update: my employee keeps getting deadnamed by a coworker

It’s the launch of this year’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager! Every day this month, I’ll be running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. To kick us off…

Remember the letter-writer whose employee kept getting deadnamed by a coworker? The coworker, Lizzy, insisted she would only use the name the coworker was given at birth “out of respect for his mother.” Here’s the (epic) update.

Hearing from Alison and all of the commenters made me realize that I needed to talk to John about what he wanted to do. I apologized to him for not being proactive enough with this problem and for underestimating just how offensive Lizzy’s actions were, reiterated that I was on his side, told him that I was setting up a meeting with Lizzy and her manager for later that day, and asked what he wanted to do and what he wanted me to do. He admitted that although he was joking about it, he was actually really upset by Lizzy constantly dead naming him, so in addition to needing her to stop, he would rather not work with her anymore, or at least work with her as little as possible. I also told him that I was willing to make a big stink about both Lizzy’s actions and HR’s inaction to my boss (Lizzy’s grandboss) and the higher ups in HR, but that I wanted to make sure he was comfortable with being explicitly identified as being transgender and experiencing transphobic harassment. He said he was worried about escalating the issue himself, because he didn’t want to come off as pushy or overly sensitive, but that he did want me to do it.

I took Alison’s advice with Lizzy’s boss and just checked his and Lizzy’s Outlook calendars to find a time when they were both free and set up a meeting, figuring that his dislike of confrontation meant that he would go along with it. I said that Lizzy’s offensive behavior towards John had gone on way too long and that she needed to immediately stop calling him any name other than John. She tried to say that she had no problem with transgender people (I had not mentioned anything about him being trans, only that she had to call him by his name) and that it was a matter of respect for his mother, but I interrupted her and said that John’s mother and her feelings were irrelevant and that she was being deeply disrespectful to John, who is actually her coworker and thus actually needed her respect. I also said that it didn’t matter how she felt about trans people or if she didn’t intend to be transphobic, purposely calling John by his dead name was a transphobic action and it needed to stop, and that until I could trust her to treat him with respect, she was not to attend any of our team meetings and any workflow that would normally pass between her and John would go through me first and I would pass on the information. Her boss spoke for the first time then and said that that sounded like it might make us miss deadlines on some of our tighter turnarounds, which I agreed was true, but that given that Lizzy refused to use John’s name, I felt I had an ethical duty to prevent her from speaking to him at all, not to mention that allowing her to continue harassing him would open us up to litigation. I tried to say this all as matter-of-factly as possible, so it would be clear that I didn’t care how Lizzy actually felt about mothers or trans people, and that I wasn’t asking for suggestions on what should be done.

After that meeting, I emailed my team and explained that due to Lizzy’s outrageous and offensive behavior, I was changing our procedures so that she and John would no longer have direct contact, and that they should expect some delays in communication between her and our team. I also apologized for having allowed her to behave in such a blatantly transphobic fashion for close to a month, which should never have been tolerated at all, and explained that I had told her that she had to stop immediately, so if she referred to John as Sally again, they should let me know, either by forwarding me an email if it was in writing or by documenting the incident if it were over the phone or video chat, and should also feel free to tell her that she was being offensive and needed to stop.

This is when things get satisfying! My boss was included on the email to my team, and he called me about half an hour later asking about it. I hadn’t told him much about the Lizzy situation, because he has very little patience for people complaining about their interpersonal conflicts to their boss, and while this is a lot more significant than an interpersonal conflict, I thought he wouldn’t want to hear about it anyway, especially since he doesn’t have much contact with my team in normal times and has had even less while we’ve been virtual. Once I explained what had been happening, he said that was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard and set up a meeting for the two of us with the head of HR for the next day (I asked John if he wanted to come and he said he’d rather not and he trusted me to take care of it). The head of HR agreed that this was outrageous and that HR should never have tolerated it. A week later, Lizzy got fired. Then the HR rep who had said this wasn’t explicitly transphobic got fired about about a week and a half later, Lizzy’s boss had to go through some pretty extensive management training and there’s talk that he may transfer into a position without any direct reports, the entire HR department did training on LGBT issues and what is now required of them because of Bostock v Clayton County, the entire company got an anonymous survey asking if we had ever been harassed or felt that we were the victim of discrimination in the workplace, and the head of HR personally apologized to John for the first HR rep’s mishandling of the case and encouraged him to come to her if he ever felt harassed based on his gender identity.

