severance pay: who gets it and how it works

Over at New York Magazine today, I’ve written about severance pay — the payment(s) you might get if you’re fired or laid off. I talk about what it is, who gets it, why companies offer it, how to negotiate for more, and everything you else you need to know.

You can read it here.

I saw my employee’s X-rated chat

A reader writes:

Today, during a screensharing session with my new direct report, Barb, I saw something inappropriate on her screen and did not speak up. I was so dumbfounded that I quickly wrapped up the training session and ended our call. I’m almost sure I saw her chat session with another colleague in her office with explicit reference to body parts that would be covered by a swimsuit, wet t-shirts, etc. Should I say anything to Barb? Or should I try to forget I ever saw anything? (Both the screenshare software and chat software are part of the same company provided system; it’s typically used for training and collaboration)

I work remotely and Barb works at one of our offices in the U.S. I’ve been recently promoted to a manager position with one direct report besides Barb. Barb is newly reporting to me for one month now, but prior to that we worked together on a special project for one year, as the role responsible for that function was vacant at the time. Since I was in a senior position to Barb, I assumed a leadership role in that collaborative arrangement, but this was not formal management – we worked together as colleagues. When the vacant position was filled, Barb began reporting to her new manager, and later, the new manager put Barb on a PIP. Essentially, Barb’s manager felt that Barb wasn’t a fit for her role and was trying to manage her out; there was a skill mismatch, but Barb also needed to improve her attention to detail.

Meanwhile, our department head granted us the opportunity of adding a new teammate to my team. At this time, I learned from my manager that Barb was close to losing her job. After much thought and discussions with my manager, and Barb’s former manager, I proposed bringing Barb over to my team. I thought Barb could be a good fit for my team. During the interviews, my manager and I were up front with Barb that she would need to improve her attention to detail to be successful in the role. Barb indicated commitment to improving that area and seemed genuinely excited about the opportunity. Per some of your other advice columns, I’ve had both specific conversations at the time errors presented, and a general conversation about the pattern of errors, backed up by retraining. For what it’s worth, the errors seem very simple, but impactful or embarrassing if not corrected. Because of these frequent errors, I’ve had to hold back on fully transitioning some of the more accountable portions of the job where errors can have a more damaging effect.

To summarize, my concerns are about:

• Inappropriate and unprofessional behavior. Unfortunately, I don’t have a reference point for the dynamic Barb has in-person with others in her office.
• Barb started off our meeting by mentioning that she had a very busy day and was trying to juggle responsibilities. Her workload has not yet risen to “very busy,” in fact I’m still holding back on fully transitioning work. These types of conversations would be a distraction from work responsibilities, which are currently not completed to a satisfactory level.
• Since my view of the chat window happened very quickly, and I have no “proof,” I’m not sure I can or should say anything, especially when the content was something I’d rather not repeat.

Would love your advice as this situation has made me uncomfortable.

Given the whole picture here — low performance plus sending sexual messages at work and on work systems — I’d be thinking seriously about whether you want to keep Barb in the job or not. (I’m assuming for the purpose of this post that you could see Barb was a willing participant in the conversation.)

This is someone who was previously going to be fired because of attention to detail, was warned she’d need to increase her attention to detail when you hired her, is still showing those same issues and not working at the level you need, and hasn’t been able to take on the full work of the role — and in the middle of that is sending dirty messages at work using work equipment.

I’d seriously consider cutting your losses and moving her out of the role. But if you’re not ready to do that or your company doesn’t allow you to do that without going through a formal process first, then there are two things you should do.

First, take this as background info confirming that there are serious issues with Barb’s work and judgment and that you need to get much more hands-on in managing her. That would mean resolving to figure out quickly if she’s going to be able to do the job or not, and whether she can bring the level of professionalism and attention to detail you need. That’s something you’d want to do anyway, regardless of this incident, so this would just be the impetus to really lean into it and come to a conclusion quickly. This could be a situation where you give her really clear feedback about what needs to change and give her a few weeks to demonstrate the changes you need. (Obviously you need to follow whatever procedures your company has for letting under-performers go, but the idea here is that you’d get aggressive about following that path.)

Second, while you’re doing that, it sounds like you need to dig deeper into how Barb is using your company chat program. If your company is like most, it has policies that allow it to examine chat and email logs when managers have reason to suspect wrongdoing, and your IT people can check to see if this was a one-time thing or part of a pattern. Depending on how your company handles this kind of thing you might need to loop in HR too — and definitely do that if there’s any chance that the recipient of Barb’s messages didn’t welcome them. I’m assuming this was an, er, mutual exchange. If you don’t know that for sure, that’s an additional issue.

