who is responsible for anger management therapy when an employee needs it?

A reader writes:

This is a question about an unfolding situation involving the behavior of a couple of professional dancers on Strictly Come Dancing (the UK version of Dancing With the Stars). Last year, one contestant complained about the behavior of her pro partner (Pro A) towards her. Because she’s been publicly vocal about it, the BBC hasn’t been able to sweep it under the carpet and had to be seen to be taking action. As a result, they conducted an investigation into the behavior of all the pros last year and one other pro (Pro B) was suddenly fired in the last few days.

Based on newspaper reports from “sources” (which may or may not be accurate), when reviewing the training footage during this investigation, Pro B was seen behaving in a manner so egregious towards his celeb partner that it apparently brought the observers to tears. Said behavior allegedly included kicking and hitting her and spitting at her — and possibly more we haven’t heard about.

More information has come out gradually — which, again, may or may not be accurate. At this point in time, the general public has no way to assess this.

At first, reports implied this behavior only came to light when the general review began due to the behavior of Pro A. Then it was reported that a junior member of the production team had seen worrying behavior by Pro B at some point during the course of the last season but didn’t feel able to report it. Then we heard that two warnings had been issued, although it wasn’t specified (only implied) that these warnings were issued to Pro B. Then we heard that Pro B had asked for assistance with anger management after receiving at least one warning but that had been refused — with the implication being that it was because the BBC didn’t feel it was their responsibility to provide this. He’s apparently considering suing the BBC because they didn’t provide this support.

In short, we have a man in a pressured and stressful job, who has anger issues. He’s old enough to know that hitting, kicking, and spitting are unacceptable behavior towards another person. He’s aware that he has anger issues and he since doesn’t have to account for every minute of the day to the BBC (we’re aware that plenty of couples take plenty of breaks during training) he could simply remove himself from the room until he calms down. There’s also nothing to stop him accessing anger management therapy by himself. He comes across as completely unrepentant and appears to have abdicated responsibility to the BBC.

But what if he’d lost it with a random stranger, for example, during an argument over a parking spot at the supermarket, and had assaulted them? I wonder if he would be blaming the BBC for this. We know that Strictly/DWTS is high-pressure and stressful for the couples, but at what point ethically and morally (not legally because this is the UK, not the U.S.) is it the employer’s responsibility to provide help with anger management and at what point is it the employee’s own responsibility to look elsewhere for the assistance they need?

Two big caveats: I haven’t been following this situation and don’t know anything about it, nor can I comment on UK law. But since the questions you’re asking could come up in any workplace, I can offer some general thoughts.

It’s not an employer’s responsibility to provide or fund anger management therapy. It’s reasonable, and in some cases wise, for an employer to tell an employee that if they want to keep their job, they’ll need to seek help for anger management, at the employee’s own expense and on their own time.

It’s also 100% okay if the employer skips that and simply fires the person, because kicking, hitting, and spitting are egregious enough that they don’t require a second chance.

In fact, by offering a second chance, the employer would be risking that other employees will again be kicked, hit, spit upon, or otherwise abused, unless there’s going to be very close supervision in place. I’d argue that the biggest obligation the employer has in this situation is to their other employees. They’re not obligated to provide anger management therapy, but they’re absolutely obligated to keep this kind of behavior out of their workplace, whatever that takes. They might decide that means they’ll fund the therapy if they want to keep the employee badly enough, but that would be about their obligation to their other employees, not to the problem person. (And again, they’re not obligated to pursue that path at all — and if they did, they’d need to monitor things closely for quite some time afterwards to ensure the problems don’t recur. Anger management isn’t an overnight cure.)

Frankly, I don’t know why an employer would choose to go the anger management route at all. This is a person who kicked, hit, spit upon other people. Just fire him.

And then look into what’s going on in the work environment that apparently allowed two people to behave like this, and people who witnessed it to be afraid to report it. The problem goes beyond Pro A and Pro B.

an employee we fired is making “inspirational” LinkedIn posts about it, grand jury duty will eat up 15% of my pay for the year, and more

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

1. An employee we fired keeps making “inspirational” posts about it on LinkedIn

About four months ago, I had to fire an employee due to performance issues. She was a generally nice person, but unfortunately fell short of expectations so we had to let her go. We gave her severance and allowed her three months to quietly transition out of her role. We allowed her to announce her departure to the rest of the team as if it were a normal resignation.

However, a couple weeks after she left, I was shocked to see a post of hers on LinkedIn. She publicly announced that she had been let go from our organization and that she was looking for work. I was baffled as to why someone would announce that so publicly. However, I decided to ignore it, because what could I do? Unfortunately, the posts continued, documenting her job search journey, and how every day was about exercising “resilience” and “dealing with challenges.”

My concern is that this will affect morale among my staff. I don’t want them to think that they will be affected by mass layoffs, but I also don’t want to compromise my former employee’s privacy. What is the best way to address this issue with my team? And is it a possibility to ask my former employee to no longer mention the organization in her posts?

Leave it alone. Your team isn’t going to worry about mass layoffs just because they learn one person was fired. It’s going to be clear to them that you allowed her an exit with dignity, which if anything they’re likely to appreciate.

Let your former employee do whatever she’s going to do. Definitely don’t ask her to stop mentioning your organization; that will come across as heavy-handed and will cause more drama if she starts telling people that.

If most of your employees know you to be a generally reasonable person who doesn’t fire people punitively, this won’t be a big deal. But get involved, and it will start looking weirder.

2. Coworker escalated a problem with how I use my Outlook calendar to our VP

My colleague and I are both licensed engineers who have to alternate weeks where we work overnight on a large project (9pm-4am). On weeks where we are not working overnight, we schedule daytime site visits and catch up with our respective project management teams. Site visits generally last 2-4 hours. We each work with two teams almost exclusively. Two junior level engineers also work with two teams, but they have us check their work before finalizing anything.

Last week, Ann, a project manager from one of the teams that work with a junior engineer decided to bypass her by putting a morning site visit on my calendar for a week that I would be working overnight. She then sent me a message about it, citing budget reasons for cutting out the project engineer. I informed her that I would not be able to make it because I work nights that week, but the project engineer could attend and review with me in the afternoon.

She became frustrated and said that wouldn’t be possible because her budget won’t allow for two engineers to be duplicating work. She went on to tell me that my colleague and I should have put our rotating night shifts in our Outlook calendars so she could coordinate with us. I ignored this message because it didn’t seem productive.

