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 four questions from readers.
1. Can you give an employee time to find a new job before they’re fired?
I am going to need to fire someone for low performance even though she’s trying hard. I have already laid out a performance plan and those goals have not been met. It is 100% clear that the employee does not have what it takes for the role.
I would like to give her some time to search for another job while we look for a replacement, but how can I ensure that she will behave in a positive manner during that time, knowing she’s been fired? What steps could I take to prevent her from creating a toxic environment for the rest of the team? If this were to happen, of course we would shorten the transition, but what messaging would help to start it off on the right foot?
The key is to make the transition period contingent on her help with a smooth transition. For example: “What I propose is that we agree that you’ll leave the role at the end of the year. In the meantime, I wouldn’t ask you to take on new projects, and we’d accommodate you with time off that you need for any interviews. All of this would be contingent on you continuing to perform at the level you have been, including having a good attitude at work and keeping X and Y running smoothly. If you’re open to this, my sense is that it would work out, but I also understand if you’d rather wrap things up earlier than that.”
And then, of course, you pay attention and if you do see behavior that worries you, you can reference this conversation and end things earlier. But for someone who’s a conscientious worker and just not the right fit for the job, this can often work out.
2. Should I accept a huge favor from my new staff members?
I manage a large, field-based team. I think I have a real camaraderie with the team, and upward feedback surveys show that as well.
My team knows that I am single, new to the area, and recently bought a home. Some of them offered to help me move, which of course I declined. I even got texts the day of the move, asking if there was anything they could help with, or offering to move anything I didn’t trust the movers to do!
Today I was talking to two employees, Bob and Todd, and they asked how I was settling in. I made a comment about how many odds and ends there are to buy, and that I should rent a van. They asked why and I replied that I wanted to buy a rug, but can’t fit in in my car. They offered to help — Bob has a large truck, and Todd offered to help carry. They even proposed a day after work to go. Am I crazy for considering it? Is this out of bounds? I wouldn’t ever want them to feel like I’m taking advantage of their kindness, so I would give them money or a gift card to a restaurant I know they like. What do you think?
If you were peers, I’d tell you to accept their offer at face value (but not to pay them, because it can seem insulting to hand cash to someone who wanted to do you a favor, although buying them a meal or another gift is fine). But as their boss, the power dynamics make it trickier. Their offer might be entirely genuine and they might make the same offer to any colleague, but it’s a muddier area because you have power over them. And imagine if you needed to give one of them very negative feedback a few days after they do you this favor — it’s messy.
The reality is that a lot of managers would take them up on this offer anyway, and honestly, if you do, it will probably end up being just fine. But if you want the safest course of action, it would be to decline the help but tell them how much you appreciate the thought and that the offer was really kind of them to make. (Be sure that you leave them feeling warm and fuzzy about the whole interaction, not like you snubbed their genuine offer of help.)
3. Banning significant others from attending work events
We have a number of work events that employees often bring their significant others to. However, one employee has a boyfriend who is overly jealous and short-tempered. Another employee has a girlfriend who is acting in the same manner. To avoid the fighting that has been occurring at the company events, can we add a stipulation in our employment contract forbidding significant others of our employees from attending the events or being on work premises while the employee is on the clock?
The employees do not want their partners there because of the fights and embarrassment they cause, but are afraid to tell them they can’t come. They have asked if we could do this, and it does seem it would be beneficial to both the company and the employees.
Sure, you could. But then you’re potentially going to be inconveniencing other employees whose significant others behave appropriately and don’t deserve to be banned because of two people who are badly behaved. Why not just be direct and say that these particular two people aren’t welcome anymore since they’ve caused disruption? If it’s uncomfortable for your two employees to tell their partners that … well, there’s a reason that’s uncomfortable, but it’s a logical consequence.
4. Unplanned absences and our review process
Our state has a law requiring that employers provide 40 hours of paid sick leave per year to employees.
In our employee review process, one thing we look at are unplanned absences. Under our current process (enacted before this law), up to 40 hours per year is fine. Anything beyond that, we start looking at discipline.
My issue is this: Say John took 41 hours of unplanned time. However, 40 hours are protected leave due to illness. So come review time, we can only take one hour into account. Jane, on the other hand, has only missed one hour. So after I get done giving kudos to Jane about her attendance, I have to turn around and give the same kudos to John, even though we both know he’s missed more than one hour.
This situation is creating resentment among some of the employees towards their coworkers. We’ve looked at redoing our attendance policy but are at loss about how to adjust it. Do you have ideas about how to deal with this?
Stop disciplining or praising people for their use of sick time, period. That should not be something built into your review process at all.
If someone is missing so much work that it’s impacting their performance, address that — and don’t wait until formal reviews to do it. But if it’s not, then be an employer who doesn’t penalize people for being sick. And also be an employer that doesn’t praise people for being lucky enough not to get sick. Treat people like responsible adults, which means focusing on performance and results.
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