open thread – February 22-23, 2019

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

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please don’t repost it here, as it may be in the to-be-answered queue.

candidate was arrested for peeing in public, am I being too helpful, and more

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

1. What should I do about a candidate with an arrest for urinating in public?

A candidate recently applied who is decently qualified and who, normally, I would phone screen without a second thought. After googling the candidate, we found a record in the local newspaper that this candidate was arrested a number of years ago for disorderly conduct and urinating on a building.

How would you move forward? Would you automatically rule them out? If you did decide to move forward with them, how would you address it on the phone call? I know it is illegal in my state to ask about a criminal record but in this situation where it’s public knowledge, we’re not really sure what to do.

Who among us has not urinated in public at some point? Let she who has not peed cast the first stone.

Okay, I suppose a lot of people haven’t. But if you found out that one of your current employees had peed on a building once years ago, would you question their suitability for their job now? The only difference here is that this candidate had the bad luck to get arrested for it.

Yes, people should not urinate on buildings. And yet, it’s a thing that happens, often by otherwise abiding citizens (late at night, on the way home, in desperate circumstances). This is not likely to interfere with this person’s performance at work; it’s not a sign that they’ll urinate in the CEO’s office or anything like that.

Arrests are not “do not hire” me signs. They’re just information about someone’s past. In this case, the information — a minor misdemeanor from years ago — is irrelevant. Ignore it.

2. Should I stop being so helpful?

I’m known as the go-to person for help on my team. That doesn’t only apply to people in my department — I’m also known outside my department for being knowledgable, helpful, and willing to assist. My manager has told me that other teams/depts managers have told him that I’m a great asset and they appreciate what I do for them. I like to be helpful, and I like to feel like I am contributing in more ways than just my job description … most of the time.

Probably four out of five days per week, I am more than willing to put my work on hold to help other people with theirs, but on that fifth day I just can’t. Sometimes it’s because I actually do need to work on my assignments so that I don’t fall behind, but a lot of times it’s because I’ve just had enough of trying to teach people how to do things or research problems that they’re having. There is a (rotating) on-call person on my team each week who should be fielding these requests, but 1) other departments don’t know who that person is without asking someone and 2) that person typically would take significantly longer than me to solve the problem. Therefore, I kind of feel guilty redirecting requests to someone I know is going to struggle with them.

Is it okay for me to say “I can’t help with that today” when really I can? Should I feel bad for redirecting people to the on-call person, knowing that person is going to have a hard time with the task? Am I allowed to just ignore chat messages from people if I know they’re going to ask me for something that I can’t deal with today? Should I just rein in on all my helpfulness to try to reframe people’s idea of my availability?

If there’s an on-call person charged with fielding these questions, you should mostly direct people to that person. That’s the system your company has set up, and you shouldn’t overrule it. By overruling it, you’re potentially keeping the on-call people from getting better at solving problems themselves (which takes practice), and you might be covering up an actual problem your company needs to address (like better training). You’re also allocating your time differently than your company has asked you to. Plus, constantly interrupting your own work might have consequences you don’t see — like maybe you’re good at your job now but you’d be great at it if you had more uninterrupted space to focus. (And “focus” isn’t just about not breaking your train of thought. It’s also about having expanses of time to just step back and think and reflect on how you might do something new or better or differently.)

That’s not to say there’s no room for individual judgment, which is why I said you should “mostly” send them to the on-call person rather than “always.” Of course you can step in when someone is desperate or you’re looking for a break or so forth. But your default shouldn’t be to ignore the system your company has for this.

So yes, you can and should say, “I can’t help with that today, but Jane is on call for questions and she should be able to.” More here.

3. Employees spending time starting up/winding down

I have an issue with two employees. They both work 8-4. The first employee often comes through the door often a couple of minutes after 8 and then proceeds to make a drink for himself and others. He is a very nice guy and nothing is too much trouble and often works the odd five mins past his finish time. The second one arrives early to avoid traffic but then reads a book until bang on 8 am but then starts packing up around 3:45 and is through the door around 3.58 without fail.

