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

1. My coworker spread a false rumor that I have racist tattoos

I was recently tipped off to a rumor going around the workplace about me, created by a person in a supervisory position above me, saying that I have tattoos of swastikas on my chest (which I do NOT). I have no idea how far this spread before it got to me, but I was made aware of it in front of a room of my peers when I was conducting a training module that involved distribution of temporary tattoos (which sparked a coworker to tell me of the rumor). I do have tattoos on my upper chest, but they have no similarities to swastikas. I have no affiliations with any racially motivated organizations and don’t socialize with any coworkers outside of work.

I alerted my immediate supervisor of this rumor and asked for assistance. How should I proceed? Should I retain an attorney? Will my reputation recover? What does the law say about people in positions of power spreading false rumors about their subservient employees?

The law provides remedies for defamation of character by anyone (there’s nothing special for people in positions of power), but more to the point, why not go talk to the source of the rumor directly and ask them why on earth they think that about you? Express shock and disgust at the prospect, tell them that you’re horrified that they’ve told people this about you, and say you’d like them to correct the record with people this has spread to. Say that you’re concerned that this has falsely damaged your reputation, and ask what they plan to do to fix it. If you’re not satisfied with their response, I’d talk with HR and tell them you’re concerned about the impact of this on your reputation and standing.

It’s certainly possible that you could explore legal remedies with a lawyer, but you’d have to prove damages and there might be a more direct (and less expensive and less time-consuming) way of fixing this by just talking with the people involved.

2. My manager took away an opportunity I was excited about

I’m an HR manager, and I recently attended an Interviewing Skills for Line Managers training session with a few other managers. They appreciated the information, got a lot of value out of the session and indicated it was time very well spent. I then dedicated a lot of time and energy to taking what we’d learned in that presentation and combining it with our current training deck to create a more comprehensive Interview Skills/Recruitment Training session for all managers. During this project, my manager asked if I would be interested in rolling this out to our other offices and presenting the workshop globally (we have three other global locations). Of course, I said yes.

Fast forward a few weeks, and my boss has told my colleagues that this training can be presented by HR locally (with some fine-tuning per local legislation) and she wants me to present the session to my team, who will present it as their own.

Part of me wants to speak with my manager and ask why all of my hard work is being passed over to someone else and I am not getting this opportunity anymore, but part of me thinks that would be viewed as petty. I don’t want it to look like I have a problem with withholding information or that I’m not a team player. I feel like I am always sharing my knowledge, articles, ideas and time with my small team but am being overlooked and under appreciated in this instance. Do you have any suggestions? Is there a point asking my manager why?

It sounds like your manager thinks this will be a more efficient way of spreading the information, rather than you having to travel to each of the other offices. If that’s correct, that’s a pretty reasonable position and isn’t about overlooking/under-appreciating your work, but just about making a decision that makes the most sense for your company.

If you genuinely believe that it’s better for your company for you to do all the trainings yourself (for instance, if that would save others significant amounts of time), you could present that argument to your manager. Hell, even if you were just really excited to do it yourself and saw this as a growth opportunity, you could mention that and see if she’s willing to let you proceed as planned. But I wouldn’t look at this as a slight to you or as something unfair, because it doesn’t sound like that’s the case.

3. Applying for a job when I’m also on the hiring committee for it

I’m on the board of an organization that’s hiring an executive director. as the board chair and the person currently functioning as the interim ED, I’m on the hiring committee and am one of two people who will be conducting phone interviews over the next couple of days.

I would like to apply for the job and plan to clearly state that while I’m excited to apply, as a board member, I want them to be as unbiased as possible and hire the best candidate for the job. I’m coming into the process late, but we have a rolling deadline and I think my application would be competitive. Is it legally questionable to apply at this point? Is it legally questionable to partake in the phone interviews if I know I’m going to apply? (Note: we asked if any other board members could join us already and they all declined.) Regardless, do I need to submit my application in advance of the phone interviews?

In case it’s useful information, I am applying at this late date because I’ve gone back and forth a lot about whether or not to apply and because I wasn’t planning on applying if we had some applicants who I thought were really fantastic. Although some of the candidates are strong, I think I could be of better service to the organization.

