smokers in a shared conference room, giving bibles as gifts to employees, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Giving bibles as gifts to employees

I have a question about Christmas gifts from the boss to employees. It is inappropriate to gift a bible to each person in my office? I also wanted to engrave their names on it.

Sooooo inappropriate. Religion is personal, and it doesn’t belong at work. Especially because you’re the boss, this is likely to be incredibly uncomfortable for some people because there’s a power dynamic involved, and you risk making people feel uneasy at best and downright alienated at worst. Stick with non-religious gifts.

2. Smokers in a shared conference room

I work as a consultant, which means that I usually work in the same conference room with my team. When I’m at the home office, this means it’s about 6-8 people in one conference room. I’m not always working closely with them, so if I’m just working on something individually I could be in the lounge outside or an individual room (both places where people go to work) and it would not affect performance. We do not have assigned desks or offices — we use hoteling instead.

More than half my team smokes. They always leave to smoke so that’s not an issue, but the room and everyone’s clothes, etc. smell of smoke, to the point where my clothes and hair smell of smoke every day and it can be uncomfortable to breathe, especially since I had asthma as a child and these types of things still bother me.

Would it be ridiculous to step out at times to another room just because I can’t stand the smell? I haven’t wanted to create waves because I am new to the company and by far the youngest member, there’s not really much they can do about this, and they’ve been working like this for a while. Is there another way to handle this?

Not ridiculous at all — just the opposite. There’s absolutely no reason you should have to deal with your clothes and hair smelling like smoke. Then throw in the impact on your breathing, and your case for moving is unassailable. If you think it might ever be something people notice and wonder about, you should just give your boss a heads-up: “Hey, I’m pretty sensitive to cigarette smoke and I’m finding that the smell that clings to the smokers in the conference room makes it uncomfortable for me to breathe. So I wanted to let you know that when I’m at the home office, I’m going to work out of the lounge or one of the individual offices.”

3. Performance ratings for someone who’s new to the job

I’m a first-time manager and struggling with applying my company’s annual performance appraisal rating system, which must be followed at year-end regardless of the length of the employee’s tenure. I’ll be discussing this with my manager, but would love to hear your philosophy about these things as well.

We’ve got a standard five point system — unsatisfactory, needs improvement, satisfactory, excellent, outstanding. There are definitions for all, which are great, until you try to apply them to an employee who’s been in a complex professional role less than a year.

Compared to the job description, this employee is just about performing the bare minimum requirements satisfactorily and still needs to improve significantly. However, I consider them an awesome employee — they show great initiative and work ethic and are building skills much faster than I expected. I feel like I could justify giving this employee just about any rating, depending on how it’s framed, which makes the whole thing feel contrived. How would you approach this?

Well, it depends on what you’re measuring her against. Are you measuring her against the expectations for her job if she’d been there longer? Or are you measuring her against the expectations for a person who’s been there however many months she has? I’d argue that it should be the latter. Ideally she has goals for this time period, goals that are based on a realistic assessment of what a new person could achieve in this amount of time — and you can assess her progress against those goals, and draw a rating from that.

I wouldn’t given an “outstanding” to someone new to the role who is “just about performing the bare minimum requirements satisfactorily and still needs to improve significantly.” But if you think she’s out-performing the basic expectations for someone new to the role, I think you have a case for “excellent.” But if you’re comparing her to the overall mastery of the job that she must achieve, that’s more of a case for “satisfactory,” although I’d make sure that’s accompanied by very enthusiastic narrative about her performance, an explanation that she’s clearly working toward an excellent (and possibly outstanding) level of performance and that the rating is a function of her newness in the role, and commentary on how thrilled you are with her initiative, work ethic, and progress toward mastering the job.

4. The ethics of wearing company-purchased clothing outside of work

What are the ethics of wearing company-bought clothing outside of work? I’ve moved to a city with a colder climate than I’m used to for a new job. Part of my job duties involve spending time outdoors, so the company policy is to purchase appropriate, non-specialized clothing (in this case, winter jacket, winter boots, etc.) for employees. There’s no company logo on the clothing, and no designated place to buy it from — basically, they say to go to any good quality clothing store in town, buy something that’s warm and fits you, and here’s the company credit card.

