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. Should I tell an employee the real reason I'm firing him?

I manage employees who start with a three-month probationary period. I have a current probationary employee who has not taken direction well, has acted defensively, has challenged basic instructions about how to do his job, has rolled his eyes when provided with feedback on how to do certain tasks, and, ironically, has also sought me out for instructions in situations where the course of action for him to take should have been immediately obvious.

I intend to hire a replacement and terminate this employee near the end of his probationary period. I would like to give him feedback on the reason for letting him go. From an ethical and professional standpoint, the feedback would be to his benefit, regardless of whether he realizes or appreciates that. And if I do not tell him, I feel he will be more resentful and frustrated and will make uncharitable assumptions as to my reasoning.

My boss, however, does not believe I should disclose any reasoning to the employee, since probationary employees can be let go for any reason, and he feels that my rationale for terminating will inevitably lead to an argument. I believe I should simply outline my rationale and refuse to engage the employee in any debate if he pushes back. How do you think this should be handled?

Green responds:

You should absolutely tell him. It's cruel to let someone go and refuse to tell him why, it sounds terrible to other employees who hear about it, and it's exactly the sort of thing that creates bad will -- much more so than if you're straightforward with him about your reasons.

Not only that, but if you haven't given him feedback on the issues you're seeing, ideally you'd do that now so that he's not blindsided when you do let him go. I understand you're not going to change your mind -- I wouldn't either, if someone had an attitude like what you've described -- but firings generally go more smoothly when they're not the first time the employee is even hearing that there are problems. Plus, employees who are fired out of the blue are far more likely to assume the reason is shady in some way (or even discriminatory). 

But you also don't need to wait until the end of his probationary period. If you've already made up your mind, it's kinder to him and more efficient for you to cut the cord now. It doesn't make sense for either of you to keep investing in training him when the end is a foregone conclusion. But even if you ignore me on that, yes, tell him why when you're letting him go.

2. My manager offered to take a pay cut so the rest of us can earn more

I work for a small nonprofit. It is common in our industry for there to be a big pay difference between the local manager and the rest of the staff. It is what it is, but at the same time, boards constantly bemoan how difficult it is to recruit and retain skilled staff.

At a recent meeting, my manager said that she would be willing to take a pay cut to give some of those funds to other staff salaries. She did not give details as to how this would be done; it was sort of an invitation to the board to act upon. Everyone present was surprised by this statement. I was touched by my manager's willingness to sacrifice, and I also thought it was a positive, if not necessary, direction for pay equality to go in if we want to attract and keep quality staff.

I am in the minority of staff opinions on this. The co-workers I've spoken with have all said they would not allow our manager to take a pay cut. I have mixed feelings: I'd really love a raise, and while I don't believe the manager is grossly overpaid, I'm perfectly happy to let her "take one for the team." Am I being selfish in my willingness to stand by while my manager sacrifices? Should I try to speak up in favor of her doing this, or just keep quiet and let the chips fall where they may?

Green responds:

I think that if your manager is willing to do this, it's not really your place to try to talk her out of it. She's a professional adult, and she can figure out for herself if it's something she feels good about doing and if the change would be sustainable for her in the long-run. It's possible that she's looking at salaries across the organization and seeing an opportunity to make pay fairer.

That said, taking her up on it wouldn't necessarily be a smart move for the organization. If she's being paid a fair market rate right now and she gives some of that up, what's going to happen when she leaves the organization at some point? Are they going to have to lower the salaries that her pay cut previously let them raise? Or just have to struggle to attract good candidates for her role with the lower salary? And would this move create a situation where she's earning less than her peers, who all happen to be a different sex or race, which could cause a separate set of issues? All of that is reason for whoever will make the final call on this to tread really carefully.

3. Our time-tracking calendar feels like invasion of privacy

I work for a small company (about 20 employees). There is a large calendar posted in the middle of the office. Everyone writes on it when they are taking a day off or leaving early or coming in late. Instead of a single HR person or a couple of managers keeping track of time off, it is open to everyone.

I know we are small and people would probably notice anyway, but I think it is an invasion of privacy to be forced to put your time off for everyone to see, especially when this includes doctor's appointments and funerals. What are your thoughts on this?

Green responds:

As long as you're not required to write personal details (like "OB-GYN appointment") and instead can just write things like "sick leave," "vacation time," or "out for afternoon," I think that's pretty reasonable. In an office of 20 people, there's a need for people to know if someone is out for the day, coming back at noon, unreachable because they're on vacation, or whatever. It's reasonable to make that information centrally available.

But if you're required to include details about the reason for your absence, then yeah, that's weird and you should push back. But I'd try just being vague first and seeing if anyone objects.

4. Does anyone care about my resume's skills section?

What are your thoughts on having a skills section on resumes? I've seen pretty ambiguous skills sometimes, but I list only concrete technical skills, like video editing with Adobe Premiere, and not things like "engages with industry influencers." But I'm wondering if a skills section carries real weight with interviewers, or if the work history section totally overshadows it.

I ask because at the last few interviews I went to, it turned out they actually wanted someone with a skill that I have -- but when I reminded them that I had that skill, their response was, "Oh, you do?!" like they hadn't even noticed. Do I need to move the "Skills" section to the top of my resume? Do I need to make it bigger? Does it have to live strictly in my cover letter from now on because interviewers just don't care about stuff beyond job history descriptions? 

Green responds:

Yeah, a lot of hiring managers don't put much weight on it, largely because so many people's skills sections are fairly useless (listing things that are a given in their field, like Word, or listing subjective self-assessments like "strong communication skills," "works well in groups and independently," and other unreliable proclamations).

I wouldn't move the section or make it bigger. Instead, if the stuff you're including in there is integral to what you want to convey about yourself as a candidate, find a way to include it in the work section, which is really the most important part of your resume and your candidacy. For instance, instead of listing video editing in your skills section, talk about it in a bullet point under the jobs where you edited videos. Doing that will also allow you frame it in terms of what accomplished with the skill, instead of just noting the skill itself -- and that's always better and more convincing.

5. Should I resign while I'm away on my honeymoon?

I have been with my current employer for two years. My boss and I are the entire staff and we are heading into the end-of-year push. It's been a really hard year for our organization and there are a lot of balls in the air, even without the added stress of getting through December.

I've been interviewing elsewhere for several months, and circumstances aligned so that my formal offer arrived last night -- two days into my two-week honeymoon. It's a good offer, and I've accepted it. 

I would prefer to send my current boss my notice as soon as I can; today, if possible. She is unlikely to take the news well, and it's unlikely she'll be able to replace me before the new year, let alone in a two- or three-week-notice period. By giving my notice today, she can at least get that process started as soon as possible. Would it be appropriate to send her my resignation while I'm on vacation? The more time they have to work on getting someone into the place, the better, but it feels a little disingenuous to resign while I'm away.

Green responds:

Yes, you should. It's not ideal, but telling her ASAP is the higher priority than telling her in-person. When you email, just say something like, "I'm so sorry to tell you this over email, but I just found out and wanted to let you know as soon as possible. I'll of course plan to meet with you the first day I'm back to discuss transition plans, but meanwhile thought I needed to give you an early heads-up."

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

Published on: Nov 25, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.