How to Handle Employees who Moonlight

How to Handle Employees who Moonlight Moonlighting—working a part-time job or having a business “on the side”—can pose a challenge for employers. Moonlighting can lead to divided allegiance, conflicts of interest, and poor job performance.

Employers expect employees to be present and prompt at their jobs. If employees are hustling to attend to multiple commitments, fatigue, lack of sleep, poor attentiveness, tardiness, and absenteeism can become problems. When an employees’ moonlighting hurts their on-the-job performance, employers are within their rights to discipline and terminate employees. For these reasons, some employers limit or prohibit moonlighting.

The proactive approach to moonlighting

One way to head off moonlighting problems is to have a policy about part-time jobs and running side businesses. Institute a policy that sets performance expectations, protects proprietary information, avoids conflicts of interest, and averts divided allegiance. Your moonlighting policy cannot regulate employees’ off-duty activities or prohibit employees from having other jobs. But it may expect employees to disclose and get approval for supplementary employment. A moonlighting policy may also require senior managers and leaders to disclose directorships and financial interests in other companies.

Tell employees they can’t mix their business with your company’s business

If you find an employee doing side work for pay from your office, tell him that this is a clear violation of office expectations; he should conduct no business other than your company’s during work hours. Tell your employee, “You can’t mix your other business with our business. Your time at this job should be exclusively for this job. Our company resources are for our company’s purposes only.”

If your employee gets occasional calls that he needs to attend to, reiterate the above expectation and encourage him to answer the calls during break time and away from his desk. Encourage him to respond to those calls with “I’m at my other job right now. Let me call you back later.”

Discourage employees from selling stuff to other employees

Problems from employees moonlighting in part-time jobs and running side businesses If you find an employee selling stuff to other employees or soliciting outside business during paid working time, discourage it as soon as you discover it. Explain how this interferes with your office’s work.

Discourage your employees from turning your office into a showroom and making customers of other employees. Selling merchandise could impair work relationships when a buyer is unhappy with a product or service. Worse yet, side-businesses can easily grow unmanageable in case of network marketing programs (e.g. Amway, Herbalife) that encourage upselling or getting others involved as salespeople.

Employees can involve their colleagues in side-businesses outside your office, as long as such activities don’t harm at-work relationships.

Idea for Impact: Managers can forestall many employee problems by being proactive and setting expectations

In general, moonlighting is neither unethical nor illegal. It may become an issue when the employer specifically prohibits it and/or where the other job is with a competitor, supplier, or customer and is therefore a potential conflict of interest. The only time you really need to challenge an employee’s moonlighting is when it can affect your business in terms of conflicts of interest and deficient work performance.

Bear in mind: don’t overlook or disregard such concerns until they become major problems.

Stop asking, “What do you do for a living?”

How to Start a Good Conversation

I despise being asked “What do you do for a living?” when I first meet someone.

I didn’t like being asked “What does your dad do?” while growing up in India.

Many people routinely use this question as a conversation-starter with strangers. It could be argued that they intend to inoffensively learn of somebody’s area of expertise or interests and then engage them in a meaningful chat.

Stop asking 'What do you do for a living?' about indirectly sizing up people However, this question is often about indirectly sizing up the other’s socioeconomic status. People may be assessing, “How valuable are you? How much money do you make? What is your social status? What is your financial status? Are you richer, smarter, and more powerful than I am? Am I above you or below you in the socioeconomic ladder? Are you worth my time?”

Look, we live in a judgmental world where a person’s identity is at first ascertained by what he or she does for a living. Nevertheless, when becoming acquainted with someone in an informal setting, conversations shouldn’t be about inquiring after the other’s livelihood or about scrutinizing the other’s standing in society.

Chatting with somebody in “socializing situations” should be less about discerning the details of the other’s life and more about building a bit of familiarity to initiate stimulating conversations, debates, discussions, and exchange of ideas about topics of mutual interest—prospects that will all be missed if the initial interaction starts with annoying cross-examinations.

So, let’s try to make a conversation without seeking to interrogate one another.

