It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. I’m overwhelmed with meeting requests from salespeople and nonprofits
I just started a new job and am a little overwhelmed with the amount of meetings that external people are requesting of me. I work at a for-profit company and I get a ton of donation requests, sales calls, etc. There is no one else on my team and I report directly to the CEO, so there is no one to go to these meetings in my place. I also have a lot of work needing to be done at my desk, so taking a meeting depletes precious hours of my day. How can I decline meetings?
Many nonprofit or sales professionals want to “build a relationship” and quite frankly I don’t have the time or interest, and my boss doesn’t expect me to take all of these meetings. I’ve thought of requesting a phone call instead – but is there a way to get out of them altogether? Particularly for nonprofits, I can’t just tell them I’m not interested in buying their service! It’s a small city so I don’t want to burn bridges; I just want to protect my time.
I think you’re feeling a much higher sense of obligation to accommodate these requests than actually exists. It’s totally, totally normal to turn down these meetings. These callers are very used to having these requests turned down and they will not think you are rude or a bridge burner, as long as you are polite about it.
If you’re truly up for a phone call in place of a meeting, it’s absolutely fine to say “My schedule is very tight so I can’t meet but we could schedule a short phone call.” (And confine those to 15 minutes, max.) But you don’t even have to do that — believe me, most people are just saying no and not even offering a call.
For sales people, you can say any of these: “We’re not interested right now, but thank you.” “We’re not in the market for that currently, but thank you.” “It’s not a priority for us currently, but thank you.” “It’s probably not the right fit for us, so would you take us off your list? Thank you.”
For nonprofits asking for donations: If this is something you often want to say yes to, create a way for them to apply that doesn’t involve calling or meeting with you. If it’s not something you want to regularly say yes to, say, “I wish I could help, but we get a large number of these requests and unfortunately can’t accommodate them all.” You could also add, “We pick a small number of charities each year to support, and you’re welcome to mail or email me information on your work if you’d like to be considered for next year.”
For salespeople or nonprofits wanting to “build a relationship”: “My schedule is very tight right now so I have to decline, but thank you.”
2. What am I allowed to do during work hours other than my core work?
I am new in the work environment and I try my best to avoid doing things that are not “directly” related to my work. What can I do during my work hours besides my direct work related stuff? For example, can I talk to HR regarding my paychecks or other issues related to my work during my work hours? Can I meet with a representative regarding my retirement savings plan to help me elect my benefits and help me choose a plan that’s right for me during the work hours? What about meeting with other researchers (networking)? Attending company events? (The hospital I work at sends out email about all the events going on and some of them are very exciting. Is it okay for me to attend these events during work hours?)
I know these seem like small stupid questions, but I want to know what my boundaries are in a working environment.
They’re not stupid questions! This is exactly the sort of thing that people often don’t know when they first start in the work world and which no one really sits you down to explain.
You can generally do anything that stems from work/your job during the work day, even if it’s not the actual “work” of your job. So:
* Meeting with people in other areas of the organization, like HR? 100% yes, no question. (A good litmus test which will make this one clear: Would you need to be having the meeting if you weren’t employed there? If no, then it’s job-related and counts as work.)
* Meeting with someone to help you figure out your benefits? Yes. (Although to complicate matters, you can do this with the retirement plan rep, but not with the trainer at the gym where your company provides free membership.)
* Meeting with other researchers for networking — the more senior you are, the more this is a clear-cut yes. If you’re junior and not fully managing your own time yet, it depends on the nature of the meeting and the nature of your job. Your boss is a good one to provide guidance on this since it’ll come down to specifics.
* Attending company events: Depends on how often. Occasionally is fine. Constantly — like weekly — is probably not, because that would probably significantly cut into how much time you’re spending on your actual job. But this can vary by company culture, so your boss is a good one to ask on this too.
3. My new job’s commute is messing with my health
I was job-searching for almost a year when I got my current job, which I started about four weeks ago. Overall, I really like it – the pay is decent, I like my coworkers and my supervisors, the office environment is pretty comfortable, and the work is something I find interesting. It’s also temporary – the contract is only until September, which is actually really good for me, because I’m hoping to move away around that time.
