muting your boss, lavish virtual holiday parties, and more

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

1. Did I mess up by muting my boss?

I think I might have messed up by muting my boss. Last week my boss and I were co-presenting to our team in Zoom. He was speaking to the team about important updates when his cell phone started to ring. He stopped talking to the team and answered the call without a word to us and didn’t even mute himself. We could hear the entire conversation. After about a minute of awkwardly trying not to listen to his personal call, I muted him. I figured he didn’t realize all of us could hear him. I did this to give him privacy, but afterwards he reamed me out, saying it was not my place to mute him and i he wanted to be muted, he would do it himself. Was I in the wrong to mute him? If this occurs again on Zoom, should I just let everyone hear his business?

You weren’t wrong to mute him. That was a normal and reasonable action that most people would have taken — and most people in his shoes would have wanted you to take. Your manager apparently wanted your whole team to have to listen to his call? He was being rude.

He was also rude in how he handled it afterwards. If for some reason he didn’t want you to do it again, he should have just explained that to you without all the drama over it.

But yes, it seems like a clear indication that going forward you should not mute him.

2. My boss told me to “toughen up” about the election

Each week my small team (four of us) has an informal Zoom “coffee chat” — intended as a non-work-related time to catch up and connect as we are all still working from home indefinitely. Often my manager can’t attend due to conflicting meetings, but when she does she tends to monopolize the conversation, and tends to share her thoughts on COVID and politics ad nauseam. Which sucks if you’re already stressed and anxious and just want to have a nice chat without focusing on the world like the other 23 hours of the day…

I’ve been able to deal with this okay, have generally tuned it out, and still really like these chats with my team, but recently I finally reached a boundary. My manager joined the call a few minutes late and immediately asked if we had watched the debates. I made a joking-ish response like “Oh boy, I can’t even talk about that!” Then, she immediately started talking about the election, saying something like, “We can hope for the best but need to prepare for the worst…”

I finally hit my wall with this. I said that I don’t think I can talk about this at work right now, and I felt like I might cry (I wasn’t really on the verge of tears, but things are really scary right now and I just couldn’t spend 20 minutes of my workday thinking about it!) Thankfully, my sweet coworker immediately jumped in to share a knitting project.

Afterwards my manager sent me a message saying she was sorry for bringing it up. When I replied to say thanks and explain that I find it hard to deal with talking about the current situation at work and admitting that things feel scary (because they do!) she replied, “People like you who are sensitive need to toughen up.”

I just … don’t even know how to respond to this. She is a very compassionate and kind person, and I think she means well with this and wants to act as an older mentor, but now I’m worried showing a little vulnerability at work just leads to her thinking I’m “too sensitive.” (For the record, I’ve never cried at this job and consider myself to always be calm and professional with everyone). I’m at a loss here. How can I get through the next weeks and months at work? Is there any productive way to talk to her about this?

Your boss’s comment was rude, whether she meant it kindly or not, and it suggests that she’s oblivious to how many people are deeply, profoundly upset by current events and have every reason for genuine fear about everything from health care to police violence to the stability of our democratic structures. It’s a privileged remark from someone who can’t have grappled seriously with some of these issues.

But if it was the only thing like this she’s said to you, I’d write it off as a clumsy remark that you don’t need to dwell on. If you see further evidence that she’s prone to thinking you’re too sensitive, I’d get more concerned.

3. Company wants to throw a lavish virtual holiday party

I work for a huge multi-national company that has been working remotely since early March, and will continue to do so well into 2021. We have been very fortunate that the pandemic has had almost no impact on the business’s finances, and in fact has meant that we have saved an enormous amount of money that is normally allocated to staff lunches, happy hours, and other in-person team building activities. I have gotten wind that my department’s event planners now want to use these extra funds, and we’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars, to throw a lavish virtual holiday party complete with VR headsets for every attendee so that we can “interact” as if we were in person.

I think this is an obscene and incredibly pointless waste of money. I don’t typically attend holiday parties during normal times, and I certainly don’t want a $600 toy shipped to me so I can sit alone in my living room when Zoom would suffice! Not to mention the optics of doing something so over-the-top during a recession, I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking these funds could be far better spent as employee bonuses, gift cards, or even donated to a local food bank. Is there any way I can push back on this even though I am not involved with event planning?

Yeah, that’s really oblivious and out of step with where people are right now.

In a huge multi-national company, unless you’re pretty high up or in a position with a lot of influence, your ability to do anything about may be limited unless you’re willing to spend a lot of capital organizing fellow colleagues to push back. But are there opportunites to bring it up with people with decision-making authority — virtual town halls, avenues to submit feedback, etc.? Or do you have the ear of someone who has the ear of someone with some influence? If the answers to all of that are no, your options are probably pretty limited. (In a smaller company, you’d have more avenues for sharing input.)

4. How should I explain why I was let go?

I have been let go from my job and am not sure how to handle it in interviews going forward. I was hired to do accounting for a small marketing company, which went well. Then another person in the office was let go, and I had to absorb some of that person’s duties. I did not mind, because it gave me the chance to learn some new skills.

At the same time, it was decided that “accounting” – meaning me — was supposed to reach out when a new client was signed. I was to let them know that an email would be sent with the accounting details, etc. I was also charged with following up with clients who had not paid, to find out why and when payment would be coming.

Cold calling and doing collection calls is not my strong suit. It has been a struggle, but I have tried my best, even as I dread the calls. My employer told me today that I was not working out in the position, because I needed stronger marketing and communication skills. It is frustrating because the other parts of my job I was doing well. If I had known at the beginning that this job would involve cold calls and collections, I would never have taken it.

When an interviewer asks why I was let go, what should I say? I was not laid off for any other reason than the fact I could not satisfactorily do two parts of a job that are not my strong suit.

This kind of situation actually lends itself well to a straightforward explanation: “I was hired to do accounting and did well at that part of the job, but they realized they needed someone to do cold calls and collection calls, which is not my strong suit.” You could even add, “I agreed with the decision, based on how the needs of the role had changed.”

That’s going to be perfectly understandable and, assuming you’re not applying for jobs that involve cold calls or collections, it’s not going to be alarming to most interviewers. You signed on for a job that was X, it turned out to be Y, and you parted ways.

5. My background check is taking forever

After being laid off from my full-time job due to COVID-19, I began the job hunt and accepted a part-time job in my field. Originally, I only applied to get interview experience since I knew I was seeking full-time work, but after none of my full-time interviews panned out I decided to accept the position so that I could begin working in the field again. Plus, I really liked the interview and the work I’ll be doing. I currently live with my parents so rent and bills are not an issue right now, though I would like to move out when I can.

But my background check is going so slowly, I feel as if I’ll never start! I accepted the job over a month ago, and submitted all the required background check documents four weeks ago. The results from one county I’ve lived in is holding up the whole process, and even when they’re in I still have to schedule and wait for a drug test to be processed. As I’ve been waiting for so long, I have been casually browsing job sites for full-time work in the field and have since applied to a full-time dream position. I’m at the point where I almost don’t mind the background check taking forever if it means I can have some kind of interview process for the full-time job. On the other hand, I would feel awful withdrawing from the part-time job if I were to get offered the full-time job since I know the position has been vacant this whole time. But, I don’t feel like it’s unreasonable that I’ve continued looking for work with this process taking so long! I don’t want to ruin my reputation by leaving my accepted employer in the lurch or count my chickens before they’ve hatched since I don’t even have an interview for the full-time position, but I’m so unsure of what to do. The full-time job would allow me to move out and get more experience that I’ll need down the road for certification. Full-time job listing aside, I have no idea what to do with this process. I’ve followed up consistently and just feel stuck.

Yeah, some background checks (not all) take a really long time. There’s no reason you can’t keep interviewing meanwhile. They’ve presumably made your offer contingent on you passing the background check, and even if you’re sure that you will, it’s reasonable to keep talking to other employers that interest you until this one has removed your contingencies and set you an actual start date.

If they lose you because their process is so long and a better offer emerged meanwhile, that’s not on you.

{ 296 comments… read them below }

  1. Hello*

    “lavish virtual” seems like an oxymoron! Would love to hear an update, #3, best of luck.

    If I were in that situation rather they order everyone food delivery instead! All of your options are great ideas

      1. Calacademic*

        They should just set up a lavish https://gather.town/ and forget the VR. It’ll be just like a real holiday party complete with people trying SO HARD to understand the new tech. (I like gather.town, but it takes a bit to get used to.)

        1. SomebodyElse*

          OMG… this is perfect for something I had planned for later this month with a couple of work teams. Can I derail for a quick min and ask how steep the learning curve is?

      2. TechWorker*

        Honestly I kinda assumed a company setting up this sort of party would rent the headsets rather than buy them for everyone but who knows.

    1. Casper Lives*

      I’m wondering how much they budgeted for programming the VR world! I’d be expecting something like the party at the beginning of The Good Place.

      It’s over the top and wasteful. But I don’t see what OP could do about it.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        I think I would prefer to have the money and make my own arrangements. Although some sort of video message from the Bigwigs and an aperitif would be ok.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        It certainly would be an interesting experiment in identifying who gets queasy from VR.
        (My husband’s been wanting a VR setup and has passed so far because anyone who gets motion sick has a high chance, and that’s before looking at % for people like me who get ‘seasick” at IMAX and when playing videogames.)

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          Yeah, lots of people don’t do well with VR, and that’s a legitimate complaint OP could use to argue against this.
          Order everyone some food for delivery, and gift them a nice set of noise-cancelling headphones with a decent mic as a company Christmas present, and then have a few video messages from the big wigs thanking employees. The headphones will go over better than VR, and be more useful in day-to-day business operations.

          1. Ganymede*

            I tried VR once and had to stop almost immediately as I felt so terrible. I would definitely be lobbying for the $600 to so with as I saw fit.

          2. LW 3*

            This is actually a great angle to take, thank you! At the very least I can use that as an excuse for not participating because I’ve had to step out of fun work events before due to my terrible motion sickness.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              I feel you on that! I can’t even play modern video games because they make me disoriented and motion sick. (We have Tetris and an NES Classic system just for me and my need for flat, 8-bit video games. The ones my kids play are nausea-inducing.)

            2. Richard Hershberger*

              Frankly, if a VR set showed up on my doorstep I would be unlikely to successfully get it set up. Especially if I only started the morning of the event. Gosh, that would be poor planning on my part… But seriously, what sort of bandwidth would this thing require? That alone would legitimately exclude a lot of people.

            3. Zombeyonce*

              Even if I didn’t get motion sickness and might enjoy a 3D party, there’s so much financial worry in the world right now. Even though your company’s jobs are secure, coworker’s partners jobs might not be or they might be having other financial difficulties. A lot of people would be returning that VR headset to the nearest place that would accept it to get the $600 instead. Please lobby to just let people have a $50 delivered meal, a regular virtual party, and the remaining money instead! They’ll have a good time and be very grateful for the bonus.

        2. Elliott*

          Yeah, I don’t think I’d do well with VR. It doesn’t always work for me in the first place because I don’t have great stereo vision, but even if it did, I’d worry about motion sickness. I have to play first-person video games in moderation because I get motion sick. Even watching YouTube videos of people playing first-person games can trigger it.

          1. Web Crawler*

            If you know anyone with a VR setup, it might be worth a try. I can’t play or watch people play first-person video games at all. (I cap out at about 3 seconds.) But because I’m moving my head around while the VR screen moves, it doesn’t give me motion sickness.

        3. many bells down*

          Different games have different effects, too. My husband plays quite a few games with PSVR, and he says the new Star Wars Squadrons game is great, but No Man’s Sky in VR is much harder for him.

        4. Anon for this*

          My husband uses VR for research purposes, and one of the big impediments in the field is that a huge number of subjects have to drop out due to motion sickness. Such that they have a designated trash can in the room for such emergencies.

          1. JustaTech*

            I get motion sick easily and one of the things I really appreciate about the VR system my family has is that the games are rated for “comfort”. I’m very cautious about what games I play, but my husband is less sensitive. Though he did describe a roller-coaster game as “guaranteed vomiting”.

            I’ve gotten sea sick on a surfboard before, but I find that games like Beat Saber (usually) don’t bother me, as long as I don’t play for more than about half an hour at a stretch.

