my boss disapproves of our snow day policy

A reader writes:

I work for a post-secondary institution in a location where the odd winter storm shuts operations down. Pre-pandemic, the policy was that the school was closed and all students and staff had the day off, akin to it being a holiday. During the pandemic when everyone was remote, they updated the policy so that we did NOT get a snow day off (students still had virtual class, and employees still worked virtually … but I don’t think we ever actually even had a snow day anyway). Now that in-person operations have resumed, they updated their policy again to reflect that all students and staff would get snow days off, even virtual classes are cancelled, and even fully remote employees get the day off.

My team is currently working 100% remotely. When I woke up this morning, I was so excited/giddy — it’s like being a kid again! Our HR representative sent our team (he knows we are all remote) an email letting us know we have the day off, or to let him know if we prefer to work today and take an in-lieu day another time. I messaged back thanking him and letting him know I’d like to work today given some upcoming deadlines, but that I will bank an in-lieu day. I also messaged my manager to let her know that’s what I would be doing, and she said, “Okay.”

My manager is also working today, and when we logged onto our planned meeting, I mentioned how exciting it was that it was a snow day. She immediately said something along the lines of, “The whole premise is simply ridiculous, like come on, if you’re remote, I’m sorry but you give up that privilege of getting a day off.” I gave a polite/lighthearted laugh and kind of changed the subject, but in all honesty it really upset me.

From my perspective, this is a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence (we get a snow day maybe once every two years) that is a tiny unique perk of working for a school. Our salaries are much lower than similar positions in other industries, so the benefits and perks granted to us are what make working here worthwhile. So, when a small perk is criticized as if it shouldn’t exist, it makes me feel unappreciated. There is long-term value in terms of employee happiness when we know we are supported in taking advantage of a free bonus day off when it rolls around once every couple years, so it upset me to know we are not supported. I get that it may be an issue if everyone took the day off all at once, but since we are taking in-lieu days all at different times, I am uncomfortable with how the comment came across as if we basically don’t deserve it.

This comment has made me feel awkward about asking to take the in-lieu day when I eventually want it, since I need to ask my manager for her approval first before booking it with our HR rep. Any thoughts or advice here so I can take a well-deserved break via using my in-lieu day and stop feeling so guilty? I’m not concerned that it won’t be approved, I just feel weird that it will be approved despite the fact that I know secretly that she has shared with me that she does not actually approve of the idea of getting an extra day off in theory.

It actually is fairly unusual that if you end up having to work on a snow day, they’ll give you an extra day off to take at a later time. Typically if you have to work on the snow day because of the needs of your job, you just … miss out on the snow day. It sounds like your employer decided it wasn’t fair for some people to get stuck working on a day they’re canceling everything else, and that’s pretty great of them — but it’s definitely unusual, and I suspect that’s driving your boss’s reaction.

I don’t agree with her logic — there are plenty of reasons why someone remote might still need to take a snow day (like if their young kids’ school or daycare is cancelled, for example) — but I do think a lot of people would think, “Okay, we’re closed for people who can’t get to the office, but you’re remote and you’re working today anyway, so why are we giving you a whole extra day off later on?” The answer to that is “because everyone else is getting the day off and this is an easy way to avoid resentment.” It’s like saying “we’re closed for Memorial Day, but if your workload requires you to work that day anyway, bank the day for later.” It’s a simple way to be fair and boost morale. I’d like to see more employers do it.

I don’t think your manager’s comment was outrageous though — other than the fact that she said it to someone she manages and so now of course you’re in a position where you have to worry about using your extra banked day. The best way to handle that is to remind yourself that you’re following your employer’s policy and using the benefits that they have willingly given you as part of your compensation.

When you’re ready to schedule that day, you don’t need to highlight that it’s a makeup day from the snow; you can just say, “I banked an additional leave day that I need to schedule, and my plan is to take it on (date) if that works for you.”

updates: my new boss scolded us about our private chat messages, and more

Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. My new boss scolded us about our private chat messages

First off, thank you so much for answering my letter. I sincerely appreciated your nuanced take on the situation, and it was so interesting to read through the debate in the comments over expectations of monitoring chat messages on company platforms.

So, as you can probably imagine, things got so much worse after the incident I described in my letter. Meetings with my boss now regularly go over the scheduled time by at least 1.5 hours, and she is consistently late by 15-30 min with no heads up she is running late. She refused to learn our calendar platform, and instead chose to roll out a second scheduling system, meaning we now need to manually keep two calendars updated with the same information. During many meetings, she stated that the “powers that be” were not impressed with our performance (a statement that went against all the positive feedback we were consistently hearing from the higher-ups), but could not back this up with details about what specifically they had issues with other then that she herself was frustrated with how we asked clarifying questions about her confusing policy changes instead of just accepting what she said without question. After one long meeting, where there was a lot of pushback against a policy change, she sent out a passive-aggressive email where she included a screenshot of the org chart and stated we all needed to listen to her without question because we report to her. She consistently takes 1-2 weeks to respond to time sensitive emails or chat messages, which makes getting work done hard since we are all remote. She has also yelled at people on the team for things such as pointing out frustrations they are experiencing with their work, reaching out to those higher up in the organization to get answers to work questions instead of going through her first, or doing anything she perceives as questioning her authority. I could go on and on, but to keep this short let’s just say it’s been a mess of bad communication, power tripping, and short sighted, confusing policy changes which change constantly and have us all running around like ants with our heads cut off.

