gets pushed down the to-do list a lot.

    1. rayray*

      That’s a great idea. If she was being kind and agreeing to get that done, she probably really intended to get it done, but it just isn’t a constant thing on her mind and likely just fell off her radar. Bring it up again, or as someone else suggested, see if you can use your office (if you have your own) or a conference room. Maybe even push your own chair in there for the time being.

  48. Mannheim Steamroller*

    Letter 1…

    If Jerry keeps making others do his work (even work that falls within the scope of his “light duty” assignment), end that now. Have the rest of the team STOP doing his work. Start writing him up for not doing his work. Start writing him up for his surly attitude and poor customer service. Shut him down and write him up when he tries to manage the team. Document everything.

    1. Observer*

      Exactly this. DO NOT pick up the slack for him, nor should you allow anyone else to do so. Document your head off.

  49. TootsNYC*

    He would like the subject line to include the project number, location, and project title only.

    This would be really unhelpful for me. I get having project title in the subject line, and I think that should be something people are already doing. If the project titles are all different, and are distinctive, and people are using them accurately, then there is NO need for location as well. Maybe project number would be helpful in case people goof on typing the project name, but the location is really such a subset of the project itself. The title encompasses everything!

    But I want things like “registration form” or “materials for review” in there!!!

    I’d probably email back:

    “Thanks for letting us know your preferences for email subject lines; I agree with you that they can be a powerful tool. However, my team needs to have other information in the subject line, so we can’t really do this exactly the way you’ve proposed. We’ll be sure to put the accurate project title in every subject line, and I’ve distributed a list of the official titles, so people will be able to standardize that nomenclature. Hopefully that will make it easier for you to search through your inbox.”

    1. Important Moi*

      You’re so polite.

      Am I the only who thinks this guy wants a filing system but doesn’t want to do it himself?

      YMMV, but I can change the subject line of ANY email I receive.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I was about to say, “it doesn’t help me to change it AFTER I’ve opened it; I want to know what it’s about before I open it.”

        And then I realize–you mean HE can change the subject….

  50. Interviewer*

    OP#3 – Can you schedule the meetings in your office instead of hers? Or is there a conference room you guys can use with a good chair for you? If not, wheel your chair over to her office every single time. Do not be self-conscious about it – you should use it every chance you get.

  51. Wintermute*

    A little reminder for the case of “Jerry”– you do not need to be a member of a protected category to file a complaint based on that protected category. For instance, if someone is being grossly sexist, a man can complain just as well as a woman can. In this case, you don’t have to be a member of his targeted minority in order to file a complaint about his racism. This is a classic case of raising the pain of ignoring him to the point it is greater than the pain of firing him and dealing with any potential blowback, and a government investigation into hostile workplace claims is a LOT of pain to ignore. In fact they may be given a tacit ultimatum: he stops or is stopped (and lets face it, he won’t just stop on his own, so removing his comments probably means removing him from the environment) or they face legal liability.

  52. CupcakeCounter*

    Many of my coworkers and I nearly always roll our desk chairs to other cubes, offices, etc…simply because they are more comfortable for longer meetings. None of us are “of a size” although we run the gambit from a size 0 to a size 14/16 and all the sizes in between. Happened less often at my old work because that was an office furniture manufacturer so all of the chairs in the building were really good, but it is really the norm at current job. Getting a visitor chair that fits you properly is ideal but keep rolling your desk chair in and be comfortable! Most people will simply assume its due not to your weight but due to the amount of time you are in the office – even for smaller people traditional visitor chairs are that not comfortable since they are intended for shorter periods of use.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      Someone at my company always rolls her own chair to meetings, even when they’re on a different floor, because she has major back problems. She just can’t sit for that long in any other chair. No one thinks anything of it. If someone happens to ask, she just says, “back problems.”

