It’s seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…
1. Managing a low-performer who keeps improving every time she’s warned, but then slips again
I have someone on my team who I hired a few years ago. I have struggled since she was hired with getting her to pull her weight. Most of the rest of the team give her the easy part of projects so that the project gets done and that hopefully she won’t mess it up. Every six months or so, she makes a mistake that is big enough that we have to do a written warning and performance improvement plan (PIP). We set out criteria for improvement, we set a deadline and she improves (and saves her job in the process). Then a few more months go by and she starts to slip up again and the process starts over (since she successfully completed the performance improvement plan we have to start the verbal warning, written warning with a PIP, final written warning cycle again).
I don’t know that this person has the ability to be successful at this job. How do I break the cycle of PIPs and either get her performance up permanently or where I can let her go? My boss is pressuring me to just fire her already, but she keeps meeting the terms of her PIP so I can’t fire her.
You’re locking yourself into overly specific terms in the PIPs, it sounds like — or in your own head. Instead, you need to be clear that she needs to not only meet the terms of the PIP during the timeline while she’s on it, but she needs to sustain that new level of performance going forward even once the PIP ends. Make it clear — both in your meeting with her and in the written plan — that if her performance slips back once the PIP is over, you won’t be starting with a new one from square one, but rather will need to let her go at that point. Use language like, “I need to see this level of performance sustained over the long-run, and if the problems recur, we will not go through this process all over again.”
And I agree with your boss that it sounds like you need to just fire her at this point. If you’re bound to policies that require you to do yet another PIP (although you shouldn’t be, in a good organization), then do it now and make it a short one — like one month, not three months.
2. Talking to coworkers about my boyfriend, who works with me
My boyfriend and I work in the same department. This is not an issue; everyone knows (we were a couple before we started working together) and we manage it professionally well.
However, my boyfriend is having conflicts with a colleague of his. As the department staff tends to be quite friendly with each other, it is normal for people to ask about the significant other of a colleague. The issue is that his colleague sometimes asks me where he is at a certain time and although I know where he is, in my professional capacity I do not, so I dont really want to tell them and I think they should try to email him to find out where he is or what his work schedule is for the day.
Also, my boyfriend is looking to find another job elsewhere. I am sure that if he does move on his colleagues will try to ask me “what is he now doing?” or “where is he now working?”, etc. I dont want to answer their questions (as they are just being nosy jerks) but I dont know how to say it without sounding rude. I practically want to say “that’s none of your business” but I know that saying this will then ruin my relationship with his colleagues. How do I do this?
Well, first, don’t make your boyfriend’s conflicts with a colleague your own conflicts. You should have your own separate relationships with people and not take on his battles for him. That said, it’s perfectly reasonable to respond to questions about where he is today exactly the same way you’d respond if they were asking about any other coworker — “I’m not sure” or whatever. At work, you’re his coworker, not his keeper.
As for how to answer questions about him once he leaves, you’re going to really sour your own relationships there if you refuse to answer harmless questions about how he’s doing or where he’s working. You’ll be far better off giving quick answers and moving on than taking an adversarial approach with people.
3. Applying for a job at a science museum when I just graduated from a university that teaches very literal creationism
I’m a job-hunting recent grad, and I’m applying for jobs all over the place. One of the more interesting openings I’ve seen is at a science museum working as an educator. I’m a communications major, not a scientist, but I think I’d do well at the job and I’m hoping I’ll get an interview.
The problem comes from my educational background. I’m a graduate of a decently-sized Christian university that puts heavy emphasis on a literal 6-day creation week. These are the sorts of folks who believe that the earth is no more than 8,000 years old, that fossils are the result of a catastrophic world-wide flood, and that evolution only happened on a small scale — like wolves and dogs, but no further than that. The fact that all their professors agree to teach this is a big selling point for the school, and it’s advertised quite prominently. Anyone who googles my university will realize this within about three minutes. My high school and elementary school (the application asked for those as well) are much the same.
For the record, I went to this school because my parents agreed to pay for a significant portion of my tuition — which was a big sacrifice for them and a great help to me. The school is fully accredited, and I felt like I got a good education, but it had the opposite result that my parents intended — I came out pretty turned-off to an exclusively literal belief in creationism. I now believe that evolution can be compatible with faith, and at the very least students should be exposed to an accurate, respectful explanation of both sides of the issue (something I didn’t receive growing up).
Do you think this is something anyone will even notice or care about? If so, how should I go about addressing this? I understand that my religious beliefs are protected by law, but I also suppose that the museum is interested in hiring people who agree with the science they teach. Ultimately, I hold different religious beliefs than my educational background would lead someone to assume, and I don’t want to be discriminated against because of them.
