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. My coworker is rude and dismissive when she reviews my work
I have a colleague who used to be my supervising manager and is no longer. Her role still dictates that she review my work and provide feedback, but I am now directly supervised by her supervisor (the owner of our small company).
When I present my work, ask questions, or explain how I came to solutions, she is often extremely disrespectful--texting or talking on her phone, yawning, looking at the clock, interrupting me, or answering me as though my questions or comments were poorly conceived or downright stupid. After two years of this, I have lost confidence in my work, in my ability to articulate information, and in my respectability as a professional and as a human. My supervisor's solution is for me to "toughen up" and ignore her, but I'm not sure I can continue doing that. Should I try to have a conversation with her about how disrespectful and hurtful her actions are? Is there another possible solution?
Keep hurt feelings out of it. Instead, you could say, "I get the sense that you're frustrated when we speak, especially when I ask questions. You often seem in a rush to end our meetings. Is there something you'd like me to be doing differently?"
She might tell you something you didn't know (like "you take an hour with this stuff when I can only allot 15 minutes for it" or "you don't seem to pay attention to feedback I gave you in the past, requiring me to repeat it again"), or she might be jolted into realizing she needs to behave differently. Or not--she might continue totally unchanged. She might just be a jerk.
The thing is, though, you don't have any control over her; you only have control over how you respond to her. Do you really want to give random jerks the power to make you feel this horrible? That brings us back to your boss's advice, which I think is meant to tell you that you're taking her behavior much too personally. I know it's unpleasant to deal with someone like this, but it's about her, not you. Because someone professional and not-a-jerk wouldn't treat you that way, no matter what you were doing to provoke it, so it's not about you.
Sometimes we end up working with jerks; you're giving this one too much power over how you feel about yourself. (To be clear, if your boss knows she's a jerk, she should step in -- but focus on the parts that you can control.)
2. Following up on a raise
When is an appropriate time to follow up on a raise that a few months ago was mentioned as likely to happen this month? My manager, who is retiring in a few weeks, knows I've applied for a few other positions within the company but hasn't mentioned my raise. Should I wait and ask the new manager who will be internally promoted? I'd like to get some sense from my department, as it may help me get a higher offer from the other departments on my radar. Even still, if I get neither, I'd rather be making more money sooner than later.
Ask now. You want to ask your current manager before she leaves, because the new manager will come in without knowing all this context and potentially not as committed to getting you a raise as your current manager. Keep in mind, though, that since your manager knows you're applying for other positions, she may feel less incentive to get you a raise out of her department's budget--if you have one foot out the department's door anyway.
3. My manager believes it's illegal to give references
I work at a newspaper, and we had a reporter resign. He hasn't been the best employee (actually, he's been a nightmare) so I asked my general manager, jokingly, if he was going to give him a good reference. My general manager then told me that it was illegal to give him any reference at all. He said he was only allowed to confirm the dates he was employed.
I found this odd. I asked him if he would give him a reference had he been a good employee? He still said no. He would still only confirm the dates of employment.
I'm planning to apply for other jobs at some point in the future, and by all accounts, I've been an excellent employee, earning much praise from the general manager and my editor. It bothers me that when I do decide to leave, he will potentially not volunteer that information to my prospective employers. Is this correct? If so, how often do you come by it and what are your thoughts about the practice?
Your manager is 100% wrong. It is not illegal to give a reference, including a negative reference, as long as the content of the reference is accurate. Certainly some companies have decided to implement policies that they won't provide references (although in reality their managers generally still do, at least for good employees), but that's not the law--that's an internal company policy. And a bad one at that.
You should tell your boss that you're concerned by his practice because whenever you move on, you'll need a good reference from him and (presumably) have earned one.
4. Asking for a more private office space
My position is being moved from our downtown offices to a location nearer to my home--yay! I have no problem with this whatsoever. But the new workspace is in a very open space compared to the rest of the open plan office spaces. Also, it is quite smaller than the space I have been used to occupying. I would have to downsize on quite a bit of my historic documents and files. I have asked the facilities manager if I could swap spaces (there are a couple of empty cubes being reserved for people who have yet to be hired).
I know that I will not be comfortable in a workspace that is as open as this. There is a completely unused cubicle space (not assigned to any yet-to-be-hired employees). It is just used as storage space for filing cabinets. Would it be wrong to go to senior management and suggest that they move out the filing cabinets and set up a suitable workspace for me? After all, I am not a new employee, and have a stellar record of accomplishments. Is it too much for me to ask to be comfortable?
It's fine to ask. Don't go to "senior management" though; go to your own manager. Be prepared that they just might not be able to do it though; they may want to use the space for the filing cabinets that are currently there. (And realize that those yet-to-be-hired employees may actually have a higher need for privacy than you do, based on their job duties--try not to take it personally if so.)
5. Is it normal for contractors not to get feedback or performance reviews?
I have been a government contractor working on-site for a large national institution for over two years. I like my job, but am becoming increasingly frustrated by that lack of feedback I receive from my manager. There are no performance reviews performed by my actual manager, who is a contractor from a different contracting company. I have the same position as eight other people and am losing my motivation to do a good job.
My superviser will casually say that I am doing a good job and thanks me for my work on various projects from time to time. He has even said that they couldn't afford to lose me. The contract company I work for has almost no idea what I actually do all day and rarely communicates with me. They do an annual performance review where they check in with me for 10 minutes and give me a small raise, which I believe is given at the same rate to all of their other employees. I'm sure if there were a problem that was relayed to them from my supervisor I would hear about it, but positive feedback is never relayed. I feel I am not being rewarded, financially or verbally, for doing work that is in some cases better than others who have my job.
I do better and stay motivated by positive feedback. Is it normal for contractors not to recieve feedback or have a performance review with their on-site supervisor? What can I do to ask for a raise when the people who grant it don't know what I do or how well I do it?
Yes, it's pretty normal. In fact, it's a widespread problem even among non-contractor employees and their managers ... but among contractors, it's often considered not even a problem, but rather par for the course with contracting.
You can certainly make a case for a raise by pointing to your achievements, just like you'd make a case for a raise normally ... but realize that in the environment you're working in, they may find it more efficient to treat you all as a group, without much individualized attention. If it really bugs you, the best course of action might be to decide if you'd rather move to an in-house employee position and out of contracting.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.