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 wants me to pick up my co-worker's slack.
I work at a company that faced serious downsizing a year ago. I became the head of a newly formed department, and my old position was dissolved and split among several staff members.
One co-worker has consistently avoided the part of her job that used to be mine, which means that suppliers keep contacting me when they don't hear back from her. I recently approached my boss about this issue, and he told me that I am probably treating her like a baby and that's why she isn't performing, and that the only way for the job to be done right is to do it myself.
He places such a high value on getting along that he is happy to let the more efficient, energetic employees carry a heavier load rather than confronting non-performers. Since the downsizing, when lack of performance in this area has become apparent to him, he has turned to me for a solution rather than the co-worker who is now responsible. I told him that I am now taking a hands-off approach even if balls drop, and he has endorsed this strategy. However, dollars to doughnuts he will be coming to me when everything stops working.
When people email you because they don't hear back from your co-worker, respond with "Jane is now the contact for this area and should be able to help you," and cc Jane (so they have her email) -- and your manager if that feels necessary.
If your manager eventually comes to you for solutions to your co-worker's failings, you can simply say, "Yes, I'm concerned that Jane isn't handling that, too, but I don't have the authority to address it with her."
And keep in mind that your manager has abdicated some of the most fundamental responsibilities of a manager -- addressing performance problems and ensuring that high performers don't get penalized by his negligence there.
2. When an interviewer asks if I'm interviewing anywhere else.
I've been on several interviews where toward the end the interviewer has asked, "Are you interviewing anywhere else?" Each time I've replied in this way: "I am looking but haven't locked in anything serious yet."
So what's best? Should you say, "Yes, I'm actively interviewing everywhere and your offer had better be competitive"?
This is such a silly question; they should assume that you're looking at other jobs, and there's no point in asking. If what they really want to know is whether they're in danger of losing you to another offer, they should tell you their likely timeline and ask if you have any conflicts with it, or tell you that they can expedite things if you're expecting other offers.
In any case, the best answer is some variation on "I'm looking at a few different options, but I'm being pretty picky because I care a lot about fit." That says you're someone with options without giving them more information than they need.
3. Does it look bad that I leave work at 5 on the dot?
I work at a small company where many employees work longer than eight hours a day. I'm in the lowest position in my organization, and I have about eight hours of work a day on average. When I leave work after eight hours, my boss looks at me like I'm insane.
I was told during the interview that this job would be a primarily 9-to-5 job, and my boss made it very clear during my interview that the most important thing to him was that I get my work done on time, and thus far I've done that. I can't tell if I'm just imagining things, but I'm terrified my boss thinks I'm lazy. Help!
If all you're basing this on so far is a look, there's plenty of room for misinterpreting. Sure, the look might mean "How dare you leave at 5!" but it also might mean "I had no idea it was 5 until I saw you leaving -- where did the day go?" or "I envy your ability to leave at 5″ or who knows what else.
So why not ask him about it? Ask for feedback about how you're doing overall, and as part of the conversation, say something like "I might be misinterpreting, but do you have any concern about the hours I'm working? I generally work 9 to 5 but stay later if I need to in order to get my work done. I want to make sure we're on the same page about your expectations there."
4. Why would an employer check references after making a hire?
Just got a request for a reference check after an organization decided to hire one of my (terrific) former employees. Any idea why a company would check references after a hire? The questions they asked were pretty standard -- no searching for red flags or anything like that.
Terrible hiring practices, where they (a) treat reference checks as rubber stamps, like a bit of paperwork to be completed as part of the offer process, and (b) jeopardize people's livelihoods, by getting them to accept job offers (and often quit existing jobs) when they haven't actually finished their vetting process yet and could technically still pull the offer. It's a sign of lazy, thoughtless hiring practices.
5. Should I disclose that my boss is my fiancé?
My fiancé of 13 years owns a business and I more or less run the "office" portion of that business. The work that I do relates to the field of work I am applying for outside the home. How do I add that to my résumé? I can't exactly say I'm employed or that I run a home business, either. But I'd like to include it on my résumé because the work I do for his business relates to what I am applying for. How do I go about doing this? Do I tell them he's my employer but don't mention that he's my fiancé?
Eventually they will find out who he is. Put the work on your résumé, but don't offer him as a reference. If someone specifically asks to be put in touch with him for a reference, explain that you'd be glad to connect them but he's your fiancé and thus not likely to be an unbiased reference.
People will appreciate the candor and can then decide from there whether they want to talk to him (most won't).
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