updates: the meditation and yoga office, the detective, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, where all month I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

1. My company wants us to meditate and do yoga and alternative healing

As of a few weeks ago I no longer work for said company, and a few other colleagues have been fired or left, with morale plummeting but the bosses very much going deeper into their world of wellness. One thing that increased steeply was using vague wellness concepts to critique employees, basically giving them no way to argue with the higher-ups (like, doing a yoga class then telling an employee afterwards that they sense they have negative energy, based on nothing but how they looked on video).

In my own case, there was a major breach of trust regarding the private life/work life divide, and concerns about other employees’ mental health were dismissed in a way that felt over-the-line. I feel relieved to be out of there but also know I probably have a lot to process that I haven’t even thought about yet! I did consult a lawyer but also had to consider my income/salvage some $$ above all else, especially mid pandemic.

So, a happy ending, in a way. Not sure how the company will succeed without retention and with so many potential legal problems, but I guess stranger things have happened in the startup world.

2. A detective showed up at my job on a day I had called in sick (#3 at the link)

I took your advice and let it go, and it was the right call. Six months after I wrote to you I was promoted and I no longer work for the supervisor I’d described it my letter, but we are on good terms. I wonder if she even remembers the detective. It seems so insignificant now.

3. My office is reopening and I don’t feel safe going back

I wrote in asking for advice about a year ago during the first few months of the pandemic being worried about going back into the office too soon.

Some things that I wanted to clear up — people were confused as to the timing that my coworkers and I were expected to go back into the office. We were sent an email very late in the day on a Friday being told that we had to prepare to come into the office the Monday after next (so a little over a week for the people that got the email in time to ruin their weekend, or a week for people that had already departed for the day).

Also, commenters asked what sort of safety measures would be in place. The office is completely open, with no separation from one workstation to another, and no way to actually be 6+ feet apart. The only precautions that they agreed to put in place was that everyone would get hand sanitizer on their workstation, and they would hire a cleaning crew to come in once a week. The only mask requirement would be that you would have to wear a mask when you got up from your desk, but you could sit at your station maskless. Also, with this reintroduction back into the office, the sales people would start traveling, including out of state, to see clients. They would not be required to quarantine or take tests unless they started to feel ill.

There was also discussion of this sentence, “They’ve been communicating to us that there isn’t a ‘hard date’ that we’re expected back in the office, but recently they completely flipped that stance and now expect us all back at the top of next month.” For clarification, their attitude about this whole thing was really night and day. They went from initially being flexible and stating there would be a slow return or a staggering of schedules so that everyone was comfortable, to a sudden email with a week’s notice that everyone was expected back, no exceptions.

There was a small group of us that were very uncomfortable with how everything was being handled, and we went as a group to discuss our concerns. We were essentially told that this was how it was going to be, and they needed a decision from us on Friday on how we wanted to move forward.

I got multiple doctors’ notes strongly recommending that I don’t return to the office. Even with that, I was let go.

I was incredibly lucky in that I wasn’t down for long. I found a remote position with a significant pay bump within a few months of being let go. I’m incredibly grateful as I know this wasn’t something that seemed possible at the time.

Looking back on my time at this company, I was surprised at how much unprofessional behavior I tolerated. While I loved what I did, the signs that I was working in a toxic environment were written on the wall, but the pandemic really brought out the worst in my bosses and the company at large.

I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my letter. I also appreciated everyone taking the time to comment – I really felt like I was alone in this and the AAM community really helped me realize that I wasn’t. So, thank you.

4. How can I discourage my coworkers’ daily intense socializing? (#3 at the link)

Some of the commenters picked up on the situation for what it was – an office romance. All the more scandalous because one of the two is engaged (to someone else). Most of the office would have a bit of a chuckle about what was going on because Jane and Fergus were so incredibly indiscrete, so that validation made the discomfort somewhat bearable until the whole thing mostly fizzled out.

Ultimately, I really appreciated the perspectives and advice from all of the commenters. Everyone was so incredibly helpful and I was really grateful to view the situation differently. At times the “secret” rendezvous could be quite uncomfortable — I recall being told on several occasions of others having “stumbled upon them” when retrieving items from a secluded storage area. They tended to (and somewhat still do) have an unusual work “friendship” where neither of them seemed able to play it off smoothly if their duo somehow turned into a trio, so mostly if they had paired themselves up they’d be avoided by everyone so they could have their space (and so no one else would subject themselves to what would inevitably be an intensely awkward encounter).

Finally, I did invest in a good pair of noise cancelling headphones and I couldn’t recommend them more highly. They block out many distractions but don’t leave me looking so unapproachable that no one comes near me if I’m wearing them (a blessing and a curse!).

update: my coworker is upset that I’m pregnant

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who shared an office with someone who’d been struggling with infertility and started treating the letter-writer coldly when she suspected she was pregnant? (#2 at the link; first update here) Here’s the update.

I wrote in last year and sent in an update about my coworker, who was upset that I was pregnant. I wanted to give everyone another (final?) update on my situation, and clarify a few things from my last letter.

