my new coworker is the guy who naked-manned me on a Zoom date

A reader writes:

Life has given me a cruel and hilarious plot twist and I’m at a loss of what to do or how to address it. Back in 2020, peak pandemic times, I was doing what many singles did and went on virtual dates with people through apps. One particularly memorable Zoom date was a guy who just randomly started taking his clothes off. Didn’t ask, no indication of why, just … started disrobing. He legit was naked-manning me (How I Met Your Mother clip to explain). At no point was the conversation flirty or sexual in nature — in fact, it wasn’t going well at all.

We had made dinner in our respective kitchens on Zoom, and after eating I was drinking wine and he was making himself cocktails while we talked about our interests, family life, the typical early dating topics. Then suddenly, he just took off his shirt out of nowhere while I was talking about my family or friends. I stopped and said, “Uh, what’s going on here?” and he just shrugged and ignored the question, and said he was going to relocate. So I kept talking thinking it was weird, but whatever, people can be quirky or maybe his AC went out. He started walking back to his bedroom and next thing I know he literally dropped his basketball shorts on the camera and plopped down on his bed in his boxer briefs. I made a comment about it not being that kind of date and suggested clothing stay on, he didn’t acknowledge it and started talking about his family, so I pretty immediately after that noped out of there with a “it’s late, gotta go” for fear of my eyeballs being subjected to the full monty without any kind of warning, and never talked to him again.

That is, until the first day of my new job. Two minutes before joining my first team introduction call, I looked at the org chart and saw that not only is he in my organization, he’s on my immediate team. I swiftly played dumb during the team call, and just pretended to have no idea who he is. He seemed to take the same approach for now.

Sadly, I’ll have to work with him somewhat and he’s the most tenured on the team for questions and internal processes.

My question to you is, how on earth would you handle this going forward? Do I tell anyone? Do I address it with him?


I once had a date do this in-person. We were at his apartment for a drink after dinner and I was standing looking at his books and when I turned back around … yeah.


I very much hope he remembers you and is humiliated … but sadly, I suspect he’s oblivious. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s done this so much that he doesn’t even have a clear memory of doing it to you.

In a world where I controlled all things, he would be mortified and apologize to you and every other woman he’s attempted to push a non-consensual strip tease on and perhaps would voluntarily retire himself from society for his remaining years. In this world, though, most likely he’s either going to pretend it never happened or he’s going to hit on you again at some point. The former is preferable, so let’s hope for that.

As for what you should do … I wish you had better options, but treating him like you don’t recognize him at all is probably your best one. If you pick up on any weirdness or creepiness — if he’s doing anything that makes you uncomfortable or your experience at work less pleasant — at that point it’s reasonable to seek assistance from either your boss or HR, explaining the history. But as long as he’s treating you the way you’d expect from any other new colleague, both of you acting as if the Zoom debacle didn’t happen is likely your easiest path.

employee gave me a scathing letter when he resigned

A reader writes:

For the last three years, I have been running a consulting company which grew off the back of a long career in my industry. Last September, I hired an account manager to free up my time for business development. He is new to my industry but has relevant experience in another field and was full of ideas which I loved.

He recently handed in his notice, along with a scathing personal breakdown of everything he feels I do wrong with the business. Things that I’ve included him in and we’ve actively discussed together at length — project management, workloads, outsourcing, etc. The catalyst was that we’re advertising for a part-timer to help reduce burnout and it’s made him feel undermined as he feels he can take on that work. This decision was discussed before advertising the role and no concerns were raised. The tasks that role will cover are very junior and I want his focus elsewhere. He is my only full-time employee (there are four of us).

I don’t want to end our relationship negatively, but his response was so unexpected and rude that I’m truly taken aback. I’m by no means perfect but I felt like we’ve had a great working relationship up to this point. How do I acknowledge his feedback while also letting him know that the personal criticism is totally unfair and uncalled for? Ultimately he’s leaving and this response feels very emotional so I’m not sure if I should respond to this at all.

I answer this question — and two 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:

  • employee chats on the phone with a coworker under guise of work
  • why aren’t shorts considered business wear?

my coworker is bringing his kid to work and on Zoom calls … but the rest of us are paying for child care

A reader writes:

Even posing this question, I am asking myself: AITA?

A colleague of mine had his first child during the pandemic. Obviously, like parents worldwide (myself included), he was at a loss for childcare. During that time we all worked from home, and children, pets, and partners appeared in and out of Zoom screens. My colleague had the benefit of having a family member (not the child’s other parent) provide primary care for the child in their home, an arrangement that continues to this day.

Three years on, however, we are back to work in a hybrid way. My colleague continues to have his child cared for at home, and the now toddler still regularly appears in Zoom meetings. My issue is that my colleague’s family member is sometimes unavailable. And on days my colleague is required to come into the office, he brings his toddler to work.

I know that now and again we all suffer an unexpected gap in childcare, and that may result in bringing a child to work. But this is becoming more than a once-in-a-blue moon phenomenon.

I get it: daycare is expensive. I have to pay for it for my own children, and all my other colleagues with young children have also provisioned for more stable child care arrangements. While the disruption that this situation causes is fairly limited, I am reminded of that children’s book “What if Everybody Did That?”

The situation also raises two equity-related concerns for me. First, my colleague’s job description means that he can work remotely more than 50% of the time, and his on-site work does somewhat accommodate a child in tow. But we have other staff members who can work off-site no more than 20% of the time, and their on-site work is not at all child-friendly. Employees who can avoid paying daycare fees effectively enjoy a $10,000-$18,000 annual perk. My second equity-related qualm is that this seems to me like a behavior that male employees can get away with and be seen as a “good dad,” while female employees could be considered “unprofessional.”

