It makes me nervous that these two may be discussing a lot more stuff behind my back — and maybe about me.
Q: I recently joined a tech startup (with 70 or so employees) in a management position. I have noticed that my boss goes on morning and evening walks every day with one of the people who reports to me.
It makes me uneasy that a guy who reports to me is chumming around with my boss — especially because I know he is a bit of a chatterbox and a gossip. These walks, and the pair’s apparent closeness, make me a little hesitant in giving an honest performance appraisal of this worker whom I am supposed to manage.
It also makes me nervous that these two may be discussing a lot more stuff behind my back — and maybe about me.
Am I justified in feeling a little peeved? How do I overcome this? — Anonymous
A: That sounds annoying and maybe even a little weird. (Two walks every day?) But your first step is to avoid turning this into a bigger problem than it probably is by conjecturing nightmare possibilities.
Peeved as you may be, it’s unlikely that you can change this relationship, whatever it actually is. You’ll ultimately need to figure out how to manage around it. While it may be wise to take care what you say in front of your chatty subordinate, that’s a short-term solution.
Your second step is to get some facts, while screening out distracting speculation. You might start by asking around among your colleagues or other managers. Don’t overdo this: You don’t want to come across as if you’re opening some paranoid investigation. But I can’t imagine you’re the only one who has noticed the behavior, so simply floating an innocuous query — “Those two seem close. Are they old friends?” — by someone you trust is likely to get you some basic answers.
And soon you should probably have a straightforward, low-key conversation with your boss. Not panicked or accusatory, “What are you guys talking about?” Just make a casual inquiry. Mention that you’ve noticed that they seem close and ask if they were colleagues together elsewhere or know each other socially.
Frame this as basic professional curiosity: You are, after all, a manager learning the dynamics of a new company. Ask in an open-ended way and hope that the response yields useful context. Who knows, maybe you’ll learn that they don’t talk about work at all, but rather some other shared interest.
Ideally, your boss will realize, without being bluntly informed, that this situation might trouble you, and will promptly set you at ease. But even if that doesn’t happen, what you want is to shift from a state of being concerned to one of being informed.
If some specific problem really does emerge — a performance issue with your employee, for example — you’ll be better prepared to make a case that sticks to the business at hand, whatever this pair’s relationship may be.
Does asking for a chair seem entitled?
Q: I recently started an internship with a company where I hope to work someday. The other interns and I work from laptops, while seated on stools around a communal table.
I have a chronic, not-visually-obvious shoulder condition, and doing computer work without arm support hurts, a lot. I’d like to request an office chair with arms, but I don’t want to appear entitled or weak to my supervisor or colleagues. Do you have any suggestions? — NEW YORK CITY
A: Yes, I suggest that you explain your condition and ask for a chair with arms!
It’s hardly an extravagant request, and you are indeed “entitled” to get through your workday without being in pain.
I’m not sure I see the point of making all the interns sit on stools in the first place: Is it explicitly meant to underscore low office status? I hope your employer reacts by giving everyone a real chair.
For readers who may be curious about the legal context, there are two issues at play.
The first is whether a worker with such a condition could get an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In most situations the answer is yes, according to Carol Miaskoff, associate legal counsel at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“The limitations don’t have to be radical to be considered a disability,” she said, and company policy ought to enumerate details such as what sort of medical proof would be required.
Second, while this may vary by state or other circumstances, if you’re an unpaid intern, you most likely don’t have the same rights as an employee. (This discrepancy is a much-debated topic at the moment, Miaskoff added.)
Strictly speaking, however, I’d say none of that should be relevant in this case. There’s no need to invoke legislation; all you’re asking for is a chair.
Unless your fellow interns and your bosses are monsters, they won’t begrudge you this simple relief. And if I’m wrong about that, you don’t want to work for these people — so you might as well find out now.