Life at Work Live

Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, June 12, 2007; 11:00 AM

Washington Post columnist Amy Joyce writes Life at Work on Sundays in the Business section and appears online every Tuesday. In her weekly chat she gives advice on how to handle social and professional situations.

An archive of Amy's Life at Work columns is available online.

Find more career-related news and advice in our Jobs section.

The transcript follows below.


Amy Joyce: Good morning, folks. It's Tuesday, which means it's time to talk about your life at work. As always, pop in with your own advice and stories to share and guide readers along.

As you might have heard 1,000 times, this is my last chat until August. So bring on the questions.

_______________________ One Mother, Preparing for Take-Off, (Post, June 10)

Amy Joyce: This was Sunday's column...

_______________________ Life ... Not at Work

Amy Joyce: And a page where you can write in to post your own thoughts on working/parenthood, or read what others have to say.


Washington, D.C.: Congratulations on your impending bundle of joy! Is The Post going to run "Amy Joyce's Greatest Hits" columns while you're gone?

Amy Joyce: Thanks so much.

I'm afraid you'll just have to survive without me in the paper for the next six months. I will be doing my chats, though.


Arlington, Va.: Amy: Just wanted to thank you for a very thoughtful series on how you're dealing with the decision (and backlash) of deciding what to do after maternity leave. I just barely started showing, and already friends and family are starting to ask what my plans are. My salary and health insurance at a mid-level corporate job are much better than my husband's leadership position at a small business, so my options are pretty much limited to come back part or full-time.

Amy Joyce: Thanks. Good luck to you. I know only that I don't know a lot of things now. But you have a nice, long pregnancy to help yourself start to make some decisions to help yourself along. You and your husband will be spending (or should be!) many hours discussing plans, options, finances, budgets, and dreams. These last few months have been interesting. I know they are only a hint of what's to come. Best wishes.


Silver Spring, Md.: Amy: Thank you for your article this past Sunday. It was interesting to read the perspective of other parents on working post-baby. However, I was disappointed to read that some women take themselves out of the equation when deciding to work or not. The comment "only when you can put yourself out of the equation will you be able to make the choice that is genuinely right for your family." Is Mom not a part of the family? Is Mom's mental health not a factor? If Mom doesn't consider her needs, who will? I find this comment very upsetting. I don't think anyone can make a decision that is truly right for the family without considering the implications for all members of the family, including mom.

Amy Joyce: Well, that is what one woman wrote in, yes.

I think what she was saying was that she believes she focused first on family, second on what she personally wanted, and that's how it worked out for her.

I tend to think (and studies show) that happier mothers make happier babies/children/families. So I lean toward figuring out what you want to do, then trying to decide how to make that work so everyone is content, taken care of and spending enough time with each other. Easier said than done, I know.

And I would guess that "taking herself out of the equation" was in a way putting herself into the equation first. It was what she wanted to do. And that's the whole point here: Most families try to figure things out in a way that best suits everyone. That doesn't mean one family is right and one is wrong (although, many would rather just judge and decide that their way is the only way).


Washington, D.C.: Hi, Amy. I was wondering if you would share with your chatters how you went about negotiating your maternity leave plan. Specifically, even if your editors are on board, how you convince the HR people and particularly the benefits manager especially to work with you to see that regulations cover part-time work in advance of full-time return to employment. Do you work on a contract? Agree to work a set amount of hours? Any other thoughts? Good luck to you!

Amy Joyce: I am a very lucky woman. The Post has been generous with leave. It's not all paid. We get four weeks of paid parental leave, then use sick leave and vacation time... that gets me about halfway through the six months. We've been budgeting ourselves so we can get me through to the end. My leave is actually pretty standard here, so I didn't really have to do any negotiating.

But your questions are good, smart ones. Maternity leave in the US is tough. You should have 12 weeks of unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act. This applies to companies with 50 or more employees, and only if you've worked for them for 12 months or more.

If you want to work part-time before coming back, I'd suggest you write yourself a memo about why this benefits both you and your employer. Some thoughts that come to mind: It saves them money, they get a worker back at least part time, and if they provide you with that leave/return they will have a loyal worker.

I think you have to essentially ask them for exactly what you want, and hope that you can get it. Listen to their counter offer so you can figure out if you should agree to work a set amount of hours or do other things that would make them happy as well. If you can't get it all, negotiate until you're at the point where you're happy.

(I hope I'm answering your question.)


