Life at Work Live
Tuesday, May 29, 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.
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The transcript follows below.
Amy Joyce: Good Tuesday morning, all. Time to chat about your lives at work. As always, pop in with your own advice and stories to share.
A bunch of questions are looking at me right now, so let's get started.
Amy Joyce: This was Sunday's column, if you missed it.
Arlington, Va.: Your column in Sunday's editions of the Post dealt with alleged discrimination against employees with family caregiving responsibilities. You should also deal with the other side of the coin; namely, unfair treatment of childfree employees, as discussed in a recent article in USAToday.
Amy Joyce: I certainly have done that. Let me see if Andrea can find the most recent column I did on the topic...
Waldorf, Md.: Hello, Amy. I have a comment about your story on the DISA telecommuting center at Ft. Meade. A few months ago GovExec.com ran a story about DISA and their concerns about losing many people who wouldn't relocate. I sent a comment about the Navy/NAVAIR experience in Crystal City in the BRAC move to Pax River in 1997. NAVAIR had a liaison office in Crystal City dating back to the '80s. It was in a different building than the NAVAIR HQ staff. The liaison office evolved into a telecommuting center after the move to Pax. Many folks used the office at least one day per week, and a few managed to telecommute from home. Network security issues were the biggest obstacle to working from home at that time. With the compressed work schedule that we were on,it was possible to limit your commute to Pax to three days per week. I can send you more info. at your convenience.
washingtonpost.com: Missed that story? Read it here:
Amy Joyce: Please do send it on. It probably won't be me covering it, but I'll make sure someone here gets it. You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amy Joyce: And while we're enjoying linkland, here's my column on singles in the office.
I hate to start some sort of war between those who have kids and those who don't. I think there are benefits to help all workers. At the most recent EEOC hearing on this, witnesses included academics and HR officials who stressed the importance of offering the same benefits to everyone (ie: compressed work schedule, flex time, telecommuting options, etc.).
I think no matter who pushes for a different way of working, we all can benefit. Especially if those who push and get a particular benefit use it well and show that a non-traditional schedule or workplace works well.
Meanwhile, the EEOC stressed that these policies are NOT to excuse caregivers (that means those of you without kids, but who might need to take care of an ailing parent or relative, for example) from performing at work or following rules that are set up for everyone.
Drinking the Office Kool-Aid: Hi, Amy. I work in a small office for a family-owned business. Recently the boss has read a book on management and has jumped on the bandwagon of personal and process improvement for the company. Now I have worked for two Fortune 50 companies so this philosophy is old news to me having gone through this twice about seven years ago. Essentially it didn't do squat at the two other companies I worked for. Anyway the boss wants to meet with everyone individually to discuss their goals, aspirations and ideas for improvement. I really don't have any goals with my job. I'm good at what I do, but my job is not my life anymore. I have a life outside of work. Work is a very small part of who I am now. Would it be bad to tell him that I just want to work my 40 hours every week and go home? Or should I drink the office Kool-Aid du jour and tell him what he wants to hear? I feel so jaded about this and wish I could muster enthusiasm about it.
Amy Joyce: I can understand the jaded-ness. However, maybe this new enthusiasm will actually work at a smaller vs. larger firm. Sometimes a large company that tries these things gets lost, or it impacts just a few folks on the surface.
That said, I think you can be honest with your boss and say your goals are to do great work, as you have been, so you can get home to spend good, quality time outside of the office as well. Happiness outside of work help morale at work, after all. It's that whole cliche balance thing we all talk about. We need that to do a good job at work. So not only would you be telling the blunt truth, but your boss should appreciate that.
Atlanta, Ga.: Hi, Amy! I work in a three-person office (me,boss, and female co-worker). Both boss and co-worker are married with children; I am a single female, no children. It seems that my boss cuts my coworker a lot more slack in terms of unaccounted/"free" time off, not having to participate in special after-hours/weekend events, getting to leave early, etc., and I can't help but think it's because she's married with kids and I'm not (hence, I must have no other social life). In short I feel that I am being discriminated against for not being in the married-with-children club, and that my boss is playing favorites. This is to say nothing of the fact that he comes and goes as he pleases without question, often for personal reasons that he will blatanly announce -- for example, a hair cut, to go shopping for his weekend camping trip, go to the bacnk, etc. I am frustrated, and both he and HR are impossible to talk to. My organization is so politics-ridden that I am afraid of being blacklisted for speaking up. Any advice for this situation? Thanks!
