How to Deal Live

Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, The Washington Post
Tuesday, November 3, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post job expert Lily Garcia discussed workplace issues on Tuesday, November 3, at 11 a.m. ET.

The transcript follows.


Lily Garcia: Thank you for joining today's live chat. I look forward to answering your career- and workplace-related questions. Let's begin.


Washington, DC: A neighbor of mine is a 20-year-old male who was convicted of a felony in April 2009. He is currently on probation for the next two years. He has worked for the same employer, part time, for the past two years. His employer is a medium sized bank. Part-time employment was sufficient, however, he realizes now he needs to start looking for full-time positions. His parents and I have both encouraged him to seek higher education. His response is he doesn't like school. In your opinion what are his chances of seeking employment in another financial institution? He has two years of cash handling experience his parents hate to see go down the drain.

Lily Garcia: I cannot give you an exact assessment of this young man's chances of finding another job in financial services. I can, however, assure you that he will be subject to a background check, which will undoubtedly reveal his felony conviction. It will be a challenge for him to convince a prospective employer to disregard this fact in determining whether he should be hired into a position of trust. It may be best for him to secure another part-time job not in financial services to supplement his income until the opportunity for full-time employment at his current bank arises.


DC Metro Area: A coworker and I both worked on a large project. He covered areas that he wanted to and were in his element, and I covered everything else. At the conclusion of the project, he was thanked in front of the rest of the office by the CEO and received a bonus. I received no such thanks and no bonus. Now we are to work on a similar project, but on a larger scale. I have no motivation to do well and have thought about suggesting to my supervisor that my coworker take on the whole project since he did so well on the last one. I don't want to be stuck doing the dirty work again, especially with no extra recognition. Would that be a good idea, or should I work hard on this next project and specifically ask for a special compensation afterwards, such as a few extra vacation days, rather than assuming that my hard work will be noticed and rewarded?

Lily Garcia: I don't think that refusing to work on the project will help your situation any. Instead, talk to your supervisor about what happened the first time around and try to understand why you might have been overlooked for recognition. Maybe your supervisor can offer advice that will help you to maneuver the situation differently to your advangtage this time. If you do a good job, there is nothing wrong with later asking for recognition in the form of a few extra days off.


San Francisco, Calif.: Hi, Lily. Thanks for doing these chats and taking my question. Is there any point in putting your cover letter and resume into a company's online database, unless asked to directly by HR? I ask because I'm wondering how companies use the database. I've never been contacted by a company through this manner -- unless I've also e-mailed a copy of my cover letter and resume to someone in the company. I'm not sure if your other readers have had any/more success just going the database route, but to me it seems a pointless waste of time to just submit online only. What are your thoughts?

Lily Garcia: Many companies regularly scan their database for qualified applicants when a new position is posted. Company recruiters screen the search results and then reach out to applicants who might be qualified. I do not think that submitting your resume to the applicant database of a company you very much want to work for is pointless. However, it can only help your chances of getting a job if you are also networking directly with employees of the organization.


Part-time jobs on resume: How long should you work at a job before you put it on your resume? I just started a part-time retail seasonal job this week, but I am still looking for a full-time professional job. I was laid off a while ago and couldn't keep waiting it out to see if something opened up in my field or at my old company any longer. I actually kinda enjoy the retail job and will most likely keep doing it on a part-time/weekend basis for at least a little while if/when I find something in my field. Even with the new job I am still replying to job posts and contacting companies about potential openings. So should I start putting this new job on my resume now, or do I wait until I've worked a couple of weeks and have actually received a paycheck? I think it might be weird to send out a resume that says that I have been working someplace for literally days.

Lily Garcia: Add the job to your resume, but indicate month/year rather than exact date of hire.


Arlington, Va.: What do you do when you know too much about a coworker's slacking? I work in a small office where half the staff is looking for another job because the place is so dysfunctional. One of my coworkers is already "checked" out of her job. Yesterday because she had an issue over her paycheck, she did absolutely no work and said directly to me that she sent multiple e-mails to our boss about it and that she was going to do no work until she was paid. She told me this but probably didn't say it quite that way in her e-mails to our boss, who was out for the day. (She also came into the office and I'm sure expected to be paid for the day).

