does being salaried just mean I work a ton of overtime for free, coworker won’t share a file, and more (2024)

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

1. Does being salaried just mean I work a ton of overtime with no extra pay?

My position became salaried a while back and, while I understand the general idea of it (no overtime compensation), I’m wondering how working overtime hours should or does function in the real world sense.

For example, I’m compensated based on a 40-hour work week. For a variety of reasons, my work week is routinely more than that and in the last few months has ballooned into approximately 48-55 with evenings and even a weekend day tossed in. It’s a workload and resources thing and, yes, my boss and I have discussed the non-sustainability of this schedule.

Now, I am afforded flexibility in my day. If I need to come in late due to a personal reason (doctor appointment, family health issues, etc.) or need to leave for a brief time during the day to deal with an aging parent issue and then come back, there’s no pushback. But my workweek is still over the 40 hours.

Does being salaried mean I just have to eat all this extra time and oh well? When I was hourly, obviously I got overtime pay or could take that equivalent time off. Now that I’m salaried, am I just … screwed? I work 50 hours a week, they get all that extra work, and if I ever want a day off I have to use a PTO day? So they get a lot of extra hours and days beyond a 40-hour, five-day work week and I get no extra compensation on my end? I love the flexibility when I have to use it but it’s not like I’m “stealing” that time and not making it up (and then some). So how is this supposed to work?

Yes, being salaried (or more to the point, exempt) is often a scam. It’s exactly what you wrote: you can end up working tons of hours with no additional compensation. In return, you get some flexibility. Depending on how that balances out, it’s very often not worth the trade-off. What’s more, we’ve somehow convinced people that being salaried is better and more prestigious! That’s the real scam.

That said, you can try setting some limits with your boss — saying that due to (fill in the blank — family commitments, exhaustion, health reasons, whatever you decide on), you won’t be available to continue working these same hours so you want to talk about how to prioritize. That doesn’t work every time, but it works more than you might think. (Big caveat: if you’re in a field where it’s widely understood that the whole industry’s norm is to work a ton of hours — typically although not always in exchange for high pay — think big law — this won’t work.)

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is being salaried a scam?

2. I got chastised for intervening with a friend’s hiring efforts

A colleague (Ben) just got promoted and will be hiring his own replacement. We work closely together, but I am not his direct report or in his department. Ben is one of the best colleagues I have ever worked with, and we are personal friends as well (we travel to see each other outside of work, we were at each other’s weddings, etc.).

I was nervous about finding someone who would do as good a job as Ben did and was eager to try to help, but I helped in the worst way possible. We had a detailed conversation about what the role would require, and afterwards I thought I knew some other folks at the company would be interested in applying. I told them about the opportunity and gave them advice about the role as I understood it. There wasn’t yet a formal posting for the role or a job description; however, the fact that Ben was being promoted was public knowledge, as was that there’d be a backfill.

This turned out to be a pretty big mistake. I felt instinctively “off” about it after I did it, and a couple days later I got pulled into a meeting with Ben and my manager. Ben told me that what I’d done was a major overstep and was a big issue for him; the conversations we’d had were expected to be private and I was giving advice I should not have been giving, which was not entirely correct, to people who shouldn’t have heard it yet. My manager also made it clear it was not acceptable and not something that could be repeated. I apologized immediately, told them all the details of the conversations I’d had, and after the conversation went over with my manager exactly what the problems were and reiterated my apology. I intend to apologize privately to Ben also, between friends.

In retrospect, I don’t know what I was thinking. I got way ahead of myself and made an error in judgment; I can see why they were upset. But I did not realize it was as serious a screw-up as it was, and I’m not sure where to go from here. I’ve rarely gotten feedback this negative in my career. I have no other discipline issues and have never had one this serious before. I’m good at my job and have never had a bad review. HR was not on the call, but they were on an email following the meeting where Abe summarized what I was to not do, and I responded by reiterating my apology and making it clear I understood.

I’m afraid I can’t recover reputationally. I want to keep my job, and more importantly, I worry I’ve jeopardized a friendship. How can I gauge how big a deal this is going forward? How can I work to repair the breach of trust with my colleagues? Finally, given that I made the mistake, what else should I have done — I think I should have told my manager sooner?

I think you will be fine! This stuff happens, it’s been addressed, and you immediately took responsibility for it, apologized, made it clear you understood, and said you won’t let it happen again. You weren’t doing anything nefarious; you were trying to help and just overstepped. It’s mortifying to get dressed down like that, but one incident like this against the backdrop of generally having good judgment and being conscientious is not going to follow you around forever. (And the intensity of your current mortification tells me that you are someone who’s generally conscientious; people who aren’t don’t respond like this.) It’s likely that two months from now, no one is going to be thinking about this much anymore, including you.

As for what you should have done, ideally you would have told Ben and your manager about it as soon as you started feeling off about those conversations, framed as, “I think I messed up. I thought it was okay to do X, but in retrospect I don’t think I should have because of Y, so I want to let you know what I said and to who, in case there’s any damage control we need to do.”

