Important Notice:
This site has moved to, please update your bookmarks. If you were looking for a specific post, you can use the site search option or archives at the new domain to find it. Thank you!

Friday, October 30, 2009

So, How's That Working For You?

After reading everyone's horror stories about crazy punishments for getting sick, I'm really interested in hearing from the people who create and/or enforce these rules. I know you must be out there.

Does it really decrease absenteeism? Does your turnover increase? What is the reasoning behind it? Was it HR's idea, or the CEOs or Finance? Have you calculated the costs associated with this policy?

I'm really interested. Honest. I'm pretty sure the people who comment aren't all just making up stories, so there must be HR out there who enforces these things. Tell me how it's going.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Exempt Day Swapping

What impact does pay periods have on exempt employees who wish to make up time? If an employee takes a couple of hours off but desires to make up the time, why does it have to done in the same pay period?

To put us in context, the majority of the staff are exempt, we currently get paid on the 5th and 20th of each month, have vacation and sick buckets and work 9/80 with every other Friday off.

I ask this because a couple of employees worked on what would have been 'Off Friday on 10/9'. One of the employees had a scheduled sick day [medical apt] for the following Friday which would have been 'On Friday on 10/16'.

He asked could he cover his medical apt with his 'Off Friday time worked' rather count it against his sick time. I allowed it. However the owner raised a fuss because the medical apt time off was not in the same pay period as the time worked, but she allowed 'this time'.

Pay periods have no impact on when exempt people take time off, or switch schedules, or what have you. Legally. An exempt person gets paid the same every paycheck and that is that.

Now, a non-exempt person is a different story, because if they work more than 40 hours in a given week, they have to receive overtime pay, even if the reason they worked was to make up for time they took off in a previous week.

But, this is an exempt question. What you did is perfectly reasonable. Your employee knew he was going to be gone on a specific day, so he asked to swap his days off, so as to not have to use PTO. Super! No problem. It's no problem because it doesn't matter, in terms of pay, when an exempt employee works or doesn't work.

The owner "allowed" this, but said not to do it again. I'm tempted to ask her what purpose this would serve. I'll tell you. It would serve to further alienate employees! Yeah! Just what you want.

However, the owner certainly is within her rights to not allow this. Companies can set the rules for time off. And even though you have to pay exempt employees, you can dictate the rules and discipline if they break them. So, yes, she could say, "No, sorry. You can't swap days." Is this dumb? Yes. But, sometimes owners/managers think that they are doing favors for their employees by giving them jobs. They feel like they are handing out Halloween candy and you better darn well say thank you, even if they hand out those nasty peanut-butter things in the orange and black wrappers. And if you don't they yell at you for your lack of manners. They forget that the reason you are working for them is that it benefits the owner/manager/company. (If it doesn't, you should be fired.)

So, the pay periods thing is her rule. Fine. You live with it. But it's not (as far as I know, not being a lawyer or anything like that) illegal to do so.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Job You Can't Take

Should I accept an interview for a position in a location to which I would never (could never) move? Or should I state it in the cover letter or phone interview and risk being passed over by someone willing to relocate? The position is primarily project management with few, if any, direct reports (other than coordinating tasks with other groups). My intention is to request to telecommute from several states away (as the company website cites flex-time and telecommuting as benefits).

I realize that the career benefits sections of corporate websites typically are lip service, but should I try anyway? Please note that I work in an incestuous industry and would worry about being branded later in my career as one who “wasted the company’s time and money” with potentially unethical intentions.

Yeah, some things are lip service. Some companies proclaim loudly about all the benefits you'll get, only they don't specify that the "you" means everyone who makes $300,000 or more.

But, some companies are honest. When you are applying, it's best to assume they are being honest. When you are evaluating an offer, it's best to verify and get everything in writing.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with applying for a job that you would only accept if you could telecommute. But, this is something that you should mention in your cover letter, or at the very latest at the phone screen.

