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managing an interruptor during urban foraging, offering to consult for my old job, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. Managing an interruptor during an urban foraging class

A dear friend of mine teaches classes on urban foraging for edible weeds, such as dandelions, creeping wood sorrel, and stinging nettles. She’s written a book on how to identify, ethically forage, and cook common urban weeds. Before teaching the classes, she does a neighborhood walk-through to see what plants are growing in the various public right-a-ways, so she gets an idea of which plants she will feature and how to time and plan the walk/class. I’ve taken her class, and her style is fascinating and engaging. Plus, I know where to find the best sweet pea tendrils in the neighborhood.

Recently, she told me about a class where a know-it-all was in attendance. My friend would be in the middle of discussing a plant, when this person would divert the discussion to another plant nearby, and start talking about it. It happened repeatedly and was frustrating for my friend and probably for the other students who came to learn from my friend. My friend never experienced what felt like a hijacking of her class, and tried to handle it as graciously as she knew how, but ended up wishing she knew a better way of handling the situation. What might she do if she encounters such a weedy situation again?

Once, you let it go. Maybe even twice. But the next time it happens, you say, “Let’s hold that discussion for now so I can finish explaining about this spotted bee balm.” Or another option: “Let me ask you to hold that for now since I don’t want us to run out of time.”

If it happens after that: “There are a lot of plants out here that we could talk about, but with our limited time, I try to focus on the ones I think will be most of interest to the whole group. We can talk after the walk ends about others you’re curious about if you’d like.” Depending on her read of the room (street? field?), she could say that to him privately or to the group.

She probably should build in some time for extemporaneous discussions when people have thoughts or questions about something they’re seeing (and your friend probably already does that because she sounds great at this). But that’s different than continually accommodating off-topic interruptions when she’s in the middle of talking.

2. How can I offer to consult for my old job when I quit?

I have worked at my small nonprofit for almost four years. Due to poor leadership, negligence on the part of the board, and a difficult working environment, I am job searching and think/hope I will have a job offer very soon. I believe strongly in the mission of the nonprofit and I like everyone here, but it’s just such an oddly toxic workplace with very little support that I have to go.

I oversee almost everything operational here, though. I plan on giving a couple weeks notice and do my best to get everything prepared to hand-off to others, but I am sure I will get regular calls, texts, and emails with questions. I would like to set the boundary that I am willing to assist within reason and as a paid contractor/consultant. Would you suggest that be part of the resignation letter or how would you suggest going about that and what would the wording look like?

It shouldn’t be part of the resignation letter; that should be very short, just one or two sentences, as it’s simply to document a decision that you’ll hopefully have already relayed via a conversation. If you want to make that offer, it can be part of the resignation conversation, or one later as you’re discussing the transition. For example: “If it would be helpful, I’d be happy to set up a short-term consulting arrangement for the first few months after I’ve left. If that might be helpful, I can propose rates and other details.”

If they say they don’t think they’ll need it, you could say, “My sense is that I’m likely to get a lot of calls and emails with questions, so I want to make sure have a plan for handling that. But if you don’t think it’s needed, I’ll just flag it for you if it does indeed happen.” (And then if that happens and they’re not paying you, email your former boss about what’s happening and make the offer a second time. If they decline, then so be it — but also don’t answer more than one or two questions if so.)

All that said … I urge you to reconsider offering it. It’s going to keep you tethered to your old job right when you need to pour your energy into the new one, and it will deny you the joy of a clean break (a particular joy, and mental health relief, when you’re escaping a dysfunctional environment). It really is okay to just leave and be fully gone; they will figure things out. I know nonprofit work often makes you feel an extra obligation (and I have been there myself) but, truly, it’s okay to just be gone when you go. Leave behind reasonable documentation (95% of which no one will ever read, but it will make you feel better) and just go. They’ll survive. (And if they won’t survive because of that, they weren’t going to anyway and you’re just prolonging the inevitable.)

3. I want to return to the office — but I’d need a salary increase to move

I’ve been working at my company for a little over two years as a salaried employee. Previously I had freelanced for them for another two years before that.

I am remote, and have been since the beginning, and for the most part I really like it. All of our work is via Slack internally or involves working with freelancers internationally, so it’s not like I’m needed in the office … but I am so lonely!

Freelancing and then remote work has been a very isolating, quiet experience for me. I’m grateful for the freedom, but I would really like to be in the same city, at least, as the rest of my team, who are all young, creative types who I really respect and admire. They have events, hangouts, team dinners, and meetings, and I feel like I’m missing out on networking and relationships. People come into the office when they like and the company is not asking for anything more than one company-wide day a month, so I could still pick and choose the days I came in and worked in person.