3. My coworker won’t share a file we both use

I work with, but am not the boss of, our department’s administrative assistant. We have worked together for two years, started around the same time.

The previous administrative assistant maintained a shared file of POs and invoices so we could all access them. I have asked the current assistant to maintain that shared file, but she just created a personal file that she maintains for herself. She has been off a little more regularly this year (vacations, sickness, surgery, bereavement, etc). When she isn’t in, I am her backup and people come to me with the questions they would normally ask her and without access to the file, it isn’t as simple to answer. This past Friday I asked her to share it before she went on a week-long vacation (early in the day, well before the time she was leaving) and her answer was no and that I should be keeping my own file on the same information. I said no, she keeps the file and if she didn’t share it with me then I wouldn’t be answering any questions while she is off all this week.

I have other responsibilities and keeping a separate file seems ridiculous to me, and it was shared previously. But am I wrong? Should I keep my own file? Or should I insist when she returns that she makes the file shared? I may have to get our boss involved. We are usually on friendly terms and while she can be a brat with others in the department, she is normally fine with me (there have been a few times that she has gone silent on me but I have brushed it off). Do I need to keep our relationship just professional and not be friends? We usually work well together and usually have someone I consider to be a friend where I work. Is there too much of a gulf between our roles to be friends as well as colleagues? I am at a loss of what I need to do in this situation and need some guidance.

You should absolutely tell her she needs to keep the file shared. You’re responsible for being her backup, which means you could need access to that file without much notice. It was shared in the past and it needs to be shared now. If she refuses, then yes, you need to take this to your boss. Your colleague is refusing an obvious and necessary workflow and making part of your job impossible.

Whether or not you need to move to a more strictly professional relationship with her is up to you. If you’re happy to stay friendly with someone who periodically goes silent and flatly refuses work requests, have it at! That sounds loaded, like obviously the answer is that you shouldn’t, but I mean that — it’s really just what you’re comfortable with. But don’t let a desire to be friends deter you from bringing your boss into this. Your boss would want to know.

4. When your mom is your only reference

My daughter is applying for full-time jobs. Right now her experience on her resume includes two part-time jobs that are vastly different skill sets. One is hands-on (think along the lines of camp counselor, birthday party leader) and the other is an office job, with admin duties.

The issue is that I am her reference for the job with the admin duties. She has been working here part-time through college and since she graduated. When she applied for the other job, (which is suited to young college-aged people and is not a career job), she listed me as her reference. We have different last names. There is no one else here who could be the reference for her. When they emailed me for a reference, I asked if they would call me. They did and I explained that I wanted to let them know I was her mother, because she didn’t want to mislead them and did not know how to get that across on her reference list. I gave them factual info about her duties, hours, and reliability. Now that she is looking for a more career oriented job, how do we handle this?

Yeah, you can’t really be a reference as her mom. You might be entirely willing to list off all her weaknesses as objectively as possible (my mom sure would; for all I know she’s doing it right now without being asked), but reference-checkers are going to assume that you’re biased and can’t speak in a reliable way to what she’s like an employee.

Which leaves her with the problem of what to do with a reference for her one and only office job! The best thing she can do is to be very up-front about it. She should only offer up references for non-you jobs and if someone asks for a reference for the office job, she should say (without any evasion or defensiveness), “My manager for that job was my mother, so I figured you probably don’t want to use her as a reference — although I’m happy to put you in touch with her if you do.”

Lots of people starting out don’t have office job references; people checking references for very entry-jobs will be used to that. (That said, if she has the opportunity to get more office-y references, even if it’s just volunteering or temping, she should do it.)

5. How to remind employees of policies when they break them

My organization provides therapy to children with disabilities. Our field requires extensive compliance and documentation to ensure fidelity with clinical and operational procedures. All employees sign off on the company employee handbook at the start of their employment. How can I best reiterate policies and procedures to employees without feeling like I am repeatedly throwing the handbook at them? For example, when an employee incorrectly requests time off, I usually snip the handbook policy and offer alternative pathways to ensure compliance from all parties. Is this overkill?

Interestingly, the subject line of your email to me was “if you sign the handbook, are you bound by it?” and that’s a different question than what your letter is asking — which I mention because I think that not recognizing that is muddying your thinking. Your employees are bound by the policies in your handbook whether or not they sign it — but that doesn’t mean that everyone will read it thoroughly or, especially, retain what they read there.

People are going to forget specific policies or just get things wrong. When that happens, sending them a copy of the policy is a pretty stiff/soulless way to handle it. Just talk to them! Remind them of the policy and, to the extent that you can, explain why that’s the policy. That’s more likely to help it stick in their head, and it’s better for people’s morale to feel like they’re interacting with a human who understands they may have been confused or not not have fully understood how the policy should have played out in their particular situation.

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does being salaried just mean I work a ton of overtime for free, coworker won’t share a file, and more (2024)
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