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Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, September 26, 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.

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Amy Joyce: Good morning, all.

Today is the day Bernie Ebbers heads off to jail. I'm wondering if you former MCI/WorldCom folks are watching this closely, upset about it, happy about it, recovered from your tumultuous years with the company or still looking back to those stressful days. Care to share? I'd love to hear from you today. Please e-mail me at lifeatwork@washpost.com.

Okay, lots of questions await, so let's get going, shall we?

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Washington, D.C.: I am being laid off, but still have a few more months of work. Any advice on how best to leave on a good note? A lot of my coworkers are shifting uncomfortably when we talk, and I'd prefer to put them at ease. I'm also looking for advice on dealing with the psychological effects of a layoff, since I've never been through this before.

Amy Joyce: I'm sorry to hear about your layoff. (Unless you think this is a good opportunity to find a new, interesting job! Which, in time, I hope it is.)

First, think about yourself. If it helps you to put your colleagues at ease, do so. But also use that chance to see if they might be able to help you. "Bob, listen, I know you know I'm being let go. I'm okay with that, so please don't feel weird talking to me. In fact, I'm hoping you can help me. If you know of anyone who might be hiring, where I might look or anything else, please let me know." Or something like that.

As for the psychological effects, it depends on how you're feeling. Some dread it, others embrace it, most people mourn a bit. And there is nothing wrong with that. It is undoubtedly a major blow to the ego and hard to take. But those who seem to survive layoffs well are those who can realize it happened and move on and start looking for that new opportunity right away.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi Amy -- Four months ago I left a job where I really liked my coworkers but was dissatisfied with the job, and took a new job that is much more challenging, still within my field, and pays a lot more. However, I am having serious pangs of 'homesickness' if you will, for my former work environment and former coworkers. Many of my former coworkers became good friends, and I miss that daily camaraderie. I don't miss being underpaid and overworked though. My new job is fine, my new coworkers are nice enough, but the environment is not as jovial as before. I am to the point where I have pangs of regret for leaving my old job. Is this normal? And will it pass? Thanks.

Amy Joyce: That's an interesting way of looking at it. Job sickness.

Not every workplace will be as fun, jovial and full of friends. You have to try to shift your thinking. You have a better job with more challenges. And although you don't have best buds inside the company, you have a life outside of work that can be your happy social place. This job is your job now. Who knows. In time, you might find good friends there, too. Good luck.

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Falls Church, Va.: I've made a decision to leave my current job after almost 10 years. I'm not advertising this fact to anyone but I've had some conversations with my boss and he knows. He's very supportive but I wonder if I should be more circumspect about this with him. He understands the personal reasons behind this decision but the truth is I'm only now starting my search and I don't want to give the impression I've checked out. Any advice?

Amy Joyce: Yes. Don't give the impression you've checked out. Really. Work as hard now as you did. Continue to come up with new ideas, collaboration on new projects, whatever. Let them see that those 10 years weren't wasted and you are a professional. That means you won't check out before it's time. Your boss will surely recognize that. Good luck.

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Philly, Penn.: Going along with Washington's concern on the psychological effects of a layoff, I have a question: I have been out of college for about seven years and through all those years I have been laid off twice. How do I maintain a sense of peace in my current job, if I feel that at any moment I could be laid off again for whatever reason? It seems that this has happened when I am most settled in a job (and notice how I specify LAID-OFF, because I was NOT fired from these jobs -- just 'released' for company's financial reasons). I don't feel like I can get truly comfortable at a job, because I might be laid off again! How do people deal with this?

Amy Joyce: That's a good question, and I'm hoping some of you readers will jump in with your own feelings about it.

I say go ahead and embrace that feeling. You know now that the worst can happen, because it has. But you've thrived despite the worst happening. You were let go, you found a new job. Twice. You may not wake up tomorrow and feel better knowing this, but it should give you some strength.

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Fairfield, Penn.: Some advice for Washington, D.C. I was laid off last year from a company I had been with since graduating from college, which was seven years. My wife was also seven months pregnant with our first child, so we had a tough road ahead of us. Luckily we had a great support group around us in friends and family. I was also fortunate enough to have a P/T job and made many contacts throughout my years of service at this establishment in Frederick. I actually found a job through one of my customers. It is amazing how people you know/meet are willing to help you find work. Don't sweat being laid off too much (which is easier said than done). It will feel like a death in the family at first, but time heals all wounds.

Good luck!

Amy Joyce: That's great. Thanks.

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Bethesda, Md.: As a former outplacement counselor I can tell you that the range of emotions in response to an announced lay-off is enormous. Some folks are ready to roll up their sleeves and get into transition mode 30 seconds after the announcement ... others go through the five stages of Elizabeth Kubler Ross' Death and Dying -- from denial to positive action.

