naked work retreats, singing coworkers, and other delights of the workplace

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

1. Our team retreat included a naked sauna trip

I work for an international NGO, and I’m the only woman on a team of 12, mostly North American employees. We recently held a team retreat in a country where gender roles are behind the times.

My director, who is from the country where we were, announced that one of our team-building activities would be a trip to the sauna – men only. I objected, and he grudgingly said I could go, but my colleagues would all be naked. Feeling very uncomfortable, I opted not to go, and some colleagues stayed behind with me so I wouldn’t be sitting around by myself all night.

I’m still feeling bothered and excluded (It doesn’t help that my colleagues had a fantastic time and can’t stop raving about it). Do I just let it go and chalk it up to cultural differences? If I do choose to deal with it, how can I do so sensitively and professionally?

To some extent, this can be part of the deal with traveling to countries with different cultures; they have different norms that will govern. However, if your organization is headquartered in the U.S. or another country where gender-segrated work activities don’t fly (let alone nudity among coworkers), your manager or someone else in a position from authority from a region with the same cultural norms as ours should have addressed this. If that didn’t happen, it’s worth advocating that this be handled differently in the future — but beyond that, I think you’re best off chalking it to cultural differences. (And yay for the presumably male colleagues who stayed behind with you.)

2. At what point do cover letters get read?

At what point in the applicant screening process do cover letters get read, if at all? I slave away on crafting my cover letters, especially for jobs that I really really want, and I know it’s better to submit one than not. I am just wondering if it’s even being read at all or if they decide whether they like you or not before even considering looking at your cover letter.

It depends on the employer. Some don’t read them at all, and others do. You can’t tell from the outside which hiring manager will and which won’t, so you should assume that they all do and include a good letter. As for when in the process they’re read, generally in the initial screen, either right before or right after the resume.

A great cover letter won’t (generally) make up for a resume that severely lacking, but when there are dozens or hundreds of candidates who are all about as qualified as you, it can be what gets your application pulled out for an interview.

3. My sister’s boss is demeaning to her

My sister is currently working as a cashier at a fast food chain and has been employed in this position for about 6 months. She recently divulged that her manager has been making what I consider to be degrading and inappropriate comments to her. To be more specific, he says my sister “rides the stupid bus,” as well as refers to her as “Ms. Frizzle, driver of the Magic School Bus.” The other day, my sister overheard her manager call her “Ms. Frizzle” to HIS boss.

Obviously, I am upset by this, but I’m 99 percent sure that there is nothing I personally can do (right?). My sister herself is very shy, and adverse to confrontation, but is there any advice I can give her to help make this situation better?

Lovely. Your sister’s boss is clearly an ass, and his own boss clearly doesn’t care (and thus is probably a bit of an ass as well). I’d encourage your sister to realize that your boss is the problem, not her, and to change jobs … and to see this as a lesson in getting herself out of bad situations.

4. Coworkers won’t stop singing and shouting

I work on a production line with 20 other people. We work in a space with lots of machines running with a lot of background noise. There are 3 guys who at any time will break into singing, whistling, and shouting at each other. This can last from 30 minutes to more than 2 hours without stopping on any given day. They will repeat the same tunes day in and day out.

This has a huge effect on me and some of my coworkers, but others don’t seem to mind. They have been asked to stop, and their answer is that they’re only having a laugh. Management doesn’t want to help. What can be done in this situation?

Well, probably nothing, it sounds like. You’ve asked them to stop and they’ve refused, and your manager isn’t willing to tell them to stop … so it sounds like this is part of the work environment there. Which would mean that you’ll have to decide whether it’s a deal-breaker for you or not (or whether you can wear headphones or otherwise block out or distract yourself from the noise).

5. Boss scheduled me for Christmas Eve, after approving me to be out

I work part-time in a position that would normally be full-time (I’m a graphic designer and there’s a lot of work around here). Since I receive no benefits, I must work extra hours to make up for holidays and vacation days. With all the winter holidays and my need to focus on night-time grad school for a whole week, I created a schedule for the next three months. Boss took a close look at it and approved it two weeks ago.

Today, however, he said he’ll “need” me to be on “standby” on Christmas Eve and the day before that, which I’d clearly marked as vacation time. I told him I could not work those days because I’d be with family, and he went on about how I’m not showing loyalty to the job. Meanwhile, I know I am an asset to the team and there is a very large demand for my skills at other potentially more pleasant workplaces.

This is the second time a manager of mine has reneged on his approval of my time off over Christmas. Having managed people myself, I can’t imagine being so crass. What is the appropriate response?

I don’t think “crass” is quite the word you want…? In any case, this does suck, but the reality is that sometimes people are indeed needed to be available on certain days. Yes, he shouldn’t have approved the time off before he was sure, but sometimes things do change — and he’s at least giving you two months notice (which doesn’t help, of course, if you already made plans to be out-of-town). Your can tell him that you made unbreakable plans after he approved the days off earlier and see what happens … but unless this is part of a pattern of disrespect or sloppy management, I’d try to just work it out. However, if you’re sufficiently unhappy with your manager, there’s no reason that you can’t explore one of those “potentially more pleasant workplaces” as an alternative.

6. Did I destroy my chances by sending in a new application?

I recently noticed a typo from when a I applied for a job a week ago. I decided to clean it up and re-word the whole thing and send it again. I hadn’t heard anything in a week, so I figured that I don’t have much to lose as I suppose I won’t get an interview anyway. By doing it, have I destroyed all of my chances of getting the job or have I improved my chances?

Well, it’s sort of weird to submit a whole new application just one week after your first one. It’s likely to look like you didn’t realize that you’d already applied. If you want to correct an error, the best way to do that is with a follow-up email (if their system allows it; if not, you need to just let it go).

In general, don’t draw any conclusions just because a week has gone by since you applied for a job. Hiring takes a long time, often months.

7. Coworker with shingles

I have a coworker who came to work with shingles blisters and is refusing to cover the blisters . My managers are refusing to do anything. There are people who work with her who are pregnant and are now furious with her. I am a high-risk patient and am very angry with her for what she did. I work at an amusement park. How can someone be so dumb?

How people can be so dumb is a question I’m not qualified to answer. But your managers should have asked your coworker to cover the blisters to help prevent transmission.

This entry was posted in HR, Leadership. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.