open thread – June 14, 2024

It’s the Friday open thread!

The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on any work-related questions that you want to talk about (that includes school). If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to take your questions to other readers.

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

thongs at work, the best interviewing order, and more

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

1. Thongs at work

The other day, while I was at a healthcare facility where they do both clinical visits and operations, I saw a female employee walking by me, wearing her perfectly-acceptable scrubs, who was clearly an operating room doctor or nurse. For whatever reason (lack of sleep, my own HR awareness, curiosity) I noticed her buttcheeks were very … wiggly. She was slim, so it wasn’t super noticeable, but it definitely looked as if she was wearing a thong or other kind of cheeky underwear. For personal context, I’m a cis het woman, I’m an HR manager (not in a healthcare setting anymore, though I have been before), I’m not slim by any stretch of the imagination, and I don’t personally wear any undies that can rise up my butt — though I used to, but never for work. I don’t really care what anybody wears under their clothes, as long as the clothes themselves are appropriate for the work the person does. Still, something didn’t sit right with me being able to see that woman’s butt wiggle in that specific setting.

She wasn’t my doctor or nurse, and I don’t know how I’d feel about it if she had been. So, my question to you is: the discomfort of having a piece of floss up one’s butt (while doing surgery!) notwithstanding, is what she was wearing ever okay?

I don’t know how we could conclude that what you saw was about her underwear rather than just … the way her body is? Regardless, though, as a general rule we’re all better off not thinking about what underwear anyone else is wearing or not wearing! Some butts are jigglier than others. Some boobs are jigglier than others. (And for that matter, not everyone finds thongs uncomfortable; some people find them more comfortable. Bodies are different.) As long as everything that should be covered is covered, we’re all fine.

2. Should I tell my trainers one of their examples was in poor taste?

I was just in a mandatory training for work about storytelling — more of crafting a story to get buy-in from stakeholders, etc. in business settings.

The very first example they led with to demonstrate strong and to the point storytelling was the famous “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn” example attributed to Hemingway. I lost a niece at eight months old in a very sudden and tragic way. To add to that, she died right around Christmas, meaning I had to donate/regift presents I had bought her for what would have been her first Christmas. This was four years ago and I’ve been to therapy and I have mostly been able to avoid any overly emotional reactions to about her at work. They started to ask people what they thought about the story around the room and I could already feel tears welling up, so I exited quickly and went to the bathroom but the waterworks had started and I could not stop them. I got them mostly under control, but when I came back in I kept welling up and I KNOW it looked like I had been crying. Some coworkers I’ve worked with long enough that they know what happened, but others don’t. Luckily it was a larger group of like 40 people, but I know the table I was sitting at could see what I looked like and to make matters worse I was sitting in the very front of the room.

Was using that example in poor taste or was I being too sensitive in that moment? I’m usually not that emotional, I truly could not stop the reaction once it started. They’ll give us a survey tomorrow when the training finishes, should I tell them to consider changing their example?

It’s a really common example of powerful storytelling using only a few words so I don’t think it’s outrageous that they used it in a work event … but their training will be stronger if they think about how things like that might affect participants, since they want people engaged with the training, not having to unexpectedly deal with intense personal feelings that they didn’t realize would be triggered today. They’ll never be able to stamp out all mention of things that might cause a strong personal reaction from someone, but I’d sure want to know how it landed with you if I’d been your trainer. So yes, go ahead and be honest on the survey. (And I’m sorry about your niece.)

3. What’s the right interviewing order to use?

When interviewing several candidates, what are your thoughts on whether the strongest candidate should be seen first, last, or in the middle? And if you were a candidate, which would you hope to be?

I don’t think it matters all that much! That said, if I were pressed to choose, when I’m hiring I’d rather have the strongest candidate at the end — because if you talk to them first, you’re measuring everyone else against them and that can lead you to overlook/dismiss other people’s strengths.

As a candidate, I don’t think there’s any point in caring. If you’re first, you can set the bar for everyone else. On the other hand, there can be power in being toward the end so you’re fresher in their minds. On yet another hand, sometimes if you’re at the end they’re already sold on someone they talked to before you and aren’t considering you as seriously. There are so many factors that can go into it, and they can change with every hiring manager and every interview process, that there’s no point in thinking about it too much.

