Leslie Anderson is one of the 10 finalists in The Washington Post Magazine’s @Work Advice Contest.
About me: “Ugh, can’t we just skip to the advice-giving?
Fine then. I am a communications strategist working full-time in Northern Virginia, and a mother to two impish girls. There’s a husband, two brittany spaniels, and gallons of coffee and red wine in the mix. I grew up in western Pennsylvania – Pennsyltucky, a friend once informed me -- where my grandfather was a coal miner. I’ve worked in the U.S. and abroad, and have experience with commercial and non-profit organizations. I have a couple of degrees in writing. I don’t scrapbook. I have a healthy fear of the PTA. And my favorite color is orange, though I rarely wear it because I work with engineers and technologists, most of whom find me colorful enough.”
Why I should win: “This seems like a trick question. Have I dreamt of being an advice columnist all my life? Not exactly. But I have long suffered the illusive dream of getting paid to write. And I take great, ego-maniacal pleasure in making others laugh. So getting paid to publish entertaining opinions that could actually help someone sounds to me like the proverbial pig in you-know-what scenario.
It also suits that I’m creative yet analytical. And approachable. My professional experience spans working as a greeter in a used car lot, to writing price plans for a Swiss telecom, to managing the brand of a mid-size non-profit. I have made plenty of mistakes along the way (like, say, working as a greeter in a used car lot) and I’ve seen many more. By my way of thinking, if I win, WP readers get some solid advice with their morning coffee and I get delicious readership. Win-win, right?
How about if I also vow to eradicate phrases like “win-win” from my work and stop talking about myself?”
Work mantra: “Honey, that’s why they call it ‘Work.’”
My workplace anecdote: The first week of my current job, I replied to an email requesting status from my new boss, the Director of Communications. I inadvertently let spell check correct the acronym for her department, CCKS, to COCKS. So effectively, I yelled PENISES at the top of my lungs at the intelligent, prim woman who controlled my employment status. Despite this, I am today considered one of the more effective communicators on her team.
On the contest entry form, we offered five sample questions (submitted by real readers) and asked applicants to answer the two of their choice.
Q: Maternity fears: I’m pregnant and dread telling my boss. My job involves attending community meetings, building relationships and planning events, and would be a hard role to fill with a temporary worker. My boss can be very demanding, and often thinks work should be the center of everyone’s universe. What’s the best approach I can take to break the news to my boss?
Anderson: The lady doth protest too much, methinks. Is it really your boss who believes no one could fill your shoes temporarily?
It’s wonderful news that you’re pregnant. Mazel tov. And it sounds as if you’re well on your way to finding happiness as a working mother, where low expectations lead to increased satisfaction. But for now, why assume the worst? Give your boss some credit for being human. Think through your options then announce your good news along with proposed solutions that will help meet everyone’s needs — including yours, mama.
What dates will you be on leave? How will you transition your responsibilities and to whom? What tasks lie ahead that can be delegated, postponed, or jettisoned while you are gone? Type it up, wear your big-girl suit to work, and walk your boss through a plan that solves his or her problems before they arise. You know, sort of like you were hired to do.
From the bottom of my working-mother heart, I believe the real challenge before you is convincing yourself that your work world will (1) revolve without you and (2) welcome you back after the wee one arrives. If you march toward motherhood with a plan of action, you will not only satisfy your boss, but feel more prepared for the changes to come.
Q: Colleagues or friends?: I’m at my first job out of college and many of the other young people in the office are friends, hang out after work and even party together at each others’ apartments. I like them, but I always thought you should keep some professional distance from fellow coworkers. I’d enjoy going out to lunch with these people but probably wouldn’t want to take shots with them. What do you think -- and what do you think senior management thinks?
Anderson: They even party at each other’s apartments? If they catch you referring to them as “these people” your dilemma is moot — you won’t have to worry about getting an invitation.
Your instincts are relatively on target, but don’t judge. Everyone has a different level of comfort when it comes to office relationships; many people form friendships that last a lifetime. It’s wise to tread cautiously before dancing on the bar with your new colleagues and José Cuervo at the local Chili’s. But the just-of-college set is understandably looking to build new friendships and the office can be a great place to find people of like minds and interests. So go to lunch if you want to, or say a polite “no thanks” if you don’t. Do keep in mind, it could be the start of a beautiful…professional network.
As for senior management, they want you to get your job done efficiently, effectively, and make valuable contributions. Most managers believe that healthy friendships among coworkers reinforce positive feelings about one’s job and increase productivity. But nurture your friendships on your own time, not the company’s.
Carolyn Hax: Calling the new mom out on her need to feel indispensible was nice insight, and the second answer works, too, from opening zinger on. We need to put “your big girl suit” into a donation box, though.
Eric Peterson: Her “tough love” was refreshing, as it’s always good for seekers of advice to question their own assumptions. She took this approach in both her questions, and I wonder how (when, and if) she would answer with a bit more empathy. If she can’t or won’t, a regular column would quickly grow tiresome.
Douglas LaBier: Directness works well, but more empathy and less sarcastic-tinged humor would strengthen your responses.
Sydney Trent: Good reminder to the pregnant writer that she should consider her own needs, too, but the answer begins and ends with harsh assumptions about the writer’s motives. Wise advice on office socializing. The writing overall could use more humor/fun and less edge. Oh, and avoid cliches like “big-girl suit.”
Lynn Medford: Her mantra was cliche, her anecdote confusing, but her advice was a cold splash of water. Her crisp snap plays to a modern sensibility.
Meet the @Work Advice Contest’s 10 finalists