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Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, The Washington Post
Tuesday, January 12, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post job expert Lily Garcia discussed workplace issues on Tuesday, Jan. 12, at 11 a.m. ET.

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The transcript follows.

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

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Harrisonburg, Va.: So, now what do you do if you go on an interview and the employer says they are going to pay "expenses" such as hotel, meals, etc. (I have the e-mails) and still two months later you are waiting for reimbursement? I've followed up with HR and am getting the runaround with them saying it is "accounting's problem." They say "accounting has to set up a record" and "you'll have the check by the end of the week" and it is still not received. This is a Fortune 500 company based in Houston, TX.

Lily Garcia: Did you not get the job? If so, you have nothing to lose by becoming a bit more forceful -- albeit polite -- in your queries. Remind them that this is a lot of money to you and that you relied in good faith upon their promise.

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McLean, Va.: When interviewing for new job and the question arises as to what was the reason for leaving the old job (four years ago), can one be honest and forthcoming and simply say under the confidentiality agreement signed, it remains confidential?

Lily Garcia: If that is true, then that is what you should say.

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White Flint, Md.: Hi, Lily. Today is my birthday, and I'm a new employee at my company. Birthdays are always celebrated and people make a big deal out of it. I really dislike celebrating birthdays, especially mine. I had hoped to keep it a secret since I'm new, but somehow the office manager found out and is planning something. How do I address this? Can I politely ask them not to celebrate? Do I just let it go and let them have their fun even if it makes me uncomfortable? People really think I'm strange and a grinch when I am not all excited about birthdays.

Lily Garcia: I think it is best if you gracefully accept the unwanted attention from your colleagues. Especially because you are new, you do not want to risk offending them. They are only trying to be friendly, after all.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: If I purchase an existing business and notify all carry-over employees that there will be a six month trial period of employment during which they can be let go without cause, are they eligible for unemployment benefits should I terminate one or several employees? Also, is there anything special about keeping employees to 30 hours or less per week? I have worked for several different professional businesses that do so. Thank you!

Lily Garcia: You should check with the California Employment Development Department. See http://www.edd.ca.gov/Unemployment/default.htm

Best of luck.

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Alexandria: I work at a small company and found out a few months ago that a colleague, who was hired around the same time as me about seven years ago and has a similar role in the company, but not the same job, makes almost 25 percent more than me. We both started around the same salary. I have a master's degree and he doesn't, and I also supervise several people, while he does not. I have always gotten excellent reviews. This has been eating away at me, and I'm not sure how, or if, I should bring it up at my annual review, which is going to be scheduled soon. In asking for a raise, I generally try to sell myself and the value I've brought to the company. This year, I saved the company a significant amount of money as well.

But just stating those facts isn't going to get me a raise that would address the discrepancy. Also, I'm worried they'll ask how I know his salary (saw his pay stub on his desk). Any advice?

Lily Garcia: I think that it would be unwise for you to ask for a raise on the basis of confidential information that was not willingly shared with you. If you feel that you should be paid more, then you should tout your contributions and overall value to the enterprise.

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Confused in Washington, D.C.: I'm currently on a work detail with my assignment ending in a few weeks. There is a possibility of hiring me permanently, however my current supervisor has not asked me to stay. (In fact, she's asked me to find someone to replace me to do another detail with her.) What baffles me about this is she has not given me any feedback of any kind during my time here re: my performance. How do I approach her about this to ask her why she didn't offer me a position?

Lily Garcia: You should approach her in a straightforward and professional manner. Ask your supervisor for a meeting to discuss her impressions of the work you did for her. As she is replacing you with someone else, your desire to hear what she thought of you should come as no surprise.

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Office Birthdays...From Someone Who Plans Them: Sorry, but if someone is unwilling to let the office do a birthday party, that person is pretty much being a grinch. The reason most offices do birthday parties isn't so much for the birthday boy/girl, it's so the office can take a break, have a treat and bond. These parties are good for morale, provided they're not compulsory and the boss lets people relax and enjoy themselves. So if you're denying people that chance because you're not a 'birthday person', you're missing the point, because it's not about you.

