I don’t want to bake for my coworker, needlessly cruel layoffs, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. Is this method for layoffs needlessly cruel?

I am writing this email while sitting at my work computer even though I am off contract and not being paid for my time. My college announced a month ago that they will lay off half our workforce today. Rather than just let us know who is being laid off, they are asking that we all sit unpaid at our computers during the day and wait to see if we get a Teams invite with “at least 20 minutes notice” to come to virtual small group meetings to be laid off. We are assured that after 6.5 hours of this process, at 2:30 pm, they will send an email to everyone who is not laid off.

Everyone just wants to know their status, and it doesn’t seem like the purpose of the meetings is to discuss anything that might change, nor is it to provide information on the separation, which has already been sent out (COBRA, lack of severance, etc.) People are in extreme anxiety. Some folks are on long-planned trips or have other commitments that they are now trying to balance with complying with this request. Those who have asked if they could just get an email if they are fired have been ignored.

Is there a reason that this approach is useful? Or is it needlessly cruel, which is how it seems to me? Is there a reason they can’t let us all know right now and offer meetings for those who want or need them?

Needlessly cruel. They could do it all at once and at a specific time so you’re not sitting around waiting (and no need for small groups, which is what’s stretching it out; most people being laid off really don’t care if they’re in a group of 10 or a group of hundreds, especially if this is the alternative). What a way to drive home that they’re not considering you in the process at all.

For what it’s worth, it’s illegal not to pay you for the waiting time. This is what’s called “engaged to wait” and under federal law it must be paid.

my company says it’s “best practice” to do layoffs over email

2. My coworker wants to pay me to bake for her shower, but I don’t want to

I have a relatively new (six months on the job) coworker who is pregnant with her first baby.

I recently made cupcakes from a very time-intensive recipe for someone else’s baby shower, a coworker who I am very close friends with. Today, my newer coworker asked me to bake the same cupcakes and another type of cake for her own baby shower that she is planning with 60 guests. This is not an office baby shower like the first one, and I have no idea who is invited. Although she offered to pay me and told me how much she loved the cupcakes, I am incredibly uncomfortable with the idea. How do I tell her no?

“I’m so glad you liked them but they’re really time-intensive so they’re a once-in-a-blue moon thing for me.” If she repeats her offer to pay: “Oh, I bake for fun when the mood strikes, not for pay.” Or just, “You’re kind to offer, but I can’t.” If you want to soften it a little, recommend a good bakery (“the bakery two blocks away has an amazing blueberry custard cake everyone loves”).

But really — the fact that she is asking for a favor in no way obligates you to say yes to that favor. Don’t feel awkward about declining. If she takes issue with that, she’d be wildly out of line and it would just underscore that you were right to say no in the first place. But hopefully a clear no will take care of it.

I make delicious baked goods and my office knows it

3. I threw up on the floor at work

I work for a large fast fashion chain, and recently came in after experiencing a bout of nausea the night before. As it was only a three-hour shift with a late start, I thought I could hack it, but ended up throwing up in my mouth, hastily handing a woman her change, then puking on the floor behind the till. My manager told me to basically sit in the stockroom with a plastic bag and refused my offer of clean-up help. She seemed sympathetic, but I still feel guilty.

I’m just worried that if this gets passed to HR or the more senior managers, I could be in serious trouble. It was too sudden to run to the toilets, but it’s still unprofessional, right? I’m also mortified at the thought of what my coworkers think, and am dreading my return to work. Any insight into whether I should start looking for a new job, or any tips on facing the shame greatly appreciated.

It’s not unprofessional to have a human body that sometimes get sick. It’s not unprofessional not to be able to predict and halt an uncontrollable bodily process like throwing up! If you ever work somewhere that treats you as if it is, that’s a big flashing red flag to get out. No one should think you intentionally threw up on the floor! At worst, someone might be less than thrilled about having to clean it up, but that’s completely different than being unhappy with you. (And no decent person who just witnessed someone vomit the floor is going to expect them to do the work of cleaning it up too.)