If you’re looking for clues to a person’s passions or areas of interest to engage them in conversation, start with simple questions such as “how do you know Maria and Joe,” “is this your first time in Chicago,” or “what does your name mean?” Wait for personal details to flow into the conversation naturally. Or, wait further into the conversation before popping the “what do you do?” question.

How to Stop Rambling

How to Stop Rambling Poster: Keep Rambling and Annoy All

Some people are natural ramblers. Others are prone to ramble when they feel impassioned about a topic and have a propensity for going off on tangents. Others tend to blather because they feel jumpy and insecure when asked to talk about something they don’t totally understand. Still others feel compelled to talk just to make themselves heard or when they don’t want to lose the floor.

Whatever the reason you may ramble, here are some ideas to help you be short and clearer in your conversations with others.

Follow the “Traffic Light Rule”

Career coach Marty Nemko offers a “Traffic Light” rule of thumb to keep conversations short:

  • During the first 30 seconds of an utterance, your light is green: your listener is probably paying attention.
  • During the second 30 seconds, your light is yellow—your listener may be starting to wish you’d finish.
  • After the one-minute mark, your light is red: Yes, there are rare times you should “run a red light:” when your listener is obviously fully engaged in your missive. But usually, when an utterance exceeds one minute, with each passing second, you increase the risk of boring your listener and having them think of you as a chatterbox, windbag, or blowhard.

How to be Concise and Retain your Audience’s Interest

If you have nothing to say, say nothing at all. Don’t skirt around the topic, “fake the funk,” or seem indecisive. Simply say, “I am not educated about this topic.” If you’re asked something you should know about but don’t, it’s acceptable to say, “I don’t know, let me get back to you.” Do your research and follow-up with the audience.

If you have lots to say about something,

  • First take a few moments to think about what you want to say and structure your answer. Pausing before you give an answer will make you look more thoughtful and intelligent than if you crudely blurt out an unstructured response as soon as a question is posed. If necessary, buy some time: “Give me a moment to gather my thoughts.”
  • Once you’ve thought of your answer, simply state it. Do not add new details as you speak. Stick to your planned details and structure; you will be able to provide a consistent, concise, and well-reasoned answer.
  • Avoid littering your conversation with irrelevant or trivial details. Often, it’s more important to be articulate than accurate. Keep your sentences brief and to the point. Don’t wander from your point.
  • If you have more to say than you can say in a minute or two, realize that even though your audience may be interested in listening to everything you have to say, their attention may quickly dissolve into disinterest. Limit yourself to a minute or two and use that brief time to provide the most important points or a summary. Then ask, “Would you like me to expand?”

Sometimes you can defer a question by saying, “I’d be interested in what others think about this.” However, you will look devious if you use this technique too often.

Prepare and rehearse. Before attending a meeting, event, or gathering, think about the likely topics people may want to converse with you about. Think about the message you want to get across and rehearse your responses.

How to Address Employees with Inappropriate Clothing

How to Address Employees with Inappropriate Clothing

Inappropriate dressing is one of those workplace concerns that is often ignored or forgotten until it becomes a problem. Revealing clothing can be an all-day distraction while a sloppy or untidy employee can project an unprofessional image about the entire company.

Some employees simply don’t get it when it comes to clothing choices for work. Inexperienced employees may walk into their offices wearing miniskirts, low rise jeans, baggy jeans that keep falling off the waist, baseball caps, spaghetti strap tops, low-cut blouses that expose the midriff, sandals, flip-flops, inappropriate tattoos, body piercings, or a three-day stubble.

Sadly, managers often avoid talking about inappropriate clothing because the highly sensitive and personal nature of those discussions makes them uncomfortable, especially when the offending employee is of the other gender.

Letting the problem fester makes the situation worse: each day the offending employee doesn’t hear an objection only reinforces his/her assumption that the clothing is appropriate and increases the prospect of a defensive reaction when a manager decides to finally address the issue.

How to Tell an Employee Who Is Dressed Inappropriately?

Dealing with unprofessional dress can be awkward, but it’s crucial to intervene directly, tactfully, and discretely.

