Life at Work Live

Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, August 29, 2006; 11:00 AM

Washington Post columnist Amy Joyce writes Life at Work on Sundays in the Business section and appears online every Tuesday. In her weekly chat she gives advice on how to handle social and professional situations.

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's time to talk about your life at work. As always, jump in with your own advice/stories to share with your fellow readers.

Lots of questions are all lined up, begging to be posted, so let's get started.


Sterling, Va.: Your last column on family leave was insightful, but, despite the gender-neutral title, you never mentioned paternity leave or gave any examples of men dealing with family leave complications. While it's gotten better for us men since the days of my father (he took off one day when I was born), men still aren't able to take off much time to be with their newborn children. We face the same issues that women face, but also a lingering societal expectation that we don't need time off. Amy's Sunday column Too Often, Family Leave Leaves Much To Be Desired (Post, Aug. 27)

Amy Joyce: I hear you, Sterling. I really focused this one just on maternity leave because I feel like people have a notion that women get (paid) leave after giving birth. But the fact is, that thing we all sort of just assume is there isn't always.

I have written about paternity leave and did a column on today's working dad for Father's Day. I'll see if we can dig up a link here.

Also, as an aside: According to the Society for Human Resource Management's 2006 Benefits report, 13 percent of its companies offer paid paternity leave.


More Fathers Figure on Family Time

(Post, June 18)

Amy Joyce: Here's the recent one.


Nation of whiners: Amy,

I really love the chats and normally love the articles, but come on.

I am almost 34 and my husband is 35. We work for a huge company with amazing benefits which, obviously, is pretty standard and easy for a big company to provide to its people. We recently married and even with almost $40,000 (unallocated) sitting in the bank we are not ready to have a child. We want to shake things up and change careers. We are not "stable" so we are not getting pregnant. TOUGH. Unless it is truly an accident -- you should only get pregnant when it makes sense for you financially, psychologically, physically, geographically, etc.

It is a bummer but if you don't have enough saved to live for a couple of months -- what about everything else that child is going to need.

All Americans need to save more and be prepared for whatever life throws at them. That is America's real problem.

Amy Joyce: You're right: All Americans need to save. These families for the most part did that. Think $20,000 is enough to support a family for three months? They thought so.

The fact is we are a nation that takes pride in saying it supports families. And in many cases companies go above and beyond. But the other fact is this country doesn't measure up to the rest of the world when it comes time to giving parents some sort of leave to recover and bond with new children. So how do families figure out how to have children and a career at the same time?

Also, I'd ask you not to judge here. Everybody is different, with different goals, aspirations and situations. You think you're doing the right thing, but I can bet a thousand other people will think you're doing something wrong.


Anonymous: Any input on a co-worker who wears knee-length skirts without hose, open-toed shoes, sleeveless blouses and then complains about how she's always cold? She's not dressed inappropriately for the workplace, just for her apparent comfort level. And yes, it's a little cold in here with the A/C, but that's why the rest of us are in pants. Get a sweater.

Amy Joyce: I feel like you just provided the input. And I'm here to post it.


Fort Lauderdale, Fl.: My boss can be a real jerk, and I just realized today he fits the profile of an emotional abuser (to his employees). I almost quit, but I just found out this weekend I may be pregnant. I have been there long enough for FMLA benefits -- do I stick it out for security and health insurance? I think I do, but I'm feeling frustrated and could use some encouragement.

Amy Joyce: There is nothing that says you shouldn't look for other work while pregnant. And sitting around being abused at work is probably not going to do you any good. Why not just start looking now for something that could be better? It doesn't mean you have to leave. Make some contacts, do some research about other jobs, figure out your expenses and if you could handle a switch. Do you have access to other health benefits if you do switch to a new job? Do you have savings?

If you find a job, go ahead and tell them when they offer you the job that you are pregnant, and so you need to know if they would be willing to give you leave/benefits. In return, consider what you might be able to offer them in return. ("When I leave in six months, I will be available by phone/email" or some such.)

Anyone out there succeed in finding work while pregnant? What did you do?


Washington, D.C.: I have a question on professional etiquette. I have a very common last name that has two common spellings and at least four additional alternative spellings. I have been tolerating the misspellings as long as I can remember. I have a collection of certificates and programs where someone else is honored. I am entering a field where name recognition is important. This pet peeve can soon become a career detriment. If people don't have the correct spelling, they won't be able to find my articles. I feel that I can no longer just tolerate this annoyance. What is the most polite, non-diva way to address this problem? Should I ask people to double check in advance? Is it appropriate to correct people after materials have been printed or is that crying over spilled milk?

Amy Joyce: You should absolutely check beforehand. Why wouldn't you? Just call and say "My name has been misspelled on publications in the past. Can we just make sure it reads Smyth instead of Smith?"

