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I found a naked sunbather on our building’s roof, unethical soda, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. I found a naked sunbather on our building’s roof

I’m a manager at a company that rents part of a large building, with a roof deck shared with other tenants. The deck has a vegetable garden on it and we can take the produce home.

Earlier this summer I go up to the roof and there’s a guy up there sunbathing. I want to believe he had SOMETHING on, but I saw nothing but skin and a strategically placed laptop, and if he was in even the shortest of shorts, I’d have seen them.

I work for a big company where all managers are expected to intervene when someone is behaving inappropriately, but a company badge was one of the many things he wasn’t wearing, and I extremely didn’t want to deal with it, so I just chickened out and left.

The Question: I know that chickening out was not the right move, but what is the way to handle “someone at your office is either naked or so close to it that you can’t tell from 20 feet away?” Writing that out makes me realize that the answer is “call building security and let them save the gentleman from those tan lines,” but can I be forgiven for the part where I gossipped to peer managers about it, even though I should have done that after calling security? Does “there’s a naked guy on the roof” demand managerial discretion?

Yes, yes, and no. Yes to building security (they’re there for a reason, and while dealing with naked sunbathers probably isn’t a regular occurrence for them, it does fall under the umbrella of stuff you can bring them in for). Yes to being forgiven for telling other managers about it! Your motivation might have been gossip (who among us could have resisted in your shoes?) but there was a social good to telling people too — it’s the kind of thing that’s useful for others to be aware of in case they hear about it happening again, so that it’s clear that it’s a recurring issue. And no to the situation warranting you keeping it quiet. I mean, you shouldn’t go office to office gleefully telling everyone you encounter for the next two weeks, but it’s awfully understandable to share something so unexpected (and frankly funny) and useful too.

2. Unethical soda?

We have free soda available in the office for customers and employees. I have a coworker who will take a soda right before they leave with the express purpose of taking it home and making a cocktail.

That feels weird, and I’m half-tempted to say something as we are friends. I’m under the impression that office food/drink is for people to enjoy in the office, since they don’t have an opportunity to leave and get other refreshments easily. Not for taking home unopened to have a rum and coke. That said … it’s just a soda, and it’s once a week, maybe every two weeks. Is this an office culture thing, is there a norm, am I just feeling weird as a goody-two-shoes employee?

The soda is undoubtedly there for the reason you say: for people to drink while they’re at work so you don’t have to leave to get beverages. So yeah, he’s probably outside the spirit of what’s being offered.

But it’s not a big deal or something you should mention to him. If it’s once every week or two, it’s costing the company about 50 cents (and it’s pretty likely that he spends more than the equivalent of that in his salary thinking about work after he leaves); that’s nowhere near the level of “must intervene.” I wouldn’t recommend you start taking sodas home yourself, but that’s different from it warranting saying something to him about it.

It is true, though, that if everyone starting taking sodas home, there’s a stronger chance the perk would be cut off or restricted. So if he starts doing it more often and you feel like you really want to say something, you could approach it from that angle.

3. My coworker put weekly social meetings on my calendar

I work for an international company. I have a counterpart in another region, let’s call him Josh. We have the same role, but I am slightly senior. So, if he is a Widget Analyst, I’m a Senior Widget Analyst. We’re on different teams, though we both roll up to the same division. I do not especially care for this person. He’s perfectly nice, but I don’t think he’s very good at his job and I am often asked to pick up his slack, which I do in the interest of teamwork.

Recently, Josh asked for a meeting so that I could teach him how to do a particular type of analysis. We met and the teaching portion took very little time, so we chatted a bit at the end of the meeting. He then suggested that we meet weekly to “catch up on things.” I thought that he meant work-related things; I kind of thought he was asking for some mentorship, which I thought was a pretty good idea because frankly, he could use it, and I’m happy to teach a man to fish instead of constantly being asked to fish for him.

We had the first of these weekly “catch up” meetings and we didn’t discuss anything work-related. All he wanted to talk about was our summer plans and what TV shows we were both watching. I tried to ask a few times if he was having trouble with anything work-related, but he kept steering the conversation back to recreational topics.

