update: my coworker hangs out with my boss all day in our shared office

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who whose coworker hung out with her boss for hours in their shared office, making it hard for the letter-writer to focus? Here’s the update.

I’ve already got some big updates for you and a few clarifications to offer in light of some of the comments I saw.

First, the clarifications. My boss does indeed get her job done, and does it very well. In the time I have been here, I have not seen her allow anything to fall through the cracks. She does often work while Sansa is in our office. In light of the comments and in rereading my initial post, I have come to realize that Sansa will often only stop by for 10-15 minutes once or twice for the first hour of two of the day. I assume Arya powers through her work during this time. Arya and I also have the ability to complete a lot of our work on our phones as much of it involves calling and emailing vendors, so I am sure that she does a lot of her work before or after office hours. Sansa is another story, which I will address in the actual update that is to follow.

Sansa’s work is indeed cyclical, as many of the comments assumed, and her department is overstaffed by about one to two employees. The reason for this is that the owners would rather sink a little extra into payroll for much of the time while having enough staff to keep the busy times manageable, avoid unpaid OT (we are all salaried), and prevent burnout. They treat us like adults and assume that if we do not look busy or look like we are “working”, it is because our jobs are done and we… are not busy. They do not expect or want us to be busy 8 hours a day, every day. I suspect this is a large contributing factor to why this issue was ignored for so long; work did not appear to be getting neglected, so ownership chose to look the other way.

Onto the update: We are coming into the busy time of year for Sansa’s department. Only a day after sending in my post, it came to light that Sansa had made multiple egregious and careless errors. Ownership was understandably livid. I do not know what conversations happened behind closed doors, but I do know that Sansa’s time in our office has dropped tremendously. She probably spends a collective 1.5 hours in here per day now, spread out into 15-30 minute increments. I can deal with that, as long as it does not escalate back to what it was. I did hear Sansa and Arya discussing how some of the errors in question were not actually Sansa’s fault, and rather an attempt by someone else (Let’s call him Ned) to “sabotage her”. I can tell you with 95% certainty that this claim is laughable and when I heard it, I rolled my eyes hard enough to get a glimpse of my brain. Regardless, I said nothing, as there is no reason for me to get involved in that which does not concern me.

I assume that as time goes on and this scar fades, Sansa will gradually ease her way back to spending all day in our office. If I am wrong, and all remains well, this will be the only update. If I am correct, I will be sure to send in another update when something new occurs.

One last thought – there were a lot of comments questioning my assertion that Sansa and Arya do not want to be inconsiderate of me and are nice people. I believe very firmly that these comments are objectively logical but pragmatically inaccurate. I go out of my way to appear as though I take no issue with their behavior, which is a personal problem I have with people-pleasing. I think that the majority of people carry on with their lives under the assumption that all is well until someone points out that all is not in fact well. People tend to gradually ease into habits and routines that bring them joy. Humans are not always inclined to look at things from a “big picture” perspective unless prompted to do so. I know these people well, and am formally requesting that the readers accept my assessment of their intentions to be accurate. (Note from Alison: Yep — let’s trust letter-writers know their situations better than commenters do!)

the event I volunteered for wants too much of my time, company is becoming more conservative, and more

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

1. The event I volunteered for wants too much of my time

I was asked to volunteer at a gala for an organization that has nothing to do with my day-to-day work or employer, by a slightly senior coworker who is involved with the organization. I, along with two of my coworkers, agreed to volunteer at the event. When I agreed to help, I was agreeing to a single week night, from 4 pm – 9 pm to assist.

A week before the event, the coordinator, “Pam,” emailed all the volunteers and requested a meeting in the middle of the work day. Pam wanted to give us instruction for the event and said it would take, at most, 30 minutes. It ended up lasting over an hour, and was clearly more of a planning session than instruction. I was annoyed to spend my lunch hour helping plan an event that should have already been hammered out weeks prior. But the event went smoothly and I was happy to help out. I pretty much forgot about it as the weeks passed.

Now, a month and a half later, Pam has reached out to schedule a debriefing on the event. She wants to block out a lunch hour to discuss how everything went. She’s framing it like, “I know we promised you all a follow up meeting.” I don’t remember talking about this at all, and I’m not sure why any of the volunteers would have wanted this either. At this point, I really feel like the importance they see in this event is getting a little ridiculous. The tasks we had were things like set up and take down, handing people brochures, and hanging up coats. It was very simple and I’m not sure what we would have to debrief on.

I really don’t want to do this. I have no feedback to give. I have had an extremely busy month and can barely remember specific details about the event. And I really don’t care to give up another lunch hour for this. I was happy to help, but the event is over and I want to be done with my obligations to them. It would be different if I felt passionately about their mission, but I don’t. Am I ridiculous for feeling strongly about not wanting to do this? If it is reasonable for me to not go, how should I word that to Pam?

