Life at Work Live

Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Wednesday, May 10, 2006; 12:00 PM

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 Life 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. Thanks for joining me on my not-usual day and time.

Here's my question for Sunday's Life at Work column: What is on the Working Mom's Wish List for Mother's Day this year? More flextime? Better daycare? Universal health care? Let's hear it at lifeatwork@washpost.com.

Alrighty, then. It's that time. As always, join in with your feisty selves and let us all know your thoughts on the questions and comments here.

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Arlington, Va.: Amy,

My boss is a SCREAMER. He is mean, demanding, demeaning, and a total hot-head. He seems to have his volume knob stuck at 11 and yells at us to do every little thing. He calls us names like "maggot" and "puke" and it's just unacceptable. How can I gracefully get out of here?

Amy Joyce: Why be graceful? In this sort of situation: Freshen your resume up TODAY. Start looking for work. Find a job. Leave. ASAP.

Do you have an HR department? Can you tell someone higher up that this attitude of his is creating a hostile work environment and they might have lots of problems on their hands if he's not stopped?

Do everything you can to find a better situation. Search online, talk to friends/family and colleagues about possible jobs, get out and network at official networking events or casually among your acquaintances.

Good luck.

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Confused, D.C.: Hi, Amy. Love the chat.

I recently interviewed three times -- once over the phone with an HR person, once in person with the would-be boss, and once in person with an HR person AND the VP). I got a phone message from this organization yesterday saying that they "have been under a number of changes" and would like for me to come in "to discuss some of the changes that have occurred." It also said that they are "still very much interested in (my) candidacy."

What could this mean? I am awaiting a call back to schedule an appointment. Thank you!

Amy Joyce: It could mean anything. Don't read into it too much. Most likely, they thought of a different job for you. Play along and see what you think of the discussion. Good luck!

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Dads work too: Hi, Amy. Not to be snarky, but will you be asking what's on the wish lists of working dads come Father's Day?

Thanks and love the chats.

Amy Joyce: Of course. I will and I have.

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D.C.: Hi, Amy. I recently found out I'm pregnant and am also interviewing for jobs. I know I don't need to bring up my pregnancy until I get a job offer, but how do I bring it up once I receive an offer? After I get the offer, what do I say? ... "By the way, I'm pregnant."

Amy Joyce: I wrote a column about this a year ago. In short: It depends on your specific situation.

Although it's illegal to discriminate against a woman based on pregnancy, there are still many cases of women fired or not hired for positions because of pending motherhood.

If they don't hire you because you're pregnant, I daresay you wouldn't want to work there anyway.

One woman I interviewed was trying to get a job at a political consulting company, and her baby was due in May 2004, just as the election was heating up. I thought she handled the situation perfectly: She was in her third or fourth round of interviews when she went in with a little speech she prepared. She told them she was pregnant, when she was due, and what she was hoping to have as far as maternity leave. But she told them she would be around for most of the crunch time and really hoped to get the job. They hired her a week later and they offered her her leave terms of 7 weeks.

You don't have to tell anyone that early, but sometimes it seems like a smart way to do it.

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washingtonpost.com: Dare to Decide , (Post, May 7)

Amy Joyce: This was Sunday's column about big decisions.

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North Beach, Md.: This may sound really silly, but years ago someone gave me this decision-making tip and it has served me well over time. If it's a really close decision, flip a coin. If you're disappointed with how the flip turns out, you want the other alternative. Try it, it works!

Amy Joyce: And more decision making tips. I like this tactic. It can actually say a lot. (And hey, this is how I decide what take out to order sometimes.)

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"Maggot:" Unless you're in Marine Corps Boot Camp, call HR now! This is obvious verbal abuse and the company should stop it now before they get sued.

Amy Joyce: There ya go. Yep, calling an employee Maggot is pretty, um, serious stuff.

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Anonymous: My husband made one of those scary decisions you wrote about in your last column. He left a secure, but low paying, low excitement, no recognition jobs for a less secure job where he could make his mark. He's doing great at the new job, but it's really draining, and he wasn't prepared for the drain it would have on the family. His evenings are no longer his own and he has to deal with politics much more than ever. But, would he go back? Never. That is the key.

