should I be worried by maxed-out company credit cards, an aggressive-driver coworker, and more

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

1. A recruiter got angry that I contacted a company directly

Someone contacted me through LinkedIn and said he was recruiting for an executive assistant role and asked if I had any contacts who might be interested. I used to work as an administrative coordinator with a specific community that the organization he was hiring for also worked with. I asked if he had a job description and any other information about the company, which he provided. The job description was thorough, but it wasn’t on company letterhead and when I checked out the company website, they didn’t have the job posted.

I was starting to worry that this might be a scam. I may just not be used to working with recruiters but I wanted to be sure before I sent it to anyone I knew. He also had the same name as a TV character (think Walter White), which made me a little more suspicious.

This is where I may have messed up. I didn’t think it would be a big deal to contact someone at the company he was recruiting for and just confirm that this was a legitimate position. I left a message with reception and left it at that.

I got an email from the recruiter the next day saying he heard that I had contacted the company and he was obviously hurt and angry. He sent me a rather hostile and condescending message about how this had never happened to him before and he deals in trust, etc. and made it clear he was no longer interested in my help.

I messaged him back apologizing for offending him but said that I’ve known people who were scammed while looking for work, I wanted to be sure this was a real opportunity, I don’t think it was unreasonable for me to contact the company, and I didn’t regret doing it. I got another rude response about how I don’t understand recruiting and then he blocked me.

I know I shouldn’t let this bother me, but I haven’t been working for three years because I had a kid, and I’m starting to think about going back to work. Now I’m sort of dreading the prospect. Was I wrong to have contacted the company? For what it’s worth, I considered applying to the job myself but decided I’m not ready for a full-time job as busy as this one seemed like it would be. At the same time, this company seemed really cool and even if I don’t want to work there now, maybe I will in future and have burned a bridge there.

Lastly, should I inform the company he was recruiting for about the messages he sent me? He didn’t swear or threaten me but he was definitely rude and immature. But I admit that I may just want to tell them because he was a jerk and it cheesed me off. If I was already wrong to contact them in the first place, I should probably quit while I’m ahead.

There are legitimate reasons recruiters are sometimes annoyed if a candidate contacts a company directly, including that the company may have hired them to recruit for a position that isn’t public yet (for example, because it’s a new role/initiative that they aren’t ready to publicize yet, or they’re replacing someone who doesn’t know they’re being replaced — which would also be reasons the job wasn’t listed on their website). Companies also sometimes hire recruiters when they don’t want to be bothered by calls from candidates.

But the recruiter’s reply was ridiculous and over-the-top. He could have simply explained what the issue was (or declined to work with you further if he felt that strongly). Sending you a hostile message about how this had never happened to him before (is he brand new to the work?) was a weirdly intense reaction.

I wouldn’t bother putting energy into informing the company. They know him, they don’t know you, and it risks muddying your name with them a little (even though it shouldn’t). You’re better off just figuring he’s not someone you would want to work with and moving on.

2. Can I do anything about my aggressive-driver coworker?

I work at a campus hospital in a medium-sized city. Sometimes, like everyone else, I encounter rude drivers on my morning commute: people who tailgate, people who cut you off, people who tailgate you until they get the chance to pass you and then cut you off as tightly as possible to express their anger that you were only going three miles above the speed limit in a residential neighborhood — you know, humans! Unfortunately, over the last year, one person has done this so frequently and with such vehemence that I now recognize both his face and his Audi. (Once he passes me, he immediately begins tailgating the next person, and I’ve seen him cut off plenty of other people. So I think this is just the terrible, terrible way he drives.)

Can anyone do anything about this? We work at the same place. We park in the same parking garage. With minimal effort, I could find the name to match that scowling face, and frankly I’d like to make him a custom bumper sticker with a cartoon version of his face and his personal cell phone number printed on it, along with a “how’s my driving” message. Anyway, what I would like even more than that is to just never think about this man again, but instead he pops up at least once a week being a real jerk behind the wheel. The answer is just, “you just have to let this one go,” right? There isn’t even a possible work-related reason this man should have to get his shit together? (Yes I’m autistic, no I can’t ever let anything go, yes OF COURSE I wish that was not the case.)

Yeah, you probably have to let it go. I suppose in theory you could leave a note on his car telling him he’s endangering other people — which would have the subtext of “some of the people you’re tailgating and cutting off are your coworkers, which means you’re not anonymous” — but I’m skeptical it’s going to do much good. If you have campus police, you could potentially alert them but I’m not sure they could do much with the report. Ultimately, there aren’t really good options here. (I do like the bumper sticker though.)

3. Should I be worried about maxed out company credit cards?

I work for a healthcare group that recently got bought out by private investors. It’s been a challenge for a few reasons, but I am nervous about one situation in particular. All the offices share one line of credit for our office credit cards. Most things, including bills, are charged to this account. About two months ago, I had some transactions for supplies decline. I emailed our accounting team and it was resolved in a day, with them stating they needed to pay down the balance.

This month, the same situation happened. I went to charge about $40 to the credit card for supplies, and the card declined. I emailed our accounting team, and no response. A few days went by and more bills were declined. Payments for vital supplies to run the business would not go through. No one responded to my emails questioning this, or emails from another staff member at another office. It took seven days for the card to work again, and no one has addressed what was going on. I’m nervous that the new investors do not have the money to be paying our bills. I do know our office is generating enough money to cover our expenses, but I’m not sure about the other locations. Could this be an indicator of a larger issue? Should this be a big enough red flag to look for another job? I don’t want to wait around if I’m seeing indicators that this business could be going under or is being mismanaged!