I also sent John the link to my original letter, and he told me to thank everyone for all your supportive comments. And of course I want to thank you all as well, for giving me the confidence to escalate this situation the way I should have from the beginning. It’s seeming more and more like Lizzy, her boss, and the first HR rep were problems, but that the company as a whole really is the good place to work that I’d always thought it was.

I couldn’t use sick time after my boyfriend had a stroke because we’re not married, and more

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

1. I couldn’t use sick time after my boyfriend had a stroke because we’re not married

I have a pre-COVID question about something that is still bothering me after more than a year. I am a single person and I do not have immediate plans to marry or start a domestic partnership. Last October, my then-boyfriend of a year had a stroke at only 30 years old. I received the call from the ER on my way to the office and let my supervisor know that I needed to go to the hospital and that I would be late to work. I’m employed at a large research university which is a perennial “Best Places to Work” list winner and espouses values about supporting employees, mental health, etc. I have hundreds of sick time hours and extremely little vacation time.

After my boyfriend stabilized, I went to my office to collect my computer and some work I needed and spoke with my supervisor about my boyfriend’s condition and that I needed to be in the hospital because he didn’t have any family in the area and I was his emergency contact. I was gobsmacked when I was told I could not use my sick time to be in the hospital with him. Our HR portal allows employees to use sick time for 22 types of relationships (children, stepchildren, in-laws, grandparents-in-law, etc.) and my manager said that my boyfriend did not qualify for any of them because he wasn’t my spouse and we did not live together. I pretty much had a breakdown in her office because I was under so much pressure and stress. It felt, and still feels, like my organization (and my manager) let me down, treated me as “less than,” and failed to live up to the values the organization uses as a recruiting tool. Effectively, it communicated to me that my relationships do not matter and afterwards, out of bitterness and anger, I actively disengaged in any work that was not directly assigned to me and withdrew from volunteer projects. I’m really happy to now be leaving the organization, but I can’t help but feel like I may have missed an important memo — are single people supposed to just constantly lie to their managers in order to have the same privileges and compassion as married people?

No, your organization just sucks. I’m sorry.

A decent manager would have said, “We don’t have a formal category for this but obviously he is like family to you and you should take the time you need. I’ll handle it with HR.”

It’s true that society as a whole — not just employers — treats marriages and domestic partnerships differently than it does people in relationships living separately. It’s a weird thing. If you and your boyfriend shared a house, I suspect you might have gotten a different response even without being married. People see not cohabitating as indicating something about the seriousness of the relationship … which is problematic, because you can have a serious and long-term relationship living apart and you can have a marriage that’s little more than hostile roommates. Part of that is about the legal ties of marriage, of course, but you usually see cohabiting unmarried relationships get taken more seriously than non-cohabiting ones.

Anyway, it’s understandable that employers need to put some limits on benefits usage, but they need to be flexible when a situation comes up that’s still within the spirit of their policy, if not the letter.

2. Moving back to old company soon after starting new job

About six months ago, I left my former organization for a new job that was an upgrade in responsibilities and salary. I love my old company, but it was hit really hard by COVID and I felt like I jumped off a sinking ship. My former boss recently left and my old company is trying to hire me for that position. I don’t love my new job, it’s been a stressful transition, but leaving would almost certainly burn a bridge at my new company. I thought I would at least hear the former employer out even if I’m inclined to say no. Would jumping back to my former employer so quickly look bad on my resume? Is my instinct that I would burn a bridge at my new company correct? It is definitely an upward move and would entail a nice pay increase. However, it does feel like accepting a counteroffer, albeit belatedly.

It would probably burn a bridge with your current employer, but that’s not necessarily a reason not to do it. The thing with burning a bridge isn’t “avoid at all costs.” It’s just “know what you’re doing and be willing to live with the consequences.” In this case, the consequences will probably be that you can’t get a good reference from them (not a big deal since if you were only there six months, I wouldn’t use them as a reference anyway), they won’t re-hire you in the future, and they might quietly curse your name for a while. But if it’s clear to them (or you’re able to explain) that you’re not happy with the new job and it’s not the right fit, it probably won’t be a huge thing. People generally don’t want colleagues to stay in jobs they’re not happy in.

It also likely won’t look bad on your resume. Sometimes people leave a job and then realize they want to go back. It’s not a big deal. And that’s especially true in this year of chaos.

The only way I’d say this is like a counteroffer is that you should make very sure that the instability that drove you to leave in the first place isn’t still a problem.

