my coworker/girlfriend might get fired soon, employee wants a second paid month off for her dissertation, and more

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

1. My employee wants a paid month off to finish her dissertation — a second time

I have been in my managerial position for less than one year. One of my direct reports received four weeks of paid time off a couple years ago in order to complete her dissertation (when I was her colleague, not her boss). This is not a standard policy/practice, and many of us were upset with what we considered unfair treatment. A PhD is not required for the position, although we do work in academia and it’s normal for people to have them.

She did not complete her dissertation, and now two years later she is under pressure to finish. She is also pregnant, and will take 16 weeks leave this coming fall/winter. She took last week off to paint her house, and during that time sent a request directly to my boss for another four weeks paid time off this summer. Earlier today he told me about her request, and I am angry that she would request this again. He is considering her request and asked my opinion. I don’t support it, but don’t think I made a great case other than “it’s not fair.”

She has not spoken to me about it, and I need to be better prepared to discuss it, but I get angry and I’m struggling to get beyond that. Do you have any suggestions for how to calmly discuss a topic that is emotionally charged? Also, I wonder if I am being unreasonable and harboring resentment and therefore unable to think about the request objectively?

Yeah, you’ve got to take the emotion out of it when you talk to your boss or you’ll harm your own credibility. But think about the actual reasons for why you’re angry — there’s logic to them, and you can present that case to your boss. You can point out that this employee has already received a month of paid leave that other employees haven’t received, that she didn’t use that time for the work she’d said it was for, and that offering her an additional month on top of that will demoralize others on your team and cause resentment, as surely some of them could also use a biennial month off. (Keep her maternity leave out of it though; that shouldn’t be a consideration, and it’s legally iffy to make it one.)

Or you could come at this from an entirely different angle: If this is something your boss wants to do, would your employer be willing to offer a month of extra paid leave every two years to every employee, regardless of what they want to use it for? If so, that would be a hugely attractive benefit for people. If he’s not up for that, then you can use that to point out that this isn’t equitable — but if he is, then great.

(But also, why are these requests going to your boss and not to you? While different companies do things differently, ideally if you’re her manager, these requests would come to you and you’d handle them.)

2. My girlfriend is my coworker and might get fired soon

I work for a large international company, and so does my girlfriend of two years. We have the same role, but it’s such a big company that we’ve never worked together (and HR has no problem with the relationship).

The problem is that, while I love my job and am doing well, my girlfriend is in trouble and might be getting fired pretty soon. She asks me for advice and vents to me, but it’s hard to know what to say. I can’t be and don’t want to be her career counsellor, but I also want to be there for her when things are tough, you know? Basically, how can I maintain boundaries while still being supportive?

One option is to just focus on how she’s feeling and avoid getting into actual advice — in other words, “That sounds really hard — I’m sorry this is happening” or “I know this is really stressful — want to just order delivery tonight and just watch a million episodes of SVU?” but not “Why don’t you try talking to Lucius about what happened in the meeting?”

If she’s directly asking you for advice, though, you might need to say, “I want to support you as your partner and not as a colleague who works at the same company, and I feel like it’s healthier for our relationship for me not to try to really lean into work advice.” But at the same time, I don’t know that either of you will be well served by being too rigid about this — if there’s something where you might have a helpful perspective, it makes sense to offer it (and she could be rightly annoyed if you refuse to). The key is in watching the balance — you don’t want to be workshopping her work problems every night. But some advice, in moderation and when it’s requested, can be part of being supportive. If it feels like too much, though, that’s something you should flag.

3. I panicked and said I was interning somewhere that hadn’t hired me

I’m a recent college graduate and a couple months ago I reached out to a woman, “Claire,” who is one year older and who works at a company I’m very interested in. Claire agreed to get coffee and tell me about her career path. I felt like we had a fairly good back and forth, but when she asked me about my job experience, I kind of had a an insecure / panicky reaction where I felt like I haven’t done enough stuff with my life. I ended up blurting that I’m currently interning at an organization that I had an interview scheduled at the next day.

It’s a small organization but well-known in our field, and to my horror Claire excitedly asked if I know her friend who works there. I back-pedaled and said something like, “Oh, I just, just started there so I’m still learning names,” etc. Honestly, the blip barely seemed to register to Claire, but it was hanging over me for the rest of the conversation. I tried to stay cool but at the end of our talk she told me that she’d be happy to recommend me to her company and to just shoot her my resume when I want to apply and she’ll forward it to the hiring manager. So long story short, I’m not sure what to do.

The interview the next day ended up going great (even though I was terrified the whole time that my interviewers would slam their fists on the table and demand to know why I told so-and-so’s friend that I already was an intern there) and a few weeks later they offered me the internship. So now I will be interning at the same place as Claire’s friend, but not till this summer. Do I still send Claire my resume and hope she forgets about the internship I mentioned? Do I include a note on the resume that I’ll be starting the internship this summer? Do I just apply to her company without emailing her? It’s a large corporation so it’s not like she’d know, but if she does recommend me to HR I’d have a way better chance of getting an interview. What’s your take? I know I’m an idiot.

Normally I’d say your resume shouldn’t include an internship you haven’t yet started, but in this case it makes sense to list it so that Claire doesn’t wonder where it is. You could just put “summer 2019” for the dates, or even “summer 2019 (hired).”

Hopefully Claire won’t recall your conversation so word-for-word that she realizes you said you were currently working there (and if she does, will probably just assume she misunderstood). And while “I’m still learning names” is a little weird about a place you haven’t begun working at, it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility — I could see an intern saying something like that, figuring they had learned some names already (like the people they interviewed with). So, a little awkward but definitely not as awkward as if you hadn’t been hired! Since some time has passed and this wasn’t a major focus of your conversation, there’s a pretty good chance that it won’t seem terribly weird.

The bigger thing is to make sure you reflect on why this happened and how you want to handle moments like that in the future. Also, know that it’s totally okay that you haven’t done a lot yet! That’s very normal for intern stage and you shouldn’t feel insecure about it … and actually, being up-front and humble about that is a lot more appealing than entry-level people who try to cover that up.

4. “We foresee job openings in the future”

I recently interviewed with a small organization while still under contract with a national service program (that’s ending soon). The interviews went really well, and we discussed me possibly starting part-time and then transitioning to full-time when my service contract was up in a couple months. They called me, saying they went with another candidate who was able to start at full-time right away, and told me they think I’d fit in well with their organization, and that they foresee having some openings that I should apply for once my service contract is up. I responded graciously and added the interviewers on LinkedIn.

Should I keep applying to other jobs despite this potential open position? What if I accept another position and then they reach out to me? Would it be too forward of me to email the hiring manager thanking her for her time and consideration, and asking for a timeline on the potential job opening?

You absolutely should keep applying to other jobs! This offer is probably sincere, but there are all kinds of reasons that it might come to nothing — they could find a better qualified candidate, they could have a hiring freeze, they could reconfigure the position, they could move someone internal into it, the hiring manager who liked you could leave, etc. So definitely don’t count on this in any way — instead think of it as something that could happen, but very well might not.

But when you email the hiring manager to thank her, you could say something like, “Is there a particular timeframe where it would make sense for me to check back with you about the possible future openings you mentioned?” Or you could just email her in a few months and ask at that point.

Meanwhile, though, if you get another offer somewhere else and you want that job, you should take it — since you’d be comparing an actual offer for an actual job to a non-offer for a job that doesn’t exist yet.

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