it’s your Friday good news

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

1. I’m so excited to have good news to report! I started job hunting FOUR YEARS ago to escape a manager who pushed MLMs, complained about her pay, and took her relationship issues out on her employees. In that time, I had some lowball offers and one good one, but passed to be eligible for FMLA for my pregnancy. At the beginning of quarantine, I threw out my resume and cover letter and used your advice to re-write them. I started lining up interviews almost immediately.

I got another lowball offer in August 2020 (a $15K cut from my current salary), but used your blog to push back. I countered $18K higher than their offer (which seemed crazy, but what did I have to lose?), and they came back $1,000 higher than I asked, which results in a 7.5% raise for me! AND this new position is in a higher-paying career path that I’ve been wanting to move into.

2. I’m a longtime reader of your blog and books, and I wanted to thank you for all the helpful advice you and yours readers have posted about asking for salary and job title increases. I started a new job a year and half ago with a very solid raise but a very junior title that did not reflect the job responsibilities, and even caused problems when I worked with other units because they would assume I was far, far less senior than I am – think administrative assistant level rather than assistant director level. After a year at the job I pushed hard for a title change, and got the assistant director title – and they even made retroactive so that my resume doesn’t look quite so strange.

And it gets better! I’m being given additional responsibilities and will be managing a new small team by the fall, and I’m back to negotiating salary, despite the pandemic – my part of our industry is one of the ones doing well in all this, and we’re growing extremely fast.

Thank you so much for all the helpful posts on salary and title negotiations, and all their various permutations. They’re so helpful!

3. After several years of knowing personally that I am nonbinary, I finally “came out” at my job. And… they were great! My supervisor was supportive and only one guy made a joke about our non-gendered bathroom (since we are all currently work-from-home, I joked back that I happen to have the same set up at my house, imagine that). I am sure there will be mess-ups with the “they” pronoun, and that at some point one of my clients might be intrusively inquisitive. But my co-workers just said “thanks for letting us know!” and then moved on to the next work item, which was exactly how I hoped they’d respond.

4. I found Ask A Manager when doing research for the cover letter portion of a course on business communications. I’m a bit of an advice column junkie, so I began reading AAM regularly for the stories of bad bosses and workplace shenanigans. After a while, I started reading all the posts, not just the stories. Finally, I went back to the beginning and read every post in order, because I’m a bit of a completionist.

I’ve been working in a public library for years, and have always thought that moving up from a front-desk position to a branch supervisor position was something I would not want to do. Through my AAM reading, I started to realize that management wasn’t as complicated and arcane as I thought, and might actually be something I’d be interested in doing after all. So when a term supervisory position was posted recently, I applied. I made liberal use of what I’ve learned from my AAM reading to put together my best possible resume and cover letter, as well as to prepare for the interview.

To my surprise, the interview was strangely enjoyable (a first for me), and I made the interviewers laugh a couple of times. Better yet, I got the position! So now I get to give managing a test run, and I can find out if it’s something I really want to do. Thank you for demystifying management; I hope to put all that good advice into practice – and avoid becoming fodder for one of your future bad-boss posts.

open thread – September 25-26, 2020

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

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

coworker is obsessed with my video set-up, how important are cover letters in IT, and more

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

1. My coworker is obsessed with my video set-up

I work as a creative in a small team in a large enterprise organization. Since we have been working from home, my group has been meeting weekly over Zoom. I am married to a film creative and he lovingly created a Zoom set-up for me with a podcast microphone, professional camera, lens, set background, and lighting. It is a modest set-up by filming standards but definitely a cry better than your typical look just using your computer camera and microphone alone.

My coworker has made it a point to make comments every time I get on a call, such as “look at you with your background, your lighting, your perfect hair, your makeup!” and so on. She says these things in a condescending tone and it upsets me because I like having my nice set-up. My husband wanted me to look good and now it is upsetting my coworker. For the record, no other coworkers or managers have said a negative thing. They think it’s great and like it’s expected from me since I am a creative and we tend to want make things look good. It’s just this one coworker who keeps pointing me out and it makes me feel like I have to make her feel better by toning it down. Her insecurity makes me feel like I should walk on eggshells around her. Can’t I have a nice looking Zoom?

You can indeed have a nice looking Zoom, and your coworker needs to chill out. Tell her to cut it out! The next time she makes those comments, respond with, “Could you lay off of that? It’s getting old.” Or, “You seem weirdly focused on my Zoom set-up. Can we move on?” Or, “Noted. So anyway, (insert work topic).”

If internal politics don’t allow you to be that blunt (if she’s senior to you or so forth), try just saying in a really brisk tone, “Yep, that’s my Zoom set-up. So anyway, (insert work topic).”

She’s the one who looks strange by continually harping on this, not you.

