my boss flipped out when I said I “have options,” interviewing a candidate who was recently hired elsewhere, and more

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

1. My boss flipped out when I said I “have options”

Recently, I had a terse exchange with my boss during a meeting where a group of my colleagues and I were being updated on a serious HR situation.

After hearing about the problem and the path forward, I tried to clarify the timeline for rectifying the situation. After I asked a question similar to “So are we talking about a month, six months, a year?” my boss deflected by asking, “Why do you need to know that and what does it matter to you?” This certainly raised the temperature in the room and I stammered something about this situation impacting my team and my own career negatively. I calmly said that I hoped the the situation would be resolved quickly and that we all had “options” if not.

Several days later I got called into a private meeting with my boss. They went absolutely ballistic. They said that they had never had an employee tell them that they “had options” during decades of management. They said that was such a horrible misstep that I was lucky I wasn’t getting fired. I was stunned, but apologized!

I am still really shaken, but mostly I’m struggling to believe that I really did something horrible. I’m curious if you also think that telling your boss you “have options” is the worst thing you can do.

What on earth. Your boss is wildly out of line. No, calmly noting that you “have options” is not a cardinal sin, let alone something that should get you fired (!). It’s true that you said the quiet part out loud; it’s not super common for people to spell out that they might leave if a serious problem remains unresolved, but it’s certainly implicit in many, many conversations (hell, it’s often the subtext when you do something as basic as ask for a raise) and the concept itself is not an adversarial one. Of course you have options! Of course you might choose to leave if you’re dissatisfied with your job/company/boss. That’s how this works. It’s good that you have options — it’s good for you for all the obvious reasons and it’s good for your boss because it means they’re employing people who have desirable skills. (As a manager, I would be much more concerned if my employees didn’t have options. What would that say about my hiring?)

A less volatile boss might still have found it a little blunt or aggressive for you to say it so baldly in that particular context, but your boss’s bizarrely excessive reaction says a ton about them and how they see employees: they don’t want to be reminded that you’re an independent agent with the power to act in your own interests, and they want you to perform deference in a really outmoded and exploitative way.

2. We’re interviewing a candidate who was recently hired elsewhere

I follow my former employer on social media, and saw that they recently hired Uniquely Named Guy (UNG) to a junior position. I am part of a hiring committee interviewing UNG for a senior position at my current company next week. Because I’m connected to the prior incumbent of the junior position on LinkedIn, I know when that job came open: about the same time as our senior position. Our hiring process is admittedly slow for the senior position (it’s pretty high level and a lot of teams are invested in the hire) but he would have known he was in the running when he took the other job.

I know that I shouldn’t tell my former colleagues that their new hire is still looking. What I am wondering is whether or not this is a black mark against his candidacy here? Should I tell the other members of the hiring committee what I know?

Nah, leave it alone. You don’t know the full context — it’s possible that his new job has turned out to be horrible and that’s why he’s staying in the running with you. Or he accepted his current job because he needed the income, but if he’s offered a much better fit (like your more senior and presumably better paid position), he’s reasonably going to take it.

I know the concern is “will he do this to us too?” — but really, that’s always possible when you hire someone and you can’t perfectly control for it. If he seems to have a relatively stable job history, I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

Read an update to this letter

3. Job application asked for my consent for AI screening

I’m currently applying for jobs and came across this note while doing an Indeed application: “We use machine learning for an initial comparison of resumes against the education, experience, and skills requirements of the job description. This analysis does not exclude any applicants from consideration. For more information, the Profile Relevancy score for applicants who opt out will be listed as ’Not Available.’” Then there was a box to check for “I wish to opt out from having my resume reviewed by artificial intelligence as part of the application process.”

I know that software has been used for years, but this is the first time I’ve been given the option to forgo the software review. I thought I’d share it with you because I found it interesting but I’m also curious if an applicant should or shouldn’t opt out?

They’re using that language because New York City, Maryland, and Illinois now require companies using AI to assist in making decisions about applications to notify applicants and allow them to opt out, and several other states are considering similar legislation.

Typically when employers use software that automatically scores applicants, having no score isn’t treated the same as having a low score and it’s not likely to result in an automatic rejection. And most employers experimenting with AI in early-stage screening are likely using it to generate a score to flag particularly competitive applications, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking at the others. In fact, I’ve never known a competent hiring manager who doesn’t give at least a quick look at all applicants, regardless of how their hiring software works.

Still, there are a lot of ways this could play out over time. For now, if you want to play it safe, you’re probably better off opting in (and frankly, I’m not convinced it’s appreciably different than the electronic application systems that have been helping to process applicants for quite a while, without any consent required).

4. Should I stay or go?

A year ago, after nearly 15 years working in nonprofits, I took a job at a small consulting firm. My friend and close colleague was also transitioning from his longtime research position and coming on as the new CEO; we had big hopes of expanding the firm’s niche work— in, let’s say, china teapots — to include copper teapots, plus training on how to make copper teapots, brew the best tea in them … all of the things in my wheelhouse. The owners of the parent company had made some promises about helping us expand into the copper teapot market, but none of that support is present here.

Everybody else is focused on either working on their teapot work and following the same business models that have existed for years. Then there’s me: I am a specialist in copper, with an understanding of copper teapots, but really my expertise is copper overall — so the expectation that I understand marketing, communication, business planning and development. It’s like I’m frozen solid every day with anxiety and utterly overwhelmed, absolutely over my head with work that I’m not good at, doing work I didn’t want. Yes, I wanted to be a consultant and have freedom, but I joined a firm with the expectation that I wasn’t going to have to do it all solo and establish this copper expansion and generate business, the way that one would if they hung up their own shingle. I have creativity and freedom, but it goes nowhere because I don’t know what I’m doing … and since everybody else is focused on their specialty work in china teapots, nobody can help me. I’m expected to do this; this is my job. (Let’s not touch on how I feel like I can’t even ask for help with how my ADHD is impacting my work, lest I come off like I’m trying to shirk administrative work everybody else seems to do effortlessly.)

The thing is, there’s another consulting company that does specialize in all things copper, and I could apply for an open position there. They are very well established, I’d just take on the work that they assign me. I’m getting conflicting advice from folks around me — many say stick with the current company and give it another year, others worry that my mental health is taking such a blow that it’s better to try to get a position elsewhere. I’m worried that I’ll look flaky by leaving after a year, especially when the CEO believes in me. I can’t tell if I just need to dig in and let this ride for a while more and see if it stabilizes or makes more sense (and maybe we expand to hire folks to help with marketing, who knows) versus if it’s time to move to something more certain.

In a lot of similar situations, my advice would be to try talking to the CEO and/or your boss first if you haven’t already, to name the problem and see if anything changes. But in this case, the problems sound fundamental enough and broad enough that I’m skeptical that will produce enough change. It sounds like you were lured into the job under false pretenses — maybe not intentionally, but it’s certainly been the outcome that the things you were told would happen are not happening, and no one is even talking about making them happen. They’d need to make really significant shifts, including multiple new hires, to give you the set-up you were led to believe you’d have. That’s just not likely to happen.

Even if you get some movement from them, it doesn’t sound likely to be enough.

And you’ve been there a year! It’s not flaky to leave after a year as long as long as you don’t have a pattern of lots of short-term stays. You also have a very easy explanation of “I was brought in because the company planned to shift its focus to X but that ended up not happening.”

You’re not happy, the job isn’t what you were promised, there’s another job that sounds much more promising … you should go for it! You don’t need to stay just because the CEO believes in you.

5. Is it unprofessional to say I’m on a road trip?

I was furloughed for the month of January, and I’m using the time to take the big cross-country road trip I’ve always dreamed of. I also already told my boss that I won’t be returning to our company afterwards.

In the meantime, I’m reaching out to contacts in my area to ask about freelance and full-time positions for when I get back. But is it unprofessional to say that I’m not available until February because I’m on a road trip?

It’s not unprofessional, but it’s also not necessary. You can simply say “I’m away until February” or “I’m on the road until February so not available until then.”

Whenever you give details in a situation like this, you run the risk of people having Opinions (like that a road trip sounds frivolous when they would be prioritizing their search or so forth). When you’re job hunting, it can be smarter not to invite that (unless you’re deliberately choosing to, as a screening mechanism or because you want to share and DGAF, which is also legitimate).

{ 357 comments… read them below }

  1. nodramalama*

    hmmm the only way LW 1s boss’s reaction makes sense is if they perceived it as a threat. But it still seems like a very oversized reaction even if that’s what they thought LW was doing?

    1. Artemesia*

      I hope #1 does have options and is exercising them or at least exploring options so they can move out of this toxic place.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      I would have said something along the lines of “It will affect retention and employee satisfaction if this issue is not resolved”, but that’s pretty much the same thing as saying “we have options”. It’s just HR speak for the same concept.

      The boss is an idiot. The OP should exercise their option to fine another company / job, if they feel this will really be held against them. A chat with HR about the situation might also be a good idea.

      1. Unsettled NFP staffer*

        re: LW1

        We are going through a tough situation at the not for profit I work for. The Chair is gaslighting, micromanaging, “their way or no way” and we are haemorrhaging staff, including a third (!) CEO.

        Even before the CEO gave notice, when they and I were discussing the impact on my role of some of the Chair’s actions, I mentioned that I’d hoped I’d retire at NFP, I loved the work, but the atmosphere was making me reconsider.

        CEO’s reaction: “Of course you’ve got options and you need to do what’s best for you. I hope you don’t go, but I can’t blame you for wanting out.”

        That’s pragmatic and realistic. The reaction of LW1’s boss would totally be that of our Chair though…

        1. A Simple Narwhal*

          One of my better bosses would always tell me that she wanted to support my career growth, and if what I wanted with my career wasn’t available at this company she would support me in finding it elsewhere. Her telling me she would help me leave made me want to stay. All of my other bosses (including my current one unfortunately) that wanted me to stay even/especially to my own detriment made me want to leave.

          1. CupcakeCounter*

            When things were going crappy at my first job out of college, my boss at the time slipped me is personal cell phone number so I could use him as a reference. We had been battling the CFO to get me a promotion for well over a year – all managers between me and him signed off on the promotion so it was 100% him stopping it – and that was his way of helping me move on. CFO was SHOCKED!!! that i would leave and refuse to hear his counter offer. He cornered me after a meeting he knew I’d be at and I basically told him “You vetoed my promotion every month for over a year – why would I believe you would actually push it through if I stayed?” Lots of people heard because I am loud.

      2. Random Dice*

        The boss – I’m going to call them Boss Full o’Bees to sort between singular “they” and a team of plural “theys” – are not an idiot. Boss Full o’Bees is a bully, and they’ve successfully (for the moment) gotten LW to back down.

        Boas Full o’Bees first reaction to being asked about timeline for fixing a serious HR issue that required a team brief-out was to try to bully LW out of asking about the accountability the team was clearly owed (as evidenced by the fact of the meeting being scheduled in the first place). It was 100% appropriate for the boss to have told them about remediation steps, and instead Boss Full O’B tried to shut up LW and avoid responsibility.

        The second bullying attempt is what LW is focusing on, but it’s a clear pattern.

        Run away, LW.

        1. Sloanicota*

          It’s extra weird that they came back LATER to have this conversation. I could forgive a boss who got flustered and maybe even snappy in the moment if they felt like OP was being obdurate in the discussion and inciting rebellion haha – but to contemplate what happened and then come back with both canons loaded? Naw.

      3. Observer*

        A chat with HR about the situation might also be a good idea.,

        That was my first thought, too. But that assumes that HR is competent. And without knowing more about what the situation is, it’s not clear that HR *is* competent.

        But perhaps HR is somewhat reasonably competent, which could help explain why the boss chose to call a separate *private* meeting making threats rather than actually doing something or lashing out in the group meeting.

    3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Yes, I wouldn’t have “flipped out” as such, but I would have taken it as a threat given the background stated in the letter (when will it be resolved? – what’s it to you? – well, we all have options…) and I don’t respond well to threats either.

      1. Allonge*

        Well, lots of people don’t respond well to ‘serious HR situations’ not getting resolved before a year either.

        If them mentioning that leaving is an option is a threat, the manager should act adequately (or at least acknowledge that there is an issue). It’s not like OP said this without any context, in a random teapot meeting.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

          There are ways to respond to “what’s it to you” that aren’t threats though, e.g. the actual impact of the issue going unresolved, it will make it harder to recruit and retain people and in turn that will potentially delay the X project / result in longer response times for customers / whatever it is. I wonder if OP is a manager/lead or just one of a team, because they seem to be speaking on behalf of others.

          1. Allonge*

            But ‘what’s it to you’, from a manager, and about an acknowledged capital-i Issue is inappropriate in the first place. I don’t think manager gets to claim high ground after that.

            1. bamcheeks*

              Exactly this! It’s a super hostile reaction and designed to shut down any further questions– I mean, it’s *obvious* why it matters to LW, it’s not a genuine request for information. If you ask a perfectly reasonable and normal business question in this setting and get such a defensive and hostile response, it’s completely natural to be flummoxed.

              I mean, I don’t think “we all have options” is anything unsayable in perfectly normal circumstances– it’s stating a clear business fact– but even if it was less than 100% diplomatic, I can’t fault anyone for not coming up with something better when they’re just had this horrendous hostile response thrown at them.

            2. Twix*

              I have to agree with this. Yes, that was obviously a barely veiled threat, but it was a threat to take reasonable and appropriate action if a problem wasn’t resolved. That threat is always there in employer/employee relationships because they’re mutually consensual. All LW did was, as Alison said, say the quiet part out loud in response to not being treated like an equal member of that ongoing agreement. (Not by not getting an answer to the question – there may be good reasons their boss can’t answer it – but by being treated like they did something wrong by asking a reasonable question about a valid concern.) It would be one thing if LW made that threat totally out of the blue, but in my experience this kind of wildly over the top response is what happens when a manager interprets bluntness as insubordination because they can’t separate the formal prescriptive professional hierarchy, in which the employee is a subordinate working on behalf of the company, from the employment agreement, in which the employee is an equal free agent.

            3. ceiswyn*

              Absolutely. Especially about an acknowledge capital-i Issue that… clearly is something to the LW, or they wouldn’t have been invited to a meeting about it.

