Life at Work Live

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Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, March 13, 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. Lots of questions await, so let's get started, shall we? Jump in, as always, with your own advice and stories to share. You're always a great help here. Onward...

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D.C.: I'm newly pregnant and was wondering if you or anyone out there had any advice for how to deal with morning sickness at work. I'm so worried that I'll get sick while I'm working and people will freak out!

Amy Joyce: You may get sick at work. It happens. So be prepared. Know the signs, have your route to the bathroom mapped out and stock up on anything that might keep that sickness at bay. Sour candies, ginger candies, snacks that you can nibble on throughout the day.

And remember: As horrible as you feel, most people don't notice. Just do what you need to do to get through. Personally, I think those first 12 weeks are when we *really* need some sort of leave! It can be very hard to function normally.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi, Amy. Submitting early because I won't be able to join the chat. I am starting a new job on Monday after being laid off for a little over a month. Any suggestions on how I should be preparing this week? Advice on what to wear those first few days (it's a business casual environment). Thanks!

Amy Joyce: Play it safe and dress one step up from what some might think of as biz casual. Then when you're there, look around and get a sense for what you should be wearing. (ie: Start with pants suits. If it's way more casual than that, take the jacket off.)

Get your outside life in order this week. The more relaxed you feel about your home, health, car, family, the easier it will be to jump in on Monday.

Think about the job: What you want to do with it, what is expected of you, how you can shine. Make sure you get there early Monday. And don't be afraid to ask questions! Your co-workers, though they may not become your best friends from day one, will likely want to help you.

Congrats, and good luck.

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Washington, D.C.: If I recall correctly, you worked your way through grad school. I will be starting an MA program in the fall, with classes meeting at night and my full-time job during the day. Any suggestions on maintaining my sanity over the next two years?

Amy Joyce: I think you're thinking of Mary Ellen Slayter. I skipped the grad school thing (thus far), but have many friends/family members who did go through it.

For you: Remember that the madness *will* end. Pick a couple things you do now that you should continue to do to keep yourself grounded when you're feeling overwhelmed. That might be making sure to still make time to go to the gym, or cook, or carve out enough hours for your family/friends.

I also think it helps to keep a very strict schedule so you aren't cramming in studying at the last minute or between meetings at work.

Make sure to be as organized as possible. Lists/schedules will be your friend.

Now to the masses: What did you do to remain sane during those grad school/work years?

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi, Amy. After a decade in the workforce I'm going back to school to pursue a graduate degree. To keep some money coming in, I plan to take some evening and weekend work. I've never worked an hourly job before. What the heck do you wear to the interview?

Amy Joyce: Pretty much the same thing as a non-hourly job. Look put together and professional. A suit is still nice, particularly if you're looking for a job in retail, where they sell suits.

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Lehigh Valley, Pa.: Hi, Amy. Thanks for taking my question! I work for a relatively large publishing company as an events coordinator. I began working at the company as a department secretary. When I was promoted to events coordinator, I was only given a title change, but no change in salary. I've done some research using salary tracking tools, and I'm substantially underpaid ($28,000/year). Salary calculators put me in the $35,000-$40,000 range. I've gone to my supervisor with this information and have asked for a raise, but was told there was not enough money in the budget. Since then, I applied for another position internally (superior to my own, in a related department). I "got" the position (that is, I'm now working on projects for the new position) , but my salary and title remains the same. I've taken on many additional responsibilities, but the company still has not offered me a new pay package. I've addressed this with my supervisor and have been told that it's "in the pipeline".

I'm having a hard time staying motivated, especially since I keep receiving new assignments. I feel like I'm being taken advantage of. What is the usual waiting period for things like this? Is there any advice you can give me for addressing this to my superiors? I don't want to be pushy, but I feel like they're blowing me off, or are not taking me seriously. Also: I need this job, and am uncomfortable with offering an ultimatum. Thank you.

Amy Joyce: Ultimatums are bad news, so I'm glad you already decided not to do that.

But the fact is you've been promoted twice, taken on many more duties, and not been given a raise in salary.

You're not being pushy to ask for something you've earned. Explain to your boss just what you did here: two promotions, much new work, yet a salary that is the same as when you were hired as a secretary. Pin her down and ask what can be done and what is being done to rectify this. You might even ask if you should check with human resources (or whatever department handles salaries) yourself.

They obviously like you and like the work you're doing. You don't have to give them an ultimatum. If ask her directly what is being done, she will (or should) understand that something needs to be done quickly.