Back to work: Submitting early with some advice I was given that I found useful: When you return to work, give yourself six weeks back before you make any decisions about quitting/going part-time/etc. That will give you time to get back in the swing of things at work and develop a routine at home. You will have seen a little of the mom-at-home world and a little of the mom-at-work world, and you will be able to make a more informed decision.

Amy Joyce: This sounds like sound advice. Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: Amy: I took my current job around nine months ago, with promises from my boss that I would have all sorts of responsibility and the opportunity to go any direction I wanted with my new position. Since then, my job has been less than ideal. It is not at all what I was told it would be, and now it is to the point where I am only given a few hours worth of work every day. I have asked for more, but have been told that this is just the normal flow of work. I HATE being bored and feel like my time and talent are being wasted. I asked my boss about all the promises he made me (albeit in less confrontational terms) and he told me he never said those things and that my job was always supposed to be like this. Is nine months long enough to hang around and put up with this? I am miserable.

Amy Joyce: So start looking. Even if you don't leave right away, at least you'll know what's out there when it's time to get going.

I assume you don't have your original job duty/a contract in writing, right? If you do, bring that up to your boss. Also, have you tried to start things on your own? You may have a good idea for a project that could help your organization. That could help you jumpstart things. If not, consider why it's so slow. Is it just the natural course of things? Will it pick up next month and you'll love your gig? Or will it always be this slow? If so, and if you know you can't stand it, start seriously looking for new work now. It doesn't matter how long you've been there. People will either like your work and want to hire you, or they won't. And the number of months won't really matter too much. You're almost at the year point, and actually, once you get those resumes out, you'll be even further along.

When a potential employer asks why you want to move on, you tell them that the job didn't fit your skills, you want more challenging work and this job (for which you are applying) sounds perfect.


Reston, Va.: Hi, Amy. I'm a few weeks into a new job and am realizing that it's not what I expected it to be. The resources available to me, the day-to-day responsibilities and the hours were not what were represented to me. I was at my previous job for more than four years, and I'm having difficulty adjusting to this new environment as well.

If I look for another job, am I giving up too quickly? I'm really confused. This is the first job I've ever had where I've been this frustrated and I'm 32.


Amy Joyce: Have you tried to talk to your new boss about this? Try that first. Next, realize that sometimes we land ourselves in jobs that just don't fit. You can start looking for a new one without feeling too bad about it. It happens. Really. Just know how to make the exit relatively graceful.

I'll see if the wonderful Andrea can post a column I did on this topic not too long ago.


D.C.: We hear a lot about mothers who choose to stay home so they can spend more time with their children/families. Well, I'm one of those moms, too, except that I dropped out of the office rat race to spend more time with my dogs. Quite frankly, they're the best "officemates" I've ever had.

Amy Joyce: Hey, we only have one life. Might as well live it the way we want.


Washington, D.C.: Hello, Amy. First off let me say I enjoy reading your column and will miss you while you are on maternity leave, congrats! I am also an expecting mom and I seem to have a work issue. I have been temping at a firm for about eight months now and I really enjoy the work I do. However, the problem is HR and the president have repeatedly said they are going to offer me a position in the near future once the company wins a big contract. This was over two months ago. Everyone is happy with my work and constantly says how I am an asset to the company.

How do I bring up the issue again of a permanent position without seeming too pushy? Should I just be patient and wait for the opportunity to come or put my foot down. I am really concerned because I am due to give birth in December and I am anxious about having job security for when that time comes. HELP!

Amy Joyce: Two months ago? Bringing it up now is far from pushy. Go to your HR people and the president and remind them that two months ago, they said they would offer you a position in the near future. Ask where they are on that, and tell them that this is really what you want to do, and sooner rather than later. It will help your cause if you know what contracts have come up, if any.

A lot of times, sitting back will do nothing. If you don't say anything, no one is forced to think about you and a permanent job. So you might as well ask. Good luck.

_______________________ Comings and Goings, (Post, April 8)

Amy Joyce: Here are a few tidbits on dealing with a job that's just wrong from the start...


A whole different perspective: Congratulations on the (future) baby. I just wanted to say, after reading all these posts on the pros/cons of working mothers, it sometimes makes me shake my head and laugh. When I had my kids, it wasn't an issue for discussion. I had to go back to work. Once to a $8 an hour admin job, and the other time to my waitress position. If we wanted to eat, I was going to work. Not to be overly dramatic about it, but there's a whole segment of American society that would collapse in laughter or tears if asked if they were going to return to work, like NOT doing so was ever a part of their reality. Of course, those women don't have time to participate in or even read online chats.

