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. I feel awful about firing someone.
This past month, I fired someone for the first time (background: I have been in a management position for less than a year after being suddenly promoted). It was certainly warranted -- poor performance, lying, and never-ceasing argumentative behavior. Despite the fact that I documented the behavior and performance (HR even called me their "best student" because of how thorough my documentation was), I am left feeling, for the lack of a better word, haunted by this decision. Despite the relief in my department that her termination has brought, I have mixed feelings of guilt and like I'm the person who did something wrong. I even have recurring nightmares that she's back at work to some varying degree.
I want to move forward for the sake of my current employees and the upcoming replacement, but I feel near-traumatized by the experience that was this termination. It was awful, as you would expect from such a meeting -- I was anxious and feeling guilty, plus I felt abandoned by my boss, who mixed up the time so she was on the other side of town when she was supposed to be there for the meeting as well. I have had a hard time trusting her in the aftermath of this ordeal. Are these feelings normal and expected for a new manager? I didn't expect firing to be easy, but I didn't expect to be feeling like this well after it's over. Any tips for moving on and forward?
It's normal for firings to be hard and to feel guilty even when you know the decision was the right one -- even when the person was warned and chose not to change his or her behavior. Firing is hard. It's hard even if the person has been warned repeatedly and had every chance to improve.
However, being willing to let people go is also critically important to your job as a manager. Having the right people on your team makes an enormous difference in how effective you are and how much you achieve. So remember that you didn't fire this employee on a whim or without warning or for an unjust reason. It sounds like you clearly told her what she would need to change to keep her job, and she didn't make those changes. You treated her fairly and honestly, and you made the right choice for your team.
And while it's normal to feel bad about firing someone anyway, make sure that you're also feeling good about looking out for the health of your team and enforcing fair and reasonable consequences. There are managers out there who don't do those things, and they're the ones who good employees don't want to work for. So hard as this was, you're a better manager for doing it.
It also might help to talk your reaction over with your manager or another mentor, or with peers who have had to let people go. Ultimately what you want is to come to see this as something that was difficult, yes, but a) warranted, b) not without warning to the employee, and c) a reasonable part of the job of managing.
2. My manager didn't show up for a conference call so we proceeded anyway.
I recently scheduled a conference call with myself, my boss, and a few co-workers who work remotely. After a few minutes, my boss -- whose presence was not crucial to the conversation -- had not dialed in, so I decided to proceed with the call with everyone else on the line. A few hours later, he forwarded the meeting notice to me with a note that he had been waiting for me to come to his office and had just realized the meeting was a conference call. He is now asking me to reschedule; I guess he thinks we tabled the meeting without him. What would have been the proper thing to do? Ask the others to hold while I track down my boss, or proceed as I did?
It varies by culture and by manager. Some managers would have assumed you'd proceed without them; some would be shocked that you did. Absent any information about the culture and taking you at your word that your manager's presence wasn't needed for the conversation, there's nothing wrong with proceeding without him; it might have made a ton of sense to do that. But it's hard to say for sure without knowing more about your manager and culture, because those are the determinative factors in how this kind of thing is perceived.
As for what to do now, I'd simply say, "We figured you got tied up with something else and went ahead and talked over X, Y, and Z. In the future, would you like us to reschedule if you don't join the call, or move forward like we did here?"
3. My boss and my boss's boss are giving me conflicting priorities.
Our head director was previously my direct supervisor when I first started my job two years ago. After a few months, she was promoted. I love her to death and have a very soft spot for her, and when she asks me to do something extra, I will, even if this means coming in on a Saturday or Sunday. Well, most recently, the industry has been slowing down and our company business is down by 70 percent and layoffs have taken place. My direct manager is stressing our production in a very serious tone, to the point that if we don't hit our numbers, we have to email her the reason why and what we can do to make sure it doesn't happen in the future.
But the director emails me on the side to do extra tasks for her that belong to another team or person (she can count on me to get it done), like typing up meeting agendas, scheduling meetings, making business calls, sitting in on meeting to take notes, and other secretarial work for her. However, this is overflowing into my daily tasks and prevents me from hitting my daily numbers. I don't want to throw blame and point fingers, because the director is my manager's boss and I would think she would notify my manager of the extra things I do for her, but it doesn't seem like it because I am constantly having to explain why I should keep my job. I don't like telling my director no, but it doesn't seem like the two communicate.
You need to talk to them both, immediately. Don't assume they're communicating about this already, because it sounds like they aren't -- and don't see it as throwing blame, because it's not; it's just clarifying priorities.
Say this to your manager: "Can you give me advice on what to do when Jane asks me to do X, Y, and Z, if it seems like it will interfere with my regular work? I don't want to say no to her, but it's pulling me off of the work that you prefer me to focus on."
And say this to your director: "Petunia has been very clear that she wants me to spend more time on A, B, and C, so I'm hesitant to push those things back. I wonder if we can all talk and figure out the best way to divide my time?"
And going forward, when your director sends you work, loop in your manager immediately so that she's aware of it.
4. My boss calls and texts me constantly when I'm not at work.
I have been a nurse at a residential facility for the past decade. I am part-time and work a couple of shifts a week, with no benefits. I have two supervisors, as I work at two different locations for same place. One of my supervisors is very intense, does scheduling up to six months or more in advance, and calls or texts me incessantly when I am not working or the morning after I work a late night shift. I really like her as a person, but it's really out of control. This morning she texted me that I forgot to check to see if someone had enough medication. Then she realized that the meds were fine, and re-texted me to tell me that at one of the houses there were no tweezers in a first aid box. She is constantly doing this.
I work hard, and actually need more work, and on occasion she will give me a few extra hours if she needs help. I just can't stand her texting me constantly or calling me to ask if I can be on call seven months from now on a particular night, or with nit-picky things like tweezers. I am ready to send an email to HR, but will have to do it anonymously. It's driving me crazy.
Don't send an anonymous email to HR. Lots of places won't act at all on anonymous emails and it's likely to cause problems if they do, because your manager will want to know why on earth the person complaining didn't talk to her about it directly first.
That leads us to: Talk to her about it directly first. Say something like this: "Jane, I like to keep my phone off when I'm not at work, but I end up feeling like I can't because I know you often message me there. So that I can truly disconnect during my off time, would it be possible for you to call or text me at home only if it's truly urgent? If you put the other things in email, I'll see and respond to them as soon as I'm back at work."
5. How to praise a co-worker to her manager.
I have been working closely with a colleague who has been doing a stellar job. I really appreciate the work she has done -- both in speed and quality! I would like to email her supervisor to let him know how much I appreciate her efforts. Are there guidelines I should follow before sending an email (for example, should I let her know first?). How should I structure the email? I want to be sure I don't make any faux pas when sending the email but I do want to be sure she's recognized for all of her hard work!
No special protocol is needed, and no need to tell her ahead of time (although you might forward it to her after you've sent it). In the email, just be straightforward and as specific as you can. For example: "I've been thinking lately about how much I appreciate working with Jane and figured I should tell you how great she is. She's always happy to help with X, even when it's at the last minute, and her ability to edit my writing to make it more concise without losing substance or voice has left me incredibly impressed. She's a pleasure to work with."
Also, people should do more of this.
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