2. How important are cover letters for IT positions?

Because we’re relocating, my husband is searching for a new position in the IT field (front end user assistance and server management). I have issues with wanting to micromanage things, so I’ve been trying to be as hands-off (but supportive) as possible during his job search, though sometimes we get into small disagreements about his process. The main debate right now is about cover letters.

He is of the opinion that in the IT field, cover letters don’t matter. He usually never sends one, and thinks it’s a waste of time given that people in his line of work mainly care about experience listed on the resume. He’s also been a hiring manager in one former position, so he has experience reviewing applications for this type of position. However, I think the opposite— that even in IT you should always send a cover letter unless the posting explicitly says not to. Especially given how competitive things are right now, I feel like he would be doing himself a disservice by not attaching one. He has won awards and done really amazing things in his prior positions, and has definitely gotten jobs without cover letters, but I feel like he would be introducing his stellar background better by having a short cover letter. (And he could explain that we’re relocating, clarifying why he’s searching in the first place.)

My career field is highly writing-intensive, and I honestly like writing, so I know I’m really biased in that regard. I also don’t know the norms in IT that well. Yet I still can’t help feeling that a well-written cover letter can only help, not hurt, and I’m happy to proofread his cover letters if he wanted to write them. But on the other hand, job searching is stressful enough without me nagging about a small detail like this, especially if it doesn’t give a lot of added value.

Do you think its worth it to push the issue, or should I defer to him since he has tons of experience in his field? And if you do think cover letters should be the norm in this instance, how might I convince him it’s worth his time to write them?

It’s true that IT is a field where cover letters generally matter far less. Lots of hiring managers in IT don’t read them at all, and it’s really common for IT candidates not to include them. It’s just the norm of the field.

That said, IT candidates who do include a cover letter can stand out because of that — when so few of your competitors bother to do it, a good candidate with a good cover letter can really have an impact. In that field they won’t always be read, but you can’t know from the outside when that’s the case and when it isn’t and your husband has no way of knowing if the job he’s applying for is one where a compelling cover letter could help him get an interview. So all else being equal, yes, it would be a good idea for him to write them.

However. If he’s going to write perfunctory cover letters that just summarize his resume and don’t add much more, he’s right that in IT much of the time he could just not bother. The letter will only boost his candidacy if he writes a compelling, personalized one. If that’s not likely, it’s not worth arguing over.

But even aside from that, I’d let this go. It’s his field and his job search, you’ve offered your opinion, and from there it’s up to him. Obviously if you see your spouse doing something you think will harm him, you should speak up. But you have spoken up! Now you’ve got to leave it to him. You noted you have issues with wanting to micromanage — recognize that it’s happening here, and choose to let your end of this one drop!

(Note: this is not license for people in other fields to stop writing cover letters! You still benefit from continuing.)

3. My company is following my personal Twitter

My place of work has followed my personal Twitter account using their institutional Twitter account (run by the marketing department). I find this disconcerting. While I do not hide what kind of work I do on my Twitter account, I intentionally do not discuss my specific place of work. I do have a “views are my own” statement in my Twitter bio. I use Twitter to have conversations with friends and colleagues. It’s not inappropriate content, but it is not necessarily all content I would actively bring to work and share with coworkers who I do not know.

I’ve left my Twitter profile public so I can meet and connect with new colleagues in my field, but I am now leaning towards locking it down since being followed by workplace. Is it weird to actively block one’s workplace on Twitter? I really don’t like having them follow me.

They probably followed you as a friendly move — like someone in marketing though, “Oh, let’s connect with our employees because we’re connected in real life” not “Let’s monitor our employees.” But it’s fine to block them from following you if you want!

You might consider a soft block, where you block them (thus stopping them from following you) and then unblock them … which makes them unfollow you without making it obvious that you blocked them. But it’s also fine if you want to just block them! Or, of course, you can set your profile to private so that only people you approve can follow you, although that would mean using Twitter in a different way than you have been.

4. Does my boss want me to end my temp assignment early?

I currently have a temp job (covering while someone is out on maternity leave) and I still have about six weeks left. A few days ago, my boss told me that Beth will be returning early from her leave early (in about two weeks) to work part-time. She reassured me that this wouldn’t change my end date.

Today, I happened to walk into the office with my boss and she asked me if I was applying to jobs and if I was getting any interviews. I can’t tell if she wants to be helpful in my career search or is just wanting to know if I’m planning to stay for the duration of my assignment. If I get an offer that begins before my temp job is set to end, should I take it? For what it’s worth, my job is very slow and could easily be done part-time (and would be excruciatingly boring if shared by two people).

