coworker with severe dandruff, colleague is borrowing my email voice, and more


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

1. Coworker with severe dandruff

We have a coworker who has absolutely some of the most severe dandruff we have ever seen, like bottle of Kraft grated parmesan tipped over bad. We also wear dark uniforms which makes the problem stand out more. To kind of top it off, he’s definitely a bit of the awkward guy in the office and he also comes with his own set of communication issues with personally and professionally. Manager is aware but unsure how we can bring this up in a non-condescending (more importantly, non-embarrassing manner). Any advice?

Does it need to be brought up? If he’s customer-facing, then maybe it does. But otherwise … sometimes people have severe dandruff, or one long hair growing out of a wart on their chin, or an entire farm of nose hair, and it’s just part of the tapestry of humans. That stuff isn’t the most pleasant to look at, but it’s also not something that has to  be addressed unless there’s a clear work-related reason that it needs to be. (And with dandruff, for all we know he’s been trying to combat it without success.)

If this is in fact a job where it really does matter, like one where he works with clients who expect a high degree of polish … well, the goal can’t be to find a non-embarrassing way to say it, because there probably isn’t one! Most people are embarrassed to have this kind of thing pointed out. The key is to be kind and respectful when doing it. Your manager could speak with him privately and say something like, “It’s a little uncomfortable for me to say this but it looks like you’re having a problem with dandruff. Because you work with clients, do you think there’s something you can do to solve this?”

2. A colleague has borrowed my email voice

I need a temperature check on something. I make an effort to cultivate an authentic, warm, and professional “email voice.” Depending on my audience, I send well wishes and good vibes where I can. I know this “voice” wouldn’t be for everyone, but I have found a lot of success with it. I consider it an invaluable skill.

I was working with another company’s assistant (Jane) to book joint meetings for our bosses. Jane has a very different email style from mine: no exclamation points and straightforward. It’s old school chic and I respect it. We needed to confirm locations for about 10 meetings. I wrote an email (and cc’d her) to confirm the first one and then she volunteered to write the rest. Except … she didn’t? She copied/pasted my email, cc’d me, and then sent it out.

I know that copy/paste is a smart way to save time and everyone would have gotten that same email had I sent them out instead. Yet the wholesale use of my words (from greeting to sign-off) felt really odd. Especially when I could have just sent the emails. I took time to create that warm tone, which is something I had not seen her do. After the initial copying, I noticed she started to incorporate other phrases/style choices of mine. It doesn’t help that we have the same first name (surprise! I’m Jane too!), so her use of my “voice” feels extra weird. And frankly, there was a positive reaction to her new friendly vibe in the replies. People like the “voice!”

I’m taking it all with good humor and this isn’t something I’d ever bring up to her or ask her not to do. We don’t really even work together. But for my own internal calibration, am I wrong to feel put off by this kind of “borrowing?” And if she was a coworker, would I have any standing to say something? I definitely need some advice, because all I can hear right now is Dwight Schrute’s voice saying: “Identity theft is not a joke, Jane!”

Well, they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

I can see why that initial email rubbed you the wrong way — she volunteered to finish it and then sent it out as-is — but on the other hand, if there was nothing else to add, it’s not really that strange. And given the topic (confirming locations for meetings), I’m assuming it was fairly straightforward (as opposed to something full of your own thoughts and analysis).

I would try to let it go internally — you don’t know what might be going on with Jane behind the scenes. Maybe she’s been told her emails sound too chilly, she noticed yours don’t, and she’s modeling her new tone on yours. (That’s actually common advice when someone is trying to change their vibe at work — find someone you respect and follow their behavior.) She can’t really steal your voice if it’s distinctive, but she can borrow some of the trappings she sees you using … and really, a lot of professional stylings in the work world come from borrowing what we see people we admire do.

3. Should I tell my boss about my roid rage?

I recently had a really bad case of Covid and a persistent painful cough that lasted for over a month. After trying several different medicines, my doctor prescribed steroids and it made an enormous difference. It also had the really bad side effect of making me incredibly irritable. That’s actually an understatement — I was a rage machine and definitely told my boss off at one point. I nearly quit my job on the spot. It was bad.

I realized after about a week what was going on and was able to dial it back. But should I tell my boss why I was being so unreasonable? I’m normally a pretty amenable person and a few people checked in with me to see what was going on, so it was definitely a noticeable change in behavior. I’m just not sure if I should move on or tell my boss (and apologize) that I had roid rage.

