coworker said his boss kneed him in the groin, I feel unappreciated, and more

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

1. My coworker said his boss kneed him in the groin

This is a bit of a doozy, and now I’m worried that I might have screwed things up.

My partner works in security, and has a coworker we’ll call Fergus. He also has a boss, “Jane,” and grandboss, “Marshall.”

Fergus had purportedly been on vacation for three weeks prior to today. But he told my partner that he had actually been on mental health leave. Fergus said that after an incident where he accidentally let someone in when they shouldn’t have been (though he said it was quickly resolved and no one got hurt), Jane pulled him aside and and assaulted him with a knee to the groin (!) while Marshall watched and did nothing (!!) A very serious matter, certainly, and according to Fergus, he is working with both their union and HR about it.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think it happened. Why? Because Fergus is a known problem employee, according to my partner, and has a pretty bad reputation among most staff. He is, by reputation, pretty lazy and has been previously reported for showing pictures of graphic violence around the workplace (I know this because it happened to my partner; he reported it to Jane, who mentioned that she has been putting together a file on Fergus’ bad behavior.)

Given all of that, I advised that my partner report what Fergus had told him to HR and let them know what he claimed. My rationale is this: If it isn’t a lie, then HR can assure him that they’re handling it. If it is a lie, though, HR should know that Fergus is spreading a malicious rumor, and work to protect Jane and Marshall (and my partner, who didn’t ask and didn’t want to know!) from any damaging fallout.

Having advised that, though, I’m now second-guessing myself. Is that the right action to take?

Yes. Either scenario — a manager responds to an employee’s mistake by kneeing them in the groin while their own boss stands by and watches, or someone is falsely accusing them of that — is HR-worthy.

If Fergus is telling the truth, then he’s already working with HR on it and your partner won’t be breaking any confidences by relaying it to them. If he’s not telling the truth, then this is a highly damaging thing for him to say about Jane and Marshall, and HR should be aware of that too.

Read an update to this letter

2. I was asked to give extra feedback to a colleague’s son when we rejected him

This is something that happened to me several years ago but I’ve always wondered about its appropriateness. I work as a professor for a privately-owned, religion-sponsored institution of higher education that focuses on teaching rather than research. The organizational structure mimics that of our religious organization, which is very hierarchical (basically, if someone above you tells you to do something, you do it). If you’re a member of our religion, it’s a good place to work (not sure if you’d like it if you weren’t, but we don’t hire “non-members” as a rule).

I was our department chair at this time (a revolving appointment) and we were hiring a new faculty member. Three candidates were invited for the final stages of the process, which involves interviews with the the department chair, the department as a whole, the dean, the provost, an academic administrator, a representative from HR, a member of our religion’s leadership, and the president of the university. So it’s a fairly grueling process. Our department meets to make our recommendations and then I take that to an administrative committee.

The three candidates were as follows: Tom was already working for us on a temporary contract but was applying for a full-time position. Jane was a bit older, working in private practice but had a varied academic background. Harry was much younger, had just finished up his Ph.D., and I believe it was his first time applying for a position. Significantly, Harry’s father already worked for us but in another department with very little interaction with ours. Each candidate had strengths and weaknesses and it wasn’t an easy call, but in the end the department recommended Tom. I took that to the executive hiring committee and, after a little discussion, everyone agreed that Tom would be a good addition.

Our president, perhaps trying to be sensitive to Harry’s father (who had no part in this hiring process), said to me, “It’s a shame we can’t hire Harry. After the candidates have been notified, I’d like you to meet with him privately and discuss how he could improve his application if he applies again.” I was taken aback as this was not something that we had ever done before. I tried to catch the eye of the HR director but he remained silent. So I agreed and contacted Harry to set up a meeting where I tried to do as I was asked. It was a bit awkward, but Harry was quite courteous, though obviously a bit disappointed. And that was that. I think Harry did try to apply one more time, but the position wasn’t a good fit and he didn’t get an interview. But I’ve always wondered … isn’t this a little strange? Harry hadn’t requested it and there was no talk of having a similar discussion with Jane who, I assume, was also disappointed with the outcome.

It’s not terribly unusual to offer extra feedback to someone who has a personal connection to an employee. Often that’s for political reasons — to keep the employee feeling like the candidate connected to them was treated well and that the connection was recognized and treated thoughtfully. People can feel like the personal connection should give the candidate an extra boost (it shouldn’t in the case of kids, but people often feel it should) and so it can smooth things over politically if they feel like extra care was given.

That said, it can be a problematic practice! It gives an extra advantage to a group of people who may not need it (by definition, those with better networks), while denying those extra advantages to people without strong networks, and it can reinforce and add to disparities by race (because there are racial disparities in who has access to those sorts of connections in the first place).

3. Talking to my boss about feeling unappreciated

I wonder if you have any advice or scripts to use with my manager to broach the subject of feeling unappreciated. I report directly to our small company’s CEO, who freely admits to not being a “touchy-feely” people manager, attributing that to her background as an engineer. I don’t expect constant praise, but I want to feel valued, especially as she can be a demanding boss. She often doesn’t include me in key meetings, makes decisions that impact me and my team without looping us in, focuses tightly on tactical execution even when I bring up softer issues like culture or burnout, etc. Maybe this is something to suck up and not bother mentioning at all? I am job-searching diligently but no luck yet and I expect it to take some time.

Can you come up with two specific things that you’d like to ask for and focus on those? I think you’ll have better luck if you go to her with something specific you want — like being included in a particular type of meeting — rather than a more general complaint of feeling unappreciated. (It’s not that “I feel unappreciated” isn’t good info for a manager to have — it is — but based on what you wrote about this specific manager, I think you’re likely to get better results if you translate that into more narrow and concrete requests.)

4. Old job keeps contacting me with questions

I left my old job about seven months ago. I very much enjoyed that job but my boss and my boss’s boss left, leaving me the only person in the department. The organization was unable to give me a raise or hire anyone else due to financial issues. I didn’t feel I had enough experience (or desire) to do the work of three people so I left.

Right after I left, I got one or two follow-up questions, but in the last month or two I’ve gotten two different texts, an email, and a request for a phone call. They aren’t contacting my old boss (I’ve spoken with them), I guess because he left before me. I want them to consider my time valuable so I want to tell them any further communication will require a fee, but I feel weird charging for a text exchange or quick call. Any ideas how to handle this?

“I was happy to answer one or two quick questions after I left, but it seems like the questions are increasing. Would you want to set up a short-term consulting agreement where I’d continue helping out for up to X hours per month?” (X should be a very low number like three so they don’t think you’re offering to come back part-time.)

Reasonable people will understand that means “pay me or stop contacting me.” But if they don’t take you up on that offer and keep contacting you anyway, at that point you can say, “I really can’t keep answering questions on top of my regular job for free but wish you all the best with it.” And then feel free to stop responding.

{ 229 comments… read them below }

  1. Artemesia*

    To tell the boss you feel unappreciated will be perceived as whining. To indicate you feel you need to be included in XYZ meetings in order to be more effective, will seem results focused. And of course think about whether you might be appreciated more somewhere else.

    1. Cmdrshprd*

      ‘To indicate you feel you need to be included in XYZ meetings in order to be more effective, will seem results focused.”

      I think this will be critical. With the meeting OP mentioned, I think we were to assume OP had a legitimate reason to be in the meeting, but I wasn’t sure.
      It would be important for OP to try and analyze from an outside perspective if their presence is really required, it is it more that it would make things a bit easier for OP but they are not really needed.

      I wonder is OP in the C suite, or more middle manager?

      I have heard from coworkers who were upset they were not invited to X meeting, but I was thinking to myself that makes sense, you don’t really have a big reason to be there.

      or coworkers that felt they should have been consulted/involved in X decision making process, when it really wouldn’t make sense.

      1. Chas*

        Yes, when someone isn’t in a meeting and doesn’t know exactly what the meeting is about, it can be easy for them to think it’s something they should be invited to, when really it’s a mercy that they’re not.

        I also have a colleague (A) who complained about not being invited to a meeting about our labs finances that our other colleague (B) and I (both in the same job title, but more senior to her) were roped into. Which was completely understandable because from her POV it probably seemed like we’d all met up to talk about what (or WHO) we were going to be spending money on going forward and she wasn’t getting included in that, which would have been very unfair if it was true.

        But the reason for the meeting was just that colleague B’s funding was in an awkward situation involving multiple grant codes and my boss needed to be sure that she was on the same page as him regarding which codes were paying for her salary at different points in time. And I was just invited because I’m the defacto person who keeps track of all our labs various grant codes (I shouldn’t be, but I know how to access finance reports, so my boss always asks me when he needs an update, instead of our overworked finance admins) so they wanted me to know what they’d decided.

        Meanwhile colleague A’s funding is relatively simple (she just has one grant code) and wasn’t going to change for over a year at the time of the meeting. So it really wouldn’t make sense for her to have been there, but she also had no real idea what was happening in the meeting until she complained and our boss explained it to her, so I can’t blame her for feeling aggrieved about it.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          If being invited to meetings means being appreciated, I’m feeling way too appreciated at the moment. Go ahead and make the strategic directions decisions without me, just let me do my actual work!

          1. Rainy*

            Yeah–I read a funny meme a few weeks ago that was “the three stages of office work”–stage 1, gosh, I wish I were being invited to these meetings; stage 2: wow, I’m finally being including in these meetings!; stage 3: I would do anything legal and several illegal things to be able to stop attending all these meetings.

            1. Wow, really?*

              Stage 3 was my previous job in nutshell, because we had 4 to 6 companywide national Zoom meetings a year where our part of the company was never mentioned because we were about local vs. national.

              There were what felt like 800 in-office staff meetings a week where we listened to our bosses talk about boss things that had nothing to do with us, and take phone calls from other local offices during these 2-3 hour, twice a week “brainstorming sessions” on additional ways to generate income.

              We complained because the salespeople would have to leave about 20 minutes in so it wouldn’t be the whole staff. The meetings didn’t get cancelled until our bosses’ bosses started sending them so many requests for paperwork and financial files that they didn’t have time for 6 hours of staff meetings a week.

              The local branch was sold and most of the staff was let go, including me.

              It was difficult, and I miss my awesome coworkers, but I am so glad I don’t have to deal with that company any more in any way.

      2. Smithy*

        I would flag that “learning” can also be a relevant result for a case like being included in a meeting.

        If there’s a meeting that all the director’s are attending on a certain topic – say annual budgeting, and the OP knows that a few deputy directors are also attending along with their bosses to “take notes”. The OP could present the desire to attend as a means to learn more about the budgeting process as an area of interest and professional development.

        Because while there’s being left out work where you want your voice to be heard – that’s relevant. If you combine that with being left out of work that others your level have access to – that can really elevate feelings of not being invested in. All to say, focusing on that as a desire to learn more about what’s being discussed in those meetings is helpful. Because the reality always is that person one step below who’s already had the chance for those stretch opportunities is better positioned for growth. But instead of saying things “you don’t care about me” – phrasing it as “I want to learn X” keeps that results focus.

      3. Nightengale*

        It really depends.

        I have definitely been left out of meetings where the people in the meeting didn’t think I was needed and gave me some “this is all preliminary, we’ll bring you in later” messaging. But the people running those meetings didn’t recognize (or care?) that I had significant relevant knowledge and experience which, if brought up in early phases, might have prevented irreversible decisions from being made that caused problems down the road. They didn’t know what they didn’t know, including not knowing I really should have been there.

