How to Deal Live

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Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, The Washington Post
Tuesday, October 6, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post job expert Lily Garcia discussed workplace issues on Tuesday, October 6 at 11 a.m. ET.

The transcript follows.

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Lily Garcia: Thank you for joining my chat. I look forward to answering your workplace-related questions. I am especially interested today in hearing your reactions and taking your questions regarding the emerging story of David Letterman's workplace affairs. Let's begin.

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Washington, D.C.: I think that he had sex with women is sickening and worse, people laugh as he uses his audience as his Greek chorus to condone his rotten behavior. I think the answer is for people who are harassed to come out, but people don't want to hear it, as someone said, 75% don't care and 25% are happy to hear your troubles so it's sad.

Lily Garcia: I think that increased awareness of these issues will help us, as a society, to move closer to the ideal of the harassment-free workplace.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm a middle manager in an organization in Washington. I have been with the organization for a few years now. I supervise an employee who has been with the organization for 15 years. This employee has squirreled away enough duties to become very valuable to the organization, yet, is a constant problem with me (ignoring my directives) and a problem with other employees from time to time. In addition, the employee has enough resources to survive being let go from their position, and, is very careful in being valued by the top executives, so they have a lot of leverage with the executives. Despite multiple conversations with this employee, he/she refuses to cooperate with me.

Should I have my supervisor (who is very willing to) talk with this employee and state that I would have their support in whatever I choose to do with this insubordinate individual, or, would I loose credibility by having my supervisor step in and instead deal with this employee alone?

Lily Garcia: It sounds to me like you already have very little leverage with this employee, so I am not sure how much credibility you would actually lose by securing the involvement of your supervisor. If your directives are being ignored, that is insubordination. You should initially address the issue with a counseling session explaining what you see and how it is negatively affecting the objectives of the organization. Your supervisor should accompany you to the meeting to support you and lend significance to your message.

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Washington, D.C.: Lily, you recently wrote about an employee who was promised a raise but it never materialized. This happens so often because in some workplaces, managers are instructed to promise but not deliver, to delay giving a raise a year or more. If the frustrated employee leaves, a cheaper one can be hired, and promised raises can be delayed again. This is the reality of the workplace. Except for top managers, whose talent is valued and must be retained, companies find it more efficient to let employees leave rather than pay them to stay. The myth of value is just that. Employees are interchangeable. You may not like the promised raise that does not happen but it is reality. When I was moved to management, I was told to adopt this stance. Raises of very small percentages are given only reluctantly, after long periods of time, and are never retroactive. Upper management feeds itself and starves the underlings. Look at any company and you will see this.

Lily Garcia: I agree that what you describe does happen, but I would not assume that all compensation-related delays are calculated in this way.

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Washington, D.C.: I think this is a worthwhile topic, but it's strange to raise it in the context of the Letterman situation. No one has alleged that he did anything wrong - sexual harassment, favoritism, etc. You seem to be implying that he is guilty of these things.

Lily Garcia: He has admitted to having a sexual relationship with a subordinate, which is inappropriate workplace behavior even if the relationship between the two of them was consensual.

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Washington, D.C.: I hope you have time for at least one question unrelated to sex.

I'm really bad at getting in to the office exactly when my boss wants me here; usually it's by just a few minutes, but today, she really ripped into me for being late because of the Red Line incident at Gallery Place, even though three other people in other departments were on the same train AND the incident began after I was already aboard one of the other Metrorail lines. I have a professional job that doesn't require me to be in front of the public like a security guard or receptionist, and I meet my internal project deadlines. How terrified should I be that I am going to be fired over this?

(And yes, I will TRY to get here a few minutes earlier, but....)

Lily Garcia: Yes, you could lose your job for persistent tardiness, even if you are a professional. You should talk to your boss about why punctuality is important to her. Maybe she there are important reasons why she needs you to be there at a particular time; or maybe she just values punctuality in principle. If the latter is true, then maybe she would be willing to adjust your schedule so that you are able to arrive on time. In the meantime, you should try leaving home earlier.

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Rockville, Md.: How to stop getting depressed due to not getting any responses from potential employers. It's been over a year and no job. Am I doing something wrong? I can't see it. I take classes to improve resume writing, interview coaching, etc. I want to be proactive but don't know how. I am not used to being unemployed. I always had a job for years. Please help! Thank you.

Lily Garcia: You should reach out as much as possible to people who can offer moral support: family, friends, others who find themselves in a similar situation. It also helps to take affirmative steps toward ensuring that your odds of finding a job are as good as possible. Refining your application materials is a great idea. You should also set goals for yourself. For example, challenge yourself to make contact with at least one new person each week who could either offer you a job of connect you with job opportunities. Without knowing more details about your situation, I could not tell you whether you are doing anything wrong. But I can assure you that you are far from alone in your frustration.