You’re not being unreasonable at all. Your obligation ended when you finished the work you agreed to do a month and a half ago, and Pam doesn’t have ongoing claims on your time! It should be okay to respond back with, “I won’t be able to make this because my schedule is really crunched right now, but I wish you all the best in your work.” You don’t need her permission to excuse yourself; you’re just letting her know you won’t be there.

2. I’m queer and worried our company is becoming too conservatively Christian to keep me

Most of my company’s communication happens on Slack. There’s around 100 employees and we’re mostly young techies, even if we aren’t all developers and engineers. It’s common for everyone (from C-level down) to swear, keysmash, use exclamations and acronyms on Slack—basic internet speak.

Recently I posted “oh my god I love it” in response to a feature a coworker made. I got an automatic Slack response telling me that if I wasn’t actually referring to the deity, I shouldn’t say that as it makes people uncomfortable. This has never been an issue raised before, by HR or individuals.

I checked who created the response. It’s our head of marketing, who I know is a relatively devout Christian. It’s set to go off whenever anyone says “oh my god,” “goddamn,” etc. I would be willing to write this off as a weirdly passive-aggressive way to tell us that they don’t like anyone, even non-Christians, breaking the second commandment, except there’s been a lot of talk from the high-ups recently about “values” and how LGBTQ+ stuff is too controversial/inappropriate for work. Those conversations were already worrying me because I’m queer, and I’m not out to anyone outside my department or above supervisor-level. Now I’m scared that this response means the company is actively shifting towards conservative Christian values, and that my job/standing at the company may be in danger if I’m outed. Am I being paranoid?

If there’s been a sudden increase in higher-ups talking about how LGBTQ+ stuff is too controversial or inappropriate (!) for work … that’s not a good sign.

On its own, the fact that someone programmed in automatic Slack responses to “oh my god” is pretty weird. But combine it with the vapors over LGBTQ+ stuff, and I’d be worried you’re moving toward the Handmaid’s Tale.

There’s a lot of info I don’t have here, like how long you’ve worked there, how senior you are, how much influence you have, and what kind of relationship you have with your boss and others. Depending on some of those answers, it could make sense to try to suss out what’s going on (is something changing? what’s driving it? where’s it headed?). But there’s a strong argument for skipping that and looking for a workplace that doesn’t find your very existence too controversial or inappropriate to talk about. I’m sorry.

3. Company-wide emails warning us not to do whatever just got someone fired

When an employee at my workplace is fired for misbehavior, in the next day or so, management sends out a company-wide email warning people to not do the the thing that got the employee fired. For example, Joe has been very obviously mishandling widgets for the past couple of weeks. Joe suddenly no longer shows up for work. A couple of days after Joe’s disappearance, there’s a company-wide email that says, “Be mindful that mishandling widgets will result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination.” Joe’s name isn’t mentioned in the email. But Joe is gone and everyone knows that Joe has been mishandling widgets, so it seems pretty obvious that Joe was fired for mishandling widgets. Is this within the bounds of reasonable management behavior, given that a manager going around saying, “We fired Joe on Monday because he mishandled widgets” is a no-no?

Is there a separate announcement that Joe is no longer with the company? If not, this is very weird. People need to know when someone is no longer there, so they don’t continue to send them emails and wait on status updates and so forth, and so they know who to go to in their place.

But if they’re doing that part, and these “remember not to drag-race in the parking lot” emails are going out separately … well, it depends. If they have reason to think clearer instruction on this stuff is necessary, it makes sense to provide it. But if there’s no reason to think anyone needs the refresher, it’s odd and comes across as weirdly disconnected … and sort of excessively cautious, like they think it helps them legally to issue this kind of reminder or something like that. Or like they like to manage by group email, which is not an effective approach.

4. Is it rude to ignore cold contacts from recruiters?

I am not job hunting, and I get a lot of recruiters who I haven’t worked with in the past cold contacting me to see if I’d be interested in an opportunity. (This often happens via LinkedIn but has been happening increasingly often via my personal email also.) I just ignore their emails since I’m not interested. But lately I’ve had a few extremely persistent recruiters who follow up once a day or so, and they’ve started to imply that I’m being rude by not responding! Today’s email explicitly said, “If you’re uninterested in the opportunity, could you at least let me know?”

This seems unreasonable to me! I’m not job hunting and I don’t feel like I should have to spend my time personally turning down multiple unsolicited job emails a day. (It’s particularly annoying to me that most of these recruiters assume I live in NYC because my company is based there, even though my LinkedIn says I live elsewhere and work remotely.) Am I actually being rude? Should I be shooting off quick rejection emails just so they don’t keep bothering me?

You’re not being rude. They’re doing the email equivalent of cold-calling and they’re not entitled to your time in response.

That said, if someone follows up with you, it’s probably in your interests to respond and say you’re not interested so that they don’t continue to contact you. But their implication that you’ve somehow been remiss in not responding is off-base (and particularly rich coming from an industry notorious for not responding to job seekers).

