August 2009

He said that…

by Evil HR Lady on August 28, 2009

I am going to use the following names in this scenario: SUPERVISOR: John, EMPLOYEE: Jane

Jane asked John if he had said anything about her to another employee. He said he did not. He asked Jane who told him that. Jane refuses to tell him who. Jane stated that his word is good enough for her. John sends me (HR) a written statement and demands an investigation on why employees are gossiping about him.

My initial thought is “What does he want me to do? Take Jane into an interrogation room and threaten her if she doesn’t give me the names?” I think John should stop whining and know that employees will sometimes talk about you especially if you are a supervisor. If I knew which employees it was, maybe I would talk to them and tell them not to talk about people. But, I don’t even have names.

What advice do you have on how to handle this supervisor? Also, do you have any advice on what would be proper if I DID have names?

Oh blech. Here we are in 7th grade all over again. A manager wants an investigation about why employees are gossiping about him? Seriously. Tell him that it would be worth investigating if employees weren’t gossiping about him.

And I’m concerned about my spelling of gossiping. It looks funny and I think it should have two ps. But it doesn’t; it only has one. Weird.

For the record, I’m on Jane’s side here. Instead of engaging in the gossip herself, she went to the supposed source and asked for clarification. She is also trying to end the drama right now by not tattling on whoever said whatever. I usually advise people to ask people directly if they want to know what someone thinks. Good for Jane.

Now, as your John. I have a strong suspicion that he lied to Jane. I bet he has been talking about her and now he’s all freaked out because one of the people he “trusted” has now blabbed, but he’s blabbed to so many people that he has no idea who to yell at. (No idea at whom to yell? It’s grammar day here at EHRL!)

But, even if he didn’t, his reaction is over the top. He doesn’t know his people. He doesn’t trust his people. He’s blown up what could easily have been a misunderstanding to a full fledged witch hunt. This is not how to manage people.

I would ask him what he hopes to achieve by an investigation. He, of course, wants to find out WHO IS GOSSIPING ABOUT HIM. Ask him why. What does he intend to do with that information? Fire the person? Because most companies would not say this is a fireable offense. (Fireable=not a word according to firefox.) Point out that if gossip was truly a problem in his group, he’d know who the instigator was, without any investigation. Those things usually come to light pretty quickly.

Instead, suggest that he let this go. (I know, not likely to happen.) Suggest it again. Congratulate him for being open enough that Jane felt comfortable coming to him directly. Suggest regular staff and 1:1 meetings if he’s not having them. These will help people be aware of what is going on and feel more included. This will also allow him to figure out problems and fix them. Tell him that you will be happy to coach him through this process. Because you need to.

Now, this assumes Jane isn’t an attention seeking whacko. Because if she is, this is the wrong answer. Heh.

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How to break into HR (or anything else)

by Evil HR Lady on August 27, 2009

Want to know a secret way to get a job? Okay, it’s not secret, but it’s a suggestion I made over at US News. Go over and add your suggestions as well.

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Over at Ask a Manager a reader asks what to do about an HR person who called her first and now won’t take/return the reader’s calls. Ask a Manager gives an excellent (as usual) answer. It, however, brings me to this question: What is the purpose of having someone answer your phone if all they are going to do is send you to voice mail?

Yes, I know it’s so that if the CEO calls, your receptionist can run and get you out of whatever important meeting you are in. Except, how often does that happen? Really? And if it happens a lot, then his admin can call your admin directly.

A couple of days ago I called a woman with whom I had been corresponding via e-mail. I needed an answer to a rather basic question about the German language lessons this school offered. What I got was the receptionist. She said the person I was looking for was not available, and would I like her voice mail? I said, “Oh, perhaps you can help me. I just have a question–”

“Oh, I’m just the receptionist,” she said, cutting me off.

The funny thing is, in my experience this isn’t unusual. So, why have someone answer your phone if they can’t answer the most basic question? I’ve had bosses who insisted on the rule that “all calls be answered by a live person.” This is good if the live person could help, but in practice, it just meant a live person saying, “Can I take a message?”

Now, I am not at all discounting the value of a good administrative assistant. I’m discounting the necessity of having a human, who can’t really help you, answering the phones. Someone explain.

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How to Quit

by Evil HR Lady on August 24, 2009

I am very happy with my job and I’m on good terms with my boss. My husband recently got a job several states away and will be starting work there in one week. The plan was for me to stay at our house and work until it sold–well, it sold in the first weekend! Now I only have 3 weeks until I’m homeless in this state! My boss is traveling for business for the next two weeks. I’d prefer to resign in person, but there isn’t time. Do you have any etiquette recommendations on giving my two weeks by phone or email?

Holy cow! You sold your house in one weekend? I am super-de-duper jealous. I thought we were beyond lucky to sell our house in 2 months.

