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. Managing an employee who's often out sick

I have an employee who for the last six months has been out sick about 1-2 days a week on average, due to chronic illness. This is affecting performance, and others have had to shoulder a lot of the burden: missed deadlines, poor quality work, and an overall significant decrease in productivity.

I want to be compassionate but am not sure what the best solution moving forward is. All our employees are at-will and he's exhausted all his paid time off. I've considered making him part-time to give him the time he needs while freeing up resources to get the work done (he's communicated in the past that he needs the full-time position because of financial reasons, though obviously cannot do the job). I'm not sure if there are other transition/temporary solutions to a situation like this.

I run a small company of only 12 employees so we are not required to offer FMLA. I've considered doing an FMLA-likestructure but worry that because of his financial concerns it'll be more of a burden to administer than a help (especially given that my company is incredibly flexible; he can come in for five hours one day, be available a full day another, or only be able to do one hour of work another). I will consider termination but given that much of this in intertwined with health issues I want to make sure I do the right thing.

Green responds:

This is really tough! Ultimately you have to figure out the bottom line answer to what you need -- which might be having the person in his role reliably at work full-time, or having him go part-time so that you can hire a second part-time person to take up the rest of his duties, or either of those, or some other option altogether.

Once you're clear on the scenario(s) that would work on your end, sit down with him and tell him that you know he's been having a rough time of it, that you've tried to be as flexible as possible, but that you want to be realistic about what's going on and what you need on your end. Tell him the scenarios that would work on your end, and ask what makes sense to him. You can be kind and compassionate while still saying, "Ultimately, here's what I need. Let's talk about how our needs can line up, or what to do if they can't."

2. Employees violated the spirit of our office gift exchange

Every year, my small company does either a white elephant or Secret Santa gift exchange. This year, we set a price range of "around $30" for those who wanted to participate.

A few of the gifts given this year were clearly not worth the provided price range. One of the gifts was a used item from the employee's home (the recipient discovered this after the event ended). Do I (and if so, how) confront the employees who didn't play in good spirit?

Green responds:

Don't. These could be employees who wanted to participate but couldn't afford to buy something for the set price range. If that's the case, they're likely to be humiliated and hurt if you talk to them about it. It's of course possible that that's not what happened and that these were just people greedily trying to get a gift without playing by the rules, but that's not so imperative to address that it would be worth risking the first scenario.

This kind of thing just comes with the territory with office gift exchanges. Assume the most charitable explanation and let it go.

3. Slow employee is listening to podcasts while she works

I hired someone, Beth, a few months ago. She is doing usual entry-level work and is slow, with lots of mistakes. I hired another person, John, who's doing the same work, but much better. So I know that it's possible to do that work better as an entry-level worker.

Beth listens to podcasts and stories during work. I think that may be the cause of all the mistakes. How do I talk about this to her? We allow listening to music, but it feels like podcasts are different.

Green responds:

If Beth were performing at a high level, I'd tell you to leave it alone since it's obviously not causing problems. But in this case, she's slow and making mistakes, and it's reasonable to wonder if eliminating distractions might improve her work.

Have you given her feedback on her work yet? Does she realize she's slower than she should be and making too many mistakes? If not, that's the more important issue; she's not likely to improve if she doesn't realize there's a problem, and telling her that might prompt her to stop with the podcasts on her own, although you can also suggest it as part of that conversation. But if you've already given her that feedback, then just check back in with her and say you'd like to see if eliminating the podcasts improves her speed and accuracy.

In either case, I'd word it this way: "I've noticed you listen to podcasts and stories while you work, and I think it might be impacting your focus. Let's try a couple of weeks without them and see if it helps you improve your speed and accuracy." You could also add, "To be clear, it's fine to listen to those things as long as it's not impacting your work, but in this case, I think it might be. So I'd like to eliminate whatever distractions we can and see if we can get your work up to the level we need it at."

4. Job offers made by email or FedEx

When I was hired for my current job, I received an offer letter via FedEx rather than a phone call. I thought it was odd at the time but figured that it must have been a miscommunication between HR and the hiring manager or something.

I am now hiring someone myself and have found out that HR wants to simply email the candidate an offer and copy me. Is this normal? I've always given and received offers via phone calls, so this is very strange to me.

Green responds:

Some companies do indeed do it that way. But you're right to want to  make the offer yourself; the way you extend the offer can be part of your recruitment strategy, because it gives you the chance to tell the candidate how excited you are about potentially bringing them onboard and why and to sell the job a bit. That's a lot more compelling than a sterile written offer that shows up in a form email from HR (let alone hearing about it for the first time via a FedEx package).

Just because this is your company's default doesn't mean you can't do it differently. I'd try telling HR that you'd prefer to make the candidate the offer yourself, over the phone, and then have them follow-up with the written offer and other paperwork. If you have a really bureaucratic and rigid HR department, they may refuse -- but it's a very reasonable thing to ask.

5. I received the resume of a current employee who appears to be job-searching

I received an email update from Indeed today announcing an updated resume from a potential candidate for a job we have posted. The candidate is one of our current employees. Do you think it is okay to share this information with the employee? I was thinking along the lines of "I wanted to share with you this email. You are very valued here and I wanted to know if you are happy and if not, is there something we can work through?"

Green responds:

Well, you could do that. Be aware, though, that she's likely to be thoroughly freaked out that her job search isn't confidential anymore, and so you'd want to be very clear that you're not about to push her out or otherwise penalize her, and that you genuinely want to talk about whether there's anything you can do on your end to keep her (assuming that you do, and it sounds like that's the case).

Your other option is to skip that conversation and just think about why she might be job-searching. Is she paid well? Managed well? Does her job still challenge her? You might be able to figure out how to make staying more enticing without even telling her what you learned, and that's potentially a better option if your sense of her is that she'll be rattled by the other approach.

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