Sunday, October 29, 2017

The boss should buy his own drinks



When E.W. was promoted to manager of his division, he was thrilled. He loved his work and had a lot of respect for people who worked alongside him, some of whom he had worked with for more than a decade.

Several members of his division would regularly meet outside of work to socialize, whether for a meal at a nearby restaurant or a cookout in one of their backyards. E.W. hoped that his camaraderie with the group wouldn't change now that he "would effectively be their boss."

It's one thing after all to work alongside someone, quite different to take your marching orders from that person and be beholden to him or her for performance evaluations that could lead to promotions and salary raises. Still, E.W. was committed to fulfilling the duties of his new role and simultaneously show leadership while also maintaining the collegial tone they had all exhibited to get the work done.

Several months into his new job, E.W. was pleased that a bunch of the workers he now managed invited him to a favorite bar and grill for drinks and food after work. E.W thought it was a great sign that they felt comfortable enough to still invite him out to socialize with them even now that he was their boss.

When he arrived, a few other workers from his division were already there, so he wandered over to the tables they had commandeered. A big "hey" welcomed him and E.W. sensed all was good with his relationship.

It was then that one of the team stood up, put his arm around E.W.'s shoulder, and started walking him toward the bar.

"Let me buy you a beer," he said to E.W.

In the old days, before he was their boss, E.W. might have been fine with this. But in the old days, none of them had ever gone out of their way to buy him a beer. Their ritual was that they'd run a tab on food and drinks and divide it evenly among them at the end of the night.

Now, however, E.W. was their boss and he wasn't comfortable with having one of his direct reports buy him anything, even a drink, out of concern that any misperception might result from the action. The buyer might think he was currying favor with E.W. Or others who saw the exchange might perceive that E.W. somehow showed favor to the drink buyer over them.

"I told him thanks, but said I'd buy my own," writes E.W. Now he wonders if he was being too concerned and, as a result, insulted a guy who was just trying to do something nice.

E.W. was right to do exactly what he did. There had been no culture established of co-workers buying one another drinks, so there's no reason for that to change. Plus, if E.W. wants to set a clear precedent, doing it early on is the right thing to do. As long as E.W. is consistent in refusing to accept even minor gifts from his direct reports in the future, he needn't feel bad about having refused a drink from his former coworker at an after-work gathering. 

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, October 22, 2017

Does taking a gift signify approval of a neighbor's project?



There's a lot of construction going on in L.L.'s neighborhood. Empty lots are being dug up for foundations of new homes. Existing homes are going through massive renovations. Some homeowners are seeking zoning variances from the city to build multiple units on their lots. Trucks and workers arrive early every morning and the sound of machinery, hammers, saws and worker chatter fill the air.

L.L. is concerned about the extra car traffic that all the construction will bring to her once relatively quiet city neighborhood, but she also recognizes that many of the improvements being done will increase the value of her own property and create much needed housing, albeit only for those who will be able to afford it.

But one project in particular troubled L.L. The owner of a house on a large lot also owned an empty lot next door. He wanted to move his house forward on his lot and then build six new housing units on his land. To do so, he would need to seek a variance from the city zoning board. As part of this process, he solicited support from his nearby neighbors, including L.L.

L.L. thought his plans would change the whole tenor of the neighborhood and, with plans to have parking for 14 cars on his new project, would result in even more traffic congestion. When her neighbor shared his plans with her, L.L. told him exactly how she felt about his project and told him she would not support it in its current form.

The neighbor was not pleased, but he moved on and ultimately received approval for his plan to develop his residential property.

"A few weeks ago, he saw me on the street, walked over, and asked me if I wanted any of the daffodils that would be dug up as they started clearing out his lots," L.L. writes, noting that every spring hundreds of daffodils would bloom on his property. "I'd love some of the bulbs," she writes, "but it doesn't feel right to take anything from this man when I objected so much to what he was planning to do."

L.L. wants to know if she would be a hypocrite to take some of the daffodil bulbs her neighbor offered.

The neighbor already has approval to follow through on building his plan. He is doing nothing wrong by offering the daffodils to L.L. and, while he might be trying to keep the peace with his neighbors by being generous, he's going to build whether they approve of his project or whether they accept any bulbs.

By accepting the daffodils, L.L. doesn't signal to her neighbor or anyone else that she now approves of his project.

The right thing is for L.L. to accept the bulbs if she wants to accept the bulbs and to hope that she can transfer some of the beauty she used to enjoy witnessing with the coming of each spring from her neighbor's yard to her own so that she and others can enjoy the view. 

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.


How should reader correct an appraiser's error?

Every decade or so, A.L., has some of her jewelry appraised so she can file the appraisal reports with her home insurance company in cas...