open thread – February 16-17, 2024

It’s the Friday open thread!

The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on any work-related questions 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 take your questions 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 wants us to read her Christian novel, managing a colleague’s feelings, and more

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

1. Coworker is pushing us to read her self-published Christian novel

I work for a nonprofit that is provides a government-mandated service, is entirely funded by the government, and has very close ties to the government. Most, though not all, of my coworkers are fairly liberal due to the nature of the service we provide.

I have one coworker who is very religious and talks about religion a lot, which I guess is fine. (I’m also religious but hardly ever mention it in the office.) However, she self-published a Christian fiction novel and brought copies for me and some of my coworkers, personally signed to us. She now keeps talking about her book and heavily hinting that we should be reading it. At one point I flipped through it and the literal first thing I saw was a priest explaining why all life begins at conception.

What do you think of this? Is it okay because she’s not forcing us to read it and not in a position of authority over us? I find it pretty inappropriate to promote a religious book in any secular office, but especially one with government ties. But I’m also queer and not cis so I could just be overly sensitive to this kind of thing.

Not okay in any work setting, not just government-affiliated ones — just like it wouldn’t be okay to pressure your coworkers to read erotica you’d published. (Not that they’re the same thing, but they’re both inappropriate things to push on coworkers.)

It’s fine for someone to mention they published a book! But they shouldn’t be pushing it on coworkers. For that matter, that’s true even if there aren’t religious or sexual themes; a lot of people just really don’t want to read their colleagues’ novels.

If your coworker raises it again, it’s fine to say, “Christian fiction isn’t my cup of tea.” Or “my to-read list is so long I can’t add another thing to do it” or “I only read apocalyptic sci-fi” or however you’re most comfortable declining.

2. Is it my job to manage a coworker’s feelings?

I occasionally work with a relatively new (two years) hire from another department, “Claudine.” I don’t report through their management but I have a lot of technical skill and experience that their department needs, so I consult with them regularly. In the year or so since Claudine has joined them, I have noticed that she does not appear to have absorbed any office norms and regularly gets offended when it is pointed out that the reason she is not getting the info she’s asking for is because she is working outside expected channels (for example: scheduling meetings with technical experts directly on top of their technical meetings, then being surprised when her meetings are declined, scheduling daily tag-ups for work that takes weeks to complete per standard flow times). I wondered if this was just a personality conflict and asked around to other technical experts she works with, which confirmed that the behavior is not limited to her interactions with me, and that people are frustrated with her behavior in general.

I went discreetly to her manager, “Kyle” (who is a new manager with less than a year of experience in the role), with my concern that Claudine is alienating the technical experts she relies on. Kyle informed me that he is a supportive manager and sees nothing wrong with Claudine’s behavior, and that my feedback should go directly to Claudine.

Now, whenever I work with Claudine and explain why the things she is asking for cannot be done in the way she’s asking (for example, a standard three-week review process with multiple sign-offs cannot be expedited to three days) or explain why people decline her workshops (because she schedules them over industry events that take precedence), she complains that I am “hurting her feelings” by explaining why she is not getting the results she wants.

I am not a part of her team, and this sort of basic coaching seems like it should be coming from Kyle, who has made it clear that he believes a supportive manager supports their employees unquestioningly. I also feel uneasy about having to manage Claudine’s feelings when my role was meant to be as a technical consultant.

Am I out of line in thinking that it’s not my job to manage Claudine’s feelings? How do I best communicate that the reason she is not getting the results she wants is, well, her behavior? Or am I just showing my age and not recognizing that the new generation of office workers don’t put much stock in things like “office norms” and “the way things are done” and are more concerned about feeling validated? Have I become the office curmudgeon without realizing it?

No, it sounds like Claudine is objectively a problem (as is Kyle, her unconditionally supportive manager). You are going wrong by making this a generational thing; this is about Claudine, not her generation. Plenty of younger people understand how work works!

In your shoes, I’d stop trying to coach Claudine or soothe her feelings. Provide the technical assistance that you’re supposed to provide to her department, but don’t put more energy into trying to teach her why she’s not getting the results she wants. You don’t need to keep trying to explain why people are declining her meetings, for example! She’s made it clear she doesn’t want that sort of feedback, so don’t keep investing time in trying to get her to understand. If she’s making it impossible for you to do your own job, take that to Kyle — but keep it focused on the “what” (for example, Claudine refuses to allow three weeks for the X review), not the “why” (“she’s offended by having to stick to normal workflow processes”). And loop your own manager in too, so she knows what’s going on in case Claudine or Kyle complains to her.

3. How to explain an angry ex-employee is review-bombing us on Glassdoor

I’ve recently taken a job in management at a mid-size employer that until recently was a small employer. Part of my task is building up my historically neglected department so we can start obeying all our industry regulations and making fewer errors. So far, I really enjoy my job. I operate independently with freedom and trust in a supportive environment.

The last person in this position had a negative experience — so negative that when I spoke to him (our field is small and he was easy to find), he tried to persuade me not to apply. He also wrote a one-star review of my employer on Glassdoor. In the review, he claims to have been suddenly fired for no reason, but since I was hired here, I’ve heard that he was on a PIP for horrible work quality (he told people, HR didn’t break confidentiality), disappeared frequently in the middle of the day with urgent tasks pending, and randomly insulted several coworkers. (I actually found documentation of him insulting someone in a file that people forgot to delete. It was bad.)