None of this is legally questionable — the law doesn’t prevent board members or people involved in the hiring process from being candidates themselves. What matters is simply that the organization have a fair process that produces the best hire, and that others involved (board members, staff, members, and to a lesser extent, other candidates) don’t perceive the process to be have been unfair or biased.

That means that you should tell your fellow board members ASAP that you plan to throw your hat in the ring and ask if they’d like you to recuse yourself from the hiring process. Ideally you’d remove yourself from the process altogether; it might be too late to do that for the phone interviews scheduled for the next few days, but you should give them the opportunity to make different arrangements.

4. What to expect in a third interview

I had a first interview with the hiring manager and two potential coworkers that was more of a technical interview. I was then called back for a second interview with the full search committee, where I met with about 12 people across different departments that I’d interact regularly with. I’m definitely not used to being interviewed by 12 people in a room, but everyone was very nice (no stress interview tactics) and I felt like I did a really good job. If nothing else, it confirmed that I really wanted to work with these people.

At the end of the second interview, the hiring manager told me they had a few more candidates to interview, and then they would contact the references of their first choice. I didn’t hear anything for about two weeks, and my references confirmed no one had called them, so I just assumed they had gone with another candidate, and did my best to put the job out of mind.

Flash forward to last Friday, when they suddenly asked to set up a third interview between me and the department director (the hiring manager’s boss). I’ve actually never had a third interview before, so I have no idea what to expect. I’m trying to get prepared, but I’m not sure if this is going to be a technical interview (seems weird for a director to do), or more of a personality fit kind of interview. I know this is the annoyingly broad kind of question you probably hate, but can you give me any idea of what I should expect?

In general, I’d expect less of a technical focus, but beyond that it could be anything — it could be a basic “get to know you”/personality/culture fit kind of thing, or it could delving into your background, or it could be exploring how you’d handle particular situations or challenges. It just depends on what this particular interviewer is interested in assessing. Also, don’t assume it won’t cover some of the same ground you covered with others earlier — it very well might, because some interviewers like to do their own assessments rather than relying on reports from others.

5. Putting graduate-level GPA on a resume but not the undergrad GPA

I recently finished my master’s degree with a 3.67 GPA. I didn’t perform as well during my bachelor’s degree (below 3.0) however because I was working full time throughout it. My first question is whether a 3.67 is a good enough graduate school GPA to include on a resume? And second is if I do include my master’s GPA, is it necessary for me to also include my bachelor’s GPA? I’m not sure how it would look if I only listed my most recent GPA.

For undergrad, I don’t suggest including any GPA lower than 3.7 on a resume. But at the graduate level, a 3.7 GPA is good but probably not resume-worthy — since in many programs you need a 3.5 just to stay in. So I’d leave both of them off. (And in fact, I probably would have suggested leaving them both off even if you had a 4.0 for your masters, simply because most employers care even less about graduate GPAs than they do about undergraduate ones — with some exceptions, like law firms.)

{ 8 comments }

update: I caught an employee in a lie

by Ask a Manager on July 28, 2014

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Remember the letter from the manager who caught an employee lying about sending a FedEx shipment that she hadn’t really sent? Here’s the update.

While the employee is still working here, I did finally get support from my manager (the president) to write her up, and when I did her annual review, it stated all of the incidents that occurred – it was the worst review she had ever received. I was firm and direct and left my emotions out of it, even though she started crying. I explained that we are all going to make mistakes and that I am always willing to help resolve issues when she does something wrong, but lying about it is not going to be tolerated at all. It seems her first instinct is like a teenager: say whatever she can to not be in trouble. I advised her to stop and think before she speaks to make sure that what she is saying is the truth.

The vice president also talked to the owner of the company (who is out of state but came for a site visit) and brought him up to speed and he agreed that she will be terminated the next time she lies about anything. The only reason she wasn’t terminated now is because the parent company just gave out annual bonuses and the owner (who is also an attorney) said that he would have a hard time defending the termination when less than 2 weeks ago she was given a very nice bonus. He was also not very happy to learn that the president has been sweeping this problem under the rug for so long and for not bringing it to his attention earlier.

