It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. My boss snooped in my personal email account
I recently got a text from the director of my department saying that I had left my personal Gmail open on my work computer and that there had been unkind things written about the assistant director, with whom I work most of the time. Needless to say, she was not impressed. However, I read back through my chats and couldn’t find anything like that, except for a mild expression of frustration at having been accidentally locked out by the assistant director a few days previously. I genuinely like the assistant director and have a great deal of respect for her, and I really wouldn’t talk shit about her. The director would have had to scroll through several days worth of chats to find this — i.e., she was definitely snooping.
I know that it’s perfectly legal for bosses to monitor their employees’ computer usage, but this feels really icky. Is there a good way to defuse this situation? Is there any way to say that I really don’t appreciate having my personal things gone through?
Actually, I wouldn’t be so sure that it was legal. It’s true that employers can monitor and view anything sent on their servers, but you’re talking about your manager looking through your Gmail account at everything that’s there — not just looking at data that’s gone out via the company’s server. That’s a murky legal area at best, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s actually illegal. (Hmmm, a quick search turns up cases with a variety of rulings, so there doesn’t appear to be a single answer here — although there are a bunch of rulings that if you left the email account logged in, you had no legal expectation of privacy. I don’t think the legal approach is your most effective approach here anyway, but I wanted to flag it.)
Legal issues aside, it’s a huge invasion of privacy and not one that’s justified by any work-related reasons. It was absolutely over the line and not okay for her to do. (And it’s especially weird that she owned up to it.)
But whether or not you should take that on depends heavily on what the director is like — how reasonable and how open to dissent she is — and what your relationship with her is like. But in most cases you could say this: “I genuinely like Jane and have a great deal of respect for her. I’ve been racking my brain to figure out what you might have been referring to, and all I can think of is that I was mildly frustrated last week when she accidentally locked me out. But I certainly wouldn’t trash-talk her or speak disrespectfully of her, since that doesn’t reflect my feelings.” And then you could say: “I don’t think my personal Gmail account is fair game for anyone here to go through, regardless of whether I leave it open on my computer. That seems like a real invasion of privacy to me. Is that something that the company will do as a matter of course?”
2. My employee quit smoking and is being a pain
I am the general manager for a retail location. I have an employee, “Joy,” who is a lifelong smoker. She’s been smoking for longer than I’ve been alive! Joy is a member of my leadership team, and has been a great asset for the three years I’ve worked with her. Recently, she decided to quit smoking. As far as I know, this is the first time she has attempted this since I have known her. I’m really proud of her, and she’s been doing an awesome job — she quit cold turkey over two weeks ago, and hasn’t had a single cigarette since.
However, while the first week was great, this week I have noticed a sharp dip in her performance/attitude. Joy admits that this is because she is severely craving a cigarette, which has always been her main form of stress relief. While I sympathize, and am still proud of her for taking this step towards bettering her health, I am getting frustrated at her performance. She actually called out sick today, and again, told me this was directly due to the fact that she is craving a cigarette so badly. The team has noticed her change in attitude, and are getting frustrated as well. How can I approach this as her manager, while still remaining supportive?
How cranky is she being? If she’s a little cranky, cut her some slack — everyone goes through things in their personal life that impacts their demeanor at work now and then. But if it’s extreme — if she’s being rude or hostile to people — then articulate that for her and tell her she needs to rein it in. (As in, “I know this is a tough period for you and I sympathize, but you’re starting to be openly rude to people here and I need you to stay civil.”)
Same thing with performance — if she’s slipping a bit but is still doing an overall okay job, cut her some slack since you know what’s causing it and you know this is short-term. But if it’s more serious, then you need to say something like, “I know this is a tough period for you, and I don’t expect you to be at 100% right now, but you’re making some pretty serious mistakes in your work. What can we do during this period to help keep your work quality where we need it?” (And since she’s normally a good employee, you should try to find ways to accommodate her for the next week or two, like moving deadlines around if you can or giving her projects that require less mental presence if that’s possible.)
And if she wants to use sick leave to help her get through what should be a relatively short-term withdrawal period (it’s supposed to last about two weeks, right?), let her do it. As long as it’s not impacting any crucial projects which she absolutely must be there for this week, that’s a pretty great use of sick leave and it means she’s keeping the withdrawal impact out of the office.
