coworker asks me questions he could google, employer’s shirts don’t fit me, and more

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

1. Coworker in a different department asks me inane questions

I am a 30-year-old woman. I have been at a business for three years in one department. A man, about 60, who has been there for 25 years in a different department, often asks me for information he could google (addresses, phone numbers, employee names at other businesses, etc.). I am in a manager role (although not his manager; we are pretty much equals) and have no assistance duties assigned for this colleague. I find these requests annoying. What can I politely say to him to encourage him to use his resources and problem-solve on his own before asking colleagues for help?

“I don’t know, you should google that.” If you say this every time, he’ll probably stop asking you pretty quickly.

But if you’d like to make more of a point: “I might be missing something — why are you asking me to do this?” (If you’re comfortable being blunter, you can drop the first part.)

Or: “You often ask me for info you could google, and which I’d need to google myself. We work on different teams and I’m not an assistant. What am I missing about why you’re coming to me for these things?”*

But really, “I don’t know, you should google that” on repeat should put a stop to it pretty quickly.

* The answer is to that question is almost certainly that you’re a younger woman who was helpful to him once or twice, or maybe just someone he saw being helpful to someone else once.

2. The shirts my employer offers don’t fit me

I work as staff at a university. The dress code is business casual, but on Fridays we are allowed to dress in jeans and a university branded t-shirt. My department gave us t-shirts, but they only went up to size XXL. I need a 3X, so I am unable to participate in “sprit Fridays.” I never said anything about it and I just stick with business casual on Fridays. My question is not about this particular issue, but I’m including it as background and evidence of a pattern.

Recently I was accepted to a leadership development program offered by the university. The program director sent a link to an online form for participants to fill out. The form asks for t-shirt size and provides options from XS to XXL. None of these will fit me. The field is required and there is no option to decline a t-shirt, so I can’t submit the form without choosing a size.

I could just choose a size that would fit my daughter and give the shirt to her, but I’m concerned I will be expected to wear it for program events/photos. I also feel shamed, othered, and excluded by the lack of sizing options. My university is sending me a clear message that I do not fit the look of a “leader.” Given that the program focuses heavily on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, I wonder if this is worth flagging for the director.

What would you suggest? Request a daughter-sized t-shirt and explain if asked to wear it? Decline to fill out the form and email the director with my information instead, explaining that the sizes offered do not work for me? If this is something I should raise as a DEI concern, how can I do so without coming across as scolding, angry, or aggressive? This program is a great professional development opportunity and I don’t want to further alienate myself.

Please do email the director to explain the t-shirt sizes aren’t inclusive and won’t fit you and ask how you should proceed since it’s a required field. Clearly using the words “not inclusive” to someone leading a program that focuses on DEI might be enough to jog her into realizing this is A Problem, but you can also spell it out in a straightforward way. For example: “Especially since the program focuses on DEI, I hope this is something we can change.”

3. I’m supposed to do two jobs for a $30/paycheck raise

I currently work for for a SaaS company. I was hired as a product analyst and although the salary wasn’t what I wanted, it was close and I was told promotions were common and come with a 7-15% raise (depending on performance). Over the past year I’ve become critical to the team, handle 47% of the department workload (proven by our metrics), have wonderful monthly reviews, and have the highest client ratings in the company. My managers told me I just needed to keep performing like this and I would be promoted/given a raise to what I was originally looking for. Well, good news, I just received a promotion! There is a hiring freeze though so I’m expected to continue all of my current duties (they can’t backfill until 2023 at the earliest) while immediately taking over all client-facing meetings, and handling my new duties. It’s a lot but I feel like I can handle the added responsibilities. The issue lies in my “new” compensation.

Apparently, I was started at a higher rate than some of my coworkers due to my experience within the field, so I’m now being told that the pay band for my new role only allows a raise of less than 1% from what I currently make (about $30 a paycheck before taxes) and this is the most they could get approved with the freeze in place. They are asking me to stick with it and they will take this into account during annual reviews to get me the max amount, which is capped at 4%.

I loved working here before this but this has left a bad taste in my mouth. I haven’t signed the promotion paperwork yet as there was a clerical error, and I’m unsure if there’s anything I could or should do.

So they have you doing two jobs, one of them a higher level role than you were hired for, and they are paying you … $30/paycheck extra for that? That’s quite a good deal for them, and quite a bad one for you.