I now feel like I have the proper backing to perform my job and make sure my direct reports are held accountable for their actions. Prior to this, I felt like it didn’t matter what happened, the president was going to override me and do whatever he could to “not rock the boat.” This all happened about 3 weeks ago and we have had one incident when she didn’t perform a task I had assigned to her; when I asked her about it, she started to lie and say she had started the project but caught herself and admitted she hadn’t gotten to it yet but gave me a time frame of when she expected it to be done. For now, it looks like she is on the right track and only time will tell if she stays on it.

Me again. I know your hands are tied, but it’s ridiculous that your company is keeping on someone who’s known to turn to lying when it suits her. This is not a situation where you should be giving someone chance after chance, and even if she pulls it together for a while, you’re going to have to watch her like a hawk forever. Your company is being silly here.

{ 65 comments }

5 ways to modernize your job search

by Ask a Manager on July 28, 2014

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featured-on-usnIf you’re still following job search advice from a decade or more ago, you might be inadvertently sabotaging your own chances of getting hired. And if you think you’re too young to be doing that, think again: It’s not just workers with decades of experience who fall into this trap – even 20somethings fall victim to it, because they’re relying on outdated job advice guides, parents who don’t realize that hiring conventions have changed, or college career centers that haven’t updated their knowledge for the way things work today.

At U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about five ways to modernize your job search to compete in 2014. You can read it here.

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A reader writes:

A friend of mine recently told me that her boss takes her and a coworker shopping a couple of times a year. Sounds nice, huh? Apparently the shopping experience is done together and the boss directs the employees to what they can look for (shoes, handbag, etc.) and then upon her approval, she’ll buy the items and they are on their merry way. She presents it as a treat, but I think she just wants them dressed more professionally. My friend always looks nice, but she isn’t really the “suit and dress” type. She prefers slacks and a blouse. She does not meet with any clients; she sits behind a desk most of the day, so I don’t know why this lady is such a whack job about the clothes.

Recently, the boss could not go and told the gals to visit a particular department store and find dresses, suits, handbags, shoes, bras and underwear. They were told to place the items on hold and that she would go the next day and review the items and buy them upon her inspection. My friend felt uncomfortable having her boss “review and accept” bras and panties and therefore did not place any on hold. The next day, the boss complained about her not choosing the undergarments and complained that she had to go to the lingerie department searching for the items “on hold” – annoyed that nothing was there. When my friend told her she simply didn’t need any new undergarments, she was scolded for not following the rules. The boss did, however, allow the rest of the items and brought them in for her.

Personally, if I want to treat my staff to something special, I take them to lunch and toss them a gift card (or cash) and a smile. When I heard this story, I thought it was kind of inappropriate. Almost borderline sexual harassment. I had suggested she decline the next shopping adventure and hope for a gift card instead. But apparently the boss doesn’t want the employees spending the money on their kids or anyone else but them. And obviously doesn’t want them wearing anything she doesn’t feel is worthy. What are your thoughts?

What?! Whoa. No.

This is completely weird and inappropriate.

And I have so many questions: Has she ever rejected an item they proposed buying? Did she give them any particular guidance on the underwear piece of this excursion, and if so, what was was it?!  What on earth did they say to her when she told them to pick out bras and underwear?

In any case, if it was just her taking them shopping, it would be a generous gesture, if a bit boundary-crossing. Throw in needing to get her approval for the shoes and handbags and so forth, and it’s pretty controlling, but it’s more weird than outrageous.

But directing them to purchase bras and underwear? Insisting that she approve those bras and underwear first? Chastising them when they don’t put lingerie on hold for her to look at?

Um.

No.

If she were a man, this would be obvious perviness. I’m not sure if she gets a pass on that simply for being a woman, but I suppose it’s possible that it’s about being wildly inappropriately controlling in a somewhat psychotic Edward Cullen sort of way rather than perviness.

