How to Deal columnist, The Washington Post
Tuesday, February 23, 2010; 11:00 AM
Washington Post job expert Lily Garcia discussed workplace issues on Tuesday, Feb. 23, at 11 a.m. ET.
The transcript follows.
Lily Garcia: Thank you for joining today's edition of How to Deal Live. I look forward to answering your career- and workplace-related questions. Let's begin.
Manassas, Va.: My co-worker has perhaps the worst gas of any human on the planet. We've tried asking him to leave the room but he just sits there and blasts away. What can we do and can I ask my employer to move him?
Lily Garcia: If your coworker's problem is making it hard for you and others to get your jobs done, it is an issue that your employer needs to address. Talk to your supervisor or to human resources. Moving your corworker so that he does not bother others is one solution. But it may also be a simple matter of investing in an air purifier. Do keep in mind that your coworker's flatulence may be due to a health condition that your employer must (and should) accommodate.
Burke, Va.: I'm so confused!
Our ex-boss' wife (HIS third wife) still writes for the company newsletter. Last week, she wrote a column about how her son's wedding is on the same day as her husband's granddaughter's wedding, on opposite coasts, and nobody can figure out why we're supposed to care. I guess everybody likes the old man so much that everybody's afraid to tell his wife that her column is absurd and makes the company newsletter look stupid.
Lily Garcia: It sounds like the column, although inappropriate, is basically harmless. You could try suggesting topics that you would like to see covered in the newsletter, but you should stop short of proposing that the ex-boss' wife be excluded.
Fairfax, Va.: Lily;
I work for a small minority firm located in Vienna, about 50 employees. On February 3rd, employees received and email stating that the timesheet system was going to be upgraded and that for a few days the earned PTO would reflect zero, but after the upgrade is completed, an adjustment will be made to reflect the earned PTO that was originally in the system. On February 16th, employees found out that the PTO was lost because it was not used. There was no announcement made, no communication of any kind. Employees found this out because of going in the system and realizing that they no longer have any PTO hours to use for the snow days. I have tried contacting HR and upper management. HR has a vague answer 'to talk to your manager', but my manager has not been available/reachable since then.
I wonder if some one in the audience can pitch in. I would like to find out if this is legal.
Lily Garcia: You deserve a straight answer about whether, when, and how your PTO will be restored. Although I am not at liberty to offer legal advice in this forum, I can tell you that Virginia is not a state in which PTO or vacation is considered wages. So I am dubious about your ability to make a wage payment claim based upon what has happened. What your employer is doing is terrible for morale, but it is probably not illegal. For further guidance, you should call the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry or reach out to an employment attorney.
Office Birthdays: Hi Lily - About a month ago I submitted a question about office birthdays.(It was my birthday and I was against an office celebration.)
I wanted to write back to say I've changed my attitude a bit. While previous offices I've worked in did not celebrate birthdays at all, my new office makes it a point to celebrate as a break from the office grind. They don't sing or really make you talk about yourself and how old you are. But, it was nice to have cake and take 15 minutes off of sitting in my cubicle.
Low key, simple, no singing.
Lily Garcia: Thank you for checking back in. I remember your question well as it seems to have struck a nerve with our readers. I am glad that you are settling in comfortably.
Cleveland, Ohio.: When I started my current job, I was told there was no chance for advancement. It was a good opportunity for me anyway, since it got me into an area of my profession that I had been trying to get to for a while. I figured I would jump ship after three to five years.
But my boss seems to be taking advantage of my assumed status as a short timer, slowly increasing my workload until he's now giving me 40-50 percent more work than (sometimes better paid) colleagues who are willing to stay in this position for decades (always grumbling about never being promoted). And I'm burning out. I can't keep up anymore. It's not affecting my work too much, but I have problems sleeping (and I'm already under orders from my doctor not to get too stressed out or I'll aggravate other problems).
I'm not yet ready to jump ship, though; it hasn't been even three years since I started, and that was my minimum goal for staying at this job. And there are things I like about it.
Is there a way to approach my boss about the crazy amount of work loaded on me, being as it's far out of line with what my colleagues are given? Or is it time to start planning my escape?
Lily Garcia: You should both talk to your boss about the work load and start planning your exit strategy. By now it should be clear that you made a mistake by making it known at the start that you would not be making a long-term commitment to the organization. Don't do that anymore. Meanwhile, check in with your boss regarding how hard you are working. Be honest about the toll that it is taking on you and ask for help setting priorities.