Jane does have a son. He’s in school, but I’m not sure exactly how old he is. Some people speculated that she was undergoing IVF, and that’s why she announced she was pregnant. While I won’t speculate her motivations, she said many times that IVF wasn’t an option for her.

Shortly after my December update, Jane let everyone know she was having major surgery in February. In early January we hired Fergus, who would be covering for Jane while she was out, and then for me while on maternity leave in May. Immediately after his hire, Jane requested she be moved back to her old desk, because it “wasn’t right I be left alone with a man in my condition”. I told our boss I was totally fine working with Fergus, and the requests stopped. Surprisingly, all coldness Jane expressed towards me evaporated, seemingly overnight. Jane came into my office at least twice a day to ask me a question (she would have emailed before). I was cordial and friendly, but not as much as I had previously been.

Jane was supposed to train Fergus on some of her job responsibilities, but that never came about. When she went on leave in February for surgery, Fergus and I were left with a pile of work, some of it time sensitive, that hadn’t been touched. It was a hectic few weeks, to say the least. It quickly became evident that Fergus and I worked very well together. Tasks were being completed with more efficiency, even though we had more work to do. Fergus suggested some adjustments that worked at his old job. Some were great, others didn’t work, but we definitely improved how some things run!

Jane decided to return to work a month early, against medical advice (or so she told me). The first week she was back was incredibly stressful. Jane took back tasks that had previously been hers, but claimed they were done all wrong, or she didn’t remember how to do them. The best example I have is Fergus dated a document 21-03-15, when she would have marked it 3/15/21. Neither are wrong, just different (this didn’t affect how the document was saved – the name didn’t change, and it was still in the same folder as always).

Shortly after her return, HR and our manager pulled me into a conference room to discuss maternity leave. They then asked if I preferred working with Fergus or Jane. I did hesitate, and offered that there were advantages to working with both. When they explained that there didn’t seem to be enough work in our department for three people (true), but too much for two (also true), they were looking at filtering off some of our tasks, as well as some from other employees who were overburdened and create a new position. I was still hesitant, but did admit that I preferred working with Fergus over Jane. By the end of the week, some of Jane’s work had been shifted back to us, some of our tasks were shifted to her, and she picked up some new responsibilities. It was neither a promotion or demotion, and she was still in her same office.

My coworkers decided to host a small baby shower for me the Friday before I went on leave. Jane absolutely gushed over me (to the point that it was uncomfortable). I gave Fergus a thorough debriefing of the things I could (our work tends to have a short turn-around time, so I finished what I could and handed off the few things I couldn’t), and told him I’d be as available for questions as I could be.

The first day of leave, Fergus called me and told me that Jane had quit that morning, with no notice. I was actually surprised; she seemed more like herself after her surgery. But this means Fergus is working alone basically through July. Some of Jane’s work has been shifted around to other employees until I get back, and then we’ll reassess. I’ve assured Fergus I’ll try to answer his questions when I can.

Oh, and I had my baby last week! Thanks again to the commenters who offered well-wishes. We had some (expected and unavoidable) issues, but overall things went well. I had a little girl three days after my own birthday, so now myself, my daughter, and my mother are all May Tauruses. Kinda cool if you ask me.

Once again, thank you for all your wisdom and help. You and the commenters are great!

did Covid kill office dress codes?

Lots of people got used to working in sweats and slippers this last year. Will they really go back to business casual (or business formal) as offices reopen?

At Slate today, I looked at how people who went remote last year are feeling about returning to collared shirts and pants with zippers — and argue that employers should take this moment to reassess what dress code requirements truly make sense. You can read it here.

can I apply for a temporarily remote job and then insist on remaining remote?

A reader writes:

A work friend and I are on the hunt to escape our hell office. I like remote working, was doing it for mental health reasons before the pandemic, and am trying to apply to permanently remote positions in my field. My work buddy (who was also working remotely before COVID for health reasons) is including “remote during COVID” positions in her job hunt and plans on insisting to be kept remote if there’s any pushback. To be clear: we work in social media and the kind of stuff we do is entirely digital — so, any listing that asks for in-office work strikes me as as boomertastically out-of-touch.

I realize our situations are unique in that we may be able to negotiate remote work by requesting an ADA accommodation (I don’t really want to deal with that, hence why I’m going for perma-remote jobs), but I know my work friend isn’t alone in her line of thought. On one hand, I think “good” because it will put pressure on companies to get with the times, but on the other hand I see how it can be a bit of a gamble. So, what are your thoughts? Is it a bad idea to apply for “temporarily remote” jobs with the intention of staying remote?

Yes, it’s a bad idea. It’s not just a bit of a gamble; there’s a very good chance you’ll be told you need to work from the office as was stipulated up-front when you applied and if you don’t do that, they’ll simply stop employing you.

It’s naive for anyone to think they can just demand it and the company will have to give in. In a lot of cases they wouldn’t budge, especially for a new-ish hire. If you have a lot of leverage (in-demand skills, impressive experience, political capital) … maybe in some cases but still not definitely. And even if they did give in, it might not be the win it seems like; it could use up most or all of your capital, with very little grace extended to you after that, which is not a great position to be in.