Amy Joyce: And this is the bad side of the family friendly policies (or lack of policies). But the thing is, this co-worker probably just started to ask if he could go out and get his hair cut. Or skip the weekend work because he had important things to do. Have you tried that?
A woman once told me that her boss wanted her to work late again, when all her married-with-kids co-workers wouldn't have to. She told him she had a date and couldn't. He responded that the others had to go home to their families. She said she wouldn't ever have a family if he didn't let her go on this date. He let her go and it never was an issue fighting for her own time again.
I think those without kids in the workplace have to fight a little harder, or have to point out the equality thing (not a "it's not fair!" thing).
If you continue to do good work and speak up for a weekend off here and there, there will be little blacklisting they can do.
Laying it all on the line at once or hoping to turn the office upside down immediately is probably not the way to go. But step by step, you can steer things in your direction.
Midwest: Good morning. I just got offered my dream job ... for way less money than I had anticipated. I am now considering asking them for more money (enough to bring it up to the bottom end of my range) or fewer work-hours a week. It's an agency I have a great relationship with professionally, so I am not worried that I am taking too big a risk, but I wanted to get your thoughts/feedback. I'm just really disappointed and, while I don't want to start off as a squeaky wheel, I am definitely feeling a little undervalued. Any advice? Thanks!
Amy Joyce: It's called negotiating, and organizations are used to it. Go for it. They may not be giving you their best offer because they expect there to be a little back and forth. And if they are giving you their best offer, then figure out if it's worth it to you. Good luck.
Washington, D.C.: Just read your column about "The Return" on my first day back after maternity leave. I've heard it's the hardest thing a mom will do, but I need to come back for the paycheck and so far, so good. I know it won't be easy, but it's the best decision for our family right now. The best thing is the support I've felt this morning from other working moms in my office. The best to you, your husband and your baby boy!
washingtonpost.com: Missed that story? Read it here:
Amy Joyce: Thanks so much, and congrats to you. Good luck as you ease your way back in!
Washington, D.C.: Amy, maybe you or other chatters have some advice. I am marrying a great woman soon, and my company offers same-sex partner health benefits, which is great. However, the federal government will tax that as income to me, which they don't do for heterosexuals, thanks to DOMA. I suggested to my executive director that maybe our company could make up for this fundamental unfairness based in bigotry by upping the pay of people who elect this benefit so as to negate the federal tax benefit. He said it was a great idea and that I should write up a formal proposal so he can bring it to the board of directors. So, how do I write up this proposal? Where do I go for examples? I know companies out there have done this, but I can't find the details. HRC Web site wasn't helpful. Any other ideas?
Amy Joyce: There are a lot of companies grappling with this, particularly once people started to understand that same sex benefits = not the same.
I would actually call HRC and see if they have some advice for you. If nothing else, they will have examples of companies that are doing what you hope yours will. You might want to check out their Corporate Equity Index, which ranks companies based on what they do for domestic partners/same sex couples. A few in our area that pop to mind include Arnold & Porter and Booz Allen Hamilton. Hope that helps.
Anonymous: The City of Rio de Janeiro has begun offering one year of paid leave to parents of newborns, and I believe a local legislator is pushing to make this the law of the land. Could be pretty tough on private employers.
Amy Joyce: Similar laws are in place in Canada and Europe. The U.S. has among the worst maternity leave policies of any industrialized country in the world. (In fact, there is no nationwide policy that promises parents ANY paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child.) The reason small companies in other countries don't suffer is because much of (all of?) the leave is subsidized by the government.
Washington, D.C.: For unmarried or childfree folks, I found with my last job I was facing the same situations (always being asked to go to events on weekends or after work) and in addition because I lived in D.C. and didn't commute there was the extra pressure to do this as well, "because it wouldn't take me as much time."
I think the best solution for me was to ask to develop a rotating schedule for outside events so everyone would have to take a turn. And then if it was really tight for parents or other, they could switch of with someone else for a different place in the schedule.
This was really helpful. And it seemed to work for parents as well because they would know when their turn was coming up and could plan accordingly.