        I am sitting here trying not to have an “I told you so” about one of these programs now.

        1. NotRealAnonForThis*

          Oh, I’ve been there multiple times. “Its a financial software packing with project management tools, therefore we are only inviting the financial stakeholders because PM tools are PM tools.”

          Friends, that last statement is a lie. My workload for a significant project was DOUBLED due to me having to keep track of everything in a separate system for when we proved that the new PM tools tied to the financial software did not function well. If even one person who had to use the tools had been in that meeting…there’d have been a lot less work, and they wouldn’t have had to purchase a separate software for the tools that were “included”, most likely.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            A couple of weeks ago I told management I was meeting with team A to help put together a project proposal. I was told not to do so because no project had been approved for team A yet.

            My solution to this Gordian Catch-22 is to no longer tell management what I’m planning to do.

          2. Rainy*

            Many years ago when I was in an HR-adjacent role, the organization was finally implementing an update to our very very customized and thus extremely old HR management software, and the “change manager” they brought on to lead the update only talked to the HR directors and none of the people who actually did the work.

            As a result, they not only didn’t update, they simply didn’t bring over a bunch of reporting modules that contained the reports that we all used regularly as a part of our roles. When we got into the sandbox for the training sessions, they said “pretend you are running payroll for your biweekly employees” and right around the same time everyone discovered that the reports we used as a check simply didn’t exist and couldn’t be kludged using what did exist.

            The “change manager” called a huge meeting for everyone who used the software and said “Those reports didn’t seem important so we didn’t include them in the update and we’re too far advanced in the process to change it, so find another way.”

            The reports in question were the ones that told us if everyone had actually gotten paid.

            1. Rebecca1*

              So then what happened? Did people get shorted their paychecks? Did the company go under? I’m on tenterhooks!

              1. Rainy*

                Oh, that first set of pay cycles after the upgrade was a mess. An entire department I knew of, none of their biweekly pay schedule employees got paid. One of my biweeklies got an extra $500, which I only knew about when he came to me about it, because I couldn’t run a report to check.

                And quite soon after that I took a new job and was grateful to escape the situation.

        2. Grey Coder*

          Oh, I am in this right now, including the “this is too early for you to get involved” line. I can see decisions being made for a “version 2” product based on doing pretty much the same as version 1 but with new technology. They are missing the fact we are losing opportunities because we don’t have new feature X, and we should really be planning to add feature X.

          My manager thinks that someone is going to come and ask us what we need, but even if that happens, by then it will be too late.

          1. Cheshire Cat*

            I’m dealing with this right now. My company is starting a major new initiative. There is a significant amount of work that needs to be completed before the developers can start working on it, and I’m the only person at my company with the training to do it. Yet I can’t get into the meetings “because there are already so many people involved.”

            My boss has advocated for me to be involved in the planning but the PM outranks her and won’t budge. Very frustrating!

        3. Ama*

          Yeah this is something that happens at my work all the time — I am the only person at my work who does most of what I do. My boss and grandboss think they do a good job representing my team at the senior staff meetings, but they don’t (neither of them has a background in the work I do which would be fine if they’d listen when I explain how my team’s workflow and resource needs differ from the other teams here, but they don’t). So new “all staff” initiatives are constantly being announced and then I have to go back to them and point out how it doesn’t work with my team’s portfolio at all.

          For example, when they put in quarterly KPIs for all departments, my project cycle is annual, I can’t show any kind of movement quarter to quarter, so they backtracked and made mine annual, but they also didn’t explain to the rest of the staff why I suddenly got out of the quarterly requirement. So a lot of the staff here think I get special treatment when it’s actually the opposite — I have to constantly advocate for my work to be understood. (And yes, I am leaving, not entirely because of this but it definitely helped wear me down.)

          But I agree that OP should keep things to practical examples –“if I had been looped in on X decision earlier I could have explained that it would have Y effect on our workload, is there a way I can be looped in on this kind of thing going forward?” It may not work (certainly every time I’ve pointed something similar out to my bosses they treat it as a one-off and then go do it again a few months later) but it will have a better chance of working than saying something vague about feeling unappreciated.

        4. Lydia*

          It really is a difficult road to navigate. Do you invite everyone to the first meeting and then filter out those who aren’t really needed for the project? Or do you meet with the absolute minimum at first and suss who needs to be pulled in from there?

          1. Nightengale*

            In my case it probably would have helped to send out an e-mail to me (and others) saying “we may want to start this thing” and get input on who should be included.

        5. not nice, don't care*

          I used to cover for badmin when they did this in ways that affected my workload/client base. Now I find non-actionable ways to let people know whose fault poor decisions are, and how to give input. Badmin hate when their peers weigh in on stupidity.

          1. Wow, really?*

            I think Badmin Admin is my new username (and band name, if it ever comes to that)! Lol

    2. Pupper*

      I think making everything be about results is going to be crucial here – by her own admission the CEO isn’t going to do things because of how it makes people feel, so your best bet here is to manage up around that.

    3. coffee*

      Reading the letter I felt like LW3 had more problems than feeling unappreciated! LW3 describes a boss making decisions without having a full picture of what the impact will be, not facilitating the flow of information e.g. key meetings), and discounting the impact of negative culture/burnout on staff productivity. Regardless of how touchy-feely the boss is or isn’t, those are real problems in the workplace.

      LW3, rather than saying “I need to be in this key meeting”, I think you’ll get more mileage out of spelling out the problem. “I had [specific negative consequence], which was caused by not having the key information I needed. As I understand, this information was shared at this key meeting. How can I get this information going forward? Can I attend this meeting?” Other suggestions might include a standing debrief from your boss straight after every meeting, or access to the meeting agenda and minutes.

      I think that this is very obvious to you, but not at all obvious to your boss, and you need to spell the cause and consequences of things out more. At the moment you are trying to solve a problem but she doesn’t understand that the problem exists, so of course your conversations are going nowhere.

      1. coffee*

        As a bit of a side note, it does annoy me when a boss is like “well I’m just not touchy-feely, I’m an engineer”. Engineering is about knowing the situation and coming up with solutions, not ignoring something because you’re not good at it. It would be like an engineer building an airport without a runway because they don’t know how long it needs to be, and insisting everyone should just drive to their destination anyway, so what’s the problem?

        1. Ellis Bell*

          Yeah, I think there’s specific improvements that could be made with this particular boss, but I’d definitely be alert to the possibility that there may be limits to what they can do. If they’ve just handwaved away the importance of emotional intelligence and people skills, that would concern me.

        2. Panda (she/her)*

          Agreed! I know engineers have a reputation for not having great people skills, but using that as an excuse for being a bad manager is cringey. It’s like when people blame their own bad behaviour on PMS – you’re playing right into a harmful stereotype when really you need to be taking ownership of how you behave regardless of the reason.

          1. Seconds*

            It’s a reputation, but not necessarily even true. My engineer spouse has worked for 28 years with all engineers, and almost all of them have good people skills.

        3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

          Yes and engineering is also about taking relevant factors into consideration when making a decision. “Feelings” – like burnout and cultural things – frequently are relevant factors. It’s poor engineering practice to leave out half the info.

          1. Chris too*

            I’m a technician who does the actual physical work to prepare irreplaceable product for use – my boss is the person who talks to the end customers and gets praised ( or, rarely, criticized ) for the results. The customers would never see me or have any reason to know my name. He’s very critical of me, and it’s ok – there are so many steps involved and so many ways for things to go wrong. I know he’s the same way to himself, and he encourages me to be the same to him if I see him going wrong.

            I told him we all have an emotional bank account. He’s getting lots of deposits into his account in the form of praise, whereas I get nothing but withdrawals from my account in the form of criticism.

            It made quite a difference! He still doesn’t like to offer positive feedback to me – it’s almost a joke between us now – but he now often replies to praise from customers via email and saying he can’t take all the credit, it’s the technicians, and he shares the praise from them with me.

            1. Shiny Penny*

              Nicely done! The power of a well chosen metaphor should never be underestimated!

        4. Observer*

          As a bit of a side note, it does annoy me when a boss is like “well I’m just not touchy-feely, I’m an engineer”.

          Actually, it’s not a side note at all. I think that you put your finger on the core of the issue.

          It would be like an engineer building an airport without a runway because they don’t know how long it needs to be, and insisting everyone should just drive to their destination anyway, so what’s the problem?

          Exactly. The thing that this boss is overlooking is that “human factors” are not just an incidental issue that she can choose to ignore. They are at the *core* of good engineering. In the case of a runway, the manager would probably see that it’s core to the use case of the airport. But she’d probably ignore everything we know about aviation safety when designing the runways because using the least amount of land and having the least amount of physical items probably outweighs everything else. But if you want to run that airport at high efficiency, high(er) profit, and better safety, that’s not the best way to go. Same for the design of the airplane cockpit.

        5. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          Ugh, I had a grandboss who would only communicate when things went wrong and when I emailed him saying, “you should congratulate the team on X amazing accomplishment” and then he’d email “Well done.” Couldn’t spare an exclamation point.

          1. Goldenrod*

            “Couldn’t spare an exclamation point.”

            Ugh! At least you tried to coach him.

            It’s weird to me how many managers are stingy with praise. It’s like: it’s free! It’s literally the easiest, cheapest, quickest thing you can do to make people feel valued.

            I think they are ungenerous of spirit, and feel like it would take something away from them.

        6. Dust Bunny*

          Also: Most jobs are going to ask you to do something that doesn’t come entirely naturally. I hate talking on the telephone but I work in a library and sometimes patrons call us. I don’t get to just ignore that: I put on my Best Phone Voice and do my best.

          1. Emily*

            Dust Bunny: Yep, exactly! At every job there are going to be parts of it that aren’t your favorite, but you still need to do it!

        7. not nice, don't care*

          “well I’m just not politically correct, I’m a racist”
          Yeah, no. If you’re aware of the problem you can fix it.

    4. BellaStella*

      This is good framing – results focused is always good, as is solving a problem. But I also agree that looking for a new role is also helpful.

    5. L-squared*

      Totally agree.

      Saying you feel unappreciated sounds like something a spouse says to their partner, not something a subordinate says to their boss.

      But definitely speak up on specific things you would like to see.

    6. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      OP3: What Alison and Artemesia said! And I’d add a couple more points:

      1. Phrase your requests in behavioral terms: “I feel unappreciated” is real, but too vague to
      enable your boss to tell what WOULD make you feel appreciated. So, what would you like to
      change about your current working situation? What actually would enable you to feel valued
      and respected?
      To use behavioral phrasing, think in terms of OBSERVABLE behavior. You can’t see
      someone being “appreciative”! You CAN see someone being invited to meetings, asked to
      contribute ideas and receiving regular feedback by and from their supervisor.

      2. Let your manager know how providing what would make you feel appreciated would help the company; you already know how it would help you, but your firm is paying you to help THEM. Would granting your requests increase efficiency? Streamline a now-unnecessarily-cumbersome process? Please more customers (because granting YOUR request(s) would help your company to grant your customers’ requests)? In short, if your manager thinks to herself “What’s in it for me / the company?” you should be proactive in making it clear!

    7. Kcreative*

      I am the question asker for #3 and coming across as whiny is a big fear of mine — and would be very negatively perceived by my boss.

