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 keeps assigning my work to other people
My position is with a small nonprofit organization. I am the only person who is officially employed in a communications role; I handle the organization's branding, signage, media relations, and social media. My manager regularly gives communications projects to other people in the organization. These projects have included updating the organization's banners, finding new promotional avenues for our events, and creating a new branding for a program we run. There have been many more examples. I have literally been involved in conversations about these projects and had my manager turn and assign the project to someone else.
I'm not too busy to take on these tasks. I feel I'm not trusted and not valued, and I'm not getting near the experience I hoped my first job would give me. I know I need to address this with my boss so I'm looking for a script to say to "Hey! That's my job!" in the moment, and maybe something to address the problem with my supervisor in private.
Ask your manager about it in private. It's possible that it's not the slight you're taking it as; in many organizations, the projects you list here wouldn't absolutely have to fall to the communications person. Keep in mind, too, that since this is your first job, there are going to be things that make sense to assign to people more experienced.
But in any case, just ask about it. Say something like this to your manager: "I noticed you've been assigning jobs like X and Y to other people. I'd really love to do those things under my purview as communications -- could I take those things on in the future? Or is there a reason you'd rather give them to Jane and Bob?"
2. How can I get an employee to try to solve problems on her own?
I have an employee who's been with me for six years in an junior researcher position. Late last year, my senior researcher went out on leave, so my two junior researchers have had to pick up some of that workload. Also, early this year we switched to a new computer system that is completely different from what we're used to.
Lately, one employee has started to come into my office using the phrase, "I haven't done this before" or "this is new to me" and then looks at me as if she's expecting me to detail her next steps. Yes, some things are new, but with her being here six years and having helped out the senior researcher before, I expect that she knows enough about our work to figure it out or at least come up with some potential options. A couple of times I've said, "Yes you have, this is just like project X" or "We covered this in training" and then she just stares at me until I start talking again, when I usually say, "Well, what do you think should be done?" She has a poker face so I can never really tell what she's thinking.
How do I, or should I, politely tell her that I'd like her to stop saying these phrases? I don't think they're doing her any favors. If I said that to my boss as often as she says it to me, my boss would be wondering why she hired me. My boss thinks that I need to get rid of her because she's "not getting it'" and therefore is not supportive enough to me.
It sounds like the other junior researcher is handling this just fine, so that's a useful reality check that your expectations are probably reasonable here. Either way, though, it would still be reasonable to want her to try to solve problems on her own before coming to you. But you need to tell her that you expect that; it sounds like so far you haven't been clear with her on that front and have been expecting her to pick it up without directly saying it.
So tell her clearly what you expect! Say something like this: "I hear you that some of this is new, but most of it is similar to projects you've done before that or that we've talked about during training. I'm here as a resource for you, but when you get stuck, I'd like you to think through some potential options and then bring those to me if you're still unsure. If you're truly stuck and unable to do that, you can still come to me, but I'd like your default to be that you first try to figure it out (including checking the training materials) and come to me with some options that you've thought through."
3. Will reference-checkers get my current salary when they call my manager?
I am currently job hunting. My current manager, with whom I am very close, knows about my search and has agreed to serve as a reference. Like you, I believe that what I currently earn is my business, and if I am asked in any upcoming interviews about my salary, I have no intention of giving an exact number. Can the person who calls for references just ask my boss for this information? Is she obligated to release this to them? The two of us have spoken about this and she agrees that what I make now has no bearing on what another employer would offer for a position in their company. Would it be odd if she refused to answer?
No. Plenty of employers refuse to provide that info without a signed release from the employee. Plenty of others don't, but it's would be entirely reasonable for your manager to say, "I'm sorry, but that's not information we release."
4. My company doesn't give employees the chance to apply for management roles
Last year, I (a senior-level, non-management staff member) assisted in interviewing a person I thought would be a new colleague just under me in rank. Instead, he was hired as a manager in the department I work in, and a second person was hired for the job actually posted. None of us had been told there was even a plan in place to hire another manager, and even though several of us had repeatedly expressed interest in moving up in the company, nobody had an opportunity to apply for this managerial position - because it was never even posted, publicly or within the company. After this, two staff members quit.
Now this has happened again, in a different department. Can you suggest any leverage we might have in fighting these "invisible" management hires from outside at the expense of employee growth in the company? I suspect it is technically legal, just crappy practice. It has been very demoralizing; I have heard from several coworkers that they feel like their jobs are total dead-ends. I don't think anyone feels they are "owed" a management position; we just want a chance to throw our hats in the ring!
It's legal, but you're right that it's demoralizing; it sends a message to people that they don't have much of a future in your company if they want to grow, because they'll never be given the opportunity to even apply for higher-level roles. To be clear, the problem is mostly about the pattern; something like this happening once can be understandable (plans change, the new manager might have been clearly perfect for what they wanted, the potential internal candidates might have been clearly not as strong), but (a) they should have given you all more of an explanation than they did, and (b) it happening a second time is understandably troubling.
The thing to do here is to speak up. Talk to whoever is in a position to have influence on this process, explain why what they're doing is discouraging, and ask for more openness and transparency in the process in the future.
5. A recruiter wanted to talk and then went AWOL
I was applying for jobs last week, and I had to fly back to my home state for a family emergency. I got an email from a recruiter yesterday, asking if I am available today for a phone interview, and I explained that I've had a family emergency and that I'm unavailable this week. I thanked him for his consideration and stated that I look forward to speaking with him on early next week, provided three dates and a decent time range for his schedule, and asked him to advise me with the best date and time for him. I am so worried as I didn't hear from him.
Yeah, sometimes this happens. In theory, any employer or recruiter who wants to speak with you this week should be willing to wait until next week if needed, but in practice sometimes it just doesn't work out that way. Usually this is because (a) they're disorganized and if you don't talk to them when you're on their mind, they'll forget about you, (b) in the interim, they've talked to other good candidates and have decided they don't need to talk to any more, or (c) they're on a really tight timeline for some reason.
There's not really much you can do about this. I mean, sure, you could decide that you're going to prioritize their calls above all else in your life, but that's probably a questionable decision and it won't solve the problem anyway -- because even if you make yourself 100% available to recruiters, some will set up a phone appointment and still not call. There's a certain amount of chaos in the system, and you're better off simply accepting that sometimes it just won't work out.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.