It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. Should managers always “own the message”?
It is review time at our company. I’m no longer a manager, but was included on an email from our VP about “owning the message.” They don’t want managers saying, “I would have promoted you, but it was turned down at the VP level” or “We wanted to promote you, but our budget wouldn’t let us.” I worked at another company with a similar “own the message” philosophy. What do you think of that? As a manager, I found it hard to do, and there were times where I felt my manager was also dealing with those situations and didn’t truly “own the message.”
It depends so much on the situation. There are managers who take the easy way out by blaming management above them/budgets/other factors when in reality it was their decision (fully or partially) or at least they don’t disagree with the decision they’re conveying. It’s easier to say “management wouldn’t approve the promotion” than “I don’t think you’ve earned it.” That’s a problem; part of management is giving candid, forthright feedback, and it’s not okay to avoid that.
On the other hand, sometimes it’s true that the decision was out of the manager’s hands. That’s a lot trickier. Managers shouldn’t cultivate an us vs. them vibe with their teams vs. management, and they do need to be able to speak for management as a whole. But at the same time, employees deserve to know the truth — and if the truth is something like “your work isn’t being recognized at levels above me and that’s not likely to change,” they really deserve to know that so they can make good decisions for themselves. So I think the communication from your VP needs to be more nuanced.
2. Personal info in the background of a coworker’s cat photos
My company has a Slack channel where employees share cute pictures of their pets. One of our executive assistants hired earlier this year, “Shannon,” frequently shares photos of her three cats, who like to lie on her desk. Sometimes Shannon’s computer monitors are in the background of her cat photos and, with a little zoom-in, you can read everything on her screen. Since Shannon’s job is planning events for our leadership, I’ve been able to see the restaurants and hotels where our execs or board members will be going on what dates. In one case, I’ve clearly seen the personal address and phone number of one of our board members. Only folks in our company Slack can view this channel, and I don’t think anyone would do anything nefarious with this information, but if I were Shannon’s boss or one of our executives, I would not want info like that so public.
I’ve debated sending Shannon a kind email pointing this out, since she might simply not think about what’s in the background of her cat photos. But I don’t work directly with her or even know her well, and I’m afraid my message would seem nosy or rude since I don’t think this habit has caused any problems (yet). Should I say something, or should I “let sleeping cats lie” and let it go?
Say something! It shouldn’t be a big deal to kindly point it out. You could say, “I love seeing your cats! I wanted to mention that in some of the photos, if you zoom in you can see everything on your screen, which you probably don’t want for privacy reasons, especially when you’ve got board member contact info up!”
3. Hearing an ill coworker in the bathroom
I recently got promoted and have my own office. Yay! My new office shares a wall with one of our bathrooms. It’s usually not something I notice (other than occasional flushing) and I mostly tune it out, but twice in the last 24 hours I’ve heard someone become what sounds like violently ill in the bathroom. I can’t really ignore it and have to leave my office when this happens or I will also be ill. In addition to that, I’m worried about my coworker! I think I might know who it is; I’m at least confident about which department the coworker is from. I don’t know what to do now. Nothing? Will it just pass? Should I bring it up to the department manager? HR (seems like that would be too much)?
I’d only mention it in the context of asking for a white noise machine or something else to help mask sound so you can work. I too used to work right next to a bathroom and, believe me, white noise is the way to go.
Beyond that, though, anyone using the bathroom deserves to maintain the polite fiction that whatever they’re doing in there can’t be heard outside of the room. Whether someone is ill or pregnant or having a reaction to something, they deserve privacy around whatever’s going on.
4. Should I refuse to edit AI-generated content?
I’m a copywriter and editor. I’ve built up a great clientele over the years and developed a specialty in writing consumer-friendly content about complex topics in which accuracy is essential (think insurance or healthcare).
One of my long-time clients is also using another firm for content development. Fine with me; I don’t have time to write reams of long form pieces for them. However, this other firm uses AI to generate, or at least assist with creating, content. Invariably, it contains factual errors and bizarre language.
So the client asks me to review it, and I fix the copy. An original sentence might say “400,000 annual llama groomers commended this comb for its praiseworthy proficiency in knot management,” and I correct it to “4,000 llama groomers endorsed this detangling comb last year.”
Here’s the problem. A) I’m pretty sure this other agency charges far more than I do for this terrible work. B) I’m concerned that I’m unwittingly helping the AI-using firm to refine their process. C) I just hate AI on principle; not only is it destroying creative professions but I think the end result will be dystopian horror, as in the short story “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.”
But hey, that’s just me! My dilemma: In the future, should I refuse to do this type of work? Or hope that in pointing out its deficiencies, my clients will avoid AI content generation? Or just recognize that this is an inevitable industry change and adapt accordingly?
I wouldn’t want to edit AI copy either! It’s perfectly legitimate to decide that’s not a type of service you provide. But there’s also not one right answer; it’s a personal decision, depending what kinds of work you are and aren’t interested in doing.
If you do decide to stop doing it, you could simply say, “I wanted to let you know I’m no longer going to be available to edit AI-generated content; having done some of it now, I’ve realized it’s a very different type of writing and editing than I enjoy.” If you want, you could add, “I also think AI-generated content isn’t a great thing for users because of XYZ,” but that depends very much on your relationship with the client.
Caveat: any time you turn down work, you’re encouraging the client to build relationships with other writers. Over time it’s possible they’ll send them some of the work you do want, and you’ve got to be okay with that possibility.
5. Client appreciation gifts
There have been a few posts these last few weeks regarding employee gifts and, as a business owner, I agree that money and time off are by far the most universally requested. However, what about client appreciation gifts? We want to say thank-you to our clients at the end of the year but we’re stuck on what to do. No one wants a mouse pad, or another water bottle with our logo on it. By the end of December, we’ve had more cookies, candy, and sugar than we care to admit so we don’t want to add to the pile. What do you and the readers think about a gift card to a local restaurant group? It falls more in the “money” category and a dinner out feels like a nice thank-you, but something about it feels off when talking of client appreciation. Last year we sent Rocketbooks, which were very well received, but we’re having a hard time thinking of something new. We’ve done a few web searches and scoured the logo swag catalogs and are still coming up empty-handed. There’s a reason so many offices get boxes of chocolates and cookies at year-end, they may be less personable but so much easier!
Client appreciation gifts are tough. Money and time off aren’t options the way they are with employees, and it’s very hard to find something that everyone will like … which is how so many people end up back at food. Let’s throw this out to readers.
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