      Since I submitted my question to Alison, I was in a meeting with my boss and the company leadership team where my CEO flatly said “I really just don’t care about marketing [my team and don’t have the patience for it.” Soooo that is truly that final straw on the broken camel’s back. I honestly can just hope not to get laid off before I find a new job but the tech sector job market is still quite tight.

      I welcome ideas from the commentariat for how to manage this in the meantime!

      1. cmdrspacebabe*

        I wonder if your boss might be the type to use that “no soft skills lol” line as a defense against criticism, even where it doesn’t make sense. The stuff you raised initially didn’t seem to be about her demeanor so much as about her decision to leave you out of key meetings/workflows and ignore your input on things relevant to your work. To me those are operational and strategic issues, not ‘touchy-feely’ ones. I wonder if the way she’s sold that “No-Nonsense Engineer Lady” persona (by which she may actually mean ‘unrepentant jerk’) has primed people to see her actions through those kinds of framings, even when they don’t necessarily apply. When she leaves you out of meetings and workflow decisions, yeah, she’s failing to demonstrate appreciation for your ability to contribute – but she’s also openly denying you the tools you need to do your job effectively. That argument might be harder for her to fend off with ‘ha ha that’s just my bad soft skills aren’t I quirky’.

        Maybe it would help to remove any of that kind of language or framing from your thinking about her, and just stick with measurable impacts – ideally numbers and figures. You may still not get what you need, given the apparent company attitude towards your team, but it might at least make it harder for her to dismiss you as whiny or ignore what you’re saying as being “soft stuff” she’s given herself blanket permission to ignore. If she’s susceptible to flattery, you might even be able to turn it around on her – “You’re so efficiency-minded, I know you’ll see what I mean about needing to improve this process!”

        1. Andromeda*

          Yep. In my experience (admittedly personal, not professional!), people who see themselves as uber-logical with lacking soft skills tend to be extremely susceptible to the right kind of flattery. Unfortunately I think a woman who’s bought into that stuff probably will be especially. Women normally have to be *extra* bought into the “lacking social skills makes you smarter! Engineers need to sacrifice social stuff to the altar of logic!” because “women’s emotions get in the way of their ability to solve logic problems” is such a common narrative

          (sidebar to soapbox: why do people see logic/emotion as opposites? Aren’t they just kind of systems that run in parallel?)

      2. sometimeswhy*


        My knee jerk is: Do whatever you need to do to not draw attention to yourself. Perform just north of competently but don’t go above and beyond, don’t ask for anything you don’t absolutely have to have. It suuuuuuuuuuuuucks to turn into a functionary, especially if it’s work you care about but that might be the only way to keep yourself okay.

        There’s also a PollyAnna part of me that wants to suggest naming it. “You said X in Y meeting and that was really demoralizing. Did you mean that you don’t value our work at all or something else? Would it help if I went over with you how our work complements the things that you do find valuable?” But this is a thing that I’ve done and keep doing at my job because, even after I leave, the work we do is important and my team isn’t ever going to not exist. My retirement clock is ticking so I have less to lose by telling our execs that they’re rude and wrong. Sometimes they’re abashed. Sometimes they don’t care.

        Other than that, support you team in their (elsewhere) career ambitions including going on ahead and sharing how to contact you directly, covertly start cleaning out your personal possessions (if you report onsite and have those), make copies of anything you may want to and use as examples of work product, and spend all your spare work thoughts on getting out.

  2. nnn*

    I wonder if a helpful response in the case of #2 would be to raise the idea of also offering similar feedback to Jane.

    You could frame it as “the optics of offering feedback only to the candidate who’s someone’s kid aren’t so great, and the optics of hiring one male candidate, offering feedback to the second male candidate, and not offering comparable feedback to the only female candidate aren’t so great.”

    Of course, putting together feedback for two people is even more extra work, so I might try to agree within your hiring committee to frame it as something new you’re beta-testing this year, so you don’t lock yourself in to having to do it for every candidate forever. (And if you don’t want to keep doing it, you could write up a postmortem of the beta test on how much extra work it was for no added value and recommend not providing feedback any more in the future.)

    1. MK*

      In this specific case, it seems to me that offering feedback to Jane might feel condescending, since she is an older worker with considerable and wide experience. On the other hand, taking the initiative to set up a meeting with Harry sounds overkill. I think a better solution would be to email the rejected candidates, offering to give feedback and leave it up to them; perhaps Jane would appreciate a phone call to discuss her candidacy, and Harry could have asked for a meeting himself.

      1. bamcheeks*

        Yes, that seemed the logical solution to me. And broadly good practice! If you only interview three candidates, then that’s two people who have presumably spent a lot of time on your application process, prepared materials, prepared presentations or teaching examples, and travelled to visit you— offering both a fifteen minute feedback conversation isn’t unreasonably onerous, and I would consider it normal good practice.

      2. Bagpuss*

        Yes , I know this is a historic issue for the OP but I agree that proposing that both rejected candidates are offered the opportunity would be the way to go, f a similar situation were to come up. That way, it means that the onus is still on the candidate to follow up if they do want feedback, and it helps avoid the issue of giving additional help to those who already have the benefit of network/ familiy connections and not to those who don’t.

      3. UKDancer*

        This would be my choice. Give everyone the same offer of a feedback conversation and then it’s up to them whether they take advantage and you’re treating them all the same and not making assumptions about whether people want one.

    2. Brain the Brian*

      Yes, I think offering feedback to both rejected candidates would be the right move. They might not both take you up on it, but it’s probably the way to walk the line between keeping the dad happy and appearing fair.

    3. EmmaPoet*

      Yes, I think it would be wiser to write to both candidates and offer the option for feedback, or not do it for either one. Otherwise, as you say, it looks less than great.

      1. Emily*

        I agree, especially because there were only two rejected candidates. I can see it being different if there were a lot more, but since there were only two the feedback should have been given to both of them.

    4. learnedthehardway*

      I don’t think optics come into play here, as nobody but Harry will know they were given additional feedback.

      This is not really a Harry-focused situation. It’s about making the colleague whose son was the candidate feel taken care of and valued by the organization. Clearly the president felt there was a political issue with the hiring decision, but also was firm on hiring the best candidate for the role. Going the extra mile to provide a bit of value for the current employee’s son is all about employee engagement with the father.

      1. Reluctant Mezzo*

        And people will notice that man got hired and a male legacy got special treatment. But then, some schools are happier when women don’t even bother to apply because they know what the scene is.

    5. Prof*

      nah, it was very likely an inside hire, for which the outcome was pre-determined- they hired someone working there already. Very common in academia, very annoying and a waste of other candidates time (you’re not allowed to not run a search, hence the charade). The last thing you want to do in these conditions is have to explain to more people why they didn’t get hired. As soon as it’s public, everyone will figure it out. Colleague’s kid is very inexperienced, very easy to just give some basic feedback (get more experience, but also quick cause there’s a Goldilocks kind of thing about being too close or too far from your PhD and getting a job).

    6. Random Dice*

      I think it’s fairly rich to say “our workplace discriminates based on religion and has a dysfunctional structure… but I’d like to push back on the least problematic part of this system. Workplace norms are important, doncha know.”

  3. Dot*

    OP4, are you me from the future? Is there a word for when something is eerily familiar, but only in a forward facing direction? Deja-PreVu?

    If so, tell me how you got out and how long it took to find a new job, so I can get moving on that. We’re not good with change, as I’m sure you know. Haha.

    (Seriously, feels like it could have been written by a couple of co workers, except for the detail that in the last one in the dept left standing, so time travel is the only sensible explanation.)

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Presque vu – the intense feeling of being on the brink of a powerful insight or revelation, without actually getting there.

  4. Goody*

    I’m half anticipating an update to #1 that Fergus hasn’t been on vacation these last 3 weeks but was actually terminated and no formal announcement was made to the team.

    1. Genevieve en Francais*

      Right? My thoughts was that he was suspended for an investigation into something he did and this is his cover story.

      1. Petty Betty*

        That was my assessment, too. He got a three week suspension for an investigation into reports against him and he’s not only covering that up, but spinning it the other way so public opinion goes against Jane and Marshall. But three weeks suspension is quite long for a security guard, so him coming back must mean that part of the leave was unpaid punishment possibly? Of course, that’s speculation on my part, especially not knowing what type of security work they do. I just know from personal experience that the majority of people who actually take mental health leave don’t go bandying it about to people they aren’t close with once they return. They just want to put their head down and get their work done and get out of there.
        This smells wrong.

    2. 2024*

      This is…not usually how women show displeasure with a report’s behavior!! But I can see how a man completely clueless to women could come up with this lie. If I tilt my head and squint really hard with one eye closed.

      1. HB*

        Yeah – if manager actually did that to Fergus it would be in self-defense.

        Which I’m hoping is not the case because that makes all of this *so* much worse.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Yeah, the FIRST place my brain went is “if she kneed him in the groin, what did he do in the 5 seconds before that?”

          An attack out of nowhere of that type is escalating the situation in a way that feels a lot more dangerous for the woman than the man.

      2. 1-800-BrownCow*

        This is what I was thinking. Usually a “knee to the groin” is a woman’s reaction to an attack, not displeasure to someone’s behavior. Women are more likely to yell, not resort to physical violence and sounds like Fergus is clueless to that. This reminds me of when my HS aged son told me the first time he witnessed a fight in school between 2 girls. He commented to me that they kept slapping each other instead of punching like he usually sees when boys are fighting (when I say “usually”, it’s not a daily occurrence or anything, just meaning most fights in HS are between boys, not girls). I explained to him that girls typically fight different than boys and will usually slap and rarely fist punch the other person.

        1. learnedthehardway*

          I would bet money that Fergus tried to physically/sexually assault Jane, got kneed as a self-defense measure, and now is trying to claim that Jane assaulted him. He seems like the type. I would also bet money that he wasn’t on a medical leave, but placed on administrative leave during the investigation. I would also bet that the only reason he hasn’t been terminated is because he has a grievance in process with the union.

          1. 1-800-BrownCow*

            Most definitely!! Fergus sounds exactly like the type to claim he got kneed “for no reason at all!” after assaulting someone and trying to make it look like he was the victim and did nothing wrong. Yeah, I’ve met that type before, ugh.

          2. Bruce*

            My late wife had a black belt in Aikido and a couple of times when a coworker got handsy with her she grabbed his hand and made it clear that the next time he would get it back with a bunch of broken bones. She only had to do this one time for a guy to stop, but apparently they were too embarrassed to tell each other because she had to do it to a second guy. But like I said, she was an expert and knew how to carefully calibrate her violence to the need at hand… No one was actually hurt, just embarrassed.

        2. Nobby Nobbs*

          Funny, when I was in school girl fights had a reputation for being more violent than boy fights. Nobody did a study on it or anything, but the perception was that boys would posture and maybe punch, but if girls were mad enough to get physical they’d jump straight to ripping out hair and earrings.

        3. Firebird*

          Why was Fergus so close to her knee in the first place? You have to very close for that to even work and it’s a defense move, more than an attack. Fergus is not at credible.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        yeah, that was my thought–that would be a bizarrely extreme and very high-risk response. I guess this workplace could be that out of control, but I’m at least a little skeptical.

