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my assistant won’t stop talking about my cane, recovering after a serious mistake, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. My assistant won’t stop being “concerned” about my cane

I am a GM at a construction company office. I have a part-time assistant I cannot do without and five field technicians I see once a week or so.

Within the past 18 months, I have developed a need for the occasional use of a cane. I’m seeing a doctor, but sometimes I have to slow down or use a cane to get around.

When I walk to my assistant’s office, with the cane — not making a big deal about it (I don’t wince, sigh, push baby ducks out of the way with my cane, so forth), she sighs and puts on this face like I need a wheelchair and asks how I am, if I need a chair, if I need help at home, if I need need need. I’ve told her many times, “It’s okay, I just need a little assistance with the cane sometimes” or “Well, it’s a little damp out and this works for me.”

Thinking back, she does get a kick out of talking about illness, crazy bruises, sniffles, so forth, but I don’t comment or acknowledge with more than a polite comment. It’s nice she is concerned, but how can I get it across to her that it’s fine and she doesn’t need to keep commenting on it?

“It becomes a much bigger deal when you keep talking about it and I’d prefer that you stop doing that.” And if that doesn’t work, then get even more direct: “I don’t think I’ve been clear enough: Please stop commenting when I use my cane. It’s not the big deal you’re making of it, and it’s distracting to have to keep reassuring you that I’m fine.”

I have a feeling both of those are more direct than you’d prefer to be — but you’ve tried a softer version and it’s not getting through so you really do need to spell it out. At some point it’s actually not nice that she’s concerned because she’s ignoring what you’re telling her would actually be helpful in favor of indulging whatever is going on on her end. Either way, though, as her manager, it’s completely reasonable to be direct about something like this … and you might need to keep an eye on whether she’s being similarly aggravating to other people in the office with health conditions too.

2. How do I recover after making a serious mistake?

I am a junior employee in a department of about 20 people. I recently sent an external-facing email with an error that required my senior colleagues to do damage control in a way that could harm their relationship with some of the recipients.

What is the right thing to do when that happens? I apologized when I alerted them to the mistake, but I feel awful. I’m relatively new and I don’t want to be seen as a liability, but I also don’t want to draw further attention to myself by sending everyone a personalized quilt with “I’m sorry” embroidered into every square.

How do I recover in the eyes of my colleagues after screwing up, especially as a newer employee who hasn’t built up much capital? For what it’s worth, my manager is great and helped me handle the problem.

Everyone makes mistakes, especially when they’re junior! That’s normal. What sets good employees apart from less-good employees is how they handle it when it happens. The most important steps are to disclose the mistake as soon as you can, take responsibility for it, and share a plan for how you’ll avoid something similar happening in the future.

Sometimes people are so embarrassed about the mistake that their instinct is to not talk about it; they worry that talking about will just draw more attention to it. But that can backfire, by making it look like you’re not that concerned. Conversely, the person who says, “I realize how serious this was and here’s my plan for making sure it doesn’t happen again” will inspire a lot more trust.

Of course, that that’s likely a conversation you should have with your boss rather than the rest of your coworkers, so they won’t necessarily see that part of it. For them, the way you rebuild trust is by demonstrating conscientiousness going forward. They’ve undoubtedly seen junior employees make mistakes before, they know it happens, and what they’ll be most interested in is any pattern. If you demonstrate a pattern of good work going forward, you should be fine. That said, you could also ask your manager for advice on this — she may be able to suggest specifics that would be helpful in your office.

Regardless, though, no “I’m sorry” quilt necessary!

3. Asking for three days off after a week on the job

My grandson just accepted an entry-level position. Four days later, he learned that my daughter and husband are going on a camping trip for three days only one week after he starts the job. He wants to go. Can he still ask time off for three days when he didn’t say anything at interview time and acceptance of offer?

He shouldn’t. If he had brought it up as part of his offer negotiations, that would have been fine — but at this point he’s accepted the offer and they’ve been planning around his start date. Asking for three days off that early — at a time when they’ve likely already scheduled training and other activities for him — will look like he’s not taking the commitment he just made to the job particularly seriously.

4. Applying for a job using a resume that isn’t current

Is it acceptable now to apply for a job using a résumé that is not current? I am the executive director of a social services program, and I noticed that we are receiving a lot of applications with résumés that aren’t current. One person we interviewed a couple of weeks ago was asked why her résumé wasn’t up to date – the jobs on the résumé stopped at 2017, but her application indicated she was working as of June 2023 – and the person responded, “Oh, I forgot to update that.”

I didn’t interview the above-mentioned person, as I would not select to interview a person if they submitted a résumé that wasn’t current. But I was wondering if it is not as important nowadays to submit a current résumé if the job application reflects the most current work history? I did some internet research but I didn’t see any information about this topic, which is why I’m emailing you the question.

No, that’s strange! I mean, it’s fine to leave off jobs that don’t strengthen your resume overall, so it would be different if they made a deliberate decision to exclude their most recent job — like if it was in a totally different field and they thought it would detract from their candidacy rather than strengthen it, or if they’d only worked there a few weeks when they applied with you, or it it were otherwise a strategic choice. Also, if you approached the candidate rather than the other way around, it could be fine in some circumstances for the person to say, “I don’t have a current resume since I’m not actively looking but I can send you my last version — be aware that it doesn’t include my current job.”

But if it’s just “I didn’t think to update my resume from several years ago before applying for a job now”? That’s an unusual lack of care about how one is presenting oneself when applying for a job. It’s not a trend, although if you’re really seeing it a lot (like more than twice recently) and these are otherwise good candidates, it’s worth exploring what’s going on. (For example, are you giving people a ridiculously short window to apply? Paying so little that people aren’t willing to put any effort into your application process? Even that wouldn’t normally result in this though, so who knows.)

5. A question about The Office

I was watching old episodes of The Office, and had a question for you inspired by the show. In the episode I watched, Michael Scott (regional manager) was dating Holly Flax (HR rep for his office). In response, Michael’s boss transferred Holly to a different branch that is seven hours away. Is this legal? It seems kind of sketchy that an employee would be transferred because they dated their boss.

Michael wasn’t Holly’s boss; she reported to corporate, not to Michael. (That’s why Michael could never fire Toby, the HR rep Holly replaced.) It’s not outrageous that they’d choose to transfer the relatively new HR person over the long-time regional manager presiding over what was (bizarrely) one of their most profitable branches.

They could be in problematic legal territory if they transferred Holly without having a clear business reason to move her while keeping Michael where he was — and definitely if they always transferred the woman when there was an office affair — but I don’t think either of these was the case here. (Although … a lawyer could probably have an interesting time with the fact that they also fired Jan while Michael was dating her. Hmmm.)


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