I got in trouble for overstepping at work, bringing luggage to an interview, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. I got in trouble for overstepping at work

It’s been 18 years since my last job. I was a stay-at-home mother of five, but I was also stuck in a seriously abusive relationship; he prevented me from doing anything. After finally escaping him in 2019, I became extremely agoraphobic, with severe anxiety and all that stuff that makes it hard to be around people.

I wanted to try to put myself back out there. Believe it or not, I handpicked my job as a laundry attendant to slowly get myself back out there. It had been a little over a month and I was feeling great. I felt like I had a lot to prove to them and myself, but I have never been the type of person to just stand around, doing nothing, waiting to be told what to do. I found things to do — sweep, vacuum, clean shelves, dust the top of machines. All of a sudden, the housekeeping supervisor has this huge problem with me, stating, “I only need you to do what I hired you to do!” I wanted to cry all day. I’m so confused why hard work, good work ethic, and taking initiative has become such a bad thing. I have never worked at a place that punishes their employees by cutting hours because they work too hard.

I have made a few comments about how they keep the rooms. As a guest, I would not stay there. They only change the top covers if they are stained, and no one cleans properly. And this isn’t some hole-in-the-wall, this is an award-winning hotel. So my supervisor took my ideas to her boss and blamed me for the crap happening in the laundry room. I’m totally beside myself and confused.

It’s not unreasonable that they’d want you to stick to the job they hired you to do! If the job is laundry attendant and you were going beyond that to do other work — even if it was work you could see needed to be done — they might legitimately feel you were overstepping and/or causing them more work. That’s not always easy to see when you’re the person trying to take initiative, but sometimes doing X without being trained or authorized to do X can cause problems you don’t have the context to anticipate. For example, you could be stepping on someone else’s toes, or messing up an established system that you don’t know about because they didn’t have any reason to teach it to you, or adding to the list of things your boss would be responsible for overseeing.

Sometimes volunteering for extras will be helpful and appreciated … but you have to be willing to be told no and not take it personally.

I can’t tell how much of the problem came from your comments about how they keep the rooms — but it wouldn’t be surprising if they bristled at that, especially if they were already concerned that you were overstepping the bounds of the job they hired you for. It sounds like your manager is telling you pretty clearly that the contributions you hoped would help just aren’t things they want to see, for whatever reason. If you don’t like the idea of sticking just to your assigned duties, this job isn’t the right fit (which is okay! no job is a good fit for everyone who does it). If that’s the case, why not look for a job with broader responsibilities?

2. Is it a faux pas to bring luggage to an interview?

I once interviewed someone who brought their luggage with them. To be fair, we were close to the airport and this was a city where five miles is an hour of driving. It was a little odd though, and they had come about 30 minutes early and joined me and my coworkers while we ate lunch (open concept floor). After the interview, we concluded that they should have waited at the coffee shop across our building instead of coming into the office so early.

We ended up not going with them for a few reasons, but I was curious if this was actually a faux pas, or if I was being a little unfair. I was early in my career and that workplace had a cliquey mentality, so looking back I wonder if the luggage wasn’t such a big deal. I still think the lunch/earlyness was weird, but I’m happy to be corrected.

I can’t count the number of people I’ve interviewed who brought their luggage with them to the interview! If someone has flown in for an interview and has come straight from the airport or will be going there right afterwards, they might have no choice. It happens all the time, and it’s normal and not a faux pas in any way.

Arriving 30 minutes early is a misstep though. Depending on the reception area set-up, it can force the employer to deal with the candidate before they’re ready for them. And unless the candidate was explicitly invited to join you for lunch, that was definitely an overstep — you could have intended to use that time to discuss the hiring process or confidential work or all sorts of other things.

