should we have “fun” out-of-office messages, managers trash-talk my old job, 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. Should we really have “fun” out-of-office messages?

At a company-sponsored women’s networking event last year, a speaker suggested that people should make their out-of-office messages more “fun” — i.e., include details about where you’re going, who you’re going with, fun facts about the location, etc. The thought was it would make you seem more human to the receiver, and they would then be more likely to respect your time off.

I find this advice grating for a few reasons:
– It’s too much information to read through. I just need to know when you’ll be back and who to contact in the meantime.
– I don’t think you should need to know what I’m doing with my time off in order to respect it.
– The fact that this advice was given at a women’s event for a very conservative, male-dominated industry adds an extra layer of ick I’ve not been quite able to put words to.

I’ve talked to a few folks around the office, and reactions have been mixed — some feel it’s too much, and others think it’s fun and I’m being a fuddy-duddy. This is obviously something I can just opt of of, but I just need to know: Is this a thing? Am I totally off-base here? Am I a fuddy-duddy?

You are not a fuddy-duddy.

People rarely read an out-of-office message and think, “Why didn’t she say more about why she’s out sick?” or “But who is going on vacation with her?” or “I wonder why she chose Yellowstone.” And while some people might enjoy reading that your destination in the Bahamas is “home to the world’s largest underwater sculpture,” a lot of other people are going to think, “Cool, but I really just want to know when you’ll be back.” There’s nothing wrong with including something personal (within reason — “I’m on my honeymoon! I’ll be back on the 23rd” is fine) but what the speaker is recommending is overkill and likely to come across as cheesy or odd.

The idea that people will be less likely to respect your time off if you don’t include extra info is bizarre — and it feels like the speaker is telling on themselves a bit there.

It’s extra gross at a women’s event because it plays into the deeply problematic idea that women need to put in extra effort to soften or pep up their communications (“humanize yourself! the most important thing for you is to make other people feel good so be warm! but not too warm or someone will take it the wrong way! no, not like that!”), a burden that’s placed on men far less often.

2. My new managers trash-talk my old job

I started a new job at a charity recently, after leaving the government sector where I’d worked for 10 years. My two managers keep referring to my past experience in negative terms, like “you’ll find things are very different here, we don’t do things the slacker way like where you used to work.”

My new job is actually extremely similar to my old job with the exact same software and processes (and I have a qualification in this area). I’m trying hard to learn the way of the charity and have been getting great feedback. Despite this, comments are made about how I feel to be working in “the real world, where we actually work hard.” But I’m a diligent worker and put in a lot of effort at my old government job and likewise in my new job.

My manager once worked at the government department I’ve just left, so I think he has a chip on his shoulder from his experience there many years ago. In my interview, he asked whether I’m a self-starter because everyone he knew at my old workplace couldn’t think for themselves and was lazy. I was taken aback at this, but I just calmly explained what a diligent worker I am.

I’m getting upset at the constant digs, and this is still being brought up six months after I started. It’s especially frustrating that I’ve been getting great feedback but feel I constantly have to prove myself because of my employment history.

This is Extremely Weird.

It might be interesting to say something like, “You keep mentioning that. Do you have concerns about my work ethic? I’d want to be able to address it if so.” Sometimes taking something like this very much at face value and responding accordingly will highlight how weird the other person is being, and it’s possible that framing it that way could nudge them to stop.

Or you could say, “I can’t speak for other teams, but the team I was on wasn’t like that. I’m surprised to hear you say that so often.”

Or you could just internally roll your eyes and keep in mind that while it’s possible that they had bad experiences with your old department, their constant harping on it is a tell that there’s something weird going on with them and it’s not about you.