3. My boss wants me to drive him to the airport in my own car, without reimbursement
I’ve been on my job for about four months. My boss travels out of town infrequently (6-12 times per year) and opts to use the airport furthest away from his house (9 miles versus 30 miles). The issue is that he has worked out an agreement with two legacy managers to drive him to and from his trips at any time of the day or night, week day or weekend. The two managers don’t see any issue with this and recently inferred that I am expected to participate and if I cannot, I should assign the task to lower level member of the staff.
The boss and two managers have vehicles assigned to them full time and fuel, insurance, maintenance, and parking are provided by the company at no out-of-pocket cost to them, roughly a $4,000 annual savings. They claim that the company travel policy is too restrictive and anyone traveling to the airport would not be fully reimbursed for the expense. Although the same level, I am not assigned a vehicle. I drive to and from work in my personal vehicle at full cost to me. I have traveled for work in the past and have used public transportation.
I’m not sure how their travel costs are my issue or that of lower level staff members. Even if I were assigned a vehicle, I would take issue with this poor resource management and disregard for opportunity cost. If I say no, is that grounds for discipline? I reviewed our personnel rules, but cannot find any mention of abuse of power, but is it? How do I protect lower level staff?
In theory, they can make anything they want “grounds for discipline,” as long as it’s not specifically illegal (e.g., discrimination, retaliation, harassment, etc.). But whether they’re likely to treat this that way is much less likely.
Regardless, though, the first step before you even start worrying about that is to explain that you’re not able to do it. Say something like this: “I realize you both have company cars that makes this much easier for you to do, but my staff and I don’t. We’d have to use our personal cars and it sounds like we wouldn’t be able to get mileage reimbursed for these trips.” If you still get pushback, you can try this: “If the company will pay for the cost, I can do this some of the time — although not always on weekends or at night because of family commitments. But I can’t do it at personal expense. Given that, what makes sense here?”
Also — it sounds like it’s the two managers with the company cars who are pressuring you, but you don’t say that the boss himself has. He may not even realize that this is an issue, so if you get push-back from the other two, it’s worth talking directly to him, particularly if he has otherwise seemed reasonable to you.
4. My boss caught me off-guard with questions about an internal job I applied for
I work for a school district as a part-time substitute teacher and recently applied for a full-time secretary position with the same district. While at work, I was confronted by the principal about this and asked if this was true. I couldn’t lie to her, of course I need a full-time job to pay my bills. She asked me if my plans were to still become a teacher and I said yes (because ultimately that is the goal). She then went on to explain that I was a highly qualified candidate but that they are looking for someone who will work in this secretary position for longer than a year or two. I asked her if I could even expect a call back for a real interview and she shook her head no.
I’m wondering if it is even fair for employers to conduct a preemployment screen so spontaneously like this?
This wasn’t a formal screen. This was just a conversation with your boss about what your plans are, which is a normal thing for managers to do. I understand that you were caught off-guard, but from her perspective it’s pretty straightforward — they’re looking for someone who will stay in the secretary position long-term, she knows that you’re working to become a teacher, and so she wanted to check with you to make sure her understanding was still correct. It was, and so she explained to you that the secretary role isn’t the right fit since your goal would be to move out of faster than what they’re looking for. This isn’t really about what’s “fair” (although this doesn’t seem particularly unfair to me); it’s just them being practical about what they’re looking for.
5. What does this message from HR mean?
After two phone interviews (HR and hiring manager), I was invited for an in-person interview. It went well and we seemed to get along. After almost two weeks passed, I thought about reaching out but didn’t. However, the HR department reached out to me and said that I’m still being considered but they still have a few more interviews to go and will make a decision soon.
Usually, if I had reached out to them and they told me that, I’d think that they are talking with other candidates who match and they are not very much interested in me. However, since I did not reach out, and they mentioned to me that they are interested, should view this as a good sign? Or is that protocol for some companies? From my experience, unless a candidate reaches out for status, HR wouldn’t send them a message unless it’s a rejection email (and that’s only if they even decide to reach out).
Nah, I send messages like that all the time. If our hiring process is taking longer than I said it should, or just longer than feels optimal, I’ll often reach out to candidates who we’re still interested in to give t hem an update on what’s going on or at least what the updated timeline is. That company is being polite and considerate (and acting in their own interests as well, since they don’t want to lose good candidates).
Also, when you reach out on your own and get a message like that, you shouldn’t assume it’s a polite brush-off. You should take it at face value: They’re still in the midst of their process and don’t have anything to report yet. That’s it.
In general, try not to find signs in any of this stuff. Much of the time, the things that candidates try to mine for meaning don’t actually mean anything at all.
my boss snooped in my personal email account, my employee quit smoking and is being a pain, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.