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Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, May 16, 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 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.

I have an interesting question for you: Have you quit your job recently? I ask because recent statistics are showing that American workers are quitting their jobs in numbers similar to the year 2000. That supposedly means we're gaining our confidence again that the job market is picking up. So e-mail me if you've quit and why: lifeatwork@washpost.com.

Now then, on to the many questions that have piled up already. As always, join in with your own advice and stories to help fellow readers. Let's do it.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi -- posting early since I have a meeting during chat time today!

I'm hoping to both change jobs and get pregnant soon. At my current employer, you are only eligible for maternity leave if you have been there a year by your delivery date. Is this kind of waiting period common? Should I wait to change jobs first?

Thanks so much!

Amy Joyce: Yes, that waiting period is common. In fact, FMLA doesn't kick in until you have been at an employer for a year. Take control of the thing you most have control of: Finding work. You have no idea how long it will take you to get pregnant. That will happen when it happens. So plan on the career side of things. When/if you become pregnant, you can negotiate for leave. Most employers will offer some sort of unpaid leave for new moms if they haven't yet built up to that. Just make sure you don't expect them to hand it to you without first offering them a plan and help for when you'll be away. (And yes, I'm ready for all the nasty messages I'm going to get for this one...)

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Seaford, Del.: Amy Amy Amy! About your Sunday column, I don't know of a single small business owner who wouldn't like to provide comprehensive health insurance, paid parental leave, and all the other items on your "wish list" for mothers (and everyone else). I own a small (nine-employee) business, pay a living wage (money goes further here), and we truly are like "family" and try to cover for each other's emergencies. But I can provide only basic health insurance, which went up $4,000 a year when an employee's young son developed childhood diabetes. And paid parental leave is simply out of the question.

I have lived and worked abroad, and don't understand why the U.S. doesn't take better care of its employees. Even before money started going to any number of programs of which I disapprove, this was not even a medium priority. The FMLA, for example, provides only UNPAID leave, which causes many Europeans to scratch their heads. I'm not an economist and don't know what the answer is, but I'm doing the best I can, I haven't taken more than a long weekend off in over seven years, and I come nowhere close to meeting your wish list. I'm sorry! But I figure my employees are better off than they would be if unemployed, and they seem to agree.

washingtonpost.com: Here's Amy's latest column: A Mother's Day Wish , (Post, May 14)

Amy Joyce: I'm sure your employees are very well off. It helps so much to have an understanding atmosphere, and people who can fill in for each other.

I think that wish list was a call to lawmakers, not small business owners, who also often can't afford health insurance and paid leave.

I don't know the answer to what is obviously a major issue in this country, and one that appears to only be getting worse. I wish I did.

Keep up the good, earnest work. I hope it goes well for you.

(I know this is easier said than done, but you should take a vacation. Really.)

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Laterals and moving: Amy, is leaving one place and taking a more challenging opportunity that does NOT include a jump in pay a bad idea? What about a company that will move you but will not bump you up 10 or 20 percent -- bad idea? The only reason considering it is the area would be moving to has a lower cost-of-living. What say you? Everyone I talk to tells me that unless you get a bump up you should stay put.

Amy Joyce: I'm all for taking on a new challenge if it means you'd be happier and, well, more challenged. But you do have to remember that growing in salary will be more difficult if you come in at a lower number. Is there any room for negotiation? If not, you really have to figure out where you'd be happier, where you'd have more of a chance for growth, etc.

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Washington, D.C.: That's interesting that you are starting your discussion today stating that lots of folks are quitting their jobs. I say this because CNN ran a segment yesterday giving a figure showing approximately only 27 percent of U.S. job holders are happy with their job. It showed several reasons why the rest of us 73 percent are unhappy or burned out. It gave reasons such as unrealistic deadlines, lower pay compared to their managers and special projects given to them on top of their already busy workload.

Amy Joyce: Right. And that's part of my question: Lots of people have taken on multiple jobs as companies cut their labor force. So now that things appear to be expanding again, are people who were sitting in jobs that made them miserable becoming confident enough to move on? Let me know: lifeatwork@washpost.com.

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Anonymous: This is in response to last week's question about the screaming boss: I work for my father's company. I was supposed to work in marketing-which I had been doing for the past 10 years-and I was to be "groomed" to take the company over when he and his wife decided to retire.

Since I started working here, I've done everything else but marketing. I was doing well, but I've been pulled around and jerked into doing things that aren't my core competencies. It's been frustrating to say the least. On top of that, both my father and his wife are worse than "screamers," and I have never worked for an organization that treats their employees in such a demeaning manner.

