boss makes us discuss all our mistakes in a group, elf work on a resume, and more — Ask a Manager Jobearn


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

1. My boss makes us discuss all our mistakes in a group

I hate my boss. She has this policy that she believes works where she insists on discussing your mistakes on a video call with our team of nine. No member of our team finds this effective. It’s embarrassing and makes everyone terrified of making mistakes. Nobody is willing to tell her that because we know she will not take it well.

She is also incapable of admitting when she makes mistakes. Instead, the mistakes will somehow be someone else’s fault. When it is apparent nobody else is at fault but her, she just moves on with the conversation. There will never be an apology. I have reported my discomfort with this behavior to a trusted supervisor before and was told that’s just her management style and that she does it because she cares.

I dread going to work every day. I am terrified of making mistakes, to the point I have anxiety about it, and any time I do make a mistake it keeps me awake at night. The pay isn’t really worth what this does to me, but I can’t bring myself to leave. The company has good benefits, like really really good. I like most of my coworkers. They’re very understanding when I have to miss work for health concerns. For the most part, I like the work I do here. Most importantly, it took me a long time to find this job. Going back into the job market scares me. I don’t know if my mental health can handle working here, but I don’t know if it can handle leaving either. Do you have any advice?

job search.

Your boss is a jerk. Some people can work for jerks and be relatively unaffected, but lots of people can’t — and this particularly boss is clearly terrible for your mental health (and understandably so). No job is worth your health and peace of mind.

You said it took you a long time to find this job, but (a) the market is pretty good right now, so it might be different than the last time you searched, and (b) even if it takes you a year, that means that in a year you’ll be free of this job, rather than still working there. Please look around and see what your options are!

To be clear, if you loved the work, the benefits, the pay, and the coworkers and the boss was a jerk but that wasn’t eating you up inside, I’d give you different advice. In that situation, I’d say that you should decide if dealing with your boss was a price you were willing to pay for the rest of the package. Sometimes, for some people, it will be. But that’s not your situation.)

2. Elf work on a resume

My son is applying for a new job. Same field, better employer.

He’s very young and his work history includes such things as field worker on a hay farm, pizza delivery, and dishwasher. One of his jobs was a seasonal turn as an elf at a large store. Not quite like Buddy the Elf, but he did take pictures, manage the crowd, etc. in Santa’s wonderland. (They liked him so much they brought him back as the Easter Bunny’s assistant.)

I kind of like leaving that on there the way he listed it — “Elf, (employer) (dates)” — because it’s memorable and a little bit amusing. It has absolutely nothing to do with the kind of job for which he is applying, but without that job his entire work history looks like one year at his current employer.

Should he list it at all? My husband wants to change it to “photographer’s assistant,” which I think is boring.

Your son should keep the elf job, and definitely shouldn’t blandify it by changing the title the way your husband proposed! It’s interesting and he will almost definitely get questions about it interviews. It’s also something that will speak to his skills working with the public, which can be really valuable, particularly when he’s early in his career and doesn’t have a lot of other experience to talk about.

3. I’m annoyed that my team changed our lunch plans without telling me

On a recent work trip to a very warm location, my colleagues and I decided to go to lunch in the hotel immediately after arriving. I quickly showered and went to my colleagues, who then proceeded to leave the building. I asked what was going on, as this was not what was planned, and was informed that they were looking for a nearby restaurant instead.

I thought that was a great idea! I was rather miffed, though, that I wasn’t informed or even asked if that was alright with me, which would have been trivial to accomplish, and I was completely unprepared for a trip outside in the tropical heat. If I had been informed, I would have quickly packed my sunglasses, sunscreen, and hat (I do sunburn very quickly), worn actually useful shoes, and probably re-used an old shirt instead of using up one of my fresh ones (one of my teammates did run out of shirts later on).

When I mentioned this to my team, everybody replied that this was pretty regular and I should just go along with it. How right am I to be annoyed by this?

You do sound like you’re overreacting / being overly rigid. You’re right that it would have been more convenient if they’d given you a heads-up, but it’s not uncommon for a lunch destination to change on the fly in situations like this, and you generally just roll with it unless there’s a more compelling reason why you can’t (like if they’d decided to go to a restaurant where you couldn’t eat anything on the menu).

I’d put this in the category of “mildly annoying / reasonable to wish you’d had a heads-up” but not anything worth dwelling on after the fact.

4. Should I take my side business off my resume?

Recently I sent my resume to a consulting service that does resume reviews. I work full-time at a big bank, and I’m a photographer on the side. I have been a primarily wedding photographer for over 10 years, but I’ve still held a full-time job. His response to including this on my resume was: “There is a bias against business owners, especially those who currently have a side gig. 1) always flight risk 2) distraction risk 3) how well will you take direction 4) if so good at what you do, why do you need to find a job. Consider moving it to an Additional Experience section to keep the focus on the employer-based experience (or dropping it completely if it doesn’t matter for the role you are applying to).”

This kind of felt like getting kicked in the face by a giraffe, but is he right? Should I remove it? (It’s currently the third job down in my Work Experience section.) Does my experience not matter?

If it’s totally unrelated to the kinds of jobs you’re applying for, I would indeed take it off or move it to an Other Experience section — although mostly for different reasons than the recruiter gave you.

It’s not that the experience doesn’t matter, but a resume isn’t supposed to be a comprehensive accounting of everything you’ve ever done; it’s a marketing document for you as a candidate. Done well, it should be designed to show how you’d be a match for the specific job you’re applying for. If you use prime real estate for a job that’s not relevant to the work you’re applying for, you’re wasting valuable space on something that won’t strengthen you as a candidate. Most hiring managers skim resumes very quickly, and you want their eyes to fall on the stuff that most screams “great candidate for this job.” If wedding photography isn’t that, it doesn’t make sense to mention it more than as a side project, if at all.

The recruiter is right to say that some employers will worry about the distraction risk if you’re currently running another business, and that’s more of a concern if you give the job equal billing with your full-time work; it will be less of one if you move it to a different section like he suggested. (I do find the rest of his concerns overblown, though.)

5. Paying back a PTO advance when you leave

I’m an exempt employee who has apparently already used one more vacation days than I have accrued as of my resignation date. Do I really have to pay it back? We get paid on the first of every month so I will literally have to give money to my company since I have already received my final paycheck. I have “unlimited” sick days, of which I have used none in the past couple years, and it just feels so petty for them to ask me to pay them back for that one additional day.

Yes, when you leave, companies are allowed to require you to pay back any PTO they advanced to you before you had accrued it. It’s considered akin to a loan or a cash advance. (I can see why it feels petty … but on the other hand, some companies won’t advance employees any leave in order to ensure they won’t run into this, which also annoys people.)

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