Life at Work Live

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Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, May 15, 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 Life at Work. Lots of questions and comments await, some about my Outlook piece from Sunday where I let it all hang out about what thoughts are swirling around in this crazy brain of mine as I ponder work life after baby.

My Sunday Life at Work column was about adoption benefits.

Hop on in...

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Arlington, Va.: Amy: I'm curious about a comment you made in Sunday's excellent column about returning to work. You noted that one of your reasons for deciding to return to The Post after maternity leave was to "-show my son that women can be mothers and workers." I completely applaud and respect your decision to return to work, but I have never understood this point as a valid argument in favor of working moms. You note in your article that your mom didn't go back to work until you were older, yet your own choice demonstrates that you don't believe that women belong at home. Why are you fearful that if you didn't return to work your son would come to a different conclusion about women in the workforce than you did? Thanks for your thoughts.

washingtonpost.com: Missed that story? Read it here: Pregnant Pause: How to Handle 'The Return', (Post, May 13).

Amy Joyce: NO no no. I do NOT believe women should be at home and I do NOT believe women should be at work. That's pretty much the point of my piece. We make the choices that are best for us, and I'm grateful to have a choice. This essay is about what I personally am struggling with, and how I feel about MY life, no one else's.

The fact is my son could have a stay at home mother and learn how important that is, but I personally feel I want him to have a working mother. I know a lot of people disagree with that (according to some of the many emails I received yesterday). But personally, I want him to know by example that women have that choice and can be both. Children who have mothers who stay home grow up with a different insight, not a wrong one. The choices I make are what I want for me and my son and family.

I'm not fearful he'll come to different conclusions than I did. Obviously, I wanted to work even though my mom didn't. But there is no way I think my mom made the wrong choice. I came to this conclusion about what I wanted to do even though she didn't work for most of my childhood. (Well, she certainly worked, but not for a paycheck.)

Like most people out there, I hope the decisions I make are what's best for my new family.

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Washington, D.C.: Have you and Steven discussed the possibility of his staying home with the baby for some period of time? A guy in my office worked for the first six months of his baby's life while his wife stayed home, then he stayed home for the next six months. It can work.

Amy Joyce: We have. We've discussed just about everything, it seems. And I'm thrilled that there are so many choices out there these days (it seems). I think Gen X has changed the way we work, frankly. Things our parents never would have considered are bring proposed to bosses in many different workplaces now. I know not everyone can do many of the options that are out there, but it's nice to know some companies are willing to give different proposals a try--for working parents or non-parents alike.

Thanks for the suggestion.

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Greenbelt, Md.: I just wanted to say thanks for your Opinion piece on Sunday. I am also expecting and was touched by your column and all of the questions that it presented. I sympathize with listening to current parents talk about their emotions and feelings, but not being able to fully understand them -- because I can't yet! You've given my husband and I lots to talk about. Thanks.

Amy Joyce: Lots of thinking goes on during these prep months, doesn't it? I'm glad you enjoyed it. Congrats and good luck.

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Tampa, Fla.: I am in the U.S. Air Force and about to separate. In our transition assistance seminar we were told that women must wear make-up to be seen as professional. They even gave us an article stating women who did not wear cosmetics made 30 percent less than those who did in same company. For corporate America, is this true? I'm sure if I worked at a pet shop or flea market it wouldn't matter, but what's the opinion of 'the suits'?

Amy Joyce: Yikes. Really? That's a little frightening. I think as long as interviewees look professional and sharp, makeup doesn't matter. Men and women both should dress neatly, professionally and answer the questions smartly. Makeup should not be a factor. Alas...

Any suits out there have anything to say about this?

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Baltimore, Md.: I work for a private company. Boss likes my work but said he needed to cut my salary because business is not what it should be. Said temporary but it has been more than six months. Since its his business we have no HR or personnel dept. Boss has taken several vacations since the cut, one overseas with other members in the office and now has just bought a new luxury sedan (well over 50,000). Yet he cries poor mouth every chance he gets. Should I ask why if he can afford these he can't afford my extra three dollars per hour or what? Thanks! Love the chat.

Amy Joyce: No, I don't think you should ask him about his personal purchases. Things could just get nasty from there.

But see if you can get his promise of six months, no more, in writing. And frankly, sounds to me like it's time to start looking for a new gig. He doesn't sound like he totally has it together.

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D.C.: Amy -- Love the column and chats! I have an unusual question for you. My new boss is amazing and approved a short term telecommuting agreement to make my life a WHOLE lot easier (It's sparing me a three hour commute). I'm wondering if just a heartfelt thank-you note is appropriate or if I could/should include a small gift or if that looks like I'm kissing up. Help!