4. Can I contact my partner’s employer to thank them for a perk?

Are there any reasons outside of emergencies where it is appropriate to contact a partner/spouse’s employer? Of course the standard answer here is no. But what if it’s to say thank you for a perk my partner received that I also benefited from?

My partner works for a company that often gets tickets to various sporting events as a perk. Think VIP passes for employees to woo clients and network, comped tickets to be enjoyed with friends and family or as a team-building activity, or tickets gifted as a bonus after a tough project or a job well done. My partner has been working on some really big projects and their director asked what he could get us tickets to to say thank you. We are fans of a notoriously expensive international sport which the director is also a fan of, so my partner asked if tickets to an event in a country we’ll be traveling to in a few months would be possible. The director was enthusiastic and not only got us tickets to the full multi-day event, but is continuing to work with his contacts to get us access to parts of the event that aren’t open to the general public. I am beyond grateful, this is a once in a lifetime experience for my partner and me, and we would have been thrilled to even have the chance to experience the event at all, let alone the (very good) tickets and extra perks that the director is working to get for us. For context, our tickets were about $1,000 USD each, and the additional experiences and access are based solely on the director’s social capital and string pulling.

I know this is a drop in the bucket compared to the kind of revenue that my partner alone generates for them, but I still feel compelled to say thank you (especially because the director included me specifically in offering tickets for the two of us)! I work at a nonprofit where this kind of thing just isn’t a thing, so I don’t have a context for this. Would a simple handwritten thank-you note for my partner to hand off next time they’re in the office together be appropriate? Or would I come off as boundary crossing or somehow too effusive? My partner is equally thrilled and has expressed their thanks via email directly, and doesn’t have much of an opinion on a proper thank you note.

Don’t do it. The director is giving those tickets to your partner as a business move, not a social one; he’s doing it to reward your partner, build their morale and make them feel appreciated, and increase their loyalty to the company. You’re benefitting from that, but it’s not a social situation. Your partner needs to be fully in charge of managing that relationship; they should certainly express appreciation, but it would be a little off to bring in a thank-you note from you.

update: my coworker watches a daycare livestream all day

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

Remember the letter-writer whose coworker watched a daycare livestream all day? Here’s the update.

I took your advice to mention it to management because we randomly had a training that made it clear that, yes, this is the sort of thing I should be discussing with my manager.

What happened was that not long after you posted my letter, my organization hosted a coach training where it became apparent that expectations and approaches for the role vary widely to an extreme throughout the company. They shared official forms showing coaching plans and goals from the coach, coachee, and management perspectives. These plans did include discussions between the coach and management on performance of the coachee . Those of us already in coaching roles were completely baffled since this was the first time we had seen or heard anything about coaching plans.

I took the forms to my direct manager and asked why I hadn’t seen them before, and if we were supposed to be using them. He hadn’t seen them either! But it did prompt a frank discussion on my coworker’s performance where the daycare livestream issue was mentioned only as an aside, not the primary area of concern. We haven’t revisited the forms since then; apparently my organization just chooses not to use them even though they are normal elsewhere in the company.

After that discussion, management did start monitoring my coworker’s situation much more closely with biweekly meetings instead of monthly and setting much more clear expectations for her. She still has not been promoted, but I know her performance has improved and it is something they are actively working towards.

I appreciated the reminder in the comments about anxiety and that it can look like a lot of different things. She and I typically are pretty open about those sorts of things, so I don’t think it was that. We’ve had lots of working mom discussions since then and I think what it comes down to is that she would love to be a stay-at-home mom. But that isn’t an option for her so she is now learning how to balance work and home better. I think she is also realizing that if she wants to continue to be the super involved room-mom-type, her career progression will likely stop after her first promotion. And there is nothing wrong with that, it is a well paid position with good job satisfaction, she just needs to manage her expectations.

Now for the real question — does she still watch daycare livestream at work? Yes, she does. But in a much healthier and more job-appropriate way. She pops on while she’s eating lunch and that’s about it.

update: all the men I work with go on an annual camping trip together, and women aren’t allowed

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

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

Remember the letter-writer whose male coworkers all took an annual camping trip together and women weren’t allowed? Here’s the update.

Last September I posted about the all-male faculty and staff camping trip at my school (all-boys Catholic school).

Bad update: Well, the camping trip is coming up — Monday to Thursday of next week, in fact. Still an all-male trip. Still no women invited or allowed.