If they can’t pay you appropriately because there’s a hiring freeze, then by definition they can’t afford to hire you into the new job at all right now. And that’s the way I’d approach it with them: “This is a significant amount of additional work to take on while still doing my old job, without the compensation to match. I’ll be glad to take on the new position once we’re able to allocate the appropriate pay for it, but it sounds like the hiring freeze means we need to wait on that?” (Of course, this requires you to be willing to risk the promotion, so you’d want to figure out exactly where you stand on that before having this conversation. Keep in mind, though, that once you start doing the work, you’ll give up much of your leverage to be paid fairly for it.)

4. Asking about salary when your interviews seem endless

I was browsing jobs after a bad week at work and found a role that seemed like it would be a good fit and would allow me to better utilize my degree than my current job. I submitted an application without expecting much, but the next day I received a request for a virtual interview with the person who previously held the position. I agreed, just to learn more about the job, and things seemed to go well. I then had a second virtual interview with the person who I would be directly reporting to, and that also went well. I was then asked to a third virtual interview with the board of directors, which apparently (again) went well. In between interviews, I also had a phone call with the person who previously held the job (at my request) just to learn more about the day-to-day. All of these interviews took place over the course of a week. During that week, I was also asked to complete an online personality test and a skills assessment.

The only reason I was able to meet with them so easily is because they were virtual interviews, but even then I did have to make up excuses to not be at work (my job is not remote). Now I have been asked to come into the office for a fourth interview to meet the board of directors in-person. This would have to be during a specific time slot four days from today.

This all seems like it would make sense if I was applying for a prestigious job. But this job is not something that I have encountered before. It is a new position with no historical data, so I am not able to easily find any information online, particularly salary info.

Should I reach out for a salary range before I attend any more interviews? I have a feeling, based on what I have learned about the responsibilities, that this job will pay less than what I am making now (in this economy a dealbreaker), and I’ve already spent a lot of time on this company. But there is also a small chance that this job has better pay and benefits than what I have now. I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot by jumping the gun and asking about pay too early.

This is way too many interviews. And unless it’s a very senior position (like the top position), there’s no reason the board of directors needs to be interviewing you, let alone twice.

You can definitely ask about salary before you do anything else. Say it this way: “Before we move forward, can you tell me your salary range for this role so we can make sure we’re in the same ballpark?” You can ask about the rest of the process too: “It will be hard for me to continue taking off more work, so I wonder if you can tell me how many more steps to expect in the process?”

5. Getting reimbursed for tips on work trips

I’m currently traveling for work and I’m wondering about tipping. I have a corporate credit card that I’m using for my hotel, rental car, and meals. It’s easy to add a tip to my total when I use my card at a restaurant or something. But I’m not sure to handle tips that are usually done in cash, like for the hotel housekeeping staff or valet parking. My company does also have a reimbursement process, so I could attempt to submit this for reimbursement, but they require a receipt for every purchase. Is this just a cost that I’m expected to “eat”? (Which would be annoying, but I guess I’d rather deal with the personal loss of a few dollars than have service industry workers suffer.) How do other companies handle this?

No, you shouldn’t just eat the cost of cash tips. At most organizations, you’d record the tips you give and submit those along with the rest of your expenses for reimbursement. Some people do that by writing the tip amount on some form of receipt connected to the trip (like if you tip housekeeping, write that tip on the receipt for the hotel stay). Your organization might also have written guidelines for tipping, so check for those too.

weekend open thread – September 24-25, 2022

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: Girls They Write Songs About, by Carlene Bauer. The story of two friends over decades. Beautifully written and perfectly captures the intensity of 20something friendship, as well as how time can change the thing you once made together.

I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.

it’s your Friday good news

It’s your Friday good news!

1.  “I am an ‘older’ worker, and had gotten to a comfortable position in a government agency (let’s say llama inspector) that, while not the best, I thought I could ride to retirement. It had its frustrations, but the autonomy that I was given made me think that was worth it.

This past summer, after I had inspected a llama facility, I received a call from the VP of llamas, asking when they would receive their llama approval certificate. While on the phone, he mentioned that they were looking for a director of llamas, and in my position I might know some people who would be well qualified — could he send me the job description to forward to anyone I might know? I replied that I would be happy to.

After reading the job description, and knowing some about the company and its goals in improving llamas lives, I realized this position could be a good fit for me. I called the VP of llamas back, and told him that I might be interested, and could he tell me more! He was surprised, but excited to tell me all about the company and their plans for llamas.