            4. Selena81*

              Yeah, it was very much the manager who started with the hostilities: implying strongly that OP’s job-satisfaction and learning-curve are meaningless to him, and OP should not complain about being trapped in a dead-end job.

            5. Pastor Petty Labelle*

              Agreed. You don’t want a threat, don’t start out hostile.
              Also stating you have options is not a threat. It is a literal statement of reality. OP has options. OP has options whether there is a resolution to the serious issue or not. OP has and had options from day 1 of their employment. Boss is living in a dream world if he doesn’t know that.

              But then I question a company that has a serious HR problem and this is the reaction of the Boss to wanting the issue resolved sooner rather than the later. OP please exercise your options.

            6. Observer*

              But ‘what’s it to you’, from a manager, and about an acknowledged capital-i Issue is inappropriate in the first place. I don’t think manager gets to claim high ground after that.

              Exactly. Even more so since the boss pretty explicitly said that the OP (and the rest of the group apparently) that they do NOT have options. So it’s perfectly reasonable for the OP to remind them that, actually they DO have options.

          2. Green great dragon*

            “It will make it harder to retain people” is just a rewording of ‘we have options’. So why is one a threat and one not? Maybe LW’s wording wasn’t perfect, but it’s hard to come up with the perfect words in the moment.

            1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

              The former is a neutral statement about nameless employees and OP isn’t necessarily involved. “We” obviously does include OP.

          3. Ellis Bell*

            Honestly I doubt that I could come up with a good way to respond to “What’s it to you?” on the spot. It’s incredibly aggressive and hostile, and if time were paused for half an hour I might conclude it was not a question at all, and decide to not directly answer, but to evade with something like “I’m just taking part in the meeting” or “My team is impacted”. But in the moment, a blunt and rude question often unravels any chance of graceful evasion in the possible answer. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with saying the team needs to know because everyone is considering their options. It’s stating the obvious – of course they are!

          4. MCMonkeyBean*

            I mean, it’s the answer. “Why do you care about how we are handling this situation?” “uh, because it obviously impacts whether or not we want to work here.”

            Yes, OP said it blunter than most people would. But that is not a threat, it’s just the facts of the situation. If there is a very serious problem and the company cannot show they have a timeline they are trying to resolve it on then people will leave.

            1. Jake*

              I mean… it is a threat, even if only a low key one.

              Boss certainly deserved the threat based on this letter, but to pretend it wasn’t a threat to leave if it doesn’t get resolved isn’t really fair.

              Threats aren’t inherently bad or evil. Sometimes they are just part of a transactional relationship.

              1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

                See, I think there’s a point where something is so clearly an inevitable consequence that it’s not even a threat anymore, and is, as MonkeyBean said, a fact. Major problem isn’t resolved? People will leave. I might be one of them.

          5. Emotional support capybara (he/him)*

            And there are ways to respond to “when will this serious issue be resolved” that aren’t “what’s it to you.” It is obviously something to them or they wouldn’t be meeting about it in the first place.

            That boss should thank that whole team for not walking off the job then and there.

          6. Kevin Sours*

            The “actual impact of the issue going unresolved” is that employees will be harmed and choose to exercise their options. Your framing completely neglects the impacts of the situation on the speaker. It’s more of the same “boss does what he wants and employees get to lump it” nonsense that’s all to prevalent among bad managers.

          7. Elizabeth West*

            Saying a snotty “What’s it to you?” when someone understandably asks when a serious HR situation will be resolved is an asshole move. If you spew poo and get particle blowback, you shouldn’t be surprised.

            Sorry to be so crude, but that Bee Boss really made me mad.

        2. Baunilha*

          Yes, “Why does it matter to you” was far worse than OP’s responde and even though there was nothing problematic about it, I don’t blame them for not coming up with a more… palatable phrasing after the boss hostile comment.

      2. MK*

        “I don’t respond well to threats” is acceptable if someone theatens to do something to harm you unless they get their way. If someone is simply laying out the consequences of your own behaviour or a situation in general (a.k.a. if this HR issue isn’t resolved, I might start looking for a new job), not responding well is bad managing. The “threat” that employees might leave if they aren’t satisfied is always present, and good managers are aware of it, so throwing a fit because one dared to voice it isn’t acceptable.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

          “We have options” is an implicit threat to harm the company by multiple people leaving, though. It’s disingenuous to suggest that a threat is just ‘laying out the consequences of doing something’.

          1. Katie Impact*

            If the boss thought that OP was banding together with other employees who would all leave if things didn’t improve, then that means the boss was illegally retaliating against the employee for the perception of engaging in NLRA-protected collective action, so that interpretation doesn’t really make the boss look *better*.

          2. bamcheeks*

            But they’re not doing it with the *purpose* of harming the company: they’re doing it because the employment offered at the company no longer works for them and they are prioritising their own wellbeing. That’s the difference between a threat and a healthy boundary.

            1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

              YES. They are doing it with the express purpose of protecting themselves. They are not required to stay at the company just because a mass exodus due to poor management would harm the company. You don’t want the company harmed by poor management — don’t be a poor manager.

            2. AngryOctopus*

              This. They’re not doing it to hurt the company deliberately. They’re doing it because there’s an apparently longstanding issues with HR which is taking a long timeline to even be addressed, and staying in a company with that issue ongoing isn’t going to work for people anymore. Asking about timelines (after the issue apparently being already longstanding!) and being met with “What’s it to you?” absolutely warrants a “we may have to start looking at our available options” at the least. There is a problem, feet are being dragged in fixing it, and people are starting to want out. Makes sense to me.

          3. ceiswyn*

            That is one heck of a reach.

            If someone genuinely believes that their employees are conspiring to leave purely out of a desire to harm them, then they need to check that they are not wearing a plantain-based ensemble. If someone is telling a manager that a situation is making their employees unhappy enough that they might leave, then that is useful information. Good managers should want to know.

            1. OMG It's 2024!*

              I agree with you.. BUT… that’s something I’d say to a boss in a one on one meeting, assuming a decent working relationship. Like, “so HR situation still isn’t resolved, and you need to know that the team is talking about options. We could potentially have a retention problem if it isn’t handled expeditiously.” But … I have to admit that saying it out loud in a meeting, did seem a little … to use Alison’s word “blunt.”

              1. LWH*

                I also think that it isn’t LW’s place to say “we” have options, because other members on the team might not want this brought up to the boss, assuming they were even talking about it amongst themselves to begin with. It’s extremely inappropriate for LW to say that about anyone but themselves.

          4. Allonge*

            I don’t really get this – as the advice says, the ‘we have options’ part is really just saying the quiet part out loud.

            Nobody reasonable is going to think that if OP just stopped at explaining that this is impacting their and the team’s careers, the meaning would have been ‘but we will ignore that for the good of the company, and for your smile, boss’.

            As a matter of fact, spelling out that the situation is so bad that OP is thinking of leaving over it is a favor to boss – it’s illustrating the size of the issue.

          5. Irish Teacher*

            Given the context, I wouldn’t take it that way at all. The manager asked why the LW wanted to know so I would take “we have options” as meaning, “I want to know because we need to know in advance if we should be considering other options.”

            I would think it kind of a jump to go from “we have options” to “if you don’t do as I want, we will all leave together in order to damage the company.”

            1. OMG It's 2024!*

              I think “We want/need to know so we know if we should consider other options” comes across VERY differently from a flat “we have options.” I don’t know WHY, but .. it just does, to me at least.

          6. Selena81*

            ‘i do not respond well to threats’ would be a reasonable point of view if LW were constantly bragging that they are applying to better jobs and will soon be gone, but hey, if they get a big raise they might stay on a bit longer.
            (in that case nobody would blame you for saying ‘fine, just go, bye’)

            However, it is absolutely not a reasonable point of view in the situation LW is actually in: pointing out that the bad situation at work is making them want to leave.

          7. RabbitRabbit*

            “Why do you need to know that and what does it matter to you?” is disingenuous and deflecting from the need to answer. If a situation is serious enough that HR is doing a group discussion, then it clearly affects those people (and perhaps more) on some level, and they have a reasonable expectation to at least get an approximate time range.

            OP may not have been treading the most carefully when choosing that sentence, but the boss also had options on how to respond, before and after asking the question. Maybe the boss could have done some self-examination on why they would get defensive/try to dodge a response and how being asked about a timeline for an apparently difficult situation might be important, even vital information for people dealing with it. Instead the boss spent several days mulling over it, and their decision was to go off on how they should fire OP, thus demonstrating that they not only leap to make impulsive, rash statements but also do so given days to consider their moves.

            1. Willow Pillow*

              This. I have always found it frustrating when the response is policed but not the statement that triggered said response. It’s very DARVO (“Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender” – a manipulation tactic used to avoid taking responsibility).

          8. ecnaseener*

            I don’t think resigning can reasonably be construed as “harming the company.” Inconveniencing, sure, and that inconvenience may cause some operating problems, but unless you’re breaking a contract or sabotaging things on the way out, resigning is just declining to continue offering your services — aka no longer helping the company, which is not the same as actively harming it.

          9. MC*

            The manager and company are harming themselves by not resolving a clearly serious issue in a timely manner and being hostile when an employee asked when they should expect for this to be resolved.

          10. Observer*

            It’s disingenuous to suggest that a threat is just ‘laying out the consequences of doing something’.

            I would flip that. To me what is disingenuous is claiming that laying out the real world consequences of mistreating your staff – ie that they are going to leave without worry about the welfare of the company – is some sort of “threat”.

            Will it harm the company? That’s not the OP’s problem. That’s just the consequence of driving away good people. Just like the damage caused to the company if a building collapsed because the company cut corners. Pointing THAT consequence out is no less a “threat” than pointing out that if you don’t fix problems people are going to leave.

          11. Sally Rhubarb*

            Oh won’t someone please think of the poor corporate overlords.

            Sounds like the company is harming itself by mishandling whatever is going on & being openly hostile to it’s own staff.

            It’s disingenuous to act like the company has no responsibility here. People don’t leave en mass because they’re being treated well.

          12. Umami*

            I took the ‘we have options’ as meaning there are other ways to pursue resolution of the issue if nithing is being done in a timely manner, not that they have options to quit (which of course is always an option, but it’s not really explicit that ‘leaving’ is what LW intended by saying options). It could easily mean escalating it to someone who would be less dismissive of an employee’s valid concern. And now, boss has escalated to retaliation, which is probably a bigger issue than the original issue.

            1. LWH*

              Part of the problem is that “we have options” is so vague to begin with. It could mean “I’ll quit”, it could mean “I’ll sue you”, it could mean “I’ll go to HR”, it could mean “I’ll go over your head to your boss”…and honestly I don’t think any of these are a particularly good idea to tell your boss, unless you’re willing to walk off the job that day, but the ambiguity only further causes problems. We have no idea which of these the boss thought they meant.

          13. I Have RBF*

            Feh. It’s not a “threat to harm the company”, it’s a statement that they aren’t slaves and the boss needs to remember that! If the HR issue is not resolved in a timely manner, they may well exercise their always present option to leave.

          14. Kevin Sours*

            Having attempted to address the issue via less aggressive avenues and getting summarily shut down employees pushed back using the only real leverage they have. The idea that employees using their leverage to improve working conditions is somehow illegitimate is common enough. But it is still a rancid pile of used hay.

            Boss threw elbows and got salty that he got a response in kind instead of unquestioning deference.

          15. sulky-anne*

            If you ask aggressive questions, it’s disingenuous to act shocked if you get realistic answers. What exactly did the boss expect to hear in response to “what’s it to you?”

          16. MigraineMonth*

            Except the OP was just laying out the consequences of not acting on the HR issue. If it wasn’t resolved, multiple people would consider leaving, which might harm the company (or, who knows, might benefit the company in the long run). It’s equivalent to “will affect retention”, just laid out in plainer language and indicating that OP is one of the people whose retention is will affect.

            I think this situation is like the woman who said, after the company screwed up her pay three times, that if it happened again she would have to quit. That’s not a threat, it’s clear communication, and the OP was rightly criticized for thinking that was a rude and insubordinate thing for her to say.

          17. Enai*

            I find the use of “threat” as a description for the LW saying “we have options (e.g. leaving the badly-managed job)” questionable. It _is_ a threat to say “we have options (we can use torches and pitchforks or shotguns for weaponry when we come to attack this company)”, but insinuating people might leave is simply not even in the same ballpark as actual violence. It is in fact just pointing out that actions and inaction have consequences, and if management continues to bungle along, the conses will quence accordingly.

        2. bamcheeks*

          Yeah, “if this role stops working for me, I am able to leave” is a healthy boundary that *every* employee should be aware of and able to exercise at any time, and every business should be employing people with that in mind. It’s one of the reasons I support a strong social security net: it’s fundamentally bad for your business if you have employees who are clinging to roles which don’t work for them or which they aren’t succeeding in because the alternative is poverty or worse! The ideal situation is that you’re employing people who are working for you because they actively choose to, and that you have enough redundancy and flexibility within your workforce that it’s not a disaster if any of those people choose to leave because of a business decision that doesn’t work for them.

        3. MsSolo (UK)*

          Unless the boss heard “I have options” as “I have other options to deal with the HR situation, such as taking legal action”, perhaps. Without knowing the nature of the serious HR issue, there are plenty of variations – from failing to handle sexual harassment to mis-classifying employees as contractors – where legal action would be a reasonable step to take if the company was failing to handle it well.

        4. Artemesia*

          Yeah — it would be appropriate if the OP had said ‘unless you fire Fergus, I’m gonna walk’. This was not that.

      3. Super Anon*

        That’s the mentality of the fact they’re the “lord and master” of OP#1 and only they get to decide whether or not an employee leaves. OP is not threatening bodily harm. They’re stating the consequences of actions by the company. Employees are free agents with regard to their employment. The fact that OP #1’s boss (and, apparently, you) can’t handle the fact that employees get to decide their own fate is highly alarming.

        1. RVA Cat*

          To be honest, this kind of belittling hostility sounds like an abusive parent trying to lord it over their child. It’s messed up that so many people think this is the only way to wield authority.

