It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. My employee wants more praise but he’s not doing a good job
I have a fairly new (six months) direct report who is not performing up to expectations but is still making progress and I am hopeful will ultimately be able to be successful in the role. One problem we are having, though, is feedback. He does get a lot of feedback on things he needs to improve on, which he listens to in the moment, but then he complains about to his coworkers that I was too harsh and he will avoid me the rest of the day sometimes. (I will admit that I have gotten pretty direct with him because he was not hearing what I was saying when I softened things.) Now he has complained to my boss that I have not been giving him enough positive feedback or praise. He said he has only gotten a “good job” twice in his short tenure. I honestly don’t know if that’s true but I would believe it is because his work simply does not warrant praise. He is barely meeting the basic job requirements most of the time and doesn’t always get there even. I do say thank you when he turns things in and I tell him when his work is correct but I don’t really praise him for doing the most basic parts of his job in the most basic manner and barely within the time frame required. Should I be praising him for that?
If you’ve only said something positive to him twice in six months of employment, while having lots of things to criticize, then either he really isn’t right for the job and you need to let him go or, yeah, you’re not giving him enough positive feedback.
I have trouble believing that you can’t find anything to praise in someone who is making progress and who you think will ultimately be successful in the job! Those are good things, and you should be able to find positive things to say about them. You don’t need to praise him for doing the basics like turning things in on time, but there’s something that’s making you think he’ll eventually do well in the job, right? Look for those things and tell him what they are. When you see progress, give positive feedback about that. If there’s really nothing in that category, then this isn’t someone you should be keeping in the job … but it sounds more likely that you’re not seeing the things you could be offering genuine praise for.
The thing to remember is that when all someone hears from you is criticism, that’s extremely demoralizing. People need to hear that you see the good things too, that they’re not complete failures in your eyes, and that their efforts are appreciated. If there’s only negative feedback, the relationship will become adversarial and he’ll lose trust in you and interest in the job. It sounds like you either need to recalibrate your feedback or reexamine whether he really can do the job.
2. My nosy coworker is too interested in my house sale
I have always considered myself a very private person when at work. I did not make a big deal when I got engaged or when we bought a new vehicle (when others can’t wait to share). I rarely share much of my personal life at work, with the exception of a few coworkers.
My husband and I recently bought a new house and listed our house with a realtor — super exciting and stressful for us! We kept the news of our new house limited to our immediate family and close friends and did not make a big deal about listing our house — no Facebook shares, talking about it, etc. This past Monday, a coworker who I do not have regular interactions or meaningful conversation with came to me saying, “I recognized your address and see your house is for sale!” This is not the first time she has referred to my house in conversation. I have never disclosed my address to her, only the general area of our neighborhood. She went on to comment about our house, asked how many showings we’ve had, and said her son would love to buy it, but it’s out of his price range. Two days later, she stopped by my office and said, “I see your house is pending! That didn’t take long! Did you have a lot of showings and offers?” I know – a lot of this could be perceived as making polite conversation, but she has a history of asking a little too personal questions, commenting on things she has no business commenting on, and generally being very nosy.
I went to my supervisor about how uncomfortable this made me and how inappropriate I thought some of her statements were. While she acknowledged and validated my feelings, her response was underwhelming. I agreed with her suggestion of letting this person know how I feel and acknowledged listing our house online makes it public knowledge. However, she went on to say that this person is, “a little odd and doesn’t always pick up on social cues” and other people have expressed similar concerns or complaints after interactions with her but it’s “just her personality.” I stood firm, stating there are still professional boundaries about discussing personal lives that need to be respected and I do not feel they are being respected.
I feel like excuses continue to be made for people’s poor boundaries and behaviors as “just their personality” because supervisors in this agency don’t want to deal with conflict or have uncomfortable conversations with employees. Any advice for talking to this person about how her comments make me uncomfortable and setting clearer boundaries in the workplace?
The most invasive part is that your coworker somehow “recognized” your address when you’ve never given it to her. The rest of it (asking about how your showings went, etc.) is more like normal office conversation — but recognizing your address and taking it upon herself to check back on your listing is weird and overstepping.
That said, this is more of a minor interpersonal issue that your manager isn’t wrong to expect you to handle on your own. Caveat: if this coworker has a pattern of doing invasive stuff like looking up people’s personal information, that’s definitely something her manager should tell her to stop. But just asking about your house sale and chatting about a topic that you’d prefer not to talk about at work … that really is in the category of stuff a manager would generally expect you to manage on your own. And if this coworker doesn’t always pick up on social cues, that’s all the more reason to say straightforwardly to her, “I’m pretty private about things like this and would rather not discuss it at work. Thanks for understanding.” You should also free free to ask outright, “How did you happen to even have my address? I’ve never given it to you.”
