managing an abusive manager, coworkers keep talking about my new luxury car, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. I manage a manager who uses abusive language to employees

I have a manager who reports to me, but I recently realized he uses abusive language with his direct reports. His reports fear that if their manager knows they have reported this to me, it will create a further problem for them. I need help on how to give feedback to my manager without giving him the feeling that I came to know this from his team members.

I don’t know the details of exactly what you uncovered, but the first thing to ask yourself is whether you can keep him as a manager at all. Using abusive language toward employees is a sign that he’s an abusive manager in general, and there’s likely more going on that you don’t know about. (The fact that his employees were fearful of talking to you is another really bad sign.) If you haven’t already, I’d do some very in-depth conversations with everyone on his team, doing whatever you can to assure them they won’t face retaliation, and see what else is going on. You’re highly likely to uncover more problems.

As for addressing it with him, the most important thing is that you protect his employees from retaliation, not that you prevent him from knowing at all costs that they talked to you. If you can address this without him knowing that, you of course should — but if you can’t, you still need to address it head-on.

This isn’t just a feedback conversation, either. This isn’t a “development area” or anything like that. It’s serious, final warning territory. It’s “this must stop immediately and we will have a zero-tolerance policy on it going forward. This is extremely serious and I’m going to be managing you much more closely while we figure out if we can trust you to manage a team.” You also need to tell him that you’re going to be checking in with his employees regularly going forward, and if it comes out that he’s discouraged them from speaking with you candidly or penalized them for it in any way (even subtly), you’ll consider that an immediate firing offense. And you need to mean that, and follow through on it.

He also probably needs immediate remedial management training and much closer monitoring while you figure out if he can manage people or not. But I’d be awfully skeptical that he can. Abusive language and a climate of fear are usually just the tip of the iceberg.

2. Can I give employees feedback on the candidates they recommend?

We’re hiring for a handful of positions and many of the current team members are recommending candidates, which is amazing and a little challenging to navigate. When someone recommends their friend or former colleague for a role, naturally they can be curious about their recommendation’s status (we don’t have any incentives related to hiring, it’s just a welcome practice when someone knows a stellar candidate and refers them to our open jobs). I’m wondering what is or is not appropriate to share with employees about their referrals? If I didn’t end up wanting to hire someone, how candid can I be about my feedback? If I absolutely love the candidate, can I share that too?

That’s up to you! It can be helpful to share feedback because that can help people give you better recommendations in the future (for example, if they know you need someone stronger in X, they can refine their thinking accordingly). That said, there might be times when a particular piece of feedback feels like it would be more awkward than useful to share (“your close friend is arrogant and pushy”) or when your sense of the employee themselves is that they’d want to debate your decision. In those cases, you might just explain that the candidate pool was really competitive and others were stronger.

If you do share feedback, it’s smart to make sure people understand that it should be kept confidential, and that any feedback to candidates themselves should come from you. Otherwise there’s a risk of things getting garbling in the retelling (even if it’s just a nuance missed in a way that makes something inaccurate).

3. I’m annoyed with a company that canceled my interview but offered to talk about other positions

I recently applied for a job and received a reply saying they wished to interview me. I scheduled an interview, but before the interview date I received a generic communication saying they hired someone else and to look at future job postings as they occur.

I was annoyed since they didn’t even interview me for the job before hiring another person. In any case, I just counted the job as a loss, but then at the time we had scheduled, the hiring manager called for the interview. They left a message telling me they already hired someone for the job and to call them back to talk to them about a few other positions they have. I considered the way they did this disrespectful or at best distasteful. Is this kind of thing acceptable for a company? Maybe I was being too strict with my expectations as it concerns business manners?

This is all normal and not disrespectful or distasteful. If they found a great candidate before they’d interviewed you, there’s nothing wrong with them going ahead and hiring that person — they’re not obligated to hold off (and risk losing that person to another offer) until they’ve talked with everyone else in the interview pool.

The hiring manager offering to talk with you about other positions they have open is a good sign! Why not be open to talking with them and seeing if one of the other jobs might be a good fit for you? None of this is out of the ordinary or alarming.

4. Coworkers keeping commenting on my new luxury car

Two weeks ago I upgraded to a five-year-old used Infiniti luxury car. The brand wasn’t a factor in my purchase at all; the vehicle has the features I need and the price is eminently reasonable. Most of my coworkers drive trucks and SUVs which easily dwarf the price of my “premium” car.

The problem is you’d think I’d bought a gold-painted Bentley from how my coworkers have reacted. I’ve entertained a lot of hallway jokes and jealous side eyes in the last 14 days, so I’m curious if this is a human nature thing or if the cultural reaction I’m getting is unique to my particular workplace. Personally, I could give a hoot who drives what (fortunately my boss feels the same), but it’s clear this is not a universal perspective.

It’s pretty strange, but people are strange. Some people are especially strange about cars for some reason! I don’t think it’s entirely unique to your workplace, although there are plenty of workplaces (probably most) where no one would bat an eye. Regardless, though, I’d assume it’ll eventually become old news and you will once again be able to walk the halls without being treated like a Rockefeller.

5. Applying for a job where I don’t want to do as much travel as the job requires

I’m applying for a job that lists travel expectations as “up to 75 percent.” My dilemma is that while I worked for this office previously and truly enjoyed the work and travel, which at that point varied between 65 and 85 percent, I am at a different place in my life and am not prepared to regularly travel that often. However, I truly love the office and the work they do. I know I would love the job. My preference would be to travel around 40 percent and, on rare occasions, up to 75 percent.

Assuming I even get an interview, at what point during the process should I discuss travel expectations, both theirs and mine? I don’t want to bring it up too early and dissuade them from considering me, but I also don’t want to sign a job offer without having a discussion.

You’re talking about a sizable change in the amount of travel, so I’d bring it up before things go very far if it’s a definite deal-breaker for you. You’ve worked there previously, so you should have the standing to contact the hiring manager and ask about it directly. If for some reason that’s not possible, bring it up at the earliest contact — like in a phone screen or if, if there’s no phone screen, if they contact you to set up an in-person interview. I know you’re thinking bringing it up too early could knock you out of the running, but if your travel limitations are prohibitive for the role, it’s going to knock you out at whatever stage it comes up at (especially since they already know you and your work).