Good update: The school agreed to create a committee to discuss women’s issues and experiences at the school, and I was the chair this past year. Administrators gave me TWO professional development days to present information (data and interviews and women’s personal experiences of exclusion) on campus. I got to be in front of the entire school for somewhere around eight total hours, educating everyone on the inherent inequalities of being a woman at an all-boys high school. We did a school-wide survey about exclusion, sexual harassment, and gender inequality on campus. Some of the men were shocked to learn about how the women feel.

The camping trip was discussed! As predicted, there are a lot of people (men) wanting to push back on the idea of women being invited. Some of them sought me out for my opinion, privately, and asked me questions about it in what I’d consider to be a good-faith attempt at understanding my perspective. I used talking points straight from Alison’s answers to guide our discussion. I spoke one-on-one with maybe eight men out of the 60 or so who attend this trip. Maybe I’ve turned a couple hearts? (By the way there are at least five men who are emphatically on my side — very exciting!)

The conversation is ongoing around the trip specifically. Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of other cultural issues to address. This year I got pregnant (a great piece of news for me and my husband) and I was devastated to learn there is no paid maternity leave (well, devastated, but perhaps not surprised). Catholic schools managed to lobby for an exemption to my state’s paid family leave policies. (Really pro-family, right?) I joined the faculty contract negotiations team this summer, and I am always working to leverage positive social change where I work.

To everyone who rightfully asked why I am still working there: I think you’re right, and it’s time to leave. I owe them a couple more years contractually for paying for my master’s degree (nice job perk, to be fair) but after that I am not sure I see myself staying. In the meantime it’s imperative that I work to create change, no matter how strongly the cultural tide pushes against it.

Thank you to Alison and the commentariat, who persuaded me I’m not upset over nothing.

update: can I do anything about a senior-level colleague who doesn’t do any work?

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

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. Can I do anything about a senior-level colleague who doesn’t do any work? (first update)

Today is my final day of employment at the job I wrote in about. I am leaving here for a job at a large university in the major city I live near, with a 40% pay increase and better benefits and PTO. In my last two weeks, they decided to move the role out from under Jane’s supervision to being under Andy’s, which is wild because Andy doesn’t know the first thing about the role nor the system that the role works with (whereas Jane is the one who trained me in that system). They also decided that it will be a senior level role instead of the junior one I’ve had, and give the role a 40-50% pay increase, which is also wild because when I asked for a promotion a couple of months ago, they said it wasn’t in the budget. It was a super nice F-you to me from the org I’ve been supporting for three years.

In my final two weeks here, I have voiced my concerns with respect to Andy to whomever here I thought I could trust. My exit interview, which was supposed to be with the head of our org, was conducted by my grandboss instead because he canceled on me at the last minute. I was scathing in my exit interview, stating that the reasons I was leaving were 1) money and 2) Andy. I spoke to the one and only board member I know, who was very kind and seemed appreciative of what I had to say. I spoke to Andy’s new direct report, who started here last week, and very carefully let her know my concerns so as not to frighten her; she also seemed to appreciate the heads-up. I learned that Andy has had it out for me from the very beginning, probably because I don’t believe any of the BS they throw at us and I have, for months now, questioned Andy at every possible opportunity whenever they spout fluff and I want to know concrete facts. (They have never, to my recollection, responded to my questions with anything concrete, and usually end up very flustered.)

Yesterday, Andy wrote an email to all-staff announcing the change in the role. As my last official action at the org, I replied-all, copied the board, and wrote an email laying out all the issues.

Whether or not the board will do anything remains to be seen, but given that our org head mostly reports to them that everything here is hunky dory, I think they will be surprised at the least, and hopefully will take a long hard look at Andy and why the head of our org has kept Andy employed despite … everything. Several others here are looking for work and I hope they are able to get out and to find satisfying work at places that will appreciate what they put in and compensate them fairly. I am in a strong position given that I know Jane will give me excellent references going forward, so I was not worried about blowback in sending this email. I know not everyone has the security I do, so I do not recommend this approach to everyone, but if you know you can’t be harmed by speaking the truth and standing up for yourself and others who are being mistreated, I encourage you to do so.

2. I’m overhearing my partner’s work conversations and they seem bad

Nearly three years later and my partner (now spouse!) is still at the same company. They’ve been promoted, they’re beloved by all coworkers, and recently got complimented by their boss for “always encouraging us to be better.”

