Ask A Manager

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. My boss drunk-dialed my husband
I work at a high level in marketing, and I’m supervised by Tammy, an older, moody, and somewhat unpredictable woman. Besides her, everyone I work with is pleasant. A few weeks ago, we had a massive networking event and dinner for my industry that spouses were invited to, so my boss and everyone got to meet my husband for the first time. It seemed to go well.
Then, the following Friday night, my husband told me that he received a very strange call from someone he thought sounded like Tammy (she has his number as my emergency contact). It was fairly late in the evening (I was staying at my parents’ house that night to help out, as my mother was recovering from surgery). He said he answered the phone, and a lady who sounded like Tammy asked him what he was doing that night. He said she sounded kinda drunk. He asked her if this was Tammy, my boss, and she chuckled and said yes. After a couple more moments of somewhat slurred speech, he hung up and she didn’t call back. He immediately told me about it when I got home.
The next Monday morning, Tammy seemed completely normal and didn’t say a word about it. I do know that she enjoys drinking quite a bit at night, as she has said so herself before. As long as she isn’t out driving, I figured there was no harm to it, but now I’m not so sure.
I am angry that Tammy, whether she remembers it or not, tried to come on to my husband. I wanted to confront her, but I have no idea what I would say. My husband is upset as well and thinks Tammy was out of line. Am I just supposed to try to forget this ever happened? I can’t look at Tammy the same way anymore.
I think there are a bunch of different ways to argue this one, but here’s where I come down on it: A confrontation isn’t the way to go here. This is your boss, you have to work with her, she has control over your quality of life at work and your actual job, and there’s more to lose than to gain by causing significant tension in the relationship with her.
But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t say anything. Why not just say, “Gavin told me you called last week. Were you looking for me?” That way, you’re putting her on notice that your husband told you about it, that you’re not going to shy away from asking her about it point-blank, and that this isn’t going to somehow fly under the radar as an okay thing to do. If she doesn’t deny it, then you can say, “Please use my number if you’re trying to reach me and don’t call Gavin.” If she does deny it, then just say, “Huh, that’s weird. Okay!”
That might feel much softer than is warranted, but you’ll have called out the behavior, and the message is going to get through … but without junking up your work life with more awkwardness than is already inherent in the situation.
To be clear, any awkwardness that results from this is Tammy’s fault, not yours. But the outcome you want here is “Tammy knows I know about this and that it isn’t okay, and thus is highly unlikely to do it again” not “Tammy feels my full wrath and learns the error of her ways.” The latter is more satisfying, but the former is more practical for work relationships.
Of course, you’re then stuck working for someone who drunk-dialed your husband.
And to be clear, if this were more than a one-time “what are you doing?” call — if it happens a second time or if what she’d said on the call was more offensive — I’d suggest a different conversation, likely with her boss or HR.
2. Can I let an employer know their job descriptions are terrible?
I’m a recent graduate looking for an entry-level job in HR. Since I’m on the job hunt a lot of what I do involves poring over job descriptions, and they vary greatly in terms of readability and overall quality. There’s one often-appearing organization in particular (a university) whose descriptions are such a pain to read. All of the information is jumbled together in separate blocks of text, and it’s split into sections that make it hard to fully grasp what each job entails.
Being in the HR field and having previously formatted job descriptions, I feel that it’s essential for companies to have a well-written job description. It acts as the face of a company, and you want to leave a good first impression. Is there any way that I could let this university know about this issue? I realize it may be rude and I could possibly be blacklisted from being hired, but on the other hand I’m not sure how else they could receive feedback. How (if at all) should I proceed?
Leave it alone; it’s not your problem to solve. If you get a job there and this is in your purview, it’s something you can bring up then. But right now, it would be overstepping — and it’s especially likely to come across that way because you’re a new grad. That doesn’t mean that you’re wrong, just that your opinion isn’t going to carry a lot of weight and you might come across as naive about the amount of bureaucracy that goes into university job descriptions.