This would not be a huge deal, but I think he’s also making new Glassdoor accounts and writing up new negative reviews for the company on a regular basis. Pretty much whenever my coworkers and I write positive reviews about our experience, a highly negative one pops up within a couple days specifically addressing our reviews and claiming that leadership at our company is making us write them. These negative reviews all use about the same tone of voice and complain about similar issues, and none are from before this guy got fired.

As I go about building this department, how can I address the review bombing with job applicants? A couple have asked, and I’m sure even more are just not applying or dropping out of the process early because of the increasing number of one-star ratings. “Ignore all that, our former employee is a weirdo” sounds like the sort of excuse people would make at a toxic workplace. But it’s true, and I don’t really know what else to say.

The most important thing is to ensure your hiring process includes opportunities for candidates to talk with other members of your team without you there, so they can see what your team says about the work environment when they’re not in your presence (and so candidates can see you’re comfortable with that).

If anyone asks about the Glassdoor reviews, you should say matter-of-factly, “As far as I can tell, there’s an issue with one unhappy former employee. In part because of that, I’m going to be very deliberate about making sure you have opportunities to talk with team members one-on-one to ask anything you want about culture and what it’s like working here.” In other words, be transparent and then emphasize that you’re being transparent. That’s really all you can do, but it’ll count for a lot with most people.

It doesn’t address the possibility of people not applying at all because of what they see on Glassdoor, but that’s not within your control (and that’s probably fewer people than you think).

4. Stopping a client’s endless apologies

I’m a creative freelancer and right now my main client is a small company that I’ve been working with for a few years now. I really enjoy the work I do for them, and the employees are personable and great to work with.

The person I work most closely with often takes a very long time to respond to me or give me his notes. I know this is because he’s perpetually swamped, and I don’t take it personally. The problem is that when he does make contact, he’ll often make a big apology, lamenting how terrible he’s being for taking so long. I know the apology is genuine, but it’s starting to get grating. I usually respond with “it’s okay,” or “I know how hectic things can be,” but is there something else I should be saying? I feel like I’m running out of synonyms for “no worries.”

For what it’s worth, this bottleneck usually creates more of a strain for my client than it does for me, and I can roll with it and trust that I’ll get a response eventually (even if “eventually” means anywhere from 1-5 weeks.) Short of saying “stop apologizing!” I’d love to know if there’s a better way to cut off the apology song-and-dance short and skip to the part where we actually talk about the work.

Try to always have another topic ready to go, so that you can quickly redirect the conversation. For example:

Coworker: “I’m so sorry this took so long, I know I promised it to you ages ago—“
You: “No worries, actually I’m glad you called because I was just thinking about X and wanted to ask you Y.”

You could certainly try just saying outright, “I never need you to apologize, I know you’ll get back to me when you can, please don’t spend any time on apologizing” … but I’m skeptical it will change his strong need to apologize. You’re better off just cheerfully and briskly redirecting to another topic that he’ll have to respond to, which will hopefully short-circuit the sorry soliloquy in his brain.

is it insensitive to be excited for snow at work?

A reader writes:

I love winter weather and snow, always have. I live in a large city in the northern hemisphere, so it’s good I like winter since, you know, it’s a solid 4-5 months of my year. Due to global warming, though, our winter has been increasingly warmer and wetter, which drives up my excitement for a true winter snow when it finally arrives.

I was recently told my someone at work (above me in rank but not my supervisor) that being excited about our impending snowfall was “insensitive” as cold weather is a problem for so many people, ranging from annoyance (shoveling cars out) to actual danger for unhoused people. This made me see red, to be honest. Of course winter weather is dangerous for unhoused people, but so are heat waves and rain, and more importantly that fact never stops people at my office from being excited for warm weather in the summer or spring. Also whether I’m excited or not has no impact on people’s winter hardships, which is why I’m politically active and donate to causes to help unhoused people and others. But it does impact my ability to enjoy where I live for essentially half the year.

I’m not an idiot — if there’s a true blizzard or there are reports of frozen people/car accidents I’m not going to jump in with “but it sure is fun, amirite?” But this was at the end of a zoom meeting — when asked what I was looking forward to, I said “finally getting some snow! We’re so long overdue!” and mentioned some winter activities I enjoy. The other person responded by essentially telling me that was insensitive and immature as “adults recognize snow is not a good thing” and creates hardships for others. Is this correct? Should I not talk about liking winter at work? Does this apply to other weather — when coworkers get excited for hot weather should I tell them all the ways the sun and heat hurts me and ask them to be more sensitive? Am I right to be annoyed at this or am I missing some key thing other adults know?

What on earth.

You are right to be annoyed by this. Seeing red might be a bit of an overreaction, but certainly not more than scolding you for being excited about snow was.

I mean, I’m a redhead and the sun actively wants to kill me, but I don’t take issue with other people enjoying a sunny day.

You’re allowed to enjoy weather. You are allowed to talk about enjoying weather at work. Obviously if someone mentions some kind of cold-related tragedy, you shouldn’t respond with “but I’m so excited to go sledding!” but otherwise you are fine.

updates: the ChatGPT boss, the candidate who recently took another job, and more

Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. I think my boss is ChatGPT

Thanks so much for your response- your advice was right on.

I left very shortly after your answer was published and am happily working for a new, much more mature brand.

It turns out that after I left, things went steadily downhill. The boss in question fired those who gave him feedback regularly, stating that the problem with the company was that there is not “Kumbaya” leadership. Then, he fired the one person they had in HR because “they didn’t need it,” and I learned that he refused to look at my exit survey. Sounds like he is also blaming me for people “not respecting” him because I was “insubordinate.” Wild stuff considering that I was- at the most- carefully asking only the questions that needed to be asked to avoid disaster.

