employee takes credit for the whole team’s work, what to wear for a video interview, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My employee takes credit for the whole team’s work

I’m a fairly experienced manager, but I’ve only been managing my current team and with my current employer for a few months. We’ve been working from home full-time almost half my time with the organization. I have a great boss and great colleagues who’ve really helped me to feel like part of the team and able to contribute in meaningful ways, and my team and I are all getting to know each other.

I’ve been in a couple meetings with one of my team members that I’ve asked her to take the lead on, and she reports out at every meeting. Twice now, as she’s reporting I’ve heard her change her sentence from “we’re doing…” to “I’m doing…” But she’s not! The whole team is pitching in ideas and support, and sometimes they or I am actually doing the things she’s talking about. It seems like a really low-stakes thing, but we’ve had to have a couple of conversations about working on a team, like making sure she’s not getting out ahead of my direction, being consistent with our headquarters, and being aware of how she talks about workload around her teammates. It’s been a lot, so I also don’t want to be focus unnecessarily on something that could really be minor. But she’s taking credit for other people’s work, and that’s not fair to them, and I don’t know if it makes her look particularly good, either. Should I bring it up or let it slide?

Bring it up. It’s almost certainly irritating other team members, and possibly demoralizing them.

I hear you about not wanting to pile on when you’ve already been addressing a bunch of other problems, but you can frame this as being under that same umbrella. It’s not a new, separate thing; it’s part of what you’re already been talking about. For example, you could say something like, “Continuing our conversation about how to work effectively within the team, I want to ask you to be sure to give others credit when we’re talking about projects multiple people have contributed to. With projects like X or Y, where other people are pitching in with ideas and support, it’s important that our language reflect that — so saying ‘we did X’ rather than ‘I did X,’ and even calling out specific people who have been especially helpful, like recognizing how late Lucille worked to get that artwork done. Otherwise people will start to feel their contributions aren’t noticed, and that can be really demoralizing.”

And given your concern about it feeling like too much, make sure you’re also giving her genuine praise for the things she’s doing well, so it’s not just a steady drumbeat of what she’s getting wrong. Not in an insincere, feedback-sandwich way, but just as a regular part of the flow of conversations you have with each other.

2. What do I wear for a video interview in these days of plague?

My question is what to wear for a job interview conducted by video during the current crisis. Say the workplace you’re applying to is generally business casual, but more formal when meeting clients or donors — imagine a big nonprofit organization.

What would be appropriate to wear for a video interview under the shelter-in-place orders many people are under? For me, a guy, I’d normally wear a suit and tie to an interview, but doing so now seems particularly contrived. My inclination is a nice dress shirt and a blazer.

I generally recommend wearing a suit to a job interview unless you are in a field and/or a geographic location where that will play strangely, but these times are weird and I don’t think you need to put on a full suit to sit in your house. You still need to dress with a nod to the formality of the occasion, but a dress shirt and blazer should be fine. (But if you were interviewing in a very conservative field, like banking, I’d still do the suit.)

3. We’ve been laid off but our boss still asks us to work

Like many, I was laid off due to COVID-19. With a severe drop in revenue, there was no way for our business to continue at this time. Almost our entire team has been laid off, with two employees remaining working. I totally understand this is out of my employer’s control.

However, as the weeks have gone on, our boss/owner has continued to ask the laid off employees to do work for the business. Graphic design work, customer relations, sales, etc. There are no plans to pay that I’ve been made aware. One of our graphic designers is tracking hours in hopes she will be paid when/if we are able to return to work. Currently we don’t have enough clients due to COVID to be operational

I want to have a job to go back to when this is over so want to seem like a team player, but it’s starting to feel inappropriate. How can an employer (I guess technically now former employer) continue to ask you to work during a layoff?

Yeah, they can’t have you work without paying you; that’s illegal (you need to be paid at least minimum wage).

There are two non-adversarial ways you could handle it. One is to simply say that when you applied for unemployment, they were very clear that you’d need to report any other work and you’re concerned about jeopardizing your benefits. The other is to say, “How should we handle logging these hours for payment? I want to make sure we don’t get in trouble with the state, since we’re required to pay people by the next pay period. Or if that’s not possible right now, I think we’ve got to hold off on the work so we don’t end up with labor department penalties.”