So today boss asks "did so-and-so get XYZ done?" And I know the answer is no, and why, and I know she had no intention of doing it. My boss asked me what I knew about her project and if I knew when she left the office, etc. (Basically asking me to suddenly be her supervisor/spy out of the blue). Because this office is so dysfunctional, I don't have any moral qualms about my coworker's behavior.

But I don't know how to handle being caught between knowing why my coworker didn't accomplish XYZ and my boss's questions about it. The undone work doesn't directly fall on me, but it does fall on someone.

Lily Garcia: As the saying goes, two wrongs don't make a right. I can sympathize with the frustration of working in a dysfunctional environment, but I don't think that your coworker's response is constructive. If your coworker has a legitimate concern regarding her wages that cannot be resolved with her employer, then she should file a claim with her state wage enforcement division.

As for you, if you lie to your boss, you do so at your own peril. You should answer your boss' questions truthfully without, of course, giving up more information than you need to.

In the meantime, you should look for another job!


No place: My supervisor is not very big on giving negative feedback, or having any other supervisors give it. As a result, most people on our team think they are doing great because performance issues either are not mentioned or so heavily couched in compliments that people only hear the good things. Plus, when we've had to let people go for poor performance, they've been blindsided. Any tips on getting him to see that negative feedback is a good thing, or for giving negative feedback in a way that might be palatable to him? Thank you!

Lily Garcia: You can underscore for your supervisor how completely surprised various people have been when they are shown the door. Specifically point out cases in which you think that constructive feedback might have helped an employee to save his or her job. Also point out cases in which the employee could have avoided personal hardship by starting to look for another job earlier.


WI: The place I work for is not replacing employees that move on, quit, retire, etc. There are now four of us that must take turns answering phones for most of the floor we work on. Two of us get along and respect each other's time when it comes to breaks and lunch. The other two (that work in the same section) do not respect each other's time much less anyone else's time. To make it even worse, they hate (and I'm not using that word loosely)each other. They are causing all sorts of problems with the phone answering duties and often times impinging on us because they cannot get along. Furthermore, their so-called supervisor refuses to get involved. We have another meeting coming up next week and in previous meetings have told both of them along with their supervisor that they don't respect our time, etc. Nothing has been done. Short of telling them at the next meeting that we are tired of their behavior because they don't get along, what should we do? Because of the environment we work in (read: government), we can't take this to human resources nor to the two directors. They can't/won't do anything about people that can't get along. I am sorry this is so long, but can you provide something we could say at our next meeting? Thanks very much for your help.

Lily Garcia: Rather than complaining about the inability of these employees to get along, try proposing a constructive solution to the phone-answering dilemma. Formalize the phone schedule, for example, so that there is no ambiguity about who is responsible for calls at a particular time of day. You may not be able to cajole your coworkers into respecting one another, but you may be able to minimize their opportunities for interpersonal conflict by making their responsibilities more clear.


Centreville, Va.: I have a question whether or not the actions of some people are ethical (legal).

Location: local county government office.

The situation: An employee of the local county government office uses work e-mail to advertise a product produced at home, with the price per unit for this product included in this e-mail. In the e-mail and in person, employee advertises that the product is organic, but it is not officially certified as organic by the FDA. The e-mail is periodically sent to many departments using office email contact list. The product is delivered and distributed in the office and the money are collected by the employee upon the transaction. The management of the office is buying produce from the employee for personal consumption.

Questions: Is this ethical to use government office resources to advertise and sell the product for profit? What should be done by the management in response to such situation? What liability, if any, will the government have if someone get sick or claims that they got sick by consuming the produce sold and bought in the government office? Thank you.

Lily Garcia: The behvior that you describe would be a violation of most employers' non-solicitation and technology policies. Namely, most employers explicitly prohibit the use of their technology by employees to solicit for personal businesses, causes or organizations. Similarly, most employers' technology policies limit personal use of technology resources. In the case of government workers, these rules are usually even more strongly worded. I am surprised that this employee's behavior has been allowed.

