Life at Work Live

Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, February 6, 2007; 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 cold morning all. I'm still trying to thaw out after waiting for buses that never came this morning! Hope you all had a better commute. Perhaps that's a subject for today. Anyone?

Lots of questions await. We've got smelly co-workers, long distance job searches, piercing questions and the usual complaints about bosses sitting here. So join in and share your own advice and stories to help your fellow readers along.

Alrighty then, let's get going ...


To pierce or not to pierce?: As a budget analyst for the federal gov't, I work in a fairly conservative career field -- and I uphold a pretty conservative and professional appearance at work. Nothing but Ann Taylor suits and sweater sets for me.

My question ... I would like to get my nose pierced. Nothing obnoxious, just a teeny, tiny diamond stud. The only thing holding me back is what this might do for my future marketability. In the next year or so I plan to begin looking for a lead/supervisory position and I'm not sure if people would take one look at me and say, "Not a chance." What do you think?

Amy Joyce: For me, a teeny tiny stud is just fine. I'm a little biased. I think done right it's a very attractive look. (gasp!) It's also a cultural norm for some, and so many people are used to seeing the pierced noses. If you want to, I say go for it. You dress professionally, I assume act professionally, and if it's very small, some might not even notice. You might consider not wearing it to an interview. But my feeling is it's your life, and if you want it, get it. Just make sure you know how to wear it (or not).

I'll let the hounds have at this one. Anyone not want to hire someone because of a very small nose piercing?


Washington, D.C.: I am a unemployed Capitol Hill staffer and have been out of work for eight months and really need to get ANY job to pay the mortgage, etc. Where would you suggest I look -- temp agencies? Retail? I need something to also help me feel like my master's degree is not going completely to waste.

Amy Joyce: What do you want to do? Where are you looking? If you're looking on the Hill, keep at it. They will still be staffing up now that the offices are settling in and figuring out what other positions need to be filled. Check out temp and placement firms in the area. There are some that are specific to Hill and political/lobbying jobs, like PoliTemps. You worked on the Hill. You must have a bunch of contacts in both former coworkers and bosses. Even if you've lost touch, it's time to contact them again to ask for help. Get out and network. There are always events going on in our area. Get to it. Tell family, friends, former colleagues, classmates that you're looking. Some may have some leads for you. Check in with your alumni center. Drag yourself to alumni events. You never know who you might meet and who you can keep in touch with. People need workers too. They're not just doing you a favor.


Washington, D.C.: I have a coworker that calls me "kiddo" - this drives me bonkers! I am 30, she is 40. Do you think it would be rude to just tell her to stop? I don't want to come off as a pill, but it makes my skin crawl. Not only am I not a child, I don't think anyone over the age of 10 should be refered to as a "kiddo" -- and certainly not in a work environment!

I am not sure exactly how to phrase it. Shall I just say, "Please don't call me that, I'm not a kid" -- or ...?

Amy Joyce:"Since I'm in my 30s, I should take that as a compliment, right?" Something like that seems doable. It might even be a way for you to think about it. This strikes me as something that you should just shrug off. If she's not treating you like a child, get over it.


Fairfax, Va.: Hi Amy: You should do an article on e-mail phrases and crutches used all the time in business communication that need to go away. I deal with e-mails all day and the one that sets me on edge more than any other is "please advise." I see this phrase used dozens and dozens of time a day, sometimes used several times in the same e-mail. People use this instead of asking for help or asking a specific question: "My thing is broken. Please advise." My knee-jerk response would be "Ok, your thing is broken. Let me know what you want me to do about it." Please, for the love of all that is good and right with the world, stop with that phrase and ask your question. I just don't get it -- why do folks use that phrase?

Amy Joyce: That's not one I've thought of. I'm anti- "circle back" and my colleague here doesn't like "cheers"...

Go ahead folks, have a free for all. What other email catch phrases do you dislike? Now's your time to get it off your chest.




Chicago, Ill.: Hi Amy -- Thanks for your great chats and columns! I have been devouring them as I try to make my move from Chicago to D.C.

I have a master's degree and several years of experience, and I want to move to the D.C. area and work in communications or government relations. I'm wondering if you or your readers have any thoughts on how or if I should discuss my moving plans in my cover letters? Should I state that I am planning to move to the area? that I don't expect an employer to pay for my move? that I am willing to cover the travel costs for an interview? What makes an interviewer decide to bring in an out-of-state applicant?

Amy Joyce: We've had some good thoughts on this one lately. Make sure to say in your cover letter that you plan to move to D.C. in the near future, and that you plan to be in town over the next few weeks and would love to meet with someone. That way the paying for flights is sort of a moot point. Good luck!


