my employee demands to know where I am at all times

A reader writes:

I started a new management role three months ago and am managing a small team. One of my staff was under-performing when I started, and one of my directives was to get them on a coaching plan, which I have. As a result, they have made complaints that I’m out to get them. I’ve been documenting everything, and my boss has my back.

My boss had a skip-level meeting with them to allow them to air their grievances. During this, they mentioned that my boss and I should always let them know when we have meetings, for how long, and what they’re for. I do let my team know when I’m away for extended periods, but occasionally will be pulled into a last-minute meeting. The nature of our role doesn’t require to be at my desk at all times, but I’m here for 70-80% of the day.

They have now taken to asking my boss “when can we expect you back?” and “who are you off to visit?” every time he leaves the office. My boss is easily reached by mobile/email, and doesn’t have a lot of day-to-day interaction with the team.

I’m trying to build a good working relationship with them in order to coach effectively, and I don’t want to seem inflexible. But they don’t need to know where my boss and I are every second of the day, and this seems like a bit of a power play. Any advice on how my boss and I should address this?

I answer this question — and three others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Someone who was awful to me now wants me to refer them for a job
  • Staff selling multi-level marketing products at work
  • Handling early pregnancy without telling my coworkers

{ 127 comments… read them below }

  1. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

    With the MLMs being as prevalent as the LW says, I would honestly wonder if these people aren’t being paid enough to make ends meet.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      That could be a reason, but it’s also likely that some people just want a side hustle.

      As well, MLMs are very seductive in their approach – Own your own business! Feather your nest for retirement! Build something you’re passionate about! – and people of all income levels respond.

      1. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        Oh, I know they’re seductive, etc. I’m just saying, for an office to have almost everyone needing/wanting a side hustle, and pushing them to the extent the LW describes seems pretty unusual. A few cropping up here and there wouldn’t surprise me, but the complete inundation of them to the point of disrupting meetings regularly is NOT normal.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Or it could be a local-culture thing. The one place that I worked that had an MLM infestation was in a smallish town where most wives worked part-time, at most. MLMs we’re one of the acceptable “Mrs jobs” because in theory you can do them around domestic work.

          1. higheredadmin*

            It’s kind of one of the problems with MLMs. If you are the first person in your region to start in one, you can easily make a killing. If you are the 90th person then the market is already saturated and you are making zip. (Not like a company that would manage the number of stores/sales people per region – for the MLM hierarchy to work the market saturation is inevitable.) There was a wonderful doc on a certain well-known buttery leggings company and the first person to sell them on behalf of the owners was (and is) raking in millions per year.

            1. Jinni*

              That documentary was the best. I’d love to see one on the kitchen gadgets. I was very surprised to see professional women I know picking it up when they had kids and left the workforce.

              1. Nobby Nobbs*

                Some of them manage a real veneer of respectability, especially the early ones. Great for roping in folks who think they’re too smart or educated for MLMs. (Nobody’s too smart or educated for cult tactics)

          2. Ray B Purchase*

            Seconding this. My small hometown has a huge MLM culture and the people who have them are a pretty wide mix of income levels. Running an MLM side job would not be an indicator of being underpaid in my town.

            1. Boof*

              I mean how else can you afford an mlm? (Mild sarcasm- i know desperate people find a way and that’s the worst part)

        2. SheLooksFamiliar*

          ‘A few cropping up here and there wouldn’t surprise me, but the complete inundation of them to the point of disrupting meetings regularly is NOT normal.’

          And I’m just saying what the OP describes IS normal in a lot of companies and regions. When I was consulting, I lost count of how many people – even at senior and executive levels – were in MLMs. Disruptively so. Walking down certain hallways was like walking in a strip mall, there were so many displays in office windows or posters on walls. Candles, makeup, leggings, jewelry, tools, food, you name it, someone was selling it.

          I said MLMs are seductive to make a point that seems to be lost: You don’t have to need extra money to fall prey to an MLM sales pitch.

          1. Just Another Cog*

            This is so true! Years ago, I had a boss who sold home decorating stuff and hosted parties during the workday! People who regularly purchased from her MLM business “seemed” to always get the very best schedules among other perks. O_o (She was fired many years later for other indiscretions, so there’s that).

            1. Just Another Cog*

              Should have clarified that even senior management people have MLM businesses…….boss was senior management.

      2. LTR FTW*

        I think the reason they all have MLMs is probably a domino effect. One person hosts an MLM “party” and everyone buys from them, then the next person gets on board with a different MLM and invites all the same suckers, and so on and so on until EVERYONE is running an MLM and they all just keep buying stuff from each other in a vicious circle.

        I’ve seen this happen in my friend group (I noped out right away and don’t buy anything from anyone), where it’s normalized that this is a Thing That People Do.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          This was what I was coming to describe. It only takes one person in a friend group getting Periwinkle Status or a bonus and suddenly there will be a cascade of people who think this is their chance to hit it big.

        2. MsSolo (UK)*

          This is a big issue in all the parent groups near me – obviously, it’s a high target group for MLMs, but the impression I get is a lot of people in them are reasonably open eyed about the fact they’re not going to make money off them. There’s only so many times you can pass around the same £20 over the course of a month attending each other’s parties before you have to admit that your social group doesn’t know how to hold a conversation if it’s not about vitamins/makeup/tupperware/leggings.

