coworker made it obvious she didn’t want the gifts I gave her, employee’s husband hangs around, and more — Ask a Manager

It’s the new year, so we’re back to regular programming! It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My coworker made it obvious she didn’t want the gifts I gave her

I work in a corporate office and am fairly new to the organization. There is a director, Jane, who is known to be dark and moody. She is not my boss, but is above me in the hierarchy. I support her with some tasks when a colleague is out of the office.

I gave Christmas gifts to my direct boss, two colleagues, and Jane. The gifts are thoughtful and not expensive. Everyone basically got the same thing. Jane received a total of two gifts, which have been sitting unopened on her desk for several days now. She isn’t in the office today, and we are all out next week for the holiday.

I now know after reading through your website that I shouldn’t have given her a gift in the first place. However, what’s done is done. And it is obvious Jane doesn’t want gifts because she didn’t take them home and has been known to do this in the past. I guess the question is, what is the best thing to do in this situation? Leave the gifts and let it go? Or take the unopened gifts back?

Don’t take the gifts back! That would be really odd. You gave them to her, and now they’re hers to do with what she likes.

I think you’re feeling stung because it seems like she’s ostentatiously leaving them unopened on her desk to intentionally signal “I don’t care a whit about this gift” or even “I reject you and your attempt at warmth.” But it’s much better for your quality of life if you give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she just didn’t have a chance to open the gifts before leaving the office. And that’s okay! Not everyone prioritizes the gifts the same way. (But even if she is trying to send a rude message, that would be about her, not about you. You didn’t do anything that would warrant deliberate rudeness; even people who don’t particularly want gifts from their coworkers usually have the manners to be polite about it, and if she doesn’t, that’s on her, not you.)

If the gifts still remain there unopened for days after you’re all back in the office, ideally you’d try to see it as a funny story you can tell friends rather than a hurtful snub that needs to bother you.

2. CEO joked that we wouldn’t get extra time off if we didn’t attend the holiday party

I want to get your opinion on a “joke” that our CEO made today. I think it’s in bad taste, but I think she thinks she’s hilarious.

We had a social hour as a work holiday party. Attendance was optional, and, while most people made an appearance, a large portion of the employees didn’t. Today we got an email saying that only those people who went to the holiday party were getting an extra day off around Christmas. About 30 minutes later, we got a follow-up email saying that it was a joke and everyone was getting the extra day.

If it was all in one email, I would probably roll my eyes and do the fake laugh of “sure … that was definitely funny…” But the 30-minute gap was long enough for people to get really angry and stop working on things to talk about it. (And to get to talking about looking for new jobs.)

I appreciate the extra day off! But am I off-base for thinking that the initial email saying that only the party attendees get the day was way off-base and not how they should have handled it?

You are not off-base! Why would that even be a joke? What exactly is the joke, just “ha ha, I’m bitter that some of you didn’t attend the party and wouldn’t it be funny if I penalized you for it?” Hilarious.

There are managers who think it’s okay to “joke” by lying about people’s pay/jobs/vacation time/other important things their authority gives them control over, but in this case I suspect it wasn’t even a joke originally! I wouldn’t be surprised if she meant it originally but, after getting blow-back, quickly backtracked by claiming she was only kidding.

3. Employee’s husband hangs around when he picks her up from work

I own a small business and recently have been having issues with an employee whose husband picks her up from work. He shows up about 15 minutes before the end of her shift. And at least once, he went and stood behind the cash counter while waiting for her! He was also watching her do the entire closing the cash procedure, which I don’t think it is appropriate. I’d like to stop this from happening again! Please help me word this.

Be straightforward! “Jane, when your husband picks you up, he needs to wait in the customer area — he cannot be behind the counter. He also can’t be in the store after we’ve closed and needs to wait outside or in the parking lot.”

I think you’re feeling weird about this because it’s so obvious to you that it’s not okay and thus since it’s happening anyway, it feels like it will need to be a Big Awkward Conversation. But instead, just treat it like any other work instruction: be direct and matter-of-fact and assume she simply doesn’t know and will comply once she does.

Also, if you get the sense she’s going to be uncomfortable enforcing this herself, you can do it yourself if you’re around — it’s fine to you to simply intervene and say, “Oh, we don’t allow non-employees in this area so you need to wait over there” or “we can’t have non-employees inside after closing, so we need you to wait outside.”

4. Should I leave my language skills off my resume?

I speak 8 to 10 languages and I’ve been applying for graphic design jobs, but I never get many interviews even though I list the languages that I know on my resume.

I’ve been reading articles on how being multilingual would land high-paying jobs of all sorts, but it’s never gotten me any. Should I avoid listing my multiple language skills on my resume just to make recruiters feel secure and ask me for interviews, especially in my field?

Being multilingual can help you land jobs when you’d be using those languages in your work. If you wouldn’t be, languages are more in the category of “interesting fact,” not a job qualification that will get you hired.

It’s possible that some of the languages you speak would help with some of the jobs you’re applying for, but it’s also possible or even likely that they wouldn’t, since there are a lot of graphic design jobs in the U.S. (frankly, probably most of them) where you don’t need any language other than English. It’s similar to if you were a competitive baker or a wiz at pivot tables: those are both interesting and useful skills, but if they’re not skills you’ll be using on the job, they don’t strengthen your candidacy. Your track record in graphic design will be what matters.

This isn’t about recruiters feeling secure, either! It’s just about them assessing you on the skills that matter for the specific jobs you’re applying for. (And to be clear, language skills are indeed generally useful in life! But that’s different than being useful in every job.)

5. Submitting poetry from my work email account

As well as working part-time, I am also a poet. Recently i submitted some of my work to a publisher that was seeking submissions and without thinking used my work email account. Afterwards I started second-guessing myself and wondering if this was inappropriate. It’s too late to change my submission, but should I make sure to use a personal account or is this something that shouldn’t matter?

Always apply to things like that from your personal email. It’s not so much that a publisher will think “how outrageous that this person used their work email to submit a poem,” but replies from publishers are usually measured in months, not days, and what if you’re no longer at that job by the time they reply? You might have no plans to leave, but there’s no guarantee you’ll still be there a few months from now (layoffs happen, etc.). Using a personal email address that’s fully under your control ensures you’ll receive their response no matter when it comes.

On top of that, a lot of employers frown on using work email for personal business. Some don’t care … but if you do it a lot and they happen to notice, some will feel that it’s a sign that you weren’t fully engaged in your work. A single email like the one you described isn’t likely to be a big deal, but doing it regularly can look off. (And employers do have the ability to review what emails you send out on their systems, and sometimes will see them for reasons that have nothing to do with you.)

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