Tuesday, February 26 at 11 a.m. ET

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Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, February 26, 2008; 11:00 AM

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. She takes reader questions and answers a selection weekly in her weekly How to Deal column for washingtonpost.com.

She comes online twice a month to answer your questions about human resources issues, workplace laws or just everyday workplace survival.

If you've got a workplace question and would like it to be featured in an upcoming How to Deal column, e-mail Lily at lilymgarcia@gmail.com.

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

The transcript follows below.

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Lily Garcia: Good morning, and thank you for joining our conversation. I look forward to answering your career- and workplace-related questions. Let's get started.

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Toronto, Canada: In meetings I have a coworker who is more senior than me (do not report to him) that, when some sort of task comes up to do, he often says "(Me) why don't you do that".

Any ideas on how to throw that back at this coworker, preferably in a witty way! He can do his own dirty work!

Love the chats!

Lily Garcia: Thanks. You could just smilingly respond, "Because that is your job (insert friendly chuckle)."

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Arlington, Va.: I'll come right to the point: I need an out. Which is to say, I've been at my current company for four years, and I truly can't stand another day of it. It's gotten to the point where the stress has begun taking a toll on my physical health, and that to me is the biggest (and possibly worst) red flag. The problem is, in my particular field, an interview is rare -- an offer even more rare. In other words, it takes time to find another job. And since I don't currently have one already lined up, I'm forced to remain where I am just so I can continue to pay the pickle man. I'd quit in a heartbeat if I had the financial security to live on my own for several months, but in this economy, I can't afford to take that chance (no pun intended).

So I guess the question is, what can I do to make each day bearable while I try to find something new? I'm not trying to be over-dramatic, but I'm genuinely afraid of how much worse my mental and physical health will deteriorate if I continue to stay here.

Lily Garcia: Phone it in, my friend. Do everything that you can to make your work life less stressful and more comfortable without ompromising your good reputation. This is not the time to be working long hours or volunteering for extra projects. This is the time for yoga, for catching up with old friends, for seeing a counselor (if it has gotten to that point). In other words, take care of #1 as much as possible.

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Reston, Va.: Hi, Lily. I'm two months away from hitting the one year mark at my current job. I have two problems though; although I am happy at work and like what I do, the money isn't enough to keep me in my apartment and you know, buying food and paying bills. I have a second job to make ends meet that gives me 12 hour days Monday-Friday. I want to go out and see if I can find something else for more money.

The second problem is that there is about an 70-85 percent chance that I will be moving out of state at the end of the year.

Should I just stick it out and suck it up with the 12-hour day till I move out of state or should I just start exploring my options now and deal with the move when and if it happens later on?

I don't want to seem like a job hopper but having two job changes in the last 18 months would label me that wouldn't it?

Side note: The move is based on whether or not my serious boyfriend, (possible fiance), will get an official offer from a job. He's gotten a verbal offer (8 months in advance, before he's even finished his degree mind you) but we'd be waiting for the paper offer outlining salary, benefits etc. Help!

Lily Garcia: Given the likelihood that you will be leaving, it may not make sense to suffer the disruption of a job change at this point. Why not ask for a pay increase at your current job? No need to feel guilty about it just because you are probably leaving. If you are worth more than they are paying you, you owe it to yourself to say something. If I were you, I would just give it to them straight: I am unable to pay my bills on my current salary; in fact, I am gaving to work nights to make ends meet. Good grief.

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Virginia: Hi, Lily. I was invited to a high-level meeting at work. I was really prepared in regards to my topic. My presentation was going well when I was suddently "ambushed" by one of the participants (a "big cheese"). At the time I thought I handled it well and thought it funny that he was lecturing "the group." As I have re-hashed this in my mind, I now realize he was lecturing me and really dressed me down. I was very uncomfortable during this episode and I'm sure I didn't show well. I guess I've become obsessed about this and can't let it go in my head. I'm afraid that my credibility and knowledge are in question and really don't know what to do. I don't want to draw further attention to this embarassing episode. In hindsight I'm really mad at myself for not analyzing the situation better and responding in a more intelligent manner. How do I get over this? I keep replaying the meeting in my head and beating myself up, now having headaches, etc. BTW, it doesn't help that the person who invited me (also a high-level employee) did NOTHING to help me.

