another manager complained about my employee, resigning before you’re fired, and more

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

1. Another manager complained about my employee

I work for a small company and we have a part-time student employee who reports to me. About a week ago, another manager came to me and politely asked if she could “borrow” my staff member for a small project and I agreed. I was a little disappointed when a week later, she emailed our leadership team (department heads) to complain about my staff member supposedly slacking off on the project. I asked my staff member if he was given a timeline for completing the project. He said he asked the manager and was told that it was not a high priority and he can complete “just whenever.”

I see this action as unprofessional on the part of the other manager because her email seems intended to throw my staff member under the bus when her role is to help the team complete company goals. How should I look at this situation and do I need to address this with her or my staff member?

It’s bad management and bad communication from your colleague. First, she should have given your employee a clearer sense of the expected timeline for finishing the work. Second, if she was concerned about his pace of work, she should have spoken to him and/or you. This isn’t something to email an entire leadership team about.

Speak with her directly now, say that your understanding from your employee was that he was told the project was “as time allowed,” and ask what the actual deadline is. Also, ask her to speak with you directly in the future if she has a concern about someone on your team, so that you’re in the loop and can help handle it. Feel free to say, “I was blindsided by your email about this, since I hadn’t heard anything about it and he tells me he hadn’t either.”

2. Senior execs keep using me as an advisor

I’m a mid-level professional and throughout my career have found that executives or very senior colleagues like to bounce ideas off of me for how to deal with people-related issues. For example, I once worked for an executive recruiter who would talk to me for hours about how to pitch a particular candidate or bring on a new client, and insisted that I was helping her a lot (I was 25 at the time, not sure how I was actually helping, but that was a large part of my role). Recently, I took a call from a grand-director for a group I’m temporarily working with, and he appreciated my input so much that he gave me a teamwork award through our internal kudos system (worth $500!).

So here’s my issue: my director on this project is struggling and has been calling me about how to prep for some tricky meetings, which is fine. But then a team member (Suzie) exploded on a call and announced she wanted off the project, then hung up. It was dramatic. The director called me to discuss it and wanted to just casually sideline Suzie. I pushed her to make a decision about Suzie — either implement a staffing change or keep her on the team but with a discussion around what’s up and changes that need to happen. I also mentioned that the director had made some mistakes with the team and project, and the discussion might go better if she started out by acknowledging those mistakes.

The director said yeah, that’s true, and asked me if I could be on that call with her. Um … I declined in an email a few hours later and she understood. But this is feeling inappropriate. I don’t usually work with this group and am here as a project manager, so not really involved much on the project work itself. Does that make me removed enough that I can function as a trusted advisor to someone three tiers above me? Part of me feels like this is a real skill that I should lean into, and another thinks that these are very senior level decisions way above my paygrade and I shouldn’t really be butting in. But I also know of some roles where more junior people are very trusted advisors to executives. Is that what this is? What do you think?

This happened to me throughout my career and I leaned into it because I liked doing it, found the issues interesting, and started seeing professional benefits from it. If you like it and you’re good at it, I’d keep leaning into it. The essential thing is to make sure that you set boundaries when you need to — like what you did when you said no to being on that call with Suzie (that was the right response! you didn’t belong on that call). You will sometimes find people like that exec who aren’t great at this stuff and are excited to find someone who can give them good advice, and who will then try to lean on you more than is appropriate. Without a clear sense of when to put up boundaries and say no to those requests, you can end up being asked to function with a level of authority you don’t actually have while your coworkers are rightly thinking “why the hell is Jane in this meeting?” and “isn’t Jane my peer?” and that can cause all sorts of problems. But if you stick to being a sounding board behind the scenes and you’re good at it, eventually you will probably see rewards from that, whether it’s more formal authority (and commensurate pay), a higher profile, more trust from people with influence, or so forth.

3. Could I have resigned before I got fired?

I was recently dismissed from my job after not being 100% successful with the conditions established by a PIP. In hindsight, I definitely feel like it should have been obvious to me at a point less than two weeks from the PIP’s end date that I wouldn’t have been able to succeed. If I had realized that then and given a two-week notice, do you think that the company and I would have parted on better terms? Or do you feel like, if that was only done less than two weeks before the PIP end date, they would have still terminated me, even with me opting for a better way out?

I also wonder about returning to that company in the future, in a different role. I am doing well in my new job don’t foresee leaving anytime soon. However, my industry has people frequently moving places, and there are a lot of things I do like about that company. If in the far future I see openings in another department which are closer to what I currently do, at which I’m far more successful, would I have a chance of being hired by that different department, assuming my current trend of success continues? Or would HR or the other department’s leadership not consider me, based on the circumstances of my previous dismissal?

You can nearly always resign during a PIP if you prefer to. It’s usually better for the company if you decide to (then they don’t have to fire you and usually won’t need to pay unemployment, and generally managers just prefer people to leave on their own if possible). The only exceptions would be if they uncovered something they felt they had to fire you for (like embezzlement or punching a coworker, although even then sometimes people are allowed to resign instead of being fired) or if you had a particularly horrid and vindictive manager (although if you quit before they fired you, they don’t get to undo time).

Whether a different department there would consider you in the future depends both on company and on what the performance problems were. Some companies are happy to do that; others consider anyone they fire to be ineligible for rehire. Some managers will be willing to look at what the previous issues were and decide if they think it could be a problem in the new role (for example, attitude issues or attention to detail are probably a no-go, but someone who struggled with coding applying for a job that has nothing to do with coding could be fine). It’s hard to know for sure, but you could always give it a shot down the road and see what happens.

4. Asking to WFH when it’s in my offer letter but I haven’t been doing it

I got recruited for a new opportunity with a promoted title, much higher wage, better medical benefits, more manageable workload, more in line with my professional passions … needless to say, it was an offer I could not refuse.

The one caveat of this job: it’s not primarily remote, which was a major bummer for me as I am much less stressed and more productive working at home/remotely. It’s just not a big part of their culture here, but (especially during COVID) when people do need to work from home occasionally, it’s not a big deal and is not frowned upon. I do recognize the benefits of collaborating in-person in an office. However, I did negotiate in my offer letter to include that I am permitted to work from home 1-2 days a week.

Well … I haven’t been doing that. I have been coming to the office almost every day to work. I’ve only worked from home on a handful of occasions, despite the fact that I’m allowed to do so more often. The reason being … I feel guilty! I’m one of only a few positions here that has the ability to work remotely, so I feel bad doing so when my coworkers can’t as easily.

Recently, I had an “aha” moment, courtesy of my family’s advice: “That’s not your problem. Your position can work remotely. You negotiated it in your offer letter. It’s not your fault that they can’t.” That flipped a switch in me. I DO deserve to work remotely. I’d love to do so 1-2 days a week like my offer letter states, but I don’t even know how to bring that up with my boss because I haven’t been working remotely on that schedule for the entire six months I’ve been here. Do you have any advice for how I can frame my ask? Any language you’d recommend using? I want to take advantage of what I negotiated! I’m tired of thinking I don’t deserve it.

One option is to frame it as a deliberate decision that makes you look extra conscientious — “I wanted to wait to begin the 1-2 days a week from home until I’d settled in and gotten familiar with everything. Now that I’m six months in, I’m planning to begin the remote 1-2 days/week we’d settled on when I was hired and planned to start with next Thursday at home.”

Do it now though! The longer you wait, the more risk there is of your boss feeling like it’s less what you agreed to from the start and more A Change that she wants to sign off on. I think you’re probably close to the borderline of that risk now, so don’t wait any longer!

Read an update to this letter here.

5. Contact info for references who are retired or dead

I’m retiring from a long career as a mathematics professor and dean in higher education. In my golden years, I’d like to work part-time as an instructional assistant with students in our local public school. I have always felt that this is the place where teachers make the most difference, by setting children off on the right foot, and I want to help with that effort. These are typically part-time jobs that pay minimum wage and require no more than a high school diploma or GED.

While applying for such a job, I’m finding that they require that I list every job I have ever held (six in the past 30 years) and provide complete contact information, including phone numbers and email addresses, for all supervisors I’ve ever had. Some of these people are no longer living, and many of them are retired themselves. At the same time, these fields are required, and the application system won’t let me bypass this section.

I understand and agree that it’s important to check the background and character of anyone who works with minors, and I certainly don’t think that I’m “special” and deserve to bypass the system. However, short of using a Ouija board, I have no idea how to manage this part of the process when the people they are asking me to reference aren’t available. Do you have tips?

It’s fine to just list contact information for the employer itself (like the school) rather than individual managers; they’ll be able to verify your employment by contacting the school. If you want, you can include a note like “manager now deceased” or “manager retired” so they have that context. They’ll likely still want you to provide individual references they can speak with at some point, but for this part of the process, just contact info for the school or the department you worked in should be fine.

{ 182 comments… read them below }

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      I think of it as more of a not-so-subtle hint to job hunt, intensely. However, I’ve never been on one, so maybe it looks different when you are in that situation.

