I was hired as the expert but no one will listen, I accidentally shared a list of my personal debts with my team, and more

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

1. I was hired as the expert but no one will listen to me

I was recently (two months ago) hired into a brand new position for a nonprofit that requires me to be the “subject matter expert” for a shared application. While I did not have experience with the exact application I was hired to manage, I do have experience with project managing the designing and use of similar applications. My main project right now is to clean up the data in the application and get everyone in the organization “rowing in the same direction” so we can get good insights from the info captured by the application. This is going to be a long-term, involved process that will require a lot of communication with all departments. I’ve developed a game plan and shared it with my CEO and my supervisor.

Now comes my dilemma: While the “upper levels” are very excited about the prospect of the results that will come from having me on board, I feel like I can barely get a word in edgewise about the subject expertise for which I’ve been hired! I haven’t had much opportunity to even open my mouth in a meeting about what my thoughts are on realistic results, timeline, or what is needed to make the project a success. I’m concerned that if I can’t get anyone to listen at this point (because I’m given no space to communicate in the first place!), I am being set up for failure down the line when we actually get started on the project. Truly, I’ve even tried to “politely” interrupt, but the speaker just keeps going without any acknowledgment that I might have something to add. The one time I did manage to say something in a video meeting related to the application, my supervisor walked away! I know I’m still new, but my experience and knowledge are what I was hired for. What do you do when you’re hired as the “expert,” but no one is interested in hearing from you?

You’ve got to be more forceful about speaking up. You might not know the politics of the org well enough yet to know if you can do that in meetings with higher-ups, but you absolutely can — and need to be — more assertive about raising these issues with your boss. Ask for a call with her ASAP where you say, “I want to talk about what results are realistic to expect, our timeline, and what resources we need to meet the goals I’ve heard laid out in these meetings.” If you have trouble getting a call with her, lay out the basics in an email — but be assertive about trying to set up a call first.

It sounds like you also need to flag that higher-ups are moving full steam ahead on plans without giving you a chance for input, and ask about the best way to ensure your input is included. But before you do that, I think you’ve got to consider the possibility that you being in those meetings was them ensuring your input was included, and because you didn’t speak up, they assumed they had your agreement. This might be a culture where you just need to jump in, speak up, and assert yourself (as in, “before we go any further, I need to talk about what the timeline and workload would look like for something like that”), rather than waiting for a clear opening. So you might need to own that you didn’t do that, explain that it’s a different style than you’re used to, and resolve to do it going forward.

2. I accidentally shared a list of my personal debts with my team

About a month ago, I started a new job, a huge promotion. Because of the pandemic, I’ve been working at home 100% of the time, and I haven’t gotten to know most of my coworkers very well yet. I’ve received overwhelmingly positive praise so far from my supervisor, but I struggle with severe anxiety issues so I’m constantly battling the idea that I suck at life and everyone hates me. I understand objectively that’s not reasonable, but my mind begs to differ.

Last night, when I was working on a personal spreadsheet and went to print it, I somehow accidentally saved it to the shared drive my entire team uses. The spreadsheet is a list of personal debts and their projected payoff dates. I don’t have a crazy amount of debt (less than most households), but I’m deeply anxious and a very private person.

It’s possible no one would have seen it, but this morning, my direct supervisor found it and he emailed a copy to the team to ask whose it was before he deleted it from the shared drive (I don’t think it was malicious — they seem to be a very close knit team — and he’s been a great supervisor so far).

The sheet doesn’t have identifying information, and I have no idea whether they could see the author via the copied attachment (not shared from the share drive, a separate copy — meaning they can always access that copy). I emailed my boss and apologized, and he told me not to worry about it, but I’m still really upset and unsure what else to do. The idea that my coworkers have seen my personal debt is horrifying me. The idea that I stupidly saved it to a public drive is even worse.

I don’t know how embarrassing this gaffe really is or how to move past it. I feel like it made me seem irresponsible in several respects, and look deeply unprofessional. How do I handle this?

Oh my goodness, this is your anxiety brain messing with you. This didn’t make you look irresponsible or unprofessional on any level. People have debts. People also occasionally save a personal file in the wrong place, especially when they’re working from home.

This wasn’t scandalous in any way. Your coworkers were probably profoundly uninterested in it, and no one is judging you for having an average (or below average, it sounds like) level of debt. This is on par with accidentally sharing a list of monthly bills, nothing more. Your grocery list would be more interesting to people (and to be clear, that would still be quite boring).

Give yourself the gift of wiping this from your mind, as there’s absolutely nothing you need to do or worry about here.

3. The ethics of proceeding with a planned restructuring now

I’ve been working on a restructuring effort for the past several months; I was due to tell my team in two weeks, including the two affected employees, that their roles would be eliminated. The plan had always been that we would open two different, lower-level roles that these employees would be eligible to apply for. That said, I’m not sure that these employees would want to apply for lower-level roles, and they’re not quite qualifed for these new roles, either. That wasn’t a huge worry for me or for HR, as my overall (large) organization had been posting plenty of jobs that they would be qualified for and could likely easily get.

However, my organization has now implemented a hiring freeze due to current COVID-19-related financial instability. If I proceed with the restructuring, I’d be turning these employees out into a marketplace flooded with 3.3 million unemployment claims last week alone.

We do need this restructuring; these roles aren’t the right ones for what we need to accomplish moving forward. But I’m truly shaken by the idea that what was pretty straightforward to me earlier could now be devastating to these employees. My gut says to hold off until my company lifts the hiring freeze and starts posting again. What do you think?

If there’s any possible way you can hold off, hold off. It’s never a great time for people to lose their jobs, but now is an especially terrible time. It will be much harder for them to find new work, and they’ll lose their health insurance at the worst possible time. Given the situation we’re in, you’ve got to prioritize them as humans above everything else right now.

A different option you could think about: If you could choose between not proceeding with the restructure at all right now or doing it with these two employees in the new roles (presumably keeping them at their current salaries), which option would you prefer? Even though they’re not as qualified for the new jobs as you’d like, it’s possible the benefits of being able to move forward would still make that the better choice. (Obviously don’t do this if they’re really unqualified, but if they’re just slightly underqualified and they’ve shown an ability to learn, it might make sense to consider … although you’d also need to think about whether having them in those jobs when this is all over will ultimately make things harder on everyone.) This probably isn’t the right move — to the point that I almost deleted this entire paragraph — but it’s worth having in your head as you think this through.

4. My boss wants everyone to report how they and their families are

As with most companies now, a majority of my office is telecommuting and has been doing so for at least week now. Today, my boss sent out an email to everyone asking if they are healthy and how our families are doing. He said he wanted to hear back from every person. Considering the pandemic, can a boss ask these questions? If so, what would be an appropriate general response? Should I even respond at all? I’ve always been cordial to my boss, but by no means do I ever talk to him about personal issues or consider him a friend so I would not otherwise disclose any private information to him.

I asked this letter-writer, “Was your sense that he’s asking to show care and concern for people, or more that he’s scrutinizing people’s health/potential exposure?” The answer: “That’s the part I can’t figure out. The email was very short so I couldn’t read much into it.”

He can certainly make collegial inquiries into how you and your family are doing, so I’d respond as if that’s what this is. You can keep it vague if you want: “We’re all hanging in. A weird time! How are you doing?”

If it turns out that he’s actually attempting a more formal inquiry, that would be inappropriate and potentially get into some legally problematic areas, but there’s a good chance that treating it like an expression of goodwill will be the end of it.

5. Can I ask for expedited hiring because of the quarantine?

Early in March, I was offered a job, which I credit entirely to your blog and your cover letter advice. However, just after I accepted, it was announced that my area (Los Angeles) would be placed under a mandatory shelter-in-place order and non-essential businesses like my new workplace would be closed. This delayed my start date, although my new employer has assured me that they’re still eager to have me come aboard when the city opens back up.

Given that things are so uncertain in my area, and that I’m only unable to work because my new employer’s office is closed, is it appropriate to ask that my employment paperwork is pushed through even though I wouldn’t be scheduled for any hours? My goal would be to make myself eligible for the extra two weeks of federally-funded sick leave that’s being offered to those who live in quarantined areas. (That’s my only option for additional benefits, as this is my first job after completing university and so I don’t have the kind of work history that would make me eligible for unemployment.)

I do think it’s fair that I be able to access these benefits, since I’m struggling financially due to the epidemic. But at the same time, it feels odd to ask my employer to put me on the books when I won’t be doing any work for at least two weeks, and possibly more. What do you think — is this an appropriate thing to ask?

Probably not, I’m sorry. Things are so up in the air that the company likely doesn’t want to officially bring you on board until they know for sure that they’re ready to move forward with you. Too much can change between now and then.

However, it’s likely that you’re covered under the new unemployment law that was passed last week. It makes people eligible for benefits who were “were scheduled to start employment and do not have a job or cannot reach their place of employment as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak” — which sounds like it applies to you. Try filing in your state.

{ 263 comments… read them below }

  1. Union Alexander*

    Re: #4

    Ohhhh, my goodness, I’m a junior in college having to do online classes, and one of my professors starts out every class by asking “Are any of you sick? Are your families sick?” and it’s! just! so! strange! Does he expect a real answer??? Why would we disclose that on a Teams call??? (to be fair our class is very close but still! not the right medium!) We’ve just been giving non-descriptive “Yes, we’re all fine.” I know he means well, and is genuinely concerned about our well-being, he just goes about it in such a strange way (very common in the school).

    1. Viette*

      Yeah, and what if someone/someone’s family *isn’t* fine? As things get worse, it’s pretty likely that at least one member of the class will have someone close to them at least get sick, if not end up in bad condition or worse. What’s the student going to say to that? “Actually, my grandfather is in the ICU?” What’s your professor going to say back (on a Teams call, no less)?

      I’m sure they haven’t thought about what they’d say if they got a “bad” answer. Those kind of well-meaning worrywort questions are really only designed to reassure the person asking. They’re for people who want their fears assuaged. The professor just wants to be told that you’re all okay, because they’re scared and they like to hear it, but it’s invasive and it’s very uncool for anyone who’s not okay.

      1. NYWeasel*

        Our company actually has a full response team set up. If an employee or their family is ill, they report it in to the team and they are provided with additional support and resources. So, yes, we ask our teams these questions—not to pry, but to make sure they are connected with the resources as quickly as possible if needed.

        1. snowglobe*

          Yes! My company is also providing a lot of assistance to sick employees, including additional paid sick leave, reimbursement of medical copays, offering telehealth options to people who are sick with things other than Covid, financial help with child care or elder care, . Honestly, there are so many initiatives now offered by the company that a lot of people may not be aware of everything, so concerned managers could genuinely be asking so that they can refer people to support services if needed.

        2. Amber T*

          Yeah, we’re having daily video meetings (which, while annoying, are helpful since we can’t just pop into each other’s offices now), and it always starts with our department head asking “how’s everyone doing? Anyone in your family sick?” Knowing my team and department head, this is most definitely 1) coming from a place of concern and empathy, since we’re all in one of the hotspots, 2) making sure work can get done, and if not, how to reorganize responsibilities (in a non-malicious way).

          My parents are in the age range and have pre-existing conditions, so under no circumstances are they leaving their house. I live about a half hour away, so grocery shopping, pharmacy runs, general necessary errands – that’s falling on me, not just for my household but for them too. My boss, team, and department head are understanding of this. God forbid they catch it, they know and understand that my focus will be on them, and they’d work on covering for me while I’m needed elsewhere. Many of my coworkers are in similar boats too.

          It’s all about knowing your team and why they’re asking. But with all the crap that’s going on in the world, I’m really grateful that I have coworkers that care.

        3. A*

          Same. I’ve never been the least bit bothered by it – it seemed like a natural question to ask.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I love Alison’s advice about treating the question as just taking personal interest. If OP responds in that manner it will become evident pretty fast if that was NOT the intention.

      There is a person adjacent to my workplace/job, who out ranks me. His emails close with “I hope you all are well.”
      It took me a extra second to realize that was NOT a question, it was just an expression of good will/good wishes.
      Because I am at work, he can probably deduce that I am doing okay. We have that tendency to keep a person’s rank at the forefront of our thinking and it can make statements seem to have more weight than was ever intended. Because he was talking to everyone and because all his emails now end the same way, it’s easy to see that he is not quizzing us. He is simply recognizing that we are human beings first and employees second. This is very much in keeping with other things I have seen this person do over the years.

    3. Doc in a Box*

      I think this is what happens when people have the empathy to realize that life is not ‘normal’ right now for anyone, but don’t quite have the skills to verbalize it well. I teach classes (to medical students, not undergrads, so a different population) and we have been starting each session with a debrief — something along the lines of “what’s troubling you right now?” That leaves the door open for people to talk about personal concerns with themselves or their families, if they want, or system concerns about how to handle the influx of critically ill patients, or long-term concerns about what medical practice is going to look like in the future.

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        “what’s troubling you right now?”

        This question would annoy some people where. They would freak out about how to answer it. Some would worry about repercussions is they speak truthfully and others feel put on the spot to share things they don’t want to share.

        Look at the comment from “hey anony” at 1:07am today.

      2. Indigo a la mode*

        My company words this really well at the beginning of board meetings: “Does anyone have anything they want to clear?” Clearing could be a lot of things:

        – “I’m feeling really overwhelmed and could use help on something”
        – “I need to let you guys know that there’s stuff going on in my personal life that may affect work because X”
        – “I’d like to air and clear a little friction I’m having with Person”
        – “There’s been a constant issue with Project that I’d value input on”

        etc. Non-judgmental, let’s get it out there as you’re comfortable with it, and then we’ve cleared the way for a productive meeting. I really like that wording because it doesn’t force people to talk and makes it clear that the object is to be constructive, not just wallow or talk about sickness or whatever.

    4. Feline*

      My company has made it clear they want to know if you are ill (COVID-related or not) and whether your household comes under quarantine, self-imposed or otherwise. And they require that information be included in a daily nanny-state email where we provide a rundown of what all we are doing while working remote.