5. Alumni email addresses when job searching

I’m six months away from being done with grad school and am about to start job hunting. I really hate my Gmail address but can’t seem to get a better one. My school only has email addresses that end in @alumni.UniversityName.com. I worry that if I use this email it will look odd or against professional norms. What is your opinion on using alumni email addresses for job hunting?

It’s totally fine and normal to use an alumni email address, especially when you recently attended the school. Use it without worry.

update: talking about my pregnancy at work when I’m placing the baby for adoption

Remember the letter-writer looking for advice on how to talk about her pregnancy at work when she was planning to place the baby for adoption? Here’s the update.

I hope this letter finds you well. Your email about updates came a few days after I had gotten home from the hospital (I was way earlier in my pregnancy than I thought I was when I first wrote you), and I’m still on leave at the moment, so I can’t give you an update about coming back to work afterwards yet, but I can tell you how the pregnancy went!

I’m happy to report that everyone at work was absolutely lovely about the whole thing. I don’t think a lot of them really “got” why I made the decision I did, but if they had any negative feelings or impressions about, they kept it to themselves, for which I’m thankful. Overall, I received a really insane level of support and understanding from everyone. I told my manager the situation once it became clear that the pregnancy was healthy and viable. He was really great– asked if he could give me a hug and congratulated me and told me that whatever I needed from work, he would help make happen. I gave him the dates I would no longer be able to travel and told him I just wanted to go about work as normally as I could for as long as I could. He told me he would keep the situation private until he couldn’t anymore for scheduling purposes, and even then was very discreet about it. I am extremely grateful for him, he was really great about my pregnancy and the adoption situation, and treaded lightly whenever he was curious about how it was going.

I’m not sure I really took all the advice that was given, which was primarily to frame it as a surrogacy situation. I’m not good at obfuscating the truth, and my department has close enough interpersonal relationships that it wasn’t a sustainable solution, considering how much we work in teams and how much those teams travel together– though I did try it at least once! I figured people would take direction from me on how to treat it. I told my colleagues one by one until it hit a critical mass where pretty much everyone knew without me having to tell every last person, and framed it as a “private but not secret” thing. I didn’t give a ton of details to everyone like you advised, but answered (kindly worded) questions when they were asked and was more open with some people than others. Everyone was supportive and honestly, to my knowledge, mostly just ignored it. A few individuals in particular really went above and beyond for me– a project lead who went to bat for me to be kept on a project whose onsite portion was near my parents’ home so I could visit them (I did not ask her to do this), a colleague who organized a lunch for me before I went on leave, and a training manager who was a great sounding board and shoulder to lean on as I organized and dealt with everything. It was a really ideal outcome for a really sucky situation, and I am so grateful for the grace and kindness my office showed me, when I have heard of so many horror stories at other companies of it going the opposite way. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in the midst of an already difficult emotional atmosphere, so it was a big thing to me to have a supportive environment at work, whatever my decision ultimately ended up being. We’ll see how things go once I go back, and you never really know what’s going to happen, but based on how the nine months of pregnancy went, I’m not overly preoccupied.

I gave birth to the most beautiful baby girl after a very smooth delivery and spent two and a half great days with her in the hospital. She and her parents (who I chose) are doing well– having the time of their lives, in fact. They send me regular pictures and updates, and although I know the frequency will likely taper off as the realities of life happen for all of us, I am at peace knowing my daughter is taken care of, adored, and loved the way I adore and love her, and that she is with people who have hoped and prayed for her and can give her all the things I wanted to but couldn’t. Her parents have been nothing but respectful and kind to me. She is a source of joy tinged with grief and sadness for me, and not having to keep her a secret has been, by far, the biggest help to healing and dealing I have had. (Plus, I’m still a proud mom, so I love to show off photos from the hospital and from the A-parents!) I have a great therapist, a supportive faith community, and a wonderful family who have taken great care of me, so although I don’t want to downplay the brutality of grief…I’m going to be okay. Mine was really as ideal as an adoption placement could be, truly, and I’m very aware of how blessed and fortunate I have been. I feel hopeful for the first time in a long, long time, and that’s about as great a gift as I can ask for.

I also am thankful to you for publishing my letter and for including someone who is well acquainted with adoption to offer additional advice. I’m also grateful for the commenters who offered additional advice and support. Your words may not have meant much to you, but they meant a lot to me. Thank you for choosing to be kind to me.

updates: the physical fight rumor, the boss who doesn’t do his work, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are five updates from past letter-writers.

1. There’s a rumor I had a physical fight with a staff member, but I didn’t

The day after my question was posted, Diana stopped by with one of her new coworkers. Some of the commenters had suggested that I give her a heads up, since the rumor was potentially more damaging to her than me; she was just as baffled as I was, and also reassured Fergus, who was chatting with us, that the story was completely untrue.

