Here's a roundup of answers to four questions from readers.
1. My employee bothers her coworker with constant questions.
I manage two employees who share an office. Jane is a long-term employee and stellar worker. Katie is a new employee in an entry-level assistant role. Jane has been venting that Katie peppers her with many intrusive questions. For example: "Who was that on the phone?" ... "What did you just print?" ... "Where are you going?" ... "Where were you?" ... "What was that person talking about?"
I've seen it myself because Katie asks me similar but much less frequent questions and I notice the awkwardness when I go into their office to discuss projects with Jane and can feel Katie staring at me, or making audible acknowledgments, as if she's part of the conversation. I'm afraid this could lead to Jane's quitting in the long run. Is this just a case of social ignorance or should I step in and address it? If so, how do I tell her to, professionally speaking, mind her own business?
Step in and address it! You're Katie's manager and she needs coaching on a behavior that's disrupting your team -- and is even making you fear someone will leave over it. You absolutely should speak up.
You could say it this way: "I wanted to talk to you about some of the protocol around sharing an office. It can be tough to work in close quarters, and so it's important that you and Jane are both respectful of each other's space and privacy. I've noticed that you ask her a lot of questions about what she's doing, who she was talking to, or where she's going or coming from. When you're sharing an office, you need to give each other more space than that. A good rule is to treat the other person's comings and goings and their conversations as if you don't see or hear them. That doesn't mean you have to pretend Jane isn't not there at all -- it's just about giving her privacy to carry out her work and any personal matters without being peppered with questions. Does that make sense?"
Normally I'd suggest that you first coach Jane to address this herself, but it sounds like Katie needs significant enough coaching that it makes sense for you to take it on.
2. How do I ask my assistant to return the change when she picks up lunch for me?
I have a very friendly rapport with my assistant, Elizabeth. My work can keep me trapped at my desk for days at a time, and when things are especially crazy, she will go above and beyond by offering to run out for lunch or bring me coffee. We got into a bit of an arms race with the coffees; she would, unasked, grab one for me on her coffee run, so I would feel obliged to return the favor; repeat indefinitely. Left to my own devices, I would drink the free coffee in the kitchen, but did not really mind buying coffees for my thoughtful assistant.
Lately, however, she has stopped bringing me change when she offers to get lunch for me. I am not always available to talk with her when she brings the food, and it may even sit on my desk for a couple of hours before I have time to take a bite, which I mention to clarify that logistically, I simply can't check on the food or change at the moment she comes back. I've worked with her for two years, but her forgetfulness with the change has only been going on for the past three weeks or so. I estimate she's pocketed at least $60. I'm reluctant to switch to handing her a credit card instead of a $20 bill when she offers to pick up lunch for me, since she hasn't been handling the cash as I expected recently. I don't know how to broach this and would be grateful for your advice.
I'd wonder if she simply thinks you intend for her to get lunch for herself too with the money you're giving her, except that it's a recent change.
The next time she offers to get you lunch and you hand her money, say something like, "I might be in a meeting when you come back -- if so, will you just leave the change on my desk? Thank you!" That might be enough of a hint to take care of it. If not, it's reasonable to say something like, "Hey, was there any change from my lunch?" or -- when she's first heading out -- "Will you bring me change? I appreciate it!"
A different option, though, would be to simply set up an account with a food delivery app and begin placing your orders through that.
3. How can I support a whistleblower?
I have an employee who was a whistleblower at her previous job. She would not do a job because it was not safe and she did not want to be injured. As retaliation, they told her she was being made redundant. She made a complaint, and it happened that two days later the person doing the job perished in a workplace accident from the unsafe job.
She is now employed under my management but she continues to be hounded and harassed by the family of the deceased, reporters, and others who have an interest in the case. The calls and visits to the premises are constant since it is known she works here, and per the regulations of her profession she is listed on our website.
When she started here, I made it clear to my other staff that they are not to bring up what happened or ask her about it. I let her know my door is always open, and at her first review she reported me to everyone has been "wonderful" and "welcoming." But I know the harassment from others cannot be easy. We do not put the calls through if we know, and we have security remove anyone who does this. How can I as her manager support her? She is a good employee and I know this cannot be easy.
It sounds like you're doing all the right things! You're being really supportive. Why not tell her that you really want to support her and ensure she feels safe and not harassed, and ask her if there's anything else that would make her life or job easier? There might be something that you haven't thought of or she's hesitated to ask for, and explicitly opening the door for her to tell you about anything she needs or would like could be a relief to you both. Or you might hear that she's happy with what you've done and doesn't feel the need for anything else.
4. A customer asked me to send a recommendation to her boss.
One of my customers asked me to email her boss with what amounts to a recommendation for her (she's done a good job over the last year and hasn't received a raise, among other issues). I'm happy to do it, but is there any way this wouldn't be appropriate or could backfire on me?
Not as long as you're truthful. If you send over a glowing recommendation for someone whose work is mediocre, that's going to make you look like you have questionable judgment. But as long as you're honest in your praise, you'll be doing her a favor that shouldn't have any downside to you.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to email@example.com.