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Saturday, July 13, 2024

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HomeMiscellaneouskicking a coworker...

kicking a coworker out of our social huddles, disclosing PTSD at work, and more


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

1. Should I kick a coworker out of our social huddles?

I am an associate director and lead a team of three (mixed genders, some very new to the workforce). We work remotely, and each department has an optional weekly 30-minute huddle, purely social. My team and I usually chat about pleasant but inoffensive topics, like books, pets, gardening, etc.

About a year ago, Tim, a director I am close with, hired Jane for a newly created position. Tim oversees two departments plus Jane; the other departments are very introverted and 100% male (we are working to fix this, but turnover is low so there aren’t many new hires). After discussion with Tim, I invited Jane to join our huddles in hopes of helping her feel more connected.

However, recently Jane has been getting inappropriately personal and negative, talking about her dating life, her poor financial situation when she makes more than my staff, politics, and even applying to other jobs! So far, I have been redirecting the conversation to something neutral when she does this, but it’s getting exhausting and I am not always successful. It’s setting a bad example for my other employees and is very uncomfortable.

Should I talk to Jane and ask her to keep away from these topics? Talk to Tim? Disinvite her from our huddles? She has mentioned several times how much she enjoys our huddles and isn’t well connected to other employees, so I am worried about the impact on her morale if I disinvite her.

Talk to Jane one-on-one. It’s your huddle so it makes sense that you be the one to do it; if Tim does it, it’ll be a lot more awkward (since it’ll be clear you spoke to him rather than just talking with her yourself).

Approach it the way you would if Jane were, say, misreading the room at a meeting with clients — a matter-of-fact correction with a “just letting you know so you can fix it” tone. For example: “I wanted to tell you that we try to keep the huddles pretty light —books, pets, gardening, that kind of thing. No politics, and nothing too personal like dating or personal finances (especially when you earn more than others there). I realized I should have told you at the start so wanted to explain it now!” That last part is important — in the future, it’s worth setting up expectations from the start with new people so you don’t encounter this again. It’s easy to feel like people should just get it — and a lot of people will figure it out by observing — but not everyone will, and it’s a kindness to everyone to help newcomers avoid blunders.

However, it might be useful to think through what the guidelines really are and not just define them by Jane’s missteps. For example, is all dating talk really off-limits or is the problem that Jane has been inappropriately detailed? My hunch is that it’s the latter, and if that’s the case you don’t want your guidance to be overly broad or you risk changing the informal feel of the gatherings.

2. Disclosing PTSD at work

I’ve been working at a company that is extremely busy for about a year, but I have two excellent supervisors who really care about their employees health and wellbeing. I’m in my mid 20’s and a survivor of really severe child abuse. I have diagnosed post traumatic stress disorder, which I’ve been in treatment for. Nobody ever knew what was going on (my parents were very good at hiding this from everyone) so I stayed with them until I was 18. After a lot of therapy I finally cut them off recently, but they have been doing everything in their power to try to get in touch with me.

Prior to this job, every time I would have an argument with one of my parents, I would completely spiral. Nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, the whole nine yards. I ended up quitting/no-call no-showing/getting hospitalized for weeks at a time at several jobs. Basically, I couldn’t function, and the abuse was really, really affecting my career. Now I’m in this great job, and have cut off contact, but I’m starting to experience other symptoms at work. Whenever anyone is loud (even just laughing or doing a large presentation) in the office, I flinch at the noise and often vomit. If I have a pressing deadline, I have panic attacks because I’m so terrified of the consequences, and I’ve never missed a deadline at this job. I freak out some days because I’m scared my mom or dad might call my job to try and find me (they’ve done this multiple times before). I’m in intensive therapy, but I’m constantly scared and on edge at work, and I think my managers can tell. I’m torn between maintaining the status quo or just telling my managers what’s going on. For what it’s worth, this company has stated they care about employee mental health (and have backed that up with tangible actions) but I worry that this is so much more severe than the typical “I have burn out and need a break” conversation. Should I talk to them about this? Should I tell them I have PTSD but not why I do? I just worry about my parents calling my manager some day. If you were my manager, would you want to know?

I have a good relationship with both my bosses and they have been explicit that they care about employees physical and mental health, and that those things are more important than work. By far the best managers I’ve had during my short career.

First, you can definitely let your managers know that you have a difficult family situation, are concerned your parents may call some day to try to find you, and want to put safeguards in place in case that happens. What those safeguards are depends on what you’d be comfortable with — it could be that whoever answers your phones is told not to confirm that you work there, or that all your calls go to voicemail for screening first, or even just that your managers know this is a thing and that they shouldn’t speak to your parents if one of them calls. This is not a weird thing to raise — you’d probably be surprised by how many letters I get from people who need to do this. Good managers will want to do whatever they can to help you feel safe.

