Life at Work Live

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Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, March 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.

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Amy Joyce: Good morning, all. It's Tuesday, which means it's time to talk about your life at work. As always, hop in here with your own ideas and stories to help your fellow readers along. We always appreciate a good conversation. Especially when it's helpful.

Lots of questions await, so let's get started...

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Somewhere, USA: I am a woman in my mid-50s. I work for a family-owned company, been there three years and it's a good fit for me. The owners have just hired my daughter (25 years-old) to work in another department -- she worked with me as a temp in the summer, and they liked her so called her when a full-time job became open. Anyway, aside from the obvious -- try to keep our "work" relationship separate, etc. -- any suggestions for us? She and I have a very good adult relationship, and over the summer we had no problems working together (after all, I've been supervising her for 25 years!), but we both want this to turn out well not only for the two of us, but for our employers. Thanks!

Amy Joyce: This is an interesting one. I'd treat it like I'd treat working with a spouse, which happens quite often, actually. Let your daughter find her own way there. *i.e.: Don't go telling the boss that she deserves a raise because she's worked so hard! I know you'll feel that way, but the mom thing has to stop at the door.

Don't let people feel like you're ganging up on them. That means cut the gossip between the two of you at least at work where people can hear and see it. They won't feel comfortable talking to you or working with you if they think you and your daughter will be talking about them over dinner later.

Do remain professional as always. Just do your job as you would, whether your daughter worked there or not.

Since she's in another department, this transition might be pretty darn easy. It sounds like you two know what you're doing already. And I'm sure the people who hired her kept that in mind. Since you do want this to turn out well for your employers, that means you're thinking about it and how your relationship might impact work. So in my opinion, you're already way ahead.

Good luck and have fun!

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Anonymous: Given that HR gets bombarded constantly with resumes, and can't always reply to everything, I was wondering how long a resume-sender should allow for a response before moving on?

Amy Joyce: They are indeed bombarded. But that doesn't mean you should just quietly give up and move on. I'll see if we can post my column from 1/7 about the matter...

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washingtonpost.com: Persistence Can Help Rescue a Resume That's Lost in the Ether, (Post, Jan. 7)

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Rockville, Md.: I really need some advice. A co-worker of mine recently received a job offer with a substantial salary increase, but decided to stay after they almost matched the offer she received. Before this, we had the same title and were close to the same salary. Last week I was handed my annual increase without my review and it is really disappointing. This week I'm suppose to go over my review with my manager. I'm going to bring up the salary increase and ask for more, but I wonder if I should bring up that I know the increase that my co-worker received?

Amy Joyce: Your salary increase is based on your work. If you think you have earned more because of your work or your field and general going rate, then make that argument. In your employers' opinion, this other person got a raise for a very specific reason. There is no reason to do the same with you unless you've earned it.

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Chicago, Ill.: I'm determined to move from Chicago to D.C., but I'm not having much luck finding a job from here. Do you think it's worthwhile to go ahead and move? I have some savings and no family to support, plus I could temp or wait tables until I found a job. Some people have said that it will look like I got fired. How would a potential employer view a move like that?

Amy Joyce: Sounds to me that you're very determined. And it sounds like the only holdback is how employers might look at this. So employers? Come talk to us. How would you view this?

Pluses of coming here: You'd have a great way to network with employers right here that you wouldn't have in Chicago. Employers will know you're serious about working in D.C. There is a lot of competition in D.C., so it's probably better if you're on hand rather than in Chicago--i.e.: employers know they won't have to fly you in or pay your expenses. And most employers probably have good candidates right here, so it might bode well if you're right here as well. Also: you'll be more aware of opportunities because you're in the city and will either know where to look or will have some of those great chance encounters.

If you stay in Chicago, it might be more difficult to find work here, especially if you're more on an entry level track right now.

Folks? Thoughts?

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Anywhere: Thanks for Sunday's article. I'm watching my parents go through this with my grandparents, and it's been a wake-up call as to what I might face in 20 years.

washingtonpost.com: Caring for Dear Old Dad Gets a Little Easier, (Post, March 4)

Amy Joyce: It is difficult for sure, and something that an increasing number of companies seem to be acknowledging. Hopefully, we'll find a way to better handle such situations. Just as we're also trying to find a better way to handle child day care, huh??

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Washington, D.C.: My girlfriend just got into a great graduate program in New Jersey and I think I am moving with her. Plans are not 100 percent and probably will not be until May or June. I have been at my current job for less than a year, and it was understood when I started that I would stay for at least two years (though not mandated). Should I tell my boss now that there's a good chance I'll be leaving or wait until it's 100 percent official? On one hand I don't want to leave on bad terms here, but on the other, I don't want to create a false alarm on the off chance that I do stay here. Thanks.