3. Rewriting my job description when I’ve taken on lots of new work

I’ve been at my job at a PR firm for about two years and many responsibilities (unrelated to my job description) have been added to my plate during this time. My boss is now keen to update my job description to reflect the full extent of the work I’m doing. I haven’t received a raise or promotion and don’t expect to at this point, given the economic uncertainty. However, I feel nervous about simply updating my job description as if these additional responsibilities are part of what I was hired to do at the salary I was hired at. I wonder if it will hurt my chances of getting a raise for this work when the company is financially able. But maybe I’m thinking about this the wrong way?

Yeah, you’re right to be cautious. You don’t want the extra work to simply be seen as exactly what you were hired to do in the first place. (That assumes, of course, that it wasn’t. Sometimes a job is expected to evolve as the person is trained, and the extra responsibility is a natural evolution that was always intended.) That said, an updated description of everything you’re doing can also be used at some point to make the case that the job you’re doing now is different than the job you were hired for.

I’d probably just clearly mark what’s new in whatever you write up. Write the job description as it existed when you first came on board, and then have a separate section called “New Responsibilities” and put the rest there. If your boss is turning this into a formal job description for your role, she may remove that — but laying it out like that should help emphasize how the work has evolved.

4. Too many reply-all birthday emails

Pre-Covid, my department used to do birthday desserts monthly for everyone who has a birthday that month. We’d get an email letting us know who had a birthday and when cake was ready.

Now, since we’re not all in the office, we get a “virtual” happy birthday email once a month with a picture of a cake. This has turned into once a month we get a chain of obnoxious reply-all emails where, instead of responding to just the people who have birthdays that month, we all get replies that say “Happy Birthday” until my inbox is spammed with 10 or 12 emails that I then have to delete.

Is there a way to politely bring this up? I’m afraid it might backfire because I don’t have my own birthday on the list or participate in “cake day” when in the office. One email is fine; it’s the continuous reply all’s that are annoying.

That would annoy me too, but honestly I wouldn’t spend capital on it. Having to delete 10-12 emails isn’t onerous enough to warrant trying to get it stopped; save your capital for other stuff.

Microsoft’s creepy new “productivity score” tells your boss how often you attend meetings, answer email, and use Word

If your workplace uses Microsoft Office products, be aware that the company launched a new “Productivity Score” feature this month, which lets employers track how their employees use Microsoft’s tools across 73 different measures — including things like how frequently you send emails, how often you turn your camera on during virtual meetings, how often you contribute to shared documents and group chats, and the number of days you used Word, Excel, Skype, Outlook, and other Microsoft tools in the last month. Then they compile it all into a report and send your boss a breakdown every month.

Microsoft claims this is “not a work monitoring tool” and points out that it’s optional — even though the administrator of the program (your employer) is the only one who can opt out.

Here’s Gizmodo:

If that sounds like an Orwellian nightmare in the making to you, you’re not alone—privacy experts are criticizing the company for essentially gamifying workplace surveillance.

… David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founder of the office suite Basecamp, described the feature’s design as “morally bankrupt at its core” in a series of tweets this week.

“The word dystopian is not nearly strong enough to describe the fresh hellhole Microsoft just opened up,” he said. “Being under constant surveillance in the work place is psychological abuse. Having to worry about looking busy for the stats is the last thing we need to inflict on anyone right now.”

… Workplace surveillance has become a particularly prevalent concern this year with the pandemic pushing more and more people to work from home. In June, the research firm Gartner found that 16% of employers were using monitoring tools more frequently to track their workers’ computer usage, internal communications, and engagement among other data. And with coronavirus cases continuing to climb to record heights in the U.S., experts expect the development and adoption of these tools to only ramp up further.

how do you hold an office holiday party during a pandemic?

Usually at this time of year, my inbox fills up with questions about company holiday parties: How many drinks are OK to have there? Should I bring a date? Do I really have to go at all?

This year, the questions are quite different – and nearly all along the lines of “what do we even do for the holidays in a pandemic?” Many employers are simply canceling holiday celebrations, since there’s no way to safely gather. But some employers have devised celebrations that will keep people safe and actually sound fun (even to this curmudgeon). I recently asked Ask a Manager readers to share how their teams are observing the holidays in lieu of in-person parties this year, and it turns out companies have gotten really creative. At Slate today, I shared some of the most interesting ideas people reported. You can read it here.

is it right to fire someone for being arrested for a (horrible) crime?

