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 anonymous complaint wasn't kept anonymous
I work in a large college academic resource center. We have an anonymous complaint web form, which I used to complain about some student workers whom I do not supervise. The IT department tracked my complaint to my computer and I was pulled into a meeting with my supervisor about it.
What is there to be done about this invasion of privacy? I used an anonymous web form and was tracked! Should everyone know that this form isn't really anonymous? Whom, if anyone, do I talk to about this, and what the heck do I say?
I can't tell whether you were pulled into that meeting to be chastised about complaining, or if they just wanted more information. If it was the first, that's really ridiculous, and you should approach everything regarding this employer with a high degree of caution from now on, because telling people something is anonymous and then penalizing them for using it is obviously completely messed-up behavior. But if they just pulled you in because they wanted more information or something else relatively innocuous--well, it's still bad to say something will be anonymous and then not treat it that way, but it's not as alarming.
In any case, you can certainly talk to your manager and express your concern that a form that claims to be anonymous in fact is not. You could also complain to IT. Whether you should do either of those really depends on your relationship with your manager.
2. Accepting a job at a lower salary with the promise of a raise later
A networking contact recently put me in touch with a past co-worker of his who is starting up his own firm. I met with the owner recently and, to my surprise, he asked me to join him as his first employee. He was trying to do everything himself and was quickly finding that he was overwhelmed. The position would be instrumental in the successful initial growth of the firm and could easily progress to a senior-level position as the firm grows.
During our initial meeting, however, the owner advised that he knows he cannot pay me what I'm worth. I took that as a compliment! He asked if I was willing to take a chance with his company with a smaller initial salary in exchange for increased compensation down the road. I replied that I thought that was reasonable, so long as we could revisit my salary as the organization and my level of responsibility increased.
I know your normal advice is to wait at least one year after starting a new job to ask for a raise, with which I agree. In a case like this, however, what is the best way to approach him in three, six, or nine months about a salary increase? If all goes as planned, the company's revenue (read: his ability to afford what I'm worth) and my responsibilities will have greatly increased over this time.
Actually, agree on it with him now and you won't need to worry about when to approach him down the road. Too many people make informal agreements like this that they don't fully flesh out and make formal, and then are taken aback when the raise doesn't materialize when they ask for it later. If he truly means that he'll increase your salary once conditions X, Y, and Z are met, then he should be willing to put it in writing (whether those factors are a certain number of months passing, your successfully achieving specific goals or milestones, the company reaching a certain revenue point, or something else).
If he won't put this in writing, then only take the job if you're willing to have the future increase be a "maybe," not a definite.
3. My manager humiliated me in front of everyone
I am in a toxic work environment that I am desperately trying to leave. A large project I work on had a massive cock-up. I am unsure what happened, to be honest, but a massive database had its information scrambled. I told my supervisor. She then asked me to announce it during a group meeting. Then she had the entire office take my massive file and individually check my work, and had me sit at my computer as they read off the mistakes that needed correcting. She then made a joke in a separate office later that there was a method to her madness, and she had me "hook, line, and sinker," and several members of the office then laughed (not all, and several looked very uncomfortable).
Again, the file was messed up. But the way my manager approached it was humiliating. My fellow admin was extremely upset for me. I'm not sure what to do! Should I go to HR? My supervisor has been investigated in the past, under an HR manager that left in a bit of scandal, for bullying and other issues, and has not gotten in trouble. Should I just leave without finding a new job? I am trying to leave, and while this was a mistake, I did not feel I deserved to be placed in that situation.
That sounds awful, and you should absolutely be actively looking if this is typical behavior for her, but don't leave without having another job lined up, because job searches in this market take far longer than people think they will (often a year or more) and it's much harder to find a job when you're unemployed than when you're still working.
As for whether it would be worth talking to HR, it's hard to say without knowing more about the culture there. But in general, HR isn't there to stop managers from being jerks, and this company has already shown a reluctance to intervene with her.
4. Is it useful to mention being in the advanced stages of interviewing with other companies?
I have been working at a fixed-term contract job. I'm not paid by the company but by a third party. It's impossible for me to keep on working there. I have around $65,000 in student-loan debt, and I make almost nothing. It's not a very respectable industry and has very poor exit options.
After a long period of not having any leads for good, full-time jobs with decent potential for career growth, I've gotten a little lucky recently. I'm in talks with three companies about jobs.
At this point, my priority is getting any decent offer. Once I have a real job in a decent industry, I will be able to build on that and move up either there or through networking. In lieu of an offer, is there a way to leverage late-stage interviews (being very deep in the interview process) with one company for another? The first company actually told me two times, in my last interview, that I should tell them right away if I had any other offers, and that could speed their decision time up in giving me an offer. It's been a little over one week now since my final interview there. They told me they'd take a few weeks. I originally planned to follow up in two weeks.
Hearing that you have an offer from somewhere else isn't likely to push them into making you an offer if they otherwise never would have. All it can do is speed up their decision-making process--which could mean a faster no, not just a faster yes. And you definitely don't want to bluff and say you have an offer when you don't, because you risk hearing, "We won't be making decisions for a while, so you should take it" and then being removed from their process.
But you're not asking about offers; you're asking about mentioning that you're in advanced stages of interviewing with other companies. That isn't really useful, because employers know all too well that hiring takes time, and you could reach a late stage with a company, only to have it take weeks (or longer) before offers are made.
5. How can I tell my manager I want a more positive work environment?
I've been at my new job for almost six months, and from day one it has been a negative environment. It seems like everyone is unhappy and openly disrespectful, and at the beginning the way I was learning people's names was through hearing negative things said about them. I expressed my surprise and disappointment about this within the first two weeks of being there to the executive when I was asked directly about this. So I've been very upfront about this and have maintained an almost Pollyanna optimistic demeanor for six months now.
However, I am feeling extremely worn down and broken-spirited, and the negativity is really crossing my professional boundaries. We work in an organization that helps people and is a worthy cause that I want to be passionate about, but the work environment is eclipsing the cause. I've already scheduled a meeting with my direct supervisor to talk about it, but as a manager, how would you like to be approached about this? I don't want to give ultimatums about this needing to change or I'll leave, but that is in fact something I'm strongly considering. I'd like a commitment from him to shut down overtly negative conversations and foster a more positive, respectful environment. What are some viable solutions I can come to the table with?
Well, if this is the culture there, this is the culture there. I agree with you that it sounds awful, but if it's this entrenched, one person objecting to it isn't likely to change much. You can certainly discuss your concerns with your manager, and it's good for the organization's management to hear this kind of feedback, but I think it's pretty unlikely that one person complaining--and a new person, at that--is going to persuade your manager to commit to shutting this stuff down.
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