Life at Work Live

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

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

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

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

The transcript follows below.


Amy Joyce: Good morning, all. It's Tuesday, which means it is time for us to chat about your life at work. As always, hop in with your own advice and lessons learned to help your fellow chatters.

Question of the week for you: Are you a workplace worrier? How do you keep your worries in check, if you do? Have you learned how to let things roll off your back? Please let me know for my upcoming column on workplace worriers vs. non-worriers at

Okay, the questions are all waiting for us, so let's get going...


Washington, D.C.: My company just hired some new employees in my department -- they are 18 and 19, just out of high school. These are entry-level positions, and they have the chops to do the job. I am not their supervisor. However, I am dismayed at their attitude when they make mistakes. Rather than owning up to the error and professionally dealing with it, their first response is nearly always, "I didn't know. It's not my fault." Is it my place to offer advice? This is their first job in the business realm, and I think it would serve them well to change "it's not my fault" to "I was not aware, but now I know, and will make every effort that this not happen in the future." I guess it's all semantics, but it grates on me, and on others, to hear such a defensive, immature reaction. Mistakes happen. We all make them everyday. But their attitude is really a hindrance to their being taken seriously.

Amy Joyce: Well, they *are* immature. And I don't mean that in a negative way. They are young and not trained in the ways of the office. They say: "I didn't know. It's not my fault." You say: "We don't care about fault here. We just want to show you so you know for next time."

They are young and learning. You don't have to preach, just guide. Even if you are not their supervisor, you can send them in the right direction. Don't take their comments so personally. They're learning -- and probably in a high school mindframe where fault really did matter.


Northwest D.C.: Hi, Amy

I'm looking for some validation here. I recently e-mailed one of my supervisors and attached something I had been working on for him to review. He e-mailed me back and asked me to bring him a hard copy. What do you think about this? For the record, he sits about 10 feet from a printer, while I am on a completely different floor from him. Also, he has his own administrative assistant.

Now, I did it, mind you -- but only grudgingly. I'd like to know your thoughts on this. Thanks!

Amy Joyce: I'm so totally thinking that you're overthinking. It may have been your supervisor's way of getting into a conversation about it. Or simply seeing you in person. Or he is lazy. Or just wanted a hard copy. Or thinks that you should have handed him a hard copy in the first place. It could be anything. But it's really just one little thing. If you let all your daily little things get to you, you'll be dizzy with angst by noon.


Washington, D.C.: Can you give some basic guidelines in asking for a raise for the first time? My strategy: I've documented the "above and beyond" and I'm staying away from the negative. Do I go well above what I want, as I've been counseled by friends? Do I write a formal letter, or just ask for a meeting and pose the question there? Anything I'm missing?

Amy Joyce: A lot depends on the culture of your workplace. But in general, it's probably best to ask for a meeting, explain that you really think you have earned a raise because X, X and X. Then add that you've written up a little memo highlighting what you've accomplished. Don't ask for well above what what you want. Your boss will just think you're not so educated about your position and the business world. Ask for what you think you have earned. Do your homework as much as you can by researching what people in a similar situation receive. The Bureau of Labor Statistic's web site is a good resource for salary info., and there are good salary calculators online.

The raise issue is one that I'm hitting for an upcoming column. If anyone wants to share with me how they successfully asked for and received a raise--or not so successfully -- please e-mail me at I'm also hoping to hear from some managers who can give us the insight from the other side: What do you look for in requests for raises from employees?


Northeast, D.C.: Hi Amy,

I'm planning to attend the job fair at the Convention center this evening. Any advice on what to do at these events since hundreds of people will be there looking for a job as well?

Amy Joyce: Dress professionally. Take a TON of resumes with you. Know what employers you might want to focus on, if there's a list in advance. That way you won't waste your time wandering around. Go straight to the employers that interest you. Then with the time left over, wander around and see if anything else suits you. And I'm sure you've heard this one, but have your quick pitch ready: Who you are, what you want to do, what your expertise is in, what experience you have.

Anyone else with job fair experience they'd like to share?


Washington, D.C.: Oh, man. Is it acceptable to leave a summer position off of a resume, or does it make me look lazy? I am volunteering for an organization in town this summer. So far, I am happy with the work I'm doing. However, I just found an article online that includes so not-so-appealing information about my boss. This is only from one source, but if the information is true I'm not sure I would want people to know I worked here. If it comes up after graduation, could I talk about the work I completed, and not the place?