I’m not sure how to raise this in my organization, for fear of being seen as unsupportive of working parents. Any advice?

This is so tricky. First and foremost, is there still a child care shortage in your area? Since you and your other coworkers all have secured child care, I’m going to assume there’s not — but if there is (and if, for example, everyone else who has it is relying on family members rather than outside carers), none of the rest of this answer applies. If people in your area literally can’t hire child care right now, then your coworker is doing what he can. But assuming it’s available…

The biggest thing I’d focus on is the impact on your work (and if you manage a team, on your team’s work). If he’s unavailable when you need to reach him during work hours because he’s tending to his toddler, or if he’s letting his child disrupt or delay calls, those are legitimate work issues to raise, with him directly or with your manager or his. (And those are real problems — there’s a reason that before the pandemic and subsequent child care shortage, most companies had policies prohibiting working from home if you were caring for young kids at the same time. It’s the same reason why so many parents desperately needed some slack when schools and daycares were closed and they had no choice but to watch their kids at the same time they were working.)

It’s also reasonable to ask, “What if everyone did this?” It’s not fair for one person to regularly bring his kid to work if others wouldn’t be allowed to do it (and it’s reasonable to be concerned about the impact on the work environment if lots of other people did). Your equity concerns are real ones, too.

Whether you’re well-positioned to be the one raising those questions is a different issue, though. If you’re new or very junior or not in great standing or recently used a bunch of political capital on something else, you might not be well-positioned to raise it. On the other hand, if you have some seniority and are in good stranding and you have some capital built up — and especially if you’re in a role with some management responsibility, although that’s not essential — you might be better positioned to bring it up within your organization.

What that should look like is harder to say. If you have the ear of someone who has the authority to deal with this more broadly, you could use that route — framing it as, “I’m glad we’re supportive of working parents, especially as one myself, but now that child care is more widely available again, I’m concerned that letting one person regularly bring their kid to work when everyone else is paying for child care risks becoming an equity issue … or causing problems if multiple people decide it’s okay to do.” You could also ask for clearer policies on working while caring for children — perhaps suggesting, for example, that working remotely while caring for a young child be explicitly allowed in emergency situations (such as when an employee’s regular child care falls through or a child is home sick) but not as the default plan because of the distractions created. (That doesn’t get at the fact that not everyone has a job that will allow for those emergency exceptions — for example, some people will have jobs that can’t be done from home at all — and so you might suggest a solution like this one to counter that.)

There’s still a risk that someone will feel you’re coming down too hard on working parents — I assume someone’s going to accuse me of that for writing this answer! — or on this one colleague in particular, but these are reasonable positions to take and reasonable concerns to raise.

Our norms around this changed so much during the pandemic — because they had to change for a while or parents wouldn’t be able to be in the workforce at all — but if indeed child care is once again accessible in your area (if), companies need to be having these conversations openly and resetting expectations to fit the situation now.

my first job isn’t what I signed on for, my job is overreacting to me carrying pepper spray, and more

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

1. My first job isn’t what I signed on for and there’s no communication

I graduated college in the midst of the pandemic — May 2021 — and got a salaried job in my field a year later. The problem is, this is my first “office” job, and it’s work from home.

I was hired as a database analyst. Three months in, I was handed billing, and now that’s what I do full-time. I don’t mind that so much, but the bigger problem is that I don’t communicate with anyone else at the company practically at all. I’m not in digital meetings very often — around once every two months or so — so I can’t ask casual questions or even get to know my coworkers or boss. I don’t even receive replies to my emails half the time, and even those are really short and to-the-point. Is this … normal? Should I talk to my boss about this? I’m really confused and stressed and I don’t know what to do.

Yes and no. It’s very normal for email replies to be short and to-the-point. But if you’re asking direct questions in those emails, only hearing back half the time isn’t. And signing on for one job and being given a completely different one isn’t normal either, particularly if it hasn’t even been acknowledged and discussed.

My bigger concern is that this just doesn’t sound like a great job for you because you’re so isolated. I don’t love fully remote jobs for recent grads for this reason! When you’re new to the workforce, a ton of learning happens just by being physically around your coworkers — you end up picking up an enormous amount by hearing how someone more experienced handles a difficult call with a client, overhearing them hash out a problem in the cubicle next to you, or just being able to stick your head in someone’s office to ask a quick question. When junior hires are fully remote, both they and their managers need to work really hard to counter that disadvantage — and it doesn’t sound like your company is doing that at all.

Definitely start with a conversation with your boss — both about the fundamental change in your job (do you want the billing work?) and about the communication challenges. But unless your boss is very responsive to that and you see real changes, this is a reasonable thing to switch jobs over.

2. I’m being followed by security guards at work because I carry pepper spray

I am a top performer at my company. I carry pepper spray on my keychain. One of the managers asked me about the pepper spray hanging on my belt during my last shift. I said it was for stray dogs and wolves, and he said I should keep it away. I put it immediately in my locker. But when I walked into my shift today, right away I was called into my floor manager’s office and they told me to get rid of it because it poses a potential threat.

Then, in the middle of my shift, two security guards came to the floor to follow me. After my shift, I went to see my friend on her floor, and a manager and a security guard were following me.

The managers are very passive-aggressive and my job is hard enough without the security guards following me. I’ve also been warned I could be subject to random bag checks “if necessary.” I think their reaction was blown way out of proportion and very anxiety-inducing. Should I contact HR?

