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can my parents contact my employer if they haven’t heard from me, getting out of a snacks rota, and more — Ask a Manager

Two days would be much too early for your parents to contact your employer; that would be imposing on your employer in a way that isn’t reasonable unless there were highly unusual, extenuating circumstances — like you always call them at 7 pm on the dot and you missed two nights of calling and you had told them you feared for your safety because of a mountain lion prowling your backyard (I had a hard time coming up with an example that would work here, as you can see). Otherwise, since lots of people go much longer without talking to their family, contacting your employer after two days would be a prohibitively unusual burden to place on your company.

Even in those unusual circumstances, though, they’d be better off calling the police in your area to do a welfare check rather than your employer. Your employer would have the benefit of knowing if you’d been at work or not, but they won’t necessarily give that info to a non-employee who calls to ask. (And consider that some people are estranged from their family, don’t want contact with an abusive ex, simply don’t want that info shared, etc.) You could give your employer explicit permission, but even then if your family did contact HR, your parents would need to see it as a one-time thing only.

If your parents are likely to be anxious and wanting this kind of reassurance more than in a once-in-a-blue-moon true emergency, you’re better off coming up with a different system — like that you’ll always check in by Thursday each week and so there’s a problem if they haven’t heard from you by Friday, or whatever works for you.

I should note that my read of your question is that if my answer had been “yes, it’s fine for your parents to do that,” that would be okay with you. But if, instead, you don’t want your parents to do this and are worried they will anyway, you can warn HR and your boss that it might happen and let them know it’s fine to explain they can’t give that information out.

2. How much time should a manager spend on people stuff vs driving actual work?

I’M A MANAGER OF AN ANALYST TEAM. I REPORT DIRECTLY TO OUR C-SUITE LEADER BECAUSE OF A SOMEWHAT STRANGE ORG STRUCTURE; MOST OTHER MANAGERS IN THIS DEPARTMENT REPORT TO A VP. HE IS VERY FOCUSED ON US EXECUTING ON STRATEGIC WORK, BUT I FIND MYSELF SPENDING MOST OF MY TIME WITH MY REPORTS DEALING WITH THEIR INTERPERSONAL PROBLEMS, OR LACK OF MOTIVATION, OR WHAT THEY WANT FOR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT, ETC. WE’RE ALSO ENTIRELY REMOTE SO I FEEL LIKE I NEED TO MAKE AN EXTRA EFFORT TO FOCUS ON THIS SINCE I CAN’T OBSERVE THEM AT THE OFFICE.

MY FEELING IS THAT THEY WON’T BE ABLE TO FOCUS ON THE IMPORTANT WORK IF THESE THINGS AREN’T ADDRESSED BUT MY BOSS DOESN’T SEEM TO AGREE ON HOW I SPLIT MY EFFORT. IT SORT OF MAKES SENSE THAT SOMEONE AT HIS LEVEL ISN’T WORRIED ABOUT THE INDIVIDUAL PEOPLE DOING THE WORK AND IT NEEDS TO BE MY JOB TO DO SO. WHAT DO YOU THINK?

If you’re really spending most of your time with your staff talking about those things rather than the actual work, your boss is right that the balance is way off.

A couple of those items set off alarm bells for me too: if you’re spending significant time discussing someone’s lack of motivation, that’s a pretty big performance issue and I’d question whether you have the right people in the job. It’s of course important to create the conditions in which good hires will feel motivated (by doing things like giving them meaningful roles with real responsibility, ensuring they see the bigger picture of what their work adds up to, etc.) and you need to avoid demotivating staff by things like yelling, but beyond that if you’re spending significant time on someone’s lack of motivation, that’s not a good use of your time or energy. That amount of time on interpersonal problems worries me too; of course those will come up from time to time, but if you’re regularly focused on that with people to the extent that it’s overshadowing the actual work, that’s a sign of bigger problems too.

I’m with your boss on this one.

3. I don’t want to do a a team snacks rotation

ONE OF MY COLLEAGUES HAS SUGGESTED TO OUR 12-PERSON UNIT THAT WE INTRODUCE A WEEKLY CAKE/SNACK ROTA WHERE WE EACH TAKE TURNS BRINGING SNACKS TO THE OFFICE FOR THE UNIT. I REALLY DON’T WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN THIS. FIRST, I THINK OFFICE CAKE CULTURE IS PRETTY TERRIBLE FOR OUR HEALTH AND DIET OUTSIDE OF PEOPLE CELEBRATING A PERSONAL EVENT. SECOND, I AM A SINGLE PARENT TO TWO-YEAR OLD TWINS AND I JUST DON’T WANT TO ADD TO MY EXISTING CHORES TO SPEND TIME AND EFFORT ON SOMETHING I DISAGREE TO BEGIN WITH — EVEN IF IT IS ONLY FOUR TIMES A YEAR. HOWEVER, I KNOW SOME PEOPLE IN OUR UNIT LOVE THIS SORT OF THING AND CAN GET A BIT OFFENDED BY THOSE NOT EQUALLY WILLING TO PARTICIPATE. HOW DO I OPT OUT IN A NON-OFFENSIVE MANNER?

In theory you should just be able to say “no thanks!” and have that be respected, but since that sounds like it’s not the case, you could try one of these:

* “Oh, I’m really picky about snacks so I’ll opt out — thanks for inviting me though.”

* “I’m juggling two toddlers at home by myself and will literally burst into flames if I add any additional stuff to my list! Thanks for inviting me though.”

* “For a bunch of boring reasons, I’m not going to participate, but have fun doing it!”

Note: if your coworkers get offended by reasonable actions, there’s no magic language that will prevent that. But these are reasonable things to say. Say them cheerfully and as if of course that’ll be the end of it, hold firm if there’s any pushback (“nope, I really can’t!”), and figure that any Feelings they have about it are on them to manage.

4. I can’t reach HR about medical accommodations

I HAVE BEEN TRYING TO REACH OUT TO OUR HUMAN RESOURCES TEAM WITH NO SUCCESS TO GET ACCOMMODATIONS. I’VE EMAILED TWICE, AND MY BOSS HAS EMAILED AS WELL. DO YOU HAVE A SCRIPT THAT MIGHT HELP? I DON’T WANT TO BE TOO FORCEFUL. I WAS IN THE HOSPITAL FOR TWO WEEKS. I EMAILED THEM LATE SEPTEMBER AND THEN WAS IN THE HOSPITAL PART OF OCTOBER. I JUST EMAILED THEM AGAIN RECENTLY BUT STILL NO REPLY. ANY SUGGESTIONS WOULD BE APPRECIATED.

Is it an option to call? If so, do that! Whenever one method of communication isn’t working and it’s something important, you should try a different method, since sometimes that will get you better results.

But if you can only email, then try again and put this in your subject line: “Official request for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.” And then the body of your email should open with, “This is an official — and time-sensitive — request for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. I originally made this request over a month ago and have not heard back.”

Also, if there’s a way to go over the head of the person you’ve been contacting (or for your boss to), do that since a month is an unacceptably long response time. If you still don’t hear back, a lawyer may have better luck.

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