manager’s toxic positivity, why you can’t badmouth your boss in an interview, and more

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

1. Manager’s toxic positivity is getting us down

I’ve been a high school teacher for about 15 years. Obviously, everything about education has had to be drastically adapted in the past year and many of us are still struggling to keep up with the constant changes in expectations, combined with our own family crises. My new principal sends daily emails dripping with toxic positivity, such as pointing out the beautiful weather that we should be thankful for, or encouraging us to take time to practice self-care. These instructions are starting to feel more like extra responsibilities, especially when coupled with “here are three articles I thought you’d all enjoy reading before tomorrow’s staff meeting.” I sort of understand that she’s trying to keep our spirits up, but honestly, most of us would rather just not get an email like that at all. It’s just one more thing to see in the inbox and have to read, you know?

In staff meetings, we’re put in breakout rooms on Zoom to share our self-care ideas with each other, when we’d rather discuss professional things like concerns about specific students’ progress (face-to-face discussions with colleagues, even remote ones, are so much more valuable than emails for this sort of thing), so we feel like it’s wasting and disrespecting our time. Our union representative for the school has the responsibility of bringing teacher concerns to the principal, and she forwarded an article about toxic positivity which clearly outlined several examples of behavior she was guilty of, with the tip that several teachers felt bombarded in this way by her emails. Since then, nothing has changed. Can you suggest some ways to deal with this?

Yeah, I’m thinking someone who thinks this is a good idea isn’t necessarily going to stop just because she hears secondhand (even from a union rep) that some people don’t like it; it’s too easy to dismiss as, “Oh, maybe a couple of people don’t like it.”

How receptive is your principal to feedback? Ideally you and other teachers would tell her directly that you’d rather use meetings to discuss work-specific concerns and you’re not finding the self-care break-outs helpful. I’d focus your capital there rather than on the daily emails (annoying as those sound) because in theory you can skip the emails or quickly skim them, whereas the staff meetings use significant time and sound excruciating.

As for how to deliver that feedback, it depends on how communication usually works there, but one option is for a group of you to raise it at the next staff meeting — maybe at the end of a meeting and framed as a request for the next one. One person will have to be the first to speak up, but if you decide ahead of time that others will chime in with agreement, it’ll probably have more of an impact than hearing it secondhand.

Read an update to this letter here

2. Why is it taboo to tell an interviewer you’re job-searching because of your manager?

I was reading an article this morning talking about how managers are the reason people leave jobs. Not the first time I’ve heard this or experienced it. If people are always leaving jobs because of their managers, why is it such a taboo to use it in interviewing as a reason why you’re leaving your job?

The big thing is that the interviewer doesn’t know you well enough to know if your assessment of your boss is reasonable or if you were part of the problem. For example, if you say your boss was a micromanager, maybe she managed you closely because your work wasn’t great and required a lot of oversight. Maybe you have unrealistic expectations of a boss or you’re a prima donna or impossible to get along with. (Think about some bad employees you’ve known and what complaints they probably had about their managers.) It’s not that interviewers don’t know there are legitimately bad bosses out there; it’s that they have no way of knowing what the other side of this particular story is. And while good interviewers will of course know your account could be entirely correct and objective, it raises enough of a question mark that they’ll have to wonder, and it’s not in your interests to have those sorts of questions hanging over you.

Also, rightly or wrongly, the convention most of us have been taught is that it’s considered indiscreet and a little tacky to badmouth a previous employer. So if you do, your judgment will feel somewhat questionable.

More here.

3. Did I cheat on this hiring test?

I am writing about an interview experience I had a few years ago that I think about often. I work (more loosely now, but strictly back then) with data, and I interviewed at a company that, after the initial phone screen, asked me to do an at-home Excel exercise and then come on-site the next day to continue the testing, all of which was based in Excel, and the finished product was a worksheet I submitted. The exam asked about some obscure macros and formulas, and I used the Help tool within Excel (you might remember him as the little paper clip!) during the exam to clarify some of the details of the formulas they were asking about. It was the kind of thing where you would need baseline familiarity with the concept to even set up the formula, which I had, but sometimes the correct order and definition of the variables needed a little bit of refreshing.

Was this a huge error? Could they “tell” somehow that I used the paper clip to help me? Would that have been construed as cheating? I had a hard time thinking so at the time because there is no planet on which someone would have to use Excel at work but wouldn’t have the help tool or even the broader Internet at their disposal. I think about it a lot because they completely ghosted me after this interview — which between the at-home and on-site portions took about four hours of my time (that is what it was anticipated to take), so it stung and felt like I completely wasted my time. And in fact, when I called the hiring manager to follow up about the position after many emails being ignored, he straight up hung up on me as soon as I said who it was on the phone.

Nah, that’s not cheating. You used the tools that were available to you through the program itself! That’s fine. And if for some reason they didn’t want you do that, they could have said so. I doubt they could even tell you did, but if they did see it and objected to it, they would have just concluded you didn’t have the expertise they wanted and that would that — it wouldn’t be cheating or something that would get you hung up on in outrage!

The hanging up, by the way, was incredibly rude (obviously), but it was almost certainly about him being caught off-guard/panicking/not knowing what to say to someone he’d been avoiding because he’s incapable of delivering a professional rejection (but very capable of being a jerk).

4. Will it look bad that I’m earning an upper-level nonprofit salary and married to a millionaire?

I am mid-level management at a nonprofit that has a religious slant. The organization pays well for the nonprofit world and the culture of the organization is not without its flaws, but the pros far outweigh the cons (and their handling of Covid has been amazing).

The issue at hand is that I am now engaged. My fiancé is a musical artist with a loyal fanbase and has earned a net worth in the lower level millions. He also lives a very modest lifestyle so what he’s been able to save and invest has garnered quite a bit in returns.

I am good at my job and have worked and will continue to work my way up in this company. I am worried about the optics from the public should anyone make the connection between me and my husband once we are married. I know I am well worth what I am paid, but all of us are worried about any possible backlash from me being married to a millionaire and making a higher level salary in a nonprofit organization.

Am I overthinking this? Is there a way to potentially spin this if someone investigates our financials and decides this seems wrong? I would hate for my presence to bring any negative press to an amazing organization.

Yes, I think you’re overthinking it. There are plenty of people working in nonprofits who are married to high-earning spouses or have family money; it’s not scandalous! In fact, it’s no one’s business. (Interestingly, it’s especially common among fundraisers, at least in some parts of the sector.)

Your salary is set based on your employer’s salary structure and the market rate for the work within your field. There’s no norm that organizations shouldn’t hire people who don’t “need” the money, and there’s no expectation that you should turn down a job or a salary for that reason either. Your salary isn’t a charitable gift from your employer; it’s appropriate compensation for the work you perform. Anyone who took issue with you being paid the same as others at your level simply because of your personal finances would be a real outlier.

5. How do I thank my manager without seeming like a suck-up?

Two members of my family died of COVID within a month of each other. Needless to say, it was devastating and I’m only now coming around to feeling somewhat “normal.”

My manager was TERRIFIC through the whole thing. Our official policy is three days of bereavement leave but she basically reduced my workload to no more than 1-2 hours a day for two whole months telling me “only do these tasks when your personal stuff is taken care of.” They were very easy and low priority tasks—much simpler than the complex tasks I normally do. I made my full salary during this time.

Long story short, I reached the point I was READY and excited to return to my regular work, which requires a high degree of concentration and thought and have pretty much gone back to being the good worker I was before.

During our 1:1’s, I’ve thanked my manager for being so helpful and understanding. Is that enough? I feel like I should do something more for her for being so exceptionally understanding during a really bad time for me but also don’t want to make her feel weird or seem like I’m being a suck up (reviews are coming up).

Just thanking her is enough! That said, was it like a one-sentence “thanks for being so understanding” or was it something a little more substantial? If the former, you could go back now and say something more substantial — or, even better, you could put it in a written note. Managing can sometimes be a relatively thankless job, and notes like that are often cherished for years. (I have a file of them that I look at from time to time, and it really does mean a lot.)

You’re not going to seem like a suck-up if you do that! It’s a gracious thing to do.

{ 372 comments… read them below }

  1. AcademiaNut*

    For LW #4 – it’s generally a good idea for a job to pay what the work is worth, not what the employee can afford. If you took a lower salary because you don’t need the money, that sets a precedent, and it makes it less likely that the next person to hold the job is going to be paid a fair wage.

    I get the impression that there are a lot of jobs at charitable organizations that have salaries that require employees to be supported by a higher earning spouse, or to be young and healthy and willing to live a broke student life after graduating. If someone genuinely doesn’t want the salary, they can either take a fully volunteer position, or take the salary and then donate it to charitable enterprises.

    1. allathian*

      Absolutely agree.

      The LW sounds by her (?) letter like a sensible person who wouldn’t brag about her fiance’s millions in public anyway. If he’s the sort of public figure who keeps his private life pretty private, people won’t know unless they’re told.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        Yes, the broke musician trope is alive and well. Most people may assume that the fiance is barely making rent.

      2. Esmeralda*

        Eh. It’s really really easy to find out how much money celebrities earn. Google How much does NAME earn

        1. Bee*

          Most of that is entirely made up. For things like top-tier actors you might be able to get somewhere because their salaries are sometimes made public, but any income based on royalties is going to be completely opaque to the public.

        2. Amaranth*

          Most of that is guesswork and gossip. You can get information on how much they typically charge as appearance fees, sales, how much a tour makes, etc., but what they net is based on a lot of crazy variables. A lot of musicians starting out end up signing contracts that benefit the label to a ridiculous amount, in order to ‘get established.’

    2. JR*

      Totally agree. To a significant extent, the nonprofit sector’s economics are built on the assumption that employees are women married to men who are the “real” earners in the family, and this contributes to real diversity, equity, and inclusion problems in nonprofit leadership. Of course, there are many many nonprofit employees who aren’t in this situation, but this dynamic is a key part of why upper-middle class white women are over-represented in the sector (which I say as a white woman foundation exec married to a law firm partner).

      1. AcademiaNut*

        I think there are some historical reasons behind this, back to the days where upper and middle class* women weren’t expected/allowed to work for money, but philanthropical work was an acceptable pursuit. I see this in early 20th century literature, where affluent young women could get an education or training, but not work for pay after (as that would take work away from the women who needed the money), so they went into high level charity work. In the fiction, it was often an outlet for an talented, ambitious young woman who was unfulfilled spending her life on social activities, tennis and card games, and artistic pursuits.

        1. MK*

          I would think it goes 3ven further back than that; if 18th and 19th century literature is to be believed, for an upper class woman charity work was part fo the job of running her husband’s or father’s household.

          1. BethDH*

            And further than that! Early medieval upper class women did the same thing, even if it was often presented as being about saintly devotion. Elite widows not only joined convents but often became abbesses without having been there long. The experience was directly transferable, and that included many of the skills that are part of modern non-profits — arts patronage, food/clothing/education redistribution, healthcare resources, local disaster response coordination.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          I mean . . . Downton Abbey with all those wealthy women working on hospital boards or driving ambulances or whatever.

        3. J!*

          Yes, this. I’m reading a really great book that has a section that outlines exactly this historical (and current) phenomenon. It’s fascinating, called Work Won’t Love You Back by Sarah Jaffe

        4. Smithy*

          Thank you so much for anchoring this.

          So many of these narratives also counter pushes for nonprofits to have very low overhead, but what that often means is that institutions not only don’t invest as much into their infrastructure – but also areas like safeguarding.

          As was said, if the OP doesn’t technically need their salary – they can always find other ways to donate those funds. But by maintaining their salary and pushing for raises as appropriate (i.e. cost of living or following a promotion, what is the appropriate accompanying salary bump) that will make the larger field more accessible for more people.

          1. Simonthegreywarden*

            And also, if she has the social capital, to ensure that wages at their org are always competitive even for lower level employees.

      2. Chalk Dusted Facsimile*

        So very true, also in theater — a big part of fighting for inclusion in the field is fighting to pay a living wage (and benefits! People who literally in some cases can’t live without health insurance aren’t going to be represented if there’s no effort to provide it). Otherwise you get only people who are independently supported, and that’s a very skewed population.

        1. Aerie*

          Publishing is having the same reckoning – all five major publishers (and several smaller ones have well) have raised their minimum salary in the past couple of months. Not enough to really constitute a living wage in New York City, but a 45K starting salary is MUCH better than 32K.

          1. Liz*

            This makes me giggle because 35 years ago, I started working in publishing, right out of college, and MY salary was a whopping 14K.

            1. Rebecca1*

              I put that $14K in an inflation calculator, and the equivalent today would be $33,413.76. So $32K was less than your inflation-adjusted salary when you were starting out.

          2. londonedit*

            LOL, I work in publishing in London, I’m definitely not entry level, and I don’t earn the equivalent of $45k.

            1. Barefoot Librarian*

              Most of my family are in the UK (sister in Glasgow, brother and sister in Edinburgh, cousin in London) and it’s surprising how much of an apples to oranges comparison salaries in the UK and in the US are. I think a good bit of it reflects how different our withholdings and expenses are. For example, almost $500 of my monthly salary goes to health care (and it’s cheaper than many of my friends). That’s $6,000 of my salary a year. I get the impression our mortgage and rent is higher here too. I’m in a tiny town of around 20,000 people and a 2 bedroom apartment with no amenities is $1400/month.

              1. Barefoot Librarian*

                In the triangle area of Raleigh-Durham, my son pays that for a studio apartment with a hotplate and microwave so I can’t complain lol.

        2. EngineerMom*

          Oh, my gosh, THIS.

          I have a dear friend who is an amazing director. And a cancer survivor. He has not been able to make directing his main career because he can never, ever be without health insurance.

      3. Rebecca*

        Uuggghhh this is true in my job as well. I teach primary school – a ‘caring’ profession (the high school teachers are experts in their field and are paid more). In France, that means I make barely above what welfare would pay, and struggle to pay rent on a decent apartment, let alone think about getting on the housing market.

        I don’t know any single teachers. I know one male primary school teacher.

      4. sacados*

        I wonder though, if that isn’t part of what OP is worried about in this case — she mentions more than once that her employer pays relatively well compared to other nonprofits, and that she is higher ranking within that.
        As if OP feels like it would be different if she were making the stereotypical nonprofit “peanuts” salary — because then people would say “oh of course you can’t live on that without outside support, makes total sense.”
        But because OP has one of the rare nonprofit salaries that could allow someone to support themselves, then it’s “not fair” for her to “take” one of the good salaries that could go to someone else?

        Which is obviously complete and total BS — OP should accept the salary that her work is worth and be proud of it!! But I do get the sense that’s where some of the anxiety may be coming from.

        1. JR*

          Totally agree about the source of her anxiety. OP, your employer is an org that’s doing it right!! And if you doesn’t think that only people “like you” (demographically, economically, etc) should be “allowed” to do you job, then you should be very supportive of the org paying salaries that don’t require being married to a high earner. Think if it as preserving the salary in the budget for the next person, and if you want to increase your donations (to your employer or elsewhere) then go right ahead.

    3. Language Lover*

      It could not only hurt others, it could hurt the LW too. Sacrificing a salary now could hurt them in the future and they might need that salary in the future. Life looks financially secure right now but things happen.

      1. twocents*

        Exactly. Not to be morbid, but there are no guarantees that LW is married to a millionaire forever.

        1. J!*

          You don’t even need to be morbid to think that, even if their spouse lives to be 100 and they don’t divorce. Some musicians (and actors, and atheletes) have staying power, but way more than that have success for a little while then fade away and don’t make millions forever.

      2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Oh, sacrificing a salary now hurts you FOREVER, in most circumstances. Hypothetical circumstance here.

        Let’s say they pay you $35,000 instead of $55,000 – for example. “Oh, you’ll work your way up the ladder!”

        Yeah how long is it gonna take you to get up to $55,000, if that’s what you’re worth TODAY? You typically have the most leverage, nearly any time in your career with a company, when you are going in.

        Not just that, but if you STARTED at that $55,000 figure – next year, a 7% raise will take you to — $58,850.
        A 12% on the $35,000 (lower salaries typically warrant larger increases – usually) brings you to $39,200.

        YOU WILL NEVER CATCH UP without resigning and negotiating a counter offer or getting the dough somewhere else. In the IS/IT world, “lowballing” leads to these circumstances in good economic times.

    4. Not Australian*

      Agree. Other people who ‘don’t need their salaries’ (not a level of financial comfort I have ever experienced, alas) are happy to donate all/part of their pay to good causes, and this would definitely be a good idea here.

    5. Jerry Larry Terry Gary*

      Yes- a not-insignificant portion of people I’ve met in non-profits have a spouse that is a higher earner. If anything, you might get mined for fundraising connections, not condemned.

    6. Not Me Today*

      I actually work with someone who is married to an actual oil tycoon. They are WEALTHY. As in they have their own planes. Yes, plural. This generally doesn’t come up much and it has not effected her career in anyway. She is paid based on the position she is in and her performance level. OP should not feel guilty about earning what she earns. Her personal finances are no ones business and does not have any barring on what she makes.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. Be paid what the position is worth. Not only are you getting fairly compensated, but you truly never know what life will throw at you. My aunt was a SAHM…until her husband was killed in a car accident at a young age. Also, I wouldn’t want to set the precedent of “well, we only paid Jane $12K so the next person shouldn’t get more….”

    7. MCMonkeybean*

      Yes! No one will care what you make compared to what your husband makes. What they might care about is what you make compared to what the lower-level people at your organization make.

    8. Anne Elliot*

      I think it is also worth mentioning that there are some paternalistic assumptions that may have been internalized to even be worrying that YOU may not need/deserve a fair salary because YOUR HUSBAND has a lot of money. I realize I’m making an assumption on the LW’s gender but I think it’s a fair one, because a man would never worry about the optics of being paid what he is worth out of concern that people might think he should be living off his rich wife. And really, your finances (and your fiance’s) are nobody else’s business anyway, so I would not worry about other people’s opinions about a private matter they shouldn’t be having opinions on anyway.