I am so glad I didn’t give more feedback or stick around.

2. We’re interviewing a candidate who was recently hired elsewhere (#2 at the link)

You advised that I leave it alone, and that’s what I did. The hiring manager decided on a different candidate, so Uniquely Named Guy (UNG) ultimately made the right call for his search. Another candidate had more directly applicable experience, so if there was a strategy involved for UNG, at the end of the day, it didn’t matter.

After some commenters assumed that UNG was under- or unemployed, I realized that I wasn’t clear in my letter: According to his resume, UNG was currently employed at the same mid-level job for several years, and he talked about that job as if he was still there during the interview. (I am 100% sure it’s the same person. There was a headshot in the announcement, and he’s in the employee directory at my former employer.) Part of why I was so confused by his new junior level job at my former employer was that it was a big step down from the job he described as his current position. Other commenters talked about why they had left what looked like stable employment for any other job while still looking for something better, which was very helpful context for why UNG might be doing what he appeared to be doing.

The bottom line is that there is clearly information I’m missing. Either the junior job changed to something higher level, or the job UNG described in his resume wasn’t as mid-level as it sounded, or UNG was working two jobs, or had already changed jobs but didn’t want to talk about it, or something I haven’t imagined yet. Thank you and the commentariat for your advice! It was not a high-stakes question but asking my colleagues would have defeated the purpose of the question.

3. How to request time off for a last-minute interview

In your answer, you advised me to just not provide a reason, or to stay vague. Sadly, this kind of thing didn’t fly in my team, not so much because my manager was a bad one, but because we were close-knit and it was a normal discussion subject people volunteered or got asked about. I ended up lying (bad of me :( ) and said a friend was coming over and I had to entertain her. This went without suspicion and I was able to go to my interview, and ended up being offered the job. I’ve moved over to my new company three months ago and no one was the wiser (well, they did realize I interviewed, but no one told me anything about that day off).

Just a note that you advised a sick day in last resort — sadly I don’t live in the U.S. and this wasn’t an option as any sick day I take needs to be justified by a doctor note, no exceptions (by law, not by my company).

Thanks for your advice again. AAM is still the first thing I open when I connect for a new workday.

4. Asking to go part-time as a new employee (#5 at the link)

I wanted to provide an update! I chickened out at the time we had this exchange, because I was still so new, but asked to drop to part time in January. They said yes and I’m thrilled with my new arrangement.

my store is doing great because I’m breaking all our policies

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I have been the manager of a clothing retailer (think along the lines of Forever 21, H&M, etc.) for two-ish years. Unfortunately, the brand at large is not doing very well. My store, however, has outdone our performance metrics by over 400% and for the past five (!!!) quarters has been recognized as the top location in the United States. I’m really, really proud of what my team and I have been able to accomplish.

There’s a catch, though. I did it by breaking all of the rules. The guidelines I’m meant to be following as a manager are pretty draconian and I just could not bring myself to follow them. I rarely follow disciplinary procedures or officially file infractions, and I don’t hold my team to our attendance policies. I basically created my own standards to replace my employer’s standards. As a result, I’ve had several employees tell me they’ve never felt more respected in a workplace before, and I think that shows in the quality of service we provide to our customers! There’s also littler things like creating displays following the guidelines corporate sends out, only to dismantle them and replace them with ones that will actually appeal to our clientele. I know that this isn’t okay, but I’ve always justified it to myself by telling myself that my job is to manage this store and help it be successful. Upper management has been so checked out that I just got comfortable operating things this way.

Last week I got an email saying that they’re sending some strategy consultants to our location to talk to me, pick my brain, etc., and I don’t know what to do, because I feel like everything I’ve done to make our store a good place to work at and shop at has been directly at odds with the instructions and directions I am supposed to be following.

I could just revert things back to the way they should be, and shrug my shoulders whenever the consultants ask me why my store in particular is performing so well, but it feels bad to be given the opportunity to make a difference and not take it because I’m scared of getting in trouble! What do I do!

Readers, this one is yours! Please weigh in via the comment section.

we have to walk almost a block to get water for our coffee, my coworker is never here, and more

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

1. We have to walk almost a block to get water for our coffee machine

I work for a large company, and my office has seven people in it. The company has placed a Keurig machine in each office and provides pods for employees to use (yes, it’s an ecological nightmare, but it is what it is). My office has a policy of “you kill it, you fill it” when it comes to the Keurig machine. The water light comes on and you fill it up. No big deal, right?

The issue is that my supervisor insists that the machine must be refilled by taking a Brita pitcher to the water filter across our large building and then refilling the coffee maker from that. She insists the water be double-filtered before use. I think this is silly and a waste of time. The water in our city is clean and safe to drink, plus the coffee machine has a filter of its own. When it’s my turn to refill the machine, I just fill it up from the sink immediately beside the Keurig. I know my supervisor would be upset if she ever caught me, but it feels like such a waste of time to walk almost a city block to get water for coffee. Can I justify continuing to take the lazy way out in filling the machine? FWIW, my supervisor has never mentioned any health concerns that would require this sort of caution and she doesn’t seem bothered by eating shared food.

