boss criticizes people publicly, coworker spouts conspiracy theories, and more

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

1. My boss criticizes people publicly and is often wrong

Norma, our boss, has a habit of speaking rather harshly to employees, including myself, often without fully understanding the situation. The other day, she loudly and publicly berated me for perceived errors on a document, saying, “Don’t even bother to continue with this! There are too many mistakes to make it useful to us!” I went back and checked the document and found zero errors. I had a cohort do the same. It turned out that she was comparing the document with incorrect information from another source. I wrote a polite email explaining it to Norma, but I felt like everyone else – with the exception of the person who checked my work – thought I screwed up when I didn’t. I mentioned this to a few people and it got back to Norma, who said I said I was being oversensitive. Was I?

My desk is close enough to Norma’s that it is not uncommon for me to overhear things she says to other employees, some of which seem justified, some of which do not. This also means that I get the lion’s share of the negative comments, a few of which are fair and reasonable but many stem from her making assumptions without having the facts. She’s an intelligent person and excels at some things, but she isn’t familiar with technology and office systems, so she sometimes perceives things incorrectly. For example, she assumed that System X was capable of all sorts of things that it wasn’t and chastised “Paul,” the employee who works on System X, for not knowing what he was doing. When I gently explained that System X didn’t actually do those things, she called me defensive.

It’s an open-concept office and headphones are banned, so we all hear everything. I don’t want to come across as overly defensive, but I struggle with the fear that people really think my work is substandard because they hear what Norma says. I also struggle when I hear others unfairly blamed. Norma also tends to make quick decisions about people and stick with that forever. Like Paul is constantly referred to as incompetant because he can’t make System X do what it doesn’t do, while I am branded as oversensitive. I’m open to constructive criticism but would prefer to receive it privately. And I suspect that I’m not alone in that. If it matters, I report directly to Norma as does everyone else in the office. Should I just keep my mouth shut and let her say what she says or should I stand up for myself and others?

Well, when you try standing up for yourself or others, she calls you defensive and oversensitive. She’s a jerk.

All you can really do is continue calmly and matter-of-factly stating the facts — “I checked that document and it’s all correct — could you show me what you’re comparing it to that says it’s wrong? I’m trying to figure out where our wires are crossed” … etc. But she’s going to tell you you’re being defensive, so you’ll have to decide how much of that you’re up for.

You can try asking her to give you feedback privately, but be prepared to be labeled oversensitive for that too. (It’s not oversensitive, for the record.)

Basically, you work for an ass. Unless you can get the ear of someone above her who will hold her accountable to being less of an ass, there’s not a lot you can do. As with so many bad bosses, she sucks and she’s likely not going to change.

But I wouldn’t worry much about your coworkers overhearing and thinking you’re incompetent; they all work for Norma too, so they have the same information you do about how groundless much of what she says is. Just as you’re aware of what she’s like, so are they.

2. Coworker keeps spouting Covid conspiracy theories

I am part of a weekly social chat with some of my coworkers. It’s typically a nice time to talk about how we are doing outside of work, and the meeting I look the most forward to every week. But one coworker is making a habit of bringing her latest findings in covid remedies (vitamins and supplements, inhaling steam, etc) which I don’t believe are grounded in science. This past week she said that covid deaths are completely overblown accusing doctors of improperly citing covid as a cause of death to get federal funding. For the most part, I bite my tongue and leave it to others to say “where did you read that?” or “wow that’s a lot different than what I have heard.” I feel that she is alone in these opinions out of the group. I don’t want to lose this meet-up, which has been so helpful for me mentally, but I am quickly growing tired of hearing this bullshit and want it to stop. I am also rapidly losing respect for this person. What can I do here? Should I reach out to her privately?

These meet-ups sound ripe for a “no virus talk” rule, and I bet the other people on the call would welcome it. At the start of the next call, why not say something like, “I could really use a break from all the Covid talk in the world right now. What would y’all think about saying no virus talk on these chats so we can just catch up about other things going on in our lives?”

If you don’t do that, I implore you to at least join your other colleagues with their “where did you read that?” and “wow that’s a lot different than what I have heard” pushback. That can be exhausting to have to do on your own, and it’s helpful when others speak up and carry part of that burden. (But really, just ban it altogether. It’s not why you’re getting together.)

3. Group projects in school

I am back in school after many (many!) years in a coding adjacent program at a community college. The head of the program received feedback that our grads don’t work with others very well. So she has decided every class has to have a group project.

I hate group projects. Inevitably, at least one person ghosts. On our most recent project, I had one great partner and a last minute ghost. I did the math – I could spend two hours and finish the project myself or I could chase this guy for two or three days and be stressed the entire time, because, of course, we are graded as a group.

I just did his part. Although I was frustrated because the ghost will get credit for our efforts.

My question to you and your readers is this: what kind of group projects would actually teach people to work collaboratively? What skills do you wish you had learned/been coached in so that you could work better with your coworkers? I want to be able to make constructive suggestions for group projects in the future.

Honestly, I don’t think group projects in school can teach the skills that you need to work collaboratively at work because there’s no realistic way to replicate the conditions that you’ll have on a job. You don’t have the same kind of accountability to a boss, or the same obvious built-in roles, or a person with the power to make decisions for the group. With school projects, you’re much more dependent on having to build consensus; you can end up having to cajole people into doing their part and have little recourse if they don’t. (And yes, at work you’ll sometimes need to rely on influence rather than authority, but it’s not the same thing.)

If a professor is committed to doing group projects anyway, I’d recommend structuring them so that each person can be evaluated on their own contribution and create an easy way for the group to alert the professor when someone isn’t pulling their weight (just as you could at work). The commenters on this post on group work might have other ideas for you too!

4. I haven’t heard from anyone since I returned from my honeymoon

I started as a contract employee for a large nonprofit this summer to help out while another employee was on sick leave. My supervisors are lovely and constantly check in to see how I’m doing and value my opinion and expertise. The person I have replaced has returned and, instead of letting me go, my team wants to hire me out from under the employment agency (to get PTO and benefits) through the end of the year and, budget withstanding, hire me full-time in the new year. Great, right?

Well, I got married about a week and a half ago (yay!) and took a week for my honeymoon, something I prepared and planned for. My team wished me well and I disappeared without access to my email for a week. I returned to work yesterday and cleared out my inbox, but did not hear from anyone on my team all day, neither in a “hey welcome back!” nor a “can you do this?” way. I’m now halfway though my second day back and it’s still been radio silence. (I’m working remotely, but we generally have regular, often daily video check-ins to “maintain a sense of community.”) I have also not had any follow-up on my continuing employment for nearly a month now.

My therapist encouraged me to avoid “managing up” and confronting my supervisor about this, but I don’t want them to think I’ve checked out, too.

I wouldn’t read much into not having heard from anyone for your first two days back. You’re remote, people are caught up in their own stuff, and it’s likely not personal. I mean, yes, it’s possible that they all decided to shun you while you were away, but it’s far more likely that they’re just focused on their own things. You’ve been away so they’re out of “talking to Jane” mode. Have you checked in with your boss and the people you talk to most frequently? If not, do that!

It’s also fine to check with your manager about where things stand with the possibility of continuing your employment there. Don’t “confront” her — that would be strangely aggressive! Just politely ask if she has an update or knows what kind of timeline you’re likely to hear something in. (Why is your therapist discouraging that? Some therapists don’t give great work advice; unless there’s more to this, yours might be in that category.)

5. Interviewer was snide about my experience

I’m in a very niche industry. It’s not uncommon to work for a company based out of a major city where you don’t live and get sent all over the world working on projects.

I received a call from a potential employer wanting to discuss a mid-level position (totally within my experience and skillset). The person read my resume on the phone with me line-by-line and made snide comments the entire time. It was almost like they’d never seen my resume before and were judging me for going to a state college instead of an Ivy league school. On top of that, they downplayed my accomplishments, former companies, and studios. We actually knew a lot of the same people and had worked on similar projects in the last few years. Honestly, it felt degrading and I was professional with my responses but kept it brief.

My company was hit hard and I was laid off in July. It’s been hard. This was the second interview I was able to land and it kind of just destroyed what little confidence I had left. This is a lunatic I can’t imagine working a stressful project with, but it was definitely a blow to my self-esteem. I guess my question is: Why? If they had doubts about my experiences, background, location, etc., why would someone even bother reaching out for an interview? Is this the new norm?

It’s not a new norm. You just ran into a jerk. That’s it!

It’s possible someone else selected your resume for an interview and this person was assigned to make the call. That’s a thing that happens. But this rudeness is not typical, and you should write it off as about this particular person, not about interviewers in general.

It’s good, too, to remember that interviews are just as much an opportunity for you to vet the employer as for them to vet you. So you were getting valuable info from this call! And you control your own time; you’re not at their mercy. If someone is being rude, it’s fine for you to say, “As we’re talking, I’m realizing this role wouldn’t be right for me so I won’t take up more of your time. Have a good day.”

{ 352 comments… read them below }

  1. Mollyg*

    #3 As a person who has taught college classes, a big reason group projects exist is to reduce the amount of grading. In a large class there is sometimes little alternative.

    1. Sarah*

      Yep. People cite all sorts of pedagogical reasons for them, but often enough a big part is “I need to have some kind of evaluation but I definitely don’t have time to grade 100+ papers/projects/etc.” See also in-class presentations; yes, most people can use more public speaking practice, but also if you can do a large chunk of your grading by taking notes on your evaluation during the class time, that’s a chunk you’re not going to be staying up late to finish.

      1. Rebecca*

        Yeah, but there are ways of reducing grading while also having it be equitable. I have my students work in groups a LOT, but they always hand in something where it is obvious who did what work. They had to collaborate to get it done well, but everybody gets their own grade. This still reduces my grading because I still have 5 projects instead of 25 projects, but each grading sheet has five names on it. A little bit of planning and organization on the front end of the project makes this super doable.

        1. EmbracesTrees*

          Hi Rebecca, I’m a prof too and am interested in how you organize that. Can you say a little more? (I don’t know if there’s a way to direct message people from this site.)

          My discipline (Communication) is traditionally heavy on group projects, so we do try to provide guidance on the nuts and bolts of working in groups but I’m always interested in ways to improve the process. (I’m taking notes on people’s complaints here and from the 2016 letter Alison linked to. Yikes, there are many truly legitimate grievances!)

          Thanks if you can help.

          1. EmbracesTrees*

            To clarify, it sounds like you do more than just have people list their names next to “their” sections. What is that and how do you present it to them?

            1. merp*

              Not who you asked but in grad school, I had a prof who asked for each team member to write a short statement about their contributions to the project when we turned in the project itself. It felt like less pressure to rat anyone out and also (seemed to) encourage people to take ownership of specific parts so they knew they had something to write about. May not work for everyone/every project but just in case that’s helpful!

            2. Other Becky*

              My current teaching gig doesn’t have group work to grade, but I heard this from someone a few weeks ago and thought it was a brilliant idea.

              Within 48 hours of their first group meeting, the group submits a plan to the professor of who’s going to do what. If things don’t look balanced, the professor can give feedback — “If done well, X is likely to take about twice as much time as Y.” If there are changes along the way, they file an update. Students are then primarily graded on the parts they said they were going to do.

          2. JokeyJules*

            one of my professors in college did a group project this way and i LOVED it. there was, of course, a ghoster, and it was abundantly clear who it was.
            the way it was mapped out: we picked our topic and submitted a cohesive outline with a subtopic bullet point for each group member. it had to all make sense together with a streamlined presentation, but how much work you put into it directly correlated with how good your section was and how smoothly it ran for everyone.
            when we submitted the paper, each section had the person’s name at the top, and the sources cited was split up by who found what or shared, and we were instructed that there should be a lot of overlap there. we graded each other on metrics provided, and each person presented their section.
            in the end, we all had to submit a paragraph explaining who did what and how helpful, timely, etc they were. I know that some of us in the group got higher grades than others, reflective of their contributions

            1. JokeyJules*

              ah, reminiscing now,
              one professor gave us a project and assigned us roles, one person proofreads, one person leads, one person sources articles, one person lays out how the paper will be written, one person lays out the presentation. i know that i got a few particularly difficult group members, but overall it was smart and really showed people how to do what their roles dictate and let others do theirs.

            2. JustaTech*

              I had a project organized that way in grad school, it was a whole quarter-long project and we each had to write a section. But then for some reason the final presentation was only supposed to be like 3 sections for a 5 person team, so two had to be cut (but had already been turned in as drafts).
              I guess that helped keep the time manageable, and it was super helpful for my team when one of my teammates got really, really sick (like bed-rest sick) about 2 weeks before it was due. She’d already written her section so if it had been terrible we could have cut it.

              But then the professors asked the rest of us in the group if we wanted her grade to take a hit because she’d gotten sick. We were super confused and all “uh, heck no, Jane did a ton of work on this last month so we’re good, she deserves the same grade as the rest of us”. It was really weird, because I’ve never heard at work of someone not getting a bonus if they missed a couple of days but still got their work done.

          3. Dani*

            I have had two styles of group projects I really liked. The first involved choosing a cohort on the first day of class that we then worked with throughout the entire semester. We had a new project every 2 weeks and they were all collaborative. It felt most similar to working with a team at work, because we were constantly collaborating on new material, and by the end of the semester we had become highly skilled at communicating with one another. We sat together, spent the last hour (of the three hour class) working together, and then worked independently and through email/chat the rest of the week. This was for a PR/marketing class.

            The other, the professor gave each member of the team 100 points x the number of teammates we shared and had us divide the points across the team members by our perception of their contribution. So I had 4 team members and 400 points to divvy out. I gave the two hardest workers 150 points, another average person 80, and the last person who did nothing but put his name on it 20. (If we gave them +/- 25 points from 100, we had to justify our reasoning). Then, she averaged our teammates’s scores of us and assigned us our grade as a percentage of the project total based on our contribution, including if our contribution was over 100% (So if the project grade was a 90, but I contributed 115%, my grade was 103).

            1. Deanna Troi*

              Yes, I had a professor who had each student fill out an evaluation form for each of the other students and score them out of 20 points. He averaged the scores and it was 20% of that person’s grade for the project. I thought it was a great idea.

              1. Jennifer Juniper*

                Hmm…sounds like an excellent way for the whole class to punish someone they all dislike due to the person being the wrong race, gender, religion, not to mention being disabled/mentally ill.

                1. EmbracesTrees*

                  Your point is really important, JenniferJ. One thing that students probably don’t think about is that peer evaluations rarely — I mean hardly EVER — surprise your professor. It’s pretty typical that the amount of effort a student puts into a group project is comparable to what they put into the class as a whole.

                  Nevertheless, the requirement to justify a score (which I always use and that others have mentioned) is super important. It’s also pretty clear when students are having personality clashes. The pissy petty things some people put in writing — to their professor! — is pretty … let’s say, disappointing. =)

    2. Hotdog not dog*

      My son just turned in a group project where the ghost couldn’t even be bothered to log in and add her name. One of the other group members did it for her and misspelled it. The group had points deducted because it was clear that the entire group hadn’t actively participated. I always disliked group projects when they were in person, but I really detest them when it’s virtual learning.

      1. Gray Lady*

        I just don’t get teachers doing things like this. Group projects have existed throughout the lifetime of anyone still in any teaching role. Surely they know from experience that other people’s lack of effort is not under the control of those who make the effort. What is thought to be gained by penalizing the group for the lack of effort by the irresponsible members? When it’s in a remote situation where there isn’t even the ability to confront and badger the checked out member (not that that’s a good thing beyond a certain point, but it’s at least possible to do), it’s doubly pointless.

        I suppose there may be this idea where the teacher might think that trying to ensure that everyone participates will prevent the most gifted members from doing all the work to maximize the grade, which is true, but it seems there’s much less harm in that situation, than in penalizing the diligent students for the irresponsibility of the non-diligent students, which is outside their control. Either way, the non-contributing students don’t get the learning benefit of doing the work, but the way it’s done here, there’s no way for the contributing students to get the recognition for what they contribute.

        1. Aggretsuko*

          Group projects are ridiculously terrible for exactly this reason.

          I can’t speak for other people’s jobs (I know one friend of mine has been ghosted on work projects, but she works in an industry full of jerkwads), but I have never had people pull that BS at an actual job. Group projects have nothing to do with what you will ever do for work.

      2. Rock Prof*

        As a professor who also uses some group projects, I actually like some aspects of the virtual realm. I can log in and see exactly who has participated and how much! So, the student who dropped off the face of the earth during a spring semester group project got assessed completely differently than the rest of the group who worked together. This does involve knowing how to work the technology and paying attention, so it’s not a magical panacea.

      3. A CAD Monkey*

        I had a project my junior year of college that had a ghoster that I saw 2 times before the end of the project. She showed up for the divvying of the topics and then the day before it was due dropped the un-collated data on me late. As I was the one tasked with creating the presentation; guess who got left out of the project. She didn’t even bother showing up for the in-class presentation, but came yelling at me later the day that I just ruined her GPA because she got no credit for the project. She got the grade she deserved imo.

      4. Quill*

        My worst group project ever was when one person just straight up didn’t come or do their work, except on the day we were to present, and on the day of our presentation I stood up there and announced “And now it’s Clarissa Warblesworth’s turn to present on Topic C.”

        And Clarissa stood there, thinking I’d been about to carry her grade after doing the work on topics A and B, and letting our third, less useless group member take a stab at topic D. We stood there in silence.

        We failed, but the group member and I that actually did work got a chance for a make-up grade because the whole thing was so bad that the teacher cringed. (It also helped that he was the drama director and I was a long time drama student. I absolutely could, and would, stand up there while the audience waited. And he knew I had a history of good work.)

        1. Autumnheart*

          I had a similar experience to this when I returned to college to finish my BS. We had a pretty good group, except for one guy, who disappeared for most of the week and wouldn’t respond to texts or emails. After two days of that, I decided to do his share of the work (I can bang out a decent paper in a day) and then tell on him to the instructor with extreme prejudice, so that she was fully aware of his ghosting.

          When it came time to present, I brusquely handed him a print of his slides just before we got called up, and while the rest of us were clearly prepared, he flailed through his like he’d never even seen the material before—which he hadn’t, of course! Afterward, he complained that “his wife was sick” and that’s why he didn’t do any work or respond to anyone’s messages (come on!), but the important thing was that the rest of us got As and he failed.