      1. Momma Bear*

        I recently spoke to a hiring manager who mentioned how women often shoot themselves in the foot re: salary. You are probably worth more than you think, and your spouse’s income has no bearing on the salary you are worth.

      2. Ellemeno*

        At the same time, since the question is mainly about optics, it might be the case that there would be perceptions within the organization’s circle that are different from the mainstream because this is a religiously-affiliated organization. There’s not nearly enough detail in the letter to know how that might play into things. (e.g. which religion, which sect within that religion, how paternalistic/misogynistic is that church’s culture, how closely and/or publicly affiliated is the organization with this religion, does the church leadership have explicit or implicit expectations of the organization’s staff, how much does the church value self-martyrdom, and all sorts of other things.) But the fact that LW is even asking the question lends credence to the idea that this might be in play.

        I can see where the perception of the community surrounding the church could possibly be an issue. If it’s the type of religion which thinks “traditional gender roles” are preferable, and that “real jobs” are for “real men” with women having their “little jobs” to make them feel useful (if they won’t stay at home), it’s not that much of a leap to think that those religionates may think that the salary paid to a woman married to a rich man is tantamount to theft from that poor church-based non-profit. And those religionates might be the community the organization serves, or receives financial support from — in other words, regardless of how wrong their perceptions are, it would still matter because of the impact it would have on the organization.

        To be clear, I don’t think this should be the case anywhere, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be the case somewhere.

    9. Fiona the Baby Hippo*

      I came here to say the same thing. I remember a priest at my childhood church (Episcopal) didn’t want a salary because she was older when she was ordained and would have otherwise been retired and came from a wealthy family. The senior priest pointed out that it would mess with the church’s budget if she were volunteer – when she left, there wouldn’t be $$ already accounted for to rehire her. She wound up donating her salary I believe but in taking a salary she ensured her position would always be there and not just a volunteer role that could suddenly disappear.

    10. the one who got away*

      I’ve worked in nonprofit my entire career (20+ years, gosh I’m old) and, weirdly enough, I have seen “probably doesn’t need the money” as both a plus, a minus, and a nonfactor in hiring. It SHOULD be a nonfactor.

      But people who use it as a plus think “this person will be fine with a crappy salary.”
      And people who use it as a minus think “this person has no incentive to stay.”

      Both are lousy.

      But LW, regardless of what your spouse makes, if you want to stay in the workforce and you want to do the work you do, you have the right to do both and be paid appropriately for it regardless of other personal circumstances. Your skills and experience do not lose value because your husband has done well (or at least, that shouldn’t be the case).

    11. Janie*

      I live in a HCOL area. When I worked at a nonprofit, all of the permanent staff fell into one of the following three categories (with some who overlapped): 1) just graduated and willing to take a low salary for experience; 2) married to somebody who was a high earner, or at least earned enough to pretty much support both spouses; or 3) had “family money” such that they technically didn’t have to be working at all. I was even told this explicitly by the director (when I was an intern) that it’s the unfortunate reality of nonprofit work, only some people can afford to do it for a living.

    12. Rose*

      Exactly! This leads to only wealthy people being able to work in (often very cool) jobs. Why pay a living wage to candidate A when candidate B comes from family money? Even if employers wouldn’t do it consciously, I promise you it would become a thing.

      Accepting what you’re worth is the right thing to do! Invest wisely, make sure you and any future children (should you want the ) are good, and if your conscience nags you you can always donate as much money as feels right.

    13. Amaranth*

      It also doesn’t really help the nonprofit set a realistic budget, and if LW left, while a Board *should* understand, I’ve worked with several that would Not Be Pleased to suddenly have to raise the line item for salary by a significant amount. I could easily picture them trying to save money somewhere else, or pressuring Development to quickly come up with the difference.

  2. Sami*

    Ahhh… Clippy… that little thing bugged the heck out of me. I always changed it to the cute little puppy. :-)

        1. Saurs*

          He was also a harsh but fair mistress, which is why I love it when people break out the literal script (“it looks like you’re trying to [fuck around]; would you like help [finding out]?”) to helpfully inform someone they’re acting like an ass.

        2. IndustriousLabRat*

          I missed clippy so much that I made one out of an actual paper clip and wiggly eyes and taped him to the frame of my monitor. From where he’s staring at me know and judging my WPM.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      He bugged me too, it was a great moment when I realised I could change it to the ginger cat!

    2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      I liked the cat myself. But either way, a cute animal > a humanized piece of curved wire, lol.

    3. Workerbee*

      So, within the past five years, I attended a Microsoft conference, and they had a big Clippy walking around. I squealed, I could not help it.

    4. Cj*

      I had to take a test like this a few years ago. I also used the help feature. You can’t remember everything, but if you know how to find it, that is a skill in itself.

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        Sometimes I think it’s a betters skill to have! I don’t remember X piece of info perfectly, but I know exactly where to find it. It’s a much broader soft skill, and more useful

      2. Nea*

        The one time I used the help feature in an employment test, they flunked me out and I was shown the door, because it was seen as lying on my resume – I said I was proficient in the program but I did not know how to do one thing that I didn’t use the program for in my current job. The fact that I could look it up and perform the task on the fly – the very skill I would use in a real-world job – wasn’t what they were looking for.

        Frankly, I think LW 3 has dodged a bullet. Any company so casual as to demand 4 hours of personal time before you’re even an employee is asking for a lot; any company that demands half a working day and then employs people who hang up on you has signaled as strongly as possible that they do not care about their people.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yep, worst case scenario, they felt you cheated, OP. So this means you “should have known” not to use Clippy. We all know what this is: Leadership by Mind Reading. This is where you mind read what your job is and how to handle various matters.

          They freed you up to find a Real Employer. Some poor person actually got hired at that place.

      3. the one who got away*

        I have expert-level certification with a specific CRM and the exams not only allowed, but encouraged you to have the software and help files open while you tested.

        I tell people all the time that the only reason I’m any good at tech is because I’m a Google ninja. I do believe that knowing how to find the answer is as important, if not more so, than memorizing how to use every part of the software.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Software changes often enough that it’s not worth memorizing how to do everything. Whatever a person has memorized will be useless in a short bit.

      4. TardyTardis*

        We were told by the boss at the tax place that ‘yes, it’s ok to google something while you’re doing someone’s return. We would rather you did that than do something wrong. Please please please look stuff up if you can do so quickly.’ Plus, it kept us from giving her the Scared Look for help which always makes the client feel if they’re in the wrong place…

    5. SomebodyElse*

      I never found clippy helpful, therefore he annoyed the heck out of me… sat in the corner all smug “Sure I’ll help… just ask me a question… hahahaha no help for you!”

      I swear I saw him do the ’80s handshake hair wipe “Psych!” once…

      (I may have unresolved abandonment issues)

    6. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yep, there’s a reason there was an entire genre of Clippy-destroying memes and videos.

      I hated Clippy, and he never offered any help with what I was actually trying to do. At least with the current Microsoft autocorrect/format, you can Ctrl+Z out of that change immediately when the program gets it wrong (or turn the feature off) and don’t have to worry about a twee animation trying to school you in how to use the program to do what you don’t even want to do.

    7. Phony Genius*

      I used to like the Einstein character, until they forcibly removed him since hey didn’t have the rights to his image. They replaced him with a so-so wizard.

    8. Insert Clever Name Here*

      One of my favorite “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” bits is about Clippy. What a delightfully annoying creature! I’ll post a link below.

    9. JessicaTate*

      OK, since there’s a thread about feelings about Clippy… There is a 2008 segment from the NPR show “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” called “Clippy and Paula.” And it is without a doubt the funniest thing I ever heard on that show. I honestly had to pull over the car because I was laughing so hard when it first aired.

      If you also have strong memories of Clippy Annoyance, I highly recommend it. This link has a transcript, but I STRONGLY recommend listening to it. It’s comedy, the delivery makes it.

    10. juliebulie*

      I hated Clippy back in the day… so eager to help me write a letter, even though that’s not what I was trying to do. Now I feel nostalgic… we had no idea what was ahead of us.

      I am glad that some people at least found Clippy useful!

    11. Clippy*

      Sorry for ruining everyone’s life–I guess it’s a good thing I married that millionaire as a backup plan.

      1. LavaLamp*

        I adored clippy (by the time I started using Word for school he’d been phased out) so my memories of him are from when I was very small. I found him adorable. Now I need some googly eyes and a paperclip. . .

  3. Working Hypothesis*

    LW #5, I’m so very sorry for your losses.

    In my experience, people of all stripes really like hearing *specifics* about what they did that made you happy or made your life better/easier. The details help them imagine most concretely just what they did right and how it made you feel, and that’s what gives them that glow of exhilaration. If you want to delight your manager, put your thanks and praise in writing (doesn’t have to be fancy; email is just fine) and go into some detail — even if it’s just a few lines — about exactly what she did and why it made things so much better for you. She’ll be able to keep the email to reread if she wants to, and it’ll make her feel great.

    (I wrote a thank you letter to one of my favorite authors several months ago, not expecting anything to come of it except perhaps that it might make her happy to know that her book had helped me understand a difficult family situation. She actually pulled my phone number off the email signature and called me in person, just to tell me “Your letter is going to be one of the things I go back to on the hard days, to remind myself of why it’s all worth it.” Never underestimate the power of a good thank you letter.)

    1. Lionheart26*

      I received not one but TWO notes that I will treasure, just this week. One of my coworkers placed a thank you note on my desk, and it was filled with specific details just like you describe. It’s incredible how something so small can make such a difference in how we feel.

      The second one was very similar to yours, working hypothesis. I wrote to a favourite author a few months ago, and this week I received A POSTCARD! from MY FAVOURITE AUTHOR!! in MY MAILBOX!!! and she had been incredibly touched by my words.

      I’ve decided I’m going to make it my mission to acknowledge people as much as I can. Not so often it becomes perfunctory, but often enough, because I really know what a difference it can make to someone’s day. Kind words make the world go round!

      1. English, not American*

        I try to do this, especially if I have a great experience with someone in a public-facing job where they’re likely to only hear the complaints. It’s kind of bittersweet how relieved people on the other end of company helplines sound when they realise I’m not going to yell at them.

        Though I did slightly panic a bus driver one morning by asking if he’d give me his name so I could send a glowing review to the “feedback” email address. He was so much better than most of his coworkers on that route, I hope he got the credit for it.

        1. allathian*

          I’ve done the same, but I didn’t ask for the driver’s name. I just put the number of the route and the departure time in the message. The bus company knows who the driver of that particular bus was.

          1. English, not American*

            I thought about doing that, but given it’s a very frequent service that during rush hour gets out of order very easily it seemed simpler to just ask the guy. I seriously doubt the head office would care to find out the driver of the bus that picked me up at [mid-route request stop] at 8:14am when the scheduled buses for 7:57am and 8:07am didn’t appear, but if I say Mr [Name] was excellent he might get some recognition.

            1. Transit Agency Employee*

              Submitting a name is fine, but one alternative at most agencies is to submit the bus number. At our agency it’s a 4-digit number that’s written on all four sides of the bus and prominently posted in the front inside, usually above the windshield (and I think in some cases up high in the back of the interior, too). It’s easy to look up who was driving which bus at what time, so the bus number, route, and date/time would be plenty and are how a lot of the feedback comes in. We also get people submitting license plate numbers, but that’s more annoying to look up, actually, and harder to get in the moment as the bus drives away.

              Just passing it along as a tip if you get excellent service from your bus driver – agencies love positive feedback! Being a bus driver is a really hard job that often doesn’t get the respect it should. (Also handy if you have a poor experience and don’t want to piss off the driver by asking for a name).

              1. allathian*

                Yeah, come to think of it, our local bus companies have the identifying number of the vehicle prominently displayed as well. Fortunately for me, the service was infrequent enough at every half-hour that I assume they identified the right driver anyway.

                In my case, I was taking the bus in the morning after a blizzard. (In my location, we have snow every year, even if it’s only a few inches like in 2019, and there’s no such thing as a snow day because we have the infrastructure to deal with it.) The roads had been cleared, but there was a huge drift at the bus stop and I was taking my son to daycare and he was young enough to sit in a baby carriage/pram. The transit company used buses that could “curtsy” so that it was possible to get in through the middle doors without assistance. But that time, I wasn’t strong enough to lift the carriage into the bus without help and I couldn’t push it through the snow on my own. So the driver got out of the bus, and with a shovel helped to clear the snow and that made it easier for us to get on board. I did thank him sincerely for his help, but I thought his employer deserved to know as well.

        2. Teapot Librarian*

          I tried to do that for a call-taker in the unemployment office, and she told me that she wasn’t allowed to give out her supervisor’s name. She DID give me his last name, knowing that I knew how to find his full name from that, and from his full name construct his email address (first.last at [place].gov), but then it turned out that there had been turnover in the month since the employee list was posted online, so… Oh well, I tried.

      2. Working Hypothesis*

        I learned from my father, who always does this. When there’s a customer facing employee who’s helped him, he makes a point of finding out who their boss is and sending a note to them, cc’ed to the individual if possible. When it’s somebody in a high enough position that going to their supervisor isn’t customary and would look weird, he sends the note to them directly. I try to do the same.

        I was so croggled by the author who called me that it took a few minutes before I understood who it was! She has a fairly common name (think “Jessica Lawrence,” or something on that level), so I was trying to remember what other Jennifer Lawrences I knew because it never crossed my mind that this person I’ve been reading with admiration for almost forty years would pick up the phone and CALL me!! She took the whole thing in good humor and we had a lovely conversation once I figured it out, though… and it remains one of my loveliest memories and I think maybe a pretty good one of hers, if she was so touched by the original email as to call in the first place.

        The whole thing reminded me very much of how sincerely kind words can reverb around from person to person, and I try hard now to get them started as often as I can.

    2. Forrest*

      Agree with this. I also think the fact that you came back to work feeling *ready* is something to put in writing— that’s a very tangible personal *and* professional success for your boss.

      I’m so sorry for your losses, OP.

    3. GDub*

      I write thank you notes on note cards occasionally, and several times I’ve seen them pinned up on people’s cubicle walls and bulletin boards. People seem to treasure an acknowledgement.

    4. HR Exec Popping In*

      A short hand written note will mean the world to your manager. I have saved every such note I have received over the years.

    5. Cascadia*

      Yup – I’m a teacher and I treasure thank you notes from students and their families. If they come in email form I even print them out and put them on my bulletin board. I go back and reread them when I’m having a tough day, as a reminder of why I do what I do.

      1. Chas*

        I work in an academic lab and have had to train a few students during their final-year projects, and I always love it when they give me a thank-you card at the end of it. My favourite was when one of them took an image she’d made as part of the project and turned it into a card for me.

  4. Ross*

    #5 – I second Alison’s suggestion for a written note. A few years ago I purchased a stack of notecards and use them for thank yous, congratulations, and anything else that a written note would be nice for. It’s nice having something generic and not needing to go out hunting for a greeting card for every situation. My previous manager really supported me when I applied for a promotional position within another group and after I got the job, I pulled out a notecard and wrote her a quick note about how much I appreciated her support and had enjoyed working with her. She was very touched. My current manager also helped me with some career advancement stuff recently and I mailed her a note because we are all working remotely. People love to get stuff like that, I highly recommend that approach.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, I completely agree. The written note/greeting card I appreciate the most is from my former boss. I went above and beyond for one project a couple years ago, and really appreciated the personalized card.

    2. Colette*

      One Christmas, I wrote cards to everyone in my larger group at work – about 25 people, I think? In each one, I wrote a personal note about them. For most of them, it was thanks for how they’d specifically helped me. In the ones I didn’t know as well, I wrote something less specific but still about them (e.g. “Welcome to the group! I’m looking forward to working with you.)

      It’s not an exaggeration to say that it changed my relationship with several of my colleagues for the better, for years.

  5. Excel whiz wanted?*

    #3 – personally, I’m not looking to hire someone who knows how to do ALL OF THE THINGS in Excel. I’m looking to hire someone who knows how to use the help tool or Google or whatever to figure out how to do what they need to. So assuming that they even had any idea, it would be silly to choose someone because they exhibited the skills necessary to problem solve. My two cents!

    1. Excel whiz wanted?*

      PS Honestly, it sounds like whatever the reason, you really dodged a bullet!

      1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        Excellent point! Can you imagine working in an environment where that kind of rudeness was the norm? (And if it isn’t the norm there, let’s hope that someone in a position of authority finds out how that employee is representing their company and either fires that person or puts them on a strictly monitored PIP!)

      2. Happy Lurker*

        I was thinking the same thing…orginizations that have no problem assigning a 4 hour interview project and then ghosting. Thank your lucky stars OP!

    2. Zelda*

      I read a lot of the subreddit “Tales From Tech Support,” and any tech there will tell you that one of the major job skills is effective use of Google. It’s not about knowing everything on the planet; it’s all about problem-solving skills.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        The key is that you need enough skill that you know the functionality you want exists, and can google what you need and put it into action quickly. I see this with coding and helping junior colleagues – if they can’t figure out reasonable search terms, Stack Exchange isn’t much help, and they need to ask someone for help.

        1. Stack Overflow Greybeard*

          …the other thing about Stack Exchange is that it often takes effort and general knowledge of one’s field to nail down a problem enough to write a really good question — especially on the busier sites.

          There’s a lot of problem solving involved in going from “My code doesn’t work” to “Why does the foobar function do baz instead of qux when the flibbertigibbet it’s passed is colored grey?”, but that work is essential to respecting the community’s time (including the silent community of other people stuck on a problem and searching for answers).

        2. TimeTravlR*

          Sometimes I’m not even sure the functionality exists, but I am always willing to look it up to see! People think I am such a whiz at these various program, but really, it’s just that Google is my friend!

          1. Cat Tree*

            Yes, I often star by thinking, “This task is tedious. There must be a better way.” And usually there is, because I know there are other people out there who hate extra mouse clicks or key strokes as much as I do.

            1. Ashley*

              Absolutely. And it is a great when a work around I learned on google routinely makes life easier just because I tried to find an easier solution one day in a point of frustration.
              It also can become a bit fun when you are able to turn around something that could have taken hours in a few minutes by using looking up a better solution.