Long story short, after interviews with the VP, the president, head of HR, and director of llama care (using many tips from your site, of course), I was more than excited about the prospect of this position.

I have now been in this position for over a month, and it has been so wonderful. I am appreciated. I am heard. I am respected! I am working for a company that is passionate about improving the lives of llamas. And, I am making more than double my previous salary! All because the government agency that I worked for took too long in generating a certificate.

Sometimes the good things happen when you are not looking, or least expect it!”

2.  “I was laid off from Globally Known Computer Company in 2017. I took a break for a while then ramped up my job search. Through connections I picked up a contract gig that I was assured would become permanent, but which ended January 2020. (That was a blow because all my previous temp or contract gigs had turned into permanent employment. I’m now within 10 years of possible retirement, so I was concerned about ageism and being perceived as too senior or too expensive.)

I took a long-planned vacation in Europe, getting home just before the panini closed the world down. Refreshed, I dove into the job search once again. I felt a lot of pressure because my partner had taken early retirement when I’d gotten that last contract gig. Having been a devoted AAM reader for years, I knew how to customize my resume and tailor cover letters for each application. I did not despair when I didn’t get responses or interviews; I just forged ahead. My partner was nervous, but I was confident I’d get something — eventually.

In September 2020 I landed an interview. Within two weeks I had the job, completely and permanently remote at the salary I asked for. They are great at showing appreciation for employees without any gross or cringey stuff. In my first year, I was told many times how grateful they are to have me. There’s a lot of mutual respect, collaboration, and autonomy, so it’s a great cultural fit. I’m a heads-down, do the work, no-drama type of employee, so this spring I was delighted to get a sizable raise and a great bonus without asking. I plan for this to be the last job I’ll ever need!

I’ve enjoyed Ask a Manager for many years. Every day, Alison and her community make job searchers more confident and help readers be better employees and managers. I often share this website with other people. It’s one of the best parts of the internet. Thank you!”

3.  “My career path has been pretty bumpy since getting my bachelors. First, I ended up not going into the field my degree was in. However, I was able to leverage some club experience into a project management/event management role. I had a wonderful boss and I loved my work. Unfortunately, I was let go from that role in a mass layoff after only a year. That was a gut punch. I think it hurt more because it wasn’t a reflection of my work, I was just the newest employee. With only a year’s experience, I wasn’t having much luck finding a new project management role and ended up moving back to my hometown. I decided to pivot and try to find a job in IT as I had worked at an IT help desk all through out college. With that experience, I was able to find a job fairly quickly in a local small business, but after a few months it turned very toxic. My manager had no managerial experience and frankly had no business being a manager. There was a lot of turnover there and I quickly became the most senior person besides the manager. The manager dumped his responsibilities on me, but none of his authority. I would let him know about issues so he could address them, but then get yelled at for not fixing them a few days later. After getting a highly unprofessional email full of insults and way too many exclamation marks (while I was out sick no less), I told the owner either he needed to figure out a plan to move me away from this manager and get him managerial training or I was going to leave. It became clear that they were not willing to find a solution so we agreed to a “layoff” so I could still get unemployment. I had only been there 11 months. I was relieved to get out, but also depressed that I had to start over again.

I decided to stick with IT and took a temp role at another local business. This new place was so much better than the previous one. I had supportive managers who had our backs and my coworkers were kind and helpful. I happily accepted when they offered me a full-time version of the same role. I thrived there, getting excellent performance reviews, high metric ratings, and I was promoted after only a year. After 3 years there, I was working with my manager to figure out my next career move. I decided to send out a couple of applications, with the plan that if I got an offer, we could leverage that to get this new role created. I really didn’t take it seriously because I didn’t want to leave my current company. Until a consulting company asked me do a phone screen, then an interview with one manager, then an interview with a different manager, and then an interview with the department director! Each interview went better than the last and I found I was actually interested in the possibility of moving into IT consulting. When they asked for my salary range, I did some research and gave them a range that was 25% – 30% more than what I was making, but was on-par for the role they had been describing. They ended up giving me an offer higher than the top of my range, almost 50% of my current salary!! They said they were impressed with my work and I would be bringing experience that the team desperately needed. After a lot of thought, I took the plunge and accepted the offer. It’s now been a month since I started in my new role and I really enjoying it. My new manager has been great at providing support for me as a new consultant, while also trusting me as a subject matter expert in my field. I’m looking forward to learning more about consulting and expanding my skills so I can provide the best solutions for our clients.