So, all of you struggling with the decision -- be thankful that you're in a place where you can actually have one to make.

Amy Joyce: That's very true, and something I got into in the Outlook piece. You can find the link for that within the second link we posted here.

More than half of the workers in the U.S. have no paid sick leave, let alone paid parental leave. Trying to figure out how to work, have a family and make ends meet is mind-boggling.


Anonymous: Hi, Amy. About three or four years ago, I took the side of a co-worker (against management) when she was a victim of sexual harassment by her immediate supervisor. Management handled it badly, she still had to report to and deal with him every day. I helped her seek assistance, file grievances and provided emotional support (which she got none of from management --in fact, they made the harassment worse by taking sides).

A while after that ... surprise ... I was notified my contract would not be renewed in a year, so I moved out of state. My job area is a small world, people may or may not know one another.

Anyway, there is an opening in the field in my new city, and I want back in (badly).

Should I rally the forces for people who will only speak of my work in the field -- co-workers from long ago, as well as more recent -- to try to head off any ill will that could possibly be passed along by those who chose to let me go? I'm worried how to counteract any negative comments between colleagues (I don't even know if any of them know each other anyway).

Amy Joyce: Definitely gather your troops. Contact old colleagues/bosses and people you work with now who will vouch for your great work. This is smart, but it's also just regular a job search practice... it's called contacting your references. Don't let yourself feel like this is any huge hurdle. It sounds like it was an awful situation, but most people have at least one negative experience in their background that could bite them later on. Most recruiters understand that, and will judge it based on what other references are saying. One other thing: That old company, like most now, might only confirm your start dates and end dates, so potential employers might not even get negative feedback about you.

But be as prepared as possible, contacting as many people as you know who will give you good references.

Good luck. I'm guessing you'll be just fine.


McLean, Va.: Amy, congratulations on your impending bundle of joy. I'm expecting a baby after several years if infertility, and well, I feel like I've got high-school-senioritis (can't stop my mind from wandering dreaming about the future). I like my job, my co-workers have been understanding about my severe morning sickness, but I just can't help feeling like I'm more focused on the fact I have a baby growing inside me than on my work. I'm not the type to blab about it so it's not openly disruptive, but if I sneak one more peek at baby center my productivity will suffer. Is this just a first trimester phase, or do you have any tips on how to get my brain back on track?

Amy Joyce: Congrats! Just like anyone else who has a life issue invading work space, I'm all for making lists and setting goals/deadlines. Make a list of all the work things you need to accomplish that day. Take baby steps (har) and cross them off as you go. Tell yourself that if you accomplish five things by noon, you can give yourself a reward. This could include a walk, a trip to get a fruit smoothie (great for morning sickness, I found), or even a few minutes on baby center. Then get back to your list and finish it. Make a list for tomorrow, and start again. In the meantime, remind yourself that you have a long way to go yet, and you need to set longer term goals for the next few months. Sit down with your manager, discuss them, and then figure out what you need to do to get them done. Then when you go home at night, do a happy dance and enjoy this time.


Another Perma-temp: Hi, Amy: I'm also in a situation where I'm temping and have been put on hold with regards to a permanent position. The reason is that it's cheaper. I've reached a point where I'm done begging and hassling, and am going to have to issue an ultimatum. Either give me the job or I ask my agency to send me somewhere else.

The truth is, it's cheaper to keep you on as a temp. It's also less paperwork. The only way you'll get what you want is to know your value ask for it.

Amy Joyce: Absolutely it's cheaper. Lots of organizations are going in this direction. They likely don't have to pay benefits and don't have to spend money on the job search. Just know that if you're going to do the ultimatum thing, they very likely will say see ya. Make sure before you do it that your temp firm will keep you on and find you a new job.

I also hope you're looking for another position that is not a temporary one. That might be the only way to get out of this cycle. Good luck.


Richmond, Va.: Why don't these families consider the dad staying home with the baby? Why are there only two options, mom work, mom stay at home? Why isn't Dad staying at home a third option to consider?

Amy Joyce: I received a few emails about that same topic. And the fact is, although they are a very small population, the number of stay at home dads is growing. Slightly.

I'll just throw this out there. Anyone?


Heavy question: I want to start looking for a new job, but, let's face, I'm about 40 lbs. overweight and I'm rather afraid of putting myself out there for judgment. Anyone have any suggestions other than lose weight (which never comes off as simply and quickly as it goes on?).