            2. Chas*

              I had something like that happen recently! My boss had made changes (in red text) to a 30-page Word document without using the ‘track changes’ feature, then realised afterwards that he was supposed to have tracked them and asked me to go through his copy and the original copy and look for all the changes and remake them with track changes on. And that’s why I learned you can get Word to compare two different documents and make a list of all the difference.

          2. Teapot Librarian*

            I had a colleague who would call or email me with tech problems, and I would sit at her computer with her looking over my shoulder as I Googled how to resolve the issue. I was hoping that the “I don’t know how to do it, but I know I can find an answer online” lesson would rub off on her, but she’s still doing it, even though I no longer work with her!

        3. BRR*

          This exactly. I always say I take two steps to solve my excel issues: first figuring out how to ask my question and second asking my question.

          On the interviewer side. I want to see some familiarity as in knowing the concepts, but everyone I know has had to double check formulas and features from time to time.

      2. Cat Tree*

        Yes, I’m not in tech support but I always develop a reputation for being “good with computers”. I’m generally happy to help others because it’s satisfying to solve a problem. But my real skill is just Google. I was a young adult in college right as the internet was becoming popular, so I developed a lot of searching skills because search engines weren’t so great at first. I also had actual classes about using the internet in college because it was a new-ish thing.

        But yeah, if I’m on the hiring side, I would value the ability to use available resources over memorization.

    3. Saurs*

      Yes, this. Someone willing to double-check their assumptions, audit their pre-existing practices, or just look the thing up are almost automatically preferable to someone wed to shortcuts that don’t work anymore or that they never properly learned.

      I belong to a generation that, when we were young and ripe for optimal learning and acquisition in computer and software literacy, weren’t expected to need formal training in Excel, amongst other programs. So I have never learned the entirety of it; I continue to marvel at “discovering” something my mother and her peers have known for eons because they were the ones targeted for comprehensive on the job education and training.

      1. Forrest*

        I don’t think anyone knows the entirety of it. An accountant and a research scientist can both be expert users of Excel, but they’ll be using totally different functions and formulas.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Same. Excel has infinite possibilities, and I am expert in some of them and have to look up whether others even exist.

          I have also always kind of thought that I have an advantage having come up with computers were much more difficult to use. I’m used to having to look things up and to having to troubleshoot why something didn’t turn out the way I expected because computers were much pickier and more yes/no when I started using them. Now, Excel suggests a fix when your formula’s not right – it did not do that in 1997.

    4. Threeve*

      It wasn’t handled well, but they were probably looking for overall familiarity/comfort with the software, and not the ability to perform a few specific functions. Some technical tests start with easy tasks and progress to extreme expert level, and if you stop having the right answers at “intermediate” and intermediate is what they’re looking for, it’s fine.

      Obviously, decent interviewers will tell you that, though.

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      Exactly! It’s not like I sit people out on the floor with no access to MS Help, so why withhold it during the test? To me, it’s not just about do you have all this stuff memorized but can you figure it out when the need arises.

      Problem-solving and at least giving something a quick google or Help file lookup before asking for help is a key skill in my area, so I’d be pleased someone took the initiative to do that.

    6. Donkey Hotey*

      Came here to say exactly this. So many people (not all) freeze in a test because “I don’t know X” and ignore the “here’s how you find X” options out there.

    7. Global Cat Herder*

      Same here. I don’t care if you can regurgitate the exact syntax of INDEX MATCH. I care that you know that INDEX MATCH is a thing and when you might want to use it instead of VLOOKUP.

    8. Anomalous*

      I doubt if there is anyone, even at Microsoft, who knows the order of all of the variables of all the functions in Excel. Excel has well over 300 built-in functions, and is adding more all of the time. That is why there are built-in tool tips for variable order.

      Using the built-in help functions is just a normal part of using Excel. You didn’t cheat.

  6. Observer*

    Is there a way to potentially spin this if someone investigates our financials and decides this seems wrong?

    What exactly could be “wrong” here? On the contrary, the optics of you being forced out because you had the temerity to get married is what could harm the organization.

    1. Pennyworth*

      Apart from the fact that it is not her employer’s business if she is married to someone wealthy, surely if they did know they would merely hope her husband might be inclined to become a donor. Her marriage is nothing to do with them.

        1. Not Australian*

          Well, yes, I agree with alliathan about the husband becoming a potential donor, but you just know some people will spin that until it becomes him paying the organisation to employ his wife. Arms’-length transactions would be better in this case, such as him donating to a related cause with similar aims.

          1. allathian*

            That’s a very good point I hadn’t considered before. That said, there’s no reason why the LW should accept a lower salary than her employer is willing to pay just because her fiance is wealthy.

      1. SimplyTheBest*

        It sounds to me like OP is worried about donors finding out about her financial situation, not her employer. I work in the non-profit sector, and rich donors sometimes get way too involved in exactly how they want their donations spent. And it’s never on overhead. I can absolutely see donors that I have worked with in the past wondering why we should pay someone like OP the salary she deserves if she has a millionaire husband.

        1. Willis*

          Yeah, I took the “all of us are worried…” part to mean OP’s co-workers at the non-profit, meaning they already know about her upcoming marriage, but collectively wonder how donors/the public would react. I agree that it wouldn’t surprise me to hear some person devalue the job of someone they know has a high-earning spouse. I’ve seen that happen in the non-profit and public service sector (and, incidentally, what I’ve seen has been always a woman in the non-profit/public service position with a higher-earning husband).

          But, it’s total crap. Of course OP should continue to be paid her salary and to move up in the organization, etc. etc.! And I agree with Alison that OP is probably overthinking it in worrying about a big public relations scandal. Something a random person might say? Sure. Something that is going to involve an investigation and negative press? A lot less likely, IMO.

        2. londonedit*

          Yes, I’m imagining it’s a mix of worry about people (maybe other people in the organisation on lower salaries) thinking ‘Ugh, what does SHE need to earn that much money for? Her fiance is loaded, it’s not fair, she doesn’t need the money’, and maybe something like the letter Alison had where someone was concerned about a non-profit employee wearing designer clothes and driving a flashy car because it might give off the impression that the charity was paying its staff way too much. There are people who think that every penny a charity makes should be spent on the charity’s mission, and not on things like staff wages, so I can imagine the OP might worry that if it ‘gets out’ that she’s in an extremely comfortable financial situation, people might start saying ‘This charity is paying a fortune to a woman who is marrying a millionaire, that’s not right, they should fire her and put her salary into their charitable work’.

          I mean, both of those things are ridiculous – salaries are not and should not determined by individual employees’ personal circumstances, and non-profits have to pay their staff a competitive rate in order to attract the best people to work for their organisation. But those are the ‘optics’ I guess the OP might be worried about.

          1. Alison*

            Yeah as a non-profit employee I totally understand OP’s concern. It’s not right or fair that non-profits often have to deal with this kind of bulls***t but it is ridiculously common. I think Alison’s advice is solid though. OP might want to check on what is reported in the orgs 990 and if her position is listed publicly with salary. Otherwise all the public information about salaries and overhead should be the total for the entire org, not broken down by position. If the information isn’t public and your overhead isn’t changing overnight then I don’t think donors are going to know what OP’s specific salary is.

            If the problem is internal and other employees are being butt nuggets well…they suck, I’m sorry. Take some of the language here about why being paid appropriately is important and that you shouldn’t be treated differently because you are now married and confront people who are jerks.

        3. Observer*

          Well run organizations NEVER give in to that nonsense. Because it leads to all sorts of issues. And the fall out of trying to reduce someone’s salary (or effectively force them out) is a potential PR nightmare of massive proportion, and also presents some significant legal landmines.

    2. Boof*

      If someone, somehow investigated the financials of all the employees (instead of just the org), that would a) be very weird and b) if they dinged LW4 for marrying someone with what sounds like upper-middle-class amounts of money (Depending on age, a few mil net worth is basically what you need to retire and maintain a middle class lifestyle…) – well WTF. So many gross assumptions there. Do they somehow know that LW4 will certainly be married forever and has no prenup, and so the amount of money they earn for themselves doesn’t matter? (Sorry LW4 – not saying your marriage won’t last forever!) Will they ding anyone with a rich relative who is supporting them in some fashion? Will they adjust everyone’s salary to their net worth?
      I know it’s not uncommon for people to bad mouth someone who seems to have more than they do, and I think to especially ding married women saying they don’t “need the income” as much, but it’s actually a pretty gross thing to do and disproportionately devalues women’s work, even when they’re doing the exact same work.

    3. Lacey*

      She said she’s worried about the optics from the public, so I don’t think it’s her employer she’s concerned about. She’s worried that someone’s going to post it all over twitter and turn the internet against her, her husband, and her organization.

      Or, as SimplyTheBest mentioned, donors.

      1. Smithy*

        Unfortunately, I do think it’s a fair worry to have. Most of the “champaign charity worker” articles target CEO’s of large nonprofits who become targeted for having a wild salary. But I think the worry would more likely be from the general public/fiance’s fans. Like, if Bono’s wife was a top earner for a nonprofit, I don’t think it’s unfounded to worry of attention like “Bono’s wife earning SO MUCH while SUPPOSEDLY helping people – couldn’t that money be better spent on programming??? Does she really need it?????”

        If the OP happens to be one of the top salaries at the organization, it may be included on the nonprofit’s public tax forms. And if this kind of public attention feels like a real worry, I think that volunteering or serving as a mentor for young people looking to enter/grow in the nonprofit industry would be a more effective way to counter that. Essentially showing a commitment to grow the opportunities for more people to enter the nonprofit sector – such as paid internships and mentoring.

        That all being said, while I could see a private donor or two making noise, the organization should be better positioned to make the claim about the importance of compensating staff for their value. The approach above I mention is strictly in regards to a worry about his fans or general fame drawing attention that might feel uncomfortable.

        1. Roci*

          I agree, this is the kind of thing certain Twitter spheres would have a field day with.

          But those same spheres will criticize her for doing any work, or no work–“eat the rich” doesn’t care what flavor of rich, just that they are rich–so OP might as well do what is actually best for themself and their family and their organization, and not worry about the opinions of stressed people driven to extremes by social inequality.

    4. Joan Rivers*

      Even the President of the US sometimes donates salary. That’s an option for you.
      But also, fame and wealth don’t always last forever.
      And neither do marriages. Or jobs. Life has a way of changing over time. So living modestly is wise. And focusing on what’s most important in life.

      1. nonegiven*

        I think she should invest in retirement accounts, to protect herself. Who knows how long she will be married and who knows how long she will be able to earn what she does?

    5. Not So NewReader*

      I worked in such a situation. Upper echelon people were quite comfortable in life. That was not where the problems started.

      The problems started when front line workers were eligible for food stamps while working full time.
      The problems started when these upper echelon people KNEW there was embezzlement going on and they did NOTHING.

      The comments and snide remarks come from INSIDE the company and never once did I ever hear anyone complain about someone marrying into wealth. No one cared about anyone else’s personal wealth. They cared that they themselves could not earn a living wage. They cared that money was being embezzled and they probably never would earn a living wage. They cared that some upper folks were “too comfy” in life to stand up for what was right.

      OP, the side glances and running commentary had nothing to do with the person’s financial well being but actually had everything to do with their CHARACTER.
      And I am sure that some of these folks fell for the false attribution, “Well the front line people don’t like me because spouse and I have money.” The truth was that the front line people did like that person because they turned a blind eye to corruption and because they failed to take care of the front line workers who actually made the company tick.

  7. RG*

    On a related note to letter #3: I’m a software dev, and if I’m given a coding exercise to do at home, I assume that I will have the same access to online resources as I would if this were an actual work problem. I won’t sit there and see if I can find someone to walk me through the solution, but I am assuming I’m free to look up variations on flatMap or whatever.

    If the company doesn’t want me to access online resources, then I’d prefer for them to tell me. Of course, at that point I’d question why we keep moving away from a realistic work scenario – first I can’t ask a co-worker for help, now I can’t use Google?

    1. anon translator*

      I’ve been involved in hiring translators, and when I was hired, I wasn’t allowed to use any tools at all. I can understand not giving the candidates access to our translation memories, but the point isn’t to find the translator who has the largest vocabulary off the bat, but the one who’s good at finding information they don’t already know.

      Now if we’ll hire another translator, they’ll get access to the same online tools we use in our jobs, except for the TM.

      1. Julianna*

        Finding out that a database that stores phrases or sentences is called a translation memory made my day. That name is just very Star Trek.

    2. TheLinguistManager*

      I’ve spent most of my professional life as a software developer, and in that time I’ve also had to write the technical assessment parts of several interview processes. If I had been asked to code something for an interview and told I couldn’t look at documentation (all of which is on the web at this point), I would have removed myself from the interview process – that’s not a company that is not looking for the right things in their developer hires.

      When I wrote instructions for technical assessments, I used the rule that “you can use any resource you want, as long as it isn’t asking another person”. You can tell pretty easily who knew what they were doing and who just copied and pasted code from StackOverflow or the docs until it worked.

    3. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I’m a different kind of coder (medical) and one of the questions we specifically put in the assessment that’s part of our interview process is “if you come across a term in documentation that you’re not familiar with, what are three resources you could use in order to understand it better?” There aren’t any specific exact right answers, necessarily, but someone who doesn’t know how to answer that is probably not going to work out as a coder. (Certification is required for our roles, which means at this point they’ve had enough coding experience or education to successfully pass a 3.5 hour exam, but even a non-coder should be able to say “a dictionary, my team lead or google”, which are all acceptable. I am the team lead and I use Google and medical dictionaries pretty regularly.)

      1. Cat Tree*

        I’m not involved in coding at all, but my position is high-level individual contributor and I’m often on the interview panel when we hire peers at my level. I like to ask people about how they have approached a project that is completely new to them. There are no right or wrong answers, but some are better than others. “I asked my boss” is a perfectly ok answer, maybe a C+ or B- (only because it’s a higher level position with more expectation of autonomy than entry-level). A non-answer of “Don’t worry, I would figure it out” is an F (yes, I actually got that response, and in an annoyed tone of voice). Any type of creative answer that includes available resources is a bonus.

    4. SomebodyElse*

      Agree, although I will throw out the caveat that when I used to hire data analysts. I did start each interview with a short in office, no help available test. It was 5 questions long and 4 of the 5 questions were essentially out of my old “Intro to PL/SQL” work book. The 5th question was just one step higher than that.

      I wanted to baseline all of the candidates and was very generous when scoring. (like I wasn’t picky on syntax if I could see they had the general idea).

      It was amazing how many people flat out failed that test. Especially with the job description being very clear that 90% of the job activity was to write SQL scripts. I then would always follow up that test with questions about how they would go about getting help if they didn’t know how to do write something.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Then again – in the mainframe world, there’s a utility that deals with punch cards. In 48 years I have NEVER used it for any practical purpose.

        The ONLY time I saw it was when I was in early training. We spent an hour on it, and moved on . I think that the exercise was more about being able to look things up in the manuals.

        But they do grill offshore mainframe aspirants on it.

    5. Sparkles McFadden*

      People who really don’t know what they’re doing cannot be helped by the built-in application help (or using Google).

      In one of my early jobs, my boss decided she wanted to test every candidate for an open position. She asked a couple of people to make up a test and we all took the test to determine a reasonable amount of time to complete the test. Two to three hours was what we considered reasonable, but the boss told candidates to “Take as long as you like.” One guy sat at a workstation for two full workdays. On the second day, a couple of the guys told the guy exactly what to do, and he still couldn’t finish by the end of the second day. He burst into tears when the boss told him not to come back for a third day.

      It’s usually more important to have people who can learn and adapt rather than memorize.

  8. Beeeeee*

    LW 5 – My boss went above and beyond when my brother landed in the hospital. They both have the same heart condition and would answer questions without a hesitation about his own experiences and what I should look out for while the whole situation evolved. (It was a straight up nightmare and disaster between a bad hospital, surge pandemic times, and inner family dynamics).

    We’re both terrible at sincerity and end up fairly awkward about it when I told him thank you for being so open and supportive. I’m more of an actions speak louder than words human, so I ended up shouldering a bit more than I should have because he needed relief at the end of the year and I, frankly, really liked the side tasks and was at loose ends. We’ve balanced it all out since (and it got me a promotion?) but he knows I did it for him as a thank you.

    So in my long winded way, you can show appreciation in the small ways day to day too. Those help too.

    1. Arch Stanton*

      LW 5, my heart goes out to you. I lost six family members within months of each other last year and all very unexpectedly. I’m still grieving, of course, after spending time wondering if I could even go on.
      Your boss has been an exceptional support and I envy you. After the four days bereavement leave, I went on personal leave for several weeks. Then I returned to my regular full time duties plus time trying to unravel the mess that was made in my absence. I was shown zero consideration and felt disrespected in many ways by those who only seemed to care that I resume my old duties asap. There’s been zero concern shown for my mental health. Zero. Consequently, I’ve launched into my job search with vigor.
      And I’m not asking for anyone’s sympathy here. I think that you realize just how fortunate you are in your workplace and that’s why you feel you’ve not been thankful enough. I agree with Alison that a heartfelt letter to your boss would be a good idea.

  9. RB*

    #1 As soon as I saw the words “toxic positivity” in the headline, I knew this would be my kind of post.
    Can we please just stop it already with the endless encouragement, self-help tips, meeting space devoted to this, and hearing how well everyone is doing on their new and improved coping methods. I don’t really want to hear from those people. I want to hear from the people who have taken up smoking, or are drinking more heavily, or haven’t talked to their family in months because the Zoom just isn’t cutting it for them. Those are the people I can identify with, but try saying that in a meeting with your colleagues and you will be seen as the person who just isn’t very good at pandemic-ing.
    Ok, I’m done.

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      I think part of the problem is that it should be OKAY to “just [not be] very good at pandemic-ing.” And to be seen as not very good at it! Most of us are lousy at pandemic-ing, this being a radically different and much more unpleasant job description than what we’ve spent the rest of our lives learning how to do well.