Once you look into it, I wouldn’t be surprised if you find out that this is the tip of the iceberg — and if that’s true, that warrants cutting your losses immediately.

All of this goes to Barb’s judgment, her professionalism, and how she spends her time at work. Take it seriously and act swiftly.

(In some ways, it’s more interesting to ponder how to handle this situation if Barb were a fantastic employee. In that case, I could see just talking her — “A message popped up when we were screen sharing that was really inappropriate for work. I want to trust your judgment and hope that was a one-time error in judgment. Can you assure me that’s the case and it won’t happen again?” But that’s not your context.)

my employee asked me to be a job reference, interpersonal issues and HR, and more

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

1. My current employee asked me to be a last-minute reference

My staff member, who I hired a year ago, told me today that a former supervisor had reached out to them to interview for a new lateral role they had that my employee would be perfect for. My employee told me they loved their current job but it was a good opportunity worth looking at. They were now a finalist, contingent on a current supervisor reference. They wanted the reference call conducted today if possible. In addition, the woman who would conduct the reference check was one of my employee’s references who I spoke to a year ago when I hired them.

I was taken aback by the whole process. On the phone, the woman apologized for poaching my employee. She asked common questions about her strengths and weaknesses. I held it together and gave a fair reference. It honestly was not my best because I was not invested in losing a great employee. I even asked the woman for a timeline and she said she was hoping they could start in two weeks. I found myself even asking her for more time (in my industry four weeks is pretty common).

I feel bad about how I handled this. I don’t think I ruined anything for my employee, but it was awkward and I was not singing their praises the way I normally would for a reference. Should I have done anything differently?

Yes! It’s understandable to be surprised when you hear an employee might be on the verge of leaving, but it’s your job as a manager to handle it professionally, including giving them a good reference if they’re a good employee. You can’t give a more lukewarm reference than they deserve just because you’re still processing the news or because you don’t want to lose them! That’s tremendously unfair to your employee — and if they realize it happened, it’s likely to (a) further drive them to leave if they don’t get this job and (b) make them less invested in going above and beyond for you while they’re still there. Plus, if they talk to their coworkers about it, other staff members will consider you a liability in their job search — and will be likely to give you the absolute minimum notice they can.

You also shouldn’t have asked the reference checker to push back the start date. That was a big overstep — that’s between her and your employee, and it’s not something you have standing to negotiate. Your employee could have reasons for wanting to start earlier, or it even might have counted against them. That’s just not something you have any standing to talk to their prospective employer about.

The reality is, employees leave jobs! They leave when it may not be convenient for us, and it can feel like a gut punch to hear someone is about to leave when we’d been planning work around them. But it’s part of the deal of being a manager, and you’ve got to find a way to take it in stride.

2. Interpersonal issues and HR

My current company is small, about 100 people, so we use an off-site HR company. My previous thoughts were that HR helped with payroll, insurance, etc. but also helped with problems or conflicts among coworkers.

Recently, the leadership in my company sent out an email that says if you have a problem with someone, don’t go to HR but instead go straight to the person and confront them within three days. Otherwise you should let it go because it’s not that important. Normally, I agree with this. I understand that projects can be stressful and lead to some passive aggressiveness (we are midwest-based), but there have been moments at work where I’ve considered going to HR for interpersonal reasons.

For example, I have a 40-something-year- old male coworker who during the time I’ve been here has done weird things like crash into my chair with the mail cart while saying, “Oh no, watch out I’ve lost control,” ask for my personal email to send me fun things to do during the weekend, and run out to the parking lot when I’m leaving to say goodbye. While I’m still not sure that these things are in the realm of HR, the last incident of what feels like middle school flirting of hitting my chair as he walks by has really made me uncomfortable. I am now even more worried with the leadership email that should anything more serious happen, I am to confront him in person. But what do I say? “Hi, can you please stop interacting with me, all your interactions are unwelcome and unnecessary”? Or because I can’t work up the courage to do this, is this something I should let go within three days?

It sounds like your company is trying to stop people from going to HR with interpersonal conflicts that they should be resolving themselves. Some people try to use HR for things like “my coworker makes annoying noises” or “my coworker keeps checking up on my work” when they really need to talk to the person directly. But while your company is right to want to put a stop to that since HR isn’t your kindergarten teacher, they’re handling it badly. It’s just not true that you should address all problems with someone directly within three days or conclude that it’s not worth addressing it all. Some problems require more thought, or are things you should take to your manager (like, say, someone being rude to clients or interfering with your ability to meet deadlines) or HR (like, say, sexual harassment — it’s a huge liability for them not to have a clear reporting process for that). And they haven’t addressed what should happen if you do talk to your coworker and the problem continues.

