my office is moving to my boss’s house, difficult interns, and more

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

1. My office is moving inside my boss’s house

I work for a small company with 2 full-time employees, 2 part-time, and a weekly bookkeeper. My boss is wealthy, mercurial, and often out of the office or traveling. Recently, he announced that he has decided to move our office from our (already small) space (no kitchen, no conference room and we all share 2 long desks) into his duplex apartment, which is supposed to be quite luxurious. I am extremely wary of working out of his apartment and the lack of division this would create between personal and business space, not to mention that we are expected to work 9 hours (or more) a day and are discouraged from taking more than 20 minutes outside of the office to get lunch. But he wants to save the money and it seems like his mind is already made up. Not to mention his live-in partner just moved out following a split.

I really want to express my reservations about the move, and I’m already looking for other jobs. How do I frame my concerns so that they sound professional and not just personal – i.e., that I don’t want to be in his house all day? I’m dreading this move and I feel it will make our company look less legitimate.

If you have a good relationship with him and generally have a good rapport with him, you could say, “I’ve been thinking about the prospect of having our office be inside your house, and I’ll be honest — I’m a little wary. How are you envisioning this working so that you’re able to maintain a division between the work space and your personal space?” If you have specific concerns beyond that one, it’s reasonable to bring those up too and ask what his thoughts are for how to handle them.

But ultimately, I think you’re right to be looking at other jobs if this doesn’t appeal to you. This is a very specific type of set-up that wouldn’t be for everyone.

2. Can I use bereavement leave in this situation?

My father-in-law just passed away. My company has a three-day bereavement policy. He was local to where I live, the arrangements are already taken care off and the funeral will be simple and brief. Other than supporting my husband, I am fairly unnecessary to the process. I can’t honestly say that I am devastated by his passing. My children will be coming from out of town for the funeral and I would like to spend time with them. Is it wrong to take all three days when I don’t really need them to help with arrangements or travel and I am not personally experiencing significant grief? Taking the time away from work will not create an issue, at work, for anyone else. What do you think?

On one hand, bereavement leave is intended for situation where you’re truly bereaved or where it’s necessary for travel and other logistics. But on the other hand, your husband and children are presumably truly grieving and would appreciate your support — particularly your husband; losing a parent is a big deal. And really, it’s just three days. If you were going to use the time to, say, go shopping, I’d tell you it’s a misuse of the benefit. But assuming that’s not the case, I think it’s legitimate.

3. Should I have dealt with this intern any differently?

This is about a job I just left, but I’d like advice on how to handle similar situations in the future. I had an intern in my department who was around my age. In the beginning, I really took her under my wing and tried to motivate and get her to do interesting things. Our department wasn’t the best managed, and at first, I understood her complaints. After a while though, it became clear that she was incredibly negative, and was very unwilling to be corrected in any way. She also simply wouldn’t do her work, requiring extensive hand-holding and needing to be told several times what to do, or complaining about her tasks. Socially, she would get into arguments with people over minor disagreements. Yes, I get that we need to mentor interns a bit, but I wasn’t her supervisor, and the degree of mentoring required seemed to be more on the verge of parenting. She made the working environment a lot worse, for everybody.

So I regretted taking her under my wing, of course, and distanced myself from her while remaining cordial. At times, I’d feel bad for not wanting to be around her. As I left the job, I had a small get-together with only a few of the younger people I knew in our company, without telling or inviting her. Again, I felt bad, but reasoned that I had done my best, and that this wasn’t a gathering with everybody in the office – if it had been, I would’ve invited her, of course.

How do I handle situations like this in the future? Was I reasonable in my behaviour? While she was difficult, I didn’t want to turn this into a situation of complete social ostracism. What’s the balance, here?

When you start to mentor someone like you did, it’s appropriate to give direct feedback about things you see that are holding them back. Ideally, you would have done that here. I think it’s fine to distance yourself from a colleague when you realize they have the traits that she displayed, but it would have been kind to let her know why. Ideally you would have explained to her what you were observing and why it was problematic.

I don’t think you need to feel guilty about not inviting her to a social event outside of work, since it sounds like that was a small number of hand-picked people, not your entire team

4. Reference from the boss who owes me money

I was working in a contract position which my boss decided not to renew due to lack of work. I was there for 2 years (during which time I had a couple of contract extensions). My last few paycheques came late or bounced. It has been a month and since I left and I haven’t been paid my last two paycheques or my vacation pay. I have repeatedly been in contact with my boss who says he is having trouble with his account and needs to contact his bank manager, and then doesn’t get back to me. He owes me over $2500, which is a substantial amount of money to me.

Now I’m in the process of interviewing for new jobs and they have asked for my references. Should I list my former boss? I’m worried if I press him for the money or call the Labour Board, he’ll turn on me and give me a bad reference. I’m 27 and have had only 2 professional jobs, so I really do need a reference from him. However, I’m not in a position to ignore the money he owes me. It is a small company with 10 people and he is owner, finance, HR and everything else.

Unless you know him to be highly ethical about this kind of thing (which seems unlikely, given his behavior with your pay), I wouldn’t put him on the list of people you’re suggesting they call — you’re in the middle of a dispute with him and so there’s no knowing how that will go. I’d suggest other references instead … and if they ask about your most recent boss, explain that unfortunately you still haven’t received your last few paychecks from him, the relationship has become strained over that, and you’re not confident that it won’t have affected the reference he’ll give you. (And actually, if you get the sense they’re likely to contact off-list references, I’d explain this proactively.)

5. Explaining my higher-than-usual salary to interviewers

I work in nonprofits, and my current position pays extremely well. I’m looking for a new job, and I realize that this may mean taking a substantial pay cut. I’ve had a couple of interviews recently where interviewers asked for my current salary, and I’m afraid sharing it was what discounted me from the position. I currently earn in the $70k range, and the position (I found out later through a colleague) was paying in the $50k range. I would actually be totally comfortable taking a cut of that size for the right job if I had to, but I’m not sure how to communicate that in future interviews while also being clear that I’d really, really like them to match or beat my current salary if it’s possible.

Well, first, stop answering a question that’s none of their business anyway (what you currently make) and instead answer the question that they should be asking you, which is what salary range you’re seeking. Saying “I’m looking for something in the X range” will be enough to stop most interviewers from pressing further. If someone does press further, it’s up to you whether you want to share that info or not (more on this topic here), but if you decide to, you could frame it as, “I’ve known for a long time that I’m paid above market rates, and I don’t mind getting my salary back in line with market norms.”

Beyond that, you’ve got to get a really good handle on what a particular job is likely to pay. Right now it sounds like you’re going in blind about whether they might pay at your current level, or if you’d need to take a significant cut. That’s going to make it hard to negotiate well — it’s hard to say “I’d take a big pay cut” and “I’d like you to match or beat my unusually well-paying current job.” So salary research for the particular organizations you’re interviewing with is going to be essential. (Particularly in nonprofits, where salaries can vary widely. Guidestar, where you can see nonprofits’ financial statements and their most highly paid staff, will be your friend here.)

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