  53. Observer*

    #1 – Someone mentioned that people have standing to complain about discrimination even if they are not in the protected class. So, if these is a mechanism for bringing complaints of this sort to the organization, encourage people to use it. When Jerry says something racist and someone complains to you document it – but also encourage the person to bring it directly to the complaints hotline or whatever it is. Have them be specific – “Jerry was being racist” is something that can be brushed off. “Jerry referred to some African America clients as ‘those monkeys'” or “Jerry used the n- word”(!) is going to be much harder to ignore, especially when they get a few of those complaints.

    And document the fact that this is the advice you gave them. Perhaps, ask people to let you know when they have filed the complaint and what the response was. What you want to do is not only create documentation of the problem, but you want to create documentation that your organization “knew or should have known” about the problem. This way it becomes harder for the organization to ignore a problem and pretend that it doesn’t exist.

    1. Wintermute*

      I might have been the one you saw whopointed that out above, and I’d like to tag onto this to say, you’re entirely correct. If LW is a manager they are now on notice that a hostile workplace environment, in the legal sense, may occur. Mentioning other complaints got me thinking– LW has no idea who may or may not have gotten sick of this already and filed a complaint, internally or externally. They may already be named in a complaint, in fact. So it’s important to get ahead of any potential problems by making very clear they are not OK with this, they’re not complicit in this.

      I’d start with the usual “I’m worried about how this affects us all” AAM script but if they still stonewall you make sure there’s a clear paper trail of you disputing their incredible forbearance and insisting on meeting your legal obligations as an employer. Given how awful the upper management are I think there’s a good chance they’ll try to throw LW under the bus and say they let the environment in their group get out of control, all the racism is on them, they need evidence to dispute that.

  54. LawBee*

    #3 – when you follow up about the chair, give her options of ones to select from. I doubt that she doesn’t want to get the chair, but doing the shopping for it is a low priority. Say “[Alison’s script]. Here are a few that might work, would you like to look at them?” Make it as easy for her as you can, and it becomes something that she can knock off quickly, versus having to schedule time to do.

  55. How I Got Rid of My Jerry*

    OP #1, I think you’re me. My Jerry was also a cancer survivor and relatively young–in his 30s. His parents both worked for the company as well which made My Jerry something of a legacy in this large, multi-national company. Of course all three of them worked in the same office (mine) but in vastly different departments.

    My Jerry was racist, rude, downright nasty, and his penchant for just not working Mondays and Fridays on a whim was very obvious. (He was not in treatment, these weren’t FMLA days, it was just…he liked long weekends). His nastiness would manifest as things such as going into the women’s restroom and shouting that he’s in there because he’s “warning of the dangers of gender neutral bathrooms!” (We have gender neutral ones, but he would make an odd show of going into the ladies’ rooms). Telling a coworker who had suffered the birth of a stillborn baby that she’s “better off without the kid because now she can party.” And my personal favorite cringe moment: telling his female supervisor that she’d “be better off as a stripper because she has the body for it but is dumb as s*it.” All of these incidents and more were documented, sent to HR.

    HR wasn’t about to fire cancer boy and said as much to anyone who complained. My Jerry would get a talking to, maybe a write up for the more egregious things, but his parents’ influence and HR would cover it up.

    Then a project came up I knew Jerry would mess it up. I knew it. I assigned him to it. It was some field work. Jerry did not like field work. Jerry complained. A lot. To everyone and anyone who would listen, or pretend to listen, including the client and site manager (not our employees; we were working for them). Jerry also did a terrible job at the tasks he was assigned to and earned the rage of the client. One time, he went into the server room to sneak a smoke, left the window open, and rain got on the equipment. Another time, after being told AGAIN it was a non-smoking site and he would need to leave the premises to smoke (petrochemicals!) he was caught smoking in the site manager’s trailer. The client’s site manager demanded Jerry be taken off the project. Since I had no other project open to move Jerry to, and I did not have the authority to pay him from an overhead code, Jerry was no more.

    And that’s how I got my awful Cancer Boy fired.

