Having Difficult Conversations with Employees

Navigating uncomfortable topics with your employees can be tricky. Alison Green, the columnist behind AskAManager.org sheds light on all the craziest employer and employee situations she’s come across, along with tips on how to handle anything that comes your way.

You’ll learn:

  • You are not obliged to give your boss your kidney
  • Why employers should skip trial periods
  • How to determine salary when you’re hiring employees

Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher

(With your host Andrew Youderian of eCommerceFuel.com and Alison Green of AskAManager.org)

Andrew: Welcome to “The eCommerceFuel Podcast,” the show dedicated to helping high six and seven-figure entrepreneurs build amazing online companies and incredible lives. I’m your host and fellow ecommerce entrepreneur, Andrew Youderian.

Hi, guys, it’s Andrew here, and welcome to “The eCommerceFuel Podcast.” Thanks so much for tuning in to the show today. And today on the podcast, I thought to celebrate the ECF job board’s going live like we talked about last episode.

It’d be fun to have a couple of episodes about employees, management, all things workplace-related in terms of HR, and so joining me for the first one of those is Alison Green, who writes the workplace advice blog, askamanager.org, also writes an advice column for New York Magazine, and is the author of multiple books on managing people in the workplace.

And we talk about a whole lot of different things, how do you have conversations with employees? Is it okay to ask someone what they’re making at their current position if you’re hiring them for a new position, or is that kind of a slimy thing to ask? I get her take on some situations that some of our members have faced in the private community, and we hear about all sorts of crazy situations she’s dealt with over the years.

Questions like, “My boss wants to give me his kidney, but I don’t want to it. What should I do?” Something I’m sure all of us have faced at some point in our career.

So, yeah, a lot of fun chatting with her. She really knows her stuff, and has some great stories and knowledge. So, I hope you enjoy the discussion with her.

Thanks To Our Sponsors!

But before we jump into that, I wanna give a huge “Thank you” to our two amazing sponsors. Two companies that I wholeheartedly can get behind, love these guys. Liquid Web, who offers the, not just great hosting, whether you offer great hosting of course, but specifically, phenomenal rock-solid platform for your WooCommerce store. I use these guys to host all of my businesses, all my websites.

And they’ve built out a platform, a hosted platform for running WooCommerce that’s just phenomenal. It’s engineered to make WooCommerce fast, to help with your upgrades, to help with your extension management, and to scale it better than any other hosting provider around.

So, if you’re looking for the best place for Woo, Liquid Web’s who you wanna go talk to. You can check them out and learn more about them at ecommercefuel.com/liquidweb.

And then secondly, a big “Thank you” to the team that Klaviyo, for making the show possible. Klaviyo, who makes email marketing and automation incredibly easy and profitable. Four things I love about Klaviyo, first, the segmentation. You can build out incredibly detailed segments that fire automatic messages to people as they purchase from your store. Facebook integrations.

You can sync up your list with Facebook to create custom audiences and retarget people.

Third, emails that are nice to look at and easy to design. They’ve got a great email builder in their software. And then finally, fantastic, advanced analytics reporting to show you what’s working well, which emails are, and which ones maybe you should tweak. So, if you’re not using them, you can get started for free and see how powerful they really are, at ecommercefuel.com/klaviyo.

The Most Outrageous Scenario Alison Has Come Across

All right, let’s go ahead and get into my discussion with Alison Green. Alison, like I mentioned before we started recording here, one of my favorite parts of prepping for this was reading through some of the crazy questions and situations that people come to you with. It might be hard to pick one, but is there one that sticks out as the funniest or the most outrageous question or situation that you’ve had in your career writing about this, and talking about this?

Alison: I do get a lot of weird ones, it’s hard to pick one. A fairly recent one that was pretty crazy was a letter from someone whose coworker had stolen his lunch out of the office fridge and ate it. It turns out that my letter writer likes his food really, really spicy and the lunch thief actually got sick from how spicy the stolen was, and my letter writer got accused of intentionally trying to harm this guy. And HR was being really aggressive with him.

And later on he said in an update, which was actually the most interesting part of the whole letter. It turned out that the HR person had been having an affair with the guy who stole the lunch, and that’s why she was targeting him so aggressively. And it all came out in a big wave of drama and the spicy food lover was vindicated.

