I always have to cover for my sick coworker, director thinks I’m an intern, and more

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

1. My coworker always calls out sick and I have to work her shifts

I work in a medical esthetics office. We have one doctor who takes patients every day all day, as well as an esthetician, Amy, who has been here 10 years. Amy takes patients one day a week and for the rest of the week covers reception. There are only the three of us. I am also a receptionist but I am 20 years old and in school full-time so I am only expected to be working one day a week.

Amy has called in sick at least once a week for the past month, and I’ve had to get extensions on projects, work holidays, and reschedule appointments to pick up the slack, but I also don’t have a lot of time to give as school is my priority. This is the fifth week in a row now that I have been asked to cover multiple shifts for her in one week and I’m getting very pissed cause I don’t have the time to be covering her shifts but the doctor won’t put her foot down and just expects me to cover. Covering multiple shifts a week is not what I signed up for. I really do like and want to keep my job but I’m so frustrated that I’ve been thinking about quitting, so I guess my question is how do I bring this up to the doctor in a way that will make her take action? And/or what should I do about this coworker Amy?

First things first: Stop saying yes to the extra shifts! The next time you’re asked to cover for Amy, say, “I can’t, I have class that day.” If you’re pushed further, say, “I was happy to help out in a pinch, but because of school I need to stick to the one day a week I was hired for and can’t keep taking extra shifts.” And stick to that — your arrangement was one day a week and it’s not unreasonable for you to hold firm on your availability.

That might be all it takes. But at some point you might need to have a conversation with the doctor along the lines of, “You’ve been looking to me to cover Amy’s shifts and I want to be up-front that it’s not something I can do. I was hired to work one day a week and I have school commitments the rest of the time.”

You don’t need to address Amy directly at all; her sick time is between her and her boss and isn’t something you should be involved in. If Amy isn’t at work enough and it’s causing coverage issues, that’s something for her boss to solve. Your role is just to make your own boundaries clear and stick to them.

2. Should I have pointed out a fresh stain on a coworker’s sweater?

I’m a male store owner and I have an employee who is young enough to almost be my daughter. The other day we were chatting a bit after lunch, and I noticed a fresh-seeming stain on her sweater, right on her breasts. I ended up not saying anything because I feared she would think I was checking her out, but at the same time I feel like I did her a disservice not pointing out a fixable problem. Am I overthinking it?

If the stain was fresh and the kind of thing she could still dab off, it’s fine to say, “I think you’ve got something on your shirt.” Assuming you’re not leering, she’s unlikely to think you were checking out her body; eyes are drawn to stains. (If the stain wasn’t fresh, though, and she’s not likely to be able to do anything about it while she’s still at work, it’s usually kinder to studiously not notice. This rule is subject to exceptions under certain conditions, like if she’s about to meet with clients and could easily cover it with a blazer.)

3. Volunteer director thinks I’m an intern

I had a virtual meeting with the director of the nonprofit I have been wanting to volunteer with. I got connected with them through a friend who volunteers there. They are trying to start a new program in which I have considerable professional experience. My friend knows about my credentials and ability and asked if I would like to lead the program. Their mission is close to my heart and it would help me professionally, so I enthusiastically agreed. The director reached out to me after my friend passed along my info, and after some challenging scheduling, in which I was doing most of the accommodating, we finally connected.

The conversation was … odd. She was perfectly nice and polite, but it was obvious that there was a mismatch of expectations. For example, I had come prepared with a general outline of topics to cover, ideas for the project, an expected timeline, etc. However, she made comments like, “Send me an outline when you have one, and we can go over it together” and “why don’t you look up how other organizations have done this and come back to me with what you find.” When I went over the materials I had already put together, she seemed surprised and once said, “Wow, that is a really good idea.” I was almost offended because it was a pretty basic component of the project. At one point I mentioned something about my daughter, and she acted very surprised that I had a child.

At the end of the conversation she said, “I think I trust you to do a good job on this.” I again was confused but said “Thanks?” Mentally I was thinking, “Didn’t you ask me for my help on this? Aren’t I volunteering my experience and expertise for you?” Afterwards I was explaining this to my husband and he said, “It sounds like she thinks you are interning for her.” And a lightbulb clicked. That is exactly what it felt like. And I think the confusion is justified because I am in school. And she asked me how school was going and I talked about that briefly as chitchat. But I am in school for a third degree in a related field, which she might not know about. I already have a bachelor’s and a master’s in the content of the project and several years of work experience. But I think she thinks I am a young college student getting community service hours and she is doing me a favor by letting me volunteer.

Is there any tactful way to clear this up? I appreciate her feedback and I want to tailor the content to what the organization needs. But I can’t figure out how to say “hey, I’m not an intern and I know what I’m doing so you can trust me,” without it sounding like I don’t want feedback or that I don’t need help.

When you follow up on the meeting, send the director some info on your credentials — not in a defensive way but framed as “I wanted to share my background in this area so you know what my expertise is.” Mention both degrees and your professional experience. It’s possible your friend didn’t fill her in, or she didn’t fully process it.

But also, some of the stuff she said isn’t that odd. She doesn’t know you yet and it’s usually not clear how much direction and oversight a volunteer will need when they’re still unknown and untested or even whether they’re likely to complete the project at all. “I think I trust you to do a good job on this” wasn’t well worded, but your mental reaction of “Didn’t you ask me for my help on this?” was probably a bit misplaced … since until she’d had the chance to talk to you, she wouldn’t have had a good feel for your skills and how you might work together (and volunteers can come with a wide range of expertise, reliability, and follow-through).

If you fill her in on your background and she continues to interact with you as if you’re an intern, you might need to address it more head-on at that point, but there’s a good chance this will clear it up.

4. I tried to help but made it worse

I am an aspiring manager with great standing in my company, and I try to leverage my standing to help fellow colleagues. I know from experience that at my company, successful people rely heavily on their managers/supervisors for career growth. A manager on my team is consistently unavailable and traveling for work, which puts her managees on their own and fumbling to achieve success and network on their own. When they don’t succeed, the manager comes back every six months and tells them they did poorly and need to be on an official improvement plan. One of her previous employees quit and referenced the manager as one of the reasons.

So, when I heard from a director that the company is going to gently re-evaluate current managers and ask too-busy-to-support-managers to step out of the manager role and focus on technical work, I asked what to do in the aforementioned situation, without naming names. He said my colleagues should mention to HR what the situation is. I communicated this back to the suffering team, who then immediately reached out to HR. The next day there was a blast from the team supervisor about doing what you need to do to find your own success. It seemed like HR communicated to the supervisor, and now I am afraid that I made everything worse.

What do I do without making things worse all over again? What do I do if I am asked about the unavailable line manager? Should I take more initiative or less in this scenario?

Why not suggest to HR that their “gentle re-evaluation” process involve soliciting confidential feedback from employees? Stress that they’ll need to ensure there will be no blowback on employees for being candid, and they’ll need to find a credible way of assuring employees of that.

If you yourself are asked for your opinion about that manager, be as candid as you want (including mentioning, if you want to, that when you previously encouraged their team to speak up, it immediately got back to the manager). But also keep in mind that this isn’t yours to fix. Your ability to effect change is limited when you don’t have real authority and, as you saw, can backfire in ways you weren’t anticipating when you’re acting as a sort of middleman passing messages along. So don’t fall into the I Must Fix This trap. It’s on your company to fix it, not you (particularly when they’ve shown they’re capable of mishandling complaints as badly as they might have with this one).

5. Offering job candidates references on me as a manager

I supervise a small team and had to hire three times in the last two years. I try to be the type of manager I would like to have and provide lots of info for candidates, get back in a timely fashion, am transparent in my salary offers, provide as prep the general “tell me about a time when” questions I plan to ask, etc. I have started to offer candidates the opportunity to talk to others in a similar job role or to connect with the person who had the job previously — basically a reference on me as a supervisor and our organization. I feel lucky that current and former employees are willing to have these conversations with candidates, and am trying to figure out how to word it for both parties.

I want my current/former employees to be candid and honest with their experiences, and for the candidate to trust the information they’re getting. My current/former employees opt in and I tell both people that I’m not going to ask either of them about what they talk about (and then don’t). Enough people have had toxic work environments that some people might not trust being asked or offered to do this, so I’m trying to figure out how to convey that “no really, be honest about sharing and what you want to know.” Any suggestions?

The fact that you’re setting this up at all will carry more weight than anything you can say about it, and it risks seeming weird if you over-emphasize “no really, be honest!” So just go with one clear statement to each of them like: “Please be as candid as you’d like. I’m not going to ask either of you what you talked about, and it’s an opportunity to learn more about the job than people might be comfortable asking about in formal interviews.”

If someone doesn’t trust that because of previous toxic employers, there’s nothing you’ll be able to say to undo that anyway, at least not without making it strange for everyone who’s not in that category. Trust that the act itself is the message.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 204 comments… read them below }

  1. Junior Dev*

    For OP #3, if you haven’t yet set up an email signature with your job title, do so before you send the “here are my credentials” email. It’ll provide her a face-saving way to figure out your actual role without asking.

    1. Mid*

      Or, depending on the field and context of the presentation, a draft could include OPs credentials on the first slide, which is something I see done fairly often. (Like “Jane Doe, PhD in Teapot Design, author of ‘Designing Teapots for Space Travel’”)

    2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with laying out her credentials explicitly. Especially if the volunteer director is particularly pressed for time, providing the info in a subtle manner may not be the best approach.

      And while I don’t think it’s weird to follow a first meeting with her background info, the longer they work together the weightier such an email would be — so it’s probably best for OP to strike firmly and unambiguously while the iron is hot.

      1. Smithy*

        I agree with this approach and strongly recommend being very direct.

        Unless the OP is educated in a very credentialed field (i.e. has an MSW and is licensed to practice, going back to school for a PhD) – skilled professionals looking to volunteer while they’re in school is often a more dynamic and diverse pool to assess. Both in terms of skills but also time and commitment. No different than OP#1 – who is likely excellent at their job – but their priority is more to school than this specific job.

        All to say, taking the time to be very specific and direct about skills, but also the time looking to commit I think will help build the relationship. Because there are also older students with professional histories who need to check off a practice or volunteer requirement of a degree. And while they’re not looking to be subpar volunteers/interns – for their lives, it’s serving more as a pass/fail requirement rather than a longer term commitment.

        Nonprofits see both categories of applicants and it’s not immediately obvious in an initial meeting who’d be what.

    3. ChaCha*

      OP3 here! Thanks for the advice. My husband suggested just causually attaching my CV with the follow-up email and simply saying something like “here is my CV in case you were interested in having it.” That seemed a little more direct than I was even thinking, but it seems being slightly direct, while of course being polite, may be the way to go.

  2. scmill*

    OP#2, I kinda disagree with Alison. If it’s something that is 1) obviously fresh and 2) bound to stain, I would want to know so that I could try to take measures.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes! I missed “fresh-seeming” when I wrote this answer and was going by “don’t highlight it if they can’t fix it” etiquette.I’ve adjusted the answer.

      1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        It’s also in a shop, where a worker with a visible stain on their clothes might be off-putting to customers, especially if it’s a clothing store.

