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

1. Employee showed up at boss’s kid’s birthday party

This is a low stakes question but my spouse has had ongoing hiring issues (the team has a “we’re a family” vibe) and the fact that he wasn’t bothered by this blew my mind.

Our kid’s birthday was earlier this month and, after much debate, we decided to have a party outdoors at a nearby park that weekend. My spouse is very friendly/chatty with his team and I’m sure talked about the party a fair amount at work. It ended up being much bigger than we originally anticipated and was a bit chaotic at times. We ended up with close to 50 people (I swear this is relevant!).

On Monday, one of his employees mentioned that she had stopped by the park on her lunch break (the office is open seven days a week) to say hi and drop off a gift. She joked that she had greeted him as he walked by and he had looked right past her, so he must’ve had his hands full wrangling both kids amongst that crowd. He casually told me this amusing story that evening. He thought it was funny that neither of us had noticed her and that it was odd/quirky of her to swing by.

I’m baffled. This is creepy and super weird, right?! Who shows up uninvited to their boss’s kid’s birthday? I was semi-horrified by this and told him how many ways this could become a big optics issue ex: other employees thinking she was invited and they weren’t, thinking that gifts to the boss are a good idea, feeling that the boundaries between work/personal life are unclear, thinking there is an inappropriate relationship (unsurprisingly his office is drama-filled).

I feel like the fact that this wasn’t a big concern for him is a red flag that his hiring and management style are problematic and he needs some coaching/wise words. I’ve been out of the workforce since the start of the pandemic so maybe things are different now and I’m just a grouchy, antisocial weirdo?

It’s definitely a little weird and boundary-crossing, but I don’t think it’s as outrageous as you do. It sounds like this was a big crowd in a public park and your husband had talked about it a bunch at work. It’s a bit much, but it’s also not like she showed up uninvited to a small gathering at your home. To me, in this specific context it reads more as sucking up than as creepy.

I’d be more concerned with the “we’re a family” stuff and all the drama — that’s more of an indictment of your husband’s management style than this incident is, although this incident may be a symptom of that larger issue.

But I’m not convinced you can/should do anything about it. In general, unless he’s seeking your advice about his management, I’d leave it alone. (I’m convinced that none of us know what our spouses are really like at work, and all sorts of weird surprises would await if we did.)

2. Coworker we don’t know keeps taking the snacks we bring in

Our team often has morning teas, either to bond or to celebrate someone. People often bring in home-baked goods, and all the snacks are paid for by individuals.

We have a recurring issue where someone from our company but who works for a different team and on a different floor comes and steals the food from our morning tea. He does it without saying anything, or pretends like he works with us. We often see him wandering around the kitchen around 11 am or 3 pm, presumably to suss out if there is food. I don’t really have an issue if he is eating a few leftovers, but sometimes he takes a piece of cake, etc. before everyone in the team has gotten a piece!

We are now moving back to doing communal morning teas, and I am wondering if we can say anything or stop him from eating our food. We don’t know his name or who his manager is.

Yes, speak up! The next time you see him taking food, say, “Oh, that’s for the X team — it’s not for the company.” Or: “Sorry if there’s been a misunderstanding — that’s not out to share, it’s for an event for our team.” You should probably add, “Please stop taking our team’s food without checking with us. We’ve been short what we need when you take it.”

It’s possible he really doesn’t know that anyone objects to what he’s doing. He might just figure that if it’s in the office, it’s up for grabs. So frame it in your head as a kindness to let him know, and a kindness to any other teams he might be doing it to as well.

(Or hell, let him join in but tell him he needs to contribute food every time and see what happens. Maybe you’ll get something delicious out of it.)

3. I got a job through my dad and they make promises to him they don’t follow up on

I’m a graphic designer, and because of COVID I lost my job and moved into doing design as a freelancer. My dad is a high-level executive at a large company (not design-related) and generously put me in touch with a design firm his company works with. After interviewing, they agreed to have me do some freelance work with them.

