is it rude to leave a coworker waiting for the elevator, I recommended a friend and it went terribly, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. Is it rude to leave a coworker waiting for the elevator?

I recently got into a sort of mini-dispute with a friend from work about manners, and I’m wondering if you could weigh in.

I work on the second floor of my building. It’s a very short walk up, but there is a very slow elevator. I have one coworker, “Jane,” who always takes the elevator. I know she has some kind of physical disability (she sometimes brings a cane to work, sometimes visibly limps, and sometimes quietly opts out of certain activities) but don’t know any details. Not my business either way, but relevant to the dispute.

So, when I see Jane waiting for the elevator in the mornings, I usually say good morning and then head up the stairs. Recently, I happened to be walking in at the same time as my friend, who also said good morning, then stopped and waited for the elevator with Jane. I greeted both and went up the stairs. Later, my friend found me and expressed shock and disapproval that I hadn’t waited for the elevator as well. She said, “Jane doesn’t have a choice, and it’s very rude to leave her standing there waiting for the elevator.” I was surprised – I like Jane fine, but we’re not friends or close, and she’s perfectly capable of waiting for the elevator without a chaperone. And since I never take the elevator otherwise, it would feel very condescending, even if Jane didn’t know that’s why I was doing it.

So … is it rude to leave a coworker waiting for the elevator?

No! It doesn’t sound like Jane requires assistance and I’m sure doesn’t want people to feel obligated to wait with her. There’s nothing wrong with saying hi and then continuing on your way.

2. I recommended a friend and it went terribly

Earlier this year, I helped a friend get a job at a firm a few friends of mine work at. We’re all women who work in an extremely male-dominated industry so I try and advocate for other women as much as I can.

Recently my friend was fired so I took her out to drinks to catch up and she basically said that they were discriminating against her and people were purposely setting her up to fail. She is thinking about suing the firm and has retained a lawyer to support this.

I was really frustrated about her experience and reached out to my other friends, who had a very different story. Apparently she would delay projects by not working on things until they were at their deadline and then would pretend she was too busy on other projects to help. She would also leave work randomly during the day and would often set up fake meetings to instead go out and run errands. The final straw was when they had an important meeting but no one could get ahold of her so they were worried something had happened. They called police for a wellness check and it came out from her roommate that she had gone to the beach that day. They fired her shortly after.

I’m stuck in the middle right now and feel awful for recommending her and worried that I’ve ruined my own reputation as a result. I’ve tried talking to her and now she’s started accusing me of being in on it.

This is a friend I went to college with and I know she’s a capable person, which is why I’m so lost why she’s acting like this. Do I need to go and make my amends to my friends’ company? I just don’t know what I should do.

You’ve probably already said this to your friends, but if you haven’t, you should now: “I’m so sorry it turned out this way! Obviously I had no idea when I recommended her, and I’m really shocked to hear it.” But that’s really it — there’s no need for further amends. Sometimes hires go wrong, even when the person comes recommended. (And they presumably interviewed her and checked references!)

This shouldn’t ruin your own reputation. No one is going to think you are a bad worker just because she was. That said, it will probably weaken future recommendations for a while (if someone there previously trusted you implicitly to know who would be a good fit, they’re likely not to give your judgment on that quite as much weight for a while) but that’s a different thing from impacting your reputation more broadly.

Also, I’m guessing you’d never worked with your friend. Be really careful about recommending someone when you’ve never worked with them because you’re vouching for their work and work habits … and people can be really different as friends than they are as employees/coworkers. That doesn’t mean you can’t still suggest a friend for an opening, but you should be really clear about the limits of your knowledge — spell out that you’ve never worked with them and can’t vouch for their work, but you can attest that they are smart/personable/passionate about bears/whatever the case may be.

3. I don’t want to put work charges on my personal credit card

I am a public librarian in a city of around 50,000 people. Frequently through the course of my work, I have to buy things with my own money and the library pays me back once a month. This isn’t terribly out of the ordinary. For instance, I may be out at Target on my own time, and I will pick up something I need for work and ring it up separately. These usually don’t amount to more than $10-$20 and aren’t a financial burden and, timewise, it makes more sense than making a special trip to Target on the clock.

