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 is reading my emails
I've been having trouble at work. I went on medical leave from September to December, during which time my boss started to receive my email. When I returned to work, she decided to keep reading my email. I know this because frequently she comes to my office to ask me questions about them. Yesterday she called me in for a meeting, and pulled out a large folder with my emails printed out with notes on them.
Is this a sign I'm about to be fired? And if I'm about to be fired, is preemptively quitting better than getting fired?
Why not ask her what's going on? Say something like, "I'm getting the sense that you're concerned about how I'm handling my email, both because you're still monitoring it--which you didn't do before I went on leave--and because you've been asking me about it. Do you have concerns about my performance that we should talk about?"
As for whether quitting is better than being fired, that's really premature at this point (and depends on lots of factors that aren't in your letter). First you need to find out what's going on.
2. Addressing staff problems when you're friends with your employees
I am a manager of a small satellite office of six employees. I know that as manager I should not be friends with my co-workers, but our office is so small it is unavoidable. Also, I personally like to work in a fun, irreverent office so I foster that kind of culture. Typically it works out really well. Everyone has fun and works well together.
But occasionally I have encountered incidents where my co-workers have crossed the line with me. For example, they feel like they can be curt or rude to me when they're angry, which is something I would never do to my manager, no matter how close we are.
How would you recommend handling that kind of situation, when I am walking the line between being a manager and a friend? Is there any way other than directly addressing the problem with the co-worker, which in the past has not worked particularly well? For some reason, when I've actually addressed behavior, it seems to cement the resentment.
Well, you're basically saying, "I don't want to have an appropriate manager-managee relationship with my staff, except on some occasions when I want the benefits of it without the work." If you blur the boundaries, it's no surprise that your staff thinks the boundaries have been blurred. And I can't really let you get away with saying that this is "unavoidable" because it's not, and plenty of other managers in small offices do manage to avoid it.
In any case, if you're addressing issues head-on and it's not working, then you need to be firmer in your approach and you need to set and enforce consequences. And if you have people acting resentfully toward you, you need to address that too. You're their manager--you need to act like it. Every day, not just when there's something you want to address.
And honestly, this isn't really optional or something you get to decide not to do just because you prefer to run things differently. Unless you're the owner of this business, you have an obligation to act like a manager, because that's the job you're being paid to do.
3. Rushed job interviews and on-the-spot offers
I had an interview with a direct service health care agency. The interview was a rushed 20 minutes, and after I asked two questions, the interviewer cut me off to see the next candidate. I didn't even get to learn some basic things about their agency, like their preferred modality of treatment!
I waited for a while and then the two of us were shuffled into a room where the interviewer said a little more about the agency, then offered two spots to both of us right there and started to talk about the next steps. As he was talking, he said, "If you're accepting the position..?" And looked at us each for an answer.
Thankfully, the other candidate just looked back at him with me and let him finish his sentence as if he hadn't expected a response. Is there a way to ask those outstanding questions without 1) making it seem like I don't know how to "go with" the rushed pace of health and human services these days, or 2) rudely pointing out that he didn't allow for a "complete" interview?
Also, the interviewer wants an answer "as soon as possible, like tomorrow." But I have already-scheduled interviews through Friday. I feel like if I don't respond soon, I'll lose the spot, but I do want to see what all my choices are. If I can't afford to be picky (and thus can't afford to outright reject a place that is throwing up a few at least pink flags), how should I respond?
When you get an offer but still have questions, it's fine to say, "I have some questions I'd love to get answered. Is now a good time for that or should we set up a phone call later in the week?"
As for needing to give a decision right away, you can reasonably ask for up to a week to decide, but if they need an answer before then, well, you've got to decide if you prefer a certain job offer over a not-certain hypothetical offer somewhere else. But you really shouldn't accept it with the intention of continuing to look--first, because of integrity, second, because you'll burn bridges and potentially impact your reputation if you leave shortly after accepting an offer, and third, because if your new employer hears through the grapevine that you're still interviewing, you risk losing that offer and not getting other ones.
4. Bringing a camera to a job interview
I'm going to interview with a company in the gaming industry next week in their headquarters. Their headquarters are a monument to nerd-ism, and I'd love to bring a camera and take some pictures! Do you think it would look good if a candidate says: "Can I take a picture of this 5-foot tall statue of a game character?" Or I ask for a picture with one of my interviewers, who works as a game designer on a title that sold 25 million copies the same day it was released?
I'm so excited about this opportunity, and I don't want to ruin it because of a silly mistake.
Don't do that. You'll look like you're there as a fan rather than a serious candidate. And they are making time to talk with you as a job candidate, not a fan who wants to take pictures. While some people might not be put off by this, enough will that it's too much of a risk.
5. Interviewed by potential future employees
I have a second-round interview next week for a position I am really excited about. Part of the position requires supervising the day-to-day work of undergraduate students employed in this academic department. Supervisory experience was not listed as a requirement in the original job posting. I specifically addressed my lack of management experience during the phone interview last week, and was told that experience is not expected of applicants.
I was just sent an email with our schedule for the interview next week, which begins with a "conversation with current student workers," which surprised me. I've since been told by friends and current colleagues that this isn't unusual, but I'm still confused about what to expect--especially because this is the first thing I will encounter the day of the interview.
I'm preparing to talk about the management style I appreciate from a manager, but as I have no management experience, I'm not really prepared to give examples of my personal management style. Any insights?
Student workers probably aren't going to be conducting a formal interview of you--it's more likely a chance for you to get to hear about their work straight from them and get a feel for that part of the job.
I'd focus on asking them questions about their work--what are the challenges they're facing with it? What's most helpful to them in a manager? Etc. If they do ask you about your management style, it's fine to say that you're new to managing, but that what you've always appreciated in managers is _____, and that you hope to model your own management style after that. (Obviously, you want to do some thinking about what _____ is--not only for this interview, but also in order to prepare yourself for the job if you get it.)
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