They curse, yell and scream at everyone; in front of other employees as well as on the phone. When they visit our location, everyone feels like they're walking on eggshells. I took the job on their promise that I would one day (soon) take on more responsibility. After working here for almost a year now, I've finally realized how controlling and disrespectful they are; that this company will never be mine and their intention of letting this company become mine was all puffery, lies and deception.

I have a wedding coming up soon and I'm thinking of going back to school to finish my MBA; but I don't want to hurt their feelings. What can I do to not ruin my relationship with them by leaving this horrible work environment? I want to work with a good company, or start my own, but how do I get out of this situation without causing havoc? Disgruntled Son.

Amy Joyce: That is one very tough situation. It sounds to me like you need to tell your father your issues, otherwise, you might lose any sense of a decent relationship with him. There are organizations that mediate family business issues, including familybiz.org and BMC Associates, locally.

Anyone have advice for anonymous?

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College Park, Md.: Just as I am finishing grad school this month, I found out I am pregnant. Is this something I need to disclose to potential employers?

Amy Joyce: This question seems to pop up every week now. I'll post my column about this next.

Thing is, you don't have to disclose that you're pregnant. And by law, a company can't discriminate against you based on your pregnancy. But most women who have been in a similar position say things worked out best when they fessed up later in the interview process, most likely when they are offered the job.

It's just a smart thing to do in most cases so you can see what sort of options are there for you as far as leave, and so you can let the employer know that you will have to take some time off.

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washingtonpost.com: Here's a link to an Article Amy wrote in January 2005 about job hunting while pregnant: Job Hunting in a Family Way , (Post, Jan. 16, 2005)

Amy Joyce: Here's the column...

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Ward 4, D.C.: I still don't understand why y'all in the press persist in presenting "mothers and fathers" wish lists. Really, it's a human being wish list. I want flex time, a compressed schedule, the ability to have a life beyond work.

But far too often, my concerns are passed over because I am not a parent.

Employers -- listen! We are all people, all valuable, and all have lives beyond work! Finding ways to get the work done while recognizing this is the right thing to do.

Amy Joyce: Makes total sense. And really, when us all are writing about mothers and fathers and flex: They are primarily the ones pushing for flexibility. Once a company considers offering some kind of flex, it's good for everyone, whether child-full or child-less. Or at least it should be. Hopefully your employer will recognize that soon.

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Re: no bump in pay: So, is the company offering the poster an equal salary? If it is, then couldn't the non-bump in pay be sort of considered a bump in pay, since the cost of living is lower in the new place? Sounds like s/he will still be better off financially.

Amy Joyce: Yes, it could. Thanks for clarifying that.

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Thank you!: Amy, months ago you answered me in a chat when I was lamenting about how to tell my boss, whom I adored, that I was leaving for a better opportunity. I really appreciated your calming advice. Now here it is nine months later and I am sitting in that same old office where I first wrote you -- sadly, that "better" opportunity did not work out and through the magic of the fates (or, rather, some good old-fashioned schmoozing on my part), I have my old job back with my beloved boss.

The girl who took my place was going to leave, but I think I have pretty much talked her and everyone else into keeping her on in a different capacity, which is a win-win situation for everyone! Anyway, I just wanted to tell you thank you for your sane, reasonable advice. I used it again when I left that "better" position!

I also wanted to let your other readers know that things DO work out for the best, even if it's not the way you planned or envisioned it -- I am more thrilled than words to be back at my old job!

Amy Joyce: Me? Sane? Well, if you say so.

I'm so glad to hear things worked out so well. It's a roller coaster out there, but things really can smooth out. Congrats.

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Silver Spring, Md.: For the small business owner in Delaware who said he can't offer all of the financial benefits you have mentioned, your column on Sunday discussing worker flexibility becomes so important. Time is very precious in today's world -- nearly everyone struggles to balance personal and work demands. Thus work flexibility, the use of telework, can be such an important benefit that does not need to cost much and can actually help improve worker productivity.

There are a number of web sites, such as www.workingfromanywhere.org, that have useful information on setting up telework and other work flexibility programs.

Amy Joyce: True, indeed. Thanks...

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D.C.: Re: Flexibility: Why just mothers and flexibility? I think everyone would like a little flexibility, however in some jobs, people have to be where they have to be when they have to be there. Telecommuting and flex time don't work in all industries. I mean don't be a teacher if you don't want to work school hours. Don't be a realtor if you don't want to work evenings and weekends. Don't work as a firefighter if you don't want shift work.

I think people need to take some personal responsibility with their choices. That being said, everyone has emergences that come up and we all need to deal with "life" when it happens -- not just mothers.

Amy Joyce: Never said it was just mothers. Flexible work schedules work for everyone, and unless you're a shift worker or have a specific schedule, I foresee a future where many organizations accept those days when a worker will take the afternoon off to take care of personal business, but log back on later to finish the day. Lots of companies already do that (no matter if someone is a mother/father/etc.) and our technology is really allowing it.