That is A Lot, and I would bet money you’re not the only one who’s just quietly not doing it. I don’t feel 100% comfortable saying “let someone believe you’re handling their food/beverages in a specific way that you’re not actually doing” but this is also an excessive ask from her! Can the rest of you band together and say it’s taking up too much time — especially if you’re grabbing coffee in the middle of a time-sensitive project and don’t have time to trek almost a block away and then trek back — and so you’re letting her know you’re not going to be fully consistent about it? Or just opt out of this magnificently filtered water altogether and just bring in your own coffee?

Related:
the 18-month coffee debate, and other stories of office coffee wars

2. Can I ask my boss what’s up with my coworker never being here?

I work for the federal government and am staff. My coworker, who trained me, is a contractor. I have no idea what her hours are. Sometimes she comes in at 7:30 am, sometimes it’s 9:30 am. Most days when she comes in, no matter what time she arrives, she announces that she needs to leave at 2:00 that day. It’s always random day by day. I never even know if she will show up!

Since I started working here, in January 2023, she has called in eight times telling me and/or our supervisor she will be late because she overslept. Usually late means arriving at 9:30 or 10 am. One day, she called in to another coworker and said she would not be in. I assumed she was sick. The next day, we hadn’t heard from her by 9:00, so I asked around. She ended up arriving at 11 and left at 2 pm. I asked her if she was feeling better and she said, “Yeah, why?” I told her I assumed she was sick. She said, “No, I was just stressed out about my move next week.” In other words, she inconvenienced us because she was stressed out moving into her new house. This is just one example of many that have me feeling resentful.

Our supervisor has made a comment once when our colleague was late that she “was getting tired of this.”

Am I out of bounds if I ask my supervisor what is going on with my coworker? This is a very abnormal situation. I know it’s none of my business, especially if they have worked something out I know nothing about, but it is impacting me and the other lady in our department.

It would be an overstep for you to ask what’s going on with your coworker  (because while it doesn’t sound like this is the case, it could be something medical, something she has formal accommodations for, etc.), but you can and should explain to your manager what the impact is on your own work and ask for her help in handling that. That’s the part that’s most relevant to you, and you’re on very solid ground in bringing up that piece of it.

Related:
my coworker is constantly out of the office — and I’m annoyed
my coworker constantly misses work and I have to do her job for her

3. Should I clue my staff in about internal politics and personalities?

I work in an intensely relationship-based organization, which is code for “if I don’t like you, I don’t have to do what you say.” As a result, my job is very political. I don’t mind and I think I’m pretty good at navigating it, but I worry about my team. Although they are individual contributors, their work is highly visible and they are often in political situations with the C-suite without being aware of the dynamics. I know my job as their manager is to shield them from politics, but I think navigating the realities of our work environment and knowing some basic psychology are critical job skills and key to their professional development.

How much should I be cluing them in on personality dynamics, the psychology behind change management, etc.? Obviously I don’t want to gossip and would share only what they need to know. For example, if I know Bob doesn’t get along with Sue and the meeting will go off the rails if they attend the same meeting, should I be explaining to my team that they can’t be in a room together, or do I need to make up an excuse? If I know Larry will automatically agree with you if you frame your proposal in a certain way, and for Deborah you need to bring it up in another way, how much can I explain the whys behind it?

I know this environment is probably most folks’ worst nightmare and I don’t want my team to be cynical, but I do want them to be able to operate independently without my constant air cover and be successful.

You should be cluing on them in on what they need to know to do their jobs effectively. In your Bob/Sue example, you definitely shouldn’t make up an excuse rather than explaining the situation forthrightly, because otherwise you’re opening the door to them inadvertently stepping on a land mine. For instance, if you say Bob won’t be available for the X meeting when you really just want to keep him out of a room with Sue, what if your employee decides to reschedule the meeting for a time when Bob can attend? Or mentions to Bob that she’s sorry he can’t attend, and he has no idea what she’s talking about? You’re better off just giving it to them straight so they can make fully-informed decisions and do their jobs well.

The key is to talk about it in a way that doesn’t feel gossipy. You’re just giving them the context they need to do their jobs effectively, and that should be your tone — the same tone you’d use to say “this client really doesn’t like us to push extra services” or “that funder won’t read emails, you’ve got to call them.” Be matter-of-fact and respectful about it; don’t roll your eyes or use a tone that says “what a baby.” Your staff is likely to take their cues from you, and if you talk about this stuff calmly and professionally, they’re likely to follow suit.

4. Can I advise my boss not to hire a contractor?

A year ago we hired a contract worker to help out and my boss is now talking about making that position permanent and hiring her into it. Everyone raves about her but I think she is failing at some key parts of the job. My manager doesn’t work with her and hasn’t been managing her because she’s a contractor. Is there a diplomatic way for me to suggest we not hire this contractor into the position?

The most pressing priority is to tell your boss the problems you’ve noticed. You could frame it this way: “I know you’re considering making Jane’s position permanent, so I wanted to share some concerns I have that I think you’d want to be aware of.” If she’s removed enough from the work not to understand why the specifics are serious, make sure you spell that out explicitly — “X caused Y consequences.”

Depending on how the conversation goes, at some point during it you might say, “I’d be concerned about bringing her on permanently if these issues aren’t resolved first.” But it sounds like your boss doesn’t even know there are problems, so fill her in on what’s going on right away.

5. Salary negotiation: a success story

Longtime reader, first-time writer. Late last summer I used your archive to guide myself through a request to increase my salary. I thought it might be a long shot because I appeared to be underpaid for my experience and role, so I was asking for a big hike in pay. The conversation went very well and my manager said she would advocate for whatever she could get me, but I knew I wouldn’t have an official raise until late Q1.