And of course, it’s operating in bad faith to take a job knowing you don’t intend to fulfill its clearly stated requirements, but it sounds like your friend might not be terribly concerned about that.

I also wouldn’t assume that you know better than a company you’ve never worked at that they can’t have good cause for wanting the role eventually back on-site. Even jobs where the primary responsibilities are digital can still benefit from having regular in-person contact with colleagues — for training, mentoring, ad hoc brainstorming, and all sorts of other things.

Let me be clear: I fully support remote work when it makes sense for a role, and I’m thrilled that companies are becoming so much more open to it. I work from home and love it and am sympathetic to anyone who wants to stay remote. But there are drawbacks to having remote employees too, ones that are sometimes clearer when you look at a team as a whole rather than an individual role, and you don’t have enough grounding in their context to dismiss those drawbacks out of hand when you don’t even work there. Preferring employees to be in-person isn’t always an indicator that a company is behind the times. Sometimes it’s BS. Sometimes it’s not. Assuming it’s all just “boomertastically out-of-touch” is frankly pretty naive!

If you want to stay remote, apply for permanently remote jobs. Don’t apply under false pretenses to one that isn’t and assume you’ll be able to force the employer to keep it that way.

(ADA accommodations are a whole different thing, but even then employers aren’t required to give you the accommodation you ask for if they find another accommodation that would work.)

employer asked if we should use force to protect traditional values, working with a coworker who drops balls, and more

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

1. Job application asked if we should use force to protect traditional values

I took this online assessment for a right below C-level manager position three weeks ago and I’m still thinking about this question. I’m stunned that it was asked. I’m guessing it skirts the legal line, although is there a legal line about political beliefs? Are questions like this reasonable and should they be expected as part of the interview process?

Application question reads, "Our traditional values are disappearing so fast that force may be necessary to preserve them." Strongly agree/agree/mildly agree/disagree/strongly disagree

Application question reads, “Our traditional values are disappearing so fast that force may be necessary to preserve them.” Strongly agree/agree/mildly agree/disagree/strongly disagree

I wish I had taken pics of the other questions which were just as off putting: do you agree millennials need to just work and stop complaining and should universities teach more life-skills and fewer humanities classes? These questions were interspersed with the usual “I would rather x than Y” type questions. It was all normal until it went off the rails.

I guess there are non-nefarious reasons to ask these types of questions, I just can’t think of them. So, is this legal, or is it just to be used as a flashing red sign to run far and fast from this company?

It’s legal in most of the U.S. There are a couple of jurisdictions here that prohibit discriminating against candidates based on political beliefs, but most don’t. But it’s certainly not reasonable — unless the job is for an insurrectionist, in which case I guess it’s right on target.

The company is at least doing candidates the favor of letting them know right up-front what they’re like.

But nah, it’s not something you should expect to encounter, any more than having to make dinner for 20 employees and perform a choreographed dance routine, ranking whether torturing a person is worse than prostitution, or any of the myriad other ridiculous things outlier interviewers have dreamt up.

2. I don’t want to work on projects with a coworker who drops balls

I have a junior colleague who is always super-keen to collaborate on projects with me, and we have worked on a bunch of stuff together.

However, over the past few years (not only during the pandemic), she has asked to work on projects I am running and then not followed through. I have explained this messes up my timelines, and I have advised that she shouldn’t keep saying she wants to be involved in far more projects than she can clearly handle, and that she must prioritize.

She won’t let go of projects, even when she is not doing any work on them, so that all of her work falls to me but in a non-scheduled or systematic way. Usually she does a little work at the end, when I have become completely stressed or burned out, and then claims it as “our” project.

Most recently, after she didn’t respond to any emails or notices about a project she was very insistent about working on, I just ran it on my own. It was great! It was a huge project, everything was done in an orderly fashion, I wasn’t shattered at the end of it, and it was a smash hit. Just as I was feeling happy and quite proud, she realized she had missed the whole thing and started calling and emailing about how she felt she had been sidelined and wanted to stay a part of the project, and basically claiming a right of ownership over something she had no involvement in — which she insinuated was somehow my fault.

I do not want to work with this woman any more! But we work in the same field, at the same institution (I’m quite senior, she is very junior), and I need a very warm and friendly way to extract myself from any future collaborations because she will always work in my field. What can I do? We used to be so friendly, but I really do not like her at all any more.

It’s more than reasonable to decline to work on projects with her in the future. The next time she asks, say, “We’ve run into issues before when you weren’t able to finish your pieces of the work, so I don’t think it makes sense / I want to handle this one on my own / it’s not a risk I can take.” Or, if you can say it credibly, even just, “I’ve got it covered, but thanks.” But really — you’ve already talked to her about messing up your timelines by taking on more than she can handle, so this shouldn’t come as a shock to her.

