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

1. My coworker demands my attention when I’m busy

I work with a woman who is senior to me in title. There are several of us and we each work for different bosses, but we all have the same grandboss. She is awesome when it comes to overall morale in the workplace. However, my issue is how much attention I have to give her when she wants to talk about her personal life.

Every time she wants to share her latest story about herself to the group, she notices I am not giving her any attention. She asks me from across the room in front of the others if I’m listening to her. I always want to ask her if it’s work-related, but I wisely don’t. Instead, I apologize, listen, and give the expected compliments or sympathies, and then go back to my work. Granted, her stories are only about 10-15 minutes and she only does this every few days or so.

I know it’s all part of the team-bondIng experience in the workplace. But I happen to have a boss who likes to pile work on me. I just can’t help but feel resentment that she has the time to tell stories when I wish I could take those minutes back to take breaks (which I never take but know I should). How can I politely and professionally get out of having to listen to her talk about non-work issues?

When she asks you from across the room if you’re listening to her, be honest! You can cheerfully say, “Nope, sorry, I’m right in the middle of something I can’t stop” or “No, sorry, I’m on a deadline, continue without me!”

If she suggests she’ll hold off on the story until you’re finished, you can say, “Don’t wait on me — I’m pretty buried today.”

2. Performance reviews during COVID

After a rough patch at the beginning of COVID, my company seems to be on a major upswing. My CEO just announced that we’re moving forward with reviews and we can all expect some nominal raises by October. There are two things I’m trying to figure out how to address:

• COVID. Like almost everyone else, I haven’t been nearly as productive in lockdown.

• My mental health. Right after reviews last year, I had a serious depressive episode that landed me in the hospital. As much as I’d like to say this didn’t impact my performance, it obviously did. I struggled to keep my head above water and even fainted mid-meeting due to some medication issues. I’ve also been taking half days 2-3 times a month for frequent doctor and therapy appointments. My manager has some knowledge of what’s going on and has helped me prioritize and manage my workload, but for the most part I’ve kept the severity of the issue to myself.

For the last year+, it’s been a struggle to just stay alive and employed. I don’t feel like I’ve made any remarkable improvements or contributions and I honestly don’t feel like I’m capable of providing a self-assessment that isn’t overly self-critical.

My therapist pointed out that I have been dealing with an actual life-threatening illness the last year and I should cut myself some slack for that AND COVID-related issues that everyone is dealing with. But I was raised to believe that personal life absolutely does not impact work-life and that my mental health is a part of that (and a personal failing). What do you advise?

The basic framing you want is, “Due to the challenges caused by the pandemic and some concurrent health issues, my main goal for this period has been to keep things running smoothly, but not to innovate or add major new initiatives.”

Because that’s true! So say that explicitly right up-front, and then assess yourself accordingly. You’re not evaluating yourself against the standards of previous years, but against what’s been reasonable for this specific period with these specific circumstances. (Your manager should take the same approach if she’s at all reasonable. If she’s not reasonable, this will at least open a conversation about what each of you considers realistic right now.)

And your mental health impacting work is no more a personal failing than cancer treatment impacting work would be (which is to say, it’s not one). Be as matter-of-fact about it as you would about any other health issue.

3. My coworkers want the creative projects we should outsource

My team, the communications department, is 15 people. We all are pretty busy, a bit over the line for what is reasonable to expect from a team of this size. We all have some level of creative tasks, but three colleagues have a role that is full creative (think design, photography, video, etc.). We also have the budget to outsource some tasks, which is lucky as the appetite for these full-creative tasks is huge and growing.

All three of my full-creative colleagues approached our boss (and mentioned the issue for the whole team) with the following problem: they feel that when we outsource the larger creative productions (say, producing a video), they are deprived of professional opportunities to grow and take on large projects. This is fair as far as that goes, but we need them full-time for the day-to-day work (take photo of X event and edit it so social media can publish in less than an hour) and these smaller tasks cannot be outsourced reasonably.

I understand their frustration, but when they want to take on a larger project, they often have unrealistic expectations on how much time they could devote to it. Often they’d say: I need a month just doing this. But that is just not feasible, as there is always something else to do. They constantly complain they have too much on their plates as it is (which, true – so do we all).

We already outsource all we can, so it’s not realistic for other team members to take on more (and the rest of us are not graphic designers, etc.). My boss tends to give in to them, which means we get less stuff done (which I know is my boss’s decision) but with more complaining about how the creatives are overwhelmed. Also we risk not getting the budget for this kind of expense if we don’t use it — we have one of these budget systems where saving money results in less budget for the next year.

On my bad days, I am frustrated by this. I would love to have a month blocked off for some of my projects, but it’s not going to happen and in the end I am paid to do what my boss tells me to do. How can we resolve this?

I don’t know that you can, or that you need to. Ultimately this stuff is your boss’ call. You can sit down with him and make the case for a different approach, using some recent concrete examples of problems the current approach has caused. And you can share your concern that not using the outsourcing budget means it’ll go away, putting all of you in a bind in future years. But from there, it’s up to him.

He might be giving into your colleagues because he’s a pushover, but he might be giving into them for more well-thought-out reasons that you’re not privy to. He might know he’ll lose your best people if they don’t get a couple of these projects each year. Maybe they came on board with the understanding they’d get to do this kind of work. Or not! But ultimately it’s his decision. You can make the case for doing it differently, but after that you’ve got to shrug it off as not your call.

4. Indeed’s “job assessments” on resumes

I wondered if you’ve seen Indeed’s job assessment “feature.” I was reviewing a candidate’s resume today and noticed that it contained a hyperlink. The link was in a section entitled Medical Receptionist Skills and purported to be some kind of certificate indicating that the candidate was highly proficient.

After checking to see that the link actually went to Indeed, I opened it and discovered that the candidate had completed a 16-minute assessment on medical reception tasks.

I find this very odd and I’m not sure how to feel about it. On the one hand, it’s clear that the candidate took this assessment in response to our job ad, so I suppose it counts as preparing for the role and interview. However, I have no idea what was actually assessed, and the idea that a candidate can show “high proficiency” in 16 minutes for a job that takes nine months of training for most workers is laughable. What do you think? Endearing sign of preparation or silly gimmick?

Silly gimmick. It’s not the job seeker’s fault; it’s Indeed’s fault for promoting this to job seekers as something employers will care about. Many, many job seekers assume that if a big job board like Indeed tells them action X will be helpful, it must be true. Unfortunately a ton of the time it’s not (see also: LinkedIn skill endorsements).

5. I don’t know which job my interview is for

I recently applied for two different jobs at the same company. I’m really eager to work with them in any capacity. Yesterday I got a call to schedule a video interview. When I hung up the phone, I realized I didn’t know what job I was interviewing for. I have a feeling which one it is because I can see which application was viewed first on Indeed, but I can’t be 100% sure. Since I’m open to working any position that they think would be a good fit for me, is it okay to go into the interview without confirming which job we are talking about? It feels awkward and clunky to go back now and ask.

Go back and ask, because if you don’t know which one you’re interviewing for, you won’t be able to prepare as effectively. And it might not even become clear at the start of the call, and if you have to ask at that point it’ll be a lot more awkward than just asking now. Contact the person who scheduled the interview (email is best if you have their email) and say, “After we spoke I realized I didn’t know if this interview is for the X job or the Y job, since I applied for both. Can you let me know which one we’ll be speaking about on Monday?”

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coworker demands my attention when I’m busy, performance reviews during COVID, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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