Ken Lloyd: Requests in Writing Are Much Better Received
Question: If I run into someone from IT or HR in the hallway and ask a question or make a request, they always respond by telling me to send them an email. I think this is cumbersome and kind of rude, and I'm wondering if there is a way to have them just answer a question and save everyone the time that's wasted in sending emails back and forth.
Answer: Like many companies, yours has a written or unwritten policy indicating that requests addressed to members of the IT and HR teams are to be sent by email. The best policy for you is to follow this one.
There are a number of reasons for this type of policy. First, if the members of these departments handle myriad questions or are given requests while they are on their way to help someone else, they are going to be late. Secondly, if it is fair game to hit these employees with questions and requests whenever you see them, numerous employees are going to do so, and then the delays will become rampant. And finally, if you make requests to these individuals when they are rushing to or from an appointment, there is a real chance that they are not going to remember them anyhow.
The only time when this type of policy should be set aside is in the event of an emergency. If there is a situation that calls for the immediate attention of an individual from either of these departments, it will trump wherever they are going.
At the same time, if these individuals appear rude when they do not have time to answer your questions, just think how they will appear if they spend time with you and show up late for an appointment.
Question: I'm a manager, and I noticed that the company receptionist spends a lot of time reading magazines and novels between calls and greeting guests, and I was thinking that it would be a good idea to give her some of the extra administrative work that is piling up in my department. There is some scanning that she could do for us, along with some data entry, and none of it would interfere with her job. I mentioned this to her, and she refused. What should I do now?
Answer: What you should do now is actually what you should have done in the first place, namely approach the receptionist's manager and present the request to him or her. It is not really up to the receptionist to unilaterally accept work from other employees or managers. Rather, the receptionist's assignments are determined or approved by her manager.
And further, it sounds like you inadvertently put the receptionist in a no-win position. Since she refused your request, you are upset with her. At the same time, if she agreed to it, she could have problems with her own manager, especially if that manager had other assignments for her.
Speaking of the receptionist's manager, one problem is that he or she is not managing the receptionist very well. If he or she were, the receptionist would not be sitting at the front desk reading magazines and novels. As a result, your meeting with this manager just might help the company in several ways, including better use of the receptionist's time, having additional work in your department completed, and hopefully energizing the receptionist's manager to actually start managing.
Ken Lloyd, Ph.D., is an Encino-based management consultant, coach, and author who specializes in organizational behavior. Write to him at email@example.com .