It’s five short answers to five short questions. Here we go…
1. Should we tell our new boss about our terrible department assistant?
There are currently 3 people in my department — me, an excellent coworker, and our departmental assistant. Our department assistant is for the most part terrible: she refuses to answer phone calls, generally finds excuses not to complete tasks we give her, and often disappears for hours on long lunches or to hang out at other people’s desk. Our long-time boss was let go a month ago, so my excellent coworker and I are basically carrying the weight of the whole department, working longer hours than usual to keep up with the work. When our assistant claims she doesn’t have time to complete the projects we give her, I end up having to do them myself.
When our new boss begins, should my coworker or I warn her about our terrible departmental assistant? Our last boss had wanted to get rid of her, but never made any progress before she herself was let go. I can’t tell if it’s our assistant’s general bad attitude, or she’s not interested in the line of work, but honestly we would rather fire her and have someone else step in. Is it okay to warn the new boss, or should we let her discover this nightmare herself?
You should absolutely tell her. You don’t need to get into what your last boss was planning on doing but never did, but you should lay out the facts as they have affected you: The assistant refuses to answer calls, won’t complete work you assign her, and disappears for hours at a time. You wanted to lean on her for help while the department was short-staffed, but she refused to help.
It’s absolutely appropriate to give this kind of feedback; it’s not about “warning” your new boss, but rather about alerting her to a serious problem in the department that is affecting your work and needs to be dealt with quickly, to minimize its ongoing impact.
Also, does the assistant report to anyone currently — an interim manager or anyone like that? If so, that person should be addressing this with her now, not waiting for the new manager to start.
2. How can I stop gossip on my staff?
I am a new manager with a team of six administrative staff. There is a pervasive culture of gossiping among the team that I am at a loss about how to address. The gossiping is all about (perceived) work performance – two of them will stand in a corner and whisper about how a third did the mail run late today, or wasn’t at the reception desk when an important guest arrived, or didn’t empty the dishwasher when it was her turn. And it’s not just two bad eggs, they all gossip about each other.
I’ve encouraged all of them to come to me with any issues about team performance or tasks being completed (especially since often the gossiping is unfair – the gossipers don’t realise I have given their colleague a specific task with instructions that it is to be done in advance of their other duties). This doesn’t seem to be working.
Should I sit them all down at a team meeting and tell them that gossiping is not OK and I won’t tolerate it? And call them out when I see them doing it? I worry that would make me seem like a teacher, not a manager.
You’ve asked them to come to you with concerns, but have you told them directly to stop gossiping? It doesn’t sound like it, and that needs to be your first step: explicit feedback about what you want to see change. Raise it at your next team meeting, explain that it’s creating a toxic atmosphere that will harm productivity and morale, and that effective immediately, anyone who wants to discuss something negative should be discussing it with someone who can help solve the problem, not gossiping with people who can’t. In other words, you’re implementing a no-gossip policy, and yes, that’s a thing.
If it continues after that, talk with the individual perpetrators one-on-one and explain the consequences if the behavior continues (in other words, treat it just like any other performance problem that has consequences attached — and it is indeed reasonable to replace people over this if they’re poisoning your culture). Make sure you’re also modeling the behavior you want to see; you need to walk the walk on this.
This isn’t schoolmarmish of you; managers absolutely should talk explicitly about the culture they want to see and address behaviors that are out of sync with that culture.
3. How can I ask my internship manager why my hours are decreasing?
I’m currently a part-time student with a couple of (paying!) internships that are keeping me afloat financially. I’ve been very lucky in my field in terms of these internships, especially to get paying ones. Lately, though, one of my internships has been reducing my hours, and I’m not sure why. There was no formal agreement when I was hired on time per week or length of the position, but there was an informal discussion where I was offered 12 hours/week, with the possibility of working there for the next two years that I am in school.
But now, as I said, my hours have been reduced, and I haven’t been given any reason. I do have a couple of theories about why this might be happening, but obviously no evidence or solid reason either way. Over the past month, I’ve worked eight, six, three, and five hours/week. As you can imagine, this has had a pretty significant impact on my budget, and I’d like to talk to my boss about why my hours have dropped so drastically.
I’m worried that my boss might be phasing me out and/or planning to fire me, though I don’t have any real evidence to support either fear. Obviously I don’t want to be fired, so if that’s what my boss is moving towards, I’d rather have a conversation with him and find an arrangement that works (even if it means I end up no longer having a job there). What would be the best way to approach this conversation? Especially given that, schedule-wise, it looks like I might end up having to do it via phone or email. I was planning on starting a chat with him about planning my schedule for next semester – would that be a good way to introduce the topic?
Yep, that’s a perfect opener (although if you didn’t have that easy segue, you could still just call or email about this). I’d say something like: “I was hoping we could talk about my hours. I’ve been scheduled for fewer and fewer hours these last few weeks. Is that because of the holidays, or something you think is likely to continue? I’d like to get a sense of what’s realistic to expect going forward.” If your boss says that they won’t go back up or if she avoids the question, then I’d say: “Can I ask — are there are any concerns about my work that are impacting my schedule? If there are, I’d really want to know so that I can try to improve.”
4. Can I ask for a raise while I’m also applying for another internal job?
I have been planning to ask for a significant raise for a few months (we do annual salary adjustments at 3%). However, a higher level position that I think I am very qualified for just opened up in another department and I am considering applying for it. Is it weird to ask for a raise in my current position, then move forward with an application for the other one? My current supervisor is also the hiring manager for the other position.
I’d normally do it separately — apply for the other job, and then if you don’t get it, ask for a raise at that point. However, since your current manager is also the manager for the position you want to apply for, it might make sense to just lay it all out for her and explain that you think you’ve earned a raise in your current role, and that you’re also interesting in being promoted into the other position and would like to talk to her about both of those things.
5. Leaving a temp job early
This is more of a curiosity-question than an urgent-needs question. I just applied to a part-time job that ends in June or when [high ranking position] is filled, whichever happens sooner. You mentioned in one of your blog posts that you can take a job knowing you’ll quit it as soon as something better comes along if you’re up-front about this to the employer from the beginning or if it’s a job where there is typically high turnover.
What about when the job is temporary and can end at any time? I assume it’d be annoying for the employer to lose a temp worker only a month or three into a short-term job, but it seems unreasonable for anyone to expect an employee to commit to six months when they might get let go much sooner. I’ve never applied/been hired to a temp position before, so sorry if this is a really newbish question.
Yes, if they’re telling you that the job could end at any time (more so than the typical at-will employment situation), it’s unreasonable for them to expect you not to be actively looking for other work. The exception to this would be if they had stressed at the start that they really needed someone who could commit for X months, even though they couldn’t guarantee the work would last that long. In that case, you’d be operating in bad faith to make an explicit agreement like that if you knew you weren’t willing to keep it.