weekend free-for-all – July 20-21, 2019

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand. (This one is truly no work and no school.)

Book recommendation of the week: Supper Club, by Lara Williams. Two women create a subversive supper club where they indulge in ways they didn’t predict. It’s about friendship and food and the space you take up, and it’s dark and smart and funny and moving and I loved it.

another salary negotiation success story

A reader writes:

I just wanted to share a my recent success story with you.

I started an admin role about nine months ago, thinking that it would be an in to a field I was interested in. I quickly learned that I not only find admin work mind-numbingly boring, I’m also not very good at it. I can organize one person’s calendar fine, but trying to sync up 20 different ones and my brain starts dribbling out my ears. There are reporting and monitoring aspects to the job and I leaned into those to try and get some useful experience there, but also started looking sort of leisurely for a job.

I applied for an analyst position at a nonprofit that does work with the same populations, got an interview, and received an offer within a couple weeks time. The offer was about a thousand less than I had asked for (though still more than $8k more than I make as an admin). I’ve never really been in a position to ask for more than was offered — in the last couple years I’ve only had positions that have a very strict starting rate either for state government or through a temp agency, but I figured that this time, after having listened to your podcast and now read your website for the last year or so, that I could ask for a little more.

I set up a phone call with HR, talked to them about benefits and a starting date, and then broached the subject of a little more pay. The HR lady went into a summary of the benefits again, letting me know how much they calculate them as worth (and it does sound like their health insurance is very good), and then asked where I felt the offer was lacking. I assured her that I was excited about the opportunity and that I thought the benefits sounded very good, but that I was just wondering if they could come up a little. And then I didn’t say anything else. There was several seconds of pause where I quietly suppressed the urge to iterate that I thought we could meet in the middle or that I was interested in the job regardless.

And then she told me that the most she could offer was [amount exactly what I had initially asked for + $80]. She asked if that was fine. I nearly stumbled over myself enthusiastically agreeing.

I start August 12th :)

Congratulations!

Everyone: Ask for more money. Here’s how:

how to negotiate salary after a job offer

what should a salary negotiation sound like?

how to know what salary to ask for

all your questions about negotiating salary, answered

open thread – July 19-20, 2019

It’s the Friday open thread! The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything work-related that you want to talk about. If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to talk to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please do not repost it here, as it may be in my queue to answer.

coworkers are mad they can’t play with my puppy, my work anniversary gift is causing drama, and more

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

1. People are mad that they can’t play with my puppy at work

My partner and I recently adopted a puppy together, and she’s the best! We agreed beforehand that, since my office is 100% dog-friendly, she’d be coming into work with me most days at first. She has a little pen and she sits under my desk and is quiet all day, doesn’t disrupt mine or others’ work, and mostly just sleeps (she’s under three months old still and needs to sleep 18-20 hours per day). We’re planning on training her to be a service dog, so I’ve explained to my coworkers that talking to/playing with the dog isn’t allowed so that she has the capacity for her evening training.

The problem is this: everyone in my office is (understandably) obsessed with her, and they’re getting upset that they can’t play with her. When people come up to her pen I make sure to say “She needs her sleep right now!” in a chirpy, non-confrontational voice, and that makes most people back off. Others, however, will respond with “But I want to see her!” or “Oh, just for a second.” Of course, that one second wakes her up, gets her over-excited, and makes her bark in an office where people are often on the phone with clients. Today, there was even an incident where a coworker began loudly complaining to someone while standing directly behind my desk that “we USED to be able to say hi, but not anymore.” (I took her around the office and let everyone meet her the first day I brought her in.)

I really want this situation to work, and it does, as long as everyone respects my wishes. How firm can I be with the “stay away from the puppy under my desk” orders without turning into the office Helicopter Dog Mom?

If your office isn’t so large that this would be weird (and if the culture allows for it), one option is to send an email to everyone explaining the situation — that she’s training in the evenings to be a service dog, has to sleep during the day to have the energy for that, and hey, did you know baby puppies need to sleep 18-20 hours a day, so you’re asking people to let her sleep and not try to wake her.

The other thing you could try is putting up a sign on her pen that says something like, “Please don’t wake me! I am so small that I still need to sleep most of the time and I may bark if you wake me.”

