Sunday, May 29, 2016

Should I accept a job offered by name-caller?


When P.D. was offered a job recently by the person who would be her supervisor, something she thought unusual occurred. Her prospective supervisor described the job, mentioning that P.D would be assigned to work with a senior employee on her first project. In passing, the supervisor said that P.D.'s new partner was a stickler for punctuality and attention to details and could be mean if you fell short on either category.

Great, P.D. thought, I'm being paired up with someone who's considered mean.

P.D. needed a job and this was the first offer she'd had from the many companies to which she applied. But her prospective supervisor's off-hand comment about another employee at the company gave her pause. Office gossip may be an unfortunate norm at many companies, but P.D. didn't even work there yet!

The "mean" comment left P.D. wondering two things. First, should she take the supervisor's comment as a sign that this might not be a place at which she wants to work and continue her search? And second, if she does take the job, should she tell her new senior colleague about the supervisor's comment?

It's too easy for me or anyone else to advise P.D. not to take the job if it's not the perfect fit. P.D. has a family to help support and this is the first job offer she's had in some time. If the work itself is something for which she's qualified and she enjoys doing such work and is good at it, then it could be a good choice. Maybe not the perfect choice, but then there's an old aphorism that warns that allowing perfect to be the enemy of good can result in inaction. If P.D. needs a job and wants this job, she should not allow this one comment from her prospective supervisor to keep her from taking it.

P.D.'s second job is tougher. Once she's on the job, her immediate task will be to fit in and to learn about the work she'll be doing on the project with the senior employee. As she is trying to build rapport, it might not show the best judgment nor be the most prudent thing to dump the supervisor's comment onto the senior colleague. "You know who thinks you're mean?" is rarely the best opening line to build a healthy workplace partnership.

Besides, P.D. doesn't know if the senior colleague really is mean. It could be that the supervisor simply didn't appreciate the importance she placed on showing up on time and being prepared with details when needed to get the job done.

If P.D. accepts the job, the right thing for her to do is to get to know the senior employee, find out how they can work together to get the job done, and then do the best work she can. She can decide for herself how mean the senior employee is, but she should not let her curiosity about this get in the way of doing the best job possible.

As for the supervisor, insulting an existing employee, while making a job offer is wildly inappropriate. It exhibited a lack of kindness to her colleague, and risked losing a potentially strong employee in P.D. She might not be mean, but she certainly showed poor judgment. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a 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) 2015 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Am I my colleague's grammar corrector?



Several days ago as I was walking to work, I noticed a sign on a building that read: "Thank you for not smoking within 25 feet from this building." I immediately understood the sign's message, but I wondered why the sign writer had used the preposition "from" rather than the "of" that would have been expected in this sentence construction.

Since I write and try to teach writing for a living, I'm inclined to draw attention to questionable usage or grammar. But L.F., a reader from Washington, D.C., does not make her living primarily from writing or teaching others to write. She too is inclined to draw attention to such issues.

Over the past few years, she writes that she has noticed that many people, including President Barack Obama, news commentators, and well-respected academics, fail to use the article "an" before a word beginning with a vowel, such as "a issue" rather than "an issue."

"Has this grammatical rule changed?" L.F. asks. "These things drive me crazy."

She admits that she is "a bit obsessed" with the proper use of grammar.

"I've noticed in the workplace that several managers fail to use correct grammar when representing their office or their entire agency," she writes. But she observes that because poor grammar is often a reflection of upbringing, opportunity, or education, it might be too sensitive a topic to broach.

"Is it ever appropriate to provide this kind of unsolicited feedback?" she asks. "Do I need to lighten up or should I say something?"

Years ago, I wrote about how a librarian at my college who was French and learned English late in life was crushed when a student corrected her pronunciation. It wasn't the correction that crushed her, but the realization that she had been pronouncing words incorrectly for years and no one had said anything to her.

If colleagues in L.F.'s workplace are making the same grammatical errors repeatedly when they give presentations or speak to others, they could find themselves being perceived poorly. If people from outside the company are listening, they might also get the sense that the poor grammarian's colleagues don't care enough about him or her to offer a correction, or that they fear repercussions if they speak up.

The right thing is to let colleagues know when they're off in how they use grammar. They don't need to correct every incorrect usage of "I" for "me" or consider every split infinitive as a crime against humanity. But if the grammar mistake is obvious enough that it could prove embarrassing to the speaker, then the best thing to do would be to mention it to the speaker shortly after the first time you hear it. That you might show some discomfort bringing the topic up should suggest to the colleague that you're not trying to suggest that you're somehow superior to him or her because you know bad grammar when you hear it.

It could be better to suffer a little discomfort now by helping a colleague out than to wait until he or she discovers that how long the bad grammar has been going on and discovers you never set things straight. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a 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) 2015 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.



Sunday, May 15, 2016

When old company emails still haunt your inbox



Five years after a reader, L.S. left her previous job, she is still receiving emails addressed to her old company's email address.

L.S. had always forwarded her old work email to her private Gmail address. It was simpler to manage all of her email from one account, she figured. She can no longer log on to her old company's server to turn off the forwarding, but she figures that her old company would have shut her email down after she left if it had wanted to.

"I don't receive any inner-office emails or anything that appears to be confidential," she writes. "But I have noticed that when someone occasionally emails me at my old company's email address, I still receive it. I also continue to get junk email addressed to that old address."

She also receives a weekly report from the old company of email that has been quarantined as spam, all of which is more junk email that didn't make it through to her.

When L.S. responds to those who write her at the old email address she reminds them that she has a new email address. She simply deletes the junk email that comes through.

L.S. wants to know if she was wrong to forward her work email to her personal email address and whether she has an ethical obligation to let her old company know that she's still receiving email sent to her old address.

If L.S.'s former employer had a policy forbidding the forwarding of work email to a personal email address, she was wrong to do so. But if the company condoned the practice and employees regularly forwarded their email to personal email addresses, she's in the clear.

If L.S. is only receiving email that is addressed directly to her old email address, it might not present a problem, unless that email is work related. Because there's a chance that she might be receiving email intended for her as an employee of her former company, the right thing would be to inform a representative from her former company to let them know that she still receives emails sent to her former address. The responsibility then falls on them to decide when to disable her former email address.

The right thing for the company to have done would have been either to let L.S. know that she would continue to receive email at her old address (although it seems odd that most companies would see this as a good practice), or to let her know that her email would be closed out at a certain point after she stopped working for the company.

The responsibility for figuring this out should not have fallen on L.S.'s shoulders. But now that it has, she'd be wise to let the former company know about the situation and give it the opportunity to set things right. A side benefit for L.S. is that she might receive far less junk email in her inbox than she has over the past five years. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a 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) 2015 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


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