Life at Work Live

Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, April 18, 2006; 11:00 AM

Washington Post columnist Amy Joyce writes Life at Work on Sundays in the Business section and appears online every Tuesday to offer advice about managing interpersonal issues on the job.

An archive of Amy's An archive of Amy'sLife at Work columns is available online.

Find more career-related news and advice in our Jobs section.

The transcript follows below.

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Amy Joyce: Good morning, folks. It's Tuesday, which means it is time to chat about your life at work. As always, join in with your own advice and stories to share with your fellow readers. Lots of questions await, so let's get started.

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Chicago, Ill.: Hi, Amy.

I did something really stupid at my job of two months.

I had a personal blog in which I wrote thinly veiled things about work. Never my last name, never the name of the company, never anyone's name.

However, one day, after hearing a co-worker continue to lament, "I $#-&- hate this place!" over and over, I went home and wrote about it on my blog.

Again, veiled reflections, but nonetheless. Somehow, said co-worker found the blog and showed the boss. I was reprimanded, made to sign something, but not fired.

Now everyone in my small department is snubbing me, except for my boss, who is going out of his way to be nice. The said co-worker is not speaking to or acknowledging me, even though I apologized face-to-face and sent her a long note with more apologies and an explanation that her bad experiences at our place of employment were having a negative effect on me, therefore I wrote the blog post to protect myself. But took full responsibility for being so dumb as to write it on a public blog. As in, my inner [witch] came out to protect myself from hating my new job, which has been, in fact, my dream job.

Now I feel like I have a Scarlet Letter on my chest. I don't know how to "fit" here anymore, I feel as if no one likes me, I am paranoid that I'm being talked about behind my back. It's an awful feeling going into work everyday. I understand I did this to myself. And I feel like I should resign. Do you think that is warranted? Or should I wait it out?

Amy Joyce: You're very lucky you weren't fired. I wrote a story last year about a growing number of people getting fired for doing just what you did. Flog, flog, flog. I'm not sure why you think that blog might not have been read or found by a coworker. Sure, the Internet's a wide, wide world, but if you love your job, you should never chance losing it like that. (I can't fathom how writing a post blog protected yourself ...?)

I appreciate the creativity and need to write about life and experiences, but when you're involving other people on a very public forum, you have to understand they will probably feel the sting and react poorly.

Okay, moving away from Amy-Lecture-Mode: People are probably talking about you behind your back. Accept that. (And think about how you'd react in such a situation if you were in their shoes. You'd probably be doing the same thing.)

But if this is truly the dream job you say it is (which makes me wonder why you'd bash it in blog-land), then try to stick with it. No reason to resign. You should be mature enough to put the blog experience behind you, realize that people are talking about you behind your back, but will likely move on to the next hot topic soon enough. If you truly care about this job, then focus on the JOB and the work, not the high school hallways aspect of it. Do good work and the rest will follow.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Amy,

I just wanted to thank you for that article you wrote about questions asked during interviews that might tip you off to a bad work situation. A couple years ago I was unemployed and I really needed the job I was interviewing for. On paper, I was a perfect fit for the company, but the interview told me otherwise. The interviewer asked me how I dealt with Type A personalities, especially in a boss. I mumbled something but was clearly surprised by the question. The job I was interviewing for needed a lot of leeway and some fairly creative ideas. I didn't get that job, and I was really disappointed for several weeks (OK, months). But now I know I would have been really miserable there, so the rejection was a blessing.

Thanks again!

washingtonpost.com: Here's that article: washingtonpost.com:Here's that article:Hardly the Proper Fit , (Post, April 9)

Amy Joyce: Yep, that sounds like a blessing, for sure. It's so easy to jump at that first opportunity when you're out of work or just desperate to get out of a bad situation. We all have to remember to think these things through because we could end up in a situation that is even worse than the current one.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm the executive assistant to the director of a nonprofit. A relatively new senior employee (who has no assistant of her own) regularly seeks my assistance with administrative tasks. While I'm happy to help a new person learn the ropes, I don't want this to become routine. How best to nip this in the bud?

Amy Joyce: It's important to make sure this isn't going to morph into your job. Talk to your supervisor and find out what's going on. But say it in the way you described here: I'm more than happy to help out now, I just want to make sure this won't become a regular thing. If it does, we'll need to talk about additional compensation.

