my new employee says he won’t help a coworker, my boss suggested I cry, and more — Ask a Manager


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

1. My new employee said he won’t help a coworker

Today I had my first 1:1 with a new employee. At the time he was hired, we were filling two roles, one at mid level and one at entry level, and they both started last week. He did not interview well enough to earn the mid-level position, but we offered him the entry-level role as we thought he’d be a good fit and he accepted. However, today it was clear that he is upset about being at a lower level than the rest of the team and indicated that he would not help the other new employee since they were at a higher level than him. I had them doing initial training together, as the technical skills are the same, but the higher level candidate has soft skills that this disgruntled employee lacks. Today he asked how soon he could be promoted, and when he could shadow a team whose work is well outside the scope of the role for which he was hired.

Is it reasonable that I’m a little miffed? I want to support all professional growth opportunities, but when I said it wasn’t possible for him to join them within a year (there’s a one-year mark for promotion considerations), he was shocked. What is the best way to reset his expectations? Am I crazy to expect him to work on the team that hired him?

You should be more than a little miffed — you should be thinking seriously about whether or not to keep him. He told you at your first meeting that he will not help a colleague. Who announces that to their new boss?! That’s squarely in “whoa, we may have made a mistake in hiring him” territory.

I’d seriously consider cutting your losses and parting ways now, but if you don’t want to do that, go back and tell him that it’s not acceptable on your team to refuse to help colleagues, that the role is X and not Y, and that you’d need to see excellent performance and teamwork from him for at least a year before you’d even begin to consider promoting him — and that what you’ve seen so far is drastically out of sync with the approach you’re seeking from team members. Ask him whether, in light of all that, he still wants the job. If says yes, keep a very close eye on him from now on. If there’s a second issue in the next few months (and I would bet money there will be), be ready to end things at that point.

2. My boss suggested I cry

I work in a small department of 10-12 middle- to older-aged women (I’m the youngest at 45) who report to a younger male manager. The environment is full of tension and is a smidge toxic. There is no accountability for poor behavior (often excused with “that’s just how Brenda is….” or “Megan works better with men; don’t take it personally”). I do my best to avoid the drama but coworkers often stop by my desk to vent. It’s distracting, energy-sucking, and flat out annoying. I’ve employed all of the “I’m busy” techniques (pretending to get a phone call, nod while looking busy smashing at the keyboard, putting up signs, wearing giant headphones, or simply saying “sorry, busy!”) and nothing seems to work. I reached out to my boss for guidance/ideas. His advice: Cry. “Crying will drive people away,” he says.

Literally, WTF? This is horrible advice right?! So how do I keep coworkers away? And how do I respond to my boss’s “cry” advice?! Is it sexist? Wrong? Right?

Cry??? WTF indeed.

Yes, it’s sexist. (I doubt he’d tell men to cry.) And I don’t even understand how it’s supposed to work — someone comes by your desk to talk to you and you just … start crying? I mean, he’s right that it will drive people away, but no, this is nonsensical, horrible, sexist advice that reveals your boss as an utter ass. If you want, you could go back to him and say, “Your advice to cry when coworkers are trying to vent to me really bothered me. It doesn’t seem like advice you’d give to a man. Is that how you’d handle this — by crying?”

As for what to do about your coworkers, based on what you’ve described it sounds like the only thing that will work is to be very direct. When someone stops by your desk to vent, try saying, “I’m on deadline and can’t talk” or “I don’t want to gossip so I’ve got to cut you off” or “hey, I really don’t want to hear this kind of thing.” And if they keep talking after that (!), try the suggestions in this post (which are for really over-the-top talkers, which your coworkers are).

But also … do you want to stay there? It sounds horrible.

3. How can you tell if a recruiter is worth your time?

I’m wondering if you have any advice on how to tell whether a recruiter is just indiscriminately gathering resumes or actually might send you out for interviews. This winter I was looking for work, and ended up talking to a bunch of recruiters (some because they reached out, some because of job listings that turned out to be “hypothetical” jobs posted by staffing agencies). They brought me in to their offices to meet and spent a lot of time calling me, and not a single one of them set me up with an interview — most of them never even told me about an actual existing job. I ended up finding a job on my own.

A recruiter just reached out to me out of nowhere, and I’d be interested in hearing about other jobs but don’t want to take off work and jump through hoops just so this guy can add another resume to his stack. He didn’t even know whether I was currently employed, which is odd because my current company/position is listed on LinkedIn and Facebook (visible even if you’re not my friend). So I stopped responding to him. I’m not desperate for a job but I am keeping an eye out for something good so a real recruiter would be of interest to me. Any tips for weeding out the time-wasters?

