coworkers talk about childbirth over lunch, employee is abusing candidate referrals, and more

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

1. My coworkers love talking about childbirth during lunch and it’s grossing me out

My coworkers enjoy talking about childbirth at lunch. It seems like I can’t even eat my lunch without someone discussing a torn perineum. I’ve tried making jokes like “ha ha, I just want to eat my lunch without a side of placenta” but they just keep talking about it. I think because I’m a woman in my mid-20s they assume that I want to hear about this stuff, but the fact is that I find is disgusting. It doesn’t help that we have two pregnant women in the office so everyone wants to share their horror stories.

Should I just pack more snacks and eat lunch later or eat at my desk? I love to talk about weekend stuff, music, pets, anything but bodily fluids and babies.

I think you can ask — clearly and directly and without making a joke about it, so they know you really mean it — if they wouldn’t mind stopping. But if that doesn’t work and it turns out that everyone but you likes the topic and wants to continue with it, then all you can really do is remove yourself from the situation. (That doesn’t mean the topic is polite or appropriate; it’s not.)

So in this case, you could say, “Hey, can I ask y’all a favor? I love eating together and getting to catch up, but I’m really uncomfortable with all the explicit talk about childbirth. Would you be up for reining that in? If not, I can eat on my own — but I enjoy our lunches together so much the rest of the time that I wanted to ask.”

You will probably get some ribbing about this, but they still might agree to cut it out.

2. Employee is abusing our candidate referral program

I work in HR in a recruiting function, but I manage the entirety of the process, everything from resume screening to phone screens to moving people forward, to offers. We promote employee referrals (and offer a referral bonus) and I’m usually glad to get them into our pipeline.

However, we have one employee who loves to send referrals. Rather than referring friends or old coworkers, he “screens” people on LinkedIn who are looking for new jobs and sends them to me. I usually ask how he knows the person he’s referring and the answer is something vague “works with my old roommate” or “found them through their uncle on LinkedIn.”

I recently screened one of the referrals he sent over and didn’t think the candidate was anything special. Very average and not someone I would want to move into the in person interview stage. The employee then came to ask how the screen went and I told him point blank that I wouldn’t be moving them forward. He became very defensive and said that they sounded great when they spoke on the phone and they had a lot of skills we are looking for. I didn’t want to divulge too many details as I felt that would be inappropriate to my candidate, but I simply said that they didn’t have specific skills I was looking for. I also didn’t tell the employee that they aren’t trained at screening people and shouldn’t be attempting to do so. The employee came back again to talk about it and casually mentioned that he thought the candidate deserved “a fighting chance.”

This employee has previously referred people who have made it to in-person interviews and my managers have never liked his referrals. I’m at a loss. Should I address this with him in any way? Can I tell him to back off and stop trying to do my job? Tell them to only refer people he knows very well and can vouch for? I feel like this wouldn’t go over well with him as there are no standards currently in place to be able to refer someone, and I have a feeling he will attempt to skew this as something where I’m out to get them.

You can absolutely tell him to stop seeking out strangers on his own to try to recruit them! He’s not a recruiter, and you haven’t authorized him to do that (and he’s doing it badly).

You can say something like, “Please only refer people who you know fairly well or have worked with. We don’t want you to go looking on LinkedIn for candidates on your own, since you haven’t been trained to recruit for us, and generally you shouldn’t be doing your own phone interviews with people.” (That last part is tricky, because if he had better judgment, it would make sense that he’d want to talk with a candidate before agreeing to refer them. But if he’s just screening random people he seeks out himself, it’s going to come across to them as an interview, and he’s not authorized to interview candidates on your behalf — and he could be saying things that are legally sketchy or otherwise misrepresenting your company.)

It’s possible that saying this will be at odds with how your company handles referrals generally; you may not require others to only refer people who they can vouch for. (Referrals are different from recommendations in that way.) But if he points that out, you can say that’s true, but in his case he’s sending an unusually high number of referrals and it’s taking a disproportionate amount of time to screen them all. It’s not cool for him to try to refer as many people as he can in order to get the referral bonus, which probably what’s happening.

That said, in general it’s good practice to give employees feedback on how their referrals did so that they’re better able to target their referrals in the future and so that they don’t feel like their referrals are being ignored. That might help with this guy — if he sees that he’s clearly referring people who aren’t right — but it also might be too much burden on your time. That’s another reason to tell him to only refer people he actually knows and can vouch for. (To be clear, that’s not a rule you’d want to place on all employees — the point of a referral program is to get more candidates in the door — but it’s a rule for him, based on his behavior.)