Yes, it’s a red flag. Either they’re not investing enough money to keep the business running or their systems are so disorganized that basic things aren’t happening, which means other basic things might not be happening either. (For example, are you going to find out three months from now that your retirement contributions were never deposited?) It’s possible there’s some less alarming explanation, but when payments for vital supplies aren’t going through, there’s a problem. I’d start looking around.

4. My employer hasn’t prepared for my departure

I gave notice two and a half weeks ago that I was resigning from my job for a new opportunity. My boss acknowledged the resignation, and talked about how she’d have a plan in place for my transition. I am now two days from my last day and my transition plan of who will take over my projects is still incomplete! I work in a client-facing role, and less than half of my clients have been reassigned to other client managers. I have clients who do not even know that I am leaving (if I haven’t met with them as recently) or know that I am leaving but still do not have someone to take over the projects from me. I also worry I won’t have time to bring my team members up to speed on the projects or introduce my clients to their new project lead.

What do I do? How much responsibility do I have in this situation? I worry I won’t have time to transition my projects before I go, and I don’t want to leave my clients or coworkers in the lurch because my leadership was ill-prepared.

Ultimately, this is their responsibility, not yours (unless you’re in a senior role where you’d be expected to lead the transition work yourself). That said, in a lot of roles, ideally you would have been taking the initiative on some of this — “here’s a list of my projects and where they stand, we need to train someone on XYZ, these clients still need to be reassigned,” etc. (and then what they did with the info from there, if anything, would be up to them). On the other hand, there are some roles where you wouldn’t even be expected to do that.

At this point, since you’re two days out, I’d give just give your boss a list of all of this and leave it with her; even if you ideally would have done some of it earlier, she’s been more responsible for managing it than you are are.

One thing to think about is how you want to handle clients who still don’t know you’re leaving. If you haven’t been explicitly told not to tell them, in many cases it would make sense to email and let them know (although be aware some companies very much don’t want you to do that without their okay, so you need your know your company on this one).

5. My interviewer offered me a feedback call but then never got back to me

I recently interviewed for a job and got a rejection email. In the email, the interviewer said, “If you would like feedback on your interview please let me know and we can arrange a time to speak.” I was happy to hear that, since I’d really like to get a job at an organization like theirs. I thought the offer to speak was a little strange, since usually I’d expect to get feedback via email if at all, but I went with the way they offered and replied asking when would be a convenient time for them.

This was four days ago and they haven’t replied. I wonder if I should have offered times myself, or suggested receiving the feedback by email to avoid taking up their time. At this point, can I follow up or should I just leave it be?

Sometimes people make offers like this fully intending it at the time but then higher priorities intervene. Other times they make the offer without thinking (sometimes because they’ve seen others make similar offers and haven’t thought through what’s really involved). Who can say which it is in this case, but it would be fine to follow up once after at least a full week has gone by — something like, “Just wanted to check back on this. I know you must be busy but if there’s a time that works for you in the next two weeks, I’d love to take you up on your offer for feedback.” If you still don’t get a response, let it drop at that point.

my boss keeps asking if I’m OK

A reader writes:

My manager is overall a decent boss, and is reasonable and kind. However she has this one habit that has started to eat away at me. She constantly asks if I am okay. Even typing this, it seems so inane/nice, but it is a pattern that is wearing me down.

A couple examples: Once, she asked if I wanted to start a project that she thought of and I respectfully declined, because I told her I had too much on my plate and wanted to wait until I heard back from some clients to take on more things. I thought I was very respectful and maybe a little firm, but figured it was a normal interaction. Then five minutes later, she approached me and said in a concerned voice, “Are you okay?” and it made it seem as though because I disagreed with her on something that I was ill/unwell? Other times I will come into the office and maybe put on my headphones while I do independent work, because I need some quiet. She will then come over to me and ask if I’m okay.

The thing is, even if I am in a bad mood/not okay, I don’t really want to talk to her about it! I just want to do my job, and I am doing my job perfectly well, even on days when I am not super chatty. Should I just get over this or is there a way to bring this up to her?

That’s legitimately annoying! It gets tiring if someone keeps assigning emotions to you that you’re not feeling so you then have to spend energy assuring them that you’re fine and otherwise managing those wrong assumptions.

In your case, it’s particularly interesting that both your examples were your boss asking if you were okay after you set pretty normal and reasonable boundaries — saying your workload was already overwhelming and you didn’t have room for more at that exact moment, and wearing headphones so you could focus. “Are you okay?” in both those contexts sounds like she’s really saying, “I don’t like the boundary you’re setting, so is something wrong with you?”

In fairness, with the workload one, maybe there was more to it. Maybe she wasn’t really asking if you wanted to start that new project, but just assigning it to you and she was taken aback that you declined. In that case, though, it would be on her to clarify what she meant — and ideally also to dig into what was going on with your workload, if you and she had different assessments of its volume.

But since she’s also asking if you’re okay when you’re simply wearing headphones, I think it’s more likely that you dealing with someone who either:

(a) genuinely assumes you’re not okay when you do something that seems different from your usual (“Jane is normally so chatty during the day and also cheerfully takes on new projects; today she’s different so something must be wrong”)

or

(b) is using “are you okay?” as a passive-aggressive way of telling you, “You are doing something that I don’t like.”

Personally, I’d just name it the next time it happens: “You’ve been asking me a lot if I’m okay. Am I doing something that’s making you worry that I’m not?”

Sometimes just asking that can be enough for the other person to realize that repeatedly asking is coming across strangely — or at least is unwelcome — and it can get them to stop. But if it doesn’t, you could also say, “If there’s ever something wrong that you should know about, please know that I’ll tell you proactively. It would be easier on me if we can agree I’ll do that rather than you feeling you need to check.”

