we have to cook food to feed our well-paid managers, employee sends stream-of-consciousness Slack messages, 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. We have to cook food to feed our very well-paid managers

I work for a branch of government. The leadership team of another branch is having a meeting with the leadership team of our branch. The STAFF has been asked by our independently wealthy leadership team to sign up for a potluck to feed the visiting independently wealthy leadership team. Some of the staff bring home approximately a fifth — if that — of what our leadership team makes. Any one of our leadership team could whip out a credit card and feed the visitors without thinking about it; they all had highly lucrative careers before joining the government. Staff have not been invited to partake and mingle with the visitors. Apparently, we’re supposed to supply the food and disappear. Also, the meal starts at a time that most of us are not even at work! The signup sheet is out in the open, so anyone can see who is signing up and who isn’t. For those who aren’t signing up, I have to wonder how this will affect the funding of our departments. This is just wrong isn’t it?

Yes, this is ridiculous, and frankly pretty gross. Can you speak up as a group and say your budgets are tight, many of you can’t comfortably afford the request, and so it’s not something the group can do and you’re letting them know now so they can make other arrangements?

Alternately, you could just all not sign up; it’s unlikely that not bringing food to a potluck will affect a government department’s funding.

2. My employee sends stream-of-consciousness Slack messages to me during meetings

My job uses Slack to informally communicate and message one another throughout the day. An employee I manage has a habit of spamming my Slack channel during meetings with stream of consciousness type thoughts, reactions, and emojis, like “haha” or “yesssssssssss” or laughing emojis or “ditto.” Sometimes she asks questions, too. These meetings are taking place virtually, and we are both on camera, and I cannot both be attentive to her messages and focus on the meeting. Because Slack notifications pop up on my screen when I receive them, I find these messages very distracting. So far, when she starts to do this I usually just close Slack so I don’t see her messages, and I ignore them until the meeting is over. Afterwards, to address any questions she had about the call, we meet and discuss. I should also note that before we used Slack a lot, she would do the same thing but would text me instead, and I ignored those too until the meeting was over.

I am not sure how to handle this. I was hoping she would get the message when I consistently ignored her until the meeting was over, but that doesn’t seem to work. She is also extremely sensitive, and part of me feels like she benefits in some way from having an outlet for these stream of consciousness type thoughts during the meetings, and she doesn’t expect me to respond to them and has never seemed offended when I ignore her. So that brings me to you, should I say something or just keep ignoring? Other than this, she is a good employee and I’m not concerned about her performance.

How bothered are you? If you’re fine with just closing Slack during meetings and ignoring the messages until afterwards, it’s fine to keep doing that. You don’t need to tell her it’s annoying if you have a solution that works with minimal drama. But it’s also perfectly okay to say, “Would you mind not sending Slack messages while we’re in meetings unless it’s something I absolutely need to see? Otherwise it’s tough to focus during the call.” Even if she benefits from having an outlet for her stream of consciousness, that doesn’t mean her outlet should be her manager (or anyone who’s annoyed or distracted by it).

It sounds like she’s been doing this for a while, so she probably assumes it’s fine with you. It’s okay to let her know it’s distracting you.

I realize you’re asking which of these options you should pick but, truly, either is reasonable; it just depends on how much you care. (Although it’s also potentially useful to her to have you point it out so she doesn’t do it to someone who will be less patient in the future. Plus, if you were doing something that was irritating your boss, you’d probably rather be told so you didn’t keep doing it!)

3. How do we balance flexibility with making sure the work is getting done?

I work at a university where undergraduates do big capstone projects in their final year. Each faculty member supervises 12-14 student projects every year. Faculty are allocated a certain number of work hours per student to do this in the course of an academic year – for meeting the student, reading their proposal, checking their materials, etc. Every project is unique; some students need more of their supervisor’s time and others are more independent.

Some faculty are known shirkers who spend as little time as possible with their supervised students. They might respond to emails only after a long delay or give too little or perfunctory feedback on project design. Most supervisors are much more involved.

