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. Asking a new employer for a flexible schedule
I'm in the process of looking for a new job and I've run into a bit of an issue. My young son is disabled and requires a lot of doctor and therapy appointments. My husband and I split this up as much as possible and always try to keep our time scheduled in the most effective way, but it is not unusual to have to leave work for 2-3 appointments a month. It is very important that I work for an employer with flexible time-off and/or flexible scheduling.
I don't want to set myself up for failure or find myself in a situation where, while everything looked great on paper, my coworkers or boss are annoyed by my situation. What is the best way to deal with this? Is it appropriate to bring up my family situation in the later stages of the interview process? Is there a way to find out about this aspect of the company culture without scaring potential bosses away thinking I'm going to be chronically absent?
Whenever you want to negotiate something like this, it makes sense to wait until you have an offer, because at that point the employer has already decided that they want you, whereas if you bring it up earlier, you risk scaring them off.
Once you have an offer, talk in concrete specifics about the situation's impact on your schedule. For example, you might explain that you have an average of three appointments per month, two of them without much notice, most requiring you to leave two hours early--or whatever it is. Then pay attention to the reaction. Do they sound hesitant? Worried? Annoyed? Supportive? They way they respond, as well as what they actually say, will tell you a lot.
2. My coworkers are pushing me to badmouth my predecessor, who I like
I work as the director of my division in a large organization. My predecessor, who stepped down about a year ago, was my supervisor and was a great mentor to me. We still stay in touch and he has told me that he is willing to recommend me in the future. However, the organization just wasn't a fit for him and he was not well liked by most of our colleagues.
Now that he has left and I have filled his position, on numerous occasions my colleagues (including people senior to me) have complained to me about his work and told me how much better I am in the role than he was. Sometimes they will really push to try to get me to talk badly about him ("Can you believe so-and-so did that? What was he thinking?"). I obviously don't want to engage in this because it's so unprofessional. I would be horrified if it ever got back to him that I was involved in a conversation like this. At the same time, if I say something in his defense or even just say nothing, I'm pretty sure my colleagues will think I stand behind his work and will think less of me as a result. Any advice?
Thank them for the praise they're giving you without agreeing with their assessment of your predecessor. For example: "Thanks for the kind words about my work--I appreciate it! I know the fit here wasn't a great one for Bob, but he's a good guy." And if you're still pressed to say something negative or listen to them badmouth him after that, you might simply try saying in a pleasant tone, "I have a good relationship with him."
It's unlikely that they're going to think less of you for either of those statements. Your work will speak for itself.
3. Employer thinks I'm overstating how difficult my work is
Ten years ago, I was hired at a church because they were starting a communications dept. and I had some self-taught design experience. I've improved tremendously over the years with my design work. It's solid and competent--for our demographic--but not inspired. A true graphic artist who I respect has judged my work to be quite on par with our needs, for most things.
One of our pastors has decided that all three of us need to be cross trained. I was shocked yesterday when he told me that he thought that due to my "insecurities," I've over-dramatized how difficult my job is. Yes, I am insecure, yet I've been honest about the complexity for people who have never used these programs. I'm discouraged and distressed to hear this, especially after all these years. But worst of all, is that my word has no value to them. What is the best way to deal with this low opinion they have of me? How do I convince them that insecurity doesn't equal liar? And why is it so hard to believe that people who have never done this kind of work might, possibly, find it a touch difficult?
Well, first, people are notorious for thinking that graphic design doesn't involve as much work as it really does, so unfortunately that comes with the territory.
But it doesn't sound like anyone is accusing you of lying--just of perhaps being overly dramatic or overly anxious about the work that your job involves. Yes, it's easy to be insulted by something like that, but it's not going to be particularly helpful to you to take that stance. It's not crazy to want some degree of cross-training in a small department, so that if you're out some day and they need something changed in a document before you're back, someone is capable of at least basic updates. I'd just look at it from that viewpoint and give up on trying to convince them that they're wrong, since I suspect that will be fruitless--and frustrating.
4. Company offered me a job, then called me back to meet with the owner
I've been searching for a job and think I've finally found the one that I want and luckily it seems as though they want me too ... I think. I have had a phone interview and an in-person interview over the past several weeks and then Friday they called and made a verbal offer. They said they would send over the written offer Monday or Tuesday. But on Tuesday, the person with whom I've been interviewing asked me to come in for an interview with the owner. I was caught off guard but offered up my availability. I'm scheduled to meet the owner later this week. I haven't received the written offer yet. Does that mean they're re-thinking their decision? What should I expect from meeting with the owner, whom I met once briefly last week, and should I bring up the verbal offer with him?
They should have been clearer with you when they called to ask you to meet with the owner! Since they weren't, ideally on that call you would have said, "Just to clarify, we'd talked on Friday about you sending over a formal offer. Is that on hold pending this meeting?" Since that easy window to ask has closed, at this point I would just go to the next meeting and not ask about it (although it's still your prerogative to call them now and ask if you want to)--but either way, assume that there's no offer yet, since it sounds hazy enough that you shouldn't rely on it until it's formalized. Certainly in your meeting with the owner, if it doesn't become clear what's going on, you can ask about it before the meeting ends. I'd can say something like, "Can you tell me your timeline for next steps? When I spoke with Jane on Friday, she had offered me the position--but I'm less clear now where things stand in your process."
5. Do I have to provide my employer with a copy of the reference I gave a former coworker?
My ex-coworker is in the process of looking for a new job, and she put my name as a reference without asking me. I decided to help her and provide a reference, but I was unaware that she told the hiring company that I was her supervisor, which I was not. The company sent me a form to fill out, which I did and emailed it back to them. I did not lie; I stated that I was her coworker, which was an option on the form.
The hiring company then called my company and spoke with her actual supervisor. My supervisor is now questioning me and asking me for a copy of the reference that I gave. Am I obligated to provide share it ? I don't have an issue sharing it with my manager, but because I think it was a personal reference, I feel I am not obligated to provide it.
It wasn't a personal reference, even if you look at it that way; it was a professional reference because you were a coworker, or at least I can pretty much guarantee you that the reference-checker sees it that way.
Your employer is entitled to want to see a copy of what you provided, since as long as you're employed by your company, you're representing them to some extent when you give references for their former employees. But even if that weren't the case, taking a stand on this is unlikely to go well for you. At best, it will negatively impact your standing with your manager long-term, and at worst it could be insubordination. Do you really want to take on that battle for a former coworker who tried to get you to lie on her behalf?
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