It’s very understandable for them to tell you that you can’t carry pepper-spray while you’re at work. But if that’s the requirement, they should simply tell you that and then enforce it. There’s no need to have guards following you! (Of course, that assumes there’s not more to the story, like if you locked it up the first day but refused to lock it up after that and were hostile when you were told to — but if that were the case, having guards accompany you as you go about your job would still be a really weird response.)

I wonder if there was some miscommunication somewhere, especially if you know your manager to generally be a rational person. Why not go back to her now, say you will be diligent about locking up the spray before your shift starts and won’t have it on the floor, and ask if there’s something more she needs you to do? If the problem continues after that, it’s definitely time to talk to HR, but have a real conversation with your boss first.

3. Accidentally played a few seconds of porn at work

I work as a lawyer in a government agency. While I have my own office, due to how our desks are set up and the thin walls, you can hear just about anything that goes on in the adjoining office.

I was scrolling on my phone this afternoon, and my volume was on, as I had previously been listening to a podcast. A pop-up came up and started, well, automatically playing a clip of extremely explicit content. I managed to close it after a couple of seconds, although it felt like an eternity. I’m reasonably certain my coworker in the next office heard it, although she often wears earbuds so I’m not positive (and I’m too horrified to ask/afraid of getting in trouble with HR or something). I don’t know if I should apologize and potentially draw attention to it, or just pretend it didn’t happen. What should I do?

Ignore it, wipe it from your mind, and move on. Most people have had the experience of something like that popping up when they didn’t expect it, and it’s unlikely that your coworker thinks you were intentionally watching porn at work. If it had gone on for a really long time before you noticed or something — like minutes, not seconds — it would make sense to pop your head in there and apologize. But a few seconds is well within the bounds of “pretend nothing happened and don’t risk making it even weirder by mentioning it days later.”

4. I reported my manager for racism, but HR won’t tell me what they’re doing about it

I reported my manager for being racist (she made racist comments about our staff behind closed doors), and the claim was substantiated. However, HR says they cannot tell me the specifics of what they are doing or the repercussions for her, due to confidentiality. I was told that they “have taken measures to ensure that it doesn’t happen in the future.” Can you please help me understand the confidentiality surrounding this issue especially if I was directly involved in the events I reported? I’m really struggling to accept this outcome.

That’s pretty typical for this sort of investigation. Workplace investigations and disciplinary actions are generally kept confidential because of employee privacy. That’s a principle that’s easy to understand when the issue is something like an employee’s work quality, but can feel less appropriate when there’s an wronged party or parties who have a legitimate interest in knowing whether the problem is truly being addressed … and that can be especially frustrating in a situation like yours, where you don’t know whether the consequences for your manager were proportionate and effective or whether they were a meaningless slap on the wrist.

Ultimately you have to think about how much you trust your company to handle something like this correctly — and you can also watch to see if you observe real changes post-investigation or not.

5. I’m supposed to delegate more of my work … but how?

In my career, I’ve always been the person other people assign work to to get it done. My current workplace is small and family-owned. Over the years, my workload has expanded and it’s getting impossible to get it all done without a lot of overtime.

I’ve been told I need to “delegate more,” but … how exactly does delegating work? It’s never been explained to me when I’ve asked. I don’t know what tasks I have the right to delegate, who I’m supposed to delegate to, what other employee even has the knowledge/skills to do the task, or what their desk looks like so I’m not overtaxing them with the reassignment.

My position doesn’t really have an equal. Nobody else does what I do. So am I supposed to take someone who’s never done this task before, train them, and hand off that task? Am I supposed to automatically know how this works? Is this something everybody else understands and I’m just missing it from my workplace education and need to catch up? How IS it supposed to work? What do I have to know to be a successful delegator?

I’m not thrilled that your manager isn’t helping you with this, because you can’t delegate without the authority to delegate. That authority can come from being someone’s manager, being above them in the hierarchy and knowing they should be handling X, or being told by your own manager or theirs that you can delegate X to that person. Without someone granting you that authority, it doesn’t really work — you can’t go around assigning tasks to people if they don’t know you have the authority to do that (or unless it’s obviously a natural fit with their job).

So the first thing is to go back to your manager and ask for guidance on what you can delegate and to who. If they’re vague, ask for specifics. If needed, use the words, “I don’t have the authority to assign work — unless you want to give me that — so I want to work out with you exactly what I can delegate and who has the skills and bandwidth to take it on.”

Once that’s in place, here’s some advice on the logistics of delegating — but get the clearer authority first.

the dried apricots, the broken lock, and other stories of people losing their minds over free food at work

Last week I asked about times you’ve seen ridiculously bad behavior over free food at work, often from the highest-paid employees on staff — and you certainly delivered. There were so many hilarious stories on that post that I can’t fit them all my favorites into one column … so here’s part 1. Part 2 will be coming later this week.

1. The brie

The wildest thing I’ve ever seen, from an academic wine and cheese event, is a person I didn’t recognize marching up to the cheese board, flipping an entire wheel of brie into her purse, and marching back out. I almost respect it for how gutsy it is, but it just shocked me that you’d do this without at least playing the game of pretending to be excited about the forthcoming book/new minor program/new dean of whatever.

2. The budget trick

I catered special events, meetings, and trainings in a hospital and leftovers were typically reserved for volunteers and lower paid support staff. There was one department head, very well compensated but with a reputation for being extremely cheap, who kept what seemed to be a full set of Tupperware in his office and who would show up after meetings and events to pack away all the leftovers to take home to his family.

