my mom’s advice is ruining my sister’s job search, explaining I’m quitting because of COVID, and more

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

1. My mom’s advice is ruining my sister’s job prospects

My younger sister has been unemployed or under-employed her entire professional life. She graduated into the Great Recession with astronomical student debt and serious medical conditions that make daily tasks difficult, even with accommodation. She’s been repeatedly denied for disability, and she wants to work. She has a degree in science and is passionate about research.

Our mom was a retail manager who hired hundreds of people. She believes herself to be an unparalleled authority on how to get a job. My sister trusts her advice and follows it religiously.

You probably saw this coming, but it’s bad advice. Over the years, Mom’s provided my sister with such gems as “Always deliver a hard copy of your resume in person” and “Never take no for an answer; call them every day and make the case for why you deserve the job.” Combine this with my sister’s own determination to be completely transparent about the details of her medical conditions and “not play any games” with potential employers, and I don’t see the situation improving on its own.

This is my problem because 1) I love my sister and don’t want her in a position where she’ll be treated badly, and 2) I’m financially responsible for her. It would improve both of our lives if she found a job that enabled her to be truly independent.

I think I can help. I routinely conduct interviews and make hiring decisions as part of my job. But I’ve held my tongue when it comes to my sister. A white collar job is very different from a research position is very different from retail. It’s possible my job hunting advice is just as misguided as Mom’s. I don’t want to hurt Mom’s feelings. I don’t want to damage their relationship. I don’t want to make my sister feel like a burden. But she just turned 31. This isn’t a post-grad slump anymore. Something has to change. Is there ever a situation in which it’s a good idea to wade into someone else’s job search? And if you do wade in, how deep do you go? Is it better to convince my sister that Mom’s advice is bad and that mine is good, or to convince my sister she’s better off not listening to anyone’s advice?

Eeeek, yes, speak up! Your mom’s advice is almost certainly holding your sister back from finding a job. Let your sister know her this advice would actively hurt candidates in your field and most others, that retail has very different hiring norms than other sectors, and that your mom’s advice doesn’t translate to the jobs your sister is applying to— and will likely harm her. Point out that you regularly conduct interviews and make hiring decisions as part of your job, and that the stuff you mom is recommending would be deal-breakers for you and your colleagues. Offer her some back-up like this and this and this. And maybe this. Ask that she at least experiment with a different approach to see if it produces different results.

You’d be doing her no favors by staying quiet to be respectful of your mom, when your mom’s guidance is causing real harm. This would be true even if you weren’t financially responsible for her — just because she’s your sister and you love her — but you have additional standing to speak up because it does affect you.

You might also consider talking to your mom: explain that her experience in hiring is wildly different from yours, suggest she might be relying on norms that don’t apply to the fields your sister is targeting, and be up-front that the advice she’s dispensing would get your sister removed from consideration in your field. If your mom is closed off to hearing that, so be it — but it’s not rude to let her know that retail norms are not universal norms.

2. Should I tell people I’m quitting because my company isn’t following COVID precautions?

A lot of my coworkers and some management aren’t wearing masks or distancing at work, even after one of us tested positive. I don’t think there’s anything that can change their minds — even though the company president has been encouraging preventive measures for months, there’s enough misinformation circulating here that it’s not going to happen.

I’m high-risk and I’ve decided to quit. Should I say that in my resignation letter? I’m not expecting this to cause any behavior changes, but my supervisor has been great and I don’t want them to think it’s anything they’ve done.

I also don’t know if I should tell coworkers I’m leaving or why. I’ve been harping on masks for a while, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but I don’t want to sound rude about why I’m leaving. What do you suggest?

A resignation letter really should only confirm that you’re resigning and note what date that’s effective. It’s just two or three lines (that info and perhaps one sentence of “I’ve appreciated my time here” fluff if you feel like it). It’s not the place to get into your reasons for departing. It’s literally just documentation so the company has confirmation in their files that you did in fact resign.

The place to get into your reasons, if you want to, is in the conversation you have with your manager to let her know you’re quitting (that comes first, and then the letter comes afterwards to confirm). And yes, it’s worth letting her know that you’re leaving because your office isn’t taking safety seriously, because (a) who knows, it’s possible it could have an impact down the line, especially if someone else later leaves for the same reason, and (b) there’s no point in letting her wonder what happened when there’s an easy explanation.

