we’re being unknowingly videotaped at meetings, should you always be job-searching, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. We’re being unknowingly videotaped at town hall meetings

I’m a full-time remote employee who works for a large company. We regularly have “town halls” at multiple levels — full company, full department, full “section,” etc. These town halls are through Microsoft Teams and to simplify things, when you log on, you’re muted and don’t have video. You can only see the presenter. There is no gallery mode and there are no video/sound options presented to you.

Except! As it turns out, you are on video! The director of each section (ours has about 40 people in his section, others may have less or more) gets to view you and your reactions to every town hall word being said, unbeknownst to you! (I learned this recently while at some in-person meetings — my boss and everyone at her level didn’t know this, but as we all watched a town hall together on a big screen, he was watching everyone else on his computer.)

This horrifies me. The number of ways this could go wrong seems staggering. Is this normal?

What, no! This is not normal and it’s not okay. You should never be filmed without your knowledge and consent. Not only is this a huge invasion of privacy, but it’s asking for all sorts of problems — think about the sorts of things people do at home when they just forget they’re on video, let alone when they didn’t know they were on video in the first place.

It’s worth taking a look at exactly what notifications/disclaimers you see when you’re logged on (I’d be really surprised if Teams didn’t have something informing you that your video would be on, even if it’s not prominent). Either way, at a minimum it’s something you should let your coworkers know about, and you might consider asking for it to be stopped or more prominently disclosed (or just cover your camera).

2. Should I always be job-searching?

I read the letter from the person whose coworker was putting mistakes in her work in horror — I’m super anxious and also pretty conscientious, so this kind of thing would mess me all the way up — and noted the number of commenters suggesting that OP might want to go ahead and start job searching regardless of which path they take to address their coworker’s shenanigans. And searching for a new job is something you often recommend as a possible option for folks who write in. An acquaintance of mine is always job-searching — “for leverage.” I’m wondering about your thoughts on this. Pros? Cons? Are there folks who are always job searching, regardless of whether they feel good about their current jobs? Why? Does it feel like “leverage”? What kind of guidelines do they set for themselves to keep it manageable?

No, it’s not normal to always be job-searching, if by that you mean actively searching through job listings and applying for jobs. It’s more common to always be open to something new if you happen to hear about the right thing, but the idea of always being in job-application mode sounds exhausting and most people aren’t. Also, if you’re constantly changing jobs it’s going to hurt you after a while; you’ll become less employable and eventually you’ll have a harder time getting the jobs you want.

In the letter you linked, there was a serious problem with the person’s manager — the writer was being reprimanded for things she didn’t do and didn’t trust her boss to listen to reason. That’s a big deal, and it indicates both her job and her reputation could be in jeopardy, so it makes sense for her to think about leaving if she can’t resolve the situation another way. But that’s not a typical situation! Most people’s situations aren’t nearly that dramatic.

When your acquaintance says she’s always searching “for leverage,” she probably means that when she has other options, it’s easier to set boundaries or walk away from a job that isn’t serving her interests anymore. Hopefully she doesn’t mean that she’s explicitly using it as leverage with her boss — like regularly announcing that she’s on the verge of taking another job — because that’s the kind of thing you can do once, not multiple times; doing it regularly would drain it of all its power (and she’d likely just be told to go).

3. I don’t want my manager’s job when she leaves

I work on a team of five people at a company of about 1,000 people. Our role is fairly niche and requires specialized training and education. Our supervisor has started hinting that she’s looking at retiring in the next couple of years. She has started bringing me into meetings with her, teaching me elements of her role that don’t apply to mine, and other actions that make me assume she’s expecting me to step into her role when she goes. I suppose from the outside it makes the most logical sense. Of the remaining team members, three are nearing retirement age and one just graduated from college, while I’ve been in the field for a decade and am in my late 30s.

