my coworkers are in a cult, all-day work road trips, and more

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

1. My coworkers are in a self-help cult

A few months back, my coworker Jason, then new to the team, was hawking a program which from Googling appears to be a for-profit self-help cult. Jason has done the full program and volunteers with them in his free time. Bernadette decided to try it and signed up for the the $800 intro course a couple of months ago. Over a recent weekend, she took the “advanced” course as well. In a team meeting this week, Bernadette spent about five minutes rambling an apology about how she has been dissatisfied at work because she wasn’t giving it her all and how she thinks she’s a bad team member and wants to do better, while Jason encouraged her with smiles and nods.

Bernadette has been a stellar team member for the past year other than this self-denunciation. I have no idea where her perception that she’s no good comes from, but my guess would be a combination of Impostor Syndrome and the cult. The unaccountable apology was uncomfortable and awkward for the rest of the team, and none of us knew what to say in that moment, so we all just sort of stared at our laptops. I don’t want anyone else here to be harmed by this expensive systematic bullying, nor do I want our team meetings to be disrupted by this kind of bizarre and unprofessional outburst in the future. What in the world do I do?

For now, I don’t think there’s much you can do about the meeting disruption. If you start seeing more of this at meetings, you should flag it for your manager — but if it stays a one-time weird moment, I’d just leave it for now. You could, however, counter to Bernadette the critical things she said about herself.

You could also make sure that other people on your team know the facts about the organization, so that they might be more likely to decline if Jason or Bernadette try to recruit them (especially because trying to recruit acquaintances is part of the model). You could try giving Bernadette and Jason that same information too, of course — but people caught up in things like this typically will already have been trained to resist outside assessments of the group, and it may cause some tension in your work relationships with them. (Which you might be fine with! Just factor that in.)

Read an update to this letter here.

2. I don’t want to be in a car with coworkers for eight hours a day

My company keeps scheduling trips to one of our newly acquired sites in a very rural area. It’s a four-hour drive each way, eight hours roundtrip. We are expected to drive to the site, work a full day, and drive back to the office (~16 hrs on a good day). We typically carpool in a company car, but the days are exhausting.

Am I wrong to ask for the company to cover a hotel? I’ve already talked to my boss. She is against staying overnight and would rather push through it in one day than be away from her family overnight. I’m afraid of looking like a complainer, but I can’t see myself going on another one of these trips. It’s becoming a safety concern for me as it’s a long, somewhat dangerous drive. I’m also pregnant and feel awful asking the driver to stop for multiple bathroom stops along the way. Should I drive by myself and pay for my own hotel? Or bring this issue up the chain?

What the hell?! Eight hours in a car in one day on top of a full work day is ridiculous.

Yes, you should push back. You can cite the pregnancy specifically, or you can cite health issues that mean you shouldn’t sit in a car that much in one day, or you can say it’s unsafe or grueling and exhausting. Use the words “it’s not possible for me to continue doing this all in one day.”

Do all your other coworkers want to get back the same day, or are there others who would join you in pushing for an overnight stay? If there are others, push back as a group and suggest that those of you who don’t want the 16-hour days could drive up in a separate group and stay overnight. (I’m assuming the train isn’t an option, but if it is, that’s something else you could suggest.)

Don’t offer to pay for your own hotel. This is business travel and your company should cover it.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. Does my boss’s boss think my work is bad?

I’ve been in my current job as an administrative assistant for about six months now, and overall things are going really well. My supervisor is helpful, if somewhat stressed and disorganized, and I get along well with all of my coworkers.

My question is regarding my grandboss. I only seem to interact with her when something’s gone wrong. These are never really big things: they range from minor, easily corrected mistakes (I didn’t realize that the new Llama Safety Packets include our Llama Info Sheet, so there’s no need to include it as a separate copy) to things that I don’t actually have any control over (lunch arrived later than scheduled) to things that weren’t actually mistakes (I was trained to file our Llama Grooming Instructions under Grooming, not Llamas, and she didn’t realize that) to things I was in no way involved with (her mortgage company sent her a fax with her SSN on it, and she didn’t realize it was on the fax machine for a couple days). My response to all of these is to fix the issue as quickly as possible, and to try and make sure they don’t happen again.

I don’t mean to sound defensive, but in my actual daily activities, I tend to be quick, accurate, and efficient. My direct supervisor regularly tells me that I’m doing well, and I frequently fill in for absent coworkers without any dip in work quality. I’m afraid, though, that my grandboss has a bad impression of my work based on a few rare exceptions, that don’t fall into the my main duties. Aside from trying to minimize mistakes going forward, and correcting the ones that do occur, is there any way to improve my relationship with her?

There’s a good possibility that she doesn’t have a terrible impression of your work, but rather — because she’s not your manager — only has cause to talk to you about your work when she wants something handled differently. It would better if she praised you for things that go well that she’s involved in, but this kind of model with a grandboss isn’t unusual.

But to be sure, you could always check your manager. You could say, “The only times I generally end up interacting with Jane are when something’s gone wrong, like X or Y, and I worry it could affect her impression of my work. I know you’ve said I’m doing well, but do you think I have any cause for concern about what her impressions may be?” You’ll probably hear “no, Jane knows I’m thrilled with how you’re doing” or “nothing to worry about — she knows you’re great but just doesn’t have reason to interact with you most of the time” or something else reassuring. Or who knows, maybe you’ll hear Jane does have concerns! (In which case, that’s good to know so you can figure out what to do about them.) But I’m betting she doesn’t, and you’ll get some peace of mind by asking.

4. Company wants to call me for an “informal chat”

A few days after submitting an application for an open position at a major company in my city, I received an email from their HR saying that they would call me within one or two weeks for an “informal chat.” They couldn’t say when exactly they would call, but I didn’t need to worry about it because it was not an interview and if I was not available at the time they called, I could return it.

I’m confused by what this means. They say it’s not an interview, but if they get the impression from this call that I’m not a good fit, I will be disqualified as a candidate. How should I prepare for this? Do you have any tips for these “informal chats”?

Prepare for it as if it’s a formal interview. It might be one! Some employers are weird about this and like to make early stages of their hiring process sound more informal than they really are. “We’ll just have a conversation!” “Come in and get to know us!” But from the candidate’s side, those things are usually interviews, and you should prepare the same way you would if they were calling it that.

Occasionally it really is something less formal. It’s possible that they just want to tell you about the job and see if you’re still interested and/or learn a little about you. Even then, the best thing is to prepare the same way you would for an interview. Be familiar with the company and the job posting, and be ready to talk about yourself, your experience, and your interests. You might end up being over-prepared, but that’s better than being under-prepared.

(Also, companies: Stop doing this. No matter how informal these conversations are, they’re interviews. They’re part of your assessment process, after all. Call them interviews. You are confusing candidates. And schedule them for an actual time, not “we’ll call sometime in the next two weeks.”)

5. Company wants to contact my references but we haven’t talked about salary or start date

I recently interviewed for a quite senior level job, for which I had been referred by a former manager. I had several interviews and they then asked for contact details for my references, which I gave and asked that they please let me know at the stage that they planned to call. They replied, “today.” We had thus far not discussed any details of the job like salary, start date, or even location. I am applying for multiple jobs and do not want my references to take valuable time and energy on something that might not be a possibility/fit. Additionally, I found it kind of rude and presumptuous of this company to approach it in this way. I sent a polite note and said I’d love to sync on details before the reference stage if they had a moment at all and since then — crickets. I do need a job, so now I am concerned I approached this wrongly and put them off. What do you think?

This is pretty normal. Loads of companies don’t discuss pay or state date until the offer stage. They interview you, they check references, then they make an offer where those details get discussed. [Start date in particular is usually assumed throughout the process to be “sometime within a month or so after an offer is accepted” (or sometimes for senior roles, “within a few months”) and many companies don’t see a reason to discuss it earlier unless there’s special reason to, like that they must have you start sooner.]

That said, you’re not wrong to want to make sure you’re in the same ballpark before your references are contacted, especially if you have reason to worry you might not be. It’s not unreasonable to say something like, “Since I want to protect my references’ time, would it be possible to quickly make sure we’re in the same ballpark on salary and location before you contact them?” (Just be prepared to be asked to name your own salary expectations first since you’re the one raising the question.)

{ 267 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I’ve removed the name of the organization in #1 in order to avoid the inevitable derailment otherwise. If you saw the name previously or think you can guess it, please do not leave comments defending or promoting the organization; I will have to remove those. Thank you.

  2. Massmatt*

    Don’t sit there staring at your computer screen while someone engages in minutes of unwarranted ritual self-flagellation, whether cult inspired or not. Did this meeting have an agenda? Was someone in charge of it? You are on notice that a couple of people are not above hijacking your meetings for off-topic nonsense, don’t let them repeat their performance.

    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I think the Cult employees from L#1 should go work for the company from L#2. Then they would have plenty of time to recruit other employees during the 8 hour car rides. I think people might join just to get them to be quite.

            1. Quill*

              Darn you and your socks! At least the cell phone problem is solved by the remote location (bad signal) and the murder can happen in a gas station…

              1. Quill*

                Also obviously the detective would be local police. Restricts resources enough that no one expects CSI to turn up DNA evidence that miraculously solves the case in under 24 hours.

            1. LunaLena*

              That would make it more of And Then There Were None to Drive the Car instead of Murder on the Carpool Express.

        1. Trixie, the Great and Pedantic*

          I see your handle and I keep thinking of Jim Qwilleran from the Cat Who… mysteries.

    2. LW1*

      Apologies to all, I ended up with pneumonia when this was first published. I’ll be replying as best I can now that I can breathe and sleep again thanks to the miracle of antibiotics.

      Yep, it was a team intertal meeting had an agenda, and this came up as a “meet-after” topic. Of course, Jason was the one in charge of the agenda and moving the meeting along, and he was encouraging the nonsense because he brought it in the first place.

  3. West*

    #1 – I think the best thing you can do is to make sure that you yourself are prepared to firmly decline invitations from either of these coworkers to join any courses. A few years ago I had a coworker who became involved in this same venture, and then she got our manager involved as well. They both encouraged me repeatedly to come for a course, including my manager regularly suggesting it during our one-on-ones. I learned that polite excuses don’t work. For example, if I told them I didn’t have transportation, they’d offer me a ride. You have to unambiguously state that you won’t take the course and offer no more context, and be ready to do it more than once if necessary.

    The good news is that we are all still with the same company, though in different roles, and while I interact with them often, I haven’t heard them mention it in years.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      Preparing yourself to say “No thank you, I’m not interested” as often as necessary is important here. You’re right that giving a reason will only backfire. OP needs to stick to “no” and be ready to change the subject. Repeated requests from them can be combatted with “As I said, I’m not interested. Please stop asking.” Then a report to the manager if they don’t let up. (As long as the manager isn’t also involved!)

    2. Jen S. 2.0*

      This. I dated a dude who was into this (or a similar) program, and I had to be really firm that I was not interested and did not care, and then I needed not to care that he was deeply disappointed that I was not interested and did not care.