All of this, on top of my company stating we shouldn’t expect any title changes or salary increases for the next 5 years, had me rocketing into my job search, and I’m happy to report I found a fantastic new job at a great company with a big increase in salary. I am currently finishing out my last week of my notice, and then have two week off before starting this new job. There have been a lot of others on the team who have also resigned, and I’ve heard from many other coworkers (through text messaging on personal phones or in virtual meetings and never written down in any company platform because we have learned our lesson) that they are actively job searching. It seems that most of the team will probably be leaving within the next few months. Needless to say, it’s been a wild few months, and I am so excited to be getting out and moving on to bigger and better things!

2. My boss is discriminating against my pregnant employee

I wrote in a couple years ago about my boss “Ron” discriminating against my pregnant employee “Jane” for being pregnant.

Ron still has knee-jerk reactions (he’s gotten better about this – we’ve talked about it and he agrees it’s a problem) and a tendency to worry that people are taking advantage of him, but I’ve learned that he’s pretty easily persuaded to see reason. In the last couple years I think I’ve become much better about calling him on it, and I’ve tried very hard not to let his attitude impact how I manage my employees. These days, I make decisions about how to manage my team and then just make my case with Ron afterwards if he doesn’t agree with them – he usually ends up agreeing with me.

Jane is still working for us after her maternity leave, still in the same role but with slightly reduced hours to fit around her childcare that she can flex when needed. In general, we’ve been really happy with her work. We’ve enrolled her in some certification courses she’d need to eventually move to the B2B team, which she says it’s something that she might be interested in eventually but doesn’t feel ready for yet. This isn’t a move we had discussed with her when I wrote the original letter, just a move I had suggested to Ron for later down the line.

Overall, the workplace has become a lot more family-friendly/work-life-balance-friendly. We’ve moved to a 4 day/30 hour workweek (with no decrease in salary), and we’ve instituted 5 extra paid emergency childcare/compassionate leave days for everyone. We’re all working on a hybrid schedule, half our days in the office and half WFH.

In the comments, I was warned about staying at the company if I was planning to have a child. I’m happy to say that I’m currently pregnant, and Ron has taken it surprisingly well. He’s offered me an extremely generous maternity leave package, and seems genuinely happy for me. I think he was relieved that I’m only planning to take 6 months leave rather than the full year I could take (we’re not in the US).

I was really grateful for your advice and that in the comments; I wasn’t even aware how much Ron’s attitude was affecting my own management. Now, if I feel uncomfortable with something, I feel much more secure in pushing back.

3. What am I allowed to do on sick leave? (#2 at the link)

I really appreciated your firm and positive response to my letter. It’s been ages but I happened to read another answer recently and it reminded me: I should send an update!

So I followed the advice and did everything I thought would help fix the anxiety – shops, walks, museums, cafes, the lot. I started small and then decided at the end of the month to book an additional week’s vacation time to go on a short holiday abroad (for context, I’m in Europe, so that’s only a two-hour train away). It was hard, but successful.

18 months on, I’m one of the more outgoing members of my team again. I travel frequently for work, did well on all my appraisals, and while anxiety is there in the background, it’s super well-managed. I think in part that is because, rather than getting into a hole of staying home and doing nothing while off sick, I made the most of all the treatment, including sunlight, friends and activities. Grateful to you for the response and the encouragement.

let’s talk about passive-aggressive notes at work

In any office, you’re likely to find at least one passive-aggressive note — whether it’s the note scolding whoever keeps leaving dishes in the sink, or the frustrated sign in the bathroom reminding you to clean up after yourself (generally placed there after someone has not).

Often you can feel the rage emanating off of these notes. They’re not just matter-of-fact reminders; full of all caps, bold fonts, and underlining, they’re salvos in an ongoing war for consideration of others.

What are some of the funniest/weirdest/most dramatic notes you’ve seen at work?

coworker keeps saying I’m too muscular, boss suggested I work on a sick day, and more

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

1. Coworker keeps saying I’m too muscular

I am currently working in an allied health field as a practitioner in a private practice, and am (mostly) very happy with my job and my career. I am also an avid gym-goer, which has led to this problem.

We have a practice manager, “Jane,” who is not really my boss as I don’t report to her, but she is the head of the administrative side of things which I guess puts her higher up the ladder than me. We didn’t often interact until recently due to office re-arrangements.

We now see each other much more often. Jane has begun to make several comments on my body, saying that I am “too muscular,” and that she doesn’t “like men that big.” Jane has also stated that my tattoos are inappropriate (two sleeves of snakes, skulls and flowers, nothing outrageous) and insinuated that I am “intimidating” to clients, saying that clients may be physically intimidated by my physique and tattoos and also that clients who are not in good physical shape may feel insecure about my fitness. Furthermore, Jane has made comments to myself and others that I might have outbursts of “roid rage.”

I do indeed use steroids, but I have no difficulty with temper and am in fact a very quiet guy. I did not tell Jane this though, and fail to see how it’s any of her business as long as it doesn’t affect my work.

I am unsure of what to say to her, as Jane is senior to me and I hate confrontation in general, and was hoping you could help me with a script. I am especially worried that she already sees me as potentially unprofessional and aggressive, and am hopeful you can give me something that will convey that I want her to drop the issue without giving her more ammunition.

Whoa, she’s really out of line. In theory the next time she makes one of these comments, you say, “Please stop commenting on my body” or “I don’t want to talk about my body at work and it’s weird that you keep bringing this up.” Or if you think she’s the type to respond better to this, “You keep commenting on my body and it’s making me super uncomfortable and self-conscious. I just want to get my work done and your comments are making that hard.” (To be clear, you shouldn’t need to soften it like this! But I want to give you a few options because she has power and also sounds out of her gourd.)