She was probably asking because with only six weeks out, she assumes you’re actively job searching; six weeks isn’t a long time for a search. But it’s possible that she’s hoping you’ll wrap up early after Beth is back, who knows. In theory you could just ask her directly, by saying something like, “When you asked me about job searching the other day, I wondered if you’d prefer that I move on sooner after Beth returns, or if it really is okay to work the full remaining six weeks.” But frankly, I wouldn’t ask in this case — because if she says that yeah, it would be ideal if you left earlier, then you’re going to be in awkward position if you don’t get a job sooner. Instead, just take at face value her reassurance that you can stay as long as originally planned and continue actively searching. But if you do get an offer that starts earlier, it’s fine to take it — with temp jobs, people assume you’re going to be looking and will need to prioritize a non-temp offer if you get one.

5. How should you show a furlough on your resume?

I was having a conversation with a friend and I was hoping you could provide an answer to our debate. We have both been furloughed for the past six months due to the pandemic, but expect to be brought back to our companies as soon as government guidelines allow. The question was how to note this break in employment on a future resume. Would it be misleading to just say “Coordinator, Aug 2018-present”? Or should you do something like “Coordinator, Aug 2018-Mar 2020, Sep 2020-present” or “Coordinator, Aug 2018-present (furloughed Mar-Sep 2020)” and assume potential employers will understand that the break was due to the pandemic? Does the answer change depending on how long you worked at the company prior to the shutdown? Does the answer change if you’ve been doing small amounts of work (either paid or unpaid) while the furlough has been going on?

You don’t need to note the furlough on your resume. It’s fine to just list your employment as August 2018 – present” or so forth. It’s the same with maternity or medical leaves too — you don’t need to note that you were on leave for a portion of your time with the company. For the purpose of a resume, you’re still considered an employee there, even though you’re furloughed or on leave.

I do think it would be different if you were only employed for a month or so before the furlough began. In that case, at a minimum I’d add “(currently furloughed)” after the dates if I included it at all. But in your case, you should be fine.

you’re exhausted and burned out because work is terrible

I’m a big fan of the writer Anne Helen Petersen, who wrote the excellent “Scandals of Classic Hollywood” series at the now-defunct Hairpin and a series of fascinating profiles and lately has been writing more and more about work.

Her newest book, out this week, is Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation. It builds on a piece she wrote early last year exploring why so many people around her were exhausted and burned out — suffering from what she calls “the feeling that you’ve optimized yourself into a work robot.”

Her new book explores the root causes of this generational burnout, positing that it stems from the intense, over-scheduled parenting style many Millennials were raised with. But although she’s writing about her own generation, in many ways the book is a broader exploration of what work is like now, how we ended up this way, and how it hurts everyone. Millennials are her entry point, but the book is a scathing indictment of how careers work now. If you’ve traded money for labor at any time in the last 15 years, you will like this book.

There’s a short excerpt from the book below, one that I thought would particularly resonate with Ask a Manager readers, and Anne has given me a copy to give away to readers here.

To enter to win a free copy: Leave a comment below with your own thoughts on the topic. I’ll pick a winner at random (or rather, random selector software will). All entries must be posted in the comments on this post by Friday, September 25, at 11:59 p.m. ET. To win, you must fill out the email address section of the comment form so I have a way of contacting you if you’re the winner.

And if you don’t win this giveaway, I hope you will buy yourself a copy! It’s fascinating.


Excerpt from Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen, 2020.
Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

One of the pernicious assumptions of “Do what you love” is that everyone who’s made it in America is doing what they love — and conversely, everyone who’s doing what they love has made it. If you haven’t made it, you’re doing it wrong: “Central to this myth of work-as-love is the notion that virtue (moral righteousness of character) and capital (money) are two sides of the same coin,” [Miya] Tokumitsu explains. “Where there is wealth, there is hard work, and industriousness, and the individualistic dash of ingenuity that makes it possible.”

Where there is not wealth, this logic suggests, there is not hard work, or industriousness, or the individualistic dash of ingenuity. And even though this correlation has been disproven countless times, its persistence in cultural conditioning is the reason people work harder, work for less, work under shitty conditions.

When that cool, lovable job doesn’t appear, or appears and is unfeasible to maintain for someone who’s not independently wealthy, it’s easy to see how the shame accumulates. Over the last ten years, Emma, who’s white, has attempted to break in to the information science world — what the rest of us know as librarians. When she graduated with her master’s, she was offered a full-time temp job, with the understanding that it would turn permanent “if she worked hard enough.”

“It was my dream job,” Emma explained. “I thought I was the luckiest person on earth.” But the organization went through a “leadership change” and she was strung along on temp contract after temp contract, pushing herself to her psychological and physical limits. “I worked above and beyond, putting every drop of energy I had into being the most enthusiastic, invested employee,” she said. “But the new leadership did not like me, no matter how hard I tried.”

During her repeated job searches, she experienced depression, low self-worth, intense regret about her investment in education, and a generalized lack of dignity. “I questioned every aspect of my identity,” she says. “Is it the way I talk? My hair? My clothes? My weight?”