This was seen as an annoying and selfish quirk by the people whose department had paid for the food, until he wrote into a local newspaper column where readers shared tricks and tips on being thrifty, saying that he did what he did. He wrote in with his full name, job title, and the name of the hospital that employed him. Suddenly, I had instructions from hospital PR and the CEO’s office that they were to be notified if he was seen doing this again. The thing is, he didn’t stop. He was less blatant about it and stopped stealing leftovers from meetings in the executive suite, but he still managed to catch me in hallways and elevators, with carts full of chafing dishes, and he never failed to make himself a plate or grab several servings of dessert “for his staff.” I never turned him in because $11/hour was not enough to get me involved in that nonsense.

3. The meat embezzler

We do a monthly BBQ for all staff – I think you Americans call it grilling – sausages, steaks, bacon, eggs, onions all cooked on a flat plate over a gas flame.

Anyway, we had one woman who would volunteer to help each month and would do all the ordering for the whole group (three separate sites located in the same town). It eventually came to light that she was ordering her own meat for the month on the company account and hiding it in the purchase for the monthly BBQ by spreading it across the invoices for the three sites.

It wasn’t until she was on long service leave and another employee placed the order and the butcher asked about the extra box. There was some back and forth and the accounts team realized what she had been doing. She had gotten away with it for about six years. When she came back from leave she was terminated.

4. The mob

Once we had a Coldstone Creamery vendor bring his whole set-up into the lobby. The owner thought it was great and wanted to do it annually but we couldn’t get the guy back or find a different vendor because our staff had been so out of control trying to get them to make a dozen things for one person or threatening the poor guy over the serving size.

5. The delivery theft

At my last workplace, one of my coworkers was coming back into the office after her lunch break and let a food delivery driver into the lobby. He was in a rush, so she told him to leave the delivery on the front desk and she’d message the office to let the person know that their food had arrived.

The message went out on the office-wide Slack channel that “the lunch delivery from X is at the front desk.” Someone responded within about two minutes, “Thanks! Got it!” followed by the person who had actually ordered the food posting on the same channel five minutes later, “Wait, so did two of us order [uncommon food] from [tiny mom & pop restaurant] today???”

Person A had already scarfed down the entire order and sheepishly dropped off $10 to the person whose food they stole. I’m pretty sure they only paid for it because the whole thing played out on the company Slack channel like some kind of soap opera.

6. The Tupperware

A former colleague kept a drawer full of Tupperware that she used whenever anywhere in the building had an event that had food. She’d find out when the event would end and show up right then with Tupperware and load up on food. People made bets at what time she’d show up or how many containers she would take.

I was once at an event we were invited to and she was behind me in line. I had my purse with me and I felt rustling. Looked down and she had dumped a basket of butter packets in my purse and was busy shoving a bunch of mayo packets in there as well, “for safekeeping.” Horrifying! I made sure to never bring any bag with me to a work event until she retired.

Her retirement party on her last day? She brought all her Tupperware with her from her drawer to made sure she loaded up on everything. As well as a bunch of bags. She cleared out the leftovers down to napkins, plastic silverware, and even took the ice in the buckets that had cans of soda.

7. The library patrons

When I worked at a library, we would have a big Christmas/holiday potluck every December. Whatever anyone wanted to bring, from cakes and cookies, to spicy cornbread and butter, to meatballs, to my supervisor’s magnificent chess bars, all laid out on a long table in the circulation office.

My coworkers? Took only what they wanted, and asked the makers if they could box up a piece or pieces to take home for kids/family before doing so.

Librarians from other floors/departments? Called down to see if they could stop in, thanked everyone profusely for the treat.

Patrons? Would literally try to barge into the office, or lunge past the low barrier between the circ desk and the space behind where the office entrance was. My two fondest memories are the woman who tried to guilt us for not feeding her and her child a full lunch (he was at least 12 and visibly embarrassed) and the longtime patron who pulled the “I pay your salary” card, insisting that after all his years of supporting the library, we owed him a sampler plate of baked goods. My supervisor refused to bend for either of them.

8. The candy dish

The — thankfully very minor — candy drama at my workplace just ended recently. There always used to be a bowl of candy at the reception desk. There wasn’t a budget for this, just something the former receptionist did on her own, despite making much less than anyone else here.

When I got put on the front desk full time, I decided I was not going to be wasting my rent money buying candy for a bunch of manbabies who made six figures compared to my minimum wage (and were sexist, classist jerks about it). So I just kept filling the bowl from the preexisting mega bag till it ran out. Then I … stopped. And put the empty bowl out of sight in a drawer.

The complaints! Good lord, the complaints over the next month. So many “I can’t believe you’re not filling the candy bowl anymore!” “This place is falling apart. They can’t even keep the candy bowl filled.” “I guess people just don’t want to work anymore.” (Yes, this was said over a freaking candy bowl.) “You’re falling down on your job, aren’t you, girl?” (LOLwut buying you candy is exactly 0% of my job, jackass. Also: not a/your girl.)

9. The apricots

My BigLaw firm, pre-2008-recession, threw serious events/parties. At one event for “alums” (i.e., for firm lawyers to schmooze with/try and get business from former firm attorneys now in house), every conference room on our meeting floor was a different theme. I was talking to a friend in the cheese room (which had assorted platters overflowing with cheeses, crackers, nuts, dried fruits, etc.) and saw my friend’s eyes go wide as she hissed, “Be casual, but turn around slowly.” I did, just in time to see a partner who was the head of her practice group and easily making a few million dollars a year tip the ENTIRE PLATTER of dried apricots into her designer bag. It had to have been several pounds worth. She then casually turned and walked out of the room. We speculated about “Tammy” and why the heck she needed so many apricots for years.