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McLean, Va.: I gave my notice a week an a half ago and am now finishing up my last week at my job. I really want to leave on a good note, but my boss has been giving me the silent treatment. I've asked him if I'm doing everything to his satisfaction (training my replacements, finishing my projects) but he just gives one-word answers ("yes"). Any idea of how to improve this or should I just let it lie since I leave Friday?

Amy Joyce: Not much you can do to make your boss less of an immature person. (My take since I don't know his side of the story.) Just make sure you do everything you should. Leave a memo about how to do your job for your replacement. Thank people on the way out. Then go enjoy your new gig.

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Raleigh, N.C.: For pregnant at work: Lemon drop hard candies also work amazing well at combating the woozy tummy. Another suggestion, keep high-protein snacks at your desk, and make sure you are eating more often, smaller meals than normal, especially if you're normally a three-meals-a-day type. "Morning" sickness generally occurs because your stomach is getting completely empty, which can happen any time of day. I kept lemon drops, mixed nuts, soy crisps, wasabi peas (I craved spicy...), and soy milk boxes at my desk my first full trimester. It helped more than I can say.

Of course, if you can find a way to combat that three-in-the-afternoon, and I-can-no-longer-function syndrome, then let me know!

Amy Joyce: Good tips. I find everyone has different snacks/tricks. It's good to try them all. (Though I can tell you if I ate wasabi peas during those first 12 weeks, as much as I normally love them, I would have been much worse off!)

Also, we have a nurse's office here at work. Though I haven't used it, there is a little nap room that many of our newly pregnant women have gone to for a quick 15 minutes. Check to see if your office has something similar. It's amazing what a nice little power nap can do.

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Morning sickness: Try Sea Bands. They are for motion sickness and morning sickness. You can get them at a drug store and they saved me during those first 12 weeks. Just be discreet with them one co-worker noticed them on me and quickly realized why I was wearing them. She kept my secret -- I was lucky. Also, good excuses for being sick are: the stomach flu that's going around hubby's office that he must have brought home, bad sushi from dinner last night, and particularly bad cramps from PMS (for your close female office friends). If you plant the idea that you're not pregnant, even if other signs are there, they won't leap to the obvious conclusion. Good luck and congrats!

Amy Joyce: I tried those, too. And they gave me away pretty early on to two of my coworkers. They kept quiet, though, and it was nice to actually have someone to whine to at the worst of times.

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Rockville, Md.: I agree that ultimatums can be bad, especially if you can't back them up. A long time ago, I worked for a company where I felt I was underpaid. But it was a first job, so I took it and learned. I did as much as I could and gained as much responsibility as they were willing to give me. I actually loved my job, except for the pay. When it became clear that they were just not going to give me a raise, I went out and found another job that paid significantly more. When I had an offer in hand, I let them know that unless they were willing to give me a certain raise, that I had another job offer which I would take. I gave them 24 hours to decide. I had my raise the next day.

Amy Joyce: Right. It can work. But for each of those stories I've heard, I know of an equal number of people who were told to take it. So just be prepared to go if you want to go the ultimatum route.

But for Pa., that's another point: Go ahead and keep your eye out for other opportunities. There might come a point where you have no choice, unfortunately.

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New York, N.Y.: Help! Last year my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I had to take a lot of time off. After her death at the end of January, I requested a month off (unpaid) and came back to work several weeks ago. The tension between my boss and I is palpable. Her e-mails to this department seem meant to exclude me from any decision making process that I had once been involved in. We used to meet once a week and that hasn't happened since I returned. I feel this is her back-handed way of letting me know how all that time off upset her. I am so ready to walk out the door. Any advice?

Amy Joyce: First, I'm so sorry about your situation.

Now... Try talking to her. Lay it all on the line. "I feel like I'm being excluded and I'm wondering if we could talk about this. What can I do to get back on track?" etc. It might not be the most pleasant conversation, but nothing will happen if you do, well, nothing. And you're not happy with that. So try plan B. Good luck.

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McLean, Va.: Amy, I think you have the most fertile chat on washingtonpost.com.

Amy Joyce: You think this is bad? You should check out the Business section at the Washington Post. More on that in my column the week after next...