You might think my issues are petty and not worth bringing up with them but it really rankles with me. Surely if their working hours are 8-4, then they should actually start work at 8 and finish at 4 before getting their coats, etc. on. Or are they entitled to some form of “washing up time”?

In general, you don’t want to nickel and dime good employees. How much time is the first employee (the one for whom nothing is too much trouble) spending making a drink for himself and others? Assuming it’s 5-10 minutes, let it go. If he was doing the same thing at 2 in the afternoon, presumably it wouldn’t bother you and you’d consider that part of a normal work day.

But the second person sounds like he’s nickeling and diming you and is ending his work day 15 minutes early every day. The nuance there is different, and it’s reasonable to say to him, “Would you wait until your work day ends before you start packing up?” (Although if he’s stellar at his work, consider letting it go unless it’s causing any actual problems.)

4. What should my references include?

Thanks to your stellar advice, I just got a job interview. I haven’t had to interview outside my current employer for over a decade, so I haven’t had to use references since I was in grad school.

Two of my three former managers have changed roles and/or companies since I worked for them and I’m unsure how to indicate this on my references. Do I include their current title and employer as well as their title and employer when I worked for them? Do I need to indicate when and how long I worked for them, similar to a resume format? I’ve read a lot of advice about choosing references but not a lot about how to lay them out.

The most important info to include is their connection to you — so usually that will mean the employer name and their title from when you worked together. But if they’ve since moved on, you can make a note about that too. Info on how long you worked together can be really helpful, although it’s fine if you don’t include that (but I definitely would if it was a long time, because that strengthens the value of the reference). There are lots of different ways to do it and they’re all fine as long as they include the basics, but here’s one way:

Falcon Piffleploff (phone number, email address)
– Director of Oatmeal Analysis at the Barley Basement (managed me my last two years there)

Tangerina Stewpot (phone number, email address)
– Was my manager for four years at the Barley Basement (now head of production at the Porridge Post)

5. Bringing notes to informational interviews

In my current position, I go on a number of informational interviews each month (the interviewees are all within my organization; the interviews are partially for personal development and partially to make connections with folks who can help in my career).

Is it weird to bring notes to informational interviews? I like to draft 6-8 questions ahead of time and bring a printed copy for myself. This helps me actively research the person before the interview, but frankly, I also like having my questions pre-drafted because I sometimes get nervous meeting with senior officials. On a tertiary note, I frequently reference my notes after the interviews as well.

No one has said anything to me about them, but I also don’t know how I come across. I glance at the paper as I’m asking the questions. If the conversation is going in a different direction, I let the conversation flow naturally and disregard my questions. What say you, should I bring my questions or no?

Yes, definitely bring your questions written down! That’s respectful of the time of the people you’re meeting with — it shows that you put thought into this ahead of time and aren’t winging it. It means that you’re not going to take up meeting time with, “There was something else I wanted to ask … what was it … hmmm, maybe it’ll come to me.” (The same is true for job interviews; it’s fine to bring in notes on the questions you want to make sure you ask.)

how to tell an employee to stay in their lane

A reader writes:

I’ve been at my company for about a year, and I inherited most of the large team I manage. Their job descriptions and roles are pretty clear and specific, but one of our subject matter expects, “Jane,” is constantly questioning the work of other team members on projects she doesn’t have a stake in (and by default, my support for that work/the decisions being made). I want to encourage feedback and discussion, but I also need to let this employee know she has to trust her coworkers and their expertise, and the boundaries of who “owns” what.

I think one of the issues is the company and my team has grown from a small one to a larger one with new leadership (including me!). So we’ve gone from a place where a lot of decisions were made by committee to one where some people are stakeholders and others are not. Jane has been at the company for a while but is not in a leadership or management position, so is often not a stakeholder in key decisions/projects.

I’ve tried to put better guardrails around feedback or limit involvement in some projects but then she says she doesn’t feel heard. How do I respectfully communicate that she should focus more on their role and her direct sphere of influence, without stifling creative collaboration and discussion?