Part of the problem was misaligned expectations: when she was getting her master’s, her professors told her that she would graduate and find a full-time position, with a $45,000 minimum salary, benefits, and the ability to immediately enroll in a public service loan forgiveness program. In practice, after numerous job searches, she’s in a job outside her field for which she’s over-educated. She’s making $32,000. Still, she feels lucky, every day, that she’s one of the few in her field who’s found full-time employment.

When Emma looks back on the last ten years, she feels cynical but grateful. “It’s always been implied that if you fail to succeed, you aren’t passionate enough,” she said. “But I no longer invest in work emotionally. It isn’t worth it. I learned that every single person is expendable. None of it is fair or based on passion or merit. I don’t have the bandwidth to play that game.”

When I hear stories like Emma’s, so similar to thousands of other millennials’, I realize all over again just how aggressively, and tirelessly, so many of us worked toward that dream job. Which is why it’s so difficult for millennials to fathom the most enduring criticism of our generation: that we’re spoiled, or lazy, or entitled. Millennials did not germinate the idea that ‘lovable work’ was the ideal, nor did we cultivate it. But we did have to deal with the reality of just how frail that idea became once exposed to the real world.

When someone says millennials are lazy, I want to ask them: Which millennials? When someone says we’re entitled, I do ask them: Who taught us we should be able to do work that we love? We were told that college would be the way to a middle-class job. That wasn’t true. We were told that passion would eventually lead to profit, or at least a sustainable job where we were valued. That also wasn’t true.

Entering into adulthood has always been about modifying expectations: of what it is and what it can provide. The difference with millennials, then, is that we’ve spent between five and twenty years doing the painful work of adjusting our expectations: recalibrating our parents’ and advisors’ very reassuring understanding of what the job market was with the realities of our own experience of it, but also arriving at a wholly utilitarian vision of what a job can and should be. For many of us, it took years in shitty jobs to understand ourselves as laborers, as workers, hungry for solidarity.

For decades, millennials have been told that we’re special — every one of us filled with potential. All we needed to do was work hard enough to transform that potential into a perfect life absent all the economic worries that defined our parents. But as boomers were cultivating and optimizing their children for work, they were also further disassembling the sort of societal, economic, and workplace protections that could have made that life possible. They didn’t spoil us so much as destroy the likelihood of our ever obtaining what they had promised all that hard work was for.

Few millennials had the wisdom to understand that as we hit the job market. Instead, we believed that if opportunities didn’t arise, it was a personal problem. We acknowledged how competitive the market was, how much lower we’d set our standards, but we were also certain that if we just worked hard enough, we’d triumph — or at least find stability, or happiness, or arrive at some other nebulous goal, even if it was increasingly unclear why we were searching for it.

We fought that losing battle for years. For many, including myself, it’s hard not to feel embarrassed about it: I settled for so little because I was certain that with enough hard work, things would be different. But you can only work as an “independent contractor” at a job paying minimum wage with no benefits while shouldering a $400-a-month loan payment — even if it’s in a field you’re “passionate” about — for so many years before realizing that something’s deeply wrong. It took burning out for many of us to arrive at this point. But the new millennial refrain of “Fuck passion, pay me” feels more persuasive and powerful every day.

* I make a commission if you use these links.

updates: family noise when working from home, the boring job, and more

Here are four updates from people who had their letters answered here in the past.

1. Family noise when working from home due to quarantine (#4 at the link)

I wrote in a few months ago about an upcoming vacation my family was planning and how to make it work if his employer insisted on us isolating after returning from our trip. I don’t know if an update so soon after the fact will interest anyone, but here goes.

We canceled our trip, but because of a federal rule requiring that my husband take off five consecutive days once per year and his manager’s concerns about scheduling, he still took a week off. We used most of that week and pulled a few hundred from savings to prepare an office in the back room. When he checked his email sunday night in preparation for returning to work, he had a message informing him that his team had been moved to WFH status.

The other day, he was on a late-night call and one of his coworkers apparently heard me shout, “Get your naked butt back here! It’s diaper time!” My husband apologized, and his coworker just laughed and told him that she’d spent an hour earlier persuading her teenage son to put on some clean pajama pants because he’d been wearing the same ones all week. You and the comment section were dead on when you said that the expectations are different right now.

