CEO attacked me in an all-staff email, I can’t give my employee satisfying answers, and more — Ask a Manager Jobearn

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

1. Our CEO attacked me in an all-staff email for scheduling a happy hour on Rosh Hashanah

I work at a nonprofit in lower management. Two folks who report to me and I report to a VP who reports to the CEO. One of my reports recently received another job offer. We countered but he still chose to move on, highlighting some concerns about how we’ve been handling DEI recently. I share those concerns and made that clear in the follow-up discussion with senior management about his departure. It was very clear to me in those discussions that the CEO does not agree that these are problems we need to address.

There was a tense staff meeting where our CEO does this thing where he doesn’t really have an agenda and asks people to talk and ask questions. My departing direct report asked a lot of questions. They were good questions, but I definitely noticed the CEO’s hackles going up.

I then sent around a goodbye happy hour invitation to all staff from my team and the other team involved. The CEO responded directly to me telling me that FYI, I have scheduled this happy hour over Rosh Hashanah.

This is not a holiday we get off or a holiday that has been raised as a scheduling issue during my tenure here. But I apologized profusely and suggested to my CEO another time when he could say goodbye to our departing colleague. I checked in with our interim DEI director, who saw no problem with me going ahead with that date, and I emailed back to all staff, apologizing for any implication that I didn’t want to include people, but commenting that it was the only time that worked for the relevant teams and that we’d be happy to set something else up if folks wanted an alternative.

Our CEO responded to my email (and all of the staff). He accused me of disrespecting his religion and for over two paragraphs explained why he could not believe that I was this disrespectful and that I was forbidden to spend any company money (which we had not asked for) on a happy hour that was so offensively scheduled. He added that this was clearly a violation of our DEI plan since it was religious discrimination.

Am I missing something here? I’m an atheist and am definitely not an expert in any of this. But this is a day that we are legally required to be in the office. We have never been offered an alternative to that. Our Jewish staff have to use a vacation day if they want to celebrate the holiday. And I am getting criticized for scheduling something on that day. Obviously, in an ideal world, this would be a day the company just gave everyone off so that we didn’t have to interfere with the practice of our colleagues’ religion. And had our CEO in his initial email told me that I needed to reschedule the event, I would have tried to do that. The way this went down honestly feels like a trap.

There are two separate things going on here. First, yes, organizations should avoid scheduling things on Rosh Hashanah and other major religious dates. That’s true even though your staff doesn’t get the day off (which is true of pretty much all non-Christian religious holidays at most organizations). But separately, your CEO’s reaction was wildly over the top — if he had an issue with the scheduling, he should have talked to you directly, not sent a scathing all-staff email raking you over the coals. It sounds like he disliked being questioned publicly about DEI (an issue he apparently hasn’t been very concerned about before now) and decided to respond with this attack. It reads very much like it’s coming from a place of spite (you made him uncomfortable on DEI issues so here’s what you get) rather than genuinely raising an issue with you. (One key piece of evidence: if he wanted to genuinely raise the issue with you in a non-spiteful way, he’d do it in a private meeting with you, or you and the DEI director, not in an angry all-staff email.)

I do think it’s a problem that the you pretty much blew off the CEO when he raised the scheduling concern to you initially! At least you should have circled back to him and told him you proposed going ahead with the date after consulting with the DEI director, and given him a chance to weigh in. It does seem kind of disrespectful that you didn’t do that when he’d told you it was a concern for him. But his reaction is so over the top that it’s clearly not about your actions.

2. I can’t give my employee satisfying answers to her questions

I have a newish report who is very thoughtful and asks a lot of questions about the work she does. This is the only client that she and I work together on. I know that she is working hard to understand our work and go above and beyond, which is really great, but this is a client that we can’t go above and beyond with due to the volume of work and a low billing rate that’s not negotiable. When she asks me why we do a certain process and if it’s open to changes, the real answer is usually either “I don’t know and I don’t want to look into it because we can’t get paid for that” or “We’ve always done it this way and setting up a different process will take longer than continuing the current process.”

I hate giving her such unsatisfying answers when I know that she wants to do well and I will say something like, “I know this is an unsatisfying answer, but we can’t spend time looking into this so I need you to just do what I’m asking. Let me know if you have questions about that, but anything outside of this process isn’t going to be relevant to this client.” I’m worried that shutting her down with this particular client will be discouraging. Am I saying the wrong thing?