    2. Quill*

      Possible. Also possible that, being marketing/advertising people, they’re the exact demographic that MLM’s really want to cash in on. It can be really easy to delude a sales oriented person into thinking that people losing money on MLM’s is a skill issue and they’re not pushing sales enough, not that the whole structure makes profit impossible unless you’re one of the people at the very tip of the grift pyramid.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Yeah, I suspect this as well. They probably think, “I market professionally! It’ll be easy to move lots of [useless product] because I already have all those skills.”

        (Whereas I have rock-bottom sales skills and break out in hives imagining contacting friends or family to buy products from me.)

        1. Quill*

          Possibly the worst thing that school fundraisers / scouts / etc has ever done is make people grow up thinking that this sort of sales model is a thing that is actually a viable business for the seller.

    3. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Regardless of the compensation structure – there is an office policy of no sales at work. It needs to stop — lest OP find herself the one fired for not enforcing the policy.

      Everything Alison stated is true, regardless of the compensation structure. If people aren’t being paid enough and need side hustles, is it okay then they pressure their coworkers to buy junk from them? That makes it worse. Oh you are too broke and have to have a side hustle, here buy from MY MLM and get sucked in to spend money you don’t have.

      OP can explore the compensation issue separately, but the MLM must stop.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        ^ Whether or not that’s the reason behind why people are doing it, that has not impact on the company rules against MLM on the premises

        And keep in mind that if people are under-compensated at that company, that issue applies not only to the MLM hawkers bringing their side-hustle into company time and the workplace, but ALSO to employees who aren’t in MLM sales who might be struggling to make ends meet and don’t need to spend the workday being pressured to spend money on products they don’t need to keep a good working relationship with their co-workers.

      2. HonorBox*

        Was going to say the same thing. There may be true compensation issues at play, but that has nothing to do with the fact that people are not following company policy and trying to make sales at work. If compensation is an issue, they can still do their MLM with friends and family. And if compensation is an issue, this might be an additional data point to use when talking to management about why people need to be paid more. But saying inadequate compensation = MLM is not helpful to the LW in this situation.

      3. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        I’m definitely not saying that they don’t need to shut down the MLM–I didn’t think my response even implied that. I was literally just saying that the excessive nature of it might be a sign they need to look at compensation.

      4. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, this.

        The pay might be a problem but a) this is not how it should be addressed and b) the LW probably can’t fix it. Also, if they get fired they’ll be even more underpaid, so . . .

    4. Ginger Cat Lady*

      It’s also possible they live in Utah, where MLMs run rampant (I drive by the HQ of at least a dozen of them on my commute) and people do it to get friends or something. Half the people I know are in one and it’s not because they don’t make very much, it’s because it’s a thing people seem to do as a hobby or something.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        I was going to say that there are parts of the country (US) where it seems like MLMs are sort of part of the culture.

        1. Quill*

          MLM’s love to spread via pre-established social networks, like churches, so yeah, they do get into the culture.

      2. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        That is wild to me. But then, I hate MLMs with a passion, and sales in general is just not something I’m good at/enjoy. I cannot fathom it as a hobby that people enjoy (but I guess those people are out there…apparently in Utah…)

        1. Dust Bunny*

          It’s not that it’s a hobby, it’s that it’s pushed as a way for SAHMs to make a bit extra. Religious people with lots of kids are prime targets.

          1. Rainy*

            The particular way that people are onboarded into pyramid schemes also makes it much more likely that people from communities where they are encouraged to attend both a regular large-scale meeting and multiple smaller identity- or interest-based meetings on a weekly or even more frequent basis are going to make it through the onboarding process without thinking “Oh wait, this is a pile of crap”.

            Frex, Lularoe, where one of the first steps in the interest/onboarding sessions for new downlines is “take this piece of paper and write the names of 50 (FIVE ZERO!!) people you know that you could sell to/recruit”. If you handed that to someone like me, I would stare at it incredulously and then hand it back, because while of course I know 50 people, I don’t want to beg my pals to buy crap from me and I DEFINITELY don’t want to recruit them to sell the same crap I am selling, because I can do math.

      1. 1-800-BrownCow*

        This was my thought. I don’t know of anyone who actually makes money from MLMs, although an acquaintance of mine goes on “Leadership” trips every other year and states she “earns” those trips from doing so well. But the time and money she puts into the MLM, I know she’s not making money from it, despite her insistence she does. Funny thing is, she’s constantly looking for new customers and is needing to sell off her old stock because the MLM products she sells, most people don’t purchase anymore once they own a couple of the items. They occasionally come out with new products, but basically it’s the same stuff with only styles and patterns that change.

        1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

          The way these companies structure their purchasing and payment systems is designed to mislead their customers (aka the “boss babes”/those in the MLM). They typically get paid on a special MLM-branded debit card, but of course the company requires them to pay for product with actual money on a real card. So unless you’re a savvy consumer and carefully track your expenses every month, it’s really easy to see “I just got paid $250!!!” and forget about the $400 you had to buy in product to earn that $250.

