My Employee Says I Can’t Stop Her From Leaving Early

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 says I can’t stop her from leaving work early.

I’m a new manager at a company. The office manager, who is salaried, is continually leaving early by 30-40 minutes a day and leaves at 2 on Fridays. It’s making the owner crazy. I’ve told her that although she is salaried, that salary is based on a 40-hour workweek. Her response is that as a salaried employee she can leave early every day and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. That can be true, can it?

She’s flat-out wrong. You can absolutely set required work hours, even for exempt employees. (And it’s exempt or non-exempt that would be relevant here, not salaried or non-salaried, so she’s not getting that part of it right either. But either way, she’s wrong.)

It’s incredibly normal to set required hours for employees in general, and particular for an office manager, which is a job that often needs coverage for the full day. You’re on safe ground saying to her, “The job requires you to be here from 9-5:30 [or whatever] and I need you to clear it with me before leaving early.” I normally recommend giving people as much flexibility in their schedules as their work allows for, but in this case she’s gone so rogue with the “there’s nothing anyone can do about it” line that you need to very clear.

2. A hiring manager chastised me for using his personal email address.

I found a fantastic job listed on a company website, composed a knockout, personalized cover letter, and sent it to the manager’s personal email to make sure he saw it. The response? “How did you get this email? It’s personal!”

The email I used was listed right on the front of his personal website, visible to anyone taking the time to google him. I’ve been advised by many experts to contact hiring managers directly if you want your application seen. Am I wrong, or was his reaction rude?

You were out of line. His personal address is his personal address; it’s not appropriate to send a job application there.

There is indeed a bunch of advice out there about sending your application directly to the hiring manager (which is often of dubious value), but it never means to their personal email address, just to their work one. He’s right that you violated professional boundaries. 

3. Telling an interviewer the job expectations aren’t realistic.

I have a doctorate and several years of experience in a medical field that is relatively rare, and I am applying for a position at a large medical center where there is a high level of job satisfaction. The position is new and I have a suspicion that its integration into an existing department has not been planned with any input from someone with knowledge of my field. It was created in a way that seems designed to fail. They are cramming 30 to 50 percent too many patients into a time and space that means the outcomes will not live up to their goals on any level. On top of that, it doesn’t pay very much.

I have interviewed well and believe I have a good chance of receiving an offer. If I do, I wonder if it is out of line to point out that their current expectations for the position might be unrealistic, but I could guarantee them much better results for fewer patients versus negligible results for the number they intend. Or should I have already mentioned this in an interview? They already gave me all of the details, so maybe it was a test to see if I would speak up sooner. I don’t want to burn any bridges because this is a company I’d love to work for, if not in this position, then to be considered for others down the line.

This is tough. You might be 100 percent right, but they might not be at all receptive to hearing it.

What’s your sense of the people you’ve talked to so far? If they seem reasonable and open, and if they’ve talked about this new role as a work in progress as opposed to something with ironclad metrics attached to it, it’s possible that you could get some traction with this. On the other hand, if they don’t, well, it might be a way to lose the offer. Of course, if they’re wedded to unrealistic metrics, you might be better off losing the offer anyway.

If you’re not sure where they fall on that spectrum, you could start out by asking how they came up with the patient numbers they have, and whether it’s something they’ll revisit as they see how the work plays out once they hire someone.

I definitely would not assume that it’s a test, though. This kind of thing is virtually never a test — it would be a good way to scare off strong candidates, and employers just usually aren’t being that sneaky.

4. I feel bad that I’m the second choice for a job offer.

I was just offered a job and I’m really excited about it — it’s a huge step up in my career, I think my skills are a great fit, and the benefits and salary boost are a life-changer for me and my family.

I had felt awkward in the interviewing process, because I knew a good friend of mine also was interviewing for the same position. We just avoided the topic, and I never knew if he even was a finalist, until a mutual friend told me that he was offered the job first, turned it down because he wasn’t ready to relocate for the job, and they chose me second (or third, or fourth, or fifth).

Now I feel embarrassed. I don’t have such a bruised ego that I’m not going to take the job — I’m still excited about that! But I can’t shake this crummy feeling of getting my friend’s sloppy seconds. How can I think of this differently so that I don’t feel so humiliated, especially around him?

Don’t feel embarrassed! There are often multiple great candidates whom an employer would happy to hire, but when there’s only one slot, that’s not possible. When that happens, sometimes the final decision comes down to really tiny things, simply because something has to be the tie-breaker.

From my experience on the hiring side, I can tell you that I’d never hire someone I wasn’t excited to hire. If I offered the job to my second choice after the first choice turned it down, that would be someone who I really wanted to accept the job. If I felt like I was settling, I’d go talk to more candidates, not settle for someone who wasn’t right.

Plus, it’s really common to be the second choice. There are lots of stellar employees out there who were “second choices” and never knew it — and whose managers don’t even remember that was the case, because no one thinks about that once the offer is accepted. Once they decided to offer it to you, you became their first choice.

5. Explaining I was laid off after two months.

I have recently accepted and started my dream position. I started working in January and unfortunately was laid off at the end of February. I’ve been given a glowing recommendation from this company. The job title I had is important and in my field, it is important to retain that title or move up.

Is it OK to write on my resume “ask me about this role” or to explain in a cover letter that I was let go because of budgeting issues? I’m worried that I won’t be able to get in the door if I leave it unexplained on my resume.

Don’t write “ask me about this role.” That’s too mysterious. It’s fine to just note “(position eliminated)” on your resume next to the dates for that job and/or to say something similar in your cover letter.

That said, it might not make sense to include it at all, since you were there for less than two months. Typically I’d recommend you not include jobs that only last a couple of months (unless they were designed to be that way from the start) since that’s not enough time to have really accomplished anything you could put on a resume, or even for the position itself to be resume-worthy. Including it really just says, “I was hired for this role,” but doesn’t say anything more than that.

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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