      I was saying things like, “I have no interest in this. I am happy with my place in life and my career. I am not blocked in life. I am not struggling with any of the challenges you are saying this program will fix. My college degree is in psychology. I do not need this program. I am not interested. I do not want to attend these things. This is not a place where I want to spend my money. I have no interest in this. Please stop asking me about this. I don’t care that you think I am closed-minded because I am not interested. No.”

      I eventually dumped him and stopped answering his phone calls, like somewhere around 2012. He at some point moved home into his mother’s basement (so great job, program!). He still texts about the program very occasionally :/

      1. JSPA*

        Mine who went that route, sexually assaulted me. (While I was fully intending to participate willingly, no less.)

        I guess “no,” “that hurts” and “WTAF?” were not Three Good Reasons.

        I have every level of loathing for these human dementor orgs, both broadly and specifically. Sometimes, scorched earth is the only safe way to create safe distance, if the verbal weed-killer fails.

        1. Jen S. 2.0*

          I am SO TERRIBLY SORRY that happened to you. That person is a complete waste of perfectly good protoplasm.

          Ugh and GAHHHHHH and GRRRR and #@&%*&$#@!?§£@¥!!!!!

        2. Batgirl*

          Yes, vile and dreadful sources of concentrated and organised negging so they can treat people however they want. What a perfectly mould ridden and pathetic person.

      2. lilsheba*

        What is it about these kinds of cults, or religious cults, that INSIST on harassing people to join? They keep at it over and over and over till you want to run screaming into the night. No means no, SHUT UP!

        1. Veronica*

          It’s about money. The more people join, the more $$ the leader(s) make. They teach the followers their mission is to save people by forcing them to join.
          Some mainstream religions have groups like this too. It’s the same thing, money – the leaders get rich from followers donating to the organization.

          1. lilsheba*

            This harassment technique can’t be that successful can it? If you harass me about anything I lose interest altogether.

            1. Veronica*

              I get mad and do whatever is necessary to chase them away. But lilsheba and I are in the minority.
              I read about members of a religion who give classes on conversion where they teach techniques to engage the emotions of their targets and manipulate them into joining. :(

              1. ZK*

                My brother in law once had a couple so determined to save his soul that they kept showing up and ignoring his when he said no thank you and closed the door. If he didn’t answer, they would keep knocking. He finally answered the door with a can of gasoline in one hand and a lighter in the other. I don’t recommend this route, but it did work.

            2. JSPA*

              It’s like Phishing emails that are terribly obvious.

              They don’t want to hook in the combo of strong-minded, strong-willed, comfortable-and-secure-in-one’s-own-company, philosophically-content (or those who don’t give a rat’s ass, resent harassment, and like to wise-off to stuffed shirts). Those people are a risk.

              They want to find earnest people with at least a few self-doubts or fears or other exploitable traits, who present minimal risk to the organization.

        2. Anat*

          They tell people that they can overcome any obstacle if they work at it enough. And recruiting people (in spite of resistance) is precisely the training they suggest for overcoming obstacles. So the more you say no, the more it becomes a personal challenge to convince you.

          1. Veronica*

            If all else fails, call 911 and say this person is harassing you and ask for help. So far that’s always worked for me. :D

              1. Róisín*

                If you don’t want to bother 911 dispatchers, you can also call 311 (that’s the non-emergency line) or dial on your calculator and just fake it. If you know the questions to answer and pause long enough to imagine someone asking the next question, you can often trick someone into thinking you’re on the phone with the cops. Having called multiple times, knowing a real call does not resemble a TV call, your dialog would look like this:

                “911, do you need police, fire, or EMS?”
                “And what location are you calling from?”
                “I’m at 1234 Main Street / the corner of Park and Seventh / etc”
                “Okay great, and what’s the nature of the emergency?”
                “A man / woman / person I’d harassing me after repeatedly being asked to leave me alone”
                “Do they appear drunk or impaired?”
                “Can you describe the person?”
                This is the point where they normally leave.

      3. GreenDoor*

        I’ve gotten the hard sell from people like this and my answer is, “No thanks. I’m Catholic and when I’m having a hard time, I turn to my faith.” Hard to argue with that.

        1. West*

          I think for the right person it is easy to argue against that. One of the people hounding me was quite openly religious, so they could easily countered with something like “I’ve found this program actually enhances my religious experience.” That is why I recommend providing no excuses or context no matter what.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Never cite logistics as the reason for your no, unless you would be genuinely pleased to learn that someone had solved the logistics for you.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        When the boys were babies, my husband and I got the hard sell for a “weekend marriage retreat” from one of these EST-descended groups. Only $1000! At a time in our life when we were paying for daycare for two, and eating rice and beans every night of the week.

        We finally told them, we absolutely do not have $1000 for this retreat. Nor do we have anyone to watch the babies for a weekend. And if we had those things, we would improve our marriage at a romantic B&B. That was the end of it. I feel like you can tell where the group’s interests lie by the fact that there was no talk of sliding scales.

  4. Rich*

    OP#2, I have a drive-to-the-client type job. 4 hours one-way is entirely unreasonable for a day trip that includes a full day of work. Your boss’s preference to endure the drive to be home with her family is absolutely her prerogative, but it’s not reasonable or safe to expect the rest of the team to do so. In my experience, I typically see anything over 2 hours one-way (when there’s a full day of work involved) as an overnight, with reimbursed lodging and meals.

    I work in technology, but I’ve done it supporting a number of industries, and that’s been a pretty typical threshold across multiple industries. That’s still a lot of driving and a long way, but it’s the point at which you could reasonably expect reimbursable overnight stays as mandatory.

    Focusing on driving safety is a good line of argument. 16-hour days that begin and end with so many hours on the road are dangerous, regardless of the route, but it sounds like a challenging route makes it more so. Leading with that rather than pregnancy-related needs also protects you from being back in such unreasonable travel post-pregnancy.

    1. JSPA*

      There was a time in my life I’d have relished the day and the drive. Those days are long past.

      This is a clear situation for “I” language.

      instead of arguing that it’s unsafe or undesirable–as the boss clearly sees it as both safe and desirable–”This isn’t safe for me.” “This isn’t workable for me.” “This is terrible for me.” For a general statement of safety and desirability, you need to poll people to make even a soft claim. For a “me/I” statement, you can make a very strong statement, based on exactly your own situation. No further explanation needed.

      In the unlikely event that your boss hears “blindingly terrible for me” and says, “but everyone else is comfortable with it,” you can a) double down on, “that doesn’t unfortunately change my situation at all, even if true” and b) go poll the others. Sure, boss may expect that things will change once you have an infant. (In fact, this may be true; you won’t know until you’re there.)

      1. valentine*

        I think the boss might respond best to OP’s need for bathroom breaks. Maybe paying for lodging (or changing this entire extreme error!) would be worth it to her to get home sooner.

        But there’s lots of room for improvement. If neither the breaks or the pregnancy persuade her and no one backs you, OP, chip away at this. Why is it all-or-nothing? Why does everyone have to return to the office instead of being dropped off somewhere? Boss doesn’t want to pay for cabs, either? Boss wants company for the entirety of this horrific journey?

        1. Veronica*

          I would be cautious about using the pregnancy as a reason. When you’re no longer pregnant, boss could expect you to do these trips with no problems, and you don’t want that!

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Yeah…this. A 16 hour day, where eight of them are spent driving is ridiculous. A four hour drive each way is ridiculous. Four hours…that should be a plane…or at least a train.

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              Not if you are in the US. I am just starting a job where the sites I am helping are 2-6 hrs from my location. These are remote, rural locations so the options are car or helicopter. One site, car isn’t even an option for the last bit, it is helicopter, hike, or mule. Helicopter is crazy expensive, so not an option for me ever. Rural America, especially in the west, is a whole different ballgame. These are places where you have to qualify if the locals say something is “close” because that might be 1.5 hrs away. I’m OK doing a 3 hr drive, work 8, 3 hr return, but nothing more than that and definitely not with that many people in a car.

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                I guess I was thinking city to city. I forget sometimes that people have to travel into the outback.

              2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

                Especially if you’re in rural area, you need to plan extensively to stay somewhere along the way. The roads aren’t safe after dark due to animals and their weird winding nonsense. I’ve seen people die on backwoods roads going to rural locations before and it’s awful.

                I think a lot of folks aren’t aware how many backwoods tucked away places we have in the US though, most are very much city dwellers [who end up stranded in the desert because they think that they can just push their car and not stop for gas when it says it’s the last gas stop, maaaaaan.]

            2. Ann O'Nemity*

              There are some places where a plane or train may not be an option, though. Maybe a bus, but for many that’s worse than driving.

              1. Jadelyn*

                Buses are definitely worse. At least in a car I’m driving and can decide when and where I want to stop for food, bathroom breaks, etc.

            3. schnauzerfan*

              No trains, no planes, no buses where we most frequently travel. Not even divided highways all the way. Two lane remote without cell service for a good portion of the trip. 2:45 minutes drive each way for us, a bit longer for others. We finally convinced everyone to agree that “one day” meetings should start about 10 am and end by 3. Still a long day, but not quite so brutal. If we need a longer meeting we start about eleven and end by 2 the next day. There are still those who’d like to “just bang it out and get home today, but…

            4. Wintermute*

              Eh, in the US four hours by car can be ten by plane, if you have to drive to the nearest airport (sometimes several hours in and of itself) take a flight from a regional or municipal airport to a full-service airport on a small plane, then take a flight to a city near your destination, then endure another several hours drive to the destination and/or another small-plane flight before driving another few hours.

              And the train, if it does run that way at all, may be similar.

          2. Sarah N.*

            Agree, 16-hour days with no place to pump for at least 4 hours (because you’re in a car with all of your coworkers) is also completely untenable.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              True. Though OP is pregnant not nursing and it’s entirely possible that pumping may never be a consideration for her. Not all women choose to breast feed.

            2. JSPA*

              Even if she’s going to be breast feeding, this is very much YMMV, no? Also depends on how long the maternity leave is, and thus how often the kid’s feeding, by the time she goes back to work / first has to go on one of these trips. If the kid’s getting to 5 months by then, she could be down to a “once every 4 hours” schedule, even if she’s still full-on breast feeding. And she could then actually be more motivated to get home with the milk (using one of those car-plug-in-refrigerator-cases) than stay over.

              She doesn’t have to tie it to the pregnancy to say, “It doesn’t work for me.” But she may not want to double down on, “and it’ll never work for me in the future, I’m sure of it.” (So few things remain the same, with a baby; why count on this one?)

      2. ellen*

        If I, a not pregnant woman, would be THRILLED to be in a car trip with a pregnant woman that needs us to stop regularly during a four hour trip (because sitting in a cramped space, unmoving, for hours on end can and will trigger leg spasms in me that are bad enough to leave me hobbling for quite a while after AND I worry about blood clots in my legs), I can’t be the only one. I would be really sad to not have her in the car with me, as a convenient excuse. Stop every hour? Sure! I’ll hot up my coffee, pee (just because) and walk around a little bit so I can actually feel my feet when I arrive.