But it doesn’t really matter, because either way it’s outrageously inappropriate. Your friend should be straightforward with her and say something like, “Jane, I appreciate the clothing, but I prefer to buy my own underwear, thanks.”

{ 378 comments }

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

1. Coworker keeps singing near my desk, even after I’ve asked him to stop

I have a job that I love, and coworkers that I enjoy. However, where I sit in the office is becoming problematic. My desk is located in an open office space. There are others with actual offices around me, but my coworker and I sit out in the open floor area. This is great for being accessible to others, but there is one colleague that I am constantly having problems with. I’ll call him Mark.

Mark will often come by and talk loudly to himself or sing a song or whistle. He does even if it’s clear that my coworker and I are in the midst of focusing on work and not interested in engaging. This does not seem to bother my coworker, but it is incredibly distracting for me. I’ve asked him nicely to please stop. I’ve asked him to stop in the guise of a joke. I’ve snapped at him to stop once or twice. Nothing seems to work.

Today, he came to use the printer behind my desk and proceeded to sing a song of his own creation about the printing experience. I turned around and said jokingly, “just because you’re printing something, doesn’t mean you need to sing about it,” to which he responded, “I’m just enjoying life.” When I said, “I enjoy life too, but I do it quietly,” he replied, “You mean ‘sullenly’.”

I’m at my wits end. I don’t want to nag at him to stop. I’m not even sure he notices that he does it sometimes, and he definitely doesn’t notice how his noise impacts others’ work experience. I don’t want to look like the coworker with no sense of fun or humor, or the person who is always shutting down the good time. What can I do?

You could shush him each time it happens. Or you could do what I recommend managers do when there’s a pattern of problematic behavior from an employee: talk to the person about the pattern, rather than each individual instance. For instance: “Mark, I know we’ve talked about this in the past, but I want to raise it again because we haven’t solved it yet. It is very difficult for me to focus on work when you talk, sing, or whistle in my workspace. I know you might not think about it because my desk is in an open space, but it would be like me walking into your office and standing there singing. I really need to be able to focus on work — can you humor me and try to remember to keep it down when you’re at the printer and so forth?”

Also, Mark is a bit of an ass.

2. Was this hiring manager just being nice or is his interest sincere?

I graduated from college two months ago with a degree in communication. I worked for my student newspaper, had an PR internship with the college communication department, and then worked as a writing tutor in the library, so writing and editing are my strengths. Recently, a local PR and advertising company (one that not only has a fantastic reputation but also happens to employ one of my aunts) posted a copy editor/proofreader job. Since it was the one job there I felt I was qualified for, I applied immediately and got an interview. The interview was with someone fairly high up in the company, and even though he was very courteous and I thought the interview went well, I knew a company with such a great reputation would have a thousand more qualified people knocking down its door so I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t hear anything back.

The interview was a month ago, but I just saw my aunt who works at that company yesterday at a family get-together. She said they hired someone else for the copy editor position, but she also said the executive I interviewed with came to her desk, told her how great I was to interview and how articulate I was, and then said if I wanted to do PR I was definitely someone they’d be interested in. I would love to go into PR and my aunt said I should follow up. Here’s the thing: I don’t think I’m qualified for any of the jobs that are still open. Why would he not hire me for the position I had experience in but suggest positions for which I don’t even meet the minimum requirements in the job postings? It seems like he was just being nice, but I don’t want to squander an opportunity because I made assumptions. What should I do?

It’s possible that he was just being nice, but it’s also possible that he fully meant what he said. You have nothing to lose by assuming he meant it, and plenty to lose by assuming he didn’t, so you at least be open to the possibility that he was sincere — and follow up. Send him an email telling him how much you appreciated his time last month and that while you understand the proofreader position has been filled, your goal is to work in PR and you’d be grateful for any advice he can give you. If he was just blowing smoke at your aunt, this won’t do you any harm. But if he meant it, you might get a useful response and potentially something more down the road.