From then on, my entire staff (minus Veronica) suddenly became much more comfortable around me; I hadn’t realized how tense they were until it was gone. I’m not sure how much of the rumor they’d actually believed, but at the very least, it must have caused some serious doubts (understandably!). Clearing things up has made a huge difference to the entire staff’s morale, and I couldn’t be happier about that. I think it’s also pulled the teeth from any further crazy rumors, which is another plus.

As for Veronica, I had a sit-down with her where she claimed she’d believed the story and been terrified of me. I asked her if I’d done anything around her to frighten her, and apologized if I had. She said no, but she’d been “walking on eggshells” waiting (for three years!) for me to snap and do something awful. Then she tried to deflect blame onto another former staff member; I told her that it didn’t matter where the rumor came from, but I wished she’d either come to me about it, or at least tried to independently verify whether or not it was true, rather than living in fear for so long and then spreading it to everyone else. I also mentioned the possible consequences to Diana, which she clearly hadn’t considered, and seemed genuinely contrite about.

We left it there for the time being, with a verbal warning, but I’ve also completely stopped sharing anything even remotely personal with her, and I’m logging and documenting any instances of similarly questionable judgement, just in case. We have a whole progressive disciplinary process we have to follow, and this wasn’t egregious enough to bypass that and fire her up front, but if anything else happens I’ll have the initial steps in place to do that.

Thank you to you and the commenters; you all helped me see I was putting too much emphasis on Betty’s potential involvement, and letting that keep me from being as direct as I needed to be.

2. My boss isn’t doing his work and it’s impacting me (#2 at the link)

The issue never really got resolved. I started telling clients that he was unavailable, since he really was, and that helped the situation. A few months after I wrote in, the only other long-term employee was fired, and subsequently there were a lot of days that I was in the office alone and dealing with customer requests without knowing when things would get done. It was awful at the time, but I learned how to be diplomatic and give answers without throwing anyone under the bus – valuable skills that I’ve needed since.

I didn’t mention that I was the only person at that company not belonging to a particular nationality and not prior friends with anyone else, so it often felt like a club of sorts that I didn’t belong to. There were other small, family-owned problems too, like my boss hiring his best friend who flat-out refused to do any work at all.

That said, it was to date the longest job I’ve held. I started working there in September of 2013, and it was June of 2014 when I wrote in. I stayed there until 2017 when I was laid off. The working hours were flexible and worked around my school schedule. I got free tea and snacks. The customers were quite nice most of the time. The place was pretty good for what it was.

Since then, I’ve actually switched careers entirely and moved around a lot. Your answer and your blog in general has made me more discerning regarding the battles I pick at work (which has been great as I’m now in academia doing my PhD and dealing with the tons of issues – I wish I was only dealing with this old boss again!).

3. I’m helping a peer with a project and she’s wasting a huge amount of my time

As I mentioned in my letter, I initially tried pushing back on the hour-long meeting, albeit in the meeting RSVP rather than talking to her directly, but she wanted to keep the full hour. In hindsight, I think she might have been using that meeting to block off some breathing room in her own calendar, because as soon as we started talking she said she really didn’t think we needed more than a few minutes (fine with me, although a heads up would have been appreciated!). Thankfully when we did talk about the work, she’d moved past the idea of working in parallel and comparing results.

…And then, by the time my letter was published, Lucinda basically finished the whole project by herself. I’m still not sure whether it was actually just easier that way or if Lucinda isn’t great at delegating, but either way it solved my problem! I know a few commenters wondered about whether our managers had asked Lucinda to oversee my work on this, but I really doubt it. Our managers here are generally quite excellent at explaining that kind of thing, and in the few cases I can think of where they wanted me to bring in reinforcements on something, they’ve told me clearly where they were coming from (think “You’re doing good work on this and I’m happy to have you continue, but going forward it’s going to involve more X, which is a specialized skill that takes practice, so let’s bring in someone with more experience in X to work with you”), so I’m confident that I would already know if my boss wanted Lucinda to oversee my work or me to learn something particular from her on this.

So basically my problem took care of itself all on its own. I’ll still keep your scripts in my back pocket in case I have a similar experience with Lucinda in the future (or anyone else!), but for now we’re back to a much more comfortable working relationship. She’ll still talk my ear off, but I know that’s just how she is and it’s a lot easier to handle when it’s just idle chitchat rather than weekly meetings on a slow-moving project.

4. Can I ask for a phone interview before investing time in an in-person interview?

I had a telephone call with the CEO of the company. It went pretty well, but it turned out they would have wanted me to spend several weeks in Europe as part of the on onboarding process. I said given that, I would have to think about going forward.

The next day I got a polite notification they had decided not to go forward with my application.
I honestly was only mildly disappointed, but I do think it was right to push for an initial call. I would have felt worse if I had invested a day to find it was a poor fit on either of our parts.

