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 responded badly to his raise

Recently I gave a part-time employee a pay raise. All our part-timers are paid pretty modestly, but he got a significant raise for his stellar performance. When I gave him the good news, his response was to be completely underwhelmed and say, "Thanks for the information," before skulking out of the room looking visibly sour.

As I would expect any of my employees to be glad to see an extra bit of money per hour, I am admittedly flummoxed. Should this be a red flag? Do I need to follow up with him, or is it possible I just caught him on a particularly bad day?

Green responds:

It's possible you caught him on a bad day, but you should follow up anyway, because it's possible that something is going on that you should know about -- that he's miserable with the job, that he thinks (rightly or wrongly) that he deserves a far higher raise and is insulted by what you offered, or who knows what. I'd say something like, "I had trouble reading your reaction the other day when I talked to you about your raise. I'd hoped you'd be happy about it. Is everything OK?"

The key is not to say this in a tone that signals "you are now in trouble for not being sufficiently excited about your raise," but rather "I'm concerned; how are you?"

Also, if you know this guy to be generally un-emotive and you could imagine him reacting this way even if you told him he had won the lottery, ignore all the above and just write this off to how he is.

2. My assistant keeps commenting on my appearance

How do I approach my administrative assistant about inappropriate comments she makes on my physical appearance? I am in my mid-20s, and she is in her mid-50s. She calls herself the mother of our unit and takes great care of us. However, with me, because I am the only single young woman in the group, she makes lots of comments about my looks. She goes so far as to comment that my skin is breaking out after a particularly stressful week and that I should eat a salad instead of a cheeseburger for lunch to stay thin because I am single. How do I address this with her in a professional and explicit manner, and eliminate her "mothering" tendencies?

Green responds:

Be direct and straightforward. The next time she makes one of these comments, say, "I appreciate your concern, but I'd rather not discuss my appearance. Thank you!" If it continues after that, you can either repeat that as needed, or you can talk to her privately about the pattern. If you do the latter, say something like, "I really appreciate how much easier you make my job. There's something I've noticed, though, that you might not realize you're doing. You've been commenting a lot on my appearance lately. I know it comes from a kind place, but I'd rather not discuss my appearance (or my diet) at work. I'm not comfortable with it, and I'd like to keep the focus on my work."

3. My manager knows I'm job searching and asked me to set an end date

I am currently employed part time, and I am finishing my master's degree. I have been open about my intentions to find employment in a new field pertinent to my master's, and during a recent performance review my boss has asked me about submitting a termination date to HR in a few months' time. I understand that my open intentions have prompted this, but am wondering why I'm being asked to commit to a date as opposed to being allowed to put my two weeks in when I have a job lined up. At this point in the game, I don't have a job lined up for after graduation, although I'm in the midst of job searching. Is there a way to reapproach this issue with my manager?

Green responds:

It's not unreasonable that your boss, knowing that you're leaving sometime relatively soon, wants to be able to start planning for that -- searching for a replacement, etc. You've sort of given notice already, just without a firm date attached to it, and now your boss wants to close that loop so that she's not just at the mercy of your job hunt. (This is the potential downside of long notice periods, and why it's important to have a sense of how your boss handles lengthy notice periods before entering into one. It's also a downside of open-ended notice periods; at some point, someone is going to attach an end date to it, and it's not always the employee.)

You could go back to your boss and try to work out something different -- such as explaining that you don't know how long your job search will take and asking if it's possible to leave it open-ended for now ... and perhaps even nicely pointing out that you were honest about your intentions out of loyalty to her and the organization (if that's true), and that you're hoping they'll be able to give you some flexibility in return. But to some extent, this will depend on how valued you are (good managers will be flexible to keep a high performer in this situation happy, but might just want to wrap things up with others) and what your manager's reasons are for wanting to move forward.

4. Handling a divorce at work

I am in a new job (and it's a great job, and I got it with the blog's help!). Sadly, while my professional life is going well, my personal life has taken a turn.

I don't know how to handle my upcoming separation and divorce from my spouse at my new job. I have only been at the position seven months, so not enough time to have become very close to anyone. But my new co-workers are friendly and often inquire about my family. I am really confused as to how to respond now. On the one hand, it's not really anyone's business. But I don't want to be standoffish or weird or to lie. Also, I will probably be changing my name back to my maiden name. Am I going to look crazy? I want to make sure I handle this professionally, because I want to stay at this job for a while.

Green responds:

You will not look crazy. This stuff happens, and your co-workers almost certainly know plenty of people who have gone through it or have dealt with it themselves. The key here is to treat it in a way that's (a) low-key and (b) matter-of-fact. So, for instance, if someone asks about your husband, you just say, "Actually, Bob and I are splitting up." And your response to whatever concerned response follows should be something like, "It's a tough time, but we're both doing well" or "Thank you, we're getting through it OK" or whatever else feels natural but assures people that you are in fact carrying on. If you do decide to change back to your maiden name, be matter-of-fact about that, too -- "I've gone back to my maiden name, so I'm now Persephone Mulberry." That's really it!

If you'd be more comfortable with it, it's also fine to mention it to your boss proactively -- something like, "I wanted to let you know that Bob and I are splitting up. I'm doing OK, but felt odd not mentioning it since it's a major thing that will probably come up in informal conversation at some point." (A normal boss will at this point express sympathy and ask you if you need any time off, etc., but will take her cues from you -- if you say you've got it under control, people will believe you, unless you present evidence to the contrary.) Good luck, and I'm sorry you're dealing with this.

5. Can I ask employers to email me instead of calling?

How should I phrase in my cover letter that I would prefer if employers emailed me in lieu of calling? Because of my office's location, my cell reception is almost completely blocked when I'm at work. I do not have an office line, and even if I did, I would not want prospective employers calling my work line, as my boss does not know that I'm looking for another job. I thought including something like "Please email instead of calling" looks tacky without reasoning -- and adding a reason just makes it worse. What do you think?

Green responds:

I think you've got to leave this one up to employers. Some prefer email, some prefer to call, but most have systems and ultimately they're going to prefer to do it their way. The most you could do would be to include a line at the end of your cover letter saying something like "email is the easiest way to reach me" ... but people who prefer to call will still call.

As for the phone situation, you definitely aren't expected to use your work number on your résumé; in fact, that would reflect poorly on you if you did, since you shouldn't be using your employer's resources for job hunting. Just give your personal number (cell or landline), and call people back when you're able to. This is how it worked in the days before cell phones, after all; people received messages and called people back. Same thing here.

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

Published on: Feb 26, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.