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My PA told me she had to go into hospital and would be off for two weeks. I said she should take as much time off as she needed. When I asked what she was having done, she revealed it was cosmetic surgery. I then told her she must take it as holiday, and she is now angry and threatening to quit. I feel I am in the right, but don’t want to lose her as she is efficient and pleasant. Help!
Manager, male, 37
LUCY KELLAWAY: THE ANSWER
You are going to have to choose which is more important to you: having a good PA or being right. If you are even slightly sensible you’ll realise that the first is more important – by a long way.
Unfortunately, you’ve already upset her quite badly, so you need to try to make that better. Tell her you’ve changed your mind and why: because you value her and don’t want to lose her. Lay it on with a trowel. It is impossible to tell people too often or too enthusiastically that they are valued.
If you decide that being right is what matters to you, you are too intransigent to be a boss at all. In this case, I’m not surprised that she is threatening to resign. She probably doesn’t like her job much anyway.
On the lesser question of whether in fact you are right, it is a grey area. You don’t tell us what the surgery is for, which may be because you don’t know. Although if that is the case, don’t even dream of asking. Your questions have done enough harm as it is.
If she has decided to have, say, a nose job because she feels she’d look nicer, she should surely take that as holiday. On the other hand, she could argue that her massive honker was interfering with her mental health and so the operation was as necessary as any other – although on the whole I’m with you on this.
You should also work out how you are going to behave when she gets back. A colleague recently returned from a “holiday” with lips like a baboon. This presented a ticklish etiquette problem. I decided that the best thing was to pretend not to notice and to say nothing at all. As you know your PA is having cosmetic surgery I would ask on her return if she is fully recovered in a considerate tone of voice. Probably best not to comment on the result. And don’t stare.
You’ve done yourself a great favour. The woman may be narrowly competent, but she isn’t loyal and is deceptive, if not outright dishonest. And rather than be chagrined by her own behaviour, she makes threats. You are lucky to be rid of her.
Consultant, female, 40s
Two weeks off for cosmetic surgery??!! What’s she doing? A complete face-over?
You may be curious, but by asking you may already have broken the law. In most countries there are laws safeguarding privacy by which an employee taking sick leave must show proof of hospitalisation but is not required to state the reason. You have also ruined your relationship. Say sorry and send flowers to the hospital.
Risk officer, female, 36
It is very cheeky but I think you will just have to bite the bullet and eat some humble pie. She has you over a barrel as good PAs are hard to find. Let her go and get herself nipped and tucked. Once all that swelling goes down she will look a damn sight better in the office, so it is of benefit to you too.
PA, female, 36
You are quite right. If the surgery is for vanity, she must not be given time off. I assume you don’t pay your employees to visit the hairdresser, gym or beauty salon – so why an operating theatre for elective cosmetic surgery?
Banker, male, 53
SHE COULD SUE
Get legal advice: you may be lining up for a lawsuit if you force her to take it as holiday because she might argue that it’s necessary for her self-esteem. Depending on the advice you receive, offer her one week off as a gesture of goodwill. And remember to compliment her on her improved looks (unless it is breast enhancement,
in which case better not).
Analyst, female, 30
PRETTY(ER) WOMAN 2
I had a colleague like this. She went away for a few weeks and came back after an operation where she must have lost about 10-15kg in weight. She was a much happier and more confident person after the operation. Don’t assume cosmetic surgery is only for beauty. It can also be physiological. If you get an even more efficient PA back afterwards you will be happy. Whether it should be sick leave or holiday – perhaps a 50/50 split?
Accountant, male, 40s
THE NEXT PROBLEM
A week ago I spotted our office cleaner wearing an unusual pair of Nike shoes that are exactly the same as a pair I own. I had left mine in a pile under my desk but when I looked they were gone. I don’t have any proof (I might have left them on the train), I don’t care much about the shoes and I don’t really want to get the guy in trouble. But I don’t want him cleaning the office any more in case anything valuable goes missing. What should I do?
Lucy Kellaway offers further problems – and the chance to have your say – at www.ft.com/dearlucy. Please send answers and problems to email@example.com.