3. I’m the only one still wearing a mask

I work for a smallish company (about 75 employees) and as of about a year ago, my department has gone almost 100% digital. From January 2022 until January 2023, I worked from home almost exclusively. Unfortunately, at the start of this year, the VPs decided to require everyone to come back to the office at least three days per week. Upon returning to the office, I discovered that I am the only person in the entire building who wears a mask. My partner is high-risk, and I have told anyone and everyone who will listen that I have to protect him and that we cannot take the risk of just vaccinating and hoping for the best (though we are five times vaccinated now).

At the end of last month, I came down with bronchitis after babysitting my nephew and niece and had to go back to working from home until I recovered. I had just shaken the fever this last weekend and came back to the office two days ago, when I learned last night that a coworker (who was in the office yesterday, unmasked) tested positive for asymptomatic Covid.

I’m pretty angry with my workplace. One year ago, I was happy with my job; I felt productive, had a healthy work-life balance, and could see myself working there for many years to come. Today? I’m pissed. I feel betrayed and that they’ve undermined all the hard work my partner and I have done these last 3+ years to keep him safe. Further, the idea of potentially having my lungs hit by Covid scarring while I’m still dealing with lingering bronchitis effects terrifies me. If I end up testing positive, I want to let all the higher-ups know how I feel about this, but should I? And how do I say it without all the fuck-words that are in my head and heart?

What you describe in your office is pretty typical of most offices, not just yours: most people, unless they are high-risk or have high-risk loved ones, have largely stopped masking.

I get why you’re upset — I still mask in most indoor situations too because my mom is immunocompromised from chemo and I don’t want to endanger her. But the vast majority of people in the U.S. have decided Covid infections and the risk of long Covid are things they’re willing to live with. I know that sucks if you’re high-risk or close to people who are high-risk. If it feels like the world has left you to fend for yourselves … it has. But it’s extremely likely that you’ll encounter the same conditions in any other job (unless it’s fully remote and you’re confident it’ll stay that way) and extremely unlikely that your company will require everyone to start masking again, or even that they’ll think you’re reasonable for being upset that your asymptomatic coworker wasn’t masking before the positive test.

What you’re upset about isn’t something specific to your company; it’s the response of the world in general. I’m sorry.

4. Is this job description a red flag?

I just came across a job listing that had these last two bullets:

• Maintain a calm demeanor and manage issues professionally and respectfully in accordance with our company standards.
• Act with integrity and trust, modeling behavior that respects our employees, peers, and customers in accordance with the core values of our company.

Stuff like this always gives me pause and (to me) is a red flag that they have to specifically ask people to be a cordial, working professional in a job listing. Or is it a green flag that misbehavior isn’t tolerated and they have a code of conduct that folks really buy into?

I wouldn’t read anything into it. It reads pretty boilerplate.

Even if it were a little weirder, I wouldn’t necessarily read much into it. Sometimes hiring managers overreact to their last bad hire — like if the previous person was hostile and argumentative all the time, sometimes that’ll show up in the form of a job description that seems disproportionately focused on handling conflict well, and it’s not because it’s a high-conflict workplace but because they’re trying to avoid the mistakes they made with the last person. That doesn’t mean you should ignore anything that seems weird in a job description; it’s always okay to ask about it (“I noticed you emphasized the need for X; can you tell me more about that?”). But I wouldn’t consider it a red flag on its own.

5. Should I tell employers I was laid off a few months ago?

I was laid off from my tech job in mid-February and I’m currently still job hunting (not having much luck!).

Should I mention “laid off” on my resume and/or cover letter? I’ve heard mixed reviews from everyone I’ve talked to (friends, recruiters, former colleagues), so I’ve kept everything on my resume as “present” and don’t mention being laid off until during a live interview. Thoughts?

You don’t need to specify that you were laid off on your resume or in your cover letter — although you might choose to if you think it helps to explain for why you left — but you definitely definitely definitely should not be sending out a resume in May that says you’re still at a job that you left in February! That’s deliberately misleading, and I’d be concerned if I realized a candidate had done that.

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