Here's a roundup of answers to four questions from readers.
1. Should I let a struggling employee work from home?
One of my employees is wonderful but struggles in her role. She also has substantial personal life responsibilities, with an ailing parent who needs substantial care. She's recently asked me if she can start working from home one day a week to allow her to take care of her father. The problem is that our team is already stretched thin, and on days when people work from home, we tend to get about 75 percent productivity.
How do I make space for this employee to take care of her life, while also setting reasonable guidelines?
The most straightforward way to do it is to agree with your employee on what she'll accomplish (and if necessary, to what standard) each month (or week or quarter, depending on what time period makes the most sense for her job). If you worry that she won't come through on what you agree to, then you check in very, very early on so that you catch it early and can course-correct if needed.
Because she's already struggling, I would be hesitant to OK her working from home 20 percent of the time. But if you want to give her a chance to show it can work, you could offer to try it for a few weeks as an experiment, but be upfront that if she doesn't meet the performance benchmarks you lay out, you won't be able to continue it long-term.
It sounds like you also need to do something similar with your other staff members. You shouldn't be seeing only 75 percent productivity on work-from-home days, so something's going on there that you need to figure out.
2. Telling an employee born on Leap Day she can't have her birthday off
One of the perks my company provides is a paid day off on your birthday (or the day after, if it falls on a weekend or holiday) provided by the firm and not taken from your vacation days, and a gift card that works at several restaurants in our city. Once a month, we provide a cake at lunch as an acknowledgment of everyone who has a birthday that month.
An employee on my team was born in a leap year on February 29. Since she only has a birthday every four years, she does not get a day off or a gift card and is not one of the people the cake acknowledges. She has complained about this and is trying to push back so she is included.
She has only worked here for two years and was hired straight out of school. I feel her complaints are petty and I want to tell her that she should be focusing on work issues and not something as small as a birthday. If she had a complaint about a work issue, it would be different. How do I frame my discussion with her without making her feel bad or like she is in trouble? Her work is good and I am sure the complaint is just borne of inexperience and I don't want to penalize her for it.
What?! She doesn't only have a birthday every four years -- she has one every year like everyone else. (Surely you don't believe that she only advances in age every four years!) She might need to celebrate her birthday on February 28 or March 1 in non-leap years, but it's not true that she doesn't have a birthday, and it's unfair and wrong for your office to give her fewer days off than other people because of this. She should get the day off, she should get the gift card, and she should be acknowledged with the other birthdays at the same time.
It makes no sense to demoralize someone over something so easily fixed, and it's very odd to dig in your heels on this. It's not about her being inexperienced or petty, and it's alarming that you think that! This is about you not looking logically at what you're doing (and, frankly, being petty yourself). You are wrong, she is right, and you should remedy this and apologize to her for mishandling it.
3. Can I ask my employee to save up her questions rather than interrupting me throughout the day?
Someone who reports to me calls me every five minutes to ask a question or tell me something. Is there a way to ask her to "bundle" her questions and comments so I'm not interrupted by her more than two or three times per day? I understand there are circumstances where answers are needed immediately, and I am not referring to those.
Yes! Just be straightforward: "Will you start saving up all your questions in bunches, so that we can go over them all at once, once or twice a day? That'll be easier for me than answering them all separately." If she doesn't seem to get it, you can explain further: "I'm always glad to answer questions and talk things through with you, but generally I need to confine that to once or twice a day rather than more frequently, so that I'm able to focus on other things as well."
And then don't be shy about reminding her if you need to -- as in, "Actually, will you save this and anything else that's not time-sensitive until we meet later today?"
4. Are we all obligated to order from a kosher restaurant because of a kosher employee?
Our organization has 15 to 20 employees. We have staff meetings once a week, for which we order lunch, paid for by the organization. It's usually a group-style lunch (such as pizza, large salads, trays of falafel, etc.). Two employees keep kosher, but are happy to eat vegetarian food from regular restaurants. There are also a couple of vegetarians, including myself. There are plenty of good options around town to accommodate everyone's needs.
However, we have a new employee who keeps kosher, but will only eat from kosher restaurants. There is one in town but it's not very good, and it's also expensive. When we order lunch, we've been ordering our regular lunches and also ordering for her from the kosher place. However, another employee says we are singling her out and that we should all be ordering from the kosher place. Do we have an obligation to all eat lunch from the kosher place?
No. You're getting her something that she can eat, which is exactly what you should be doing. That doesn't obligate the rest of you to all order from the same place. This isn't "singling her out"; this is accommodating her religious needs.
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