Needless to say, this is quite generous of them! But would it be okay to wear the coat and boots outside of work for personal, everyday use? I’d likely buy the same clothing at my own expense, but it’s certainly nice not to have to pay for it myself. My boss knows I’m not from around here and not as used to the cold, so I don’t think he’d say no if I asked him directly, but would it be ethically wrong to be taking advantage of this? I’d only be spending a small fraction of my time outside, so otherwise it would just sit there. Also, because I’m petite, nothing I buy for me is likely to fit anyone else — would I be expected to return the clothing if I ever left?

Unless they’ve asked you to reserve the clothes exclusively for work (which doesn’t sound like the case), there’s no reason that you shouldn’t be able to wear these clothes outside of work. Go forth and wear them without worry.

And I doubt you’ll be asked to return them when you leave, but if you’re wondering about that, it’s fine to ask your manager that question. (I’d strongly suspect the answer will be no, though, in part because you’ve been told to pick out what you want and these aren’t uniforms, in part because you weren’t given hand-me-down’s yourself, and in part because it just doesn’t sound like that kind of arrangement.)

5. Not so zen at my part-time yoga job

In addition to a traditional 9 to 5 office job (that I love!), I also teach fitness classes at a well known studio with multiple locations on the side. I don’t rely on the income from it, but I love doing it nonetheless.

I’ve been with my current studio for two years. While I don’t want to generalize too much, I’m something of an anomaly. There is very high instructor turnover and I’ve seen firsthand how flaky and unprofessional fitness workers can be. I’m diligent about covering classes for other instructors, have gotten involved in and lead programs for the company, and am proud of the fact that when I get a new class on the schedule, I stick with it.

I had been teaching two 6 a.m. classes at one of the locations. When a new batch of instructors was hired, I was asked to give up one of those classes. The rationale I was given was that they wanted variety and that it was company best-practice to not have the same instructor in the same time slot for more than one class a week. I had never heard this policy before and the manager apologized for not being more clear (though I was offered both classes by management, it’s not like I demanded them or anything). I reluctantly gave up one of them and asked about plans to give me a replacement class. That was in July and I’ve yet to get a new class.

The other day, I noticed that the instructor who took over my second 6 a.m. class is ALSO now teaching another 6 a.m. class at the same studio, in direct contradiction to the policy I was informed of before. Needless to say, I’m very frustrated. Should I approach management about this, and if so, what do I say? I’ve always gotten great feedback and am very involved in the studio and other programs and events that we offer. If there was any issue with my teaching, it was never brought to my attention and my attendance in the classes I do still teach has been solid. I hate to play the “it’s not fair” card, but I’m upset that a brand new instructor is being given priority over me when I have a proven track record of being committed to my both the company and my classes.

Yes, ask your manager about it. It’s possible that it was an oversight, or that the policy has changed since you last talked about it, or that there’s some special reason for the other instructor to have an exception to the policy.

Say something like this: “I’ve noticed Jane is teaching two 6 a.m. classes. When you asked me to give up one of my 6 a.m. classes a few months ago, it was because there was a policy against having the same instructor in the same time slot for more than one class a week. If that policy has changed, I’d love to talk about picking up another class.”

Depending on the answer, you might then say: “I hope that my seniority and track record here — and the fact that I got bumped from my old class for Janet to take it — mean that I can have first shot at the next early-morning slot that opens up. Do you think that’s something we can do?”

And if you feel like you’re not getting straight answers, you might want to say this: “If you have any concerns about my teaching and that’s part of the reason I’m having trouble getting another class, I’d be so grateful to know. I really value your feedback and want to make sure that I’m doing the best job for you that I can.”


smokers in a shared conference room, giving bibles as gifts to employees, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.


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November 27, 2016 at 03:06PM