          One nice thing about returning to college as an adult was that I wasn’t concerned at all about *making friends* with my fellow students. Of course we were friendly, but I didn’t feel one damn bit bad about ratting out Ghosting Dude and letting him fall on his face. Return awkward to sender, as the saying goes.

          1. JustaTech*

            Yeah, see, if you’re on a group project you need to at least attempt to keep people in the loop. Unless your ghoster’s wife was in the hospital, it’s not much of an excuse.

            Like, I had a team project (2 person team) in grad school where my team mate suddenly stopped responding to emails, very unlike him. I was genuinely worried and about to email the professors (to make sure he hadn’t been in an accident or something) when he finally emailed me back that he’d gotten unexpected deployed! Thankfully not far and only for a week, so he was back.

            So yeah, unless you got hauled out of your office and sent to an Army base in the middle of the desert, you need to let people know what’s going on.

          2. many bells down*

            I had the guy who would not EVER SHUT UP during class. Always cracking jokes running his mouth, asking ridiculous questions, interrupting, etc. No he didn’t do any work on the project but at least I knew he could present!

            Nope. He froze when it was his turn and wouldn’t say a goddamn word. Even with notes to refer to.

            1. Quill*

              God, if you’re going to be the class clown one assumes that you’re capable of being on the spot!

          3. Happily Self Employed*

            I had a grad school class where we were divided into teams to present on new technologies each week, with a strict rule against plagiarism–including copy and pasting ad copy from manufacturers’ websites or trade publications. The whole team would get a zero for the assignment and be referred to the department for cheating.

            Of course one of the students in my team decided he could do this and the professor wouldn’t catch on. We tried to convince him it was a bad idea–all he had to do was summarize the information and use footnotes. He wouldn’t budge. The rest of the team went to the professor’s office hours to tell her we had tried to talk him out of plagiarizing to cover topic X and the rest of us were doing things right on topics Y and Z. We didn’t want to be punished for him basically being an asshole and maybe she could remove him from the group or something? She assured us she would take care of it.

            We did our presentations. His was blatant copypasta from a variety of sites with a variety of writing styles (and we were supposed to be using bullet points, not paragraphs anyhow) and ours were summarized appropriately. He could not explain the material he had pasted and we could explain ours well enough for first-year students. We got good grades and apparently he got keelhauled.

            Looking back, I suspect the group punishment rule was to prevent people from plagiarizing and then using another teammate as a scapegoat.

      5. Groupprojectbad*

        We had a group project in college that lasted an entire semester. It was my worst nightmare come to life. The final product was a paper that had to be cohesive but still had to have one part, written by each member of the group. If the teacher detected that one person wrote it, the entire group could suffer grade wise. Well we each wrote our own part and turned it in to one person who would combine it all. She took it upon herself to re-write the entire thing. The rest of us let the teacher know. Turned in our original work to her. The one that changed the paper failed, the rest of us got As.

      6. Risha*

        That’s a bad teacher, not an issue with group projects overall. (Not that I’m any more fond of them than anyone else.) In college I had a group project + two presentations + 100 page paper that was the majority of our semester and grade, and the group I landed in was almost entirely ghosters. I ended up coming up with our concept, doing the majority of the presenting, and writing the entire paper (but only got about 85 pages out of it). I never once complained and presented everything as “we,” but the teacher clearly understood what happened. I got an extremely good grade in that class, despite some obvious weaknesses with the project, and the rest did not.

      7. Massmatt*

        It sounds like this teacher wanted you to do their job for them. If the teacher can’t motivate students to do any work, how are their fellow students supposed to do so? And the collective punishment is both lazy and unfair. If you do a teacher evaluation, be sure to deduct from her rating for things other teachers have done. And if she complains, tell her life isn’t fair and to chalk it up to a learning experience.

      8. soon to be former fed, really*

        I have never understood why oversight responsibility is downloaded onto other students or workers for group projects. It is totally unfair to do this to the conscientious group members. I hate group projects with a passion.

      9. many bells down*

        One of my group members had a schedule conflict on the day we were supposed to present. She did her share of the work, she just couldn’t attend the presentation. Immediate 50% point deduction for her.

        Meanwhile, a second group member who did nothing (and asked “oh, what are we doing?” as we walked up to present) got full credit just for standing there while the rest of us presented.

        Yeah, we all went and complained to the professor. Didn’t help the first girl at all but maybe hurt the second ones grade.

    3. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      “When I die, I want all the people from my group projects to serve as pallbearers. So they can all let me down one last time.”

    4. Thankful for AAM*

      My prof spouse actually teaches HOW to collaborate and I am really impressed with the way he has transformed his program’s senior capstone classes and the junior classes that lead to them. He assesses students skills and plans groups so they all have a real skill to contribute amd he is transparent about the process. He also has them do their own skills assessment so they recognize what they each contribute. This way a group designing, say a car, has members who know electronics and engines and aerodynamics, and all the car things and not all electronic circuit designers. He makes the projects very achievable so that they have room to mess up and learn from it and still get a project done and so the focus is more on learning the process rather than the end product. He assigns a project like a client might, I need something that can do x, he requires them to tell him how they will map out the project with step by step deliverables and who will do what and he gives feedback early on so they can adjust the process. And they have room for a lot of creativity within the assigned project or can create one if it fits the goals of the class. There is no ghosting or if there is, he meets with the team early and makes a plan with them. He has given some students their own projects if they cannot work with others. The final report follows industry standards and includes some kind of commentary from each student with feedback about the whole process. In the before times he brought in industry professionals as often as he could to hear the presentations both has a way to help with exposure for jobs and to give feedback about how this fits into actual work in the field. He makes it about the process as much as the product so that students learn. And I wish I had one experience like it in 4 years of undergrad and 2 masters degrees.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        This is similar to how I approach group projects, though my system is a bit more lightweight. I have students do a Team Compact (similar to a project charter, but includes communication plans and goal-setting that a charter won’t) and select a team lead. The end of the semester means 360 evals on groupmates emailed to me; students are on notice that I can reduce their final grade by up to one full letter if I don’t like what I see.

        I also just straight-up tell them that there are processes that make teams work better, and if they don’t know what those processes are and how to use them, it’s a thing they absolutely must learn, because they’re not entering professions where teamwork is optional.

        Things are still imperfect because students are people (and almost all are entirely unfamiliar with project-management structures and processes; it takes practice!), but by and large this works.

      2. Rock Prof*

        I do a lot of these things, too, including pulling students who aren’t contributing from a group and having them work individually. It also helps that, in my class where the group project is the main grade, students are also all upper-level geology majors and clearly vested in the results. They work with community partners to develop their plan and then have professionals give them feedback on their presentations and reports (the reports go to the partners). Some parts of their reports have actually been used in grant proposals for the community partners, so that and the really positive alumni feedback, makes me think I’m doing some things usefully.

      3. Coenobita*

        The thing about different skill sets is so important. In the most functional group project that I remember from grad school, we had one team member whose specific role was to take everyone else’s contributions, stitch them together into one document, and edit everything for length and internal consistency. It was… very similar to a real-life work project!

        I think that fundamental problem with group projects in school is that everyone is supposed to contribute equally, in terms of some measureable output like number of pages of writing – and that is not how real life works most of the time. It can make a lot more sense when someone does the background research, someone does the data analysis, someone does the editing, etc. instead of everyone writing one section from scratch.

        1. Quill*

          I feel like once you’ve hit grad school, pretty much everyone who wants to be a groupwork remora has self-selected out… so that probably helped.

          1. Happily Self Employed*

            Surely you jest! I ran into plenty of those in one of my programs–probably not a coincidence the program that is billed to international students as “the program that will get you any job you want back in your home country”.

            They also thought I was hopelessly naive to think I was supposed to get through my undergraduate program without cheating. I guess that’s why I only had a 3.2 GPA in a program that was graded on a curve.

      4. Squeakrad*

        I teach business communication at both a state university and a private university. This is exactly how I structure my group projects. Because we have such a diverse student population – all the way from students who are the first members of their family to come to college so incredibly wealthy international students – it’s important for students to learn to get along with classmates who may come from very different backgrounds.

        In structuring group projects, I do the same with establishing roles for each group member – although they are allowed to choose who is the note taker, who is the overseer of the entire project etc. Everything is really transparent, from open discussions to the fact that some students may not have enough knowledge of basic English grammar to complete their section successfully on their own , to the fact that students Have different needs and desires around grading. As a student told me years ago “you know Ms D, C’s get degrees.” So we talk openly about the fact that if you’re in a group where everyone wants an a and you just want to see, you may have to stretch yourself a little bit to work effectively.

        I also meet with groups at the beginning middle and end of each project to suss out who’s not contributing and what those challenges are. Often the challenges are not laziness or lack of desire, but especially now with the pandemic, structural issues such as being the breadwinner for their family, we’re having to attend class at two in the morning because they’re attending from China.

        And of course the projects will not be the same as theywikl encounter in their professional lives, But I firmly believe that the practice and having their work assessed by each other as well as by me, having to defend their work to the groups, and having open peer reviews where everyone can see what they’re working on is excellent practice for the kinds of feedback they may be subject to in the work world.

        And while grading is somewhat easier it’s not much easier given all the meetings and other interactions we have around the projects.

        And to forestall any issues around unfair grading, our universities use a program called CATME. It’s an online assessment program specifically created for group projects at universities, and requires each student to answer a series of questions along with a narrative of their experience of the project as a contributor and as an assessor of the other group members.

        Since I started using CATME about five years ago I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to adjust group grades to reflect individual contributors not doing their part. And students often echo that the group projects done in our classes are much more rewarding than those done by wrote in their other classes.

      1. drago cucina*

        Sometimes it’s part of the program and not optional for the instructor. When I’ve taught classes with required group projects students was always a required to evaluate everyone else on the team and the over all project. This was actually part of the learning process. Introducing how to evaluate others and where a project could have been better. It was a one sheet, not onerous. It was made very clear to provide a coherent deliverable, but not fully cover for the person. Each grade was individual. It was always clear where the issues were.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        I had the same experience in grad school – it was one giant group project, including the capstone classes. There was framework around the project, and we were given an opportunity to outline our contributions and rate our teammate’s participation. I hate group projects, generally, but it was really hard to get a good grade if you were the social loafer of the group project.

    5. Student*

      “I don’t have time to judge you on your merits – but I do have time to judge you on the average merits of an arbitrary group of 3-5 of you.”

      Maybe the class needs to be significantly re-thought, then.

    6. Sleepy*

      I don’t totally buy that this is necessary to reduce the amount of grading–an alternative would be to reduce the number of assignments!–but there are two ways to make group projects more bearable: 1) Let people choose their own group. 2) Assign groups based on their existing grade in the class, so people with higher grades will be grouped together.

      1. Dr Logen*

        Reducing assignments isn’t usually the best solution. Most educators are now being encouraged to have lots of low-stakes assignments so that the students’ grades aren’t just based off of one test or paper.

        But group projects aren’t necessarily the best solution to that. I assign a lot of things in my courses but most are relatively quick and easy to grade. One of my classes is currently doing a class-wide project but each of them needs to turn in separate things so they’re all being graded separately.

      2. jose*

        As a sometimes socially awkward person, letting people choose their own group sounds like hell for those who don’t know anyone else in the group. And putting people together based on grades sounds pretty awful for those who struggled early on in the class and are trying to get it together.

    7. IsItOverYet?*

      Interesting, for us they exist because the higher ups mandate them. I hate them as a professor – I don’t do individual grades, but if someone isn’t helping, I remind the team to tell me and then that person gets one message from me and if they still don’t help they get a 0 (or a reduced grade if they did a small part). I’m tryinig something slightly different this semester – they’ve each been assigned a specific research topic which they have to write an essay on, but then at the end of the semester they come together with others with the same topic to do a group presentation based on their research
      I do like group in labs – because groups in lab foster collaboration and problem solving but then I am also (in normal times) walking around supervising/encouraging so I can see who does what (and they submit their own write ups)

    8. Butterfly Counter*

      I’ve done this before and haven’t really found it reduces much of my grading when I do the things that make it most fair for everyone involved.

      Pros of group work:
      1. Usually, students can be exposed to an interesting outside topic that we don’t have time to tackle as a class.
      2. They are so much more fun for me to go over and grade. Not less work, but more interesting.

      1. Students who ghost and stress out the rest of the group.
      2. Sometimes students just don’t like each other and it becomes my problem.

      Personally, with group work, I tend to specifically tell students how to split up the project. For example, in a group of 5, I have all five give me background on X: 1. Conception 2. Early years 3. Comparison with thing Y 4. Current news 5. Limitations and criticisms. Then each student has to apply a different theory to X that explains it. Then each student has to present an outside source that either agrees with or refutes X and why. All of these are graded independently of one another and all the students, while working together, isn’t relying on the work of another student to complete their own tasks. If a student ghosts (which can happen for completely understandable reasons, for example, one student this summer had to take care of a parent with Covid the last two weeks of class).

      I do my best to keep all of the pros of group projects and avoid the cons as best I can. And students generally like a presentation a little better than writing paper.

    9. Pennalynn Lott*

      One of my professors had what I thought was a genius way of outing the slackers: Groups were assigned by the TA’s. There were several group projects and you never worked with the same full team twice. At the end of the project, you had to force-rank your team members. Only one person could be on top, and you were forced to rate someone at the bottom.

      At the end of the semester, the TA’s tallied up how many times a specific individual was rated tops and who was rated worst. If you were consistently at the bottom, across multiple projects and teams, you could lose up to an entire letter grade. (So, if your team members always did all the work, and it was A- and B-level, you might think you’d be getting an A- or a B+ overall for the class; but, after the rankings were reviewed at the end of the semester, you could get dropped to a C.

      1. TheLayeredOne*

        That sounds like interesting feedback for the professor to consider, but doesn’t it open up students to discrimination and bias (whether conscious or unconscious)? We know this happens in student reviews of professors, which can badly impact female academics, in particular. I’d be really concerned about lowering a grade because someone was ranked low by their peers, absent strong evidence that the rankings were warranted solely based on that person’s contributions.

  2. Kathlynn (Canada)*

    I still remember the last group project I did. I carefully made notes on the chapters I covered, my partner c/p hers word for word from the textbook. I was upset, I would have honestly Jost done the summary of her part, if I’d known she was going to do that. And just left her to make it look good.

    1. many bells down*

      I had one where a grown-ass woman just copy pasted a Wikipedia TALK PAGE into our project for her part. Not even the actual article. The page where editors discuss the articles. When I said “you can’t do this”, she said “that’s what you told me to research.”

    2. MN Auditor*

      I once had a team member plagiarize the textbook in doing their section of the write up of a company. What was their section, you ask? According to the rubric it was Trust, Justice, and Ethics… ‍♀️

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        What’s interesting is that in the “real world” using other’s work (with appropriate rights and credit) is often the best way to do things.

        1. Observer*

          That’s actually not true – plagiarism is always a problem. There is a difference between looking at, and using, prior work and straight up copying and passing it off as your own.

          1. Coenobita*

            Yeah, I mean, I do actually do a lot of straight-up copy/pasting in my job, but it’s in situations where I’m asking my coworker, “Hey, can I take these three paragraphs from your Memo A and use them in my Public Comments B?” and my coworker answers “omg yes of course, no need to reinvent the wheel, at least that means someone will read it.” We call that “plagiarizing” colloquially but of course it’s really not.

          2. Gumby*

            (with appropriate rights and credit)

            It is not plagiarism if you have appropriate rights and give credit to the source.

            1. jose*

              Depending on the context, you may also have to add your own content or commentary as well – I would still call it plagiarism if someone writes an essay by saying “As Jane Doe once said, ‘<insert of full text of essay'. I agree."

              1. Happily Self Employed*

                If it’s in a work setting and it’s “using the boilerplate text approved by the Legal department” or Marketing or whatever–that is not plagiarism. If you’re going onto the server and copypasting a colleague’s research that you didn’t contribute to, that’s plagiarism, but using standard language is not.

        2. Yorick*

          I tell my students not to use direct quotes much – even if they’re properly cited. For two reasons: 1) they usually don’t make sure the quote fits in the text well or give it appropriate context, and 2) I want to see that they understand the information well enough to explain in their own words. #2 is often the reason that #1 is a problem.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      Back in 2014 when I was in school through VR, our healthcare writing professor gave us a group project, and my awesome classmate and I got stuck with a rather horrible person in our group of three. This person sniped to her about me and me about her behind the other person’s back and wanted to run things. We ended up just being graded individually since she wouldn’t cooperate with us at all. Because trying to have a meeting to discuss the project as a group was “persecution.”

      If this were a job, a good boss would have kept up on the project status and maybe had a talk with her, but there wasn’t much the professor could do. She just ended up grading us on the writing part and not the collaboration part, since Horrible Hattie refused to even talk to us.

      1. Pear*

        Every group project I ever did – in school – I always came to the meeting and said, “We are going to get an A. I don’t care if I have to do the whole thing myself and then divvy up the parts of the presentation. I need your buy in so we all get an A and move on with the rest of our lives.”

        It does occur to me that this mindset has also moved into my work life – except in work, everyone has a piece they really like to do or have an affinity for – so most of my collaborations have netted me the work equivalent of an A.

        I find it interesting that coders are supposed to work well with others. Is that working well with end users? From what I know of the process, we only reached out to our (computer) coders when they were improving the product and they e-mailed us questions and then went off and did the thing. Apologies for any rudeness in that assumption – I just find that interesting.

  3. Viki*

    LW # 4

    With remote, I don’t know anyone’s schedule unless, I’m in a meeting with them, or have a deliverable that’s got a handoff to them/receiving a handoff—I just don’t have the mental space to remember your OOO message or that your status on Teams has a specific reason beside you’re not there.

    I do try and check in with some colleagues, I don’t work with normally but otherwise, if I don’t work directly with you, I’m not going to remember why you’re out, or even, maybe that you are out.

    That said, I do think, it’s the person coming back to the office (remote or otherwise), to reach out to their colleagues that they’re back and ready to socialize.

    I know when I’m back from vacation, I need like two days to go through my emails and admin stuff and don’t really have time/mental energy to talk to coworkers about the vacation.

    1. KateM*

      I’m wondering whether LW#4 has left some information out – like that at that workplace, people back from a week-long vacation are usually met with brass band and flowers. Wouldn’t Miss Manners say that the one who (re)joins the group is the one to greet first?