    2. GammaGirl1908*

      A friend of mine says to comment if it’s something they can fix easily and/or in 5 minutes. If you’re working in a clothing shop and they can get a fresh shirt, say something. If they can dab it off in the bathroom and it’ll be dry in 30 minutes, say something. If their shirt is inside out or backward, say something. If it’s spinach in their teeth, say something.

      If you’re my dad and I — at age 41 — have a zit, you really don’t have to loudly announce, “What’s that on your face? Looks like a pimple! Why do you have a pimple?”

      1. Antilles*

        That’s the same rule I’ve always heard.
        If it’s something that’s fixable on the spot, then say something. If it’s not, then keep your mouth shut since all it does is make them self-conscious about the problem.

      2. LemonLime*

        Yes! What’s with pointing out pimples?
        I have a male colleague that will totally notice a fresh zit and be like ‘oh you have something next to your mouth/on chin/ cheek etc.’ in front of others or alone. So I go to wipe it away thinking it’s food— no a zit. How is in he in his late 40s and doesn’t know what a face pimple is? He’s not the kind to be backhanded or devious so I really think its some genuine norm-blindness. (the same way asking a woman if she’s pregnant is somehow still a thing guys will do).

      3. RagingADHD*

        If their skirt is tucked into their underwear, for pete’s sake *please* say something!

        Not that that’s ever happened to me, or anything. Speaking for a friend.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          I definitely would have appreciated *someone*, literally *anyone*, pointing out that I had managed to tuck my skirt into my nylons as I left the state government building and got all the way to the parking garage *walking down a public street for blocks* like that during *rush hour*.

        2. Hazel*

          I want to take this opportunity to THANK AGAIN the man who told me that my wrap dress was tucked in funny and my underwear was showing!!! I think sometimes men are nervous to do this, but I’m so glad this one guy didn’t hesitate!

          1. Miss Betty*

            Yes! Thank you to the guy who told me that! Somehow when I got out of my car, the seat belt had twisted in my skirt. I felt it but didn’t think to check that the skirt was ok and was walking from the parking garage to the office with half my butt hanging out. 25 years later, I’m still grateful to the guy that yelled across the street to let me know. (We were the only 2 people on the sidewalks at the time so he wasn’t drawing attention to it to anyone but me.)

          2. Coffee Bean*

            I went running down the street once to alert a woman that the size sticker was still on her jeans. You know – that lovely vertical sticker that repeats the size 10 times. She was simultaneously mortified and grateful.

      4. Allison*

        Exactly! A pimple can be treated over time, but it’s not going anywhere that day! A stain can usually be fixed to some degree, dab it with water or maybe a Tide stain pen if the clothing is a light color (do not do this if you have an oil stain on a dark blue dress, you might ruin that dress!).

        Also, if you’re someone’s manager and they’re wearing a shirt with a stain on it, and that stain is old and set-in and might gradually wash out but isn’t going anywhere today, you can also ask that they not wear that shirt again until they can get the stain out.

        1. Sloppy Eater*

          Dawn Dish soap works great for oil stains! Just put a dab of it on before you toss it in the wash or if you’re at work then put a little soap on the stain, scrub it gently with water, then dry the area with a hand dryer. :)

          Signed, someone with a bad habit of eating spaghetti or other drippy/ oily noodle concoctions while sitting in a recliner

          Now if someone knows how to remove dry-erase marker, I can save a few uniform outfits for my kids…

    3. Grand Admiral Thrawn Is Blue Forevermore*

      Stains. The bane of my existence. I go through so much stain remover spray every freaking week, but I can’t use that at work.

      1. Not Your Sweetheart*

        Shout wipes work wonders. Put paper towels on one side, and use the wipe on the stained side. I used to work at a clothing store, and we used those all the time – they remove makeup from clothing.

          1. meagain*

            Dawn dish soap works excellent on grease stains. It’s actually what they used in the Alaska oil spill.

            Baby wipes also work great for getting out stains and makeup/foundation stains.

      2. I'm just here for the cats*

        Tide stain sticks work well if it’s very fresh. At least it works on cotton/cotton blends. I haven’t had to use it on any silk shirts (Yet).

        It’s also very small, about the size of a pen, and can easily fit in your bag or in a desk drawer.

        1. DinosaurWrangler*

          Tide stain sticks also tend to take the color out of fabric. Then instead of a stain, you’ve got a paler color spot.

          This won’t work if you want to remove a spot while you’re wearing the garment, but the best way is to soak the entire garment in Tide overnight or longer.

    4. Ozzav*

      Thanks everybody, I’m OP2. Like I thought I was overthinking it, but I wanted another opinion, since in my area there has been a bit of an epidemic of male bosses being inappropriate with female employees, so I was on edge.

  3. Green Beans*

    OP3: It’s good to casually throw in your master’s/experience when you can (a master’s degree is easier to reference than “in my 12 years of experience, but both are valid.) I look for openings early on – for instance, I just met with a new hire at work who was thinking about interns and when she asked me about programs to pull from for my specific area, I was easily able to say, “there’s the master’s program I went to and then there’s X, Y, Z other programs, none of which are logistically feasible either unfortunately.”

    I’ve also done it by location or skill set – like “oh yeah, City where I did my master’s had the best whatever,” or “thanks! We actually covered that type of planning in my master’s, and I’ve found the approach really useful throughout my career.”

    You can only do this once or twice with someone before you seem a little pretentious, but usually that’s all that’s necessary to get your point across. (I apparently am read young – I used to never mention it and now I throw it in at the first opportunity and then try to never mention it again.)

    1. Office Lobster DJ*

      Could definitely be approached nice and casually. “Nice talking to you the other day, Jane. I’m so excited to start – this is the kind of project I’ve dreamed of leading since I got my master’s in whatever”

      This may also just be how Jane is. If attempts to correct her impression land flat, you may have to consider how important it is and what you’d want from Jane. For example, I’d be more apt to drive my point home if I thought I might need Jane as a reference or foot in the door in the future.

      1. ChaCha*

        I love this wording “this is the type of project I’ve dreamed of leading since I got my master’s” because that is both true and definitely could help open up that conversation to talk more about past projects that I have completed.

  4. Observer*

    #5 – One thing to keep in mind is your track record is going to matter, at least in terms of what your former employees feel comfortable with. So if you have a track record of keeping your word and not trying to get information out of people (not talking about the stuff you are SUPPOSED to be getting, of course) that will help. And if you do this and then follow up by NOT ASKING, your former employees will see that you mean it.

    People talk, which can be your friend here. If you develop a track record of doing this unusual thing people will talk about it. If that track record is “sets up these meetings then fishes for information” that’s what people will talk about. And talk they will! But when you DON’T fish for information, they’ll probably talk about it too, because it’s so unusual. So word is likely to get around that you set up these meetings where people really are free to speak freely. That kind of word-of-mouth can be gold.

    1. Kal*

      And that talk will build up over time. Once the former workers that are doing these conversations are ones who had one with a former worker themselves, they can tell the prospective new employee that yes, you stuck to your word and didn’t do any fishing. A former worker saying “I was a bit unsure of having this sort of conversation myself when I was interviewing, but it was great” can go a lot further than almost anything OP could say – that is the point of doing this in the first place after all.

    2. Moonlight*

      LW5 – I’m wondering if you have reason to believe that people aren’t having these candid conversations? It sounds like you believe they aren’t, but if that’s the case, it might not be because of you; I know if I was a job candidate, I’d hesitate to drop those extra few layers of professionalism I put on when I am interviewing or new “just in case” while I try to have what the org is really like for myself. This is expediently true if I have reason to believe toxic personalities are around. Even if you are not the toxic personality, I wouldn’t necessarily know that your staff are non toxic. Hopefully that helps give some context that you can do something about :)

      1. Anonym*

        Yeah, I get the sense that LW5 is trying to ensure that all candidates feel comfortable being candid, but some just won’t, including for the reasons you mention. And that’s okay in this case, because it’s really outside of LW’s control.

        LW, you’re doing all you can, which is really impressive! You won’t be able to make every candidate feel 100% comfortable, but I literally can’t think of anything else within your control that will help. Thanks for being a great hiring manager!! And I hope you spread the word about your approach!

      2. OP5*

        As I was prepping this interview process, I asked my most recently hired employee (in October) what she thought about it, and she said it felt a bit like another job interview. I don’t think I set up the conversation well enough that last time, so I was hoping to make the candidate feel it’s less like an interview and more like a chance to learn about my management style. The candidate and my current employee had their conversation last week so fingers crossed they both felt comfortable enough in the conversation.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Candidate isn’t wrong, though. It is a job interview. After all, if red flags came up you might decide not to hire or they might decide they didn’t want the job, so having the impression that it is an interview isn’t wrong or bad, IMO

          1. Emmy Noether*

            This is true. If the candidate comes across like a jerk or as incompetent, the employee will probably tell OP about it, even if OP doesn’t ask. It’s in the employee’s own interest that people they wouldn’t want to work with don’t get hired.

            So it *is*, in fact, an evaluation.

    3. Meep*

      This. The whole “be honest! really!” thing is a trigger for me because of my toxic former manager. She has yelled at me that we need to be open and honest and communicate with each other and then when I do that proceed to yell at me for being open and honest with her. None of the things were scream-at-worthy either (it was literally what I was doing for her/our boss because he told her I was doing something for him). Still, made me not want to tell her anything even less. Then again, she just sends off a series of red flags when you meet her. I have said it before but the first time we spoke she was “subtly” threatening my career if I crossed her – which was odd considering how much power a two-week-old intern had… The second time, she used foul abusive language towards her own daughter. That witch be crazy.

  5. River Otter*

    “how do I bring this up to the doctor in a way that will make her take action”

    There really is nothing you can say to *make* her take action. I can’t tell if that wording was a careless turn of phrase or insight into how you think about things, but you do need to realize that magic wording to *make* someone do some thing does not exist, and especially not when that person is your boss.
    If there is a specific action you want, the best way to get it is to ask for it, but you have to think about what action you actually want in this scenario. There is nothing for the doctor to put her foot down about. Amy is sick, and she should not have to come into work when she is sick. You definitely do not want the solution to your problem to be that the doctor creates a work environment where people can’t take sick time because that will apply to you as well.
    Instead of looking for action from the doctor, set your boundaries around how often, which could be never, you are willing to pick up extra shifts.

    I have noticed that nonprofits tend to be reluctant to allow volunteers to perform professional services. I think they tend to think of their volunteers as people who are suited to things like filing and addressing envelopes, not as people who would be capable of doing employee level tasks. This may not be about seeing you as an intern, but about seeing you as someone who is not a professional more broadly.

      1. MsSolo (UK)*

        I don’t know about the US, but there are rules in the UK around using volunteers for work that should be done by paid staff, to avoid the appearance of Job Substitution. That is, you can’t have volunteers doing work that was previously done (or currently done) by paid staff with the intent of reducing your workforce. Volunteer work should be supplemental to the work of paid employees – the core service should exist without relying on volunteers, which does mean that allowing volunteers to perform professional services can be risky, because if the service becomes integral to the organisation then those roles should be paid positions.

