tiny answer Tuesday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s tiny answer Tuesday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Sending work emails during a tragedy

(Sent on Monday.) I’m in Boston, but many of my colleagues work out of our Boston office. Can you think of a good way to handle work emails today? Our office was far away from the explosions, but that doesn’t mean that some people weren’t out there today, or that they don’t know someone there today.

I have a lot of business I need to address, and I don’t want to let it fall behind. That said, I also don’t want to come across as callous or insensitive, and I am genuinely concerned that people from my office (or somebody they love) might have been affected. Can you think of a good way to be empathetic but still professional? Or should I just wait until later to send these emails? For what it’s worth, everybody in the Boston office has probably left for the day and will not see any communication from me until tomorrow.

I think that’s entirely up to what you’re comfortable with. Different people respond differently in these situations. There’s nothing wrong with putting things on hold that can be put on hold, and there’s nothing wrong with continuing with your normal work, either. That said, if you can wait a day to send those emails, it’s probably a good way to go.

2. Employer requires internal interviews to be done on unpaid time

I work for a large (1,000-2,000 employees) nonprofit in Texas. At our department’s staff meeting recently, we were informed that all internal interviews were going to be off-the-clock as a cost savings measure.

While I understand that an interview with an external candidate would be unpaid (though it sure would be nice!), these positions are almost always filled internally. Of the 30 positions filled in the past five years, only two were by outside candidates. So, is it legal?

You know, I have no idea; I’ve never seen this addressed before. My hunch is that it is indeed legal, but that’s nothing more than a hunch. Of course, if you’re exempt, they can’t dock your pay (but they can make you use PTO for the time). It’s a pretty silly policy though — it’s a good way to make people feel nickel-and-dimed while not saving the organization very much money at all.

3. Should I suggest to my boss that she work out her differences with my coworker?

My boss (Jane) and coworker (John) have a terrible communication problem. They are both telling everybody, except each other, what the problem is. Since they haven’t talked, I sense a blow up coming. It is review time, and I have indications that this will be when Jane tells John everything she is unhappy with. Unfortunately at that point Jane will have already sent it to the big boss for approval which will make it very hard to take back. I know John has valid reasons for some of the actions that he will be graded harshly on but since they are both too proud to speak, John won’t get to discuss those reasons until its too late. They used to be coworkers, and Jane was recently promoted to now being John’s boss. We all keep hearing from Jane how John also applied for Jane’s job and that he might have hard feelings. They used to be friends.

Should I suggest to my boss that she and my coworker and a bottle of Reisling need to sit down together and talk before she does his review?

These are grown-ups and this has nothing to do with you (in fact, it’s hard to imagine something that has less to do with you), so you should stay out of it and leave them to resolve it on their own.

4. Employee wants to work from home while caring for a baby

I have an employee I supervise who is pregnant, and we are discussing her options for work after her child is born. Our company is very small, with only 6 employees (so FMLA doesn’t apply), and this is the first time we’ve had a pregnant employee. This will be her first child. One of the options is her working from home part or all of the time. I told her that we would expect her to still have childcare while she was working from home, and she’s being a bit resistant to this (probably because of the expense, not because she’s an unreasonable person or problem employee), and asked where I heard this was the norm. Do you have any links from additional sources I can point her to that shows this happens at other companies? I thought it was pretty obvious that you can’t do your job and look after a newborn and do both 100%, but since I am also not a mother, I can’t speak with authority on how difficult I believe trying to do that would be.

Also, I would appreciate any advice you/your readers have on balancing compassion/understanding for an employee who’s about to be a new mother with the fact that we are a really small company that will really feel the pinch of an employee being gone for awhile. Since FMLA doesn’t apply, we’re just trying to figure out what is most fair for everyone (including those of us who will have to pick up her work while she is gone), with regards to maternity leave (including length and pay), what happens when she returns, etc. I don’t think her and her husband can afford to not have her work at least part time, so her just leaving altogether isn’t a possibility.