Weirdly, in their apparent desire to stop people from treating HR as a kindergarten referee, they’re giving you rigid rules that seem pretty kindergarten-ish. They should have just laid out what is and isn’t appropriate for HR and trusted you to be adults who could understand that.

As for your coworker … I do think your first step there is to tell him directly to stop, if you haven’t already. If it doesn’t stop after that and it feels creepy rather than just annoying, you could escalate it at that point — but start with a direct “please stop doing this.” (Especially as whoever you escalate it to is likely going to ask if you’ve done that yet.)

3. I saw an internal document with HR salary bands and should be earning more

I recently was asked to sit on an internal review committee at my company. As part of it, we were given dozens and dozens of internal documents. In one of the folders was a document that is usually only given to senior-level hiring managers for salary negotiations and promotions. It listed clear bands for each job. I found I was hired within the bottom 5% of my band’s salary and in four years have progressed only to the bottom 15% of the band. However, there is a note that employees ranked exceptional in reviews for five to seven years should be at the 50% part of their salary band and by 10-15 years be at or near the maximum. I am still over $30k in salary away from the 50% and have received exceptional reviews for four years now.

My supervisor (who did not hire me) is most likely not privy to this document (or even my salary) as salary negotiations are now handled by a senior level HR partner. What should I do about discussing this and how can I advocate to be further along in the band? I should add that my field/ title is a bit varied in what market rate looks like — but I am in a high cost city and have always felt my salary was on the lower side of competitive.

You were shown this document in the course of your work and you don’t need to hide that you saw it. Normally I’d say to start with your manager, explain what you saw, and say, “I’m concerned that after four years of exceptional reviews, I’m at the bottom 15% of the band. What can we do to bring me up to an equitable level within the salary structure for my band?” And actually, even though HR handles your salary negotiations, I’d still start with your manager — it just seems too odd not to have her in the loop, even though you might ultimately need to move to the conversation over to HR.

Note: There’s potentially an argument for waiting until you get that fifth exceptional review, so that you’re clearly and solidly within the group of people who should be at 50% of the band. If you raise it before then, there’s some danger that a crappy manager could intentionally give you a non-exceptional review in order to avoid that (or a decent manager could be directed to do that from above). So especially if you’re within a few months of your next review, it might be worth waiting so your case is as clear-cut as possible. But if you trust your manager and your employer not to operate that way, raise it now.

4. When should I bring up my need for accommodations if I get a promotion?

I have a great job where I mostly work remotely and go into the office once per week. I am currently in early discussions about a potential promotion, which would have me working in our office three days per week and working from home two days per week.

I also have an autoimmune disorder that is somewhat well managed but I do have flare-ups. Working from home has been a godsend!

How do I discuss my autoimmune disorder with my company in regard to my possible promotion? They are aware I have the autoimmune disorder, but I haven’t really needed any accommodations because I work from home mostly.

I’m thinking that I would need accommodation regarding workspace (ergonomic chair, keyboard, adjustment of cubicle) and the ability to flex my work from home days. I just don’t know how to navigate this when discussing promotion possibilities. Do I wait until they offer me the job? Or prior? If we can’t come to terms, I don’t feel I can accept the job.

Wait until you have the job offer and bring it up then. The accommodations you’ll need sound easily managed; they’re not things like “I won’t be able to do Major Responsibility X,” which might make sense to bring up earlier in the process.

In general with accommodations, it’s good for everyone if you wait until you have the offer, because the law says they can’t use that info in their hiring decision (assuming you can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations). It’s in their best interest if you don’t raise it until the offer stage, so that it doesn’t illegally bias them, even if only unconsciously, and so that you’re not wondering if it biased them.

interviewer said if you get a raise, the workload will go up for the entire team

A reader writes:

Last week, I had my third interview for a position I’m very interested in and believe would be a great fit for my skill set. I thought the interview went well overall, but one comment the interviewer made about the team structure rubbed me the wrong way.

He essentially said that each team runs like “independent small businesses,” in which the team lead would act as the “business owner.” Each team has a revenue goal that needs to be met each month/quarter, and it’s each team member’s responsibility to pull their weight to get there. (Note: this is not a sales position.)

He explained that this structure gives teams more independence with how they choose to utilize resources — like if there’s software that would benefit the team, there’s less red tape to get it. However, with each expense, the team’s revenue goal goes up.

