Ask a Manager speed round

It’s part 2 of this year’s Ask a Manager speed round! (Part 1 was last month.) Until 4 pm ET today, I’ll be answering questions live (using some of the questions that were submitted but not answered in part 1).

Last month I answered 78 questions in two hours; we’ll see if I can match that today.

How to read answers live: Refresh the page to see new questions/answers. I’ll post new answers at the top as I go so you don’t have to scroll down to see the latest.

How to ask questions: I’m not taking new questions for this round — I received 750 questions in part 1 and only answered a fraction of them, so today is to answer more of the questions from part 1 that I didn’t get to originally.

That’s it for today! I’ve met my goal and answered 80 questions — two more than last month — so I’m knocking off 10 minutes early.

80. irrational jealousy over colleague’s promotion

I declined to apply for an open teapot engineering manager position at least three times at my current employer. My manager regularly checks in with me to gauge my interest in the promotion. Nevertheless, when someone else with less experience than me got the promotion, I was quite disappointed and jealous. Is this normal? Is this some kind of opposite of sour grapes?

I don’t think it’s abnormal. It’s not rational, but that’s a different thing. Sometimes there’s a thing where you want to be wanted, and you don’t like seeing someone else wanted for the same thing, even when you’ve already rejected said thing. Also, sometimes it’s nice to feel like that option is out there, and then when someone else gets it the option is closed off for you. (You see this in dating sometimes too, where it tends to play out in much less healthy ways.)

I think the key is to remind yourself of the reasons you turned it down, and that you did turn it down.

79. Resume after short term job

I quit my last job after a month and a half. Should I still list it on my resume?

No — that’s too short-term to strengthen your candidacy in any meaningful way, and you’ll just end up having to answer questions about what happened there (which isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, but in this case there’s no payoff in exchange for doing that, so there’s no point).

78. Dealing with a Pedantic Co-worker

Several years ago I was working in a retail job that involved services for customers (a jewelry counter that also offered watch battery replacement and band changes/resizing). For one day (and I have no idea why) a co-worker from a different department was covering at the jewelry counter essentially as a warm body since he was not trained in any of the services we provided other than unlocking cases and taking things out. When a customer needed a watch band resized, I moved to the station we used and started to work on the watch band – to then realize that my co-worker was standing so closely to me that I could feel his breath on my neck. I am very claustrophobic when it comes to people, especially people I do not feel close with, and so I took a beat and asked him as calmly as I could to please just take one small step back as I am very claustrophobic. Classic socialization – I had to be polite, I had to make sure he knew it was my issue and not his (even though he was standing way too closely), I even offered to let him stand on the other side of the station so he could see what I was doing without having to try and peer between my head and shoulder.

I’m sure his response would surprise no one – he instantly got extremely defensive and high-tailed it to the other side of the department. The rest of that time he was in the department with me was tense and awkward, but I was thinking, “At least it’s over after today.” Wrong. Every single time this co-worker would see me in my department and one of the other women who worked in my department was standing within ten feet of me, he would shout, “Be careful, she’s VeRy ClAuStRoPhObIc!!!” while rolling his eyes at me. As a 20-something woman dealing with a 40-something man, I did not know how to handle this at all – and I still kind of don’t. I said something to a manager once, but when my co-worker was asked about it he claimed it was an inside joke that he and I had (nope, I think I would be “inside” if that were the case) and it was dropped.

It’s too late for me to deal with this particular person, but any advice on how to shut someone down when they won’t let something go – but when you don’t have much standing or power or even a reporting structure to back you up?

I like telling people who are being weird that they are being weird. As in: “It’s weird that you’re so fixated on this.”

But in a case like this one where this guy was being wildly disruptive to you and to others, as well as basically mocking something that could conceivably fall in the mental health category, talking to a manager was definitely warranted, and if I could put you in a time machine to handle him differently, I’d only suggest you pull that lever earlier. I’m sorry this guy was such an ass.

77. Employees just vanish…sometimes

How much does a manager, or organization in general, owe other employees to be transparent when someone leaves for any reason — quit, retired, fired, laid-off…? I know that policies and practices are so different all over the place, but what should happen in a normal functional office? Should there be a policy for a whole organization that an announcement is made, or should it be left up to individual managers? And how uniform should it be?

“As of August 18, Fergus Ferguson has left Oatmeal Inc. We wish him all the best. Please contact Wakeen Feenix for future cinnamon requests.”

You don’t need to get into reasons, just that it happened and what people should do from here.

76. When can I take time off at a new job?

I’m about to start a new job in September, and have three days in November I was hoping to take off for a pre-planned trip. I’m worried I’ll look unprofessional if I ask for time off right after starting, but also don’t want to wait and then ask when it’s too late to cancel or change my plans. What kind of ground rules exist here, I don’t know what the normal expectations are. For reference, I previously interned with this team so I’m not a fully unknown quantity, and leadership at this company has unlimited PTO and the local management seems pretty good about stressing people take time off.

Ideally you should negotiate it as part of accepting the offer so that you’re not springing it on them afterwards. If it’s too late for that, I’d raise it as soon as possible now and frame it as plans you already had and are hoping to keep, but acknowledging that the timing might not work. More here.

75. Discussing salary

If I’m a supervisor, does that prohibit me from discussing my salary with peer supervisors? Or am I prohibited from discussing my salary with any other employees of the company?

There’s a federal law (the National Labor Relations Act) that makes it illegal for companies to prohibit employees from discussing salary with each other, but it excludes supervisors. So if you’re in management, you don’t have the protection of that law and your employer can indeed prohibit you from discussing your salary (including with peers).

74. Perfume at work?

Is perfume at work considered unprofessional? I always thought it was a finishing touch, but apparently not a universal opinion. I’m not talking patchouli oil (a personal gag small), but what’s the answer?

Unless it sits incredibly close to the skin (i.e., no one will ever smell it unless they are hugging you)*, don’t wear it to work. There’s too much chance of it bothering someone with fragrance sensitivities, and you don’t want to be giving your coworkers headaches. Plus, that issue aside, it’s not great to push one specific scent that you have chosen into other people’s workspace. They may hate it! Keep perfume for non-work occasions where you won’t have colleagues who can’t move away if they need to.

* And honestly, even if it does sit very close to the skin, I’d be wary of giving you the go-ahead. Too often people are bad judges of what others can smell.

73. Only You Can Prevent Dumpster Fires

I’m tired of being responsible for fixing a careless coworker’s contributions to our projects. I don’t want to simply let her drop the ball, because this would have negative consequences for me and disappoint our clients. It would also be embarrassing. What should I do? Should I talk to her about the problems? I’ve tried, but I can try again. Do you think I should talk to her boss?

Talk to your boss. This isn’t about complaining; it’s about flagging a work issue that’s impact your own work. Flag it the same way you would any other, less personal-feeling work problem. Explain you’ve tried addressing it directly but nothing has changed and the impact is ___.

72. TPS

Is a TPS report real or is it just pop culture integration from the movie Office Space? People always refer to it and incorporate it into office vernacular, but I think it might be a joke?

As far as I know, it’s a joke (just something they made up for the movie), but I’m sure there’s some company or field out there that really has something called TPS reports.

71. Negative employee

Can a manager ever change an employee’s view of themselves? One of my staff members is so incredibly negative, she affects the whole floor. She’s loud (just a big voice) and negative and everyone can hear it. We’ve discussed and it was in her annual review and she commented that she’s not negative at all, she’s very pleasant and people like her. Even our HR manager mentioned that she was the only person (out of 60!) to complain about everything during our *free* staff day out of the office (fun and games that people could opt out of, etc).

She’s so negative, and she doesn’t see it, so won’t work on it, even with examples of the behavior and how that affects her coworkers. Can this be turned around?

I’m very skeptical that you can turn it around in the amount of time you reasonably have available as her manager. If she was open to the feedback, that would be different (although still hard), but she insists there’s no problem.

70. Title on Resume

My company was acquired during Covid, May 1st my title was changed to match the new company’s other comparable roles and I was given a ridiculous title change from Accounting Consultant to Intelligence Engineer. I am getting my resume ready to start looking for jobs in the next month or so. What is my best option on my resume to not be thrown out based on my current position?

List it this way:

* Intelligence Engineer (Accounting Consultant)

That way employers know what the job is, but if they call to verify your employment they won’t get a completely different title than you ever mentioned to them.

69. Should I get extra pay to cover my manager’s vacation?

I’m currently covering my manager’s position while he takes a vacation that is the equivalent of just more than a business week. During this period, I’m taking on his role and continuing to meet my own daily and weekly deadlines. I have more responsibilities, final say on our weekly product delivery, and am the go-to person for any and all questions. It basically doubles my workload and I’m putting in overtime (but I’m salaried). Should I get a temporary pay boost? If so, how do I approach that?

For such a short period of time, it’s not typical to get additional pay. But if you do it more than this once, you can note on your resume that you filled in for your manager doing XYZ in his absence.

68. FMLA

I’ve tried to figure this out but can’t for the life of my find an answer. I know you generally cannot claim FMLA unless you’ve worked for a company for a year, but if you get pregnant before you’ve been working at the company for a year, but the baby won’t be born until after you’ve worked there for a year, are you entitled to use FMLA when the baby is born? Or is it on some earlier date in the pregnancy?

In other words, can you presume you’d be entitled to FMLA if you get pregnant a few months into a new job, assuming the pregnancy has no complications and goes to full term?

You are eligible for FMLA after one year of working there (assuming you have also worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months). It doesn’t matter when you got pregnant, only how long you’ve been working there when you actually need to take the leave. (Same thing with anything else — if you need FMLA to get physical therapy for your broken leg, it won’t matter that you broke the leg before you were FMLA-eligible … only that you’re eligible when your first PT appointment happens.)

So yes, if you start a job in January, get pregnant in April, and give birth the following January, you will be able to take FMLA for your maternity leave because you’ll have been there one year.

67. Was this an interview faux pas

At the end of a series of interviews, to show how excited and interested in the job and company, I said if I was offered the job I’d definitely accept the offer. Since they my brain has been going “was that too much?” Thus my question, is doing that a red flag to people hiring employees? Because honestly, the job would be a life changing experience for me (a 24% increase in income, excluding bonuses. And my first job not involving sales)

No, you’re fine. In the future I’d avoid saying you’d definitely accept because it can make negotiating salary a little more awkward, but people say stuff like that and interviewers don’t consider it a red flag (unless there are other reasons to think that, like that you haven’t had a chance to learn anything about the job yet).

66. Do I put an interim title on LinkedIn/my resume?

I am VP of Teapots, and report to the President of Teapots. The President of Teapots is going on leave soon, and for several months I will be Interim President of Teapots. Is this temporary title change something I put on my resume in the future? On the one hand it’s just a few months, but on the other hand, I will be assuming President of Teapots duties fully for a few months! What makes sense?

Yes, you absolutely should. It doesn’t need to be a whole separate listing for that job, but it can be a bullet point:

* Acted as Interim Director of Teapots for three months in fall of 2022 (then add details)

65. recruited then quickly rejected

An in-house recruiter for a competitor reached out to me. I ignored the note until he followed up a week later, then I figured hey why not find out what they’re looking for, and we scheduled a call.

They gave me very little information about the role aside from a few bullet points. When I asked why they came to me, they said they found me through a team of people they have who scour their competitors for good candidates, who then supply those names to the recruiters. So I thought they must have known, you know, the basics of my background, and what I do, and what I’ve done.

But after we talked for an hour, and then they said they weren’t going to be moving ahead with me to the next stage. They didn’t say why.

Am I right to be a little put off by this? They reached out to me! Twice! It was my first time being recruited for something, so maybe this is just how it works.

Nah, this is how it works. They saw you had the basic profile of who they’re looking for and so the next logical step is to talk and probe more deeply — but it makes sense that at that point they will realize that some portion of the people they’re talking to aren’t as strongly matched as the others.

64. Pull back from being helpful

I started teaching the people a step below me. I think I’ve inadvertently taught them not to look up answers. I’ll give them the answer and where to find it for next time, and have started taking time before I answer. But are there other ways?

Next time, ask, “What have you tried so far?” or “What did you find when you looked it up?”

You can also tell them directly what you want: “Now that you have some experience with this, I’d like you to try solving problems like this on your own first and then come to me if you’re stuck — but I should warn you that I’m going to ask you what you’ve tried so far when you do.”

63. Dream life

If money was no object, what would you do all day?

Read novels. Eat carby things. Take many naps.

62. Company ghosted me, can I reach out again?

I had a phone interview with a company I’d be really excited to work for. I emailed them a thank you using your advice, and was told I’d hear back in a week. I waited two weeks and followed up, and they said they’d make sure my name had been passed on properly. I left it alone after that and never heard another word.

If I’m still job searching months later, could I email them again? Or would that be too pushy?

If it’s just been 2-3 months, it’ll be too pushy. They already know you’re interested and they interviewed you; if they wanted to move you forward, they would. If it’s been more like 6+ and the job is still open … well, I still wouldn’t, because the above still applies, but it won’t look as pushy.

61. Sick Time: Ask or Tell?

It seems like different managers/office cultures have different answers for this, but what is your professional take on the question of how to inform your supervisor that you’re too sick to work/have a doctor’s appointment or surgery scheduled? Some say that telling leaves no room for argument and is more clear/direct. Some are concerned that if you’re not phrasing it as an ask, you’re overstepping bounds of who is technically in charge here. Is there any right answer?

With sick time, you should tell, not ask. You’re not seeking permission; you’re explaining you will be unable to work for medical reasons.

60. Can I hang out with a coworker in the hotel if my company is paying?

Company is paying for an overnight work trip. Fellow coworker and I whom are friends want to do a movie and game night after the work dinner. Is it unprofessional/inappropriate for us to do the above? We’re both friends, we’re roughly the same age, and we’re both women. We are coworkers in the same department, neither of us has work overlap or supervisory anything.

Go for it, you’re fine.

59. Salary Badgering from Coworker

I was recently promoted and received a bigger pay bump than expected, such that I am now making within a few thousand dollars of a coworker who was promoted to the same job title several years ago. She’s angry about this and telling me that I should have rejected the raise. I told her I had no idea it was going to be that large (which was true) and wasn’t going to reject it. She’s continued to berate me, by email. Do I need to loop in a manager at this point? I’m not sure if this counts as “interpersonal conflict peers need to resolve.”

You should have rejected the raise?! She’s being ridiculous. Yes, at this point I’d bring your manager into it because your coworker is continuing to berate you after you’ve already tried to solve it yourself. (Be aware that might further inflame things, but it doesn’t sound like something you have the luxury of ignoring.)

58. old job

What is a polite way to tell the person who took my old job to look in the files before asking me? It’s been 4 weeks and she’s still hammering me with questions ALL the time, many of which are obvious.