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RE: Work and grad school at night: I did this. I worked full-time and went to school at night/weekends for software engineering. I used to do my class reading on the treadmill at the gym so I knew I had a focused 45 minutes where I couldn't move off the treadmill and I had to read. My bosses knew I was in school, and they were great about it, since they got a direct benefit, and I used that to my advantage in asking for a flexible schedule around exams where I'd work fewer hours on exam days.

If your school is related to your work, don't be afraid to let your work know where you got these new great skills so they can see the direct benefit to them - and if they're paying for your school, as my company did, they want you to do well and keep that knowledge in the company.

Amy Joyce: Great points. Thanks.

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Falls Church, Va.: I was in the same boat as McLean. When I left my last job, one of my bosses completely ignored me for my last four days. I just tried to do everything I could to appease everyone else around me and him and left my work in as good order as possible.

Amy Joyce: That's the best you can do in that situation. Thanks, FC.

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Reston, Va.: To the person who's had two promotions and taken on more work but not seen the commensurate increase, I'd also ask if the pay increase that's "in the pipeline" will be retroactive to the dates of your promotions (at least the most recent one). Worth a try, anyway.

Amy Joyce: True, might want to check on that, Pa.

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Falls Church, Va.: Amy: I'm a fan of yours and read your column every week. Also, I think you give some good advice during the weekly chats. However, your column on Sunday really fell short. Yes, the programs you reported on focus on women. Understood. But, why not dig deeper and ask if any of the programs have considered broadening the program to men? People need time to focus on the home front for a variety of reasons (small children, aging or ailing parents) and it's not just women. I was disappointed the article didn't at least touch on this. And, did the programs you mention only cater to women with small children? What about people who need a couple of years to aid to a sick parent?

Amy Joyce: Thanks, Falls Church.

These programs all are open men to men as well, and are expanded to other life issues that you mentioned. But the main impetus for these programs was women who were expecting or had small children. The reasoning was/is strong: More women are entering the workforce now than ever. More women than men are graduating from college now. And though most came back to work after maternity leave, these companies found that it was the year after that the women started dropping out.

So you make good points that yes, there are other issues out there that make it very difficult to work. But women with children were the driving force behind the creation of these programs. And because of that, perhaps more of these programs will be started for people in many tough life/work situations.

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washingtonpost.com: Developing Boomerang Mothers, (Post, March 11)

Amy Joyce: Sunday's column...

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Anonymous: I did two semesters of one grad school program while working full-time, and I'm starting a new grad school program this summer still working part-time. I actually handled this much better than I did my undergrad years ... working full-time pretty much forced me to be more organized with my schoolwork. I tried to get as much done on weeknights so I could enjoy my weekends more. And the biggest, most disappointing change for me: a whole lot less TV watching.

Amy Joyce: Ah, yes. Perhaps this is when TiVo gets installed...

Thanks.

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Reston, Va.: For New York, I'm not trying to be insensitive to your position and your grief, but taking a month off to deal with the death of a parent is a lot of time. You should be thankful that your employer let you do that at all. Most wouldn't. Before you lay it on the line, give it a little time with your boss. Show her you are committed to being there and that you are back and ready to go. If that doesn't work, then lay it out there. A couple weeks is nothing. Give it some time.

Amy Joyce: Reston has a point here. I skipped over the fact that this person had only been back to work for a couple weeks. You're right that it might take some time to settle back in and let the boss settle back in to the idea that you've returned. I'm glad your company let you take so much time off, but don't expect too much from them right away. Give it a little more time, and when you still feel like you're being marginalized, talk to your boss and ask what you can do to make things better.

When I said lay it on the line, I don't mean tell your boss she's being a boor. You need to listen to what she says to you about your work. Then take that knowledge and use it to improve, if that's in order.

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To newly pregnant: I'm sure this depends on your workplace and your personal preference, but with both pregnancies I told everyone really early on that was pregnant. When people know what's going on (and that they aren't going to catch whatever you have) they are really good about it. I've left meetings to go to the bathroom or even to eat. I also travel A LOT, and told my clients what was up. I even told deponents and opposing counsel (I'm a big-firm litigation). Not only were they cool that I had food in my briefcase and let me eat it during the meetings, but it just made the time more human and friendly -- I ended up with better information from the deponent and we even got more work from the client after those meetings. Just my two cents.

Amy Joyce: Good two cents. I'm glad it worked for you. But to others: think about your workplace culture before you tell everyone. It may be that this approach is perfect and smart. Others might realize it would be more difficult for people to know early. (For one thing, there is a high chance of miscarriage before the 12 week point, so you might want to consider whether you want people to know if that happens.)