5. I panicked and said I was interning somewhere that hadn’t hired me (#3 at the link)

I took your advice to heart. First, I let myself calm down a little and agreed that my statement about the start date was fairly ambiguous. More importantly, I made a promise to myself not to let my nerves and self-consciousness dictate how I represent myself in the future.

As for the job in question, I wrote “upcoming” on my resume, as you suggested and sent it off to Claire. She never replied and when I circled back two weeks later, she also didn’t say anything. I have no idea if she was just busy or if she noticed the inconsistency between my stated start-date and my resume start-date and felt weird. I never heard from the company either.

For whatever it’s worth, I went on to have a pretty good internship experience, and have since started a position at a different company that I absolutely love. I chalk my success in receiving both positions up to your posts on interviewing well.

update: I’m training my replacement — and she’s condescending, rude, and won’t listen

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are five updates from past letter-writers.

Remember the letter-writer who was training her replacement, and the replacement was condescending, rude, and wouldn’t listen? The letter-writer was switching to part-time but would still be around. Here’s the update:

Where to even begin! As I write this, I am currently off until spring and patiently waiting for my baby to arrive. I did find the advice from my post incredibly helpful. So many people thought I was under-reacting when I thought I was overreacting and it gave me the confidence to sit down and have a very honest conversation with my bosses.

I let my VP know that I was extremely hesitant about my replacement once again. I laid it all out there and told him i would respect any decision he made but that I ultimately thought it would be very difficult for me to work along side this person considering how training was going. Also I was afraid of relationships that we had cultivated being ruined by this person. He always remains professional but I could tell by how he was acting that he was extremely stressed and was under a lot of pressure to make this work. In the end the job was given to Jane. It was reiterated to Jane that she was not my boss and that I was here to help her succeed and grow our department.

In the following months I had left to work with Jane before having my baby things went as you would expect. I slowly started ramping down my work and documented all the training we worked on.

On several occasions I would direct her to handle a situation in a certain way and she would go rouge the second I left for an appointment or took a day off. She sent messages to clients like, “These accounts are now being handled by me and will be sufficiently managed”. Basically just throwing a bomb on our professional relationships. Clients who I had always done great work for began to reach out to our vp wondering why this new person was saying accounts weren’t “sufficiently managed”. Jane just didn’t have an understanding of why certain things were handled certain ways and was hyper focused on letting people know she was the manager instead of me. She changed my email signature to say “part-time” and generally did a lot of bullying like behavior. Her actions were even noticed by the owner of our company who requested to meet with me to see what the hell was going on. I was able to explain everything and he thanked me and said he would talk to her. At the same time I had documented everything I had instructed her to do and it became obvious to my VP and owner I was telling her all the right things to do and she completely ignored me. In the next few weeks she also did this to our accountant who has been with the company for 20 years, resulting in a major mistake and near loss of a long time client over a very minor issue.

Long story short she still works in the position but a lot of responsibility has fallen back on to my VP because he can’t trust her to handle clients. Its my understanding that she is allowed to do admin like work but is not allowed to converse with clients. I still don’t think she understands how her actions make her look bad and thinks that dragging other employees made her look like head boss in charge.

I’m off for the foreseeable future but before I left my boss had a very serious talk with me about my future with the company and how when I’m ready to come back he will “make adjustments” to keep me. He also said that several clients had reached out and wanted to work with only him or I. I believe the stress of not being able to trust Jane will mean that she cannot stay in the position for long. For now we’re in slow season and I’m off to have this baby so maybe I will have another update when I decide to come back!

my employee gave me a hideously awful gift … and more holiday gift questions

Over at New York Magazine today, I answered a bunch of questions from readers about holiday gift-giving at work, including:

  • My boss wants an expensive gift!
  • How can I discourage employees from giving me gifts?
  • What about giving gifts to coworkers?
  • Should I send a gift to a potential employer?
  • Is it appropriate to give my intern a gift?
  • My employee gave me a hideously awful gift

You can read it here.

update: my coworkers complained that the look of my breasts post-mastectomy is making them uncomfortable

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose coworkers complained that the look of her breasts after her mastectomy was making them uncomfortable? Here’s the update.

First, as many people guessed, I am in the UK.

When I emailed you last time, there was some creepy behavior happening in my office. This got solved (kind of). A month or two after I wrote in, the creep (who I thought might have complained but still don’t know) simply left. Apparently the team he was leading was getting audited and his work came back as pretty sub-standard, so he took the easy way out and simply left altogether.

And life went back to normal, I planned my next (and hopefully final) surgery for September and I thought that was it. Then mid August my manager called me in and told me that effective immediately, I was off the team, that I wasn’t allowed to sit at my desk (I have a number of physical accommodations with a special desk and chair), that I wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone in the building (there’s about 2,000 of us!) apart from her and that until going off sick I would sit alone in an empty part of the building doing nothing all day. Apparently she was concerned about the way I was with my staff but wouldn’t give me any precise examples or even tell me how I could improve. When I spoke to them (I’m in really good terms with one of them) they were shocked. Never felt that I had done anything wrong and had no idea where that was coming from.