Andrew: That’s crazy. We’ll get into a few more of them later on in the discussion, but yeah, you see some doozies, what? A lot of what we’re gonna talk about is from the viewpoint of hiring, managing. Most of the people, or a lot of people listening are employers, you know, running a team.

Maybe kick things off a bit with the hiring side, what are a couple of the most under-rated questions that employers should ask candidates but that they usually don’t?

What Employers Should Be Asking Potential Employees

Alison: So, it’s not a specific question, but more of an approach to questions in general, which is that most interviewers don’t delve nearly enough into specifics of what people have achieved in the past and how they went about it. Like, really digging into times when the person demonstrated a skill or a trait that’s essential to the job they’re interviewing for.

A lot of managers rely on like lists of questions that they downloaded from the internet, because I think people don’t quite know how to interview.

But really, what they should be doing is thinking very rigorously about what the skills and traits are must-haves for success in the role, and then probing really deeply into times when the person did or maybe didn’t demonstrate those in the past, and asking lots of follow-up questions so that you really get to see how does this person operate? What are their instincts?

I would rather conduct a whole interview just around that, then use dozens of more typical interview questions.

Focus On Finding Out More About Specific Accomplishments

Andrew: So, instead of saying like, “Hey, you’re coming for an SEO role, tell us about something that you did,” and they say, “Oh, well, you know, I increased traffic from zero to 10,000 visitors for this website,” instead of saying, “Great, let’s move on,” spend 20-30 minutes talking about the specific tactic strategy used, the things that they did to get a sense of if that was really an accomplishment they owned, or someone else kind of was probably doing they piggy backed off of.

Alison: Exactly. And you’ll learn so much about how that person operates and how they think if you really dig in, you know, “Oh, what were the challenges? Why did you approach it that way? What went wrong? What would you do differently in the future?” You know, really digging in. You’ll get so much more than if you just accept a surface answer and move on.

Cut Out The Personality Tests

Andrew: Do you see many people effect this? I heard a little bit more recently people, and employers using personality or aptitude or skill-based tests to get a sense of if somebody is a good fit for a role. I took one recently and some parts of it were pretty obvious, some parts surprised me a little bit. Is that something you’re seeing employers use more? And if so, is it fairly effective, or has it kind of produced some false positives?

Alison: Personality tests? I wish companies would cut those out. I’ve yet to see any evidence that they really produce better hires. And they tend to really annoy the job candidates. Skills testing, I think is a different thing. I’m a big fan of skills testing, like giving candidates short assignments or a simulation, so that you can see them actually doing the work, which I think is amazingly helpful when you’re hiring.

Sometimes people look great on paper, and then when they’re actually doing the work, not so great. And other times, people haven’t had the experience on paper, but they do really well when you test them out. So, I’m a big fan of that, but personality tests, I would like to see it go away in hiring.

Trial Periods: Yay or Nay?

Andrew: What about, I mean, you talk about that trial period skill-based test, what’s the longest an employer could ask someone to do that without it being unreasonable for the employee? Because for example, you know, sometimes you’re a great position and the person you’re viewing doesn’t have any risk of maybe coming on for maybe a month’s trial, because if they don’t have an existing role, you know, that’s not a problem.

But if they’re at an existing job and you ask them to come work for a month long trial or even longer, they have to really gamble on the fact that, “Hey, I gotta leave my position, and maybe it works out, maybe it doesn’t.” Thoughts on how long you can, you know, it’s reasonable to ask people to do those trial runs for?

Alison: Oh, yeah. In most cases, I wouldn’t ask for an actual trial run at all. I’m thinking more of like a one or two-hour assignment, you know, right on…if you’re interviewing for a communications position, here’s a sample topic. Write a press release on it.

There are some very narrowly defined cases where it makes sense to have someone do a real trial period, but that’s that typically the way to go, because I mean, as you point out, right there, you’re cutting out all your candidates who are employed, you’re cutting out people who maybe have childcare or other commitments during their period of unemployment.

I mean, obviously, as an employer, it’s way easier to make a good hiring decision if you can work with someone for a month, but it’s not typically a realistic thing to expect.

