coworkers who don’t say “please” or “thank you,” a racy tattoo, and more — Ask a Manager

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Coworkers who don’t say “please” or “thank you”

Over the course of my career I’ve encountered colleagues who seem to have never learned the words “please” and “thank you.”

On one hand, I get it — I’m doing my job. But, seriously? I’m currently working with two people who expect me to drop everything and work on their request because it’s a quick turnaround. When I send and don’t hear anything, I’m wondering if they even received the information they requested or if it’s what they are looking for. Even a follow-up IM is ignored. (And no, they aren’t exec level folks — they tend to be the most polite. These people are peers-ish.)

I know I’m being too sensitive, but is there a non-confrontational way to bring it up?

It would be tricky to bring up without sounding like you’re scolding them about their manners or being a bit high-maintenance. And really, a lot of people don’t say “please” with every work request; as long as the requests themselves are reasonably polite in tone, that’s what matters.

However! If there’s a larger issue with them seeming generally rude inconsiderate of your time, that larger issue is one you could raise with them/their managers. Or you could address it from the “I don’t know if you even received what I sent” angle — as in, “Could you close the loop with me when I send you something you’ve asked me to work on? I just need confirmation that you received it and it’s what you needed so I can close the request — even a quick ’thanks’ will let me know.”

All that said … if I were advising them, I’d tell them to be more polite and to say “please” and “thank you.” But on your end, it’s worth trying to care about it less; you’ll be happier.

2. Will a tattoo with visible genitalia be OK at my office?

I have plans to get a tattoo of a specific work of art. However, that artwork is of a figure with visible, though not prominent, genitalia. I work in a customer-facing role and wear short sleeves for half the year; my office is not super restrictive about dress code, and my current tattoos (which do not have genitals) are not a problem. Do I need to worry that, if I get this tattoo on my upper arm, the potentially-visible dick & balls will be inappropriate for my office? Should I ask my manager? Do people look that closely in the first place?

Yeah, it is very possible that having a visible dick and balls tattooed on your arm (even as part of a larger artwork) will be an issue at your job and that you’ll be asked to wear long sleeves, especially while working with customers. If you don’t want to deal with that, you could run it by your manager to find out for sure … although even if they tell you it’s fine, it could be Not Fine with other managers in your future and you may be looking at a lot of long sleeves in coming years.

3. One of our managers is secretly dating an employee

I’m a manager for a small local business with about 10 employees who all work closely together. There are two types of positions leading to a power imbalance (think pharmacist and assistant). All pharmacists naturally have a supervisory role over the assistants due to nature of the work.

Jake (pharmacist) is secretly dating Sally (assistant). It is a very poor secret as at least four people have guessed about the relationship on their own. Jake does not really see himself as a manager and I don’t believe he sees it as a problem — they are both just very private people. Sally would definitely be the more assertive person in the relationship but is in the vulnerable position workwise. I have seen no issues with them at work, but it would be very uncomfortable for all of us of they broke up. And honestly, it would be Sally who pays the price if something happened.

Is this a problem? Can I point-blank ask if they are dating? It is getting weirder as Jake now seems to be misleading or perhaps even lying to deflect speculation, i.e. he blamed being late on construction traffic recently but his truck was at Sally s house. (She lives close to our work and people naturally pass her house on the way in.) I am a co-manager of the store with direct authority over Sally and rules and procedures over all. But I have less direct authority over Jake as he is a regulated licensed professional.

If Jake has any authority over Sally, it’s absolutely a problem and you should raise it with him. Most employers have policies against managers dating people in their chain of command because of the legal liability, potential for bias, and potential for the appearance of bias. So yes, you can indeed ask Jake if he’s dating Sally; explain why you’re asking so he knows it’s work-related and not just curiosity. If you have a policy against managers dating within their chain of command, you should raise that. If you don’t have that policy, you need one — and you’ll need to figure out what to do with this situation that’s already happening (which could mean building firewalls so Jake doesn’t have any influence over Sally’s job or things like her salary, evaluations, schedule, etc.).

I don’t know exactly what you mean when you say Sally is the one who would pay the price if they break up, but that’s worrisome! If you mean Jake would make things uncomfortable for her, you’re legally obligated (by sexual harassment laws) to make sure that doesn’t happen.

4. I plan on quitting my job when I have children — should I tell my boss when she discusses long-term plans?

I love my job. I am passionate about my field and I love doing a job that changes and saves lives. I have a great relationship with my boss and a coworker, and we speak every day to ask questions and bounce ideas off of each other. Due to some changes higher up in our institution and my boss’s career goals, she has mentioned the possibility of moving to a new institution and bringing my coworker and I along. If that does not happen, she has been discussing my coworker and I taking on more of a leadership role, which is leading to more mentorship from her.

I am unbelievably grateful for my incredible boss and her vision for our team and my career. However, my husband and I have decided that I will be a stay-at-home parent if and when we have children, which we’re hoping will happen in the next year or so. I’d be giving up a dream job for an even bigger dream job, but it’s already weighing on me how to make this transition gracefully. I don’t want to miss out on career opportunities as getting pregnant is no guarantee, but I would hate to waste resources and my boss’s time.

Do I tell my boss I plan on eventually leaving? As uncertainty and instability grows, my coworker frequently reassures us that we will stick together even if that means going to a new institution — should I say anything? Both my coworker and boss are working moms who will likely not relate to the desire to stay home, but I consider them good friends.

Nope, don’t mention it until you are pregnant and have concrete plans to leave — and even then, I might hold off on announcing it until your baby is born and you’re sure you don’t want to return, because sometimes plans change in ways you don’t anticipate. (Some people who think they won’t want to return after maternity leave end up changing their minds, and vice versa. Or your husband’s job could become less secure, or your family’s financial situation could change in a way you can’t predict now, and so forth.) Your boss is aware that you could leave your job at some point because that’s true of everyone — and whatever benefit she’d get from knowing that you’re currently thinking you’ll leave in a year or two is outweighed by the risk to you of limiting your professional options in ways you could end up not wanting later on.

I suspect you’re feeling awkward about not telling her now — like that maybe it’s somehow dishonest not to let her know your plans, especially because the relationship is such a strong one — but you’ll let her know your plans once you have a timeline that you’re confident of. Until then, you really don’t need to!

5. How to encourage an employee to move on to get the job they want

I am the manager of a small department. I manage two full-time and two part-time employees. One of my part-time employees has been very vocal about wanting a full-time position in our organization and specifically in my department. There is no full-time position on the horizon and we (my boss and I) were very direct about this when we hired them. It feels like this goal underpins a lot of their interpersonal behavior which vacillates between claiming to be overused (too many projects) and underused (needs more challenges). Their work is fine! It wouldn’t be impossible to replace them but it wouldn’t be easy either. I’ve had to bite my fingers to keep from forwarding full-time job opportunities. Is there anything I can do to encourage them to take the next step?

Have you been very direct with them about the situation — as in, “I want to be really up-front with you that I don’t expect us to be able to hire you full-time in the foreseeable future. I know you want full-time work and I don’t want to mislead you about the likelihood of it happening here; realistically, if that’s your goal, you need to be looking outside the organization for that.”

One caveat: If one of your full-time people leaves, would you consider hiring your part-time person into that opening? If not (whether because of skill set or something else), you should  say that too, because they might be assuming you would and figuring that they’ll wait for that.

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