3. Leaving a job without notice due to domestic violence

I recently left a job with no notice due to a domestic violence situation. It occurred over the weekend, I had no friends or family in the area to stay with, and I absolutely could not safely remain living where I was — it was safest for me to pack and return 500 miles to my hometown in a very short time frame. I don’t know how to address leaving due to a “personal emergency” and thus being unrehirable by my former company with future job applications/interviews. Help?

“I had a family emergency that required me to relocate without much notice, unfortunately — but before that, I had an excellent X years at that job, with glowing performance reviews and achievements like X and Y.”

Also, consider reaching out to your old company and seeing if you can negotiate what they’ll see in response to future reference-checkers. I’m not sure how you left it with them, but if you explain however much you’re comfortable with, you might find that they’ll be very understanding of the situation. How’s your rapport with your former manager there? Or someone in HR? I’d pick the person you’re most comfortable with — or the one who seems most level-headed — and give them either a brief rundown of the situation if you’re comfortable with that, or an apologetic explanation that you can’t share details but a family emergency or safety issue was involved.

4. Bringing my boyfriend to an interview

I have an interview at the Ministry of Social Development on the 4th of August. (I’m in New Zealand). When I got the email inviting me to attend an interview, they told me that I could bring a support person with me if I told them in advance.

I’m planning to bring my boyfriend as a support person, but I’m also a bit concerned that the interview panel might see this in a negative light. I guess it’s kind of unfair to offer the option of bringing a support person, then judge candidates negatively if they exercise this option. But I’m just not that clear about the process. I thought you would have some good insight into this.

Are you sure they mean “moral support” and not “if you have a disability and need assistance”? I would absolutely not bring your boyfriend or anyone for moral support. It’s possible that New Zealand has really different conventions that we do, but in general, bringing a boyfriend or friend or a friend to an interview — particularly if framed as being for moral support — would come across as unprofessional.

5. Preventing employees from abusing overtime

As president of a small company, how do I prevent employees from abusing overtime? Our policy is to have permission beforehand, but this is ignored. We are required to pay overtime whether approved or not.

You handle this the way you would handle any other rule you need people to follow: by having consequences when they don’t. In this case, because you have to pay them overtime or risk legal fines, it’s serious enough that it wouldn’t be crazy to make it a fireable offense  – and indeed many companies do exactly that. Warn people once, and be willing to fire them if it’s a pattern.

{ 238 comments }

Sunday free-for-all – July 27, 2014

by Ask a Manager on July 27, 2014

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OliveIt’s the Sunday free-for-all.

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand. Have at it.

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

1. Asking about birth control coverage when interviewing with faith-based organizations

I’m a young nonprofit professional with interest in working for a variety of faith-based organizations. Given all the current controversy extending even beyond the nonprofit field, it’s recently hit home for me that in the near future, I may very well in interested in taking a job at an organization whose employee health insurance does not cover contraceptives. I would never want to work for such an organization as it is clear that their mission and entire organizational culture is opposite of my own beliefs.

Normally, I would never bring up the specifics of employee benefits until after an offer has been given, but this issue seems to have a totally different foundation. I wouldn’t want to waste either of our time by going through an entire interview process only to reject the offer for these personal reasons. Is there any way to bring this up tactfully earlier in the process?

Probably not. Asking about details of benefits usually doesn’t go over well until you’re at the offer stage (or close to it). I suppose you could frame it as inquiring how they’re responding to the controversy on the issue, which might get you some information, but which may or may not feel relevant, depending on the specific organization you’re talking to.

But you can certainly ask at the offer stage. And if you discover an organization isn’t covering birth control, you can certainly make it very clear that you consider that unacceptable and that that’s why you’re turning down the offer.

2. How should I point out that my coworker plagiarized?

I realized that a staff writer has plagiarized one of their pieces from an earlier work by a another university staff member. There’s no attribution to the original piece, and the staff writer’s piece is essentially a shortened and partially rephrased version of the original piece. It’s the exact kind of plagiarism I constantly work against at my job (I’m a writing tutor). I have never met this person, and may never meet them, as they work at the main campus in another state. Typically when I email someone at the university campus, I don’t get much of a response. Should I email the staff writer asking her to at least credit the original source? Is it appropriate to bring it up to anyone else?

