asking for a reference while furloughed, in trouble for kissing at work, and more

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

1. Is it risky to ask my boss for a reference while I’m furloughed?

I was furloughed from my IT job last week, and we’re expecting it to last approximately 90 days. Of course, right now nothing is certain and I’ve been busy looking for other temporary and full-time opportunities since I’ve been off the payroll.

A good job opportunity that’s equal in pay to the one that I’m furloughed from has come up, and the recruiters are interested in presenting me for an interview. They’re asking for three references up front.

I would like to ask my current boss for a reference because the work I do in his group is similar to what this other company is looking for. But I also worry that asking him for a reference would be career suicide if I don’t get the other job, and I’m concerned that I could be not asked to return once they start calling folks to come back. I do have other former bosses at this company who’d give me a good review, but it’s a pretty tight-knit crew and word would get around.

My assumption is that they would know my colleagues and I would be looking for other full-time work and this wouldn’t be a big deal. Am I overthinking this concern?

Any halfway sensible manager will know you’re looking for other work now that you’re off their payroll — but it’s also not unreasonable to worry that if they can’t bring everyone back, they might figure the person who’s actively working with recruiters is more expendable (not because there’s anything wrong with what you’re doing, but because they might think you’re closer to new employment than other people are). That’s not the right way to look at it, but it can happen and you’re not wrong to worry.

If you have plenty of other good, relatively recent references who don’t work at your current company, I might use them instead. But if you feel you need to use your boss, word it this way: “My strong first choice is to come back to (company). But I want to make sure I have my ducks in a row in case that doesn’t happen, so I agreed to talk to this recruiter. Would you be willing to give me a good reference? I know we’re still hoping to bring everyone back; I just want to make sure I’m covered in case we don’t.”

That might feel a little more deferential than you should need to be. (They furloughed you! They’re not paying you! Of course you’re looking for other jobs!) But it’s in your best interests for your boss to see you as still invested in coming back if you can.

2. I got in trouble for kissing my boyfriend at work

I currently work in retail and I have always followed the rules, came in on time, took shifts, etc. I’ve never gotten into any serious trouble while at work and I’ve worked there for almost nine years. My boyfriend started working there back in 2018. Usually when one of us leaves before the other, we stop by after our shift is up and give a quick peck on the cheek. This is always done when the one leaving is off the clock. I’ve been nervous before because even though I know I’m off the clock, I worried that we would be seen by a manager.

I was recently pulled into HR’s office and told that a leader had seen us a few days prior saying goodbye to each other. The HR person asked if anything else had transpired. I said no because that was the truth, we never go further than that. He informed me because a leader had seen us, I was being written up for inappropriate touching because I was still in my work clothes and my boyfriend was on the clock and in his work clothes, and to any unsuspecting customer, it looked like we were kissing while working. I do remember that I had my purse and a bag in my hand from the store that day, so I was visibly off the clock.

HR told me that the worst outcome of this could be termination but there’s a larger chance I would be placed on corrective action He said he would keep me updated once they emailed him back. Can I be written up for something I did off the clock? And if so, what do I do going forward (other than avoiding saying goodbye to my boyfriend from this point forward)?

Yes, they can tell you not to kiss your boyfriend in their store, even if you’re off the clock. Keep in mind that while you were off the clock, your boyfriend wasn’t, and both of you were in work uniforms. We can debate about whether they should care or not, but they do and they can make that rule and hold you to it.

That said, they really should just tell you not to do it again; all this writing up and threatening of something further is overkill. But yeah, the way you handle this is to stop kissing your boyfriend goodbye in the store.

Caveat: Did your boyfriend receive the same warning? If you’re the only one getting in trouble (when he was the one who was actually on the clock), that’s a problem. I realize you probably don’t want to demand that he also get in trouble, but punishing the off-the-clock woman and not the on-the-clock man for the exact same behavior, if that is in fact what they’re doing, reeks of sex discrimination.

3. My boss won’t stop asking if I’m okay

My boss is very empathetic and attentive. When he senses something is off with an employee, he asks if we are alright. Over the last several months, he asked me three times separate times if I am doing okay, and said he is getting the sense that I am “sad” or just generally not okay. Each time he asks, he questions me if it’s personal, work-related, or something else. It feels more like an interrogation to figure out if I’m happy at work, and each time I get increasingly uncomfortable. I really am okay — albeit less fulfilled.

The truth is, I have been looking for another job since the start of the year because I am ready for a new challenge. I’ve been reflecting on my behavior and I don’t think I’ve been hugely different lately, so I am at a loss as to why he is asking me so often. I also don’t believe the quality of my work has decreased.

Part of me thinks it may be down to his own insecurities, because in the last six months he’s had to lay off two people in the department and another two people resigned after that, so he may just be overly anxious to keep the employees he has left.

But it doesn’t change the fact that his questioning makes me very uncomfortable and I don’t know what to say other than, “Really, I’m fine. Although I’m not happy and bubbly all the time, it doesn’t mean something is wrong” (which is what I said the most recent time). I feel like I need to fake a smile on days I’m not overly bubbly, just to please him. Do you have any advice on what to say if he asks me again? Should I tell him it’s making me uncomfortable?