2. I don’t have anything to do at work now (#2 at the link at the Cut)

Thank you all for your responses, I read through each one but was too late to comment. I especially liked the suggestion of working on SOPs and started doing that to fill in time. Then my workplace had telework evaluations in June and I used that opportunity to use the language Alison suggested and made it clear in my written evaluation how many of my tasks were gone. I also sprinkled versions of Alison’s words in e-mails but still got no response beyond “I’ll keep that in mind.” I was feeling lost but then three staff members in our office went on extended leave (for non-COVID reasons) and I was asked to fill in on some of their tasks. I was also asked to join a working group so I think my supervisor must have taken into account my words even if they didn’t tell me directly. The tasks I’m doing are pretty monotonous but there is a lot of work to be done and I feel less guilty listening to something in the background as I work. I really enjoy having a pile of tasks and getting them done and am very fortunate I get to do that from home–although I am doing every other day masked and in the empty office. Having to fill in for other’s jobs has really taught me the value of having SOPs and if I do end up in another dry spell I will go back to working on them.

A commenter noted I sounded like a younger millennial but I am a 29-year-old “middle-aged millennial” who got stuck in a job at a bureaucratic job that sounded better than it was and with very little opportunity to move up. While I agree with those who said work isn’t about being a “ninja rockstar’ but the day-to-day, I have decided to look for a new job because I want to move beyond support work. I had sort of given up on the job search once the pandemic hit but I have a feeling this will be the new normal for a while and employers will adjust in the coming months. Thanks to all who responded and stay safe!

3. Telling someone we’re reopening but not hiring them back (#4 at the link)

Thanks to everyone for their comments. A lot of commenters were split on which direction to take, which, when added to the facts that 1) it wasn’t my decision to hire them; and 2) I would be taking over many of this person’s responsibilities, led me to conclude that this was way above my pay grade. This was also pointed out by several commenters, Alison included. I guess I was just trying to work out guilty feelings, which is a sign that I’m way too close to the situation.

I ended up strongly encouraging my new boss to reach out sooner rather than later, as the more time passes, the more likely it will get emotionally tricky. Additionally, I still want this person to be informed and be able to make the best decisions for themselves, which they can’t do if they think they’re in jobless limbo.

On another note, while I struggled with informing my coworker, I will have no problem reaching out to MY former staff, most of whom will also not be rehired in the restructure.

4. Is it normal for a manager to want to be cc’d on all your emails?

I wrote about having a micromanaging boss – thanks to you and commenters for giving great advice and encouragement. After that, things slowly deteriorated. This manager ended up destroying the morale of the entire supervisory staff (we generally protected the rest of the staff from it). Her constant criticisms, snarky tone and unrealistic expectations really ended up beating everyone down. I have hundreds of examples- but at one point she asked us in a meeting if there was anything she needed to know about how the staff feels about initiative X. One of my colleagues gave her some feedback that she got from staff and she ended up berating him over every single piece of feedback he passed on in front of all of us. I defended him and she stopped, but justified her actions because she claimed that he was only telling her about problems, not recommending solutions (he had solutions, she just didn’t like them).

I stuck around for a while because I felt an obligation to stay in the trenches and fight with my colleagues, but it got to be really damaging to my mental health. A month ago I started a new (lateral) position. The learning curve is steep and it’s certainly not perfect, but I don’t waste entire evenings and weekends frantically checking email and worrying about her reactions to things – so this is definitely a good news story!

do you miss your office?

We often think of working from home as a perk (you can work in sweats! with a cat in your lap!), but with so many people switching to remote work because of Covid, lots of them have discovered they don’t much like it.

Part of that is because of the circumstances, of course: we’re in the middle of a highly stressful crisis with no timeline for its end, and lots of people are trying to juggle child care along with work. But some of it is that people just aren’t liking working from home full-time as much as they thought they would.

Do you miss your office? Are you surprised by your reaction to working from home? Are you sick of working in your kitchen and overhearing all your spouse’s calls? Let’s discuss the dark side of working from home in the comments.

manager buys me gifts, my rude email got forwarded, and more

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

1. A manager who wants to hire me keeps buying me gifts

A manager in a different department who I believe I have a great working relationship with can’t keep staff in her department. She wants me to leave my department and work in her department because she says that she trusts me and respects my work ethic. I am torn because no one in her department likes her and they are all leaving. What makes it worse is that the manager has started calling me to have personal conversation and buying me and my children things. I do not want to ruin the relationship but I am also trying to keep an open mind and not listen to the complaints of others. I believe it’s only fair to formulate my own opinion. I also think that I should pay attention to the turnover rate in the department. Any advice would be great.

There’s value in keeping an open mind in situations like this; sometimes you might be able to comfortably work with a manager who other people struggle with. But you should still put real weight on what other people’s experiences have been: Talk to them about the reasons they’re leaving, ask what they tried to resolve those issues, and ask what they think it takes to work with her successfully. But if she’s got multiple people fleeing, pay attention to that. A lot of attention.

The other really important piece of data you have is that while she’s trying to recruit you, she’s buying things for you and your kids. That’s weird and it’s manipulative, and it’s not the action of a good manager. If she were just, say, tough but fair and the people leaving were people whose work wasn’t great, that would be one thing (and you might be able to work happily with her if your work is better). But this is someone who thinks she should buy gifts to convince you to work for her — that’s a flag that something’s really off there, and it makes me think her high turnover is for good reason.