      As it happens, I have come down with a non-COVID-related condition that may make me go to the hospital or other facility for imaging and possibly afterward an outpatient surgery center. This puts me in an awkward position of feeling like I have to overshare about things I would otherwise keep private. But I now get that they worry we’ll get exposed while treating some other illness and they’ll lose us as a resource.

      1. EPLawyer*

        You are not a resource, you are a human being. I would push back sooooo hard on this. Unless, as noted above, your company wants this information to HELP, it falls under Nonya. As in their business.

    5. Annie*

      I feel this deeply. I work in an industry (theatre) that has been massively economically affected by corona, but it’s also an industry comprised almost entirely by young healthy able-bodied people.

      All the Zoom meetings and get-togethers I attend start with these cuddly emotional-health check-ins (bearing in mind theatre is such a touchy feely industry where talking about deeply personal and emotional stuff is the norm and often part of your job anyway). It would be lovely, except there’s the assumption no one in theatre could possibly be affected except economically/career-wise. I have a serious lung disease and am considered in the extremely vulnerable category. I feel deep sympathy for those panicking about how to pay their rent but very excluded by a community that seems to have never considered that not everyone is healthy and low-risk.

      1. Picard*

        Interesting since just a few decades ago the theater and arts industry in general were considered the highest risk for another deadly virus (HIV for those who dont know)

        I lived through that time and remember so much trauma surrounding the daily dead numbers.

    6. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

      As a manager who cares about the well-being of my team, reading AAM lately has me very paranoid that my well-meaning efforts to help everyone feel supported and cared about are coming across as cack-handed or intrusive.

      Yesterday I mentioned that I’ve asked everyone to say “hi” daily on a Teams thread — and that if I don’t hear from someone at all in a couple of days, I might send a private “hey how’s everything going.” One commenter responded that this would make her feel “monitored.” That’s not the purpose of it at all, and I hope my team isn’t reading it that way. But we have a company culture of frequent contact with one’s team and manager, so maybe that mitigates things somewhat.

      I also have scheduled an optional virtual coffee break twice weekly (and I mean *really* optional, not “Fergus, I noticed you weren’t at the coffee break yesterday, is anything going on?” optional), which about 2/3 of the team shows up to and which people seem to feel good about.

      I don’t ask people to tell the rest of the team how they and their family are doing. However, in any 1-1 meeting I do ask, “How are you and your family holding up?” Again, I hope this is not perceived as intrusive. I want to know if someone on my team is having an especially bad time, because I care about them as people, and because it’s helpful to make sure I am managing them the way they need to be managed. I want to know if the people with kids are really struggling to keep them occupied and happy while getting their work done. I want to know that the young guy who lives alone is terrified to leave his apartment because there was a positive case in the building. But if someone responds to my question with a pro forma “oh, we’re doing okay. So about that project…” I understand what that means, too, and I don’t press. My goal is not to monitor my people or make them feel they have to report their entire lives to me. It’s just to be a compassionate manager who gives the right support at the right time.

      I wonder if there are people out there whose managers are just carrying on 100% business as usual right now, either because they are terrified of being intrusive, or because they themselves can’t cope with their team members’ anxiety — and do those people feel like “what kind of robot monster is this manager / does this manager think I am?” No company, and no manager, is perfect, but I am very grateful for the level of care that my organization is modeling from the top, both in supporting folks’ work from home (for instance, my company has made laptops and headsets available and is reimbursing for purchase of larger monitors) and in supporting folks’ human needs in this absolutely batshit time. And we are all making it up as we go.

      1. TCO*

        Except for the daily “hi,” you’re doing the same things my org is doing, and at least here it’s appreciated.

        I think it’s so dependent on your org’s culture. We are a small group, and while I wouldn’t quite call us close-knit, our regular culture is pretty social and employees and supervisors would typically be collaborating with each other almost daily. So the check-ins feel nice, not heavy-handed.

        While we have a chatty thread going to fill some of that missing water-cooler talk, no one is required to participate. It might be that your team is responding to everything in the caring spirit you intend, but if you drop one thing I’d drop the daily “hi” requirement. It sounds like you’re already having plenty of contact with your staff and are plenty available if they want to ask for help.

        1. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

          TCO, that’s fair about dropping the daily “hi” because there is plenty of contact otherwise. We are only in our third week of this (it feels like an eternity), and as people settle into their new routines I think there will naturally be less need (on both sides) for that daily connection. The Teams area is there for the folks who feel chatty or want to show the latest cute picture of their cats (uh, not that I do this, er, no) but I can see it feeling less urgent over time.

        2. Ophelia*

          Agreed – we have an optional “office hours” every couple of days with my boss, which is mostly just us shooting the shit and also he’ll provide any updates if he has them. Similarly, we use a Teams channel for chitchat, and our team did a virtual happy hour last Friday (during work hours), which was actually pretty nice/fun. Otherwise, we’re generally in contact pretty frequently, so I’d agree that maybe as a boss you could just keep your own internal running list of “ok, I saw Fergus and Leopold today, but not Wilhelmina” and that way if you see someone drop out of contact, you’ll know, and can follow up with them?

      2. Generic Name*

        I think you are doing the right thing. My manager is doing something similar, and the ceo of the company has been calling each employee to see how they are holding up. It doesn’t come off as invasive to me, it comes off as caring. Comments on this blog really skew towards the very private I just want to do my job and not get to know any coworkers because how dare they take an interest in me as a human being. I’m sure I’m not describing it well or even accurately. That’s how it comes off to me as someone who enjoys my coworkers as people and does stuff like happy hours and hiking etc with friends from work. I don’t think that attitude reflects the majority of people.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          I agree– I think the previous commenter is doing just fine. Personally, I would appreciate it if our CEO asked us individually how we’re doing and acted like he cared about the answer. Anything other than a, “Hanging in” gets crickets. We have some people on staff who are having some bad mental health issues, still others that are understandably stressed about having to juggle work and kids at home, and I don’t get the feeling that anyone in management wants to offer solutions.

          “How are you doing?” or “How are you holding up?” or “Staying healthy?” are not always questions intended to pry.

        2. Blueberry*

          I too agree that the manager at the head of the thread is doing the right thing. But I wanted to respond to this.

          Comments on this blog really skew towards the very private I just want to do my job and not get to know any coworkers because how dare they take an interest in me as a human being.

          One issue with befriending one’s coworkers is being judged by what they learn about one. Many people have been burned by that or seen others burned by it — not least because I have friends who are teachers, but I know of people who’ve been fired for being queer or living with their SO before marriage, and I personally suffered at work when I was younger because I told my coworkers too much about my being queer, into SF fandom, etc, and they judged and mocked me for these interests and told our supervisors I wasn’t “serious” enough for more responsibility.

          Also some people really like firm walls between work life and home life. Not least after the previous experiences I tend to.

      3. Youredoingfine*

        I don’t think a ‘good morning’ is over monitoring – my team uses Slack, and since we’re across timezones, we’ve started doing a ‘Hi I’m here’ when we start and a ‘night peeps!’ when we head out for the day. Nobody is bean counting if we work 8 hours a day, it’s more about being courteous if people are starting later in the day and don’t want to be bothered prior to then and if people have questions for SME’s making sure they’re available.

        We don’t overshare on details but with people taking care of kids and stuff, if people are taking an hour off to put a baby down for a nap / caretaking they just say they’re stepping out for a bit. With so many people using flex time/split shift essentially it just makes sense to me.

        I’d have a problem if my manager asked for a daily rundown of what I’m doing – as long as I’m hitting my metrics/quotas/being responsive a level of trust needs to be there. I’d just recommend over-communicating the ‘why’ if you are asking for new stuff!

      4. Lily Rowan*

        Honestly, I do regular check-ins with my direct reports when we’re working in the office! If we don’t have a meeting scheduled, I might not see or hear from some of them over a couple of days, and I’ll swing by their desk just to say hi. No agenda, not more than a minute, just human contact. I don’t think it’s weird to do that online, too.

      5. EvieK*

        Everyone has their own idea of what caring looks like. From your description, I would have a very difficult time with you as my manager. And we probably would have figured this out before COVID but it would be causing extra stress to both of us right now. Any crisis just makes people more of who they are as it strips away our ability to perform the social goo that camouflages our lizard selves.

        If you gave me your whole paragraph of “why” then we’d be cool. I’d probably be able to respond with the idea that for me work is a respite from stress and I want to focus only on work. That you need to stop asking me about needs for me to ever feel comfortable telling you about needs when I do want help. Basically, that if you ask and I say no and then you ask again – you mean that as you still being open but I hear that as a demand for an answer – that you don’t believe I can be trusted to take care of myself.

        If you are just asking “How am I holding up” when you really want me to answer “How can my manager help me hold up better taking into account personal, not work stresses?” then I am going to find you patronizing.

        With just the question and not the whole paragraph, you are making me work harder by obfuscating what you really need from me – which sounds like a chance to problem-solve my personal life. Second, you are forcing me to lie to you to keep you from trying to problem-solve my personal life.

        Like most things in leading other adults, it really is about communicating the why. If you don’t overcommunicate that, people are going to fill in based on their life experiences. We’ve all seen on this site just how lasting a bad boss can be.

        So if you want to nurture and your team members want to be self-sufficient and they don’t hear and see you living the part of not wanting to overstep or back off, then you are making people miserable.

        For me personlly, who may be nothing like the rest of your team – I would know in my soul that none of these check-ins are truly optional. That to stay in your good graces – you who have the ability to take away my health care in a pandemic – I need to show up and be social and feed you feelings with a smile on my face. Because I have worked for bosses who said things were optional yet only gave the good projects and promotions to those who opted in.

        1. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

          Well, thanks for all this input. I will take it to heart and really think about whether I’ve communicated adequately to all members of my team. Like I said, if I hear from someone that they don’t want me asking them about anything but work defined in the strictest, narrowest way then I will of course respect that. I’m pretty sure I’m not a “bad boss,” and I also work pretty hard every day to get better at being a boss — so I’ll think about the things you say and think about whether I’m being clear enough (or whether trying to be clearer would just make people uncomfortable who are actually perfectly okay with what I’m doing now). Beyond that, I’m not going to try to defend myself further. I will say that nothing in your last paragraph sounds like the culture at the company I work at. I’m sorry that you’ve had that kind of experience and I really sincerely hope that nobody on my team experiences interactions with me in that way.

          1. The Other Dawn*

            I think what you’re doing is absolutely fine and I’d be handling it the same way with my team (I’m on medical leave at the moment, but I’m still checking in via group text every few days). You’ll probably have a few outliers who don’t like it, but it’s not as though you’re interrogating them or asking them for intimate details and a medical history. I agree with TCO, though, about dropping the daily “hi.” It’s not terrible or anything. But as both you and TCO said, you have plenty of contact already so it’s probably not necessary.

      6. Small Biz Escapee*

        I think this sounds great and I am stealing the 100% optional team coffee break idea!

      7. Mama Bear*

        At my old job, part of the emergency plan was to have people check in with their manager daily if they had to invoke the plan. Each manager then reported it up the food chain to ensure everyone was accounted for.

        I don’t think a daily check in of status to see where people physically are is a bad thing. Then pivot to projects and that status. I think while it’s natural to want to know more, not everyone is OK with detailing their private life, pandemic or not. They can reach out to you or HR privately if they need to (for example) be quarantined. Many workplaces also have some sort of abandoned your post = fired regulation so a daily check in ensures they aren’t AWOL.

        That said, if this works for your team, keep doing it. The commenter who said it would make them feel monitored may have a different boss dynamic. When I WFH, my Teams is always up and people can just shoot me an IM if they need to.

      8. Blueberry*

        My other comment in this thread might look kind of chilling, so I wanted to respond to you directly and encouragingly. You know your team best — if you are actually paying attention to who they are and what they need, that’s more valuable than any other information. Different people prefer and do better with different treatment, after all.

        Many of us here have been burned by trusting employers who turned out to use the information we gave them against us. If your team can actually trust you, you have made yourself into a manager who is worth more than your weight in gold, and I applaud you for doing so.

        1. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

          I really do want to thank you and everyone else for the input. I often get a funny little feeling of surprise when I realize that other people view me as “the boss” — that might sound weird, and probably naive, but it’s true, even after several years of being a manager over a growing team. The management culture at my company is excellently supportive but my reports, who have (as some commenters have pointed out) various experience, don’t necessarily know or trust that. They also don’t necessarily know that all managers at my company take dozens of classes to help develop our management skills, in everything from emotional intelligence to difficult conversations, feedback conversations, coaching and mentoring, delegation skills, and — yes — being a caring and compassionate manager to employees who are human beings, not deliverable-producing robots. It’s obvious to me, from my position inside my head, that I have the well-being of my team to heart — after all, it’s been drilled into me that happy, respected, rewarded, and appropriately challenged employees do better work and stay at the company longer — but it may not be as obvious to *them*.

          Someone above said something about “keeping the person happy who has the power to revoke my access to healthcare during a global pandemic” — and this really shocked me, because I would never in a million years think of myself this way, or try to use this kind of fear as a way to motivate my team. But I really don’t just want to be defensive about it — rather, I want to be open to the possibility that even if my team loves the way I manage them and think I’m a great boss, there may be some small part of them inside their head that views our relationship through this kind of lens.

          So thanks, everyone, for the interesting and thought-provoking conversation. And by the way, not everyone has checked in on the “hi” thread this week, but between the “hi” thread, the virtual coffee hour, a regular team meeting of half my team, and a couple of regular 1-1s, I have heard from everyone at least once, which is enough for the first half of the week. So I won’t be checking up on anyone tomorrow. ;) (I manage 11 people, if anyone is curious about that.)

          1. TassieTiger*

            Thank you for being open to self-reflection! Please try, as you move forward, to really keep in mind that if you have the power to end someone’s employment, they will never be able to look at any interaction with you completely neutrally. Not because you’re mean and scary! Just because of the inherent power balance. “To the person on top, the topography seems level.”

