my coworker brags about how rich he is, application assignments when you’re on vacation, and more

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

1. My coworker brags about how rich he is and tries to put others down

I have a coworker who constantly brags about how rich he is. His family is well-known in the area and it’s common knowledge he got the job at our nonprofit because of his family’s status. Because he has a position at our organization, his family gives large donations. That’s a problem all on its own, but I don’t feel I can do anything about it without losing my job. That’s the back story though.

He and I are both managers. He is not my superior in any way and I am not his. The issue is that he keeps bragging about how rich he is and how much money his family donates to our organization, and any time he wants to have pull over me, he tells me he has three degrees and is smarter than me so he’s “overruling” my authority.

I’ve told him this is very offensive and not acceptable. His degrees have no matter over my area. But I am getting increasingly frustrated and angry when this happens. I feel put down and its very demeaning. I am very capable of taking care of my areas at work with my single degree and I don’t see that as a measure of my intelligence.

I’m very unsure of what steps to take if this continues. I want to stay at my job but I don’t want to be put down by a rich man who thinks his degrees mean he’s better than everyone else. I am afraid to report it to my boss because I don’t think it’ll be taken seriously or I’ll be the one facing consequences due to his family’s large donations. I want the behavior and putdowns to stop, but talking to him only works for so long.

By getting frustrated and angry, you’re letting him wind you up, and people like this see that as incentive to continue.

Why not respond as he’s made an embarrassing faux pas, since that’s exactly what’s happening? He’s outing himself as a clueless boor whose family bought his job for him, and who tries to borrow the authority of his degrees because he can’t rely on the merit of his ideas or work quality. That’s actually quite pathetic, and you should respond accordingly.

Stop telling him what he says is offensive or unacceptable. Instead, one option is to compassionately ignore him and if he asks you why, you can say, “What you were saying was embarrassing for you, so I thought it best to simply move on.” When he tells you he’s overruling you because of his degrees or his shining intellect, you can blandly say, “That’s not how we make decisions here. My plan is X and if you disagree, we can take this to (higher-up).” (If it’s something where his disagreement doesn’t matter, leave off that last part.)

There’s no reason to feel insulted by someone who’s so classless and ridiculous. His judgment is so, so off that it doesn’t make sense to let him get to you, just like you shouldn’t really care what a jerky 10-year-old thinks of you and your work.

That said, it’s not a bad idea to mention the situation to your boss. A good manager would want to know that a boorish ass was running amok on her staff so she could shut this down. Yours may or may not be a good manager, but there’s nothing wrong with mentioning it in the same way you’d let her know if someone was, saying, leaving feces in the conference room (in other words, it’s not about you, you’re not emotionally invested, but ooooh how gross).

2. Is it weird for my boss to sit in on my ergonomic assessment?

I had an ergonomic evaluation of my workstation today. My boss brought the evaluator over to my desk when he arrived. And then said that she was going to be “around” to “watch” because she was “curious.” She didn’t ask, she just informed us. I found that a little odd. The evaluator started the session by asking if there was a conference room where we could do his preliminary interview with me.

She followed us into the conference room (where I closed the door, because I inferred—rightly or wrongly—that this part of the process was confidential…ish?). She stayed there, offsides, during the entire conversation. Then she went with us back to my desk where the evaluator took his measurements. I looked around a while later, and she was gone.

The whole thing felt very bizarre to me. A quick web search suggests that ergonomic evaluations aren’t necessarily HIPAA-protected. But the whole thing felt creepy and weird, like she’d followed me into the exam room at the doctor’s office. Particularly since the evaluator refers to his clients as “patients.” I might have been less weirded out if she had asked first, but she just…decided it was okay?

I want to tell her it felt inappropriate and intrusive (at least the part in the conference room—obviously the conversation at my desk in an open office area couldn’t be confidential), but I’m not sure of my ground here. Am I off-base? I’ve worked under this person for over 10 years. We’ve had some differences, but this was the first time I really felt kind of weirded out.

Yeah, it was weird for her to observe. I can imagine a scenario where she was genuinely curious about how the process worked and didn’t realize it would feel intrusive for her to be there, especially if she’s kind of thoughtless in general. But it’s still weird.

It would have been completely okay for you to have said in the moment, “Actually, I’d rather do this in private” or “I feel awkward doing this with an observer — do you mind leaving us for now?” or so forth.