Amy Joyce: You don't know what's going to happen. When you do, tell your boss and do it with enough time where you're not burning bridges. If you tell your boss now, s/he might start to make plans to replace you. Then you might decide to stay and where will you be? Not in a good position, that's for sure. Give it a little more time. When you're ready to sign a Jersey lease, talk to your boss.

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Tomorrow is my last day: Hi, Amy. Tomorrow is my last day at my current job and I would really like to leave on good terms with everyone I work with. What do you think is appropriate to give the people I worked closest with? I am already planning on a thank you note for a select few, but I would also like to do something for the rest of the (small) office. Do you think food is a good choice, or is a mass email thanking everyone sufficient?

Amy Joyce: Mass email is definitely sufficient. Just make sure it doesn't clog up the system first. If you want to bring in baked goods or something for your department, go for it. But whether you do these two things won't determine your leaving on good terms. That's probably already set.

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Baltimore employment?: Hi Amy -- I currently work in Virginia and live in Maryland (about 30 mins from Baltimore and 30 mins from D.C.) but I would like to find something closer to home. However, I am having trouble locating employment ads or ideas for the Baltimore area. Thus, could you poll your readers to see if they have any suggestions. Thanks!

Amy Joyce: Baltimore suggestions, folks? Make sure to check the local job sites and newspapers (ahem). In all seriousness, they are plugged in to the very local markets. Since you live in Md., you probably have contacts who work in or near Baltimore, or at least friends/neighbors who do. Try to go that route, asking what ideas/suggestions they have and what help they can provide.

Others?

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N.Y.: To the poster working with her daughter: We have that situation at my company. The daughter always refers to her mom by her name, not "Mom" at work. It was actually some time before I knew they were mother daughter. Just a small thing that could help the two of you interact as colleagues rather than family.

Amy Joyce: Interesting. I guess that makes sense. Otherwise, you all would spend days guessing which woman at the office is mom.

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D.C.: I have an upcoming interview at a large and well-respected national company, but in looking at their Web site, I notice that senior leadership is comprised mostly of family members (adult children, nieces, etc., of company founders). On the one hand, I think this could create a great family atmosphere, and obviously they've been successful thus far, but I also wonder if reaching the top is impossible if you have the wrong last name. (My future boss, if I get the job, is one of the family members.) Any idea how I can ask about this unique family tree/organization chart in the interview?

Amy Joyce: Absolutely. Ask what sort of growth opportunities are available, particularly considering this is a family run business. I'm sure they have thought about it and considered (if they are smart) how their succession plan might impact their employees.

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Arlington, Va.: Very interesting article on Sunday. However, employees have asked about elder care or support for them while caring for ill or aging parents and companies have not cared. A former boss told me that while "children are the future, they'll pay our social security and run the country, the elderly will just die, so they're not a renewable resource." After taking a week's vacation and four unpaid days to be with my dying mother, I was fired by phone the day of her funeral because I "cared more about a dead person than the job." No recourse at a firm of 16 people, no family leave act. The situations you mentioned in your article are a tiny fraction of the real work world, where companies just do not provide any kind of help for those with elderly relatives. They see no need to use resources on this --most do not even help with childcare, let alone eldercare. It is wonderful to hear of places that do, but they are the rarest of rare exceptions.

Amy Joyce: I'm sorry to hear about your situation. I hope you've found a new job at a better employer. According to your experience, your former company just lost an employee because of their short-sightedness. Not smart. I'd like to believe most companies are not like that.

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Dupont Circle, D.C.: Hi, Amy. I interviewed for a university research position two Fridays ago. I think the interview went well, and I know that they have called my references. I was told that they'd let me know in a week, but I haven't heard from them yet. I sent all the interviewers a thank you email right after the interview. Should I call them this Friday to follow-up, or should I wait patiently? Also, which is more appropriate in this case -- phone or e-mail? We've corresponded mostly via e-mail, with some phone calls sprinkled in here and there. Thank you!

Amy Joyce: If you haven't heard from them by Friday, I'd go ahead and call. If you don't reach them by phone, email them. If they've already followed up with your references, I'd say they're getting pretty close to a decision.

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Washington, D.C.: I am currently in the interview process for a new job and seem to be getting pretty fair along, which is great. However, I have only been at my current job for just over six months. I do really like it, I just do not see much room for growth potential. My problem is that there are supposed to be two of us doing what my job is, a few months after I started my co-worker went out on maternity leave, and then decided to be a stay at home mom. So I have been doing the work of two for four months now. There has been a search to replace my co-worker, but it has been slow and passive. But I feel like if I left for a new job (that is a great opportunity with a lot of growth potential) I would really be leaving my boss in the lurch since it would be like losing two people. Of course this is all speculative since I don't know if I will get the other job, but I thought I would see what your thoughts were.