      1. Squeakrad*

        This is one of the few times I think Alison’s response felt a little short. The person is inanother job that they like and is looking down the far future. They haven’t talked about what is the conditions in the PIP we’re reasonable, or that they understood why they were placed on the PIP? I would urge the OP to look at those issues before they look far down the road as whether they might reply to that company again. I think without any recognition that they’ve addressed those issues it will be a futile exercise.

        1. OP 3*

          Hi, in response to this, I will say my previous role at company 1 is one that strives for one to be good in practice at [X] and [Y]. I will definitely feel like not being skilled in [X] was my downfall, and I always perceived that while [Y] wasn’t perfect for me either, at the very least I was better with [Y]. Fast forward to now, at company 2, where my only role is doing [Y], and I am doing well with [Y] over here. What I was asking in the email is (provided no ineligible for rehire policies, etc), would I in the future be able to apply in a future role doing [Y] at company 1? Or, per what I also wrote about in my own individual comment, the fact that company 1 didn’t just reassign me to a role only doing [Y] would make them most likely never consider me there either, no matter what track record of success I establish for myself at company 2 or beyond?

          1. Product Person*

            OP3, like AAM said, you can give it a shot down the road.

            I once hired as a customer support agent a person who had been fired from a sales position in the same company (cold calling was not her thing). After she left the company, she went to work in support and thrived assisting existing accounts.

            When she reapplied, she didn’t try to hide her previous firing ot the weaknesses that lead to it, and made a point to highlight her strengths and reasons to want to work for the company in a more suitable role. It worked for her, and might for you as well!

          2. Mad Harry Crewe*

            I don’t think there’s any harm in applying, but I would probably talk about it in your cover letter so they don’t think you’re trying to slide in under the radar.

    2. Cj*

      I just got put on one two weeks ago, although they are calling in a probationary period. They pretty much agree that I am awesome at my job, but have a problem with my attendance.

      It is for FMLA eligible reason, but I was not aware we had FMLA because it is voluntary as we are under 50 employee requirement for it to be mandatory. I looked back and it is in the handbook, but you’re not eligible for FMLA for a year so I didn’t remember, the required posters were not hung up, and no one told me we had it even so they knew my absences were because of an FMLA eligible reason.

      Even though I knew we weren’t required to have FMLA, something led me to Google it and I realized for the first time that some companies have it voluntarily. So I asked, and yep we do, and I am now applying.

      I’m hoping I can be the exception to the rule in force after being on a PIP. Wish me luck.

      1. BethDH*

        I’m surprised that got as far as a PIP. Seems like a PIP is for behavior/performance where there is a reasonable expectation that it can be improved and that any attendance issues that were FMLA eligible wouldn’t be things a boss could expect to change. Is it common for bosses to use it as just a warning that firing is coming?
        I guess it’s lucky in your case that this happened and I hope it works out! I’ve definitely been there on forgetting the stuff you learn when you get hired because it doesn’t apply right away.

        1. Cj*

          More than my being gone, which isn’t a big deal in the summer, they didn’t want to be paying my salary when I wasn’t meeting my hours, so I’ve been put on hourly. But, yeah, they still expect to see improvement. My doctor is filling out my paper work for FMLA when I see them next Monday. Praying I don’t get a migraine before it is approved.

          1. EPLawyer*

            Oh dear. As soon as you realized you would be missing work for FMLA reasons, even if you didn’t think the company had FMLA, you should have talked to your boss. Something could have been worked out if they really did like your work.

            Hope the paperwork goes through. But in the meantime, have you had that conversation with your boss? So you are not held to a standard you cannot meet because of something out of your control?

            1. Cj*

              They knew all along I was out for chronic migraines and back pain, for which I have to see a doctor at a pain clinic 2 1/2 hours away from me once a month. And they know when I am out to see said doctor. I don’t think I’ve been out all year for the backpain, but that’s because I see my doctor.

              I have told them I am applying for FMLA.

              1. Cj*

                I should say my current supervisor, who was not in this meeting, knows and remembers. I met with two partners, one who used to me be supervisor. Not sure he would remember, even though it was less than a year ago. We have always been in different departments (think lamas vs alpacas), and I don’t think he paid much attention.

                I’m not even sure my current supervisor knew this was going to happen until after the fact.

        2. StudentA*

          I’m surprised too!

          Cj, you may want to consider short term disability if your employer offers this. I’ve seen people quit jobs due to health reasons, when they’ve forgotten about STD being an option.

        3. Sea Anemone*

          It is common for managers to be lousy at managing and either unable, unwilling, or not competent to have a conversation about something they have seen that they view as a problem and engage in collaborative problem solving before moving to punitive measures like PIPs.

          1. Whatsyouremergency?*

            Agreed. Poor management with poor communication led to my PIP. Quite honestly it was something he wrote up in order to look like he was successful in something. High school behavior from 30 year old men is what it boiled down to. He dropped the ball and I put something in a notification that while it was true, it made him and his boss look bad so the scapegoat got the write up and the PIP

    3. allathian*

      Depends, but it’s certainly a sign that the current performance of the employee is lacking in some way. I’ve been on a PIP when I started my current job with insufficient support. The only reason I wasn’t let go right away was that my job description at my employer is a bit different from most others in my field, and they’d been hiring for 6 months by the time they found me. I looked great on paper but my performance was lacking to start with. But things got a lot better eventually, when I managed to learn my job in spite of insufficient support, and particularly when my coworker, who gave me anxiety to the point of paralysis, had enough and left for greener pastures. I was thrown in at the deep end, but gained a lot of confidence when I realized that my work product was just fine for my organization, when my former perfectionist coworker, for whom nothing I did was ever good enough, was no longer there to criticize me. She just criticized and pointed out my errors, but could offer no tips on how to improve otherwise “you need to do better” doesn’t really help. Now my employer has a great onboarding program, and I’m still here after 14 years.

    4. Xavier Desmond*

      I think it depends on the employer. I was on a PIP for specific performance issues at my current employer , and ended up with a promotion a few years later.

      1. Liz*

        I was also on one, MANY years ago, early on at my current job. I was blindsided by BOTH my bosses in my review, as I had never been told or given ANY opportunity to improve on the things I apparently wasn’t doing right, or doing at all. None of which I could have figured out without SOME guidance. In hindsight, yes, a little bit was my own performance, but most of it was stuff I had no clue about. I also found out later on, my immediate boss didn’t agree, hadn’t really been consulted about it, and didn’t think it was fair. I also found out it was orchestrated by someone higher up, who, for whatever reason, didn’t like me.

        Jokes on them; almost 20 years later I’m still there, doing the same job, and have been promoted. I did everything required of me, no matter how useless it appeared to be.

        1. CupcakeCounter*

          I had this at my first ever job (16/17 years old). I literally pulled out the documents and task lists I had been given and none of the things they were talking about were on there. The response was that “I’m sure you noticed that X, Y, and Z things had been getting done and you weren’t doing them”. Which, yeah, but I was the night and weekend person and those times were super busy so they were on the opener’s list not mine. They continued to make a stink so I turned in my two weeks notice by the end of the same week. For some reason they were surprised.

          1. Queen Anon*

            Reminds me of a summer job I had where we were sorting and packing parts. I got fired after my first month, the reason being that I wasn’t reaching the numbers they wanted. I asked them what numbers I should be reaching each day since if I was given a goal, that’s what I’d aim for if they’d let me try. They told me there wasn’t a specific set of numbers people were meant to reach each day, I just wasn’t reaching them. (In an odd coincidence, the officer manager’s best friend was hired into the open position the next week.)

          2. quill*

            When I was on a PIP it was due to messing up a shipment (my fault in the end but literally no one else knew how to ship internationally via fedex… and so obviously nobody trained me)

            I was on it for like eight months until a similar problem happened (not the exact same mistake but one that cost us product anyway) and then I was told to resign or be fired.

            Since then everywhere I’ve worked has had actual instructions and training for shipping internationally, and people who train to do it as a major job duty, because despite what that boss believed, it’s not that simple!

      2. Sylvan*

        +1. I was on a PIP in April 2020 (great timing!!) and was promoted a little over a year afterwards.

      3. GlitsyGus*

        Agreed, I think it depends on the employer. I think it also depends on what the actual issues are. There are some things that are easier to bounce back from than others. Things like attendance and tardiness or learning one specific skill that is not quite up to par is different than a situation where there are multiple, big-ish issues, or it’s clear there’s some kind of personality conflict. I was put on a PIP once under a manager that I just did not see eye to eye with period. Even though I did improve on this specific skills, I needed to improve on we both knew that it was kind of a lost cause. I was pretty prepared to be let go when the PIP ended.

    5. WS*

      I had to put someone on one, and it really worked – she offered to quit, I said please stay and try to fix the problems, and she did! She did a great job after that. It probably helped that she’d been a really good employee, then went downhill sharply due to personal stress that nobody knew about at the time, but given the opportunity, she got it together.

    6. Serendipity*

      That’s not been my experience. I have been indirectly involved in three separate PIPs over the past few years. I do not have any direct reports, my role was to to give independent and impartial feedback on the person’s performance, and to provide coaching where requested.

      Two of the people took the PIP seriously and tried to improve in the areas highlighted in their goals. They reached out to me with questions and checked in regularly with their performance. Neither of them quite reached their performance targets, but both showed conscientious effort and improvement and they are still employed and are doing well now.

