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. I don't have any work to do at my new job

I am a recent graduate who has just started my first job. On my first day, the company gave me a bunch of self-study materials and a self-training schedule for a month that I was told to adhere to (which I happily did).

But now a month has passed, I have finished all of the self-study materials, and I still have not been given any task to do. I have asked my supervisor about this three times (through internal messaging software, email, and verbally), but the answer is vague ("I need to find simple tasks for you first" or "Study this first for now"). What should I do? Any advice on this? I don't want to be too pushy, but I don't want to be seen as "that lazy new employee" either.

Green responds:

First, stop trying to address this over instant messaging. Instant messaging is for quick, time-sensitive, not-super-important things, whereas this requires an actual, substantive conversation. Email your boss and say this: "Now that I'm done with my month of self-study, I'm eager to get started. Could we set up a time to meet in the next few days to talk about how you'd like me to be spending my time now?" If the problem continues after that, then say this: "I'm really eager to get to work. How would you like me spending my time over the next week? (Or, if it would be easier on you, I'd be glad to see if I can help Jane or Bob until you have time to get me started -- just let me know if you'd rather I do that.)"

If there are other people in your office who are at your level or just above it, you might also ask them if they have advice for how to handle this stage of things. They might have some insight into how long it usually takes your manager to get her act together with new employees, or about why it's taking her a while in this case (for example, if she's preoccupied with, say, an upcoming board meeting for the next two weeks, that could be useful to know).

2. My manager shares people's personal medical info

Our small company has a daily meeting that lasts for about 20 to 30 minutes. My manager has a habit of informing everyone about who has called to say they would not be in for the day and why. Sometimes the reasons are medical. I find this disturbing. I had an accident that had me out of work for two days and was told by some in attendance that the reason for my absence was divulged. Is this legal? Does this fall under HIPAA?

Green responds:

It's likely to be legal in the majority of cases. HIPAA restricts what info health care workers can share; it doesn't apply to most employers. That said, sharing employees' medical info without their permission still isn't a good idea.

Try saying this to your manager: "I'm uncomfortable having people's medical info shared with everyone else without their explicit OK. I can imagine a situation where someone really might not appreciate that being shared with the whole group. Do you think we could simply share who will be out without getting into details that might be personal?"

3. When job applicants don't respond to interview invitations

As a small-business owner, I am going through the process of hiring. I sent four emails out to potential applicants requesting an interview and a confirmation on date/time. I have heard back from one of the four. Should I still go to the time slots of the other three, or just consider them not accepted since I got no response? Do I really want to hire an applicant who cannot even respond to my email in the first place?

Green responds:

Any chance that your emails are going to people's spam folders? Or that something about the emails is coming across as less than professional for some reason? Three people not responding to an interview invitation is unusual, so the first thing I'd check is whether something's off on your side. For example, send the same email to your own Gmail account (set one up for this purpose if you don't have one). If it's going to spam, there's your answer.

But in general if you don't hear back from a strong candidate about an interview invitation, it's smart to try one additional time -- because you just never know if the email didn't arrive for some reason or they were dealing with a family emergency or something like that. If someone was strong enough for you want to spend time interviewing them, it's worth spending the additional few seconds to make sure your email reached them. And if you feel like a sucker following up (like you shouldn't have to remind people about something this important), you can just say, "Since I haven't heard back from you, I'm assuming you're no longer interested in the position, but let me know if I'm mistaken. Otherwise, best of luck!" That way, someone who legitimately didn't receive the email knows to get back in touch, and someone who did but slacked on answering it knows some kind of explanation is required.

4. When I list off my work, my manager always asks, "Anything else?"

The manager of my sales team requires us to read off our planned appointments for the week each Monday morning, plus a few other items. At the conclusion of our statement, when it's obvious the entire statement is completed, he asks "Anything else?" every time. Coming from him, it has a tone suggesting insufficiency, which is really annoying. Each person then has to then answer "Yes, that's everything," or some variation. Is there another way to answer that question to communicate more confidence, or to deflect the negativity?

Green responds:

It's possible that he's implying your list isn't sufficient, but it's also possible (and maybe more likely) that he's just asking "anything else?" as a transition to move on to the next person. I'd just answer it matter-of-factly and with confidence ("Yes, that's everything!") and not let it rattle you.

If you get the sense that he has concerns about your productivity from other things, you could address that head-on by asking him about it directly: "When I share my plans for the week, is it about in line with what you'd expect, or do you want me to doing anything differently?" But absent that, I'd assume this is just his repetitive way of moving to the next person, and that you shouldn't read anything into it.

5. Interviewing when covered in skateboarding scrapes

I skateboard recreationally and was recently involved in a minor accident. No serious injuries, just superficial scrapes. However, some of these scrapes are on the palms of my hands and (as luck would have it) my forehead. They are impossible to cover with makeup or carefully styled bangs, and I have a promising interview approaching rapidly. I would reschedule, but these scratches will take a couple weeks to fully disappear, and I fear the worst that comes with postponing an interview longer than a few days. There really isn't any way to get around having these scrapes.

What do you think would be the best way to reassure my interviewers about my appearance? Should I make the nature of my injuries clear to my interviewers upfront (or risk letting them draw their own conclusions)? Should I slap some large bandages on and hope for the best? The scrapes will be immediately apparent to my interviewers, both when I first greet them and when we shake hands, so I feel it would be most appropriate to address them in some way, though I'm not sure how or at what point.

Green responds:

I'd just address it head-on right when you meet them, saying something like, "Excuse these scrapes! I had a skating tumble recently -- I'm normally not covered in scratches!"

It's weird if you don't address it (because then they're likely to be sitting there wondering about it), but if you just explain it, it shouldn't be a big deal at all.

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

Published on: Jan 15, 2019