Wait several days before responding and then send this: “Have you checked the files I left behind? Everything you’re looking for should be in there. Unfortunately I’m not available for ongoing questions because of my commitments to my new job, but best of luck with it!” And then feel free to ignore any further emails from her.

57. Asking Other Folks to Wear Masks in Meetings

I’m immune-compromised. I wear a mask everywhere at work. Thankfully I have a private office. In our large department meetings, am I unreasonable for asking folks to wear a mask in the relatively small room we sit in together for our 45-minute meetings?

No, you are not unreasonable. Explain that you are high-risk.

56. both sides

Have you ever received two letters that you’re pretty sure are two sides of the same story? Or multiple letters on the same specific incident?

I got two letters about the office with the turtles, in the same week! It turned out one was from the sister of the person working in that office.

I would very much like to get two letters that are different sides of the same story.

55. Asked to donate to employee at old job

Several years ago I worked for an organization where employees were constantly asked to donate for others’ expenses (usually weddings and baby showers). Since I left, I’ve been contacted multiple times about this, but I ignored the requests. I got a request by email a few weeks ago for a baby shower donation with a vague line about “If you do not donate, we will be forced to share this information with [your current employer].” I haven’t replied. Should I?

Wait, what?! A place where you no longer works is pressuring you to contribute to someone’s baby shower and is threatening to tell your current employer if you don’t? That’s incredibly weird, and you should tell them they can feel free to do that (because your current employer will not care and will also find it incredibly weird.)

54. Great Reshuffle

My question is, do you think the Great Reshuffle (aka Great Resignation, etc etc) will end soon? Ever? Never? At least in my field (higher ed fundraising), it feels like an endless loop, as people are bouncing around, filling and creating vacancies. I love the new job I got out of it, (fully remote, much better pay, better work environment), but I would also love it if my new team would stabilize and stop losing people/hiring/repeat again. Obviously, to be fair, I want everyone to get the benefits I got out of taking part in the reshuffle, but ouch, it’s starting to feel unsustainable to be constantly hiring and replacing and losing institutional memory.

I think it will end at some point. I don’t know when. I think/hope it will leave behind some permanent changes in the way people think about their relationship to work.

53. Should I talk to a lawyer first?

My boss is not applying my reasonable accommodations. I am planning to gather my evidence and speak with HR about it soon. A friend told me I should speak with an attorney first and let HR know I have spoken with an attorney. His reason is because HR might try to blow me off or not do all they can do unless I let them know from the outset that I know what I am legally entitled to. Is he right? Should I speak to a lawyer first (or at least get a list of my rights from google)?

You don’t need to talk to a lawyer first, and a decent company will act without the threat of legal action hanging over them. Plus once you involve a lawyer, things can get more adversarial (which isn’t to say you shouldn’t do it when you need to). But talking to a lawyer behind the scenes can still be really helpful; they can guide you in your next steps without your company ever knowing they were involved.

52. Venting to Coworkers about a Manager

What are your thoughts on coworkers venting about their manager? Just general work venting (tough deadlines, lack of support, etc.), nothing personal or malicious. I had a manager who would ask my colleagues if I ever talked about her and would tell me she saw any discussion of her with other colleagues as a betrayal. I always thought that venting about managers was a normal part of work life, that coworkers–who understand the environment more than friends or spouses–could offer insight into how to address issues or concerns with management, and that part of being a manager (especially one who didn’t take feedback well) was knowing that your subordinates sometimes would vent about you to others. What do you think?

Any sensible manager should know their staff will vent about them sometimes. If they’re doing it with a level of viciousness, that’s obviously a problem (but it’s a problem because it means something about the manager, or maybe the broader dynamics in the organization) but otherwise some amount of venting is normal and expected. In fact, I always tell managers it’s a good exercise to try to imagine what their team complains about in regard to their management — it can push you toward stuff you need to change without anyone having to tell you.

51. Frequent interview-ending answers

I work in HR for a company that includes jobs that are very entry-level, think retail, quick-service restaurants, roles like that. As can be expected, a very large portion of the candidates we get for those roles are people with less experience, and for many this is one of the, if not the, first jobs they have gone through interviews for.

My question is, when someone gives you an answer that is so out of left field, so irrelevant, and maybe even so inappropriate that it just completely torpedoes the interview, how do you react? I’ve been doing this for several years now and I still haven’t found a professional way to move on (not to mention I’m sure I’m doing the deer in the headlights thing). Do I half-heartedly continue the interview, knowing there’s no chance in hell this candidate will move forward? Do I end the interview right there (and what do I say)?

To add some context, here are some examples of questions/answers I’ve gotten in the last few weeks:

“Can you tell me about a time you disagreed with a decision that was made by a supervisor? Why did you disagree with it, and what did you do about it?”
“They slept with my dad. I didn’t agree with it because my dad is married to my mom. I knocked her front teeth out.”

“Do you have any questions for me?”
“So you get discounts on [product] right? Is there a limit to how much I could buy? What if I bought a bunch of [product] and then quit?”

“What’s something you’ve accomplished professionally that you’re very proud of?”
“Well, at one of my last jobs, I won a contest between me and some other employees. We wanted to see who could sleep with the most customers in one day. [Name] would’ve tied with me but her last customer was old and gross.”

I also had a candidate show up to her interview in a bikini (I’m in Hawaii. Not that that makes it okay, but it does kind of explain?) with a VERY loosly knitted sweater over it. It reminded me of a knit table runner my grandmother used to have. When I pointedly informed her about our dress code, she looked me dead in the eye and said, “are you saying I’m not sexy?”

Wow! It depends on the specifics, but if something is very offensive or obviously prohibitive, explain that and wrap it up right then: “Honestly, that would be prohibitive for this role (or “that would be so counter to how we operate that this won’t be the right match”). I don’t want to take up more of your time so we’ll end here, and thank you for coming in.” Or you can do a couple more questions and then wrap things up so it’s not quite so abrupt.

50. Kitties!

How are they? You have two, correct?

We had two at one time. Now we have six (four of them foster fails…). They are happy and loved.

49. References

I have been interviewing applicants for a position on my team. I had been setting up meetings to call their references, but I’m now told that HR emails the references a form to fill out. At least one of my colleagues thinks it gets a better response rate from the references than calling, but I’m concerned that these form answers are just going to be generically positive and not that informative. Is calling references becoming obsolete?

No, lots of people call references. The forms suck — they take way more of your references’ time, very few people are willing to put less-than-positive info in writing, and they don’t allow for nuance or follow-up questions.

48. Thank you letter

If you’ve had an interview with person A, and were told during that interview that next steps would be an interview with person B, but you’ve already got the invitation for the interview with person B less than 2 hours after your interview with person A and haven’t sent a thank you letter yet, should you still send a thank you letter to person A? And if yes (which I suspect is the answer) should it be any different then a regular thank you letter?

Yes. It doesn’t necessarily need to be different than it normally would be, but you could mention that you’re looking forward to talk with person B as a next step.

47. New Younger Coworker Holding Doors

We have a new younger male coworker that I don’t particularly enjoy working with who is new to the working world. Unfortunately, I am one of his supervisors.

I am fifteen years his senior and he often tries to hold the door open. He goes to great lengths so it doesn’t feel like a coworker thing, but more of a m’lady, chivalry thing.

I feel weird about it, I’m not sure why. Should I say something?

Is he holding it open for men too, or just women? If just women, the reason it feels weird is because he’s relating to you as a woman first rather than as his colleague/boss, and he shouldn’t be. You can make a point of declining — “no, you go ahead” — and see if that gets the message across.

46. Employee with excuses

I’m a new manager with an employee who isn’t meeting expectations. He does the bare minimum when given small, discrete tasks with a clear deadline, but this is a faculty position where we expect him to create and manage much of his own workload. Even when meeting regularly on his progress, he struggles to get from vague idea to plan to execution. And when he receives feedback, he’s a flutter of excuses (“I was too sick to work” -> Then you should’ve taken sick time!” -> “I didn’t know you wanted me to come into the office every day” -> It’s not a remote position!, etc.). I’m struggling to sufficiently communicate that it’s actually not my role to hold his hand through every detail and every intermediate deadline of every project, and our expectation is for him to manage those projects himself. Do you have some go-to phrases to use with employees like this to give them feedback and clearly set expectations?

“The requirements of this job are YXZ, and part of that is working independently to lay out a plan and execute it. I’m here as a sounding board, but the person in your job owns the responsibility of driving those projects forward and managing details like X and Y.” Frankly, it sounds like time to also say, “What I’m seeing as your strengths are ABC, whereas this job needs XYZ.” It sounds like he may not be the right match for the job.

45. Are some organizations more toxic than others?

I came from education and moved to a non-profit organization. My new organization is one of the top workplaces in our area, and it’s like night and day. I hear so much from teachers, and of course we see people leaving the profession in droves. Is that industry more toxic than most? Are small business more toxic than larger ones?

As a rule, I do think you find more dysfunction in small businesses than in larger ones. In larger ones, there are more checks and balances. In smaller orgs, one or two problematic personalities can have an outsized impact.

44. Burnout in employee who won’t stop working

I have a new employee who wants to work all the time (we’re in an industry where work does happen at all hours, but we have plans in place so someone isn’t doing it on their own). I’ve tried to stop him from being ‘on’ at all hours, but he’s salaried and since OT isn’t an issue, thinks he needs to be. A couple weeks ago he told me I was right and he was burnt out already, but then the cycle just continued. Any wording to get him to slow down?

Tell him directly to stop. Normally I’d say to use a lighter touch since normally it would be overstepping to say “you absolutely cannot do this” if overtime pay isn’t an issue, but if he’s already telling you he’s burned out while he’s still new, it’s reasonable to say, “I am concerned by what you told me, and I can see that you’re working more than you need to be. For the next month, I want you to stay logged out of work stuff once you leave for the day. No exceptions unless you clear them with me first. You’re worth more to me working reasonable hours and still here in a year, than working round the clock but leaving in three months because you’re exhausted.” You can also mention he’s modeling bad behavior for coworkers, or for other teams who will develop unreasonable expectations about when they can reach him.

43. The waiting game

is it reasonable to wait between an email telling you that you will receive an offer once it is approved and getting the actual offer? At what point can you ask for a status without seeming impatient?

Yes, sometimes there’s a delay in between hearing the offer is coming and it actually showing up. When it’s first mentioned, it’s okay to ask what timeline they’re working on. And if it’s been a few days (four-ish?) and you’ve heard nothing, it’s fine to check in and ask if they’re able to give you a sense of when you’ll hear from them. It’s OK to say, “I’m talking with other companies but I’m most interested in working with you, so I’m wondering if you can give me an idea of your timeline.”

42. AAM

How do you decide what letters to answer?

It’s a combination of what I think is interesting, useful, entertaining, and also frankly what I am motivated to write about that day. There is a LOT of writing that goes into this site every week and the only way to make it sustainable and not feel like a chore is to let myself pick letters based on what is speaking to me at the time I’m sitting down to write. I also think about recency/frequency — if I’ve just written on a topic recently, I try not to do it again right away unless it’s a different aspect of the same issue (and in that case, sometimes doing those close together can be an interesting juxtaposition — there are actually two letters like that coming tomorrow, the first about anxiety in a coworker, and the second about anxiety in a boss).

41. How to gracefully reject a counteroffer you didn’t really want?

I recently received a job offer from another non-profit in my city. When I told my (pretty great) boss, I got nervous and instead of just resigning, I asked for a counteroffer. I like my job and what I do, and more than that I really love my team, but I think I want to accept the other offer. So basically I am putting my boss through hoops, making her look into a potential counteroffer that I should never have seemed open to in the first place. How do I reject it gracefully? Because she’s genuinely trying, but it is time to move on.

Yeah, tell her now so she doesn’t expend any more of her own capital on it. “I’ve given this a lot of thought and I’ve decided to take the other offer. I know you’re in the middle of trying to put together a counteroffer for me, but I’ve realized that I’m committed to moving on because of ___. I really appreciate you trying to make it work though.”

40. Hierarchy Drama

What’s the most tactful way for me to ask my manager if I actually have to take direction from someone I work with?

“Can you clarify Jane’s role in regard to my position? When she makes suggestions for my projects, is that input I can take or leave depending on what I think makes sense, or are those instructions I should definitely follow?”

39. why are we meeting in the metaverse?

My company bought oculus headsets for us so we could have a business meeting in the metaverse. Am I suddenly becoming Old and Out Of Touch or is this as eyeroll-y as I think?

I am also Old but I vote eyeroll-y.

38. How to support ‘toxic’ coworker

I’ve got a coworker who is very knowledgeable and who is mostly very fond of me and we usually work well together. She’s got a lot going on in her life (primary caregiver for a chronically ill relative) and has a tendency to lash out when something goes wrong.

Example: there was a data issue with something we do, and she intermittently makes references that *I* did something to cause it. (This data issue existed BEFORE my time at our company and I actually don’t have any access to update the data.) I decided to just take it on the chin and apologize, but she keeps bringing it up.

That sort of thing doesn’t really bother me, but I’m not the only recipient of this type of behavior, and she’s rubbed people the wrong way and has been demoted. She has a reputation for being someone who is difficult to work with in general. She has asked me to let her know if she’s ever too over-the-top in meetings, and I’m not sure how exactly to give her feedback without damaging our work relationship. (Yes, I know she ASKED – but I’m not sure how she will take the truth.)

You’re not obligated to do something that could be risky to you just because she asked. If you trusted her to take the feedback well, it would be different. But maybe you could ask her: “If I ever notice something like that, how exactly would you want me to tell you? I’ll be honest, I’d worry about damaging our work relationship.”

37. Can I ask to talk with female employees during the interview process?

As a female software developer currently looking to leave her current company (for a number of reasons that could go in a longer question), I’ve been interviewing around, always with a panel of men (almost always exclusively white men at that). One common thing that I hear is how great Company X’s diversity programs are, but always from the viewpoint of white men. My company also has “great diversity programs”, unless you ask the female devs (all 2 of us in a company of 100+ devs).

So, can I ask to speak with, even informally, with female devs at the companies I’m interviewing with to get their perspective on things? If so, what’s the best way to do so?

One thing I have going for me is that female devs with my experience are hard to come by, so I seem to be in high demand (even if only as a token hire).

Yes, absolutely you can. “Can you put me in touch with some female developers so I can hear about their perspective on working here?”

36. Don’t want to work

I like my job and I like the organization I work for, I’ve had a string of fantastic roles but I still never WANT to work. Is there something wrong with me? I’d rather do anything but work, even when it’s work I enjoy?

No, you are normal. That’s why they pay us! Most of us would rather be in control of our own time. Lord knows I’d like to be napping most of the time.

35. Culture question

I’m one of four full-time employees supporting a sales force of about fifty people. The four of us work in the office full time, but there’s space available for any sales personnel who wish to work from the office. Some do, some don’t. The problem is that the ones that spend time in the office REALLY like to party and routinely hold after-hours get-togethers in the office.

