@Work Advice: Take this job and ... give it to me!

March 15, 2012

Reader: I have been contracting for a company for over a year. I am reliable and hardworking. I have a co-worker in a full-time position who takes personal calls, even chatting online with a webcam. He’s loud and has a foul mouth. On more than one occasion, I’ve heard him say loudly, “I HATE my job!” He’s constantly in some state of stress or panic, most likely because he doesn’t have to time to fulfill his duties because he’s always doing something other than working! Somehow he has all our managers wrapped around his finger. I just know I could do this person’s job better, and be nothing but appreciative. Would it be totally out of line to approach our manager and let him know that if the position ever became available (Hint, hint: Fire him!) I would love to be considered?

Karla: Totally out of line — and futile. From what you’ve said, this sounds like a workplace that tolerates — maybe even rewards — jerks.

Being a contractor is like being an opening band: You have to rock your heart out to win the audience over. The headliner, meanwhile, staggers onstage late, fumbles lyrics, plays the same three chords for an hour — and still has groupies swarming the stage door.

Also, you have to account for every billable minute, while the salaried slacker takes home the same paycheck whether he spends his time on marketing or Minesweeper. And he’s certainly not the only full-timer to claim to hate his job. Taking blessings for granted is human nature at its wartiest.


(Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

Assuming you actually want a full-time gig in what sounds like a dysfunctional sitcom, all you can do is rock on with your hardworking, reliable self — and keep your boss aware of it — so that when a position opens up, you are the top candidate. Just realize that if you succeed, you’ll likely end up working with, or for, this potty-mouthed prat.

* * *

Speaking of contract work, some readers took issue with my Feb. 5 advice to a government employee regarding a supervisor’s conversations in Spanish with contractors. Government workers dealing with contractors are subject to ethics rules under which they must avoid even the appearance of impropriety in their interactions. The readers argued that foreign-language conversations may suggest that inappropriate discussions are taking place.

The original advice-seeker only mentioned being “uncomfortable,” which I took to mean that he had no concrete concerns that would justify complaining to management. But I think these readers make a point worth considering. If the advice-seeker is genuinely concerned that the supervisor and contractors are speaking in Spanish to disguise inappropriate dealings, that would certainly be worth reporting up the ladder. I trust he would not be using the “appearance of impropriety” card as a fig leaf for xenophobia.

Karla Miller lives with her family in South Riding, Va. For 16 years, she has written for and edited tax publications. Send your questions to wpmagazine@washpost.com.

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