Here's a roundup of answers to four questions from readers.
1. My employee's work isn't good -- but he's having a family crisis
I manage a junior level employee who started as an intern. "Bran" was fabulous, turning in high-level work quickly and consistently, which was why we asked him to stay on when his internship ended. However, over the past three months, the quality of his work has dipped significantly. We've had conversations about going slower, checking his work, and really focusing on details. I have shown him specific examples of errors so that he better knows his weak spots. It isn't working. I know he's capable of better work -- he's repeatedly demonstrated as such.
Under other circumstances I would put an improvement plan in place, but this is a special case. Bran's father is very ill, and is now in hospice. I don't want to have a harsh conversation when he has so much going on at home. At the same time, I'm spending a lot of time proofing his work and fixing errors, which is affecting my own workload. We do not have an EAP. We're a very small company without many resources. Any advice?
Talk to him, explain what you're seeing, and ask what he thinks would help. This doesn't have to be a harsh conversation; it can be a kind but straightforward one and you can frame it as finding out what kind of support he thinks might help. For example, you could say something like this: "I know you're going through a really tough time with your dad. I want to give you as much flexibility and leeway as I can and I don't expect you to be performing at 100 percent right now, but I'm spending more time fixing your work than I can realistically continue to do. But we have a bunch of options here, depending on what you think might help. I can let you pull back on your hours if you need to, or if it would help to be able to work from home some of the time, we could do that too. Or there might be other things you think would help that I don't even know about, so I'm hoping to hear your thoughts -- and don't be afraid to make creative suggestions. If there are accommodations we can make, I want to work with you on them."
2. An applicant sent an unhinged response to a rejection -- and I know his reference
I was recently hiring for a position and sent a rejection email to a candidate who responded incredibly rudely. What he said was inflammatory, extremely egotistical, and at times down right crazy. It went beyond the "sour grapes" of a candidate who hasn't moved on -- it was a rambling and bitter diatribe. Of course it isn't fun to deal with this, and a clear bullet dodged, but that isn't where it ends because he has put on his resume someone whom I know as his reference and referrer.
Should I tell her about this experience, and is it even ethical to tell her? I'm not interested in blackballing this candidate -- he clearly needs a job based on his level of desperation, but probably should never work with us and I have told HR as much, and this will be included in his applicant file. His reference works here too but in another division and we do not interact regularly, but I like her. I'm nervous that someone as unhinged (or at the very least extremely misled about what is professional or acceptable behavior upon receiving a rejection) as this applicant was could do her reputation harm. Thoughts?
Yes, I'd tell her. He could indeed do her reputation harm, and if she referred him to a job where she works, she especially needs to know that he's doing this. You could say it this way: "I noticed that Ryan Smith listed you as a reference and the person who referred him to a job with me recently. I'm forwarding you the response he sent to our rejection email since I thought you'd want to be aware of this."
3. How to speak up when women are called "girls"
I need help with a script for speaking up in the moment when colleagues call grown women "girls." I was just in a meeting next to a professional man in his 50s who said that we have a "girl" who codes our emails. The only word that comes to me is unprofessional, to say the least. Can you please provide some sample language I could use in this professional context?
"You mean woman, of course. Anyway, yes, Jane is great." Or, "Given that Jane is an adult, let's refer to her as a woman. Thank you."
Depending on the dynamics between you and the person you're addressing, and depending on the effect you want to produce, you can say this kindly (with the tone you'd use for any other friendly correction) or you can say it poker-faced. If the person you're addressing is prone to minimizing or pooh-poohing this stuff if given an opening to do so, you may want a tone that conveys "I'm being polite right now, but I don't suggest pushing me."
If you're told you're making too big a deal out of it, you can say, "If it's not a big deal, it won't be a problem to use 'woman,' right? Thanks."
And for anyone reading who thinks that referring to women as "girls" in a professional context is no big deal, consider how infrequently you hear "we have a boy who codes our emails." Or think about women who are universally recognized as having gravitas and power -- say, Angela Merkel or Kamala Harris -- and ask whether you'd refer to them as "girls."
While referring to adult women as "girls" may not be intended to be infantilizing or patronizing, language has power, and girls are rarely taken as seriously as women. Some of the most damaging sexism is subtle because it impacts how we think without us even realizing it.
4. Pushing back on deadlines as a guest lecturer on a specialist tour
I'm a leading expert in my field and have been asked by a high-end travel company to go along as guest lecturer on a specialist tour. All my travel costs will be covered and I will be paid a small fee, but it will also enable me to take some further time to do research and see friends in the region at minimal cost to myself.
I currently have a number of projects with looming deadlines: finalizing a manuscript for publication, three conference papers, and more.
I have worked with the travel company to draw up an itinerary and provided them with a blurb to present to those going on the tour. Now they're asking me write much more detailed information on the sites we will visit, as well as titles and summaries of the lectures I will give on the tour (which I haven't had time to think about at all), plus a reading list -- all this to attract/inform actual participants for the tour. I was asked to produce the detailed information by the end of next week. After pushback, they've extended the deadline slightly. I've said I will do my best but have made no promises in view of my other deadlines, which have to take priority.
I don't want to derail arrangements for the tour, but I'm not pleased that they have sprung these demands on me when they could have alerted me earlier. In my view, the small fee pays for my services on the tour itself, and now, without advance warning, I'm being asked to do quite a lot of preparatory work against a tight deadline without any additional recompense. Am I being unreasonable? How far -- and in what ways -- can I push back?
It would be reasonable to say, "Right now I have a number of looming deadlines and don't realistically have the time to do this writing for you. Since this wasn't mentioned as part of our original agreement, it's not something I'd scheduled time for, and I hadn't been planned to work on my lectures until closer to the tour. Realistically, I could do ___ [fill in what you're actually willing to agree to and by when]. Will that work?"
I think, too, you could say, "When we originally agreed on the fee for my participation, my understanding was that it was my services on the tour itself. For the types of materials you're asking for now, I'd normally charge an additional fee."
In approaching all of this, though, you should factor in how much you still want to go even if they don't budge on this stuff, and what sense they've given you so far of how much room you have to push back.
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