Here’s a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.
1. My employees won the lottery but now want their jobs back
I’m a divisional manager. I manage several smaller teams and report to the manager of our entire department. Several years ago (before I worked here), one of the teams won the lottery as a group. The entire team played except for Mary. Mary was invited to play but chose not to. After the win, everyone quit, including the manager.
In the years since the win, Mary has moved up to team manager. The lottery money has been a problem for her former team members and manager. One died from an overdose and another is in prison.
Our department is expanding, and some of Mary’s former team have applied to work here, citing financial issues and the need for an income. The departmental manager, Jon, has said he wants all of them to work on Mary’s team. Mary and I both think this is a bad idea. Mary thinks her old team will be bitter about having to come back to work and to have her as manager (when they left, she was entry-level and the most junior person on the team). A few of them have publicly expressed bitterness and regret about spending all the money and needing to work again. There are spots on other teams they would be qualified for, but the spots on all the teams are entry-level only. Jon said he doesn’t think that Mary managing some of her old team members will cause conflict, but Mary and I both disagree. Do you have any idea how I can approach Jon with these concerns?
Mary is the one who will have to manage these team members if they come back, and so Jon should be deferring to your and Mary’s judgment about it.
But I don’t think you should suggest that they be hired for those entry-level spots on other teams if they’re not entry-level. The goal isn’t to find them jobs at all costs; it’s to hire the best person for each opening you have. If that might be one or more of them, then great … but shoehorning them into entry-level jobs that they’re overqualified for (if indeed that’s the case) doesn’t meet that bar.
Why not suggest a compromise with Jon — that you and Mary will interview each of them who’s interested and will keep an open mind, but if at the end of that process you continue to be concerned that they’re not the best hires you could make, you’ll select other people?
2. A client asked me to disclose the salary of someone I recommended
I recently passed along the resume of a seasonal staffer to a friendly acquaintance who is a director at an organization that’s a client of ours and that just posted a job that our soon-to-be-former staffer would be a great fit for. I sent a general but glowing recommendation, noting that we’d love to keep her if we could but it’s a cyclical business, etc.
My friend/client wrote back asking how much we currently pay my staffer. That’s icky, right? My plan is to send a pretty vague answer and hope she drops it, but am I nuts for feeling like that is totally out of line? I don’t want to negatively impact our business or personal relationship, but I can’t wrap my mind around a scenario where sharing that info would be acceptable.
It’s definitely a thing that happens, but you’re right to resist it. Your friend probably wasn’t thinking “how can I lowball this candidate?” but rather “what would it take for us to be able to hire her?” … but the impact on the candidate is basically the same.
A good answer could be something like, “I wouldn’t feel right sharing her salary. But she’s really great and I hope you’ll contact her if she seems like she could be the right match for you.”
3. New coworker dresses much more nicely than me
We recently hired a new team member who has the same job title I have. Our advertising agency “dress code” is very casual (jeans and t-shirts are the norm, even for execs) but my new coworker always wears heels. I casually mentioned to her in conversation that a former colleague had dressed up frequently and it was odd since our office is so casual, but she doesn’t seem to care at all. One day she came in wearing a full pant suit and blazer, like something I would wear to an interview.
When someone with the same job title as me (who I’m also training) dresses more nicely than me, it makes me feel a little uncomfortable and creates a lot of pressure for me to dress more formally. I am concerned this might make me look bad to managers when considering me against her for promotions in the future. Would you do anything in my situation?
If everyone else in your office dresses casually, including execs, I wouldn’t worry about it. If your execs were dressing more formally, I’d be concerned that they are people who value formal dress on at least some level, but it really doesn’t sound like they are. I’d assume your work will speak for itself in this environment.
4. My employee communicates terribly
I supervise a person who communicates badly because she doesn’t use enough words. For example, she’ll ask me about “the invoice” with no other contextual clues and I have to ask, “What invoice?” She’ll say “the one we received this week,” when we receive hundreds a week. Or she will stand up and look at me and with an inquisitive expression and say, “Remember that…” and then just trail off while waiting for me to complete her thought. I have to say, “Please finish your sentence.” Sometimes I get more clues and sometimes I get, “You know, that thing.” Regardless of how she responds, it’s like pulling teeth to get all the information I need to understand what her question and/or need is.
It’s making me crazy. An immense amount of time is consumed with me trying to understand what she is asking. I would like to counsel her on this poor form of communication, but I’m not sure how to say it.
The basic formula when you want to give feedback on something is to name the issue, explain the impact, and explain what you want the person to do differently. So in this case, you could say something like: “When you approach me to ask questions, you often assume that I know the context that you’re referring to, so you’ll ask me about ‘the invoice’ without telling me which invoice you’re talking about, or you’ll just say a few words and wait for me to finish your thought. It means we end up spending extra time going back and forth as I try to figure out what you’re referring to. Going forward, I’d like you to make sure you’re giving me complete information in your initial question. So instead of ‘the invoice,’ you’d say right up-front ‘the Nov. 15 invoice from Warbleworth Inc.’ Can you work on that?”
This is such an odd habit that I’m not confident she’ll get it without more coaching, so you should be prepared to coach in the moment too. If she starts with “the invoice,” stop her and say, “This is an example of what we were talking about. Can you take a minute and figure out what info you need to give me so that I know what you’re referring to and we don’t need to go back and forth with lots of questions?”
5. Should I tell my new boss about a personal problem that’s affecting my work?
I landed my dream job. I really enjoy the work, my boss, and my coworkers. After a bit over two months, though, my job performance has not been good and I am afraid I am going to be fired. My long-time partner broke up with me the night before I started my new job, and the stress has been causing me to take too long on projects and I haven’t been quick to pick things up.
My boss has been meeting with me to discuss my performance, and while I am hesitant to share personal problems in the workplace, I don’t want her to think I am not interested in improving or that this is my general work ethic. Do you think there is any benefit to letting my boss what is going on? Or at this point will it just seem like I am making excuses?
It’s worth letting your boss know you’ve been dealing with something difficult in your personal life, because that will give her context that she doesn’t currently have. Right now, without that context, all she knows is that you’re struggling, and she has to assume that what she’s seeing is the normal level of your work. If you let her know that it’s not and that this is unusual for you, that will help her understand what’s going on (and could buy you a bit more time).
Because you’re new, this is different than if you’d been there longer. With a long-time employee with a great track record whose performance temporarily slips because of something in their personal life, it’s easier to cut the person some slack. With someone new, your manager doesn’t know what your normal baseline is, and so she needs to see good performance from you in order to be convinced the role is the right fit … but it’s still helpful for her to hear from you that this isn’t your normal. But that means that it’s extra important to find a way to re-focus on the job now, so that she can start to see what your normal work is like. Good luck!
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