However my director handed over the task of purchasing memorial books. Because these books don’t come out of the city’s budget, they need to be billed differently. She told me that I could just purchase the books with my Amazon account and they would get around to paying whenever (!). These orders can be pricey — from $30 to $500! I pushed back on this and found a different way to order them, but it’s not a great long-term solution.The department that is supposed to be paying for these books has refused to set up their own Amazon account.

My director has never worked for another city, and I think she thinks this is normal. (There are a few other ways the city is a little wonky but my boss just doesn’t see it and thinks that this normal.) How can I push back on the city borrowing money from me?

It sounds like maybe you already have! But if it comes up again, stay firm: “I’m not able to put more than very small charges on my own account. We’ll need to set up a department Amazon account or the department that needs these would need to order them themselves.” You can use that same formula for other situations too — “I’m not able to carry these charges myself so we’ll need to purchase them some other way.”

Think of the way you’d handle it if you didn’t have financial credit of your own — meaning that if the department that wants the books refuses to pay themselves and your department has no way of doing it, you’d presumably need to say, “We don’t have any way of ordering these without payment in place” (or you’d say that to your boss and ask what she wanted to do next). If someone pushes: “That’s not an option. What do you want me to do instead?” (I’m tempted to recommend, “That’s not an option, but you could put it on yours if you want to” — but I don’t like reinforcing the idea that employees should have to loan money to their employers.)

And you don’t need to defend your decision. Not everyone even has credit, those who do don’t necessarily have a credit limit that would accommodate large charges and/or may need to leave that credit open for other uses, and not everyone is comfortable carrying a balance on their cards for an employer. It’s also worth noting some employers really suck at reimbursing people quickly, leaving the charges accruing interest on the card if the person doesn’t pay it off themselves.

4. Career advancement with social anxiety

Is there generally going to be a ceiling when it comes to career advancement for a person working through social anxiety (or possibly sensory overload)? I’m very good at my job, naturally take a leadership type role (helping others when needed, making decisions when asked/consulted, keeping track of work at a team level in addition to my own, things like that), but when it comes to things like social gatherings or even big meetings, I have bad panic attacks. We had an on-site happy hour and I could barely make it into the area without breaking down. I had to take a whole department meeting remotely because sitting in the room with everyone was too much. On on one or virtually I do fine, but in-person events are just tough. Even being in the office gets to be too much sometimes with interacting with others.

I’ve been told this will inhibit my advancement because I can’t just be unavailable if I need to have a breakdown. Is there anything (besides loads of therapy, which for various reasons right now is not available for me) that might help make it easier for me to advance? Is it even possible to move up the ranks into leadership/management without the networking/socializing aspect?

The networking does matter, but it’s also that as you move up there are more demands to lead and participate in meetings and other events. I wouldn’t say it would be impossible to move up under the conditions you describe, but definitely harder and the paths more narrow. If your entire job were remote without any expectation that you’d periodically show up in person, and if you’d be okay leading big meetings remotely, then it could be done. That’s becoming more and more possible, so I wouldn’t write it off completely … but it’s definitely a limiting restriction.

5. Can I ask my boss from seven years ago for feedback now?

About seven years ago, I received a six-month evaluation that was the worst of my career. It was a job I was really struggling with, and I really wanted to do well in it, even to the point of hiring a professional coach. But my review was a notch above scathing, and I was clearly headed for termination. Here’s the issue: I can’t remember exactly what was going wrong. Is it too weird to reach out to that boss, now about seven years later, to say, “Hi! I worked for you seven years ago, and I bombed. I’m about to start a new job. Can you offer some advice that might help me start off better in this new job or offer me some insight into where I was coming up short back when I was working for you?”

Seven years is a long time to expect someone to remember those kinds of details, unfortunately. If it were within a year, then you could definitely ask. But it’s probably unrealistic to expect she’d be able to give you useful feedback at this point. (You don’t remember it yourself, after all, and you were more affected by it than she was!)

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