        5. Arvolin*

          I tried one once, got dizzy, and then afterwards the world had this strange 3-D effect, and I haven’t figured out how to explain the difference from the world normally being 3-D. I don’t think I could wear one for long.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I think they should send everyone money to buy themselves their favourite bottle of plonk to drink at the virtual party. That way you can drink water with a slice of lemon and an ice cube if you’d rather use the money for something else.
        I’m pretty sure you could start a kind of petition if there are plenty of people who agree with you, and I’m sure there will be!

    2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      If they want to be lavish but also prudent, they should spend the money on upgraded core tech for everyone. Come up with a menu of items staff can pick from – new mic, new headset (not VR), new camera, even new desk lamps or other stuff to use at home. Everyone can pick what they want up to a limit in $ value. Guests are asked to try out the new stuff at the party (!! year – you sound great!) and use it for work as appropriate (no requirement to always use video if you accept a camera – but you should use the camera at least a little at the party). And the equipment is guests to keep.

      That’s a win-win-win-win. Good for the company, good for the employees, good for fun, and good in the future.

      1. LW 3*

        Those would all be put to much better use! I can spend several hours a day in video calls, but I don’t have a good compatible headset or a desktop camera.

    3. VR Woes*

      There’s two big problems I can foresee for the virtual event in the third letter:
      1. Lots of people get simulation sickness (basically motion sickness) from VR (iirc for some early headsets it was more common among women, idk if that’s been improved).
      2. People might not have the correct ports on their computer for the headsets. My sister recently bought a headset and didn’t have the correct port despite having a laptop built for gaming (thankfully she was about to buy a new laptop, so she made it having that port be a priority). (I guess they could get the PS VR headset, but that would require everyone having a PS4, which is probably less likely.)

      1. Twisted Lion*

        People at my work can barely use a website so I cant imagine them trying to use VR lollll. And I totally get motion sickness from video games so VR sounds like an awful time to me.

      2. OTGW*

        I’m not exactly familiar with how VR works (I’m one of those people who gets motion sickness from video games and have no inclination to see if it’s the same with VR) BUT you make an excellent point about if computers can even handle having VR. Cause I’d imagine you need a gaming computer, and I’d be willing to be a huge % of this company does not have a gaming computer. And those are expensive! A crappy ass $500 dell is a far cry from a $2000 asus re: gaming. I’m guessing the event planning crew does not really play games.

        1. Paulina*

          Or they do play games, and are thus oblivious to how the limitations of other employees’ tech will limit their ability to do what the planners are dreaming up. My first instinct was “oh, someone in event planning wants to play with VR.”

      3. JustaTech*

        If the company was buying the Oculus Quest they wouldn’t have to worry about computer compatibility since it’s a stand-alone device. Then again it’s also not $600, so I’m guessing that’s not the device they’re buying.

    4. Antilles*

      I would also love an update, because I’m really interested in hearing the practical details of how they’re doing the party.
      Are they ordering food delivery to everyone’s house? Are they reimbursing people for swinging by a local liquor store and buying a bottle? Are they also using the VR headsets for some kind of gaming, virtual sports, whatever? Are they hiring some kind of band to stream music online?
      …Or is it just sitting in a virtual conference room chit-chatting, which is really a “meeting” not a “party”, no matter how nice the headsets are?

      1. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

        Right? The best kind of IRL “lavish” work party is food, maybe music, and for a lot of people probably alcohol. VR doesn’t yet let that happen!

    5. Mallory Janis Ian*

      To me a lavish virtual party would include a personal buffet of various shrimp and bacon hors d’ouvres, a cheese board, a selection of decadent desserts, and some wine and champagne. Also I don’t think “lavish” can be achieved in any part of my cozy little home.

  2. no longer in the file room*

    OP5, I process security clearances for a government organization. Sometimes the process takes a long time and the candidate accepts a different role. It’s disappointing, but we understand the consequences of the process and definitely don’t hold it against them! Especially if it’s for a job like you describe, where it’s a better deal for you. My advice would be to see how both processes play out; you may not ultimately have to make this decision at all, if the FT job doesn’t pan out or if you find a third role you really like.

    On follow-ups, a lot of the time the person communicating with the candidates really has no control over the speed of the process. It’s just as frustrating for us as it is for you when it drags on! There’s absolutely no shame in proceeding as if the PT job isn’t a sure thing yet, because… you’re not employed!

    Best of luck in your search!

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Seconding this. I don’t process background checks, but had an active government clearance that I was using at Old Government Job when I was offered New Private Sector Job — it was over 6 weeks before the background check at New Private Sector Job cleared.

    2. Not A Girl Boss*

      Yep, my husband once waited AN ENTIRE YEAR before his security clearance came through. After 3 months he gave up and took a different job, and was downright shocked when he got a call that he could start the next week… 9 months into his different job.

      The job had no hard feelings about it because, no one can wait that long. Even though security clearances are very expensive.

      1. MsChanandlerBong*

        My husband was laid off in May and fortunately got an offer from a government agency within three weeks of the layoff announcement. He was able to start working after about two weeks because they did some kind of initial screening to make sure he isn’t a danger to others, but then he literally got paid to sit on his behind all day and do nothing for weeks on end because the second, more intensive, check was taking so long. He isn’t allowed to access his work email from a non-work device, but he couldn’t check out a computer to bring home (they’re virtual due to COVID) until the second clearance went through. So he would just sit and twiddle his thumbs all day, missing conference calls and training meetings because they would send the invite to his government email, which he wasn’t allowed to check.

        1. RecoveringSWO*

          Yup. That’s why a candidate shouldn’t feel bad for job searching. If the position was that vital, the agency would find the money to onboard them while the security clearance clears.

          1. SchuylerSeestra*

            It’s not financial. The government is known for taking its time reviewing background checks. Especially if the role has some sort of clearance. I once had to a reference interview for a friend who’s fiancée worked a high level federal agency. She didn’t work there, he did. Agents actually came to my house to do the in person interview.

            I can imagine it’s even worse during the pandemic.

            1. mgguy*

              I have an uncle who was trying to get Top Secret clearance back in the 80s as he was(still is) an engineer for a government contractor working on defense-related satellite systems. As part of the vetting process, both my grandparents, my mom, and my aunt all had both phone interviews and in-person visits over it. At the time, my uncle was actually rejected for TS because his Vietnamese wife had been a US citizen for “only” a couple of years. He was able to get Secret clearance and was able to do a lot, but it definitely kept him off a fair few projects. 10 years later, after his wife(my aunt) I guess had “proven herself” to be okay, he was able to get TS, but the vetting process was as stringent then as it was the first time around.

        2. Sarita*

          Yeah, my brother’s first job out of school was for a large defense contractor. They brought him on and he basically did nothing but some training and busy work for over 6 months while they processed his security clearance. This is just the way it’s done and why companies pay a lot for people that already have clearances.

          1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            At least they let him go ahead and start earning a paycheck, rather than sit around twiddling his thumbs with no money coming in!

    3. Mimmy*

      When a security clearance or background check drags on, couldn’t HR call whoever is holding up the process to follow up? I would think it’s in HR’s best interest to expedite the process and get the position filled. I’m probably being naive but I was just wondering.

      1. Checkert*

        So, no. Security clearances require a lot of moving parts that are often not completed by the organization at which one will be working. These include in person interviews of people the candidate knows, running down parts of family trees/foreign acquaintances, etc. It just takes a long time, and even longer depending on who you have as family and friends. There really isn’t such a thing as status checking, however they could still TRY, just knowing the answer is likely ‘in progress’ with no further details. It’s nothing HR has any control over.

        1. no longer in the file room*

          Yep – plus, it’s just like anything else in that it takes a long time because there’s a lot of them to process. There’s only so many hours in the day and constantly following up means the screeners spend more time answering those emails than actually doing the processing.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        HR can’t do anything on a security clearance. Those are processed by a government agency, and are much more involved than a standard background check. My TS clearance was processed by DOJ and involved retired FBI agents doing interviews with everyone on my form and then some. Mine took months to process, and people expressed surprise it was done “so quickly!”.

        With standard background checks, the processing company or HR does follow up with people they’ve not heard back from, but that often does not speed up the response rate. My candidate background checks nearly always wrap up within two weeks, but I had one that dragged on for months because two people simply would not respond to the processor, despite multiple calls and even the candidate reaching out. It was a mess, and, yes, I absolutely wanted the position filled and to get the new person started, but I could not until the check cleared and it wasn’t a matter of just making a quick follow-up reminder call.

      3. Not A Girl Boss*

        At the time of his application, the AVERAGE wait time for a security clearance was 9 months – there was just a huge backlog due to a lot of new contracts. And no amount of pleading with the federal government can speed it up.

        Although, after month one, my husband called the government agency himself and was told there was nothing on file. Turns out the HR rep went on a 2 week honeymoon and just forgot to file the paperwork. So technically it was *only* 11 months, after the paperwork was finally filed.

        1. Tyler*

          I once had a job offer from a government contractor. The security process took 6 months to get approval for me to start during the long security clearance process. It then it took three months to get a start date. By that time, I was offered another job a few weeks before and was given the exact same start date. I decided o. The second job because it didn’t keep pushing back the start date. It was a hard choice at the time, but I love the job I picked!

      4. Lexie*

        I used to deal with background checks at a previous employer. The OP says that it’s one county that is holding things up. There are several things that could be going on there. One is that there is a designated person that deals with background checks and they have been out of the office so things are backed up. Due to the pandemic some counties are operating with reduced staff or having staff work part time so that would slow things down. An issue I ran into more than once was that there was more than one person with the same name so they would take extra care to make sure they had the results for the right person. In any of those situations HR could call and they would probably be given a reason for why it’s taking so long but it wouldn’t speed up the process.

        Another thing I experienced is that if someone was clean their results would come back fairly quickly but if they had a record it tended to take longer. You would be amazed at the number of people who will fill out background check paperwork and sign an affidavit swearing they don’t have a criminal record and then act absolutely shocked when you present them with a list of their convictions.

    4. ScampiForever*

      Thank you for the advice! It’s good to know that if I were to take a different role, it would be understandable. I think you’re right too in that I don’t need to worry about it until I have an offer (or even an interview on the table). – OP 5

  3. CastIrony*

    I feel for OP#2. I’ve been told that I’m “too sensitive” and need to “stop taking things personally” all my life, and they are not fun. I’d still look for patterns in their manager’s behavior, but I understand if this is something that colors OP’s perception of them.

    I wish managers would understand that people have triggers. :(

    1. Dancing Otter*

      Yes, whenever Family Member said something particularly hurtful, she’d tell me not to be so sensitive.

      1. TootsNYC*

        maybe she needs to be MORE sensitive! More sensitive to other people’s feelings, and to proper mores and manners.

    2. MJ*

      The problem with a speaker saying someone is too sensitive about their cruel or insensitive remarks is that the speaker is trying to not only escape blame for what they said, but reassign the blame to the listener by telling them they are overly sensitive for being upset.

      IMO, people who pull out the “you’re too sensitive card” also pull out the “just joking card”. It’s not you, it’s them. Always them. And they don’t get to say what you find upsetting just because their egos won’t let them do the decent thing – apologise (and actually mean it). #OP’s manager’s apology was not sincere as it was completely null and voided by the ‘too sensitive’ comment. She appeared to take partial blame but, by reassigning the blame back on the OP, in her mind she comes out blameless. Nice, isn’t it?

      1. anon73*

        It’s not “always” them. Some people DO take every single thing as a personal attack and others feel like they have to walk on eggshells around them. In this case the boss was in the wrong, but I have worked with people who take everything personally when I’m just asking questions and trying to do my job.

        1. Mel_05*

          Yeah. I understand that a lot of times people are trying to get out of having to be responsible for the words they have said, but I’ve also known people who use their “sensitive” nature as a weapon against people so that they never have to be responsible for their words or actions.

          But, in those cases I think saying, “You’re being too sensitive” actually misses the point, so it is kind of a worthless statement.

        2. Sylvan*

          Yeah, it’s sure not fun to step on a conversational landmine. Or to be super sensitive. (Like you just said, though, the boss was in the wrong here!)

        3. Idril Celebrindal*

          It’s definitely true that it’s context dependent, but in my experience those people who do take things as a personal attack, etc., are usually some of the worst offenders at pulling out the “you’re too sensitive” card.