Now, just so we’re clear with everyone reading, this is a special circumstance. This is not the preferred way to resign from a position. Although, I will admit that I once quit via e-mail. I know, I know. Tacky. My boss was in a different office and I kept calling and getting his voice mail and I certainly didn’t want to leave a message saying, “I quit!”

Since you are on good terms with your boss, let’s do everything to keep it that way–especially since you’ll need a reference. (Assuming you’ll be looking for a new job.) Here are my recommendations:

  • Phone calls are more personal than e-mails, so call
  • Apologize profusely for doing it over the phone
  • Tell her why you are leaving, how much you enjoyed working for her, and how you learned a lot
  • Explain about the unexpected house sale and apologize again for the short notice
  • Still write a formal resignation letter, sign it, and give it to her after the fact. You can send a copy via e-mail, after the phone conversation.

One thing that I will mention, is that you’ve been looking towards this for a long time. People are frequently afraid to tell their bosses that they are planning to quit in the near future. You could have made this easier on yourself by telling your boss your plans when your husband accepted the new position. Granted, some bosses will fire you because they know you are leaving, but not usually ones with whom we have good relationships.

When I quit my last job, I told my boss as soon as my husband had a verbal job offer. I told her there was a 90% chance I would be leaving and gave her tentative dates. I then helped figure out what the department’s options were for replacing me, gave my opinion on internal candidates and did what I could to help. My boss was extremely understanding, but she’s always been a great boss. (And for the record, her boss was understanding as well. I actually left the best job on the planet. What was I thinking? Oh yes, chocolate. I was thinking about chocolate.)

Good luck with your move! And with quitting your job. it’s actually a difficult thing to do when you like the people you work for and with.

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Time Card Trouble

by Evil HR Lady on August 21, 2009

What do you do when your people won’t fill out their time cards? Head to US News’s On Careers and check out my response, then leave your own.

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A math problem

by Evil HR Lady on August 21, 2009

My problem is more of a math problem, I think. I have an employee on salary that has exceeded the number of vacation days he is allowed. How do I deduct his pay for this unpaid vacation time? I just can’t grasp how to figure this out. He is paid bi-weekly, gets 2 weeks (80 hours/10 days, at least that is how it would be for an hourly employee) paid vacation, is required to work 6 days a week (10-12 hours per day).

It’s a good thing I took calculus in high school, because it’s been extremely helpful in payroll problems. (Thanks Mr. Ward!) I would also like to note (purely for my own self esteem boost) that I was the first female to ever pass the AP calculus exam at my high school.

Okay, this is simple division. Multiple ways to go about it. One, you could be a real stick in the mud and say that you will deduct 8 hours for each day he was gone–which would be rather traditional. Since he required to work 6 days a week, though, I’d take one week’s pay, divide by six and have that be one day’s pay.

Except I wouldn’t do any of this. You have an exempt employee, who regularly puts in 60 to 72 hours a week. Presumably, this is not an easy job, as it wouldn’t require so many freaking hours. Exempt employees should get paid for the job, not by the hour. (Some people will argue that you can’t deduct at all, I argue that you can in whole day increments, but I’m not a lawyer and even if I were, this isn’t the hill I want to die on.)

The hill I want to die on is that you should cut the guy some slack and grant him the two extra days. If he’s a good employee this is especially important. If he’s a bad employee, start dealing with his issues in another way. He’s doing a ton of work. Give him the two days.

Somebody will start shrieking about workplace fairness. Well, to be fair, I think all exempt employees who work their tail ends off deserve some extra time off. Hourly employees are different–not because they are less valuable–but because the laws governing them are different. They are compensated with overtime pay for crazy hours.

You want to keep your good employees happy. You want to either change your bad employees to good employees, or work them out of the organization. This may help with the latter, but not at all with the former.

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Why Managers Make More Money

by Evil HR Lady on August 20, 2009

I have been working at my place of employment for about a year and half. As of 7/06/09 I was moved to a different department and promoted to supervisor. At the time I was supervising 4 employees. I had to lay one of them off around 7/15 due to being overstaffed.

The employee (employee A) was supposed to be let go by my predecessor, but he never carried it out. I laid off the employee and needless to say that employee was shocked. I found out later that the former employee was going around saying that I fired him because I didn’t like him.

He has a couple of friends still employed with the company so hearing this I was alarmed. Both friends (employee B and employee C) are currently under my supervision. I recently had a day off on 8/5 and returned to work on 8/6. I noticed that employee B was acting rather suspiciously. Doing things that he normally wouldn’t do. He was always forgetting to lockout his computer when he would leave his desk. This day he immediately minimized an e-mail when I walked in the room. I looked down and saw that the title was “logging”. I thought nothing of it. The employee then got up from his desk and left the room only to return a few seconds later and locked out his computer.