It’s part of company culture, but it’s starting to get out of control. They fill the fridge with alcohol to the point that our lunches don’t fit. They forget to close the refrigerator door, leaving our food to go bad. We don’t want to be petty, but we loose food on a regular basis. I feel like like my cottage cheese deserves as much space as their beer, but many days it gets crowded out. They also leave messes: like I spent a week with a giant, plastic tub of warm craft beer floating in ice-melt just hanging out under my desk. I finally threw it all out because it got a little disgusting.

We have spoken to our manager but nothing changes. We have cleaned-up their messes, thrown out partial bottles, etc. Sometimes they notice and complain, but they don’t quite know who did it. Many offices in our company have similar issues, but ours seems particularly egregious. This isn’t personal. I do drink alcohol myself, but I do it with my friends on my own time, not in the office. Liability could be an issue here. We are also concerned about the possibility that there are those who might be triggered by all the alcohol consumption, but are not brave enough to speak up. Do you have any advice on how to address this? Our manager often joins in the parties, but that’s also part of our company culture. And some of the major drinkers are important sales persons who have earned company acclaim. Are we out of line in wanting fridge space? We’re considering just buying our own fridge. Do we have any recourse here?

The drinking culture sounds widespread enough that it’s going to be hard to change without it coming from the top. But you should ask for a separate fridge for the support staff (ideally in a separate location so the sales staff don’t just take it over).

34. Employee insists on “keeping up with emails” while on vacation

I have an employee who has proactively told me that he will be “keeping up on his emails” while on his upcoming multi-day vacation. A lot of our team’s work is initiated via email so keeping up with emails can often translate into actual work tasks needing to be done.

I have repeatedly told my team that no one is ever expected to work while on PTO even if they are enjoying a “staycation”. Team members are expected to back each other up and I am also available to pick up any slack. While I know I can’t physically stop my employees from checking their emails when they are out (nor do I want to become a micromanaging email cop) I am concerned about the impression this sets for the departments we support, that we operate in an “always on” culture, which we don’t.

I remind my team about the need for setting proper boundaries and tell them that just because someone comes to you with an issue that they feel is urgent doesn’t mean it automatically becomes urgent for you. If this employee does end up responding to emails while on vacation, it may cause confusion if his backup is already dealing with that issue.

While I admire his drive to prove he is a good team player, his insistence on keeping up with work while out sets a bad precedent for the team. I am tempted to tell him that going forward, I don’t care if he checks his email but I don’t want to hear about it and he must not respond to messages from his departments. If he ignores these instructions, we will have a serious conversation upon his return. Do you have any other advice about how to get him to stop this behavior or am I making a mountain out of an email mole hill here?

“You’re welcome to check your email if you want to — although I’d prefer that you fully disconnect so you come back refreshed — but I don’t want you responding to anything while you’re away. We’re setting up coverage for you so it’s going to cause confusion if you’re responding to things that your back-up is already working on. Deal?”

And all your points are well taken.

33. Phone in Meeting

What is your opinion about someone quietly playing games on/using their phone in a 4 hour meeting when their contribution is approximately 5 minutes. (Essentially it is several meetings with a customer rolled into one)

If it’s a customer meeting, they shouldn’t be playing on their phone; rightly or wrongly, it looks bad. But I’d argue the bigger questions is: do they really need to be there for that entire time? Can they be brought in just for the relevant section?

32. Multiple letter submissions

What do you think about people who submit the same letter to multiple advice columns (like to you and Dear Prudence and Hax)?

It’s an understandable impulse — I assume they don’t know if they’re going to get an answer from anyone so figure they’ll cover all their bases. Or maybe they want different perspectives on their situation. It doesn’t seem to me like an unfair number of bites at the apple, if that’s what you mean.

And it’s interesting to see how the answers differ when it happens! (And also sometimes not surprising that we all spot that same letter in our mail and pick it to answer — there are some letters that are irresistible.)

31. getting up and sitting down

I’ve read before that if you have a desk job/ sit all day that you should get up every hour and stretch or walk around for ten minutes or so. Is that actually acceptable to do? This sounds like a crazy question I’m sure, but if your productivity isn’t affected by doing this, that seems ok right? But then again you wouldn’t be producing work during those stretch breaks…

It *should* be acceptable, but you’re right that in a lot of jobs it would seem like a lot of time when you add it all up. Capitalism!

Try to combine it with other stuff you need to get up for anyway — going by someone’s desk to talk to them, getting coffee, hitting the bathroom, etc., although it still might not add up to 10 minutes every hour.

30. Resume

What kind of achievements can I list if I work as a receptionist? There are no goals in the job and no advancements

Imagine someone in the job who was doing it badly, or even just sort of mediocrely. What’s the difference between the way you do the job and the way that person does that job? That’s what your resume bullet points should capture. For example, maybe it’s “Interactions with office visitors regularly elicited unsolicited praise” or “promptly and efficiently answered and directed calls for busy 65-person office” or so forth.

29. New job adjustments

How long should it take to tell if a job is “right” for you or not? I started a job three months ago, and while the promise of projects is exciting, it’s been very slow and the culture around onboarding/filling your plate seems to be a long one. How long is too long to wait for it to pick up?

I think you need more information. Can you talk to your boss and ask what timeline to expect for more work coming your way, and what that process will look like, so you know what to expect?

28. Dishonest manager

I recently resigned from my job. There were many reasons, but one is that I realized my manager was generally a dishonest person. She’s friendly and nice and desperately wants to be liked. As a result of being totally unable to have direct conversations, she often straight-up lies: She says she’s handling a problem that she actually isn’t; she tells one employee that “Joe said they’d be happy to do XYZ!” and then tells Joe the inverse, etc. I know she is going to ask me why I’m leaving. Is there any way I can say “You lie too much” in a way that she will actually hear and process? Or do I just say nothing and stay on good terms?

The only reason to say it would be if you wanted the personal satisfaction of saying it. If you’re hoping she’ll hear and learn from it, she won’t. I’d say nothing and leave on good terms.

27. Interview upcoming

I work in an office with a lot of turnover. In the eight years I’ve been here I’ve had three bosses, six people in the fiscal position, six people in the coordinator position, and various other positions that come and go. Since we have such frequent turnover, my old position was combined with the fiscal one (both grossly underpaid) and I now do two full time jobs for still terrible pay. I have an interview coming up. When they ask me why I am looking to leave my current position, is it okay to say because of the pay and high turnover? Or does that come across as too negative?

The fact that you’ve been there eight years is a very good reason! You could simply say, “I’ve been here eight years and I’m ready for something new.” No one will question that. (That’s not to say the others aren’t acceptable reasons, but this one is even more bland and neutral, in a good way.)

26. In a perfect world…

If you had the power, what single mandatory employment law would you enact?

Would it be something fanciful (like that each employee has the opportunity once every 12 months to vote to keep/change/demote/fire their Manager), or would it be something practical (like minimum annual leave conditions)?

I think I would make it easier to enforce the laws we already have. Employers get away with violating so many workplace laws because the bar for employees to take legal action against them is so high. That’s not generally the case with really straightforward stuff like wage violations, but it’s definitely the case with things like discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

25. Iced coffee or hot coffee?

Is iced coffee or hot coffee better?

Iced coffee. Hot tea.

24. I quit no-notice; could I have handled it better?

This Monday, I quit a job that I’d been working at since March of this year. The advertised job role was one of an “administrative sales assistant” to the semi-retired company founder and his son. In reality, I was performing the role of an executive/personal assistant, a sales administrator, and a salesperson, since the son largely does not perform his job and all responsibility for his performance would eventually fall on me: did I make sure he was following up on his new leads? Did I make sure he’d responded to his current customers? Did I ensure that he passed on updated pricing, sometimes acquiring updated costs, applying the desired margin, and sending along the numbers myself?

I had tried to negotiate commensurate pay for my increased responsibilities (I was making 37k a year), with consideration that I hadn’t been there long. When it was made clear that that would not happen (even though my boss had hinted at me earning commission around month 1), I asked about implementing a process for delineating between my listed job description and the son’s responsibilities, and how to proceed when he was pushing his job onto me. This conversation was had 2-3 times and nothing was ever implemented by my boss or the son’s (supposed) boss, the VP of sales.

My boss (the company president), the founder, and the son all spoke with vitriol about my predecessors. My boss had also recently laid off one of my coworkers without notice, and had been known to fire people in response to them putting in a notice. So, this Monday, I realized that I would rather be dead broke than work another day at the company. I packed up my things, left my paperwork in order, and told my boss I was quitting, effective immediately. I explained that, based on how the son had spoken about my predecessors, I believed that work would become a hostile environment if I were to put in a notice. He said, simply, “well, I don’t appreciate that. Goodbye.” and turned away from me. I said some goodbyes to my coworkers and walked out.

I’m so, so glad I’m not working there any more, but I still feel a deeply ingrained sense of guilt. The son sent me a long text about his disappointment, and the founder called me and said he was also disappointed. Both expressed that I should have “talked to [them] about it,” but it ultimately came down to that the son was making 6 figures while I did his work.

In short: was I wrong to quit no-notice? Or could I have handled this better? Our HR person and one of the top sales people who trained me both encouraged me to quit as soon as I was ready, and both are providing references as to the quality of my work.

If your boss has a track record of making people leave as soon as they give notice, it shouldn’t be any surprise that people will start to leave without giving notice. Why would they? That’s what this guy gets.

There’s always the question of what you might lose by doing it this way (like a reference if he’s contacted directly) but if you decided any possible trade-offs were worth it to you, you don’t need to feel guilty.

23. What language should I learn?

I am working at a tech company that does business around the world. One of our available “lifestyle benefits” is a subscription to a language learning program. After English, what language do you think would be most valuable in today’s workplace?

It depends on your field and your location! But absent any other information, if you’re in the U.S. I’d say Spanish.

22. Management Tools & Techniques

What are some of your favorite tools (applications, etc.) and/or techniques for effective team/process management? E.g. “Trello”, or “Use a recurring calendar event to reserve time for focused work.” Just the most impactful (and perhaps easiest to overlook) things which come to your mind.

Postmortems — debriefing a project after it’s over to figure out what went well, what could have gone better, and why.

Also regular one-on-ones as a way to stay engaged with the work your staff members are doing and have a regular place to giving feedback and talk about priorities, obstacles, etc. If you use them well, they’re essential. (Too often managers don’t use them particularly well though and they end up not feeling like a great use of time.)

21. Peer to Manager – when everyone leaves

I recently went from being a long standing member of a team (one of the last original members from 3 previous managers ago) to now being the manager. Since my new position, the other 2 long standing members of the team that were direct peers in position have left. They have promised up one side and down the other that “it’s not me,” but it’s certainly hard to not feel that way. On the flip side, I am excited that I now get to build MY team. Is it wrong to feel that way?

I don’t think it’s wrong, as long as you’re taking a rigorously honest look at whether things on the team might have driven them away. Two people isn’t a huge pattern, but it’s always good to look at stuff like that (because people will rarely tell you that it’s you).

20. When will I feel settled at a new job?

I just started a new job in July in a highly technical field (PhD + 5 years post experience) when should I feel ‘settled’? 3 months? 6 months? When will I be ‘useful’?

I can’t speak to your field specifically, but if a general answer is helpful — I think in many jobs there’s often a moment about 3 months in when it suddenly feels like things are starting to click in a way they weren’t before, but it’s often 6 months before you really feel settled and like you’re useful.

19. Probation Period

How much notice is required if you quit within a probation/introductory period? I recently quit a new job while in my probation period, my offer letter did not specify a specific notice period to give, just that employment is at will and both I and the company could part ways at any time. The job was basically a bait and switch and I was really unhappy and dreaded going into work every day. I gave notice and said that I could work through the week if they wanted, assuming that they were going to let me go that same day. They balked and said I needed to give a months notice. I think they’re out of their gourd. What it typical when you quit during your probation period?

It’s less a question of the probation period and more a question of how new you are. Some probation periods last a year or longer! But if you’ve been there a couple of months or less, offering to work out the remainder of the week is perfectly reasonable. Your company expecting a month is ridiculous and they were indeed out of their gourds.

18. Can a candidate be too honest during the hiring process?

I recently had a candidate who cancelled a round of interviews, citing not feeling mentally ready after a breakup that occurred some months ago. This would have already been a factor when the interviews were scheduled initially, so it adds some concern to the sudden cancellation. Normally I’m all for honesty from both sides during a hiring process, but am I right to think this would be a yellow to orange flag?

It’s definitely an unusual thing to say and it raises some questions about … resiliency. And judgment too, really, in that they said it. So yeah, I’d be concerned. I wouldn’t necessarily reject outright over it, but I’d be looking for other indicators on those fronts.

17. Fostering

How is fostering going?

Good! We’re taking a break right now because my mom is sick and I want to be fully available to her but I highly recommend it. Especially fostering teenagers — there is a huge shortage of foster homes willing to take teenagers and a lot of them end up in group homes or sleeping in social workers’ offices as a result.

All: If you have ever thought about fostering, and especially if you have ever thought about fostering teenagers, please contact your city/county and they can tell you more about the process in your area.

(And also teenagers are funny! And you will discover so much new music — my phone is full of Megan Thee Stallion now.)

16. How can I stop helping my friend?

I have a friend from college who truly makes unwise decisions. He has had some bad luck that isn’t his fault but he also quits jobs to get-rich ideas, then whines on social media about being left alone. He needs help I can’t give him.

But now that I’ve gotten to a good place professionally, he keeps asking me to refer him to things. He is very very sensitive, but I wouldn’t trust this guy to complete any job. Is there a gentle way to let him down or am I doomed to slowly freeze him out or enrage him by being forceful?

Am I reading correctly that you’ve never worked with him? If so, there’s your easy out: “I can’t recommend you because we’ve never worked together. My reference wouldn’t carry any weight.” If necessary you can add, “And it’s been drilled into me that I can’t vouch for people professionally unless I know their work firsthand.”

15. What should student employees learn in college jobs?

As someone who manages student employees (in a college/university setting – they are serving as peer educators) – what are the most helpful things for them to learn about working and professionalism? They are working very part-time (3-10 hours/week) and arrive with a range of professional experiences. There is required training as part of the job where we sometimes focus on professional development and their career goals (frequently as they relate to the work) and I want to make that space as valuable as possible for their future work experiences.

How to receive feedback. How and when to ask for help. How to observe what’s happening around you to figure out the culture (in both large and small ways — from how people answer their phones to understanding the dress code to how to be in meetings to how to agreeably disagree). What good business writing looks like (because it’s very different from academic writing). And when someone asks to talk to you, always bring something to take notes.