        Yeah, not only would be the not-doable for me, I bet I could even get a drs note SAYING that it isn’t do able for me. 16 hour days? I am NOT 18 any more. how much good at home time does this lady think she is getting with her kids when she has just been away from (say) 6am until 10 pm, not counting driving home from wherever the carpool drops her off?

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I suspect the boss’s thing is more only having all Wednesday away from her family–she’s there Tuesday for dinner and Thursday for breakfast, which she wouldn’t be if they spent one of those driving and in a hotel.

          Also, as my husband and I moved through our 40s we both found that it was a lot harder to sleep the first night in a strange place. So might as well drive back and sleep in our own bed and actually sleep. I suspect the boss might be there–not that it’s a reasonable position to impose on everyone else, but she might genuinely believe that everyone will sleep better if you just knock it out and drive back.

        2. Quill*

          A 4 hour trip one way would leave me, the queen of chronic tendonitis, completely unable to work a full day.

          OP, please tell me you’re actually getting paid for the time spent on the road!

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            THIS. OP’s entire team is essentially putting in two days’ worth of hours in one day. Is that time being considered travel time that gets overtime pay or comp time for an extra day off somewhere else in the week?

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              I have a feeling that most if not all of the employees are exempt and don’t get any overtime pay.

              1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                I hadn’t thought about that part, but you’re probably right. So no overtime pay, but the bit about comp time and taking a day off to compensate for the extra 8 hours still stands.

              2. Fulano*

                That was my thought as well. I’ve lived a similar scenario where we were called in, at short notice, on any day of the week under the guise of “other duties as assigned” to exempt workers.

                1. Does anyone know if there’s a health/safety “out” (OSHA)?

                2. Are LW2’s work hours (weekly number of hours spelled out in her contract? Travel hours are involuntarily assigned so theyre definitely workhouse.

                Perhaps, LW2 could approach this from a safety and morale standpoint. I once succeeded in stopping my boss from demanding this kind of travel by explaining it in terms of greater legal liability (a sleepy driver wipes out three colleagues—then what?) and that my annual anonymous climate assessment revealed that the policy was crippling morale and people were actively job searching.

                1. Properlike*

                  I know that the film industry had a big OSHA problem after a crew member died after falling asleep driving home after a too-long production day with minimal turnarounds. (I think this was back in the early aughts.) This is a health and safety issue. There is absolutely no reason for you to be spending eight travel hours on the road. CERTAINLY not with someone driving you who’s been on the same schedule (maybe, if it’s airplanes or trains, but NO WAY if it’s colleagues driving.)

                2. noahwynn*

                  There’s no direct OSHA violation, at least at the federal level. I’m not familar enough to every state’s OSHA program to say with 100% certainty there.

                  While OSHA doesn’t say “you can only work X number of hours at a time,” they might be able to use the general duty clause, especially if employees are reporting fatigue and the company has reasonable knowledge of the risks and has refused to mititate them.

              3. Aurion*

                Not only that, but I have the feeling the boss isn’t the one to be driving the car while they carpool. So she gets to nap in the car.

              4. CDM*

                Any non-exempt employees don’t have to be paid for time spent as a passenger outside of their normal work hours, per US federal wage law.

                Slightly toxic old job made a big deal over how generous they were to count that 45 min of business travel time (part of a required business dinner) as part of an employee’s work week when job wasn’t required to compensate employee for it.

          1. Autumnheart*

            I don’t think I’ve EVER been “work a full day before and after a 4-hour road trip” years old. When I worked two jobs, I was one tired woman, and that was in my mid-20s.

      3. Batgirl*

        I like the ‘I’ and ‘me’ statements and it is perfectly true and reasonable to say “This would make me ill”. Pregnant or not, nobody can get away with these sorts of hours forever without it taking a toll. In my experience once you’ve done the number on your health it isn’t reversible.

    2. WS*

      I live and work four hours away from Major City and two hours away from Large Town. If someone comes out to us from Major City, they will be either staying overnight or not working a full day. Someone from Large Town might do either. But eight hours driving plus eight hours work isn’t on anyone’s agenda, and that’s several different industries that might be working with my job (healthcare related, so we get drug-related, equipment-related, regulatory, medical specialists, students, etc.).

    3. Katefish*

      Right on! I have a routine 2 hour away site once or twice a month (drive back same day) and still find that tiring. In fact, I stop halfway through the return drive, get groceries and a little coffee, then continue home to make sure I’m not too wiped out to drive safely. More travel than that is nuts for a day trip for work.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        A couple years ago I left San Jose for Seattle by car alone. It was like 8 in the morning and I was well rested.

        I figured if I got to Portland (doable) I’d just get a room and do the rest the next day. I got to Portland and kept driving…stupid, stupid, stupid.

        I went ahead and drove through getting home at 2 AM. I was wiped out for like three days. I cant imagine if I’s had to work or be stuck in that car with others.

    4. QCI*

      How much family time can you realistically have after 16+ hour workday? Getting home just in time to say good night doesn’t sound like a good reason to “push through” that kind of work day.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        She may not see her kids at all that day, but by getting home that same night she’ll be there to see them the following morning. My spouse usually does most of the kids’ morning routine and drops them at school (I do afternoon pickup and dinner), and when she travels for work she mentally measures it in missed mornings and evenings with the kids. It’s less of an impact on the whole family to do a long day trip than an overnight since it’s usually one fewer day I need to take the kids to school and therefore get to work late.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Yeah, the boss is unreasonable to impose this on everyone else (or whoever up the chain is doing so) but she’s not wrong to feel it works better for her. Maybe it does.

          1. boo bot*

            Yeah, I don’t have kids, but I would generally rather spend eight hours in transit and get home, than spend the night in a hotel and take up half of another day with travel. I recently did a ten-hour round trip, in fact. It was an exhausting, infuriating, unnecessary experience that I decided was worth it not to feel like I was losing another day of my life to a trip I didn’t want to go on.

            BUT “exhausting, infuriating, unnecessary experience” should be a personal choice. It’s like if the boss does some kind of over-the-top workout lifestyle, or a monthly juice fast, or spends every minute of her free time reading sixteenth century Flemish anatomy textbooks. Awesome for her. Don’t make your workers do it.

      2. blackcat*

        Being there the night before/morning after makes it worth it.
        Since having a kid, I have done multiple “commute by plane” days. 6 or 7am flight to arrive by where I’m going by 9am, 7 or 8pm flight back, home by 10:30 or 11pm. It sucks, but it is much easier on my spouse than coming back the next day or leaving the night before (unless I can get like a 9:30pm flight, after the kid’s bedtime). And obviously this only works with pretty short transit times.

    5. NoviceManagerGuy*

      My company would not permit a schedule like this. They’ve realized that driving is the most dangerous thing we do (and my company does a lot of construction!) and we DO NOT want people driving that kind of time after that long of a workday.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        THIS. And the safety hazard extends to the next day too. It’s likely no one on that trip will get a full night’s sleep by the time they leave for work in the morning.
        (Even relevant for those who take public transit–after one college late-night deadline where I got 4 hours sleep, the next morning I was yanked back by a stranger before I walked in front of a bus.)

        1. Rose*

          Also relevant for that morning — did any of them get enough sleep the night before?

          Because if you’re working, say, 9-5 at the site, you have to leave by 5am to get there in 4 hours…and with the carpool, let’s say everyone has to leave their houses at 4:30 to get to the meeting site on time. On a usual day, you might have to leave work at 8:15 to make it to work on time (adding the extra 15 minutes because rush hour), and say you have to be awake by 7:30 to manage that. On this day, to be there at 5? You’ve got to be awake by 4, maybe 3:45. That’s 3 1/2 to 4 hours of lost sleep BEFORE the day even starts. And yeah, some people can just go to bed earlier, but I know I’m not capable of it (I’m a night owl), and I bet at least some of the people in that group aren’t either.

          Frankly, I don’t want those drivers on the road at all, either going there OR coming back. As it is, they’re already losing productivity at least that day (lack of sleep) and probably the day after (more lack of sleep) and not really gaining anything other than the boss being home with her kids.

      2. Parenthetically*

        Seriously. Tired driving = distracted driving = MAJOR potential for deadly accidents. Driving 4 hours at what is the end of a 12-hour day? Bananas. My blue-collar husband would never be asked to do such a thing.

    6. Kimmybear*

      I used to travel a lot for work and in the DC area, my sometimes unreasonable boss considered anything between Baltimore and Fredericksburg (about 1 hour each way give or take based on traffic) to be local and anything else got you an overnight stay. Even Baltimore and Fredericksburg got you a hotel if the project was challenging because he would rather have you putting in the extra time working than commuting. Of course those were usually 2-5 day site visits. Can you combine some of these shorter trips into longer ones so you don’t have to go as often?

      1. K Street NW*

        I’m in the DC area, and Fredericksburg to DC takes an hour… if you’re driving at four in the morning. During the day, it’s two hours minimum, but it’s taken me four hours if any of it overlaps rush hour.

        1. Liz*

          Yes! I used to drive from NJ to my mom in VA and while I took the “back way” going west of DC, 270 to 495, once I hit 95S in Springfield, depending on time of day, and day of the week, it could take me 2+ hours to get to Fredericksburg. I DO NOT miss that drive at all.

      2. Anon.*

        I attend all day trainings at a facility an hour and half drive with no traffic from where I live. The start and end of the training would have be driving in the middle of rush hour so that hour and half could easily double to three hours. The training organizers pay for a hotel for the duration of the training. Otherwise, I would not attend if I have to drive six hours roundtrip each day.

    7. CheeryO*

      I work for state government, and we have a super bare-bones travel budget. Our office just happens to be four hours away from the state capital and our HQ. The idea of doing the round-trip drive as a day trip on top of a full day of work is frankly ridiculous. That’s an automatic hotel stay, period.

    8. Council'd*

      In my last job I traveled about once a month, sometimes up to about 6 hrs away by car, and most of the time an overnight was dictated by how much work I had to do when I got there. If the day including travel was going to be more than 11 hours, I was staying overnight there, even if they were only 1.5 hrs away or so. This is not a restriction I had to ask for, but rather one my manager impressed upon me when I started travelling.

    9. Dagny*

      I’m sure that the employees are exempt, but I would focus on the fact that 16 hour days are well outside the norm for their workday.

      As a pregnant woman, one who does not yet need to use the bathroom all the time, I’m appalled. I had an amazing amount of energy pre-pregnancy, and… cannot fathom the level of exhaustion this would entail. It’s just not healthy. As a reference point, I used to do 14 hour car rides in one day, fairly easily, pre-pregnancy (rural area to rural area, so actually about the same time as flying)… and I’ve just slept on much shorter drives while my husband takes the wheel. No no no nopity nope nope to 16 hour workdays because the boss wants to see her kids in the morning.

    10. Mama Bear*

      This. If the goal is to be there and do work, then you should have some flexibility in how that travel is done. Do you drive all that way, work, drive home, and pull a regular day in the office? That’s a nightmare.