3. My job paid me in “banked time off” rather than money
I work for a nonprofit membership association, and I’ve been here for a little over a year. When I was hired, I was promised I would start as part-time, then move to full-time, like the guy I was hired to replace. This never happened. Instead my hours have been cut shorter and shorter, while my workload has only ballooned ever larger. Today something really odd happened with my paycheck, and I’m pretty upset.
I just received a paycheck that is literally half of what it should be. HR logged that I only worked 15 hours over two weeks, when I worked 30. Moreover, my “paid sick leave” hours magically went from 1 to 16 between last pay period and today. The sick leave bank is new to me, as HR did not tell anyone about this paid sick leave for part-timers until last week, and it was not on my previous pay stubs (but retroactively has been added to all stubs).
Is it legal to just take my hours worked and dump them into a sick leave bank without paying me? I don’t know if this is an accident, or some kind of intentional action on the company’s part.
For some context, it wouldn’t surprise me if this is some attempt to “remedy” my annual hours. For most of my first year, my boss told me, “I don’t care if you work overtime, just get it all done.” Then suddenly: “I need to you to take two weeks off no pay starting today because you worked too many hours this year.” During those two weeks: “I know I said you need to be off because you worked too much, but I got special permission for you to come back because I need X today.” (That last one was on a Sunday!)
I’m going to talk to HR and my boss, but I’m angry and confused. Is this legal on their end?
No, this is 100% illegal. You are required by federal law to be paid in money. Not time off, not comp time, not store product, not gifts, not banked leave for the future. Money. If this was intentional on their part (and it really sounds like it was), they need to fix it immediately via a check for the missing hours.
Suggested script: “We’re required by law to pay people for all hours worked, within X weeks of the work being performed. It can’t be paid as banked leave for the future. I need to get that missing money ASAP — can you issue me a check for it today?” (To fill in X, google the name of your state and “paycheck laws.”)
4. Am I being too prickly about wanting details from a prospective client before we set up a phone call?
I do freelance work and recently posted on LinkedIn that I’m taking on new clients. I got a message from someone who’d been referred to my post by a previous client of mine. He simply mentioned “a need for some freelance work.” (To be clear, he is a legitimate prospect working for a real company, not some rando.)
I wrote back that it was nice to meet him and thanked him for reaching out, and then said, “Can you give me an overview of what you’re looking for? If it sounds like I’d be a good fit, we can set up a call and discuss the details.”
Of course he wrote back that it was “probably best we schedule a call to discuss.”
So we’ve scheduled the call, and it’s fine — but it’s entirely possible I won’t be qualified for this particular gig, won’t be able to devote the necessary time to it, or won’t be interested (to say nothing of whether it will pay what I’m looking for). I can be prickly, so I just want a head check: Is it silly for him to insist on a call without even giving me a rough idea of what the work entails? I know it’s not uncommon. It’s just annoying, and it feels like it’s potentially wasting his time as much as it is mine.
Eh. I agree that a quick email with the basics (even just a sentence or two) would be more efficient before you both set aside time for a call, and I would want it too … but a lot of people feel more efficient on the phone (because they’re less comfortable with writing, because they value real-time back-and-forth, etc.), and if you want new clients it’s helpful to just be open to it. Yes, an email would be a faster to do an initial screening, but getting on the phone for five or 10 minutes could be helpful in other ways — for example, even if it turns out his project isn’t the right fit for you, having a warm conversation with him is a lot more likely to lead him to refer other people to you than a brief email exchange will.
However, if you have a packed schedule and get a lot of requests like this, set up a short intake form online and explain you ask prospective clients to fill it out before you talk! (Keep it simple — just ask the questions that will let you determine if setting up a call even makes sense.)
5. My interviewer cut off our meeting early
I went through six interviews and was at the final “lucky” seventh. This is a very large company and the interview was with a member of executive management. The interview was scheduled for 45 minutes. At the beginning, the interviewer said she asks all interviewees the same pre-formatted questions to eliminate confirmation bias. At minute 35, she said, “I am conscious of the time and have asked you all my questions. My notes will be passed to HR. Something very pressing has come up and I must drop off a little early. I am happy to answer any of your questions, but please email them to me.”
This approach really turned me off and I don’t know if I am still interested. Am I being too sensitive?
Probably, yes. People have emergencies that come up and that require them to cut things off early. She sounds like she was particularly formal/stilted about the whole thing, which made it feel chillier than if she’d been less formal. I think you would have felt differently about it if she’d said the same thing but in a warmer way — like if she’d said, “I’m so sorry, I have an emergency that’s just come up that I need to deal with. I’ve asked all my questions and normally would want to leave room for yours, but in this case I need to drop off. I’d be very happy to answer any questions you email me though, or we can set up another time to get your questions answered.” Same message, different vibe. But I think you should translate it to that in your head since the gist is the same.
It also matters that this was the seventh (!) interview, so you’ve presumably had a lot of time to ask questions in the earlier stages. (Seven is way too many, by the way, but that’s a separate issue).
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