          It is so infuriating to be trying to diplomatically address that someone is showing a pattern of responding emotionally in ways that don’t match the situation, and to have them start yelling about, “I’m not being emotional, you’re too sensitive, you don’t understand why it was SOOOOO awful of you to insult me by saying I’m being emotional!!!!!! You’re just too stupid to understand why I’m justified in being SOOO hurt and SOOO angry that you think I’m not 100% reasonable all the time!!!!!”

      2. Paulina*

        I find that a lot of the time “you’re too sensitive” really means “I don’t want to change what I do, so I’m going to blame you instead.”

    3. Batgirl*

      I’ve never understood why sensitive is supposed to be an insult. It’s the kind of trait which I’d find easy to own and acknowledge: “Yes, thankyou for realising I am aware of the sensitivities at play” or “Yes, I do think it’s a sensitive issue”. It’s more the “toughen up” part that’s really, really egregious. It makes it almost impossible to respond to politely because she’s calling OP weak rather than make a simple apology for being thoughtless. I suppose if boss repeats that type of idea again OP could say something like “Yes, that would be easier but I’m fine remaining aware of the undercurrents. I just don’t necessarily discuss them”.
      But yeah. Speechlessness is the right response, honestly.

      1. Alternative Person*

        Seriously, I got told that a lot and thinking back, I wish I had had the wherewithal to snap back ‘Well sorry for not wanting to put up with the very behaviour you told me was bad.’ I swear if teachers had spent more time enforcing the boundaries they set and less time telling kids to stop being sensitive school might be an altogether more positive experience for more people.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          “Bullying is bad, but complaining about bullying is worse, and attempting to stop being bullied is grounds for expulsion.” was the message I got out of school.

        2. Indigo a la mode*

          I finally did start retorting that wanting people to be kind and thoughtful to one another was in no way a bad trait to have. I hope it makes [insert family member] think a little.

      2. hbc*

        To be fair, “sensitive” can be a positive descriptor when talking about perception or detection, but I think we can all agree that it’s a negative when it comes to reactivity and coping. The princess who can’t get a good night’s sleep because there’s a pea underneath her 17 mattresses is objectively too sensitive. The guy who goes into a funk for days over minor work feedback is sensitive, and not in a good way.

        But I definitely don’t think there’s any good that comes from flinging around the descriptor as an insult, and the person who just caused the hurt isn’t exactly an unbiased judge of sensitivity. “I wanted to talk about politics, and if you don’t want to listen, you’re too sensitive” is garbage.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          But I definitely don’t think there’s any good that comes from flinging around the descriptor as an insult, and the person who just caused the hurt isn’t exactly an unbiased judge of sensitivity. “I wanted to talk about politics, and if you don’t want to listen, you’re too sensitive” is garbage.

          1000000% this^. Especially the second sentence. LW, you are NOT alone and you are not being too sensitive. I work in a political office and even we are having trouble dealing with the current political situation now. I hope you take heart in realizing that there are a LOT of people right now who are having a really tough time.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Wow, I just realized that “take heart in realizing there are a LOT of people right now who are having a really tough time” sounds terrible. What I really meant by that is that LW should take some _comfort_ in realizing that they are not the only person out there who is struggling right now. Hopefully we can all get through this together.

            1. squidarms*

              I think what you said was fine. It does sound kind of terrible to admit it, but people really do take heart in knowing that they aren’t the only ones suffering. Otherwise social media wouldn’t be so popular.

            2. OP#2*

              I totally understand what you mean! It’s about knowing you are not alone and being able to extend the compassion you have for everyone else towards yourself..

        2. Autistic AF*

          No, we don’t all agree that sensitivity is a negative when it comes to reactivity and coping. The problem with this line of thinking is that there is no objective measure for “too sensitive”. Those words are often used to excuse bigotry, hate speech, or thinly veiled insults, for instance. Hans Christian Andersen wrote The Princess and the Pea not to illustrate her as being too too sensitive, but that her compassion and sensitivity were noble traits. The funky guy is likely hiding an iceberg of seemingly minor issues. Sensitivity can be a great complement for creativity, conscientiousness, and intuition.

        3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Sensitive is good in a man and bad in a woman basically, so we can just blame the patriarchy and be done with it! /s

      3. Dust Bunny*

        My mom is definitely too sensitive but not in a good way: She manages to make all kinds of things that are not about her, about her, but will still run roughshod over other people (and then get all upset when they call her on it). Bringing up even topics that should be neutral requires a ton of emotional energy.

        Example: One of my siblings asked to reschedule a visit by my parents to them because their elderly pet was in bad shape and they were dealing with a bunch of scary vet visits, round-the-clock pet hospice nursing, etc. My mother turned this into Sibling “not wanting to see her” and a self-centered lament about how she never got to see her grandchildren (she had seen them earlier that year) and she couldn’t understand what she’d done wrong that Sibling held against her, etc. It had exactly zero to do with her but she made herself the victim anyway.

        She’s always been like this, has no insight into it, and we can’t reason with her because the slightest pushback escalates it into tears and sulking. So far her biggest coping mechanism is to get everyone else to do it for her.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          For the record: She watches MSNBC all day long and then wants to rant at me in the evening. I see news on my FB feed all day and have had quite enough, thanks. I’ve told her that if she wants to talk politics, she needs to call one of her friends because I’m maxed out and will definitely change the subject. She pushes the envelope on this, anyway.

        2. dust Bunny's long lost sister*

          OMG are you my sibling? My mom is completely the same way. She plays the Misery Olympics and always needs to win

    4. ThePear8*

      Yes, I feel for OP 2. My dad’s side of the family is very politically opinionated and often seems oblivious to how distressing it can be to others, but now more than ever I can’t stand it and am grateful with COVID I’ve been able to avoid any political rants during quarantine. However I did have to ask my dad repeatedly while he was visiting to please not loudly watch political videos on YouTube right next to me, he didn’t seem to think it was a big deal but I found that extremely distressing. I’m frustrated that at times I’ve repeatedly asked nicely to change the subject and just get bulldozed over without the slightest regard to how upsetting a topic it is. Fortunately it’s toned down a little after I finally burst into tears while listening to my parents having a political conversation on video call, but it shouldn’t have to come to that.
      People are allowed to be sensitive and have a break from current events. If someone asks nicely to change the subject, why can’t we change the subject?

      1. UKDancer*

        Definitely. I’m aware you can’t make people change a subject but if a colleague asks politely if you could talk about something else, I think it’s very rude not to try and honour their request. We’ve had situations in my company at various times where colleagues have said “could we not talk about x, it stresses me out.”

        I fully sympathise with US posters. Having both the Covid situation and the current election atmosphere is bound to be stressful. I think it’s entirely reasonable not to want to talk about it at work. Virtual hugs across the Atlantic.

    5. Quinalla*

      Ugh, so frustrating for you OP #2. When someone says something like this to me, what it says to me is “Here is someone I cannot be vulnerable with about sensitivity again.” I spent most of my life trying to “toughen up” because I am a very sensitive person. Now I embrace it and it is wonderful! I don’t hide from the world, but I do know my limits and try to not push too far on them. With you boss in the future, I’d go more with you can’t rehash on politics anymore today, already gone over and over it and want to talk about something else or recruit others who are sick of it for whatever reason to speak up too.

    6. Catalin*

      OP 2, you are NOT too sensitive if all this *waves hands* is getting to you. I am neurologically wired to not experience emotions the same way as a neurotypical person: before COVID, the last time I burst into tears was Sandy Hook. But all this? Total overload for anyone. I’ve cried several times in the last 8 months. You are not weak. The chaos is too strong.

    7. Nanani*

      They’re the ones who aren’t sensitive enough, and they want to make it your problem.
      This random person on the internet offers you comforting, soft down blankets.

  4. Dahlia*

    Take the VR headset, say you had internet problems and couldn’t get set up, and sell it for a profit.

    1. Bilateralrope*

      A better lie might be to claim that their home computer is insufficient for VR. It might not even be a lie.

      1. Mongrel*

        Very likely in fact.
        You can run a VR setup on a ‘normal’ setup, it’ll be an awful experience but it will run.
        An average work system (especially a laptop) will either not be able to run it or only run it as a slideshow exacerbating the other BIG problem with VR – nausea. The disassociation between your avatar movement and your physical movement kicks off travel sickness in a lot of people.

        For reference, you’re probably looking at a £2,000 PC for a (minimum) good VR experience, the graphics cards are still in the £1,200 – £1,500 range (30xx cards are better and cheaper, just unobtainable right now)

        1. Harper the Other One*

          This was my thought. The only computer my family has that could run decent VR is my husband’s, and it would just BARELY work.

          But honestly, I think the motion sickness might be a good point to bring up. I absolutely could not attend a VR party, and others will attend and then get horribly sick during. I actually question whether the event organizers themselves have tried VR at all, so suggesting they do a test run might help… if several of them get sick the “virtual party” idea might disappear on its own.

          1. Observer*

            That’s not true at this point – there are headsets that don’t require a PC. Look at the Oculus Quest and Quest 2. Yes, they can connect to your computer but they don’t NEED to.

            And the Quest 2 is $300. Still not pocket change, but significantly less expensive than what the OP is thinking.

      2. CastMaster*

        There is a great VR headset option (Oculus Quest) that doesn’t require being connected to a computer. It’s a completely standalone device.

        Not that that makes OP’s company’s idea any less ludicrous, but so many people think it’s cumbersome to try VR when it’s really not!

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          What sort of bandwidth does it require? I can easily imagine it surpassing what is available in many home setups.

          1. VR user*

            We have a really basic DSL (barely high speed connection) and can use the Oculus Quest without any lag at all.

    2. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

      … or use it to play VR games on Steam. Now, that’s my idea of a great holiday party!

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I would not even have to lie that I cannot use a VR. I tried and really couldn’t. One of my sons bought a higher-end one and had all his friends and family give it a try. I had several surgeries in my one eye, for retina detachment, and then one for a cataract that is a common side effect of the retina reattachment surgery. I have a plastic lens in the surgery eye that has 20/20 vision, but does not focus. (Only kind your eye can handle after the retina surgery). My other eye is a normal nearsighted eye with a touch of farsightedness, as is normal for my age. In real life, the two eyes correct each other and work together to work out to something like normal vision, but when I put a VR on, I could not see. My mom also tried the VR, and it made her dizzy and nauseous, first time in her life this happened to her. She’d never had motion sickness before the VR. They are not for everyone. I don’t know what OP’s workplace is thinking trying to get everyone to wear them, the odds are high that it won’t be possible for a number of their employees. All of that for a holiday party? Sigh.

    4. Quinalla*

      Honestly, good luck to the company trying to get VR headsets right now, it is tough to get one with everything backordered for months and months.

  5. Casper Lives*

    OP4 that’s a huge change in job duties. As long as you’re not applying for the call center of Debt Collectors R Us, I wouldn’t worry about it!

    I couldn’t do debt collection and cold calling.

      1. r*

        I do think it’s important do distinguish between collecting on business payments and being in collections. I’ve basically had to become a Collections person chasing down invoices when I did 1099 work. But I could never do collections for general or medical debt (I know people who do it because, it’s a job, but they say it’s totally devastating and leads to very weird work environments).

        However, that being said, it definitely requires a certain set of skills and a certain personality (or the ability to leverage a facsimile of that personality) in order to be good at the whole dance of “I don’t want to burn this bridge but also give me/us your money – and I will burn it and you if you don’t pay” – and it’s something where I don’t think it’s wrong to expect the learning curve to be hard for someone with little experience in the area or much desire to be involved (which — understandable! it’s awful!!)

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I wouldn’t be able to do it, either! And OP never signed up for that!

      I once got a collective gasp of sympathy and a “you are hired” from a panel of interviewers, just for telling them that, after I’d reluctantly accepted a job offer at a downtown location, that was a 20-mile commute with traffic, my job responsibilities were then changed on my first day, to have me commute to a client’s location every day, which was 65 miles one way (no traffic though, heh heh). I found that people are very understanding about a candidate wanting to leave, or being let go from, a bait and switch job. And OP’s job sounds like the mother of all bait and switches. Taking a job as an accountant and then being told to do debt collection calls? Yikes.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Debt collection and marketing – neither of these things have anything to do with accounting.

        1. MelonHelen*

          Actually, the way the LW described the debt collecting sounded like A/R (accounts receivable), which is indeed a major part of accounting.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Yeah, I had to re-read the letter because people further down in the comments were explaining the actual steps accountants take in smaller companies, and it looks like OP’s wording is unclear.