Today, ahead of our second “catch up,” I messaged to ask if he had anything work-related he wanted to discuss. He said he had one request for a file, which I sent him over the messaging system. I then said, “While I had fun in our last chat, I can’t put aside time every week just to socialize. I just have too much on my plate these days. I’m always happy to jump on if I can help with something work-related.” This has the virtue of being true; I am exceptionally busy these days. He seemed to take it well and cancelled the weekly meeting.

Did I handle this correctly? It’s such a strange situation. But I really do need to protect my time. (Before you ask: I’m a woman but I don’t think he was hitting on me. He’s married to a man, and I didn’t get those vibes in the chat.)

You handled it perfectly. You gave him the benefit of the doubt initially but then when the first meeting went strangely, you asked very directly about the agenda before the second one, and then clearly explained that what he was proposing didn’t work for you. You weren’t rude about it; you cited your workload. And he took that well! If he hadn’t taken it well, that wouldn’t have meant you didn’t handle it appropriately — sometimes you can handle something perfectly and the other person still responds badly — but in this case all seems fine. Well done.

4. Can I get out of a work trip because last time I went I had a miscarriage?

In my industry there’s an annual trade fair in another country that many, if not most, people in my role attend. I have been most years and enjoy it a lot. It’s not essential that I go, but it can be of benefit to the company. However, there is another job in my company where it would usually be essential they attend the fair.

Unfortunately, we’re in the midst of recruiting for that position, and though we have hired someone, they won’t be in the role in time to attend the fair.

My boss suggested I go instead of them and fill in for them at the fair. Usually I’d be excited to attend. However, I had a very negative experience at the conference last year. My husband and I are trying to get pregnant and I lost my pregnancy the first day of conference. I was in another country, alone, not sure how to access medical help, fully scheduled with meetings, and not comfortable revealing to my colleagues what was going on as I didn’t want them to know I was trying to get pregnant. It was incredibly traumatic.

The thought of going back again this year is really upsetting to me, but I can’t work out a way to explain that to my boss. Further complicating the matter is the fact that I am still trying to get pregnant, and I’m terrified that if I get pregnant then the same thing will happen again. I know that isn’t rational, but I have had three miscarriages and it’s made me very nervous about going away in early pregnancy. I just want to be at home close to my doctor and my husband.

I’m worried that if I reveal to my boss I’m planning a pregnancy, he won’t take me as seriously for advancement opportunities coming up … I know it’s illegal to discriminate but it’s not a particularly fair world. Any thoughts? Do I just need to suck it up and go?

You do not need to suck it up and go, and you don’t need to tell your boss you’re trying to get pregnant. This is a situation where it’s perfectly fine to cite vague health issues. For example: “Unfortunately I have some health stuff going on right now that means I can’t travel. It’s nothing to worry about, but I can’t be the one to fill in this year.” That’s it! Your boss shouldn’t push for more, and it should get you out of it.

5. A salary negotiation success story

Just wanted to share a small success story with you. One of my kids just graduated college and was interviewing for jobs. During one of his interviews, the company asked what his salary expectations were, and he gave an amount that was in the upper end of the mid-range of what he was seeing he might expect for entry-level in his field in the location he was looking.

This company eventually came back with an offer that was a few thousand below his number – more in the lower/middle of the aforementioned mid-range. He told them he would look it over and get back to them, and when he shared it with me, he was happy with the offer and ready to accept it. I told him that Ask A Manager thinks everyone should negotiate salary offers. The worst that could happen is they say no and you accept what you were going to accept anyway. And if they rescind the offer, that’s a red flag about the company and you probably wouldn’t want to work there anyway. So I searched your archives for examples of how to ask, and wrote out a script for him that was simply, “I’m really excited for this job. Is there any flexibility on the salary? Would you consider (the amount he originally said he’d like)?” (AND THEN DON’T TALK … wait for them to respond.)

He did it – the person said he thought that was within the budget and just needed to check with upper management to check on internal equity. They came back the next day and gave him the amount he asked for. It was pretty small stakes for them – only a couple thousand dollars – but to someone fresh out of school it makes a big difference as he starts his new life, getting an apartment, etc. And it gave him a little boost of confidence and experience in asking for what he wants in a professional, objective way.

This is a great example of how just a sentence or two can get you thousands of dollars more in pay. (And it’s a great example of parental coaching from behind the scenes, too.) Congratulations to your son!


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