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Sanity in grad school: Regarding grad school sanity, I think the opposite is true: clear your plate of anything that can be put on hold.

It is tough to do more than two or three things well at one time (school, work, family time), so perhaps that means taking a break from travel, or rec sports, or music classes, or tutoring, etc.

Yes, do the things that are important, but be prepared to 'shelve' some of the routine activities and fun stuff for some time.

Amy Joyce: Definitely be prepared to shelve some things. I was just saying it might help keep folks going if they have an hour a day filled with something their mind/body needs.

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Happy Valley, Pa.: Amy: Thanks for your advice. What's your advice for realizing during a job interview process that you don't want the job? Is it poor form to cut an interview short by saying that you don't think this is a good fit? I once heard "never turn down a job that hasn't been offered yet," but it seems like it may be a waste of time on both sides to go through the process if ultimately you know that it's not something you want.

Amy Joyce: Finish the interview that day. If they call you back, you can tell them that you're not interested. But please be sure that you're not. Even if you don't want this particular job, you might want or need to work for this company in the future. By cutting the interview process short before you know this, you might be burning future bridges.

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Not sure what to do: I am very unhappy in my work situation. It is just not a good fit. I dread going to work every day and am tempted to quit. Is it better to stick it out until I find a new job, or quit and start temping while I look for something new?

Amy Joyce: Start looking now, while you're working. You might be surprised how that makes your day seem a little easier. Why? Because you can sense that there is something ahead. If you stick where you are, you can keep your health insurance, pay and a steady job on your resume. But all of these things are negotiable if work is so bad it's making you sick and depressed. Especially if you have money saved and can cover your own health care. But please do the research before you jump without a job. You might be more miserable if you are living paycheck to paycheck and worried about what might happen if you break your arm.

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Durham, N.C.: Hi, Amy. Thanks for doing these chats. Sometimes, women write you about pregnancy/maternity. When do they tell the office? How do they tell prospective employers? I'm expecting -- but not pregnant. Because we're adopting a child, there's no "due date." Maybe we'll become parents this summer or maybe 18 months from now. It all depends on when we're matched with a birthmother. But when that happens, we'll have about one month before becoming parents.

When/how do I tell people at work? I've been invited to apply for another job. When/how do I tell them?

Thanks!

Amy Joyce: Would you get the same leave as a new mom who gave birth to her child? If not (and unfortunately, you probably don't), then I'd say it's fine to hold off until you've been matched with a birth mother. The company won't need to find someone to fill in for you as long as they might for someone who physically gave birth. So even a month is a good amount of notice for you. Unless you plan to take a fair amount of leave. In which case, you might want to clue in your direct manager.

But since this might still be a long way off (I hope it's not for your sake!), you should still apply for another job if interested.

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Washington, D.C.: Any job ideas for someone interested in politics (both policy and campaigns)? My friend has been struggling to find a job on the Hill for the past three months and has no such luck. He has work experience with both campaigns and PACs, but can't seem to land an entry-level position. I want to help him start looking beyond the Hill (and DNC-type jobs) ... any ideas? Thanks for your help ... things are getting desperate.

Amy Joyce: Hill jobs take time, unfortunately. And it helps to know people. It helps to be incredibly persistent. There are some temp and placement agencies related directly to Hill work, like PoliTemps. There are listservs for open jobs and many happy hour networking events (formal and informal) on the Hill that your friend might want to check out. I did a story on the ins and outs of Hill work on 1/1. I'll see if we can quickly post it.

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Bethesda, Md.: Why do so many employers interview people (sometimes as many as three times, then never tell you that you didn't get the position)? I know this has been talked about before, but I notice that employers never address this. They answer this question by saying how they can't answer every resume that is sent to them. I just want them to give job seekers the common courtesy of a letter or phone call after going in for a sit down interview, not every time they get a resume. Anybody have the courage to answer this?

Amy Joyce: I just wrote about this one, too. Let me see if we can get it posted before the hour's up. I hope it helps.

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washingtonpost.com: Help Wanted on the Hill, (Post, Jan. 1)

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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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Amy Joyce: Okay, gang. Wonderful Andrea posted those two stories, and I'm going to sign off. Thanks for the lively and helpful chat, as always.

Don't forget to check out Sunday's Life at Work column in the Business section and join me again here next week, same time, same place.

And, hey, have a great week.

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