      4. Alienor*

        It sounds like something that someone who doesn’t like women/already resents having a female boss would make up. Not just “she attacked me” but “she attacked my groin and tried to emasculate me.” Maybe not, but that was my first thought.

      5. Butterfly Counter*


        Kneeing someone means that the two people are within arms length of each other. Women generally aren’t going to get that close to men when instigating a fight. Too much could go wrong and now a woman is very, very close to someone angry with her in a physical fight. Women are going to knee if the other person is invading their personal space.

        1. Myrin*

          I mean, I see where you (and other people in this thread) are coming from but as someone who has absolutely no qualms about getting close to angry men, I really don’t think you can generalise that – especially seeing how Jane is a boss in a security firm! I’d assume she has experience both with angry people and fighting/martial arts/self defence.

    3. pally*

      If my boss had been kneed me in the groin, I’d be filing battery charges against the boss-regardless of the why behind the boss’ action. That is not something a boss can do to an employee.

      Question is: why isn’t Fergus doing this? Or at least talking about doing so?

      1. Lydia*

        I’m not saying this is what happened, and there aren’t a lot of reasons why a boss would have to knee someone in the groin, but there is a non-zero number of reasons it might happen.

      2. Warrior Princess Xena*

        I can see it both ways – either it did happen, and the lawyer’s said “please don’t talk about it”, or it didn’t happen, so no battery charges are being filed.

      3. Florence Reese*

        Would everyone, though? This site sees letters from folks who can’t even quit the jobs they hate because they’re so scared of their loud-but-non-violent bosses. I think there are plenty of alternative reasons that someone wouldn’t file a police report for all sorts of assault, none of which mean the assault didn’t happen. Here’s a big one: lots of victims don’t file reports because they’re afraid of not being believed, which is what this entire thread is.

        Like, I don’t really believe Fergus either, but not because of this? This feels like a pretty smug, victim-blamey piece of “evidence” which wouldn’t land nearly as well in most other letters about employees being physically threatened or harmed.

        1. MM*

          Yeah. I agree it sounds pretty wild and Fergus has already done a lot to undermine his own credibility–and yet. Incredible things happen all the time, and we have seen physically abusive female bosses in letters before. I understand why it’s so tempting to speculate, but this thread broke the fanfiction barrier almost immediately. This is one reason why OP’s advice to their partner to go to HR (rather than directly to Jane) is solid: in the event that Fergus’s story is even partially true (which is not impossible! It’s kind of the whole point that we don’t know what happened!), then if you go to Jane you’re just handing ammunition to the antagonist.

    4. WantonSeedStitch*

      I was under the impression that Fergus had returned to work (“Fergus had purportedly been on vacation for three weeks prior to today” rather than “Fergus has purportedly been on vacation for the last three weeks”).

    5. LW1*

      Can answer to some of the speculations in this thread, and give kind of a mini update:

      1) Fergus is still working as of right now.
      2) Both Jane and Marshall have been out of office without notice this past week, but had been working through the three weeks that Fergus was gone.
      3) According to my partner, Fergus did not file charges against Jane, or so he said.
      4) Also, my partner says that Fergus doesn’t even want Jane to be disciplined (what?!), he just wants to transfer to a different site under the purview of the org, so that she and Marshall aren’t his supervisors anymore. Interestingly, he had been hoping to be transferred to the site in question before this whole rigmarole, too.
      5) There is no on-site HR to report to in this case, so my partner has elected to call the employee HR line, but that has not happened yet, as far as I know. It has been 3 working days since Fergus told him about this whole thing.

      1. Petty Betty*

        2) is pretty standard if there’s an investigation of violence and a managerial lack of reaction to it.
        3) I can also see why this would be. Many men don’t formally report women for violence against them to law enforcement. They feel that law enforcement doesn’t take those reports seriously (and many times, they don’t).
        4) This is where the questioning of his story happens (for me). If Jane assaulted him, why doesn’t he want her disciplined? Does he not want a full investigation of the incident to be done? If not, why not? Yes, it could be that as the victim, he just doesn’t want to deal with the hassle, but, it could also be that he isn’t the victim and is spinning the narrative to make himself appear the victim. *sigh* A lot of what-if’s and we’re not even involved in this drama!

        1. DJ Abbott*

          If what he’s saying is true-big if- he might not want most people to know a woman could hurt him.

      2. Antigone Funn*

        Interestingly, he had been hoping to be transferred to the site in question before this whole rigmarole, too.

        Hmm, so all of a sudden a dubious incident occurs, and rather than formal discipline, or a lawsuit, or a battery charge against Jane — any of which he would be entitled to if his story is true — all he wants is the transfer he’s been asking for and he’ll let it drop. So reasonable! What a relief for everyone!

        Unless Marshall confirms that he witnessed the incident and Fergus is telling the truth, I think this case is cracked.

  5. ChimesatMidnight*

    The old job that never leaves thing is so annoying! Especially when you did your best to leave a roadmap for the work. I just got to the point of saying sorry “I no longer remember”.

    1. Cat Tree*

      Years ago I got a call from a job I had recently left. I answered it by mistake and said I didn’t know the answer. But then I added the number to my cell phone address book as “old coworker – do not answer”. Thankfully I never got another call, but the best plan is to just ignore until they give up on trying.

      1. MikeM_inMD*

        Several times in the last couple of years, I’ve gotten e-mails and phone calls about a slightly esoteric subject because my name is in the history list on the customer’s web pages. All I did was add some footer links pointing to the previous and next page of the documents. I added little to no content, but mine are the most recent changes. Ugh. Even if I had added content, this is stuff from 8 years and 3 projects ago! I’m not going to retain detailed knowledge of your bizarre querying language for that long.

    2. Panda (she/her)*

      I have an old workplace that is notorious for continuing to ask former employees questions for MONTHS after they leave. A colleague who left had to tell them 6 months into her new job that continuing to answer their questions could pose a legal fish to her (she was in a sensitive role with access to classified information).

      Of course I learned that if you tell people the truth of why you’re leaving and piss the company off enough that they walk you out, they don’t ask a single question and in fact refuse to engage with you completely. Win? I guess.

      1. Pterodactyls are under-cited in the psychological literature*

        Petition to replace “a legal risk” with “a legal fish” in all English documents. Thank you, Autocorrupt.
        Usage example: Sir, we absolutely cannot serve cheap-ass rolls at our company banquet! The legal fish to the company would be bananapants!

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          OMG, I had thought that “legal fish” was some term of art I was unfamiliar with! Never occurred to me it was just an autocorrupt.

          1. Goldfeesh*

            Yeah, I thought maybe “legal fish” was something like “fruit of the poisonous tree” or something. Something that could reek to high heaven if processed wrong or if info got into the wrong hands.

    3. Constance Lloyd*

      I had a former coworker who asked me questions for months after I left. For the first week I answered, but after that I told her exactly where to find the answers, and said she could ask me for clarification if she still had questions after reading the policy document. Her response, “Thanks, but I just thought it would be faster to ask you.” She was intentionally not learning because she expected to still lean on me. She never had follow up questions once she started reading the documents I left behind, which is exactly what I expected.

    4. Junior Assistant Peon*

      It worked out for me! I got a ridiculous number of calls like this from an old job, and I did my best to help them out because I left on good terms and I liked my old boss. Ended up getting re-hired there five years later when I was out of work and needed a job.

    5. Glazed Donut*

      I wrote in with a similar question a LONG time ago. The irony is that I left because I didn’t feel appreciated for what I brought to the role – and then they kept contacting me! The irony.
      OP, the earlier you can address this and let them know you’re not an open book all the time, the better.

  6. snowfall123*

    How much would be a reasonable fee per hour for 3 hours? Would you base it off your previous salary on an hourly rate, or would you bump it up since consulting/ freelance work doesn’t cover additional expenses like health care, etc.

    Or would you charge an amount of money hourly to encourage them to NOT take you up on that offer? Just curious on what ranges/ reasonings people come up with.

    1. Airway*

      Charge either whatever would make it worth it to you, or what you are worth to them – whichever is more.

    2. Support Project Nettie*

      For my previous role, I would have quoted several thousand dollars per hour to make it clear I’m not interested, but knowing the manager (who tried throwing me uder a bus for her own mistakes), she’d probably try negotiating. I’m not sure I’d waste the energy required to give a reason, just a simple “No” and that further communication would be ignored. Tempting as it may be to CC the entire organisation into that email and include exactly why I left…. they’re just not worth it.

      Some employers need to understand that if they want someone to do something for them, it needs paying for. That message is practically lost in the post.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’m not sure why you say that message was lost in the post; the whole answer is to charge for your time or say no.

        But I really don’t recommend quoting an obviously outrageous amount to make a point. It’ll make you look silly/out-of-touch/adversarial. If you don’t want to do it, it’s better to just say no. If you’re willing to do it for a rate within the realm of reason, say that.

        1. tommy*

          I thought “lost in the post” meant “lost in the postal mail” — an expression meaning lost in the general world, anything that doesn’t reach the people who most need it, rather than lost in this AAM blog post. But now I’m curious which one it means!

            1. Panda (she/her)*

              If it helps, I read it the same way as you initially…but I can totally see the alternate explanation now that others have explained it!

            2. Consonance*

              I didn’t understand that either! Sounds like another “two nations divided by a common language” situation.

          1. UKDancer*

            I had assumed it meant lost in the postal system, i.e. sent but never received by the people who needed it.

        2. Bagpuss*

          The suggestedresponse soesn’t avtually mention charging it’s left that ‘reasonabnle people’ will understand that they’ll be asked to pay. I think a response that speifcally says
          “I was happy to answer one or two quick questions after I left, but it seems like the questions are increasing. Would you want to set up a short-term consulting agreement where I’d continue helping out for up to X hours per month? My hourly rate for consulting would be $xxx per hour” would have made it clearer.

          After all, reasonable people would not be expecting OP to continue to answer multiple questions **seven months** after she left.

          1. MM*

            No, Alison did suggest charging. She said that “reasonable people” would understand after that, LW’s offering paid help means “pay me or go away,” and then went on to what to do if they’re unreasonable enough to keep asking for free help.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      You charge an amount of money where if they said “Yes” you would be mildly pleased at that response, and feel it was fair, and worth your work and aggravation.

      If you would be annoyed by them saying “Okay, $200: done” then you price-set wrong.

      And if carefully tending the bridge is not a priority, then you’re allowed to just stop responding, as you would if you were hit by a bus, or decided to spend the next year on a silent retreat, and they can do whatever they would do in that instance.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Seconding all of this! Also, if the amount of money it would take to be worth your work and aggravation is absurdly high (ex. $5,000/hr for routine data entry) or doesn’t exist, that’s a sign to move on to bridge-tending responses of “My schedule is too packed for me to be able to help you out with this” and “I don’t remember [XYZ] anymore but it should be in the documentation I left.”

        1. AngryOctopus*

          This. If you’d be pleased to have $300/hour and it’s not an unreasonable amount to ask for in the field, and you don’t mind spending an hour or two on the work, then by all means quote them the rate. If you think “Ugh, it would take like $1500/hour for me to keep doing this, it’s so annoying” well then looky here at how packed your schedule is, and you simply don’t have the time to help anymore, so good luck and have a good day!

      2. Garblesnark*

        Additionally, when I’ve done this at jobs, the number has changed over time. Like, the first few weeks after I left, I was happy to do the work for my previous hourly rate +$10, with a weekly minimum retainer.