A reader writes:

Recently a coworker of mine failed to show up for his shift a few days in a row, and his supervisors were unable to reach him on his phone. Eventually, someone went to his home, where they were informed of the reason he hadn’t been at work — he was in jail. The company immediately fired him. The crime didn’t happen while he was on the clock, on company property, or involving any other employees.

On one hand, I get it. I live in an at-will employment state, and being accused of a crime is hardly a protected class. Additionally, this person”s role is very public-facing, and the nature of the crime he’s been accused of would make the public and his immediate coworkers very uncomfortable to have to interact with him. (The crime was rape, although I don’t know if they knew that when they fired him.)

On the other hand, I know that people do get accused of crimes they didn’t commit. He’s only been accused, not convicted It seems kind of gross to fire him when we don’t know yet if he actually committed the crime. If it turns out he didn’t do it, he would have been fired — not laid off — for a situation completely out of his control. I know the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t really apply outside the court system, but still… the whole thing kind of rubs me the wrong way.

What do you think?

Agggh, this is hard.

You’re absolutely right that it would be awful to fire someone for a crime they didn’t commit. It’s also understandable that the company doesn’t want to have an accused rapist on its payroll. Some companies handle this by suspending the person without pay until there’s been a conviction or acquittal, but then you still get news stories saying that the accused rapist is employed by CompanyName. That can be a difficult thing for a business to navigate.

It’s different, of course, with different crimes. Automatically firing anyone who’s arrested for anything is a bad practice — especially when you consider the role race plays in policing and in who gets charged with crimes and who gets given the benefit of the doubt.

It would also be illegal under federal law. The EEOC says, “Arrests are not proof of criminal conduct. Many arrests do not result in criminal charges, or the charges are dismissed. Even if an individual is charged and subsequently prosecuted, he is presumed innocent unless proven guilty. An arrest, however, may in some circumstances trigger an inquiry into whether the conduct underlying the arrest justifies an adverse employment action (emphasis mine) … The employer needs to show that the policy operates to effectively link specific criminal conduct, and its dangers, with the risks inherent in the duties of a particular position.”

In other words, you can’t fire someone simply because they were arrested, but if the conduct that led to the arrest makes the employee unfit for their position, that can be a reason for firing — for example, a trucker arrested for drunk driving. (If you’re thinking that requires the employer to act as judge and jury before an actual judge and jury have made a determination … yes.)

Some states have laws that offer employees a higher degree of protection, such as California’s law preventing employers from firing someone for an arrest that doesn’t lead to a conviction.

It’s also worth noting that sometimes someone may be fired not because of the arrest itself but because of the missed work while they’re in jail.

It’s a tough thing though. As a society, we tend to believe in “innocent until proven guilty” more in theory than in practice.

What do others think?

boss told me I need to wear makeup and jewelry, employee has terrible attitude, and more

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

1. My boss told me I need to wear makeup and jewelry

I work as an account manager in health care. I have a new boss who has been writing me up for having an “unprofessional appearance.” Today she explained to me that I need to wear makeup and jewelry. I have never been one to wear makeup, and when I do it’s minimal. Same with jewelry, I do not like to wear it. My overall attire is always professional and I take much consideration in my appearance. Is she right for saying I should wear makeup and jewelry?

I have been with this job for three years and never been told I lacked professionalism until she was hired.

Nooooo, she is out of line. There are a small handful of jobs where women are still expected to wear makeup and jewelry — some types of high-end sales, for example. But it’s not most jobs, and it’s not health care. In most jobs, whether you wear makeup and jewelry is entirely up to you. You might be expected to look polished, but how you get there is a matter of personal choice. Your manager is being weirdly overbearing and sexist.

A bit about the law: Courts in the U.S. have generally allowed companies to have different grooming standards for men and women, including requiring that women wear makeup — but they’ve also generally held that grooming standards shouldn’t place a significantly higher burden on one sex, and your manager’s requirement sure as hell sounds like it would do that.

I’d suggest talking to HR. Tell them your manager has told you you’re required to wear makeup and jewelry and ask if that’s a new rule that’s now in effect; assuming it’s not, tell them you’re concerned she’s presented it as a requirement, you’re concerned it creates legal liability for the company, and ask for their help in shutting it down.

