Career Q&A | By Marie G. McIntyre, McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers

Advice for the workplace

Q: The business where I work appears to be financially unstable, so I am concerned about my future here. I recently received a job offer from a company in another town. The pay is lower than my current salary, but the cost of living would also be less. Although I don't want to take a pay cut, I'm worried about being laid off. Do you think I should accept this offer?

A: Pay is undeniably important, but there are many other factors to consider. Does the prospect of moving to another town appeal to you? Would this job be a good career move? Does the work sound interesting? Is the business well-managed?

If you are facing an inevitable workforce reduction, then any job may be better than none at all. But in the absence of an immediate crisis, you should only make this decision after weighing the pros and cons of two very different futures.

Employer has no obligation to tolerate unstable co-worker

Q: I work in a county government agency with a co-worker, "Pam," who is crazy. Pam's mental state is so deteriorated that she has been placed in an empty office where she cries and screams all day. She keeps yelling things like "I am not a murderer" and "I never killed anyone."

Recently, Pam has become very suspicious. She has accused several co-workers of talking about her and calling her a killer. She believes that her home and computer are bugged and that county employees are following her. I have tried to be understanding and caring, but now Pam accuses me of watching her.

The human resources manager says there's nothing management can do about this. Our boss sometimes sends Pam home, but he can't do that every day. The rest of us are sick of the drama and concerned for our safety. We've shared our fears with management, but nothing changes. Is there anything we can do?

A: This is ridiculous. No employer is required to tolerate an employee who is both highly disruptive and quite possibly psychotic. If your managers are worried about legal liability, their real concern should be what happens if they fail to act and someone is harmed as a result.

Since your HR manager appears to be totally useless, you and your colleagues should contact the county's legal department. An attorney with experience in employment law can advise your agency head about the proper way to handle this situation. Before taking any action with Pam, management should also consult with security and mental health experts to insure that no one gets hurt.

For your own safety, you must minimize contact with this deranged woman. Remain pleasant and friendly, but keep your distance. As you have already seen, people with paranoid tendencies frequently incorporate those around them into their sinister fantasies, so you want to avoid becoming part of Pam's delusional system.

Boss's 'controlling' nature is just a management style

Q: My boss, "Karen," feels the need to control absolutely everything. She asks me to provide weekly status updates on any project which involves my staff. Recently, she requested a report on how much sick leave employees have used this year.

Karen also expects everyone to be at work from 8:30 to 5, even though my team's activities don't always follow that schedule. If someone attends a meeting that lasts until 6 p.m., I believe that person should be able to come in an hour late the next morning. Karen, however, does not agree.

In the evening, my employees and I occasionally have to participate in conference calls from home. Karen does not seem to view this as part of the work day, so we receive no consideration for that time. She says this is expected of us as salaried employees.

Ever since Karen promoted me last year, I have been so frustrated that I can hardly stand it. How can I work with this obsessive woman?

A: Ideally, Karen should have included a discussion of her leadership style in your orientation to this new position. If your previous boss was very flexible and accommodating, then her more structured approach is undoubtedly a difficult adjustment.

In reality, however, Karen is not doing anything wrong. Requesting project updates, checking sick leave usage and enforcing standard work hours are all appropriate management tasks. The amount of attention paid to these matters largely depends on the individual manager's work style and personality.

In most organizations, Karen's expectations of salaried people would also be considered quite reasonable. Salaried employees typically work as long as it takes to get the job done, which frequently means staying late or working at home. The vast majority put in more than 40 hours a week.

During your career, you are likely to encounter managers with a wide variety of leadership styles. The key to success is adaptation, so working with Karen may turn out to be a valuable learning experience.

Advice for the workplace 03/31/12 [Last modified: Saturday, March 31, 2012 5:30am]

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