Amy Joyce: You should keep the job on your resume. It was an experience. You worked during your summer. You gained insight and skills. If you talked about the work completed, your potential new employer would definitely want to know what organization you worked with. And will probably do some reference checking with them. Just be prepared to answer a question about your organization's questionable practices, though. If, in fact, it was the org and not just your boss. Breathe. You'll be okay.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Amy, thanks for taking my question. I really appreciate these chats and I loved your book!

I've been at my first post-graduation job for about two months now, and I am curious about protocol for listening to headphones in the office. I've had several internships in the past and listening to music on the job hasn't been a problem, but I mentioned it offhand to a friend and she seemed very certain that it is unprofessional. I disagree: I listen on a low volume, and I always get my work done. If someone comes up to talk to me, I take the headphones off immediately and talk to them. Any thoughts on this?

Amy Joyce: Thanks back at you.

This is an issue of the modern workplace: Most of us work in very open spaces, so things are loud and can be distracting. Some people drown that out by wearing headphones (or earplugs. Or iPods. Or...? ) We are learning to cope.

I don't think it's unprofessional if you focus on your work but also can tell when someone needs to speak with you. There are companies, however, that have been banning headphones in the office. Just make sure yours isn't one of them.


Burbank, Calif.: Re: Worrying at work and beyond

I work in HR at a huge entertainment company and despite our best efforts, every day is filled with some sort of crisis or perceived emergency. Not aiding the situation is a supervisor who acts like Chicken Little. It has been hard, but I have learned to triage my day and to "overreact and worry" only about the things that deserve my frantic response. I spent far too many years going home every night like a wreck from the anxieties of the day. No more. My fav new phrase is "not the hill I want to die on today." These are just my thoughts.

Amy Joyce: E-mail me, Burbank!


Bethesda, Md.: Hate to tell you this, but work ethic is not the same as when 'we' started in the workforce (I'm in my 40s). A lot of interns -- and the like take their first jobs for granted, and don't make much of an effort. They reason there are plenty of other jobs out there if this one doesn't pan out. There are exceptions to this, of course, but few and far between.

Amy Joyce: Hate to tell you this, but I think you're making gross generalizations. Things have changed, sure. And there are plenty of other jobs, yes. And it *is* a different generation of workers: They don't expect to find their lifetime job at 20. But you can't just blanket an entire generation and say they are all taking their jobs for granted. They are learning and experiencing new things. Sure, some will perhaps be a bit lazy or not so into their job. But I know people of every generation who are like that.


Fairfax, Va.: re: Northwest D.C.

I can understand where Northwest is coming from. One morning I walked into my bosses office to say good morning, before I was even finished with "morning" he asked me to make several copies of several documents and proceeded to explain to me exactly how he wanted them done. Same situation the printer is not very far from him and I am not his secretary. What really got me is he didn't even say "good morning" to me, he just went into his request. I also understand where you are coming from Amy, however if it keeps happening, then what?

Amy Joyce: Lower your expectations. Know that you're not going to be best buds with that boss, and that boss really just wants the job done. If it's not your job, tell your direct supervisor that you don't have time to do these things, but will if it's necessary. But also say if you have to do them, then priorities need to be set by your direct supervisor so you can get everything done. At which time it might just have been easier to make the copies for the guy anyway. (Or just walk in another entrance.)

Some people -- bosses, co-workers, clients -- just aren't all in to that organization chart and nice office chatter. if you know that's not going to change, you need to learn to live with it or update your resume, I'm afraid.

_______________________ 97th Annual 2006 NAACP National Convention Diversity Job Fair

Amy Joyce: Aha! Free public service announcement here. Good luck, job seekers.


headphones: I use them because my co-worker loves to talk loudly on the phone which is very distracting.

Amy Joyce: 'Zactly...


Re: young employees advice: Amy: I just wrote, "We don't care about fault here. We just want to show you so you know for next time." onto a post-it and put it by my keyboard...I'll try to be less preachy and more guide-like in my responses to them. When you mentioned that fault did matter in a high school mindset, I had all these horrible flashbacks of high school...yikes.


Amy Joyce: Wow, that was quick. I hope it helps. Let us know...


Work ethic generalizations...: Wow, it is just the reverse in my office. The young people put in the long, stressful hours and do whatever it takes, while the older people log in 9 to 5. Their jobs are secure and they aren't looking to move anywhere -- they'll be content in these positions for the rest of their lives (sounds miserable) and are just passing the time for the paycheck while the young ones are trying to get things done for the organization.

Amy Joyce: Okay, but now you're just reversing the generalizations. I don't mean to be Ms. Fair Ness today, but just remember that generations in the workplace are all coming from different places, so they may have different ways of working. But each person -- no matter the age-- is different from the next. Avoid generalizing based on age. Not just to be PC, but because generalizations often don't work.