I would be very, very worried that she thinks she can work from home without any child care for an infant. And you are absolutely right that most teleworking policies require that teleworking employees have separate arrangements for child care. You can find confirmation of this here or here, or in any of the numerous policies from the many companies and government agencies that post their teleworking policies online, like this, this, or this. (Search for “child” in all of these.)

As for figuring out her leave, I’d come up with a policy that will apply to all parental leaves going forward, not just hers. Paid maternity leave in the U.S. is unusual, although some companies do offer it. Generally employees use any accrued PTO they have, which they can supplement with short-term disability insurance (which you should have; if you don’t, now’s the time to get it), and take the rest unpaid. As for the length of her leave, regardless of pay, figure out what you can reasonably offer without undue hardship to the business or other staff.

5. Should I start job searching if a jerk is hired to replace my manager?

My boss recently left our team. She was fantastic. I’m learning more and more that good bosses are hard to come by and she really was a rare breed. Making the transition more difficult is knowing that of the final 2 candidates, one of them is a real jerk. This person would likely make my life at my current job (which I really like!) near hell. I’ve been at this place for 1.5 years after a really difficult 4 year stint at a job I hated. I interviewed for jobs for 3 years until I found this one finally. I like it, and I had intended to park myself here for a while. It’s a great organization with a ton to learn.

What can I expect from a new boss coming in to manage a team that’s already set in place? I’ve been warned that if this jerky person gets hired, I should not waste anytime and get the heck out of dodge. When do I know if I have to jump ship? I really did not want to be doing a job search yet. (By the way, I’m 30, 7 years of experience.)

Wait and see how things play out. Don’t make any decisions prematurely; if this person is hired, give her some time and see what happens. You might find that things are much more bearable than you thought, or you might not. But there’s no reason to leave until you know for sure that you want to.

6. Employers ask to schedule interviews and then never get back to me

I’ve been job-hunting for a while now, and on multiple occasions I’ve been contacted by a prospective employer I’d applied or sent an inquiry to, saying they liked my work/resume/etc., and would like to set up an interview/meeting/chat. If they don’t suggest a date or time and leave it to me, I try to respond back promptly and politely, generally saying something along the lines of: “Thank you for your reply, and I would be happy to meet with you. How does (I suggest a date and general time of day — usually 1-3 days away) work for you? Otherwise, I’ll be available any time (give them a time range, usually the whole next week or the remainder of the week) at your earliest convenience.”

Then all of a sudden, I never get a response. Even if I responded to them 5-10 minutes following their email to me. This has happened to me two or three times now, and I’m starting to really worry that it’s more than a string of bad luck. Am I going about this all wrong, coming off too demanding or aggressive? Could this even be a sign that a reference or past employer is giving me a bad reference? Or is this a problem on their end? Either way, I’m unsure what I should do in a situation like this — should I try to follow up again after a few days or a week, or just move on?

This is actually pretty normal, believe it or not. You’re either dealing with people who are horribly unorganized, or they’ve already booked their desired number of phone interviews for the position before you get back to them. Either way, it’s really rude, but it’s also really, really common.

You can certainly try following up after a couple of days, but then I’d move on.

7. Asking an interviewer to put in a good word for me for another job

I had a very successful couple interviews with a city government office for “Congressman Jim.” I was one of the final three candidates for the position (and the only one they were considering without a Master’s degree). The interviews were friendly and warm — we got along great! They didn’t wind up hiring anyone because their budget was downsized due to the sequestration, but they assured me they really liked me and hoped to be in touch when the budget is normalized. Now I see an almost identical position posted at another city government office, for “Assemblyman Steve.” Jim and Steve are close but not coworkers: Jim was a mentor to Steve, but now Jim works in national politics and Steve works very locally. Would it be appropriate to ask the director of Jim’s office, who managed the hiring process and interviewed me, to put in a good word for me at Steve’s office?

Yes. Normally I would say no, your interviewers don’t know you well enough to do that, but in this particular case, you built a great rapport with them and they want to keep in touch.

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