For example, in meetings she’ll announce that something feels off-brand to her, or she doesn’t like the colors used in a design or particular language chosen to describe something, or she doesn’t think sufficient progress has been made on a campaign — all for projects that she’s not involved with. This is all addressed to me — she’s not in any meetings with the other stakeholders and decision makers so when these questions come up, especially in all team meetings, it feels like things get derailed since I have to try and defend things and walk her through hours of discussion or context she wasn’t present for (and make it clear I support the decisions of the people who run those areas).

She is great at her job. But she doesn’t have experience in any of the areas where she questions decisions and wants input.

Am I being a grinch when I want to grit my teeth and want to flat out say “You don’t have to worry about that because it has nothing to do with your job — plus trust your team to make good decisions based on their expertise”?

Nope, you’re not being a grinch.

Of course you want your staff to feel free to ask questions and give input. But you also want them to have the judgment to know where it does and doesn’t make sense for them to weigh in, and to pick an appropriate time and place to do it, and to understand what their role does and doesn’t encompass.

It sounds like you need to have a conversation with Jane where you say something like this: “Jane, you’re great at your job and I’m glad to have you here. But there’s something I want to talk to you about that is impacting the team and I want to ask you to change. You often question other people’s decisions in meetings — like saying that something seems off-brand, when it’s been thoroughly considered by the people whose job it is to make branding decisions, often in meetings that you weren’t part of, or criticizing the direction of a campaign, when you haven’t been in those strategy meetings and don’t have the full picture that the people making those decisions do, or other criticism of choices that other people are in charge of thinking through, like design and copywriting. I know that when the team was smaller, decisions were more often made by larger groups — but as we’ve grown, that’s no longer practical. We have people now with specific expertise in brand strategy, design, social media, copywriting, and so forth, and the reality of this larger staff — and of your role — is that you’re not going to be a stakeholder in most of their projects. Constantly questioning those decisions and criticizing without full information isn’t great for our working environment, and it’s derailing our meetings. It’s not practical for me to walk you through hours of context that you weren’t present for, so I need you to trust your coworkers to manage their own realms.”

You should also say, “To be clear, it’s fine to ask for more information about why we’ve chosen a particular direction if you genuinely want to better understand to do your own job better. But I need you to stop the frequent criticism of projects that you haven’t been involved with.”

And then, importantly, talk about where she does have room for input, and where she doesn’t: “In your role, I’d expect you to have substantial input into things like X, Y, and Z, and there’s a lot of room for creativity there. And certainly you might have occasionally questions about A, B, and C. But your role isn’t brand strategy, design, or copywriting, and I need you to respect the expertise of the people in charge of those areas.”

If she says that she feels she’s being stifled or that she doesn’t feel heard … well, that might be a sign that the role, as it’s evolved, isn’t a great fit for her anymore. And that’s okay! If she’s only going to feel fulfilled if she gets to keep questioning her colleagues and derailing meetings, it’s better for both of you to be realistic that her job isn’t delivering what she wants from it anymore. That happens! Roles evolve, organizations grow, and sometimes a culture that was a great fit previously evolves into something that isn’t right for the person anymore.

So if she says that, you might say something like, “I understand. I want to be clear with you about where your role does and doesn’t have substantive input. I know this is a change from how things used to be, but I do need you to respect these boundaries.” If you want, you can add, “If you decide the job has evolved in a way where it’s no longer for you, I’d certainly understand, but I hope that won’t be the case.”

Ultimately, though, your job is not to make Jane feel heard and creatively fulfilled at all costs. Of course you want your staff to feel those things, and you should never shut down someone’s input or questions altogether. But when someone isn’t respecting reasonable boundaries for where they do and don’t have involvement, it’s okay for you to set up those boundaries yourself, and to say “this is what will work for us and this is what won’t.”

should I pay a fee for a networking meeting?

A reader writes:

Is it normal for someone to charge a client for a networking meeting? I’m in the process of looking for a new job and setting up informational interviews with professionals in my field. I emailed back and forth with one woman trying to set a time to meet, but kept getting responses from her that we needed to reschedule.

