Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
Here's a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.
1. My employee sulks when his work is questioned
I am a manager of several remote workers in states other than my own. I have one worker who acts in a way I consider to be childish. Our work environment is fast-paced and can be stressful at times. When I or any of my supervisor staff calls to ask questions about his work, he gets so sensitive about the inquiries that he takes offense and doesn't want to talk to anyone anymore and puts himself out on an island. He's doing his assigned work but doesn't return phone calls because his feelings are hurt by this, and he constantly needs to be handled with white gloves.
It's getting annoying and frankly I consider not returning phone calls to be insubordinate. I understand that if he's busy he may not be able to get to the phone right away, but I'd expect him to call back in a reasonable time frame. Thoughts?
You're his manager; you need to manage him. Tell him that he's expected to return phone calls within whatever time period you deem reasonable (same business day? next business day?) and to work cooperatively with his colleagues, which means not sulking. If there are issues that are bothering him, he's welcome to raise them with you in a professional, direct way. If the problems continue after that, tell him that if he doesn't meet the bar you've laid out, you'd need to replace him with someone who will. The fact that you're not already doing this makes me worry that you're not managing assertively in other areas, too, so please use this as a wake-up call about the need to manage in general.
2. Am I being crabby about my employees' use of flextime?
I'm a midlevel manager in a small division of a larger firm. I've agreed to grant some employees flextime. Some of these schedules were in place before the employees were transferred to my department. The original schedules were too generous in my view, so over the years I've cut them back to one flextime day per month. I am finding that I'm getting tired of approving these requests, especially to those employees who have lots of vacation time. The requests tend to extend a holiday weekend by one day and that seems to be the only way those days are used, and it's really annoying me. Am I being too crabby about this?
There's really only one relevant question here, and it's this: What's the impact on your team's work? If you can't point to an actual impact, and it's just annoying you on principle, then yes, you're being too crabby and should let it drop. If you're able to offer flextime without negatively impacting anyone's work, that's a huge benefit to your employees and one that can help you retain great people. If it is impacting the work, then you'd address it from that angle.
3. What does it mean when a job listing is taken down?
What does it mean when a job listing that's been up on a company website for less than a week is taken down? I applied for the job, and didn't hear back, but checked back on the website and saw it missing. Does this mean the company has already managed to fill it and just didn't bother to reject me?
It could mean that, but it could also mean that the company received a flood of applications and is turning off the spigot while it considers them.
4. My old manager won't return calls for references
I worked with the same company and manager for six years. I left last April to move back to my home state to help my parents as they get older. My former manager and I didn't have the best relationship, and he was upset when I decided to leave for my home state. However, when I left, he stated that if ever I need a reference, he would give one. I had read in a previous post of yours that it might be good to have a friend call and check if you are not sure about the reference. I had one of my friends call, and she has left a couple of messages. My former manager has not called her back. My question is, what is the best way to handle this? Should I contact my former employer and see if there is a problem? I'm concerned about future employers that try to call him for a reference.
Yes, call him. Say this: "An employer is trying to reach you for a reference and told me they've been unable to get ahold of you. I want to make sure that you're still willing to serve as a reference for me, and if so, is there a good time they can reach you?"
His silence may mean that he actually doesn't want to give you a reference (which he should have told you straightforwardly), or it might mean he's on vacation or something like that. Ask.
5. I saw my job advertised online
I am currently interning (and underemployed) at a firm. When I accepted the job, I was told the company intended for it to turn into a permanent position after a couple of months. Well, a few months have passed and the company isn't in a position to offer me a permanent job. So I've continued looking for other jobs.
While searching for job openings today, I came across a post for my current position. The position was posted recently. I've had a couple of feedback meetings with my direct supervisor, and she has not mentioned any problems with my performance. She has given me feedback on improving a couple of minor things, but they were very minor. She also said I was dealing well with the higher-level assignments I've received. She has been very honest about the possibility of a permanent position opening up, and the current state of the firm's business (the firm is doing well, but not well enough that it can justify adding another salaried position to my department). I need this job, and I am afraid that the company is going to fire me. Is there anything I can do? If I'm not performing poorly, I'd like to know. Should I approach my supervisor about this?
You saw your temp position posted, or a permanent version of it? Either way, yes, of course you should talk to her. If the job you saw posted is a permanent position, tell her that you saw the ad and you're extremely interested in applying for it, and ask for her assessment of the strength of your candidacy. If the job you saw was for your current temp position, tell her that you saw it and ask what its implications are for your continued tenure.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.