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my coworker tries to drown out my music with her own, propping your foot up on your desk, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. We take turns choosing music but my coworker tries to drown mine out

I work in a compounding pharmacy and we are allowed to play music in our compounding room. The room is about 30 feet by 10 feet in size, so not huge. On a typical day, one person will play music through their computer for everyone to listen to. My musical tastes are varied and I tolerate the others as best I can.

However, I have one coworker, Lisa, who is tolerant of everyone else’s music except mine. I’ve worked there over two years and put my favorite Spotify list on maybe five times. Three of those times, Lisa has then turned hers on to try to go over mine. The first two times, I turned mine off. However, this week I did not. So we had two playlists on opposite ends of the room playing. She only turned hers off after someone complained and then asked me to turn mine down. She loves to play hers full volume without regard to others, so it was very unusual for her to do this. My playlist is 57% contemporary Christian with country, 80’s rock, and pop completing the list. It feels to me to be a bullying situation without her saying a word. She is very controlling and a self-appointed boss to everyone who will let her. How do I handle this going forward?

When you have a shared music arrangement like this, ideally you’d have a group agreement about what everyone is and isn’t willing to listen to. Some people have songs or genres that are like nails on a blackboard to them, and it make sense to give each person some veto power — although ideally each person would be judicious about using that veto power, since by definition in a place with shared music, there’s going to be plenty you don’t love. (There’s a whole other thing here about how some people would rather have no music at all, but clearly the music is part of your team’s culture there so I’m going to set that aside.)

It’s important to realize, though, that a lot of people would have real issues with Christian rock being played in their workplace because you’re injecting religion in a place where people have the right to be free of it. (I’ll use myself as an example — I’m Jewish and I absolutely wouldn’t be up for listening to Christian music in my workplace.) Now, to be clear, Lisa is being obnoxious (trying to drown out your music with her own?!) but I do wonder if the type of music you’re playing is a factor. It wouldn’t make her behavior okay — she needs to use her words and speak to you like a grown-up — but that’s the first thing that came to mind when I read your question.

As for what to do, can you talk to your coworkers as a group and suggest coming up with some guidelines for what everyone is and isn’t willing to listen to and a system for fairly trading off DJ authority … plus check in to make sure everyone still wants music played for the group or whether some people would prefer a quieter system with headphones? It sounds like there’s a group conversation to be had here.

The other key step is to talk to Lisa directly: “You keep turning on your own music when it’s my turn to choose a playlist, and you’ve asked me to turn mine down even though yours is usually high-volume. Do you object to the songs or genres I’m choosing? If so, I’d rather you talk to me directly rather than just trying to drown it out.”

2. I’m worried about leaving a new hire to work with our abusive faculty member

For as long as I’ve worked in my job, I’ve had to deal with a deeply unpleasant, abusive professor. This person’s behavior is legendary. Prior to my arrival a decade ago, they had screaming matches with the head of my department regularly. Since I’ve arrived, the worst of their behavior has been reined in by a series of different chairs, new department heads, and new dean. At one point, Abusive Professor was only allowed to communicate through the dean of their school. As in, the professor emailed the dean, the dean double checked the professor’s tone in the email, and forwarded it to the correct person. The student newspaper even published an article about the professor and a second colleague’s horrible behavior.

I’ve been promoted. The person replacing me is a recent college graduate; this is their first professional job. As I’m wrapping up my projects, I’m finding myself reluctant to hand over the task that requires a fair amount of interaction with the professor. I’ve gone as far to suggest that I handle the digital and communication aspects of the task in my new position while the new hire handles the physical collection aspect. This suggestion makes absolutely no sense since 1) my new job shouldn’t be supporting this level of work, and 2) the task makes up a huge percentage of my position’s effort.

In the past, I’ve been angry at my supervisor and my grandboss for how they’ve chosen to handle Abusive Professor’s behavior. Some of their choices left me feeling like I was catering to or reinforcing the abuse. More than once, I’ve wished my supervisor would take over handling all communications with the faculty member and tell me what needed to be done. Or, at least, uphold the base-level policies we expect of other faculty.

I feel stuck. I’ve already figure out my professionally worded spiel on the professor and their behavior to share with the new hire. I feel like an explicit, no-nonsense warning would be better but I worry about setting up the new hire for failure since they’d be basing all their interactions of the professor off my perspective and biases.

