Your Office Coach
Each Wednesday, nationally syndicated workplace columnist Marie G. McIntyre, Ph. D., answers your “in the trenches” workplace questions on everything from team-building to getting a raise to dealing with difficult people.
Question: “During my interviews for a sales position, I am often asked whether I have children. When I say that I have four, the managers typically respond that they also have children and must juggle a lot of responsibilities. The question usually comes up in a casual chat, while we’re driving to a field office or eating lunch. This seems like friendly conversation, but since I have received no job offers, I can’t help wondering if it’s really discrimination. Can this question legally be asked in an informal setting? And how do I respond without looking resistant?” —Working Mom
Question: "After joining a start-up company with only four employees, I developed a very bad relationship with one of them. This woman is incompetent and tries to steal other people’s ideas. She tells new employees about our past conflicts in order to turn them against me. She also sucks up to our manager by always being very agreeable with him. Whenever we have an argument, she plays the victim and cries in his office. Because he believes her, I’m now seen as the troublemaker on the team. How do I put a stop to her manipulative behavior?" —Treated Unfairly
Question: “I have a new co-worker who frequently scowls, sighs disapprovingly, and mutters inappropriate remarks under her breath. I try to avoid her because she makes me uncomfortable. Last week, she exhibited the same behavior during a meeting at a client's office. I was embarrassed by the way she represented our company. When I reported her conduct to our manager, he said that I should “learn to work with different types of people." His reaction surprised me, because I am a very open-minded person. I thought that my boss would appreciate this information, but he seems to feel that I’m an insensitive tattletale. Was I wrong to report her behavior?” — Mortified Co-worker
Question: “In the department I manage, we have recently experienced a sudden increase in turnover. What concerns me is that none of the supervisors knew that their employees were planning to leave. I encourage supervisors to have monthly one-on-one meetings with employees, but this apparently isn’t working the way it should. What can we do to make people open up to management?” —Frustrated Manager
Question: “Our HR manager recently asked if I would be interested in dating another employee who is also single. I told her that I have no interest in asking this woman out. I am a mid-level manager in a small company, so having a social relationship at work would be very awkward. It makes me uncomfortable that an HR person is trying to plan my social life. Should I tell management about this or just hope that the subject isn’t raised again?” —Concerned
Question: “In our department, the employees have to deal with some very difficult high-level managers. If we won’t let them do exactly what they want, they complain to our boss. She always gives in and never backs us up. How can we tell her that she is wrong to change our decisions?” —No Support
Question: “Our new manager is having an affair with a young woman in our office. The two of them often disappear for hours at a time. Since this relationship began, our co-worker has become arrogant and rude. She used to be polite and helpful. Everyone is upset about the change in our office atmosphere, but no one will speak up. I seem to be the only person willing to address the issue, but I don’t know how to do it diplomatically. Where do I go and what do I say?” —A.P.
Question: "A supervisor who reports to me spends too much time talking with employees about their personal problems. Many of her staff members are young parents who carry a lot of ‘baggage.’ I understand that it can be hard to separate personal from professional, and I don’t want to seem unsympathetic. However, we don’t need an atmosphere where managers are viewed as counselors. I am struggling with the best way to tell this supervisor that she needs to focus on her management responsibilities. Any suggestions?" —Not Dear Abby
Question: “A new woman in our office literally stinks. She wears nice clothes, but doesn’t shower or wash her hair. She actually looks dirty. Our boss has talked with her twice about this problem. Each time he mentioned it, she cleaned up for a while, then went back to her old habits. Everyone is sick of smelling this disgusting odor every day. We are also worried about losing customers. How can we get this woman to clean up?” —Holding My Nose
Question: “The president of our company speaks only to certain people. Several times a week, she comes into our office and says hello to two of my co-workers. She says nothing to the rest of us, even though we’re sitting right there. Since we all do the same job, we can’t help feeling offended when she ignores us. What do you think about this?” —Overlooked