Life at Work Live

Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, October 24, 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 our life at work. As always, join in with your own advice and stories to help fellow readers along.

If you've been following this chat, you know I'm due to write a column about evaluations (it's that time of year.) If you're willing to share a story about a good or bad evaluation with me, using your name, I'm all ears: E-mail me at I'm also interested in hearing from you managers about how you figure out how to do a "good" (i.e.: helpful) evaluation. I know it ain't easy.

Alrighty, then. Let's discuss....


Upper Marlboro, Md.: I'm in a graduate program that I really, really do not like and my job is paying for it. After this semester, I plan to discontinue the program. However, some people are saying I should continue the program since my job is paying for it and since a graduate degree is a necessity. It is only my first year, but I find the classes to be difficult and boring. Do you think stopping the program will hurt my chances of getting into future graduate programs or having my employer pay for them?

Amy Joyce: If you stick with it and hate it, you're wasting not only your own time, but your employer's money. If you're sure you don't like it and don't think this degree is anything you'll use in the future, then save everyone the time and money and stop. Wait until you're sure what you want to do before you dive in to another grad program. It's just too expensive and time consuming to do if you hate it.


Washington, D.C.: Any tips for managing a transition after a layoff? I'm downshifting to part-time work and close to full-time parenting. I'm a bit worried about culture shock after working for more than 20 years.

Amy Joyce: It will be a culture shock, for sure. Try to recognize that right away. The highs of work will be fewer. But that will be filled with other things. If you like the camaraderie of working, make sure on your days off you do a few things that will keep you on that track. Plan to meet friends, contacts, etc. Enjoy the kids, but know that it will be tough. Anyone else want to chime in with your experiences?


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Amy, Why are companies so hard-line about requiring a degree, but willing to dismiss extensive experience? Is there any way to get your foot in the door without a degree? Thanks -- Frustrated with/ experience

Amy Joyce: I think it's the one measure they all can agree on or be sure of. Yes, experience should count for a lot and oftentimes, it does. But if you're trying to get in somewhere new, it is difficult without a degree, particularly if the company is looking at two candidates: One with a lot of experience and a degree. Or one with a lot of experience.

Any chance you want to go back to school?

If not, getting in will take what it takes for anyone: Networking. Make sure your former colleagues, clients, friends, family members know that you're looking. Your experience and good work in the past may be enough for them to suggest you for a job elsewhere. Get out and go to networking events. Let people know what experience you have and what you've accomplished. You never know when and where you'll meet someone who is a potential in to a job -- degree or not.

Good luck.


Falls Church, Va.: Amy -- What's the best way to approach a co-worker about an air freshener that is stinking up the office? This co-worker of mine has recently started using one of those "plug-in" air fresheners and the odor permeates the entire office. I get hit with a blast of it as soon as I open the door and I can smell it as I try to eat my lunch, etc. How can I get rid of this thing without coming off like a jerk? Thanks!

Amy Joyce: "Hi, Joe. Listen, I hate to be a pain, but that air freshener is way too strong. Is there any way you can get something that isn't so potent? Thanks."

Really. Just say something. Otherwise, you'll start detesting this co-worker for something they don't know they're doing.

_______________________ The Redskins Could Learn From Business (Post, Oct. 22)

Amy Joyce: This was Sunday's column, for all you Skins fans (or not).


Philadelphia, Pa.: Hi Amy, I'm currently in the process of applying for a new job (interview tomorrow!). I am very close with a co-worker, but have not told her anything about this because I figure it's better if she knows nothing (in case I do end up leaving and they ask her questions). Especially as there are only 8 of us in the company. Is it right to keep her in the dark? It's killing me not telling her...thanks!

Amy Joyce: I think there are a lot of reasons for not telling her. That's great you're interviewing, but it could just be the start of a longer search. It's up to you if you want your work friend to know, but say you don't get this job. You might end up getting asked each day what's new with your job search. Others might overhear. Your boss might overhear, etc. But if it's killing you not telling her, then feel free to tell her. As long as you are SURE she won't tell anyone else or even just make others suspicious.

Good luck on your interview.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Amy, Here is my major problem: I am leaving my firm after nearly two years. I have a co-worker who has gone behind my back several times and complained to my boss about things I did not do or situations she misinterpreted...just to get me in trouble. She seems like a major control freak....She has even confronted me several times in front of other workers in a loud and aggressive manner...Anyway, now that I am leaving she wants to arrange a goodbye lunch with my two bosses (whom I really get along great with) and she (co-worker) also plans to attend. I do not want to go anywhere with her after how she has treated me at the job!! But I do not want to offend my two bosses...should I decline to go to the lunch...I could make up a few excuses...Please help!