      4. Also-ADHD*

        The “threat” implied is only that people will potentially leave if a serious situation is not resolved quickly enough (should be obvious) but it’s not surprising someone who would aggressively ask the blatantly inappropriate question, “Why are you so asking when it will be resolved?” (as though that’s not an obvious and reasonable question for ANY employee to have in such a situation) would also take it badly. LW’s boss want really asking—but rather challenging them and trying to get them to back down, and they didn’t. That is a threat to someone who has an authoritarian mindset, but only then.

        It’s certainly not a personal threat to the manager in any way—the manager should also, as an employee, act in their best interest and consider other job options when unhappy in their position and should be fully aware other employees would be doing the same. Frankly acting like that manager did is how one winds up with pikachu face and shocked an employee is leaving with little notice or discussion prior, and you are in a lurch. Why would anyone talk to you or care about your needs if you act like that? It wasn’t a threat so much as a gift in some ways, though an obvious one if there’s a serious HR situation that may well take MONTHS to address fully.

        1. Lily*

          “LW’s boss want really asking—but rather challenging them and trying to get them to back down, and they didn’t. That is a threat to someone who has an authoritarian mindset”


      5. Ginger Baker*

        The boss was openly hostile first (“what’s it to you?” Seriously??) and this reaction was in line with that and therefore very reasonable. Or, as the classic saying goes: “don’t start some, won’t be none.”

      6. Antilles*

        How would you have responded as an employee if there was a discussion about a Serious HR Situation and you asked a very reasonable question about timelines, then got back a highly aggressive “why do you need to know, what’s it to you”?

        The boss framed the whole discussion in a hostile and negative way from the start.

      7. Random Dice*

        The boss basically said that they’re cute for thinking they have the rights implied in an HR brief-out meeting. And by cute they mean outrageous.

        Workers have rights. This boss isn’t a feudal lord.

      8. r.*

        I disagree that in this would be a threat, no matter how blunt it was put.

        We’re talking about a serious incident that is affecting an entire group of employees. It also is very obviously being handled badly. I’ve had handled more than enough escalations to know that sometimes you either cannot give or cannot disclose timelines for the intended solution, but denying the legitimate interest of those affected by the problem in the solution’s timline is a very poor approach. We’re talking “could not pour old beer out of a boot with instructions printed on the heel” poor.

        You wrote in another subcomment to this that they’re threatening the company with harm. This is exactly the wrong way around, and confuses cause with effect.

        By not resolving the issue the company is subjecting them to negative outcomes. What the employees are saying “You need to stop doing this to us, or we will remove ourselves from harm’s way by going elsewhere”. They’re pointing out to you that unless you act to protect them, they will protect themselves; that self-protection may have adverse side-effects for you, but that is not the intended purpose.

        Even if it were not about self-protection, as Alison points out there are many many business realities where deep down the employee is making their continued employment for you conditional on you making some sort of concession to them. “I think I deserve a raise of x% because of A, B and C” always comes with the implied “and if you don’t give me that I may go to a place that will”, whether that’s said out loud or not.

        So clearly even something as “Give me more money, or I quit” is a business proposal, not a threat. Swapping the employee-singular for the employee-plural (“Give us all more money, or we will all quit”) does not turn it into a threat, either. That’s just a very blunt way of collective bargaining.

        I may not like it as a manager, for many different reasons, but just because I dislike it doesn’t make it into a threat.

      9. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

        But would you have replied to the timeline question with “what’s it to you?” I feel like most people wouldn’t have gone in that direction in the first place, when presumably the fact that the OP is some kind of stakeholder was fairly obvious. It would be much more normal just to say “it’s difficult to give a timescale right now”, or to try to give an approximate one.

      10. Observer*

        (when will it be resolved? – what’s it to you? – well, we all have options…) and I don’t respond well to threats either.

        If you react poorly to someone responding to intimidation and dismissal of perfectly legitimate issues in a less than tactful manner, that says more about you as a boss than about the person being tactless.

      11. Jake*

        That’s because it is a threat, but it is a threat that is well-founded. Boss needs to know that this behavior could result in people leaving.

        I’m not sure why people:

        A. think this isn’t a threat


        B. think that the threat was inappropriate and deserving of a negative reaction from the boss.

        The boss was WILDLY out of line with how they handled the initial inquiry, and OP simply reminded him that they all have options. It certainly was a threat, but he was a 10/10 on the intensity scale, and OP was a 3/10 on the intensity scale. Boss should be happy if there are any employees left a year from now after their “what’s it to you” balogna.

        1. OMG It's 2024!*

          “B. think that the threat was inappropriate and deserving of a negative reaction from the boss.”

          I haven’t gotten the sense that people think that the LW deserved the negative response from the boss. I do think that there is a time and place for some things to be said, and in an open meeting, in front of the team, isn’t really the BEST place for what could be seen as an ultimatum ala “fix the issue or else”. That’s a private convo to have with the boss to express that there will likely be negative repercussions if the HR issue mentioned is not fixed in a timely manner.

        2. Hrodvitnir*

          I think the “it’s not a threat” gets into the nuance of the word “threat.” Like the difference between giving your partner an “ultimatum” vs telling them if something doesn’t change you need to leave. You need to be able to do that last thing! I don’t have a clean answer for the line there either.

          From my POV it’s close enough to a threat to make debating it pointless, but I also agree responding to “what’s it to you??” with “this situation is intolerable so we might leave” (which might not even be the only “option” to which OP referred) is closer to a statement of fact that answers the (aggressive, bad faith) question than a threat per se.

      12. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        You did not account for all of the context. The LW started by saying it would negatively affect the employees. And the “options” part was talking about a group of people, and saying other people might leave if a harmful situation is not resolved is not a “threat,” it’s a recognition of reality.

      13. MountainAir*

        “What’s it to you?” is a really inappropriate response to a question about the timeline for resolving a situation that OP #1 clearly said was impacting their work (and possibly career) – and that they were in the middle of a meeting about! The OP was obviously a little thrown by it (e.g. use of the word “stammered”) because who would expect that response? Boss reacted poorly, OP reacted as well as they could in the moment – with maybe a level of honesty that they wouldn’t have provided if they were not caught off-guard. Honestly it’s wild to nitpick the extent to which this would land as a “threat.”

      14. Kevin Sours*

        It turns out that employees don’t respond well to management casually blowing off “serious HR situations” that ” impact their career negatively”. It’s a threat that is delivered diplomatically, professionally, and appropriately. If you don’t want employees pointing out they have options, don’t act in ways that has them considering those options.

      15. Kevin Sours*

        Turns out that people don’t respond well to “serious HR situations” that ” impact their owns career negatively” getting casually blown off by management.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          Has anybody else had issues with posts not appearing right away? Happened a couple of times recently were I’ve repeated a post because the first one appeared to not have submitted properly.

          1. Myrin*

            There are times when the spam filter seems to be hungry for my comments in particular; it happens for a day or two and then everything’s back to normal (I assume because Alison keeps freeing my comments and the filter learns that I’m Not Bad?). It’s always been random so that might be the issue with your comments, too?

    4. Database Developer Dude*

      And if it were? Bosses have way too much power as it is. Having said that, if you’re going to say “I have options”, not only should you have options, you should be prepared to exercise those options.

    5. OMG It's 2024!*

      The entire interaction, the way the LW related it, was-to me- very odd. The boss’s weirdly defensive “what’s it to you” reaction. The LW stating “well we all have options,” and then the ballistic response a few days later. It all makes me wonder at their working relationship prior to this. Does the LW have a history of questioning the boss and calling him out in meetings? Does the boss have a history of evasion and not having his team’s backs? I’m trying to imagine ANY of my former bosses and I having that type of exchange, and … I can’t.

      1. Zweisatz*

        Imagine someone authoritarian who expects their word to be gospel and maybe it will start to make sense.

        A collaborative boss with a healthy dose of humility doesn’t lose their cool like this.

      2. I Have RBF*

        I’m trying to imagine ANY of my former bosses and I having that type of exchange, and … I can’t.

        Unfortunately, I can. I have had some total dumpster fire bully bosses, who felt that we should constantly be grateful to have job, and when told to jump, should ask “How high?” on the way up.

        LW #1 needs to start looking to exercise their option to scram. Their boss is part of the HR dumpster fire, apparently, and why there is no timeline to getting it resolved.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          I had a boss who had a very emotional reaction to a serious, stressful situation. I had scheduled a meeting with him to sit down and talk about how to moving forward, but was not ready to share that I was moving on. I had accepted another position, but my start date was about 6 weeks out to align with their project schedule.

          The first words out of his mouth when we sat down for the one-on-one meeting was, “I just don’t know what to do with you.” It was in a very disappointed, exasperated tone… as if I had personally blown the hole in the side of the sinking ship. Most of the issues we were facing were mostly his fault because he had a tendency to sweep things under the rug and hope for the best (spoiler alert: that did NOT work).

          I quit during that meeting. Not immediately, but it was apparent about 20 minutes later that there was no salvaging things, even for the short term until I was ready to resign. I was very taken aback by that initial sentence and things in that conversation just kept going downhill. He was very surprised, and was already emotional, and things just got worse. I walked to my office, gathered my things, and walked out.

          So I can definitely imagine the LW’s scenario having a combination of having a boss who feels you should be grateful (mine was like that) and additionally being emotional about stressful situations.

    6. Annabelle*

      I could see myself being so flustered by the boss’ reaction that I’d blurt out something like what OP1 said because hey, if everyone is just running their mouth off half-cocked, then why not me too? But yeah, it is one of those “gonna be hard to walk this back” statements.

    7. BatManDan*

      Maybe boss is under a lot of stress because of the problems, and is defensive because of that. Any little thing could set him off, in that case.

  2. Girl next door*

    Also, I find it stunning that you get a “what do you care” when you ask when you can expect resolution. I mean, this wasn’t an insignificant problem – big enough for a called meeting with multiple people – or something that doesn’t affect you (or why would you be in the meeting). I’d guess the guy was under stress – this issue under discussion may have reflected more on him than the rest of you – but to keep it up the next day. . . well, you’re working for a jerk. So it’s good you have options; you you might want to start thinking about exercising them!

    1. Emily*

      I came here to say the same thing. It sounds like there are at least several red flags with this job.

      1. I Have RBF*

        Yeah, I count at least three major ones:
        1. The fact that there is an HR issue that has no timeline for resolution
        2. The fact that the boss asked “What do you care” when one of their team asked when the HR issue would be resolved
        3. The fact that the boss stewed on a blunt response and then threatened the person’s job over it, when it actually was appropriate in context, if a little blunt.

        OP #1, run. Exercise those options, your boss is full of bees and is part of the problem, obviously. I hope we see in your next update that you have fled that workplace and make half again as much at your new job.

    2. Sue*

      His huge overreaction makes me so curious as to what the issue is about. Some benefits mix-up or something along those lines and this reaction seems ludicrous. If it’s a company scandal of some sort..maybe he is under major stress and this makes more (but still not OK) sense.

      1. Nomic*

        Good point here. The issue then (as pointed out above), is that the boss mulled over this for several days before blowing up at the employee. That wasn’t an in-the-moment reaction.

    3. Fikly*

      First red flag is the response of “what does it matter?” when asked about timeline for resolution for serious HR situation. Second red flag is that the LW’s actual answer, that they have options (so this wasn’t even them saying it for no reason, it was literally in response to the question) was the boss blowing up.

      Yeah, the entire situation is a giant red flag, and you should explore those options post haste. He doesn’t want you to know you have any power, and he will fire you to make that point to everyone he doesn’t fire.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Right. If this was an out of the gate response to a new problem, “I have options” might be aggressive. I wouldn’t fire someone over it but it would stand out to me.

        But this is not the beginning of this. It’s bad enough to have this meeting, it’s clearly something that’s been going on for awhile and you can’t get any timeline as to when it might be resolved? Yeah I’d be pulling out my “I have other options” card too. I might word it more like “this isn’t a sustainable situation for me” or something but I’d be making my position pretty clear.

    4. PNW cat lady*

      It seems super bizarre to share the issue and not expect any feedback. Presumably the people hearing this have the need to know, so they also should be aware of the timeline to fix it.

      1. hbc*

        The illogic of it kills me. Maybe OP didn’t answer the question in the most diplomatic, peacekeeping way possible, but I feel like I would have blurted “If this issue doesn’t concern me, why was I invited to this meeting?” And probably getting an angry scolding the next day for “talking back” or something.

    5. WoodswomanWrites*

      Yes, the boss is the one whose behavior is way across the line here. OP, you were discussing a serious HR issue with a large impact, asked about the timeline, and the boss came back with an accusatory tone. In fact, you were absolutely doing the right thing for your team in mentioning your concern about the situation’s impact on them. And of course you get to say that being in a difficult situation could have an impact on your career! What an ogre to call you in *days later* and say you were nearly fired for two words in response to a strange question.

      Personally, I could never trust a manager who went “ballistic” and threatened firing like that. Good for you for speaking up for yourself and your team. I hope you are able to extricate yourself from that place soon.

      1. I Have RBF*

        I could never trust a manager who went “ballistic” and threatened firing like that.

        This stood out for me as well. The boss is burning bridges here, not OP #1. He obviously can’t be trusted not to stew on an accurate, but blunt, response to a rude question then threaten to fire people.

        I wonder if he’s the same asshole I used to work for who was the subject of an HR intervention, and reacted badly.

        1. LWH*

          “The boss is burning bridges here, not OP #1.”

          But LW is the one who would get fired in this situation. We can debate all day who the asshole here was but that’s a totally different conversation than whether LW made a good career move by saying “we have options”. If LW wants to exercise those options then it’s fine, if LW doesn’t actually want to leave then it’s a problem.

    6. Cat Tree*

      Yeah, it reminds me of that boss who was upset that their employee cared so much about *not getting paid*. We don’t know the situation here but the boss is too adversarial about LW wanting and expecting resolution.

      It’s also a problem that the boss stewed on this for days and then called LW in separately. Reacting this badly in the moment would have been bad, but sitting on it for days and getting angrier rather than calming down is really bad. This can’t be the first red flag from this manager.

