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. Should we expect job candidates to be more flexible when scheduling interviews?

I have been scheduling phone screenings and in-person interviews with job candidates. For calls, I offer two days, allowing them to tell me a time that works best for a brief chat. For interviews, I provide a few options for days and time. I've had a few candidates respond saying they can't take personal calls at work (no breaks?) or suggesting an entirely different day and time for a call or interview. While I understand a current job takes priority, I am surprised to see that these candidates aren't more flexible, considering they are the ones seeking a new career. What are your thoughts on accommodating such requests and could they be an insight into work behaviors?

Green responds:

You should absolutely attempt to accommodate those requests. People have lives outside of interviewing -- they have work meetings, deadlines, and other obligations that they need to schedule interviews around. As for breaks, many people don't get breaks at all, or their breaks are too short to interview during, or they need to, you know, eat during that break. Also, remember that they are the ones who probably need to be discreet and hide from their employer that they're talking with you at all; your schedule requires no such contortions in the name of discretion.

Offering two possible days isn't going cover all the different scheduling conflicts people will have, and it's reasonable for them to write back and explain those times won't work for them and request a different one.

Keep in mind that you're proposing a business conversation that will benefit both of you. Be flexible with people and don't fall into the trap of thinking that you're doing them a favor and they should drop everything to make it work.

2. Our receptionist walks around the office barefoot

We are a small firm with nine accountants and a receptionist in an open-plan office, and my boss is in an office with a door. 

Our receptionist will take her shoes off every day for hours at a time when she is filing, because she has said that her shoes hurt her feet. I have mentioned to her twice that it is unprofessional and she should wear them, but she ignores me.

How do I tell my boss (I am not sure if he has noticed) that I find it unprofessional (should a client walk in and see it), but also I find it shows that she has no respect for her colleagues either? She has worked here for approximately six months, I have been here for three years.

Green responds:

I'd leave the question of respect for her colleagues out of it; that's not really the issue here and makes it more adversarial than it needs to be. Professionalism is the issue, and yes, it's unprofessional. If her shoes hurt, she needs different shoes -- shoes that serve their intended function (of being able to be worn for a full work day).

You could say this to your boss: "I've noticed that Jane takes her shoes off every day for hours at a time and walks around the office that way. It looks really unprofessional, especially to clients. I've brought it up with her but it hasn't changed anything. If you agree with me, would you say something to her?"

3. How can I get an employee to take a full week of vacation?

I've been a manager for 10 years, and have one employee who has not had an entire week off for over eight years. About two years ago, I started to encourage her to take PTO, and she often takes off Fridays. However, she has yet to take a whole week off, and this does not seem right to me. I've asked HR, and the company does not have rules around this. HR tells me I cannot require her to take a week off. She has banked about six weeks of PTO, and just takes enough off not to lose any. The latest wrinkle is that the company has lost a major contract, and I may not have another staffer next year to fill in while she is out. I would really like her to take an entire week off sometime--anytime!--this calendar year. Can you give me any advice about how to seriously encourage this?

Green responds:

Managers should encourage people to take real time away from work, especially people who haven't had more than a day at a time off in eight years. (Plus, ensuring people periodically take off a week at a time is one way companies uncover fraud; in fact, it's required in some industries for that reason.) I'd push back with HR because there's no reason that you, as this person's manager, shouldn't be able to determine that she'd benefit from time away from work, and that it will be easier for her to take a vacation now than later on. Also, your company isn't giving people vacation leave to stockpile forever; they're giving it in part because they presumably believe that it's beneficial for people to have time away. And just because your company doesn't have rules around this doesn't mean you can't do it; there are loads of things managers do that aren't specifically enshrined in policy. But either way, you should sit down with the employee and ask her to talk with you about her resistance. Maybe there's some reason (like that she's stockpiling it for some need she knows is coming up), or that she doesn't believe her workload will allow it. But it's a reasonable conversation to have, and you're in the right to say, "It's important to me that you're able to do this."

4. Keeping personal supplies in an office kitchen

I recently started working in an office space that shares a small kitchen with a different unit in the same organization. The kitchen has the usual appliances -- coffee maker, microwave, fridge, etc. There is a French press that lives on one of the shelves that I've been using to make my coffee a few times a week. Today I went to do so as usual, only to find a bright yellow label on the French press that says "SARAH." Some of the other coffee supplies (filters) appear to also now live in a box also labeled "SARAH."

My sense is that Sarah does not like other people using her French press and that I erred by assuming it was a communal resource. However, I'd think that if you don't want people using your personal appliance, you should put it in out of view in a drawer somewhere, or keep it at your desk. Sarah doesn't work for my unit and I have no idea who she is -- if I worked with her I'd probably apologize, but I'm less inclined to hunt her down to apologize when I'm not sure I erred. What do you think?

Green responds:

I don't think you need to hunt her down and apologize, and I don't think you erred. It's possible that the culture of your new office is that people keep personal belongings in the kitchen and people know not to touch them, but you're new to the space and it's reasonable that you didn't know that a French press sitting right there wasn't for communal use.

It sounds like you think it's unreasonable for Sarah to keep it there at all if it's not for communal use, but in many offices it's fine for people to do that if the kitchen is large enough that people can do that without cluttering it up. But if they do, they need to label it or others are likely to assume that it's okay for them to use.

As long as both of you are shrugging this off and aren't terribly perturbed, this seems to have worked out fine.

5. Should managers always know the salaries of the people they're managing?

Is there ever a situation in which a manager should not know how much his or her direct report is making? Should every manager, even a first-time manager, be entitled to know the salary of the person he/she is managing?

Green responds:

Yes. If you're truly managing people (and you're not, say, a team lead with only limited supervisory authority), part of your job is to ensure that your people are being appropriately compensated. Another part is to work to retain high performers, and salary is a big part of that. If you're being asked to manage people but told you can't know a fundamental part about their employment relationship with your organization, that's a problem and indicative of a pretty weird philosophy somewhere above you.

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Published on: Jun 4, 2019
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