          2. Aurion*

            Yes, this. At a larger company there would be dedicated accounts receivable and accounts payable people/teams, but at a small enough company it would indeed be the accountant doing it. Heck, when I was at a tiny company I was the admin and processed AR/AP along with email/phone followups.

            OP is free to not like that part of the job, of course, but I think calling it cold calls and collection is a misnomer.

          3. SuperDiva*

            I was confused by that — if you’re calling existing customers, that is basically the opposite of “cold calling.”

    2. Beth*

      OP #4: your boss was an idiot. You were doing two jobs well, and they tossed out a good worker because you weren’t good at a third set of duties. They should have reassigned those tasks and kept you on, instead of doubling down on their own failure.

    3. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      OP4, that’s a lousy situation and not of your making. I would also struggle if debt collection and cold calling were adding to my duties.

      I would add to Alison’s script a little. Make it clear that you did well at the job you were hired for, but that the unrelated duties that were added made it a poor fit for you. Focus on what you achieved while you were in a purely accounting role.

      Had you decided to look for something else when you were let go? I would mention that too.

      Finally – try not to sound apologetic or awkward when you talk about this. It’s your employer’s failure, not yours. I would go for a matter of fact approach. But don’t dwell on it or let it become the focus of your interview.

    4. Mel_05*

      Yeah, I’ve had big job descriptions switches twice – I couldn’t cut it in either job once the change was made and I didn’t have trouble getting a new job when I described the mismatch to potential employers.

      1. DarnTheMan*

        Same; I started out in a job doing communications – mainly email newsletters and running their social media and then suddenly it was email newsletters, social media and graphic design. My final straw was when in my last performance review the two owners kept stressing how I didn’t seem interested in acquiring more web design skills and it took everything in me to not say ‘I never indicated any interest in web design or being a web designer; this was just something you decided I could and should be doing and I said okay because we’re a small team but my goal in life is not to work in web design.’

    5. BPT*

      I mean, it might have been a huge change in duties for this organization. But in my experience with small organizations, it’s not uncommon for the “Finance Department” (which often encompasses accounting/books, budgeting, sometimes HR) to be one or two people. I have never thought it was weird that someone in charge of the finances/accounting for an organization would be the one to call or email clients to remind them to pay their bills. Yes, often someone higher up would have to get involved if a client just didn’t pay their bill, but it usually starts with the Finance department. It is very common. If you’re in charge of the money that comes in and out, it’s likely that you will be the front line of chasing down money not coming in. Again, yes other people might need to be involved, but the first reminder often comes from that department. If OP is still looking at small organizations, they may have to realize that this is part of the job when it comes to accounting. I might suggest looking for jobs at larger organizations where roles are much more defined.

    6. Porganic Meat*

      I feel OP#4 so hard on this. I was hired as an Exec Assistant (background is admin & event planning) to CEO for a tiny marketing company. Within a week, they fired the sales/customer service person and moved me to that position. Three months after that, they fired one of their web devs who did maintenance work on their website and gave those tasks to me as well. I lasted at the business for 10 months before they let me go for “not enjoying my job enough.”. I say cut your losses and run.

  6. WFH2020*

    I’m so sorry #2. You don’t need to toughen up. You are not over sensitive either. You are experiencing normal emotions during a once in a lifetime pandemic and in the run up to what could possible be the most important election in our country and your lifetime. Your boss needs to check her own assumptions, privilege, and entitlements and deal with stress better. That was extremely flippant and dismissive for her to say.

    For me, I think my supervisor handled my requests perfectly. I have PTSD that’s been triggered a number of times and I’ve let people know my stress levels right now need to be lowered. I haven’t watched any debates and let people know I wouldn’t be watching or discussing. I requested Vacation time around the election and when I informed my supervisor why I’d be taking leave, all the feedback was kudos for planning ahead and taking care of myself.

    1. Jane*

      I will also be taking the week of the election off due partially to PTSD. I suspect this is not uncommon.

    2. OP #2*

      OP here. Thanks so much for your kind words – it’s helpful to keep reminding myself that I am experiencing normal feelings. I think the idea of taking time off around the election is a wonderful way to take care of yourself. I think I will do the same!

      1. old curmudgeon*

        I also have serious anxiety reactions to the current reality, and especially to the news, so I put myself on a total news embargo last month. My boss is also the type who insists on belaboring all the current events that annoy/upset her ad nauseum, and despite my repeatedly telling her that she is giving me anxiety attacks talking about them, she persists in doing so.

        My response is to manufacture a reason to leave the conversation – cat puked, dog needs to go out, someone at the door, laundry buzzed – SOMETHING plausible that needs an immediate response, and I drop off the call. So far, it has worked well.

        I have also arranged to take Election Day off work; can’t take that whole week, but I know that I wouldn’t be productive if I tried to work on November 3, so instead I’ll spend that day doing something like baking or reading or needlepointing, any activity that will consume enough of my cognition that it’ll stop me from perseverating about what’s happening in the world.

        Good luck to you. I hope you are able to get your bully of a boss to back down, and I applaud you for taking good care of yourself.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          My boss is also the type who insists on belaboring all the current events that annoy/upset her ad nauseum, and despite my repeatedly telling her that she is giving me anxiety attacks talking about them, she persists in doing so.

          Your boss is an ass.

      2. Quoth the Raven*

        Just wanted to say I’m not American (from Mexico) and, even without being there, talk about the election is stressing me out (my partner and some very dear friends live in the US)– I can’t imagine telling someone for whom the situation is more immediate and personal that they’re too sensitive, or that they’re going too far in an effort to protect themselves!

        There’s no need to toughen up. There is no need to push yourself past your comfort threshold because someone thinks you’re too sensitive. There is nothing wrong with needing respite. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

      3. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I requested the day after the election off. I told my supervisor that I’d either be hungover from celebrating or hungover from the continued dread of our current existence. But mostly I just want to be able to stay up and watch the returns and not have to try and function the next day.

        (And yes, I know there may not be a solid answer that night, but I’ll also be watching the Senate races and everything)

      4. Mockingjay*

        When you request the time off, if asked (don’t volunteer), offer a bland reason: “taking a staycay for Netflix and chill,” “winterize the garden,” etc.

        I’ve found that prepping and rehearsing innocuous responses helps me avoid or neutralize uncomfortable situations. For coworkers wanting to discuss politics or disasters ad nauseum, I’ll say something like: “oh, I missed the debate. I’ll state my opinions in the voting booth. Now, how about work problem/local sports/cat video?”

        This kind of light-hearted remark followed by a topic switch works on several levels: boss sees that you are participating in the conversation (team player!), your coworkers get a pleasant exchange without divisive opinions (internally they thank you), and it’s easy to move on to work or another subject. I only wish that I had figured out this response years ago – I used to take conversations like this literally and deeply. Could have saved myself and my coworkers a lot of anguish.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          My go-to is “personal errands that have to be done during business hours”, which makes everyone think of all kinds of boring stuff.

      5. Beth*

        OP #2: your boss sucks.

        My own boss is able to follow the news closely without imploding from the stress. When he asks me if I watched this thing or read that thing, I’m able to tell him “No, I’d rather stick rusty sporks in my eyes,” and he’s fine with that.

      6. Aphrodite*

        I tend to believe myself that the time after the election is going to be worse than the time before, hard as that is for me to swallow. (Much scarier too.) So be aware and plan for that too.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      ‘You’re too sensitive!’ is the cry of a bully after they’ve been told their behaviour is unacceptable. I’ve cut out all talk of the election (I’m in the UK but it’s terrifying), all virus conspiracy theories, most of the news in total n fact.

      Do whatever it takes to protect your mental health and to blazes with anyone who tells you to grow a thicker skin. Tried just being tougher at the start of all this with disastrous results.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        My partner really struggles with anxiety and obsessive/perseverative thoughts, and I’ve had to tell him several times “I think you need to take a break from the news. Yes, even watching Colbert and Trevor Noah.” He felt silly the first time but when several days passed and he realized he was finally relaxing he realized how destructive it was to his mental health – particularly given that we don’t live in the US so there is literally no way he can influence the outcome.

        1. ThatGirl*

          We are in the US, and my husband was spending so much time back in January doomscrolling Twitter — and this was before election talk really kicked into high gear and the pandemic was a thing. I could see the writing on the wall – he totally melted down in 2016 – and told him he really needed to cut back on his media consumption. And he did – only checks a few reliable news sites, has stopped using Twitter, etc – and it’s really helped. It’s not that he or I want to be uninformed but sometimes too much information is just bad for your mental health.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        “Oh thicker skin? Like callused skin? No, thanks. Not interested in being a callused person.”

          1. Thankful for AAM*

            I’m borrowing both “elebenty billion” and “not interested in being callous.”
            Both are brilliant.

      3. Mystery Bookworm*

        It’s also just…wildly unhelpful. Like telling someone to calm down when they’re not feeling calm. Obviously, being calmer would be nicer. That has occured to most people.

        I have gone through phases where I’ve been more touchy and more emotionally responsive than I would like….and it drove me bonkers! I very much wished I wasn’t like that. But it’s just what I was going through at the time.

        Someone else pointing it out would have been at best unhelpful, and at worst aggrevating the problem.

        There is 0% chance I would have said: ‘Ohmygosh, you are right! This emotional reaction is a bit much. I’ll just adjust that setting real quick.’

      4. Lils*

        OP#2, I recently was told by a family member I was being hysterical and sensitive for taking the election “too seriously.” It really hurt and made me feel gaslit. Gaslighting is a technique of a bully, as Keymaster alluded to.

        It might be helpful for us to think of being told we are “too sensitive” emotionally like we’d think of being told we were “too sensitive” about a physical problem with our bodies. How would I react if someone told me I was “too sensitive” for not wanting to keep hiking on a broken ankle? I’d think they were being very unkind and would wonder why in the world it was so important to them that I continue hiking.

        Your own understanding of your health is the important boundary here–other people don’t get to set that boundary for you. People should respect that boundary once you communicate it, full stop. The “too sensitive” comment could be translated to “I don’t care about your boundaries or consent, we are continuing this conversation anyway, because I want to.”

        That being said, I appreciate you writing in because I’ve probably brought up the election too much at work. I process by talking with others (such as my like-minded colleagues) and I’m worried and scared. But I didn’t think enough about the emotional impact it might have on my listeners and I should have been more sensitive (irony!!). Thanks.

        1. OP #2*

          OP here, and just wanted to say that it is so tricky right now, because of course we can’t completely tune things out, and we want to support each other. If I was your coworker and we’d mutually agreed to process and discuss everything, then I don’t think you should worry. It’s important for us to support each other as best we can and it sounds like you’re being empathetic to everyone’s needs. And I think the power dynamics are quite different when it’s your boss vs a peer – I hate feeling obligated to listen just because it’s my boss.

          1. Lils*

            Yes, I agree the power dynamics are in play with your boss and honestly she should already be well aware of that and should not make you listen to her rants. Hang in there and remember your self-care is YOUR choice.

  7. KR*

    The background check is common apparently with some states that don’t have a centralized background check system. It’s been a while since I looked it up. My background check took a month and my employer was on the verge of opening up the position again. But luckily it came through! Hang in there OP. You can do it.

    1. Coppertina*

      I hired a new employee into a backfill position and his start date had to be pushed back repeatedly due to background check delays. At first we were hearing nothing and had no clue what the problem was. Then got more info – the process was stalled altogether while courthouses were closed. He’s in one of the areas you describe, where the lack of a centralized system with digital records means even simple checks can require in-person searches. The employee finally started SEVEN weeks after the original start date.

    2. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      “my employer was on the verge of opening up the position again” – that seems like a weird response to a delay on THEIR side! And also extremely unfair, given that you had no control over the process. Glad it worked out for you.

      1. KR*

        The delay was purely on the courts side. They had to consider opening the position up, it wasn’t about fairness, it was the fact that they had someone in the role who wasn’t working out and vital work wasn’t getting done. I’m also very glad it worked out!

        1. Zombeyonce*

          It seems like shortsighted idea, since a new candidate could face the same exact delays in a brand new background check…

      2. LeahS*

        Yes that is a weird response! I am in pre-employment and we would never rescind an offer for this reason.