Yeah, it’s nice to be concerned about employees’ happiness, but there’s a point where this kind of interrogation feels more like a demand that you perform emotionally for him and less like genuine solicitude. I bet you’re right that it stems from his worry about your team’s losses this year — but he needs a different way to manage that anxiety.

If he asks again, say this: “You’ve been asking me that a lot. Am I doing something that’s making you concerned about me?” And then if he says you seem sad or so forth, say, “Nope! It’s a weird time for everyone, obviously, but I’m fine. It does throw me off when you keep asking though, so I hope you’ll believe that I’m fine and I’ll tell you if there’s anything I want to discuss!”

4. I’m a parking cop — am I getting rejected for jobs because of it?

I’ll come out and say it: I’m a parking enforcement officer for my university. It was the first job I was offered when I got to school, and I wasn’t going to pass it up. I get it, there is not one person on God’s green earth who likes the parking cop. However, I have been a hard-working employee and I know my boss would be a good reference.

I applied to be a resident assistant in the dorms last year and had all the academic requirements and even a shift leader position at a sandwich shop before coming to college. My much less qualified, never employed roommate got a call back and not me. I’m not trying to sound conceited, but I know I would have made a good RA. I think the big “parking enforcement officer” on my resume may have ruined my chances. Should I include this frowned-upon job on my resume in the future?

Yes, you should still include it. Employers don’t generally have a bias against parking cops! People getting ticketed may, but it’s a legit job that it’s very unlikely you’re being rejected over.

With RA jobs, they’re often looking less for specific work experience (since you’re all college students) and more for evidence of specific personality traits — empathy, comfort with difficult personal issues, community spirit, listening and communication skills, conflict resolution, etc. It’s possible your roommate just spoke more effectively to those things in her application than you did.

In any case, it’s not the parking officer job. Leave it on without fear.

5. Companies that say to send in your resume even when they’re not hiring

I’m looking to do a big career change and switch industries entirely into a marketing/brand image company. A lot of the companies I’ve found that I’d love to work for don’t have an active job opening, but encourage sending in a resume/cover letter in case something comes up. The language around this sounds like “You’re probably the candidate we need, but haven’t gotten around to posting your future job yet! Send in your materials and let’s start talking!”

As a manager, is this smart to do? Will they actually go through the applicants they have on file before posting a job, or is it better to wait until a job is posted and apply then? If they do end up posting a job and don’t call you back, is it professional to send in your materials a second time, but tailored to the opening?

It varies. Some employers (particularly smaller ones) mean what they say and will give your resume real consideration even when they don’t have current openings. Others will glance at your resume and file it away to look at next time they have openings. Others will file it away but then never actually go back and look at it.

There’s no way to know from the outside which it is, so since they say they welcome applications, you might as well go ahead and send in your resume and a cover letter about what you can offer. Even if nothing comes of it, it won’t hurt you — and you can still apply for specific openings there in the future.

updates: the counteroffer, the bullying, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. I accepted a counteroffer four months ago but now want to quit (#2 at the link)

I wrote to you back in January about resigning from a job when I had taken a counteroffer from them six months prior. Now that I’ve started the new job that I resigned for, I figured I’d send in this update.

After really looking through the particulars of my counteroffer and which of those benefits I’d actually received in the six months since taking it, I realized there were quite a lot of unkept promises on their end. Yes, I did get a salary increase etc.; but new company guidelines rolled out after the 2020 new year essentially took away my additional PTO, and other perks.

What I had really negotiated for was a modified/focused workload and while that did happen for a while, changes on the team (resignations, backfilled new managers, etc.) made it impossible to sustain and I was back again, stuck doing the work I was looking to get away from. It seems like they threw some money at me and told me what I wanted to hear to keep me around.

Despite the fact that I’d typically consider it my obligation to stay for at least a year upon agreeing to a counteroffer, the scarcity of opportunities in the industry of new job I was leaving for, plus the degradation of the counteroffer promises made me feel better and less anxious about resigning.

Timing worked out that I had to resign right around the craziness of COVID19 forcing us all into remote work, so my boss had much bigger problems to focus on than my resignation. It was tough to transition out during that time but I know I made the right decision in the long run, my previous industry is one of the most had hit by the Coronavirus, and my new industry is in a fantastic position to succeed and doing better than ever.

2. I’m being physically bullied at work (first update here)

I had sent you an update in December, regarding an additional promotion I had received, which drove the bullies to transfer to new teams. I’m still in my new role. The only thing that has happened since then is upper management had each of us take an anonymous survey regarding what we don’t like about working there. Several people brought up incidents of bullying and examples of the toxic environment. Shortly after that, upper management formed an improvement committee, but right after this happened, Coronavirus struck and forced all of us to work from home. We’ve been working from home since mid-March and we’ve been told that we won’t be back in the office for several more weeks. Honestly, working from home has been like a mental detox from all of the craziness that goes on in the office.

I still can’t decide if I want to stay on with this company or not. I’ll see how things turn out whenever we get to return to the office. Several of my friends have suggested that I soak up all the knowledge possible and then seek employment elsewhere, when things get back to normal, or whatever our new normal ends up being. I honestly don’t think that I’ll ever feel totally comfortable with the environment I’m currently in, especially if not much else changes or improves. The bullies are still permitted to do as they please, and have been picking on other people. I told myself that I’d give this new role about a year and see where things are at then.

