manager keeps talking about astrology, recording video calls, and more

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

1. Manager keeps talking about everyone’s astrological signs

I work for a large, regionally significant nonprofit. My manager-twice-removed has been with our office for about three months. I have not interacted with them much, but every time we’ve met one-on-one they’ve asked me my zodiac sign and mentioned their own as the reason they hold certain viewpoints. On occasion, they’ve justified decisions they’ve made based on astrology. I’ve now heard from a colleague that, during his recent annual review, the manager discussed his sun sign and how it impacts how people perceive him and his relationships with others. He said he told them discussing astrology made him uncomfortable, but the manager persisted and later brought up his sun sign as their perceived reason my colleague decided to hire a particular candidate for his team over another (think along the lines of “you’re a Leo, of course you’d choose an Aries over a Taurus”). I have information from a second colleague that suggests the manager may also be selecting members of our office for professional development opportunities based on their zodiac signs.

I cannot approach my immediate supervisor about this because he gets along well with the new manager and has a history of retaliating against employees who raise concerns about management. We are not unionized.

I’ve always kept my head down but this worries me as it is uncomfortable and unfair. Is this worth approaching HR about? Does it matter that I’m not religious and all this astrology talk makes me uncomfortable as a non-believer? Should I just look for a new job?

It’s totally inappropriate for a manager to bring astrology into work decisions this way, just like it would be utterly inappropriate if he were doing that with a religion. In a reasonably functioning organization, it’s definitely something HR (or someone above the manager) would want to know about. Whether your organization meets that bar I cannot say, but one way to hedge your bets is to approach HR not just on your own, but with a small group of other concerned coworkers. It’ll be a lot harder for this manager to hold it against you if you speaking up about it as a group.

2. We’ve starting recording our video calls without everyone’s permission

Hoping you can weigh in on something which is becoming a “new normal” at my place of work (a large multinational company). We’re all still working from home and will likely continue to do so into the future, so all of our meetings are on video software.

Quite often at the start of project meetings, someone will ask if it’s okay to record the meeting. The usual reasons are because a key colleague can’t be present and they’re going to watch it back, or in case useful information is shared and we want to refer back to it. This is almost always met with one or two people saying, “Yes, okay with me” while the rest of the group is silent (is there really an option to really say no?). The meeting recording then starts.

I can’t nail the reason why but this makes me feel icky! I’m worried that I may slip up on detail during a question, or forget to mute myself while I baby-talk to my cat, or I commit a total faux pas and forget a colleague’s name. It would all be immortalized on video.

Also, I don’t have any control over where that video goes within our workplace. I don’t think it’s on a par with existing CCTV in our site offices, which is pretty unobtrusive where we are. This is a close-up video of my face, of my voice, etc. which can be accessed by anyone with the recording link. I’m a deeply private person (I don’t do social media) and feel as though I’m now having to compromise my principles around online privacy in order to participate at work.

I should say that I’m fairly senior within my division and have some say in our ways of working post-Covid, but I feel like pushing back on this makes it look like I have something to hide. Is this just something we have to live with now?

You can speak up! In fact, as a senior person you’re especially well positioned to do it. Rather than trying to tackle it in the moment when someone is asking for permission to record (which is likely to derail the meeting), bring it up separately with other decision-makers. Point out that with meetings having all moved to video, there have been more requests to record but no clear guidelines for when it is or isn’t appropriate to record, how that video should be stored, or how it can be used later. It’s very reasonable to propose creating guidelines for all of that.

That said, a lot of offices record meetings for various uses and I promise you it’s not to scrutinize anyone’s routine slip-ups!

3. Missed out on a scheduled raise because I gave notice

I work for a large tech company that has regular raise cycles. In order to be paid out for vacation days, they require people to give one month’s notice. My team has lost a lot of people recently so I decided to give three months notice.

The problem is the raise cycle recently came and I did not get any pay bump. Now, people who I manage are making more than I am. Technically the day raises are announced is exactly one month from my end date, so I could’ve waited to give notice. To an extent, I understand that they likely don’t want to give a raise to someone who is out the door, but I feel like I’m being punished for trying to do the right thing and give longer notice. Do I have any standing to go to HR and see if I can still get at least some money?

You can try but it’s unlikely to happen. Raises are retention devices and when you’re leaving, they’re not going to see a real business reason for them to give you a raise. You could try arguing that by handling it this way, they’re making it less likely that people will give them generous notice periods in the future … but they’re still pretty unlikely to give you that raise. I’m sorry!

4. Manager can’t give out contact info and has to report requests for references

My husband is classified as a temporary employee for the length of a project and won’t ever be considered “permanent” but he has been at his job for 10 months now. Every few months, the company puts him on a new team with a new supervisor. The other day he was told it was his current supervisor’s last day with this team, and he has had a great rapport and great reviews from this supervisor, so before the teams were changed my husband asked him if he could have his contact information to use him as a reference for jobs sometime in the future. They work remotely and the only way to ask this was using internal communication.

The supervisor replied that it is against company policy for him to share his contact information, and, not only that, he was required to report to HIS supervisors that my husband had asked to use him as a job reference. My husband was shocked! Have you heard of this situation? How does one navigate this?

Some companies do prohibit individual managers from giving references and instead everything to go through HR, but not being allowed to even share his contact info and having to report the request is highly strange. He could have just said, “I’m sorry, we’re not allowed to give references at all.” Either the manager misunderstood the policy (and doesn’t really need to report it / is allowed to give out his own damn contact info) or this is a very odd company.

As for how to navigate it, one option is to ask the manager if he’s able to give a “personal reference” (which as a rule are pretty useless, but when the person giving it is your former manager, most reference-checkers will consider it a professional reference while the manager gets the cover of saying he’s not speaking for the company). But if he refuses that too, then the only real remaining option is to find out if the company’s HR department will at least confirm the basics, like dates of employment and your eligibility for re-hire.

5. Giving notice to the wrong person

My coworker is giving his two week notice. He isn’t going to our/his immediate manager with the news, he is going to her manager (the CFO). Granted, this coworker doesn’t really like our manager and is leaving for a better job, but isn’t this the wrong way to handle it?

Eh, it’s not a big deal. Yes, in general you should give your notice to your manager, but it’s not a disaster if you give it to another appropriate person instead (whether that’s because your manager is out, or hard to reach, or you just can’t stand them). In fact, if he’s leaving because of your manager and wants to explain that, it would make particular sense to speak to her boss instead.