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 left my last job on very bad terms, but found a new position six months ago. I plan to look for another job after I have been in this one for a year, so I'm concerned about reference checks with my previous employer. Even though all reference inquiries are supposed to be routed to Human Resources, someone might still be able to contact my former managers, who would not have good things to say about me. How should I handle this?” Nervous

Q: “The owner of our company has hired several of my friends, based on my recommendation. The last person I recommended was ‘Angela,’ a woman whom I have known for fifteen years. Unfortunately, after Angela was hired, I learned that her husband recently left her because she drinks every night until she passes out. Angela talks constantly about what a hard life she has, so management gives her special consideration even though she doesn't do a very good job. In reality, her friends have given up trying to help her because she habitually lies to everyone. Given her tendency to lie, I'm afraid Angela might start spreading false rumors about me at work, which could cause the owner to stop trusting me. I am also tired of her stealing my parking space. What should I do about this woman?” Former Friend

Q: “After twenty years in the same job, I recently had to look for work when our family moved to a different city. The problem is that I'm already having serious thoughts about quitting. I dread going to the office every day, because I feel totally out of my comfort zone. The work is very different from what I did before, and I'm beginning to doubt my abilities. Although I feel an obligation to fulfill my commitment here, I sometimes wonder if perhaps I should be totally honest with my boss and tell her that I need to leave. On the other hand, there are very few positions available in my field, and it took me a long time to find this one. I’m not sure what to do, because I just don't like this job.” Panicked

Q: “My wife works in a production department where only a few employees have permission to work overtime. Everyone else must leave at the end of the shift. The people who receive these extra hours seem to have close ties with the supervisor. Does my wife have any recourse in this situation?” Need the Money

Q: “A woman in our department has become the self-appointed party planner. ‘Renee’ is constantly trying to organize office celebrations for birthdays, weddings and other events. Now Renee is trying to arrange a send-off for someone who is retiring. Since I have worked with the retiree longer than anyone else, Renee says I should do something for her. To be honest, I do not enjoy working with this person and am actually counting the days until she leaves. How can I politely tell Renee to stop bothering me?” Uninterested

Q: “You have previously said that cubicle conversations cannot be considered private because they take place in an open area. However, my situation is slightly different. Whenever someone comes to me with a question, the woman in the next cubicle yells out the answer before I have a chance to speak. I think it is very rude of her to butt in when someone has specifically asked for my opinion. How should I handle this?” Drowned Out

Q: "I would like to know how very brief jobs should be handled on a résumé. My most recent position was eliminated after I had been there only eight weeks. If I include it, employers may wonder why I left so quickly. But if I omit it, how do I explain why I left the preceding job?"

Q: “I’m a single mom who has been unemployed for about six months. In my previous position, I had a flexible schedule which allowed me to easily attend school events or schedule medical appointments for my two young children. I have now been offered a 9-to-5 job located about an hour from my home. Although I'm relieved to have found this position, I’m afraid that the time I need for my children's activities may create problems at work. How should I handle this?” Solo Mom

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 

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