I pierced my nose in quarantine, a disgusting boss, and more

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

1. How do I stop clients from ranting about why we haven’t reopened yet?

I work for a national nonprofit that does hands-on, in-person work. We have been closed since mid-March, got a PPP loan in the second round (so staff are still getting paid), and are closed until upper management/staff feel that it is safe to reopen. Our offices are regional so some areas where we operate have been hit harder than others but because of the hands-on nature of our work, we don’t feel comfortable opening any of the offices until we are on the other side of the curve.

The office I work in is in Georgia, so many things are reopening around us. I find I’m getting pushback from clients and vendors who want to know why we aren’t opening yet. They often give advice (“can’t you get those shields like they have at the grocery store?” or “the experts are never going to tell us it’s really safe, so you should just get back to normal”). The majority of people are understanding, but a small percentage want to argue with me and tell me it’s safe to reopen.

When I try to point out that we have to have a process for disinfecting our materials between clients, it’s literally impossible to do our work six feet or more from our clients, wearing masks is a challenge when you have to give verbal instructions, and other reasons that our particular context is more like school/camp than a general office might be, I continue to either get “helpful” suggestions or a rant on why shelter-in-place has ruined the economy. I’d love some advice on how to shut this down without alienating potential clients or other people that work with us.

Don’t make it your goal to convince people you’re right (emotions are running way too high and for many people this is no longer about facts) — you just need to shut it down. I wouldn’t even get into all the reasons; I’d just go with, “Because our work requires close contact, we’ll be closed until our management and staff feel it’s safe to re-open.” If someone rants at your or tries to tell you how you could open sooner, this can be your answer: “There are a lot of factors that make it complicated, but the organization is committed to waiting to reopen until we know we can do it safely.” And then signal that that’s the end of the discussion — change the subject or use an obvious conversation closer (like “well, thank you for calling and we’ll send out an email once we do have a re-opening date”).

But your measure of success here can’t be “no one ever argues or rants at me” because that’s being driven by forces outside your control. Success here is just that you politely restate your organization’s position and close the conversation.

2. I pierced my nose in quarantine

I am a professional at a small company that does not have any limitations regarding body modifications. I wanted to get my nose pierced for a long time, but I also didn’t want to field questions about it or call attention to my changing appearance. Quarantine seemed like a good time to do it, as that’d give me some alone time to heal up, put in a retainer, etc. I’ve been working from home since mid-March, and because April and May have been five seconds long (and I wasn’t sure when we’d be going back to the office) I didn’t actually start planning how to do this until last week, and I pierced my nose yesterday.

My company will be WFH-ing at least until the end of May, and we can technically do this indefinitely. However, I didn’t think about the semi-frequent video calls I make throughout the day, and I’m finding myself sitting really far back from my camera hoping that no one says anything. Not really because I’m worried about the nose stud but because body modifications in quarantine may seem objectively crazy to my coworkers. Which, you know, it is.

On the bright side if we’re back at the office in June, I plan on wearing a cloth mask anyway so the in person visibility should be limited, so I don’t have to explain the provenance of said piercing. I’m not sure what to do about this. Do I lie and say it’s a stick-on gem and that I’m experimenting with my appearance in quarantine (I have already dyed my hair)? The stud bar is a little visible so … I’m not sure about that.

I think you’re over-thinking it! You pierced your nose, you happened to do it during quarantine, your company doesn’t disallow it … it’s fine. If anyone asks about it, you can cheerfully say, “Yes, I pierced my nose!” If you’re worried people will think this is a sign that you’re officially Losing It from isolation and next you’ll be showing up on a video call shirtless (which I don’t think they’ll think), just say, “Yes, I have a nose piercing!” They may think you’ve had it all along and just took it out when you were at the office. But really, if you’re allowed facial piercings, have the facial piercing. People will live.

(There’s a separate conversation here about whether your office is really okay with piercings and whether the absence of a “don’t do it” rule is the same as acceptance of it, but it sounds like you’ve already assessed that.)