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        My guess is it is just the opposite. LW just got married. This is a huge event in her life. It is a minor piece of gossip in her coworkers’ lives. This is especially true when you are working remotely. In person, people would notice the LW was back, and stop and chat a few minutes. Remote software doesn’t really replicate this.

        1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          This is it exactly. I’ve been in my group twenty years. I like everyone I work with. We talked casually throughout the day in the office. We are full time WFH since March. I didn’t talk to anyone for days at a time unless I had a specific question.
          Just the nature of remote.
          OP, E-Mail People you are back and ask if they need/have anything.
          Your therapist is giving you personal relationship advice, not workplace advice.

        2. #4*

          Actually, it’s the kind of thing that the CEO requested the live stream link to – like the company announce in all-staff meetings when an employee adopted a dog, had a birthday, etc. I had dozens of well wishes from folks outside of my department which was the odd thing!

          1. Quill*

            I’d assume they’ve put it out of their minds as a happy, but no longer entirely relevant, event. It was more important to them to know that you were celebrating and that you’d be out for a while (so they had logistics to deal with) than the exact day you’d be back and when they could expect you to be caught back up on emails.

      2. #4*

        It is like that! It’s very much like folks messaging you if you’re gone for a day, or leave early, even for just regular time off (not including a major life event) to ask how are you and what it is – there’s also a culture of the folks who are managing (at least while remote) are the ones to reach out

        1. ThatGirl*

          Well, I get that this feels weird, but I would still reach out and say “hey, everyone, I’m back! The wedding was lovely and [fill in a detail or two about the honeymoon – it was relaxing, it was exciting, whatever]. Let me know if I missed anything big!” and go from there.

    2. londonedit*

      I was thinking the same. Firstly, when someone’s been off on holiday, I often can’t remember the exact date they’ll be back, so I might be thinking ‘Was it this week or next week that Jane’s back from her break? Was she going to be back today or Wednesday?’ Also, people might be sensitive of the fact that OP4 has been on their honeymoon and probably hasn’t been thinking about work at all, so they might be giving them a couple of days to catch up before they start bombarding with more emails. Usually when I’ve been on holiday I’ll take a little bit of time first thing to skim through my emails, and then (as things are now) I’ll jump on the team chat to say ‘Hello! I’m back – still wading through everything but how is everyone? Any major dramas while I was off?’ Otherwise people might be reluctant to get in touch, as they might not know whether I’m back yet or whether I’ve had time to catch up.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        OP. This is it exactly. And honestly, share with your therapist. This is what is happening with work people. They are working. They don’t require confrontation, they require a virtual tap on the shoulder, “Hi, I’m back and I’m ready to work now.”

      2. #4*

        We all have everyone’s calendars constantly open (it’s a problem if you don’t document to the minute your breaks, vacation, etc.) so it’s the sort of thing that it’s a faux pas to send someone a message when they’re gone (also when their status isn’t “online”) – I will clarify (I think it was lost in my email to Allison) that my therapist was the one that told me not to be the first one to reach out as a contract worker and to not manage up, specifically because of previous hostile work environments, but also due to the fact that I’m not even a “real” employee yet

        1. Cinnabar Red*

          I find your therapist’s advice really very odd in a work context. Very odd. My firm uses contractors and I would think it inappropriate for them to NOT make contact – if anything, contractors need to be more proactive in maintaining comms lines than employees do. And EVERYONE should “manage up” to make the most efficient use of both your time and your manager’s. I think your therapist is giving poor advice.

        2. hufflepuff hobbit*

          It’s not “managing up” to check in with your co-workers when you are back from a break. In most workplaces, it’s a normal courtesy. I agree with Cinnabar Red that when you are a remote contractor, it’s a good idea to be pretty proactive about reminding people you exist.

          1. Happily Self Employed*

            And if the “don’t manage up” advice refers to the contract-to-direct hiring, I can understand it would be a bad strategy to be all “are we there yet?” on a daily basis. But if you’ve been out of the loop on your honeymoon, it’s reasonable to ask for a status update now you’re back. (As well as letting people know you’re back and ready to take on work.)

      3. Dust Bunny*

        We’re part-time remote and, honestly, if my coworkers aren’t in front of me I have no idea where they are. Maybe they told me they’d be out of town, maybe they didn’t, I can only remember so many things at one time and right now I’m focused more on work.

      4. Annony*

        That’s what I was thinking. They may honestly not know or remember how long the OP was going to be gone for and are waiting for a signal that she is back to avoid accidentally asking for something while she is out.

        As for asking not hearing any updates about extending the contract, asking about that is not “managing up.” It is very very normal to ask your boss for an update or timelines on things like that. Your boss may not think you need an update if nothing has changed since you last talked or may have forgotten to reach out about it since you were out.

    3. WellRed*

      OP, I get where you’re coming from, but it’s likely not personal. I was just out for the better part of a month when my brother died. No one welcomed me back (we’re on Slack and email).

    4. #4*

      Hi! That is definitely not the attitude nor the culture at the company which is why it is so weird! The team is extremely small and close knit and shares personal things very regularly and I received dozens of emails wishing me well from people who I do not work nearly as closely with, which is why it was so strange. I’ll also say the “managing up” from my therapist was specifically in regards to reaching out first – the nonprofit world is extremely toxic and I’ve had several straight out abusive work environments, but all of them had a manager (while remote or in person) be the one to make contact when someone returned, even for a day

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        There really isn’t a norm that a manager will be the one to reach out first and that you need to wait for them. It might have happened in your past abusive environments because everyone was scared to do otherwise, but it’s not a normal thing you’re supposed to adhere to.

      2. Frank Doyle*

        I really don’t think that letting your manager know/reminding them that you are back is “managing up.” You seem to be really hung up on this, but I think you’re overthinking it.

      3. learnedthehardway*

        Sounds like you are in the process of learning what a normal, nonabusive work environment is supposed to be like, and your expectations are getting a little off track.

        Your coworkers probably just haven’t noticed that you’re back. Everyone is teleworking and nobody has your return to work date calendared. If you were all in the office, people would say “Hi, how was your trip/wedding/honeymoon” if they saw you, but it’s just not the same with telework.

        I think you’d be fine to write a note to the team saying “Hi All, I’m back from my honeymoon and am working again. How was everyone’s week?” You’re sure to get responses from most people welcoming you back, that way. You just have to be a bit more visible in a telework environment.

      4. Malarkey01*

        I’m not sure why emails wishing you well before your wedding make it seem weird that people didn’t email you right when you get back. Anytime I hear anyone is getting married or having a baby I of course say “oh congratulations, how exciting”. However that completes the social convention and it’s not something that’s in the forefront of my mind. I don’t usually keep it in my mind to then go back and say so how’s the marriage/baby going. If we were in the office and someone came back and walked by me I’d say “oh how was Niagara Falls or getting any sleep with a newborn” but it wouldn’t cross my mind to go seek someone out.

        I think looking for people to reach out to you after a week out of the office is looking at this as more of a friendship and not professional relationship (said kindly and recognizing you had some toxic/warped experiences in the past).

  4. Avasarala*

    #2 I really encourage you to push back against conspiracy theories with your coworkers. It sounds like they are already doing so, so you would hardly be taking any risk, and your suggested phrases (“that’s different than what I’ve read”) are incredibly mild. I encourage you to do this not because they will change your coworker’s mind–in my experience you can’t really debate someone who has a different understanding of reality than you–but because this supports your coworkers who are pushing back. You’re helping keep the office free of dangerous and harmful ideas, and you’re supporting coworkers who are taking personal risk to do so (risky to engage with these kinds of people, and risks social disapproval).

    Also you can certainly set a “no current events talk” rule, but you will hear conspiracy theories from all around on all kinds of topics, and in these days where someone on the internet is proclaiming someone is secretly behind something, it’s important to keep those beliefs on the fringe where they belong.

    1. drago cucina*

      The “no current events talk” rule is probably the best. To be honest I’m tired of extraneous talk. Not essential safety protocol, but everything, all the time. I’ve had multiple webinars on databases and everyone one of them used COVID-19 as the search topic example. Guess what? It’s not what my patrons need for their day-to-day job.

      I first heard the hospital payment information from a hospital administrator. Then an ICU physician. The coronavirus relief legislation created a 20% premium, or add-on, for COVID-19 Medicare patients. It doesn’t mean that all hospitals or doctors are over diagnosing COVID. The unscrupulous are going to be unscrupulous.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I’ve worked for a Medicare contractor. If there’s billing fraud going on, HHS will make sure to get that money back. And put the culprits in prison. We had someone whose main job was being a witness in these kinds of court cases.

        1. Analyst Editor*

          There is a lot of Medicare and Medicaid fraud, and every so often you hear of multi-million and even multi-billion dollar busts. But reading these articles, it seems like the people who get caught were being particularly greedy or careless; and it’s entirely plausible to go on for years if you are more careful and modest in your ambitions. Furthermore, these busts take years to catch, prosecute, and recover the money. So a potential fake Covid diagnosis to get money would probably not be revised down and prosecuted for a long time from now, would be my guess.
          Anecdotally speaking, it definitely happens. You hear doctors and people working in medical offices and insurance companies tell about it. It happened to my grandparents, who don’t speak much English, but my grandma knew enough to be confused about it on her EOB, and we reviewed it and turned out that a bunch of tests were charged that the doctor didn’t perform. But how many other such cases were there where the elderly limited-English immigrants don’t check their statements?
          There are absolutely going to be, at the very least, attemps at fraudulent claims when there is what looks like unlimited money available and no apparent enforcement (even if it comes later).

          1. drago cucina*

            Happened with my mother-in-law. She was hospitalized and suddenly there were bills for things we knew didn’t happen. My sister-in-law who is a nurse visited daily and we were there every week. Sister-in-law worked for an insurance billing office. It took her and my husband combing through the bills and asking very pointed questions of the hospital for the bill to be revised. If they didn’t know what they were looking at it they would have just been brushed off.

        2. drago cucina*

          Not always. It’s one of the reasons my husband retired from anesthesia. He filed formal complaints to the hospital about the harassment of nurses by a particular surgeon. Extremely hostile and sexual. He also tried to report Medicare fraud. He was suddenly given a choice to retire or be fired. Basically the surgeon was the money maker for the hospital and they didn’t want to lose him. My husband reported the fraud. It was kicked around, and even with documentation it wasn’t pursued.

          Fortunately he was at a point in life where retirement was possible and he was able to spend most of his time on his calling rather than his job.

          Later when two surgical groups merged their one condition was that the problem surgeon not be part of the group.

          1. ...*

            Interesting my mom has also been “let go” for reporting medicare fraud and now is dealing with medicare fraud again at another agency. From what she tells me, its way too common! I dont know anything about covid19 fraud but medicare fraud def happens!

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              Yep. We had an entire unit for fraud & abuse claims. And CMS wants it reported directly to them or the contractor.

    2. juliebulie*

      It is definitely not true that covid deaths are being overreported. My grandmother’s death was reported as kidney failure. (It was definitely covid and definitely not her kidneys). No doubt this was a favor to the nursing home to make it look as though they weren’t having a big problem.

      1. Evan Þ.*

        On the other hand, my state’s announced every few months that a number of deaths initially reported as COVID deaths are now being recategorized on further examination, since the people died with COVID but on further investigation that probably wasn’t what caused their deaths. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’re some other such deaths they’re missing, or if some other states aren’t doing that further investigation.

        (This’s Washington State, in case it matters.)

        No idea which factors are more significant.

    3. JayNay*

      Yes, sadly I think we will all have to figure out how to deal with these kinds of comments /people. Banning all “current events” talk isn’t going to help. I personally don’t like that this route doesn’t adress the issue. The issue is not “current events talk” the issue is “Coworker dumps conspiracy info straight out of their favorite Facebook group into our work convo and it’s stressing LW2 out”.
      Honestly, I would be tempted to start a second chat group without this person. If you can’t exclude them for work reasons, please join your coworkers in the pushback. Additonal ways to express disbelief are strong visual reaction (raising eyebrows, shaking your head “no”), changing the topic immediately (“Ok Jane/John, we’re going to stay on the side of science here, so let’s talk about xyz instead…”).

      1. soon to be former fed, really*

        I see nothing wrong with telling this spreader of disinformation to just stop it. Disinformation kills people. These folks are not shy, and are lond and proud in their unsupported and nonsensical declarations. I wouldn’t worry too much about their fee-fees. Then again, I’m rapidly losing the one nerve I have left over Covid and stupid people.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yeah, I have to agree. After the third “ROSES SPREAD THE VIRUS ON 5G SMELL WAVES,” I’d be like, “Esmeralda, that is wildly inaccurate and I don’t know or care where you’re getting it but it’s actively dangerous so stop posting it, now.”

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’ve realised I cannot keep my cool around the anti-science crowd. Every time I hear ‘it’s not serious’ or ‘nobody has died from it’ or ‘take this oil it’ll protect you’ all I hear is “the ones you lost died to their own stupidity”.

      And it hurts. So I have to instigate a ‘wear masks, wash hands, observe social distancing and I do not want to hear your opinions on this’ rule. If people want to share their particular theories they’re free to do it outside work.

      Because I can’t take it anymore.

    5. Free Meerkats*

      I agree with the “incredibly mild” part. The phrase I’ve used for this kind of covidiocy is some version of, “Just what particular kind of f***ing idiot are you?”

      Give them zero slack. If they won’t shut up about it and are this hugely wrong, hound them off the chat.

    6. Happily Self Employed*

      I’ve been fired for pushing back because it was seen as ridiculing the conspiracy theorist.

  5. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    #3: I’m not a fan of group projects either and agree that group projects at school don’t really teach people to work well with others in an actual work setting. You inevitably get at least one slacker and one person who tries to boss everyone around and you have to live your life around their schedule. I also don’t like that your grade for this is dependent on other people and not your own work.

    And so what if you or the people on your team are better at working individually? I hate the shamers who try to force you to be someone you’re not. One time, I was telling my coworker about a group project I had at school. When I said I hated group projects, she got a sad look on her face, tilted her head and said “whyyyyy?” People get all weird and judgy when you’re not a “teeeeam player.”

    1. Mel_05*

      I’ve often bonded with coworkers over our shared hatred of group projects. I thought they were universally abhorred! Maybe it varies by industry.

      1. TechWorker*

        Probably just by experience? They weren’t a part of my university experience but I remember school ones being… fine? Probably because we chose our groups and I was friends with mostly nerds and everyone at least put some effort in.

        1. Washi*

          Being able to choose your own groups makes a huge difference! And if you’ve never had to do a group project after high school, I think that would make you fairly unusual in the US :)

          The problem I’ve found in grad school is that in addition to the intentional slackers, there’s really a range of folks who have a lot of life stuff going on and are just planning to do enough to scrape through school, and on the other end of the spectrum, the folks who see an A- as a huge failure. I’ve definitely had the slacker group members, but generally the conflict has been around people coming in with different levels of skills and/or putting in vastly different levels of effort for various reasons.

          At work, there can be some of that, but usually the people putting in way more effort also get more credit, while in a group project, typically everyone gets the same grade at the end.

        2. Quill*

          Yeah, the problem with group projects usually comes from a combination of social factors. The honors courses I took were fine in terms of group projects unless someone wanted to be project dictator, the other group projects I did were pure torture because there is always someone looking to coast.

          My best group project ever was for Cell and Molec, where we ended by spending six hours in the library with the reference material trying to identify the wild-caught germ we isolated, eating chips in obvious violation of the library rules, but even though there was only one great big book of germ ID, nobody was going to leave the others unnecessarily until we saw it through.

        3. TiffIf*

          In high school a friend and I would always choose each other for group projects because we both trusted that the other would do their part.

          In college, I remember one particular group project where we were asked to rate the other team members’ participation–late in the project near the end one of our group asked “so, we’re all going to rate [person who never showed up for meetings or responded to communication in any way] as not participating, right?” we all heartily agreed and did so.

      2. LunaLena*

        I’m guessing it varies by which type of group member you were. I strongly suspect the bossy ones who got to have fun bossing everyone around and the slackers who got away with slacking enjoyed them far more than the people who actually did the work.

    2. EPLawyer*

      The bossy one inevitably misses a group meeting too. Then at the next meeting wants to revisit everything already decided because they weren’t there to approve it. We had a meeting, we decided things without you, move on.

      At work, you are not evaluated based on whether Susie turned in the TPS reports on time. You are evaluated on your individual work. Being a team player is ONE criteria and is based on things like being willing to help out and not causing tension on the team. Not taking a lesser evaluation because some other member of the team failed to do their part of the deliverables. Also at work, the person who fails to do their deliverables can be fired. In a school group project, it just brings down everyone’s grade, while the group has no recourse to MAKE the person do the job.

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        At work, you are not evaluated based on whether Susie turned in the TPS reports on time. You are evaluated on your individual work. Being a team player is ONE criteria and is based on things like being willing to help out and not causing tension on the team.

        And it too often seems like group project grades are based on how well you got everyone to actually participate. That’s the manager’s job. Alison’s advice is always to ask the person for the thing you need, then go to your supervisor because you dont manage the person and dont know all the things about them, their workload, their skills, preferences, or the priorities of this project relative to the rest of their work. Any time I did that with a professor, they told me handling that was part of group work.

      2. pleaset cheap rolls*

        “At work, you are not evaluated based on whether Susie turned in the TPS reports on time. ”

        That’s true of individual manager’s doing a formal evaluation. But in reality, in some professions, it’s also the team or even the whole organization that’s evaluated – by clients, donors, etc. In terms of continued funding and support.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yeah, it’s not always cut and dried on the individual v. group evaluation front. I work in a results-based industry where the clients never know who did what part of a project, but the person managing the team should know that and evaluate them on that. If Susie doesn’t send their status report, it reflects poorly on the whole team because the client only remembers that they didn’t get their report, not that Susie personally dropped the ball. Susie’s manager, however, should be managing that directly and the people who should get dinged are Susie and the project manager who didn’t make sure Susie got it done.

          I don’t know. I think that there are a lot of elements of group projects (which I loathed in school) that transition to work, and even the smallest projects where I work involve some level of communication/collaboration with other people. The difference is that I can intercede and provide feedback and direction to people who aren’t doing their part – and I also don’t have to keep the people who aren’t going to do their part and leave their teammates hanging.

      3. Nanani*

        In a class group project, everyone is studying the same thing and working toward the same goal – that means you just take tasks and split them up N ways (as in, 5 people research, 5 people write, 5 people edit) because you all need to be evaluated on all those tasks.

