A client of mine gave me permission to share this story with you from a recent coaching call that we had. Details are of course changed to protect confidentiality.

My client, let’s call him Mike, has had interns working for him for the past few years. It’s a great way to keep his payroll costs lower (he pays them, but not a lot) and gives a younger person great experience in their new field.

Mike’s most recent intern, “Josh,” has worked with him part time since the beginning of the year. Josh has a professional degree and working with Mike has given him some valuable real world experience in his chosen field, and hopefully a good reference, as well.

Josh had another part-time job to make ends meet. My client had work lined up for him this summer, but just this week, on a day when he was expecting Josh to come to work, he got an email from Josh instead with the subject line:


His message was that he had the opportunity to work full time in food services and so would be stopping his work as an intern with Mike. He thanked Mike and said eventually he would pursue an advanced degree in their field.

You have probably received a few emails like this, often from people in their 20’s (as Josh is), very informal, casual spelling and grammar – the kind you’d typically send to a friend. But, hey, at least he didn’t resign via a text message!

Mike, being the brilliant client of mine that he is, did NOT respond by email. He has Josh’s last check and intends to wait for Josh to come in to pick it up so they can have a little chat about how you resign in a professional manner. Mike is a great guy and a true mentor of young people. He wants to help Josh and will kindly let him know that sending an email is not a professional way to resign from a job and is not very likely to get him a glowing reference from Mike.

On the other end of the continuum is Mike’s secretary, Claire, a competent professional in her early 60’s. Mike was getting complaints from his other employees that Claire was unfriendly towards them, although she had impeccable manners and friendliness toward the firm’s clients.

When Mike sat down to discuss this with Claire, she talked about how she was trained not to speak personally with her boss or other employees. That was often the case 30+ years ago when she was starting out her career, but now the workplace has become less formal and a some friendly interaction with co-workers is the norm.

Mike had to let her know that it is in fact highly desirable that she engage in some informal chit chat with her co-workers. He assured her that he was not worried about any of them losing focus and not getting enough work done.

As is often the case in business (and life), somewhere between two poles lies the best course of action. Ask yourself where you fall on the informal/formal continuum and make some simple adjustments if needed. This can go a long way to improving your professional relationships.

Because, hey, let’s face it, it’s a balancing act.


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