        1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

          There are similar rules in the US (although I don’t know them especially well). So that could be impacting OP, but it sounds like it’s not.

          1. MsSolo (UK)*

            I don’t think it directly impacts OP, but I think it can contribute to River Otter’s point about organisational attitudes to volunteers. If you only ever see volunteers in low level roles because your organisation is careful about job substitution, you might be unaware of how best to use them in more professional capacities.

            1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

              Ah sorry, I see what you’re saying. I think you’re probably right about that!

          2. Curious*

            Offering a poor college student (which most of them are) extra hours is manipulative and taking advantage of their good nature? When I was in school, some weeks were more busy, some less so. It’s not the employer’s role to know which is which.

        2. Parakeet*

          At least in the US, most of the anti-domestic/sexual violence field would collapse without volunteers. And a lot of those volunteers are in fact performing major services and high-intensity tasks that require training (such as a 40-hour rape crisis counselor certification). But usually either volunteers have separate hours from staff (e.g. staff answer the crisis hotline during the business day, volunteers answer it in the evenings), or volunteers work in separate functional areas from staff (e.g. volunteers answer the crisis hotline and accompany survivors to the hospital and are managed by 1-2 staff members, while staff do case management, accompaniments to court, and clinical counseling). The programs or hours staffed by volunteers are ones where paid staff were never the ones who did that work in the first place.

          Doing high-skill individual contributor work, though, is different from launching a new program.

          And of course all-vol and mostly-vol/member-led organizations are different beasts altogether. By definition, the high-level work at those, including management, strategy, program launches, professional services that require a degree in the subject, etc, is also going to be done mostly or entirely by volunteers. It doesn’t sound like the OP’s org is one of those though.

    1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      I’m not sure if that’s what’s happening — but more broadly, the volunteer director is professionally responsible for the work of volunteers in a way that impacts their livelihood, while volunteers are not. SO it’s very, very common for volunteers to be enthusiastic and optimistic in offering commitments, but lack follow-through.

      Also volunteers are also usually not vetted as rigorously as new hires. I would not expect a new volunteer to be given the same level of trust and autonomy as a staff member, unless they were working on very low-level tasks.

      1. Washi*

        Exactly. When I was a volunteer coordinator we had pretty specific and narrow volunteer roles, not because we didn’t think our volunteers were capable of more, but because from experience, even the best volunteers can end up leaving at the last minute (understandably!) due to family issues, illness etc. Having a volunteer take on a big important project that staff/other volunteers would struggle to take over in such an event would be a gamble.

        That said, “I think I trust you to do a good job on this” is not a great way to put things, even to an intern. How much will you be working with this volunteer director? Maybe give it another couple meetings, but I would also do some reflection and make sure you’re ok with potentially working on an unpaid basis with someone who may end up drivng you nuts.

        1. Koalafied*

          Yeah, typically highly skilled volunteers are either serving in a short-term capacity for a specific term or project, or they’re joining the board and will have a higher level of commitment than a typical volunteer.

          In the DC area there’s a firm called Compass and their whole jam is recruiting skilled professionals who want to be matched with a local nonprofit that could use their specific skills, either for short-term consulting like OP describes, or to serve on the BOD for a nonprofit whose founder is overwhelmed by the operations/logistics of running an organization and doesn’t have anyone in their personal network with the experience to mentor them through the process.

          I imagine OP was under the impression she was entering into that sort of arrangement, not “we’ll be thrilled to let anyone volunteer” or “the volunteer program is how we keep activists/donors engaged” kind of program where you come in whenever and stuff some envelopes or work the coat check or refreshments table at a fundraiser.

      2. Loulou*

        Yup. I don’t really understand what issue OP is having here — it just sounds like they’re being treated as a volunteer, not a staff member.

        1. londonedit*

          I’ve never been on the volunteer-coordinating side of things, but as a lay-person I can understand the OP’s issue. They thought they were being brought on board to lead a new project because of their considerable professional experience in that field. They thought the meeting with the director was going to be a peer-level meeting, maybe the director would even be asking for advice on the project, it would be something collaborative, etc. And when they got to the meeting, the director made it sound like they didn’t trust the OP to work on the project, didn’t expect the OP to have done any preparation or research, and didn’t seem to realise that the OP is an expert in her field rather than someone just wanting to help out. I can see myself being – not offended, exactly – but puzzled. It sounds like there was a disconnect somewhere – maybe the director did think the OP was a volunteer intern, maybe they just hadn’t been fully briefed on their professional experience, maybe they got the OP mixed up with someone else, whatever. But it definitely seems like the director was expecting to meet a ‘just want to lend a hand’ volunteer, and the OP was expecting to meet a ‘fabulous to have you on board, thank you so much for bringing your skills to us free of charge, can’t wait to see what you have in mind’ director.

          1. ChaCha*

            Yes, that was definitely more the vibe. I’m not offended at all, maybe my wording came across weird. I would be happy to do more ground-level work for the organization as well. I don’t think either of us were offended or antagonistic in any way. We were just confused by each other, I think. I think she just assumed I was an inexperienced intern, and hopefully was pleasantly surprised. If she prefers me to just assist, I am more than happy to do that. But that wasn’t my impression by the end of the conversation.

      3. June*

        Yes. I don’t think any volunteer should expect to take the lead on anything, especially a big project, no matter their credentials. It’s not the same as a paid position.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Excellent point about letter #1. Carolyn Hax put it really well in a column this weekend about someone’s pushy sister insisting on criticizing her parenting, but it applies to people at work, too. The LW needs to set firm boundaries when it comes to schoolwork, focusing on her actions, not Amy’s. (Edited down a bit so it’s more applicable):

      “This is a common misconception. It’s natural to think of boundaries as a kind of fence we put up to keep people out. ‘Here is my new fence,’ we tell people. ‘Do not go over it!’

      The thing is, we can’t make people stop saying what they want to say. Your sister keeps teaching you that the hard way. Some people will be polite or respectful enough to drop a subject on request, sure, but they’re not the ones we really need our boundaries for; they have and respect their own regardless of what you do.

      Since your sister is going to do what she wants and climb over all your fences and you can’t stop her, your fence won’t be effective unless it’s about your behavior.

      So, ‘I will not discuss my parenting with you.’ It’s a tiny rephrase with a massive effect. I will not discuss. I.

      Because that, you can control.”

      The OP needs to state she cannot work when it conflicts with school, and stick to that, without overexplaining. I’m betting she is being pushed and manipulated into justifying, defending, and explaining her prioritizing school, and if you’re reading, OP, “No” (or maybe in this case “I can’t work, I have school”) is a full sentence. When you overexplain your reasons, you’re telling some people this is the obstacle they have to overcome to get what they want.

      1. EPLawyer*

        “When you overexplain your reasons, you’re telling some people this is the obstacle they have to overcome to get what they want.”

        This right here. boundary pushers are looking for reasons why your boundaries are not really boundaries. They see perfect logical reasons for why you can’t do something as just something to get around, not stop.

        You can’t change other people, you can only change your reaction.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        Yes, this, exactly. Many people don’t quite understand how boundaries work – the thing is, you cannot tell people what your boundaries are and then expect them to comply. Your boundaries are something that only you can enforce.

      3. Caroline Bowman*

        And for OP1 the trouble is, that by being willing to be accommodating (i.e. let someone cross that boundary) a couple of times, because maybe it didn’t matter much that one time, or actually you didn’t have anything better on that other one time, you teach people with no boundaries that all they need do is push a bit, and then they can get what they want.

        Most people, to some extent, try and go along to get along. Life does include compromise in many situations, certainly regarding work, that’s just how life is. You do me a favour, I will do you a favour at some point and it’ll even out and we’ll have a great working relationship, right? But then there is a group who don’t see things that way. They are often extraordinarily self-involved or flat-out manipulative, and see willingness to step up or help out in a pinch as a gold seam to be exploited as far as possible, because what suits them in the moment is the priority. With people like that, the only way is hard, concrete, harsh-sounding boundaries. ”No. I have school.” ”But you covered last week?? Come on, can’t you just…” ”No. I have school” until the end of time, if necessary.

        1. Artemesia*

          This. The first time the boss learned that our school is not that important and that you can miss if it is convenient for her and so she may have been apologetic the first time or two but now she just expects you to do what she needs and not what you need to do for your own career i.e. do well in school.

    3. RagingADHD*

      Well, the think LW1 can say that will “make” (as in force) the doctor to take action is “no.”

      Sorry, I can’t –I have class.

      It’s always possible that the doctor is such a moron that they would rather fire a good reliable worker for sticking to their agreement instead of dealing with an unreliable worker who is always forcing them to scramble for coverage, or just hire more coverage. But it’s unlikely.

      The most likely scenario is that the doctor is just defaulting to the easiest option, because that’s human nature. If LW stops being the easiest option, then the doctor will find another option.

      1. Momma Bear*

        I think this is the case. People are creatures of comfort and habit.

        OP, make it clear simply and directly (and without guilt) that you were hired for one day a week *because* of your education. It really can be as simple as suggested above – “I can’t. I have class.” Which, remember, you are paying for. It’s not just your time but your money. Don’t waste either by taking shifts you really can’t handle.

        If this persists and continues to negatively impact school, then find another job. Say no to the shifts you really can’t take OP. Many people will push boundaries and there are times when we “feel like” we can’t say no, but we really can. School should be #1 for you right now. You’re at the stage of life where you need a job, not a career. Don’t let a very PT job torpedo your education.

        1. londonedit*

          Yep, and if the boss says ‘But you were able to cover last week!’ that’s when you pull out the ‘I was happy to help out, but covering for Amy means I have to rearrange my school commitments every time. It was OK in an emergency but I can’t do that long-term so I’ll have to say no to covering any more of her shifts’. If the boss is a terrible person then there’s a risk the OP might end up getting fired, but at this point their education is more important and they can’t let a one-day-a-week job jeopardise it.

        2. SnappinTerrapin*

          One summer when I was an undergrad, I was hired as a stock clerk in a grocery. The manager said he liked hiring college students, because we tended to be reliable. Well, 24 hours there, and 24 hours on other nights in a restaurant, and painting a couple of houses made for a good summer.

          I didn’t mind, in the summer, working 4pm to midnight Wednesday and clocking back in for midnight to 8am Thursday. I was young, and enjoyed the challenge.

          Well, the fall semester was going to be the final semester before graduation, and I wanted to keep my grades up so I could pursue my next degree, so I came to see the manager on a day off. (I lived next door to the store.)

          I sat down with him, and rather inartfully began, “It’s almost time for school to start, and I can’t work 16 hours overnight in the middle of the week,” intending to ask whether there were other shifts that would work for both of us.

          Well, it hit him wrong, and he interrupted: “Don’t tell me what you can and can’t do! You work for me.”

          I paused briefly, without breaking eye contact, and calmly said, “Well, we have a miscommunication problem here, so let me explain what I mean. You hired me because you find students reliable. But I’m not attending college so I can work for you; I work here so I can go to school. My final semester is beginning in a couple of weeks. If you didn’t have anything that would fit my school schedule, I could have worked out a two week notice. But since you reacted the way you did, I reckon you better find someone else to unload the truck tomorrow night. Have a good day,” and I walked out.