      9. Indigo a la mode*

        As much as I looove our commentariat here, I’m always a little frustrated when well-meaning personal overtures get a BURN IT WITH FIRE response. I would 100% have taken the email the OP received as a friendly check-in and responded much as Alison suggested. The boss said they want to hear from everyone because they want to show that they care about hearing from everyone. I don’t know why so many people are so quick to assume everyone is a controlling 1984-style overlord who demands satisfaction.

        Connection is important to many people, even at work. During WFH, connection is even more important. I wish people wouldn’t curl up and hiss like a cornered cat whenever someone does the very human thing of inquiring about your well-being or sharing a little of theirs.

        1. Blueberry*

          Do you ever consider *why* people “hiss like a cornered cat”? Hit a cat enough times with a broom and it will hiss at brooms. Your comment is the equivalent of saying “dumbass cat, afraid of brooms for no reason” and brandishing the broom at the cat in punishment for it disliking brooms.

          1. A*

            This said nothing about dismissing reactions as being “for no reason”. Everyone is allowed to have their opinion, and yours is no more valid than anyone else’s. There was nothing wrong with their comment.

            I’m going to go back to lurking now, yeesh.

            1. Blueberry*

              “Everyone is allowed to have their opinion, and yours is no more valid than anyone else’s. ”

              Often less valid, as many people have often told me.

              May you and yours and no one who could ever possibly come to rely upon you for emotional support ever be abused in any way which would engender lasting wariness.

        2. A*

          Just wanted to chime in to say that I agree and I suspect many more do than we will ever know because they lurk. Not to say I don’t understand why people react in the other direction by any means, but I do think to a certain extent it’s a vocal minority.

          I mean no harm in this comment.

        3. smoke tree*

          While I agree that the commentariat here can have a tendency to read through the filter of their own experience (a common human tendency, I think), it goes both ways. If your boss has a tendency to be decent and caring, I think most people would read the way you do. But if you’re used to a more controlling environment, I think it could be interpreted that way as well.

          For what it’s worth, based on the facts presented. I do think the email sounds a little weird, or at least ambiguous. Tone matters in this kind of communication, and in particular the insistence on hearing back from everyone makes it sound a little more dictatorial than caring. Possibly just thoughtless phrasing, but hard to say for sure.

    7. not neurotypical*

      Aside from a very few people old enough to have lived through the 1918 flu pandemic as children, none of us have lived through anything like this before. Nobody knows what to do or how to do it. If people are trying to extend care by making inquiries that make you uncomfortable, the best response is to extend them some grace in presuming that they are just trying to be kind but don’t quite know how.

      1. A*

        Yes, thank you. We all need to cut each other some slack right now. I’m honestly shocked at some of the comments I’ve seen here that don’t seem to be taking this into account. I feel for them, it’s exhausting carrying that much anger around all the time.

      2. The Other Dawn*

        Yes, thank you. I’m always surprised at how some people just jump to the most uncharitable explanation for something.

    8. Jennifer*

      And if they are sick (or worse) who wants to get into that with people they barely know?

  2. LilyP*

    I’m a little confused about the details of #3. If there’s a hiring freeze you won’t be able to fill the new roles anyway right, so why bother with a half a restructure? Also, your current staff would be eligible to apply for the lower level roles… but not qualified for them? Wouldn’t a lower level role imply they’d be *over*qualified? I guess that’s not always true if the role is really unrelated and just at a lower pay level.

    Also, why would internal transfers be blocked by a hiring freeze? Could you coordinate internally to find a different position your employees could transfer into maybe, since it sounds like that was unofficially your plan originally?

    1. Dan*

      I have the exact same questions. I’m confused with all of the “reapplying” that is necessary here. I work for a rather large org, and internal transfers are painless. One real signature and two rubber stamps and that’s it.

      1. Avasarala*

        Yes, I’ve seen “internal hire” used for what my org calls “internal transfer.” And it makes more sense to me–if you know you have someone in your org who can do this, why not just transfer them into the role, why make them reapply and go through all that bureaucracy? Seems like the largeness of the org is both a plus (have other roles to move them to) and a minus (bureaucracy) here.

        1. valentine*

          your current staff would be eligible to apply for the lower level roles… but not qualified for them?
          They’re two different types and levels of roles.

          Let’s say the would-be laid off employees are at level X. OP3 wants to create two Q roles, eliminate both X roles, and open two Z roles the X’s can apply for. I’m thinking every job needs to be offered externally, or OP3 could offer them Z roles for the time being. Or needs to cut costs, and this is the least disruptive cut to the team.

          Is it not possible to lay them off, but preserve their healthcare?

          1. boo bot*

            To me it sounded more like a gesture, than an actual attempt to hire them for the lower level jobs – they will be encouraged to apply, but realistically they won’t be chosen.

            1. LJay*

              I think they would realistically be chosen, but that they probably wouldn’t want to apply or accept because it would be a pay cut compared to the higher level job they’re doing now.

              1. Eyre*

                Hi, letter-writer for #3 here – my large, bureaucratic org requires that laid off employees have first right to apply for new jobs in the unit that laid them off, whether or not they are qualified for the job. I know, doesn’t make logical sense – I think it’s the org’s way of covering themselves. So these employees wouldn’t be chosen for these positions – they are truly new positions that require different skillsets, which these employees don’t have. And, to LJay’s point, there would be a pay differential, too.

        2. doreen*

          It kind of depends on the size of the organization and the roles involved – if I run two retail stores within 5 miles of each other , I might be able to transfer a stock clerk from store A to a cashier position at store B without much fuss. But if we are talking about a larger organization or very different positions it’s not so easy – I probably can’t just transfer a stock clerk from store A to cashier at store Z which is 300 miles away or a stock clerk at store A to a bookkeeper at store B without having some internal application process.

        3. Eyre*

          Thanks! I’m the LW for #3. All hiring (internal and external) has been frozen in my org this year.

          1. Venus*

            I think the difference for many companies is that internal isn’t ‘hiring’ but rather transferring. We have had a hiring freeze for a couple years, and in that time we have seem how internal employees looking for another opportunity within the company are very popular, as they fill gaping holes that can’t be addressed with an external hire. It is unfortunate if these employees can’t move to another team, as the organization as a whole loses out.

        4. ThatGirl*

          When I was laid off in 2017, I was given the choice to apply for open positions in lieu of leaving with a severance package. I had a week or so to decide, and many of the jobs were not in my area of expertise, or were with managers I didn’t want to work with, so I ultimately decided not to. But a few of my coworkers did apply and did continue to work there, in other areas. It was weird, it seems like they got priority over other applicants BUT they were not treated as transfers; everything reset (vacation, benefits, 401k, etc) as if they were new hires.

    2. Sleepyhead*

      Agreed that LW should not bother with half a restructure, but the hiring freeze bit does make sense to me – I work for a municipality and they just declared a hiring freeze that basically prevents all non-essential positions from being posted or filled (internally or externally). It’s a total *show because I’m in a temp assignment that would otherwise go permanent in a few months and instead will get returned to my substantive position (which has a cascading effect for about 3 other positions). The intent is basically to leave as many positions vacant as possible for a period of time to minimize the budget impact (as the vast majority of revenue-generating activities have dropped dramatically – transit fares, licensing, by-law/parking infractions). It’s super annoying, but will probably help to avoid/limit layoffs in the long run.

    3. Eng*

      For the qualification question, a senior spout maker is at a higher level than a junior handle maker, but it doesn’t mean the senior spout maker can make handles as well as other juniors who would be applying.

      1. Eyre*

        This is exactly right – I’m the LW for #3. The two new roles are…new to our line of work, and the current employees don’t have the experience/skillset. A dilemma I have (brought on by bureaucracy) is that in my large org, with ANY layoff situation, the affected employees have the automatic right to apply for new roles within the same unit, whether or not they have the skills. I wish it weren’t so – I feel it’s disingenuous to tell employees that they can apply for jobs that I wouldn’t hire them back for. I feel that it’s the big organization’s way of covering its bases.

    4. Alex*

      Leverage these two employees to fill the roles that you cannot currently hire for. Once the firing freeze is lifted, you will probably be in a less swampy situation ethically to let them go if you are not happy.

    5. Thankful for AAM*

      I dont know about the OP’s org, but I work for a city with more than 1,000 employees. There is no such thing as an internal transfer. Every single person must apply and go through every single step of the hiring process for every position.

      I “transfered” from one part time position to another part time position in the dame department with a slightly higher pay grade. I had to apply and interview just like anyone else. Then I had to apply and interview when a full time position opened up, again in the same department!

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        Same for me – everything was posted internally and externally and I had to go through most of the same interview process as all of the external candidates. And that was for a new role within my same team.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      I had the same confusion also, if you can’t fill the new roles, why bother? And the human concern side of the story if this causes two people to lose their jobs, why bother?

      Now is a good time for doing those pesky projects that never seem to get done. The tricky part is to pick projects that won’t impact others and are in compliance with any new restrictions in place. I am pointing this out because, OP, it could be you want to make good use of “down time”. Perhaps you do not have to do this project right now and you can find other opportunities to work on something else.

      1. Eyre*

        Thanks (LW for #3 here) — we have been doing a lot of those “we’ll do that later” projects, and we’ll continue to forge ahead with those. I’m agreeing with what Alison (and others here — thank you!) have said – we need to push this restructuring off to a better time.

    7. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      BTW, who is going to do the job of those laid off employees? Your current team? Perhaps not the best idea in the current situation.

      1. Eyre*

        LW for #3 here – those lines of work are going away altogether, so if we did proceed with the restructuring, nobody would do that work, because it wouldn’t exist. But — so much good thinking here, I’m going to postpone.

    8. The Other Dawn*

      “Also, why would internal transfers be blocked by a hiring freeze?”

      Internal transfers are on hold at my company at the moment. The reason being that there’s a hiring freeze, which means they can’t fill the vacancy created by the transfer. For the position that will be vacant in my company due to that particular person being hired to fill a spot in my department, they need to hire externally; no one who’s internal is qualified, nor does anyone even want it because they know the manager and don’t want to work for him. So that means I can’t get the internal person we just hired until they fill her vacant spot, which won’t happen until all this is over and the freeze is lifted. It really sucks, but that could be why an internal transfer is being blocked.

  3. Cobol*

    OP #1, your situation sounds a lot like mine, and unfortunately I have a very different take. It’s worth figuring out what your organization actually is. By all mean bring up your situation with your boss, but really listen to what they say. Walk out with one easily implemented solution (e.g. set up a meeting with the upper levels with the expectation that the first 10 minutes will be only you speaking). If you call it a roadmap/summary discussion, this shouldn’t be unreasonable. If that happens easily, then people may just be excited about your project, which is great. If it can’t…. well I would take it as a sign.

    Just as backstory, I’m three years in. I’ve managed to generate some pretty decent growth, but I’ve never been able to present/guide/or counsel on anything, but people sure are excited about what we’re doing, even though they don’t actually know what we’re doing (e.g. my boss gives me tons of compliments on stuff that took 5 minutes and is similar to what I did 10 years ago, but couldn’t tell you what the main thing I’m doing at any time). Some places trade on excitement and positivity, not results. It would be reading way too much into your letter to say that’s your situation, but I can say you letter is exactly what I would have written 2 months into my job.

    1. Willis*

      I agree that OP may have more luck if they’re able to call a meeting where they have the floor for some period of time. Alternatively, if there’s an agenda for these other meetings, maybe OP could talk to whoever sets that up beforehand to get on it for a discussion about logistics, timeline, etc.

    2. Jen S. 2.0*

      This also reminds me of other letters here where people feel interrupted, not listened to, talked over, and like they can’t get a word in. The conversation often has noted that those people have to do a bit more work to “take the floor,” because they often think it’s rude to jump in. Meanwhile, the others in the room often expect you to jump in if you want to talk; they’re not likely to stop for you. That is, what LW1 thinks is rude (things like interrupting, conversational overlapping, jumping in, not purposely ceding the floor, not waiting to be acknowledged, taking the conversation on a tangent, not consciously giving everyone a turn to speak) might be normal behavior in this group and not considered rude, and thus what you need to do to be heard.

      The letters where I remember this topic being discussed at length, with great suggestions in the comments:

      * https://www.askamanager.org/2014/03/my-coworkers-talk-over-me-and-i-think-im-causing-it.html
      * https://www.askamanager.org/2013/04/i-talk-too-much-in-meetings.html

      That said, I second the suggestion for LW1 to call a meeting herself, set the agenda, and begin the discussion by leading off with the points she’s wanted to make. Once the group realizes that her input is germane to the conversation they’re having, they might be more likely to invite her input in the future.

      1. Mookie*

        Thanks for putting those all in one place. My sense is that the LW is still feeling her way around this company’s culture, as Alison says, and the advice in these links is pretty comprehensive, if not exhaustive. Hopefully that helps her narrow down how to approach this.

      2. Lora*

        This is really good. Also, OP, I would add: What is their budget for this project?

        Literally every place I have ever worked talks a lot about how enthusiastic they are about X and how much they want to do X and why they value it and how great it is and it’s ever so important. If the budget for X is ridiculously small or nonexistent…well, there’s your answer. Also, what did they try before they hired you? What are they doing in real life to make sure you have resources you need? What else are they doing for X? If the answer is, “not a lot, they just hired me” then depending on the size of the organization that might also be your answer.

        X can be literally anything. I’ve even seen companies that swore they cared a lot about, for example, accounting and money (which, duh? shouldn’t they?), and then…ignored everything the actual controller and CFO told them to do, refused to spend even small amounts of money on accounting software for tracking where their money was going, and refused to rein in projects that were over budget or fire people who were obviously doing something shady with the numbers even if they weren’t outright embezzling. You can put just about anything in X though – developing new products, diversity initiatives, marketing, anything – and there will be some company, somewhere, that hires someone on the advice of whomever, and doesn’t listen or give them the resources to do anything. Definitely try being more assertive and not waiting for your turn to talk, but also consider that they might just not care.