Amy Joyce: I'd go for the thank you note. I'm sure that's more than most people do when they get such a great benefit. Great idea, and congrats. What a relief... one less person with a miserable commute!

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Hi, Amy. Thanks for taking my question. I work for a publishing company in somewhat rural Pennsylvania. I like my job, but its location is beginning to wear on me. I commute from Philadelphia, which is over an hour or so away. I'm only 24, and the area is definitely not good for young people, so moving closer to work is not really a desirable option for me. The company is great to work for, but that's not enough to offset the cost of my commute or to make me want to live in that area.

We have a smaller office in N.Y. city, but the attitude here is that it's almost another business. There is not a lot of transparency (for lack of a better word) between the two offices. How do I approach the subject of me wanting to move to the New York office? If I tell my supervisor, I'm afraid she'll view it as trying to "quit" my job here and pass me over for assignments, projects, or whatever. I was thinking I could e-mail someone in HR and tell her that I would like to be considered for future job openings in New York, but I don't want that to come back to haunt me either. Again, since there is so much disconnect between the two offices, promotions or job changes usually stay within each respective location. A transfer would be fairly unusual.

What is the best way to approach this? How do I compete for jobs in New York while protecting my job here. Can HR tell my boss about my intentions?

Amy Joyce: I think if you want to move, you should talk to your boss. Is it time for a chat about your future? Even if it's not, see if you can get your boss to have a sit down with you over coffee and just tell her you've been wanting to talk about your future for a while. Explain that you are interested in moving to NYC at some point, and ask her what the options might be, if she would recommend that as a good move, and how that might impact your career here. Meanwhile, ask her how she thinks you're doing here, and what you can improve on. Just make it a conversation and see what comes of it.

It's probably better if you go to her first rather than HR. I'm not sure if they would tell your boss, but they could, and she might feel like you worked around her.

In the meantime, see what you can do about finding out about job openings at the company in its NY office. Also check out other companies if you really want to move back into a city.

Good luck.

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Interesting ...: From your column: "I know someone's getting up for the pregnant lady!" The first person to stand up was the woman who stands all day making sandwiches in the Post cafeteria. I knew she knew what it was like to work all day carrying 35 pounds more than just months before, worrying all the while about the job and child care. I didn't take her seat. I grabbed the one from the guy reading the Economist. He could bear to stand for a while."

But the guy from reading the Economist couldn't possibly understand, I guess.

Your bias is showing.

Amy Joyce: Frankly, no. He probably can't understand what it's like to have fingers so puffy that he has to have his wedding ring cut off. Nor does he likely understand what it's like to have anemia so bad that you just want to crawl under the desk and go to sleep all day, every day. He can't get how his shoes might not fit one day. And although he may have worried about his job and child care, he didn't have to do it with a 35 pound bowling ball sitting on his hips. Lovely images, yes?

It was nice of him to stand up. I would hope people would rather take a seat from someone who obviously sat at a desk all day over a woman who stood all day doing manual labor.

Bias? I don't think so.

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Maryland: I'd also ask the "poor boss" for an agreement that the reduced salary will be accrued rather than forgone.

Amy Joyce: Perfect idea

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Bowie, Md.: After reading Ms. Joyce's article, I think some advice from a full-time mother and homemaker, like myself, could be helpful. Often, the Washington Post and the media, in general, only present the viewpoint of the mother or parent who works outside the home. Articles in The Washington Post and some other newspapers and magazines are often slanted in favor of mothers who work outside the home; this is probably due to the fact that some of the staff of these companies are by definition parents who work outside the home. Ms. Joyce herself admits that she has only one friend who is a full-time parent. In short, I think an alternate viewpoint is in order. In my opinion, Ms. Joyce should follow her heart and either her husband or herself raise her child full-time if she feels the desire to be with her child and with some budget tightening, can afford to do so. Surely, a parent can do a better job raising a child than a daycare provider or nanny, who will not have the emotional investment of a mother or father. In addition, the prevailing myth that a parent who works outside the home will do just as good a job at parenting as a full-time parent, needs to be debunked. A child, especially a young child, does not care about a parent's career, but simply wants the parent present, not miles away at his or her job. In short, this is obviously a personal decision for every parent and between every couple, but raising a child oneself, instead of outsourcing this vital work outside the family, can be a very rewarding and beneficial experience for both mother and child. I hope my insight into this situation can be helpful.

