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

1. I don’t invite my boss to our work parties but she keeps showing up

My team likes to throw parties: once a month we have a sit-down lunch, once a quarter we have a big birthday celebration, and then big holidays. These are not mandatory and are funded by the people who attend. Our team is 20 people of a 60-80 person group (depending on season). My group lead is generally not invited to these. When she shows up, what is usually an hour of talking and leaving work behind turns into 20 minutes of her making thinly veiled comments while we shovel food into our mouths (if we come at all).

I organize these things by putting them on the team calendar and posting a sign-up, nothing more. If people want to invite others, it’s up to them. I honestly would rather just have the current team attend than having a reunion every month. But it seems any major holiday I get on someone’s shit list by “forgetting” them.

I’m of the opinion that one of the downsides of being a manager is that you’re separated from employees and don’t get to be “chummy” with them. But how do I say that to a manager that’s trying to pretend that the gulf between us doesn’t exist?

It’s true that managers can’t be friends with the people they manage, but it’s not typically true that that means they’re not invited to office celebrations that are occurring in the office, and frankly, she may assume she needs to show up at these in order to seem part of the team. In fact, typically managers would go to gatherings like this, if they’re in the office and during work hours.

So I don’t think you can really exclude her from these … unless there’s someone who has good rapport with her who can say, “Hey, the team wants to be able to have some get-togethers without management there — maybe just pop in briefly to the birthday and holiday celebrations but leave them to do the quarterly lunches on their own?”

2. When student applicants mix up their interview dates

I supervise a small team of student assistants at an academic college, and I’m currently in the hiring process for a few more. Each year as students graduate we need to hire to replace them. However, I’ve run into the issue where each year, at least one or two students mixes up their interview time or date, and either comes in on the wrong date, or very early or late. For instance, this year one candidate showed up on Tuesday instead of Thursday, and another arrived thinking that their interview was at 11 a.m., rather than 2 p.m.

When this happens, I ask them to come back at their true interview time and date, but there’s always some level of disbelief, annoyance, or attitude. Does this happen often outside of the academic world? Should I chalk this up as just being indicative of the college crowd, or because it’s only a student position? Also, should this be a disqualifying trait? If the student comes back at the correct time, I tend to give them a “re-do” in my mind as much as I can, but sometimes it’s hard when you’ve seen that annoyed attitude.

Oh, students. I’d be inclined to cut them a little slack (not a lot, but a little) on mixing up the time if they otherwise seem really strong, because they’re students — but if they seem annoyed or otherwise have an attitude about it, then no. Having an attitude about their own mistake is a bad sign and indicates you’re likely to have other professionalism problems with them, and it also means they don’t meet the “if they otherwise seem really strong” caveat above. So I’d say the initial mistake itself need not be disqualifying, but the poor handling of it is.

It would be interesting to know what kind of data you’ve gathered on this in the past. Have you ever hired any of the students who got the appointment time wrong, and if so, how common is it that they turn out to great once hired? What about the ones who had the bad attitude? My worry with the first group would be that they’d mix up their work schedules or otherwise be less attentive to detail than you want, but it would be interesting to test that against actual data since we’re dealing with students, whose work habits aren’t so fixed yet. And my worry with the second group would be that they wouldn’t have even the baseline of professionalism that you should be able to expect from students, that they wouldn’t take accountability for their own actions, and that they’d be a pain in the ass to manage. On top of that, though, I’d argue that you don’t want to teach those students that rude behavior will be overlooked by their interviewers — and it’s useful for them to learn that now when the stakes are lower than they’ll be post-graduation.

3. Is our Secret Santa too expensive?

Am I overreacting or is $30 way too much for a secret Santa at work? People are creating wishlists of jewelry, candles, clothes, Alexa-compatible add-ons, and make-up. I work in an office where most staff makes about $12 an hour with a few upper-middle folks who don’t fall into that category (I am one of those). I feel uncomfortable accepting anything beyond a $10-$15 price tag from most of the staff, but since were all pressured to participate, I asked for a donation to be made in my name to a (non-political and non-inflammatory) charity I support. Ugh. Happy freakin holidays.

$30 is too much for an office where most people make $12/hour. That’s asking people to donate two and a half hours of their work — 6% of their pay for that week — to the cause of Secret Santa. Maybe you can discreetly ask around and see how people felt about it, with the goal of proposing a lower limit for next year (or just do that on your own without the research first — it’s enough to say “you know, most people here earn about $12/hour, let’s make this more affordable”).

