Michele Woodward is one of the eight remaining finalists in The Washington Post Magazine’s @Work Advice Contest. For Round 2, we asked: What is the biggest problem in today’s workplace, and how can it be solved?


Reductions in staff. Increased responsibilities. Pay freezes. No promotions. Lack of direction. Uncertainty. Yes, the last few years have done a whopper on most working people.

Let’s see if we can find a way for you to catch your breath – and your sanity – and get a little relief in the short term.

May sound weird, but one of the first things to do is change your thoughts about the level of awful you face. Research has shown that focusing on what is working will totally shift your energy. So, name two things that are good. Two things that you like. And if you come up with nuthin’, let me suggest that you find something outside work to look forward to – an exercise class, a volunteer job, babysitting your nephews, a great book series. Get your meaning and purpose somewhere other than work and you will immediately feel better. Promise.

Michele Woodward

Sometimes being busy outside work can help. Last year, Sue decided it was time to make her fondest dream – owning a clothing store – a reality. To test the idea, she got an evening/weekend job in a shop the spitting image of her dream store. Sue raced out of her “real” job at 6 p.m. several nights a week to work at the store, learning something new every day. After about six months, Sue had enough experience to know she didn’t really want to own a store - the dream was so much better than the reality. Her first week back “full time” Sue sat with her boss for her annual review. He looked her over and said, “Whatever you’ve been doing these last several months, keep doing it – your performance has never been better.” And Sue got a nice raise.

What had she done other than leave by 6 p.m. most evenings? Well, Sue worked smarter, not harder. Sue was completely present during the times she was in the office. Sue was efficient because she didn’t have time to fool around.

Sue detached, did great work, set some boundaries around her time and was rewarded. A great strategy.

Another idea? Talk with your boss. But make the business case, centered on efficiency. As in, “The team is totally burned out, and our efficiency is suffering. I have three ideas we could implement to address this right away.” (That’s team player talk, BTW.) First idea? A survey of the entire team to identify problem areas. Now, you’re thinking, “A stinking survey? C’mon.” But sometimes the boss needs empirical data to sell ideas up the chain. Which a survey provides.

Second idea? Mini-focus groups with your “clients” within the organization. What are you doing well, that you could do more of? What can be dropped?

Which leads neatly to the third idea: a reorganization of your team. Sometimes organizations that shed staff keep a structure in place – a structure that worked when there were twice as many people, but often fails when the staff shrinks.

You probably can’t change the whole economic situation but you can change your experience. And that is relief itself.

Whose advice did you like best? Vote for your favorite contestant

Read each contestant’s Round2 answers

Leslie Anderson | Dean Buckley | Cindy Coe | Rachel Homer | Abbey Kos | Karla Miller | Richard Wong | Michele Woodward


Read each contestant’s Round 1 answers

Leslie Anderson | Dean Buckley | Cindy Coe | Moira Forbes | Rachel Homer | Abbey Kos | Karla Miller | Nikki Stevens | Richard Wong | Michele Woodward

Meet the @Work Advice Contest’s 10 finalists

Leslie Anderson | Dean Buckley | Cindy Coe | Moira Forbes | Rachel Homer | Abbey Kos | Karla Miller | Nikki Stevens | Richard Wong | Michele Woodward