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 four questions from readers.
1. Should I hire family members for my new business?
I run a popular website and have decided to expand my business by getting office space and taking on two employees. I have never managed anyone in my career, so I know this is going to be a challenge. I am looking to hire someone in a digital marketing role, full time, and an administrator for two hours per day.
My sister-in-law has gotten in touch asking if I would hire her for this admin role, and my gut reaction is “NOPE” (not because of her in particular, just because of the thought of hiring family in general). I’m at a loss as to how to reply to her, and wondering whether I am right.
You are right! Working with family can be really hard, even when you all get along. Plus you’re a new manager, so you’re going to be having all the typical new manager challenges with whomever you hire (figuring out when to exercise authority and when to be collaborative, figuring out how to give feedback, feeling weird about giving feedback, learning to delegate without being overly involved or underinvolved, addressing problems, and all the rest). You don’t want to have family dynamics thrown in there with that. It’s a recipe for tension in the relationship, as well as tension at work. And what if you have to fire her?
Fortunately, this isn’t about her specifically. It’s just about working with family in general. You can say something like, “Thank so much for offering! I don’t want to hire family members since I don’t want to risk it ever causing tension in our relationship, but I appreciate the offer to help out!”
If she pushes and tells you she thinks it would be fine, you can say, “Philosophically, I feel really strongly about it. I’ll let you know if I ever change my mind on that!”
2. My employees come in late and blow off meetings
I’m a new manager and two of the four employees I manage are consistently coming in late or blowing off meetings that I set and do not provide information I ask for. How do I approach them to correct these problems in an assertive way that is not passive-aggressive?
The first step is always just to be direct and matter-of-fact: “You’ve been coming in late pretty regularly. Going forward, can you be here at 9 a.m. consistently, other than in unusual circumstances?” And: “I’ve noticed that several times recently, I’ve asked you for information and you haven’t gotten back to me about it, like with X and Y. Can you make sure that you’re being diligent about getting back to me on requests?”
Then if it keeps happening, you move to this: “We talked about X but it’s continued to happen. What’s going on?” And from there, you need to be willing to hold people accountable, meaning that there are consequences if it continues.
Blowing off meetings you’ve set is a big deal. The two employees either are remarkably unorganized or — taken together with the other problems here — don’t respect your authority. So don’t hold off on addressing any of this; address it head-on and quickly and see where it goes.
3. Calling candidates without warning for surprise phone interviews
Our department has been growing rapidly this past year, and we’ve been scrambling to hire a number of new specialized analysts. As part of the interview process, the hiring manager cold calls applicants who have sent in cover letters and résumés. Most people who are called don’t answer, and the manager leaves a voicemail message, so some get in contact later on to schedule an interview. If they do answer, however, the manager explains who he is, asks the applicant to provide a brief introduction, then proceeds into a series of in-depth technical questions, and wraps up by letting the applicant know he’ll be in touch if they passed. This is the only phone interview applicants receive.
If a company I applied to cold called me for my phone interview, I would see it as a red flag, but am I totally off base? Is this a good practice?
It’s a terrible practice. It’s a bad use of the hiring manager’s time (he’s going to be calling lots of people he can’t reach), and it’s rude and inconsiderate to candidates (who may be in the grocery store or walking into a meeting or taking care of a child or so forth). Scheduling the calls ahead of time is far more considerate and will be a better use of everyone’s time.
4. Catching up on emails and explaining why I dropped the ball
I work as the director of a youth program. My job is almost entirely public- or client-focused. In the past month, my dog escaped from the dog sitter (he was found safe four days later), my partner’s sibling went into rehab, and my grandfather’s health suddenly declined. He passed away this week. I’ve really dropped the ball on my emails and phone calls because I’ve been overwhelmed at work and at home. I’m catching up on all of my endless emails and phone calls this week and am at a loss as to how I can address my absence. Saying I’ve had a family emergency or I’ve been “very busy” feels like I’m just making excuses for myself. I’m an open person and don’t mind telling them I’ve had a family death, but that feels unprofessional. What is a good way to tell people, “I’m sorry I dropped the ball but it was for very real reasons”?
“Family emergency” doesn’t sound like you’re making excuses! It sounds like you had a family emergency, and people will understand that. I’d go with “I’m so sorry for the delay in getting back to you — I’ve been dealing with a family emergency and am just getting caught up now.” Or it’s also fine to change that last part to “I’ve had a death in the family” if you prefer, but I’d generally reserve that for people whom you know rather than distant contacts. But really, either one is fine! People understand that sometimes life throws things at us that take us away from work.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to [email protected].