coworkers keep interrupting my closed-door meetings, is it weird to throw a party for coworkers at your house, and more

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

1. Coworkers keep interrupting my closed-door meetings

I am wondering how to address what seems to be an organization-wide lack of office etiquette. I was recently in a meeting with my boss, the CFO, in my office. We were discussing a serious matter and the door was shut. Yet two staff members felt it was appropriate to knock anyway, for access to non-urgent things like petty cash and use of the corporate gas card. My boss was standing near the door and opened it, visibly annoyed. He made a comment to the the two interrupters about the situation, but this is almost a daily occurrence and those two coworkers are not even the worst offenders. Today, I was interrupted (closed office door) by a staff member from another department asking if I knew where there was a vacuum cleaner they could use! That kind of pushed me over the edge, and the tone of my response was not the kindest. I indicated that I was unaware that cleaning equipment was part of the staff accountant job description and the person left in a huff. This goes on daily, even with a do not disturb sign on the door … even during an audit!

They are usually staff members from other departments. While I consider them peers in that I’m not a supervisor of any staff, in our company chart I am above them. My boss thinks I worry to much about being liked and I haven’t set appropriate boundaries because of this. He’s not wrong! I tend to let things that annoy me build up, until I eventually blow my stack. I know I need to be more direct, but my first go to about this situation was to put a sign on my office door which seems too passive aggressive. Please help before I really lose my cool!

A sign isn’t passive-aggressive; it’s practical and direct. Since you’re apparently working in an office where people think it’s fine to knock on a closed door even for minor things (and in some offices, it genuinely is) and you don’t want them to, put a sign on your door that says “in meeting — please do not interrupt.”

If someone knocks anyway (or if you forget the sign one day), it’s fine to say to the interruptor, “I’m in a meeting right now — please come back when I’m out” or “I’m in a meeting, but I’ll find you later” or so forth. If someone is a repeat offender, address that with them privately later: “When you see my door closed, please assume I’m busy and can’t be interrupted — send an email about what you need and I’ll see it when I’m done.” But none of this needs to involve blowing your stack! When you realize you can assert reasonable boundaries in a matter-of-fact way, you’re far less likely to end up frustrated to the point of losing your cool.

2. Is it weird to throw a party for coworkers at your house?

I work for a company that generally encourages team members to socialize and become friendly outside of work. I didn’t mind this when we were in-office (we have been working from home since March 2020) as this usually meant lunches, early dinners at restaurants, or happy hours near work. However, I have been on three calls this week where someone said, “When we are all vaccinated I’m going to have a BBQ, party, etc. at my house so we can all get together and see each other.” One person was my direct leader, one was my director, the third was a comparable level coworker. I know this sounds strange, but I would feel uncomfortable going to a coworker or leader’s home for a private party or BBQ. I understand COVID has changed lots of things, but I still feel like this is strange. I am polite and friendly at work, but I try to keep my work and personal social life separate. Am I wrong in thinking it would be weird to go to a coworker’s house for a private party? Or is this normal and I just haven’t been invited to any previously?

Another issue I foresee is that I imagine these events will take place on weekends or evening hours and I do not want to cut into my private, relaxation time to go to a colleagues home to socialize. I am inclined to being an introvert and need my free time to recharge. Besides crossing my fingers and hoping these events never get planned, how can I politely turn down any offers for outside of work hours events at coworkers’ homes if they do get extended, especially ones coming from someone above me?

There are offices where this is a thing that happens. It’s often — but not always — offices with lots of young people where the social boundaries are blurred, or a senior exec hosting a relatively fancy event at their home. There are also lots of offices where this never happens and would be odd.

It’s quite possible that the plans your coworkers are announcing will never come to fruition; we’re at a stage where it feels good (to some people) to talk about all the things we’re going to do once we can do them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll really follow through. If they do, though, it’s perfectly fine for you to decline the invitation because you have other plans for that time. That said, if the party is being thrown by your manager or director, it might be politically useful to show up for an hour, be seen, and then cheerfully take your leave … but you don’t have to do that if you’d rather not. People have plans outside of work! It’s okay for you to have a conflict.

3. Is eight interviews ridiculous?

My fiancé just got out of his eighth interview for a position. Yes, eighth. The job is a manager position, but nothing like a director or a VP. These interviews were with everyone from an external recruiter to a VP and have ranged from 25 minutes to an hour. One was more of a test where they presented him with some reports that they used and asked him to find various data. The recruiter has assured him that this was the final interview, but still — it seems like a ridiculous number of interviews. Our city’s offices are almost entirely remote right now, so all of these were video calls, but what if everyone was still in offices? Would they expect him to take time off of his current job eight separate times? We wondered if normally, they’d walk him around the office and introduce him to various people after a regular interview and everyone on the team could get an impression, rather than setting up eight separate meeetings.

Other things have made me wary, though. The company is under 40 people. They have no real HR. Multiple people he talked to have hinted or outright said that they’re dedicated to “the grind” — that people work hard and, sometimes, long hours. They have no time off policy, meaning that, in theory, people can take as little or as much time off as they need. In reality, though, I’ve heard (including from your blog!) that these policies often mean that taking time off at all is frowned upon — and without a bank of PTO that’s baked into a compensation package.