I became suspicious of this. Later that day the employee left his computer open and his e-mail up. I noticed a folder in his e-mail called “logging”. I opened the folder and found that this employee had been logging incidents against me beginning on 7/16. The day after his friend was let go. He was e-mailing himself notes on interactions with me. Needless to say some of the notes are true but fabricated and some are complete lies. There was one incident that I did read and recall. I had moved the employee outside the office after he had made several costly errors and had told him that he is costing the company money with his mistakes. He logged this in that file. He made another entry how he dreads whenever I come in the room and feels that I shouldn’t be allowed to look over his shoulder as he works. He also made another entry that “I said that he had herpes”. Which is a lie. Employee C (the other friend) was saying that employee B had them because of his chapped lips and they where laughing back and forth amongst themselves. I had no part in this conversation. I am fairly new to supervising people and was completely blind sided by this because I didn’t know that this employee was out for me.

After reading this I have taken a different approach in dealing with this employee and have started employee notes on all my employees in case I need to refer back to them in the future. This employee is consistently late coming in to work and returning from breaks and I am not sure how to deal with this either. Because I really don’t need the extra stress if this employee decides to forward this file.I really am just looking for some advice. I am not sure if I should bring this up to my manager. Also I am not sure if I violated anything by reading this log on his company e-mail. Can you please help me out. I am trying my best to learn from this but its difficult and is causing me to be stressed out about the whole situation.

So, I see we’re learning why managers make more money, are we? Ahh, talk about trial by fire.

To be supremely unhelpful, I’m going to talk about the things that were done incorrectly. Please note, I used passive voice on purpose because I’m not pointing fingers. I just want to give big hugs to everyone! Let’s just all be friends!

Sorry, I don’t know what came over me there. But, you made some mistakes and I want to address them. The bigger mistakes, however, were made by your management and your HR department. You don’t give someone their first job supervising others and immediately have him fire someone without expert coaching. It seems like you didn’t receive that expert coaching.

Employee A should have been terminated by your predecessor. I don’t know the story behind that, but laying someone off should never be a single person’s decision. I’m all in favor of managers managing, but there are legal things to be considered in a layoff and for those reasons someone other than the direct supervisor need to be aware of and involved in the termination process. A date needs to be set and a witness to the actual termination (preferably another manager or HR, and definitely not a peer of the unlucky person.)

This, obviously, was not done, if the previous boss procrastinated the awful task. (And make no mistake, laying someone off is AWFUL. I’ve trained managers who couldn’t even say the words when they were practicing what to say. It’s a terrible task. Terrible. I give you big credit for having the guts to go ahead and do what needed to be done.)

So, you sat down with employee A, told him that due to workload his position was eliminated. Perfect. (I am going to assume you did this part perfectly. Please don’t burst my bubble by telling me you yelled across the office, “Hey Bob, you’re fired as of today. Don’t forget to clock out on the way out. By the way, I hate you.”) The problem is you also need to hold a debriefing with the rest of the staff and say, “Employee A was laid off today because we were overstaffed. As of right now, no new terminations are expected. We are very sad to see Employee A go, but unfortunately it was a business decision that was approved at the highest level of the organization.”

This heads off the rumors about why Employee A was fired. Of course, even if you did do this, there is no guarantee that the employee won’t be angry and bitter and try to gain sympathy with his friends, which is what he is doing.

So, now, where do you go from here?

1. Make a plan. My suggested plan (which may or may not be appropriate for the people involved) is the direct approach. You call employee B into your office, tell him you are aware that he is unhappy with you as a manager. Then you can discuss your expectations, listen to his concerns and schedule a follow up meeting.

2. Before executing this plan, talk to your manager. You’re a new supervisor. His job is to help you learn how to do that job. Explain what is going on, and what you want to do and ask for coaching. Do not ask him to talk to Employee B for you. That’s wimpy, and you wouldn’t do it anyway.

There are several key reasons for doing this. One is that the last thing you want is to handle the situation and have Employee B going to your manager and have him override your decision. If you’re going to be overridden, better to find out before you talk to the employee. Another is that you need to make sure you are doing what is right for the business.

3. Keep communication open with all your employees. Especially in a new manager situation, I like to see 1:1 meetings (you with an individual employee) every week or two. Some people think this is serious overkill and micromanaging, but it all depends on what you are doing in these meetings. They can be excellent ways to develop your employees, follow up on their goals (you may have to set some if their previous manager didn’t–and feel free to modify if he did), and keep track of workload and projects.

4. Realize that if Employee B’s attitude doesn’t change, he may have to go as well. You would, of course, do this after regular coaching and with approval from your manager.