Security is important, but a person can only live for so long driving to work and sitting all day doing repetitive work that is not appreciated. However, I think that having such a job (the one where he was under appreciated) is better than the best education at times. He was an excellent student of organizational psychology and learned by observing his superiors and fellow employees. Management is about so much more than what is taught in business school. Sometimes I think managers need to go undercover as a peon in an organization to relearn the tools necessary to lead!

Amy Joyce: Thanks. I think there's something to that. And now that he's figured out what is more fulfilling, he can stay on that track and perhaps find a situation within that field later on that is less draining and just as fulfilling.

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Indianapolis, Ind.: Any calming words of wisdom as I wait to hear any word about a job I just interviewed for? (And did a great job at the interview, I must say) My bloodsucking temp job is killing me, I'm wanting this new thing TOO MUCH. I need perspective.

Amy Joyce: Send us perspective, folks!

From me: Hey, you just had a great interview. You're on your way to a job you want. Spend your anxious time being excited instead about the possibility. And keep looking for other options that you can interview for, just in case. That will keep you focused on a move.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Amy,

A word of advice for new graduates -- hang in there. I took the first job offered out of college, in a panic about my future. It was horrible -- a bad working environment, a group of people that could have been the inspiration for Dunder Mifflin, etc., and I was miserable. So I started to look for a new job, but it was slow going and I was getting more and more unhappy in my current job -- to the point where it began to change my whole life. At that point I resolved to make a change. I realized that I had let a bad job become, as you pointed out once, a bad relationship. And I realized that I was an active player in that relationship.

So I toughened up. I started doing my best, working as hard as I could. It couldn't change my surroundings, but it changed how I felt about myself. And it was noticed -- in three months, I got two nice bonuses for a job well done. And I continued to look for another job.

A year and a half later after starting at that office, I started a new, wonderful amazing job. And I am actually thankful that I took the first job, because it made me a better and more dedicated worker. And less than a week into my current position, I couldn't be happier, and I'm raking in the compliments for being a great employee with a dedicated work ethic.

I don't think anyone should have to work in the kind of environment I did, but when new graduates are disillusioned about their jobs they should remember that experience is valuable, and that this can be a good step up to what they want. Make the most of it. I may have been able to get this job without my previous employer, but I wouldn't have been the worker I am without them.

Amy Joyce: Couldn't have said it better myself. Congrats!

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RE: Va. screamer: Unfortunately once you leave, the poor guy who comes in after you will hit the same toxic environment. These are the types of people who will track you down, put you on telemarketing lists for a laugh, and even intervene when you are being checked out by a prospective employer to secretly express their misgivings about you.

If there is a Web site where people who run into this can list the company and the manager, it sure would help the rest of us.

Amy Joyce: Put you on telemarketing lists? Really? Now that *is* cruel.

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Potomac, Md.: I am looking seriously at the possibility of changing careers and pursuing something that I have both the passion and the skill sets for that will allow me to have a rewarding and successful career. I am currently 29 and holding fast and I know that now is the right time to make a move. However, I am stuck on one large concern. I understand that I will need to go back to school for more education and a pay cut is inevitable, at least in the short term. However, my question that is a huge concern for me is this: Does changing careers mean that I will be starting from square one with a low end entry level position where I am basically pushing papers around and more importantly not learning anything about the business? Thanks for your time and consideration into this matter.

P.S., Maybe I'll just hit the lottery.

Amy Joyce: No.... maybe *I'LL* win the lottery. Yeah.

Do your research on this possible career change. Go talk to people in the field and ask what you asked here. Talk to schools where you might apply and ask if they have anyone who can chat with you about the field and job possibilities. Then make your decision. If you truly are excited about this opportunity and want the schooling, an entry level position for a little while shouldn't scare you too much. Everything can be considered entry level to some degree, particularly your first job in a new field. You can just hope that you are excited enough about it and do it well enough to keep learning new things and keep climbing. Think you can stomach that? If not, then perhaps this isn't the right move. But find out: Get out and talk to people who are there already.

