Editor's note: 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. What should I say if my manager asks if I'm job searching?
I work in a large department in a nonprofit with a fairly high turnover rate. Morale has been notably low since my supervisor was hired (her management style leaves a lot to be desired). Shortly after she was hired, one team member quit and the other gave his notice this week. This makes me the most senior person on my team. I think they may ask me point-blank if I am job hunting (I am). What would be the best way to handle a boss asking this question?
It's rarely in your best interest to let your employer know that you're job searching before you're ready to leave. If you tell them, you risk being pushed out before you're ready to go. (There are some exceptions to this, like if you have a great manager who makes it clear that it's safe for you to be candid with her, but that doesn't sound like the case here.)
If you're worried about saying you're not job searching and then quitting soon after, you can say that you weren't actively looking and the opportunity fell in your lap. They're not entitled to candid answers to this question unless they set the stage to show you candor is safe.
2. Employees are telling me they're leaving early, rather than asking.
I supervise two employees who leave work at least half an hour early almost once a week or two. This is because they have doctor appointments or need to get to the bank in time. Last week, one of them asked if she could leave two hours early to catch a flight on a Friday to be away for the weekend. They used to ask if they could have the time off--which I have not ever said no to. But in the last week, I have received emails from them with "FYI--I will be leaving work at...." Also, I have previously asked them to give me at least a day's notice, but they contact me the same day still.
I feel that because I am new to being a supervisor, I am now becoming a pushover. Is it unreasonable for me to ask them to use their lunch break or arrange doctor appointments and visits to the bank after hours, except in certain circumstances where an appointment can only be made during work hours?
Well, first, it sounds like you're resenting them for doing something that you haven't told them to stop. So if these are the rules you want to enforce, you need to say clearly, "Please check with me for approval before planning to leave early, and please give me at least one day's notice." If it continues after that, you say, "As you know, I need you to get this approved by me before planning on it. Would you handle these requests differently in the future?"
However, what you're describing isn't necessarily problematic. In many jobs, it's quite common to manage one's own time this way. Are they getting their work done and are they there during the hours you need them? If so, you risk losing good employees if you burden them with rules that a) have no connection to their ability to get their work done well, and b) are out of sync with how employees at their level generally operate. (That said, there certainly are jobs where these rules make more sense, such as public-facing jobs where someone else would need to cover for a person leaving early.)
3. My boss won't let me hang out socially with a client.
I am an assistant to a financial adviser whom I get along well with professionally. Recently, we acquired a client who is about my age and very nice. We hit it off and speak often, never work-related, and we don't even mention my boss.
I mentioned to my boss that this client wanted to have lunch or dinner with me, not thinking anything of it. He immediately said he would not like me being "drinking buddies" with her. I don't get that, I don't have "drinking buddies" or care to. It would just be two adults having a meal together like any other friends. I am not happy he feels this way and want to confront the situation. What do I do?
Find out what his concerns are. Tell him that you're not planning on becoming drinking buddies, but that you've hit it off with her and would like to have lunch with her, but that you respect that he's concerned and want to understand what his worries are.
It might be that he doesn't want anyone having social relationships with clients, and if that's the case, that's his prerogative. Some employers do discourage that kind of relationship with clients because, in some cases, it can lead to the loss of the client. If that's his stance, you do need to respect it, and just figure that keeping professional boundaries is part of the package of having the job.
4. Should we send job rejections by postal mail or email?
I like to respond to applicants who do not get the position they have applied for. Is it somewhat impersonal to send an email rejection versus a mailed letter? Do you have any suggestions on how to make them less impersonal? I am moving from mailed letters to emails, but I just think it is still somewhat cold.
Actually, most applicants prefer receiving rejections by email. It's faster, and it's a common mode of communication. It's also kind of weird to apply online or by email and then get a rejection letter in the mail. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if people felt the postal letters were more impersonal than an email.
What really matters is your wording. That's where you have the opportunity to ensure you're conveying warmth rather than chilliness.
5. Can I ask an employee to show me the offer letter he claims he received?
Is it legal to ask for a copy of an offer letter when an existing employee is asking for a raise based on this supposed "offer"? I have my doubts that the employee actually has this offer. If I give this employee the raise he wants, he will surpass peers and he doesn't have the credentials his peers have. I don't want to lose him, but I need guidance on how to handle this.
Sure, it's legal to ask for that, but I wouldn't do it. You need to decide if you're willing to pay this person what he wants based on his value to you, not to an entirely different organization. Does paying him more make sense for the organization (considering his value and how this will position him relative to his peers)? If not, then you shouldn't offer a raise just to keep him.
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