      1. londonedit*

        Exactly – it definitely reminds me of those situations where a crappy company messes up payroll and the boss’s attitude is ‘What’s the matter, can’t you just deal with it for a few days? Don’t you have savings??’. I find it shocking that the boss would threaten to fire the OP – asking for a timeline and reminding the boss that staff have other options if a solution is not forthcoming isn’t being threatening or aggressive or anything that would rise to the level of being fired. It’s a perfectly reasonable question!

      2. MigraineMonth*

        Yeah, the tendency to work oneself up rather than calm down is really problematic in a boss. Who knows what comment they’ll remember out of context and stew over next?

        …which is one of many reasons why I will never go into management.

    7. The Terrible Tom*

      That’s exactly right. When I saw, “A less volatile boss might still have found it a little blunt or aggressive for you to say it so baldly in that particular context” I just thought, “The context is that the boss just said “what does it matter to you” to a person trying to resolve a problem that apparently matters to them. A reasonable boss would not have *created* that particular context.

    8. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yes to this and all the responses here, and also: it seems like whatever this serious issue is won’t be resolved for at least six months??? That’s bananas! Maybe it’s because I’ve led a very sheltered life but shouldn’t serious HR issues be resolved in a matter of weeks, not months? I am definitely on Team Get Out, OP, because this place sounds full of bees.

    9. Dek*

      Yeah, that was the part that stood out to me. It’s such an aggressive and defensive response to a very reasonable question.

  3. MBK*

    It’s clear that LW1’s boss subscribes to the old school notion that the employer has all the power and employees should consider themselves lucky to have jobs. It also sounds like they might be stonewalling a bit on the HR situation – forestalling a resolution they don’t want and hoping that LW1 and their colleagues will give up or forget about it.

    1. Bilateralrope*

      While forgetting that if LW1 gives up on seeing the issue resolved, that likely means LW1 taking advantage of those other options.

      1. Observer*

        Not forgetting – trying to intimidate the OP into shutting up and swallowing whatever Boss dishes out.

        Boss probably wants the LW to be so stressed out that they will be too scared to look elsewhere for fear of being fired.

    2. r.*

      This is what I think, too.

      To me it looks like a pretty transparent attempt at gaslighting LW1 into acquiesence, by denying that LW that they deserve to be kept in the loop on the proposed timeline they are implicitly telling LW that it is either not a big deal or something they simply are expected to put up with.

    3. el l*

      It all comes back to the boss overreacting to a common sense, “How long are we talking to resolve this?” question. Boss would ask the same if the roles were reversed. Instead, they were aggressive and by doing so opened the door to other problems.

      What that says is that boss has completely lost perspective, period, and they are likely to behave unpredictably. You have to explore those options.

  4. nnn*

    This doesn’t change anything for LW, but I’m idly curious whether the employer in #3 actually went and implemented an AI-powered application screening system, or if it’s just ordinary screening software that we’ve had for decades and they’re suddenly calling it AI.

    Lately I’ve been seeing various things that claim to be AI-powered when the job could be quickly, thoroughly and with no room for improvement with various kinds of simple software that we’ve had for ages (e.g. a calculator app, a basic search function, a decision tree of IF-THEN statements that a geeky child could program in BASIC), but I’m not close enough to the situation to tell if they’ve actually thrown out the program that does the job and replaced it with AI.

    1. John Smith*

      I know a comparison has been made to preexisting electronic vetting, but with these the thought process is built in and is merely an automated process of what a human would do. With AI, from my limited understanding, its the AI that makes decisions. I would have thought that any organisation wanting to use AI in this way would screen candidates as usual and then run the AI to see if it comes out with expected results before letting it loose to make its own decisions.

      1. Snow Globe*

        I don’t think AI is necessarily making the decisions, but AI would look at the decisions that are made and learn from those to make “better” recommendations in the future. “Better” is in quotes because initial attempts to use AI for this resulted in AI learning unfair biases from the human decision makers.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          In other words, your resume with all your information on it would then be used by the AI to learn better.

          Please everyone opt out of this.

          1. the cat's pajamas*

            Exactly, not to mention the security/ID theft risk. Once your personal info is in an AI database who knows where it will be shared. There have already been cases of data like identifiable sensitive medical info showing up in subsequent unrelated AI queries.

            1. BubbleTea*

              Perhaps I’m excessively cynical but I’m confident they’ve already scraped job boards like Indeed for everyone’s CV.

            2. Observer*

              Not really.

              Either the company has some brains, in which case their AI training sets stay with them. Or they have no sense and their standard database is not being adequately protected.

              1. FrivYeti*

                That assumes the company is using a proprietary AI rather simply hiring out to a third-party service that provides an AI dataset to a large number of companies while harvesting all of their application data in exchange, which seems like the most likely answer for the average company.

          2. Eldritch Office Worker*

            And have a pocket speech ready if someone asks you why because we need to be pushing back on the fundamental morality of this given the documented biases we’ve seen.

            1. MigraineMonth*

              Yeah, as a CS person I’m horrified by the amount of bias that’s taught to AI, and then people assume it can’t be biased because it’s a machine.

              AI IS SUPER BIASED, FOLKS.

              When I get really discouraged about technology, though, I remind myself that so are people, and it’s relatively easy to re-train an AI.

              1. The Man from Chicago*

                And “learning” can sometimes make it biased in new and interesting ways (that people can’t predict yet).

                I recall a story of an Amazon hiring analysis AI that became biased against women and Black people (by becoming biased “against” typically Black or feminine names) – so the coders edited it to make it ignore the name field, at which point it learned to become biased based on college (yes to UIC, no to Wellesley, yes to MIT, no to Xavier), and later on, by sports (yes to Lacrosse, no to B-ball).

          3. Fikly*

            That’s if you trust that opting out actually opts you out.

            There’s a reason that multiple studies have shown that if you participate in the surveys on job applications that identify you as a minority group that explicitly say this will not be considered during the application process, you are less likely to be offered an interview, with all other factors controlled for, as long as you identify as disabled.

        2. Artemesia*

          There are already companies where AI makes the decisions; we have had posts here where someone’s resume never got to the hiring manager but was screened out by the software. When I was hiring I looked at every application — often a couple hundred and narrowed them down; no way I would let some HR drone or software rule out potential hires. It was easy to discard at least 60% immediately and maybe software could have done that, but I never trusted it to do so. Too easy to let a potential strong hire slip through the cracks if their resume or application is even slightly a-typical.

          1. I Have RBF*

            This is golden. You are doing it right. Because HR people or software don’t have the understanding of what the job needs, and how to pick that out in a non-standard format.

            IMO, computer screening/scoring is just a tool. It’s when people turn their agency over to a mere tool that you end up with unintended consequences.

      2. Selena81*

        The thing is that there aren’t good definitions of AI or ML, and *technically* using a calculator falls under it.
        It isn’t how most people (or the media) envision AI, but companies looking for bragging rights do use it like that, with the manager of the data-science team hand-waving what models his team actually uses and pocketing a big paycheck.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        Had a discussion over breakfast that AI is both good at spotting subtle correlations in a large data set, and bad at determining whether these are interesting. (Yes, the sun rising and morning are correlated.)

      4. DJ Abbott*

        You would think, but we’ve all seen examples of people not taking the most basic precautions with tech and software.
        I would not count on any company being responsible with this or using it wisely. I’ve seen many, many instances of companies that wouldn’t even try to think this through.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          Sorry, nesting fail. This was in response to John Smith’s comment about how a company would test out AI before letting it loose.

      5. Laura*

        AI can hide biases where simple software or electronic vetting might make them actionable.

        I wonder if the “when in doubt, agree” estimate would hold up for members of groups that AI has been trained to not see in a good light.

    2. This is a name box*

      could be either.

      buy my guess is that enough of the early attempts at legislation to regulate AI will be poorly written/broad enough that it’ll make sense for companies to act as if computer assisted = AI

      1. bamcheeks*

        I don’t know if it’s even about it being “poorly written”— if I were involved in writing that legislation, I’d be very deliberately ensuring it included existing algorithm-based systems plus whatever might be invented in the next 20 years, not just the LLM-based systems that are currently being called AI. People are just as anxious about being rejected by an algorithm or code-based system as an LLM one.

          1. bamcheeks*

            Hm, is AI really so tightly defined that algorithm-based systems are definitively not AI? AFAIK it’s been applied most frequently to the large-language-model machine-learning like ChatGPT, but before that it was being used for other types of machine-learning learning systems and algorithms. I think “AI” is a colloquial usage rather than a technical one in most instances.

          2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

            The law may require it to be referred to as AI based on that law’s definition of AI.

          3. Parakeet*

            The term “AI” existed, and was widely used, before the current ChatGPT-prompted hype cycle for LLM-baesd generative AI applications. Granted, it’s never been terribly clearly defined (exactly how to define it has long been a matter of controversy in the field, and there’s a joke that as soon as people figure out and implement practical applications for something, they stop calling it AI). but when I took an AI 101 class in, I think, 2009, as part of a computer science degree, it introduced search and planning, machine learning, automated speech recognition (which has come a long way since then!) and NLP more generally, and expert systems.

            And there probably should be regulations on a lot of algorithmic screening, because the biases that come up in algorithmic decision-making have been known for ages.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          I have very little confidence that legislators are knowledgeable about the things they write legislation about.

          I’ve seen people use the term AI to describe what was actually a simple search and replace function.

    3. thelettermegan*

      I have absolutely heard CEO’s refer to their non-LLM software as AI, and I assumed it was merely marketing tactics.

    4. Random Dice*

      I thought that letter’s response was interesting too – I didn’t know about those state laws.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Me either and I’m kind of annoyed about it I don’t know how I keep missing this stuff

    5. H.Regalis*

      @nnn – I have seen *a ton* of stuff suddenly being marketed as AI. A mixing machine on Amazon has an “AI” setting. What does the setting do? It runs the machine on a five-minute timer.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        That’s hilarious. I noticed that Spotify now has an “AI DJ” that will presumably create a mix of music based on your listening preferences and playlists created by people who share those preferences.

        Just like, you know, Spotify has been doing since it’s inception.

        1. Bananapants Circus With Dysfunctional Monkeys*

          Not just that. It also has a generated voice introducing the tracks and sometimes including references to the artists you listened to as to why you might like it.

          Or at least it did when I tried it.

      2. The Man from Chicago*

        A home-depot site listing for my current model dryer extols the virtues of AI managed drying processes to better care for the laundry.

        What’s the AI? Oh, just the same humidistat in the exhaust stream tied to a timer-override control, the same as it’s had for 10+ years.

    6. Lenora Rose*

      This is because a lot of the things claimed to be “AI” right now (Large Language Models like chatGPT) are in many ways just the newest iteration of the same thing just with a much much broader (often stolen) dataset. They can filter more data and sift for things other than keywords but it’s still effectively the same kind of screening underlying the concept.

  5. A (Former) Library Person*

    OP #2, I have been on the other side of this type of situation. In my case, I took a part-time job while still having a few outstanding applications for more senior full-time work in a notoriously slow-moving part of the field (hiring is routinely measured in months). I knew that I couldn’t take any of those potential jobs for granted and I needed the income. I took that job in good faith, and planned to stay for a while without submitting new applications unless a dream job scenario popped up. When I did get an offer from one of the places I had applied to, everyone was understanding, although that might be a product of the situation (part-time, etc.) and that particular work environment (by far the most relaxed and supportive I have ever encountered).

    I think it is important, as Alison notes,to remember that applicants have less power and information during the process and cannot take anything for granted. Sometimes you have to make a difficult decision for purely practical reasons and you do the best you can with the information you have at that moment.

    1. Also-ADHD*

      Yeah I wondered if it could be part time or contract—highly field dependent but that’s super common in my field, especially in times like these when people are being laid off (people who work in tech in my field particularly are being laid off but can get shorter term contracts—often junior work—with larger companies fairly quickly). But it really depends.

    2. Selena81*

      That makes perfect sense: you shouldn’t say no to *actual* work because of the *chance* of landing a better job.

      And frankly, expecting people to hold out is very classist: not doing paid work untill you snared the big price is generally only possible if your family can easily support you for a few months

    3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      In my previous company, we landed a huge contract and I refused point blank to handle it because it would have required me to double my hours. So we started looking for someone to work on it full-time under my supervision, the person was to be hired for a three-month contract, renewable for another three months.

      We found a great candidate, he did tell us that he was in the running for a prestigious position as a translator/interpreter for a big company and that would take precedence. We offered him the job anyway, he took it and did a great job for the three months of his contract.

      Then at the very last minute, the boss wanted to sign for the second three-month contract. The employee told him he couldn’t sign on because the prestigious company had hired him. He had been kind enough to negotiate to be able to finish his three months as he’d committed to that, and he hadn’t said anything about the second stint because… the boss hadn’t asked him or mentioned him doing the second stint, so he assumed he wouldn’t be offered the second stint! The boss was furious, but he had been warned.

      The employee was kind enough to recommend someone who had done the same university course as him, and we hired her almost immediately, so no harm was done. The replacement hire turned out to be my favourite colleague, and I still work with her on occasion now that we are both freelancers.

    4. LW2*

      Of course, the job could have changed since I worked there, but to the best of my knowledge, the employer does not use PT or contract work in this position. It’s low-paid, junior stuff, the only way it makes sense (as someone else pointed out) is if UNG was desperate to leave his prior job and didn’t want to wait to hear from us.

      I plan to follow Alison’s wisdom and leave it be.

  6. Ellis Bell*

    I wonder how tempted OP1 is to exercise their options. I would go from “eh, I have them” to being very tempted indeed after that last exchange.

    1. ecnaseener*

      I sure hope so. On top of everything else that’s wrong here, boss was angry enough that I don’t think he’s going to get over it. Explore those options, LW1!

      1. DJ Abbott*

        I’m interested in why he was so angry. It sounds like there’s a lot under the surface here.

        1. Artemesia*

          The obvious factor would be a thin skinned boss and an OP who has been consistently tone deaf and annoying, so that boss was responding to years of being annoyed at this guy pushing pushing pushing or not letting an.issue drop. I had a colleague like this that never new when to shut up and I can imagine the boss going off at him — but not two days later. The OP may be a perfectly reasonable person and the boss a jerk — or there may be some history that led to this ridiculous response to a reasonable question.