The department is looking at our procedures around the project. Some colleagues want to implement a new set of minimum standards about how supervisors have to interact with students (e.g., offering a one-to-one meeting every X weeks). To those of us who are diligent and put in the time to help our students succeed, it seems misguided that we’d create a straitjacket of rules to address misbehavior from ~5% of faculty. Bad supervisors will just engage in malicious compliance with any new guidelines (though perhaps this is better than the minimal engagement they currently do?). And the rest of us would feel obligated to tick all the boxes while our souls slowly withered. This might not result in a better experience for students, since good supervisors are already meeting their needs anyway.

Is there a way to balance the need to give faculty appropriate flexibility with the need to ensure students get a fair supervision experience? Ideally we would recognize that students are unique and have different needs, allow good supervisors the flexibility to do what we do best, and help managers identify shirkers. (Shirking could then theoretically be dealt with by line managers.) There are already minimum guidelines around the project: that students receive X amount of one-to-one time with their supervisors per semester and that student emails are responded to within X days. But these don’t add up to equal supervisory experiences for students. Do we need additional guidelines?

I should add that measuring supervisor performance by student outcomes (grades) wouldn’t be a viable option because there is variability in supervisor assignment, natural variation from year to year, etc.

Whether or not this is feasible in an academic environment is its own question, but speaking from a non-academic perspective: ideally you’d solve this with more attentive management. Managers should be paying enough attention to know who the shirkers are so they can then address it with them forthrightly.

In a non-academic environment, I’d say that the fact that that’s not happening indicates there’s a management problem, and that your managers need to be more actively engaged. With faculty members, the model is different — but since you’re referencing line managers who theoretically could identify and address the shirkers, I’m going to assume that an option here too. If it is, take it — that’s a better solution than saddling everyone with rules that don’t actually serve most people well. And to facilitate that, you could consider a system for getting feedback from students mid-year about whether they’re getting what they need from their project supervisors or not, so there would be time for managers to intervene if needed.

4. Hiring manager wants to cut out the recruiter

I have been looking for a new challenge for a while and a week ago found out about a role through a recruiter. It sounded like a good fit so I decided to apply. While speaking with the recruiter, it emerged that the role is with the company that acquired my previous employer, and the hiring manager is my old boss, who is hiring his replacement. I left that job several years ago on very good terms and it’s not clear why he didn’t reach out to me about this role before engaging the recruiting firm.

After our discussion, the recruiter sent my resume to HR. My old boss then messaged me to suggest a catch-up. During the conversation, he made it clear that they want to move forward but are looking to cut out the recruiter and say we were already in ongoing discussions.That is obviously untrue. The recruiter is now asking if they have contacted me directly as she has not heard back. How do you suggest I handle this? Is there a standard practice for this kind of situation? I don’t want to jeopardize my relationship with either party.

This is weird, because typically recruiters’ contacts with employers specify that recruiters don’t “own” the candidacies of people who are already in the employer’s own pool of contacts — and while there’s often a time limit on that (like people who applied the company on their own in the last six months), I’d expect “this person used to work directly for me” to qualify.

In any case, I’d say this to your former boss: “I’m happy to talk directly with you from this point forward and I agree it makes sense since we already know each other, but I don’t want to misrepresent anything to the recruiter. Could you talk to them and work out how to handle it?” Hold firm on that; you shouldn’t lie to the recruiter and it’s crappy if your old boss is asking you to.

5. I used the wrong company’s name in my cover letter

I recently submitted two different job applications to two different companies. After submitting, I was editing the cover letter I submitted to suit a third, separate job, and realized a mistake — I accidentally left the name of an earlier company I applied for in one of my sentences (second paragraph). There are no options to withdraw my application. What do I do now? Am I screwed?

Obvious moral of the story is proofread three times over, but hoping for advice on damage control.

Well … some people will consider it a deal-breaker, others will consider it a strike against you but not a fatal one if you’re otherwise strong, some people won’t care much at all, and some people don’t pay much attention to cover letters and thus won’t even notice it. There’s not really anything you can do about it now, though; you’ve just got to let it play out. (I don’t recommend contacting them to correct the error; that’ll just call more attention to it and make it a bigger deal than it should be.)

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