2. My employee gets their work done but has a terrible attitude

I was promoted earlier this year to a position where I’m leading a small team at a small company (~100 employees). One of my direct reports (we’ll call them Jan) is both older and more experienced than I am, but for a number of very valid reasons, was not considered for the promotion. However, Jan feels they should’ve been promoted over me. From early on, Jan made it clear that they saw reporting to me as temporary and frequently kept me out of the loop on important projects or tried to go around me. We had several challenging discussions about this, and it felt like we were making some progress.

However, after nearly a year, Jan has continued the same behavior. We discuss the behavior regularly, but after our meetings, it’s like we never discussed anything at all—they just adjust their behavior on one project and then revert to their old ways with new projects. I understand that the reason why is there are little to no repercussions—Jan still gets their work finished, and as long as they’re getting the work done, I don’t know what I can do.

It’s gotten to the point that it’s causing tension on our team since it’s painfully clear that Jan is unhappy. I’ve asked Jan for feedback so we can work better together (I’m very aware of the fact that I have a lot to learn!), but they insist things are fine…then I hear from my boss and others on my team that Jan is complaining about my management.

I don’t have any management experience with a situation like this, and I’m at a loss as to what I can do. Can I discipline someone for having a bad attitude? Is there some way to get Jan to actually provide feedback?

Give up on trying to get Jan to give you feedback and instead focus on the changes you need to see from them. Don’t make it about their attitude (which can be hard to pin down); make it about specific behaviors that need to stop (or start). You can absolutely discipline and fire someone for things like you’ve described — you just need to translate the problems into concrete behaviors. For example, if Jan keeps you out of the loop, one of the standards you need to hold them to is “proactively informing me of details like X, Y, and Z.” Sit down and write out all the behaviors you need to see that you’re not currently seeing, and you’ll have the meat of a performance improvement plan.

You’ll need your boss to have your back on this so loop her in right away, both about the severity of the issues and your plan for dealing with it. You should be prepared to fire Jan if the problems continue after you clearly spell out what they need to change, and you don’t want your boss to be blindsided if that’s the direction things go in. (Also, this isn’t something you should let drag out. Aim for a resolution within a month or two at most.)

3. How much does a company’s Covid response reflect how it might respond to other crises?

I know you have been receiving and answering plenty of questions regarding how to navigate working for an employer who doesn’t take Covid precautions as seriously as they should. I just started a job this fall and have been extremely disappointed with how my small company has handled the massive increase in cases recently (think: scheduling an in-person holiday party, having a culture where it’s a “choice” to work from home but a frowned-upon choice, etc.). I’ve been following your advice in this context as best I can, and I know that if it really came down to it, I would 100% pick my safety over keeping this job. But if it doesn’t get to that point, I’m wondering if I should still be thinking critically about my long-term desire to stay at this company — which I otherwise like — given their Covid response. In other words, how do you think a company’s Covid response is concretely related to how it might respond to other, non-Covid (and non-emergent) contexts?

I think it’s strongly correlated in several ways. First and foremost, it says they’re cavalier about public health, and their employees’ health in particular. In your company’s case, it also says you can’t trust what they say; they might tell you something’s okay but then penalize you for it. And it says they’re either willing to buy into the politicization of a serious public health issue if it suits their own agenda or — if they’d be doing this even if Covid hadn’t become politicized — that they prioritize their profits way over the safety of their employees (beyond even the typical amount of self-interest you normally see under capitalism).

4. Holiday blues in a festive office

I work in a job that is classified as essential, so I have to go into the office every day. My family was hopeful that we’d be able to get together over the holidays this year, but we canceled Thanksgiving and stayed in our own homes.

I’m looking ahead to Christmas, and starting to mentally prepare myself for the fact that I probably won’t be able to see my family for that either. To make matters worse, I live alone and my company has a shutdown for Christmas that’s pretty long, but not long enough for me to properly quarantine and go visit with loved ones. So I’m looking at a holiday that I’ll have to spend alone, for the first time in my life. The easiest way for me to do this is going to be to essentially pretend the holiday isn’t happening and do my best to act like it’s just another day.

The office that I work in tends to be VERY festive and based on communications from management I think they’re going to double down this year in an effort to lift spirits after a rough year. Unsurprisingly I’m not super into it. I want my coworkers to enjoy their holiday and I don’t want to stop anyone from having fun. Any recommendations on how to respond when people realize I’m not as into the festivities this year (they will, I’m a big Christmas person in the office) without drawing too much pity or coming off like a grinch?