As a compromise, we agreed that I should email her my questions. I sent some typical questions I would ask anyone I meet for an info interview (volunteer opportunities, organizations to recommend, other people I should connect with). In response, I received an email from her saying that once again we would have to reschedule. In addition, she stated that because of her limited time, the only way for her to fit these kind of conversations in would be to charge for them.

Am I overreacting in thinking she should have been more upfront about this? I understand that time and information is valuable, but this is the first time I’ve encountered this request in (what I thought) was a more informal setting.

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My office has a wall of shame for people who are late or out sick
  • My new job doesn’t give me any work
  • Convincing a company to let me work long-distance
  • Employer wants to know how much my other offers are

ask the readers: reply-all horror stories

You’re at work and get an email about yet another team-building event and write back “kill me now,” intending to send it to your work friend, but accidentally hit reply-all … and now your whole team has it. Or you email your manager the many reasons why you disagree with a new process decision but accidentally reply-all to your whole department, making you look like you were trying to make A Statement when you weren’t. Or you mess up your email distribution list and accidentally invite 7,000 sailors to your New Year’s Eve party.

I want to hear about reply-all disasters — yours or other people’s. The worse, the better. Please share in the comments.

this is how to assemble a professional wardrobe without spending a ton

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Disclosure: This post is sponsored by thredUP. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I got in trouble for saying “bite me” in a meeting, the best day to apply for jobs, and more

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

1. I got in trouble for saying “bite me” in a meeting

I recently attended an intense work group meeting with my boss and a coworker. The coworker responded to one of my questions with a joke, to which I responded jokingly back with “bite me.” Everyone laughed it off at the time, but in a recent routine meeting with the boss I was reprimanded. The boss said she looked up the term and it means “F off.” I am mortified because I do not think of that term in such a vulgar way. It was simply an quick response said in a joking manner, in private, in what I thought was a safe space. Am I wrong to feel a bit singled out?

I don’t think it means “F off” exactly, although it means something in the same neighborhood — and either way, it’s a fairly vulgar and aggressive term to use at work. There are some offices where it would be completely fine, and others where it would be jarringly out of place. Your boss has just let you know this one is the latter, at least in her view. That’s a reasonable call for her to make.

I doubt she’s going to hold a grudge over this, but if your sense is that it’s colored the way she sees you, you could always say, “I wanted to apologize again for my language the other day. I hear that term so often that I wasn’t thinking of it as vulgar, but I appreciate you flagging it for me and I won’t use it again.”

And keep in mind that work meetings aren’t a safe space — you very much will be judged on what you say in them, and even when you’re quite comfortable with a particular set of colleagues, you can still be expected to speak reasonably professionally.

2. How do I turn down working with friends and family?

Is there a way to turn down working with friends and family without it being awkward? I have an entrepreneurial group of friends/family that approach me and others with their projects or business ideas every once in a while. I know there are businesses built this way that go well, but the experiences I’ve had with it have lead to relationship rifts.

The times I’ve tried to turn down partnerships (while giving my reason why), I’ve been met with sayings such as, “We’ll just talk it out like adults,” or, “it won’t change our relationship.” Sometimes it’s assumed I’ll join in a business venture simply because I’m job searching and have complimented someone’s work before. In one case, a friend has gone ahead and done work towards a project, which puts pressure on me to reciprocate.

I’m guessing it simply will be awkward, but do you have any ideas for wording in these cases? Also, am I being too limited in my thinking by deciding beforehand that it won’t be a good idea to work with people I’m close to?

Stay strong! You’re absolutely right to be wary of doing business with friends and family. Sometimes it goes fine and other times it doesn’t, and what those times all have in common is that everyone thought at the outset “we’ll just talk it out like adults” and “it won’t change our relationship.”

And remember that you don’t have to find the perfect wording in order to be allowed to opt out — you get to turn down the offers regardless. But you can try saying, “I appreciate that, but I value my relationship with you too much to risk it.” And then when you get pushback, you can say, “Nope! I feel really strongly about this, but if you go forward with it, I’m excited to watch as your friend (sister/cousin/etc.).”