        And then after a few months I doubled that, and let them know it was to “make the fee more comparable to my other freelance work.”

        And then after a few more months I doubled it again, using the same line. They “fired” me at this point, which I found delightful.

    4. Dinwar*

      Standard rule of thumb in consulting is 3x your salary. So if you’re making $20/hr you charge $60/hr. In a consulting firm this covers overhead and slow times–the money you earn has to cover office space, non-consulting employees, your pay when you don’t have work, etc. And since this is a consulting gig, it’s a reasonable way to calculate your billing rate.

      Of course, there’s also the “You annoy me and now I’m in a position to do something about it” factor. I know some consultants that will add extra to that–so it’s 3.5x their normal salary or whatever–because the company I work for is notorious for having a lot of hoops we make people jump through. We pay it because we know we’re annoying and the people we’re bringing in are worth the extra price.

      So I’d use 3x your current hourly rate as a baseline, and adjust according to how obnoxious your former company was.

      1. B*

        Also factor in the value of the time you will most likely spend hounding them to pay your invoice.

        I appreciate the idea of asking for contractor pay, but it seems impractical 9 times out of 10.

    5. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Current employer might have views on this though and it might not be feasible. How many people’s employer would agree to them having a side gig doing consultancy for their old company?

      1. Orv*

        Not all employers have anti-moonlighting clauses, but that’s definitely something to check into. In my case it was less of a dilemma because my new and old employers weren’t in the same industry and weren’t competitors.

    6. MikeM_inMD*

      Charge your old rate (or current one, if you prefer) plus whatever taxes you would have to pay as “self-employed”.

    7. Orv*

      When I was in this position I took what my *current* job was paying me and added a percentage for self-employment tax. But I was also in a position where I needed the extra money, so I didn’t mind doing the additional work. If I were in a position where I’d needed the money less or valued my free time more I would have upped my offer a bit more.

  7. Scottish Teapot*

    LW#4 – the easiest way to let people know how valuable your time is is to ignore the texts and calls. You have no obligation to answer them. Block the numbers and they’ll quickly get the message.

    1. BellaStella*

      If the writer ever needs a reference this may not be a good idea, but I do sympathise with blocking and not replying.

    2. Antilles*

      I think that’s a little too strong to jump to immediately. One similar, but slightly lighter-touch alternative is to not block the numbers, but simply take your time in responding. Then when you do respond a couple days later, you give a non-answer answer like “can’t really remember, it’s been a while, but I think that information should be in the project file”.
      It’s doesn’t irritate someone nearly as much as flat out ignoring them and blocking their numbers will, but still works to very quickly train people out of the mindset of just calling Ex-Employee.

      1. Madre del becchino*

        Yes! With reference to Constance Lloyd’s comment above, make “looking it up myself” quicker than “calling ex-employee”.

  8. Q*

    I worked in police/fire dispatch in management. Gave six weeks notice that I was leaving and gave our director a list of everything I did all day. With important tasks at the top and highlighted. Every file in my office was sorted and labeled. It took them months to assign anyone to any task and the number of questions got ridiculous. I ultimately ended up no longer responding after it got to the point that documents needed for an audit got thrown away and someone wanted me, by text, to try to recreate them. Yes, in a text. The audit material had been clearly labeled on the files and the drawer they were kept in.

  9. Marta*

    I think offering a feedback session to the other candidates is fine, but doesn’t really address anything about fairness. If it was about that, would Harry have gotten the interview in the first place?

    1. ecnaseener*

      I don’t see any indication that he wouldn’t have — LW makes it sound like all three candidates were strong.

      1. Marta*

        Agree that he was clearly a good candidate, it just seems pretty coincidental that of three people one of them just happened to be an employee’s kid.

        Nothing really wrong with that – it’s just networking and life.

        Also I wonder if because it’s a religious institution things work a bit differently

        1. Dido*

          Not coincidental at all, he was most likely heavily influenced by his father in choosing this career and knew the right qualifications to get to make him a competitive candidate

          1. Butterfly Counter*

            Right. And also being in the same religion. Dad brought up son in the religion and the college only hires people in that religion, so the son already has what seems to be the hardest qualification to get for the job.

        2. Cmdrshprd*

          It is possible that Henry got a boost past another candidate for being someone’ kid, but that Henry was still qualified enough on his own to get to that point.

          Like if Henry scored a 90/100 on his own, being an employee’s kid gave him an extra 4 points to rate him at 94/100 and enough to put him past the “4th” place employee who didn’t get a final interview who scored a 92/100.

          If Henry completely unqualified, or just not up to par at like an 85, being an employees kid would not be enough to get him to the final round.

          1. ecnaseener*

            It’s also possible Henry got the interview on his own merits, with no extra 4 points, is what I’m saying. His dad wasn’t involved, and it’s not until he’s rejected that anyone suggests giving him special treatment. (I’m of course not saying that’s definitely or even probably the case – just saying we have no evidence it one way or the other, so it seemed weird to say “if you’re so concerned about fairness, why’d he even get an interview?”)

    2. NepotismFTL*

      Exactly. We had to interview someone because of connections – were not impressed. Then found ourselves in a situation where we had an unexpected resignation and, therefore, an additional open position and were told to use the candidate pool we already had—many of whom had already moved on. So guess who we were told to hire despite our feedback.

      Let me tell you how that person is working out –

    3. Caliente Papillon*

      Maybe since LW said when Harry applied for a next role he wasn’t even interviewed because it wasn’t a fit for him.

  10. JJ*

    #2 Even private religiously affiliated institutions of higher learning are not allowed to discriminate based on religion. It is illegal for them to ask job applicants what religion they are. I’ve experienced such institutions walking right up to the edge of “asking” by “encouraging” applicants to voluntarily disclose. E.g., “Legally, we aren’t allowed to ask you about your religion…” and trailing off in hopes that the applicant will jump into the awkward conversational void with some information.

    1. Yup*

      Came here to say this. It was just so casually slipped in, but not hiring outside of a religion is discrimination and the whole place sounds problematic. The issue is larger than just being asked for extra feedback.

      1. Atlantic Toast Conference*

        FWIW, I think taking that sentence in its totality — “not sure if you’d like it if you weren’t, but we don’t hire ‘non-members’ as a rule” — suggests that it’s not an attractive employment option for non-members, so they don’t get many non-member applicants. Perhaps not, but there could be a benign explanation.

    2. Bumblebee*

      It is not unusual in religious higher ed to have to submit a statement of faith, or agree to follow certain faith-based behavior rules – generally this will be in your more conservative-leaning faiths of course, or in more conservative branches of faiths if they have various branches.

      1. Silver Robin*

        It also happens in non-profits, anything run by the religious institution, honestly. There are a few organizations whose work I admired and would have liked to work for, but they require anything from agreeing to follow their statement of values (all couched in Christian framing but not requiring a particular faith) to something like “you follow Jesus and agree with our statement of faith or the Apostles Creed”. I applied to the former but did not end up taking the job (for multiple reasons) and will never apply to the latter as it would require not being Jewish anymore.

        Point being, there are loopholes that does not make this technically illegal in the US and yes, it can be frustrating.

        1. LunaLena*

          I’ve seen similar things in job listings from religious organizations too (I live in an area with a few megachurches). I applied to one and got all the way to the end of the application to where they required applicants to sign an affirmation that they are committed to Christ and Christ only as their personal lord and savior before nope-ing out.

          I wondered how this worked with anti-discrimination laws, but eventually concluded that a) so many of the religious orgs around here do it and don’t bother to hide it at all, so there must be a legal loophole, and b) I wouldn’t be happy working in such an environment anyways, so it was saving me trouble in the end.

        2. Random Dice*

          I think that’s still technically illegal.

          The current corrupt Supreme Court would allow it, but it’s definitely religious discrimination.

    3. Frieda*

      It really depends on the position – the “ministerial exception” permits religious organizations to discriminate when hiring in some positions. This has been interpreted broadly enough to permit the otherwise-illegal (or at least questionable) firing of a Jewish instructor at a Christian seminary. A religiously-affiliated school also was ruled to have the ability to fire a “minister” (a teacher, in this case) because of/in spite of her disability.

      Plus in some teaching areas your religious affiliation is going to be part of the career experience (if you’re ordained, for instance.) If you’re hiring for HR or in some other capacity, that’s different.

      (Link in replies, I am not a lawyer and I’m sure there’s nuance I’m missing.)

      1. I'm just here for the cats!*

        Yes I agree. Besides all of what you stated, we don’t know where the OP is located and it might be in a country that does not have the same religious discrimination laws as the US

      2. Artemis*

        And this is why the separation of church and state should actually be enforced. Grrrr. The entitlement and unfairness of this stuff is enraging.

        1. Dinwar*

          I fail to see how something like a Jewish instructor being fired from a Christian seminary is a church-and-state issue. I can see why such an instructor would be desirable (Christianity started as a sect of the Jewish faith, and has been influenced by that connection), but “We want people who actually believe this stuff to teach this stuff to our priests” hardly seems an unreasonable request.

          Put it in another context: I would be VERY hesitant to associate with a Wiccan institution that had Roman Catholics teaching their priests/priestesses!

          You can even remove the religious connotation. Would you want a softball expert teaching your high-level bowling course? (Remember, seminaries are teaching advanced religious education, not basic stuff.) Would you want a literature expert teaching civil engineers courses on structure properties of common building materials?

          1. Kesnit*

            Hebrew scholar? Scholar on the Old Testament? History professor teaching about the pre-Christian era Middle Eastern?

            1. Dinwar*

              Like I said, I can see why a seminary would want a Jewish person teaching at it. For that matter, it would be valuable for priests-in-training to understand a variety of religions, especially in a society as diverse as the USA.

              On the other hand, it’s entirely reasonable for a school dedicated to teaching priests to insist that those teaching the priests believe the things the school is dedicated to teaching.

              The point is, a seminary isn’t like a university or a public high school. It’s got a very different goal, and because of that goal the latter position is neither unreasonable nor a violation of the separation of church and state. They CAN, and probably should, have members of at least the Jewish faith teaching at their school, but it’s not necessary. From a governmental standpoint the proper view is that a seminary is a school within a private institution, training people to perform specific roles within that private institution. And the precedent is clearly that this allows the institution far greater leeway in hiring practices than a normal company would have.

          2. Twix*

            This can actually be framed as a church-and-state issue in either direction. On the one hand, should the government be carving out special exceptions for religious organizations to non-discrimination laws that everyone else has to follow? On the other hand, should the government be dictating who religious organizations have to employ? Anti-discrimination laws do not apply in cases where membership in a protected class would prevent the person from fulfilling the duties of the job even with reasonable accommodations (which is something not everybody is aware of) and while I personally have mixed feelings about it it I do see the logic in saying that being a member of a particular faith is a necessary requirement of representing it, which is the same logic the courts have generally used in deciding these cases.

            I do want to add though that to your examples, there would be nothing wrong with, say, a literature expert teaching a civil engineering course if they were nevertheless qualified to do so. That’s what makes the religious qualification bit tricky – if you’re, say, a Buddhist teacher at a Christian seminary who has studied the Bible and the tenets of a particular faith extensively in an academic capacity and are willing to follow a code of conduct and teaching guidelines in line with that faith, is it still reasonable to conclude that not being a member of that faith prevents you from fulfilling your job duties?

