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

1. My friend doesn’t understand how work works

I have a friend who just started his first job (ever, never worked a part-time job) after graduating undergrad. He is taking two gap years between med school and undergrad, and he’s working in an admin position on campus in the meantime.

My friend really just doesn’t understand how work works! Though he is the most junior person in his office, he constantly gets annoyed if other people in the office ask him for help on anything. He says he doesn’t want to be a crutch for them to use. He seemed generally stunned when a coworker asked to send out a package when he is already sending several out for the office. It’s not that he is swamped with work – he just doesn’t want to be seen as the person who does everyone’s mail.

The rest of the lab IS swamped, while my friend watches TV shows daily. He also takes long breaks walking around campus, without alerting anyone, and then clocks all this time as time worked. Eventually his boss said something about needing to set hard deadlines for assignments because things were slipping through the cracks. He freaked out, saying that he doesn’t need to be micromanaged. But in reality, he is purposefully drawing out his assignments by watching TV, so they’re definitely not being completed in an effective manner. He’s in an isolated part of the building, so nobody checks in on him to see if he’s actually working or not. I don’t believe that anyone is aware that he slacks off, as he describes the methods used to look busy and to hide his TV screen.

He complains constantly to me about these issues, saying that he doesn’t want to be the “B****” of the office just because he is the youngest. In other aspects of his life, he is truly very hardworking, so I feel like he just really does not understand how work works!

It’s not my place to say anything, as I’m not his manager, but as a friend, I would like to make it clear that he’s acting unprofessionally. He’s counting on letters of recommendation from this office for his applications, and I don’t want him to jeopardize these. I normally act shocked when he says he watched TV or whatnot to show it’s not standard behavior, but it’s not getting through. Should I stay out of it or say something?

You can definitely say something as his friend, but you should be prepared for the likelihood that you won’t get through to him. But if he’s telling you this stuff, there’s no reason you can’t have a natural reaction when he does — like, “Dude, this is how work works — when you’re the most junior person and have time on your hands, of course they’re going to ask you for help. There’s nothing weird about that. And “Hey, are you still counting on this job for letters of recommendation? Because you’re putting those in jeopardy by the way you’re acting at work.” And “You’re going to get fired if you keep that up.” And so forth. (In fact, if you don’t say that sort of thing, you’re going to be in a weird position when he tells you this stuff. It’s a normal response, and you should feel free to have it.)

But your friend sounds tremendously immature, and someone did him a disservice by not requiring to have a job before now (or at least preparing him for how work works). It might be that nothing will get through to him until he experiences the natural consequences of his behavior. As a friend, it’s understandable to want to try — and you should! — but it’s not on you if you don’t get through to him.

2. After I resigned, my coworker sent me unsolicited advice about quitting gracefully

I gave my three weeks notice at my current job yesterday, and things have already gotten weird! About an hour after I had the conversation with my manager, I received an email from a colleague who is close with my manager, but who I am not close with. He congratulated me on my new position, and then sent three web links to articles on how to “gracefully resign.” All three links have these in the title, it seems like that’s the phrase he googled.

Am I being paranoid, or does this seem as pointed as it feels? I’m not sure where it’s coming from, as I’ve never had any negative feedback about my professionalism, and so far, my resignation has been very by the books. I’d like to ask him whether my manager feels that I haven’t been professional in my resignation, but I’m wondering if it’s just better to let this one go?

The details of my resignation: Yesterday, I emailed my manager in the morning asking when she had time to meet and talk. She’s a busy person, so she asked if I could call, to which I responded that I would rather talk in person. We confirmed a meeting time but not five minutes later, I got a call from her asking for a “hint.” I said that I would just need to have the whole conversation, a hint would be hard, and she said to just tell her. So I did! I told her that it had been a hard decision, that I had enjoyed working here, but that I had accepted another job offer and that my last day would be three weeks out. I also let her know that I still wanted to meet in person, because I was working on a transition plan but wanted to make sure our priorities matched up. It was a short call, but it seemed to go okay at the time. If anything, she seemed disappointed or sad.

