Archive for the 'work' Category


the holiday party dress code

Reader E. G. writes:

My boyfriend’s office holiday party is next weekend. Being a dude, he has no idea what the dress code is, and I don’t know any of his coworkers. It’s the holidays, so I want to get dolled up, but I don’t want to overdo it. What do you recommend I wear?

Dear E.G.:

As a lady, it can be difficult to toe the line between well-dressed and over-dressed, as you obviously know. But usually if there wasn’t a formal paper invitation that clearly states “black tie”, you are more likely to be risking overdressed more than under.

I’m sorry your boyfriend doesn’t provide you with the need-to-know dress code thing. Not all guys are that socially careless, just so you know. But typically, guys who don’t know or don’t care about dress codes tend to work in offices that also don’t care so much about dress codes, so there’s your next clue.

Um, yeah, it would have been nice to know it was a "Saturday Night Fever" them, thanks.

Image: photostock /

My very best advice to you is to wear whatever you do with utter confidence, even if you find you’re the only one there in a skirt and heels. If you’re not embarrassed about what you’re wearing, it’s unlikely anyone else will be, either. You want to get dolled up? Do it, and don’t look back. If you stay in the upper to middle ground of “dressed up” and avoid the ballgown or sweat pants extremes of the spectrum, you’ll probably be fine.

Also, take a cue from wherever the party is taking place. If they’re holding it in the office, be prepared for people to wear whatever they wear to the office (in this case, I’m guessing jeans and polos, max). If it’s at a restaurant, you can probably assume things will be on the nicer side. The location is information I’m sure your boyfriend will be happy to provide.

Wherever or whatever the party ends up being, here are a few ideas to help you blend in while allowing yourself the opportunity to dress up, whether this party ends up being a classic New Mexican “well, you could wear your dress boots, I guess” barbecue or a more upscale sort of soirée:

– Wear a dress. Unless you’re the kind of girl that never wears a dress, in which case, wear nice slacks that aren’t jeans. Skip the suited look, however, because that can make you look like you simply can’t leave your own office. You can typically get away with a cocktail dress that’s at or above the knee — a longer dress can edge into “over done” territory pretty fast.

– Keep it simple, but don’t be afraid of fun, classy, party-ready textures. A simple shift or a-line dress can be completely glamorous in the right material, like silk chiffon, taffeta, or lace. There are sequins and patterns all over the place right now, so go for it. Plus, if you don’t know any of his other coworkers, they may just assume you’re always this chic and well-dressed.

– Use your accessories to really shine. Carry your best bag, wear your good jewelry, and put on those heels you never wear. Your good pearls can dress up a tee shirt dress, and a sparkly belt can take your office job sheath to festive party in a snap. Get a cocktail ring and bling your way through the evening. And if you feel overdressed, you can easily remove accessories easily to take it down a notch. (But c’mon, who wants to do that?)

– Wear red lipstick and get your nails did. If you read any of the fashion mags, red lips are apparently the only thing anyone is doing these days — it’s like 1945 out there. If you wanna’ add a bit more sparkle to your evening, paint your nails in one of those glitter colors that are lining the shelves at salons. It may take you back to fifth grade, but that’s partially what the holidays are about anyway. Or put a little shimmer on your eyelids. And remember that a little goes a long way. As in, don’t go smoky glitter eyelids + red lipstick + glitter nails + body glitter + sequin dress. Let one or two elements speak out and keep everything else neutral.

– Smile. Meeting your boyfriend’s coworkers can be like meeting his parents. Decide before you get there that you’re going to have a good time, and that if you’re the overdressed arm candy for the evening, it’ll be a great story for the grandkids, even if they don’t end up being this boyfriend’s grandkids.


your job as your “ministry”

Reader T. M. writes:

My boss is anti-intellectual, racist, sexist, and homophobic. He calls people or things “gay” when he means “stupid”; he claims women are always overly emotional; and he uses words like “spic” or “illegal” to talk about immigrants or people who speak Spanish. Most of my coworkers are pretty much exactly the same way he is. As an educated, self-defined liberal, I’m really fed up. How do you suggest I go about finding a new job with people I can actually work with?

Dear T.M.:

You’ve definitely got it rough, and I’m sorry you have to put up with that kind of talk. I’m sure if you called your boss out on his language he’d say that talking like that doesn’t mean he’s racist, sexist, or homophobic — some of his best friends are gay Mexican women! And if your coworkers are the same way, you’re unlikely to get much sympathy from them.

But I think you should stay at your job exactly for this reason.