The way he described it, each team needs to have a certain profit at the end of the quarter. If they added expenses, they’d still need to produce that same profit, so their revenue goal would go up since their expenses increased.

An example he gave was that if the team needed premium Shutterstock accounts, they could choose to get it without needing to get the budget approved, but the team’s revenue goal would need go up since they choose to spend more money, and they’d still need to meet the same profit goals for the quarter. He then made the same comparison for team salary, so I assume it’s truly all expenses. This is a service-based industry, so essentially taking on more clients from sales or upselling current clients.

While I can see there are benefits to this, he also mentioned that hiring/salary decisions are tied to this as well — so if you hire a new team member, the revenue goal goes up based on their salary. However, he also mentioned that if a team member gets a raise, the revenue goal would go up for the entire team as well.

I may be wrong about this, but the idea of that made me uneasy at the problems this can stir up. For one, I feel like it could result in managers not fighting for or putting up employees for raises, as the managers are evaluated on their teams ability to meet revenue goals. Additionally, I also see the possibility of the person getting a deserved raise not having the capacity to take on more work (as raises usually come after demonstrated proof of taking on higher workloads), so that excess will fall on the team members not getting a raise.

In addition to Glassdoor reviews stating that while it’s a great company with great people, there is favoritism when it comes to compensation, this only adds to my gut feeling that this is a major red flag. I enjoy what I do, but at the end of the day, I work to make money, and I expect to be fairly compensated for my contributions as I move up in my career. This structure makes me feel like this may be difficult.

In your experience, is this a common practice? Do you see this as a red flag, or am I just misreading the situation? To me, it seems like its incentivizing increasing output while also keeping all costs (including labor) down. I’m considering withdrawing my candidacy due to these concerns, but I’d love your input on it before I jump to conclusions.

Wow, no. It’s clear what the benefits are to him as the employer, but it’s a terrible deal for the rest of you.

He makes the same profit regardless of business expenses, while your team shoulders the entire burden for raising the money for those business expenses.

And the advantage to you is … what? That you don’t need to deal with the red tape of having expenses approved? That’s an incredibly minor benefit. Any decently run company has a system set up to approve expenses that doesn’t involve major hardship. But even if you had to deal with an onerous maze of paperwork for expense approvals, this still would be an awful deal for you.

This guy is basically saying, “You can’t get a raise without increasing your workload and stress level or your coworkers’ workload and stress level, but in exchange I’m going to make it really easy for you to purchase pens!”

Worse, he’s also saying, “There’s no budget to purchase the basic equipment you need to do your job without increasing your your workload and stress level. If you want those pens, you’ll need to work more hours.”

Well-run businesses set budgets along with revenue goals. Well-run businesses don’t put the cost of routine expenses on their employees. And well-run businesses definitely don’t put the cost of routine business expenses on their employees and then tell them it’s a benefit. This is some real gall!


why the littlest things at work can be so maddening

Judging by the mail I get at here, a lot of us feel quite strongly about relatively minor things at work.

Some pet peeves make perfect sense, like being annoyed with people who leave food splattered inside the microwave or thinking dark thoughts about that guy who takes all his calls on speaker phone.

But sometimes the things that most get under our skin look awfully insignificant from the outside — like someone leaving papers on your chair or the way your coworkers do or don’t greet you in the morning. At Slate today, I wrote about why little things at work can feel so maddening.

my coworker keeps giving me “help” that I don’t want or need

A reader writes:

I am a teacher. This is going to be my 20th year.

Last year, I was transferred to a different school in our district due to budget cuts and things being shifted around. I now share a classroom with another teacher. She has been in this school/in this room for four years, and this is her first teaching job.

I think she’s great at her job. The students like her, the parents like her, the administration likes her.

However, I don’t especially like her all the time. She has a habit of “helping” me when I don’t want or need it. For example, in the beginning of the school year she tried to teach me how to document interaction with parents. Again, this is year 20 for me. Another time, we had a shared document we were working on, and we each had our own parts to do. I walked into the room one morning and was greeted with, “Hey, you forgot to do XYZ on your part of the document.” I said, “I’m not finished with it. It’s not due until next week.” She said, “Well, I just was looking at it and I saw that you forgot.” I repeated, “I’m not finished with it. It’s due next week.” She said, “Well, when I looked at it–” so I said, “Are you auditing my work or something?” She got a sheepish look on her face and said no.