But if you go back and talk to her about it now, I think it’s going to be making a bigger deal out of it than will seem warranted. Partly that’s because this is unlikely to come up again (and if it does, you can say something in the moment). It’s also not clear what outcome you’d want from raising it, and it’s not such a huge deal that it’s something that must be flagged for her. So I’d be privately annoyed but let it go this time, while resolving to speak up in the moment if she does something anything similar in the future.

3. Application assignments when you’re on vacation

My friend is in the tech design world and is currently job searching/interviewing. As is common in his industry, most companies assign some sort of challenge/assignment during one phase of interviewing—they are always way more time-consuming than the company claims they will be and involve a ton of work, which is pretty horrible in my opinion but seems to be the industry standard. My main question, though, is what the right course of action my friend should have taken when she received an assignment like this while on vacation with the due date being when she was still on the trip (about six days later). The timing was generous under normal circumstances, but she understandably didn’t want to dedicate a bunch of vacation time to this assignment. She replied that she might be a day late due to vacation but was excited to work on it, etc. (no response to that email). Is there a better way to handle this, or is the expectation that applicants will drop their vacation plans to work on an assignment?

With a reasonable company, you can reply back explaining the situation and asking if you can instead work on it once you’re back, turning it in by (date). I have candidates do that all the time, and it’s fine.

If they’re on a very fast hiring timeline and that would put you outside their deadline for selecting candidates for the next stage, they’ll explain that, and then you can decide what to do, but it’s a reasonable thing to say. (And if they’re not reasonable, it’s very useful to find that out before you’ve invested time in them.)

4. Letting people know I’ll be slower to respond to emails while caring for my father

My father has had a very tough battle with cancer that has lasted for over seven years. Just this last week, he was placed on hospice and is home, which is hours away from my office in a very rural area with horrible internet. This means when I am with my father I can’t work at all. I am not sure how long he has left, but realistically it will not be longer than a few months. I am lucky to work for an employer that understands and is allowing me to be very flexible with my schedule, and my boss will handle my work when I’m not around.

The problem is that my position requires me to work with committees/boards and most of that communication is through email. I am unsure of how I should let my clients know that I will be in and out of the office for possibly the next two to three months. Would you make an away message even though I will most likely still be checking and responding to email a few days a week? Or email each board individually explaining the situation? I also don’t feel the need to over-explain but a month-long change in schedule will most likely raise some eyebrows, so I’d like to explain myself a little bit, and I feel like saying “family matter” sounds terrible and makes people wonder.

How often do you communicate with the clients in question? If it’s very regularly (like daily), you could t let each of them know individually (since they talk to you enough that they’re likely to retain that information, and also more likely to notice/care about a longer delay in responses). If it’s not that often, or if you’re not up to those individual conversations, an auto-reply is a fine way to do it.

As far as what to say, I don’t think “family matter” sounds terrible, but you can also be vaguer if you want to. Your auto-reply could say something like, “I will be traveling frequently during April and May and may take a few days longer than usual to respond to your message.” (Depending on the nature of your work, you may also want to add, “If you need immediate help, please contact X.”)

I’m so sorry about your dad.

5. Can I use a different title on my resume?

I have two job titles on my resume that I think are not a great reflection of my role, and which I was recently advised by a consultant to change.

I work in higher education and my current title is a pretty general “Director of Student Affairs.” However, all of my work is specifically in academic advising and student support. When I took the job, I asked that they rename the position but the school refused because of some internal politics around the term “advising” and which units got to have advisors. In my world, student affairs units and academic advising units are not really the same. While there is crossover, the academic portion is the big distinguisher. Is it okay to list myself as a Director of Advising or perhaps list it as Director of Student Affairs (Academic Advising focus)?

Also, one of my early roles was with a University whose mascot was the Knight and my job had the title Late Knight Coordinator. can I just change this to Late Night Coordinator?

The thing about listing different titles on your resume is that you don’t want it to cause problems if the employer tries to verify the title with the old employer. So something like changing Late Knight to Late Night is going to be fine — it’s not going to look like you were trying to misrepresent anything.

I would not, however, flat-out change Director of Student Affairs to Director of Advising because it does risk looking like you listed a flagrantly wrong title. But your second idea — listing it as “Director of Student Affairs (Academic Advising focus)” — is completely fine.

In cases where a title is totally inscrutable — like Analyst Level 2 when really what you do is, say, demography research — it’s also fine to list a title that describes the work accurately (and that your manager wouldn’t balk at if a reference-checker read it back to her) while listing the formal title in parentheses, like this:

Demographic Researcher (Analyst Level 2)

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