Job Fairs: I agree Amy, with knowing which employers are going to be there and talking to them first. Read up on the companies that interest you most and when you visit their booth ask specific questions about that company (mission, community activities, etc.) The more you know about that company and are able to tell them, the more you will stand out over others.

Amy Joyce: Good advice. Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: Can you please explain what the dress code "business attire" entails? I'm starting a new position and I have been told suits aren't necessary, but that "business attire" is not as casual as "business casual." What's in-between suits and casual? (I'm a female, by the way.)

Thanks! Chat Transcript: What to Wear

Amy Joyce: We aim to please...


Fairfax Va: Amy

Liked the column about the dueling bosses. Here's my comment:

When I interviewed for the position I have now, that question was actually asked (How do you deal with dueling priorities). Anyway, I told them that if I come to such a situation I would put them in a ring and pull a "Celebrity Deathmatch" on them. Luckily they are young enough to get the joke and laughed.

Amy Joyce: And anyone who gets a joke an interview is the right employer to choose, in my book. Love it.


two different worlds: I find it funny that we have posts complaining about young people and how they work; as well as posts by young people about whether iPods are acceptable.

Two thoughts -- take the young people under your wing, you'll have a chance to impart your wisdom and may learn something too! And for the iPod wearer, if you've only been there for two months, and you are the only person with headphones, I'd ease up a little bit.

Amy Joyce: Good point about learning from each other. Thanks. iPod wearer could just mention to a supervisor why she wants to wear headphones, and ask if that's okay.


Used To Worry in Va.: Hey Amy! I used to worry at work. I worried about everything. I worried I wasn't a good manager, my direct reports didn't like me, my boss thought badly of me etc. Then one day my worry came true -- I was fired. The thing I worried about most happen. But guess what? I SURVIVED! I lived on unemployment through the summer so I kinda had a vacation and actually found a better position in the fall. So now I don't let things bother me. I figure as far as the business world goes, I've lived through the worst so whatever happens happens. I also kinda wear the getting fired thing as a badge of honor. It made me a better person and now that I don't worry so much.

-- a happier person.

Amy Joyce: You've been through it all. Congrats. And thanks for the insight.


Arlington, Va.: As a long-time manager, I am often asked to give raises. What convinces me to write that memo to my own boss advocating for an employee's raise is: a short memo listing accomplishments, especially those that led to improved income for the company or a demonstrably happy client (one who wrote to thank or who followed up with additional work); convincing evidence (from salary surveys, DOL websites) showing that the employee's request is reasonable

A "going above and beyond" memo is offputting, not only because it seems a somewhat adversarial approach, but also because the definition of "above and beyond" is so subjective as to be meaningless.

Amy Joyce: Thanks, Arl. Can you e-mail me at I would love to chat a little further about your insight from "the other side"...


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Thanks for these ever-enlightening chats.

I have a question for you and the other chatters: I teach a professional writing course at a local university. Many of my students don't want to believe how important communication skills are on the job. Any advice -- or stories -- that I can share with my students? (Or perhaps the chatters will disagree with me. If so, I'd like to hear their arguments too.)

Thanks in advance to all.

Amy Joyce: Okay, folks, have at it. Why are writing skills important on the job? Or are they not?

From my perspective: Writing as communication is who we are these days. With our BlackBerrys, e-mail and other online communication, it is important to know how to be clear in a short amount of time and space. How many of us judged someone who sent an e-mail that was poorly worded or full of spelling errors? A boss or colleague may easily believe an e-mailer is not so bright if they send an error-ridden email. It's also important, I think, just as a matter of, well, communication. We need to understand what our co-workers, bosses and clients want from us and vice versa, right? Making that clear in writing is incredibly important. (Paranoia alert: Is this chat full of typos by me today, or what?)


Copies and Prints: Sheesh! Unless you own the company, if anyone asks me for a copy instead of an e-mail, I will gladly do it. It's called team work.

Amy Joyce: One nice way to look at it. And I would guess you're a lot happier at work thinking of it all that way.


iPod: For the iPod-wearer: I wear mine too because I can't concentrate with all the phones ringing and people talking around me. BUT I only put in one earbud so if my boss comes in, the phone rings, etc., I can hear them and not make anyone feel like I'm ignoring my work.

Amy Joyce: Good half-pod idea.


Job Fair Advice from a Recruiter: Most job fairs publish a list of vendors in advance online. PLEASE try to know something about each company that may suit you -- walking up and saying "What do you do?" doesn't create a great first impression. Also, please don't be a giveaway hog. That free pen may cost you a real chance at a job!

Amy Joyce: Good advice. Thanks. (Gotta love those convention freebie seekers. I love to just watch them when I'm at one.)