The last straw for me was in May when we were both in a conference with other members of the team (school social worker, guidance, and a parent on speakerphone). When it was my turn to speak, she whispered at me across the table what she thought I should say next. It was a Friday and I couldn’t stop stewing about it so I texted her over the weekend and told her that it was very uncomfortable for me when she did that, and that I’m not new to the field and I don’t need to be prompted. She responded, “Sorry you feel that way. I was just trying to help.”

I admit that I could have made this worse by just ignoring it all year and not saying much about it, but now that we’re getting to the end of the summer I am dreading going back to work. I have been looking for a new job but there just isn’t much in my part of the state to apply for. The reality is that I may be stuck going back to this job 10 days from now and I’m dreading having to deal with her.

I need some kind of script for what to say when she starts “helping” me again. At first I thought she was trying to be nice, in an overbearing way, but now it just seems like she likes to be in charge and she enjoys giving me all this unsolicited advice. I finally mentioned it to another teacher who said, “She’s great, but I’ve had to tell her so many times to stay in her own lane.” So it’s not all in my head!

It’s certainly possible that she thinks she’s being helpful and you’ll appreciate the assistance and is just oblivious to social cues. But whether or not she sees it like that, it sounds incredibly annoying. And this would be annoying from any colleague, even if one more experienced than you — but considering that she’s relatively new to the profession and you’re not, I’m sure it’s particularly aggravating.

But it also sounds like you’ve given her way too much room in your head. You’re dreading returning to work and even job searching over this, but you haven’t really tried to fix it yet.

Try talking to her directly. When you get back to work, sit down with her and say something like this: “I wanted to talk about how to best work together this year. Last year there were times when you stepped in on work I was handling — like telling me how to document parent interaction when I’ve been doing that for a long time, or nudging me about the X document while I was still in the middle of it with plenty of time to finish. I think you’re great at your job and I’m happy to be working together, but if I ever want help or advice on something, I’ll let you know. If I don’t do that, I’d appreciate it if you’d assume I have it covered.” You could add, “Of course, if you ever have a real concern about something or if I’m doing something that impacts your work, please come talk to me. But if you’re just trying to help, I think we’ll work together better if we let each other manage our own realms.”

Alternately, you could wait and see what happens this year before you say anything. It’s possible that she learned from the incident in May and, who knows, maybe she’ll operate differently this year. You could wait and see how it goes, and then use the script above if you see that you still need to.

Or, a third option — you can just address things on a case-by-case basis as they come up and over time she might realize she’s overstepping and rein herself in.

That would mean that when she oversteps, you say things like “I’ve got this handled” or “I’m on this but I’ll let you know if I need any help with it” and so forth. (The way you handled her “reminder” about your shared document is a good example of this — it sounds like you were direct and assertive.)

When she tries to teach you something you already know, try responding with genuine curiosity about what she’s doing. For example: “I might be misunderstanding. I’ve been writing these reports for a couple of decades. Is there something I’m missing about what you’re trying to convey?” In fact, ask that in good faith! Because who knows, maybe you’re thinking she’s offering remedial training in something you’ve got tons of experience in, and she’s trying to say that the district changed their policy on X last year and you overlooked that.

Of course, when someone’s flooding you with unsolicited advice, it can be tough to keep an open mind — but there’s value in not blocking it all out, because she might have something useful at some point. (Plus, you want to seem collegial and open to input — to a point.) And if it turns out that she’s not offering anything you don’t already know, then this framing will highlight that.

But address it — either each time it happens or in a big-picture conversation. Doing that will help you take back to the control that she’s trying to claim for herself, and I think you’ll feel less trapped and aggravated once you do.

Also! If you’re worried that doing this will cause tension in the relationship — especially given that the administration likes her — you can counteract that by making a point of being warm and friendly the rest of the time. (In fact, you might even take a mentoring approach toward her if you can bear it. It’s not necessary, but it might reframe the way this all feels to you.) Being warm will put you on solid ground with anyone who observes your interactions, and it’ll likely ease any tension that otherwise could result from you pushing her back when she’s encroaching. And while being warm might be the last thing you feel like right now, it’s a lot easier to do it when you know internally that you’ve got everything you need to address, and ultimately thwart, her overstepping.

is a really short interview a bad sign, cooking a roast at work, and more

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

1. Is a really short interview a bad sign?

I’ve had short interviews before, and felt great about them, and have gotten offers from them. But I just had an interview for a job I REALLY want, and it was only five minutes long. I waited 30 minutes for it to even start! I don’t know how to feel about it. Are short interviews bad? Or did they just not have that many questions to ask?

Yeah, that’s not a good sign about your chances, because there’s no way to assess someone’s candidacy in five minutes. And even if it was because they, say, already found the person they wanted to hire, it’s still awfully rude to waste your time that way.