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Washington, D.C.: We have a couple of recent college grads (within 1-3 years) in our small office. We understand the learning curve they are on, not just for the job but for office environment. One new hire has "I know everything" syndrome. He talks down to the rest of the office, especially the administrative people; he seems to think lower job equals lower IQ. How can we not only deal with him on a daily basis, but also help him learn how to work in an office?

Lily Garcia: This employee needs the advice of a mentor - and fast! You should designate someone in the office, preferably his supervisor, to talk to him about how his communication style is being perceived. He might be mortified to hear that he comes across as arrogant and condescending.

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Washington, D.C.: The company that I work for insists on annual "Director Retreats", whereby all the directors in the company are required to attend an overnight, company sponsored trip. The retreat is a team building type event and the company "matches-up" staff to share a room during the overnight stay (female with female & male with male). As a director in the company, I am expected to attend these annual events that I am just not interested in attending, nor am I comfortable with sharing a room with a co-worker. However, it is frowned upon if you do not attend. Any suggestions on how I can respectfully decline these events.

Lily Garcia: It is bad form to decline these types of professional development opportunities. The only acceptable excuses are family and health emergencies. I imagine that you may not be interested in attending the retreat because you are not deriving value from the experience. If that is the case, then you should think about what you would do differently as an event organizer and offer your thoughts as constructive feedback. This sounds like a costly affair and I am sure that your company would hate to hear that they are not getting an appropriate return on their investment.

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Bowie, Md.: I was let go from a law firm when I wasn't able to concentrate on my job performance. I was dealing with my mother's terminal illness and it got the best of me. I was employed there for 2 yrs., the first year was great and then my work started suffering as time went on. I was never reprimanded before the firing. How can I find another legal position?

Lily Garcia: If you are concerned about explaining the reasons for your departure from your last job, then you should talk to your former employer about what they would say when they receive a request for a job reference about you. Given the life circumstances that led to your decline in performance, perhaps they would be willing to help you to move on by agreeing to confirm only dates of employment and title when a prospective employer calls. Maybe your past supervisor would even be willing to speak to your fine performance the first year and explain your departure from the firm as a mutual agreement based upon personal issues beyond your control.

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Washington, D.C.: What is the best way to broach an uncomfortable workplace situation involving your boss when the boss is also the HR department (a small company with no HR)?

Lily Garcia: If you trust your boss, then talk to him or her directly about the issue. If you fear retaliation or otherwise have reason to believe that your boss would not properly handle your concerns, then you seek the advice of another senior leader, if such a person is available.

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Anonymous: Hi Lily, thanks for taking my question.

People keep asking me to work on projects/problems that aren't my responsibility. The problem is that these projects/problems are someone else's responsibility. I don't have a problem helping out if the person who owns the project/problem asks for my help or is unavailable (i.e. on vacation, wrapped up in a meeting), but I am worried that when I send them to that person it appears I'm not a team player. Also, it puts me in a situation if something goes wrong, my name is all over the place as making the error (which is likely since I'm not working on these projects), but when things work out then I get no credit (nor do I want any).

Personally, I think it's unfair for someone to step into another person's area of responsibility without giving them the opportunity to work on the problem themselves or be the one to determine if they need additional help. Plus if the shoe was on the other foot with the people who keep trying to circumvent the process/ownership, they would have a fit.

I would, at a minimum, try to explain this to my manager so he understands what I'm trying to duck work, but that if I'm being asked to help that I either be officially assigned the responsibility or have the person who is officially assigned the authority determine when I get pulled in.

Do you think I should do this or just suck it up as part of doing business.

Thanks.

Lily Garcia: I think you should discuss your concerns with your manager, but you should not position yourself as refusing to take on the assignments except under certain circumstances. In the end, you may just need to "suck it up," as you say.

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Cincinnati, Ohio: What do you do when you think the company you work for is getting rid of higher priced workers because of their age? What laws are in place to protect white men 50 or over? Are there any? It seems everyone else gets protection but this group is left out? Do you agree? Do you know why? Thanks for your time!

Lily Garcia: It is illegal under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and many state laws to target people over the age of 40 for adverse personnel action of any type because of their age. However, if you company has made a business decision to eliminate more highly compensated positions to save money, and those positions just happen to be occupied, by and large, by people over the age of 40, then the case for discrimination may be more tenuous. If you have legitimate reasons to believe that that older workers in your company are being targeted for termination of employment because of their age, you should seek the advice of an employment lawyer.

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Downtown, D.C.: I've seen a new coworker in the restroom three times now, and she has never washed her hands. I'm disgusted. Can I mention it to HR (no names, of course)? Especially with everyone worried about flu, I wonder what to do besides open our mutual door with a paper towel.