The publication itself will surely want to have the correct spelling.


Silver Spring, Md: Sure it would be wonderful if everyone could save enough to take time off for months for the birth of a child, but one's biological clock isn't always able to wait. The poster with $40K is 34 and not planning to have a child soon. Well, that's nice, but do you know whether you'll be able to have one when you decide you have enough money? My husband and I have a tidy savings and are trying to have a child, but we met when I was 38 and though we got married only a year later, it just may not happen for us at my age (now 40). I'm just pointing out that saving for months or years may not be an option for you, even if you have a great job and are not living paycheck to paycheck.

Amy Joyce: Very true. Good luck to you.


Missouri: I was lucky enough to get six weeks paid after having my baby, but had to use up all my vacation and sick time.

With the government's push to get more women to breastfeed, why hasn't someone pushed for a national paid leave law? I'm sure that would encourage more women to breastfeed longer.

Is there any action towards getting a national policy?

Amy Joyce: It's all very strange, isn't it?

The National Partnership for Women and Families, which helped get the original FMLA law passed, is working on it. Others are as well. But there's not much movement showing it will happen any time soon.

Kennedy and Rosa DeLauro recently (maybe last year?) co-sponsored the Healthy Families Act that would give all workers seven paid sick days a year. Right now, almost 50 percent of private sector workers don't have any paid sick leave.


regarding misspellings: I'm in a similar boat -- I have a first name that is often misspelled, and oddly enough, so does my husband. I don't think asking people to spell your name correctly is diva-like at all. (unless of course, you start screaming and throwing things at the misspeller). It's your name, and you have the right to have it spelled correctly. I have, on occasion, had to have certificates, etc. reprinted, but who wants a certificate on a wall dedicated to someone else?

Amy Joyce: True... Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: Amy, why is no one interested in talking about family leave except in the case of a newborn? I worked for a company that gave three months of paid family leave for child birth and none for anything else (too small to have to adhere to FMLA). While one co-worker was seen lunching in town with her two month old, two of us were using all available vacation and then taking unpaid time off (and facing possible job loss because we "couldn't be spared") to deal with the lingering death of a parent and the unexpected death of a sibling. It ended up causing a lot of bad feelings. Face it, offering only maternity leave is discrimination since the benefit is only offered to a certain gender of a certain age. Family leave should be family leave since there's more to families than having a baby and any birth, sickness or death is expensive.

Amy Joyce: FMLA does cover more than just the birth of a newborn. It guarantees eligible employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave care for a newborn or newly adopted child, seriously ill family member, or to recover from their own serious health conditions, while ensuring job security.

But you're right. There is a lot of inequity in leave policies in the workplace. It doesn't, however, make any sense to hate the new mom for taking time to spend with her child.

I plan to write a column in a couple weeks about what companies are doing to offer benefits/leave to single employees as well as those with family.


Alexandria, Va.: Dear Amy, Can the owner of a company force his employees to vote according to his demands? The CEO of our defense-related business has told us that he will not tolerate what he terms "disloyalty" among his workers and will fire anyone that does not support President Bush. Our company has about 200 workers in it and many of us are concerned that the CEO will follow through on his threat. Is such a demand legal? Thank you for your time.

Amy Joyce: Legal? I don't know. Could be. Wrong? Oh yeah, probably. Any chance you want to email me at I'd love to hear about this a bit more.

I did a story before the last election about people being fired (or at least "spoken to") for supporting the candidate their boss did not support. Very touchy issue.


Georgetown, Washington, D.C.: Hi Amy-

As a hiring manager, I recently interviewed a young applicant with a freshly minted graduate degree. During our phone interview he was well-spoken, answered questions with tact and confidence, and our hiring team was prepared to consider him strongly for our job opening despite the fact that he'd had limited experience in our field.

When he was asked to prepare a brief presentation to give during his in-person interview, he decided that he was not qualified for our job and sent an e-mail indicating that he thought he was underqualified. I was not going to convince him otherwise, even though I think he could have done the job.

Its such a shame that this applicant sold himself short and didn't even attempt to do the presentation, which was to be about a topic of his choosing that related to our field.

For those readers out there looking to start a career in a new industry, don't let this happen to you -- confidence is so important as an applicant -- don't talk yourself out of an opportunity before you even have the chance to explore it.


-DC Hiring Manager

Amy Joyce: Thanks so much, DC Hiring. I think this will be a help to job seekers out there. I hear and see a lot of job seekers who sell themselves short or people who hate their job but are not confident enough to think they could find a new job. Sad.


Washington, D.C.: Any advice on a nice way to tell your supervisor that he or she micromanages you too much?

Overall I like my supervisor (smart, ambitious, creative and thoughtful about our projects, etc). But most of the time, I feel treated like a kindergartner, and I know from previous supervisors' and current colleagues' comments that my performance does not warrant this type of treatment.

