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 four questions from readers.

1. What to say in response to "I'm sorry" from employees.

I manage employees in a job where arriving on time for shift coverage really matters. When my employees are late to work without notice, most of the time they apologize with a simple, "Sorry I'm late." I struggle with how to succinctly respond when it doesn't warrant a formal sit-down. If someone is 15 minutes late to their shift and they haven't been late before, when they come in and say, "I'm sorry I'm late," I don't want to say, "It's OK," because it's not really OK -- they do need to be on time. But I don't want to lecture them on their first or even second minor infraction.

When someone says "I'm sorry," and it's not "OK" but you want to convey that you recognize that they know they messed up, what's the best thing to say?

Green responds:

With something like being 15 minutes late, I'm a fan of "Everything OK?" That signals that the lateness is enough to make you concerned, but without making it a Big Serious Conversation over 15 minutes.

Of course, if it happens multiple times, then it needs to be a more serious conversation (assuming punctuality really matters in their jobs; in other jobs, 15 minutes might not be a big deal). But for something that's minor and not a pattern, "Everything OK?" acknowledges that they're a human who might simply be dealing with the many ways life can go wrong.

2. Is it OK to have my employees drive me to and from work?

I just moved. Coincidentally, one of my employees lives nearby, so to save time, I get a ride to the office with him. Likewise, upon return, one of my other employees drops me halfway toward my home. This saves me energy and time, as I live very far away from office.

This picking up and dropping at home does not in any way impair my objectivity, and I conduct myself very professionally with them. But is it OK to get this kind of small favor from employees?

Green responds:

I would not do this as a regular thing. 

If the rides were very occasional and your employees made the offer, then sure, that's fine. But having it be a standing arrangement is an abuse of your power. Because you're their boss, they're much less likely to feel comfortable telling you that they don't want to continue to drive you. And you're setting up a situation where they get much more face time with you than others, and your other employees may assume there's favoritism there even if there isn't.

I get that this is a more convenient commute for you, but you can't let that override your obligations as a manager.

3. My colleague loves meetings and jargon.

I've been working with Jane for the past four months. We are peers, and she seems like a lovely person who has shown great skill in revamping struggling teams within our division. However, she tries to demonstrate her experience by using an excessive amount of jargon and acronyms. We work in an industry that is rife with technical terms, but she is actually adding to the pile by borrowing jargon from other fields and using them in day-to-day communication. Nobody else at our office does this. Her written documentation is very unclear because all the acronyms and jargon.

She also loves meetings, and takes every opportunity to schedule recurring one-hour meetings. Her meetings are very formal and controlled, but not in a way that is a good use of time. For example, if there's a written handout during the meeting, Jane may start by reading it out loud, word for word, even though everybody has a copy.

I prefer using clear, professional language whenever possible, and I try to limit the frequency and duration of meetings that I schedule and attend. I have the impression that Jane thinks I (and many of our teammates) should be as formal and "professional" as she tries to be, but to me she seems out of touch and a bit condescending. Am I being ridiculous for letting her formality bother me so much? I've wondered if I should have a casual conversation with her about it, but perhaps she's in the right here.

Green responds:

You don't sound like you're being ridiculous. Jane's work habits sound legitimately annoying, particularly the over-use of meetings and the horrible reading of written materials word-for-word.

That said, as a peer, you don't have standing to give her feedback on some of this stuff, like the jargon and the bad writing, unless you're charged with editing her documents.

But as a peer, you do have standing to push back against all the meetings; it's fine to say, "I don't think we need a meeting for this; let's just take five minutes now and hash it out" or "I'll just send out an email and people can let me know if they have questions." Same thing with "I don't think we really need an hour for this. I could do 30 minutes tomorrow afternoon -- does that work?" And at the meetings you do get roped into, speak up if she starts wasting people's time. You can say, "Since we all have a copy of this and I know we're all busy, rather than reading it together, does everyone want to jump to the two questions at the end of the document?" (It's highly likely that you will get immediate assent from everyone else there.) In other words, don't see yourself as at Jane's mercy with a lot of this; you can assert yourself back at her.

4. Offering prayers to a colleague.

My office's administrative assistant is currently visiting her family and is right in the path of a hurricane. We're all very worried for her and she's expressed her fear in our Slack channel. Do you think it's OK for me to message her and tell her that I'm praying for her and her family? I wouldn't usually bring religion into the workplace but this is a situation where there is really nothing I can do to help her from many states away. I don't want to overstep or make her uncomfortable. Should I opt for a "thinking of you and your family" message instead?

Green responds:

If you don't know for sure that she'd appreciate the mention of prayers, I'd stick with "thinking of you and your family." Plenty of people don't mind being prayed for, even non-religious people, but enough do that it's better to avoid it -- especially in a work situation -- unless you know it would be welcomed.

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