I want to thank you for providing so many wonderful resources. I used some of your salary negotiation tips when I gave them my salary range. It was so nerve wracking asking for more than what I was currently making, but I had my research to back me up and gave the range very matter-of-factly. I about fell out of my chair when the offer came in above the top of my range. It is great knowing that they value my skills so highly that they are willing to invest so much in me. I don’t have imposter syndrome per se, but I do tend to undervalue my skills or downplay how advanced they are. This change has definitely boosted my confidence. Thanks again for all your great advice!”

4.  “I was burnt out in my field (education) but had no idea how to break out of the teacher mold. I was able to get a very entry, contract position w the federal government (working 10 hour days, 6 days a week!) but was desperate for a change.

Enter your blog: I devoured all of your resume, cover letter, and interview tips and tricks. Reworked both my resume and cover letter, sent them out to a company I was dying to work for — and within a couple of days landed the pre screen interview!

Two weeks and five rounds of interviews later (tech is no joke!) I have a new job!!! This job is a 50% raise and my first 9-5. I am over the moon excited and truly would not be here without your advice or the advice from your readers.”

open thread – September 23-24, 2022

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.

coworker says fetuses are judging mothers-to-be, sending a cake with your resume on it, and more

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

1. Coworker says fetuses are judging “mothers-to-be” for what they eat

This morning, an older male coworker posted an article link on our department intranet. It was about fetuses showing reactions to taste on ultrasound exams, so it’s maybe very tangentially related to what we do (not worthy of sharing on the announcement board for our whole department, in my opinion). But the issue is his accompanying comment: “Mothers-to-be, be careful what you eat! Your child is judging you!!”

Our department (and org overall) is mostly women, and I am sure I am not the only one bothered by the implications of yet another party judging women for what they choose to eat. It’s also weird because the article didn’t say anything about the fetus having an opinion toward the person consuming the food (because how could it?). That’s not even touching on the fact that not all mothers-to-be experience pregnancy, and not all people experiencing pregnancy are mothers.

My partner thinks I should just take a screenshot and send it to HR, but that feels like a little much to me when I could leave a professionally worded comment (because we women always have to remain professional even in the face of microaggressions). I don’t report to this coworker, and while he is in my department, our work doesn’t overlap at all. Should I respond to the comment, and if so, what would be best to say?

I agree with you that it doesn’t rise to the level of taking it to HR, but it’s definitely worth saying something. Personally, I’d reply, “Ugh, more judgment of what women eat? This doesn’t belong here.” But you could say it however you’re comfortable with — I don’t think you need dance around it too delicately.

2. Sending a cake with your resume on it

I wanted to get your take on this LinkedIn Post about a woman who sent a cake with her resume on it to a party hosted by Nike that she was NOT invited to.

I use to hire student workers when I worked at a large university. One of my top dislikes were gimmicks. I don’t mind some creativity, but I want to see it more so in your portfolio or in the application process that we’ve laid out (especially because we want to keep it fair and equitable).

Many commentators are praising her for her creativity, but I disagree. If I was managing a university event, with external stakeholders, and a random cake showed up with a resume on it, I would not serve the cake at the event (primarily because we have catering contracts at the university level). So now I have a new problem, where to put this random cake? Is there a kitchen in this building? If not, then do I have to go to a building where I have keycard access and put it in a faculty/staff fridge?

But what if I put the cake in the employee lounge fridge and someone ate it before I had the chance to take the picture? So now I need to take a picture, then print it out to file with other resumes I’m reviewing.

But then if I do accept this resume cake (in my scenario from a student) and I ultimately hire them, would that mean other students would send me an endless stream of resume cakes at every major university event?

I may be catastrophizing here, but it seems like more of a burden (especially, because it is being delivered to an event). I guess the good news that is even if she doesn’t get a job with Nike, she went viral on LinkedIn, which could help her job search. Am I off-base here? What are your thoughts?

No, I agree with you. I’m generally opposed to gimmicks in job-searching (unless maybe if you are applying for a job thinking up gimmicks, in which case I guess go for it? but even then you’d have to proceed with caution). The thing about using gimmicks like this is that they will turn off a ton of of hiring managers who will rightly find them overly aggressive, cheesy, out of touch with what employers are looking for, or in some cases creepy (plus in this case, the ones who don’t want to receive food from strangers). And the ones who like it — well, you’ll have just screened for managers who respond to flash over merit, and that’s not who most people want to work for.