And if someone goes ahead and does work on the assumption that you’re in, you can say, “I’m sorry you thought that! I have a policy about not going into business with friends or family and I feel really strongly about it. But I hope you can either pursue it on your own or find someone else who wants to be part of it.”

3. What’s the best day and time to apply for jobs?

When would you say is the best day of the week and time of the day to apply for jobs?

I’ve always heard Friday and Saturday are the worst days but a lot of companies will post new position on Friday. Then they tell you to put your application/resume in early. I hear 9 am – 2 pm are the best time of the day because this is when employers do their posting.

Also, have you heard of managers paying attention to the time of day you send in your resume? I had a friend that wanted me to send my resume to her boss for a job her company was hiring for. At the time, I was working two jobs and sometimes I got off work from my second job after 1 am, and that’s the only time during the week I had to send it. So I forwarded my resume to my friend’s boss at about 2 am before heading to bed to be up at 6:30 am for my first job. My friend said she mentioned it to her and seemed a little weird about it before we had a phone interview. I just wonder do you think that is a concern for a lot of managers? What’s the deal?

There’s no way to game the system around the best day of the week or the best time of day to apply for jobs. Different employers post at different times, and they look at applications at different times too. Some employers post a job and don’t look at any applications that come in until several weeks later. Others look at them daily, or a few times a week, or whenever time happens to be available. There’s just no way to know, and there’s too much variation. (And whoever told you that employers post jobs between 9 am and 2 pm should not be listened to. Who knows, maybe there’s data showing that’s when the majority of postings are submitted — but that doesn’t have anything to do with when responses to those postings are reviewed.)

The best way to time job applications is to apply when it’s convenient for you, but as quickly as you can without causing yourself hardship (because otherwise you risk the posting being removed, or the employer already having moved forward with candidates they like).

As for your friend’s boss who didn’t like that you applied at 2 am … she’s being silly (people have different schedules) but there are indeed silly managers out there who will care. They’re in the minority, but they exist, so if you want to avoid all chance of running into one of them, you could take that into account in the future. (Personally, though, I’d be happy screening out managers who think that sort of thing is any way relevant.)

4. Can I expense a parking ticket?

Is it appropriate/allowable/realistic to be able to expense a parking ticket? Like after a client dinner that ran long.

It depends on the office. If you incurred the ticket through no fault of your own (made a reasonable parking choice and were delayed for work reasons outside your control), a reasonable office will let you expense that. But if you got ticketed because of your own choices — for example, parked in a 30-minute zone before a dinner expected to be much longer — generally it’s not going to look great to submit that. On the other hand, some offices may cover that kind of thing in certain circumstances, figuring that they want you to do what’s needed to get where you need to be for client meetings — and they’d rather have you arrive on time than walk in 20 minutes late after circling the block for ages. So you’ve got to know your office. (Also, I bet if you work in government, you can’t do this.)

5. What to say when an employer asks if they can have more time for a hiring decision

If I’ve made it to the final interview, and a company asks if they can have more time deciding on who to hire, should I take their question at face value? Are they trying to learn if I have other offers, or are they hoping for more information from me that would help them decide? Do I simply say, “Yes, of course”? I’m used to not getting any updates or even notice of a rejection, so I’m surprised to be asked this.

Typically they’re checking to see if you have timeline constraints on your side — like that you’re expecting another offer very soon, or in final talks with another employer. They want to make sure that if they take more time, they’re not going to lose the option of hiring you. Assuming you don’t have timeline constraints like that, you can just say, “Sure! I’ll let you know if I develop any timing constraints on my side.”

what’s the deal with write-ups?

A reader writes:

Frequently in your questions, people will mention getting written-up as a negative consequence for something at work. This reminds me of the “this will go in your permanent record” threat from junior high and movies. Really, what is supposed to be the result of getting written up?

It’s basically a formal warning, framed in a punitive, infantilizing way.

Most employers do use formal warnings of some kind, but employers that call them “write-ups” tend to be the ones that infantilize their employees.

So let’s talk about written warnings in general, and then we’ll talk about “write-ups” specifically.