3. Asking for a week off as a new hire

I don’t know how to ask my manager for some days off — or if I can at all, not having completed my probation yet.

I started a new job less than two months ago. It is my first time in a big company and first time in this role, and I am basically the last arrived and the most inexperienced. I would like to ask my manager if it is possible for me to take a week off next month (so barely three months into the job) without giving too much explanation about the reason.

On the one hand, I still am in my probation period, which lasts six months, and I have a previous working experience where time off during probation was not seen well. On the other hand, the reason is quite important. Not extremely urgent (I am an expat and need to go to my home country to get some paperwork sorted that the embassy cannot help with), but in a global pandemic, traveling in summer is a lot easier than waiting until October. But I don’t want my personal problems to be reflected on my work life, so I would rather not share this information.

Can I ask for a week off? If so, how? Will it be seen badly? I don’t know what company policy is in these cases.

It doesn’t generally look great to ask for a week off when you’ll barely be three months into the job — unless you have a compelling need for it, which you do (or unless you negotiated it when you were accepting the offer). So you’re better off sharing the reason you need the time. You don’t need to give details about exactly what the paperwork is, but saying there’s something you need to handle in-person in your home country will look better than asking for the week off so early on without explanation.

4. Employer sent me flowers the day after my interview

I recently completed an all-day virtual series of interviews for an academic posting. I sent a thank-you letter the next day. The next next day, I received a lovely plant arrangement from the selection committee.

What does this mean? Top candidate, consolation prize, caring selection committee chair, new HR policy for virtual interviews? And do I need to send a thank-you or acknowledgement for the flowers?

P.S. The note read, “Thank you very much for spending a virtual day with us. We look forward to sharing the results with you soon.” It was signed from the university (not the selection committee specifically).

Academia is its own thing and I can’t speak to what they might have dreamed up in their strange enclave, but answering this without an academia-specific slant: I would assume they’re sending plants or flowers to all their candidates, and that it doesn’t indicate anything more than “thanks for giving us a day of your time.” It’s just a nice gesture. Don’t read anything into it re: your chances.

If you haven’t already sent a post-interview follow-up note, you could include a mention of the plant in that. If you already have, you don’t really need to send anything more (but a very brief “thanks so much for the beautiful plant — what a lovely touch on top of an already great experience” email wouldn’t go amiss either).

5. Asking for lots of meet-and-greets as a new hire

I just started a new job. So far the onboarding has been mostly self-driven and not particularly well organized. I’ve had one 30-minute call with my new manager. She hasn’t really had a direct report (there is an intern and a contractor who report to her but that’s it) so she doesn’t seem familiar with the processes either. She showed me an org chart of the department as a whole and asked that I set up meet-and-greets with basically as many people as possible.

While she did send a quick intro email to the department announcing my start, I still just feel incredibly awkward cold-emailing all these people to ask for 30 minutes of time to say hi. Do you have any suggestions on how to word these emails? Or even just what to include in a subject line?

It’s really normal to do this, so don’t feel weird! And you can specifically say your manager asked you to. But I wouldn’t ask for 30 minutes unless she specifically told you to — that’s a long time for this sort of meeting.

You could just say, “Ophelia suggested I ask if you’d have time for a quick meeting to help me get to know the department and its work better. Would you have time for a short 10- or 15-minute conversation in the next week or two?” And for a subject line, you could write “quick meeting” or even “Ophelia suggested we meet.”

weekend open thread – June 12-13, 2021

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: Last Summer at the Golden Hotel, by Elyssa Friedland. As two families who own a historic Catskills resort gather to decide whether to sell it, family drama, dysfunction, and secrets emerge. It’s funny and includes a lot of enjoyable old-timey Catskills nostalgia. (The author’s The Floating Feldmans is also good.)

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

updates: the nosy coworker, not oversharing as a manager, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. My colleague won’t leave me alone after my former employee died

I want to start with a huge thank you to the AAM community. The messages of support and advice were very helpful in reframing things for myself moving forward.

Myrtle has not texted me at all since I wrote to you, but she did try to bring up my former employee’s death in our next meeting. When she asked if I had heard anything else, I responded “I am upset about [employee’s] death. Out of respect for her and her family, I think it’s important not to contribute to the rumor mill. Now what do you need from me for the X project?” Myrtle seemed a bit flustered, but did refocus and has not brought it up again.

Alison, you were right about their being a much larger pattern of boundary-crossing behavior from Myrtle. In the past, she has brought her children to work events and left them for me to babysit (ignoring my shocked “No! I cannot watch them!”). There’s more, but other details would be too specific for anonymity. Unfortunately, Flitwick and several key managers in my organization also ignore boundaries. The more time I spend in this and similar roles, the more I get the sense that overly-personal work relationships are not abnormal for my current industry and are a fact of life in my geographical area. Hopefully I can use some free resources in the next few months to train for an entirely new career, leave my current organization for good, and move somewhere else in 3-5 years.

