Q: One of our co-workers has been running a personal business using company time and equipment. During the workday, "Susan" is often observed sending emails, scheduling appointments and doing billing for a graphic design business that she owns. She also makes lengthy phone calls to her customers.
Because of all these extra activities, Susan has trouble keeping up with her regular duties. When she falls behind, management asks the rest of us to pitch in and help her, even though our workloads are just as heavy. This is beginning to create animosity in the group.
Susan's business has been listed on her LinkedIn profile for two years, so it is hardly a secret. I mentioned this to our team lead, but nothing has been done. Any suggestions?
A: Your ethically challenged colleague is basically stealing from the company, so someone should put a stop to it. Team leads typically don't have that kind of authority, so you need to get the attention of the proper person. In most organizations, that would be either the head of your department or the human resources manager.
After deciding whom to contact, you must determine the best way to deliver the message. A group complaint will have more impact, so involve some other indignant co-workers. Before meeting with management, select a representative and prepare a clear, concise description of the situation.
For example: "We thought you should know that Susan spends a lot of work time running her personal design business. In addition to doing administrative tasks, she is often on the phone with her customers. Our problem is that we're often asked to take up the slack and do her regular work. We would appreciate your looking into this."
After receiving this information, management will need time to investigate. But once Susan's theft of company time is confirmed, her outside activities should come to a speedy halt.
Speaking foreign language at work
Q: Our business employs people from many different countries. To encourage teamwork and inclusion, company policy states that English should be spoken when people are working together. If everyone in a group speaks a different language, however, they may use their native tongue.
As a supervisor, I believe this exception creates some problems. For one thing, people feel uncomfortable when they walk into a room and have no idea what is being said. Also, allowing different languages can leave employees confused about the English requirement. What do you think?
A: Actually, your employer's policy seems quite clear and reasonable, so I'm not sure what the problem is. In your supervisory role, you must simply ensure that employees understand how to apply these language guidelines.
If a Spanish-speaking group adds an English-speaking member, for example, then they must switch to English. Otherwise, they can continue speaking their common language. People who may randomly wander by are irrelevant, because they have no need to understand the conversation.
As the supervisor, you can legitimately request that employees speak English when you are part of the discussion. However, I assume your company knows that people can't legally be required to speak English during breaks and lunch.
Think twice before you hit 'send'
Q: A few days ago, I accidentally sent my boss an email meant for my husband. Because I was very frustrated, I called her an idiot and said some other unflattering things. She has not mentioned receiving this message. Should I apologize or just forget about it?
A: Since your boss is likely to read any communication from her staff, you can probably assume that she has seen your email rant. And unless she has incredibly thick skin, odds are that she's feeling hurt and offended. Expressing contrition may not erase the problem, but it might reduce the emotional damage.
For example: "Last week, I mistakenly sent you an email meant for my husband. Because I'd had a tough day, I was venting my frustrations and made some negative comments about you, which I truly regret. I hope you can disregard my stupid statements, because I really do value our working relationship."
To avoid future email catastrophes, remember these precautions: Never insult anyone in writing, and always check the "to" line before hitting send.