      The third person refused to admit that there was anything wrong with their attitude or their work, got frustrated with being ‘micromanaged’ and quit on the spot one day in a childish hissy fit.

      I like to think that we went into the PIPs genuinely hoping to see improvement and not as an excuse to get rid of the person, though I’m sure that happens

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        Yeah, we put people on PIPs at my job, and we really don’t want them to leave. If the job isn’t a good fit for them/they hate it, that’s one thing. We’re sorry to see them go, but no one should stay in a job that hurts them.

        We want them to stay and thrive, the PIPs are supposed to help them get there. Yes, there have been employees who didn’t improve and were let go. We try and make that rare.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        Yes, when I put someone on a PIP, I really hoped she would be able to improve, but the job she was in was really outside of her skill set AND she was dealing with personal life stuff. She did resign in the middle of the PIP period (for all the reasons) and ultimately went back to the kind of work she had been doing before.

        I would 100% hire her again, but for the kind of work she’s actually good at!

    7. James*

      I’ve seen it both ways. I’ve seen people put on PIPs–I’ve been one step away myself–who improved their performance and are now key players in the team. I’ve also seen the PIP used as a way to more rigorously document issues when putting together justification for termination to HR. Our HR is EXTREMELY hesitant to fire someone, to the point where a guy just stopped showing up for two months and HR told us we couldn’t fire him, we had to put him on a PIP first.

      It’s going to come down to company culture, ultimately.

      1. Usagi*

        I’ve worked with HR departments like that before. If you don’t mind sharing, what did you end up doing for that employee? Like you can’t put him on a PIP if you can’t even deliver the PIP itself. I mean… I guess you could, but it’s not great.

        At OldJob, I had an employee that was just the absolute worst. Like bad attitude about work, rude to coworkers and clients, wasn’t meeting any sales goals at all, the list goes on. As far as I know he still works there because HR said he can’t be fired, despite tons of documentation about all the problems. The company in general is one of those “impossible to get fired from” places, and he’s extra impossible to fire because he also has a disability, which he’s very vocal about.

    8. AutumnLover*

      No one is talking about the financial aspects.

      In my province, if I quit, I don’t get government employment insurance, but if I get fired, I do.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Thatis why I chose to accept firing rather than resign when a startup tried to change me from marketing assistant to receptionist. (Wasn’t until I found this site that I realized they missed Option3: Tell me business needs have changed, & give me X weeks/months to job hunt under my old title while acting as receptionist.)

    9. Dust Bunny*

      Not where I am. We do get rid of people who aren’t cutting it but they’re given ample time and support to get back in gear first.

    10. ThatGirl*

      When I was in my early 20s, I didn’t know about PIPs, I certainly hadn’t discovered this blog (which I don’t think was even around yet). I successfully got through a PIP. I even got a good review and a raise after that. BUT… a couple months later I screwed up big time and that did get me fired.

      And in retrospect, I wish I had known that the PIP would continue to haunt me, wish I had realized I wasn’t going to get any more slack from management, that they saw me as a carefully managed potential liability. It all seems so obvious now. I don’t regret working through it in the first place, but I should have either been way, WAY more cautious after that and/or started job searching.

    11. NotAnotherManager!*

      Really depends on the employer and even upper management. At my current organization, the last HR head used them as a hint to quit. My current HR head will only issue PIPs to people that we think can hit the marks in it with appropriate support, so they are intended to be a specific roadmap to bring performance up to an acceptable level within 1-3 months. People who aren’t going to work out are coached out more directly or terminated, usually with a couple of weeks severance, unless the fireable offense is more egregious than just-not-good-enough-at-job.

    12. Turtle*

      Sometimes it takes that to have someone fix something you’ve told them about numerous times. We have an ‘official’ verbal first, which usually fixes the problem. I don’t understand that kind of psychology because people will have it on their performance review, get a lot of feedback and be TOLD they need to change and then they still don’t and then I give them a verbal and they are like…oh, and (often) fix things.
      If it gets to the PIP stage its pretty bad, but I know people at our company who passed the PIP and then went on to do great things, which IS weird to me – if you’ve already been given the feedback, but…

      I DEFINITELY would be looking for a new job though at the same time trying to do the PIP stuff, but honestly if it came to that I’d assume it wasn’t a good fit for myself.

    13. MsClaw*

      I wouldn’t say that but it definitely is a ‘shape up or ship out’ situation. As an employee you have the choice to either remedy the behavior or indeed to start buffing up your resume.

      Sometimes it is a salvageable situation. I’ve only had to put someone on a PIP once and they did subsequently get their act together.

    14. Staja*

      I was on a PIP at Toxicjob for close to two years because of general “attitude” reasons (although, no one was ever able to point to specific examples). I kept waiting for the show to drop, but I hung on, got exceptional performance reviews, and had one member of upper management who just didn’t like my attitude.

      While on PIP, I even got a promotion and raise. They were bad at PIPs!

      1. JohannaCabal*

        Yeah, that’s weird. At my current job, anyone on a PIP is prohibited from being eligible for promotions, raises, and even awards. The latter came about because each month staff could nominate other staff for an award for exceptional work and a manager who had issues with another department, nominated an employee in the other department who was on a PIP with an award, which they received.

    15. The Ginger Ginger*

      I’ve put an employee on a PIP and it was because I WANTED to keep them, but I COULDN’T if their attendance issues didn’t improve. They were fantastic when they’re were present, but they were not punctual AT ALL. So no, in a decent workplace a PIP is not automatically an indication to resign. When used properly and in good faith, they’re an attempt by the employer to favorably resolve an issue that could lead to termination by being really clear with the employee on what is expected.

    16. Sparkles McFadden*

      I am cynical too. In most cases, a good manager would handle issues before getting to the PIP stage, so yes, the PIP is often the point of no return.

      I have seen a few people come through a PIP OK. In one case, the person did well with a different manager. In a lot of cases though, the person would do just enough to get off of the PIP and then would backslide a few months later and they limped along that way for a long time.

    17. Echo*

      I think it’s a mix. I had one person I managed resign before being put on a PIP but in their case I didn’t think the job was fundamentally a good fit for them and I think they knew it too; they left for a very different role that was much more suited to their skills. The other person I put on a PIP wasn’t able to meet the conditions, but I thought they *did* have the right core skills, I had really hoped the extra structure and support behind the PIP would help them succeed, and I was sorry to see them go.

    18. PT*

      At most places I have worked, PIPs were a mandatory part of the employee discipline process required before you could terminate someone (unless of course they did something so egregious they got fired straight out.)

      Sometimes people made it off the PIP because the stuff that got them in the discipline process was minor and fixable- this was more common with our young employees who were new to work- and some people ended up on PIPs for bigger things that just couldn’t be addressed in 90 days. Good employees who were written up for dumb stuff also tended to get on PIPs that they just shrugged off.

    19. A Feast of Fools*

      I was put on a PIP two weeks after my manager quit and we were rolled under an existing manager. Who hates women. I was the top salesperson in our region but the only person who was put on a PIP. I got the message loud and clear, and had a new job (with the old manager at his new company) by the end of the week.

      I was also put on a PIP at the world’s largest software company and was let go in a round of layoffs right before it ended. Every single person at that company who I’d seen get put on a PIP was either fired or quit.

      So my understanding of PIPs matches yours, CBB.

  1. EAL*

    OP #5 – I went through this recently. I accepted a new job just over five months ago. Sadly, the director to whom I reported at a previous job passed away in 2020. I was able to reach out to another director I’d worked with at that company via LinkedIn, and he was more than happy to speak on my behalf. Less than four hours after receiving the verbal job offer, my reference check was completed.

    1. Mockingbird*

      I did a practicum, like an internship for an MPH, overseen only by the state epidemiologist. I have an email from him saying he’ll speak to the quality of my work. Which may be all I have as a reference for it as he’s since died and his replacement is so busy with the pandemonium I feel bad even following up after she offered to look over my work and I sent it to her.

    2. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I suspect OP 5’s situation really a case of poorly-configured software where some idiot thought it was a good idea to make all the fields required, and the actual hiring manager has no interest in contacting your supervisor from 30 years ago. I get prompted to put down stuff like this all the time when I’m filling out applications on clunky, poorly-written ATS systems, and I feel silly putting down full street addresses where the place I worked closed years ago and another company is now located.

      1. Rayray*

        Last time I was job hunting, I was surprised to see that one of the largest employers in my state still had the exact same online application from 10 years prior. Some of there online applications are very outdated.

        Then again, anyone who has job hunted at all in the past few years knows how absurd it’s gotten and all the steps there are to the process and how much employers want from candidates. I saw a screen shot once of someone being hounded about why they had an employment gap in 2008 and the person had to write in an explanation that they were 10 years old at that time.

        1. quill*

          My favorite was when I had to write in my last five street addresses, circa age 25. Not counting dorm rooms I’d lived in three locations, all my life, and all five addresses were required.

          I filled in the house we lived in until I went to first grade three times. Never heard anything about that job…

        2. Elizabeth West*

          “You were ten and you weren’t mowing lawns or walking dogs? Must not be a very hard worker then!”