Getting out boxing gloves is a bad idea.

I wouldn't recommend the boxing gloves. Image: Ambro /

My evangelical Christian friends have a huge debate going on Facebook right now about whether or not your paying job is more important than your “ministry”. One of the answers I rather agree with is that your paying job should be your ministry. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe proselytizing at the office (or anywhere else) is okay. But I was always taught growing up that the way you live your life is your greatest “ministry”.

What I mean is, people believe things strongly and live their lives accordingly. You firmly believe that racist, sexist, or homophobic speech is wrong, and you could probably back up your reasoning with some great arguments. Your boss, however, clearly doesn’t believe that. And you may be the only exposure he has in a given day to someone who does believe those things are wrong. If you leave, he’s just going to be surrounded by a bunch of people who agree with him, and never have to question why he thinks the way he does.

It would be easy to go through life surrounded entirely by people who agree with you and believe the same things you do. That’s what the Internet has done to us — we’re surrounded by opinions exactly like ours, because that’s what we search out and find. Most of your friends on Facebook probably post things you agree with, and if you don’t, I’m guessing you’ve figured out the “unsubscribe” option by now. Your Google search will even tailor its results to match things you already read, so you’re not going to find anything that disagrees with your opinion without trying really, really hard.

But if you don’t ever challenge your beliefs, how can you grow as a person?

By this point you may have guessed that I mean the learning has to go in both directions. First of all, you offer a differing view of the world to your boss (and coworkers) than what he’s used to seeing. You may have to speak up about it once in a while and let him know, and he may not appreciate that, but you can consider it your “ministry”. You can even point out that he’s setting himself up for a lawsuit from someone who is perhaps a bit more litigious than you. It is extremely unlikely he’ll change his ways. But the fact that he’s been challenged about them at all is a pretty big deal.

And on the flip side, don’t fool yourself into thinking you can’t learn something from him. He’s got ideas different from your own, which means you should sit up and listen to what he has to say. Not because he’s right, but because he’s different. Why does he believe the things he believes? And how can you reject his beliefs outright without first understanding why he believes them?

The discourse between you may just serve to strengthen your own beliefs, or you may learn something new. I’m not saying you should strive to be racist, sexist, or homophobic, of course. But there are probably other points you disagree on that he can teach you something about.

Do you know why racist, sexist, or homophobic speech is wrong? Can you explain it in a rational way? If not, learning why he apparently thinks it’s not wrong to say those things could help you with your own argument.

Of course, there does come a point when hanging out around hate speech is just abuse. It’s hard to sue for a “hostile work environment” if the speech isn’t directed against you specifically, but if you’re uncomfortable, you should speak up. Check out your employee handbook on your company’s policies, and if he’s violating them, call him out on it, or have HR call him out on it. If you’re capable of having a rational, unemotional discussion about it with him, do so. Again, it may be the only time in his life he’s ever asked to consider what his words really mean in the sphere around him.

Just don’t go running to to look for your perfect, not-for-profit liberal social justice job quite yet. The world may need you where you are.


a date with a waitress

Reader N.A. writes:

Is it possible to score a date with a waitress? They seem impenetrable, since they’re constantly flirted with (especially a cocktail waitress) all day long.

Dear N.A.:

While I think it’s possible to score a date with a waitress, I don’t necessarily think it’s a good idea to try to score one. Especially cocktail waitresses. And bartenders.

Coffee and dessert

"Yes, I'd love coffee, and dessert, and a date with you." Image: Daniel St.Pierre /

By now you all know how I feel about dating people at work (i.e. DON’T DO IT). The same goes for trying to date people who are working, particularly in the service industry. What I mean is, don’t try and pick someone up while they’re at work, even if you’re not working with them. It’s not fair. It’s a waitress’s job to be nice to you, and to give you stuff you want. Asking her out on a date while she’s working is awkward and could, from some perspectives, be considered sexual harassment, depending on how far you go with it. It’s not like shooting fish in a barrel, although there are several people who seem to think it is.

This is especially true at strip clubs, where sex appears to be on the menu. You have to remember that this is not the case. Strippers are paid to act like they are sexually interested in you. About 98% of the time, they’re not. Do not assume you are a lucky member of the 2%. Your best bet is to let the women do their jobs without harassing them. Would you harass a secretary, or a nurse, or a librarian? (Please tell me no.)

I’m not saying that it’s impossible to pick a girl up when she’s waiting tables or tending bar (or putting away books or answering phones or drawing blood). You’re just setting yourself up for getting into a lot of trouble or making things really terrible for her if you try too hard.