I cannot speak to the legal question of whether the county government might be liable if someone suffers injury from this employee's products. But I can assure you that a concern for liability is one of the important reasons any nonsolicitation policies are usually in place.


McLean, Va.: Hello. I previously wrote to you regarding some volunteer work at a non-profit. I wrote the president and again, have not heard back from her or the PR person. I am really starting to wonder if I did something wrong -- should I write AGAIN or forget about them and volunteer for someone else? I've got a lot to offer and am very disappointed they've blown me off like this.

Lily Garcia: I am sorry to hear that they have not shown you the courtesy of a response. It sounds like it is time to move on.


Ft Meade, Md.: I work near another government employee who is out sick at least two days of every week. He has used up his sick time and holiday time. He is using up a billet that could be manned by a reliable employee yet when he meets with his supervisors he pulls the disability card (he has eczema!). Why don't they let him go?

Lily Garcia: I don't know why your coworker has not been fired. I also do not know whether eczema or the medication to treat it may produce side effects serious enough to keep someone legitimately out of work. If this employee's absences are affecting your ability to do your job, you should discuss this with your supervisor. If not, then the best way to minimize your frustration may be to assume that there are important reasons for your coworker's absences that you just don't understand.


Seattle, Wash.: My boss is a recovering alcoholic. He has been sober for about eight months and I'm 99 percent sure he's been drinking again this past month or so. Before he went dry earlier this year, he was drunk in the office all the time and just generally a complete mess -- saying inappropriate things all the time, coming to work in dirty clothes, walking around with his zipper down, etc. Just no sense of propriety about anything. Now that I'm pretty sure he's drinking again, I'm at a loss as to what to do. I cannot bear going through this whole situation again. It took about two years of him getting steadily worse before he hit bottom and went to rehab early this year. If I report him to his boss, I will feel terrible because he'll probably get fired or at least demoted. He's a decent person despite the alcoholism and his family depends on his income. I have looked for another job, but there is no hiring going on in my field. What to do?

Lily Garcia: I am no expert on the subject of alcoholism, but I do know that you are not doing yourself, your employer or your boss any favors by keeping quiet about your boss' relapse. People often need to find themselves at absolute rock bottom before they can truly start the difficult process of conquering an addiction. Maybe your boss is just not there yet.


negative feedback: Please use "constructive criticism" or "constructive feedback" with your supervisor. "Negative" is, well, negative and the word should be avoided. Other good phrases for this discussion might be "honest feedback," "honest assessment of one's performance," etc. Also, ask if there are goals that one can work toward. Having those goals for the employee to focus on to improve performance can only improve the company as well.

Lily Garcia: Thank you. I agree.


Baltimore, Md.: My company has a huge divide between the business and the IT departments. I am in a software engineering group and at the moment, we are going into our third week of zero direction from the business. There is only so much research on technology we can do without any direction from business. Any suggestions on how to pass the time? We have had discussions with our director who keeps telling us to be patient. We have a very strict time/work policy.

Lily Garcia: This is a very good question for your director. Ask his or her opinion of what would be the best use of your time while you patiently await further instructions from the business side.


To Fort Meade: That employee may or may not have an accommodation under the ADA. As such, you have no need to know why someone has used up their leave. And the supervisor can not tell you. As Lily says, if it starts to hurt your work performance, then bring it to your supervisor on that basis only.

Lily Garcia: That is true. That person's absences might be an ADA accommodation.


Ft Meade again: Yes, thanks. I think he means ADA when he claims the "sick card," but the work he should be doing is pushed on to others already. He can't accept long-term projects because he is unreliable. This is a "do more with fewer people" office and we're doing even more. Thanks for your help, great forum.

Lily Garcia: If this is becoming a problem for other people in the office, you really do need to talk to your supervisor. Best of luck to you.


Lily Garcia: Unfortunately, we are out of time. Please join me for the next How to Deal Live, which is scheduled for Tuesday, November 17th, at 11:00 a.m. EST. You may also reach me by e-mail at



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