3. How to answer “how are you?” when you’re grieving

So just as you notified me that my post would be published, I got told that, after 20 years of employment with the organization, my position was made redundant, and that I would have 90 days to find an internal position, after which time I would be packaged out, either through a lump sum, or through installment payments. I applied to over 30 internal positions in the 90 days, revamped my resume and cover letter, and went on interviews for 6 of the 30 positions. Unfortunately, none of them have resulted into a position, so I have opted for installment payments while I continue my job search.

Update to the update:

Literally a week after I sent you this update, I got a job offer … this time, within the same firm that I’ve been working for the past 20 years, in a different division and area. Job duties are the same, at the same salary.

I decided to take it, as I retained my pension plan, staff perks, and the commute is much more manageable (a 1hr train ride vs 1hr of driving).

I’ve been there since late February. My boss is great and very understanding (family first!), the atmosphere of the office is cool, and, most importantly, there is a defined work from home policy, so when we are no longer social distancing, I’ll be able to save on my commute costs.

I did adopt your advice for the few 1:1’s that I had with my now-former boss, which did help.

P.S. — BTW, our first Christmas without Dad was a good one. We were expecting it to be difficult, but my sister brought her family to Canada, and having all of the family here on Christmas Day did alleviate the pain of Dad not being here. We miss him horribly still, but we tell the stories about him and keep him alive in our day-to-day. And in a weird way, it’s brought us closer together (Mom, my sister, and me).

workers want support and flexibility, not quizzes and costume contests

As COVID-19 upends everything about how we work, many employers with newly remote staffs are trying to figure out how to support employees emotionally — and are leaning heavily on things like virtual happy hours, team games on Slack or Zoom, and personal check-ins centered on mental health. But in the process, some of them are actually increasing employees’ stress rather than easing it.

This has been a constant theme in my mail since the pandemic started, so at Slate today, I wrote about why many of these initiatives feel more intrusive than supportive, and what employers should be doing instead. You can read it here.

updates: using time off to nanny, the Secret Santa gift, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. Can I used my unlimited time off to do part-time nanny work?

I thought I’d write in to your request for updates, since this is an interesting time to revisit the question you answered for me in 2018, when I wondered if I could use my employer’s unlimited time off to do occasional nanny work.

Almost everyone agreed this was a Bad Idea – maybe traveling with them could be ok, but I should steer clear of days off of school, sick days, and pickups/dropoffs. I ended up doing all of it anyway. Honestly? It worked out really well. Reading through the comments, a couple of unique things about my situation weren’t clear from my letter:
• I work at a tech company in San Francisco. It seems like we have a pretty different set of cultural expectations around work, flexibility, and time off than a lot of other places and industries.
• In addition to the “Unlimited Discretionary Time Off” policy, we also have flexible scheduling. My manager, for example, usually works 7-3, and another team member works 8-6:30 Monday-Thursday but hasn’t been online for a single Friday that I can remember. Most people work standard 9-5 ish hours but use the flexibility to make room for doctors appointments, time with their kids, recreational sports leagues, band gigs, a long weekend here and there…or whatever. I don’t even usually know.
• My team is spread across 6 different timezones, so someone is always offline for one reason or another, and we don’t really keep track of why.
• There is almost never a situation where leaving for a day or an hour means someone needs to cover for me.
• The nanny “work” is something I find energizing and enjoyable. I would do it for fun and for free.

Even though I ended up doing the opposite of what you recommended, reading through your advice and all of the comments really helped me think it through and make a clear-headed decision. I did ask my manager about it, because I’m the kind of person who asks permission instead of forgiveness about things like this. She had no problem with it, and was actually relieved that I was planning to use some time off and flexibility. I traveled with them for two trips that first year, one last year, and did several long weekends with them. I’ve done one or two sick days, and left work a little early to pick up their daughter maybe five or six times total since writing in. As I said, my manager leaves at 3, so I don’t think she even noticed, although I did put it on my availability calendar. Only once have I had to say no to a childcare request because of a work priority – it wasn’t an issue. We don’t track so I can’t say for sure, but even with this, and some time off that didn’t include the family, I think I take less time off than most people on my team.

Now in 2020, I’m still at the same company. Two promotions later I think I can safely say this hasn’t impacted my standing at all. I also still have a great relationship with the family. My partner and I are actually sheltered in place with them right now, in an odd twist – they have a second home with a guest house outside of the city, and invited us up to join them when it started, since there’s more space to work from home and safer social distance here than in our apartment building. We’re here as family friends; I’m not doing childcare.

I know this is a weird situation, and I do understand why everyone advised against it. For me, the stars kind of aligned to make it work.

2. Can I put an opportunity on hold for a few years? (#5 at the link)

I delivered a version of your suggested response to them and thankfully I had already been open from the beginning of the process that I wasn’t looking to move right away but was interested in the company. They said they’re open to a longer transition time and moved me forward with the hiring process. Everything went very well and they offered me the job on the condition that I travel once a month to work in person with the team and move next year. After discussions with my husband about our plans, I was happy to accept those terms and started my new job in March! Unfortunately due to COVID-19 the travel is on hold, but otherwise everything is going very well and my new team is finding creative ways to work “together” and keep morale high.