          1. RVA Cat*

            Even in that case it’s a poor fit and LW1 should move on. But it’s on the manager to coach their reports, not blow up at them even if they have BEC feelings.

    2. I Have RBF*

      If it were me, the boss’s response and nastiness would have taken it from “we have options” to “let me send these resumes out pronto.” IOTW, OP1 need to start looking now. This place is full of bees, red flags, and an entire plantain plantation.

    3. fhqwhgads*

      The boss’s response is especially stupid to me since this was about an HR issue, and I wouldn’t neccessarily take “I have options” in response to what OP1 said to just mean OP1 (and OP1’s reports) could go work somewhere not encountering this particular HR issue. It could also have meant “we could go report this to EEOC or OSHA” or whatever other body applicable.

    4. Elizabeth West*


      I hope we get an update like “I found a fabulous job elsewhere and Bee Boss is tearing all his hair out.”

  7. learnedthehardway*

    I have zero faith in AI for recruitment – of course, I’m biased, being in recruitment myself, but my experience to date is that matching systems do a lousy job. Every time a system I’m using suggests matching candidates to me or “you may also be interested”, invariably, they match on some irrelevant or unwanted basis. Eg. I was presented some “matching” candidates the other day for a search I did of a well known platform. Well, sure, they all came from the same company, but they were in completely different locations and functional areas!! I didn’t even want more candidates from that particular company. What I wanted was someone in the functional area of the ideal candidate I had found.

    Not to mention that machine learning learns biases just as well as it learns anything else. In fact, it can be worse than a human, because a computer system cannot identify what biases are, or use critical reasoning to question biases or to realize what is and isn’t relevant information. A system may actually amplify the biases of its creators! Feed a computer system a set of resumes / candidates and it WILL find the common denominators, which might not be what is actually important. For example, if you feed a system all the resumes of the successful sales people in your company, and tell the AI to base its selection on those resumes, the system is just as likely to decide that graduating from a local university is the relevant common denominator, or that women are better because you have more female employees who have high sales results, etc. etc. There have been AI recruitment systems pulled off the market and out of beta testing because of this very issue, including ones that have been pulled because they reflect and amplify racial or gender discrimination. If your sales people have historically been white males, for example, the AI is going to see that as the greatest common denominator.

    There are currently AI systems that do video interviewing for high volume recruitment. Personally, I have my doubts about them. I get that if you routinely have to recruit hundreds of people, then you’ve got to find ways to streamline that process. I think you’d do better to work on retention, though, and reducing turnover (generally speaking).

    Steps off soapbox…..

    1. bamcheeks*

      Yes to all of this! Wasn’t there one study where the algorithm found that the best predictor of success was having “sailing” on your CV?

        1. king of the pond*

          It’s very common for hiring “AIs” to latch onto a keyword as an indicator of something else. When they’re being sexist or racist as mentioned above, they’ll look for women’s sports or POC support groups. In this case, sailing is the indicator of being rich (and thus success in our capitalist society).

          1. bamcheeks*

            It’s also very common for hiring humans to do this, though. I think the sailing example was actually from a blind-CV challenge which found that male candidates who listed success in expensive sports (sailing, skiing) were preferred over male candidates who listed success in sports with typical low-to-no-cost-entry sports (IIRC, track athletics and basketball). No AI involved, just people being gross.

            1. RVA Cat*

              This, plus the lower-cost sports being “urban” or racially coded. Makes me wonder if the algorithm handles soccer differently.

    2. matthias_code*

      I remember the cases of systems recognizing “Playing Lacrosse” and “beign named Jared” as the best markers is somebody fits a position.

      1. bamcheeks*

        ahh, that’s the one I was thinking of. I think the “sailing” example came from a blind-CV study which found that human CV reviewers were biased towards candidates with expensive sports and activities on their resumes rather than low-cost ones.

    3. misspiggy*

      Fascinating. So do we think opting out would be beneficial, or is Alison right to say staying in is safer?

      1. ferrina*

        If they opt out, will anyone even look at their resume? I don’t think opting out means that you’re guaranteed to get human eyes on their resume- most likely it will just go into the pile of “if the AI ones don’t work, I guess we’ll look at these”

    4. Chief of...*

      So true.

      I was recently matched with the Chief of Surgery position at a metropolitan teaching hospital.

      I’m a chief of staff…

      1. Allonge*

        Well, clearly there is a lot of overlap there! Although a Chief of Supply or a Chief of Surrealistic Cinema may be even better, but you qualify really well. Imagine something ridiculous like a senior chirurgical expert applying though.

        1. NotRealAnonForThis*

          Sigh. Lets just say I work as a senior llama grooming specialist and I frequently get emails about “exciting opportunities as a chocolate teapot R&D specialist”.

          Both are specialist jobs, that’s about the end of the similarities. Bonus if they’ve reviewed my CV and determined I’m a great fit and have a great set of qualifications.

          I know not very much about chocolate teapots, basically that they’re teapots and that they’re chocolate. I don’t even know if you can brew tea in chocolate teapots.

          1. JustaTech*

            Yup. I constantly get suggestions for “data scientist” jobs.
            I am a scientist.
            A biologist. My science goes “squish”, not “beep”.

            But there’s no way to explain that to LinkedIn.

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Yes – I’m a paralegal with nearly twenty years’ experience in my very specialised and narrow field. The industry standard job titles combine $Field with either Paralegal or Officer. My suggestions are a mess of $Field attorneys or other paralegal roles, and every vacancy for compliance officers – none of those is remotely appropriate, and any human being working as a recruiter would recognise that within seconds.

      2. Llama Llama*

        I always joke with my non doctor brother in law that his 5 year plan for the hospital he works at should be ‘become chief of surgery’.

      3. AngryOctopus*

        When I was job hunting Indeed sent me several positions they thought I’d be qualified for (that was their wording in the email). They were all for dentists in the midwest. I live in the northeast, and I’m not a dentist. I don’t work in a dental related field. I don’t know what about their algorithms pegged me as a dentist, but it was a neverending source of amusement for me.

    5. DyneinWalking*

      Thank you for writing this essay so I don’t have to.

      AI is, essentially, pattern recognition software. Ensuring that it learns the relevant patterns is an art in itself. AI is amazing for data analysis because it can sift through data so much faster than humans, but it needs competent people on both the input and the output end of the pipeline.

      1. Artemesia*

        Because it is pattern recognition, it will almost certainly institutionalize gender and racial discrimination as well as other biases like rich buy and frat bro. The most lucrative positions in our society already select for that; try to get into high flying financial jobs if you don’t fit that pattern. I watched for years as my wealthy male undergrads with important fathers mange to land such jobs over my less wealthy but much more competent women grads.

        1. ferrina*

          Exactly this. AI finds the societal patterns that already exist, then tries to replicate them. This was the issue with law enforcement/predictive analytics around crime as well.
          AI needs to be trained. The training that the AI receives changes what the output will be. It’s got some of the same issues as humans.

        2. Enai*

          Or, in another famous example, identify a particularly desirable fish not by any characteristics of the animal, but by the fingertips of the delighted fisherman holding it in the photos from the training set. Or identify rain as the defining characteristic of soviet tanks. Or… I feel the examples are endless.

    6. aqua*

      I work in machine learning research, and I think using AI for resume screening is not a good idea. It’s very likely to pick up on irrelevant patterns and very unlikely to have been tested in an adequate way.

    7. Harper the Other One*

      Some of the AI anti-plagiarism engines will generate high “plagiarism” scores for using common phrases etc. and at one of my jobs, even the simple HR search system ended up excluding candidates because no one had indicated at “B.Sc.” meant a candidate had the required bachelor’s degree. If I were a hiring manager I would be not be willing to trust AI tools.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I recall tripping the plagiarism alarm with lines like “The capital of New York is Albany.” Like, there’s only so many unique ways to phrase that and have the sentence still be useful.

        1. learnedthehardway*

          LOL – “Albany the capital of New York is.”
          And with that, even Yoda will be labeled a plagiarist….

        2. Salsa Your Face*

          In college we would sometimes be given assignment templates with question/section headers we were required to use, and then the headers themselves would trip the anti-plagiarism software. It was endlessly frustrating.

          1. Freya*

            One assignment at uni broke my brain, because the plagiarism checker didn’t flag anything, not even my bibliography. And amongst other things I’d referenced the textbook! I was absolutely convinced I’d somehow answered the wrong assignment…

    8. kiki*

      Right now most AI hiring software is based off the assumption that past hiring for positions like the target one has been done well and should be replicated. It will successfully hire more people who have been considered “successful” thus-far and doesn’t really have the capability to suggest somebody who may be uniquely well-suited for the role.

      1. Selena81*

        To really know whether the software works you would need to do some double-blind studies with hundreds of job-vacancies, and repeat it any time you’ve tweaked the software.
        But that would be monstrously expensive.

    9. Lady Lessa*

      I’m not job hunting, but am still getting suggested openings from software based compiler websites. Some of them have been wild. I get chemist and technician, because I am a chemist and did apply to lower level positions, just to find a job. But financial and customer service . Left field in a distant galaxy.

    10. boof*

      Absolutely. AI is a tool and to use it well one has to understand what it is doing, and how; it might actually be more interesting to use AI to IDENTIFY biases “hey what do all our candidates tend to have in common” than to try to pick top contenders (maybe AI can screen resumes for top areas of interest but I’m pretty sure a lot of non-AI basic search systems would do that as well if not better)

    11. Antilles*

      For example, if you feed a system all the resumes of the successful sales people in your company, and tell the AI to base its selection on those resumes
      Feeding the resumes of current employees brings another problem: The source of said resumes.
      Are you really going to spend tons of effort digging back years (decades?) to get the original resumes people submitted when they first joined a long time ago? Or are you just going to the network marketing folder and pulling people’s current company-format resumes that you attach to proposals?
      The person setting up the AI is definitely doing the latter because it’s a much easier (and more available) way of getting the data. But that also means that you’re feeding the AI data based on what your successful salespeople look like *today* (or whenever they last updated their marketing resume), rather than what you *were* X years ago during the interview process.

    12. OMG It's 2024!*

      I don’t know a lot about AI, but resumes don’t typically have gender or race on them. How would they perform that level of discrimination? Would it strictly be based on … name? (i.e. “more Johns have successful resumes than Wakeems?) location? (i.e. more successful resumes have addresses in zip code A versus zip code B)? Not questioning your response AT ALL, I’m just fascinated at how this would happen.

      1. bamcheeks*

        In human hiring, that’s exactly how it works, plus things like school name, area, the type of sports or extra-curricular activities you’re involved in. There’s very, very strong evidence for hiring managers being biased against people based on their names, and on finding other evidence of gender or ethnicity on which to base discriminatory judgments if they don’t have the candidate’s name.

        If that’s the data that’s going into your algorithm or your machine-learning software, the software is likely to at least replicate it and probably intensify it.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        The US is so segregated that neighborhood very strongly correlated with race, which has been used for decades to discriminate while being “race blind”.

        Ironically, now that affirmative action has been struck down, some colleges are starting to consider the student’s neighborhood in their admissions processes in order to improve diversity.

      3. JustaTech*

        Often it’s things like the name of the school you went to (any of the women’s colleges, or historically Black colleges and universities), or the clubs, sororities or fraternities (gender and race), or professional associations you’re part of (SWE – Society of Women Engineers), or what sports you played back in school (field hockey, cricket).

        Even if you take off the individual’s name, there are subtle gender and race markers. as I remember, Amazon’s recruiting AI got to where it would correctly identify the gender of an applicant even if they took off the person’s name and the name of the college. It was amazing at rejecting women.

      4. Kevin Sours*

        AI is *really* good a picking out patterns. It’s very bad at figuring out of similarities or differences matter. To get good results you have to be *very* careful to insure that you don’t have inconsequential differences in your training set (or otherwise account for them). It’s very hard.

        There are going to be all kinds of tells on a resume about gender or race. Names, hobbies, school choice, job history. Unpaid internships are a big tell. Woman are much more likely to have year long gaps in work history. There are probably tells I haven’t even thought of. But, as I said, AI is *really* good at finding them.

        If I give the AI a bunch of resumes of “successful” people and say “find me more like this” It will. But if those resumes are all white dudes than what I’m going to get is more resumes from white dudes.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          Note that none of these problems are unique to AI approaches, but AI lacks the ability to intuitively correct while adding a false veneer of “objectivity” that makes it harder to question BS results.

          Garbage in, garbage out was coined by the computer industry for a reason.

    13. MigraineMonth*

      I’m curious, do you have examples of the systems amplifying (rather than institutionalizing) the bias? I know that ML reflects existing biases (and lazy data collection practices), but I thought that the models would at least be easier to re-train than humans with bias.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        Humans can be trained to be aware of their biases, computers not so much. Part of the problem with AI is it can be very difficult to understand why it came up with the answers it did. A human might, for instance, look at an unusual resume that looks nothing like a typical successful candidate, stop to think about it, maybe talk to some other people and realize that this candidate might be successful.

        AI is going to just say “this doesn’t look like my ‘good’ training set, bye bye”. And unless you back checking the AI’s results somehow you’ll never notice it’s happening.

  8. Free Meerkats*

    And of course, the really relevant phrase in the answer to #3 is “competent hiring manager.”

      1. Ruth*

        At my organization hiring managers are not allowed to see all applicants – only those who are screened in by our recruiter.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Given that we’ve heard HR folks defend loony requirements with “if we don’t weed out 90% of the applicants blindly, we wouldn’t have time to reject the other 10%, let alone evaluate them*”, I’ll believe it.


        2. wordswords*

          Yeah. My spouse has complained to me on several occasions about hand-recruited candidates not making it through the keyword-flagging HR screening for the hiring manager to even review. The hiring manager or another person in the department who knows the field and their needs goes “hey, Fergus, you should apply for this open position, I think you’d be a strong candidate!” and then Fergus goes “hey, uh, so, I did, and then I got rejected without an interview, fyi” and that’s the first the hiring manager hears about it. Who knows how many more promising aren’t making it through, and the hiring manager has no way to know about it to kick up a stink?