If you do see the girl of your dreams holding the tray before you or standing behind the bar and you can’t stop yourself, here are my tips for your best chance:

Wait until after she’s done being your server. Write your name, number, and a “I think we could hit it off” on a piece of paper (or on your business card) and leave it with the check. Or put up a post on Craigslist missed connections or in your local newspaper’s “I Saw You” section. If you’re feeling very brave, you could try and find her on Facebook and send her a message, but make sure you don’t just send her a random friend request. You don’t want to be a stalker. And do not, for any reason, say something while she’s putting your drinks on the table or taking your order or interacting with you as a server. That’s what makes it awkward.

Don’t over-tip and hope it’ll make her like you. That just screams “I use money to get what I want and I expect it’ll always work”, and no (or at least very few) girls want to feel that they’re the object of your moneyed affections.

Don’t go back to the restaurant or bar over and over, especially if she doesn’t respond. Sure, it’s nice to have regulars. But having a stalker is not cool. If you’ve asked her on a date in her off-time, be very tactful about going back to the restaurant when she’s working. Try not to sit in her section. Be casual about it, and take rejection well, but do not harry her about it or make her feel more uncomfortable than she probably already does.

Remember that if this is your regular joint, you are going to make things extra awkward for everyone if a) she says no, or b) you do date but it doesn’t end well. It’s a thin line to tread. Just be aware that you may have to quit going to your bar for a while if the relationship goes sour, or if she’s really offended that you hit on her. If it’s at a strip club, you could be kicked out or barred from coming back. Choose your battles, amigo.

I will admit fully that it is far easier for a girl to pick up a male bartender or server than it is for a guy to do so with a working woman. It’s not fair, maybe, but it’s just how sexual politics works out. Still, I think women should take this advice to heart just as much as men should, because men can be made uncomfortable by unwanted advances, too.

Finally: You’re right – we girls tend to get hit on all the time, especially when we’re working a casual job like waitress, barista, or bartender where we have to be friendly, sweet, charming, and cute. You are wise to be aware that you’re probably not going to be the first man to proposition her while on the job. And that can totally wreck any chance you could possibly have. But you can be classy about it, and not put her on the spot. Or you can look elsewhere for your romantic endeavors.


job hatred

Reader Y. K. writes:

I hate my job. I know it’s a bad economy, and I know if I have a job I shouldn’t be complaining, but I dread going in every single day. I should probably shake myself out of it, but I don’t know how. Any ideas?

Dear Y.K.:

The first thing I want to tell you is that you’re not alone. According to one poll, 84% of workers in America can’t wait to quit their jobs and find a new one. (Compare that with only 60% last year.) Apparently, thanks to that magical word “recession”, our bosses have gotten stingier, our work has gotten harder, and we’ve become worse workers because of it, which only adds to the cycle. There are definitely a lot of people in your boat right now.

You’re right, the economy is bad, but a lot of economists are saying it’s going to start getting better soon, and we can probably look forward to a lot of people switching jobs as the economy looks up. But until that time, it may be better to hold on and be grateful for what you have.

I have a few ideas to make you feel better about it:

Job got you down?

Job got you down? Image: renjith krishnan /

Change your mindset. You’ve probably got all the switches in your brain set to “negative” right now when it comes to your job. Turn that around. Force yourself to think about what you like about the job. Even if it’s only one little thing (it’s not a long commute; you get to wear jeans on Fridays; you have one fun coworker; anything), focus on that. Make it your mantra. Whenever you find yourself complaining, especially if you’re at work, force yourself to think of something else. Look at pictures of kittens if you have to. I have a friend who does push ups whenever negative feelings about work come up. It’s a good practice to apply to your whole life, too.

Be amazing at your job. One of the greatest ways to distract yourself from how much you hate what you do is just to throw yourself into it. Make it a game. Set goals. Sell more than anyone else. Smile more than anyone else. Wear yourself out being amazing at what you do. This accomplishes a few things: it distracts you from hating things so much; it gives you something to like about work (i.e. you’re good at it); and it will help you get a good reference when you do finally leave the hell hole. Try not to burn any bridges, is basically what I’m telling you. No no no, what I’m telling you is, don’t just NOT burn the bridges; actively repair them and make them beautiful. It’s harder to build something than it is to destroy it, but it’s very worth it in the end.