Today, my colleague and I received a message from our company’s executive VP, telling us that we had to update our calendars and specifically stated that Ann was trying to schedule a site visit with one of us but our calendars don’t accurately reflect our availability. I asked my colleague if Ann had reached out to him and he said she had not. We both told the VP that we would update our calendars and left it at that.

However, I am not happy with Ann or how the VP handled this escalation. When my colleague and I originally took on these shifts, we had a discussion with the VP and other managers about the project duration (over a year) and everyone acknowledged that this would impose greatly on our regular work, as well as our personal lives. We worked out an arrangement where we have a standing notification of our modified availability for the project duration on our messaging platform, as well as a change to our working hours on Outlook. In addition to this, we have an open line of communication with the teams we work with and are very responsive to them. They don’t really use the calendar as a communication tool and also prefer direct messages, calls, and texts. They know what weeks we are on or off and schedule things accordingly, so we never felt the need to input our alternating shifts on our calendar. I understand that coworkers outside of these groups may need me, but in those cases they always chose to send me a message asking when I had time.

I feel that it’s disrespectful for someone on a team that is not connected to us can dictate how we organize our calendars, but I feel unable to draw and enforce a boundary if the VP has been made aware of the situation and ultimately sided with Ann.

It’s not unreasonable to say that your calendar should accurately reflect your availability.

I think you’re frustrated because Ann could have avoided all of this by just communicating with you directly, and you feel like you have a system that works for you and the people who work with most often — and you’re already carrying the burden of having these overnight shifts for a year! But “please make sure your calendar accurately reflects your availability so people you don’t work with as frequently are in the loop too” is really pretty reasonable. It’s not so much someone outside your team (Ann) dictating your work habits as it is a VP in your management chain saying, “Hey, this isn’t working as broadly as it needs to so please change it.”

3. I’ve been called for grand jury duty — and it would eat up 15% of my pay for the year

I have been in my job as an executive assistant for almost 2.5 years. I work for the president of the division and am happy. But I just received a jury summons, not for regular jury duty, but for grand jury duty. It’s scheduled for 1-3 days per month for the next 18 months and the summons lists the specific days per month. And it’s not even my local county court, it’s federal district court in a city 80 miles away. I have no issue in general with serving jury duty, and would have no problem with serving a regular jury summons, but the time commitment on this summons is egregious. Not to mention the time and costs of driving 80 miles one way three days per month. (The court would pay mileage and parking, plus $50 per day.) It’s potentially 54 days over the next year and a half. The jury duty policy at my job covers five paid days and I assume I’d be expected to take the remaining 49 days unpaid or use vacation to cover it. Not to mention the fact that my work would suffer and I would not be able to take a real vacation for the next 18 months, as I would be using all of my vacation days for the jury duty.

I submitted a hardship request to the court online and was told that having a job isn’t an excuse and I need to come to court the first day and plead my case to the judge. If I am unable to get out of this duty, and I am stuck missing 54 days of work, what recourse do I have to fight against the five-day paid policy in place at my job? Not being paid for 54 or even 49 days equals around 15% of my salary — it’s not a small amount that I can just forgo. Is there language I can use to ask my HR to rewrite the policy?

My boss told me he would have the head of HR write me a letter to assist when I go to court to try to get me out of it, but the head of HR offered no other assistance, other than pointing me to the policy. In a very brief conversation with one of the lower ranking HR members, she said she didn’t think anyone at the company had ever been summoned for grand jury duty and she imagined they’d have to rewrite the policy if I ended up having to serve. So what can I do? My summons date is August 20 and I’m not sure if I should force a conversation with HR before that day, especially since I am hoping to get out of it. But in case I am unlucky enough to not get out of it, I don’t want to be stuck losing part of my salary through no fault of my own.

In most states, you’ll be able to appeal to the judge to be excused based on financial hardship; explaining the situation (that your job won’t pay you for more than five days off, this will be 15% of your salary for the year, and you’d have to drive 80 miles each way every day) should give you a good shot at being excused. However, be careful about what your company puts in that letter; it being inconvenient for them will be much less compelling than documenting the fact that they will only pay you for five of the days off. (In fact, some courts won’t even accept letters from employers pleading hardship at all; they’re focused on the hardship to prospective jurors, not to their employers.)

If for some reason you’re not excused, you — and ideally some of your coworkers, who could also be affected by this if they’re summoned in the future — should lobby your company for a change to their policy. Many companies pay the difference between the jury pay and your normal pay; it’s not an outlandish thing to request, particularly in a situation like yours.

Some potentially helpful legal info: Some states require employers to pay you for all or part of jury duty. To find out if yours does, search the name of your state and “jury duty employer pay” (no quotes). Also, if you are exempt, you must receive your full salary for the workweek if you work any part of it (although they could still require you to use paid vacation time for it, which isn’t really what you want).

4. My boss’s boss’s boss saw me wearing shorts to work

I tried to circumvent the cardinal rule of men’s dresswear: don’t wear shorts. I figured that it was the summer, hot, and I was walking to work.

However, this is the day that my great-grandboss happened to be in. Do I excuse myself when I next see him?

Eh. Is he someone you talk to regularly? And someone who’s likely to care? If so, sure, when you next see him you could mention it. But if you don’t talk to him regularly and/or don’t have a specific reason to think he’d even remember, it would be overkill.

The better move is just not to wear things to work that you’ll feel uncomfortable being seen in by a higher-up. I’m sympathetic to walking to work in the heat, but you could change when you arrive, a la generations of women and footwear.

Related:
why can’t I wear shorts to work?

5. Why do people say “longer hours”?

Why do people say “longer hours” as in “we have to work longer hours”? Shouldn’t they say “more hours”? Unless we’re redefining an hour to be, say, 63 minutes and now you get your hourly rate every 63 minutes you work, which seems very illegal, you’re not working longer hours. You’re working more hours.

Because they’re using “hours” to mean “the totality of my work week” and language evolves to includes lots of shorthand that doesn’t strictly make sense.

I took a job with less responsibility — and my coworkers treat me like I have no experience

A reader writes:

I was a stay-at-home-mom for a good 10 years, and have recently started working for other people again. I have been taking entry-level positions, because I’ve been out of the workforce for a decade and also because my kids are still kind of young and I can’t handle the additional responsibility.

I’m currently on my second part-time job since coming back, and I keep running into issues with my coworkers assuming that I have entry-level experience.