          I have no trust whatsoever in the judgment of algorithms at sorting through resumes. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell a lot of companies have tons of trust in it, or at least have chosen to do so because it’s cheap and easy. Alison’s response about AI generally only flagging resumes seemed unwontedly over-optimistic to me, to be honest.

  9. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP4 (stay or go) – yes, go. There’s no point giving it another year in this situation because nothing will change. In fact in my opinion it’s a positive in itself to be able to say “I recognised that the situation wouldn’t change, so I took positive action, rather than wait fruitlessly for it to change due to magical thinking”. The company would have to take on a complete new strategy to give what you want, when it seems like it’s already there at the other company. Remember a year spent in your current place is a year potentially spent losing and not developing ‘copper’ skills because of doing all the other stuff.

    1. Where we're going, we don't need road trips*

      I don’t disagree if that’s what LW feels is best.

      Though I’m not sure I agree with Alison’s read that the situation isn’t worth talking with the CEO about if LW were truly invested in this effort. I’m wondering if CEO really understands the situation, how LW is floundering, and the specific support they’d need to succeed.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      These are all excellent points! I stayed in a job for about two years longer than I probably should have, mostly because it was political-adjacent and I wanted to stick it out for the 2020 presidential election. I wasn’t even involved in the political stuff, I was just a back office tech person (database admin) and once I completed the big project of getting our old clunky not user friendly DB moved over to a much much better system, I made my position obsolete. So I spent two years not really doing much (basic data entry; I probably had about eight hours of work most weeks) and being utterly bored. I probably could have spent the time learning more tech stuff but I was also dealing with a couple of health issues that made concentration extremely hard (why, hello, OP, I also have ADHD) so I mostly just wasted time reading stuff online and taking long walks on my lunch break. After the election I got a new job where I am quite utilized and have learned a ton of new stuff just out of necessity and I really wish I’d moved on from my previous job when it became obvious I wasn’t growing anymore. I also really liked the people I was working with so that was another incentive to stay, so I can understand, OP, why you want to keep working with your supportive CEO. But if you’re not happy and you really want to do what you love, you should do what you need to do to make yourself happy.

      (Side note: I made myself so obsolete with my previous job that they didn’t even replace me when I left, they just made it a minor duty of a different role.)

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        I’m not so sure the CEO is supportive. They “believe in” OP but are not giving her what she needs to succeed (and I’m not sure they even have any grasp of what is needed, they just blindly assume she’ll do well because … she always has.

        1. Ama*

          Yeah, as someone who is currently in a situation where the CEO’s “belief” in me also ended up shunting me into a job I don’t enjoy — I will be honest that I have come to believe that her “belief” in me was less about actual belief in me and more about not wanting to pay for the actual expertise needed to do my current job well. (Most people in my position have an advanced degree in the subject area I work in and I don’t even have an undergrad degree in that area.)

          I’m in the process of planning to go freelance in the skills I actually enjoy; if OP has other job prospects that will allow them to do work they feel more comfortable with they should absolutely explore that option.

          1. Future*

            Yep! I’ve been in this situation. My job duties changed drastically, I knew I couldn’t do it, or at least not without significant hardship and stress on my part that definitely did not match my level of compensation (ADHD here too) and said so, boss and uber-boss “believed in me” but really they didn’t have anyone else to do it.

            I wish I’d listened to myself rather than my shitty boss, who guess what, was not on my side and didn’t have my back. I’d have saved myself a lot of damage to my self-esteem and mental health.

            Go, Copper expert. Before this job damages you even more and makes you believe bad things about yourself. Go now.

            1. Slow Gin Lizz*

              That situation reminds me of all the stupid empty praise lobbed at me by a couple of c-levels at my current org. Two sides of the same coin, really. I don’t feel this way about a lot of things in my life but I do believe I am quite good at my day job so whenever they empty-praise me I just pat myself on the back and say, “Yup, I am brilliant, they are correct.” Or I go with the ever useful Han Solo response, “I know.”

              But a raise sure would be nice instead of all this hollow praise, sigh.

            2. Future*

              Or to put it another way, they believed in me but they didn’t believe me (when I said I couldn’t do the thing they wanted me to do).

              I should have believed in myself.

              1. ferrina*

                They believe in you but don’t believe what you say.

                To whit: They have a shiny idea of you, they have some wishful thinking about how they want you to contribute to the company, and don’t want you to interrupt their “vision” with pesky reality.

                I’ve worked for that CEO a couple times.

        2. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Ah, good point. Support and faith in someone are definitely not the same thing and I did interpret them to be. My mistake.

          1. Future*

            I think saying you have faith in someone is so often empty words that are easy to say. At least in a work context.

    3. learnedthehardway*

      Me – I would apply for the other role, and go through the process. The OP doesn’t need to make a decision until/unless they are offered the position. They should explore their options.

      People need to learn how to cultivate the ability to be committed to what they are doing WHILE being open to other opportunities. It’s a skill and requires some compartmentalization, but it’s worth developing.

  10. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP5 (furlough, road trip, interviews) Isn’t there an expectation that they could call you back into work during this furlough period (paid of course) for business reasons? Surely the reason you aren’t available until Feb is you are employed by your current company until then?

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        I expect so too, but I also expect (and I checked a few policy statements that were publicly available to confirm!) any “outside employment” to often still be subject to company approval. About being paid, I meant that if people are called back early from furlough, that the work (they are called back to) would be paid, not the furlough period itself.

        1. Dread Pirate Roberts*

          How would that change the advice? Are you saying they shouldn’t go on the road trip, which isn’t what they’re asking? Your comment seems to confirm AAM’s advice to not give reasons because people will have Opinions. Since they’ve already decided not to return after furlough, and have told the company that, and are planning their road trip for January while they’re furloughed, it sounds like a) they don’t have an expectation of being called back and b) they have no reason to care if they are – they’ve given notice.

          1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

            > How would that change the advice?

            Because if they are still employed by the company, and subject to policies on “outside employment” or whatever, they don’t need to mention the road trip at all as a reason they can’t start until Feb. The reason is just “my last day at my current employer is the 31st Jan” or whatever.

              1. Pocket Mouse*

                It changes the official end date. If the LW is technically still employed, they’re still employed. They can frame it as needing a week (or two, or whatever the case may be) after the current one ends before starting the new job, instead of highlighting they are traveling during the month between actual working days.

        2. Database Developer Dude*

          If the furlough is unpaid, the company has no legal rights to prevent OP from taking any employment.

    1. bamcheeks*

      I think this depends very much on both the formal terms of the furlough and the informal discussion around it. “We aren’t going to pay you and we don’t know whether there will be a job for you in a month’s time either, but we expect you to hold yourself in readiness to return to work on 24 hours’ notice should our circumstances change” is a completely unreasonable expectation. “We’re paying you a retainer and we can guarantee that you’ll have a full-time job again from 1st February, and earlier if this, that or the other works out” would be rather more reasonable.

      But even if it’s the latter, if LW knows that there’s a possibility they might return to work, it’s still fair enough to take advantage of the time off to go on a road trip, and just make sure they’re reachable and can cut their trip short if that happens,

    2. Name (Required)*

      If you think the furlough is unpaid, how would they still be subject to company approval for other employment?

      Unpaid = not employed = company has no say over what their EX-employee does

      1. The Rural Juror*

        They probably still have their company-provided health insurance for the furlough period. If that’s the case, they’re not technically an ex employee yet.

    3. Helewise*

      When my husband has been furloughed it’s always been very clear that he won’t be working during that defined time period and also that he CAN’T work during that time period – it may just have to do with the kind of paperwork it would entail, but he can file for unemployment with the state so I think there are unemployment definitions there that are in play as well. There’s never been an expectation that he’d be called back in, though.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        I wouldn’t tolerate that. That’s a load of crap. No employer has the right to make you sit there without an income.

        1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

          The Feds can. It is a load of crap, but it’s somehow legal when they do it, but illegal if any private sector employer did it.

          1. Database Developer Dude*

            Well, when federal employees are furloughed, and the government shuts down, they get back pay when they come back. That’s pretty much the only way they can get away with that crap.

  11. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    #1 With the boss’s absurdly aggressive overreaction I’d suspect he knows – or wants – that the HR situation won’t relly be rectified; that the organisation is deliberately dragging its feet in the belief that the situation will fizzle out eventually without them having to do anything substantive.

    Regardless, I’ve never been shouted at by any manager in my reporting chain and I would find it totally unacceptable. Unless he’d apologised abjectly before I left for the day, I’d start serious job-hunting that evening.
    In my exit interview I’d state that my reason for leaving was the manager shouting at me and why.

    1. Also-ADHD*

      Not necessarily. He might just be the type that doesn’t like “underlings” questioning anything or having any agency—he may have no additional knowledge of the situation and just thought it “presumptuous” or “inappropriate” that LW asked a (completely reasonable) pointed question on timelines and if he DIDN’T know the timeline might even be offended that he was going to possibly get the information at the same time as “underlings” and/or couldn’t answer it or whatever. The guy is clearly on a power trip (and if not the HR situation himself, which it doesn’t seem like he is from the letter, seems rife to make new ones). So it doesn’t imply he has any real knowledge about the HR situation, or even that he benefits, just that LW threatens his authoritarian mindset.

    2. Other Alice*

      I have been yelled at by a manager, and I understand the impulse to apologise. There is value in taking the path of least resistance and preserving your own mental well being while looking for another job. I hope LW is looking because this manager seems to have no interest in solving this situation and I wouldn’t be surprised if they retaliated for this perceived “slight”.

    3. Random Dice*

      I have had a manager who covered for not knowing the answer to a question by attacking, often quite personally.

      People who react like this can’t be trusted.

    4. Observer*

      With the boss’s absurdly aggressive overreaction I’d suspect he knows – or wants – that the HR situation won’t relly be rectified; that the organisation is deliberately dragging its feet in the belief that the situation will fizzle out eventually without them having to do anything substantive.

      That sounds likely. But equally likely, I think, is that Boss is like the letter writer who was infuriated at the person who said that she can’t continue to work if she doesn’t get paid.

      That boss was checked by HR and the head of Payroll,, so they wrote to Allison to see if they could find another way to retaliate against the employee. In this case, the time lag makes me think that the Boss wanted to retaliate against the OP and was not allowed to, hence the *private* meeting yelling that “you’re lucky”.

    5. Fledge Mulholland*

      This might be the case. Are we sure that the only “options” OP1 is referring to are options to leave and find another job? Could OP1’s options include legal recourse if the HR issue is not resolved? In that case, the boss would certainly be forced not to sweep this issue under the rug or delay its resolution.

  12. amoeba*

    OT, but anybody else who now has The Clash stuck in their head because of #4 or is it just me? (Yes, I do wish there was another “should I” in there!)

  13. Ms. Murchison*

    In the situation in #3, consent also means you’re becoming part of the AI’s database, the content it learns from and retains, right? Does giving consent give the AI company the right to reuse/sell these applications as part of their training data?

    1. aqua*

      It’s not inherently true that using AI to screen resumes means adding those resumes to the training data, and may depend on local privacy laws.

    2. Twix*

      From a technical perspective, no. Training a machine learning algorithm and using it to process an input are totally different things. Legally, how to classify using data for training, and thus whether things like copyright apply, is a giant grey area that’s actively being fought in courts. The state laws Alison mentioned might have provisions for this in those states, but in general right now it’s not clear that they need your consent to retain your resume as training data. (It is worth mentioning though that training data is a combination of an input and some form of scoring metadata to determine how good a match the algorithm’s output is to the expected result. Machine learning algorithms don’t automatically retain every input they process as training data.)

  14. Ex Serf*

    #1 It’s a totally over the top reaction he had. A definite “Lord and Serfs” attitude. Honestly, I don’t think you should have apologised. He is totally in the wrong. I would also start looking for jobs as I’m prepared to bet money he’s the vengeful sort. You have dared to treat the situation as a legitimate concern rather than tugging your forelock and mumbling “yersh, Yerrroner”.
    Not the sort of person you want to work for long term

  15. anononon*

    Ugh. LW1, I really hope that you (and your colleagues) have lots of options that do not involve being shouted at by a boss who seems to think you’re in a Master and Serf situation.

    Would love to be a fly on the wall when you hand in your resignation… :)

  16. MK*

    “I don’t respond well to threats” is acceptable if someone theatens to do something to harm you unless they get their way. If someone is simply laying out the consequences of your own behaviour or a situation in general (a.k.a. if this HR issue isn’t resolved, I might start looking for a new job), not responding well is bad managing. The “threat” that employees might leave if they aren’t satisfied is always present, and good managers are aware of it, so throwing a fit because one dared to voice it isn’t acceptable.

  17. MTG*

    Number 2 is definitely the time for minding your own business. You need to forget you have this information, and make sure it doesn’t impact your consideration of the person’s application candidacy. You have no idea what their situation has been – they could have been without an income, or previously in a role that was detrimental to their health and wellbeing, and needed to take another role ASAP. A person can be absolutely sure they are the perfect candidate and will be offered a role, and still not be willing to risk their financial security or wellbeing by sitting and waiting months for the slow wheel of recruitment to turn.

    There is a cost of living crisis everywhere, and job hunting is stressful at the best of times. OP noted that the process at their company can take months. Months! Speaking as someone in a specialist, senior level role in a very competitive industry, if I was ever in a position where I had no income coming in, I know without a doubt that I would apply for and take any entry level role that was offered to me in order to pay my bills and feed my child while I continued to search for a more suitable role.

  18. Madeleine Matilda*

    OP4 – ” others worry that my mental health is taking such a blow that it’s better to try to get a position elsewhere.” That part of your letter is the best reason to take the other job. Your well being is always more important than any job.

  19. EAM*

    RE: Job application asked for my consent for AI screening

    Does this include USA Jobs that does a word matching screening (though I think in use way before AI was common)? And what if you are applying to a job that is in a state that requires but you are in a different state. Ex: DC to Maryland…

    As a note – USA Jobs word matching is horrible and easily overlooks really qualified applicants.

    1. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      I was thinking USA jobs too! I’m betting there will be another whole job sector opening up, the job coaches that “gamify” the AI screeners, just like there are job consultants who have expertise in getting the right info into your USA Jobs application (i.e. when it asks you to provide a level of expertise, if you’ve ever done the task at a job, you rate yourself as expert).