First, as a manager, there will be times when you need to issue a written warning. In general, when someone is having performance or conduct problems, you want to start with a relatively informal conversation about what’s going on, where you ask about their perspective and explain what you need them to differently. If that doesn’t work and you’re seeing a problematic pattern, then you move to a more serious conversation, where you say things like “I’m concerned that I’m still seeing this after we talked about it” and “it’s really important that you do X.” Depending on the seriousness of the issue, at that point you might document that you had that conversation. But that doesn’t need to mean issuing the employee a formal memo. You can document the conversation by writing a memo to yourself or your own manager or HR about what was covered, or you can send the person a quick email summary of the conversation, framing it as “I wanted to summarize what we talked about, so we both have it to reference.”

However, if things reach a point where they’re quite serious, where you’re considering letting the person go if changes aren’t made, it’s smart at that point to ensure they have something in writing too — which is usually thought of as a formal warning. The idea is to lay out in writing what needs to change (and ideally, by when), to make sure that the person is clear about what needs to happen and about the seriousness of the situation. (Sometimes this might be replaced by a formal, written performance improvement plan, depending on the circumstances.)

None of that is about “writing someone up.” It’s about coaching someone on how to meet the expectations of their role, explaining when that’s not happening. There’s nothing punitive about it when you get to the written warning stage — it’s about ensuring you’re communicating clearly and the employee is clear on the seriousness of the situation. It’s also about ensuring that you’ve documented the situation, because occasionally legal situations arise where you need that documentation. (For example, if someone says you fired them because of the church they attend, you need to be able to show that, no, you fired them after repeated conversations and warnings about missing deadlines.)

That’s all good management. Write-ups, on the other hand, tend to be used more often in customer service type jobs and other jobs that tend not to trust employees and don’t default to treating them as responsible adults, and they’re often used as “punishment.” Some of those employers have a system where if you get X number of write-ups over X months (or ever), you’ll be fired. And some of those companies “write people up” for relatively minor occurrences, like being slightly late.

(And to be thorough, there are also companies that operate the way I advocated above and just happen to call that written warning stage a write-up. But we’re talking here about companies that make write-ups a punitive thing, and where it gets talked about as a regular feature of working there.)

It’s notable that write-ups tend to take authority away from the manager and move it to the write-up itself. Competent managers don’t need to lean on the concept of a write-up; they know that they have the authority to have a serious conversation with you and hold you accountable, all on their own.

If you’re managing adults and treating them like responsible professionals, you shouldn’t ever need to “write someone up” or threaten to write someone up. You should just be managing — setting clear expectations, giving clear feedback, and addressing it when someone’s not meeting the bar you need.

my coworkers overshare really personal details


A reader writes:

I have worked in the same office for over a year and a half and I am baffled at how much my coworkers share. I have worked at several offices before and had very open discussions but nothing on this level.

To give you a snapshot, my office is open concept. The majority of us are in cubicles in one room with a few of us sharing offices. My office is 99% women and the majority are in their early 30s so they’re going through similar things when it comes to marriage and children. This past year, one of my coworkers got married, two just had babies, and one had a baby about a year ago. This has caused discussion to always be about the female body and babies. I’m fine with sharing about these moments and hearing all about these milestones however, I am not sure I need to hear about every kind of breast-pump, the specifics of my coworkers’ bodies after birth, and associated issues related to pregnancy.

I understand that they may have questions for each other as they go through certain things for the first time. However, I now know that one of my coworkers had to go to a vaginal physical therapist because of the condition of her reproductive organs post-baby and now has to use kegel weights, another’s husband was not into the Brazilian bikini wax she got, and the another kind of hates her husband.

One of my friends in the office has brought it up to her supervisor but since her supervisor is also one of these people who overshares, nothing really happened. The few of us who aren’t in their stage of life feel super uncomfortable. If we walked in talking about how much we drank over the weekend or what we did at a nightclub we would be seen in a negative light. But, if we talked about our child is afraid to use a toilet or that our breasts are chaffed from breast feeding it would be completely fine.