Then in mid-January, the company reorganized the division and my entire team of five was let go. On the same day I was notified, my grandboss chatted me to say she had a role which she had designed with me in mind; not just an open role I’d be a good fit for. I expressed interest and interviewed with her and my current boss. At the end of the interview, I asked about compensation, and my grandboss said that would need to be a future discussion.

Fast forward to yesterday: I was officially offered the role, at a nearly 30% increase in salary, a big bump in the profit sharing benefit, and jumping up to a higher level. She explained that she had to eliminate my old position in order to rehire me at this level, because I wouldn’t have been able to get this high of a promotion and raise from where I stood before. The offer was also more than my current boss is making, so she didn’t want to have an awkward discussion in the interview (and she’s planning on improving that situation in the next review cycle, too). She suggested I come back with a counteroffer and let her know what I think, but she wanted to hear back by the end of the day. It didn’t leave me much time to research with recruiters and people in my network.

I went back to AAM and read through a bunch of articles, then did some quick research on the title. I felt my situation was different since this was already a very generous offer, so I appreciated your advice that not every offer needs to be negotiated if the terms are favorable. I was reluctant to ask for much more, and I wasn’t about to say no, but I took my boss’s advice to heart to do some negotiating. I chatted her my reply and asked if she would consider a very slightly higher number.

She responded and confirmed she could do that without further deliberations, so we agreed and I signed my offer this morning! This just goes to reinforce what you’ve often said: salary negotiations are normal and expected, so it was worth it to ask for a little extra sauce on top.

Well done! Congratulations!

the drunken voicemail, the press release revenge, and other stories of workplace romance gone wrong … and right

Last week you shared stories about office romance gone wrong — and gone right. For Valentine’s Day, here are 10 of my favorites.

♥     ♥      ♥      ♥      ♥ 

1. The voicemail

I used to work for a pretty toxic consulting organization that had a culture that was all kinds of boundary crossing. There were a lot of workplace shenanigans around drinking and hooking up, but one of the worst was a guy who left a long, rambling, drunken message on his boss’s voicemail thinking he was talking to his “stealth” office girlfriend. Everyone knew these two were having a drama-filled affair, but this ratcheted it up to the next level.

2. The library patron

I feel like we could do a whole thread of public library patron advances! My favorite was a guy who started out by asking a question about books about STDs, which transitioned into asking if I had STDs and then would I like to date. (No. To both!)

3. The revenge

I used to work in a wildly licentious industry where every trade show, conference, meeting, lunch hour or, like, Tuesday afternoon was an eagerly seized-upon opportunity to step outside one’s marriage.

My favorite is the woman who was pushed out of her husband’s company after he cheated on her at one of those aforementioned events/their subsequent divorce, started her own company AND regional association in the same industry out of pure spite, handily eclipsed his business until he sold it and exited the industry entirely, and then issued an absolutely beautiful press release when she got remarried to someone else in the industry.

4. The flowers

Early in my career (female, mid-twenties) I got involved with a key business contact, “C.” He was a charismatic, successful business owner who came to town four or five times a year. There was no documented rule against seeing him but, I knew better than to mention it. It was casual; I was young. We had some fun times.

At work, I got a call from a florist saying they’d tried unsuccessfully to deliver flowers to my apartment and asked for alternate location. I gave them the office address, with no clue they were from C. Receptionist read the card. Questions ensued. Within the hour, C sent flowers to every woman in the office, thanking them for all their diligent efforts. I don’t think my boss was fooled, especially as I later learned, she also had a “connection” with C.

5. The push

Back in my library days when I was a page (general reshelving/fetching/desk duty), two more pages were hired at the same time, both mid-twenties. I noticed the two of them sneaking glances at each other. My supervisor apparently noticed as well. Suddenly, the two of them were always working the desk together. Or sent off into the stacks to pull holds together. One afternoon when there was a little street fair going on a few blocks from the library, she suggested they go take their lunch early and get a funnel cake while they were at it.

They were engaged within six months and married a year later. That supervisor passed away unexpectedly last year, and my friends have both said that they would never have gotten the courage to speak to each other if she hadn’t gently but firmly pushed them together.

6. The conspiracy

The research library where I worked several years ago had a person on the professional staff who’d been rather unlucky in dating. A few of us thought she’d be a good match for a regular patron, a very nice guy who my husband knew from his work, so we considered that as a personal reference. Every time this man came in, I’d develop an issue at the front desk that needed immediate hands-on advice from Librarian. If Patron started to leave before Librarian arrived, a co-conspirator would literally drag him out of the elevator, acting all excited about a new acquisition Patron hadn’t seen yet and just HAD to. We finally arranged enough “accidental” meetings that led to conversations, then friendship, then dating. They were married in that library over 30 years ago, and they are still happily together.

7. The dream

I had an enthusiastically matchmaking coworker who told me “I had a dream that you and Other Coworker were dating! Too bad it was a dream. But you know…”

She told him the same thing.

So anyway, Other Coworker and I been married for almost 23 years now.

8. The non-secret

My wife and I met at work when we were in our mid-twenties. We worked in the same office, but for different entities who were doing the same thing (think: working at the NFL office, one of us working for the Baltimore Ravens and the other working for the New York Jets). We’re complete opposites, which is probably why both of us found the other to be utterly fascinating — we’d genuinely never encountered someone like the other in our lives before.

