parking space shuffle, coworker is stealing money from my purse, and more — Ask a Manager

parking space shuffle, coworker is stealing money from my purse, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. Should I only apply to jobs in my field when job hunting right out of college?

My friends and I have made it to the most exciting time of year: college graduation! While some of us have work lined up already, others are bracing themselves for a lengthy job-search. The question we all have is about the types of jobs for which we should apply. I realize that it’s not unusual to spend a few months job searching, but how exclusive should we be when it comes to fresh-out-of-college jobs? Should we exclusively be looking for work in our intended field, or is it better to cast a wider net and possibly spend a year or two working outside of what we hope will be our career path?

Just for background, we live in a very large, tech-savvy city. Many large tech corporations are headquartered within the city, so there is no shortage of jobs for those who earned specific STEM degrees. Some of us (myself included) are in fields which are harder to break into or are in lower demand or only hire at certain times of the year, so we are not sure when we can find jobs in our field.

Ideally, you want to find jobs in your field now, if you can. If your degree points you toward a specific path, it’s going to be harder to get back on that path after you have a few years of unrelated experience between graduation and a future job search. However, if your degrees aren’t closely tied to the work you want to be doing (really common with, for example, English or other liberal arts degrees), it’s less of an issue — and it’s really common to take a pretty meandering path to wherever you ultimately end up (and to discover whole new interests / jobs you want along the way).

Of course, you don’t have total control over any of this — at some point, you just need a job. So I’d say really focus on the jobs you especially want in your first few months of job hunting (assuming you’re qualified for them — don’t waste time if you’re not), but be willing to broaden your search as time goes on.

2. Parking space shuffles are taking up too much work time

Our office is located in a downtown area with notoriously expensive rates for parking in underground lots. We’re also located near residential areas with some areas that allow free parking for two hours at a time. Several employees who drive to work have opted not to pay for parking, but to park in a free spot on the street and then leave every two hours to go move their car. Given the density in the neighborhood and the premium for these free parking areas, employees are typically gone from work for a while — likely much longer than they realize — and have to do this at least three times a day. While we don’t have a formal time clock for employees, they’re doing this as part of their work time rather than their break time, thinking, “Oh, it’s just a few minutes.” But a) it’s not just a few minutes, b) it is not fair to employees who have no reason to leave repeatedly during the day, c) it is unsafe, as we don’t necessarily know when an employee has left (what if they get in to an accident?), and d) it is theft of time if they are not using break times for this.

Management has come under fire lately for being draconian about theft of time, but supervisors are now raising this as an issue due to the disruption of work. Any suggestions for how to manage and communicate with employees about this without taking on the persona of Time Cop?

I’d leave the “time theft” language out of it. That’s very adversarial wording and is likely to result in arguments about the fact that people spend 10 minutes on work at home that they don’t log, and so forth. You don’t need to go so rigid with this.

Your employer just needs to say, “If you choose to park in free spaces on the street and thus need to move your car during the day, you need to do that during your breaks.” They could also say, “We’re finding people are often gone for 30 minutes (or whatever) to move their cars, which is more than we can accommodate unless it’s during scheduled breaks.” And then if it continues, managers need to follow up with people individually, telling offenders directly that they can’t be away from work that frequently or that often — the same way they’d presumably handle it if someone was disappearing that often and that long to go do crossword puzzles outside or practice yoga in the lobby.

3. My coworker talks about killing herself

I am friends with a coworker who I initially bonded with over our anxiety issues. Obviously this isn’t the most normal basis for a friendship in a workplace, but we really do get along well. This coworker is known for being negative in general, which is also fine. She also has far more severe medical conditions than anxiety (depression, and also think severe nerve damage doctors can’t find a solution for). Her condition has seemed to get worse lately, and almost every day for the past week she’s talked about how she wants to jump off a building because of it, it would be cheaper than what’s she’s paying for healthcare now, etc.

It’s gotten to the point where it no longer seems she is joking, and I’m not sure what to do. I am good friends with our HR rep, but I’m not sure how she would react if I shared that — for all I know, she might think she’s still coming across as joking. The other thing is that her twin brother works here, and I am considering asking him if he’s noticed it as well.

