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My Employee Wants A Demotion

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Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues–everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

Here’s a roundup of answers to four questions from readers.

1. My employee wants a demotion

My employee is a truly exceptional worker. Let’s say he’s a product builder, and about a year ago, he completed an advanced program in prototyping, which was great -; we didn’t have a prototyper in the company, and it was a career path for him that offered some great possibilities. I went to bat for him, and got his job changed to builder/prototyper.

A couple days ago, he came to me and confessed that he hates prototyping and wants to go back to just building. Prototyping makes him miserable, and he feels that moving into it was a big misstep. There are a few problems with this: (1) We don’t have anyone on staff who prototypes. (2) Without a prototyper on staff, those responsibilities will fall to the designers, who are not good at it. (3) I went to bat for him, and (uggghhh) am afraid this is going to reflect poorly on me. What do I do?

Green responds:

It’s not ideal, but sometimes this stuff happens. You should assume that if you don’t let him go back to just building, you’re going to lose him entirely -; because if he hates his job and you tell him he’s got to stay in it, it’s pretty likely he’ll look for a new one. So the choice isn’t between keeping him where he is or letting him move back. It’s letting him move back or not having him at all. So either way you’re going to end up with problems #1 and #2 on your list.

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That means that you’re really just left with #3, that it might reflect poorly on you. And sure, someone might second-guess the decision a bit, but reasonable people will understand that you couldn’t have predicted this and you’re just playing the hand you’ve been dealt.

2. Speaking up about a sexist conference organizer

I recently attended a small conference for members of my field. The conference is an annual affair, organized by a nonprofit that is the only professional society for this discipline in my town.

Throughout the conference, the president of the nonprofit continually introduced the female speakers as “beautiful, attractive women” and tried to put his arm around their shoulders as they walked on stage. One woman looked visibly uncomfortable and tried to deflect the remark by saying that there were many other beautiful people in the audience. The male speakers were introduced with the usual superlatives: experienced, distinguished, etc.

All the female speakers are respected professionals in their own right: start-up founders, high-ranking executives with industry knowledge, published authors, etc. Many of them had taken time off from their jobs to skim to our town to share their knowledge. But this man seemed to be undermining their achievements by treating them like pageant contestants.

Was there anything I could have done? As far as I know, the president does not report to any board of directors (his position in the nonprofit is voluntary).

Green responds:

Ick, that’s really off-putting and gross -; and condescending and disrespectful and, obviously, sexist.

If you’re comfortable being assertive about this kind of thing in front of a large crowd, one option would have been to speak up during the audience Q&A, if there was one, and say something like, “I was dismayed to hear the women here introduced with comments about their looks, while the men were introduced with praise for their professional achievements. These are accomplished women and they’re not here to have their looks assessed.” I’d bet good money that you’d get applauded for that.

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Another option is to send an email to the nonprofit that ran the event and say something similar, possibly cc’ing the speakers themselves so they have the satisfaction of seeing it being called out.

3. My employee is making a big deal of her birthday

I have a younger employee who is making a big deal about wanting to take her birthday off. She has the leave time available and it’s not a problem at all for her to be out that day, but I wanted to get your thoughts about her approach. I’ve overheard her make several comments like “you know I won’t be here next Tuesday, it’s my birthday” and “no one should have to work on their birthday.”  It’s come up more than once over the past week.

I personally think it comes across as immature and unprofessional to draw so much attention to one’s birthday as an adult. I have no problem with her taking the day off and celebrating as much as she wants, but I’m afraid that her focus on it in the workplace will cause her to be taken less seriously. I could be completely off-base (as I am a middle-aged curmudgeon), so I wanted to get a wider perspective before I took her aside and had any kind of “this is a career-limiting behavior” chat with her.

Green responds:

Plenty of adults do go all-out for their birthdays! Comments like “no one should have to work on their birthday” are over the top, but how’s her professionalism and maturity otherwise? If this is your only concern, I’d leave it alone. It’s okay for people to be quirky. But if she’s already struggling to be taken seriously, I might talk to her about that issue in general -; not focusing on the birthday thing, but on whatever’s going on that’s causing those perceptions. Otherwise, though, leave it alone and let her be super into her birthday.

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4. Letting a candidate know they missed their interview

I had scheduled a candidate for an interview but they did not show for their interview. The candidate did not call or email to cancel or reschedule the interview. I am no longer interested in hiring them, but I wanted to know a good way to let them know they missed their interview and missed out on this job opportunity without sounding too harsh.

Green responds:

They may already know that and just not care -; this may be their (rude) way of withdrawing from the process. But you can close the loop by sending a note that says something like, “Since you didn’t show up for your scheduled interview for the X position, we’re removing you from consideration.”

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

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