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 boss hasn’t talked to me in months
Since I returned from vacation a few months ago, my manager hasn’t spoken to me. We are in different offices and she would usually drop by most days to catch up before, so it feels very strange to have a whole month go by without anything from her. I know that her schedule has been very full, but she still makes time to talk with the rest of my team and those outside it. The contrast with how she relates to me is startling. Nothing happened to cause this that I can identify. I’ve gone over things in my head and can’t see anything that I may have done.
I have been trying to convince myself that if I had done something wrong she would have told me directly, but I’m finding this lack of communication very troubling and stressful. I don’t know whether I am reading too much into a busy schedule/manager stress (I’m the most experienced worker in the team so maybe I don’t need the same oversight as others) or if this is something I should be concerned about. My anxiety is making the thought of speaking to her about it a scary prospect; I’m worried about seeming needy or attention seeking.
There’s a very good chance that that she’s just busy and that you’re right that the reason she’s talking more to others is because they need more oversight. What do you know of her in general — is she a reasonable person? Is she generally kind? Can you imagine her just freezing out someone who reports to her? Thinking through the answers to those questions through might make you feel better.
But also, have you tried initiating contact with her, rather than waiting for her to initiate it with you? Why not stop by her office and say that it’s been a while since you talked so you want to check in, or ask to put a meeting on her calendar, or say you’d like to meet with her to get her input on a project, or any of the other things you might do in the regular course of business if you weren’t worried about this?
If you do that and things still seem strange, at that point you could say something like, “I might be misinterpreting, but have I done something to upset or concern you? If so, I’d definitely want to know and try to resolve it.” If there is something more going on, it’ll be good to get it out on the table.
2. Is declining a reference call a red flag?
I once supervised a young person who was fresh out of college and in his first full-time job. Due to some personal issues, he decided to resign with two months notice. My manager was concerned about him staying on for two more months and believed that his work ethic would decline drastically. I vouched for him and reiterated to him the expectations. I was very supportive of his decision to resign and told him I would be a reference for him if he needed.
Over the course of the next couple of months, his work ethic declined drastically. He failed to meet major deadlines, argued about policies that were set in stone, and even huffed and puffed out of the room when I attempted to have a conversation about his performance. When he did not meet a major deadline on his last day, he said he would still meet it before midnight. I did not hold my breath, and as expected, I never heard from him again. He then deleted and unfriended me on all social media that we had connected on, so I assumed that he got the hint that I may not be the best person to give him a glowing reference.
So imagine my surprise when I received an email from a company asking me to give a reference for him. Even though he left on awful terms, I do want to see him do well, learn, and grow from his experience with us. If I talk with this company, they are not going to be thrilled with what I have to say. Would declining a reference call be a red flag to a company? Also, should I attempt reach out to the employee and advise him to not use me as a reference?
Yes, declining to provide a reference will be seen as a red flag about him, although I’d argue that’s okay. You want references to be reasonably honest with you about people who you’re considering hiring, and your end of that bargain means that you shouldn’t try to hide candidates’ performance issues from reference checkers either. (In fact, that’s an argument for returning the call and giving a candid reference, but that’s up to you.)
I don’t think you’re obligated to reach out to this guy and let him know that he shouldn’t use you as a reference. I’d say that you would be if things had gone differently — for example, if he’d behaved well during his last two months but you discovered problems with his work after he was gone. In that situation, he wouldn’t have any way of knowing that the type of reference you’d provide him had changed. But in this case, he missed major deadlines, walked out when you tried to talk about his work, and ghosted you after promising to finish a project on his last day. You could reasonably expect him to know that you’re not longer a glowing reference.
That said, if you want to, you could certainly shoot him an email that says something like, “I received a reference request for you from X. Given the concerns we discussed about your work during your last two months here, I wouldn’t be able to provide a positive reference and wanted to suggest you not offer me as a reference in the future.” (Of course, it’s possible that he didn’t list you as a reference; employers sometimes check “off-list” references, so it’s hard to know if he put your name down or not unless the reference-checker explicitly said that he did.)
3. I received an anonymous complaint about politics
I’m a new manager at an organization where the nature of the mission means that most people share political views. Many of the staff participate after hours in various political activities. To be clear, none of these are sanctioned formally or informally through the workplace.
I recently received an anonymous complaint that one staff member shares different political views and feels uncomfortable when other staff are talking about their after-hours plans. The same staffer member also feels uncomfortable that people are putting political gatherings on their work calendars.
I’m at a loss. In any normal workplace, people are bound to discuss what they’re doing after work. It’s also the norm here for people to put things on their work calendar such as dentist appointments, book clubs, or other personal items. At the same time, I want everyone here to feel comfortable doing their job and not like they’re under personal attack. What should I tell the staffer? (Because the complaint came via our union steward, I could relay a message to the staff member through the steward.) Is there anything I should tell the rest of the staff?
Yeah, on its face that’s not reasonable. It’s possible that there’s more to it than that, though, so when you respond, you should allow for that possibility.
Ask the steward to pass along to the person who made the complaint that people are allowed to discuss their after-work plans and use their calendars to record appointments outside of work, but that if there are workplace conversations happening that are hostile in nature or distracting the person from doing her job, you’d want the opportunity to address that, and that you encourage the person to come talk with you if so. You can also say that you’ll make a point of watching on your own for times when that may be happening, but that you’re more likely to be able to address it effectively if she’s willing to talk with you and share specifics.
And it does make sense to keep an ear out for a heightened level of political conversation in the office, and redirect people away from that if you judge that it’s become a distraction or that it might be wearying for people who have to listen to it (allowing, of course, for whatever might relevant to your work). But that’s a different thing than people putting their own plans on their own calendars.
4. Canceling an interview after hearing terrible things about the interviewer
A former boss of mine told me his company was hiring and asked me if I was interested in applying. I said yes and sent him my resume. He told me all about the company and the project managers who work there. He said all of them were great to work with, except one person who, according to his description, was unbearable. He proceeded to tell me several employees had quit or had developed mental issues because of him.
Fast forward a couple of days and I got a call from Mr. Devil himself. He asked me if I could meet him for an interview the following week and I reluctantly accepted. Now I’m having second thoughts, as I know I definitely don’t want to work with him. I talked to other people at the company and everyone seems to confirm he’s impossible to work with. Should I go to the interview anyway or simply cancel it? I might still want to work for this company in the future, just not this particular team.
There’s no harm in going to the interview if you want to learn more about the company and get some first-hand experience with this guy. Going to an interview doesn’t obligate you to accept an offer if one comes.
But if you know that you absolutely wouldn’t accept an offer from him, it’s more polite not to waste his time. In that case, you could let him know that you’ve thought more about the role and it’s not quite what you’re looking for because of X (insert something here that isn’t “you’re a terrible person” and which wouldn’t preclude you from being interested in other roles there).
You could also talk to your former boss, explain the second thoughts you’re having and that you don’t think it’s a role you’d accept, and ask his advice on the best way to navigate it.
5. Should I expect a response to a thank-you note?
I had a phone interview with a company that I’m very much interested in working for. Afterwards, I sent them a thank-you email and I didn’t hear back from them. My friends said that this is a bad sign since companies usually respond to the interviewees they are impressed with. Is that true?
Nope, it’s completely normal not to respond to thank-you notes. Ignore your friends and don’t read anything into it.
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