Q: I recently applied for a position in another department without telling my boss. The job description sounded interesting but lacked important details, including work hours. I figured, however, that I could ask those questions during the interview.
A few days later, I was shocked when my boss informed me that “Phyllis,” the manager of the other department, had called to inquire about my work history. Shortly thereafter, Phyllis got in touch with me to discuss the position. When I learned that the hours would not fit my schedule, I withdrew my application.
Now I feel awkward around my boss, because she knows I applied for another job. Although there is no policy on this, I believe Phyllis was completely out of line to contact my manager before speaking with me. Do I have a right to be angry with her?
A: Probably not. Telling your boss about an external job search is hardly ever a wise move, but internal job postings are an entirely different matter. In fact, many companies require that the manager be informed before an employee can interview in another department.
Even without such a policy, managers frequently pick up rumors about these applications through the grapevine. Because bosses can feel blindsided by surreptitious transfer attempts, employees generally fare better if they explain the situation up front.
In this case, Phyllis apparently conducted a rather standard internal background check before scheduling interviews, not realizing that your manager had been kept in the dark. Since she neither violated a policy nor intended to do you harm, your anger would seem to be misplaced.
To avoid such unfortunate misunderstandings in the future, your human resources department should clearly define confidentiality expectations during the job posting process. Both managers and employees need to understand when and how this information can be shared.
Q: A supervisor who reports to me spends a lot of time listening to one employee’s personal problems. “Pete” really cares about his staff, which is a strength, but I think he’s overdoing it with this woman. I don’t want to sound unsympathetic, but they need to spend less time chatting and more time working. How should I coach Pete about this?
A: First, you must be sure that Pete understands his role as a supervisor. While he should certainly demonstrate caring and concern, his primary goal is to produce expected results. If he starts becoming a buddy or a counselor to employees, then he has inappropriately crossed a boundary.
Pete also needs to recognize that attention is a powerful motivator. Whenever he participates in an extended gab session, he is tacitly encouraging the employee to come back for more, so he needs to start setting an appropriate time limit.
Like many polite people, Pete may feel trapped in these conversations because he doesn’t know how to escape without seeming rude. He may therefore benefit from rehearsing verbal exit strategies. For example: “I’m sorry you’re having problems, and I certainly hope things work out. However, I think it’s time for both of us to get back to work.”