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Sunday, August 20, 2017

How can I pay if I don't know the price?



M.N. never knows when his company cafeteria is going to be busy during the summer months, particularly in August when many of his colleagues tend to take time off for a summer vacation. During the rest of the year, M.N. tends to try to time his cafeteria visits to early or late during the breakfast and lunch hours in an attempt to avoid the crowds.

Last week, however, M.N. writes that he woefully miscalculated. When he got to the cafeteria there was more of a crowd than he anticipated, partly, he suspects, because it was a rainy day and more of his colleagues had chosen to eat indoors than to venture outside to nearby restaurants or convenience stores for dining options.

It turns out that there was also a conference occurring on the premises, so many outsiders were visiting his company and they too were using the cafeteria facilities.

"The lines were long, but I was already there, so I chose to stay and wait it out," he writes. M.N. loaded up a container from the salad bar, grabbed a soft drink from the cooler, and then waited on one of the checkout lines for a cashier to weigh his salad and ring him out.

After a few minutes of waiting, one of the chefs came out from behind the counters and started to walk up to people she recognized who were waiting on line.

"You eat here regularly, right?" she asked a few employees ahead of M.N. in line. When they acknowledged that they did, the chef told them to take their purchases and pay up later in the week.

As the chef made her way down the line, she recognized M.N. as a regular customer and instructed him to do the same so they could cut down on the amount of people waiting in line. M.N. thanked her and headed out of the cafeteria to bring his salad and drink back to his office to eat.

"After I'd eaten my salad, I realized I had a problem," writes M.N. "I have no idea how much my salad weighed, so I don't know how much I owe them."

Now, M.N. writes that he feels like he's at a loss about the right thing to do. Since it's unlikely anyone will chase him down to pay for his lunch, should he just forget about it? Or should he explain his conundrum to the cafeteria staff?

Simply neglecting to pay and hoping the situation will go away is rarely a good option, particularly since M.N. received goods for which he owes money. But he's right in feeling lost about how to calculate what he owes. If he generally pays a similar amount for his salads each time, he can offer to pay that. But the right thing to do is to chat with the cafeteria manager and let her know he's willing to pay, but isn't sure how much.

The chef would have been wise to let those having items to be weighed know how to proceed before she dismissed them. But given that she didn't, the right thing for the cafeteria manager to do is to either work out a suitable payment for the items consumed, or, given that M.N. is a regular customer, offer him this one lunch on the house. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2017 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

When should I let supervisor know when assistants act out?



The schedule for the day-long event was packed, and L.S. knew it. She had been asked to give a 45-minute talk to a group of about 200 corporate employees, building in enough time for questions as part of her presentation. The event organizer had been explicit that the schedule for the day was tight and that they needed L.S. to finish right on time so the group could have a 15-minute break before it went to its next session.

L.S. figured that fitting what she had to say into the time allotted and keeping the conference goers on schedule was not a problem. She had lectured at many such events before. As was her wont, L.S. spent time preparing for her talk, keeping in mind the time restrictions.

The day of the event came and L.S. arrived in plenty of time. The event organizer met her, explaining that after she introduced L.S., she would have to leave the room to take care of other conference matters. The organizer would also tell the attendees that at the conclusion of L.S.'s talk, they would have 15 minutes before they needed to be seated and ready for their next event.

All went according to plan. After being introduced, the organizer discretely scooted out of the room and L.S. began. The audience seemed engaged and L.S. managed to keep her presentation on time as well as to take any questions the attendees had. With a minute left to spare, L.S. wrapped up, thanked the audience, and then acknowledged their applause.

As the attendees got up to leave, however, an assistant to the event organizer rose and shouted to the audience, "Hold on. Don't leave yet."'

The assistant proceeded to take the microphone from L.S., and began talking to the crowd, essentially recapping what L.S. had just spent 45 minutes saying. Only the crowd was now growing restless. After 10 minutes had passed, the assistant finally dismissed the attendees, leaving them with no break and little time to get to the next event.

"I'm not sure what that was about," L.S. writes. "But the assistant just left the room with the crowd, never apologizing for going over on time or explaining why he felt the need to insert himself into the proceedings."

L.S. writes that she's concerned the organizer will think L.S. went over on time. But even if the organizer doesn't think this, she wonders if she should say something to the organizer about behavior that she found to be a bit unprofessional. "Should I say something, or let it lie?"

If the behavior concerns L.S., the right thing would be to say something. While the assistant may indeed have been unprofessional and discourteous to the attendees -- L.S. can simply explain what happened and let the organizer make of it what she will. She'd likely be doing the organizer a favor by letting her know how her employees behave when she is not in the room.

There's no ethical obligation for L.S. to say anything, however, if she doesn't want to. If she accomplished her goal of getting her desired message across to the attendees, she can rest easy. The attendees can assess for themselves the behavior of the assistant without transferring the inappropriateness of his behavior onto L.S. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2017 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.