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posted: 8/25/2013 6:30 AM

Career Coach: A conflict with staying late

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By Joyce E.A. Russell, special to The Washington Post

Career Coach Joyce E.A. Russell fielded questions from readers online last week. Here are edited excerpts:

Q: I'm temping at a corporation that's making noises about hiring me. Trouble is, the office culture is to stay pretty late, and I have community obligations in the evening. Some employees have confided that they were told such activities wouldn't be a problem, then once they were on board, they got chastised for leaving "early." I always get in early because of the bus, so I'm certainly putting in enough hours. How can I get both the job and a normal schedule?

A: You have to hold this conversation with your new boss -- letting the employer know that you will be arriving early, but will need to leave by a certain time because of other obligations. If you arrive early, that may make it OK. Or, maybe you can stay later one or two times a week as a compromise. I do think it is critical to get this discussed and clarified in advance.

Q: What are some good methods or tools to improve engagement, motivation, etc. when employees have a direct supervisor where once they had only a distant program manager?

A: The manager should make a good effort to really talk to each employee on the team, to learn what they do, what their areas of expertise are, what they like about their jobs, how the manager can best help them, etc. Spend the time getting to know them as people. If it is a small team, take them to lunch individually to learn more about them. Set up some activities to build the team -- maybe a social event -- lunch, happy hour, some fun activity. Not only will people need to build a connection with the manager, but they will need to build trust. A great book to review is "Dysfunctions of Teams" by Patrick Lencioni. It offers great ideas for factors to consider when building teams.

Q: Is this a good time to be looking for a job? For most of my career, I have worked for companies that were government contractors. I took my current job three years ago knowing that the 25-mile commute would be tough. I have stayed hoping the economy would get better. With the lack of government funding and the furloughs, it never seemed like it would be a good idea to be the newest employee on a team. But, to tell you the truth, I am bored, the commute is killing me and I think it is time to find something new.

A: It is always better to be employed while looking than to quit your job and then look. You are more attractive to potential employers if you are already employed. You could passively look at this time (i.e., tell your friends you are looking, tell your network, update your social media sites). This way, recruiters could reach out to you. Then, you can decide if you want to more actively look by sending resumes, calling employers, and so on.

Q: I'm a manager in a department of about 25. We are gearing up for an internal retreat and I've been charged with leading a managers' breakout session. I can take the discussion in any direction. What's the best way to use those 45 minutes? Let people have a forum to vent/identify issues? Talk about what's going well? With no real direction from the higher ups, I'm just not sure how to make the time worthwhile.

A: It really depends on what the goals are for your session. Are they to get everyone pumped up and motivated? Are they to build a stronger team? Are they to identify issues and resolve problems? You only have 45 minutes, so that really is not much time and you don't want to identify problems and leave people in a state of depression about all the terrible issues.

You could always send a note out in advance to the managers asking two questions: What do you think we are doing well and what is the most important thing we should currently be working on to improve? If you collect this information in advance, you could then come to the meeting and share the strengths that people share (always important to share the positives), and you could identify the top two areas they said should be worked on. Then, you could use the meeting to collect their ideas about how to ensure the firm keeps doing the positive things and what two or three ideas they have for making improvements.

What is most important in a short meeting such as this is to be realistic about what you can accomplish in 45 minutes. It has to be concise, yet meaningful for participants.

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