Newark, Del.: Please help. I want to do the right thing but feel I am walking a tightrope. I have a job offer I am really excited about. The problem is that at my current job we are receiving 2006 bonuses in early March. These payouts are substantial and I cannot walk away from it. Still, I'm worried about both holding off my new employer too long not to mention bad blood with my current employer, with whom I'd like to stay friendly. Any advice on how to handle this?

Amy Joyce: If you want the new job, take it. You can't put them off just to wait for your bonus. Bad form.


Nose piercing: For what it's worth, I have two friends with teeny tiny nose studs, and both of them work in totally buttoned-down environments. One is a defense contractor on a major military installation, and the other is in a big, male-dominated law firm. One took the stud out for interviews, but put it back in for her first day; the other has never taken hers out. Both are doing fine.

Amy Joyce: Yep, that's what I would expect. Thanks for the vote of confidence.


I hate "Thanks"!!!!: It drives me crazy when people end emails with "thanks" when it's not appropriate. For example, "I saw that your light was on so I turned it off. Thanks." or "I'll give you a call before I leave. Thanks." So unnecessary and almost dilutes the meaning. I even know someone who has it in her automatic signature. Argh!

Amy Joyce: Lovely. "I'd like to tell you that you are being downsized today. Thanks."

And reminds me of another. How about "tnx." Because sometimes it's too hard to type three more letters...


Irritating work phrases: I once had a boss that would say in our weekly staff meeting, "Let's talk about this offline." How about just saying, "Let's talk about this after the meeting"? Offline? What is she, a computer?

Also, I am not a big fan of the phrase "going forward." How about "from now on"? I think my ire stems from an office manager in an office where I once worked, who practically used these two words as her mantra. So annoying!

Okay, I feel better.

Amy Joyce: We are here to please.


Thanks Amy!: Amy, you gave me some advice on dealing with a passive-aggressive co-worker a few weeks ago. Your advice is working. I'm no longer playing into it by letting it get to me and arguing with her. Just dealing with the facts. We had a situation this morning that she normally would have escalated into a huge trauma, with tears and everything. And all the happened is that I was given a quick apology for her dropping the ball on today's issue, and we just moved and got the problem solved. Wonderful. Thanks!

Amy Joyce: Happy to hear that. Congrats!


RE: Cheers!: Who doesn't like cheers? It's british for thanks, as well as being a general expression of good feeling. That's just curmudgeonly.

I don't like "looping in." I don't want to be looped in. I might want to be included.

Also, "thanks in advance." It's as if the writer needs to underscore that you haven't done anything YET worthy of thanks, but he anticipates that you will.

Amy Joyce: My curmudgeonly office-mate is 26. It's just how she feels. Another colleague of mine has "proof" that people who sign off on e-mails with "cheers" get promotions faster. I still haven't figured that one out ...

Thanks in advance is an interesting one ...


RE: E-mail Phrases: I hate the notable quotes by famous people the sender places after their name ... in every e-mail. I laugh at most of them because I know the sender, have seen them in person, and know for a fact they are not that worldly, edgey, or intellectual. Drives me nuts. Please advise.

"Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it." -Henry David Thoreau

Amy Joyce: I'll just leave it at that.


RE: Kiddo: Sorry, at best, this is annoying. But more importantly, this is one of many examples of how co-workers let others know just where they stand in the hierarchy. Would you give the same answer of "shrug it off" if this person was speaking to a supervisor? Of course not. It should not be tolerated in this case either.

Amy Joyce:1. I think if someone calls another kiddo, others in the workplace probably get a chuckle if anything. If calling someone kiddo impacts standing at all, then there are many other issues to deal with beyond this one pet name.

2. If this "kiddo" is doing great work and respected by the boss does it matter?

3. Saying something in this situation is just going to cause needless anxiety. It's really not a big deal, unless there is more to it ...

If one wants to say something, great. But be sure it's worth it. This case just doesn't sound like it's worth it. I could be wrong. Is there more here, D.C.?


RE: Annoying e-mail:"I'll be out of pocket this afternoon." Out of pocket? Are you Thom Thumb? Can't you just say out of the office?

Amy Joyce: Not available. Unreachable. Yes, there are options.


E-mail phraseology: Meaningless e-mail speak:

Touch base: talk for no reason

Will keep you posted: really?

Resending with attachment: duh.

Amy Joyce: We're all going to be too afraid to type this afternoon.


RE:Piercing and kiddo: I usually agree with you, but I disagree on both counts.