Andrew: What about maybe not so much on the a month or two and then we go? Is there a way, I know, some people have a probationary period anywhere for maybe three to even maybe six months where it’s, you know, “Hey, come work together. And this is, you know, it’s probationary, and we can kind of end this really with any or no reason after six months.” Are those pretty common?

I mean, obviously, that makes it much easier from the employer side. Thoughts on that as you’ve heard?

You Can Let Someone Go At Any Time

Alison: Yeah, it is very common to do that. It’s a little weird, because here in the U.S. with the exception of one state, Montana, employment is at will. You can let someone go at any time with no warning, whether they’re in a probationary period or not. I think a probationary period is more of like a communication device to the person to say like, “Hey, we’re not fully committed here.”

In some cases, employers write their policies in a way that exempts them from having to follow their own internal rules. Like, they might commit to employees, “Hey, if you’re having a performance issue, we’ll follow these procedures. We’ll do a written warning, we’ll put you on a performance improvement plan.” And sometimes they use probationary periods to say, “Except if you’re in this probation period, we won’t do that.”

But, you know, you can let someone go at any time. I don’t know that a probationary period serves the purpose that managers often feel like it might serve. I think you should be giving people feedback all the time, and monitoring their progress all the time, and dealing with problems that come up forthrightly all the time. You don’t want it to feel like, “Oh, now they’re out of their six month probationary period, so I’m gonna stop doing these things.”

Andrew: Yeah. Do feel like the probationary period is put in there and more common in place because people have more of a fear of letting people go that aren’t a good fit based on legal repercussions?

Alison: Yeah, but I mean there are so many misconceptions around that. You can let someone go for any reason as long as it’s not one of the very few illegal reasons, which are things like discrimination, or retaliation for reporting harassment. But yeah, I mean, there’s a real problem with managers being reluctant to have tough conversations and to coach on performance and to say, “Hey, your work quality is not where it needs to be.” And I do think that some managers use probationary periods as a crutch.

How To Tackle Tough Scenarios The Right Way

Andrew: How can managers have those hard conversations? Because those are, by definition, not fun to have. People shy away from it, like you mentioned, but they’re really important for somebody to develop. And if you, you know, if a manager avoids them, they’re doing not only disservice to the company, but also to, you know, the employee, because they’re not growing and developing.

Any thoughts or tactics on how to be better about having those conversations, apart from just being braver?

Alison: Yeah, being braver is part of it. I think it’s mindset. You have to really believe that as a manager, it is part of the job. You know, shirking hard conversations is just as negligent as a bookkeeper who doesn’t pay bills on time, or a salesperson who doesn’t return calls from customers. It’s just part of the job, and you will fail as a manager if you don’t do it.

But beyond that, it’s also much kinder, which I think is something people often don’t think about. But when you have power over other people’s jobs, you’re doing them a huge disservice if you’re not straight forward, especially when there are aspects of their performance that you want them to change.

You know, if you hesitate to have tough conversations, or if you sugarcoat the message, or you just kind of hint and don’t say it directly, you make it so much more likely that people will continue disappointing you.

And that can have real consequences for them, you know, it can impact their future raise or promotions, or the sorts of assignments they get, their reputation, even their tenure in the job. So, you owe them directness and honesty, and it really is a kinder way to deal with people.

How To Determine a Future Salary

Andrew: What about, coming back maybe to the hiring process a little bit, let’s say you get to the stage where you’re making someone an offer, and salary can be a potentially, you know, tricky part of that whole dance. Is it okay to ask someone what they’re making in their current position when you are looking to hire them, either the interview or when you’re extending and making an offer?

Alison: You know, I really encourage employers to make an offer based on what they think a fair market rate is for the work. If you peg it to what the person has been making previously, there’s all kinds of problems with that. They could be underpaid, it could be the reason that they’re looking to leave.

And more importantly, there’s a lot of research showing that women and people of color are traditionally, on average, are paid less than men and white people. And so, if you are basing a salary offer on knowledge of what their salary history is, if there are some inequities already built in, you’re gonna be perpetuating those inequities.

And that’s actually why there’s been a pretty encouraging trend recently for few states and a couple of jurisdictions, to actually legally prohibit employers from asking about salary history in the hiring process, exactly for that reason, because they’re concerned that it’s a weight on women and people of color’s wages.

