my coworker guilt-trips me when I won’t help, high-earning colleagues joke about my pay, and more — Ask a Manager

[ad_1] It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go… 1. How much am I obligated to help a coworker who guilt-trips me when I don’t? How much help am I obligated to give to a coworker who has a long history of struggling to manage their own life? We have a coworker, “J,” who,


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

1. How much am I obligated to help a coworker who guilt-trips me when I don’t?

How much help am I obligated to give to a coworker who has a long history of struggling to manage their own life?

We have a coworker, “J,” who, because of the nature of their work and the hours of their shift, doesn’t always have someone who can easily cover them when they need to be out. We do have a bench of people able to cover, and filling in for physical illness, mental health days, and planned vacation or days off is never a problem.

Unfortunately J has a long history of failing to arrange to take their vacation time off in a timely fashion.

They push back when told they’re not giving enough notice for us to find someone to cover their shift and here’s the kicker — they often subtly imply but never outright state that they need the time off for mental health or family problems and imply that if you don’t cover for them you’re the cause of their further decline. The latest episode involved very little notice to fill a shift because they wanted to make plans with a child who they haven’t seen much of lately.

I understand they’re having a rough time (they always seem to be) but the last two years have been a dumpster fire for everyone. I take a lot of pride in being a team player and acknowledging that some people need different accomodations than others and our supervisor is fully supportive of me not making any great efforts for this person. But I’m a little weary of holding up what seems like a basic boundary, then being treated like I’m ungenerous for it by my coworker.

I suspect J may just offload a lot of their responsibilities onto others — but am I being unreasonable? Or do I just need to distance myself from taking someone else’s problems personally?

You’re not being unreasonable. But yeah, it sounds like you do need to distance yourself from J’s problems.

You don’t need to bend over backwards to cover J’s shifts. If they need coverage and you don’t mind providing it and can do it without hardship, great — go ahead and fill in. But if you don’t want to, for whatever reason, you’re not obligated to find a way to make it work.

It sounds like you’ve been taking that approach, but J tries to make you feel guilty, which is understandably rubbing you the wrong way. You can’t stop J from from trying to do that; you can only control your own side of things. That means you’ve got to make your peace with the realities that (a) J is going to keep asking for coverage at the last minute, (b) you’re going to keep saying no when it’s inconvenient for you and that’s okay, (c), J is going to try to guilt-trip you for it, and (d) J is out of line in doing that and you don’t need to play along.

It might help to have a breezy stock response when (c) happens — something simple like “that sucks, sorry I can’t help” — and just use it everyone time so you don’t have to invest much more thought or energy into it.

2. Higher-earning colleagues joking about our pay

I am in a career, public interest law, that typically requires people do a one-year fellowship (at least) at a relatively low level of pay before being able to qualify for other positions. I am a fellow in an office that does incredible work I care about with two other fellows. All of the other attorneys on staff make at least twice what we make. I get frustrated sometimes, but it is part of the process and I have mostly made peace with my low compensation this year.

Today, there was a “staff appreciation brunch” and another fellow and I went to get some food. As the group gathered, all three of the highest ranked attorneys in the office (who also make the most) made jokes about how they will give us leftovers to bring home because of our relatively low salaries. One person joked that we wouldn’t have to eat ramen tonight. Another said, “We don’t give you health insurance, but we will give you brunch.”

The thing is, I am experiencing some financial pains because of the low salary in this position. I’ll be okay when I begin my next position at a different organization, but it’s been a really hard time and I did not really appreciate people making jokes about something that is fully within their control to change. Our organization pays us poorly even compared to what other people in similar positions are paid. I want to tell my supervisors that they were being inappropriate, but it’s difficult to get up the courage, especially as someone who is on the bottom of the hierarchy. Am I overreacting? Should I just not say anything?

Unfortunately this isn’t unique to your office; those jokes are so, so common around interns and fellows. There’s supposed to be a “we all went through it and feel for you” vibe to it; the subtext is that you won’t be in that spot forever. (There’s a reason you don’t typically hear that sort of joke made around people who might be on more permanently low-earning tracks.) That doesn’t mean it’s harmless or that you’re wrong to be annoyed by it — I get why you are! — but realistically you’re probably better off saving your capital for other things. I could see bringing it up in an exit interview though (“the jokes about our pay were tough to hear when I was genuinely struggling”).

3. My boss is delaying my transfer

I am in grad school and will be starting my internship in the fall. I work in mental health and my masters will also be in the field. I am currently working in a role that I don’t hate but don’t necessarily enjoy within the field. I had to opportunity to have a paid internship in the same company but with a different department. I notified my supervisor that I have accepted this position (plus a pay raise) and have given over a month’s notice.

