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 to say to an employee who's requesting too much time off

I have a question about an employee who is requesting a lot of time off. This employee is considered auxiliary (works less than 20 hours per week), and her shifts are working evenings and weekends in health care. She typically works a regular schedule of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and a mix of evening shifts in there. She recently graduated and applied for a full-time job in the department, but because of an excessive number of call-outs in her past, we did not consider her for the position. Because she is part time, she does not get PTO, but that doesn't stop her from requesting time off (without pay) fairly often -- approximately two or three shifts per month. Although her position description states that she should be available to cover in some instances for full-time employees taking time off, she rarely volunteers to cover shifts, and will sometimes only cover a shift for a full-time employee if they guarantee her that they will work for her.

She emailed me today asking for another auxiliary employee's personal email, so that she could offer her all of her Sunday shifts in July, and in the same sentence asked to be off on three separate Saturdays in July. She then ended the email by asking for a raise, since she now has her degree (which is not required for her position). How do I address her email tactfully, telling her that it's inappropriate to request to be off for over half of her shifts in a month, and that she hasn't earned a raise?

Green responds:

The best thing you can do is be very direct and explicit about your expectations and what she needs to do differently: "Jane, I count on you to be here reliably for your regularly scheduled shifts. It's fine to request time off on occasion, but that should be rare, not multiple times each month. It sounds like you're proposing that you miss more than half your shifts in July. If there's something unusual going on that you need help accommodating (you're saying this in case she's dealing with, for example, a family health crisis), please let me know, but otherwise I really do need you to be here reliably on those days and going forward. Is that something that you can do? I'd need to see sustained reliable attendance from you before we could consider a raise."

If she'd also need to raise her performance to a higher level before you'd consider a raise, note that here as well (so that you're not implying that reliable attendance alone would be enough).

2. My boss praises my work but won't let me lead projects

I know that I'm a valued employee, because I always get the highest annual raise in my group plus a bonus every year. My manager has told me on many occasions that I'm the most reliable employee they have.

But, in the past two years, it seems every time we have a new project, it always goes to a co-worker. I've mentioned every time we have a one-on-one that I would like an opportunity to lead from the start. I've had to clean up too many times when a project goes off the rails. At this point, if I weren't paid as well as I am, I would think that they were trying to force me out.

I hope for some enlightenment on this. It seems that the only people getting opportunities are the ones who complain or threaten to quit. I'm not that type of person and have no desire to become that way. I'm starting to think about leaving, but would first like to find a way to stay without threats.

Green responds:

Why not ask your manager directly? I'd say this: "As you know, I'm very interested in leading a new project the next time one comes up. But since we've talked about this many times and it hasn't happened, I'm wondering if you can give me feedback on what I can do to make that happen. Do you have concerns about my performance or other things I could address to make you comfortable giving me a project to lead?" If your boss assures you that she doesn't have any concerns about you, then say, "Could we plan, then, on making sure I have the opportunity to lead something in the next quarter (or insert whatever timeline is reasonable here)?"

If it continues to not happen after that, your choices would be to (a) go back and ask more directly what you're missing about the situation, or (b) accept that for whatever mysterious reason, your boss isn't going to give you projects to lead -- and decide if you want to stay, knowing that.

3. My former manager wants me to host a product party for her

My former supervisor has been extremely helpful as a reference for me numerous times, and I feel indebted to her to some degree for that. Perhaps she is aware of that too.

Apparently, she is "starting a business" and wants me to invite my friends, family, and whomever to my house and host a "party" for her to build clientele who would be willing to buy overpriced costume jewelry. She says I would get a lot of free jewelry out of it. I quickly picked up that this is one of those pyramid schemes that preys on vulnerable, low-information women. A quick internet search confirmed my suspicions. Furthermore, numerous reviews online confirmed the actual jewelry is garbage; my friend told me she bought a $99 watch from them that broke the first time she wore it.

I told her I will see if I can get any interest from people I know to come to the party and get back to her. Even if I agree to host, I am honestly not sure that I know enough people in my area, much less with expendable income and who would be interested in something like this. Should I agree to this and try to get people in? I really don't like the idea of making people feel pressured to buy things, particularly friends or family.

Green responds:

Noooooo. She's trying to ensnare you in a multilevel marketing scheme, to help her promote a product that you know is bad, and that will annoy your friends and family in the process. Under no circumstances should you do that! You don't owe her for being a reference for you; that's a normal part of what managers do for good employees. (I mean, sure, you owe her normal professional courtesies, like taking her calls and congratulating her on professional successes and so forth, but a good reference does not obligate you to do something that makes you uncomfortable.)

Tell her that you decided it's not your thing and you're not interested in hosting. And stand firm if she pushes back.

4. Should I offer to take on the cleaning work for my office for extra pay?

I have a full-time job working in an office doing graphic design. The company hires a cleaning company, which comes once a week on the weekends when the office is closed. They do an unsatisfactory job, and oftentimes I end up cleaning my own station, taking trash out to the dumpsters, wiping down the kitchen, etc. Last week, they didn't even show up!

Since I am currently looking for a part-time job (in addition to my full-time job), I thought about asking my boss if I could take on the cleaning responsibilities. I have a feeling he might quickly say no, so I thought it would be a better idea to write him an email, stating my case in hopes that he will at least think it over and consider me for the position. Any advice on how to ask this?

Green responds:

I wouldn't. Offering to take on the cleaning work in addition to your regular work comes with the risk that it will (unfairly) devalue your design work to the company, or even that they'll come to expect you to do cleaning or other janitorial work for your regular salary as part of your regular job. Seek part-time work outside your company so that you're not mixing the two.

5. Why can't I know what my disciplinary meeting will be about?

When asked to attend a disciplinary meeting, do I have a right to know what I did or didn't do before it? When I asked what the discipline action is about, I was told to come to the meeting to find out.

Green responds:

I'm a big fan of not leaving people in suspense over this kind of thing; it just builds anxiety and stress. Plus, giving people a chance to process what's going on and gather their thoughts beforehand can often lead to a more productive conversation than just springing something on them.

That said, you asked and they're apparently not telling you until the meeting, so you have to accept that. There's no right to get information beforehand; that's up to your employer.
 

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