Washington, D.C.: I am very excited about an upcoming interview. Can you give any tips on how to prepare, especially when the exact parameters of the -newly created] position are somewhat vague? I am working on the "why this job?" question -- the bare truth is the commute (less than half my current commute), but I do have a lot of experience in and interest in the work, and the new job would use my experience more directly than my current job.
Lily Garcia: We have published an interview guide that you should find helpful as you prepare. I will send you a link in a moment.
washingtonpost.com: How to interview
Lily Garcia: Here is a link to the interview guide I mentioned a moment ago.
To Burke, Va.: Great question and my laugh of the day. To you, Ms. Garcia, nicely done response.
Lily Garcia: Thanks!
Burke, Va. question: This sounds just like the topic from Sally Quinn's article a few weeks ago.
Lily Garcia: Touche.
Anonymous: Hi Lily - it would appear the earlier poster from Burke, VA was trying to slam the Post itself for Sally Quinn's recent column about her husband Ben Bradlee's gradndaughter's wedding conflicting with their son's wedding. Not sure why the poster CARES. If you don't value a column, don't read it. And a 'company newsletter' is a far cry from a public media outlet like the Post.
Lily Garcia: Thanks. I have received a number of responses similar to yours.
Chinatown: Hi, Lily. Currently, I work at a nonprofit that I like very much and could see myself being here for a long time. However, I was recently accepted to grad school for teaching, which is something I've been wanting to do for a long time. That said, I want to keep my options open in the distant future to possibly returning to my current organization.
Do you have any suggestions on what I can do before/when I leave so that if I return, I will be looked at favorably?
Lily Garcia: If you would like to preserve the possibility of going back to this organization, you should: (1) provide ample notice of your departure; (2) work well and hard until the very end; (3) make yourself available to transition your replacement; and (4) remain in close contact with the staff.
Anonymous: I applied for a position at a non-profit with position requirements and responsibilities that appeared to match up to my resume exactly - and I basically work in the same "field of interest" as far as the advocacy goes. I have since learned that a number of candidates were interviewed and the position was filled. While I recognize that the current economy is brutal, a number of friends and former colleagues were a bit surprised I didn't even get an interview. Would it be inappropriate to send a quick email asking for some constructive criticism as to what was lacking in my application? The work is in an area of my field that I am interested in breaking into.
Lily Garcia: I am assuming from the way you wrote your question that you were not offered an interview. Frankly, it is possible that nobody even looked at your application. If they received hundreds of applications for the job, which is not off the mark in this economy, then they may have selected a few good applicants from the top of the pile without ever getting to you. That said, it cannot hurt for you to request feedback from the hiring manager or human resources. Reaching out in this way will also make you more memorable, and thus more likely to be noticed if and when you apply for future jobs.
Burke, Va.: Sorry I missed the birthday cakefest a few weeks ago, because I have a related question.
I can't eat cake. I eat very little sugar and the sugary cakes give me a very bad "buzz and crash" effect. But there are some in the office who can't take no for an answer when I politely decline. Sometimes I feel like I should tell them I'm diabetic, which isn't true. I'm perfectly happy to show up, wish a happy birthday, and leave. What can I say to those who insist on shoving a plate of cake into my hands?
Lily Garcia: Any child can tell you how easy it is to make it seem as if you have eaten your broccoli by picking it apart on your plate.
Accept the cake and pretend.
washingtonpost.com: Transcript of an earlier discussion about office birthdays. (Post, Jan. 26, 2010.)
Lily Garcia: For those who are interested, here is a transcript of my earlier discussion regarding office birthday celebrations.
Boston, Mass.: I recently found out the salaries of everyone in my organization, due to some proprietary info I have in my current job. I realized that I am making significantly less than my peers with the same education and years of experience. Since this is proprietary info, it doesn't seem fair to use it as a bargaining tool. However, I am very frustrated with the lack of salary parity. What should I do? (Online only, please)
Lily Garcia: It is not fair or appropriate for you to use your knowledge of others' salaries as a bargaining tool. When you ask for a raise, you should focus on your own contributions to the organization and not what others make. However, what you know speaks volumes about what the organization is willing and able to pay an employee like you. Having this information can help you to set appropriate parameters for your raise discussion.