I’m in a low-cost-of-living area, literally across the country from everyone else (and so my salary reflects this), compared to the coworkers who are located in a very high-cost-of-living area where the office is. (I’m not 100% sure of the pay difference in terms of having hard numbers from coworkers, but when I was hired they did mention that they do a lower salary range for different areas.)

I would love to move — and coworkers have said that they would love to have me in the office if I did — but I have no idea how to ask for a potential raise or pay bump when they’re not asking me to come back to office. I’m pretty young, with no kids, and a long-term partner (who is seeking work in the same industry), so I’m in a decent position to uproot my life if I need to. Am I just taking my remote freedom for granted here? Am I crazy?

Talk to your manager! Say it this way: “I’m really interested in moving to (city) so that I can be on-site in the office more often. When I was hired, you mentioned that the company pegs salaries based on the cost-of-living in the area where an employee is located, and that I’d have a lower range while I was in (current city). How would that work if I moved to (new city)? I’m interested in being there in-person but couldn’t do it on a salary that isn’t pegged to the area.”

4. Banning smoking on breaks

I’m not a smoker, but my company has strict rules banning smoking. I understand they can ban it from the premises, but they go so far as to say that you can’t smoke on your unpaid meal breaks, at all. Can they do this? Do they have the right to enforce that policy and say my coworkers can’t leave the property and go down the street to smoke?

It depends on your state and your industry. In many states, employers are free to refuse to hire smokers at all (although some states have passed laws making that illegal) and in those states they could indeed mandate no smoking during work hours. Even in states that protect smokers, employers can generally enforce anti-smoking rules if not smoking is an important part of the job (for example, a health care job might ban smoking during breaks so that you don’t come back smelling like smoke around patients).

5. Should I tell this employer why I’m withdrawing from their hiring process?

I am a military spouse job-hunting from across the country as we prepare to move from one coast to another. I recently had a bizarre interaction with a prospective employer and wanted to know what you think.

I had my first interview on a Monday via Zoom and was contacted the next day to request a second interview … that same Friday, in person. I was concerned that they were not willing to do a Zoom interview a second time given the distance, but I understand some information is easier to gather face-to-face. That said, this was not a situation where they needed me to fly in because I was a finalist; the first round interview was basically a screener so I know I was one of several candidates for the second round. I should also note that this was not for a senior-level position; it pays about $45K and is an administrative role.

I was also concerned when they declined to reimburse me for my flight costs. It’s standard in my industry (higher education) to do so, but I sort of waved it off because it is a smaller school that probably does not interview non-local candidates very often, if ever.

Finally, they called me again on Wednesday that week canceling the interview citing unforeseen circumstances; this was about 18 hours before my flight was set to leave. Thankfully, I was able to get everything refunded.

Despite all these issues, I did end up taking a second interview when they called to reschedule (side note: the people in the second interview were the same people from the first interview) because I had some moving tasks that could be done while I was in town. However, from this process I inferred that this team was not going to be a great fit. I felt like they were asking for a lot of flexibility on my part while being very inflexible on their part. I have small children so a workplace that is understanding of the demands that go along with school calendars and constant sickness is very important to me, and I just can’t reconcile that with “please pay out of pocket for a flight on a holiday weekend in 48 hours.” My question is whether there is a way to offer this feedback or just leave it at a “I don’t think this is a good fit” if they contact me again. Or if I’m totally off-base and this is a normal amount of commitment to expect from a candidate!

You’re not off-base. If you ask someone to pay their own travel costs for an interview and then cancel that interview at the last minute, you at a minimum should inquire about whether their ticket will be refundable and cover it if it’s not.

That’s leaving aside the question of whether they should have been paying for it in the first place and there are a bunch of factors that go into that. Ultimately, if they have plenty of strong local candidates, I don’t have a problem with them declining to cover travel for long-distance ones, but it’s inconsiderate to ask you to fly out before you’re a finalist.

But I don’t think there’s much to be gained by telling them this unsolicited. The interview process worked as it’s supposed to: you learned enough to determine that the job wouldn’t be a good fit for you. If they contact you again, it’s enough to just say you’re withdrawing from consideration. (Although if they ask why, at that point you can certainly say that you’re looking for a workplace where flexibility goes both ways and your sense is that it’s not a good fit in that regard.)

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