I was floored. She had never mentioned anything like that to me and I was lost. When I complained about the physical adjustments that I would now miss, I was told that it had all been agreed and it didn’t matter. I went to the union. They helped me secure a temporary posting in a separate team until I left for my surgery. The way my ex-manager presented it to me, I believed the director above her told her to get rid of me. We were also getting audited and I think I was the easiest solution for her to look like she was acting. Although I was never mentioned in the audit report.)

Surgery went great, I’m at home healing and getting better. I found a job I was really keen about and went to apply, discussed it with my ex-manager (since i’m technically still her employee until i find somewhere permanent) who offered to contact the recruiting manager and help. I was thrilled about that. Except she explained to the recruiter that I was incapable of doing staff management and probably shouldn’t apply for that job at all because I wouldn’t be a good fit at all.

She then got annoyed at me for not preparing end of year reviews for my two staff. The reviews were at the end of November, I was thrown out mid-August but she’s still ragging at me that I didn’t prep everything.

I feel like just now this keeps going from bad to worse. It’ll get better, and in the meantime I keep looking for jobs and applying for stuff, without telling my ex-manager about that.

I’m extremely sad about the whole situation about my ex-manager, I worked there for 3+ years, worked during my holidays, during sick days, during weekends, I did everything and more and that’s how it ended regardless. I wasn’t a perfect employee but I tried my best and my performance reviews were always good.

On the plus side I now have two permanent boobs again, which is pretty great really, so it’s not all bad!

Me again. There’s a ton here that would be illegal in the U.S. — from the initial comments to what now looks like retaliation for exercising a legally protected right. I can’t speak to UK laws, but I’d encourage you to talk to a lawyer.

my boss says no one is allowed to get pregnant, asking job candidates if they’ve ever disparaged an employer, and more

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

1. My boss says no one is allowed to get pregnant

I work in a very tight-knit office of about 15 people, and most of us are women in our 20’s and 30’s. We all work hard and have duties split up fairly, though none of us has time to take on any extra tasks or clients.

We just recovered from a few month struggle of one of my colleagues being out on maternity leave, and now my boss is “joking” that none of us is allowed to get pregnant because we can’t afford to lose someone again. The last time I wasn’t feeling well, she immediately asked if I was pregnant and then asked when my next menstrual cycle is coming! She even then took it as far as saying that she was going to ask all of us ladies to report to her when our cycles start each month so she doesn’t have to worry constantly.

I know this is inappropriate, and I know that she is joking(ish) since we are all very close friends. But I’m kind of at a loss of what to say during these conversations because, truth be told, my husband and I actually ARE trying to start a family right now! Is it best to just laugh it off when comments like this come up? I don’t want to come across as weird and stiff.

Even if we take it as a given that she’s joking, this type of joke is inappropriate and boundary-violating. There’s very real pressure on women about how their reproductive plans will affect them professionally (pressure that men almost never face) and it’s crap.

Laughing it off is an option if it’s the one that feels safest to you. But ideally the next time she makes one of these comments, you’d respond with something like:

* “I know you don’t mean that, but even joking about it is so bad for women. Let’s not do that.”
* “Excuse me?”
* “I know you’re joking, but I really don’t want my reproductive plans or menstrual cycle to be up for discussion at work.”
* “You know, men don’t get these comments.”
* “Could you please not joke about that? Given how much pressure women face around this stuff, I can’t find it funny.”

You could also talk to her one-on-one and say, “You’ve been joking about tracking our periods and making sure no one else gets pregnant. I know you’re kidding, but you’re our boss — and there some employers really do penalize women who get pregnant or try to influence their personal reproductive decisions. I know you’d never want any of us to worry about that, and I figured you’d want to stop if you realized it was coming across that way.” (You might not really “know” that about her, but often framing things this way will make the person feel obligated to live up to it.)

2. Can I ask job candidates if they’ve ever disparaged an employer online?

I’ve seen a rise recently in employees leaving organizations and then trashing them online. As a hiring manager who’s been burned by that sort of thing just this year, I see that as a huge red flag in job candidates (unless they were being a whistleblower about something truly egregious, like a criminal offense on the part of their employer). While I check social media accounts, I also know that savvier candidates will scrub that sort of history from their accounts. Can I simply ask job candidates if they have ever publicly disparaged one of their former employers, and if so, what their reason for doing so was?

Don’t ask that. That question will strike people as incredibly odd, particularly since the answer for most candidates will be “no.” It’ll sound like you’re saying, “Employees disparage us online and I want to know if you’re likely to do that” — and then they’ll start wondering why people are disparaging you so much and will assume there’s more to the story.