We slowly orbited closer to one another until one evening we ended up being the last two at a colleague happy hour. Charming conversation, endless laughter. Sparks flew, hearts were captured. We started dating and secretly dated for months, and finally went public with our relationship on the day of our proverbial Superbowl, which was when our contracts at the NFL ended. Turns out two head-over-heels in love women weren’t as clever or secretive as they thought they were. Everyone knew and had been lovingly pretending not to. We were so excited about our secret they just let us have it.

Ten years later, we’re two head-over-heels in love suburban moms with a couple of kids, dogs, a cat and a minivan ;)

9. The overly friendly weirdo

I was 19 and in my first “real” job. I was seated next to an adorable but oddly quiet young man who, although polite, rarely spoke to anyone, and if I did speak to him he’d look at me like a deer in headlights. One day I realized I’d forgotten something and he politely offered to let me borrow one of his, which I accepted. He started talking more and more. I later found out that if we were both away from our desks, the hot topic of conversation was “why don’t they go on a date and get it over with already?” Truth was, I was still reeling from having been dumped very callously by my boyfriend and wasn’t looking for a relationship.

But he and I did gradually get more comfortable with each other. One day I asked him about that deer-in-headlights look when I would speak to him back in my early weeks of employment. “I figured you thought I was some overly friendly weirdo.” “Oh, it wasn’t that,” he replied. “I thought you were really pretty and didn’t know what to say.”

I’m still an overly friendly weirdo. He’s still very quiet. Next month is our 23rd wedding anniversary.

10. The teachers

I am a high school teacher who began dating another teacher at the school. We did our best to keep it under wraps, never really ate lunch together or spoke to each other too much in front of students or anything, but one weekend some of the students saw us at the movies together and the rumor mill began. We never confirmed it, but all of the students knew we were dating.

When Valentine’s Day rolled around, in our attempt to not draw attention to ourselves, apparently we walked by each other in the hallway without looking at each other or acknowledging one another. Some students witnessing this started spreading the rumor that we must have broken up. In my last period class of the day, I had students putting Valentine’s Day cards on my desk to make me feel better, and telling me they were so sorry if today was a difficult day for me due to my breakup. They were so cute. I didn’t confirm or deny anything, just thanked them for their concern. They were convinced we were no longer together for a while, but a few months later, I had an engagement ring, so the cat was out of the bag again.

We’ve now been married for ten years.

my former employee lied to get a new job — should I do anything?

A reader writes:

Recently I became aware that a former employee of mine had landed a new job with a new employer. Kudos to him! But the job he got is well beyond his abilities and experience, by about 10 years. He jumped about three levels, to an equivalent level to mine. Curious, I checked out his LinkedIn and his professional site, and what I found is rather shocking. He has made it sound like he was doing my job. He completely exaggerated his role and responsibilities and taken credit, not just for my work, but for all the work of his former coworkers.

I am no longer with the company where we worked together. He was fired from that job a few months after I left, for, among other things, malfeasance and insubordination. I was keeping him in check while I was his boss, but once I left, he went completely off the rails. His new boss was formerly an executive at the same company where we worked together, but he wouldn’t have been aware of this guy’s antics. I know his new boss, and so do many of his teammates.

Suffice it say, his former teammates are pretty disgusted with him, and some of them have talked about outing him to his new employer. It would be very easy for them to do so.

I’m no longer in that sector, so this doesn’t impact me directly, and I’m pretty sure his behavior is going to get him fired again. But I’m pretty insulted by what he did. Should I just let this play out? Should I drop him a note letting him know that I and his former teammates are on to him? Should I contact his boss?

I answer this question — and three 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:

  • Should graduating students prioritize interviews or schoolwork?
  • My employee doesn’t tip
  • I’m bilingual but my coworker translates for me anyway

my new employer made me take a personality test and my results were horrible

A reader writes:

Before I signed on for my new job, I agreed to do a couple of personality tests. My new employer said it was to get a sense of how to work with me and my strengths and weaknesses. They stressed that my hiring wouldn’t depend on the result and did not send the tests through until I signed the offer.

One personality test was what they said it would be, but the second … oh boy, I got a bad feeling when the very first question essentially asked if I had a history of depression (“do you feel blue sometimes?”).

It only got worse from there. The results I got basically said that I was lazy and “blamed external circumstances,” that I was “neurotic” and “volatile,” that I was “highly likely to lash out” but also that I’m a doormat. It wasn’t about strengths or weaknesses, it was an objective assessment on my mental stability and work ethic.

I seriously reconsidered whether or not I wanted to go through with this job because of the results. I know they’re not true.

The test said I was in the top 1% of introversion, but I have a customer service job and I’m constantly striking up warm conversations with patients and their families. It said I was lazy, but when we had an issue with an external contractor’s reports not going through automatically, I volunteered to do overtime for weeks to manually proofread and approve them; the national director said I was the only person other than himself that he trusted to do that. When I had appointments, I often made up my hours instead of using sick leave. When we had a patient brushed off by a doctor, I called around to multiple places to see who would give her the mental health evaluation she needed. I know I’m a better person than this test said and I’ll be damned if I have to prove it right out the starting gate.

I mentioned in my responding email that I was surprised at the results and my new employer just said they looked forward to discussing it after I started, so they haven’t run away yet, but I’m still pretty rattled. The employer was talking up the test and how “accurate” it was before they sent it, through.

