Here's a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.
1. How can I tell an employee to mind his own business?
I have an employee who has great rapport with co-workers. Unfortunately, he makes everyone else's business his business. He takes it upon himself to be the advocate or "cheerleader" for staff and their individual work-related issues that do not involve him. He takes time away during the day to rehash or discuss the issue with others and stirs the pot. This affects his productivity and that of others around him. How can I tell him to stop stirring the pot and getting involved in issues that do not concern him?
Start by being direct when you see it happening. For example: "I'm handling this directly with Jane. As I understand it, this doesn't impact you, but am I misunderstanding your interest?" He'll presumably say that he's just concerned about Jane, and you can say, "I appreciate your concern, but I need you to stay focused on your work and let your co-workers handle their own work issues with the people who are directly involved."
If you do that a couple of times and it keeps happening, then address the big picture: "We've spoken about this in the past, but I'm continuing to see you taking time away from your projects to talk to co-workers about issues that you're not involved in, like Jane's software request and Apollo's workload. I appreciate that you're coming from a place of wanting to help, but it's impacting your productivity and distracting others. I need you to stay focused on your work and let your co-workers handle their own work issues. Can you do that going forward?"
2. How to turn down networking requests
Today I received two networking messages, to which I'm not sure how to respond. The first I received via a former classmate from college introducing me to a grad school friend of hers. The second was a cold email from someone with no connection to my personal email address. Both emails are asking for informational interviews as they are applying for an open position on my team. I honestly don't have a lot of time right now -- I'm managing several projects as well as my team and I am a new mom. I know I should write these folks back, but I'm worried it's going to come off as cold and blunt for me to go "Sorry, can't. Oh, and you're overqualified for the position" (no, that's not what I'd actually write, but it's what I WANT to write). What would your suggestion be to help redirect these job seekers?
If they have current applications in with you, they're not asking for informational interviews; they're asking for actual interviews, even though they're using different terminology to try to distract you from that fact. I'd just say this: "I see that you've applied for the position. We've found that the best way to get to know people and explore things on both sides is to use the formal hiring process we've set up, but of course I'll be glad to talk further if we move forward."
If this were truly a request for an informational interview, you could still decline. In that case, you could say something like, "I wish I could help, but the reality is that my schedule is packed right now, and I need to turn down some requests in order to be able to ever see my family" or "Unfortunately, my schedule is really packed right now, so I'm not able to meet, but I'd be glad to answer a quick question or two by email if that would help."
3. Offering to be a resource to job candidates I reject
My small startup is currently doing a round of hiring. Through the hiring process, I've interviewed some really great people who, while not a perfect fit for the job, seem like they could be great employees at other companies in my field. Many of these candidates are looking to make a career change similar to the one that I made a few years ago when I started in my current role.
When I send rejection letters to people I think would do well in this career change, is there a way to genuinely offer to be a resource? I know from my own experience that trying to make that career change can be intimidating, and I feel very lucky to have found my current position. I'd be more than happy to answer any questions that former applicants might have about companies to look at, roles to consider, transferable skills to highlight, etc. I am, however, struggling a bit to find the words to express this genuinely without coming across as condescending. Thoughts?
I'd say it this way: "I made a similar career change myself a few years ago (moving from X to Y) and I'd be happy to share my experience with you and talk with you about what I learned in the process, if that's something that you'd find helpful. If that interests you, just let me know and we can set up a time to talk."
By the way, people will take you up on this. Job seekers tend to be hungry for that kind of help from people in the field they want to work in. So you might want to offer it somewhat sparingly (for example, only to the candidates you think best positioned to get real impact out of your advice), at least at first until you know what kind of response you get, or you could end up investing a much larger amount of time in doing it than you intended. (Or maybe not -- I don't want to discourage you from being generous with your time. Just make sure you're prepared for everyone to say yes!)
4. How to get people to stop using "reply all"
I'm hoping you can help me find the words to let employees know that using "reply all" isn't necessary in many situations. I need to send out an email to all the employees that when they receive an email from a colleague, it would be appreciated if they just reply to the sender and not everyone when it is not necessary.
For example, an employee is leaving and sent out an email to all the employees to say goodbye. Many of the employees responded but did a "reply all." I, as well as all the others, didn't need to see the personal replies. This happens too often, and I would like to send out a straightforward but gentle email to ask them to not do this.
This is the kind of thing where the more you agonize over your wording, the weirder and more tortured it's likely to sound. Just be straightforward: "Hey y'all, we have enough people here where it can really flood people's inboxes if you use 'reply all' to respond to messages that don't truly need to go to all. Please don't use 'reply all' unless everyone on the email chain truly does need to see your response."
But I also wouldn't do it immediately after the example you described; it's likely to come across as a little heartless if it seems like it's a direct response to people giving well wishes to a co-worker. Wait a respectable period of time first.
5. Competitive managers are looking for mistakes on other people's shifts
I manage a 24/7 emergency communications center, and all of my staff rotate through their positions working 12-hour shifts. Like all workplaces, some staff are more diligent at dotting their i's and crossing their t's, but I have two supervisors who have taken that to an extreme, feeding off each other to do more than the other. It has reached the point where they both look over the work of all other shifts in search of errors and omissions, which they often find but usually have no bearing on the task at hand. It is negatively impacting the morale of the workplace.
To remedy this, I'd like to develop a policy to prevent hindsight supervision, as I have begun calling it. Do you have any suggestions that will keep them on the current task and boost general morale?
You don't need a whole new policy -- just tell them to cut it out. As in, "I noticed that you've been looking over the work of previous shifts in order to spot errors. It's not a good use of time and it's becoming frustrating for others, so please stop doing that. If there are errors made on other shifts, I'll address them if I feel it's necessary, but I'd like you to stop sorting through them."
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