Life at Work Live

Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Wednesday, July 5, 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 all! Here we are, odd day, odd time. Does it feel like Monday to you? (It did to me, when I dropped a ton of change all over Caribou Coffee this morning.)

A request for you all, on behalf of my former editor who is starting a new column in the Sunday Business section: Are you turning 30? She's looking for people willing to air their personal financial info about how much they have saved, if anything, for retirement. If you're willing to go on the record with that (using your name), financial experts will look at your information and dole out their advice. E-mail me if you're interested at lifeatwork@washpost.com.

Alrighty then, lots of questions await. So let's do it!

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Too Far From D.C.: How soon is too soon to start looking for a new job after returning from maternity leave? my company is not very "family-friendly" and the commute is very long so I would like to find something closer to home and more flexible. Also, can you tell a potential employer that is why you are looking?

Amy Joyce: Start looking now. It will probably take some time. The more you educate yourself about possible opportunities out there, the better off you'll be. Good luck.

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Northern Va.: Sadly, I've decided to leave a job with work I love because of the new boss. The rest of the crew are all doing their version of jumping off the ship. Mr. "Hands Off" has turned into a passive aggressive micro manager who treats us "old timers" by far harsher standards than the newbies as far as work hours and habits, treatment of the customers and general understanding of the culture in the organization.

I realized that I must leave this place over the weekend when I went to see "The Devil Wears Prada." During one of Meryl Streep's best scenes, I found myself wishing I worked for her rather than my current boss! There's no wild runs for coffee and Harry Potter books, but the boss in the movie was up front with her expectations of perfection direct rather than the behind the scenes nonsense going on here. I'd rather take a knife in the front (a la Miranda) than put up with my boss's backstabbing ways.

Wish me luck in the job search!

Amy Joyce: I kind of felt that same way about ol' Miranda. In fact, I'm writing my Sunday column about this movie.

Sorry about your situation. Nothing worse than a passive aggressive micro manager.

Can you email me at lifeatwork@washpost.com? I'd love to chat with you about what you'd like in a new boss.

Best of luck in your search. My only advice ('cuz that's what I do): Make sure you don't jump at the first opportunity, or you might end up in another bad situation.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Amy,

I enjoyed your Sunday column on advice for young workers. I am a young worker and need your advice on how to handle a situation with a director. I am part of a team headed by the director. Whenever I try to chime in with my ideas in meetings she is always sarcastic and belittles my feedback. I try to be diplomatic at all times and respectful. But I am just aghast at the complete lack of respect this person is treating me. I don't want to lose my temper but I also am reluctant to have a one on one meeting with this person because it might cause drama in the office. I am after all, entry level and she's a director. People have chimed in telling me to just grin and bear it or to try to empathize with her -- she must be in a lot of pressure so I should try to walk in her shoes. Frankly, it's she who is being a jerk to me -- why should I be the one to be empathic? I know I am young and do not have the respect of most in the organization. But I feel that shouldn't be license for the higher ups to push me around and bully me. I would like to stand up for myself but I am not quite sure what the proper and professional way would be in this situation.

Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: Missed Amy's Sunday column? Read it here: Fresh Out of College? First, Accept Help. , (Post, July 2)

Amy Joyce: Tough call since I don't know the details here. Obviously, it's wrong for a boss to belittle any employee, particularly in front of others. But maybe you should do some listening: What is it this director is actually saying about your ideas? Could it be you need to do a little observing/listening before you pipe up with your own ideas? Maybe they *are* way off base?

If people are telling you to grin and bear it, listen to them. Ask them why that is, and ask for some guidance: Has this happened to newbies before? Is there some other way you should approach meetings?

If this director isn't your direct boss, then try to schedule an appointment with your direct supervisor and ask for some guidance, as well. You don't have to lay down and take it. But you do have to acknowledge that you need to listen and learn a little.

Like I said, in a perfect world no boss would belittle you. But you have to remember that you probably have to learn a few things, too.

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McLean, Va.: So where's the discussion? I NEED MY FIX.

Amy Joyce: We aim to please, McLean. (Hey, I missed you all, too.)

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May be relocating soon ...: Hi Amy,

There's a possibility of relocation across the country in my future. How do you negotiate relocation into a compensation package? What's typically covered in large corporations? (I know ... it depends.)

Amy Joyce: Is it relocation within your company? Best way to find out is track down others who were relocated within your organization.

Anyone else have direct experience with this?

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Washington, D.C.: Congrats and thanks for your column, it's been an important part of the business section for me. Never thought I'd actually have a question for you, but ...

