My Employee Is Angry That I’m Using a Baby Name She Wants to Use

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 is angry that I’m using the baby name she wanted

My wife is 12 weeks pregnant with our first child. We just made her pregnancy public to everyone. I manage a staff of nine. One of them is upset because she heard me answer another staff member’s question about whether we have chosen a name. We have chosen a name that can be given to either a boy or a girl and has significance to both our families.

My staff member is upset because she wants to use that same name when she has kids. She is not currently pregnant and said herself there are no immediate plans for kids in her future. Even if she were pregnant, I don’t see why our using the name means she can’t.

Ever since she heard me answer the question, she has been cold and huffy toward me. She won’t talk to me unless she has no other choice, and some of my other staff came to me because she is telling everyone who works here what a bad boss I am. However, she continues to complete all her work properly, be professional and warm to clients, arrive on time, etc. I don’t know if I can or should do anything because her work is up to par. The name won’t change, so I’m not sure how to address this with my staff member.

Agh, the people who think they have dibs on baby names. And it’s playing out particularly weirdly here.

You could give it a few weeks and see if she regains her senses, or you could just talk to her head-on now. I vote for the latter. You could say something like this: “Jane, your behavior toward me has changed since you found out that my wife and I plan to name our baby Magenta. Can you tell me what’s going on?” … Followed by, “I understand that you’re upset, but our choice in baby name has nothing to do with anyone here, and I’m sure you understand that we’re not going to change it because someone else also liked the name.” … Followed by, “It’s not OK to treat anyone here this way because of their choice of a baby name. I need you to figure out whether you can return to our regular working relationship. If you decide that you can’t, then we need to figure out how to proceed since it’s not tenable to have this kind of tension in the office. Do you want to take a few days to think about whether you can move forward?”

The idea here is to call her on the behavior, make it clear that it can’t continue (because it can’t, even if the rest of her work is good), and push her to decide whether she can pull herself together or not.

2. My employee is upset that I told her she couldn’t take an unpaid day off

I have an employee who has used up nearly all her leave for the year. She recently asked for a week off that would include an unpaid day. I explained that we didn’t have enough staff to cover one of those days and also that unpaid days off should be requested only for emergencies, as it is unfair to other staff who would also like extra days off but couldn’t afford to.

She has since then debated the issue, saying her boyfriend has already booked flights and she feels very unhappy at work. She has also recently had three weeks off recovering after an operation. I don’t want my staff to be unhappy, but we have a set of policies so that everyone feels fairly treated. If I give in, how will it look to others? But also I know this employee talks about work negatively to other employees when they go for drinks after work. How should I respond?

The reason to deny the unpaid day off isn’t that it would be unfair to other staff who might not be able to afford their own unpaid days off. (People’s personal finances really shouldn’t enter into this kind of thing.) The reason to deny it is that, as you noted, you don’t have enough staff to cover on that day.

In general, if someone’s work and productivity is good, it’s good to be flexible with people. That’s part of how you keep good employees.

But there are coverage issues in play, so it’s reasonable to say, “We don’t generally offer unpaid days off, because we plan coverage assuming that you’ll be at work every day other than the X days you have in paid leave each year. We can do an unpaid day off in an emergency, but we wouldn’t generally do it to extend a vacation, especially when doing it would cause coverage issues.” You can also say, “I understand that you’ve already booked flights, but that’s why we ask people to get time off approved before making arrangements like that.”

As for her trash-talking work to other employees over drinks, the way you combat that is by being an aggressively good manager — transparent, fair, generous with feedback, setting clear expectations, addressing problems forthrightly, etc. Her complaints will hold a lot less water with co-workers if they can see for themselves how you operate.

3. Interviewing someone you know socially

We have an open position we’re trying to fill, and after I posted about the job in a number of places, a person whom I know socially, but not professionally, applied. I have never worked with them and am wondering what I need to keep in mind as we conduct interviews. We’re not really friends outside of the organization we’re both members of, but I am not sure how to respond if they ask about their candidacy, the status of the search, etc.

I’m not the hiring manager and won’t make the final decision. As the most senior person, however, I will have a lot of input. I’m not really concerned that my familiarity with the candidate will bias my honest assessment of their skills, but I am concerned about the social fallout if we end up not hiring them or even proceeding to the interview phase. The person contacted me when they applied and seemed to indicate that they believed that they would at least get a courtesy interview, but that may or may not happen depending on how strong the rest of the pool is.

If the person contacts you to ask about their candidacy or the search status, it’s fine to be vague and defer to the hiring manager. For example: “I know Jane is reviewing applications and will contact people when she’s ready to start interviews.”

If the person ends up not even being interviewed, you can say something to her like, “I wasn’t involved in the final choice of whom to interview, but I know that we had a ton of candidates and it was really competitive.” If she’s interviewed but not hired, you can say something similar: “I wasn’t the final decision maker, but I do know that Jane felt we had a number of strong candidates and it was really competitive.” 

4. Can I ask the person I’m providing a reference for to send me details on their work?

I oversee about a dozen interns who rotate through each year. They are with us for about 10 to 11 months, and I get a lot of reference requests.

Since there are a lot of these engaging young adults to begin with, and sometimes the reference requests come in a few years after they’ve been with us, it can be hard to remember the projects they managed without doing a big dig through my archives. Something I don’t always have time to do before I’m contacted. It was easier when I only had to think back a year or so, but now that I’ve been in this position for going on five years, it’s gotten a bit more difficult.

When I’m asked to be a reference, is it OK to ask them to remind me about some of their specific projects? I’ve thought of framing it as “I’d love to be a reference for you. Is there a project in particular that you worked on while you were here that you’d like me to try to highlight?” Also, can I ask these former interns anything else that might help me give a recruiter a more valuable reference? Perhaps how they feel their work here may have prepared them for the job they’re applying to now?

Green responds:
You can absolutely do that, and it’s to their benefit that you do! I might be more explicit in how you’re framing it, though. For example: “I’d love to be a reference for you. I want to be able to talk about your work with as many specifics as possible because that will make a stronger reference, so to help me prepare, could you send me a few bullets about the things from your work here that you’d like me to highlight, like a particular project or achievement?” You could even add, “Because we have a lot of interns, that will help me make sure that I’m pulling out the details that you care about most.”

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

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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