my boss set up a secret email with my name, coworker keeps gushing over her married crush, and more — Ask a Manager


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

1. My manager set up a secret email address using my name

I work at a community college. All regular employees at the college are assigned email addresses that begin with our last name. My email, for example, is LastName_FirstName_MiddleInitial@collegename.edu.

In Outlook, if someone sends an email to a non-existent address, they will receive an “undeliverable” auto-reply. Several people have tried to email me using an incorrect email format (FirstNameLastName@collegename.edu). The incorrect email format doesn’t conform with the college email, so I assumed it had to be nonexistent. I emailed IT to ask them to set up that undeliverable message. They looked into my request and then discovered that the email address did exist and that the owner was my supervisor!

IT revealed that my supervisor had set up a private Teams group with her as the sole member, and the group email was my FirstNameLastName@collegename.edu. Any emails going to that email were being forwarded to her work email address.

It alarms me that she set up this email using my name — an email that I was not aware of and that only she had access to. I don’t know how to find out what she has been using that email for. She’s extremely passive-aggressive and acts like Kevin Spacey’s character in “The Usual Suspects” as she always plays dumb. She is also constantly gaslighting us. I can’t outright ask her why she created that email, because she’ll either lie to me or play the innocent and act confused, which are her two go-to moves. Is this something I can approach HR with? How should I proceed?

I’m trying to think of an innocent explanation for this and I’m pretty sure there isn’t one. It just sounds extremely nefarious.

And also extremely weird. She wants to be the one who receives any misdirected emails intended for you and doesn’t want you to know about it? Why? There can’t be that many, and they can’t be that interesting. It’s not even like she’s monitoring all your email — just the occasional misaddressed message. What could the motivation possibly be?

It sounds like we’ll never know, unfortunately, because it doesn’t sound like she’ll tell you. You could talk to HR about it, but I don’t know that they’ll do anything about it; it’s troubling but doesn’t fall in any obvious category of things they typically take on, like harassment or discrimination. You could try! But I wouldn’t count on much coming from it.

It sounds like this is just one of many problems with your boss. I’d add it to the list but I’m not sure you’ll get much benefit from putting a ton of energy into trying to unravel it.

2. If the caterer mentions my mom at my dad’s wedding, all hell will break loose

My dad is getting remarried very soon. My parents divorced 15 years ago.

He and his fiancee hired the same caterer I had at my wedding, who also catered my mom’s remarriage (that was six months after the divorce). This catering company is tiny, and the people who run it are amazing.

My dad has forbidden us from talking about my mom anywhere near his fiancee. I’m sure the caterers will see me and my sibling and mention my mom. If it happens in front of the bride, I’m sure it will not go well for us (or them, for that matter). We want to head it off at the pass, so to speak. How do I do this when I’m not the one who hired them, but I was their customer in the past?

Anyone who does work for weddings is used to dealing with problematic family dynamics, from “keep Uncle Paul out of the photos with Aunt Liz” to “don’t serve Grandma more than two drinks” to “under no circumstances can you let Cousin Cecil anywhere near the bridesmaids’ table.” Compared to some of those requests, this one is pretty easy!

You could contact them as a happy past customer, explain the situation, and ask that they not mention your mom during the event. You could say “I know this is strange to ask” … but they’ll probably be unfazed.

(Alternately, there’s also the option of deciding it’s not going to be your problem if the bride has a meltdown over the existence of your mother … although it might be worth doing to protect the caterers from that. But are you supposed to pretend your mom doesn’t exist when you’re around your stepmom for the next several decades, and does your dad think this bodes well for the marriage?)

3. Was I too curt in turning down a second interview?

I had a weird phone interview the other day. It was my first interview with this company and the interviewer said they had a few technical questions. This is not unusual since I’m in a technical role. However, these questions seemed taken from a college textbook. They were focused on the theory behind a specific language/software X, and on some esoteric knowledge that I studied 10 years ago and never used in my day-to-day job. Almost all the questions in the 30-40-minute interview were about X, but X is only used maybe 10% of the time in my role. I should have cut the interview short when I realized I wasn’t interested in the job any more, but I was frazzled by all the questions that I didn’t know how to answer.