Meanwhile, I am at a different job so now we don’t work from home the same days anymore. It’s been good to get distance from each other in our professional lives, I think essentially being coworkers was not doing our relationship any favors. We did have a conversation about what I perceived as unprofessional behavior and they pointed out that my field is fairly hierarchical and conservative while theirs is younger and less uptight. Thanks for your answer and to the commenters!

3. How can I find a job in another state without moving there first?

It’s small, but the update is that I did indeed find a job in another state! It helped my case that my old city and my new city have suburbs with the same name, and my old job had that suburb as part of its name; I think that’s how I got my foot in the door. I only had two weeks to move and it was a nightmare; I sprouted my first gray hairs not long after that ordeal! I’m a little over a year into the new job and loving it. I will even be up for a promotion of sorts soon, with higher pay and more responsibilities so I’m very happy!

I’m a terrible procrastinator

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

I’ve recently realized something about myself: even though I am a high perfomer with glowing reviews from bosses and coworkers, I am a terrible procrastinator. But instead of procrastinating by doing nothing, I find other things that is of lesser importance but still need doing. I love getting my hands on assignments others have ignored for years. I’m even writing this letter instead of working on assignments that need to be finished today!

I’m big on self improvement and have read several books on habits, eating the frog, and efficiency, but I can’t stop myself. I’ve tried several task management tools and have finally found one I like where I can label assignments according to priority, but I STILL don’t do the harder, more important stuff first. I meet all my deadlines, but planning is like pulling teeth and I’m almost always stressed over deadlines that are months ahead.

Do you or your readers have any advice? And yes, I grew up in a household with high expectations and low tolerance for mistakes.

Please share your advice in the comment section.

I don’t want to bake for my coworker, needlessly cruel layoffs, and more

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

1. Is this method for layoffs needlessly cruel?

I am writing this email while sitting at my work computer even though I am off contract and not being paid for my time. My college announced a month ago that they will lay off half our workforce today. Rather than just let us know who is being laid off, they are asking that we all sit unpaid at our computers during the day and wait to see if we get a Teams invite with “at least 20 minutes notice” to come to virtual small group meetings to be laid off. We are assured that after 6.5 hours of this process, at 2:30 pm, they will send an email to everyone who is not laid off.

Everyone just wants to know their status, and it doesn’t seem like the purpose of the meetings is to discuss anything that might change, nor is it to provide information on the separation, which has already been sent out (COBRA, lack of severance, etc.) People are in extreme anxiety. Some folks are on long-planned trips or have other commitments that they are now trying to balance with complying with this request. Those who have asked if they could just get an email if they are fired have been ignored.

Is there a reason that this approach is useful? Or is it needlessly cruel, which is how it seems to me? Is there a reason they can’t let us all know right now and offer meetings for those who want or need them?

Needlessly cruel. They could do it all at once and at a specific time so you’re not sitting around waiting (and no need for small groups, which is what’s stretching it out; most people being laid off really don’t care if they’re in a group of 10 or a group of hundreds, especially if this is the alternative). What a way to drive home that they’re not considering you in the process at all.

For what it’s worth, it’s illegal not to pay you for the waiting time. This is what’s called “engaged to wait” and under federal law it must be paid.

Related:
my company says it’s “best practice” to do layoffs over email

2. My coworker wants to pay me to bake for her shower, but I don’t want to

I have a relatively new (six months on the job) coworker who is pregnant with her first baby.

I recently made cupcakes from a very time-intensive recipe for someone else’s baby shower, a coworker who I am very close friends with. Today, my newer coworker asked me to bake the same cupcakes and another type of cake for her own baby shower that she is planning with 60 guests. This is not an office baby shower like the first one, and I have no idea who is invited. Although she offered to pay me and told me how much she loved the cupcakes, I am incredibly uncomfortable with the idea. How do I tell her no?

“I’m so glad you liked them but they’re really time-intensive so they’re a once-in-a-blue moon thing for me.” If she repeats her offer to pay: “Oh, I bake for fun when the mood strikes, not for pay.” Or just, “You’re kind to offer, but I can’t.” If you want to soften it a little, recommend a good bakery (“the bakery two blocks away has an amazing blueberry custard cake everyone loves”).