    5. Cj*

      if they’re that poorly paid, there would be no reason to try to sell the stuff in the office because none of them would be able to afford to buy it.

    6. Aquamarine*

      LW addressed that in the original letter (not included in the Inc. condensed version).
      “I fully understand that people turn to these products and ‘opportunities’ for fast extra cash but there is plenty of work to do around the office. We have great overtime incentives – not like gift cards or pizza parties but real time and a half overtime, bonus vacation days, and opportunities to work from home – and nobody takes advantage of it so I’m not inclined to believe that they’re doing it for extra cash.”
      Not definitive, but it suggests maybe it’s not all about money.

        1. HonorBox*

          Maybe. But that’s speculating. The LW asked about how to shut it down, per company policy. If people need additional income there are ways within the company to earn that while also not running afoul of policy.

      1. MassMatt*

        Thanks for digging that up from the original letter. MLM’s are generally DESIGNED so that the mark loses money, so they prey upon the naive and desperate. Sadly if the people in this office need money, they are passing up a sure fire way to get it by working OT and throwing it away on supplements, leggings, etc. if everyone buys one of every item from everyone in the office doing them they will all be poorer except for the MLM company.

    7. InsertCoolBandNameHere*

      LW said this was an advertising agency so that background coupled with lack of accountability might be why. People who are good at advertising/sales tend to do well in the MLM sphere.

      1. Lydia*

        What I don’t understand about entire communities sucked into MLMs is…who do you sell to? Is every MLM person just selling to each other? Is it a human centipede of MLM buying and selling?

        1. Blue*

          I’d say that’s actually pretty common in areas where MLMs are prevalent. Say, in a small town, the same group of people all selling to eqch other, circulating their money around. (In reality it’s worse because a big chunk of that is going to the MLM companies, so they’re really *losing* money, which from what I can tell is a feature not a bug.)

  2. kiki*

    I know your boss was probably focused on hearing and processing the grievances your employee had, but I think it’s important to make sure your employee knows that this request to know all your whereabouts is actually unreasonable! It may just be a weird power play, but it could very well be a misunderstanding of what they can and should expect. Even if this employee ends up not staying much longer, it would be a kindness to let them know so they don’t bring this same odd expectation into their next job.

    1. Malarkey01*

      Yeah I’m a more relaxed transparent manager but asking grandboss where they are going and when they’ll be back?! That’s wildly out of line with the culture of every place I’ve ever worked unless there’s a specific need they can articulate.
      I think it’s worth clarifying roles and boundaries here and questioning your boss on their general whereabouts and acting like they are accountable to you for their time doesn’t fly in most places.

        1. Certaintroublemaker*

          Exactly. I would have thought that Bob would just give employee, “No,” right off the bat.

      1. megaboo*

        I don’t know how knowing where the grandboss is will ensure the OP won’t be “out for” them. Is it a “they’re having a meeting about me” paranoia?

      2. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        I literally asked my grandboss that today!
        We had an appointment that he had to cancel on short notice for a lunch appointment, and I needed to know if he’d be back in time to sign a tender submission by the deadline or if I would need to find a board member to sign.
        Usually, I neither know nor care where he is, he’ll let me know if he thinks I have a need to know.

    2. Artemesia*

      I was a bit unclear on who was claiming that they needed to report to the lowest level employees, but if it was the skip level boss then they really have a problem as this is loony tunes stuff. If it is the skip boss, then the boss and OP need to sit down with her and let her know how difficult managing this team is and how they took her words as encouragement to be endlessly insubordinate. Good luck. Sounds like this may be a hive.

  3. Corelle*

    When I took over a new team years ago, I had an employee who claimed that “the team” was concerned that I was in a lot of long meetings and they didn’t know where I was or when I was coming back, if anyone was looking for me. I probed in 1:1s with a few other employees and finally determined that people searching for me at my desk was not a frequent problem, and the employee claiming “the team” was worried about my whereabouts was the only one who was worried about it. I did decide to help by sharing my Outlook calendar with the whole team (subject lines and locations only) and invited them to look at it if they needed to know where I was. I don’t have many sensitive meetings (I started marking those private) and removing the mystery and making a point out of being transparent was the right call in my specific case. I’m several roles further down my career path, and that person doesn’t work in my area anymore, but I still continue the calendar sharing with people I frequently meet with.

    1. Smithy*

      I will say, that in past jobs where the issue of “where exactly is boss?” – it’s usually part of a collection of issues.

      Certainly there are cases where the boss is just very unavailable – but when it becomes an issue around “I don’t know where you are” – it’s because it often correlates to genuine work problems. For some people, they won’t care what the boss is doing – but for others that frustration easily will couple with an interest in what exactly they’re doing and where they are. All to say, a practice of sharing calendars with the privacy function used liberally for personal meetings or time blocks (i.e. Dentist, pick up Dad from airport) makes using it for the occasional “needs to be private” work meeting less noticeable. But also gives that larger transparency to stop a hyper fixation on where a boss is.

