This post, I secretly moved people’s desks 2 inches and they freaked out, late-night work emails, and more , was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.
It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. I secretly moved people’s desks two inches over and they freaked out
When I joined a new team several years ago, I was told by my new manager that I should move my things to their area on a different floor so I could sit with my team members, ASAP. Only they didn’t actually have a free space for me, and every table was occupied all the time.
I started asking people to get that done. I went to the office manager, who told me they could/would do nothing. I asked everybody on the floor how they felt about moving around teams — which already was happening every few months at that company, and since the floor I had to go to was now super full, there was enough room on other floors to hold several of the smaller teams, which everybody also said no to.
Nobody would budge. I spent an entire work week going around talking to people, trying to get a desk, all while my managers told me I had to move there RIGHT NOW or they would start to doubt my allegiance to the project, but would not do anything themselves to make that happen.
But hey, turns out there was actually enough room to seat more desks! If they were spaced a bit better, that should be doable! But a few people in the corner were steadfastly defending their space, which was almost twice as much as others had, whose backs were almost touching.
In all this stress, I hatched my plan: If I came in early and moved every row of tables 1-2 inches to the side, the added up space would allow us to squeeze in two more tables.
The day comes and people notice immediately. They get very angry and start blaming the cleaning crews. I confessed right then, and everybody was pissed at me.
How wrong was I? I do regret doing it, and wish there was a better way but it seemed like the only option. I feel like the anger I received is at least slightly out of proportion, and nobody ever said “finding a desk is not your job, your boss should be doing it” or “yeah, these people already here are not moving because they have seniority / a special deal / some other good reason and we must allow them to have twice as much real estate as everybody else.”
I don’t think you were wrong at all. What did your bosses expect you to do? You’d exhausted all other avenues, and they were threatening your job over it! And really, each person losing two inches is not an outrage when the alternative was you having absolutely nowhere to sit or getting fired for lacking the magical ability to conjure new space into existence. So no, you weren’t wrong. Your bosses were ridiculous and put you in an impossible position.
I do wonder if you went back to your bosses and laid it out really clearly: “I understand you want my desk in the X area. There’s currently no room there and no one is willing to move. The only options left that I can see are for me to sit in Y or Z instead or you could tell people they need to make room for me there. What makes sense?” If you didn’t do that, I would have advised it — but otherwise, this isn’t on you.
2. Sending work emails late at night
As a manager, new parent, and generally busy person, I work some strange hours. For example, yesterday I was online at 2 am (as my daughter woke me up during the night and I decided to use some time to clear my work inbox ahead of a busy Monday) and 10 pm (as I finished early to play with my daughter but needed to meet a deadline). I absolutely don’t expect these kinds of hours from my team or want to encourage people to work outside of hours if it doesn’t suit them, but sometimes these are the hours that suit me!
What can and should I do to make it clear that what I do isn’t what I expect from the team and that following my example won’t have any impact on my opinion of them or their performance? Working hours is part of my “welcome to the team” conversation and I do talk to each person about it periodically using phrasing like, “You may see some emails from me at strange times. This is because I don’t have a set working pattern and sometimes work early or late to allow me flexibility. I absolutely don’t expect anyone to reply to me or be checking their emails outside of their normal working hours so please work whatever hours suit you.” I feel like that’s clear but I just keep having “actions speak louder than words” going round my head.
I strongly recommend scheduling your emails to send during normal business hours! Write them as late at night as you want, but have them send the next morning.
I work strange hours too, and I used to send emails to my staff at all hours and think it would be enough to just tell them emphatically that I didn’t expect responses at that hour, that it was just my own preference and didn’t need to be theirs, and all the rest. I learned over time that it didn’t really work; people see you online then and worry it’s expected of them regardless. Or they happen to be up and online but not working, and then they see a work email come in from you on their phones so they decide they might as well answer it, and now other people are working at 2 am too. Or they don’t answer it but now they’re thinking about work at 2 am. It just creates pressure on people, no matter how diligent you are about telling them it shouldn’t.