Yes, many people will notice and care, so you’ll likely need to address it head-on in your cover letter and possibly be prepared to talk about it in an interview too. But even then, having graduated from a school that requires its professors to teach things that are fundamentally at odds with the mainstream scientific community is going to be a fairly significant obstacle for you in applying for work at a science museum, especially as a recent grad without lots of secular work experience to balance it out.
4. Will having an out-of-state phone number hurt you when applying for jobs?
I currently have an out-of-state phone number from Pennsylvania, and I was laid off from my job a year ago and I had no choice to move back to Georgia with my family until I can get back on my feet.
I have been searching for a job since day one when I got here and it has been a year of extensive searching, even to other counties around me. The only thing I was able to find is a temp agency job that I was only able to work on and off, along with the frustration of not finding something steady.
Which now brings me to my question. With the hundreds, possibly thousands of applications I filled out, could having an out-of-state phone number possibly be affecting someone seeking employment?
Eh, these days people are pretty used to seeing cell phone numbers with area codes from all over the place. I wouldn’t worry too much about it as long as you have a local address on your resume. I would, however, take a fresh look at your resume and cover letters to see if those are the issue — because when someone isn’t getting interviews after hundreds or thousands of applications, it’s usually those two things that are to blame. Read this and see if you spot yourself here.
5. Explaining that I’m leaving a new job due to salary cuts
I’ve been at a new job for about four months. It deals with X and Y, but is heavily focused on X. I’ve discovered that I really prefer working with Y and honestly hate X (and think I’m bad at it). I know it will look bad to have been here only a few months if I apply for a new job. However, my company also just announced salary cuts due to budget issues. I feel like this gives me an out — does it? And if so, how do I mention this in a cover letter as to why I’m looking so soon?
Salary cuts? Hell yes, that’s an out. You agreed to take the job for a certain salary, and now that’s been changed on you.
It’s tricky talking about this in a cover letter — since a cover letter should really be about you and why you’d excel at the job you’re applying for and not problems at your current employer. In fact, you might even consider leaving this job off your resume altogether, particularly since four months isn’t long enough to have any real accomplishments there anyway, and that way you won’t have to deal with the instant red-flag of why you’re looking again so quickly. But if you decide not to do that, your best bet is probably to say something like “My new company is undergoing significant budget cuts, so I’m looking for something more stable.”
6. Should I really give my manager feedback when he asks for it?
Typically during my annual performance evaluation, my supervisor asks me how I think he is doing as a supervisor. In past years, I have always been positive. This year, however, there have been some issues that have cropped up, mostly involving micromanaging and his apparent desire for his employees to be “yes” (wo)men. Anyway, my performance evaluation is coming up, and how am I supposed to answer his question this year? Do I just tell him I think everything is going fine? Is it ever worth it to come up with constructive criticism? Or, perhaps I could ask him why he is asking me about his performance?
Don’t ask him why he’s asking you — he’s asking for feedback because that’s what thoughtful managers do. If you have a good relationship with him and he’s generally proved himself to be open to dissent, then yes, talk to him about your concerns. Just frame it a little more diplomatically — instead of talking about micromanaging, talk about the specific ways that you’d like more autonomy and propose strategies for making that work while still keeping him in the loop. And instead of saying he seems to want yes-men, explain what’s given you that impression.
Of course, if he truly only wants yes-men, that might be a flag that he won’t be open to hearing any of this — so, as is always the case, you should use your judgment based on what you know about him from working with him — to figure out if he’s reasonable enough to discuss this without penalizing you for it later. Good managers will be, bad ones often won’t be.
7. Am I allergic to my office?
I work in an office (no place industrial) and have been having severe reactions the past few months. It started out as tiny hives that would come and go, but the past few weeks the hives turned into huge itchy, stinging, red welts over 90% of my body. It was so bad I had to go home from work several times.
I had no idea what it might be, so I went to my doctor and had allergy testing done. I am moderately allergic to a couple types of dust, but not enough to cause a reaction like this. The doctor has said that in many cases, people never find out what they’re allergic to, because they can only test for certain known, common allergens and there’s a million things (limitless, really) that one could be allergic to. I was given some strong allergy medication which has really helped, but what I’m noticing is I only get flare ups when I’m at work. On days off, I rarely flare up at all. I’ve tried dusting my office area but I’m starting to wonder if it may be a cleaner or chemical housekeeping is using. I haven’t started using or eating anything new. I’m trying eliminating certain foods and soaps/lotions one by one to see if any of them are the cause. I can’t think of anything else.
What can I do about this? I can’t keep taking days off just because I’m flaring up. I’m going crazy with itchy, unsightly hives, which make it uncomfortable/embarrassing to work with my colleagues or customers. I work in a large building and I can’t really ask the cleaners to switch to a different cleaner (if that’s even what it is). Our office area carpets are rarely washed or vacuumed, so I’m going to ask about that, but otherwise I’m stumped.
Ugh, that’s awful. I’m throwing this one out to readers, who may have ideas for you.