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Rockville, Md.: What do you do when your boss calls you into his office at 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon to tell you that starting Monday your hours will be cut from 40 a week to 16 a week? With alternating days of work? Why? They say its because of a slowdown in the business and they had to cut costs. But no notice? Now they say it may only be temporary and I may have my normal hours back by August, but I can't live on part time work even if the money is great. Does this make sense to you? We are a small company with no HR, so either I take it or find something else. I have worked here for several years and this came from out of the blue. Has anyone ever encountered this and what should I do?

Amy Joyce: It doesn't really matter if it makes sense. What matters is that you make sure you're in the best possible position you can be for your own security and sanity. Start looking for a new job ASAP. That would be great if your full-time position came back in August, but there is no guarantee. It sounds like, even if they want to keep you, this company may not be the place for you if you need a paycheck and stability. Good luck.

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Arlington, Va.: I have an oddball question, I suppose related to the commute to work. I park in a parking garage where some drivers park "illegally" is in places that aren't spots such as on ramps and in main thoroughfares. They make it tough for the rest of us to maneuver our way around. Do you know if the parking garage management generally has any recourse for those who don't follow the rules, such as writing tickets? Or are they forced just to give out warnings and hope for the best? I only complain to the management when it's really bad, but I wonder what they can do realistically to discourage the bad parkers.

Amy Joyce: You might want to check with the building's owner or management company. It would probably be pretty easy to find out who runs the place. They can probably do whatever they want, but also might start to ticket or tow if they hear enough complaints. I would guess, too, that your office manager (if you have one) knows who to contact.

On the other hand, if these people found real spots, you might have a harder time finding a spot for yourself and wish for the days when they parked illegally. (Said Amy, who spends a frustrating amount of time trying to find legal parking near her house.)

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Neighbor is co-worker too: Hi Amy --

My next-door neighbor is my co-worker (in fact, she was the one who told me there was a job opening in the first place). She also has a sleeping disorder, of which our bosses are aware, and allow for her to come later in the day. However, lately she has taken to not even coming in.

The problem is she calls me instead of the boss or the division administrator (who does the time sheets). It came to a head yesterday when she stood our boss up for a major meeting of the project for which she is in charge. She called me to say her new sleep med worked too well and she didn't feel like coming in.

Our boss later asked me -- nicely enough -- if I knew why she didn't come in. I told him about the sleep med being too effective but kept mum about anything else. I knew he hadn't talked to her yet, and didn't want to get trapped into saying anything. Particularly since I run into her after work too.

She might well be on the way to being fired. Meantime, I do not want to be put in the center of her situation with our boss. I also need to find a nice way to tell her not to call me when she won't be in. (I have no supervisory authority here anyway, so telling me means I have to tell someone else.)

Any advice at all is greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Amy Joyce: This seems pretty simple:

Hi Neighbor. Listen, sorry to tell you this, but it sounds like people are getting pretty anxious about your absences at work. I think it's best if you start calling them when you're going to be out instead of me. I feel like I'm getting in the middle of something I really shouldn't be. Please call Boss next time. Thanks.

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Virginia: I read the 12 signs you're being fired on MSN's work center. I can check six of them. Any advice on what to do?

Amy Joyce: Now why in the world would you go to a web site for career advice?

Kidding, kidding.

If you went to MSN looking for signs you're being fired and if you're here asking me the same thing, I'd start doing some thinking and communicating. I don't know your situation, so I can't comment directly. But if it was as easy as taking a 12 question quiz to find out if you're being fired, there would be for any of us to question our jobs, job security or career path.

If you can think of why you might be on the verge of being fired, figure out if you want to fix it. Or maybe you are simply ready to move on and are looking for an excuse to get out. Or maybe you need to have a conversation with your boss about how she views your work, how you can improve and if she's happy with what you're doing.

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Fairfax, Va.: Amy, hopefully I can explain this well because I could use your illustrious advice.

Recently I have seriously begun to think about switching careers (a move that would require going back to school). I have already asked for four vacation days to volunteer and learn more about my prospective new career. However, I recently learned that in order to take a class over the summer that I would need to switch careers, I would have to ask for even more time off.

The time off would all be from my earned vacation. My question is, do I owe it to my job to tell them what I'm doing? I have a strong feeling my immediate manager will take it a little personally if I have to tell him I'm taking a class so I can leave this job in a few months. I think it would also make things very uncomfortable for me, and I can't afford not to have this job (on the very-off chance they "let me go"). On the other hand, I can't imagine asking for these days off, and when asked for an explanation saying something along the lines of "It's none of your business". Then repeating that to all of my co-workers who, in trying to be friendly, will ask what I'm doing.

If I'm using vacation time, how much explanation does an employer expect?

