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posted: 3/24/2013 6:14 AM

Dealing with the demands of home, work

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  • Getting to the top can be a struggle for working mothers.

    Getting to the top can be a struggle for working mothers.

By Joyce E.A. Russell

Joyce E.A. Russell, an industrial and organizational psychologist, discussed workplace issues in a recent online forum. Excerpts:

Q: What is your take on Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg? I must be the village idiot because I really don't know what their messages are to women who are not in positions of authority (secretaries, admin. assistants, etc.). Women like that, of which I am one, will not be climbing the corporate ladder any time soon.

A: You raise a really good point and certainly one that has been in the press a lot lately, with Marissa's statement about banning telecommuting at Yahoo. Those with greater pay and status can more easily pay for help at home (nannies, maids, drivers, etc.) than others. Thus it is easier for them to build nurseries next to their office (as in Mayer's case) or get help with all the "home" aspects of their lives. Other people at lower levels in organizations may need to work multiple jobs in order to make ends meet. They may need telecommuting options and other flexible work arrangements. It would help if those at the top periodically took the pulse of those at the other levels to see what are their real concerns and issues.

Q: How do you think Ms. Sandberg or Ms. Mayer got where they are? They just magically got a position of authority? That's a little disingenuous ... (And well, when you're CEO, you get the perks that come with it. You also work about 24 hours a day. It's not a piece of cake).

A: You are absolutely right -- getting to the top of an organization takes an enormous amount of work, and they certainly deserve any perks that come with that. They do have to be "on" 24/7, so they are putting in lots of hours with lots of stress. The other point is that we need to make sure that once you get to the top, you still remember all those people in the trenches who might have different issues and struggles.

Q: One of my co-workers is that person who doesn't finish anything until one minute before it is due (or even after, if she can get away with that). Meanwhile, I'm a planner and work ahead of time in a regimented way to avoid the last-minute push. Needless to say, working on projects with her is super stressful and frustrating, although she always produces good results in the end. Would it be appropriate for me to discuss this with our boss? Or how should I discuss with her in a productive way?

A: This is actually a fairly common problem. In fact, if you were to both complete the [Myers-Briggs Type Indicator] personality type tool, you may find out you have opposite styles on your preferred orientation to the world. Sounds like you are a "J," which is a person who likes a structured, planned approach to your day, and she may be a "P" -- someone who likes a flexible, spontaneous approach to her days. While both styles are highly valuable in the workplace, sometimes working together on projects can be very frustrating for both.

So, what can you do? Before you go to the boss, I would talk with [your co-worker] to learn what you both do and how she feels about the time line issue. She might not know this is stressful for you, and you can also listen to her perspective on this. Usually, this issue only gets resolved when the two of you talk and come up with realistic goals that work for both of you.

Q: Over the past year my work in the office has been given much praise. At annual performance reviews, I was once again told how great I had done and what an asset I was to the company. However, I was then told the raises this year were really bad. How do I find motivation to work hard when the company clearly doesn't value those that are bringing added value to the company?

A: Have you had the talk with your immediate boss to see what else can be done -- to see if they can bump you anymore? What about other perks the company can provide you with, such as sending you to conferences or training, equipment, bonuses, etc. Even if they can't give you more salary, they might be able to give you "soft money," such as perks, to help you feel more valued at work.

The other thing I would do is some market research on what you should be paid. You can check any website such as or to learn what you should be making relative to the market. Then, you could present this data to your boss to see his or her thoughts about this. Sometimes helping managers see how far off you are from the market sends a stronger message to them about how concerned you are about salary.

• Russell is the vice dean and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management.

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