can I put up privacy film at work, how to explain my dead-end job, and more

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

1. Can I put up privacy film on a window to block an annoying exec from watching me?

I work on the executive floor of a traditional office building as an executive assistant. The floor is set up so that the hallway is lined on one side with executives’ offices, and each executive has their respective admin sitting directly in front of their office to allow for gatekeeping. For privacy, there is a two-thirds wall in front of each admin’s desk with a small window in the middle that allows people to see through to check to see if the executive is in their office.

The issue is that it also allows anyone walking by to see what the admin is doing, and herein lies the problem. One of the executives on the floor likes to walk by and peep into the window to see what other executives’ admins are doing and will slow down, sometimes commenting, if the admin is on their phone, especially if the admin’s executive is away. We are salaried and often I communicate with my executive via text message.

This behavior is driving me nuts. I usually respond that I’m sending my executive something. I’ve spoken to my executive about this behavior. I’ve been told to ignore it, but it’s just a water torture kind of thing for me. Would it be acceptable to put up a privacy film on the window in front of my desk? People could still check in to see if my executive is there by walking past my wall and looking into my executive’s work area, or would this look passive aggressively unprofessional?

I’m in a political situation in which I can’t speak directly to the peeping executive, so I’m trying to quietly find a workaround.

This dude sounds like a huge tool, but don’t put up privacy film, at least not without checking with your boss first. It’s too likely to look like you’re flouting the norms of your office to try to hide something. If you feel strongly about it, ask your boss if she’s okay with you doing that — or if she’s willing to ask him to cut it out because she trusts you and doesn’t want him implying otherwise. But really, your best bet here is to internally roll your eyes at this guy, know that your boss isn’t concerned about his weird reports, and ignore him.

2. How do I explain why I work a dead-end, minimum wage job?

I am in my 30’s and work a dead-end minimum wage job. Not McDonald’s exactly, but basically McJob. This is because I have severe invisible disabilities and this is all I can manage to do. Very few people with my condition are employed at all, so I am proud of myself.

However, I find myself at a loss at what to say to people when they want to know about my career path. I don’t want to disclose my disability except to close friends.

I used to have a barely paying side hustle that was a bit more respectable and my story was I did that and the other job was just for extra cash which made sense to people. But that story is wearing thin now it’s been a few years since I did the side hustle.

What do I say to explain my job, my career path or lack thereof? I’m done with the side hustle story and ready to get a new cover story. And yes, I do find a cover story is necessary, I can’t just say, “‘I work McJob because I enjoy it” because no one is buying that anyone would choose this job at this age. I need something to brush people off in a way that satisfies them when they ask.

I know I could just politely say “none of your business,” but then people will just think I’m a failure. I’m trying for an explanation that doesn’t make me look bad but also doesn’t require me to go into details about my health.

How about, “For a bunch of reasons, it works best with my life right now”? Or “Long story, but it makes sense for me right now.”

I’m a little squeamish about using “right now” in both of those responses because it implies it’s temporary and that no one would choose it permanently. You could leave that part off, but including it might make it more likely that people don’t continue to push with follow-up questions. Of course, some people will push no matter what, and if they do, you can say, “Eh, it’s a long story but tell me about (subject change)” or “it’s some health stuff I’d rather not get into” (if you’re willing to share that).

Also, though, the more you feel this is something you have to explain or need a cover story for, the more other people will probably pick up on that. The more you can be matter-of-fact and “so what?” about it, the more inclined other people will be to follow your lead.

3. My boss asked someone else to do a project I’ve been working on

I work in academia for two bosses who more or less share office space and a handful of other staff. One of my bosses asked for some raw data files from me last week, and after clarifying the purpose of me sending them to her (“just to take a look”), I sent them over. Then, this week I started receiving emails about the files. It became apparent very quickly that she had forwarded the files to a collaborator at another institution and was having them replicate the work I had been assigned to do on the files. The emails this week were asking about some anomalies that I was already aware of and was planning to work through this week, and about fixes for the anomalies and how can I help this collaborator with the issue. This process is consisting of the collaborator emailing my boss asking a question, then my boss forwarding the question to me, then my boss forwarding my response back to the collaborator, and so on — making not only more trouble for me but for herself. And all of this is distracting me from doing my actual work that I have been assigned to do!