14. Eating at work events

Please settle a debate I have with my partner. He says at work events with food, you should break the ice and get up to eat first because no one likes the uncomfortable dance of “no, you first.” I am a passive aggressive midwesterner through and through and believe you should eat last (especially if you/your dept is hosting). In 15 years together, this is one of our only disagreements so your input is much appreciated!

I actually think it depends on the context. If you’re very senior, ideally you’d hang back and ensure others get to eat before you do (you don’t want a situation where all the senior people take the best food and the lower-paid staff who have more reason to appreciate free food get left with the dregs). On the other hand, though, if no one is going up to get food, you can do a good deed by leading the way and breaking the ice. It’s also a good deed to say, “Let’s have all the interns come up here first.” (On the other hand, then you will get interns who deliberately take less food than they really want because they worry about looking greedy and they haven’t seen how much others find reasonable to take yet, so really this is much more of a clusterfuck than I thought when I first started writing this answer.) (Except that it’s not because you, I, and your partner are all overthinking it.)

13. good definition of manager/management

In a recent conversation I realised there isn’t widespread agreement on what it means to manage or to be a manager. I didn’t find any simple definitions in your book or the AAM website.

Do you have a simple elevator definition for what the job of a manager is?

In my book for managers, my co-author and I define the job of a manager as to get excellent results through other people. That sounds awfully broad, I know, but so many things follow logically from that — it means you need to set the right goals, ones that represent meaningful progress but without being unrealistic or insufficiently ambitious. It means you need to hire and retain a great team and develop their skills. It means you need to be the kind of manager people want to work for (since otherwise your great team will all leave). It means you need to clear about what you expect, help people meet your expectations, and get everyone aligned around a common purpose.

12. Embarrassed by Age

I (22) am fairly new at my job, it’s my first post-college job, and have realized that the large majority of people in comparable positions at other organizations are usually in the mid-30s to 40s. People often assume that I’m in my mid to late 20’s but not that I’m fresh out of college. I’m worried that if they found out my actual age that I would not be taken as seriously as I would be if I was older. Is it weird/unethical, if when asked what I did before I got here, to be vague about my past job history and just go “oh I worked at XYZ” but leave out the fact that I was actually just an intern there?

It’s not unethical. It’s accurate!

But I also, I think you might be feeling more weird about this than they would if they knew your age.

11. We Don’t Talk About Sal-a-ry, No, No

I know it’s not legal for employers to tell you you that non-supervisory coworkers can’t talk amongst themselves about salary. Is it legal for employers to put clauses in their handbooks/sign-on paperwork stating non-supervisory coworkers can’t talk about salary amongst themselves then pull the “Well you signed this, so you can’t talk about it, stop” routine?


10. Recommended books

Do you read all of your recommended books the week that you recommend them? If so, what happens if you don’t like the book you read that week? Are you reading multiples books every week? (Love the recs!)

No, they’re not all from that week! Sometimes I didn’t read anything that week, and sometimes I didn’t like whatever I read enough to recommend it. So on those weeks I just pick a book that I read and liked in the past — long ago when I first started doing a weekly book recommendation, I made an initial list of stuff I loved and wanted to recommend. So when there’s not something I read and loved this week, I just pick something off that older list.

9. How do I respond when I get a raise?

How should I respond when I receive notice of a raise? We are notified several months after performance reviews, usually through a somewhat formal letter emailed by my boss (I work remotely). I never really know what to say. I usually say “Thanks!” and end up feeling like a clod.

“Thank you, I appreciate it!” is perfectly fine (and normal).

8. No Contact After Interview

How common is it to just never hear back from a company after you’ve applied and interviewed? This has happened to me twice now, both with presumably reputable agencies – I applied, interviewed, thought it went well, and never heard from them again. Is this normal?

So, so, so, so common. Companies routinely ghost applicants, even after multiple interview rounds. It’s rude as hell, but it’s incredibly common.

7. Bring straightforward about performance issues

I have two direct reports current struggling with performance – one due to quality issues in his work, and the other with attitude problems. I’m somewhat new to managing and I’m really struggling with how to talk to these two:

For the first, it seems like either his past manager wasn’t totally up-front with him about the quality issues being the main reason for not being promoted/given increased responsibilities – that, or the past manager was, and he just refuses to acknowledge it. I get the feeling like he drastically underestimates the effect past quality issues have had on our trust in him and seems impatient for us to move past it. He also is starting to display some bitterness about other people being promoted before him. I’m sort of concerned that no matter what I say, he’s already got this idea in his head that we’re taking a couple of minor issues too seriously and are committed to being unfair to him.

For the second, I’m just not sure how to say “you need to be not completely unpleasant to deal with.” She has a habit of jumping to the worst possible conclusion about others’ motivations/intentions and responding aggressively to people outside our team. Part of her job is dealing with other people effectively; I genuinely don’t understand how she could have gotten as far as she has if she behaves this way. I keep having conversations with her about individual behaviors/incidents, but it feels like this is a bigger problem (ego/overall negative outlook) that seems inappropriate for me to try to address.

For the first: I would name what you’re seeing. “I’m getting the sense that you think too much weight is being put on X and that you’re impatient that it’s still an issue. I want to be up-front with you that I see these as serious issues and I will need to see significant, sustained improvement in those areas before I can give you additional responsibility. I’m of course willing to listen to your perspective if you want to share it, but I want to make sure you have a full understanding of where things stand right now.”

For the second: “Part of your job is maintaining good relationships with colleagues, which includes things like XYZ. That’s part of what you’re being paid for, and it’s as much a part of your job as meeting deadlines or producing error-free work. I need to see changes like ____ in how you work with people.”

I would also start thinking about what you’ll do if you don’t see those changes — is it bad enough that you’d move her out of the role? If so, I’d be up-front about that too if the first conversation doesn’t get through to her.

6. I’m seeing a coworker… we aren’t “out” yet, and this offends a third coworker.

Per my company’s policy, the dating thing is above board. We’re at the same level of seniority so neither of us is in charge of the other. We’re both… shy, private people, so we haven’t come out at work yet, which wouldn’t be an issue if me being “single” didn’t apparently physically pain another coworker.

Short of coming out as “I’m dating so and so,” is there a way to say “Please don’t involve yourself in my relationship status?”

Good lord, whether you were dating someone or not, your pushy coworker needs to back way off! How to say it will depend on how pointed you’re comfortable being, but it would be very reasonable to say, “I don’t want to discuss my dating life at work, please stop bringing it up” … and if it continues, “It’s really weird that you keep raising this after I’ve asked you to stop.”

5. Rejected for being an MBA candidate

I was recently laid off and am now job hunting. I am also in the process of getting my MBA. I have it on my resume with an expected graduation date about a year and a half in the future.

I recently made it to the final round of interviews at a company and they asked about my plans with my MBA. I said most of my experience was self taught or hodge podge (I’m an analyst with a liberal arts degree and I learned most of my skills from free classes or Google). I want to fill in the gaps, advance my career, and I just genuinely love learning. The interviewers were unimpressed. I did not receive an offer because they said MBA candidates would always want a promotion once they had their degree and they didn’t envision one. My degree is close to two years in the future so a promotion doesn’t seem that unreasonable (I didn’t say this).

Is this a thing? Do MBAs in progress read as too aggressive? Did I answer the question wrong?

If you’re in the middle of getting a graduate degree, most interviewers’ assumption is going to be that you want to use it professionally in some way. (That’s especially true of an MBA.) So yeah, they’re going to assume you’ll either leave quickly, or want a promotion quickly, or just that your professional interests don’t line up with the job. Or even if they don’t assume it’s *definitely* going to be the case, they’ll figure it’s likely enough that they’d rather focus on other candidates who don’t have that particular risk profile.

4. Am I doing everything wrong?

I read an article that said that you should apply for jobs that you meet 40-70% of the criteria because recruiters don’t want to hire people who are 100% a match because there isn’t enough room for growth and people are more likely to get bored and leave. Is that accurate?

Assuming it is, I am wondering if I have been choosing jobs to apply for poorly, because I am attempting to change fields. I have a masters degree and some experience from my previous job which I was in for like a decade. I have been mostly applying for jobs that require 0-3 of experience because my experience is mostly in a different field (although I was able to get some experience in my previous role and there is crossover). Should I be looking for positions that are more of a stretch?

I’d say a lot of hiring managers do like to hire people who meet 100% of the criteria, but that they’re often very, very willing to hire people who meet less than that — like 75-80% of the criteria, as long as the ones you do meet are key things. You’re not entry level because you have a decade of work experience, even though it’s in another field, so I wouldn’t apply to jobs that are targeting people with zero years. Try applying for more of a mix and include positions that are a little higher than what you’ve been going for, and see what happens!

3. Is everyone really saying “commentariat”

Or are you editing them and putting that word in there? I see it so much here!

It’s not me! I say “commenters.” I think “commentariat” is an internet thing though.

2. Should I give my co-worker advice

I recently had a meeting with my manager and other 2 co-workers. At this meeting my much younger and new to the company co-worker expressed how bored she is, how slow things are, and have been since she got here. She came from another company doing a similar job but in a different setting. Think an urgent care nurse versus private clinic. My manager was trying to be sympathetic and supportive, but didn’t just honestly say that this is how things are in this practice, and they aren’t going to change. Should I have a talk with her and let her know that this is just how things are, and if she isn’t happy she should look for other opportunities? Or keep my mouth shut and do my job?

It sounds like it would be a kindness to let her know what to expect there. There’s some risk that if you have this talk, it could get back to your manager, so if that’s a concern I’d choose your framing with that in mind — i.e., maybe don’t suggest she job search, but do lay out for her a realistic picture of how things work there and what’s reasonable/isn’t reasonable to expect. (And yes, it’s BS that you have to think about whether to pull your punches, but I think you can convey the important stuff here regardless.)

1. Should I take away responsibilities from an employee because they seem to trigger anxiety/panic attacks?

One of my team members overseas a large team of people. He is amazing at his job! And the reason he is so amazing is that he is personally invested in every person on his team. Unfortunately, he is so invested that when things happen outside of his control, like schedule changes or people quitting, he gets anxious, even to the point of panic attacks.

Some aspects of our job are not going to change: we work in an industry with high turnover, so people are going to quit. But one thing I can change is to take responsibilities off of his plate that seem to cause more anxiety.

I hesitate to do this, because he is amazing at his job and I don’t want to undermine him. However, I want the best for him as a person; I don’t want him to be in a role that causes so much anxiety. However, I think if I asked him about this, he would balk at losing those responsibilities. But should I do it anyway, for what I see to be his own good? That seems to be a huge overreach in trying to solve someone else’s problems, but it is hard for me to see him get so anxious.

I don’t think you should take things off his plate if it’s just because it’s hard for you to see him get anxious. But I do think you should look at the impact on you/others/the workflow when he starts panicking — if it’s affecting you/others/the work, that’s a legitimate discussion to have with him.

{ 276 comments… read them below }

        1. Mel*

          #74: My former boss would always shave and apply aftershave/cologne at the end of the day. My office was at the other end of a corridor from him, so not particularly close. I don’t think I’m extraordinarily sensitive, but even at that distance, I would find it so overwhelming I was choking on the fumes. I don’t recommend it.

    1. PollyQ*

      Urban Dictionary has a definition that goes back to 2007, only it’s for political/news commentators. Not sure if it was used earlier than that to describe online commenters or if that came later.

    2. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

      It was added to OED in 2004. Merriam Webster lists the first known usage as 1993, but doesn’t actually say what it was. So, probably not a Hax thing.

      It comes from a blend of “commenter” and “proletariat”, in case anyone was wondering.

    3. L'étrangere*

      Do people really need to get so worked up over a word they dislike? Just don’t use it! If we all spent our time here bitching about all the words, there’d be no room for content. I think commenters emphasizes the individual, while commentariat emphasizes the collective aspect of it. I of course like the proletariat origin, but I also think this is one site where the sum of the commentariat is clearly more than individual comments (thanks Alison because it’s certainly not a miracle)

    4. Beth*

      I first encountered it here, and I really like the word.

      For me, a commentariat is a *community* made up of commenters who are regular enough and whose input is valuable enough that it forms one of the resources of a given internet site. It only exists in an environment where the comment thread is rigorously monitored and etiquette is enforced both by the site owner and by the commenters themselves, which makes it both rare and even more precious.

      1. No Longer Looking*

        This site is absolutely that rare gem of exception to the internet rule of “never read the comments.”

  1. Anonym*

    #4 – in every hiring process I’ve been privy to, “can they do the job?” – a.k.a. how many of the requirements do they meet – is asked first and far more frequently than “will they stay?”

    Definitely don’t skip out on applying jobs you’re interested in because you meet more than 70% of the requirements!!

    1. learnedthehardway*

      Agreeing – I would say that most manager want to see candidates who have 70% or more of the requirements, at a minimum. And some will want to see a higher proportion than that!

    2. SchuylerSeestra*

      As a recruiter I recommend applying if you meet 70-100% of qualifications, and that needs to be within context of the role. If a skillset/qualification is required then you need to have it.

      Which I recognize may sound harsh, but companies are hiring because they have a business need. While some skills can be taught, for the most part candidates need to have most of the skills and expertise required to be considered.

    3. hamsterpants*

      This is so interesting! I guess my team is a bit of an outlier, then. We are within a large industry but have some quirks about our work environment (some extra layers of politics) and geographic location (small town with cold winters) that can make people unhappy. We take care to screen candidates not just for qualification per se but also whether we think they will thrive and choose to stay for at least, like, five years or so.

    4. Desdemona*

      I’m hiring and have several really great candidates who meet 100% of the things listed in the job description. I’ve talked to a few who have 75-80% but they’re not frontrunners. I pretty much instantly bin anyone with less than that, and in many the candidates seem so completely off base that I wouldn’t consider them in a more junior role either.

  2. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    LW1 be careful to avoid inadvertently regarding this employee as disabled and discriminating as a result. In this case you seem to be speculating about a disability and potential triggers for your employee (which could be totally accurate) but are the wrong reasons to take adverse action. Instead focus on performance and work-related problems/shortcoming (like quality of the employee’s output and disruption to others), then collaborate about what sort of flexibility you have regarding workflow and other adjustments you might make. Leave it up to the employee to introduce into the conversation issues arising from their mental health.

    1. Judge Judy and Executioner*

      Love your user name. I couldn’t read your comment without thinking “dun dun” at the end. :)

  3. winter frog*

    #1: He’s amazing at his job and there’s nothing in the letter to suggest that his anxiety is hindering his job performance. I wouldn’t presume to just assume what is best for him. Who knows, maybe he’d rather keep his job as is and deal with the anxiety. I wouldn’t change his job without a conversation with him about what he would like to do.