Go with the explicit, no-nonsense warning. If the professor’s behavior were less extreme — if it were just things that bugged you but which you’d seen other people deal with more easily — it could make sense not to bias the new hire. But this is extreme — the student paper is writing about it! the dean has to review all this person’s emails! — and you don’t need to sugarcoat that. You’d be doing your replacement a favor by letting them know how things work there and what to expect. They’re obviously going to figure it out on their own soon enough, but you can save them from being blindsided by it. In abusive situations there’s often an early period of “huh?!” where people second-guess their own judgment and try to figure out if a situation is really as bad as it seems; by talking bluntly about how this professor operates — and how the institution enables that — you’ll help them trust their impressions from the start.

And definitely resist the urge to keep doing chunks of your old job in order to protect this person. It’s not your responsibility to increase your own workload to buffer someone else from a jerk. It’s your employer’s job to handle the jerk. It sucks that they’re not doing it, but don’t add to the workarounds that, if anything, will just keep the new hire from seeing the reality of the situation for longer.

3. Propping my foot on my desk (for medical reasons)

I have been dealing with swelling in my foot and ankle, called pedal edema, for several weeks. While I’m treating the cause of the swelling, my doctor has recommended that I elevate my leg whenever it gets swollen. I’ll likely need to do this several times a day, each time for a good 30-40 minutes. I’m otherwise fit to work and work best in the office.

My office has a built-in L- shaped desk. The leg that needs to be elevated is on the inside of the L, so I can’t prop it up on a chair and pillows. I tried propping it under the desk, but I couldn’t get my leg high enough to reduce the swelling. It’s looking like I need to prop my leg on my desk, which I know is incredibly rude in normal circumstances. My plan to try and minimize the “gross feet on the desk” factor by putting a towel over the pillow and desk, removing my street shoe, and either wearing clean house slippers or just black compression socks (also recommended to help with the swelling).

My office has a glass wall without blinds (ugh!) and is in a high traffic area so a lot of people will see me doing this. I’m mobile and other than the swelling there is no visible sign of injury. I was going to explain my situation to my immediate supervisors and the head of HR, but I’m concerned about the optics. I’ve been with the company less than a year, but I do good work and recently received glowing praise for an interdepartmental rush project, but I don’t want to be known as “the one who puts her feet up on her desk.” How would you handle this? Are there any creative solutions that I haven’t thought of?

The key is to make it as obviously medical as possible, or at least as obviously not “I’m just chilling here with my feet up on my desk.” Making tower of towel/pillow/foot is highly likely to achieve that, and even more so if you add a towel layer on top of your foot (which might be overkill or might be ill-advised; do as you wish with that). You’ll be fine.

4. I’m angry that my manager told people about my resignation

After being overworked on a daily basis, my last straw was our supervisor giving holidays out with no thought to other staff who would be expected to pick up even more work without any thanks. I handed my resignation in while my supervisor was on holiday. A day or so later, my supervisor contacted another member of staff to ask why I was leaving, although they had not approached or contacted me at all.

I walked into work a couple days later to find everyone knew I was leaving (I hadn’t shared the information with work colleagues). Am I right to be angry? The supervisor had no right to even ask the other staff member and I thought it very unprofessional. Would you talk to the to supervisor and tell them it wasn’t professional?

It’s pretty normal for resignations to be shared with others; it’s usually relevant info that other people need in order to do their jobs (they need to know project X will be transitioning to person Y, or that they’ll need to cover Z until a replacement is hired, or all sorts of other logistics). Even when there’s no obvious business need, though, it’s not generally considered confidential info unless you’ve specifically requested that for some reason (and even then it wouldn’t necessarily be something an employer would agree to). So while your manager may have lots of other flaws, this particular action wasn’t unprofessional or something you should be angry about.

5. Field report: Washington state pay transparency law

I was recently laid off unexpectedly, and have been job searching for the first time in a couple years as a result. I live in Seattle, and the difference from my last search (pre the pay transparency law) to now is astonishing. I work in commercial real estate, and salaries for my type of job are dictated by size of the building or portfolio and rent per square foot. Because of this, jobs with the same title and job description pay radically differently. So a Chief Wombat Wrangler at a high-rise in downtown might make $150,000 a year, and the same job at a hotel in a suburb might be $25.74 an hour. In the past when I’ve been looking for work, this led me to waste countless hours applying and interviewing for jobs that are a promotion on paper but a huge reduction in pay. Thanks to the new law, that’s almost never a problem anymore.

I know there was a lot of skepticism here when the law was passed, and there are certainly the occasional job posting that doesn’t list a range or has it set to $30-200k a year or something obviously ridiculous. But I wanted to let your readers know that it is working, and has been a huge benefit. If you can push for something like this in your state, do it!

Excellent. Consider it passed along.


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