Amy Joyce: Micromanagers are *so* not fun.

If you have a decent relationship with this person, why not try to have lunch and discuss you, your job, your goals. Work in to the conversation that you work best when given a little autonomy. Possible? I hope.

Otherwise, try to let some of it roll off your back. Do your work, do it well. Your manager will (maybe) learn that he/she doesn't need to dictate your every move.

Anyone ever get a micromanager to back off a bit?


Northern Va.: Please help! My co-worker in the office next to me has a very annoying cell phone ring and he just lets it ring even when he is sitting in his office and doesn't answer it for some reason. I've asked him to turn it down and he said its on the lowest ring. I'm on the verge of smashing a hole through our windows and throwing it onto the street below. His cell phone rings all day. What is the office standard for this kind of thing? Most of us usually have our phones on vibrate.

Amy Joyce: Ask him to put it on vibrate. Say that the ring is just a little too disturbing and it's impacting your concentration. Being direct is much better than smashing a hole though your window.


Alexandria, Va.: Both of my names are misspelled all the time -- I just ask whenever I call to sign up that they take note I have "interesting" spellings or I just spell it out when I talk to them. Nothing wrong with that and if the other person takes offense so be it. Plus, any publication should want to make sure names are spelled properly -- they are the ones who look foolish.

And for the woman who seems to insist that everyone have money saved before having kids -- I was born into a poor family, and may not have had all the latest and coolest, but I knew my parents loved me and there was always food on the table and clothes on my back -- and I had a lot of books. And we made college work. Money should not be everything when it comes to your kids.

Amy Joyce: Noted and noted. Thanks.


RE: FLMA Coverage: A previous poster brought up a really good point -- I think there's "animosity" towards the FLMA debate because a good number of people have never/will never use it. As self-centered as this sounds, it's hard to care about something that's never going to benefit yourself.

Single or employees with no need for the FLMA still inhabit the workplace, and their feelings/needs are just as important.

Amy Joyce: If this is the situation you find yourself in, please email me at Again, I plan to write a column about this for (I kid you not) National Singles Week.

But I'd like to remind you that FMLA does benefit those not married or with children. If you become seriously ill, FMLA can kick in. If a family member (think mom/dad/sibling) becomes ill, FMLA is also supposed to cover time off you need to care for them.


Anonymous: I have a difficult last name that is always misspelled. I correct proactively when applicable ("My name is tricky; can you double-check the spelling before publication?"); correct reactively when applicable ("the letter got to me, but for future reference...") and let it slide the rest of the time ("My last name is strange and hard to pronounce. Feel free to just use my first").

I've always been polite and have never been accused of being a diva. It helps to only take a hard line when it matters and to acknowledge that your name is difficult. People understand.

As a benefit to having a tricky name, people always remember me. "Oh, yeah, you have that weird last name..."

Amy Joyce: Good one, thanks.


Arnold, Md.: Whew! Thank. You. thank you for putting on paper some of the more obvious gaps appearing in our social graces. It's good to know that someone is paying attention. One of my favorite peeves has always been telephone numbers. Way too many people recite their phone numbers on my answering machine as if I should already know it and they are just being kind enough to repeat it in a burst transmission -- braaap! way too many times I get something like "Callmeattwoohtwofivesixfiveonetwothreefour" Huh? Lemme replay that." People need to be schooled to recite phone number at a speed allowing the listener to write them down. And by the way, the number is two zero two, not two oh two; zero is a number, oh is a letter.

Amy Joyce: This is referring back to last week's etiquette column Life At Work: Coursework for the Etiquette Prerequisite. I also like it when people leave their call back number FIRST on the message so I don't have to listen through the entire message several times to get to the number.


Chicago, Ill.: I'm taking a job that's 3 - 11 p.m. My husband works generally 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Do you have any advice for keeping our home-life sane when we pretty much won't see each other during the week?

Amy Joyce: Lots of folks are doing this these days (they need to do it for childcare, or companies are more 24/7 seem to be the reasons.)

I'll throw this one out there to see if any other shift workers have advice.

I'd suggest you make sure you have a date night or two on the weekends!


Washington, D.C.: I know this isn't an option for everyone but I quit my last job over deep dissatisfaction with their "family-friendly" policies.

No comp time, a "flex" work schedule that simply meant you could choose between arriving at 8 a.m., 8:30 a.m. or 9 a.m. (and once you chose, you needed approval from on-high to amend); working from home but only after a year of employment and only if two supervisors agreed and only if you had high-speed Internet; "paid" leave of five weeks but only if you paid into short-term disability

Employers need to understand that truly family-friendly policies make happier, more productive employees.