      2. Anon Supervisor*

        I agree that the OP’s boss is taking the easiest option. My dad retired and took a PT job to fill in his time and to make a little money. He only wanted to work a couple of days a week, but soon became the go to fill in because he hated saying no. His thought was “well, I’m not really doing anything, so why not.” Which was fine until he found himself working undesireable shifts and routes because the new guys didn’t want to or because management didn’t staff appropriately and it was pissing him off. This was especially true during COVID. I told him to start saying no (and add something about being busy or whatever) because he was probably the first one they called and make them start actually calling down the list.

      3. Just Say No*

        It always amazes me when people don’t even try to push back on scheduling. You have agreed to work for this office one day a week and do not owe them availability for the rest of your time (even if you don’t have a conflict and simply don’t feel like working more than one day a week.) If there is a coverage problem because someone calls in sick, that is a problem for whoever does the scheduling, not for you. Just say, “Sorry, I’m only available on Wednesdays, remember?”

  6. Artemesia*

    #1. Something to always be aware of in any. job is that your do what benefits your own self and career. Of course you do the job you promised to do — but you don’t allow yourself to sacrifice your own life or future for the convenience of others and you don’t give ‘loyalty’ in the sense that you fail to move on to new and better jobs when you have the chance. They would fire you in a heartbeat if it benefitted them.

    It is convenient for your boss to abuse your good nature here; it is also potentially damaging to your own future to skip classes or fail to do your best at school because you are manipulated into working more than you agreed to do. Do what is best for you and be clear that ‘that isn’t possible’ when asked to work that conflicts with your schooling — just as Alison suggested.

    1. Xavier Desmond*

      I wouldn’t necessarily assume that the OPs boss is being an asshole. If the OP has always said yes when asked to cover they may assume that the OP is happy to for the extra hours.

      1. Empress Ki*

        Artemesia didn’t say the boss is an asshole. She gives good advice to the OP. The boss knows that OP is available one day/week anyway.

        1. Xavier Desmond*

          I agree that the basic advice is sound but Artemesia did day the boss was “manipulating” her and “abusing her good nature” which seems like too harsh of an assessment based on the OPs letter

          1. Workerbee*

            Perhaps not. But if I hired someone newer in their career with the employment stipulation of one day a week, I would hope that I’d be a decent manager and check in with the employee, ask if it works with their schedule, and make sure they know it’s okay to say no.

          2. anonymous73*

            I disagree that’s it’s a harsh assessment. Boss may not be doing it intentionally, but OP provided her availability and the boss is taking advantage of her. Once OP said yes the first time, the boss kept asking. So yes it was manipulative and abusing OP’s good nature, whether intended or not.

            1. Green great dragon*

              I find this a really odd take. Boss is simply continuing to offer the opportunity to pick up extra shifts for extra pay, LW having accepted this offer in the past. That’s the opposite of manipulative. LW doesn’t say anywhere she has told the boss they’d rather not have them.

              In my 1-day-a-week school-time job I appreciated all the extra shifts I could get. LW does not. Boss doesn’t know LW’s view unless they tell them.

              1. Office Lobster DJ*

                I don’t know. Let’s not forget it’s a staff of three. With a staff of three (and one being the doctor), I think it’s more likely to be a pressured “need you to come in and staff the front desk [or we can’t open]” situation. Perhaps that’s the answer, though, for OP to treat it like a simple offer to pick up an extra shift.

              2. anonymous73*

                Not odd at all. OP always says yes. Boss relies on this and even though they agreed to a specific schedule, boss is taking advantage of the fact that OP always says yes. Like I said, it may not be intentional, but boss is taking advantage of OP’s generosity.

                1. Rolly*

                  ” The boss knows that OP is available one day/week anyway.”

                  No, the opposite: the OP has said yes many times so appears to be available much more than that.

              3. Rusty Shackelford*

                Right. We have no way of knowing what the boss is thinking. For all we know, the boss thinks the OP welcomes the additional shifts.

              4. doreen*

                Does the boss know she’s only available one day a week ? If I was either the boss or the employee involved in filling a one day a week job, I’m not at all sure that I would bring up availability on other days – and I definitely know that when I was in college there were times when my availability was different than usual. Maybe I wasn’t normally available on Thursday but I am this week because there are no classes on Thursday or classes are following a Monday schedule on Thursday. And I always would have wanted the extra shift if that happened.

            2. SnappinTerrapin*

              Well, what they have here is a failure to communicate. The boss is inferring that LW is willing to accept the shifts, because she is accepting them. He is, in a sense, “taking advantage” of her good nature, but probably assuming it is mutually beneficial.

              She needs to speak up, and clearly define what she is or is not willing to do beyond what she initially agreed to. The doctor’s response to that will clarify whether intends to treat her honorably by keeping the agreement, or to abuse her good will.

              That information will inform her decision about her next step.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          However, the boss might not always have this foremost in mind and might also assume that the OP would decline the requests if the OP couldn’t afford the time, and even that the OP might want the extra hours and pay. It’s the OP’s responsibility to turn down shifts she doesn’t have time to cover, not her boss’.

        3. kittymommy*

          Except the OP is then agreeing to the extra shifts. The boss is not a mind reader and may be assuming the the OP appreciates the extra shifts/money.

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Seriously. LW1 needs to use their words. Accepting extra shifts when asked and then seething about it because their boss should’ve known they didn’t actually want the extra shifts, when they haven’t actually tried saying “No thanks, I can’t make that work with my school schedule,” does not make boss the jerk.

        1. Forrest*

          LW1 needs to use their words

          LW1, it may be as straight-forward as this– it may be that you just need to let the doctor know that you’re not available and she needs to find another solution. But I just wanted to add that it’s not unusual to struggle with things like this, especially early on in your career. “Use your words” sounds so simple, but it takes a lot of practice to be able to do that confidently!

        2. anonymous73*

          The OP is 20 years old. Did you know all the things at 20? Give her a break. Yes she needs to learn to say no, but your comment is a bit mean and unnecessary.

          1. Office Lobster DJ*

            20 years old and, to underscore what I said above, is part of a staff of 3….2, really, assuming the doctor can’t also staff the front desk while seeing patients. Totally agree that the OP should start by saying no and letting the office figure it out, but OP is probably well aware that there’s no call list and conscientious that no coverage means the office might not be able to open at all.

          2. Gothic Bee*

            This. Also consider the fact that OP is in school and, speaking from experience, when I was in school and working it took me a while to realize that bosses didn’t just inherently understand how important and inflexible school is.

            Plus, while I hope a medical office is a little more professional, it is very common for bosses who have young employees to pressure them into working extra shifts and being treated in ways that people who have a lot of working experience wouldn’t tolerate. That’s definitely more common in retail and food service, but when I was working an office job in college they very much just ignored my stated school schedule and assumed I’d work the shifts they scheduled me for anyway. I ended up having to quit that job after just a few months.

        3. OftenOblivious*

          Naw, when I was 20, I naively thought “the boss” would remember when I could work and not work and I needed to step up when they scheduled outside of that. Or I got annoyed that they weren’t remembering my schedule. I was doing factory work one summer via temp agency and we had to check in if they wanted usf for the next day, everyday. They started assigning me to a later shift (which often was let go before a full day). I was annoyed every time they “assigned” me later shift. Then one day, I had a conflict and had to say “I can’t do the later shift” and they were all “Okay, how about earlier shift.” I had been sick with worry all day about only saying “No I can’t work later shift tomorrow” and they were all “cool” and I was on earlier shift the rest of the summer.

        4. Allison*

          This. I know when someone is young, they might internalize this idea that they should always be on-call to their employer and come in when called, saying “no” might get them in trouble, because many of us have had a job that expected this very thing. But OP should feel free to say no when they can’t come in. The doctor probably figures there’s no issue with their other employee calling out all the time because OP is always able to come in and cover, but once OP starts saying no, then maybe they’ll take the other employee to task for calling out so often.

      3. RagingADHD*

        This is the whole “ask/guess” culture thing all over again.

        People who are used to the “ask” culture work on the assumption that the person being asked is free to say yes or no. They frequently ask for things with very low stakes, and see no harm in asking because they don’t attach any obligation to the request. They are usually comfortable saying yes or no to requests from others, and don’t feel pressured to comply with requests from others against their wishes (unless there’s a special reason).

        People who are used to “guess” culture (either through social culture or family conditioning) were raised with strong taboos around saying “no.” They see asking as inherently coercive and manipulative, because saying “no” is offensive or possibly dangerous. In this culture / mindset, it is wrong to ask for anything unless the need is extremely high, because asking places an obligation on people.

        There’s no way to argue this difference out, because each viewpoint has a whole ethical and moral construct behind it. The Ask mindset focuses on personal boundaries, self-advocacy, and perceives it as respectful to give people agency. The Guess mindset focuses on interdependency and anticipating needs, and perceives it as respectful to avoid applying pressure.

        People will argue at cross purposes over this divide forever. The Ask people talk about how nobody is a mind reader, and eventually devolve into talking about dishonesty or misrepresentation. The Guess people talk about manipulation or power imbalances (real or perceived) and eventually devolve into talking about exploitation.

        The only way to bridge the gap is to go meta and point it out.

        1. Jacey*

          Thank you for this extremely clear explanation of Ask/Guess cultures and why they conflict! This just helped me understand why a friend and I keep having the same stupid argument in different guises.

    2. Antilles*

      I don’t think the boss is “abusing your good nature” nor would I call it “manipulating”. There’s no indication whatsoever that the boss is pushing OP to take it, nor that OP has even tried to say no.
      When I worked an hourly job in college, there were plenty of fellow student-workers who were thrilled to pick up extra shifts because it meant a few more bucks in your paycheck. If OP has agreed every time and hasn’t said anything to the boss, it’d be entirely reasonable for him to think OP is perfectly fine with the arrangement and just happy to get the extra cash.

    3. Anonym*

      Shout out to my first boss in retail, who agreed to me working 20 hours a week while in college and then quietly, systematically nudged my hours up to 39 (40 would have meant benefits). I was too overwhelmed and young to quickly realize what was happening, and nearly failed out of school before I caught on and quit.

      OP, Artemesia is wise. Keep your eye on your goals and your boundaries. If this job does ultimately expect more of you than you agreed to, there will be other jobs. School comes first, unless and only unless YOU decide otherwise. They don’t get to mess with that.

    4. Caroline Bowman*

      I don’t think the boss is necessarily setting out to abuse OP1’s good nature, but the pain point isn’t there yet for them to do something useful about the shirking, constantly ill employee who is at the root of the issue.

      Now. The employee who is continually needing time off may genuinely be going through a health crisis, or they may just be lazy, or something in between, but until it hurts the boss, until it’s a huge frustration for them, they won’t be moved to do too much about it.

      Which is why OP1 must, immediately and forthwith, refuse flatly to cover ever, with a big, bright smile and the nicest tone they can muster ”No, I have school”.

    5. PT*

      I supervised students that age, and a LOT of them interpret a request, ex: Are you available to cover Tangerina’s shift Friday 12-5? as You Must Cover Tangerina’s Shift Friday Or Else. But most of the time in my work’s context, we were happy to accept a “sorry I have class”, we just had to ask everyone because that’s how finding coverage works, you ask the whole team.