At my first job, I had issues when someone changed a much-used database field to be unsearchable. When I tried to explain why I needed to be able to search that, I couldn’t get through to my coworker who kept blowing me off, saying “computer stuff is hard, but you’ll get the hang of it.” I have built three large corporate databases from scratch. I eventually had to escalate the issue to my great-grandboss, who had hired me and knew what was on my resume.

At my current administrative job, which I love, I have been noticing that no one outside my direct boss really values my input. I was hired because I have the experience to understand and cover for the higher-level responsibilities in my department, but again, no one has seen my resume. Today my coworker and I were discussing a marketing issue, and she said to me, “I actually have a Master’s in Marketing, so I know about this stuff.” My MBA concentration was in Marketing, and I’ve been a marketing manager and a publicist. I know a thing or two. I just currently want a job I can leave at the office at the end of the day.

How do I let my coworkers know, without sounding like a jerk, that even though I have (and want) an entry-level job, I do have higher-level experience and knowledge? Or should I just continue to keep my mouth shut and enjoy not being asked to take on the newsletter (I was sweating that one), and other jobs? Could that hurt me in a few years when I’m ready for more responsibility?

I think you need to figure out exactly what’s bothering you about this.

Is it just that you want your coworkers to talk to you in a way that acknowledges you’re not a total beginner? (Certainly the computer guy was over the line regardless.) Or is it more about respect and having your input taken seriously? Obviously we should treat all our coworkers respectfully, but at the same time, if you were hired to do X and Y, the colleague managing Z might not be looking for input on Z, even if you have a background in it, and that might be their call to make.

If you’re reading that and thinking, “Yeah, I’m not trying to take over their jobs; I just want them to know I have experience, even though I’m not proposing using that experience for anything specific” … can you dig more into why? If you can’t quite explain it, then any chance it’s, well, ego? On some level, we often want people to know our value in any given context, even if there’s no practical reason they need to, and it can wound our egos when we feel like they don’t know and aren’t accounting for that.

If it is ego, that’s okay. We all have egos, and that’s no indictment of you. But if that’s what’s at the root of this, it might bother you less once you realize that.

On the other hand, if there are practical work reasons people need to know, that’s different — and you’d address that like any other work detail someone needed to know. For example, the computer guy was definitely a work problem that you needed to address, because he was obstructing your ability to do your job. Also, you mentioned that you were hired in part because you can cover for the higher-level responsibilities in your department; if that’s the case, people need to know about the aspects of that will affect them (and your boss should be taking the lead on making sure they know).

Beyond that, though, why not just mention your expertise when it’s relevant? For example, when your coworker told you she “knows about this stuff” because of her marketing degree, it would have been fine to say, “Oh, cool. I used to work as a marketing manager and my MBA focused on it.” And when your coworker was patronizing you about computers being “hard,” it would have been fine to say, “I’ve been using computers for years. I’ve built three large corporate databases from scratch.” Or even, “Have I inadvertently given you the impression I don’t know computers? I’ve built databases and done XYZ. The issue here is…”

You definitely shouldn’t go around inserting your credentials where they wouldn’t come up organically, but when it’s relevant to the conversation, it’s fine to mention! A good litmus test: might the person you’re talking to feel embarrassed if they continue down this conversational road and then find out about your background later? If so, it’s a kindness to everyone to be matter-of-fact about it.

All that said … depending on how this organization works, there’s a risk that by publicizing your credentials, you risk being drafted into more responsibility than you want. You might be able to solve that by just being really firm about role creep, hours, and what you are and aren’t prepared to do (not only because you don’t want more responsibility right now, but also because you’re not being paid for it) — but factor your willingness to do the work of maintaining those boundaries into how much you share about your experience.

Last, you raised the question of whether avoiding those extras now could hurt you in a few years when you want more responsibility. There is an opportunity cost — having fresh higher-level experience on your resume does help — but it sounds like you were already planning on that opportunity cost when you decided to return to entry-level work (for perfectly good reasons).

I’m about to manage someone who thinks we’re good friends, but we can’t be

A reader writes:

I have accepted a management role in a new team my company has set up. My coworker also applied for the role (unbeknownst to me at the time). She was not offered the job, but was offered one of the team roles so now I will be her manager. I found this out before her and was initially concerned that she might be upset, but the opposite problem has occurred: she is delighted and is telling everyone that if it wasn’t to be her, she would have wanted it to be me as we are so close and great friends. She is also saying that our team will be amazing with both of us on it.

I am not a very demonstrative person but she is. Up until now, I have been fine with her suggesting hugs when she’s happy or one of us has a birthday, etc. I wouldn’t have described us as any closer than any of my other colleagues, but I think she feels differently. Previously it seemed mean to make this clear since it wasn’t causing a problem.

I am concerned that unless I nip this in the bud before we start our new roles, we will both end up looking unprofessional, other members of the team will be upset at our being “close” (according to her), and she is going to get a horrible shock when it comes to performance management. She is great at what she does and I think she will be an asset to the team, but I want to sensitively address this so she doesn’t become defensive or lose face.

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  •  Am I being a scrooge about my employee’s lunch break?
  • Client wants to monitor our work in a weird and invasive way

my coworker with OCD wants to control how I do everything

A reader writes:

I have a coworker — let’s call him Sergeant Duke — who is a pretty nice guy. We’re in the military, are the same rank, and have a similar level of experience. Aside from a personality clash with one other coworker, Sergeant Duke gets along with everyone, is good at his job, and doesn’t make a big fuss.

Except for one small thing: dear Sergeant Duke has diagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and has to instruct me (and everyone else) on EVERYTHING. Here are just a few examples:
* the best route to get to my house (he lives in a different town)
* how to call the local clinic to make an appointment (while I was on the phone with them making an appointment)
* what classes to take for my degree (he’s in a completely different program at a different school)
* how to map a printer, where the post office is, how to eat to lose weight/gain muscle, etc…

I must stress that in not a single one of the instances have I asked for guidance. He simply seems to feel that he knows best when it comes to everything and must give his input.

He also has a habit of telling me what to do when our supervisor is out, even though we’re the same rank:
* “You can go ahead and take your lunch at eleven if you want.”
* “You can leave now for your appointment if you like.”
* “I’m going to be out the rest of the day so just go home at our regular time.”

I understand it’s somewhat out of his control. And he’s a great guy. He wants everyone to succeed and wants the job to get done. It’s just that I find the constant direction-giving to be a nuisance, even though I know it’s mostly harmless. And it’s not as if I’m being targeted particularly, I just sit closest to him in our office.

