I was kicked out of a work lunch because I couldn’t eat, attracting employees when we can’t pay more, and more — Ask a Manager


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

1. I was kicked out of a work lunch because there was nothing I could eat

This happened a few years ago, pre-Covid, but I would still appreciate your input on it. I was a part of the voluntary team that helped to plan, organize, and set up for events, celebrating things like holidays and the completion of major deadlines, which was run by someone from HR. At one point HR set up a lunch to show their appreciation for us. However, the planning for this was delegated to a non-HR member of the team, Daphne, who chose a barbecue restaurant. I am vegetarian and can find something to eat 99% of the time — but here the only vegetarian option was the coleslaw. I decided not to complain, and when Daphne emailed me to ask for my order, I politely responded explaining that I could not eat anything from the restaurant she chose, but not to worry about it. The day of, I decided to join the lunch for the social aspect; food was delivered and we got together to eat in a conference room. I had already eaten, so I just sat. The head of HR joined us, and on seeing that I was not eating, politely asked me to leave; I don’t remember the reason he gave. So I missed out completely.

Was the HR head right to ask me to leave? Should I have handled this differently, such as by pushing back immediately when I saw there was nothing I could eat at the restaurant, or holding off on eating my own food until the team lunch?

You were asked to leave an appreciation lunch because you weren’t eating? That’s so bizarre, and frankly rude, that I don’t know what to do with it.

You didn’t do anything wrong. If you’d wanted to, you could have asked earlier on if they could choose a restaurant that didn’t exclude the vegetarians of the group. Or you could have brought your own food to the lunch if you’d wanted to. But what you did was perfectly fine too. Not only should they have welcomed you rather than kicking you out, they should have offered to order you something from another restaurant once they realized you couldn’t eat (in fact, Daphne should have offered that as soon as she saw your earlier email).

2. How can we attract more employees when we can’t pay more?

I run a medical practice in the U.S. We’re a small clinic, with two locations and 12 employees when appropriately staffed (we are experiencing labor shortages just like everyone else).

In this time of employees demanding better pay, we’re struggling to attract candidates. We meet or exceed the median wage for the area, but I can’t really go above that. We only get paid per patient we see, and our rates are set by the insurance company and have barely changed in the last 16 years. The easiest way to make more money is to see more patients, but the only way to do that is to shorten treatment times further, which isn’t fair to my clinicians or the patients, and is even less attractive when discussing the job responsibilities.

We offer decent benefits (15 days PTO, 10 paid holidays, subsidized health insurance and dental insurance, free life insurance, free short-term and long-term disability insurance, a tuition reimbursement/student loan repayment program — we even started offering a sign-on bonus which I’ve had to claw back twice because people left for higher paying jobs) but can’t offer the other perks that the management books talk about like flextime and work from home, for obvious reasons (we are a type of medicine that is very hands-on, so we don’t have many telehealth appointments). We try to treat our employees well by buying lunch, surprising them with gift cards, handwritten thank-you notes, casual dress days, team building days (think escape rooms and dinner out) — things that fit into a small budget but still say “we appreciate you.”

It’s not that I don’t want to be able to offer more, but I need to more than double our size in order to do so. I’m willing to do that, and we were on our way pre-pandemic, but now I can’t attract enough candidates to get there, so I’m stuck in this terrible loop! (And it would still take some time, it wouldn’t happen overnight). So, how can we be more attractive without increasing our payroll?

The thing that immediately jumps out is that you’re offering very bare-bones time off — your 15 days of PTO is the equivalent of two weeks of vacation and one week of sick leave, which is the absolute minimum considered acceptable in the U.S. If you’re looking for low-hanging fruit, it’s definitely your PTO. I know offering more means people will be out more, which might sound like it will compound your staffing issues — but offering more would help you attract more people in the first place.

Beyond that, I’d talk to your staff about what they want (you might find that they don’t care about the escape rooms but would really like more back-up dealing with difficult patients, or who knows what) and their thoughts on what would attract more applicants. And if you haven’t already, make sure you look at what other options are available to your candidate pool in your area, and what those jobs are offering. But the PTO is the thing I’d tackle first.

3. I interviewed for a role that was open because someone died from Covid, and they still aren’t mandating masks

I wanted your thoughts on this job I interviewed for. The job was open because someone died of Covid, which the HR rep let me know. I was very grateful to have been reading your blog all along because when she didn’t tell me about the Covid safety procedures afterwards, I immediately asked.

Masks are not mandated. Vaccines were not mandated either. This role could be done from home but they are making people come in office.

I turned it down, but she kind of made it seem weird that I even brought up the Covid safety procedures. Did I do the right thing?

Yes. Any employer who acts like you’re odd for wanting to know their measures for keeping people safe in a deadly pandemic is not an employer you want to work for. And that’s before we even get into their apparent utter lack of safety precautions, despite having someone die.

4. My interviewer asked me what questions they should have asked me

I had a final-round interview recently, and things seemed to be going okay when, at around the 40-minute mark, I got a question I’ve never had before: “What questions haven’t we asked, that you think we should have?” I quipped that that seemed like a trick question, which was met with some light chuckles, but then a silent pause descended over us.

I wouldn’t say I’m an inexperienced interviewer, but in my surprise I had a hard time putting all the pieces together – what had/hadn’t they asked; what hadn’t I told them; what wouldn’t be a horrible question to answer; what would my answer be to the question I asked myself by proxy. I did my best to pull from hints in previous questions to go deeper on specific concerns/skill sets to the work, but I obviously didn’t wow anyone and the remainder of the interview had a “let’s get this over with” tone.

Afterward, I consulted the internet to see what others said about this question and didn’t really find much. Have I been living under a rock while everyone has been out there asking this back-handed question? Is this the new, mind-bending way to ask “Anything else you’d like to share with us”? How would you recommend formulating a graceful answer?

You’re over-thinking it! It’s generally just a way to ask if there’s anything else you want to share. Ideally you’d think about whether there’s anything else that would be useful to discuss about your qualifications, experience, or approach to your work — and then with any reasonable interviewer, you don’t need to formulate it as a question like you’re on Jeopardy or something but should just be able to say, “I saw the role involves sometimes dealing with frustrated clients, and I’d love to tell you about my approach to that” or so forth.

And I almost took this next part out of my answer because it won’t apply a lot of the time and also is a whole separate topic, but I’m leaving it in case people find it useful:

Alternately, if there’s a piece of the role that you’re not sure is that right fit for you, I might ask about that — for example, “I was curious about how much X expertise you need for your Y project — could we talk through how I’d approach that and make sure it’s in line with what you need?” (You might think you should never highlight potential weaknesses in an interview, but if you’re worried you might be ill-suited for part of a job, it’s far better to find that out at this stage, rather than after you start … and good employers will respond well to an honest conversation about your fit for the role, as long as you’re coming across with confidence and thoughtfulness.)



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