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“being asked to watch a manager’s kid, letting a struggling employee work from home, and more” plus 3 more Ask a Manager

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“being asked to watch a manager’s kid, letting a struggling employee work from home, and more” plus 3 more Ask a Manager


being asked to watch a manager’s kid, letting a struggling employee work from home, and more

Posted: 09 Jan 2017 09:03 PM PST

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

1. Being asked to watch a senior manager's kid

I'm writing on behalf of a coworker. A senior manager — not her boss — brings his 10-year-old daughter to the office on days when her school is closed (summertime, holidays, etc.) and he always asks her to let his daughter sit in her office so she can watch her. She is usually super busy and has to put her work on hold to entertain her. He even made a comment about my coworker being his daughter's "nanny." She was really upset by the comment but didn't say anything to him. What should she do?

Ooof, the nanny comment is really obnoxious.

But … she's saying yes when she needs to say no. The next time he asks her to let his daughter sit in her office, she should say, "Sorry, I'm swamped today and need all my focus." If he tries pushing back (like saying that she just needs a space to sit in), she should hold firm: "Sorry, I really can't!"

I assume she's been saying yes because she didn't feel like she had a real choice — but unless her office is incredibly dysfunctional (like far more than the usual amount of dysfunction), she really can say no, and she needs to.

2. Letting a struggling employee work from home

I am a youngish manager who was recently promoted to the head of department in a dysfunctional company. The company has gone through a lot of changes in recent years, that led to my being promoted from Assistant all the way up to head of my department (probably too quickly, but that’s a story for another time). During that, one of my coworkers has gone from being above me, to at the same level as me, to now my direct report.

This person is wonderful, but struggles in her role. She also has substantial personal life responsibilities (think: ailing parent who need substantial care). She’s recently asked me if she can start working from home one day a week to allow her to take care of her father. The problem is that our department is already stretched thin, and on days when people work from home, we tend to get about 75% productivity.

In an ideal world, I would be able to talk to the head of the company or an HR person about this, but unfortunately our HR department is non-existent and I don’t feel like anyone else could provide adequate guidance.

How do I both make space for this employee to take care of her life, while also setting reasonable guidelines?

The most direct way to do it is to agree with her on what she'll get accomplished (and if necessary, to what standard) each month (or week or quarter, depending on what time period makes the most sense for her job and the level she's at), and then hold her to that. If you worry that she won't come through on what you agree to, then you check in very, very early on so that you catch it early and can course-correct if needed.

However, if she's already struggling, I'd be hesitant to okay her working from home 20% of the time. But if you want to give her a chance to show it can work, you could tell her that you'll try it for a few weeks as an experiment but that if she doesn't meet the performance benchmarks you lay out, you won't be able to continue it long-term.

It sounds like you also need to do something similar with your other staff members. It's not acceptable to get 75% productivity on work-from-home days. You need to either hold people more accountable or rescind their work-from-home arrangements. Continuing the status quo shouldn't be an option (in any situation, but especially one where your department is already stretched thin).

3. My manager calls us pet names

I have a manager who constantly calls me and other employees cute pet names like "chickadee," "babe," "hon," etc. I’ll note while this is not a white-collar, office environment kind of workplace, I find it really irksome and patronizing, and just overall unprofessional. The only person who can call me "sweetie” is my grandma. What I also find, too, is that while our workplace is predominantly female, I’ve never heard her call any of the men on the team any of these pet names.

We do have a work environment that always promotes feedback at all levels, but do you think I would be out of line to bring this up with my manager that I really dislike this? It makes my skin crawl every time it happens. Maybe I’m being over sensitive, but I’ve worked in more professional environments where this behaviour would be unheard of. While I’m sure she means well, I always get this weird sense of her NOT being genuine with these cutesy names.

Say this: "Jane, I actually prefer to be called by my name rather than 'babe,' 'hun,' or other nicknames. Thanks for understanding!"

If she's someone who you've noticed tends to need delicate handling, you could try the old "it's not you, it's me" method of asking for a behavior change: "I have a weird thing about nicknames — I just don't like them and never have. Can you stick to calling me Lucinda? Thank you."