I’ve recently gotten some bad health news and I’m worried about him finding out because I don’t want to hear what he has to say on the matter. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t speak to him very much at all.

How can I politely set boundaries or redirect Sergeant Duke when he gets into one of these spiels? The last thing I want is to harbor any resentment towards him when I know it’s likely almost impossible for him to control.

What happens when you tell him to stop?

Ideally when he meddles you’d be saying things like:

* “I don’t need advice on that, thanks.” (Feel free to leave off the “thanks,” depending on how annoyed you are.)
* “I’ve got this covered. I’m not looking for input.”
* “You don’t need to tell me when to take lunch.”
* “Please don’t tell me things like when to take lunch.”
* “Please let me manage my own schedule.”

If he keeps going after you’ve told him to stop, feel free to say, “I’m not going to keep discussing this” and turn away. You can say this cheerfully! It’s clear that you mostly like the guy and don’t want to make things tense with him, and this might sound awfully chilly when you picture it your head — but you can say it warmly and just decline to keep engaging without it having to be a big confrontation.

If you try all this and it doesn’t change his behavior, well, you tried. It probably won’t change his behavior, in fact, if he’s struggling with a compulsion — but it may slow him down and, if nothing else, you’ll be putting up a boundary for yourself. You can’t control what he does, but you can put up a clear boundary on your side and then decline to engage.

That said, if he tries to discuss your bad health news, please go ahead and be more aggressive. It’s fine in that situation to say, “I do not want to discuss this, and I need you to not bring it up with me again.” If he keeps trying, that’s worth escalating. You’re kind to want to be understanding that his behavior stems from a medical condition, but that doesn’t mean he gets to trample all over your medical privacy (and nor would that be considered a reasonable accommodation for OCD).

my coworker took a video call from the bathroom, horrible exec is the boss’s best friend, and more

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

1. My coworker took a video call from the bathroom

I was on a call with a vendor recently with about three people from each organization. Most people had their cameras off, and after the meeting topics were covered, I began to ask some follow-up questions of the other account manager, who hadn’t been needed on the call until then.

I said his name to get his attention and started talking about future things I thought we should be planning. I noticed him turn on his camera and I commented that it was dark where he was. As I kept talking, it became clear that this person was sitting in a dark bathroom with his phone on the floor in front of him. I froze briefly but somehow managed to keep talking as he pulled up his pants, flushed the toilet, and carried his phone down the hall back to his desk.

Normally, when someone makes an embarrassing mistake, the polite thing to do is to pretend you don’t notice and move on. At some point he turned his video off, so he must have realized he had inadvertently turned it on. No one else commented. But here’s the thing — that meeting was recorded. The recording is on their system. Speaking up could save this person embarrassment or worse if one of his colleagues noticed what was happening. Should I risk making it worse by bringing it up? Leave it alone? Should I have spoken up while it was happening?

Is this a recording that anyone is likely to watch? Is it more “we just record most meetings by default but no one ever goes back and watches them” or more “a VIP wasn’t able to attend and asked us to record it and will definitely watch it”?

If it’s the former, I’d just leave it alone. The video will sit on a server for a while, and then will meet whatever lonely death greets all the other unwatched videos of corporate meetings. If it’s the latter … well, I still don’t know that you need to bother. If you’re close to the coworker, maybe. If you manage him, definitely. But otherwise, meh. (To be clear, if you were concerned this was intentional exhibitionism from your coworker, my advice would be different, but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case.)

But if anything similar ever happens again, ideally it’s best to speak up in the moment and say, “Hey, Karl, your camera is on — please turn it off.”

Related:
I flashed my entire team during a video call

2. Our horrible exec is the boss’s best friend — and I’m HR

When I took my job as HR director in August 2023, the leadership team seems super excited to have me join the team, but since then things have changed. The COO is the worst leader I have ever worked with and, to make matters worse, she’s the CEO’s best friend. I complained about issues with the COO to the CEO, and her resolution was to move me to report to the CFO but not give the COO any reason for making this change.

The COO isn’t stupid and I’m sure she knows I complained. She has started ignoring me and only speaks to me in situations where it’s 100% needed. She asked that I cc my supervisor on all emails I send to her, so I did this and now she circumvents me with the response and goes to my boss, who either replies to the email or talks to me. The COO is so non-responsive to everyone though, so I can look past this. She also feels she doesn’t need to be held to the same standard as other managers and directors and doesn’t meet deadlines. For example, performance reviews were due May 31. She still has not turned in any evaluations. She went to my boss and got him to push the deadline back to July, which isn’t fair to the other supervisors who completed their reviews on time or the employees who are left waiting.

Can you give me any advice on how to make things a little better and easier here? I’m starting to look for other opportunities because I feel like this will never get better. Can you provide me any kind of hope or is it useless?

It is useless. The COO is the CEO’s best friend. The situation isn’t likely to change. Your CEO has made it clear that her best friend is allowed to run roughshod over everyone else and won’t be held accountable. Meanwhile, HR can only be as good as the management above you lets you be — and you’re going to be both hamstrung by and associated with the incompetent management around you (and in many cases required to enable it too).

You could certainly try talking to the CEO again, or your own manager, but at best you’re likely to see minor changes around the edges only, not the kind of fundamental shift that’s needed. You’ve got to either accept the situation is likely to stay more or less the same, or start looking to get out.

3. Should I send an audio file when requesting an informational interview?

A friend suggested that the hot new thing is to provide an audio file with a letter to request an informational interview. The audio file (MP3) can be sent alongside the letter (PDF) or embedded in the PDF. The audio file would feature my voice and would describe the request letter with headshot. Then my voice would read the text of the letter.

Have you heard of this technique to book informational interviews? Are audio files trending or is this a bad idea?

This is not a thing. I don’t doubt that some random person out there is trying this out (because you can find random people trying out all sorts of weird stuff), but I can tell you that 99.9% of people who receive these requests won’t take the time listen to an audio file, versus just reading a letter that they can quickly skim. And it’ll look odd that you expected they’d want to. (Also, if you were going to include it — which you shouldn’t — why would the recording just be you reading the letter? For most recipients, that would move it from seeming very odd and out-of-touch to an even larger strike against your judgment.

(Also, definitely do not include a headshot.)

4. Should my company reimburse me when I tip during business trips?

I have a question about getting reimbursed for tips associated with travel costs that are otherwise getting reimbursed. I’ll be going to a conference next month as a presenter, and when I was communicating with an organizer about logistics, she let me know that I should Uber/Lyft from the airport to the hotel, and that I would be reimbursed for the trip, but “not including tip.”