        It might be OK for them not to care, too – if they have some great benefits that would help you advance your career in other ways, maybe it’s worth sticking around even if you don’t get a stack of accomplishments on your resume during your time there.

        1. Gatomon*

          This is a really good point. For some companies, making a hire is the start and end of what they intend to do about X. And they might be fine with having a variety of people filter through that role frequently due to frustration, because that will totally explain away why there’s no progress on X if there’s ever a point that someone starts to seriously question why X isn’t happening.

      3. OP*

        Thank you for the links, I’ll read through those. I’m actually pretty happy to get feedback that says the ball is in my court – much easier to resolve if it’s something I need to rearrange my thinking about. I’m hopeful that you’re last suggestion rings true- that once i get my foot in there, folks will have a better understanding of what i’m bringing to the table here.

    3. OP*

      Hi, I’m OP – I appreciate your response and you’re singing my song for sure. Particularly the compliments on stuff that is not really the bulk of the work. I’m not unappreciative, but I also feel like it is a bit of a sign that they’re not totally understanding the situation.
      The good news is that I took the advice to set up a meeting this week and actually asked to involve more people than just my bosses. It might just be that since this is a such a new role, the highers ups won’t really NEED to hear most of what i’m saying, but at the moment that’s the only ears I have. I’m hopeful that with more of the on-the-ground team in the room, things will resonate more. I come from a culture of people who were more senior versions of myself, so i’m used to having to lay out the specifics to higher ups. I know this org is different, but old habits will take some time to break! also good to hear that you’re feeling that you were able to make impact despite the slow start.

      1. Wheezy Weasel*

        Your comment about having more senior versions of yourself resonates with me. In one of my roles I was in a meeting frantically looking around for the subject matter expert, only to realize that *I* was the expert and hence why I was invited the meeting in the first place!

        I’ve found it useful to pull people aside after an in-person meeting and ask for 15 minutes of their time in the remainder of the week to find out more details about X. I play up the New Person card if the culture of the company is very meeting-heavy, like ‘I’m still new to the organization and rather than taking up time in a meeting, I’d love to sit down with you for 15 minutes and find out your take on this task/policy/backstory of how things were done previously.” That 15 minutes often turns into an hour and I have a lot more nuance to add to my understanding of the situation. Since I’m new and not immediately threatening to anyone, folks
        tend to open up and spill a lot of details. Then I’ve made that connection with a person and can follow up with another related party. ‘Say, I heard from Stephan in Accounting that you’re the person who knows the details about the TPS report upgrade that happened in 2019, can I get some clarification around this process?’

        After a few weeks of these sidebar conversations, I can use this ammunition to break into larger group meetings with some requests for clarification. ‘Stefan and Jessica indicated that the TPS upgrade took 6 months to pull off, and now we’re talking about a similar size and scope, are there concerns around staffing availability? Am I understanding the scope correctly?’

      2. BluntBunny*

        OP are you chairing these meetings are you in charge of the agenda or is someone else doing that? Could you at the end of each discussion ask people to be assigned to scoping that out at separate meeting and assign tasks. Also if you have actual proposals rather than just ideas I would share them via email and invite feedback over email and then set up a meeting to discuss in detail if needs be. If the people with ideas are the most frequent users of the application they may have a lot of suggestions it maybe be good to have a spreadsheet of some sort of log of these that you can refer to or do a survey to see if other users agree. That would be a good way to know if what they are saying is useful to the discussions or not.

    4. anon 4 this*

      This happened to me, albeit in a volunteer position. I had been brought on board as a tech consultant and the conversation among the 7 prior employees eagerly wondering about how to do something (I knew the answer immediately) was so intense that I’d made 10 attempts at jumping in and been talked over every single time. “Wait-” “No, I-” “This is-” “BUT THE-” “No, it’s-” and nothing. I made gestures. I even stood up at one point and put my palms on the table and no one noticed. They were too used to being that lively and teasing each other and not having anyone else thrown into the dynamic. When the meeting was ending, they did it so idiosyncratically that I didn’t even realize it was the end (I thought several people were just getting up and going to the bathroom or something, but then there were none of them left in the room except one going “well that’s it, see you later!”). I wrote an email explaining that I understood they had a status quo but I’d been brought on to help and was right there able to help and couldn’t get a word in edge wise. Everyone said they understood and gave me 5 mins at the beginning of the next meeting and stared at me in silence while I explained the issue from the previous meeting and they took notes and no one had any questions. Then everything started up again and they ran into a completely different problem and everything happened again. I know it wasn’t anyone’s fault that they’d bonded with each other and no one could stop to consult the consultant, but I was so frustrated after the second time around that I started having bad dreams about it. I ended up gently bowing out, saying that I understood the camaraderie but it wasn’t a good use of my time to sit in hour long meetings feeling thwarted. It was really unfortunate because I liked their spirit but I could barely contribute. I don’t know for sure, since they still don’t have a website, but I don’t think the organization exists anymore.

      1. Mill Miker*

        Similar to this, pay attention to how things are received when you do manage to get a word in. I’ve seen too many companies that expect the mere presence of an expert to suddenly make everything they’re doing right or compliant, while still expecting the expert to not criticize anything or push back against their superiors at all. They act like they should be able to do whatever they want, and then magically that’s the correct thing because they hired an expert.

        Depending on what the work is, if things start going this way you may have to really figure out where your lines in the sand are. Which mistakes can you let slide, and which ones are you willing to make an ultimatum over? How “wrong” can things go before you walk away and ask to not be associated with the project anymore for the sake of your long-term reputation as an SME?

        That said, I do sincerely hope OP just needs to be more assertive, and the company is serious about wanting SME input.

    5. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Yeah, I got a similar feeling.

      Do the higher-ups think that just by having OP on board, things will magically happen?

      OP, if I were you, I’d have a lot of this stuff written out – 90-day plan, 180-day plan, 360-day plan. What you plan to accomplish, what’s needed from your employer to make it happen ($$, other resources, time commitments from various people), what the risks and potential roadblocks are.

  4. AJ*

    I bet if they did see anything they would have thought ‘dang, she’s got less debt than me’ and ‘look at that repayment plan. I gotta do one like that’.

    1. Nessun*

      That would probably be my take if I saw such a thing – “oh oops that probably wasn’t meant to go on here…wow, someone has their life together! Good for them!!”

    2. Airy*

      Unless the items were like “$50,000 to Joe E. for five white tiger cubs, $500,000 to Elon M. for indestructible cyborg bodies to implant the tiger brains into” I doubt it piqued anyone’s interest.

      1. Airy*

        I don’t know how much tiger cubs or indestructible cyborgs actually cost in the current economic climate

      2. Jedi Squirrel*


        The Bloggess’s online store is called “Six Pounds of Uncut Cocaine” because she wants your credit card statement to be interesting.

        But yeah, most people’s debt is pretty damn boring.

      3. Ophelia*

        Right? Like if I saw “student loan balance – $15,000” I would literally think “Oh, look, another human” and be done with it.

    3. Mookie*

      My feeling as well. Conscientious grown-ups can have debt; it is not a failure. Demonstrating that you know how to best manage your debt by your own methods is in no way a reputation-killer. I understand the vulnerability and anguish a private person feels having inadvertently shared something they treat as intensely personal, a glimpse into their non-professional life, so this may be a tough pill to swallow. LW, I doubt you’d judge someone harshly for having debt and, possibly in your mind worse, sharing that fact; be generous to your colleagues and give them the benefit of the doubt that they have similar values, particularly because it sounds like your workplace is already healthy and supportive.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      OP, personally the last thing in the world I want to look at in detail is another person’s finances. It’s enough to take care of my own. If I saw that, I would quickly move away from it. I might consider letting you know if I could figure out if it was yours.

      Try not to mix your own feelings about your bills with anything else others might be thinking. I look at my grocery bills and think, “OMG, I have to stop eating so much!” Some other people would probably say, “How do you make this amount of money work for you?”

      For myself, I think a lot about the debt I do have and I work at various things to keep it under control. This is an on-going and daily thought process for me. Others are absolutely NOT thinking about my debt and cost control plans! Clearly you put good and serious effort into finances. You can be proud of what you have done for yourself here.

      PS. You have a very cool boss. Decide to let your boss console you. Yes, we sometimes have to deliberately decide to allow someone’s inputs to console us.

    5. MicroManagered*

      That was my immediate thought as well. *MY* anxiety brain would immediately mess with me! “She has less debt than me. She has her life together enough to own a home and I don’t. She’s paying her car off way sooner than I can.” or whatever. OP2 never underestimate people’s ability to make everything about themselves!!

    6. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Alison is right that people would be more interested in your groceries. Other people’s groceries are fascinating. Why do people buy that stuff? Is that a hoard or your weekly consumption? Do you realise how much sugar is in that? Looks like you’ve been watching too many ads! It’s one of the reasons why I refuse to do self check-out.

      1. peachie*

        I had an online training recently and the instructor’s introductory “fun fact” was that he recently went SIX MONTHS without buying groceries. And apparently he’s on month EIGHT and hasn’t yet dipped into the six-month restock. I CANNOT stop thinking about it.

      2. TardyTardis*

        I saw a phrase about someone’s sugar consumption–‘were you a hummingbird in a previous life?” that I thought was funny.

    7. No Longer Working*

      I was a little taken aback that the boss sent out the file to everyone. They could have described it without sending it to everyone. (“Someone left a personal budget file on the server – I removed it but have a copy if the owner needs it.”) Sharing something so personal with everyone was completely unnecessary.

      1. Paulina*

        I agree, the boss really compounded the exposure there.
        But, OP2, if your repayment plans are reflective of anything, it’s that you do actually have your stuff together. A lot of people have debt, and many of them don’t have careful plans and tracking as to how they’re getting out of it.

        Meanwhile, a lot of people are struggling with their sudden WFH situations, and won’t think about this file beyond “nope not mine.”

      2. Cmoney*

        Hi, I’m the OP of #2. I also thought it was a bit off, but I do know it wasn’t done with any ill intent – they’re all a very close team that has worked together for years, and my boss came up through my current position. It’s also a really small team of people who are cliqueish – not in the snob way, more dysfunctionally happy family way, I guess? My supervisor has been really great so far with feedback, training, and making me feel welcome to the team – I have zero complaints.

        I’m coming from a particularly not-great agency (to speak diplomatically) with zero leadership (literally, the administration hasn’t done their job), so I know I’m definitely oversensitive and I also know I let my anxiety get the best of me. I stress out about things like this; particularly because this is my fourth agency in three years, so speaking frankly, I haven’t gotten close to co-workers for a long time and I’ll be the first person to tell you that office politics is my weakest professional skill.

        BUT, that’s not why I commented – I wanted to sincerely thank all of you. All of you gave me reasonable thoughts that my anxiety wouldn’t have let me here, and Alison was very kind to feature my query (long time reader, never commented) and answer me (I’m famous!).

        (I always wondered what it felt like to be the writer!)

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I feel you; anxiety sucks, and my jerkbrain works the same as yours (everyone hates me, etc.).

          Seriously, everyone has done something like this. When I first started at Exjob, I had a phone list that was supposed to be sent to all employees, and another secret list with higher-ups’ private cell numbers that was just for me, if I ever had to get hold of them. Take a guess which one I emailed to the entire company. >_<

          But I wasn't fired or killed, and we all moved on. I'm probably the only one who even remembers it.

    8. Richard Hershberger*

      On the other hand, my daughter’s Girl Scout meetings are held in a church in my denomination but not where I am a member. Church budgets are open documents in my tradition. The congregation not only sees them, but votes on them. There are no mysteries about, for example, clergy compensation. So I was sitting in a lounge area in this church during the meeting, and there on a rack was the congregational annual report, including the budget. True confession: Other church’s budgets are like crack to me. Also, these people are overspending. I don’t know what kind of endowment or assets they have. That wasn’t stated. But if they aren’t pretty well fixed that way, something is going to have to give.

      This is different from the OP’s situation, in that the church is sharing open information. My momma raised me right enough that I would discreetly avert my eyes from her personal financial information. I also wouldn’t care. Church finances are a different sort of voyeurism.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        “True confession: Other church’s budgets are like crack to me.” is a sentence I never thought I would read. Bravo!

    9. Llama Face!*

      Yes! Op#2 I’ll chime in to say that, if I was your coworker and saw that debt repayment plan, I would just be impressed by someone who has their sh*t together enough that they are tracking their debt repayment on a spreadsheet. And that’s if I even paid attention beyond, huh, nope, not my file.

    10. TardyTardis*

      Yes, I was glad to hear that I’m not the only one with a Fossil Debt of Doom sheet. And 15 years ago it was…high. Lots. Many, many. But we finally paid it off (only to incur a modest housing improvement thingie, which has been shipped to the nearest 0% card and will die before the end of this year).

  5. gracers*

    How is it legally problematic asking employees to report their health status at a time like this? My office has been asking for daily updates for the past 2 weeks and I think it’s a good thing. Up until 2 weeks ago, about 100 of us were working in close quarters, so wouldn’t you like to know if Employee A, who sat 10 feet away from you, is now showing symptoms of COVID-19?

    1. Maxie*

      It sounds like the question is broader than that. I interpret “how are you and your family doing” as also an inquiry into mental health and other physical health. If the question was a concern specifically about coronavirus, that should be stated, along with an explanation of how to report it and maintain confidentiality.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Right — it’s broad and open-ended, not just about Covid, and it could end up touching on info that runs afoul of the ADA, which restricts questions about covered disabilities to info that’s “job-related and consistent with business necessity” (like what accommodations you need or when you can return to work if you’re out). It could also prompt people to reveal ADA-covered conditions, which can then trigger some legal obligations from the employer. And in general, the ADA says employers shouldn’t ask questions that could force employees to disclose disabilities.

        That’s not to say your boss can’t ask how you’re doing. Of course they can. But if this is something more formal than that, it’s a problem.

