when HR cuddles with an employee, asking kids what they want to be when they grow up, and more

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

1. My wife, the head of HR, cuddled with an employee

My wife is the head of HR at her small nonprofit, and has had a very close friendship with somebody who, for a long time, reported to her. My wife was a big advocate for this person getting promoted to her current position.

My wife and her friendship with her report have made me slightly uncomfortable, as I have thought it was overly-familiar for a work relationship. (For what it’s worth, we are not monogamous. She has been with many women and I am not jealous in the slightest. The professional context is what is getting to me, as detailed below.)

Anyway, my wife shared with me that she gave her report/peer a ride home, and then went inside to her report’s house, and then they “cuddled” for a while before her report admitted an attraction. To which my wife replied, “Let’s just stick with cuddles.”

I have told her that it is wildly unprofessional to be this close to anybody in a work context, particularly somebody who used to be a report, and particularly when you are the de facto head of HR. I think she’s finally coming around to believing me. I just feel terrible because there’s a junior employee who’s 10 years younger whose reputation is at stake too. My wife’s report shouldn’t have to field accusations of unfair advantage or have her pay scale questioned. (My wife is currently arguing to a budgetary committee that this employee needs a raise. Imagine if the raise goes through and then any of this comes out.)

What now? Is this salvageable? I told my wife she needed to stop seeing this employee outside of any context that wasn’t the office, that any meeting outside of the office needed to be treated as an extension of the workplace, and that any communication needed to happen through work email or slack. Period. Full stop. But I also think she should apply somewhere else and get out before any of this gets out to other members of her team, the CEO, or the board. She thinks the situation is fine and just will be awkward for a while. I worry that if she waits and this comes out, she’ll not only be potentially fired, but her reputation will be so damaged she won’t be able to find work anywhere else. And I don’t know. Maybe she’s right. It was a one-off cuddle session on a couch at her report’s house. But still. I don’t know. It just feels like she needs to get out, and get out now.

Whoa, okay. As you well know, your wife should not be cuddling with any employees as the head of HR or with anyone whose salary she has influence over. It sounds like she urgently needs to step back and reassess her beliefs about relationships at work while she’s in this role, because the problem isn’t just this one specific situation but also the fact that she didn’t think it was a problem at all until you really pushed her to see it.

Is it salvageable? I don’t know. It’s possible that she can establish better boundaries with this person and it’ll never be brought up and that’ll be the end of it. It’s also possible it’ll come out at some point and reflect really badly on her (which could mean anything from being seen as having terrible judgment to facing a harassment complaint). I don’t think your role as a spouse can be to insist that she quit, but you certainly have standing to talk through the implications of what happened and her philosophy about this stuff in general and then figure out if you’re comfortable with where she stands on it all.

2. Is my old job calling about the Glassdoor review I left?

Earlier this year, I left the company I had been working for for the last three years. Two years back, we were told to leave a Glassdoor review while working for the company. We were a small team of 10 people so any review you left could easily be detected. I don’t think anyone left an honest review. I know I didn’t.

After leaving in February, I wanted to remove my previous review and add a new one. But I chose to delay it so that I could think things over. Last month, I left a new review and deleted the old one. I wrote stuff like good pay, no hierarchy, plenty of opportunities to wear many hats, flexible timing, extremely collaborative and stimulating environment. And the cons were small team hence heavy workload, no work-life balance, flexible timing but doesn’t matter you’ll be working all the time, inefficient processes, lots of miscommunication, and lack of trust, lots of micromanagement, useless meetings, extremely harsh feedback, complete lack of praise, open office structure causes plenty of distractions, impossible to do deep working, no avenue for constructive complaints, etc. In the end, I mentioned that some of the issues were being addressed at the time of my leaving.

I thought I’d finally move on with my life but within a week I got a call from HR. I didn’t pick up because I was taking an afternoon nap. As soon as I saw the missed call, I knew it was regarding the review and immediately recognized I’d made the mistake of not leaving it anonymously. I included my designation and the number of years I had worked there. I didn’t think it through and deep down I guess I wanted them to know it was me.

I spoke to other people about this and many said that they could be calling to discuss tax and payroll stuff. Some said they want more details on future improvement. But when I left I’d already spoken to them regarding taxes and payroll, and everything was taken care of. Besides, they could’ve emailed me since I wasn’t picking their call. As for future improvements, they’d be better off asking people who are still working there.

