teenager’s job wants her to go on a weekend retreat, oddball interview questions, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. Teenager’s job wants her to go on a weekend retreat

My daughter is 15 and has her first job. Supervisor messages everyone she is planning a team-building event which will be a Friday to Sunday summer girls getaway at an AirBnB somewhere. Supervisor’s message goes on that she REALLY wants all her employees to come and she’s giving this much notice since they’ll need to clear their schedules and will each need to pay up to $400 on their own for the weekend.

The group my daughter works with is about 12 girls and women ranging in age from 15 to 28 — with just one 15-year-old, one 17-year-old, and then the majority over 21. We immediately said “no” and my daughter is on board with that decision. If the event happens and it’s something she feels she absolutely cannot miss for her job, we said we could drive her to whatever day is most important and drive her back home at night.

This all seems crazy, right? The mix of adults and minors, having to pay for this on their own, having to spend three days of personal time with no compensation … none of this passes muster.

A little more background: The job is at a boutique aimed toward teen girls with things like dresses and jewelry. The boutique is owned and managed by older women, but this group of employees are all the young part-time workers and their supervisor is about mid-twenties. Up until now, they have been expected to go to a monthly “bonding” activity (like an escape room or dinner) on their own time and at their own expense.

One could suggest attendance at these things is voluntary, but there’s always language like, “I would like everyone to be able to attend this … And I’m gonna repeat this, I REALLY want everyone to come, that’s why I kinda want to start planning it now.” So, not really voluntary? Very curious what your take on this is.

This is someone who is (a) trying to use her employees to get her social needs met (which is wildly inappropriate given the power dynamics, to say nothing of the mix of ages) and/or (b) has no idea how to manage effectively and so, rather than focusing on things like managing people to clear goals or training them and developing their skills, is instead excessively focused on “bonding,” as if managing is akin to being the head of a sorority. My guess is it’s both (a) and (b).

The monthly events are already too much, particularly if there’s pressure to attend. The weekend retreat crosses the line into ridiculous. If this were genuinely a work-focused retreat, they would need to (a) pay for the attendees’ time (since these are clearly non-exempt positions, not salaried exempt ones) and (b) cover their expenses. They’re not doing either of those things, so this is just a social trip.

Does your daughter like this job and want to keep it? There are jobs that would demand a lot less of her time and personal money! If she really wants to keep it but would rather avoid these events, one option is “my parents say I can’t work at a job that requires me to spend the money I’m earning so I can’t attend these events.”

2. Oddball interview questions

I came across an article that claims to compile the favorite interview questions of top design leaders. A lot of the questions are what you’d expect, but then there’s stuff like “what’s on your Netflix queue that you haven’t watched and why?” (I don’t even have Netflix!) and “how do you organize your closet?”

What do you make of this? As someone who’s just started to interview, how seriously should I take this list? Should I prepare for some of those strange questions as well as the expected ones when I have an upcoming interview?

Those are crap questions asked by crap interviewers. People who ask these sorts of questions often claim it gives them some kind of special insight into candidates; that is BS. What it does do is raise the chances they’ll hire people who they like on a personal level, remind them of themselves, or share their interests, meaning they’ll end up with a more homogenous staff. It’s a great opportunity to introduce bias into the process.

You don’t need to prepare in advance for questions like this. Most interviewers don’t use them and among the ones who do, you can’t predict what random thing they’ll ask — there’s no point in preparing to talk about your Netflix queue if what your crap interviewer is really going to ask is what’s inside your purse.

3. Employee wants to make jam

I run a news website that covers the food industry. I have an employee who has always harbored small ambitions in the space, which we approved— like making jams that he sold at several local events.

Now, he’s taking meetings with investors to expand that line of jams. It’s a small-time seed investor, but it’s a real company that sees business potential. My employee views this prospect as complementary to his job (gives insight into the industry we cover); I see it as giving the appearance of compromising his objectivity (and creating land mines for what he can’t cover). Even for a modest market launch, the demands of scaling up a product are considerable, if not all-encompassing — but he thinks two weeks’ PTO will cover it. And that’s probably the biggest red flag: He doesn’t see any of these issues, and even after extended discussion still doesn’t entirely get it.

All of this would concern me even if he was a great employee and he’s not. His work quality is erratic — sometimes great, other times the bare minimum — and his manager has spoken with him several times about this. Just before we learned about the jam investor, we spoke about whether we should put the employee on a PIP.