    3. ScampiForever*

      KR, glad to hear that I’m not alone! I’m glad it worked out for you and hope it will for me, too. I have seen the position I accepted on LinkedIn and Glassdoor posted “a month ago” (depending on when that was, could be after I accepted it), which I don’t love. Fingers crossed for the best! – OP 5

  8. Zoe*

    #3. Incredibly tone deaf, though I’m guessing they don’t care. With donations they could make a difference in so many people’s lives. How upsetting.

  9. V*

    #3

    While Alison is spot on that the LW likely won’t be able to truly push for a change, they might very well be able to affect the decision making process by suggesting good alternatives. Distributing the budget as a one-off bonus, providing a way for employees to order home office equipment/furniture, allowing employees to gift to one of a list of charities, …

    Since they describe multiple event planners, those people might want to prove their organisational skills again and several options include a lot of organisation and planning. They’re also great for morale or the company’s reputation whereas a VR event will very likely divide the room. I’d call some of these event planners and raise the topic and hope for the best from there.

    Worst case you sell the 600 dollar toy and use the money for something more useful. At least it’s a sign that your company is indeed doing well and you don’t have to worry about the pandemic affecting your job.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      Agreed! The charity donation idea is great.

      I’m in basically the same position as the event planners – the company I work for has been largely unaffected and therefore I still have a job, but there are just no events to work on. I and everyone else I know in this position have been seconded to other departments to do admin or support etc, but ultimately we are not doing the job that we were hired to do because right now that job doesn’t exist. I agree that this weird VR party is not the way to go, but I do understand the impulse to plan something! Anything! And to prove that you definitely still need event planners! And they can definitely do virtual events!

      1. BottleBlonde*

        Yeah, I’m not an event planner but am good friends with one at my company, and it sounds like the longer this has gone on, the more pressed they have felt to find “fun” virtual alternatives beyond virtual happy hour. (Or other more typical perks, like ordering people delivery.)

        Some of the ideas they’ve shot down recently have been…interesting, to say the least. Apparently the most recent was “boo-grams”, which would have consisted of hiring someone to dress as a ghost, show up at everyone’s house, say “boo”, and drop off a bucket of candy.

      2. Annimal*

        SO seconding this sentiment – I’m in the live events business (concerts) and we have been completely decimated by COVID. So please have a little sympathy for the planners who are probably desperate to figure out something big and splashy and up to company norms.

        Keep in mind they likely also need to spend the money in that line item or it disappears in the next budget cycle.

        Also, selfishly, I would suggest spending the money on commissioning an artist to create performance to be either live streamed or pre-recorded just for your organization (plus maybe some conversation where you could submit questions or comments). There are so many creative approaches musicians and theater artists and dancers and everyone in between have been taking to this and it’s really a great way to make employees feel like they have access to something special. Also, selfishly, if anyone wants to talk about a performance for their company, I can help!

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Yabbut, given that we are talking about events intended to boost employee morale, there is the perennial problem that any given event will, for some significant but likely silent percentage, be an ordeal to be endured. This has been true of most morale-boosting events in my working life. The exception is that one company I worked for occasionally scored some baseball luxury box seats. I like going to ballgames, so I was up for that. It also had the advantage that there weren’t enough tickets for the entire company, so there was no question of this being mandatory fun. Did it boost morale? I suppose so, in some tiny increment. Frankly, the tacit understanding that a lot of employees would take opening day off meant more to me.

          Virtual events sound dreadful: mandatory fun, but at your computer! A virtual art performance? I would be unlikely to be interested. If mandatory, I would have other windows up on my screen. And in the unlikely event that you arranged a performance I wanted to see, this would not interest many other employees.

          1. EventPlannerGal*

            Not everything has to appeal to you specifically. You literally just said that you enjoy things like this when they fit your specific interest – is it really that difficult to understand that while you enjoy sports, other people enjoy art and music and theatre and might enjoy a concert or performance being put on exclusively for them?

            Also, given the fact that this whole exchange is about how our industry has been totally destroyed and everyone is desperately trying to prove that we provide value, it feels, in the oft-quoted parlance of this site, unkind to take this as an opportunity to rub in that apparently everything we do is nothing more than a horrible ordeal to be endured (unless, of course, it involves baseball). Some people enjoy events and art and music and theatre.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              Sure. It is the perennial “so long as it is truly optional” part. Taking the example at hand, having VR equipment show up on your doorstep does not say “this event is optional.”

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          Ugh, my sympathies – I was in festivals up until recently and it’s been heartbreaking seeing what’s happening via former colleagues/contacts. Best of luck to you <3

          (I also wonder if these guys are using it as a trial run for future business events/exhibitions/conferences? I know we’re already brainstorming how the annual conference we host is going to work if we have to do it virtually. I’d be a bit surprised if they really intend to buy every employee a VR headset just for one Christmas party, but if they envision doing future events by VR then maybe they’re seeing it as an investment.)

      3. LW 3*

        I think you may have hit the nail on the head with this. I imagine the events staff is desperately trying to find something that’s new and exciting to do with their budget rather than yet another Zoom meeting or meal delivery.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yes it’s a challenge for sure, but EventPlannerGal seems to have plenty of ideas that could work.

    2. Alice's Rabbit*

      Honestly, if they’re insisting on gifting some sort of tech, noise-cancelling headphones are a better idea. Especially ones with a good, built-in mic. Those would be useful for folks in the company far beyond the one night event.

    3. Mockingjay*

      My company just announced that employee insurance premium contributions will not increase for 2021, even though the overall cost of the company healthcare plan is rising. The company is absorbing the cost difference in recognition of how employees have stepped up to the plate and kept the company functioning despite COVID-19 containment measures.

      Perhaps you and coworkers (safety and success in numbers) could suggest something like this – benefits related – instead of a one-time VR meeting. What are you going to do with all those headsets when it’s over?

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I like this suggestion. If they can afford VR headsets for everyone in the company, they can probably afford to absorb the costs of benefits so their employees end up paying little to nothing.

        1. LW 3*

          I do want to clarify that this is only my department planning this party, which is only several hundred employees rather than the tens of thousands in the entire company.

          1. Mockingjay*

            That scales things down. Rather than VR headsets, what about office equipment? New ergonomic keyboards, phone headsets, monitor risers?

    4. Smithy*

      I am in complete agreement that this sounds like a waste, is in bad taste, and the money could be better spent on employees or the community. As Alice’s Rabbit said – sending all staff noise canceling headphones in advance of a weird 1 hour Zoom “end of year thank you” would at least have the technical benefit of giving staff equipment that would support better remote work.

      However – I recently made an off comment to a friend about holiday work parties in the sense of them being more mandatory than an employee perk. She’d worked for her family business for a while, and took that comment far more personally and aggressively around how important and appreciated their holiday parties were. It ended up being a far more heated and antagonistic conversation than I was hoping for, but it does bring to mind how there are certainly some with a strong mindset that these kinds of professional parties are important and of value.

      Depending where the OP and their colleagues are in the company, I would just be mindful that this might be a point of expending workplace capital. And whether this is the issue where the OP wants to do that.

      1. V*

        “She’d worked for her family business for a while, and took that comment far more personally and aggressively ”

        That’s a classic sign of the kind of dysfunction you can get in a family business. But it’s true that work parties can be a divisive subject.

        I’d definitely raise the point that the $300+ per person can be better spent than on a gadget (even if I’d personally enjoy it). But this is certainly not something to push on. I’ve seen much bigger expenditures in my time than this and just rolled my eyes and went with it.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          It doesn’t show dysfunction here (even if family businesses can be full of that). It shows commitment.
          Making the party mandatory would be dysfunctional, but enjoying it is not.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        Sure, there definitely are some big fans of professional parties. They tend either to be extroverts, who just like being in crowds, or senior management playing the role of benevolent overlord.

        1. F.M.*

          I’m an introvert and exhausted by crowds, and I adore company parties. Free food and interesting drinks, sometimes prizes, a chance to get out of the house and do something other than sit on the couch… And if it’s my company that I like an excuse to chat with colleagues with absolutely no need to make it about work, while if it’s my spouse’s company, there’s such a great lack of pressure in having a bit of chat with some strangers who I might see once a year, tops. I’m not sure how I’d feel about a virtual event, but I’m an introvert who’s been really wistful about not being able to have the usual department parties this year.

          I’m not sure why so many people think “introvert” means “recoils from any interaction with other humans.” I’m usually exhausted after a company party, but I’m exhausted after a lot of things I enjoy doing.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Commitment to company parties also depends on how committed you are to the firm. If you’re looking elsewhere, you don’t want to bond. We had a sales guy just get totally wasted at the open bar at our annual meeting, a month later he had left the company. The next year no open bar!

  10. Less Bread More Taxes*

    #5 – what did your company say about the background check timeline? Did they give you any indication about how long it would take and whether they would be upset if you accepted a new position in the meantime? It wouldn’t hurt to reach out and ask for a timeline. They should realize that some candidates aren’t in a position to wait that long. However, you should also be prepared for them to not know the timeline and/or be unreasonable about you looking elsewhere.

    A few years ago, I accepted a job. HR told me that it was extremely important that I did not renege on the offer as they’d been having a problem with candidates turning down the offer during the background check and that if I did so, I would essentially be blacklisted. The offer was contingent on a successful background check of course. I waited a month without searching for other jobs, emailed them to see what the timeline would be, and then started job searching again when they couldn’t give me an answer. Two and a half months after the verbal offer, I accepted a different job and emailed the original place to let them know that I wouldn’t be moving forward with them. They were livid.

    Funnily enough, I met someone else at my new employer who had been through the same thing – it took them *four months* to process his background check and he ended up taking another offer as well.

    1. Michaela*

      I’m in the exact same boat now, three weeks in, and I know the previous candidate went and took another offer.

      Have an interview tomorrow with a company I’m quite keen on, so less fussed about them dragging their feet, and if they do lose out on a candidate again, it’s their own fault.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      They could have just said, “Our BG checks take 4 months. Are you willing to wait that long?” People are amazing with what they will accept or do IF they are told UPFRONT where the problems are.

    3. hbc*

      I think the key here is that the OP resided in at least one other country. Our background checks usually take less than a week when dealing with US citizens with no international jobs. We had to do a check including another country last year, and it added at least three weeks, and we couldn’t have told you up front whether it would be a day or 4 months.

      OP, you probably know if the government agencies of the country they’re stuck on are well-oiled machines or “we’ll get to it when we feel like it.” You can try to push, but assuming this current employer is doing a basic background check, you might be up for a similar wait at the next potential job.

      1. Pretzelgirl*

        This is so strange to me. My company has background checks that take 15 mins to come back. I can’t imagine waiting 4 months! That’s insane!

        1. Karo*

          It depends entirely on the type of check. I used to work at a background screening company and we had a product that took 15 minutes, but it was essentially just a (very good) database check. Most checks at the courthouse take a few days, but some counties have ridiculous expectations and those can take much longer. (For instance, IIRC, there are some counties that require a court researcher to go to the courthouse in person, and then only allowed each court researcher to request a certain number of files per day. If you’re a major background screening company you blow past that number quickly, so if you don’t have an exorbitant number of researchers you’re going to be delayed.) International checks in particular frequently take months. The red tape is different, you’re using contractors, courts have a different hierarchy or aren’t centralized, etc.

          That said – as Workerbee pointed out, the OP said county, not country. Normally if checks went this long it was because there was some adverse information they were trying to verify. Even if OP’s record is clean, if you have a common name there’s a chance you could get records for another person with the same name. (Fun fact – these are public records, so they do not contain any truly unique identifiers like your SSN. It’s all based on name & DOB.) Even if they come back with a record, though, you should be able to dispute it and if they fill the job before the dispute process is complete you can sue them.

          If none of this is the case, I would consider reaching out to the HR person and asking if they have an update on your background check. When you’re processing millions of background checks in a year, and not training your employees particularly well, things can slip through the cracks.

          1. ScampiForever*

            Hi Karo,
            I have reached out to the HR representative and the only update I’ve gotten is that one county is the hold up. The background check wasn’t anything too intense, just a local law enforcement check – I’ve only lived in three other counties and they seem to have come back fine. The last time I followed up, I asked if there was anything I could do to help resolve the holdup and HR said I was “welcome to seek the results as well” – I had no idea what to make of that and asked if there was a specific person or agency at the county they recommended I contact. – OP 5

            1. Karo*

              Hey Scampi! Before they could start the background check, the employer will have needed you to sign an authorization and consent – it was probably one of the forms you signed when applying. Do you have any way to access those? That would provide the name of the background screening company that’s actually conducting the check, and you may be able to reach out directly to them.