You say your boss is otherwise reasonable and kind, so hopefully naming the behavior that’s bugging you will get her to rein it in. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t — but it’s reasonable to give it a shot.

how to give constructive criticism at work

If you’re like a lot of people, having to tell someone their work isn’t good enough can feel awkward, even when the feedback is necessary and constructive — and even if you’re a manager whose job it is to have those conversations. But if you approach it in the right way, asking for changes to someone’s work doesn’t have to be unpleasant for either of you.

At New York Magazine today, I wrote about how to give feedback on a colleague’s work without making it awkward. Head over there to read it.

I’m supposed to share a bed with a coworker on a business trip

A reader writes:

I started a new job recently and was told that there was a department-wide meeting coming up in another city in March. In total, they are flying around 45 people in for two days/one night. As I’m leading one of the sessions, I was in the organizer’s spreadsheet and found a list of people and their assigned rooms, as well as the type of room. I assume I was assigned my roommate based on gender (as a cis female, this itself doesn’t bother me but I see it as problematic as a whole).

I checked online and was shocked to find that the room has one bed. Granted, it looks like two beds pushed together so there’s room to build a pillow barrier (joke) but am I right to be weirded out by this? When I asked the organizer’s assistant about this, she confirmed that the rooms have one bed and a pull out couch. The couch looks like it could fit a 12-year-old. In total, about 15 rooms that are booked are set up this way.

I’m barely one month into the role and am still trying to keep a low profile. I’ve never had to share a room on work trips before but was willing to suck it up for one night. I know that if I say something, I can probably get switched to my own room, but part of me doesn’t want to create a fuss.

In the end, I think I’m fine with the setup and will deal with it for one night. But, I want to let them know that this is not a great way of organizing a company event. Do you have a script so I can tell the organizer and my boss that (1) shared rooms/beds are not okay and (2) room assignment based on gender is not okay? In the future I hope that they can compromise on the 4 star hotel and find something within budget where I’m not sleeping directly next to a colleague. I can’t be the only one feeling this way.

If you’e expected to share a bed with a coworker, that’s not okay, period. It doesn’t matter if you’re willing to do it. It doesn’t matter if they’re trying to save money. Assigning people to share beds with colleagues is beyond the pale.

Now, maybe they are figuring that one person will get the bed and the other will get the pull-out couch. That’s not ideal, but at least it’s less outrageous. It would still be legitimate for you to complain if the couch looks tiny and uncomfortable, but we’d be lowering the scale of outrageousness.

If you’ve decided to deal with it for one night, that’s your call. But please know that if you don’t want to, you would be on very solid ground in saying, “I’ve looked at the room assignments and it looks like we have 30 people sharing beds. Is the expectation that someone in each room will use the pull-out couch? The photos online look like that may be tricky; they look tiny. Can we confirm with the hotel that the pull-out couches comfortably fit adults of various sizes?”

Also reasonable to say, either before or after the trip: “Sharing rooms can be prohibitively difficult for people who have medical needs that require privacy, or who snore or are paired with someone who snores, or have specific sleeping needs, or who simply need privacy at the end of a long work day.”

Also reasonable to say: “I’m not comfortable sharing a room with a coworker.” Caveat: be aware that there are some industries where room-sharing is common, as wild as that seems to people outside these fields. If you’re in one of them, you can still say this but you’d want to be aware of that context when you do.

I’m leaving gender out of these scripts because I don’t think it’s the strongest argument for you to use. They’re undoubtedly looking at gendered room assignments as similar to single-sex locker rooms or bathrooms; we have a bunch of social customs built around the idea that you can share intimate space with people of the same sex. That’s still problematic for all sorts of reasons (like the existence of trans people) but it’s likely to sidetrack from the core point, which is that people shouldn’t have to share rooms, period.

This is all a bit harder because you’re so new, but these are very reasonable boundaries to draw even when you’re new. You also might ask around to some coworkers and find out if this set-up is typical when the company books travel and if other people are as weirded out as you are. If they’re not, you can still raise it — but if you find other people willing to speak up with you, all the better.

are managers “deeply concerned” if you ask for feedback, I got in trouble for saying I didn’t want to be “a dick,” and more

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

1. Are managers “deeply concerned” if you ask for feedback?

A while back, I took an advanced class in a topic I’d never studied, but still within my department. I mentioned this to the professor before committing. This was a small class (~10 students) and as typical for such small advanced-level classes in my department, we’d received no feedback or grades a month and a half in. (The general assumption is if you show up and are engaged in the material, you’re getting an A, since you’re there because you’re genuinely interested.) A couple of days before the drop deadline, I emailed the professor with what I assumed was a routine clarification on how I was doing in her class (since this was a new topic to me) because if I wasn’t doing well, I’d rather drop the class.

Well. That was a mistake. I got a blistering email back about how she had thought I was doing well, but clearly she had been mistaken and if she was wrong about that, what else was she wrong about? This professor had always been blunt, but the email was vicious and I was left nearly in tears. I talked to her after the next class to clear up whatever miscommunication had happened, trying to say that I was just looking for some feedback because I’d never taken this subject before, but she talked over me the whole time, saying things like: “all this haggling about grades is why so many professors quit” and “you have to be able to judge your own work” and “if I were your manager and I got that email from you, I would’ve been deeply concerned about your performance.” (In my head, I was thinking: “if you were my manager, I would’ve run the other way.”)

This tale has an unsatisfactory conclusion. She emailed all the students with feedback the next week in the vein of “I need a record of this in case somebody complains” and the rest of the semester went downhill. I never did stop flinching at new emails from her in my inbox. Was there something better I could have done to resolve this situation? Was this just a crazy scenario that I would never encounter in the professional world? Is there a way of asking for feedback from these kinds of people without causing them to erupt? Or was this a red flag and my instincts to run were right? (I and my GPA sorely regret not dropping that class when I could.)