            1. Dinwar*

              “On the one hand, should the government be carving out special exceptions for religious organizations to non-discrimination laws that everyone else has to follow?”

              As you say, exemptions to antidiscrimination laws exist. I deal with them fairly regularly–I’m not allowed, by law, to let pregnant women work in certain areas (hazardous atmospheres). And “Teachers in an institution training priests” is about as clear-cut an example of a situation requiring an exemption as you can get.

              To be clear, if we were discussing a publishing house owned by a church, or a janitor or cafeteria worker or something within the seminary, the exemption would not apply. But we’re not. We’re discussing a teacher in a seminary.

              Religion in particular is not something you can really learn from an academic standpoint. A non-believer is necessarily going to have a different viewpoint than a believer (and there is rather extensive literature on this). An institution may conclude that this different perspective is irrelevant, or even good–again, there’s very good reasons to have Jewish people in particular teach at a seminary–but the idea that they should be required to accept that (which is what you’re arguing here) would in fact be government dictating religious tenets, which is itself a violation of the separation of church and state.

              “I do want to add though that to your examples, there would be nothing wrong with, say, a literature expert teaching a civil engineering course if they were nevertheless qualified to do so.”

              It’s entirely reasonable for a religious institution teaching priests to hold the position that someone who does not believe their teachings is unqualified to teach them. It’s equally reasonable for them to conclude that such a teacher is qualified to teach something else, but since the point of a seminary is to teach priests, that’s going to be their primary goal.

              Further, it would be absolutely reasonable for someone to fire or refuse to hire a literature professor teaching a civil engineering course. The odds of the person being qualified are so low as to not be worth considering, and the odds of finding a better person for that role are extremely high.

          3. Orv*

            I think the issue is it’s legal for a Christian institution to fire an atheist, but not for a secular institution to fire a Christian. It’s very much a right that only applies if you’re a member of one of the favored few religions.

            1. Dinwar*

              Please explain to me how “The people who teach our priests should believe our religion” is in any way, shape, or form a “right that only applies if you’re a member of one of the favored few religions.” I’ve known several groups that train Wiccan and Pagan priests and priestesses, and they all expect the teachers to actually believe their religion.

        2. Prof*

          As much as I loathe it, these are private institutions, there is no state involved. The separation is that the state can’t force them to hire other religions.

          1. Prof*

            (and yes, at colleges, and including professors teaching nothing related to religion. You have to apply with a statement of how your faith impacts your teaching, same for promotion/tenure. You basically have to share their beliefs.)

      3. Nonanon*

        Yeahhh it’s not a great look but there is some nuance in position hiring since it is a privately funded institution (I went to a private Catholic school in the US, where non-Catholics were hired as teaching staff but expected to “save face” and not do anything outwardly against the faith, which may or may not overlap with what is and is not legal to hire/fire on. For example, a female-presenting teacher talking about her wife could get fired at my school but that same firing would be illegal at the public school down the street). When I was on the job search, considering academia as a last resort, and looking at local religiously-affiliated universities, a few more senior positions (tenured professors) had something similar where applicants needed to submit a statement of faith and how their faith aligned with the university mission, but something like say a post doc wouldn’t necessarily need to.
        “We don’t hire non-members as a rule” is presumably not a legal requirement, but an internal one, wherein if an applicant EXPLICITLY says they belong to that faith they are more desirable, but ones who do not explicitly mentioned are not straight out rejected. I took it as more of a “culture fit” (eg a women’s crisis center preferring a female social worker over a male, assuming both were equally qualified, because the female employee “fits” more with the institution’s goals). I may be overly sympathetic and leaning on a more liberal interpretation, but IMO the structure of the institution isn’t inherently the problem LW came in with, and I’m not sure how much the context really changes the answer.
        (If it was “Harry was the only Zoroastarian applicant and we didn’t hire him because we area a strictly Satanist institution,” yeah, sure, that’s a separate issue)

        1. CowWhisperer*

          A Christian college near me is known for requiring that all teaching staff send their children to the local elementary and high school run by that denomination.

          About every 10th year, people wonder why there’s nearly no racial diversity among teaching staff. When potential hires – or people of color within the denomination – are asked why, they point out that the denomination is 99% white and the feeder schools that they’d be required to send their kids to are also 99% white – and no one wants their kid to be the only POC in their grade.

          Two years after this, certain facility positions are exempted from sending their kids to that school as long as the students and their families attended a different denomination of church. The rate of racial diversity is still anemic – but the faculty isn’t entirely white.

          Say, oh, five years later, someone has a hissy fit that the ecclesiastical purity of the college is being sullied because the staff don’t care enough about their faith to send their kids to the denomination’s schools – and everyone has to do this immediately! This leads to the resignation of everyone hired on the previous policy at the end of the year.

          Two years later, someone wonders why the faculty is all white….

          This has repeated 3x in thirty years, fyi.

    4. Nilsson Schmilsson*

      There is a very popular female evangelist in our town, who has a large tv audience and also a pretty substantial publishing division. A friend applied as an editor and she noped out when she had to agree to tithe 10% to evangelist’s church.

      1. ANinnyMouse*

        Yeah, my husband is clergy so safe to say we’re pretty religious. I’d nope right out of that too. Baseline, it is not giving if required by my employer. Not to mention the scumminess of the pastor to require that since she is paid (at least in part) by the church whose tithe it was going to.

    5. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      Sounds like it might be a seminary/whatever other religions call the place where they train their clerics.

    6. Lurker*

      Yes, I was also thinking this while reading. They may be referring specifically to religious positions, but if they’re not that is an illegal practice.

    7. Lacey*

      I live in a town with a large University of a religion I’m not a part of, but that is very much the majority religion in this area.

      They do hire people of all faiths, but when job searching I’ve noticed that many of the positions note that while applicants do not have to be practicing that religion, the position does require an extensive knowledge of that religion.
      Which, both makes a ton of sense for those roles, and would effectively filter out most people who aren’t a part of that religion.

      And having attended a religious university of my own faith – it was a lovely setting if you’re a part of the faith, but it would be a nightmare if you weren’t and I don’t imagine they get many application from people who aren’t for roles outside of maintenance or food service.

  11. Gemstones*

    “The organizational structure mimics that of our religious organization, which is very hierarchical (basically, if someone above you tells you to do something, you do it).”

    Eh, it kind of seems like the “being forced to give feedback to someone’s kid” is just a symptom of a larger problem here. I mean, the feedback thing is weird, sure, but LW makes it clear that it’s just how things work. Seems like the only way to avoid it is not to play…

    1. ANinnyMouse*

      I think it is odd that it feedback went to the father and not the candidate. But as was noted in the advice: pretty common to give feedback to someone who is associated with the institution they are interviewing at.

      I also agree: this sounds like the tip of the iceberg but was something OP felt that if it was against the norm was something they could push against in future. Or is the star that broke the camels back.

      1. Cmdrshprd*

        “I think it is odd that it feedback went to the father and not the candidate.”

        The feedback went to Harry the candidate.
        I agree the way it was worded initially made it seem like maybe the feedback when to the dad. But OP says:

        “So I agreed and contacted Harry to set up a meeting where I tried to do as I was asked. It was a bit awkward, but Harry was quite courteous, though obviously a bit disappointed.”

    2. Random Dice*

      Yeah. OP works for a sketchy dysfunctional organization, but is focusing on the smallest part of that.

  12. BellaStella*

    Unappreciated LW: If she is an engineer, perhaps also use numbers and data.

    “By not including me in X Y Z, the time it took to brief my by Fergus cost our team 3 hrs of staff time. My contributions in the end saved us 3,000$ but could have saved 4,000 if I had been included from the beginning. I am sharing this because my inputs can help us save money and time – would this be ok moving forward? It would help me to feel more appreciated, too.”

    Currently I am documenting similar things to justify a promotion. I am leveraging numbers and data as my boss is a data person, too. For nearly 4 years I have had nothing to show for the hard work except 3 glowing annual reviews saying above and beyond this and that and nothing….which frankly is not enough as I have had no COLA raises, no raises at all, with inflation etc …. this is not ok. Also I am looking around, too.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Numbers and examples are key for an engineering mindset.

      If you can’t quantify it or pin it down in space and time, I can’t analyze it and I can’t fix it.

  13. L-squared*

    #2. I see no problem with this. I say this as someone who has been on both sides of it (I’m also black, since the race issue was mentioned). I’ve recommended friends for roles, and they interviewed and didn’t get it. And I feel like the hiring manager did a bit more in their rejection than for others. Wasn’t a meeting necessarily, but I saw the email, and it was much more detailed than their boilerplate “sorry, lots of great candidates, good luck”

    I’ve also interviewed with companies based on recommendations, and again, I seemed to get some genuinely good feedback, that, based on how most companies operate, I imagine the recommendation influenced that.

    I’m just going to say it, and it probably won’t be popular. Everything doesn’t need to be 100% the same. I’m not saying that you should get a job automatically based on a recommendation. But if you have an good existing employee you want to keep happy, it will be important that you treat their recommendations well, even in rejection. If your company is bad about even sending timeline rejections, you shouldn’t do that with a referral, because that will cause others to stop referring people.

    If you were pressured to give the son an actual job based on his father, THAT would be an issue. But being asked to give some feedback in a meeting seems fairly innocuous.

    1. daffodil*

      Honestly in this case it doesn’t even sound like the feedback will be that useful. If his resume was good enough to get an interview, he’s doing fine. The academic labor market is really competitive. When I was in grad school, we all assumed you wouldn’t get a job if you were competing against someone already part time in that department — “an inside candidate” unless you were a real superstar and a great fit for what they needed.

  14. kalli*

    I feel like the ‘coming back to old workplace to perform a task’ is more contracting than consulting. They’re not giving advice on how to change or improve anything, they’re either doing the task, or providing training for a specific task, and the offer of x hours is more a contractor thing since it’s ‘providing this much of my time’ vs ‘this much for the project of advising on how you should make sure you don’t need my help to have a functional workplace which you can choose to implement or not’. It might be better to frame it as a contract and then you can actually put a clock on it, set a minimum hour requirement for each call out, and define very specifically what you will and won’t do – whether one makes that significantly unattractive or needs the money and sets boundaries one intends to actually keep this time.

  15. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    Letter 1. I’m suspecting that Fergus was not on “mental health leave” but in fact was suspended for 3 weeks based on [insert fan fiction about the actual incident here].

    1. Percysowner*

      Well, “I let someone in, but no one was hurt” leaves an awful lot of room for something ELSE happening.
      1)I let someone in and he tried to rob the place, all he took was money, no one got hurt is one thought.
      2)I let the ex who is stalking Jane and who Jane has a restraining order against and who had gun in, but Jane wasn’t here and no one got hurt is another thought, and might actually give Jane cause to physically assault Fergus, although I think the groin thing is made up.

      Basically there are a lot of people that can be let in and do a lot of damage even if it is “resolved quickly”.

