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

1. My employee submitted an over-the-top, glowing self-assessment that doesn’t match up with his work

I’m in the process of doing annual performance reviews for my direct reports and I’ve run into a situation I haven’t faced before. Bob — my longest-serving employee — has completed the self-evaluation portion of the review (the first stage of our process) and has written the most over-the-top glowing comments about himself that I’ve seen from an employee. For example, he makes comments about being the center and “heart” of our (500-person) company and that his work has basically been a key reason for the company’s success. He calls himself one our most mission-critical employees, and says he feels like the organization doesn’t value him enough considering his role.

This is not my perspective. Bob’s work has been good in some respects, but not necessarily great in other respects, and he causes drama because of his tendency to complain a lot. He is certainly not our most mission-critical employee. There are many others on my team who do the same job as him, and some of them do more complex work that is (at times) better than his. Bob is also the highest-paid non-manager in our department. (How that came to be — for several historical reasons — is a whole other issue that I won’t go into here.)

My inclination is to respond to his comments by offering fair praise and making the types of remarks that I’d make anyway. But does that approach send too subtle a message to someone who is not subtle? Should I directly address Bob’s review comments and somehow say that I don’t agree that his work is THAT excellent? Is there any value to that, and how would I even say that if I did want to convey the message?

For additional context, others on my staff also talk in their performance reviews about the excellent work they’ve done, and I’m fine with that. I see it as marketing their achievements. But it feels like Bob’s views are starting to veer toward delusional, and I’m not sure if a manager has to squarely address an employee’s delusions?

Oh, Bob. It’s quite a move to declare oneself the “heart” of a 500-person company.

Have you had other problems with Bob’s assessment of something being really off-base? If it’s a pattern, I think you need to address the pattern (and a performance review is a good time to do that). But if it’s not, then this might just be Bob going weirdly far with the common advice to talk up one’s own work in a self-appraisal. In that case, you could just go ahead and write the assessment you want to write without worrying terribly about his glowing self-appraisal … and frankly, that might get the point across on its own.

But when you meet to talk about his review, if you sense that he’s rattled or upset by your review of his work — or if you just want to acknowledge the situation explicitly — you could say something like, “I know this is a different assessment than the one you shared in your self-appraisal. I really appreciate hearing your perspective, but ultimately I make these assessments based on what I see and the results you’ve gotten in your work. Let’s talk through any questions this raised for you, and then what I think would be most helpful is to talk about what I hope your work will look like moving forward.”

2. Can I say “I need a minute” if my boss is yelling at me?

I cannot handle people yelling at me. I break down very quickly and start crying. If someone like my boss was to start yelling at me, would it be appropriate to interrupt and say, “I need a minute” and run to the bathroom? I could see it being very frustrating to have an employee just walk away when you’re trying to express something that feels Very Important and worth shouting about.

Nothing at work is ever worth shouting about (unless it’s “fire!” or “sinkhole!” or similar, and then the yelling would be to warn of danger, not to express anger). Yelling out of frustration, stress, or anger doesn’t belong in a functional workplace, period, because it’s abusive.

Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Bad bosses do yell. But you don’t need to stand there and be yelled at if it happens. Your “I need a minute” plan is fine. So is saying, “I’m not willing to be yelled at, but I’d be glad to talk about this later when you’re no longer yelling” or “I can’t process what you’re saying when you yell. I’m going to leave, but I’m available to talk about this later when you’re not yelling.” And then leave.

3. My company wants our baby photos

I got an email at work from someone fairly high up in the management chain saying, essentially, “We’re going to play a fun game! Please send me a baby picture of yourself.” Apparently this is their idea of some kind of team-building exercise. Do they not understand that such pictures can be deeply problematic for some people?

• Not everyone had a happy childhood; for some, childhood photos are reminders of trauma.
• Such photos can reveal unwanted details about family of origin, social class, and so on, that one has taken efforts to keep private.
• Not everyone even has baby pictures of themselves. Or they may still be in the possession of one’s parents, and not everyone is comfortable contacting their parents to ask for one.
• They’re essentially asking any trans people working there to out themselves, as childhood photos typically feature the subject presenting as the gender they were assigned at birth. This is particularly awful coming from a company that is continually patting itself on the back for its “wokeness” on diversity and inclusion, and on LGBTQ issues, “bring your whole self to work,” and so on.

How can I opt out of this gracefully and/or communicate to the individual who hatched this cockamamie “game” just how bad of an idea this is?

This exercise has been around for a long time, often as an ice-breaker or team-building thing (“guess whose baby picture belongs to who”), but you’re right that it’s problematic for all the reasons you name.

Does someone in your company work on equity and inclusion issues? If so, you could flag your concerns about the exercise to them. Or, if you’re willing to spend the political capital on it (which may or may not sense for you, depending on context I don’t have), you could respond to the email explaining your concerns.

If you just want to opt out, you can do that too. “No thanks!” or “I don’t have easy access to baby photos” or “I don’t have photos I can share but here’s a kitten photo” can all work, depending on your sense of the dynamics with the person who sent the email.

4. Interview invitation delivered via video

My husband recently applied for a job in his field, but at a company that’s a bit more tech start-up than he’s previously worked for. He got a response inviting him to an interview, but almost didn’t follow up because he thought it was spam. The email was from a very bubbly person (not necessarily a bad thing!) and contained a link to a video. He saw the link and assumed the job listing had been a scam and that the whole thing was a phishing attempt.

I convinced him to click just in case — and it was the hiring manager delivering the text of the email in video format, possibly to make the remote hiring process seem more personable?

Is this common? Growing because of the pandemic, as more employers adjust to a remote hiring experience? A rather weird outlier? Has this company, despite being a tech start-up, never heard of phishing scams?

No, it’s not common. And that company is almost certainly losing a significant portion of candidates at the interview invitation stage because, like your husband, people are assuming it’s spam or a phishing attempt!

It’s also just a bizarre choice to make. Interview invitations work just fine via email. It’s hard to think of any part of the interview process that needs to be a video less than this does.

5. Disclosing a mental health condition to get my schedule changed

Recently my doctor suggested that I inform my employer about my mental health condition in order to get my schedule changed so I can have monthly bloodwork done. I realize that they can’t fire me if I inform them of my condition, but this doesn’t mean that they couldn’t find another reason to let me go. My other concern is privacy — who knows how many people could learn of my condition? My problem is the lab that does the blood work closes at 4.30 and you can forget Saturday since it’s extremely busy. Any advice?

Be vague! You never need to give an employer specific health details for something like this. It’s generally enough to say, “I’m going to have a monthly medical appointment for the foreseeable future. The timing is flexible, but I’ll either need to come in X minutes late or leave X minutes early one day a month.” You could also offer to make up the time that same day or week if that’s something that makes sense for your job. But this is pretty minor and in most offices that would be all that’s needed to take care of it.

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