      I’d review the regulations about pregnancy at work, for starters. Should be something posted on one of those flyers they post in break rooms. Her insistence that you travel 8 hrs while pregnant may violate them, especially as you get closer to your due date. I wouldn’t want to be 4 hrs from my doctor anytime after the 7th month, honestly.

      Boss can drive home if she’s so inclined. The rest of you should have options, pregnant or not.

    11. OP - letter 2*

      Thanks, everyone. After I wrote to Allison, I IM’d my boss’s boss to ask if the company would be willing to cover a hotel. He responded, “Who’s driving?” and then ignored me for the rest of the week. I’m assuming his suggestion will be to split up the driving.

      I’m headed into work this morning and will bring it up again with my boss. The next trip is coming up next Wednesday, and you’ve all given me the confidence to stand firm!

        1. valentine*

          He responded, “Who’s driving?”
          Does that mean “Who’s driving you back, since it won’t be me”?

          You can take turns driving (assuming no drunk or reading drivers (see relevant letters)) in the morning, but taking turns during the current scenario won’t alleviate any of the issues, like circulation, mentioned above.

      1. Properlike*

        The fact that these trips are also happening so frequently — no. Just no. “I really worry about the company’s liability if we should get in an accident because of distracted (overtired) drivers, who are going to be super tired after a full day of work and traveling. Not just in our car, but any other car that would be part of an accident.”

        Because if I’m hit by your company’s vehicle and I learn that you’re driving 4 hours both ways to have an 8 hour workday, you bet I’ll have my lawyer use that.

      2. OP - letter 2*

        This story actually has a happy ending! I talked to my immediate boss again this morning and was more assertive about my concerns. She wasn’t thrilled, but she agreed to let me drive up the evening before and meet everyone at the site. I’ll take it! :)

        Grandboss (learned this term today- love this column) took the time to call me to let me know that the company is going to ease up on the travel budget restrictions in the coming months. So, it looks like everyone will be offered the option of staying overnight in the future. So happy, thanks for the thoughtful suggestions!

      3. Mr. Shark*

        Yes, this is ridiculous. First, even driving four hours and then having a full 8-hour day is too much. Then driving another four hours home, that’s crazy, and especially for a pregnant woman.

        If you have to be in the office for 8 hours, the trip should be split over two days–4 hours driving in, 4 hours at the office, a hotel stay, 4 hours at the office the next morning, and then 4 hours driving home. That’s reasonable.

        Besides your obvious discomfort, I agree that the excessive driving on the way back after a 12-13 hour day is just begging for an accident, even if you are rotating drivers.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          Definitely agree. My parents live 4.5 hours from me and I wouldn’t visit them without at least staying overnight. I have, however, worked remotely from their place a couple of times when needed.

    12. TootsNYC*

      I would even say that it might not hurt to put the “driving safety” objections in writing, along with some “I am formally writing to raise the issue of safety.”

      And note the requirements for long-haul truckers–they are limited to 11 hours of driving in a day.

      “Drivers may work no more than 60 hours on-duty over seven consecutive days. Drivers may be on duty for up to 14 hours following 10 hours off duty, but they are limited to 11 hours of driving time.”

    13. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I used to have a job situation involving frequent visits to a sister site about 2 hours away. We were always expected to leave the sister site no later than around 2 PM in order to get home at a reasonable time. Expecting a full day required by that long of a drive is ridiculous.

    14. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I know a lot of people whose regular, daily commutes are 2 hours or more. My dad did 2 hours each way via mass transit; a lot of my friends spend 2 hours each way sitting in traffic. Most of these people are traveling a distance of 30-40 miles one way.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        What point are you trying to make here? The OP is talking about driving 4 hours each way with an 8 hour work day sandwiched between, for a total of 16 hours. I’m having a hard time understanding how the fact that many people have two hour commutes relates to the OP’s situation.

    15. willow19*

      Why do you have to keep GOING there? Is what you are doing there actually hands-on? Can you have conference calls? Skype meetings? Anything other than these horrible marathon days?

  5. Nic*

    If you’re going to remove comments defending the organization, you may as well remove the reference to the name in the post. Seems hypocritical to allow a reader to defame the group but not allow people to defend it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I did remove the name — no point in having it there and it’s likely to lead to derailments. But I don’t agree that I’m obligated to allow people to promote/defend something that has such extensively documented problems. I wouldn’t allow comments promoting MLMs here either.

      1. JSPA*

        Your overall light hand with rules and personal preferences is highly appreciated.

        Your occasional lowering of the boom or weighting of a scale is your prerogative. By doing it overtly, not covertly, you model honesty and transparency in the blogosphere.

        Your site is your sandbox is your property. Thanks for letting us play here!

      2. Massmatt*

        Alison, if it helps, you can remove the 1st paragraph of my comment. I meant what I said but don’t want to derail discussion or create more moderating work for you.

    2. Mike B.*

      A comments section is not a democratic republic, and you are not entitled to use it to share whatever opinions you may hold.

      1. Anonimo*

        This is all true, but I don’t think it’s fair to jump on anyone who disagrees with anything Alison does and explain that Alison makes the rules. People can post that they agree or disagree with her advice or her decisions, and then she can decide to heed or ignore or delete or respond to that information. But it’s kind of creepy to suggest that no one should even voice any criticisms, as many seem to imply here. I honestly don’t even think that’s Alison’s preference.

        1. Dahlia*

          That’s really not how a commenting policy works. Do you not think people would want to know if they’re going to, say, be banned for something?

          1. Anonimo*

            No one’s going to be banned for saying they think Alison’s being a bit hypocritical. She may disagree, but I don’t think her ego is that fragile.

  6. Ico*

    For LW1, being dissatisfied at work and being a good performer are pretty orthogonal. I’m concerned that answering her saying she’s dissatisfied with “but you’re really good at your job” might even be counterproductive, since many people wouldn’t want to hear they are great at something that may be making them miserable.

    I know you’re not Bernadette’s boss, but I’d think her talking to Bernadette about what’s making her dissatisfied would be more effective. She is a strong performer after all, so maybe there are some role tweaks that would be possible. Addressing what sounds like the root problem might help her no longer feel like she needs whatever support she’s looking for from this organization.

      1. Clementine*

        Slightly facetiously, I want to answer: You can be a better team member by recognizing what terrific work you have done to date, and providing a good example of someone who knows her worth.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          “Your very public apology for a non-issue satisfies something inside YOU. The rest of us are just trying to figure out why you are publicly berating yourself unnecessarily. The apology just seems weird to us.”

        2. Liane*

          Both Jason and Bernadette can be much better team members by not pushing ANY other company’s wares/services at this job. Most companies have rules against that, some so strict that leaving your kid’s fundraiser order form in the breakroom wouldn’t be allowed.

      2. Ico*

        And literally the rest of the same sentence of the post “she has been dissatisfied at work because she wasn’t giving it her all and how she thinks she’s a bad team member and wants to do better”.

        This sounds pretty clearly like “I’m dissatisfied” -> “as such, I don’t try as hard as I’d like” -> “as such, I’m a bad team member”. I said root cause.

        1. Reading Matters*

          You are reading the inference reversed. The dissatisfaction is caused by not giving it her all. “Because” indicates the premise, not the conclusion.

          I’m not giving it my all.
          I’ve been a bad team member.
          Therefore, I am dissatisfied.

          The lack of effort is the root cause based on what she actually said.

          1. Ico*

            Huh, every time I’d read what she said I read “how” as “now”, which made the bad team member part the result, not the cause. I’d still think the dissatisfaction came before the self-help stuff from what she said, but maybe it was the result of feeling like a bad performer instead of the other way around. Mea culpa.

            1. LGC*

              Honestly, I’d think that it’s a mixture. LW1 mentions imposter syndrome, and I can definitely imagine Bernadette taking this course because she already felt insecure in her performance. And the course ended up making her even more insecure, or at least encouraged her to voice her insecurities to the team.

              (That said, misreadings happen! I can speak from experience.)

          2. Massmatt*

            The fact that we are arguing about what she actually said and what it means does not speak well for the program. Nor does the fact that the “confession” came from someone the LW says does excellent work. Worst of all is how a portion of the meeting was wasted, with the palpable discomfort of the coworkers ignored for their little theater.

            This program seems to be promoting dysfunction.

        2. Kendra*

          I had a slightly different take on that whole scene; more, “I was perfectly satisfied and happy in this job until this self-help thing happened. Now, I’ve started to question my own recollection of events, and have been encouraged to see myself as a problem employee (because you don’t need a self-help thing unless there’s something wrong with you, so why else would I continue to give them my money?), even though I’m actually not.”

          If it’s more like that, then any recalibration to “normal” the OP can give her would probably be helpful.

          1. Arts Akimbo*

            This was also my interpretation of it. The root cause of the dissatisfaction is the framing the self-help thing has given her.

            1. boo bot*

              Mine as well, particularly because of the description of Jason “encouraging her with smiles and nods,” which made my skin crawl.

      3. bb manager*

        Sooooo, assuming that this is the same group that my mom got super sucked into (and tried super aggressively to recruit me for), I think some context might be helpful to understand Bernadette’s weird spiel. My understanding of it is that they tell you that many problems in your life are really just a result of the “”stories'” you tell yourself about whatever issue, and part of the practice is for you to apologize to someone for how your internal narrative about said issue is the REAL problem. So my guess about the root of the weird apology would be:
        >>Program asks participants about where they’re unhappy in life
        >>Bernadette tells program that she’s dissatisfied about her job because of XYZ
        >>Program tells Bernadette that she only THINKS that’s why she’s dissatisfied because that’s the STORY she’s been telling herself, when REALLY the problem is about HER
        >>Bernadette “apologizes” accordingly
        So — again, assuming that it’s the same (or similar program) — the company should probably not take her apology as a “cure” to her dissatisfaction, nor take her explanation at face value. Agree with Ico that having her boss talk to her about whether actual changes can be made would be a useful approach.

  7. Simon*

    Without mentioning the name, it does sound like the same program for which I’ve been involved since April of this year. I’ll say that this program has helped me in certain respects, personally and professionally. I’m also aware of the external criticisms leveled against this program, some of which I agree. That is why I don’t try to recruit others in the program, as the program leaders often encourage, and I generally tend to talk about my experiences only with people who also have been in the same program or at least have enough of a knowledge to relate. People like the subject in #1 who went through the program likely valued the program a great deal but wasn’t entirely mindful of how this blatant recruitment effort would rub off on others. I’ll defend the program while also acknowledging some of the outside criticisms.

    1. Flash Bristow*

      Of course it’s up to Alison how she runs her comment section, but can I plead that we don’t go off on a tangent about this group? There are 4 other people posted above who need advice and assistance, not just OP1…

    2. Tim Tam Girl*

      I appreciate your more moderate approach; however, I don’t see how this is helpful to the OP unless you can suggest ways of counteracting the employees’ negative workplace behaviours that appear to be arising from the program. Based on your experiences with the program and other members of it, is there anything you think could help them tone it down during work hours?