Watch what you say and who you say it to. It’s easy to talk trash about work, especially when you hate it, and while I think you should try to change your mindset, sometimes you’ve got to gush to someone. While it may be extremely difficult to do, I’d recommend not talking too negatively to coworkers, especially when you’re at work. Regardless of what you say or how wrong things may be, if the wrong people hear it or misconstrue it, you’re in trouble. Just assume everyone in your office talks to everyone else about everything. If you do need to complain to someone, make it an official complaint to HR. Take the rest of your complaints to your friends outside work. Yes, it is good to feel like people are in your corner, but it can come back and bite you in the ass, especially in a larger company. Go vent to the Bad Boss Contest over at Working America. Just don’t vent to Joe in the cubicle next to you unless you want Joe to tell your boss.

Find ways to make changes happen. Beyond just trying to focus on the positive, be proactive about creating more positives. Talk to your boss about getting different work, or having different opportunities. Make sure you frame it as something positive (“I’d like more responsibility”) rather than negative (“I hate it here”). Talk to HR about “new opportunities”.

Apply to other jobs. Probably not while you’re at your current job, as that would be a great way to get fired. But it can help you feel like you have some control over the situation. Yes, the economy’s bad. But there are jobs out there, and you may hit the jackpot. Remember, of course, that you run the risk of hating whatever job it is you’re going to end up in, but at least applying to new ones on the weekends or after work can give you something to hope for.

Good luck… I hope 2011 brings you a happy new job somewhere amazing!


work emails

Reader A. J. writes:

I have a coworker who sends out political emails to all our work addresses. It probably wouldn’t bother me so much, but I really don’t agree with his political point of view. I can’t decide if I should complain to human resources to get him to stop or not. What do you think?

Dear A.J.:

Delete, delete, delete.

That’s what I think you should be doing. Whenever I get spam emails, I delete them without giving them a second look. Quit letting political jabber get to you and treat these emails for what they are: spam.


This is what I do with my junk email. Image: federico stevanin /

We do this every day with other outlets of opinion. You probably only read news from outlets that already reflect what you believe, thereby reiterating your world view. Everyone does it. The news media is rife with political opinions we may or may not agree with. If you were at home watching TV and a pundit came on that you didn’t like, you’d either change the channel so you could ignore her or watch the show so you could get riled up to fight people of her ilk.

Deleting these emails is tantamount to changing the channel, in my opinion. Or you could read them to make yourself angry. But I wouldn’t recommend that because, unlike your relationship with the national punditry, work relationships are often forced upon you. You don’t generally choose who you work with (unless you’re the boss), so this situation is a little different than hating Rachael Maddow or Glenn Beck.

Is your coworker trying to engage you in a conversation at the water cooler about the emails? In that case, it may be time to confront him, but gently and without endangering your work relationship. Tell him (via email, in this case) that you prefer to keep your politics at home, and if he would be so kind as to remove your work address from his email list, you’d appreciate it.

He may give you flak for this, but if you find you are incapable of simply deleting and ignoring the junk mail, it is your most noble course of action.

It’s funny, though, isn’t it? You can have one employee who sends out harmless junk email that contains lovely pictures of sunsets or children or animals, and you’re fine with it, but when another employee sends out political stuff you don’t agree with, it makes you want to call in the HR department. Unless there is a guideline in your company’s employee manual regarding “improper use of company email” that specifically states no personal usage is allowed, you’re basically just being the kindergarten tattle tale if you go to the HR manager.

And if there is no company policy in place now, you might be opening a can of worms that will lead to one, and may not be as happy and shiny as you want it to be. More restrictions in the workplace just make everything more tense, so sometimes it’s better just to fly under the radar.

Of course, HR departments are supposed to be in place to mediate between employees and employers and all that jazz, so if you feel this person will be angry if you ask him to stop, okay, fine, go to HR. There are probably other people in the company who are tired of receiving his emails, too, so you may be a company hero. But you’ll also be ending the flow of political emails you do agree with, not to mention those delightful pictures of sunsets and children and animals.

(Okay, who am I kidding, does anyone really enjoy receiving those endless forwards from the old person in the company? Honestly? Sometimes they’re funny, sure, or even cute, but most of the time it seems as if the person is just reveling in the fact that they learned how to press “forward” and has access to a boundless amount of email addresses, i.e. the company contact list. Merf.)

So yes, I definitely think keeping your personal issues with your colleague’s work emails between you and him is your best option here. Leave HR out of it unless you’re ready to bring a world of pain on everyone else, or unless you don’t think the colleague will be able to handle you asking him to leave you alone. Keep it professional, which is what you want him to do in the end.

post everyone else likes best

topics i’ve written about

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 195 other followers