Ideally, though, you’d skip all that and go over her head. Small medical practices are notorious for not having real management structures in place, and I’m guessing you don’t have anything like HR or even a person above Jane you could go to. But if you do, skip everything above and go to that person. If you don’t, is there someone else who’s high enough up for Jane to listen to who you could talk to about what’s going on and enlist them to speak to her?

2. Should I pay a service to improve my resume?

I’m hoping you can give me some advice on whether or not I should spend money to help better position myself to find a job. I graduated from college just before the pandemic and was not able to find a position in the journalism or communications fields I’ve been attempting to enter. I recently had a paid internship but it stopped at the end of January. I’ve been seriously job-hunting for the last three months and have had zero interviews despite sending out dozens upon dozens of applications. Frustrated, I happened upon a website last week that offered to evaluate my resume and ran it through an artificial intelligence software that it claims many companies use to screen applicants. Unequivocally, the results they offered said that my resume is actively hindering my job search. Thankfully, this same website/company offers a full resume overhaul, done by professionals for $200.

Given how little interest I’ve garnered for jobs I’m definitely qualified for, I’m considering coughing up the money, However, a longtime reader of your website (my mother) has encouraged me to reach out to you first. From reading your website, she believes that many of these companies offer bad advice and are often scams. I agreed to reach out to gauge your opinion on these sites and to see if they’re a good use of my money. I’m also attaching my resume and a sample cover letter to see if you agree with their assessment of my materials.

Your mom is right. (I so infrequently get the opportunity to say that!) Those sites are scams; as far as I can tell, every resume evaluation they do reaches the conclusion that — surprise! — you need to pay for their help. Once you do, the advice they provide will generally be generic and no more useful than what you could find in 20 minutes of googling on your own. Definitely don’t give them your money.

Your resume is … fine. It’s fine in that it’s exactly like 95% of resumes out there, which means that it looks professional and well-organized but it just summarizes what you were responsible for at each job. Because it’s just like 95% of resumes out there, it’s not going to stand out — especially for someone at the start of their career without a ton of experience yet. If you want to improve it, the way to do that is to include what you achieved at each job — not just the activities you performed, but the accomplishments you had. Think outcomes, not activities; there’s advice on how to do that here. (For breaking into writing fields, what you really need are published clips, and it looks from your resume like you have those.)

3. My boss suggested I work from home while still taking a sick day

I was recently discussing my options with my manager on a day I felt too bad to be in the office but had a lot on my plate that I was worried about having to reschedule. We’ve previously had a fair bit of flexibility, including the ability to work from home if too ill to come into the office but okay enough to stagger on in terms of getting work done, but that has been officially withdrawn. Knowing that I was concerned about my workload, my manager suggested that I mark the day as sick time in the leave system, but work the full day anyway, “to allow me to work from home.”

Ultimately I just took the sick day, of course, but that suggestion feels wrong to me. Is it illegal? Is this something I should bring up later in a “hey, maybe educate yourself on what’s legal and not” way? I’ve done a bunch of googling around labor laws in my state but I can’t find a definitive answer as to legality, and I checked the leave policy statement on my (large) organization’s HR site and found nothing about taking sick leave but being asked to work anyway.

It’s legal in most states, but obviously incredibly messed up — if you’re going to be charged a sick day, why would you bother working from home? Sick leave is for days when you’re not working, not just when you’re working from a different location. What your boss was suggesting was that you take a hit to your accrued leave while the company still got the benefit of you working — all upside for them, all downside for you.

It may or may not be worth bringing back up with your boss now, but it certainly wouldn’t be unreasonable to say, “I was surprised you suggested I work from home while taking a sick day since it doesn’t make sense to me to lose a day of leave when I’m working the whole day.” If her thinking was that you had important stuff to get done that day even though you couldn’t come in, maybe she can use that as impetus to advocate for switching your WFH policy back to what it used to be.

4. How much prodding should I do as an interviewer?

I’m a newer manager currently hiring at my job for an entry-level role, meaning some of the folks I’m interviewing have maybe never had an interview before. I try my best to make sure my questions are worded as clearly as possible and I’m happy to provide clarification if a candidate is unsure of what I’m asking. But when a candidate doesn’t fully answer my question, gives an extremely short answer with no elaboration, or gives a response that doesn’t get at what I’m asking, am I supposed to prod them for more?

For example, I asked a candidate for an example of how they handled making a mistake at work, and instead of giving me a specific example, they generally spoke about how they handle mistakes. (I start by saying “can you tell me about a time when…” so I think it’s clear I’m looking for a specific example.) I had another candidate who answered most of my questions by giving examples from their prior job in a different, unrelated field but without connecting them to what I was asking about for this job. Some of my questions related to work style or communication style also got really short answers, like “I prefer X” with no elaboration.

In these cases, should I have asked them to give a specific example / clarify the connection for me / elaborate? I am not sure if I’m meant to take their slightly off answers as an answer in and of itself, or if I should let them know they didn’t really answer it for me. If I do have to prompt someone more, is that something I should note about their interview? There were a few instances where the answer was so off I did clarify — for example, one person misunderstood the question completely so I re-explained and got a proper answer. In another instance, I asked a candidate how they would manage their workload within the somewhat unusual schedule at our workplace, and their answer was basically that they would not follow that schedule, so I clarified for them it was not optional to not follow the schedule and given that, what would they do instead.

