VP says people working from home haven’t developed as much, is “it’s so good to see you” suggestive, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. VP says people working from home haven’t developed as much

My company has announced a return to office plan for January. After the announcement last month, my VP held a meeting with our group, during which he said, “People who have been working in the office have developed more than those working from home.” Now, we all know this may be true — but neither our company nor he has ever required anyone to come in, until our now.

If there was never a requirement to come in, is he just stating facts or does what he said toe the line of being an HR issue?

It’s not an HR issue. He’s not saying, “You’re in trouble for not doing something that was never required.” He’s saying “This is a relevant difference I’ve observed.”

Of course, he may or may not be right about that. He definitely could be! There are jobs where it’s easier to grow when you’re in the office around other people — especially junior-level jobs, where a ton of learning happens from being around more experienced people and observing them doing their own jobs. And if that’s so, it makes sense that he’s flagging it as part of the reason he thinks the change is a good one. Or of course, it’s also possible that he has no basis for the statement and just sees everything through an “in office is better” lens, because those people exist too.

But there’s no HR issue here (at least not unless it starts playing out in clearly unfair ways, like if people are getting better performance ratings solely for having been in the office, while objectively higher performers are rated lower because they worked from home … but even that stuff can get fuzzy, because he might weigh aspects of people’s work differently than you do).

does working remotely harm your chances of advancement?
did the pandemic really show we can be just as effective working from home?

2. Is it suggestive to say “it’s so good to see you”?

I am a woman in my upper 20s. A 50something-year-old man who works on my floor but in another department (so our paths rarely cross) went around to some of the offices near his own to let us know, mostly one-by-one, that he will be starting a cancer treatment soon, presumably so we would not wonder at his absences and would hear it from him directly instead of through the rumor mill. I expressed what I believe to be a standard, empathetic response about thoughts and prayers (we are both Christian).

A few weeks later, we bumped into each other when no one else happened to be around. After he shared a little about his treatment, in wrapping up the conversation I stated with more emotion than I would typically use in professional conversation, “It’s so good to see you.” There was a palpable change in his expression and body language, and he quickly said, “I’ll let my wife know you say hi’” and turned and left. I was confused by the direction the conversation had taken (I had met his wife once or twice and spoken with her briefly, but the comment felt out of place in this context). It dawned on me that perhaps my comment had felt too familiar and made him uncomfortable, as if it was meant in a suggestive way. I felt a little embarrassed but tried to brush it off, knowing my intentions were pure and he has bigger things to deal with.

Months later, he was experiencing remarkable recovery and I began seeing him around the office again. The first time I did, in spite of myself, I somehow said again, “It’s so good to see you.” I immediately internally cringed and, sure enough, the statement garnered the same response as the first time.

I am a little socially awkward, especially about such serious topics, so I am seeking some advice about whether I need to ban this phrase from all further workplace interactions with people. If it ever were to slip out while talking with other coworkers, I would like to know if the meaning can be misconstrued and, if so, if I need to make a point of never saying it. Or am I maybe misinterpreting why he responded that way? In terms of my future interactions with this person specifically, I plan to keep things polite, professional, and perhaps a little more distant for his own comfort level moving forward.

“It’s so good to see you” is a pretty normal thing to say, especially when someone has been away or sick. It’s not suggestive. Of course, like anything, it could be said in a suggestive way — like if you looked him up and down while saying it, or gave him a lascivious look — but assuming you’re not doing that, it’s really not suggestive. It’s just kind. I suspect the issue is on his side; he might be one of those men who assumes every friendly overture by a woman is a come-on.

Now that you know he reacts weirdly to it, it makes sense to be more distant with him, but you definitely don’t need to ban the phrase from your conversation with others.

3. My employee seems annoyed when he’s assigned certain tasks

I’m noticing a trend in an employee who joined my team after working on another team at our company, Fergus. Fergus has been with the company a long time, although he only switched roles earlier this year, and is one of the most capable people I’ve ever worked with. I’m so thankful he chose our team. However, I’m starting to see a pattern when I assign work or projects that he views as too remedial for his skill set. I will ask Fergus to pitch in on such an item and I can tell immediately that he does not like that he’s being asked to do the task. He was very unhappy in his old role, which is why he switched, and it seems that these tasks in some way remind him of his old job that he wants nothing to do with or he feels they are beneath him. Our team is used to dealing with these types of odd requests, as we can be a bit of a catch-all for the organization.

Now that this has come up a few times, I’m thinking I need to address this. Honestly, I would be willing to do these things myself if I had the bandwidth and my manager would allow it (but they expect that these items will be delegated by me to others on the team). How do I let him know how much I value his experience and the work he does on bigger items while addressing that sometimes we all get asked to do tasks at work that we don’t want to do, especially on a team like ours where the expectation is you help where you are needed?

Name what you’re seeing, and what the reality of the job is. For example: “I might be reading you wrong, but I’ve gotten the sense that you really don’t like being asked to do tasks like X or Y. I want to be up-front that tasks like X and Y are part of the job and that’s unlikely to change.” He might not realize his irritation has been so noticeable (and this would hopefully be a nudge to rein it in) or he might have avoided looking at the reality of the job head-on and this might nudge him to think about whether he can live with it reasonably happily, or who knows what. But step one is to lay out that this is the job and see what kind of response you get.

But before you do that, I want to ask this: if he’s more capable than others on your team — and I’m not sure that he is, but it sounds possible — would it make sense to structure his role so that he’s mostly working on higher-level stuff that he’s better than others at? On many teams you don’t need everyone’s job structured the same way and it can make sense to have higher-skilled people in more senior roles. You wouldn’t want to do this if he’s not that much better than other team members, but if he’s really good it’s worth considering whether his skills warrant it. If not, have the conversation above.

4. My boss is sending me job postings

I need a reality check here. My boss is sending me job postings for positions outside our company, some even out of state!

I can’t help but feel like I’m being managed out because these job postings come on top of being denied promotions, being left out of important conversations, and her showing favoritism to other employees. I am actively looking to move on, but she doesn’t know that. Is this weird?

It’s definitely possible she’s prodding you to move on, especially combined with the other things you’re noticing. But some managers do this with good intentions — it’s genuinely “I want to see you grow and this seems like a great next move for you.”

Why not ask? There’s nothing wrong with saying, “What made you send me those job postings?” In some relationships, you could add, “I want to make sure there’s not a message I’m missing.” If you’re weren’t actively looking to leave, it could also be an opening to say something like, “Ideally I’d like to stay here and advance, and I’m wondering if your sense is that I’m better off looking for that somewhere else.”

5. Putting speed reading on a resume

I’m a speed reader. Really. I taught myself to read when I was two, and have been zooming through 200-300 books a year ever since. I retain content, I’m not just skimming.

This is something my parents constantly tell me I should put on my resume. I can see their argument, as it’s a hugely useful asset in many ways (quickly becoming domain-ready, digging into complex research problems, getting through those 500 emails a day, etc.).

However, I struggle with how to put it on a resume in a way that sounds … well, real, and piques the hiring manager’s interest without sounding a little juvenile or braggy. Do you have any advice on how to navigate this, and whether it is appropriate resume material?

There’s not a really obvious place for it to go, but if you have a section for hobbies or skills, you could put it there. (A skills section would be the most obvious fit, as long as the rest of what’s there is worth using the real estate for; a lot of skills sections are unnecessary.)

It’s not going to sound braggy or juvenile. It won’t get you a job on its own but it’s more interesting and potentially more professionally relevant than “running marathons” and “jazz aficionado” and “strong communicator” and other stuff people sometimes list, and it could end being something a hiring manager asks you about.

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