Unless the piercing is cultural, I'd say no. I'm pretty conservative but I'm guessing the people doing the hiring in the chatter's field are too. You don't want to give them anything that would raise questions or distract them from your stellar resume, good work history, etc. But that's just me.

Re the person whose co-worker calls her "kiddo," that would drive me nuts and I don't think I could just get over it. I do like your suggestion of turning it into a joke, though.

Amy Joyce: Which is why I mentioned removing it for the interview. My feeling in this case is if someone wants to get their nose pierced, that's a personal decision and part of life. It can be removed for the work part of life.

As for kiddo: I usually am all for being straight. If this person wants to say something, I say go for it. It just strikes me as something small in the whole scheme of workplace relationships. Like I said, there could be more to it.


Arlington, Va.: I'll confess the office phrases I know I'm most often guilty of overusing -- typing a message to a co-worker to bring them "up to speed" I've also offered to "circle back" later to "keep you in the loop." I feel like I'm in a Dilbert strip every time I do it, but it's sadly become automatic.

Amy Joyce: That's when life gets a little scary: You use jargon because you don't know how to else to describe it. It has just become part of our vernacular. (I found myself doing the same yesterday.)


Silver Spring, Md.: I'm 31 and I hate "cheers," precisely because it's British for "thanks." What, are you British? No? Then stop pulling a Madonna and using British phrases. You sound like a poser.

Amy Joyce: Well, there's a view.


Silver Spring, Md.: Last week, a co-worker called me and asked a work related question late at night (she was working late and I didn't have to that night). This has happened often enough where it's been a bother. I want to help her (considering I usually have the answers for her) but a strongly believe that my time is just that -- my time -- not work time. I told her I didn't enjoy the calls and she got a little defensive. She seems to feel that it is my responsibility to be "on call" at work when I think "you work when you work," and don't have obligations outside of that. How would you recommend reconciling our two view points?

Amy Joyce: If you think she's going to do it to you again, lay it out: Hey there. I just wanted to let you know that I'm going home now. If you need me, I'll be back in the office at 8 tomorrow. If it's an emergency, I'll be at home and you can call me there. If it can wait, please let it wait until morning."

That way, you are available if she desperately needs you. [i.e.: you're working on a project together that needs to be filed to your boss at 8:45 am.]

But you have put restrictions on it. Would that work for you?


Nose piercing: Sorry, Amy -- I must disagree with you. Too many people believe that piercings, tattoos and the like are becomming 'the norm' and this simply is not so. If you want to stand out in your office and be perceived as someone who is totally unprofessional, go ahead and get the nose ring. However, be prepared to be passed over for the interview and for the promotion. It is the unspoken law of the workplace -- look, act and be professional and conservative or you will no be welcomed. It is tradition; it is conservative; and right or wrong it is not going to change anyway soon.

Amy Joyce: I disagree. Obviously. You can still look and be professional even if you have your nose pierced. As I said (about a dozen times now), you can remove the stud when in an interview. The hole left behind is not big enough for people to notice.

If people have to leave behind all of themselves to get a job, then I would think the workplace would be worse than a Dilbert cartoon. Dull, one dimensional, boring.

It is important to look professional, which might mean covering up tattoos or removing piercings for an interview, presentation, meeting. There are options. I bet you work with people who have both and you have no idea.


D.C.: If I get called kiddo, can I respond "Thanks, old fart"?

Amy Joyce: I think you are smart enough to know there's a difference there. (But thanks for the laugh.)


RE: Calling at night: Just don't give her the answers. She won't tap into a source that doesn't yield results. "Sorry, I'm not sure, I'll get back to you tomorrow morning."

Amy Joyce: I hate passive aggressiveness. Don't even take this road if you want an honest, good working relationship with people. (Grrr...)


RE: Kiddo: Oh for pete's sake ... the younger worker should just start calling calling the older worker "kiddo." Soon the older one will realize how odd it is and probably knock it off.

Amy Joyce: I like this option! (I'm good, kiddo, how 'bout you?)


RE:holding on for bonus payout: Come on -- employers really do understand that. Perhaps present this as: I'm expecting a $X bonus for last year's work that requries me to be employed at the employer through approximately X date. While I am excited to start with you as soon as possibly, the fiscal reality is I earned that money and I need to be there to receive it. If your firm is able to match the amount as a signing bonus, I can start earlier, but otherwise I'll need to delay starting until approximately X date."

Seriously -- there are MANY industries where the bonus is a large part of pay. No one expects you to walk away from it without compensation.

Amy Joyce: It *could* be made part of the negotiation process. But this would make me mighty uneasy if I was the one doing the hiring. Any hiring managers out there want to weigh in?