I’m only having these issues with a small portion of the folks I’m interviewing, and I do have a lot of great candidates who are having no problem answering my questions in the intended way. I just want to make sure I’m not being unfair to people who are new to the working world, since this is an entry-level job.

Yes, if someone doesn’t fully answer your question or it’s clear they misunderstood it, you should prod for more or clarify. That’s true with candidates at any level, but especially with entry-level candidates since they often won’t have the frame of reference that will help more experienced candidates understand what you’re looking for. Basically, you want to set candidates up for success (within reason); if a little guidance helps them give you a better sense of how well they’d do in the job, it makes sense to provide that guidance.

I do think it’s fair to take it into account if someone seems to need a lot of guidance and prodding — not for cases when they just need a little (people are nervous or inexperienced and natural misunderstandings happen), but if you have to struggle to get more than one-sentence answers out of someone for the entire interview, that’s relevant data about what it might be like to work with them.

5. Asking for a new office chair when you’re too short for the one provided

I have a quibble I’d love your take on. This is my second job where the office chair is an Aeron, and I freaking hate them. They’re sized chairs, and I’m too short to fit the standard size that every workplace seems to order. As a result, I’ve been having excruciating wrist and neck pain, and have had to take muscle relaxants for the first time in my life.

Is it reasonable to ask my job to either find the the smaller model of the Aeron or cover some/all of the cost of a new chair? It’s not the end of the world to have an uncomfy chair or buy my own, but I’m frustrated with all office stuff being designed for taller people (i.e., men).

Yes, this is a really common and standard request — even from people who aren’t having the painful effects you’re experiencing!

“Our standard chairs don’t fit me and I’ve been having severe wrist and neck pain as a result. Can I get a smaller chair? There’s a smaller model of this one if we want them to match, or I can look at other options.” And go in expecting them to cover the full cost, because they probably will.

my intern is way too passive

A reader writes:

I am currently supervising an intern, Lauren, who is completing a postgrad professional degree in my field. The placement with my organization is a mandatory part of her course, and she is here to learn high-level skills with an emphasis on critical thinking and creativity. My field is one that most people enter out of a passion for the work (there’s not much money in it!).

Lauren has been with us for a few months now and she is still just … completely passive. She will complete concrete tasks (to a pretty uninspiring standard — sometimes seeming to give up if her first attempt doesn’t work) if I assign them to her, and she watches me do my work, and that’s about it. When I ask about her learning goals or interests, she has none or seems to make up a generic answer on the spot. When I ask her to keep me updated on her workload and let me know when she wants a new project, she says nothing (which makes me wonder if she’s just slacking off; we’re working mostly remotely so I don’t have a lot of oversight). When I ask her to choose which of a few projects she’d like to be involved in, she just says she’ll do whatever I need her to do. I’ve tried explaining to her that she’s here to learn and not to be my assistant (frankly, she’s not very helpful anyway) to no avail. I’ve explained the importance of being proactive, creativity, critical thinking, etc. I’ve done everything I can think of to allow her to feel safe asking questions and expressing opinions. If things don’t change soon, I can’t give her a passing grade (I haven’t said this to her yet, but I plan to this week).

What would you do? I’ve never been in this situation before — all of my previous students have been thrilled to be here and constantly asking questions — so I’m stuck!

I think it will help to think of it this way: the internship is supposed to be a learning experience for Lauren and you have an opportunity to teach her things that could really help her professionally … just not in the way you’re used to. Your previous interns might have needed to learn field-specific skills; what Lauren needs to learn is how to communicate in an office, how to take initiative (and that she needs to, and what that looks like), and how to engage with the people guiding her work.

If she doesn’t learn those things now, it’s likely to cause her real problems in future jobs. You have an opportunity to help teach them to her!

There’s no guarantee that your efforts will work, of course. She might not be in a place where she’s receptive to what you’re trying to teach. But you should give it a shot.

Since she needs to make significant changes in order to get a passing grade, that gives you a really easy framework to use. You can sit down with her and say something like this, “I want to talk about some concerns I have with your work. Right now, as things stand, I would not be able to give you a passing grade for your internship. But there is time for us to change that, and I think you can succeed here if you’re open to making these changes. What I need to see is…”

And then be really specific — more specific than you probably think you need to be. For example, don’t just say “be proactive” because she probably doesn’t know what that should look like. Explain the broad principle you want (which could be “be proactive”) but then give multiple concrete examples of what that should look like (“for example, when we meet about the taco campaign on Friday, I want you to bring three ideas for social media promotion — here are some social media ideas interns generated in the past, so you can see the format and nature of what I’m looking for”).

Also, be explicit about the things you have asked her to do that she’s not doing — “I have asked you to keep me updated on your workload but haven’t heard anything after that. I’d like you to send me an email every Monday morning listing your priorities for the week, things you completed the previous week, and any questions or things you’re getting stuck on. We’ll plan to meet every Monday at 2, so I’d like the email no later than noon.” (Or whatever.) I’m guessing this is a lot more prescriptive than you had to be with previous interns — and you might not want to be this prescriptive — but it sounds like Lauren doesn’t know what it means when you ask her to keep you updated, and you’ll be doing her a favor if you paint a clear picture of what it looks like to do it successfully. (Then do the same for all the other most important things you want to see her do.)

And then say this: “Without you making these changes, I can’t give you a passing grade. But I’m confident you can do this, and the support I can offer to help is ___.” (Fill in some ideas there, because I would bet significant amounts of money that she doesn’t know what she could ask for.)