        At work you have researchers researching, writers writing, editors editing and so on.
        Plus like, a manager whose job involves holding people to standards and handling things like “Jane will be out for a while so Jill will handle her tasks in the meantime”. I’ve never ever seen a group project at school where the teacher took on that critical function, short of something like one student dropped the class completely.

        No power, all the responsibility is just not reflective of the real world.

    3. Hills to Die on*

      I had a class where the group evaluated the other team members and part of your grade was based on your team evaluation. We had a dead weight guy who got a C and the rest of us received A’s. I thought that was pretty fair.

      1. Paperwhite*

        As long as the evaluations aren’t based on popularity rather than actual work. In high school (where I was a despised nerd) I still remember my 10th grade World History group project and how the other three in my group, all much more popular kids, gave me bad evaluations for being “bossy” when I was trying to keep the project together and make sure it got done. I ended up with a B, which I then had to explain to my parents, who banned me from reading anything not school related for two weeks. Still a bit annoyed about that.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          That’s horrible! This was in college so we were able to put that stuff aside and be adults. Except the guy who checked out on everything.
          But yeah, I would NOT do that in a high school setting. Context is everything.

  6. AcademiaNut*

    I have participated in two types of group projects that were actually useful. The first type was optional and you could pick your own group (grad school, a student led side project that got us a published paper), the second actually had someone as manager (undergrad lab course, one of the postdocs was supervising, also led to a published paper).

    For the rest – all I can say is that if typical school based group work was good preparation for your job, your workplace is probably highly dysfunctional and you should probably look for a new job. I work in a highly collaborative environment, and things like people going radio silent, or flaking out and refusing to do the work, or doing a terrible job, are things that can be pushed higher up the pay scale to be solved. No one has ever told me I need to do my job, plus someone else’s job, or risk being fired/getting a bad performance review.

    That said, coding collaboratively is a very different process than doing your own school assignment by yourself. One way of getting some experience in this is to contributed to open source projects – you can get feedback on coding style and practices, have to work inside an existing project, and have your work approved by others. As a bonus, if you’re contributing on Github, you can link to your contributions on your resume.

    1. Troutwaxer*

      >>> “One way of getting some experience in this is to contributed to open source projects – you can get feedback on coding style and practices, have to work inside an existing project, and have your work approved by others. As a bonus, if you’re contributing on Github, you can link to your contributions on your resume.”

      Yup. This!

    2. The New Wanderer*

      “I work in a highly collaborative environment, and things like people going radio silent, or flaking out and refusing to do the work, or doing a terrible job, are things that can be pushed higher up the pay scale to be solved. No one has ever told me I need to do my job, plus someone else’s job, or risk being fired/getting a bad performance review.”

      Exactly. I think if school group projects are not set up with these parameters, they aren’t going to work. I only recall two group projects that stand out. One allowed us to be graded on our separate contributions so the two of us who did good work were not affected by the other two who slacked off (the good example). The other was while I was a 3rd year grad student partnered with the only undergrad permitted to take the grad level course. The professor for that course gave us both the same B grade and when I asked about it, he said it was clear which parts were mine and were A work but the undergrad’s work earned a C therefore both of us got a B. That professor was a terrible person for many other, more legit reasons (e.g. sexual harassment, intimidation, lying) but the unfair grading still burns me up.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      “I work in a highly collaborative environment, and things like people going radio silent, or flaking out and refusing to do the work, or doing a terrible job, are things that can be pushed higher up the pay scale to be solved. No one has ever told me I need to do my job, plus someone else’s job, or risk being fired/getting a bad performance review.”

      Hear, hear!

  7. TiredMama*

    LW #1, it sounds like did the math I have done on more than one work team assignment. I think it is a skill to know when to work around someone instead of with someone.

      1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

        The worst three word combination I can dream up:

        Group Calculus Homework.

        Yes, it was the nightmare you’re thinking it was.

        1. Thankful for AAM*

          My prof spouse is in a math adjacent field. He said no. If it was a group project to make a video lesson on how to teach say, differentiation, and critique the lessons from each group to learn how to teach calculus concepts, then maybe.

          1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

            Nope, literally group homework, where you had “question set 1”, and as a group you had to figure out your homework as well as write “how” you came to the answer, and any members dissenting opinions as to how it “should have been done”.

            If you pictured me standing on a couch in the group ghost’s dorm common area calling him a few choice words for ghosting on it? Yeah. You’re accurate.

            1. Qwerty*

              I had my entire group ghost one of those projects – some dropped the class, others just gave up. My answer to the last question was a proof of why I deserved extra credit for carrying the group all semester and doing it all myself. The prof actually gave it to me and let me out of some of the future homework for the class.

        2. Lora*

          I had an engineering math professor who tried to teach process controls like this. It was HORRIBLE, class averages were typically 20-30%, everyone did incredibly poorly every year, and students coming out of the program have NO concept of how process controls work in real life. I had to re-learn everything, down to the simplest programming and loop tuning, on the job. I can’t put employees from that program on anything requiring controls and automated data acquisition unless they have a lot of work experience showing they know what they are doing.

          Dude didn’t even show up for half the classes scheduled, and when he didn’t cancel he left the TA listen to our complaints for an hour. His excuse for not teaching us was, he had a consulting gig with industry that had meetings at the same time. Those of us who were working in industry and going to school part time stared at each other and said, “really?!?” because we know perfectly well that we can move meetings around as needed, and also…we wouldn’t trust our process controls to someone so friggin flaky and irresponsible. I honestly think he was just lying through his teeth to get out of doing any actual work.

          I wish I could sit on my rear and do nothing, coasting along on one achievement the rest of my life. Jeez.

        3. JustaTech*

          I mean, I did my calculus homework with a group in college, but that was an ad hoc “OMG I don’t *get* this help!” not a “we are required to work together on this”.

          I had exactly one class that did that in undergrad and one of the members of my group stated that she went to bed a 8pm, so we had to meet before then. (This was completely out of step with the rest of the residential college where upper-level classes often ran until 7:30 or 8.) Everyone had so much trouble with the group homework that we convinced the professor to give it up.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Sometimes it seemed like teachers assigned group work when they wanted someone else to teach instead of them. For instance, when I was paired off with a kid during the guitar unit in middle school music class, the music teacher yelled at me for not “helping” the other kid learn a song I figured out. IIRC she didn’t tell me ahead of time that this is what I was supposed to do, btw, just got mad after the fact that I didn’t do it. And the other kid was not remotely interested in learning the song anyway. So just because I had been playing violin for five years, suddenly I was supposed to be a guitar teacher and also motivate a non-interest pre-teen peer to learn something? Yeah, no, that’s your job, teacher.

      Same goes for oral reports: teacher wants kids to learn facts, other kids spout off facts, teacher doesn’t have to. I had a grad school music history class that was literally just each student doing two oral reports throughout the semester; the prof did one lecture the entire semester. What a waste of his expertise, IMO, but he was the dean of the school, was close to retirement, and absolutely didn’t care about this class.

      I’m all for giving teachers a break now and then because a lot of them work hard, but I did not enjoy becoming a surrogate teacher in any of these situations. There are better ways to give teachers a break.

  8. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    #5: Alison is right- this interviewer was not normal. A truly good interviewer would be polite and professional. And if they for some reason found that your experience and skill set weren’t a match for the role, they wouldn’t belittle you. They would either politely end the interview or keep talking to you in case you might be a match for a different role. Love Alison’s script for ending the interview yourself.

    1. Chocolate Teapot*

      I wondered if the interviewer really hadn’t seen the CV before (or only skimmed through it)? That said, it reminds me of an interview I had for my second “proper” job after university, in which the interviewer managed to be both Good Cop and Bad Cop at the same time. Apparently she was very impressed by my CV, but then my CV was terrible because she couldn’t read it.

    2. Coffee*

      I wonder if the interviewer, feeling insecure, decided to put themselves up by putting LW5 down? I have seen that happen before. Insecure and ambitious people who need to prove they’re better than other people and will hunt for reasons to put you down.
      Having a similar background AND being laid off could maybe make them think, “If it could happen to the LW it could happen to me! Better show how I’m better and therefore safe!”

      It sounds deeply unpleasant but I am sure it is them, not the LW. Don’t take their garbage to heart!

        1. Sun Tzu*

          Or the interviewer was belittling OP so that they could offer a lower salary. In any case, an employer to run away from.

      1. Means nothing*

        Definitely! This person is very insecure — and very immature. His behavior says less than nothing about you or your qualifications or experience. It is hard to keep that in mind but that is the absolute truth. And be glad it was an interview and not full-time employment with this specimen.

      2. Luke*

        Companies tend to disregard toxic employees because there isn’t a one-line cost to fixing it. The toxic employees doing a job- what’s the difference if they’re emotionally abusive or not to the bottom line? But let’s explore the LWs event:

        LW is a qualified applicant. The company needs her skills. Sounds like a great economic match. Except the interviewer is a jerk, so now both parties lose. LW is going to take her skills to another firm, and the employer now must pay the cost of filling the position later , with a potentially worse candidate to boot. Everyone loses, including the jerk- who’s guaranteed themselves another interview and more work down the line.

        I don’t propose everyone who has a bad emotional episode should be fired on sight, but firms need a way to address these behaviors. Toxic employees and cultures don’t pay off.

    3. Six Feet Under Par: A Chip Driver Mystery*

      Agree. And honestly, there’s a real joy in withdrawing your name from consideration in these circumstances if you have the financial choice of doing so. Sure, you still don’t have a job but you took away an arseholes power over you and that’s something.

    4. TiredMama*

      Ugh, I’ve had to run joint interviews with someone like this and it was cringeworthy. They usually did it when the majority of the hiring panel liked a candidate that they did not like/preferred someone else. After the interview, they would be like, I just did not get the sense that x candidate was all that interested. And I wanted to yell (but couldn’t, office politics), because you insulted them…of course they don’t want to work here now!

    5. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

      I had not one but a pair of interviewers who gave me a hard time about working the same place for 6+ years. They turned me down but even if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t have accepted their offer. I wasn’t quite old enough at the time for it to count as age discrimination – as I understand it, you have to be 40 and I was only 38. Though the interviewers seemed to be my age if not a little older.

  9. YiungTen*

    Op 1. You literally just described my old boss. She made so many knee-jerk reactions, it was mind boggling. My coworker and I would laugh that facts only got in the way of her making decisions. One of the reasons I left was because I sat in the front and had to constantly hear her loudly by berating my coworkers. Having to listen to someone getting chewed out several times a day multiplied by five days a week can be very draining. On the up side, I learned the type of manager I want to be. Keep respect at the forefront and only give feedback in a respectful manner

    1. many bells down*

      And at work, everyone’s usually in the same place at the same time! You have to do group projects outside of class time and try to coordinate 4-5 different schedules on top of everything else. I’ve only maybe twice had a professor set aside in-class time to work on a group project.

    2. Threeve*

      I’m not the confrontational type, but I’m not sure I’d be able to bite my tongue in this situation. “Are there actually errors, or is this a Microsoft-Word-Should-Play-Music situation again?”

    3. Hills to Die on*

      I have worked for a couple of people like this and it is ridiculous. Don’t worry about what anyone thinks of you – I promise you they know that she’s a schmuck. My old boss would berate me for not doing his job and told me it was ‘ubiquitous’ that everyone knew how incompetent I was, going so far as to tell me specific people said specific things about me. Since I was close with my coworkers, I would circle back and talk to them about what I could do to support them better, and they had no idea what I was talking about. They would say that I was doing a great job, but they thought our boss was awful. He was let go not long after I left and has a terrible reputation at that company.
      Water seeks its own level.
      I suggest close collaboration with your coworkers so that you can be effective in spite of Norma. She may very well end up shooting herself in the foot over her behavior.

    4. Massmatt*

      I had a manager like this also years ago. Her knowledge of our work was spotty at best, and she would berate people for… knowing the processes better than she did? She once told me I needed to review a help file because I “clearly didn’t know how to do _____”. I printed out the help file which spelled out exactly what I had just done and she literally closed her eyes, turned her head, and said “I don’t want to hear it! Get away from my desk!”. Ugh. She was a terrible manager, and the company couldn’t promote her enough.

  10. The Original Stellaaaaa*

    I wish instructors would give up the lie that a group project is in any way analogous to the workplace. Work teams are out together because they’re the best people for the job, and if someone doesn’t perform, he is spoken to or removed. Your compensation is not lowered because of his performance. Even in a pedagogical level, group work is only successful in a structured environment with supervision. Instructors know that everyone hates them and that good students are only being taught that lazy assholes will forever get credit for work they didn’t do.

    1. Nessun*

      Absolutely. It’s inherently different to do a group project for a percentage of your grade in one class versus doing group work you are paid for by your employer. The accountability and the compensation are Very Distinctly Different – therefore so is everyone’s motivation.

    2. Scarlet2*

      “good students are only being taught that lazy assholes will forever get credit for work they didn’t do”

      This sums up my whole experience of “group projects” in school/university. It always ended up being me working alone while the other person sat on their bottom and waited for the good grades to fall on their lap.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah, well it’s a good lesson to learn because it happens at work too. Happened to me, with two of the three others on the team: I just doubled up to do the work of the first, who at least had the decency to say “sorry, I’m just too busy right now and I don’t know that this will change any time soon”, but the second strung me along, telling me she’d made great progress, only to send me a heap of sh1t at the last minute. At that point I cracked up and said someone else would have to be brought in on the project. I micro managed the guy who was brought in, and luckily he worked hard to get the project finished more or less on time. I believe he had to forego a holiday he had planned though so it really wasn’t fair.

        1. teapot product analyzer*

          Yeah I only wish my experience of group projects at school didn’t so exactly mirror my experience of working on project teams as part of my job.

          1. Argye*

            I was beginning to believe I was the only person with this experience. I vividly remember running what was supposed to be a group project where the other two members made it clear that they weren’t interested, and had no intention of doing what they said they were going to do. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the expertise to complete their sections, which was why they were on the project in the first place. My part was well-received, but the overall project wasn’t nearly as successful as it could have been. This was over 10 years ago, and I’m still angry about it.

      2. LifeBeforeCorona*

        At school I was involved with 2 group projects, the first went well because everyone was very interested in the subject, Ancient Greek Civilization. With the second one I knew it wasn’t going to work after the first meeting. I asked the professor if I could write and present my own and she agreed. Basically, I told her my time was too stretched (true) and I had an alternate topic with an outline ready to show her so she could see that I was serious. Traditional matchmaking practices in early 19th century Russia. I got an A!

    3. Forrest*

      That’s clearly how work projects *should* work, but I don’t think it’s true that that’s what always happens!

    4. Media Monkey*

      we did a lot of group work at university and i only had one great lecturer who asked us to complete an assessment sheet (kept confidential) at the end asking what % ofthe total grade everyone deserved. so if you thought all people in group did their bit, you gave everyone 100%. if someone went above and beyond they could get more than 100% and if someone slacked off you might give them 70% and their mark was adjusted down accordingly.

      1. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

        Most of my college courses involved some group work and almost all of them did exactly this. A confidential peer evaluation so the prof knows if someone didn’t do their part, and the rest of the group’s grades wouldn’t suffer.

        1. Quill*

          I remember one of these where the slacker decided everyone else got a zero, because, and I quote “they weren’t available when I needed them” (the night before the project was due when those of us who weren’t brazen liars were done with our parts and working on other urgent coursework…)

      2. EnfysNest*

        One of my teachers in high school would give us a certain number of points to assign to each of our teammates (not grading ourselves) – we could make all the points even if we wanted or put more points on someone who did more work. He would then consider the points assigned by the whole group (usually groups of 5-6) and factor that into a participation part of the grade. The majority of the project grade still came from the end result, but it helped with feeling like we at least had some way of differentiating when someone didn’t do their share. That’s still not perfect by any stretch, but it did lessen the sting of unfair group dynamics a little bit in his class.

    5. Workerbee*

      Work teams are also put together because: someone wants to delegate their own work to someone else, someone has a job title that seems to make them a good fit but their actual job is wildly different from the project, someone used to do the work involved and why not have them do it again while still doing their own actual job, someone high up has a Great Idea and just pulls random people from departments for a year-long project full of meetings while, let us not forget, still expecting them to meet all their own deliverables and the company’s regular goals…

      I have occasionally been in a work team that truly was made up of the people who needed to be involved, and where each person had a role to play that fit in with their expertise. This is usually a smaller team that stays small or only brings in people as-needed or when there’s a next part to roll out. Really great stuff can be generated that has long-lasting effect.

      The balance of my experience, alas, tips wildly in the other direction. I have but one or two positive experiences to cite in interviews if ever asked about participating in or leading a work group.

      1. Sasha*

        That’s pretty industry specific though – lots of IT projects literally need input from user experience, graphic design, front end and back end coders, etc etc. And a project manager to keep people on schedule.

        Or in medical research, you might need a statistician, a data manager to build the trial database, a project manager to keep the trial hitting recruitment milestones and on budget, lots of research nurses to collect the data, site investigators managing at a local level… When I opened a new clinic, I needed input from our department’s business manager, pharmacist, estates, phlebotomy, and nursing team, all of whom had to contribute things I can’t actually do myself.

        I do agree though, that university group work was useless as preparation for any of that.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        I love the sum up of the whys of group projects! It is not my experience that they are made up of the people best for the job and are well-oiled machines. In my experience across multiple industries, they are made up of people who have most of the minimum skills required (hopefully an aptitude for learning the rest) and available bandwidth to commit to the project. The social loafing (doing nothing) component of school projects isn’t an issue as it was in school, but you’ve still got your disorganized people with poor time management skills gumming up the works.

    6. jose*

      The proportion of this probably depends on the field, but it’s worth pointing out that a lot of university professors went straight from undergrad to grad school to teaching without ever working in a non-academic workplace. Personally I became a bit leery any time a teacher or professor said “you’ll need this in the workplace” unless they had an immediate and direct example of how that was that the case for them in a non-academic job.

  11. Group Projects*

    #3 We did a capstone project at school that was useful because we worked with an actual company to implement a thing they wanted. We had a faculty member to help provide feedback, support, supervision, etc. And, additionally, we had a stakeholder from the company to provide requirements, feedback, support, supervision, etc. So between those two folks we had lots to hold us accountable and see that we were actually all doing the work. And it made it more like a real life situation that you’d encounter in the workplace; the faculty member acting like a manager/project manager and the stakeholder acting like a client (because they were a client).