Amy Joyce: Thanks, counselor. I've seen it all from this seat, too. (Brings us right back to the Bernie Ebbers day, no?)

How do you overcome the grief?

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Arlington, Va.: I recently started a new position about two weeks ago. Things here are very disorganized and from what I can see of my new position, it will not be something I really enjoy or will hold my attention for very long. I was only at my previous company for short time as well. I am considering looking for new positions, but I am concerned about how my resume will look and also about starting over AGAIN at a new place where I may not like the position. Do you think I should give my latest position more time, or look around again for positions I think may be more interesting/challenging?

Amy Joyce: You've only been there for two weeks. You barely know where the bathroom is yet! Give it a little time. Get comfortable in your chair. Figure out what it is you like about it and don't like about it. What can you change. Who can you find to be a bit of a mentor to you. What things in your day do you like. Can you increase that to fill more of your day? Try a little harder to make it work, Arl. Considering you were also at your last job a very short amount of time, I'd say two weeks isn't enough time to tell you much of anything.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi, Amy. Love the chats! Submitting early because I may not make it to the live chat. In the next three to five years, my goal is to leave my (government) job and this area, to hopefully follow my dream of teaching and move to an area that I love much, much more. I won't be making as much money, but over the past year (my first year at this job and in D.C.) I've realized that I can't stand my job or the DC area. I asked two people I trust what they thought about it, and one person told me to just drop the job now and leave, and the other person told me to stay because you can't beat the pay and government retirement benefits. I'm staying because the agency is paying for some of my undergrad loans, and it is a good experience that will help me in my future. I'm interested though to hear from you and your chatters, is it better in your experiences to stay at a job you don't like because you can retire at 65 and be paid for, or is it better to go live where you want and do what you want, but not be as comfortable financially?

Amy Joyce: Do you really want to spend the next 45 years of your life (your one and only life) in a job and an area you don't like? Makes no sense to me. And that's even before I get into a discussion about how we desperately need teachers who want to be teachers.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Amy -- I just accepted a wonderful job offer, out of state (erh, city). Fortunately, my husband will also be able to keep his job; he'll be joining me in about a month and telecommute. Any suggestions for how to stay sane while working at home, once you're no longer able to see colleagues on a daily basis? While his actual job doesn't require it, this will be a big change for him. Thanks!

Amy Joyce: Lots of people here work from home. So again, folks, jump in with your good advice.

Things I've learned from those who do it: Get out of your office at least once at day to see people if you are missing human interaction (lunch, coffee with a client?) Stay in constant touch with instant messaging/e-mail. Make a point to schedule meetings back at HQ every so often.

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NYC: Another perspective: As and employer and owner of a small business I enjoy learning about employee issues and learn from what you write and your readers. Perhaps my questions and concerns may be of interest to those who are employed. For the past year my business has taken a hit with changes across the medical education industry. I have minimized the effect on my employees as much as possible with me taking a 50 percent cut in my pay (thank heaven my wife works). My employees have had to pick up 15 percent more for their own healthcare about 25 percent. I have also held raises but understand everyone here is making top in their field. I have picked up doing the extra work. Business is slow and it is like a country club as I remake the company and promote it. Yet the people left still feel entitled to leave at 5, whine when there is new business to pitch and we have to all work harder (normal). And yet I try and keep my spirits up. I get cranky some days and down others. All I want is to feel I have a team that wants to succeed instead of getting a check, leaving early, and whining. Where to I turn?

Amy Joyce: A great perspective we all could use. Thanks for sharing.

Have you had a real conversation with your employees about what you're also going through? If not, it might be time. Not a whine session, of course, but a "we need you to pitch in and here's why" session. It may click some folks in to gear.

As for you, how about networking with other small business owners? Since you're in NYC, I know there are a ton of networking groups. Even the Chamber might be a help. The more you can talk to others who may have been through a similar situation, the more you might be able to cope (though I think it sounds like you're doing quite well, considering!)

Good luck.

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McLean, Va.: Hi, Amy. I have been applying for jobs, and have so far not had too much luck. I had a resume expert take a look at my resume, and she suggested a few things that I was unsure about. First, she suggested putting an objective in. I thought I had heard that having an objective was superfluous in your resume? Also, she suggested that I have more of a functional resume rather than a chronological one, where I'd list my experience by qualifications pertaining to the position I'm applying for, and not by the positions I've had, something that I have never seen before.

What are your thoughts on this? Thanks!

Amy Joyce: Well, she's the resume expert. But frankly, most human resource folks I speak with tell me the objective is a lame space waster that they pay no attention to. (Any hirers out there want to back me up--or not--here?)