  4. kiki*

    5. Rejected for being an MBA candidate
    I think something good to remember when job hunting is that sometimes your answer isn’t wrong, but it is wrong for the particular job or business. This job sounds like it doesn’t have much upward mobility and/or the hiring team is looking for someone who wants to stay in this particular role for at least several years. Unless you would be happy staying in one role without promotion for several years, you didn’t answer incorrectly– your answer revealed you and this job are not a good fit. You’ll find something great that’s looking for someone eager to learn and move up!

    1. Hlao-roo*

      Yeah, the “MBA candidates would always want a promotion once they had their degree” isn’t great, but it does seem true in OP’s case (“My degree is close to two years in the future so a promotion doesn’t seem that unreasonable”), so this sounds more like a case of mutual bad fit than a case of “discrimination against MBA students.”

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        That’s how I felt. The interviewers were trying to be transparent, “Our experience is that MBA people are working toward the goal of promotion.”
        OP says exactly that, not now, but in two or three years.
        The interviewers continue, “there is not a lot of opportunity for promotion here.”
        Responding, “why won’t they give me a chance?” makes me want to ask, “why don’t you believe what they tell you?”

        1. fhqwhgads*

          I read it more like OP wouldn’t necessarily expect an immediate promotion due to the MBA but that separately, even if they did want a promotion by the time they finished the degree it’d be two years later, and that 2 years down the line isn’t weird to be expecting a promotion. Absent other context, I don’t think they’re wrong there. I’m sure some fields/roles it’d take way longer than 2 years to move a step up, but in plenty that’d be a reasonable timeframe to consider it. I think if that OP is implying were they 3 months from finishing the degree, they’d not expect a promotion right away at that point. That seemed to be the comparison implied: that the timeline were the issue, not the being in an MBA program.

          1. The Real Fran Fine*

            I read it the same way and agree that in some companies, two years and then a promotion isn’t a wild idea. But this company clearly takes longer for advancement such that that timeline is wild to them, so they passed instead of leading the OP on and having to hire again in two years when the hoped for promotion doesn’t materialize.

  5. MsClaw*

    Dater — you don’t have to say anything you don’t want to say. You have several options here.
    1. I don’t discuss my dating life at work/That’s way to personal to talk about at work.
    2. I’m seeing someone but I don’t care to talk about it at work.
    3. This is super weird, Becky, do back off.
    4. Seriously, Tilda, I’m good. How is YOUR love life.

    And honestly, this is the same whether it’s a coworker you are dating or not. Your coworker has an unhealthy obsession with your personal life. Stonewall her.

    1. Mostly Managing*

      I would stay away from your second option.
      Give a pushy person a hint that you are, in fact, seeing someone and they will push even harder for details.

      Grey rock/stone wall.
      “I’m not willing to discus my personal life at work.”
      “I’m not willing to discus my personal life at work.”
      Say the same thing every time, and most people will eventually give up.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        I would too. If pushy coworker had a rare illness that could only be cured by the OP saying “I’m seeing someone,” then #2 would be a viable path. Unfortunately, pushy coworker will likely take that information as a jumping off point and OP will end up in a “give an inch, they’ll take a mile” situation.

        1. Petty Betty*

          Oh no, I’d rather let the person suffer than have any information into my life without my willing, enthusiastic consent.

          Unalived by one’s own nosiness is a personal problem.

    2. PrivateDatesPlease*

      She (and her husband who does not work here) have now tried to set me up on blind dates because “her husband showed his coworker a picture and HERE IS HIS NUMBER!!!” I did a polite “I’m really not interested in working on my personal life at work” and I’m trying to keep it professional.

      I’m just incredibly weirded out. how’d he get my photo?

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        You can keep it professional by saying, “No thank you. Please stop trying to set me up. I will not talk about this again.”
        The line she crossed is so far behind she doesn’t need a rear view mirror, she needs a telescope.
        Second time today I’m writing, don’t let her JADE you. This is not a debate, this is a statement.

      2. AbruptPenguin*

        That is creepy! She is being intrusive and unprofessional and needs a clear, firm response. “Wow, that makes me uncomfortable! Please have your husband delete my photo from his phone and don’t ever do that again. I’m not interested in being set up.”

    3. Birb*

      I’ve told a pushy coworker who kept bringing up my hypothetical dating life that I’d like him to consider me “asexual, but like an amoeba”. Like… bro nothing about my sexuality or romantic life is your business, assume I have none and move. along.

  6. Anonym*

    For #9, IANAL but I’m pretty sure there’s nothing a company can get you to sign that would supersede the actual law. A good thing to remember!

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      In the US at least illegal clauses are not binding (that doesn’t mean they necessarily invalidate the whole contract, but it does invalidate that clause). If you are legally not allowed to prohibit salary discussion, then nothing you can write or say can prohibit it.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Yes, that’s why so many “non compete contracts” are actually invalid. You cannot sign away your right to continue employment EVER, as some places seem to think.
        (particularly, shop clerks, waitstaff, cooks…no, you can leave the pizza shop and work at the spaghetti place.)

  7. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    I feel you, OP5. When I was looking to escape from ex-job I had a 1h30m interview for a Data Mining company, and in the end the recruiter told me “but as your CV says you’re still at college, I can only offer you a unpaid intern position”. I was not happy about it.

  8. BatManDan*

    I just loudly announce “as a courtesy to everyone else, who’ll starve to death because they don’t want to be the first at the buffet line, I’ll go ahead and start.” It gets chuckles, and there are ALWAYS a number of people on my heels to get to the food, so I feel like I’m on the right track.

    1. Kimmy Schmidt*

      Ha, me too. I can’t stand the passive-aggressive food dance. I’ll eat the last donut too. Someone has to break the ice! Or throw the box away! And if it’s me, great!

    2. Antilles*

      My personal go-to is to just say “well, I’d hate to insult the chef by letting this go cold!” which also typically gets some chuckles and starts things along. Humor works really well to solve these minor awkwardness things.

    3. hbc*

      Yes, and I would argue that hosts are obligated to get people over their reluctance to hit the chow line if there’s a standoff. Whether that’s making an announcement like yours, or picking a table/group and asking them to go first, or declaring the food line “officially” open.

    4. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I really like it when a manager asks a table of people to please start the food line.
      Or asks a group standing nearby to start.

    5. anon24*

      As a person who will starve to death with warm food in front of them rather than take the first plate, may you live a long and prosperous life.

  9. Hlao-roo*

    14. Eating at work events

    You’re both right, in the way that neither of you should change how you behave at work events with food. He’s right that someone needs to be first (and eventually someone will be first, even in a room full of passive-aggressive midwesterners). You’re right that it’s polite to hang back and let others get food first, especially if you/your dept are hosting. It takes all types to ensure the proper distribution of food so everyone should play their (self-assigned) roles.

  10. Nethwen*

    #20 – Settled in a New Job

    In my industry, where even the most basic, entry-level position is essentially learning a collection of if-then (unwritten) flowcharts and when to use judgement to jump out of that flowchart into another one, it takes about a year and training someone else before people start to feel like they know how to do their job.

    1. No Longer Looking*

      When I first became an accountant, I’d say it took a little over a year to properly feel settled, in part because of the way the accounting job cycle works. There are daily tasks, weekly tasks, monthly tasks, and yearly tasks, and you have to get a year in before you have the full picture of how it all fits together.

  11. I should really pick a name*

    #14 (Eating at work events)

    Who is “You” in this case?
    If everyone followed your rule, no one would ever eat.

    I do agree that you should wait if you’re the hosting the meal.

  12. Melanie Cavill*

    #23 – I disagree a bit with Alison here; I’d recommend Mandarin as it’s the second highest spoken language in the world.

    1. MK*

      That’s not a particularly useful criterion. Many languages are among the highest spoken in the world, but the number of speakers doesn’t translate to relevance. Unless the OP’s company specifically does business in China or with Chinese companies, Mandarin isn’t a great choice.

      I would also argue that the time and effort needed to aquire fluency should be a factor, depending on your age. For language skills to be useful in a business setting, you need to be able to converse smoothly in the language. If it’s going to take you a decade to reach that stage and you are in your mid-40s, it’s arguably not worth the investment and it might be better to choose a language that would be easier for you to pick up.

    2. Warrior Princess Xena*

      It might be the second highest spoken language in the world, but that doesn’t mean most American speakers are likely to put it to use. I’d agree with Alison that, without knowing any details about the industry/location, Spanish would be the one I’d default to as well, especially as it’s a lot easier for an English speaker to learn than Mandarin.

      1. Gracely*

        This. Because it’s also worth factoring in how much being able to read/write said language is going to be useful for you, and how easy it is to learn to read/write in that language. Mandarin is famously difficult to learn to write (to the point that many native speakers don’t learn to write it).

        At the very least, for an English speaker, I’d pick something with the same basic alphabet. With zero other info, Spanish probably is the best choice because it’s a very phonetic language so it’s easy to learn how to say words even if you haven’t heard them spoken, and it’s used widely throughout the US.

        1. Warrior Princess Xena*

          And one other thing – the likelihood of being able to find anyone to talk to. Language learning is loads easier if you can actually converse with someone vs learning solo. I can think of 4-5 people I know with whom I could probably practice spanish, german, or japanese. No one I know speaks mandarin. So if I were choosing another language to learn, it would be one of those three.

        2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Español would be my generic answer.
          Français if you’re near the Laurentian Great Lakes.
          Deutsch if you’re into engineering, enjoy their cars, etc.
          Latin was the traditional choice for medicine or law. It still has its fans.
          Greek has its uses in history/archaeology.

      2. AcademiaNut*

        If your company does business in China or other Mandarin speaking countries, knowing enough of the language to get by as a traveller could be useful professionally.

        However, for a native English speaker, it’s much, much more difficult to learn than something like Spanish or French, and will take a lot more memory work (and that’s without learning how to write, which takes hours upon hours of practice). I’d also strongly recommend some time with in person training near the beginning, for direct feedback on pronouncing the tones, which are hard for many people to even hear when starting study, but matter a lot when you’re trying to be understood.

    3. Parenthesis Dude*

      I agree about Mandarin. A lot of people in my field speak it as their first language. In one of my offices, there were conversations in Mandarin all the time. There are a lot of smart Chinese people in the US that have poor English skills.

      1. The Tin Man*

        I mean, that’s where it depends about field and geography – in my field and local area Spanish and Portuguese would be good other languages to know. In my company specifically Swiss German or French would also be useful.

  13. Baron*

    Hard agree on #26. In my (non-U.S.) jurisdiction, employment law is incredibly progressive…and barely enforced. Because, I mean, PROVE that Todd from the letter earlier today is discriminating against everyone who isn’t a conventionally attractive woman. Did he put that in writing? Maybe those women were just the best “fit” for his company’s “culture”! Who can tell? We don’t want to keep Todd from hiring for “fit”, do we? The law as it stands here is amazing, in theory, but in practice…

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      Seconded. Most of the things people would like regulated are already being regulated or reported – it’s just that they’re being regulated in a lazy, formulaic fashion. Focusing on enforcement would be much more effective.

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Yes, and usually when the proper entities DO get involved, it’s because of pervasive cases, not just one. So DOL will go after a company that routinely, as a business practice, commits wage theft, but not one case — that’s on the damaged person to try to use civil court to find remedy. So not only does one person need to prove Todd discriminated against them, but multiple people need to prove it before Todd really gets in trouble; and the Todds know it.

  14. Heidi*

    It is awkward to figure out what to say when you get a raise. It’s not like the typical thank you note. (Thanks so much for the money. I’ll think of you when I pay my student loans.) You appreciate it, of course, but you also earned it so you don’t want to sound like it was given to you out of the kindness of their hearts. You also want to seem happy, but not so happy they think you were in dire straits. You need something like “Yay, money!” but professional.

    1. Elle*

      “‘Yay, money!’ but professional.” is officially my favorite quote of the day.

      I have also struggled with figuring this out. I once responded to an unexpectedly large bonus with “oh, dip!” Why my org continues to give me responsibilities is a small (albeit appreciated) mystery.

    2. Educator*

      I’m so conditioned to downplay the money factor that I usually focus on thanking my supervisor for something else connected to the money, like “thanks, I really look forward to leading XYZ project” or “I appreciate your willingness to advocate for me with Grandboss and HR.”

    3. Koalafied*

      I usually go with something that’s more or less, “Thank you – it means a lot to see my accomplishments recognized and my successes rewarded.” So it’s not thanking them for giving me money – it’s thanking them for seeing that I deserved it.

      Sometimes it also makes sense to acknowledge if the manager had to do a lot of bureaucratic legwork or expend any of their own capital to secure you something like a larger than usual raise, a spot bonus, or a raise/promotion outside of the usual performance review/salary adjustment process or time of year, where a less supportive manager could have decided it wasn’t worth the effort.

      1. tangerineRose*

        “Thank you – it means a lot to see my accomplishments recognized and my successes rewarded.”

        I like this. That’s kind of what I was thinking too, not just that money tends to be useful but also that they are “putting their money where their mouth is”. A compliment is nice. A raise makes me think they really meant the compliment.

    4. Courageous cat*

      I do something like “That’s great news!” or “I’m so glad to hear it!”, which isn’t really thanking them but showing your appreciation overall.

  15. Lex*

    Re #20: I also have a PhD in a fairly technical field, and it’s been about 2 years in my new role. It’s only been in the last few months that I started to really feel like I understand things and am grooving. And even then it’s still a learning process ;).

  16. Lily Rowan*

    #4 – changing fields — My one recommendation is to be super explicit in your cover letter. Acknowledge you are changing fields and that means taking a step back. I worry when I see someone with 10 years of experience applying for an entry-level job because I don’t think I can afford them.

  17. to varying degrees*

    #25 is clearly wrong – cold coffee is gross (and no saying “iced” doesn’t make it better). /sarcasm :)

    #23 I’ve always wanted to learn Arabic. Have no real use for it, but it sounds intriguing.

    1. hbc*

      I started learning Arabic when I was in an airport and realized it was a very common alphabet but I couldn’t even begin to sound it out phonetically. I’m still pretty terrible and my pronunciation is atrocious, but I just recently recognized a few phrases while running errands and it was amazing.

    2. B*itch in the corner of the poster*

      Just married an Egyptian and have been learning arabic for a few years now. Beautiful language!

    3. AnoninGermany*

      I have a master’s degree in Arabic and worked in the language for several years. It’s a difficult language and made even more difficult by the fact that it’s not really one language but a collection of regional dialects — some of which are almost mutually unintelligible, even to native speakers — united by the fact that Modern Standard Arabic is used in more formal situations, eg. for business correspondence or on the news.

      That said, it can be exceptionally beautiful, particularly at the literary level. I loved learning it for that alone!

  18. Sherm*

    #21 (when everyone leaves): I myself will probably look for a new job when my boss leaves and have a new boss. I’ve been there a while, and there are a number of cons, so upon my boss’s departure it might be a good time just to turn the page, and it will have nothing to do about what I think about NewBoss. I’d believe their assurances that it has nothing to do with you (and it’s also fine to relishing developing your own team!)