4. I don’t want to circulate a former coworker’s resume

I am a few months into my new job. It’s going really well, and I’m very happy there. Recently a former colleague who I barely worked with asked me to circulate her resume for an open position in my organization. I’m concerned on two levels. One, on the merits, I don’t think she has the right qualifications (think teapot maker vs teapot marketer). Two, she’s a perfectly nice person, but I only worked with her briefly on minor matters and even still, I didn’t feel like she was a great resource, and my understanding is that others felt the same way. So I really don’t want to send her resume to anyone – especially because the hiring manager is not someone I even know very well or have worked with at all – given that that will be an implied recommendation. I know she’s been searching for a long time, and I have a lot of empathy for that, but I’m really not sure how to handle this.

Yeah, if you circulate her resume, you’ll be seen as recommending her. You have a few options. One is to say something to her like, “I don’t know the hiring manager well and am still new here, so I’m not really in a position where I can help — but I know they’re looking at all applications and the best thing would be to apply directly.” Another is to say, “I know they’re looking for people with more marketing experience so this might not be the right match.” And still another is to tell her to apply directly (saying they prefer all applications come in through their system, which is probably true) but agree to flag her application for the hiring manager — and then do so in a very honest way, saying something like, “My former coworker, Jane Smith, asked me to flag her application for you. To be candid, I don’t think she’s who you’re looking for, but I can tell you more about my experience working with her if you’d like me to.”

5. Talking to my boss about a potential move for my partner’s job

A couple of weeks ago you ran a question about a direct report whose partner was getting a PhD. (#3 at this link). What advice do you have for the other side?

I have been in my current position for about three years now. We moved to this city so my partner could pursue his PhD, and I have been very open about that since the beginning. When my boss, the CEO, called and made me the offer, he brought up my partner’s PhD and how, if things went well, we could discuss working remotely in the future. Well, the future is almost here; my partner is on the job market and there is an 85% chance we will be moving to another state in early summer of 2019. The likelihood that we will move to a place where I will have a wide variety of local job prospects is pretty slim (though I have a ton of transferable skills and a strong background/resume), but besides that, I enjoy my job and the company and would like to stay in my current, relatively senior role.

I haven’t brought this up with my boss. One of my coworkers and I talk about it regularly; we’re friends and I trust her, and she believes pretty strongly that my boss wouldn’t want to lose me. I believe I am valuable to the organization, and while I have no reason not to hold my boss to his initial mention of remote work, I am aware that “we can talk about it when the time comes” is not a guarantee that I can take this job with me when we move. (I do have three coworkers who are located in different states and we have an office of four people in another state, so working outside of this city is not unprecedented in my company; however, none of them work as closely with the CEO as I do.) Add to this that there are a ton of unknowns, like if we’ll move, where we’ll move, or even if I’ll go with my partner (if, for instance, he accepts a one-year post doc, I would probably stay here). With that in mind, I’m not planning on saying anything until our plans are set.

But I worry that I won’t have that luxury. End-of-year reviews are coming up, and for my boss, that usually means, “Let’s go out to lunch and talk.” I wouldn’t be surprised if he brings up our plans, even just casually, and while I know I don’t have to be completely open with my boss, I don’t want to be dishonest in the name of deflection. I’m okay with saying that there are a ton of unknowns and I’ll bring it up when I have a more concrete idea, but is that enough? Would I be taking a big risk asking about remote work now rather than later? On a more personal note, if my boss says that he doesn’t think being remote will work, then I’ll have to deal with job hunting stress on top of moving stress, and frankly, I don’t want to face that for a second longer than I have to (this is completely contrary to my normal MO– I’m a planner and I don’t like surprises!). Or worse, there’s always a chance that he’ll decide to let me go sooner rather than later (that’s pretty unlikely, but the stress talks loudly). What would you recommend?

Go with saying that there are a ton of unknowns and you’ll bring it up when you know something more concrete, but then add, “If it does turn out at some point that Cecil is leaving the area, would you be open to me working remotely? You’d mentioned that when I first started, but I didn’t know what you were thinking about it now.”

That way you’re not committing to anything and you’re not telling him anything he doesn’t already know, but you’re hopefully gathering more information about what his thinking will be when you’re ready to say something more definite.

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