  16. cmdrspacebabe*

    I think OP3 is kind of misattributing their boss’s behaviour. Not inviting you to key meetings, not looping you in on things that affect your team, and ignoring your feedback on workplace culture isn’t denying you ‘appreciation’ – it’s denying you the tools you need to do your job effectively. I would guess it’s making OP3 feel like their boss doesn’t trust them or respect their contributions enough to feel like they’re worth including, which they’re thinking of as ‘appreciation’, but to me this is a deeper issue. Appreciation would be visibly acknowledging your value as a staff member through positive feedback and recognition. This looks more like the manager doesn’t recognize that value in the first place and is acting accordingly by not giving OP input into their decisions and processes. I think OP3 is looking at this as part of their boss’s ‘non-touchy-feely’ demeanor, but this isn’t really about how she talks to OP or the tone of her feedback; it’s about the actual substance of her actions, which are detrimental to OPs ability to advance in their role. I think that’s the angle OP would need to address this from – appreciation a) isn’t the root issue and b) doesn’t sound like it would resonate with this manager anyway.

    This sounds like a boss who needs to hear a business case: “The way you’re addressing X right now is causing measurable issues, like Y. Can we course-correct by implementing Z, because a, b, and c?”

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Thank you, I was coming here to say this. Getting invited to meetings you should be at isn’t a lack of “appreciation”, it’s you being functionally undermined by everyone else.

  17. Hell in a Handbasket*

    LW3: With this kind of manager, I would leave out any “squishy” terms like “feeling unappreciated”, “culture”, etc. Instead focus on the concrete results that these issues cause, e.g. “Because I wasn’t in the xyz meeting, we missed our deadline on abc and had to pay a fine”, “Fergus has been working 55 hours a week, and I’m afraid he’s going to start job searching if it continues”, etc.

    1. Observer*

      “Fergus has been working 55 hours a week, and I’m afraid he’s going to start job searching if it continues”

      It’s worth pointing out the cost of replacing good staff. It’s not that you should be looking for 0 turnover. But you want to minimize the number of good people who leave, because that has a negative impact on cost, effectiveness and efficiency. Which means that it’s bad for execution.

      But also, if enough people leave because the job conditions are bad (even if “only” in their “touchy-feely, non-execution focused perceptions”), it’s going to drive up the cost of replacing people and it’s going to drive down the quality of the people you can hire. Again, something that affects execution.

      But even if Boss is *convinced* that Fergus will never leave, “Fergus has been working 60 hour weeks for the last 4 months, and I’m concerned that it’s going to lead to lower quality work and more mistakes that could potentially set us back.” Because it doesn’t matter how brilliant someone is, or how focused and disciplined they are. If they don’t get enough sleep, etc. their ability to do high quality error free work goes down. That’s just how humans are built.

  18. Glazed Donut*

    LW3, I wonder if you can get more specific in your mind about why you don’t feel appreciated and what would help, aside from meetings or memos that may or may not really make an impact.
    Would it be helpful to review your job duties with your supervisor, so you can be clearer on which meetings you should attend? Maybe you could suggest that there doesn’t seem to be a duty to consider culture (if true) and add that suggestion to your responsibilities in some way?
    Maybe this is more around the topic of feedback (frequency) and professional development to grow in your role? Do others receive feedback/appreciation in a way you’d like? Or is this a gap overall in the CEO’s operations?

    I absolutely do think this is worth having a conversation about so you can get clarity on what you should be able to expect in this role. Then, you can make decisions for yourself for this role, how to navigate the challenges, and what you may be needing in the future.

  19. HonorBox*

    Whoa LW1. That’s a really bad situation no matter what is happening. But I think your advice to your partner is solid. HR can figure out what is going on, but the suggestion to bring it to their attention either solidifies what they know or that Fergus is acting wildly inappropriate by spreading this kind of lie. I hope for your partner’s sake that Fergus is out of there soon because it sounds like he’s a problem.

    1. Lucia Pacciola*

      I guess I don’t see how LW1’s partner telling a tale of Fergus’s bad behavior is any different than Fergus telling a tale about Jane’s bad behavior. They’re both reputation-damaging tales that boil down to he said/she said.

      “Fergus told me that Jane kneed him in the groin. I didn’t see it, and nobody else has corroborated it, but for some reason I thought it made sense to loop you in on this hearsay.”

      What’s HR supposed to do with that? Tell Fergus that someone told them that Fergus told them that Jane assaulted Fergus? Tell LW1’s partner to stop trying to make Fergus look bad? Launch a full investigation into who said what to whom, and whose reputation is most in need of repair? Send a strongly-worded memo to everyone about not spreading negative rumors about co-workers?

      1. Florence Reese*

        I think it’s more, “Fergus mentioned a very concerning incident of violence in the workplace. I don’t know if you were aware yet, but it was unsettling to hear so I wanted to report it just in case.”

        What’s HR supposed to do with that: if they already know, nothing different than what they’re doing. If they don’t already know, yes, an investigation into reported violence is probably appropriate, which will include who said what to whom.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          It’s simpler than that. Fergus’s story – per the letter – was that he was already working with HR about this incident. So “I don’t know if you were aware yet” doesn’t make sense to say to HR. If they’ve never heard of this, then his story is already at least partly untrue. He’s not just going around saying “she attacked me”. He’s going around saying “she attacked me and HR is aware and working on it”.

  20. Ex-prof*

    It’s hard to see how the union and HR could be involved in The Matter of Fergus’s Groin without the police also being involved.

    1. Tobias Funke*

      Is it? I hear this discussed often here – that something is a police matter. What would the cops…do? Are the police normally involved in workplace disputes in some places? It is not a norm in my location.

      1. Dinwar*

        It could be considered assault and/or battery (depending on how they choose to view it).

        That said, the impression I get from most cops I know is that unless the victim chooses to prosecute, all the police wouldn’t do much. They’d make sure no one was harmed further, but unless someone acts stupidly belligerent to the cop or pulls a weapon they aren’t obligated to do anything else.

        1. Kesnit*

          ^ This.
          If the police are called, they will typically take a statement from all parties, then ask the victim if they want to press charges. If the victim says no, that is usually the end of it.

      2. Observer*

        What would the cops…do? Are the police normally involved in workplace disputes in some places?

        This is not just a “workplace dispute”. The minute someone does something like kneeing someone in the groin, it’s an assault. And while a lot of companies would like their staff to not call the police when an assault happens, not all are like that and sometime people call the police anyway. Now, in some cases, the police won’t act anyway because the altercation is (in their opinion) low level enough that they have “bigger fish to fry” (ie they don’t want to devote resources to what they consider a petty fight vs murder or armed robbery.)

        But it’s important to understand that just because something happens on the job between co-workers does not take it out of the realm of the law or law enforcement. To illustrate, imagine if the alleged behavior were the manager going after Fergus with a baseball bat. Do you really think that would NOT be a criminal act just because it’s in the workplace?

      3. Venus*

        A lot of ‘call the cops’ seems very inappropriate when it’s a disagreement, but kneeing someone should qualify as physical assault almost everywhere. The union couldn’t force Fergus to call the cops, but it would be a viable option. Then again, if this really happened then Fergus could have called them and not mentioned it.

      4. Ex-prof*

        They’d write a report.

        As others said, they might or might not press charges for assault… but in order for Fergus’s complaint to move forward, a police report would be a useful document to have.

        And if he doesn’t have it, then the first question that’s going to be asked by anyone who’s looking at the case– HR or arbitration or whoever– is likely to be “Why isn’t there a police report? This is assault.”

  21. Delta Delta*

    #1 – Another angle to consider. Suppose for a moment Fergus is telling the truth and Jane did knee him in the groin. Wouldn’t OP’s partner have some concern for their own physical safety around Jane? That seems exactly like the kind of thing they’d want to take to HR. It could go like this: This is the rumor. If it’s not true, it’s a horrible rumor and needs to be stopped. If it is true, am I also going to get assaulted?

    Then sit back with popcorn because this is going to unfold in some sort of dramatic fashion.

    1. Dasein9 (he/him)*

      Yeah. I do think OP #1 did the right thing and would also remind her that it’s quite common for bullies to smear the reputations of their targets and make them the “known problem.” An investigation should take place to make sure that’s not happening in this case.

      It’s most likely the OP’s gut is right but doing due diligence, especially when there are allegations of violence, should be a habit.

  22. Observer*

    #3 – Difficult boss:

    focuses tightly on tactical execution even when I bring up softer issues like culture or burnout

    So stop bringing “soft” issues to her. Instead start focusing on execution. Like “If you allow people to berated and humiliated, their performance on X tasks drops.” “When you ignore the expertise that you are paying people for, you incentivize them to do the bare minimum, which affects cost and quality.” “When you don’t tap into the knowledge and expertise of your staff when making decisions, you make decisions that slow the team down, add costs and / or reduce quality”. etc.

    This has zero to do with her engineering background, to be clear. This is someone who simply does not understand management. And I suspect that she may not have been a great engineer, either.

    For some high profile examples –

    Jack Welch was once lauded for his frankly brutal management style, focused on the numbers. Today he is seen as *the* reason for the fact that GE no longer exists as one company, and that it’s worth only a fraction of what it was when Welch took over. Boeing’s troubles are seen as his legacy, as control of the company shifted away from the engineers to the managers who supposedly focused on execution. Keep in mind that good engineering – *especially* that related to safety cannot exist without understanding and taking into account human factors.

    Tom Cook is an operations guy. His core competency is execution at scale. He is known to have high expectations of his people. But he sure as anything makes sure that people have the information they need, and he makes it his business to get information from *anyone* who touches whatever issue it is he is trying to decide on.

  23. Dinwar*

    LW #3: I think there are a few things going on here.

    First, the meetings. If you’re expected to execute something that’s decided on in the meeting, you (or a member of your team at least) need to be included in that meeting, even if it’s just sitting in on the meeting. Understanding the “Why” is critically to figuring out the “How”–there are a thousand little decisions that you and your team are going to have to make in even the most straight-forward task, and understanding the logic behind the decision helps you better determine what decisions to make. To give an example: If I’m managing llama grooming, and I know that you’re looking to sell the fur, I know not to put it on the ground (makes further processing more difficult).

    Second, the decision-making. That’s going to happen to a certain extent. If it’s frequent enough, I’d recommend setting up a monthly or even weekly meeting with your boss to discuss upcoming work. I’ve done this, and it makes life much easier. And if you set up the meeting, it shows that you’re being proactive, identifying a problem, and proposing a solution. Engineers like that, at least in my experience. If you get pushback the line I’ve used is “If we don’t have this half-our meeting I’ll spend two hours a week pestering you with the same questions.”

    As for burnout, what I’ve done in the past is convert it from touchy-feely to engineering terms. Humans, like all equipment, have an operational envelope. Prolonged operations outside the envelope result in damage to the system–doesn’t matter if it’s over-clocking a computer, diving in a sub more times than it’s designed for, or working a person 80 hours a week. The other thing you can do is to point to specific issues that are arising from burnout. If you have a quality control system that’s going to be the first place this shows up (and if you don’t, you need to institute one!). If a machine was stamping product and had an error rate greater than some pre-defined level, you’d investigate what was wrong–and if you found out someone was running it beyond its capacity, you’d fix the problem. Well, that’s what burnout is: Operating humans outside their operational envelope long enough to damage them.

    I haven’t had as much luck with that line of reasoning. I mean, the person took my point and tried to make changes, but sometimes you’re dealing with institutional problems, either within the company or in the industry as a whole. But it’s at least a useful framework to get an engineer to understand that this isn’t touchy-feely garbage, but rather an objective, measurable, and absolutely critical aspect of the system’s operation.

    1. Lisa*

      “As for burnout, what I’ve done in the past is convert it from touchy-feely to engineering terms…”

      THANK YOU, this is actually an excellent explanation that I will borrow in the future.