But really — the fact that she is asking for a favor in no way obligates you to say yes to that favor. Don’t feel awkward about declining. If she takes issue with that, she’d be wildly out of line and it would just underscore that you were right to say no in the first place. But hopefully a clear no will take care of it.

Related:
I make delicious baked goods and my office knows it

3. I threw up on the floor at work

I work for a large fast fashion chain, and recently came in after experiencing a bout of nausea the night before. As it was only a three-hour shift with a late start, I thought I could hack it, but ended up throwing up in my mouth, hastily handing a woman her change, then puking on the floor behind the till. My manager told me to basically sit in the stockroom with a plastic bag and refused my offer of clean-up help. She seemed sympathetic, but I still feel guilty.

I’m just worried that if this gets passed to HR or the more senior managers, I could be in serious trouble. It was too sudden to run to the toilets, but it’s still unprofessional, right? I’m also mortified at the thought of what my coworkers think, and am dreading my return to work. Any insight into whether I should start looking for a new job, or any tips on facing the shame greatly appreciated.

It’s not unprofessional to have a human body that sometimes get sick. It’s not unprofessional not to be able to predict and halt an uncontrollable bodily process like throwing up! If you ever work somewhere that treats you as if it is, that’s a big flashing red flag to get out. No one should think you intentionally threw up on the floor! At worst, someone might be less than thrilled about having to clean it up, but that’s completely different than being unhappy with you. (And no decent person who just witnessed someone vomit the floor is going to expect them to do the work of cleaning it up too.)

You got sick. It happens. Assume people just want to make sure you’re okay now. Unless your job is on the far extreme end of dysfunction, this is not a big deal.

4. I don’t like the way my boss wants me to estimate project time

I just started a new position about six weeks ago. I’m in a very high level professional position in a discipline that usually gets a lot of leeway in how we manage our own time — as long as the task gets done, that’s all that matters. The problem is that my new manager would like us to estimate what projects we’ll be working on in the upcoming weeks and how much time each project will take. Quite frankly, I hate this exercise. For one, I’m very bad at it. I’m good at managing my workload and always get projects in under deadline. But I’m very bad at estimating how much time it will take to get each task done, and part of what makes me so efficient is my ability to switch up my priorities quickly based on new information or openings in my schedule. This exercise of trying to estimate my time for my manager is taking up much more time than it reasonably should.

They say they want to use this information to help with adding new projects to my list as they come up. But I’d rather just handle that with a conversation about what I can and can’t take on. I even thought about just making up some numbers to make them happy, but then they come back and want an explanation for how I came up with that number. “I made it up” seems like a poor explanation.

Obviously I am new and I am going to try to make this work at least for a little while longer. But if after a couple months I still find it as onerous as I do today, how do I broach that conversation? They are generally flexible and accommodating, but I also feel like they’re pretty tied to this form of project tracking.

Yeah, try to make it work for at least a few months so that you’ve given it a good faith try. And during that time, talk to your coworkers about how they approach it. You might realize they can be simpler than the way you’ve been approaching it.

But if it’s still a problem for you — and taking you at your word that this isn’t how people in your field normally operate — then it’s reasonable to say something like, “I’m finding that providing these estimates becomes a time-intensive project itself, and often my estimates change once I’m deeper into the project. I of course want to communicate with you about my workload and what I can and can’t take on. In the past I’ve done that through more informal conversation when new projects come up, which has worked well. Would you be open to trying that for the next month and seeing how it goes? We can always course-correct if it’s not working.”

If that doesn’t solve it, there’s probably a second conversation to have where you’re more specific about how this is affecting your workflow, as well as why it’s difficult to come up with accurate estimates. It might be that this is just how your team is going to work, but it’s reasonable to try to talk about it.

5. Was it fair to cancel this interview?

My 16-year-old is currently searching for her first job. Over the weekend, she scheduled an interview at a local ice cream parlor for 6pm on the following Tuesday. On the day of the interview, she got her resume and list of references printed and double-checked the messages from the interviewer around noon before relaxing with a book. Then, about a half hour before the interview was scheduled, she picked up her phone and found a series of missed messages from the interviewer. At 1:30pm the interviewer asked if she could reschedule for earlier in the day. Then at 4:30pm when she still hadn’t responded, the interviewer sent this message: “I did not get a reply from you, does that mean you can not come in early? Also, since I did not get a reply that makes me question if you are coming at 6pm today. Please confirm.”