      2. Chidi has a stomach ache*

        I work in secondary ed, and my state has a *very* thorough background check process. They had to confirm 1) all my prior employment as an adult, regardless of being relevant to the position, and 2) that any prior employment working with minors had no reports/complaints about my behavior. My first job out of college was working for a small nonprofit that collaborated with high school which had closed/was absorbed into a university which had no records of me. The admin asked me to make a good-faith effort to try to track down my old supervisor (obviously now in a different position) so make sure the check was complete. Only when that didn’t work was she able to file some kind of exemption form for that part of the check. While checks like that usually happen after a job offer has been made, this district may be trying to collect information up front. The merits of the helpfulness of that approach can certainly be debated, but it is the case in some places that they do intend to check all those references.

        1. Junior Assistant Peon*

          Federal security clearances are like that too. I was contacted by a security clearance checker because I had worked with someone in a teenage summer job about ten years earlier.

        2. Cold Fish*

          It’s been so long that I couldn’t even tell you a supervisor name for some of my first jobs. What if you no longer had record of supervisor names? or didn’t have full names? Especially for some of those first out of high school jobs where all you knew at the time is the supervisors you worked with were Kim, Steve, and Rochelle. And heck, I couldn’t give you a street let alone an address number for some of the first retail jobs I had.

          It’s things like this that are why I hate job searching so much. I can be extremely literal at times, requests like this (and add in the stress of job searching) and this would be enough to send me into a panic attack!

          1. LabTechNoMore*

            Also, early-career bosses who’ve retired, moved to the other side of the planet, and worked for businesses which no longer exist. Deeply frustrating.

      3. Sparkles McFadden*

        Civil service often requires a full work history with contact information, especially if one would be dealing with children or large sums of money. In my post-retirement experience, they do make the calls. In my case, they had to because my long-time employer does not exists anymore so direct contact with former managers was the only way they could confirm past employment.

      4. A Wall*

        At a regular company yes, at a school this is a state job and those can be very very regimented in the degree of reference checking required. Where I live it’s not only required that they call a shockingly exhaustive list of your past employers, but in many cases it’s also required that they speak with your current supervisor.

        1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          Yes I had to let them speak to my current employer when I was applying for my current job. I already had signed a contingent offer letter, which is useless to me, but at least shows that they knew to hold off on that until the last moment.

      5. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

        I work in a public school, and it’s somewhat a combination of this, and also that they do require to be able to confirm your employment. The reason being, they don’t actually want a reference, but it’s the best way they’ve found to confirm your residency, which is the best way to make sure they get as complete a criminal background check as possible.

        OP, if this is the case here, literally anyone at the company is probably good enough. Put something down, and then either call HR or wait for them to contact you for an interview and ask. The ATS is probably clunky and you just need to get around it.

    3. Mountain Home Kid*

      Ha! I have dealt with this, too, and I never know what to put for districts (I teach) that don’t even exist anymore because they consolidated with another school. The original principles I worked with aren’t there anymore.

      If you have an idea of a school you’d like to work at, you might contact the administrator directly. If you want to be a classroom assistant or a special ed assistant they will jump at the chance to hire you. For example, I know that the school district my children attend has 18 positions they need to fill right now in mid October. I know our assistant principal would be so desperate to hire you he would send you to HR and they would work through the application process with you to expedite it and get you hired. I know as a teacher I would jump for joy knowing that you would be in my room to help the students.

  2. WoodswomanWrites*

    For #1, the power dynamic here is striking. It’s so wrong for a full-time manager to send an email to department heads about the job performance of a part-time student, who doesn’t even report to her, for a single one-off project. Students are just learning workplace norms, making little money, and are at the bottom in terms of power where they work and too often exploited. That is really unfair. Good for you, OP, for advocating for your student employee when a manager thought it was okay to publicly take to task this employee rather than just talking with you privately about what her concerns were.

      1. KayDeeAye*

        It was a real jerk move, and that would be the case even if the manager had legitimate issues with this worker. Besides showcasing the manager as a jerk, it also makes her sound so whiny and unprofessional.

        1. Gumby*

          Yeah, plus you still look incompetent. If said student worker is the single thing holding up progress then why have you placed him into that position?

          Honestly, I suspect he was just a convenient scapegoat. But the thing is, any time you start pointing fingers at other people you look kind of weak an ineffectual as a manger but when the person you are blaming is a student worker? You look outright incompetent. “I assigned this to Matilda who has been here 10 years and she’s always been on top of things so I didn’t check and now we’re behind,” merits a response that maybe you should check on your projects more often. But “I assigned this to Clyde who failed to do it all in his 15-hour week of work,” makes me question your ability so much more. Either you should be checking in with and helping Clyde *way* more and well before it caused problems on the project as a whole, or the task should be assigned to a full-time, experienced employee.

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      I supervise a lot of students and I regularly get asked if another department can “borrow” them and I would be fuming if I got this email. If you have a problem with my student assistant’s work, then you come to them or you come to me. That’s what I am there for and don’t you dare publicly shame them. Also, I get super annoyed when people use my students to help with projects and don’t give the students an ounce of credit. I have fired students and I have had bad ones, but I still find I am super protective of them because of the power dynamics.

      1. Green Goose*

        I’ve also supervised students over the years through an internship program at my work. I also feel a bit protective of them. A few years ago one of my interns was applying for jobs towards the end of his contract, and I guess one of the jobs was in another department (different location) of our company. I went to the other branch for an event and got approached by a manager who I didn’t really know. She said she had feedback about my intern and was mad. She launched into a vent about how he had started the application process for the job and didn’t finish it, and it was “unprofessional” and she wanted me to “talk to him about it”. I sort of blinked, confused as to why she was mad and why I, his supervisor at work, would be expected to get involved. I ended the conversation and never said anything to him, it was so strange.

    2. Willis*

      Yeah, agree that this is a really weird dynamic. I wonder if a higher-up asked about the project status so that manager tried to make the student the scapegoat for it not being where it should. If I where that manager’s boss and got a group email lambasting a part-time student for poor work, I’d really wonder about that person’s judgment. Like, you’re the manager, maybe follow up with the student about timing rather than putting them on blast. This just makes the manager that did it look dumb to me.

      1. Sue*

        I agree, it’s odd. Made me wonder if they had it out for the student for some reason but I think your take is more likely, a cya situation where they picked the lowest level person to blame. Ugh. I hope LW follows Alison’s advice.

        1. Expiring Cat Memes*

          A bad CYA is how it seemed to me too. Either that or she’s trying to undermine LW via the student for some weird reason.

          A decent manager wouldn’t negatively single out someone on their team (or assisting their team) to the higher-ups like that unless it was especially egregious or couldn’t be avoided (eg: they’re the only teapot painter, and the teapots weren’t painted properly). The fact that she’s pinning the entire project delay squarely on the person least likely to a) have influence on the timeline, and b) be able to push back on her assertion, paints her as an unaccountable bully. I’d bet this isn’t the only issue with her.

          1. Artemesia*

            This is why I would want to hit back hard as this feels like an attack on the LW. The frame is the ‘unprofessionalism of disparaging a student assistant without conferring with the student OR the supervisor.’ Make sure the higher ups on that email get a heads up that the email writer had not set a deadline and had not given the worker feedback or consulted with his supervisor. Perhaps do it in person if that is graceful and let them see (subtly) that you are upset at this on the student’s behalf.

            1. learnedthehardway*

              Agreeing hard with this – the other manager deliberately threw a part-time student employee under the bus, after giving poor instructions, and it sounds like they did it to CYA. The rest of the leadership team should be informed about what happened – it was unfair to the student, unfair to their direct manager, and bad management/judgement (and possibly poor ethics, too) by the other manager.

              In future, perhaps the OP should manage requests from this and other managers about how their junior staff are borrowed by telling their staff to tell them what the assignment is, and by helping their staff push back on unclear/vague directions. Eg. in this situation, they might have told the student to f/up with the other manager with an email to confirm that “I’m working on this non-urgent project for you, as discussed, and will fit it in as my workload allows. I anticipate being finished in 2 weeks. Please advise if you have any changes to this schedule.” That would have been developmental for the student and helped to prevent the issue (not that this is the OP’s fault – it isn’t – but it sounds like a good idea for any staff dealing with that particular manager.)

      2. HoHumDrum*

        I wondered if maybe the coworker has some biases about young people. When I was first starting out I worked for people like that- they assumed every sickness was due to poor choices or hangover, anytime you looked at your phone or computer was goofing off instead of checking your email or doing work, and that basically they ought to assume the worst and hound you to make sure you weren’t getting one over on them. If student worker hasn’t completed the project yet it can’t be because they were busy with other work and prioritized those projects, it must be because they’re a slacker.

        Whatever it is, I’m glad LW is there to stick up for their employee!

      3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Call me really cynical- I’m wondering if the project was already going sideways and the person who asked to borrow the student employee was actively looking for human speed bumps for the bus.

        (Been there, done that, however karma is now coming back for that boss in spades.)

    3. tg*

      It does make the manager look really bad, they asked a student to do something, then didn’t follow up or manage the student, and now they are complaining to everyone??

