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 boss asks me for loans and doesn't pay them back.
I lent $220 to my manager a few months ago. She promised to pay me within weeks, but has not mentioned anything about it till now. How can I ask for the money in a polite and professional way so as not to ruin our working relationship? Also, please give me more excuses not to lend her money because in these three months, she has tried to borrow five times again. I lent her some the fifth time and again she has not paid on the agreed date. The amount this time is $45.
To get back the money you've already lent: "Jane, you were going to pay me back in January. Can you give me that money back today?" If she says she doesn't have it, say, "I do need it now, so when do you think you'll be able to repay it?" (Keep in mind though that you may or may not get that money back. Generally with lending money, it's smart to only lend an amount that you'd be comfortable not seeing again, because that sometimes happens with personal loans.)
To refuse further requests: "I'm sorry, but I can't lend you any additional money." Or you might be more comfortable with, "I'm sorry, but I don't have any money I can lend." And you definitely should start refusing -- lending money to your boss is a bad dynamic to get into.
2. An employee reacted badly when I gave him a raise.
Recently I gave a part-time employee a pay raise. All our part-timers are paid pretty modestly, but he got a significant raise for his stellar performance. When I gave him the good news, his response was to be completely underwhelmed and say "thanks for the information" before skulking out of the room looking visibly sour.
As I would expect any of my employees to be glad to see an extra bit of money per hour, I am admittedly flummoxed. Should this be a red flag? Do I need to follow up with him, or is it possible I just caught him on a particularly bad day?
It's possible you caught him on a bad day, but I'd follow up anyway, because it's possible that something is going on that you should know about -- that he's miserable with the job, that he thinks (rightly or wrongly) that he deserves a far higher raise and is insulted by what you offered, or who knows what. I'd say something like "I had trouble reading your reaction the other day when I talked to you about your raise. I'd hoped you'd be happy about it. Is everything OK?"
The key is to say this not in a tone that signals "you are now in trouble for not being sufficiently excited about your raise," but rather "I'm concerned; how are you?"
Also, if you know this guy to be generally un-emotive and you could imagine him reacting this way even if you told him he had won the lottery, ignore all the above and just write this off to how he is.
3. How do I handle a divorce at work?
I don't know how to handle my upcoming separation and divorce from my spouse at my new job. I have been at the position only seven months, so not enough time to become very close to anyone. But, my new co-workers are friendly and often inquire about my family. I am really confused as to how to respond now. On the one hand, it's not really anyone's business. But I don't want to be standoffish or weird, and I don't want to lie. Also, I will probably be changing my name back to my maiden name. Am I going to look crazy?
I want to make sure I handle this professionally because I want to stay at this job for a while!
You will not look crazy. This stuff happens, and your co-workers almost certainly know plenty of people who have gone through it or have dealt with it themselves. I think what's important here is to treat it in a way that is a) low-key and b) matter-of-fact. So, for instance, if someone asks about your husband, you'd just say, "Actually, Bob and I are splitting up." And your response to whatever concerned response follows should be something like, "It's a tough time, but we're both doing well" or "Thank you, we're getting through it OK" or whatever else feels natural but assures people that you are in fact carrying on.
If you do decide to change back to your maiden name, be matter-of-fact about that too -- "I've gone back to my maiden name, so I'm now Persephone Mulberry." That's really it!
If you'd be more comfortable with it, it's also fine to mention it to your boss proactively -- something like, "I wanted to let you know that Bob and I are splitting up. I'm doing OK, but felt odd not mentioning it since it's a major thing that will probably come up in informal conversation at some point." (A normal boss will at this point express sympathy and ask you if you need any time off, etc., but will take her cues from you -- if you say you've got it under control, people will believe you, unless you present evidence to the contrary.) Good luck, and I'm sorry you're dealing with this.
4. Is it presumptuous to ask for my own office?
I manage five people. Currently, there are four other managers (only two actually have reports like me) and we all sit among everyone else in cubes. My boss has talked with me before about her desire to have people see me as someone with more authority -- specifically someone who can be her right hand. I also find it difficult to get things done because I'm constantly distracted by people asking me questions and I always have to go to conference rooms anytime I need to gave a conversation with someone that others shouldn't hear. I've been in this position for almost three years and would at least like to know if this is ever going to be a possibility. But I don't want my boss to view my request as presumptuous.
It's not presumptuous to ask for something to help you do your job better, and this qualifies. Explain that you have a need for privacy when having conversations others shouldn't hear, like talking about performance issues, giving developmental feedback, or anything else that might be sensitive (like a conversation about accommodating a medical issue), and ask if it would be possible to have a more private space, ideally an office. If it's not possible, then so be it, but it's entirely reasonable to ask (and in general, it's crazy to try to manage five people out in the open like that).
5. Should I apologize for taking feedback badly?
My boss is great most of the time, but she got me in the office as soon as I walked in today and lectured me about staff training. I was in a particularly bad mood and basically sulked and moaned about "having my coaching questioned," which she didn't really do. Should I apologize with a "bad day, won't happen again" vibe?
It's hard to tell based on the limited information here, but probably. Sulking and moaning are generally not great moves, and complaining about having your actions questioned when your boss is giving you feedback generally doesn't make you look great either.
One way to approach it is "I wasn't as receptive as I wish I'd been when you talked to me about staff training the other day. I've thought about what you said, and I'm taking the feedback to heart, particularly X and Y. Thanks for talking to me about it, and I'll be vigilant about not getting defensive in the future."
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