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, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 



Anonymous said...

Jeff is certainly correct. The supervisor is trying to help the new hire in a very odd way. And the new hire should not read too much into it. Just because the supervisor has issues, this does not really mean anything of significance.
To say anything to anyone is foolish and inappropriate. Anyone involved with these 2 people already has an opinion because such comments are probably commonplace.
Take the job, do the best possible, and all will be well most probably.
Alan Owseichik
Greenfield, Ma.

Azalea Annie said...

Well..........."a stickler for punctuality and attention to details". Is that 'casting aspersions' or simply requiring that employees do what they should do?

I submit that coming in to work on time and giving attention to details are basic requirements. At least, that is what I was taught as a child by my parents; what I was taught by professors in my college nursing courses; and what my employer and my co-workers expected of me as a nurse. It's also what I expect from the crew of nurses who reported to me when I was responsible for staffing a medical unit 24/7/365. I give the same punctuality and attention to detail in the management job I now hold.

Punctuality? As a nurse on a 24/7 unit, the nurse at work can't leave until the incoming nurse arrives. That will teach punctuality - and doesn't mean the nurse already at work "has issues".

Attention to detail? The first rule in nursing (and any work associated with health care) is simple: To fail to give attention to detail means people could die. The next rule relating to attention to detail is simple: If you didn't document it, you didn't do it.

Perhaps the supervisor doesn't "have issues". Perhaps some of the employees in her department "have issues" such as arriving late, leaving early, and not giving attention to detail.

Anonymous said...

While I disagree with his 'mean' comment, I think setting the proper expectation for a new employee is just normal. It's kind of like saying this is the environment you'll be working in. It's a nice way of giving her option to back out if this isn't her style.