3. My manager went through my coworker’s desk to find unfinished work
I am part of a clerical support team of four. The executive secretary, Morgana, has been on a progressive return (three days a week) due to an on-the-job back injury and hoped to be back full-time by November. Since I started in September, she’s also been sick, away due to her husband being sick, her son’s surgery, her father’s surgery, and many appointments due to her back issues.
Our company generously gives us Remembrance Day as a paid day off. She had booked the two days prior off for appointments and her father’s surgery. Due back the Tuesday, she didn’t come in all week. Then she was off a second week. We found out during the first week she was away that there were items here and there that had been assigned to her that had not been done. My boss, with my assistance, then went through all the loose papers in Morgana’s office to find out what else may be left undone … and we found stuff going back up to two months that still needed to be done. Not much of it was urgent but all the same, it was not done.
I felt awkward going through her office like that, rifling through papers like I was a cop looking for evidence (we did not leave a mess). But was our boss within her rights to do this? My feeling is yes, but had it been my desk I might have felt a bit invaded.
Yes, your boss was absolutely within her rights to do that. When someone is out, and especially when someone is out for many consecutive days and work needs to be done/statuses need to be discovered/etc., this is a normal thing to do. There isn’t really any right to privacy at work when it comes to your actual work materials, and that goes doubly when you’re out and people are covering for you and need to do things that intersect with your work. And especially once your boss found that work that she’d thought was done was actually undone — this is what happens.
That doesn’t mean Morgana might not feel a little invaded. She might. But your boss was 100% within her rights to investigate further.
4. Can I ask for advance notice before office social events?
I started a new job six weeks ago and think I’m getting to know my coworkers okay. On my way out tonight, my supervisor said, “We’re all going out for a drink. Even if you don’t drink, you should come.” I’d be up for it, but I’m dealing with some personal stuff and just don’t have the emotional bandwidth for surprise socializing. If she’d asked yesterday or even this morning, I could have prepped and been fine. And I don’t know, but suspect, there was advance planning because a part-time coworker came in to go out with them. It wasn’t the whole office, and I know there will be other chances, but is there a way to say I can’t do surprises but I like y’all and want to get to know you?
Saying you don’t like surprises is likely to land as a bit … high-maintenance with some people, but it’s absolutely fine to say that you need advance notice. In the moment you could have said, “I’d love to! I generally need advance notice to be able to swing that, but I’d love to come next time.” Since the moment is passed now, you could instead say something like, “I’d love to come next time there’s a happy hour! I usually need a bit of advance notice to make it work with my schedule, but even finding out that morning is usually workable.”
5. How do I manage my expectations about a job I’ve been told I have a good chance of getting?
I have been job searching for several months after realizing I am unhappy/unfulfilled in my current position. A couple months ago, one of my past managers let me know that she knew someone in the field who was hiring, but the job posting was not up yet. She indicated that she believed I was a shoe-in for the job and, after I told her I was interested, she put in a good word for me with the Head Teapot Specialist. Since then, the job posting has not gone up (it sounds like an issue with HR dragging their feet, despite the Head Teapot Specialist wanting the position filled already). This specific field is very niche and not in a super accessible location, so I don’t think many people will be applying.
Taking this into account plus the glowing recommendation from my former manager, as well as my own strong qualifications, I can’t help but feel optimistic about my chances. But at the same time, I don’t want to get my hopes up and then get let down if they decide to go with another candidate, which, of course, is very likely. The Head Teapot Specialist indicated to my former manager that with her recommendation I am automatically at the top of the pile, but that HR will have a big hand in hiring, so he can’t hire whoever he wants. Do you have any advice on managing expectations for a situation like this?
The best thing you can do is to assume it won’t happen for some reason — the job will get canceled, or it’ll be reconfigured into something you don’t want, or you’ll discover the pay is too low or the manager is a jerk, or they’ll decide to hire the CEO’s niece, or so forth. Any of those are real possibilities, so remembering them will help you not get too invested.
If it does turn out that the job opens up and is perfect and well-compensated and the manager is wonderful and they make you an offer, you can get invested at that point. But until then, the more you can mentally position yourself to not count on it in any way, the better off you’ll be.
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