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Washington, D.C.: "If they don't hire you because you're pregnant, I daresay you wouldn't want to work there anyway." I disagree. It's not so much that a company may not hire because of the pregnancy, but there may be pressing goals that wouldn't be met if the new employee was out for Dr's appointments, maternity leave, related illness, etc. If a candidate told me that they could start next Monday, but needed to take a sabbatical shortly thereafter, I may not hire them either. So it's not the pregnancy itself, but the time away.

Amy Joyce: And would you say the same thing if someone came in to a third interview and said they just found out they had cancer, or were in a car accident and might need some time for rehab?

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Capitol Hill, D.C.: In response to Arlington -- the one with the screamer boss -- get out of there as fast as you can. Faster if possible.

This kind of work environment provides nothing but a salary. It raises the question of how much you and any other worker is worth. Staying in that environment and putting up with such abuse tacitly agrees with the screamer's position -- that anyone who would work for him is a maggot and puke.

I used to have a boss who took turns scapegoating staff. She would select one person as the target and do everything to destroy that person. Eventually -- after 20 years -- my turn came. By that point she couldn't easily get rid of my. In addition to earning superlative annual reviews, I had build a solid reputation across the organization. She removed my responsibilities. She de-funded the projects that I managed, so she could better support the projects of her new best friend, who just happened to report to her. Getting out of there to a job that paid more and provided greater benefits took me 18 months--the longest 18 months of my life. The day that I told her that I was leaving she offered me a promotion--the very promotion that at the beginning of the 18 months she promised me that I would NEVER receive.

Guess what? I left for a place that truly appreciated me and for a boss who considered getting me was a stroke of good fortune.

Getting up the courage to look seriously for another job can take time. But do it! NOW!

Amy Joyce: Congrats to you. It does take courage sometimes to just git. Then we look back and wonder what in the world took us so long to get the process rolling...

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Fairfax, Va.: Amy, I was wondering how I can get a co-worker to stop reading the news he reads on the Internet to me? He does this on a daily basis. I have tried cutting him off by telling him that I have already read the article. He then continues on by saying did you read this part too? I also have said "oh don't spoil it I want to read that later." He doesn't take the hint.

Amy Joyce: I laughed out loud at your spoil comment. Good try. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes something a bit more direct: "No time to listen right now, Bob."

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Hartford, Conn.: Hi, Amy. A couple of years ago, I wrote in asking you if you thought it was worth it to go for my MLS when graduated from college. (You and the posters did think it was worth it.) Well, I finally have graduated from college -- at the ripe old age of 39 -- and I start my MLS program in the fall. Thanks for the encouragement!

Amy Joyce: Well good. I hope our encouragement is worth it. Best of luck and congrats!

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Alexandria, Va.: There is absolutely no reasons for managers to yell or scream at their employees. Unless the building is on fire. Yelling is abuse.

The problem is that people who are good at their jobs are promoted, most times without training to management positions. This is considered a promotion and often the only way to get people more money.

Managers handle resources and people are a resource just like a budget, computers, etc. Managing people is not easy. It's a skill just like everything else. To me, yelling is a sign that managers cannot handle their jobs. Therefore they shouldn't be managers.

The last time a manager yelled at me, I simply said that I would not be yelled at, that the issue was not worth the treatment I was getting, and I would be happy to discuss the situation when she calmed down. I then went back to my desk and drafted my resignation. I left, didn't look back. She has since been let go and I have a new job, closer to home, with better pay.

Amy Joyce: I think actually telling someone to stop yelling and you'll talk once they have calmed down is a good tactic. If it doesn't work, definitely time to look outside for a new opportunity.

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Deerfield Beach, Fla.: Hi, Amy. I'm at a new job in an open office environment, where several divisions of the company that do not work together sit right next to each other. This new office is speaker phone and cell phone crazy! From speaker phone conference calls to conversations between two people who sit less than six feet away from each other, I hear it all! Not to mention and a multitude of different cell phone ring tones. How does a quiet, loving and considerate worker find her Zen volume level amongst the chaos? Sincerely, Wish I was wearing ear plugs.

Amy Joyce: 1. Why aren't you wearing earplugs?

2. It's a RARE occasion when someone in an open office

environment should be using a speaker phone, folks. Stop it. Now.

And Wish, it's time for you to say something if it's out of control. At least to your neighbors. I know it's hard. But repeat after me: "Hey Bob [Bob is apparently my name of choice today], do mind not using speaker? I can't hear myself think over here. Thanks a ton."