      It was something we had to specifically clarify, we had students cutting class to cover shifts because someone asked if they were available, or in several cases we had employees come to work intoxicated because “Well the boss asked me to come in!” We ended up telling people explicitly, do not cut class for work, do not reschedule important appointments for work, do not accept a last minute shift if you’re on medication that is unsafe for driving, if you are too sick to work do not take medicine that is unsafe for driving so you can make it through your shift, just tell us you’re not available, it’s more than fine, we are just asking and will accept a no.

      1. Artemesia*

        It is an office of three where one person is either lazy or sick — in my experience probably the former, but certainly could be the latter — and so if she doesn’t say ‘yes’ then the doctor has a real problem with coverage and she knows that. This is prime territory for a young person to not feel they can push back — and the doctor knows this. It is naive to think the doctor will not do what she can to not have to deal with the absent employee or arrange for another hire. It is naive to think the doctor doesn’t KNOW that the student employee may have difficulty covering when she has classes. In any case, the student needs to be clear that she can’t come in because she has classes — whether the Doctor is lady bountiful offering more hours or just doing the easiest thing for her.

        1. Observer*

          and so if she doesn’t say ‘yes’ then the doctor has a real problem with coverage and she knows that.

          That still doesn’t mean that the boss is manipulating the OP. On the other hand, it DOES mean that if the OP stops covering, the boss will HAVE to figure it out rather than letting things fall through the cracks.

        2. münchner kindl*

          “and I’m getting very pissed cause I don’t have the time to be covering her shifts but the doctor won’t put her foot down and just expects me to cover. ”

          But the problem is not with Amy; it’s with the doctor not hiring enough people to cover.

          The doctor doesn’t nee to put her foot down and deny Amy being sick: the doctor needs to hire more people or people with more hours.

          OP can’t force the doctor though – but if a full-time or even 3-day receptionist is hired, OP might loose the job anyway.

  7. Pennyworth*

    #1 – Someone else must have been covering for Amy before you started working there, unless her illness is recent. Stick to your one day a week, they can sort out cover for Amy’s shifts.

    1. MK*

      It’s possible (probable) the person who had the OP’s job before was willing to work more hours, and so the manager is used to having the OP’s role covering for Amy. I agree the OP should stick to the agreed upon schedule, but they should also be prepared to leave the job. From a business perspective it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have one full-time employee, one part-time employee who can’t cover the full-time employee’s absenses and a sort-of temp to come in when needed, when the two last roles might easily be rolled into one.

      1. Empress Ki*

        They agreed to employ OP one day/week.If they wanted someone available more than that, they should have said so from the start.

        1. Green great dragon*

          I don’t think they’re doing anything wrong in offering LW extra overtime! If they do force her out the job over it then your comment would be justified, but there’s absolutely no sign that will happen from what LW wrote, and I don’t think they should worry overmuch about it at this stage. Start with a polite “sorry I can’t” before we get into preparing to leave.

          1. Loulou*

            Yes! Why leap to dire consequences when OP apparently hasn’t even tried saying “sorry, I have class”?

        2. Kiki*

          I agree that the business should have been more upfront about sick coverage, but maybe this hadn’t been a frequent issue until recently. I don’t want to dissuade LW from advocating for themselves and their needs because it is the most likely possibility that the doctor doesn’t realize the LW is overextending themself to provide coverage. But it’s also a possibility that the doctor will look for somebody to replace LW who has more availability. I don’t say this because I think LW shouldn’t advocate for their agreed-upon time, I say this because I want to reassure the LW that in the small chance they are let go, it’s not at all because they were unreasonable or a bad employee— this business didn’t correctly assess their needs when they hired.

          1. Kiki*

            I also want to throw out there that the likeliness of being replaced right now is quite low due to the labor market. A job that guarantees only one day of work but wants wide open availability for coverage isn’t competitive and there aren’t many people who would be able to fill that job.

          2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            Or Amy got sick/had added caregiving duties added since the LW got hired. Just because something worked a month or so ago doesn’t mean it still works, especially since we are still in a pandemic. We don’t know, the LW doesn’t know, so she just needs to state her needs and let the dice fall as they may. Luckily this isn’t the worst time to find a job

  8. Cedrus Libani*

    For OP #5: in my experience, it’s both easy and common to rope in current peer-level employees to speak to the candidate. You’re currently the boss of these people, you can decide they have a meeting, and so you put them on the interview schedule and then make yourself scarce. If the candidate is wise, they’ll ask questions about your management style, and your employees can tell the truth without your presence warping the conversation. (Bonus: if the candidate is unwise, they may reveal undesirable personality traits once they’re no longer in polite-to-superiors mode.)

    In fact, this setup is so common that I’ve seen it in cases where there was CLEARLY something wrong at the top. Most people can’t lie worth a quarter of a darn, and while they can try to tap-dance a polite synonym for “the boss is a raving lunatic”, it’s been transcendently obvious to me.

  9. WS*

    OP #1: I accidentally put someone in your position and I shouldn’t have. Another employee was going through a major family crisis that meant she was often out at short notice, and this (reliable and competent) employee had mentioned that she was open to doing more shifts because she was saving money to move house. So I mentally moved her to the top of my call list, called on her frequently and she always said yes…until she broke down in tears because she never got to see the boyfriend she was planning to move in with, since his work shifts were opposite hers. I had no idea. So as long as you’re saying yes, your boss is happy, Amy is happy, other staff are happy…and nobody knows you’re not happy. Speak up!

    1. londonedit*

      Definitely speak up. I can imagine the OP is thinking ‘my boss should know I have school commitments and I can only work one day a week’ but the boss isn’t seeing all the rearranging that’s happening behind the scenes. All they’re seeing is the OP saying yes and turning up to cover the shifts. So they’re assuming it’s fine to carry on asking.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes this so much. I’ve overscheduled someone (Fred) before now when I had to manage a cover rota of staff because they accepted all of the shifts I offered them. Fred complained to a colleague (Mabel) that he had too many and Mabel came to me indigently on his behalf and complained and there was much mess and emoting. Honestly I’d much rather Fred had said to me “I can’t do all these shifts.” People aren’t always good at picking up unhappiness signals and sometimes go by what you say rather than what you’re feeling.

        If your boss is a reasonable person who isn’t picking up on your unhappiness then it’s much the best thing to say expressly that you can’t pick up more shifts and stop picking them up. The boss will make other arrangements.

    2. Bagpuss*

      Yes, If you don’t speak up, your boss may not realise it is even an issue for you (and while one extra day every week is a lot, and it’s double your normal hours, if boss works full time it probably seem less to them, and they may even be assuming that as you keep saying ye to the extra shifts that you are happy with the opportunity to boost your income.

      Start saying no when they ask you to cover, and if you like, if you have said no a couple of times and they are still asking, maybe say “Due to my school commitments, I don’t have any spare capacity to take on extra hours – I will let you know if that changes”

      1. Saberise*

        But it’s not one extra day a week. It started out that way but for the last 5 weeks it’s been multiple shifts a week. Probably once she started agreeing they just kept piling more on.

      1. Anon all day*

        But that’s not necessarily the case here. Many people would love to have extra hours, so I don’t think continually offering them to someone who always says yes (without any indication otherwise) is taking advantage of them.

        1. londonedit*

          I think ‘taking a good employee for granted’ is different from ‘taking advantage’. If Amy’s absences are causing a headache for the boss, and they know the OP is always willing to step in, it’s easy to take that for granted and not even think about it – Amy calls in sick, boss asks OP if they can cover. It’s not necessarily deliberately taking advantage – especially if the OP hasn’t made it clear that they’re having to rearrange other commitments in order to cover – it’s just easy to slip into relying on someone to do something and not fully thinking about/realising the impact it might be having.

      2. SnappinTerrapin*

        Several years ago, I had an assistant manager who was overly reliant on our most reliable employee to cover absences. I had a quiet talk with him about “riding the best horse into the ground” and insisted that he spread the overtime around to cover for absences.

        I knew that worker was willing to work some overtime, so I ensured he had a fair chance at some of it. I also ensure he had a fair chance at weekends off (which is a real perk in our industry – we work the shifts our client needs us to cover.

        1. SnappinTerrapin*

          We also worked with employees whose shifts were limited to avoid jeopardizing their social security benefits, and we weeded out employees who demonstrated a pattern of unreliability. With reasonable notice, we accommodated requests for schedule adjustments to address personal or family needs, without worrying about whether the accommodations were required by law.

          Flexibility and loyalty are tw0-way streets. I had some great workers on that team. They seemed to appreciate my willingness to accommodate real needs, and they stepped up to meet real needs. It was a matter of adults working together to accomplish a common goal and to respect each others’ personal needs.

          I think it helped that they knew I was willing and able to do anything I asked them to do.

  10. Green great dragon*

    #1 Yes, just say no to the extra shifts you don’t want to work. If that causes problems that’s a whole new issue, but it shouldn’t, and it probably won’t.

    But maybe find a bit more empathy for Amy? You write as if she’s calling out when she isn’t actually sick – do you know this? Otherwise, what do you mean by the doctor putting their foot down – tell Amy to not be sick any more? Or fire her for her her health issues?

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I do wonder if Amy is calling out sick for aesthetician shifts as well as reception shifts? as I get the sense OP’s job is to cover the reception for the 1 day a week Amy is doing the aesthetician role and OP herself isn’t qualified to cover the aesthetician part. It would seem odd if Amy only ever calls out for reception shifts..

      1. MsSolo (UK)*

        Yes, I’m wondering if Amy is only calling out for reception days, which is contributing to OP’s idea she’s not really sick, if she’s able to make it in for the better paid days. Of course, there are reasons why this might be – something about the aesthetician work is impacting her ability to come in on other days, or just the fact that if she isn’t well enough to work 4 days a week she’s prioritising the day that has the most impact on her finances.

        1. BethDH*

          Though if Amy is at reception 4 days a week and is only an aesthetician on one day, and the problem is at the rate of one shift a week for about a month, it’s quite possible that it wouldn’t have been an aesthetician shift yet.

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I had a serious health problem at a previous job and my boss pulled me in to give me a lecture about abusing sick time because most often my sick days would fall on a Thursday. But that’s because the other days were days when I was responsible for something that it would be harder to get someone to cover for (a weekly meeting, public programs, my night on the rotation to work the closing shift, etc). So I ended up powering through those days and taking a sick day on Thursday because that was the day I was least likely to inconvenience somebody else by calling in sick.

          If I were Amy, this would absolutely be my thought process. She has appointments booked for that day and there’s nobody else to cover them if she’s gone, so she does what she has to do to come in on the day when she has people relying on her.

      2. Kal*

        If its a chronic illness or other ongoing thing, calling out only for the shifts where you know its possible for someone else to cover isn’t odd. If I know that I’m the only one available to do the aesthetician jobs and calling out those days would mean cancelling all of the appointments, I’d be more likely to pull myself up to go in than on a day where I’m just covering reception duties that can be picked up by some combination of OP or the boss or even a temp or something. And I’d likely do that even knowing that going in for the aesthetician shifts is a bad idea and will make me sicker and have to call out the next day.

