I was fired from a volunteer job, using coupons in office gift exchanges, and more

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

1. Appropriate gifts for office gift exchanges, and getting gifts on sale

First, what makes an appropriate gift for a holiday gift exchange at the office? My colleagues and I will be drawing names, and we’ve agreed to include a short “wish list” of gifts within the stated limit that we would be happy to receive. The last thing I need is more candles and lotion, but what sort of gifts are OK to request, and what is too personal? Can I ask for a butter dish (mine broke) or a novel I’ve been wanting to read (something respectable, not a trashy romance)?

Secondly, what are the rules regarding dollar limits and sales? Our office has set a $15 limit. It’s a paltry sum to most of my colleagues (one lawyer scoffed at the idea of a $5 gift – “I don’t need more junk!”) but really significant to me. My husband and I are struggling to pay for his graduate school, and aren’t even sure if we will be exchanging gifts ourselves this year. If I buy a gift for a colleague that is normally priced at $15 but I get on sale or with a coupon for less, can I pass that off as my $15 gift or am I ethically bound to actually spend all $15 on my coworker?

Sure, a book or a butter dish would be totally appropriate. I’d say that pretty much anything in that dollar limit would be fine, as long as it’s not obviously work-inappropriate (which basically means anything with even a hint of sex to it).

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using coupons, sales, or other discounts on your gift. The $15 is a benchmark to ensure people are exchanging gifts of roughly equivalent value, but how you obtain that item is your own business.

2. My husband is my boss, and I need him to fill out a recommendation form

I have been in my current position as a Food Service Administrator for four years now and my spouse is my boss (he is the executive director of a nonprofit). Recently I have gone back to school to finish a master’s degree. In order to apply into the program, I need a letter of recommendation from my boss – it is actually a form the school wants filled out. One or two of the professors are aware that he is my boss, but the selection committee is not.

I have been employed here the longest of any job I have had as I got it straight out of college. Do I have him fill it out?

Oooh, that awkward. Is there anyone else at work in a position above you who could fill it out instead? If so, I’d do that. Otherwise … I guess you have to have him do it, but it feels wrong. I think your best bet would be to check with one of the professors who knows the situation and ask her advice.

3. Pulling out of an interview process when my current job really needs me

I recently interviewed for a job that is a step or two lower than I want, but a good starting point for rising up in that particular company. The interview went well and I have advanced to the next round (completing a project and having a second interview immediately following the project’s submission).

However, my company just announced some job cuts that I was not expecting (I did not lose my job, thankfully). My team has been trimmed due to these cuts, and if I left now my boss and team would be screwed since we’re already short. Plus, I’m the only person who knows how to do a lot of my regular duties and it would be a difficult burden for the team to take it over if I left suddenly in the middle of all this. Though the job that I’m interviewing for is pretty much what I want to do, I’m not sure I will take the job if it was offered to me because I now don’t feel comfortable with leaving my current position in light of the recent changes.

I guess what I’m asking is – is it appropriate to pull myself out of the interview process, explaining the changes at my company as the reasoning? I think that once the dust has settled, in another 6 months or so, I’ll feel more comfortable with going elsewhere. I don’t want to burn bridges with either my current boss (by quitting at a terrible time) or with the folks interviewing me (by pulling out of an interview process that is going REALLY well).

You can do that, but are you sure you want to? I’m all for company loyalty if they’ve treated you well, but not at the cost of giving up a different job that you really want. (Although, do you really want it? If it’s lower than where you are now, you might not.)

In any case, if you decide to pull out you can absolutely explain to the other company why. It will reflect well on you in their eyes — certainly not poorly.

4. I was fired from a volunteer job

This letter was removed after I received credible reports from others involved in the incident that the facts reported here were incorrect. (An Ask a Manager first!)

5. Working as an actuary

I’m serving in AmeriCorps this year to get “real” job experience, since I have spent nearly all of my adult life in school. After a master’s in what is essentially statistics and elementary programming (theoretical genetics–plenty of math and simulations using large data sets), I feel as if I’d be well suited for a job as an actuary.

The data-crunching is a lot of fun for me, and I love statistics and the idea that I would be professionally encouraged to take tests, advancing my analytical skills for my entire career. I’m confident I can pass the preliminary exam based on probability, and will have the resources to enroll in finance and computer science classes to help me get through the risk-assessment specifics of insurance work.

But I am having a hard time getting in touch with people in the field, or people who have worked with them since I am in a nonprofit environment. Do you or your readers have any input on this career, such as the intellectual ability required, especially since I did not major in economics or finance?

I do not, but perhaps readers do. Readers?

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