I’m working 17-hour days, ex-employee left a bad review of our vendor, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. I’m working 17-hour days every day

I graduated from university at the end of last year, and I’ve had some internships and retail jobs during and after my studies. After months and months of job hunting, I finally got a job at a company, which I was grateful for, but almost three months in and I find my mental and physical health being heavily affected by the stress and workload.

Since I started, I’ve had to work overtime almost every single day. I did my best to cope with the work hours and workload, but the during the last couple of months I have been working from 9 am to 2 am+ every single day, seven days a week.

I have spoken to my manager when I was having mental breakdowns and had to go seek medical help. I appreciate her understanding, but the best she could do was allow a day’s medical leave.

My coworkers are all as overworked as I am and despite their friendliness and helpfulness, I see this has been a long-term working culture of the company. Even my supervisor left after three weeks when I first joined!

I do not have time and energy at all to find another job while I’m employed here. I only have five days annual leave until the end of the year and almost no weekends to spare. However, I fear that leaving so soon during my probation period will hurt my career.

9 am – 2 am? Every day?! This is not normal, and completely untenable. Some jobs might have a small number of days like that per year, but it would be (a) extremely unusual and (b) acknowledged as a hardship. To have it happening regularly is beyond the pale, unless you’re in one of the rare industries where you know going in that’s part of the deal (and generally are compensated accordingly). There’s a reason that first supervisor left immediately.

Are you in a position financially where you could simply leave? That’s not advice I give lightly, especially in this job market, but even if you weren’t having health effects, I’d suggest you do it if at all possible. I know it must be awful to contemplate that after a long search, but this is not a situation you can stay in.

2. My former employee left a bad review for one of our vendors

My small nonprofit, for which a positive public image is very important, laid off one of our employees a few months ago for financial reasons. They left on good terms. I heard today from an important vendor that this former employee left a bad online review of that vendor. That review reportedly caused them to lose at least one prospective client. They wanted to be sure our relationship was in a good place.

I checked the review, which was written very shortly after their last day in the office (but not their last day on payroll). It did not identify us, but some quick google searches by the name of the employee could probably reveal who we are.

This employee had regularly complained to me about the vendor. The complaints seemed valid to me and some of the vendor’s reported behavior was concerning to me. However, it never rose to the level of concern that would lead to what I consider the nuclear option: a negative public review of a company we had an ongoing contract with! It seemed more like a “yeah, you all should work that out” sort of issue. Looking back, perhaps I should have been more directive about this.

I apologized to the vendor and noted that that employee was no longer with us and appeared to write the review after the last day, that I did not and would not authorize such a thing, and that I wanted to reset the relationship. They were appreciative of my response and are ready to move forward. After consulting with our equivalent of HR, I contacted the former employee and in a carefully worded email asked them to remove the review, stating that it was not helpful for our attempts to restart the business relationship in a more positive way. They responded, saying they had written the review after their last day specifically so that we could disavow it, but that they stand by their review. I am surprised and disappointed by this response.

Whether the review is factual or not is not my main concern. That’s disputable. My main concern is what sort of reference for this employee I might give if called. I have no interest in going back and forth about the review, even though I could probably make a case that he was still on payroll and should remove it since it was not authorized. When this person, left, I made clear they would get a very positive reference from me, but this has left a sour taste in my mouth. For some reason they’ve decided this is a hill to die on. For what it’s worth, this employee hadn’t had to interact with the vendor since March, and the review was several months later! Am I overblowing this? If I get a call, what do I do? Ignore this? Mention it? And if I can no longer give an unreservedly positive reference, do I need to let the former employee know?

Aggggh, that’s aggravating. They were working with the vendor as a representative of your organization, and they shouldn’t decide on their own to do something that could blow up the relationship just because it was after their last day. It’s an odd emotional investment in something that they should be willing to drop at this point.

As for the reference … I’d want to know more about what you think of this person’s judgment generally. If they’ve always had good judgment and this is an aberration, I wouldn’t bring it up (although it’s also understandable if it makes you slightly less enthused about them in a general way than you were previously).

But if you’ve seen other instances of bad judgment from them before and this fits that pattern, it’s fair for this to move those concerns more to the forefront, and for you to reassess what you think you could honestly say about their judgment in a reference. In that case, though, I’d talk to them about it, since it’s a change from what you’d told them previously. (But if you’re at all torn, I’d err on the side of letting it go.)

3. Formality in chat programs

I’m using my company’s messenger more than ever due to COVID (mostly for work topics). Our company uses Microsoft Teams which has built-in emojis and gifs. I tend to be less formal than email and use a hybrid formal-relaxed style of grammar. For example, no capital letters but I use punctuation. I’ll use the thumb-up emoji quite a bit but rarely use any of the others. I sparingly use PG gifs with very close coworkers. So my Teams chats are more loose than my emails but definitely not on par with how I would text with friends. Assuming I work for a company with a “normal” level of formality, do you think this is appropriate? Some of my coworkers message exactly as they email, but some are more casual like me.

I’d also be curious what others are seeing at their organizations. Maybe we’re all setting the the norms for widespread business messenger use right now?

Sounds perfectly fine and well within the range of normal. Messenger programs are an inherently less formal medium.

4. We have to work from home without pay if we have Thanksgiving outside our homes

Even though I work 100% through phone and email, my office has kept us coming in person day in and day out even during the stay-at-home order when it was in effect. It was tough, but we all adjusted. My employer isn’t quite known for its flexibility. When people started to travel again, it was up to the department heads to decide how to handle testing. I myself had to test three times in a week and was able to work from home during this time.

However, today we received an email about the holidays. We were told that if we celebrate Thanksgiving outside of our immediate households, we have to quarantine. I think this is good practice, but here’s where I stop agreeing. If we need to quarantine and test, we must take vacation time to do so, but work from home. Is this legal? There’s no reason why we couldn’t just work from home without PTO and get tested. So it’s really starting to feel like a punishment just for existing outside of work. I’m personally live alone so if I don’t leave for the holiday, I can’t celebrate it.

The first part of this — ordering you to stay home based on your Thanksgiving plans — is generally legal, as long as you’re not in one of the few states with off-duty conduct laws.

But the second part — telling you to work while taking vacation time — is ridiculous. Those two things should be mutually exclusive. But it’s legal in most states too; the law cares that you get paid for the work you perform, but it doesn’t generally care whether your employer charges that pay to “work time” or “PTO time.” (California may be an exception to this. There’s a longer explanation here.) But legality aside, it’s absurd — and really, if you’re going to be charged vacation time anyway, why would any of you work during that time? People should just take that time off, since they’re going to lose the PTO anyway. (Well, really, you should all push back on the policy, but if that fails and you’re made to use time off, actually take the time off.)

5. Do I use my company email address when applying for an internal position?

I’m happy at my current company, but I think I’ve learned all I can in my current role and would like to move on to a different position. How should I provide my contact information when people on the hiring committees are likely to be colleagues who interact with me frequently? Do I use my company-provided email address? Do I use my regular gmail (firstinitiallastname7@gmail.com)? Do I need to create something more professional? I wasn’t sure what was appropriate in an internal move like this. I don’t want the committee to think I’m being shady (though I won’t be mentioning my interviewing until I’m certain I’d be accepting a position, if that matters).

When you’re applying for jobs externally, you’d always use your personal email address; you wouldn’t want hiring-related communications sent to you on your current company’s network or for an employer to think you’re using your current job’s resources for job-hunting.

But it’s different when you’re applying internally. Then it’s generally fine to use your company email address for hiring-related communications; you’re all colleagues, after all.

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