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 help an employee who suffers from anxiety?
How can I help an employee who is suffering from anxiety? The employee in question is a very hardworking, very conscientious employee, but she suffers from excessive worry and anxiety. This isn't my diagnosis--she told me she's taking advantage of our employee assistance program and getting help with it. However, part of her illness is that she worries--a lot--and doesn't always have a good sense of perspective on what's worth worrying about and what's not. I understand this, as I've been there as well.
The way this manifests is that she frequently asks me if she's messed something up, or made mistakes, and she seeks constant reassurance. I am very good about giving feedback, positive and negative, so she knows that I'll tell her if there's a problem. But I think the illness is clouding her ability to really accept that. So how do I work this? I don't mind giving reassurance, but I don't think it's really helping. Is there something else I should be doing?
Well, you can certainly be reassuring and positive when she asks you if she's made mistakes or messed something up. And you could also ask her directly what, if anything, she would find helpful beyond that. But you're probably right that the anxiety is clouding her ability to really accept it when you tell her that she's doing fine, and that's a problem that you're not going to be able to fix for her--she's got to do that on her own (and with the help of a therapist, as she's doing).
I'd just keep boundaries in mind here--being calm, reassuring, and positive about her strengths is good, but going beyond that to find ways to help her believe you isn't really your role. (And in fact it could be counterproductive, since she'll be held back professionally if she starts to lean on you for that type of support.)
2. My co-worker keeps answering all my emails in person.
Every single time I email my co-worker, instead of her responding to my emails, she walks over to my desk to respond. Today she just walked over, pulled up a chair, and started talking! Never mind the fact that I was in the middle of working on something else. I work with a lot of spreadsheets and numbers and I really have to focus on what I'm doing. When she interrupts me, it takes so much time for me to get my focus back. People in this office seem to have a culture of this walking over thing and I really hate it, but this person is by far the worst as she does it several times a day. I've been here for about 10 months and I'm the newest one here, and I'm not sure how to address this with her.
I cannot even express how annoying and distracting it is for her to constantly walk to my desk with every trivial question and comment instead of just replying to my emails. How can I get I her to stop doing this and to just respond to my emails?
Say this: "I'm sorry, I'm right in the middle of something and can't talk. If you're able to send me an email, that would be easier for me right now- but if not, then when I'm at a stopping point with what I'm working on, I'll let you know and we can talk."
Repeat as needed. After you do this enough, most people will get trained to stop walking over and interrupting you.
Alternately, if you're comfortable being more direct, you can say in an apologetic tone, "I tend to get really focused when I'm working with spreadsheets and it can be hard to be interrupted, so email is usually the best way if something isn't an emergency. Or we can set up a time to talk if it's not something where email makes sense."
(If this were your boss or someone else above you in the hierarchy, you'd need to approach this more delicately, but that doesn't sound like the case here.)
3. Should I let my friend know his references are terrible?
A number of years ago, I worked for company A, and I am still friendly with a few people there. More recently, my entire department at company B was eliminated and we were all laid off. One of my friends and recent former co-workers (Mr. X) from company B applied for a management position at company A. One of my company A friends sits right near the hiring manager's office and heard her calling around to a number of different people for references about him. What she overheard was not good. Apparently people within the industry didn't have a lot of complimentary things to say about Mr. X. I have no way of knowing if these were references provided by Mr. X himself or if this was general community-pulsing; my friend at company A did not know who was on the other end of the line, but noted that there were multiple conversations, all involving Mr. X. Needless to say, someone else was hired. In addition, Mr. X came across as both desperate and aggressive, with too many follow-up calls, requesting information, etc.
So although I really wish I wasn't, I am armed with incomplete but reliable and pretty damning information about my friend Mr. X. When he and I worked together, I personally saw him as very good at what he did and he got along with everyone, so I don't know where this information is coming from. I can handle telling him not to be too aggressive, that can come up in a regular conversation when we discuss our job-hunting efforts. But what do I do with the information about his reputation (which he thinks is solid)? Do I keep it to myself or tell him? This could destroy his spirit. Plus, without knowing who was approached, he can't even pinpoint anyone in particular (except his provided references, of course) to do damage control.
Ouch. I could argue this one either way. On one hand, this isn't your problem to solve, you don't have first-hand information, your friend probably wasn't supposed to pass along what she heard, and you're right that without knowing more specifics, Mr. X will have trouble figuring out where the problem is. On the other hand, knowing that he has some reference problems could allow him to do more thinking and digging and potentially figure out what the issue is and solve it--or at least stop offering up a particular person or persons as references, if nothing else.
I lean toward letting your closeness with Mr. X be your guide here. If he's a close friend, you should probably discreetly give him a heads-up, emphasizing that this is third-hand information and he shouldn't take it as gospel. If you're not as close, though, you might simply encourage him to get in touch with his references and ensure that they're emphasizing the things he wants them to emphasize (and in the process, he might get a feel for what's going on).
4. I gave the wrong answer about salary.
I met a former co-worker for dinner, and after catching up, she surprised me with the news that she would like to recruit me for her company. While she was describing the kind of position they want to create for me, she asked what someone in that role might make, and I gave her a general ballpark range. She said that number was right in line with their budget.
I have since met with the CEO and they are as interested in bringing me on as I am in joining them, but after doing some research on the job, I realized the range I gave my friend off the cuff was about $10K too low. I realize my mistake in this was verbalizing a number without any research or even a job description in hand (one does not exist yet). But I would like to see if I can still make this work in my favor. Should I allow them to make me an offer and then try to negotiate up from there, or should I try to discuss this with my friend before anything is put in writing?
Say this before things go much further: "When we originally talked, I threw out a ballpark salary for a role like this. Once we started talking more seriously, I thought more seriously about it as well and did some research into the market rate for this type of position. I think I'd be looking for a salary around $X if we moved forward."
5. Should HR prep candidates before interviews?
I found my latest phone screen with an HR manager different than most I've encountered. When he asked me what I was looking for in terms of compensation, he immediately interjected before I could answer and told me the salary range "...in an effort not to pigeon-hole yourself with your answer, in case we were out of sync." I told him I was fine with the range he quoted. Then at the end of the screening, he asked to set up an interview, gave me the name of the hiring manager who I will be interviewing with, advised me to check out her LinkedIn profile, and suggested certain questions in addition to my own, all the while advising me to keep the interview more conversational with her.
Is it normal for the HR rep of a company to give this much help to a candidate? In the past, I've gotten nothing more than a series of questions from them before scheduling the face-to-face interviews.
It's not unheard of. Most of this--not all--is the sign of a thoughtful HR person: Making sure that you don't feel lowballed on salary is in the company's best interests (if they want to retain good employees in the long term) and suggesting you keep the interview more conversational is pretty basic guidance.
But I do take issue with him suggesting questions to ask the hiring manager, who will be assuming that those questions reflect your own thought process--I'd be pretty irked about that part if I were the hiring manager. (Unless the questions he was suggesting were designed to get you more insight into things he felt it was important for you to hear more about.)
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