I’d email the writer and cc her manager, saying something like, “I noticed that this piece appears to have been pulled from ____ but doesn’t have attribution. Wanted to give you a heads-up that it’s missing the original source.” Cc’ing her manager may seem like overkill, but plagiarism is a big enough deal (and in an university environment, your coworker can hardly be oblivious to that) that it’s reasonable to make sure that someone other than her knows that it happened.

3. My job offer was revoked over my availability

I am a college student who just accepted a new part time job nearby campus that I am really excited about. I signed an employment offer form and am days away from orientation. I have given my two weeks notice at my previous job as well. I just was asked today about my availability. I sent them an email containing my availability, which includes a week and a half time I cannot work because of a school extra curricular commitment that I cannot get out of. I had mentioned this week long commitment during my job interview and I was assured it would not be a problem. Following my email I received a phone call saying that they are not going to give my any hours for the rest of the summer because of my unavailability and that I can apply again when my availability opens up.

Are they even allowed to do that? I had already been offered the job and had quit my other job because I really need the job. I have plenty of availability for the week before my commitment to do all the training they need me to do, the only problem seems to be the week I cannot work. After that week school will start and my availability will be even more limited, so I don’t even know if they would take me if I applied after. I am overly qualified for the position and have 2 years of previous experience working at the same company back home. I am not sure how to approach this whole situation.

Yes, they’re allowed to do that, but it’s crappy. I’d try calling the person who hired you and pleading your case — point out that you’ve already quit your job because you thought you had an agreement with them and that you were clear about your availability in your interview. Ask them to reconsider since you’re now in a difficult spot as you’ve already resigned your current job (stress that part, because it should make them feel ridiculous for doing this).

4. Getting a vacation time bump when you negotiated extra vacation time earlier

My husband started at his current company 5 years ago. When he started, he negotiated a starting salary, benefits, and vacation package of a senior employee. The company put him at the 5-year mark with respect to vacation – or 3 weeks of paid time. However he recently realized he may not be bumping up to the next level of paid vacation. While all the 10-year employees will get 4 weeks, he believes he will still get 3. He hasn’t confirmed this with his manager or with HR though.

Because he technically only has 5 years with the company, he is unsure if he should speak with his manager about moving up to the 10-year mark for vacation. At the same time he doesn’t feel that waiting another 5 years at this company for the additional vacation is something he wants to do at this point in his career. The company also allows no unpaid time off, so scheduling longer family vacations has been tricky as our children get older. Should he raise this topic in advance of the yearly review cycle in 2015 in order to give his manager time to review any options with HR? What would be the best way to approach this with his manager or HR?

Yes, he should absolutely raise this — maybe a month or two ahead of the review cycle. This isn’t something that should take major advance notice to implement (it should be a simple adjustment if everyone is agreed, which they should be), but if he wants it to kick in at that point, it’s reasonable to raise it before then.

5. Citing experience moving around because of a parent’s job

I grew up moving from one place to another because of my dad’s job (US, Singapore, England). Is there a way to use this experience(s) in answering interview questions or use to stand out/grab attention during my job searches and interviews?

Probably not. Experience with other cultures and the ability to quickly adapt to new contexts are both useful things, but that’s trumped by the fact that citing experiences from childhood and adolescence generally doesn’t come across well in a hiring process — unless it comes up organically in conversation with your interviewer. It’s not something that’s likely to be a differentiator; it might just be an interesting point in conversation. I’d construct your candidacy around what you’ve achieved, far more than where you’ve lived.

{ 187 comments }

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This was originally published on March 28, 2011

Someone told me recently that I was his only manager who ever asked him to specifically report on what he wasn’t getting done. Other managers wanted to know plenty about what was happening — but because they never asked him about what he wasn’t getting to, he assumed he’d just better be getting to all of it.