There are definitely jobs that will never allow that, and won't be able to.

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Washington, D.C.: Is it better to take a short-term job in the field that you really want to be in (with no guarantee of future employment, and with grad school costs looming in the near future) or is it better to stick it out in a good long-term job that, though related, is not exactly what you want to be doing?

Amy Joyce: Take the job in the field you want to be in, if you can hack not knowing where you'll be when it ends. You get experience in your field, and contacts. And you never know if this can turn into something longer term, or if something else will open up. You can also see if this is definitely want you want to do, without any necessarily long-term commitment.

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Washington, D.C.: Early this year I switched jobs and fields entirely. Though I have several years work experience in other fields, I felt that I did not have the technical background to ask for more than a starting salary. However, after several months I have turned around a process which had been giving my small office a great deal of trouble, with little direction or support, and have been instrumental in helping to get a project organized enough so that the client's confidence was restored and we have been offered further opportunities with them.

I have been recognized for these efforts by the managing partner. I have also learned in the interim that a younger co-worker who was hired in a similar capacity, but who has not taken the same kinds of initiative or responsibilities is making more than I am. While she is pursuing a graduate degree, I am going back to school to finish an undergraduate degree in the same business that my office conducts and my knowledge of the technical terms and processes allows me to make the kind of contributions that I have.

While learning of her general salary range is not the only reason, it has certainly added to my frustration and I am considering asking for a raise. Is four months too early if I have risen above and beyond the capacity I was hired in? Perhaps you could offer some points on broaching this.

washingtonpost.com: Amy took a look at salary contrasts and calculated covetousness back in January: 'You're Making What?' , (Post, Jan. 29)

Amy Joyce: Here's a column on the topic. Hope it helps. In short, if you feel like you've earned it (which you obviously do), then ask. You can go in armed with stats about typical salaries at your level. And you should make sure you have specific reasons (like you do here) about why you should have a salary bump up. Go for it! Good luck...

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Washington, D.C.: Employee Benefits (for some): I'm feeling less and less like an employee of my company. Because of the nature and off-site location of my job, I am not able to take advantage of benefits other employees receive who are in a more traditional office setting, like:

1. The office closes early the day before a holiday day off -- usually at 1 p.m.

2. Half days every Friday in August.

(Yes, we get "comp" time, but that's not the same, especially when it's given begrudgingly.)

3. Access to free coffee, tea, water + a kitchen with fridge, microwave, etc.

4. Vacation time anytime, not restricted to "off-season" (I miss out on my family's beach vacation every August, plus work holiday weekends).

5. Lunch hours (what's that?).

6. Now, flex-time! I won't have that option.

My supervisor and an employee in our department reap these benefits. Myself and another employee, at yet another of-site location department do not! I'm not sure how my fellow off-site colleague feels about this but I'm wondering where does it end and what else might we be missing out on since impromptu meeting are held and staff meeting minutes are never circulated?

Should I confront my supervisor only or should I make it known to the company president and office manager that policy is being made without consideration of the entire staff (I honestly don't think they are aware of the exclusion)?

Amy Joyce: It sounds to me like you've gotten yourself worked up in great detail about inequities, without telling anyone. Obviously, if you want something to happen, you have to let someone know what that is. Talk to your direct supervisor about how you feel left out of things, what you'd like to do about it, and what you'd like your company to do about it. You can't expect that your supervisor will be tuned in to everything. Communicate!

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For anonymous: Sounds like your parents are irrational and controlling -- unlikely that you will "hurt" their feelings by going back to school but very likely that they will sense your distress at hurting them and play on it to make you feel bad. Steel yourself and do what's right for you.

Amy Joyce: Quite possible. Best thing to do, I think is just what you say here: Do what's right for you.

It just has to be handled a bit differently because this is your dad. Time to schedule a chat.

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Washington, D.C.: If you're miserable in your job, how long should you stay so that you don't look like a "job hopper" to potential employers?

Amy Joyce: There's no law about this. Look for work. When you find something that is the right fit, exciting and that you really want, go for it.

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Moving on Up: I haven't quit my job yet, but I am about to, despite having been here only six months. I'll be sad to leave this place, but the opportunity that's in front of me is of the once-in-a-lifetime sort. I'm doing everything possible to make my current employer's life easy during the transition, and then not looking back! So I guess that means I'm confident in some respect -- the job market must not be too shabby if I've got the offer of my dreams, right? (Ignoring the creeping guilt of leaving so soon...)

Amy Joyce: Can you e-mail me?

I'd love to hear more...

Lifeatwork@washpost.com.

