Q: I work in a small firm and we recently had to hire some new people. We received very few applications. One of the applicants had what seemed like a few red flags to me, including attending a conservative leadership institute and volunteering at a far-right state rep’s office. No one else in the firm noticed or mentioned these during the hiring process and we don’t all have the same political views, so maybe I found these more troubling than others.
Now we’ve hired him, in part because we had so few options. Soon after he started, he placed a large wooden cross on his desk, which I find odd and unprofessional. Recently, he brought in some photos for a bulletin board in his office, which include a picture of himself and three other men holding rifles. I find this picture offensive and inappropriate. We do not have clients in our office, so their reaction is not a concern. As a more senior person I am struggling with whether I should mention to this new hire — this is his first job — that he may want to think about what he displays in his office or whether I just need to let it go. In addition, his performance is lacking, so maybe this issue will resolve itself. What is the appropriate thing to do in this situation?
— Anonymous, Columbus, Ohio
A: You need to let this go. Your colleague has every right to his affinities, however repugnant you find them. I get where you’re coming from, but his personal beliefs are none of your business, unless he makes them your business. And how he decorates his work space is not really making them your business. Displays of spirituality are not unprofessional. It would become unprofessional if he proselytized in the office or otherwise foisted his religious beliefs on his co-workers.
As for the pictures he displays, again, what you find intolerable is probably one of his chosen pastimes. There may well be cause for asking him to take down images of firearms; perhaps you can ask your human resources department if there are any guidelines about that. But if you go that route, do so hypothetically. There is no need to snitch on this colleague who hasn’t done anything to you except have different political beliefs. Just stop looking at this man’s desk and obsessing about what he’s doing. If he is as mediocre as you suggest, the problem will, indeed, resolve itself.
Leading by example
Q: In the past six months, my organization approved the optional inclusion of pronouns in email signatures. I learned that one of my team members uses nonbinary pronouns. In my written communication and conversation about that team member, I now use those pronouns, but I notice that no one else has made the adjustment. As the supervisor of this team, how can I fix this situation?
I feel like the longer I wait to address it, the more disrespectful and complicit I’m being. I can’t police people’s language, but I would call someone out for other kinds of behavior I interpreted as disrespectful. (For what it’s worth, I don’t suspect anyone of being intentionally disrespectful by not using their colleague’s preferred pronouns.) The nonbinary colleague has not said anything to me about this being a problem, but I have to assume it feels dismissive. I feel I owe them an apology, but what I really owe them is better leadership. What would you do?
A: Thank you for asking this question. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and part of that is using people’s correct pronouns. You are already doing a lot of what you should be doing by always using your team member’s pronouns in all communication. I would start by sending a memo to your entire team reminding them of the importance of referring to people using the proper pronouns. Don’t single out your nonbinary team member because, frankly, this is a matter of common courtesy and it applies to everyone.
You might also meet privately with your team member to let them know you’re aware of the problem and are working to address it. Ask if there is anything you can do to improve their experience at work but don’t ask them how to solve the overall problem you’re dealing with, as it is not their problem to solve. I am confident you will lead your team forward in a caring and considerate manner.
When you’re here, you’re family
Q: For the past four years, I have been an executive at a small electronics company. While I am treated well and mostly enjoy my work, I would like a change, so I have been confidentially applying and interviewing for new positions. From the beginning of my time at this company, the CEO has been very warm and open socially, and has organized many events involving work colleagues and their families.
My wife and I have gotten to know the CEO’s wife and teenage children, and I have even taken advantage of this atmosphere to arrange temporary employment for a few of my family members. Over the past year, the CEO has started to refer to the company as a “family,” even referring to a recent hire as falling in love with us.
The other day, the CEO told me that he felt betrayed by a former employee who left after giving appropriate notice but without first telling him that he was interviewing. He made it very clear that he expected “family” members to tell him if they are interviewing.
I do expect to be successful in the coming months in my search for a new job, and since I have no employment contract, I am, like most U.S. workers, free to leave or be terminated at any time. In the past, I have handled these transitions by giving appropriate notice after accepting a new offer, wrapping up my responsibilities, typically attending a send-off at a local bar or restaurant and remaining on good terms.
I want to avoid any ugliness when I do give notice, so I am wondering how I should communicate with the CEO during the remainder of my time at this company.
A: Just because your CEO thinks your company is a family does not make it so. Your job is your job and your family is your family. I love a collegial workplace where people feel valued and respected and where people can socialize outside of work. That is ideal and should be the norm, though it isn’t. But professional collegiality still isn’t family, nor should it be. When employers suggest that the company is a family, they’re trying to garner your emotional investment so that you overlook everything else. When it’s time for layoffs, I can assure you that the word “family” will disappear from the company vernacular.
Your CEO is behaving very unprofessionally. If he feels betrayed when an employee gives proper notice and moves on to a new position, that’s a personal problem he should work out with a therapist. This bizarre emotional transference he is foisting on his staff is inappropriate. You do not have to let your employer know you are looking for new work because, unfortunately, far too many employers will retaliate when hearing such news. For now, communicate with the CEO as you normally do because you have nothing to report. Continue with your job search, and when you secure a new position, give ample notice, participate generously in any transition work that needs to happen and move on with a clear conscience.
The case of the misspelled name
Q: My name is Alisha. It’s often misspelled and mispronounced in my everyday life. However, my name is in my email address at work and some of my co-workers still can’t get it right. I want to correct them when I receive an email that starts with “Hi Alicia,” but I feel petty, so I just let it go. Is there a right way to correct someone who continuously spells your name wrong at work?
— Alisha, Rhode Island
A: I can relate so very much. My name is spelled with one n. It is constantly misspelled. It is aggravating in the way that petty things are aggravating, which is to say that I have the necessary perspective. When someone misspells my name in an email, I simply sign my email: Roxane (with one n). That way, the correction is there but isn’t the centerpiece of the correspondence.
When you receive an email with your name spelled wrong, just sign your name correctly with a parenthetical of your choosing about the correct spelling. I find it easiest to walk the line of standing up for myself and my name while also recognizing that the constant misspelling of my name is, in the grand scheme of things, a minor aggravation.