How should I approach this issue? I don’t want to appear punitive (you want to make jam, therefore we’re unhappy with your work). Even if his work were stellar, I’d be seriously alarmed by an employee who didn’t recognize, much less identify these complications — but the cluelessness around the jam and his job (despite prior criticisms of his work, he believes he’s doing great) has me feeling like I want to pull the ripcord.

You need — and should already have! — a conflict of interest policy. It’s really standard for journalists to have conflict of interest policies that forbid having a financial stake in the industries or people they cover. (For example, here’s the AP’s policy on financial conflicts of interest.)

You need that policy despite the situation with this employee, because other conflicts of interest are likely to come up in the future (or may have already come up) and you won’t necessarily know about them if you don’t have a policy requiring people to disclose them.

But the fact that he doesn’t even see the conflict of interest after you’ve discussed it is alarming, as is his belief he’s doing great despite serious performance discussions. The best thing to do is to be straightforward about all of it: “This is a conflict of interest and we can’t allow a reporter here to operate their own business in the industry we cover. You’ll need to pick between the two; you can’t do both. That’s non-negotiable. As you think it over, I want to be up-front that we’re at the point of needing to move to a formal performance improvement plan to address XYZ. I realize that might factor into your decision either way, so I’d be glad to let you take a few days and think it over if you’d like to.”

4. Explaining why I’m leaving my job

A year and a half ago, I was a mid-level manager in my industry. My dad was diagnosed and passed from cancer within a month’s time. A week after this, a former colleague I highly respected at the time reached out and offered me what sounded like my dream job from a financial and time aspect. I was skeptical as it would be a pay cut, but there was a schedule for raise considerations that I thought I could manage financially. I was vulnerable at the time from my loss and desperate to make something “more” of myself and so I stepped down from my managerial position (but stayed on at a lower level to make up pay discrepancies) and took the job.

Within a couple of months of starting, I was drowning in work that wasn’t communicated as part of the job and was continually expected to pick up new projects and create new system processes. On top of that, the whole structure was being reworked, which removed the previous dates for wage consideration I had been told about. I am very overworked and underpaid at the new job, and so have still been working my last job to make ends meet. The new place is extremely toxic on top of everything else, and I have been actively looking for a new job either back in my old industry or something new.

The issue I have run into is when people ask my why I left my previous position after 15 years, and why I’m looking for something else so soon. I have been told that telling the people whole scenario would make me to look emotional and lacking in judgment. So my typical answer has been along the lines of, “I took a chance to learn something new, and unfortunately I found that this line of work is not the right fit for me.” Despite my best efforts, I have been unable to find a new job. Financially I am stuck, and I can’t help but wonder if my answer to this question is what is holding me back in my job search. I have only had a few second interviews and no promising leads. I’ve been told my resume looks great, I have a lot of experience and great references, and they always sound so pleased with my interviews at the time, so I’m really not sure what’s holding me back besides this.

As long as you’re prepared to talk about why you’ve concluded this line of work isn’t for you, I don’t think that answer is holding you back. (And it’s definitely better to sum up the situation with something concise like this rather than get into all the details.) But it would also be fine to say something like, “I came on board to do X, but the job has turned out to be much more Y.”

5. Is my company violating overtime law?

I have a job that used to be on-call shift work and now is transitioning to hourly work. We only work one week a month. We used to work an average of ~10-20 hours in that week, but it really varied. I can’t think of a time it ever went over 40 hours in a week. Now they are asking us to significantly increase our hours, along with a pay raise. It’s essentially mandatory to keep this job. The new system would mean that people are being asked to work 50+ hours in a single seven-day period, unless they chose to swap shifts.

My questions are twofold. One, does overtime law protect periodic workers in our position? We all have other jobs, and this is not a job we work every week. Two, are there rules for our company having to use fair-play in deciding how a week is measured? For example, let’s say my one week a month is usually Tuesday-Monday. But they measure their payroll week as Friday-Thursday. I could have a situation where I worked 50+ hour over a seven-day period, but according to payroll I worked ~20 hours one week, and ~30 the next. How does overtime law impact this scenario?

No and no, unfortunately. In answer to the first question, no law prevents employers from assigning 50+ hours in a seven-day period, even if you’re only a periodic worker. The law assumes you’ll either accept or decline the job based on whether that works for you, but doesn’t prevent an employer from making that the job they’re offering. In answer to the second question, an employer is allowed to set their payroll week as any seven consecutive days they want (even if they choose it for the purpose of reducing overtime costs); however, they can’t keep changing it to get out of paying overtime. Once they pick a workweek, they’re expected to stick to it long-term.

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