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San Diego, Calif.: Re: Non-parent flexibility. I completely agree. I've been relegated to working the unpopular times and covering for parents because I'm single and child-free, and it stinks. Being told that the death of a dearly beloved family member does not entitle me to take time off (but school meetings for the kids would) led me to leave an employer. Yes, parenting the next generation is important. But not by discriminating against those of us who choose to contribute in other ways.

Amy Joyce: Your situation is definitely a common one, I'm afraid. But good employers know to handle this and everyone equally. And I hope more are catching on.

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Maryland: Lately, one of my co-workers has been passing her work off to me because she simply can't get it done in time. I am a faster worker, but it seems like this is punishing me. I understand the meaning of teamwork, but how can I let her know that I also have enough work to do without taking on hers as well?

Amy Joyce: "I'm sorry, Jane, but I have too much of my own work today." Does your boss know this is happening? Might you get rewarded for doing all of this extra work?

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Lagos, Nigeria: Hi Amy. How do you endure a job that you hate so much, where the pay is peanuts, the work environment is hostile and the people you work with gossip about you and mock you a lot? Meanwhile the process of job-hunting for another seems to take forever... Any suggestions? I'm not happy where I work at all.

Amy Joyce: You deal with it by remembering that you have other opportunities out there. And although they might take some time to find, at least you're on your way to finding them. Do what you can with your spare time to really focus on what you want to do next and where. I'm sorry you're so miserable now. Good luck...

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USA -- Single non-parent wish list: Only one item: Respect. Thinking I don't have a life outside work and can just cover for everyone else's "emergencies" is disrespectful. Thinking my evenings and weekends are "free" since I don't have to take care of a spouse or children is disrespectful. Bringing children to work and thinking that I can conduct work or run a meeting with them running around the office is disrespectful. (Thinking I'd like to babysit them while you go off to another meeting is so over the line it goes without saying -- even though it still happens). I think everyone wants flexibility and support etc., but mostly, I'd just like a little respect.

Amy Joyce: I agree. It's important to let your boss know that you can't pick up all the slack just because you don't have kids. Someone once told me she kept being asked to work late for this reason. One night, she had a date, but her boss asked her to stay because "I know you don't have any kids to run home to."

Her response: "And if you don't let me go on this date, I never will."

Her boss realized how unreasonable he had been and years later, still have a good laugh about it.

So SAY something. Sometimes people are so focused on the parents, they forget about the issues others are dealing with. And that even if they don't have kids, they have a life. (Or, as another reader reminded me today: a dog.)

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Washington, D.C.: This may be a little off topic, but do you offer any advice to people who are interested in starting their own business? I am particularly interested in the transition from being paid a salary to your initial business income when you are getting started.

washingtonpost.com: Here's a special feature we put together last year that might be useful to you: Small Business 101

Amy Joyce: We are here to serve...

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Poughkeepsie, N.Y.: Hi Amy! Your advice to the woman changing jobs and starting a family is to concentrate on finding a job, i.e. the thing she can control. Is your advice the same if a woman knows she'll be quitting to stay home once the child is born, as opposed to negotiating for leave? It seems a bit dishonest to apply for jobs knowing I could be leaving in less than a year, but getting pregnant is uncertain. Thanks for your input!

Amy Joyce: When you get pregnant, negotiate. If you're 100 percent sure you will be staying home, then quit your job before you go on leave. But remember that a lot of women assume one thing and change their mind late in the leave period. You might have to go back to work, for instance. Or you might realize you'll be happier if you work at least part time.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Amy, this is more of a question about my mother. She is in her mid-50s and is unhappy in her administrative job. She has been at the same job in the same place for over 30 years and wants to get out and do something new because she finds her work tedious and unchallenging (not to mention she is severely underpaid). She just got her B.A. a few years ago, so she's got a college degree.

She has had a bunch of second jobs and done volunteer work over the years but she feels very limited because she has been a secretary for so long and does not even know where to begin to look for a new job. She has no clue what she even wants to do but she knows she wants to leave and is scared because she doesn't know where to begin, especially since she is older.

Do you have any advice or books that I can give her to get her butt moving on finding a fulfilling career at this stage in her career? She really deserves to be happy and I want to make sure she finally does something for herself. Thanks so much!

washingtonpost.com: The AARP's Deborah Russell chatted with our readers about careers and the aging workforce for our Mega Jobs special feature back in January.

Amy Joyce: I'm sorry I didn't get to this earlier. Here's a link to something that will hopefully help.

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Amy Joyce: Okay, time to get back to work, folks. Join me again next week, same time, same place.

Don't forget to e-mail me at lifeatwork@washpost.com if you are quitting or have quit your job recently.

Have a great week!

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