Amy Joyce: Have you talked to your boss about the current situation? You may want to clue him/her in on how you're feeling so the company knows that they have to do something quickly. If they do something quickly, that means they get another employee and you won't feel guilty if you leave.

But if this other job comes through and you really are sure you want it, go for it. You shouldn't pass up what you see as a great career opportunity. Just see if you can give your boss a little more time than the requisite two weeks.

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RE: Somewhere, USA: I worked with my mom and my dad throughout my life for different reasons. Here are a couple of suggestions that we found helpful: Do not have your daughter call you mom or mother have her call you by what you go by at work either your first name or Mrs. So and So. This helps not to point out your relationship to others on a continuous basis especially since you are her supervisor.

If she is sick or can not come to work for any reason, have her make the necessary calls to someone else not to you, if it is at all possible so there is not a conflict of interest.

Do not take the same days off including vacation. This seems unfair to fellow employees especially if they themselves are required to work.

If she does something wrong treat her exactly as you would if she was not your daughter including writing her up and make sure that your boss is aware of any wrong doings on her part.

If you hold her responsible just like any other employee, you will find that your fellow employees will be fine with it.

Amy Joyce: Good tips, thanks. (Though I have to think it's okay to still go on vacation with each other if that's what you do. Just make sure it's okay with your managers and you've done everything you can before you go.)

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Working with mom: I worked at the same employer (and actually at basically the same job) as my mother for five years. Just do your jobs, and treat each other like you treat other co-workers while at work. Obviously, your employers like you both and don't have issues hiring family members or they wouldn't have offered her the job.

Amy Joyce: Fair enough. I didn't realize there were so many of you out there!

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Washington, D.C.: For the person moving from Chicago to D.C.:

I can't imagine a situation in which I could speculate about your reasons for the move. That is, I'm not allowed to ask, or even think about your marital or family status. If I say in the ice-breaking part of an interview, "So, what brings you to D.C.?" and you say "I moved for personal reasons" I have to stop right there. I will probably assume that your spouse got a job here. But of course that doesn't play against you. And if you feel like "personal reasons" would send up a flag, turn it into a joke. "I just couldn't take one more Chicago winter!" We'll have a little laugh, and I won't press any further.

What really burns me is when people in far-distant cities apply for a job in D.C. with no mention of their residency in a cover letter. So if you do end up applying for jobs here while still living there, make bold mention in your cover letter that you will relocate to D.C. on April 22. (I spent a week back-and-forthing with a woman -- in Chicago, incidentally -- getting writing samples and references and setting up an interview, then she asked me if she could make it a phone interview, and oh yeah, could she work remotely? Argh.)

Amy Joyce: Thanks for that. Very helpful. I hope you're still reading Chic to D.C.

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N.J.: I applied for a position, followed up, and was told that my resume had been forwarded. This was three weeks ago. Last night I checked online and saw the position (a coordinator position) was no longer listed, but there was a director position listed. The position descriptions are exactly the same, so I e-mailed the recruiter and she told me the position had been "upgraded." I remember your column a while back about position titles and how sometimes they might not mean much, but coordinator to director seems like a big upgrade to me. What are your thoughts on this?

washingtonpost.com: Missed that column? Read it here: President, Or Decider- In-Chief?, (Post, Dec. 17)

Amy Joyce: Sounds to me like this is a title change with meaning. Perhaps they are looking for someone with a little more experience and by changing the title, figured that's what they'll get coming in the resume door. Sorry.

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RE: Baltimore: A Maryland based head hunter or employment company may help. Depending on what your job is, check with the local and state government and see if they are hiring. Also, does your company do business with any companies in Maryland (that they interact with that may be on the same path as your position that you have now)?

Amy Joyce: Good, thanks.

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Washington: Hi, Amy. I work at a very small company -- really just me and the boss. We do PR/marketing and I mostly write. A few months ago, the boss started farming out some work to a consultant. That would be fine, except now he has the consultant read over all my work. The problem is that this consultant can barely write an intelligible sentence and it's insulting to my abilities that someone like this is editing my work. I have nobody to go to about this -- what can I do?

Amy Joyce: Do you get along with your boss? If so, talk to him/her. Explain your concerns (I'm afraid that my copy is being butchered) and ask if there was a reason the consultant was brought in. Then listen. Have a discussion about your work, what your boss thinks of it, etc.

