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 we cut the salary of a disappointing new hire?

We hired an employee almost two months ago who seemed to have quite a lot of experience in our field (which is rare in our city). She asked for a higher salary than entry-level, which we were OK with giving because of her experience. Now, almost two months in, it's become obvious to us that she actually doesn't have as much experience in the field as she thought she did and her work is only slightly better than what we get from candidates straight out of school or switching into this industry from another one. Essentially, we regret paying her the higher salary and feel that she isn't worth it. Legally, we know that we can reduce it a bit, but should we? And, if so, how do we handle that situation? (She is at $60,000. Entry level for us is $45,000, possibly $50,000. We haven't settled on a firm number yet.)

Green responds:

Don't do it! It's not fair -- you agreed to a salary when you offered her the job, and she may have left a previous job or turned down other offers because of the salary you offered her. Lowering it now would be a bait and switch, and you'd be asking her to shoulder the burden of your not doing enough diligence to really investigate her skills before you hired her. (That's not necessarily your fault; no one hires perfectly every time.)

What you can and should do is to talk to her about where she's falling short and what you need to see from her to improve. You could also tell her that in order to stay at this salary level, you'd need to see (specific changes) in the next X months. That way you'd be giving her some warning and an opportunity to improve, rather than just blindsiding her with a salary cut. Be aware, though, that if you do that, it'll likely be a serious hit to her morale and there's a decent chance that you'll lose her -- if not immediately, then pretty soon afterward.

It might make more sense to just write this off as the price of a lesson learned about better verifying people's skills during the hiring process. (In fact, this will be a fairly cheap lesson if it becomes that -- some employers never learn it!)

2. Client is demanding that I work from his office

I'm a marketing consultant, and I currently have a client who is demanding I work ONLY from his office. This was never discussed before he brought me in. I'm a 1099 contractor, and I was clear that I would work remotely (from home) and attend meetings as needed with advance notice. After one month, he is now asking me to only do work from his office, which is very unproductive. He is a huge distraction. He takes two hours to say what could have been explained in five minutes. He repeats himself a lot. Plus, I have a team that helps on certain tasks for me (e.g., coding and programming) and I can't bring them with me!

I don't know how to tell him I will not cater to his request without being harsh or incurring the wrath of the client.

Green responds:

Try this: "Xavier, you've asked me to work from your office a few times recently, so I wanted to make sure that you realize that I don't do that. It's like I explained when we started working together -- as a consultant, I can attend occasional meetings, but the majority of the time, I work from my own workspace."

Be direct and don't sound annoyed, just pleasantly matter-of-fact. If he continues to push after this, you should hold firm in response, and at some point may need to say, "It sounds like you're looking for more of an onsite employee than a contractor. Knowing that I work remotely, does it make sense to continue to work together?" (Of course, if you say this, you'll need to be prepared for the answer to be no!)

3. Giving a staff member development opportunities without exploiting her

In my field, there is a division (by way of a professional degree) in the organization between "professionals" and "staff." I am a professional who supervises someone in a staff position, although she also has the professional degree. She's great at her job, and we benefit by her also having that professional training and outlook.

She's interested in pursuing professional positions in the future and I want to support those goals, although I would be sad to lose her. I'd like to give her access to activities that would strengthen her as a candidate in future searches. But I'm also aware of not wanting to exploit her. Anything she did in the professional capacity would still only be compensated within her staff salary (she's exempt and paid well). Any advice on where to keep that line?

Green responds:

Talk to her! Tell her exactly what you said here -- that you know she's interested in pursuing professional positions in the future and that you'd like to help her by giving her work that would make her a stronger candidate for those jobs, but that you don't have the budget to pay her more for that work and don't want to take advantage of her, and you'd like to hear from her what she'd most like. She's very likely to tell you that she'd be glad to have the chance to work on those projects, but make it clear that it's OK if she doesn't.

4. How do hiring managers view job seekers who took buyouts?

My company recently went into downsizing mode and offered voluntary buyouts to employees based on years of service. I had been at this employer for years and needed to move on with my life and career, so I accepted the offer.

How do hiring managers view people who took buyouts? Do they see them negatively? Are they viewed as "greedy," "lazy," "tired," or having something wrong with them? How do you gracefully bring up the subject so you can reassure a prospective employer (in cover letter or interview) that you weren't fired or laid off, and that you left your previous employer under good terms?

Green responds:

No, most hiring managers aren't likely to see you as greedy, lazy, or burned out! It's perfectly reasonable to say, "My company was downsizing and offered voluntary buyouts, and I was ready for something new so felt like it was the right time to make a move."

That's really it -- it's unlikely that you're going to need to get into it much more than that, although if someone does have questions, just answer them cheerfully and non-defensively. (There's nothing wrong with being laid off either, for the record! If it looks like you were the only person laid off, then sure, it could raise questions about whether there were performance-based reasons for picking you, but if you were part of a larger layoff, it's unlikely to be an issue.)

5. Asking to extend employer-paid interview travel

I am invited by a company to fly abroad for a series of interviews in its headquarters. I am wondering whether I can ask the company, while preparing my flights, to have my return flight be a week later, as I would take advantage of being abroad for a few days off. Of course, I would pay everything myself that's beyond the two days of being there for the interview, e.g., hotel, rental car, etc. Do you think it is appropriate? And, if so, what would be your advice in terms of the way to ask?

Green responds:

Yes, people do that all the time! Just say something like this: "Since I'll already be out there, I'd like to extend the trip by a few days to get to know the area a bit. I'll of course pay for the additional days myself, but could we schedule the return flight for (date)?"

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

Published on: Feb 4, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.