Thank you for your and readers’ advice – seeing it helped me understand how important it is to be up-front about your situation/preferences and also to be flexible if the opportunity is right.

3. Secret Santa gifts with a message (#2 at the link)

I am the high school teacher who wrote in about whether to use a Secret Santa gift as a vehicle for a larger message about implicit racial bias. Thank you so much for publishing my letter and for your thoughtful response and moderation.

I am a white, middle aged female from a racially diverse family that includes German, Puerto Rican, Trinidadian, Italian, Mexican, and Japanese people. I have seen first hand how unfairly my non-white family members have been treated. I teach in a high-profile small career and technical education (what used to be known as vocational) public high school that prepares students for both college and careers in an industry that has been traditionally underrepresented by minorities and women, but is desperate for young talent. Our grads go on to work and study in the field. We are located in Big East Coast City that used to be more diverse but is becoming increasingly segregated.

Some background about why I wrote in: I wrote in the Friday Open Thread about this right after I drew Sam’s name. A spirited discussion ensued, with many terrific titles of books being shared, although the overall advice was to stick to a normal gift. By the end of the discussion, I had decided to get off my soap box and do the normal gift. However, later that night, both my friend who is a teacher and a WOC and my husband, who is of an oppressed ethnic minority (his people are still hunted down in some parts of the world), felt that I SHOULD use the opportunity to make a statement. Then I was all confused and it led me to write directly to you.

To clarify, Sam was defensive and dismissive, as if to say “well of course I do this, it’s not MY fault”, rather than having an “aha” moment. What was not in my original letter is that Sam has said some wonky things before, such as demanding to know what the female chemistry teacher’s qualifications were (on his first day) to expressing disbelief that one of our black teachers was also Puerto Rican and spoke Spanish among other recent bizarre things. Also surprisingly, Sam is in his mid-thirties and has a few years of experience in another minority-prevalent school.

I stand behind my decision to speak to my principal 100%. I will not stand by if there is even a shadow of a question of one of my students being treated unfairly due to race, gender, religion, or ethnicity. I have worked with teachers at a previous school who felt that “THESE” kids only need to be taught enough to fill out a job application at the supermarket and that’s it. These kinds of microaggressions build up and can derail a young person’s life. As for the risk of Sam being fired, we all have a right to due process in the school system I am in, and we are inclined to work to educate each other, not punish. Ignorance is not a permanent state, and my reasons for talking to my principal were rooted in the desire to return to the previous implicit bias training we had before Sam arrived. I felt we needed training like that again.

Anyway, on to the gift! I ended up getting Sam a nice steel travel beverage mug designed with elements from the school’s industry theme filled with chocolates. The organizer collected the gifts and handed them out throughout the day so I didn’t see his reaction when he opened mine. He found me at the end of the day and thanked me, glad that he could now get his to go coffee in a reusable cup. I’m glad I did the right thing and stayed in the spirit of the season.

Unrelated, out of the blue, before the gift exchange Sam asked if he could come and observe me teach some time. It’s odd because we teach opposite ends of the content spectrum, but I told him I had an open door and any time he wanted to come in was fine. Let’s see what happens!

coworker says I don’t respond to his emails, a bizarre company survey, and more

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

1. My coworker says I don’t respond to his emails — which I never received

My department has been working from home due to the current situation, so we have been having a lot of Zoom meetings. I was unable to attend one yesterday but was told by two coworkers that someone, we will call him Greg, was saying that I have not been responding to him or answering his emails. Since it is entirely possible that I missed an email or two, I searched through my email and saw nothing from him. No original questions and no follow-ups of any kind.

Knowing what I know about this person, there is a very real chance that he will use these phantom questions that I never answered as a reason he has not gotten a specific project done when our manager asks him.

I want to head this off at the pass and maybe email him with our manager cc’d to address this. Should I? Will this put my coworkers who were in the meeting in a bad spot with this person? He doesn’t have any power, but can be unpleasant at times. Should I let it go and wait for him to ask? If I do send the email, should I stop myself from addressing the fact that I know he was talking openly behind my back in the Zoom meeting?

The best way to address this kind of thing is to act as you would if you assumed the other person was being entirely genuine (even if you don’t think that) and respond with concern, as you would if you thought there was a real misunderstanding or technical problem behind this. That can ruin whatever the other person is trying to do, while you remain above reproach. (And it allows for the possibility that there really is a misunderstanding.)

So in this case, email him this: “I was really concerned to hear you’d mentioned in yesterday’s meeting that you haven’t been receiving email responses from me! I scoured my email and don’t have any messages from you at all in the last month, so I’m not sure what has happened! Let’s both check with IT to see if your messages aren’t getting through for some reason. Meanwhile, if you can forward me the emails, I’d of course be happy to get you answers immediately. And until we know for sure this is solved, can you call me if you haven’t heard back from me on something? This seems like a technical issue and I’d never want you to think I wasn’t being responsive.”

You can also cc your manager on this so she knows you’re on top of this and checking into whether there’s a glitch somewhere.

2. We’re furloughed and work has sent us a bizarre coronavirus survey

My job sent all employees a survey last week, and in these strange times I’m not sure whether it’s totally fine or a bit … strange.