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Amy. I'm throwing this out to you and the readers to see if they have any suggestions. I'm a recent college grad (2004) and I've been working in my current job for over a year now. I like the place and am learning a lot, but I know I want to move on early next year. I'm looking at Peace Corps to volunteer overseas, but I was wondering if you knew of any other organizations that had similar missions. I'd like to see which one best fits my interests (would love to work with women's groups overseas). Thanks!

Amy Joyce: Any thoughts, folks?

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Washington, D.C.: Amy -- HELP!

What to do when you can't remember the names of all the people that sat in on an interview, for the purpose of writing thank you notes? You don't want the person to feel slighted, but is it cool to call and ask one of the other people that you do remember? I want to put my best foot forward, and not wind up with it in my mouth.

Thanks.

Amy Joyce: You could call HR or the person you remember and ask for the proper spelling of the other person's name. But that might be a little awkward. The important thing is to write a thank you note to the main person interviewing you. You didn't get any cards? Could you try to recognize the peoples' names on the Web site?

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Rockville, Md.: "And would you say the same thing if someone came in to a third interview and said they just found out they had cancer, or were in a car accident and might need some time for rehab?"

Exactly ... how can you predict what will happen to any employee the second they are hired? What a shame it would be to miss out on hiring the right person because of what you perceive to be too much time off! Very short-sighted, I must say.

Amy Joyce: And, I believe, (but jump in here lawyers), illegal....

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Washington, D.C.: Any tips on telling your coworkers about a pregnancy? I'm comfortable with approaching my boss, work friends, and those I work with closely on projects that will be affected by my maternity leave. But what about the other 20 or so people in my office. A mass email seems weird, as does just not saying anything and figuring they will notice my growing belly. A staff meeting announcement? For some reason I'm finding this awkward, particularly since the co-workers in question are mainly childless and not especially friendly.

Amy Joyce: Oh, please no mass email. There's no need to announce to a group, beyond those you care about and those whose job it will impact. Word will get around, or it might come up naturally in a conversation one on one with co-workers. ("Well, I'm going to be out from X to X because I'm expecting.")

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Baltimore, Md.: "If there is a Web site where people who run into this can list the company and the manager, it sure would help the rest of us."

Boy, is that a great idea. Currently working in management for an entity that has fired all of the department heads since last August despite being one of the most successful companies in the field. Turnover is about 50 percent and the reason comes from a micromanaging, paranoid CEO in this 400 person organization. Had I known what I was getting into ... meanwhile, I'm looking and interviewing like crazy.

Amy Joyce: I kind of feel like there must be a web site like that out there. Anyone?

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Washington, D.C. (G-town): Hi, Amy. You and the other readers are probably going to yell at me for this -- but honestly, what is the problem with flip-flops in the office? I'm 25 and work in a small office where clients rarely, if ever, come in. I work better when I'm comfortable. Suits and heels just aren't. I typically wear knee-length denim skirts with a nice top and jacket (today's is white corduroy) and flip-flops. Our office is "business casual," does this not count?

Amy Joyce: Oh, there is such a love/hate relationship with flip flops in the workplace. I think what the people who are anti-flips say is sure, it might be biz casual dress. But it's not time for the beach. It's sort of like wearing PJs to work. Or slippers. And the thwack-thwack drives some people crazy.

You can get a shoe that is just as comfy, I think, and that won't be perceived as a sign of immaturity. Which I truly think flip flops are.

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RE: Co-worker who reads: Well ... Amy your advice helped. And now he is bringing up news videos for me to watch. So no more being read to ... LOL.

Amy Joyce: If I didn't know better, I'd say you're kidding me.

But I know better. That's what I love about the workplace: It's always interesting. We're dumping all these different personalities into one place under one roof. Like family, you can't choose 'em. (Bob, I'm too busy to watch video too. Sigh.)

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Amy Joyce: Okay, gang. Time to get back to work. I'll be back to my regular time and place next week: Tues. at 11.

Have a great week, and don't forget to e-mail me with your wish list nominations for things to change in this world for working moms at lifeatwork@washpost.com.

Thanks, and talk to you Tuesday.

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