      We need to find ways to survive and adapt, but being good at it is not a realistic requirement any more than being good at going through medical rehab after an auto accident is a realistic requirement. Sometimes, it’s enough just to be still alive and managing not to turn into a permanent puddle of non-functional goo.

      1. English, not American*

        So much this.

        Comparatively speaking I have nothing to worry about. Everyone I know is still employed or just retiring, no one I know has died (though one hospitalisation and a friend lost a loved one), but being at home alone all day with nothing but expectations and bad news from the world is still eroding my already dubious mental health. And that’s with a live-in partner and no kids.

        Sod “making time for self-care”, instead give yourself permission to say “fuck it” to the non-essentials. Everything non-essential is closed for the pandemic, after all. Maybe some people think it’s the same thing, but it feels monumentally different to frame it as “drop things from the to-do list” rather than “add self-care to the list”.

      2. Cat Tree*

        The best self care tip is not feeling guilty about lowering your standards. I’m still working full time from home and technically have more free time because I have no social life. But I didn’t learn to play the trumpet, or make a sourdough starter, or make a patchwork quilt out of recycled old socks. My house is gross because I’m using it more but cleaning it less. I don’t even walk enough in a week to get the minimum prize in Pokemon Go.

        But every day that I feed myself and my cat, I count it as a win. This is a loooong crisis, but still a crisis, and it’s perfectly fine to just do what you need to do to get through the day.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I had enough of toxic positivity the day my manager told me I should appreciate my disabilities as ‘opportunities to grow!’

      Thanks for the resultant depression spiral boss. She was such an ass. Quoted ‘the secret’ a lot too. I was so relieved when she left, I’d been programming filters to send all her ‘positive’ emails straight to the trash.

      As a manager now I’m very wary of asking anyone about their mental state, especially in public. Fostering an atmosphere where people know they CAN speak to me if they have issues, and have it remain confidential and I’ll help however I can, is a lot better.

      The hideously depressed, drinking to self medicate, days away from breaking down person on the call will not admit it. Because I’ve BEEN that person. (Not an alcoholic anymore I’m proud to say).

      1. allathian*

        Congrats on staying sober. Your former manager sounds horrible. I get it that a traumatic event, such as an accident or a serious illness, can make some people reconsider their former values. That’s fine. But the stories about people who seem genuinely grateful for their accident or bout of cancer have me shaking my head. I mean, if it takes a brush with mortality to turn someone into a decent person, what were they like before?

        1. Asenath*

          It’s entirely possible to come out of a terrible experience with some gratitude for the strength you discovered, the coping skills you learned and the great things about your new and different life. It’s much less easy to believe that this sort of outcome is even possible while you’re still floundering in the swamp with the alligators. I don’t discount the probability that some people find that kind of information helpful, but I didn’t. I did find the example of people who had gone through similar trials and somehow survived encouraging, but they were people I knew or met during the process. Somehow, the ones in inspirational literature never seemed quite real, although I know some of them must have been real.

          As for spending time – any time – at work discussing my self-help strategies, oh, no way. It would be intrusive and often, as in teaching, a complete waste of scarce time. And what about people who are managing OK in the same group as people who are barely holding it together? They’re not going to have much to share. I wouldn’t mind the emails – they can easily be disregarded. But I wouldn’t be happy about spending time sharing tips I don’t have and probably don’t need, if they’re coming from people who are having a completely different pandemic experience/reaction than I am.

    3. Susan Anderson*

      I agree with everything you say! I have had more than my share of “toxic positivity” meetings in the past. I have one small comment though – I was once tasked with arranging training sessions for staff on particular pupil behaviours that were an issue in our workplace. I promise that I did not use toxic positivity, it was focused on reasons for the behaviour and practical solutions and strategies. However one day I overheard a (very negative) colleague saying “I just want a meeting where we can talk about the pupils’ bad behaviour!” In other words (and knowing what she was like) she just wanted to complain, rather than find solutions. I know that’s not what the OP is suggesting, but if you get a chance to redirect the online meetings, be careful not to throw away the positivity with the toxic!

      1. Burned out teacher*

        I’m glad you’re trying not to fall into the toxic positivity trap. While it may be just that some folks can’t get out of the negativity, I do think that teacher training needs to be a lot better at addressing and preventing burn out with systemic change, not tips for self care. Most of my colleagues and I are at the point where that self care and the need to house ourselves are the only things getting us out of bed in the mornings so yet another meeting with articles that boils down to “you need to be better” is just…

    4. TimeTravlR*

      Wow! This validates that I am working for the right person. I have never seen any of this kind of icky sticky positivity crap from her. Mostly we have little venting sessions where we both talk about how we want to go here or there. It makes me feel so much better that I am not the only one tired of staying home. (I love my home, I love my walks… I just want to do SOMETHING ELSE!!)

    5. Kaiko*

      Pretty much. It’s a rare bird that *started* thriving during the pandemic – most of us maintained our baseline or dipped substantially. I also feel like all these positivity prompts and peer discussions are a distraction from actual work support. All the deep breaths and lavender diffusers in the world don’t solve tech issues, time overloads, disconnection from colleagues, and grief about how the world has changed. It’s a bandaid on a stab wound.

      1. FiveWheels*

        At the risk of seeming smug, there’s a lot of us out there thriving in the pandemic simply because full time work from home means no commute, no open plan office, reasonable sleep, better work life balance and much more free time.

        There’s a lot of us out there, definitely a minority of people but certainly not very rare.

        1. Elenna*

          Eh, I was doing pretty well for a while there, because I do much prefer WFH (especially since my previous commute was 1.5-2 hours one way), but now I’m reaching the point of just wanting it to be over so I can see my friends in person and go out to eat again. Not to mention actually starting the search for my own apartment that I meant to start in early April 2020… I’m not doing terrible, but I’m definitely feeling more down than I was last summer.

          I still prefer WFH, though. Glad my company is moving to a model where most people work from home for most of the week, after this is over.

          1. Elenna*

            I would definitely not be helped by multiple (!!) “self-help” articles per day, or by zoom meetings about positivity, though! Both of those sound excruciating and you’d quickly find me deleting the emails and making non-committal sounds in the meetings with my camera off and a nice fanfic to read.

            1. FiveWheels*

              Yep, there are certainly some things I miss about the Old Normal, but even though I had Rona back at the start of the pandemic and still have residual symptoms, for me personally the benefits outweigh the negatives by orders of magnitude. I will never willingly go into an on-site office again.

              I find it frustrating, but sadly not surprising, that so many companies (including my own) are starting policies of “you must be in the office X days a week” for when this is over. The only reasoning mine has given is that “most” people want to return. But…. so what? I don’t want to return, it wouldn’t benefit my job to return, it would mean me giving my employer 15 hours of my day (commute and lunch) that I don’t get paid for… it’s madness that companies are interpreting “some people want to return” as “everybody must return”. But I digress!

        2. Kaiko*

          I feel like this is less “smug” and and more “deeply self-centered.” My long-standing WFH setup has been disrupted by my husband’s newfound WFH arrangement; I did double-duty as teacher/childminder during the workweek; I was unable to tap into community support systems like school, early years centres, or even visits with grandparents for months at a time; longstanding anxiety and hypochondria spiked; and the main activity of my organization (delivering professional development) had to pivot to online-only in the space of weeks, requiring intense work and stress, not to mention lost revenue.

          I don’t think I was really in any personal danger from the virus (although even that is debatable, given how it moves), but the impact it’s had on my work and personal life has not been neutral/positive. If your situation is such that your baseline improved during the pandemic, I’m going to wager you had a *job problem* before this all started.

          1. FiveWheels*

            How is it self centred?
            I work in an area (geographical and professional) where WFH was previously unheard of. I live in a city where public transport is so poor my three mile commute takes an hour each way. (No, other transport options are not available.) If I want to work on law and not move to a different jurisdiction, that commute was a requirement.

            Here’s the thing.

            This new normal has sucked for a lot of people. But it has absolutely NOT universally sucked.

            In my experience the people who enjoy the new normal are perfectly happy to keep it for themselves and those who want to work on site can do so without upsetting us. But people who want everyone to return to on site offices? Routinely insist that because THEY want to, EVERYONE should.

            1. Roci*

              I think many people are excited about the new flexibility and openness to WFH, and are thriving in that way. But the pandemic is pretty stressful and offsets a lot of that good stuff. Especially for people with health conditions or dependents. Kaiko’s original point was very few people’s situations average out to a net positive, and for those that are net negative, toxic positivity is not helpful.

          2. FiveWheels*

            Or more simply put, I’m baffled as to how you think me saying “the new normal is great for me and lots of other people, it’s not that rare” is self centred.

            1. Kaiko*

              Direct quote: “At the risk of seeming smug, there’s a lot of us out there thriving in the pandemic.” The things you listed – open office, wfh, all that – could and maybe should have been conversations that happened well before a global pandemic. Those things happening were not tied to a pandemic the way you seem to think they are.

              1. Deanna Troi*

                Kaiko, I don’t think you can compare what might have happened in some ideal world to the way this world actually is. The truth is that many employers were not interested in teleworking until the pandemic and acting like they could have done it isn’t rooted in reality since in actuality they weren’t going to allow it. Alison’s column has been filled with letters from people like FiveWheels asking how they can convince their employers to allow them to continue working from home permanently, because working at home during the pandemic has brought positive changes to their life. If it weren’t for the pandemic, they wouldn’t have experienced those positive changes, so yes, it IS tied to the pandemic. That’s not deeply selfish, it is reality. They are not trying to say that everyone should respond the way they are, but are acknowledging that different people are experiencing this differently. In fact, I think your perspective is much more selfish, because you are invalidating the feelings of those who aren’t responding the same way you are, and you think your reality is the only correct one.

    6. Grump*

      Yes! My toxic, dysfunctional employer hired a consultant (after doing layoffs!) to come in and talk to us about self-care and how to be more resilient. As if it’s our fault we’re miserable because we just haven’t done enough mindfulness, yoga, bubble baths, therapy, or whatever to offset the fact that our working conditions are terrible and we’re living through a pandemic.

      1. Argh!*

        We get weekly emails from “Working Well” but most of my issues are stress-related due to working for a toxic boss. How about sending out weekly “Working competently” emails to the crap bosses who got promoted for being toadies?

    7. Cj*

      I have started smoking occasionally after 30 years of not smoking. I’m more likely to have 3 drinks instead of one. I do not want to hear about self care.

    8. Just no*

      YES YES YES. I was sick of toxic positivity before the pandemic, and now it’s beyond ridiculous. I have a disability, I work an extremely demanding job that has only gotten more demanding during the pandemic (I’m a public defender), and I have a disabled 4-year-old child who never sleeps. Our society just needs to accept that “self-care” (whatever that even means) simply isn’t available to many people. The last thing I need is to be guilted and shamed for not doing enough self-care. I already know I’m dropping balls left and right.

      1. DJ Abbott (formerly Tidewater 4-1009)*

        Also self-care isn’t the same for everyone. For me it’s staying in touch with friends – in person when possible, Facebook or phone otherwise – making food I like, exercising, taking walks, and meditating once a week.
        I don’t need or want bubble baths, lavender, mindfulness, or G*d forbid, more articles. There’s already more to read than I’ll ever find time for, of things that are actually interesting!

    9. Dr. Rebecca*

      I have already had breakfast, but a friend dropped off a strawberry pink frosted, heart sprinkled, creme filled donut on my porch while I was teaching, and as soon as the camera was off I mainlined that thing like I was being payed money to eat it. Sometimes one’s health is priority; sometimes one needs to eat an effing donut at 9:30am.

      1. DJ Abbott (formerly Tidewater 4-1009)*

        Unless you have huge weight or systemic problems, nothing wrong with a little comfort food!

    10. Aquawoman*

      We’ve been getting those emails, also. A couple of months ago*, we got one that said essentially that your health is a result of your frame of mind. I sent that one to the diversity & inclusion committee to complain about the ableism of it. And the fact that no one stopped to think that they were likely sending that email to people who were suffering from covid or had lost loved ones to covid and this email was essentially saying it was their own fault, just blew my mind. Such bad judgment.
      *covid time. Could have been 3 weeks ago or August, I don’t know.

    11. Blaise*

      Toxic positivity is a huge issue in tracking, even in non-pandemic times. “Teachers are superheroes!” and “teachers aren’t in it for the income, they’re in it for the outcome!” make me throw up a little. They’re just ways to justify our pitiful pay and the massive societal lack of respect- “but they just love what they do!!”

      1. TexasTeacher*

        It is a particular pitfall in teaching, and probably other fields that do require an…. emotional commitment, I guess. We are encouraged to set up appointments during our planning time to do 20 min sessions online yoga/deep breathing, etc. I mean I guess that can be helpful but I generally need all my planning time and more for actual work tasks! I’ll breathe and stretch later. Like, June. Now my 25 min lunch? That’s for scarfing down a bit of food and scanning AAM.

      2. Selina Luna*

        I’ve been a teacher for over a decade. I am in it for the outcome, but I need the income too. I do not teach for free, and while I love teaching, if it became purely voluntary, I would not do it anymore. I can’t afford to.

    12. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yeah, I’d love to find my people who are decompressing by binge watching decade-old, depressing, gritty crime dramas and documentaries with their myriad streaming services. HBO Max for the win.

      1. Morticia*

        Lie to Me is my current re-watch binge. I also have a subscription to Investigation Discovery.

    13. Alpaca Bag*

      I think the toxic positivity people don’t know they’re not only not helping, but sometimes making it worse, in a blame the victim kind of way. My kid’s got terminal brain cancer, and I don’t expect to just happy-thoughts around how I feel about that. I’m working from home, so yay for that. Early this week someone who knew I was going to visit my Dad over the weekend asked how it went, and I started crying and said he didn’t remember who I was. If I had gotten toxic positivity from that person, it would have impacted my ability to work with them effectively in the future. They acknowledged that it’s a difficult situation and followed my lead to the next conversation topic – an ideal reaction.

      1. Just somebody on the internet who felt that.*

        This is so hard, and I am so very sorry. And now I will follow you to whatever conversation topic you like.

    14. Liz case*

      I’m part of an anxiety group (specifically health anxiety in the time of Covid). At the first meeting, the organizers asked for suggestions for ground rules and some answer: bring positivity! I responded that if I could be positive on demand, I wouldn’t be in this group.

    15. meyer lemon*

      I am one of those annoying people who has been productive during lockdown because my way of dealing with stress is to work on things I have some control over. I don’t think this is actually healthy but it provides a distraction. I’m guessing these relentless positivity types are working out their own anxiety in this way, but if they really wanted to be helpful, they would recognize that everyone has their own coping mechanisms and now is not the time to judge people for them.

      1. RB*

        Yes. Does reorganizing one’s lipstick and nail polish collections count? And washing my car more times than it really needs. And touching up paint around the house over and over. These are distractions rather than coping methods, for me anyway.

    16. Butterfly Counter*

      I think I used to be one of these toxic positivity people. I played on a university soccer team where playing time would be taken away if you weren’t constantly encouraging and talking up your teammates. We were also expected to give gifts and share positivity emails as well. I guess I just got into the habit and “You can do it!” just became part of my personal mantra and I was happy to share it with others. And as much as I had problems with a lot of things that went on with that particular coach and soccer team, I always felt buoyed by the encouragement of others and from myself. It made hard things seem doable.

      I don’t do it very much now. I married a cynic who politely asked me to stop with all of the positivity all of the time. I hadn’t realized how distressing it was to people because I actually felt like it helped me a whole bunch.

      Honestly, I felt like my life was better when I was forcing myself to be positive more often. I think getting into the habit of being kinder to myself went against my natural self-doubt and the internal dialog of putting myself down all of the time. I know that being around negative colleagues, while is helpful to you, really breaks down my mental health and attitude toward my job.

      I don’t know. It seems we all need different things. Maybe the solution is to have both extremes available. Maybe relentlessly positive emails once a month for those like me and monthly (or biweekly) b*tch and moan meetings for those who prefer that?

      1. meyer lemon*

        I think positivity can have great personal benefits, but it’s very tempting to get evangelical about it to the point where it becomes highly draining to others. It’s one of those things that can be meaningful but are best shared with people who have opted into it. But I agree with you that negativity can be similarly draining.

      2. Observer*

        No. There is a difference between being generally positive and being Pollyanna.

        The HEALTHY response to self doubt and needless negativity is not a constant stream of “you can do it” that ignores reality. It’s like the whole self esteem thing. When you unmoor self esteem from reality, you run into trouble, whether it’s high or low self esteem. Same for positivity and negativity. If you’re self talk is unmoored from reality, whether positive or negative, it’s going to be a problem. Same for the way you talk to / advise people.

        A sure sign that your university team was at least verging on toxic is that you were being required to share gifts with your peers.

        Please realize that “all sunshine all the time” is NOT a requirement for “being kinder to yourself”. Being kind to yourself is a good thing. But it does NOT require relentless boosterism. And that kind or relentless positivity can have the exact opposite effect.

        I’m not saying that no one should ever push themselves to be positive. Sometimes that is a very good and even necessary thing. The problem is making that THE one standard way of operating. That’s just dangerous.

      3. A fair point*

        This is fair. I have seen that relentless toxic-positivity people often have some seriously difficult life circumstances to cope with, and those habits are obviously what is getting them through. That obseravation has helped me be more patient with it, and instead of snapping at it, I try to remove myself when it is bringing me down.

        Even if your circumstances are just average-person hard, I hope you can identify some similar-minded people and get back that thing that buoyed you and made hard things feel doable. It’s not too much to ask. <3

      4. Not So NewReader*

        If a person needs constant doses of positivity then the positivity is not working because it’s got no holding power.

        Sometimes just acknowledging that we hear some one talking does more than any plastic positivity.
        Them: “Topping it all off, I am behind on my rent.”
        Me: “Oh man, that sucks.”

        Just knowing that someone heard them say, “I am worried”, can help a person along in a small way. I think more so than, say, dreamland positive stuff.