Amy Joyce: This is not a major problem. If you want a lunch with your bosses, ask them to go by yourselves. Or if you don't want to cause any issues (which this soon-to-be-former co-worker obviously has) then just go to this lunch.

You could just tell her that you were planning to just take your two bosses out as a thank you yourself and although you appreciate the gesture, you think you'll stick with that plan. No biggie.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Amy, absolutely love reading the live discussions. This year, for the first time, the 50-person company for which I work is asking for a 25-dollar-per-employee contribution for the annual holiday dinner. This has traditionally been a three-course sit-down dinner with a cocktail and hors d' oeuvre hour beforehand. I was wondering: 1) How common is it for employers to ask for employee contributions to a holiday dinner up front, and 2) What is your opinion of this practice? I realize it's a full meal, and not just drinks and snacks, but it still seems kind of contrary to the holiday spirit.

Amy Joyce: It does seem contrary, huh? Holiday parties come in all shapes and sizes (make sure to read the Thanksgiving issue of our magazine to read my story about it!)... some are potlucks where everyone brings a dish, others are big affairs the company pays for. Others... are strange, like yours. If you don't want to pay it, don't go. But remember that this once a year party is something you probably *should* go to just to show your face, your enthusiasm and, although you have to shell it out yourself, your interest. Your boss will know you are there and it could be a chance to network without feeling like you're networking. I know it's not everyone's idea of a fun time....


Washington, D.C.: I'm so bored at work today that I'm looking for new jobs (interoffice changes). I've been here a year, sort of like my job, but don't have much to do. My manager doesn't really have much for me to do either. Think it's time to move on?

Amy Joyce: Your enthusiasm is overwhelming. Unless you're willing to put in more energy and effort to find new things to do where you are, please spare us all and go find a new job.


Vienna, Va.: I have a friend of mine who graduated last May with me who is having a tough time finding a job. She is a liberal arts major but really wants to get into museum work, especially drawing on her history background. She just hasn't had any luck breaking into the field. I've been trying to help, but I'm out of suggestions, beyond suggesting that a Masters might be necessary. Any tips for getting your foot in the door?

Amy Joyce: I'll throw this one out there. Anyone have any advice for someone who wants to get into museum work?


New York, N.Y.: I have reason to believe that my boss is managing the office in an illegal manner, in addition to an unethical manner. We are approaching a major deadline, and he is requiring that we work 7 days a week, on call 24/7 until the project is delivered...without possibility of overtime, and if we don't perform up to standard, then we may see some "staffing changes" after the project is done. He is verbally abusive, mean, and offensive, and I have just about had enough...but this most recent office policy raised so many flags I had to ask. Your thoughts? Is any of that illegal, or just unethical and horrible?

Amy Joyce: If you're a salaried employee, overtime is not applicable. But if you're paid per hour, then yes, you should be earning overtime. Mostly, it sounds like he's a tough, unreasonable boss. I'm sorry. If you have a human resources department, they might want to be made aware of this.


Alexandria, Va.: About a month and a half ago, I got a promotion at work, which includes a new supervisor. I still haven't received my pay raise yet, and I could really use it. My old supervisor keeps saying she'll fill out the paperwork, but she's "just so busy." (This is in no way true, but that's beside the point.) Should I ask my new supervisor to do it instead? He's actually very busy, and I'm not sure it's his responsibility. I'm afraid he'll tell me to ask my old boss, and I'll just look like I'm nagging.

Amy Joyce: Be more aggressive. If you were told you'd get a raise with the promotion, it *should* happen simultaneously. If your old boss doesn't sound like she'll be doing it, tell your new boss. It's in his best interest to make sure you're happy, after all.


Phoenix, Az.: Hi Amy -- My current supervisor will soon be moving to another department. Yay! He is a big slacker, rarely works more than 30 hours a week and often drops the ball with clients. His move, however, is a promotion, even though the head honchos know about his slacker behavior (my co-worker brought this to their attention, as well as the pissed off clients but nothing happened). Anyway, -rumor- is that I may be asked to move into the supervisory position -- but I have found out they are advertising the job for significantly less pay than the slacker was making. If I do end up interviewing for/being offered the position, would it be reasonable to ask for the pay I know slacker-boss was making? Or work part time, since that's what he was doing (ok, that is kind of a joke -- but really...?)

Amy Joyce: I'm sure they're advertising it for less. Wouldn't you? They don't advertise it for top dollar because they know applicants will negotiate higher.

