coworker won’t stop talking about how young I am, how to ask if meetings will provide food, and more — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

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

1. My coworker won’t stop talking about how young I am

I’m 27 and working at an international nonprofit (very touchy-feely) that’s fully remote. I’ve been here three years and I think I do fairly good work. I was recently visiting a city where one of my coworkers lives (she’s 42) and she kindly showed me around and we got a few meals and drinks together. We’re in the same position and work very closely together and talk pretty much every day over Slack, so it would have been odd if we didn’t get together. She’s lovely but also a lot.

On our weekly calls, she unabashedly shares a lot of personal info and often disparages people in their 20s. I’ve kept silent during these rants. I normally try to keep pretty strong boundaries at work and don’t share much about myself, so no one knew how old I was or much about my personal life. When I visited her, she asked about my age and I couldn’t outright lie so I told her. Most of my friends are in their 30s–50s+ and I can confidently say she talks about age more than anyone I’ve ever met! Over the three days I was there, she brought up my age numerous times and made comments about how I’m a “baby” and can’t understand things because I don’t have enough life experience. At one point, I was at lunch with her and her friend (who has volunteered for our company a few times), and she announced I was a “spy among us” because I’m in my 20s.

Ugh. I get that there is wisdom that comes with age, but this is exactly the reason I had not mentioned my age to anyone at work. I’m feeling incredibly anxious now. I know the solution is just to keep performing highly and keep my head down but do you have any advice for how to assuage my anxiety or get her to tone it down? Is this normal coworker banter? I know I can’t put the cat back in the bag but I’m regretting the trip and worried it will affect my credibility at work with the rest of the staff if she starts making these comments in meetings.

No, this isn’t normal. This is your coworker being obnoxiously hung up on age. But even if she makes comments like that around other people, it’s not likely to affect your credibility; these people have already worked with you for years and formed opinions abou your work. That’s not likely to suddenly be undone because she reveals your age or calls you a “baby” (WTF).

That said, if she keeps harping on it — and especially if she comments on it in front of anyone else — you’d be on solid ground in saying to her one-on-one, “Could you please stop commenting on my age? I know you don’t mean harm by it, but comments like that undermine me professionally. I want people to know me for my work, not dwell on my age.” If you want to mix it up, there’s also: “You seem really focused on my age. It’s getting weird — can we drop it?”

But you definitely don’t need to be anxious about this. She’s the one who looks bad, not you. (Also, 27 … is not an age you need to feel weird about. It’s not an “OMG, she’s brand new to the work world and will need to guided through everything” age. People will assume competence unless you give them a reason not to.)

how should I handle questions about my age at work?

2. How to ask if off-site meetings will provide food and coffee

Is it unprofessional to ask if lunch will be provided at an off-site event or training happening over lunchtime? Same question for events happening first thing in the morning and asking about breakfast/coffee.

When I’ve asked this question in the past, my coworkers and manager have chuckled, like I’m focusing on the wrong things. I definitely do NOT want colleagues or external contacts to think I care more about free food than about the work! But I’m someone who likes to plan ahead. I’d rather not show up having already eaten if I’m expected to eat with everyone, or packing my own food that will have to go bad in my backpack. Or, having assumed coffee would be available at an 8 am event and wind up not being my sharpest because I didn’t buy my own somewhere else and bring it. If it is acceptable to ask, is there phrasing you recommend?

It’s not unprofessional to ask! That said, while it should be fine to say “given the hour, do we know if they’re providing lunch?” I can see why it feels weird if you’re always the only one who asks and people are chuckling.

Does your organization ever provide meals or coffee at these events? If the answer is never or almost never, you’re better off just assuming that will continue to be the case, or that they’ll mention it if they’re going to (since it would be a change).

But if it’s a crapshoot, it’s reasonable to address that pattern — so you’re not asking before each individual event, but instead are saying something like, “It’s hard to predict when events and trainings are going to provide breakfast or lunch and I’m always eating beforehand when I shouldn’t or going hungry over lunchtime when there’s no food. Could we start letting everyone know ahead of time when food will or won’t be provided so we can bring our own if we need to?”