I agree on the functional vs. chronological. Think about what you would want to see if you were looking at your resume and considering hiring. Obviously, the most pertinent information first, right?

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Winnipeg, Canada: Regarding Arlington's complaint about a new place seeming to be very disorganized, I'd view this as a chance to demonstrate my organization skills. No matter what level one is in a company, one can influence its behavior. If you can show how to reduce chaos, people will appreciate it. (Believe it or not, once my wife made a real splash in a clerical function when she organized the accounts payable files alphabetically.) And the company that does not appreciate and reward good organization skills is a rare one (and probably due for extinction).

Amy Joyce: Great thoughts. And a good reminder that no matter the position, we can have a positive influence on our workplace. Thanks.

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Key West, Fla.: I disagree that you need to give more time to see if you like the position. Most people know within two weeks if they are right for the job and if they made a mistake. Prolonging the inevitable is just wrong -- the company could be looking for the right person while you sit and take up space. If she is unhappy now, what makes you believe she won't be unhappy in a month or two or six? And she need not put this on her resume should she get a new job quickly.

Amy Joyce: Sometimes that is truly the case. It happens that we make mistakes even in our job searches. But in this instance, the writer seems to be making a habit of job hopping. If that's recognizable, then I say one has to give a 2 week stint a little more time before moving on.

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Alexandria, Va.: Amy: I work very hard and have had a lot of good breaks so I am younger than most of my peers. What's more I look even younger than I am. I am well respected in the company, but I know there are times when my youthful looks make it harder for people to take me as seriously as they should. How can I overcome this?

Also, when it comes to compensation, I'm always a little bit lower than everyone else. If I am doing the same job as people my senior (and I'm recognized for doing it well) why should I not get compensated the same way? Will I ever be able to overcome being "young" for the position that I'm in?

Amy Joyce: Welcome to the club. As folks like to remind me: You'll be happy later in life.

But I understand. The best way to overcome this is stop thinking about it yourself. Dress professionally, act professionally, do a great job and your young look won't matter much. Folks will realize quickly enough to take you seriously (shouldn't we all take everyone seriously at work?)

As for the compensation: Think you're being paid a bit less because you have less experience?

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Ashburn, Va.: When I went through a lay-off a few years ago, I spent time trying to make everyone else know I was okay. My whole department was laid off, so I had people going through it as well but everyone had their own way. One of the best pieces of advice I got was from my sister. She told me to take a full day to mourn. I stayed in bed late, I didn't send any resumes, I rented some movies and ate ice cream and felt sorry for myself. Just that one day helped get that sadness away so the next day, I could get out there and start figuring out my future.

Amy Joyce: That sounds like good advice. You allow yourself to mourn, but make sure you get going on that job search. (And get ice cream in the meantime!)

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Rockville, Md.: You're gonna love this. I work for a small company and my boss recently asked us three assistants to buy an item for the office. There was a super deal ($200) on a Web site offering a $75 rebate she couldn't resist and since only one per household, she wanted us to buy one for the office with our own money (which would be reimbursed) and we could keep the rebate. Lovely. This was really an order from her so each of us had to comply. Now, there was a major glitch in my rebate resulting in the Internet company denying my claim. So I am out that $75. Now my boss comes back to all of us (we have since received the items and delivered them to her) stating the $200 would not be reimbursed as a separate check; she would put it into our paychecks just like a 'bonus.' This is totally insane. I am not to get what she owes me; rather I am to be taxed on money I already had doing her and the office a favor. All of us are furious but what can we do? She won't budge; she said it was 'our duty' to help out the business and when I told her about the rebate fiasco I had, her response was 'oh well, that happens ... live and learn'. Have you ever heard of anyone who treats their employees in such a manner? Needless to say, we have all learned a hard lesson. Never do anything for the boss, even if it costs you the job. What do you think Amy? What should we do now?

Amy Joyce: That sounds like a rotten boss story to add to my list. Wow. I'm afraid you really can't do much of anything, unless your boss has a boss and you're willing to risk your job to fight this. HR would surely find fault in this, too, if you have an HR department. But be ready for a fight.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Amy. Love the chat ...

How long should someone stay at their first job out of college? I work at a small government relations office with no opportunity to move up since my position is the entry level one ... I have been here for about seven months and the job has grown pretty stale, even though I have gotten some great experience. More responsibility is not really an option because there is only so far this position can go, although over the last few months I have asked and received new projects/assignments.

Keeping in mind that I'm in the field of politics/government affairs where there is a lot of turnover, is looking for a new job in the nonprofit/government affairs field too soon for me? Thanks!

Amy Joyce: Start looking now because it will take some time to find a new gig that will be a step up. In the meantime, keep a good attitude about this job. We all have to do the grunt work to get to a better position. But while doing it, we can learn new skills and where we might want to go. Remember that and use it.

