my company said I could work remotely but then replaced me, unwanted help from a coworker, and more

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

1. My coworker keeps pushing unwanted help on me

It is my first year working at a boarding school, and one of my coworkers, who has been here for numerous years, has slowly been poking his head in my responsibilities and using them for his own agenda. For instance, one of my responsibilities was to interview students for a position. He sat in on all my interviews and kept trying to boost students who he worked with and gave me reasons not to pick the students that I work closely with. His reasoning was, “Well, this is your first year and I thought you could use the help.” I have moved dates and projects around mainly because they did not fit his schedule. Any time I have come up with an original idea, his response is, “Well, THIS is how we have always done it” and he becomes super persistent until he gets his way.

I appreciate his input and guidance, and I do not mind trying to accommodate, but I need him to let me do my job. Not to mention, the responsibilities he has been poking his head in are now mine because he originally did not want them. Unfortunately, I work AND live at the school and so does he. Additionally, he is very sensitive and insecure. Where I am looking for a colleague, he is looking for a best friend. ( I did not add him on Facebook and it became a “thing.” ) I am looking for advice on how to tactfully let him know I need to do my job while not making it awkward at work/home.

“Thanks, I appreciate the offer to help, but I’m going to handle this on my own.”
“I think I want to figure this out myself, but thank you.”
“I’m going to do this on my own.”
“I’ve got this, but thank you.”
Etc. And you say this pleasantly, but firmly. And then you continue to repeat it firmly until he backs off.

If at some point you want to address it more broadly, you could say, “I appreciate your offers to help, but I think I need to handle most of this stuff on my own. Thanks for understanding.” But since he’s sensitive and insecure, you might be better off just addressing it in the moment as it happens and assuming that he’ll back off once you’ve clearly established that you don’t welcome the “help.”

2. Giving feedback about shoddy work to someone I don’t manage

I work for a franchise of a national company. We own the business, so we generally make our own decisions, with the promise of support from the company in exchange for our royalties.

A nearby business that competes with ours recently re-opened, so I called our “home office” to speak with their marketing specialist about ideas. She and I had a long talk about a lot of things, then she said it would take about a month for her to analyze and get back to me. We set up a meeting for today, which I was really looking forward to, until I received the analysis she’d written up. It looks like it was written by a toddler – run-on sentences, poor spelling, misuse of words, etc. Worse, while the first couple pages apply directly to us and seem to be well-researched, the other ten or so are what appear to be canned responses.

I am so disappointed by this and see no point in having this meeting, as it appears it’ll be a complete waste of everyone’s time. I emailed her back to cancel and included a couple lines about how I didn’t see that most of what she’d included applied to us (for example, she suggested we register with major online review sites, all of which we are already registered with, which she would have known if she’d visited our website).

Was this the right thing to do? I don’t want to shame her, but I can’t help but feel like she turned in skate-by work. If I were her teacher or her supervisor, I’d know how to handle this, but I have no idea if what I did was correct here.

Absolutely. Canceling the meeting was perfectly reasonable given what she’d sent you, and being straightforward in explaining to her why you no longer thought it would be helpful is more useful to her than if you hadn’t told her the reason. I’d actually go a step further than that and say that it would be worth telling someone at your home office what your experience with this support was. Part of the franchise fees you pay buy you support from this home office, and you should speak up if they’re not providing what they promise. (And quality issues fall under that category; wouldn’t you want to know about this if you were them?)

3. My company said I could try working remotely, but then replaced me

I have been at my job for almost five years. About five months ago, I moved about 4 hours away from my job to live closer to my boyfriend. Before I made this move, I asked my company if I would be able to work from home and come into the office once a week. They agreed to try this arrangement out for four months and see how it was. During those four months, I did not hear any complaints or negative feedback. I also spoke with my boss and she assured me that everything was going great.

Well, last week, my boss called me in and told me that it wasn’t working out and that they wanted the person in this position to be in the office five days a week. She told me that my performance has been excellent and the only reason for this decision was that I am not in the office five days a week. She also told me that they had already hired my replacement and that they would be starting in a week.

My boss said that I can keep working there until July or until I find a new job but I would be expected to train my replacement in the meantime. I was pretty shocked and hurt that this was all done without any discussions or feedback. I asked for severance, but my boss was very adamant that I wasn’t fired and that it was my choice to move away. I don’t know what I can do from this point forward. I obviously feel like I was fired and I don’t want to work there anymore and I especially don’t want to train my replacement. I also need to focus on finding a new job. However if I don’t stay then I won’t get any severance or be able to collect unemployment. Was I fired? What can I do in this situation?

It doesn’t sound like you were fired. It sounds like your company assumed that you were going to move whether or not they okayed you working remotely and so they agreed to try it for four months, thinking that they might or might not keep you on longer than that … but that if it didn’t work out, it would just be the same resignation that you would have otherwise given when you moved. They absolutely erred in giving you no heads-up about their thinking, especially when you asked directly how the arrangement was working out, and they suck for blindsiding you like this. But it’s also true that it was set up from the beginning as a four-month experiment, and it’s not crazy that they decided at the end of that time that it wasn’t working for them. (And presumably you knew from the beginning that this could be the outcome.) They’re giving you another 2+ months, which is more than they agreed to at the outset, so in that respect, they’re being pretty accommodating. Really, the only thing they did wrong here was in waiting to fill you in on their thinking once they started having concerns.

As for what to do now, I’d stay while you look for a job, train your replacement, and do good work so you don’t burn the bridge and so you preserve a good reference. When you find a new job, give two weeks notice and move on.

4. Why do interviewers give you their card at the end of the interview?

I have had several interviews over the past few weeks, and I was offered cards at the end of the interview. I assume this is for thank-you notes, but I also use them to ask about timelines if the timeline they mentioned in the interview has passed. One woman gave me a very blanket vague response like she was annoyed that I asked, one woman didn’t even bother to reply to my emails, and the other just fell off the face of the earth. And I had really good interviews! They seemingly like me at first, but afterwards I hear nothing and they get irritated if I reach out. I’m confused!

They give you their cards because it’s a business convention to give people your card at the end of a meeting. (You’re not expected to give them one in return since you’re not there representing your employer.) It’s really nothing more than that. As for why they’re not helpful or don’t respond when you contact them later, that’s part of a larger pattern of employers not getting back to candidates after interviews. Sometimes it’s because they have no news yet, sometimes it’s because they’ve taken you out of the running but are too inconsiderate to tell you, and sometimes it’s because they intend to but forget to in the rush of higher priorities.

5. Did I mess up by addressing my application to HR instead of the hiring manager?

Recently I submitted an application to a generic email address (e.g. [email protected]), and I thought I was being smart by addressing my cover letter and email to their human resources director. After reading your definitions for HR and a hiring manager, I’m not so sure. Did I screw up my chances of getting considered by addressing the email and cover letter to the HR director instead of the person the open position reports to? If so, is there anything I can do to correct this mistake?

No. No one cares how you address the cover letter as long as you don’t make up fake names or spell people’s names wrong. You’re over-thinking it. You don’t even need to address it to a specific name, unless they include a name in their application directions. “Dear hiring manager” is fine, and so are most other variations of that. They do not care. Put it out of your mind.

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