Amy Joyce: Wonderful, and smart. Thanks.
Washington, D.C.: Tks for the nice article on Paul So and his idea for a new art gallery in D.C. I cannot recall the last time that the Post did an article on a new D.C. art gallery, although several new ones have opened in the last year or so ...
washingtonpost.com: Here's that article:
Amy Joyce: Yes, I'm more than just a workplace reporter over here. I think new art galleries are often profiled or at least mentioned in the Weekend, Style and Arts sections. If not the galleries themselves, then at least the shows. (Check out things by Michael O'Sullivan, our arts critic in Weekend, and Blake Gopnik in Style.) If you want to let me know what you'd like covered, please e-mail me at email@example.com and I'll pass it along...
Washington, D.C.: My office does offer the same (great) benefits to everyone, kids or not, but it's more of the little things that I think bother people. Things like "I have to leave two hours early today to pick up my kid/see his recital/eat lunch with him." I'd like to do those things with my friends or boyfriend but they're not really a good excuse to leave work.
Amy Joyce: But do these parents then log back on and work after hours to get their work done? They might not be in the office for a couple hours, but it will be known to their bosses if they aren't performing. If you want to do the same, please say something to your boss.
Seattle, Wash.: Just as a balance to the complaints about time off to handle kid emergencies. I don't have kids, but direct my nuturing urges to dog rescue. I work for a company with a boss who has never had an issue when I've had to ask for a day off, with little notice, because I'm picking up a rescue dog and transporting him to a foster or adoptive home. He'd no more give me a hard time about that as he would a mom or dad who had to stay home with a sick kid. So there ARE people out there who understand that we all have our priorities and a happy employee is a productive employee.
Amy Joyce: Good point, thanks.
Kids vs. No Kids War: And you know what's funny? These two factions don't HAVE to be at war if companies would just provide those benefits (teleworking, flex time or hours) to everyone, regardless of age, gender, care taking responsibilities, etc. Then there's no resentment and everyone (for the most part) can schedule their lives and work better.
I just shake my head over companies who still don't "get that" and insist on only providing those privledges to moms. That's absolutely a sure-fire way to stir resentment!
Amy Joyce: I'd like to point out that the moms and dads who get these benefits pushed for them. Please ask for the same!
In the same breath, I agree that companies need to offer these benefits to everyone, and I would hope most do.
Washington, D.C.: During my last performance review, my employer required me to set several goals for the next year. One of my goals was to become more proficient in certain specialized software packages that would allow me to do my job more efficiently. My employer regularly offers training (conducted by our in-house training staff) on those packages, but my boss has declined to let me participate. My next review is coming up in a few months, and I will be evaluated on how well I met my goals for the year. When I reminded my boss of the goal we set (with her input) and requested her support in attending the training, she shrugged and said that it wasn't her problem if I couldn't figure out another way to learn the software. (Due to the specialized nature of the software, I can't just buy a book or attend a class outside of work.) As you might imagine, I'm feeling rather frustrated, especially as the training would only take a hour here and there and wouldn't cost the company anything. I'm concerned that I will receive a poor review and low raise due to not meeting my goal. Any suggestions? I checked with HR to get some ideas in how I might negotiate with my boss, but our HR manager also said that this wasn't her problem.
Amy Joyce: Okay, so prepare for the worst. Explain what you explained here, and say that you were not able to get the training you needed because the company didn't provide it.
However, I sort of see where your boss is coming from. So the company didn't provide it. Aren't there classes elsewhere you could take? Could your company reimburse you for them? Did you try to find out if any of that was possible? If so, then definitely bring it up. If not, then be prepared for your boss to ask you the same.
Arlington, Va.: I hold a security clearance and work (in a contracting capacity) for the federal government. How much, if any, political activism is allowable/ advisable? Namely, demonstration against the war and the current administration? I am interested in joining protest efforts but obviously don't want to risk losing my job. Thanks!
Amy Joyce: Very good question. You may have an employee handbook that lays it all out. Or if you have a manager you trust, you could ask him/her. Anyone here deal with this recently?
