Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
Here's a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.
1. How can I stop gossiping at work?
I need advice about a difficulty with my job: gossip. This is my own fault. I would like to say that I have been unwillingly sucked into gossiping or complaining with my co-workers about other co-workers. However, I am ashamed to admit that the truth is I have been a willing participant. But now I want out! Because my department is very small, I really risk my complaints getting back to one of my other co-workers, deeply hurting them, and damaging my reputation. I'm beginning to think that this is a silly question, because the answer seems obvious--just stop participating, right? I have started to not say anything when my co-workers complain to me and just nod along. But I would like to get to the point where no one includes me in complaining or gossiping at all. What can I say or do to get myself out of this situation?
Well, good for you for making this vow. I'm a big believer that the more you complain about something, the more it will bother you. So I'd bet that you might actually find yourself happier at work by cutting out the gossip.
And yep, the first step is to stop gossiping.
However, if you're nodding along when other people gossip and complain, you're not really "not gossiping," at least not in other people's eyes. I'd just be candid with your gossiping co-workers--why not tell them that you've realized you've been doing too much gossiping, that you're unhappy with it, and that you're resolving to stop? Tell them that you're going to make a point of not participating in any gossip or complaint sessions anymore, and ask for their help in not tempting you. That way, if they start, you can forthrightly remove yourself from the conversation, and they'll have the context to know why. And being candid about your vow might inspire some of them to cut down on their own gossiping as well, which would be a nice side effect.
2. Asking for comp time at a new job
I just started a new job two weeks ago! So far, everything is going great, and there are a lot of exciting things on the horizon. The problem is that I have significantly less time off than what I had been getting at my old job and it's not negotiable at this point. That doesn't bother me necessarily, but I found out that I will be working at events on the weekend--at least five over the next four months in other cities. Is it OK to ask for an extra day here and there for personal affairs? I have a summer full of weddings that require traveling, graduations, and a big trip that had been planned way before I started. I think it's only fair but would love to get your thoughts.
If you're being required to work at events over the weekend, it's completely reasonable to say to your boss, "Hey, since I'm working all day Saturday, can I take my 'Saturday' on Tuesday instead, without it pulling from my accrued vacation time? Or do we do any other kind of comp time?" Your manager's answer will depend on the culture and practices at your new company; some give comp time as a matter of routine and others don't. But it's a perfectly reasonable question, and you should ask it.
3. Applying for a teaching job at a Catholic school as an agnostic
I have a question about religion in the workplace. It's not typically a subject I discuss with others, and I'm not a religious person. However, I'm looking for a teaching job, and found a local school hiring in my content area for the upcoming school year. I checked out its website, and the school's teaching philosophy and attitude toward students and staff fits me to a tee. The only catch is that it's a Catholic school, and I identify as agnostic or atheist. I respect the diversity of others, and get along well with people of all faiths. I don't push my beliefs on others, and expect to be treated with the same respect. Should I apply for this position even though I'm not Catholic? If I do apply, and get an interview, should I mention that I'm not religious? What should I do if they bring it up?
Apply for the position! There are lots of schools run by religious organizations where religion doesn't play a significant role in their teaching, and that's particularly true if you happen to teach, say, math. There are others, of course, where a nonreligious teacher might not feel as comfortable, and if you get an interview, that's when you can learn more about that. If you get an interview, ask them what role religion plays in their curriculum and what duties related to religion you might have, if any. I don't think you need to volunteer that you're not religious unless you want to; their answers to those questions will probably let that conversation unfold (or not) naturally.
4. Am I obligated to help another department?
Several months ago, I was hired in one department of a medium-size nonprofit organization through a temp agency to fill in while someone new was sought for the department. I ended up working there for about six months, including about a month after they had hired the new employee to help her transition into her new role. During that six months, I went from being trusted to answer the phones while everyone was out of the office (I spent a lot of time reading) to compiling documents for committee meetings and taking minutes and organizing projects. Needless to say, there was a lot for me to show the new hire when she started. (By the way, I have no resentment toward her for getting the job; I really didn't want it.)
Now I'm back at the same organization in a different department getting ready to take over for someone going on maternity leave. I'm learning the ropes in my new job, but I have quite a lot of downtime, and for the time being, I'm sitting at my old desk, which means my old boss notices quite frequently that I'm not busy. The problem arises when she assigns me little tasks because I know what I'm doing: I feel like that's not my job anymore. Am I obligated to help her? Should I just wait until my desk moves (two weeks) and hope that I'll be out of sight, out of mind?
You have a lot of time with nothing to do, your old boss is asking for your help, and you don't want to help her because it's not your job? That's pretty much the opposite of the way people get better jobs and good references. Particularly in a temp job, if the organization is paying for your time, it's reasonable for someone to ask you to help out in other areas when your primary area doesn't need you.
But you report to someone else now, so check with your new manager. Explain that the old boss has been asking for your help, that you do have time to help her, and ask what she'd like you to do.
5. Figuring out pay as a contractor
I have never worked as a contractor but was contacted about a potential contract job and asked to provide my pay requirements plus gas cost. The contract job is similar to my old salaried job that paid $49,000 but has a few more responsibilities. I would have to drive 60 miles roundtrip. I have estimated that it would cost me around $13.31 per day or $66.55 a week. I'm trying to take all factors into consideration. Do I simply tack on the cost of gas?
Keep in mind that as a contractor, you'll be paying your own payroll taxes and won't be getting benefits like health care or paid time off. Therefore, you don't want to just divide your former salary into an hourly rate and add on gas. A commonly cited rule of thumb is to figure out what your salary broke down to hourly and then double it--but I'd say do some research online and figure out what makes sense for your particular context.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.