      5. Roci*

        This reminds me very much of Inside Out. Everyone loves to be happy and focus on the happy things and encourage each other. But sometimes real sad things happen, and the right and helpful response is to just be sad with someone about it. It is very validating and comforting and actually helps people feel happier afterwards. This is what it means to be emotionally intelligent–knowing when to push for happiness and when to let yourself be sad.

    17. Aphrodite*

      Exactly this! So much this!

      I am dealing with the most godawful payroll system (and I am not in payroll or accounting or anything even remotely related) and trying to explain to teachers why their pay this year doesn’t match last years and their money is being stolen, etc. The truth is a couple of things changed but your pay is correct.) Also, I have lost two of my cats, the last one on the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend and beyond the usual awfulness the first emergency place I went was so terrible and did such awful things I can never forgive nor will I ever forget them. Now my third cat is 19 and not doing well, and I am simultaneously sad and depressed. I am also dealing with new home renovations, though a friend is handling the details–but I am exhausted from that. Plus I had my second successful cataract surgery but this first week post-op recovery is not fun. (I hate having dirty hair and a face I can’t scrub clean.) Plus, the first ever layoffs in the college’s history just took place and while my job is most probably secure, who is sure any more and the union’s call for a meeting at noon today makes me nervous. In short, it is awful for me right now and I AM IN NO MOOD FOR YOUR POLLYANNA WORK SHIT. (See next paragraph.)

      Which is “Let’s have a Zoom meeting today (and I am only giving you 3 hours’ notice by the way) to ‘Let’s March Forth (4th) and SELebrate our teamwork, tradition, and personal and professional growth :)
      BYOB’ ”

      I don’t like booze but if I did bring my own bottle I am damn well going to drink the hell out of it in front of all of you. And you can all go screw yourself to hell.

      1. Exhausted Trope*

        Aphrodite, you are one of My People!
        * I’m going to go burn “I AM IN NO MOOD FOR YOUR POLLYANNA WORK SHIT.” into the break room table now….

    18. Chas*

      I must admit as someone who never really spoke to people at work before the pandemic (I spend my lunch cross-stitching with headphones in), I’m getting annoyed at the number of ‘here’s an opportunity to talk to your collegaues for the sake of your mental health :)’ type messages I’ve been getting since this all started, even though it’s nowhere near the level other companies are doing.

      The latest thing they came up with here is to take everyone in the department and split them into random pairs and say you’re supposed to organise a 15 minute ‘coffee break chat’ over Zoom. They made it possible to opt-out (which I did immediately) but I’m pretty sure most people will have ignored the emails and ended up on the list when they wouldn’t want to be (at least I know my coworker who’s on maternity leave at the moment and my boss who hates time-wasting work events probably didn’t intend to be included on the list, but they have been)

  10. LeavingYou*

    Regarding LW #2 I’m thinking strongly about leaving my job when I return from maternity leave and it is solely due to how I’m managed. What would I say at interviews? Should I make up a plausible lie (moving closer to family, interested in project x) or is there a diplomatic way of answering the question?

    1. anon translator*

      I would lead with why you are interested in the job you’re interviewing for, rather than why you’re leaving your current job. Even if you’re willing to take just about any job to get out of your current situation, the likelihood of getting it is very low if you can’t think of any reason why you want the job you’re interviewing for.

      1. SomebodyElse*

        This is so important. You want to give hiring managers the reason you are running towards something vs. running away from something. Otherwise it opens up the question… “Ok, so this job is a stop gap, how long before they find something else”

        And quite frankly I want my employees to like what they do and to be engaged with their work. Not someone who is biding their time until something else comes along.

        Trust me, hiring managers can usually smell a line of BS. Yes we all know what the code words of “Not a good fit” “Looking for new opportunities” and the rest mean (Especially when said with a grimace) Good advice for all is to really examine what they want and to be able to verbalize it credibly in interviews.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          You want to give hiring managers the reason you are running towards something vs. running away from something.

          This is exactly it right here. You want people to be interested in the job they’re interviewing for. Lots of things drive people to look for a new job – boss swap that’s not working, denied a promotion, pay, office move that’s doubling their commute, etc. I’m less interested in that and more interested in what drew them to the position they’re interviewing for.

      2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        And REALLY focus on what you can do for the company – that’s what they’re wondering about – not what the company can do for you!

        But no, don’t badmouth your former manager(s). Several years ago, I was one of the people interviewing applicants for a position which involved supervising intellectually disabled adults in a sheltered workshop setting: they needed to be able to model good workplace behavior, of course, in addition to being responsible for a vulnerable population. More than one promising candidate was going through the interview very well UNTIL they started slamming a former manager. At that point, I knew that person wouldn’t get the position; not only would they set a very poor example of how to behave on the job, they’d probably badmouth OUR agency as soon as things didn’t go their way. The moral of this story? Don’t talk yourself out of a job!

    2. Willis*

      I would try to mentally reframe the question so that instead of talking about what I didn’t like about my old job, I was talking about what interests me in the new role. (“I’m excited to work as part of a larger team,” or “Project X looks really interesting and an extension of what I’m doing now,” etc.) So not necessarily a lie about why you wan to make this specific switch, but not the complete picture about why you want to leave either.

      As an interviewer, I want to hear how this job fits in with your career path/interests not about interpersonal stuff from your previous job, because like Alison said, I really have no way of evaluating that. That said, if it was something like a manager that changed your whole job description or doing things in workstyle X when you prefer Y, I think you can say something diplomatic there. But make it about the job not the manager (“In my current role, I focus on daily Alpaca grooming, but I’m really more interested in developing strategic approaches to grooming” vs “My manager only gives me short term work and ignores me for bigger picture projects”)

      If you’re simultaneously moving to be near family, that’s a convenient cover, but I wouldn’t make up a wholesale lie about it, especially if it’s something you then have to remember/keep up with down the line.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Yes, I think there’s a way to frame it, if your problem with your manager is more about preferred management style than personality.

        Maybe your manager micromanages – why then you’re “looking for an opportunity to work more independently” or to “take ownership of my workload” if you can then tie that to something in the job description or company culture.

        But if your manager is just a jackass, it’s important not to fall into the temptation of explaining why, even (especially) if the interviewer says “oh I see you work for Tangerina Warbleworth … what’s she like?”

        The interview is about *you*, not your current employer or manager.

        1. allathian*

          Several years ago, a friend of mine got a job interview at a place where she really wanted to work. Apparently the interviews went very well and she was one of two candidates in the final round. The hiring manager kept bugging and bugging her about what it was like working for one of her former bosses, whom she detested for being a micromanager and a sarcastic and generally nasty person. She told me that she tried to deflect with all kinds of evasions, until she couldn’t take it anymore and told the hiring manager the truth about what a horrible manager and person her former manager had been. The hiring manager had seemed happy that my friend could be provoked, while my friend thought that she’d blown her chances. In the end, she got the job, because the hiring manager knew her former boss from before and couldn’t stand them, and would never have hired anyone who enjoyed working with that kind of personality. It’s not a strategy I’d ever recommend, though, because this scenario is so extremely unlikely. Even my friend said afterwards that she wished she’d asked the hiring manager why they were so insistent on this point. In the end, the hiring manager proved to be a less than stellar manager in other ways, and my friend moved on after a couple of years.

          1. FiveWheels*

            I used to work in a fairly small, close knit industry and was told my more than one person at rival companies that surviving for so long under Former Manager was better than the best reference, because it showed I could cope with anything!

        2. MyBossSucks*

          I got the rather pointed question of “Oh I see you work for Tangerina Warbleworth….. is she as racist as people say?”
          I answered “I’m not sure what people say, but I’m looking for a workplace where diversity and inclusion is taken seriously.”
          Because the real answer was “Yes, yes she is. Please, I would like to work in a place where overt racism is unacceptable. Please help me.”

    3. Momma Bear*

      I left two jobs due to management. The first one I said I was leaving to spend more time with my child. The second I left for a better job. I did briefly mention (because I had a good relationship with the person doing my exit interview) that the manager had something to do with it, but I kept it short and didn’t belabor it. I focused on the new opportunity.

    4. Birch*

      All of the above. I also suggest using the opportunity to indicate something you learned that you would like to apply in your new role. E.g. my old boss was a horrible micromanager but had no idea how to actually manage people or projects, so we were forced to spend overtime working on redundancies while other stuff fell through the cracks. I explained in an interview that the structure of the team changed a lot while I was there, and I learned a lot about working within different team structures and about how important communication is between the different roles (and then gave a couple of examples of how I took initiative to solve problems). Best case scenario, your interviewer works in the same field, knows about your terrible manager and can read between the lines but is also impressed that you both treated your manager respectfully and also turned the situation into a positive experience for yourself!

  11. Portia Longfellow*

    As someone who spent much of my time building Excel spreadsheets and SQL databases to do data analysis, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using Clippy or the internet to help you out! There are so many formulas that I didn’t use often enough to memorize, or I would need to figure out where I borked the code. Frankly, knowing how to search for the function you need is a skill in itself.

    1. BHB*

      “Frankly, knowing how to search for the function you need is a skill in itself.”

      As is knowing what function you need in the first place. It’s like the argument for taking calculators or formula sheets into a maths exam.. after a certain level, just having the formulas in front of you won’t help, you need to know which formulas to use, how to use them and what buttons to press in what order on the calculator to get the right answer.

      1. Clisby*

        My brother, who’s an engineer, said his college engineering professors used to write relevant formulas on the board before handing out tests. The idea was that if you didn’t know which formula to use and how to apply it, it was useless. If you did know, you wouldn’t rely on your memory anyway – you’d look it up to double-check you were doing it right.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      That’s what I say too. It’s important to know what different formulas DO, but perfectly fine to lookup the code string. That’s not cheating. I have heard though in some industries (finance, IB) candidates junior employees are expected to have this memorized, but it is more or less standard what you’d be expected to know beforehand.

      I can’t say why that company ghosted. Their reaction was odd, but it may not have had anything to do with Excel and more about them being jerks.

    3. Erika22*

      Exactly! Sometimes understanding a formula or function is quite a feat in itself, and there’s no way someone without a certain of level of understanding would be able to apply it anyway. Plus nowadays lots of programs will have the formula helper pop up automatically when you start typing so you can’t even escape getting help even if you wanted to!

    4. PT*

      I once had a skills interview at a temp agency on Office. They tested me on Office 97 in 2011. Office 97 came out when I was in middle school: I was too young to have ever used it, and of course, did not do so great on the skills assessment.

      I have no idea how they placed anyone.

  12. Language Lover*

    LW 1, I’m confused. Did your union rep straight out tell the principal that these toxic positivity emails were having the opposite effect or were they just hoping she’d pick up on it because of the article that was sent?

    If it’s the latter, I think you are going to need to take a more direct approach. Perhaps your union rep is the person to do this. If not, perhaps get a group of people together to approach the principal. I agree with Alison, you should focus on the meetings since it’s easier to ignore the content of emails.

    I actually think this is something you can try during a meeting if you wanted to take a more casual approach. When it gets started and she’s talking about breakout rooms, you could speak up and “joke” that you’re self-cared out and would love to have a room to talk about issues surrounding X. That way, people who wanted to discuss self care could still do that and those that didn’t want to might have another option.

    1. Rainer Maria von Trapp*

      I am in agreement with the suggestion about starting casually and talking about it rather than necessarily going with the union rep to start (depending on your principal’s and district’s relationship with your union. At my school, the union approaching administration for this would be like pouring gasoline on an already-brightly burning dumpster fire). I wonder if framing the conversation as something like, “It’s lovely to be able to focus on positive pieces of our lives right now. One thing that would really help build positive feelings, honestly, is having some time to work together on addressing XYZ with each other. Could we build in some time for that, as well?” I know our administration is really into using protocols for discussion right now, so I would be inclined to find one that suits the teachers’ needs and present it with my suggestion. Maybe there is something that your principal is into that you could use to help support your cause!

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I like this spin — making something positive that they don’t otherwise have time for.

    2. Threeve*

      It would be easy for the principal to take it as “here’s this term you may not know, it has pretty negative connotations. Just to caution you to be sure you don’t cross into extreme positivity.”

      But…who cares if the principal knows the terminology or the research at all? “This kind of behavior is called ‘toxic positivity’ and…” is pointless when what you really need is “we don’t find talking about positivity and self-care in meetings helpful.”

    3. Smishy*

      I was confused by that too. Forwarding someone an article seems like a terribly ineffective way to solve the problem. If this principal is anything like me, that went unread straight into a junk folder. If there’s nothing explicit to make her aware that that article is supposed to be a hint to her, how is she supposed to have realized the specific things she’s doing that people find problematic? Heck, without any context, she may very well have read it and thought “good thing I’m not overdoing it like this article, I’m supporting my team the RIGHT way” because left to their own devices with fuzzy info, people tend to assume their actions are good ones. And then you just reinforced the behavior. People need to be clearly told when their behavior is causing problems for others.

  13. L6orac6*

    #1 Its almost like the teachers are getting homework to be discussed next time when they meet on Zoom, in addition to teaching students, marking homework, and preparing for lessons, all of which has become way much harder in recent times plus the possibility of getting Covid. The Principal has way too much time on their hands, they should be supporting the teachers, not demanding more of them!

    1. Not trying to be rude, just good at it*

      A couple of different scenarios:

      1. It sounds like an elementary school principal. In my experience, most upper level educators would laugh at this.

      2. The longer the administrator has been out of the classroom, the more disconnected some become.

      3. This is a mandate from central administration. Somebody in the “main office” has decided that this is good protocol for the entire school system and the principal has no choice.

      So glad I’m no longer part of the education business. Instead I spend my days helping my 10 year old survive zoom school.

      1. PhysicsTeacher*

        Secondary will still do it, there’s just more grumbling and discontent about it from the staff. Also my experience in a large high school is that there are enough reasons for people to miss regular meetings — subbing, IEP meetings, etc. — that people who really hate this stuff will just start skipping these meetings and thinking they can just figure out an excuse if anyone asks. It’s complicated by the fact that many of the regular meetings we have feel truly pointless, given that anything important also has to get sent out as an email because people are covering classes and missing the meeting.

        Some principals Get It (my old one did and would just let us do our jobs). Some don’t.

    2. Scott*

      I totally agree with you. I read that about zoom breakout sessions and thought if I was sent into one like what the LW described I would leave the call and see what happened after. That said, I realize this approach will not work for many people. I’m not a teacher and I’ve been in my line of work for a very long time so I have the capital to spend on calling out BS.

  14. WS*

    I’ve done Word and Excel tests when I was doing temp work. They switched the Help off. If they don’t want you to look things up, they can stop you!

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I remember one Excel test I took that was within a special limited environment where none of the standard keyboard shortcuts worked. I had absolutely no idea where to find simple things like Cut and Paste in the program menus, so never got to show off the difficult parts I did know how to do!

      1. WS*

        Yes, I did that one too! It just meant that I wasted time scrolling through the menus instead of doing everything in the usual and efficient way. And it was timed!

      2. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

        Ahh, yes, I did that one too! I use keyboard shortcuts ALL THE TIME and was so annoyed that I had to use the menus!

      3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        So annoying – and absolutely would not have given the prospective employer the information they actually wanted about my Excel skills.

      4. BHB*

        Oof. I used to help out at an adult education centre, where we would teach basic office skills. The tests we used were awful – a facsimile of word/excel/whatever, but no help, no keyboard shortcuts (unless it was part of that particular question), text input was incredibly laggy and clunky, you couldn’t even click the “wrong” menu options as they were locked out. They were horrendous. I failed a couple of the tests, despite being a fairly proficient user, simply because my normal methods of doing something were”wrong” by the test standards, and so I had to spend time figuring out/remembering alternate ways of completing the tasks.

      5. MistOrMister*

        That happened to me with a couple of school tests. Of course, they were specifically word/excel classes needed for a degree, so we knew the help and shortcuts would be cut off, but still annoying! On top of that, you only had so many wrong “clicks”. I think it was that you could select the wrong thing twice and if you got it wrong the 3rd time they moved you to the next question – to keep people from going through everything on each menu I guess. Wasn’t fun.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Insert small rant: Many of us have learned that excessive mouse use causes us hand pain. Software designed without any keyboard shortcuts is an offense against my tendons and I switch to the competitor’s program.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            I was involved in a major system adoption at $OldJob and my first question was whether it would be mouse-only or keyboard shortcuts, and the rest of the panel looked at me blankly. I’d be using it all day; they’d use it every day but only for a minute at a time.

            You couldn’t even use Tab to move between fields until I pointed out the need.

      6. NotAnotherManager!*

        Our HR used a test like this for a long time, and I refused to let them use it for my hires because it would only credit people for doing the task one particular, clicky way. I am one of the strongest Excel users in our organization (this is a low bar, BTW), and I didn’t pass the test because I’m a keyboard person, not a mouse person and it had disabled the Ctrl+whatever commands, which is how I work. To their credit, HR was very receptive to this feedback.

        To get around it, I just ask candidates pretty specific questions about the Excel features that we’d want them to know, and we also do an extensive hands-on training session in Excel to review the ones that will be used frequently as part of orientation/onboarding.

      7. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

        What are they testing at that point?? Knowing how to hunt for answers and parse the options is necessary.

        And no shortcuts? CRTL +

      8. Mockingdragon*

        Me toooo except for Word. I was going to mention this. I also got locked out because it was a newer version of Word than the one I used, so while I could easily navigate shortcuts, I couldn’t find where copy/paste was in the ribbon at the top. So dumb.

      9. Observer*

        I remember one Excel test I took that was within a special limited environment where none of the standard keyboard shortcuts worked

        Why on earth would they do that? Don’t you WANT people to be able to use the keyboard?

    2. pretzelgirl*

      I hate these. I took one where it measured your clicks and if you had too many you failed. I admit I dont everything about word, but I can usually figure it out rather quickly. Me “clicking around” is not a fair measure of my skills. I failed because I clicked through too many menus. They would not even entertain interviewing me, even though I matched every qualification for the position that was listed.