      2. PhyllisB*

        I interpret this as a slightly more formal version of the “how are you?” that we greet people with. I would just respond, “we’re fine, thanks for asking.” and let it go at that. No need to get into specifics unless you need assistance with health issues like accessing financial aid, ect.

      3. Grbtw*

        I’m a bit more cynical in my interpretation, there’s been a few politicians talking about sending the “healthier” people back into offices to “save the economy” and my first thought was that these questions are meant to decide who should and shouldn’t work remote anymore.

    2. Fae Kamen*

      I don’t think any laws around this have been changed or suspended in light of the pandemic. If it was legally shaky before, it still is. That’s a separate question from whether you’d like to know.

    3. Temperance*

      My office was asking people to keep the COVID team informed if we had potential exposure, and when. They also non-judgmentally shared our EAP resources, and encouraged us to take care of our mental health.

      We were giving PTO for self-quarantine, so sharing the information and being honest was supported and encouraged.

      1. NYWeasel*

        Exactly, I posted something similar up above. As managers, we’ve been encouraged to check in on our employees and remind them that there are resources in place to help them at this difficult time. We’ve also been encouraged by the LT to remind people that it’s ok if they are stressed out by family concerns and can’t focus on work as much as they usually do. We’re not asking anyone to bare their soul, but if someone is struggling, we are trying to help them out by taking some weight off of their shoulders.

      2. londonedit*

        Same. If we show symptoms of or are diagnosed with coronavirus we’re required to report it to HR, but it’s confidential and mainly because the company is offering full pay for the duration of the illness. The only other thing my company is doing is regularly sharing the EAP links and occasionally sharing advice on how to care for our mental and physical health (resources on managing anxiety, advice on gentle exercise to take at home, etc).

        1. I'm just here for the cats*

          Legally you have to tell your employer of you get COVID (or any other highly transmitted disease like TB) Or the health department will. Although there were no cases, we had spoken about this at work. I work in a counseling center for a university and we were trying to figure out if a staff member got covid if it would be a violation of HIPPA and our confidentiality to tell health department Officials which students were seen. It came up that it is required to disclose all contacts.

    4. Sleepyhead*

      I thought this too, until I realized I should probably just assume that it’s likely that this will be the case (that someone in my office has it), and react accordingly. It’s tough because there is still a lot of blame going around for infections and judgment on how people should be handling it. I’ve seen people flip out and give all sorts of directives to others that aren’t realistic at all (i.e. expecting people to get tested even though our city is not testing people with mild symptoms and no international travel/confirmed exposure as their recommendation will be to isolate for 14 days regardless of whether you’re positive or not). We had a few days where people were calling out for legit mental health reasons and other people were trying to get them to provide detailed information on their health status.

      That said, LW4’s question has been on my mind – I have no doubt (in my case) that it’s being asked with good intentions, but am super mindful of the fact that my response is still likely to be scrutinized to varying degrees.

      1. Mookie*

        The point about blame and guilt is a good one. For some people it might sound irrational, but a blanket “everyone good?” that would otherwise read as a polite gesture seeking no substantive information can feel a little invasive in this climate. Survivors and the families of casualties of modern epidemics often report feeling stigmatized long after the fog has lifted. If someone you know is battling an illness or has succumbed to it or a related illness, it can be a touch triggering to have to regularly issue health “reports” even when such requests are meant to be supportive and empathetic. I don’t actually want to have to think about my recently-deceased friend on a call with colleagues before we launch into an extended discussion of TPS reports.

        That being said, I can’t fault managers who are acting in good faith. It’s a no-win situation that, as individuals, we didn’t create and are simply trying to live through.

        1. Avasarala*

          Yes. So many people feel deep concern and anxiety for others, especially for people they are responsible for in some way like their subordinates or students or teammates. “You’re OK right?? I don’t have to worry??”

          But also nobody is really OK, we should all be acting as if we are asymptomatic, and people who are not OK are probably not going to blurt out “ACTUALLY I GOT THE CORONA” or “I’m slowly losing it but I’d really like to keep my job” or “I feel like the first half of Rapunzel except I’d have to kick out any hot princes climbing in my window”.

          Better to take the message as “I am concerned for you and things are weird” and reply to the effect of “I hear your concern and I appreciate it”.

          1. Amanda*

            Very good points all around. Though I’m definetely stealing the Rapunzel bit for our virtual happy hours!

      2. hbc*

        Yeah, I had the critical on-site workers drilling me about the coworker who had to go out because his “close friend” was in the ER with respiratory symptoms, and complaining about how little they knew. I was repeatedly saying, “I know it’s scary, but we just don’t know. They won’t test him unless she tests positive, so it’ll be at least a week before we know if he’s been exposed. And no, I’m not going to call him to ask how ‘close’ they are or how long he’s been seeing her, because it’s not relevant, not my business, and not what he wants to be bugged about while he’s waiting for answers himself.” They wouldn’t even have known that much if he hadn’t shown them her text.

        All I could tell them was to operate as if they’d been exposed (and yes, cancel that trip to see the grandkids that you should have already cancelled) until they heard otherwise. You’d think I was withholding their own personal test results from the reactions I got.

      3. Blueberry*

        Well said. In situations like this people want to identify and blame ‘Typhoid Mary’s. I wouldn’t want to volunteer for that.

    5. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

      My company has a specific process in place for reporting COVID-related illness, and has notified all workers of this process. It requires contacting a specific person in HR, who presumably handles it from there in some appropriately discreet way that lets the potentially affected people know what they need to know without violating the privacy of the person reporting. The process is not “okay managers, at every team meeting, ask everyone publicly if they or anyone in their household is sick.”

    6. cmcinnyc*

      We got an email that an employee had tested positive, and had given a list of their contacts (no gender of employee was specified), and all the contacts had been informed. I wasn’t informed, so I wasn’t a contact. I probably wasn’t on the same floor. I might not have been in the same building. The employee and all contacts had been asked to self-quarantine, and all reported that they were complying, calling their doctors. That is how companies that care about privacy are handling it. We know what we need to know; we don’t know what we don’t need to know.

  6. Maxie*

    #3 woul your company be willing to make an exception to the hiring freeze for the two current employees so they could transfer to other open positions in your company? That wouldn’t impact total payroll, so it’s worth asking about. But it sounds like this will also leave yiu with two infilled roles after the restructure until you can hire again. Is that an option you can live with until the hiring freeze is lifted?

    1. Eyre*

      Good question – there aren’t any open positions at the moment, because the hiring freeze is both internal and external. Everything has shut down. So much good advice here – I’m holding off on the restructure for now.

  7. nnn*

    #3: In addition to LilyP’s excellent points above, another thing to think about is what the post-COVID world might look like for your organization. How might it affect your organization’s work? How confident are you that this particular restructuring will still be optimal in the post-COVID world? (Even if you do need to restructure, it might be a completely different restructuring.)

    Also, in the coming weeks, some of your employees are probably going to need to go on sick leave, and others might have to step away from work for caregiving responsibilities. It might be useful to have everyone around for the time being, so you can all cover for each other.

    1. Carlie*

      Oh yes, this. If part of the need for restructuring is redundancy, you will be patting yourself on the back for keeping them when people start taking sick time but you already have it covered.

  8. All Outrage, All The Time*

    #2 I’m very private, too. I can understand why you would be anxious about people potentially seeing your personal documents. I am annoyed at your boss for sending it to everyone but it sounds like he thought it wasn’t a big deal and I honestly doubt anyone else would. It’s definitely your anxiety making it a bigger deal than it needs to be. No one will even remember it tomorrow. If it helps, I yelled at a co-worker over the phone yesterday and hung up on her. I am mortified. We are just humans and sometimes we make human errors. Be gentle with yourself :-)

    1. Avasarala*

      Echoing this!

      If I see an Excel sheet with numbers laying in the copier, or accidentally open the wrong thing, my eyes tend to glaze over. I just can’t make myself care it. I doubt anyone read it carefully.

      1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

        When I worked in admin and was the photocopier whisperer (I had a real knack for figuring out problems and fixing paper jams) I saw so much personal and confidential information. After all this time, nothing memorable stands out though, it was a just life on a piece of paper.

        1. TardyTardis*

          I remember the tax return that a co-worker left in the copier. I also remember the PIP for someone with drug problems left in the copier. I returned the tax return, swearing I hadn’t looked at it except for the name (ok, I thought the side business of polishing teapots was pretty cool), and I just left the PIP thing where it was, since I had no idea who I would return it to.

    2. EPLawyer*

      I’ m going with the boss sent it around to make sure it wasn’t someone’s only copy before deleting it. They didn’t want someone to lose their hard work.

      Pretty much everyone on the team glanced at it and said Nope not mine and hit delete. I highly doubt anyone even looked close enough to register any details.

      BTW, I was once sending a screenshot of my new credit score to my husband, while texting a client about an upcoming hearing. Somehow the screenshot got into the text to the client. OOOOPS. I told the client to ignore it, she was all yeah wondered about that. That was it.

    3. GilaMonster*

      The point I gathered from OP2 is that it shows a lack of attention to detail and appropriate security to save a file in the wrong place and that this is more what they are worried about, i.e. if they can’t save personal private information correctly, what gaffes are they committing with sensitive work material? I can totally sympathize with that fear.

      OP2 I’ve made similar mistakes in my career, and deal with sensitive information. Your mortification will ensure this will likely never happen again. But if up until now you’ve been conscientious, this one small mistake will not have your coworkers thinking you’re flaky. They will likely just think you were tired and will have mercy for you! The same as you would for them. Please try not to worry too much.

  9. hey anony*

    #4 My department head asks “if everyone’s doing OK” in our required daily online meetings. It feels really weird, because I can’t tell if they want us to report on our physical health, our mental health, our work issues, or what… and if the question is meant to include the first two categories, that isn’t information that I want to share with my entire department, though I can certainly see reporting a health concern to the head privately (which I did the day that I had a fever and a cough, which ended up being more about a reaction to pollen). Everybody’s being pretty vague and noncommittal in the meetings.

    1. Turquoisecow*

      My department has been having weekly calls since everyone switched to remote work (which is weird because I was on remote work before and pretty much ignored, but now I’m expected to join these calls, but that’s another story). At the beginning of each call, the Boss asks how everyone is doing and if we’re all feeling okay. We all say “yep,” or something to that extent, and then he moves on.

      I feel like, given the circumstances, it would be weird if he didn’t mention the possibility of illness at all, but at the same time if someone was sick, they’d probably let him know privately and not wait for the weekly call to speak up.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        As a parallel, years ago it became known at work that I had X problem. With nothing left to lose, I said I had taken steps a, b and c. I would continue using this plan to handle X. Well, danged if they didn’t send the company nurse over to ask me how X was. To my horror, she started annual check-ins with me inquiring about X. Each year, I answered her, “I am doing fine.” It took about 5 years of checking in once a year for her to figure out I would always respond with. “I am doing fine.”. Then she stopped asking.

        I would go with the “I am fine” response until I had the typical circumstances that indicated I was not fine.

    2. Sleepyhead*

      Yeah, this is incredibly frustrating. I decided to be somewhat forthcoming in one conference call (as in, vague, but also acknowledging that this has been really challenging, instead of the faux positivity that others were mostly spewing). I should have gone with the faux positivity, because I ended up being subjected to about an hour of back-and-forth with a colleague I barely know making suggestions on how to manage working full-time from home with two young kids (including such gems as “take an hour to do yoga every day” and “include your children on some conference/video calls each day so they feel included”). I’m barely managing meals, and my 4 year old doesn’t think pants are a thing anymore. Up until a few days ago, we were discussing whether or not we should declare bankruptcy on my spouse’s business. I’m not even touching on the physical/mental side of things and it’s already too much for a conference call update.

      1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

        What works for my friend is Ipad time with a special treat for when she really needs to concentrate on something. She also sets a big timer and if no one interrupts her before the ding then there is an extra special surprise treat for everyone.

    3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      I’d assume they ask it in a vague way to allow you to give a vague answer that fits your needs.

      In a time of crisis it’s not a bad question. Ideally the question would be asked, with the addendum, “I hope so, but if not and you need to talk, feel free to let me or HR know. Or if you have something to share with the team that’s fine. It’s a rough time and I’m not OK all the time now.”

      My organization is pretty high-trust, and people ask questions like this all the time. And common public answers range from “Great” to “Very stressed about X project” to even “Very stressed and scared about covid.” One person shared that a relative had died from covid during a staff meeting. So the staff offered sympathy. Another shard privately to HR their being positive for covid.

      If you’re in a high-performing high-trust organization, this kind of question is OK – answer as you wish.

      If your organization has problem, then sure, give a non-commital answer.

      1. A New Level of Anon*

        If your organization has problem, then sure, give a non-commital answer.

        It has nothing to do with an organization having a problem and everything to do with there being strong social sanctions against Debbie Downers. You’ll get lots of pats on the back for showing concern but god forbid admitting that you have something to be concerned about.

        1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          Not where I work at this time. In this crisis we’ve had people including senior leaders say they are stressed, the CEO’s assistant said to him in an all-staff call that she and others are over-stressed working at home with kids and something should be cut back, and another senior official sharing the places they’ve been going to online meditation classes to deal with worry.

          If the culture doesn’t allow people to share seriously negative feelings and thoughts in the middle of a crisis, then that culture is not high-performing. It’s not open enough for real truth, and that likely hurts it in other ways with lack of candor about difficulties in general.

    4. Fikly*

      See, my company has been asking if everyone is ok (separate questions for mentally and physically), and what, if anything they can do to help, but anonymously. (Actually anonymously)

      And that feels way more appropriate.

    5. sofar*

      My company is requiring daily “How are you doing? Are you OK?” check-ins for all managers. We are not allowed to use these check-ins to discuss work. These check-ins are specifically to discuss how people are feeling mentally. And then we are to report to our managers about the general “mood” of our teams.

      I am the kind of person who finds it calming to just do my job calmly and I am tiring of ways to tell my manager, “Oh, just fine thanks! OK I’m going to do my job now!”