    1. hbc*

      We had something similar, and it was really well done. Unlike the group projects that everyone complains about, this one was actually more functional than a lot of the projects I’ve had at work, with clear responsibilities and accountability. Everyone got a turn with different roles (team lead, presenter, data cruncher) and your TA had to be cc’d on every communication, so there was no hiding. I wouldn’t get dinged if I put together a nice presentation with crap numbers if those numbers were the fault of the data guy. I think one team even had a student “fired” by the TA because they weren’t participating well enough.

      The trick is, a good group project like this is *more* work for the instructors, not simply cutting back on the number of projects to grade.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        All this.

        Collaborative work in school can be very good with some structure provided, just like as in the workplace there is some structure too.

        1. Washi*

          Right, most work teams have so much more structure than the average group project! In my experience, the best workplace analogy is not project teams, but having to be on the party planning committee or something.

  12. All Outrage, All The Time*

    #4 Just reach out to your boss and colleagues. “Hi! I’m back! Honeymoon was great! Anything I need to be update on?”. Simples!

    1. Allonge*

      Yes, I think LW4 was overthinking this. It happens! But still.

      We have a daily morning call with our team, so it’s pretty obvious when someone comes back. It also gives a good opportunity to say welcome back in public, so there is a natural acknowledgement and it does not need to be said one by one individually.

      But if we did not have this, it might be days before some people need to connect for a specific thing. And I would expect it’s on the returnee to say they are back now, instead of everyone checking in with them. I would be pretty annoyed to get 10 emails per day on are you back yet? if so, can you send me the coffee mug files?

      1. #4*

        It’s definitely something that comes from a lifetime of specific work-related trauma, including returning from a week-long vacation at a different organization and being formally reprimanded for “not keeping up and attending staff meetings” – the oddness was much more that there were no check-ins, dozens of emails from folks not on my team wishing me well on my return, and more. I’m also someone who really enjoys constant communication, especially when I’m working on a contract level, so having things that are actionable to do on my return is something I wanted

        1. Observer*

          Your team probably decided not to bother you on your honeymoon and then just got into that mode. Reach out, as the others say – “I’m glad to be back. Honeymoon was great! Now that I’ve got my email box cleared out, is there anything I need to get up to speed on?”

        2. Paperwhite*

          Someone who would give you a formal reprimand for slacking off after you went on vacation was looking for an excuse to be a bully. It can be really difficult to not only know but feel this, and I say this as someone who has experienced several different toxic work environments, but such behavior isn’t typical. I am hoping for you that your current place is much better and that being there helps you recover from the horrible places. *sends you strength*

    2. So you're back, huh?*

      Sadly, people don’t welcome back co-workers. I remember when I was in college, I got my first job which had gave me a week paid vacation. Which I took and I did something really fun. I came back, the first employee I saw, “You look well rested.” I then walked up to my manager who looked at me, “Good you are back, I need to talk to you and the other manager about the way employees are doing something, I don’t like it.” There was no welcome back, there was nothing. I swore then and there, I would always make a point of welcoming back every employee from a vacation. I wanted them to realize I saw them as more then a cog in a machine. And I”ve always done this, even with coworkers who don’t report to me.

      Now sadly, no one ever does this with me. It isn’t they they don’t care, it simply isn’t important to them. Don’t feel bad.

  13. All Outrage, All The Time*

    And a separate email to your boss “Hi boss, now I am back from my honeymoon, can we talk about my ongoing work here? I’m excited to be back and keen to stay on.” Or some such.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      Coming to say this. There is a LOT of space between “confronting” and doing nothing. You can just … ask. Mention it. Request an update. Bring it up. Have a conversation.

      Your part of the conversation can, at various points, include lines like:

      I wanted to see when would be a good time to re-open the conversation we had about my potentially staying on. Do you have any updates? [Stop here and let them talk] Is the hiring process still in the works, or perhaps dormant at the moment because of other priorities? [Stop here and let them talk] Alternatively, if it looks like things have changed and it might not happen, I would like to have a sense of that so I can figure out my next steps. [Stop here and let them talk]

      Also, it sounds like the therapist may think managing up is a manipulative thing you do to try to force a higher-up to move in a certain direction. No, managing up to me just means being proactive with a manager on tasks that are critical for you, but that may not be top of mind for them.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        My concern is the word ‘confronting’. That’s an over-reaction to the situation.

        LW4, your therapist has context that we (including Alison!) does not. Make sure you’re taking that context into account. A friendly email to your manager about timelines, assignments, etc, is fine. ‘Confronting’ them, complaining about not being called, would not be.

      2. #4*

        I want to clarify because I think my original meaning got lost in translation, a few important details lost. I have been in extremely abusive and hostile work environments prior to this position, the kind of place where you are reprimanded for holding a meeting or having a conversation when you, the non-manager, does not have all the answers. There’s also some specifics that Allison did not include (more for context) about the organization that makes this conversation a problem, mostly regarding layoffs and COVID. My therapist was actually telling me not to manage up and talk to my supervisors upon my return (I went into it a bit above, but it’s a very close knit, everyone knows everyone’s business, company wide announcements when an intern adopts a puppy, etc.) type of job specifically because of these previously abusive work environments. The expectation with my team is that they are the managers and would reach out to me, not me “manage up” and ask them for updates on projects I worked on before I left, and also the main projects that the entire team was working on. This is totally all in context of both trauma and also previous workplaces who treat all of these things like unacceptable asks. Hope that helped bring context!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I trimmed those details for length, because they really don’t change the answer to the question you’re asking! Truly, it’s okay to just tell people you’re back and talk to your manager about the timeline for what you’ve already discussed. I think your past workplace trauma is coloring your vision here.

        2. learnedthehardway*

          I disagree with your therapist that you’re managing up by simply informing your manager that you’re back from your vacation, and that you’re ready for work.

          I’ve always found (with managers and clients) that if I DON’T mention that I’m back from vacation, they don’t notice until a few days later. They all have busy schedules and lots of priorities. Me getting back from vacation is rarely top of mind for them. If I call it out, then I get a welcoming response and a list of assignments. (So, I make a point to get a bunch of things done before I flag that I’m back, lol.)

          1. Allonge*

            Yes! Plus, managing up (done well) is a Good Thing.

            As a manager, I appreciate it when my direct reports come back from holiday and say: hi Allonge, I cleared my mailbox, I was thinking I would start with project X now, as that seems to be most urgent and it will take Y days – let me know if you wish otherwise. (Instead of, say, waiting for me to notice that they are there and I did not assign them someting to do yet).

  14. phira*

    We do one group project, which actually does teach field-specific skills (how to write and give a seminar), and I think it works for two reasons. The first is that it involves students pooling data from individual work, so that no one can ghost completely. Some of the work is also done together in the classroom, so while most of it is done on their own time outside the classroom, no student can actually get away with doing little to no work.

    The second is that right before we start the presentations, students take a survey where they explain what work each person contributed to the presentation, including what percentage of the work they feel each person completed or took responsibility for. This lets me know which students went above and beyond and might have earned a higher grade had they been working solo, and which students did not put in the expected work and did not earn as high a grade as I would give the overall presentation. Students can’t really torpedo each other–positive/negative feedback like that has to be corroborated by at least one other student in the group, and the change in overall points is not enormous.

    So, LW3, you’re in a slightly different situation, it sounds like, because the slacker student should have received a 0 for doing, ya know, ZERO WORK (UGH). But hopefully any instructors reading this thread will understand that group work works best if:

    1) There’s a reason for it besides less grading (ours is that writing and giving seminars is an important part of our field; students don’t generate enough data individually to write a compelling talk, and we do not have enough time for each student to present individually)
    2) There is a substantial individual component (while students don’t generate enough data individually to write a compelling talk, they DO still have to write a paper and go into a lot more detail than they do in their seminar talks; the paper is worth three times as much as the group project)
    3) There is a built-in, automatic way for all students to provide feedback on how much work everyone in their group did (so that no student has to decide whether or not to broach the topic with you)

    1. Jackalope*

      One idea for group projects is assigning them after you know a bit about how the students in your class work, and: a) putting the overachievers in groups together, and b) putting the slackers in their own separate groups. That way the people who want to work hard can be together and have teammates who will do the same. Slackers will either pull together and make it happen, or else get the grade that they deserve. (This would also mean putting in-between students in groups together which can also give them more of a chance to shine since they aren’t being pulled along by the top student who wants to make sure it’s perfect.)

      1. A penguin!*

        I’m still (20+ years later) a little steamed at one of my professors. We had a year-long set of three group projects – two the first half and one the second half of the year. There were four groups of 2-3 students. All four groups got along well internal to the group (rare enough), but didn’t know each other at all cross-group. One (mine) knocked the first two out of the park; two did ok; the last did pretty poorly. At the midpoint he split my group and the underperforming one and mixed up the members. Both me and my original partner ended up doing 80+% of the work on the remaining project while our new partners coasted. Mine didn’t ghost at least, but never did much. The two in-between groups were happy; the slackers were happy; the professor was happy; my original partner and I were distinctly less-thrilled. I still really liked the project because the work itself was interesting, but I definitely didn’t like my partner or the professor.

    2. Elenna*

      A “built-in, automatic way for all students to provide feedback” is exactly what I was coming down to the comments to say! My high school physics teacher (all-around awesome guy) required us to include a list of who did what in each lab report. Making it required is really important, because as I’m sure LW #3 has noticed there’s a lot of peer pressure to not be the “tattletale” who tells the professor “Fergus did no work and should fail” even if Fergus really deserves it. It’s a lot easier to justify just being honest on a required list of work division, as opposed to going out of your way to “get someone in trouble”.

      I did have one group project with the aforementioned physics prof where one guy was just straight up unreachable the night we did it. We ended up telling him “hey, you can do this last small bit that we left for today, and we won’t tell the teacher you slacked off, but we’re going to be honest on the report of who did what, and if he sees that and takes marks off for you then it’s your own fault.” So it does work! (I think he lost some percentage of the grade that the rest of us got, but it’s been years and I don’t remember for sure)

      1. NoCam*

        That worked wonderfully for me. /sarcasm

        I did the work and the other two claimed they had done it and I had done nothing.

        1. Elenna*

          That’s a good point – it works better if there’s one person slacking off, rather than one person working and everyone else slaking off. I guess I was just lucky enough to never be in that position.

      2. Nanani*

        That only works if people are honest though. When you have 2+ members who are buddies and decide to take credit while claiming that another, less popular person slacked, then even if the opposite is true the teacher has no way to know (and is often not likely to care).

    3. The Original Stellaaaaa*

      I would actually advise instructors against using peer reviews. Those are a great way for a group to gang up on the one person they didn’t like and torpedo their grade.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        I posted a story below about why I think group reviews are helpful! To prevent torpedoing someone’s grade in a bullying way, I think you can look at the feedback and compare it to what you know of all students.

        As an instructor, I’d watch for very unspecific feedback (“she didn’t do her share”) or contradictory feedback (one person says she didn’t turn in notes, the other says her notes were good but she didn’t submit any drafts.) I’d also compare it to what else I know about the student, either from the group project or from previous work. If the student being torpedoed gave a stellar presentation of their section, how likely is it that they didn’t do the work?

        Grading is often a bit of a judgement call, so I don’t think instructors should hesitate to use judgement well. Group feedback doesn’t have to be a guarantee you’ll adjust a grade.

      2. Blackcat*

        I combine some type of way to track work (ex GSuite stuff, GitHub tracking) along with peer and self reviews. In the peer review, I specifically ask for 1) things *they* did well, 2) areas they think they could have done better, 3) things *their peer(s)* did well, and 4) areas where they think their peer(s) can improve.
        This provides a pretty thorough picture of the group dynamics for me.

      3. Paperwhite*

        I was just thinking this and I’m glad you pointed it out, not least since it gave instructors a chance to discuss how they avoid this outcome.

    4. Harper the Other One*

      Possibly more of a high school thing than a college one, but even if only one student gives negative feedback, I’d encourage you to weigh that with what you know of the student. I did one infamous group project where the slacker was also friends with other group members, and highly manipulative. In the week leading up to the individual feedback opportunity, he wheedled and threatened and pulled every trick out of the book to ensure people would indicate he had done his fair share.

      I was the only one who wasn’t his friend and wasn’t intimidated by his nonsense. He got the grade he deserved (well, it was probably still a bit high, honestly.) But after the class was over the instructor told me that he appreciated my honesty and had given my feedback a lot of weight because he was suspicious that something was going on based on the differences in preparation level during our presentation.

    5. Hello Sweetie!*

      As a bio major, all of my lab classes were effectively group projects because you always were working with 1 or 2 other people to compete the lab. Often the labs were set up in a way that you needed two people to finish in the time frame. I still remember the time I got so sick in lab that I had to leave early and the instructor had to step in and help my lab mate to finish.

      But each person was expected to keep their own lab note book and then at the end we each wrote our own write up with our separate analysis using the same dataset. Our grades were then based on the notebook and lab report.

      1. Quill*

        I hadn’t even thought of labs like that, because most of ours went pretty well. People whose lab partners were out sick generally got stuffed into another group, and the grade was usually less on what you produced than what you wrote.

  15. Ham*

    I have a boss like #1. He logs off at 5PM each day. The rest of us work crazy hours trying to find and fix the errors that don’t exist. I’ll leave my job as soon as I can because it’s never going to change.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      Oh, the number of times I would try to quietly deal with things before Umbridge spotted them and made a bigger deal than they warranted….Later on once she had gone and I had a sane manager, I did start asking myself whether trying to save people was actually masking a legit training issue. But sometimes things really were genuine accidents – chances are no one knew they had dragged and dropped an email in the completed file by accident so gathering us all together and demanding to know who was going to own up to it achieved nothing!

      1. Mainly Lurking (UK)*

        Umbridge! Of course! That’s a perfect description of the woman to whom I’m reporting in my current temp job …

  16. Worked in IT forever*

    Years ago, when I was doing a certificate related to my job, I had to do group work in a couple of courses. I hated it. We had to try to figure out when to meet in the evenings or weekends. Some people took it seriously, and other people flaked out. I had to chase people. One person actually got mad during a group discussion, walked out, and never returned to the course. Yes, people can flake out in work projects, but work projects have project managers, performance/pay implications, the ability to escalate to management … and they’re during working hours, when it’s typically not that hard to track down people.

    I am now taking language courses just for personal interest. One course was supposed to involve group work (no idea how that would work in a language course), but that was set aside because the course was converted from in-person to online. If the group work had actually been part of the course, I’d probably have dropped it. No way am I dealing with group work hassle in a course that’s supposed to be fun. And I want to be judged strictly on my own work.

    1. Jackalope*

      I have no idea if this was what your teacher had planned, but I will say that some of my best language learning in classes was group work. Frequently it was something along the lines of breaking up into groups of 2-3 students and writing a skit or dialogue that we would then share with the class. Not sure if every group would do well with that but for this group it worked really well. Since it was in class (and we wrote & performed the same day) it would have been obvious if one person had chosen not to participate, and it was helpful in giving us the chance to practice together. I found that to be some of the most useful time in that class and I still remember a sprinkling of words I learned in those skits.

      1. WS*

        +1, the only time I’ve found group work useful was when it was done immediately and in class time. And this only ever happened in language classes for some reason!

      2. Washi*

        I don’t even think of this kind of thing as being a “group project.” It’s more like a group exercise, and I agree they are great! Especially for language classes, where being in a small group gives you way more practice speaking.

      3. Worked in IT forever*

        Hmm, the group work might have been some sort of skit. I don’t know what the format of the group work would have normally been. But it was the final project that would have had the group work, and that counts for more than a third of the mark. For me, that’s a non-starter.

        I’ve taken a bunch of language classes through the same university, and it’s typical (pre-pandemic, when classes were in person) to break up into little groups for 10-15 minutes during class to discuss a topic provided by the instructor, come up with answers for something in the textbook, etc. I didn’t mind that. That was just normal class participation and good speaking practice. And the instructor would be circulating amongst the groups.

        1. Worked in IT forever*

          So I realized that I wasn’t clear in my original post—I should have differentiated between group work listed in the course outline as the approach to the final, formal project that had a big effect on the overall grade and the bits of ad hoc group work often done in class.

      4. Quill*

        There are so many things your group did better than my high school about language learning skits, I still have nightmares about the one from high school (circa 2007) that we had to film and turn in the week before christmas break, AKA the worst time of year for teens who can’t drive yet to get a schedule together.

        1. Jackalope*

          Yeah, the important part here was that we always did them in class. Sometimes we might have to wait until the next class period if we ran out of time but I don’t think we ever had to meet outside of class hours to put things together. (Everyone in our class was pretty motivated so this prob wasn’t an issue but I’m guessing now that this also let the teacher make sure everyone was pulling their weight.)

          1. Quill*

            I mean, this particular teacher was known as a nightmare… a satire piece about her teaching methods ran in the school creative writing booklet and got the booklet shut down because she was able to tell that it was about her.

            So overall this was like, the least of her crimes.

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      Group work is pretty normal in language classes IME! I don’t think I’ve had to create a written project as a group but definitely things like acting out scenarios, presenting a little talk to the class, that kind of thing. I’ve always found it very effective FWIW.

  17. Former Computer Professional*

    Many college professors [or their TAs, if the class is structured that way] are aware of the dynamics of group projects, and sometimes they spot problems.

    Decades ago I took a college psychology class that required one group project and later one individual project. The group I was put in didn’t have a ghosting problem; instead, one person bullied everyone else into what each would do and how. Long story short, the basis was junk science, he insisted on the methods, he rewrote everyone else’s work on the paper, and, as a bonus, he faked 1/4 of the data, which we didn’t find out until after it was turned in. Astoundingly, the paper got recognized as the ‘best in the class.’

    When it came to doing the individual paper, however, this guy got even more cocky. I’ve forgotten what he did but it was enough that it caused them to look again at the group paper and interview the rest of the group (where we happily pointed out that he’d thrown out our work and faked data without our knowledge). He not only got an F on his paper and the class but may have been expelled; we never saw him after that semester.

    Bad eggs eventually start to smell.

  18. GammaGirl1908*

    Coming to say this. There is a LOT of space between “confronting” and doing nothing. You can just … ask. Mention it. Request an update. Bring it up. Have a conversation.

