Life at Work Live

Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, August 15, 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 folks. It's Tuesday, which means it's time for us to chat about our work lives. As always, please jump in with your own advice and stories to share with your fellow readers here.

My Sunday column was about how "casual dress" has confused so many people out there, particularly men (tie? no tie? suit? polo shirt?). Our own Robin Givhan, the fabulous fashion critic, told us what *she* would like to see men wearing at the office. Take a hint, guys! We'll post a link to the column in a sec.

Alrighty, let's get this conversation going...


Arlington, Va.: Hi Amy, I'm a new boss with a great office and a small dilemma. One person on my team is very good at her job and always looks nice, though not necessarily office appropriate. We work in a very conservative government office, and her revealing wardrobe reflects poorly on our office. Previous bosses have counseled her but failed to enforce the standards, and she continues to dress inappropriately. How can I set a new tone without getting off on the wrong foot? Amy's Sunday column on business casual Business Casual? Seriously. (Post, August 13)

Amy Joyce: If she is wearing something in appropriate--and by that I mean something that is revealing or causing distraction in the workplace-- then it's up to you, manager, to enforce the rules. Sounds like dirty work, but if it is impacting the workplace for which you are in charge, then you should do something.

Many other managers have told me the horror stories when they had to send their employees home to change: Women wearing half shirts, men wearing t-shirts with inappropriate slogans, etc. It happens. Just make sure you let this woman know that her work is good, but dressing in a revealing way isn't setting the right tone for the office.


Reston, Va.: Hi Amy -- thanks for taking my question. I've never (formally) networked before. But, from reading this chat for a few weeks, I am beginning to understand how important it is. In a few weeks, I am moving to a new city and will need a job. The local chapter of my college's alumni group is having a networking breakfast. Since I'll be job searching, what should I bring? I won't have business cards --should I get some made? Would having a resume be overkill? And what does one wear to an alumni networking breakfast?

Amy Joyce: What a perfect opportunity.

Having a resume on hand is definitely not overkill. You may find yourself in a conversation with someone who says they've been looking for someone just like you. "Wow, really? Great. I just happened to bring my resume. Here you go." Then you look prepared and all your contact info will be on the resume. And if you find someone who works for an organization that interests you, feel free to ask if they wouldn't mind taking a look at your resume or even handing it to a hiring manager. You may not find a reason to hand one out yet, but have them just in case.

If you can get cards made, do it. This is a time when people will want to meet you and actually want your info. And you will also want to get your information out to as many people as you can. You should also collect cards and ask people if they wouldn't mind if you follow up as you're looking for work in the area.

If it's during the week, business casual (fine, fine, I get the irony) would be perfect. Something you would wear to work.

Good luck!


Northern Va.: Last month when you were discussing toxic bosses, I wrote to say that I realized watching the film that I would rather work for "Miranda" (the Meryl Streep character in "The Devil Wears Prada") than for my current boss.

It was quite a wake-up call for me. I realized that this person was becoming increasingly toxic, so I took action.

I found another job and it wasn't that hard. Best of all, I am increasing my compensation by nearly 25%. Thanks, Amy, for the support you give all of us. It really has made a difference for me.

Amy Joyce: So glad to hear it. Congrats!

And wow, a Hollywood wake-up call. That's something.


'Devil' Boss All Too Familiar

(Post, July 9)

Amy Joyce: Here's the old Devil column... (If you'd rather work for Miranda than your own boss, yes, it's probably time to look for a new job.)


headhunters: How does one go about finding a headhunter? What should one look for? How do you know if they are reputable? Thanks! Headhunted? How to work with recruiters

Amy Joyce: You ask, you receive. Good luck.


Washington, D.C.: Hi, Amy. thanks for the chats. I accepted a job yesterday and am going to present my letter of resignation to my boss today giving him four weeks notice. The president of the company is leaving today for a 10 day vacation. Do I need to tell him as well? Should I call him before he leaves or is it okay to wait until he gets back?


Amy Joyce: Your boss will let you know if you need to also tell the president. A lot depends on how much you work directly with the prez. Since you're telling your direct supervisor today, though, it sounds like you'll be just fine waiting until the president returns from vacation to say goodbye in person. The reason you're giving your resignation now is so your boss can start thinking about who will replace you. More than likely, you don't need to tell the same thing to the president so early.


New York, N.Y.: Help! I have received two job offers over the last week. Job #1 is my first choice. However, they sent me a form to fill out to check my criminal background and credit. I have no problem with the criminal check (who wants to hire an ax murderer?) but the credit check has me a bit steamed. My credit is OK, not bad, not great. This job has absolutely nothing to do with money or finances. I think it's an invasion of privacy. I am leaning towards taking job #2 and letting job #1 know the reason. Thoughts?