The thing is, I don’t want her job. I really enjoy my current role. Each day brings enough unique challenges that I don’t get bored but I also feel comfortable. If I step up into my supervisor’s role, I’ll have to add additional meetings in the evening hours that will cut into my time with my young children. I’ll have to drop my favorite task that I currently perform and pass it to a more junior employee. In addition, I’ll be responsible for the department budget (I’m terrible at math!). Honestly, I’m just not a natural leader and the prospect of taking on her role fills me with anxiety.

When I’ve told people this, I’ve been told I’ll be “shooting myself in the foot” career-wise. My husband feels it will give my company a bad impression of me and a coworker I confided in expressed concern that I might lose my current job if I refuse.

How do I professionally let people know that I’m perfectly happy where I am and that I have no desire to climb the ladder any higher without sounding like a slacker or emphasizing my weaknesses?

You’re surrounded by bad advice! It’s not “shooting yourself in the foot” to avoid a job you don’t want. And you’re highly unlikely to lose your current job if you decline (!). Your manager is assuming that you’d be excited for the promotion because people often are, but it’s a completely normal and okay thing to explain that you’re happy where you are and not interested in that specific role right now. Since it sounds like she hasn’t explicitly said what she’s planning for you, you could say, “I noticed you’ve started mentoring me in things like X and Y and I wondered if it’s because you figure I’ll be looking at management roles in the next few years. I wanted to say that I’m really happy with my current role and don’t have management as a goal. I’d like to keep doing what I’m doing now and get better and better at it.”

I don’t want to move up into a leadership role

4. HR says we can’t contact a coworker on leave even to find out when she’ll be back

I’m a teacher and we had a question about what’s allowed with FMLA. A colleague told us she would be out for a surgery. She asked the department to cover for her for three weeks, after which she would be back. The department arranged teachers to cover the extra classes while she is out (I’m one of the teachers covering a class for her). It’s day two of this colleague being gone and our department head just got told by HR that we actually need to hire a long-term sub for the next 12 weeks, which is not what we understood from our colleague. HR says we can’t reach out to our colleague now that she’s gone in any way to understand what the discrepancy is, but from what we know of our colleague and what she told us about the surgery, we are almost positive there is no need for coverage for that long.

The department head ended up getting around this by emailing the department email list letting us know we would need to put together a hiring committee to hire someone to cover several classes for the next 12 weeks, and she mentioned the classes that our colleague teaches. Our colleague almost immediately replied to the department head and cc’d HR to ask what was going on and to reiterate that she will be back in three weeks.

So there are two questions: is HR right that there is no legal way to ask our colleague whether she will be out for three weeks or 12? And did our department head do something wrong in her approach?

Your HR is being weird. It’s true that federal law forbids what’s called “FMLA interference,” meaning asking someone to perform work while they’re on FMLA leave. But courts have been clear that fielding occasional calls about your job is a professional courtesy, as long as it’s “reasonable contact” limited to things like “inquiries about the location of files or passing along institutional or status knowledge.” Confirming the length of time someone will be out is completely fine (as long as it’s not done in a harassing way, like calling them daily to pressure them to return).

Your department head’s approach — emailing the department list, knowing the coworker on leave would see it if she chose to check her email — seems pretty smart, given the circumstances.

5. Telling people I’ve resigned

I recently resigned from a job and my manager asked me to let my full team know (after her bosses and relevant senior people were informed by her). I’ve always had a manager handle team updates when I’ve departed past jobs, whether in a full team meeting/quick regroup or via a team email. I called the people I worked closely with 1:1 (I am remote). I started to call people I don’t work as closely with, and it got awkward so I switched to IMs. The team is big, and some people report to other people who aren’t my manger, are technically in different departments, and/or have a person between us with whom they most often work. I have no idea if I handled this correctly. Would it have been better to push through the awkwardness with everyone or was I okay IMing?

IMing is fine, but really email would have been ideal — you could have put everyone you wanted to inform on the email and done it in one message. That’s a pretty typical way to do it; you definitely do not need to call people individually, unless there are people you actively wanted to tell individually.

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