  15. Not A Manager*

    LW3, is there any chance at all that the manager hung up due to any behavior of yours after the interview experience? I only ask because you sound pretty annoyed about having spent 4 hours on the process and then being ghosted, and then you mention having sent “many” emails that were ignored, and that just makes me wonder. If your many emails were ignored, then it probably was pretty clear by then that you weren’t being hired, so were those emails maybe expressing anger that they ghosted you, or that you spent so much time on the process? And if they had been ignored, what were you hoping to achieve with the phone call?

    They were wrong to ghost you initially, but sadly that’s very very common when you’re not being offered a job. Maybe in the future you’d be better off not following up so assiduously, especially if you want to have the option of re-applying.

    1. Xavier Desmond*

      While you may be right, a big part of me thinks that an employer who doesn’t reply to calls and emails deserves to have applicants constantly ring and email them.

    2. Apfelgail*

      Yeah, the “many emails” bit jumped out at me and made me wonder if there was some key information we might be missing here.

    3. SBM*

      Yep, was thinking this. LW3, you definitely did not cheat and, as Allison and others have mentioned, if they didn’t want you using the Help funtion, they’d tell you. But. If you’ve been ghosted, you’ve been ghosted. It sucks and is really not great, but if you don’t recieve a reply aftter the first follow up email, standard advice is to cut your loses and move on.

      I’d bet the (still definitely rude!) hanging up was more due to the “many emails” as opposed to whatever happened in the interview/excercise.

    4. cosmicgorilla*

      Truth. I came in here to say this. The important part of the email is not “can they tell I used Clippy” but “I sent many follow-up emails.” The bit about the test was just a red herring.

      We can’t armchair diagnose here, but both the multiple emails and phone calls AND the hyperfocus on what went wrong with the test would suggest anxiety.

      1. twocents*

        Really? I’d be pretty pissed too if a company took four hours of my time and then I got told wanting an acknowledgment was just me having anxiety.

  16. The Prettiest Curse*

    Yup, I was about to say that! They can also turn off other functions of the software of they only want to test how you do specific things.

  17. Yvette*

    Am I the only one who thinks that letter 4 could be the flip side of the one from a while back from the person who ran a nonprofit and was wondering if they could tell their employee (volunteer?) with the wealthy husband who had expensive clothes and jewelry to “dress down” because LW was concerned about the optics?

    1. LavaLamp*

      IRRC she wasn’t a volunteer but a staff member, and yes I remember that one. I think it may simply depend on where you work. Some non profits seem to be glamours and full of wealthy staff and some are full of staff that are broke and don’t like working with someone from the other end of the spectrum.

    2. Observer*

      Yes. And if you recall, it was also pretty clear that (POSSIBLY aside from the issue of what hotel that person stays in) the actual issue was with staff who couldn’t stand the fact that someone actually had “extra” money to spend.

  18. Ellyfant*

    OP4: “My spouse is a low earner” is not a valid reason for receiving a massive pay increase; so having a high earning spouse also does not require you to be on a lower salary. Your income is solely about your employment and should not have anything to do with your family circumstances. You’re free to make donations with your income if you want to contribute to society but don’t feel bad about whatever number is on your pay slip because of your spouse’s situation.

  19. Couch*

    LW5 / Alison, thanks for asking / answering that question. I’m going through a tough family situation at the moment that has needed a lot of panicked phone-calls and medical decisions all from a distance thanks to Covid (no relatives allowed in hospitals here). My manager has been incredible through the whole thing and I had been wondering how or whether to approach them with a thank you, but I’ll do that now.

  20. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    As someone who trains people to use tools like Excel, Word, and bespoke systems, part of the training is making people aware that they don’t need to KNOW everything straight away. Part of the skill of using systems (or coding, or cooking, or using a sewing machine, or whatever…) is that you know the basics and you learn the skills of how to find out what you need to know.

    If an employer doesn’t want staff who can look things up themselves and find solutions, they’re a bad employer. I think OP3 dodged a bullet!

  21. BHB*

    #3 reminds me of a job interview I had a few years ago. Part of the interview was an excel skills test, and one of the instructions was asking for skills I had little knowledge of and no experience in. I left that part until last, and with the remaining 15 minutes I had I started clicking around trying to figure it out. I used the excel help, but that wasn’t much assistance, and so I turned what I usually turn to if I’m struggling with something – google. I wasn’t sure if the computer was even hooked up to the internet, but it was so I loaded the browser and googled, trying to find out how best to complete the task.

    Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite puzzle my way out of it as the google answers I got didn’t really match what the instructions were telling me, and the time ran out. In the split second I had when the interviewer came to get me, I decided to leave the browser tabs open, hoping it would reflect well me on that even if I didn’t know how to accomplish a task, I would take the necessary steps to try and figure it out.

    I didn’t get the job, so I don’t know what (if any) effect my leaving the browser open had, but I rationalised it thinking that if it was a problem to them, then I don’t particularly want to work there. I’d much rather work for someone who values the effort & initiative I’d taken to work out something I don’t know, than someone who would rather I didn’t try at all.

  22. Batgirl*

    I don’t know if OP4 is a woman, but there’s a hugely sexist background to this idea that people should get paid what they need to live, rather than what their work is worth. I think one Victorian politician was quoted as saying “beef and beer cost more than tea and cake”. When the Dagenham women machinists went on strike, their male counterparts said: “You’re married; you only need pin money”. Don’t work for pin money! Male employees at the BBC had multiple palms slapping foreheads when they claimed their higher salaries were not for themselves but “providing for our families”. Even if OP is a man, it’s bad form to give into this idea. If you spread around the idea that salary should be linked to personal need, and especially marital status you’re going to put a lot of progress back a few centuries. Just say that as a company you’re careful to ensure equitable pay based on market rate, and you certainly wouldn’t punish people married to men for the fact that men still tend to earn more.

    1. TimeTravlR*

      I am absolutely going to start saying Beef and beer cost more than tea and cake! I am a woman and definitely consume more of the former!!

    2. londonedit*

      All of this! Only a few decades ago it was routinely expected (even required by company policy) that women would give up their jobs as soon as they got married, and the massive hangover from that is still this ‘But what do you need money for? Isn’t your husband a doctor/lawyer/famous musician?’ attitude. There are still plenty of people who believe the ‘But Joe has a family to support, he needs to be paid more’ line, and there are still huge problems for women in terms of the gender pay gap. OP should be proud to have the job they have, and their salary has nothing to do with it. The amount of money their fiance has certainly has nothing to do with it.

    3. HannahS*

      It’s also really, really important for women (and acknowledging that OP might not be a woman) to have their own money. Obviously, no one wants to think about divorce when they’re engaged. But you could see a bad situation form if a woman isn’t paid enough “because her husband makes so much” and then is left with…nothing if the marriage ends and if the very wealthy partner had them sign a pre-nup.
      If you don’t need the money because your family is wealthy, feel free to increase your charitable donations! But take the salary.

    4. Observer*

      Just say that as a company you’re careful to ensure equitable pay based on market rate, and you certainly wouldn’t punish people married to men for the fact that men still tend to earn more.


  23. Bazinga*

    LW5, I second the suggestion of a card. I had supported a team member of mine after the death of a family member. She sent me a card with a beautiful message and I saved it. It’s nice to know you made a positive impact and your efforts are appreciated.

    1. Joan Rivers*

      Miss Manners always condemns greeting cards but these days there are some gorgeous, expensive, substantial ones that are almost like a small gift. If you include a lovely handwritten letter inside, they may keep the card as a memento.

      1. doreen*

        The greeting cards that Miss Manners condemns are the usual type that don’t contain a personal note, just the pre-printed sentiment.

    2. Argh!*

      Re: toxic positivity

      I’m so glad this concept has developed. I have been that person who can’t stand the toxic negative person I got stuck working with, and I have been that toxic person everybody else can’t stand.

      When I have been annoyed by the toxic person, his fan club said I was not a team player. When I was the toxic person, my male grandboss gave me strict instructions to STFU.

      So… in my profession, apparently men can be negative and women have to be positive. As a woman, apparently my job description seems to include making narcissistic men feel good about themselves. After I retire, both workplaces will receive glassdoor reviews that they will not find flattering.

      Just throwing it out there in case it resonates.

  24. TimeTravlR*

    I’m pretty good at Excel but even I need to look things up occasionally. Okay, frequently! Unless all you do is build complex spreadsheets all day, I can’t imagine you wouldn’t have to. My take on that, if I were the hiring manager, is that you are at least smart of enough to use the tools available to look it up or double check yourself. It’s so weird that he hung up on you though!

  25. Related Question*

    Related to #2….is it okay to say you’re job hunting because of another team at your company?

    My team works processes contracts another team writes, and they make everyone on my team miserable (several of us are job hunting). Every contract the other team writes is filled with errors/mistakes/missing information that we have to fix, and they get upset over how we’re “picking on them” and how the mistakes are “small” so we should be correcting them anyway if we ask them to be more careful. When they make really big mistakes that cost the company thousands and thousands of dollars, they lie and try to blame the mistakes on us even though we had no interaction with them or the customer while they wrote the contract. Upper management says “Yeah, we’re know they’re horrible, but what do you want me to do about it?”

    1. BRR*

      Not really. Similar to Alison’s answer, the hiring manager doesn’t know the other side to the story. It’s almost always the best approach to focus your answer on why you’re interested in the role you’re applying to.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        There’s a positive way to say you want to be part of a team that works to inspire the best work from each other, rather than to slam an entire dept. Slamming a group is probably even more sketchy to an interviewer than slamming one mgr., because usually a whole dept. isn’t that united in being bad.

        But you can talk about structure and systems.

    2. Bagpuss*

      I think it is still better to focus on why you want the job you are interviewing for.
      I think the problem is that if the perception is that you are applying (and would take the job) to get away from your existing role than the implication may be that you are looking or any port in a storm, and will move on as soon as you find something which is a better fit – it can imply that you are ‘settling’ rather than really being interested in the job you’re currently interviewing for.
      Also, I think there’s the same issue as if you are complaining about a manager – the interviewer isn’t (normally) going to know about the internal workings of your current job so they can’t asses whether the other team is objectively terrible, or whether there are issues which you might be partly to blame for.
      It can also create an impression that you are someone who seeks to deflect blame rather than owning your own errors and working to fix problems, which isn’t great (remember, they don’t have the information to judge whether the problems are in fact unfixable, or the errors and blamed do in fact legitimately belong to the person or team you are blaming)

      I think the focus still need still be on what attracts you about the organisation you are interviewing with and the role they are trying to fill .

      I think the other issue is that it can come across as indiscreet and raise issues of whether you are going to be publicly critical of them, if you are taken on. Of course giving a reason to an interviewer doesn’t automatically mean that you’d also criticize the company to its own clients or rivals, but it doesn’t show that you are able to be discreet, either.

      1. Threeve*

        Someone once told me “try not to talk about what you want to move from; talk about what you want to move to.”

        1. Joan Rivers*

          You also run the risk of sounding naive if you say too much — whatever your manager’s flaws, you don’t know how much worse the interviewer has gone through.
          You don’t want to sound like you’re “green” and can’t take pressure.

          Maybe when asked an “accomplishment” you could say you and your mgr. had a different way of communicating or whatever, but you worked on that and ended up learning to see her POV better, and using it in your work.
          It shows growth and awareness of who’s in charge. Adaptability.

      2. Bernadette*

        This is spot on. I just hired someone who I’m pretty sure is coming from a total dumpster fire of a job, but never said so explicitly or badmouthed her employer. Instead, she focused on what she could bring to the role at my org.

        As the hiring manager, I was impressed with her professionalism and the ways she had made the best out of the situation. There’s a time and a place for swapping horror stories — I look forward to hearing hers at some point in the future, if she wants to share — but it’s not during the interview process.

    3. twocents*

      When I’ve left jobs that I hated, and got specifically asked about why I was leaving, I usually said something to the effect that I’d been in the role for X years, felt I’d learned as much as I could from what the department had to offer, and it was time to apply my skills to new things and both grow professionally myself and bring my talents to help grow (team I’m applying for).

      Never gripe about people. Besides everything else everyone said, you never know who knows who, and you could end up with the interviewer knowing exactly who you’re talking about… and it turns out they’re bffs or roommates or relatives.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        Great point.
        And in a career, you never know when the person you didn’t get along with will show up later in another job. It can happen.

  26. Morning reader*

    OP4, no, it won’t look bad to earn what you’re worth except to sexists who believe married women don’t deserve to earn their own money. I hope you’re not one of those. This attitude is very common in some industries (I’m looking at you, libraries.)
    Where I worked, it was common for women who were mothers and wives to take a part-time job while the kids were in school. This was viewed by some as a chance to earn “pocket money.” They were not seen as earning money to support their families or even themselves. It was also an excuse not to pay them much. And it was a excuse not to take them seriously professionally. It’s a dangerous, sexist attitude and the idea that you would find it somehow inappropriate to earn money just because your husband has some just makes me want to weep for the lost progress of the 20th century.

    If you felt you shouldn’t have a job because you’re marrying money, traditionalists will call you a gold digger. You can’t win with people with traditional, sexist views like that. Don’t even try.

  27. Catherine*

    #4 reminds me of an issue I see in my workplace, a non-profit. We pay dreadfully low and most, if not all, the decision makers and leaders are not the primary earners for their families and have a spouse making a LOT of money. You hear constantly about their beach houses and amazing vacations, but everyone who is only scraping by on their salary alone are struggling. Compensation is a common grievance, a huge reason people leave, and they haven’t changed the base pay in over a decade to accommodate cost of living. The sense I get is that leaders don’t really understand it’s an issue. They always say that if your primary motivation to do good work is money, this isn’t the place for you.

    All this to say, it’s not reasonable to expect everyone to disclose the family money supplementing their income, but it’s important to advocate that everyone be paid well despite their family situation. If your salary isn’t what you live on, I still think it’s important to advocate that compensation should be fair for everyone even if it’s not make or break it to you.

    1. FridayFriyay*

      Yes, this rings true for me. I’m in nonprofit middle management and my salary is actually decent for our sector so no personal complaints, but our workplace is 95% female and most of my colleagues have partners who outearn them substantially. I’m the higher earner in my household by quite a bit and our more modest lifestyle feels like an outlier at my level in the organization.

      Of course we also have a lot of young, single employees at lower levels who make much lower salaries (market rate or higher but we are in a HCOL area and “market rate” is definitely too low) and no one ever suggests paying them more because they need the money more!

    2. Threeve*

      I’ve been in that exact structure–do you also periodically get the 100% insincere “we want to support your progress in your career, even if it can’t be here, talk to your manager about what skills you want to build for the future”? So they could pretend that sky-high turnover was a feature, not a bug.

  28. Richard Hershberger*

    Toxic Positivity: It is amazing how I can encounter an expression for the first time, immediately understand it, and wonder how I got through my previous life without it!

    Now for my cynical take on what to do: Do those emails ever contain anything you need to know about? If not, simply trash them. If yes, set up a rotation among your like-minded colleagues, taking turns to read (skim) them and pass on any substantive content.

    Zoom meetings to share self-care tips: Simply don’t do it. You might need to be in Zoom for that period, but you can mumble noncommittally as necessary while going through your email inbox. Faculty meetings under the best of circumstances are largely a (mandatory) waste of time: simply an inefficient way for the administration to pass on information without the necessity of coherent writing skills. Zoom is your friend for this. With in-person meetings the administration can prevent you from making productive use of the time. That is much harder with Zoom meetings, and especially with pointless blather breakout sessions.

  29. LifeBeforeCorona*

    LW1. It’s been almost a year since this pandemic started and I can say with great authority there is nothing new I need to learn about self-care. Reading 3 articles a day is not helping at all.

  30. FiveWheels*

    Re self care… When stressed by work, my number one destressor is having the time to deal with issues or matters causing the stress. Mindfulness etc is counterproductive because it doesn’t reduce any stressors but it does take up time I could be using to take practical steps to deal with the root cause.

    Ugh. Emails about self care and discussing strategies for same? Ugh!

  31. Salt & Vinegar Chips*

    #4 I think having a “local celebrity’ for a spouse will help with a non-profit position. I’m not sure if you have thought of it from this end but when your Spouse is a “Local Celebrity” or a well known high earner some non profits will hire you in with the intention that your spouse can either “help” with fundraisers and/or that your family will be a big donor. My SIL’s husband is a well known specialty doctor in our, when she went back to work after their twins a great non-profit that they donated to in the past and support offered her a position. 3 months into her job their biggest yearly fundraiser is starting and it was expected that her other colleagues (all with husbands in high profile/ranking jobs in our community) were essentially expected to donate 2-3x their salary for the event and have their spouses promote it on social media and secure tv or radio spots as well.

    1. FridayFriyay*

      Holy shit. As someone who has worked in nonprofits my whole career that is…. not normal. For board members or event/fundraising chair volunteers, sure, but employees? Yikes.

      1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        100%. I’m a professional fundraiser and no functional organization expects significant philanthropy from staff – a token “participation” gift, sure, but not anything approaching a salary. This sounds like either the world’s worst nonprofit or she was brought on as board member/event chair.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Honestly, that’s pretty gross. “Sorry, we’re going to hire Sue instead of you because her husband is rich and can fund us, and you’re just going to work here and expect us to pay you for it.”

    3. Atlantic Beach Pie*

      This strikes me as well-intentioned but naive advice, along the lines of “Hey, have you thought about asking Bill Gates for money? I hear he’s very philanthropic!” Nonprofits not be hiring employees based on their spouse’s connections–the place for those people is on the board! Furthermore, NPOs should not even be hiring fundraisers based on their own personal rolodexes. I’ve been in fundraising for 12+ years and it’s a huge red flag to me when I’m asked in interviews what donors I can bring to the table. You want donors who have a connection to the cause and will support the org for years to come, not a random millionaire who is giving because their college roommate Tangerina is the Director of Development and will stop donating as soon as she gets a new job.