Amy Joyce: It does feel like a major invasion of privacy, doesn't it? Lots of companies are doing this these days. I haven't looked into it too closely, so I'm not sure how many do it. But a lot of companies that do background checks are combining that with credit checks now, too.

Anyone out there want to chime in? Why are companies doing this these days?

As for you, NY, go with your gut. Why is job offer #1 your first choice? Is it something that job #2 can never provide? Think about long-term happiness and desire to get out of bed to go to work. What job will make you more enthused, inspired and excited? However, sometimes something like a credit check will put a bad taste in your mouth and sour you on a company before you set foot in the office. If that's the case, then you may be right in that job #1 isn't for you.


Washington, D.C.: I'm surprised no one's tried making suit shorts for guys -- kind of like those odd short pants they make for women now. You know, nice, creased pants at about clamdigger length. Hey, sauce for the goose. Let's see those knobby knees!

Amy Joyce: Oh, please. You think they haven't? Let's just be grateful they haven't caught on in Washington yet.


Chicago, Ill.: My ideal work wardrobe would be a rotation of three to four dark pantsuits (I'm a woman). It would make it so much easier to get dressed in the morning. Unfortunately, I would stick out like a sore thumb at work, where we dress business casual (if not actually in polo shirts and jeans) almost every day. People would think I worked for a different company. (I work in commercial real estate.) As it is, I feel like I have to have more outfits, and they have to be more colorful and creative, because people are going to notice what I'm wearing more than if I just had a dark, dress "uniform".

Amy Joyce: Sometimes a uniform sounds really nice, doesn't it? If that was the case, no one would be spending their mornings standing in front of my closet whining about having nothing to wear. But gosh, that would be so booooring.


woman's inappropriate dress: first poster (new boss) doesn't indicate his/her own gender.

In another office I worked in, male boss had highest ranking female approach an "inappropriate" dresser so that nothing he said could be misconstrued as sexual in any way. High ranking female said she was acting on behalf of the boss and for the good of the team, so that the younger woman wouldn't think it was jealousy.

Another approach might be if it's a male boss, to have highest ranking female or HR female sit with you as you talk to inappropriate dresser. Again, so that nothing is misunderstood.

just sayin.

Amy Joyce: We have a lot to worry about, huh? Yes, your just sayin' is probably good advice. Thanks.


Downtown D.C.: Hi Amy -

Just hired someone that will start next week. I've heard the stories of frustrated new employees that feel like they weren't given enough direction, etc.

Thought I would see what the chatters (particularly those in their 20s) would advise in terms of making this person's adjustment to the new job as productive as possible.


Amy Joyce: You're already waaay ahead of the game in that you have actually thought of this. So on behalf of employees everywhere, thank you.

A few suggestions from me (I can't help myself): Think about someone in the office who might be good to pair with this new employee. A sort of "safe" person who won't judge them if they have questions, and who will help them navigate the new workplace.

Make sure they know their duties and job description.

Show them the little things: Where's the bathroom. Where they can get more pens. Who to call if their computer bursts into flame. Seriously. The little things can seem big to a new employee.

Okay, folks, your turn: What can Downtown do to ease a new employee's adjustment to the workplace?


Pittsburgh, Penn.: Reading all these questions regarding dress issues at work, I just have to say that I am so lucky. Right now, I am wearing flip-flops and jeans at work -- and so is my boss. I love my job! (I work in publishing.)

Amy Joyce: You are lucky. (Unless you're one of those people who likes to dress up.)

You also mentioned the magic word: FF. Who knew little rubber shoes would cause such workplace rage? (Read on).


The beach? No.: Flip flops: I don't care how they look -- lots of them are really very cute, anyway. It's that when you walk up and down the hall in them, all of us have to listen to the slapping noise they make. It's incredibly distracting. Same goes for low-cut tops. Sure, you may have the bod to pull it off. But then the rest of us have to have that "oops... did I look at her boobs?" moment in our heads. My take on business casual is be comfortable, but remember the comfort of others, as well.

Amy Joyce: hoo-kay.


Bermuda shorts: I vacationed in Bermuda a couple of years ago. It is truly funny to see a man carrying a briefcase wearing a business jacket, shirt and tie, and SHORTS with dress shoes and high socks.

Amy Joyce: There ya go. But some can truly pull it off. However, picture that on the Metro. Doesn't really work, does it?


Washington, D.C.: Do I stay in the comfortable but boring position a while longer - I'm not in a rush to leave. Or take the busy new challenge with more duties and a few bucks more. I would have to give up some of the flexibility, but it's hard to figure out! Help!