Amy Joyce: A view from the other side. Nothing wrong with what you chose in my opinion. But, again, some people make different choices and believe they are best for their families. Others don't have a choice and have to work. People make it work, and I'd like to believe that they all do what they think is best for their family, hoping to ruin no one!

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Amy. I have a phone interview protocol/ethics question. I am likely to have a phone interview this week. I feel uncomfortable having a phone interview for another job from my current office (using company time, resources, etc.). When I have an in-person interview, I will usually take the time off or schedule it during my lunch hour. Do I handle a phone interview the same way? Additionally, where could I go, outside of the office, if I don't want to commute the 45 minutes home, to have the phone interview?

Amy Joyce: Cell phone? Find a quiet spot and try that. (Do a test run first to make sure your cell comes in loud and clear at the spot you choose, however.)

Most recruiters will absolutely know what you have to do.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi, Amy. I'm at the other end of the Mommy Battle. All my adult life I have seen articles like yours, with young women agonizing over the choice to "stay home," "go to work," accept a part-time job. I keep expecting at least one article about my generation, the Founding Mothers of the movement. But I never see one. You should ask us: we made those choices 20 years ago ... how do we feel about them now? Some of us chose each one and I would be interested to see what the data show on life satisfaction. Do you have any plans for such a piece?

Amy Joyce: Not right now, I'm going on maternity leave after all...

It's a great idea, and one that I just discussed a bit with my mother's childhood friend who emailed me about this piece. She mentioned that my mother's generation was stuck between women who mostly stayed home with their children and the new women's lib movement. They were at an odd spot, but also one, she said, that made any decision seem like the right one. I'd be very interested in seeing (or doing) an article like the one you mention.

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Shelton, Wash.: I was fascinated by the column on Sunday, but you don't seem to have developed that tragic sense of life. Anytime you make a choice you might have a wonderful result, but you always lose something. If you choose to get married, you may get a wonderful spouse, but you certainly give up cavorting in Paris with any number of others. Alternately, if you choose not to get married, you only may cavort with people in Paris, but you certainly give up the potential of the perfect spouse. If you choose to have children, you might get a wonderful child and the patter of happy feet a Christmas, but you give up the freedom that went with not having the child. In other words, all choices only may have a gain, but they must involve loss. It's part of the human condition.

Amy Joyce: That's all very true. And is the point I tried to make here: "I think what I've learned during these past nine months or so is that no matter what I decide, I'll have to tell myself it's the right choice for me. But I'll always wonder if there's another way to do it."

I'm not about the tragedy. (Does that mean I'll never be able to write a novel?)

Thanks.

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Annapolis, Md.: I am in the middle of completing grad school part-time. However, I cannot get the position I would like until I have the degree, so in the meantime I am temping. How do I explain on a resume? I have been temping for well over a year and have roughly another year to go. Also, great column on Sunday.

Amy Joyce: Temping ain't nothing, Annapolis. It's a job, you're gaining skills, you're making it work WHILE you're getting your degree. Good for you. When you write up that resume, make sure you emphasize things related to your degree, projects you worked on, etc. Have you done any volunteer work or other related projects to your degree? Make sure potential employers know. But don't skip the temp part of things. Employers understand and certainly appreciate those who work so hard.

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RE: Master's degree: I don't have a master's degree. I do have a lot of experience in my field and that experience is somewhat unusual for my age and gender (younger woman). Since I have done many tasks in my field -- I know that you don't "need" a master's to do a great job or be competent in this field.

I am applying to jobs and don't know how to handle this. If they want a master's should I just not apply?

Amy Joyce: Yes, apply. Sometimes the "requirements" are also known as "wish lists"... If you think you are qualified or simply are very interested in the position, it's not going to hurt you to apply. Make sure the potential employer understands how much experience you have. That might be enough to satisfy them. Good luck.

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Washington, D.C.: Right office, wrong job: After a bad situation in my prior employment, where the organization essentially went under (and I still haven't been paid everything I'm owed), I found a great new job very quickly. Love the boss, co-workers are great, got a big raise, and the mission of the organization is one I support. But I'm bored -- I'm a lawyer and this is a non-legal position related to my area of expertise. I was hoping to prove my ability to do the non-legal part, and gradually take on some of the legal tasks. Now I find out they have authorization to hire a lawyer.

If they hire someone else, then I'll have to work under that person and will have no chance to move into what I really would rather be doing. But I've only been on the job three weeks and am worried that throwing my hat in the ring would make it look like I don't want to do the job I'm here to do. Any thoughts?

Amy Joyce: Who hired you? Can you go talk to them about this position? Try it. Say that you love this organization, but that you noticed the legal position is opening up and that might fit with your skills better. Ask what they think of you applying so early.