You said you don’t want to ruin your relationship, but “I appreciate the offer but I’ve decided I’m happy where I am and don’t want to make a change right now” shouldn’t do that. At least it won’t do that with a reasonable manager — and if she’s not someone who would accept that with grace, that’s all the more reason to turn her down anyway.

2. New job, mistaken identity?

My husband recently started a new job. Another person, Jon, started on the same day as him — similar education, similar experience, different roles.

My husband’s role requires an understanding of the tools used in Jon’s, so he wasn’t surprised when his training was focused on those tools. But the assignments he’s getting continue to be directly using those tools, as would be expected in Jon’s role. Meanwhile, Jon has mentioned being assigned the higher level problems my husband expected to work on. We’re beginning to think that his boss (the owner) forgot who was hired to do what.

The only reason my husband took this job was because he was assured throughout the interview process that he would be working on the higher level problems. But there’s a pandemic going on, and we can’t afford for him to be out of work. What if anything can/should he say to his boss to get this straightened out? My husband doesn’t have a great read on how reasonable the boss is, yet, other than that he is very sarcastic.

He can address it without saying “I think you mixed us up” since there might be another reason for it anyway. For example, he could say, “I wanted to talk with you about how things are going. When I was interviewing, we’d talked about the X job (use the specific job title here in case he did get them mixed up) focusing largely on problems like A and B. I see those have been getting assigned to Jon in his Y role, while my assignments have been more C and D. I’m eager to take on the type of work we discussed when I was being hired, and I wanted to talk with you about the timeline for that.”

3. I wrote a rude email and it got forwarded

I was having an issue with a department at my work. I wrote a venting email to a coworker (I know, dumb) and she forwarded it to a number of people to try to get me help with my problem. Unfortunately, it had all of my original email attached. I wasn’t outright rude and I didn’t call anyone out by name, but it wasn’t a great tone. I was frustrated and it showed.

Needless to say, I apologized to everyone who got the email and assured them that I was being helped. Do I need to do anything further? I’m super embarrassed and have learned my lesson.

If you apologized and addressed the issue you were venting about (by saying you’re now being helped), that’s all you can do. That second piece (addressing what you were venting about) is important, and something people often skip in this situation. They’ll apologize but leave the topic of the venting hanging out there, still an issue. It helps to close the loop on that in some way. (For example: “I’ve been frustrated that I haven’t received quicker responses from your team, but I should have talked to you about that directly rather than complaining to someone else, and if it comes up in the future I’ll come to you earlier.”)

But there’s not much more damage control you can really do after that (at least just going on the details in your letter). You’ll likely feel the embarrassment for a while, but that’s actually a pretty effective way of making sure you don’t do it again … so in that way it serves a purpose.

4. Taking a leave of absence at a tiny start-up

I work for a very small, early stage start-up (less than 10 employees) and have been with the company for a few years. I’m in my early thirties, and when I joined a few years ago, the fast-paced work and feeling of contributing to something exciting was exactly what I was looking for.

My dad has had stage 4 cancer for over a year and recently stopped chemotherapy due to very debilitating side effects. His personal care needs have become very great as he has lost most use of his body. My mother is doing an incredible job taking care of him, but I think she needs more support. I’m also completely preoccupied, exhausted, and grieving from a distance. I’m unable to visit due to quarantine restrictions in the state where they live (I live five hours away in another state) and due to the fact that I can’t work remotely due to the nature of my job. Without the pandemic, I’d be able to continue working and visiting my parents on weekends, with the odd day off as needed.

I’d like to ask for a leave of absence from work to support my parents and because I’m so preoccupied, exhausted, and stressed that my performance isn’t up my usual standard. This puts my company in a tough spot as the work I do is tough to cover in such a small company. They’d either have to push all deadlines or hire and train a replacement. I’m financially in a place where I could take an unpaid leave for several months, but I don’t want to lose my health insurance. I don’t qualify for FMLA due to the size of the company. Furthermore, I don’t know how long my leave would be and what is reasonable to do in this situation.

What are my rights here and what is reasonable to ask for? Am I better off leaving a job (that otherwise is a great fit) and finding something that I could do remotely?

In terms of legal rights, it’s really just FMLA. Even if you don’t qualify for that, check your state laws because sometimes states offer more benefits and at smaller employer sizes.

But if that’s not in play, your company still might be willing to work something out with you. Talk to them! Explain the situation and explain what you’d like to do, and ask if there’s any way to work something out. They might surprise you — employers sometimes come through in situations like this. Not always, of course, and it might turn out there’s just no way to make it work on their side, but you shouldn’t assume that until you have the conversation.

