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. My employee wants flexible hours in a job that doesn’t allow it
I manage an employee who is a hard worker and great with our patrons. She is also a single mom, so I worked with her to create a customized schedule that would accommodate her parental responsibilities. However, she has interpreted my initial flexibility as flex scheduling and now she comes and goes whenever she pleases. The has created an issue with scheduling and coverage. When I explained that she would need to get permission to adjust her set schedule, she was taken aback. She feels that since she is a diligent, hardworking, and self-motivated employee, it shouldn’t matter when she is at work, as long as she gets the job done. But we do not have flex scheduling because it would be a nightmare to ensure we had adequate coverage, nd I cannot make an exception for her. Do you have any advice on how I can handle this issue?
You need to be direct with her: “We don’t have flex scheduling here because of Reason X and Reason Y. I’m able to work with you to customize your schedule, as we’ve done, but I need you to stick to the hours we’ve agreed to. Are you able to do that with the schedule we’ve created, or do we need to revisit it and find one that you can do reliably?”
If she pushes back, say this: “You’re right that you do great work, but because of our coverage needs we don’t have flexible schedules. I need you to stick to one schedule. We can change it from what it is currently, but whatever we settle on, those are the hours I need you to work. This is a requirement of the job and it’s not something I can change. If it doesn’t work for you, let’s figure out where to go from here. Is the schedule we negotiated something you can still commit to?”
If the problem continues after that, you can safely conclude that her scheduling needs and the job’s requirements aren’t the right match.
2. Our employees are apathetic about our company-wide meetings
My management team and I like to do a monthly company-wide meeting to show everybody the progress on current projects, as a way of keeping everyone in touch with the direction the office is going (it’s doing very well). The meetings aren’t long, 30 minutes tops, but it seems like people are apathetic and have to be cajoled to leave their desks.
From what I’ve heard, people just want to do their work and this is “just a job, after all.” I want to grab them all by the shoulders and shake them! Don’t they realize how lucky they are to work in a place that cares about their well-being, where everybody goes home at 6 (unheard of in our industry)? I’d expect our team to be passionate about their work, but does that passion only thrive in stressful environments? I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on staff engagement.
Lots of people hate meetings and find them inefficient and a bad use of their time, so the fact that people aren’t thrilled about attending isn’t terribly unusual.
How’s their work? If their work is excellent and the company is getting the results it wants, then you’re probably creating an issue where there isn’t one. Are there specific problems that you’re seeing that are caused by their lack of engagement with the sorts of topics discussed at these meetings? If so, you’d want to figure out what’s at the root of that — but focus on specific impacts, not just the fact that people don’t want to leave their desks.
And if it turns out that there really is an engagement problem, that’s on the company to solve. If you look at it as “don’t these people realize how good they have it?” or “I want to shake them by the shoulders,” that’s putting the blame in the wrong place. Rather, it’s that the company has messed up somewhere — in management, in hiring, in coaching, in communication, or whatever it may be — and needs to figure out out where and address it.
3. I’m nervous about managing a smart intern
I’ve agreed to take on a college student as an intern this semester. The guidelines I got from her school’s program were to make half the experience valuable to her and half valuable to us (i.e. have her do some real work).
After reviewing her application materials, it’s obvious that she is much smarter than me, at least from a classwork standpoint. She has studied things I’ve only thought about. I’m a bit nervous about how to approach this internship. I really want it to be a good one for the student and the team!
She may or may not be smarter than you (although the fact that she’s studied subjects you haven’t studied doesn’t indicate that!), but you have work experience that she doesn’t have, and that’s what’s most relevant when she’s interning with you.
When she starts, talk to her about what she’s hoping to gain from the internship, and then think about ways you/your organization might be able to provide that. That could include anything from particular types of projects to sitting in on relevant meetings to connecting her with people who do the type of work she’s interested in.
But really, she’s interning because she wants work experience and she wants to learn. It’s very unlikely that she’s going to be thinking about who’s smarter than who (and if she did, that would be a weird posture for an intern to take).
4. What should I say about a shady former colleague?
I used to work with someone I’ll call Sally. Sally and I were in the same department and both left to go into business for ourselves (separately). There are not a lot of people doing this work in our city, so we end up competing for business often.
Sally was not just a bad employee, she was an unethical one who probably broke actual laws or at least came close. For years, when prospective clients would contact our team, Sally would persuade them to work with her directly, outside of the company (this was not allowed by any means). To make it worse, after she left, she attempted to bribe other employees to export the entire client list so she could try and take the business away (a clear violation of confidentiality agreements we all signed).
Now when I’m discussing business with potential clients, I often get asked about Sally. I get asked if I ever worked with her, what I thought of her work abilities, etc. What do I say? If I pretend I don’t know her, I’m lying. If I say I know her but have no criticism, I may be leading a company to do business with a crook. If I spill the beans, I don’t know if I’d face potential blowback in our small field.
At a minimum you could go with something like, “We have very different working styles.” That’s professional and discreet but also signals that you aren’t a huge fan.
Another option is, “We used to work together at Company X. I feel uneasy getting into the details, but you might check with them for a fuller picture.”
To be clear, this would be different if she weren’t your competitor. If you were, say, an employee of a company that was considered hiring her, you should be more candid. But in your situation, you don’t want to appear to just be trash-talking a competitor, which is an argument for giving them enough to know there are issues to dig into without getting into every detail.
5. Should we refund vacation days if the office closes for weather?
Recently, I had an employee who came into me and said:, “I know that I had a pre-approved day off last Tuesday but you ended up closing the office due to weather, I get my vacation day back, don’t I?” Is this true? This is a salaried employee. What is the ruling? If this person put in for the day and had it approved already, they still had the day off as requested. Yet I can see where the employee feels that they shouldn’t have to “waste” their vacation day since we did end up closing. What is the right answer?
This up to your own internal policy, and different companies do it differently. I’m a fan of agreeing not to charge the person’s time off, because I don’t think it’s fair to make someone use vacation time for a day that ended up not being a work day anyway. The argument for doing it the other way is that she got the benefit of being able to plan around having that day off, while no one else did. But really, what is the cost of not charging her vacation time on a day she wouldn’t have been working anyway? There’s no extra cost to you (as you’re paying everyone for a day they didn’t work that day), and when you compare that to the morale cost of being rigid on this, I vote for refunding her vacation day.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.