      In the OP’s letter or Corelle’s the other issue at hand may simply be tied to someone struggling and this is how its manifesting. But I’m personally a fan of giving that extra transparency in an effort to take some speculation out of any building frustration that might be building around something else and fixating on a nonissue.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        If the frustration is that there are delays with getting work done or needing a problem resolved, then I’d rather address those issues – if I’m not in my office and you have an urgent issue, you can IM me, call my cell phone, whatever the protocol is or clarifying that my sign-off is not required for the first three steps of a four step process, and they should do steps 1-3 and then bring me all their work when I’m at my desk at noon for step four on all of them.

        My calendar shows when I’m busy/free without details, and it’s never been an issue. I’m responsive and try to always give a clear and specific deadline for work. I’d find someone tracking my location to be odd. My assistant knows where I am, but she’d also be weirded out by someone wanting to constantly know my exact physical location. I think it’s not doing anyone any favors to indulge off-base moves like this – maybe their next boss will not be open to sharing their details to that level and then they look out of step with professional norms and focused on the wrong issues.

    2. Observer*

      I did decide to help by sharing my Outlook calendar with the whole team (subject lines and locations only) and invited them to look at it if they needed to know where I was. I don’t have many sensitive meetings (I started marking those private

      See, this is a key difference. Letting your staff when you are going to be available vs not is useful information. What your staff do NOT need to know is who you are meeting with and the details. This employee wanted a level of accountability that was way out of line.

      If you give a look at the update, it turns out that she actually was trying to demand accountability, not just knowing when she could get hold of her boss, or even nosiness. The OP writes that she complained that it’s not right the she does not have the same flexibility and the OP and Grandboss, and that she has to answer to them, but they don’t have to answer to her.

      I suspect that your former staff person was trying something like that. But because she had tried to dress it up, your response stopped that in its tracks. And, perhaps she was also a little smarter and realized that she’d hit a wall.

      1. somehow*

        “What your staff do NOT need to know is who you are meeting with and the details.”

        Huh? I keep a dry erase board outside my office door showing times and who I am meeting with, or the purpose, e.g. “online workshop on ‘x’ topic.” Those communications let them know if I am in my office and can’t be interrupted, out of my office, a vendor I’m meeting with and for whom they might have questions I can relay, and so on.

        If the meeting needs to be a bit inscrutible, like if someone is going to be fired, it’s simply “2 pm -1:1 with Jane.”

        The theme is that it’s not about content but about the who and the whereabouts, which I feel my dedicated, hardworking, reliable, and kind-hearted team deserves to know. My boss does the same for me. (Similarly, if I am in a meeting with Sam, my team knows also she isn’t available, either).

        I guess I have a healthy workplace culture, and couldn’t be more grateful.

      2. amoeba*

        Eh, I think sharing calendar (as long as sensitive meetings are set to private!) and not sharing calendar are both fine! But demanding the information is just… weird.

    3. Lizzianna*

      I share my calendar with my team. Outlook allows you to mark certain meetings as “private” meaning that to anyone not on the invite, it’ll just shows as “private appointment.” I’ll also sometimes just use vague subject lines, like “Check In” or “Discussion” if I need to block off some time but don’t want to broadcast the subject matter. I do this enough for mundane things that it doesn’t set off any alarm bells if people see it on my calendar. My team also knows that if they’re having trouble tracking me down, they’re welcome to schedule 30-60 minutes on my calendar to get my undivided attention – I really do try to prioritize those requests.

  4. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    The employee who is monitoring everyone. This person is looking for an excuse to justify not being fired. Oh its not MY fault I didn’t do my work. Boss was never available when I needed them. Or Boss had a meeting about what I needed to do but didn’t tell me.

    If this person is behaving this way, the best thing you can do is be very explicit that they need to focus on their job, not other people’s activities, and if they don’t, they could be terminated. Then you need to stick to it.

    1. Hannah Lee*

      Agreed! The most I’d respond to these inquiries is to turn the question back on them “why do you ask?” with a follow up based on their response which is essentially “that’s not information you need to do your job”

      Obviously, have ways they can communicate with you asynchronously, and respond as needed. But if you’ve structured their role so that they have the tools, resources to do their day-to-day job, and have a process to escalate things that they need guidance or your input on, this is likely a weird control/deflection tactic that you should stamp out sooner rather than later.

    2. Quokka*

      Yeah I got this read from the letter as well (I couldn’t read Alison’s response). It’s hard to believe that would come up in a 1-1 and the manager not ask why and have more of a discussion around it.
      Their behaviour is very controlling as well – expecting to be entitled to information about a managers’ comings and goings when it doesn’t affect their productivity, and the manager is still accessible. This should have been addressed in a meeting, and then as you say remind frequently and not give the details when they ask. “We’ve been through this Gerald, if you needed that info I would have already told you. If something happens and you need me before I get back, you can email or call. Goodbye.”

    3. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah I might ask what the concern was, just as a basis for the conversation: “It’s not possible to loop you in to every meeting we have at our level, but I’m wondering why it’s an issue at all on your end? Perhaps if you tell me the problem there’s a different way to solve it”. But if there’s no issue and the inevitable blame shifting starts: “How can I succeed when you’re never even here”, I would probably just reiterate the issues with their performance: “You’re expected to do X, y and z, with or without our constant presence, like everyone else. I must also tell you candidly that this kind of excuse making is not going to paint you in a good light”.

