can I ask for a raise after returning from furlough, coworker is monitoring my work, and more

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

1. Can I ask for a raise right after returning from furlough?

I work as a program coordinator at a large public university. I have been furloughed since May and am expecting to return the first week of July, which is also the week of my one-year anniversary in this particular position. Previously, I had a different job but had taken on many of my current duties due to several staff members retiring or leaving. I know that I am very valued (my boss has let me know in no uncertain terms that she cannot wait for me to return, and she had no idea how much work I actually do for her), and I would like to ask for a raise, but I am unsure if this would look really out of touch with everything going on. I know that our university is having financial issues and some furloughs are being extended, and there has been talk of layoffs as well.

I want to be paid fairly for the work I do, but don’t want to look ungrateful to have a job, and especially straight off of coming back from being technically unemployed. Do I just need to let go of the idea of a raise for the foreseeable future?

Asking for a raise right after returning from being furloughed isn’t a good idea. Your employer is trying to figure out how to keep people and where to cut and what their finances will look like in a few months. They might be trying to figure out if they can keep you. It’s very, very likely that you’d come across as tone-deaf to that context.

This won’t be the state of affairs forever but right now, when they’ve just brought you back, it’s not the right time.

2. My coworker is monitoring my work

My coworker told me months ago that she “watches other coworkers like a hawk” and that was uncomfortable enough. But she also does things like this: if I have cleared it with my manager to work some hours on the weekend, I will log on to our shared Google sheets to do my work, and lo and behold this coworker logs in EVERY SINGLE time, and just sits on the page to watch me work. You can see me editing the page and you can see she isn’t, nor does her cursor move, unless sometimes she follows my cursor to mark where I am/where I am going on the page to see what I have done. (She can see when I log into to Slack — which I need to do for work info — and must just then go straight to our sheets.)

She is very bossy and calls out any mistakes others make, even if a slight one. She talks more than our manager in meetings, and on Zoom she has asked in a demanding way when I am coming back to work as I am still home working due to COVID. My manager has had to step in immediately and say to me, “No stress, no pressure, I know your situation.” (I’m a single mom with a toddler.)

It’s so frustrating to feel like I’m being watched by a coworker. How do I address this with my manager?

Your coworker is choosing to spend her weekends watching other people work. Her priorities are … odd.

One option is to ignore it and figure that if she wants to spend her off hours this way, that’s its own sort of punishment. Another option when you see her watching you in a Google sheet is to message her and say, “I see you’re in the sheet I’m working in. Do you need something from me there?” Or even, “Let me know when you’re out so I can resume my work in there.” It’s possible that if you do that every time, she’ll start to feel watched herself and will stop.

But this is bizarre enough that you could also talk to your manager about it if you want. You could frame it as, “Jane seems to be watching me while I work and I can’t figure out why. She told me recently that she ‘watches coworkers like a hawk’ — that’s a direct quote — and it’s unnerving to be working on the weekend and see her logging into the Google sheets I’m in and just watching what I’m doing. Is she doing that with your blessing? If not, is it something you could ask her to stop? It’s unsettling to feel she’s monitoring my work so closely.”

3. Is my mom’s email address unprofessional?

My mother is in a profession that requires her to market herself directly to drum up business with clients she’ll have a somewhat personal relationship with. She has recently gotten a new email address she really put a lot of thought into … and I really think it could hurt her business. It is the equivalent of I think this email is terrible for clients! It’s taxing to remember a domain that ISN’T gmail (I have to ask her for her email constantly and am terrified of accidentally mistyping and sending a personal message to a stranger). I think the full sentence before the domain is also hard to remember and feels almost arrogant in the way it DEMANDS your attention to retain.

I told my mother that even as an old millennial, I could be completely impressed with a professional contact and upon getting this email would think, “Okay, this person is not tech savvy and possibly stuck in their ways.” I am ready and willing to hear that this is none of my business, particularly because my mother is both sensitive and convinced her way is generally the right way, but I wanted your opinion, Maybe I can show her your response and she’ll take your feedback into consideration. So, what say you? Can this kind of email address reflect poorly on the user even if the person is in a business that’s a bit more casual and grounded in personal relationships?

