Q: The wife of a friend of my boyfriend works in the same industry as I do and has been looking for a job. My department head recently mentioned that we’re short-staffed and asked if any of us knew of someone to recommend. I put the job seeker in touch with my department head.

Weeks later, I am getting requests through my boyfriend to follow up at work about the job seeker’s application. I don’t feel comfortable doing that, but I want to be considerate. Am I obligated to follow up with my department head?

A: Nope. You’re not a recruiter; you’re someone who granted a favor for an acquaintance. Even if she was your best friend and you sang her praises when making introductions, all communication beyond that point is strictly between the job seeker and the employer. Your following up will not help her chances of getting hired. And if she somehow made a bad impression, hounding your department head on her behalf won’t do you any favors ― much as her husband’s hounding you, via your boyfriend, isn’t helping her.

If your company fills its open positions, you might ask your boss if it’s all right to informally let your acquaintance know a decision has been made. But again, that’s the employer’s obligation — not yours.

Pulling off a “soft coup” of a bad boss

Q: I work for an inept boss. He is disorganized and constantly late for calls and meetings. His knowledge and skill level are low, his judgment is poor, and he actually impedes work. Everyone on his team is frustrated and exhausted from doing workarounds.

When the organization got a new chief last year, she asked us for our thoughts about our boss. We were hopeful she would make changes. After a few months, however, she told us she knows he needs to improve, but she doesn’t have any choice because no one else within the organization wants his job. She sent him to management training, but there has been no improvement. He’s in his 50s, so I don’t think he’s going to change.


Do we just accept this and continue to work around him? In the era of COVID-19, leaving is probably not an option. Any words of wisdom?

A: A dim bulb isn’t going to change itself. And rotating the room around it instead is terribly inefficient. But those seem to be the options your chief executive prefers over the most direct solution.

Ironically, with COVID-19, there’s probably never been a better opportunity to find someone outside the organization who would gladly take your boss’s place. But your organization chief might not have the heart to fire anyone in this market, or she may be wary of making any move that could be read as age discrimination against an over-40 manager. (Such as, for example, attributing his learned helplessness to age. The Peter Principle transcends demographics.)

Your elaborate workarounds might even be compounding the problem. Until his incompetence affects her directly — say, with a sudden mass exodus of burned-out employees or a significant failure on his watch — she has little incentive to make further effort.

But an employer that isn’t willing to kick a bad boss out might be willing to nudge him upstairs.

Even if no one wants your boss’s position, you all seem to have figured out how to divide his job among you already. How might your chief react if you and your colleagues diplomatically presented her with (1) specific examples of how the boss’s mismanagement has cost the company time, money or both, followed by (2) a coordinated plan to grant each of you ownership of a separate task or responsibility, with the bad boss’s revised job being to sit back and let you all make him look good?

Your chance of success with this soft coup depends on how well you and your colleagues can organize, how receptive your new chief executive is to unsolicited business strategies, and how effectively she can convince your boss to take a more hands-off role. A raise in exchange for doing the boss’s job would probably be out of the question; being allowed to do your job without his interference would have to be its own reward.

If that seems like too many “ifs” for too little payoff, putting out feelers for a better opportunity at another employer might be the simplest solution for you, pandemic or no.