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

1. I can’t get my coworkers to read my updates or come to my meetings

I am interning in an office for the next three months, and have been tasked with leading a project. The result of this project will be launched several months after my internship has concluded, so my fellow project team members will take it over once I leave.

My issue is that I don’t think my coworkers are as concerned about this project as I am. To give a few examples, I send weekly updates via email that no one reads and I schedule meetings that team members skip without notice beforehand or acknowledgement after. When we have work to be completed, I’ll ask my team members to choose which portions they want to work on, and one particular team member just doesn’t follow through, even after I get our shared supervisor involved.

I don’t know how to address these issues. I’m an intern and have little clout in this organization. The only method I have of holding team members accountable is reminding them repeatedly of deadlines, letting them miss the deadline, and notifying the supervisor if the missed deadline seriously impacts our work. I feel like I want to stop working so hard to keep them up-to-date if they don’t care about this launch as much as I do. I have a sneaking suspicion that once I leave, they’re going to let this project fall through the cracks, but that will not be my problem. How should I continue to address these issues until my internship ends in the next few months?

Well, it’s possible that they’re actually prioritizing correctly — they may have work that takes precedence over this project, and that’s why they’re not invested. And they might not actually need the weekly updates or the meetings. Or maybe they really are supposed to be more involved, and they’re shirking their responsibilities. If that’s the case, that’s not something you have the power to change on your own; you’d need your boss to handle that.

Either way, the best thing to do here is to talk to your boss. Explain what’s going on and ask her if you’re expecting more involvement from people than you should, or whether you do actually need them reading updates/attending meetings/doing pieces of the work. If it’s the latter, then say this: “I’ve tried talking with people about this quite a bit, and I think it’s at the point where they’ll need to hear it from you, since I don’t have the authority on my own. Could you talk with people about how you need them to be involved?” And if that doesn’t solve it, then go back to your boss and just loop her in — as in, “I wanted to let you know that I’m having trouble getting ___ from people. So I’m doing X, Y, and Z, but I want to make sure you know those other pieces may not be finished by the time I leave unless Jane and Fergus have time for them.”

Beyond that, though, I’d definitely look at ways to streamline what you’re expecting from people. Unless your boss says otherwise, it might be that weekly updates aren’t necessary, and maybe the meetings aren’t either. When people are busy, it’s often the case that if you ask for less of their time, you’ll get it more reliably. (And if this is your one big project while they’re juggling a bunch of things, it’s understandable that you’re more focused on it than they are.)

2. Will almost-floor-length hair hold me back professionally?

I have very long hair (almost floor-length when it’s down, and I keep it that length just because I like it, not out of any religious or cultural obligation). I always wear it in a conservative updo that hides the length during interviews and for the first few weeks of job-related situations because I don’t want it to be the first thing people notice when they meet me in a professional context, but it’s much easier and more comfortable for me to wear it in a braid.

Do you think letting on that I have this unusual hairstyle is something that’s going to hold me back career-wise? I love it, but it’s pretty far outside of the norm and tends to provoke a lot of questions and comments, and I would hate to have people make assumptions about me or be distracted from the quality of my work. So should I suck it up and wear it in updos at work forever, or can I sometimes go full-on Tangled at work and wear it in ways where it’s visible?

If you’re awesome at what you do, almost-floor-length hair isn’t going to hold you back. But it’s definitely unusual enough that you’re likely to become known as The Person with the Floor-Length Hair and some people will find it odd. You might be totally fine with that, but there’s also an argument for not wanting people at work to be thinking about your hair at all. It’s up to you where you come down on that.

3. Using sick days for vacation time

I started at a company in July that has a fairly generous PTO program (three weeks vacation, four employee-designated holidays, 10 sick days). I am of the mindset that sick days are for when you are too ill to come to work and/or need a mental health day. The only time I’ve ever pre-scheduled sick time is when I’ve had a medical appointment or a medical procedure scheduled in advance.