      That said, there are some nonprofits where staff are expected to and do support the organization financially, though usually not to the tune of many times their annual salary. It’s fairly common in higher ed to run staff giving campaigns (to varying degrees of success). I also worked for an org where senior staff (who were all compensated well into the 6 figures) were expected to make an annual leadership gift AND a multi-year pledge to the capital campaign. One of the nice things this org did was give double credit/recognition & associated benefits to staff that gave–so if you made a $500 gift, you were listed as a $1,000 donor.

    4. Observer*

      That is NOT normal. Nor is it in any way, shape or form appropriate or healthy for the organization.

  32. Cara*

    At first I was nervous about the toxic positivity question but I am very positive and don’t dwell on the negative at work . . . but I’m not tone-deaf like this. Jeez. A pandemic is a reason to NOT have too many unnecessary meetings, and definitely not a reason to ask people to share self care tips with coworkers lol. I like the idea of suggesting you focus on a professional topics for the break out rooms at least.

    1. D3*

      A positive person is a great thing. I know and love several people who are very positive and can sometimes be called “Pollyanna”.
      They, like you, understand that positivity becomes toxic when forced on (or even just expected from) others.

    2. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      Positivity and optimism are great! Where it becomes toxic is when you refuse to acknowledge problems or hardships and just gloss over it by saying “At least [insert vaguely positive thing]! Be thankful for [minor thing]! Other people have it worse! Your problem is your mindset, just stop being upset and the problem will go away!”

      1. Decima Dewey*

        Or where there are systemic problems that need to be addressed, and any attempt to address these problems is immediately called negativity. When things are awful, saying they’re awful is the first step to change.

        The staff forum where I work has declined to the point that all that is posted is TPTB’s company line and all we can talk about is how awesome everything is.

    3. llamaswithouthats*

      There is nothing wrong with being positive and doing what it takes to cheer yourself up as long as you don’t push it on others. I’ve seen a lot of people into self-help type stuff try to aggressively prescribe their practices on other people and it’s obnoxious.

  33. Lou*

    Man my org isn’t nearly as bad as #1 but I’m still struggling with the overly-cheeriness of everyone. If I have to share one more “bright spot” I’m going to lose my mind. I’ve started just ignoring all the self-care centric emails, especially when they started including health and wellness tips. Like, just let me do my job and also be sad! It’s okay, you’re not going to die if I’m sad! Makes it even harder to stay focussed and productive because I’m constantly having to perform that I’m Doing Great!! when I’m very much not.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      I know myself and I know what self-care works for me. It’s a waste of my time to keep reading articles about it. Been there, tried it, and said nah.

  34. Erika22*

    #3 One of my first job interviews out of college was for an assistant position where they asked me to perform some basic excel tasks – at the time I didn’t realize how much could be done in excel and genuinely thought adding two numbers together would be the extent of it. Nope, they wanted a pivot table, a vlookup, a couple other things, all of which I can do now with no references and no sweat, but back then I panicked that I was a fraud. I had ten minutes with a computer and I tried my best to lookup the answer on my phone but I could barely apply it and the result looked really bad. I still got an offer somehow (I assume the test wasn’t as critical to the role, or I blew them away everywhere else) but even years later that panic I felt is what prevents me from overstating my skills on my resume or in an interview!

    1. Anonymous Hippo*

      Excel skills are critical for the jobs I hire for, and if someone came in who didn’t really know vlookup/pivot/etc and yet still managed to cobble together even an ugly version of it, I’d be pleased. Excel can do a LOT, and nobody knows all of it, being able to figure out how to do what needs done is the key.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        And if someone has half a brain, they can pick up those skills within a week of practice.

        Too often, managers get pig-headed, and are looking to fill a position of Senior Teapot Maker , and there are a few Intermediate Teapot Makers on staff.

        But for Senior TM, Excel skills are needed, and none of the Intermediate TMs have that skill. So rather than promote from within and give someone a few days’ training, they go to the street, and an applicant can learn Excel enough to get by in the week leading up to the interview. You can see where this goes…

        In the software world I’ve seen really bad hires, and mass exodus’ occur when a hiring manager is a stickler for some skill that can be acquired quickly.

        You’re right – if your candidate can figure it out — THAT’S WHAT COUNTS.

    2. DJ Abbott (formerly Tidewater 4-1009)*

      Pivot table and VLookup are not basic tasks, IME. I’ve used Excel since the 90’s and didn’t learn them until the early 2010’s because I didn’t need them before then.
      Pivot table and VLookup are advanced.

  35. MissGirl*

    OP2, I’ve sat on the other side of an interview when someone mentioned their manager as the reason they wanted to leave. It did not go well. He was asked what kind of management he liked, and he started complaining about how his new manager micromanaged him and wanted to see everything he does. I watched my manager’s, who’d asked the question, body language completely change and I knew his decision was made up.

    Here was the problem with the candidate’s answer. First of all, he didn’t have to say anything about his current manager. He could’ve said he likes being left to do his work with daily or weekly check ins. Secondly, his tone came off defensive and frustrated and you had to wonder if the new manager was on to something. Third, he was an internal hire and while we didn’t know his department, he was essentially badmouthing a coworker.

    I’m not a manager and didn’t have final say and even I was put off by his statement. Stick with why you want the job, what you’re looking for in a job, and not the negatives.

    1. Snailing*

      When I was a manager and otherwise in on interviews, we had one candidate who explained EVERY one of his job changes was due to bad management, which was a big red flag for me.

      I think one complaint phrased in a constructive way can be okay, like “Usually, I gel really well with managers of X style of Y reason, but my current manager is more Z. I’ve tried A, B, and C to mitigate the difference in style, but after trying for Q amount of time, it’s proving to just be a mismatch in style.” But when it seems like the candidate is just complaining like in your example, or it’s definitely bad management every time, it makes me think “Hmm, what’s the common denominator here…”

  36. MCMonkeybean*

    Excel is a great program capable for so much and very few people know how to take advantage of everything it has to offer. Because of this I think that one of the most important Excel skills is the ability to research what it can do and implement it.

  37. TootsNYC*

    On letter #5:
    Someone who left my department to work elsewhere wrote me a farewell note, and the last line was, “I have learned a lot by watching you,” and I thought: Geez, I hope it was GOOD stuff, and not that you learned “what not to do.”

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      That reminds me of that old anti-drug PSA where the father is berating the son for having pot in his room, and the kid screams, “I learned it by watching you!!!!” at the end. :)

  38. Franz Kafkaesque*

    #2 is interesting to me because I’ve always been really careful about not saying anything negative about my current employer/manager in an interview.
    That said, I dealt with the inverse scenario a few weeks ago in an interview and wasn’t entirely sure how to deal with it in the moment. I was interviewing with a C-level exec who spent most of the interview going off about what a terrible company my current employer is. Statements like “they don’t do ANYTHING right” and “people come here from that company we have to get them to unlearn so much”.
    Are there problems at my current company? You betcha. But, it is still one of the top companies in the industry.
    I never heard back from those people so I guess the point is moot now, but I left that interview wondering how I could possibly succeed at this new company if I’m coming in with a big strike against me on day one. Aside from that, it seemed that the message was pretty loud and clear that my experience and knowledge was not only not going to be valued at this company, but it was actually going to be held against me as being “wrong”.
    Now that I think about it a little more, I’m not sure why they even called me to interview. That said, while I totally agree with the advice to not bash your current employer in an interview, I also think its a huge red flag when your interviewer is bashing your current employer in an interview.

    1. hbc*

      If I had to guess, they had some more reasonable people engaging in the candidate search and selection process, or at least a significant barrier between him and the initial selection process. You had X years experience in Y, had A, B, and C skills, you were in the top 7. Then he interviewed whoever was put in front of him and applied his completely different judgment.

      I think bashing in general is just not smart before you know someone well. You can state strong preferences, but there’s a huge difference between “We believe very strongly that our approach is better” and “That other approach is awful.” You might think you’re safe trashing hybrids while interviewing to sell gas guzzlers (and vice versa), but you don’t know what that person or their family drives.

  39. Littorally*

    #4: A net worth (not an income) in the lower millions is really not “retire at 30” kind of money these days. Doubly so if your fiance is mostly paid as a contractor or similar, where he’s covering all his own taxes, healthcare, retirement planning, etc etc. Triply so with musical careers that can easily come and go, and very well may not last him til social security retirement age. Good on him for being frugal with that money and planning for the long term with it.

    1. Generic Name*

      And here I thought I was the only one thinking that having a couple mil *right now* (rather than making that every year) isn’t all that rich? I mean, I don’t have that much money, and my life would be a whole lot easier if I did, but I feel like it’s not enough to make people titter and gossip about how you shouldn’t be drawing a higher salary because you are So Well Off. I guess my advice to the LW is don’t worry about what other people might think, but also think about your audience when discussing something expensive you did or bought. For example, if you know someone is living with roommates because they can’t afford their own place, don’t complaints them about the quality of room service at The Four Seasons.

  40. Rachel S*

    Despite being someone who is not a manager (and not cut out to be), and whose spouse is far from wealthy, I do not resent people like the OP in question #4! I want the next person in their position, or a parallel position, to be paid appropriately, and I don’t want them to take a lower salary. If I were in their situation, I’d establish a Donor-Advised Fund with anonymity built in, and give a significant donation to my organization instead.

    Thinking about how I arrived at this, I started with an article written by a mid-level manager back when we worked together:
    In it she directly addresses the expectation that those who commit to working in a nonprofit organization will have another source of income, and her own feelings about being a mid-level manager.

    (I kept writing more and deleting it, feeling that it distracted from the meat of the question.)

  41. Mirabel*

    About LW#1… not being snarky, can someone explain toxic positivity to me? Because I’m not seeing anything wrong or toxic in what that boss is doing. It’s a bit eyerolly to me for sure and I’d probably delete those emails rather than read them, but I’m genuinely not understanding what’s toxic or damaging? What am I missing here?

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      In a time when people are already struggling with conditions, the boss is piling non-work-related “self-care homework” and group work on when the time would be better spent on work-related discussions. Also, when the world is falling to shit around you or you’re struggling, the emphasis on being overtly positive can really suck and make you feel like you have to paper over your struggles and negative emotions. Just being able to acknowledge, hey, this is awful and we’re all dealing with a sack of crap right now can be much better for emotional health than insisting that, if someone finds the right “self-care” ritual, everything will be just fine.

      When the boss frames stuff as “to discuss at the next staff meeting”, that seems like an assignment and not something that someone can delete, especially when the staff meetings are being devoted to the boss’s self-care obsession rather than professional concerns. I don’t have the luxury of deleting emails from my boss that indicate future discussion is expected.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        We see this in some churches. If happiness/wealth/picket fence and 2.5 kids/whatever will come if you just have faith, it follows that if you don’t have those, it is your fault. The pressure can be intense to put on a happy face, no matter what. Any sort of pressure to maintain a happy face regardless of what is going in your life is toxic.

    2. Blaise*

      In teaching, toxic positivity is used ALL. THE. TIME. to basically tell everyone “see? They’re HAPPY to make $30,000 with a master’s degree! They make a difference and that’s all that matters!!!”

      1. Mental Lentil*

        One of the reasons I left teaching is that nobody in charge ever wanted to hear about problems and how we were going to fix them. They just wanted to hear good news all the time.

        That’s not how the world works!

      2. Burned out teacher*

        Perfect example. We’ve been in-person since September and our new crop of students was having a really hard time adjusting to the new school plus Covid changes (those orientation visits actually make a difference! Who knew?) . The behaviours were off the wall so the school board sent in the behaviour specialist. First thing she said, to a room full of distanced and masked teachers who had spent 5 hours, in a mask, trying to talk over 25 yelling kids, “Oh, I hope you don’t mind if I take off my mask? It’s so much easier to talk this way!” She spent the whole meeting rehasing old strategies that didn’t work well in the first place and were right off the table with Covid and then ended with this gem “I know it’s hard, but we just need to keep going back to the well. We do it for the kids, not the money, right!”

        TL:DR to Miracle’s question, toxic positivity glosses over real problems and leaves the people who are struggling feeling like it’s their fault for not being… enough… (And the problems don’t get solved- ever).

    3. Lou*

      The issue with toxic positivity isn’t the positivity per-say, it’s when positivity is used (usually without ill intent) to shut down conversations about struggles and used to minimize challenges employees are facing both personally and at work.

      For example, when people are struggling to make next month’s rent or existing without adequate childcare, being asked to share what you’re grateful for can feel a lot like being asked to hide what’s going on with you. Suppressing emotions is always damaging.

      When the culture becomes pervasive, it can lead to much more serious issues, like employees not feeling comfortable addressing workplace issues because of the pressure to “be positive.” Any sign of non-positivity (like having a rough day, not being super cheery) can be seen as not being a team player and being a drain on culture, when its truly just humans trying to be human.

      1. Thursdaysgeek*

        “Suppressing emotions is always damaging.” — for you, for many people. But not for all people in all cases. For me, I can make myself feel better by smiling, by thinking of things I’m thankful for, by temporarily forgetting the things that are dragging me down. And I know that I need to stay above a certain level, and will use whatever ‘happy thought’ methods that I can find. I use my emotions, rather than let them use me.

        I’ll try to not force my happiness on other people*, but I wonder how much of that “toxic positivity” is a person who has found something that works for them, and, like many people, think that it is likely to work for others too. That manager could be trying to cope in their way.

        *I was once reprimanded by HR for smiling at a co-worker. He’d decided that I was a bad person, and my smiling at him was a way to try to win him over. It was hard to suppress who I am when I met him in the hall, and it seemed unfair that I was in trouble for treating him like I treated everyone else.

        1. Allypopx*

          Yes, thank you. “Fake it til you make it” is a legitimate strategy that professionals even recommend to deal with feelings of negativity. And regardless, work is not the place to deal with these feelings.

          1. Allypopx*

            Whoops I deleted over myself: “Fake it til you make it” is a legitimate strategy that professionals even recommend to deal with feelings of negativity, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for everyone.

            1. Thursdaysgeek*

              Right. And so many people think that what works for them is the way it should be for everyone else too. Both those who use positivity to help themselves, and those who prefer to feel the feels and allow themselves to be upset. And both look at the other and think they are wrong and unhealthy.

              It is hard to have empathy for someone who processes differently, when it’s something you don’t understand at all. The manager doesn’t appear to have that. The reaction to the manager in these comments are sometimes a bit like that too.

        2. Lou*

          Apologies — I should have said “A culture that encourages people to suppress emotions is always damaging.” I certainly didn’t mean to imply everyone is obligated to feel all their feelings all the time, that sounds exhausting.

    4. Colette*

      Toxic positivity doesn’t leave room for negative emotions – people are allowed to be upset when something bad happens, but toxic positivity demands that they look on the bright side even when they’re dealing with serious illness, death of loved ones, or just a bad day.

      And it puts a burden on the recipient to modify their emotions because someone else doesn’t want to accept that life isn’t 100% positive.

      It can also imply that the reason bad things happen is because the person involved wasn’t positive enough, which is just untrue.

    5. LifeBeforeCorona*

      Your house burns down with everything inside and as you stand outside the smoking rubble your neighbour says, “at least you don’t have to clean those windows anymore!”

    6. Jellyfish*

      It’s also a good way to divert attention from organizational (or societal level) issues by making everything about individual attitude.

      e.g. – “Stressed because you’re overloaded at work? We don’t need to hire someone else, you can just do yoga on your lunch break! Yoga helps lots of people!” That won’t actually solve the problem, but it puts the blame on the worker instead of the organization or company. If they continue to be stressed and show negativity, it’s because they refuse to improve their attitude with yoga.

  42. NotAnotherManager!*

    OP#5, if any of your coworkers took on your work or were helpful to you, make sure they are also thanked/credited. I have an employee who had a major, non-COVID-related medical crisis in their family last year that required pretty extensive coverage from not only me but the team (because we don’t have the option to defer work and it had to be done while they were out). The person with the emergency wrote the kindest individual emails thanking everyone for their support and help and also mentioned in the “other comments” section of their annual self-evaluation the specific contributions of their teammates.

  43. twocents*

    #3: I am (somehow) considered the resident Excel expert at my job and my “expertise” consists of being pretty sure Excel can do something and Googling to figure out how.

    As one of my professors used to say: Life is an open book test. If you’re just completely out of your depth, that’ll be apparent once you fail to meet your deadlines.

    1. TootsNYC*

      there is tremendous skill in knowing which questions to ask.

      I read yesterday that a famous person said something like, “The only reason we don’t know everything is because we don’t know how to ask the questions.”

      I used to give copyediting tests, and I always said, “I don’t really care if you follow my style; I can give you a stylebook to look it up in. But I don’t want to teach you when to stop and look it up. If you write a note that says ‘style?,’ you’ve done what I want; you’ll get the points.”

      1. Zephy*

        Exactly this. We “digital pioneers”/older to mid-gen Millennials, who have been using computer technology for most of our lives but are still old enough to remember life before that, we’re much better than people both older and younger than we are at figuring out how to get the information we need from a computer – we got an extra 10-ish years of practice doing that, that transitional period after being taught the basics of a library card catalog filing system but before The Algorithm was working its dark sorcery to anticipate our every need before even we know we need something. It’s our most marketable skill.

  44. Blaise*

    #2: I successfully gave an honest answer to that last year.

    I’m a teacher who switched jobs mid-year (in January), which is just not something that is done unless something is horribly wrong at the current job. So of course they wanted to know what was up at my interview, and I was totally honest about it but gave specifics- I had been mandated to work after-care after school that year multiple days per week with no increase in pay, and the previous week my boss had told me that now diaper changes were also part of my job. I have a master’s degree and am not a babysitter, so I was very excited to leave and go somewhere where I could just be a teacher.

    My situation at that school was so absurd and appalling that the principal interviewing me was totally shocked lol, and she actually apologized to me that I was going through that. I started at my new school two weeks later and I am SO much happier now!!

    So I think being vague is what really causes issues- like Alison said, “my boss is a micromanager” for example, doesn’t say anything concrete; they may or may not actually be a micromanager. But “my boss told me I have to change diapers as part of my teaching job” is totally different, because no one is going to think that is ok, and if they do I do NOT want to work for them!