You can try asking explicitly, “Is this interview for a specific job that’s currently open, or is it a more general interview in case I’m a good match with something in the future?” Some recruiters will lie about this, but a lot will answer honestly.

You can also ask for specifics about the job they’re recruiting for. A good recruiter will be willing to give you details about the job; if they’re not, that’s a sign not to waste your time.

4. Can I ghost my former colleague?

I’m a freelance contractor. For about two years, I was contracted by Joe’s company to assist with marketing. Joe was my main point of contact and I worked with him closely, communicating daily. He was incredibly difficult to work with — disorganized, unprofessional, making minor challenges out to be emergencies. He would call me multiple times a day, every day, despite my best efforts to push him towards email and rein him into regularly scheduled meeting times. By the end, I was fairly certain that the reason he relied so heavily on me was that I was doing most of his job for him. At the end of two years, I politely opted out of renewing my contract with his company. Lo and behold, Joe was let go shortly after.

This should have been the end of things, but it wasn’t. Joe continued to call and text me on a regular basis, wanting to “catch up” or pitch me new freelance ideas we might work on together. This is someone I never want to work with again, but for the sake of remaining professional I would acknowledge his messages and send a polite “Thanks, but I’m not looking for new projects right now” or something along those lines. I would have thought that after a few of these “thanks but no thanks” notes a person would get the message and let it drop, but he continues to contact me.

Would it be completely unprofessional to ghost him and just stop responding? One on hand I feel like that’s warranted, but on the other hand, I have never explicitly told him “please stop contacting me.” To be clear, he’s not someone I feel threatened by or anything, just a person I found terrible to work with and don’t want to remain connected to. Saying “stop contacting me” so bluntly feels a bit aggressive, and I would hate for that to get back to other professional acquaintances we share.

There are situations where just not responding can be more polite than “stop contacting me.” I’m generally a proponent of being direct, but when someone is missing pretty clear signals you’re not obligated to spell out a difficult message if doing that might mean he’ll complain about you to mutual contacts.

You’ve already turned him down a bunch of times. You’re fine just forgetting to respond to future messages from him.

5. Should I have been offered a phone interview since I’m six hours away?

I work in higher education, in a student affairs role. I recently applied for a position located in another state, about six hours away. I’m a bit overqualified for the position, but it’s a state I would really like to move to, so I’m willing to take a small step down if the salary is reasonable. They contacted me for an interview almost immediately after the job posting closed, which was encouraging and exciting! However, they asked me straight off to come to campus, and based on the scheduling options they gave me, it appears that this will only be a one-hour interview. I followed up mentioning that I live six hours away and asking them to point me in the direction of convenient hotel accommodations. I kind of expected that they would respond suggesting a phone or Skype interview for this first round, rather than making me drive 12 hours round-trip for a one-hour interview that is likely just a screening conversation. I realize now that I should have directly asked for that, but I was worried about coming off too demanding at this stage in the process.

I have interviewed for several other positions at other universities, and if travel was required they always started with a phone or Skype interview in order to save my time and their money (although nothing has been said about reimbursing me for my travel costs). Then, if the initial screening goes well, they have invited me to campus for a longer interview. Based on what I’ve read on AAM, it seems like that is standard for many industries, not just higher ed. Is this a red flag? My excitement about the interview is gradually getting drowned out by my dread of the 12 hours of driving ahead, for a position I’m not even sure I want yet!

It’s not inherently a red flag, although it’s a bit weird. But they probably just took you at your word when you asked for hotel recommendations.

As you’ve already realized, handling it that way was a mistake — you should have directly asked, “Since I’m a six-hour drive away, would you be open to doing this first meeting by phone or Skype?” Asking for that now, after the interview has already been scheduled isn’t ideal — it risks making you look a little flaky or like you didn’t think it through. But when you weigh that against a 12-hour roundtrip drive for a one-hour interview for a job you don’t have many details on yet, it’s probably still worth it. If they didn’t explicitly say it’ll be an hour and you’re just surmising that from context, one way to do it would be to inquire based around that — as in, “Could I check with you about the length of the interview? I’d initially assumed this was a longer interview, but looking at your original email, I realize it might be a one-hour meeting. If that’s the case, I wonder if you’d be open to doing it by phone or Skype instead since I’m driving in from six hours away? I’d of course be happy to travel to you for a longer interview if we move forward.”



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