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 emails and texts me at all hours
I am a salaried employee. Is it ok for my boss to text me and email me all the time, even late weekends? Is it ok for him to ask me to call an hourly employee late at night to work?
Ethically or legally or something else? Legally, if you're exempt, this is all allowed. If you're non-exempt, it's allowed but you need to be paid for the time.
From a management standpoint, no, he shouldn't be doing that unless you're in the type of business where it's truly required, like, say, managing the PR of a troubled starlet prone to weekend and late-night debacles or running a one-person I.T. shop in a business with very rickety I.T. infrastructure. (But you'd probably know if that were the case.)
One way to put a stop to this is to simply not respond to the late night and weekend emails and texts. Deal with them when you're back at work on Monday, and if he complains, tell him that you leave your computer off on weekends / were busy and not looking at work messages / etc. If he tells you it's part of the job to be responsive at all hours, then you can decide if that's a job you want.
2. My boss keeps missing our staff meetings
My boss hasn't attended our last 7 staff meetings (now held about every 6 weeks, reduced in frequency from monthly) -- she has something else arranged or is on holiday or whatever. I think this is very strange, not to mention rather rude given that she decided we should meet monthly, then less frequently, and she sets the dates (about 12 months in advance). Is it odd or is it just me?
It depends on what the purpose of the meetings is. If it's to update each other on what you're working on so everyone's in the loop, she may not need to be there, since she probably is in the loop already from her individual work with each of you. If it's to do project planning or something like that, it's possible she doesn't need to be involved. That said, why not say something like, "Do you want us to continue having these meetings without you, or should we reschedule when you're unable to attend?"
I'd be much more concerned about her repeatedly missing one-on-one check-ins with people; those tend to accomplish a lot more.
3. Helping an unhappy boss
I'm a college student who works at an independently owned ice cream shop in the mall during summer and winter breaks. I enjoy the job, and my boss is a great guy who has always gone out of his way to treat his employees fairly and kindly.
However, I've noticed a change in his personality lately. For several months, he has told all of us how he is under a lot of stress and he's no longer the happy man he once was. The mall is not doing well financially, and our stand apparently only makes about half of what he needs it to make. There's also the fact that he is tired of food service/restaurant management and he has described himself as "being in a rut" and compared the stand to "a cage in a zoo."
I'm worried about him and I want to do something, but I have no idea if there is anything I can do, or anything I should do. I mean, I am just a part-time seasonal employee and I'm also only 21, whereas he is his late 40s/early 50s. Although he has been open about his problems with all of the employees, part of me worries that it is still none of my business and I should leave well enough alone. Besides that, what could I do that wouldn't cross boundaries? That's what concerns me-that by getting involved, I'll be investing too personally in my employer's life. I feel bad for him and it makes me feel awful knowing he's clearly stressed out and I can't do anything. What would you do in my situation?
It's kind of you to be concerned, but I don't think there's anything you can do because of the nature of the relationship. You're just not in a position to be able to offer help. You could offer a concerned ear, but even that isn't really appropriate -- and, in fact, it's not really appropriate for him to be venting to you and other employees.
Trust that he has other people in his life who are better positioned to be able to help him, and just keep doing your job well. Be a good employee, let him know that you appreciate the way he manages the staff, and trust him to find age-appropriate, relationship-appropriate help from other quarters.
4. Asking an intern to curb his out-of-control yawning
I have a 21-year-old intern who yawns. A lot. In all types of meetings -- 1:1s, groups, new hire orientations, etc. And it isn't the kind of yawn most people do (covered mouth, unobtrusive, minimized, embarrassed). It is a jaw-disconnecting, mouth wide open, cavity-baring, arms stretched wide, crack your back kind of yawn.
In other bad habit news, I have already told him to stop 1) arriving late, 2) biting his nails like there is a meal under the cuticle, and 3) speaking at the top of his lungs, so I have held back from being too direct about this remaining habit. I don't want him to report back to people that I am really picky, intimidating or demanding about his personal habits. These things can backfire.
What I have done is:
-Stopped speaking while he is arching his back/grabbing oxygen, waited until he finished, then asked "Are you OK?"
-Commented "My, you really need to get to sleep early tonight I guess."
-Given him the arched eyebrow / stank eye combo stare
I am considering throwing paper clips at his gaping mouth the next time and see if I hit his tonsils. Any advice?
Stop hinting and tell him outright!
After all, he's an intern. He's there to learn how to behave professionally in the workplace. You can certainly acknowledge that this is yet another on the list of things you're asking him to change: "I know I've already asked you to modify some other habits, but there's one more I'm hoping you'll work on, and hey, this is part of the deal with internships; you learn how to come across professionally in an office."
5. I don't feel comfortable training new employees
I have a question for you about training new employees. I currently work in an industry with a high turnover rate. Most new hires stay less then six months. I have been there almost three years and am the most experienced person on the team.
Because of this, I end up doing all of our training, whether it be a new-hire or someone who is going to be cross-trained. I want to help however I can, but I just don't feel comfortable training people. It's not something I have been taught to do, and it makes me frustrated in addition to putting me behind on my own work. Whenever I try to address this with my manager, I am told that I am the best one to do it because of my patience and my work experience. No one else seems to want to train either.
I don't want to sell myself short, but on the other hand I really feel like I need some training myself before I train others. Can you think of a good way to address this with the boss? Should I go over her head since she is not listening to me?
It sounds like you are the best person to do the training, if you've been there three years and most people stay less than six months. And it's really very normal for non-managers to be asked to train new hires on their team, and most of them do it without special training in training. In fact, it's so very, very normal that protesting is going to come across pretty weirdly.
That said, if there are specific elements of training that you don't feel equipped to handle, you should discuss those with your boss -- not with the aim of getting out of them, necessarily, but with the aim of finding a solution, whether that solution is additional training for you or something else. (But keep in mind that "something else" might just be assurance that your boss thinks you're doing a perfectly fine job at it and wants you to continue.)
This is not the type of thing you should go over your boss's head about.
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