boss doesn’t want me to read documents before signing them, employer is revoking work-from-home, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. My boss said she doesn’t trust people who read documents before signing them

At a previous position, I offended my supervisor by actually reading the many office policies I was given to sign. I don’t like signing documents without reading them and assumed that it was important for me to know the policies so that I could follow them, so I read everything thoroughly and probably asked a couple of clarifying questions.

Much later, my boss revealed that she believed one should sign these documents without reading them as a demonstration of trust in your employer, and that she doesn’t trust anyone who does read these documents because she assumes you are trying to figure out what you can get away with. I was so confused by her reaction, because it was clear these were sincerely held beliefs by this supervisor but seemed so completely divorced from reality that I couldn’t really respond at all.

How could I have responded to her beyond staring in utter confusion? Or respond if someone ever raised that concern in the moment when I’m presented with the policy documents, instead of bringing it up a year later as evidence that I’m plotting against them? (It was a very toxic workplace.)

What on earth?! Does she sign contracts with vendors without reading them too, or is it only your employer you’re supposed to place blind trust in? Moreover, since these were policies you were agreeing to follow, how did she think you’d be able to follow them if you didn’t read the documents to find out what they were? Your supervisor was out of her gourd, and I’m betting this wasn’t the only problem.

As far what to say in the moment, one option was, “It’s been drilled into me never to sign anything without reading it. My lawyer would kill me.” Another: “I don’t even read anything my spouse gives me to sign without reading it, and I trust him completely.” Another: “I’m reading them so I know what policies to follow; otherwise, how would I make sure I was complying?”

2. My employer is revoking work-from-home but I live 300 miles away

Three years ago, I was hired to work remotely for a midsize nonprofit in another state. Recently, the powers-that-be at this organization have decided to limit remote work to one day a week maximum.

I know that historically the organization has disliked remote work (to the extent that you couldn’t work from home even once in a blue moon, like if your kid was home sick — you just had to use a sick day, even if your job could be done just fine 100% remotely). Obviously, they had to ease up on that when the pandemic hit, and I was hired during that period of time. They hired me knowing I live 300 miles away and have no intention to relocate.

It’s literally impossible for me to comply with the new limit — not just a matter of an annoyingly long commute, but physically impossible within the bounds of physical time. Relocating to be in compliance is not an option — I live in another state and my husband has a state-specific business license here, and frankly my compensation is nowhere near the level it would require to motivate us to make such a major life change.

If they go through with the rollback of the WFH policy, does that count as them letting me go? Or will I technically have to resign/quit?

(If it matters for context: it’s not that they’re trying to intentionally force me out; I’m a top performer and my direct supervisor has said that if I can’t be an employee anymore she’ll just contract with me, which is a nice endorsement of my skills, but I prefer the stability of being an employee. They just seriously have a very old-fashioned view of remote vs. in-person work.)

Before you assume anything, ask directly! Start with your boss, who should find out the answer for you if she doesn’t know herself, but if she’s not doing that then ask HR. Say this: “I would comply with the change if I could, but I was hired already working 300 miles away and relocating isn’t an option for me. Since I can’t commute daily from this distance, what does this mean for my job here?”

Some orgs doing this will make exceptions for people who obviously can’t come in because of distance. Others won’t. But there’s enough of a chance they will that you should start by asking what their plan is. If they give you a non-answer like “there are no exceptions to the new policy,” then you should say, “So given that I’m too far away to comply, what does that mean for my job? Are you letting me go and, if so, what will my last day be?”

Technically this should be considered something like a layoff (and you’re likely to be eligible for unemployment too), but you might have to nudge them to spell it out.

3. My drunken boss tried to kiss me but it’s been handled — what do I say to coworkers?

My question is mostly about how to return to normal after something unsettling at work. My boss is/has been a functioning alcoholic, which came to a head at the Christmas party when whilst smashed he tried to kiss me, I freaked out, and he got chucked out by security for being too drunk to stand up unaided. HR has actually been incredibly good about it, and it’s all been dealt with sensitively and incredibly well, but do you have any suggestions for a script for how to get back to normal now we’re broadly over and done with the admin of it?

Honestly, I don’t even feel that angry at him anymore, mostly because I think of Drunk Boss and Sober Boss as being different men, and he immediately agreed to my resolutions which were an apology and a commitment to get himself into AA or similar.

Obviously people are allowed to have their own feelings about his behavior, but I just need a good script for “Yeah I know, but I accepted his apology and I’d rather not dwell on it, let’s just move on.”

This is for when others are bringing it up with you? If so, your language here works fine! But another way to say it would be, “Yes, but it’s been handled, and I’d rather not rehash it and just want to move forward.”

4. Can I skip recurring meetings that aren’t that useful?

What’s the protocol for attending recurring meetings that take place every other month or so? These meetings aren’t at all mission critical to my work, nor are any specific directives provided. Rather, they’re an opportunity for people in our (very large) organization to come together and talk shop, share insight on projects they’re working on, crowdsource ideas, troubleshoot questions, etc.

Generally speaking, it’s nice to see people I don’t typically work with. But I’ve never left these meetings thinking, “Wow! That was a game-changer.” To be honest, I find them to be somewhat of a chore and they can feel like a waste of time.

My manager has never come down and said these meetings are mandatory, but we’re generally expected to attend. And most of the time, it’s not an issue. I get that it’s polite to show up and put in an effort, but there are times when I have a meeting conflict or I’m in the zone with work and don’t want to stop, etc.

Is that permissible enough reason to skip if I’d like to or is this one of those things where I just need to bite the bullet and go?

It depends on your organizational culture. In some orgs, it would completely fine and unremarkable to skip the meetings when you had a conflict or a deadline you needed to focus on. In others, it would be frowned upon. One way to figure it out is to look at what other people at your level do, but you can also just ask your manager. Don’t ask “can I quit attending these completely?” but ask if it’s okay to skip it when you have a conflict or time-sensitive work to get done.

5. How do I manage an employee who doesn’t want to move up?

I have an odd question in that everything is going great, and I’m wondering if being a good manager means disrupting that. I recently began managing an employee who is fantastic at his job. He also seems perfectly content in it — i.e., he’s had the same title and responsibilities for several years and has displayed neither interest nor action in pursuing anything different. But I’ve always thought part of being a good manager was helping your employees grow and develop beyond their current roles. Does that apply when your employee is perfectly good at their job and perfectly happy to be doing it, even after several years? If not, what are some ways I can be a good manager to this employee? For the record, I’m aware this is not a terrible problem to have!

Part of being a good manager is helping your employees grow and develop beyond their current roles when they want that. Not everyone does! Some people are content remaining where they are and don’t have any interest in moving up or taking on new responsibilities, and managers should respect that. (At least, assuming it aligns with the organization’s needs. There are cases where you might need the role itself to evolve, and it’s reasonable to say you need someone in the job who’s willing to do that — but that doesn’t sound like the case here.) So the way to be a good manager to this person is to appreciate that you have someone who’s great at his job who doesn’t want to leave (a benefit for you!) and ask him what he needs to remain happy and engaged. The answer might be, “Don’t change anything; I find meaning and challenge from other parts of my life, and this job supports that.” Or who knows, maybe he’ll have other ideas. But take your cues from him.

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