Note: I once worked in an office where the boss would use birthday parties and such as an excuse to corner people and drone on about work stuff, which led to a lot of previously pro-birthday folks BEGGING me to ignore their birthdays. So bosses: Let your people enjoy the party!

Lily Garcia: That's a good point. It's not just about the birthday person; it's also about the office as a whole.

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Washington, DC: My employer is an NGO. They have recently announced that they want all staff to undergo Myer-Briggs testing. I am strongly opposed to undergoing this testing. While I might do it personally, doing it at the workplace and having the results shared with colleagues seems to cross a big privacy line for me. (They say results will only be shared in aggregate, but given our teams are small it will be easy to see who's who, and I don't trust they they will be confidential at all). Furthermore, I fear it could be harmful to me in terms of projects I am considered for. And basically, I'd just rather not be defined by a label. Do I have any rights to refuse this testing? Is it normal at an NGO to be asked to do this? Any other thoughts on the pros/cons of the testing?

Lily Garcia: This is an important question that raises a number of issues. With your permission, I will reserve the answer for an upcoming article.

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Washington, D.C: Currently employed in a hostile environment in which management refuses to address a longstanding unruly and possibly mentally disturbed supervisor. In the search for new employment, when it comes time for the interview, what are some questions that should be asked to ensure non re-entry of a similar work environment?

Lily Garcia: You can ask general questions about the work environment and ask individuals how they each enjoy their work, their supervisor and their colleagues. You will be able to gauge from the content and tone of the responses what type of job you might be in for. I hope it is obvious that you should not ask direct questions about the mental well-being of the employees.

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Centreville: I have a co-worker that absolutely screams over my voice and intercepts my conversations with other employees while I am speaking. If a VP is asking me a question about my project, she will interrupt me, talk loudly over me and try to answer the questions as though we were on Jeopardy. She will continue to speak in a loud voice right over me and gets louder if I keep on track with the conversation. I work for a very small company where the culture is for everyone to "get along." There is no HR. I have stopped and corrected her on one occasion by saying "Excuse me, but I was speaking." She didn't speak to me for days. Help.

Lily Garcia: You did the right thing by pointing out your co-worker's behavior. But it would have been better if you had taken her aside to explain her behavior and how it is affecting you. Not to justify her response, but she may have stopped speaking to you because she was offended that you corrected her in public.

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Re: Work Detail: I'm a former temp and just had to throw this in: If the person on the work detail and being replaced by someone else is a temp, they should route any performance questions through his temp agency's contact. Many agencies require this as a condition of employment and consider subverting that process to be grounds for dismissal.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your insights.

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think that it would be unwise for you to ask for a raise on the basis of confidential information that was not willingly shared with you.: Agreed. But if she's fairly confidant about her job security, can she say "I have some concerns that I'm not being paid comparably to my male peers?"

Lily Garcia: She could make a confidential complaint to HR, but I would counsel against bringing this up as leverage in annual salary negotiations.

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Washington, DC: I am employed in a stable federal job with good benefits. I am also 27 years old. I am not completely satisfied with my job and would like to look for a new job, but I am not sure about where to look or what I would like to do. The old "Where do you see yourself in five years" question isn't lending any insight. Are there career counselors that can help me figure out which job or field would be best suited for my skills and interests? Or do you have a good suggestion for a book or Web site that could also help me?

Lily Garcia: If you really have no idea what you would like to do for a living, then it is best to invest time in developing your career profile before spending money on a career counselor. For this purpose, I always recommend the old standby, "What Color Is Your Parachute?"