What on earth. Whatever your professor was reacting to, I don’t think it was about you. You asked a very reasonable and mild question! She’s also dead wrong about work: It’s very, very normal to ask your manager for feedback about how you’re doing if you’re not getting much. In fact, it’s something I recommend! The idea that a manager should be “deeply concerned” about someone’s performance because they asked for feedback is astoundingly backwards; asking for feedback tends to be the mark of someone who’s conscientious and wants to do a good job! Certainly if someone is asking multiple times a day and if, after repeated guidance, can’t assess whether routine work is hitting the mark or not, that could be a problem — but that’s the only point where “you have to be able to judge your own work” would come into it.

Asking once about how you’re doing overall? Your professor was a nut. If I were her manager and she reacted this way to an employee requesting feedback, I’d be deeply concerned about her (and that’s an understatement).

2. How do I recharge with physical touch at work?

I’m currently working to get my master’s degree, and I’m about halfway through my final internship at a care facility. I enjoy the work and the team. Regardless, it’s still a lot! Especially with my university homework taking up a lot of my free time, I’m starting some weeks feeling a lot more stressed/tired than others.

In my personal time I recharge by connecting with my loved ones, and I’m huge on physical touch — I’ve always been a hugger and a hand-holder. Having (non-work-related) chats with my coworkers over lunch definitely helps fill my bucket back up halfway through the day, but recently, it’s not been enough. I feel fully empty before the workday is over and find myself craving some kind of physical touch or pressure.

Hugging my coworkers doesn’t exactly seem like an option! I own some large plushies that I sometimes chill on the couch with, but I don’t think that’s an acceptable substitute for in office either. Maybe a neutral pillow of the same size to have on my lap could work, but that still feels a bit too unusual (especially for an intern). Is there another option? Am I gonna have to find a different way to recharge my battery? Or am I overthinking and would a pillow be fine actually?

A pillow might be fine (definitely not a bed pillow, but something more like a throw pillow) but it would still be pretty unusual in some offices, and, particularly if you’re new to the work world, it risks looking … odd. Can you look for other ways to recharge? Since physical touch is an important piece of it, would something like squeezing a stress ball help?

3. I got in trouble for saying I didn’t want to be “a dick”

During an audit I conducted last week, I referenced that I didn’t want to be “a dick” about a finding. (This was not in a report and was just part of conversation regarding some of the findings we had during the audit.) The auditees reported me to my company and I got disciplined. Is this even a legit disciplinary?

Were the auditees from an external client or were they internal colleagues? Either way, it’s legitimate for your company to say that they don’t want you using “dick” in professional conversations — but it’s extra understandable for them to think it was bad judgment to say to an external client.

That said, if it was to internal colleagues, formal discipline seems excessive; they could simply tell you not to say it again and consider the message delivered.

4. My coworker wants to know if I’m applying for a job she really, really wants

Over the past several months, a coworker has shared with me and others that she wants a position many people suspected would open up soon. She had originally applied and interviewed for the position a couple of years ago but did not get it. I (and other team members) were on the interview committee. So she has wanted this job for a long time.

The role opened up last week. My coworker immediately stated her intent to apply to some of us on the team. She highlighted her experience doing the work associated with the role and her deep interest in many parts of the work. Over the last few months when she has talked about this, I’ve tried to mostly stay quiet. I’m all for people going after what they want. And I can see a number of strengths she has that would be well suited for the open position. However, in the event that I’m asked to be on the interview committee, I want to evaluate all candidates as fairly as possible.

My coworker messaged me asking if I plan to apply for the role. I immediately felt uncomfortable. I had no intention of applying for it. But if I had, I don’t know that I would want to share that information with someone who has been saying for months how qualified they are and how badly they want the position. Well, after receiving her message I was strongly encouraged to apply. I haven’t decided what I’ll do, but I did promise to give it some thought.

What should I say to my coworker? I haven’t made up my mind. It doesn’t feel right to ignore her. But it also feels intimidating to be asked such a question in this scenario. Oh and to make matters more complicated, my coworker would be a direct report of whoever steps into the role.

Yeah, against that backdrop your coworker’s message feels very much like, “Are you going to compete with me for this thing you know I badly want?”

She’s put you in an awkward position and, because of that, I would consider not replying. She’s not entitled to the information, after all! But if you don’t want to do that or assume she’ll just confront you in person if you do, stay as bland as possible: “I’m not sure. I think we all owe to ourselves to consider opportunities that come along, but I don’t know yet.”

If she flips out on you in response, consider having a discreet word with your manager about it — because she can/should explain to your coworker that she can’t call dibs on a job, and trying to intimidate other people out of applying isn’t a move that will strengthen her candidacy.

5. My employer got rid of salary bands

I work at a private university. The university as a whole has 11 “grades” with salary ranges. But the library — which has about 500 staff — has decided that, from now on, we aren’t using the grades. Instead, we have one giant band for all the non-unionized individual contributors, and one giant band for all the managers. Both bands are the same, and quite broad: $65k-$170k. Unionized library staff, and the rest of the university, still have narrower grades. The announcement said, “A single band will allow for more accurate salary reviews and monitoring of pay equity going forward.”

But — how will collapsing the grades into one new band that covers everyone make salary reviews and monitoring more accurate? Not being an HR expert, I would have thought that you’d monitor pay equity by comparing the people in band A to each other, and comparing the people in band B to each other, etc., and also considering whether people with marginalized characteristics are “stuck” in lower bands. Or you could do it by years of experience — but even in that case, I don’t see how the existence of multiple bands would somehow make that approach harder or less accurate.