I have a "friend", who is habitually late for work, no one here has ever complained but my friend feels bad. He would rather get here earlier and leave earlier but can't seem to break the cycle. (He needs to get up/go to bed earlier)

Also he dreads conflict at work and this insulates him, makes him unwilling to make contact with others and it's harder to get things done. Makes the office seem like a lonely, lonely place.

He feels like he would like to talk to someone about this, someone who could encourage him, a shrink seems a little over the top. (I'm tired of hearing about it.) A work-life coach? Not sure how that works (or where to start) but anything more than very brief (but regular) consultations would be too much.

Amy Joyce: Many counselors (uh, shrinks) spend a lot of time helping clients with work/life issues, as do career coaches. I'd suggest your friend call a few of each, figure out who best fits his needs/schedule/life and then go to the one he chooses. Your friend can find references through friends, the good old yellow pages or online. Try coachfederation.org, for starters. Anyone else have suggestions as to where to find a coach or therapist?

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Eye of the Storm: Work has gotten terribly busy recently, and my boss is starting to make some small mistakes & slip-ups, mostly about scheduling. Our team is concerned for her, but also we don't want to be blamed for communication mistakes we didn't make. How can we let her know that we did e-mail her know about such-and-such (which she said she didn't know about), or she was notified about a particular date (she said she wasn't), without seeming like we're finger-pointing or criticizing. And of course, no one on the team is perfect, either -- everyone is cracking a bit under the strain.

Amy Joyce: Keep your emails. When she says you didn't tell her, gently show her the email and say that you understand things have been busy, but you're a little concerned communication is off-track. Ask if there's anything you can do to make sure the mistakes don't happen. Don't blame, ask how you can help, yet make clear that you have informed her of these things.

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Wheaton, Md.: I just have a comment to share. I LOVE RETIREMENT. I retired after 35 years of Federal service. I currently am doing consultant work in my specialty with D.C. government. Work environment is good, pay is great, and I can work for the time period that I CHOOSE.

Amy Joyce: Well, congrats. Funny how the word retirement has changed, huh? You're working, but consider yourself retired, probably because you love what you're doing. (Hmmm. Does that mean I'm retired?)

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Alexandria, Va.: My new college grad daughter was showing me around "My Space" on the computer this weekend. We all hear about people who show their illegal drug use on line and how this may affect future jobs.

What I saw seems much worse and on a massive scale. Kids all discuss their sexual orientation, what they do in their spare time, how they relate to friends, any problems they've had at school and/or work, show sexy or dressed up in non traditional clothes pictures of themselves and all their friends. This is easily available to any one who types in their name and zip code.

I know that much of this info (sexual orientation, health problems) is illegal to use when deciding whom to hire, but I can certainly see how an employer might glance at this to get a view of the job applicant which goes way beyond an interview and application form.

Am I being paranoid, or are these kids doing themselves a disservice? I'd like your opinion.

Amy Joyce: Amazingly, this generation lives their life online and then expects that the info is private and shouldn't be used when they are getting hired. Well, it is used. It's just another way recruiters are figuring out who they are interviewing. People's blogs, google profiles and Facebook/My Space pages are all tools for recruiters now. I'm wondering when students might start to use it to their job-hunting advantage.

I've been looking into this for an upcoming story. Anyone have a MySpace page who would be willing to chat with me about their thoughts of its public-ness? E-mail me at lifeatwork@washpost.com.

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Rude and Unprofessional Bossland, D.C.: "If people are telling you to grin and bear it, listen to them. Ask them why that is. .."

Because they've been beaten down and demoralized by working for this person. Just a guess ...

People like this will act as rude and unprofessional as others allow them to.

Amy Joyce: Not necessarily. They may be trying to kindly tell a new worker to listen a little more. But like I said, no manager, director, boss should belittle an employee in front of others. No doubt about that. Just saying people need to understand they don't know all right away when they jump into a new job. It's helpful to sit back and observe a bit sometimes, too.

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RE: Late to bed, late to rise: This situation is tailor made for your EAP!

Amy Joyce: True, that. If you have an EAP, send your "friend" onward. It's anonymous. And it's free (to a point). Might be a great way to figure out what he needs.

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Anonymous: I'm nearing the midpoint of a 12-week FMLA maternity leave. I've told my boss that I will be returning to work after the leave, but I'm reconsidering that. I hope to find a new job soon, and relocate to another area. Under FMLA, is there a rule as how long I have to work after returning? I haven't seen any guidelines about that, just that I do have to return to the job to avoid paying higher insurance premiums. How quickly can I move on to another job without angering my current employer? I can't ask my HR rep because it's a very small company, and I think he'd tell my boss.

It might take me several months to find a new job, but, of course, an opportunity could come up sooner.