It’s also not a good sign for you about them. If they somehow offer you the job after only a five-minute interview, that tells you they hire terribly, don’t take it seriously at all, and are likely pretty badly managed. It’s also impossible for you to get any info about the job, the manager, and the culture in that amount of time, let alone ask the questions you’d need to ask to determine if it’s the right job for you.

The exception to this is if it was a quick screening interview over the phone with just a few questions (although even then, five minutes is quite short!).

2. Cooking a roast at work

Last year, our common lunch area and kitchen (for about 120 people) was refurbished, with an oven put in. Nobody has really used the oven until this week when a group of staff from different teams, who are friends, decided to use it to cook a roast for lunch. (Walking into work at 7:30 am to find a staff member oiling up a raw piece of meat was NOT an expected start to the day.)

Well, the oven’s first ever workout was a bit gross. For the whole cooking time of a few hours, the common space smelled of raw meat and some other weird odor. Apparently a few people commented on the smell — nothing overly malicious, things like “eww” and “ooh, that doesn’t smell good!” Some people seemed not to notice, but a number of us found it a really awful smell, to the point that we had to avoid the space. The two or three chefs got defensive (“it smells nice to me!”), complained to our HR department about the way they were treated, and have been cold shouldering a few staff all week as a result.

What do you say? Given that this group probably couldn’t have foreseen the roast/oven smelling weird, is this an appropriate use of the common kitchen? Is this just fun for a group of work friends to do, or am I justified in thinking that cooking a roast at work for eight people is a little obnoxiously cliquey? For what it’s worth, a number of the group involved in the roast are middle managers.

I don’t think it’s a big deal that they decided to cook something together — there’s an oven and there are people who need lunch, so why not make something in it? But it’s true that making something that needs to cook for hours and will fill up the space with a noticeable smell (even a good one) isn’t a great move if they’re not offering it to others too. Not outrageous, but not ideal.

The weirder part is that they took such offense to people’s comments about the smell, to the point of complaining to HR. That’s a bizarre response, and I wonder if there’s some other context that would make that make more sense.

3. My coworker is charging personal expenses to our Amazon account

I am at a three-person company. We do very well financially. My boss is generous with salary, benefits, paid time off, snacks, and more. He gives his two employees a five-figure bonus at the end of every year. We have streaming accounts for company-use only (Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix).

The other day, our independent business manager (outside the company) asked me to double-check the company credit card statement because there were more gift orders than usual. I noticed an additional charge for Amazon that caught my eye. I logged on to the company account and saw my coworker added her two kids’ tablets and a $7 per month subscription. I looked back, and she did this for two years. I could not believe she thinks it is okay to have our boss pay for her kids’ games, etc. She had tablet accounts for each child!

I canceled the subscription and changed the password plus added a PIN. I am not sure if I should report her behavior to our boss and our business manager. I am upset because I am the primary user of the corporate card. What if my boss or our business manager discovered this unauthorized activity instead of me?

You absolutely have to tell your boss and the business manager. You uncovered fraud, and if you say nothing, you’d be complicit in it.

The only possible reason not to tell them would be that they wouldn’t care (like if your boss had given her permission) — and if that’s the case, you’ll do no harm by telling them. But it’s very likely that they will care, and you have a professional obligation to report it. (And you likely need to go through all the past bills now to check for more problems. Someone should really be doing a full reconciliation every month.)

4. People are upset that my candy dish is gone

For a couple years, I kept a candy dish on my desk filled with chocolate candies. It was something I enjoyed providing. Sometimes I got frustrated with the greedy ones and the fact that only one person ever contributed candy/money, but it was still something I enjoyed doing.

About a month ago, I saw a financial advisor who told me I needed to cut expenses drastically. I realized I was spending almost $1,000 on candy or year! Yes, that $20-$25 a week really adds up when you multiply it out. So I decided to stop providing candy.

The first week was easy, because I was out of the office. I figured that would give people time to get used to it. We are now into the second week since I have been back, and people are still going by and making comments! “No candy?” “When is the chocolate coming back?” Some want me to explain why it’s gone. One person suggested I could keep buying it but then ask the company to reimburse me! All the people making comments and demanding explanations are the higher-ups in the office. These people probably make four and five times what I make. And to top it all off, there is a drug store with candy for sale right in the building!

I have tried just saying “I’m passing the torch!” Or, as Miss Manners advises in such occasions, giving a tight lipped, weak smile. Still the comments and questions persist! Why do people think they are so entitled to spend my money? And how do I get the comments to stop?

