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my employer confiscated my favorite shirt, whose job is it to address burn-out, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. My employer confiscated my favorite shirt

I work with disabled clients, and the other day one of them took a spill down the ramp and was bleeding. When I turned her onto her side, I took my button-down off to put under her head to keep it elevated and keep her from swallowing too much blood. Unfortunately, after she was taken to the hospital by EMTs, I put my shirt into a plastic bag to inspect/wash later. There was no visible blood on it, but I was of course going to wash it. I mentioned to a coworker that I was going to put my shirt in my car. My manager overheard and told me to give her the bag, and said she didn’t think she could give it back to me because there was probably a policy about it because of the blood. I pointed out that I wasn’t even sure if there was blood on it and that I was going to wash it, but I reluctantly handed it over, thinking it surely would be back with me in a matter of minutes but she didn’t give it back at the end of the day.

This is my favorite shirt. It has a lot of sentimental meaning to me and I made it clear that I loved it and would rather have the shirt than any potential reimbursement. I tried to joke and be a good sport while I was trying to get across that I love that shirt, but they didn’t seem to care. I feel so betrayed. Are they really allowed to just take my shirt? If it were any other job, I would be seriously considering quitting but I can’t afford to leave. I’m at a complete loss as to what to do.

Talk to your boss! It sounds like your organization might have a policy about disposing of materials that have come into contact with body fluids, but it doesn’t sound like your boss is even sure about that. Talk to her and don’t joke about it this time — that’s just opening the door to her misunderstanding what you’re trying to convey and how strongly you feel about it. Say something like, “That shirt has deep sentimental value to me, and it’s extremely important to me to get it back. If it were a different shirt, I wouldn’t be pushing this, but I don’t think I should lose an item that’s so important to me that didn’t even seem to have blood on it. What do I need to do to get it returned to me?” And assuming you didn’t sign something to the contrary, you could add, “I didn’t consent to have a personal possession taken from me and I do need it returned.” If she’s unsure of the policy or who should deal with this, ask her who would know and talk to that person.

I do think you need to prepare for the possibility that they may have already gotten rid of it. (I’m sorry!) But this will give you the best shot at recovering it.

2. Whose job is it to address burn-out?

I noticed recently that I’m experiencing the symptoms of burn -out. There are many different lists and articles out there but the first one Google gave me resonated a lot — especially the lists of symptoms and potential causes (most are applicable).

I raised this with my manager, including a few of what I thought the likely causes were, relevant to our department and my work. I intended it as feedback, to trigger for them some reflection of how he might reorganize our work, create improved processes, and generally try to support me. These are all issues that have been raised before, but which I don’t have much power to directly change.

Their response instead was to pitch it back to me, saying, “Let me know what you’re doing to address it, and let me know what specifically you need from me.” The tone was supportive, but seems to put all the work of figuring out how to address my burn-out on me. But I’m burned out! I don’t care enough to figure it out!

So generally speaking, when it comes to addressing employee burn-out, who has the primary responsibility? Employee, or manager?

In theory or in reality? In reality it’s nearly always the employee.

The response you got from your manager is about the response I’d expect. It’s pretty rare for a single employee’s concerns about burn-out to trigger much more than that, and especially not substantial changes to processes. Typically it takes multiple people raising the same concerns, and even then that’s often not enough and nothing happens until they lose multiple employees over it (and often not even then). Occasionally a single person might be able to get it done, if (a) they’re especially valued and the employer is deeply invested in not losing them and (b) the manager is skilled, reasonable, and has enough capital themselves to make the sorts of real changes that would help.

The response you got is about what you can realistically hope for — an invitation to come back with specific requests for changes that would help you.

For the record, that’s not always unreasonable. It can make sense to put the ball in your court to propose what you need, especially if no one else on the team is struggling (or known to be struggling, at least). That’s particularly true if your manager knows the workload itself isn’t likely to change, but that she might be able to make some adjustments if you tell her what you want. Yes, in an ideal world she’d suggest some options since you might not even know what’s on the table — but it’s not unfair for her to ask you to talk in specifics about what you need.

3. Paying for employees’ significant others to join them on business trips

Is it normal for employees’ significant others to be accommodated on business trips?

At a previous job, my manager complained to me that our boss didn’t want to pay for flight and hotel accommodations so she could bring her fiance on a business trip we were all attending, when he had paid for her now ex-husband on a past trip. At the time, I didn’t comment but did think it was odd that he’d done so in the first place. However, I was young and after leaving that job moved into a field where trips aren’t the norm, so haven’t had reason to encounter a situation like this since. Is it common for employees’ significant others, who do not have jobs in the company, to be accommodated on business trips?

Nope! Sometimes someone will bring a partner along (so they can hang out at night and the partner can sightsee in the area during the day or so forth), but generally the employee pays the partner’s expenses; the employer wouldn’t cover the additional expense.

In very rare situations, there might be a business reason for doing paying a partner’s expenses (for example, if the employee is breast-feeding and only agrees to travel if the baby can come, with the spouse to take care of the baby while they work) but it would be very much the exception to the rule.

4. Acknowledgement of a condolence gift

A coworker died last month. I did not attend the funeral service but sent a nice gift with a personal note to the family. Should I expect a thank-you from the family? I would at least like to know if they received the gift.

Assume they almost certainly got it, but since they’re grieving they might not be a state to deal with thank-you notes (but no doubt appreciated the thought).


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