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 can I tell my team that their raises will be tiny?
I manage a team of 12 IT staff. Over the last year, we were responsible for an extremely large project, working long and hard hours. The cost savings to the company was supposed to be in the millions. We sang the typical tune, as instructed by HR, to demand everyone to work more efficiently and put staff on performance plans if they only met the status quo.
Well, now it's time for pay raises and was told I am being given $5,000 to split between the 12 staff. This is completely demoralizing. How do I communicate this when doing performance reviews? (I can't really push back on it because the "pot" is final. I've tried to ask HR for guidance on how to communicate this. Some staff already see through this that working harder to get a better rating has no bearing on salary raises.)
I wouldn't try to shield your staff from the knowledge that they're working for a company that will work them to the bone and not reward them. That's information they need to have in order to properly manage their careers--which for many of them will hopefully mean going to a company that values them and shows it. (That's not a reflection on you as a manager--it's a reflection on your company.)
I hope you'll tell someone in a position to do something about it what the impact will be on your ability to motivate and retain your team in the future.
2. How to deal with rude schedulers.
I have begun doing freelance work for someone, which requires occasional in-person meetings. This client is aware I have limited availability due to my full-time job, as well as other freelance projects I am involved on. I make an effort to schedule our meetings with enough notice for both parties to plan adequately.
Almost two weeks ago, we set a tentative plan to meet this Saturday (time TBD), agreeing he would follow up closer to the date to confirm. On Thursday, having not heard back, I emailed a polite, informal "just want to see if Saturday still works, and if so what time?" He responded Friday morning saying, "still on tomorrow, details to come." It is now 4 p.m. on Friday and he hasn't followed up yet.
Is this bad form or just par for the course for busy people? I am four years out of college, and he is an independent film producer who has been in the industry for some time. Is this just the way people work? Is it fair that in our roles I should be the one who has to be accommodating to his schedule? (I feel like it is, but perhaps I am being a pushover here.)
It is indeed bad form, and it's also the way some people work. You can often head this off, however, by structuring your plans with them differently. For instance, it might have gone differently with this guy if during the original plan-making you'd said, "Let's plan to confirm details by Thursday"--and then, if you hadn't heard from him by late Thursday, followed up with him, saying, "I may not be accessible tomorrow so hoped to confirm these details now." In other words, be explicit about when you want things solidified by, and then follow up to make that happen.
As for whether you should be the one to accommodate his schedule, maybe. It depends on the relative power of your position versus his. Do you need him more than he needs you? If so, yes, be prepared to accommodate--but you can still use the tactics above to make it easier when you do.
3. My friend is dating my boss's boss.
A friend of mine recently started dating my boss's boss, and I am hoping for advice on how to handle this. I am content knowing as little information about this as possible to maintain my professional relationships, but our mutual group of friends often have social get-togethers where significant others are welcome. I could see this becoming awkward on several levels, particularly given the age difference between us and him.
Don't drink too much around him, and ask your friend not to share any information about you with him. And if either of them ever attempts to involve you in any relationship drama, no matter how slight, refuse refuse refuse to get involved.
I'd also probably attend fewer get-togethers where the friend is likely to bring the boss (and if she's any kind of friend, she should understand why), but aside from that, there's not much else you need to do (or could do).
4. Do employers really have to interview a minimum number of candidates for every job?
My question relates to the often expressed "practice or rule" about "interviewing at least three candidates" for a position before we hire "the person we really want." Is this true or is this just a bogus HR myth? I hear it so often, and people just say it like it's the law.
There's no law requiring a minimum number of interviews. However, some employers have internal policies (their own policies, not related to any law) that they will interview at least X number of applicants for each position--sometimes because they genuinely think that's smart to do in hiring (which it usually is), but more often in order to avoid allegations of discrimination.
The problem is that employers often follow the letter of the policy rather than the spirit--meaning they already know who they're going to hire but follow their own policy anyway, which wastes their own time and the candidates' time and violates the whole point of what their policy is intended to achieve.
5. Should I be concerned that my job is going to go away?
I work in membership for a large-ish trade association. Much of this job involves working with our organization's association management system to update records, enter new applications for membership and renewals, payment information, etc. Our organization's operation is somewhat behind the times as far as associations go, but we're about to change AMS vendors and work with a more lightweight system that has more potential for integration with our other services and more ease of use.
Here is my dilemma: My department is comprised of four people with mainly the same duties (one of us is our department coordinator and has more reporting and administrative responsibility). We are moving to the new system next month, and as we learn more about it, I am finding that many of the tasks that we are responsible for are going to be automated, with plans to automate more of them in the future. Should I be concerned, when it seems like a very large percentage of my job is soon going to become irrelevant? I'm having trouble seeing how they can necessitate a department of four people when many of our tasks are going to be going away. Management is pretty sure that our jobs are safe, but I am not sure how much faith I should put into them. Do you have any ideas?
Ask what the plans are for your department's work distribution once the bulk of its tasks are automated. Do they sound like they have a concrete plan? Or do they sound vague? If they sound vague, that's a danger sign--they either haven't thought it through yet (and thus their assurances about keeping you all on are meaningless) or they're not sharing information with you for a reason.
And keep in mind that it's very, very common for employers not to tell people they're being laid off until they actually are--which doesn't mean that's what is happening here, but it's something you want to be aware of.
Regardless, start searching. You don't have to take an offer if you get one, but job searches take a long time, and by starting now, you'll be ahead of the game if it turns out later on that you need to be looking.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.