All of our company is currently furloughed (with a percentage of pay due to government intervention). The survey includes questions relating to how you are feeling (bored, happy, unappreciated, etc.), what have you been up to while furloughed (cooking, gardening, fitness…), how healthy you consider your lifestyle to be, how worried you are about coronavirus, and whether you’ve been social distancing. Then there are questions regarding how you feel about returning to work and how will you feel when lockdown ends (three options to choose from for these: happy, excited or sad). “How do you feel about using public transport to commute?” has just happy or sad options.

I mean, apart from anything else, I don’t think happy or sad covers my feelings on any of this and I’m not five years old.

There are some questions asking for opinions on measures they might take upon return to the workplace and other practical considerations and I have no issue with these aspects. I can see that the intention is probably good overall, but I find some of it just a bit weird and intrusive and surely it has the potential to be held against me. Or is that being ungenerous and paranoid?

It’s not you. This is weird and intrusive and wrong-headed. Not only are some of the questions none of their business (the healthiness of your lifestyle?!), and the limited options for answers so simplistic that they make some of the questions unanswerable, but some of these questions are guaranteed to make people panic. If you don’t answer correctly, will that affect whether you’re brought back or not? What if you don’t indicate you’re excited about returning?

This is bizarre and poorly thought out.

3. My company wants the results of a background check I did to volunteer with my kid’s soccer team

Earlier this year, I volunteered to coach my son’s soccer team (which is obviously not happening now due to Covid-19). Since I’d be working closely with children, I had to complete several clearances, including an FBI fingerprint record check. Everything came back normal. All good. I’d forgotten about it.

Fast forward several months, and I just received an email from my company asking for the results of the background check. Apparently, they were notified of the check, and their standard procedure is to ask for the results to put in my personnel file.

Am I right to be weirded out by this? I have nothing to hide, but it’s the principle of the thing. I paid for the background check myself so I could volunteer in my community. This feels like a really big invasion of my privacy.

Yeah, I don’t think they have any claim on this and I’d be weirded out and annoyed too. Maybe this is a thing some companies do (I don’t have comprehensive knowledge of every company or every field), but I think it’s a huge overstep.

Your options, from most passive to most direct: ignore the email (maybe they won’t follow up), tell them you no longer have a copy of the background check, or tell them that for privacy reasons you don’t think it makes sense to provide them with a private background check that you obtained outside of work at your own cost. I suspect they will not push since they have so little to stand on here (it sounds like something they just ask hoping people won’t object).

4. Can I ask managers for their references?

I’ve somehow in my two most recent posts (in academia, at a prestigious institution) managed to end up working for truly awful people. They’re out of touch, insulting, self-aggrandizing and egotistical — and those are their better qualities! I can’t stand it and am job hunting again. Am I allowed to ask any future prospective managers for references from their past direct reports, much in the same way they’d ask for professional references for me? Or would that be a nonstarter? I’m really leery of making the same mistake thrice.

Yes, you’d just word it a little differently. The way to say it is: “Would you be able to put me in touch with people who are on the team currently or have worked for you in the past?” Or, “Would it be possible for me to talk with others on the team, to help me flesh out my understanding of the culture and the work?” You’d ask this toward the end of the process when you’re a finalist or have an offer, since it won’t make sense for them to set it up until they’ve determined you’re a very strong candidate.

A good manager will be glad to do it; they’ll understand why you’re asking and will be invested in helping you make sure the fit is right. A manager who resists is giving you important info.

That said, be aware that the people you talk with may not be completely candid with you, especially if they’re still working there. You’ve got to pay attention to their tone and pauses and other subtle cues. (And here’s more advice on spotting bad bosses before you take a job.)

5. Do people ever realize a question on Ask a Manager is about them?

I’m interested to know if you’ve ever received an update where the person says that the other people involved in the matter have read the original question on your website and realized the question online was about them.

Yes! Read the update to this letter from someone whose coworker thought she was being abused, when actually her bruises were from BDSM. Also, this update to the letter from someone whose grandboss was being a jerk about her gym time (her direct manager also commented on the original post, in support of her). And this update from someone who was worried her employee was having an affair with a married coworker — the employee saw the post on the manager’s computer the day it was published and initiated a conversation about it.

There was also a letter-writer whose coworker was badgering colleagues about weight and diet choices, and she ended up printing out the post and left it on the person’s chair. The person did then stop the food policing, but that would not have been my advice and I don’t love that they did it for all the reasons described here. That said, there are situations where the power dynamics mean it’s tough to speak to someone directly, and I could understand someone choosing that tactic if that’s the case.

If you’re worried about writing in and someone recognizing your situation, sometimes it can help to include insignificant fake details — ones that won’t impact the answer — like mentioning you’re in Florida when you’re really in Maine, changing genders or ages or company size, etc. (Generally, though, what’s more common is that when someone says, “Oh, I think I recognize this office,” it’s about a situation that’s so common that I’ve had dozens of similar letters over the years. Based on how often that happens, I think most of the time people tend to be wrong when they think they recognize a situation, unless it’s something really unusual.)

weekend free-for-all – May 23-24, 2020

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand. (This one is truly no work and no school.)

Book recommendation of the week: All Adults Here, by Emma Straub. This is a story about the messiness of families, as all Emma Straub’s novels are: a grandmother who rethinks her life when she sees an acquaintance get hit by a bus, a teenager granddaughter who comes to live with her after an upsetting incident at school, the friend she makes in her new town, and a web of family members all intertwined.