I think by all means, ask what kind of salary range they’re looking for, tell them what your range is, and make sure that you’re on the same page. But don’t peg it to what they’ve been making previously.

Asking a Future Employer What They Want To Be Paid

Andrew: Yeah, that makes sense. And maybe just answer this kind of at the tail end of that, but it is a different shift, is it a little bit…is it better to ask if you can ask them what they would need to make to be happy in this role? Because all things equal, if you get two candidates and they’re neck and neck and one needs 70 and one needs 60 it’s, you know, the employers are trying to make their business work too, and obviously, that’s probably a better fit assuming everything else is equal. What about thoughts on that question?

Alison: Yeah, I think it’s fair to ask that. I do think it’s important to know that candidates are always at a disadvantage in this conversation, because employers, you generally have a range in mind of what you wanna pay. You probably know what feels like market rate to you. You may have done real research on it. You may have salary surveys.

Employees, generally, have a lot less information, and the power dynamic makes people really worried that they’re gonna either really undercut themselves, or overreach and lose the offer for that reason. So, it’s a very nerve-wrecking thing on the candidate’s side.

And employers tend to sort of play coy with the information that they do have, so, I mean, ideally it’s great if an employer says, “Hey, here’s what our range is, and here’s how we decide where you might fall in that range,” and, you know, may be abreast, say it’s very unlikely for us to bring someone in at the top of that range.

You should be able to defend your salary offer, and you should be able to say, here’s why we’re making it, and here is how it fits in our overall salary structure. I think that’s much more a fair dealing. I know it’s more complicated than that, you get into not wanting to give the range because maybe for the right person you would offer more but you don’t wanna advertise that because you won’t do it for most people.

So, it’s tricky, but I do think employers could do with more of transparency in the process.

How To Be a Better Delegator

Andrew: You’ve wrote a book called “Managing to Change the World,” which is a kind of a primer on managing for nonprofits, but I’m sure it has a lot of applicable insight for people running a for-profit business as well. One thing you talk about is how managers can be better delegates, or excuse me, delegate better as a manager.

And I think that’s something that I’ll speak for myself, is something I have to work really hard to overcome, and I think a lot of people do. How can managers do a better job of getting stuff off their plate to their team?

Alison: Yeah, you would think delegating would be pretty straightforward, and it turns out that it’s not, at all. I think you really need to invest time in the front end, that a lot of times, managers think, “Oh, I just need this thing off my plate, so like I’m just gonna give it to this person and they’ll do it, and that’ll be it, and I’ll check in at the end.”

Sometimes that works, but sometimes you’re setting both you and the employee up for disappointment and frustration. So, you really want to invest time in the front end in talking about the outcomes that you’re looking for, and how the person might get there, and any constraints that might be on the project that they should be aware of.

And then you wanna check in periodically. And then obviously, if it’s a one-hour project you’re not gonna be constantly checking in, that would be weird. But assuming it’s a bigger, more long-term project, you wanna have some points where you’re checking in and looking at slices of the work, and making sure that it’s going in the right direction.

Because what a lot of people do is they wait until the very end. They assign the work, a few weeks go by, it gets turned in, they look at it and they think, “Oh, this isn’t what I wanted at all.” And now maybe time is running out, so they’re gonna just take it back and do it themselves, which is frustrating for everyone, or they’re gonna give a lot of nitpicky feedback at this point, and the employee is gonna be left thinking, “I’ve already put in all this time, why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

So, it can be hard to know at the very start what feedback or what guidance you’ll need to give, but if you’re checking in along the way, you’ll have those opportunities to course correct early if you need to.

Differences Between a Great and Not-So-Great Manager

Andrew: What about kinda commonalities you see with great and terrible managers? I know we’re kinda talking about some of these specifically, but maybe at a high level, the top two traits you see in both wonderful managers and terrible managers, given the, you know, the ton of different experiences you see regularly.

Alison: The ability to set very clear expectations, and to communicate those in a way that people understand. And a big one is a willingness to have hard conversations. And I may cheat and put in a third one too, because I think it’s really important. Humility, you know, the ability to admit that you don’t know everything, and to seek input, and to own up if you get something wrong.

Terrible managers, the big one is not giving feedback, both praise and more corrective feedback, and of course, also not having hard conversations, whether it’s addressing a performance problem, or killing a popular program that no longer makes sense for your company. The willingness to take on discomfort.