Frequently, I tell people to wait until the negotiation phase to ask for special things. That works best for things like, "I've already scheduled a vacation next month" and "I will need to leave work by 4:00 on Thursdays, but can work normally every other day" not, "I want to live across the country."

This is a situation where even if the company, as a whole, supports telecommuting, not all bosses do. The hiring manager may be someone who just can't handle a telecommuter. Or the job description doesn't accurately portray the job (not unusual!) and you don't realize that it would be critical to be on site.

Since there are far more qualified candidates then there are jobs, I would bet that this would get you eliminated from consideration. But this, actually, is okay. Because you don't want the job if you have to relocate.

I think telecommuting is fantastic. I've done it. I've had awesome, family friendly bosses in a family friendly company. But, in my experience, it works best when there is some regular face time as well. I'd be very hesitant to consider an external hire for 100% telecommuting. I think getting to know people is much easier in a face-to-face situation, and would like any new employee to be able to get to know their co-workers before going 100% off site.

But, others may disagree. Apply, but be honest. I can tell you right now that if you wait until they fly you out there to interview before you say, "I won't relocate," you are going to be on the bad list.

And keep in mind, if you are super fabulous (and you are!) they just may go for it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

MD activity at work

Is an employer allowed to hand you a thermometer and tell you to take your temperature at work? Can they send you home if you have a temperature?

And now it's time for the big disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I do not pretend to be a lawyer. I am not an expert on law. I don't pretend to be one. This is not legal advice.

I see this as one of those you can't win situation. If you allow people who are sick to work then their co-workers will be writing me saying, "Can't the company require sick people to stay at home? I don't want to get infected?"

There are some things to think about. 1. If they send home an exempt employee they must pay her anyway. 2. Hourly employees (not under contract, this does not apply to unions) are only paid for the hours they work. Companies are not required to provide a certain number of hours per week. (Think back to your days working fast food. If it was a slow night, they sent you home.)

I honestly don't know if it's legal to require someone to have their temperature taken in the normal course of a work day. You can require drug tests and physicals as conditions of employment. (And if I recall, my last work physical involved a temperature check, although why I can't imagine. Having a fever at THAT MOMENT hardly means you always have one.)

I think the real question is should this be a policy? Well, honestly, I want sick people to stay home. I want people to be adults and be able to call up their own bosses and say, "I'm sick so I'm staying home," and have that be the truth and I want the boss to believe the person and I would really like it if there were an adequate number of sick days.

I think it's a weird thing to do, but I can totally see the business reason: Sick people infect other people, which makes more people sick, which hurts the business. Unfortunately, with most diseases you start being contagious before symptoms show, so you can't stop that. However, it makes sense to ban sick people from the office.

Like I said, I'd rather see this occur by having everyone take their own temperatures at home. I hate the requirement to go see a doctor because for most illnesses the doctor is either going to say, "you're sick. Drink fluids. Rest. You'll get better on your own" or he'll prescribe an unnecessary antibiotic. I understand why though, because all HR people can tell you about lying liars who we've dealt with.

The problem comes in when you have an hourly workforce who don't get paid if they don't work. People work because they need the money. No one wants to work when sick. We do it out of obligation (I must get this project done) and need (I must pay the mortgage). If the company is offering paid sick days, doesn't require you to come in for the temperature taking (that is, they believe you if you call in sick), and doesn't punish you for taking time off (lower rating, bonus, etc), then sure. I think it's a bit creepy and weird, but okay.

If it's a job that involves food handling or dealing with already sick people, then I think it's even more important to keep sick people home. But like I said, I think it's creepy. Maybe a lawyer can chime in if it's legal to take the actual temperature.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Hazards of Being Dependable

I am a production manager at a trade org/not for profit.

I love my boss, who is a great guy, but not the best manager. As long as things get done, he’s satisfied, but procedures and work flows have suffered.