* I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.

updates: I caused a coronavirus panic, asking to go part-time, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. Can I ask to go part-time since my work is slow? (#5 at the link)

I wrote to you back in October when I was in total-freak-out-panic mode and close to walking away from everything. I never ended up asking my manager to go part time and instead I decided to take a MAJOR CHILL PILL, give it my best, and use the time to explore other options. I forgot to mention I took a big risk and moved over 2,000 miles to accept this position. During the lengthy interview process, I asked so many questions about workload, the work itself, the culture, etc. And I even talked to a few former employees. I had high hopes it would be my “dream job” and the change I needed both personally and professionally. I moved in July, started the job in August, and by October it was dawning on me that this is not what I wanted or signed up for; I was becoming a little unhinged.

In terms of workload, things have not changed. I was slow before the pandemic and now I am extremely slow BUT much better at keeping myself busy (or looking busy). Since there is a lack of project hours, I keep finding odd things here and there and charging a lot to “business development”. My plan is to keep doing this until someone tells me not to, which will probably also be the same day they let me go. In addition, six people have left since I started, including my manager. The same manager who created this position to support their projects (of which there are none).

I find myself in a bit of an odd position, nothing is an emergency (yet) but nothing is quite sustainable either. And everything has an overlay of pandemic panic. The next day could be exactly the same as today, or it could be my last day with a paycheck. I’m far from home, but I’m grateful to be healthy and safe.

Overall, this experience has taught me three things (1) there’s no such thing as a “dream job” (which AAM has mentioned before and I fully support!), (2) when panicked, take a step back, look at the facts, and find something to be grateful for, and (3) sometimes you take a risk and it’s not what you want, but that doesn’t mean you failed. I’ve accepted its time to find a new career even if it means it’ll take a few years. And if the readers have any examples of mid-life career changes and how they did it, I would love to hear!

2. I caused a coronavirus panic at work (#3 at the link)

The building did reopen and I was able to return. Wary about sharing specific details in case too identifying. Very few people talked to me but I used a script along the lines of what was suggested, that I’m fine but understand the concern and we all have to follow policy

Very few because not had contact with many people. There are certain areas of the building I can’t go into now- not limited to me but for all outside contracts. There is a checkin procedure every day. The good news is I apologized to my boss when returning after all this mess and he laughed and didn’t hold it against me. The immediate negative response died down and turned into understanding that none of us knew what to do

The downside is that all these strict policies have made me miserable. Not because of the job itself. I am exposed to people on the bus and street, a lot of whom aren’t even trying to follow good procedure. I reported to my boss a (thankfully short lasting) sore throat because it is something that has to be reported on the checkin and he emphasized the importance of taking care of your health but I don’t know how much more I can do.

I wear a mask all the time in public and at work. It is quite uncomfortable esp with wearing glasses. Then having a physical job on top of that and feeling like I can’t catch a breath, and oh no the mask is slipping down but to fix it means contamination and now it it pressing on just under my eyes. I am supposed to wear the mask the whole time during my shift and it is unfortunately a big source of stress. I have sensory issues as well as OCD that makes me wayyy fixate on everything but I feel like I have to.

tl;dr immediate situation was resolved but my mental health is garbage right now. But thank you for the scripts, and as well as you and the commenters reassuring me I wasn’t about to be fired. You were right!

3. Should I work long hours for low pay in order to get experience? (from 2010!) (first update here)

I was inspired by the update from another letter-writer dating back 10 years. I actually can’t believe it’s been so long since I was a naive new grad trying to break into any industry that would have me.

Your advice, and the readers’ comments, were the affirmation I needed to turn down the job offer. And I’m so glad I did! I had other friends take canvassing-type jobs after graduating (It was a tough year to find a job!) and they took years to pivot out of the field, predictably to their financial detriment.

Your resume/cover letter advice really helped me focus on what skills I had gained during undergrad jobs and internships, and I found an entry-level fundraising job later that summer. It turned out to be an excellent move and I spent six years working with fundraising databases. After finding myself in a quagmire of office politics that essentially meant I was stuck in my role, I moved to a data analyst position at a fledgling nonprofit about four years ago. I’ve received raises and promotions, started managing my first employee, and have a solid career path ahead of me now! I’ll be starting my Master’s in Computer Science with a focus on databases this summer. exactly 10 years to the day that my letter was published. Even with the pandemic, I’ve never felt more secure or satisfied in my career. Thanks again for helping me see the value in my experiences, and communicate that to potential employers. I still read your blog every day, and I’ve been told my cover letters and follow-up notes have been instrumental in landing me interviews and offers.

4. What’s up with this terrible assessment test? (#5 at the link)

As I mentioned very late in the comments this was for one of those trampoline/activity center franchises and I’d decided I wasn’t going to accept any offers due to Da Bomb and Trampolines R Us’s other nearby location recently losing a lawsuit for failure to pay overtime. Surprise, surprise, I have yet to hear back from them.