And actually, you could probably lean on the barking thing. If anyone complains that you’re not letting them wake her, you could say, “She’s been barking if she’s woken up, and if she barks I risk not being allowed to bring her in anymore.” Hopefully that will resonate with her fans.

2. My coworkers are upset about my work anniversary gift

Thanks to your blog, I have been at my job for five years. My company marks certain years of employment as an anniversary and provides a gift when you reach that anniversary. In my department, another colleague and I reached our anniversaries and were given gifts. These gifts are fairly high-end and nice and much different from the pen or pin I received in a previous position. Mine was a Tiffany necklace. (We are given a list to choose from based on years of service.)

I recently wore my necklace to work and received many compliments but a few people were a bit taken aback that this gift was paid for by the company. They felt this was unfair to everyone else. I reiterated that this was something we all get once we work for a certain number of years but some felt that was still not fair. Those who found it unfair were fairly young in their careers, have not been in a position for more than a few years at a time, and may be not be familiar with work anniversaries. One of the people who was unhappy has spoken to my other colleague who received a gift to ask for the written policy since she’s never heard of it. We initially thought she was excited to learn more, but turns out she’s gone to HR to complain.

I didn’t think wearing the gift to work would cause any issues and if I had known I wouldn’t have worn it. I know this person will see me and bring this up again, and I’m not sure what to say. What would be the best way to respond when she asks for more information or my views on fairness? I don’t want to argue with her or defend this gift that I will not wear again to work.

They’re being obnoxious — and do seem awfully inexperienced — and luckily, this is not a problem that you have to solve. They can bug HR about it, and HR can deal with it as they see fit. But you don’t need to defend the gift policy or argue with them, and you don’t need to stop wearing the necklace to work if you don’t want to.

If they make any more comments about it to you, give them a weird look and say, “Wow, what an odd reaction to a really common practice.” If they keep pushing, then say, “I don’t set our gift policies and I’m not the right person to talk to about it. I’m sure you can talk to HR if you want more information.” If they still keep it up, then say, “It’s really weird that you’re trying to debate this with me! I don’t set this policy and I’m not up for discussing it any further.”

Wear your necklace and enjoy it!

3. Candidates keep asking me if I have time to chat

I recently made a career change into recruiting. I am working for a large software company, and since I updated my LinkedIn profile, I have been bombarded with connection requests from people looking for an in into my company. I don’t mind accepting the random requests, but what I’m not sure how to handle is, how do I respond to these people I don’t know who inbox me asking me if I have time to chat? Or, that they are looking for xyz role and would love my input. I typically tell people to go to our company website and apply to the roles that they are interested in, but the people who want me to immediately talk to them live on the phone are throwing me off. I’ve definitely been on the other side of the table, so I do not want to come across rude or condescending in any way, but I also do not want to “chat” with scores of random people trying to get a shortcut into a job at my company, or else I will never be able to get my actual work done. Help!

Some of this depends on your team’s philosophy about recruiting work, your specific role, and the roles you’re working to fill. If you have hard-to-fill roles and/or your team wants you actively recruiting strong potential candidates, then usually you’d want to talk with people who look like strong potential matches.

But that’s not going to be everyone! When someone doesn’t look like a particularly strong candidate, you can just say, “The best way to get started is to apply through our jobs portal and then we can take it from there.” If the person still pushes for a call after that, you can say, “Because we get a high volume of interest in our openings, we’ve found the best way to explore possibilities is to throw your hat in the ring via our regular application process.”

4. Cancer talk, compassion, and boundaries with a coworker

Within the last year, I started at a new higher education workplace. I have one coworker and two direct reports on my team. My coworker and I are often alone in our suite since our boss is busy running more projects in our area. My coworker, “Daryl,” is a blandly nice, older, slightly hard of hearing, forgetful man who will talk constantly about anything he can think of. I once heard about his wife’s doctor’s common cold. I set some boundaries early about doing work (looking only at the screen, repeating that I had a lot of work) and invested in headphones.