      And I agree the computer filter isn’t great, but at the same time, the human filter isn’t too much better when you have generic HR filling specialized billets. You get all sorts of crazy resumes that don’t match, they just have a right key term, and you don’t get the ones you want because they didn’t put in the right key term.

    2. Jackalope*

      Not only that, but it is horrible at matching you to jobs that you might want to apply for. As an example, I usually start any searches there with requesting the specific location I want, and it will match me with every single job opening in the US that has something along the lines of “multiple locations”, even if there are only two locations that are thousands of miles away from the place I’m looking for. And I’ve had times when I was looking for a specific job listing (from, say, the ad posted by the employer in another setting that urged me to go check things out at USA jobs) and when I typed in the posting number it wouldn’t take me to the specific posting. Sometimes I was able to find it later, sometimes not, but it is more than unhelpful.

  20. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    #2 — it is possible that in doing everything to start the new job, the applicant forgot to cancel your interview. Nothing shady, just human.

  21. anon for this*

    I’ve told my boss, “Please don’t make me retire”.

    I’ve been here a long time, I have a lot of capital to spend, and there has been so much turnover in the office that I can afford to say that. Also, I can afford to retire although I’d rather stay for now.

    1. Ex Serf*

      Absolutely! My wife does this at work, she’s been there 30 years and is the total technical expert on a huge range of automotive issues. When her Boss is being a bit of a dick regarding things, she says things like, “You only have 5 years to train my replacement you know”, “I could retire next year”, and ” Consultancy X called me, they’re offering twice my salary” – which is true.

    2. On Fire*

      I’ve told my manager that if our small org moves me from her team (my entire career focus) to a different one (stuff I *really* don’t care about) I would start job-hunting. My work philosophy has always been “I was looking for a job when I found this one,” and although I’ll absolutely give a job my best effort, I won’t stay in a place I’m miserable, any longer than I have to.

  22. Selena81*

    Sounds like you and your friend decided to do this together, and now it feels like abandoning that dream.
    But you wouldn’t be burning the bridge: if the company ever does get serious about making copper teapots you can come back. With all the experience from your new job.

    1. Gudrid the Well Traveled*

      Yes, I was thinking this might be part of OP’s reluctance. But this also gives a great response to any objections the CEO might raise. As much as the OP wanted this to work, they’re not ready yet.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      That’s a very good point! OP, if you do get the other job, you can definitely be judicious in how you tell your current boss about your resignation. Be clear that you really love the company and working for him (or whatever way of phrasing this that works for you) and that the only reason you’re leaving is that you really want to focus on copper teapots and are looking to expand and develop your copper skillset. If your CEO is a good boss, he will understand your situation and that this is the best move for you and your career. You could also tell him that you absolutely would be open to returning to work for him if his situation changes and the company now has the resources to make copper teapots.

  23. HonorBox*

    OP2 – I think I’d let all of it go. You are aware of the timeline for both positions, and you’ve also said your firm is moving more slowly. It is very likely that the candidate took the other position because it was offered. There’s no need to give the current employer a heads up nor is there reason to give too much thought to the candidate staying in the process with you.

  24. HonorBox*

    I read LW1 saying that they “have options” a little broader than just suggesting they might have the opportunity to leave. While it doesn’t change the fact that the boss was still WAY out of line, it could be that the boss took it a little more threateningly. Options to leave is one thing. Options like pursuing some other action that could get the boss into trouble might be another read. I think the OP had the right to inquire about the timeline, etc. and the boss’s response was completely unprofessional. The perception of the threat to the boss might explain the more outsized (yet totally inappropriate) response, though.

    1. LWH*

      I’m glad I’m not the only one that read “I have options” as not necessarily meaning just “I’ll leave”. Depending on the HR situation it could also mean something like “I’ll sue”. Granted, it’d be a bad idea to threaten to fire them in this case, but being a bad idea doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen.

      Honestly I think Letter 1 is impossible to comment on without knowing anything about the HR situation and how LW is involved. There’s a lot of scenarios I can think of where LW has no business asking for details on an HR case and there’s a lot of scenarios I can think of where they deserve to know. Depending on the type of situation, it could be extremely inappropriate for LW to keep asking about it or it could be totally in their rights to demand answers. Details matter a lot here and we don’t have them. Regardless, I think it’s a bad idea to say you have options, even if you just mean you’ll leave, unless you’re ready to leave in that exact moment.

      1. HonorBox*

        I agree. While we’re to take a LW at their word, it is hard to be in their shoes and give great advice without knowing the situation. I assume (dangerously), trying to take them at their word here, that knowing a timeline was important to everyone. But in similar situations I’ve encountered, it is very possible that what is shared in a meeting like the one described is all that can be shared, and everyone needs to approach it knowing that all they know is all they’re going to be able to know.

        1. Observer*

          But in similar situations I’ve encountered, it is very possible that what is shared in a meeting like the one described is all that can be shared, and everyone needs to approach it knowing that all they know is all they’re going to be able to know.

          I can’t imagine any scenario where a meeting like this is appropriate, but a *general* time line cannot be shared. But also, if such a unicorn scenario ere happening here, the question would have been answered by saying something like “I understand that you are anxious about this but I cannot share the timeline for ~~Reasons~~”.

          There is NO scenario where the boss’ actual response is in any way appropriate.

      2. bamcheeks*

        I can’t really imagine a situation where it was appropriate for LW to be updated but inappropriate for them to *ask* about a timeline. I mean, there would be times when you got a broad outline of The Situation, and the answer to “what’s the timeline?” was, “I am afraid that’s not something I can share because it’s confidential / commercially-sensitive”. But I can’t really imagine a situation where you’re sufficiently in the loop to be updated but not allowed to ask questions and take “no” for an answer.

        1. LWH*

          It’s not that unusual to be updated that something is happening without being privy to details about how it is being investigated or handled.

          1. bamcheeks*

            Sure, but it’s unusual to be updated about something and then snapped at for asking a question. “What’s the timeline on that?” “I’m sorry, I can’t share that” is a perfectly normal interaction. “What’s the timeline on that?” “What’s it to you?” is weird and aggressive.

          2. fhqwhgads*

            But it is unusual to be updated that something is happening and invited to a meeting about how it is being investigated or handled, and then told you’re not meant to be privy to how long the investigation/handling will take, which is what’s described in the letter.

        2. spiriferida*

          Yeah. There’s a range of options for what the issue might be, but challenging the LW for asking doesn’t seem an appropriate reaction to any of them. If it involves interpersonal issues, them telling people means that there’s a need for people to be aware of it – either they witnessed the event(s) in question or it will impact their work and their environment in some way. In that case, I’d expect a boss to give a diplomatic non-answer about the timeline, not to respond aggressively. (I’d be disappointed in the company, but I’d expect it).

          And if it’s a logistical issue – say, workplace safety procedure, miscalculated paychecks, something like that – then I’d absolutely expect the briefing to include a timeline, and would be completely shocked to get a response like this when asking how soon it will be resolved.

        3. Kevin Sours*

          At some level though “I am afraid that’s not something I can share” isn’t always an acceptable answer. Because if something is negatively affecting my career and you aren’t going to fix it, I need to hit the eject button. Can’t or won’t is immaterial.

  25. FellowSquirrel*

    Copper Teapot OP:

    Fellow ADhd-er here. In a healthy organization, being allowed and encouraged to advocate for the modifications you need is normal.

    Someone who stops me on the way to a meeting will be asked to send an email, since I’m not going to remember the verbal conversation with everything else running around my brain.

    A leader who recently asked me for some process documents that I just can’t write myself was happy to pair me with a tech writer so I could ramble the complex chaos in my brain while the writer made it neat and pretty.

    These things may not be normal to openly talk about where you are today, but places like mine are definitely out there. You deserve better.

  26. 1-800-BrownCow*

    OPs – I agree, just let it go. I’ve worked with a few people in the past that took positions that to them were temporary until a position more suited to their experience and income level came along. A lot of people are in a position that they can’t turn down a junior role because there’s a chance they could get an offer in a senior role later on. What if they went through your interview process and don’t get the job? They’re better off having their junior role job until something does come along. And I don’t think it’s fair to hold it against the candidate that they took another job while still interviewing with your company. Sounds like they needed to make a decision for their personal needs.

  27. Remote goblin*

    Re: LW2

    I got my current job (job 3) when I had only been in my job (job 2) for a month. The thing is, I needed to leave my former position (job 1) as soon as possible because I was being bullied by my boss, and while job 3 interested me more, job 2 were faster in offering the position. Besides, I wasn’t sure the recruiting process for job 3 would work out, and I didn’t want to pass on a chance to finally leave job 1, so I took job 2 knowing full well I might leave after a few weeks – which ended up happening. However, it could have not, and I would have been stuck in job 1 for whoever knows how much longer without any other prospects. Sometimes the reasons aren’t clear without asking the person. Not saying you should ask, just explaining why I did it. Currently, job 2 no longer appears on my resume and I have been in job 3 for almost four years.

    1. LW2*

      This is helpful, thanks. It’s just that when I worked there the job UNG accepted was very entry-level. It may well have changed, but it’s such a big step down from everything on his resume. But, thinking he may have been happily sailing along at one organization who then hired a bully and all of a sudden needed to jump ship in a hurry adds helpful context.

      1. a clockwork lemon*

        I left a job after six months to take my current position and it was totally fine! The job wasn’t what I expected, I was miserable, and the new job paid basically double what I was making at the old place. Do what you need to do!

      2. MissMeghan*

        I think I get what your concern is now. You think that because the position he accepted is a step down from his work history that it must be because he’s done something wrong? If that’s the case I think you are jumping to conclusions based on very little information. I would take Alison’s advice and leave it alone.

        All kinds of things can lead to someone taking a less than ideal position. Maybe their old position was eliminated and they need a steady income stream. Maybe they were relocating. Maybe the work environment became untenable for them and they left before starting a new job search. There’s a million totally innocuous reasons for being in that situation, and lots of people are going to accept the guaranteed position even if it’s a step down because at the end of the day we all need a paycheck, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be hired with your company or how much longer your hiring process will take. Please don’t read too much into this situation and go with your normal diligence to vet this candidate.

      3. amoeba*

        I’d actually think that makes it more understandable for him to keep applying after taking job 1! Like, for some reason he really wanted to leave (might not necessarily have been bullying – maybe there were layoffs coming up and his job was in danger?) and couldn’t afford to turn down an offer. But obviously, since the first offer he got was way below his level, he keeps looking.

        If the first job had been some kind of “dream job”, I’d actually be more careful…

  28. Uti*

    LW #1:
    My last boss sometimes said it himself about our team… I remember him in tricky situations sometimes saying something along the line of “I know you guys would have options somewhere else…” – so he said the quiet part out loud, because it is and was freaking true and we were all aware of it.
    I am sorry it went down like this for you. I can see how you felt like you had to spell it out because your boss wasn’t getting it. If he had answered your first question (“when can we see change…?”) with concrete steps + timeframe, you wouldn’t have needed to spell it out for him WHY IT MATTERS for you.

    LW #2:
    I was job hunting in the fall and there is such a different in speed regarding the hiring process in companies. I might have taken a junior position while waiting to hear back from the senior position (not the other way around) because obviously at some point during your job search you can’t wait out for slow processes of your preferred jobs and while waiting on them turn down everything else.
    So I would take as a “our process is slower than theirs and this guy gets hired”-information and be unprejudiced with him in the interview and give him a fair process. Maybe you guys just were pretty slow…

  29. AnonInCanada*

    Barely a week into January, and OP #1’s bosses has made themselves look like worthy candidates for 2024’s Worst Boss. You definitely have options, OP#1: find another job that pays you more and whose managers treat their reports with respect. Then you can tell your current one what option you’ve taken when you quit with no notice.

  30. Michelle Smith*

    LW1: At a previous job, I said something very similar to my bosses in a staff meeting. I was unhappy with the changes they were making (long story, but akin to adding mandatory Saturdays to our schedules despite us being Monday-Friday employees and eliminating any possibility of compensation for it). So I asked them point blank if this was going to be the staffing schedule for the foreseeable future so that I could make appropriate career decisions with that information. They did not freak out. They point blank responded that this was the new normal. I resigned two months later to take a job with the work/life balance I needed.

    Your boss didn’t give you the courtesy of responding professionally to your question, which should tell you loads about how they’re approaching this situation and how much they respect you. You should make your career decisions accordingly.

  31. Uti*

    oh, and
    LW #4:
    It seems like you worry that it’s risky to leave because it might look flaky. I’d say, it’s risky to stay because you are not succeeding and this will take a toll on your self-image, your references, your skills, your expertise… you are not learning anything new right now, you are not getting better, it seems like you are mostly overwhlelmed and stuck.

    Go, go, go and make new experiences somewhere else where you get to feel better about yourself.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Plus, applying for a new job is no guarantee you’ll get it. OP should absolutely apply because there’s almost literally nothing to lose, save some outside chance the search gets back to their current boss and makes them seem disloyal (this should not happen at a well functioning company, and it’s only ONE discrete application). You’ll learn about the possibilities and it may help you clarify what is / isn’t working for you now. And you may not even get called into an interview, which will help you focus on the task in front of you!

  32. OnyxChimney*

    and frankly, I’m not convinced it’s appreciably different than the electronic application systems that have been helping to process applicants for quite a while, without any consent required

    This really depends. If the AI is only comparing keywords to keywords then sure it’s not really different, but if that’s the case why would a company shell out for an expensive AI tool instead of the bog standard ATS?

    Since the company is using AI we can reasonably infer they are using the AI capabilities such as comparing the key words to linkedIN users with the same title, searching for plagiarism, and all the errors that come with that Including racism.

    Yeah AI is racist. For example AI has been shown to consistently show Drs as white and janitors as black even if a user specified the race. We can’t trust AI not to downgrade Darius to less of a fit then David. While humans of course also do this, the problem is that a lot of HRs think they are getting a perfectly unbiased tool when in reality racism is baked into the base code of all the AI tools out there. Makes sense since they were built using source materials that were created in a systemically racist system.