From there, it’s up to her. But you’ll have set her up for success as much as you could, by spelling out really clearly what she needs to pass, and offering her help to get there. If she doesn’t meet the bar you laid out, then you’ll have made the consequences clear. But if it does help her learn how to navigate work, it might have even more of an impact on her future than what your previous interns learned.

should I insist my employees get comfortable with public speaking?

A reader writes:

As a director, a large part of my role involves public speaking and training, which I enjoy and am good at.

Two junior people I supervise are not public speakers. They, each to varying degrees, hate it to the point that they will avoid it at all costs. It gives them a tremendous amount of anxiety, and if asked to present to a crowd larger than a small meeting, they react with refusal, anger, and sometimes tears. I was asked to present the strategy for our team at an all-staff meeting next week, and when I asked my employees to present with me, they both declined. One of them sent me an email yesterday suggesting other ways that staff members can share information, for “those among us who just aren’t cut out for public speaking.”

I believe that not being able to present is a career limiting move, and I have encouraged both of these staff members to work on their fear. But that comment made me wonder — does everyone in an office environment need to be able to speak in public? Does my employees’ inability to do this specific thing reflect badly on them, or on me as a manager as well? Certainly, it is not ideal for me to be the sole member of my team who can present (nobody to fill in if I’m out sick, etc.) but in addition to asking about strategies to help them through this, is it possible that some people just aren’t cut out for it, and is that acceptable for two people early in their careers?

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.

new manager keeps pushing hard for me to be his friend

A reader writes:

I have a situation that is annoying me with a new manager at our sister company, George. He was hired with no notice into the role that I had been promised would be my career progression within the company. I have spent the last five months training him on the basics and fundamentals of that entire part of the business, which someone being hired into his role should already have known.

Since he started, he has been strongly pushing for personal connections with employees, including me, and is ignoring polite professional cues and boundaries, and it is making us all uncomfortable.

One example I can give is that he wants me to spend my legal, mandatory, unpaid lunch breaks with him going out for lunch together. I do not want to. I have put him off, brushed him off, been non-committal, pointed out that my rather short lunch break doesn’t allow for that (going out for a sit-down meal within 30 minutes including 5-10 minutes of driving). I have even told him that I am too busy for X number of weeks. His solution? He went to the company directly, arranged for me to use my own leave to take three times as long of a lunch break, and spoke to the director about my workload to get approval for me to shuffle things around, then emailed me afterwards and told me that he had done so while also telling me that the director strongly approves of it.

Another example, if I am off sick, he will call to check on me when I get back, and I will simply brush it off — “yes, fully recovered, thanks, so what can I do for you?” said in a professional-friendly, polite manner. He will then push, “You’re all better? Is everything okay?” And I will counter again, “Yes, nothing major, I am all better, so what were you calling for?” to which he will reply “nothing major…” — once again, ignoring that I have answered, shut the topic down, and turned it back to work. He acts awkward and mildly offended that I won’t go into my private medical details, and it takes two to four “now, back to work topics” attempts before he will accept it and move on. Rinse and repeat for how my weekend was, how my holiday was, etc.

He also pushes staff to share their hobbies, tries to plan friend-group style boardgame nights/days for evenings and weekends, tries to get the details of any groups or clubs we are in, and tries to push us to sign him up for them.

In short, he just pushes and pushes professional and personal boundaries. He is also overly ridiculously flowery and “nice,” prone to going into longwinded over-the-top carry-ons complimenting people for doing their basic job tasks, and the type to be shocked and apologize for 10 minutes straight and then six more times after that if he thinks he has done something wrong, so he is anxious and just too much in general and will definitely make a fuss if I say, “Back off please, you’re being rude/not taking the hint/stomping my boundaries.”

How can I handle this?!

My real worry is that it will irreparably damage the relationship, because I cannot figure out how to tell him he needs to respect boundaries and back off without him being immensely offended. I also have to protect my own image in the company and not come off as an unfriendly, bitter witch (which is a possibility given that people know I was meant to be in that role).

Oh my goodness.

If he were just a little too friendly and oblivious to hints, that would be one thing … but he’s pushy and overstepping on top of that. Arranging for you to take longer lunch breaks so you could eat lunch with him, without your knowledge or consent?

Some of this you’re going to have to accept as just his personality — he’s annoying and interactions with him will take longer than they should, and there’s probably nothing you can do to change that. But some of this you can push back on, depending on how forthright you’re willing to be about it.

At a minimum, you should say something to him about his lunch break interference, because that was a wild overreach and you want to make clear he shouldn’t do something like that again. You could say, “I don’t understand why you sought out Jane’s permission for me to triple the length of my lunch breaks — that’s not something I wanted or asked for, and I’m going to need to go back to her and let her know I don’t need it. Please don’t do things like that without my involvement.” (I am assuming here that while George is a manager, he’s not your manager.)

You could also use this as an opening to raise some of George’s behavior with your director. If you let her know you didn’t ask George to change the length of your breaks and are concerned he did that because he’s been pressuring you to socialize with him, that might easily segue into some of the other problems you’re seeing. (I know you’re concerned about seeming biased because he got the job you were promised, but this really is such a weird overstep, particularly after so much pressure to socialize with him, that it’s unlikely to look like just sour grapes on your part.)

Beyond that, you can set a lot of boundaries in the moment — keeping in mind that “boundaries” refers to how you behave, not what he does. In other words, you can’t change him, but you can change your own responses.