In the meantime, I have politely declined any one-on-one meetings with Myrtle without a clear work purpose, thus severing the mentor relationship. We are having to work closely on a special project Flitwick assigned us, but as it is new for both of us it has been easier to maintain an assumption of equal footing. Flitwick and Myrtle are both on information diets – I have been practicing using your past scripts when asking for leave (sick and annual) without providing details that could be used to question my health/state of mind/need for time off. Some of the comments helped me realize that I am not nearly as good at setting (and maintaining) boundaries as I want to be, so I am going to do some self-improvement reading and see if I can find a new therapist to assist me.

2. Not over-sharing as a manager while trying to de-stigmatize mental health

I wanted to write with a very quick update, first to thank everyone for the thoughtful comments and feedback, and also to say that my anxiety level about these issues went down about 5000% when I formally changed my first name and pronouns to reflect my nonbinary gender identity. :)

I realize the gender stuff wasn’t really the focus of my question, but since coming out and changing my name, everything just feels, oof, so much easier. It’s honestly hard to explain, but it’s like a lot of things I used to really intellectualize – “how do I be exactly the right amount of honest/authentic but not uhhhh so much so that it causes problems??” – just don’t require strategizing about anymore. I just am myself and it’s out there and everything else follows from that.

(That’s not to say navigating manager-employee boundaries for the first time isn’t a challenge! It just doesn’t feel like this totally intractable mess anymore.)

Sending all my love and encouragement to any other readers who are on a gender-nonconforming-in-the-workplace journey. I believe you, and believe in you!

3. My employee gets their work done but has a terrible attitude (#2 at the link)

After reading the response and comments, I took the course of action most people had recommended: laying out the specific behaviors I’d like to see changed. I met with Jan, discussed the behaviors that were causing challenges, and shared a very brief, straightforward list of the specific actions I wanted to see as follow up. As many of the commenters suggested would happen, Jan begrudgingly agreed to it and almost immediately failed to meet the actions laid out in it.

Unfortunately, while I had initially received encouragement on developing this plan, my boss did not back me up when I went to him with this update. Instead, he directed me to pull back the plan. Going back to Jan with that had the effect of undermining whatever respect they had for me in the first place, so the situation has just gotten worse. Since it’s now clear there will be no consequences, Jan pretty much does whatever they want, including ignoring asks from me unless my boss is involved somehow. At this point, it feels like my boss should take over managing Jan, but he isn’t willing to (despite Jan asking).

Although I like my job outside of this, I am starting to explore other opportunities. I feel defeated and alone trying to navigate this situation, and I can’t see any positive outcome. I appreciate all the advice from the AAM community. Wish I had a happier update for everyone!

4. Friday good news (#1 at the link)

This is a good (but chaotic) update to the good news that I sent in in August 2020. I was the OP whose organization (Organization A) gave me a 30% raise because 1) I was extremely underpaid for my industry and 2) the need for my role (professional support staff at a nonprofit-type organization …. think IT) expanded greatly due to the pandemic. My plan after that raise had been to quit my contractor role (in a related area, but more specialized) at another organization (Organization B) so that I would have more time in my life. Well, a few months after my raise, two things happened at essentially the same time:

• Organization A drastically cut their benefits to all employees. They had “paused” employer-sponsored retirement contributions back in May 2020, but still have not outlined a plan for putting them back in place… I should note that although this organization has had to make large investments to accommodate the pandemic, they have NOT lost revenue, and I know that they got a large PPP loan. So morale in that department was already a little low, and then they rolled out a plan to eliminate the employer-provided group health insurance (during a PANDEMIC!) and instead provide “individualized health benefits counseling” where they contracted with these consultants to advise employees about joining their spouses plan, getting an ACA plan, or… and this was the real problem … getting a Christian health-sharing plan. Organization A is ecumenically Christian, but employees come from a broad spectrum of beliefs and many were not on board with the idea of having something that is explicitly not health insurance and requires signing a conservative statement of faith. During the rollout of this plan, HR and the higher ups kept emphasizing that the goal was for each employee to have equivalent or better coverage for less money, and the idea was that employees would choose an “individualized” plan, and then Organization A would pay a certain percentage of the premium. However, it eventually became clear that Organization A would only contribute to the cost of health insurance if the employee chose the plan that was recommended to them by the consultant. And, of course, many employees were recommended to get the (very inexpensive, very limited coverage) Christian health-sharing plan (including me). So, the organization effectively eliminated employer-sponsored coverage.

• One of the directors that I worked closely with at Organization B left their job somewhat unexpectedly. Knowing this, I reached out and essentially said that if they were interested in having me continue my role there, I would be interested in a full-time role. I have worked as a contractor with this organization for 2 years, and have great relationships with colleagues there. It took a few months, but eventually they offered me a full-time role with an additional 10% increase in compensation! Alison, this offer is AMAZING. I have never had good benefits before. I will be able to meaningfully save for retirement in the first time in my life.

