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. Can I ask if a co-worker will be fired?
My co-worker, Sue, is painful to deal with. The feeling is shared by generally everyone in our office. In addition to personality issues, she is often tardy to meetings/work, misses deadlines, is unhygienic, etc. Sue has told us that her reviews have been much less than stellar.
While I enjoy the work and most of the people I work with, Sue is a substantial drag overall. My boss had previously telegraphed to me (not to the group) when I began working with her that Sue would be let go, but nothing ever came of it. I'm not sure if I'm considered a "superstar" or not, but I am generally in the "exceeds expectations" group, and I would be very surprised if our supervisor would rather retain Sue than me. Even if any action was a year away, I'd be OK with that; I just don't want it to be a forever situation.
While I have not yet gotten to the point of an active job search, it is certainly something that encourages me to return calls from recruiters. I've made some very veiled attempts to communicate with our supervisor on the matter, but I'm not sure if I'm getting through. Is there an appropriate, and perhaps blunter, way to bring this up? If it makes a difference, I wouldn't want to make an ultimatum without another accepted offer (which I wouldn't accept if I was considering staying), so I'm in a Catch-22.
Saying "it's her or me" is a risky move--because even if you're clearly more valuable, managers don't usually want to make personnel decisions that way (and are often constrained by company policies that wouldn't let them even if they wanted to). However, you can certainly talk to your boss about the problems that Sue is causing and the fact that it's causing you to be increasingly dissatisfied at work, when you otherwise like your job and co-workers. And since your manager has confided in you about Sue previously, you can use language like, "We talked about this a while back, but the problems have continued. Are you able to share anything with me about whether these issues are likely to be resolved in the near future, or how I can minimize the problems with her going forward?"
2. My boss slapped me
I've been at my job for a couple months now. I made a minor reporting mistake and quickly corrected it, no big deal. My supervisor, who sits next to me, slid his chair next to me, said "give me your hand," and then lightly/jokingly slapped it, as if he was disciplining a child. I know I shouldn't have offered my hand, but in the moment I just laughed it off because I was so taken aback by this creepy gesture, when what I really wanted to do was tell him I don't want him touching me and that this was not appropriate or funny. I also thought it was a pretty embarrassing thing to do to an employee.
I didn't say anything to him about it, but if it happens again I will say something along the lines of "I don't want you touching me, please" (he touches my arm/shoulder occasionally sometimes too, which I hate). He is otherwise a nice person but sometimes gives me a weird vibe. Does this just sound like bad judgment (which everyone has occasionally) or an indicator of behaviors that need to be addressed sooner rather than later?
Yes, it was bad judgment. It sounds like he meant it in jest--but it's not a good idea to even jokingly do that kind of thing at work, especially when you're the boss. In this case, it sounds like he did it lightly enough and jokingly enough that he didn't actually hit you--but play-slapping your hand as if he's your disciplinarian isn't appropriate.
Ideally, you would have addressed it in the moment. Even just a "did you really just slap my hand?" probably would have gotten your point across. It's not your fault you didn't--few of us could figure out how to respond well to that in the moment.
As for occasional arm/shoulder touching, try something like this: "Hey Bob, I'm weird about being touched on the arm or shoulder--I know you mean it warmly, but I'm just not a touchy-feely person. Thanks for understanding."
3. Why am I good enough to train my new manager if I wasn't good enough to get her job
I've worked for a company for four years in the same department. When the department manager is not there, I'm the one in charge. I do all the work they do--scheduling, orders, inventory, etc. Each time the position for department manager has become available, I've had an interview for it. The first time I didn't interview well, so I understand not getting it, but this last time the interview went great. I've always had great reviews and received a raise each year.
Now they've given it to someone else yet again. I'm expected to train this new person how to do the job. It doesn't seem very ethical to tell me I'm not right for the job, but good enough to train the new person to do it. I was also told by a higher up manager that I'll still be basically in charge, but just not have the title. Help me understand this.
You can be qualified to train someone in the basics without being the best candidate to actually lead the department. That's because the basics that you'd relay in training someone are different from the work of driving the department forward, making judgment calls, and managing people. It's not unethical unless they're leading you along with no intent of ever promoting you. But why not ask for specific feedback about what you'd need to do in order to be a strong candidate for the role in the future? And meanwhile, since advancement in a particular role is never assured, why not also be looking at possible roles outside of your current company? There's no need to confine yourself to only one possible path.
4. Is it OK to ask my employer to look at my daughter's application?
My daughter works as a payroll and benefits specialist and employee trainer for a great company which, nevertheless, is eliminating her position in all locations across the board (by implementing a computer kiosk system). It so happens that I also work for a great company that is looking for an HR generalist. My daughter has applied for the position and submitted her résumé online. I subsequently called the recruiter and left a voicemail to say that my daughter had applied, but I did not leave any details about her experience.
More than a week has passed and I have not heard from the recruiter, so I don't know if she looked at the résumé. Is it OK to call her or email to elaborate on why I think my daughter is a good candidate?
No. It'll come across as inappropriate pressure for her to hire your daughter. It was fine to call or email the recruiter once to let her know that your daughter was applying; that can get someone's application a second look or particular attention. But from there, it's in their court. If you get in touch again, it's likely to come across as getting too involved on your daughter's behalf, and it could actually end up hurting your daughter's chances, if it raises worries that you won't respect boundaries during the rest of the hiring process or while she's working there.
However, you can certainly help your daughter's chances from the other side of this: by talking to her about what the company is likely looking for and by helping her present herself as strongly as possible.
5. Should employers get back to all rejected candidates, or only people who were interviewed?
I want to be a respectful hiring manager, and I totally agree that not getting back to people after an interview (whether you're hiring or not hiring them) is extremely rude. Do you think it's important to respond to everyone who submits a résumé? Or is it standard to disregard résumés that don't make it to a phone interview?
Send a rejection to everyone you're not hiring, even if they never made it to the interview stage. These are people volunteering to help your company, after all, and they're also potential clients/donors/consumers. Why pass up the opportunity to make a good impression on them, and why not do something very quick and simple that will a) prevent them from wondering if they're still being considered, and b) prevent some of them from calling you in a month to inquire about their status?
It's far more outrageous not to bother getting back to people who put in the time to interview with you, yes, but it's also so easy to set up a rejection system that will take only seconds to use at all stages of the process that there's just no good reason not to.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.