boss pretended to be calling from Child Protective Services, required to sing on camera, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. Boss called employee and pretended to be from Child Protective Services

I am writing this on behalf of a friend, who I’ll call Wendy. Wendy works for a company that provides daycare, a perk for her. By all accounts, she seems to be a decent mom. One day at work, she received a call claiming to be from Child Protective Services accusing her of abuse and neglect. She was on the verge of a breakdown when the caller laughed and revealed herself to be her boss, Winnifred. Winnifred laughed over the “joke.” Wendy was shaken and disturbed, and wound up mentioning it to another coworker. Winnifred later called Wendy to her office and wrote her up for gossiping and taking the incident so seriously. Wendy has been advised to go to HR, but fears to do so due to possible retaliation. Could Wendy be fired for escalating this?

In theory, yes. In practice, it’s very unlikely, especially since HR is highly likely to intervene once they know the situation. The bigger risk is that she’ll face more subtle retaliation from her boss.

But she should go to HR anyway, because this is so egregious. It’s disgusting and outrageous that Winnifred played this “joke” in the first place (although I hesitate to call it a joke because there’s nothing funny about scaring the crap out of someone and making them think their child could be taken away from them). But the fact that Winnifred then took formal action against Wendy for being upset about it takes this from “shockingly bad” to “super villain territory.” If Wendy’s HR people are even slightly decent, she shouldn’t hesitate to tell them what happened.


Read an update to this letter here.

2. I’m being required to sing on camera for work

Each year, the government-funded organization that I work for has a roadshow which the government are invited to – it’s basically an excuse to showcase why our services are required and to encourage the government to finically support us. I completely understand this. In the weeks leading up to this, we were persistently asked to record a speech in front of a camera about how fantastic it is to work for my employer. This would then be shown in a presentation. If we refused (which I did), we were pressured into holding up a piece of paper with something written on it and this would be shown in the presentation along with the videos. To make matters worse, they played awful cringey music during this presentation.

I was very unhappy that I felt pressured and forced to take part in this – I felt mortified. That was several months ago. Recently someone in their wisdom has came up with the great idea that we could sing this cringey song in our individual teams! We are a very small team and I don’t know how to get out of this. Singing in public is my worst nightmare! I was very angry when we were told we’re doing this – I’ve done psychometric tests for them but yet they still don’t seem to appreciate what type of person I am. I am introverted and just want to get on with my work and doing this makes me break out in a sweat. They want to make a video of us singing this awful song and it will be done during office hours. They’re deliberately not telling us exactly when this be apart from “it’ll be Thursday or Friday.” We’ve also been told that we can’t take annual leave, which I find very unfair. I don’t want my face or voice to be used for any promotional or marketing reason. How can I get out of this?

“I don’t sing, and I’m not comfortable appearing on camera. I’d be glad to do other things to support the project behind the scenes, though. What else would be helpful?”

If they tell you this is required, say this: “I’m really not going to sing. Is there something else you’d like me to do, off-camera?”

A reasonable employer won’t insist. Your employer, however, may not be reasonable. If that’s the case, you’ll need to decide how much you want to push this. Ultimately, they can require this as a condition of your job. Shouldn’t, but can. If it comes to that, you might just mouth the words to the song (if you’re in a group where it won’t be obvious) or go for a spoken-word rendition. You have my sympathies.


Read an update to this letter here.

3. My team doesn’t do any personal development activities

I am very into personal development on my own time. I read a lot of books that would be considered self help and love to advance my life by learning new skills. However, at work, none of that is present.

Our manager does not ever talk to us about our development plans, we have done zero Strengths-Finder-like activities and it’s really frustrating as a new employee on the team because I’d like to be able to develop my career but I truly don’t know how to because no one ever talks about it. We’re allowed to move around positions every two years, but everyone on this team has been here for five or more years. I’d like to move, but there seems no easy way out.

Is there a way I can bring personal development to my team? I’m fairly young (24), and everyone on my team is 35+ up to 63. My manager also oversees 20 people on various teams, so I’m not sure if he has time to do all this or even cares about it. I feel as though our team would benefit greatly from all this, but it seems like we are just one dysfunctional group of coworkers who don’t work well with each other because we have never taken the time to sit down and discuss our strengths and weaknesses.

Maybe learning these things about coworkers is just intuitive, but I’ve already been told there’s a lot of tip toeing around people to not ask them to do certain things or to not listen to them. That doesn’t sit right with me, so I’m wondering if there is a better way to go about developing our dysfunctional team.

The majority of work teams don’t actually do Strengths-Finder-like activities. Some do, of course! But many don’t, and that’s not in any way negligent. Many people find those types of activities helpful, but many find them irritating and not a great use of time. So it’s not weird that your team isn’t doing them. That doesn’t mean there’s no chance they’d be beneficial; maybe they would be. It just means that the lack of them isn’t the problem.

But certainly having a dysfunctional team that doesn’t work well together is a problem. I wouldn’t assume that’s happening because you’ve never discussed your strengths and weaknesses together; I’d assume it’s instead because of a lack of more hands-on leadership and management from your boss. And that’s something that’s very hard to fix from below.

That said, you can certainly talk to your boss about your interest in professional development. Yes, it would be ideal if she raised it herself, but not all managers will, and it’s definitely something you can raise on your own. Are there skills you want to develop, training you want to take, areas you want to focus on? Those are all appropriate things to bring up with your boss. The same goes for your interest in eventually moving up — that’s something you can name explicitly to her, and ask about what a path to doing that might look like.


4. Yesterday was my last day — but my boss won’t let me quit

So two weeks ago I put in my resignation letter at my job. I agreed to work for two weeks and that’s it. My boss and coworkers had been nothing but rude and unprofessional to me the entire time I was employed there. Every day they would go to a bar and drink while I was back at the office working. That and a few other things are what made me quit.

Getting to the point of my letter, yesterday was my last day at my job. I finished up projects and did everything they asked of me while remaining professional and providing a smooth exit. However, after it was time to leave I was “forced” to make edits to projects and that resulted in six hours worth of overtime. Today, my boss keeps emailing me and giving me tasks even though yesterday was my last day. She keeps telling me they don’t have time to find another designer when I gave two week notice and she just posted the job on my last day of work. Shouldn’t that have been done when I gave my two week notice? Should I block them from emailing me or texting me? It is my first job and I don’t know what to do.

Oh my goodness. They can’t force you to do anything — you don’t work there anymore. It’s not your problem that they haven’t found another designer. People resign from jobs all the time, and it’s often inconvenient for the employer; that does not mean that they get to insist the person continue working for them! That’s not how this works.

Email this to your boss: “Since yesterday was my last day, I’m not able to continue working on this. I wish you all the best with it.” Then if she continues to email you after that, wait two days before responding and then email back with, “I’m just seeing this — I’ve been really busy. Since my last day was the 15th, I can’t continue doing this work on top of my other commitments. Please don’t count on me seeing emails you send to this account.” Then, that’s it — stop responding. (There’s an argument for stopping after the first one, but I think it’s better to reinforce in her head that you might not even be seeing what she’s sending, and that you definitely aren’t seeing it quickly.)

And since this is your first job, I want to make sure you’re really clear on this: This is not normal. Generally when a last day comes around, that’s it. It’s not normal to insist that the person needs to do more work.

Read an update to this letter here.