I’m really unhappy about that policy, and I’m wondering if there’s any way I can push back on it? I’m also concerned about whether or not this no tip policy extends to any meals I get reimbursed during this conference. But so far I’ve been struggling to find a way to frame it that doesn’t come off as judgmental or holier-than-thou.

You absolutely should get reimbursed for reasonable tips. They’re part of the cost of business travel, and you shouldn’t be paying for business expenses yourself.

It’s in no way holier-than-thou to point that out! Talk to whoever has authority here and say, “Tipping is an expected cost of some services when traveling. I don’t think employees should have to pay out of pocket to cover those costs when we’re travel for work, so I’d like to ensure that reasonable tips can be included in my expense reimbursements.” (Also, before you have this conversation, check any written policies your organization has on expenses; it’s possible the organizer is just going rogue here.)

5. How to tell a previous applicant not to apply again

In the spring, I interviewed a woman for our summer internship. Based on her answers and attitude in the interview, I did not hire her. However, she keeps emailing to ask about fall Internships. How do I gently let her know that I am not interested in hiring her at all?

“I appreciate you taking the to meet with me earlier this year. I don’t think the fit is right for our internship program, but wish you the best of luck in your search.” It’s kinder to just tell her than to let her keep harboring hopes that she’ll be accepted this time.

If there’s some relatively easy way to explain your reason (“we look for applicants with a stronger track record of X”), you can do that but you don’t have to. You also don’t need to explain all your reasons; if one reason is skill based and the other two are attitude-based, just explain the easier first one.

Alternately, you can just point her to your fall internship application process, let her apply, and then decline her application — but with someone who’s emailing repeatedly, I’d rather just tell them.

the Bigfoot artifacts, the disappointing Australians, and other funny customer complaints

Last week, we talked about strange customer complaints. Here are 25 funny stories you shared.

1. The Bigfoot artifacts

I worked in a small history museum and got a complaint that we didn’t have any Bigfoot artifacts, like bones or fossils … from Bigfoot.

2. The bewitchment

I used to work in sales for a pretty well-known IT company. Sold a substantial amount of equipment to a customer. Made sure it had all the bells, whistles, and appropriate discounts applied and really thought I’d done a decent job.

Two days later, my manager received an email from said customer and here’s what he wrote: “Lorna’s Irish accent and lilt made it hard to concentrate on the task at hand. I believe she bewitched me into buying more stuff than was needed and I strongly suggest having a word with her about work ethics and such.”

3. The bank

Someone I once knew took a call from a customer at their customer services job for a bank. The customer had purchased a bed and it was too high for her to get into. Rather than take this up with the company (or perhaps she did but didn’t get anywhere), she called the bank and complained that they should have checked she was happy with the purchase before they let the payment go through. In a separate issue, another customer was unhappy that they couldn’t get money (as in actual banknotes) to be dispensed from their computer given that they had an online savings account. Another customer called the bank asking why his energy bill was so high and when it was suggested he contact the power supplier, he said he wanted the bank to do this.

4. The disappointing Australians

I work in travel and we’ve had people demand refunds for bad weather, among other things. My favorite though was a rambling multi-page email complaining about how the people in Australia were too woke for this Texas traveler. He thought they were all rugged individualists and that he had been entirely misled about the entire continent and it wasn’t the fault of the company exactly, the whole world is going to hell, but someone should warn Americans to know they aren’t all Crocodile Dundee. For example, his wife wasn’t allowed to go diving just because she had a heart condition!

5. The shredding tote

I used to work for a company that performed document shredding for our customers. We’d drop off giant locked totes with a slot on top where customers would drop in their to-be-shredded files, and we’d pick them up on a schedule and securely dispose of the contents.

I got a phone call from an irritated-sounding woman demanding that we come to her medical office and unlock the “storage tote” so she could get some records out of it. She got progressively more annoyed when I was confused what she was talking about, and said some insulting things to me when I asked her to describe this “storage tote” to me. (We did sell storage boxes, too, but the same type of cardboard box you’d get at an office supply store.)
I finally asked “Do you mean the *shredding* tote?”

There were a few seconds of silence, the line disconnected, and about five minutes later someone else from the same office called back to arrange for a driver to bring a key to the site so they could sort through all the files that this person had “stored” in the shredding tote.

6. The dangerous knives

I work at a distribution center. We received a complaint from a customer who ordered an extremely expensive, very high-end knife set. They insisted on returning the set because the knives are “beyond sharp and actually dangerous.” It still comes up in conversation around the office regularly.

7. The pizza

I used to work for a certain British supermarket whose predominant colours are green. There was a story floating around of the complaint sent to Customer Service: “Worst pizza ever, no toppings, not even tomato paste, never mind cheese and pepperoni. Absolutely disgraceful.”

It was followed up shortly afterwards with a much more subdued, “…I opened it upside down.”

8. The margarita

The margarita came with tequila and she didn’t realize she was supposed to ask for a virgin one if she didn’t want alcohol (she was in her 40s-50s so I didn’t card).

9. The closed balcony

I volunteered at the welcome desk at a large church. So. Many. Complaints. My favorite was the family that got angry the balcony was closed in summer when regular attendance was down, which also meant fewer volunteer ushers were available. This family was regularly late and liked to slip in the back of the balcony. They were furious they had to sit on the main floor of the sanctuary because “they always ended up next to other parishioners who were gassy, which ruined church for them.”

10. The car dealership

Comment to an auto dealership’s service department: “If (the employee) is not the owner’s relative, lover, or blackmailer, you should review your hiring practices.”

11. The colors

A colleague got a course eval in which the student “did her colors” for her, like “you wear a lot of black but it’s not your best color—it makes you washed out. You look much better in deep blues and emerald green … have you considered trying purple or berry?” It didn’t make it any less inappropriate to the context, but the student’s assessment was actually pretty accurate. We got a laugh out of it!

12. The honest kid

In the late 1990s, I worked at a month-long summer program for smart kids. We did a variety of evening events, sometimes fun, sometimes educational. One of these was a large game designed to simulate world issues, in which some kids were assigned to big countries vs. small, poor vs. rich, etc, and then they played out various issues on a giant map in a large multipurpose room. It was incredibly boring, honestly.