  • Begin by having an official company policy on the expected work attire and making employees aware of it. Not only does a dress code set the standards for appropriate clothing, but it also provides a legal basis for addressing a problem without making it an issue of personal judgment. Given the modern-day relaxed rules concerning office attire, try to be specific as possible instead of using vague terms such as “business casual.” One best practice is to include pictures from dress stores for what is appropriate and what is not. Make sure the dress code is consistent with your company and industry’s culture and what your customers expect. Include policies regarding hygiene, personal grooming, tattoos, and piercings. Update the dress code to keep up with the latest professional, social, and fashion trends.
  • Inappropriate Dressing for Workplace Meet the offending employee discretely and ask, “Aaron, are you aware of our dress code?” Then, mention the specific instance of the problem, “Some of your clothes are a bit more provocative than appropriate for our workplace.” State facts and not judgments. Relate any rebuke to a business purpose, viz., the need for a professional workplace or dress-appropriateness in customer-facing roles. Ask the employee how he/she could rectify the matter. If necessary, remind that employees must accommodate the employer, not the other way around.
  • Be sensitive about religious, cultural, and gender-related aspects of office dressing. A male manager who needs to speak to a female employee (or vice versa) should consider having the problem subtly and discretely addressed through another female employee. Consider including another coworker in the conversation as a witness to prevent a discrimination claim. Seek guidance from human resources.
  • If the problem persists, try to converse again but have someone from human resources present.

Idea for Impact: A manager can forestall a great deal of employee problems by being proactive about setting expectations. Managers can and should create an appropriate work environment by defining hard boundaries on office etiquette, respectful interaction, and dress codes and then actively addressing concerns before they become problems.

The Difference between Coaching and Feedback

Coaching vs. Feedback

Perhaps this is a matter of semantics; but in my leadership consulting, I help managers identify the following nuances between coaching and feedback.

In the following discussion, ‘feedback’ refers chiefly to corrective or “negative” feedback. Appreciative or “positive” feedback in the form of honest praises, approvals, and compliments are just as essential as corrective feedback. As I’ve written in previous articles, great managers communicate corrective feedback and appreciative feedback distinctly instead of interspersing them in the form of “feedback sandwiches.”

Differences between Coaching and Feedback

  • Coaching is preparative. Feedback is corrective.
  • Coaching focuses on possibilities. Feedback focuses on adjustment.
  • Coaching is about future behavior. Feedback is about past (and current) behavior.
  • Coaching is inquiry-oriented. Feedback is scrutiny-oriented.
  • Coaching stems from developmental needs. Feedback stems from judgmental needs.
  • Coaching is about assisting employees reach their goals for the future. Feedback is about helping employees understand what prevents them from reaching their current goals.
  • Coaching is about advocating optimal performance. Feedback is about reinforcing appropriate behavior.
  • Coaching is more about helping employees grow. Feedback is more about helping employees not fail. (Both coaching and feedback are about helping employees succeed.)
  • Coaching guides employees in the direction that suits them best. Feedback ensures that employees uphold espoused values and meet expectations.

Two-Minute Mentor #3: Where at all possible, defend your people in public and reprimand in private

Richard Branson of the Virgin Group When Richard Branson, founder and chairperson of the Virgin Group, was seven years old, he took some 50 pence in loose change from his father’s table and walked over to a candy store. The shopkeeper suspected Richard and wanted to call his mischief. The shopkeeper called Richard Branson’s father and asked him to come down to the store. The shopkeeper told the dad, “I assume your son has taken this, that you didn’t give it to him?” Richard Branson’s dad seemed irritated at this suggestion. He retorted back to the shopkeeper, “How dare you accuse him of stealing!” Although the senior Branson knew Richard had taken the 50 pence, he avoided humiliating his son in the open. Back home, Richard Branson admitted he had taken the coins from his dad and swore never to take money again without permission.

Idea for Impact

Most people are conscientious enough to recognize their mistakes. They do not want to be humiliated or shamed in the presence of peers and team members. Nor do not need their managers, parents, or other authority figures to ram mistakes down their throats.