I’m presumably moving a little slower than this collaborator because I’m balancing two workloads and this is in a coding language I haven’t used in several years, so I’m re-familiarizing myself as I go. I’m frustrated that this is happening in the first place, because it makes my doing this project feel meaningless, and I have no idea what her purpose is in this either. It feels very nefarious to be lied to about the reason for me sending her these files. Is there a way for me to either push back or just ignore these emails until I get to the appropriate point in my project where I can answer the questions? Is there a reason that this would be appropriate that I have missed?

Is your boss conflict-avoidant? Have you seen her avoid delivering messages she worries someone won’t like? My guess is that she wanted faster progress on these files than you’ve been making, but rather than talking to you about that, she pulled someone else in to help. Or, who knows, maybe the collaborator has some need for the files themselves.

But that’s just speculation. You should ask your boss! It’s totally fine to say, “Can you tell me what’s going on with Jane’s work on these files? I hadn’t realized she was going to be doing XYZ with them, and she’s duplicating much of the work that I’ve been doing or planned to do. If she’s taking over the project, I’d be happy to answer her questions directly, but I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on.”

If your boss’s response to that seems vague or evasive, then ask directly, “Was my pace with the files causing issues? It crossed my mind that you might have brought in Jane because you needed them done more quickly.”

But you shouldn’t just ignore the emails until you’re at a point in the work where you can answer their questions. In fact, that would be adding to the lack of direct communication here, when the situation needs more of it.

4. My new job’s mission is a perfect fit, but the office culture is not

I’m really early in my career — I graduated from my university three years ago. I’m in the nonprofit world and I love so many things about my current job. I left another good job in my home state to move to a new region and join this field, and I love what I do! I am super connected to the mission, I feel like I’m contributing to the world positively, and it’s extremely relevant now more than ever. All of that being said, the office culture is SO SERIOUS. People don’t chat and laugh and enjoy the work. It’s so serious all of the time and I feel like I’m becoming someone who isn’t really me. I like to work really hard and be productive, but I feel a lot of tension at work because the culture is so uptight. I kind of feel like maybe it’s a regional culture difference, because I’ve had a few different jobs in my home state where it was so much fun to go to the office and be around my coworkers, but this dead-serious culture brings me down! What can I do? Should work be strictly serious? Am I the one off-base?

I’d assume it’s this particular organization, not an entire region. If you’d had a bunch of jobs in the new state and they were all like this, that could point toward a regional difference, but this is a sample size of one! It’s almost definitely just something about this particular org.

Sometimes you can love the actual work of your job but still find that you’re in an office where you just don’t like the culture. That can manifest in all sorts of ways — a culture that’s faster or slower paced than you prefer, or one where everyone’s a workaholic, or one with heavy drinking, or where everyone’s bitter and cynical, and so forth. It’s possible that you can find a smaller subculture of colleagues in your current organization who are more fun/less serious, but it’s also possible that this office is just not culture fit for you. That’s no one’s fault if so; it would just mean you’d have to decide if you want to continue to stick it out there, knowing this aspect of it may never fulfill you in the way the work itself does. (It’s a perfectly good reason to look around though, if you can’t see yourself working in this environment long-term.)

5. Should my resume note what my college degree was in?

I got laid off 2.5 weeks ago, so I’m looking for a new job. My old company gave everyone who was laid off a time-limited membership with a career coaching company. They looked over my resume and most of their suggestions made sense to me. I wasn’t sure about the last one: to add what my degree is in. I don’t have the date on my resume, but I graduated in 1985, and I’m not working in a field related to my degree, which was in political science. What do you think about adding the degree subject to a resume?

Yep, you should include what the degree was in — not because it’s necessarily relevant but because it’s so much the norm to include it that it looks a little odd not to. No one is going to reject you if you don’t, but it definitely won’t hurt to include and it’ll make your resume feel more complete.

(If you had just graduated and were seeking work in a totally different field, employers might be more likely to ask about it, but it would be bizarre to get questions about why you’re deviating from the degree you got 25 years ago. And really, people pursue different paths from their undergrad degrees all the time … maybe even the majority of the time.)

can I put up privacy film at work, how to explain my dead-end job, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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