You got sick. It happens. Assume people just want to make sure you’re okay now. Unless your job is on the far extreme end of dysfunction, this is not a big deal.

4. I don’t like the way my boss wants me to estimate project time

I just started a new position about six weeks ago. I’m in a very high level professional position in a discipline that usually gets a lot of leeway in how we manage our own time — as long as the task gets done, that’s all that matters. The problem is that my new manager would like us to estimate what projects we’ll be working on in the upcoming weeks and how much time each project will take. Quite frankly, I hate this exercise. For one, I’m very bad at it. I’m good at managing my workload and always get projects in under deadline. But I’m very bad at estimating how much time it will take to get each task done, and part of what makes me so efficient is my ability to switch up my priorities quickly based on new information or openings in my schedule. This exercise of trying to estimate my time for my manager is taking up much more time than it reasonably should.

They say they want to use this information to help with adding new projects to my list as they come up. But I’d rather just handle that with a conversation about what I can and can’t take on. I even thought about just making up some numbers to make them happy, but then they come back and want an explanation for how I came up with that number. “I made it up” seems like a poor explanation.

Obviously I am new and I am going to try to make this work at least for a little while longer. But if after a couple months I still find it as onerous as I do today, how do I broach that conversation? They are generally flexible and accommodating, but I also feel like they’re pretty tied to this form of project tracking.

Yeah, try to make it work for at least a few months so that you’ve given it a good faith try. But then it’s reasonable to say something like, “I’m finding that providing these estimates is difficult for me — it becomes a time-intensive project itself, and often my estimates change once I’m deeper into the project. I of course understand want to communicate with you about my workload and what I can and can’t take on. In the past I’ve done that through more informal conversation when new projects come up, which has worked well. Would you be open to trying that for the next month and seeing how it goes? We can always course-correct if it’s not working.”

If that doesn’t solve it, there’s probably a second conversation to have where you’re more specific about how this is affecting your workflow, as well as why it’s difficult to come up with accurate estimates. It might be that this is just how your team is going to work, but it’s reasonable to try to talk about it.

You might also talk to your coworkers about how they approach it. Who knows, maybe you’ll find out that you’re making it more complicated than it needs to be.

5. Was it fair to cancel this interview?

My 16-year-old is currently searching for her first job. Over the weekend, she scheduled an interview at a local ice cream parlor for 6pm on the following Tuesday. On the day of the interview, she got her resume and list of references printed and double-checked the messages from the interviewer around noon before relaxing with a book. Then, about a half hour before the interview was scheduled, she picked up her phone and found a series of missed messages from the interviewer. At 1:30pm the interviewer asked if she could reschedule for earlier in the day. Then at 4:30pm when she still hadn’t responded, the interviewer sent this message: “I did not get a reply from you, does that mean you can not come in early? Also, since I did not get a reply that makes me question if you are coming at 6pm today. Please confirm.”

As soon as my kid saw the message at 5:30pm, she responded apologizing for not seeing the messages sooner and stating that she was coming for the 6pm interview. The interviewer told her that since she hadn’t responded that they had already left for the day.

What should my kid have done differently? She’s not glued to her phone all day (which I would think is a huge positive) — should I encourage her to check it more often? Or is this a red flag?

It’s really just a red flag that she’s applying for a job in food service, which she already knows. This kind of thing isn’t uncommon in retail and food service.

To be clear, the interviewer was in the wrong. It was fine to ask if she could come in earlier, but not hearing back shouldn’t have made them assume she’d no-show for the scheduled time. That said, it’s also true that people no-show for food service interviews a lot and a manager who was otherwise ready to leave might have figured they didn’t want to wait around another hour for someone who might not show up and wasn’t responding. That’s not a considerate assumption; they were in the wrong. But I suspect it’s what happened.

Your daughter didn’t do anything wrong, but it’s also not a bad idea to glance at her phone once or twice the day of an interview, since sometimes things do change at the last minute.

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