Andrew: You hear that giving that feedback, going back to hard conversations, you kinda hear the advice sometimes given that, “Hey, for every one piece of negative feedback you give, you should give six pieces of positive feedback.” And I wanna sense like, “Okay, yeah, you’re balancing that. That’s great,” but I think back to one of my bosses who, he was a hard manager, but he was a fair manager, and that definitely, was not the case.

I mean, I respected him and he made me a much better worker and employee, and somebody who is much more, you know, attentive to detail, but there was no balance there. I mean, you know, when he did give me really good…when he gave me praise, it meant a lot, right? Because it wasn’t as common.

But he was definitely a shaper of, you know, of people in a way of choosing. He did not shy away from those hard conversations.

So, your thoughts on, do you need to balance? You know, do you need to have such a disproportionate amount of, you know, positive versus the, you know, the critical feedback, or do you think that’s unnecessary?

Stress What’s Going Right

Alison: I do think, I mean, everyone is different. People will respond differently to different things. But in general, overall, yeah, I think you wanna…assuming things are going well, I think you wanna be giving a lot more positive feedback than negative or corrective feedback.

Because I talk to so many managers who are really happy with one of their employees, but they’re really harping on and there’s something they want to do differently.

And that may be perfectly legitimate. Maybe that person needs to hear that feedback, but they also need to be hearing how that manager sees things going overall. They need to know that overall, things are going really well.

They need to be hearing about the things they’re doing right, because otherwise, a lot of people end up feeling like, “God, I have been really driving to get this work done, and I’ve achieved so much and all I’m hearing about is one piece of it that went wrong. Is my boss even seeing the rest of it? Does the rest of it even matter?”

So, yeah, I think it can…sometimes I think managers feel a little awkward or self-conscious about praising, and even worry about overdoing it. And certainly, you don’t wanna do it in a way that comes across as insincere, but if you have a good employees working for you, there should be a ton of things every day that you can notice and recognize.

How To Reward Employees

Andrew: Along the same lines, you know, compensation of course, the first thing that comes to mind is, you know, money, obviously: raises or bonuses. But what are some of the best nontraditional ways you’ve seen owners or about, you know, managers reward their employees?

Alison: This is gonna be a boring answer, because I am a really big fan of the basics. You know, pay people well and give them generous amounts of time off, and treat them like adults. There’s nothing wrong with getting more creative than that, but when you do, you usually end up with stuff that some people really love and other people just don’t really care about, because people are all so different and want different things from their employers. But everyone like money and time off, so I say, stick with those basics.

How Employees Will Stand Out in a Pile of Resumes

Andrew: You wrote about a situation where somebody…you always hear when you’re applying for jobs that you need to stand out. People say you don’t stand out. And it’s actually true. I mean, I recently was hiring for a role and went through like 150 resumes. You do, I mean, if you’re gonna get through them, you look at each one for seconds. And so, on one sense it’s good advice.

On the other hand, it’s hard to do that in a way that actually is not creepy, and not annoying, and doesn’t come across as being high maintenance. Like you mentioned someone who to “Stand out” in the interview process, sent a framed a picture of themself to the hiring manager, which is, you know, super creepy, like, “Hey, put me next to your kids,” right? How can applicants stand out in a way that is as far from the framed picture example as possible?

Alison: Yeah, you know, everyone wants there to be some secret with us, you know, the one tip no one will tell you. But, I mean, the truth is that the way you stand out is by being a highly qualified candidate with a resume that shows a track record of achievement in the areas the employer cares about, and by writing a compelling, personable cover letter that explains why you’d excel at the job.

So, I mean, I think everyone is hoping there is some other way to do it, but at least with good employers, that is what will make you stand out, especially the cover letter. You know, most, 99.9% of cover letters out there are really boring. They just regurgitate the contents of their resume. They don’t add anything new.

So, on the rare occasions that you come across a cover letter that’s written like a real person, that adds some flashes out them and their candidacy in some way, it adds something to their resume, that actually does make you stand out.

It’s hard work to do it though, so everyone’s hoping that they can do something like that, and they’re sending the framed photo of themselves. You know, there are so many gimmicky pieces of advice out there, “Send a chocolate bar to the recruiter.” That kind of thing rarely works, and when it does, you’ve just screened for an employer who responds to like flash and not to merit, and that’s not the employer that you want.