  8. JSPA*

    And really, the exact name doesn’t matter, as these groups both metastasize and evolve convergently. There are only so many ways to make people feel good about feeling bad about themselves.

    I would perhaps go further, though, with anyone who has that sort of an outburst, regardless of what may or may not have precipitated it.

    “Bernadette, you’ve been solidly excellent and beyond reproach since you arrived here. That’s why your self-flagellating outburst in the recent meeting really took me aback. It was deeply awkward; I can assure you that I’m not alone in thinking so. In a problem employee, it would have been a red flag for intervention; coming from a stellar performer like you, it mostly makes me personally concerned for your wellbeing. If anything has changed in your life suddenly that’s causing you to engage in this sort of public self-sabotage, please know that I and the company are here to support you.”

    Yes, that’s strong. But it lets her know that not only is whatever she’s doing not helping, it’s actually acutely harmful. This may or may not help her retool. It will, with any luck, at least discourage her from openly spreading the contagion.

    If you’ve been around since the 70’s and 80’s you’ve seen companies go under, specifically under the weight of this sort of free form psych-ops BS. Fight back, now.

    1. Snuck*

      I like that…

      I might soften it slightly if my relationship with Bernadette isn’t quite that strong … drop “Self sabotage” to “self-criticism” maybe… but… generally… this could be a very powerful message, and i like how you’ve structured it.

      1. TechWorker*

        Yes… I think using the phrase ‘self-flagellating outburst’ on anyone is likely to make them react on the defensive tbh

          1. juliebulie*

            See, if those “relaxing coloring books for grownups” had images like this, I could spend the whole day coloring.

    2. juliebulie*

      You can point out to her that she wasn’t miserable and disappointed with herself UNTIL she went to that “course.”

      1. JSPA*

        I’d let her come to that realization independently (by setting up the unavoidable conclusion). Unless, of course, there’s also something else that’s eating her, in which case, she may be able to address two (or more) problems, rather than just the “course.” Like, “the course and the toxic work friend.” or “the course and some other toxic relationship.”

    3. Arts Akimbo*

      Yes!!! Support her and let her know she was fine, exemplary even, before the “help” this program gave her.

      It really sounds like the kind of undercutting of self-esteem that happens in brainwashing, to break down the will of a person with the goal of re-molding them into whatever the aim of the program is. (A person who will give them lots of money, probably.) Psych-ops is right.

  9. Rika*

    LW4: in my experience you should always prepare for any scheduled conversation with a company you’ve applied with like you would for a formal interview, no matter what they call it. I’ve been to “job interviews” that turned out to be nothing more than intake interviews, and I’ve been to “intake interviews” that turned out to be cross examinations.

    1. LW4*

      Agreed! At this point I don’t know how the interview will be like, but I rather be prepared just in case this turns out be a cross examination.

    2. Jamie*

      Exactly. Every informal conversation about a job I’ve ever been asked to have has been an interview in practice.

    3. Witchy Human*

      The one time I had a phone call for an “informal chat” we talked a bit about the job and my interest, but the main point was so they could tell me the (low) salary and making it clear that there was really no room for negotiation.

      I appreciated it: they got the potential dealbreaker out in the open early, before there was any time invested on either side. Of course “chat” was a silly phrase to use.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, call it a phone screen if you don’t want to call it an interview, but an “informal chat”? Nah.

        1. Witchy Human*

          And almost every time I’ve had a “phone screen,” it turned out to be at least a half-hour interview that involved the usual “tell me about your background” and “talk about a time when…”

          People are bad at titling things.

    4. Spreadsheets and Books*

      I agree. I had a company contact me after I applied for a specific role to talk about my “career aspirations” and possible opportunities within the company. I was a little confused about what that meant, but it turned out to be a very normal phone interview for the open position I applied for.

      It all worked out – I’ve been working there happily since April.

    5. AndersonDarling*

      I’ve had a few “informal chats” with 3rd party recruiters and company recruiters. In my case, my job title can mean a lot of things and there are many people who masquerade as experienced but are really newbes. These informal chats are used to discuss my experience, projects, what platforms I use, and my overall view of the profession. They really are just chats and can go in any direction depending on what topic the recruiter finds interesting. Sometimes they are really general, “Why do you like your job?” and sometimes they are more focused, “Have you run into problems using AcmeMatic software?” At the end of the chat, the recruiter can tell if I’m really experienced, or inflating my skills.
      And I think they also are used to see if you have good communication skills. I’m used to talking about my history so I don’t need to prepare too much, and I find them kind of fun.
      If I seem like the right fit, then I will be offered a formal interview.

  10. BrightLight*

    Re the reference pre offer, I’ve never experienced this, maybe it’s more American. Normally you get a conditional offer, accept, agree terms, then they hit up references and then it’s unconditional once they’re done. I would balk, and have, at companies who try to get this before you’ve agreed it all. I’m in the UK.

    1. Alianora*

      I wonder if that might be the case for the LW too. In my experience in the US, it’s very normal for references to be checked first. I was surprised to see that someone with as much experience as the LW would be taken aback by what I see as standard procedure.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        I think it’s pretty common in the US to check references after you’ve interviewed someone identified them as a top candidate, but before actually extending an offer. A conditional offer would generally imply that an offer is definitely going to be made unless something drastic and unexpected comes up in a security check, rather than that you’re deciding between several close candidates and want more information.

        However, wanting salary range and location information before hand is entirely reasonable – there’s not point in contacting references if there is no way the candidate will take the job.

        1. Kiwiii*

          This is accurate. We would pull references for our top candidates (no more than 3, usually 2) after the final (usually 2nd, but sometimes 3rd) interview round. We’d only contact the references of our first pick — if we weren’t absolutely certain about them (a reference was poor or odd or mentioned a weakness that might not do well in the role) we’d call the next in line and compare from there. If references are being called, I would assume I was a top pick and would be at the end of the interview process.

          However, a couple jobs ago I interviewed at a university and I know that they called references after the first in person interview round (there had been a 30 minute phone screen prior). I had to withdraw from the process because their timeline had gotten held up (for a frankly, stupid reason) by more than a month and I had an offer that paid almost as much in something that seemed a slightly better fit. But I don’t know that that wasn’t the last round.

      2. Kiki*

        I’m in the US and I have always been extended an offer contingent on reference and background checks. Doing thorough reference checks is time consuming— if I were hiring, I wouldn’t want to have to do reference checks for candidates who will turn down the job once they know the details. Location especially shouldn’t be a secret, I honestly feel like that should have come up much earlier in the process?

    2. londonedit*

      Same here, I’m in the UK. When it’s come up before I’ve had the impression that ‘reference’ means something different in the US than it does here – in the UK, ‘checking references’ is sort of more of a formality; it would be quite unusual for someone to fail a reference check and that’s why it’s normal for references to be contacted as a final double-checking step once the person has accepted a job offer. Last time I think a few US readers said our ‘reference check’ was more like their ’employment verification’. I get the impression – could be wrong – that in the US it’s a much more involved process with a lot more that could cause a person to ‘fail’, which I suppose is why it makes more sense for a company to go through that process before making a job offer.

      1. Bagpuss*

        I would disagree somewhat that refernce checking is a formality here (UK) . It is usually done after the offer has been made and offers are typically ‘subject to references’

        I think that because employers can be legally liable if they give an inaccurate reference it is increasingly common for references to be factual only, i.e. confirmation of the dates and role in which someone was employed, rather than providing more detailed information so it is often more of a final check that the candidate has been honest about their work history , although lot of employerswill still ask for greater detail.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I think informal reference checking happens before an offer (that is, looking into a person’s professional reputation, asking someone you know who’s worked with them before if they’d work with them again, that kind of thing) but I’ve never known a full reference check before accepting a formal offer. That said, I gather it’s more common to give your current employer as a reference in the UK than the US – to the extent that it may as well be required – and to have a month or longer notice period, so the entire process is very different.

        2. TechWorker*

          This makes sense, we were recently told that as managers were allowed to give more detailed references (eg character reference for a landlord) iff we include a long paragraph about how it’s given in a personal capacity and the company has not checked it’s accuracy.

    3. Snuck*

      In Australia we’ve routinely checked references before extending an offer… we might only check references on the person we intend to offer to (or if there’s a close run race, between the top contenders), but reference checking generally has been part of the pre-offer decision.

      Not everyone checks references, and plenty of people are hired with no checks, same as happens elsewhere in the world, but the norm here is for reference checks to be part of the hiring decision.

    4. Weegie*

      Actually … I’m in the UK too, and in my sector it’s unfortunately very common for references to be taken up *before* interview!

      I deplore the practice for the reasons cited in the letter – wasting referees’ time when you are only one amongst several being interviewed and probably won’t be offered the job – but everyone above a certain level expects it.

      1. londonedit*

        Yes, should of course have said it can vary by industry etc. In mine it’s fairly uncommon to check references full stop (it’s a small world, by the time you’re a few years into your career everyone has worked with everyone else at some point) but if people do, it’s more of a final double-checking formality. You’d have to have completely lied on your CV to fail at the references stage.

    5. Samwise*

      Not at all unusual in my experience for the reference-stage to be part of the hiring team’s decision-making. You wouldn’t want to make an offer contingent on references, then have to pull the offer because of what you learn from the references. Better to get the info up front.
      Otherwise, the reference stage is just a rubber stamp, and why bother doing it then?

      1. Kiki*

        I think having the reference stage towards the end of the hiring process or as a contingency to an offer is about respect for the candidate and their references. It would ideal for the hiring team to be able to have references available earlier in the process, but most candidates are applying to multiple jobs so references would be taking the time to speak to all these hiring teams. Additionally, most people’s best/most pertinent references are their current managers/supervisors/coworkers. Understandably, most applicants don’t want to let their current employers know they are looking for new jobs unless they’re pretty sure they’ll actually be leaving soon.

        Even if there’s no contingent offer, I think it’s normal to want some assurance before you give references that 1) you’re in the top few applicants 2) you’d actually want the job based on details like pay and location.

    6. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This has come up here before — it’s a US/UK difference. There are some companies in the US that do it the way you’re describing, but it’s really normal here to use a reference check as part of deciding who you’re going hire, before you make an offer.

      1. February Goshawk*

        You should do a post that outlines the top 5/7/10 whatever big differences between US and UK employment or hiring practices. I don’t expect it to stop commentary, but people are clearly interested or just don’t know.

  11. Eillah*

    I don’t know enough to know— is it at all helpful to directly people “no, this group is very reminiscent of a cult” or would that fall under deaf ears?

    1. Kiwiii*

      I wonder if, because cult has such terrible connotations, that something so straightforward wouldn’t be swept under the rug under the guise of “oh, it’s not as terrible as all that!”

      1. Addie*

        I’ve found it to be a little like speaking to a person in a relationship. If you say the word abuse they’re likely to say, “Oh, he’s not THAT controlling!” or “she doesn’t hit me very often!” or “It’s not that big a deal!” But sometimes if you point out specific concerns —you’ve lost interest in your favorite things, you seem so negative about yourself lately, tell me what YOU think instead of what THEY think—they’ll start to see the situation more clearly without needing you to label the situation as abuse/a cult

    2. Hope*

      I’ve heard that the best way to end up in a cult is to try and argue with someone in a cult. So I just wouldn’t even try.

