Here's a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.
1. My employee cries whenever I give her feedback
One of the people I supervise is "Mary," a woman in her early 20s. Every time she gets critical feedback (even very mild and accompanied by praise), she turns bright red and starts crying ... like, a lot. Tears stream down her face. Other than that, though, she responds calmly and rationally. She carries a handkerchief and just mops up the tears and continues the conversation. One of the first times this happened, I asked if she was OK, and she said that it's "just a physical response to stress" and confided that she's getting cognitive behavioral therapy to learn to control it. Honestly, I think she's handling the whole thing with a lot of professionalism and maturity.
I am her direct supervisor, but she also reports to two of my (male) colleagues, one of whom is a VP in my company. I recently overheard them talking about Mary, saying that her crying is uncomfortable, unprofessional, and "stupid." Mary is a great employee, and I want to do whatever I can to protect her job and reputation within the company. Should I say something to my colleagues? Should I advise her to say something?
How about saying this to them: "I agree the crying isn't ideal, but she's an excellent employee, and she's consistent about listening carefully to feedback and incorporating it into her work, more than many other people are." (Or whatever -- don't say that last part if it's not true, of course.) If you're comfortable with it, you could also consider adding, "You know, there are some real gender-based differences around emotions in the workplace, and I think we need to be really careful about how we talk about this."
This is a little tricky because, well, crying every time she gets feedback is actually problematic. You're comfortable continuing on in the conversation, but a lot of managers wouldn't be, and it's the kind of thing that will generally make people uncomfortable and create the impression that she's not able to handle stress or challenges. That said, she clearly recognizes that it's an issue and it sounds like she's handling it as well as possible, given the circumstances, and it would probably be smart to try to shift your colleagues' perceptions a bit if you can.
2. My boss told me to stop emailing him
My boss has asked me to stop sending emails (even though I have explained I want them as a record) and to talk to him face to face instead. He has pulled me up on it twice and in front of the office accused me of being nervous to talk to him. I regularly speak to him face to face, but when I have important information I am communicating with him, I have always been taught from previous roles to have an email record. His response was that he is getting angry that I send him emails. What would you recommend? I would feel extremely uncomfortable not having email records.
There are all sorts of reasons your boss might want you to send him fewer emails, such as that he's trying to manage an overflowing inbox, or that he finds it more efficient to have a conversation where there can be real-time back-and-forth, or that he simply prefers communicating in person. Regardless, he's your boss, and if he's telling you to do that, you need to do it. He gets to make this call, regardless of what you were taught in previous jobs; this isn't a situation where there's only one standard of rightness that's so important that you must adhere to it even when your boss is telling you otherwise. Do what he's asking.
If there are issues where your boss is misremembering conversations and you want a record for that reason, or where that's not happening but you want a record anyway, keep your own notes. That doesn't have to happen via email.
3. Employee keeps referring to me as his "manageress"
I was recently promoted to the head of my team, replacing a male manager who departed. I have no complaints, except that one person consistently refers to me in emails to others as his "manageress" instead of his "manager" -- e.g., "I've copied my manageress into this email."
I have no complaints about his performance, which makes me think I should just let it drop, but I wanted to ask if you think that's the right thing to do and also if it's normal to refer to female managers as "manageresses"?
No, it's not normal. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he's doing it because he thinks it's funny, but you should tell him to stop -- because why does he need your gender to be such a focus of how he identifies you at work? Also, it's like the problem with saying "male nurse" or "woman cop"; he's saying that he thinks that men are the default for managers.
I'd say this: "Hey, Bob, I know that's meant to be funny, but please cut it out since it's putting too much focus on gender. Thank you."
4. Should staff get bonuses for covering when I'm on maternity leave?
I am the executive director of a nonprofit, and I'm about to go on maternity leave for six weeks. We have two other full-time staff members, whom I supervise. My board of directors has been discussing giving the two staff members a bonus this summer, after my return, as a reward for doing some of my tasks while I'm gone.
Of course, my being gone is somewhat of a burden since we only have a three-person office, but I've tried to take as much of that burden away as possible by doing a lot of advance preparations for things that might come up while I'm gone. Because of a combination of my prep work and the ability to put off many tasks until I return, the daily tasks of mine that the two staff members will need to do are fairly menial -- things like sorting the mail, initialing invoices, etc. I will also be checking email during the entire duration of my leave, so I don't foresee their needing to make any high-level decisions without me or anything like that.
While I'm always in favor of raises and bonuses for my staff, I want to make sure we think through the ramifications of whatever decision is made. My main concern is that we will set a precedent and not know where to draw the line -- if one staff member goes on a two-week vacation, should the remaining staff get a bonus for covering for them? Is it common to provide bonuses to staff who cover daily tasks for people who are on maternity or other long-term leave, or is it considered just part of the regular job?
Some employers do, some don't. In general, it's a good thing to do if you can afford it and if the increase in work is more than a minor one. And, yes, it's generally only for long-term leaves, not for two-week vacations.
If it's truly just sorting the mail and initialing invoices, that doesn't sound like it rises to the level of bonus-worthy -- but I'd make sure you've fully thought through whether that's really all it will be and whether they're likely to need to put in significant hours above what they normally work. It sounds like you're lowering your staffing by one-third during this time; is there really no more work that will fall to them? If there truly isn't and they're not going to work more hours, I don't see much of an argument for bonuses ... but I also don't think it would be the worst thing if you did them anyway as a recognition of whatever additional work they did do.
I hear your worry about creating the expectation that you'll always do this when someone is on leave, but you can address that directly by explaining that in general part of the job is to cover when someone is out, but this is a one-time thing to thank them for making your life so much easier.
5. Meeting with people from my old industry right after I start a new job
I just started a new role this week that I am super excited about. I'm leaving behind a role where I was a pretty vital part of the day-to-day operations in a very small, insular community for three years. I formed very close relationships with a lot of these people. As such, when I sent my farewell email out to folks I wanted to stay in touch with, a lot of folks asked me to grab coffee to catch up and hear about my new role.
However, my new role is not so client-facing; it's more event programming and logistics. Would it be out of line to take meetings during the workday with people in my former network? It's still the same space/industry, but not all of these meetings necessarily have synergy with what I'm working on. I'm not sure what professional conventions are surrounding this.
I'd mostly hold off for now. One coffee with an old colleague your first month on the job isn't a big deal -- but a bunch of them when they don't relate to your current job would raise my eyebrows if I were your manager. Wait until you've been there a bit longer and have established yourself, so that you're more of a known quantity. At that point, your manager will know you have a work ethic and are getting things done and will be less likely to wonder what's up.
It's very normal to tell past colleagues in this situation, "Once I'm more settled in here, I'd love to have coffee." It doesn't need to be immediate. (Or, if you want it to be more immediate, meet for a drink after work or something. Just don't load up your first couple of months at a new job with daytime meetings with people who don't relate to the new work.)
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.