my coworkers want to bond over numerology, is my boss trying to thwart my raise request, and more

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

1. How can I get out of numerology at work?

My team is small, we get along great, and are fairly close. The other day, my well-intentioned, very nice, and otherwise very sane coworkers got into a full discussion about all the, for lack of a better term, hippie nonsense they wanted to participate in as a group bonding activity.

Apparently, before I started, they did some activity where they added up the numbers in their birthday to find their “number” so they can “better understand each other’s work personalities” and therefore work better together. This devolved into conversations about astrological signs, charts of some kind, and sun and moon signs. All fine, they’re more than welcome to talk about it do what they’d like between themselves. But then the suggestion came up that we should do it as a group activity so we can understand the best ways to approach each other, etc.

I … I do not know how to get out of this, being the only one who seems to think this is all crazy. If it were just-for-fun activity, I’d participate and just take no notice, but the fact that they think they want to use this to then adjust how they actually treat each other in the workplace worries me quite a bit. And, truth be told, I’m not 100% sure if my boss is on board with this, though a coworker said when they did it last time, she “loved” it.

Can I get out of this with any valid reason, and without looking like a curmudgeon? Should I just do it and ignore the so-called “results” and deal with any issues that stem from it as (and if) they arise?

At a minimum, you can say, “Honestly, this is very much not for me, and I’m especially not on board with using it to tailor how we approach each other.” If your team were large, I’d just leave it there — it’s not for you and you’re opting out. But because your team is small, you actually do have room to propose the group skip it entirely (because if your team is, say, four people, you’re 25% of it and have the standing to no, this isn’t a good team activity, in a way you wouldn’t necessarily be able to say on a 20-person team where 19 others wanted to do it). So in your particular context: “Honestly, this is very much not for me, and I’m especially not on board with using it to tailor how we approach each other. I’d be really uncomfortable with this being a team activity — can we skip it?”

2. Is my boss trying to thwart my raise request?

Last year, I took over a technical writing position at my company. I’m doing well, but I think my boss is trying to stifle my request for a raise.

Compared to my predecessors, I have nearly double my output, while having better overall work quality. My current boss calls me a rock star. My previous boss even recommended that I be considered for a higher position within the company when he left the company.

Last month, my boss gave me a raise out of the blue. It was a very hasty meeting, and the raise itself was much, much less than what I would have asked for; it was a $1,000 per year raise. To put it into perspective: even with this raise, my salary still does not come close to the market rate for the work that I do. My company is expanding and is not in any sort of financial hardship.

I believe that if I try to do a salary negotiation at the one-year mark, my boss will point to my previous salary increase and use this to justify pushing my request for a salary increase to a later date. What do you recommend?

I wouldn’t assume he was deliberately plotting to thwart you from asking for more money; he might have just thought you were doing a good job and wanted to show you that in a tangible way … especially since this doesn’t prevent you from asking for more if you want to.

When you’re at your one-year mark and ready to ask for a raise, go ahead and do it without regard to this small mid-year bump. Point out that you’ve doubled the output of your role, and cite the other contributions you’ve made and the market rate for the work.

If your boss pushes back by saying that he already gave you a mid-year raise, you can say, “I appreciated that! But what I’m asking for is $X, which I think my work warrants, especially given that our competitors are paying $Y.” (If you can’t specifically cite competitors, you can change that language to “especially in light of the overall market for this work.”)

3. I don’t want people sitting on my desk

I’m in a job I love with coworkers who are fairly wonderful. Though I have difficulty with social interaction sometimes and tend to be highly formal, they stop by my desk to chat often, and I enjoy the work friendships.

Until they put their rear ends on my desk. I’ve put a chair in my area to redirect the bottoms, a placemat on the desk to discourage sitting, and even started putting my lunchbox and purse on top of the placemat. It’s still an inviting area for some reason. I eat at my desk. Ugh.

I’m afraid of coming off too curt, because I do have that resting b— face, and I really am not good socially. I’d rather have their rear ends there than lose the visits.

The best way to do this is to frame it as a peculiar quirk of yours — as in, “I have a weird thing about people sitting on my desk — can I relocate you into that chair?”

4. Is my former manager too busy to meet up?

I have a question about an ex-manager who is too busy to meet up. I have worked with this manager for over one year and developed a really good relationship with her, and we are even friends via Facebook. Recently, this manager left the organization, which has been quite a sad loss for me. On her last day, we agreed that I could still come to visit her in her new role.

It’s been over a month now since her departure, and I have recently taken to contact her and ask whether she would like to be meet up for lunch. Her responses to me have been quite curt lately. She advised me of her unavailability on certain days, and availability on other days depending on what’s going on.

I feel a bit disappointed by her response as my intention was really just to catch up with her (which I did mention to her). Is she really just too busy at her new job or doesn’t really care about me anymore?

She’s probably just busy at her new job. It’s only been a month, which is very little time at all. Normally I’d have said to give it a few months before trying to set something up. But if she’s telling you she’s available for lunch on specific days, that sounds like she’s offering to meet for lunch on one of them, so why not take her up on it, pick one of those dates, and set up lunch then? If she backs out, then assume that yes, she’s too busy, and give it a few months before you try again. If it doesn’t work then, then yeah, I’d leave it there. That wouldn’t necessarily mean she doesn’t care about you, but people often don’t stay in touch when they change jobs because they get busy with other things, and it’s not personal.

Even if you do meet up for lunch, though, I’d advise tempering your expectations. Unless you have an unusually close relationship, this might be a “we get lunch once or twice and that’s it” situation, or a “we get lunch once every six months or so” situation, rather than something where you’re going to continue to see each other frequently. Pay attention to her cues, and see if she issues her own invitations, and match your level of outreach roughly to hers.

5. Well-meaning people keep offering me condolences … and it’s a lot

My mother died last year. She was a prominent public figure in our region; accordingly, many people remember her fondly. Ever since she died, clients of mine have been bringing up her death and offering condolences. This happens several times a week, often accompanied by lengthy reminiscences.

I know people mean well, but it’s incredibly draining. No one seems to consider that their comment might be the fifth one of its kind I’ve heard that day. Snowflake, avalanche, etc. She died suddenly and I’m only in my 20s, which I’m sure is also a factor: people see me, in that moment, not as a professional peer but as an orphan to comfort. One woman even offered to be a “surrogate mom whenever [I] need one.”

What, in theory, is a supportive gesture ends up, in practice, as a lot of emotional labor for me. It’s not pleasant to be forcibly reminded of my mother’s death multiple times per day, especially in a professional context. It takes me out of the moment. I don’t want to be rude — again, I really do appreciate it — but I need an appropriate way to shut this down.

That sounds so hard, I’m sorry. I don’t think there’s a way to head it off from ever coming up, unfortunately (although if readers have ideas about that, I’d welcome them in the comments), but I do think you can politely shut it down once it starts. When someone offers condolences, you can say, “Thank you, that’s kind of you” and then immediately transition into a work topic. Do that fairly quickly; if you let a silence sit there first, people are going to clearly going to start filling it with more remembrances about your mom, so make that transition a quick one.

Most people will follow your lead, but for those who don’t — for those who see you changing to a work topic and bring it back to your mom anyway — try saying, “I prefer not to talk about it at work, but I wanted to ask you about (insert work-related topic here).” Or “It’s difficult to talk about at work, I’m sure you understand” or “Oh thank you, but it’s actually easier for me to stay focused on work while I’m here” or so forth — all followed by an immediate change of subject to a work topic.

What other thoughts do people have?

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