RE: Goals: The jaded employee with no goals can always ask the boss what the goals for the job should be. I've actually never worked at a place that didn't require having job goals that were evaluated annually. Job goals aren't really that difficult to come up with -- they don't have to be mind blowing, or even related to career advancement. They can be small things that are important to getting your job done on a daily basis, or they can be about completing a large project. Either way they're still goals.
Amy Joyce: Absolutely. Thanks.
Washington, D.C.: I am a temporary politically appointed staff assistant in the executive branch. At my one year review last month, I received the highest marks and was given a substantial raise.
Prior to receiving the review, I was asked if I planned to stay to the end of the adminstration. My answer was no, but I was non-committal when pressed for a timeline as to when I would leave. Truth is, I would leave at the first good opportunity, though I do have no timeline.
My question is: Is there any kind of an unwritten rule that would encourage me to stay in this job after receiving such a hefty raise? I've heard such a thing suggested in this chat before.
Amy Joyce: They gave you a raise based on what you did, and likely, with the hope you'll stick around. But there is nothing tying you to the job. If you find a better opportunity, go. Just make sure when you leave that you do it gently, thanking them for the opportunities. You don't want to burn bridges.
Annandale, Va.: Good morning, Amy. I'm a 50 year old parent of three pre-teen children who's been working in computers for the past 30 years. Currently, I'm working for one of the local contractors in a cleared position on a long-term contract. The contract will lull in a few weeks but there's still work for me.
Instead, I want to take a break. Not leave, not indulge in the resolution of some midlife crisis but just take time to see what life's about before it's over. I'm considering six months, which would put me back into the thick of the contract if things go as planned.
I don't want to quit or be told six months? Make it forever. I just want a break. I can afford to take six but probably not much more, and I may take a part-time temp position in ... who knows? I'd like to experiment a bit.
Any comments? Pitfalls? Is it just a Bad Idea that I should scuttle? I'm curious to know if I'm missing something I should've thought of.
Amy Joyce: Never scuttle something you feel this way about.
First, think about how you'll support yourself. Do you have savings/a significant other who can support you (and wants to support you) if things fall through?
That in place, figure it out. Create a proposal about what you want to do and how you want to do it. You don't even have to tell anyone why. They may be thrilled to not have to pay someone for six months. Make sure in your proposal you can tell them what they get out of this, too. If they say you can come back, get it in writing. It sounds like perfect timing to me.
And if you're willing to accept that they might not take you back, then don't hesitate. Just be aware that you might need to find a new way of working when you're ready to get back to work.
The best you can do is propose it, see what their response is, and then make a decision from there.
Laurel, Md.: Thanks for taking my question. Here's the situation. Though I'm not the receptionist, I am the first one seen by all visitors to our office. You ring the bell to call her to the front, and there's a sign that says as much. Nevertheless, visitors almost always ignore the sign and look to me to take care of them. They'll either come directly to me for help or assume that since I'm the first one they see, I'll take the initiative to help them. Once in awhile is fine, but it happens throughout the day, interupting my work and it really bugs me. I find myself trying not to make eye contact, but this just feels rude as my natural response is a brief nod with a smile. But once I do that, I'm really stuck. I don't know how to handle this without seeming like I just don't want to help out. Suggestions?
Amy Joyce: Any chance you can get a new desk? I see this sort of thing around here a lot. People stop to ask questions based on who is sitting near where they are. I face a window, so I don't ever have to deal with it. So, seriously, see if you can move spots ...
Washington, D.C.: I'm updating my resume and have a question. I've spent just over three years with my current company. The first year of this was working on behalf of a temp agency in a temp-to-hire situation -- excluding another three day assignment it was the only place I worked at for the year I was an employee of the temp agency. I was then hired on by my current company and have worked there as a full employee for the last two years.
Should I detail the year I worked as a temp separately from the span where I was an employee of my current company, or should I just indicate that I was working for my current employer for the three year interval?
washingtonpost.com: For my more resume help, check out our special feature
Amy Joyce: I think you can either just put your company as the three years. Or for the first year, do the slash thing: 2004: Computer Programmer at Company X/Temp Agency Y.
2005: Computer programmer Company X.
Amy Joyce: Okay, gang. It's that time. Thanks for joining me again today. Don't forget to check out Life at Work, the column, in the Sunday Business section. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And join me again next week, same time, same place for more discussion.
Have a great week.
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