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's kid punched me in the groin
I work at a university. My boss has an almost-5-year-old son, and she brings him into the office...a lot. I work in an open bullpen, so even when he's in her office, he's usually making noise or listening to an iPad at a loud volume, when he's not running around the office.
Today, however, as I was standing and talking to her and another colleague, her son wandered up and punched me in the groin. My boss immediately forced him to apologize and then let him go to wander off and "explore" the rest of the office and picked back up in the conversation like nothing happened.
I also know that there are hours at work when she has a FaceTime connection between her work iPad and the one they have at home as a sort of remote babysitter. She doesn't mute it or turn the volume down when someone comes into the office to discuss work items.
I stopped in at HR, and the university doesn't have a specific policy about children at the office other than "use discretion," but the HR director wasn't at all surprised to hear that my boss had been bringing in her kid (indeed, she nailed it right on the head after I asked about the policy and asked for further info). Is there anything I should or shouldn't be doing to either in terms of documenting what's happening or better ways to handle what's going on?
Your boss sounds like an inconsiderate boor--not to mention a bad boss and probably a bad employee--but there's not a ton you can do here. If the HR person you spoke with sounded interested/concerned, you could follow up with them some more, but doing so risks causing tension in your relationship with your boss if it gets back to her (and it's safest to assume that it would). One way to get cover in that type of situation is to be one of a group who's complaining, so you could encourage your co-workers to talk to HR as well, if they're bothered by all this.
The other option, of course, is to say something to your boss directly, at least about letting the kid run around (pointing out that it's both unsafe and disruptive), but that may or may not go well, depending on what type of person your boss is (and so far she's not seeming too impressive). And, of course, that won't address the hours of FaceTime situation, which is something her own manager should be addressing.
Ultimately, you've got a bad boss, and whatever management has let her get away with all this isn't too great either.
2. Explaining to staff that they need to let me know if they're out of the office
I am trying to write general instructions to my managers to let them know that if they are not able to maintain their regular schedule because they have an outside appointment during work hours, it is common courtesy to let me know. I understand that everyone has things to take care of that may occur during working hours, but I must be notified in advance. More frequently lately, I will call an office to find out that the manager will not be in until 12:00, when they should have been there at 7:30. Some managers never leave work, and some do. I am looking for a general instruction that I can send to all my managers.
Just be straightforward about what you want them to do. For example: "If you're arriving late, leaving early, or leaving the office during the day for an appointment, please let me know in advance so that I'm in the loop on your schedule." From there, if someone continues not to do it, talk to that person individually, just as you would about anything else that you wanted someone to change.
And keep in mind that different workplaces have different cultural norms around this kind of thing, so don't be annoyed that you have to spell this out for people. Just be explicit about your expectations, so that they don't guess wrong.
3. Should I tell my competition that we're up for the same job?
I have the inside track on a senior executive position, returning to a previous employer. A former colleague from another company emailed me because he interviewed with this company too. I honestly answered his basic questions about the community, management, and company but didn't mention that I was in discussions with them about a job myself. They're hiring for a few jobs, but it's probably the same one.
Now he followed up to say his interview went well and ask more questions about quality of life in hopes he'll be called back in. In the meantime, my second interview was scheduled, and I know they are only interviewing a couple other candidates again. The CEO's stated intent is to put me and one other before the board in the final round.
I'm torn about what to do now. On one hand, this is business and I really want the job. I'm thankful knowing whom I'm up against. I like and respect this person, but we're not close. I'm confident I am the stronger candidate, but hesitant to disclose that I'm the competition, which could help him prepare for his next interview.
Is it bad karma to stay quiet? Is it OK to again answer honestly, but not disclose? Do I ignore the email? Or is the best thing to tell him and not answer any more questions? Knowing this person, if I answer honestly, I wouldn't recommend relocating here because of his concerns. But I feel that honestly answering could be interpreted as trying to scare him off.
You should tell him that you're also talking with the company about a job, which may or may not be the same role. Otherwise, if you get the job, it's going to be really awkward with your former colleague, who will think you withheld pretty pertinent information from him while he was asking you for advice on the job for himself. Or, if he gets the job and you don't, it's possible that he'll find out that you were a finalist for it, and it'll be just as weird that you didn't mention it. Besides, it's unlikely that simply knowing that you're a candidate too will give him a leg up.
So yes, let him know. And don't say that you wouldn't recommend relocating here, even if you sincerely believe that's the right answer for him. Just answer his questions honestly and straightforwardly and let him draw his own conclusions.
4. What should I wear when meeting about volunteer opportunities?
I've done a few unpaid internships at nonprofits, and for meeting with the people I'd be working under and for the actual internships, I always wore jeans, sneakers, and a plain, long-sleeve T-shirt. (I consider them "meetings" and not "interviews" because they always ended with "Well, let us know if you decide that you'd like to intern here" instead of me competing against other people and asking when I'd hear back from them.) At the time, I thought I should be expected to be clean and neat, but that getting dressed up wasn't necessary, since I wouldn't be getting paid and it all seemed very informal. No one ever said anything to me about it, which kind of reinforced to me that it was OK.
I haven't been able to get a job despite the internships, so I'm starting to look at small nonprofits to contact about volunteering. I realize now that I should ask about dress codes if I agree to do any sort of work, but what should I wear while meeting with people from the nonprofits to discuss volunteering opportunities? I'd feel silly dressing up, but I'm really not sure if what I was wearing before was inappropriate or not.
For volunteering, it's fine to wear something that's less formal than a suit, but more formal than jeans and a T-shirt--pants that aren't jeans and a nice top, for instance. For some nonprofits (an animal shelter, for instance), you could go more casual than that--but if you're not sure, you should err on the more formal side of things. And yes, I know it's volunteering rather than paid work, but you want to signal that you take the opportunity seriously. These are also people who will become part of your professional network and can potentially connect you to paying work, so it's smart to be strategic about the impression you give. (I'd say the same thing for your internship interviews, too--jeans and sneakers is too informal, even if the process wasn't competitive and you weren't going to be paid.)
5. How can I thank my boss for hiring my friend?
My boss had an available position to fill, so I suggested he speak to a friend of mine. He ended up hiring her recently, and I wanted to send an email to thank him, but didn't know if this was necessary/appropriate or what even to say. Any suggestions?
Don't thank him! You don't want to imply that he did you or her a favor--that implies that she wasn't the best person for the job, so it's a little undermining to her and a little weird for him. In fact, you did him a favor, by connecting him with a good candidate. So instead of thanking him, I'd say something like, "I'm so glad that Jane ended up being the right person for the role. I'm looking forward to her starting."
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to email@example.com.