I ended up deciding to still go through with the job because of personal reasons, but I start in two weeks and I’m dreading this awful result following me around my whole time there. It’s a tiny family-owned company. I don’t want to be micromanaged because the test said I’m lazy, or my concerns to be brushed off because I got a bad result, or to be treated like a bomb about to go off when I’ve never had more than a minor conflict with a colleague (which was resolved without animosity).

How do I address this with my new employer without looking like I’m just salty I got results I didn’t like?

WTF! That’s horrible. Of course you’re rattled. It would be unnerving in any context to be told you’re a whole litany of negative things that you know you’re not, but it’s particularly awful in an employment situation where they don’t really know you yet and you’ve got to start a new job with “lazy, neurotic, volatile, and likely to lash out (but also somehow a doormat)” hanging over you.

Moreover, your new employer set you up to believe this assessment was something it very much wasn’t.

I looked at the test they gave you, and it doesn’t mention anything indicating it’s designed for use in employment contexts. It talks about taking it with a friend, family member, or romantic partner. They essentially gave you a Cosmo quiz.

As for what to do … the fifth paragraph of your letter is an excellent rebuttal. I’d seriously consider if you want to send a version of it to them before or soon after you start the job, changing the last sentence to something like, “These results were strikingly different from how I work and at odds with the feedback I’ve always received from managers. My strong preference is to move forward in our working relationship without engaging with the results. I hope you’ll learn who I am from working with me, and I believe that will paint a very different picture than this assessment did.”

And then you’ll need to go into the job prepared to do exactly that: show them who you are by how you operate on the job. If you sense that they’re treating you differently because of the test results, you could name what you’re seeing. For example, if you sense they’re hesitating to give you feedback because your test said you’ll lash out at the slightest provocation: “I’ve noticed you seem wary about giving me constructive criticism, so I wanted to assure you I welcome it — I’d be grateful for anything you can share about how I can approach XYZ better” … and so forth.

More broadly: it’s time to get rid of personality tests in hiring and onboarding. Some people do find them useful frameworks to discuss and better understand their colleagues’ ways of working and communicating, but so many people don’t — and if you are going to use them, pre-hire and pre-start is the wrong time to do it, since it asks people to make themselves vulnerable before any real trust or mutual knowledge of each other has been established.

fired coworker left us all a church flyer and a link to her music, is Mardi Gras OK for work, and more

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

1. My fired coworker left us all a bible quote, a church flyer, and a link to her music

About a week ago, a colleague, “Bridget,” was let go. She was brand new to the workforce and the job was not a good fit. After six months of training with no results, and the teams she was supposed to support working around her, she was let go. This was sad, but after training her myself I could see that she wasn’t really understanding what I was explaining after multiple attempts.

The next morning after finding out Bridget had been let go, I came into the office and saw an email sent at almost 4 AM from this now former colleague. In the goodbye email (that was bcc’d to an unknown number of colleagues), she announced that she had been let go and that she was having a hard time comprehending and processing what happened because it happened so abruptly, and even mentioned that she was writing the email at 3 AM while crying and didn’t know if she would be allowed back in to collect her things while the rest of the office was working. She ended the email with a bible quote and linked her own music.

I was stunned. Another coworker who received the email asked me about Bridget and I struggled to figure out how to explain to this coworker. Personally, if I was let go, I would not send a tearful email at 3 in the morning to former colleagues. However, I was so stunned by it I just blocked it out of my mind and didn’t mention it to my manager, who was Bridget’s manager. I chalked it up to her being new and naive in the workforce and didn’t respond.

Fast forward to this morning, I arrive at the office and there is a little notepad on my desk. I open it up and there is a personal note from Bridget (I guess she came to collect her things), along with a little advertising card from her church. I am not a Christian. I noticed this on other coworkers’ desks who are also not Christian. I was stunned again.

Should I have brought up the email from Bridget with my manager last week? Should I do or say anything about this note and church flyer? I firmly believe these were not the wisest things to do after being let go, but she is no longer with the organization. I’m a more senior member of our job role but I am not a manager and have no real authority here, but this whole situation was incredibly uncomfortable and awkward and put me in situations with other colleagues where they started asking me about what happened.

I think you’re right to write it off to Bridget being new and naive (and sometimes the way someone leaves a job is sort of a continuation of the problems they had while they were in it). I don’t think you were obligated* to report it to your manager, although there’s no reason not to — it’s useful for your boss to know what happened in case there’s any more aftermath. And Bridget’s decision to advertise her church on her way out is so yikes that personally I’d relay it to your boss just based on that factor alone.

* Caveat: You’d have more of an obligation to report it to your boss if you’re seen as anything like a team lead or second-in-command, even if just informally; in that case your boss would rightly expect you’d flag stuff like this for her.

2. Can I offer to pay a coworker’s vet bill?

I am a relatively high earner at my current job. I have a very friendly relationship with an office assistant, who doesn’t earn nearly as much as me (I know because I used to have his job). He has been telling me lately about a cat he has who has been having some health issues, but he cannot afford to take it to the vet. I find this to be very heartbreaking because I also own a cat and can only imagine how hard that is. I want to anonymously do something to help, like either leave an envelope of cash on his desk before he comes in one day, or slip it into his bag when he’s in the restroom or something (though I don’t know how I’d explain this if he caught me — I think I’d look very suspicious). I’d want to attach a typed note like “please use this to take Rex to the vet.”

The biggest problem I’m having is that I’m too worried he’ll figure out it’s me. I don’t know if he’s told anyone else about his cat, and I ask about how it’s doing sometimes. I think this would make our work relationship feel awkward. He doesn’t report to me or anything like that, but the nature of his role means that he assists me with requests I send to him. Also, because I used to have his job, I’m often helping to train him on things if his usual trainers aren’t available.