Amy Joyce: If you're asking why you're taking those days off, you can simply say for personal reasons. Or you just need a break. Or it's time. Or you're volunteering. Or you're taking a class. You don't owe anyone an explanation, really. And frankly, unless you're super close to your boss and the two of you tell each other everything, you probably shouldn't disclose yet about your career wanderings and wonderings. So far, you're just experimenting and considering that next move. Telling your boss will do neither of you any good. You have no idea when you might move on and telling your boss might just lead him to look for your replacement or spend countless hours worrying about what to do if you leave. Once you know for sure you're moving on, talk to your boss.

Good luck, and congrats on looking for that New Thing.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm not sure if you saw Ken Bredemeier's piece on office blowhards but we have someone who insists on referring to a woman in our West Coast office as a "d--e." Can something be done, short of sedation?

washingtonpost.com: Here's the column referenced: washingtonpost.com:Here's the column referenced:Dealing With Blowhards in Government Offices , (washingtonpost.com, April 17)

Amy Joyce: Uh, yeah. Something can be done. You tell management. They may or may not do something about it. But name calling of that kind really has no place in the workplace. (Do I sound like an HR brochure, or what?)... But seriously, that creates all sorts of problems within the office and any smart manager will want to quash that kind of talk immediately. Or should.

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Bethesda, Md.: Here's something that is at the top of my pet peeve list at work: a person in my area (who is probably in her early 20s) who shuffles her feet and usually also wears "flip-floppy" shoes.

We're all adults in the office, right? I'm not her father, but there are days when I just want to yell "pick up your feet."

Amy Joyce: Oh, do I understand that one. I think I used to be a shuffler myself til someone said to me "I always know when Amy's coming!" We then had a little "laughy" conversation about my shoe sliding walk. (Thanks, Sarah.)

Anyway, enough about me. How about some advice from me. Har. (Maybe *I* can be your pet peeve today).

Does she really walk around that much to the point where it drives you totally crazy? If so, maybe you could say something. But this sounds like a case where you'd have to pull the "it's not you, it's me" routine. "Hey, CO-WORKER, I know this sounds crazy, but I have this issue..."

If you can't handle telling her, you might just have to focus your peeviness on the guy next to you tapping his pen on the desk.

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washingtonpost.com: washingtonpost.com:Sweating the Small Stuff, for Good Reason , (Post, April 16)

Amy Joyce: This is Sunday's column about office pet peeves...

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RE: Chicago blog: Amy's right, they are talking about you. And if the blog is still up, or wasn't pulled quickly, someone printed all of it out and your office-mates are poring over it and trying to figure out who you were talking about in every sentence. Was there anyone else you may have offended? While apologizing to the complainer was a good start, you may have to apologize to the whole office.

Amy Joyce: True, true.

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Washington, D.C.:

I just read your column about sweating the small stuff. I have a coworker that I just cannot tolerate anymore, mainly because I have let all of the little stuff grow into huge stuff.

How do you recommend dealing with such situation before they get out of hand? For example, I work in a room shared by 6 people. If I speak, this coworker always eavesdrops and joins the conversation. If I ask a question of my superior, this inferior employee feels the need answer.

HELP!!!

Amy Joyce: First, it sounds to me like you need to think about your own attitude there, D.C. Inferior employee? You can't tolerate someone? Step back, take a breathe and break it down. What all can't you stand about this person? What can you let go of a bit?

Now... call this person on these problems as they come. "Jim, I'm speaking with Joe right now. I'll talk to you in a bit about a similar problem."

When he tries to answer a question you're asking of your boss, you nod, turn to the boss and repeat the question. Step by step. But also try to ease up a bit.

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks for taking my question Amy. What's the "right" thing to say at the funeral of a co-worker's spouse?

Amy Joyce: Same thing you would at anyone else's funeral. I am so sorry. And anything else that might seem natural. Really.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Hi Amy!

I just wanted to say thanks to you and the 'nuts for all the great advice during these discussions. Without y'all, I never would have gotten the nerve to ask for a raise.

I asked three weeks ago and though I probably won't get it, since they already bump up my salary some before my performance review (when I asked for a raise, and gave figures, sources, etc.) I'm pretty happy that I got through one of work's most daunting events.

Thanks again!

Amy Joyce: It does feel good to get it out there, doesn't it? Otherwise it'll eat away at us until it gets to the point where it's all we think about. At least you know you tried and took control of one tiny aspect of your life, as much as you could. That's terrific. And congrats for the bump up.