      1. banoffee pie*

        They didn’t even tell the student the timeline for the work, apparently, then went straight to publicly calling them out. Not nice.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I’m going with the “CYA, poorly executed” theory.

        Fanfic: The timeline would have been “So by last Tuesday you will need to have…” which would have tipped the student off, so the manager said “Whenever you have some time….” to the student and then “I gave it to student and he hasn’t completed it!” when upper management asked where the project was.

    4. ScruffyInternHerder*

      I’m glad I wasn’t the only one disgusted by this. As someone who’d been put in an oversight position over interns in my overall department, I was constantly amazed by the willingness of some of the mid-to-upper managers to throw a STUDENT under the bus for anything and everything. Sign of really crappy management at that firm.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I wondered up above if the manager who asked to borrow the employee knew the project was already going sideways and was specifically looking for a human shaped speed bump for the bus full of trouble he was going to be facing, figuring that a student employee wouldn’t know how to defend themselves. Major good vibes to the OP for defending their report and modeling great manager behavior for them.

    5. Lyudie*

      Absolutely. The kindest thing I can think of is that the manager didn’t know the student was part time and saw his being offline for hours at a time, etc., as slacking, but that doesn’t at all excuse emailing the whole leadership team before even talking to him or OP.

    6. LCH*

      If I had received this mail as part of that group, I’d wonder why. Why are they sending this out to me? Very inappropriate. Definitely makes the borrowing manager not look great.

    7. NotAnotherManager!*

      Well stated.

      If someone has a problem with a member of my team, they need to come to me, not put that person on blast with the all department leaders. Frankly, where I work, it would have made the complainer look bad, too, and likely earn a call from their department head or even HR. We’ve had enough management training to know not to pull crap like that.

    8. Nanani*

      IKR. It’s a -student- employee who was apparently given little/vague guidance, and now they want to complain?
      LW is right to stand up for their student, and maybe don’t let other managers borrow your interns anymore.

    9. Orange You Glad*

      In addition to confronting this manager, I would probably reply all to that email correcting the issue with the higher-ups. I wouldn’t want their only knowledge of my intern to be an unjustified negative review from a person who is not their manager.

  3. Well*

    LW5, this is one of the many numerous reasons why I loathe the referencing checking process. The number one reason I loathe it is that it is mostly completely useless, as most people have no idea how to conduct a useful check, and the second it is that it is very easily abused.

    And I say this as someone who worked in HR and recruitment for years.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Given the job requirements, I suspect that when they say to list every job, they are thinking “both of them” and will be overwhelmed by Retired Math Professor applying. Note the expectation of someone thirty years ago having an email address. Given that they were academics, this is plausible, but still… Frankly, while they ask for “every job,” in this case I would put in the two most recent and leave it at that. The response will be telling.

      1. LitNerd*

        In my experience applying to schools, they really do mean all of them, because they use the info to conduct background checks.

        1. BethDH*

          I suspect they also get people who apply after a work hiatus (say, parents returning) who don’t put things from their earlier life on. I get applicants like that who don’t realize that that admin job they had between college and grad school really works in their favor for showing me that they have some experience with workplace norms.

            1. A Feast of Fools*

              Yeah, no. My admin job(s) from the early 1990’s still serve me well today, not only in familiarity with workplace norms (don’t gossip, show up on time, don’t cause drama, get your work done, be transparent and communicate, etc.) but in actual skills and the ability to acquire them.

        2. BlueK*

          Same. Schools have to run much more comprehensive background checks than most places because kids. I recall having to pull together a list of all the places I’d lived for the last 15? years (can’t remember the exact period). I remember because of how challenging it was! It was for a grad school internship and not even directly for the school (community based org providing contracted services).

          1. LCH*

            I had to be fingerprinted and have a background check run by the police in order to present lessons as an intern at one school, so yes, can be more intense and more thorough. I’m sure they do mean all past positions.

          2. just a random teacher*

            Yeah, I remember one teaching job that expected me to give them a list of every address I’d lived at in the previous 10 years, which at the time included a period of semi-homelessness in which I’d been bouncing from hotel to hotel out of moving out of an ex boyfriends’s apartment in a rental market where I could not find regular housing given my income and in a state where I knew no one other than my ex, his new girlfriend, and my new boyfriend (who also lived with my ex (side note – this entire situation was ridiculous and we were all in our late teens/early 20s, I think the oldest was maybe 22, so there were many poor decisions made)). I was moving from hotel to hotel on a more-or-less weekly basis and no longer even remembered their names, so I finally just put the ex’s apartment for the whole period before I gave up and moved to a different state and decided not to explain the hotels since I didn’t get mail at them or anything. (I didn’t have any place to get mail other than the ex’s apartment, so I basically didn’t have a mailing address for a while, which was another piece of exciting fun times about that whole thing.) I was employed that whole time, so I needed to put an address of some kind in the metro area where I worked on the background check form to match the employment dates. I was so glad when that aged off of the 10 years, and given this was now more than 20 years ago I am hopeful I’ll never need to worry about it again.

            I understand why we have such over-the-top background checks for working with minors, since that’s due to specific incidents that happened when people didn’t ask, but I do wonder how effective they are at keeping out people with a history of preying on kids versus how much they just gatekeep out people who had complicated lives rather than straightforward ones where it’s easy to list everything. (I’m very lucky on the employment/volunteering side at least, where all of my contact-with-minors jobs and volunteer work dating back to when I was 13 myself happened to be for either large non-profits or government-run programs, so I can at least list successor orgs with general-HR-type contact info even if it’s highly likely no one still has any records pertaining to me working as an assistant camp counselor in the 1990s there. I’m also lucky that my non-minor-related jobs at places like weird, long-gone tech start ups were all through agencies that still exist, so I can similarly point to those more stable agencies for this kind of thing.)

        3. Smithy*

          For jobs that are tied to background checks for anything vaguely reasonable (i.e. children, government office loosely tied to some moderately confidential information), you’re better off treating those jobs further back as supporting materials for your background check.

          With that in mind, finding the number/contact information for HR or a specific department that can confirm your employment will be the critical piece. Additionally, leaving that off can come back to hurt you at a point where your professional credentials are no longer the issue at hand.

        4. Selina Luna*

          In my experience applying to schools and school districts, they usually limit the information to jobs held in the past 10 years. They do perform longer background checks, but they don’t necessarily need every job you’ve ever worked for that. Even my licensure only required me to list the education jobs I’ve had, plus my student teaching. I did have to specify that everyone I’d ever worked with when I did my student teaching had retired.

    2. Al who is another AL*

      I was a Freelance consultant for over 30 years working for a variety of companies, the online application insisted all time was accounted for. Took me over half a day trying to add the details and finding out where the people where nowadays. It was mentioned with HR (after I got the job)

    3. Girasol*

      I was still getting reference check phone calls three years into retirement. I had plenty of time to answer them and give someone of whom I thought highly a good reference. Please don’t assume that just because someone is retired, they would not give a reference. Ask them! (On the subject of not knowing how to do a reference check, several of these calls were from the government pressing me for information about whether the person was a true and loyal American. As if loyalty to one’s country is a common matter of discussion in a private business! What does one honestly say? “She didn’t, like, mention she was a spy or anything.”)

      1. Bumblebee*

        I get these fairly frequently about past students (I’m in higher ed). I think it’s a federal security clearance, possibly federal law enforcement or CIA. “Yes, this student who worked for me briefly in 2008 as a front desk attendant definitely loved the country!” How is that even reliable data?

  4. John Smith*

    #1. One of my colleagues was in a similar situation. He was helping out another team, but committed a very minor misdemeanour (I’d say a simple mistake) whilst doing his normal role. Our manager emailed his disapproval CCing other managers who had nothing to do with the situation. Quite why he had to do that I don’t know, but I’m at odds with Alison saying it’s not so much unprofessional. I think that kind of behaviour is extremely unprofession, discourteous and downright demeaning. I would be fuming if it were me or if I were the manager of that person in the OPs letter. If someone has a problem with another person, you take it up with that person or their manager, no-one else.

    The only time emailing others would be acceptable would be, for example, “John has trouble operating X. If he’s working for you and needs to operate X, please supervise and assist him as necessary and let me know if any problems”. But I certainly would not be calling him out.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m at odds with Alison saying it’s not so much unprofessional.

      I want to make sure I’m clear — it’s in no way okay! It’s highly problematic; I just don’t think it’s really about professionalism. That said, I’m going to take that line out of my response because it’s not the point and I don’t want to confuse people. (For people who didn’t see it originally, my response had opened with, “It’s not that it’s unprofessional exactly; it’s bad management and bad communication.”)

  5. Artemesia*

    #2. I played this role a lot in my career and for me it was very rewarding to be the behind the scenes consultant. It had payoff for me in salary advancement and career advancement. I think you played this just right by not sitting in on a meeting like this. There are times when in this role it is appropriate to be pulled into decision meetings but not in what is a reprimand of a person you have no authority over.

    5. I had to provide all this information for a Russian visa. I filled in the names of bosses and the contact information for the organizations. If the form lets you just use organizations do that but if it requires a supervisor put them in whether deceased or not. If it is possible to indicate do that but not all on line forms allow for contingencies.

