Here's a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.
1. How to coach a combative, negative employee
I have an employee who I would really like to succeed, but her attitude makes it difficult for her to get ahead. She has an us versus them mentality when it comes to management, and often takes a combative approach when discussing employee issues, policy changes, updates, or general feedback. It makes other departments shy away from her, and she misses out on promotional opportunities because of her attitude. I appreciate her involvement in the department and employee issues, but she is so against management that is makes it hard to work with her (and out of all the jobs I have had, I've never worked for a place that cares more about its employees and ideas for improvement). She constantly butts in when it's really not her business, and stirs the pot when there is no need for it.
She has confided to me that she would like a promotion because of all the years she has worked here. How do I impress upon her that promotions are earned on the basis of skill and not longevity?
If an opportunity presents itself, I am not sure her computer skills would be up to par, and, frankly, her attitude makes it difficult to promote her. I do not want to spend my days with somebody who constantly complains in a nonconstructive way. If she could couch her opinions more constructively, I feel that she would get further ahead. I've had talks with her before, but it doesn't seem to sink in. Any advice? Or is that people don't change, and I need to let the chips fall where they may?
Many people do change ... and many people do not. If you've talked with her about these issues multiple times and not seen any change, she's probably in the second category, at least for now. That said, how direct have you been with her about all this? If you haven't been very direct and instead have tried to sugarcoat it to spare her feelings, you could try one final time, and this time be quite blunt. But if that doesn't work, it's probably time to give up on that and instead start thinking about whether it even makes sense to keep her in the job she's in (let alone promote her, which I definitely wouldn't do without serious changes).
2. How much should I watch what I say around a co-worker with financial worries?
I'm a "senior" in my team and earn a considerable amount more (30 percent more perhaps) than a midlevel colleague I work closely with. Our life situations are quite different: I am a few years older and single, whereas the colleague has a young family and is the sole breadwinner and stretched from paycheck to paycheck with little in the way of contingency funds. The person has spoken over the past few months about their financial worries, and I have tried to be sympathetic and offer practical solutions where I see them.
As a result, I'm conscious of what I can discuss or mention in the office. We have a very informal and chatty environment, so any discussion is usually OK, except I feel uncomfortable mentioning the tablet I bought (we're in the tech industry and so are very geeky about gadgets, etc. -- it isn't just showing off) and even think twice about coming in with a new haircut or color, which as a result I have avoided doing for a while, as they seem too much like conspicuous consumption or a kick in the teeth.
How should I handle this? Should I just go about my usual business without worry (I don't do extravagant things like buying yachts or whatever -- they are normal purchases within the bounds of someone with a normal job!) or do I owe any kind of consideration to the colleague? Should I acknowledge the awkwardness to the colleague and how?
You're way overthinking this! As long as you aren't bragging about purchases to your colleague (and it doesn't sound like you are), you shouldn't censor yourself. You definitely don't need to avoid getting a haircut! A haircut is not conspicuous consumption. In fact, your colleague would probably be mortified to find out that you're altering your behavior like this on their account.
Be kind, but be normal.
3. Everyone wants to know why I'm not eating at office food events
I'm in a food conundrum. Because of multiple food allergies, I have to scrutinize every bit of food that I eat. I've found myself in a company that has many social events for employees that revolve around food. There are annual chili cook-offs, bake-offs, potlucks, carnivals, brunches, monthly birthday celebrations, barbecues, etc.
When I've attended such events, I often find that I cannot eat any of the food provided, so I usually stand around with a drink and chat. Others notice I'm not eating and sometimes ask me why. I understand their concerns, but I'm so tired of having to explain my diet. It's really getting old, and it makes for a great deal of awkwardness.
I'd just as soon skip all foodie work events, but then I'd miss out on getting to know my colleagues and networking opportunities. Most of all, I don't want to develop a reputation in the office as the person with all the food allergies.
I'd love some better coping strategies, but please don't suggest that I bring my own food to the events. I've tried that, and unless it's a potluck situation, it invites a whole other host of awkward questions launched my way.
Try saying this in a cheerful tone: "Oh, it's boring -- but tell me how X is going!" X can be any change of subject -- a work project, an outside-of-work interest they have, anything. Alternately, your change of subject could be "but I wanted to tell you about X," which could then be something in your own life, or even "but I love your shoes!" In other words, change the subject immediately.
Most people will understand that "it's boring" means "I don't want to talk about it yet again." But if you get someone who pushes -- and you probably will, because, man, we are weird about food -- then you can say, "Oh, just a bunch of allergies that put me to sleep to talk about" or "eh, boring health stuff" or anything else that lets you refuse to engage.
4. I'm being asked to help out at the job I was laid off from
I was a senior manager for a nonprofit that is currently in the process of dissolving. I have been formally laid off, but the board of directors continues to ask me to do things to close the agency. These duties were part of the job I was laid off from. Shouldn't they have to pay me for this? It doesn't seem right that I'm asked to volunteer my time. Thoughts?
Because it's a nonprofit, it's legal for them to use volunteers ... but that doesn't mean that you're required to volunteer for the work you used to get paid for. It would be entirely reasonable for you to say something like, "I'd be glad to help with this, but my schedule makes it impossible to continue helping without charging for my time. Would an hourly rate of $X work for you?" If you'd rather not help at all, it's also fine to simply decline; you can soften that message by explaining that you're now busy with other things.
5. Should my company pay to fly me back from a business trip for a funeral?
I work for a small IT company based out of Ohio, where I live. My company flew me to California for a two-week business trip. This morning, my grandmother passed away. I need to fly back to Ohio for the funeral this weekend, and then back to California to finish the job. Shouldn't my company pay for this flight, or am I crazy?
A good company would pay for the flights. It's an expense that you're incurring because of work; after all, if you weren't on a trip for work, you'd already be at home and none of this would be necessary. They're not legally required to pay the cost, but they should -- both ethically and practically, and also because refusing to is a really good way to alienate and demoralize an employee.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.