    Your part of the conversation can, at various points, include lines like:

    I wanted to see when would be a good time to re-open the conversation we had about my potentially staying on. Do you have any updates? [Stop here and let them talk] Is the hiring process still in the works, or perhaps dormant at the moment because of other priorities? [Stop here and let them talk] Alternatively, if it looks like things have changed and it might not happen, I would like to have a sense of that so I can figure out my next steps. [Stop here and let them talk]

    Also, it sounds like the therapist may think managing up is a manipulative thing you do to try to force a higher-up to move in a certain direction. No, managing up to me just means being proactive with a manager on tasks that are critical for you, but that may not be top of mind for them.

  19. Tahani*

    Hi Alison, just wanted to point out that OP5 hasn’t specified the gender of the interviewer and refers to them as ‘they’ in the question.

  20. Maxie*

    Group projects: When I was in grad school I was assigned to do s project with one other student. I ended up doing most of the research and most of the writing.
    I was pissed 3. On the cover sheet I added a little section that had my name and said what I did and the other person’s name and what she did. The teacher gave me an A and the other person a C. In my in grad program, anything under a B is failing.

  21. WoodswomanWrites*

    For #1, reading about this manager makes me so mad. Even Norma were correct about what’s going on, which she is clearly not, it’s horrible that she thinks it’s totally fine to insult you and other employees at all, let alone publicly.

    I worked professionally with kids for many years and I wouldn’t allow students to speak to each other with such disrespect. Most of them were far more respectful than Norma. And they were children! I’m sorry that you and your co-workers have to endure such nonsense.

  22. Achoo*

    #3- I taught a college class with a large teamwork component for years. It worked well when 1) we spent class time actually learning about and practicing teamwork skills and 2) any group project needed multiple people to complete. If you can do it solo, it shouldn’t be a group project.

    Team-based learning (TBL) is a highly structured, well respected pedagogical approach. It stresses individual accountability and emphasizes collaboration. It strongly discourages outside-of-class group projects, too.

    Any professor who assigns group work simply because it’s less grading probably spends MORE time trying to referee dysfunctional groups. No, thanks.

    1. Birch*

      Yes, came here to say this. Good group projects require explicit teaching of teamwork skills as part of the learning goals. My students have recently completed a large group project with both supervised and independent group meetings, regular check-ins, and open discussion time, and it all started with a meeting to set a shared agreement on group working practices with explicitly agreed upon responsibilities and roles. They were able to take advantage of each other’s unique experiences and talents to work together. And this kind of structure better resembles real working life.

      1. Roeslein*

        You are right, and it does work in some cases, but the problem that many instructors have no experience outside of academia and no training in teamwork skills (or project management for that matter). I taught classes with group projects (in a business school too!) during my PhD, but I only learned the concepts of e.g. role clarity, project planning, aligning on ways of working during a kick-off, etc. after I left academia.

  23. Maxie*

    #4: You said the person you were filling in from came back from sick leave? Maybe your colleagues are not aware that you are going to be given another project and think you are not working there anymore? I think a real simple, “I am back from my honeymoon and it was great? How is everybody doing?” and maybe a separate email to your supervisor asking about new projects. This a a longshot, but does anyone feel your travel during COVID put anyone at risk?
    One thing wasn’t clear about the long term hiring at the company. You said, “The person I have replaced has returned and, instead of letting me go, my team wants to hire me out from under the employment agency (to get PTO and benefits) through the end of the year and, budget withstanding, hire me full-time in the new year. Great, right?” Are you and the company planning to cut out the employment agency to avoid paying the contracted fee or is this just poor phrasing? “Hire me out from under the employment agency,” doesn’t sound good, but it’s entirely possible I am reading this wrong.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      About the last, there’s a standard path for many contract jobs, some sort of fee built into the original contract. I wouldn’t assume it’s anything other than casual phrasing.

    2. I'm just here for the cats*

      I think they just m3an that the team is hiring her directly, instead of setting up a new contract. Ive heard that this actually happens a lot, especially with temp to hire type of positions.
      The employment agency probably already got their fee.

    3. #4*

      My two supervisors include the person who returned and were the ones that offered me this extended employment – they also were the kind of people who asked for the live stream link to my ceremony and asked if they could get the link to my registry, so it was just odd that there were no follow ups. Re: travel during COVID – definitely not – we’re working remotely through the end of 2021(!) and I am immunocompromised – we went to a small cottage by the sea and brought all of our own food type honeymoon in the same state. Also hiring me out from under the employment agency means that I would be an employee, instead of a contractor, and have the same benefits extended to an employee as opposed to just being SOL when holidays come around

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        Hi #4. You are probably overthinking this. You saw a great deal of interest before and during the wedding and now see nothing. That’s normal. For many people, another person’s wedding is exciting until the wedding itself ends. Then…on to work and other stuff. Alison is right–drop your team a note letting them know you’re back and let your bosses know your ready to do more work. You’ll likely to get good responses.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          And honestly, I think I’m being thoughtful if I avoid filling up someone’s inbox when they are out of the office. And then maybe I do forget to follow up right when they are back, because… life happens.

      2. Maxie*

        I am happy for you that you were able to find a way to have a beautiful honeymoon and stay safe. I am glad to hear the company is not trying to do anything underhanded with an employment agency. You sound like a very kind and thoughtful person so I thought I was probably misreading the phrasing. I hope this turns into long term staff work for you. The majority of my work is as an independent contractor so I hear you about paid sick time, vacation time and health insurance.

  24. Stained Glass Cannon*

    “Dear Norma, it’s quite normal for people to become defensive when SOMEONE is behaving offensively towards them.” and “Dear Norma, my sensitivity level is quite normal, it’s your behavior that’s overly unpleasant.”

    – filed under ‘Scripts I would love to use but probably won’t dare to’

      1. Sabine the Very Mean*

        I’m that person. And Sabine is my cat, btw. I’m not mean but I am strong and I don’t put up with poor treatment even from managers. This person would owe me apologies and I would be holding her to that. I’d tell her right in front of the group that she’s wrong, have receipts, and actually hold her accountable for apologizing to me or to whomever she bullied and in front of the group.

        I’ve never really subscribed to the thought that being a manager means I tolerate BS from you. I respectfully but firmly correct my managers when they disrespect me and I have never been in trouble for it or suffered professionally. In fact, I think it has made me more successful. I think more people should do the same.

      2. AlmostGone*

        I think you stand up for your own self respect, not out of the belief that doing so will create change. People like that disrespect and berate others for a variety of reasons, chief among them that doing so makes them feel superior. They are not going to give up that sop to their ego.

        As an example, I have witnessed my current boss publicly berating everyone ever since I started. Every time, I stand up for myself. It is especially egregious since she has worked here for years and has managed to learn NOTHING about the field, but sees fit to “correct” others with decades of valuable experience. Recently, her willful ignorance resulted in her ruining a major project of mine that took 6 months of time and was supposed to be a company highlight for the year. Ruined. When I told her I was none too happy and in the future, to talk to anyone before she went down that road again, I got the, “Don’t be so sensitive. I guess you can have five minutes to pout, but then get over it.” And that was after months of me standing up to her. A week later, she asked, “Are you over it yet? Or still pouting?” So, I stand up to her for my self respect.

    1. AKchic*

      in a bland tone “Norma, you are assigning emotions to my very reasonable response. Your opinion has been noted.”

      Really, just be an emotionless wall to her. Whenever she says something offensive, write it down. Openly. Maybe with a “noted” or “your opinion will be taken into consideration” or something like that. Don’t hide that it’s being documented for whatever reason. LW1 doesn’t actually have to do anything with it, but it might give Norma pause once she realizes that LW1 is both emotionless and documenting Norma’s words/behaviors.

      But, I also admit that I am petty and pretty head-on with challenging people.

  25. Hiding from my boss*

    I normally love a good conspiracy theory. The really wild, off-base ones can be highly entertaining.

    Covid is different. People are dying, losing loved ones, losing jobs, missing huge amounts of school. I try not to overload on information because it gets scary and depressing. And what’s really scary is that every Tom, Dick, and nutcase can throw an “article” onto the internet claiming that covid is a result of alien invasion and the best treatment is peanut butter and crackers. And some people will be clueless and desperate enough to believe it and start gorging on saltines.

    Alison’s advice is good. If the conspiracy peddler won’t give it up, is there any way to set up a new meet up group with your coworkers who also don’t want to listen to this? Maybe it sounds mean to exclude someone, but this person is not good for your mental health. Take care of yourself.

    1. Amethystmoon*

      The whole problem with Covid is that is we have different news web sites posting different things, and it’s to the point now where a lot of people don’t know what to believe because some leaders want to act like it is isn’t happening. So we have all kinds of people saying different things on multiple sides, and we average people still have to obey our local laws and company rules because we don’t want to get fined, arrested, fired, or all of the above. I think an overall “no news discussion” rule in an election year would be great for many teams, especially if people are getting feelings hurt by disagreements.

  26. NinaBee*

    #3 I remember one group project at uni that had the same issue with one girl constantly making excuses and not holding up her end. She was so late getting the final part of the group assignment (project writeup essay) that I gave her my finished one to just get the main points from, to stop the lecturer literally waiting behind class til it was handed in. We shared our grievances with the lecturer and she got marked down. Maybe it was a horrible thing to do but we were so fed up having to do her work. Group projects suck.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      That wasn’t a horrible thing to do. The horrible thing was for the team member to not do her work.

  27. Yvette*

    I swear I have read #1 before. But Alison always lets us know if a letter is being re-visited, so it must have been something very similar. Can anyone please refresh my memory? Thanks

  28. Np*

    I agree with this. Also — and forgive me for saying this, Alison — I get really annoyed when people put a no-Covid rule in place for non-work discussions. It is by far the most prevalent thing in our life and I find it useful when we can also discuss coping techniques, etc. Not to mention that it stresses me out when I realise that due to self-isolating, etc there isn’t much I *can* talk about (I mean, obvs I knit and read and whatever, but those are more niche subjects that might not interest the general public).

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I think its better to say, no covid talk, like casrnumbers, what doctors are saying, news items. But it’s fine to be like, how are you holding up, what coping technique do you like. Etc. I think thats what the no covid tak is. Because its not like you can ignore it.. after all you probably wouldn’t be meeting via zoom if it wasn’t because of covid

      1. EPLawyer*

        The problem is the conspiracy theorist will then sneak their theories in by claiming its a coping mechanism. Or claim that if you just clap your hands 3 times, Covid goes away and you don’t have to worry about coping. Never underestimate the ability of a conspiracy theorist to find a chance to push the theory du jour.

        A blanket rule keeps the person intent on hijacking the conversation from finding a loophole. Or at least makes it harder.

    2. Threeve*

      I agree, but it’s one of those topics you need to be 100% sure everyone in the group is okay with talking about, and if one person asks to put a moratorium on it, you need to respect that.

    3. Hills to Die on*

      I think it could be helpful if everyone is on the same page (opinions on wearing a mask, etc.) about the approach to COVID and if they align politically. Otherwise I think it would be more stress than anything.

    4. Batty Twerp*

      We have a three-times-a-week virtual catch-up: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Wednesday is dedicated “no Covid talk”. Anything else goes. Before now we’ve discussed everything from new books and TV programs, to a 15 minute discussion on the best stand mixer, and a slightly heated debate on which colour to paint a feature wall in a bedroom.
      If you’re only “meeting” once a week, maybe dedicate every third chat to “no Covid”.
      It’s not denying that it’s happening, or downplaying how people are dealing with it, it’s giving people a break from it. And allowing for the topic to be brought up on another day.
      This is MY coping method. I *need* Wednesdays to be kept free to talk about anything else, because in addition to the work catch-ups, in the evenings I’m also negotiating in-laws who just repeat whatever nonsense they saw on FB and talk about *nothing else*. And supporting my SIL who is having a tough time of it mentally and will talk about *nothing else*. And Hubby Twerp who *starts and ends* the day with an hour long news fest (jumping channels to see if any other broadcasters have more detail – hint, they rarely do). It’s not fair on ME to not have a half-hour non-work related conversation with another human that is dedicated to something, *anything* else.

    5. Np*

      Thank you all for your comments — interesting insights! Hope everyone is coping as well as possible wherever they are!

    6. Nanani*

      Thing is, your colleagues are not your group therapy or any sort of social support. They, and you, are there to work.
      Talk about work related things, and if there isn’t any work to talk about, wrap up the meeting and log out of the group chat.

      Seek out support elsewhere. Friends, family, an actual therapist, anything.
      Discuss coping techniques with people who opt in to discussing them, not a captive audience who have to be in this group chat because their paycheck depends on it.

    7. NotAnotherManager!*

      The flip side of this is that we are living it right now, and it’s exhausting to have to live it, keep up with the news, and then talk about it at work, too. To have to argue with conspiracy theorists on top of that… I mean, I just can’t right now. I’d like to talk about nearly anything except COVID right now, even the TPS reports are a more fun topic.

    8. pancakes*

      There are so many other topics to discuss, though. Anything besides that one! (And the election, for people in the US, please). That leaves the entire rest of the universe as a potential topic. You can always discuss coping techniques and whatnot with people you’re reasonably close to on an individual basis. And learning to discuss your own niche interests lightly / sociably with acquaintances without getting bogged down in details or boring them is a worthwhile challenge, I think.

  29. Myrin*

    #1, for whatever it’s worth, most of what you describe about Norma’s behaviour would still be out of line even if none of it happened in an open plan office and/or publicly, so in addition to what Alison said I think it would also help for you to not focus on that aspect of it at all (even though I understand how that can make that kind of “feedback” even more uncomfortable).

  30. Forrest*

    Group projects should include a short reflective piece in which each participant identifies their own contribution and the difference they made to the project’s success, the problems they encountered, what they’d do differently and what they learned.

    Firstly, it’s good pedagogy: you should be evaluating students on what they’ve done, and adding a self-reflective piece means that students are also being assessed on their individual contribution and learning. Secondly, if the whole point of a group project is to prepare them for employment, then they need to be able to articulate what they did and how they did it. An achievement that you can’t articulate to an employer isn’t going to help you get a job.

    But also, you need to frame it for students so they understand that they get out of it what they put into it. Literally no employer goes, “Oh, you got 90% on your team project, you must be a team player, I’ll hire you!” They go, “Can you tell me about your team project and what part you played in its success?” If you can’t answer that in a way that makes sense and survives the interviewer probing, the project is worthless to you. And the flipside is that your lazy team-mate hasn’t “got away with anything” if they get a good mark that counts for less than 5% of their overall degree grade but they can’t talk about a group coding project in an interview.

  31. pleaset cheap rolls*

    AAM is generally right about group work, but I have to mention that I had group projects in library school that worked pretty well in terms of workload.

    The best actually had the professor as a member of each group – imagine him playing the role of a senior partner in a professional services firm, coming to a few meeting where the junior staff do the gruntwork. This was excellent and seemed close to the working world for me. The project was actually for an external client that we met with a couple times. And I know at least one student in the class (not on my team) who used the project as a key talking point in interviews. He could describe meeting the clients, his role in the team, the teams’ deliverables, etc.

    And just the same as someone in a paying job might be able to say what they did in a team or might fluff it up, the same was true with this.

    In other classes, I think the professor had a sense of the student’s strength and work ethic from solo projects anyway. So slacking was not a big issue.

    This was in library school.

  32. ceiswyn*

    It strikes me that one big problem with group projects is that in the world of work, groups normally have different skill sets. A group tasked with creating a new software feature, for example, might include a project manager, a software architect, a few software developers, a QA person, a technical writer, and a marketing person; and while all of these people would be involved in all parts of the process, there would be a very definite flow through the team.

    In academic group projects, everyone is in the same class and so has the same skill set. There’s no realistic reason why the work should be done by multiple people rather than one, so the way the work is divided between members is going to be highly artificial and unrepresentative of real-world collaboration to start with, even before you hit the issues of people not doing their bit.

    1. Washi*

      Yes! Especially because there’s often a big written component to group projects, even if the field isn’t necessarily academic writing-based. Slacker issues aside, I’ve also found it tough as a group member when one person does seem to have genuinely tried, but is just a terrible writer. This came up in a grad school group project last semester, where a member was really trying but their portion of our paper was basically unintelligible. I awkwardly volunteered to do some editing but couldn’t figure out how to non-offensively rewrite it, and we ended up getting dinged on her section.

      At work, you don’t put a terrible writer on a writing project, and it’s totally normal to just have one person do all the writing!

    2. WorkingGirl*

      My college was pretty good about group work, especially in my business classes. Most of the time part of a group project was everyone taking on specific listed roles.

    3. Forrest*

      Not necessarily true! Lots of university work-based learning projects bring together different skillsets.

    4. Nanani*


      Splitting up the technical writing, say, among 5 people taking a technical writing class does not replicate being the technical writer on a team that includes developers, QA, and marketing. It just doesn’t.

    5. Lizzo*

      “In academic group projects, everyone is in the same class and so has the same skill set.”

      Disagree that this is the case. And even in cases where it is true, interests can vary. For example, on a group research paper, someone might hate doing statistical analysis while another team member might LOVE it. The stats person should write the section because they’ll be the best at it, but they should also communicate about their work with the rest of the team so that there is a peer-to-peer learning opportunity.

  33. Mannheim Steamroller*


    Your coworker is proof that what I call the “Conspiracy-Industrial Complex” is more lucrative than ever. The prevalence of so many wild (and sometimes conflicting) conspiracy theories shows that somebody is making lots of money from them.

  34. Mel_05*

    The only group project I ever found useful was in a PR class. The professor sorted us into groups based on degree so that everyone had a business major, a graphic designer or writing major, etc.

    We were assigned to actually partner with & create a PR campaign for an organization. Because of the way the groups were set up, everyone had a piece that it made sense for them to work on.

    The beginning was rough, because our business major was the one doing 90% of the work and the rest of us felt like enormous slackers. But, that was his part to do. As the project progressed, we all played our parts.

    Of course, part of why I have such a good experience is that I was placed in a group with intellegent and conscientious people.

    But, I did think the setup was a good approximation of a real work project.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      It is and it isn’t.
      You’re 100% correct that is the way most larger organizations would work. Each department has it’s job to do on a PR campaign and it would involve all of those functions working together.

      But if you really wanted to learn Public Relations and you’re a graphic designer hoping to move into that field someday, it would honestly kind of suck you didn’t get a chance to work in the business role or the other roles, because what did you learn really if you only ‘stayed in your lane?’ Maybe that wasn’t the objective, but still. College classes should be a safe place to expand your skills and take risks.