When you think you can nail someone’s mistake in the open, take a breather and give a face-saving opportunity for the other. Avoid the temptation to put them down in public. In the privacy of one-on-one meetings, listen to their points of view, describe the impact of their ideas and behaviors, encourage them to reflect on their mistakes, and correct themselves.

“The Puppy Theory”: Giving Feedback Too Late

'The Puppy Theory' of Giving Feedback Too Late A common mistake we make in giving feedback to others is that we tend to defer corrective (negative) feedback. We put off criticism until the problem escalates or, as managers, wait until the employee’s performance review discussions. This predisposition is often rooted in the fear that negative feedback will offend the other and thus affect our rapport with the other.

Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz offers a ‘puppy theory’ on timing feedback:

I have the puppy theory. When the puppy pees on the carpet, you say something right then because you don’t say six months later, “Remember that day, January 12th, when you peed on the carpet?” That doesn’t make any sense. “This is what’s on my mind. This is quick feedback.”

Immediate Feedback is Most Useful

I have previously discussed that effective feedback has three aspects: (1) initiate a personal conversation and make sure the other is ready to hear it, (2) explain his behavior, and, (3) help him understand the consequences of his behavior.

Do not neglect or defer feedback. Address problems while they are small. Immediate feedback ensures that the other accepts your feedback, understands his behavior and attempts to correct.

Manager Tools’ Feedback Model


Interpersonal feedback, managerial skills The last two articles discussed the popular ‘sandwich technique‘ for giving interpersonal feedback. The first article introduced the sandwich feedback technique. The second article critiqued this method and discussed three common mistakes that render the sandwich technique ineffective.

This follow-up article will introduce an effective feedback technique and list links for further information.

This article focuses on manager-to-employee feedback. However this feedback model can be the foundation for giving feedback in other interpersonal contexts as well—between peers or between spouses, for instance.

The Manager Tools Feedback Model

Manager Tools is a widely-admired suite of management techniques to help shape effective managers and leaders. The weekly podcasts on this site feature Manager Tools’ principals, Mark Horstman and Mike Auzenne, discussing their tools and tips to help audiences advance their managerial and leadership skills. The discussion forums are useful as well.

Perhaps the most popular and most effective of the Manager Tools ideas is the effective feedback model. Here is a summary of the four steps in this feedback technique.

  1. Ask an employee whether they are open to some feedback. Example: “Jack, may I give you some feedback?”
  2. Describe specific behavior you saw, heard, or read about. Example: “Jack, when you roll your eyes in meetings when others talk; when you say “you guys don’t get it”; when you come late to meetings and leave in the middle…”
  3. Describe the impact of the behavior. Once you have described what you observed, tell them what you felt or what impact it had on the company, project, or team. Example: “Jack, when you roll your eyes and tell others they “don’t get it”, here’s what happens. We lose good people. You lose opportunities you want, like that last move that you didn’t get.”
  4. Discuss next steps. Even with affirmative (positive) feedback, state “Good work. Keep it up.” For corrective (negative) feedback, ask open-ended or leading questions to encourage the employee to suggest change. Example: “What can you do about this? How can I help you?”

Further Information

Here are links to podcasts and references for further information on the Manager Tools effective feedback model.

Call for Action

Feedback is a central component of the manager-employee relationship. Employees get better at their jobs only when their managers give them timely, relevant and forthright feedback — both affirmative and corrective feedback.

Use the Manager Tools feedback model to enhance your feedback skills and communicate effectively with employees.

The Compliment Sandwich Feedback Technique is Ineffective

Sandwich feedback technique

Yesterday’s article presented the popular ‘sandwich technique’ for giving interpersonal feedback. This follow-up article will critique this method and discuss three common mistakes that render the sandwich technique ineffective.

These discussions and examples focus on manager-to-employee feedback. However, this analysis is relevant to other interpersonal contexts, including interactions between peers or between spouses.

Mary Kay Ash on the Sandwich Technique

Mary Kay Ash, American entrepreneur and founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, discusses the sandwich feedback technique in her popular book, ‘Mary Kay on People Management’.

'Mary Kay on People Management' by Mary Kay Ash (ISBN 0446513148) Sandwich every bit of criticism between two heavy layers of praise. … A manager should be able to tell someone when something is wrong without bruising an ego in the process.