    4. Gumby*

      I think the whole “not my fault, couldn’t find boss” is probably right. But I also considered that the employee might be worried that the manager is meeting with HR to discuss terminating the employee and are monitoring for that.

      I honestly cannot imagine demanding that my boss tell me when he’ll be away at meetings and for how long. (I can see his calendar for duration of planned meetings but, frankly, he regularly overruns meetings with me or our team so I take those end times with a grain of salt.) Demanding to know the topic of the meetings is mind boggling.

    5. Rose*

      My first guess was they plan to be napping/on Facebook/taking a walk/whatever every time Boss leave the room and they want to know when Boss is coming back so they can be busily working then.

    1. This_is_Todays_Name*

      I was coming to type essentially this! “I’m on my way to a meeting. Do you need me for something “right now”? If we need to talk set something up on my calendar.” Or “Why are you asking? If you need something while I’m gone, go to Joe. I’ll be back in an hour.” etc… Or one of my favorite forms of communication: the “WTF are you talking about” look when asked.

    1. kiki*

      Yeah, I know that there are some cultural circumstances that could come into play (somebody above mentioned they’re super common in Utah, I also know that a lot of MLMs also very explicitly target women and specific communities of women), but I feel like the ‘MLMs are predatory warnings’ are pretty prevalent at this point. Granted, this is an older letter, so maybe this was happening a few years ago in MLM’s heyday.

      1. 1-800-BrownCow*

        I don’t think ‘MLM’s are predatory warnings’ is a new thing. I heard this all the time back in the 90s and pretty consistently since then, despite new companies coming out all the time and plenty of people I know that fall for their tactics. Back then, I was pushed to join a few MLMs from friends and my excuse was that I was a poor college student and couldn’t afford to join. I even had a friend stop speaking to me when I refused to join Amway and got angry when I said it was pyramid scheme and tried sharing the warnings I had many times heard.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I knew about Amway as a pyramid scheme in the 1970s. I remember my mother bought their products because they were good, and they were less expensive, but I remember her saying, “If everybody is selling it, who is going to buy it? You can’t make money if all you have is salespeople and no customers.” And eventually she stopped buying the products because it was too annoying to be constantly pressured to join.

          1. Reluctant Mezzo*

            I know what you mean. One MLM has the only bathtub cleaner which is easy to use, works, and which I’m not allergic to. But it’s not worth the hassle.

            1. Misty_Meaner*

              If it’s the one I’m thinking of (Starts with Norwex), I know of at least 8 different friends/neighbors who sell it and it feels like I’m invited to a party either in person or even worse, now virtual, every dang week. My house isn’t THAT dirty, people! I like some of their stuff, but like you I just now say “No thanks” to all of it do avoid the constant invites or choosing to buy from 1 friend vs another. Ugh.

      2. higheredadmin*

        I actually buy a line of products from an MLM – they are the only thing I’ve found in decades of trying stuff that works for me in addressing a particular personal concern. The person I buy from happens to be family, which I feel good about. Do I like the fact that the company is an MLM. No. I have definitely seen friendships ended because someone is hustling multiple MLMs to their friends. (There are now CBD ones and the sales pitches they tell people to use? Maybe telling your friend that their kid will be much better off and better behaved if they use your special oil is not a good strategy.)

    2. Ellis Bell*

      It doesn’t bode well for their professional judgement! I’m not at all sure why OP is so keen on retaining them.

      1. 1-800-BrownCow*

        I wouldn’t put all MLM people into the same category for lack of judgement. I know one person who was involved in an MLM that I was totally behind their reasoning. My MIL, later in life, got invited to a party for an MLM that sells rubber stamps, ink pads, cardstock, etc., basically supplies for making greeting cards, amongst other things. My MIL absolutely loved it. And while she knew she didn’t make money off the business, she did find a group of lovely older ladies that joined under her and they’d get together every couple of weeks for card-making classes and just visit with one another, like an old quilting bee. Her group became her best friends and they always had a blast together. My MIL knew it wasn’t a financial investment, but didn’t mind as she had the money to use for the business. She knew she could buy similar products for less at the chain craft stores, but she loved how the company sold their items as kits and she’d get all sort of ideas from their website, online groups and magazines. When my MIL passed away unexpectedly 9 years ago, her stamping ladies group took it hard and were very supportive to all us at her funeral. I joined in with a couple classes over the 5 years she did the business and always had fun. She never pushed anyone to buy product or to become a seller under her or to try and make money (to show her own good professional judgement, she definitely never tried sell to coworkers). She did it because she loved crafting, loved her group of friends and loved sending her homemade cards to friends and family for any occasion or reason she could find. It brought her much joy during her last years on earth. I haven’t heard much about that MLM since my MIL passed away. I assume it still exists although I did find during her time with it, it did seem to appeal to the more older demographic and did not tend to go after young moms or the “Be-Your-Own-Boss” crowd.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          No, I agree with you there. While some MLMs are the work of the devil, I know Avon sellers who are never going to get rich and that’s okay. They aren’t personally being taken for a ride either. But if you’re pushing an MLM this hard, at work, against corporate policy AND you’re just going “naaahhh” when approached by the boss? I submit that this is not the only issue with their professionalism.