Lily Garcia: Rather than embarrassing this individual, you should ask you HR department to post signs in the restrooms reminding people of the importance of hand washing. Many companies do this routinely during flu season, and many more companies are posting such notices now as the threat of H1N1 looms.

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Baltimore, Md.: My fifteen-year-old daughter asked as we were listening to the radio, why was David Letterman wrong if they were consenting adults? It's time we all reiterated what's wrong with what he's done. As the big boss, he is the one in power. Not only does that imply special favors to the one honored by his advances, it also makes every other staff member disadvantaged. I've been in different workplaces for 30 years and have seen the effect of such serial romances. It's discriminatory and exploitive. Feminists, where are you in this fight? He should be fired absolutely. This is not a gray issue. Com'on strong women, speak up!

Lily Garcia: Thank you for sharing your views on this important issue. Do others agree that Mr. Letterman should be fired?

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Providence, R.I.: My company recently laid off a person in his 60's saying there was not enough work. Two days later they hired two new people in the department. I am worried since I am now approaching 60. How does one combat ageism in the workplace? The younger people are already jokingly saying older people cannot keep up with technology. They add that they don't mean me but I feel that it is becoming a hostile environment. I am so worried about my job but don't know what to do.

Lily Garcia: The comments of your younger colleagues are insensitive and inappropriate. If you feel comfortable doing so, share with them how their commentary, despite their disclaimer, makes you feel. I recently wrote about combating ageism from the perspective of a younger worker. I could offer you the same advice. The key to disarming ageism is to foster an open workplace dialogue about the behaviors that make us feel inadequate or fearful.

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Tardiness: I think a lot of people who are habitually late to work forget that it's not just about them. I used to think "no big deal," but now I understand that having a perpetually late employee reflects poorly on their manager and can affect relationships with coworkers ("wait, she doesn't show up till 8:45, why do we have to be here at 8:30?")

Lily Garcia: Thank you. That is a very good point. This is why the reader who wrote in regarding her tardiness should talk to her manager about the reasons why she takes the tardiness so seriously.

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Washington, D.C.: It's RIF day at my company which almost no one knows except top mgmt. I think the RIF will come as a shock to the people leaving but also to the survivors. Some of the people leaving should not be that surprised but I expect others will take it very hard including two people I really like. Any advice for me? For them? Thanks.

Lily Garcia: In a moment, I will post a link to a special feature that I think you will find helpful.

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washingtonpost.com: How To: Survive a Layoff

washingtonpost.com: How To: Survive a Layoff

Lily Garcia: Here is a link to our special feature on How to Survive a Layoff.

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Everywhere USA: Good morning,

I was given a memo, a very inaccurate one, to sign by my supervisor. I refused to sign it, spoke with HR, and was told that there would be a performance plan for me complete. I agreed to this because I need my job. I'm still waiting for it to review.

Last week, on two occasions, my supervisor sent two very rude replies to two emails. I know that she wants me gone but I have some medical issues and I believe that I'm protected under FMLA. I know that you are not a lawyer but typically, if I have a signed FMLA, am I protected for a period of time? Can I go back to HR and ask for a cease and desist on the insults?

Thank you very much.

Lily Garcia: Although I am a lawyer, I am not at liberty to offer individualized legal advice in this forum. I can tell you generally that you do enjoy protection from retaliation for taking leave under the FMLA. If you are concerned that your supervisor is lashing out against you for having taken FMLA-protected time off, you should bring this to the attention of HR.

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washingtonpost.com: Dealing with a Generation Gap at Work (Post, Thursday, September 10, 2009.)

washingtonpost.com: Dealing with a Generation Gap at Work (Post, Thursday, September 10, 2009.)

Lily Garcia: Here is a link to and article that might be helpful to the reader who inquired about combating workplace ageism.

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Re: Baltimore (Letterman): Sure, in a normal workplace he should be fired. But who's his boss? The company is his own, and ultimately it's the ratings and the advertisers that matter. The ratings are high, and so far no advertisers have bailed. Unless the scandal gets worse, I don't see that anything at all will happen.

Lily Garcia: Exactly. In a very real sense, we are all his bosses. When you tune in, the ratings remain strong, the advertisers stay, and Mr. Letterman suffers no consequence beyond the obvious marital fallout.

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Letterman can't be fired: CBS doesn't own his show; Letterman's Worldwide Pants does. CBS CAN pull the plug on his show, but that's highly unlikely, given that his ratings have killed the Tonight Show since Conan took over. Unfortunately, nothing's going to happen to Dave- he'll survive this and continue to make lousy jokes at other cheaters.

Lily Garcia: Touche.

On that uplifting note, I will regrettably need to conclude today's chat. Please join me again on Tuesday, October 20th, at 11:00 a.m. EST. In the meantime, please feel free to write to me at hradvice@washingtonpost.com.

Cheers, Lily

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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