Being a manager is tough. But, that’s why you make the big bucks.

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Happy Blog Birthday!

by Evil HR Lady on August 19, 2009

Today my blog is 3! I would make a cake to celebrate but it’s supposed to be in the low 30s (see, I’ve already adjusted to centigrade!) and we have no air conditioning. Therefore, I have no desire to turn on my oven.

In honor of the big celebration, I did get a present of a brand new computer. Hopefully this will mean that I can do a better job of deleting the Chinese spam posts, unless of course, you all like those because they are helpful in managing your life.

Here are a few of the past year’s posts that are either my favorites or generated a lot of comments:

Making it harder to get hired
The power of [passive aggressive] suggestion
How sending my child to school taught me about why people hate HR
Leading people, leading organizations
A friendly warning from the grim reaper
Confidential e-mail
Race Questions
Telecommuting bosses
How to get hired
A Laundry Question
Past Transgressions
Vacation micro-management
Changing diapers

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What to Wear

by Evil HR Lady on August 14, 2009

I have a interview attire question I hope you can help with, should I wear a jacket to an interview? I have an in-person interview in a few weeks and have been told that the interview attire should be business casual. I understand the basics, my confusion is whether a jacket and/or tie is appropriate, I’ve come across conflicting information. I feel more comfortable in a jacket than without in professional situations, but I don’t want to overdress. My gut instinct is that it is better to be more formal than less, but I don’t have much real experience in the business world. Some details; I’m a PhD scientist, transitioning from academia to industry. The position has some managerial duties but is still mostly hands-on. The job is in biomedical manufacturing, with probably little, if any, interaction with people outside the company. Any insight you can give is appreciated.

My gut instinct is to go with the jacket, maybe a sport coat (note to my readers, from the name on the e-mail, I assume this person is male). Definitely a tie.

I’ve read that you should scout out the parking lot and see what people wear and wear that. I think you should scout out the parking lot, see what people wear and wear one step higher. (Unless it’s a suit and tie sort of place, then you should not show up in a tux.) So, if they all come out in jeans, you go in a blue button down shirt and dockers. If they wear dockers and golf shirts, you wear dress pants and a button down shirt with a tie (conservative colors). If they wear the latter, you wear a suit.

I’ll say, when I was hiring people to report to me (not recruiting, mind you), it really bothered me when people would show up under dressed–I felt like they didn’t feel like the interview was important.

My opinion may be old school though, so perhaps my readers can comment and make suggestions.

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No Money to Pay

by Evil HR Lady on August 12, 2009

We are having financial issues like many companies. We are having difficulty funding our payroll and we were late last week by 2 days but made it. It doesn’t look like we will have the funding for next week’s payroll. Should I recommend to the President that we lay off all employees? At least they could apply for unemployment or look for other possible jobs.

Well, based on that one paragraph I’m not sure I can give the best answer. Instead I’ll ask another question: Why the all or nothing approach? Will you have zero money coming in, or would you be able to retain some people? How big is your business? If you lay everyone off (except, I presume, the president) is that different than shutting down the business? Is there chance of recovery in the near future?

The answers to these questions all make a difference. But as a general rule, I dislike letting people hang. And that’s what you are currently doing to your employees. If their paychecks were two days late last week, they know why. They are all stressed out about the situation.

It’s my understanding that in most, if not all states, the company not paying you is reason to be granted unemployment. So, people could already do that if they wanted to.

I think it’s unethical to let people continue working when you have no intention of ever paying them. If, on the other hand, you have the intention and evidence that strongly suggests you will be able to pay them in the very near future, that’s a different thing.

What I would do is figure out how much money you have, who your key players are, what the consequences would be of terminating everyone you can’t afford to pay and creating a plan to save some of the people and the business. That’s HR’s job: to help the business.

This will mean letting some people go (no matter what), but I think it’s better to be upfront with people: We are terminating you because we won’t be able to pay you, rather than telling them that their paychecks will be coming “soon.” Last week’s pay was 2 days late, this week’s is 4 days late, next week…

And keep in mind that you need to pay them for work already performed, so that needs to be on the list of priorities.

Basically, the situation stinks and there isn’t a lot you can do to make it better. But making people come to work when they won’t get paid makes it worse. You may find that some people prefer working with the possibility of no pay to being terminated with the guarantee of no pay.

You may also find that a more creative approach is possible. Can you offer people shares in the company in lieu of paychecks? (Check the laws in your state. Don’t know if this is legal or not, just a thought!) If your employees become owners they may be able to solve problems they can’t solve now because, why put effort into a job that may or may not pay you?

One thing is for certain–this isn’t an easy situation to be in. People are not going to walk away happy. But at least put some thought into the plan and figure out the consequences of each action.

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