  6. ceiswyn*

    5 sounds familiar…

    When I went back to university to study at postgraduate level, the application forms required me to list all of my previous jobs, including the addresses of my employers and the exact dates I worked for each. Not being a graduate in my early twenties, I had about six jobs going back twenty years, many of which had since gone under or been bought out.

    Most of the information I put in as best I could; the parts where that was impossible, I put in obviously incorrect/fake details and assumed that when a human being looked at the form they’d figure out that I didn’t have a phone number for a company that had gone bust ten years ago, or the exact date I’d started my degree twenty years ago. Since I got the place on the course, I guess they did :)

    1. SleepyKitten*

      Yeah, putting in 01/01/1901, 01111 111111, notavailable @ retired dot com is all a good tactic when fields are required but you can’t actually provide the info

      On a related note, the test dot com servers deal with an astounding amount of email traffic from people testing their automailers or webforms :’) If they ever have a John Smith working there I dread to think what newsletters he’ll be signed up for.

  7. After 33 years ...*

    OP #2: I’ve been in your position several times, including at present. Being asked for advice indicates that your previous comments were reasonable and helpful, so that’s good. It may help you professionally in terms of promotion etc., depending on the circumstances. In academia, it may only result in your getting more committee work, but I don’t mind that … I know, I’m different …
    In addition to whether you’re benefitting professionally, consider whether you’re benefitting personally, in terms of how you’re feeling about yourself, if ‘leaning in’ is helping you develop people skills, if it’s illustrating good managerial techniques (or highlighting types of problems that you can avoid in your own interactions going forward).
    Setting boundaries is important. Becoming labelled as an “assistant-to” or “unofficial fixer” may not be desirable, so declining to be on the call with Susie was a good decision. But, providing private advice when asked doesn’t violate that boundary, and also indicates that your managers are open to asking for it.

    1. OP2*

      This is a definitely a nuance and maybe what I’m most concerned about. We have very specific goals linked to promotions (basically just billable hours), and so I’m very choosy about what non-billable, housekeeping responsibilities I take on. I don’t think this will get me promoted directly and could either push me in the direction of “work fixer”, or help build my network of who likes to work with me, which is how I build a billable work pipeline. HOWEVER!, I transfer this skill to clients, I think that’s really where it could fast track my career. hmmm.

      1. Mockingjay*

        The problem with being the “work fixer” is that these people tend NOT to get promoted. Fixers are very cost effective exactly where they are. Purposely or unconsciously, managers like to keep these people around; they make bosses look good by getting projects back on track, mentoring/training (problem) people, etc.

        It’s a slippery slope. If you enjoy being in a fixer role, that’s fine, but have a conversation with your manager about whether/how these kinds of tasks and skills count toward promotions and increases, or even fit your current job description.

        1. Sparkles McFadden*

          This can be true if you are the key person for one manager. In a situation where you are being tapped to consult someone three levels up, it’s not the case. You actually get more exposure to a variety of executives, and become aware of interesting job opportunities you might not know about otherwise

          Being known as a reliable advisor with good judgment is also a major source of job security. In large companies, people of a certain level are often asked if there are any people outside of their own department they wouldn’t want to see let go during layoffs.

          1. A Wall*

            I can definitely say, as someone who inadvertently often ends up being the work fixer who is the only one at my level that has direct relationships to folks in the c-suite, it has never ever gotten me anything other than more work and them acting like I betrayed the company when I asked for more compensation. I very strongly advise people to never fall into this role. It is not only rarely beneficial, it tends to be to your detriment.

            The prevailing attitude I have encountered from the higher ups is that the fixers are very sharp, but they are still only [whatever job level] and therefore only worth that much. They also tend to see fixers as infinitely replaceable no matter what, because companies have gotten extremely used to being able to cram very pedigreed people into low level roles for not a lot of money. But they also assume you’ll never leave, and when you do they act personally offended. So not only did it not get me more while I was at their company, but they got upset with me for leaving so they aren’t useful references for me down the line either.

      2. Sea Anemone*

        I don’t think this will get me promoted directly and could either push me in the direction of “work fixer”, or help build my network of who likes to work with me, which is how I build a billable work pipeline.

        Emphasis mine, bc being the person with the soft skills *does* build that network, and you should not devalue that. If you are going to be selective, try to avoid the “fixer” advisor roles and engage with the “build a network” advisor roles, assuming it is easy to tell them apart. I am also in a line of work where I have to build a network of people who will push work my way. Non-billable work doesn’t get me promoted directly, as you say. However, the pipeline doesn’t exist without it, so I can’t neglect it even though it’s not billable.

  8. Bookworm*

    #3: It’s great that you’re doing better in your new position and would just add this angle to it: although only you know the circumstances, you may be better off moving on. Maybe it just wasn’t the best fit for you and it just showed in your work (although again, only you and maybe your former employer know).

    If you happen to still have ties and are on good terms, it may be worth continuing cultivating that relationship (although don’t do it for the sake of only trying to get back in) but that could be someone(s) who could vouch for your growth.

    1. Junior Assistant Peon*

      With the amount of turnover typical in the modern workplace, it’s likely you could go back to that company 10 years in the future and no one will know you got fired.

      1. JohannaCabal*

        Or the previous company buys the LW’s current company. There was a thread on another message board five years ago where someone had been fired and then got a job with a competitor who then bought the previous company. The poster on that board was worried about the other company finding out they worked there and re-firing them. Not sure what happened in that case!

        1. OP 3*

          Replying to each individual comment here. Indeed I do have connections at that place who I keep in touch with, without any intentions of theoretically going back down the line. Among other things, one of them had even briefly entertained the idea of joining my place. I will say that if under any circumstances our companies are merged, as I was far enough separated from the executive leadership at my previous place (and current place too, no differently), I doubt they would care too much about the fact that once upon a time, this lower level employee of theirs, far removed from them, was fired. Granted, I also don’t know what goes on at the top, but I don’t perceive any major issues in that hypothetical scenario. As for turnover, funnily enough, I wouldn’t be surprised if I return to that company one day and, in the department I was in, the second most senior person in leadership, and one other coworker at my level, are the only ones who remain, as all departments have high turnover at the company, my former department being no exception…

  9. Hope*

    #5: Just to say that your post-retirement plans are lovely, and you made me laugh with your Ouija board suggestion for getting in touch with deceased references. Wish you all the best for this next chapter in your life!

  10. UKManager*

    #4: Agree with Alison’s advice, and I would take care to use the tone / framing “of course this is OK, I’m doing what we previously agreed” rather than framing it as asking permission or whatever as that is just asking for them to go “ooh, hang on, are we actually OK with this?”. I like Alison’s suggestion of making the delay seem like a deliberate choice on your part too.

    1. OP 4*

      I agree with you and Alison in that. This is what I deserve, and I’m not going to delay it any longer. I’m going to speak with my boss today. Thank you! :)

    2. Artemesia*

      Yes Alison nailed this one. You frame it as you are in every day because you are learning the ropes and want to be sure you are up to speed before you start taking the agreed work from home days. AND to do this NOW because much longer and this won’t fly.

      1. OP 4*

        Don’t worry, I am doing the ask before the end of the week! I don’t want to wait any longer either. I’m not going to let my “guilt” eat me up so much that I don’t take advantage of what I negotiated in the first place. Thank you so much!

  11. Canadian Valkyrie.*

    #5 this is why I hate reference checking at the application stage, at least in these big systems. The other reason I dislike it is because if I’ve applied for like 20 jobs, I’d be pissed AF if I now had to have my references on guard for that many emails/calls (fortunately probably 75% of places only ask after an interview but still!). It seems like a short sighted convenience for the org (eg so the managers don’t have to remember in the interview), but last I checked people don’t call references until after the interview any how, so having them ahead of time seems counterproductive. And as we’re seeing here it can actually cause problems. One problem I’ve had is that I don’t use my manager at one job because she was extremely toxic (everyone hated her, she quit because of it) another manager works for an org where the org discouraged managers from giving references, etc. So I have a pretty short supply of references who are supervisors to use… which is usually a problem when I’m applying for jobs, but at least if I supply references in the interview it gives me a chance to explain.

    If you can’t bypass it, is there a way to write in another colleagues name instead from the sake org?

    1. Paris Geller*

      Yeah, I totally get why places want to and need to check references, but in the modern working world where people tend to move from place to place a lot more than they used to, it can be difficult. I’m 30 and I still struggle to come up with references. My first boss has passed away, my second one left the workforce to raise her children, the 2nd I can use for a reference right now but I wouldn’t be surprised if he retired soon, the third was horrible and I wouldn’t trust her, and my last boss was great and will definitely be my primary reference going forward. . . until she retires, which will probably also be soon.

      1. Elle*

        I am so glad that I’m not the only one struggling with this. I’m 32. My first boss is deceased, my second boss was a horrific bully that would definitely not give me a good reference. Sure, I’ve probably had 6 part time jobs but they don’t seem like remotely relevant references given that they were all over ten years ago now and when I was a student. Most probably wouldn’t even remember who I was. I don’t provide references unless directly asked and guess what – no one has asked (for any of the white collar jobs, anyway). I’m so thankful because I really don’t know what I would do if they did.

