asking coworkers to go to vegetarian-friendly restaurants, contacting my team with support while they’re laid off, and more

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

1. Asking coworkers to go to vegetarian-friendly restaurants on business trips

I am vegetarian (by choice). Normally, this is not a huge issue, and many of my friends and coworkers don’t even know I am vegetarian. If we’re going to a restaurant that doesn’t have good options, I can eat separately and everything works out.

This doesn’t really work on business trips, though, particularly if we’re sharing cars. If we’re all going to a restaurant, then I have to go to that restaurant too, and I have to eat something while I’m there so I don’t starve. This is sometimes a significant issue, since a good number of fast food restaurants don’t offer solid vegetarian options (a salad or fries is not a sufficient meal).

Is there a good way to steer groups away from restaurants where I can’t eat, and towards ones where I can eat, without making me the rude person? This is particularly of concern to me as someone who is significantly more junior and doesn’t have a huge amount of office good will built up.

It’ll help if you research the area ahead of time and come prepared with specific alternatives to suggest; a lot of times people suggest fast food on the road because it’s easy and familiar, but if you’ve already done the legwork to find other places, often they’ll be perfectly amenable to that.

Then you can just be matter-of-fact about it: “I’m vegetarian and they don’t have anything I can make a meal of there — would you be up for going to X or Y instead?”

(Keep in mind, though, that if they’re suggesting fast food because it’s fast and cheap, it’ll help to look for alternatives that mirror that as much as you can.)

2. How often should I contact my team with support while they’re laid off?

I had to lay off my team in mid-March with a return date of mid-August. I am struggling with how much to contact the team with inspiration and team support during a time when I am really not supposed to contact them — at least that is my understanding of how layoffs work. One person on the team tries to initiate group texts with fun topics like “Show us your fridge!” but maybe this feels tone deaf to the rest. I have sent them pertinent information on a group email, with only a few who respond regularly. I want to keep the family-like feel we had before COVID happened, but I want to respect their privacy at the same time.

There’s a good chance that they don’t want to be contacted with inspiration and team support at all while they’re laid off. They want to contacted with any news about their return dates and it wouldn’t hurt to check in monthly to confirm your timeline hasn’t changed, but I’d leave them alone beyond that.

I’d also ask that “show us your fridge!” person to ask people to explicitly opt in if they want those texts (because it’s likely that at least one person, if not more, is annoyed but worries that saying so will make them look less of a part of the team, thus jeopardizing their chance of being offered their job back).

3. My boss texted me about a conversation she saw me have on Facebook

I work for a small business whose owner requires us to be friends with them on Facebook, as they use a community page as a unique form of communication for work things, separate from email.

I recently posted an article regarding our state governor’s decision to re-open non-essential businesses two weeks from now, which included the type of business I work at. I am friends with a coworker on Facebook who commented on my post and agreed with my grievances on the issue. We are both very frustrated and upset by the recklessness of the governor’s order.

Soon after, my boss texted both of us stating that they saw our conversation and wanted to express that they disagreed but respected our views and proceeded to provide information from articles they’ve read stating that health conditions have improved in the area. Furthermore, they stated that we did not have to agree with their choice to reopen, but that they put a lot of thought into their decision.

I felt very intimidated by this text, given that they are my employer, and saw this as extremely unprofessional. Is my reaction justified?

Yes. You weren’t talking to your boss and if you wanted to raise your concerns with her, presumably you would. It wasn’t exactly eavesdropping since Facebook posts aren’t private, but it sure would make most people feel their employer was monitoring their social media conversations, as well as have a chilling effect on their online conversations with colleagues.

Of course, this is an employer who requires people to use Facebook for work communications, so there were already some problems here. (Why do they even want to do that? There are five million alternatives that don’t involve forcing people to use a platform with all the problems Facebook has.)

If your manager wanted to explain the reasons behind her decision to reopen, she would have been better off explaining it to everyone and not tying it into the conversation she saw.

4. Letting an old boss know I’m not going to return

I am in my last year of school and going to graduate this June. I really enjoyed the firm I worked at this past summer, but I recently interviewed and got a job with a firm far more in line with where I want to be, both geographically and professionally. The firm I worked at over the summer is smaller and in a different city than I want to be in.

The issue is that I hinted to the head of the firm that I’d be interested in coming back after I graduate, and I’m fairly certain he’s been operating under this assumption. There’s no contract or even a serious talk, but I did ask him if he’d be willing to raise the salary (he did not agree) and I’ve had lunch with the firm since. We have a really good relationship (we text about TV shows, etc.), and he’s been a really good mentor to me. That being said, I do have qualified friends still looking for jobs, so I’m fairly certain he would be able to find someone quickly (and I could probably even help him find someone).

I know I shouldn’t take the new job when I committed to the summer one, but I was wondering if there’s any way I can take the new job without burning this bridge entirely.

You didn’t commit to the summer job! You “hinted” that you’d be interested in coming back (which is as far from a commitment as you can get), and you asked about salary but didn’t come to an agreement. There’s no job offer, and thus there’s no commitment. At most there’s been an expression of interest on both sides, but no commitment from either of you. There can’t be until a salary has been offered and accepted.

All you need to say is, “I want to let you know that I’ve ended up accepting a job with X for after graduation. I know we’d talked a bit about the possibility of me coming back, so I wanted to let you know as soon as possible. This firm is based in (city) and will let me work on (interest area) so it seems like a great fit. I of course want to continue to stay in touch — my relationship with (firm) has been incredibly important to me.” Or so forth.

5. Can my company tell us we can’t cancel previously scheduled vacations?

I know you have fielded lots of questions about people not being able to take their vacation days, but with COVID, we are having the opposite problem. We’re being told we can’t cancel scheduled/approved vacation requests because no one is taking vacation right now and management is afraid of us all having to burn all of those use-it-or-lose it days off at the end of the year.

Can management say, “No, you asked in January for two weeks off in June. Now you have to take them whether you want to or not”? When push comes to shove, short of locking vacationing employees out of the company VPN, I don’t see how they can prevent us working those weeks now that we’re trapped at home.

Yes, they can indeed say that you have to take vacation days you’ve already scheduled. Hell, for that matter, they can assign you random vacation days you don’t want and make you take those. Neither is a good idea, because it will frustrate and demoralize people to have to waste vacation time when they’re stuck at home (and presumably would prefer to save it for a real vacation), and your company would be better off just explaining they will need to limit how many people can be away toward the end of the year (and then enforcing that) … but they can indeed do this.

For what it’s worth, though, I wouldn’t be confident that it’ll be any smarter to travel later in the year than it is right now. A staycation might be the best that it gets this year.

asking coworkers to go to vegetarian-friendly restaurants, contacting my team with support while they’re laid off, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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