People are thoughtless. Some of them probably don’t realize you were paying for the candy with your own money (versus the company providing it) and some just haven’t stopped to think about how the cost would add up. That’s not entirely surprising — I would have guessed you were spending maybe $5/week on it and never would have guessed it was $20-25. People know they’re taking it but don’t account for how many others take it too, which makes it easier to think it’s a much smaller expense. Which isn’t to say they’d be entitled to it then either, of course! It could be pennies and you’d still be on solid ground in deciding you didn’t want to provide it anymore.

But people complain when they’re used to something delicious being available and then it goes away. That doesn’t mean they’re truly demanding you bring it back — it’s just people being people and not realizing how pushy they sound. Just say, “I was spending too much on it” or “I didn’t want to keep buying it” or “my candy days have come to an end” and don’t let it get to you. If anyone pushes beyond that, you can say, “They sell it downstairs if you want to take over.”

5. Should I send anything to an employee who’s out sick for several weeks

My employee, who is a top contributor at his job, took all his leave to visit family. On the flight home, he contracted a major illness and had to go on leave for several weeks to recover. When he contacted me to tell me what was going on, I told him to take the time he needed to recover and that I was forwarding his info to HR to go down the short-term disability route. I refrained from contacting him after that, because I didn’t want to pressure him into returning before he felt ready.

Am I a jerk for not being more compassionate? Should I have sent a get-well soon card or anything? What is the best practices for a manager in this situation? I really value him as a team member and want him to feel part of the team. If it matters, he is a very private person who shares very little about his home life with his work colleagues.

It’s always nice to send a card, flowers, or something similar in that situation. You’re not a jerk for not doing it, but doing it is thoughtful, says you care about him, and is usually appreciated.

weekend free-for-all – August 17-18, 2019

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: The Most Fun We Ever Had, by Claire Lombardo. A wonderfully long family saga in which four daughters struggle in the shadow of what they think is their parents’ effortlessly happy marriage.

open thread – August 16-17, 2019

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.

coworker tells me to order more food “for the men,” my email will display a name I don’t go by, and more

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

1. My coworker tells me to order more food “for the men”

In the past few months, my coworker “Jane” and I have been in charge of work events, and part of that job is to order the catering. Jane (who’s at my same level) helps by giving me the number of RSVPs, but when she does she always includes the gender ratio and when there’s more men than women she always says things like, “You better order a lot of food for the hungry men attending” and other similar comments on men needing more food.

I’ve always thought that we should order for the number of attendees, not expected appetites, and I don’t think that men are going to be so ravenous that it’s required we spend extra to make sure they get their fill. Besides, there is usually a fair amount of leftovers from the events, so I’m not sure why Jane continues to say more food should be ordered just for the men.

What can I say to Jane so she will stop making these comments? Or am I the odd one out and it’s normal to consider attendees gender and appetites when ordering meals?

You are not the odd one out. Jane is a grandmother from 1874 who has time traveled.

I mean, yes, it’s true that on average men often have higher caloric needs than women (just based on size), but typical office catering is usually sufficient for that and doesn’t require that you order the men extra portions.

One option is to just ignore her and continue ordering the way you have been. But if you want to say something to hopefully get her to stop, you could say, “I don’t think we should be ordering based on gender. We have plenty of leftovers each time as it is.” Or you could just go with, “I think the women will be hungry too.”

2. IT insists my email needs to display a name I don’t go by

I work at a good-sized university. I do not use my first name. I have never used it socially or professionally. I HATE it. When people learn of it, they ask if I’m Italian and/or Catholic. I cannot convey the anger and hatred I have for this name. My parents only ever used it when they yelled at me.

The IT Department has decided that in the email system all faculty, students, and staff should go by their first names. I have tried to no avail to explain to them that I do not use that name. They seem mystified and have argued that no one has ever not used their legal first name. That no one has ever objected to using it. EVER.

I should say that I have worked here for decades, and in previous email system upgrades, I have been able to get the display name changed to middle and last name only.

I will now have to correct multiple people in multiple emails each and every day. I will have to explain that I don’t use that name. And NO, I am not Italian. And NO, I am not Catholic. Nothing wrong with being either of those things, but I am not and cannot pretend that I am. Am I being unreasonable in asking for this change?

No, you aren’t being unreasonable; they are. You should get to use the name you actually go by.

Your IT department shouldn’t be the final word on something this fundamental, so if they haven’t been responsive to reason, go over their heads. Talk to HR or talk to whoever IT reports to, or have your boss do that if she’ll have more pull. Explain that you cannot have an email address that isn’t the name people know you by and that it will cause tremendous confusion with your contacts and impede your ability to do your work. (And you might also point out that this new policy is incredibly unfriendly to trans people who haven’t legally changed their names. In California, it would violate the law.)

