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boss uses therapy to analyze our interactions, former coworker listed me as her manager, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. My boss uses therapy to analyze all our interactions

I’m a new therapist two months into the job, and I have noticed that my clinical supervisor has a tendency to analyze me to my face when I have a question she wasn’t anticipating, when we disagree on a non-clinical issue or are attempting to solve a workplace issue. She is also my direct managerial supervisor, so I think something is coming up from the dual relationship.

To give examples, she will say things like, “I don’t know what’s in your story to make you think that [insert really common workplace norm/expectation].” “It seems your mind is imagining scenarios that are making you fearful” [about a legitimate, common workplace question that wasn’t accounted for in the employee handbook and she later agreed to include because “I’ve learned from couples work that sometimes the way to get the other person to work with me is to humor their unreasonable request, even though it shouldn’t take that.”] There is a lot more, like opening a salary/benefits discussion a few months ago stating “from my view it seems you have been having ‘racing thoughts’” — because I had sent her a simple, bullet-point list of questions, as she had no information on my benefits and I was due to start in less than a week. Telling me I “have a paranoid part” when in our initial interview discussion I learned they weren’t sure if they had funding for the position, but they wanted me to accept the offer on good faith they would secure a grant — that they had been rejected for the previous year. (I waited until they got the grant to accept.)

It seems anything I do can and will be analyzed. I just want to know — is this normal? It makes me really uncomfortable and angry to have someone question “my story,” when I just have a question about PTO. There are three other employees at my level and one other full LPC in the practice, but the other LPC’s schedule is too full, which is why I’m with the clinical supervisor I have for management.

I want to say something, but I know that some amount of therapizing during the clinical part of supervision is normal (example: “what came up for you when your client said XYZ?”). Ironically she is an incredible clinical supervisor, so it also worries me that I’m damaging our relationship when I push back. Recently when discussing a major part of my contract that was left out, we got into a tense back and forth because I wanted it in writing and she wanted me to “use your knowledge of me and trust me to honor this, let that guide you, not your fear of workplace power dynamics.”

No, this isn’t normal. It’s bad management — she should be focusing on behaviors, concrete actions, and outcomes, not whatever she imagines you’re feeling — and she’s not your therapist, she’s your manager. As your boss, she shouldn’t be assessing you through a therapeutic lens at all (and you’re undoubtedly right that her dual role is contributing to the issue). Frankly, some of it sounds … abusive is too strong a word here, but manipulative? Gaslighty? She’s weaponizing the language of therapy to avoid dealing with very basic employment issues.

It might not be intentional — maybe this is the lens through which she sees everything in life — but it’s making her a terrible manager and colleague.

2. Employer thinks I accepted a job they never offered me

I sent out applications for two jobs, and I only intended on choosing the better of the two since I’m not in a place where I can work two jobs. Job A was first, and it went so smoothly I thought I was dreaming. I got along with everyone and the store manager went into detail about what would be expected of me should I be hired and my hourly pay. She was open about my benefits, how many hours I’d be working, the work environment, training, and potential room for growth. I left feeling great, but kept my options open just in case.

During the interview with Job B, the manager vaguely told me I would be working very, very long shifts. This was a major reason I left my previous job of three years, and I respectfully let her know that I wasn’t interested anything similar. In addition, the manager spent most of the time talking about how frustrating her younger employees were and how everyone kept disobeying her. She didn’t mention benefits, weekly schedules, or even pay rate. It felt like I was there to listen to her complain about her current employees. The same day she wanted me to consent to a background check, which I did, and ran it on the spot. No interview did this before with me and it made me feel very uneasy. Nowhere in the application did it said “urgently hiring” or that they were hiring on the spot. It came across as being very pushy.

Not even a full 24 hours after the interview, Job B calls me back, but not for a offer. I was being asked to work because someone called in. I wasn’t given any training, I still didn’t know the hourly pay or benefits, and most of all I never accepted a job offer from them because I was never given one.

I’m concerned that Job B is assuming that because I showed up to the interview, this meant I wanted to work for them right away. But the only thing I consented to is a background check and nothing more. I didn’t even complete any onboarding paperwork and Job B has been trying to get me to work hours that told her I did not and could not work anyway. Job A didn’t go about it this way; I received an offer from them that I happily accepted.

How do I decline a job offer that I wasn’t given? Should I decline the assumed “job offer” as normal or should I politely tell Job B that there are some assumptions that are being made? Does this sound odd or am I overreacting?

Is this retail? It sounds a lot like retail, where there’s sometimes a strange assumption that if you interview, you’ve as good as accepted the offer.