      When I check in with my direct reports, it leads to a lot of spiraling and stressing (because having your boss ask you every effing day if you are doing OK makes everything seem scarier to a lot of folks).

      I get that our company doesn’t want the absentee managers ignoring everyone while they’re working remotely. And I naturally am the type to check in with, “Are you doing OK? Is your workload manageable? Please remember to take off any time you need.” And I have weekly 1:1 check-ins anyway. But every day is a bit intense to ask people “How are you doing with all this?”

      1. hey anony*

        Yes, this is more what I meant. Just in general I’d rather share work or other concerns privately with my department head or consult individually with a more trusted colleague. Because my department has a pretty question-shamey culture (i.e. some people have a “you must not be very good at your job if you’re asking that” attitude) as a department, I’ve learned that there are just some things I’d rather address individually rather then in a meeting, and going to working from home doesn’t really change that.

  10. Steve*

    #2, not as embarrassing as those who have accidentally shared their screens with porn tabs still open. But in some was, finances re even more private…

    1. Not Australian*

      Or, indeed, those of us who have managed to jam the office copier with their pornographic fan-fiction. [Spoiler: I hung around and talked to the copier engineer, confessed it was my fault, and asked if he had to report it. He didn’t. Bullet dodged. Guess what I never did again?]

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I am not sure about more current times, but in the early 2000s all the techs had to report were attempts to copy currency. At that time, they had no choice. The machine would lock up after a 3rd attempt to print currency and the only way to unlock it was to call the FBI. My husband was in the field and this is what TPTB told him. Indeed we had an instance locally where kids printed out money and TRIED to use it. Sure enough, the FBI had to be called in. Everyone could see that this was kid behavior and that putting a good scare was enough punishment. So the kids were spoken to quite firmly and that was the end of that. I am sure if they did it again, arrests would have been made.

          1. TechWorker*

            Okay so I googled and this is super interesting – look up ‘EURion Constellation’.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Hmm. My late husband and his training instructor. The incident that happened locally was a pretty well-known thing in our little burg. So, no. Not a joke. Additional info: I am not really a fan of April 1st pranks so I don’t indulge.

      2. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

        During the Clinton impeachment hearing someone printed out the final report and the photocopier chugged out single-sided papers for hours. Because of what I saw on a regular basis I never printed anything personal at work.

  11. TiredMama*

    #3, Postpone that restructuring. In addition to the points that Allison and others have raised, think about the message that it would send to the rest of your team if they see of their coworkers fired right now. ..it would not be a good one. I would be ready to jump ship the first chance I got.

  12. A New Level of Anon*

    #3: So I got laid off about two weeks before the COVID-19 situation really ramped up, in a local job market that that is a wasteland for my industry due to government funding cuts. My layoff was part of a phased mass restructuring, where some types of positions were cut first and the rest were to get their pink slips around a month later. It’s a month later, COVID-19 is serious, and it’s not clear that phase 2 is going ahead as planned. They had no real way of knowing that this layoff would likely permanent destroy my life due to the added challenge of the corona’ed-up economy, but by now it’s clear that that will happen to anyone facing a layoff in our industry during the pandemic.

    All this is to say, unless you just really want to stick it to these people and ensure that everything they’ve worked for will go up in flames, please find a way to postpone the restructuring or at least facilitate their way into another role at your organization. Their blood will be on your hands if you don’t.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I am so sorry this happened to you, but thank you for warning OP that they could alter the course of people’s lives.

      I hope something changes soon for the better for you.

    2. Eyre*

      I am so sorry that this happened to you. I’m the OP – and yes, I’m going to postpone. So much good advice here. I hope that things look up for you very soon.

  13. Batty Twerp*

    #2 there’s this thing that might help your anxiety brain realign. It’s called the spotlight scenario. The quick version is that people are paying far less attention to you than you are, usually because they’re too busy think about themselves, like everyone else. Unless what you do directly impacts them, it’ll be forgotten in moments.
    I remember the first time I came across a description of this – they had students take a test, and made one student go in late, wearing a neon yellow “I Love Barry Manilow” t-shirt (this was at a time and place where this was the most embarrassing item of clothing voted on by the students beforehand – I make no judgement on Mr Manilow), then go sit at the back of the room to take the test. The guinea pig student felt as though all eyes were on them when they came in and was sure everyone would be talking about them. At the end of the test, about 70% of the class said they noticed the interruption, but the next day, out of a class of 30 students, only 2 of them sort of remembered the t-shirt, but not who was wearing it. Everyone was so focused on the test, it was barely a blip on their long term memory.

    Be kind to yourself OP2. In a weird way, remind yourself that everyone *EVERYONE* is so busy looking inward at their own little world, that they won’t have noticed and (I cant think how to put this kindly) they won’t have cared that much either.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I saw a lovely experiment on a now-defunct lighthearted tv science programme which speaks to this.

      I’ll describe it in a reply (when this is released) for those who don’t want to follow the link, but you might find it amusing. Video is under three minutes.


      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        We are asked to watch six identically dressed people walk around in a small space passing lunchboxes between themselves. We are asked to count how often a particular box changes hands.

        It’s only on the second or subsequent viewing, not concentrating on counting, that one notices the WHOLE ASS PERSON DRESSED AS AN INSECT walking through the scene and waving at us.

    2. TimeTravlR*

      My friend (a therapist) recently told me something similar about people not thinking about us as much as we think they are. I love the Manilow story! I will have to share it with her!

    3. anon4this*

      Yes, this. I once embarrassed myself badly in front of a friend as a teenager, or so I thought (the details of the story are very specific, but basically the equivalent of going to a fancy restaurant with her family, going to the bathroom, and accidentally tripping the waiter, spilling various expensive brunch related foodstuffs in every direction including partially onto two other patrons, necessitating 1 hour and 45 minutes of cleanup while I stood there keenly examining the floor tiles). My communication with this friend and her family dropped off for a while after that. I assumed that there was a lot of shared embarrassment, unfortunate but understandable. We kept in touch vaguely through surface level social media connections. Two years after the incident, I was still having occasional nightmares about reliving the anxiety. I confided in a mutual friend that I suspected the reason the first friend and I hadn’t connected properly in a while was that I’d embarrassed the daylights out of myself. Mutual friend ran the question by her in private, and she had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. We started hanging out again, even sometimes with her family. Some of them didn’t seem to remember that there’d been a gap in communication, and even those who did think it was just a really busy time.

    4. ScienceLady*

      Such a great point to highlight, Batty Twerp! OP #2, I also struggle with anxious thinking. The book “Rewire Your Anxious Brain” was a great one for me, and I preferred doing the audio format of it – I loved hearing someone telling me why my brain was reacting in the ways that it was and provided some great strategies for helping greatly lesson anxiety.

      1. Cmoney*

        I just downloaded it – thank you. I’m at a career high point and if I don’t manage my anxiety better, I’m never going to move up, so thank you for the recommendation. – #2

    5. Cmoney*

      Thank you for this – I’ll try to internalize it as a strategy! – #2


      Also me: The world does not care that much about you, calm yourself.

      Thank you so much!! :)

  14. Mary*

    LW1, another possible way to take control of this dynamic is to ask LOTS of questions. It lets people feel that they are getting their opinions heard and allows them to do their talky-talky bit, but means like the conversation feels like it belongs to you, which is psychologically good for you AND allows you to establish yourself as the authority.

    When people start getting into a “so here’s what I think” monologue, try asking questions to divert them onto the bits that are actually useful to you, or which set your agenda:

    “Which bits of the system are you most familiar with?”
    “What do you think we need to do with it?”
    “Have you worked on any comparable systems? What did you think of them?”
    “One of my tasks is going to probably be to make the XXX function a bit less clunky–how would that work for you?”
    “What sort of monthly/annual cycle do you work on?”
    “If we were looking at a timeline of, say, November for that part of the project, how would that fit in?”

    You can communicate a LOT ofLW1, another possible way to take control of this dynamic is to ask LOTS of questions. It lets people feel that they are getting their opinions heard and allows them to do their talky-talky bit, but means like the conversation feels like it belongs to you, which is psychologically good for you AND allows you to establish yourself as the authority.

    When people start getting into a “so here’s what I think” monologue, try asking questions to divert them onto the bits that are actually useful to you, or which set your agenda:

    “Which bits of the system are you most familiar with?”
    “What do you think we need to do with it?”
    “Have you worked on any comparable systems? What did you think of them?”
    “One of my tasks is going to probably be to make the XXX function a bit less clunky–how would that work for you?”
    “What sort of monthly/annual cycle do you work on?”
    “If we were looking at a timeline of, say, November for that part of the project, how would that fit in?”

    You can communicate a LOT of information by the questions you ask, and it allows you to set the agenda without quite so forcefully going up against people, if that’s not your style or not the organisation’s style. And some of the information you get will actually be useful! information by the questions you ask, and it allows you to set the agenda without quite so forcefully going up against people, if that’s not your style or not the organisation’s style. And some of the information you get will actually be useful!

      1. OP*

        Wow that seems like such an obvious way to start participating, PLUS as you’re saying, it is exactly what i need because i will need to know a LOT about how their daily work goes to make this tool work. Thank you for bringing that to me! Also, no meeting i’ve had so far has an agenda… I have started to implement agendas where there were none in the past, but i’d have to figure out how to make that seem like it isn’t just more work to do here…

    1. ArtsNerd*

      I’m a huge fan of “time check” in a meeting. “Time check, it’s already 11:25am and we’ve got a lot to get through.”

      Also, YMMV but i recently realized that I can counter-talk over my coworker who always talks over me! I just kept going, and he shut up. It’s obviously not an ideal dynamic, and it went against my instincts but it really worked.

  15. Erstewhile lurker*

    #1 My advise is to set the agenda, detailed down to what time block will be allocated to each segment. Then distribute it beforehand, and chair the meeting. When people enter, greet them and thank them for coming etc, that puts you firmly in the driving seat from the outset. In short, be so much on top of things that no-one else will have the energy to try and derail the meetings.

    This is what has worked for me in the past.

  16. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

    There’s a book which I think OP#1 might find useful, called “Flawless Consulting”. I realise that OP1’s job isn’t formally framed as consulting, but it sounds as though the dynamics might have some similarities. There can be a gap between “I was hired to do X” and “the organisation is genuinely committed to moving in the direction of X, and the structures are in place to enable it to happen”, and the book has some good advice about bridging the gap (or recognising when it ain’t gonna happen).

    1. Erstewhile lurker*

      That sounds interesting, thanks for sharing. These are pretty much the hurdles that I face as well so i’ll check the book out.

          1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

            It’s Peter Block. Looking today, I see there’s been a third edition. I think the version I read is the second, which might be cheaper – not sure how much difference there is between them.

            I found a link which includes a downloadable PDF intro. I’ll put the link in another comment.

    2. OP*

      perfect. I’ve actually “apprenticed” with a consultant, though their area of expertise didn’t 100% match with mine so i didn’t continue. I learned SO much, and i think you’re right that this is sort of a consultant-in-residence role. I am sort of a team of one, on everyone’s team kind of role.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’ve been thinking about it! I’m concerned about legal liability for inaccurate, potentially damaging info (if I recall correctly, the woman who started the Shitty Men In Media list did get sued).

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        I for one would be glad *not* to see such a list at this juncture. It just has a bit of a “villagers with pitchforks” feel that I’m not sure is the most helpful thing right now. Maybe that’s just me. But as the article itself concedes, most situations are extremely complex, and summing up a company as “bad” or “good” based on the way a particular action may have been reported in the news or viewed from the perspective of a particular employee seems ripe with potential problems.

        1. JustaTech*

          Yeah, with the amount of pressure everyone’s under, and the lack of outlets to “do something!”, there’s a risk of things getting out of hand. When people are under pressure they can’t do anything about they tend to lash out/fixate on trivial things they can control.

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          I am a huge fan of villagers with pitchforks right now. So many employers (and government officials) are handling this all so badly, and the stakes are so high, that I’m willing to go with a standard of guilty until proven innocent.

    2. BuildMeUp*

      Hey, there’s a site called “Did They Help” (just add a dot com at the end) that lets you search companies and other entities (sports teams, etc.) and tells you how they’ve responded! I’m not sure how many smaller companies are included, but there is a place to submit info with sources for any company not listed.

  17. Mannheim Steamroller*


    Yes, they clearly ARE setting you up for failure. Start the next job search NOW.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Is this meant to be humorous or sarcastic? Because I don’t see anything in OP’s letter to suggest that. OP is not being assertive about communicating things and is experiencing anxiety over it.

    2. Delta Delta*

      I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I can see how there may have been internal resistance to changing whatever the change is. OP gets hired to make the change, but people continue to resist, and passive-aggressively prevent the change by not letting OP actually participate in the job. Then when the change doesn’t work or happen, OP is the easy scapegoat, as OP is the “expert” and the expert couldn’t make it happen.

      I really hope this isn’t the case and that OP just needs to be more assertive in speaking up.

      1. OP*

        I think this is my fear, however i have enough experience in my sector to have confidence that if i AM being set up for failure, it’s certainly not malicious or even purposeful at all. Most mid to small non-profits aren’t know for their tech savvy (they are focused on delivering the programs, which is what donors/taxpayers expect!), so my role is unique in that i am helping build the foundation for success. Signing up i knew it was going to be a long process that would take a LOT of learning on everyone’s part – my concern is that if i can’t get them to start, i dont know how we’ll ever finish!

        1. Jedi Squirrel*

          I don’t think you’re being set up for failure. A lot of organizations have this kind of thinking:

          1) Buy the product.
          2) Hire someone to implement/manage it.
          3) Something magical happens, probably involving midnight elves or whatnot.
          4) Everything’s cool and up and running perfectly.

          They don’t realize that there will be bumps and mis-steps along the way. Alison’s advice is good. Work out a timeline, communicate assertively, and don’t let your anxiety get the best of you. You got this!