For example, when he calls you and wants to ask repeatedly about your health or your weekend, you can say — cheerfully and briskly — “I’m on deadline right now, but what can I do for you?” or “I’ve got to get to a meeting in a minute” or “I don’t have a lot of time, but did you need me for something?” Those are all things that convey, “I am busy and cannot have a leisurely conversation.”

You can do something similar when he’s embarking on a 10-minute apology — cut him off and say (again, briskly and cheerfully), “It’s fine — we’re both busy today so let’s move forward.” If he keeps going anyway (as it sounds like he might), are you someone who could pull off a firm but cheerful, “GEORGE! I said it was fine! Stop apologizing”? There’s a way to do that where it’s warm, not chilly — but still firm enough to make the person stop.

In fact, if you can manage that vibe, it might be really helpful with him in a lot of these situations. In many cases you can be pretty damn blunt as long as you sound warm and cheerful.

But I also think there’s room for a bigger-picture conversation with him, especially since you’ve been training him on the job. That gives you some standing to say, “Hey, I’ve noticed you’ve been pushing the staff to share things about their personal lives and to hang out outside of work, and that’s not really our culture and is likely to make people uncomfortable.”

Or, you could just speak for yourself: “I’m really not into hanging out with coworkers after work and I like to have lunch on my own. It’s not personal. I wanted to explain so you know where I’m coming from and that I’m not ever going to be up for that stuff.” That would be a lot to hit someone with the first time they extended you a social invitation — but at this point, when he’s been pushing and pushing, it’s kinder to just spell it out for him so he knows where you’re coming from. (Yes, he should have taken your 5,000 hints but he hasn’t, so it really is more humane to clearly state the boundary you want him to respect.)

You’re not going to come off as a bitter witch for pleasantly explaining something like that (and it sounds like everyone around you is well aware of why George would have made that conversation necessary anyway).

About your worry that George will make a fuss if you say something direct like that: that might be perfectly fine. You’re delivering a reasonable message, and if he has a Big Response to it … well, that’s his to work through. Obviously it’s different if you think it will cause real work problems for you, but it sounds like he’ll just make everyone in the vicinity uncomfortable for a brief period of time, and he’s already doing that anyway.

my coworker thinks I need to calm down when I don’t, can’t give two weeks notice, and more

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

1. My coworker misreads me and tries to calm me when I’m fine

I am emotional, expressive, and passionate. Think a “movie-typical Italian” telling a story. Nothing wild, just a loud voice, expressive face, etc. In my 9-5 job, this is required. I over-emote all day long to support the people around me. It is what makes me good at this job.

However, in my after-hours second job, I have a coworker who constantly is offended by my expression. She will see an expression on my face and jump to emotionally coaching me off the ledge — “deep breath, it’s okay, we’ll figure it out” — and I’m … fine. I find it frustrating that I have to mute my personality with her or be publicly talked down when nothing is wrong. To note, no one else responds the way that she does or feels I’m overreacting at all, I’ve checked. I know this is her problem, not mine, but the constant correction and public redressing is frustrating. Can you offer some words I can share with her to professionally tell her to back off?

“You keep saying that to me when nothing is wrong. Please trust that you are misreading me and I don’t need to be talked down.”

And then if it happens after that: “This is what I asked you to stop doing. It’s really weird that you keep trying to talk me down when nothing is wrong.”

my coworker misinterprets all my facial expressions

2. I can’t give two weeks notice when I quit

For the past five months, I have been working at a job that I can’t stand. The day-to-day functions are what was expected, but I’m working under the worst boss I have ever reported to. He’s a micromanager, loves to publicly shame under the guise of “transparency,” and every day I wake up to 40 urgent messages he sent during the night. In addition, the company changed their policy from two days a week in-office to four right after I started, and I probably wouldn’t have taken the job if I had known that. I could go on about why I wanted to leave, but it really boils down to how horribly it has affected my mental health.

But I recently accepted a new job! This job has a hard start date. I am waiting for my background check and drug test to come back, but I know how long those can take. I don’t want to give notice until everything at my new job is finalized, but that doesn’t leave me enough time to give a full two weeks, probably only one week. I of course want to put my full two weeks in, but my new job isn’t flexible on the start date. This job has caused me insurmountable anxiety and stress, but I feel guilty for not giving the corporate standard notice. As I haven’t been here that long, do you think this will follow me through my professional career? I don’t even know if I plan to keep this job on my resume in the future but the idea of quitting a job this soon is freaking me out and not giving a full two weeks is making it even worse!

You’ll be fine. Often when you haven’t been in a job that long, there’s not a lot of point for the employer in having you work the full two weeks anyway — but even if they want you to, you can say, “I’m so sorry, but I asked and unfortunately there’s no flexibility on my start date. I’ll of course use my remaining time to document everything and leave things in good shape.” This isn’t ideal, but with the sort of job and boss you described, it’s nothing you should feel guilty about — and again, your short tenure means they may not even care.

That said, while this doesn’t apply in your case, generally you can and should push back when a new job tries to insist you start without enough time to give two weeks notice. In most situations it’s reasonable to say, “I need to give two weeks notice at my current job, just like I would do for you. As soon as you clear my background check and drug test — neither of which I expect to pose any problems — I’ll give my notice here and can start two weeks after that, but I don’t feel right leaving without proper notice to them.” (There are rare situations this legitimately can’t happen, but they’re extremely uncommon exceptions to the rule.)

3. Shouldn’t job applicants visit our studio before applying?

I’m looking for perspective on what importance to apply to whether or not a job applicant has ever interacted with my small business.