              They may not be able to tell you about your specific report (I know we needed case numbers to be able to provide that detail – we didn’t want anyone who knew your name and DOB calling up and pretending to be you to get answers), but they may at least be able to tell you if they’re experiencing general delays in that county.

              I’m sorry you’re dealing with this!! Best of luck!

        2. ThatGirl*

          I was a contractor at a company for almost 5 years before they made me a FTE, and that offer was contingent on a background check. Which was hilarious to me — I’d been there almost 5 years, you’d think any problems with my performance or ethics would have come out by then. The real kicker was that the part of the background check that hit a snag was verifying that I had, in fact, been a contractor there for 5 years! I was like, do you need notarized letters from my various managers?

          1. Emi*

            Two years into my tenure with the feds, they changed the sensitivity level of my position for some reason, which meant sending a sworn agent a third of the way across the country to interview my college tutoring students’ parents in person.

        3. JustaTech*

          I think it really depends on the kind of background check. For example, a background check to work in childcare is serious business and takes several months. A friend of mine had a new person start at her daycare center but until the last of his background check came through he could not be alone with the kids nor could he do diapers, which was a substantial burden on the rest of the staff. (He was fine, they just have to be very thorough.)

          When my husband was asked to get Secret clearance for a government contracting job they needed someone who had known him at every single place he had lived for the past seven years (so back to high school) and they wanted to interview my parents even though we weren’t married yet. He didn’t end up going through with it but I can only imagine how long it would have taken!

      2. Workerbee*

        Unless it’s a typo / is clarified in a comment I didn’t get to yet, OP wrote “county,” which I reread several times myself.

        1. hbc*

          Heh, I completely misread.

          I suppose the advice holds–if you’re pretty sure your county offices were disorganized in pre-Covid times, they very well could have one clerk coming in and clearing 10% of the full voicemail one day a week.

      3. Cj*

        The OP actually says one *county* (not country) is holding it up, so they might be slow on reporting any criminal convictions or lack thereof. (I realize this could be a typo on OP’s part).

    4. Observer*

      The fact that they told you that you “cannot renege” on your acceptance is a red flag right there. As soon as you said that they knew it was an ongoing problem, it was obvious that it was going to take forever to get the background check done.

      I suspect you dodged a bullet. This is an ongoing problem, yet they get angry at the candidates rather than do anything – ANYTING AT ALL – to ameliorate the problem. That speaks volumes. Maybe it’s just the hiring portion of HR. But unless it’s a very big company, it’s unlikely that hiring is a completely walled off area. Which means that at least one person in HR is TERRIBLE at the job. Not a good starting point.

      1. Antilles*

        Right? If they’ve had enough of a problem with people bailing out mid-background check that it’s worth warning people about, then it’s really odd that HR still gets irritated about it.
        Maybe the detailed background checks are justified or required by regulations or whatever and you just need to accept it…but it seems like HR should be firmly in the “shrug, cost of doing business” camp by now.

    5. ScampiForever*

      Hi Less Bread More Taxes, I haven’t gotten any information on the timeline and they haven’t said anything that would be imply they’d be upset if I took a new position. When offered the job, I asked about a start date and they said ASAP once my onboarding was complete. I haven’t even gotten an offer letter.

      I did reach out about a timeline once I started to realize that this was taking longer than expected and didn’t get an answer, just that it was the one county they were waiting on. – OP 5

      1. Less Bread More Taxes*

        If I were you, I’d start job searching. This job will probably have completed their check by the time you get another offer, but if you do get another offer, at least you’ll have options. You have nothing to lose by exploring other opportunities.

  11. Oof*

    #4- I would suggest not describing the follow up calls “cold calling”. That brings to mind sales calls, not follow ups for existing clients. It sounds as though you prefer back end accounting, not client facing (me too!) and you could frame it that way.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I’m really confused by #4, for that reason. I’m not in accounting, so I’m likely missing something, but all of the smaller businesses I’ve worked for have had an accounting person who arranged payments (which involved getting in touch with new clients) and followed up on unpaid invoices. “Cold calling” indicates reaching out without an established relationship, and that’s not the same as taking a new client’s info and getting in touch with them.

      The job required things the OP didn’t want to do, which is fine, but she should be careful when interviewing for her next role that she doesn’t want external interaction at all.

      1. FormerARperson*

        Collection calls doesn’t necessarily mean debt collection. I worked in AR for a time. We called to get “payment status” all the time. If someone was a few days late we called to ask where the check was. Sometimes this helped bc the AP person never got the invoice, or sometimes we would find out there was some kind of delay and we would make note. This is a pretty common business practice. However most places have a dedicated AR team that would handle this. Actual accountants would not. So I can see why the OP didn’t like it and struggled with it.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          I request medical records and bills in my job. After a month or so has gone by with no response, I call and ask about the “status.” Both parties to the conversation understand that I am calling them to pester them, but the nicety keeps it friendly.

    2. Deanna Troi*

      I agree. To me, cold calling is calling people who aren’t clients yet and marketing to them. If you’re calling clients who have already signed on just to let them know you’re sending them the paperwork…I don’t think most people would consider that to be cold calling. I would still hate to do it, but you don’t actually have to make a sale or convince them of anything. You’re just providing information about a process that is already underway. I would find that to be 100 times easier than cold calling.

    3. SuperDiva*

      Yes! I think it will be important for the LW to be specific in discussing what they’re looking for in a new job, and use the right terminology for the job duties. “Cold calling” and “collections” doesn’t actually describe the work they were doing that they didn’t like. If LW prefers no client interaction, that’s fine, but if they say “I don’t like doing cold calls,” a potential employer is *not* going to interpret that as “I don’t like calling existing clients,” and LW could end up in another job mismatch situation.

  12. CockrOPch*

    #5 – some bg checks are held up due to COVID, too. I had one initiated in April as part of my job (starting work on a portfolio that included banks) and my county didn’t get results back until August. My husband had his check get held up for the same reason, and the company actually let him start with the understanding that if something came back screwy, he’d be let go (all the other places they checked reported no problems, and we’ve only lived in this area for 2 years, so they felt comfortable offering this).

    1. KaciHall*

      A lot of courts are still partially closed, so researchers can’t get in to actually do the searches.

      Personally, I think it’s silly that some of these have to be done in person (it’s 2020, people, come on!) but a LOT of places still haven’t digitized their older court records, or if they have, it’s not on a server that’s accessible remotely.

      It’s made my job of completing background checks interesting this year!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        And from what I am seeing the smaller courts never will have digital versions of the files available, at least the older stuff. They do not have the employee hours available to do this stuff. And scanning work can be brain-deadening. It’s very tedious. It’s easy to make mistakes or miss something, such as a small piece of paper or a few sentences on the back side of a page.

        From what I have seen, the clerk can’t just hand over the file to an investigator anyway. Some information is protected and not available to anyone. This means someone has to read the file before allowing outsiders to view it.

    2. FirsttimeforEverything*

      I didn’t see this thread when I commented below, but I had the exact same problem! Things are just taking longer due to business ‘hours’ and what may actually constitute a background check: ‘Are there no records because this person is trustworthy; or are there no records because they are good at hiding things?’ That distinction takes a little time to determine, and a good background-check will do everything they can to make sure they get it right… which just takes more time now.

    3. ScampiForever*

      Wow, that’s so wild that it took that long! I guess it’s something I didn’t think about since the other counties seem to have gotten my information just fine. It was a very large city so I wonder if their offices are shut down or reduced hours or something. Who knows, but I’m glad they made that work for your husband! – OP 5

  13. DiscoCat*

    #4 Just out of curiosity- why is calling a client after they were signed on cold calling? I thought cold calling is contacting potential clients to plug a product of service not know whether they want it not. Wouldn’t it be par the course to contact a new client and pass on basic information such as bank details or am I missing something here?

    1. The Other Dawn*

      Same here. To me, cold calling is calling people and businesses who don’t have an existing relationship in order to drum up new business.

      1. Jackalope*

        Interesting. I use the term cold calling to refer to a call out of the blue for the person being called. If it’s for a new person that isn’t a client I can see that use, but also a call like, “We are updating our data base and need to confirm your address and phone number,” or whatever. If it’s not related to a recent contact that they made to the company or agency that would be a cold call in my eyes even if they already do business with us.

    2. hbc*

      Yeah, I really think OP has to be careful about describing this, because I don’t know anyone who would describe this as cold calls or collections. If I was interviewing them and those were the terms used, I’d be all “Great, we don’t do that here”… and then put them in a job where you absolutely need to contact the company that the sales team just landed and get the banking information figured out.

      “Cold” means that the recipient has no idea you’ll be calling and no prior relationship, not just that the caller hasn’t talked to anyone there before. “Collections” is a bit more broad, but I don’t think most people include those types of calls under that term. It’s fine if OP doesn’t want to do either version, of course, but they’re different things.

      1. MCL*

        Yes. I follow up about unpaid invoices for my office sometimes and I am not even accounting adjacent. I’m a program manager and I just shoot a friendly email or call; it’s usually just someone forgetting to pay. Cold calling is very different to me.

        1. Jennifer*

          Yes, sales and people in other departments sometimes check in with customers with past due invoices. We all want to get paid. Sometimes you get a better response if you already have an established relationship with the customer as opposed to someone they’ve never met emailing out of the blue.

      2. LizABit*

        Totally agree. I’ve worked in accounting for over 20 years and contacting vendors and clients and following up for payment are so normal and usually required parts of the job that I’m wondering what the OP’s expectations of the job were? It’s not generally just journal entries all day! OP probably needs to adjust expectations and definitely needs to alter this wording.

    3. Person from the Resume*

      I agree. Even I – a non-accountant – was scratching my head when the LW described making a phone call to a new client as cold-calling. That didn’t jive. I didn’t think of it myself, but a “hey, your payment is a few days overdue” isn’t really collections call that is normal status check type communication in many, many jobs when someone is overdue with something.

      In this case I think it important to nick-pick the LW’s wording because she’s being unclear about what duties she doesn’t want to do and could easily end up in a another job with the same expectation. It’s not as nearly understandable as hating cold-calling and collections, but it really sounds like the LW simply doesn’t want to make any phone calls to clients. Neither type of the call she described are particularly unwelcome; they are just a normal part of interactions with clients.

    4. Mel_05*

      It may be that they’re wanting them to contact existing customers to sell them on additional services.

      My sister used to do that for an employer that was accounting adjacent, but it was part of the job description and that’s the kind of thing she excels at.

      1. RagingADHD*

        That’s still not cold calling.

        And it’s not at all what the LW described – getting payment details and following up on missed payments.

        As much as this LW is averse to speaking with clients, I’m sure an upsell call would have been top of the list of complaints.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          I read it as two separate things. The new duties were both getting payment details and following up on missed payments (which OP didn’t like) and cold-calling (which OP also did not like). I may be misinterpreting it though.

  14. babblemouth*

    I’m feeling very grateful for my company right now. They announced a month ago already that all holiday parties would be cancelled, and the money usually spent on it would be split in half – 50% going to an extra nice end of year gift, 50% going to the red cross to help the many people whose holiday season will be so much harder this year. It’s a solution everyone is happy with and frankly a few of us suggested we could keep it going even post-pandemic.

    1. Mel_05*

      That’s lovely! I wish my company would do that, but I think they’re probably going to try and have “socially distanced” holiday parties, which I won’t attend.

  15. Watry*

    #5–Check with that agency! I work for an government agency that does state and local background checks, but we do NOT do checks for third parties, unless they come with a copy of that person’s photo ID and a signed and notarized form allowing them to have the background run. We get calls all the time from job candidates who are being told we’re the bottleneck, when really the employer didn’t know what they wanted, submitted the request incorrectly, didn’t submit it at all, etc., etc.

    1. Karo*

      Yes, definitely! There were always cases where we weren’t allowed to contact the subject of the report directly to ask for things, so we had to ask the HR person and then – because you’re playing telephone – things got garbled, misconstrued, or just not passed on at all.