My supervisor told me today that I cannot leave my role until they have found a replacement (backstory, this position normally has two roles but it’s just me right now because they have refused to hire). I have been told that the earliest date I can move is two months from now, and if a replacement has not been found by then I will have to find a way to work both positions. Can they do this? I am extremely disappointed as this new role would give me more time off with my family and I was looking forward to having the summer with my child.

When you move jobs within a company, sometimes your current manager does indeed have the power to control the timeline for the transfer. Typically there are limits on that (like a few months, not a year). It’s not always the case, but a lot of companies do want the current manager to have some input into the timing; the idea is to do what’s best for the company as a whole since you’re staying internal. Sometimes the new manager might be willing to spend their own capital to push back; other times they’re not. In this case, where is’t an internship, there’s a good chance they won’t be.

If your boss won’t budge, one option is to talk with HR and say you’re willing to stay where you are for the next two months but not willing to work in both jobs if they haven’t hired by then. They may or may not be willing to intervene, but that’s a reasonable compromise to offer and you’ve got a decent shot at getting some help, particularly since it sounds like your manager is being unreasonable. Otherwise, though, usually your leverage to push back is how willing you are to walk away from the company entirely.

4. Explaining to interviewers why I’m leaving my current job

After 16 years with my current company, I’m job searching and can’t figure out what to say if asked why I’m leaving. My concern is that the job I’m applying for is a lateral move and the job description is what I’m currently doing. How do I explain I’m leaving due to failing mental health and a dysfunctional company?

I used to love the company but in the last few years senior leadership has been more blatant than ever that they don’t care about the employees. Some examples include selling part of the company and having massive layoffs during the pandemic; constantly shifting priorities on the goals; leadership setting us up for failure, denying it when called out on it, and then abdicating all responsibility when the inevitable failure occurs; angrily refusing to hear management concerns about the Great Resignation; and admitting we pay less than others in the industry and refusing to address it.

I’m stuck on how to spin this without bashing the company, especially as I’m in the wine industry and everyone knows everyone and the two companies are direct competitors. Which isn’t a problem, moving between wineries is very common but results in a small world.

You don’t need to get into any of that! After 16 years, it’ll be enough to just say you’re ready for something new: “I’ve enjoyed my work and learned a lot, but after 16 years I feel ready to take on something new.” The question isn’t a call for you to unburden yourself; interviewers will generally accept any answer that sounds plausible and are just trying to make sure there isn’t a red flag there that they should follow up on.

5. People have terrible resumes

I’m just writing in to give my observations after seeing a lot of resumes lately. I’m currently on the hiring committee for three salaried positions and am kind of surprised at some of the things I have seen given the level of the roles.

* I am no stickler for a one page resume. Two pages, fine. But we are routinely getting bloated resumes. Three pages is very common (and most could have been two with some light formatting). One candidate’s resume was SIX pages long. SIX.

* Listing every. single. job. duty. under each role. And most of the additions are unnecessary. In some cases the line item is industry standard and expected for the role, so does not need to be explicitly stated. One example: under a previous role as a Health, Safety & Environmental Manager, the candidate had a bullet point that said “Safety Specialist.” Already very much implied if you have reached that level of your career in that field.

* Lastly, even for higher level roles with a decent amount of responsibilities, there is not a single quantifiable value to be found on the resume. If a candidate had some sort of control or input regarding a metric, I would expect to see some mention of how they affected that metric on their resume (e.g., “decreased incident and injury rate by 25% within two years”).

None of these candidates were ruled out by their resumes. But I wanted to share with your readers some of these issues and why they can put a candidate at a disadvantage. If your resume is bloated, it is harder for me to read it quickly and get a good picture of what you can bring as a candidate. And if it is an entire page of listed duties per job, that just makes my eyes want to glaze over, if I’m being honest. If a resume is missing achievements (metrics, KPIs), I have to spend part of our limited interview time going over that when I would rather skip to the part where the candidate can get into how they achieved them.

Interestingly we have noticed these issues pretty evenly across all age groups, which I found somewhat surprising. Hopefully by sharing my experience, at least a few can be enlightened.

Oh yes. None of this is a new trend; this stuff has been the case since I first started hiring millennia ago. But you’re absolutely right about each point; what you describe detracts from the stuff that could make someone a strong candidate and makes it harder for the person to get selected to move forward.

Related: my step-by-step guide to writing a resume

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