Have you explained to her why you’ve determined that this approach (non-inquisitiveness and no changes) is necessary with this client? That’s actually a pretty interesting topic and would give your employee insight into a different aspect of your team’s functioning — i.e., she might not learn the answer to the question she asked originally, but she’ll learn how you make that kind of client management decision and why, and that’s valuable. Then once she has that baseline understanding, you’ll be able to refer back to it when it comes up in the future. (And who knows, once she understands it, she might be able to make suggestions that do fit in the framework you want her to use.)

Also, if you haven’t been explicit that you want her asking those sorts of questions about other clients, make sure you’re clearly encouraging that.

If you’ve already done all this, then you should be fine to continue what you’ve been doing.

3. Interviewer wanted a 2-hour “deep dive” into my life

I had a first interview with a hiring manager at a software start-up today, and it was going okay. I was feeling a little up in the air about it, but after I asked at the end of the interview what the rest of the process would be like, I immediately knew I was out.

My interviewer listed out four more interview rounds with different stakeholders and then a final round of what he described as a two-hour “deep dive” with him, that could get “very personal” discussing scenarios in my life and work and explaining how they impact how I work and the decisions I make. This felt wild to me and I emailed the recruiter to withdraw my consideration.

Is this normal? Is this a thing I should expect while interviewing for a mid-level tech role?

No, a “very personal” two-hour “deep dive” into your personal life is not normal or something you should expect. A deep dive into your work and how you operate there, sure. But if he was clear that it would also include your non-work life, that’s seriously overstepping and strange.

(And good lord, if they don’t already have a good feel for you after five previous interviews, something is wrong anyway.)

4. Drinking out of brewery-branded pint glasses

I work primarily from home and I also drink a ton of water/coffee/tea/seltzer/etc. throughout the day. If you’ve seen the memes about women with multiple half full beverages on their desk at all times, that’s me. I also have a decent little collection of pint glasses from microbreweries I’ve visited all over the world while traveling. I never really thought about what I was drinking out of, until today when a coworker across the country spotted the branding of a brewery from her area on my pint glass of iced coffee. The pre-meeting chat quickly turned to breweries, beer, other alcoholic beverages of choice, etc. I don’t think anyone was uncomfortable, but this was an internal meeting and our organization is fairly casual and open.

It got me wondering, do pint glasses from microbreweries raise eyebrows in a work-from-home setting? I do have other plain glasses that I could use, but they’re smaller which wouldn’t be as convenient. Should I make a point to steer the conversation away from drinking and focus more on the trip or travel if it comes up again? Avoid using brewery glasses with external folks on calls? Or is this something that people wouldn’t think anything of? For what it’s worth, the logos aren’t profane or inappropriate in any way, and most of them aren’t even something you’d associate with beer or alcohol unless you were familiar with that brewery and their logo (so not like Bud Light or anything that well recognized).

Nah, you are fine.

I would give a very mild caveat if the pint glass combined with the look of your beverage made it appear that you were drinking a beer, but based on your beverages that doesn’t sound likely.

(And to be clear, I don’t mean to suggest that everyone should scrutinize their beverages to make sure they can’t possibly be mistaken for alcohol! Generally, unless the misleading signals are as strong as with the non-alcoholic beer question from last week, this is a non-issue. But since you’re asking the question, it’s an interesting side point.)

5. I’m in talks for a new position but the salary they mentioned is too low

An organization wants to bring me on board as a consultant. There is no specific role/position; rather, they are carving out something new for me as they believe I can take on a very distinct role within their team. However, they have not given me a written offer or hourly rate. Verbally, they quoted a salary which I found very low when I later converted it to an hourly rate. Should I wait until they send me a written offer to negotiate the rate? Or should I bring up now via email that the rate that they have in mind is well below what I would normally expect? On the one hand, they are creating this role for me and I don’t want them to go through the trouble, only to see me back out because of the remuneration. On the other hand, I am finding it quite awkward to approach the subject without a written offer.

I’d raise it now since they’re probably assuming you’re fine with that number if you didn’t push back when they first named it, and you don’t want them to go through all the work of figuring out the role while not knowing that’s a deal-breaker for you.

You could say, “I know you’re still ironing out details and things may change, but I did want to flag that the rate you mentioned earlier — $X — would be a sticking point for me. Based on our conversations so far, I’d be looking for something around $Y. I wanted to mention it now in case that’s prohibitive on your end.”

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