  5. HonorBox*

    For the LW with the employee who wants to know everything… I’d offer to share your calendar with your team and then point out to the employee that sometimes things come up and you’re not able to share all of the details. The reason for their request may be any number of things, but they need to be told that it isn’t within their circle of concern to know where their bosses are at all times, what they’re doing and when they’ll be back.

    RE: the job referral request. I don’t think I’d ignore or reply in some way that creates an even more adversarial relationship. If this person caused you trouble in the past, they may be someone who pushes back on this and causes more trouble. I think simply letting someone know that you’re not in a position to pass along a resume would be a perfectly acceptable answer. If there’s a channel by which people are supposed to apply, LW could direct them to that. And there’s nothing stopping the LW from going to whoever is in charge of hiring and discussing the previous experience with the applicant.

    1. Artemesia*

      Ignoring gives nothing to punch against. It is absolutely the best response. If they actually corner her at a conference or something, then the vague ‘Oh I won’t be able to do that.’ is fine. But saying nothing leaves them punching at air.

      1. HonorBox*

        True. I was just envisioning the person being ignored sending multiple messages and becoming annoying with their persistence. Or, given context, trying to cause some other issue for the LW. Just saying “here’s where to send your stuff” gives the LW an out.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I don’t think sharing the calendar is the right move here (I say this as someone whose calendar is open to everyone!) because the employee will think they have “won” and OP has capitulated to their need to know what OP is up to all the time. In the next 1 to 1 or whatever catch up there is, I would ask about it and mention the pattern – particularly if it has started since the performance issues. I’m finding it hard to see what the employee’s motivation might be in asking this so openly!

      1. amoeba*

        Do they already have a shared calendar? I assumed most offices did for scheduling purposes, just not with details, only availability?
        If that exists, I would indeed point them to that (and not give any further information as to who, where, whatever). What they need to know (when you’ll be back) is in there. Anything beyond, I’d go with “Why do you need to know?”.

  6. Lilo*

    LW3 doesn’t realize that if they don’t start enforcing policy in those MLMs THEY could be fired as well.

    1. Artemesia*

      This seems so obvious. Her entire team has set up vendor kiosks at work and she thinks the headquarters rep who walks through one day won’t notice? It won’t be the team that gets gas for this, it will be the manager who is not following company policy.

  7. pally*

    “they mentioned that my boss and I should always let them know when we have meetings, for how long, and what they’re for.”

    Sure. Makes it easier to gauge when one can slack off and when one must look busy.

  8. ZugTheMegasaurus*

    #4: I think some people will figure it out on their own a lot of the time, either because they’re really familiar with pregnancy or because the schedule changes are noticeable enough, but most people have the sense to keep it to themselves!

    A few years ago, I was working under my all-time favorite manager; we had a complex project that needed early morning phone calls 5 days a week, so we were in constant contact from like 7:30 onwards every day. My manager was the kind of person who never did things halfway, she was at the office before everyone and left later than most, super proactive, always jumping in to help (even her weekend recreation was intense as she loved doing extreme sports).

    So it was extremely noticeable to me when she started having to dip out of those conference calls a few times a week, having weekly doctor appointments when I’d literally never seen her put one on the calendar before, and when I was consistently getting into the office before her (I was typically pretty late getting in). So just because we were in this tight around-the-clock schedule with each other, the pattern was super evident and I concluded she was pregnant like three months before she announced it. I don’t think I’d have figured it out if it weren’t for that project (I mean, nobody else did).

  9. One HR Opinion*

    Even if you don’t share details, you can share free/busy time in Outlook. That can often be helpful if someone is truly wondering about your schedule. For instance, I can see if our CFO only has 5 minutes between meetings or 2 hours and it helps me decide when to address certain concerns with them.

    1. ina*

      Yeah, I was thinking to just share calendars. However, it could be that these are last minute/impromptu meetings that require LW to block off their calendar manually when they’d rather just go to the meeting itself (sounds like it’s in-person).

      We default share calendars in our office (global address book, so literally we have access to the Free/Busy for everyone in our org), but it sounds like in this case, LW should put their foot down and go “It takes time for me to update you all on this that I could be spending doing work. What is the exact business need for this?”

    2. Observer*

      If you look, the OP was sharing free / busy time, but the employee wanted more information- she wanted to know who was going to attend and subject! Also, the OP pointed out that sometimes unexpected meetings come up in their role, and they can’t always put those on their calendar because they are more or less impromptu.

      If you look at the followup, it turns out that everyone who was saying that the OP should not try to appease these unreasonable demands were right, because it was a power play not a request for information she legitimately needed.

  10. Ash*

    Giving a vague medical answer is the best bet if you’re not ready to share. A good number of ppl may figure it out. Pregnancy comes with pretty distinct symptoms unfortunately. If they ask just a tell them you’re keeping it quiet for the moment & hopefully they’ll respect your wishes. My former coworker didn’t tell us *anything about her pregnancy & we all knew. She didn’t have morning sickness but the regular appointments, changes in diet & appearance were all hints. Not to mention she kept rubbing her hand on her belly lol. she literally never told us, disappeared one day no-show & texted our boss TWO WEEKS LATER asking about her next shift. Safe to say she didn’t have a job anymore. Weirdest work situation ever.