This works fine if a person’s workload is completely manageable. But when workload is high, it can lead to all kinds of bad things:

* employees who are chronically trying to get an unreasonable amount done, which leads to mistakes and burn-out

* some things necessarily not getting done, and these may be the wrong things

* some things necessarily not getting done, without the manager realizing it and having the opportunity to step in

As a manager, you want your people to proactively tell you about what’s not happening that ideally would be happening. And that’s because you want to be part of choosing what those things will be — not just letting them get selected by default. And you want to have the chance to say, “Actually, X is really important, so let’s push back Y instead / bring in temp help / get Joe’s department to help out with this / use this as the impetus to finally think seriously about adding a new staff position.” Or, if none of that is feasible, you want to at least know.

Alternately, if the problem isn’t the workload but is in fact the employee’s productivity, you want the opportunity to know about that, and to know that these specific things are going undone. You’ll find out eventually, believe me — but if you wait until you find out on your own, the problems may be way worse than if you’d caught them early on.

So you want your employees to proactively talk to you about what things they’re regularly not having time to attend to. And since many (maybe most) people won’t do that on their own, you need to ask them, and you need to make it safe for them to give you an honest answer.

But instead, what I often see are managers who pile on more and more work without asking what’s reasonable, who signal to their staff that they better just find a way to cram it all in, and who are then shocked when they eventually learn that some things aren’t getting done.

This is not to say that you should excuse employees who don’t maintain a high level of productivity; believe me, I have high expectations when it comes to productivity. Some people who have worked for me would say they’re too high, in fact. (But they’re not.) But it does mean that if you don’t approach issues of workload in a realistic way, with a premium on encouraging people to communicate, you’re basically guaranteeing that some important things won’t get done (or at a minimum won’t get done well) and you won’t even know about it until it’s too late.

So try it. Ask: “What things are you finding that you don’t have time to get to?” You might learn useful things that you didn’t know.

{ 27 comments }

open thread – July 25, 2014

by Ask a Manager on July 25, 2014

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Lucy playingIt’s the Friday open thread. This post is for work-related discussions only. Please hold anything off topic for the free-for-all open thread that’s coming this Sunday.

The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything work-related that you want to talk about. If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet, but this is a chance to talk to other readers.

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

1. HR is banning comments on our performance evaluations

Why would HR suddenly decide that no comments will be allowed on performance evaluations? For the past 20+ years with my employer, performance evaluations have consisted of meeting with one’s supervisor to review and evaluate the past year’s performance, and assigning a numerical rating supported by a brief narrative for each area of job responsibility. It usually also included a brief summary of goals or plans for the coming year.

When scheduling my evaluation this year, my supervisor advised that from now on, our new policy is to allow only number ratings and no comments on the evaluation form that is submitted to HR. Furthermore, she said she was forced by HR to delete all comments from last year’s performance evaluation last year without telling me first! The new policy is as follows: only if a rating is a 1 (does not meet) or a 5 (exceeds) are we allowed to include comments. For the middle-of-the-road ratings (2,3,4) however, it has been decided that “comments only confuse the rating, so they have been eliminated.” (Direct quote from HR.)

I believe comments are necessary to document why, for example, a rating was a 4 vs a 3 or vice versa. Otherwise, what’s to prevent a rating from being entirely capricious? In past years, I’ve had disagreements with my supervisor over ratings where we’ve compromised on middle ground and each documented our reasoning — under this new policy, that would not be allowed unless I completely blew it or rocked it out of the ballpark. I am particularly frustrated because aside from my annual review, my supervisor and I interact very little. My annual review is pretty much the only mechanism I have for educating her about my work. And now we are forbidden from maintaining any official documentation of that conversation.Do you have suggestions for pushing back on this decision?

This makes no sense. Employers should be looking for ways to get managers to give more feedback, not less, and it’s particularly useful to compel people to justify performance evaluation ratings (in both directions) because otherwise you too often get managers giving ratings that aren’t well thought-out. So your HR department is being ridiculous, and your company and its managers suck for not pushing back on them.

However, nothing prevents you from still having a detailed conversation with your manager about your performance (ideally before she does your evaluation), as well as the reasoning behind each of the ratings she gives you. The fact that it isn’t going to be documented doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t have that conversation — in fact, it’s arguably more important to have it now, since you don’t even have her written assessment to fill you in on how she thinks you’re doing.