So, here I am in 2021, soon to be making almost 40% more than I was a year ago and with 1 job for the first time since I was 16. Hopefully there are no more professional changes in my immediate future. I’ve given my two-weeks notice at Organization A and my immediate supervisor is upset, because he will be very overwhelmed when I leave, but he understands where I’m coming from. Every day I hear more complaints from other employees there about how there will be a lot of turnover (at a historically low-turnover organization) in the coming year.

it’s your Friday good news

It’s your Friday good news, with more accounts of success even in this weird time.

1. I’ve been reading this blog for years, usually on my morning commute. I just wanted to write in with some happy job news. I am a degreed librarian with a second niche MA and have worked in libraries in some capacity about 7 years total. My goal for many, many years was to become a specific type of librarian, and so I supplemented my library jobs with a handful of programming gigs directly related to this role. To be an “official” librarian, you need a Master’s in Library/Information Science, so I enrolled in a special library program specifically preparing students for the exact role I wanted. Extremely long story short, my grad progam absolutely killed my passion for libraries. When I graduated I spent months applying to anything-but-library jobs and was rejected or ghosted by most places I applied– and I don’t blame them! I spent my entire working life gunning for a hyper-specific career and my work experience showed it. I did have one promising interview outside the field (we’ll get to that later), and one disastrous still-in-libraries full-day interview (academia…), but that was it.

I ended up applying to one of those hyper-specific library jobs when it became financially necessary to just get a job, any job. I was offered that position, and –in the same week!– another completely unrelated to libraries position that seemed interesting and aligned with a lot of my interests. Faced with those two options, I felt like I had to pick libraries one last time, as I had never actually done the job I had spent so many years preparing for. At the time, I also couldn’t afford the lower salary. So, I accepted the position and made a lot of necessary and fulfilling changes to my department in my first six months. I didn’t magically start to love libraries, but at least I had a stable job with a decent salary. Then… the pandemic hit, and I was laid off exactly a year from my start date. As I know you’ve seen, libraries were, well, not the best places to work in a pandemic. I spent eight grueling unemployed months reading Ask a Manager, scrolling jobs-related subreddits, and sending out applications to all sorts of places. I had two interviews in that whole period, neither of which led to anything.

But then the non-library job I was offered when I first graduated was open again. I read all of your cover letter writing advice (including a particularly helpful post on career changes) and sent in a cover letter unlike any I have ever written. Looking back, I know the confidence hit from being unemployed for so long really showed through in this letter and in my first interview (!) with the company, but there’s no changing that now (I cringe at my use of the word “unconventional” TWICE). The hiring team remembered me, invited me to interview again, and I start in two weeks! I still can’t quite believe it– how often do we get do-overs?

Anyway, I really just wanted to say thank you. I’ve read so many helpful comments and posts over the years, and I’m happy to finally have something positive to show for it.

2. The pandemic really highlighted the weaknesses at my workplace (morale is non-existent as is effective communication, and favoritism runs rampant). I have been looking for a new job since last summer but even in normal times my area is over saturated with candidates for my industry. To say the least, my search has been discouraging. But, today I received an official offer for a new job! The pay is very slightly more but I’ll actually work less. From reading AAM, I’ve picked up great tips about assessing workplaces and bosses in interviews and I feel hopeful about my new employer. This position will also allow me to learn a lot more industry specific skills that I’m excited to explore. Between finally qualifying for a covid vaccine and this new opportunity, I finally feel like 2021 will be better than 2020.

3. I’m a long-time reader, occasional commenter and just wanted to give you a little bit of really good news about my job. So I’ve been working at my current employer since December 2018, and in 2019 I finally felt brave enough to come about about part of my queerness, and my Grandboss was so happy with this that I was invited to join the Employee Resource Group for LGBTQIA+ people in March 2019. Side note: I love Fergus, he is everything I want to be in a manager. Aside from being visible queer representation in a notoriously conservative industry, he’s fair and sound and really champions people from the ground up. But all that is by-the-by.

On to my more recent Good News. In aid of Trans Day of Visibility 2021 I was invited to attend a webinar by said LGBTQIA+ network that really helped to clarify some things that I had been pondering about my gender since Lockdown 1 in March 2020. I included my pronouns in my Zoom handle and was called out by the speakers as normalising neopronouns in a really positive way, and that made my mind up. I called my direct manager after the webinar and came out as nonbinary to her, and let her know that when Employer rolls out the Pronouns-in-the-email-signatures thing (hopefully HR will sign off on it in time for Pride 21) that mine would be Ey/Em/Eir as well as the She/Her that my colleagues are used to. And while she was taken by surprise she was incredibly supportive and told me she was proud of me.

I don’t know about others, but I’ve really felt like this job, which I stumbled into purely by accident, has been the best move of my life, giving me the support I needed to question both my orientation and gender and the security to come out and be supported and not fear retaliation.

I hope someday soon all employers will be as supportive and inclusive as mine.

