how widespread is remote work, boss is upset that my employee didn’t say good morning, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. How widespread is remote work, really?

I work in higher ed, and sometimes I feel like I’m living a completely different work reality than everyone around me. We have had a flex work policy in place since the early pandemic, and I’ve been allowed to carve out one WFH day per week (but many colleagues are two, three, or four days at home). However, our leadership recently announced an expectation of four days in-office, with an eventual full, five-day-per-week return in January 2024.

I get that a lot of what we do is on-ground support of students, faculty, researchers, etc., and some folks have never been able to take advantage of a remote work schedule. I also do believe that a lot of critical collaboration takes place in person, even though I suspect that the management/productivity issues they cite existed long before Covid and will exist long after. But there are a lot of us who really, really appreciate a day or two at home. Additionally, lots of positions since 2020 were hired with the expectation of hybrid or flex work, and that’s now changing for them. People are mad, and those with options are quitting over this.

With the exception of critical on-ground positions, everyone else in my life — from high-level federal government positions to attorneys to job-alikes at other universities — have exponentially more flexibility than I do. It seems like 95% of the readers who write in to AAM are fully or partially remote. I sometimes feel like I’m living in an alternate universe from everyone I know. Is my leadership just completely out of touch? Is this fine? If it’s this important to me, should I look for a new job even though I love my work, my colleagues, and my students? Is my perception accurate that nearly every org that can is remaining flex/remote? Or am I looking for something that isn’t as universal as it seems?

No, lots of people are mostly or entirely on-site! It’s definitely not the case that 95% of letters here are from people who are fully or partially remote. And a lot of companies are backpedaling on remote arrangements that they made during the pandemic — in some cases to the point of requiring people to come in even if they had previously approved them to move far away. Not all employers, of course; a lot of companies have found that remote works really well for them, or that they need to offer it to be competitive. Some version of remote work is clearly here to stay for a lot of people — but there’s a ton of variety out there. Here is some reporting for you from the New York Times and CNBC.

If remote work is important to you, you’ve got to weigh that against how much you like everything else about your job (as well as how easy it is to find in your particular field since, from what I can see, higher education has had a pretty strong push to bring people back).

2. My boss is upset that my employee didn’t say good morning to him

My boss approached me and said he had a problem with my employee not saying good morning to him this past week. I thought this was petty and wanted to get another opinion.

I’d want to know more about the context. If your boss said hello and the employee ignored him … well, my first thought wouldn’t be intentional rudeness, but rather that the employee didn’t hear him or was absorbed in something else. Is there a reason your boss is assuming rudeness (like a pattern of other rude behavior)? If so, yeah, that’s something you need to talk to your employee about. But otherwise … some times people are distracted and it’s not a big deal. Does your boss have a pattern of taking stuff like this personally?

If your boss is bothered that your employee didn’t say anything first … your boss is being weird and petty. Lots of people are just in their own heads in the morning (or throughout the day, for that matter) and may not even realize someone is expecting an acknowledgement. Or they assume the other person is concentrating on work and doesn’t want their focus broken (often because that’s how they would feel if the roles were reversed). If that’s what’s going on and your boss isn’t one to listen to reason, your best bet is to diplomatically explain to your employee that it’s something your boss expects. That doesn’t mean it’s reasonable, but it’s a kindness to let them know if there’s an easy way to avoid pissing off their boss’s boss.

3. How to explain why I’m leaving my horrible state

I work for a public institution of higher education in a very red state, and our governor is staging a multi-part hostile takeover and reorganization of the state university system. I’ve never liked living here, I came here for the job, and now the job is going down the tubes. Obviously I am applying for other employment.

How explicit can I be when potential employers ask me why I want to leave my current job? Presumably I can’t say, “The governor is a nasty hypocritical megalomaniac and I need to get out of here,” but could I say, “I’m uncomfortable continuing to live in this state and do this job” or should I really offer some soft-pedal alternative like “I’m looking forward to being closer to friends and family”? On the one hand, I don’t want to make assumptions about anyone’s politics being the same as mine; on the other hand, chances are that most people who look at my resumé will know immediately why I want to leave, and I don’t want to come across as disingenuous or dishonest.

More than they care about why you’re leaving your old state, employers really want to know why you’re interested in moving to the new one. Focus on that! “I’m planning a move to New Haven to be closer to family” is enough on its own, without adding “and also I need to escape this hellhole.” People may draw their own conclusions about what additional reasons you may have, but it’s not going to seem dishonest not to provide a full accounting of what went into your decision.

What they really care about with relocating candidates is whether you’re going to be happy in their area and stick around, or whether you’re going to hate it after a few months and want to move back. So if you can demonstrate that you know and love their area, or have family there, or some other factor that makes your move seem like a safe bet for them, you should have this covered.

4. Should I warn a new hire that her dating profile mentions weed?

I work in a public sector that drug tests. It’s very clear that drug use is grounds for termination, and previous drug use is part of the background check. I haven’t met our newest hire, but a friend saw her on a dating app and sent me a screen shot — she has where she works listed and that she smokes weed. I don’t think she’s currently smoking weed because there was a drug screening when she was hired, but it’s not a good look to have it posted where anyone could see and report it to our boss. Personally, I don’t think smoking in off hours affects job performance and we live somewhere it’s legal, but I don’t want her to get in trouble or derail her career before it starts. Should I say something to her, or pretend I never saw it and hope she figures it out? Something else?

I’d leave it alone since this is someone you don’t know. As much as she might appreciate the warning, “my friend saw you on a dating app and sent me this screenshot” is a lot of involvement when you’re strangers. (Also, someone whose new job drug-tests them upon hire should be able to figure this out on her own, and I’m not super optimistic about her judgment if she hasn’t.)

5. Graciously responding to a rejection over the phone

I’ve read your articles about how it’s better to reject candidates by email rather than by phone, and I think they’re pretty spot-on. Like many of your readers, I don’t like this particular practice. I would rather just read an email and then grieve the rejection privately, instead of enduring the dread and humiliation of multiple “we’re going with other candidates” phone calls!

Unfortunately, I work for an employer that rejects candidates by phone. I know this because I have been on the receiving end of these calls after applying for some internal positions. It’s disappointing, but I respect their right to select whatever candidate best fits their needs.

As an entry-level employee who’s been at this company for only a year, I don’t feel I have the standing to push back against the practice of phone rejections. (But if you think I do, let me know!) And I’m not expecting my employer to change its ways anytime soon. But I’m not ready to give up on internal positions or leave the company, either. So what I want to know is, what is the best way to graciously accept a rejection over the phone, when you’re placed in a position to do so on the spot? Part of me doesn’t even want to pick up the phone next time, but I’m wondering if there’s a better response.

Since you know they do this, you have the advantage of being able to be prepared and not taken quite as off-guard as you would be otherwise. That means you can have your response prepared in advance and just say it like a script: “I’m disappointed, but thank you for letting me know. Is there any feedback you can share about how I could be a stronger candidate next time?”

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