But yeah, this is dumb.

2. Should I report offensive comments that I heard about secondhand?

I work for a large company with a number of different departments. On Fridays, a few employees from different departments gather at the end of the day to have a drink in one of the building’s common areas before leaving for the weekend. (It’s a very informal workplace.) During one of these gatherings, two friends of mine who are new employees heard some very inappropriate comments from another man who is much higher up in the hierarchy, but in another department. This man voiced his opinion that a competitive company was failing because they “hired too many women” and that women shouldn’t be directors because “they have a mothering instinct, so they baby their teams so that they don’t get good work out of them.” We are all in an industry that is heavily male and is still struggling to advance women in its ranks. My friends didn’t respond, but I feel they should bring this up with HR and told them so.

It has now been five weeks and my friends have not made a report. I really feel as though the company should know about this man’s opinions, especially since he is in a senior position and has the authority to hire people. Do I have any standing to report this myself, seeing as I didn’t hear it directly, or should I continue to pressure my friends to do the right thing, or just let it drop? For the record, my friends are male and I am female. They say they are worried about it “coming back on them” (especially as new employees) but my experience is that our company would never punish someone who brought this sort of matter to their attention. I bristle when I see the man who made these remarks around the workplace. (I am a director myself, and I would love to let him know how wrong he is – but again, he only said these comments to my male friends, and not to me!)

Oooof, I’m torn. On one hand, you heard about these comments secondhand — not the strongest position from which to know exactly what was said, let alone to report it. On the other hand, if it’s true, it’s highly offensive and might have practical ramifications, given that this guy is presumably in a position where he hires and manages people, and if your friends’ accounts are accurate, the company should absolutely know that he’s saying stuff like this to people. And if you do choose to raise it, you could be (indeed would have to be) transparent about the fact that you heard this secondhand, and could then let HR figure out how and whether to respond.

3. What kind of help should I ask my outgoing manager for in her last two weeks?

I started my current job in January and have really enjoyed working with my current supervisor. We have a great balance of independence and support, and she has been great about my professional development. She announced she’s leaving for a new opportunity earlier this week, and is finishing out her two weeks’ notice. She asked me what she can do to set me up for success – and I don’t really know what to ask for! Since she’s offering, I feel like I should have things to ask for but nothing immediately comes to mind. Are there things that I should be thinking about that would help prepare me for this transition period while we hire her replacement?

I’d ask for her for (a) her most candid feedback on what you do well and what you should focus on improving in, (b) any advice on projects, priorities, and any potential obstacles she sees coming your way in the next few months or year, and (c) any insight she could share with you about thriving at your company and/or with the incoming manager, since her role may give her a different vantage point than you have. You should also ask if you can use her as a reference in the future; although it certainly sounds like she’ll be glad to that, it doesn’t hurt to nail it down.

4. What topic should I pick for a presentation in an interview?

I have a second round interview for a nonprofit development position. For the second round, finalists need to make a 5-minute presentation. The executive director said it could be about anything–hobbies, interests, a recipe…or something work- and development-related. I love the concept and in a development role with public speaking, it makes sense to narrow finalists down this way. Is it best to go with a work-related topic or something that interests me? On one hand, development-related can showcase my experience and expertise. On the other, interests show a bit more about my personality.

It sounds like they’re assessing presentation skills, not subject matter knowledge — so I’d pick whatever you feel you can give the most engaging, interesting presentation on. If you can do that on something work-related, all the better. But let your ability to speak compellingly on the topic you pick trump all else.

5. Chastised for a normal request

An administrative employee asked the current project director to deliver a document to another manager he had a meeting with. The meeting was miles from the office and the admin would have had to drive there as well. He flatly refused and threatened to write her up for even asking. Is this a normal professional response or was he just flexing his management muscles?

No, that’s not normal. It doesn’t sound like there was any reason for him to refuse — but even if there was, he could have just explained that; threatening her with disciplinary measures for asking is absurd (and I’d like to know exactly what he’d say in this write-up — “she asked me to bring a document to a meeting to save the company time and money”?). He sounds like a jerk.

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