    3. Rainy*

      So I grew up in a religious cult and am probably one of the more qualified people here to answer this question.

      It is not helpful to tell people who are in a cult “you are in a cult” or “this group sounds like a cult” or “no thanks, full up on cults”.

      People who realize that the groups they have joined or belong to are cults…leave the cult. People who are comfortable where they are will never listen. If it’s a religious cult, you are much more likely to be setting the individual back in any ability to rationally process what they’ve gotten into by putting them into defensive mode, which the cult has trained them very carefully to fall back into the second someone pushes back against the group or its teachings.

      The best way to get someone out of a cult is to give them a safe space to express their own concerns about the cult (without leaping on every incremental realization and shouting “I TOLD YOU SO”), to assist them with logistic matters when they try to leave, if you can, and to maintain whatever contact you are able so that when they are ready, they have someone outside the cult to reach out to. You’ll notice these are all things that seem appropriate to extend to/do for friends and family, and inappropriate for people you simply work with. There’s a reason for that. As a coworker, you don’t really have the standing to try to make them leave a cult, and you are unlikely to have the trust level to be someone they seek assistance from if they do leave.

    4. Batgirl*

      It’s too lecture-y and you’re doing the same thing the cult is doing; telling them what to do. You have more success when you simply provide an alternative place/mode of thinking/example; I.e. ‘No, you’re great’ or ‘Well I think you should be proud of that’.

  12. Medico*

    Regarding OP2 Heck no that’s unreasonable and asking for a fatigue-linked accident. Just because one person is willing to roll the dice doesn’t mean you all have to as well.

    Plus being pregnant on top of 8 hours driving and 8 hours working? I don’t know how you do it, I would have flipped out and throttled someone in a hormonal, exhausted rage long ago.

    Use whatever reasons and excuses you need to. It is neither safe nor healthy to keep this up and I think your co-workers will back you up.

    1. Arts Akimbo*

      Oh yeah, I would have straight-up thrown a fit if it were Pregnant Me. That or passive-aggressively called for bathroom stops every half-hour. Or been the murderer in Quilly’s NaNoWriMo scenario. ;)

  13. Bagpuss*

    LW2 – 8 hours dirving seems extraordinary and unreasonable to me. Given that distance, I would expect the employer to arrange that som, at least, of that was in work time and that you were staying overnight. Paying for 8 hours driving must be at elast as expensive as paying or a night’s accommodation, and if they aren’t paying for that extra time then that strikes me as totally unreasonable.

    Definitely push back, hard.

    1. Quill*

      I would have assumed that a 4 hour one way would be a paid day of travel. Drive 4 hours, plan to work for 3, because there is no way of guaranteeing that you will get there on time. Sleep, work for 3-4 hours in the morning, drive back, get paid for the extra time if you get stuck on the road all afternoon and it actually takes you five and a half hours to get home.

      1. Mr. Shark*

        That’s exactly what I was thinking, and said so above somewhere. An 8-hour work day should be split into two days, with 4 hours of travel per day.

  14. Ms Cappuccino*

    Yes, and if they don’t want to hear you, speak to your doctor as she might help you. Aren’t pregnant women entitled to an accommodation if they need one?

    1. Molly*

      In fact pregnant women are NOT entitled to reasonable accommodations, at least under federal law, except insofar as the workplace offers similar accommodations to non-pregnant people for other reasons.

      A minority of states do have laws requiring employers to reasonably accommodate pregnant workers under certain circumstances, but most do not.

    2. Goldfinch*

      I would caution LW #2 to find out how long this 8-hour driving situation will last before blaming her dissatisfaction on her pregnancy. If she comes back from maternity leave and has to go back to this same old grind, then she’s boxed herself into a corner. She still won’t be willing to do this after the baby is out (and rightly so), so address the universal issue instead of using pregnancy as a scapegoat.

      1. Parenthetically*

        I think the pregnancy thing can be a foot in the door if nothing else — in an “as I’ve learned about medical issues exacerbated by pregnancy I’ve discovered that many people are prone to (blood clots, varicose veins, tendonitis, etc etc) and don’t realize it’s a problem. It’s not safe for me to sit for that long in a single day, and it probably isn’t safe for many others.”

  15. Oh Snap*

    #4, I was asked in for a chat to talk and left with a job offer. I wouldn’t assume that is going to happen, but definitely prepare for it to be an interview. To be fair it was a very casual interview, but still.

    1. LW4*

      It’s great to hear that you got an offer from a casual interview. I don’t think it will happen to me at this point because it’s just a phone interview. Alison made a great point in saying that is best to be over prepared, so I will definitely look at this as regular interview and do the prep work.

    2. TimeTravelR*

      I hope the job, if you took it, worked out for you, Oh Snap. My experience with on the spot offers has always been that the place is a mess and has incredible turnover for a reason. I truly hope that was not your experience!!

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        I second this. I hope it has worked out as well, but I have the same kind of experience you do TimeTravelR.

  16. Anon For This One*

    One of my dearest friends is enrolled in some sort of similar program that is supposed to instill assertiveness, self-confidence, etc. It has instead made her aggressive in almost every interaction (from her staff to waiters and servicepeople to friends and family), and borderline unpleasant to be around. :/

    When I did my own sleuthing about this particular group (which seems to be local to our major metro area), I found stories of having car keys confiscated at the start of weekend retreats, and other bizarre behaviors. Oddly enough, she has never once asked me to join.

    1. Arts Akimbo*

      OMG, I saw this on an episode of My Little Pony, where the shy one turned into an aggressive brute due to a self-help program! I wonder if your friend’s group is the thing they were parodying!

      I’m so sorry about your friend. :( I hope she gets out of it soon.

  17. all about eevee*

    OP1 – several of my coworkers are in a similar group, with the added bonus that they have all adopted very restrictive diets that only allow them to eat kale, strawberries, honey, and plain unseasoned boiled chicken. This diet is mandated by their leader. No advice, really, just a lot of sympathy.

    1. Arts Akimbo*

      No salt?? That is physically dangerous, especially in the summer heat! Thinking good thoughts for your coworkers. :/

  18. Vermonter*

    #1 I don’t know what self-help group/new religious movement/cult your coworkers are involved in, but my advice is the same, regardless. As a cult survivor, I’m going to ask you not to make fun of cult members in front of your coworkers. Even if you’re commenting on other famous cults in the news, make fun of the cults, make fun of the leaders – but don’t joke about the people who got sucked in. (We’re not weak or stupid.) When I was escaping, I remembered who around me had mocked cult members – and I remembered who had loudly denounced cults, even poked fun at them, but showed sympathy for victims. Guess who helped me get out?

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Congrats on getting out. I’ve read a number of memoirs from people who escaped various cults and it’s easy to see how people get sucked in.

      1. Kendra*

        Very much so; people who’ve never been close to something like this don’t realize just how deeply designed they are to draw people in. It’s like dating the type of person who turns out to be an abusive romantic partner, but who first draws their victim in by being on their best behavior, and then slowly isolating them from the rest of the world. The only difference is, they’re doing it to groups of people instead of just one; it’s just as effective, though, and just as incredibly hard to spot until you’re already in pretty deep.

        It’s a WHOLE lot easier to tell yourself that you’d never get tricked into something like this than it is to actually avoid it when it happens.

    2. starsaphire*

      Thank you for the POV – this is super helpful.

      And as Amy said, congrats on getting out. I hope things are going well for you.

    3. Parenthetically*

      Hear hear. I just heard an interview with one of the survivors of the NXIVM cult on NPR this week. She was incredibly articulate, and addressed this issue with great transparency and frankness.

  19. I like my chair*

    #1: UGH. Self-help and MLM suck. If I were king of the world, anyone who brought their MLM schemes to work would be fired immediately. After all, aren’t they #bossbabes and #makingmoney?

    1. Jamie*

      That’s the thing I never understood…the one time someone approached my ex and I about an MLM it was all about how wealthy it would make us. But the person pitching it was in bad financial straights.

      I’m now realizing that’s the only time anyone has approached me about that kind of thing, and it’s been many years since anyone has tried to convert me to anything. I guess the lesson is if you’re unlikable enough no one wants you in their club so they leave you alone.

      1. The Original K.*

        I’ve been watching “On Becoming a God in Central Florida” on Showtime, which is about an MLM scam, and one of the participants is fronting as though the scam has netted him great wealth but is actually broke, has a second mortgage on his home (which is fairly grand and they tell people that the MLM bought it for them, but he quit his dental practice to sell these products so one assumes he bought it when he was a successful dentist), and his wife is buying clothes and tucking the tags so she can return them. He’s like “I don’t understand why I’m not making more money!” Well, because it’s a scam, doc!

        1. Quill*

          Not to get too far into the desk chair psychology weeds, but I feel like some of these scams prey on specific fallacies that we learn via some religions – i.e. prosperity theology.

          Which makes it pretty easy for me to see how it spreads, especially when the road to prosperity is very unclear for most of us these days.

      2. Jean (just Jean)*

        Ouch. If you feel self-deprecating, ookay, but your last sentence sounds pretty harsh on yourself.
        My positive reframing: People leave you alone if you signal* that you are already comfortable with your current choices / affiliations / beliefs. Same meaning, but kinder to yourself. Life is hard enough without us treating ourselves badly.

        *I’m not saying that all such signals have to be nonverbal. Some people won’t stop selling their own viewpoint until they are clearly told “thank you, but I am following a different path.” And some of us find it helpful to say this up front–politely, not fiercely–just to be clear that we’re not a good prospect for whatever they want to share.

  20. MCMonkeyBean*

    On the “informal chat” thing I’ve had it go both ways. I definitely agree that it’s better to lean toward over prepared! And then if you get a formal interview after, you’ll already have your notes compiled which is nice. For my first job out of college I had an email to set up a phone call and I don’t really remember how they worded it so it may 100% have been a misunderstanding on my part but like three minutes into the call I suddenly thought to myself “oh gosh, this is an interview!”

    For my current job there was an initial phone call that truly was not an interview. The call was with an internal recruiter who basically just confirmed a couple of the points on my resume and then wanted to give me more details on the job (including the salary band, which I really appreciated them telling me so early in the process!). Then at the end of that call the scheduled a followup phone call that would be an actual interview with my soon-to-be manager.

  21. Jellyfish*

    #2 – Definitely ask the company to pay for a hotel, and phrase your request like it’s 100% reasonable. Because it is 100% reasonable! A full day of work plus 8 hours of travel is too much to ask. If people want to go home, it’s nice that carpooling is an option. However, it shouldn’t be the only option. Many people, pregnant or not, would find that an untenable situation.
    I think you’re completely justified in saying the company needs to find you accommodations near the rural job site either the night before or the night of the job, and maybe both.

