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“I’m not allowed to share food if I don’t bring enough for everyone, flying back from a business trip for a funeral, and more” plus 3 more Ask a Manager


“I’m not allowed to share food if I don’t bring enough for everyone, flying back from a business trip for a funeral, and more” plus 3 more Ask a Manager

I’m not allowed to share food if I don’t bring enough for everyone, flying back from a business trip for a funeral, and more

Posted: 09 Nov 2016 09:03 PM PST

It's five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Should my company pay to fly me back from a business trip for a family funeral?

I work for a small IT company based out of Ohio, where I live. My company flew me to California for a two-week business trip. This morning my grandmother passed away. I need to fly back to Ohio for the funeral this weekend, and then back to California to finish the job. Shouldn’t my company pay for this flight, or am I crazy?

Good companies would pay for the flights. It's an expense that you're incurring because of work; after all, if you weren't on a trip for work, you'd already be at home and none of this would be necessary. They're not legally required to pay the cost, but they should — both ethically and practically, and also because refusing to is a really good way to alienate and demoralize an employee.

2. I'm not allowed to bring in food to share if I don't bring enough for everyone

For over 10 years, I’ve prepared lunches and set up a table with food to share with my shift. Everyone is happy! I sent a batch of cookies with my husband, telling him to make sure three people got some for sure and that I didn’t care who had the rest. A person or two who didn’t get some of whatever I brought complained to HR that they felt excluded. I was shocked that they would do that. Moreover, I was shocked that management would intervene. They said if I couldn’t make enough to feed everyone, I wasn’t allowed to bring food in.

There are no rules on this in the handbook, but other departments bring in food for their department. The supervisor who told me that was carrying out a dish at the end of the day. I asked had he brought enough for everyone, and he was very angry. That is discrimination, is it not?

Not in the legal sense, no. Illegal discrimination must be based on race, sex, religion, disability, or another protected class; simply treating people differently when those elements aren't a factor isn't illegal.

Assuming that you are working with adults and not children, it's pretty silly of your company to try to manage who you bring in food for. And it's incredibly silly that some of your coworkers complained to HR (!) about not getting the food. But your company does indeed have the right to do silly things like this if they want to.

3. Do I need to step up my work outfits?

I work for a tech startup that’s still pretty young, and other than the founders I have been here the longest. When we started building the company two years ago, it was impressed upon me that unless we’re meeting a client, we could dress casually to come into the office. My normal outfit is a sundress and cardigan, or jeans and sneakers when it’s cold, though I dress very nicely when meeting clients.

However, in the last few months we’ve gotten a new CEO who is always wearing a suit, and my own team has expanded to include some new hires who 1. are all middle-aged men, and 2. also dress in suits (in contrast, I’m 26 and female). When it was just me and the tech team, I fit in, but now with my own team I really stand out.

Am I hurting my credibility by continuing to dress casually when the rest of my team does not? I’m not officially the manager of this group, but due to seniority and expertise I am being treated as such. I’d love to keep dressing comfortably (I work long hours and have a long subway commute), but should I care more about matching the rest of the team in terms of dress?

Maybe? It's hard to say without knowing more. It's definitely possible that the culture of your company has changed since you were hired, particularly with the arrival of the new CEO, and that expectations around dress are changing (if not formally, then informally in terms of the impression you might be making by dressing more casually). But it's also possible that that's not the case, despite what these newer arrivals are wearing.

If you're standing out as the most casual on your own team, the safest thing would be to assume that yeah, you do need to go more formal. But given that it's not 100% clear, the other option would be to talk to someone internal who's well-positioned to advise you on this — like your own boss or someone else senior to you who tends to have a good read on your company's politics.

4. Does job performance not matter that much?

We recently had a career development forum at my office in which we were shown the PIE model (essentially your career success is based on 10% Performance, 30% Image and 60% Exposure). The majority of the audience were people about 3-4 years into their careers, though I’ve been there longer. The model has created a great amount of discussion and discontent in light of the fact that it discounts job performance for a bunch of relatively newer hires. My understanding was at this point in your career, you should focus on doing your job and doing it well, but the PIE model seems to say your work isn’t as important as networking. I feel that if your performance only accounts for 10%, there may be something wrong with management. What are your thoughts?

Wow. Your company is seriously messed up if they thought it was a good idea to tell employees that their actual work performance barely matters. Even if it were true (which it's not), why on earth would they want to convey that message?

Anyway, nooooo, that does not line up with any reality I've ever seen. Performance matters hugely. Image and exposure aren't nothing, but they're far from the biggest pieces of the pie. This sounds like yet another crappy gimmick being pitched by the career development industry, which is always looking for new concepts to sell whether they're needed or not — and whether they're terrible or not. Shame on your company for buying into it.