However, Daryl’s wife has been diagnosed with stage 0 breast cancer and is currently undergoing treatment. My mother was diagnosed and beat breast cancer over 10 years ago, but my father died of brain cancer — after an arduous three years of operations and treatments — two years ago. Daryl’s conversations have all turned to how his wife is doing and how exhausted she is after chemotherapy and the details of her medical procedures. I am smiling politely and nodding understandingly, but I am not sure if he even remembers that my father died. It was something I had disclosed last winter around the anniversary when I needed to take a sick day for grief reasons. I want to be sympathetic and kind to him, as I understand the impact that this is having, but I am not his therapist and I am not his boss. His constant updates and running commentary is starting to impact me (though I am working with my therapist on my own mental health). Do you have any suggestions on working with Daryl or approaching my boss? Having to remind Daryl every day that my Dad is dead would be awful.

I suspect you’re right that Daryl doesn’t remember your dad died, or doesn’t remember it was from cancer — or if he does, just doesn’t realize that so much talk about cancer would bother you. (In fairness to Daryl, not everyone would be bothered by it — but a lot of people would be.) So the first thing to try here is to just be straightforward and say something like, “I’m so sorry you and Jane are going through this. Because my dad died of cancer not too long ago, it’s hard for me to talk about cancer, especially at work where I need to keep my composure. I don’t want to seem unsympathetic because I’m not, but it’s just still too tough a topic for me and so I can’t be a sounding board for you. I’m sorry about that.”

You mentioned you’re worried you’d have to remind him of this every day, but since he’s still holding down a job, I’m thinking he’s likely capable of remembering this, although it’s true you might have to remind him a couple of times at first. But those reminders can just be, “Like I said, this topic is still too hard for me. I’m sorry I can’t hear you out.”

Also, I’m assuming you’ve already thought of this because of the previous levels of chattiness, but if you haven’t, it might be worth investigating whether you can change offices, framing it as Daryl liking high levels of interaction while you need quiet in order to focus.

5. How thorough should my LinkedIn profile be?

I know you’ve said many times that a resume is a marketing tool, not a comprehensive work history, and I assume the same goes for LinkedIn. However, I am a recent grad without much idea of what my future is going to look like. I have pretty much every job and internship I’ve done listed (I only recently removed summer camp counselor since I can pretty safely say that’s not necessary). I also have fill out almost every other section: bio, skills, publications, languages, organizations. It seems smart to me to include everything that might catch someone’s attention. More and more, though, I’ve been noticing that most people include barely more than their current position on their profiles, and I worry too much content is probably distracting. But I don’t want to remove anything! How do I figure out the right balance between too much and too little? How do I decide what to keep and what to remove?

Any chance you’re looking mainly at peers’ profiles and they haven’t been super thorough on LinkedIn because they’re recent grads too and either don’t have a ton to put there or just don’t see much value in the site?

In any case, what you’re doing sounds fine. The one exception to that is the skills section — I’d skip that since skills listings on LinkedIn are notoriously unreliable. The rest all sounds good.

how can I get my boss to talk to me in person instead of over chat?

A reader writes:

I work in a small office that has had a pretty liberal remote work and flex hours policy for years, and about one-third of our employees live out of state and are thus permanently remote. Due to this, a lot of communication between employees has historically taken place over the office chat / instant messenger system. Video calls do happen, but usually only during formal, scheduled meetings. Recently, our flex time was revoked and all in-state employees were required to come into the office all day. My primary manager and I are both in-office; my sometimes-manager is remote.

I have been told privately that poor communication was one of the issues this change was meant to address. I have also been told in my last annual review that I need to be more mindful of when conversations should take place face-to-face instead of via chat, so that is something that I have been trying to work on the past few months.

Despite being in the office together for most of our working time, I find that my manager is still relying on chat messages for most of her communication with me. Sometimes this includes conversations that I do not think are best handled via chat (e.g., discussing my performance as an employee). She also has a tendency to simply stop replying to the chat, and I’ve noticed this happens with more than coincidental frequency when the conversation involves some level of difficulty on her end (like if she doesn’t know the answer to a question she probably should, or she has to criticize, chastise or apologize to me). My sometimes-manager also stops replying in similar circumstances.

I know that tone is nearly impossible to convey via text, and so I am often left confused by the outcome of these chat conversations about deeper issues — especially when they stop replying and the conversation is left without closure. What is the actionable takeaway? Was a conclusion reached? Was it meant to be a stern talking-to about something I have done wrong, or a simple question in good faith?