Plus, some people will have spoken critically about an employer with good reason — they didn’t get paid or were harassed or discriminated against, etc. You’d be putting good candidates in a position where they’d feel highly uncomfortable about what you’re after with this question.

Besides, there are far more important questions to focus on in the limited time you have when you’re interviewing. Plus, if you hire the right people and treat them well, getting trash-talked online isn’t going to be a huge problem for you. It might happen occasionally, but it’s not going to be such a pattern that you need to start weirding out job candidates to screen for it. (And if it is a pattern, something else is going on that needs your attention.)

3. Do I have to announce my engagement at work?

I have caught wind that my boyfriend will be proposing soon (yay!) and I have good reason to suspect it will be around the holidays this year. Assuming I’m not completely off-base here, my question is about sharing life-changing news at work.

The thing is, I am not particularly close with any of my coworkers (except for one who I have become very good friends with), and our company shuts down for a week between Christmas and New Year’s. I 100% plan to tell my work friend regardless, but assuming that I am proposed to during the holiday shut down, do I need to address my engagement with my coworkers once we’re all back? I dread being the center of attention, and I would be more comfortable not pointing it out. But it also seems weird to be walking around with a new ring and exciting news and not tell anyone! My work friend is also the type to bring it up to other people, which I don’t really mind, but would it seem strange if she pointed it out before I did? Am I overthinking this?

If it matters, I am on contract here for a few more months (and certainly will be long gone by the time I get married).

You don’t need to announce it if you don’t want to! If it comes up on its own at some point — someone notices the ring or your work friend mentions it — you can just say, “Yes! I got engaged over the holidays.” If people are shrieking and demanding to know why you didn’t speak up sooner, you can say, “Oh, I hate being the center of attention” or “I’m not sure!” or “I’ve been pretty low-key about it” or “Well, I’m telling you now!” In most offices, if it’s weird at all, it’ll only be weird briefly and then people will move on from “why didn’t you tell us” to “yay, engagement!”

4. How do I take a networking contact up on his offer?

I have a question about networking (which, even in my mid-30s, makes me deeply uncomfortable). I worked at an elite university for about 4.5 years in a role that was largely administrative but also included some course support, event planning, and other tasks as requested by faculty. Immediately after starting, I got dropped into a complex, high-stakes project; my success turned my temp job to perm, and I was happily placed in the same department as the professor leading the project. He and I maintained a friendly-ish relationship, but I did not work with him directly for the remainder of my time there.

When I left to focus on grad school, he offhandedly mentioned that he could facilitate some introductions at a company that would be an AMAZING opportunity for my new career. I didn’t take him too seriously (frankly, he has better things to do) until he made a point on my last day to emphasize that I should reach out when I’m ready to start actively job hunting. I’m graduating in a few weeks(!!!), so that time has arrived, but I don’t know how to approach it. As a former insider, I’m well aware of how insanely busy he is, so I’m reticent to request even a coffee meeting. On the other hand, I genuinely like him and want him to know how much I appreciate him even considering this favor. He’s also highly visible/well-known and tenured, which makes me feel a) nervous overall, b) a little silly for taking him up on it, and c) like the stakes are much higher than your average networking request. Meanwhile, I’m also trying to mentally prepare for the very real chance that he might totally ignore me, or that even if he does facilitate some intros, it goes nowhere. How do I get over myself and just do the damn thing?

You are over-thinking it! He offered it, he probably meant it, and there’s nothing weird about asking if you can take him up on it now. You don’t even need to request a coffee meeting, especially if he’s busy. It’s much more efficient to just come out with it, and you don’t need to ease into it with coffee.

Send a warm email that says, “When I left X to focus on grad school, you mentioned that you might be able to connect me to contacts at Y. I’m getting ready to graduate and am actively job hunting, so I hoped I might be able to take you up on that. I’d be really grateful for anyone you can connect me to there.” (Then insert a few sentences of pleasantries — about his work, or your work, or the holidays, or whatever.)

That’s it!

5. I’m trying to personalize gifts for my staff members

I’m a new manager and we have a limited (but luckily, it’s there!) budget for staff appreciation. I’d like to get staff a little something for the end of the year. It sounds like in the past it’s been gift cards, that sort of thing, and that’s gone over just fine. This fall, I’ve been trying to get to know the staff on a more personal level and thought it may be interesting to get them gifts that are a little more personalized. My concerns are twofold.

First, maybe people don’t want kitsch. For example, we have someone who is a huge Game of Thrones fan and I wondered about getting them an action figure of their favorite character. Or for our avid dog fan, maybe a little statuette of their favorite breed of dog. But maybe that sort of thing isn’t going to go over well with everyone. The other concern related to it is whether some gifts would cost more than others and if that’s “fair.” We sometimes have some looser lips in the finance portion of our small business and I could see the money person, accidentally or otherwise, slipping the word on gift costs after receiving receipts.