In doing so, you show them that you understand this is unusual, but you didn't think you could pass it up. Heck, even say that. Be honest.

They'll probably be happy you're being honest, and they might be even happier that they don't have to look outside.

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Boston, Mass.: Hi, Amy. I became a new member of a project at work. One of my new colleagues was immediately rude to me, making snippy comments and being a pain. I noticed he did the same thing to my new boss, and even though it annoyed me, I ignored it, figuring it wasn't really me he was angry at.

I found out that the big big boss found out about his rudeness to me and is making him apologize. I have mixed feelings about this. I appreciate my supervisors standing up for me and no I'm lucky they are doing so. I did mention it to one of them, but I never asked them to intervene. Part of me feels that I'm a big girl and could have dealt with this myself. I'm wondering if I'm inadvertently depicting myself as passive and my supervisors feel them need to rescue me.

Any thoughts on how I can prevent this from occurring in the future? Perhaps I should have talked to the rude colleague right away?

Thanks.

Amy Joyce: Breathe. It's okay. In fact, I'm impressed with your bosses. Let this guy apologize, handle it like a pro ("Thanks. Water under the bridge. Let's do this project"). Then remember this situation for next time. If you think you would have felt better about it by cutting him off at the beginning, do that next time. I always say it's best to be direct at work. You need to let folks know they can't treat you like that--without becoming a jerk yourself, of course.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: I am one of the women who made the "home or office" choice almost 20 years ago. My oldest is 18 years old, and I worked outside of the home for all of that time. My husband and I made the decision that it was too much pressure for him to take on the sole financial responsibility of the family and I would lose too much of my earning power if I took years off. I had days during this time when I wish that I didn't work so many hours. But, in general, I did not regret having a separate "life" and the additional money. I will certainly not regret it when it comes to retirement. My children were not raised by their wonderful day care provider, they were still raised by us, but our day care provider gave the kids a wonderful nurturing environment in which they learned to share and play well with others, and they learned that they were not the entire of our universe. I have happy, wonderful teens who love us. This worked for my family.

Amy Joyce: Thanks. And congrats. I'll post a few more scenarios as they come in.

Like I said, everyone has a different way of making it work.

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Arlington, Va.: I can't speak for how wearing make-up affects salary, but I have noticed a difference when I wear make-up. I almost always wear it for interviews and meetings now, even if I don't go to the effort every day. It might be a factor of me looking young for my age, so the make-up helps me look a little more mature, but for whatever reason, it does matter.

Amy Joyce: Alrighty. That could be ...

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Boston, Mass.: I've never seen this (minor) issue discussed here. I had an 8 a.m. interview recently and brought my Starbucks into the interview. The woman doing the interviewing glanced at the coffee with a puzzled look which told me perhaps it was not wise to bring said coffee along. Do you think it's proper or not? Thanks!

Amy Joyce: I'd have to agree with the interviewer. It's like coming in wearing flip-flops. It's not professional. Yes, it's 8 a.m., but I'd hope you got your morning routine in before you went to an interview--which needs to be treated with respect. Bringing your own sustenance in to an interview is just a bit out of place. (Remember when Starbucks barely existed and not everyone had a white paper cup constantly glued to their hand?)

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Maryland:"I would hope people would rather take a seat from someone who obviously sat at a desk all day over a woman who stood all day doing manual labor."

Just out of curiosity, why? I mean, the person sitting at the desk all day could be older and inform or have health issues you can't see, while the person doing manual labor all day could be healthy and fit.

It just seems like you make an awful lot of generalizations to fit your own point of view.

Amy Joyce: Okay. Here's the scenario. Guy in his late-20s, early-30s wearing a suit hops up. He points to his open seat. Woman in her 60s who stands all day making sandwiches for us Posties also offers hers. You tell me who's making generalizations. I thanked him profusely, we laughed, and I sat.

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Phone interview protocol/ethics: I was in that situation once. The interviewee totally understood when I asked that it be done in the evening, when I was at home.

Amy Joyce: True. I've heard the same from many recruiters. Good option.

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RE: Temping: Temping can work to your advantage ... in the interview, mention that because you were a temp, you've learned how to be flexible, accepting of change, and able to pick up tasks quickly.

Amy Joyce: Perfect, and totally true.

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Applaud your article: Amy -- I applaud you for your article on Sunday. It is every person's or couple's decision whether or not to return to work. I feel strongly that other women should not down a mother who returns to work or stays home, which I've seen a lot, particularly in the Washington area. It is a personal decision and shame on people who don't respect the decisions that a person or couple make. Congrats and good luck with the new addition to your family.