10. The hero

I baked some scones and muffins for a friend’s birthday and decided to bring the leftovers to the office, the following morning. Mind you, it was all untouched food since we had so much to eat at the party. I put the two trays in the kitchenette and let people know free food was there.

10ish minutes later, I saw a well-known colleague march to the kitchenette and leave with one of the trays. This person was famous because he would hoard anything in the office that was free (food, pencils, t-shirts, you name it).

Well, sir, not today! I followed him to his office, knocked at the door, entered after his answer, took the tray from his desk, and left with it, in complete silence.

He. Was. Livid. and followed me to the kitchenette. He started to complain in front of other colleagues about my rudeness and how the sweets were supposed to be for everyone.

“Everyone indeed. You are not everyone,” was my very calm reply.

He left the room and didn’t return that day. He still kept hoarding stuff until the day he got fired for other reasons, but he never put the stunt again when I was the one to bring something.

11. The spreadsheet

This was a positive food weirdness, but I interned once for a team that ordered pizza semi-regularly. In order to optimize the pizza order, this one guy kept a detailed spreadsheet of the number of RSVPs, the number of people who actual showed up and ate pizza, the number of pies ordered, and the number of slices left of each flavor at the end of lunch. He had a certain number of leftover slices he aimed for (because if there were none left over you hadn’t ordered enough) and would adjust his calculations each time based on the spreadsheet and who RSVP’d to the pizza lunch. Unusual but it seemed to work!

should I hire a qualified candidate who comes with a ton of baggage?

A reader asks:

My team recently created a new position. A colleague from another department got wind of this and asked when I planned to advertise the vacancy. I’m in no hurry to fill the position, so I said “hopefully by the end of the year.” He let me know that his wife is very qualified for the position and that I should consider her. I haven’t even written the job description yet, so it’s impossible for him to know whether or not his wife is qualified for it. A few days later, he asked if I’d advertised the position yet and said to keep him posted because he wants to make sure his wife gets in. A day or so after that, he handed me her resume and assured me again that she’d be the right person for the job (remember the job doesn’t even exist yet).

Here is where I should tell you that this particular colleague has been an unkind, uncooperative, disrespectful, manipulative pain in my backside the entire time we’ve worked together. I would never accept any professional advice from him, least of all give him input on my hiring decisions. If I hired his wife, I would not put it past him to utilize their relationship as leverage in unprofessional ways.

The wife emailed me a day or so later and informed me that she already has a job, but is considering changing fields and asked for an appointment so that I could tell her more about the [non-existent] job to help her “determine if it would be a good fit” for her. I was half-amused, half-incredulous and had 30 minutes to spare, so I accepted the appointment. The entire interaction was underwhelming. She’d ask vague questions like “so, what does your department do?” and expect me to expound for her. She didn’t dress professionally, obviously hadn’t browsed the website before coming in, etc.

I did eventually post the position, the wife applied, and it turns out she is actually an intriguing candidate on paper and has perhaps the most relevant experience of all the applicants. I haven’t begun interviewing yet, but my initial instinct is not to touch her with a 10-foot pole (because of the husband) and that instinct is reinforced by the “informational interview” we already had.

On the one hand, perhaps it isn’t fair to allow my opinion of the husband to impact the wife’s candidacy. But on the other hand, she involved her husband in her candidacy from the beginning, so I don’t think she can reasonably expect her candidacy to be evaluated in a vacuum. Hiring her could turn out fine. But it could also be a complete disaster, and I’m very concerned about the latter coming true (and have good reason to believe it could). Where do you stand on this?

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 “hybrid” team is using me as their way to not go to the office at all

A reader writes:

When the pandemic began, I was the member of my team who volunteered to go to the office to check the mail and do tasks that could not be done at home since I live alone, live closest to the office, tend to have the most tasks that cannot be done remotely, and liked the change of scenery a day or two a week when everything was locked down.

My company fully reopened offices two years ago, but only required coming to the office if you had reason to do so. My boss loves working from home and only requires the team to meet in person maybe once a month.

The rest of my team, including my boss, has developed a habit of asking if I can do certain tasks for them when I’m next in the office; I have only unexpectedly seen a member of my team at the office five times since March of 2020. It has gotten to the point that I spend more time doing favors for everyone than I do my own work when going to the office.

So tonight I had the straw that broke the camel’s back incident. My team was supposed to meet at the office tomorrow, but the boss sent a text message around 8 p.m. to the team saying that because two teammates have been sick and another is on vacation, she was canceling the in-person meeting and that we only had to go to the office if we needed to. Within 10 minutes, I got texts from each of my teammates (directly, not on the group chat) and my boss, asking if I could do X, Y, and Z for them. I got on the group chat and responded: “Since everyone on this chain sent a message to me implying that they also have things to do there, I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at the office tomorrow.”

I should emphasize that I have not just been letting this stew for the last couple of years. I have let my teammates and my boss know that this has been irritating me and I was able to set the boundary with my teammates to not expect me to make special trips to the office for them since it fully reopened; I only would go there if I have work to do, and they would have to take care of their own emergencies. However, I am pretty sure that is why everyone sent their requests to me, including the boss, off of the group chat. For my teammates, it was so the boss didn’t see it, and for the boss, it was so that the team didn’t see it.

It’s been an hour and I have not gotten a single reply from anyone on the group chat or directly. I have a feeling that there is another group chat going that I am not part of. I guess that I will find out tomorrow whether or not I’ll be seeing my team. Either way, I have no intention of doing their work when I go to the office tomorrow. I am wondering if I handled this right, or if there may have been a better way to go about this.