The Employees That Coasts

Andrew: What if you have…we talked about hard conversations. What if you have someone on your team who’s doing okay work, they’re getting their job done, they’re not doing the quality of work, they’re not excelling. It’s not bad, but it’s just kind of like an average employee. And you know that you could have someone better in the role, but you don’t have a glaring reason.

It’s hard to provide very specific feedback, or you have to provide very nuanced feedback to try to develop them, and you just think it’s gonna be tough to get them where they need to be. How should you approach that when you don’t have a real, you know, a real glaring reason, but you wanna get someone else in the role?

Alison: Yeah, I mean, I think that is a reason. You want people on your team hitting a high bar and doing great work. And you can set ambitious goals, I mean, not crazy, unreasonable, unrealistic goals, but ambitious goals that the right person will be able to meet.

You can set those goals and you can hold people accountable to them, and it will become clear when someone is not hitting that bar, and at that point you can talk to them about it, about whether they can bring their performance up to where you need it, or whether it may not be the right fit.

And, you know, if the person has been allowed to kind of coast at that lower level of performance for a while, it can feel weird to do that. And so I think you wanna have a very straightforward conversation and explain, you know, “Hey, in thinking about what we need from this role, I’m realizing that the goals I need you to meet are different than what I’ve expected from you in the past. Here’s where I wanna take this position.

I don’t know if that’s fair to you, you know, are you interested in doing the work toward this higher bar for the results that we’re getting from your position?” Just have an honest conversation with them. They may surprise you. You know, you may move that bar higher and they might meet it.

But if not, it’s reasonable to say, you know, what I need from this role is changing.

Holiday Bonuses

Andrew: What are your thoughts on holiday and Christmas bonuses? I feel like in our community, that time of year rolls around and it’s always people wanna reward their team, but they’re not sure of how much to give, if there’s a rule. You know, sometimes we’ve had situations where, you know, people give too much and then they’re on the hook for that in perpetuity, you know, anything less than that, a generous bonus is received as a slight in years in the future.

But of course, you wanna, you know, be fair and generous to your team. So, any thoughts on how you can do holiday gifting in a way that you’re taking care of your team, but you’re also not setting yourself up for expectations in the future that you can never get out of if you need to?

Alison: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. People start getting very cranky if they’ve come to expect a certain level of bonus because they’ve had it for years and this year they don’t get it. It does start to feel like a pay cut, and it can be demoralizing, which is of course, the exact opposite of what you’re trying to do with bonuses in the first place.

I think you’ve got to be really transparent. You know, make it really clear that there is no guarantee of this, blah, blah, blah every year. It’s dependent on factors X, Y, and Z. That said, there will be a thing where if they’re generous year after year, when a year comes around where you can’t be, it will be an issue for people. So, you’ve really got to communicate, even over-communicate about it. If bonuses are going down, talk about why that is.

And you’ve got to be really sensitive to optics around that. I mean, if you announce that bonuses are gonna be a lot lower this year, and then you throw a really lavish Christmas party, for example, people are gonna notice that, and they’re gonna talk about it. So, you’ve just gotta be sensitive to that.

Millenial Employees

Andrew: I wanna ask you about millennials. And, you know, they’re a generation that fairly or unfairly, has kind of gotten this, you know, received the stigma for kind of being just plugged into their phones, having a hard time doing certain aspects without working as hard.

Of course, it’s really difficult, you know, that’s not a fair stereotype for any group, wide swath of people, but in general, do you think that…you know, people growing up kind of in technology with smartphones, that generation, it is more difficult for them to do things in the workforce, or do you think they’ve been totally, unfairly maligned? And again, realizing we’re stereotyping here.

Alison: I think they’ve been unfairly maligned. They took a lot of crap when they were new to the workforce. You know, it’s interesting to note some of them are close to turning 40, so millenials are not that young anymore, even though they’ve just been kind of lumped in with this idea of young people in general.

But I think so many of the complaints about them were just normal complaints about young people of any generation, but there’s nothing particularly different or difficult about millenials. I mean, if anything, they’ve had a particularly difficult time because so many of them graduated right around the recession and had trouble finding work, or finding work in their field.