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I am giving a massive side-eye to OP’s company’s management for bringing in an SME in an internal application who is the only person in the org with zero experience in the application. Really? really? nobody in the whole org knew the app well enough to fill the SME role? I’d be fine if OP’s job title was anything else – analyst, consultant, PM, anything. But to bring somebody in from the outside like “here’s this new person who will tell you how to develop and use your app that this person has never seen before, because they are a subject matter expert in it and you are not” is a disaster waiting to happen. Totally not OP’s fault, but I am seriously questioning how that place is being run. My worry is, not as much that they are setting OP up for failure, as that the leadership will run the place straight into the ground.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        OP is familiar with similar products, though. That makes a difference.

        And, as OP points out above, non-profits are notorious for not being tech-savvy. It’s a nonprofit, not a company. That does make a difference here. It’s possible that SME with knowledge of this exact software package are not exactly lining up to work at a non-profit.

        This sounds more Gilligan’s Island than Real Housewives to me.

      2. OP*

        This and what Jedi Squirrel is saying are both true simultaneously. Would for-profit organizations hire an expert in an application they’d never used? Not unless they were someone’s nephew :). NP world is veeerry different – if they’re smaller, they don’t have the funding to buy an “out of the box” model so to speak. They have to take raw materials and create what they need.
        That said, i completely agree that hiring in an outsider to tell people how to do their job is not a great way to go. Now that i’m here, its clear they needed a consultant first to set the new structure, THEN hire someone to carry it out. Someone in another comment said something about a “line in the sand” – I do have other offers, but this one is near and dear to me so i’m going to give it a good faith effort before throwing in the towel.

  18. Catalyst*

    OP#4 – I don’t know your boss, so I can’t say for certain what they are looking for. But I will say that I am asking my team this the first time I talk to them every day (sometimes through chat, sometimes through calls, just depends). I am asking because I truly want to know that everyone is doing alright and be able to help in any way I can if someone or one of their family members is not. This is a really stressful time and I am worried about my team and their families. If someone needs to shift their hours to care for a child, or log off early because it’s just been a crappy day, or just get on the phone with me and complain for a while to let off some steam – I want them to be able to talk to me about it so that we can make it happen. I would personally just assume that your boss has the best of intentions and just isn’t very good with the ‘messaging’ part of it unless something happens to make you think otherwise. I know my own boss sucks at the delivery but he does actually care.

    1. Daffy Duck*

      Instead if asking if everyone is fine it would be much more useful to let the employees know what type of support is available if they need it (flex hours, understanding about children at home, maybe tele-counseling if your insurance offers it). A blanket “Everyone doing fine” in a group setting is not going to feel secure to the most vulnerable employees.

      1. Catalyst*

        Not sure if this was meant directly for me or is it is a general reply re: OP#4. I probably should have been more specific, when I say I ask my employees daily – this is one on one. And on the information note, my company has been incredibly good about sending out this information (that all these things are offered as well as our EAP info) on a regular basis via email, and it is mentioned repeatedly in our weekly department calls so my team is very aware of the types of support that is available if they need it. I have had a discussion here and there with each of them on a day when they seemed particularly stressed out about flex-time, EAP etc depending on what they were stressed about. But my daily check in with them really is just that. How are you doing? How are you feeling? In such a super stressful time, I really just want them to know that I do care how they are handling this and I am always here for them. I also know this is not the norm in general, not only for myself as a manager, but for companies right now. My company has handled this better then I ever could have dreamed and I know I am really really lucky.

    2. Katastrophreak*

      My company reports to US govt, who is tracking reported cases. So my supervisor sends an email out with voting buttons. Yes I’m/ we’re good, or No I Need Assistance. The answers go to supervisor only. This prevents anyone from knowing anyone else’s business in addition to having the screen to help anonymize.

      This has only started in the last two weeks even though we have been 100% remote for two years, so we’re pretty sure it’s covid- related.

    3. Wow..*

      As an introvert who has been very happily working from home for years and values her privacy, I have noticed that the commenters here are skewed to be overly offended by common social niceties. You are not nosily prying into peoples lives by asking how they are doing. These reactions are bizarre.

        1. Kiwi with laser beams*

          Yeah, that’s where the line is for me. I have irrational anger around this topic (not saying the other commenters are being irrational, just giving an example of a situation that really is as irrational as Wow.. is saying) and I take full ownership and go find ways of dealing with the underlying stress that’s making me scratchy. But the difference in my case is that I can opt out of niceties that are just extra stress for me. In this case, the boss is saying everyone HAS to respond, even though that’s not what everyone needs.

  19. Policy Wonk*

    #4 – I have asked my teams to do weekly health and welfare checks. When teleworking it’s possible to not have regular contact with team members. It’s from a place of concern, do you need help, leave time, etc. not any of the more nefarious things people are suggesting. On e-mail it’s hard to tell tone, but I am not sure I’d worry about this unless you are getting something more negative from a casual response.

  20. TimeTravlR*

    #2 – Something similar happened to me but I was on the receiving end of the data. Back in the olden days, my team used to have to mail me reports and data. One day I got a package of several reports and all the back up data, and at the very bottom was a stack of very personal financial information including a personal note written from the person I worked with to their partner. I quietly separated it from the stack, put it in an envelope and mailed it back and never said a word. When he received it he just said, thank you, and we never spoke of it again. I hope your team will (essentially) do the same (if they even know it’s yours).

  21. Llellayena*

    On #4, there could be another explanation. If you’ve only been WFH for a week, someone could have been contagious during the last week in the office. So knowing if anyone (or anyone’s family) is showing symptoms means they can let the rest of the office know they should quarantine, or at least keep a closer health watch. My work sent out an email the first WFH week saying someone in the office was exposed and their last day in office was X. Now that we’ve been home 2 weeks, we probably won’t see more of those emails.

    1. LeighTX*

      This is what I came in to say. I think we all have a responsibility to let others know if we or anyone in our household have COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed, so that others can quarantine more consciously, and I think the manager has every right to ask since they only started WFH a week ago. If I were this manager I wouldn’t expect my employees to share more than they’re comfortable sharing beyond this, though–whether or not they’re “holding up okay” is not my business unless they WANT to tell me.

  22. Washi*

    OP2, everyone’s anxiety is different, but for me repeating to myself “it’s totally fine, no one cares, nbd” is really not going to get me out of an anxiety spiral once I’ve really started down it. (Though I agree with everyone else that your teammates probably do not care.)

    I’m sure you already have your own strategies, but for me what helps is to actually acknowledge the feeling, and remind myself of how the feeling can be used to my advantage. Like in your instance, I might have a mantra of “hoo boy that was so embarrassing! I’m going to be more careful about where I save my personal documents in the future!” Somehow running towards the anxiety tends to help more than pushing it away.

    1. Panthera uncia*

      This is similar to what I do when I can’t let something go: treat it like a “choose your own adventure” book and track through every possible scenario. Okay, what happens if people saw it? What might they do? How would that affect me? How would I respond?

      It lets my brain free-range until I’ve mapped out every plausible chain reaction, like a flow chart inside my head. Sometimes my lizard brain is a golden retriever that just needs to run itself to exhaustion.

  23. A Nonnie Nonnie non*

    Op2- If it makes you feel any better, most everyone has varying levels of debt. Some have a little and some have a lot. Especially if you are younger in your 2os-30s it is quite normal to have student loans, car loans, even credit card debt. So try as difficult as it may seem to put this past you.

    I also agree with most of the above posts that no one will care. Especially right now. Most everyone is distracted with COVID stuff, and probably didn’t even register what it was.

  24. MAB*

    OP#2- the only thing I would think upon seeing that list is “damn, OP#2 is so organized!!!“

  25. James*

    #4: I can see some benign reasons for this. For example, the company I work for has what it calls a “Culture of Caring”–basically they’ve realized that having a sick/injured person at home makes a worker less productive, so they encourage managers to take an interest and encourage workers to practice safety guidelines at home (I’m trying to put this as non-cynically as possible). Something similar may be going on here–genuine official imitation concern for worker wellbeing.

    He could also be trying to figure out future plans. If there are a lot of workers exposed to the virus, or potentially exposed, it may change plans regarding working from home, layoffs, and shutdowns. It’s an asinine way to gather that information, but considering there are bosses who tape people’s mouths shut in meetings this isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

    He may also be panicking. There aren’t many people alive that remember the last pandemic, after all, and being in a managerial or executive role doesn’t mean you can’t freak out and do stupid things. You know him better than me, obviously, but a terse email suggests a certain amount of freaking out to me (though I do know folks who are terse because they think information density is more important than manners).

  26. Bopper*

    I think it is a universal truth that when management brings in a new initiative/program everyone thinks “here we go again”…is this just another fad or will this stick? So they don’t invest in it and wait to see if managment cares about this for more than 6 months.
    Unless people’s performance is tied to a new initiative, then people ignore it as long as possible.
    I would talk to whoever hired you and make sure you get time in their staff meetings. Ask to be on the agenda. Have mandatory training on the new system.

    1. OP*

      Absolutely. At this point, it’s clear that to be successful there will need to be a major culture shift. Either I’ll be able to help shepherd that, or not.

  27. I don’t post often*

    OP2 & OP4-
    OP2. I once did something similar except I was trying to find the best babysitter. I put all their names in a spreadsheet and then listed out pros and cons. And then saved it on some random share drive. Grah. Luckily, it was only first names and cons were things like “can’t arrive until 1pm or can’t word on Wednesday’s”. A coworker found it. We laughed. It’s totally fine. I know you don’t enough about debts out there, but you are totally fine.
    OP4 – I WFH anyway, and suddenly my entire division is working from home. To help manage and make more normal, our managers are being told to schedule daily call-ins as water cooler chats. What did you have for dinner? What’s growing in your garden? This is baffling to me as I’ve been working from home without water cooler chat for six years Possibly it is genuine and boss is trying to connect. Possibly that advice was given to him on how to connect. It’s a new world for everyone.

  28. Jennifer*

    #2 I’m super fascinated by people’s grocery lists (if they want to share). But I agree with Alison, OP. Mistakes happen. I beat myself up so much over minor mistakes and I’m learning not to do that as much but it’s a slow process.

    1. James*

      People under-estimate how much information can be gleaned from these sorts of things, archaeologically speaking. I’ve read through the Medieval equivalents for the Teutonic Order and Roman legions, and it really is fascinating. Socioeconomic class, sure, but you can also see trade routes, international relations, even politics come into play if you look hard enough! The stories of former Soviet block residents coming to the West and seeing what our grocery shelves look like are deeply moving.

      The first writing we have is a Cuniform sales receipt. This stuff is interesting enough that we invented a whole new form of communication to handle it!

      That said….if someone saw my grocery list they’d know I have three kids.

      Honestly, most people are going to look at it, go “Huh, probably a mistake”, and move on. A few jerks will comment on your eating habits, but they’re jerks and can be ignored.

      1. GilaMonster*

        That sounds fascinating, building a picture of a world based on these little slips of information. Did you see someone found a 387 year old grocery list under their house in London. Pretty cool.

  29. Matilda Jefferies*

    Oh, I so feel for #1 and #2 – they’re both in tricky situations to begin with, and made even trickier by the weirdness of the entire world right now.

    #1, is there a clear agenda for these meetings? If so, you can ask for a dedicated time slot, which will help make sure your voice gets heard. It helps if you have a good facilitator as well, but even if you don’t, the agenda will at least give you something to back you up. Check the letter from yesterday about interrupting senior colleagues, for some language you can use to keep at least your part on track.

    #2, nothing but hugs. Your anxiety-brain is totally lying to you. You didn’t do anything wrong AT ALL, and I can almost promise that everybody else on the team has already forgotten about it. You’re doing fine!

  30. Kellogg*

    OP #5 – It’s worth remembering that the federally-funded sick leave is being reimbursed to companies in the form of tax credits, which won’t come until the quarter ends. Employers are being asked to cover the up-front costs of those two weeks of sick leave in the meantime, which is putting a large strain on cash flow for a lot of businesses. At my company, we’re frantically applying for loans in the event some of our employees go out on sick leave, as the extra cash required to pay them for that would shut us down fairly quick.

    Yes, I know sick leave requirements in this country were inadequate before, and we’d love to have already have the finances to be able to cover this, but we’re a small nonprofit and, as such, our benefits are slim :(

  31. Panthera uncia*

    #2 I know your brain is stuck in a loop over this, but I promise you nobody cares. I have seen mortgage amortization charts, bank statements, and cover letters for another job on the office printer. I can’t even remember whose they were or what they said anymore, it’s such a non-issue. You didn’t share something radical or outrageous, you just…have a life. Like everyone.

  32. Oh No She Di'int*

    #5 I second the advice to apply for unemployment. That’s absolutely the proper venue here. The sick leave provision in FFCRA is for people who are sick or caring for those who are sick. It’s not designed to cover any and all disruptions to business operations.

    1. Trillian*

      I want to third this advice. I work for an HR outsourcing company and all of our HR legal resources are saying that the FFCRA cannot be used for Shelter-in-Place orders.

  33. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #2 our brains are weasels and love to squeak at us over all our tiny missteps. This is also partly society trying to teach us debt is shameful when it’s a fact of life for the majority.

    They’re not thinking much about it at all. They have their own bills.

    I’ve given personal loans to so many employees over the years. (Through proper contracts and payroll deductions process, not my own money!). Even some very high earners needed them. You’re eating yourself up over nothing. And I say that with love and understanding of where you’re coming from.

    Be gone, squeaky brain weasels, you have no power here!

    1. Cmoney*

      You have permanently changed my life, because where I had me monologuing mean things at me, I will now have the weasels from Roger Rabbit doing it. Thank you so much for the advice! – #2

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This pleases me greatly!

        I always imagine my brain being mean as a heel in pro-wrestling taking cheap shots. But Roger Rabbit villains are even better tbh, xo!

      2. Elsajeni*

        For years I’ve visualized mine as the Anxiety Gerbil. It helps with both dismissing the anxiety spiral (am I really going to take advice from a GERBIL?) and having some self-compassion about it (the gerbil is probably doing his best! it’s just… he’s a gerbil, so his best is not very good.).