    I do think teaching is a different animal though, where you really do need to say why you’re leaving if it’s not over the summer. On job applications where it asked why I was leaving my current job, I put “sudden, drastic changes to my job description”.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I think your example applies.
      You were specific about tasks.
      “I’ve been asked to do a lot more phone work, and I prefer not to do that.”
      “I want to work somewhere with clear directions from above.”

  45. DiscoCat*

    #1 I have a team member who is constantly putting on a show of how great she’s feeling, that the sun is shining blah blah and I don’t know how to deal with it. Glad she’s happy, but she always puts it on in a way that is suffocating to the rest of us and open discourse. I am tasked with coordinating the team and have a limited mandate, but no disciplinary authority. Things have been sour for a few reasons lately, especially after I had to have a serious talk to them about meddling with some IT issues I’d been having and another team member being an obnoxious mansplainer. So no, things aren’t rosy and if I’m receiving petulant emails and see her sour face in team calls, these forced assertions of how great she is feeling make me want to slap her.

    1. Ranon*

      For #2, badmouthing former employers is just not very useful to an interviewer, at least not in a way that’s positive for the interviewee. My company just wrapped up a round of interviews and we had several folks slip into a full round of complaints about former employers, most of which I have no trouble believing but basically 0% of which told me anything about why I would want to hire them (although in a few cases things they complained about are also flaws in our organization and so gave me reason to think they weren’t a good fit, which was useful for me but not for them).

      It’s useful to remember that every question at a job interview is essentially “why should we hire you/ why would you be a good fit for our organization/ this role” Telling me everything you didn’t like about your last position isn’t likely to make me go “well, we have none of those problems, this will be great!” If you want to make sure you’re dodging red flags, asking about my company is a better way of finding out whether we also do the things you hated at your last place (not perfect, but what is?)

      If you’re polite about it “not a good fit/ work life balance wasn’t what I was looking for/ needed more stability/ looking for a more integrated work environment” I both know what you’re looking for and that you’re capable of a baseline level of professional norms (and we work with external clients so that’s a must for us). Think of it as a demonstration of skills.

      1. Message in a Bottle*

        If your workplace has some of the same flaws as the candidate’s workplace, then it really isn’t a good fit. Isn’t it best for you both to know that?

        Sure, they could do the ‘baseline level of professional norms’ thing and you could possibly hire them and they’d have the choice of leaving or staying after that. That choice is something. But it still would be a bad fit. The employee could be hired, but I don’t think they’d be happy there.

  46. Purple Loves Snow*

    To LW #5
    I am a big fan of giving a heartfelt card. I had a supervisor and manager go above and beyond for me in 2008; and the supervisor still has the card up in her office in 2021. I find the little extra touch of a nice card with a thoughtful note can really make people feel recognized and appreciated. And yes, I am the type of person who sends out 50+ holiday cards to friends/family.

  47. Tuesday*

    For LW1, the teacher with the annoying principal, could you try to emphasize what you do want out of the meetings and leave out the criticism altogether? Like, “I would find it really helpful if we could use these meetings to talk about students’ progress – does anyone feel the same?” I don’t think it’s really necessary to get into toxic positivity or to convince the principal she’s being annoying. That would be satisfying, and great if it would actually change her behavior for the better, but I would start with the more modest and reachable goal.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I agree, and also say, “I’m finding we don’t have enough time to get to the crucial stuff.”

  48. Esmeralda*

    OP #4. It’s important for you to earn your own money and to save for your own retirement, rather than rely on your spouse however wealthy they may be. No guarantee that your spouse will continue to earn at this level, or that they won’t lose or spend their earnings and savings, or sadly that your marriage will last.

    And that by itself is a reason for you to be paid what you are worth.

    1. EmmaPoet*

      Agreed. This year’s hitmaker can be next year’s “Who was that?” Longevity in music careers is often a matter of chance. Also, a musician can lose their voice/be injured and there goes the career, and good luck finding a new job at that point, especially at their previous level financially.

  49. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    LW #3 – definitely not cheating. The test was probably about your ability to get things done – not “how you do them off the top of your head”.

    If you have to use “Clippie” or even YouTube how-to vids, there’s nothing wrong with that.

    LW #4 – yep, this happens often in the IS/IT world. People get low-balled, fall for it, then realize that they have done two disservices – one, to themselves, because they’ve undersold themselves and two, to others, because you’ve now reduced the value of your services in the marketplace.

    During my period of unemployment – I had salary expectations that were close to what were in the position I was let go from. One thing I would NOT do is work for “McDonald’s Pay” in a permanent position — because if you do that, you level-set what you’re willing to work for. In LW 4’s case, they are trying to take advantage of her personal situation, and THAT IS NOT GOOD NOR IS IT ETHICAL.

  50. Anon for this*

    LW #2: I just dealt with a situation like this in the past couple of weeks. I’m interviewing candidates for an important role on my team, and one of the candidates didn’t have a background that aligned super well with the position, but COULD have conceivably been a fit, depending on how the interview went. However, she spent the first interview making it very clear that she was desperate to escape her current job, with absolutely no indication that she had compelling reasons to want to move into the job she’d applied for. I honestly didn’t even doubt the validity of her wanting to leave or fear a one-sided account, because I am familiar with her current organization and know that her complaints were valid. But I still didn’t move her forward, because 1) she didn’t give any indication of her interest in the role, other than “it’s literally in the ‘anything but my current job’ category, so I’ll take it!” and 2) the role she applied to involves a lot of communication with external entities, and it’s such a basic workplace etiquette rule to not badmouth your current employer in an interview that, even though I knew her criticisms to be 100% valid, it made me seriously doubt her judgment and not want to place her in a role where she’s publicly representing our organization and having to make on-the-fly decisions about how to frame often tense or fraught issues to those external parties.

    My advice to job seekers: it’s ok to allude to reasons your current job isn’t a fit, as long as you’re not badmouthing your employer, but if you do that, you need to put triple that energy of clarifying why your current job isn’t a fit into explaining why the job you’re applying for IS. Make the hiring manager feel that you’re a good, safe bet, and not someone who’s just looking for an escape pod who will just branch-swing into a different role in 6 months.

  51. Zephy*

    For #3 – I would have done the same thing. Heck, I HAVE done the same thing – I applied for a basic, entry-level clerical position with my city clerk’s office and they made me take a Word and Excel test, except it was through a weird simulation of those programs where I had to demonstrate only precisely what the question wanted to see and nothing else – no searching for where such-and-such button was, one wrong click marked the whole question wrong and went to the next one (and keyboard shortcuts didn’t work, had to be done by clicking). I absolutely Googled every single question and followed the step-by-step tutorials that some helpful people have published online, because ostensibly this was a skills test, not a “how well have you memorized the locations of all the functions of MS Office programs” test, and I don’t consider that to be “cheating.” In an actual job situation, my boss isn’t going to stand there and make me describe from memory how to do a mail merge, she’s just going to tell me to do one and not care if I need to look up how to do it first.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I don’t know how many times I’ve done a mail merge in my time, but I’ve had to search for it every single time (like setting OoO on Outlook). Some things just don’t stick.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        In my last job, as a software rep, sometimes customers had to download a certain file, once a year or so.

        Our managers started with the “uh, give a man a fish, uh, feed him for a day” horses**t and wanted us to write instructions where they’d log into our company’s website, go to this folder, go to that folder, and then “get” the file …. and, to make matters worse, most of our customers couldn’t get beyond their own company firewall to get to OUR system.

        So anytime I had a request – the file was small enough to e-mail, and I’d just e-mail it to him/her. As you said, the FTP instruction sheet wouldn’t stick. Easier – “here, it’s in an e-mail”.

        A comparable function = your car’s clock. Twice a year you have to go forward (spring) or backward (fall back) … and you have to go to the owner’s manual every six months, right? Well most of us do…

  52. Uhtcaere*

    For #1, you might be able to make some headway if you frame “being able to focus on work” as a self-care issue. The principal might be responsive if you can explain that constantly being asked to focus on your emotions is actually counter-productive from a mental health standpoint, especially if you can make that argument as a group.

    Also, if you’re in breakout rooms, talk about what you need to/want to talk about and call that a self-care strategy.

  53. Cabubbles*

    #2 really hit me hard for a while. I got terminated before I could be a whistle-blower. I was only 21 so I didn’t understand how to handle the situation. Eventually, I opted to reframe it as a disagreement on level of care afforded to our clients and my own personal morals. Thankfully, it’s been so long now that I can leave it off my resume without a gaping hole being obvious.

  54. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    LW 1 – In the focus group, say, “I have decided to practice self care by using this time in this meeting today to discuss student progress and work related items. This will result in self care because working through these things alone can be stressful, and the value of your feedback will reduce my stress in a positive way. It will also help me resolve these issues more efficiently since I will not need to waste your or my valuable time discussing these things later on, giving us all more free time to focus on ourselves and actually engage in self care instead of just discussing it!”

    I’m guessing your principal’s head will explode, but … point made!

  55. Argh!*

    Let’s try this again. It’s supposed to be an independent comment and not a reply to someone else’s comment, just like the one that wound up in a comment thread turned out to be.


    Re: toxic positivity

    I’m so glad this concept has developed. I have been that person who can’t stand the toxic negative person I got stuck working with, and I have been that toxic person everybody else can’t stand.

    When I have been annoyed by the toxic person, his fan club said I was not a team player. When I was the toxic person, my male grandboss gave me strict instructions to STFU.

    So… in my profession, apparently men can be negative and women have to be positive. As a woman, apparently my job description seems to include making narcissistic men feel good about themselves. After I retire, both workplaces will receive glassdoor reviews that they will not find flattering.

    Just throwing it out there in case it resonates.

    1. irene adler*

      ” making narcissistic men feel good about themselves”

      That crystalizes things for me.

  56. Letter Writer 4*

    Thanks everyone for the assurances that I am overthinking this.

    To clarify since there’s was some confusion in the comments, all of my coworkers know who my fiance is and have all been incredibly positive and excited for me. I’ve worked for this organization over 10 years, fresh out of college. No jealousy or judgemental comments and they are amazing about treating my SO like a regular, non-famous person when he comes around. During non-covid times, he love going to work functions because he gets to feel normal and be “LW4’s guest” as opposed to people knowing his loved ones based on him.

    I just needed the reassurance that I wouldn’t be putting my org. in jeopardy and I appreciate the perspective of not hindering the next person who will hold my slot by taking a lower pay.

    Thanks everyone!

  57. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    OP4 Whatever your future husband may be earning is totally irrelevant to what you earn. You need to be an independent earner just in case life throws horrible stuff at you, not to mention self-respect.
    You can always donate your earnings back to the non-profit if you like, but earn it first!

  58. Hiring Mgr*

    I don’t know much about the non-profit world, but could it also be an asset that a wealthy celebrity is tangentially involved? Seems like there’s more of a chance to get the word out, donations, etc. if someone famous is connected to it

  59. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    Maybe we should start a dating website for all of us fed up with the overreaching pervasive toxic positivity out there. Like souls looking for others willing to acknowledge the often very sucky reality of life.

  60. Mr. Shark*

    I didn’t use the help feature when I had to take a capability test in Microsoft Office when I applied for a temp agency. But I had ingrained in my brain the shortcuts I had created in my previous job, so when I had to search for the non-short cut way to find the commands I needed, it slowed me down significantly. I still got high praise as one of the best performing people they had who took their Office test.
    I don’t see that using the help feature is cheating at all. Some things you just aren’t going to know, and you have to search for in order to get the job done. I guess they may have told you at the beginning to not use the help, and just complete what you know.
    I hired for my old position, and had some specific software which we asked the applicant if they had experience working in, and I had them take a quick software test to determine if they could perform some simple tasks. It wasn’t really a pass/fail, but I just wanted to see what they could do and couldn’t do. So in that position I wouldn’t want them to try and use the help feature, just demonstrate their current capability.

  61. JM*

    For LW#2: my husband once had a toxic manager and went with “I’ve been here 5 months, and out of 10 people, only 2 people have been here longer than me.” After he was hired, the person in charge of hiring (who was not the person he was working directly for) was like, “Please give me all the dirt.” (The person he was working directly for knew people at the previous workplace and was like, ‘You don’t even have to explain.’)

  62. LW 1 - sick of toxic positivity*

    Wow! Thank you to everyone for the comments so far, I’m astounded by the number of concrete useful suggestions that people have come up with. If we are going to be spending time in breakout rooms to share self-care strategies, I think I will request that there are also some rooms available for people to discuss work-related issues (eg: what strategies are working for other teachers to engage specific students with attendance issues, etc.). I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade if they find the self-care stuff helpful, but I’m hearing through the grapevine that many of us are finding it tedious and condescending. Honestly, self-care to me would be not having to fight with a photocopier that never works. I’d love for our principal to focus on removing barriers that prevent us from doing our actual jobs during work hours, like ensuring that required equipment is functional. That would legitimately improve my mental state. :)

  63. Fuzzyfuzz*

    LW #5 – I am so so sorry you went through all of that this year. It sounds like you have thanked your boss enough! Don’t worry any more about this.

  64. Amaranth*

    LW#5, I think a sincere thank you to your boss is enough, but also, if your work was picked up primarily by one person or a team, it might be nice to acknowledge that with a thank you to them as well. Cutting your full time responsibilities to an hour or two a day means somebody had to pick up that workload right?

  65. JM in England*

    Re #3
    A fair few of my employee handbooks and IT inductions have said to try and sort the problem yourself first using the application’s “Help” function before seeking outside assistance…

  66. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Then again – in the mainframe world, there’s a utility that deals with punch cards. In 48 years I have NEVER used it for any practical purpose.

    The ONLY time I saw it was when I was in early training. We spent an hour on it, and moved on . I think that the exercise was more about being able to look things up in the manuals.

    But they do grill offshore mainframe aspirants on it.

  67. A Genuine Scientician*

    For LW#2, I think there are ways for you to say that you’re looking for more X in your role that can indicate a mismatch with your current manager’s style without really throwing them under the bus, or making you look like you’re the problem.

    Like, one position I held was great in a number of ways, but also the person I reported to was overcommitted and thus very rarely provided any feedback or direction to any of us. I asked several times if I could get a recurring 30 minute meeting every 2-3 weeks with him, and he told me he didn’t have time for that. With 6 people reporting to him, if he did that for all of us it would have been 1 hour a week of his time (plus any prep work he needed to do), so I found it concerning that he didn’t have that time. I once went 9 months without speaking to him, as he was so rarely in the office, and when he was there he was in triage mode and nothing I had was honestly as urgent as things other people needed him for. This was a position in which I was designing experiments and analyzing the data, so it wasn’t the sort of rote job where I’d expect very little discussion with my supervisor. When I was interviewing for my next position, questions along the lines of “How often do you envision meeting with the person in this role?” were absolutely on the list of things I asked, and I was able to say things like “I’m interested in developing my skills in X, which I suspect will go smoother with more interaction, so I’m excited about a role in a smaller organization with more direct collaboration”. A few people did ask how often I met with my (then) current supervisor, and I would say something like “I would love 30 minutes every week or two, but my current supervisor has been too busy for that, so it’s been more like once every 3-4 months for an hour at a time”. That wasn’t badmouthing my then-current boss, but it did indicate to at least a few why I might want a different environment.

  68. Pam Poovey*

    #5 — First, I’m so sorry for your losses..

    My grandfather passed away while I was working on my PhD, and as such I missed a week or so of classes, which can be a big deal at the pace of a grad program. Both of the professors were understanding but one went out of her way to make sure I knew I could take my time on assignments that were due (though tbh I was glad to do them because it gave me something to focus on for a couple of hours other than grief and family drama), checked in to make sure I was ok, and so forth. When it was happening I didn’t have the extra brain bandwidth to say nothing, but at the end of the semester I pulled her aside and thanked her for how accommodating she had been. Nothing gushy, just a quick moment, but I wanted to make sure she knew her kindness hadn’t gone unnoticed or unappreciated. Because life still happens and all too often professors and bosses forget that.

  69. WantonSeedStitch*

    OP #5: I’m so sorry for your losses, first of all. I agree with Alison that just saying “thank you” is absolutely enough. If you wanted to do anything more than that, I might send an e-mail to your boss’s boss and just say something like, “hey, I wanted to let you know that [Boss] was incredibly understanding to me during a difficult personal time, and because of their support and compassion, I feel like I was able to come back to work afterwards ready and eager to do my best work. I really appreciate it, and wanted to make sure you knew how helpful they were to me.”

    As someone who manages managers, I LOVE hearing from my indirect reports about things their managers have done that they appreciate. It helps me form a picture of their work managing their teams. Sometimes my direct reports wouldn’t think to mention these things to me because they don’t think they’re a big deal–but they might be a big deal to the people who report to them! And when my reports are doing a good job of supporting and engaging the people who report to them, it’s something that matters a lot to me, and a sign of their success in their role.

  70. spider-gwen*

    LW #3 reminds me of something that happened to my husband once. He’d been working for a small company where he worked closely with the owner. It was a great job where he learned a lot, but things happen and the company had some financial struggles that resulted in layoffs, including my husband. The owner gave him a great letter of reference and promised to bring him back if/when the company was doing better. Fast forward a couple of years, and my husband had used what he learned at this company to significantly advance his career. Then his Old Boss called and offered him a job back at Old Company — doing the same work for the same pay as when he’d been laid off, which at that point amounted to a demotion he couldn’t afford. He thanked Old Boss and politely declined.

    This is a small industry, so my husband wasn’t too shocked when some time later his New Boss went out to lunch with Old Boss. However, immediately after lunch New Boss stormed into the office and summarily fired my husband. When asked what he’d done, New Boss would only say, “You know what you did.” This was nearly a decade ago, and we still have absolutely no idea what he did (or what New Boss thought he’d done). We did hear from some of his former co-workers that they’d had similar experiences with Old Boss bad-mouthing them and trying to sabotage jobs because they’d declined to come back to Old Company. My husband actually had a difficult time getting another job after that, but there was no way to know if Old Boss was doing something or if it was just bad luck. Eventually he got another job and we never had any further problems and never heard from Old Boss again.

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