D.C.: What is an appropriate e-mail sign off then? Regards or Kind Regards? I'm sure some people will be annoyed with that.

Amy Joyce: You're the best!


I often sign off with a Thanks, but after this discussion, I guess I'll watch myself. These are just mere suggestions from the freezing peanuts out there today. Stick with what makes you feel comfy.


Fairfax, Va.: Phrases I hate the most... personally, for me it's all about abbreviations. Sure, it's okay to use a couple, but when you get to the point where every third word has been reduced to a single syllable, initials, etc. so that I need a spy decoder just to figure out what this person is trying to say, that's when it needs to end. Sure, it may save YOU 10 seconds to abbreviate everything... but that just means someone receiving it might need to take an extra two minutes trying to figure out what all the abbreviations mean. As with all things, please use in moderation.

Amy Joyce: I think that's a mix of hanging out with teenagers and IMers too much and hanging out with D.C.-ites too much: TROA. [The region of abbreviations.]


Silver Spring, Md.: Amy, do employers really frown upon long breaks in employment history? I'm 25 and have held various intern positions over the last four years. Recently I've considered moving overseas for a while and looking for a job that is not in my field before I eventually (hopefully) settle into a more permanent position back in the states. Would this be detrimental to my future employment outlook or are employers more forgiving than I think they are?

Amy Joyce: It depends. But most employers are truly used to and accept a gap or two (or several) in the resume. In fact, they've probably been there themselves. If you want to go overseas and can afford it, then you should go. You can always think of how your experiences pertain to the jobs you apply for when you return. It may be a selling point, in fact.


Anonymous: Hi Amy,

I have extremely sensitive and overweight middle-age female admin person who helps in my dept half-time. She smells so bad (unwashed smell!) I want to throw up. NO ONE else will complain about her. She came into my dept. last May and I made mistake by not saying something to her when she came here but she had been shuttled from one dept to another (demoted by head boss) and can be emotionally unstable. I will need to approach my HR dept to help me but of course this may very well ruin the relationship and trust I am trying to build with her and I am trying to help her confidence level in other areas. I feel I will be the bad guy no matter what happens. What do other people do in this situation? We are moving in a few months to office area where I will be stationed even closer to her physically.

Amy Joyce: This is a job for HR, unless you are this person's direct supervisor and think it would be better if she heard it from you. However, HR folks tell me they deal with this pretty constantly, and so may know a good way to handle it. All you can do after the conversation is continue to work with her to build that confidence, let her know when she's doing well. Help her when she needs help. Separate it from the smell issue, which hopefully HR can help her with. Good luck.


Stupid Jargon: I absolutely -- hate -- when people ask what my "bandwidth" is for the day, or talk about their own "bandwidth." Just ask me if I have time today, or tell me whether you have time to work on something. Argh! drives me crazy.

Amy Joyce: This is one I've never heard of, and hope not to. Okay, on that note, I'll let you all rant and then I'm signing off. Join me again next week same time, same place. You can e-mail me at Your questions, however, might be used on a chat. Check out Sunday's Life at Work column in the Business section to read about the work-spouse phenomenon ... just in time for Valentine's Day.

Have a great week all...


Maryland: how about ya'll get over yourselves and stop criticizing someone's choice of words. I use "cheers" all the time. I'm not British. But I lived there for quite a long period of time and it is as ingrained in me as is the phrase "ya'll" from my years in the South. Get over it.

Amy Joyce: Alrighty.


Out of pocket?: What does that even mean? "I'll be spending my own money up front?" How did that become a synonym for "unreachable?"

My peeve is "With that in mind." I had a supervisor who would say "And with that in mind..." to mean "Moving to a new topic..." Drives me nuts.

Amy Joyce: With that in mind, there are just a few more...


Annoying e-mail language: Signing off with "Best." Inevitably, someone has just said something snotty or asked you to do something undesirable, then they try to make it all better by typing, "Best."



Amy Joyce: Take care. That's one I use a lot. Do you all hate me now?


Hated phrase: I hate: "XXX is coming down the pike." Really? Which pike? Leesburg or Columbia?

Amy Joyce: It's probably stuck in traffic.


Silver Spring, Md.: My least favorite phrase is "let's lean forward on this" What? Is it windy and you have to lean forward? Hate it.

Amy Joyce: More...


RE: Bad e-mail: How about the person who feels the need to respond to every single sent email with only a "Thanks!" in the body text. Please just assume we know you are thankful for what we've sent you. If you have further questions, or if there is a problem, then please, yes, send a response (other than "I have a problem, please advise.")

Amy Joyce: And the final say today. Have a great week everyone.


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