Yeah, that’s going to signal “not super professional and definitely not tech savvy.” That doesn’t mean it’ll signal she’s bad at what she does (the two might have nothing to do with each other), but it’s definitely amateur-looking.

Really, she should have a business domain — She can register one for about $10 and pay a small monthly fee for email hosting (around $5-10/month), and it’s a lot more professional than Comcast or Gmail or anything else. (An extra problem using Comcast, though, is that if she changes internet providers, her email address will change! And then all that marketing will have the wrong email on it. A bunch of Verizon subscribers found this out a few years ago when Verizon email addresses were shut down entirely.)

For what it’s worth, I’m not concerned that people will struggle to remember it — most people don’t memorize email addresses and instead rely on their email program filling them in. (Speaking of which: Put your mom’s email in your computer’s address book so you stop worrying about emailing the wrong person!) It’s just about the signals it’s sending, and that’s so easily remedied with a few bucks and a domain registration.

4. My boss keeps saying I’m the head of a new team, but I’m not

My company is splitting into two separate companies and I found out that I’m going to the spin-off. I’m the only one from my department going to the new company. My current boss keeps introducing me as “head“ of the department at the new company, often telling executives who’ll be working with in my new capacity that I’ll be running the department.

The problem is that there is absolutely nothing to indicate that me leading the department is the reality, and he does not have a say in shaping my role at the new company. I’ve asked him numerous times to not jump the gun and just introduce me to others as “part of” the department rather than running it, but he insists on saying that I am leading it. I’m terrified of this getting to my boss at the new company, making me look like I’m promoting myself. Advice?

How clear have you been with your boss about your concern? If you’ve framed it as “let’s not jump the gun,” he might figure you’re just being modest or otherwise not take your concern seriously, and you need to be more explicit about what you’re worried about and why. For example: “It’s really important to me that you stop telling people I’m the head of the new department. That’s not the case and I’m concerned it could even hurt my chances of it ever happening, by making me look like I’m being presumptuous or campaigning for the title. I appreciate your confidence in me, but I feel strongly about this — it could end up hurting me.”

If you’ve already been that clear and he’s still doing it, correct him every time he introduces you that way — “Nope, not the head! I’m the person who does X.”

5. I’m getting a flat fee per project — but only if my client wins his bid

I was laid off earlier this year prior to COVID. While I was searching for work, I was introduced to someone who owns his own business (he is the only employee) and he hired me to work on projects for him. I was hired as a contractor on a per project basis. How it works is a client requests a proposal from him, and I get vendor estimates and enter them into Excel for him to put in his proposal. Once the client approves the proposal and we win the project, I do additional work for him through the project lifecycle and he pays me a flat fee for the entire project (including my time for getting the estimates). If he is not awarded the project from the client, I get paid nothing.

I initially agreed to this because the time spent doing the estimates was minimal (less than two hours normally). Recently his proposals have gotten more extensive and he now asks me to do multiple scenarios for multiple vendors for each project. If we won every project, I would have no issue, but he only has a win rate of about 40-50% so I’m doing a ton of free work for him and I’m starting to feel a little taken advantage of. Is this legal? Even if it is not illegal, I feel like I should be paid for the help I’m providing him even if he doesn’t win the project. Am I wrong for thinking that? This is my first time freelancing so maybe this is just how it works and I’m unaware.

If you’re genuinely a contractor and not an employee (which sounds like is probably the case, but you can read more on that here), this is legal since minimum wage laws only apply to employers. As a contractor, the law says you can decide on your own payment arrangements.

But why not tell your client that the scope of the work has changed and so you need to charge for it differently?  I would say, “Now that the proposals have become more extensive and include multiple scenarios for multiple vendors per project, doing the work for each takes significantly more time. Typically I’m putting in about X hours of work per project, so I need to bill these differently. What I propose is (fill in with what you propose charging).”

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