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 employee is acting like he's the boss -- but I'm the boss
I was recently promoted to supervisor of my department over another person who very much wanted the position. We've been working together well for the most part, but there are occasions where he oversteps his role and I am finding it difficult to handle. For example, I called a meeting with him and two other of my employees (whom this person is senior to). During the meeting he spoke over me several times, and at the end I said that I would send out meeting notes and follow up with other teams on Monday. I checked my email later that evening to find out he had taken it upon himself to send out meeting notes and assign himself all the action items we'd discussed, including ones I had asked others to handle and one that I took on.
Being a new manager, I am uncertain how to address these instances. It seems that when we are in meetings with our subordinates, he feels the need to assert his dominance. How do I request that he take a step back without being similarly aggressive?
By being clear, direct, and calm and letting him know what you want him to change about his behavior in a matter-of-fact way: "Bob, I noticed that in the meeting this afternoon, you spoke over me several times. Please don't speak over me or your co-workers." (Or, better, in the moment itself: "Excuse me, I'd like to finish what I'm saying.")
And about the notes: "As I said in the meeting, I planned to send out the notes and follow up on action items. What happened?" ... "I need you to focus on your own work and leave items I'm handling to me."
If you do that a few times and the problem continues, at that point, you'll need to address the pattern, but start by addressing it in the moment and see if that resets the boundaries you need.
2. I accidentally told my boss I'd work for free.
The other day, my new boss (who is the nicest, most supportive boss I've had in a long time) was asking me how I liked the nature of the work I was doing. In a nervous fit of awkwardness, I told him (honestly) that it doesn't feel like work and that I felt bad being paid to do it since I liked it so much. What?! Why did I say that?!
In the past, I've been overworked, under-appreciated, and did so much overtime (voluntarily and involuntarily) that this job so far has been a dream. My managers are kind and allow me to work independently, and when I do I get so wrapped up in it that I don't take any breaks, because I've been conditioned to go the whole day without a chance to sit down and relax.
I'm worried that what I said, completely unfiltered, will hurt my chances at being given a raise since I said I would do it for free. It's true that I enjoy the job immensely, but I need to be paid more. Would my boss take what I said into serious consideration when determining my worth/future pay scale? Anything I could say or do to help my case?
You're over-thinking it! It's very unlikely your boss -- who you describe as "the nicest, most supportive boss I've had in a long time" -- thought to himself, "Aha, no raises for this one!" And it's highly unlikely he took your statement as a serious statement that you'd do the work for free. He probably just thought it's great that you love what you're doing, because people who love their jobs tend to be more driven and productive.
Don't worry about this at all.
3. My manager wants to groom me for more responsibility, but I don't want to move up.
I like my current manager, who I have worked with for one year now. She is great at providing feedback and I know she believes in my capabilities and is impressed with me, which is great! However, I feel like she sees me doing greater things than what I see myself doing. I don't like to have too much responsibility and I frankly never really envision myself being in her shoes (as in, managing a marketing program with a team of direct reports).
I am quite content to be a team member. I don't want to be as busy as she is or that stressed all the time! I am very happy with my salary and am happy with "moving up" through merit raises, horizontal moves, and tenure rather than vertical moves. She often pressures me to take leadership classes, even those that are only for managers, because it will be "so good for my future," and she often subtly pressures me to travel more and go to lots of conferences despite the fact that she knows I hate to travel (I have a fear of flying and a disabled spouse at home). I sometimes get the feeling she is living vicariously through me or like she is projecting her own ambitions (or her regrets) onto me. Where is the line?
It's great that she's taking an interest in your professional development, but why not talk to her candidly about where you do and don't want your career to go? Rightly or wrongly, people do tend to assume that everyone wants to take on more responsibility or eventually manage a staff, so if you don't, it can be helpful to be explicit with your manager about that.
Of course, when you do this, framing it as "I want to focus on being awesome at what I do currently" is better than "I hate responsibility," because the latter can come back to bite you in unforeseen ways. It's also important to make sure the stuff she's pressuring you to do is really just "if you want to advance in the future" stuff. It's possible that it's actually "if you want to do well in your current role" stuff, and if that's the case, that's important for you to know. So talk to her about this whole topic and see where that takes you.
4. Company paid for interview travel -- and now wants to be paid back.
As a finalist for an out-of-state position, I traveled for an interview, and the hiring company paid for airfare and hotel. Once offered the position, I declined based on concerns regarding the company. Now the hiring company is contacting me demanding reimbursement for flights and hotel.
I have not heard of a company seeking reimbursement from a candidate. Are there legal ramifications if they're not reimbursed? This just seems shady.
What?! No, this isn't OK. They presumably agreed to cover these costs and didn't warn you the bill would revert to you if you didn't accept the position. They can't change the terms of that agreement retroactively just because they don't like the outcome. And they certainly have no legal grounds to demand repayment, assuming there was no agreement to the contrary -- which is a reasonable assumption since that would be so bizarre. (While not every employer offers to cover interview travel costs, those that do don't make it contingent on accepting the position if offered. They cover them, period, or they don't cover them at all.)
Say something like this to the employer: "I'm afraid there's been a misunderstanding here. XYZ Company agreed to cover the costs of the interview travel. We didn't discuss any reimbursement in the event that I didn't accept the position. I appreciate you covering the costs, and wish you the best of luck with your new hire."
If they continue to push after that, you should say, "Our arrangement was that XYZ Company would pay these costs, and I'd like to stick to that agreement." And then you can stop responding, because this is shady as all get out, and they've got no standing here.
5. My manager asked me to think about if this is the right job for me.
My manager has asked me "to think if this is really the right job for me." What she is saying is that she doesn't think it is the right job for me, and this isn't the first time she has asked this question. I don't think it is, but I certainly don't want to talk her into letting me go.
I have been looking for another job, and would love to move from my current situation. That said, I need to stay working until I find something else. My current manager is very involved in my day-to-day work, so seeking work elsewhere isn't the easiest thing to make time for. What is the right way to answer her?
When your manager is asking you to think about whether this is the right job for you, it's a big warning sign that your job is in jeopardy. That means that it's pretty urgent that you find time to job search, even though it's hard to do that -- because statements like your manager's are the writing on the wall that your time there might be coming to an end, and it's nearly always easier to find a job while you're still employed than afterward.
As for what to do now, with some managers you could be honest, say it's not the job for you, and agree on a transition period (during which you could job search while still being employed). With plenty of other managers, though, acknowledging the job isn't for you could mean you'll be out of there within a couple of weeks, if not less. So you've got to know who you're dealing with. If it's the latter, your best bet is probably to say something like, "While it hasn't come as naturally to me as I'd like, I want to do this work and I'm committed to meeting your expectations" and then work to show that you're doing that -- while simultaneously speeding up your job search in case that doesn't work out.
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