It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. How to disinvite an intern from our trivia team
I work for a large company in a small town. Like “literally everyone in town works for this company” large. It’s the summer and now there are tons of interns about. Last summer I had an awesome trivia team and it’s started up again this summer. Last year, we kind of cobbled together a team and we turned out to be pretty good! There were four of us, but we brought friends every now and then, no big deal. I was hanging out with another set of friends and there was a guy, Cosmo, who said he was into trivia, so I invited him.
Cosmo doesn’t actually know much trivia. He makes fun of us when we make bad puns or spout some extra trivia knowledge (calling us dorks/geeks/nerds, we all have a STEM background so this is just strange to me…). He doesn’t speak English well enough to understand the host on the mic, so we end up repeating the question to him several times and then he always says “oh, I don’t know [that category]”. He will contribute nothing and then if we win, he’ll still take a cut of the prize. All of these things on their own have happened with guests we bring, we’re usually pretty laid back about it but all of these things together have been a headache!
Another intern, Wanda, organizes the group and has agreed with me several times that she doesn’t appreciate Cosmo being there, bringing us down (mood wise but also the score), and then taking our prize money. Wanda has stopped responding to his messages, but there’s one trivia night in town, he knows where we’ll be even if we don’t confirm it. This is a small town, everyone knows each other, everyone works with each other, how are we supposed to tell Cosmo to take a hike?
Can you be straightforward with him about the problems? For example: “When we’ve invited you in the past, you’ve made fun of us, called us names, and taken a cut of the winnings after not contributing any trivia answers. So for now we’re going to keep the team to just the four of us.”
2. I was told to take a week off unpaid due to someone else’s health
I’d love to hear what you and your readers think of an HR incident that happened to me a few years back. For over a decade now, I’ve worked in payroll in HR departments across the Canadian federal government. This occurred in 2010, when I was a senior compensation advisor.
Against all odds, I came down with a case of acute viral parotitis, also known as the mumps. I had virtually no pain at all (besides the embarrassment of looking like a greedy hamster) and felt completely normal, but I was considered contagious for about a week following the first signs of symptoms.
I stayed home for the week as recommended by my doctor and with my manager’s approval. But then I was out of sick leave to use and could not afford to take unpaid time off. I was, after all, feeling perfectly fine and, as per my doctor, not likely to be contagious anymore.
However, I had a slightly junior colleague of mine who happened to be expecting and going through a particularly difficult pregnancy (she was later on put on bed rest at five months along, unrelated to this incident). She asked our manager that I not be allowed back to work yet since parotitis is extremely dangerous to pregnancy, let alone challenging ones. I of course agreed, as I would never willingly put anyone’s health or pregnancy in jeopardy.
The issue is that my manager asked that I take another full week off, unpaid. As someone who lived paycheck to paycheck, I could not afford this at all. In hindsight, I should’ve taken this to Labour Relations in hopes of finding a compromise of some sort, but I didn’t (my manager at the time was a rather intimidating woman). I ended up losing a week’s wages, which impacted my personal life in a number of horrible ways for months following the incident.
How do you figure a situation like this should be handled, particularly in an office that, for very legitimate security reasons, does not allow working from home?
Ooof, this is tough.
It’s easy to say that if you were cleared by your doctor to return to work, then you should have been allowed to return to work, and that if your coworker had concerns about being around you, at that point the burden should be on her to be the one to stay home. But in reality, it’s a lot easier to say to the person who’s been sick “let’s have you stay out one more week to be sure since we have a pregnant person here” than to say to the pregnant person “if you’re worried, too bad, handle that on your own.”
But your employer could have solved the whole thing by covering your pay that second week, and they should have. As it was, they helped out your coworker at real financial cost to you.
3. Spending weeks off the grid in the middle of a job search
I’m job searching, and have submitted several applications that I’m hoping to hear back about. I’m also planning a three-week backpacking trip in the wilderness in a few months and will be 100% off the grid.
For work, I will of course use an auto-away message, but I hesitate to do that on my personal email. The people in my life who need to know already know, so I don’t want to look overly braggy, and I also don’t want to advertise that my apartment will be unoccupied for such a long period of time.
But will this hurt me if an employer tries to contact me for an interview? If I don’t reply for 2.5 weeks but then respond with a sincere apology and sincere interest in the position, is it possible that they would have moved too far along in the process to consider interviewing me at that point? And if a company is moving that quickly, would an auto-reply saying that I’ll be away for three weeks help slow them down, or would they continue to move on without me anyway (rendering the auto-away useless in its intention)?
If you’d be willing to set up the auto-reply, that’s the best solution. Some employers won’t be willing or able to wait, but some might be, especially if you’re a very strong candidate. But if you don’t want to do that for security reasons, then yeah, responding to any emails with an explanation once you’re back is your best bet. A lot of employers will be too far along in their process at that point for it to matter, but others might not be.
Basically, going off the grid for three weeks in the middle of a job search means there’s some risk that you could lose out on some of the positions you’ve applied for, and there’s no way to guard against that 100%, so it’s just a possibility you have to be okay with.
However, if you can, I’d stop applying for things a couple of weeks before you leave so that you’re not sending applications out there and then immediately going dark when people might be trying to respond to your latest round.
4. How to screen for candidates who can put up with internal bureaucracy
I was recently promoted at work, and now have to hire a replacement for my previous role. Based on my experience and the experience of my colleagues, I’ve seen that people who are willing to put up with internal bureaucracy (lots of internal meetings, BS memos, etc.) and are comfortable with a top-down approach perform better than people who expect more autonomy. What is the best way to screen for this quality in interviews?
First, be transparent about this aspect of your culture, so that people who know they aren’t a fit for it can self-select out. Give a few examples of what you mean, so that they can clear picture the sort of thing you’re describing. If you use shorthand, there’s a risk that people will picture something different, so clear examples help.
As for interview questions, ask people to tell you about a time or two when internal bureaucracy was slowing down a project or process they were involved in, and how they handled it. Also ask them to tell you about a time when their boss wanted them to do something differently than how they would have chosen to approach it, and how they handled that. With these questions, be prepared to ask follow-ups to really dig in to how they operated in those circumstances (for example, “What was the hardest part of that?” or “that sounds tough — how did you respond to X?”). The idea here is to explore how they’ve done in situations in their past that are similar to what they’d encounter in your organization, and to listen to how they talk about it too. (Do they sound matter-of-fact, frustrated, jaded, etc.?)
5. My former job keeps paying me
I resigned from my job, but they keep depositing a check in my direct deposit. I can’t get in contact with anyone! Can I get in trouble?
They can make you return the money once they realize it’s been happening. Keep trying to reach them. (And if you’ve only been emailing, start calling instead.)
And for now, put the money aside and don’t touch it, since it’s very likely that at some point they will reclaim it (which legally they can do).
how to disinvite an intern from our trivia team, I was told to take a week off unpaid due to someone else’s health, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.