If only one of these things were the case, I probably wouldn’t think twice, but all of it together — plus the number of interviews — has me worried that this company overworks their employees and doesn’t respect their time. Some of our friends who he’s described the process to think I’m overthinking things. Of course, in the end, what I think doesn’t matter as much as what he thinks, and if he wants the job he’ll take it. I guess I just want confirmation that I’m not overthinking this, or that I’m wrong to be super wary. Is eight interviews not as over-the-top as I think it is? Are more interviews becoming more normal now that everyone’s at home?

Yeah, some companies are doing more individual interviews like this since so many people have gone remote. Maybe in the Before Times you would have met with, say, four people in one morning at the company’s office but now those four conversations are being scheduled in separate calls; since you’re not going anywhere to do it, they assume it’s not the same hassle for you that four in-person meetings would be. But eight is a lot. I’d pay attention to how organized they seem overall: Was this number of calls always the plan or did they keep adding on meetings and not seem to know what process they’d use or what to expect next at any given stage? What other signs has your fiancé seen about their level of organization, planning, and decisiveness versus chaos and indecision?

The other stuff could be bad or it might not be a big deal — it depends on details I don’t have. The best advice you can give your fiancé is to do a ton of due diligence — talk to people who work there or have worked there or who otherwise have the inside scoop, and don’t just rely on what he learned in formal interviews.

4. People won’t say my last name

Nobody at work will say my last name. My last name is not pronounced how most people think, and the way it looks like you should pronounce it, is a fairly innocuous word but could be considered an insult. For the sake of argument, let’s pretend my name is Katniss Pygg, and Pygg is pronounced like pie with a g.

So I’ll be in a meeting and the organizer will be doing roll call or reading the team names off a slide, and literally every other name is read “Firstname Lastname” but when they get to me, I’m just Katniss. Sometimes if they’re brave they say a very quiet, muffled Pffg. Because nobody wants to call me a Pig, right?

I’ve tried jumping in and saying “it’s Pie-g”, I’ve told people individually, I’ve even added the pronunciation as my Skype status. I never get upset when people say Pig or ask me how to say it, I usually graciously respond “that’s okay, nobody says it right! It’s Pie-g!” But still every day.. “We have Harry Potter, Mary Poppins, John Wick, uh, Katniss, uh, Jiminy Cricket…” even with people I’ve told before, and people who were in meetings where I’ve told people.

It seems like it’s gotten worse with all remote work, because I can’t smile and catch the person’s eye to let them know it’s okay to pause and ask how to say my name. Do you have any suggestions for how to get people to say my name, or do I need to just suck it up and call myself one of those one name celebrities?

I think (a) it’s probably never going to go away completely and the more you can resign yourself to that and decide not to care, the happier you will be (as with name misspellings), but also (b) it’s totally fine to jump in when you hear someone hesitating over your name and call out “Pygg!” If you notice someone struggling with it repeatedly, it could be worth a quick, private, matter-of-fact, “I’ve noticed you hesitating over my last name! So you’re sure for next time, it’s pronounced Pygg.”

5. Do I tell my internship supervisor that another employee is badmouthing him?

I’m a (remote) intern with a law firm, and I report to an attorney, Peter. I also work with several other attorneys, paralegals, and legal assistants. This has been great, except for the way that one of the legal assistants, Susan, keeps talking about my supervisor when in direct conversation with me.

Several times when working on a project for Susan, I have not known how to do something or been unable to access part of the client file, and remarked that I should ask Peter about it. Every time, Susan immediately and strongly responds by saying that Peter “hates being asked that sort of thing” or in general hates being asked questions. She has heavily implied or outright stated several times that Peter would be angered or upset by me asking him basic questions.

This could not be farther from my direct experience with Peter, who has been nothing but accommodating, friendly, and professional in all of our interactions. He has never discouraged question asking, nor responded in a way that indicated he didn’t appreciate being asked. Sometimes he will tell me to look for an answer myself, but even then it feels as if he is teaching me something, not that he’s annoyed or angered.

Should I let Peter know that Susan is saying these things about him to an intern who reports directly to him? I am confident enough in my relationship with him to disregard what she says about him for the most part — I know I can ask him questions and he’s not going to be upset, and I don’t know what Susan’s problem is — but the next intern might not be, and this could seriously damage their relationship with him and cause problems in the work product as well. (If it matters, there are other indications I’ve seen that things are not totally well with Susan and the rest of the team. For example, I received an email the other day saying, “Hey, Susan was assigned these reports and never completed them. We don’t know what’s up with that. They’re due today, can you get on that for us?”)

I could argue this either way. If I were Peter, I’d definitely want to know — but that doesn’t oblige you, as an intern, to take the initiative to be a go-between on office weirdnesses. And it’s possible there’s more to the situation that you aren’t aware of (like maybe Peter is very different with Susan than he is with you, who knows). So if you’d rather just leave this alone, that’s fine. But it also would be completely okay if you want to mention it to Peter! Don’t do it in a “Susan sucks” way, but more “it might be useful to give other interns clearer guidance on this since I can imagine it causing problems if someone thought they shouldn’t ask you anything.”

One easy time to raise it could be toward the end of your internship as part of a conversation about how things went … but you could also raise it now if you want to, and if I were Peter, I’d rather know sooner than later.