Amy Joyce: Thanks much. I like your way of thinking (of course).

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Hi! I just recently been offered a position which I gladly accepted. I want to start a family soon. Maybe in the next six months or so. How long should one be at a job before starting a family? This would be my first. Thanks for taking my question.

Amy Joyce: You can't be sure how long it will take you to get that family, if you catch my drift. So try to look at these things separately. Enjoy that job, work hard, and separately, when you are ready, try to start a family. It can take time and things can go wrong. Then again, they might not. Do what you think is best for both sides of your life and then make it work. Good luck on everything.

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RE: Make-up: If it's obvious that you're wearing make-up for the sake of make-up, I'm probably going to count that against you. A huge smear of blue eye shadow, overdone lipstick/gloss, etc. If it's foundation and a little blush and mascara, I probably won't even notice. I'm a guy, in case you hadn't figured that out!

The transition assistance from the AF is a little out of date - they should make the analogy that civilian interviewing is like formal parades and formations: look sharp, look clean, look professional, don't look like you just came in from a five-day exercise in the woods.

Amy Joyce: Exactly my thoughts. Thanks.

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Burbank, Calif.: Interesting Topic, Amy! I am from the generation that had a majority of stay at home Moms, with the hot cookies waiting when we got home from school, PTA meetings, etc. (My mother started working when my youngest brother started high school.) I know that she was much happier working outside the home, but she made great sacrifices for the family and we appreciate it. What has turned out to be an unfortunate side effect is that all four of my brothers remain single ... I asked my middle one about this and he said that he is looking for a mate like Mom, someone domestic, who cooks and cleans and irons his shirts. You can't make this stuff up!

Amy Joyce: Ha. Had to throw this one out there. Thanks, Burbank.

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Washington, D.C.: I have been debating on whether to ask you this question, but I decided that asking someone who may have a different point of view as me may be really beneficial. I'm having a problem at work with some of the men at work treating the workplace as a dating service. I am relatively new, and I am the sort of person who is really focused on work at work, and I'm tired of constantly turning down the same people. I have expressed my "I do not date people I work with" mantra to no avail. I would make a more formal complaint, but two of the men are managers (not in my department) and it's just awkward for me. Do you have any advice?

Amy Joyce: Ugh. People, if you're doing the asking, please read this question and THINK. I'm sorry, D.C., that's no fun.

How you handle it depends on how you feel. Can you keep turning people down and still feel confident about work? If it's getting in the way, then you might want to talk to a manager. I know some other folks here would also suggest you bring in a picture of a guy and call him your boyfriend to sort of fend things off. Try whatever it is you think you should and can handle.

If things get out of hand, or you just can't deal with it anymore, please go talk to your manager (as long as he's not asking you out, too) or HR.

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How do I find my third career?: First, I did what I loved and trained for and have the credentials for -- and it left me with a disability. Second, I did motherhood and the kids are teenagers. I want a third career for when they leave home that I can do disabled. How do I find this?

Amy Joyce: Try it the same way anyone finds a career. What are you interested in? Make a list. Talk to friends/family/former colleagues who know you and ask what they could envision you doing. Once you've started to whittle it down, try to find people in those positions and see if you can talk to them about what they like, dislike and see if they can help you find a position.

I'm not sure what your disability is, but it should NOT impact whether you are hired. Please don't forget you're protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act:

http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/fs-ada.html

Good luck.

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Biases, biases everywhere!: All people have biases. It makes us human. From reading this chat semi-religiously: Working moms think stay-at-home moms are slagging them. Stay-at-home moms think the media tilts toward working parents.

In my case, I see a bias against administrative professionals ... every week, someone writes in to complain that they're doing "lame admin work". Hi! My job isn't lame.

In a meeting, my boss slipped and said the new intern would be doing "substantive", rather than "administrative" work.

The way to counter bias is to point it out with humor and good cheer. I laughed at my boss and said that my work is very substantive ... I send in the rent check! She caught on quick and apologized. I'm sure she meant well, and it was a case of foot-in-mouth disease.

Whenever you encounter bias, counter it. At the same time, life is far too short to spend time looking for excuses to be offended. Most people mean well.

Amy Joyce: Boy, you handled that well. And thanks for the reminder. I love your outlook.

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Amy Joyce: On that smart note, I'm going to call it a day here. We should all get back to work, right?

Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

Don't forget to check out Life at Work, the column, in the Sunday Business section. I'll be back here next week, same time, same place to chat some more.

Have a great week, all.

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