assigning women extra work to “help” them, calling out when you’re in the ER, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. To help women, we assign them extra work and penalize them if they don’t do it

I work for a large organization that tries to be proactive about diversity and inclusion. One if their iniatives seems wrong to me. To provide women with better resume building and networking opportunities, the company has a list of projects that they nominate women to complete. The nomination is more you being told by your manager that you have to do this. The extra work is in addition to your day job and if you fall behind because of it, you will likely be penalized. The company tries to make the work high-visibility by showcasing it at the annual town hall. However, I wonder … why do women have to do this extra work when their male counterparts do not? How does this seem fair?

Wow, no, that is not how this is supposed to work. And legally, it can’t work like that.

It is fine to design a program to try to redress systemic disadvantages by making networking and resume-building opportunities available to women in your company who want them. It is not okay — and crucially, it is not legal — to assign women extra work because they are women. And then to claim that it’s to help them! Agggh. (It’s also not legal to assign work by gender, period.)

The women employees in your organization should be up in arms about this.

2. Did I mess up how I called out when I was in the ER?

A few years ago, I worked in a large division of a large company. Although all my job functions had previously been supervised by one person — Maarva, with whom I got along well — a reshuffle meant that I took on a second supervisor, Kino, for one facet of my job.

About three weeks after Kino’s arrival, I woke up in the middle of the night with horrible abdominal pain. At 6 am, I went to the emergency room and was admitted for what turned out to be a terrible gallbladder attack. Around 8 am (an hour before we were expected to be at work), I called Maarva’s voicemail, told her what was going on, and asked her to please inform Kino that I would be out that day. I did not call Kino as well because (a) I was nervous about my cell phone battery running down, (b) I felt horrible and could barely focus, and (c) I figured that Maarva passing along this information would constitute adequate notice. For what it’s worth, I had no particularly pressing deadlines or projects for that day, for either Maarva or Kino.)

Once my attack had subsided and future surgery was tentatively scheduled, I was sent home that night and returned to work — tired but functional — the following day and discovered that Kino was furious with me. He told me that I was never to call out without informing him again and he had written me up over it. Later in the day, the managers had a meeting, and Kino griped about my “lack of respect.” Only then did Maarva realize she’d forgotten to mention my call to Kino, who hadn’t even known I was in the hospital — he just thought I took an average day off and failed to inform him. To Kino’s credit, he apologized to me and attempted to take back the write-up, but our horrible division head refused, because the incident “taught me a lesson” (about gallstones? who knows?).

This incident left a really bad taste in my mouth. I still feel that Kino could have at least spoken to me about the incident and gotten his facts straight before writing me up. Syril’s behavior was about what I would expect from him, but it still seems to me that if a write-up turns out to be based on a faulty premise, it ought to be rescinded. But maybe I’m giving myself too much of a break here? Yeah, I was in agonizing pain in an ER, but Kino didn’t know that. If Kino had written in to you, what course of action would you have suggested for him on the day I was gone? The day after? How much did I mess up?

(Maarva apologized profusely to both Kino and to me, sent flowers while I was in the hospital for my surgery, and served as my reference for my next job. She was a great supervisor aside from her occasional absent-mindedness!)

Of course it left a bad taste in your mouth! You were in the ER dealing with excruciating pain, called in as required, and assumed Maarva would handle it from there — and then got attacked by Kino the moment you returned to work. Even if you had neglected to call in, Kino’s reaction was way over the top! When he couldn’t find you the day you were out, why didn’t he ask Maarva — your primary manager — if she’d heard from you? Or start by asking you what happened once you returned, rather than assuming and launching into a furious tirade and write-up? If it turned out you had in fact just blown off work for no reason and without alerting anyone, he could have dealt with that — but you don’t start by jumping to the worst conclusions about someone and raging at them … and as a manager he should be aware that sometimes when someone is out unexpectedly, it’s because something really bad happened, the sort of thing that would make his reaction incredibly misplaced.

You didn’t mess up at all. You alerted your office you’d be out and asked them to notify others who needed to know. You were fine. Kino sucked.