And I think a lot of people still haven’t been able to catch up, and then you throw in the Student Loan crisis, and they’ve really gotten a bad deal.

But, you know, all those stereotypes about millennials, they don’t wanna pay their dues and they need an inordinate amount of praise, I’ve never found those to be particularly common in the millennials that I know.

Nobody Likes Open Offices

Andrew: You’ve been doing this for, you know, a decade-ish plus, and seen a lot of different, you know, instances, and cases, and anecdotes. Thoughts on any ways in work has changed over the past decade? Any big trends you notice, especially with, you know, employees’ preferences for the way they work or the types of companies they wanna work with?

Alison: People are so angry about open offices. I get so many complaints about how much people hate open offices. Occasionally, I hear from like the one lone person who likes them, but most people feel like when you make them sit in a big open space with lots of other people, they cannot concentrate. They have no focus.

They hear everyone’s conversations, everyone hears theirs. There’s no privacy. It’s not great for people’s quality of life. I don’t think it’s great for their productivity. I know it can be great for companies’ budgets sometimes, but I think people resent those quite a bit.

The other trend, I think there’s just this increasing expectation that we’ll all be connected to work 24/7 in a way that I don’t think there was 20 years ago. And that’s, it’s very much due to technology. I think people are really struggling to figure out how to disconnect and have time where they can’t be reached by their office, and they’re not expected to be answering emails and texts. That’s a great for people’s quality of life either.

Where To Find Great HR Content

Andrew: You give a lot of great pieces of feedback on management or a high level. Apart from your site, which we’ll talk about again just in a minute here, and your books, any other external…Do you have some external favorite resources on management, whether those are podcasts, or books, or favorite authors?

Alison: Yeah. I love HBR, Harvard Business Review. They print so much content. It’s all great and really a good mix of sort of broader think pieces and really nitty-gritty, “Here’s how to do this very specific piece of managing.” So I love HBR.

The Lightning Round! HR Style!

Andrew: I’d love to do, if you’re up for it, a lightning round here. And the way I wanted to structure this was go through, you know, seven or eight different situations, kind of real short employee-employer situations, and get your take, just super-fast, one to two sentences, what you would do in that situation, if you’re up for it.

Alison: Sure.

Andrew: We’ll start with a couple from our private community, where people have mentioned in the past, we’ve had some many mentioned discussions about these. What would you do, just in a nutshell, one to two sentences, if someone was 10 minutes late for a job interview?

Alison: I mean, the assumption is you’re gonna be showing yourself at your absolute best when you’re interviewing, and so if you’re late, the worry is that you’re pretty cavalier about time. But, you know, it’s one data point, it’s not everything. If the person is otherwise great, that’s the only thing that went wrong, I’m not gonna reject someone because they’re 10 minutes late.

Andrew: What if someone was considering hiring a good friend for a position in their company?

Alison: Don’t do it. It’s really hard. The whole relationship has to change. You can be friendly, but you can’t be friends. The power dynamics alone make it very tough, and then there’s the perception of other people on your team who are gonna see favoritism, whether it’s there or not. It can be a real landmine, so proceed with extreme caution.

Andrew: What would you do if someone who you didn’t hire followed up and said they would really love curricle feedback on why you didn’t hire them? Do you give in to him honestly, or is that a liability that you should just kinda give a generic, “Sorry you weren’t good,” for an answer?

Alison: It depends on the reason. If it’s like you didn’t have enough experience, sure, you can share that. But if it’s like you didn’t seem smart enough, or your rambling drove us crazy, or anything else that’s more personal, there’s no obligation to share that kind of thing.

Andrew: All right, so I wanna move into some of the examples of situations you’ve dealt with, these are from askamanager.org and some of your columns in the past, alittle more entertaining as well. So, first one, what would you say if someone…for the inquiry where someone asked, “Can I ask my company to pay for a cat babysitter when I travel?”

Alison: Sadly, probably not. Just like you can’t pay for childcare when you travel.

Andrew: What about the person who wrote in and said, “My boss wants to give me his kidney, but I don’t want it”?

Alison: Just say no. It’s very generous, but you can draw a hard line there and say that you’re not going to accept your boss’s organs.

Andrew: We can’t pay you in cash, but we will pay you in organs this quarter.