As tempted as we are to go to HR, it doesn’t feel like a major enough issue to bring up and our HR department is a joke. Also, since it’s the majority of the office having these discussions, it would be pretty obvious to figure out who complained. Are there any ways we can reduce the oversharing in house before having to take it up to someone higher?

  • I’m inheriting an employee who slacks off
  • Employers who contact references not on your official reference list
  • How to announce a schedule change that people will be unhappy with
  • How can I explain I’m looking for more work-life balance without sounding like I’m lazy?

This episode also has an update from last week’s caller with the exhaustingly negative coworker!

 

my office has a burn book we all have to read and sign

A reader writes:

I work at a customer service desk with one supervisor and a handful of employees. It’s shift work, and there is often very little overlap between morning and afternoon shifts. We have a notebook behind the desk where we are supposed to write notes to the team about anything you need them to. Things like “Expect X customer to come in tomorrow” or “We need to buy more staples.”

The problem is the supervisor, “Jane,” who writes down every employee’s mistake in this book, and we all have to read and initial it. It can be minor things like “Mark put the stapler in the wrong drawer” or more serious incidents like “Pam left the safe wide open and we could’ve been robbed.” Regardless of who the note is intended for, we all must initial next to each entry to show that we’ve read it. We are all frustrated with this and started calling it the Burn Book like from Mean Girls.

If I’m making mistakes at work, I absolutely want to know, but I think Jane should pull me aside and tell me about it. When I first started here about six months ago, I would skip over notes that weren’t about me. Then Jane wrote notes about me not reading the notes. If my shift overlaps with Jane and she has a complaint about me, she says “read the book” and refuses to talk to me about it. I’ve asked her point blank why she does this, and her answer is, “I want everyone to know when someone screws up.”

Some of the complaints Jane writes are actually wrong. There was a note saying “Pam broke the phone!” when there wasn’t anything wrong with it. Jane just forgot how to turn it on. A few of my coworkers and I have also written notes when Jane has made a major mistake, but each time she flipped out and says that we should have told her in person. That’s what we want!

I sent an email to Jane’s boss, which is her preferred way to be contacted. She normally responds to emails within a couple of hours, but it has been a week with no answer. Anytime one of us has complained to her about Jane’s behavior in the past, she says, “That’s just the way Jane is.” Jane has only worked here for one year, and in that time 11 people were hired, worked a few shifts, then quit saying they can’t work with Jane.

Is there anything I can do in the meantime? Should I tell Jane I refuse to read the book and want her to talk to me in person? I recently went back to school and hope to get a job in my new field in a year or so. Should I shut my mouth until then?

Does Jane know your handwriting? Because if not, I would leave multiple notes in the burn book saying “Jane is leaving weird notes about people’s mistakes instead of talking to them directly” and “this log book is bullshit and contrary to any decent system of management.”

I guess it’s “band together with your coworkers” week, because the most effective thing you can do here is to push back on this with a group of your coworkers. This is the kind of thing where it’s easy to ignore one of you but will be harder to ignore a group of you. You could start with Jane herself if you want, or you could go over her head (which I’d do by emailing her boss and saying that the group of you would like to meet with her about a concern with Jane’s management).

Then in that meeting, you could make the following points: (1) People learn best when they have a real conversation about their mistakes, not just a public bulletin without any discussion. (2) Publicizing everyone else’s mistakes just for the principle of it is punitive and demoralizing. (3) Refusing to speak directly to employees about problems (even when they’re right there next to her on the same shift) means Jane isn’t hearing about context that might change her perspective or help her coach someone more effectively. (4) You want a manager who will coach you to do your job better, not just tally up mistakes. (5) If Jane won’t speak to people directly, how will she handle topics that are more personal, like needing to address a hygiene problem or talking about disability accommodations? (6) Eleven hires in the last year have quit after only a few shifts because of practices like this.

I will say, though, that if this is retail (and it sounds like it might be), that field is rife with terrible management practices, some of them very much like this, and you might be fighting an uphill battle. If that’s the case, your best option might be to simply see this as the farce it is.