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 tell an employee she can't wear a nose ring to work
I have had a wonderful front desk receptionist/medical biller for six years. She always goes out of her way and is extremely dedicated. Well, yesterday she came in with a nose ring. I don't know how to handle it without hurting her feelings. She's had a tough life. Please let me know how to get rid of the nose ring.
Just be direct: "Jane, we don't allow facial piercings here, so unfortunately I have to ask you not to wear your nose ring to work."
Add it to your dress code if you want something clearer to refer to in the future, but it's perfectly legitimate to define "no facial piercings" as part of overall professional appearance, particularly for a customer-facing role like a receptionist.
That said, be aware that the norms around this are changing really quickly, and facial piercings are increasingly accepted in corporate settings. It's worth taking a fresh look at whether you truly do need to ban them; your patients may not care about it at all.
2. How do I poach an employee from another company?
I work for a real estate company and we would like to hire an amazing blogger to work full time providing interesting content for our website, but it has been difficult finding a good fit. There is a guy who writes a real estate blog for a local newspaper and we think he seems great. We would like to reach out to him and see if he might be interested in coming to work for us.
How do we do this in a nice, professional way? I don't know how to phrase an email that's basically saying that we would like to steal him away from his current employer. Should we make that clear right away or is it better to ask to meet with him and explain what we're looking for face to face? We have never been in contact with him before, only read his articles.
Well, assuming that you're not going to snatch him off the street and force him into a van, you're not really proposing stealing him from his employer. He's a free agent who is going to make his own employment decisions. So instead, what you're doing is telling him you think you might have work that would interest him, and from there it's up to him to decide whether to talk with you about it and, ultimately, whether to accept any offer you might make.
I'd be straightforward about what you're looking for, though; if you're circumspect, it can seem misleading. Just email him, tell him you love his work, and say that you'd like to talk with him about a position you're hiring for if he might be interested. Describe the position a little bit, and ask if he'd be interested in meeting to talk further. (By the way, do a thorough interview--don't just offer him the job if he seems interested. You really don't know enough yet to know if he's your guy, and even if you did, most good candidates will be put off if a company seems willing to hire them without any due diligence to check into fit, skills, etc.)
3. My contact misrepresented me to get an in with my boss
I have an acquaintance who works in the same city as me but she works in a different field. (I am in fashion and she's in finance.) She's very involved in auctions and charitable organizations that charge fees to attend these events. I started my job not two months ago. We sell high-end leather outerwear for men and women, and I am in the purchasing and sales department. When I first started this job, my acquaintance asked me in passing where it was located and what my company did, so I told her without giving it much thought.
A few days ago, I found out that she decided to contact my boss directly to ask if she would donate some pieces from her collection to her auction, and that I thought it was a great idea and that it would be great exposure because of all the "high end" people who will attend this event. My boss very excitedly approached me today and told me that we really need to get the items ready for the auction and that this will be a great opportunity for her line and thank you very much for having my friend get in touch with her. I would never have done this. I've been to these type of events before, the market is not "high end," and it's not the type of marketing my boss would want. I have a pretty good idea of where she wants to take her line and this type of event is not it.
I hate that this acquaintance used my name to get an "in" with my boss. I didn't say anything to my boss about what I really think of this event and about me not being involved. At this point, I have no idea how to explain this to her. I've been here for a short time and I don't want to be involved in all this drama. How do I get her to pull out from this commitment?
It doesn't need to be a big drama unless you treat it that way. Just say to your boss, "By the way, I was surprised to hear that Jane told you that I thought it was a great idea because I didn't know anything about it until you mentioned it to me. I'm actually not convinced it's the right way to go--I've been to her events and it doesn't seem like our target audience." But from there, it's up to your boss whether to participate or not; don't keep pushing the issue if she pursues it, since at that point you've explained your position and it's her call.
4. Should I speak up about my lazy colleague?
A vacancy has arisen in my organization that significantly impacts on my work; I am not the manager for the post but there is an expectation that we cover some of each other's tasks. A colleague has applied and been shortlisted for interview. I know she will come across very well in her interview as she's very articulate, bright, and intelligent. However, she is also craftily lazy. She spends a lot of time during the day surfing social-media forums; when "working from home," I know she is not; and she is being paid for full-time work but actually only available for work for a maximum of 30 hours (minus the hour's lunch she takes most days).
I realize this person is being poorly managed, and if she gets the post will continue with the same manager. I also know how our interview panels work. The interviews will apply a rigorous marking system based on the application form and interview, and will not take into account what this person is like. It is therefore highly likely that we will be working closely together, and I really do not want to. I have no respect for someone who exhibits this kind of behavior. I do however like her; she is very sociable and fun.
It seems to me that dogmatically following a procedure is going to result in someone getting a post who has a poor attitude to work and, somewhere in all of this, little respect for colleagues. That will impact on my work and workload. Is there anything I can do to avert what I regard as an unsuitable appointment without looking like a snitch?
I'd speak up and share your impressions. If you keep it objective and make it clear that your focus is on ensuring the best person is hired for the position and not on any personal issues with her, you're not going to look like a "snitch" (a concept that really doesn't apply in the workplace anyway). That said, if they're rigid about only assessing candidates on their interviews and they won't take into account other feedback, then they have a terrible, misguided hiring process, and there may be nothing you can do about that. That's one of the problems with such systems.
5. An employer wants to interview me on the same day that I have a major work event
I am currently employed. I have a good job, one that I actually like. But a fantastic opportunity came along and I just had to apply. I've made it to round 2 of interviews, and they are at the organization's office, which happens to be 400 miles away. No problem--they will fly me in. The catch? The interview date is the same day as a major event at work, one in which I am integrally involved. Is it too much to expect the interview committee to allow me some flexibility? I really want this job, but I'm not willing to lie or scheme my way out of this work event. Help!
It's completely reasonable to say, "I'm sorry, but I have a work event on that date that I can't miss. Is there another date that would work on your end?" In fact, most employers are expecting that you'll speak up if the dates they propose would be a hardship for you. (That said, there are some circumstances where they can't be flexible, but they'll tell you if that's the case; you should absolutely still ask.)
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.