Lily Garcia: You prepared as best you could, and it sounds like you defended yourself well under the circumstances. Hold on to that thought and protect your self-esteem. The best way to get past this experience is to incorporate it as a valuable lesson. Now you know that this "big cheese" is in the habit of dressing down presenters. Next time you know that he will be in your audience, get someone friendly to listen to your presentation ahead of time and help you to find and plug the analytical gaps. If it makes you feel any better, your experience, although unfortunate, is not unusual. As you become more and more seasoned, I promise you, the sting will not be as sharp.

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Virginia: Hi, Lily. I interviewed for a position at my company three months ago ... I did get an e-mail saying they are still considering candidates about a month ago. We are in the midst of a budget crisis and I think this position may be eliminated. Is there a nice way to ask what the status is, or should I forget about it and move on?

Lily Garcia: You are absolutely entitled to know the status. Just ask: "Hey, I was just wondering about the status of my application for X job. I am still very interested in the position. Thanks."

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Washington, D.C.: I was reading your article archives today and I realized you had answered a question I posted in this chat on January 9.

Well, the boss is still a monster and I decided that you were absolutely right that I need to consider whether the learning I get from the job is worth dealing with the monster. I have put in for my internal transfer and couldn't be happier about it.

I also talked to HR about it and they are going to take some action after they get me out of my position. As she has already been sent to supervisor training three times, it might get interesting.

Lily Garcia: Wonderful. I am very glad to hear that my advice was helpful.

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Springfield, Va.: Hi, Lily. I am in my early-30s and unfortunately have a muscle condition that can make it hard to get going in the morning. I am currently in a job that requires an hour driving commute to work. I am unhappy in this position anyway, so the commute definitely isn't helping. In the spirit of not burning bridges, can I legitimately quit a job for health reasons?

Lily Garcia: YES!

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Richmond, Va.: I don't know, that snarky response you recommend to Toronto would not work at the places I've worked. It would, in fact, label you as a sass who is not a team player. It sounds like the sort of sarcastic comment characters in Sex and the City would throw out, but in real life, you'd get labeled a malcontent for such sarcasm aimed at a superior when he assigns you work. If a superior assigns you work, you DO it. And be grateful for the chance to prove yourself. If you think he shouldn't assign you tasks, you speak to your supervisor and let her work it out with him. But you don't sass him at a meeting, essentially saying you won't do the assignment, unless you're hoping look for a new job soon.

Lily Garcia: Your point is well taken. Make sure that the response would be appropriate within the culture of your organization.

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RE: 12-hour day person: No, no, no -- do NOT approach a request for a raise based on "I need the money." That's not a good way. It's not the company's issue if your lifestyle outcosts your paycheck. I don't mean to imply you live extravagantly, I'm just saying that they don't base pay on their employee's financial situations. Really.

Instead, make a list of your accomplishments on the job, your contributions, etc, and be prepared to show you're WORTH the money. If possible, research your occupation for pay ranges and see if you're making the going rate for what you have done. Besides, shouldn't your annual review be coming soon?

No one should ever advice you to basically go "begging poor" -- that will definitely leave a bad impression. Check out some of the advice on how to ask for a raise -- professionally.

Lily Garcia: Thank you very much for your thoughts. I agree with your suggestions. But I still think that sharing your personal circumstances can be a big boost to your argument in favor of a raise. In my experience, that can be the reality check that piques the conscience of an otherwise tightfisted employer.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi, Lily. I was wondering your thoughts on when to ask what the salary is for a particular position. I've had three phone interviews for a position and they have asked me to come in within the week for an in-person interview. I am extremely interested in this job and it will be a step up for me (management)since I finally got my master's. Interestingly enough, they have not discussed salary with me. I have eight years of experience and have held numerous positions, and in my experience I have always found it best to let them bring it up, and if they don't, that has always meant for me that they want the best candidate and that the salary is truly negotiable. I know there are caveats to every situation but this one has made me realize I might be spending a lot of time on this job only for the salary to be unacceptable.