I would like to be able to move these sorts of conversations to being face-to-face, but I don’t know how to best make that happen. It seems like the usage of chat is very ingrained into the office culture, and harder to escape when I am talking to someone that is remote. My manager also has a habit of sending chat messages to people while in a meeting or on a phone call, so I cannot be certain of not interrupting her if I were to just walk over to her desk. What’s the best way to handle this? Is there some kind of script I can use here, to transition these conversations out of chat when they seem to be going awry?

P.S. I was recently diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, which is almost certainly contributing to some of my confusion. I have disclosed this to the company’s owner, with the understanding that he would meet with my managers to discuss how it affects communication with me. I did not want accommodations to be the focus of the question, but I do want to include the information for additional clarity.

P.P.S Yes, I do see all the bad management red flags; that could be a whole separate letter!

Yeah, this sounds like a problem!

A lot of people — managers included — over-rely on text or email because it’s easier for them. There are some legitimate ways it’s easier: they can send things when it’s convenient for them without having to line up with your schedule, and you can respond when it’s convenient for you; sometimes it’s useful to have things documented in writing; etc. But there are also ways it’s easier that we shouldn’t be indulging, like that people sometimes feel more comfortable saying something difficult or awkward when they’re not face-to-face. Managers in particular shouldn’t be indulging that impulse — part of the job is having difficult conversations with people directly and not shying away from them or hiding behind text.

It’s particularly egregious and ineffective to use chat messages for discussing performance. That needs to be a real-time conversation where tone can be heard and expressions can be seen, and where the employee can ask questions and respond and not be left hanging with no reply. And the fact that your manager is just abandoning those conversations when they become difficult is really messed up.

She sounds like someone who doesn’t want to be managing, or at least shouldn’t be managing.

As for what to do, I’d address it head-on. Say something like this: “I’m finding that it’s easier for me to fully process your feedback and ask questions when we talk face-to-face. Could we try to do any substantial conversations in-person instead of over chat?” (Also, if you don’t already have standing weekly or biweekly check-in meetings, suggest them now — because that way there will be a natural place for those conversations to live.)

But if that doesn’t solve it, which I suspect will be the case, then when your boss starts using chat for something that feels better suited for a real conversation, it’s fine for you to say, “This sounds important and I want to make sure I don’t miss any nuance. Could I stop by your office later today to discuss it?”

update: my coworker had an affair with a colleague’s husband, and now is treating her badly at work

Remember the letter-writer last year whose coworker, Angela, had an affair with their colleague Jane’s husband and then started treating her terribly? Among other things, after having an affair with Jane’s husband, Angela then lied to block Jane from a promotion and then applied for the job herself. Here’s the update.

After reading all the advice, I decided I needed to go to my manager. I had my script in my mind, had role played the conversation, and was walking in knowing I was doing what was right. She was a new manager (in general and in the company) so I didn’t know her all too well, but the moment I sat down my intuition started sending up red flags and I stopped. I left beating myself up for not following through but what proceeded was one of the worst years of my professional life and I am so glad I didn’t confide in her. My manager was hyper-critical, micromanaging, came in late, left early, bullied staff (I don’t use that term lightly), made unfounded decisions that left everyone scrambling and then would change her mind back and forth in days’ time while leaving her supervisors to deal with the fall-out, poisoned relationships with clients, and started metaphorical wars with other departments over her perpetual need to power trip. She also hired three completely inept employees in higher positions, including Angela.

Angela got the job over Jane. She is not in the right position for her skill set but was able to thrive in a way only her type of personality could under the manager who completely blew up our department and rained hell for just over a year.

Jane continues to work at the company, but I think with everything that happened and with being passed over one too many times, she’s peaked at her role and I can’t see her turning it back around. I’ve encouraged her to find a position elsewhere but she seems complacent in being marginal and remaining here, although bored and under-performing.

I’ve heard Fergus is on his third performance improvement plan in his department and hopefully will be let go soon.

Fergus and Angela did have a short affair after everything came out, but lo and behold, Angela moved on quickly and has since been through many, many partners, all of whom did not work out. I try to limit my interactions with her as much as possible, and keep them only work-related.