4. Avid reader of yours and wanted to share a little good news. So throughout my adult life, I haven’t really had a solid career path that felt right. I graduated college in 2008 with a degree in Anthropology, worked at a school, did retail, and eventually got into an office admin type role which is where I thought I wanted to be. I soon felt bored and roughly a year or so into that job, my partner and I decided to up and move to BigCity nearby. I had gotten another job in sales which I hated, got back into an administrative role, got laid off from that, and then started another office admin role. I found myself bored once again but decided to use that time to study up on Excel and then on the CRM we were using. A year later, I got myself a certification for that CRM (a major, well recognized/respected certification). Eight months after that, this Monday, I accepted a role as the CRM Administrator at a different company. This came with a 44% increase in my salary which after years of struggling and undervaluing myself feels amazing (money isn’t everything, but it sure helps). Your site (and book!) have been instrumental in helping me to process through impostor syndrome, writing resumes, interviewing etc. I am so excited to begin this new chapter in my career with all the challenges and opportunities it will bring! Thank you!

5. A few years ago, I started working at a job that was a Perfect Fit for me. I loved every single day of work, I loved my director and teammates, it was everything that I hoped for. And then we got a new director, and everything changed. My job title across the company was eliminated and I was demoted, and then our team started to experience insane turnover (I was there for 4 years and had 5 directors) with most of the people at my level getting fired rather than resigning.

And then 2020 happened – I was diagnosed with severe depression and forced into a short term leave, which blew my mind. I was basically told that I needed to choose to take a leave or be fired, even though I begged them not to make me take a leave. After that happened, I polished my resume and cover letter and started to look, but given my field I knew that things were going to be tight. My profession is one of the first to get laid off/fired when the economy slides, so I knew my market was flooded with highly skilled and talented folks. I applied for a few jobs over my 3 month leave, and kept looking even as I busted my butt to keep my employment.

In February, though, a company that I’ve always wanted to work at posted a job opening that was literally a perfect fit for me. This company is one that I’ve applied at many times and never once got an interview (I was never qualified, but what’s the harm in applying, right?), are highly awarded across Canada, and a 10 minute drive from my home. So I applied, and kept my cool about it…. and they called me back! It was 3 weeks from application to offer, and I was able to negotiate an amazing total benefits package! It’s a total dream for me – everything that I love to do professionally, coupled with an amazing team!

Thanks for this amazing blog – I love the resources, I love the stories (and I’m so grateful that I’m not the only one who has experienced terrible jobs!) and I love reading your advice.

open thread – June 11-12, 2021

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

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

do younger managers still care about thank-you notes, I don’t want to hire my ex’s father, and more

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

1. Do younger hiring managers still care about thank-you notes?

I’ve been on a couple of job interviews for entry-level jobs in my field and have a question about post-interview thank you letters. My rule is to always send one if the interviewer is a bit older (40+) or if the interview process is very formal.

I recently applied for a job with a start-up; the process was casual and the people who interviewed me were all around their mid-20s. Should I be sending a thank-you email after these types of interviews? I always end the interview with a clear thank you and I feel that millennials tend to see these messages as insincere and purely procedural.

Also, what is the protocol when you’re not offered the interviewer’s email at all? Is this signal that they don’t want candidates contacting them directly?

It’s generally a bad move to assume all people of a particular generation feel a certain way about anything. There are plenty of younger managers who appreciate thoughtful post-interview notes. And millennials have received the same guidance to send post-interview notes that other generations have received, so even if they’re more cynical about them, they’ll know why you’re sending it and in many cases will have sent their own. There’s a greater risk of being at a disadvantage for not sending one than for sending one. (And you know, younger managers often have older bosses … although really, we shouldn’t be playing into generational stereotypes at all. It’s not great for prospective colleagues to assume things about you based on your age, in either direction!)

If the concern is that a note will appear insincere and purely procedural, then write a note that doesn’t feel that way. Everyone should be doing anyway, since perfunctory notes are crap no matter how old the recipient is.

If you’re not offered the interviewer’s email, it usually doesn’t mean much more than that they didn’t think to offer it. You should still send the note.

2. I don’t want to be listed on a company website for safety reasons

A situation that occurred a couple of years ago still bugs me, so I’d like your take on it. At the time, I had been in my position for five years when my past came back to haunt me. Long story short, I found out that a man who had previously raped, stalked, and threatened to kill me was asking around about how to contact me. Those events happened 10 years ago, but, for hopefully obvious reasons, some fear of him remains. I choose to remain unfound by him and, when I discovered he had renewed efforts to find me, I asked my employer to remove my information from their website — information that included my full name, picture, and the location of where I go to work everyday.

For context, I was in a client-facing position, but my role served only a specific pool of people who didn’t need the website to reach me, as there were internal contacts for that. Think, someone contracted out to work with just one company and clients didn’t come from anywhere else. I was also a trusted, hard-working employee who wasn’t known for complaining or making special requests. After some discussion, I was essentially told no. They would not long-term remove my information from the website without documentation proving the threat. I don’t have, nor can I get, such documentation. One of the reasons they gave was “anyone could come in and say this and it’s important that our website represents our employees.” Aside from the fact that insinuating a rape survivor is lying is just bad, am I right to be disturbed by their stance on this or is this an expected stance? I have since moved on from this job for this, and other, reasons. Is there a more effective way to approach this issue in the future or am I now limited to non-client facing positions (which is not really a thing in my career)?