To avoid that trap, a gimmick would need to be related directly to the most important skills an employer is looking for so that it showcases the right things about you, rather than just shouting “look at me!” For most jobs, a resume cake is not that. (I assume the idea was supposed to be that the cake would show creativity and resourcefulness, but it doesn’t really show those things very strongly or in a way that overcomes the rest of the issues.)

3. I want to leave but I’m worried about my employees

I’ve been the CEO of a small not-for-profit for a short but difficult six-month period. The job has been very different to what I expected, with very significant problems to navigate with staff. I didn’t know about the problems when I accepted the job, but became aware in phone calls with Board members just days after. The problems have dominated my work. I’m not sure but if I had been fully informed I may not have accepted the job. It’s taken a toll.

If I didn’t have any concerns about staff, I would leave now. I’ve been unhappy in the role since the start and in just a few months I’m worn out.

The problem is that I’m committed to staff. It’s a real concern to me that if I leave others will follow, and still others may lose their jobs with nothing to go to. I’m not overestimating the impact of my leaving; it’s a fledgling company that feels like it has a small window to turn things around but will otherwise fail. A few key staff are very fatigued by the problems and they need stability.

I don’t think there’s an easy yes/no answer here, but I’d love to have your thoughts on what to consider in making a decision.

If you want to leave, you should leave. When you try to protect other people without their knowledge or consent, it can have ramifications you never intended or anticipated. For example, you might have someone who’s considering leaving themselves but figures they’ll stick it out since you are, when in fact it would be far better for them to get out. Or what if you hold off on leaving to protect their jobs, but by the time you finally do leave, the job market is a lot worse for them than it is now? Or one of them is pregnant or sick when you leave in a year and feels it’s the wrong time to change jobs but they could have done it more easily right now if they had known they were going to need to? Obviously this is just all wild speculation and none of it might happen, but there are so many factors like this that can come into play that it doesn’t make sense to time your own leaving based on what might be best for other people; you just can never know.

Make the decision that’s right for you, and trust that your staff will figure out what’s next for them, whatever happens.

And for what it’s worth, small organizations that have a single point of failure, like one specific employee, tend to fail — or at least flail — regardless.

4. Turning down an interview when I like the job

I was recently contacted by an external recruiter about a job. They saw my profile on LinkedIn and thought I would be a good fit for the position they are hiring for. That specific position is the kind of work I am looking to move into eventually, so I agreed to have a brief conversation with them. It turns out that the job title and responsibilities are just what I am looking for, but the timing isn’t right for me (I’m pregnant) and they aren’t offering the kind of hybrid remote set up I want/need in my life right now. The pay is great and the company gets great reviews on Linkedin and Glassdoor, but the benefits don’t match or do better than what I have now at my current job, where I am pretty happy.

The recruiter wants to send my resume on to the hiring manager. I have to contact this recruiter and tell him I don’t want to move forward. I would be interested in a similar role and that particular company in the future, but the timing just isn’t right. How do I effectively say all of that to leave the door cracked open just a smidge? Or, should I send my resume so that I get my foot in the door with that company, then back out? That feels sneaky but I’ve never been actively recruited before.

Don’t move forward with a job you know you wouldn’t take right now. But you could say, “The timing isn’t right for me right now for a variety of reasons, but this is the exact kind of work I’d like to move into eventually. I’d love to reach out in the future if my situation changes.”

what does self-care look like at work?

A reader writes:

I’ve been working through some significant program transitions and expansion as a manager at a basic needs nonprofit. The need, as you certainly know, continues to grow, and we’re feeling it exponentially. My boss asked me what my strategies for caring for myself at work were, and I realized that I don’t even really know what that entails!

I understand how to care for myself in my personal life, etc., but that kind of thing in a work setting doesn’t feel intuitive. I’m wondering if you might be able to talk more about what self-care and recuperation can look like in the office.

The big ones are boundaries and time off. It’s stuff like:

•  Disconnecting from work on a regular basis, and not checking email and messages once you leave for the night or over the weekend. If you have a job that requires you to do some of that, you should be very disciplined about not doing it whenever you don’t absolutely have to. When you have a job that requires long hours, it can be easy to get into the habit of checking/responding to email even when you don’t need to … but it’s hugely important to give yourself large chunks of time when you’re not thinking about work, even if you think you don’t mind. You should mind, because over time that cumulative “always on” feeling will take a toll.

•  Taking real time off, preferably in big blocks like a full week or a full two weeks and not just a day here and a day there. For a lot of people, it takes a few days to fully disconnect mentally, and then your vacation is over as soon as you’ve managed to do that. And make sure it’s clear you shouldn’t be contacted while you’re away.