    1. Kiki*

      I think bringing it up to the boss one more time makes sense. Getting other employees who agree with to back you up and phrasing it along the lines of, “I know you prefer to knock this all out in one day so you spend less time away from family, but it’s not feasible for the rest of us. We need to make these multi-day trips, even if you don’t.” Sometimes when people have a strong preference for something, they don’t really register questions and dissent from others properly and you need to be firmer and more explicit than you’d expect.

      If the boss still says no, I’d talk to the person above them in the hierarchy. It sounds like boss’s preference is the real obstacle here and you don’t really know if management is actually opposed to paying for hotels. You don’t need to undermine your boss, but you can bring up your incredibly valid points and ask what the possibilities are.

      1. Kiki*

        Also, sometimes people who are used to doing something don’t realize what they’re asking others to do is actually quite abnormal/ too much. I have some friends who come from families who do long (48 hours+) car trips in one burst like it’s nothing and they didn’t understand until they’ve begun traveling with more people that actually, no, most people cannot just drive for 12+ hours at a time without some extended breaks. Or people from early bird families not realizing 6 am start times are not great for most people.

  22. benny c*

    LW2 — I don’t *think* your employer is breaking the law… because you’re not driving a commercial truck. If you were, then this would be a violation of the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association) rules: you can’t drive more than 11 hours in a single day, and those 11 hours must be within a 14-hour window within the day. There are exceptions and complexities that maybe allow a 16-hour max window, but that’s where we’re at.

    So that’s the perspective of this internet stranger:
    The hours you are being asked to work? A professional truck driver would have to do a safety review to make sure they’re complying with federal safety regulations, because you’re bumping up against some legal limits.

    1. Ariaflame*

      Well, they’re not driving that long. They’re driving 8 hours, with 8 hours of work between the two four hour drives. But I doubt they’re really in any shape to drive safely for the second four hour stint.

  23. Kiwiii*

    Every time I’ve been called for an “informal chat”, it was literally like a run down of the description (they’re entry level or so jobs most of the time), an expressed enthusiasm about my candidacy, and figuring out a time that worked for an interview.

  24. BRR*

    #2 I think you should also be prepared with a plan and language that you won’t all go together. A full day of work and 8 hours of driving is unreasonable. If your manager wants to do it, that’s fine. But it can’t be expect led for others to have to cater to her.

  25. lost academic*

    At my firm you aren’t allowed to work more than 14 hours in a day and that includes a maximum of 6 hours of driving. Period. We have statistics showing how drastically unsafe that kind of effort is. Even if people are carpooling and sharing the driving, it’s still too much time.

  26. cmcinnyc*

    OP#3 That is really typical in admin work: you sail along doing great and then something goes wrong–your fault, someone else’s, or just the weather–and you hear about it. Most senior managers have worked with admins and will not judge your work solely on what goes wrong. They really do know that most of the time your work is invisible because you are doing well! But for your own peace of mind, and to help with the hell that is writing an self-evaluation, you can document the parts of your job you do well and the times you’ve averted disaster. No one knows you averted disaster. They’re not supposed to know. But you will probably do that a lot. People complain to you when something out of your control goes wrong not so much to blame you (usually, if they’re reasonable) but because they’re hoping you can magically do something to fix it.

    1. Jadelyn*

      When I was working as an admin, I used to say that if I was doing my job right, nobody would know I was there – supplies would be replenished before they got low enough for anyone to run out, routine maintenance arranged without anyone having to ask about it, etc. The job of an admin in most offices is to keep the place running so well that the basic tasks that keep an office going are invisible to folks higher up.

      Which then means that most of the time, the only part of your job that’s visible is the rough spots. Nobody notices you ordering paper for the printer…until the order is late and there’s no paper. Nobody notices you ordering the catering…until something goes wrong and hungry people have no lunch. Most people are smart enough to know that, and your boss should (hopefully) be an advocate for you to anyone who forgets and remind them that you do a lot right, they just don’t see it.

    2. Salyan*

      This might not be applicable, depending on the org structure and whether there are any other admins in the office, but one thing that you can change is regarding the printer/fax. When I’m the only admin, it is absolutely my job to regularly check the printer/fax (or at least at closing) and make sure the area is tidy and that no confidential documents are left hanging around. No one else is going to do it! I’ll distribute confidential documents through the day, and any leftover non-confidential documents at closing (or sometimes earlier, if I feel like it).

  27. SomebodyElse*

    I’m going to chime in with support on the excessive driving/long days. My company won’t allow this either. While there aren’t any specific policies against it, anyone attempting this would very much get told to stop.

    Talking to our safety person, there’s a 6-8 hour limit on driving to another location which doesn’t raise any eyebrows, and that would be in ‘work time’ meaning that if you drove that long it would be considered travel time and part of the work day. This is one of the reasons that long drives are discouraged. It generally doesn’t make too much sense.

    Even with air travel, it’s frowned upon to work a full day then have a late flight which gets you in any later that 8pm or so especially if there’s a long drive from the airport (one of our locations is ~45 minutes from the nearest airport). An overnight stay and a morning flight is perfectly acceptable.

    I routinely drive ~4 hours to another location, but I plan it so I’m there for a few days and will start my drive on Monday morning, work a half day and come home on Thursday or Friday starting the drive around noon. If I have to be there early on Monday I’ll drive in on Sunday afternoon or evening.

    1. whimbrel*

      The ‘work time’ point is a very good one, is OP2 accruing overtime or time in lieu for these extra hours outside the regular work day? Because I don’t see her mentioning it anywhere and that is an extra day of work per trip.

      At my work, the 4h drive would happen, say, Monday afternoon during work time. A full day Tuesday would be spent at site, and Wednesday morning the drive back would happen.

      I fell asleep at the wheel once, easily 18 years ago, and I still remember the adrenaline from when I woke up drifting off the highway. It was terrifying. This is absolutely a workplace safety situation.

  28. voyager1*

    LW1: Jason can’t be controlling employees like this if your boss wants to stay in charge. The most distrubing part of the letter is that Jason smiles and nodded while Bernadette basically humiliated herself. Someone needs to have a sit down with Jason. I think this is a much bigger deal then you might realize LW.

    1. Mama Bear*

      I was thinking similar. I can’t say that it was this exact situation, but I watched someone come on board at a non-profit, immediately give off the vibe that they wanted the senior job, and then a year later they got it when the original person was reassigned. What disturbed me most was that as the original person was leaving, they apologized for not doing a better job – when in fact they had done an excellent job for many years. Something eroded their confidence severely and I point to the newcomer. I would be wary of any control Jason seems to exert over fellow employees via this cult, especially if like Bernadette they were excellent employees before his introduction to this org.

  29. LGC*

    Okay, I have one question: is anyone else at LW2’s company against this? Because I (and definitely Alison and a lot of the comments) SURE AS HELL am. Like, that’s going from NYC to DC, working all day, and then going back in one day. Your boss is being penny wise and pound foolish – it might be more expensive to overnight, but this is a recipe for burnout.

    (My phone suggested “your boss SUCKS,” which…I’m not arguing with Cupertino about that. She might be delightful otherwise.)

    I do think that other people should be enlisted in this, though. I’m a little bit worried that the boss thinks that LW2 has issues because she’s pregnant, when really this is an issue regardless of whether anyone is pregnant or not. (Like, I work at a non-profit and even we’re not that cheap.)

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah, I can’t imagine the OP is the only one who is unsatisfied with the setup! But possibly the only one who has had the idea to at least approach the boss about it.

      I could do this one time at best. And I’m a psychopath who drives hours on end for pleasure. “Get in the car, no I don’t know where we’re going, stop asking questions!” But that’s for pleasure, I stop whenever we want, there’s no working involved, etc.

      It’s really not just about her higher risks due to pregnancy, it’s about everyone’s safety and comfort. All of this nonsense because the boss can’t handle an overnight away from her family. Then pack your own shi* get in your car and drive the drive by yourself and back, don’t bring the others along for your misery ride!

      1. LGC*

        That’s…kind of my hunch. Unless her coworkers actually enjoy 8 hour round trip road trips together on a regular basis! In which case, LW2 should quit her job and run as far away as possible because her coworkers are out of their minds.

        You bring up a good point – even IF you enjoy car trips, this is strenuous! And it sounds like this is regularly scheduled – I haven’t read the comments section to see if LW2 jumped in but it’s just A LOT.

      2. Jadelyn*

        I’m with you – I love driving, road trips, all that. I’ve done the run from the SF Bay Area up past Seattle in a single day – about 14 hours – many times without complaining. I like it. I’ve done a couple of cross-country trips, including two separate 24-hour stretches (my passenger couldn’t drive stick, so I had no backup driver, and we had a deadline; I don’t recommend this at all).

        But I’m not *also* working on those days. An 8-hour road trip would be fun – on a day when that’s all you’re doing. On top of a full workday? Hahaha nope.

  30. Colbey*

    OP #2: Assuming you’re using your own car, you should be getting reimbursed, at no less than the government rate, for every mile you drive from the office to the client and back. If you’re not already, this is absolutely fair to insist on in addition to the hotel room. (And for every mile you drive that’s not reimbursed, you should track it and report it on your taxes at the end of the year, assuming you’re able to itemize your deductions.)

  31. PNW Jenn*

    LW4: I’m currently in an active job search after being laid off last month. This week I got a call from the recruiter handling the screening for a position I’d applied for. He launched right in with “what excites you about this job?” and “what do you think the challenges are?”

    I told him very frankly that I was not prepared to answer his questions right at that moment. He was fine with it, then told me the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. It wound up being a great conversation because I’d refused to be interviewed without notice.

    Be honest about your willingness and availability to be interviewed. If they try to pop one on you, don’t allow it. Reschedule it based on mutual availability and preparedness.

  32. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    8hrs driving is a huge liability issue. I wonder what their workers comp insurance thinks of this half cocked idea about driving so much without sleeping.

    Even professional truck drivers aren’t allowed to pull 16hr days anymore because of the risks of accidents due to fatigue. Your boss is selfish and I’m restraining myself from other nastier things about her intelligence. This is dangerous AF. Not just because you’re pregnant. Everyone is at risk with this setup.

    1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

      They’re also a MAJOR risk for deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, for which risks are raised in pregnancy. Trust me. I know.

  33. TootsNYC*

    I was reading a story about the new breed of cult, which capitalizes on the self-help / career-advancement urge in people.

    I think the thing I’d want to do is to provide Beth with a voice from outside the cult. I might tak eher to lunch and say, “I was concerned to hear your apology; I’m not sure where that came from, but it’s important to me that I provide an alternate perspective. I see you as a very competent coworkers; you do X well, you do Y well, you do Z well. Your mistakes aren’t bigger than anyone else’s, and they don’t require an apology, nor do I think you need to do anything to atone for them.
    “I get that you want your inner life to match your outer life, but I want to emphasize that the outer life often IS an indicator of the inner life. And you seem to be as engaged as anybody needs to be with work.
    “I want you to have this voice in your ear to counter any other voices that might come and undermine you. I care about you and admire you as a colleague, so it troubles me to see you denigrate yourself.”

