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Career Q&A | By Marie G. McIntyre, McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers

Is depression diagnosis boss' business?

Q: For the past five years, I have suffered from depression. During that time, I have been on and off medication, but I have never told my employer about this problem.

During my recent performance review, I received a "needs improvement" rating for the first time, which was very upsetting. Do you think I should tell my manager about my depression?

A: Before deciding whether to share this information, you should carefully weigh the pros and cons. If your employer is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), then identifying yourself as "disabled" may provide increased legal protection and job security. If that is your goal, you should contact the EEOC to learn how the ADA may apply in your situation.

On the other hand, revealing a psychiatric diagnosis could cause management to view you differently. This may not be fair, or even legal, but such labels can nevertheless influence perceptions, consciously or unconsciously. Therefore, you need to consider how your particular manager is likely to react to this news.

But perhaps the most important question is this: Do you currently have the ability to make the changes requested in your performance review? If so, you may be able to improve your rating without ever mentioning your diagnosis.

Clear goals are key to tough managing

Q: My boyfriend, "Doug," was recently promoted, but he's having a lot of problems. He is now supervising his former boss, who is unhappy about being demoted. On top of that, the assistant manager applied for the job and resents the fact that Doug was selected. Their negative attitudes have spread to other employees, who are becoming insubordinate.

Doug is expected to clean up this department, which is a complete mess. But he has no management experience, and these toxic people seem to feel they can run all over him. He is feeling really stressed out. Do you have any advice?

A: Poor Doug. The transition to management is difficult enough without having to supervise the staff from hell. To survive this trial by fire, your boyfriend needs a clear plan for change and strong support from his manager.

First, Doug and his boss must agree on specific goals and expectations for the department. Once the objectives are established, the two of them should make a joint presentation to the staff. These rebellious folks need to understand that Doug has the unequivocal backing of higher management.

Next, Doug must develop a performance management strategy for each staff member. Good performers should be recognized and appreciated, borderline employees must have a coaching plan, and anyone who refuses to "get with the program" needs to go away.

With the most difficult employees, Doug should emphasize that he wants everyone to succeed, but the definition of "success" includes a helpful and cooperative attitude. If some people continue to be obstructive, then Doug should request management's support in facilitating their departure.

In interview, address firing delicately

Q: Are applicants required to tell a potential future employer that they were terminated from their previous job? If so, how should this be done?

A: In an interview, you are under no obligation to reveal the fact that you were fired. At the same time, however, you never want to lie during a job search. To walk this fine line, you need to realize that there can be many honest answers to the same question.

One way to avoid this dilemma altogether is to reach agreement with your former employer on what reference checkers will be told. Despite your termination, management may have no desire to interfere with your re-employment. They might therefore be willing to describe your departure as a resignation.

If this option is not realistic, then you will need to devise a suitable explanation along the lines of, "We agreed to part ways because it wasn't a good fit." Your objective is to avoid giving the interviewer a reason to worry, so you must craft a response that doesn't raise any bright red flags about either your competence or your attitude.

Is depression diagnosis boss' business? 03/24/12 [Last modified: Saturday, March 24, 2012 4:31am]
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