Q: I am very upset about a remark made by my team leader, "Mitch," in a meeting. Our group works together closely, so we have become rather casual in the way we communicate. People use curse words occasionally, and we kid around a lot. As the only woman in the group, I always felt that I was viewed as an equal until now.
Because team members often bring snacks to our meetings, I jokingly told my co-worker, "Jack," that he owed me a pastry. Jack and I innocently joked back and forth about how and when he would give me this treat. Then Mitch said, "I know what Jack's thinking, so he had better deliver the pastry!"
Mitch made this comment in a suggestive tone, so it was clear that "pastry" referred to sex. Although nothing further was said, I now feel marginalized and degraded. I'm finding it difficult to look Jack in the eye. Am I blowing this incident out of proportion?
A: Based on your description, Mitch appears to have foolishly jumped into a discussion which had already taken a racy turn. The sexy innuendo actually began when you and Jack started bantering about "how and when he would give you this treat." If Mitch were a wiser team leader, he would have simply ignored your chitchat and focused on the agenda.
Since you apparently failed to recognize the direction this conversation was taking, you may need to fine-tune your verbal antenna. Given the opportunity, most guys can put a sexual slant on almost anything. When working in all-male groups, therefore, women must differentiate between "being one of the guys" and encouraging offensive behavior.
Of course, this distinction is muddied by the fact that women vary considerably in what they consider offensive. For that reason, men would be well-advised to avoid topics which their female colleagues might find objectionable. And women shouldn't participate in any conversation which makes them uneasy.
Although Mitch's comment was unnecessary and inappropriate, his participation in the ongoing banter hardly seems serious enough to warrant your feeling "marginalized and degraded." But if he habitually makes remarks that you find upsetting, then you should politely ask him to stop.
Q: One of my employees will be receiving a very negative performance review. I feel that I should include some positive remarks in the "Comments" section, but nothing comes to mind. Do you have any suggestions?
A: When dealing with performance issues, managers typically tend to focus only on the person's troublesome behavior. But no one is all good or all bad. Employees who neglect certain aspects of the job can still perform competently in other areas.
Sometimes, a weakness actually represents the flip side of a strength. For example, people who are guilty of excessive socializing often excel at developing relationships. To create a balanced appraisal, try to consider all aspects of your problem employee's work performance. A careful assessment should help you come up with a few good things to say.
Q: After 38 years with the same company, I took early retirement two years ago. I needed to care for my mother, who was suffering from cancer and congestive heart failure. Shortly after I turned 60, my mom passed away.
Since I now have a lot of free time, I have considered finding another job. A recruiter, however, told me point-blank that no one will hire me because I'm too old and have been out of work for too long. I don't want another career, but I miss being part of a team. Is my situation hopeless?
A: That discouraging recruiter should be banned from the profession. Anyone who makes a blanket statement that "no one will hire you" is either not very experienced, not very bright or not very creative — or possibly all three.
While older folks may indeed find job-seeking more challenging, many people in their 60s are happily employed and making a valuable contribution. As for your employment gap, anyone with a heart would understand why you took a break.
So don't let that recruiter's ignorant comment cause you to abandon your search before you begin. Instead, start exploring some of the many books and websites that offer helpful tips for older applicants.