How about, “The holidays are hard for me this year since I can’t go home so I’m kind of tuning it out. I don’t want to dampen your celebration; I’m just sitting it out myself.”

You do risk people responding to that by trying to cheer you up or get you into the holiday spirit, so be prepared to say, “I appreciate the thought, but this is easier for me this year” followed by an immediate subject change.

5. Asking for a raise after I was hired back at an old job

I was laid off last spring (like many), but was offered an old job at a previous company. I had kept in touch with my old boss, and when they heard I was unemployed, jumped on asking me if I would like to come back. They were offering $13k less than what I was making at my laid-off job, but I was not in a position to say no to a steady income. I did not negotiate at the time because I wasn’t sure if I could. Upon my hiring, my manager said we could discuss a raise in around six months to a year. I have now been at the company for eight months, but I’m not sure how to bring this up. Our company definitely is not doing poorly (or as far as they share with employees), but I just don’t know how to ask to revisit the conversation. I was thinking about waiting until the holidays and seeing if they do anything special this year (during my previous time with this employer, they never did a holiday bonus/end of year cost of living adjustment).

Am I being too timid with this? Thinking about the conversation makes me extremely uncomfortable.

Yes, you’re being too timid! Don’t wait to see if they do bonuses or raises around the holidays when they’re never done that before. Plus, you want a raise, not just a one-time bonus or a cost-of-living adjustment.

Asking for a raise makes lots of people (probably most people) uncomfortable, so don’t take your discomfort as a sign not to do it. Sit down with your boss and say, “When I was hired back eight months ago, you suggested we could discuss a raise after six months. I think my work has gone really well — I’ve achieved X, Y, and Z — and I’m hoping we can increase my salary.” More advice here!

weekend open thread – November 28-29, 2020

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand.

Here are the rules for the weekend posts.

Book recommendation of the week: Saints for All Occasions, by J. Courtney Sullivan. Another epic family saga, this one told from alternating points of view and about two sisters who leave Ireland for America. Estranged for years after arriving, one raises a large family while the other becomes a cloistered nun. It’s about family, secrets, and how decisions when you’re young can shape the course of your life in ways you never expect.

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

it’s your Friday good news

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

1. I’m excited to share that after a very difficult fellowship and a very difficult fellowship, I got a job offer that I’m really excited about! I’ve been reading your blog religiously for a couple of years largely because I started a fellowship two years ago with a Horrible Manager. My manager made me feel so small and I felt like I had to compromise my beliefs to do the role. Your blog helped me to navigate that relationship and stand up for myself. The ending to the fellowship was also difficult – after the CEO told the entire staff that our jobs were secure and my manager said that they could probably (which I know isn’t a definitely) extend the fellowship until I found something else, I asked and found out that I couldn’t get an extension with about a month let of my fellowship. So I found myself staring down an unknown period of unemployment, in a pandemic, with a tough job market.

I had been applying to jobs for over a year before the end of my fellowship because my manager was so awful and I wanted out. I got through multiple rounds of interviews pretty consistently, but never got an offer. Once the fellowship ended I totally redid my cover letters and resume based on your advice. I come from a legal background so my old cover letters were kind of formal and rigid and also didn’t provide new information about myself that wasn’t already on my resume. I edited my cover letters to talk about my results and examples of who I am as an advocate through my work. I also edited my resume to talk about my accomplishments rather than just my job duties. Also honestly I was sort of burnt out from working in reproductive rights for the past three years and wanted to switch into another field but felt kind of daunted by that process.

Well, thanks to your advice I got interviews consistently over the two months I was unemployed, including a bunch in other fields. In my interviews I didn’t shy away from asking tough questions about workplace culture and thinking critically about not just if I was a good fit for the organization, but if they were a good fit for me. In retrospect my last fellowship had a lot of red flags during the interview process that I should have probed more about to find a work culture and manager that was a better fit. All of the places where I interviewed really appreciated how thorough I was in my questions and I think it showed how much I valued fit on both sides of the relationship. I finally got a job offer today at an organization that values my advocacy style, background, and racial justice values. I know there is no such thing as a dream job, but it feels so good to accept an offer from an organization where I feel like I don’t need to hide what I value to fit in.

Anyway, I spent years interviewing trying to fit myself into roles that weren’t really “me” because I was so worried about job insecurity. But reading your blog and having this unemployment period really helped me to reflect on what I value in myself and the workplace.

