Life at Work Live

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Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, July 11, 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, all. I have a couple questions for YOU to start:

1. For a big takeout of the (in)famous office holiday party, I'm looking for your stories of things that you've encountered at your big holiday shindigs. Were you told you would be given a promotion? Did you embarrass yourself somehow? Did your boss embarrass himself somehow? Did you propose to your girlfriend in front of your coworkers there? E-mail me at lifeatwork@washpost.com so we can chat. I'm willing to let you remain somewhat anonymous if it's an embarrassing story. For now, I just want to hear 'em all.

2. Have you ever been caught in a situation where your boss was fighting or just on bad terms with the more senior boss? I want to know how you handled it, what sort of stress it put on you. Or if you ran screaming from the company in search of a better situation. Again, lifeatwork@washpost.com.

Excellent. Now on to the rest of your questions, and as always, there are many. So please, folks, jump in with your own advice and stories to share. We want to hear how you handled similar situations.

Onward...

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Upper Marlboro, Md.: Amy: just want to say thanks. A could of months ago, I asked for, and received, an electronic kick in the butt to get moving on finding a new job. I think that was in April. I got moving. I start the new gig, in the same company, at a very nice pay raise, on July 24. Thanks again.

Amy Joyce: We all need and e-kick every now and then. Good for you. I'm so happy you found something -- and quickly, at that.

I think it's a good reminder to the many people who write in here saying they are entirely too miserable at their job to be happy. Thing is, if you're miserable, find something that is going to excite you. The company and you will be better off for it. I think a lot of people don't have the confidence after staying in a job that is miserable-inducing. They start to believe they *can't* move on. But check out Upper Marlboro. Miserable, needed a kick, and just a couple months later is in a new, exciting job.

So congrats, UM. And thanks for giving me a reason to get on my platform.

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Washington D.C.: Hi Amy,

My boss often times asks me to work overtime, which includes some weekend hours. We've never discussed ways to compensate me for this time since I'm a salaried employee and paid a pretty good wage. Is there a way I can professionally approach my boss to ask about being compensated for this time? Thanks!

Amy Joyce: You're right that as a salaried employee, you probably can't earn overtime pay. But there are other options. The most common is comp time. You work a Saturday, you get a free day to take off in the future (perhaps when things aren't so busy at work).

It sounds to me like this will be a relatively easy pitch. "Boss, since I'm working so many weekends, I'm wondering if I can be compensated for those days with comp days that I can take when things slow down a bit."

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Dulles Va.: Hi Amy! So six years ago when I was pregnant with my first child, my new manager (a male) said, "Well, you're going to work during maternity leave, right?" Then after I returned from maternity leave (during which I did not work), he claimed that I had just come back from a "three-month vacation." Needless to say, I moved to a new group within the company. Word coming through the grapevine is that he is now working on his second divorce (first marriage lasted approximately three months). Looking back, I have to laugh at the stupid comments, but at the time, I was certainly horrified!

Amy Joyce: Horrified, indeed. I wonder what the higher-ups (or HR) would have done, had they known he was treating employees in this way. I do know a lot of women who have been pulled back into work while on "leave" ... another reason the ability to work remotely has not necessarily made lives easier. But this boss sounds horrible. Which brings me to our subject of evil bosses...

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washingtonpost.com:

'Devil' Boss All Too Familiar

(Post, July 9)

Amy Joyce: Sunday's column...

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Fairfax City, Va.: Amy:

I enjoyed Sunday's column. Here's my real life version of the devil boss: refuses to deal with conflict, turns a blind eye to personnel issues, hires the spouse of a member of the senior management team because it is easier than explaining why it is inappropriate, then ignores the upheaval created by that decision, calls my 14 month old son a homophobic slur because he plays with stickers, some of which have flowers on them, makes fun of anyone with any sort of accent, and does so in front of staff with an accent. But did I mention that he's a nice guy and acts like everyone's buddy? So even though he is a horrible manager, he still has a job here because people like him "as a person."

Amy Joyce: He sounds like a real prize. And a real detriment to the company. This boss alone could cause a huge amount of turnover.

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New York, N.Y.: Hi, Amy! In your Sunday column, you said "Krug categorizes bad bosses into four types: controllers, analyzers, promoters and supporters."