A couple of days later, they called with positive feedback and said they’d like to set up a second interview. I thanked them but said I had done some thinking since the interview and the role seemed very focused on X, while I was looking for something that would let me do more work on Y and Z. The caller (a different person than my interviewer) sounded very surprised and told me that I had misunderstood, that they had to ask those questions but they weren’t relevant for the role, and that they would explain better in the next interview. I just repeated that I wasn’t interested and the caller sounded put out and insisted a bit more, but in the end he said something like “I guess you have your own reasons” and that was that.

I’m sure I made the right decision and this job wasn’t right for me. But was there a way I could have phrased my refusal better? My answer about wanting to focus on Y and Z was truthful, but also the most obvious thing I could point to without saying it was a bad interview. The type of questions they asked might have made sense for a recent graduate with no job experience but not when interviewing for a position that required 5+ years working in this field. To me, it was a red flag that the interviewer (who had a title like “senior technical specialist”) might not know what my role does or what software it uses most. If the interviewer had to ask those questions as part of some internal interview policy, I would have expected them to say so and then go through the list quickly. Instead they spent all the interview time on those questions and didn’t ask anything about my previous projects or why I’m looking for a new job, and didn’t even tell me anything about the role, the team, the company, or the salary range.

Maybe this company is horrible at interviews and otherwise great, but there were too many red flags. However, do you think my answer was too curt? Was there a graceful way to give them feedback, without making a list of all my grievances with their interview style?

Your answer sounds fine to me! It’s peculiar that the second caller told you those questions weren’t relevant for the role (thanks for wasting your time then, I guess?) and that he said they’d explain in the next step rather than offering more of an explanation right then and there, since it had clearly given you serious pause.

And I think you did succeed in giving them feedback — the feedback is that the way they conducted the first interview is giving candidates the impression that the role is about X, and if it’s not, they need to do a better job of (a) conveying that and (b) explaining why they’re asking so much about it anyway.

4. My boss told me not to say “my team”

Two days ago, my boss reprimanded me for saying “my team” when referring to my direct reports. I explained to her that I was trying to use simple language to denote that I was talking about them rather than, say, other people on that project or other people in our geographic area. Her response was that the term was inappropriate, that I should only ever say “our team” because we all work for the same company and then explain who exactly I mean as necessary. She said that by calling them “my team,” leadership was concerned I was trying to separate myself too much from the rest of the company.

I suppose her point of view might make sense, given the greater context, but it just seems silly to constantly call them “our team” and then have to explain who exactly I mean. Am I off-base?

People say “my team” like they say “my sister” or “my neighbor” or “my boss.” It doesn’t connote ownership, just the existence of a relationship. The most junior person on your team could say “my team” — it’s not about lording your authority over anyone.

That said, it’s worth thinking about whether there might be other stuff going on that made your boss give you that feedback. If she already has a concern that you see yourself as too separate from your team or the rest of the company or that you’re overbearing about authority, it could sound more problematic through that lens. (In fact, I think this is one of those things where if people are already annoyed by a manager, this can annoy them further … but if the manager is great at her job and highly supportive of her team, it’ll sound fine.)

5. My coworker keeps gushing over her married work crush

My coworker, Jackie, has a crush on another coworker, Frida, who is happily married with two kids. Jackie and I are friends, and she revealed her crush to me recently. She overshares details about why she likes Frida, though she says she won’t let it ruin their friendship or interfere with work.

But the details she shares with me, like “how pretty her eyes are,” make me uncomfortable, as it’s another coworker she’s discussing and not a random online dating find. How can I ask her to stop sharing these details without hurting our relationship?

“Hey, I know what it’s like to have a crush, but I feel uncomfortable talking this way about a colleague. I would rather not — thanks for understanding.”



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