Amy Joyce: I think that's really true. Those employers who provide (and really let their employees partake in) those benefits say they get a truly loyal group of employees.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Amy,

Five years ago, my wife and I were approved to adopt a child by the agency we were using. At that point we thought that we would have six to twelve months before we would get a child. It was literally three days when we got that call that our daughter was waiting. Just to show that there are some things you can't plan for. I took four weeks of paternity leave.

To top it off, two months later my wife became seriously ill. With the support of my boss and HR department, I was able to take another two months off to care for her and our child.

Amy Joyce: And tell us how you feel about your company now. I assume they got a really loyal employee out of you.


Washington, D.C.: How many calls to a prospective employer about interview time frames and things like that would be deemed too many? I've talked to a company with a great opening I have an application in for three times, but only once has been to ask about time frames and the process and things like that (one time they called me for follow-up questions, and the other time I updated some contact info after a move). Callbacks are supposed to occur this week, and I really want to stay on top of this opportunity and this company's radar, which I think I've done, but I don't want to annoy them either. Any advice.

Amy Joyce: If you don't hear from them this week, try again next week. Give them a little breathing room. But you're right that you should stay on top of it, especially because they are giving you a hint that they're interested. Good luck!


Anonymous: I got new job when I was three month's pregnant with our second child. I absolutely love/loved the job and made sure that I will be available if there truly is a need for my services (I was not called). The company regularly offers four months paid maternity/paternity leave (partial pay), unfortunately I did not qualify for that and I returned to work part time after I had used up all my sick-leave, vacation accumulated etc. and was able to work part-time for two months before returning as a full-time employee. After that we decided that my husband will be home with children and do some part-time contracts and I will be working full-time since I still love my job and his had become a rut. We have very little money but we are happy with our decision. My main point is: be flexible without breaking and you will get flexibility in return.

Amy Joyce: Thanks, Anon. Sounds like you made it all work. Congrats.


Kent Island, Md.: I got a call from my mother saying my dad was rushed to the emergency room. I jumped into the car and immediately drove home (Maine). That morning I called my manager and told him where I was, and that my father was dying and I wouldn't be able to make it into work. My manager lectured me on how important it was to have someone who was dependable and that he had a very important day planned for me (he really didn't). He said I let him down and fired me over the phone. This manager had always been downright mean with his staff. But I had been lucky enough to stay away from his temper. It seems that some people just find joy by inflicting pain on others.

Amy Joyce: My goodness. I'm sorry.

And I'm sorry you ever had to deal with a boss like that.


re: FLMA Coverage: I think the problem with FLMA is that most people do not know the law as it is intended. I have a few medical problems and my mom has a lot of medical problems. I am my mom's only support. I have turned in FLMA papers from my doctor and my mom's doctor so that I am covered if I ever run out of my leave time. So, far, knock on wood I have not run out of my leave but I know that FLMA is there if I need it. I know I will not get paid for my time off but at the least I Know I will not lose my job.

Amy Joyce: It sounds like you're prepared and organized.


Alexandria, Va.: New to the industry, entrusted with an important task, feeling unsure. I know I'm capable but unsure how to ask questions without showing my naivete. My task involve's battling others who don't want me to be successful but who have the answers I need. How do I do it? I always feel the need to be on guard.

Amy Joyce: Have you found any sort of mentor or someone you can trust at work? If so, ask. If not, find someone to ask. Not asking the right questions and messing up the project won't be good for anyone. If you do good work, you will end up on your feet. Ignore these nasties as much as you can. Focus on the work. (I know, easier said than done...)


Re: Micromanaging: This only works if you have a jokey, casual relationship with your boss, but here goes: Years ago, I had a micromanaging boss who was constantly asking me to account for every minute of my time. It was exhausting! So I typed up my "daily schedule", complete with tasks, phone calls, prearranged bathroom breaks, three minutes per hour for "quiet reflection", eight minutes for "copier repair", and so forth. It made him laugh, and better yet, he left me alone for a while.

Amy Joyce: That's great.

But even if not jokey, the micromanaged could write up a schedule every day first thing to make sure the boss can back off a little. The more they know, they less they can ask, right?


Richmond, Va.: My boss has started walking around the office with a hunter's knife attached to his belt. It's a small company and he is the top dog (with the exception of the owner). His behavior is getting more strange by the day. Can managers "arm" themselves in the workplace?

Amy Joyce: Um, no, he can not. You may want to call the police, Richmond.


Maryland: Would you suggest a fragrance suitable for the office? I walk one mile from the metro to office, and I sweat. Do you have a solution?

Amy Joyce: Extra fragrance is not going to help anyone. How about you carry your jacket or whatever you wear in the office to stay as cool as possible on your walk in. Try bringing some of those towelettes with you. Or on the hottest days, how about a cab?

Alrighty, folks. On that note, it's time for me to run to a lunch. Have a great week. Check out Life at Work, the column, in the Sunday Business section. Have a good Labor Day.


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