My former bad boss was none of those -- he was just horribly mean! He screamed and screamed all the time. I was his secretary and the back-up receptionist. If the receptionist was late (which was practically every day), he screamed and screamed at me because I couldn't do his work (I had to sit at the front desk and answer the phone and transfer calls). I told him that it wasn't my fault, but it didn't matter. The receptionist wasn't there, so he had to scream at me, because he had to scream at someone.

I was supposed to go out for lunch at noon (returning at 1:00 PM), and the receptionist was supposed to go out at 1:00 PM (returning at 2:00 PM), but if she wasn't back at 2:00 PM on the dot, my boss ran screaming to the office manager that he wanted to give me work but he couldn't, because the receptionist was still out.

I don't know if Krug would call him a controller, because he didn't control what I did. He trusted me to get the work done properly. He just looked for any excuse he could find to scream.

It's a good thing that I needed to clear my vacation time with the office manager and not with him, because he always screamed and screamed when I was about to take time off, because he didn't want me to leave.

Don't you think that "a really mean screamer" should be another kind of a bad boss?

Amy Joyce: Sure. In fact, Prof. Krug mentioned he also had a screamer boss in his past. There, obviously, are more than four categories. Big, scary, meanie is probably another. But do the categories really matter? The fact is there are some nasty managers out there. There are also nasty co-workers, employees, vendors and clients. That's what makes the workplace so, uh, interesting.

Now... did you leave because of this man? How did you handle it?

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"Devil" Boss: I didn't think Meryl Streep's character in The Devil Wears Prada was really all that horrible. That is what someone in that high of a position is like very often. And the assistant's (Anne Hathaway) friends who were appalled by her "having to work" were ridiculous. That's what a job is - especially in high-powered media. Yes, there are downsides to a job like that: lack of a personal life, low pay, and menial jobs being the most apparent, but the rewards can be great too. By the way, I work in "high-powered" media as a peon...and someday it will pay off. People have to realize that a lot of jobs are a trade-off and are the steps you have to take to do well in some fields.

Amy Joyce: Right. I hope I made that clear, too, toward the end of my column. I thought the Anne Hathaway character was a bit of a dolt: showing up to an interview at an important fashion mag in ratty clothes? Not knowing who the editor was? Not actually reading the mag first? That's just dumb. And yes, it was a demanding job. I think people are more willing to put up with less-than-kind traits if they know that job will lead to something they truly desire. I hear much worse stories here about bosses than I noticed in that movie...

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Falls Church, Va.: One thing to keep in mind about bad bosses is that a lot of people in management positions have had no training in management. An employee may get promoted out of a position where she excels, suddenly to find herself in charge of several others, with no instruction in how to be a boss. This is especially true in the professional fields. Doctors and lawyers are trained to be doctors and lawyers, and they get no training anywhere along the line in how to manage employees.

Amy Joyce: Yep, I'd argue this happens in most workplaces. And there's the argument that management training doesn't solve all problems. Some best managers have particular personalities that make them the best. I'm not sure it all can be taught.

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Washington, D.C.: Just a friendly reminder to those of you who may be moving on to new jobs or careers -- Giving your two weeks notice does not give you a free ticket to slack off the last two weeks on the job. I have a few coworkers who are leaving soon and have already "checked out" so to speak. They show up late, complain excessively and do next to nothing all day long. I wouldn't care so much, but their lack of effort affects my ability to perform my job function effectively. So please have some self-respect and respect for your coworkers and put in the effort all the way until the end.

Amy Joyce: A good reminder. And don't forget that these two weeks do count: You need to leave on a good note. People will be more willing to give you good recommendations in the future.

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Springfield, Va.: Hi, Amy, I'd like to share an unusual networking experience, if that's what it was.

I was a good college baseball player but never had realistic hopes of making the major leagues. I was drafted after my junior league in college, and horrified some of my family and friends by signing for a very modest amount. No big bonus baby here! After that, I spent 3 summers in the low minor leagues, traveling the country, having just a delightful experience. In the off-seasons I finished my college degree and started on a Masters.

I'm now 29 and have a solid, well-paying job that I enjoy very much. What everyone feared would be "lost" years were not only personally rewarding, they seem to have earned me huge amounts of brownie points nearly everywhere I interview. I never made it anywhere near the majors, but played with some current major leaguers and was once invited to spring training. This is turning out to be more of an asset that I possibly could have predicted. So I say to those similarly situated: go for it and have fun.