I can see why you’re fed up — especially if things have gotten to the point that you’re spending more time on other people’s work than your own. But the solution to that was exactly what you’ve already done: talk to your boss about it and ensure you’re empowered to decline to do everyone’s in-office work for them. Now you just need to start holding firm to that boundary.

In this case, why not reply to each person who asked you to handle their work and say, “I can’t do that — I’ll be busy with my own work tomorrow. As a reminder, I’m no longer available to cover other people’s in-office work; you will always need to come in to do that yourself.”

Your boss’s request to do work for her while you’re there requires slightly different handling, but that could just mean saying, “I had set aside tomorrow to work on X. We had talked about me no longer covering other people’s in-office work since it was starting to take up all my time and keep me from my own job. I can do this tomorrow if you want me to bump back X, but I’m concerned about backsliding into the pattern we were trying to avoid.”

I don’t love the message you sent to your team instead of those options. Writing “since everyone on this chain sent a message to me implying that they also have things to do there, I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at the office tomorrow” is a bit scoldy/schoolmarmish, when you could have simply set your own boundary and held to it. I can understand why you said it — you’re frustrated and feeling taken advantage of, and what you wrote certainly isn’t an outrage or anything like that. But to me it indicates that you’re still choosing frustration rather than the much simpler option you’ve been given: the ability to say no.

You don’t need to get involved with whether people show up when they need to or as frequently as they need to. You just need to hold your own boundary, which is to decline to pick up their tasks. How they handle it from there is up to them; you’re not responsible for that.

(By the way, you also have the option of telling people you don’t plan to be at the office on the day they’re asking about, which will be even harder for them to argue with. If you wake up and decide you’ll go in that day after all, so be it.)

I’m in trouble for being a few minutes late, weighing my food at a business lunch, and more

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

1. I’m in trouble for occasionally arriving a few minutes late

I recently quit the worst job I ever had, in favor of one I like quite a bit better. Mostly.

But my new job has a very perilous commute, involving two sets of train tracks, a drawbridge, and a four-mile stretch of single lane traffic with no turn-offs. This means that if anything goes a little bit wrong, I can end up very late to work. On a good day, it takes 15 minutes to get there. On a bad day, it takes over an hour.

I’ve been here for three months, and there are no complaints about the quality of my work. On the contrary, I’ve received a lot of praise! However, today my manager sternly pulled me aside and I received my “fourth and final” talking to about my “frequent lateness.” Apparently it’s becoming a “morale issue” and other coworkers — I’m 100% confident I know which, by the way — are starting to complain to her about my “excessive tardiness.”

What does that look like? Well, I’m supposed to be there at 8:00. Once a week, maximum, I will maybe clock in at 8:01. Every other day, I’m there at 7:55 at the latest, usually closer to 7:45-7:50. I leave my house at 7:00. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve showed up later than 8:04, and when that has happened I always make sure to call my boss as soon as I know that, say, a car is on fire on that one-lane road, or the drawbridge is up. Even then, the latest I’ve ever clocked in was 8:07, which I think is pretty good with that commute.

I don’t really know what to do about this. The problem is threefold. One, I have at least one coworker who is so unbelievably obnoxious that she is monitoring my time clock or desk and complaining to my boss without talking to me first, Two, my boss is encouraging and enabling this kind of behavior and penalizing me for it. Three, the idea that this company encourages such micromanaging that they do not even allow for a single minute of wiggle room.

I’ve managed people before, and if one of my employees complained to me that one of her colleagues, who was otherwise good at their job and frequently worked late, was routinely clocking in one minute late, I would tell her to mind her own business. But since I’m not the manager, what am I supposed to do about this? I don’t know how to talk to my manager about it and this is honestly making me so upset that I want to start job hunting again.

Are you in the kind of kind of job where being a few minutes late is genuinely an issue (like you’re supposed to cover phones that start ringing exactly at 8:00, or where you need to unlock a door at that time or similar)? If you are, you might need to start leaving 10-15 minutes earlier (since it sounds like that would make the issue go away).

But otherwise, getting a “final warning” about your “frequent” lateness when your “lateness” has mostly been one minute, plus a few instances where where you were four to seven minutes late, is ridiculous.

Is your sense that your boss is aware of what your “lateness” actually looks like, or is she just hearing other people say you’re late and assuming it’s something more severe? Ideally you’d go back to her and say, “I took what you said really seriously and looked at my login times for the last several months to find the lateness you were talking about. Most days I’m early. Once a week, maximum, I am one minute late. There were four times when I was late by four to seven minutes. Given the unpredictability of the route I need to use to commute, I’d be grateful to have a 10-minute grace period if you agree it’s not affecting my work.”

But unless your manager wildly misunderstood what was being reported to her or the work truly needs precise to-the-minute punctuality, this kind of focus on a minute here and there (less time than many people spend getting settled at their desks in the morning) bodes badly for the culture there.

2. Would it be strange to weigh my food at a business lunch?

I hope you will help me and my husband settle an argument. I am in Overeaters Anonymous and have a lunch coming up with my boss’s boss. I need to bring a scale to weigh my food as part of the program. My husband thinks that will be off-putting for my skip level boss. I just plan to say I have a food plan from a nutritionist and it requires me to weigh my food. It’s true and I don’t think anyone would care. What do you think?

I’d love to say no one will think anything of it since how you manage your food and your health is no one else’s business. But in reality, enough people would have a negative take on it that I’d avoid doing it at a business lunch.

To a lot of people, it would make an odd impression and your boss’s boss could think it shows strange judgment to do at a business meal. She might also worry about you doing it if you ever dine with clients.