Alexandria, Va.: I spent 10 years in a toxic environment and now I find that I'm a terrible worrier. I'm afraid that anybody I work for or with will go off on me at any time. I find that I am willing to job hop to avoid any uncomfortable situations. How do you recommend overcoming this?

Amy Joyce: Read my column on Sunday in the Business section, and hopefully you're learn. Believe it or not, there are a lot of folks out there who do some serious research on how to overcome the workplace worries. I hope they can help you... And all the worriers out there.

(I'd love to hear more from you. Can you e-mail me at to discuss your situation for the column?)


McLean, Va.: I read your article with interest. After a reorganization, a supervisor I liked ended up reporting to somebody who believed that we all actually were direct reports to him and that the supervisor was there to do the "grunt" work for the manager (HR, reviews, etc.) This lead to me being assigned tasks directly by the manager without my supervisor being in the loop. I always made a point of circling back to the supervisor to ensure that he know my workload, but it was at times awkward. Heads Butting: When Bosses Fight,You Might Get Hurt (Post, July 16)

Amy Joyce: I'm sure that was awkward, but it sounds like you handled it well.


Washington, D.C.: Amy,

I've been at my current job over a year. I'm extremely dissatisfied (long commute, no advancement potential, the biggest insult being NO benefits to speak of) and looking for a new job. Several offers have been made and the one I'm considering wants me to start immediately. Things here are just awful. I dread coming to work. If I take the new job I won't be able to give two weeks notice (not that I'd want to anyway). Any tips on how to make a graceful albeit QUICK exit? I prefer to get it over and done with as soon as possible.

Amy Joyce: No matter how gracefully you try to exit, if you don't give two weeks' notice, you're probably going to burn some bridges. If you're willing to do that, then go. But know that you may need these people in the future. You can go to your boss, explain that you have received a new offer and they want you to start immediately. But say that you'd try to put them off for the two weeks if your boss would like to have that time. You may or may not be asked to stay. Of course, you can leave sooner. But know that it might not sit well with your company.


Re: Importance of Writing: I agree with Amy. In this age of electronic communication -- phone, e-mail, etc. -- our written communication is sometimes the first opportunity to make an impression and often one of the most frequently used way to cement a reputation. The same reason you might want to wear appropriate business attire to be taken seriously is the same reason you would want to be sure your written words are articulate (and spell/grammar checked). Building others confidence in you helps you to get your ideas heard and respected.

Amy Joyce: Thanks. Good points.


Crystal City, Va.: I'm one of the employees that got flooded out of the main IRS building recently. Some of us are working from home right now but I am constantly hearing co-workers bragging about how they are "working from the back nine" and getting full pay for it. I believe they are falsifying their timesheets. Management seems not to care. As a taxpayer, I am annoyed but I also feel like I have to pick up their slack. Any suggestions? thanks.

Amy Joyce: Are you sure they're not just saying that? They really aren't working? If you're picking up their slack, I'd go to your boss or the IRS ombudsman, who I think takes these sorts of concerns, no? I hope...


Why learn to write?: The only reason I have the (very well-paid) job that I do is because no one in this vast government agency can write his or her way out of a paper bag! It's quite shocking, really, but my writing ability has allowed me to shoot up the pay scale swiftly and quickly, despite my lack of a graduate degree.

Amy Joyce: That's all it takes? Wow. (Thanks...)


Alexandria, Va.: I became a stay-at-home-mom after my daughter had several illnesses in daycare. I plan to be home with her until she's in kindergarten. How would I best handle the employment gap on my resume? Also, how do you recommend that somebody transition into a different type of position that the one she left?

Amy Joyce: First of all, remember that this is a very common issue. Lots of women -- and men -- took time off to take care of children. Or elderly parents. Leave that gap on your resume, and feel free to explain in the cover letter that you are looking forward to getting back into the X industry because [fill in reasons here that show your expertise and enthusiasm]. No employer will be shocked to see this. Really.


Amy Joyce: Well, wouldya look at the time. I've got to run. Don't forget to e-mail me at if you are a worrier, or a recovering worrier. I'm also wondering what you supervisors think when someone asks for a raise: What works? What doesn't?

On that note, have a great TWO weeks, folks. I won't be here to chat next Tuesday. Don't forget to check out my Sunday Life at Work column in the Business section.


Writing Skills: I think writing skills are very important. A lot of times a client or business contact's first impression of you is through writing. My current boss always emphasizes being mindful of your writing, even in an e-mail. You never know if that e-mail you send to someone will be forwarded on to others and you never know who may end up reading it.

Amy Joyce: Another good point, thanks.


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