        It could also be calling out for things like some sort of serious appointment that wipes her out all day that she schedules to be on non-aesthetician days since they are easier to cover. Given neither we nor the LW can know what the reason for the callouts is, we can’t really say that any of that would indicate anything about how “real” the illness is, nor is speculation on that front useful.

        1. PT*

          I had this happen when I caught a very nasty respiratory virus 6 or 7 years ago. I had to supervise a program three days a week for part of the day, where all hell would break loose without me present, and the other days I just did general work. So we pared my schedule down to just the 10 or so hours I was irreplaceable so I would have time to recover. It did help a lot.

    2. anonymous73*

      Yes OP saying no may cause problems, but what OP needs to understand is that they won’t be her problems to solve. She and boss agreed to one day a week. If boss needs someone to work more, they need to hire another part timer.

    3. Nanani*

      Ultimately it doesn’t matter why Amy is calling out. It’s not LW1’s business what her health issues are or if there’s another reason for the absences.

      LW1 needs to not work extra shifts, which can be accomplished by saying No.
      Leave Amy out of it entirely. Coverage isn’t LWs problem.

  11. Koala dreams*

    #3 This sounds to me more like the common confusion that exists with volunteer work, where people’s experience and time commitment varies a lot. It sounds like you volunteer in the field where you are a professional, but it’s super common to volunteer in unrelated fields. Also, it’s generally good practice to not assume volunteers will be able to give the same attention to their volunteer work as a paid professional would.

    Definitely you should share your experience and your expectations for the project since you have expertise in the area, but you also need to be open to the differences between a paid job and volunteer work. The situation isn’t and shouldn’t be the same.

    1. Reba*

      I had the thought that the mismatch had to do with the nature of this meeting. It sounds like the director might have been thinking introductory meeting while OP3 was treating is as a project kickoff meeting. Of course, I wasn’t there but to me it sounds like the director was feeling out if this project will be a good fit, how much you can do, and then confirming OP can go forward.

      Like, OP is a volunteer who was referred by another volunteer, and this was her first contact with the leadership, right? The director simply doesn’t know anything about you at that point. So OP3 is likely right that she was mentally “placed” at a lower level by the director, but I also don’t think it’s reasonable to be offended by that. Just correct the impression and make it clear what you can offer in terms of skills and time.

      1. Willis*

        This was definitely my read on it. The director was probably surprised the OP had done all this background work ahead of an introductory meeting about working together. And the OP seems like she felt she already had a green light to lead this project based on the conversation with her friend so dove into it. I don’t really get anything weird or insulting from the director.

        1. ChaCha*

          Yeah, now that some commentors have mentioned that, I can see where the misunderstanding comes from from that angle as well. I do think she thinks I am younger and more inexperienced than I am, but I am not at all offended by that. And if the director ultimately doesn’t think I’m the right person with the right experience, I would be more than happy to just assist as needed.

  12. Forrest*

    OP5– you sound like you’ve getting a bit fixated on this honesty thing! Remember there isn’t a single objective definition of honesty, and these conversations are going to go all sorts of different ways, because they are conversations between two people and they will bring their own rapport, agendas, and personal experiences to it. One person’s “honest” assessment is another person’s, “I don’t care about this stuff, why is she telling me this?”One candidate will get a more “honest” assessment of your strengths and weaknesses as a manager than another, because the employee feels more comfortable talking to them, or because they ask the right questions, or just because the employee feels like on the day.

    To be candid (!), you need to relax a little about this– at the moment I’m wondering whether your besetting sin as a manager is feeling the need to over-control every little thing. You can’t determine what two people will talk about in a room that you’re not in, and you can’t guarantee the perfect hiring experience by controlling that. You need to accept the limits of your power here!

  13. The Lexus Lawyer*

    OP1 – doctors aren’t used to hearing “no.”

    I hope Alison’s advice works, but I would also be looking for a backup job in case the doctor keeps insisting.

    Either way, just keep it about yourself. It’s not your responsibility to be on call for someone else’s call outs.

    1. Chili pepper Attitude*

      I also wonder if OP #1 is struggling bc the doctor is not asking her to cover but seems to the OP to be telling her to?

      The answer is still the same. If you get a call to work an extra day or see it on a schedule, still say, I’m so sorry, I have class that day and cannot come in. I was happy to help the past few weeks but I cannot keep missing class or rescheduling appointments.

      Or even, I can make it today but wanted to let you know, I was happy to help in the past … continue script.

      Best of luck to you with school and work and in setting boundaries!!

      1. Velocipastor*

        This is my read on the situation as well. The LW makes it clear that this is a 3-person staff including the doctor. If she says no, does the office have to close for the day? Does Amy then have to come in while ill? My first job was a coffee shop that had a very small staff and some days of the week only 2-3 people were available. It was an unspoken rule that if you got called to cover that day, you weren’t being “asked,” you were being told to come in. I could see that being the case here, even if the doctor wouldn’t fire LW for saying no, it might feel that way to them because they are so young in the workforce and there is no one else to call.

        1. Mr. Cajun2core*

          Exactly. She is also a temp. I know if I were in her situation, I would tread very carefully because I would be afraid to be fired.

          If I were her I would go more with, “I like helping out when I can but sometimes it is really difficult for me to do so. Is there a way we can figure something else out? I will still help out when I can but I would hate to leave you in a bad situation if for some reason it is physically impossible for me to cover her shift.”

        2. Just stoppin' by to chat*

          Yes I was thinking there was some dynamic here where the LW felt like they couldn’t say no. Since the first time they were asked to work on a day when they had other commitments, they could have said no from the get-go. But then kept rescheduling or asking for project extensions. That’s a pretty big deal, so seems like there is a reason the LW is afraid/unable to decline the extra shifts. Unfortunately, there is definitely a mentality taught to predominantly women (not saying the LW does identify as a woman) of being a helper, etc. That’s what came across to me in the letter…there must be a reason why declining the first time they already had a commitment wasn’t their first response.

          LW – If you’re reading this, you do not have to say yes anytime asks something of you. Your time is also valuable, and it is okay to say no. If reading this makes you even a little anxious, please see this as an opportunity to start advocating for yourself. Your time, your life, your everything is VALUABLE and worthy just like anyone else’s.

          Now to be fair I don’t know where you are located, so you might be in a situation where you truly feel like you can’t decline extra shifts. However, I hope it’s just a matter of changing your mentality, and that if you trust yourself to say no you will realize you will survive any consequences. Good luck!

      2. Also Anon this Time*

        I wonder if it’s possible to let the call go to voicemail and then call back after class, with an “I’m sorry I missed your call while in class, what did you need?” This could emphasize in a more low key way OP’s college commitments while also splitting the difference and being helpful.

        I also suspect that OP’s position has always as the part timer been seen as the “cover for Amy” role, and it wasn’t mentioned in the interview process.

        1. Just stoppin' by to chat*

          That’s a good idea about using logistics to solve this. I have a haunch the LW might be anxious about letting the call go to voicemail (or however they are contacted), but once they do it the first time, it will probably feel so freeing!

          LW – Since it’s such a small staff, is it possible you all are very connected, and you feel guilty not helping? Like that you would be letting someone down. You are an employee, that’s it. You are not letting anyone down. Prioritize your time and your commitments first, and then work your one scheduled day a week without guilt. I know that can be hard to do, but know you have a whole community of ask a manager followers to support you!

      3. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I would suggest saying no in the moment of the request, and then having a big picture conversation with the boss about it. Something like “I want to do well in this job and be helpful to you, but in the past when I’ve worked more that our agreed upon one day a week, I haven’t had enough time to complete me school work and I’ve had to shift appointments around and ask professors to extend their deadlines for my projects, and I can’t keep doing that.”

      4. Nanani*

        For emphasis, even if it’s not an actual lecture time, LW1 should still say no.
        Study time and time to work on projects is also more important than covering a shift at a part time job that I’m willing to bet is not your planned post-school career.

  14. Emmy Noether*

    That linked post from 2013 about the potentially contagious coworker is an interesting read from today’s perspective… comments about quarantines and face masks and everything that seemed unusual then but has become all-too-familiar now.

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      Found a few old status updates on the book of faces in my memories where I’m railing against a coworker who insisted on coming in sick. With what was later diagnosed as whooping cough. While I had children too young to have been fully vaccinated. Difference between 2011 and now…is that instead of wondering why on earth its not acceptable to WFH in such a case and why I can’t just tell him to GTFO of my office, well. I’d tell him exactly that today, to GTFO and go work from home (had no authority over his work, we were at an equal level. So my reaction was limited to “hey jack@$$, don’t spread a virus that could kill my children over here, go away” and asking to relocate to a different office while the clown was sick.

      1. RagingADHD*

        Good grief, whooping cough? Which always had a pretty substantial rate of breakthrough infections anyway.

      2. Ally McBeal*

        Your comment reminded me of the time that my coworker gave me bronchitis twice in one winter. Our cubicles were next to each other, we were friendly, and only senior-level people got to work from home (and even then it was highly discouraged). I’m so glad I have a job now with way more WFH flexibility… and higher cubicle walls.

    2. Antilles*

      The part that stuck out to me in reading that letter is just how simple it seems to us here in 2022.
      -The word “mask” isn’t mentioned once in the question or answer.
      -He clearly thought nothing of coming in to work very sick on a regular basis and nobody said anything
      -The “quarantine” wasn’t working from home or anything, it was simply going to a private office – which for a small company probably means he’s still relatively close just that now he’s got a door.
      -In the last paragraph, OP is clearly uncomfortable with even the mild actions they took

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        There is a discussion about masking in the comments though, which I was a little surprised by.

  15. Merrie*

    I manage a lot of part timers and I always make it clear to them at the outset that they’ll get asked to pick up extra shifts, but we know they have other commitments, we are asking just in case and it is totally okay to say no. They do say no very frequently so I think they got the memo.

  16. anonymous73*

    #1 In addition to what Alison said, be okay with saying no even if you don’t have a conflict. Just because they ask, and you are available, doesn’t mean you HAVE to say yes. Sometimes you need a break and that’s okay. Also realize that if you saying no causes your boss problems, they are not your problems to solve. But you do have to speak up. And don’t wait until the next time boss asks you to cover for Amy.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Exactly! I know in my early career I went in on days that I probably shouldn’t have just because I technically didn’t have any other scheduled responsibilities that day. But OP, your ability to study, get your schoolwork done, or just rest and recover from a stressful week, is something you can prioritize for yourself.

  17. Leilah*

    I was in a situation like LW1 once. I had to quit.

    It was a job where I was supposed to just be “relief” help — when one of the two full time people had a day off. Then one of those full-time people quit. I told them I would work no more than 4 days a week and a shorter shift than normal, but the position paid so low (like $8/hr) that they couldn’t hire anyone. I trained three different people who all ghosted within a month. After almost 9 months of that (with many conversations about what they should or could try to make it work), I just quit altogether. There refused to raise the pay or change the way they advertised the job, or do anything else to make it work. I was sad – I was doing it mostly for the fun of it, but I couldn’t maintain that many hours once my business entered it’s busy season. I sometimes wonder how they got on after that. I think they might have closed the location.