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Centreville, Va.: How do you deal with a nosey co-worker who continually asks personal questions? We work in a small office.

Amy Joyce: Just keep at it: "I'd rather not get in to it."

"I'm really not comfortable talking about that with my coworkers."

"How 'bout them Nats, huh?"

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RE; Arlington: If you were fired for having compassion for your sick/dead mother, be thankful you no longer work there.

Regardless of what the job may be, curve balls will always arise with this thing called life.

Amy Joyce: Yep. Thanks.

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Baltimore, Md.: RE: The person looking for work in Baltimore. What field are you in? Some fields (such as healthcare) are major employers in the Baltimore area. What you do will greatly impact your job opportunities.

Also, as someone who has commuted from Baltimore to D.C. for six years and would love to give up getting on the MARC train at 6:15 a.m., I have looked in my field and found the disparities in salaries between the two cities to be dramatic -- I could find a job easily if I wanted to take a $25,000 pay cut. So I keep riding MARC.

As for the person who got fired following her mother's death, your former boss sounds like a psychopath. Count yourself lucky that you don't have to deal with him anymore.

Amy Joyce: Thanks, Baltimore.

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Bethesda, Md.: In a staff meeting yesterday I was told by a supervisor that I am now to take on all the duties of another staffer who is quitting. I was not asked to take on these extra duties, but told so. What recourse do I have in this matter? I am not necessarily opposed to taking on the extra job, but am a little peeved about how it all went down. The company has not attempted to find someone to replace him, nor do I think they have will.

Thanks for your thought!

Amy Joyce: Go talk to your boss. Explain your concerns (I'm not sure if I can handle two jobs, especially on one salary. Can we talk about how I should prioritize this all from now on? And will I be compensated?) and figure out a solution that works for both of you.

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Washington, D.C.: I think a co-worker of mine is trying to ruin my career. We are pretty friendly normally. She flat out told me what her last review said, I did not tell her mine, but she found out in a roundabout way that was neither my fault nor the fault of my superiors. I received a better rating than she did. After this happened, she told her boss that I wanted to work on the same project as her (I never said this). For some reason, the boss took her at her word and let the director know. The director then started the paperwork for me to switch teams, completely unbeknownst to me or my team. When I finally got word, I had to go down the food chain to figure out what caused the mix-up. (Luckily, they kept me on my current project.) In addition to this, she gossips with other people, and tells them I feel the same way she does (on topics we have NEVER discussed). I have frequently told her in diplomatic but not-so-uncertain terms that I found her telling people these things wrong. She told me that she just assumed I agreed with her. My office tends to gossip quite a bit, but I keep out. I'm afraid that my rep will be tarnished because of her. What can I do? Talking to her hasn't helped.

Amy Joyce: So stop talking to her. Or being friendly with her. Truly. Just cut yourself off. People will catch on that you in no way are aligned with her thinking. Good luck...

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Crofton, Md.: I am in my first supervisory role in my career and I am relatively young ... 30. I took over for someone who had the position for 22 years, so obviously this is quite a change. Most of the people who report to me have been really great through the transition except for one. She has been very obstinate with the changes that I am implementing for which I have the full support of my boss. She is quite a bit older than I, and will make comments that the only reason we are changing is because I am young or that because I am young I should do it and not expect her to do it. I feel I am making accommodations for her when she has brought to my attention changes that will not work, but she is out right giving me a headache. Any suggestions?

Amy Joyce: Have you talked to her about this? Why she feels this way and how you two can work together better? I think that's probably the best approach right now. That and ignoring her words as much as possible, as long as it doesn't impact your work. You are the supervisor now, and with most of the team behind you, you're already much better off than many managers! But I have to guess there is usually one who has problems. Work with her on these things, but only to the extent it's not taking away from the good work of the others. She either will catch on, or she may never catch on. But the fact is she has to do the work, right?

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Amy: I've read your chats for a couple years now and have always been inspired by people going out on a limb to get a job they love. After four unfulfilling positions, I am finally at a job that I love! To all those folks out there wondering if they can "job hop," hiring managers don't look down upon two years, one year, or even six months at a job if you can clearly articulate why you left or are hoping to leave and what you hope to gain from your career (and to give back). I am now in a place with great people and interesting work, and I feel like I can contribute my skills. Thanks for all your advice over the years!

Amy Joyce: I think I should leave us on this happy note today. Congrats Arlington. And thanks. You all have taught me a lot here, too.

Talk to you next week, same time, same place. Don't forget to check out Life at Work the column in this Sunday's Business section. Have a great week, all.

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