There’s only one problem: the commute. It’s just a (reliable) bus, a train, and an eight block walk – it’s usually a bit less than an hour, which I’d usually be quite happy with. However, I developed asthma a couple years ago, and it’s making the commute really hellish, particularly in the afternoon. Cigarettes and marijuana are particularly bad triggers, and both are super, super common.
It’s really messing with my health. I get home wheezing almost every night, and I’ve had to take medication several times that makes me pass out for 10+ hours and leaves me groggy and sad the next day. My stomach has been so off that I’ve had to take a day and a half off (on separate occasions), and I just generally don’t feel well. I haven’t seen my doctor recently, but this isn’t a new development, and I’ve seen them about this before.
I have no idea what to do. They’re very flexible with hours, which is great – but the afternoon is busy from 3pm-ish onward, and even the morning isn’t terrific – just mostly okay. I don’t know how to talk to my boss about this. I don’t even know what I want, barring teleportation. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions? I’m at my wit’s end here.
I think the first thing is to figure out what you want. Do you want a different schedule? (Would the “mostly okay” conditions of the morning be workable?) To work from home some or all days (if that’s possible with the position)? To leave the position but with good feelings on both sides? I know you said you don’t know what want, but I’d spend some time thinking through all the possibilities so that when you talk to your boss, you know what to say. Otherwise your boss will probably be pretty unable to help — but if you figure out which of the various possibilities is the least bad and the one you want to try for, she’ll be able to tell you yes or no, and then you can figure it out from there.
(Also, don’t be afraid of asking for an accommodation just because you think there’s no way you’ll get it. Sometimes people get surprised. Sometimes they don’t, of course, but you won’t know until you ask.)
4. Are management and leadership two different things?
I’m in school in a mandatory class on leadership. They’re asserting very forcefully that management and leadership are different things, and that we shouldn’t be talking about management in this class because it’s about leadership. That does not make a lot of sense to me, because I thought that leadership is about working with groups to get things done in a way that advances a goal that matters. Which is also what I think management is? Do you think there’s any merit to making a distinction between the two?
Ugh, yeah, like you, I don’t think they’re so easily distinguished from each other. I like this line from the brilliant Bob Sutton’s Harvard Business Review piece arguing that true leaders are also managers: “A leader needs to understand what it takes to do things right, and to make sure they actually get done.” And that’s management … so, yeah, they’re intertwined.
I also like this HBR piece from Linda Hill and Kent Lineback, who note that “both leadership and management are crucial, and it doesn’t help those responsible for the work of others to romanticize one and devalue the other … Take care not to conceive of yourself as the glorious leader always blazing new trails while leaving the gritty, mundane details of making it all work to lesser beings.”
5. I thought I was about to get an offer, but …
I’m in a bit of a strange situation. My best friend put me up for a job at her company and the interviews went really well and I loved everyone, but the offer ultimately went to someone with more direct experience in the field. A day after I saw online that the position had been filled, I got an email from the hiring manager asking me if I’d be interested in another job at the same level (with some differences in functionality) that had just been approved. I jumped at the chance and told her I was interested, because I really do love and want to work for this company. We scheduled a final-round interview with the heads of the department that I hadn’t met in my previous interviews.
The final round went fantastic. I thought I had it in the bag and have just been waiting for a call. I get along so well with everyone in the office and the hiring manager even said to me when I sat down, “…and the fact that Lindsey (my friend) loves you and says great things…it’s pretty much over for me. I’m done with this search.”
Today, three days after the final interview, my friend sends me a message saying this: “I don’t know what this means yet, but I just heard that the internal candidate who had originally been offered this job and declined has put her name back in for consideration, so it will take a little longer for you to hear back. The manager told me how much she loved you and feels so awful about this whole mess.”
How likely would it be for them to re-extend an offer that had previously been declined? I had heard before that the reason she declined it was because the final-round interview with the head of the department intimidated her and scared her off. Now that she’s reconsidered and is internal, am I out of luck on a job and team that I was really excited about?
Possibly, yes. It wouldn’t be unusual for them to allow her to change her mind and accept the offer. Internal candidates are given a lot of leeway on that kind of thing — they’re known quantities and therefore generally preferred if they’re known to be good, and their internal back-and-forth is often more easily understood and candidly discussed. Ultimately, it will probably come down to whether they want you or her more (if they choose her, it’s no slam on you — they obviously really like you) and probably a bit of internal politics too.