employee never eats at work, office is angry I didn’t pay for a plane ticket after I resigned, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. My employee never eats at work

I added a new (and wonderful) person to the team I lead about six months ago. We share an open work space. Most folks eat lunch communally, but sometimes people pop out to buy something or go for a walk. I have noticed that this new employee does not seem to eat the whole time she is at work (about 9-5). She declines snacks/fruit/pastries that we have during team meetings, will sit with folks at lunch and chat but does not eat, etc.

I can’t decide whether I should say something or not. On the one hand, I feel like whether she eats or not is for her and her circle of loved ones/clinical providers. On the other hand, I’m worried that maybe something about the way food is structured in our office (communally) might be a stressor? I work in a high-stress nonprofit job and I don’t want my staff going all day without eating — that doesn’t help anyone’s stress. If there’s something I can change about her environment to make this easier, I want to know and I want to do it. But as her manager, I’m worried asking about this is prying into her life in a way that would make her uncomfortable.

Leave it alone. She’s an adult and can manage her own food intake. There could be all kinds of reasons for what she’s doing — intermittent fasting, preferring to eat later in the day, not liking to eat around others, who knows.

If the facts in your letter were different — like if most people ate hurriedly at their desks and there was pressure not to take much time for lunch— I might advise making sure she felt she could take enough time away to eat. But that doesn’t sound like an issue here, so you can safely leave it alone!

2. My office is angry I didn’t pay for a plane ticket for a business trip after I resigned

This happened about a year ago, but I am not sure if I was in the wrong. After nearly nine years at the same organization at a job I really enjoyed, an opportunity fell into my lap for a new job with more responsibilities and a pay jump. However, at the time, I had pre-booked travel for a conference I attended annually, including paying for the flight. The trip was about a month after I would start my new job. When I resigned, my boss told me I had to pay for the flight, since it was nonrefundable. It was around $650.

My husband and I both thought that was ridiculous and he consulted with a friend who does employment law who said I was under no obligation to repay this. I told my job I wasn’t paying for the flight, I didn’t plan to use the ticket, they could have it, etc.

The way I was treated for my last two weeks was terrible. My boss, who I had formerly been on fantastic terms with (think buying birthday and holiday gifts for my kid), stopped speaking to me. My department (five others) took me to a goodbye lunch. When I said at the lunch that I enjoyed working with everyone, it was dead silence until someone said, “Well, glad we got to leave the office for a free lunch!” This was an organization of less than 50 people, and the CEO didn’t even say goodbye to me. The HR person reminded me repeatedly to return my key before I left. I recently ran into several old coworkers at an event and some of them were still salty about the whole thing. Think not saying hello even though I worked with them for nearly a decade! So … What do you think?

I think that entire office was bonkers. It’s ridiculous to think you should pay for a business trip just because you leave before it happens; if that were the norm, no one could ever safely book business travel since they couldn’t guarantee they’d be there when the trip rolled around. That’s part of the cost of doing business for your company. But far more bonkers than their stance on that is the level of vitriol they directed toward you afterwards — particularly your non-management coworkers, who shouldn’t give one tiny fig about an issue like this. (Not saying hello to you an event?!)

I resigned, and my employer asked me to write them a check

3. Returning to an office where an estranged friend works

In 2022, I had been close friends with two coworkers, Ashley and Stephanie, for about five years. We were all on the same team working remotely but we would get together once or twice per week for TV nights, dinners out, road trips, exchanging gifts, etc. That spring, I found out I would be working in our office overseas for two years. We were all super excited and we discussed visits to my location and trips back home.

That summer, about two months before I was to leave, Ashley and I had a falling-out that was completely my fault. She, rightly and understandably, cut off all contact with me. Ashley and Stephanie remained friends and, while my friendship with Stephanie was strained, we also remained friends.

Now my assignment overseas is coming to an end. They have both returned to in-office work, although on different teams. I will be returning to the office as well and have been assigned to the team Ashley is on. Through Stephanie, I know that Ashley is aware of this.

I have not had any contact with Ashley since I left. At this point, I know we will not be friends and just don’t want to make any problems for her. I don’t know how to approach this. Do I reach out to Ashley? Wait to see if she reaches out? Do I ask about switching to another team?

I would do … nothing! Don’t reach out to Ashley, and definitely don’t ask to switch to another team. Just show up and be pleasant and professional and show through your actions that you respect whatever boundaries she has in regard to you. Treat her the way you’d treat someone you don’t know well but have respect and good will towards.

Depending on the nature of the falling-out, it’s possible she’ll be ready to move past it, or perhaps she won’t. Follow her cues and don’t force any big conversations about it.

Alternately, if you really wanted to, I suppose you could send a note in advance saying something like, “I don’t want you to feel awkward about me returning to the office, so I want you to know that I take full responsibility for our falling-out two years ago, understand your decision to cut ties, and will of course respect the boundaries you’ve put up since then.” But I don’t know, it’s almost reopening the drama. I think you’re better off just showing up and being pleasant and professional, but not familiar.

4. Using a custom email domain when job searching

A nice, low-stakes question about email addresses — as you can see, I’m using a basic firstinital.lastname@gmail.com address, which I’ve had since some time during grad school when I took my husband’s name for the sake of the alliterative initials. (Kidding. Mostly.) But I’ve been considering using firstname@lastname.com instead for job searches. I feel like it’s more impressive somehow, I guess? On the other hand, the reason that we own lastname.com in the first place is the fact that my spouse is an independent contractor and hosts his portfolio and query form there.

Is anyone likely to check out the URL and be confused by that? His business isn’t controversial or anything, but also wildly unrelated to my line of work (think carpentry vs. banking). Does it matter? Am I overthinking this?

Stick with the gmail. The custom domain for your last name won’t strengthen your candidacy in any way; most people won’t even notice it, and those that do are unlikely to think anything of it. But if anyone does bother to go to lastname.com, it could be mildly odd to see your husband’s stuff there. Not a big deal, by any means — but not a plus either. So there are really no advantages to using the custom domain, and one potential small weirdness. Stick with the gmail address; it’s absolutely fine.

5. Should I put being on my condo board of trustees on my resume?

Does being a member of the board of trustees of a largeish condominium belong on your resume if you can point to specific accomplishments? Not in the employment section, of course, but elsewhere?

I wouldn’t unless the specific accomplishments are relevant to the position you’re applying for — like if you’re applying for bookkeeping jobs and you can mention the bookkeeping mess you cleaned up as the condo association treasurer or similar. If it’s specific and relevant, include it.

That said, you can define “relevant” pretty broadly! For example, I’d also include that bookkeeping example if you were applying for an admin job where you wouldn’t be working with finances but want to show organization and resourcefulness as strengths.

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