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 round-up of answers to five questions from readers.
1. Reliable employee is suddenly making mistakes
I have an employee who has been working in payroll and purchasing for 2 years with little to no incidents. However, lately there has been a constant stream of mistakes; one in particular required deleting the whole payroll and rekeying it by hand. It is like this employee went home one day and came back the next day and forgot all the knowledge they had obtained. I have this person work from their manuals in order to avoid further incidence. Any suggestions on what on earth is going on?
Ask her! Say this: "I've noticed some changes in your work lately. You've normally been so detail-oriented and accurate, but lately the quality of your work has changed. Is there anything going on that might be causing this?" Ask this in a kind way, not an accusatory one; you want it to be safe for her to be candid with you. And if she's as baffled as you are, tell her that you're concerned for her and suggest that she talk to a doctor to rule out a medical cause.
2. My manager didn't tell me about an opening she knew I'd be interested in
I work as support staff at a college part time on a term-by-term contract basis. Last year, I met with my manager to discuss full-time opportunities in our department. She said there would be none, ever. In fact, she said she hoped my job would be obsolete within a few years. Now, 8 months later, I see an expired posting for my job with full time hours and pay. I feel stupid for not religiously checking the college's job listing page, but I was assuming the full-time job would never exist. Was she at all obligated to let me know of the opportunity?
Obligated, no. But it would have been nice of her to do so, and a good thing to do if she cares about developing people. Three possibilities here: (1) She isn't a great manager who thinks about her staff's professional development. (2) She's a fine manager who slipped up here because her focus was on other things. (3) She isn't hugely impressed with your performance, so isn't inclined to encourage you to apply for full-time work. I don't know which one it is, but now that it's clear that her prediction about never having full-time openings wasn't correct, you can certainly talk with her again about your future there.
3. I hit a car in the parking lot when I arrived for my interview
I totally bombed my interview I had yesterday. It was for a great job that I needed and was perfect for. It all started with my husband leaving me at the last minute with our son and having to drive him to the babysitters. I still got to the interview 10 minutes early, but as I was pulling into my parking spot my brakes stopped working and I tapped the bumper of the car next to me. I was panicking about my interview so I just parked my car next to her and ran in. ( I know, so stupid of me, I should have taken care of it before my interview.) Well, I was so overwhelmed with the car that I couldn't relax or focus on anything the interviewer was saying. I was so panicked about taking care of the car, and I was worried that someone saw and was going to tell her the second I walked out of her office.
After the interview was over, I went to the receptionist and told her what happened and asked her if she could find whose car it was. She said that they share the lot with two other buildings and that they didn't know whose car it was. I stayed in my car waiting for an hour and a half for this person to walk out and they didn't. So finally I left a note with all of my information on it with a phone number to reach me when they got the note. It's two days later and they still have not called me. I have given up all hope of getting this job, but I don't know how to make this right.
You did make it right! You left a note with your information, which is standard practice if you hit a car when the owner isn't around. The fact that they haven't called you probably means that you didn't do any damage. You said that you just tapped the bumper, which ... well, that's why we have bumpers. Relax and put this behind you.
4. Why do job applications ask about race and veteran status?
At the end of every online application, there is the section that asks the applicant about race/ethnicity and veteran status. I always feel wary of answering the questions feeling that my selection could eliminate me from an interview. Yet if I elect not to disclose, would it eliminate me from the interview process? Is this the case? Are these questions legal?
Yes. They're asking because companies with more than 100 employees and companies with government contracts over a certain dollar amount have to report the demographic makeup of their applicants and employees to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (in aggregate, not individually). Answering is voluntary, however; you can't be penalized for not answering. And it's illegal to use the information about race or ethnicity in a hiring decision (although it's legal to give veterans a preference in hiring).
5. Asking for a desk without fluorescent lights
I am a master's student set to graduate in the summer, and I have just begun my job search. I have problem where, if I am on a computer or reading for long periods at a time, I begin to have really bad headaches. Fluorescent lights make this much worse and symptoms occur quicker. Is it possible to ask potential employers for a desk that has natural light or lamps instead of the usual fluorescent lights? Do I mention this during the interview process or while negotiating a contract? I don't want to be asking for special treatment, but it is much easier for me to work with different light.
Don't bring this up during the interview process; that process is about deciding whether they want to hire you and whether you want to work for them; it's not about negotiating stuff like this. Instead, bring it up during the offer negotiation or once you've started work. If you have your own office, this is going to be very, very easy to deal with -- they'll either get you your own lamp or you can bring one in yourself. But it's going to be harder if you're in a cubicle environment, where there are fluorescent lights above a large group and you can't turn off yours without turning them off for everyone. So if your taking the job will hinge on whether they can do this, definitely bring it up before you accept an offer.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.