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 warn a contact not to take a job at my awful company?

A friend of a friend may be trying to join my small company. However, it's a terrible place and several of us are trying to leave ASAP. If this were a friend, I would definitely let her know. But this is an acquaintance. Do I say something?

I ran into this person, and she excitedly told me she was meeting with the boss Friday. She asked me how I liked the job and I couldn't lie. I took a long pause, and then said there were parts I liked. I told her if she had more specific questions to ask, she has my email.

Shouldn't my response be a huge red flag to her? I feel like I'm doing her a favor and she hasn't asked me any more questions. I'm annoyed that I was honest with someone who may be too clueless to realize I'm trying to non-verbally tell her "Run the F away!" Or maybe she just thinks I'm a kook.

Green responds:

You should tell her, and much more explicitly than what you already said. Many people wouldn't hear the hint in what you said, especially since people applying for a job often have rosy-colored glasses on. I don't think most people would recognize it as a huge red flag, and I don't think that makes them clueless.

Given the impact a terrible job can have on someone's quality of life, you should speak up. Don't rely on hints. Say something more direct.

2. My co-worker is constantly coughing and blowing her nose.

My co-worker who I share an office with has been sick for the past month and a half. My issue is with her constant cough and nose blowing, both very loud. She will even go to the restroom, get tissue, and bring it back to her desk, then blow her nose. When she blows her nose, she places the used tissue on her desk, uses no hand sanitizer, and continues her work--spreading these germs everywhere.

I asked my supervisor if she could say something, and she said she couldn't do anything but I could email our office nurse. I did so, and the nurse said she had spoken to her, gave her a pamphlet about spreading germs and samples of hand sanitizer, but couldn't tell her to go to the restroom to blow her nose because it is a "common-sense issue."

I feel like my supervisor thinks I'm being petty, but I wonder how she would feel if she were put in my position. I am at my wit's end about where to go from here. It's to the point I am considering finding another job because this happens every time she is sick. Am I being petty? Should I have to sit and be uncomfortable and grossed out in my workspace?

Green responds:

I get why this is distracting and grossing you out. But there's really nothing that can be done about the cough and the fact that she has to blow her nose; she's getting over an illness, and this comes with the territory when you work around other people. (It's almost certainly worse for her than it is for you though, which could be useful to keep in mind.)

I would guess that your manager is declining to get involved because she can't reasonably order someone to stop coughing and blowing her nose, and may not be up for micromanaging adults on precisely where and how to blow it. 

But there's no reason that you, as a co-worker, can't at least address the dirty tissues by saying something like, "Jane, would you mind putting tissues in the trash right after you use them to lower the chances of spreading germs?"

Of course, that's only going to take care of part of this, and I get the sense the noise is bothering you more. And while noise of any kind can be distracting, there's no real way to work with other humans without hearing the noises of...well, being human. Only you can decide if your annoyance outweighs the major hassles and impact on your career of changing jobs over something like this. Keep in mind, though, that you could easily run into the exact same problem at the next job!

3. Can I refuse to train people for the job I'd like to be doing?

I have been at my company for over a year, and when a higher position opened up twice, the company has hired people outside of the company and asked me to train them. I asked what I'm doing that's preventing me from growing with the company, and my boss said that I'm doing a great job and would discuss it with her boss. I'm still waiting for a response, but she continues to interview. I'm at the point where I want to say no, I will not train someone for a position they don't seem to think I'm qualified for, even though I do the duties of the position. Any advice? I'm trying to stay positive and don't want to lose my job.

Green responds:

As long as you're working there, you can't refuse to train people if that's what your boss is assigning you to do. Trying to refuse to do that will destroy your reputation and possibly get you fired. That's not a path that will get you the outcome you want.

Have you explicitly applied for this job? You don't say that you have, and if you're just waiting to be moved into it, that could be part of the problem. Apply, and if you don't get it, ask for feedback and ask your boss to talk to you about what a path to advancement looks like for you there. Meanwhile, you can also search outside the company if you'd like.

But also--one year is not a long time to be in one position. In most fields, it would be really premature to be getting this antsy.

4. Should my résumé include a job I quit after a month?

I'm an ER nurse. I started at a new job just a few weeks ago. I haven't yet completed my probation period, but I don't think I can in good conscience work at this hospital any longer, because I've observed some really serious safety problems. I don't think my input could significantly change the ingrained systemic problems, so I've resolved to quit and find something else.

My concern is about whether to keep this short-lived job on my résumé. My impulse is to leave it off, because it could look bad that I bailed out from a job so quickly, and because anything I did there wouldn't mean much in terms of experience gained. But on the other hand, would it be considered dishonest not to mention it?

Green responds:

Nope, it's fine to leave it off (and in general, you should leave off jobs that you left after only few months, unless they were specifically designed to be short-term jobs from the start). A résumé is a marketing document; it's not required or expected to be a comprehensive listing of everything you've ever done. It's not dishonest or even unusual to leave something off your résumé that you don't want to highlight.

5. I don't want to talk about the details of my injury when I return to work.

I lost the tips of two fingers in a lawnmower accident recently, and will return to work after two weeks off. I don't wish to provide any details of my absence or injury whatsoever to my peers. It doesn't help that I work in a large school and am the department head of technology, and should know better about safety around machinery. What is a polite way to answer about my absence and/or bandaged fingertips? I'm truly dreading returning to work for this one reason.

Green responds:

"It's a long story, but I'll be fine!"--said cheerfully and followed by an immediate change of subject.

Or, "Oh, it's too gruesome too talk about." Or, "I'm in denial that it even happened. Tell me about where we are with the X project!" Or, "Just an accident, and I'm working on forgetting about it."

The key with all of these is to say them cheerfully and immediately change the subject.

Polite people will get the message that you don't want to talk about it. Rude people may continue to push, at which point you can say, "I'm really trying not to relive it--thanks for understanding!"

Another option is "I'd rather not talk about it," but that risks making it sound more dramatic and causing people to speculate on what happened and why it's off-limits.
 






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