At the end of the event we passed out the vendor’s evaluation, and the final question was “Who else do you think might be interested in booking this event?” – at the time, a fairly standard business/referral -seeking question that I saw on lots of evals. We collected them back and of course read them before we gave them back to the event’s emcee and found the following legendary response: One kid wrote, “I think that Satan would like it for hell.”

13. The misunderstanding

Years ago, I took a call from someone with a complaint about their retirement plan that I will never forget:

“I want to stop participating! All I’m doing is saving money! I can do that myself!”

It’s always made me yearn for a word, probably polysyllabic and Germanic in origin, that means “to both grasp and completely miss the point simultaneously.”

14. The eyeliner

I worked for a beauty brand and had a customer mail us a letter with an eyeliner taped to the paper, with a note written in serial-killer style handwriting (in the eyeliner!) with an arrow to the taped-on eyeliner that read “this is the worst product I’ve ever used.”

15. The self-deprecation

Not mine, but one of my colleagues’. We’re in the magazine world, and she handles letters to the editor. She wrote back to one letter writer to let him know that we were rejecting his submission. His reply: “Thanks. Good decision.”

16. The censorship

At my first job at a university press, I fielded a call from someone who wanted to know how to go about submitting a manuscript for book publication. I explained our process in deciding whether projects were a fit for us, including sending out manuscripts to independent academic reviewers. “And then what happens?” she asked. Well, we say yes or no. Her shocked response: “But isn’t that censorship?”

17. The lunch

Comment section of a conference evaluation: “For the LOVE OF GOD – GO BACK TO LASAGNA and MIIXED SALAD for lunch. Kale, dried up green beans, plain pasta – completely disgusting, I was sooooooo disappointed with this pathetic lunch I may not ever come back to the conference. Who are these sick people who chose this for a meal that the attendees would enjoy??”

For the record, there were multiple types of sauce available for the pasta.

18. The impression

I was once reported to my management for “doing an impression of a Nazi, goose-stepping and putting up the Nazi salute.”

Friends, I was walking off five-foot paces to estimate distance, and then gave a passing summer camper an “up high” high five.

19. The tour company

A tour company I used to work for received this complaint: “I made a poor choice. Haystack Rock looks just like the photo.” Not sure what she thought it would look like. Photos typically represent what you will see in real life.

20. The rage

In my previous job, a disgruntled customer emailed us to complain about our product, and their complaint was “it creates a rage.” No one on my team knew what to do with that feedback so we forwarded it on to management. I’m not sure whatever happened there but now whenever I’m mad at an object I think to myself “it creates a rage.”

21. The flax

One time when I was working on an online video game in early development, my job involved going through player feedback, most of which was not actually particularly helpful. One person went on an extended rant about how all they wanted to do in the game was make things out of cloth and how personally offended they were that they might be expected to go on adventures or fight monsters instead. It included the phrase “FLAX IS MY LIFE!” We did not take the monsters out of the game for them but the comment did got printed out and put on the wall.

22. The mammoths

Someone who used to work for Waco Mammoth National Monument (which I highly recommend, by the way, if you get a chance to go) told me they had a visitor very angry that she had driven all the way to Waco with her kids only to discover they didn’t even have any live mammoths there. Not even any decent photographs. She was PISSED.

23. The font

A client on using their template for Word/Powerpoint deliverables: “I can’t even LOOK at something if it’s not in Calibri.”

24. The steak

Back in the day, I was a waitress. We had a cheap steak and chips on the menu for £5 – it wasn’t amazing but really good for the price. The customer asked for it well done so it was even more uninspiring than normal. When I served it up she turned round and said ‘that doesn’t look like a steak it looks like a piece of meat’. I couldn’t bring myself to ask her what she thought steak was so I just took it back to the kitchen to a very baffled chef…

25. The grease spot

This complaint was legitimate, but I love the story! I used to have connections at a paper mill where they manufactured a well known brand of toilet paper. A customer called in to complain that there were grease spots on a roll. They had her send in the roll in question, and analyzed the grease (to see what equipment might need repair). They were surprised to find that it was an animal grease, which shouldn’t be part of the manufacturing process. Further investigation revealed … there was a room in the mill that was consistently steamy and very hot, and workers had a tradition of bringing in their Thanksgiving turkeys to cook in this magnificent environment over the course of their shift. This was shut down, as you might imagine, but I love the ingenuity.

my office has a sticker chart for our feelings

A reader writes:

I work in an office of a large company. The work my team does is often stressful, so sometimes staff morale suffers.

The managers of my team have created a feelings chart that has giant emoji representing various levels of being happy, stressed, and angry. There are stickers of all our names that we’re meant to put next to the emoji representing how we’re feeling about work at the start and end of the day.

If participation were fully voluntary, I’d consider it peculiar but largely harmless. However, it’s compulsory and participation is sometimes enforced. One day recently, they stalled starting a staff meeting until everyone’s stickers were placed.

Perhaps they have good intentions, but I find it unsettling. I’m selective about who I discuss my feelings with. More importantly, in a team of our size, we almost certainly have at least a few people dealing with mental health challenges or difficult personal circumstances. When I was struggling through work while suffering from depression, if my manager had forced me to frequently state my feelings, it would have made me even more miserable. I also worry about how responses could be used against us, perhaps by using the presence of positive responses to silence people who believe the job is too stressful or difficult.

Plus, while it’s supposedly designed to help identify people who need extra help to get all their work done. However, I’ve had my sticker on a negative emotion for a week and haven’t received assistance. I’m not aware of anyone else who has received assistance based on where they put their sticker either, so it’s unclear if the data is being used for anything.

Should I play along by providing benign answers or push back? If I should push back, how do you suggest framing that?

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

my manager is a hoarder — how do I nope out of our office?

A reader writes:

My manager is a hoarder, and our office space is odious. There is no trash can, because my manager treats the office as one giant trash can. She leaves leftover lunch and discarded wrappers all over, sometimes even on my desk. She uses the office as an extension of her own home: old furniture, broken devices, and moving boxes full of her belongings clutter the space. Important files are constantly mislaid, and valuables such as her driver’s license will suddenly show up while sorting through a pile of junk. When I clean my workspace, she chastises me for potentially getting rid of valuable things amidst the junk, but she won’t give me permission to remove anything if I ask.

We are a small company with no HR. There’s no going over her head, because she owns the company.

While she is a seemingly kind person who always apologizes profusely for the unhygienic and chaotic state of the office, she does nothing to actually change it. How my colleagues who have to work daily in that office manage to navigate that hellscape, I will never know. When I first started, I got us to push back as a group, but all she did was arrange a group mediation session with a “corporate therapist” that led nowhere.