I own a yoga studio where anyone can come take a class (for a fee ranging from free to less than $20). Our website and our limited social media presence both convey that in-person interaction is a core tenet of the studio’s culture. For example, we do not offer online classes.

The vast majority of job applicants—whether prospective yoga teachers or front of house staff—have never taken a class or come to the studio in person. I am A) befuddled by local applicants who initiate interest but have never visited, and B) downright skeptical of those who gush enthusiasm (“I love your studio and it’s exactly the type of environment I thrive in!!!”)… but have never walked through the doors.

To me, it feels like applying for a job at a restaurant because of how much you love the menu posted online … but in reality, you’ve never even tasted a bite of their cooking. It also seems like such a missed opportunity for the applicant to do their own due-diligence to find out if we really are who we say we are! Should I mention this in some way in our standing job posting? Or is my expectation skewed here?

It’s not a realistic expectation. Your applicants are presumably applying for dozens, even hundreds, of jobs and won’t hear back from a large portion of them. It’s unreasonable to expect they would visit each place in person before applying. There’s a tendency on your side of this equation to think, “But we’re different — our business is so personal and the environment matters so much, and our online presence makes it clear how essential in-person interaction is to our culture” … but that’s something you do for your customers; it’s not something you should expect of your job applicants. Candidates should indeed do due diligence, but generally not until they’re in your interview process; doing it at the application stage would be a waste of time for most people, since only a small handful of them will be moved forward. (And job applicants tend to be acutely aware of that.)

Certainly if someone talks as if they have firsthand knowledge of your studio when you know they don’t, that’s just puffery and can be ignored (although I’m not sure how you’d know that for certain). But it’s also pretty common puffery for the context. Choose not to be swayed by it, yes, but it’s not something to penalize someone over unless it’s truly over-the-top or inaccurate.

4. How can I set boundaries in my volunteer job?

Less than six months ago I started volunteering with a nonprofit. Due to some staffing struggles for the organization, plus my interest in potentially moving into their field full-time, I’ve taken on a lot more time commitment and scope of work than what I initially signed up for.

As they rebuild and bring new people on, some of those people are now looking to me as they get their feet under them. Near daily meeting requests, onboarding and more. Essentially I now have a part-time internship in addition to my (demanding) full-time job.

Some of this is fine, as I’m gaining a lot of valuable experience and I was willing to take on a pretty heavy lift for this org. while we were in recovery mode because I care about their mission. However, I’m struggling to integrate acknowledgement of my serious time limitations into my (frequent) daily communication.

I’m approaching six months of doing this work and while we’re getting back on our feet, it’s taking a while. I need to start regularly asserting that while I am happy doing far more than a regular volunteer would, my capacity is limited and I need to start pumping the brakes. I’ve mentioned this need in passing, but the requests just keep on coming, hence my thought that I need to start reframing the way I interact with the org as one of taking on specific projects, not handling regular admin.

Talk to whoever’s in charge and say this: “I’m finding new people are turning to me for a lot more than I have time for — things like XYZ and near daily meeting requests. I can take on specific projects like ABC but I can’t handle the regular admin. Can you make sure people know that?”

And then as you continue to get requests outside the limits you’ve set: “I don’t handle that sort of thing. I’m a volunteer and only do ABC. Check with Jane.” You’re actually doing people a favor by spelling this out clearly! If you try to be accommodating and help out, you’re preventing them from figuring out what structures actually will work for them longer-term. Being clear about your limits is a service not only to yourself, but to the organization too.

5. Found an amazing internship … but I already graduated college

I graduated college a year ago and have been working in a field related to my degree (engineering) ever since. However, I am also a self-taught photographer with years of experience (taking photos for fun, and doing paid gigs). Although I enjoy my job and would like to keep working in my field, I am truly passionate about photography. It is more than just snapping a shutter for me, and I love studying lighting, perfectly composing a photo, editing, and knowing that I just nailed a shot … so I am open to switching my career to photography one day if the income/opportunity/timing is right.

In addition to my day job, I am always on the lookout for photography-related side gigs like grad photos, engagements, and family portraits. Recently, I found a job posting to be a part-time photography intern at a nearby professional sports team. I would love to apply for this position, as I am not overly experienced in sports photography and would love the chance to break into this part of the industry, but am unsure if it is acceptable to apply for an internship when not in college (and when I did not study photography in college). Note that the job description does mention that candidates should be in a degree seeking program in a related field.

My engineering job has slightly atypical hours, so I am not overly concerned that this would interfere with my current job. I think this internship would be a great experience, and could open doors for me in the future. Since this position mentions being in college currently, is it even worth applying for?

Typically when internships say that applicants should be enrolled in a degree-seeking program in a related field, it’s because the internship is for college credit and/or it’s to help ensure the employer complies with legal requirements for internships. There are internships where that’s not the case, but when it’s listed as a requirement in the ad they generally mean it. (That said, if it’s a paid internship, it won’t be subject to the same legal requirements and they might have the ability to be more flexible.)

You could always apply and see, or even just email them to ask.

my company cut our pay after we met our goals and says we shouldn’t be upset

A reader writes:

I work in a position that is the butt of a sales organization. I don’t mind it, but I don’t make a ton and deal with a lot of nonsense.

On Thursday, they called a meeting for me and the six other people or so in my position and spent 30 minutes telling us how bad the economy is, how bad sales currently are, and how our team “loses money for the company.”

But that isn’t true. We surpassed our goals, even the lofty one investors didn’t think we would hit (which included doubling our revenue in a single calendar year). It was not a small feat. All because of my team and another team we work with.