Amy Joyce: More money, more duties, new challenge. Boring position.

Oh, come on. Give me a hard one.


Atlanta, Ga.: I have to disagree with one point in your column. I think the situation is easier for men. They can start out in a suit and, if they discover the situation doesn't require (or argues against) formality, they can remove the jacket, remove the tie, roll up their sleeves. All sorts of places to stop along the continuum. Sure, a woman can remove a jacket, but it doesn't seem to signal the same "I'm with you guys" that it does for men.

Amy Joyce: I always thought that too. But I've heard from (and witnessed) more than one man saying how uncomfortable it was when they showed up to a meeting tie-less and everyone else was in a tie. Or wearing a suit and everyone else was casual. For women, I think, it's easy to wear things that look good and professional in a lot of different situations.


McLean, Va.: Along the dress code line (but straying a bit) is the question of how people who telecommute dress and how that effects their work habits and attitudes.

Some people say if they dress up it helps them, while other people I know claim the fuzzy pink slippers work fine for them.

I have been working from home quite a bit lately -- I work for a large global firm and the people I am dealing with at present are not physically located in this region -- and find shorts and polo shirt are fine.

Any research into this area, or anecdotal information, you (or other chatters) have on this topic.

Amy Joyce: I hear both situations as well. But I'd have to say I hear more often that people who work from home feel better if they dress in business attire. It puts their mind in a work mode. Even if they aren't as dressed up as they would be in the office, an outfit one up from yoga gear is usually enough to make them feel like they are working.

Anyone else?


Credit Check, D.C.: For the woman seriously considering not taking her dream job because of a credit check, what gives? You said yourself you have OK credit so what are you worried about. That some random HR person will know you have $10,000 worth of credit card debt. So what, they won't advertise the information or hold it against you.

Organizations do credit checks to make sure you can't be lured away or tempted to sell them out for money. If you are so strapped for cash or credit, then your potential level of temptation is higher.

Stop fretting over a credit check. If the job is that great, take it. It's sad that a potential perfect opportunity would be thrown away because you are afraid of a credit check.

Amy Joyce: I think it's not so much that this person is afraid of a credit check, it's just that this person feels the company is unnecessarily Big Brothering them. It's hard to work for an organization if you feel that way. In which case, it may do some good to ask why it's necessary.


For Downtown: We have a lot of new 20-something employees come into our office on a regular basis. What seems to help most is frequent check-ins -- how are you doing, how is the work load, do you have any questions, are you ready for something else to work on? These can be regularly scheduled or you can just drop by or e-mail periodically.

That said, my biggest complaint with these new 20-something employees is lack of initiative to ask questions. If you don't know how to do something, ask! In a new job you should be asking tons of questions. Everyone comes in with a different background and skill set, and I can't know what you don't know unless you tell me. If you're new, we expect that you'll have questions, and it's OK. I hear people say later that they were frustrated or felt like they weren't kept informed through training, and I honestly feel that if they would take the initiative to ask more questions, a big part of that frustration would be resolved.

Amy Joyce: Good reminders, all.

I think not asking questions is a common problem among new employees, particularly those new to the workforce. They're afraid they look silly or uninformed if they ask too many questions. So I also think that's part of the manager's duty: Let them be comfortable asking questions.


To boss of new worker: Try to watch how the new person interacts with his/her co-workers also. I'm in a nightmare job where I was berated and belittled by one of my coworkers every time I asked a question, within hearing of my boss. He finally did something after I brought it up (she'd had problems before), but I've never gotten comfortable here. And looking for a new job is taking forever!

Also, make sure to let your new employee know who the abstinence people are, computer techs, how to order supplies, and how to fill out a timesheet properly (if applicable).

Amy Joyce: more...


Weirton, W.V.: RE: New employee treatment. Treat them like they belong there, not as if they don't have a brain in their head. They are intelligent humans who just need to get acquainted with the job and hone their skills. Let them know who does the cleaning, the repairs, i.e. fixing lights, equipment,and who to consult if anything arises that has not been covered in your instructions. Avoid being clique-minded, which would make them feel alienated.

Amy Joyce: and more. Thanks.


RE: Working from home: Even more important than how you dress when you work from home, I've found that actually leaving the house, even if it's just to grab coffee or drop the kids at school or go for a run, makes you feel as though you have an actual start time to the day. I suppose in that sense, even a regularly scheduled phone call could do it. Otherwise, I'd find the day slipping away on me!

Amy Joyce: Good advice, thanks.