Lily Garcia: The best time to bring up the salary issue is when you have become a serious contender for the position -- e.g., it is down to you and one or two other people. That is when you have the most leverage and when the prospective employer is most likely to invest time in a serious conversation on the subject.

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Waldorf, Md.: I have an associate's degree in criminal justice and I am looking for employement in my field. The problem that I face is not having the experience that fits the employer's criteria for the position. I am currently seeking employment in a law firm as a receptionist or paralegal. What can I do to convey to the employer that I am a fast learner, creative, dedicated and extremely passionate about my career? Also any other pointers that would help to get the job.

Lily Garcia: It sounds like this is a good career track for you. Use your cover letter and interview to convey your passion and ambition. For detailed guidance on getting the job, please search our archives in washingtonpost.com/jobs.

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Metro Center: "If I were you, I would just give it to them straight: I am unable to pay my bills on my current salary; in fact, I am gaving to work nights to make ends meet. Good grief!"

And why would an employer care about that? That's YOUR problem. Better move would be to explain why you are worth more to them than they are currently paying you.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your thoughts.

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RE: Sassing: It's one thing to sass someone you report to, but in my opinion completely different to sass someone who you DON'T report to, and is on your team. Sure, have respect for their seniority, but this person is abusing their seniority by throwing -Dirty Work- someone elses way. The senior person knows exactly what they're doing too by making it public in a meeting. Maybe sass isn't the tactic, but neither is kowtowing to them.

Lily Garcia: Good point.

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Richmond, Va.: It might help Alexandria to check out a Salary.com to know what the going rate for the job is. Since she's moving into a new position, she'll need to know the going rate for negotiations.

Lily Garcia: Proceed with caution. The accuracy of the information you retrieve from an online salary guide depends entirely upon the accuracy of the information you provide, including detailed job duties, years of experience, and location.

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Rockville, Md.: Can you comment on whether an employer is required by law (I work and live in Maryland) to pay out accrued vacation time to an employee when the employee leaves the company? I don't think my company has in the past, but I heard that the law changed a few months ago requiring them to. Thanks.

Lily Garcia: I cannot comment specifically upon the law in Maryland, but I can direct you to an archived article that I wrote on this very subject. My editors will provide you with a link.

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washingtonpost.com: Here's a link to Lily's column on purchasing leave: Purchased Vacation Can Be a Rough Trip, (post.com, March 21, 2007).

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D.C.: Hi, Lily. I have a morale question for you. In my small federal office, we have a colleague who CONSTANTLY misses work, makes up excuses, ignores direction from his/her supervisor, etc. Management is somewhat onto this person, to the point that they've discussed ways to terminate employment, but in other cases, they accept the excuses and don't hold this person accountable. I know often times the advice given is to ignore that person if their misbehavior doesn't affect you directly, but in this case, their behavior definitely means that people are covering for him/her, dealing with his/her constituents, and watching as he/she is not made to take annual and sick leave when it's appropriate.

How do you deal with lagging morale due to this situation? The immediate supervisor admits she doesn't like confrontation.

Thanks.

Lily Garcia: You, and others who are willing to step forward, should speak frankly with the supervisor about the morale problem. If that person still does not act, you should reach out to the supervisor's supervisor, too. That may be the extent of your influence over the situation.

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Virginia: I think the question of who "assigns" work varies. Some places have rigid heirarchies where only one person assigns you work. More and more, though, organizations use team approaches where a group of people work together to plan solutions. When the team is devising a game plan, if a senior staffer suggests you do something, say OK. That's an opportunity to take on more responsibility, not an excuse to sling a witty comment to him.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comment.