I was approached by a new hire who is fresh out of college, whose mother works in HR at another company. She advised him that when taking time off, in general, to use sick days and employee-designated holidays first, since they don’t carry over from year to year, then dip into vacation. He mentioned that he plans on taking the one employee designated holiday and the two sick days he has for this year at Christmas since he has to travel to see his family.

I encouraged him to talk to his manager and get his input, but I’m wondering how I should have advised him as a colleague with slightly more time with the company and more life experience (I suspect I’m old enough to be his mother – eek!). Am I being too strict in how I think of using sick days? We have the ability to work from home, so I typically use them when I am at death’s door or just mentally exhausted (I’m bipolar II with generalized anxiety disorder, so I consider it a public service taking a day off when I feel a depressive cycle coming on).

Nope, the way you described this working is how it works at most companies. Sick days and vacation days aren’t interchangeable; that’s why they’re not in one pot. They’re a safety net to be used for when you really need them, which is part of why they don’t roll over.

Your company almost definitely doesn’t intend for sick days to be used for pre-scheduled vacation, so you were absolutely right to encourage him to talk to his manager about it. If you’d wanted, it also would have been fine to just say bluntly, “That’s never been the case anywhere I’ve worked, and in some companies you’d get in trouble for using sick days that way so you should definitely talk to your boss before you do it.”

4. My manager scratches his butt before high-fiving us

I am a supervisor for a retail store and work with a sales manager who is very big on high-fives as motivation. However, I have seen him many times scratch his butt and then go to high-five someone. If it was a one-off scratching a small itch, that would be one thing but it’s happened many times and it’s a full-on scratch (leg straight and into the crack scratch). The first time he tried to high-five me after I saw this, I hugged my hands to my chest and said I have a germaphobia about high-fives and getting sick. I do have a slight germaphobia (12 years in retail will do that) so it’s not a full-on lie, but the issue is now when my staff do something I can’t high-five them without him noticing. Is there another way to deal with this?

Do you have the kind of relationship where you could just be straightforward? As in, “I saw where your hand just was! No thanks.”

If not, then you’re going to have to stick with the germaphobia story, which you’ve already put out there anywhere. And yeah, that means you can’t high-five others.

But also, why is he prefacing all his high-fives with a butt scratch? This is weird indeed.

5. My boss wants two months notice

I work in a very small office where I am the office manager, in-house biller/accounts receivable manager, technical producer for our in-house podcast, head of volunteers and interns, HR manager, etc. As you can tell, I wear almost every hat in my current company. Because of this, I am worried about pulling away from this role, leaving such a large gap to fill. My boss and I have discussed it briefly when we had our yearly review meeting where I requested a raise (as I was originally hired on as an office manager only several years ago) on the basis of maintaining at least six different positions, more than enough for just one person. My boss explained that he was fine with me looking for another job if I was unhappy with what I was being paid, but I would have to give two months notice to find someone as “specialized” as myself. I know he is worried that no one will agree to six different people’s jobs with the mediocre pay, and he’ll end up needing to hire more than one person to fill my position, which I get the feeling he is trying to avoid. And while he said he was fine with me looking, it was delivered very passive aggressively and ended with, “Good luck finding a job that pays you as much as me,” along with a whole slew of other rude remarks.

If I manage to get a job offer, how do I (1) tell my boss that two months notice is too long for a job to hold a position for me and (2) either convince someone to take on six different roles with very little pay, or convince my boss to break up my role into several roles?

You can certainly suggest to your boss that he break the job up into several roles, but you don’t need to convince him, and you don’t need to convince someone to take on the job for little pay. None of this will be your problem; it’s your boss’s, and you don’t need to solve it for him because it’s not your responsibility to that and it won’t affect you any longer.

As for the amount of notice you give: It’s ridiculous for him to expect two months notice. When you resign, give the standard two weeks and if he objects you can say, “They need me to start in two weeks and don’t have any flexibility.” If he reminds you that he asked for two months, you can say, “I didn’t think you were serious about that, since two weeks is standard and there’s no way they’d hold the job for me that long.” And if he’s really obnoxious about it, remind him that he suggested you look for another job if you wanted to be paid more.

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