Call Job B back and say, “I appreciate the offer but I’ve decided to accept a different job. Thanks for talking with me, and all the best with your hiring.”

If you were still open to considering Job B but wanted more info first — which isn’t your situation — you could say, “Before I could accept the offer, I’d need more information about the pay rate, schedule, and benefits. Could we go over that now, or schedule a call to do it later?”

3. Bathroom etiquette

Your recent article about angry notes in workplaces made me think of an office I worked in a few years ago, and I’d be interested to get your take on it.

At the time I was going through an IBS flare-up. Nothing super serious, but it meant that I was using the toilet quite frequently. A few weeks after I started, a note popped up in the office bathroom I’d been using. From memory I think there was a little poem about “using the brush after you flush”! I don’t know for sure that it was targeted at me, but given the timing I think it probably was a result of my use of the bathroom, even if the person who put it up didn’t know I was the culprit.

At the time I was quite embarrassed but also a little annoyed. I was already spending more time in the bathroom than I would have liked, and wasn’t always able to take extra time to ensure that the inside of the bowl was pristine before I rushed back to my desk. So, was I out of order here?

You’ll find two camps on this: the camp that feels toilets will sometimes show they’ve been used for the purpose they’re intended for, and the camp that feels you need to take 15 extra seconds to remove that evidence when the toilet is shared with others.

Personally, I’m in the second camp — if it’s a shared bathroom, you should leave it in the condition you found it in. I don’t think you were outrageously rude and you don’t need to feel shame or anything like that, but in general you should take the 15 seconds to leave things just as clean for the next person.

4. My former coworker listed me as her manager

I had something weird happen the other day. I received a call from a company saying that Katie, my coworker when I worked retail, had listed me as her manager and they wanted to know about her work ethic, etc.

Katie was a seasonal worker and I was a part-timer. I was never Katie’s manager. I would have been considered a senior coworker because I had been there longer but I had no managerial power over her. She was seasonal so never got a performance review (performance reviews were for people who worked in the company for a year). The only manager thing I really did was tell her stuff like:“Hey, Boss says we need to move this. Can you help me with that?” Or “Hey, why don’t you go straighten up that part of the floor?” I usually worked the night shift as did Katie and our actual manager usually worked the day shift. I acknowledge that I may have seemed like a manager to Katie but she never told me she was putting me down as a reference and, in fact, we never spoke after the season we worked together.

I was honest with the caller saying that we had been coworkers and I was not her manager but she’d been a good coworker for the short time we worked together. I have no idea if she got the job. But, like, what would be the best way to handle this?

You handled it correctly: you were honest about your role relative to hers and how long you worked together, and you gave an honest assessment within that context. Ideally you would have included something like, “Our manager usually worked a different shift from us and I’d been there longer than Katie, so that might be why she put me down” but it’s not a huge deal that you didn’t; it’s not your job to explain why Katie picked the references she did (and I imagine you were caught off-guard anyway since she didn’t check in with you before listing you).

If you want, you can contact Katie and tell her you got a reference call for her and that they mistakenly thought you were her manager … but you’re not obligated to do that. (She should have contacted you first to tell you she was listing you as a reference, but not everyone knows to do that. It’s the kind of thing that can feel obvious when you have more experience, but doesn’t feel obvious when you don’t.)

5. Not paying people who don’t submit a timesheet on time

I am a supervisor at a multinational consulting firm in the U.S. The majority of our staff are also on billable hours and required (as per industry standard) to submit timesheets on a weekly basis.

The finance department will chase late timesheets for a couple days but have threatened to not pay people for submitting a timesheet in a timely enough manner. This just happened to one of my staff — her paycheck was short a week’s time and while finance did pay her for that time, it was late. (I was out of the country for this week and not available.) We both think this appears to violate the Fair Labor Standards Act. Does it, and if so, how should we approach getting the company to resolve the practice? We definitely have some growing pains but this isn’t a small company nor a young one.

Logistically it is critical that staff submit their time in a timely manner for our billing and client budgeting, but that’s a separate issue here.

Yes, this is illegal — under both the FLSA and your state’s laws. Your state will specify how quickly employees need to be paid — usually worded as “within X weeks of the work being performed.” Employers are obligated to pay employees within that time period regardless of whether a timesheet was submitted late and even if it wasn’t submitted at all. Google your state name and “paycheck law” to find out the law for your state specifically. Once you have that info, send it to whoever manages the finance person who’s doing this with a note saying, “This violates state law and we legally cannot do it.”

I’m sympathetic to the finance team’s struggle — getting people to turn in timesheets on time is a pain — but they can’t withhold paychecks as a tool to make it happen.


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