About 80% of all projects cross my desk. I can get anything done and I pride myself on being very capable. The problem is no one sees me as a manager or leader, just another worker bee.

My boss has often praised me and told me he’d fight for me. But it’s been 2 years since my last raise and I’m getting very unhappy about my role and my compensation.

The raise (or the lack thereof) is a red herring. Yes, it's a problem (and here is where lots of people jump in to say, I don't even have a job, let alone a raise!), but it's not THE problem.

There may be many problems, so I'll suggest a few.

PROBLEM A: You aren't good management material. Ouch, I know. But consider the possibility. Some people are fabulous individual contributors, but lousy managers. Your boss may see that you can and do get anything done that he asks of you, but also sees that you lack the skills to manage others.

Many people are surprised that being good at a job doesn't automatically make you good at being the boss. They are entirely different skill sets. If you look at senior leadership outside hires, they sometimes come from different industries altogether. This is because the skills needed to manage aren't those needed to make the product.

SOLUTION A: Sit down with your boss and express your desire to move into a management role. Explain that you feel you may be lacking a few skills and want to develop those. Ask for advice, mentoring, training, etc. Just because you don't have good management skills now, doesn't mean you can't gain them.

PROBLEM B: There's nowhere to go from here. You didn't say your non-profit was small, but in my mind I always think small when I hear non-profit. (And yes, I know there are some large non-profits, but humor me.) You may be ready to move into a new role, but there isn't one for you. Promoting you would require a huge reorganization that wouldn't benefit the organization--just you.

SOLUTION B: Once upon a time I worked for a Credit Union that had a grand total of 142 employees. There was no one between me and the head of HR. If she left, they would have had to hire from the outside because I was in no way ready for such leadership. But, there was no place to promote me either. So, I looked for another job and found one and left.

I needed more experience before I could fill the position "above" me. You may as well. Leaving is one option. Another option is moving sideways. Gain experience in a different group, preferably one that has room for growth.

PROBLEM C: You are too good at your job. This, unfortunately, happens. Managers can't figure out how they could possibly function without their star employees and hold them back. They aren't trying to undermine their careers; they are trying to make their own careers successful.

SOLUTION C: Leave. Or find another department with a position available and post for that. Please note that if this is the problem your manager may still have the ability to prevent your promotion.

If you don't want to leave (or can't find a better job), the harder thing to do is work with your manager on this. This can have fantastic results, by the way. You need to be clear that you are looking for management opportunities, but you don't want to leave him in the lurch. Present a plan for how you will fill the position you want and how you will train your replacement.

This can be scary, though, because we want our managers to think, "I could never get along without Sally." (Unless of course, your name is Jane and Sally is a huge brown-noser.) The fear is that if you demonstrate that he could get along without you, you might find yourself out of a job. This probably won't happen, though.

Again, when you start this conversation you need to emphasize that you want to stay with the company, you just want to be in Role X, and you need his help to get there, and you will help him replace you. This is a HUGE benefit to the company. Make sure you show it that way.

PROBLEM D: Your manager is a jerk who will never pay you more money, will never allow you to get promoted and will continue to pile work on you no matter what.

SOLUTION D: Suck it up or leave. Wait it out until he leaves and maybe you'll get his job, but probably not because if you've been there 10 years without a promotion, his management will assume there's a problem with you.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Co-worker evaluations

I work for a large company. Every year we are asked to fill out evaluation forms, supposedly anonymously, about our coworkers. Our Manager picks many of the people who fill out the forms about us; although most of the Managers let the staff pick their own people to fill in their forms. We are cautioned not to pick friends, but to pick people who will be honestly critical. The end of the form has areas for narrative writing about areas of strength and weaknesses. Since we basically know which people are filling out the forms on us, we usually can figure out exactly who wrote what about us.