For what it’s worth, my manager does have a history of speaking poorly of people behind their backs once they’ve done something to make her unhappy. I’m concerned that she’s not telling people the truth about my resignation, but I’m not sure if that matters.

Your resignation sounds perfectly done — you tried to meet in person but said it over the phone when she pushed you to (which is better than playing games about it) and what you said was everything you should say when resigning. So I don’t know what’s up with your coworker! Sending those links would have been an extremely snotty move even if you had been unprofessional, which you weren’t; you’re not even close with this guy and he no standing to send you unsolicited advice in this context. It’s bizarre.

So yeah, either he is extremely weird and inappropriate (is he?) and did this on his own, or your manager misrepresented what happened and he’s still weird and inappropriate enough to think this is appropriate for him to do.

If you feel like pursuing it, you could walk over to him and say, “I’m confused by the email you sent me about resigning. Did you have a concern about the way I gave notice?” (I would do this because I would be irate and would want to force him to explain his thinking, but you might be better off just leaving it alone.)

You could also say to your boss, “Did you or Bob have some concern about the way I resigned? After he heard I’m leaving, he sent me some articles about how to resign gracefully and I can’t figure out why.”

Or you could just let it go, of course. But personally I’d enjoy making it awkward for them.

3. Should we stagger our employee start dates?

I am the HR department of one in a pretty small company with about 30 employees. We recruit from a few schools to have a class of “20XX” join during the summer following their graduation. This summer we had six employees start in a three-week span. It was really hard on a lot of senior management to train those six (even with lower lever employees helping), and they are still really under-utilized, months later.

Our presidents have decided they would like to stagger the start dates of the 2019 class, having two start in June, two in July, two in August, and two in September. We’ve never done it this way, and at the last meeting, I received pushback from members of our recruiting team (not HR employees or senior employees, but employees early in their career who have connections with the schools we recruit at) saying that it is better to have them all start in one large group. They said that it could be awkward to start by yourself, and then whoever starts in June would have more of an advantage over who starts in September. I can see both sides of the argument, but being green myself in the workforce, I was wondering if you had any advice about the best way to schedule these new employees start dates?

It should be up to the managers who will be managing/training them. They’re the ones best equipped to say what will work best for them and their teams.

But for the record, your junior employees’ arguments are weird. It’s very, very normal to start a new job by yourself without a class of other new hires. I mean, yes, it might be nicer to start with a group of other new hires, but that’s not crucial and it isn’t more important than your actual business needs. And there aren’t unfair advantages to starting three months before someone else. People start jobs at different dates all the time. It’s how work goes. None of this is a reason to override what will work best for the managers who will be hiring them.

4. Recruiting someone who works for an important customer

We are a very small, very specialized company. We need to add an experienced analyst very quickly – we are drowning in work. There is one analyst that we would love to have but he works for a customer, a critically important customer. We absolutely do not want to damage our relationship with the customer or the analyst so poaching the person seems out of the question. However, I’d like to legitimately ask him if he knows any analysts in our field who are looking for an opportunity and might be a good fit for our company. If he knows someone, that would be terrific and we’d want to meet them. If, however, he sees this as an opportunity for himself that’s even better.

We’ve worked with this person for a few years and have a good relationship with him. When we’ve been at his site or seen him at industry meetings, it’s not unusual to have dinner with him and be generally, casually social with him.

How would I do approach him about this opening without crossing any ethical boundaries or appearing to be poaching from a customer? Would this be better if our lead analyst (his counterpart at our company) were to contact him or can I, pseudo-HR person, do it?

Your proposed solution — asking him if he knows anyone who might be interested in the position and hoping he volunteers himself if he’s interested — is exactly how people do this when they’re worried about the optics around trying to hire someone away from a customer (or partner organization or so forth). That way, if you hire him and your customer/his employer is upset, you can truthfully say he threw his hat in the ring himself, as opposed to you deliberately trying to lure him away. (However, you should also keep in mind that some people are really territorial about employees — not that they should be, but they are — and no matter how you frame it, there’s a risk that your critically important customer will be upset.)

I think it’s fine for you to be the one to do it, but your lead analyst might have better rapport with him. Really, though, this is mostly about getting the job posting in front of him and then seeing what he does from there.

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