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RE: Arlington: Been there. Hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you're in a job you don't like. What I found helpful was to break up the day with things I could look forward to. Tuesdays and Thursdays were cappaccino morning days. I'd run swim during lunch. Do a cookie run at 3:00. Go to the gym after work. The exercise at lunch or after work routine really helped the night before, too. Instead of dreading the morning, I'd be happily packing a gym bag and thinking about lunch time.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for sharing your experience. Your are right -- exercise really helps, too.

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Fairfax, Va.: "I am unable to pay my bills on my current salary; in fact, I am gaving to work nights to make ends meet."

Why is this the employer's problem? Every piece of advice I've ever seen on asking for a raise says to leave your personal issues out of the conversation and focus on your professional contributions as the justification for getting a raise. The poster apparently didn't sit down and figure out her living expenses before she accepted the job at the salary she's being paid, but that's not her employer's fault. Lots of us took jobs early in our careers that forced us to: live with roommates, eat a lot of ramen, drive 10-year-old cars, etc. The poster needs to look at her budget and figure out what she can cut, keep the 2nd job until she's made enough of a contribution to her workplace to justify a raise, or go out and look for a better paying full-time job. It's not your employer's responsibility to make sure your salary supports the lifestyle you think you deserve.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for sharing your views. I still maintain that making it personal can really help your case for a raise. You should also make the dispassionate business case, but I disagree that your personal circumstances should be left completely out of it.

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Atlanta, Ga.: I recently applied for a summer intership at a major corporation. I found the internship posted on a job search engine, but the link led me to the company's general job application site. In short, I have no contacts to follow up with if I don't hear from them. Should I try to call HR and attempt to track down the hiring manager for the internship? Or do I not have any way of contacting them to see if I am being considered?

Lily Garcia: Definitely contact HR.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi, Lily.

I'm an introverted person and try to let my work speak for itself. I am much more relaxed around a small group of people (less than five) or in one-on-one interactions. Unfortunately, I've chosen a career where it's an asset to meet lots of people, make connections and network. I've put myself in circumstances to try to network, but I feel very awkward and ill at ease. Usually, I can't wait to get out of the situation and go home.

I'm good at my job and don't want to leave right now. I keep being promoted within the office and am in a position to really capitalize professionally on my current responsibilities later on. However, a part of me worries I won't be able to move on when I'm ready because I don't know enough people. How can I overcome the anxiety I feel in large groups? Or, how can I get the group size down so I can feel more at ease in social situations.

Thank you.

Lily Garcia: You just need to find a style that works for your personality. You might never be the life of the party, but that does not mean that you are incapable of establishing business relationships with other people. If you are more comfortable in small groups or one-on-one, seek out (or create) those opportunities. If you are more comfortable over email or on the phone, reach out in that way. I don't know what line of business you are in, but I can tell you that I have known highly intoverted people who managed significant success in such "extravert" professions as radio sales. They just did it their own way.

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Can't Pay the Bills: "Crying poor" won't get you a raise or help your career, but I think companies should know when they aren't paying their staff even bare-bones subsistence wages. (And then they should be publicly shamed for it, but that's another issue entirely.)

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your thoughts.

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I guess I'm now on another planet: B/c when I was younger, having a senior staffer suggest we do something was good. It was called an opportunity to take on more responsibility. And we replied with can-do enthusiasm, not sarcasm. (P.S., I'm not that old.)

Lily Garcia: Thank you for sharing your perspective.

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Herndon, Va.: I was out on family and medical leave last year because I had to have abdominal surgery twice. The second was unplanned; the surgeries were about 10 weeks apart. I had complications from the second surgery and while my doctors were in the process of trying to figure out what went wrong my leave ran out and my company terminated my employment. They said that I needed to be medically released back to work and my doctor refused as I was still sick. My employer also said that when I came back I wouldn't be able to take any leave without pay for doctor's appointments, medical procedures, etc. I explained to my employer that I had tests lined up that my doctor said needed to be done; they basically didn't care. Is it legal for them to terminate me as they did?

Lily Garcia: I am not at liberty to offer legal advice, but I can tell you that it sounds from these facts like you should be consulting with an employment attorney. I am not telling you that you have a case, just that your experience makes me think that it is worth looking into.

