Sunday, December 29, 2019

Don't look for problems before they arise

A new employee just began working with a reader we're calling Mary Beth. So far, writes Mary Beth, they've hit it off quite well. Mary Beth has been asked to serve as a mentor for her new colleague and she's gladly obliged.

While the co-workers have found that they live in the same city, have many shared interests and enjoy one another's company, Mary Beth recently learned that her colleague's spouse works for their city's mayor.

"She only brought it up once or twice," Mary Beth writes, "but I'm concerned that our relationship might suffer if she tries to engage my help to get the guy re-elected."

Mary Beth didn't vote for the mayor, she writes. She also longs for a candidate who can beat the mayor, who seems entrenched in his position.

Mayoral contests in Mary Beth's city are not conducted along political party lines. She has no idea if her colleague belongs to a particular party nor if she holds political views that go against hers. She's simply concerned that when the time comes for the mayor's next campaign, tension might arise between her and her colleague if she invites Mary Beth to any campaign functions.

"Should I say something now?" Mary Beth asks. "Or make my feelings about our current mayor known?" Doing so, she figures, might stave off any future awkward invites.

Many workplaces have policies forbidding employees to bring political activities into the workplace. But it's unclear to Mary Beth whether an invitation from her colleague to a political event would violate such a policy, especially because she and her colleague have discussed getting together outside of work.

If Mary Beth is truly concerned, perhaps the first thing she might do is to look up her company's policy on political activity in the workplace. Given that she is a mentor to her new colleague, having such information available might prove useful and instructive should her colleague decide to engage in something that violates company policy.

But aside from mentioning where her spouse works, her colleague, according to Mary Beth, has never engaged in political talk nor has she encouraged Mary Beth nor anyone to attend functions for the mayor. So far, her colleague has been professional and has done nothing to put Mary Beth or any other co-worker into an awkward position when it comes to mayoral politics.

If Mary Beth brings up the issue, she runs the risk of appearing judgmental or that she is looking for a confrontation where none exists. No good is likely to come from blurting out: "You know I can't stand your spouse's boss, so don't even think of inviting me," It's also a bit presumptuous for Mary Beth to assume she'd be invited to anything before the invitation is extended.

The right thing is for Mary Beth to continue to mentor her colleague as best she can. If there are company policies about which the colleague should know, then Mary Beth can point these out to her. Good mentors help their mentees get settled. They don't go looking for problems before they exist. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Sunday, December 22, 2019

Boss shouldn't get heads-up about colleague's intentions

"My boss doesn't like to be surprised," writes a reader we're calling Ken. But he's undecided if he should give the boss a heads-up about a colleague who might approach her about a raise.

A few days ago, Ken writes that he received a phone call from a colleague seeking his advice. The colleague has been with the company for a couple of years and regularly seeks out Ken's advice since he has been working there for more than a decade.

"Typically, his calls are easy enough to respond to and often deal with how to navigate company policy and procedures," writes Ken. But on this call, the colleague told Ken that he had been contacted by an employee with a competitor encouraging him to apply for an open position with the competing firm.

"Do you think it would be wrong to ask for more money here?" Ken's colleague asked him, making clear that he wanted to know if their boss would respond badly to such a request.

Ken told his colleague he couldn't predict how the boss would respond, but he thought that if the colleague wanted to ask about the possibility of a raise, that was his decision. He advised him that instead of threatening to quit if he doesn't get a raise, he should simply make the case for why the boss should consider paying him more. If he truly feels underpaid, Ken told him, then there's no reason not to ask the boss if he can set up time to meet with her.

Ken likes his colleague, but he also likes his boss. She has been demanding, but has strongly supported him in the work he does for the company. He is confident that she would appreciate knowing that the colleague might be approaching her about a raise before such a meeting occurs.

"Should I call or stop by her office to tell her?" Ken asks.

Regardless of the fact that Ken's colleague didn't ask him to keep their conversation confidential, he did the right thing by listening to him, offering advice sought and leaving it at that. It is not his responsibility to let his boss know to expect some incoming confrontation from the colleague over pay. That decision should be his colleague's.

Because Ken doesn't even know if his colleague will follow through and contact the boss, giving her a heads-up might result in a mess of miscommunication.

Even if Ken's colleague had asked him to alert the boss, the right thing would be for Ken to decline the request. If the colleague wants to talk to the boss about a pay raise, it's his responsibility to make the effort to talk with her directly.

It can be a good thing to have a mentor or a confidant in the workplace who can offer career advice. But that advice should never take the place of the person seeking it ultimately deciding what he or she wants to do and then having the courage to act on his or her convictions. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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