The manager who came in has since left and been replaced with another who has their own set of difficulties but I think is seeing Angela for who she really is, which is good, but I don’t foresee bringing this whole situation up to her. Also, because the last couple of supervisors hired by the old manager were so terrible they ended up being let go and investigated, one by the police and one by our internal compliance, as sad to say as it is, their situations make this all look a bit “small potatoes.”

I wish I had a better update, but I think maybe this is just the way workplaces run? (Alison here: It’s not!) I’ve been doing a lot of work recently on digging in to my own feelings of imposter syndrome, self esteem, wanting to protect my team of direct reports, and feeling indebted to the company that moved me into a leadership role, plus not wanting to be the person that moves companies every 2-4 years only to find the same set of issues at every company and how that all relates to me not being willing to leave an environment so clearly toxic. All the while combating my own feelings of burnout and outright fatigue that make the thought of looking for work elsewhere almost impossible.

If nothing else though, it was great to read all the comments, feel the support, and even now looking back to see people so passionate in their responses leads me to believe there are workplaces out there that don’t seep this kind of toxicity into your soul that you can’t see that there would be an alternative! So thank you again for everyone who took the time to respond and offer suggestions! Sorry I didn’t write sooner though, but at the time I just really couldn’t bring myself to!

can you advance professionally without giving up your evenings and weekends?

A reader writes:

I am in my mid-20s and have always thought of myself as an ambitious person. My medium- and long-term goals are to get to positions where I can do important, interesting, and high impact work in my career, and also making enough to comfortably support a family should I choose to have children in the future. At the same time, while I believe in working hard while at work, I also strongly believe that work isn’t everything and that it’s really important to have a full life separate from work.

Something I’ve noticed as my college friends and I have entered the workforce, and also in my own online research, is that it seems like many people in mid- and senior-level positions have poor work-life balance, be they subject-area experts or managers. I understand that as you take on greater responsibilities, it is inevitable you will occasionally have to work later or answer an emergency call in the evening. However, I’m starting to get the impression that it is normal and expected for mid- and senior-level employees to routinely work 50-60+ hour weeks, spend personal time on training or skill development, and always be plugged-in, i.e. answering calls and checking email in the evenings, weekends, and even during vacations.

These impressions are all anecdotal of course, so I’m wondering: Is it normal for people to have to sacrifice work-life balance as they advance in their careers? Is it realistic to want to work in a high impact mid-to-high-level position that doesn’t eat into your personal life to such an extent?

I’m still relatively young and working at the entry-level, where work-life balance is pretty reasonable (at least in my industry), so this question is more of a hypothetical and general inquiry for me at this point, but I am curious what your thoughts on this are.

It really varies by field, but there are lots of fields where you can have a mid-to-high-level position with decent work-life balance and where you’re not expected to be plugged in every evening and weekend. There are also fields where that’s not the case, of course. But it’s not an inherent part of advancing in your career.

Since it’s so field-dependent, let’s survey readers! Readers, if you’re willing to contribute data here, enter the following in the comment section:

  • Your field
  • Your job
  • Whether you’re entry-level, mid-level, or senior (provide whatever context you want on that)
  • Average number of hours you work per week
  • How plugged in you’re expected to be on evenings and weekends and on vacation
  • Any other context you want to add

my boss read my Skype conversations, parental involvement with employees under 18, and more

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

1. My boss read my Skype conversations

Help! My manager read all my Skype conversations between me and a friend at the company. For some context, I am in HR in my first job after college. I’ve been at my current company for a year now, and just received a promotion. Long story short, I made friends with a manager in a different department, who started IMing me fairly regularly. I made the (incredibly stupid) error of getting personal over Skype. There was a situation involving this manager, and he ended up resigning before he was fired. However, they pulled some of his Skype conversations regarding the issue, and therefore my manager (the VP of Human Resources) saw my messages to him. While I didn’t say anything about the company, I did vent about coworkers and express the occasional boredom/online shopping spree.

My boss was incredibly kind when she talked to me about it, did not make it a big deal, and I am not in trouble. However, I want to die of humiliation. I can’t stop thinking about everything that she may have read, and feel as though I should apologize again. As she has already spoken to me about it, should I apologize again and acknowledge that I’m not taking it lightly or leave it be?

