Peter Cardy: Follow your conscience, rather than tell untruths by omission

Sector veteran Peter Cardy offers answers to your workplace dilemmas

Peter Cardy
Peter Cardy

Q: I have been asked to write a citation for an honour for one of our long-serving volunteers. But I know him as an interfering, self-serving, hypocritical, sanctimonious gossip.

A: Not much doubt where you stand, then! Public honours recognise the contribution of individuals, but also add lustre to the organisations with which they're associated. There is a chance that he'll change his ways – but, more likely, an honour will simply confirm his belief in his right to interfere. If for some reason (I just can't imagine why) you feel you've got to write it, you could simply record the facts, ignore the negatives and hope the honours committee reads between the lines. But rather than tell untruths by omission, why don't you just follow your conscience and politely decline to write anything at all?

Q: My chief executive seems to be a total workaholic: she sends emails round the clock and expects replies 24/7. She doesn't let up on holiday and recently, when she had an operation, she was emailing right up to the anaesthetic, and again as soon as she woke up. I'm her PA and I don't think she has any idea of the pressure it puts on me. I don't feel I can talk to her about it. Should I get one of the senior management team to have a word?

A: Funnily enough, as her long-serving and trusted PA, you're probably better placed than anyone to tell her. Workaholics (I used to be one, big time) don't appreciate the pressure they pile on their colleagues; that what they find fun and fascinating can create personal and family stress for others, or how it looks to the outside world – obsessive and a bit desperate. You can hold up a mirror to her and show her how it feels and looks to others. She might not be able to stop herself writing (it's truly addictive behaviour), but at least she can learn to keep her finger off the send button outside office hours. You probably see mailshots from mentors offering their services; if her reaction to your comments is at all positive, you could ask their terms and pass them on to her.

Q: Several times a month we have calls from people who are trying to deal with the estates of relatives who've died, asking us if we'll take their goods and chattels. It's not what we do, but we feel we should try to help, and one of the admin staff in my department has been handling this in recent years. I've begun to notice that we don't realise as much on eBay as I would expect and some of the more interesting items don't even seem to get to the online auction.

A: To be direct, you think she's on the make? Arrange an audit next time she is due to go on leave. If she doesn't go on leave, arrange an audit anyway.

Q: The trustees of my charity have been in the habit of giving expensive, custom-made gifts to their colleagues when they retire from the board. This seems like an improper use of charitable funds.

A: The Charity Commission's advice seems to tolerate this, but frankly it makes me want to throw up. Modest mementos, perhap – but, from what you tell me, your trustees aren't short of a pound or two. Why don't they use their own money?

Q: Wimbledon has come and gone – the telly in the staff kitchen was on continuously, lunch breaks dragged on, quite a lot of staff took leave and there was a fair bit of absenteeism. How tough should I get to avoid a repetition next year?

A: I never understood tennis. The late, lamented Elspeth Kyle, former director of the Greater London Association of Alcohol Services and founder of the Street Drinking Network, used to take leave to watch the men's singles every year. When I asked what the magic was, she said: "The bodies, Peter, the bodies." Whatever floats your boat.

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