Alison: That’s right.

Andrew: What about a company that wanted…someone was interviewing with a company and they wanted to references of past employees that the applicant did not get along with to talk to them about.

Alison: Oh, it’s such a weird question. I think it’s a red flag about the culture there, and I would proceed with caution. I mean, everyone has past colleagues they maybe didn’t get along with great, and you don’t…no one’s giving those people out as references. That’s a very odd request to make.

Andrew: “My dad is dating my boss, and they want me to go to couples therapy with them.” How did you deal with that one?

Alison: That person needs to get a new job as soon as possible. You know, I never recommend that people quit without having something else lined up, but this is a situation where if she can afford to quit without something else lined up, she should quit. And she should probably do some serious reflection on what is up with her dad.

Andrew: And then finally, this one cracked me up. Someone wrote in and said, “I got fired because I bought my boss a ticket to Naples, Italy instead of Naples, Florida, and because he didn’t speak English well, he didn’t realize I’d sent him to the wrong place until he landed in Italy. He missed a conference, missed a big meeting, and it cost, you know, tens of thousands of dollars. I got fired. How can I get my job back?”

Alison: This is the big fear of everyone who books travel. You probably can’t get a job back, but you’re human, and you make mistakes, and you’ll come back from this. I think when people get fired, they feel like they’ll never get a job again, and that’s probably not the case.

Andrew: This is been a lot of fun, kind of just reminding me you’re definitely experienced in this. If you liked what she had to say and you wanna go deeper on her work in terms of being a manager, applying for positions, she’s got a great website at askamanager.org, where she has all sorts of different topics, gives advice, people write in articles.

And she’s also the author of “Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and The Rest of Your Life At Work,” among other books which we’ll link up to in the show notes.

Alison, I really appreciate you coming on and doing this, thank you.

Alison: Thank you, it was a lot of fun.

Andrew: That’s gonna do it for this week’s episode, but if you enjoyed what you heard, check us out at ecommercefuel.com, where you’ll find the private-vetted community for online store owners. And what makes us different from other online communities or forum is that we heavily vet everyone who joins, to make sure that they have meaningful experience to contribute to the broader conversation.

Everyone who we accept has to be doing at least a quarter of a million dollars in annual sales on their store, and our average member does seven figures plus in sales via their business. And so if that sounds interesting to you, if you wanna get, you know, connected with a group of experienced store-owners online, check us out at ecommercefuel.com, where you can learn more about membership, as well as apply.

And I have to, again, thank our sponsors who help make the show possible. Klaviyo, who makes email segmentation easy and powerful. The cool thing about Klaviyo is they plan your entire catalog, customer, and sales history to help you build out incredibly powerful automated segments that make you money on autopilot. If you’re not using them, check them out and try them for free at klaviyo.com.

And finally, Liquid Web. If you’re on WooCommerce, if you’re thinking about getting on to WooCommerce, Liquid Web is the absolute best hosting platform, for three reasons. One, it’s built from the ground up for WooCommerce, and optimized by some of the best industry professionals in the WooCommerce, WordPress space that really know their stuff.

And it’s highly elastic and scalable, as well as comes with a whole suite of tools and performance tests to optimize your store. You can check them out and learn more about their hosted WooCommerce offering at ecommercefuel.com/liquidweb.

Thanks so much, for listening. I really appreciate you tuning in, and looking forward to talking to you again next Friday.

Want to connect with and learn from other proven eCommerce entrepreneurs? Join us in the eCommerceFuel private community. It’s our tight-knit, vetted group for store owners with at least a quarter million dollars in annual sales. You can learn more and apply for membership at ecommercefuel.com.

Thanks so much for listening, and I’m looking forward to seeing you again next time.


What Was Mentioned

Flickr: Mary Jane

Andrew Youderian
Post by Andrew Youderian
Andrew is the founder of eCommerceFuel and has been building eCommerce businesses ever since gleefully leaving the corporate world in 2008.  Join him and 1,000+ vetted 7- and 8-figure store owners inside the eCommerceFuel Community.

Double Your eCommerce
Business in the Next Year alt alt

Learn from the thousands of case studies, stories, and lessons our private community members have shared, plus what we’ve learned in 12+ years of studying eCommerce stores
reddit mail