      1. Mel_05*

        Well, it’s college. We were all majoring in the field we hoped to go into.
        It would have been kind of wild to major in graphic design, but hope to end up in a different field.

        Although, PR is a field that graphic designers work in, which is why I was taking the class.
        The most useful thing to a graphic design major was to gain a broader understanding of PR and how they fit in to a PR department.

      2. ceiswyn*

        If you really wanted to learn Public Relations, why would you be taking graphic design classes and not Public Relations related ones?

        What would suck a lot more is to be a student studying graphic design because you wanted to work as a graphic designer, but be artificially forced into a PR role for a project instead of getting working graphic design experience.

  35. EvilQueenRegina*

    Norma sounds very much like my previous boss Umbridge. Often Umbridge would send her reprimands by email rather than in person, but she would very often launch into a telling off without having quite the full facts. a support worker once got an angry email from her over delays with setting up an educational meeting – in this case the delay was caused by the education setting and it wasn’t the support worker’s fault. Another time someone got an angry response over a telephone message because Umbridge thought she had made a typo in the caller’s name – in fact this caller was someone with a similarly spelled name to another family, and Umbridge just assumed it was the other family calling and sent this email without the facts. She’d be very quick to assume that an error was our fault and jump on us, but investigation might reveal something like the query being misdirected to us and really for another department, or she was telling off the wrong person.

    Sometimes it did happen in person and she would shout at someone in the open plan office.

    The thing about her making decisions about people and them sticking with her forever also sounds like Umbridge. She claimed that my coworker had said I didn’t do one task properly – I think this was based on one minor human error, four years previously, which that coworker had long since forgotten about and couldn’t understand where Umbridge’s comment had come from. She’d refuse to promote people based on impressions from equally as long ago and couldn’t seem to understand that someone not being ready for promotion in 2014 might be ready in 2018.

    She went off sick in the end after a complaint and it got to the point where I asked to be managed by someone else should she return (in our structure that could have been done). Luckily she left.

  36. XF1013*

    #1: “It’s an open-concept office and headphones are banned.” Norma’s terrible, but so is that policy. I don’t know how anybody could get much work done.

    1. I'm just here for the cats.*

      I can’t imagine this either, and I worked in call centers for years (won’t go back). Even though we had a more open plan, we at least hand white noise piped into the building. And one of the senior team members had music playing on low.

      What are you supposed to do just listen to everyone breath and talk? Sounds like sensory overload

      1. Batty Twerp*

        What are you supposed to do just listen to everyone breath and talk? Sounds like sensory overload

        Pre-pandemic we were in a very open-plan office – minimal dividers between opposite desks (none at all for side-by-side desks) no headphones, no white noise. Yes, you could hear every little conversation and mouse click, even at the other end of the building. Twitchy reflexes when the phone rang (even though it was actually 10 desks away it sounded like it was right next to you).
        Oh, and then the Sales Team got a radio…

        Funnily enough it became so entrenched in my brain that when lockdown first happened I was actively seeking “office noises” videos on YouTube because my home working space was too quiet and having music on that I could hear properly was distracting.

  37. Lifelong student*

    Group projects in school were so bad that it has put me off the idea of group work forever. The last interview I had – for a job I really did not want but applied for because of Unemployment rules, asked lots of “team” questions and I was very honest about my opinion of teamwork. Didn’t get an offer- fine with me.

  38. Silly Goose*

    School group projects still give me nightmares decades later.

    In all my years of schooling I had one that didn’t suck for all the reasons already cited. The teacher made it abundantly clear that each person would be asked to record (in class, privately) what they did, what others did, and say what grade they thought each person deserved for effort. It was also a project that was big enough that it was easy to break I to pieces for ownership or logistics. For instance, two people might team up and tackle the Teapot design while another two work on the Teapot marketing plan and a fifth person researched costs and developed a pricing structure.

    I worked Teapot marketing with Mary, taking the lead on Jingles and branding while Mary took lead on print and social media. We talked with the cost person, bit almost didn’t interact with the design team.

    What made it work was the variety of tasks, the nature of the project where we didn’t all have to meet about everything, and most importantly, the ability to say “The group chose to work with White Chocolate Teapots. I didn’t touch X, Joe was responsible for that, but Mary and I split Y.”

    This is the only group project where everyone contributed, although to various degrees, and I was able to get something other than a headache from it. It is also the ONLY one I remember at all… The rest are just memories of being frustrated.

  39. Luna*

    LW5: Remember, an interview is a two-way street. They are seeing if you would be a good employee. And you are seeing if they would be a good employer. There’s nothing wrong with bluntly, but politely, pointing out that you want to cut the interview short, as you can tell that they are not the type of company you want to work for.
    Better to do that, and maybe come across as bad, than to waste your time. And imagine, if you were to agree to work for them, anyway. Would you really want to work in a place where your experience has been degraded like that?

  40. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    OP4, from what you say (“I returned to work yesterday … did not hear from anyone on my team all day … halfway though my second day back and it’s still been radio silence).

    It doesn’t sound as though you sent any emails to say “Hey, I’m back!” Perhaps nobody has realised that you are back? When my colleagues get back from leave, I usually don’t register that they are back – unless I see them online / in the office / in a meeting or get a message from them.

    Reach out to your colleagues, and let them know you are back (and maybe that you decided to have a quiet first day settling back in, which is why you didn’t say hello sooner!).

    1. #4*

      We’re all required to be online all the time, so I was “online” all the time upon my return, too – we also are all required to note all of our time away from being available to work (down to the half hour) and had dozens of folks reach out to me, just not on my team which was odd.

      1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        Ah okay, thanks for the update. It’s quite possible (and really likely) that they just didn’t see you are back, or maybe are too snowed to have made contact yet. I wouldn’t worry about it! But I would just send a “hi, I’m back” email to your team.

      2. Hannah*

        Maybe they are all super busy? It’s only been a day. I guess I don’t understand why you wouldn’t have reached out yourself. I don’t think most of us are actively scanning to see who is “online” at any given moment in time when we have our own work to do.

      3. Generic Name*

        Are your team members generally decent people? Have they given you reason to believe that they are purposefully snubbing you?

      4. 2 Cents*

        We have similar requirements at my work. Some days, the chats are constant. Other days, we barely speak. It’s just the ebb and flow. Perhaps you’re also feeling a bit deflated now that you’re back from the wedding and the honeymoon and there’s no “big thing” to look forward to, beyond getting hired full time at this place? (I had similar feelings after my wedding. The event that dominated my life for a year with planning was just…over.)

  41. Delta Delta*

    #4 – From the letter, you’ve been back at work a day or two. It’s not clear whether you’ve checked in with anyone or if you’re sitting at your computer waiting for everyone to come to you. I don’t understand how checking in with your boss to say you’ve returned from your honeymoon is “managing up” nor do I understand how a confrontation will help with, frankly, anything.

    1. #4*

      It is the explicit understanding that managers are the folks to reach out to contractors, which is why it was seen as managing up. The “managing up” and context of the therapist at all is because I’ve been in several deeply abusive and hostile work environments, where returning from a vacation in much less communicative and buddy-buddy environments I was reprimanted for not keeping up with work /during/ the vacation, so with the expectation that managers are the ones to reach out, she saw it as managing up. The confrontation was in regards to a troubling pattern of nonprofits offering the world and using it only to rip it out from under you (i.e. at least 10 colleagues of mine in the industry have been extended similar offers, which made them work harder, only to be told that the offer was never made at all and that they were fired effective immediately) – the length of time was what she was concerned about

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Are you using “managing up” as a bad thing? Like something presumptuous? It’s not at all. It’s a normal thing that people need to do to be successful!

  42. Managing Up*

    LW#1: Is there anyone your boss trusts or respects? If there is try talking to that person. My boss is often overcritical, but she trusts me and we have good rapport. I have often had to help temper her judgments of other people based on her misunderstanding of their roles or the systems they are using.

  43. Jennifer*

    #4 why not just send an email and ask if there’s anything pressing that came up while you were away that they need your input on? Sometimes you have to take a bit of initiative. I guess I’m not clear on what you were expecting from them?

    1. #4*

      As a contractor, the explicit expectation is for contractors to not reach out, but wait until we are reached out to. The “initiative” is what my therapist saw as managing up, especially when this company makes company wide announcements to staff about when someone adopts a puppy. If I was an employee, I would, but it’s something that would genuinely be a faux pas to do

      1. Hannah*

        It feels like your therapist is not giving you good advice in this situation, in a job context, when the vast majority of commenters are saying that this isn’t “managing up.” Do you have enough to work on? If so, focus on that. If you need more work, I don’t see why you wouldn’t reach out. And I can’t fathom a workplace that’s as friendly and gregarious as you are depicting it to be having a problem with someone back from a vacation saying “hey, I’m back! Hope all is well!”

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That likely doesn’t apply to things like “I’m back!” to people who are friendly enough that they asked for a live link to your wedding ceremony :)

      3. Allonge*

        Look, I believe you about this expectation towards contractors, but can I say that is Very Very Weird? I assume you are a contractor with fairly continuous tasks, so not one week per month of work max? In this case, in any level of normal environment, it should be more than ok for you to say Hi, I am back, what’s next?. If that is not ok, then this place is also weird in not good ways – I know it may be difficult for you to tell after several really toxic places, but it is weird.

        In any case though: you can sit and wait and wait and wait for your boss and colleagues to notice you are there, all the while thinking they suddenly turned into horrible people. Or you can try and say hi, and find out what is going on. What is the worst that could happen if you reach out?

        1. Willis*

          Yeah, I’m not sure what OP means when they say it’s the explicit arrangement not to reach out to her manager. Is that her overall understanding of how the relationship should be (which I think Alison and a bunch of commenters said is not the norm) or something this company has explicitly told her? Like…”don’t ever ask us for any assignments, we’ll get in touch if we need you.” Cause, as someone who has been one and now manages contractor workers, that would be an odd thing to say, especially from a company that otherwise seems quite warm.

        2. Amethystmoon*

          Right, I was a temp for a decade and never had any bans on communicating with my boss or co-workers. I worked at different companies also. So I think this is a weird thing that this particular company is doing.

      4. Lizzo*

        Honestly, coronavirus has screwed with everybody’s brains so much that I’m never certain what day it is, and I am definitely not keeping track of other folks’ schedules–I simply don’t have the bandwidth to do that.

        If management has been, to this point, generally concerned about you and your welfare, I don’t see the issue with sending a simple “Hey, I’m back! Honeymoon was lovely–I highly recommend Destination X when things return to normal” email. If it’s taboo to ask for work/speak about work if you haven’t been spoken to, then make it about something not related to work. I bet folks would welcome the opportunity to see something happy in their inbox.

  44. LifeBeforeCorona*

    #2 I would push very hard to keep conspiracy theories about the virus and politics by extension out of the group chats. Right now the news cycle is very intense and unrelenting. It’s good to have one place where there can be a respite. I’m a Canadian and I want a time portal to skip me over the next 2 weeks. I can’t imagine living through it 24/7 right now. Maybe suggest topics. Everyone has to suggest a easy one pan dinner. People have to show their favourite book and why. Best school memory etc.

  45. KAN*


    Allison- you often speak to the frustration of universities teaching students workplace “skills” that are often misguided and counterproductive. I agree with you for the most part, but having worked at a university I can assure your most schools are told it’s not enough that students know calculus, world history and shakespeare.

    I’d be interested in a post with some ideas of what should be at colleges. Are there’s any technical or soft skills you were particularly impressed an employee picked up at school?

    1. Silly Goose*

      I work in an analytics field… The number of people who can apply a technique but have no concept of 1) looking at the data and 2) knowing when a technique is appropriate… It is a problem. I wish thinking about what/when/how were covered a bit more

  46. notacompetition*

    #1, I had a boss like this. She didn’t understand anyone’s job and made wild assumptions about what those jobs did and did not do. Didn’t understand technology or digital communications. Constantly, openly critical toward everyone, with special emphasis on one or two people. Openly complained about employees all the time. Everyone seemed to be an idiot. Turned out she was sleeping with the CEO, which is why she was hired, and also why she and the CEO ended up having to leave the company in shame.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      It’s funny how often you find out later the dysfunction was caused by things like nepotism, affairs, or criminal activities such as embezzlement by the dysfunctional parties.

    2. N.*

      At my first job out of college, I had a boss like this. I was the only employee in my department besides the secretary/receptionist who didn’t have an office. Once, Norman came up to my desk and started to berate me loudly about something completely unfounded. He was a type who liked to assert his authority by taking up space in hallways and in the conference room, so I drew myself up to my full height (with the shoes I had on that day, I was an inch taller than him), and said as calmly as I could, “This is not the place for this conversation. I will meet you in your office in five minutes to discuss this.” He surprisingly backed down, and five minutes later we had a calm conversation in his office, and he actually apologized. I am still learning to be more assertive, and have no idea where I found the gumption to (literally) stand up to him.

      He didn’t yell at me again, and he quit a few months later to go work for the type of business we were in charge of keeping regulatory checks on (or as one coworker called it, the Dark Side). I quit soon after, for a variety of reasons, but morale was terrible there, and Norman’s replacement was not an improvement.

      1. Massmatt*

        Sounds like a stereotypical bully; when strongly confronted, they back down. Unfortunately some bullies will escalate their intimidation when first confronted and it can get really ugly before it gets better.

  47. Watermelon lip gloss*

    #4 Send out messages so people know your back and know you are ready to work and talk. They may not know you are back, being remote is harder than noticing someone is back in their office.

    I don’t say this with the intention of being mean, so please don’t take it that way. I say it because it had to be said to me after my wedding and after my baby was born. With that said is it possible that you have been the center of attention for so long that your normal may be out of the range of what the norms are? When you have a big life event (a wedding) everyone around you comes to you first asking about the wedding and just generally excited for you and it seems normal to have people contact you and odd or weird for you to have to reach out?

  48. A penguin!*

    I’m still (20+ years later) a little steamed at one of my professors. We had a year-long set of three group projects – two the first half and one the second half of the year. There were four groups of 2-3 students. All four groups got along well internal to the group (rare enough), but didn’t know each other at all cross-group. One (mine) knocked the first two out of the park; two did ok; the last did pretty poorly. At the midpoint he split my group and the underperforming one and mixed up the members. Both me and my original partner ended up doing 80+% of the work on the remaining project while our new partners coasted. Mine didn’t ghost at least, but never did much. The two in-between groups were happy; the slackers were happy; the professor was happy; my original partner and I were distinctly less-thrilled. I still really liked the project because the work itself was interesting, but I definitely didn’t like my partner or the professor.

  49. MissDisplaced*

    #1 I’ve had (and still to an extent have now) a boss like that. And no, they will never change.
    Generally, the “accusing” boss comes from a place of their own insecurity/ineptitude/impatience and they are very quick to point the finger and place the blame BEFORE they have all the facts of the situation. It’s bad enough if they do so after they find out what happened (which may have more justification but is still jerky), but to blame or say the people “don’t know what they’re doing,” or “they screwed up,” before even bothering to ask “what happened with the TPS report” is like throwing a grenade into an empty foxhole. They just like the explosion.

    I’ll bet your boss never even says she’s sorry after finding out she looked at the wrong report, right?
    It’s really difficult to manage up with a boss like this, unless it’s mainly due more to their impatience more so their own insecurity or ineptitude. You can try what you’re doing, which is to level-set in the heat of the moment with diffusing comments like “I’m not seeing that, I want to be sure we’re both looking at the same thing?” “Well Norma, let’s have a look at the reports before we assume the worst,” or “Let’s check on that first, shall we?” which may calm some of them down. But inept, insecure types will nearly always blow up the situation and there is little hope of fixing that personality, unfortunately because they just like lobbing grenades so the explosion doesn’t happen around them.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      My current boss is the impatient type who has a very short attention span, especially when under stress. And to be fair, he isn’t wrong about certain things within the company either.
      I’ve had some success diffusing and he usually comes around or can be convinced once he’s had time to think things through. But in the heat of the moment he can come off really jerky and blamey before getting all the facts. He also does admit he’s sorry when he’s wrong and knows he can get impatient with people. It’s still a pain to deal with sometimes, but otherwise he’s an ok boss aside from this.

  50. Beth*

    In my very first business course, I tried very hard to get into a group with other people whom I had noticed were active in class, and wasn’t able to. I ended up with a random group, with myself, one underachiever, and one complete ghost (who finally showed up for the group presentation and pretended to have been involved all along).

    I went to the teacher early in the project and described the situation. Her answer was, basically, “Think of it as being in a work environment and being stuck with the boss’s son in your project. But remember — I AM paying attention to which members of a group are actually doing the work. And also remember that part of their grade is going to be your evaluation of their work.”

    The project — MY project — got me an A, but I don’t think my “teammates” got the same grade. And I did, in fact, learn a valuable lesson.

    1. Observer*

      What lesson did you learn? I could think of a few.

      Your teacher handled it reasonably well – he listened to you, he paid attention to what was going on, and your grades did reflect the reality. That’s worth quite a bit.

    2. I'm just here for the cats.*

      I think its always best when you have to grade your teammates. It seems more fair and you can let the instructor know who did what.

      1. Paperwhite*

        As long as people grade their teammates on fair criteria. This discussion has reminded me of one time I listened to a boy at the table behind me go on and on about how the girls in his assigned group were “dogs” and he was going to give them “Fs on hotness”. I hope his teacher saw through that, but who knows?

  51. Madeleine Matilda*

    #4 – Was your contract extended until the company can hire you? I couldn’t tell from this quote “The person I have replaced has returned and, instead of letting me go, my team wants to hire me out from under the employment agency (to get PTO and benefits) through the end of the year and, budget withstanding, hire me full-time in the new year.” Is it possible that the company isn’t expecting you to be working because your contract to work there ended when the employee returned and the contract hasn’t been extended and the company hasn’t yet hired you? Whatever the case, I agree with the advice to reach out to your boss and check in, ask for a project, ask if the plan is still to bring you on board as an employee, etc. (all in a non-confrontational way). I would also be careful about keeping a good relationship with your contracting company. Many companies that hire through agencies may want to hire their temps. For budgetary reasons or personnel reasons the company may not be able to do so even though they tell you they want to hire you or hiring may take far longer than anticipated.

  52. Paul*

    #5 – I’d like to share an anecdote.