I find this to cause a great amount of stress, divisiveness and unhappiness amongst the coworkers. Personally, I never write negative things on these forms for my coworkers even if I truly have do have criticism for them or can barely stand to be in the same room with them. This is because reviews can affect their raises etc. and because I want to keep the peace. I think that even the most constructive criticism, in this format, can be seen as betrayal.

Besides, is it my job to deliver criticism? Shouldn’t my Manager be in touch enough with the team to know the problems or weaknesses and strengths of the team members and deal with it? Honestly, I feel like little good ever comes of these things. I am particularly curious about what will show up on mine this year as there are some "certifiable" people who have been asked to do mine as well as a few people who are extremely critical but I've had almost no contact with the entire year due to the nature of our work.

Can you explain why companies do this?

You know, after I decided to tackle this question, I went upstairs and found my husband filling out just such a form for a co-worker. It's not uncommon. 360 degree feedback can be an excellent thing. Frequently bosses don't know everything and co-workers and clients can offer real insight.

However, I have yet to find the person who loves to receive criticism and having co-workers delivering it directly causes the stress and anxiety you talk about.

But wait, my astute readers note, it's all anonymous because they don't put the names of the actual person on the notes! Yeah, just like your third grade teacher couldn't identify which kid wrote the dirty word on the chalkboard, just by looking at handwriting. You don't have to be psychic to figure out which of the 4 people selected made the comment.

Your company means well (honest!). They are trying to get you accurate feedback so that you can improve. They recognize that managers don't know everything (Positive and negative) that their employees do. This is all good.

However, I think that as a general employee review process, that directly impacts raises, bonuses, etc., that the feedback should be collected and given to the manager. The manager then writes the review and uses that information to help him do so, not as a substitute for doing it himself.

You've noted that you're not being honest in your reviews because of the political fall out. Others aren't either. Some, like you, are nice. Others see it as an opportunity to undermine their competitors. (And yes, many people treat co-workers as competitors.) By filling out the information and giving it to the manager, the manager has more information (good), more honest information (because it's not going directly to the person, although the underminers are still likely to be jerks, but the boss should know and can verify if things seem off), and can write a better review.

As for you, keep being nice, but feel free to mention real problems if you can also do so with a suggested solution. If you don't feel comfortable saying something on the form, tell the person's boss directly about the problem. It's his job to deal with it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Random Travel Post

We spent 3 days in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. You didn't even know it was a Grand Duchy, did you? Well, you do now. There were castles, of course, and cool tunnels under Luxembourg City, but this post is about sinful vending machines.

This is a picture of one of the vending machines in our hotel. See if you can spot the "interesting items" it offers. Oh, and in case you were worried about corrupting minors, there was a sign on the top that said you had to be 16 to purchase things other than the candy.

If you get all three bad items correctly, then you win a prize! Of course, the prize is the knowledge that you purposely seek out wickedness. Sinner.


Did you spot them? I'll help. We have, right next to the "kinder" treats (really), a dirty magazine, c0ndoms, and cigarettes! Awesome, and what a great cover story. "Honey, I meant to get the M&Ms, but I hit the wrong number and got these cigarettes instead! Might as well smoke 'em."

So, what if one of these isn't the vice of your choice? (The M&Ms, I mean. Not everyone likes chocolate, but cigarettes--those meet everyone's desires.) Never fear, next to vending machine number 1 was the beer vending machine!


If you never have good luck with vending machines, you can still have convenient shopping. In Northern Luxembourg, we ran into a store that definitely would be helpful around Christmas time. It specialized in two types of products:


That's right! Alcohol and toys. Hard liquor and puzzles. It had three or four big window displays and everyone one of them showcased both children's items and alcohol. Some of the alcohol was in delightful animal shaped bottles, in case you were torn between indulging your alcoholism and buying your child a present. Go ahead and buy the scotch in the glass duck and then when you've finished, the duck can be a present for Junior.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Feedback, Feedback, Feedback

I work for a small non-profit organization and we have no HR. Because I have some seniority, I've been assigned as a supervisor to one of our part-time workers, who also happens to be a friend of mine from high school. She is in communications and often makes mistakes on print and online publications. Even before I was her supervisor, I'd sat down with her and told her she needed to be more careful. That did not prove effective, as a few days later, she made another mistake and I had to e-mail her to remind her about the review process we established so we can avoid publication errors. Others in the communications team have also mentioned her making mistakes.