    1. Lily Rowan*

      Yeah, I think in general, change around you makes people think of managing their own changes.

      But also, did either of those other long-standing peers think they had a shot at the boss role? And/or did they move on to supervisory roles?

    2. The Real Fran Fine*

      Yup. It’s possible they only stayed as long as they did out of loyalty to the departed boss. Once she left, there was no reason for them to stay, and so they didn’t. That’s how I’d frame it for myself anyway.

    3. Ama*

      I’m late to this but I recently had my direct supervisor changed during a restructuring (my old boss had too much on her plate and my new boss supervises other departments with a lot of overlap to my own). As it happens, I am in the early stages of a plan to hopefully build a side business into something I can do full time. It won’t be ready to go until at least a year from now, and I am concerned my new boss will think I only started on this plan because I am unhappy after being reassigned to her — which isn’t the case at all, if anything the extra support that my other team members will have when I leave because we’re now part of a larger team with a boss who is more engaged has made me feel more like my leaving will be less disruptive.

  19. Trainer of Sandwich Guy*

    I have been training someone for 7 weeks and have only experienced red flags (on day 2, he left a pre-scheduled meeting with me to drive to get a sandwich, not writing down assignments, not asking questions for clarification, not using time well, things like that). I’ve been speaking with his supervisor and his supervisor wants to put him on a performance improvement plan but agrees that we’re seeing a lot of red flags. My thought is, why would we go through a PIP for someone who is not doing well in this role? My hands are tied and I’ll have to do whatever the company wants me to do, but my question is: Is putting an employee on a PIP just a way to CYA in case of firing? Would you recommend writing up a PIP for someone still very new to the company?

    1. Trainer of Sandwich Guy*

      Whoops, I realized Alison isn’t taking questions for this round but if you can top someone presenting a red flag as big as a leaving a pre-scheduled meeting on day 2 to pick up a sandwich, I want to hear about it

        1. Trainer of Sandwich Guy*

          We were like, halfway through a meeting where I was going over some things that required screensharing and he was like, “I have to go pick up a sandwich.” and left! I was really stunned, I have never been in this situation before, and had to talk to him about it the next day and ask that he not leave a pre-scheduled meeting like that unless it was absolutely necessary. He said he got caught up in HR trainings and didn’t have a chance to get lunch. It was uncomfortable but he has not done it since then

      1. onetwothreefour*

        Was it at least a really good sandwich??

        I do think people often use a PIP as a CYA method. Which is too bad. I think it’s a way of saying, I gave you a chance. It reminds me of when people go to couples therapy, even when they’ve definitely decided on divorce – I kind of understand the impulse, but it’s not a great approach.

    2. hbc*

      To me, a PIP is a way to be 100% clear about what it is that’s a problem and what the path is to improvement. There’s not much point if you don’t think the person can actually do it, but I’d rather have a person leave saying, “They had crazy expectations that no one could meet” than being in the dark and/or making up their own reasons.

      Frankly, it’s been most useful as a defense against current employees who think the person was unceremoniously booted without warning. “I won’t speak about Sandwich Guy because we all deserve privacy with regard to our performance discussions, but we always go through a process before we let someone go to make sure the requirements for staying are clear and they have a chance to meet them.”

      1. tangerineRose*

        I like to think of it as a way to get people to know that you’re serious about the issues. I hope that before someone is put on a PIP, they’ve been told outright what the problems are (although not always). From the letters we get here, it’s clear that some people don’t take some corrections seriously.

        However, there are bad managers out there who may just be doing a CYA.

    3. Rosyglasses*

      I would not. I would consider that part of their introductory period (first 90 days) and just do a warning/convo to reset expectations, and if no improvement, termination. I’ve had to do this twice in the past 8 years and it always ends better to cut ties early.

  20. PollyQ*

    #38 — I decided to just take it on the chin and apologize, but she keeps bringing it up.

    Yeah, quit doing that. It’d be one thing if she were a customer, and then you’d be apologizing on behalf of the company, but in general there’s no reason to take responsibility for something that was in no way your fault. And as you’ve found, it didn’t even help you get along with this person.

    1. PhyllisB*

      Am I missing something? The questions I see start with #36. Is this a question from last month’s round?

      1. Ashley*

        Agreed. I’m not going to throw anyone under the bus, but I am NOT going to take responsibility for something I didn’t do.

      1. coffee*

        You need to set up the VR headsets to a tailored configuration for your eyes (much like how you have to wear different shoe sizes and it’s not one-size-fits-all). If you don’t do that, you get motion sick very easily.

        That’s not to say it’s the only reason someone might get motion sickness from VR! Just that the LW should look out for it, since you’ll want to have that addressed rather than everyone just putting the headset on and starting the meeting.

    1. PollyQ*

      I haven’t tried VR goggles, but 3D glasses don’t play well with my prescription eyeglasses, so I bet I’d have a problem with VR as well.

      1. Antilles*

        The current models of VR headsets all have attachments specifically designed to add extra space to fit eyeglasses inside. I’ve used them and they work fairly well. It’s not as good as wearing contacts where the VR goggles fit normally but it works. The biggest limitation is that it’s not quite as immersive because of the lack of peripheral vision / glancing to the side / etc – which of course also happens normally with eyeglasses but for some reason it felt a lot more jarring in VR than in normal every day life.

        Obviously a heavy YMMV though. My experience is based on having bad eyesight (-9.0 prescription) but *not* anything requiring bifocals, trifocals, or other unique types of lenses. I’d guess the VR goggles would play a lot worse with eyeglasses the more complex your prescription lenses get.

        1. Phony Genius*

          I just don’t think it’s a good idea to place a glowing screen 2-3 inches in front of your eyeballs.

        2. PollyQ*

          Exactly, for me I suspect the problem wouldn’t be the physical form, but the fact that I’m nearsighted, astigmatic, and also need magnification for reading. And of course, not only am I far from the only person in that position, demographically, old people are going to be more likely to have issues, which makes the whole enterprise a little hinky, legally. It also seems very likely that no one has considered what to do for people with more severe sight issues, which could make it an ADA issue.

          So much legal risk for so little gain. The only saving grace is that I suspect the novelty will wear off quickly.

      2. Beth*

        3D glasses give me splitting headaches. I also hate using them anyway, but I plead the headache and not the hatred when I need to nope out.

    2. Ata*

      Came here to bring up motion sickness. Regardless of setting adjustments I cannot use my partner’s VR headset for longer than 20 min without getting incredibly cranky and mildly sick (and that’s IF we’ve got the settings right, which doesn’t always happen). Supposedly you can get used to it but I’ve never wanted to go through the trouble of feeling sick to do that.

  21. Warrior Princess Xena*

    #33, phone games in meeting: I wouldn’t do this in person in a client meeting (though I’d be almost guaranteed to be doodling in my notes). Virtually? Abso-hecking-lutely. Maybe not phone games specifically, but I would do something else if I were only needed to be active for 5 minutes of a 4 hour meeting. But also if I were virtual I’d really hope that I wouldn’t have to stay for the whole 4 hours.

    1. Antilles*

      If it’s virtual, I’m either (a) posting in chat that I have another meeting and leaving OR (b) staying on the call but muting and turning off my camera so I can work on another project.

    2. Autumnheart*

      A 4-hour meeting is cruel and unusual punishment to begin with. There should be scheduled breaks, and an agenda so that someone who is slated to speak for only 5 minutes can arrive in time to present, and then leave the meeting when their piece is done. Sounds like this place needs a serious overhaul of their meeting process.

      1. Massive Dynamic*

        Agreed – such torture! 4hr meetings should be a SUPER special circumstance, agenda beforehand, catered, etc. I bet at least some of those folks are using their phones to stay on top of work email.

    3. Gumby*

      I did once quietly, unobtrusively, spend the bulk of a looooong very technical and way-over-my-head client meeting playing “how many words can I make from the letters of [title of presentation slide]” in a notebook. It could have looked like I was taking notes. I was also in the back of the room. I am fairly certain my presence in the meeting was more of a “see, we hired someone into this position” than anything in particular I had to add to the actual meeting contents. Which was valid as far as that goes since *no one* at the company had been doing my job role and it probably showed. The client did later go on to say nice things about me.

  22. CharlieBrown*

    Thank you, Alison, for being willing to foster teenagers. It’s tough to be in that spot at any age, but especially when you’re in your teens.

    And enjoy the music!

  23. Princess Deviant*

    No. 36 “I want to be napping all the time” is me too.
    And no you’re not alone OP. I would like to be paid for not working but sadly that’s not a possibility.

    1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      Definitely not alone. But to be fair, there ARE things I want to do less than work! Clean my house, take my car in for an oil change, pay bills…because those are still work, just an even more boring/gross/taxing variety than my day job.

  24. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

    My rule for breaking the ice vs. letting others go first is to set a reasonable amount of time, and if no one else goes, I go first. (Alternatively, I’ll set a benchmark like “by the time this speaker finishes.) Works for the buffet situation, but I’ve used the same rule of thumb for asking questions in training sessions or taking the last cupcake.

    1. I would prefer not to*

      I don’t understand why, if the food is open and available, you need to wait a reasonable amount of time before eating some of it.

      Even if you’re a host, really.

      Are we saying it would be reasonable or even vaguely normal to judge someone for eating food which is there for them to eat?

      1. FrivYeti*

        The etiquette reason not to beeline for the food is that when you’re at a work event, you’re supposed to behave as though you’re there for the event, and the food is a nice bonus.

        This means that unless the event has a mingling period beforehand (common for breakfast events, for example) heading straight for the food implies to some people that you’re not actually interested in the work event, you just want to eat.

        This can also vary dramatically between industries – if you’re in academics or the performing arts, everyone goes for the food first.

  25. Hlao-roo*

    45. Are some organizations more toxic than others?

    In addition to the larger/smaller divide, there are also some industries that are more toxic than others for historical/structural reasons. I think industries with low pay and/or long hours are more likely to have toxic organizations because workers become burnt out and resentful over time. Glamorous industries too, because they have a large supply of people who want to work in the industry, so they can churn through employees (I’m thinking along the lines of the video game industry).

    1. Educator*

      Absolutely! Teaching, which the letter writer mentioned, is a textbook example of this. It is really interesting to read about how the feminization of the profession around the Industrial Revolution set up sexist, classist, and xenophobic expectations for education professionals that everyone who works in the field still has to grapple with today.

    1. L.H. Puttgrass*

      I know!

      It’s a shame this one didn’t end up its own post, because it deserves its own comment thread.

      The thing about the competition to see how many customers they could sleep with…is this an ’80s teen movie?

    2. Bexy Bexerson*

      “Are you saying I’m not sexy?” Is just…wow. there are VERY FEW jobs for which that might be appropriate to say in an interview.

  26. Justin*

    Thanks for responding to number 16. I “helped” him join a volunteer board and he is going to leave me alone. :)

  27. Johanna Cabal*

    #5 Remove the MBA

    Back in early 2009 I was laid off a mere four months after receiving my master’s degree. I found I had better luck once I took it off my resume (fortunately, my program involved night classes so I worked during this time so I had no resume gap).

    Now that I have a lot more experience under my belt, I have put it back on my resume, though I’m pretty certain my experience and accomplishments draw more attention from hiring managers.

    I’ll be honest, at the time it felt a little icky to have removed it from my resume. At my next job (well, sort of next job as the first job I took after the layoff fired me after three months), I eventually mentioned the “missing master’s degree.” Guess what? No one cared.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I agree to take it off, but more because graduation is so far in the future. It isn’t exactly the same, but it feels like putting a bachelor’s degree on your resume when you are in your second year. If graduation was imminent — taking the final exam, “all but thesis,” etc. — then it could be relevant.

      1. AnoninGermany*

        I get applicants putting in-progress degrees on their CVs all of the time and think nothing of it; if anything, it’s a slight advantage over not having started that level of education at all. At the very worst, I’ll ask you how you plan to balance your studies and the job I’m hiring for.

    2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      I put my MBA on my resume, but at times it has served me to avoid drawing attention to it. People who seek it don’t find it impressive, and those who don’t can hold it against you.

    3. Esmeralda*

      Depends on the position of course. Even our “entry level” professional positions require a masters degree. We can’t hire anyone without one. In fact, we aren’t supposed to interview anyone without one, although we will for an otherwise outstanding on paper candidate, if they’re going to graduate very soon.

      It’s supposed to be in a small range of specific subjects “or other related field,” which I personally take to mean “just about any field” when I’m running the search. Over the years some of our best hires have been people with “unrelated” degrees.

    4. Foley*

      This^^^ I’ve removed graduate school (when not applicable) from a resume only to my benefit. The graduate school sucked up interview time while I tried to explain it away. (Why would you want this job? Is it a temp until you find a job that matches your schooling? And so on).

      My family’s idea that more degrees only helps is not true in my experience. Plus interviewers seem to have little room to understand a change of career plans.

      1. Johanna Cabal*

        Late reply but my mom (who never used her master’s degree as she left the workforce to be a SAHP a mere month after receiving it), was convinced to her dying day that the only way to advance in a career was to get a master’s degree.

  28. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    #54 Great Reshuffle

    The next wave will be companies that fire workers they hired or kept in desperation because they were afraid of the Great Resignation. It doesn’t stop but it will occasionally reach an equilibrium before tipping the other way,

  29. Warrior Princess Xena*

    #55 – Letters from both sides

    Didn’t we get a letter this year from someone who was pretty sure they were a coworker of Cheap-Ass Rolls lady? It wasn’t a very deep letter (confirming that CAR was in fact just as whackadoodle as she sounded in her letter) but I think that counts!

    1. Hlao-roo*

      Yes, the post was titled “a coworker of the cheap-ass rolls legend speaks out” from December 8, 2021.

      There was also the update to the “my best employee quit on the spot because I wouldn’t let her go to her college graduation” letter. The letter was written by the boss and the update was from the employee.

  30. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

    #51 I think most of those interviewees are trolling, or they’re interviewing to fulfill a requirement to look for a job. Either way, there’s no need to keep going with the interview.

    1. Spearmint*

      Since a lot of those interview fails involved responses that involved sex in some way, I’m super curious what the business is. Is it something that might attract people who are highly open about sex? Like is it lingerie store or something? It’s just so bizarre that you got multiple fails like that, especially the woman who showed up in a bikini.

      1. the cat's ass*

        I was wondering if it was a dispensary, with the applicant wondering if there was a discount and could they buy a lot of the (product ), and then quit.

    1. L.H. Puttgrass*

      Every time I hear about the “metaverse,” I can’t help thinking, “Stop trying to make the metaverse a thing.”

      1. BlueDijon*

        Love my mother-in-law, seriously, but I recently had a friendly debate with her about the metaverse and her argument for why it is inevitably the future is because in a fictional TV show (like, a scripted drama) they had something like it, and everyone in the TV show couldn’t live without it and their idea of it looked really good. I just laughed it off.