Alexandria, Va.: This is a comment, not a question. As a former senior HR professional and resume writer, I read your column every week for suggestions for my clients. The column on 2/21/2010 had a discrepance - the title did not match the contents of the article. WHen I saw the title, I wondered why you would offer advice to people to NOT take jobs at a lower level in this terrible economy. Then I read the article and you and I agreed after all that working now has all sorts of tangible and intangible benefits for people. Will you be offering a correction in your next column? Thanks for your column. Bettie Biehn
Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comment, but I think that the title of that article was actually accurate. I will publish a link in a moment.
washingtonpost.com: How to Deal: A step down the career ladder may be better than not working at all (Post, Feb. 21, 2010.)
Lily Garcia: I believe this is the article you referenced. Please let me know if you had another one in mind.
Laurel, Md.: What is the best response when asked "what's your salary expectataion."
Lily Garcia: In a moment, I will send you a link to a helpful article.
washingtonpost.com: Advice on how to negotiate salary
Lily Garcia: I think you will find this helpful.
Hartford, Conn.: After suffering through four miserable years with a supervisor who made no effort to hide that they wanted me out (low or no raises, negative performance appraials without discussions, etc.), I was able to be reassigned and found a completely different environment with a supportive boss.
But there's "no money available for me". So I found a posting in another part of the company... and my old boss' boss is now saying that they don't think they can afford to lose me.
What do I do, short of quitting? The same people who made me miserable for years are now telling me I can't get out. Wasn't that what they wanted in the first place?
Lily Garcia: For practical purposes, can your old boss' boss really block the transfer? What does your new boss' boss have to say about this? The organization as a whole needs you and this may mean allowing you to move to a happier place rather than risk losing you.
Washington, D.C.: Your column on Sunday, February 21st, recommended taking a step down on the career ladder. I don't disagree that this can be a way to broaden a resume in a positive way. My concern is that employers are generally suspicious of overqualified candidates. I have held high level HR jobs and have applied, over the past two years, for innumerable lower level jobs but either never get called or am told that I am overqualified. How do you recommend dealing with that problem?
Lily Garcia: Great question. You need to convince the prospective employer that, despite your apparent overqualification, you really are interested in the job. I wrote about this in an article some time ago and I will locate the link for you.
Falls Church, Va.: Can you talk about the widespread problem of bullying at work and discuss what is the best way to handle it?
Lily Garcia: If you work for a bully, you should raise your concerns up the chain of command. If you do not receive an appropriate response, you should look for a way out of the situation. I would ordinarily recommend talking to your boss about your issues with his or her management style. However, but a true bully would not be receptive to this type of overture and may, in fact, retaliate against you for it.
Could you be more specific regarding the problem that you face?
Re: I don't eat cake: By declaring you don't eat cake and eat very little sugar, you are going against the social norm. Your co-workers may have the impression that you feel superior to them by not eating cake. It's o.k. not to eat the cake, but it will be hard to change your co-workers impression of you. Let the cake crumbs fall where they may and don't worry about it so much.
Lily Garcia: It is one of those seemingly small issues that for some reason evokes larger, more important ones.
Accept the cake and pretend. : Terrible response. The non-cake eater needs to stand firm, not be rude, but still refuse to take the cake.
Lily Garcia: Ouch.
For "Cleveland:": You said: "my boss seems to be taking advantage of my assumed status as a short timer..." It appears to me that your boss is also taking advantage of your willingness to take on this additional load without complaining. I've been in that position. I learned to ask when given another task to do for its priority to other tasks that I was still working on and when it was due, and then give back the effect that it would have on previously assigned tasks completion (or give a time that I expected to finish it by guesstimating, then multiplying by 2). If you do this as new tasks are assigned, you keep your boss aware of your workload. I know that this advice is late given your present situation and agree with Lily that you should talk with your boss and start looking elsewhere.
Lily Garcia: Thanks for offering your perspective.
Tucson: To the Birthday cake holdout-I too wished not to eat the cake so I became the cake cutter and nobody ever noticed I wasn't eating the cake.
Lily Garcia: Ingenious.
On that note, we are unfortunately out of time. The next edition of How to Deal Live will be on Tuesday, March 9th, at 11:00 a.m. EST. Please mark your calendar. You should also feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Although I may not be able to respond to you immediately, I will answer every message I receive.
Wishing you a great afternoon,
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