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. How to get a co-worker to stop using baby talk
My co-worker is annoying everyone by using baby talk all the time, but the context makes it difficult to bring up--she only does it when talking to our officemates, and only when discussing friendly, non-work things. She would never use the voice with our boss or a client, so I don't feel like I can tell her that she is undermining her credibility as a professional. It's still unbelievably grating, however, and I know most of the office hates it.
Most of the baby talk is between her and one other co-worker; it's become their little shtick as they've gotten to be friends outside work. But the rest of us have to listen to it all day. Our office is an open-plan room with all six employees in the same desk area, all on the same level in the company. Our boss is in another room, and has probably never heard the voice.
How do I handle this? We are a very small office--no HR person, no one to discuss it with besides our boss, and it seems excessive to bring it up to him when it's not affecting her work, just the personal atmosphere of the office. I would love to ask her to stop without putting her on the defensive.
It's reasonable to ask her politely to stop; whether she reacts defensively is up to her. And it's important to note that the fact that she's only doing this in social conversations at work doesn't mean it's not affecting her professional reputation; it absolutely is. If she's doing it at work, in earshot of co-workers, it can impact her reputation.
The next time she does it, say this: "Jane, would you mind not doing the baby-talk voice? It's incredibly distracting to hear that in an office."
If it continues after that, you might consider talking with her privately and saying something like, "Jane, I don't know if you realize that using baby talk is affecting the way you're perceived here. This type of thing can really hold you back at work and will prevent people from taking you seriously. It's also, frankly, really grating to listen to--do you think you can stop it?"
2. My co-workers aren't happy that I've been promoted
I've recently been promoted at work. The position that I landed wasn't posted, and no one else was given the opportunity to apply for it. I reached out to the department heads to inquire about any possible openings, set up a meeting with the department heads, gave a presentation, and a few days later was offered the position after one of the department heads resigned and there was an immediate opening.
I'm over the moon about it and can't wait to start. However, my co-workers are pretty upset about it. I get it; they don't know all the work I put in and think that this position was just "given" to me, but they are going out of their way to let me know just how upset they are about it. Is there a classy way to tell them to quit ruining this moment for me? I wrote a post for my blog about it...but I'm afraid to post it, because I'm worried about the backlash I might receive from anyone in the new position. How can I make my co-workers realize that I was not given this position and that I worked crazy hard for it, while not burning any bridges?
Well, first, it doesn't matter how much behind-the-scenes work you put in. Even if you hadn't, it would have been perfectly feasible for your managers to decide you had earned the position through your work and qualifications and offered it to you without all those preliminaries. Your co-workers are out of line in complaining to you--and if you're going to be supervising any of them, prepare now for how you're going to make it clear that those types of comments aren't OK. Otherwise, though, just be calm, pleasant, and professional: "I worked hard to get this promotion, and I'm excited that it's being recognized." That's it--you don't need to explain or defend yourself. But you also can't demand that they "not ruin the moment for you"--that's not really the point here.
And do not write a blog post about it. That would be adding a huge amount of drama to the situation, which is the exact opposite of what you want to do as the new incoming manager. In fact, if you're going to be managing people, eliminate all such tendencies now. You'll need to be direct and straightforward, and not take things personally.
3. Should you let your boss be your landlord?
My friend's lease at her apartment is about to be up, and her boss, aware of the situation, offered up his rental property for her. I was hoping you could give me/her some insight into the serious cons of such an arrangement. At this time, she is only seeing the pros (low rent, no background check, familiarity with her landlord). She's always in a precarious financial situation and I'm afraid this setup could come back to haunt her professionally if she defaults on rent. Any insight you could provide would be great.
Oh no--this is a terrible idea! Please try to talk her out of it. Does she really want to face her boss at work when she's several months past due on rent, or end up in a conflict with him when he won't fix the air conditioning? Does she really want tension with him if she generates noise complaints from neighbors or ends up needing to be evicted? And if her finances are precarious, that's all the more reason not to jeopardize her standing with her boss--she needs to stay on good terms at work and protect her income.
By the way, her boss is the one making the really big mistake--he'd be in an awkward position if she wasn't paying. They're both crazy to be considering this.
4. How to reward high performers when you can't give raises
I am not in a position where I can offer raises as rewards to high-performing members of my staff. I work at a university where budget is pretty tight, and my boss, while understanding of my predicament (he's worked with one of my high-performers for much longer than I have and is in agreement that she is underpaid), has made it pretty clear that there's no room in the budget.
How can I reward my high-performing staff when my hands are tied about raises? The university's HR has a supply of university-sanctioned goodies--i.e. water bottles, umbrellas, etc. with the university logo on them--and in our management training with HR, they suggest we use these. Frankly, I find saying, "You do great work! Here's a water bottle!" to be demeaning, but since I'm pretty new to management in general, I'm not sure what to do in this type of situation.
Ask them. Tell them that you don't have the flexibility you'd like on raises, but that you want to find other ways to recognize good work, and ask what would be meaningful to them. You might hear about other things that would be within your power to do, whether it's flexible work schedules, additional time off, training opportunities, or who knows what. (And yes, plenty of these may be out of your hands too, but you should ask the question and find out, and you should advocate to your boss for the ones that seem reasonable and doable to you.)
Water bottles and umbrellas should not be part of this. Your university's HR system needs a good shaking.
5. How to volunteer for a layoff
What's the most effective way to volunteer for a layoff? (I've heard the severance is pretty good and I'd like to start my own business anyway....)
My company is buying itself and the deal closes on 9/30 and I'm supposed to lead the new website launch. I'd like to negotiate a layoff position and then contract out my time to finish up the project. Any advice?
Well, is your company doing mass layoffs, or are you just hoping you can negotiate one for yourself? It wasn't clear from your letter. If the latter, that's pretty hard to do--they don't have any incentive to agree like they would in a mass layoff situation, where they're looking for people to cut.
If it is a mass layoff situation, though, then first realize that only some positions are under consideration for cutting. If yours is one they want to keep, you won't be eligible (and may potentially harm yourself by indicating you'd like to leave). So first see what you can find out about that. Second, don't just volunteer; find out the specifics of the severance package from someone with authority to tell you (don't rely on rumors, because they can be wrong. Or they might be offering different packages for different roles or levels of seniority, and you want to make sure you have your information right). Once you've settled both of those things, then talk to either your manager or HR, express your potential willingness to volunteer, and ask how to proceed.
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