      2. Gothic Bee*

        References stress me out so much. I get why they’re necessary, but I don’t have a lot of options for similar reasons, people move so much that when I go to start looking, their contact info has changed again and I’m unable to track them down or they’ve retired or passed away. I’m 33 and I’ve worked at my current company for 7 years, so my professional jobs I’ve had before that are limited (at the main job I had, there was a big scandal so I wouldn’t use any of those people anyway). A lot of the people I would use are people who still manage me or are in the hierarchy above me and I don’t want them to know I’m looking for a job. It kind of sucks and I wish recommendation letters were a thing instead because at least that would be a one and done kind of deal. Plus, I don’t trust most people to really remember that much about working with you for years afterward. I mean, if someone asked me about my boss or a colleague from only 5 years ago, I’d have positive things to say, but nothing really concrete and no real examples of anything (maybe I have a bad memory). Not to mention, I work in academia so most jobs ask for references right away, but pretty much none of them have ever contacted my references anyway even when I am interviewed or offered a job.

  12. mc*

    Regarding the criticism of your student employee – I’ve seen this before in academia, with graduate students. One faculty member will decide that a particular student lacks aptitude, usually for some minor reason such as difficulty with just one class or topic, or even because of a personal conflict with the student or the student not acting with sufficient deference, etc. The faculty member will then try to totally tank the student’s academic reputation and destroy any chance of their having a future career, often by publicly denouncing the student in front of other faculty. They expect the rest of the faculty to support them by also shunning the student, and they will react with hurt and even rage if the department or education program supports the student or if another faculty member speaks up in support of the student or ignores the critic.

    This bizarre behavior arises from an outdated concept in academia known as “gatekeeping” where a faculty member believes they have the right to prevent the “wrong” type of student from attempting to train in their area. In their own eyes, they are behaving perfectly in alignment with the norms of their profession, so it is difficult to manage. But it must be managed and pushed back against, since of course, “gatekeeping” is often used to support open or unconscious racist, sexist, and classist traditions.

    The letter writer will need to respond publicly and forcefully to support the student, and probably will also need to get the Dean or other academic authority higher than the critical faculty member involved as well, or the student is pretty much doomed. In my experience, however, while the student’s career can often be saved by a strong response from the authorities, the original faculty member who publicly criticized the student will continue to hold a grudge about it until the end of time, against the student, and also against anyone else who has refused to accept their opinion about the student. Academia is really weird and has many traditions that should be eliminated.

    1. Wendy*

      Your post about academia reminds me of a situation I dealt with back in 2011 when I worked at a university as a Visitor Parking attendant. I worked for a parking company that had a contract with the university. I reported to the manager over the account, who still works for the same parking company, as well as the Director of Parking and Transportation Services, who was employed by the university.

      During the late spring of 2011 the Director of Parking and Transportation Services told me that the Visitor Parking garage was going to be renovated, and that visitor parking would be moved to the faculty/staff garage, which was next to the visitor parking garage. I sat inside a booth that was approximately 70 feet from the visitor parking garage and 50 feet from the faculty/staff garage. My job responsibilities were to 1) assist customers who drove up to the booth window, 2) explain where to pay for your parking, and 3) keep track of how many open spots there were in visitor parking.

      The Director of Parking and Transportation Services told me that neither her or her 2 staff members could answer phone calls that were in transferred from the call box at the entrance gate or from the exit gate due to how busy her office was. When a customer pressed the call button on either call box, the university’s police department transferred the call to the parking office.

      The Director of Parking and Transportation Services told me that I had to prevent any customer from doing that in addition to doing my other duties.

      According to the manager over the account whom I also reported to, his hands were tied regarding all of this.

      I did not know that Ask a Manager existed back then, but if I did, I would have posted all of this asking for advice on how to handle this situation.

      So, I am curious as to how the other readers would have handled this

      1. Artemesia*

        A sign needed to go over the button which directed the person to wherever they needed to be directed e.g. to drive up to you or call you or whatever. Assuming the call button remote could not have a recorded announcement.

        1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          or have just been reprogrammed.

          Also – if the call was supposed to go the the parking office, the parking office needed to make sure they had enough staff to field it. “we’re too busy to do this” also means “we should hire someone to do this”

  13. Sleet Feet*

    Alison I’m curious – should the manager reply to that lambast email at all?

    I feel like it’s easy to default to the professional response is to handle it private, but then that leaves the bad managers narrative unchecked.

    1. Casper Lives*

      It doesn’t feel fair to the student to not respond publicly. The higher-ups might never meet the student. They’re only impression of his work is him being publicly scolded. And he wasn’t included on the email, so he doesn’t even know that!

      1. Environmental Compliance*


        I would absolutely respond when the other manager chose to make this a group/public matter.

      2. Elenna*

        This! I feel like LW owes it to the student to make sure the higher-ups don’t now think of him as “that guy who slacked off”.

    2. Elise*

      I’ve done this before with this happening to my staff. Not in academia, but I replied all with a professional response to the effect of: “Thank you for sharing this with me. I have discussed this with [staff member] and they were under the impression after your initial discussion that you did not need this back immediately. Please let me know what your deadline is, we we will see if that is possible with their current workload.” Subtext being, if you are going to be a jerk, you might need to find someone else to help you or do it yourself.

      I’m in an org where people tend to stay with us for a good portion of their careers, and I feel compelled to protect them from being bad talked to leadership who would be making hiring decisions when they are looking to move up in their career.

      1. calonkat*

        Elise, I’d add a line about “I’ve been very satisfied with this student’s work for me, all tasks are completed within the timeframe I set.” or something like that. Just to really shift the focus to the poor management from the student worker.

    3. Fabulous*

      I’m surprised that she didn’t suggest replying all, because I definitely would. Don’t throw my people under the bus!

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’d ask for them to forward the project deadlines & task descriptions as emailed to the student. You’ll find out if the student did miss or ignore clear instructions. You’ll get some serious backtracking if they’re just throwing the student under the bus. And if the instructions were all verbal, you’ll get a face-saving process for the next time: all special project instructions should be in writing so a part-timer can review it with their manager. Manager to confirm whether or not deadline is feasible given the part time student’s primary responsibilities.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I almost addressed that in the post but it really depends on the email that was sent. If the comment about the student was a small aside in a broader email — like if the email was 98% about the status of the X project and then there was an aside like “(still waiting for that from Bob, not sure why)” — replying-all to a bunch of management people to defend Bob is probably overkill. But if it was the focus of the email, then yes, absolutely — keeping it very short and dry.

  14. The Tin Man*

    #1 – Maybe I’m reading into it too much but it feels like the project was already behind and the project’s manager just found a convenient scapegoat.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      That’s exactly how I read it. The manager was in trouble and said “Who can I throw on this grenade that’s about to explode?”

  15. OP2*

    This is a definitely a nuance and maybe what I’m most concerned about. We have very specific goals linked to promotions (basically just billable hours), and so I’m very choosy about what non-billable, housekeeping responsibilities I take on. I don’t think this will get me promoted directly and could either push me in the direction of “work fixer”, or help build my network of who likes to work with me, which is how I build a billable work pipeline. HOWEVER!, I transfer this skill to clients, I think that’s really where it could fast track my career. hmmm.

    1. Mr. Cajun2core*

      #2. It does seem like you are doing it but be very careful about what you take on. I thought that being the “go to” person and being the knowledge center and being “Mr. Fix-it” would help with promotions and raises and such. However, 10 years later, I am still the lowest paid person in the department!

  16. Environmental Compliance*

    #1 – I absolutely would be fuming! I would likely have to rewrite my response back a few times.

    #2 – I’m also in this boat. I know I’m in the line of succession, but it’s really odd being looped into things at seeming random because someone wants my opinion or my boss wants it to be a training moment. Following into that – it’s not “public” yet of the succession plan. However, people are starting to notice I’m getting looped into things that don’t really fall within my “normal” duties. It’s starting to give me the cringe-pricklies.

  17. Fabulous*

    #5 – I hate that application process that requires you to list every stinking job, LOL. I’ve come across a lot of them in my almost 15-year career (side note: holy crap my career is a teenager!) but Alison’s right about the contacts. At this point, I just list the phone number for the business and my manager’s name (if I remember it) because chances are, they’re not there anymore.

    Another side note: I wish I only had 6 jobs to list! Alas, as an older Millennial who graduated directly into the recession, my job history will have about 20 – I’ve already worked at 11 companies, well, 15 if you count the individual assignments I went on as a temp worker. Thankfully, my last 4 jobs have all been at the same company and my next one will likely be too!

  18. Why did I go to library school?*

    I’m just here to giggle at the idea of HR attempting to contact references through a ouijia board! Imagine walking into the HR office to find all the lights off and the reps sitting at a candlelit table with their hands on a planchette going, “And how would you rate [applicant]’s performance?”

    It’s a silly mental image, but it’s SUCH a good encapsulation of the frustrating struggles applicants experience with online application forms that don’t allow the slightest wiggle room for explaining any kind of special circumstances.

    1. Why did I go to library school?*

      Wow, of course I caught the “ouijia” typo right after I hit submit. I blame too many rewatches of that Yahoo Answers Luigi Board video on YouTube.