Second, if you think your managers are noticing some of your fear/trauma response, it might be worth letting them know that you’re dealing with PTSD. You don’t need to go into detail; it’s enough to just say you’re in treatment for PTSD. You can say it’s from family stuff if you want, but you don’t need to. Managers usually go into “what can I do, specifically?” mode when they hear this kind of thing, so if you don’t want them to do anything differently and are just telling them so they have context for reactions they might notice, say that explicitly — “I thought I should mention this in case it explains anything you see from me that seems off. I’m not asking you to do anything or for any accommodations; I just want you to have that context in case it’s ever useful.”

On the other hand, if there are specific accommodations you would like, talk about what you’d like! It could be working from home sometimes, or a quieter space, or anything that you think would help you at work.

For the sake of caution, I need to say that there can be risk to disclosing mental health stuff to your employer. There’s less risk with PTSD than with some other stuff, but there is risk. Based on what you said about your managers, though, it sounds like you would be pretty safe having this conversation.

I’m so sorry this is happening, and for what happened in your family. I’m glad you’re out and okay.

3. Can I hold my new manager to promises made by my old manager?

My old boss made me a bunch of promises in my last review: professional development plan, promotional path, financially rewarding my volunteer activities. A week later, they stepped down and my new supervisor, who had been at my same level, took over. Can I hold my new supervisor to my old supervisor’s review?

You can try, but ultimately it will be up to your new supervisor. You could say, “I’d arranged with Jane for XYZ and wanted to find out how to keep that moving now.” Your new manager might be perfectly happy to continue on the path the old manager laid out. But it’s possible she’ll want to put those things on hold while she gets the lay of the land herself first (and might end up not pursuing them, depending on her own assessment and priorities).

4. Giving candidates updates during long hiring timelines

In my field (academia) it is very common for hiring processes for competitive tenure-track positions to last five to six months from the first job posting to the final, signed offer letter (shockingly, academia moves slowly — who knew?) It is also common for no updates whatsoever to be sent out to applicants during this process, save for scheduling interviews and such for those that are progressing. Having been in this position a few years ago, I know it is massively frustrating, and I would like to change it to be more transparent. However, HR at our university says that we cannot give updates to applicants until a final, signed offer letter is received. Is there anything we can do to make this process more transparent to people who are waiting for some type of response from us? I hate knowing that we effectively ghost people who put a ton of time and energy into applications.

If you’re bound by HR’s ruling, there are two early points where you can let people know what to expect: explain to applicants both in your ad and in interviews that you expect the full process to take five to six months and that candidates won’t be updated on their status (aside from interview invitations) until the end of it. It’s not ideal, but it’s a lot easier for candidates to tolerate a lengthy, opaque process when they know from the beginning what to expect and don’t have to wonder why they haven’t heard anything. (Also, your candidates who are used to academia’s norms won’t be terribly surprised by this.)

5. Boss is inviting me to meetings during my unpaid lunch hour

I started a new job a few months ago working in an administrative role and so far I have been really enjoying it. Recently, however, my boss has started inviting me to meetings with our vendors. Usually, I wouldn’t have a problem having a quick meeting and putting a face to the names I email all day. The problem is that these meetings would happen during my one-hour unpaid lunch. They also would be very minimally beneficial for me to be a part of due to the nature of my position.

I’m not sure how to approach this with my boss without it messing up my reputation at work. I want to be looked at as someone that goes above and beyond, but I also don’t want to set a precedent that I’m willing to do what is essentially work when I’m not being paid for it. What is a professional way to handle this without it looking like I want to do the bare minimum? Should I just suck it up and go?

Is there any reason to think your boss is assuming you’ll do these meetings during your unpaid lunch hour? Unless he’s said otherwise, I’d assume that he figures you’ll take your lunch before or after them, even that means eating at a different time than you normally would. If you’re not sure or if your lunch time is normally pretty rigid, it’s fine to ask, “Okay for me to plan to take lunch at 1 that day instead of 12, so that I’m available to attend this?”

But if he explicitly says you should do it during your unpaid lunch, that’s not actually legal. Assuming you’re non-exempt, which it sounds like you are, you’re required to be paid for work meetings, even optional ones. So in that case, you could say, “I think legally we do need me to log and be paid for that time since it’s a work meeting — but I could bump my lunch back so I can join you. Or could we schedule them for before noon or after 1?”

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