Their attitude was always “work first,” not relationship first (not that companies have to prioritize building relationships with employees, balance is the name of the game) so when the work is done, I’m out. So I never called HR back. But today I got a message from my manager asking me how I’m doing. If I reply, I believe he’d want to talk to me. Any advice on how to handle this situation?

The lovely thing about not working there anymore is that you don’t have to talk to them if you don’t want to. They can’t make you! Still, though, ideally you’d stay on reasonably good terms with your manager because he might be asked for a reference for you in the future. That doesn’t mean you need to get on the phone with him though. Email him back (even if he called you) and say, “Got your message. I’m doing well! Anything you need me for? If so, I’m hard to reach by phone these days so email is best.” And if it turns out that he does indeed want to talk about your review, you can decline to respond at that point or say “hmmm, I know a lot of people thought those things so it could be anyone” or “I don’t think companies should try to influence online reviews” or whatever response (or non-response) you’re comfortable with.

3. The problem with “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

As a parent of a four-year-old, I’m having an increasingly hard time with people asking kids, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I don’t think it’s healthy for anyone (especially kids) to define themselves by their work. I sometimes feel like I was socialized to go to college and then graduate school, and now I have a ton of student debt that I will never pay off. I have a nice job in my field, but I’ve scaled back to part-time to spend more time with my child and no longer have the passion I once had for my career. And I’m perfectly okay with that, as I have lots of interests outside work, but I’m sure I’d have been find learning a trade and having less schooling and less debt. I want to avoid shoehorning my kiddo into something that might not be the best choice for her, and in fact I’d like to avoid her identifying so strongly with any type of career field, especially as a child but really at any point in her life. I’m just curious what you think about this, and if you have any ideas on what other questions we should be asking kids that make them think about their future/their values, but don’t involve picking a hypothetical career and defining themselves by it.

I agree that too many kids are raised with problematic ideas about the role work must play in their lives, but I don’t know that the ubiquity of “what do you want to do when you grow up?” is a major contributor to that. For most kids, the ideas they have when they’re little (astronaut, artist, vet, etc.) don’t have much correlation to what they end up being interested in when they’re eventually of an age to think seriously about a career. (That’s not always true, of course; I’m speaking generally.) And most kids have little to no idea about the full range of career options out there and end up picking from a very limited knowledge of their options. I do think, though, that by a certain age (11? 12?) we’d be better off asking kids about their interests rather than specific career paths.

This is all pretty off-the-cuff though — what do others think?

4 Editing an intern’s work when she’s a non-native speaker

I am a very new, first-time manager, and I have what is hopefully a low-stakes problem that I want to get right. I have one direct report, essentially an intern, and she is not a native English speaker. Her spoken English has always been excellent. However, she has just given me her first written report to review, and while the English is not bad, there are places where her phrasing is a little odd-sounding. It’s mainly a matter of tone, unusual (but not incorrect) word choice, or of being slightly too wordy.

I feel very comfortable correcting actual errors (there are one or two, but I’d expect that from anyone, native speaker or not), but is it reasonable of me to edit her document when it’s not incorrect​, it’s just not how a native speaker would write? We do not have a “house style” and this would be an internal document. Is it worth potentially giving her a complex about her English when she is a good worker and this is really just my opinion?

A lot of editing is “just” someone’s opinion — but that’s how documents end up with better clarity and flow. Editing and being edited is a pretty normal part of work; it doesn’t need to give anyone a complex.

In this case, you should edit if (a) edits are needed to make the document clear and easier to understand or (b) internal readers will assume the document reflects your edits and sign-off.

But there are lots of jobs where a more junior person writes and a more senior person polishes and edits. If you end up doing that here, you can explain that to her — it’s not necessarily about her written English skills, but a normal part of the job (if in fact that’s the case).

5. Indicating medical leave on a resume

If a person is injured at work and needs to take time off to heal from that injury how are they supposed to list it on their resume? Should there be a gap? No gap and still listed as working there during the time even if it’s 6+ months?

For my employer, even when women take a maternity leave, it still gets added to their years of service and I’ve seen that they don’t put a gap year on their resume (I live in Canada). Is this the correct way to handle it?

Yes! You’re still employed there even if you’re on medical or parental leave. You don’t need to, and shouldn’t, subtract out that time on your resume.