4. Sending flowers after a boss's holiday party

Last month, the head of my office invited all 15 of us to his family’s annual Christmas party at their home. It’s quite a formal occasion with a cocktail dress code and they’re a well-connected family so there were various politicians, CEOs, and so on attending. My coworkers and I made up perhaps 10% of the total guests.

The following day I sent flowers and a thank-you note saying what a nice time we had all had in their lovely home, etc., as I would do for similar events I go to. I addressed the note to “the Pumpernickel family” to try and minimize the appearance of gifting up, and my boss and his wife (who I already know as a vague social acquaintance) both sent me very nice responses back.

This happened to come up this week with some coworkers at the same, quite junior job level as me. They thought it looked like ass-kissing or brown-nosing and that it was generally a bit weird to send flowers to our boss. What do you think? In this case, should I have followed workplace gifting guidelines instead of social manners guidelines? Should I have stuck to a card with no flowers? Addressed them to his wife only? I’d love to know what you think is most appropriate for this situation.

Sending flowers and a card was a very gracious gesture, and you didn't do anything wrong. It wasn't a necessary gesture, but it was a lovely one to make, since they did host you in their home. A card on its own also would have been just fine. (Definitely don't do the addressing-the-wife-only thing since that's a sexist vestige of another time, and your connection to your boss is the reason you were there.)

Your coworkers are off-base in saying this was weird. It was not.

5. Saying "I" versus "we" in job interviews

I have a habit of saying “we” when what I really mean is “I,” particularly when discussing the actions and accomplishments of my team, which I lead. For example, “We put together this report,” when really I was the only one who worked on it. I think that when I use this language in front of other units or outside partners, it shows that everyone on my team is a valued contributor to our successes and that collaboration is more important than individual ego.

However, I recently started applying for other jobs and cannot break this habit in interviews. What is your take on how this makes a candidate look? Do you think it shows that a candidate is a team player, or do you think it makes a candidate look as though they don’t actually have any individual accomplishments and are just lucky to be part of a high-performing team?

Yeah, this can be a problem in interviews, since your interviewer needs to know what your role was. Some use of "we" is generally appropriate, but you've got to make sure that you're also being specific about your role and your contributions.

Some context to know here is that some candidates use "we" in order make their role sound bigger than it actually was. In response to "we" statements, I’ve learned to ask, "So what was your role in that, specifically?" — at which point it often comes out that the person’s role was pretty minor compared to what their larger team achieved.

One exception to this is if you were the person managing the team. In that case, you get credit for what your team achieved and "we" generally works just fine.

being asked to watch a manager's kid, letting a struggling employee work from home, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

I got in a car accident because my company insisted I do an event in a remote town during a blizzard

Posted: 09 Jan 2017 10:59 AM PST

A reader writes:

I have a part-time job with a promo company sampling food or drinks at events/stores/wherever the brand being sampled pays us to go. The company is SUPER adamant that we do every shift we sign up for or find coverage on our own. My contract flat-out says that if I am in the hospital, they need to see the bill as proof.

Well, I had an event last night during the blizzard that hit my area. It was in this TINY remote town that you have to take back roads to get to. I talked to the store and my employer, but they would not cancel it.

Unsurprisingly, the event was a total bust — no one was coming into this store and I barely gave out any samples, let alone sold anything.

After the event, on my drive home, I hit a patch of black ice and went off the road into a telephone pole. I am okay – just some bumps, bruises, and scratches (my glasses broke). But I’m already feeling sore today and my car is definitely messed up.

I haven’t told my company what happened yet. They are not liable (I signed a form when I started) and that’s fine; I'm not in a lawyer-up-and-make-them-pay rage or anything. But I am really upset they had me do this event – with that location, it would have been a slow one in good weather, let alone bad.

I'm also upset because I know I will be required to find coverage for the shifts I signed up for in the upcoming weeks. I can't do them if I don't have a car.