  18. Plebeian Aristocracy*

    Is a “medical aesthetics office” the same as a “plastic surgery office”? Anyone know why they might do the name change?

    1. words*

      Could be things like Botox treatments and laser hair removal — not plastic surgery because there’s no surgical component.

    2. Ray Gillette*

      Not necessarily. There are a lot of cosmetic medical procedures that aren’t surgery, like laser.

    3. UKDancer*

      I’d think it’s more like minor procedures that don’t need a surgeon. I go to one for laser hair removal. They do hair removal, tattoo removal, skin peels and that type of thing. More of a medical look than a luxury spa look. The treatments tend to be more on the improving your appearance side but stop short of actual plastic surgery.

    4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I was wondering small dermatology practice? And Amy does things like hair removal type services one day a week?

    5. Librarian of SHIELD*

      My dermatology office offers both medical and aesthetic treatments, so I assumed something along those lines.

    6. Filosofickle*

      I assumed esthetics = things an esthetician would do, like facials, chemical peels, dermabrasion, hair removal. And the medical distinction because it is doct0r-led and clinical in nature vs. a day spa that offers a relaxing experience.

  19. Christina*

    LW1: My youngest did dual enrollment in high school – their senior year of high school and their first year of college at the same time. And they also briefly had their first job. Retail, big box. But their supervisor at their first job was a “the job comes first” person – and would regularly schedule them for over classes, over extracurriculars, and for more hours than they wanted to work. They ended up quitting. In college, school needs to come first. Say no. And, in this environment, its easy enough to find another job if you need to.

  20. Another_scientist*

    OP#5 reminds me of a case where a candidate reached out to a would-be peer asking some questions about working on that team. The employee put in an email his scathing review of the bosses’ leadership (not the smartest move), and the applicant FORWARDED it to the boss, asking him to respond to the criticism (who does that?). Maybe just a reminder that some messy things will happen, no matter how hard you try.

    1. Sea Anemone*

      Wow, holy cats. I would have so many follow up questions for a candidate who did that. Kudos for wanting both sides of the story, but there are so many reasons why places keep the source of complaints confidential when addressing said complaints, and this candidate just didn’t. Like, why did they think that was a good idea?

      1. another_scientist*

        it’s the epitome of a disfunctional group in a disfunctional department in academia. The only fallout was that the applicant declined the job offer. I believe the employee is still working there.

  21. The OTHER Other*

    #4 In a functional organization, a manager being overworked, or being pulled in multiple directions, or floundering, can be an excellent opportunity to advance. When there was turnover in lower management at my old job I just started taking on some of the duties that were neglected and basically forced them to promote me into the role.

    But signs indicate your organization is dysfunctional. This manager is absent for months at a time, and when she does show up (semiannually?) she tells her reports they’re failing and need PIP’s? HR say they will “gently reevaluate” managers? And suggest “ doing what you need to do to find your own success” in lieu of management?

    I would “ do what you need to do to find your own success” at another company.

    1. Observer*

      I would “ do what you need to do to find your own success” at another company.

      Yes. Your HR is bonkers and the whole place is a mess.

      1. Candi*

        And make sure they have not-work-related contact info for the peeps they know are good workers. Once at a successfully functional company, #4 may want to tell them about open positions.

        (It’s not poaching if all #4 does is kick the job listing their way.)

  22. I'm just here for the cats*

    Per a quick google search
    “Medical Aesthetics is the practice of performing medical procedures to help patients achieve their aesthetic goals. Many aesthetic procedures are quick, minimally invasive, safe, effective, and require little downtime.”

  23. Punkin*

    LW #3 Sounds like a pretty basic misunderstanding. The director viewed the meeting as an interview to see if you were a fit for what they needed while you thought you were presenting your vision for a project you were already leading. You said your friend is a volunteer but offered for you to lead the initiative. Is it possible your friend overpromised or exceeded their authority as a volunteer in what they told you? I would definitely get clarity from the director on who has the authority to approve things as you move forward with the project.

    1. cubone*

      This is exactly what I want to know more about. What is the friend’s role as a volunteer? What is their relationship to the director? Does the friend have a role in the project OP3 is supposed to “lead”, or any similar experiences/expertise?

      I feel like OP3 had expectations for the chat with the director, but they/we have no idea if what the directors expectations were and the whole “project” OP expects to lead sounds like it’s only been communicated through a game of telephone.

    2. londonedit*

      Yep, I think this is exactly what’s happened. OP thought they were already leading the project and turned up ready to get stuck in with a meeting with a peer; the director thought they were having an initial chat with a volunteer who might want to help out.

      I’ve been on the opposite side of this sort of thing before – years ago a friend was involved with setting up a charity event, and asked me if I’d mind coming along to one of his meetings because I knew more about a certain subject than he did. Say there were going to be free llama grooming classes on the day of the event, and my friend knew that I did a bit of llama grooming as a hobby. I said yes, happy to come along and share any insight that might be useful. This meeting turned out to be a full-on meeting of the charity’s board, and they had it in their heads that I was some kind of llama grooming expert who could give them all the information they’d need about how to organise the free grooming on the day, what grooming products they’d need to buy, how many volunteer groomers they’d need, etc etc. Whereas my level of input was more ‘Well, when I’ve been to these things in the past they’ve had a nice big tent for the llamas and plenty of hay’. I got the impression the charity board really wasn’t very impressed with me – but I had no idea I was meant to be there as an expert! And I think that’s probably the exact opposite of what’s happened here. OP thought they were going in as an expert and the director thought they were interviewing a potential extra pair of hands.

    3. Sea Anemone*

      Yes, I thought of this too. OP’s friend asked them to lead the project, but that doesn’t mean it was in the bag. I can see the confusion, but the initial conversation was definitely an interview, not a project kick off.

    4. MCMonkeyBean*

      I agree. I think it’s mostly that OP thought this was a done deal and the other person thought this was an initial chat to decide whether they would move forward together.

      I do think it is also possible that the other person assumed OP was younger than they are based on the “in school” information, which some of the comments like being surprised OP has a kid may be coming from. Nothing to do with intern vs volunteer really, but it may be true they were underestimating OP’s experience. I don’t think that will be an issue going forward though, just some additional confusion mixed into this first meeting.

    5. Name Required*

      I’m curious how this misunderstanding even happened. How did they get through an entire scheduling process and intro meeting without OP’s credentials coming up? Or even an agreement about what the meeting was about? Most meetings I’ve had where I’m pitching something, or someone is pitching something to me, there’s some context setting at meeting start, i.e. “I appreciate your time today. Since Friend explained this project to me, I’ve been enthusiastic about volunteering. As background on me, I have X,Y degrees/credentials and have been working in this area for Z years. Some similar projects I’ve contributed to are blah blah blah. I think I can make a great contribute here. I have some materials I’ve prepared … ” You know? Even in the meeting request, there’s something like, “Let’s schedule 30 minutes to get to know each other.” vs “Let’s schedule a hour so I can introduce myself and share my proposal for X area based on what Friend has already briefed me on to see if what you are looking for.”

      On the flip side, when I did volunteer and intern as a college student and young adult, there was always a request for a resume and we started the meeting by talking about our mutual needs, existing competencies, and any competencies I was hoping to develop as a potential intern. Even if director didn’t know a single thing about OP, they didn’t ask at all … at any point? They were willing to discuss program initiatives and set a meeting with someone they hadn’t even Googled?

      1. Sea Anemone*

        I am guess that the meeting was intended to be the intro and pitch meeting where director would ask OP about their experience. That’s the actual mismatch in expectations, not intern vs seasoned professional, but intro meeting vs kick off meeting.

        1. Name Required*

          I guess I’ve only contacted spectacularly organized volunteer directors, because my experience has been that if I’ve gotten to a meeting with a director, I’ve already received some basic guidance on volunteer expectations and an outline of their vetting process from the director, so the director didn’t waste time talking to me when our objectives are misaligned (i.e. directors protecting themselves from over-eager volunteers). Maybe that’s why I’m surprised. I could believe you could get to a meeting with different understandings, I just don’t know how you hear an entire pitch from someone about a specific thing without stopping them at some point and saying, “Today, I’d just like us to get to know each other. Let’s talk about this another time.” Idk. This may be a sign that the meetings I participate in are better organized and lead than I currently appreciate.

          1. cubone*

            so, I can’t speak to the relevancy in this particular situation, but I used to work for a nonprofit that had a volunteer role that had an element of frontline service provision and thus was in high, high demand for people who wanted to apply to social work type programs that needed a certain amount of experience hours.

            As a result, basically anyone who worked there got near CONSTANT contacts from friends, friends of friends, second cousins, neighbour’s third cousins, and complete strangers desperately asking to network/meet/”learn more about the organization” or “discuss volunteering opportunities” because they thought we had some secret backchannel “in” outside of the application process (nope). We had good template type responses, FAQ resources, etc., but if it was someone close to me (or very close to a very close friend), occasionally I did say yes as a personal favour and have a quick chat, pointing them to these resources and outlining the process with 1% more detail than the website (so not feeding them secrets to give them a leg up, just encouragement and a bit about my own experience working there).

            It’s honestly impossible to tell from OP’s letter what this director was told. I don’t assume it was the same situation I’ve described, but honestly from my experiences, I can 10000% see a situation where OP’s friend told the director OP was great, capable, and eager to take on this project, and the director thought okay, I’ll have an introductory meeting with them and learn more about them. As to why that wasn’t clear before the meeting, well, why would it be if the director assumed OP was on the same page as them? This doesn’t sound like the director was anticipating “new volunteer onboarding” or “project kickoff”, but more like a casual chat to explore possibilities. I really think the whole thing sounds like a big misunderstanding/mixed up game of telephone.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        I think it’s pretty easy if the connection was made by a third party not to be on the same page. It’s not quite the same thing but I remember in grad school the career counselor set up a call with me and a potential employer–I thought it was just a short screening phone call but it turned out to be like an actual phone interview so I was not as prepared as I should have been lol. Kind of the opposite of OP I guess, where they were more prepared than the other party was expecting at that stage.

    6. ChaCha*

      Yes, this is a good analysis. I didn’t consider it from that angle, but that makes sense too. To some of the other comments on this thread, I will say that this is a smaller organization and there has been some other miscommunication things happening. But I was never asked for credentials or for an actual interview. I could definitely see now, in hindsight, that the director may have intended for that type of conversation but then was surprised when I was presented a project outline and just rolled with it. Hmmm… definitely not my intention though!

  24. Nanani*

    #1: School is more important than your part time job!
    To emphasize Alison’s response – stop taking extra shifts immediately. Stop asking for extensions, even if your profs are understanding right now it is not guaranteed to still be available, especially if you -keep- asking for them instead of clearing out what’s making you need them. Or next semester your prof just doesn’t give them, at least not for work as opposed to “I was in the hospital”.

    School is more important. School is your priority. Tell your boss no, because of school, and it is not your problem if boss doesn’t manage to arrange coverage. It just isnt.

  25. Elizabeth West*

    I appreciate the transparency from #5. AwesomeBoss at Exjob did something similar; she was remote so we had our initial interview via phone. Then she set up a meeting with the local team and I got to talk to them in-depth.