But here’s the best part! A few months later, I was driving by Trampolines R Us with my son, who is in his early 20s. Son asked if I’d ever applied there, since I had talked about it. I said, “Yes, and it was so weird I even wrote to Ask A Manager about it!” (I’ve mentioned AAM to him a few times.) I told him the whole story. When I got to “The questions had ‘I’m Da Bomb!’ as an option,” Son got a look of mixed Pain/Shock/Horror/Disgust on his face. He visibly winced, too. I thought, “Now I know what Alison must have looked like when she read my email.”

Update to the update: I just got that much-needed second job, at the newest restaurant in a fast casual chain. It’s not a “Top 10” job for me — but at least nobody, at any point, has asked if “I’m da bomb”! I made very sure at this interview to remember your advice that you don’t have to fill up every silence or keep talking once you’ve said what needs to be said. I used pretty much the same answers as always to similar questions, but made sure I kept them short and to the point. I think it helped.

it’s your Friday good news

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

1. I’ve been unhappy in my job for about 6-7 months now for a variety of reasons, both related to my own position, the lack of growth and learning opportunities, and the office culture (I am far from the only unhappy worker and it definitely started to impact morale all around). I had been actively job searching since February, and then COVID hit. I was sure that my job hunt was a bust and tried to stay positive about my job while working from home, but it was tough. At one point, my partner commented on how hard it was seeing me sad all the time because of work.

Anyway, very likely thanks to your tips on resume/cover letter writing and interview prep, I ended up landing a couple of interviews, and accepted a new position last week! I’ve already given my notice at my current job and I feel so much relief. I’m looking forward to a new position in an area that’s really important to me, and I can’t thank you enough for getting me there!

I also want to thank you because without your blog, it would have taken me way longer to see the red flags at my job for what they were. This is my first job out of grad school, and so whenever I ran into something that seemed odd in the office, I just assumed it was my own ignorance and that it was actually normal. Then I started reading Ask A Manager, and many times there would be descriptions of how good managers do and don’t behave. It helped me realize that my manager, while nice, doesn’t actually manage anyone, and see how that made everyone’s job so much more difficult. So thank you not only for giving me to resources to get a new job, but realizing I needed to leave my current job in the first place!

2. Thanks to reading the blog regularly, I was able to recognize that my once functional workplace was becoming increasingly toxic, and was doing so in a way that I did not have the power to change, despite several efforts, largely using scripts from this site. I’d been considering making a job change for awhile, but a new baby and then the pandemic were making me put off my search. But one day, I hit a breaking point with yet another terrible decision announced without any chance for input, and I started job searching.

I found some jobs that seemed like they could be good fits, and used your advice for tailoring my resume (they did not want a cover letter). I shortly got a call for a phone screening for my top choice job, which came 5 minutes before an important meeting I needed to call into, so I used your advice to ask if we could talk later, and the hiring official was happy to oblige. The phone screening went well, as I had already looked through their website and had questions to ask. I was then selected for an interview, which also went great, in a large part due to the prep you advise doing.

The last step was a writing assignment, which they sent out on a Friday morning and wanted back on Saturday. As an observant Jew, that would have only given me 3 hours after my workday to do it. I thought about what you would likely advise, and I wrote them back saying I was excited to do the writing exercise, but due to religious constraints, I would only have 3 hours to do it, and was that the amount of time they expected the exercise to take? If not, could I have some additional time. They immediately wrote back, thanked me for reaching out, and extended the deadline.

This all would be worthy of good news even if I didn’t get the job, but I just got a tentative offer today. I am very excited, and very grateful for everything I’ve learned from you and this blog.

3. I’m attending school on evenings and weekends to get my bachelor degree in business administration, and I wanted to let you know that reading your blog has helped me so much in my program — knowing how a manager thinks and seeing situations play out in real life as opposed to just in theory has been so useful.

I just finished up my first class on management, and the final exam included a case study about a hypothetical company’s virtual candidate screening process. Because I read Ask a Manager, I was able to discuss things that we hadn’t covered much in class, like candidate perspective, the equity of having online-only screenings, and how best to structure the screening so that the company is checking for things they actually need. This professor is a pretty tough grader but he gave me full points on the case study and said that it was “superior analysis.” So THANK YOU for all the thought and hard work that you put into writing and moderating Ask a Manager. It has been so helpful on so many levels!

open thread – May 22-23, 2020

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

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

my friend got me a job and now I’m being used to push her out, team lead tried to sell us MLM products, and more

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

1. My friend got me a job — and now I’m being assigned work that will push her out

Six months ago, my friend recruited me for a job opening, working with her on a really interesting project at a great company. She and I have similar skill sets, and I was led to understand that there was a lot of our type of work to be done going forward. When recruiting me, she disclosed issues she was having with Grandboss. It was both performance-related and personal, HR was involved, so needless to say, they didn’t have a good relationship. But her (and what would be my) immediate boss was great, and the work was exciting, so I decided that I could deal with/avoid these problems, and I took the job.

However, since I’ve started, it’s become increasingly clear that Grandboss thinks of me as a replacement for my friend rather than someone to work with her. Two months in, he reorganized the group to put me directly under him (essentially promoting me to a level above my friend, although she doesn’t report to me) and has slowly been reassigning me the tasks my friend was doing before I joined. He has also been very vocal about his dissatisfaction with her performance. My friend is understandably upset.