You might also think about middle ground options. Even if most of your job can’t be done remotely, are there parts that could be — enough parts that you could go part-time while you’re out-there (even very part-time)? Or, would you be up for paying for more/all of your health insurance during that time if that’s a sticking point for them?

How much time is reasonable to ask for is a harder question, and depends on details of your dad’s situation and your job that I don’t have. One month can almost certainly be accommodated (you could be out for that long if you got injured or very sick and they’d make it work). Two or even three months would work in a lot of cases too. Six months is probably asking more than they can accommodate in a small company. But the exact amount that’s reasonable is hard to say from the outside. I’d think about what you really want and what you’d be willing to settle for, and then talk to them and see what your options are.

I’m sorry about your dad.

5. Writing a resume when Covid has dramatically changed my job

I’ve been with my company for nine years and in my current job for two. I’m looking to change jobs and that means updating my resume. As I’m filling in new information, I find myself in the situation of my current position having changed dramatically without a title change.

Before COVID, I was spending 28 of 40 hours a week running local HR and training for between 90-140 employees at a national restaurant chain, and doing whatever was needed for the other 12. Now, though, corporate has severely limited our hours, and we are doing what is essentially hiring/damage control for 10 hours per week and covering unfilled positions for the other 30 hours. (Recently, 36-45 hours, to be frank. It’s a bit grim and exhausting, and burn-out is driving the decision to move on.)

I thought about making a separate, COVID-dated entry with the same title, but that looks…weird. Any advice?

You don’t need a separate entry for the Covid stuff. In fact, you don’t need to list the Covid stuff at all if you don’t feel it strengthens your resume. You can simply focus on what the job was before Covid hit. If you’re asked about this time period in interviews, you should of course answer honestly, but you don’t need to get into it on your resume if you don’t want to.

A resume doesn’t need to be a comprehensive accounting of everything you’ve done at each job, just the highlights that you feel most strengthen your candidacy. You shouldn’t take that so far that the totality of what you list for a job gives an inaccurate idea of what the role was all about, but that’s not the case here.

This would be different if you’d just started this job in March and all you’d done was the Covid-era stuff. In that case, you couldn’t list the old duties that you’d never performed. But in your case, you’re fine focusing on what the job has been up until recently.

does it look unprofessional to draw in meetings?

A reader writes:

I am a college student in my low 20s, two years in to my absolute dream job. I work for a medium-sized nonprofit that functions as an umbrella organization for six branches. I am the first assistant to one of these directors, and I’ve known her for years. The executive director (my boss’ boss) is known to be very serious and no-nonsense. He’s not very friendly and rarely acknowledges me at all.

Anyway, I have a pretty serious … attention issue. Meaning I can’t focus for longer than a few moments, even if it’s a one-on-one conversation with full eye contact. There’s a long story as to why I’m not medicated, but the point is I can’t be. To solve this, I’ve taken up drawing. I mean, like, filling the margins of my papers with doodles. I’ve actually gotten quite good at drawing cartoons after many years of failing at paying attention. I know it probably looks bad, but it truly does help me focus. I will retain much more when I draw than when I don’t. I do try to write some notes so it doesn’t totally look like I’m ignoring the speaker. I usually bring a notebook into all of my meetings so I can for sure have something to draw on.

My boss doesn’t mind this at all and fully understands I perform better when I am allowed to doodle while I listen. The problem is that the executive director does not. He recently mentioned to my boss that he’s noticed that I don’t pay attention in meetings (which I do, I swear, he’s just misinterpreting my drawing as boredom instead of necessity). My boss claims she was able to explain it and that he understood, but I’m not so sure. I don’t want to be naive and assume he will look past this. I really, really love my job and want to have a future here, but I’m worried this is going to give me a bad standing with the big boss. The thing is, I have tried every other possible method to help me focus, and drawing is the only thing that has worked. If I can’t draw, I’m not really sure what I can do to help me pay attention.

So what should I do? Do I need to give up my doodles? Is it really that bad to be drawing during a meeting? Can I somehow look professional and attentive while drawing a skateboarding dog on my memo? Help!

There’s a growing understanding that some people focus better when they can do something with their hands — hence the bowls of fidget toys appearing on some corporate conference room tables — but the message definitely hasn’t reached everyone yet. Lots of people still think that doodling — or doing anything other than taking notes or making rapt eye contact with the speaker — means you’re not engaged and not paying attention.

Some of this, I think, is human nature. When you’re speaking and see someone actively engaged in another activity, we’re programmed to read that as not listening, bored, or distracted. For people who don’t need a secondary activity to fully focus in meetings, it takes a deliberate effort to adjust that thinking and realize not everyone is the same in this regard.

And to be fair, sometimes when someone is doodling, it does mean they’re checking out! So it helps, when you can, to be explicit that you’re doing it because it helps you focus.