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Feeling like I blew it in VA: I had an interview on Friday. I work for a school system here and the interview would have been for a side job with the school system, but it's what I REALLY want to do, and I want the experience so I can move on soon. I was so excited for the interview. I even called the people out of the blue over the summer and inquired about possibilities.

I sent an e-mail Thank You and asked if there was anything else they needed from me, and asked if I could get a demo username and password so I could get more information about the organization. I sent a hand-written Thank You as well.

The e-mail response was "Thank you. We'll be in touch soon."

So now I'm stressed and feeling like I blew it.

Is this normal? How long should I wait to hear?

Amy Joyce: It's normal. And that was just two business days ago! You have to give them some time to process their thoughts (and paperwork) before you can expect much feedback, particularly within a school system. Try to breathe and work on your patience. It's tough, I know. But know that you've done everything you can. If you know anyone who is connected with the job and you have a decent relationship with them, you can always try to follow up with them. But wait a week at least. Good luck.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Amy!

My last company sent me an e-mail to my personal (Hotmail) e-mail address to say that I was fired. They told me to mail them my office keys. The keys got lost in the mail. They are very angry at me. What should I do?

Amy Joyce: Tell them you sent the keys. There's nothing else you can do. And probably nothing else they can do. I hope you've moved on to find a better situation.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Amy. I'm getting back into the work world after a couple of months off. The market right now has few jobs in my specialized area. How bad an idea is it to take a job in a similar area while planning to continue looking for exactly what I want? I can see pitfalls: it'll be harder to snag a job that's outside my focused area because it's been some time since I've done anything else; it's unfair to the employer to come on board dishonestly; the next employer could assume I'm doing the same thing to them (still looking). On the other hand, I do need to start getting a paycheck again! What do you and other chatters advise? P.S., What's the typical length of time a job search lasts (I'm in the nonprofit arena if that makes a difference)?

Amy Joyce: If you can find a job in your general field, go for it. You get to collect a paycheck, learn new things, keep up with your skills and meet new contacts. It's smart to always keep our eyes open for new opportunities, so that's what you would be doing if you take one job but continue to consider jobs in your specific area. Just make sure if you do it this way that you give the job you take your all. It's not fair to any organization to hire a person who's only goal there is to be a placeholder.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Hi, Amy. I'm considering applying for a new job, and I found a training course that would be ideal for helping me get a job within a specific company I'd love to work for. However, the course doesn't entirely apply to my current job, so I doubt my current company would be willing to pay for it, and I can't afford to pay for it myself.

My question is: would it be appropriate for me to bring up during the interview process (assuming I get that far) that I'd like to take that course and would they pay for it? The Web site for the course says they've placed people within this specific company, so I know they'll be familiar with it, but is it rude to ask them to consider my future training when deciding whether or not to hire me?

Amy Joyce: Not rude at all. But I would say it a little differently. Many companies like to hear that you would be interested in career development. So ask them if you would be interested in future training, and how does that work at this company. Don't ask them straight out if they will pay for your training, but ask what they might provide in the way of training. Make sense?

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Bel Air, Md.: I know you have addressed the issue of giving gifts to your boss at holidays and how it is not really appropriate. My Dad, who is my mentor, agrees with you. Now that the holiday season is coming up, I've got myself in a sticky situation.

Last year the small group (five to six people) that works for my immediate boss got together and pitched in for a group Christmas gift. I'm not sure how to handle it this year, since I've decided that I'd rather not participate and others are already talking about it. Is there a graceful or easy way to bow-out now that I've reconsidered my stance on gifting the boss?

Amy Joyce: Probably not. If the group is getting the boss a gift and you are the only one not pitching in, it'll seem odd. There's no harm done in joining in on a gift. But if you were to go out and buy your boss a new stereo for the holidays yourself, that would be odd.

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For the person with the two-week itch: I was right there with you a couple of months ago. I knew after a couple of days that this was not going to be the job for me. But I wanted to give it a chance at the same time. I started to apply for other jobs, scheduled some interviews, etc. Now I am leaving for a new job I am very excited about and after being here for a little over two months, I know for sure that it is not for me. I would suggest exploring other options while you are giving the current job a chance.

Amy Joyce: Thanks ... that's helpful. At least keep your eyes open. But also try to sit for a while in that two week stint.

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Amy Joyce: On that note, it's time to run. Join me again next Tuesday, same time, same place to discuss your life at work. You can e-mail me at lifeatwork@washpost.com -- particularly if you're a former MCI/WorldCommer willing to chat with me today.

Check out Life at Work the column every Sunday in your Business section.

Have a good week, all.

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