On a more somber note, my parents were reasonably well off. I had no student debt and was able to crash at home while continuing my education and at other times when the need arose. Unless you're an early draft pick, minor league ball pays very little. But in my case, signing that contract worked out for the best.

Amy Joyce: Not everyone can be a minor league player, but you have a good point here. If you really love something and have the chance of living it, I would argue that's good for you now and later. Potential employers will appreciate that you're passionate about something AND have the ability to do other things. That passion could be seen as something that will transfer over to other life activities, like work. And what a great conversation starter in an otherwise dull interview, no?

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Boston, Mass.: Amy: I have had four interviews for a great job. Last week I was told the decision would be made last Friday. Friday the Pres. called me with a few additional questions and said he would be making a decision on Monday. Monday I got an email asking even more questions and was told I would hear something today. The whole process is getting maddening! I'm sure today they'll have more questions. Any advice?

Amy Joyce: Remember that you're an incredibly costly investment. Not only are they planning (perhaps) to pay you a salary and (again, perhaps) benefits, but if they make the wrong choice and you don't work out, that costs even more. So be patient and put yourself in their place. They are probably wrestling with a major decision here, and you might not be the only candidate. Companies need to be as sure as possible that they are hiring the right people. Let them see that they are. Take the questions seriously if you're serious about this position.

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Depressed: Hi Amy, I just learned I didn't get a job I wanted very much. I feel myself slipping into a job depression. The problem is my boss IS very much like Miranda Priestly and coming to work is a daily exercise in stress management. I just feel like there is nothing out there and I'll be stuck with this monster for several more months.

Amy Joyce: You're already ahead of the game: You made it to the interview stage. Keep with the job search to keep that depression at bay. And don't take the first offer that comes your way, or you might end up in the same situation you are now. Remember that even though this company didn't hire you, for the most part, you are in charge of your own life. You can be depressed and wallow in self-pity right now (and that's fine. We all need a little bit of that every now and then, with a big old scoop of ice cream). But you can also make things happen. Find what you want to do. Network. Apply. Pass resumes along. Do good work at your stressful job. Then go home and be happy that you are doing something about your tough situation. Good luck.

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Washington, D.C.: Amy,

What I'm wondering about regarding awful bosses is how to remain unemotional when being unfairly treated. I'm lucky to have a terrific boss now, but I have had bad experiences in the past when I've ended up either crying or very angry -- neither good techniques when dealing with a boss! Any good suggestions on how to push down your feelings so that you can best deal with your boss?

Amy Joyce: If anyone has a good way to stay unemotional about any situation, I'd love to hear it.

The thing is, some people can let situations roll right off their backs. Other people need to hide in the bathroom and have a little cry. Just make sure you focus on your work. The boss, co-worker, client comments come and go. If you do good work, that's the best way to keep going (emotionally or otherwise).

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Silver Spring, Md.: Just curious... do the Washington Post columnists (you, for example) get together for lunches or dinners, or even parties? I'm talking people like you, Carolyn Hax, Joel Achenbach, John Kelly, etc. Do you all work in the same general area or are offices spread throughout the building? Do you ever/often work from home?

Amy Joyce: Everyone is slightly different, it seems. Some work from home. I'm never do. I am currently sitting here, in an office, with editors stopping by to ask me when I'll be done chatting so I can do a story! I personally hang out with coworkers, but not necessarily the other columnists you mention (though we're all connected by our own version of IM). And we're all in different sections. I'm a reporter in the Business section. Besides this chat and my Sunday column that runs in the paper, I do regular Biz stories associated with workplace issues.

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Washington DC: I recently left a job in another city. I left after filing a harassment claim with HR, that was largely ignored by the company. During interviews I generally say that I just didn't like living in that city, and was glad to move back to DC, as opposed to "My boss was horrible, and instead of suing him I left." Is there a better way to approach this subject?

Amy Joyce: That seems like a good way to do it. Never complain about your boss on a personal level. Most employers will be afraid they will be next. You can also focus on the work issue: The work wasn't challenging enough. I was looking for a different situation where I could do X more. Etc.

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Alexandria, Va.: I have an interview tomorrow, and I'm trying to figure out some good questions to ask the interviewers. Help, please! Also, I'm leaving a comfortable but totally boring position. I have a great boss. If I get the new gig, it will be hard to say goodbye to her. How do I handle it?