If you are asked to apply, however, you are going with knowledge of what the job is worth. If it gets to a point where you're close to being selected, get ready to negotiate as you would with any new job.


Undisclosed, USA: I just accepted a new position in a company as an administrative assistant. I work only with men in a large company and am the only female in my department. I just found out that a male employee in my department with whom I will work is a newly-registered sex offender (supervised conditions, arrest in last 12 months) in my state (I searched him on the web site after overhearing a conversation) and I am appalled. I was never told this in the interview or after hire. I am unsure what to do. Is it not required for an employer to tell a new hire, especially a female, that a co-worker is a felon with a sex crime history? I feel uncomfortable around him and being the only female I feel I should have been told prior to accepting this position. What would you do? My supervisor said that I needed to get along with the men and to accept any 'colorful' conversation with ease as being a women would not change their behavior. Please help!

Amy Joyce: As strange as it may sound, this bothers me more than almost anything: My supervisor said that I needed to get along with the men and to accept any 'colorful' conversation with ease as being a women would not change their behavior.

Why? Because it shows your supervisor won't protect you. Even from a sex offender. Please look for another job.


Museum hiring: I currently work for one, and one of the best ways to break in is through volunteer work or part-time jobs. Many of our employees either started out very, very low on the totem pole or volunteered first.

Amy Joyce: Great advice. Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: Museum work: Has the person thought of becoming a Docent?

Amy Joyce: More... (thanks)


Bonus: I work at a very small business. We have busy season, like retail at Christmas, where we basically ask everyone to suspend their lives as much as possible for the duration so that we can make the bulk of our money. At the end, we try to give generous bonuses. Our problem is an employee whose family obligations only allowed her to work her regular hours. She wants the same bonus as everyone else. We are planning to give her something, but certainly not as much as those who were here late every night and into the weekend. How would you handle this situation?

Amy Joyce: It sounds like you've got it covered. She can't expect a bonus for not doing what you are giving the bonus for. (How's that for a sentence?)

So, thank her for her work. If you feel like it, explain that since she wasn't able to work all those extra hours--and you understand why--you can't give her a bonus like everyone else's. Giving her anything is a plus.


Worried: The department I work in currently has three open positions. I am interested in two of them, one more than the other though. Both would provide me with interesting work, a new challenge, and an opportunity to build my skills in my profession. I am currently really border in my position.

Job #1: The one I would really love. I talked to my supervisor (the hiring manager for this position). He said he would consider me if I applied, but a few days later mentioned that he is considering making an offer to a candidate who applied for job #3 that is open.

Job #2: This would be a good opportunity for me. I would be interested in the work, just not as much as job #1. This would also be a good stepping stone to be a more solid candidate for job #1 (here or a similar job elsewhere). I know there is also other people in my company interested in applying for this position.

I was advised that I should pick one to show that I am truly passionate about doing that position. I would like to apply for both, but don't want to appear, not being really passionate about doing one position. Further complicating things...I am 95% sure I will be moving over the summer. Is it fair for me to apply, knowing I would only do the job for 8 months or less? I have been with the company for 2 years already.

Amy Joyce: Yes it's fair for you to apply. You aren't sure you're going anywhere.

If Job #1 is the one you truly are interested in, ask your boss if he thinks applying would be moot or if you should still apply since it's something you'd really love. It sounds like he'll be honest with you.

I say always apply for the job you really truly want. If you don't get it, the company knows you're interested in moving around and may see that you'd be great for another position.


Washington, D.C.: The person trying to "break into" museum work -- I presume she means on the curatorial or admin sides -- should consider an entry-level job in fundraising at a museum. May not be her permanent cup of tea but it's a job and an opportunity to find out more about the museum you work for and hear the scuttlebutt about others. Just make sure you do the job you were hired to do ... getting fired usually is not a career boost.

Amy Joyce: And more. I knew you'd all have some advice. Is there any other city where people can tell us how to get into museum work? I heart DC.



Washington, D.C.: I share an office with a person and we get along great. I have been at my job for about a year, and he started only recently, so we get into lengthy conversations about the ins and outs of the job. The other day, our boss walked by our office with her executive assistant and remarked to her, "Geez, it sounds like a college dorm room in there...". Her assistant then came into our office later to let us know what she said and told us to limit our office conversations. I prefer to be judged by my performance, as does my office mate, and we do great jobs and have been told as such. So was it across the line to be scolded by the boss' assistant? It also seems to me that having a good relationship with your office mate is a positive thing!