  19. Salad Daisy*

    #5 I remember applying for a job when I was about 60 and the application requested a list of every job I had ever had. I asked if they meant every job, including jobs from high school. Yup. I had to ask for more paper. I did not get the job. Asking for the past 10 or 15 years makes sense. Asking for information about a job from more than 40 years ago does not.

    I also agree about the references. If you apply for 100 jobs, your references could presumably receive reference requests from 100 prospective employers. I do not provide references when submitting an application.

    1. Artemesia*

      This helps make very clear that you are old however — not that that is the reason they didn’t interview further.

    2. JM in England*

      I do the same with references and only give their names during the final interview and/or offer stages.

  20. Jack Straw*

    RE the job history for LW #5 – it is unlikely they are using the job list on the application as a way to check references. For hourly jobs, the early-stage application is the equivalent of a forcing the candidate to complete resume. They care less about the supervisor names and more about the job titles and company info.

    List the manager names as best you can, but if they call Llama Groomers R Us and ask for Steve Smith, whoever answers the phone will say “We don’t have anyone here by that name,” or “Steve left the company a few years ago. Tell me what you need and I’ll get you to the right person.”

    I say this as a former K-12 educator who also had to fill out that form for each teaching job I’ve held (just at the end of the process as a formality rather than the front end) and a former HR manager for a retail store (where I was hiring hourly associates).

  21. twocents*

    #4: I would frame it less as “I deserve this” which has the implication of “…and you don’t.” Even if it’s just in your head, framing it as something you ~deserve~ can come across in tone and get that negative reaction from your peers that you’re worried about.

    It’s also, honestly, not a matter of you ~deserve~ it and the others don’t. The role allows you to work remotely 1-2 days a week. Theirs doesn’t. The end.

    The more matter of fact you can be, the better it will come across.

    1. OP 4*

      You’re right. I need to be careful in my tone, because I do care what my boss and peers think of me. It’s exactly as matter-of-fact as you say. Thank you for your insight! I’ll try and update Alison on what happens.

  22. Quite Anonymous*

    LW#4, you have every right to see the agreed-upon terms upheld, and I wish you success in it. From the sound of it, though, you may want to brace for some bumps. If only a small handful of people in a large department are able to WFH, and none of the small handful people are actually doing it regularly…bumpy. (Even bumpier, perhaps, because of the pandemic and the symbolism of being “safe at home”)

    My advice would be to think of the bumps you might encounter and prepare as best you can. For example, to me this situation (WFH in an in-person office) does sound at some risk of being “out of sight, out of mind” or the perception as the One Who’s Never Around. How can you mitigate that?

    1. OP 4*

      You are right in that it’s bumpy, because our office is so collaborative. But when I spoke with my boss today, he acknowledged that my department is different than others, and I in turn acknowledged that I realize the big positives of working in an office in our industry. But he said 1 day a week for me is fine, especially because I negotiated it in my offer letter (if I didn’t, I may or may not have been allowed to do so, but having that in my offer letter made it way easier). We agreed that certain day were off limits for WFH (Mondays, LOL), but mid-week is totally fine. So, I feel good! :)

  23. Zach*

    #5- if they end up needing those references for a background check to make sure you’re employed, whoever is doing the background check (whether it’s the hiring company or a third party) will likely accept IRS tax return transcripts that show you were employed there. I worked at a startup several years ago and it went bankrupt, so it no longer exists- I had to do that for two background checks for the two jobs I’ve had since then and they always accepted that as proof. They’re free to pull from the IRS site- you just need to register for an account to log in.

  24. OP #4*

    Hi all! OP #4 here. I wanted to let you all (and especially Alison) know that I am so appreciative of all of your comments and advice. They kicked me into gear in the right direction regarding asking to WFH – when I had negotiated it in my offer letter in the first place! Here’s an update:

    I spoke with my boss today, and I used much of the language that Alison suggested. It turns out that my boss forgot/didn’t realize I had negotiated WFH in my offer letter (not a knock on him at all – he oversees a lot of people and I didn’t expect him to remember every little detail of my offer from months ago; he’s a fantastic boss!). He said since I negotiated for it, 1 day a week is totally fine with him. He acknowledged that while our office and industry is extremely collaborative (many large departments compared to me working for myself, basically), he knows I am in a different position than the rest. I in turn acknowledged that I realize the big positives of working in an office, especially in our industry.

    TL;DR: Boss said that 1 day a week for me is fine, especially because I negotiated it in my offer letter (if I didn’t, I may or may not have been allowed to do so, but having that in my offer letter made it way easier). We discussed the fact that certain days were better to WFH, so we agreed on a 1 day a week mid-week arrangement. So, all in all, a successful talk! Thank you again to everyone!

  25. Catonymous*

    For #1, I have a question: In that kind of situation, would it make sense to reply all since the whole leadership team now only has the one side of the story? Something like, “This is the first I’m hearing about this, please come speak with me about it.” Or something?

    I ask because I have a colleague who has a habit of throwing me under the bus in all-team meetings. For example, most recently, I had completed the draft version of a project and was waiting for feedback from our boss, who had been promising feedback for weeks, in order to complete the final version, and suddenly in an all-team meeting, she came out with, “Are you finished that project yet? I was expecting it to be done by now.” I’m forever discovering she had expectations that she never communicated that aren’t being met, IN THE TEAM MEETING. And I worry that, with this happening consistently enough, people will start to think I’m slacking. But I don’t want to seem weirdly aggressive about it in the meeting. Or weirdly dense. Like, “I didn’t realize you were expecting that,” can’t be a good look, can it?

    1. Sea Anemone*

      Have you also been giving updates on things that are stalled due to other people? I don’t know how general your example is, but I would have been including in my own updates something like, “Project X is still with Lucinda. I called her on Friday, and she had no updates.” Then when your colleague asks if it’s finished, you can say, “Per my updates, we’ve been waiting on Lucinda for 3 weeks. Is the need date close enough that I should finalize it without Lucinda? How would you like me to proceed?” or something like that.

  26. Matt*

    OP#1, something similar happened to me a few months ago. I’m an admin and office manager for a small non profit. A staff member was having problems with some new office equipemnt, saying he didn’t know the login to use it, when there was no login required. He was doing his work outside of regular office hours so I wasn’t there to help. He called my boss at home who at the time instructed him to call or talk to me, but she also told him there was no login required. She asked how urgent his project was and he told her it could it wait. At around midnight he sent a very nasty email about it to all the staff , as well as volunteer board members, detailing his frustrations with not having the non existant login information and how unrpofessional I was at not sharing that information with the team. Knowing what happened, my boss ended up sending an email as a reply all asking him what the problem was, that they had conversed about it previously, and that she gave him the instructions and go ahead to call me for help, and was really confused about what this email was about. You could apply Allison’s advice, but as a reply all email back like my boss did calling this manager’s bad communication skills out, but in a collaborative “I’m confused” sort of way like my boss did. It made me feel very vindicated and I was greatful to her for that.

  27. Mary Edith Sybil Crawley*

    Piece of advice for #3 or for anyone in that situation, check your state’s unemployment coverage policy. They’ll usually pay unemployment money to people who were fired, but not always for those who quit. With that said, it might be easier to quit and get started on job hunting immediately depending on how much savings you have and other factors.

  28. OP 3*

    Hi, this is the OP for #3 talking. I will say that one thing I overlooked at the time of the email was that I never was just transferred to another department at that previous role. If they didn’t choose to reassign me to another department, under different leadership, does that mean that, at that time, they simply didn’t feel I was capable to function in any department at the company?

    1. Colette*

      Probably not. Sometimes it makes sense to transfer someone to another department, but it depends on a lot of things (what are the issues with the employee as they’d relate to the new department, does the new department need someone with the employee’s skills, etc.).

      1. OP 3*

        Yeah, from my understanding of penal transferring as a concept, I never personally understood it. With different leadership involved, the concept is in my mind almost as good as another company, so without literally applying like an outsider, a transfer conceptually doesn’t make sense. Whatever it is, since I don’t believe in any bridges being burned, I would always like to have other departments in that company as future considerations, and would hope that my so-far stellar record of doing well in my current role as leaving the door open to theoretically returning to that company in a similar capacity, not doing my original role over there.

  29. Nom*

    I hope LW 2 is being compensated at a level where it’s appropriate for her to advise execs. It’s not okay for execs to ask exec-level work of entry level professionals, especially if those people have asked for a raise or promotion and been denied it.

  30. Free Meerkats*

    I doubt I’d even come close to being able to list all the places I worked. In the early 60s, when I was 9, I worked at a Florist shop where Mom worked, cleaning and stuff. I know what city it was in – that’s it. Then in high school, there were a couple of busboy jobs at restaurants that haven’t existed for 30 years and a janitorial company that’s been gone for 40. I guess I could include the pool cleaning and maintenance I did after the Navy, I worked for myself, so I know where to find that supervisor. Etc, etc, etc.

  31. SleepyKitten*

    I’m imagining someone looking at OP5’s references and seeing (DECEASED) 5 times in a row, and starting to wonder if you’re cursed and/or a murderer

Comments are closed.