Yeah, this is a thing about what you put in Skype, I.M., or any other company-controlled communications. Your manager may never have reason to look at yours, but if they’re looking at the messages of someone who was talking to you, your stuff can end up being seen too.

Honestly, if this was just some occasional venting about coworkers and occasional comments about being bored, it’s not a big deal. Your manager is probably well aware that that’s normal for many good employees. If you were writing about being bored every day or saying really vicious things about colleagues, that would be different — but it doesn’t sound like it’s the case. Sure, it’s not something you would have chosen for your boss to see, but if your boss has any experience with this kind of thing at all (and it sounds like she might), it’s not going to seem outrageous to her. Take it as a good lesson to be more careful, but give yourself permission to let it go. (The initial mortification is useful in cementing the lesson in your head, but it serves no purpose after that.)

2. Parental involvement with candidates/employees who are under 18

You have addressed pretty consistently how to deal with early-career candidates and employees whose parents try to get involved. What about when you are dealing with minors under the age of 18? At my school’s summer camp, counselors-in-training are hired for the summer who are as young as 14 years old. While they are not leading classes, they are paid employees with responsibilities like a regular job. Sometimes parents contact HR or advocate for us to hire their children for a specific position. This is particularly common with parents of alumni at the school. I’m assuming some degree of involvement from parents is expected and necessary but where would you draw the boundaries?

Yes, when you’re dealing with kids as young as 14, it’s reasonable to accept some amount of contact from their parents. But I’d draw the line at letting parents apply for them, or lobby for you to hire them. It’s fine for parents to contact you about things related to their minor children’s well-being (like illness), but you can say that all activities related to applying for the job or actually doing the job (like scheduling) need to come from the kids themselves. I’d also explain that as part of your orientation (using concrete examples — like “if you need to take a day off, we want to hear that from you, not your parent”), so that your counselors-in-training are clear on the expectations.

3. Interviewers seem overly concerned about my creative fulfillment

I am a somewhat recent college graduate (I got my degree in 2016) stuck in a long job search. My degree is in the arts and most of my work history is in that field but at very low-level service type roles. (Think art museum admission sales or Broadway theater usher.) I tried to give my dream a shot, but honestly now all I want is regular hours and a livable wage. So in this most recent job search, I’ve been targeting reception and admin assistant roles at companies in my city. I get plenty of interviews and tons of second interviews but no offers yet.

One question that I have been asked in multiple interviews is how I plan to stay creatively fulfilled if I were offered the role. Right now my answer is to say a quick sentence or two about how I currently keep up with my hobbies on my days off and I expect that would continue. Something like, “I’ve continued weaving on my own time since completing my degree and it’s been a great way to relax in the evening. Occasionally I participate in the local craft fair when I get a Saturday off.”

The interviewer seems satisfied in the moment, but I can’t help but wonder why they’re so interested in my creative fulfillment in the first place. It feels somewhat patronizing to me, like they expect me to try to set up an easel at my desk or whip out a violin during a meeting. My current position is full-time and does not include creative work in any way, and I think that I’m clear when I describe the duties. I already understand that work is work and my creative fulfillment is my own responsibility. Am I giving them the wrong impression? Is there something else they’re looking for me to say?

They’re not worried you’re going to whip out a violin in a meeting. They’re worried you’re going to be bored and unfulfilled by the job — that you really want to be working in the arts and this is a compromise that will make you deeply unhappy, and maybe that you’ll leave in six months to do performance art in the subway full-time.

So the best answer will assure them that’s not the case. For example: “For a while after college I was interested in working full-time in the arts, but I’ve since realized that I don’t want it to be my full-time work life. I still do some creative work on occasional weekends and that’s enough to fulfill me, but I don’t want it to be my professional focus.”

4. Can my boss make me go by my last name?

I am an elementary school teacher, and for the past year and a half I have worked at a private school in a supporting capacity, and have had students, faculty, and parents address me by my first name. Everyone at the school already knows me by my first name. For the upcoming school year, I will be back in a classroom full-time, and I would prefer to still be addressed by my first name. Some of my reasons relate to establishing a good relationship with my students more quickly, and other reasons are more personal. My principal, however, insists that I MUST be addressed by my last name as a classroom teacher despite the fact that I have told her how uncomfortable I am with the change. Can my boss force me to change my name at work?