Amy Joyce: You need to research the company and come up with pertinent questions. They will want to see you know what they actually do. Some easy ones, too, include asking what the culture is like, how people interact, how many people you will answer to, what sort of autonomy you will have, what a typical day would be like for you.

If you get the new gig, just be honest with your boss. Explain that it was a difficult choice mainly because you loved working with her so much. But that you needed something a little more challenging. Thank her for all of her guidance and help. And give her enough notice so she can be somewhat comfortable when you do leave.

Good luck!

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Boston, Mass.: Hi Amy,

Like the previous poster who took a few years to play baseball, my father did a similar thing and has encouraged all four of his children to do the same. He loved to hike and climb mountains, and he loved traveling out west. After college his parents, professors, and friends pressured him to apply to law school. Instead, he packed up and moved to Montana, where he lived and worked in a hotel for two years. He got room and board in exchange for waiting tables, and spent his free time climbing and hiking. He eventually moved back East and attended law school, but to this day, considers his time out west the best time of his life.

Amy Joyce: Chancing that I'm going to sound cheesy here, but here goes: It's important to remember you need a life... because you only have one.

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Washington, D.C.: I am currently working for a bad boss -- a screamer -- and applying for other jobs. As awful as this experience is, I have to say I have learned a couple of things. One is that I am tougher than I thought I was. Also I have more self-control (the worst thing you can do with a screamer is respond in kind). He once said to me in the midst of a dressing-down, "I guess you will cry now." I said calmly, "No, I won't" and didn't. He will NEVER see me cry. I learned to check around to see if this is the boss's regular MO. Knowing that it is -- that everyone gets this treatment -- helps me take things less personally. And finally, there is prayer, as in "Dear God, let me find a better job soon!"

Amy Joyce: Good points all around. Good luck on that job search... I hope your prayer is answered quickly.

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Arlington, Va.: Having a hard time staying motivated after returning from a nice long vacation. What do you or the chatters recommend for snapping out of it and getting back to work?

Amy Joyce: I know someone will have a thought, right?

It's tough coming back, I know. I like to make lists (don't tell my mom. I teased her my entire life for being a compulsive list-maker...). Start with a few things each day. Then cross them off. A feeling of accomplishment is always a good motivator.

My pal, Katie, said if she does something that wasn't on her list, she actually goes back, writes it down and crosses it off! Hey, makes us feel like we're getting somewhere. Try it.

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McLean, Va.: I am an intern, so maybe all the rules don't necessarily apply to me, or I'm still too fresh in the workforce to make any bona fide comments, but my two bosses (different divisions of the same department) are great to me! They ask me what I'm working on and how they can help me get it done better. They are very helpful when I have questions and we can even stand around the coffee maker for a few minutes telling jokes and stories. They are very understanding when I have to (or want to) take a day off or leave early or come in late (not a regular occurrence, mind you).

I just wanted to contrast the bad boss feeling of the day... not everyone has a bad boss and I'm lucky to have two great ones.

Amy Joyce: That's excellent. And I'm sure they are doing this because they know you're an intern and want to help you get the right experience. Applause all around for your good bosses. Take their offers for help and guidance. You won't always have managers willing to help you so much. And if you leave this job, keep in touch with them. They may be good lifelong mentors.

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Awful boss: My former boss actually called her assistant while the assistant was in the hospital in labor! She couldn't find a file and wanted to know where it was. The assistant was so scared of her that she left her cell phone on in the delivery room. But she sure was paid well for dealing with that witch. I went against my instincts and gave HR an earful during my exit interview. I found out that it gave other people courage to report her abuses and she ended up going from being the President of a 5,000 person company to getting demoted to a role where she didn't supervise so many people.

Amy Joyce: Just had to share this one. (I couldn't keep it to myself now, could I?)

And yes, in an instance like this, I think giving HR an earful on your way is totally justified.

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BWI Airport (waiting for my flight): I have had experiences with bad bosses where run-ins have made me want to cry. The best solution is to leave the area where you had the run-in and go get a drink (of water!!) and maybe talk a walk outside. When you return from this brief break, continue with your work until the end of the day. You can vent later to friends and family, but work is no place to have an emotional episode. Keep your feelings in check and you should be fine. Remember, nothing is ever as bad as it seems. I hope you never have to deal with this again. I sure am glad I don't!