Since I became her supervisor, I removed her from online publishing, but now she is doing grant proposals and documents for the government, and is still making mistakes! I am usually the first one called into the boss' office, because she cuts and pastes from drafts of my work(cut-and-paste is a common practice here), and doesn't bother to check--or ask me--if the document is the final version, and therefore had been reviewed for errors.

She is also absent-minded when it comes to other things. For example, I requested that she make copies of her timesheet so I have records of her projects in case the boss asks me. She has so far done this only once. Also, another co-worker has complained that when she asks her to research something, she would agree, and then not do it.

I have no idea how to tell her that she really needs to be more focused and detail-oriented, especially since (a) I had done so in the past and it hadn't worked, (b) she has a tendency to say "Okay," and then no to do what we asked her to do, and (c) apparently she's upset that I was assigned as her supervisor. Do you have any advice for me?

First, I hope that you were not made a supervisor strictly because you have seniority. That's about the worst reason to promote someone. (Although, admittedly, it's a very popular reason for promotion. Longevity does not=good supervisor material.) Because you are not sticking your head in the sand with this employee, it seems like you earned this role by more than not quitting.

Your first issue is that she is an old friend who is ticked off that you are her boss. Her failures could just be passive aggressive behavior--and may even be subconscious. This is a frustrating situation. Now, since she made mistakes before you became her supervisor, my guess is that there are some competence issues along with negative feelings.

It's hard to have a supervisor who used to be a peer. It's hard to be a supervisor to someone who used to be a peer.

I'm going to solve part of your problem right now. This is super-de-duper easy. Instead of trying to get your employee to ask if the document she is cutting and pasting from is a final version, you simply save documents as proposal42_draft.doc when it is a draft and then change it to proposal42_final.doc when it's final. Easy-peasy.

Now, as for the other mistakes, what we need here is a shorter leash. She's been told that she needs to proofread, or whatever, and she's not doing it. Or, she's incapable of noticing the mistakes. If it's the former, then she has to run everything by you before she turns it in. This is a huge pain for you, but hopefully, will be a bigger pain for her and she'll start paying attention. This also blocks her access to the big-wigs and can be very frustrating. But, until she can produce error free work, absolutely necessary.

If she's incapable of noticing the mistakes then you've got a person who is in the wrong position. So, she either gets nudged towards the door or the position evolves to fit her strengths. There's nothing wrong with the latter, by the way. I'm a writer, not an editor. I don't have an editor over here (except for my commentors who can spot a misspelling or missed word a mile away), but I do at US News and she catches some things and occasionally changes my grammar to something clearer. She's very good at it. (She's a very good writer as well.)

If this person just needs a quick grammar clean up, then this might be a solution. If this person's errors, however, are of the factual kind, this may be manage out situation. You have to decide if the problem is fixable. Include her in your decision making process.

Explain that these errors have got to stop and you are willing to help her with that. What support does she think she needs? Are the deadlines too tight? Does she not know how to do research? (The first page of Google hits does not equal "research.") If it's just sloppiness, then the short leash should help.

She may need a mentor who can help her through. Or, this may be too much effort for a part time person. (Yes, I can be heartless.)

But, work with her, not against her. Be clear in expectations. Follow up every time. And good luck.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Just a little brag

No real post here. Just writing to say, I'm going to Paris this weekend. Neener-neener.

And, no, I won't eat escargot. I don't care that it is delicious. Blech.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

HR not MD

I've put my thoughts on why HR isn't responsible to guess what medical problems you have over at US News. Check it out and leave your comments.