Yeah, you want to keep gifts in the same general price range. They don’t need to be identical to the dollar, but they should be fairly equivalent. When you’re the boss, you shouldn’t give one person an iPad and another person a book, even if the book is chosen for them with great care.

Ideally, you’d want to know people enough to know if they’d appreciate kitsch, figurines, etc. before buying them because so many people don’t. That said, most people also don’t expect a gift from a manager or colleague to be perfectly tailored for them; it’s understood that you don’t know them as well as their BFF or significant other does. You should put some thought into to it so you’re not buying hams for vegetarians or giving “An Intro to Knitting” to someone who’s never expressed any interest in knitting or other crafts, but it’s okay if you don’t precisely nail it as long as you genuinely try. (I put together a gift guide with some ideas, by the way.)

update: do I need to work with the woman my father had an affair with?

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose office was considering hiring the woman her father had recently cheated on her mom with (while the woman was the letter-writer’s roommate, no less)? Here’s the update.

Your advice, and the advice of your commentators, were spot-on! I spoke to my boss a few hours after the thread went up. I went with the 2nd script you suggested. My boss was really glad I came to her. She had already scheduled an interview with Cersei before I came to her, but she let me know that they weren’t planning to hire her.

And she didn’t! I know there are a lot of sad updates about bosses not holding to things they promise, but this isn’t one of them. I work well with the GA they ended up hiring, and continue to enjoy my job.

Unfortunately, Cersei was hired by another department my job has some overlap with, so I have to see her more than I’d like. To be fair, I’d never like to see her, but every week or so is definitely too much. I’m professional when I have to interact with her, even though I wish I could ignore her. It would definitely be too apparent to coworkers if I were cold to her. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference- and I’m working on becoming indifferent to her. Luckily, she should be finishing her program this spring.

I was pretty active in the comments of the post, and I really can’t express just how grateful I am for the advice and kindness of so many people. I was really struggling with feelings of isolation- like I had to bear this secret by myself- and it was a profound relief to get to talk about it. The professional and life advice/input I received were absolutely incredible.

A few weeks after I wrote, I ended up sitting down to have a conversation with Cersei. In the immediate aftermath of discovering the affair, she told me that she’d be open to talking whenever I was ready. I felt ready (and my therapist supported me), so I reached out. It was a frustrating conversation, but one I’m glad I had. She didn’t have good answers to the questions I had, but there were also no good answers to the questions I had. I hope that makes sense?

There’s still a lot of grief and sadness I’m still dealing with, and I’m working on letting my life continue. My parents are still kind of together, and I intend to stick by my mom wherever she goes from here.

Thank you so much for helping me stick up for myself, and all your professional advice.

update: my boss’s angry husband calls multiple times a day for her

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who was being barraged by angry phone calls from her boss’s husband? Here’s the update.

I spoke to Jane and outlined my concerns in full based on what Alison recommended, and Jane was very quiet and heard me out.

She confirmed that she had been moved to this department to put some distance between her and Fergus because she had started divorce proceedings against him and he was refusing to accept reality. I found out that Fergus is also an employee of our company in a managerial role in a different premises, so there was nowhere for Jane to really escape within the company because Fergus would be able to track her down.

She was extremely distressed that Fergus’ behaviour was upsetting me (and other affected colleagues) and said that she was personally sorry for bringing this down on all of us. To which I had to tell her that this is not her fault and Fergus is choosing to be this way, and I think she is incredibly strong to be continuing to divorce this guy and try to move on from his controlling, abusive behavior. 

After our heart to heart, Jane herself went to our higher ups and said that she would need protection from the stalking behaviour of her soon-to-be-ex and simply moving departments was not enough. Their solution was to bring Fergus in for a disciplinary meeting broadly about his misuse of company time and company phone to harass multiple colleagues (they kept it as professional as possible to try to limit the personal impact on Jane by Fergus for reporting him,) Fergus lasted about an hour after the meeting ended before calling my customer service line and pouring a stream of unrepeatable hatred down the phone at me. Cue Fergus getting fired for abusive behaviour towards a colleague. As much as it was awful to hear him be so hateful, knowing he’s gone and won’t be allowed back is a relief.

Jane was able to get a restraining order against Fergus on behalf of herself and their children. He can only see them with supervision and he is forbidden from contacting her whatsoever.

So Fergus has no job, cannot live in their shared home, he doesn’t seek visitation because he can’t bully Jane without her there to witness it, and he will be divorced soon too. Jane is cautiously optimistic about the future and we are thrilled to have her back at work and on great form. We are worried that he may retaliate in some way after his life has exploded like this, but you can’t live your life in fear and we’re hoping to move on. Jane and I have a great working relationship and I can’t thank you all enough for encouraging me to speak to Jane again and get to the root of the problem before Fergus caused even more grief.

Happy holidays, all!