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 questions from readers.
1. Will my employee be demoralized by a co-worker's promotion?
I'm newly the manager of a small group of three people. One of my first acts will be to promote someone in our group--let's call her Sarah--who is overdue for recognition of the truly outstanding work she does for our organization. One of my other reports, Diane, currently shares the same title as Sarah and has been at the company far longer but won't be receiving a promotion now (or at any point, unless her contributions change considerably). Diane does a lot that's great but only in particular areas--she is inconsistent, and at times incompetent at others. Nonetheless, she is valued for the number of things she does do very well.
What is the proper etiquette in this situation? Should managers tell other reports that one of their colleagues will be receiving a promotion before the announcement goes out companywide? I anticipate that Diane will feel demoralized at this news, something that I'd like to address if I can, because one of the things that hinders her work is a recurring sense of discouragement and disengagement when things don't go well. Should I tell her in a matter-of-fact way about Sarah before she hears along with everyone else? If I think she has mixed feelings about it, should I find a tactful way to raise that with her? Or should I just be business-as-usual and stop trying to anticipate possible reactions?
I don't think you have to tell Diane ahead of time--unless she had applied for the same promotion, in which case, yes, you'd want to let her know before the rest of the company. But if your sense of Diane is that it will go over better if she gets a heads-up earlier, then sure, that's fine to do. Just keep it matter-of-fact and avoid any tone of "you're a delicate flower who needs special handling," since that risks being insulting to Diane's professionalism (and also potentially introduces a problem that wouldn't otherwise have been there).
If Diane seems demoralized, address that head-on by talking to her about whether she's interested in earning a promotion herself at some point and specifically what she'd need to work on and do differently to be eligible for one. And, regardless of this situation, make sure that you're giving her direct feedback about the inconsistency in her work and how it's holding her back.
2. Will connecting on LinkedIn make my staff realize how young I am?
I'm 24, and as a young manager I've made a point not to tell my employees my age. Up until this point, I think it's been beneficial, but I now have employees requesting to connect on LinkedIn. I wouldn't mind connecting if I could restrict information related to schooling and internships, but there isn't a function for this. What would you suggest? Should I accept the request and show all my information? Should I change my entire profile, removing internships and school years? Or do I not accept the request?
Well, it's probably not like they think you're 40 and this will unmask you. They know you're relatively young. And even if you don't connect on LinkedIn, they can probably already see the relevant dates anyway if they look at your profile.
You presumably have your role for a reason, so I say own it. You're a young manager. If someone has an issue with that that gets in the way of work, you need to address it like anything else that gets in the way of work. But I'd say to trust your staff (and your own management behaviors) to be able to handle the information.
3. What to do about applications that want me to share something unique about myself?
I've been filling out a lot of online applications, and many include a question asking me to tell them something unique about myself that will catch their eye/make them remember me. I'm totally a weirdo and there are lots of things that are unique about me I could put, except I don't think any of them are suitable for job applications.
I just don't understand what sort of unique things they are looking for. Places I've been? Position-related accomplishments? Belief in ghosts? This has been a real roadblock for me in filling out applications.
Ugh, I don't like it either. Plenty of what makes people unique is totally irrelevant to their job qualifications. They should be asking you to talk about why you'd excel at the role. I'd actually modify the question in your head to something more along those lines: "What makes you stand out as a candidate for this job? What about you is unusually well-matched with the role?"
Of course, if they're looking for some wacky expression of personality utterly unrelated to work, then that won't help you. Personally, I wouldn't mind screening those companies out by providing an answer more along the lines of what I suggest above, but if you do mind that, then I'm of no help.
4. Our intern sounds unprofessional
I'm a recent graduate working as a clinical social worker at a program with people with dual diagnosis. They can be a "tough crowd" sometimes, as many are referred from the prisons or probation, so a professional demeanor is especially important. While it is technically my boss's job to supervise all of our interns, it has fallen on me and another co-worker to train them and give them feedback. One of the interns comes across as very young. She speaks in a very childish manner, says "umm" and "like" excessively, uses "up-talk," giggles a lot, etc. The clients do not respect her at all and it will not help her to move forward in her career. When she gets her first paid job, she needs to come across as a professional.
First, should I address this issue? I could bring it up to my boss, but knowing her style, she will never broach the topic (partially due to avoidance, and partially because she sets the bar way too low for interns who will be entering the professional world in six months). If I should address it, how can I do this without hurting her feelings? I know it shouldn't matter, but she seems very fragile and has never worked at all, so I'm guessing she has only experienced praise, especially with her "cute" demeanor.
Yes, please say something! You say that it's fallen to you to give her feedback, and this is absolutely something worthy of giving feedback on--especially for interns, where part of the point of an internship is to learn about professional norms and work habits.
Try something like this: "I've noticed that you sometimes use speech patterns that make you sound less serious than you are--things like X, Y, and Z. I know from working with you that you're smart and thoughtful, but when you talk like that, it will make people take you less seriously and can get in the way of your ability to be effective. That's actually true in any professional environment, but it's doubly true with the populations we work with, where having a professional demeanor is especially important."
If your tone is "I think you're great and I want to see you succeed," it'll probably be easier for her to hear. And if you can throw in a side of "I know this switch can be hard to make when you're at the start of your career," that will help too.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to email@example.com