Also, how do I address my 12-week maternity leave on my resume? I think I shouldn't include any break in my employment timeline, since it was taken for maternity leave and under FMLA, instead of being an actual period of unemployment. Is that right?

Amy Joyce: No rule about how long you have to work after returning. Here's a great way to see what the rules are: http://www.dol.gov/esa/whd/fmla/

No need to ask your HR rep. You are thinking about leaving, not leaving. Also, it will probably take some time to find the right fit. Just go about it as you would any other job search. You don't tell your boss when you start looking for a new gig (in the majority of circumstances), so why would you now? No need to include maternity leave on a resume. Do you include every day you had to take off when you were sick? Or took a vacation? Methinks you're over thinking this.

If you do find a job that you want, and you're still on leave, it's only fair at that point to call your organization and let them know you'll be leaving. But don't do that until you are completely sure.

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Washington, D.C.: I will be leaving the military soon (force-shaping measures, wasn't planning on this for another couple of years). So far, the resume is mostly done, but I'm having a difficult time translating what I've been doing for the last six years into terms that other people will understand. Also, I joined right after finishing college and have never done an interview before. Any advice?

Amy Joyce: The military offers a lot of guidance (or should) on this. Here's some info the Department of Labor's popular transition assistance program: http://www.dol.gov/vets/programs/tap/main.htm

A few key things that pop to mind: Try to put your duties in English... no acronyms. Stress your leadership abilities and skills you gained (technological and "soft" skills, like learning quickly and being able to listen to directions).

Good luck to you.

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Washington, D.C.: What is the best way to deal with a co-worker who has a terrible personal problem? She gets physically abused at home, will not seek counseling or police protection but comes to my desk crying about the situation. Personally, I have told her what to do and I just want her to stop coming to me.

Amy Joyce: This is a major problem, and a safety issue for your employer.

You need to tell this co-worker to go to her manager or Employee Assistance Program. You can't help her, and she needs to understand that, and to understand there are places to go for help.

Domestic violence definitely has an impact on the workplace, as many organizations have learned the hard way. Lots of companies are starting programs to aid their employees who are victims.

If you want more info, check out www.endabuse.org/workplace. I hope your co-worker will realize she can do something, and her employer might be able to provide the help she needs. I'm sorry you've been pulled into this.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: Just want to follow up with the 1st question "When I should start looking for another job?" I know for sure that I cannot start working for a new company before 10/15 because of some uncontrollable reasons. When I should start job searching then? I imagine that when my future boss asked me "so when you can start?" and I answered "In another three months." He will just so not going to finish the interview. By the way, I am looking for an entry/middle-level position.

Amy Joyce: Educate yourself now. Get out and network. Figure out what organizations you want to target. Let people know who you are and what you might be looking for in the near future. Contacts now can lead to jobs later.

Then when you get closer to October, start a job search.

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Southwest, D.C.: The vacation column you wrote really hit home for me. I left my former job for no. of reasons, including a manager who worked on vacation and expected everyone to do likewise. We were expected to check-in routinely by phone or email.

Umm, no. It is my vacation. I saved up all those hours and now I want to disconnect. In an emergency? Sure. But otherwise leave me alone.

My new job said -they- strongly prefer employees not take work on vacation or check-in as we all work so hard/long hrs. And they have a sensible leave policy - we close the week between Christmas and New Years when work is very, very slow.

washingtonpost.com: Vacation Deprivation , (Post, June 25)

Amy Joyce: Lucky you! Yes, it's tough to actually refresh yourself and to be able to go back to work with a clear head if you spent your entire vacation working. Congrats on the new job.

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Microwave Annoyance: People! PLEASE get your food out of the microwave once it is finished. There is nothing more annoying than going to heat up something only to find some one else's food that's been sitting there for God only knows how long. I've now resorted to just removing the food from the microwave, heating up my stuff, and, depending on my mood, returning the original food to the microwave. I figure I'm not getting paid to baby sit your lunch.

Amy Joyce: Not sure why you'd *not* remove the food if it's done whirring in the microwave. But okay, I'll send this reminder out.

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Haymarket, Va.: I am a military spouse returning to the workforce due to my husband's pending deployment to Iraq, I need a position w/some flexibility in order to take care of our 11 and 14 year-olds. Question, do I say this at the interview or not? My field has been as a tech writer/editor on a contracting level. Thanks.

Amy Joyce: You might as well say it at the interview. If you don't, then you might be offered a job that isn't flexible enough. And more than anything, you need an employer who understands your situation right now. Luckily, you're in a field that is pretty flexible.

The military also offers help for military spouses trying to find work. Contact the appropriate folks ASAP. They should be able to give you some guidance. Does anyone here quickly know of such a resource?