And if they’re not reliably providing coffee for off-site morning meetings, just always plan to bring your own (and feel free to suggest that they rethink that).

3. Hiring manager told me to “harass the hell out of him” for another interview

I’ve been interviewing at a place I really like. During the second interview, the hiring manager said he wants to schedule me for a third interview with the manager of my sector, who is the person I would interact with the most on a day-to-day basis should I get an offer. He gave me his personal number and told me that he is trying to manage various interviews with different departments all across the company. He said, “I’d like to promise I’ll remember to call you next week, but with all I have going on, there’s a chance I won’t, so please call and text. Harass the hell out of me because I really do want you back in for a third interview.”

What does that mean? How often should I call or text in this situation? I know he said to harass him but I don’t want to run the risk of harassing him too much and losing out on the job opportunity. At the same time, I don’t want to sit back and risk being forgotten about.

He’s just saying that you shouldn’t be shy about following up if you don’t hear back from him. If we’re in “next week” now and you haven’t heard from him yet, call or text today. If two more days go by with nothing, follow up again (and change the way you do it; if you first called, then text this time, and vice versa). If you don’t hear from him at all this week, try again on Tuesday. After that I’d wait for a full week to go by before trying again … and at that point I’d stop because that would be a level of disorganization that I wouldn’t be eager to take on as his team member.

Crucial note: This would be too much follow-up in most situations! I’m advising it here only because he asked you to.

4. I mixed up Passover dates

After a long job search, I finally had an interview in a field I really want to get back into. It went pretty well and I have reason to be hopeful. However, there is something that is making me anxious. I had just bought a new planner and fully expected it to contain Passover since it had the daylight savings changes of three different countries. So when they asked about upcoming days I would need off, I flicked through to check but it wasn’t there so I told them from memory and I got it a bit off in a way that I worry will be hard to explain to non-Jews.

I said April 22 … which is not exactly right. It starts at sundown on the 22nd … and I would want that day to cook and such but, I don’t exactly need it. The 23rd is the holiday, plus it will have been a late night. It doesn’t help that my “level” of religiosity means I wouldn’t feel terrible about being flexible around it but would prefer not to.

I am anxious about looking disorganized and being an inconvenience before my first day, especially as I am likely to ask for religious accommodations again. Also, there are very few Jews where I live, and I don’t expect there will be any others on the team.

Is there a script I can use to deal with it elegantly? Am I entirely overthinking this? Should I just be glad I have the day to cook and go to work given that I otherwise would have probably decided I was too tired to spend the next day in shul anyway?

You are indeed overthinking it! If they make you an offer, as part of that conversation you can simply say, “When we talked about upcoming days off, I realize I told you I’d need April 22 off but it’s actually April 23 — will that work?” You don’t need to get into Passover at all; this is the relevant info they need. If they push back for some reason, at that point you could say, “Unfortunately I don’t have flexibility with the date since it’s for religious observance.” That’s it! (And the idea here isn’t that you’re deliberating hiding anything; they just don’t need many details to get this handled.)

5. Joint retirement party

Employee #1 (of 34 years) decides to retire. Employee #2 (of 15 years) (who is back-up to #1) decides to retire at the same time because he doesn’t want to fill #1’s role. #2’s wife, who works in the same company and knows employee #1, has offered to plan a party for both, which no one asked or wants her to do. Should the party be joint or separate? Employee #1 has external vendors who he’s worked with for many years and who want to make it special for him (but not #2).

Do employees #1 and #2 both want retirement parties? And if so, do they have any feelings on whether they’re joint or separate? Does the company? Ultimately this should be driven by what the employees and the company want to do, not what one person’s wife is willing to plan. Moreover, it might be smart to take her out of the planning regardless; it’s presumably not her job and there’s someone else whose role makes them the more logical choice. As for the external vendors, that needs to be the company’s call too and should depend on what “making it special” means. If it means one person gets a lavish event with pony rides while the other person gets cookies in the break room, that’s not something you should permit. If it means they give the guy they worked with for 34 years a special award, that’s fine.

But right now it sounds like all of this is being completely driven by people who don’t have the standing to be driving it. The company needs to step up and take some control.

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