5. I missed a job interview because my Uber didn't show up

Yesterday I was supposed to have an interview at this big company for a position I lack experience for. The manager emailed me about seeing my resume on some site and said she would like to interview me. The day of the interview, I was ready to go and an hour before the interview I decided to get an Uber. But the car didn’t show up, and 10 minutes before the time of the interview I called the manager to apologize and ask for more time (30 minutes) and she agreed. I tried another Uber, but I was blocked/blacklisted and I had no means of alternative transport.

My mentor contacted me as I was panicking, and he offered to call the employer on my behalf as I was ready to cancel the whole thing altogether. They agreed to a later time, but the manager said it is not impressive at all and indicates that I feel the post is above me. How do I handle the interview, as it is in three days time?

I'd be very, very wary of taking a job with someone who barely knows you and already feels free to criticize you. Really, if she finds it that unimpressive, she should just cancel the interview. It's like agreeing to a date with someone but telling them that you think they're an ass — it's rude and it raises the question of why she's bothering. In this context, it means it's highly likely that you'd be signing on to work with an jerk.

Of course, that all assumes that she made these remarks to you. If she actually said it to your mentor and he passed it on to you, that's different, since she presumably assumed she was speaking to him in confidence. I'm not clear on what his role is in all this — does he know her? — but that's something to factor in.

I'm not allowed to share food if I don't bring enough for everyone, flying back from a business trip for a funeral, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

you can’t be held hostage to a bad employee

Posted: 09 Nov 2016 10:59 AM PST

A reader writes:

I belong to a small country church of the type where people’s families have attended for generations. One of our members has acted as secretary for over 20 years. A few years ago, we hired a new pastor and this secretary does not like him. She’s always been a prickly person to work with, frequently overstepping her professional boundaries because of her family connections. However, over the past few years her unprofessional attitude has started affecting the rest of the members, as well as outside groups.

She has flat-out refused to embrace and use new technology which would allow her to adapt to her changing job, and her work quality has gotten worse over time. Today in a meeting about an upcoming fundraiser, she showed up and publicly accused the pastor of misappropriating some of the funds in the budget. The finance committee assured her that the pastor’s compensation was correct and in line with the standards used by the governing board of our denomination and she spoke over them, asking "Oh, so we have to do what they say?” It’s like she’s forgotten that she’s an employee and the committee members and governing board are her bosses.

Apparently she’s been name-calling and losing her temper with the pastor’s wife in private, calling the pastor’s wife a “loser” and yelling at the pastor for wearing jeans to the office on Saturdays. She’s also been making decisions that are none of her business, such as whether or not outside groups can use the facilities, or who can contribute which items and talents at which church events. She’s been mean and bullying to other church members in general, and has been a poor representative of the church these past few years.

I’m curious as to how you would approach this situation. On one hand, she is a church member and is entitled to ask questions about the budget. On the other, she’s an employee, and should know that the best way to bring up legitimate concerns isn’t by shouting them at a public meeting, but by going to the elders and raising those concerns quietly. Once those concerns were addressed, she should have respected their findings. It seems that the main trouble is that she’s threatening to leave in a huff and take her family and friends with her. In our small church, that will actually have an impact.

I feel that this has become a conflict of interest. If she doesn’t respect the pastor and believes he’s involved in wrongdoing despite being proved otherwise, she can’t be working as his assistant. I’m of the mind that the elders should tell her that her concerns are welcome as a church member but that she’s no longer welcome to stay on as an employee, as she has not been properly performing her job duties. I also feel that once she’s gone and not stirring up trouble, we’ll attract more people because we won’t have someone so off-putting acting as front for the church.

How would you approach this situation?

Yep, yep, yep, totally agree with you. The only thing I'd tweak is that because there's an audience for this decision (other church members), it would be wise to give her a final warning before firing her — they should clearly lay out how they expect her to operate in her job and what behavior is unacceptable and can't continue, and should clearly state that if the issues aren't immediately resolved, they'll need to let her go. It sounds like it's probably a lost cause and she isn't likely to suddenly start performing at the level needed, but by giving her a warning and a final chance, they'll be able to tell church members who ask about the situation that they did those things.

And I'm saying "they" here rather than suggesting that all of this come from her boss, because it sounds like this is an environment where she needs to hear it from the board (elders?). Normally this is something that her boss should handle with her one-on-one — and it would even be undermining to suggest that it be dealt with by a committee instead — but most churches aren't typical work environments in that respect. (But if I'm wrong about your church and it would be appropriate and effective to just have the pastor do it — and if the elders will back him up if the secretary tries to take it over his head — then that's the better way to do it.)

But here's the big thing that I want people to take away from your letter: You cannot let yourself be held hostage to a bad employee.

I regularly hear managers say "we have a terrible employee who is causing problems like X, Y, and Z but we can't fire her because it'll cause upheaval on the staff / she's connected to a VIP who we have to keep happy / no one else knows how to do her very crucial job / she has too much institutional knowledge / she'll badmouth us in the community / etc." As soon as you hear yourself saying that you can't fire a bad employee because of Reasons, that's a flag that you have a huge problem on your hands and that you need to immediately and actively start working to change the situation. You have to find a way to be okay with firing bad employees; you can't let your organization be hostage to a destructive force.