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Reston, Va.: 12-hour days: I just wanted to give you all more information...

I live in the suburbs of Virginia which is known for its higher rents. I pay $949 a month for a one-bedroom (that's a VERY good deal) plus bills and student loans it comes out just over $2,000 a month.

At my "main job" I make about just under $2,000 a month and the second job gives me an extra $600-800 to use for things like, emergency car repair, credit card payments etc.

Did I mention that I have a master's degree in my field at the tender age of 24?

I know for a fact that my nonprofit job is underpaying me, but that's almost the standard in nonprofits sometimes...

Lily Garcia: Thank you for this addtitional information. The fact that you work for a nonprofit is going to make the pay increase a tougher sell -- regardless of which argument(s) you choose. But I still think that you should try.

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Office of Broken Records: I have a colleague who tends to ask the same questions over and over. Doesn't matter if I tell her something orally, in writing, or via smoke signals. It's like nothing registers. No one else in the office has trouble understanding me, so I doubt it's my communication style.

She also repeatedly tells me things I already know, particularly pointing out problems I'm aware of or tasks I haven't been able to do just yet (mostly because of her interruptions). She's competent and pleasant, but I get sick of repeating myself. I shouldn't have to say something more than twice.

Lily Garcia: That is a tough one. Regarding the interruptions, is there any way that you can establish some physical distance between yourself and this person? Regarding the repetition, try addressing the issue in a polite and direct fashion. Share your frustration and ask whether there is something about your communication style that she is finding difficult. Does anyone else have thoughts for this reader?

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Arlington, Va.: Hi, Lily. Why would a company hire and keep a manager that has no previous experience in that job field and is mentally abusive at work? I will be the 4th person that has left because of this and HR is very aware of the situation. I am angry that I have to leave to not work in a hostile environment and am wondering what the responsibility of the organization is. Aren't they required to prove a hostile-free workplace?

Lily Garcia: Their legal resposibility is to provide a workplace free of "illegal" discrimination and harassment. Many types of harassment are not covered by the law. However, you are absolutely right that an employer's moral responsibility extends well beyond the law. My sympathies are with you.

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Virginia nonprofits: "I know for a fact that my nonprofit job is underpaying me, but that's almost the standard in nonprofits sometimes..."

Nonprofits don't pay as much as for-profit employers, but they feel that they make up for it in benefits. At least, that's what they tell themselves so they can sleep at night.

Still doesn't mean that it's your employers fault that you need more money. What you seem to need is another job.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your thoughts.

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Richmond, Va.: Most jobs I left, it was becasue they weren't giving me enough responsibility, I knew I could do so much more. Places I stayed a long time was where my supervisors worked with me to expand my responsibilities and expereince. So I don't understand the people here who think the employee should "sass" a senior staffer who gives her work. Dear, that attitude will come back to bite you in the long run. Do you want people to label you "sassy" or "enthusiastic"?

Lily Garcia: Thanks for sharing your insights.

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RE: Salary: Why is it the employer's problem? Because if she was putting in a 40hr week rather than a 60-hour week she'd probably have a lot more energy and extra time to put in at her job. It's really in the employer's interest to support their employees -- financially, with benefits, etc. It's not just about a greedy employee, it's about the balance in the employer/employee relationship. People deserve a living wage for full time work. And sure you can make do on a minimum amount of money, but does an employer want an employee who's going to "make do" with a minimum amount of effort and work? Didn't think so.

Lily Garcia: Thanks .

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Fairfax, Va.: I have a friend who was unexpectedly called away to care for an ill parent. He may need to be away from work for an extended period of time. However, his job (in Virginia) has less than 50 employees, so I understand he is not covered by FMLA. Are there any other federal or Virginia state extended leave provisions that cover employees of small businesses?

Lily Garcia: I do not know offhand whether Virginia has such a statute. You should consult with the Commonwealth's office of equal employment opportunity.

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Lily Garcia: This concludes today's chat. Thank you very much for your enthusiastic participation.

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