As soon as my kid saw the message at 5:30pm, she responded apologizing for not seeing the messages sooner and stating that she was coming for the 6pm interview. The interviewer told her that since she hadn’t responded that they had already left for the day.

What should my kid have done differently? She’s not glued to her phone all day (which I would think is a huge positive) — should I encourage her to check it more often? Or is this a red flag?

It’s really just a red flag that she’s applying for a job in food service, which she already knows. This kind of thing isn’t uncommon in retail and food service.

To be clear, the interviewer was in the wrong. It was fine to ask if she could come in earlier, but not hearing back shouldn’t have made them assume she’d no-show for the scheduled time. That said, it’s also true that people no-show for food service interviews a lot and a manager who was otherwise ready to leave might have figured they didn’t want to wait around another hour for someone who might not show up and wasn’t responding. That’s not a considerate assumption; they were in the wrong. But I suspect it’s what happened.

Your daughter didn’t do anything wrong, but it’s also not a bad idea to glance at her phone once or twice the day of an interview, since sometimes things do change at the last minute.

updates: our admins hate all the coffee I buy the office but they insist I have to keep trying, and more

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

1. Our admins hate all the coffee I buy the office, but they insist I have to keep trying

I chickened out and had my mom mail me a Costco gift card so I could buy four coffee tubs at once, drop them off at the admin’s office, and opt out of the conversation until 2025.

That said, the chaos demon in me won and I started just making my own coffee when I got in first and not saying anything. It happens rarely because the admin who makes the coffee comes in at 7:30, but neither of them have brought it up again.

Boring update, but hopefully the commenters who advocated the bait and switch are vindicated lol.

2. Senior colleague disparaged self-defense training for women (#2 at the link)

I did take your advice and it turned out exactly as you said it would. It was about a week after the incident when I ran into Attorney in the break room before a meeting while we were both making coffee. I acted as if nothing ever happened, and he was extraordinarily friendly — more so than he typically would be — leading me to believe that he was grateful for my overture. Thank you so much for answering my question and for all the very helpful comments from your readers.

3. Can I leave before my notice period is up if my boss is being a jerk?

Thank you for publishing my letter and for your reply. The comments from the readers were great too and really helped.

Yes, the email examples in my letter were just one thing in a LONG line of bad behaviors, as one commenter mentioned.

And, as is very often the case, you were right … knowing I could walk out made it easier to just ignore the craziness. And it helped knowing that walking out was an option.

My former boss made it easy by just … avoiding me, literally fleeing from the room if it was just us in it, and by Tuesday afternoon she completely stopped speaking to me. That said a lot more about her than it did me and I was able to be amused by the sheer amount of effort it requires to literally (at one point she crossed a fairly busy street against a light so we didn’t wait at the same curb) flee from places when I entered or got near her.

On my last day, she had me turn in my equipment to a coworker because she didn’t even bother to come in to the office. Guess she couldn’t figure out how to do that without speaking to me? LOL

The new job is amazing. My manager is great. I have felt welcomed and supported from day 1 and know how lucky I am that I was able to escape to something better.

4. Our top two execs are secretly mother and daughter

Two months after my letter appeared, I was laid off in their “second round” of lay-offs (they only had 14 employees overall) in October 2023. If you recall, they had just lost their largest client when I wrote the letter and laid off a first round of employees. So, I hadn’t gotten around to following any of the advice given because things had gotten even stranger there as the mother/daughter leadership team figured out what to do to keep the business afloat.

I’d just conducted an intense job search to get the job; 10 months later I was embarking on yet another search, starting over. To say that it was stressful is an understatement. Even in my desperation to find a new position, I now knew what I would NOT tolerate. I knew I wanted a larger organization, not a small business run by a founder/owner. I wanted no familial ties unless it was broadcast far and wide. Mostly, I didn’t want control of my financial fate to be in the hands of two people who would lie about such a basic thing, something that was not even wrong, and who would staff their agency based on the needs of one client who could, and did, decide to walk away. I guess what I’m getting at is this: although some people in the comments said, “This isn’t wrong, it’s no big deal,” I found that it was a big deal in terms of character. For example, I was let go with no severance pay. My health insurance ended at the end of that month (so I had about two weeks). These are not people who demonstrate caring about their employees’ welfare, which can be seen in the way they deliberately obscured their relationship.