Does the stated explanation make sense? Is this a good practice? I can’t imagine that it will make it easier to recruit new hires, now that the salary range is so large as to be meaningless. And I’m certainly upset that the raises I thought I could expect, based on my progress through the grades, are now apparently in question. But I don’t have a lot of trust or confidence in the organization — maybe that is poisoning my reaction to a reasonable change?

No, by having everyone in one massive band, they’ve essentially opted out of using pay bands at all. The claim that this will make it easy to monitor pay equity is nonsensical; they’re removed a tool to do it. They’ve also decreased salary transparency; you now have no idea what any given job should pay or what the pay potential is for a particular job. They’ve given themselves maximum flexibility while giving employees minimum info.

update: I have to go to an awkward Valentine’s Day work dinner right after a breakup

Remember the letter-writer who had to go to an awkward Valentine’s Day work dinner right after a breakup? Here’s the update.

I decided to attend the dinner, and it was actually even more painful than I thought it would be BUT I was totally professional and represented my organization well. I had decided to see it as a challenge, and I stuck to my plan.

I appreciate everyone’s support.

I think it was the perfect storm of:
1) I had just gone through a breakup, and the conference happened to fall during that week.
2) I live and work in a very conservative area in which people get married young, delight in being married, and work hard on their marriages. Marriage and family are central to everyone’s life here (and they would be to mine if I had been so fortunate), and so being away on Valentine’s Day was a big deal. Absolutely everyone at the conference was married except for me. That’s not unusual for this area.
3) The conference was in a nearby city that is a fun and desirable destination that not many folks with families would be able to afford, so this was a huge treat for everyone. Spouses were thrilled to attend.
4) This conference and this particular dinner were critical to the company’s success, and my grand boss sent ME to the conference specifically so that I could make important contacts with three outside professionals who could only attend that night’s dinner.
5) I’ve noticed a trend in recent years of workplaces trying to include everyone’s family or at least their personal lives. I’m not a huge fan of that, but it’s the reality for many of us.

The dinner was rough. Unfortunately, try as I did, I still ended up being alone at a table of couples. Most people noticed and made a big deal about it, even though I was trying to avoid being noticed. It was awful. I wish I could say otherwise. I felt humiliated.

Still, I had determined to face it and hit a home run for my company, because I thought: What do you want the outcome to be of this in one month? One year? Five years? With this mindset, I decided to attend and make it not just “work” …  but to hit a home run. And I did that.

As for the future, I don’t think this particular “perfect storm” will happen at work again, so I think I’ll just do nothing going forward, as there’s no need.

Thanks, again, Alison and readers! I kept thinking of all of you and your kind words, and it got me through it.

my employee is hassling coworkers about their clothes

A reader asks:

I hired a new team member, “Jane,” six months ago. She’s competent and diligent, but now that she’s coming out of her shell, her rigidity around her idea of professional norms are alienating her team members as well as other people on staff:

* She complains about women colleagues’ workwear for being too revealing. It’s not.

* She is offended by cursing in the office — she is firmly against it to the point of lecturing other employees. There’s a sales environment in our office and the occasional profanity or swear is common and fine here.

* She is thin-skinned and takes personal offense at seemingly everything. She has been offended by people asking her to repeat something she said, at being given a solution to a problem that she brought forward, at other colleagues having personal conversations around her, but not including her, and other normal, innocuous interactions in a workplace.

I see people pulling away from Jane because she takes a lot of energy to deal with. Everyone is busy, and it’s a lot for one person to be consistently on the verge of tears after every interaction and asking for private meetings to discuss how her feelings were hurt, and no one wants to be lectured because they dropped an F-bomb or a woman wore a skirt that fell above her knees.

One team member, Margie, has been a constant target of Jane’s lectures. Margie has a lot of stock at this company because she’s results-oriented and her projects are highly successful. She also uses profanity and wears clothing that’s more daring than Jane’s modest dress. Jane has made it clear that she thinks Margie is unprofessional. This flies in the face of 1) our company culture, in which Margie is fine and normal and 2) reality — Margie has been working in this field for longer than Jane, and Jane could learn a lot from Margie, particularly when it comes to building productive and lasting relationships with many different kinds of people.

Jane constantly asks how she can move up the ladder and get a promotion. Her work is fine, but she’s losing credibility among her colleagues and Margie has already been to HR to discuss the gendered harassment she receives from Jane. I know as a manager I’ve messed up by letting it get this far, but I don’t know how to manage her. I’ve had conversations with Jane about focusing more on her work and less around policing the clothing and language of those around her, and she seems to understand but then goes back to her old behavior.

At this point, I’m worried that we’re heading towards a PIP, and I’d like some strategies to avoid that, particularly around her issues with policing women for their bodies, clothing, and language. I’m a 30something male and maybe this isn’t even the right tack for me to take.

I answer this question 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.

my coworker doesn’t want me to have a communal candy dish because of temptation

I’m off for the holiday, so here’s an older post from the archives. This was originally published in 2019.

A reader writes:

I keep a candy dish on my desk – have done so for years. It’s communal. I often fill it. Others contribute. It sits alongside some Aleeve and Tums that are also communal. Lots of people express happiness that it is there. Many people say they enjoy the candy. It can go long stretches being empty. The last few weeks it’s been filled with chocolate kisses.

Twice in the last week I have come in to find the candy dish removed from my desk and placed in one of my desk drawers. Last time it was placed in there empty. This time it still had a few remaining pieces of candy in it.