I’m stuck in this situation where if I take over a task and do it well, I make my friend look bad. She is also very reluctant to help me learn these tasks, which makes it hard for me to do the job I’ve been assigned. I have no idea how to get the information I need, because if I mention that I’m not getting what I need from her to others on the team, I worry it will get back to Grandboss and make her look worse. I want to both do my job well, and not lose my friend. Any advice for how to navigate this situation?

Talk to your friend. Tell her you know she got you the job in the first place, you feel awful about what’s happening, and you don’t want to do anything to make things harder on her, but that you also need to do your job. Tell her you feel like you’re in a tough spot when she won’t give you info you need — that normally you’d talk to your boss for help with that but don’t want to do that since it could make things harder for her, but it’s at the point where there’s not much else you can do without putting your own job in jeopardy.

If she’s a good friend, she won’t expect you to jeopardize your own job. But the reality is that she might feel bitter that she got you the job and now you’re part of the process that might be pushing her out. It’s going to take some maturity for her not to resent that.

Honestly, the friendship may not survive this, and that sucks; neither of you caused this, but here you are.

2. Our team leader tried to sell us MLM products on a Zoom call

I’m currently work from home with heavy Zoom usage, like many people. Recently, at the end of our weekly team zoom meeting, our team leader started to try and sell us on her new multi-level-marketing products. It was a hard sell, too — she did a product demo on camera, and told specific people what products they would like. (“Hey, Suzie, you have a scar, you should try this!” “Hey, Ted, this will help with your acne!”)

Obviously, this is wrong in so many ways. Our boss would hit the roof if he knew she was selling on company time. We’re publicly funded, and our Zoom accounts are paid for with tax money. We really can’t use Zoom for things that aren’t strictly work-related. Also, on top of everything else, that was super rude.

I faked a call to get out of the meeting early this time. What in the world do I do if it happens again?

Wow. This would be problematic enough even if she weren’t singling out people’s physical “flaws,” but that takes it to a new level of wow.

Tell your boss. I wouldn’t even wait for it to happen again! It was so out of line (and an abuse of authority) that it’s worth telling your boss now. Plus, even if she doesn’t do it on another group Zoom call, she could be doing it to people individually, and maybe to people who will feel more pressured to buy from her, like interns or others with substantially less power or comfort speaking up.

If I were your boss, I’d want to know right away.

3. Company wants us to thank them for masks to win a contest

My brain has kept gravitating to this email I received late last week from the head of HR at my company. About two weeks ago, our company sent out complimentary N95 masks to our homes, which was very nice of them.

Our HR head emailed to notify us of fun virtual competitions to help heighten morale for a few minutes during this craziness. The first two contests seemed light-hearted and included being the first to send a picture with your mask on or taking a creative pic with your mask. But the last one rubbed me the wrong way. She said the final prize will to someone who submits a photo using the mask while incorporating a “heartfelt thank-you” to the executive team, since they mailed them to our home at no cost and didn’t sell them.

I am not overly fond of the idea of selling masks because I don’t think you should capitalize on a crisis. I disagree that my company deserves a pat on the back for not selling them to us. They do deserve praise for thinking about our health, but sending an email asking for thanks that these masks weren’t sold to us just seems … tacky? It seems like they want the recognition and are forcing it upon us which makes me very uncomfortable.

Ick, yes. A contest to encourage you to genuflect to management is tone-deaf, particularly one that celebrates them for not charging their employees money for safety equipment. I’d sit the contests out.

If you’re in the U.S., there’s another problem here, which is that there’s a serious shortage of N95 masks for health care workers, who need them far more than people who are working from home (as opposed to the more common fabric masks), and the public has been encouraged to donate them to medical workers rather than hoard them for themselves. The surgeon general has urged the public to stop buying N95 masks so that health care workers can get the protection they need, and the CDC recommends that only health care workers wear N95s.

4. Connection requests from recruiters

I’ve been job-searching on and off the last two years (to move on from a very stressful previous job, and now to find new gigs when my current contract expires). From time to time, recruiters reach out to me via LinkedIn. I’m fine with that — my profile is marked “open to new opportunities.”

However, they often want to connect to me, and I’m not okay with that. I don’t know these people or necessarily want my own LinkedIn connections and network to become part of theirs. I’ve just been quietly ignoring their requests. But should I be either more receptive (on the grounds that, as recruiters, they obviously have lots of connections to jobs) or less receptive, and tell them up front I don’t connect to recruiters unless we have an ongoing business relationship (or some other substantial reason)?

Some people are sticklers about only connecting on LinkedIn to people they know or have worked with. And that’s fine! But other people connect to anyone who seems like it might be useful to have in their networks, and most recruiters work like that. If you don’t want to receive leads from recruiters on LinkedIn, I’d just ignore the connection request rather than telling them you won’t connect without a better reason, as the latter is likely to come across as a little prickly and out of touch with how they operate.

But if you’re actively searching, I’d err on the side of connecting; there’s not really a downside and it could help.

5. If a job is listed in multiple sites, where’s the best place to apply?

If a company lists a job in multiple places (their website, LinkedIn, and Indeed, for example), which is best to send your resume/cover letter to?

If it’s on the company’s website, apply there. Applying on LinkedIn doesn’t let you customize your materials in the way you ideally should, and applications sent through their Easy Apply option and some of the other platforms can be clunky on the recipient’s end.