spider phobia, asking that my coworkers get my raise, 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. I have a spider phobia — and my new boss has a giant spider model in her office

I recently started a new job where they were also searching for a new manager. So far I’ve been dealing with the assistant manager, Emily, and it’s been great.

The place I work requires a certain level of security, and one of the security checks at the end of the night is opening all the blinds. The other day, I noticed during the check that one of my senior coworkers, Carolina, had her blinds closed in her office. When I went in, I was terrified to discover that Carolina has a giant spider (probably model but can’t be sure) encased in glass on her desk, roughly the size of a cellphone.

I have severe arachnophobia, not to the point of needing medical accommodations, but even dealing with something I know is a fake spider terrifies me to the point I start to shake. So this spider is not something I want to deal with.

She and I have very separate jobs (she has her own office and I currently float before customer service wickets) so I thought I would just avoid her office and the problem will be solved. And then yesterday it was announced that Carolina will be taking over as manager. It sounds like I will mostly deal with Emily when it comes to my training and the more day to day stuff, but I’m not fooling myself into believing that I will never enter into the manager’s office. I’m new, so I don’t want to rock the boat and tell her to get rid of it, but what do I do?

You’re not going to tell her to get rid of it. You’re just going to explain that you have a severe spider phobia that will make it difficult for you to go in her office. She can decide from there if she wants to get rid of it or if she’d rather hold all her meetings with you somewhere else. (But if she’s a decent manager who doesn’t want to terrify you, she’ll move it.)

It sounds like you have stronger rapport and a greater comfort level with Emily right now, so you could raise this with her first. Say something like, “Could I ask your advice on something? I have a severe spider phobia, and I just saw the other day that Carolina has a model of a spider on her desk. My phobia affects me to the point that it would be difficult for me to meet with her in there and I likely wouldn’t be able to concentrate if I did. Is that something you think I could explain to her?”

Emily will likely tell you yes — but you’re starting with her because she might tell you something especially reassuring, like that Carolina is incredibly nice/would move it in an instant if she knew this/just had it out as a joke when you saw it but doesn’t normally keep it there/would absolutely want to know and not have you suffer in silence/etc. Hell, Emily might even offer to explain it to Carolina for you (I would if I were her). So start with her.


Read an update to this letter here.

2. Can I decline my raise and ask that it go to my coworkers instead?

I work in HR for a national health care provider. They are very profitable, but only at the top level. We were granted several million dollars from a new federal program, but nobody saw that money, nor was it reinvested in the company. It just went to the two top levels of management. Now my dilemma: I’m very blessed and just received my annual 2% raise. I didn’t even see the impact on my check.

What I would like to do is pass on my token/pacifier raise and give it to those workers who provide bedside services and carry medical equipment to our patients. They are paid in many cases bare minimum wages, yet they are delivering needed medical care to very ill patients.

I’m tried of hearing how the executives went on a week’s cruise to strategize or the next party that’s held while the troopers of this company provide the bedside services to patients at a minimum wages. They clean the solid waste, bathe them, insert the tubes, clean the boils and wounds. Can I give back my raise and have it go to them instead?

That’s very kind of you, but unfortunately you can’t tell your employer what to pay other people, even if it’s coming out of money that you’re declining. Their salary structure might be incredibly messed up, but they presumably believe they’ve set salaries correctly … and there are a ton of practical issues with how you’d implement something like this. For example, what if you leave in six months? Do they then revoke the extra money that was coming from “your” salary and going toward other people?

But you can certainly advocate for higher wages in your industry and in your company, and you might decide that’s something that you want to organize around with your coworkers.


3. Questions about family when you’re estranged from your parents

I was recently asked to apply for a new job, and I’m thinking ahead to if/when I get it and start. Specifically, I’m worried about the getting-to-know-you rituals of starting in a new workplace.

Over the last year, I’ve become estranged from my parents who live in the same state. The circumstances are really personal and mildly embarrassing, but I’m also conscious of the fact that being estranged from one’s family can be a bit of a red flag. (It’s not a situation of abuse or stigma–in fact, my husband doesn’t speak to his father, who is a physically abusive alcoholic, which is very easy to explain; my issue with my family is less black-and-white and more about my setting some long overdue boundaries.)

What do you suggest telling people who ask about my family? I don’t want to lie (and probably couldn’t do so convincingly anyway), but I’m having trouble coming up with some innocuous language to explain why, for example, I don’t see them at holidays, without it being a huge fraught conversation.

How about, “Oh, we’re not close,” followed by an immediate subject change (preferably to something about them, since people are often easy to distract when you ask them about themselves).

Other vague options: “We don’t see each other much” and/or “We usually spend holidays with my husband’s family.”

It’s unlikely that anyone will really push but if someone does, it’s fine to firmly repeat, “We’re just not close.”


4. My top Google hits are tombstones

I have a common last name and an uncommon first name that was far more popular a hundred years ago. As a result, the top results when someone googles my name are entries for 19th-century women on genealogy websites and photographs of gravestones. I know it’s common for hiring managers to google job applicants, and I’m worried this will seem odd. Should I be trying to cultivate more modern search hits? Or am I being silly to worry?

I wouldn’t worry about it. It’s very unlikely that they will think you are a ghost applying from beyond the grave.

Plenty of people don’t have much of an internet presence, and hiring managers are used to seeing that (as long as you’re not in a field that places a high premium on it, like media).