3. How can I help an employee without money for food?

I am a supervisor of a team of about 15 in a large organization. One of my direct reports has disclosed to me that she is experiencing food insecurity and relies on charity for her groceries. I suspect she is not eating three meals a day. I would like to assist her but I don’t know how to go about it. I am not able to give her a raise and due to medical issues she is not able to work more hours. An added layer to this situation is that she used to be in the role which I am now in but had to step down due to these medical issues. I don’t want to come across as patronizing and I don’t want to break her confidence by reaching out to anyone in our organization about her circumstances. Are you able to give me advice about how I can help?

Would you be up for giving her an occasional gift card to grocery stores or similar? If you think it would make her feel more comfortable, you could say that someone gave it to you but you don’t normally shop there, or it showed up in your mail and you thought of her … or you could just say, “People helped in me in the past and I’d be grateful to be able to pay it forward.”

Beyond that, is your sense that your organization would assist her in some way if they knew? If so, I think it’s okay to talk to someone discreetly (someone who you trust to also handle it discreetly) and find out what options might be available. I appreciate you not wanting to break her confidence, but I’d put this in the category of “manager acting to help an employee” and sometimes that does involve looping someone else in (assuming she didn’t explicitly say you shouldn’t share it with anyone).

4. Can I ask to be laid off with severance?

I’ve been working for my employer for seven years, with three in a specialized role that did not exist before I pushed for its creation. We provide marketing services for other agencies, and I am the lone employee who creates any kind of marketing content for our organization.

Yesterday, I was told by the CEO that the marketing department (which consists of me, my manager, and a C-suite exec) was being restructured and my role was essentially being eliminated. I was told that I would be transferred to an operations role that I have virtually no experience in and that is, in my opinion, a huge step back professionally. My salary will remain the same, but this role has significantly less autonomy and is far below my skill set. Typically, it’s more of an entry-level role.

While my CEO says the hope is that this move is only temporary, I have no faith that that’s true. The company has historically struggled with lead generation and they’ve cited that the lack of leads is prompting this move. (For the record, I have never been held responsible for this or had any indication in my overwhelmingly positive performance evaluations that this was under my purview.) I fail to see how eliminating this marketing role will help them turn things around, but my larger concern is that this move will take a massive toll on my mental health and my ability to even look for new employment opportunities. The role has unrealistic productivity performance metrics with a high probability of burnout, and I would essentially have to learn an entirely new role that isn’t aligned with my experience or professional goals.

I have it on good authority that the company recently offered severance to an underperforming employee (far less senior than me) as an alternative to a demotion. This former employee ended up taking neither option, which makes me wonder whether there might be an opportunity for me to suggest a layoff with severance instead. The company has been actively trying to avoid layoffs, and part of me feels that the CEO is trying to do the “right” thing by finding a way to keep me employed. I recognize this might not be the smart thing to do, given the current state of the job market, but I do wonder whether there’s any precedent for this. If the worst they can say is no, do I really have anything to lose by asking? I don’t want to let my ego convince me to make the wrong decision, but I feel so depressed about the idea of having to make this transition at work, even temporarily.

You can absolutely try to negotiate a layoff with severance! You could frame it as, “I appreciate you trying to find another role for me, but I’m not sure this one makes sense for me professionally. Would you be open to structuring this as a layoff with severance instead?”

You will probably lose a bit of your leverage on the amount of severance since they know you don’t want the other job, but not necessarily. And you could ask for a specific amount up-front so you’re anchoring the discussion with a specific number from the get-go. Or if they’ve done layoffs before and you’d be happy with the amount of severance people got then, you could ask for it to be matched now.

5. Do I have to tell my interviewers if I’m fired in the middle of a hiring process?

I have been put on an action plan at work. I don’t think they sincerely wish me to improve and I’ve also lost motivation. I am looking for a new job. My question is, if I get let go and I am in the middle of an interview process, do I have to disclose I am no longer working? I know I should be truthful if directly asked, but what if they don’t ask me?

You don’t need to proactively disclose it. If they ask if you’re still employed there, you should be honest — and you shouldn’t talk about the job in the present tense if you’re no longer there — but you don’t need to go out of your way to announce it either.

I lied to my interviewer about being employed

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