RE: Downtown: I think to make a young, new employee feel welcome you have to bring a bit of the personal. I agree with Amy show them where pens are, who to call, etc. In offices I've worked in before everyone has their routine, especially their coffee routine. I pick up a venti black roast drink half on the way to work and pour the other half into my fav coffee cup. Everyone is different, but everyone also has a fav coffee cup. You never ever want to take that person's coffee cup. As a welcome, provide that person w/ a brand new coffee cup (design is no matter)! I mean I think you would feel like "one of the team." So why not take that little extra step?

Amy Joyce: Now that's an interesting little addition. (We don't do shared coffee mugs here, thankfully.)


Arlington, Va.: In a nutshell -- coworker has resigned and I want to take on her job responsibilities, give my administrative tasks over to dept. admin and ask for more $$$ (within the salary range that they said they would give me when I interviewed and then it never materialized). This tactic has been tried before but because we work at a non-profit everyone is told -- we can't increase your salary because we're a non-profit. I say it's a win/win deal. Employer gets to save a full-time salary plus benefits. Any advice on how to approach the seniors with this? Thanks!

Amy Joyce: In other words, you'd be asking for a promotion, or simply a new job. Treat it that way and go for it.


Columbus, Ohio: Casual dress: I am so lucky to work in a university environment. On days that I'm not teaching or don't have important meetings I can come to work in shorts. When it's cooler, I can wear a sweatshirt and jeans. It might not motivate everyone, but being able to just be comfortable is one of the reasons I love my job.

Amy Joyce: Yep, I've heard from more than one person that a casual atmosphere was one of the reasons they took a job.


Washington, D.C.: Amy, I need your help! See, I have my dream job -- cause I believe in, lots of responsibility, upward mobility, great boss, etc -- but I can't stop thinking about doing something completely different. I have always flirted with getting my PhD in History and I thought taking this job would end that once and for all, but it hasn't. So now I'm at an impasse. How do I decide what I want to do with my life? There is no one impartial around me to offer advice. Please help -- any advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

Amy Joyce: First, talk to as many people as you can about it. Do your research like you would for anything else. Talk to History PhDs. Talk to universities in the area about what's involved. See if your alumni association can get you in touch with some who went through a similar program.

Think about WHY you want that History PhD. What will you do with it? Can you satisfy your craving for more learning in another way?

Then think about how you might be able to first just try it out: Any chance you can try taking a few classes toward your PhD while working? It's not that uncommon. See if your organization might be willing to let you take on a flex schedule so you can pursue this.


Portland, Maine: Hi, Amy. I always enjoy your chats. Thanks for your sound advice. I'm at my first job out of college, and I'm a little worried about my learning curve at the new organization. Sometimes I feel as though I struggle to get everything done on time, though I'm trying to do my best. When is a new employee supposed to get the hang of things? I've been there for two months.

Amy Joyce: It's totally normal to feel a little overwhelmed or that you don't have it all down. Any new job is about learning. Listen to some of the things folks here have said today: Make sure to ask questions. Talk to someone you trust about the organization and ask for guidance and advice.

And think back to the first few days there and look at how far you've come. It might help you realize that in some ways, you have gotten the hang of things.


Washington, D.C.: Credit checks are normal. They're mostly making sure that you don't have any outstanding judgments against you or some sort of pattern of horrible behavior. But even if you do, if you don't handle money, it probably isn't an issue. It's frustrating but true -- and a good reason to keep your credit report fairly clean.

That said, the original poster should make sure that the second job won't also require a credit check. The first one may have just been more upfront about it.

Amy Joyce: Yes, I'm finding it's just another aspect to a regular background/security check or clearance.


Re: New Employees: Take them to lunch. You don't have to pay, but at least give them people to go with. Chances are they might not have any idea where to go or what is around. I never bring lunch the first day at a new job and with the last few finally had to ask people what was close when I got hungry. Either the manager or a couple of people on the team or all should invite them to grab lunch with them, can be really low-key!

Amy Joyce: True! Those first few lunch hours for new employees can be a little intimidating. Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: Hi, Amy. This is for Downtown, the new boss having a new hire start. Also tell the new person what the office culture is in regards to lunch. Do most eat at their desk or do they go out as a group or in small groups etc. It would be nice for one or two people to ask the newbie to have lunch with them on the first day.

Amy Joyce: See? (Thanks...)


Clarksburg: I work for a very large company where there are always "new" people joining a project and every new person whether a fresh-out or long term employee is assigned a buddy to help them get situated and to become productive as soon as possible.

Amy Joyce: I think that's a good idea.

Now, speaking of lunch, look at the time.

Join me again next Tuesday to discuss your life at work, same time, same place. Check out the Sunday Business section to read Life at Work, the column. (This coming week will be about office etiquette.) You can e-mail me at

Have a good week, all.


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