        1. Sethala*

          Haven’t really looked at what they’re doing with the “metaverse”, but it definitely sounds a lot like OASIS from Ready Player One. (Although in that book I’m pretty sure people could connect to it via more mundane tech like a normal PC/monitor/keyboard setup, and only rich people or enthusiasts had actual VR tech.)

          1. Princess Xena*

            You are correct; most folks seemed to have a basic headset + a pair of controllers with their basic setup.

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I think that it’ll be like other virtual reality that has existed for a long time… used for games or entertainment, but not really integrated into, let alone a replacement for, real life.

      1. L.H. Puttgrass*

        Anyone remember when companies were scrambling to set up a presence in Second Life in case it turned out to be the next Internet?

        1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          I’ve heard the name, but I’m Old so I honestly have no idea (and don’t care to look it up).

          I can see where things like concerts or theater productions move to have a VR option. I might go to a live concert in VR if it means a good view and sound, no commute or parking, no other audience members and their bad manners ruining my experience, I can bring my own snacks, etc. But for WORK, no. There’s no benefit over plain 2d Zoom/Teams/Slack etc. I do not need to “experience” my coworker Fergus.

    3. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

      I already have a VR headset and I would still roll my eyes at metaverse business meetings.

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        “Why yes, I’d love to add a heaping level of motion sickness, technological difficulties, and uncanny valley to meetings, which are already boring and terrible or terrifying and terrible”.

  31. Cthulhu's Librarian*

    #57 – You’re not being unreasonable, especially if the meeting is for a short period of time (ie, the 45 minutes you mention). If the meetings are longer (ie, a six hour all hands meeting), you probably won’t be able to get enough people to be willing to buy in for that long a period of time, unfortunately – I’d suggest asking to be able to attend something longer like that virtually.

  32. Phony Genius*

    On #59, I initially read it as if the LW was now making more than the berator*, and I thought maybe it was a gender-based pay gap thing. However, after re-reading it, I see it says “within a few thousand dollars.” So she’s angry about the LW’s salary being too close to, but still not more than, her salary? Not reasonable.

    * – Spell check insists that berator is not a word. As far as I’m concerned, it means “one who berates.”

    1. Esmeralda*

      If the berator is angry about salary compression, they need to take it up with their manager or maybe HR. Not the OP.

  33. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    #63 Money no object

    Buy plants
    Sit in space surrounded by plants, drinking a nice beverage depending on the time of day
    Take photos and videos of plants to share with other planty people on social
    Buy more plants so I can repeat the process to infinity

  34. Nethwen*

    #61 – Sick Time

    Tone matters. I prefer my employees to tell me (not ask or apologize) that they are taking sick leave, but one ex-employee did it in such a way that it came across as “I’m doing this and you can’t stop me! La, la, la! I can do what I want! So there!!!” Everyone else told me and it was simply a statement of fact, like telling me that they put in the last ink cartridge.

    1. Emmy Noether*

      I’m struggling to think how I would even phrase it as a question. Because it’s not a question. The only person who knows if they are too sick to work is the employee (and possibly their physician).

  35. ohIdon'tknow*

    “You’re worth more to me working reasonable hours and still here in a year, then working round the clock but leaving in three months because you’re exhausted.” This made me cackle. My employer would much rather have people burn out and leave exhausted. The departing staff members are then badmouthed as lazy ungrateful troublemakers, and replaced so the whole process can begin again.

    I have a co-worker who spends each meeting scrolling and texting on their phone for the ENTIRE meeting (literally the whole time, no exaggeration here), and interrupts others constantly. Everyone else in the meetings raises their hands to speak and/or waits their turn to say something. This co-worker also eavesdrops and interrupts the conversations of others outside of meetings. It is incredibly rude and disrespectful and there have been many complaints, but dysfunctional leadership ignores it.

    Most importantly, I want to hear more about the kitties. How do they all get along? Please tell them I said “Hi!”

  36. Miss 404*

    W.r.t. the metaverse:
    As card-carrying member of the Yoofs, I dub thee an Old Who Should Remain So, Because Bloody Hell.

    The day the metaverse goes the way of the Virtual Boy and 3DTV will be the day I am a happy, happy woman.

    1. Anonymous Pygmy Possum*

      Yup! Zillenial here (also a Youth™) and I agree wholeheartedly. At least the higher-ups bought the headsets for the whole team – I could absolutely see a letter coming in from someone whose company wanted them to buy a headset with their own money. But it’s still eye-rolly as is.

  37. Phony Genius*

    On #72, from Wikipedia: “A TPS report (“test procedure specification”) is a document used by a quality assurance group or individual, particularly in software engineering, that describes the testing procedures and the testing process. ”

    So they are a thing somewhere.

      1. Potatoes for all!*

        Yes! they are real, and actually important in QA — you need to write down exactly /how/ you’re doing your testing for it to be reliable & reproducible. I think it just comes across as “meeting about meetings” vibes (“we need to report how we make our reports!”) so it’s easily satirized as useless beauracracy

    1. tooIdentifyingMaybe*

      I used to write reports on tickets that came in (support team) and was asked to write a report with the initials TPS. I don’t remember what it stood for, but knowing the person who asked for it, I think this was subtle humor on his part (as well as getting a useful report).

    2. Bex*

      Came here to say this. I’ve written TPS reports. Part of QA process as part of IEEE procedures, but they had a different meaning in Office Space iirc.

      They used it as a crap report that you have to write because of idiot managers, partially as a CYA report or busy work. The real report documents the testing processes, how they were carried out, results, procedures followed, etc. So it’s a partially yes, partially no answer.

  38. Mimmy*

    #8 – No contact after interview

    Even though I know this is incredibly common, it is still so, so disheartening when I encounter this. I had virtual interviews with two universities in August – the university I thought would ghost me contacted me a week later to tell me I wasn’t moving forward; the one I thought would be more responsive has been anything but.

  39. Cthulhu's Librarian*

    #72 – TPS reports are actually multiple real things, and were at the time of the movie. I’ve heard it was used in payment processors (Transaction Processing System), and in software Quality Assurance (Test Procedure Specifications). In the context of office space, and what Initech was doing, either one would have made sense (they were clearly involved either directly in payment processing or writing software for payment processors/banks for the theft scheme to have worked at all).

    1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      I don’t think it matters if there is or ever was a real TPS report. The legacy of Office Space is that nearly always when we refer to “TPS reports” it’s a stand-in for any bureaucratic process/document, often pointless, boring, or repetitive.

      1. FrivYeti*

        And the irony is that the TPS report itself wasn’t even the problem in Office Space; the problem was that the main character accidentally didn’t include a new cover form, which should have been a minor problem, easily fixed, except that he reported to so many people, none of whom communicated with each other and all of whom were spending all their time ‘supervising’, that he kept getting the *same* complaint / clarification from person after person.

  40. Antilles*

    “Intelligence Engineer” sounds like one of those ridiculous titles that a mega-corporation invents to pretend like they care about their lowest tier workers. No, no, you are not a mere “checkout clerk”, you’re an ~Intelligence Engineer~ and an important part of this company’s success!

    1. fhqwhgads*

      I don’t think it’s inherently a ridiculous title – my first thought was someone working on Business Intelligence. But as a new title for the role OP70 had…that’s what doesn’t make sense.

  41. WhataDay*

    #69 – I disagree a bit with the advice here. If you only fill in for a week, I don’t think that is resume worthy. (As an interviewer, I would be puzzled) However, if you are the one who fills in when the manager is on vacation, then I would list it. For one this temporary though, this would look like either a trial that was not repeated or an emergency fill-in.

  42. PollyQ*

    Are #55 (donate to old employee or be “reported” to new boss) & #59 (should’ve rejected a raise) the same person? Because wow, just WOW, to both of them.

    1. Down the rabbit hole*

      I was thinking 55 should forward it to their manager as an FYI and think about a case for harassment…at least old job had the courtesy to put the proof in writing.

      It’s so outrageous and I want to hear an update.

    2. Dancing Otter*

      #55 sounds like blackmail to me. It’s clearly an attempt at extortion by threat of adverse information, even though the information (refusing to donate) isn’t all that adverse.

  43. ZSD*

    51. Well, I can’t really BLAME the first person for disagreeing with that managerial decision.
    I really want to know what job the person with the sex contest previously had. I’m assuming it was along the lines of bar-tending, but I wish she had held this contest at, like, an accounting firm.

    1. L.H. Puttgrass*

      Re: the sex contest, the logistics alone are fascinating. There had to have been multiple customers in one day, but the job also had to have allowed the employee time and space to sneak out for the…er, contest entry.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        Not only that, but multiple customers who were actually willing to participate! I mean, of all the customer who walks through the door, how many of them are actually DTF *that very minute?* And what do you say to them? “Hey, my colleague and I are having a contest. Do you want to come to the back room with me for five minutes?”

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          And if it’s something that is sex-work or adjacent, what’s the point of the contest when nearly everyone who comes in is DTF? So for there to be any challenge, it can’t be a massage parlor or strip club or anything like that.

          #51, I find your story fascinating and would like to subscribe to your blog.

  44. Empress Matilda*

    #55 – what is this, the Baby Shower Mafia? That’s ridiculous. A, nobody expects former employees to donate to office baby showers, and B, I guarantee your current employer won’t care in the least. (Unless they are also part of the Baby Shower Mafia, I suppose!)

    1. Venus*

      If it happened to me I would send them my current boss’s contact info and let her know what was happening. I would trust her to find it fascinating!

    2. fhqwhgads*

      I briefly wondered if the threat weren’t to report the not-donating-to-baby-shower to current employer but rather to report some other not necessarily true but negative thing to current employer.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        Even then, it looks like OP left that place years ago, would the current employer really do anything other than laugh at a report of something as long ago as that?

  45. idwtpaun*

    #51. “Are you saying I’m not sexy.” What a legend. I’m in awe. I hope she’s living her best life. (OP, I’m giggling madly, I know it must’ve been flabbergasting when it happened, but I’m so glad you wrote in with all of these examples.)

    1. Empress Matilda*

      I love the first Q/A in that set. I mean, you can’t deny the logic! If my supervisor slept with my parent, I’m pretty sure I would disagree with that as well…

      1. Down the rabbit hole*

        That dropped my jaw! Technically he answered with context that allowed me to follow his logic (minus the knocking their teeth out).

        I really wish I had an opportunity to use the line, “Are you saying I’m not sexy?” That might be my new favorite retort to being corrected.

  46. Unkempt Flatware*

    #71–I have never ever seen a negative person be convinced that they are negative. Never. I’ve never even heard a tale about such an event. The only time I’ve seen a negative person turn it around is when he was exposed to someone just like him and he was appalled at his own behavior reflected back at him. It came from within, basically.

    I see so many negative people who think they’re not negative because they laugh and joke while complaining. Hahaha this food is so gross hahahahaha. They will likely never see themselves clearly.

    1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

      Same! The most negative person I know literally described herself on one of those “tell us about yourself” Facebook quizzes with, “I’m the life of the party. People are always praising me for my positive outlook.” (She is also…very full of herself.)

      In nearly twenty years, I have never once encountered someone praise her for being a positive person. She is so negative and nasty that newcomers to the group immediately start finding excuses to hang out with everyone but her, or (more often) drop out of the group entirely. The only reason I’ve ever had anything to do with her past our first meeting is because, unfortunately, she’s the wife of a very dear old friend. Opposites really do attract, I guess. (In recent years, however, he’s begun adopting her bad traits and negative outlook, and I’ve been slowly pulling back from that social group for my own mental health. Sucks to lose a friend that way, but I won’t let his wife treat me the way she treats everyone else, and I’m tired of being berated and insulted for standing up to her.)

      1. JustAnotherKate*

        I could be the negative person in #71 except that I have enough self-awareness to know I’m negative and stay away from people as much as possible when I’m really being a rain cloud! I’m not sure it’s possible to turn a negative outlook into a positive one, but it is possible to develop the self-awareness to know when you’re being a downer and rein it in.

  47. Yay, I’m a Llama Again!*

    What’s the logic in preventing people at supervisor level from discussing salary? Doesn’t that just make it easier to hide inequality when you get up the ladder? I think it’s great it’s not an issue under supervisor level, but the restrictions there seem odd (I’m in the UK and I’m not aware we have any rules against discussing salary at any level, but could be wrong)

    1. Empress Matilda*

      Doesn’t that just make it easier to hide inequality when you get up the ladder?

      Yep. It’s a feature, not a bug.

    2. Clobberin' Time*

      The restrictions seem odd because AAM is referencing the NLRA, a federal law (broadly) related to union rights. You can’t have management as union members because that would undermine the employees’ rights. Therefore, the NLRA doesn’t protect managerial employees’ rights to discuss working conditions, including salary.

      However, AAM did not mention that individual states may have their own laws that offer more protection.

    3. fhqwhgads*

      It’s not that it’s prohibited from discussion at the supervisor level. It isn’t. It’s just that it’s illegal to stop non-management from discussing wages, but it is legal to stop management from discussing it. So a company could tell the supervisors not to if they wanted to – which is a shitty but legal thing. But nothing’s requiring them to have that policy.

    4. tangerineRose*

      Also, it lets them easily pay more to people who threaten to leave and/or somehow make a big fuss about it and less to quality people who are quiet about that kind of thing.

  48. Mel*

    #74: My former boss would always shave and apply aftershave/cologne at the end of the day. My office was at the other end of a corridor from him, so not particularly close. I don’t think I’m extraordinarily sensitive, but even at that distance, I would find it so overwhelming I was choking on the fumes. I don’t recommend it.

  49. Murphey*

    Ok, so maybe the Oculus is eye-rolly (I feel like there may be a pun there, but I’m not clever enough today to flesh it out), but your company bought you an Oculus! I’d be a little stoked to get one, especially if I could use it for non-work purposes. They’re actually a lot of fun.

  50. Baby Yoda*

    #80– Jealous– I know how you feel. I sometimes see contest results for writing competitions I did not even enter and feel envious. How silly is that? It’s pretty normal.

  51. LB*

    #80 the term is “Dog in a Manger” – for the phenomenon, I don’t want this / can’t use it, but I don’t want anyone else to have it, either. It’s from an Aesop’s Fable just like Sour Grapes is.

    Anyways, it’s a natural impulse that nevertheless you shouldn’t give too much fuel or attention.

      1. LB*

        As I recall, the fable is of a dog who stood on a manger of hay and barked at any farm animals that tried to come close to eat it – he couldn’t eat the hay, but didn’t want them to eat it either.