In my original letter I talked about the grandmother’s 100th birthday. Before I was laid off, that grandmother died and they continued to pretend that only the CEO (the mother) was impacted. The CIO (the daughter) said nothing about the loss or her time away from work — she just didn’t say anything but didn’t show up. To top it all off, in January of this year, they let the last four or five people go — all 14 of us eventually got the ax. The website still exists, you could still hire them to do work, but it’s really just the two of them.

I started a new job in February and just hit the three-month mark. This new company is so much better. I looked for a company that aligned with my values, one that is large enough to have a board, an HR department, many diverse leaders — none of whom are related — and a strong DEIB policy that emphasizes teamwork, belonging, and honesty.

update: my coworkers complain I’m violating the dress code, but I’m not

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

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day — there’s more to come.

Remember the letter-writer whose coworkers complained she was violating the dress code, but she wasn’t? Here’s the update.

A lot of the readers put their fingers on what I was reluctant to address in my letter — that my physical appearance was part of what was likely prompting the complaints. I do look different than most of my coworkers. While we are all roughly the same age, I have always taken care of my health, my skin, and my hair, and have been a regular gym-goer since my college athlete days. I modeled briefly as well. So I’m kind of used to people reacting to my appearance and certain people automatically disliking me simply based on what I look like. I can’t do anything about that and I try hard to be warm, friendly, and kind to everyone regardless.

After the letter was published, I did go back to my boss for a deeper conversation about the feedback and asked her if she thought there was more to the problem than just my clothing choices. She confided that the person who’d complained was a member of an adjacent team, an older woman who was notorious for unfounded complaints about coworkers, and who for whatever reason had taken issue with me. (I should note that we never had a single direct interaction!) The complaint had been made to our VP, who instructed my boss to let me know, but the VP herself was apparently neutral about whether my clothing was really a problem. After we talked, my manager went back the VP and HR on her own, with detailed examples of common dress code “violations” and asked that management release an update with more specific guidelines.

The dress code update was much stricter than the prior version and continues to be widely ignored. Around this time, the complainer was fired for poor performance and attitude issues, and my boss moved to another state for her spouse’s job. I now report directly to the VP. Due to some changes with my role, I am now leading a lot of training sessions (including videos that will stay in our formal onboarding courses for years) so I now find myself dressing much more formally than most of my peers as a natural result of this responsibility.

To be completely honest, being taken seriously has been something I have sometimes struggled with in a male-dominated industry over the years. As much as I would like the world to be different, the reality is that appearance is a big part of how anyone is perceived, and we all have to deal with that in whatever way it affects us. This was a valuable lesson for me. I appreciate all of the feedback, it definitely helped me overcome my denial that what I look like affects my relationships at work. If upgrading to a more formal style is all it takes to be seen as competent and shut down this kind of petty competitiveness, I’m okay with it. Luckily my area has a lot of great thrift and re-sale shops and I have been able to upgrade without spending too much money.

I appreciate everyone’s advice, this community is a fantastic resource. Thank you all very much!

I don’t want to help rude networkers

A reader writes:

I’ve been in my industry for eight years now. From the outside, it’s a very cool area to work in (and mostly it is…) and it’s definitely more on the map as a career path than it was when I started.

Lots of grads are very interested in a job like mine, but entry-level roles are rare. I get lots of out-of-the-blue LinkedIn messages and emails asking for advice, and am always willing to grab a coffee with people to offer what I know about breaking in because it’s hard, particularly if you don’t already have connections. Over email most are polite, but in-person some are just awful: entitled, rude, uninterested, no answers to why they like the industry or what they’re after…

I’m particularly struggling with what to do with one person. A friend connected us, I fit her in for a coffee, and she was rude and dismissive — like talking to a grumpy younger sister who didn’t want to be there. I left thinking, did I accidentally email her asking to chat instead of the other way round? She then sent an email following up four weeks later, which was just a request to further connect her with people wrapped in a pretty weak thank-you.

I’m not expecting bouquets of flowers or a poem about how awesome I am, and I don’t want to be a jerk because first jobs are tricky. It’s tough and I know there’s some etiquette to it that she just doesn’t get, but I also don’t want to waste my limited brownie points with friends in the industry by connecting them to surly grads I don’t rate. How do I reply saying “You were rude and I don’t want to help” without saying that? Do I offer feedback that might help in future or is that likely to cause drama?

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