    2. ScampiForever*

      Hi Watry, do you have advice on where to find information on who to contact? I only know the county name and not sure what agency it would fall under within the county. I reached out to the HR rep to ask this as well but haven’t heard back. – OP 5

  16. Bookworm*

    #2: Your boss’s comment was appalling. As someone who does work in politics, well–it’s really not surprising people are completely exhausted with it right now. I’m not sure why she felt it was appropriate to talk about politics (unless that’s your area), especially since the pandemic makes things 234837 times worse.

    There’s nothing wrong with what you said. I’m sorry your boss reacted that way. Good luck in getting through the next couple of weeks/months!!

  17. Minnie Mouse*

    #2 I had a meltdown and cried at work the other day when one of my COVID denying coworkers starting going on about falsified numbers and hospitals not being overwhelmed. My whole small office is Trump supporting and very susceptible to bots on social media and conspiracy theories and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I tried to leave and my coworker followed me out to my car to see why I ran out. Thankfully everyone thinks it’s job stress, but it’s really that I can’t take being mansplained to about right wing politics and made up stuff anymore as a grown woman. They treat me like I’ll grow up and “understand” one day. I completely understand not being able to handle any more of this at work and I’m truly concerned about what will happen after this election considering I live in a heavily red area. You have my virtual hugs.

  18. WorkingGirl*

    #2 makes me suuuper grateful that my boss “doesn’t like to talk about politics”. Coworkers might briefly bring up a big news point if boss isn’t around, but for the most part we keep politics out of our office.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I had a boss who liked to talk politics, and whose politics were the opposite of mine, and got more extreme over time. But he only did it on his social media or with his work friends (with the door open, which is how I knew of his views evolving). Never intentionally to a captive audience. Having to sit next to his office and listen to his chats with his work friend was bad enough, to be honest. I was also glad that Boss and Friend seemed to stop the chats completely (or took them somewhere private) after the last election. I came into work the morning after the election fully expecting Boss and Friend to gloat all day. Instead, I was met with the blessed silence. I really respected that. OP2’s boss needs to try that sometime. Also, side note, it blew my mind that she messaged OP to apologize, and her apology somehow turned into “you need to toughen up”. Why even try apologizing if you’re going to make things worse?

    2. PJS*

      I wish we kept politics out of the office at my job. Four years ago, I was sick to my stomach the morning after election day. Not because of who won, but because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to sufficiently fake excitement if my Trump-loving crazy boss brought it up. Luckily, she didn’t. I have a coworker who listens to Rush on the radio and is very vocal with her opinions. You can tell by the way she talks that she assumes the rest of us agree with her. I go to great lengths to keep my opinions secret and it’s exhausting.

  19. animaniactoo*

    For OP#2:

    “I wanted to talk to you about something, but I needed to take a minute to think about it. I think we can both agree that there’s a lot hinging on this election, and I don’t think it’s oversensitive to both be aware of that and be afraid of the outcome. When I was honest with you about how I am feeling about it, your casual dismissal of it – saying that I was sensitive and needed to toughen up – made me feel like you thought I was just irrational.”

  20. OOW*

    The boss in Letter #1 sounds like a complete ***hole. Not that it changes anything, but ssome things need to be said openly.

  21. voyager1*

    LW1: Did you continue the presentation without him? Did you ever unmute him? Could he unmute himself?

    Honestly from the story here which is pretty sparse, I am not completely understanding what you think should have happened here.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      What should have happened is the boss shouldn’t have been such a jerk, first by taking a call during a meeting, second by disrespecting the attendees of that meeting by not muting, and third by being more professional when he expressed his displeasure with the OP.

      I would have done exactly what the OP did, even if it meant we sat in silence and waited for the boss to finish.

    2. anon73*

      Not sure where your confusion lies. Boss received a personal call WHILE HE WAS PRESENTING IN A MEETING. He should have put the person on hold, excused himself and muted. I would have done what OP did too. The boss was an asshole. It may not do any good, but if I were the OP I’d set up a meeting with him and let him know that his reaction was over the top and ask what he expected me to do.

    3. Paperwhite*

      What do you think should have happened? Should LW#1 and everyone else just have listened to Boss’s personal phone call?

    4. Taura*

      You can unmute yourself on zoom, even if the presenter muted you. The boss should’ve finished his call (since he was taking it anyway) then come back to the meeting and unmuted himself if he needed it. Then he either should’ve NOT said anything about the incident, or at least not be a jerk about it to the OP if he just had to mention it.

      1. Artemesia*

        It is pretty abusive to the group to take a personal call while not muted in a meeting and doubly so if you are presenting. the OP did the sensible thing. If he wants in the future to display his rudeness and personal life this way then rather than reaming the OP he should just have told her in future that he prefers she not mute him. And yes he is a glassbowl.

      2. voyager1*

        Taura,
        I didn’t know if someone could unmute themselves, never used Zoom. That was why I was asking those questions.

        I am guessing here, but I think the manager was probably more irritated that the staff just proceeded on without him.

  22. Trout 'Waver*

    Ugh at the holiday party. Cash money, homey. Why are so many companies willing to spend a ton on events when the majority of their workforce would rather pocket the cash?

    1. Artemesia*

      I worked for a huge organization that had this elaborate costly party for years and then one year they cancelled it and provided everyone with a turkey, and a drawing for a spiral cut ham in addition and assorted other door prizes from ticket draws. There were Tofurky’s available on request. EVERYONE pretty much preferred that. The turkeys, hams and tofurkys that were not claimed on the days they were distributed (you had to go to a central site to pick yours up which was an easy walk for everyone) were contributed to the local food bank. The turkeys were frozen so even in the years when we traveled for Christmas, we could make use of our turkey. Yeah a grocery gift card might have been better — but this was still much appreciated compared to the party; I remember two janitors in our building who were married and they were always positively gleeful about getting TWO turkeys every year and over the moon the year they got the ham as well. They had a huge extended family and were thrilled to be able to host a lavish dinner.

      1. Paulina*

        That’s a particularly good change, since in my experience elaborate holiday parties tend to slant towards those higher up in the organization, with others often feeling unwelcome or finding that they don’t fit in. They’re stratifying and often favour those already well-off. Providing turkeys or substitute reaches everyone.

    2. LW 3*

      As much as I appreciate my department trying to do something fun for us, I really agree. The wastefulness of it feels especially personal right now having just wiped out my savings to keep my car running in a town with virtually no public transportation.

  23. staceyizme*

    It seems like the meta-topic today is bad: we have bad bosses reaming people out for muting them appropriately, telling people to toughen up about the upcoming election and even assigning cold calling and collection duties “ad hoc” and then firing a permanent employee! Then there’s bad ideas- like an over the top virtual party or a background check that makes new hires doubt the validity of the job offer. Maybe the pandemic has eroded more than the economy or general confidence. It seems to have eroded some good will and good common sense along the way. (And now I’m just picturing the pointy haired manager of the Dilbert strip and deciding whether it’s better to channel Alice, Wally or the lead character…)

  24. Jennifer*

    #2 Is it possible to just make a no-politics rule during these coffee chats? It seems your boss is the only one who wants to discuss politics. Maybe you could send her a gentle message with this request?

    I do think a few of the comments are a bit harsh. The OP says she’s normally kind and compassionate, so it looks like this was maybe a one-time clumsy remark and not a reflection of her true nature. She could be just as anxious about current events as the OP and deals with it by talking about it. Not that that makes it okay for her to make hurtful remarks by any means.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      It’s easy for me to envision that the boss is as scared as OP2, and this is part of how she’s coping. Unfortunately, it’s not really okay to cope at other people, especially in such an unkind way.

      What I might consider — and this may be quite beyond OP2’s present capacity, and if so that’s completely fine, ignore me — is redirecting the conversation to good action. “Yes, I’ve been writing postcards to voters,” or “yes, I signed up to be a pollworker” or “yes, I donated to $LOCAL_CHARITY hoping to help” or “yes, I’m doing $THING to look after my home and family” or similar.

      Feeling helpless is such an awful part of the current situation in the US, yet of course it’s tricky to suggest action (and outright wrong to demand it in a work context) when so many people are so overloaded. Keeping the focus on one’s own actions defends against the “sensitive” calumny while perhaps pointing the boss at something more productive than ranting.

      1. Jennifer*

        That’s a great suggestion if the boss refuses to take politics off the table for these chats.

      2. Archaeopteryx*

        It could be that the bus was reacting more to the word choice of how OP described her anxiety. “I’m scared“ or “I feel like crying” might to the boss seem too personal or ‘sensitive’ to say in a work environment, whereas if it had been phrased as “I’m really stressed out about it”, or something more typically workplace sounding, that might have gone over better. Speculation, obviously, and none of that justifies the bosses comment of course.

    2. CM*

      This is my suggestion too. It sounds like OP#2 hasn’t been direct about not wanting to discuss politics and COVID on the calls. And if you’ve read AAM for a while, you know some people are very, shall we say, sensitive, about others crying at work. So jokingly saying you might cry might have caused your boss to have a negative reaction.

      I would be direct and point out that the call is not achieving its intended purpose — you’re dreading it instead of looking forward to the opportunity to reconnect. You could say, “The purpose of this call is supposed to be for us to connect as a team, but I find the talk about politics and COVID stressful. We’re constantly bombarded with bad news and it would be helpful for this to be a break from the news. Could we keep the topics lighter and declare this call a no-politics zone?” If you say this on the call itself, my guess is some coworkers will agree with you. Or you could send a note to your manager.

    3. OP #2*

      These are all excellent suggestions – Jennifer, you’re right on in your assessment, she is for sure also anxious but has a very different coping mechanism. She’s a person who needs to process work related things out loud in a group, so it completely makes sense she’d do the same with non-work topics.

      I also appreciate the feedback about how to better communicate anxiety – I think what was hard for me was that I tried to lightly turn the conversation away from politics but wasn’t heard at all, so I felt the need to be more direct. But as Archaeopteryx, there’s a more work-friendly way to do it. Especially hard to do in the moment when you’re having a strong reaction, but for the future I have some excellent scripts to draw from and I think that will help a lot.

  25. anon73*

    #2 – your boss is not kind and compassionate if she told you to toughen up and said you were being sensitive. If this really is a one-off situation, maybe she was having a really bad day and decided to take it out on you, but I would pay attention to how she reacts in other situations. What’s going on in the world right now IS scary and you are not being too sensitive. I wouldn’t want to talk about politics in a casual work meeting either. I’d consider bringing it up with her once, and let her know that her comment was rude and unfair. If she realty is kind and compassionate as you say, you should be able to have a real conversation about this without her calling you overly sensitive. If she just claims you’re overreacting again, you need to comes to terms with the fact that your boss is not who you think she is and adjust accordingly for your own sake.

  26. Just my 2 cents*

    OP 1 made me chuckle a bit because I did this accidentally to my boss on a call yesterday. Luckily she was finished with what she was saying and just saw the massive banner across her screen that said “You have been muted by the host”

    Your boss definitely over reacted. If you want to pursue it, I’d just tell him, sorry boss, I thought you’d appreciate the privacy and wanted to make sure the others didn’t overhear anything they should have. Next time I’ll take your lead. Who knows, maybe that was supposed to be the equivalent of letting someone “overhear” a conversation in the hall that gets information out there before the formal announcement – e.g. yeah, clearly no raises this year…sorry on a meeting gotta go!

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      If you want to pursue it, I’d just tell him, sorry boss, I thought you’d appreciate the privacy and wanted to make sure the others didn’t overhear anything they should have. Next time I’ll take your lead.
      I feel like that is only something that works with a reasonable boss, this boss has indicated they are not reasonable.

    2. Ali G*

      I’d be tempted to go full on malicious compliance with this one.
      Boss: *picks up phone & starts personal convo*
      OP: …
      Co-worker: OP, can you mute boss so we can get on with the meeting?
      OP: Sorry, I was told to never mute Boss again. I guess we wait until he is done.

      1. Morning Glory*

        I’m not sure that’s malicious compliance since it seems like this is exactly what the boss wants to happen.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          It’ll be malicious once it turns out he’s talking to his mistress and now the whole office knows he met her at a strip club.

  27. FirsttimeforEverything*

    OP5- Totally understand your frustration.
    I was hired at the end of August pending a background check for a large national company. By my start date last week, they still hadn’t gotten the results back- I think because inter-state/country records offices have weird hours right now due to COVID and non-digital files. Where you used to be able to call someone Mon-Fri business hours and get a record sent to you or confirmed, now the office is only open Monday & Wednesday from 12:30-3:3o or the like.
    I was lucky enough that they went ahead and let me start as normal, while letting me know if something came back they would have to terminate me.
    You’re not alone, and until I recieved the, ‘this is not normal policy, but we are going to make an exception due to this unusual time,’ email shortly before my start date, I wasn’t even sure if I had the job and was still actively applying to anything I could find.