In your case, it sounds like your boss has had that conversation for you. She talked to her boss and felt he understood. It might bring you peace of mind to go back to her and make sure she really thinks it’s a non-issue now, or ask if it would be worth you explaining it directly at some point (possibly to others at the meeting too, if these are small meetings where that wouldn’t be weird). But if she’s confident her boss gets it and it’s fine, I’d believe her unless you see evidence to the contrary.

That said, when you’re doing something that can read as “disengaged” to a lot of people, it’s smart to find ways to demonstrate that you are engaged. If the meetings allow for it, make sure you’re actively participating — nod, ask questions, contribute ideas. That kind of participation can carry a ton of weight if people would otherwise be wondering how present you are.

It might also be worth revisiting what kind of drawing you’re doing. People may assume drawing a detailed cartoon takes a lot more focus on the drawing than random doodles do, whether or not that’s true. And when it comes to creating a potential distraction for people around you, drawing a skateboarding dog might be more distracting (because it’s more interesting) than random patterns would be.

If cartoons are the only thing that works for you, then so be it — but if you have options, there are some optics there to factor in.

my employee resigned but now isn’t leaving

A reader writes:

I recently took over as manager for a small team. One of the employees on the team, Jane, announced that she was leaving and had a new job lined up. Jane’s replacement was hired but before she could start, there were some problems with Jane’s new job. This is no fault of Jane’s, but as a result, she has remained on. While it has been helpful to have her here to train her replacement, we’re entering a situation where I am not sure how to proceed.

I have been told by my upper management that they will not be terminating Jane’s employment. I’m now in a place where I need Jane’s replacement to start taking fully taking on Jane’s duties to truly learn their new job. At the same time, I am struggling to find work to fill Jane’s days. Because the length of her stay is so uncertain, I am trying to give her a stream of short-term projects. Complicating this whole situation, I have realized that Jane had the potential to be a truly excellent employee, but her previous manager really failed her, causing her to look to leave. What do I do next? Should I advise her to look for a new job? Should I keep her in this short-term project limbo and just trust that new job will come through?

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:

  • Employer wants job candidate to “show loyalty” by not interviewing for other jobs
  • I don’t want a baby shower at work
  • Could a guy I’ve talked to on Twitter recommend me for a job?
  • When religion limits an employee’s availability

my employee’s clothes accentuate her chest — how do I talk to her about it?

A reader writes:

I am a fairly new manager and I recently got a new, young subordinate. We work in a nonprofit and the dress code is very relaxed. We often only wear t-shirts and jeans, and even shorts won’t raise eyebrows if it’s very hot.

However, I have come across an issue with the new hire. She has a very big chest and she likes to wear tank tops, which make her chest area very pronounced. I really didn’t give it much thought, until I was approached by our client who made several remarks about it. In short span time, this happened three times — with three different clients of different gender and ages. It rattled me to listen to an older lady laugh about “big boobs of your new colleague.” One male client even picked up her video call completely naked waist up, which he never did to me, and I am worried it’s connected, since he is one of those who talked about it.

I always try to shut it down quickly and I told the naked client he must always be clothed for video calls, but I am at loss how to address it with my subordinate. I brought it up and she got offended and said it’s unfair because she is big chested and it was hot. I don’t want to penalize her for her body (I am a woman as well and I know it sucks), but I doubt the client’s remarks will stop if this continues, since they come from a very specific community which is known for being direct.

You can’t have different dress codes by body type. You can have dress code rules like “no visible cleavage,” but you can’t tell someone she can’t wear tank tops if they’re generally allowed by your dress code.

If the issue isn’t cleavage but just that the shape of her body is visible — well, she has a larger chest. It’s going to show in a lot of clothing because that’s her body.

On the other hand, if  she’s dressing in a way that is inappropriate for your workplace and would be inappropriate regardless of her body shape, then sure, you can talk to her about that like you would any other dress code problem. And having a clear, written dress code makes that easier, since then you can simply say, “We actually don’t allow tank tops on their own — we require sleeves or a layer worn over them.” (Make sure you’re enforcing it across the board though, not just for her.)

But if tank tops are allowed on other people and the issue is “it’s really clear you have big boobs and we want you to dress to hide them” … no.

I understand that your concern is the way clients are responding, but that’s an issue with those clients. You need to shut that down immediately and firmly — with something like, “Please don’t make comments like that about our staff’s bodies.” (It sounds like you’re already doing that, which is good.) Note, too, that you have a legal obligation to protect your employee from sexual harassment by clients, and you need to pay particular attention to what might else be going on with that topless guy.

But if your employee is adhering to your dress code, please don’t make clients’ comments her problem. Address it with the people making the comments; their behavior is the issue, not the fact that people can tell a woman has larger breasts.