Your boss can indeed require you to go by Ms. Last Name. I’m not in education so this is just a guess, but I’d suspect she wants the way students address teachers to be consistent, so the kids have one consistent standard for all the adults in the school (and so teachers who do go by Ms. Last Name don’t have to deal with questions from kids about why they can’t call them by their first name like they do with you, and so forth).

Unless your principal explicitly forbids it, though, I don’t see why you couldn’t say to parents who address you by your last name, “Please call me Jane.” (But I also suspect many of them will keep calling you Ms. Last Name, because that’s how their kids refer to you at home.)

5. We’re not allowed to know how long our coworker will be on paternity leave

One of the people on my team (the most junior) recently had a kid and went on paternity leave. He told us he’d be gone for a bit, but didn’t specify how long. One of my coworkers and I are responsible for assigning him work on several projects, so she asked HR to let her know exactly how long he’s going to be out, since obviously we’re not giving him work when he’s on leave (and we mark emails specially if there’s an emergency people on leave need to read about/answer questions about, to help their leave actually be relaxing, since we’re in a field where having to work in emergency situations despite being on leave is fairly common). Asking how long we need to plan to not give our coworker assignments and mark his emails appropriately … seemed extremely non-controversial.

Apparently it wasn’t. HR called my coworker and told her we’re not actually entitled to this information, despite the fact we need it to do our jobs properly (and avoid imposing on a coworker when he’s on leave). Surely, if we’re his supervisors (even if we’re not direct managers) we should be able to know when he’s actually on leave? Or am I completely missing something?

If you’re curious about our organizational structure, it’s basically flat, with more senior people holding the same title as the junior ones, but handling things like direct assignments and some performance reviews (we get compensated for our additional responsibilities). We don’t hire/fire, just provide input, guidance, and course correction where we can. And when he’s on leave, well, we’re the ones who do his work or arrange for his work to get covered by someone else.

That is really odd. Typically when someone goes on parental leave, you’re given at least a rough idea of when they expect to be back (sometimes along with the caveat that it could change). I wonder if something is unusual about your coworker’s situation, like health issues with the baby that are making the length of his leave up in the air. Even if that’s the case, though, the way your HR is handling this is bizarre.

As for what to do, I’d just handle it the way you would if he were out for a typical-length amount of parental leave (in the U.S., that’s often three months, at least for the person who gave birth). If he comes back earlier, you’ll know about it and can adjust accordingly. And if he’s not back after three months, you can check in again. Alternately, you could just assume he’s out indefinitely until you hear otherwise.

how do I explain being fired for sharing confidential info with a friend?

A reader writes:

This is a two-parter:

1. How do I tell potential future employers why I got fired and have them still want to hire me?

2. How do I explain to those potential future employers that the only reason I got fired was because I was ratted out by a coworker for a victimless mistake and was fired unfairly, without sounding defensive?

Here’s the story: I worked for a large government agency, in communications. I was often privy to non-public information because I was designing media campaigns around them.

One piece of information I learned (that has since been announced publicly, but hadn’t been at the time) was SO EXCITING that in a weak moment, I texted one friend about it in celebration. This friend understood the gravity of the information I told her, and I 100% trusted her to not leak it. Let me be clear — she did not leak it. Nothing got out about this before it was supposed to.

However, at the time, I did feel guilty so I confided in an older coworker who I considered a mentor. She was understandably very uncomfortable with what I did, and we had a very nice conversation about our duties as communication officers, and trust, etc. I thought it was over.

Cut to a couple hours later, and I’m called into my boss’s office because she has “heard” that I leaked this information to a SLACK CHANNEL FULL OF JOURNALISTS. Which is so far beyond the truth I’m honestly wondering if this coworker had it out for me the whole time. This was a Friday. On Monday, I was called into a “fact-finding” meeting with HR. I was sent home, and then fired over the phone a few hours later.

I’m of course devastated, and moving on and figuring out my next steps. The anger I hold for my coworker is something I will deal with over time.