      1. kiki*

        Yes! I’ve used a similar metaphor and it is so much more effective with engineering types. If I say the word burnout, engineers are quick to clam up and be like, “Oh, now I need understand how everyone is ~feeling~ just so they can get their work done????”

        But if you say, “Hey, we know productivity starts cratering after 8 hours and optimal performance only occurs with 8 hours of sleep and 8 hours of time to do non-work things. How can we ensure the workload we put on employees keeps them at maximum capacity?

        1. Dinwar*

          Something that’s always struck me is that if you read biographies or writings of great military, civil, and other leaders, they would respond to “Now I need to understand everyone’s feelings?” with “Of course, what else did you think your job was?” To be clear, understanding feelings doesn’t mean that you view it as your job to make them happy–sometimes it requires understanding how to motivate them to do things they really don’t want to do. But feelings of underlings have always been viewed as an important, indeed critical, thing for people in a leadership position to understand and manage.

          This is one reason why it’s so detrimental to our society that we’ve adopted the concept that management is something you learn on the job. We expect people who are good at doing the job to automatically know how to manage it, and frankly those are skillsets with remarkably little overlap.

          1. kiki*

            I 100% agree! I’ve also been dismayed to see a lot of management roles being laid off at tech companies as of late. I think there’s a growing idea that managers don’t create things so they’re not really doing anything. But good managers are so valuable and help the team create more/ better things than they would have otherwise!

            Unfortunately, I’ve noticed a growing trend where companies aren’t training managers well then they are confused when managers don’t have much value to their teams. Instead of realizing their managers have potential and just need actual training, they decide the whole class of employee is not useful and get rid of them.

  24. Tea*

    “My father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate started a fight at his job—“
    “—kind of sounds like a problem between him and that guy, to be honest. And their HR team.”

    I don’t mean to beat the drum on this but like, the LW wasn’t there and neither was their partner. It is like, 4th hand info at this point. Any advice isn’t going to be super useful or relevant in that situation. And it’s not like the LW’s partner is going to go to work on Monday and tell their boss that “my partner said you should do this because an internet columnist—with very limited, very word-of-mouth knowledge of the situation—said so!”

    1. Observer*


      This is not 4th hand information for the LW’s husband. And the advice for him is to act on what he actually knows, which is that Fergus said X. Because that’s actually a relevant piece of information for HR to have.

    2. Venus*

      I think you’re missing the point. The LW’s partner heard it first-hand. They should tell HR that Fergus is saying something really questionable.

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        Yes, this! The issue is that Fergus is talking about the incident. HR wouldn’t want this being discussed until the investigation is done, so they would want to know that Fergus is sharing.

        It’s not about giving HR more info about the incident itself.

    3. Goody*

      ” “My father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate started a fight at his job— ”

      So what does that make us?
      Absolutely nothing!

  25. Lisa*

    LW#2, it’s totally not out of line for them to ask you to provide feedback, especially to someone who is early-career. So many organizations provide zero feedback and it’s so hard to know what (if anything!) you can do differently. There might not be much that’s actionable by Harry since it sounds like the main reason was that Tom was just much more qualified for the position, but even knowing that is meaningful as a candidate. I don’t think I would reach out to Jane with the same info since she’s well into her career and doesn’t need advice as much as someone new, but if she asked I’d definitely provide it.

    If they had given Harry priority over other more qualified ones because of the connection, I think that would be inappropriate, but that’s different.

    1. Friendo*

      Yeah, I’m not saying there are no issues with the way this was handled but considering the guy didn’t get the job and then didn’t even get an interview for the second job, this is organization seems pretty mild overall.

      1. In the provinces*

        Universities generally don’t do this, because they are afraid of being sued by the job finalists who were rejected. Anything you say about why person A was hired instead of person B can easily become fuel for legal action.

  26. Observer*

    #1 – Coworker accused his boss of assaulting him.

    I’m curious why you think that you messed up. I think that your suggestion was completely correct. HR does need to know what Fergus is saying, whether it’s true or not.

    If it’s true, then need to understand the people know about it, so they must act effectively or there will probably be further fall out. If it’s not true, that’s a huger problem with Fergus and they need to act on it.

  27. Margaret Cavendish*

    OP1, I’m wondering about your reaction to this. From my outsider perspective, Fergus is pretty clearly in the wrong – I just don’t see a plausible world where his story makes sense. And going to HR seems so clearly the right thing to do. As Alison said, if he’s telling the truth then HR already knows about it; and if he’s lying, it’s definitely something they should know about!

    There are lots of reasons people might not want to go to HR, as we’ve seen in other letters here. But you didn’t say anything like that in your own letter. Not that you should have to, and you certainly don’t owe me any answers either! Just that you seem so worried that you gave him bad advice, when the advice seems so very ordinary and appropriate, I’m wondering if there’s something else going on.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      yeah either Fergus is lying, not giving details (like he threatened her) or is exaggerating. Like they ran into each other going around a corner and she stepped on his foot,

  28. Yes And*

    OP3 – When I started as a manager I came into it through subject matter expertise, and I had to learn the hard way (though multiple missteps) how to handle many of the things your boss is struggling with – communication down the ladder, factoring people’s humanity into decisions, etc. Your boss isn’t not appreciating you, she’s failing at some pretty fundamental requirements of the job of managing people, in a way that makes her, and you, and your whole team less effective. Please do speak up.

  29. kiki*

    For number 3, I think that approaching this as an “appreciation” issue isn’t the correct tactic. I feel like that’s muddling the issue of being overworked, not being included in decisions you need to be involved in, and not being properly communicated with. I think if you say the word appreciation, you’re likely to start getting more thank you’s and maybe some heart emojis, but what you want are concrete improvements in your working atmosphere.

  30. Observer*

    #3 – Difficult boss

    Reading the comments made me think of something that I haven’t seen addressed. I’m wondering if part of the reason she is refusing to consider “softer issues” with the claim that it’s all about execution due to her background. Engineering tends to be a very male dominated profession, and in many workplaces “woman trying to bring emotional intelligence to bear” tends to equate to either “woman being too emotional” (and thus being dismissed, regardless of the fact that they are correct), or “woman gets relegated to the non-engineering and career enhancing tasks and taken of actual engineering projects.” If she doesn’t realize that this is toxic and terrible management, she may be resistant to even considering changing how she operates.

    If that’s at play then it’s all the more important that you stay very results focused. But also, to try to make sure that the language you use is as concrete as you can. Even in terms of outcomes, where you think that people are going to get burned out and leave, don’t use “burn out” or that they are going to “feel like” looking for another job. Rather stick to specific actions that people might take (eg leave the organization) and potential costs, or specific things that might happen (eg error rates go up).

    1. cmdrspacebabe*

      I had a similar thought from a different angle! I actually wonder if the boss being a woman who has talked specifically about not having ‘soft skills’ is part of why LW is interpreting this as being about ‘appreciation’, and not about the actual strategic errors the manager might be making. If the boss is very up-front about that lack of people skills and uses that to justify some of her behaviours, I wonder if it’s priming people to see her actions through that lens. The specific issues LW brings up (exclusion from meetings and decision-making and ignored feedback on working environment) aren’t really about soft skills, IMO; those are operational items. I wonder if the way gender comes into it is that either LW or the manager herself are over-focusing on the lack of soft skills that’s supposedly unusual in a woman, and wind up using that emotional framing in contexts where it doesn’t fit. The main issue strikes me as the manager’s strategic decisions in managing workflows and working conditions involving LW’s role, not how touchy-feely she is about implementing those decisions, so it’s interesting that LW attributes this to ‘appreciation’, which is generally more about how a manager provides feedback or recogntion. The whole ‘soft skills’ question seems like a bit of a red herring – either on her side or the LWs.

    2. Dinwar*

      Lack of emotional intelligence isn’t a male-vs-female thing, or even an engineering thing. I’ve worked with plenty of engineers (civil, chemical, and electrical) that have very high emotional intelligence, and most of the male-dominated spaces I’ve been involved with (field geology, firefighting, an all-male dorm, and a few others) either intentionally or organically developed mechanisms for showing appreciation and providing emotional support. You have to understand the culture–sometimes a shouting match or a few rounds in a boxing ring are exactly what’s needed–but in any healthy group it’s there.

      The more I think about it, the more I think cmdrspacebabe is right: Attributing the issues raised in the letter to “soft skills” and “emotional intelligence” is a smoke-screen. These are operational issues, not interpersonal ones.

      1. Observer*

        Lack of emotional intelligence isn’t a male-vs-female thing, or even an engineering thing.

        I totally agree! What I was getting at is that in some dysfunctional cultures, it is seen that way, and women get penalized for that. And if that’s where someone developed their workplace norms, it can be hard to break out of that mind set.

        Attributing the issues raised in the letter to “soft skills” and “emotional intelligence” is a smoke-screen. These are operational issues, not interpersonal ones.

        Yes, the issue is operational. But emotional intelligence often makes it easier to recognize and respond appropriately. And issues like burnout are often dismissed in the kids of toxic culture I’m referring to.

        The reason I brought this up is to say that if that’s where she is coming from it’s all the more important to focus on the operational issues using very “operational” / “engineer-ish” / bottom line focused language.

  31. Nancy*

    LW4: just tell them you are no longer available to answer their questions and then ignore them. You no longer work there, so it’s not your responsibility.

  32. Andromeda*

    Groin knee LW: I think your partner ethically *has* to treat Fergus as though it happened*, until there’s conclusive proof otherwise. Because of the power dynamic involved, and because of people’s natural biases — if they believe Marshall and Jane wouldn’t do such a thing, they’re less likely to want to challenge that by really evaluating it too hard. Which isn’t a mark against your partner at all; it’s just how the human brain works.

    Also — to be absolutely honest — I think the fact that Fergus is a dude does factor in here. I get why him being a woman would have made this different. I don’t wanna do the “but reverse the genders!!!!!1!1!1!1” thing. But I’m not thrilled with some of the comments saying it either didn’t happen or maybe it did happen but minimising it/implying he’s the *real* assaulter in the same breath. It reminds me of all the gendered tropes I see whenever a guy says he’s been physically abused. Made worse by the fact that he sounds, well, a bit of an arsehole, so if he is a victim he’s even less likely to be believed (the whole “but were they a perfect victim” re-litigation). And OP, to be fair you don’t even really know the guy — it sounds like all the info about him is second hand.

    *this does NOT mean “shun and punish Marshall and Jane.” It means being compassionate to Fergus, separating him from the two bosses, taking the investigation absolutely seriously, looking into resources for people who’ve been assaulted at work, and yeah, maybe having the kid gloves on for a tiny bit.

  33. Nathan*

    #1: I have to wonder (though I’m probably way off base) whether this is a colloquialism somehow. Like if I said “Jane absolutely dragged me over the coals while Marshall just watched”, presumably nobody would think that there were actual hot coals involved. Or even “Jane gave me a flogging in front of Marshall”, again my first thought would not be that Jane actually brought out a cat o’ nine tails. Perhaps Fergus was using the “kneed me in the groin” as the same sort of analogy?

    The only reason why I wonder this is because otherwise that’s such an absolutely unhinged thing to claim (if untrue) and such a bizarrely crazy thing to happen (if true) that it’s hard to believe rational humans could produce either scenario.

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