I Found Out My Employee Is Job-Hunting

Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues–everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

Here’s a roundup of answers to four questions from readers.

1. I found out my employee is job-hunting

I ran into a former employee, Cindy, at an association event for my field. Cindy casually mentioned that she is in a job hunting group with Jane, a woman I manage. Apparently it is a very active group — they meet weekly, set goals for numbers of jobs researched and applied to, etc.

Jane is not a perfect fit for her role, though she does some pieces of it extremely well. It would be a loss if she left. I would be happy to give her a good reference, and it would be better for us to know sooner than later if she is going to leave. We aren’t going to push her out any sooner than she’s ready to go. But what if it takes her a long time to find a job?

No, don’t say anything to her! If she wanted you to know, she would tell you — and she hasn’t, so you can reasonably conclude she doesn’t want you to know. Having to disclose a job search to a manager can put an employee in a really awkward position, and worse than that, it can jeopardize their job. You say you won’t push her out — and you shouldn’t — but asking “what if it takes her a long time to find a job?” is already taking a dangerous step down that road.

You’re of course right that it would be better for you to know sooner than later if she’s going to leave. But that’s the case with nearly every week resignation and employers still get by with the standard two or three notice, because that’s what we’ve all agreed to find acceptable. So yes, it would be nice to know — but you don’t actually get to know, unless she decides to tell you. That’s just how it works, and she’s entitled to privacy. Plus, maybe she’s not even going to end up leaving. Maybe she’s seeing what’s out there and what her options are, but isn’t committed to definitely leaving. We can’t know.

In general, you should assume that any of your employees might be job searching and might move on. It’s a normal thing to happen, and you will deal with it if/when it does, just as you would have if you’d never heard this.

2. My employees are coordinating their time off together

I supervise two employees who have worked here for several years and are close personal friends. I’ve noticed that they always seem to take the same days off, but give different reasons. In the past 12 months, they’ve taken 17 days off in common. They are random days here and there, so I don’t suspect they’re off vacationing together in a far off destination. It’d make more sense to me if that seemed to be the case. If they are not gone on the same day, then they are gone different days of the same week — one will take Tuesday and the other Thursday. The days don’t always coincide with holidays and are both use sick and vacation days. I get a variety of reasons when they let me know they’re going to be out.

I’ve noticed they’ve become friendly with another employee and she is now calling out sick on the same days that they are. That’s three employees randomly out on the same day once or twice a month. I supervise eight people, so it’s almost half of my team. They take more time off together than they do individually. What’s the best way to address this?

First, try to take the mystery element out of it — the question of why they might be coordinating their time off and how they might be spending it. You’ll be on more solid ground addressing it if you isolate the problem to the ways it impacts your team’s work.

You could say something like this to them individually (not together): “I’ve noticed that you often take sick or vacation days at the same time as Jane is taking hers, or within the same week. I know that you are friends outside of work so I understand that you might occasionally want to be off at the same time, but because we’re a small team, it can be hard to have multiple people out at once. I do want to accommodate you when I can — so can you tell me if there’s something that’s making you want to coordinate your time off, and we can talk about what is and isn’t realistic to do?”

If they deny it’s happening, you could say, “Going forward, if you want to coordinate your time, let’s pick once or twice a year when you can do it and we’ll plan for it in advance, but aside from limited occasions, it’s not something the team can easily accommodate.” Presumably if they are coordinating their time off for some reason and don’t want to talk to you about why, saying this will make them aware that there’s an impact and that it’s something you’re concerned about.

3. When someone you recommended sends an angry, unhinged response to a rejection

I’ve just read the question you answered a while back about telling someone that the person who used them as a reference sent an unhinged response to a rejection (the second question here). What advice would you give to the reference upon receiving this information? Should they talk to the applicant about it? Would it be OK for them to flat-out refuse to be used as a reference again?

To some extent, it depends on the relationship the reference has with the applicant. But assuming they know each other pretty well, I’d recommend contacting them and saying something like, “Acme Inc. told me you sent a pretty angry response to being rejected for the job there. I was concerned by what they shared, since I ‘d vouched for you. What happened? Then, unless you hear something exonerating (like “My brother sent that message posing as me and I’m mortified and have been trying to clean up the mess ever since”), you’d say, “I have to tell you — I was taken aback by the message. I can’t be a reference for you in the future.”

4. Rejecting good candidates when we’ve just filled the position

I’m hiring for a marketing role that has taken over three months to fill. We’re very close to closing on Jane, a promising candidate, but I’ve continued to review applications and phone screen in the meantime. You never know what’s going to happen.

There are several recent applicants who have passed the phone screen. If we close on Jane, I’ll need to tell these other candidates that we’re not moving forward with them. They’re good candidates and if the timing were different, I’d move them forward. How exactly do I word that email?

You don’t have to explain all of that, but if you want to, you could say it this way: “Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me about our copy editor position. I thought you were a strong candidate and was excited to continue talking with you, but the timing ended up not being ideal — we just offered the position to someone who’s accepted it. ‘ll plan to contact you if that happens.” If you’re unlikely to have similar openings any time soon, you could replace that last sentence with, “I really appreciate your interest in our work, and I hope our paths might cross again in the future.”

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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