Thank you so much for all that you do and good luck to everyone searching for a job searching. I used to read the Friday Good News thinking “I hope that’s me some day!” And now it finally is – I wish that for someone else too.

2. As a long time reader, I thought I’d share my good news. Throughout the pandemic, I was working in a position where I was unhappy with the leadership of the company, though I loved my boss. I was essentially resigned to continue in the role because we were in the midst of a pandemic. Then, a recruiter reached out. After a long interview process, I am now in a new leadership position with a great company that is looking for my skill set to grow the company. I went from a place that seemed terrified of any change, to one that is embracing what they need to grow to the next level. The new position comes with increased salary and responsibilities.

I’ve internalized a lot of the great advice you and the community have given. Instead of dreading work, I am actually looking forward to it, which is nice given the current state of the world.

3. I’ve been job hunting in the last month and I’ve put your lovely suggestions and all the AAM advice on job seeking/interviewing and career swaps to work and applied to an open position in accounting for a mid-large company here in my city. Got called back within the hour, had the first phone screening and landed another round of interviews via Zoom and ended up being invited for a third and last in-person meeting on Monday aaaaaaaaaaaand I’ve got an offer as an accountant! Yay!! I’ll have a lot to learn but there is going to be time and a learning curve is expected since it is a career switch. But they love my soft skills and the attitude my years as an AA gave me! Yay!! It will also be a title and salary. 2000€/yr more than what I was making plus food tickets! (Note from Alison: Something in Italy, I think?)  I’m SO thrilled! It’s not the permanent position I dreamt of but they are open to go beyond the maternity leave temp, when the time comes (in a year) and I will, in both scenarios, have one year experience in this new role.

Thank you SO very very much for all the support, the useful informations you give us! And thanks to all the readers, because they are golden in every comment!

4. I have been unhappy in my job for over a year for a number of reasons. My husband and I are lucky to both work in industries that are booming during the pandemic. We’d always discussed moving to a new state and a couple of months ago decided to start casually applying to jobs in the state we want to live in. I applied for a lateral move type job but with a much smaller company. Within an hour of sending my application, I had a phone screen scheduled. Within a couple hours of the phone screen, I had a virtual interview scheduled. Using all the stuff I’ve learned from your site over the years, I guess I won them over. A couple days after my interview I had a full job offer and was even able to negotiate a signing bonus to help with our move! We decided to go for it and are now in the process of moving across the country. I am beyond excited to start this new adventure and work somewhere that I’m wanted and can succeed. It feels crazy that within two weeks of applying I had an offer and now after a month we are packing up our home, but it will be worth it to finally move to an area we’ve dreamed of for so long. Thanks for your amazing advice!

5. I have been a periodic Ask a Manager reader over the last few years and have always enjoyed your advice. When I was one of the unlucky ones to be fired in the midst of COVID this spring (with thankfully a few months leeway to find a new position elsewhere), your blog was an essential voice of reason at every stage as I ventured into serious job hunting for the first time in several years.

It helped me wrap my head around what to expect and ask for from my former company if I did not find a job by my prescribed end date. It gave me the perspective I needed to begin to process what went wrong, what mistakes I made or didn’t make, and what I can apply in future roles. And most importantly, it equipped me with great tips, tools, and reality-checks throughout the job search process (especially spotting red flags!). I’m happy to report that not only did I accept a new position with another organization that furthers my career in new and exciting ways, I even successfully negotiated a higher salary than what was advertised as being the top end of their range for the position (and higher than my salary at my old company)!

Although I’ve certainly had a lot of support over the past few months from my family, boyfriend, friends, and therapist (hooray for mental health services!), this blog has been a huge factor as well. I’m looking forward to continuing my devotee status as I start this new position in the coming weeks. Thank you for everything!

open thread – November 27-28, 2020

It’s the Friday open thread! The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything work-related that you want to talk about (that includes school). 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.

being put on a performance plan right after a glowing review, photos on resumes, and more

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

1. Performance plan two weeks after a glowing review

My husband was just notified he is being put on a performance plan. He agrees that a recent event he was involved in, but not in charge of, did not go well. But, he was just rated “an exceptional performer” in a review less than two weeks ago, he has been nominated for department awards every month for the past six months, and he is on track to meet all his metrics and goals for the quarter.

The issues outlined in the performance conversation were things like communicate issues better, document processes more, and some concerns about early metrics related to a new platform they are not fully moved into. They also noted that he should think of this as a development conversation, but also that it is a formal performance plan.