3. Boss so gross that no one else can use the men’s bathroom

We have a toilet cleanliness issue. The boss, who owns and directs the business, gets his poop everywhere in the only male toilet. All over the bowl, on the seat, sometimes on the walls. He leaves it that way after he flushes, drops his used paper hand towels on the floor, and walks out.

He is so bad, that his wife makes him use an outdoor toilet at home (not unusual in Australia). The issue at work has gotten so bad that the three male employees have expressed to me, the manager, that they feel they cannot use the toilet during their nine-hour work day.

My boss isn’t malicious, just oblivious. He is the sort who makes a sandwich directly on the lunch room table and leaves crumbs, tomato juice, honey, jam, butter, etc. all over the table along with his dirty knife, and wanders away happily munching on his lunch. How do I address the bathroom issue?

WTF. Your boss is disgusting, and he is not using the toilet in a normal fashion.

If his wife hasn’t been able to solve this travesty of hygiene, I’m not optimistic that your office will be able to. You can certainly try telling him that he’s leaving the bathroom in such a mess that other employees don’t feel they can use the toilet at all during their work day, but it sounds like it might be more practical to simply let the other men use the women’s bathroom (with the understanding that that access can never, ever be extended to the boss). Or as a group you can try insisting an additional bathroom be added, but that may or may not be practical.

Your boss is foul.

4. How do I ask colleagues to stop sending me encouraging messages while I’m furloughed?

Like many people, I have been furloughed without pay for an indefinite period of time. For various reasons, I am not eligible for government support and I am really, really struggling right now.

My former colleagues are hardly affected by this at the moment, because almost all of them have some kind of fallback income (husbands in secure jobs, supportive parents, even trust funds). They are aware of my predicament, and a few of them make a point of regularly reaching out to me with messages of encouragement. I’m grateful. But to be honest, sometimes I want to scream at them, “Platitudes won’t pay the rent! Inspirational quotes won’t put food on the table!”

I just want them to stop. Is there a nice way to get them to do that?

Depending on the relationship, it might be possible to say something like, “I really appreciate you thinking of me, but to be honest I’m in a place where this kind of message makes things more difficult. I’m going to try to take some space from work right now. Thank you for understanding.”

If that feels like too much for the relationship though, it’s okay to just ignore the messages. You don’t need to respond every time. You can even automatically funnel them all to their own folder so you don’t see them as they come in (although it would be worth checking that folder periodically in case there’s something you do want to respond to).

5. Performance reviews with two managers

I work in a library and am the collections manager for the fiction section. My colleague is the manager for the non-fiction section. We each have a small team of full-time library staff as direct reports, but they float back and forth between projects in our two sections. For example, this might mean that Sally (who reports directly to me) is doing a project in the non-fiction section where my colleague provides all the project direction and oversight. At the conclusion of each project, we have a feedback session, where the manager on the project goes over the good/bad/lessons learned with that staffer. Anything significant gets addressed in the moment.

When it comes time for annual performance reviews, the other manager and I write them together. I may have observed a consistent behavior on the person’s projects with me that the other manager didn’t, and vice versa. We reference the project feedback session forms to help remind us of their past year’s work. This has worked very well for us and our reviews have very specific and detailed feedback. My question is on the performance review delivery. Since the staffer may want more context for a behavior one manager observed but not the other, we give the reviews together. We explain to the staff why we do this, for reasons above, and no one’s expressed any concerns. But after a few years of this process I’m wondering if it’s really the best way to do it? I haven’t noticed any hesitancy on the part of our staff in the discussions, but wondered if we were potentially sacrificing a more open discussion? What would you recommend?

I’d say it depends on how much work the person has done for each of you. If the work is close to a 50/50 split, it makes sense to do the meetings jointly. But if 80% of Sally’s work is for you, I’d do the performance review by yourself; much of the conversation will presumably center on projects and topics that the other manager isn’t involved in (and Sally may be less comfortable with full candor with a third person there). If the other manager has input that you can’t accurately represent on your own or if nuance would be sacrificed if you tried, it might make sense for the other manager to have her own separate meeting with Sally to go over that piece of the evaluation, or to only bring her in for that part of the discussion.

I pierced my nose in quarantine, a disgusting boss, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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