I am not sure where “my lane” is in all of this, since we’re friends and I’m concerned but it’s a workplace, and it involves health discussions at work. I guess my question is, do I tell anyone? If so, who? Please help!

Yes, please talk to her! You’re right that normally you want to give colleagues privacy about health issues, but when someone is talking about killing themselves, that takes precedence. A potentially awkward conversation is so much better than doing nothing if it turns out she means it.

Talk with her brother too. Even if she thinks you overstepped, that’s better than the alternative here.

Also, for far better guidance on this, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. They can listen to what’s going on and help you navigate this.

4. I’m being told to find my own coverage for vacation

I’ve worked at my company for five years. During this time, I’ve never had trouble taking time off. My boss encourages me to use my time and has covered for me with no issues, which is the usual process at my company.

I recently got a new boss and she approved my PTO in the internal system, but when I sent a calendar invitation for my time off, she told me to “make sure I have coverage.” We have another junior team member in who my default can cover (we coordinate our time off) but this wasn’t enough for my boss because this coworker is in another time zone and there would be no “coverage” when he left for the day (amounting to three hours). Then one of the summer weeks I booked off that was approved back in January seems to be a popular week for all of my coworkers, and she asked me to “coordinate” as well. What am I supposed to do, ask them to not take their time off?

I’ve never had to arrange coverage before, and to be clear I’m not doing anything in my role that’s unique and my bosses wouldn’t be able to do. It feels out of line for to me to ask my peers to cover for me when they’re not involved in my projects and have their own. Am I off-base for thinking this should be handled with the help of management? There’s also no way for me to check vacation schedules of people who aren’t on my immediate team so I don’t understand why I’m being held responsible for everyone taking off at once when I booked my vacation plans at the beginning of the year when my time off was approved. Am I supposed to check in constantly with my coworkers who I don’t work with daily to make sure we’re not conflicting? It just seems pushy and rude for me to do that. How should I communicate this with my manager? I’ve held off on it because I don’t want my annoyance to be apparent.

Yeah, that’s aggravating. There are some teams where the norm is to find your own coverage, but in most cases it’s a crappy practice for all the reasons you mentioned. It also puts you in a position where you potentially might not be able to take the vacation time that’s part of your compensation if you’re not able to cajole your coworkers into coordinating with you. It’s fine for a manager to ask you to kick off the process of finding coverage, but it’s not okay to put the entire responsibility on you; if you find you’re not able to easily do that, then your manager needs to step in and help.

I’d say this to your boss: “We aren’t normally asked to find our own coverage; traditionally, we’ve just had the person in your role approve the days off, and they help figure out any coverage that’s necessary. We also don’t have any way to check the vacation schedules of people outside the immediate team. Typically something like three hours without coverage hasn’t been something we scheduled to avoid. Is there something specific you want me to do though?”

If your boss says she wants you to work this out with your peers, you can say, “Is that something you can help with? I don’t have the standing to tell people they need to work on certain days, and because we’ve never done that, I’m concerned it wouldn’t go over well with people.” (Alternately, you can try asking her specifically what it is that she’s proposing you do; who knows, it might actually be less onerous than it sounds so far.)

5. A coworker is stealing from my purse

Can I get a coworker fired for stealing cash from my purse?

I have a coworker who has stolen cash from numerous coworkers. We know it’s him but can’t prove it because we can’t have cameras in our break room. I bought invisible ink to put on my money to catch him. I was just wondering if that is proof enough to get him fired. The ink will stay on his hands for days. I don’t lock my pocketbook up because he has broken locks in the past so not really worth buying a lock. I have been with this company for seven years and never had to lock my personal belongings up. I just want him to get fired or stop stealing. My manager says if we have proof then she will do something, but she can’t unless we have proof.

Your manager sounds like she’s being awfully lackadaisical about this. If money has repeatedly gone missing, that’s something your employer should take seriously and tackle with more vigor than they appear to be doing. And if they truly can’t find the culprit, they should consider other options, like providing locking cabinets for people to store their belongings in.

In any case … I think there’s a good chance that the invisible ink won’t be sufficient proof to your manager, who sounds like she wants to catch him in the act and yet seems to be making no attempt to do so. You could ask her that ahead of time or just give it a shot and see, but you might be better off lobbying (with your coworkers) for the ability to lock up your things.



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