Never giving criticism without praise is a strict rule for me. No matter what you are criticizing, you must find something good to say—both before and after. This is called sandwich technique.

Try to praise in the beginning and then again after discussing the problem. You don’t subject people to harsh criticism or provoke anger.

Common Mistake 1: Praise is substantial and obscures the criticism

Sandwich feedback: when praise obscures criticism Consider the following case. Sarah was the head of a committee that organized the annual family picnic at her company. The committee exceeded the picnic budget by 35%. Sarah’s boss uses the sandwich technique to criticize her for her failure to control expenditure.

  • Praise: “Sarah, our management was very impressed with the attendance at our annual family picnic. The weather was great. The catered food was excellent. The activities for children were wonderful. You even organized contests for children and family.”
  • Criticism: “By the way, you overspent by 35%. You should check your expenses and try to be within budget.”
  • Praise: “I understand you worked very hard to coordinate the logistics. I congratulate you for doing a remarkable job leading the committee and for your enthusiasm. Thank you for a job well done.”

In the above example, the praise is substantial and obscures the criticism. Sarah may neglect the criticism since the criticism is insignificant—therefore, lost—when sandwiched between “heavy layers of praise.”

Common Mistake 2: Praise is trivial or just-for-sake and serves no function

Sandwich feedback: when feedback is trivial or just for sake Suppose that Charlie led a brainstorming meeting for a new product. One of his new fresh-from-college employees proposed an idea that was not practicable. Charlie was annoyed with the idea and responded, “That is a stupid idea. You are thoughtless. You have been here for less than a week. I don’t think you are knowledgeable enough to contribute to our discussions here.”

Janet, Charlie’s boss, observed this interaction. After the meeting, she wanted to criticize Charlie for condemning the new employee in the presence of several other employees. Janet recalled the sandwich feedback technique. However, she could not conceive praise for Charlie. Hastily, she stated something trivial just for the sake of paving the way to her criticism.

  • Praise: “Charlie, good job organizing the meeting.”
  • Criticism: “I noticed that you openly called the new employee’s idea “foolish” and dismissed it. Don’t you realize he is fresh from college? Did you see his reaction? He felt dejected and showed no enthusiasm during the rest of the meeting. He was probably there to meet people from our department and learn how we manage projects. How can you expect him to feel happy about joining your team? I have noticed that you jump to criticize other people’s ideas in meetings. A good manager encourages participation. I think you should apologize to the new employee. [Pause]”
  • Praise: “Hmm … anyway. Good meeting. I liked your flowchart.”

As in the above example, for the sake of sandwiching their criticism, managers tend to offer unrelated—often trivial—praises when faced with the challenge of criticizing their employees. Such praise is inconsequential and, therefore, defeats the purpose of the sandwich technique.

Common Mistake 3: Employees get tuned in to the praise-criticism-praise pattern

Sandwich feedback: employees get tuned in to the pattern Once managers use the sandwich feedback technique a few times, employees recognize the praise-criticism-praise pattern. They realize that the managers offer criticism after initiating their conversations with praise. Subsequently they learn to discount this praise since such praise is just a lead-in to the criticism.

Sandwich feedback technique undermines your feedback

Idea for Impact: Compliment Sandwiches are Easily Spotted as Inauthentic; The Sandwich Feedback Technique is Ineffective

Frequently, from the aforementioned mistakes, the sandwich technique undercuts praise with criticism. A praise followed by criticism undermines the positive impact of praise and weakens the corrective feedback’s significance.

Sandwich feedback is perhaps best used to help new managers develop feedback skills: to provide affirmative feedback to encourage employees to repeat desired behaviors and to offer corrective feedback to influence change. Once managers are comfortable giving feedback, they can focus on discussing what their employees do right and defer offering corrective feedback for other conversations.

In summary, it’s best to be direct when giving feedback, because the compliment sandwiches are easily spotted as inauthentic. Feedback is effective only when it’s timely, relevant and forthright. Tomorrow’s article will introduce an effective feedback technique.

