Q. I work in a federal government office devoted to scientific research. It's a renowned place, visited by scientists from all over the world.

Six months ago, a contract employee, a young woman, joined us. Her job is to handle computerized analyses of complex financial matters. She is very adept with computers, understands her task and in the short time that she has been with us has already deciphered some complicated problems.

However, this woman is very irregular about her time. She comes in late, leaves early and takes long lunch hours. She also comes to work dirty and unkempt. Her office attire consists of sweat pants, T-shirts (often dirty) and running shoes. She says she does not believe in dressing for success. She spends all kinds of time on the phone, dealing with personal problems. While on the phone, she usually rests her feet on her desk and cleans her nails.

Our boss -- whose office is across the hall, so he must see all of this -- believes in letting problems sort out themselves. Is this a matter of changing mores? Could anything be done to restore the dignity of our office?

A. I don't think this is a matter of changing mores.

Given that she is a temporary employee, I don't think you or your boss can change her conduct. So, it's a matter of weighing her contributions against the discomfort she causes you and your other co-workers. Your boss seems to have decided in favor of her contributions. I suggest you ignore this woman's annoying idiosyncrasies.

A reader responds:

"Some time ago, you wrote a column that has continued to trouble me, as a teacher, mother and now, grandmother. I have watched the experiences of a large family over the years and would like to share them.

"In your letter, you suggested to a reader that he look for a position in another area because he couldn't deal with the high cost of housing in Silicon Valley. It seems to me there are risks involved in doing so.

"Moving only for the sake of finding less-expensive housing could be self-defeating. Any place that has a soft real estate market also is likely to have a soft economy. In such a place, any job would be less secure. In other words, where cheap housing is readily available, good jobs may not be.

"I would have advised a person in your reader's position to look harder for housing he could afford. He should get plugged into the grapevine of his area and look for lower-cost possibilities right where he is: Better that he buy older housing and restore it over time, for instance, than to move for such a reason."

It seems to me that you and I are debating the relative importance of various elements of this reader's life, weighing job content and career advancement against living style.

Just as you make valid observations about the importance of a person concentrating on how his job develops, there may be equally valid concerns about his family, his kids' schooling and the like.

It's impossible to come up with a blanket statement on how to balance such things that would be true for all people and in all circumstances. We all need to decide the balance that's right for us.

Andrew Grove is chief executive of Intel Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif. Send questions to him in care of the San Jose Mercury News, Business News Department, 750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, Calif. 95190.