our meetings have a “condolence corner,” my office has a portrait of a child abuser, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. Our all-hands meetings have a “condolence corner”

We have a new director who has started doing monthly all-hands meetings. The meetings are fine (general updates) but for the past three months our director has started a “Condolence Corner” where he takes a few minutes to call out team members who have experienced personal losses (a parent, a spouse, one woman who had a late term miscarriage) and publicly offered the team’s condolences and invited people to speak about their loss. I’m not convinced that these people were asked before their losses were shared in this format based on their expressions the first time it happened, and I personally would be horrified if my loss was shared with 60+ people, most of them strangers, in this kind of way. I’m am very junior, but is this something I can ask my boss to push back on?

If he’s sharing people’s losses without their permission, that is horrible — invasive and inappropriate and violating. And inviting people to speak about their loss at a team meeting?! Most people are not going to want to do that. For that matter, many people in the audience, who might be struggling with their own losses or impending losses, are not going to want to hear that when they’re trying to stay in a work-focused head space.

Yes, you can talk to your own boss about it. You can be pretty direct: “Do you know if Bob gets people’s permission to share their personal losses at our monthly meetings? I would be really upset if my loss were shared that way without my permission ahead of time, and I want to make sure that doesn’t happen to me or anyone else who would feel the same.”

2. Can I speak up about the portrait of a child abuser in my office?

I work for a nonprofit that is run under the purview of the Roman Catholic Church, and my office is in the same building as the diocese for our area. My office frequently collaborates with the church and they have a strong relationship with each other.

A few years before I started this job, credible child sexual abuse allegations surfaced regarding a prominent bishop of my diocese. Some cases have settled, many are pending. Not only that, but this bishop has since come out and admitted in plain language to covering up child sexual abuse allegations against fellow priests in order to protect the reputation of the diocese.

There is a large portrait of this bishop hanging in the hallway leading to my office, and I want to ask the diocese to remove it. This hallway is used all day long as it’s the only way in or out of my part of the building, and the portrait is in plain view to anyone coming or going. I’m also willing to put up a stink about it if they drag their feet or otherwise refuse.

Is this something worth pursuing or is it just throwing a tea spoon of water at a forest fire? Would my organization would legally be allowed to fire me over it? I have good reason to believe that they would catch wind of this and could give me a hard time about it, if they don’t try to push me out entirely.

I know this is a pretty small thing in the grand scheme of tackling abuse perpetuated by the Catholic Church, but it seems like such a slap in the face to his victims to continue to keep his portrait up.

Yes, legally they could fire you over it. It would be messed up to do that, but they could. That doesn’t mean they would — but you’re better positioned than I am to know what their response likely would be. It’s also true that if they’re run under the church’s purview and dependent on them for funding, they may be very hesitant to rock the boat, especially over something they may see as purely symbolic, as opposed to something directly harming kids. (To be clear, it obviously does harm kids to venerate an abuser this way, but they might not see a portrait as something that requires urgent action or something they’d be willing to cause tension with a funder over.)

All that said, I doubt your employer would come down hard on you over a single request … but based on what you know of the diocese, are they likely to remove the portrait based on one request from you or would you have to wage more of a campaign? If the latter, that does move you more deeply into territory where your employer might object.

Are there other options? For example, could you nudge friends and family in the community to complain, so it’s not coming from you? Or someone else working in the building who you know feels the same as you but doesn’t work for your organization? Could the painting … disappear in the night? (I’m not officially advising that, just noting that sometimes mysterious things happen to portraits honoring people who abuse children.)

3. My employee is lying about his title, with our boss’s approval

First time manager here. One of my employees, Joe, has been very transparent in his search for a new position. There just isn’t room for growth here and he’s a hard-working, dedicated staff member. I have been diligent in supporting him because I recognize the limitations here for him, and also appreciate everyone who helped me grow “up” as I was coming up in my career. A trapped employee is rarely a productive employee, in my eyes.

Joe updated his LinkedIn profile as he commenced his search (not unexpected), but then one day I saw that he had updated his title to (anonymizing here) “Deputy Lead Llama Herder” when his position is definitely more “Llama Herder Administrator/Scheduler.” I asked him about it, and he said Big Boss told him it was okay to use that title in his job search. (I supervise Joe, but he works closely with our Big Boss.) This makes me uncomfortable, but it’s not the hill I’m going to die on. He got close on a position (I was one of his references) but somehow word reached them that he was using a deceptive title and he was disqualified.

What’s the kindest way I can communicate that he should use his real (not particularly impressive) title, especially in the face of our Big Boss supporting him in using a deceptive title?

It sounds like he might have already learned the lesson since he lost a job opportunity over it! But if the fake title is still on his LinkedIn, then yes, it would be a kindness to say something. Be direct: “I know Jane told you it was fine to use that title, but as you just saw with that job that disqualified you for it, it can really harm you. Employers won’t hire you if they find out you’re misrepresenting your job and there are a lot of ways they could find out, including if they do an employment verification with our HR team, which will give them your real title.”

Also — if you’re a reference for him and you’re asked what his title is (which isn’t an uncommon reference question), are you planning to lie for him? Assuming not, that’s another thing to mention. I realize this is somewhat awkward because your own boss okayed him doing this, but you’re entitled to say, for example, that you won’t call out the fiction proactively but you won’t lie about his title if you’re asked.

4. Interviewing after chemo

I recently finished up a course of chemo treatments. I’m doing well now, but my family is planning a move out of state, so I’ll be interviewing soon (teaching). How can I professionally dress my head without getting into the details about my health?

My head is neither cleanly bald nor a tasteful pixie — think more along the lines of the doll/spider hybrid from the first Toy Story movie — so I’ll need to cover it. Is a scarf head wrap suitably professional for an interview?

I also don’t want to raise speculation as to why I’m wearing a wrap, though that’s probably unavoidable. The wrapping technique I use is commonly taught as a chemo wrap, so it will probably be recognized; it doesn’t look like a religious head covering. My treatments have reached their end and I won’t need any special accommodation or leave time, so I shouldn’t have to explain my diagnosis.

I don’t want to invite doubts about not being healthy enough to do my job consistently. Do I just make a vague comment about a health issue that is now resolved and move on?

A head scarf is completely fine! And you don’t need to address it either — no need to make a comment about a now-resolved health issue (plus there are reasons other than cancer that people might wrap their heads). But if you’d rather it read less like a chemo wrap, you could look online for other ways to wrap the scarf and see if you like any of them … and if you want to stick with what you’re doing, that’s fine too.

Since you’re asking for options, there of course are also wigs if you’re more comfortable in them, but I’m guessing you’re well aware of that and they’re not your preference. If you prefer the head scarf, wear it without any self-consciousness.

5. How can I ask my resigning boss to take me with her?

After several years of bosses who were terrible in various ways, I have finally hit the manager lottery. I love my boss. We’ve been working together for about 10 months and have developed a strong rapport and our work styles complement nicely. She trusts me to work independently, including in sensitive client situations, supports my ideas and growth, and has given me consistently positive feedback.

She is destined for greater things than her current position, and I have reason to suspect she may be actively looking for her next opportunity. If my boss were to leave, I would gladly follow her to a different organization and continue working for her rather than stay at the whim of whatever happens next here in her absence (things are not the most functional in general).

If that conversation occurs where she tells me she is leaving, what is a professional and appropriate way to basically say, “Please take me with you?”

“I have loved working for you, and if you have openings on your team there, either now or down the road, I would be very interested in talking with you about them.”

Or once you know more about where she’s going: “Do you have more openings on your team? I have loved working for you and would be very interested in joining you there if that’s a possibility.”

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