Side note before anyone says “don’t get a pet you can’t afford,” the cat was a rescue he didn’t necessarily want, but it had no one else to take it and would likely have been put down if he hadn’t taken it in. The previous owner basically left it at his doorstep. He loves it very much and wants to take good care of it. Anyway, what do you think of my idea? Any tips?

I don’t love the anonymous note option. There’s too much chance that your coworker will know it was you if you’re the only one at work he’s shared the situation with — or that he’ll just feel like people around him are judging him for not having taken the cat to the vet. There’s also the possibility he’ll decide he has a greater use for the money elsewhere, and if he continues not taking the cat to the vet despite receiving the money, that’s going to make things weird between you in a whole new way.

Would you instead be willing to be forthright about it? You could say something like, “Would you let me cover Rex’s trip to the vet? I love cats and I’d be so happy to help make it possible.” You could even add something like, “Someone once covered something for me when I needed help with it, and you’d be helping me pay it forward.”

I know this risks being awkward, but (a) some awkwardness in the service of getting a sick cat veterinary care isn’t the worst thing and (b) it could end up being less awkward than the alternatives. It’s so kind that you want to cover the vet bill; just ask if you can.

3. Is Mardi Gras OK for work?

I’m originally from a region of the U.S. that goes *big* on the whole Mardi Gras season (fun fact: it’s a whole season!) but am now in an environment that has barely realized it’s happening. I wore some beads into the office today, greeted a coworker with “Happy Mardi Gras!” and brought a king cake for the staff breakroom. I think this is pretty low-key and ok for our work environment. But I’m also realizing I don’t really know how secularized it actually is in much of the U.S.

I am personally atheist, and I know plenty of other people celebrate it totally divorced from its religious roots (cough Sydney cough). For me, it’s a nice way to share my regional-cultural heritage and celebrate joy in a dreary season. But Mardi Gras is at its core a very, very Catholic celebration, and I would never put out a Christmas tree in the office. Or bring an Easter basket. If colleagues wanted to do an organized “give something up for Lent” challenge I would be HORRIFIED.

Should I chill out about the holiday in the office? Or is it closer to a cultural exchange, like a Mexican coworker sharing Día de Muertos traditions?

A cultural exchange is a fine way to look at it. Obviously you shouldn’t insist that people who don’t want to celebrate it should embrace it anyway (as people love to do with Christmas), but it’s fine to observe it yourself (i.e., the beads) and bring in king cake to share.

4. Subpar vendor from my former job won’t stop hounding me

I’ve been freelancing on the side for 12 years and recently left my full-time job of 10 years at Company to freelance full-time. Over the years at Company, I worked with an outside vendor on various products and services. Vendor had a long-standing relationship with Company, especially because the owners were friends and sometimes took international vacations together. It was a relationship I inherited and was encouraged to continue to grow. But after working with Vendor for a while, I determined that they did not provide quality products or services, and managed to move some of their production back in house where we made a far superior product. But Company continued to push me to use Vendor for more and more products and services. As time went on, it became very typical for Vendor to miss deadlines. At one point, Vendor was nearly one year late with launching a website for us! It was a very stressful time; they kept replacing my contact for the project, and kept making promises and breaking them. When I decided to leave Company, although it wasn’t the reason, it was certainly a perk that I would never have to work with this subpar Vendor again…

…that is, until a few months later when several contacts from Vendor started hounding me via email and social media to work together now that I freelance full-time. They are requesting that I send overflow projects to them and pushing to meet up when they are in town next month. I am 100% not interested in ever working with Vendor again, and I don’t know how to decline politely and professionally. To make matters more awkward, I now freelance for Company, so there is a small possibility that I may get pulled into an email with Vendor at some point. I don’t want to make that uncomfortable and potentially hurt my freelance opportunities with Company. But I also want to get better at saying no and sticking up for myself. This is my freelance business, and I only want to work with reliable, quality clients and vendors.

You’ve got a couple of options. There’s the indirect blow-off: “I’m set right now, but I’ll let you know if I ever have a project where it would make sense.” (After which, you can ignore future messages without any qualms.) Or there’s the more direct rebuff: “Thank you but no, the fit isn’t right for my work.” These people sound aggressive enough that the direct rebuff is likely to result in queries about why, in an effort to look for a path past it. Either way, after you deliver whichever type of initial no you choose, you don’t need to keep engaging. If you want, you can send a final “I’m swamped so won’t be able to keep discussing, but good luck with everything you’re working on.” But stop responding after that.

If you get pulled into an email with them later on through work you’re doing for your old company, just proceed as if all is normal — don’t be weird about the fact that you turned them down, since that’s a very normal thing to happen in business. Be briskly cheerful and assume they will be fine with it.

5. Should I wait to give notice until my background check clears?

Would an offer be rescinded because I said I would give notice at my current role as soon as the backgrounds check clears and the offer moves from conditional to firm? I accepted the conditional offer if that matters.

It’s very normal — and strongly recommended — to wait to give notice at your current job until you have a firm offer, not one that’s conditional on background checks or anything else. That’s true even if you’re confident nothing will come up in the background check, since unexpected things can still go wrong.

It makes no sense to pull the plug on your source of income before a new company has firmly committed to employing you. No decently-functioning employer will have a problem with that, and they should have encountered it plenty of times before. Do not budge on this.