Annoyed, I removed it from the drawer and placed it back on my desk where others can access it. I said, out loud (it’s an open floor plan, you can easily be heard), that people needed to stop removing things from my desk and hiding them in my drawer.

One coworker then turned and joked, “That’s for fat people like me.” And I responded, being sure to remove any hint of jest from my voice, “Seriously, it’s not okay to keep removing things from my desk.”

At that point, another coworker who sits two desks over, walks over and says, “I moved it because you weren’t here and I’m trying to not eat unhealthy things and I can’t when I can see it.” To which I responded that it wasn’t okay to keep removing things off of someone else’s desk — that they’re not just there for me, that they’re for the community and I would appreciate if she stopped removing my candy dish from my desk.

She then said that she couldn’t refrain from eating unhealthy things and that seeing them made her want to eat them and therefore she needed to hide them. And that if they were out while I was at my desk, she would leave them because I may want to eat them, but if I wasn’t at my desk (and I do go stretches without being at my desk for a few days) that she needed them hidden and would continue to remove them.

I said that was unacceptable, and that it just wasn’t okay to go moving things around on someone else’s desk. And furthermore, you can’t remove all temptation. She can’t just move the vending machine or the snack store in the building. To which she responded, “Well, if they’re for the community, how about I just throw them all away instead when you leave them out.” To which I said, “I think you should reconsider going onto someone else’s desk and removing items intended for the community, including throwing them away.” And she said, “I think you should reconsider keeping them out.” Then she sat back down.

I will concede that perhaps I was quick to get annoyed that someone kept removing/moving things on my desk. But it’s my desk and it felt like a bit of an invasion to have someone moving items around — it’s the opening the desk drawer part that I think actually bothered me (even though there is nothing secret or of value inside).

Second, given some extenuating circumstances, I would be willing to be cooperative about displaying food items. For example, if you just developed a peanut allergy, I would refrain from including peanut M&Ms anymore since they would be a temptation for someone dealing with a serious health issue.

In a previous complaint about the candy, she brought nuts and filled the dish with nuts. I — a person who doesn’t like nuts — was happy to have the dish to host nuts for a period of time.

But it just strikes me — and this where I might be wrong so please tell me if so — that one person’s inability to deal with temptation doesn’t justify denying everyone access to my candy dish or that someone should feel free to move things on my desk as they please. They’re not presenting any harm. They don’t smell (which is a problem with another coworkers desk). This strikes me as a not my problem, your problem, situation that I shouldn’t be expected to accommodate. And escalating to threaten to throw my candy away seems childish and petty, and makes me want to make clear to her that such action would be out of line.

Am I being unreasonable by demanding that my candy dish be left alone on my desk? Or am I being unreasonable by insisting my coworker continue to work two desks over from a bowl of candy of which she could partake? Should I say something to her making clear it’s not okay to throw my candy away? Would I just escalate further if I go buy more candy and ensure it’s never empty?

What I’m about to write might be a lot of words to devote to a small problem, but I think it touches on big issues in interesting ways: how we coexist in a shared space where we’re captive audiences to other people and their stuff, what we can and can’t ask of people sharing that space with us, and what battles are worth fighting with colleagues, even when we’re right.

And to be clear, you are in the right. It’s perfectly okay for you to put communal candy out on your desk, just like it would be okay to leave baked goods in the kitchen with a “please help yourself” note or, as you noted, for your company to stock vending machines with snacks for whoever wants them. Not everyone will want your candy, or those baked goods, or the offerings in the vending machine, and the solution is for them to pass those items by, not to insist on removing them from their sight and depriving others of them.

That said, I suspect you might have responded to your coworker’s request if she had made it in a different way. What if she had come to you and said, “I’m sorry to ask this because I know a lot of people enjoy the communal candy, but I’m really trying to avoid temptation right now and for some reason that candy dish breaks my willpower like nothing else. Would you be open to keeping it in your drawer instead, and letting people know they can go in there to get candy if they want it? Or moving it to the kitchen, so it’s not right in my line of sight all day?” You still might have been a little annoyed, and it’s still a bit high-maintenance, but I bet you would have been way more sympathetic to her — and more inclined to work with her to come up with a solution.

So your coworker is in the wrong in two ways here: first, in thinking she can insist you not have a communal candy dish and second, in the way she’s handling it.

But it doesn’t necessarily follow that because she’s wrong and you’re right, you should dig in your heels. This is work and you need to get along with people, and entering a battle with her over candy may not be the wisest course — and in particular, may look like a questionable way to spend energy to other people who happen to witness it.

One different option is to say to your coworker, “I’m sorry it’s tough to see it! But so many other people enjoy it that I don’t want to get rid of it entirely. How about I block it from your view by putting it behind these hanging folders in the corner of my desk instead, so you’d have to go out of your way to see it?”

If that doesn’t work … well, you don’t have to do anything more to accommodate her. But it sounds like she’s going to keep putting it in your desk, or possibly outright throw away the candy, so the smartest move (that avoids you getting sucked into a massive battle over candy) might be to just start keeping it in your drawer instead, and let people know that’s where it is. (And I know you said you felt weird about her opening your drawer, but you’ll probably feel differently if you establish that as the candy drawer.)

But don’t escalate by increasing how much candy you’re buying — that’s entering into a battle you don’t want to be in at work. You want people to see you as “our awesome graphic designer” (or whatever), not as “the person so invested in providing candy at work that she went to war with a coworker over it.”

You can be right, and still not be in a situation where it’s worth fighting.

coworkers have a mean group chat, company won’t tell us who’s been laid off, and more

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

1. Coworkers have a mean group chat about another colleague

I work adjacent to a group of mid-level managers in a customer service department. We share a similar job title, and my team supports their group (think management, training, quality, etc.).