•  When you have a full workload, being assertive about saying no to projects unless something else comes off your plate or gets pushed back.

•  Carving out time at work where you can just think. If every minute of your work day is allocated to specific tasks, you’re much less likely to come up with new ideas and better approaches, more likely to miss things like “project X isn’t paying the same same dividends it used to,” and more likely to feel drained and exhausted all the time. Ensure your weeks (or at least your months) contain some space to just think.

Beyond that, the answer depends on what you personally find valuable. It might be stuff like making time to take a walk outside every day, or ensuring you eat a healthy lunch away from your computer, or being more deliberate about recognizing your own progress and accomplishments. But very few of those smaller tactics will be enough if you don’t tackle the big ones above.

Ask a Manager in the media

Here’s some coverage of Ask a Manager in the media recently:

I talked with The Guardian about the new rules of the office, including dealing with office chairs; burping, farting, yawning, or sneezing during meetings; and asking to work flexible hours.

I talked with Cosmopolitan about how to deal with job rejection.

Marketplace referenced an AAM letter about using astrology to analyze employees.

I talked to Fortune about cover letter mistakes.

Business Insider recommended the Ask a Manager book as a gift for new grads.

a coworker’s child keeps saying insulting and bigoted things to me

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

I work in a nonprofit child care setting and the environment can be toxic at times. These people have all known each other for decades and have habits of lying for one another in professional settings to make the organization sound better than it actually is.

That being said, I am an openly gay man and recieve much support from my coworkers. I truly love working here. I have pride flags in my office, i wear pride themed clothes often, I paint my nails, and have sparkly gems decorating my desk in pinks and whites.

So here’s the issue: I have one coworker, Lynn, who makes me feel uncomfortable who is also good friends with most of the executive staff. I recently had to ask Lynn not to play Christian worship music in the office because it was making me feel uncomfortable and she understood. Now she’s brought her seven-year-niece in a few times and while she’s super cute and its not unusual for us to have kids in the office, this child is rude and mean to me but says she’s just joking.

This seven-year-old has told me I’m ugly, I shouldn’t be painting my nails, I shouldn’t like “girly” things, I’m too hairy, I’m a weirdo, and that she wants to cut up my pride flags and wreck my desk gems when I’m not looking.

Now, she’s a child and I understand she probably doesn’t fully understand the impact of what she’s saying, but I feel that children say what they hear at home and are more honest than the adults around them. It feels like Lynn and her family have these feelings and the child is just repeating it.

I want to say something to Lynn about it, but I worry that I’m going to be making bigger issues for myself here because she is super close with the organization’s executive director and is one of the most gossip-oriented people I’ve ever worked with. I was warned on my first day that she was a gossip and I have firsthand witnessed her repeat private conversations to entire rooms of coworkers.

My question is this: how would you address a situation where a coworker’s child, who doesn’t actually attend our child-care program, is saying offensive and mean things to you that genuinely hurt your feelings, even though as a child she probably doesn’t understand what she’s saying?

Readers, what’s your advice?

I accidentally sent my team erotica, mumbling boss, and more

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

1. I accidentally sent my team a graphic paragraph of erotica

I write erotica as a hobby. The other day, I was in a Zoom meeting with my boss and several coworkers. My boss didn’t have the link handy for a shared document that we were discussing and asked someone to put the link into the chat. I copied and pasted the link and quickly sent the message. Except … the link had not actually copied and instead I sent everyone the last thing on my clipboard, which was a rather graphic paragraph from erotica I was writing the previous night! (I work from my personal computer.)

Needless to say, I’m mortified. In the moment, I said something like “oh my god, I’m so sorry, that’s not what I meant to send” and the meeting proceeded as if nothing had happened, for which I was very grateful. I haven’t said anything else to my boss or coworkers about it. My question is, do I need to address it? For context, I am not particularly close with these coworkers because we are only working together for this project, which is new. Our work is related to progressive politics, so I don’t think anyone on the call is especially puritanical, and there wasn’t anything particularly offensive in the paragraph I sent, though it was graphic and definitely NSFW! I would really rather not say anything — I feel awkward enough as is — but I’m not sure what the professional thing is to do here.

Oh noooo.