    1. BubbleTea*

      Depending on the definition of AI, the traditional ATS keyword comparison could fall into it.

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      All of this. I’m surprised workplaces would even want to go down this road, but then again I’m sure most of them are sold on the “time saving” aspect of this and haven’t given much thought to how problematic AI is in general let alone specifically to the hiring process.

    1. Rachel*

      Speaking in broad strokes: traditional curse words are more commonly accepted but sexist/racist/homophobic language is less accepted.

      For example, somebody at my job used the phrase “holding down the fort” recently and it was brought to our attention this is a reference to indigenous people and not in a positive way.

      This is the kind of call out that would have never happened in previous years. But I hear more traditional curse words than usual for a professional setting

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      It’s not a metaphor, it’s a standard way of anonymizing real jobs on this site and has been for years.

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          Simply renaming something for anonymity sake isn’t a metaphor. There’s no symbology.

          “A metaphor is a figure of speech that implicitly compares two unrelated things, typically by stating that one thing is another (e.g., “that chef is a magician”).

          Metaphors can be used to create vivid imagery, exaggerate a characteristic or action, or express a complex idea.”

          1. OnyxChimney*

            It’s become a metaphor/stand in/signal that the LW is part of the IN crowd.

            It also obstucates important, yet still anonymous details, like industry.

            Plus I think there was a post earlier asking them to stop.

            1. Fluffy Fish*

              It doesn’t mean anything about the in crowd – it’s a fake job title. Obfuscation doesn’t means it’s a metaphor either.

              I’m not going to continue to argue what a metaphor is however. Believe what you want.

      1. Lucia Pacciola*

        It doesn’t just anonymize real jobs, it obfuscates important information about industry and job role. LW could just say they’re in manufacturing or procurement or whatever, and are being asked to also do marketing and sales. Perfectly anonymous, a lot less gibberish to try to decipher.

        1. Annabelle*

          What Lucia said. You can say you’re in accounting without outing yourself, you’re not actually that unique or special (this a collective “you,” not a direct address to any specific LW from today). But an accountant in say, manufacturing, is going to maybe need different advice than an accountant in a start-up.
          Also all of the “teapot” this and “llama” that and “Wakeen” this* inside jokes create a very “tee hee hee” clique community full of inside jokes that makes it hard for newcomers to feel comfortable in. Or for people to feel comfortable speaking up against the status quo. Case in point right here: someone points out why the “chocolate teapot” metaphors don’t work and gets a pile-on for their troubles. I predict another pile on in response to my comment.

          *and also, I the only who gets a somewhat racist vibe from the Joaquin/Wakeen jokes???
          “Oh no we never meant it Like That!!!”
          Well lots of people don’t mean lots of things Like That but that’s how it’s coming across, even after all this time. Especially since it’s an inside joke that gets done to death around here. And someone who just passes by the site one day, with no previous background info on the whole Wakeen thing, might read it and give some serious side-eye.

          1. Pikachu*

            The Wakeen thing comes from a previous letter where the writer did not know the “Wakeen” she spoke to was the same Joaquin on emails. The writer didn’t speak Spanish and didn’t know how Joaquin was actually pronounced. It was on a roundup of mortification stories.

            1. OnyxChimney*

              No Wakeen was used as a stand in for “inept/terrible” coworker even way back in 2010 before mortification weeks were a thing. I remember them when I first started reading the blog.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yes, but it came from the story Pikachu described.

                I agree that I’d rather people not use teapot references because I think they tend to impede clarity rather than promote it, so I edit them out of letters when I can. (In this case I would have just needed to replace it with a different stand-in so I left it.)

        2. Statler von Waldorf*

          Some industries are much smaller than manufacturing. Identifying yourself as part of a smaller and specific industry can and will expose letter writers. For example, my sister-in-law has a job that is done by less than 20 people in all of North America. There is no way she could write to Alison while mentioning her career without immediately outing herself to anyone else in the industry who read the letter. Even a lot of mid-sized industries are a lot smaller than they look once you’re on the inside.

          I don’t think you’re going to get a lot of support here demanding that letter writers put themselves at real-world risk just so you find it easier to read their letters.

    2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      That’s basically up to Alison. She could ask letter writers to stop anonymizing jobs and companies by talking about teapots and llamas, and instead be as vague as necessary to avoid being identified: “I work in a technical role in a large American company, and my boss wants me to specialize in something I know nothing about.”

      It’s easier to keep track of names, even (or especially) obviously fake names like Tangerina Warblesworth, than “coworker 1, coworker 2, coworker 3, and coworker 4.”

  33. BellyButton*

    I read #1 as “If this can’t be responsible will the employees be given options?” Not as a threat of “I have options.”

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      I also saw that as a possible interpretation! It depends on what this serious situation is, but I could see how someone might say “ok so raccoons have taken over the conference room?? Is there a plan for when animal control can come out, can this be resolved quickly? If not do we have options, like working from home or access to the normally restricted board room?”

      That is a bit of a light-hearted take on the situation but the boss is really showing his hand by immediately interpreting the inkblots as insubordination.

  34. Jessica Clubber Lang*

    I agree completely with Alisson’s last line for #3:

    “I’m not convinced it’s appreciably different than the electronic application systems that have been helping to process applicants for quite a while, without any consent required”

  35. Pikachu*

    #5 – it’s funny how “I’m on a road trip” has that kind of youthful spring break connotation but “I’m traveling” can sound very sophisticated and cosmopolitan.

    1. GythaOgden*

      Seriously I would so do a US road trip for the 250th anniversary if I could, you know, drive. As it is I’m planning Boston and possibly Philadelphia (been to NYC and DC already and no burning desire to go back tbh), because, like, //history//.

      However, here’s another such conundrum — does it count as backpacking if you use a roll-along suitcase rather than a rucksack :D.

  36. Database Developer Dude*

    Regarding #5, why do you owe anyone any explanation about why you’re not available? You’re just not available, period.

    It’s just like the time Alison put a letter up from a worker who got his time off denied because the boss didn’t like that he was going to a video game tournament.

    No one but YOU has the right to control what you do when you’re not at work. I will die on this hill.

  37. Jam Today*

    LW1’s boss had such immediately recognizable behavior that I’m wondering if I used to work for him.

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      Sadly, that sort of behavior is all too common. I’m sure I’m far from alone in having a similar story.

  38. Bookmark*

    LW4, I could have written almost this exact letter 4 years ago. I started a new job in part because I was recruited by the CEO, who I’d worked with in the past and liked a lot personally. The org was basically in start-up mode, and I was overworked, constantly stressed out, felt like I was letting the CEO down with anything less than perfection, and doing work I didn’t enjoy in the hopes that a couple years down the road I’d be actually getting to do the things I’d been recruited to do. By 10 months in, it got so bad that I started seeing a therapist. A new, interesting job opened up at a place I’d previously worked, and after a lot of agonizing, I applied and ended up moving on after a little over a year. I felt absolutely terrible about it at the time, but it was 100% the right decision for me. I still have a good relationship with former CEO, and I’ve been able to help them out now and again in my new role. Like me, you sound like your better instincts are already walking you out the door. Listen to them!

  39. Not that Guy*

    Copper Teapots: You now know, for the future, you aren’t the guy to stand-up a new line of business. (That is what your consultancy hired you to do.) What Alison is suggesting – going to them with what you need – is exactly what they hired you for. No shame in that, it takes a specific sort of person to do it – usually a detail-oriented, type-A empire builder – and you don’t happen to be that person. My last boss was that guy – I was his first external hire when he started a new division at my former company, so I got to see what it took to be that guy. I’m not that guy either.

    1. Evergreen*

      This is a great point – i think the only counterpoint for the OP to be aware of is that at many consultancies (the 4 I’ve worked at) being able to run your own business development leads to better pay and better job security in the long run.

      I’ve seen a lot of smart people come into consultancy and assume that knowing all the things and doing the work will lead to successive promotions, when actually they end up topping off after 7-10 years’ experience.

      For the OP it would be good to spend however long remaining at this job to work a bit on the marketing side and develop client relationships that could set them up for future growth.

  40. Seven If You Count Bad John*

    I’m desperately curious what the “serious HR situation” is now, because I’m wondering if the boss’s outsized reaction is related to the Situation somehow. It strikes me that a place where people have reactions like that might be the kind of place where Serious HR Situations might happen kind of a lot.

    1. LWH*

      Without knowing what the HR situation was, and what LW’s relationship to it was (whether it was directly about them, whether they were tangentially involved, whether they weren’t involved at all), we don’t really have enough details to say if the boss’s statement or LW’s reply was understandable or not. The details matter a lot here. Depending on the “serious HR situation”, emotions could be very high on either side.

    2. Generic Name*

      Me too! I figure it was either something like payroll or benefits got messed up for everyone, or something happened (“my coworker punched another coworker”) in view of many at the office. Either way, it’s not good for management to be all, “why do you care?”.

  41. NotARealManager*


    I once had a boss tell me how unprofessional I was and I “lacked leadership skills” because I told them I couldn’t make a shift (that I’d already arranged coverage for) because I’d have to hire a babysitter and the babysitter would make more than me. They were very mad I’d pointed out the exact problem with their constant turnover.

    Like you, it’s not the smoothest way to point out the issue. But after you’ve been as diplomatic in your answers as possible (as I had been previously and I imagine you were as well), sometimes you just have to name the issue.

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      So it’s professional to basically pay to work? That’s exactly the question I’d have posed to that boss. I speak to some degree four foreign languages and a smattering of a fifth, and there is not enough profanity in my vocabulary to properly register my displeasure at that….

      1. NotARealManager*

        They were so out of touch with childcare costs and responsibilities. After I had my child and said I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to work for them anymore they asked “can’t you just hire a nanny?”. Nannies made almost twice what I was making there.

        It was so weird because they had kids themselves and ran a business focused on kids! They were also the owners so they must have been paying themselves A LOT before giving their employees the dregs of their profit. Or they way comfortable paying their own childcare providers next to nothing. Neither or both scenarios would surprise me.

  42. Lobstermn*

    LW1: consult an employment attorney about if this qualifies as retaliation, and whatever you do, don’t give notice when you leave.

    Best to clean all your personal stuff out of your office, etc.

  43. Bob is bold*

    Unpopular Opinion for LW2-

    I do think it makes sense to do a little more due diligence here. In particular, I would be curious to how the person is talking about their current work experience given the change. Are they still pretending to be with their original employer? Are they honest that their previous role came to a conclusions and they have taken a different role int he interim? If so, what do they have to say about the potential to leave a role so soon? If they are honest about everything, I don’t think it is a red flag. But I think it is worth discussing more since you are ON the hiring committee (my advice would be different if you were just an outside observer not involved in their hiring).

    1. Nameless*

      I want to know if the LW has actually compared the resume of the person they’re hiring to the profile of the person on LinkedIn. If it’s substantially the same, then yes, probably the same person which makes the due diligence a good idea… but as mentioned below, I think a father/son situation is the simplest solution.

      1. LW2*

        Definitely same person. There’s a headshot.

        The timing STRONGLY suggests the resume would have been submitted to us before he switched jobs. LinkedIn has not been updated with new job, but we’re talking a recent change so that doesn’t smell fishy to me. I’ll see if he dodges or outright lies, but I’m not going to set up any gotcha-type questions either.

  44. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    LW4–Go! Go go go! I was in a nearly identical situation years ago, and I finally got so overwhelmed that I snuck out one morning and sent a resignation to HR from home that afternoon. I was so isolated, physically and work-wise, that no one even knew I was gone for several days.

    YMMV on this bit based on state/country laws— Because I’m a meticulous note taker, I had documentation of every conversation with higher-ups where I asked for help/training, since what I was being asked to do was far outside my wheelhouse. I ended up getting unemployment for the months it took to find a new job because my state approves it for what amounts to a bait and switch as long as you’ve made a good faith attempt at trying to learn whatever it is they “switched” the job to and no help was provided.

  45. OP#3*

    I’m OP #3! I sent this question off and then promptly forgot about it as I was interviewing and then starting a new job! For anyone who cares, I did not opt out, essentially for the reason Alison described. I was more curious about it than anything- I was very well-qualified for the role so unconcerned about being weeded out, and was ultimately offered it a few weeks later, though it wasn’t the job I ended up taking. The concerns about data didn’t occur to me, but frankly, everything on my resume is available via LinkedIn or my various company bios. My cell phone and email are the same ones I’ve had for 20 years or more, and they’re plastered everywhere.

    Anyway, thanks Alison for answering my low-stakes question. I found it and the comments very interesting!

  46. Nameless*

    I’m not convinced letter 2 isn’t a father/son (or other close relative) situation! It seems very odd that someone would be hired to a junior role if they’re qualified for a senior level position – buuuuut relatives with the same names explains why one of is at the beginning of their career and the other is more senior. (I also know multiple fathers & sons who have the same first and last names but different middle names, so there’s no Junior/Senior or number to distinguish them, before anyone points that out!)

  47. Leslie*

    I remember back in 2000 when I was 19 and applied for a job at a mass retailer, like JC Penny or Sears. You applied at a lone computer setup outside HR. I had always done paper applications up until then and talked to a manager. I sat down at the computer and did the test and was taken back when the computer rejected me. It was the only computer and the room was empty except for the one HR person. So, when it rejected me, it wasn’t like I could nonchalantly leave. It was so awkward to have to get up and walk out because “the computer says no”. (Little Britain reference)

  48. Kt*

    LW2 is insane. ‘This candidate had to take a job to pay their bills instead of endlessly waiting for our too-slow hiring process to play out. Should this very understandable need disqualify them’

    1. LW2*

      I guess I wasn’t clear in my letter–the candidate was already employed by another organization when he took the job. Thanks for your concern for my mental health though!

  49. Dog doc*

    I could have written this letter! In my case, there were patients dead from incompetent staff, and management was always “doing something about it” while competent staff quit. Doing something should have taken 5 hours, or 5 days, but not 5 months and counting. I’d get memos from my boss – we know the staff are ignoring your patient’s orders, but don’t talk to any of the other supervisors about this. HR – we know the staff is targeting you and behaving unprofessionally, but we don’t have a timeline to fix this issue. Any serious situation should have a short timeline for resolution.

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