Schedule your emails and it’ll be a non-issue. (Or, if you can’t schedule them, save them as drafts and send them the next day.)
3. How to quit at the same time as a teammate when we’re both going to the same competitor
After three years at my first post-college job, I’m ready to move on. My teammates and I have been consistently overworked for over a year, to the point where several of us have had mental breakdowns. The company doesn’t seem to care even as we repeatedly ask for help and more manageable workloads, so when an opportunity appeared to do a similar job at a competitor, I applied.
The work I do is a relatively new methodology, so there’s not a lot of people with the experience I have. I know from your blog not to assume you’re getting the job, but in all of the interviews I’ve had so far, the company has made it very clear they’re interested. I have a final interview coming up soon.
I feel a lot of guilt about quitting my job, even though I know I shouldn’t, but this is the first time I’ve left a job for a reason other than “I’m graduating.”
What complicates matters is that a teammate of mine applied for a different job on the same team at the competitor company and seems to be moving along in the process just as quickly. If one of us left, our whole team would be scrambling. Two people gone (and especially us in particular as the two most senior people on the team), and they won’t be able to function.
Assuming we both get the job (and I know that’s an assumption), what advice do you have for how we resign? Should we go to our shared boss at the same time? If one person goes first, how should we handle the conversations about replacing that person knowing we’re leaving too? Should we keep it a secret we’re going to the same place?
Definitely don’t jointly resign; do it individually. If the other person resigns before you’re ready to quit and you’re pulled into conversations about the plan for their absence, handle it exactly the way you would if you weren’t leaving. Until you have a job offer that you’ve accepted, you’ve got to proceed as if you’re not leaving (because you might not get the offer or you might not like the details of the offer). If you go second, it’s fine to say “I know this is bad timing,” but you also have nothing to apologize for. People leave jobs! It’s normal! Your company will make do. That would be true even if your company had treated you well, and it’s extra true when they haven’t.
You don’t need to keep it a secret that you’re going to the same place. You don’t need to proactively volunteer it if you think that will cause weirdness, but if you’re asked, there’s no reason you need to hide it. Do keep in mind, though, that some companies have people leave immediately without a notice period if they’re going to a competitor (still paying out their notice period unless they’re jerks), so plan for that if you think it’s possible.
4. How to find out a salary range
As a longtime reader (and occasional poster), I know one of your pet peeves is job listings that don’t include a salary range. A new law in Colorado addresses this and Lifehacker had an article today about how jobseekers can to use it to figure out what a job is worth no matter where they are, at least in the U.S.
This is a good tip.
5. The Mortification Week finale
I’ve been top heavy my whole life, and finally I had to have a significant breast reduction. I saw my body when they changed my bandages, and my new tatas were the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, even with all the stitches and drains. This was major surgery so I was on a morphine drip. For some unknown reason, my husband thought it would be fine, just fine, if he let me have my cell phone while I was stoned out of my skull.
It’s good that my boss and I are close, because apparently, he was my first call post-surgery. He knew what I was having done – it’s not something I’d be able to hide and I was out of work for a few weeks – but I don’t think he was ready for a call like this:
Him: Hey, how are you doing? I’m surprised [Hubby] let you have your phone.
Me: (slurring badly) I made him gimme it. I hadda call you. I quit.
Him: You what?
Me: (enunciating carefully). I. QUIT.
Him: …Wait… what?
Me: I juss gotta look at my new girls and they are FREAKING HOT. I don’t needa work for you annymore. Me anna girls gonna go work at HOOTERS.
[sounds of choking laughter coming through the speaker as my hubby realizes his mistake and grabs for my cell phone]
Don’t think this hasn’t been mentioned a time or two in seventeen plus years together.
And with that, we say goodbye to Mortification Week.
Let’s end with this quote from Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness by Melissa Dahl: “The things that make you cringe are usually the things worth sharing, because they can help others feel less alone. … Little humiliations can bring people together, if we let them. The ridiculous in me honors the ridiculous in you.”