After that, I avoided the issue altogether by coming up with ways to save the company money by working remotely, mainly by digitizing and automating processes that had previously taken place via paperwork and face-to-face meetings. Since then, I’ve rarely ever come into the office, and my manager has been very pleased with my cost-effective “innovations.” Win-win.

However, now that there are only three months left on my contract, my manager doesn’t want me to start a new project (since a project takes at least six months, it would be very impractical if I left halfway in). So she is taking me off of the digital tasks I was doing up to this point and has assigned me to administrative duties … in the office. For various reasons, such as our office receiving lots of mail daily, these tasks cannot be done remotely. So two weeks ago, she announced that I will have to come into the office almost every day for the remainder of my contract. Men plan, God laughs.

If I quit my job early or get fired, I wouldn’t be eligible for unemployment in the country I live in (not the U.S.), and I have dependents to support. Also, my manager currently loves me, and since this is my first job in this field, it would be really important to get a strong recommendation from her, which she has promised me. Her husband is in local politics, and she has friends in high places, so she could get me blackballed. I talked to a lawyer, and theoretically I have various legal rights (hygienic workspace, wrongful termination etc.), but in reality, suing the company to enforce them would cost A LOT more than three months’ wages.

Can you please recommend a script to tell my boss that I refuse to work at the office under these conditions … without getting fired and, ideally, without burning that bridge? Because something tells me my initial impulse of shouting “Not today, Satan!” at the top of my lungs would backfire. Since she reacts with so much shame, it’s hard to even broach the subject. Clearly, she needs professional help, and I empathize with her condition, but I refuse to sacrifice my own well-being to accommodate it.

Oh my goodness.

You’ve got a couple of options.

First, could you just tell her straightforwardly, “I’ve stayed as long as I have because I was allowed to work remotely. That’s really important to me. Since it’s been a driving factor in me staying, could we look at other ways for me to use the remaining time productively while staying remote? For example, I could do X and Y.”

She may be assuming it’s no big deal for you to return to the office, and if you push back — and especially frame it as “this is a near-requirement for me” — she might be more flexible, particularly for an employee she loves.

Or you could try telling her that since you’d understood she was happy with your remote work arrangement, you’ve planned around that and can’t work in the office at this point for logistical reasons — or at least not without more notice. There’s a whole range of reasons why this could be the case for someone — from needing to be present for a dependent (i.e., a school-age child or older adult who doesn’t require constant supervision but does require someone’s general presence), to a health issue that means they can’t compromise on remote work, to all sorts of other things that you might come up with if you think on it. I’m not advising you to lie … but think about what you could plausibly cite.

There’s also the option of total honesty: “I found it really hard to work in the office previously because of  the chaos of the physical space. I know it works fine for some people, but it was really rough on me. Can we talk about other options?”

Since she loves you, it’s very unlikely that she’s going to fire you on the spot or blackball you in your field simply for raising this. Worse case scenario, she’ll tell you there’s no flexibility. But it’s reasonable to try.

asking employee to have their eyes checked, frustrated with daughter’s new job, and more

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

1. I’m frustrated with my daughter’s new job

Our daughter is struggling. Her job has asked her not to come in for the rest of the month as they are “giving her time to work on herself.” She is a new employee of a brand new ice cream shop that hired 25 people to work as shift leads, managers, and worker bees. This is her first job at the age of 19. She is also a student in culinary school.

Because she is over 18, she almost exclusively works the evening close shift and seems to be scheduled for every Saturday and one other day during the week. Often the manager when she works is the same person who we are reasonably sure is related to the owners somehow.

She left early on one shift due to the smell of something they were making that made her extremely nauseous. She left right at close another time when her manager told her it was okay for her to leave since she was struggling with sore muscles and an injured wrist after wakeboarding earlier in the day. She left early in her last shift due to inexplicable loss of bladder control while washing dishes (which was mortifying and certainly not planned). On another day, she had failed to take her anxiety meds and let the owner know she was struggling to cope appropriately with stress on that occasion, but has since not had any issues with that.

She has been honest with them about her anxiety and ADHD. The employees were apparently told by the owner the first week of training to be open and honest and they would work to accommodate needs. But apparently she has had too many needs? She discovered that the two four-hour shifts she was given for this week were removed. No one spoke to her about it. She was notified in a email, but was still scheduled for two shifts next week.

She texted the owner to ask if that was done because of her most recent issue with her bladder and the owner texted her and said they don’t feel she is a team player and can be relied on. And every communication is via text, not on the phone voice to voice. Super frustrating since we all know that typed messages are often misinterpreted. She has been in tears.

I am not inclined to get involved but my mom heart hurts to watch her trying so hard to conform to what they want and getting her already fragile self-esteem thrown in the trash. I know she is not the only employee with issues and concerns. Why does it feel like she is being singled out for not being an easy employee?

This is food service; if you’re not reliably there or have to leave early a lot, it can mean they just take you off the schedule — or at least schedule you less. It sounds like she left early from four shifts at a brand new job, so it’s not surprising that they’re prioritizing scheduling other people.

I know you’re thinking these were all legitimate reasons to go home, but on their side of it, what they see is a pattern of not reliably working full shifts. Four times in a short period is a lot, regardless of the reason. That doesn’t mean she’s a bad person or not capable of having a job; it just means that this particular job doesn’t think they can rely on her right now.

I get that it sucks that the owner encouraged people to be open about their needs and then she was penalized for it. But it’s could be a good opportunity to talk about what that really means in a work context and how to navigate it, and what will and won’t be considered reasonable or excessive (because in very few jobs will it mean endless patience for whatever you need; it’s a balancing act that takes a while to understand when you’re new to work).

(The texting is also very normal and a thing she should expect in food service jobs; it’s faster than calling because they don’t need to wait until they can reach someone on the phone.)

2. Is this 18-month process typical to fire someone who doesn’t do their work?

I’m a director of a small group of people in a very large professional organization. My team is all remote workers, which generally works out well. I’m not a micromanager by nature, and given our remote status, I can only ascertain someone’s work by their output.

I have one employee who I know has been suffering from mental health issues. This has manifested in, as near as I can see on my end, them “checking out” and doing zero work for days at a time. Work orders would go untouched, and I would receive complaints from other leaders when their tickets had no action. People began to dread when their tickets were assigned to this person because it typically meant a slow process. I began with talking to them in our biweekly meetings and when things didn’t improve, I had to move to HR and PIPs.