Amy Joyce: Dress professionally, act professionally, have a great resume, good references and practice your interviewing skills. Everyone is judged the minute they walk in that interview door, for any reason: Haircuts, tattoos, piercings, strange tics, a smile that reminds the interviewer of nasty Aunt Edna.

But if you push to really show yourself and why they should hire you, your weight will melt into the background.

Good luck.


D.C.: Amy, best of luck to you. I am a new mom and recently returned to a good job that I took while pregnant. Your columns/chats were invaluable when negotiating for that job. To employers: If you are supportive of new and impending parents, I think they are more likely to want to return to the workplace. My boss is and it's one of the reasons I am a loyal and happy employee.

Amy Joyce: Great to hear. Thank you.


Boston, Mass.: Congrats on the baby, Amy! I have an issue that I'm not sure how to handle. I've been working through a temp agency since March in a job that I'm pretty overqualified for, but the hours/pay/people are great. When I was hired they knew I was applying to law school. Well, lucky me, I got in! I've been slowly but surely getting my financing straight. And now it looks like everything is good to go. Here's my dilemma: No one has asked about school since I started. I have not been offered a permanent position, and it has not been discussed. I like my boss, so I hesitate to drop just "two weeks notice" on her, especially because she's getting married two weeks before what would be my last day, and likely will not return from her honeymoon until I've left. So I want to give her enough time to start looking, but not enough so I lose the gig early. I really need the money for when school starts, and losing even the last two weeks would be a major problem. What should I do?

Amy Joyce: Give her a little more time than two weeks, then. (A month seems fair.) If you have a good relationship with this boss, as it sounds you do, she won't toss you out the door. Tell her when you plan to leave, and what you plan to do before you go. That way, you're already woven into the plan until you go. And with her own plans coming up, she likely won't want to have to deal with a new employee now anyway.


Philly, Pa.: Hope you can take my question. I am coming up on my review soon (actually it is overdue). The company is going through a rough patch lately (after many years of continuous successful growth).

I am concerned that they might not give me what I want as a raise with the excuse that things are "not going well." Of course that doesn't stop the senseless spending within the company and the selected few who still get nice increases.

How should counter response if they come up with that excuse while negotiating the increase? Thanks.

Amy Joyce: Make sure you go in with the reasons you have earned the raise you think you've earned. These reasons should not include other people--that will only make them not want to reward you. Focus on yourself and your great work. Show them that you are valuable, needed and they will have to give you a decent raise to hang on to you. (They will know this from your pitch without you giving them an ultimatum.)

Make sense?


McLean, Va.: Amy: From a long-lost friend, long-time reader and first-time submitter ... congratulations on the baby. Have fun and enjoy! Very happy for you. Best, Andy R.

Amy Joyce: Andy! Thanks, man. It's a long way from Flather.


Stay-at-home dads: For us, it was all about the Benjamins. When my first child was born, I stayed home because my wife had the bigger salary. When our second child was born, I was earning more than my wife, so she stayed home.

I'm sure gender-identity issues enter into the decision for lots of families. And to the extent that women generally earn less than men, this IS a gender issue. But I suspect that, for most, it's a dollars-and-cents issue first and a sexism issue second.

Amy Joyce: I think you're right. I'm glad to hear you and your wife figured out a good way to do it.


Washington, D.C.: Thanks for answering my question about negotiating part-time employment for return. Just a follow up for you. I guess it's more about an all-or-nothing mentality at my workplace. When I first told the benefits manager I was expecting I casually mentioned the idea, and she said, well, I wouldn't get my hopes up. (She's usually a fair person, but rules oriented.) I telecommute now (gratefully) a few days a week (with full-time childcare for my daughter) and with few exceptions, really could work at home exclusively. I can easily see how I could perform discrete tasks in a negotiated amount of time. I also understand that rules are rules, but geez, there are certainly times that you think "there's got to be a better way!" Thanks again for your columns, which I have followed from my 20s into working motherhood. They've been a very good read all along the way.

Amy Joyce: Yep, I always feel like companies could be a little more creative with how they handle these things. Some are, and people are grateful. Many will argue they can't let one person do it without letting everyone do it, and that's just not possible. But, employers, is there a way to be a little more flexible on a case-by-case basis?


Ohio: I want to apply for a position in the PR department of a local university. It sounds like a great fit for me. However, I'm working on a master's degree in this field at another university in my city (the college I'm attending is known for a better communications program). Is the job off limits?