This group of other managers can be cliquish. A group of five or six have gone on weekend trips together. Almost half in the group of 12 know someone else in the group from a previous job. I prefer to keep work and personal separate, so aside from an occasional happy hour—usually with people at my boss’s level or higher also in attendance—I keep things friendly but separate at work. There are managers who aren’t included in the cliques who feel left out sometimes, but then there is one manager, Pete.

Pete is my least favorite manager to work with and I find him off-putting (filling the screen with his face in meetings, speaking to adult interview candidates like they’re children, not being able to work without constant direction), but I honestly believe he’s completely unaware of how he’s perceived. He genuinely thinks he’s amazing and a fantastic employee.

Pete is not in the cliques, but the other managers pretend like he is. As a joke, Pete gets kudos after he presents at meetings (so poorly that the presentation had to be re-done). He’s told how cool his shirt or hair looks (when it’s 20 years out of date). He gets hyped up when he volunteers for things because he’ll be “so great at that!” (aka, they know they’ll get to watch him bumble around).

Recently I was voicing frustrations to my boss about Pete’s work on a project, and the behavior of the other managers came up in the conversation. I said something along the lines of, “I find myself at extremes with him. I’m either infuriated or I’m feeling upset on his behalf because of how he gets treated.”

My boss asked for details, and I shared what I’ve shared with you, as well as that some of the other managers have a separate chat to talk about Pete. They post pictures taken of him looking silly on Zoom meetings, laugh at what he says in chats, etc. I’m not sure if that’s the sole purpose, but it’s definitely going on. I was told about the chat a while ago, and I truly don’t remember who told me about it or whether it was on our company Slack or via group text.

My boss has taken the information to HR because, unbeknownst to Pete, it’s creating a hostile work environment. Is it a hostile work environment? Should I have gone to HR myself? I’m in agreement with going to HR, and my boss and I talked about it beforehand, but I’m curious what your take on this is.

“Hostile work environment” is a legal term that doesn’t just mean people are being hostile — it means the hostile conduct is based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information. Could one of those factors be in play here? If not, it’s not a hostile work environment in the legal sense — but it’s still very much one in the colloquial sense! Your coworkers are being truly horrible, and your manager is absolutely right to want to put a stop to it. Pete may be difficult to work with, but creating a whole separate chat to mock him? Complimenting him when they really mean the opposite? This is the behavior of 11-year-old bullies, and if I learned about this as their boss I’d be seriously contemplating whether I could keep any of the perpetrators on. (And these are people in management roles?! It’s prohibitive for any employee, but particularly so for managers. I’m also wondering what’s going on with their manager, who somehow doesn’t realize or doesn’t care what’s happening below her?)

Anyway, this certainly isn’t your fault but yeah, ideally you would have spoken up earlier, to your own boss or to HR, because this is so beyond the pale. It sounds like you’ve been trying to stay out of it, but when there’s targeted, systemic cruelty going on, you should speak up.

2. My boss seems annoyed by the travel schedule he agreed I could have

I took a new job (fully remote) about six months ago, and told them before I accepted that I travel six weeks a year (one to two weeks at a time). My boss agreed, saying I could do a combo of PTO and work “flexibly on my own time” (I only receive three weeks of vacation). I said multiple times by Zoom and email that I travel to other time zones and continents, and while I’ll be available by email I won’t be able to Zoom or respond immediately. He agreed completely.

Turns out, now I get a real sense that he actually doesn’t love my travel. He doesn’t say outright that I can’t travel, but he keeps bringing it up as if he is confused and seems to forget dates I’ll be gone (I have to remind him repeatedly as I see him scheduling live Zoom meetings).

Travel is a priority for me, and I took a lower pay with this job because of the promise of flexibility. If push came to shove, I’d quit this job if I can’t travel (though I like it and do good work, so don’t want to quit). Any advice on how to approach this with my boss? I don’t want to feel guilty taking time off or working flexibly/different time zones, as this is something I brought up before accepting the offer and thought we were on the same pack on.

In situations like this, I’m a big fan of naming what you’re seeing and asking about it. For example: “Before I came on board, we talked a few times about the fact that I travel six weeks a year and would sometimes be in other time zones or unavailable to respond immediately. Since I’ve been here, though, I’ve been getting the sense that the arrangement isn’t working for you. Is there something you want me doing differently?”

The danger in just bluntly asking something like this is that it could prompt your boss to say, “Yeah, this isn’t working.” And if you needed to keep the job at all costs, this might not be the approach to take. But otherwise — and particularly when you’re willing to walk away from the job over it — it’s generally useful to bring this kind of simmering issue right up to the surface so you can hash it out and figure out if the set-up can work for both of you or not. Maybe it can’t! But maybe there are tweaks you could make that would solve most of the problem (or maybe simply talking it through will remind him of what he agreed to, or so forth).

Related:
my boss is annoyed by the flexible schedule she already agreed to

3. My company announces employees’ babies … but skipped mine

My company handles employees’ new babies the same way for everyone: after a baby is born, and whenever the parents have time to send pictures (usually 1-2 weeks after the baby is born), an announcement is placed on the intranet and included in a weekly company announcement email. The announcements are all pretty brief and uniform — “Valentina and her family welcomed baby Winifred on March 2nd. Mom and baby are doing well!” plus a few pictures.

I had my second baby in July. He was born with a birth defect that required surgery when he was two days old. He then spent 18 days in the NICU recovering. Fortunately, he is now doing great!

A few days after I gave birth, an HR person reached out to ask if everything had gone okay with filing for short-term disability. She also asked if I had any pictures they could include in the announcement. I emailed back that we were in the NICU, and I would appreciate them holding the announcement until we were home. I never heard back, which I chalked up to her wanting to give me space during a difficult time.

