Here's a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.
1. What to do when an employee's spouse calls you
I had to reject an employee's request for specific dates for vacation leave. Then her husband phoned me to tell me that she will not be at work and she will take the leave! What can I do from here to prevent her husband from doing the negotiations on her behalf?
Unless this was health-related and an emergency (like the husband calling to say that his wife, your employee, was in the hospital), he absolutely shouldn't be a part of this conversation.
As for what to do to prevent him from trying to participate, you just shut it down and don't allow it. Assuming this wasn't health-related, you say this to the husband if he calls again: "I'm sorry, but I can't discuss this with you. I'll need to speak with Jane directly." Repeat as needed, and hold firm. If necessary, say, "I need to hang up the phone now" and then do it.
Then afterward, you say this to the employee: "Your husband contacted me about this and I explained to him I needed to discuss it directly with you. In the future, please contact me directly; I won't speak with a spouse about a work matter unless there's an emergency."
2. Employee gets upset if I reassign her work when she's busy
I have an employee who consistently gets upset when I take work from her. She's a great employee and a very hard worker but will never tell me when she is getting overwhelmed. As a consequence, I have to take time on a regular basis to review her reports to see where she is with them. When I see she is getting behind, I will reassign some of her work to another team member. She takes this very personally and becomes emotional. Our office does a high volume of legal work, and I need my team members to all be caught up. Reassigning job tasks based upon output is essential to the success of our organization.
How can I better manage the emotional side effects this is having on my team member?
Name the issue for her--as in, get the issue out on the table by clearly articulating what you see happening: "Reassigning work based on fluctuating workloads is a normal thing here because our workloads are often so high. I regularly move projects around based on who's swamped and who has more time, and I do this with everyone, not just you. It's the only way for us to get everything done when we're dealing with such a high volume. I've noticed that you seem concerned when I move work off your plate. I think you're worried it's a reflection on you, and that if you were doing your job successfully it wouldn't need to happen -- but that's not the case. It's just a normal part of how we work here."
Then, ask directly for what you want. For example: "It would really help me if I could rely on you to tell me when your plate is overflowing, so that I don't need to spend time reviewing your workload and watching for it. Is that something you can try to do?"
3. My co-worker takes too much time off
I have a colleague who takes a lot of time off and it's noticeable to most everybody at the office. At the beginning of the year, just for curiosity, I started a spreadsheet to see exactly how much time she took off. Some of my co-workers are aware of this, and what started out as kind of a joke seems like I might need to tell our boss eventually given how much she's taken off this year already.
I don't want to get someone fired, but it's obvious she takes off way more time than she's allotted. Plus, the other week she told another co-worker that she fudges her time cards sometimes because "they always mess up the vacation and holiday hours at HR," a statement I've never found to be true in my time here.
What do I do with this information? I almost feel guilty having started tracking, but it's become ridiculous how much she cheats the system here that we all adhere to.
First, stop tracking her time. That is not your job, and most managers would be irked to find out you were spending your time that way. You're also making it much more annoying to yourself by focusing so much on it.
Plus, you have no idea if she has made arrangements with your company to allow her to do this. She could be out of the office for medical reasons that your company is accommodating. She could have taken a cut in pay in exchange for working fewer hours. You don't know -- and you shouldn't be judging someone, let alone monitoring them, when you're not in a position to know things like that.
The time card statement certainly sounds bad, but you heard it secondhand and may not know the full context, so it's not yours to deal with.
If your co-worker's schedule is impacting your own work, talk to your boss about that element of it. But otherwise, let this go. It's just not yours to handle.
4. Odd interview question
I recently had a panel interview for an IT-related job with a local city government. As expected, three panelists took turns asking me a set of 10 pre-determined questions, one of which I found odd. They asked, "If an internal customer came to you with a request just as you were leaving the office at 5 p.m. on a Friday, what would you do?"
This seems like such an odd question that would depend a lot upon the organization's policies. This interview was for a full-time permanent role, but I have only ever worked contract positions where these types of last-minute overtime projects were expected and compensated well. Do you have any idea what sort of answer they might have been looking for here?
It's a bad question -- as you say, it depends on details that you don't have, like how the organization prefers people to operate and whether the request is a 10-minute thing or a three-day thing. That said, the fact that they asked it makes me think they were looking for an answer like, "I'd find a way to get it done" or "I'd get more information about the urgency and if it was time-sensitive, I'd get it done before I left." Or they might have just wanted to hear your thought process out loud -- what factors you'd consider in order to decide how to handle it.
But it's a weak question. If they wanted to test for, say, someone who won't walk out the door just because it's 5:00 if they're still needed, they could have instead asked something like, "Tell me about a time when you were given a last-minute work request and didn't have much time to handle it in."
5. Is it OK to talk about our kickball league in interviews?
My office hosts a kickball team. The organizer of the team, who is very passionate about it (he sends weekly all-staff emails detailing the results of every game), is also in charge of hiring our entry-level employees. I found out he may be discussing the league in interviews -- maybe as an example of office culture? -- and there's a joke going around that he hires people who will help the team win. (This is a joke. I do think he would like new employees to join the league, but I doubt he actually makes hiring decisions based on that.)
I worry about the impression applicants might be getting, that their desire and ability to play on the team could affect their hiring. The job has no relation to physical fitness -- it's an office setting. Could this be a liability for our organization, in terms of something like the Americans with Disabilities Act? Or am I way overthinking this?
It depends on what he's actually saying. If he's just mentioning the league as an example of office culture, that's fine to do. If he's making hiring decisions based on athletic ability, or leading people to believe that he is, then, yeah, you could have some ADA issues.
But even if that's not happening, if he's talking about it too much, he could be inadvertently alienating job candidates who aren't athletic or aren't interested in an office culture that is.
Why not ask him and tell him what you're concerned about? He probably hasn't considered this angle.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.