    One of the things cults do is to become the only voice telling their victims what’s normal. That way they can isolate their targets, the better to manipulate them. I’d want to provide another voice, and any time Beth mentioned something the least bit indicative of that, I’d want to pipe up, even if it was just a sentence, “That doesn’t sound normal, really–who says that to someone?” Or “That doesn’t fit my perception of you, and I actually get to observe you in action.”

    (NXIVM was such a self-help, self-improvement cult, btw)

    1. Jamie*

      I understand your excellent intentions here, but if anyone told me they wanted to put a voice in my ear to counter anything I’d find that really unsettling. Even offering a different perspective of inner vs outer life is a bridge too far imo for a co-worker.

      A conversation along the lines of wtf about the apology because she’s a great co-worker is fine.

  34. Sara without an H*

    OP#1: There’s probably nothing you can do directly. If this kind of public confession starts to become a regular feature of your meetings, you could ask the meeting organizer to step in, on the grounds that it’s interfering with getting through the agenda.

    If Bernadette starts making these kinds of remarks directly to you, do this: 1) Hear her out without comment. 2) Keep your face expressionless. 3) Say “How nice for you” in a carefully neutral voice. 4) Change the subject.

    A couple of applications should do it.

    1. Veronica*

      I don’t agree with this. OP seems to want to prevent this cult from harming anyone, and I think talking to Bernadette in ways that are appropriate to their relationship would be good.
      Definitely tell her OP has never seen anything wrong with her or her work performance, and maybe also that she doesn’t understand why Bernadette would be putting herself down like that.

  35. Meg Danger*

    #2 – This would be my nightmare. I am no stranger to very long driving days, but 1) I am highly introverted, so eight-hours of captive-audience face-time with co-workers (not to mention eight hours of working together) would require significant recovery time. 2) I get motion sick in moving vehicles if I am not driving or at least riding shotgun – migraines from motion sickness can last hours after I leave the vehicle. I once had to ask a co-worker to pull over so I could vomit on the side of the road on a business trip (I was riding in the back seat).

  36. abscde*

    For #1 – does your org have a non-solicitation policy in the handbook? That will very neatly outlaw things like people’s kid’s wrapping paper sales, MLMs, proselytizing, and cult recruitment in the workplace. If you don’t have a policy like this, talk to whoever is responsible for handbook updates and suggest it. It just needs to include that you can’t solicit for these things (don’t need to name them specifically) and that this doesn’t apply to or limit rights under NLRB.

    1. Tata*

      I’m wondering the same as well. To me, the coworker is trying to sell something during work hours. The something can be school fund raisers, girl scout cookies, books, cults, etc. Time to look at the handbook if have one and/or update the policy. Approaching a coworker during work hours to buy anything is inappropriate.

  37. MommyMD*

    You better be getting paid 16 hours on those ridiculous commute days. My answer to this would be “you must be kidding?” On top of being pregnant? This is an untenable situation. For everyone. It is ridiculous. Can these meetings be tele remote?

    1. Mama Bear*

      I agree – it is mandatory travel on behalf of the company. Our client was closer than that but I always included that travel in my day. I may have gotten myself to a meeting point and carpooled, but from the moment I hit the “office” I was on the clock.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Well if you’re salary you won’t be getting paid extra for the time.
      When I had trips like this for photo shoots, the company would pay for a rental car and a hotel though. Typically I’d drive 5-6 hours on a Sunday, do the photo shoot on Monday and drive home Tuesday morning snd the company would pay for 2 nights.
      My husband went for a company training and had to use his own car, but being hourly he was paid for his Sunday drive time and mileage.

  38. SheLooksFamiliar*

    oP#4 – Job seekers do this, too. I’ve set up phone interviews via email, specifically using the term ‘phone interview’, and people replied they were looking forward to ‘our little chat.’

    Maybe the words ‘job interview’ make some people nervous, and calling it a ‘chat’ or ‘conversation’ helps them deal with it. If an employer does it, maybe it’s an attempt to put candidates at ease. Or maybe they don’t want to appear formal or stuffy. Whatever ‘s behind it, I echo Alison’s suggestion. Prepare for an actual interview and assume the employer is actually conducting one, no matter what they’re calling it.

  39. Secretary*

    I’ve done self help/leadership development seminars. I’ve even done the woo woo experiential kind with exercises and stuff and advanced seminars. These are not cults, you can find everything they teach in best selling self development books. I’ve never been asked or implied to follow a particular organization or person. These types of classes are designed to help people examine they’re life on their own terms, the organization/facilitators never told me what to think.

    The LAST thing you want to do with your coworkers is go around saying they’re in a “cult” or handing out negative blog sites about where they went to or having some kind of heart to heart about how they’re “in too deep”. A cult is a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object. It’s a totally different animal.

    When people approached me with crappy sources trying to say I was in a cult, when all I did was go to a weekend class where we talked about leadership concepts you can find in a lot of best selling books, those people lost credibility with me due to their poor research. If I invited them to a class and they said they weren’t interested, it was fine (unlike a cult)!

    I think the apology was a little much, but I strongly doubt that the actual organization told her to do that. If you go to her and try to tell her that this organization is making her feel bad, she’s not going to hear that at all. She’ll probably own that SHE made the decision to make that apology and say that while she’s a high performer, she realizes she could be doing more.

    Just because someone is a high performer doesn’t mean they’re actually performing at the highest level they can. If I were her boss, I would just let her know that if she has changes she wants to make, she can do that, but not to approach her coworkers like that again. When people come back from these sometimes they’re a little out there at first, but she’ll settle in and take it in stride. Good for her for taking time to develop herself which some people never do on any level.

  40. The Third*

    LW1 sounds like there is some gaslighting going on – unless the guy is the colleague’s supervisor, he should not be encouraging self-deprecation.

    For the “informal chat” that is likely a call to manage expectations. For our not-for-profit, we sometimes get applicants that might be surprised at the anticipated salary range, and this allows people to figure out if they want to stay with the process, or focus their energy on other prospects. Yes, be prepared for a professional conversation that may be linked to an upcoming interview/more of the job application process.

  41. Typhon Worker Bee*

    The impact of these organisations on the workplace depends very much on the individual involved. I had a coworker years ago who got involved with an org that sounds very similar to this one. She was in a bit of a vulnerable situation (recent breakup and international move, bad relationship with her parents) and they really took advantage of her negative self-image. As she got sucked in more and more she started paying money she couldn’t afford for their advanced courses, then started “working from home” more and more often – with no evidence of any work actually being done – before finally admitting that she was volunteering for the org on work time. She tried to get a bunch of us to join up (with no success; we were all extremely sceptical of the whole thing and worried about her by this stage), ended up quitting her job (totally screwing over our awesome shared boss in the process – long story) so she could volunteer full time in exchange for free courses, and generally screwed up her career. She also ended up violating the terms of her work permit and staying here illegally. Last I heard she’d married someone from the org and was still in town, still unemployed. (I have no idea how she hasn’t been deported yet, as I was on the same kind of work permit as her at the time and had to jump through serious hoops to stay here permanently, including extensive employment record checks. I guess the organisation fixed it for her).

    OTOH, a current colleague is involved with the same org (takes their leadership courses and whatnot), mentions it in passing in a “how was your weekend?” kind of way, continues to do her job at a high level, and has never once tried to persuade anyone else to attend. When she first mentioned the name of the organisation a bunch of alarm bells rang in my head, but it’s been a completely different experience from how things were with the first colleague.

  42. The Third*

    For The Cult, there is a difference between: professional development of leadership skills in a group like Toastmasters, that provides a space to actively use and practice learned speaking, communication and leadership skills for a modest amount (under $100 for 6 months), and

    a group like Scientology, that might be about personal development, that, like religion, is PERSONAL. I was watching a show that provided transparency about some of the weaknesses and mis-application of ideals, which involved self-disclosure and atonement, like a religion, with OTHER trained members of the group. The problems in the TV show, were where people misunderstood and misused the guidance and training in inappropriate ways, with disastrous results. There is a boundary between religion and work for many reasons, even if your belief system does not have a deity involved. Unless LW1 is employed by the cult (and religions employ people as well), there needs to be a boundary discussion, first, in a supportive way, with the apologizer. Information on the role of New Guy leading to the apology should be carefully listened for. Remind the employee who knows her work output best. Employers don’t mind people joining groups in their off hours, in general (ok, maybe not the Klan)

    And I mentioned the first group as a specific place as an alternate option. The manager can talk about professional development opportunities on-the-job, tuition remission benefits, etc, if they apply. Not because a good performer needs help, but it seems there is an interest with the employee wanting to get to a higher level. Other groups can be mentioned in replies.

  43. E*

    2. That’s crazy. I’m a wildland firefighter, and 16 hours is at the upper limit of what we’re allowed to work while actually on an assignment. There’s no way LW’s job can justify that long of a workday, and it may very well be violating company policy.

  44. Ermintrude*

    Is the organisation in letter #1 truly a cult though?
    Around the same time I did the Landmark Forum I also read up on the organisation and the accusations of cult-hood against the company, and about actual cults. I came to the conclusion that whatever Landmark was, they were and are not an Actual Cult. I’m not saying whether it’s helpfulor not, or if that’s what the OP is referring to.
    I don’t know much about other similar organisations but I do think it’s worth asking if an organisation like this fits the bill.

    1. Ermintrude*

      I just read comments discussing Scientology and that is *not* what my last comment was about, just to clarify.

    2. Oranges*

      Cults are on a sliding scale. There’s no one feature you can point to and say “cult” just like many many things.

      Major Cult Symptoms can Include:
      1) Penalties for leaving (social or economical)
      2) Normalization of destructive behaviors (can include undermining/gaslighting)
      3) A very strong Us vs Them mentality
      4) Emotional appeals from people in high power to those in low power without considering if the lower power people can afford/want to.
      5) Severe punishments for breaking the cults’ rules.

      & several lesser/rarer symptoms that I can’t list because time.

      Not all cults will have all of them. The main trifecta is 1, 2 and 3. Interestingly enough, I don’t think that you could have a cult without #2 and #3. Without #2 it would be a benign if weird group, and without #3 the cult couldn’t hold on to any members (I am always up for being proved wrong though!).

      And interestingly enough not all branches of an organization will be “cults”. Example: major religions, I’ve been in a Lutheran Cult. Most Lutherans sects are not cults. For most major religions I’d give the cult percentage of their branches a range from 3%-12%. Other major religions the “cult percentage” of the branches is >99%.

  45. Luna*

    LW1 – You should have said something as she apologized. “Oh, Bernadette, I didn’t think you were doing so badly. I really think you did very well on (XYZ) a few weeks ago. You were delivering amazing work, and continue to do so. I’m sorry you felt it wasn’t good enough.”
    Stop her pity train with a stop sign of positive reinforcement. (Sounds odd, but I’m emotionally very off right now because of nightshifts)

    LW2 – Nope. If *one* person wants to get home and not stay overnight, that’s their thing. If you don’t want to, put a foot down. Say you cannot do this (due to pregnancy or other health concerns) and will not do it, and work had better pay for a hotel.

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