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 co-worker insists on giving me help I don't want
I work under a general boss, as well as a project manager. I do more of the day-to-day technical tasks, whereas my project manager handles budgets and dealing with vendors, stakeholders, etc. However, she is either super effective or there is not enough project-management work to keep her busy, so she helps with things that I would normally do. I have a decent amount of work to do, but not to the point where I feel like I need help. It's somewhat disconcerting to open a query two minutes after it's arrived to find that she's already on it. Also, I either have to spend time walking her through performing the technical nitty-gritty stuff or I have to spend time correcting things, when it would have been more efficient for me to just do the work. I just wish I could do my own thing.
Am I not being a team player here, or is this unusual? If it is unusual, how do I go about addressing it? It's especially hard because she's a lovely person.
No, it's not typical, not unless she's really supposed to be doing this stuff, but it sounds like she's not. So talk to her. Say, "Jane, I so appreciate your helping out when you can, but when you jump in and help even when I don't need it, I feel like I'm not performing my job well. Let's come up with a system for me to let you know when I need help, but let me take the lead on things like X, Y, and Z the rest of the time."
Also, when she asks you for instruction on technical things that really should be yours anyway, try saying something like, "Oh, I really love doing that, so I'll handle it. Thanks for offering, though."
2. When should I expect a written offer?
I got a verbal offer from a CEO for a startup and I accepted via email the same day. My start date is tentatively set for the end of May. When should I expect a written offer? And to clarify, the offer is pending references, but neither has been contacted. I'm getting paranoid.
You might not ever get a written offer; not every place does them. You can certainly ask for one though--or you can simply summarize the terms of your employment (title, salary, start date, etc.) in an email, send them to the CEO, and ask him or her to confirm. That might feel less legally binding than a formal written offer initiated by the company, but they're basically the same--neither obligates the company to stick to those terms going forward (although the company can't change your pay retroactively), but it's helpful for ensuring that you're both on the same page and there aren't going to be any miscommunications.
3. Incentive systems for administrative staff
We have an incentive scheme in place for salespeople in which they can earn an extra day off if they reach certain sales targets. I'd like to implement the same incentive for administrative staff, but I'm not sure how it would work as so many of their duties aren't directly tied to sales performance or a specific measurable. Their work is extremely valuable but is very much day-to-day tasks. Do you have any suggestions for objective incentive schemes for administrative or support staff?
I don't think admin positions really lend themselves to that, since their objectives are typically more qualitative than quantitative, such as ensuring that logistics run smoothly, that other staff have what they need, and that customers get a warm and helpful impression, etc. You could certainly set quarterly or annual goals for your admin staff around those sorts of objectives (and should be doing that anyway) and give incentives to those who meet or exceed those objectives--but that's generally what you'd be doing normally via raises.
If you want to set up an incentive system for admin staff, you could do it by aggressively rewarding great performance (including with additional days off, like with your sales team)--but I don't think you can easily tie it to numeric targets like you can with sales staff.
4. My replacement is still asking me for help, six months after I quit
I left a job about six months ago. The company became rather dependent on me in the time that I was there. I gave two weeks notice. I trained a replacement who left after a week, so I came back and trained another replacement who is still there.
My replacement emails me about two or three times a month to answer questions that, in my opinion, she should be able to figure out fairly easily. Some of the answers are explicitly stated in my notes. How long do I continue to answer these questions? How do I tactfully get out of this? I do really like my old boss, and he really helped me out by giving me the job there as I had been a stay-at-home mom for many years and was having a hard finding a job in this market. So I want to help him out, but this is getting old.
It's been six months; that's about five months too long. The next time your replacement emails you, respond with something like, "I'd check the notes that I left behind; the answer may be in there. I can't continue to answer questions anymore since it's been six months since I left, but the notes are pretty detailed. Good luck with everything." You might also want to email your former boss to nicely let him know that after helping for six months, you've decided you can't reasonably keep doing it--so that he hears it from you, rather than hearing a potentially twisted version from her.
5. I agreed to recommend two people for the same position
I work in a technical services department in a library. The department head job is currently vacant, and two of my co-workers are applying for the job. One co-worker asked me to be a reference for her and I said yes. Then last week, another co-worker asked me and I said yes to him as well.
I was a little hesitant to say yes to the second guy, but I did anyway to avoid awkwardness. I took the easy way out. Of course, after thinking about it, I realize I probably shouldn't have said yes to him. Did I do the wrong thing? Should I 'fess up to him and tell him it's a conflict of interest? I know that the first co-worker would do a superior job to the second guy.
Well, there's nothing inherently wrong with being a reference for two people applying for the same job. A reference doesn't have to mean "this is the absolute best person for the job; there is no one better." Rather, a good reference is one that speaks with nuance to the person's experience and abilities--with enthusiasm and praise, of course, but still with detail and nuance. So it's entirely conceivable that you could give references for these two co-workers--both positive, but describing different things. The idea is that you'd share your impressions, and the hiring manager would incorporate that info into her overall thinking about each.
However, if you don't think you could give an honest positive reference for the second guy, you shouldn't agree to speak on his behalf. You could go back and say to him, "I realized that I'd already agreed to be a reference for someone else for this position and I don't feel comfortable giving two."
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