  11. Lilo*

    I had a traineee who simply wouldn’t understand I couldn’t be immediately available for him at all times (he was one of three trainees and I had other duties). I had to be really firm on boundaries with him. He did learn and actually apologized to me for his antics when he became a trainer himself.

  12. Ellis Bell*

    I kind of gasped at the MLM employee who told OP that they had the policy wrong: “One of my staff told me it doesn’t apply to us because we don’t work in the HQ office”. My response to that would be “As a HQ manager I can assure you that flouting this policy will lead to getting fired, and you should take it seriously”. I honestly can’t decide if the employee is shockingly insubordinate, or if OP has given the impression that they’re just a team lead or something, with no firepower. The whole tone of the letter implied the monkeys were in charge of the zoo. If OP was always quoting policy in the manner of “don’t shoot the messenger”, well of course people were going to take the piss. First occurrence should be a firm shutdown and the second occurrence should be documented at the very least. I hope OP discovered the need to set their stall out and to warn of consequences with some follow through.

    1. This_is_Todays_Name*

      Yeah it really sounds like the “manager” has no authority over her team and/or is so conflict averse that they KNOW she won’t bring the hammer down unless it’s made of cotton balls. I would live in fear of someone FROM HQ coming for a regional visit/inspectiong and see all that nonsense if I were any of them. It’s so ballsy to just have it out in the open like that. I assume one woman did it and the other followed like “well Sue didn’t get in trouble sooo must be okay.” This manager needs to tighten that ship up fast or she’s going down with all of them!

  13. Fluffy Fish*

    MLM boss – even though im sure the policy is clear – any time a violation will result in firing i think its really really important to reiterate that. something along the lines of “company x is serious about this policy to the extent that violation will result in termination.”

  14. Veryanon*

    I always try to tell managers, being kind is different than being nice. The kind thing is to make your expectations clear. People don’t know they’re doing a bad job unless you tell them, and it’s not doing anyone any favors if managers don’t manage or address performance concerns.

    1. Cat's Paw for Cats*

      This is so true. When I was a new manager, I was so afraid of hurting people’s feelings that I’m not sure the first one or two people I counseled actually left my office with a clear understanding of what we were there to discuss. I leaned quickly how to be much more direct but to use a soft, kind tone. It really seems to take the sting out if you say it clearly and kindly.

  15. e271828*

    Wondering where LW1 is working—cat shelter or toddler daycare? “Where are you going? What’s that you’re doing? Talk to me! I like him, but I don’t like you. What are you talking about? Are you talking about meeee?”

    LW4’s coworkers had very probably guessed that she was pregnant before she told anyone!

    1. Rainy*

      I had a colleague some years back that, while working an all-hands event with her, said/did a completely innocuous thing that immediately made me think “oh, she’s pregnant!” But I didn’t say anything or ask any questions, and I kept my mouth shut around the office because that is what we do, and when she announced, she commented later that she thought for sure I knew that day but I never said anything and she was so grateful that she was able to announce in her own time without a bunch of rumours flying around the office.

      1. Not Jane*

        Well of course, because you really can’t say anything until you know for sure, just suspecting is really fraught with danger. And even then, if you know, it’s not your news to tell unless the person has given you permission to share it. I mean with hormonal weight gain I’ve looked pregnant for years so if someone was speculating and spread rumours that it would be really offensive.

  16. Rainy*

    I’d love to see an update to that original letter, because I bet the LW had to fire someone to put the fear into the rest of them.

  17. Dust Bunny*

    I rather suspect that the OP has been soft-pedaling transgressions so much that her team has no reason to think the rules apply to them–they haven’t before, after all.

  18. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

    I’m just here to defend snake oil! Maintenance Phase has a great episode on Snake Oil in which I learned that it was genuinely effective at topical pain relief as used in China, but American immitators would sell other oils (esp mineral) as snake oil. We should stop besmirching its good name!

    1. Might Be Spam*

      I remember that one. I think it depended on the specific species of snake and Americans were using the wrong kind.

    1. Rainy*

      I legit don’t want to know where my boss is going all the time, because I don’t care. I don’t understand why this person cares!

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, same. My org has shared calendars for everyone from the top down, and because we also have flexible working hours it’s standard practice to mark yourself unavailable at any time of the day when you are unavailable (nobody cares as long as your work gets done and you attend the meetings you’ve agreed to attend) and I couldn’t care less what my manager does when she’s unavailable. All I care about is knowing when she *is* available.

  19. Pet peeve*

    This is a pet peeve about this site that has been nagging at me for a long time. It is NOT addressed to the OP, it doesn’t even have anything to do with the question but is a general observation. Unless you OWN the company, you do not have employees. You have staff, direct reports, subordinates. One can be an employee of a corporation, or the employee of a sole proprietor, or the employee of several partners who own a company, etc. A manager who is an employee of the company does not have their own employees within the same company. Rant over.