3. Am I supposed to address all MDs as “Doctor so-and-so”?

I work for an organization where I frequently interact with medical doctors in a professional capacity, for specific projects made up of medical doctors and others. Many of my non-MD colleagues exclusively address these individuals as “Dr. so-and-so” forever and always. For me, as soon as they say they say their first name only (“Hi, I’m Jane”) or sign their first name only in an email — which they usually do immediately — I take that as a sign they are happy to be on a first name basis and use that. They are not my doctor. And, we are working together as equals. Also, these are regular work meetings often in groups so it would be weird to ask them in front of everyone “May I call you Jane?” Last, no one ever calls me “Mrs so-and-so.”

For comparison, at my kids schools, everyone addresses me as “Mrs” and I use their titles as is appropriate. In that case, it’s mutual and reciprocal.

Am I wrong here?

Nope, that is in fact the long-time etiquette rule: If someone introduces themselves with only their first name or signs off using it, that’s a signal that you should address them by their first name. That’s what it means!

4. New colleague keeps blaming a coworker for missed deadlines

I work for a large company. My team collaborates with several different teams on various projects. One of these teams has a new structure with a new point of contact. Since the new contact came on board six months ago, we have noticed that the team is often late on deadlines, even those they suggested. The contact person consistently and proactively blames their tardiness on one specific member of their team, calling them out by name and noting what a burden their time out of office has caused, is causing, or will cause. That named team member, whom we have worked with for years and have found to be excellent, has taken a total of about three weeks of PTO, scheduled well in advance, during this time frame. They are not in the meetings where their absence is discussed. (For what it’s worth, we have not seen evidence that this “named” team member is assigned to any of the late work, but rather the suggestion is that her absence causes stress on the rest of the team which in turn affects their work.)

Our team has grown increasingly uncomfortable with how often this person’s PTO is used as an excuse, not just because our timelines are not met but because it seems to unfairly target one person for the productivity of a full team. Is there anything we can or should be doing to address this situation?

Ideally your team’s manager would speak to the manager of the new point of contact about what’s happening — explaining that she keeps blaming a colleague for late deadlines, it doesn’t seem to be true, and it’s making your whole team uncomfortable.

If for some reason that doesn’t happen or doesn’t solve it, the rest of you should feel free to speak up when this contact person blames the other team member. For example: “That doesn’t sound right. Jane has always been on top of deadlines and hasn’t taken an unusual amount of PTO.” Or, “It’s not sitting right with us that you blame Jane when this happens. She has always been on top of deadlines and hasn’t taken an unusual amount of PTO.” And consider adding, “Maybe you can sit down with us, Jane, and (this person’s manager) and hash this out.”

5. Interview travel expenses

What expenses is it appropriate for a company to cover when you travel to their location for an interview? In my field, people often interview with organizations that are located in different cites than their own. Typically, the schedule is to fly in the night before, interview the entire day, have dinner that night with the interview committee, and then fly out the next day.

However, I was recently offered an interview where they wanted me to fly back right after I interviewed — they were not willing to cover a hotel for that night. That would have meant interviewing from 9-5 (there was no dinner, I guess, another bad sign), then an hour or longer ride to the airport in rush hour traffic, and flying another 1.5 to 2 hours to get home. That sounded like an exhausting day, so I declined to continue on with the interview process.

They did mention that things would have been different if I lived on the opposite coast from the organization’s location, but since I was located on the same coast they would only pay for a hotel the night before. Is that standard for interviews? I was kind of offended and it honestly felt a bit ableist, like they were looking for the candidate with the most stamina vs. the one who would be the best fit for the role.

There’s no real standard across fields; some organizations won’t pay to fly candidates out at all, some try to keep their expenses as low as possible, and some pay more to prioritize candidate comfort and will happily pay for that second night. But more often than not, with an organization that’s already flying someone out, it’s reasonable to expect they’d cover a second night, given the schedule you described — or would at least agree to it if you asked, even if it wasn’t their first proposal. (A lot of people would prefer to fly home that night since the flight was short, and they might have assumed that was your preference … but there should have been room for you to explain it wasn’t.)

I doubt they were looking for the candidate with the most stamina; more likely they were trying to save money (although the effect could be the same).

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