The Compliment Sandwich Feedback Technique, with Examples

Sandwich Feedback Technique

This article presents the popular ‘compliment sandwich technique’ for giving interpersonal feedback. Tomorrow’s follow-up article will critique this method and discuss three common mistakes that render the sandwich technique ineffective.

These discussions and examples focus on manager-to-employee feedback. This analysis is, however, relevant to other interpersonal contexts—between peers or spouses, for instance.

Managers Often Resent Giving Corrective Feedback

Managers Often Resent Giving Corrective Feedback Feedback is a central component of the manager-employee relationship. Often, managers are reluctant resent giving corrective (or negative) feedback. They assume employee defensiveness and fear that negative feedback will offend the employee and thus affect their rapport with the employee. Such managers are likely to withhold criticism. They fail to provide timely, relevant feedback in various circumstances, from employee tardiness to inappropriate attire (especially if the employee is of the opposite gender.)

Sandwich Feedback & Purported Benefits

The sandwich feedback technique is a popular three-step procedure to help managers who are ill at ease with providing corrective feedback. The sandwich feedback method consists of praise followed by corrective feedback followed by more praise. In other words, the sandwich feedback method involves discussing corrective feedback that is “sandwiched” between two layers of praise.

The purported benefits of this technique are twofold: (1) it softens the impact of the criticism or corrective feedback, and, (2) given that a manager is probably more comfortable with praising the employee, the manager finds it easier to discuss problems with the employee’s behavior if this discussion begins and ends with praising the employee.

Compliment Sandwich Feedback: Example 1

Suppose that Andy, a new employee at a financial services firm, attended a week-long, offsite training program in New York. Each night during his stay at a hotel, Andy purchased on-demand movies in his room. He included the corresponding $65 charge in his expense report. Andy also dined at very pricey restaurants.

Sandwich Feedback & Purported Benefits Jean, Andy’s manager, received the expense report for approval. Clearly, the charge for the movies had no business-justification. Jean uses the sandwich feedback technique to decline reimbursement for this expense and instruct Andy to be more prudent about expenses when traveling:

  • Praise: “Andy, I am impressed with your development since you joined my team last month. You have used the skills you learned during your training in New York to systematically review our customer’s accounts.”
  • Criticism: “By the way, earlier this morning, I was reviewing the expense report from your trip to New York. I notice a $65 charge for on-demand movies. I have to deny this expense since it has no business-justification. I also noticed very expensive meals. I will approve these charges this time. Given our limited travel budgets, I would ask you to be more careful about your trip expenses. You are probably not aware of our company’s travel policy. I have asked Human Resources to give you a copy of our travel policy booklet that details the acceptable expense report practices.”
  • Praise: “I am glad you were able to use the skills you learned at this training in New York. I appreciate your hard work and persistence with this customer. Keep up the good work.”

Compliment Sandwich Feedback: Example 2

Assume Sofia led a brainstorming meeting for an important project. Habitually, Sofia does not circulate the agendas prior to the meetings she leads. After one such meeting, Sofia’s manager uses the sandwich feedback technique to persuade her to be more organized:

  • Giving feedback is a central component of the manager-employee relationship Praise: “Sofia, we had a very productive meeting. We had the right participants and collected all the necessary inputs from other departments. Thanks for your coordination.”
  • Criticism: “Did you notice that the discussions were unsystematic? When you do not distribute an agenda prior to the meeting, the participants do not come prepared. During the meeting, they have to go back to their desks to collect information. Additionally, we tend to spend a lot of time digressing from the meeting objectives. How can you avoid this?” A discussion ensues.
  • Praise: “You are doing so well with gathering all the inputs. I am pleased about your diligence in circulating minutes of your meetings and following-up on action items. “

Concluding Thoughts

The sandwich feedback technique enables a manager to restructure feedback so it is easier to deliver. The technique also reinforces good behavior and asks for improvements.

Tomorrow’s article will discuss, with simple examples, three common mistakes that defeat the purpose of sandwiching corrective feedback between two layers of praise. In summary, it’s best to be direct when giving feedback, because the compliment sandwiches are easily spotted as inauthentic.