4. My team lead ignores my work schedule

I work for an organization with flexible hours, with core hours set to 9-3. I traditionally come in early so I can leave at 3 to beat traffic. Currently my entire organization is working from home, but I’ve kept my hours the same, starting a little earlier in case I need to take a break during the day. I don’t have any family obligations, so I generally end up working my same amount of hours or maybe a little longer and still ending at 3.

My team consists of a team lead and me. The team lead keeps scheduling meetings to start after 2, which pushes them past 3:00 on a regular basis. A lot of them I don’t even find out about until the day of so I can’t even start later in anticipation. He knows that I end at 3 and was generally pretty accommodating in the office. But since we’ve been at home, he’s even called me at 2:45 and says, “You’re almost done, aren’t you?” and then talks for 45 minutes.

If it’s an important call, I’ll call in and just work extra, but for mental health I really can’t be working all the time. Additionally my organization does not allow people to work more than 40 hours a week, even though we’re exempt, so I’m technically breaking rules by doing that (though my team lead constantly works long hours, even when we have a relatively light workload, so I’m not sure he even knows that’s a rule). It’s also just frustrating that I have only one or two meetings per day and somehow my meetings that this person schedules always push me to longer hours. How do I push back on this? Is it something I just deal with and work late?

Since he wasn’t doing this when you were in the office, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s connected to the way time has blurred and lost meaning for lots of people right now.

But regardless of what’s behind it, it sounds like you just need to be clearer with him when a meeting time won’t work for you. When he schedules a meeting at a bad time, email him and say, “My schedule ends at 2, so I can’t attend this. Can we move it earlier?” Similarly, if he’s keeping you on the phone when you want to be wrapping up your day, say, “I’ve only got a few minutes before I need to jump off. Anything else we need to cover while you still have me?” And then at 3, say, “I’ve got to run for the day.” In other words, just assume you’re in control of your schedule and assume he won’t remember it on your behalf, and be clear about what you need and what won’t work.

If you start asserting yourself like this and he seems to bristle at it, then it’s worth saying, “A few times lately when I’ve needed to change a meeting time because of my work hours, you’ve seemed surprised. I want to make sure you know my schedule is 7-3, and since we’ve been asked to be diligent about not working more than 40 hours a week, I can’t generally work later than 3 without some advance notice.”

5. How should you use a “kudos” folder?

I read a career advice article some time ago that suggested I keep an “attaboy/attagirl” folder — essentially, a record of positive recognition. The article suggested that you should save things like positive feedback from customers, “shout-outs” on the company’s internal Teams/Slack/email, and written performance evaluations. The article implied that this folder would be useful for making your case for a raise or promotion, or even to bolster your candidacy for a job.

How the heck would I use my “attaboy” folder in practice? Sending the raise committee an email of all these shout-outs, for example, feels gimmicky and vaguely obsessive. (I don’t want them thinking, “If he’s keeping all these screenshots of praise, what else is he documenting?”) And bringing this to a job interview seems even more ridiculous — I’m picturing sliding a folder of printouts across the table and the interviewer is thinking, “What the heck am I supposed to do with this?”

How would you suggest leveraging a folder like this in a professional, non-weird manner?

Yeah, you don’t bring it to a job interview or dump it on your manager’s desk during a performance review. What you can do, though, is look through it for examples of times that you got great results / garnered notable praise / made someone’s day, and use those as nudges for specific accomplishments to talk about in interviews or with your boss. Occasionally if something is really superlative, you can even quote it (for example, I once wrote in a cover letter that my boss had called me “the fastest writer on the planet”). Or if you see patterns in the kudos, you can turn that into something like “regularly lauded by team mates for soothing unhappy clients” (or whatever). So often it’s just about helping you remember projects and situations that you should include in whatever case you’re making.

Also, sometimes it’s just nice to go through it when you’re having a bad day or feeling frustrated.

employee takes credit for the whole team’s work, what to wear for a video interview, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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