Here's a roundup of answers to four questions from readers.
1. Is it wrong to socialize with only one of my employees?
I manage a specialty niche team of four. Last year, I hired someone I knew from a previous job, let's call her Mary, where we were at the same level, but now she reports to me. I am a happy hour aficionado and regularly host happy hours for my staff where they are all invited (with no pressure to attend) and I pay for everything, maybe once or twice a month. The goal is to focus on spending time outside work together in a less formal environment.
Increasingly, these invitations are accepted only by Mary, so we end up spending significantly more time together outside work than I spend with the others on my team. This isn't a problem for me and I enjoy these outings, but I worry that the perception among the others on the team is that Mary gets special one-on-one time with me because she is my "drinking buddy." I would be thrilled if others would attend and interact with me on a more personal level more regularly, but I also respect their off-work time and would never pressure them to hang out when they'd rather be doing something else. Mary definitely gets more of my attention because she chooses to join me at happy hour, and while it isn't directly because of our prior relationship, I fear that it's being perceived that way. But I want to keep doing happy hour because I really enjoy it. Since this is becoming less of a group-accepted kind of event, should I just stop doing it?
Yes, you should stop doing it. Regardless of your intent, the effect is that you're having regular one-on-one social hang-outs with one of your employees, which can cause all sorts of problems with real and perceived favoritism. I get that it's fun and so you'd rather keep doing it, but your responsibilities as a manager trump that.
If you want to keep having happy hours with colleagues, focus on organizing them with people who don't work for you.
2. My employee won't stop talking about my pregnancy.
I'm currently 24 weeks pregnant. I've told a few people at work, but I haven't made a general announcement. I'm a really private person and while I talk about my pregnancy and plans with my family and close friends, I don't like discussing it at work. Of course, I don't mind discussing my maternity leave or planning for it.
My problem is that one of my employees doesn't seem to understand this, even though I explained to her that I'm a private person and wouldn't be making a general announcement. She continually brings up my pregnancy loudly and publicly, commenting that I'm going to have soccer practices to go to, how my life is going to change, telling me what she thinks the sex is based on the way I look, etc. This makes me unbelievably uncomfortable. I'm pretty sure this is a me problem and it shouldn't bother me, but is it something I could address? Is there a way to do so without seeming rude or cold? Or do I just need to come to terms with it and get over it?
No, this is a her problem, not a you problem. Well, let me modify that: It's a you problem only to the extent that you haven't shut it down, which you can do as her boss.
If you haven't been super clear with her yet that you want her to stop (meaning something more direct than saying you're a private person and don't plan to tell others), then that's the first step: "Jane, I know you mean well by taking an interest, but I prefer not to discuss my pregnancy at work and so am asking you to stop commenting on it. Thanks for understanding."
If you've already done that -- or if you try it now and it doesn't solve the problem -- then you escalate in seriousness: "Jane, I've asked you to stop discussing my pregnancy at work, but you've continued. What's going on?" Then, follow up with, "It does need to stop, and I need to count on you to respect that."
3. A former employee is angry we didn't acknowledge a death in his family.
I am the manager of a small team. A little over two years ago, I had to terminate a long-term employee. It was a long time coming: For years, he had been unable to perform basic job duties, he was resistant to correction, and his interactions with other team members were becoming increasingly hostile. The termination process went predictably badly, and the employee went out in a blaze of vitriol: accusations, profanity, etc. I did not take any of it personally.
I have had no interactions with him since then. However, today, he sent an email with a link to the obituary of his adult daughter. He took us to task as a group, saying he would have expected at least a card and basically implying that we were horrible human beings for failing to acknowledge the loss, which occurred about two weeks ago.
But no one from my team knew. If we had, I think we would have sent some sort of acknowledgement as a group ... even though when this worker left, he said horrible things and was clear that he wanted nothing further to do with us.
But what to do now? Do we send a card? Flowers? He has behaved badly, but now he is a grieving parent, and we are all genuinely sorry for his loss. Does contacting the employee just open old wounds? I'm torn.
Yeah, it's not typical for people to know about deaths in the family of employees who left two years ago, unless they've stayed in touch. Since he's now alerted you to it, it would be kind to respond to his email with something like, "I'm so sorry to hear of this. We didn't know this had happened, but of course now that we know, you have our deepest sympathies for this terrible loss. You and your family are in all of our thoughts."
I think sending a card or flowers is really optional here, given the vitriolic history, but it would certainly be a gracious gesture.
4. Fielding tons of questions about a job from someone who hasn't applied yet.
I'm currently hiring for a position on my team. I got an email from a potential applicant that started, "Before I apply, I'd like some more information." Which is fine, and those first questions were OK ones (still things I go over in an interview, but I understand her asking). But now it's turned into several emails back and forth with technical questions like clocking in and how absences are handled, from someone who hasn't even applied yet. How much is too much?
I get the sense that she's trying to get all the ducks in a row, not to find out how to guarantee a job, but she's skipping an important duck. How do I gently say, "We'll discuss that in an interview, or after you're hired?" I'm not sure that my time is best spent convincing her she wants to want this job.
Yeah, you can cut that off. It's one thing to answer a basic question or two that will impact whether it makes sense for someone to apply for a particular job, but this sounds way beyond that. These are really odd questions to be asking at this stage.
I say it this way: "I'd be glad to discuss this kind of thing in detail if we move forward to an interview."
You could also say: "We get such a high volume of interest for our open positions that we've found the best way to get to know each other is to steer people to the application process we've created, but we ensure there's lots of time for questions and answers during the interview stage."
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