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 blamed me for her mistake
My boss and I have a standing weekly check-in where she is supposed to call my cell phone (she works remotely). Occasionally, she will just not call in to the meeting. At first I would ask to reschedule, but after this happened several times, I accepted that sometimes she may not make it for a meeting. She didn't call in this past week, but the next day she emailed me saying I needed to be better about keeping our check-in. I apologized and asked if maybe the time scheduled on our calendars just wasn't a good time for her. She said it was, and that she had called me at the scheduled time and left a voicemail.
Except that she didn't. At least, I'm almost positive she didn't. I don't have any missed calls or voicemails from her, and I sat by my phone the entire time. I also sit next to the sales phone, so typically she dials that when she can't reach me by my cell, but the sales phone didn't ring or receive any messages. I haven't responded to her last email since I'm not sure if mentioning I didn't receive a voicemail would come across as accusatory. Do I respond at all? If so, what should I say? Am I being crazy? Is there some way she could have recorded a message and I just wouldn't have received it?
Be straightforward and non-accusatory, like you would with someone you were giving the benefit of the doubt: "Hmm, my phone didn't ring, and I don't have a voicemail from you. Something must be going wrong with the phones. I'll check with IT to see if there's something they need to fix. Meanwhile, is there a good time to reschedule?"
And, going forward, do two things: Call her 10 minutes after the scheduled call time if she hasn't called you; and follow up with her to reschedule when she misses your check-ins (non-accusatorily--something like, "You must have gotten tied up during our scheduled call today. Is there a time that works for rescheduling later in the week?")
2. My boss has one foot out the door and is constantly complaining
My boss is ready to quit and has one foot out the door. I've really enjoyed working with her, but she's not getting along with her boss at all, and it's just not working out. I'm struggling a little with how to best react to "I hate my job" statements such as "I won't be doing this much longer" and how to not get dragged down a bit by them. She's already been told by a peer that she shouldn't talk like this in front of me, and she apologized and briefly slowed down, but the comments have picked up again. I plan on asking her for a recommendation, so staying professional is necessary. Any tips on how to best be prepared for what at this point seems inevitable would be greatly appreciated.
It's worth noting that her boss is a bit of a monster, and not someone I can go to. She is fairly punitive, and places no value on professional development. Beyond my direct team, the office culture is pretty great--I don't mean to make it sound as if I work in a dungeon.
I'd just try to see it as what it is and no more: someone increasingly miserable, to the point that she's letting it get in the way of acting professionally. But if it's really bothering you, you can try saying something to her in the moment like, "I'm sorry you're so unhappy. Since I'm here for the foreseeable future, I'm trying to focus on what I like here, and it can be hard when we're so frequently being negative." (Note the we there; it's softer than saying you.)
But if she's unprofessional enough to still be venting to you even after realizing that she shouldn't, this may not work, and you might need to just wait it out.
3. Can my employer require me to use English when talking to co-workers?
I'm Filipino, and I have a co-worker who is also Filipino. We talk sometimes at work in our dialect, but now we are being told by our manager that we can't do that anymore, because it seems to be bothering someone there. Is this legal, or do I have input in this matter?
Your employer can prohibit you from speaking other languages if the rule is justified by a business necessity--such as when waiting on English-speaking customers or participating in group assignments in which an English-only rule will promote efficiency; or to allow a manager who only speaks English to monitor the performance of staff members whose jobs involve communication with others. However, your employer cannot prevent you from speaking another language in casual conversation with another co-worker, even if it's making co-workers around you uncomfortable.
4. I loaned a co-worker money and she won't pay me back
A co-worker owes me $1,000, and every time I ask for the money, she avoids me so as not to pay. Also, she told me that she will take me to human resources. Can I get fired if she does?
Sure, technically, you could be fired for this. But it's pretty unlikely that you would be--you haven't done anything wrong. The only one who's done something wrong is your co-worker, and that's between you and her.
That said, HR could tell you that you need to stop asking your co-worker about the money when you're at work, if they deem that it's become a distraction that's keeping her from focusing on her job.
For what it's worth, loaning money to co-workers is generally a really bad idea, especially in large amounts, unless you're willing to risk that you might not see the money again.
5. Can I bring notes into a job interview?
A managerial position has opened up at the university where I work, and I have an interview coming up soon. I have worked at the university for more than three years, and this would be my first managerial position.
I have been doing a lot of brainstorming and research, and have a lot of great ideas about improvements to make to policies, procedures, and marketing for the department. I want to make sure I remember to bring them up in the interview, given the opportunity. Also, I want to remember some important questions about the position that I have developed. Do you think it would be strange to bring in notes that I could quickly refer to? Or is it better that I just speak off the cuff, even if I forget some important points or questions?
Coming with notes is absolutely fine. You don't want to read straight from them, but it's fine to bring in notes to jog your memory and make sure you cover certain points. (It is weird to consult notes on some basic element of your job history that you would be expected to remember on your own, like what type of work a particular job entailed overall, but that's not what you're talking about.)
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.