Amy Joyce: Very good advice, BWI. Taking a little breather is always good. (Have a nice flight!)

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Union Station, Washington, D.C.: Out of curiosity, what do these people with the bad bosses do, besides sit at their desk unhappily, complain to friends, and then ultimately quit on bad terms? Do people try to talk to HR about it? Or when a boss begins to scream, interrupt and plainly tell them 'I will not be spoken to in that way.' The few instances I've had where a superior treats me poorly were immediately resolved when I told them in the middle of their rant that I would not stand to be treated that way. Just a thought.

Amy Joyce: Everyone is different. Lots of folks learn to ignore and do good work. Or they sort of partner with a different manager. A large portion make a second job out of looking for a better position. A few yell back. Others talk to HR--sometimes that has an impact, other times, it doesn't. The fact is, most people will be in a very difficult work situation at some point in their career. It's important to remember it doesn't have to be permanent. That boss will move on or the employee will.

When you told your superior they could not treat you that way, what happened? Did it fix anything in the future?

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Dealing with the dressing down: You already know that the boss is far from perfect, right? And you already know that the boss is unfair, right? So any criticism the evil boss levels at you can be taken with more than just a pinch of salt. Don't respond in kind, and learn to pity the boss. That's the best way I've found to get by with my sanity.

Amy Joyce: That's one way. Thanks.

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How to let it roll off your back: I like to pretend I'm in a movie, or I'm writing a screenplay or novel, or collecting funny stories to tell people years down the road. So then it becomes a game to try and remember what they said and why it was so ridiculous. It does help. I learned this after working from pretty awful people. Luckily my current supervisor is really nice. Actual quotes from my bad bosses -

WHY DID YOU DO THAT? (Screaming this over and over while banging head against wall, an hour after he told me to do it).

I didn't get where I am by being nice to the staff.

Why are you so squirrelly? (After trying to explain why legally I couldn't do something).

Spit out the gum! I don't like it! (After barging into my office while I was finishing lunch with my door closed).

Amy Joyce: Some good ones.

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Fairfax, Va.: Sometimes in my new job with an overall great boss I sometimes have flashbacks to my previous boss(es). Very bad memories...very toxic environment, but how do I detox of them? I have trouble letting things "just roll off my back"

Amy Joyce: You have a new job with an overall great boss. Remember that bosses aren't the only ones who can be bad. If you continue to focus on previous bad environments, you might not live up to your potential. Or you might mess up what is a good situation now. Hmmm... am I just piling on the pressure? Focus on the fact that this is a good gig. And you're allowed to be in a good situation.

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Arlington, VA: Amy,

I'm a very firm believer in that you have to be happy with your job and the company you work for. My father, however, is very firmly in the opposing camp--i.e., he believes that a job is a job, a living, steady work, and that your happiness at said job is immaterial because you're being provided a paycheck, which in his opinion is all that really matters. There's no convincing him otherwise on this. I'm guessing this is a generational difference of opinion (as he so often cites that people in my generation never had to live through what HIS parents did, the Depression, where if you had a job AT ALL, you were one of the lucky ones). I can see where he's coming from, but I just can't subscribe to his belief system on this one, because I know all too well how miserable life can become when you're unhappy at your job, in your work. In such cases, a constant paycheck does little to offset the constant misery of a negative workplace. I myself see nothing wrong with changing jobs frequently, whereas someone like my father recoils in horror at the very thought of it.

Your views on this?

Amy Joyce: I think those two camps of thought are incredibly common and well-represented. I'm of your camp, however. I think part of it has to do with generation. We work longer hours (for the most part), so we should be happier with our work. We are connected to our work by computer, cell and BB. Our parents weren't. We have more options and opportunities, so we *can* look for work that makes us happy. In general, our parents were "stuck" with one company that provided them a steady paycheck, benefits and pension. We're much more in a generation of free agents now. So, again, I think we can be on a quest to find work that will make us happy.

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Amy Joyce: My goodness, we had a busy chat today. I'm sorry I didn't get to the almost 200 questions. Join me here again next week, same time, same place to try again. Check out Life at Work, the column, in the Sunday Business section.

And don't forget to e-mail me at lifeatwork@washpost.com if you can tell me about a time you were caught between two bosses who weren't getting along. I'm also looking for your stories about your office holiday parties. Send 'em on!

Have a great week, everyone. Looking forward to our next live and lively discussion.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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