3. Employee keeps pushing for a promotion we’ve already said we can’t give him

I have a direct report who is regularly (every three to six months over the past 18 months) asking to be promoted to a position he has created for himself. While there is merit in his idea, the company simply does not want to move forward with this position at this time as there is not enough work to justify it. He wasn’t interested in accepting a compromise (a position that is opening soon that could be blended with some of what he is proposing), and even then, my supervisor cannot guarantee the C-Suite would go for the idea.

A different department recently created a position for one of their staff members, and now he is questioning me on why the same cannot be done for him. I understand the frustration, but as it is not my department I cannot provide an explanation. Quite frankly, I don’t think I should have to. Sometimes it is what it is. If that area has different needs that took priority, there is not much I can do about that.

How can I advise him to stop asking, as this has all been explained multiple times and now he is just coming off as being pushy? We’ve told him that when advancement opportunities open up in our area, he would be a primary candidate, but that also did not appease him. His initiative is appreciated, but business decisions cannot be made just because someone wants something — and this has been explained to him.

You could say, “I realize you’re interested in moving into the role you proposed. For the foreseeable future, that’s not something that can happen. I realize that might mean that you look outside the company for other opportunities, which I would understand. But I hope that we can keep you and we’ll definitely consider you for future openings. Meanwhile, though, we can’t keep having the same conversation over and over.” If you’re open to him raising this again in, say, a year, you could add, “If you’d like, you’re welcome to raise this again in a year, but I want to be very transparent that nothing will change before then.”

Then, if he raises it in another three months, you can say, “I know we’ve talked about this before and I explained (everything you explained). You keep raising it as if we haven’t had those conversations or as if the answer wasn’t as concrete as it was. Is something else going on?” Or you could just say, “Nothing has changed since the last time we talked. I of course understand if you end up needing to look outside the company because of that.”

4. Long interview process — and no job open

There’s a job that I REALLY desire, so I applied. For whatever reason, I have had the hardest time getting job offers lately, where I used never have an issue with this.

The company is new-ish so the founders are very hands-on, as that is their baby. I interviewed for a period of two months, no lie. I had to speak with multiple people and do a skills assignment that took hours. I get to the millionth stage of interviewing and am told there is actually no position open at the time, but there should be in the next couple of months. Although I was floored (no one else could have told me that weeks ago?), I said I understood and would be waiting on the position and hope to move forward at that time.

I had an additional interview after that, and then got a call letting me know the job was 100% not available yet, but they really really liked me. The recruiter even asked if they could just offer me the job now instead of waiting, but they could not since nothing was open. I was told to keep in touch until it’s open and let them know if I had any other questions. What do I say in the meantime? I don’t want to send an email every two weeks saying, “Hi, just wanted to check in and see if you had any updates about the role. I am still on board and look forward to hearing from you!

So what do I say? Obviously I don’t want to wait, I’d love the job now, but it works so well for me and my family I am willing to wait on them.

There’s not that much to say in the interim! You can check in again in 4-6 weeks, and then again a few months after that … but I’d be more inclined to just leave it in their court and tell them to get in touch with you if the role does open up.

However. I’d also be fairly wary of this company. A long interview process isn’t terribly unusual these days, but a long interview where they don’t tell you until the end that there’s no actual job opening is. They sound disorganized and a bit inconsiderate. Combine that with them also being a start-up, and you have the beginnings of many work horror stories. If you do seriously consider a job with them at some point, do a lot of due diligence about their culture and how well managed they are.

5. Should I mention I was a finalist for a similar job at another company?

I’m in the midst of a multi-year career transition and job hunt. This spring, I came the closest yet to getting an offer when I was one of two finalists for a position that was basically my dream job. I was not offered the position by Company A, but was strongly encouraged to apply again when they expanded the department.

Fast forward about three months, and a very similar position, though one where I’m an even stronger candidate, has come up at another company (Company B) in the same field. The field is close-knit enough that people from Company A and Company B very likely know one another. Would be be a good or bad move to mention, in an appropriate spot on my application for the position at Company B, that I was a finalist for a similar position at Company A? There’s an optional “tell us something that’s not on your resume” spot where it seems like it wouldn’t be too strange.

Nope, don’t mention it. It’s not a qualification in any way, and it’ll come across strangely if you try to use it as one. It also sort of implies that you think Company B should put more weight on Company A’s interest in you than they do on their own screening methods.