I should also note that this is a very “company first, work all hours/days of the week” type of environment and management acknowledged that he had indeed been “putting in the hours,” in the PIP conversation.

Is it possible to be an exceptional performer, meet goals, and still need a performance plan? What should his takeaway be here?

Putting someone on an improvement plan who just got rated “exceptional” two weeks ago? I can come up with a couple of cases where maybe that would happen, but they’d be incredibly rare and it would be clear it was a big deal and Things Had Changed — things like uncovering serious issues that he’d successfully hidden, or finding out that work you thought he’d done was actually entirely done by someone else. Those aren’t normal, though, and if something like that happened, as a manager you’d want to specifically address and explain the discrepancy with the review.

In this case, it sounds like his manager just hasn’t been managing well … or is getting pressure from someone above to manage him differently for some reason. Something weird is happening.

And that crap about “it’s just a development conversation” — no. If that’s all it were, it would be … just a conversation. It’s a formal plan, so it’s something else.

If I were him, I’d sit down with the manager and say, “I want to make sure I’m clear about where I stand. I just got an exceptional rating two weeks ago, and now I’m on a formal improvement plan. I’m certainly committed to making the improvements outlined in it, but the fact that this rose to the level of a formal plan, so soon on the heels of a stellar review, makes me wonder if I’m missing something. Did your assessment of my work change in the last two weeks and if so, what caused that?”

2. What’s up with photos on resumes?

I’ve been a recruiter for about eight years and I have reviewed thousands of resumes. Recently, I have been getting resumes from new college grads with photos on them. I’m not talking a small headshot up in the corner but pictures that are taking up 25-30% of the usable space on the resume. All of them have looked posed and professional, but one was obviously a graduation photo taken in front of a fountain at the candidate’s alma mater. Are college counselors recommending this now? I don’t necessarily think it looks unprofessional but … unnecessary. The photos are often taking up valuable space that could be used for highlighting accomplishments. What are your thoughts on this?

Yeah, it’s weird. (In the U.S., anyway. There are countries where it’s common, but we are not one of them.) I don’t know if college career centers are pushing it (but it would not surprise me), but there’s a definite thing where online resume templates often come in formats that no hiring manager would want to receive, sometimes including space for a photo. I don’t know who’s designing those resume templates, but it’s not people who actually do hiring.

3. Company wants to have a large Christmas luncheon during Covid

I oversee a few locations of the company where I work, and my manager approached me about Christmas luncheon amongst these separate locations. I’m currently working from home and hate this idea. I’m not even planning on seeing family in person. How do I convey that it makes me uncomfortable they’re even suggesting this get together?

I’d say, “Currently public health guidelines say not to have social gatherings with households other than our own. The company really can’t violate public health recommendations and put employees at risk. A lot of people aren’t even seeing their families for the holidays, and I think this will seem really tone-deaf.”

If they don’t care about employees’ safety, point out that if it turned into a super spreader event, it would be horrible PR for your company.

4. Should I contact the department head directly about a job I applied for?

There is a position I’m excited about, close to my home (I’m outside a major city, so I would not have to commute into that city and would actually travel opposite rush hour traffic), and in an institution that, because of its location, does not usually attract many of the qualified candidates that generally flock to the major urban center about 40 minutes away.

I know this last fact because I met the woman in charge of the department I’m applying to about a year and half ago. I scheduled an informational visit and a tour of the facility for a class I was taking at the time in my masters program, a professional program that was preparing me for exactly this kind of job. At the time, I corresponded directly with the manager of the very small department. We had an excellent visit, where she showed me around and answered all my questions, even explaining her aforementioned struggle to attract talent to the institution. She even encouraged me to apply for a small fellowship at the institution in the department, albeit in an offhand way (I was unable to, as I had accepted an internship elsewhere).

This woman is still the head of the department (the information is on the website). I of course applied straightaway through the HR portal about three weeks ago, and while I have not heard back yet I know this process moves slowly. Would it be wildly inappropriate to reach out to this manager to reintroduce myself as a candidate and remind her of my interest in the institution? We have not spoken since the visit. The portal makes me think she won’t see my application until an initial screen is done by whoever monitors it. I think I’m qualified, and anxious to procure full-time employment in this terrible job market. Good idea?

Yes! When you know someone on a team you’re applying to, it’s never inappropriate to contact them directly and let them know you applied for a job. In fact, if I were her and you didn’t contact me directly, I’d wonder why! Email her today.