Talk to your boss! If you don’t, then she’ll be left to wonder if you think what happened was normal and fine, and if she needs to be wary of it happening again. It should help the situation significantly if you explain what was going on — not in a “so this excuses everything” way, but in a “whoa, I figured this out and wanted to let you know, and I really apologize” way.

4. I didn’t receive the company Christmas gift

I work remotely and have been with my company for a little over a year. The corporate office is on the west coast and I live on the east coast. In mid-December some coworkers were posting on our Teams channel about getting a surprise gift box from work that had holiday candles, lotions, and the like, and everyone got excited about getting a surprise from work. Soon Christmas came around and we’re now well into the new year, and I never got one. At first I wondered if it wasn’t for everyone, but I asked the few coworkers I’m close enough with and they got it. At this point, I’m just thinking if I was sent one, it’s lost in some warehouse forever or it was stolen off my porch and I never noticed. I still feel left out and kind of hurt (granted at this point, I should just get over myself), but if it’s lost (or stolen) that’s not my company’s fault and I don’t think they’d overlook anyone in sending gifts.

I don’t know who put in the order and I don’t want to sound entitled so I just never asked anyone in HR or upper management. I don’t even know what good it would have done to bring up. It’s not like they’d get their money back. And what could they even do, say “oh, I’m sorry to hear it didn’t make it to you”? Should I have brought this up at all? Is something to keep in mind for next year?

It would be fine to let it go if you want to, but it’s also okay to bring it up if it’s bothering you — because it’s very unlikely that they deliberately left you out and more likely that something went wrong that they’d want to know about. Think of it like this: If you were responsible for coordinating gifts to everyone and someone didn’t get theirs, wouldn’t you want to find out why? Maybe the vendor you hired skipped a page of people and you’d be grateful for someone letting you know. Or maybe the intern responsible for updating the gift list dropped the ball; you’d want to know that too. Or yes, maybe it got lost in the mail, in which case they might want to file a claim, depending on the cost. In any case, it’s reasonable to speak up. (It’s also helpful to remember that this isn’t like asking a friend why they didn’t include you in their gifts; this is a business thing, they intended for all employees to receive it, and you didn’t, so you’re flagging a potential work-systems problem.)

I’d say it this way: “I realized I should have mentioned to you that I never received the company Christmas gift. It’s of course not a big deal, but I wanted to mention it in case it’s an issue with the shipping company or anything you’d want to be aware of for next year.”

5. When is post-interview lack of communication a bad sign about the organization?

About two months ago, I interviewed for what seemed like my dream job: more money, more prestige, more opportunities in my field. This was the final interview stage for a senior position. It seemed to go well, and they told me they’d be making their decision the following week. They didn’t, and after a few weeks I reached out to ask about an updated timeline. They said they hadn’t had a chance yet and asked me about time pressures on my end, but wouldn’t give me a sense of timeline beyond that.

It’s now been several more weeks since any communication. I know job timelines can be long and quiet, but there are a few factors making me weigh whether I should take this as a larger concern about the company (on the off chance they end up offering me the job!). First, they asked me to apply, the initial process was fairly quick, and the early communication was fairly regular. Second, after initially being very specific about their timeline, they were deliberately unclear when I followed up. Third, we’re a field defined by communication and networking. When one of my industry mentors checked in with me on where things were at, she expressed surprise because, in her experience, this is not the norm simply due to how our industry handles conversations more generally.

I’m not assuming I’m their top candidate, though given our industry and the players involved, it would make sense for me to be one of a couple being seriously considered. But if they do end up offering me the job at some point … should I take this lack of communication into consideration in my ultimate response?

I wouldn’t, just because it’s soooo normal in hiring. All sorts of things could be going on behind the scenes that are not only making things take longer, but are also preventing them from giving you a clearer answer. For example: they’re working out questions about the role and there are enough moving pieces that they genuinely don’t know when they’ll be able to come back to you … or something unrelated is consuming all their energy and they can’t prioritize figuring this out until that’s sorted through … or something internal has happened that might affect that whole team and they don’t want to make job offers until it’s settled but that’s confidential so they can’t explain that … or all sorts of other things.

Unfortunately, the best thing you can do is to just put it out of your head and move on. If they do come back to you with an offer at some point, I wouldn’t hold this against them (unless it fits into a pattern that you already had concerns about, but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case).

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