No, this is super messed up. When an employee says having their info publicly available is putting them at risk of violence, responsible companies remove that information. That can get trickier if the position by its nature is a very public one (although even then they should try to work with you to figure out how to keep you safe), but that wasn’t the situation here. Your former employer handled this terribly, and I’m sorry they made a horrible situation even worse for you.

Going forward, if you’re considering taking a job with a company that lists its staff publicly, you could raise it once you have an offer — saying something like, “I’ve had a frightening stalking situation in the past and to keep myself safe from a recurrence am careful not to put anything online revealing my location. I know you list your staff on your website and I’d need to be excluded from that for safety reasons.” A good employer will make that happen.

3. Is it okay not to want to hire my ex’s father?

I’m the hiring manager for two new roles on my team which will report to me, and I’ve dove in to LinkedIn Recruiting to encourage potential candidates to apply. In one of my searches for people to contact, a familiar name appeared in the results — my high school ex’s father.

I went to high school in a different state than I live in now, and unbeknownst to me it turns out he entered the field in which I work and moved here. My relationship with his daughter in high school was fraught with problems. She emotionally abused me, manipulated me, and cheated on me, among other things. To make matters worse, her father was borderline abusive to her at the time and I had an almost non-existent relationship with him while I was dating her. My relationship with her caused me to carry substantial baggage into future relationships for decades.

Upon seeing his name and profile in the results, I did some quick Googling to confirm it was in fact him, and it was. His profile and experience honestly match what I’m looking for in my two new hires, but after sitting and thinking about it for a few minutes, I marked him as “Not a Fit” and added a note to my coworkers that I had a previous personal history with him and could not work with him (and also noted that doesn’t mean he couldn’t work with other people in my organization).

Did I make the right choice here? On the one hand, I feel like I should be trying to find the best people to work with me and my organization, and he could very well be a strong contributor. On the other, I’m not sure I see a path to being able to viably manage him, and I’m sure his mere presence would constantly remind me of his daughter — at least for awhile.

You’re fine. This guy didn’t even apply! You just declined to try to recruit him. You have no obligation to try to recruit people you have a history with just because they’re qualified for the job.

If he applied, it would get a little trickier — but even then it’s fine to decide that you can’t objectively manage someone you have a personal history with. It’s true that this person is fairly removed from you — he’s not the one you dated, and it doesn’t sound like you had much or any contact with him yourself — but if you know you couldn’t manage him effectively, you’re not required to ignore that out of some idea of fairness. (It also wouldn’t be particularly fair to hire him into a job with a manager who doesn’t want to be around him.) You wouldn’t be expected to hire the ex, and you don’t need to hire her father either.

4. How do I gracefully reject a former employee who keeps applying for a new job with me?

I am the hiring manager for a role that becomes available from time to time, and a coworker I used to manage has applied to it pretty consistently. I am not interested in bringing them on — they bring a good amount of drama into the workplace and are generally unreliable and difficult to train.

The first time they applied, we had an internal candidate express interest in transferring to this role and I let them know that. The second time, they applied a bit late in the process, and I already had some candidates I was interviewing and moving forward with. However, that might not always be the case, and like clockwork they have applied to my most recent open position.

Do you have some messaging that I can use that would communicate that this just isn’t going to be a fit? We had discussed their performance issues in their annual reviews, so it wouldn’t come out of left field to acknowledge that it’s an issue, but it seems a little inappropriate to give that kind of feedback when I’m not their current manager.

I’d just say, “Hi Jane, thanks for your interest in the X role. I know you’ve expressed interest in it a few times so I gave it some thought and unfortunately I don’t think it’s the right match. That said, I hope you’re doing well and wish you all the best!” If there’s something you can easily offer as a reason (“we’re looking for more experience in X / stronger skills in Y / etc.”), add that in — but otherwise it’s okay to be vague.

The two of you discussed your concerns with her work when she worked for you so she should be able to put the pieces together. But if she does ask why it’s not the right fit and, assuming there’s not an easy-to-provide explanation like the ones above, it’s okay to say something like, “You have a lot of strengths, but the performance issues we were working on when you were in the X role would be prohibitive for this job.”

5. Clothes for exercising during work breaks

Thanks to lowered Covid case rates and high vaccination rates in my state, I’m thankfully done with WFH and back in the office. Unfortunately, my gym hasn’t reopened yet, so I’m looking at a summer of running and biking outdoors for exercise, either on the way in to work or during my lunch break.

I do have the ability to change clothes and shower at the office, but I still have to walk past several colleagues’ desks to get from the entrance to the locker room. I’m a woman with an, ahem, Rubenesque figure. What can I wear to work out in during the heat of summer that won’t have me squirming in embarrassment while I dash to the showers to clean up and change? We have a casual office environment, but I’m not sure I want to stroll in in runners tights and a tank top.

I try not to ever engage in physical exertion, so I’m going to throw this out to readers for suggestions.