    1. ina*

      This is technically correct, which is the best kind of correct, as the employee works for the person who pays them their wage and that is typically not their manager. However, arguably, when you have firing privileges (the ability to take away someone’s ability to earn those wages), the difference is moot. There is probably some feudal term to cover this — fiefdom comes to mind, but too lazy at the moment to look it up.

    2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      I also think it odd to use “employee” rather than e.g. “report” when the manager is also an employee of the organisation, not an owner.

    3. Mairead*

      Yes, this used to puzzle me when I started reading this site. I’d wonder why the owner of a company seemed so powerless. Then I realised this person was just a fellow employee. I assumed it was a US usage…

      1. Pet peeve*

        I don’t think it’s a typical U. S. usage, but of course, I could be wrong. I’ve really only experienced it once, besides here in this blog. Several years ago I worked for an organization that had a childcare center under it’s umbrella. When the director of the childcare referred to the people she supervised as her “employees” in a meeting she was quickly and very firmly corrected by our executive director.

    4. allathian*

      One of my pet peeves is using staff for employees because it’s a holdover from very hierarchical organizations. Schools have staff, the armed forces have staff, etc. But knowledge workers aren’t staff, and I can’t think of a better substitute than employee. Staff is also a mass noun, and I don’t like it because it ignores the fact that employees are individuals just like everyone else.

      But then I’m in Finland and we have employment contracts for pretty much every job. The main exceptions are light entrepreneurs like DoorDash reps. Hiring managers sign the contract as representatives of the employer, which means that a new manager coming in can’t unilaterally change the working conditions of their reports without renegotiating the contract (often involving unions even in the private sector), and first-level managers certainly don’t have the authority to do so.

      That said, using either subordinates or (direct) reports when you refer to the individuals who are managed by a particular manager is certainly clearer.

      1. Pet peeve*

        Interesting perspective. My background is in education, with a heavy military presence so I guess it makes sense (to me) to fall back on “staff”. I think out of all the available terms, my preference would be “direct reports”. Subordinates, although very correct in the context, just feels icky.

    5. Pesad@*

      This is common U.S. usage in my experience. I will continue to call them my employees. As another person said, the difference is moot.

      As their direct manager, I wrote their job descriptions and defined their scope of work (in collaboration with the department head when we first built the team). I am responsible for the budget, I have a lot of influence over their salaries and merit increases, and I have hiring/firing power. They are my employees.

      The actual owners of my large, global company, who are 5 levels up in the hierarchy, are unlikely to ever meet them or know they exist.

  20. el l*

    The only exception to the following is if you’re in some operational job that requires maximum transparency and availability of management to make decisions. If not:

    Expressing that “boss is out to get me” without a showing of pattern and justification…means that trust is already broken. Probably not your fault, but it is. Expecting the knowledge about your schedule would be overbearing in a boss, but crazy out of line in a subordinate.

    This will end with a firing.

  21. Cat's Paw for Cats*

    I once had a supervisor who was selling MLM items to her staff and if we didn’t buy something, she would be quite tart. Finally, someone wrote an anonymous letter to our director who, to her credit, put a stop to that nonsense right away.

  22. Bad paralegal*

    Has anyone asked the employee *why* they want to know where the boss is going and when the boss will be back?

    I used to work for an Attorney that loved to take 2+ hour lunches at home and go golfing in the middle of the day. He didn’t love calling his clients back quite as much. There so many times clients would call, hear he’s not available/in and ask when they could expect a call back. They were pissed when I couldn’t even tell them if he was out for a 15 coffee run or the rest of the day. It was hell.

    1. Legal Flunky*

      Thank you for mentioning this. I have also worked for similar attorneys. A quick “run to the bank” that takes three hours; lunches running 2 to 4 hours; never even being sure when they will show up in the morning (might be 8:30, 9:45, 11:15, heaven only knows); or maybe the worst – showing up at 4:00 after being gone most of the day and then wanting to actually get some work done when the underlings have been stuck at the office the entire day, mostly cooling their heels.
      Through it all, it just feels like half your job is covering for the attorney while they avoid doing their job. So in that context, wanting to know where the boss is and when they might grace you with their presence doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

  23. coffee*

    Season 1 of the podcast The Dream is a great miniseries about MLMs, how they work, the history of them, how they’re regulated etc. Some fantastic interviews, and they also join an MLM.

  24. Nicole*

    My boss is often out of the office and I don’t kow when he’ll return. If I need his input/approval on something, I send him an email letting him know and then I don’t worry about it until I hear back from him or see him again in person.

  25. Candi*

    Inc. wouldn’t let me in without signing up for an account. Is it supposed to do that, and if not, has anyone else had that problem?

    (Now to dig up the letters from the archives.)

  26. Magic Mirror on the Wall*

    A king was presented with a mirror that reflected his behavior. The king was disgusted by what he saw. The king could have chosen to remove the disgusting reflection by changing himself. But, sadly for the kingdom, chose instead to remove the disgusting reflection by shattering the mirror.

    It’s unfortunate that, centuries later, modern kings still choose the same dark end to the story.

    Actionable advice: don’t model behavior you do not wish to see, instead model behavior that you do wish to see.

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