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For the exec. assistant.: Ugh, that happens to me all the time when new people start. I have found that people don't realize that I only assist one person and am not the dept. assistant. It's very awkward to tell someone you aren't going to continue helping them. I try the tactic of telling the person that I am happy to help in emergencies, but that I am a 1:1 assistant and that my boss needs me to be available for him. It's tough though. Once you get the reputation of being a good worker, other people want to use you. I have people who already have assistants try to get me to do work for them because they know I will do a better job. So annoying.

Amy Joyce: That is annoying. Thanks for tips.

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Falls Church, Va.: Amy --

Thanks for helping me realize that I've probably been annoying the heck out of my officemates for a couple of years. I was chatting with my wife about your article, and I mentioned that I dial numbers from work in hands-free mode, so you can hear the tones, and I retrieve messages that way, too. "Ooh, that's really annoying."

And you know what? She's right, and I'd never realized how that can just drive someone crazy. I tried to stop all day Monday, and I think I'll have it by the end of the week.

Thanks for helping me de-peeve myself.

Amy Joyce: Hey, congrats! Always glad to make the workplace a little bit better, one peeve at a time.

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For the neighbor/co-worker: "Listen, sorry to tell you this, but it sounds like people are getting pretty anxious about your absences at work. I think it's best if you start calling them when you're going to be out instead of me. I feel like I'm getting in the middle of something I really shouldn't be. Please call Boss next time. Thanks. "

And if that doesn't work, become passive aggressive. Don't forward the message that she called in "asleep" until the end of the day. Since you were in a "meeting" most of the day, you were unable to forward the message in a timely manner.

Amy Joyce: Totally the wrong approach. Sorry, but passive aggressiveness really has no role at work. Or in life. You're just hurting her.

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RE: Fairfax: As a supervisor, I surely would want to be told that a request for leave every Tuesday afternoon is so that the worker can take a class. However, the back story -- the class is to switch fields and look for another job is not necessary. That part may or may not pan out. You just disclose the class because it really does exist.

Amy Joyce: Was it every Tuesday? If so, I misread. And if so, I think you're right.

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New York, N.Y.: For the poster with the sleepy neighbor -- instead of making it all about herself ("I'm uncomfortable being in the middle"), why doesn't she position it as helping the neighbor? Try saying, "I think you should speak to the boss directly, because I'm afraid of misrepresenting the situation or inadvertently sharing information you'd wanted confidential -- I'd just hate to blur the line between colleague and friend, so it's probably better if you do the talking."

Amy Joyce: If that's truly how the neighbor feels, then that would be a good way to approach it, too.

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Wheaton, Md.: How does one go about finding a legitimate part time job where one can work mostly from home?

As a SAHM who is willing to work but whose former employers (government contracting) took back their offer to work part time from home, I'm in a bit of a pickle. I do not have childcare -- no family locally, it's expensive, and most every place seems to have a waiting list of months and months -- not to mention the fact that it seems pointless to work full time and have all extra money going to childcare when I could work part time from home and we'd still come out the same in the end.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who would be interested in hearing your answer to this question, as there just doesn't seem to be enough family friendly workplaces willing to compromise or job share or whatever, despite so many places (my former employer included) claiming to be good for working parents. They are only good if you are able to come back full time after maternity leave, which is a hard decision for many as I've discovered in talking with other moms and moms-to-be.

Amy Joyce: Shoot. I'm getting to this late in the conversation and I'm sure others will have some input. Let's try to get into this next week, for sure.

In the meantime, may I suggest you check out the DC Working Moms listserv? There is also a listserv just for job shares. Anyone know it offhand? If not, I'll try to remember for next week.

One of the first things I would be concerned about: Do you think you can work from home and watch your children at the same time? It's tough, I think, to focus on both fully. Truly family friendly workplaces are pretty rare. But lots of women have found ways to be a mom and work at the same time.

Let's try to chat about this next week because I realize it's about time to sign off.

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RE: Calling someone a d--e: Ha! At first I thought the "d" word was "dude" and couldn't see why it's a big deal. Then I realized what the word really is. Dude, that is so wrong.

Amy Joyce: Dude, I wish he was just calling someone a dude.

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Amy Joyce: On that note, let's call it a day. Check out the Sunday Life at Work column in the Business section. Sneak preview: It'll be about the male/female wage gap. Next Tuesday is wage gap day, after all. (Did anyone buy me a wage gap card? It's the new Hallmark wage. Er, I mean, rage.)

Have a great week. Chat with you next week, same time, same place.

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