Amy Joyce: I don't see why it would be. It's a job. You might as well apply and see what happens, yes?


RE: Dads staying at home: The other day I asked my husband how he thought we'd handle childcare if I got pregnant. He replied, "Easy, I'd work from home and take care of the baby." I love my job and make excellent money and don't care much for working from home. He loves working from home and taking care of household chores. There are alternatives to mommy at home.

Amy Joyce: There are indeed. However, male or female: Is working from home AND caring for a baby doable?


D.C.: Work is literally depressing me. Yes, I'm looking for a new job and I'm making lists of things I need to do, but I just can't seem to start them! I'm so unmotivated to do anything but these are things that have to get done. Any tips on what I can do to increase productivity? Thanks so much!

Amy Joyce: Lay down the law, D.C. You make the lists, you tell yourself that you have to do three things on it before Friday, or you won't let yourself go out to dinner/have fun. You can make these lists a little smaller. You only need baby steps to get started. Try that. Soon enough, you'll see that a few big things have been crossed off that list.


Kentucky: I sent the senior vice president an e-mail yesterday with some data he requested. Now that I dig further into the data I've discovered that what I sent him was wrong. I don't work closely with him, but he knows me and in general thinks I'm doing a great job. I know that sending him an e-mail with the correct information and pointing out my error is the best thing to do and won't ruin my career. I guess I'm looking for words of encouragement. I hate having to send an e-mail correcting the data.

Amy Joyce: Do it. Now. The sooner you correct your mistake, the sooner HE won't appear to make a mistake or use it in something that will cause major problems. When you do send it, say that you were double checking and realize that these are the right numbers instead. Apologies.

It will show you are careful (even if it is after the fact) and conscientious. Get to it!


New York, N.Y.: Hi, Amy. Love your column. I'm at a great firm right now and there is an open position in another city that I could relocate for. My husband and I are from there and have been planning to move back at some point, we just didn't know when. I don't want to leave NY immediately; ideally we'd move in six months (I'm thinking about asking if I can travel back and forth for a while). The question I have is, my husband and I are planning to start trying for a baby soon. I am not sure if I want to stay home or work after the baby (I'm leaning toward working, but who knows?) Is it fair to ask for a transfer and the accommodation for allowing us to stay in N.Y. a little longer, knowing all of this? (I don't want to disclose our plans for baby at this point, obviously).

Amy Joyce: Keep baby and work separate for now, since baby is just a wispy thought. Focus on the career, ask for what you want and work hard to get it.

Trying for a baby can take a LONG time. So you need to focus on the thing you have a little more control over now. Work through the other issues when and if you get pregnant. Good luck.


PR/University: I work with the PR folks in a university (I work in marketing). It's not a big deal at all, apply for the job!

Amy Joyce: Well, great. Thanks.


Silver Spring, Md.: I enjoyed your column this week very much and have followed the debate about back to work vs. stay at home parents with interest. I am staying home with my baby girl right now but am working from home part time which is working out great for me. Coming from Sweden, I am always surprised by the fact that there is seldom mention of paid (government )parental leave in the debate. At home parents get approximately 18 months paid leave to share between the two parents. I know and realize that the two societies are completely different but I am still amazed that parents just seem to accept the lack of parental leave without a fight. At home it is seen a women's rights issue and an important part in the work toward gender equality. Not to mention a children's rights issue. I am very curious as to why there seems to be no debate about parental leave.

Amy Joyce: There is a lot of debate, but it's going to take a long time to get anywhere, I think. It's just ingrained in our culture here, unfortunately, that FMLA is our parental leave, and that's that. There are lots of organizations/lobbyists and Congress members pushing to get FMLA leave paid. But it doesn't seem like that will happen any time soon.

Maybe once all the parents here move to Sweden, people will start paying attention!


Alexandria, Va.: Amy: I just wanted to thank you and the other chatters who responded to me last week. I was the person who was paranoid about everything in the wake of a private complaint. All of you helped me get a handle on things and gave me a strategy for going forward positively and productively. Even my spouse couldn't do that. Thanks so much!

Amy Joyce: Great. That's what we're here for. What did you decide to do?


Anonymous: We will miss you Amy!

Amy Joyce: And I'll miss you... Well, maybe.

Sorry I couldn't get to so many of the questions today. I tried to run overtime, but it's time to get going.

The chats will be back in August, so stock up those questions and we can discuss.

Enjoy your summer, all. And thanks for all the good wishes. I've had a great time!


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