Your Office Coach

Each Wednesday, nationally syndicated workplace columnist Marie G. McIntyre, Ph. D., answers your “in the trenches” workplace questions on everything from team-building to getting a raise to dealing with difficult people.

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Q: “I was recently moved to a desk right outside my boss's office. Every day, he and two staff members have lengthy discussions about personal matters and company gossip. I also overhear them criticizing other employees in our group. The person who sits next to me says I should just ignore these conversations, but this seems like very juvenile behavior for an office setting. Is there anything I can do about it?” Disgusted

Q: “Our manager is involved with a lot of community groups and charitable organizations. The problem is that whenever she participates in something, she sends the staff an email asking for contributions. We see no reason why employees should be expected to support their boss’s outside activities, but we don’t want to offend her and jeopardize our job security. Is there a polite way to tell our manager to stop these requests?” Intimidated 

Q: “An obnoxious co-worker was recently made the working supervisor of our nursing unit. In addition to being loud and slow, 'Ellen' is not as knowledgeable as she pretends to be. A few of her patients have asked for a different nurse. My problem is that while Ellen is in her learning curve, the rest of us have to pick up the slack and correct her mistakes. Every day, I tell myself that I won’t let Ellen get to me, but then she says something stupid, and I go crazy. I really loved my work before this woman was promoted. What should I do about this?” Dedicated Nurse

Q: “My manager is always receptive to new ideas, so I have never hesitated to make suggestions. However, I was surprised by his reaction to my latest proposal. After describing inefficiencies in our department, I presented some ways to correct them. These changes would have given me more responsibility and a higher-level position. My boss took offense and said that many of these responsibilities belong to him. I quickly backed off, saying that I was simply trying to help. Now I’m reluctant to propose any new ideas for fear of jamming my foot in my mouth again.” Burned Once

Q: “I seem to be at a crossroads in my career. My boss recently told me that I am on track to become a partner in our firm in two to three years. However, my husband and I are also ready to start a family. Although cutting back to 20 or 30 hours a week would not be a problem financially, I'm afraid it might endanger my ability to make partner. All of our partners are men who work very long hours and may not understand my need for a reduced schedule. Ideally, I would like to have both a successful career and time with my family. Does that seem possible or will I have to give something up?” Future Mom

Q: “During a staff meeting, ‘Michael’ suddenly stood up and began shouting insults and shaking his fist at our supervisor, which was totally out of character. Then he stormed out of the room. Although Michael's behavior was clearly inappropriate, I was surprised by our supervisor's reaction. Instead of going to him and asking what was wrong, she became combative, giving him extra work and expecting unrealistic results in an effort to get him fired. Michael told me in confidence that he doesn't want to leave, but feels the stress is affecting his health. We are losing a valuable, experienced employee because my egotistical boss never cared enough to try to help him. I realize the workplace is not a social services agency, but management almost seems to encourage supervisors to be arrogant and obnoxious. Shouldn’t they be expected to show some humanity?”

Q: “After being promoted to manager, I began supervising my former co-workers, including my friend ‘Alicia.’ Everything was fine until Alicia had a major conflict with an employee who complained to higher management. I was told to resolve the issue, so I had to reprimand Alicia for the way she handled the situation. Alicia now seems very bitter and is obviously unhappy with me. I would like to talk with her about this, but I'm not sure what to say. Do you have any suggestions?”  New Manager

Q: “If a person is fired because of their attitude or behavior, what can they do to keep this from happening again when they get a new job?” Christine

Q: “After a recent meeting, my boss called me into his office and slammed the door. He got right in my face, backed me against the wall, and said, ‘Don't ever make another comment like the one you just made in that meeting!’ When I stated that I was only expressing my personal opinion on a business issue, he shook his finger at me and repeated ‘Don't ever, ever do that again!’ His anger scared me, so I left quickly. Nothing like this has ever happened before. Do you think I should discuss this with my boss or just report him to Human Resources?”  Confused

Question: "We have a boss who doesn't act like a boss. Although he listens to our suggestions, he never follows through with them. He seems hesitant to involve upper management in any issue. This is driving us crazy, so your advice would be appreciated."  Frustrated Employees

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