  34. Liz T*

    Alison, re: #5, I’d love a reader round-up of recent unemployment success stories! So many people are having trouble getting through, and so many people who wouldn’t normally be eligible suddenly are, so I’d love to see who’s been getting PUA* in which states.

    *Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Figured I should specify since Google still thinks it means “Pick-Up Artist.”

  35. Hedgehug*

    #1 Ugh. I work in non-profit, and I have seen people go through what you’re going through, and I’m sorry this is happening to you. A previous non-profit I worked for never had an HR department, and while I was there, they hired an amazingly qualified lady to become HR, and I was so excited to have an HR department, and she was incredible and enthusiastic and driven with so many great, proactive and NEEDED ideas. After only a few months, she quit, because no one in authority would listen to her or support her or green light the things she wanted to do. It was devastating and embarrassing. I felt so bad for her. Then they hired another person, and that person quit too! They currently have an HR person, according to their website…I can only imagine which number she is.

    1. OP*

      That may be the reality here. i’m fighting old norms, and a lot of “old ways vs new ways” without a lot of trust having been built. The CEO is new (less than 2 years), and he’s up against 30 years of practices. Either it’ll work when i get the opportunity to talk with people who are NOT the senior level folks, or it won’t and i’ll do what your brilliant HR woman did :S

  36. Employment Lawyer*

    4. My boss wants everyone to report how they and their families are
    Great, that’s a smart way to run a business well, which will increase the likelihood of payments to employees and keep more people off of unemployment. You should tell them.

    As for the haters: folks need to make up their minds a bit, ya? If employers are supposed to be responsive or considerate then they need to plan. And if employers are supposed to plan intelligently, then sharing basic information like “we’re all healthy in this house and are on lockdown” or (heavens forbid) “someone here is showing symptoms, but we’re hoping for the best” is part of that planning.

    You don’t need to say a thing. You can lie, evade, to your heart’s content. You can take the position that this is like a “menu of services” where you can refuse to give your boss any information, and simultaneously expect them to instantly accommodate all of your needs when you do tell them. Few people ever seem to consider the possibility that the flexibility to accommodate Bob comes in part from the planning with Mary. But for chrissakes people, the tightrope of “employer behavior which people won’t target” is getting smaller and smaller every week.

    1. pancakes*

      Knowing that people may not be truthful in responding, especially if prompted to respond in front of an audience of coworkers, how are responses solicited that way useful for planning?

      1. Just a Manager*

        The question to the employees in the original post came in the form of an email, so I’m not sure that an in-kind response via email would qualify as responding in front of an audience of coworkers.

        But that aside, I think Employment Lawyer’s point is that people can choose to be as truthful or untruthful as they want–but that if they choose to be untruthful they should also be aware that their manager therefore does not have the information that could prove useful in planning actions helpful to the employee or the employee’s coworkers.

    2. ynotlot*

      Agree, why is this an issue? Just tell them as much as you want them to know. “Fine, thanks” or “Hanging in there!” are great responses that take under one second to type.

  37. Youth*

    #4 I think it’s safe to assume that this probably isn’t nefarious, unless you have a specific reason to believe otherwise. My company is sending us a weekly mental health survey. Many of us have also been asked by our supervisors if we have enough toilet paper/food/children’s crafts to get by.

  38. AnonPi*

    Re: #4 I’d just give a banal response like Alison suggested. My company is “requiring” we not only report if we’re sick, but if we’ve been around anyone who has been sick, or if we have traveled outside the area. Yes to any of the above means we are banned from going in to work for a minimum of 14 days. And officially they’re not supposed to tell who it is, but since their response to an incident is that they will send in a cleaning crew to your office, plus report to your management, so it’s not like people won’t find out (and frankly they’ve always been awful at that sort of thing). I find this rather invasive but it’s a government facility and they do what the want anyways (I’ve been told before don’t rock the boat because they have no problem throwing you off). I was questioned because I had to take off a few hours to take my mother to the doctor and immediately they wanted to know if she had coronavirus. No she doesn’t, and it’s NOTB why she had to go anyways. What’s more disturbing is they send out email reports about how great it is no staff has reported getting coronavirus, in a bragging fashion. This whole mess just shows how many lines companies are willing to cross without a second thought.

  39. Cinq or swim*

    Are some people so devoid of empathy that their first thought when something asks how they are doing is “absolutely none of your business, so invasive, so inappropriate!!” Why always jump to assuming malicious intent? For goodness sake, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. I’d be worried about a boss who isn’t asking how the team is. Can we all just put our antisocial tendencies aside and take care of each other, instead?

    I’m sorry if this is harsh, I’m just… shaking my head wondering why people are upset that other people care?

    1. James*

      That’s the question: DOES he care?

      The fact that it was a short enough email that someone who presumably knows him a bit can’t parse his intent, and that he said he “expects to hear from every one of [them]”, are red flags that this isn’t about caring, it’s about something else.

      If the concern is genuine, he’s got to work on his delivery. If the delivery is accurate, it indicates fake concern, which is annoying at best and at worst a cover-up for activities on the company’s part that really need to come to light.

      1. Just a Manager*

        Personally, I think “care” is a weird word to use in this context.

        As I see it, I am a manager responsible for the wellbeing of my team. I need them to be healthy and comfortable so they can be productive. That’s it. It’s easier to facilitate that if I know how people are doing (in a broad, general way) and if they need anything. And it strikes me that the simplest way to get at that is to ask. That’s all I’m after.

        Do I *care*? I don’t know. Does it matter?

        1. Jennifer*

          It most definitely does. It’s the difference between seeing someone as a human being and seeing them as just an employee. If I think my boss sees me as a human being, then I may share with them that I’m struggling a bit because of some personal issues.

          If I I don’t think you care, then I’m not going to share that with you. I may assume you have ulterior motives for asking, and you may not realize that the quality of my work is declining and that I could use some extra support until it’s too late.

        2. James*

          Depends on the person. If one of my managers asked me detailed questions about my kids I’d wonder what was wrong; we don’t talk like that. If another one DIDN’T ask about my kids I’d ask how badly I screwed up, because a conversation with her tends to last 30 minutes and include 4 projects and the status of everyone in our family (she worked with my wife, and her son goes to our son’s karate school, so multiple connections).

    2. Jennifer*

      I think many of us are just tired of empty expressions of fake concern. People need money, food, job security, healthcare, etc., not empty promises. If you aren’t generally offering help or genuine concern, keep it moving.

      1. Mirabel*

        Who gets to decide if it’s fake though? From looking at this commentariat, there’s no such thing as genuine concern or care for employees (or if there is, it’s somehow intrusive and appropriate and abusive) My boss asks the team every day how we’re doing and if we’re managing well. How awful is it to assume it’s empty concern. It just feels like a very sad way to go through life. We’re not robots.

        1. Jennifer*

          Maybe it’s not an assumption but based on prior interactions with that person??? Maybe people don’t have the energy for it because they are trying to take care of kids and pets all day in a messy house plus trying to find time to work??? If someone never was very caring before, it comes off as disingenuous.

          And for the record, just because someone is skeptical of their employer’s concern, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are that way in every aspect of their lives. Maybe they aren’t “awful” and “sad” but just want to do their jobs and get on with it.

        2. James*

          It’s all about context. The problem is that many managers are breaking established patterns, in ways that make it pretty clear that they don’t care, they’re being ordered to pretend to care. It’s the pattern that’s important, not the specific action. If your manager was all business, or only engaged in limited small talk, suddenly asking how your kids are doing is going to come off as very strange and almost certainly false.

          Also, remember the Clinician Fallacy. You’re only seeing us respond to bad comments. No one writes into an advice column to ask “What do I do when my manager treats me with respect and dignity, and takes an active yet professional interest in my well-being inside and outside the office?” We can set our priors around 75% or 80% that there’s something screwy with any managerial situation brought up here. That’s a pretty high bar for subsequent information to overcome.

          Finally, most of us are struggling right now, and asking someone for details of any sort is asking them to re-live something they’re trying to forget. If I leave the house to go to the office, or if I jump on a conference call, these days one of the things I want is an hour or two where I don’t have to worry about my kids. I want to dive into my work and forget that we’re in a worldwide crisis for a bit. Demanding I list my kids’ statuses (and a boss saying “I expect everyone to respond” IS a demand) does the opposite. It may be useful, sure, but it’s a harsh necessity, and sugar coating it doesn’t help.

  40. Ed Special Projects Manager*

    #1 – I’ve been in charge of some projects in my org that, while being potentially transformative, have not been received all that well by peers.

    I would recommend looking into Change Management and the ADKAR model (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement). Your problem might be that you don’t have buy-in from staff (Desire) because they don’t understand the “why.”

  41. Half April Ludgate, Half Leslie Knope*

    OP2, I once found my predecessor’s personal budget tracking when looking for my department budget tracking. I opened it and scanned it before I realized what it was. I honestly could not have told you what it contained five minutes later – and I definitely couldn’t tell you now.

    It feels odd, because finances are so personal and important, but honestly, if someone else opened it, they probably didn’t really care – it’s not interesting to look at someone else’s budget! Unless your budget contained something immediately crazy, anyone who opened it probably just realized it wasn’t something they needed to see and forgot all about it. It’ll be okay!

  42. Sharon*

    Letter #1 – Since you’re new, is it possible that the meetings you reference are intended merely to introduce you and the project to everyone and outline some of the projected benefits so that when you need to contact people for information and tasks, they understand who you are and that this project is supported by management and that they need to be responsive? If that’s the case, you might not be expected to present a lot of information. Going forward, I’d recommend clarifying the goal of the meeting beforehand. Obviously if the goal is actually to move the project agenda forward, you’ll need to be more involved.

  43. Workerbee*

    #1, from this side of it, it sounds like those “upper levels” are the only ones who want that shared app to be implemented. It’s essential to have buy-in from the top, yes, but they also need to help advocate and walk their own talk, not have it just be something for the rest of the org to use.

    And, as others have said, I’d bet there’s a history of apps and people who have tried to instill structure and sense over the years, but you may have an array of incumbents who are part of the problem when they say or express themselves in ways that indicate “this kind of thing never works here.”

    I myself am dealing with a sizable portion of colleagues who are really happy to exist in a mess of files saved in one of four vastly different places, spend a lot of time finding said files, never get to their emails, never remember their own emails, forget their own declarations of answers they promise to send…but gosh, are they ever busy! So many meetings! So many ideas! Look how much they’re contributing!

    I have a platform that’ll solve 90% of this, but the resulting efficiency and accountability seems to scare them. The mean side of me thinks it’s because it would show up all too well that their busyness is really just “busyness.”

    Even so, you’ll still find people (I hope it’s the case for you) who have been longing for such an app as you have. Talk to people one on one, find their pain points, ask the “Wouldn’t it be great if you could do X?” where your app provides the magic X, and try to build the revolution from the weeds, as it were. It’s a culture change and it takes time and care. Good vibes to you!

  44. ynotlot*

    #5 – not federally-funded, federally reimbursed at some unspecified future date. The employer has to front all of the money to pay employees. So this company probably won’t be thrilled if they sense you’re trying to game the system to get two weeks extra pay from them. I know that’s not what you’re doing, but business owners are really stressed and snappish right now (like everybody else) and some will see it that way – that you’re trying to get yours without regard to whether the business will remain a going concern.

    1. ynotlot*

      Also, be aware they will probably see it if you file for unemployment. Not a reason not to do it, but something that many people don’t realize.

  45. LizardOfOdds*

    Having been in a similar position as OP3, I empathize. On one hand, you do want to take care of these folks as humans, and it seems extra crappy to release people during a horrible economic moment. At the same time, as leaders we need to make difficult decisions that will set our organizations up for the long-term, not just the time period of the corona-crisis, and sometimes releasing people is the key to unlocking work that will have a much greater and positive impact on the business – which is necessary right now, too. And finally… I hate to say it, but holding off on a long-planned layoff could reflect poorly on the leader in certain cultures. Self-preservation as a leader is a real thing, too.

    A couple of middle grounds I have found that are working (at least for now):
    – If it’s possible to “place” impacted employees into open roles where they are obviously qualified to do the job, that would eliminate the uncertainty for the individuals and help another team at the same time. Sometimes it’s not possible to do this, but it’s worth doing some leg work with hiring managers to see if you’re able to make it happen.
    – If you absolutely must move forward with a layoff, try to negotiate a longer time period to enable the impacted individuals to find a new role. For instance, if your organization usually gives 2 weeks, maybe ask for 2 months. At least that gives people some cushion on the payroll to figure out what they’ll do next.

  46. zebra*

    OP2, I really would try to let it go. People do stuff like that accidentally all the time. Think of it like a hard-copy printer–I think at most reasonable offices, people will occasionally use the printer for a personal item like a boarding pass or a permission slip or a letter to your landlord. If you’re the next person at the printer and you find something that’s obviously not yours, you just leave it there for the person to find it and you don’t really look twice at it after you realize it’s not yours. Unless you print out a 300 page Law & Order SVU fanfic on the office printer (which happened in a friend’s office! No one ever fessed up!) no one thinks about it for longer than 30 seconds. The same principle applies here.

  47. A Pinch of Salt*

    #3—I’m on the non-managerial side of a restructure right now. See also: navigating COVID19 with a layoff looming (while my company keeps promoting upper management)

    It sucks. Layoffs already make employees feel undervalued. Layoffs in a global pandemic? Super terrible. You don’t want your company putting that energy into the universe.

  48. Anonnington*

    #2 – At the risk of scaring OP, I have to admit I am really fascinated by the random details of people’s lives. I wouldn’t violate anyone’s privacy, but if a co-worker’s grocery list fell into my hands, I be like, “Oh goody!” I’d read it and note any surprises. I’d imagine them in the store, buying each item.

    HOWEVER, I am also really non-judgmental. And I don’t gossip. I’m a writer, so I just enjoy observing people and imagining different people’s lives. That is all.

    Anyway, folks like me are rare. The co-workers probably didn’t look at it.

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