But how do I explain this story to future employers? I was fired for technically breaking a rule — but it was my first offense, and nothing bad actually happened, and I’m definitely learned my lesson. There was no warning, no suspension, nothing. I was fired over the phone. Also, am I even allowed to bring up the fact that someone ratted me out? Does that matter? Or does it only matter that I broke a rule?

I wrote back and asked, “Is there more context for why your coworker thought that? Was the friend a journalist, or is there something else that would explain why she said that?” The reply:

Yes, the friend I texted happened to be a journalist but doesn’t cover the area that I was working in. Also, she wasn’t a journalist I ever interacted with professionally — she’s a friend I’ve had for years.

And I did use Slack on my work computer, and I did interact professionally with some journalists who covered my area over Slack. So I guess my coworker could have misunderstood when I said “I texted one friend,” but I wish she would have … talked to me about that first?

Well … it’s possible your coworker just had it out for you, but it sounds more likely that she genuinely misunderstood or that she understood perfectly but thought leaking info to a journalist friend was serious enough to report and then it was your boss who misunderstood the details.

The thing is, it’s a big deal that you were given confidential information and then texted it to a friend. It’s a bigger deal because that friend is a journalist. And you might know that you trust that friend 100% to keep it confidential — but your employer would prefer to make that call themselves, and thought they’d done so when they told you the information couldn’t be shared.

That doesn’t mean you’re a horrible person who should never work again! Everyone messes up. But your framing of this does sound defensive and doesn’t sound like you’re taking responsibility for what happened.

You wrote, “The only reason I got fired was because I was ratted out by a coworker for a victimless mistake and was fired unfairly.” But you weren’t fired because your coworker reported you; you were fired because you broke a serious rule. And calling this “victimless” isn’t a helpful framing; if you do something that’s clearly forbidden and could result in real harm, that’s a problem even if no harm resulted this time. (Drunk driving is an extreme example of this.)

You also weren’t fired for “technically breaking a rule.” You were fired for actually breaking a rule, and a serious one. (It also might be notable that you didn’t originally mention that your friend was a journalist until I asked about it — which makes me think you’re underestimating how much that matters.)

That said, I am curious if there’s other context that explains why they fired you for a first offense without warning you first. It could be that the info you leaked was especially confidential, or that they’ve been concerned about other leaks and are taking a hard-line stance. Or they might have a zero-tolerance policy for leaks as a deterrent. Or it could be about a broader picture — like if you’d had performance issues or other problems that made it easier for them to decide to just part ways. Or, maybe they totally overreacted, who knows — it’s impossible to say from here.

But I think in order to talk about this with future employers, you’ve got to take more responsibility for it. If it comes across like you don’t think it was a big deal or that you blame the coworker for alerting your employer, that’s not going to go over well. That doesn’t mean you need to go into all the details or give a lengthy mea culpa, but you don’t want to sound like you’re minimizing it. That means that you definitely shouldn’t get into anything about anyone “ratting you out”; that would make it sound like you don’t think it really should have mattered.

Instead, you’re better off with something like, “The truth is, I was fired. I’d had excellent feedback up until then (if this is true), but I mistakenly shared some non-public information with a friend outside the agency, and they let me go as a result. While that obviously wasn’t the result I’d have wanted, I learned an important lesson about confidentiality, and it’s not a mistake I’ll ever repeat.”

If there’s anything else you can say about your work there to put this in context — like that you had received a glowing performance review, were taking on increasing levels of responsibility, etc. — you can include that in there too, not as a way to cast doubt on their decision but as a way to indicate this was a fluke, not a pattern of bad judgment.

Good luck!

what to say to an intern who’s chronically late

A reader writes:

I am currently managing an intern on my team. Interns at my organization are unpaid, which I do not agree with, but this does not seem to be changing any time soon. She has very poor timekeeping and is constantly late, often by a significant amount of time. The fact that the position is unpaid is influencing the way I am dealing with this, as I feel uncomfortable about being too stern as she is not being paid. How can I broach the subject? Should I make it clear that I understand she is not being paid but that constant lateness is unprofessional and would not be acceptable in future roles she may have?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My new desk is right next to my manager
  • I thought I was a finalist for a job, but they’ve just reposted the job ad
  • Recruiter asked if I knew anyone who was interested in a job that I’d like
  • Telling the HR director she’s breaking the law