    1. ScampiForever*

      Hi, I’m glad to hear I’m not alone and sorry that you went through the same frustration!! I never would have guessed this stuff wasn’t digital especially because the county I’m waiting on is a very large city. I’m glad to hear that they made an exception for you and let you start working! – OP 5

      1. jenniferM*

        I was waiting for a background check to come from a large county/state once upon a time ago. I had to contact someone at that county (I knew who to contact from my previous job in that locale) and then it got moved up. Not sure if there is a way to contact someone in that county or where you even would start, but maybe that could work.

  28. Phony Genius*

    For #3, I’d be worried that if they distribute VR equipment to everybody, then they’ll want all of their virtual meetings going forward to be in VR.

  29. LifeBeforeCorona*

    I’m Canadian and we have stopped politic talk /discussions at work because it is so fraught. I can’t imagine trying to navigate the current US climate right now while living it.

    1. Artemesia*

      I have very political friends and even we are overwhelmed. We started a movie club with 6 couples so we would be getting together weekly but have something besides the election and the disaster our nation has become to talk about.

  30. Emi*

    OP2, your boss was rude, but it sounds like you went from 0 to 100 pretty quickly and she didn’t know the politics talk was bugging you before, so I do get her being taken aback by crying talk. She should have guessed that at least one person was bugged by it, though, and it’s not cool for her to foist it on all of you as the boss (and if her remark about sensitivity was in the vein of “you need to do the work of sitting with your discomfort” that’s a whole extra flavor of nope). If something like this comes up again, a lower-key but very direct request to drop it will probably get the job done.

    1. Jennifer*

      I agree. It doesn’t seem anyone had told the boss prior to this that the political talk was bothering them. I know this because I have the same problem. I used to let things build and build and not say anything, then have a meltdown and people would be genuinely shocked. It’s not an excuse to be rude but I get why the boss might be taken aback.

      Since the chats are purely social and not work-related, OP could give an excuse to drop when the topic becomes political.

      Also, I’m curious what is being called “political” in this context. A lot of things are being classified as political that really aren’t. Sometimes people are just venting about very real things that are affecting their lives, like if I say I haven’t seen my mom in months and I’m sad about it, people have taken that and started going off on a wild political tangent.

    2. OP #2*

      I appreciate the feedback! The frustrating thing has been that she is the only one talking about politics and COVID on these calls, and we are basically a captive audience listening to her opinions and ideas – so she’s not exactly been clued in to the fact that none of us want to participate. But that’s not an excuse for me not being calmly direct before I got to the point I did in the last meeting.

  31. Mannheim Steamroller*

    OP #1…

    Next time the boss takes a personal call during a Zoom meeting… Don’t mute him. You and your team should simply disconnect from the meeting (and then maybe reconnect in a separate Zoom session).

    1. Antilles*

      To be honest, there’s a part of me that would want to intentionally talk extra-loud next time he takes a call mid-meeting just so that he can’t hear clearly on his phone call the same way we can’t hear clearly on our conference call. Don’t actively say anything, just elevate the volume loudly.
      That said, any boss who is irritated at a perfectly normal “muting people to avoid background noise” is clearly a power-tripping jackass. So unfortunately, the actual answer here is (1) don’t mute him, (2) act totally normally, (3) roll your eyes at him being an idiot.

      1. Artemesia*

        I think if the presenter is babbling on a phone call, everyone just stops and listens. No reason you can’t have a word game on the computer for these moments.

  32. HR Bee*

    LW5: Obviously, full-time work trumps part-time work and of course take a position that is best for you. However, I think Alison was wrong to blame the part-time company’s process for taking so long. As you mentioned in your letter, it’s one county holding up the background check. I worked at a law firm in Wisconsin and every so often we’d hire someone who lived in Illinois and commuted up. Every. Single. Time. we had a candidate from Cook County, IL, we warned them that their background check could take 6-8 weeks. Cook County has TERRIBLE turnaround time. It has nothing to do with the company or the background check vendor. They search records by hand or something, I don’t know. But it was literally every single time from that county.

    1. ScampiForever*

      Oh dear. That happens to be the county I’m waiting on. I’m in a different state now in an entirely different region, so I’m sure the employer wouldn’t have thought to warn me since they may never have had a candidate live there before. Thanks so much for this tidbit. While it’s not encouraging, it’s nice to hear some reality. I’m assuming that turnaround time was pre-COVID, as well? :( – OP 5

      1. Alldogsarepuppies*

        I can confirm Cook County has horrible procedures for criminal matters. Very little is digitized so it must be searched by hand, and clerks won’t let researchers do it themselves – it must be court/records staff. They were also closed for a couple months due to COVID so are dealing with a backlog even larger than normal.

  33. Jennifer*

    #1 Fine, if he doesn’t want to be muted, then we’ll all sit and wait and listen to you schedule your doctor’s appointment over zoom and learn all the dirty details.

  34. Mr. Cajun2core*

    OP#1 – Your boss sounds like he is such a jerk. While I hope this won’t happen, I have a feeling that the next time when you don’t mute him, he will get angry at you for not muting him. I do hope I am wrong.

    I have worked for bosses like this and you have my sympathies.

    1. smartaleckyperson*

      My smart aleck thought would be to email him and cc everyone who was on the call, and his boss, and ask “Boss, after I muted you on the call, afterwards you screamed at me that it was not my place to mute you and if you wanted to be muted you’d do it yourself. So, just to be clear, for any future zoom meetings we have, if you get a personal call and take it without giving us any other information such as ‘mute me i’ll be a few minutes’, or ‘standby let me tell this person I’ll call them back’, that we are NOT to mute you, and that we are all REQUIRED to listen to your personal call during our meeting time, NOT move forward with any of our scheduled meeting agenda? I ask because if we don’t mute you it will be difficult for us to cover our agenda items while you are taking your personal call, and probably difficult for you to conduct your personal call if we attempted to talk over you to cover our agenda.

      1. Observer*

        I just might email the boss, and even include some people on the CC. But I’d keep it more neutral sounding. I think it would be far more effective to say something “I just want to clarify your expectation that in the future I should never mute you in a meeting, even if you need to take a very personal call. You will always mute yourself if you feel the need, and I am never to make that judgment, regardless of the content of the call.”

        That covers the rear of the person who gets stuck with having to not mute these kinds of calls – and has enough information to make anyone with sense realize what kind of idiot the boss is being.

  35. Observer*

    #3 – I agree with you that your company is being quite tone deaf here. But if you DO speak up, make sure you have your facts correct. VR is not *necessarily* a toy anymore, although it doesn’t sound like anyone has really thought about a real use case here. Also, VR headsets have actually gone down in price and don’t necessarily require a PC anymore.

    Point out that spending several hundred dollars (one of the highest profile headsets currently available – Oculus Quest 2 – is $299) on a gadget that no one is likely to be able to use for much, is kind of tone deaf at a time when people are struggling, and that giving people gift cards or bonuses would be much better received. This can be done along a “regular” party, especially if the office is willing to also arrange for everyone to be order some party food as well,

  36. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    Rude to tell you to toughen up and stop being sensitive- people are affected and worried.

    That said, my spouse had to leave work and go on disability after the 2016 election- she just couldn’t take it. But, that reaction doesn’t negate reality, and the time off really caused financial and other problems for us.

    So, OP, shield yourself if it helps, and use coping mechanisms. But figure out what you’ll do even if things don’t go your way.

    We have to live and deal with the world, and bills and job assignments don’t just stop because you’re affected. And I say this as a queer person.

    1. Jennifer*

      +1
      The best thing to do may be to excuse herself from these conversations. But you’re right, life does go on and we have to figure out a way to deal.

    2. squidarms*

      Thanks for reminding everyone that bills continue to exist when you’re upset. I’m sure that most people who have had to take time off work for mental health reasons have never considered that detail, or they would have made better choices.

  37. Ama*

    I was once asked to complete a military background check form for someone who worked as a temp employee for my office for one week two years earlier — thankfully I was in the habit of keeping brief notes in my calendar on new temps and I had written only positive things about him. I tried to return the form as quickly as possible but it was something you actually had to fill out and mail back — if they were going to every employer he worked for during his period as a temp it probably took a while.

  38. league**

    OP4, that sucks. And I don’t mean this harshly, but you weren’t laid off; you were fired. That’s a distinction you’ll want to make, because if you call it a layoff and your references say later that you were let go/fired/terminated, it will appear you’re lying. I’m sorry this happened, and good luck to you.

      1. Metadata minion*

        Generally fired means fired for cause, while laid off means that your position was eliminated for budget reasons or something like that unrelated to your job performance.

        1. league**

          Right. One way to tell could be if they are going to (try to) fill the position with somebody else. If so, then it’s probably about you, meaning a firing.

  39. Luna*

    LW2: ‘Regardless of my perceived need to ‘toughen up’, I would appreciate if the topic of politics was simply not brought up during these coffee breaks anymore. It is a rather hot-button topic for many people, and can easily end up derailing conversations or monopolizing the place, due to the many opinions and personal feelings everyone has about them; a reason why it’s generally good to not bring certain topics up, like religion or similar, personal aspects. And with the prevalence of politics on the news nowadays, it would be a breath of fresh air to have a time where it isn’t present.’

  40. TeapotNinja*

    LW3: you could potentially fight back on this by highlighting how other companies are handling this sort of thing. My large multinational company cancelled our annual parties and donated the savings to charities involved with helping underprivileged communities cope with covid-19.

    1. Artemesia*

      If most people are very well paid this is lovely but if you have a lot of low paid support staff, this is a bit tone deaf too — time for some extra support for those people.

  41. Seven If You Count Bad John*

    We recently had “Customer Service Week” which is usually kind of fun when we’re on-site and the activities can provide a little fun break from work, but this time was all online games and a drive-through swag event that took place on a Saturday (which meant you had to go on your day off to participate).

    I wish they would have taken the money and just tossed everyone a little bonus check.

  42. Jennifer*

    I agree, it is a legitimate fear depending on where you live. We had some violent protests in my area as well. I just think the spirit in which the original comment was made was a bit disingenuous.

  43. Aphrodite*

    I said this above in a comment to a comment but I think it bears repeating as a separate post.

    I believe that events after November 3 will be, regardless of the outcome, much, much worse than even those now, before it. So taking time off and otherwise avoiding the stress of political talk and news will likely get much worse afterward. Plan for it, and take care of yourself.

  44. squidarms*

    Situations like #2’s are why I firmly believe that public political discussions are inappropriate in most workplaces. However much certain bosses may want people to be emotionless little robots whose feelings never get in the way of their work, people are people, and political discussions are almost guaranteed to result in hurt feelings on someone’s part. You cannot mandate that employees not be emotionally affected by political discussions, because that’s not something that’s in your power to control. You can, however, mandate that employees interested in discussing politics do so in a private forum rather than in a work meeting.

    If people at this workplace really need to be able to discuss politics for whatever reason, maybe a private Slack channel could be created for this purpose. That would provide a venue to talk about such things while ensuring that only those who are okay with these conversations have to see them. In general, though, I think it’s probably better for coworkers to form an affinity group outside of work if they want to talk politics with each other. It’s just too much of a minefield otherwise.

  45. Pennalynn Lott*

    I just scrolled through the comments and didn’t see anyone mention this in regards to #2:

    Whenever someone starts a sentence with “People like you…” or “You people…” nothing good or positive ever follows that opening. The person it’s directed at has been lumped into a fictitious group in the speaker’s mind where then the entire group can be dismissed instead of addressing the individual person’s concerns. It’s “othering”.

  46. SusanIvanova*

    My very large multinational tech company is still running the occasional “complete a month of $activity that you can do with our product”, but the rewards now are t-shirts instead of the more expensive swag we used to get.

    And that “more expensive” was still under the limits of gifts that have to be taxed, so if they’re giving you these VR headsets that’s another reason you can push back on it.

  47. HR employee*

    #5 – Covid (still) has a lot of counties backed up with getting criminal background check results! If you work in an industry where background checks are normal and you’ve lived in a county that is slow or halted, you could have the same problem with a any new job you get.

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