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posted: 6/23/2013 6:45 AM

Career Coach Q&A: My boss cancels my vacations; contractor concerns

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

Vacation blues

Q: I have a great job I generally love, in my field; it pays decently and I have good job security, which are all things to be grateful for in today's challenging economy. The problem is that I can literally count the number of days I have been able to take off in the past two years on the fingers of one hand. This is not because I haven't scheduled vacations -- I have scheduled time off at least seven times that I have been asked to cancel, often at the last minute, due to "work priorities." I like my boss (he is a great professional mentor and we work very well together), but he is a workaholic who thinks everyone should be available to work seven days a week. I am not spending enough time with my family and am starting to suffer the symptoms of burnout. I feel that I should be able to take some portion of the vacation time I earn, especially when I submit my vacation requests months in advance (the approvals mean nothing when they can be revoked at any time). Any advice on how to handle this?

A: This is actually more common than you think (sad to say). I think you should plan your next vacation and make it very clear to your boss that you are going to take this vacation. Then, do it. If you keep allowing the boss to cancel your vacations, then he will know that the vacations are really not that important to you. I think everyone gets "work priorities" every now and then that require some flexibility in scheduling. But, if this has been going on for two years, then it is a pattern that you really need to break.

Contractor concerns

Q: With sequestration, there has been a lot of talk in the news about the various agencies and the impact on the federal employees, but little about the contractors. I have not heard anything that will impact our contract for the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year, but I also have not heard anything about our chances to have the contract renewed for the 2014 fiscal year. I assume that I am better off staying put with my current employer than jumping ship to another company that is also a contractor. In my past jobs, the new employees were the first to go. Is this the right approach, or should I seek and accept the right opportunity if it comes along?

A: I would suggest staying where you are and asking lots of questions in the hopes that they can tell you about renewal of the contract for the next year. Moving from contractor to contractor would only make sense if you knew that one contractor had definite work for the following year. This may be hard to know at this point.

Going from private to public sector

Q: I'm a lawyer, leaving a law firm (happily) to begin to work for someone who is second-in-command in a large state government department. The governor's office is two floors above and there will be interaction with him and the legislature. I'm concerned about shifting into a different culture, getting comfortable in a government office, making myself valuable/visible without ruffling lifetime employees' feathers and dressing the part. Any advice?

A: I would dress professionally, yet also look to see what the culture is like at the new place -- in terms or work styles, dress code, work hours, etc. Always dress a little more professionally when in doubt -- it helps with credibility. I would also do a lot of listening and asking questions (initially) to learn from those who have been there and are successful. Don't form any specific allegiances, instead try to be friendly to everyone. Sometimes people join firms and immediately become friends with one group versus another. Not a good idea. Stay friendly with everyone. Another key tip is to maintain confidentialities. If you overhear things or people tell you things, do not be the one to share any office gossip. The fact that you are asking the questions indicates that you want to be successful and do the right things.

Miss my boss

Q: I am very lucky to have had a great, supportive boss. Over the years we built a great rapport and did a lot of great things for the company. However news just came in that this person is leaving for personal reasons. I am not sure what to do -- the organization is in flux for other, nonrelated reasons. Part of me tells me to stick it out until things settle down. However I am in an industry that is not necessarily my passion. A new boss, or a period of time without a boss, seems draining to me. What should I do?

A: Have you talked to your boss? You could chat to get his or her insights, especially since it sounds like you had a good relationship.

I also think you should stay until you see what is happening with the firm. It is a lot easier to look for new jobs while you are employed than if you are unemployed.

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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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