Is there a compromise that could meet your goals without bringing the scale along, like looking at the menu beforehand so you can select something likely to fit your program or even calling the restaurant ahead of time to figure out the best way to stick to your nutritional goals while you’re there?

Again, ideally people shouldn’t care, but it’s definitely not a “no one would care” situation.

3. My company won’t let me take a year-long leave-of-absence

I have been with my employer for 10 years and, in general, like my job and have been a top performer for my entire tenure. I am at the maximum vacation day allotment and logistically at the top of my career path as a department manager. I work in financial services. My mom recently passed at 65 and I am now thinking about some of my life choices.

My husband and I purchased a travel trailer. I really want to travel the U.S. My thought was to take an unpaid leave of absence for a year. I intend to come back and then continue to work for another 10 to 15 years. My employer will not allow any unpaid time off. Is this uncommon? I don’t want to have to quit and then get rehired and have to start all over again. My employer doesn’t offer a pension, so that is not a consideration, and I would pay my medical expenses out of pocket.

Your employer’s approach is definitely typical. It’s not realistic for them to hold your job open for a year, so they’ll have to replace you — and they may or may not have an opening that fits you when you return. If someone is an absolute superstar, sometimes they’ll be able to negotiate something like this … but more typically, you’ll be told that you’re welcome to contact them when you return and see what they have open, but that they can’t guarantee anything. (Plus, there are a lot of things that could change during your time away — restructuring, a new manager, different business needs, budget cuts — so it’s understandable that they don’t want to lock themselves into an arrangement that might not make sense for them in a year.)

4. How do I prevent future employers from finding out about my personal tragedy when they google me?

In my field, it’s pretty normal and expected to have a personal website that people can look at to see your work, get in contact with you, etc. In order to find other people’s websites, I usually just type the person’s name into google. I have a really unique name, which means that googling my name also pulls up stuff I don’t want associated with my professional life.

Specifically, I coordinated a couple of GoFundMe campaigns for a close relative’s medical bills related to a terminal illness and later for their funeral. Due to the amount raised and the uniqueness of my name, those GoFundMe campaigns are within the first couple of results that show up when you google my name. I do not come from wealth, and while campaigning for my relative’s bills I wrote very personal pleas for assistance. I am incredibly thankful for having been blessed with a terrific personal network that shared those fundraisers all over social media and for all the donations we received during what was an incredibly difficult time for my family.

However, as a very junior person in my field, I worry that having those GoFundMe’s associated with my name will harm my career. I worry I will always be associated with a personal tragedy that will distract from the quality of my work and prevent myself from being taken seriously by future employers and peers. How do I minimize the harm that this can cause to my career? Should I give future employers a heads-up? Would I be expected to talk about it? How should I go about discussing it, if I need to bring it up?

You don’t need to worry about this at all. It’s not something you need to disclose, and it’s highly unlikely you’ll be asked about it; in fact employers aren’t likely to think about at all. When employers google candidates, it’s really common to come across this sort of thing, and it doesn’t seem strange or forever connect the person with a personal tragedy or anything like that. It’s clearly something private, and it’s about a very normal part of life.

It’s similar to finding someone’s wedding registry or marathon times — obviously far more sad, but in the same category of personal life stuff that’s normal to have out there and which no one will think has any bearing on your candidacy or work. Don’t worry about it at all. (And I’m sorry about your relative.)

5. How to tell my boss his second-in-commands are making it impossible for me to do my job

I’ve only been employed at my current company for about three months, but so far the director has been really impressed with me and already has offered me a promotion, which is great!

Everything was going well until the director (who is the owner) went on a month-long paternity leave and left his two bumbling second-in-commands in charge. One of them is just plain useless and is happy to collect his pay and not do a whole lot else, whereas the other is incredibly two-faced, power-hungry (he’s fired two people in the week that the director has been on leave), and just generally doesn’t see value in my area of the business (except it’s a legal requirement, so it’s not really relevant whether he sees value or not).

Yesterday, I received an email from the director asking for an updated timeline on my team’s progress. He also said that he’s unhappy with the meetings that he scheduled between myself and the second-in-commands to create a new documentation suite constantly being cancelled. The reason they get cancelled is because his goons never show up! I’m actually currently typing this out in the boardroom where I’ve been sitting waiting for them to show up to a critical meeting that was due to start half an hour ago. I’m aware of how bad this looks on me, and I know I need to clue him in, but how do I do that without looking like a tattletale?

You definitely need to let him know so he doesn’t think you’re to blame. Just be matter-of-fact about it: “I agree — we’ve had several meetings scheduled but they haven’t shown up. I’ve been following up to reschedule, but if you can let them know you’d like them to prioritize it, it might help.”

weekend open thread – June 3-4, 2023

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: Bad Summer People, by Emma Rosenblum. Badly behaved rich people get into various forms of trouble while summering on an exclusive island. It’s gossipy and fun. I saw a review compare it to White Lotus, and that’s spot-on.

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

it’s your Friday good news

It’s your Friday good news!

1.  “I have been a reader of your site since 2009, and I finally put your advice about negotiating salary to work! I received an offer for a position at a base salary that I would have absolutely accepted at face value, but I gave myself a moment to ask, ‘Is there any chance you can come up a bit on that?’ and then stopped talking. I didn’t present a specific number as a counter (note to self for next time), but even just the ask was a big step for me.

The hiring manager got back to me the next day with an increase of about 4.5%, which I gladly accepted. Obviously I would have had a target number in mind in the ideal situation, but even just the open ask meant that I wasn’t leaving money on the table.

Thanks for your easy scripts and reminders to advocate for yourself!”