I thought they would perhaps restructure our plan but they just straight-up cut our pay, equivalent to about $3-6k per year, which is not a small amount of money!

They were too afraid to tell us as a group, so they pulled us aside individually. We all checked with each other after and we all got the same exact pay cut.

Whenever we try to speak to our bosses about it, they just tell us it’s normal for goals to change every year. But none of us are upset about the goals changing, we’re upset about being paid less for more work.

When I confronted my boss about it, she told me it’s only $250 a month. But we’re not even paid well to start with! If it is only $250 a month, then why did they remove it at all if it’s such a small amount of number to her? We’re already paid $10k below the industry average for our position.

All our bosses got promotions and raises because we hit our goals. They also told us the pay cut was to ensure that we did not have to fire anyone, but as recently as new year’s, they hired another person for a position we weren’t even hiring for — he’s a friend of the boss.

Furthermore … the entire company got bonuses, some deep into the five figure range. The reason given is because the sales team exceeded their goal. We were excluded from this bonus. It was paid out the same day our pay cuts were announced.

I don’t have a single drop of motivation to ever put any extra effort in this job ever again. Is this normal? I feel like I’m going crazy. They’re gaslighting us, right?

I feel like my trust has been violated. Our bosses kept telling us we would cool down after a few days, but today is day 3 and I’m probably angrier than I’ve ever been. Sales involves dealing with things outside of work hours, doing a lot of research effort on my own, and we don’t really have anyone supporting us and we took a pay cut. It’s beyond a slap in the face.

I feel like they are using the recent large layoffs to scare us, but we aren’t those companies. They paid out bonuses and gave promotions, while cutting our pay.

Just tell me this isn’t normal? And what should I be doing moving forward? Most of us want to quit but our bosses are trying to proceed like everything is normal. Our output cut by almost 70% since the announcement, but I know some people are going to go back to normal because they don’t have any other choice. But I don’t want to.

It’s not normal, and it’s not okay.

Your company is lying to you, and your managers are trying to confuse you about what’s really happening.

To be clear, there are times when companies genuinely do need to cut pay. It’s a really big deal, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Generally companies that have to do that understand it’s a big deal and risks destroying morale, and they’d usually try to be more thoughtful about the optics of cutting pay at the same time that they’re awarding bonuses, creating a position for the boss’s friend, or giving your managers promotions and raises because the team getting its pay lowered hit their goals.

It’s also BS that when you’re upset about a pay cut (which is a very normal thing for people to be upset about, even in circumstances where it’s necessary), they’re responding by telling you it’s normal for goals to change. They’re intentionally missing the point so they don’t have to engage with what you’re actually saying.

So yes, it is both normal and reasonable that you’ve lost your motivation to put in extra effort for this job. People put in extra effort when they trust their company. They stop doing that when they see their company is screwing them over. They really stop doing it when they see that extra effort not only won’t be rewarded but will be met with slashed pay.

As for what to do: Look around and see what else is out there. Meanwhile, it’s smart to do enough to keep your job, but they’ve clearly signaled that there’s no value in doing more than that.

when should I tell an interviewer I need disability accommodations?

A reader writes:

I have a question regarding asking for disability accommodations when getting a new job.

I have a circadian rhythm disorder that basically makes me a clinically diagnosed night owl and causes me great pain when getting up at what would be a normal time for most people. When I’m able to sleep on my own schedule, I sleep well and feel well-rested upon waking. But when I shift my sleep schedule to get up earlier, my body’s desire to keep sleeping in the morning is so strong that I will turn off my alarm without actually waking up, press the snooze button for hours, walk to another room to try to wake up only to lay down in there and fall back asleep, be unable to interpret the numbers on the clock, and if I do manage to force myself awake basically feel like I’m having a heart attack. It took me a long time to realize that this was a disorder and to get a diagnosis.

At my current job, I have a delayed start time, which improves my quality of life immensely, but I’m looking to leave this job for something more interesting and lucrative.

There’s only so much medical intervention that can be done. I’ve tried the most effective treatments (light therapy, melatonin) and they help keep my sleep regular and pull my wake time earlier by an hour or two, but I can’t push it past that. The only other thing to try would be taking prescription stimulants every morning to wake up, which I’ve heard a lot of negative things about from others with my disability. I am willing to try this route for the right job, but would much prefer to have a delayed start time, and if that’s not feasible for a particular position, I would like something in writing that allows me some extra grace around showing up late more often than most people would.

Bringing this up wasn’t an issue with my current job because I had worked for them in temporary positions previously, before my diagnosis. They saw the difficulties I faced first-hand and I was able to talk about it openly in the interview process.

In my search for a new job, I’ve been asking in the interview process how much flexibility there is around work hours but not telling them that I would need flexibility or have a disability.

Is this something that I should talk about in the interview process, or should I wait until I have an offer? Or even wait until I start and then talk to HR about this? On one hand, I’m worried that if I disclose it in the interview process, I could get passed over because they don’t want to deal with my accommodation. On the other hand, people have told me that it could cause friction with my manager if I wait until I’m hired and then drop this on them. One person I know who is a manager told me that if someone waited until they were hired to disclose this, they would feel put off and like the employee didn’t trust them, and that could cause ill will. However, I see no reason I should trust a manager I don’t know yet to treat me fairly, and I’m more concerned with my ability to get a good job and be protected under the law than I am with my potential manager’s feelings.

What are your thoughts here? Should I disclose early and often? Should I bring it up before accepting an offer? Or should I set myself up for maximum legal protection by waiting until the paperwork is signed?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.