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. Is it OK to clip your nails at work?

Is it OK for folks to clip their nails in the office? In my last two cubicle-type jobs, there has been at least one person who clips their nails in the office on a regular basis. I think that practice is absolutely revolting (groom at home, people!), but other people I've vented to seem to think it's no big deal. I don't even know who the culprit is, so I have no idea how to address it--I just hear CLIP CLIP CLIP every few days and want to die.

Nail clipping (aside from quickly fixing a single chipped nail) falls under the category of personal grooming tasks that are considered rude to do in public. Moreover, clipping a full set of nails isn't something has to be done with immediacy; there's no reason the culprit can't wait until they're at home.

If you want to ask the clipper to stop, the next time you hear it, you could try walking around to see if you can spot them, and then saying, "Ah, it's you--I've been hearing that noise a lot and it's driving me crazy. Would you mind doing that in the bathroom?"

2. How to turn down supporters' requests to visit our office

I work for a high-profile animal welfare charity, and we often get requests by supporters to visit our office. Unfortunately, we are a small team with limited time and there really is nothing to see here! (We are not involved in hands-on work and there are no animals to see here!) We have no idea what they are hoping to see--I guess they feel we have a special relationship with them so they can just drop in for a chat when they are in town.

How do I politely tell these people we just cannot facilitate visits without sounding rude?

"We're a small staff and we tend to be stretched thin, so it's hard to accommodate visits during the workday--and we're a pretty basic office anyway, without animals on-site, so you likely wouldn't find it interesting to visit! But while you're in town, a great place to visit is ___ [insert some animal-friendly destination like a sanctuary, if there's one within driving distance]."

Also, if it's a regular request, you might consider holding a monthly happy hour, volunteer night, or other low-resource event for volunteers and supporters, which would give you something to funnel people toward: "We're a small staff so it's hard to accommodate visits during the workday, but we have a monthly ___ that we'd love for you to attend if you'll be here during it."

And of course, it probably goes without saying, but you'd want to make the time to meet with high-dollar donors (or prospective high-dollar donors), since helping major donors feel more invested in your organization is a fundamental part of fundraising and usually more than pays for itself.

3. Criticism in my annual review came out of the blue--and not from my boss

Every year, my manager gives me a review, mostly glowing, with a few minor points to work on. My job requires extensive customer service skills, and in the 16 years I've been working (five at my current job), I've always been marked the highest in relating to the customers.

This year, my manager gave me my review, but prefaced it by saying that her bosses took a look at it first and made her rewrite it several times, even inserting a few lines that I might find surprising. Boy, was she right. The higher-ups claimed that I had a significant communication issue with customers. I'm not quite sure how they came to this conclusion, since they have never even taken the time to observe me (I work in a different building). I now have to read two books on customer service and write a report on each one. I also have to ask others to observe my interactions with customers and observe them.

I was shocked. This "issue" came totally out of the blue. My customer service skills have always been something I've prided myself on, and now I feel demoralized and slightly insulted. I was so startled by the news that I didn't even make comments on the form, just signed it and walked away stunned. Other managers I've talked to were just as surprised as I was. Is there anything I can do to salvage my reputation, or should I just keep my head down?


Go back to your manager and say that you take the feedback seriously and that you want to do your best to address it, but that it's difficult to do that without knowing specifics of the concerns. Ask if she can walk you through what this feedback was based on--and if she says that she can't because she doesn't share their assessment, ask her if she can help you find out. The tone you want here isn't "this is ridiculous and I want them to prove what they're saying with evidence," but rather, "if they say it's a problem, I believe it, but I can't fix it without understanding more about what they mean."

You should also ask your manager how you can find out about concerns more quickly in the future, so that you're able to address problems right away, rather than only learning about them during a formal review.

4. Is preference given to job applicants who apply earlier in the process?

When a job has an application deadline, is preference typically given to earlier applicants? I am concerned if I apply later, a rolling review has already begun and standout candidates become favorites, possibly overshadowing me. Then I wonder, wouldn't I stand the same chance either way, since those candidates would pop up at some point?

It depends on the employer. Some wait until the application deadline to start reviewing applications. Others review them and interview people on a rolling basis from the beginning. With the second group, if you're well qualified, you might get an interview no matter when you apply, or you might only get interviewed if you're clearly better than the candidates they've talked to so far. And yes, you're right that you'll be competing against those superb candidates no matter which of you applies first, but sometimes it's important to get to the interview stage so that you can wow your interviewer in a way that your application materials alone might not.

In any case, though, there's no way to know from the outside how a particular employer is handling things, so if you're interested and qualified, it makes sense to apply regardless--but also to do it as soon as you can, rather than thinking it won't matter if you wait until closer to the deadline.

5. How can I explain to an employee why I don't want to hire her boyfriend?

I have a relatively new employee who wants me to hire her boyfriend to work in a small call center I manage. I can think of a number of reasons why this is a bad idea, but outside of not being right for the position, what is a nice, compassionate way to explain to the employee why I'm passing on the application?

"In general, I avoid hiring significant others if they'd be working together, because I've seen it lead to problems. But he sounds like a great guy and I hope his job search goes well."

If pressed, you can explain that too often couples have trouble working together professionally, take on each other's battles at work in a way that helps no one, and/or cause tension if they break up. In response to the inevitable "we'd never do that," you can say you absolutely appreciate her position, but you have a personal policy of not taking that risk.

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

Published on: Jun 4, 2018