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 chronically late to work
My employee has had an attendance issue off and on for the past six months. I called her attention to it and it improved marginally, but then she told me that she gets a ride to work from her mom and her family is large and there is only one bathroom so she gets delayed. I changed her start time to 9:15 a.m. from 9 a.m., although she already had the latest start time of anyone on the team. Our department is quite small (two people), so coverage is essential, plus she is an hourly employee and gets paid to be here on time. She stays late every evening (till 6 p.m.), but I found out from her that she does not work past 5 p.m. and only stays late to wait for her ride.
Is it time for disciplinary action, i.e., docking of pay or writing her up? What sort of conversation needs to happen now?
You can't dock her pay for work she's already performed (that would be illegal), but you can and should talk to her about your expectations going forward and what the consequences will be for not meeting them. For instance: "We've talked in the past about the need for you to be here no later than 9:15, but you're continuing to arrive late, which leaves us short-staffed. Going forward, I need you to be here on time every day; I can't continue to allow exceptions. Can you commit to doing that?"
If she says that she can't commit to it because of her ride situation, then you need to decide whether that's a deal breaker. Depending on the role, it's possible that it might not be -- but if it is, then you should be upfront about it, by saying something like, "I'm sympathetic to your situation, but this role does require reliably arriving on time. Given that, would you like a few weeks to make other arrangements to get to work, with the understanding that I can't be flexible after that, or will this job not work with your schedule?"
2. Can I ask to leave early on my second day of work to attend my son's preschool concert?
I accepted an offer with a company two weeks ago and will be starting my new job in two weeks. I just found out that my 3-year-old has a Christmas concert in his preschool on the second day of my first week at my new job. I would really like to attend his concert but am not sure if it is acceptable to leave early on my second day. I'm wondering whether to ask my new manager if I could leave early to attend my son's concert.
My new workplace is 1 1/2 hours away from my son's preschool, and my position will be as a supervisor. I have a meeting at the new workplace a week before my start date, and I'd like to ask my new manager then if I could leave early for the concert.
I wouldn't. It will only be your second day and your new manager and colleagues won't know much about you yet. You don't want one of the first things they learn to be "she's cutting out early on her second day for an optional thing." Fairly or unfairly, it's likely to start people wondering if you're going to frequently want to leave early or come in late, and it's likely to raise questions about how well you follow professional norms (which usually dictate not doing stuff like this during your first week -- unless it's truly unavoidable, like a time-sensitive medical appointment).
3. If I can't contact candidates' current managers, how can I know whether they're hiding problems?
I'm a manager in training for a midsize retailer and am brand new to hiring, I have a concern regarding job applicants who check "No" on "May we contact your employer?" My understanding is that this should not necessarily raise a red flag, because employees don't want their bosses to know that they're job searching. Understandable.
My concern if they check "No" is how to find out if they're hiding anything (i.e., performance issues, tardiness, etc.). If I bring someone in for an interview, is there a way I can address that concern with the interviewee without being overly suspicious that something could very well be wrong? Any recommended questions I could ask?
It's definitely normal for candidates to request that their current employers not be contacted, since that can jeopardize their current jobs. And, yeah, that means if there's something going on with their current job, you probably won't get to hear about it -- but you can certainly ask about why they're looking for a new job, and what challenges they've experienced there.
I wouldn't worry too much that there's some dark story you won't be able to uncover, as long as you're doing a thorough job of checking references from previous jobs (and making sure to talk to past managers, specifically). Someone who has glowing references from their past three jobs is unlikely to have suddenly become a different person at their current position. Patterns really matter most, anyway, and you're going to get a good sense of that from the past managers.
4. Interactive, web-based résumés
With the digitalization of our world, what is your opinion on interactive, web-based résumés? The content would be as professional as expected. But it would be web-based and have a bit of interactivity (more organized links, sections, etc., and maybe a bit of light animation when you click on menus). I've seen a few in the past, but they are few and far between and usually for design-related positions in which the individual needs to demonstrate their visual and programming skills. But for regular, white-collar jobs, what do you think?
Nope. People keep looking for creative ways to improve on the traditional résumé, but the vast, vast majority of hiring managers prefer the traditional résumé because it serves their needs the best. Traditional résumés are easy to scan and quickly find information in, and they can be easily input into electronic applicant systems. That's seriously all we want. Don't mess with it!
5. My new co-worker noisily sucks on candy all day
A woman who recently joined our office sucks on candies all day long and makes terrible loud sucking noises. Is there a way to politely ask her to be quiet? It is driving me absolutely bananas.
Are you comfortable being pretty direct about it? That's really the only way you'll be able to do it. For instance, you could say: "Jane, I wonder if there's a quieter way to eat those candies? For some reason, I'm able to hear you sucking on them and it can be distracting."
If that feels too awkward, then you have to decide whether you'd rather risk the awkwardness or keep dealing with the noise. If it's really bugging you, I'd risk the awkwardness -- and perhaps keep in mind that most people would want to know if they were doing something like this that was driving others crazy. (Not all, certainly, but most.)
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.