My initial reaction was that you really should say something to your boss afterwards to explain it … but the more I think about it, the more I think you already handled it in the moment. You apologized and you made it clear it wasn’t what you meant to send, so you covered those bases. If people seemed shocked or very uncomfortable, that would change my answer, but you apologized and everyone moved on so I think you can leave it there. If you had sent a graphic photo rather than text, I’d handle it differently.

2. I can’t hear my mumbling boss

My old manager recently moved out of his position and I have a new boss who’s a decent guy but his speech is damn near incomprehensible. He’ll start a sentence clearly and loudly but within a few seconds he’s gone back to quietly mumbling. I’m worried there’s only so many times I can say “What?” or “Sorry?” or “Could you please repeat that?” before I start coming across as really rude. Obviously, it’s also a problem when I’m working off of instructions that I can only hope I’ve understood correctly. I’ve recently had a hearing test for unrelated reasons and I don’t have this problem with anyone else in my life so I’m pretty sure it’s not me. Is there a polite way to address this issue?

It’s not rude to have to repeatedly tell someone you can’t hear them. I get that it feels awkward, but try to remember that it’s really not rude so that you’re not saddled with that worry on top of the original frustration.

It might help to address the issue more directly the next time it’s happening: “I’m sorry, I’m having trouble hearing you. Can you speak more loudly?” And then the next time you have to speak up (whether in that same conversation or a later one): “I hate to keep asking you to repeat yourself, but I’m still having trouble hearing you. I don’t normally have this problem so I think it might be that you’re speaking quietly.”

If he doesn’t try to speak more loudly/clearly after that, then all you can really do is continue as you have been. He’ll either take steps to change things on his side or he won’t, but you’ve got to say what you need to say to be able to receive whatever he’s saying.

3. Recruiters are withdrawing interview invitations after I ask to delay a week because of a family death

I’m an older worker, and I’ve been conducting a clandestine job search for a while. My 91-year-old mother died recently. She was in a care facility, and she had dementia. I took a week’s bereavement leave to help my sister with funeral arrangements, contacting family members, and attending my mother’s funeral.

I recently received some replies to my resume off job boards requesting immediate phone, Zoom, or face-to-face interviews. While I have a dim view of job boards, I realize you sometimes have to play the game with prospective employers. I’ve politely explained that my mother passed away a few short days ago, and that I’m unable to accept the interviews right now, but I would be pleased to interview in a week’s time. With the exception of one of these employers, who gave their condolences and agreed to this, the rest have either ghosted me, or sent me canned notifications informing me that I’ve been disqualified as a candidate.

While none of this comes as any great surprise, and conventional wisdom tells me to write them off, it does seem a little odd that informing them that I can’t immediately interview with them due to my mother’s death has resulted in this type of behavior.

I’m guessing these are external recruiters since they’re contacting you after seeing your resume on job boards. They often use a model where they work quickly, and if they can’t talk to you within a few days they’ve often moved on to other candidates (or other positions entirely) by the time you’re available. Partly it’s because this type of recruiter treats the work as a numbers game, and if they have enough other plausible candidates who can connect earlier, they’ll just fill their slots with them.

Those sorts of recruiters aside, there are times when a company genuinely needs to move quickly with interviews and can’t wait a week (for example, because a decision-maker is about to be out of town). But in those cases, a good company will explain that so you know, not just leave you hanging.

4. Taking vacation during my notice period

I am looking to switch jobs and I have an offer I have already signed for a start date of October 31. I have not yet told my current employer but I was going to do it this week. But what complicates it is that I have a pre-scheduled vacation in the middle of this time (October 10-14) that I cannot (and will not) cancel.

Can the current employer legally refuse to honor that? How do I go about this?

Yes, they can legally refuse to honor it. Some companies have policies that you can’t use vacation time during your notice period (because the point of the notice period is to give you time to document and transition your work), although they’re often more flexible when (a) the vacation was already scheduled and (b) you’re giving a longer-than-average notice period. That last point is especially relevant for your timeline — you’re planning to give five weeks of notice. It would be silly for them to say you can’t have a week off in the middle of that, particularly when you instead could have given your notice when you returned and still be offering a full two weeks. Assuming they’re not a wildly unreasonable place, they’re likely to see it the same way.

I’d say this when you resign: “I want to give you as much notice as possible, so I’m giving five weeks with the understanding that I’ll still be able to take October 10-14 off as we’d already planned.”

All this said, are you sure you want to give that much notice? For some jobs it makes sense, and for others it doesn’t. Pay attention to how much notice others there at your approximate level have given and how their notice periods have gone.