I’m sympathetic to their mental health issues and offered solutions such as FMLA, PTO, and our employee health services. PTO was used here and there for some scheduled vacations but also largely on days when we had a scheduled team meeting, I think as a way to avoid me/the team. Things didn’t improve and, while I kept HR looped in every step of the way, their solution was to keep issuing PIPs, just PIP level 1, PIP level 2, PIP level 3, etc. It was ridiculous, in my opinion, and drug out for over 18 months because the employee would improve for a couple of months after receiving a PIP, and then backslide again. After PIP level 3 should have been termination. When I got to that point, I had a meeting with HR and expressed my continued concerns and thought they would support me in my desire for termination, but our HR rep wanted to know what I had done to coach and guide this person before getting to this point.

I’m kind of incredulous. I work with and hire adults. We have had numerous conversations over the past year, and at the last PIP level 3 meeting, I told the employee that this was the last step before termination. I feel like HR wants me to be a kindergarten teacher and baby everyone. I can coach someone on how to do their job better, or how to better communicate, or how to better handle a process — but coaching someone on actually coming to work every single day seems wildly out of line. Is this normal for large organizations, where it takes an act of congress to terminate someone who is quite obviously not working out?

No, it’s not normal, but you do see it in incompetently run organizations. It’s possible they’re being extra cautious with this person because of the health issues, but even accounting for that, this is a ridiculous process. PIPs don’t need three levels, and they don’t need 18 months (!). They should be a few months at most (often less, depending on the nature of the issues and the nature of the work), and they should include a clear statement that improvement must be sustained; if the problems recur, you don’t repeat the whole process.

In organizations that move as slowly as yours (or even half as slowly), it can help to ask HR at the very start of the process to lay out the process in its entirety — what will be required of you when, and what the timeline will look like. Sometimes if you know what they’ll want to see later in the process, you can work on documenting that you’ve done it early on, and that can save time and aggravation later. It’s also possible that your HR person’s inquiry into what you’ve done to coach the person up until this point doesn’t actually mean, “We’re ignoring everything that came before today and we want you to start from scratch”; it might just be a thing they’re required to document at this stage, and it’s easier to ask you than to go back through all the previous records. You should say directly, “My understanding was that having gone through 18 months of performance management and three levels of PIPs, we would terminate if improvement was not demonstrated. If that’s not the case, what exactly needs to happen between now and when we would be at that point?”

3. Can I ask an employee if they need an eye exam?

I supervise someone who is a few decades older than me. Normally this isn’t a problem for them or me, but it’s making me hesitate to bring something up. Lately they have been submitting things that look blurry or pixelated. This has happened 3-4 times across 3-4 different contexts. It’s always right on the edge, something that I think needs to be crisper and they think can pass or that they didn’t notice. It’s a low stakes issue — I just ask that the photo be swapped — but it’s enough times now that I’m wondering if they need to have their close-up vision checked. However, is that something a supervisor can even bring up? Is it something I would even think about if the person was my age, or would I assume it was just carelessness? For the record, my vision is terrible, so having my eyes checked is always top of mind for me.

Handle it way you would if they were 25, which (hopefully!) means just naming the pattern you’re seeing: “Several times recently, you’ve submitted work that’s looked blurry or pixelated. Can you look into what’s causing that, whether it’s an issue with the tools you’re using to create them or something else?”

If that doesn’t solve it, the next time it happens look at the blurry item together and ask if they can see what you’re talking about. If they can’t, the by-the-book answer is to flag for them that it’s an issue and ask them to look into tools to help them see whatever they’re producing more sharply. Maybe they’ll decide that’s glasses, maybe they’ll decide it’s a magnifier or something else — up to them.

4. Do I have to say who my competing offer is from?

This happened a few years ago, but I realized recently that I still don’t know what the right move would have been. I was interviewing and Job A made an offer. I told Job B this and asked for an update on their decision. In response, Job B asked who Job A was.

I told them. (I ultimately didn’t get an offer from B. They didn’t end up hiring anyone for that role.) I get that it’s not necessarily private or sensitive information, but it felt gauche for them to ask. Was that reaction warranted? Would it have been okay/normal to decline to tell them who the exact other offer was from? If so, what might have been reasonable wording?

I agree it’s a little gauche of them to ask, although some employers do this. They’d defend it by saying that knowing who your offer is from helps them understand if they’re likely to be able to compete with it (and they can save you both time if they know they can’t) or helps them better understand the totality of your situation and you as a candidate. But it’s really none of their business and you don’t need to disclose it if you don’t want to.

It’s fine to say, “I’d rather not share that at this point; I’m just hoping for an update on your timeline.”

Related:
what does it mean when an employer says, “let us know if you get any offers”?

5. Giving lots of advance notice of a layoff

How do you feel about giving advance notice of an impending layoff that is truly only for financial reasons? The setting in question is a small business (very small) and with some other recent income-generating-staff departures, we no longer need or can afford as much administrative support.

The administrative professional in question is amazing and I stand prepared to give a wonderful reference, but I also think she may struggle in the job market because of possibly encountering bias (she is a visible minority, and I think unfortunately may be subject to discrimination). So I want to give her as much lead time as possible to begin seeking new employment.

How long is too long? Can I tell her 3+ months in advance, “In the fall our budget will be tighter and we may not have room for your position,” thus essentially asking her to begin looking for work? Or should I limit it to a shorter time period such as 4-6 weeks? I truly want the best for her and am heartbroken that I am having to make this decision.

It’s true that much of the conventional wisdom around layoffs says to avoid much/any notice (and to instead offer severance in lieu of notice) because otherwise you open yourself up to sabotage from bitter soon-to-be-former employees, or people slacking off and barely working or affecting the morale of other people. But that’s not your situation! This is a small business, you describe the employee as amazing, and it doesn’t sound like you have reason to be worried about any of those things.

So give her as much notice as you can. Also, if you’re sure you will be laying her off in the fall, don’t say you “may not” be able to keep her. Be clear and direct and tell her that you will need to cut her position then so that she’s very clear on what will be happening. Otherwise, she may not move as quickly or aggressively in a job search, thinking that she might be kept on.

Let her know that it’s purely a financial decision and has nothing to do with her work, she’s great, and you’ll give her a glowing reference as she’s searching. Also, if you can use your network to try to help, do! It’s tough to find really great admin support, and you might be able to make someone in your network very happy by connecting them.