  56. Art3mis*

    #4 So LW wants candidates to live up to their standards, but doesn’t want to meet the candidates salary standards? Benefits and flexible schedules can easily be taken away and you can’t pay a mortgage with them.

  57. Artemesia*

    I worked in an environment where major slackers were almost impossible to fire– the solution was to make them uncomfortable by managing the hell out of them.

  58. agnes*

    LW # 4:
    Seems to me that you are are not marketing a real organizational asset, which is the opportunity to work with and learn from experienced professionals who perform at a high level. A lot of people would really like to work in a place where everyone is pulling their weight and even someone with a lot of experience is likely to learn something from their colleagues.

    I don’t think your workplace flexibility–as you have described it–is significant enough to make you a preferred employer. Market pressures have wound up making some flexibility a a necessity in most workplaces in order for companies to recruit and retain workers.

    here are some thought for your ad.
    “typical hours are 8-4. We are generous with allowing employees some flexibility for important life events.”

    “You’ll be joining an experienced team who perform at a high level and who want to help you get acclimated to our organization. “

  59. LawBee*

    Oh, and LW4 – I would note that the number of commenters here who have a “we employ MOMS!” read on your letter is likely to be representative of a number of people reading your ad in the wild. If that wasn’t your intent, you now have evidence that people are reading it that way regardless. Take it as a data point, use it as you will.

    (Disclosure: I love moms, I have a mom, most of my friends are moms, I am not a mom, and an ad that explicitly states “working parents are welcome!!!” would set me off because also most of my coworkers in every job I’ve had have been working parents, so why be so specific about it?)

    Pay more, or lower your standards.

  60. TootsNYC*

    for #4: You can’t say in your add “perfect for working parents,” but you can advertise where working moms (and dads) are!

  61. Quality Queen*

    OP #3: Do you know what vendor your office typically uses to order office furniture? It depends on the culture and your relationship with your boss, but maybe you could pick a reasonable chair from the catalog and e-mail it to her as a suggestion. I know if I’d had this conversation with my boss and he seemed open to it, but had likely forgotten, he would appreciate me sending him an e-mail that did most of the work for him that he could then forward on to purchasing. Something like “I know we spoke about this before and I found a few options from my vendor that I think would work if you would like to take a look at them.”

    1. LizM*

      This is my suggestion. Shopping for office furniture is the type of task that tends to fall to the bottom of my list – it’s not urgent, I have to totally shift what I’m doing because it’s so far from what I usually do, and when I do find 10 min, it’s usually at the end of the day and I’m often suffering from decision fatigue. Giving me 2 or 3 options makes it so much easier to say “yes, that one!” and get an order over to our office manager.

  62. Anongradstudent*

    Alison, thank you so much for including #5. I’m in a very similar situation that I was actually going to email you about, and your advice here was really helpful.

  63. RB*

    OP 4, Please add me to the list of folks who would be put off by some of the language in your post and would see it as a yellow flag, for reasons others have already stated above. I would also worry that it would be very clique-ish and I would not fit in. That, combined with the risk that non-parents would be treated differently puts it more into red-flag territory. It’s just not worth it when there are better paying jobs out there that might also offer the flex scheduling you describe. Working 8-4 isn’t that appealing to me, so the only appealing part is getting school vacations off, but it’s unclear if everyone gets them off, such that the entire office is closed with no work-from-home expectation, and people are getting 8-10 weeks of paid vacation per year. That sounds unlikely. What about summer vacations?

  64. In a corporate insurance job*


    In some industries, it would be totally fine to reach out directly to your prior HR contact. I know Allison usually advocates going through the formal application channels but realistically in some fields that can keep your resume or cover letter from ever being read, if a computer is doing preliminary filtering and there are hundreds of applicants. In fact in some fields the majority of positions are filled from non online application channels.

    If they want you to apply online they will tell you that, if you contact someone directly.

    Use discretion though, depends on your industry, the company’s culture, individual hiring managers’ personal preferences.

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