Good luck with everything.

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Fairfax, Va.: For the person in the military ... if they haven't signed up for a transition assistance program they definitely need to take the week-long program that gives advice on a vast range of topics post-military.

Amy Joyce: A shout out for TAP.

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Chicago, Ill.: Hi Amy,

I need your wonderful advice. I am leaving my current job in six weeks to begin law school. In the past the company I work for has had trouble hiring people and I believe it would nice to give them as much notice as possible. Should I tell them I'm leaving in six weeks or wait until the customary two weeks? If I told them I'm leaving in six weeks and they told me to leave in two weeks instead, would I be eligible for unemployment benefits? Just trying to cover all my bases.

Thanks!

Amy Joyce: I would wait just a little bit. More than two weeks would be nice. But six weeks might be a little too much, just in case you change your mind. Not sure about the unemployment benefits. I think in your case, it could go either way...

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Maryland: Talk about relocation after they have offered the job but before you have accepted, during the total compensation negotiations.

And get it in WRITING. And remember it may (and likely is) taxable compensation so also address whether they will gross up the amount to cover taxes and whether they pay directly or if you get reimbursed.

Remember that if they don't pay, you may be able to deduct the cost from your 2006 taxes (see tax advisor for advice, since there is a checklist you have to meet in order to qualify).

Amy Joyce: Sounds wise. Thanks.

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Microwave Wars: Microwave wars can be a big problem in an office. I used to work at one company where if you did not stand there in front of the microwave to guard your food while it was cooking -- someone would take it out during the cooking cycle to put their own food in ... and they would not necessarily be nice with where they put your food, either!

Amy Joyce: It's amazing to me (still) how hot the lunch wars are in the office... I did a column a while ago about stolen lunches. Frankly, I avoid going anywhere near our nasty microwave here.

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Silver Spring, Md.: The microwave meals that someone heats up and then leaves them in the microwave ticks me off too. Call me petty, but sometimes when this happens, I re-set the timer for 10 minutes on HIGH and turn it on. Serves them right to have a glob of inedible mess when they come back for it.

Amy Joyce: Uh, yeah. Sounds to me like you might have some anger management issues. Seriously, Silver Spring. That's just mean.

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D.C.: RE: "When should I start looking for another job?"

I knew I'd want a new job in May, started poking around online in January, just wanted to check for new buzzwords as I buffed up my resume. Then I thought I'd send out a couple to see what kind of feedback I'd get, then I thought I'd do a practice interview or two ... so I started my new job in March, which is not May.

It was crazy. Long commute (I was moving in May), significant personal stuff (nothing bad), just crazy busy. But I got away from the happy job, and I love where I'm at...

So to the person who posted -- sure, shoot for October, but if something right comes up sooner, don't cast it out right away.

Amy Joyce: Thanks, D.C.

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Washington, D.C.: I just wanted to echo the "don't jump at the first opportunity" sentiment: I really needed to leave my last job (low pay, insane hours, burnout ...) and did a lot of interviewing. I got an offer for a job that paid very well but I wasn't excited about it, and then the next day an offer for a job that was a little more interesting. Then that day I got a call for an interview and I almost declined, since I already had two job offers, but I decided to go to the interview and see what happened. Well, I went and I knew it was the right job. It paid a little less than the other two offers, but I've been here for a year now and I love it. The people are great, my boss is great, and I love what I'm doing. My past three jobs I had jumped at the first opportunity because I was desperate to leave my current job, and it was a mistake every time. Be patient ... the perfect job is out there.

Amy Joyce: And thank YOU, D.C. Great advice. And congrats. Patience pays off.

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Washington, D.C.: For the military spouse, check out: http://www.milspouse.org/

Amy Joyce: I knew someone here could help. Thanks!

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Amy Joyce: Sorry, but our time is up. Join me again Tuesday from 11 to noon (my normal day and time) to chat about your life at work. You can e-mail me at lifeatwork@washpost.com. Don't forget to check out the column in the Sunday Business section. This week I'll reflect on The Devil Wears Prada: Are evil bosses really that evil?

Have a good week, folks.

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RE: Lunches: I don't see what the big deal is regarding microwaves. If someone leaves their lunch in, simply take it out.

Amy Joyce: Amen.

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Arlingon, Va.: Advice to the military resume guy... Look at your previous EPRs, OPRs, fit reps, whatever for solid bullet points. It should take a military person much less time building a resume than a civilian since a military person already has everything typed up from previous years.

And don't use the acronyms. Put your clearance level at the top and make it obvious, if planning on coming back to DoD or Fed.

Amy Joyce: Military guy? You still reading?

(Thanks, Arl.)

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