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How do I approach her about this to ask her why she didn't offer me a position?: Because you didn't let her know you were interested. I'd say the onus is on the consultant to let the employer know they're interested in a permanent position. If she didn't like your work, she wouldn't trust you to find a replacement. Let her know you're sorry you failed to let her know you're interested in a permanent position with the organization.

Lily Garcia: That's an excellent point.

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Washington, DC: A new COO joined my company within the last year and has let us know to expect big changes in the next couple of months. Some of his senior staff have hinted that these changes could include a total restructuring of the company and possible elimination of my department. I was recently assured that they want to keep me on board and if these changes happen, they will find a place for me. However, it's certainly hard to sit and wait for these things to happen. Any tips for staying sane (and productive) in times of instability?

Lily Garcia: If I were in your position, it would make me feel better to start looking for a job -- if only to reassure myself that I would have options if the worst came to pass. Although it may seem contradictory, you should at the same time focus harder than ever on your work to ensure that you have the greatest possible chance of being retained in the restructuring.

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Recently Happy in DC: My coworker and I have just started a relationship. My workplace does not have any codified rules against relationships but someone said that they frown on them after a bad incident some years back. We've kept our relationship a secret, but don't want to forever. How many times can I be asked why I am still single before blurting something out. Advice?

Lily Garcia: As long as you and your coworker are not (1) in a supervisory relationship or (2) working on the same team, I say it is nobody's business. If either of the above conditions are met, then you should let your supervisor and/or human resources know about your new romance.

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Re: Asking for a raise: Please keep in mind that you stated the two of you do not do the same job. Also, your co-worker may be paid based on his experience. He may have something in his background or education that you do not.

I inadvertently found out I was the highest paid in my training class. I asked how my pay scale was determined, and I didn't mention anyone-else. I was told my work experience with two brokerages was a large factor in determining my pay scale.

Lily Garcia: That is true. You may want to ask "out of curiosity" how your base pay was originally determined.

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Myers Briggs "testing": Lily, I'm glad to see you want to respond to the poster's question in your column. As someone qualified to administer the assessment, I see this sort of question as critical to appropriate use of MBTI and similar "tests."

Granted, I don't know how the testing was presented, and we're hearing it through one question, but this application raises some red flags for me. For people to find the results useful, I think it imperative that folks understand how results are communicated, that they are deeply personal and should only be willingly shared. When I went through my qualification classes (with the organization that manages the MBTI, this was driven home unequivocally).

Important questions for this person to ask are: Is the person administering the MBTI qualified? Is it the MBTI (there are a number of similar tests out there)? And is it an internal or external consultant facilitating the process?

Very interested in your answer when you do write it.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your insights.

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Wrong: No actually the birthday is about the birthday person and if they have politely asked you not to do anything you should respect their wishes. Great if you work in a place where people enjoy the birthday celebrations, but most of us have to put up with the majority of people not wanting cake and standing awkwardly around the conference room.

Lily Garcia: I suppose reasonable minds could differ on the level of enjoyment that they derive from office birthday parties. I do, however, maintain that it would be impolite to reject the friedly overtures of your coworkers in this regard.

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Career Searching: I would recommend The Pathfinder through the Rockport Institute over the parachute books any day. The Pathfinder is more about discovering what you are good at, what work environments you enjoy and then exploring fields that combine that information.

Lily Garcia: Thanks for the recommendation.

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DM: The group I work with has a horrible boss. I mean terrible in every possible way. She is rude, swears like a sailor, talks about all of us behind our backs and ridicules us all the time. There is no positive feedback on our work (or any feedback whatsoever), and she generally brings down the morale of the team.

The team members, however, all get along really well and work well together. I was chosen as the spokesperson of the group to address these issues with our group director (her boss). We want to approach it as a need for better management training, rather than pointing fingers at her and trying to get her fired. Do you think this plan will go well, or backfire on us?