    That’s the kind of manager I’d like to work for. I’ve been feeling like I’ll never find another AwesomeBoss again, but then I see this and I know there are more of them out there.

  26. I AM Sparkling }:(*

    #2: I think not telling the employee about the stain was the right move. Chances are she knew she had a stain in a noticeable spot and was self-conscious enough already. Even if it was something that would wash out easily, having a big wet spot on her chest wouldn’t help any.

    I used to work retail and I’ve been there myself, having to work half a shift with a ketchup stain on a light colored shirt, smack dab in the middle of my stomach. I knew it was there, trust me. I didn’t drive then so I couldn’t go home to change, I didn’t have money for a new shirt, and we weren’t allowed to “borrow” clothes. Trying to wash it out with soap and water only made it worse because it spread and the paper towels left little fuzzballs. I think every customer I had helpfully pointed out the big orange spot on my tummy and it got just a wee bit tiresome after an hour :D

  27. OftenOblivious*

    For OP1 — something that took me awhile to learn is that “if it’s working” the job is rarely going to make a change. So if you change around your life to cover a shift that means things are working and there’s no reason for change (from the job’s perspective). Of course, it’s not actually working for you and yes, a really really great boss would frame “Do you have class or are you able to come in?” but you will need to hold the line “I have class, I’m not able to come in.” Heck, they might think they’re doing you a favor by giving you more hours. Go with Alison’s scripts. When you hire a student, they have classes! The classes don’t move. I know you have projects too, etc, but stick with classes/class work as your hardline on “No, sorry, I’m not availabe.”

    1. Nanani*

      This! And even if it’s not a literal set in stone lecture/lab/etc, doing your homework, studying, working on projects, and getting enough sleep are also important.

      I just want LW1 to not think classes are the only reason to say no. Being in school overall is more important, and they get to say no to any and all shifts that get in the way of that.

      1. Jayn*

        I’m suddenly having flashbacks to the summer I worked as a security guard. I’d been working 8-8 night shifts, and got offered the opposite side one day. Since I could use the money and didn’t have other plans I accepted. I figured out within an hour how big a mistake that was (I called in for relief but didn’t get any until my second call…8 hours later. Lack of sleep wasn’t the only issue I had that day). After that I was more assertive about turning shifts down, even if I could technically make them (one I was offered was practically around the corner but very last minute and they woke me up when they called to ask).

        Saying “no” can be a valuable skill.

  28. Marie*

    OP#5, I used to be a manager for a place that did this, and was worried about the same thing, but I found the problem was mostly self-solving. Employees carrying that toxic past workplace baggage by and large didn’t volunteer for this, because they didn’t trust it, or had overcorrected their boundaries and were leery about doing *any* volunteering beyond their job description.

    There was one exception who did volunteer for it, and I initially worried about what they’d say. But I later heard from newly hired staff that it helped them get good info on their future coworkers as well as the workplace. They didn’t have to spend that first month or two as a new hire carefully figuring out which coworkers were prickly, conflict-averse, direct and assertive, overly positive, etc. They got to see those styles play out in that pre-hire conversation, so they already knew some of the social dynamics among their coworkers on their first day.

  29. The Rafters*

    OP 3. We have had people who barge in, thinking they are going to take over, and actually try to *order* other *volunteers* to perform certain tasks because “you’re doing this all wrong.” New vol, of course, doesn’t put in any of the actual work and doesn’t know or care about local, state or federal regulations, etc. Core volunteers are likely to either completely ignore the newbie or leave the org.

    One other thing, the friend asked OP if she wanted to be the leader of the new initiative, but the Director didn’t ask, and she may have someone else in mind. OP may have approached the call thinking that she *is* going to be the new leader of that program. That call was really an interview, though OP didn’t seem to realize that.

  30. Bratmon*

    OP#4: It seems you forgot the most important thing about HR: HR exists for the benefit of the company, not it’s employees. Unless there’s a potential lawsuit, they will always side with managers against employees.

    And Alice’s advice seems wrong here: The employees on the team already touched the “Talk to HR” fire and got burnt. Very few employees are going to give honest feedback, now that they know what happens when they do. And the ones who don’t are right to do so; no matter how much HR assures employees that the feedback is anonymous, there’s a 99% chance it somehow gets to the manager anyway.

  31. MelissaRushinIrr*


    I’ll preface my comments by stating that I’m an Executive Director of a nonprofit with a strong volunteer base.

    OP states that a friend who volunteers with the organization said they should be the leader of the new program. Volunteers in most nonprofits are NOT the people who assign roles to other volunteers. The friend in this post had no authority to tell OP that they would lead the program. They should have only made an introductory meeting possible. Nonprofits have procedures and protocols in place in regard to volunteer recruitment, applications, background checks, and training. Some will also state that to lead a program, you need to have volunteered with the organization for a certain period of time prior to leading a program. The organization might also require paid staff members to lead the programs. This has nothing to do with your qualifications and expertise and usually has to do with accountability and liability. In most nonprofits, only the Volunteer Director, Operations Director, or Executive Director would be able to assign leadership positions. If I found out one of my volunteers had tried to assign someone to a position of any sort (worker, leader, volunteer or paid), that volunteer would be thanked for their service and relieved of further duties with our organization. They are putting the organization and the organization’s mission at risk.

    OP needs to take a step back to learn about this organization (operational structure along with the mission and programming) and be ready to apologize for their misunderstanding of the purpose of the meeting with the Volunteer Director. That Director was meeting with OP for introductions and information. OP went into the meeting under the impression they already had the leadership role and were ready to begin. With no prior volunteer service to the organization, OP was ready to take over this area. Why in the world would the Volunteer Director, who had never met you, not be taken aback by a potential volunteer coming in ready to take over. OP didn’t demonstrate due diligence in understanding the organization ahead of the meeting or seek to learn that during the meeting. It could very well be that someone else is already leading this program or that they are actively recruiting someone else as either a paid employee or volunteer position.

    If this organization and its mission truly interest the OP and it’s an area that they have expertise in, schedule a second meeting with the director to explain the misunderstanding, contritely explain their expertise, and express that they would be interested in volunteering with the organization in whatever capacity the organization deems appropriate. That might be working to assist with this program, leading the program, or in another area entirely. Misunderstandings can be overcome and OP could still be a valuable volunteer resource for the organization but work is going to be required to turn this situation around.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      I agree it’s likely OP misunderstood in thinking they were already definitely leading the program, but I don’t think the need to hold a second meeting to apologize for that. It sounds like by the end of the first meeting they are mostly on the same page–with the exception that OP seems to think *they * are owed some kind of apology or acknowledgement of misunderstanding.

      I think no one really needs to apologize right now–just move forward as discussed in the previous meeting and realize in the future that you probably can’t really be put in charge of a project by another volunteer without talking to someone else at the organization first.

      1. ChaCha*

        I definitely don’t think I am owed an apology by any means! I don’t think anybody was wronged. It was just a miscommunication and a misunderstanding that I wasn’t sure how to address without it sounding like I was grandstanding. As the other commenter pointed out, by the end of the meeting I got the impression that she was glad to be working with me and that I would be taking on the project. I could be wrong of course, but I don’t think she is expecting an apology either. That would be odd, I think.

    2. Name Required*

      This is a really strange and antagonistic take, imo. If someone from your organization contacts me, pitches that I could contribute my professional skills in a specific capacity for a specific program, and then facilitates a meeting with you to discuss that … guess what, I’m showing up ready for the conversation your volunteer prepped me for. If that isn’t an appropriate thing for a volunteer to promise to an unknown external resource, the misunderstanding is completely internal to your organization and has nothing to do with me. It’s not my job to know what an organization’s volunteers are and are not tasked with helping with, or to know that an organization hadn’t asked it’s volunteer base if there were people in their network that could be tapped to help solve a program problem with a specific set of skills. If anyone needs to be apologize, it might be the friend/volunteer.

  32. For LW #1*

    Letter Write #1: Please do NOT trade your long term future for someone else’s short term problem.

    School should be your focus. Asking for extensions, missing class, or turning work in late can impact your learning, class standing, and chances for recommendations, academic internships, relationships with your classmates, etc. You will not get these hours, days, or college years back. Invest in yourself by making the most of them while you can.

    The doctor and your colleague have a short term problem about how to cover the office’s work on the four days that you are not there. That is their problem to solve–and they have lots of ways to handle it–don’t shortchange yourself by making it your problem to solve.

    And if you need to work and the doctor’s office threatens to lay you off? Go to your school counselor or career counseling office and describe your situation. There may be jobs on campus that would help make up the difference. The benefit is that these jobs can be arranged to a student schedule, are part of campus life, and may even support your future career goals (e.g., research assistant roles for college professors).

    Good luck.

  33. Observer*

    #1 – Please keep something in mind. At this point you’re considering quitting. Which means that your boss doesn’t really have a lot of leverage here. After all, if your boss fires you for refusing to come in, then you’re out of a job – but you would have been out if a job if you just quit. So, tell the boss that you can’t keep covering and then, just don’t cover. Be polite, but DO stick to your guns.

  34. ChaCha*

    OP 3 here! Thanks for all the advice! I tried to answer today during brief breaks at work, but I may have missed some comments.
    I think you all were right that there may have been a misunderstanding about the purpose of the meeting- the difference between an introductory meeting and a project kickoff. That fits pretty well with my experience. Additionally, I think there was a misunderstanding about my own experience and what I bring to the project. And that is probably because that initial introductory meeting several of you mentioned never officially happened between myself and the director. So I feel I have a much better understanding of how to proceed going forward! So thank you!

    To clarify a few points about timeline and how this misunderstanding happened in the first place: My friend gave the director my contact information (my friend never promised me anything, nor did I assume I would lead the project based off that one conversation). The director contacted me via email and put me in touch with an employee at the organization- an assistant. The assistant and I had a couple of meetings where I explained my interest, my credentials, and we brainstormed the basis of the project together to see if it was a good match for both of us. To be fair, the assistant truly was an intern and a young college student so I was never sure how much authority she had to green-light ideas. The assistant’s internship ended, so I transitioned back to working with the director directly. I had assumed that we would pick up the conversation where the assistant and I had ended it, so I was eager to jump right in. However, I can now see that she may not have had all the information about me or about those meetings and she was prepared to start over from scratch. And she was, very generously in hindsight, prepared to coach me through the project development as her student or intern. I definitely would not have seen the conversation from this perspective without all the commenters’ advice, so thank you again!

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      Ah, that makes a lot of sense that you thought you were continuing a conversation and she was basically starting over. Hope the project goes well, and I’m sure it will all be smoother now that you guys are more on the same page!

  35. lazuli*

    #5: I have found that, paradoxically, part of being truly trustworthy is being totally fine with other people not trusting you, or not trusting you completely, especially strangers. It’s not actually a good sign if someone you don’t know 100% trusts you right off the bat — they don’t know you! Trust is built up over time. Show you’re trustworthy by keeping your word, matching your actions to your speech, and acting with integrity, not by trying to force people into certain beliefs or emotions. Giving people space to doubt you or question you, and having that doubt not become a crisis for you, is part of being trustworthy.

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