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 senior staffer is crossing lines with junior employees
One of my senior staff members is going through a divorce. She’s been open about how she’s happy to be dating and even shares stories about her dates. This has started to cross the line of what is appropriate to share in the work place (lots of details and very long, drawn-out conversations are happening).
She has also been inviting lower level employees to her house to drink. She is not their manager, but she does assign them work at times and is senior staff, meaning she does has some authority.
I know I need to talk with her about the oversharing and the parties. My question is, what do I say? I can’t control what my employees do during their free time, but I’m concerned this dynamic is unhealthy.
Yeah, this is tricky. I don’t think you should tell her that she can’t socialize with her coworkers outside of work, but you’re right to be worried about the dynamic when she’s senior staff and they’re much more junior. I’d think really hard about what it is that you’re worried will happen, so that you can figure out how to approach her. I suspect a lot of this is that it just … feels unseemly. I can totally understand feeling that way -; I would too -; but ideally you’d make it more concrete than that.
Can you find a way to put it in work terms? For example, if she’s blurring the lines with people who she has some authority over when it comes to evaluations, raises, and assignments -; and raising questions about favoritism or objectivity or their ability to look to her as a leader -; that’s a legitimate issue.
And you can definitely talk to her about the long, drawn-out dating stories with inappropriate details. Since she’s senior staff, in theory you should be able to use a light touch there and expect her to respond appropriately. (If she doesn’t, that’s a bigger issue for someone in a senior role.) For example, you could start with, “I’ve noticed you’re spending a lot of time sharing dating stories. Can you keep an eye on that and make sure you’re not sharing details that could get us into inappropriate territory? Not everyone will be comfortable hearing things like what you shared yesterday about X, even if they don’t let on in the moment.” (Also, if any of these risks veering into harassment territory, make sure you address that explicitly and forthrightly; don’t hint.)
2. Job applicants using a company’s live chat service
My company has a “live chat” window on our website so prospective customers can ask about the product. Today we received a message from someone who started off by asking us about the company and eventually clarified that they were interested in job opportunities. It wasn’t just a short “are you hiring? query -; the questions were quite detailed (“What do you enjoy most about your work?”), and they persisted even after we said, “For jobs opportunities, we ask people to apply through our web portal.”
We’re a startup and we’re always interested in meeting new talent, but honestly, none of us have time to engage in an impromptu online chat like this. (Emails are different, as we can respond to them at a time that’s convenient for us.) While it feels rude to just shut it down, I also don’t want to waste my time or theirs when another mode of communication would be so much better.
How would you recommend handling an inquiry like this aside from “I’m sorry, I really don’t have time to talk to you about this right now”? And am I wrong to find this annoying? (To be clear, a simple “Are you hiring, and what’s the email to use to inquire about that?” would have been fine, although not my personal preference.)
No, that’s legitimately annoying. It’s no different than someone who called you about jobs and kept asking questions even after you told them to follow the instructions on your website instead.
In the future, I’d handle it the same way you should handle it if it happened on the phone: If the person continues pushing after you tell them to email, say, “I’m sorry, but we don’t take job inquiries by live chat. You’d need to follow the instructions on our website and email us for more information.” If needed, you could add, “Our live chat is really only for product inquiries.”
3. Hiring for jobs that are always open
We have jobs that are simply always open. We are always open to interviewing and hiring new candidates with a view towards building our office and we believe simply in hiring the best people, whether it’s one or five. Do you have any advice on how to manage job postings for a position that doesn’t close? Any advice on how often to re-post the ad?
I just dealt with this for a client who is basically always in hiring mode too (in part because they’re growing and in part because they have really hard-to-fill positions). I was getting worried that people who kept seeing the ad month after month would assume that it indicated really high turnover, so I wanted to explain the situation somehow. We settled on adding “We’re expanding!” to the start of the ads. But your ad could also say something like, “We’re always open to hiring good people when we can find them, whether it’s one or five.”
As for how often to re-post, it depends on how easy or hard it is for you to find great people (if it’s hard, you’d presumably want to always have your ads active, which would mean re-posting roughly monthly).
4. Approaching employees of a competitor that’s shutting down
I have a question regarding poaching employees from a competitor that is shutting down. My company is in growth mode, while this other company is in the process of closing its doors. We want to reach out to their current employees to potentially bring them on after their company closes in a few months. We know they are being offered retention bonuses to stay to the end, so we are hoping to have them start shortly after that. In the meanwhile, we want to begin preliminary interviews.
Do you have any advice on how to reach out to them to gauge their interest? I want to be sure that we are being tactful/respectful about them losing their jobs while getting them excited about our company’s growth.
You can be pretty straightforward. Most people in that situation are likely to really appreciate the outreach, and even if they’re not interested in the job you’re offering, they’re likely to appreciate that you’re contacting them to check.
Obviously you don’t want to say something implying that you’re thrilled that their loss might be your company’s gain. But something like this is fine: “I know you might be thinking about your next move since Acme is shutting down, and if you might be interested in talking with us about roles here, I’d love to set up a conversation. I should note that I know you may want to stay in your current job until the company closes, and that wouldn’t be an obstacle on our end -; although if you’re interested, we’d like to talk in the next few weeks if that works on your end.”
5. College students keep addressing me as “Mrs.”
I work with college students, and often I receive emails that say “Dear Mrs. BlahBlah.” However, I’m unmarried. I know it’s not a big deal, and the students are trying to show respect by using a title, but it irks me. Is there any kind way to instruct them to call me Ms. BlahBlah or just use my first name? Or should I just let it go?
Please do correct them! This irks a lot of people, and if they send out letters to, say, hiring managers that way, they’re going to irk a lot of hiring managers. You can say it nicely, but do explain to them that this is weird to do when they don’t know what title someone uses.
Say it this way: “In business correspondence, you should default to Ms. for women unless you know someone uses Miss or Mrs. Mrs. is flat-out incorrect for single women, and even among married women, many prefer Ms.”
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.