Lily Garcia: Whether your plan works depends largely on the director. If you trust this person and believe that he/she will be receptive and genuinely responsive to you, then I see no harm in trying. I think that it is a good idea to couch your concerns in contructive terms (e.g., need for management training), but do make sure that you offer some good illustrative examples of your boss's behavior and that your fully explain its impact on the team.

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salary difference: One thing to consider: Did you ever ASK for more than what was offered to you with each annual raise? Men are often better about doing this then women are. I know I am generalizing, but it is true that women often think their work will speak for itself, when in fact you really need to be your own champion. Maybe the guy asked for the pay increase and was able to justify it. If you don't ask for it and are happy making what you are making, then it is your own fault. The company's job is to pay you as little as possible while keeping you productive.

Lily Garcia: It sounded to me like the reader who submitted the original question understood how to advocate for greater pay. The problem is that her starting base rate of pay, upon which her raises have been based, perhaps was not as high as it should have been.

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New York, NY: I've been in my position for the past two years and three months. It's low stress but a low quality environment. I feel like I care more about quality/strategy than my superiors, and I'm comparably underpaid. However, I'm a year and a semester from completing an MBA, and this position allows for flexibility in leaving and attending classes in the evenings. It's getting very difficult to stay dedicated at my current place of employment. Should I stick it out until I'm done with my studies or consider alternative options?

Lily Garcia: It sounds like the pace of this job fits well with your lifestyle and professional objectives at the moment. You should keep your eyes on your goal of completing your MBA and try to appreciate your job more for what it allows you to do than what intellectual stimulation it provides.

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Lorton, Va.: I have a great relationship with my boss, to the point where he tried to get me a promotion which was denied because I am two years short of the company's stated experience requirements for the promotion. (I have previous relevant experience and my boss and his boss pushed my performance, but it was insufficient.) I like him and was considering waiting out, but we just found out we're expecting another child. I think it's possible I could better my salary significantly if I went looking -- say twice or more the percentage increase I can reasonably expect at my review. So now I'm thinking I owe it to my family to look, as we could definitely use the money.

Problem is, last fall we lost an employee to internal transfer and he asked me if I was planning on leaving, and I said no. The opportunities (new work coming in) were good enough to keep me around. I gave myself the in-extraordinary-circumstances-I-might-need to-go out. I want to keep him as an friend in the future, stay or go. Should I consider talking to him about this before I start looking?

Lily Garcia: If you have such a good relationship with your boss and you would like to maintain it, then you should let him know your thoughts about possibly moving on. He will surely be understanding, and he will also be very grateful.

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birthdays: I respecfully disagree with what you wrote. I think the employee should speak to the person doing the organizing and say something like this: "I know you are being friendly and welcoming, but my birthday is personally difficult for me, and therefore I prefer to be very private and low profile. I would truly be grateful if you could skip the celebration of mine, but will be happy to attend the events planned for others."

Lily Garcia: That is a fair point, but I still think that it is a risky political move for a newcomer.

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Ashburn, Va.: I work in an industry that has been struggling to survive as of late. Last year, all the employees took 10 percent pay cuts and two furlough days a month. While I've always received good pay raises in the past year, that clearly has not been an option. This past six months, I have pulled double duty and triple duty, filling in for co-workers on maternity leave and on a fellowship. I know my bosses think highly of me and my work. I'm confident they would do just about anything to keep me from looking elsewhere.

So my question is, other than a pay raise, which I don't believe is within their means, are there other ways I could ask my boss to reward me for my hard work?

Lily Garcia: You should think about what you need that will not cost money now, and ask for that. Could they give you additional paid time off, which you could use if and when the workload eases up? Could they give you a larger percentage bonus (even if they are not able to pay out bonuses at the moment because of the state of the industry)? Could you even get them to agree to a raise contingent on the company meeting certain performance goals?

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Lily Garcia: We are unfortunately out of time. Please join me for the next How to Deal Live on Tuesday, January 26th, at 11:00 a.m. EST. You may also email me at hradvice@washingtonpost.com.

Best wishes,

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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