It’s been great, but I work in one state while the firm is in another so I’ve never met any of them in person. My dad has, and often meets them at conferences across the country. When they meet him, they talk me up about how great I am and they want to offer me a raise and full-time and blah blah blah. My dad, of course, shares this with me. But they have never reached out to me to tell me this or offer anything. I’m getting the feeling they just want to make my dad happy, as he has a lot of connections. I’ve reached out myself a few times in regards to what they tell my dad, but I get mostly silence or “it’s a busy time, we’ll do this soon” responses. I love the work, I just wish they would stop making promises to my dad that they obviously don’t plan on following through with, as it’s been almost a year since this has started. Any ideas how to deal with this?

Ignore anything you hear they’ve said through your dad, and only put weight on what they tell you directly. It sounds like they puff things up when they talk to your dad because they think it will benefit their relationship with him — which isn’t great but might be the price of getting work through his vendor.

Keep in mind, too, that they might be saying things that are more vague than your father is taking them as — like they think they’re saying “yes, she’s great, maybe we could even make her full-time at some point” (which doesn’t contain any real statement of intent, just conveys general positive feelings about you) and it’s getting relayed to you as “they plan to make you full-time.”

Regardless, if they want to change something about your employment, assume they’ll talk to you about it. Don’t chase them down re: statements you heard about through your dad. Or of course, you can ask directly for what you want, but without citing their conversations with him.

I’d also look at this as a temporary stop-gap measure while you’re actively looking for other work. There’s too much chance that their interest is tied to their relationship with your dad/their client, and that’s not a secure place for you to be. His company could stop hiring them, for one thing. But also, you want to be known by your clients as a great designer they love, not “Rupert’s daughter.”

4. Can I be picky about assisting coworkers?

The work I do is very technical and very cyclical. I’ll be swamped for eight weeks, then bored for four weeks. This is the nature of the work, and I’m paid the same whether I’m busy or not.

During my downtimes, I often help out another department with their backlog of work, which is much less technical than my regular work — just two steps up from data entry. As far as I know, none of my coworkers with my job function volunteer for this extra work even though they have similar downtime.

My problem is: this other department often saves their worst projects for me. The messy, ugly, not fun projects that I don’t really want to do. Can I offer to help, but not with these projects? How do I say “I don’t want these projects” without sounding like a pompous brat?

Assuming it’s not an expectation of your job that you’ll help the other department and that your boss would be fine with you not doing it at all, you should be able to say something like, “I’m up for helping with X or Y but not Z. Let me know if you’d like me to do any of that.” Or, “I’m not really up for doing more Z (or “Z really isn’t my thing”) but I can help with X if you’d like.” Or if you’re comfortable being very direct and the dynamics allow for it: “I’ve offered to help out when I have downtime, but it’s starting to seem like y’all are saving the messiest projects for me. That’s not what I’d intended when I made the offer, but I can help with stuff like X or Y.”

5. How to succeed without a job description

I made a very slight career move about a month ago, from a very large corporate organization into a relatively new form of business services which I’m very excited about. Historically, I’ve used that tried-and-true tactic of demonstrating my accomplishments against my current HR-sanctioned job description and the “next level” job description to get promoted. However, my new role has absolutely no job description or clear set competencies, nor do any of the other positions in the company. Everyone seems very supportive and people progress, but do you have any tips for positioning myself for future promotions or opportunities? I’m nervous that the lack of job description could lead to “either we like you or we don’t” promotion criteria.

Set goals for yourself! What would a successful next 12 months look like? What measures would tell you (and your manager) if you’re doing a good job or not? If you’re unsure, one way to get at it can be to think about what a mediocre job would look like, and then write goals that contrast with that. Once you have something written up, run it by your manager to make sure she agrees that’s the right plan for you to work against for the next year. (This doesn’t need to be a ton of goals! For a lot of jobs, three to five goals is the right number, and some of those might be maintenance goals to keep things running smoothly and on track as opposed to making big progress in five different areas.)

Keep doing this annually (or biannually or quarterly or whatever makes sense for your position) and then when you’re asking for a promotion or a raise, you’ll have objective measures of your progress.

I shed tears over the idea of a company where no one has a clear job description or goals.

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