How to I calmly approach all this with my manager? What do I say? How do I express how upset I am without sounding accusatory or rude? I know I’m likely to get emotional no matter what; it was a really stressful experience that I’m going to have to address again and again as I deal with the insurance claims and bills in the next few weeks.

Well, you could say something like this: "As you know, I suggested canceling last night's event because of the weather. Sure enough, almost no one came into the store, and I gave out maybe three samples and had no sales. More importantly, though, on my way home I hit a patch of black ice and went off the road into a telephone pole. My glasses broke and I'm bruised and scratched, and my car is in the shop with some serious damage. I'd like to suggest that we change our policy about how we handle events in bad weather. The damage to my car is going to cost a lot of money, and I could have been seriously injured. I'm worried something worse could happen next time, to me or to someone else. Could we take another look at our policy on this?"

That said … you're working for a company that tells you up-front that they won't take your word for it if you're in the hospital and that you'll have to provide them with written proof. So I don't have high hopes that they're super reasonable or that they'll be particularly responsive or compassionate.

It's certainly worth a shot though.

I got in a car accident because my company insisted I do an event in a remote town during a blizzard was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

are your emails annoying your coworkers?

Posted: 09 Jan 2017 09:30 AM PST

usnewsAre you someone who pours lengthy thoughts into email messages to your coworkers? Or do you treat email more like a telegram, keeping your messages as short as possible? Whatever your email style is, you probably think it's the right one … but you may be unknowingly annoying your colleagues and getting in the way of the results you want.

At U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about are eight of the most common ways people's email habits set their coworkers on edge — including being overly brusque, not being clear about what the recipient needs to do with the message, abusing the cc field, and more. You can read it here.

are your emails annoying your coworkers? was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

my employee argues and debates every little assignment and decision

Posted: 09 Jan 2017 07:59 AM PST

A reader writes:

I have a direct report who argues every change or new task that is assigned. Some of these are individual requests, but the majority are changes the entire team is being asked to comply with. She is always the first to vocalize that she will do it because she was asked, but she follows it up with an argument about how she feels some other team should be responsible for the task or complains that no other team is having to do it and says that she doesn't understand why we do.

She will do this in meetings in front of other team members, and I have had other team members approach me about how it is uncomfortable for them to have to listen to her argue every little thing. What advice do you have on how I can curb the meeting interruptions from these arguments, and on how I should approach her one-on-one about this issue?

Yeah, this can be exhausting — for you and for the other people who have to keep listening to it.

You don't want to discourage her from giving input when it's valuable, but it's also not practical to debate every small decision.

The way to address it is to name the issue, explain to her why it's a problem, tell her what you want her to do differently, and then hold her to that.

For example: "I don't know if you realize, but you push back on assignments and decisions really frequently — nearly every time there's a change or a new assignment. Pushing back this frequently takes up quite a bit of time and is becoming disruptive to the team. Going forward, if you have questions about how to do an assignment or how something will impact the rest of your work, please let me know — but I need you to stop pushing for another team to be responsible for our work, or debating why we have do something that another team doesn't. I need you to stay focused on the work at hand.”

Then, if she tries to do this in a meeting again, shut it down immediately. There are a few ways to do that, depending on the context: If it's truly a concern about how something will impact her own work, you can say, "Let's talk about that in our next one-on-one so that we don't get sidetracked here. Make a note to raise that with me at our next check-in." But if it's really just complaining, you can say something like, "I hear you that you don't like the decision, but this is the decision, so let's talk about how to implement it." (An important note on that: it's reasonable to say to a constant complainer, but you wouldn't want to make that your go-to line more generally, or you'll be too dismissive of people and will risk squelching useful input.)

And if it keeps happening after you've talked to her about it (meaning more than one slip-up after your talk with her), then you sit down with her again and have the "we talked about X / it's still happening / what's going on?" conversation that you'd have if your feedback on anything else was ignored. And if it continues after that, then you have a pretty serious performance problem on your hands — since at that point she’d be ignoring direct, repeated feedback — and you’d handle it the way you would any other.

my employee argues and debates every little assignment and decision was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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