Personally, I’d tell your coworkers too. If they’re really dug into delusion, they might think you’re overreacting, but it’s still worth people hearing, “My doctor has told me I’m at high risk of serious complications or even death if I contract COVID-19. Since the company isn’t enforcing the CDC guidelines on masks and distancing, I’m at too much risk if I stay.” That’s not rude; it’s just direct, and there’s value in spelling it out.

3. Asking for vacation after three months of getting paid while not working

While I have been able to work from home as normal, my husband’s job deals with the public and he has not been able to go into his office since March. His company did end up furloughing or laying off most of his colleagues but kept him on and continued to pay him (he, along with others still employed, did get a small pay cut). He’s going to start going back into the office next week.

Now that it’s finally summer, I’d like to take some PTO but I’m not sure how it will be looked at if he asks for time off, after he just spent three months getting paid for not working. I’m also not sure what his coverage would look due to the layoffs (I don’t think they have hired back everyone as they don’t expect the same volume of customers). I don’t even know what would happen if he got sick and needed to take days off for that, but I hope to not have to cross that bridge.

Would it be off-base for him to ask for vacation (a maximum of five days versus two weeks) closer to September? I am not sure if we’d even be able to go anywhere but it would be nice to be able to spend time together even if we were at home and watching more movies. I will take some time off myself this summer without him, but probably not a whole week.

Yeah, he shouldn’t ask for a week of vacation right after three paid months off, while others weren’t paid or lost their jobs. His manager is likely to think, “We just stretched to give you three months off, with pay” … and the request is likely to look strangely oblivious to that or like he’s taking advantage in some way.

Sick time is different, because if he’s sick, he’s sick. Vacation is different.

He could maybe do it in the fall, if and only if he sees other people doing the same thing and it seems fine, but I’d assume this is a lost summer in terms of joint vacations for the two of you.

4. I’m spending too much time making videos for internal use

I handle state-specific public policy for a major national nonprofit. Our higher-ups frequently ask us to create video clips of ourselves or our volunteers for internal videos, often with only a few days’ notice. Organizing my piece for the videos is an added stress to my workload, and setting the time aside to watch the finished compiled video as directed takes up time I’d prefer to spend on my public policy work. It also seems strange that we are asked to make a video for which we are the only audience. I get the sense these internal videos are meant to excite us somehow, or make us feel recognized and appreciated — but we are the ones who make them.

Should I organize a group of employees to push back on the next request? Or is there another benefit to these internal videos that I am not recognizing?

Yes, push back. It might be as simple as telling your boss the video work is taking time you need for higher priorities and asking to be exempted. But if there are a bunch of people in the same boat, it could make sense to approach it as a group.

My hunch is that they’ve think the videos will boast morale and camaraderie, as well as expose people in the organization to what colleagues in different areas are working on … but that’s something to do a couple of times a year, not with such frequency, and always with more than a few days’ notice. You’re doing public policy work, which is often time-sensitive and deadline-driven. It’s more than reasonable to point out this is getting in the way of the goals of your job.

5. Responding to requests for job leads when I don’t have any

I am one of the lucky few who have not been greatly affected by COVID. While I am working from home, I am still working. I work in an industry that is fairly well insulated, considering the circumstances.

I have a friend who has been laid off from their job in a very different field This friend emailed me the other day asking me if I had any leads on jobs that they could apply to. The only person I know in a field anywhere close to theirs is in the same position, laying off and furloughing workers. I have no idea what to say to this person in response. Can you help?

It’s okay to be honest! They know you might not be able to help; they’re asking in case you can. You could say, “I wish I could help! The only person I know in (field) is in the same position. But I’ll definitely let you know if I do come across any leads that could help.” If you’re willing, you could also add, “If there’s ever anyone in my network on LinkedIn or more broadly who you’d like a connection to, I’d be glad to see about making the introduction.” (But only add that if you trust the person to use that sensibly; don’t offer it if they’re someone who would then want to contact everyone in your network indiscriminately.)

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