2.  “For a while I was actively avoiding Friday Good News posts, because I was so unhappy and pessimistic about my own situation. Obviously, since I’m writing this, things have changed significantly.

I have ten years of experience in my field, and it’s one with a lot of positions in a lot of different organizations in my area. So it should be relatively easy to find a decent role. But I had two major obstacles: 1) that 10 years of experience was spread over 15 years of my life, because I have a chronic health issue that has caused attendance problems at every job I’ve ever had, and my job history has a few gaps where I was on disability, and 2) I am desperately bored with my particular field and have been wanting to get out for years (but kept getting reeled back in because when you’re trying to overcome a potentially problematic history, it’s a lot easier to get hired for something you’ve been doing for a while.)

I ended up working with a temp agency that specializes in placing people with disabilities, and in December I finished a two-year contract (in the field I’m burned out on, at a lower level than I’m qualified for, at 2/3 the pay I would ordinarily be making, but it’s a good length to have at the top of my resume). There have been some lifestyle and treatment changes that had me feeling better about my chances of actually working all the days I’m supposed to work, and of course to qualify for unemployment you have to apply for jobs, so I didn’t/couldn’t wait around for another contract to come available.

This is when the good news starts. The contract ended at the beginning of December, and I knew that any responses to job applications were unlikely until after the holidays. Sure enough, not a peep on anything until February. And then, in the space of three weeks, I interviewed for four jobs (only one of which was the type of role I’ve been trying to escape). And got two offers.

I’ve been reading AAM for several years now, and I credit that with helping me do well in (most of) the interviews, being able to accurately assess how well I did, and not feeling devastated about the one I bombed while dealing with a lot of personal stress. It also meant I had a plan for managing multiple offers.

I’ve been at my new job for four weeks now, and I am thrilled about it every day. It’s different enough from my past experience that I’m able to challenge myself and learn new things, but it still plays to my strengths and my experience gives me a perspective that adds value to the team. It’s a very Goldilocks situation – my boss is neither a micromanager nor negligently hands-off, she is just right. The team is neither indifferent nor overly involved with each other, but just right. It’s a very flexible hybrid schedule, which is better for me than either 100% in office or 100% remote. And so on. I could write a whole letter on how excellent my boss is, but for brevity’s sake I’ll keep it to: if you and I weren’t both Jewish, Alison, I’d say that I wrote you a letter with everything I wanted and you came down the chimney and dropped her off.

All that and the pay is decent too! I haven’t taken any sick time at all this month, which is unremarkable for most people but very exciting for me. And I’m back to happily reading the good news posts.”

3.   “I’ve been reading your blog for about 4 years, since I graduated college with my bachelors in math at the end of 2018. I started out as an administrative assistant for a large shipping company in Pittsburgh at $42k. I job-hopped after a year and a half to an insurance company for a $10k increase. I have been working on my Master’s (fully paid for by my company and which is not required to be paid back) in business analytics over the past two years and just finished yesterday! A year ago I applied for a job as a fully remote data analyst at another company, but there were several hiccups in the process, where they told me back and forth twice that they had decided not to hire. But the third time was the charm! I was extended an offer yesterday for the position. And thanks to your blog’s wonderful advice, I negotiated my initial request of $68k last year to $75k this year, and they offered me the position at $72.5k! Currently seeing if I can get a few more vacation days in line with my current position (I haven’t quit yet, but fully plan to accept the offer!), but I should be starting in less than a month!”

4.  “A few years ago, I was talked into applying for a job I was well-qualified and well-suited for, but didn’t want. It’s a service-based organization, so when the pressure came from our seniors that I should apply — down to bribery with cookies! — I caved. I can do anything for a few years, right? I’m known for fixing things and solving hard problems. How bad could it possibly be?

Nightmare fuel, that’s how terrible. I’ve redacted a lot of identifiable information and examples that would also have given you fuel for a thousand short responses and fits of indignant rage.

I knew it wasn’t good, but I was invested in the system after so many years. No one ever leaves! It’s normal to handle everything, that just means you’re ready for the next step! I had the power to enact occasional small changes that made life marginally better for others! Those major, terrifying health issues are normal!

Then a friend prompted me with a job advertisement. Why not apply?

That’s when I was able to start distancing enough to realize that my normal was neither normal nor good. My confidence, resilience, and self-esteem were all gone. I was exhausted after years of ridiculously long days and perpetually snappish after constant interruptions in a job that required deep work. I even understood why my predecessor had left a bottle of alcohol in my office cabinet – which horrified me when I found it. (It still horrifies me. But I get why he went that direction. Last heard, he’s enjoying a happier retirement.)

In other words, the more I looked at Old Job, the more I realized the entire organization had transitioned from idealistic goals into a stagnant monstrosity that sucked and wasn’t going to change. It was this situation, complete with all the consequences of burnout.

New Job was a good deal. Old Job was shocked, shocked! that I would ever walk away from power and influence. During exit interviews, I discovered they’d been about to pile still more on my plate, because I’m The Person Who Fixes Things. I guess they thought I would just keep fixing things forever. Rather than planning the transition to an acting (title), my manager kept asking if I’d rescinded my resignation yet. It’s fallen apart, since I was handling everything, so I’m told rumors are a mix of what I’m being blamed for, when I’ll come back to fix it all again, and hateful gossip about when (not if) I’ll fail.

I genuinely wish Old Job the utmost success, but love my new job. I’ve been there just long enough to take the rose-colored glasses mostly off, and it’s a lot of adjustments – but it doesn’t matter. The contrast between the two organizations was obvious the first day. And I’m me again.”