You could also loop in his manager on what’s going on. You could even ban him from making referrals at all, but that may get into internal political considerations that I don’t have enough info on.

3. My coworker is visibly uncomfortable around my service dog

I recently started bringing my service dog to work with me. I went through all the required processes with my supervisor and HR, and found out that one of my neighboring coworkers (I’ll call her Carol) is very scared of dogs. I said I was willing to move desks, but they said it would not be necessary. However, Carol avoids me and my dog, and even refuses to walk within a few feet of my dog. If we’re walking in a hallway towards each other, I have to duck behind a wall or Carol gets visibly scared. I would like to help her be more comfortable around my dog, but don’t want her to feel pressured or coerced. Do you or your readers have any suggestions?

For context, my dog is about 65 pounds and tall. So she doesn’t exactly blend in. I keep her well groomed to make sure she doesn’t smell or shed excessively. She’s very quiet and doesn’t make any fuss.

I don’t know that it’s your place to try to help Carol be more comfortable around dogs unless she expresses an interest in that on her own (although I certainly understand the impulse to want to!). But you could tell her that you’ve noticed she’s uncomfortable around your dog and ask if there’s anything you could do differently to make her more comfortable, or if there are any questions you can answer about your dog that might help put her more at ease.

You could also mention that you’d offered to move to a different desk but HR didn’t think it was necessary — but that you’d be willing to bring it up again if she’d like you to.

4. Our new office toilet paper is terrible

The company I work for had a change over in president recently. This president has a much more significant financial background. Computers went from being upgraded on a certain timeline to only if they break and office supplies all got cheap, including tissues and toilet paper.

The toilet paper we now use is very rough single ply, and it’s causing havoc with my body. Over the weekend when I’m not at work, everything starts to feel better, but then I go back at the beginning of the week and it goes back to hellish uncomfortable conditions. I’ve always been super sensitive to things in that area but I’m a loss what to do. I really don’t want to have to carry toilet paper back and forth between my desk and the bathroom in our open office plans. Do you have any other suggestions for what to do?

You can try talking to whoever orders the supplies and asking if it’s an option to switch back to the previous toilet paper, but chances sound pretty good that you’re going to hear no. If it’s truly terrible toilet paper — like less sensitive people are also dismayed about it — then you might have more luck approaching it as a group. (Which will require you to discreetly ask coworkers you’re close to if they hate the new toilet paper too, which is exactly the kind of conversation I would enjoy but you might not.)

But otherwise, then yeah, unfortunately I think you’ll need to bring in your own. Rather than carrying a roll of toilet paper about the office, you could put it in a bag or purse, although I realize that’s still not ideal.

5. Employer has rejected me twice but keeps encouraging me to apply

I applied for a job and made it through multiple rounds of interviews, down to the final two candidates. I did not get a job offer. The HR person called me to tell me that they offered the job to the other person, but emphatically stated that my skill set was exactly what they were looking for and really encouraged me to apply for other openings.

Initially, I thought she was just being polite, but, I decided it was worth giving it another shot. I applied for another job with that organization about a week after being rejected. They contacted me to begin interviewing for the second job (different HR person, who is very new to the organization, and who I don’t think realized that I had just interviewed for the first job). Again, after several rounds of interviews and making it pretty far in the process, I did not get an offer. Again, the HR person called me personally to tell me that I was a great fit for the organization, the competition just was very stiff for that position and that there would be openings posted soon that he “definitely encouraged me to apply for.”

It’s a place I would love to work, I just starting to feel like this is a lost cause. I haven’t been getting any response from other places I’ve applied. This place seems to like me, just not enough apparently. Are they just being polite when they say all this? And is it worth the time/effort to continue to apply for jobs with this organization?

They’re almost definitely not just being polite. Employers are very used to rejecting people and don’t generally go to the trouble of calling someone to encourage them to apply again if they don’t really mean it.

And yes, given the encouragement you’ve received, it’s definitely worth applying again if you see something that looks like a strong match.

I’ve hired people who had applied several times before. Sometimes it’s just not quite the right match, or it was a good match but someone else was a stronger match, but it’s worked out later on. As long as they keep encouraging you in this very clear way, you should take them at their word.

coworkers talk about childbirth over lunch, employee is abusing candidate referrals, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.