And really, the reasons that people feel "held hostage" are generally pretty bad ones. If you won't let someone go because no one knows how to do her job, what are you going to do when she resigns one day? Or has a serious health issue that takes her away from work for a few months? Or makes demands that you just can't meet? Or, if you won't let someone go because she'll trash-talk you in important communities, why are you entrusting knowledge of the inner workings of your organization to someone who you believe would basically act as an enemy if given the opportunity? And are you really willing to give this person what amounts to the power to make any demand on you that she wants?

If you find yourself feeling hostage to a bad employee, you can't just shrug your shoulders and figure that you have to deal with it. You have to actively work to free yourself and your organization from that trap. Sometimes that means short-term pain (like a VIP is upset with you — although often that can be cleared up by a straightforward account of what happened). But 99% of the time, dealing with that short-term pain is going to save you far more pain over the long-term.

you can’t be held hostage to a bad employee was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

when an employee flirts with the boss

Posted: 09 Nov 2016 09:30 AM PST

A reader writes:

My friend was recently promoted from chief accountant at one hotel to assistant director of finance of another hotel managed by her company. She’s been at the new hotel for about a month now, and the A/R manager — who reports to her — has gotten a little too comfortable with her. He’s begun making comments that are becoming increasingly sexual in nature. It began with remarks about how her boyfriend is “so lucky to be with her” and has grown to the level of what she describes as “increasingly explicit, sexually suggestive double entendres.”

Besides the sexual innuendos, she says that he’s an excellent worker — the best on her team — so she wants to give him a chance to change his behavior before reporting it to her manager or HR. To give some context as to why he might be acting less professionally with her than he might under different circumstances, she has a firm but casual management style and can sometimes blur the line between friend and manager. (She was my manager for about two years, so I speak from experience.) Aside from that, both he and her predecessor reported to the director of finance previously, so he’s used to being on somewhat equal footing with the person in her position. They’re also both fairly young: he is 26 and she’s 27. (Again, I’m just putting the behavior into context, not trying to excuse it — it’s clearly disrespectful and inappropriate.)

How can she clearly communicate that the behavior needs to stop?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I'm revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

when an employee flirts with the boss was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

our CEO forgets she approved things and then freaks out on us about it

Posted: 09 Nov 2016 07:59 AM PST

A reader writes:

I need help managing a forgetful and volatile CEO. I am in a management position in a small company (fewer than 15 people). The CEO insists on approving every aspect of an ongoing, monthly project before anyone begins work on it. While this level of engagement isn’t necessary (and can be detrimental to our final product), I understand that as CEO, it is her prerogative.

While this song and dance can be frustrating, it is manageable. What is not manageable is that once she approves something, she will often forget that she has done so and, a few weeks later, go ballistic about people doing things behind her back and without her permission. What’s worse is that even if we have her approval in writing (think signed paperwork or an email trail), she will insist it never happened, despite having the proof right in front of her. In fact, showing her a signature of approval will often lead to worse outbursts.

Do you or your readers have any experience with this type of situation? I’d love to hear suggestions on how to manage acquiring approvals in a way that is clear, concrete, and doesn’t leave room for screaming outbursts.

Step #1: Work for someone reasonable.

Look, managers forget things. Sometimes a lot. It's a natural result when you're juggling a zillion different things and aren’t the person charged with remembering the details of all of them. But that means that you need to lean on your staff to remind you of context and decisions.

Insisting that those conversations never happened once you've been reminded of them — in the face of written proof, no less! — is a level of lunacy that goes well beyond "slightly annoying manager" or even "moderately annoying manager." It's pathological.

So your issue isn't really that your CEO is forgetful. It's that she's truly crazy.

None of the normal things that work with someone who's merely forgetful will work here. In fact, when you attempt to remind her of context or show her signatures — the usual thing you'd want to do in this situation — she gets more volatile.

You can't fix that. You can't really work around it either, other than just knowing that it's going to happen and assuming that you're going to be the target of her rages.

If you're really committed to giving it one more shot, you could try saying this to her (at a time when she's calm and in a good mood): "I've noticed that we've been miscommunicating about approvals. Several times recently, I've thought that we had your approval on something, including signatures on paperwork, and moved forward with it, but then it turned out later that you didn't want us to. I definitely don't want to move projects forward if you're not fully on board, so is there a better system I could be using?" The keys in this conversation will be (a) avoiding blaming her and instead making it sound like you think there's something wrong with your system, and (b) finding ways to give her the benefit of the doubt (for example, with the signatures, approaching it as if she just has to sign so many things that of course this confusion is an understandable result). To be clear, this is BS and you shouldn't have to do it, but if there's a chance of success here, it lies this way.

But really, she's fundamentally not able to fill the role she needs to fill, and her temperament is crap. You’ll likely need to accept that this is part of the package of working there if you want to stay.

our CEO forgets she approved things and then freaks out on us about it was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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