    I sold my decade-running, ridiculously profitable small business in December to a great buyer for a ridiculously profitable price. My primary professional achievement was this business, to the point where I don’t HAVE to go find work right now if I don’t want to. I’m restarting my career in a field in which a secondary aspect of that business qualifies me for entry-to-mid-level work.

    I had a recruiter call who told me that I should truncate my small business experience down to essentially dates, saying that “Nobody really CARES about your SMALL business experience. It’s not topical.”

    This was early in my job search and I was pretty demoralized immediately by this stranger. Of course, she then went on to ask if I wanted to talk about an entry-level dead-end position in which I had no interest.

    A few weeks later a recruiter contacted me and said that she was having a hard time finding people who were both technical enough to do the work while having enough broad experience to talk to people and organize a team. “You seem like exactly what my client is looking for.” I got the job and I’m crushing it.

    It’s hard in the moment not to feel like you have to fight for every single position, but not everyone is a good fit or a good employer. If you’ve got the skills, the position that fits you better will eventually be out there.

    My bet in your case? They had their eyes on an internal candidate but were required to “interview” external candidates, and your conversation was perfunctory cruelty.

    1. Paperwhite*

      This is an inspiring tale. Thank you for sharing it and congratulations on your well earned success!

    2. Massmatt*

      Great post. Job hunts are generally pretty painful, even if they haven’t been preceded by a layoff or terrible boss. It’s hard to keep your self esteem up when facing rejection even in the best of circumstances.

      Try to check in with a trusted friend now and then who can give you a “reality check” that yes, that interviewer was a jerk, and no, you are not crazy, or an idiot.

  53. Georgina Fredrika*

    I went to visit my friend in Morocco when she was in the Peace Corps and it was really eye-opening how the different cultures (at least the local culture there, anyway) approached group work.

    From her perspective, she was saying how it was a completely foreign (literally and figuratively) concept for the kids she was working with, and how it was simultaneously frustrating trying to work with a local council to get things approved because they didn’t like working together on anything.

    It’s possible some of the interactions were tinged by her being American, but I thought it was interesting to consider that there is a benefit of learning group work over and over in school considering it is fairly normal in professional settings here to have to work together and your boss doesn’t necessarily care exactly who did what and how. It’s not all about a grade!

  54. Jules the 3rd*

    My MBA’s ‘databases for business’ had a group project, 4 people, 2 from tech backgrounds, 1 from business, and me, somewhere in between. The two things that helped were the mix of skills (deliberate by the teacher) and having a project manager (not required, but the team was ok with me doing this). I wrote down tasks, took a fair share, and spent extra time checking progress with the rest of the team, including scheduling due dates, testing, etc. This worked so well that I did it for the rest of the degree.

    Probably helped a lot that this was a grad degree, too.

  55. M*

    I recall doing a lot of group projects in undergrad. Most went fine, because it was a tight-knit community within our major. But one was for a biochem class I had to take. My partner, who was randomly assigned, came to one class where we discussed our project. Then he dropped the class, without telling me. Luckily, my professor knew what happened and offered to help as much as possible, but she also told me I’d likely get a better grade by myself. I think that there can be value in group work for certain areas of study and that collaboration is often very helpful, but I agree that it can be tricky in school, because it’s difficult to hold your classmates accountable. I’m in grad school now, and I just hope I don’t have to do many group projects, because I definitely think I work faster on my own.

  56. Observer*

    #1- Don’t worry about what others think. As Alison says, they work with her too. Also, THEY HEAR WHAT SHE IS SAYING.

    The heard her call you DEFENSIVE because you spoke up to defend someone else from her inaccurate accusations! They know that you’ve had others cross check your work and the error was Norma’s. They have the information they need. They KNOW.

  57. HR Bee*

    #3, When I was in my MBA, we had group projects like every class and it was exhausting. The one thing that made it easier was that we used Blackboard and we were required to upload our pieces of the project to our group in Blackboard, that the professor also saw, and then the designated person (ALWAYS me) would upload the finished product. That way, the professor could see who uploaded what and the quality of what was given. Most of the time, I just did the work, fixed everything I was given, got my A, and moved on. But I will never forget the professor who literally called me and told me how impressed he was by what I turned in compared to the segments I was given. Just having that visibility that professors could see how much *I* did of the “group” project removed a lot of my bitterness. Even though, yea, I still did most of the work.

  58. Mr Mike*

    (Last letter) A few years ago when I was unemployed. I applied for a job as a conveyer mechanic with most of my experience as an electro-mechanic, a job I could have learned following an experienced person around for a month. A few days after submitting an application, a guy from HR from that company, called me to tell me I was unqualified. Okay, fine. Whatever. Next week he calls me AGAIN to tell me I’m unqualified. I think he must have forgot he called me last week. Two weeks go by and the same guy calls me again and asks me in for an interview. I show up and he spends the ENTIRE interview explaining why I’m not qualified for this job I could learn in a month. I finally realized that when he called me before, he wanted me to argue with him and when I didn’t, he called me again to try to provoke me into a response, and when I didn’t take the bait again, he decided to call me in for an ‘interview’ to try and goad me into an argument about my qualifications for this job. I felt like a complete fool when I finally figured this out on the way home.

    1. Observer*

      Good grief! Why on earth would someone waste that much time? Obviously he’s a jerk that has no respect for your time. but two calls and an interview is a LOT of time to spend telling some random applicant that their are unqualified.

      Very, very weird. I wonder what was going on there.

      1. Mr Mike*

        Yeah, weird. It was the only time a company has ever called me after I submitted an application to tell me I’m not qualified, instead of a generic rejection e-mail. Even though it happened seven years ago, I still remember the humiliation of that ‘interview’. And it wasn’t because I was terribly under-qualified, either. I had two decades of hands-on industrial electro-mechanical experience. Just because I hadn’t worked on conveyer systems before, doesn’t mean I couldn’t learn…

  59. Observer*

    #5 – Have you ever heard of Negging? I can’t say that that is what your interviewer was trying to do, but it could easily be the case.

    Fortunately, smart employers know that this a VERY bad way to interview.

    1. Massmatt*

      I was thinking it might be some sort of power play like negging. The interviewer sounds insecure (and unprepared–s/he calls you to read your resume aloud?) so these put-downs are probably intended to “put you in your place” but also get you to argue with him from the false premise “oh no, the state school is actually quite good…” etc. You lose when you take the bait. Sounds like an awful person who should not be doing interviews. Or managing people.

  60. OP#3*

    Thanks to everyone for their comments and commiseration!

    From everything I have heard, the instructors are required to include a group project in the course by the head of the program. But there is no time for skill discussion or instruction, given the pace of the courses. My second group project went even worse than the first, to the surprise of no one. (2 partners who did not respond in any way until day 5 and 6 of a 7 day project.)

    If anyone has any suggestions for improving the group project experience that I could pass up the chain, I would be very grateful.

    1. Gloucesterina*

      Hi OP3! I share the below links frequently when someone comes to me with questions about designing a group project (I currently work in teaching and learning support for university instructors). The 1st link from Carnegie Mellon is aimed at instructors and focuses on the design of group projects to facilitate learning of “soft” skills (e.g., meaningful collaboration and project management) in tandem with “hard” skills or course content. The 2nd one from Minnesota one is a student-facing resource that’s zombie-apocalypse themed – “Surviving Group Projects” (It’s maybe not the best theme for a pandemic? Maybe with some caveat language that people are going thru serious stuff right now?) Either way, it’s helpful for instructors to be transparent about what makes a group successful and be prepared to support or intervene as necessary. A routine of periodically checking in (such as a quick pulse survey of 2 or 3 questions at most) with how individuals perceive their group functioning can help instructors triage their efforts in this area.

      Good luck!

    2. Sleepy*

      Your prof could let people choose their own group so you could hopefully get classmates you trust and can work with…although this only works if you know the people in your class. Or, the prof should create sub-components to the project and have an individual grade in addition to a group grade.

      Also, my sympathies. I was in a coding course as an adult and our final was a group project. I fought with my man-splaining partner (who did not even understand the assignment, much less be able to explain it to me) and we ended up glaring each other in silence. It was insane because in the real world, working with someone on coding would not mean literally writing each line of code together, but apparently that’s what our group project was.

    3. Derivative Poster*

      OP3, I agree with others who said projects should include a peer review element in which teammates give feedback on each others’ performance. Also, for software development in particular, you should be using version control, which allows the instructor to see exactly who did what. I took a class in which the instructor had us add him to our repos so he could view the commits.

      True story: I was on a group project in which someone ghosted. Several years later, the ghoster applied for a job at my company and I was assigned to do the screening interview. Revenge is a dish best served cold! ;)

  61. stitchinthyme*

    LW4: Last summer I went through a bad time: I had just had surgery (cochlear implant in one ear), and shortly after I experienced an unrelated loss of hearing in the other ear that rendered me nearly deaf, as the CI had not been activated yet. I asked my coworkers to limit their contact with me to email and instant messages since in-person communication was difficult, and they complied. But I was upset because not one of them asked me about my hearing situation or how I was doing…it felt like they were all ignoring me.

    Then my CI was activated and I had my hearing aid in the other ear adjusted, and as I was gradually able to hear better, I started interacting more in person again…and then everyone started asking how I was doing and expressing concern. Some things are apparently just easier in person than online.

  62. Observer*

    #4 – I’m a bit confounded by your therapist’s recommendation. I’m not sure if you are mis-stating or misunderstanding what they said, or you have a really bad therapist (or one who understands nothing about the workplace).

    But what you mention is really, really bad advice. Managing up is something that people do in the workplace ALL. THE. TIME. Even it functional and reasonably healthy workplaces. Also, even when a boss is problematic, confrontation is generally NOT the way to manage up. Lastly, just reaching out to a boss to find out timeline on something you’ve already discussed is sooooo common, normal and BASIC that it’s not really what most people think of as “managing up” – it’s just basic communications.

  63. My Brain Is Exploding*

    Group projects. Ugh. Also terrible for college students who work and/or don’t live on campus and can’t synch up meeting times.

  64. cubone*

    I had one class that was exclusively group projects and it really opened my eyes a bit to how groups can actually be helpful. We had initial assignments that were purely about group structure: eg determining group guidelines, a project charter, identifying each individuals strengths and role. Basically, a ton of (graded!) work on how the group itself would function before we ever got to the project. Then we each had to do a group evaluation, peer evaluation for each team member (5 total) and a self evaluation. The class was conflict resolution in communities and was an elective for many different programs, so the structure of the group work really did help in applying some the theoretical stuff.

    It worked because it was harder to skate by and certain things (like your individual strengths) were specific to each person in a team document, so no one could really be expected to “do all the work”. I also thought the roles and project/team charters were actually really beneficial later in my career when I learned more about formal project management, RACI, etc. so even though it didn’t perfectly replicate the environment of collaboration at a job, it WAS useful for my career skills.

    However, like a commenter above said, group work is often assigned to minimize the amount of grading and yeah, this must’ve been a ton of work for our prof. But it was the only group work I really learned from!

  65. Astrid*

    #3 My sole experience with a group project was in the workplace on a pro bono immigration case. I made the mistake of volunteering to help out two attorney colleagues who had a strict deadline for filing a brief after a holiday weekend. One of the attorneys, who was going on vacation, had been tasked with drafting the main point about the availability of mental health treatment in a particular country. Despite repeatedly assuring us that her point was fully drafted and only needed to be “finalized,” just before she left, she gave me an entirely unsourced brief. She had no supporting research and told me that I could figure out the citations by using “Wikipedia, or whatever.” I spent hours over the holiday weekend re-doing everything she was supposed to have done just so we could make the filing deadline. Those two colleagues were later honored by the bar association for “their” successful work on the case. Thankfully that situation has not happened before or since in my 20+ years of practice. It still galls me to think of this attorney’s utter cluelessness and lack of respect for her poor colleague on the brief – no doubt she acted the same in school.

  66. just sara*

    I am definitely in favor of a “no virus talk” rule during the meet-up like Alison suggests. You can frame it as something like “this situation is stressful for everyone, and people might not want to have to think about that right now.” This has the advantage of being unfortunately true – if Linda’s uncle is in the hospital with Covid and they don’t know if he’ll make it, she might really not be in the mood to hear about any virus talk at all, and it could be upsetting for her no matter what it is.

    One thing that I’ve found helpful for dealing with Covid talk is to compartmentalize it. I don’t know if your group uses Slack or some other online facilitation software, but you could look into setting up a channel just for virus talk with the emphasis that virus talk is to be in that channel and only in that channel – that way people can check into it when they’re feeling up for it, or ignore it otherwise. Your problem coworker can then toss all her great ideas about curing the virus by wearing purple pajamas in the designated holding bin where they are easily ignored and do not take up the rest of your group’s time, and your group can have a social time that isn’t just refuting her bizarre ideas week after week.

  67. Hobbit*

    Hi Op 3,
    I get you on the group work. I was in a bio class and two members ghosted me, because while they were chatting and mucking around I decided ask the group members what role they wanted to do. They were mad because ususally one of the group members took the lead and that day I decided to. (Because I didn’t want to do it for homework.)
    The third member of the group told me about it the next day. So I went to the prof’s office and told her about it. She split the group in two and they got a separate grade for the lab work. As with anything document, document, document.
    If your having issues with a group member talk to the prof! That’s what they are there for!! They want to know when there is an issue!! You don’t have to approach it as “Jane is ghosting me” more like ” I need advice on this, Jane isn’t responding to my emails/text etc. What do you suggest?”

  68. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

    #3: As important as cross-functional teamwork experience is, there’s something to be said for being comfortable working collaboratively with people who have similar skillsets and roles. How you can best show up as a subject matter expert and contributor looks different depending on how differentiated your role is.

    Many work teams I’ve been on have people with overlapping roles or knowledge for coverage or workload reasons – e.g. two Llama Trainers involved in a large llama training initiative. In a setting like this, you sometimes get Llama Trainers who have a tendency to steamroll their peers, but when you take a step back you recognize that this behaviour would be a lot less problematic when they’re the only Llama Trainer on a team. Something tells me that the people who tend to do this are those who always felt that they needed to keep a group project from going off the rails back in school, and they don’t quite know how to adjust that assumption for situations where everyone else is just as invested and knowledgeable as they are.

  69. TinLizi*

    #3-I used to teach high school. I tried to have group projects have individual and group components. For a unit on the late 19th century century Industrial Revolution, I had students make a newspaper. Each student was responsible for an article and an advertisement. That was worth 95% of the grade. The finished newspaper was worth 5%. So, even if your group mates never finished their articles and their were gaps in the newspaper, you could still get an A.

  70. Alisha*

    #2 I wish this pandemic would free us to speak our minds more in these situations. I think it would be reasonable to say, “Hey you’re spreading a lot of misinformation about a very serious topic, and that needs to change. If you don’t have credible, scientific evidence to back up a claim, I don’t want to hear about it.” Of course what I would actually do is mute that person.

  71. DataGirl*

    LW1- I don’t suppose you work in healthcare education? Because I’m pretty sure we have the same manager. She’s awful, will literally point her finger at people in meetings and scream that they messed up. Anytime one of her subordinates does well on something, she takes credit, and if she messes up (which happens daily) she blames it on someone else. Somehow she’s managed to work herself pretty high up in the organization despite being completely incompetent. It’s really disheartening.

  72. Tryinghard*

    Try explaining to a 12 to 15 year old that the techniques I use in my teams for staff won’t work in his groups. I’m in charge of the project but don’t manage the staff. My son and I have had lots of discussions about how I approach underperformers vs what is acceptable for him. I appreciate his frustration but honestly I have a ton more leeway to make someone’s life a tad bit more uncomfortable with their boss if that person doesn’t complete their work within acceptable boundaries. So from a now high schooler who himself uses a project proposal and plan that is shared with the teachers to hold people accountable, school projects aren’t the same.

  73. Ellie May*

    “This past week she said that covid deaths are completely overblown accusing doctors of improperly citing covid as a cause of death to get federal funding.”

    In my area, there is concern that hospitals and doctors are under-reporting COVID-related deaths. For example, putting “Pneumonia” on the death certificate and leaving off “due as a consequence of COVID-19 infection.” Why? Hospitals make much of their money on elective surgeries and they do NOT want reporting of COVID-related deaths linked to their institution. They don’t want to scare people off.

    But why get in this back and forth at all? Better to agree on some ground rules for topics: nothing COVID and nothing about work might be a great starting place.

  74. Lizzo*

    The best group projects I ever participated in had the following features:
    1) There was a way to evaluate each others’ participation in the group.
    2) There was a way to articulate what each person contributed to the group.
    3) Grades were given to the team, but weighted for the individual based on their specific contributions/participation.
    4) Responsibilities were divided up among team members based on everyone’s strengths, and then balanced based on workload.

    For #4 in particular, I recall my experience in my graduate program which was 80% international students/ESL. For almost every group paper, I was the designated editor because I was the only native English speaker in the group. It was a lot of work to edit, so I wrote smaller portions of the paper while my teammates split up the remaining sections of writing based on their interests/strengths, e.g. some people were better at literature review, some people loved analysis. Having an honest conversation about those strengths at the start of the project so that work could be distributed accordingly usually meant team members were more interested and engaged in their portion of the project. Plus, they were confident when starting the project that they could handle the subject matter because they were tackling it from a position of strength with respect to their skills.

  75. misspiggy*

    There are so many good ideas in this thread about how to do group projects (and how not to do them). Absolute gold for anyone working in adult education. Alison, do you think it would be possible to tag this post somehow to reflect that?

  76. moneypenny*

    #5: I had one of these interviews before landing my current role. The company was well known in town for having a solid design program which is my field, but the interviewer, who also posted the job listing, seemed to bash me the same way. Going so far as to tell me I don’t do design, I do strategy. I definitely do design and strategy is something he was hiring for. I walked out of there feeling like I had wasted both of our time because of his attitude while also second-guessing my chops. Then, for some reason, he called me back for a second interview. I turned it all down and kept looking. Come to find out much later, everyone has the same experience with the guy and everyone seems to know he’s a jerk. Why would we want to work in places like that?!

  77. Jonquil*

    LW4: this is a great opportunity to just…pick up the phone.

    “Hi [Boss], I got back from leave yesterday. I hope everyone is well. Is there anything you need to update me about? I was planning to pick up [x project] and follow up on [y task]. I went through my inbox and noticed that email from Bob about the [z document]. Is that something I can help with?”

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