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 decrease negativity on your staff.
I have recently been promoted to manage a department of about 20 people within a large organization. The last manager did not seem very supportive and people used to complain about that, so I decided that I would be very supportive in order to improve morale and performance. I instigated an open-door policy and made it clear that I was there to help with any problems, especially with our patients, who are often stressed by their situation and can be very demanding.
However, I am beginning to suspect that this has backfired. I now seem to have people in my office all day complaining about very trivial matters that I'm pretty sure they could have sorted out themselves. For example, they will come to tell me if a patient has spoken out of turn to them; I expected them to consult me if a patient was offensive, not just bad mannered. Worse still, I feel as if there is even more of a negative atmosphere than before, and one of my (positive) colleagues told me that they often spend their entire lunch breaks moaning about the patients and saying that I should deal with them more firmly. I have to say that it is only two of the staff who do this, with another who joins in, but I'm really worried that this negativity is bringing down the whole atmosphere. How have I got this so wrong?
People will take their cues from you, and it sounds like you made a point of offering "support," which they took as an invitation to air complaints and vent. Now you're going to need to backtrack and make it clear what you want to hear about (issues that require your involvement to reach a resolution) and what they should handle on their own (anything that's just venting and doesn't require action from you). You should also make it clear that while you want to hear legitimate complaints, and while everyone needs to occasionally let off steam after a frustrating encounter, it's not OK to chronically complain, particularly about patients (who presumably are the reason you all have jobs). And if it continues after that, you'll need to have a more serious conversation one-on-one with the three complainers -- laying out the standards of professionalism you expect them to meet.
Your job as a manager isn't "to be supportive." It's to run your department well and get the results you need. Being a supportive person can be part of that, but it can't be your No. 1 goal -- and that's where it sounds like you initially went wrong.
2. How can I tell my co-worker about the bad exit interviews she receives?
I work in HR and I recently started conducting exit interviews for our company. Most people are open with me, as they trust me. A lot of the exit interviews include very good feedback for the HR team, except one of my co-workers; most people have something bad to say about her.
The thing is, she's the one doing all the data entering in our HR system, and I feel weird about writing a report saying "Marie is a 10 but Sarah is..." -- well, let's say I have to clean up the language a bit. How do I go about that?
This is something you should discuss with your manager and find out how she wants it handled. Say something like "I'd like your advice on something that feels awkward to me. In many of the exit interviews I'm conducting, people have great feedback for HR, except for Sarah, who they often have complaints about. I have to give the data to Sarah to enter, and I feel awkward that she's repeatedly seeing this. Is there a diplomatic way for me to handle this with her?"
This has the side benefit of alerting your manager to the situation, but you'd also be genuinely seeking her guidance on how to proceed.
3. Should I say something about my ex-husband's fake LinkedIn profile?
My ex-husband (with whom I have a cordial relationship and also two sons) was RIF'd a couple of weeks ago due to a merger. For some reason, he's created a second LinkedIn account and connected to me with the new one (in addition to already being connected on the old account). I clicked through, wondering if he'd created a new account, and immediately noticed that he'd listed a degree he does not have from a university he did attend for a few years. I know 100 percent for a fact he didn't get that degree.
Normally I'm a mind-your-own-business person on things like this, but (a) he's technology-challenged, and more importantly, (b) he's the father of my sons, and when bad things happen to him, whether self-inflicted or not, it's hard on them.
So the question is this: Do I say something to the ex about getting that lie off his LinkedIn profile or do I continue to mind my own business?
If you have a friendly relationship with him, I don't see anything wrong with saying something -- as long as you frame it as something you're assuming he did by mistake, rather than assuming that he's intentionally lying. For instance, "Hey, what's the story with your second LinkedIn profile? And did you notice you accidentally put that you had a degree from Yale?"
But if the relationship isn't warm, you risk seeming like you're just hassling him, in which case it's not worth it and I'd let it go.
As far as a potential impact on his kids, the much bigger problem would be if he's lying on his resume (since there it's clearly deliberate, whereas on LinkedIn it could be user error) -- and that's something you can't/won't really be able to know.
4. I heard a new co-worker trash-talking the job.
Earlier this morning, I heard one co-worker talking to another, and I'm pretty sure others could hear this conversation as well. She referenced an interview she had for an internal promotion, even though she hasn't been here long (three months), and went on to say that she really didn't care about the work she was doing currently, which is concerning because she works directly with our customers. She then went on to say something nasty about another co-worker with whom she works closely.
Should I say something to someone, considering her promotion consideration? My first thought was that it's Not My Business, and I should stay out of it.
I think it's worth discreetly saying something, particularly if you have a good relationship with her manager or the hiring manager for the new position. If I were either of those managers, I'd genuinely appreciate hearing a discreet "Hey, I was taken aback when I overheard this, and since she mentioned she's being considered for Promotion X, I thought I'd mention it to you. Now that I've done that, I'm going to wipe it from my mind."
A lot of people might tell you not to say anything, on the grounds that it's not your business or that you might have just caught her in a bad but uncharacteristic moment. (Which is possible, but in my experience, someone making comments like that after only three months on the job is nearly always capital-T Trouble.)
5. Explaining why I'm looking for a new job after four months.
I recently took a job simply because I didn't have one. I've been there about four months and I don't hate the work, but the salary is so low that I am barely covering my bills and I rarely leave my apartment because I am so in the red. I have been applying to jobs and have set up a few interviews.
I am asked on almost every interview why I am leaving my current job. I have tried "I am looking for new challenges," but I am usually met with a "But you've only been there a couple months" response. How should I go about explaining myself to a potential employer? Is it okay to tell them I don't make enough money?
Well, think about that answer from an employer's perspective: Someone who's looking for new challenges after four months is someone pretty darn flighty. If employers believe you, it's usually going to be a deal breaker. If they don't believe you (and instead think you're covering up the real story), you'll look naive for thinking that answer wouldn't be a huge concern for them.
There isn't really a good answer here, because the fact is that you accepted your current salary -- and most employers will think that you shouldn't have done that if you were just going to keep looking (unless the job is a minimum-wage-type job, in which case most people will find it reasonable).
Instead, you're probably better off leaving this job off your resume while you're looking, since you haven't been there long enough for it to help you and it's going to keep raising red flags.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to email@example.com.