Here's a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.
1. My employee keeps venting to other team members
I have an employee with whom I have made every attempt to keep open lines of communication, be there for him, offer assistance, be a sounding board, etc. However he repeatedly confides in a co-worker when he wants to vent about something, rather than coming to me. I end up hearing about his frustration or concerns secondhand, and sometimes his venting is misdirected or uncalled for, because he is making assumptions and building a story in his own mind without having all of the details. If he came to me first, he would have a better feel for whether it's something he really needs to get worked up about. When I have confronted him about this before, he has even admitted that he struggles with coming to me to vent, but he can't explain why, and he says that it would be very difficult to change his behavior. I don't have this issue with any other employees. They all feel comfortable coming to me about anything.
What can I do to get my employee to open up to me and to see that his current MO is negatively affecting the team?
First, I think you need to get really clear in your head about how this actually affects his performance and the rest of your team. Whatever pieces aren't impacting those things, let those go. But if you can point to specific, concrete impacts that his venting is having, it's totally reasonable to address those. For instance, it would be reasonable to say (if true), "When you air grievances to the team without giving me the chance to address them or alert you to context that might change your assessment, you're creating a negative environment that's bringing the whole team down. You're also inadvertently spreading misinformation, which I then need to spend time cleaning up. I am always willing to talk to you when something is bothering you, but I need you to change the way you're handling this. When you have an issue, I need you to take it to the person with the ability to do something about it (which will often be me), not spread the frustration around to people who can't change it."
From there, you need to hold him to that, just like you would any other standard of performance.
But I think the key will be sticking to the actual impact this is having (which will help you both see this as a true performance issue and thus something you're entitled to hold him accountable to) and not just about "venting" (which makes it sound like how he handles it is optional).
2. I work with my husband and we're not allowed to show affection
My husband and I recently started working at the same place. We were recently reprimanded for displaying public affection (holding hands, peck on the cheek) during our lunch break. I completely understand no PDA while on the job, but we clock out for an hour lunch. We're not on the clock and not getting paid. I don't feel they have the right to dictate what I do during that time. (Obviously within reason.) Do I have any legal rights in this regard?
If you're on company property, even if you're on a break, they have the right to ban that kind of thing at work. It might seem a little heavy-handed, but is it really a big deal to treat each other as you would any other co-worker while you're at work? And really, you're both new there; no matter how unreasonable you find their stance, making a stink about this is exactly the wrong way to build a good reputation -- do you want to be known the new hire who was upset that she was told no PDA at work?
Just treat each other like co-workers until you're back at home.
3. Can I speak up about my concerns about my boss's possible replacement?
I suspect that my boss is interviewing for other jobs. She is the most loyal, fair, and downright nicest boss I've ever had -- a true advocate for her staff. If she were to leave, I suspect that a former colleague who tried to stab me in the back at a previous job would go for her spot.
I believe that I am a valued employee, as evidenced in my reviews. Would I be able to say something about this potential replacement beforehand, and if so, what could I say? Be honest about her bad behavior that I witnessed at my previous job? Or do I have to wait to see who gets hired, and if it's my former colleague, say something then?
It depends on your relationships with the people who would be involved in deciding whom to hire. If you have strong relationships with those people and a lot of personal credibility, you can say nearly anything if you go about it in the right way. For instance: "I'm not sure if you're considering Jane for the role, but if you are, I wonder if I could share some concerns I have about working with her."
You definitely shouldn't wait to speak up until after a hiring decision is made though; at that point, it's highly unlikely that they'd reverse the decision. But you also need to wait until your boss announces she's leaving. And of course, it's also possible that none of this will ever come to fruition, so for now I'd just keep watching.
4. Our board president keeps rewriting my work
I work in a communications position for a nonprofit. Our board president has a full-time position in the office and, in the past, has been content to let me write with little to no editing. Recently he has taken a much stronger interest in my work, substantially rewriting basic items like website posts and letters, occasionally adding grammatical errors as he does so. He is not my supervisor, but can certainly tell me what to do.
It's not so much an ego thing -- my byline appears on nothing, and everything is from "the organization." But when my job is to write clean copy (which I do!) and it keeps getting revised for non-messaging reasons, I feel like I am not doing my job well and it makes me concerned for my future in this organization. I have asked him if there's anything I can do to help cut back the time he has to edit my work and he said no. Anything else I can do? Should I be worried about my position here?
I think the problem is that you've phrased it as asking how you can help him cut back on editing -- but he's apparently happy to spend this amount of time editing. So while that was a diplomatic way to raise the issue, it was probably too veiled. Be more direct: "I've noticed you've recently been doing significant editing to my work, which is a change. Is there something that's changed that has caused that?" And follow this up with, "I'll be frank: I'm concerned that I'm not doing my job well when I see these kinds of rewrites. I'd like to be producing copy that doesn't get edited this much. What do I need to be doing differently on my side to change that?"
You might also need to get your manager more involved in this, since your manager presumably has more oversight over the materials you're producing and should have a voice in what's happening to them. And depending on your manager's role, she may need to loop in your organization's executive director, because unless the board president also has an actual staff job in the organization, he shouldn't have this level of involvement in day-to-day work.
5. I'm not sure if my past manager will be a good reference or not
Last year I had a summer position, and even though my supervisor said I did well and that she'd be willing to be a reference, I don't feel 100 percent comfortable using her as a reference. This could be all in my head, but I really found the position to be stressful and I made a few really dumb mistakes. I'm afraid that these mistakes are associated with me and, as a result, she really doesn't like me and is just agreeing to be a reference out of politeness.
She recently switched positions within the company and I have yet to ask for her new contact information, because I just don't know if it's worth it to have someone I'm not 100 percent sure about as a reference. I'm also afraid that not having her as a reference (even if it's a bad reference) will look really suspicious to future employers. Am I damned either way?
Rather than guess, why not find out for sure? Call her up or ask her out for coffee and put it to her straight: "I've spent some time thinking over the lessons that I learned in my job last year, and one thing I've realized is that I made some silly mistakes. Knowing that, I wanted to see if you're really comfortable giving me a great reference. I'd love it if you could, of course, but if you feel like it won't be strongly positive, I'd be so grateful to know so that I can figure out alternatives."
The idea is to make it safe for her to say (if it's the truth), "You know, it might be better for you to use someone else."
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.