Amy Joyce: Just make sure to be professional. Of course you can have conversations with your co-workers. And if you like them, all the better. Instead of thinking you were scolded (and telling yourself it was over the line just to make yourself feel better), try to think of it as helpful information. That doesn't mean cutting off conversation or fun, but it might be toning it down a bit, particularly when you boss comes into the room.


D.C.: For the person whose boss is too busy to put in her salary increase paperwork - ask what you can do to help. Sometimes it takes all sorts of updated position descriptions and if you can take the load off, that might help. Also, BUG HER! I would just raise the point at your next status meeting and continue to ask every so often until it gets done. Make sure you get retroactive money as well for the time that you've been in the position but not at the higher salary level! I was cheated out of a ton of money because of someone that dragged her feet for six months.

Amy Joyce: Good advice. Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: Amy: I'm in graduate school and working full-time. I'm currently looking for a new job since I'm getting ready to graduate soon. My problem is finding the time to attend recruiting events at school. I started off by saying I have a doctor's appointment so I could get out of work (I have a ton of vacation and sick leave), but now I'm wondering, is it really necessary for me to provide an excuse? Can I just say I'll be in at X time or leaving early at X time without an excuse, provided that I use my personal time to do what I need to do? I feel like we're all adults here...why should I have to provide an excuse?

Amy Joyce: It depends on your office culture. Is it at 9 to 5 place where you have to be at your desk at a certain time? If so, then yes, you need to use that vacation time for your own purposes. If you have a more casual atmosphere, then I think it's fie if you come in later, particularly if you stay later to get your work done. Sometimes the easiest way to think in this case is to put yourself in your boss' shoes. You are taking time off from this job to find a new job. Make sure you're being fair to them as well as to yourself.


Maryland: I'm not sure what line of work New York is in, but as a consultant it isn't unusual for me to work 7 days a week and be on call 24/7 as a MAJOR deadline approaches. It's just a fact of life in certain professions. The upside is that other times they are understanding when I need to have more flexibility in my schedule. There isn't a call for abusiveness though. Sometimes you have to vote with your feet.

Amy Joyce: Amen, Md. Thanks.


Arlington, Va.: I graduated from college in 2005 and started working for a great company that August. I was there for 10 months until a fantastic opportunity (or what I thought was a fantastic opportunity) came up very unexpectedly. I got a huge pay increase, but I'm miserable at this new job. I've been here four months and I think about leaving every day. The work is boring and there isn't much of it. I've asked for more work, but I am a contractor in a government office that doesn't like contractors, so getting more challenging assignments isn't really an option. I'd really like to go back to my old company or start looking for a new job, but I am just over a year out of school and don't want three jobs on my resume in a year and a half. Also, a friend of mine in this office really went out on a limb to get me this job, and I'm afraid it will reflect poorly on her if I leave. Friends and family say to suck it up for a year and save money for grad school in the fall, but I truly hate coming to work in the mornings. I would rather make less money and be happy. What should I do?

Amy Joyce: Hey Arl. Normally, I'm all about getting out if you're sure you hate it, but three jobs in a year is a bit much. Give it a little more time WHILE researching new opportunities. That way, you'll be at this job a while longer but you're be smartly taking time to figure out what's next, and will be more sure that the next step you take won't be the wrong one. Take this time to network outside of the job, talk to people about grad school, talk to people about other job possibilities, and save that big money you're making. It will really come in handy later. It's a fine line: Don't let yourself stay at this job for too long. But stay long enough to have a bit of a solid job on your resume. You can use that time wisely.


Kensington, Md.: Amy, Thanks for the helpful chats! Here's the situation: I've gotten an informal offer for an interesting position at a great company that I'd love to work for. However, as I'm waiting for the formal offer, the person who was to have been my manager has let me know confidentially that he is considering a new position himself, so he may leave the company before or immediately after I join the company. It was great of him to warn me. Since so much of life at work has to do with your manager, I'm kind of flummoxed. The position above the manager's is open. I'm thinking that before accepting the position, I need to meet the person who I would most likely be reporting to. I'm thinking of asking the hiring manager if there might be a way for me, as part of my decision-making process, to go back in and meet the likely person, framing it in such a way that the hiring manager's situation is not disclosed. What do you think?

Amy Joyce: Your manager might be replaced by someone on the outside. Quickly. You have no way of knowing who that person will be, and you can't say anything to the hiring manager because this person obviously hasn't said he's leaving yet. You could ask to meet with other people you might report to. Or just ask the person who was to have been your manager if there's a way to meet them, or a good way to approach it.

Good luck.


Amy Joyce: Okay, gang. The noon bell has rung. Join me again next week, same time, same place to discuss your life at work. You can read Life at Work the column in the Sunday Business section. Have a good week...


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