When my son came home, I emailed the HR person to let her know that we were home. I shared that I’d love to have an announcement made about my son’s birth. I sent a few pictures and even drafted the exact wording of the announcement, since I figured she wouldn’t know whether or not I wanted the NICU information included. (The announcement was super brief, didn’t include mention of the NICU, and followed the announcement formula I shared above. I just didn’t address the fact that there were a few weeks in between when I had the baby and when the announcement was being made.) I never heard back, but I was on maternity leave and not thinking much about work, so I let it go.

When I got back to work, I realized that the announcement never got made. I work remotely, so there wasn’t a big “she’s back from maternity leave! How’s the baby?” type moment. As I continued seeing people on Zoom meetings post-leave, it was clear that some of them noted the lack of announcement and were not sure if/how to ask about my baby. This has contributed to a weird lack of acknowledgment at work around my baby — it’s extremely different from the way people asked about my older son when I came back from my first maternity leave, and from how other people’s babies get asked about and discussed at work.

It’s been many months now, and the lack of announcement was presumably just an oversight, possibly coupled with some HR confusion or discomfort around the NICU situation. I keep thinking I should just let this go, but every time another new birth announcement comes up, it makes me really sad. My son is super cute, and I want to show people pictures! And while his first few weeks were tumultuous, his birth was a joyous occasion, and deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated like any other birth.

Given that my son is now seven months old and I’ve been back at work for four months … is it too late to address this with the HR person who coordinates these announcements? I’m almost certainly making this a bigger deal than it needs to be because it taps into a lot of feelings I have about my son’s birth and things going so differently than expected in so many ways … so I would appreciate an impartial person weighing in here.

It’s not too late! Contact the person and be direct: “I’m sure it was an oversight, but Henry’s birth never got announced on the intranet or in the weekly announcements email. I’ve been getting the sense that, because it hasn’t been announced, people aren’t sure if they can ask me about him or if he’s okay. I know it’s late, but could we send out the announcement now? I’d like to clear up the confusion, and it would mean a lot to me to announce him now.”

4. My company won’t tell us who’s been laid off

I’m in a large tech company that has gone through several rounds of layoffs. After every round, it’s always been a difficult scramble to figure out who has been impacted and who hasn’t, with most updates happening through word of mouth, crowdsourced documents by those who are left, or just pinging someone directly and getting an error message. It’s frustrating, severely hinders our productivity, and it’s honestly upsetting!

Leadership at many levels has been asked if we could get a list of those impacted (even just within our department), but the response is typically that it’s a personal matter and it’s not the company’s news to share out of respect for those individuals. My teammates and I are having trouble taking this at face value. Many of us have been impacted in previous rounds and will be officially laid off in a few months, the only way we found out who else was in the same boat is through a voluntary crowdsourced document.

Is there a legal or practical reason the company can’t share an internal list of who has been laid off? I think this is standard practice, but I’m having trouble understanding the logic behind it.

No, they’re being ridiculous. There’s no legal or practical reason they can’t share a list of who’s been laid off, and there are all sorts of practical reasons why they should — like so that you know if a contact you’re relying on is no longer there, if work needs to be reassigned, if that request you sent to Bob last week is never going to be answered, and on and on.

The idea that it’s not their news to share out of “respect” for the people laid off is silly. It’s their news to share because it has direct and significant impact on your workflows, projects, and productivity. And it’s not disrespectful to share staffing changes; if anything, it’s disrespectful to those of you remaining to leave you to piece it together on your own.

Related:
our office won’t tell us in advance when people leave – and sometimes won’t confirm or deny if someone still works here

5. What to say when you quit your job to start freelancing

This seems silly to ask, but I’ve never done it before, and I think getting in my own head is tripping me up. I have a lot of freelance work at the moment and am considering leaving my job to take on more. But I keep getting stuck on how to quit. My boss is lovely and knows I’ve not been happy in the role lately, so I don’t think she’ll be 100% shocked, but I’ve also assured her things are fine now (they’re not, but I’m managing).

I’ve never quit a job without a very specific reason to leave before, so that’s part of the problem. How do I give two weeks notice when I don’t have a job I’m about to leave for? It feels wrong that I told my boss things were better when I am frantically looking for a way out the door.

It’s not wrong that you told your boss things were better but now have decided to leave. You’re allowed to change your mind, and it’s not uncommon for people’s thinking to evolve and to feel for a while that a situation is manageable and then decide at some point that it’s not. (Or if you’re feeling guilty because you never felt the situation was manageable and you’ve been working on getting out this whole time … well, that’s how employment goes sometimes. It’s often smarter not to tell the person who controls your paycheck that you’re working on leaving until you’re actually ready to do it. If your boss is as lovely as you say, at some level she’ll realize that the power dynamics inherent in your relationship mean that total transparency isn’t a reasonable thing for a manager to expect.)

When you leave, you could say it this way: “I really appreciate the ways you’ve tried to make this work. I’ve realized I’m ready to move on to something new and my last day will be (date).” She’ll probably ask where you’re going and it’s fine to say you’re going to move to full-time freelancing. Because that means you have more control over your ending date than if you were going to a new company, she might ask if you’ll give longer notice, but — assuming you don’t want to do that — it’s fine to say, “Unfortunately, I can’t without losing projects that I’ll need to start right after that.”

weekend open thread – February 17-18, 2024

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand.

Here are the rules for the weekend posts.

Book recommendation of the week: Come and Get It, by Kiley Reid. The lives of a college RA, three dorm roommates, and a visiting writer intertwine in surprising ways. It’s about race, money, bad choices … and it’s so, so good.

* I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.