        I always liked that that one was probably based on real, observed dog behavior on Aesop’s part! (Or a contemporary.) A dog gets irrationally territorial in Whatever Year B.C. and now we have a term for that thing we feel :)

    1. LW#80*

      I hear what you are saying, but the proverbial dog prevents the other animal from eating. I am not preventing anyone from occupying the role or succeeding in it. Just feeling jealous that they have it. More like “the allure of the unavailable” or something. Anyways I recognize it is irrational, so not giving it much fuel or attention seems like a good plan.

  52. LB*

    #72 – TPS – It’s an Office Space reference that has become the generic shorthand for “boring general office work”. Also a subtle joke from the film since its letters suggest “Total Piece of S*** Report”

  53. Constable George Crabtree*

    #39 ‐ I am 28, love tech, use my Oculus all the time, and this is eyeroll-y to me for a lot of reasons. Those headsets can be rough on your head and neck after a while! I have to tap out after an hour or I can get massive headaches and nausea. And in Meta (or whatever) you’re seeing avatars instead of your coworkers’ actual faces and expressions. I see no advantage at all, just Exciting Tech Advancement that doesn’t solve a problem. Plus: it ruins my hair. Zoom is better.

    1. Ama*

      I have yet to see a use for the Metaverse that can’t be done just fine on the regular internet (even all of Meta’s own commercials are things like “we collaborate with each other in real time from different countries!” as if people haven’t been doing that just fine for years). Perhaps there will be some uses as the technology advances but it’s just not there right now.

  54. I would prefer not to*

    If you’re hosting an event, maybe it is good to let guests eat first.

    But even if you’re hosting, you’re still at work, aren’t you? It isn’t like inviting guests to a dinner party.

    Naturally clients or important stakeholders should get first dibs on food.

    Honestly though I find this type of thing very irritating.

    Don’t hog more than your share, and if you organise an event, make sure there’s enough food.

    Beyond that, you’re all adults. Don’t judge people for eating food which is explicitly available to them to eat. And don’t assume other people are irrational or immature enough to judge people for eating food when they are offered food.

    1. tangerineRose*

      Where I’ve worked, either they would tell people in various sections of the room to come up and get food, or they would have us sit and we’d be served.

  55. I would prefer not to*

    Yes, I’ve encountered so many people who mistake lazy cynicism for critical thinking (when it usually suggests a complete lack of critical thinking).

    Some people really do seem to feel their frustration at (what they perceive as) everyone else’s wild incompetence must be a reflection of their own brilliance, and therefore is something to be proud of.

    Whereas it is more likely that they’re misjudging people. Maybe they’re ignoring/devaluing skills which differ from their own and thus ignoring their own areas of weakness. Maybe they obsess about processes or other things which others don’t because those things don’t actually impact outcomes.

    Or maybe they lack resilience or maturity, and that’s why they get so frustrated by other people all the time!

    Sadly, in some work environments, the culture is such that moaning about other people actually is taken as evidence that the moaner must be competent. The culture feeds itself and reasonable professional behaviours (like focusing on outcomes or not joining in nasty gossip) almost count against you.

  56. Eldritch Office Worker*

    You mentioned napping at least twice, Alison! I hope you listened to your own brain and took a nap after this.

  57. Left Turn at Albuquerque*

    #49 (references): Asking them to fill out a form runs the risk they may not do it at all, which happened to me about 13 years ago when I was trying to sign on with a teacher placement agency. (Yeah, I’m still a little bitter.) At least if you get them on the phone they have to provide some sort of response.

  58. Mimmy*

    77. Employees just vanish…sometimes

    This has happened at my job a couple of times. This last time, Fergus disappeared for about a month, came back, then disappeared for good with no word from management. Fergus is older and seemed to be frailer when we returned to in-person work, so I’m sure it was health-related. We don’t need specifics, of course, but it would’ve been a courtesy for management to let us know that “Fergus will not be coming back and that we are working on filling his position.”

    1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      I’ve never worked anywhere until now where people vanish without a word. I hate it! It feels not only weirdly secretive, but also dehumanizing to them and us. I don’t find out until I try to Slack them some time later and they aren’t in the system anymore :/

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I submitted that one. I was hoping Alison would say that there should be a org-wide, enforced, policy on this; whatever they choose to do, it’s the same for everyone and not up to the individual manager.

      The worst is that it’s completely arbitrary around my org, even within the same department: sometimes they send out an email; sometimes there’s going-away treats in the break room; sometimes a full catered dinner at a hotel; sometimes they go on leave and eventually someone clears out their desk; and sometimes a person is just…evaporated…like they were never there to begin with. There isn’t a rhyme or reason to it either — like the person was fired so we say nothing, but if a person quits they get cupcakes, and if they retire they get an email — nope, no pattern to it.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Definitely there should be a broad policy of announcing departures so nobody just disappears – beyond that though, I’m not sure how strict you want to get about whether to have a goodbye party or etc. You don’t want to mandate that everyone gets a dinner or everyone gets cupcakes or nobody gets any send-off at all.

        1. ARROWED!*

          I don’t think my first job had official rules. Unofficially, people who left voluntarily were announced via an email like Alison’s, with more or less detail according to the person’s wishes. The small number of people I know or suspect were fired, the email said, “As of [date], Fergus is no longer employed by Org.”

          Whether they got cake or party or whatever had no rules either, but typically seemed in scale with how long they had worked there.

  59. idwtpaun*

    #39. If I were an investor in that company, I would be pulling out my money right now if that’s how they waste it. I suppose if I were one of the people who received a free $500 VR headset, I’d be happy, though.

  60. AGD*

    The only reason why #11 didn’t get the song stuck in my head was that it was already stuck in my head and has been for at least a week.

  61. Freya*

    #34. I am sure your company accounts for this, but if the employee is salaried and working during vacation, then they are entitled to a full day of regular pay unless you have a policy stating otherwise. If they are hourly, they also need to be paid for their time without having to use PTO, regardless of policy.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Actually, the law only cares that exempt employees get paid, but they don’t require that it come from non-PTO time. Your employer can still make you use vacation time for that day as long as you’re paid.

      1. Freya*

        Thanks for the clarification, Alison! I didn’t realize that Oregon law was different than federal in this instance.

  62. nnn*

    61. A useful sick day script is “I’m going to have to take a sick day today” (in contexts where you can be fully assertive) or “I’m afraid I’m going to have to take a sick day today” (in contexts where something more mitigative is needed.)

    You can also include any information your co-workers need to know in your absence, or assurance that everything is under control and no action is required on their part.

  63. nnn*

    15. One thing I wish I’d learned in my college job is how to escalate things I’m unable to or not empowered to handle myself.

    My dirty lens on this is I was raised with an overdeveloped sense of personal responsibility. I thought I had to be able to do everything myself, and not being able to do it myself was Bad and Wrong.

    This was exacerbated by the fact that 18-year-old me had never been exposed to a situation escalating things is normal and routine (e.g. first-level support can’t do this so they have to transfer you to second-level support), and in my high-school fast food job they basically put a bunch of teenagers in place with no manager present and then yelled at us for not being able to manage things as well as a manager and yelled at us for not doing things that only managers are authorized to do and yelled at us for trying to do things that only managers are authorized to do.

    So I would have appreciated being taught that escalating is a thing, and when it’s okay to escalate, and scripts that I should use with the client when I’m escalating.

  64. goddessoftransitory*

    Hee, #51 reminded me of the old Retail comic strip where Marla’s interviewing Christmas help.

    Interviewee: So, if I got hired and the store burned to the ground, could I get unemployment?

    Marla: errr…I guess…

    Interviewee: What if the fire was of suspicious orgin?

  65. Azure Jane Lunatic*

    After Office Space, the place I worked for a while made TPS reports. It was something like Total Productivity (This) Shift, I think. Just for the sake of being able to say something about TPS reports in the office and have it mean something.

  66. DannyG*

    #31: is a standing desk or an adjustable desk or topper an option? I am 100% work from home right now & got one of the adjustable toppers for my desk. I sit 30 minutes & stand 30 minutes most of the day. Even have enough room to do some walking in place. Last job had a couple of fixed, standing work stations & I would use one a couple of times a shift.

    1. WillowSunstar*

      Maybe for some, but companies aren’t reimbursing all costs for people working from home.

      At mine, we have to log the number of minutes worked on projects, so the 10 minutes every hour is unfeasible because we have to have a minimum amount of hours worked on projects every day. We would actually get sternly talked to about not working 10 minutes every hour. I believe that adds up to 70 minutes of not working if you don’t count lunch. (This comment is while I am on a 15-minute break.)

  67. Sad Desk Salad*

    For #11, you generally can’t contract for something that’s illegal. So many people want to put their crimes on paper as some sort of “gotcha” to the other party to strongarm them into complying with their wishes, but contracting to commit a crime (or tort, or other legally actionable item) typically makes the contract (at least in part) null and unenforceable.

  68. marvin*

    Thank you Alison for providing some insight into what it’s like to foster teenagers! I’ve wanted to be a foster caregiver (for teens or older kids) for a long time and every time I hear from someone else who’s done it, it seems a bit more achievable as a goal.

    1. R*

      A great way to dip your toe in the water is by becoming a respite care provider for kids/teens in foster care – it’s basically like being a babysitter when their foster family needs a break (or they need a break from their foster family), or when their foster family has to travel or do something that the kiddo can’t join for. Less of a commitment than fostering, but still a great way to be a support for these kids. In our state, getting approval for respite still takes a background check process, but it’s a little less intense than the process to become a foster parent. I started doing it last year, and really love it. Not sure yet myself about whether I’m ready to become a full foster parent, but this has been a great fit for now.

  69. CatCat*

    I enjoy my Oculus (its primary purpose in my life is to wack objects to the rhythm of a beat), but I am trying hard to fathom the business reason to meet in the metaverse for business versus something like Zoom or Teams. What’s the value of it?

    1. Sethala*

      Admittedly, when a friend of mine was starting to have a few anxiety issues, she found out that talking with people in VR Chat (using VR) helped calm her anxiety and desire to meet and interact with other people in a way that simply talking with people in voice chat didn’t. I’d personally be interested to see studies that go into any differences about how people subconsciously think about personal relationships in different environments (meeting face to face/zoom meetings/VR space). Although I think it’s far too early to require everyone to go into VR for meetings.

      As for more concrete benefits, I could potentially see value if a company can use the VR tech for showing visual samples that wouldn’t work as well on a flat screen… although I’m not thinking of any examples offhand.

  70. Michelle Smith*

    #5 – I included my in progress graduate program on my resume, and the people I interviewed with saw it as an asset. I don’t think you answered the question wrong, I don’t think your expectations are wrong, I just think that employer was a bad fit. If you struggle to get anywhere with anyone, consider leaving it off. But think about whether it’s best to just find a place that’s excited about your professional development and sees your increased skills as an asset not a detriment.

  71. Hatchet*

    #12 – Embarrassed by age – When I was in my first years of my career, I took it as a compliment if my colleagues thought I was older than I really was – I interpreted as a sign that I came across as professional and competent (but maybe that’s just me) and usually only corrected them if they were a close colleague. Even now, a few decades in, I never know if a new colleague is coming in new to our field or with many years – and it usually doesn’t matter. I think you’re good in just referring to your job from college.

  72. fhqwhgads*

    #74 This issue is not that it’s unprofressional. It’s that it’s inconsiderate, and usually unnecessary.

  73. Irish Teacher*

    With regard to the phone in meetings, I will say that while I agree with Alison, a 4 hour meeting IS very long and it may be harder for some people than others. Some people find it very hard to concentrate for long periods of time. Not attending all the meeting sounds like a reasonable solution.

  74. Former Retail Manager*

    TPS Reports! I work for a government agency and at one time there were TPS reports. I have no idea what TPS stood for or what they were, but a few years back, I found a bunch of dividers that were labeled “TPS Reports.” The dividers looked to be from the 80’s. Friends got a kick out of it.

  75. Lazy Cat's Mom*

    On #62 – Company ghosted me, can I reach out again?
    I’m going to disagree. If you’re really interested in the job and haven’t been constantly following up, it might be worth one more try.
    Back in the mid-1990s, I had a job interview that got me very excited about the position. As he walked me out, the interviewer said I want you to come back for a follow-up and that he’d call me to set it up. When I didn’t hear after a few days, I called him and left a message. The next week I tried again.
    I never heard back and figured he’d changed his mind. About 6 months later I saw the same job advertised in the newspaper again. I mailed them a letter (it was 1996 and that’s what we did) saying how much I had enjoyed meeting the interviewer before and was still very interested in the company.
    A few days later I got a call. It turns out the interviewer was fired the day after I met him, and the company never knew that I had been interviewed.
    I went for another interview and was hired.
    I’m still there 26 years later.

  76. Rolly*

    “m’lady, chivalry thing”

    I’d love for the OP to say “Why thank you, kind sir” while kicking him in the nuts.

  77. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    72. TPS reports. Yes, there are things, NOT BY THAT NAME, but other dumb requirements.
    When I handled a customer problem, we had to ensure that a supporting document existed so as to provide the solution. In some cases – it was “customer screw up”. I got so disgusted with the requirement (and, our problem/solution system “lost” documents that were created, somebody was horsing around with the knowledge base) – so I had a document “This document is bogus but is attached to the problem ticket to satisfy the requirement.”

    If anyone in management had seen that, there would have been hell to pay. But no one was looking at what was attached, just the fact that there WAS an internal attachment.

    5. Getting an MBA. Oh, yeah. I worked in a computer center where one of the console operators was earning his MBA in IS/IT. The thing was, HE NEVER TOLD ANYONE ABOUT IT! Management was furious. Two reasons – one, they likely never would have hired him in the first place and number two – he was providing a good professional example to others — something they did NOT want to show to his peers. Yes, it was weird – but you have to understand managements’ mindset in that place. It was “HOW DARE YOU!!!”

  78. madge*

    OP #54 – I’m also in higher ed fundraising and we have positions just sitting empty because we’ve received zero applicants, or fewer than five but no one is qualified, or they accept another position before we can offer it to them. Our institution also thought this was a good time to approve reducing our PTO by 10 days per year and calling it “modernizing” (we’re publicly funded so our PTO was what made MANY people accept our low salaries). They also allow WFH up to two days per week if you don’t supervise anyone (if anyone reports to you, you’re ineligible). Gee, wonder why we can’t compete?

  79. Usagi*

    I don’t want to give myself away so I wont say which of these was mine, but you answered my question in this batch. Thank you!

  80. "I'd rather have a good person for a year..."*

    #5: I got a new job when I was a year out from finishing my master’s. I was totally up-front with that. My interviewer said, “I’d rather have a good person for a year than a bad one for 10,” and hired me. I ended up working there for a year and a half and then taking a job in my new field, and I have had that philosophy ever since. I hope you find a manager who thinks the same way.

  81. STAT!*

    Re #20. When will I feel settled at a new job?

    Tangentially to this question, I know I have actually settled into a job when people start telling me gossip about who is enemies with who. This is also usually the point I start wishing I could leave.

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