5. Should I tell a recruiter I’ll never want to work for her company?

I have received a couple of emails from a recruiter for a company that I know I am not interested in working for. They are an employee of that company, which is in a constant state of hiring. I have previously gone through an extensive interviewing process there, and it is pretty clear to me that I do not have the required level of enthusiasm for working there that interviewers expect. More importantly, I just don’t think it’s a place I could ever feel great about working.

So far, I have ignored her emails, but I wonder if I should reply? And should I tell her that I’m not interested in working for that company ever, or should I just say that I’m happy in my current position?

“I’m happy in my current position but I’ll reach out if I’m ever interested in exploring a move.”

Or you can continue ignoring the messages (recruiters are used to that), but I wouldn’t say you’re not interested in working there ever — that’s the kind of thing that could end up being noted in their database, and it’s possible that things there could change enough that you might feel differently in the future.

my new boss needs constant reassurance

A reader writes:

I’m in a situation that’s new to me in almost 15 years in my field. I’ve been at my employer for four years, and a new manager was hired four months ago to lead my team. I used to report to the person who’s now my grandboss. My new manager, Jim, handles an area of work that none of the rest of us do, although some of our work occasionally touches on his.

Jim spends nearly all our weekly one-on-ones and other times we chat obsessively running through how he’s doing in this area of work and ruminating about how it could be going better and things he feels like he’s done wrong. It’s not a kind of work I’ve ever done so I can’t help him with any specific advice, but having seen his predecessor do this work it seems to me like Jim is doing just fine in this area, which I’ve told him, but he keeps harping on this same topic. It feels draining and almost inappropriate to have to manage my manager’s feelings about his job, but I don’t know how to broach this directly with him. I have asked him if he’s relayed his worries to his manager (my former manager, who I know very well and I’m sure would be supportive and much more helpful in this area than I can be) and he said yes, but it didn’t stop him from continuing to dump his worries on me. I’ve heard from another team member that he’s doing the same thing in meetings with her too.

Is there a way to say to a new manager whom I don’t know very well that I don’t want to hear about his insecurities any more? We spend all our time talking about this and while I would say I’d like our one-on-ones to be focused on my projects, the truth is that I haven’t found any of his advice about my work useful so far so I also don’t exactly know what to recommend we cover in the meetings instead. He doesn’t ask about what I’m working on.

Aggh, this sounds so frustrating. Consciously or not, Jim is taking advantage of the fact that the power dynamic makes you a captive audience and is inappropriately using you as his emotional support. It’s one thing for a manager to occasionally share a frustration or a worry, but regularly leaning on you for reassurance like this isn’t okay.

Just like this morning’s letter-writer with the anxious coworker, you’re limited in what you can do to change someone else’s behavior but you can create some boundaries for yourself.

In particular, it will help to have an arsenal of standard lines to use when Jim starts ruminating about how his own work might not be going well. For example:

  “That sounds tough and it’s not something I have expertise in. I can’t help with that, but can I ask you about (insert relevant work-related topic)?”

  “Hmmm, maybe (grandboss) can help? Meanwhile I wanted to ask you about (or update you on) (relevant work topic)…”

  “Hmmm, it’s not something I know much about. I’m sure you’ll figure it out! Well, I’ve got to jump on a call.” (Obviously, this is for ad hoc conversations, not the middle of your one-on-one.)

  And perhaps at some point: “You’ve asked me about this a few times now and I’ve got to be up-front that it’s way outside of my area of expertise. I think you should take this to (grandboss), who will be a lot more helpful than I can.”

If you repeat this stuff enough, Jim might realize that he’s not going to get much satisfaction from these conversations and will stop pushing them on you.

Also, start sending agendas ahead of your one-on-one’s so that it’s clear how you want to use the time. I know you’re not finding his advice useful, but you can structure the time to mostly update on him on your work. Then, jump straight into that at the start of the meeting — “Okay, let’s jump in since there’s a lot that I wanted to go over with you.” If he starts brooding again about how he might be doing in his own work, steer the conversation back to the agenda: “That does sound tough! Well, I wanted to update you about X and Y too, so let me run through that before our time is up…”

You also might consider giving a discreet heads-up to your grandboss. You know her well, so you probably have a fair amount of room to tip her off that Jim seems to be struggling. If she’s good at her job, she probably won’t be surprised to hear it — but you might be seeing different pieces of the situation than she is (or getting a more unvarnished look at is than she is) and it could be useful to round out the picture for her.