Career Advice

Below, find some of our recent career advice stories. Have a question for Kat? Check out the Contact page.

Making Time for Therapy

Reader C has a great question about work/life balance — and keeping a standing therapy appointment without being perceived as lazy.  I can’t wait to hear the readers’ tips!  Here’s her question:

Hi! I’m a newer BigLaw associate. The stress of the job has caused my mental health to take a hit and so, I’ve started seeing a therapist with whom I have weekly evening (8 PM) appointments. In most other professions, asking to see a therapist “after hours” would easily be okay, but given the “constant availability” expectations of my firm, I think this may be difficult. Is there a way to firmly, but respectfully carve this hour out for myself once a week without being perceived as lazy?

Great question — I think this is a pretty common thing BigLaw associates go through, and kudos to you for taking care of your mental health. We’ve talked about taking time for frequent doctors’ appointments before, but I don’t think we’ve talked explicitly about making time for therapy and other standing appointments.  Here are some tips:

  • I really believe that most employers really do want you to have a work/life balance — but also to get stuff done. I’d be shocked if people give you too much push back on having the appointment. If and when it comes up with your supervisors, I  don’t even think you need to get into too many details here — just have an apologetic note in your voice when you say, “I have a standing appointment tonight at 8:00, but…”
  • Make yourself available after the appointment as needed, and let people know that.  “I’ll be back in the office at 9:30,” or “I’ll be back on email at 9:30.” Then, do it.  I know therapy sessions can sometimes be emotional, but whatever you say you’re going to do, make sure you do it.  (You may want to check out our discussion a few weeks ago about answering work email at home.)
  • Know your colleagues. If there’s one of your superiors who only starts work at 6PM, you may have to handle him or her in a different way, and be more direct, but also more persistent by reminding them regularly that you’ll be out of pocket, checking in with them as soon as you’re you’re out of the appointment, and possibly even setting up a backup (paralegal? secretary?) who can definitely be available for the whopping 90 minutes you need to yourself.
  • Finally, know the peculiarities of your work schedule. If your work requires you to frequently have a late-night deadline (i.e., if your company has a regular pouch going from NYC to DC on a nightly basis), or if you work with colleagues or clients in a different time zone who are still in full work mode when you’re leaving at 8 PM — then I would strongly consider shifting your therapy appointment to another time, like first thing in the morning. Another option that I know some readers have mentioned is having a therapist who they only see via Facetime/Skype/or on the phone — if you find such a therapist, he or she may offer even later/earlier appointments than 8 PM (or be in a different time zone entirely so the hours are later/earlier than a local therapist could offer.)

Ladies, for those of you who go to therapy or other standing appointments, how do you make time for the appointment and let your colleagues know? What kind of pushback have you come up against, and how have you dealt with it? 

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Should Your Work Friends Include Your Assistant?

Should Your Work Friends Include Your Assistant? Do you socialize with your assistant or secretary? Do you consider him or her to be among your work friends? Or do you keep your relationship with staffers friendly but avoid turning it into an actual friendship? If the relationship has swung too far towards “friendship,” how do you bring it back to “collegial”? Reader N wonders…

How do you reformalize a working relationship with your secretary? I work in law and I have been cognizant about not talking down to my secretary, who is also a young female. I have noticed recently she has interpreted this to mean we are “friends,” which is fine. Recently, she has seemed to step up her attitude, and does not make requests of me politely. I don’t want my niceness mistaken for passiveness or that she does not need to respect me the way she does others who were not as nice.

Hmmmn… tough question, Reader N! With Administrative Professionals Day observed this Wednesday it’s a good time to revisit the issue. In general, I think it’s fine to be friendly with staffers and other subordinates, but the closer the relationship gets, the more complicated it gets. One reader wrote to us a while ago where she was the only female lawyer, and the group of female secretaries was being very welcoming — in that case, where she already had an uphill battle to be/feel accepted with the other lawyers, I think she was right to keep her distance.  Outside of that circumstance, friendship with subordinates can also be complicated because if the assistant screws up, needs redirection or criticism, or just generally needs firmer deadlines and oversight, all of that is easier to do with an arm’s length, professional relationship, without adding more intense emotions of doubt and betrayal (“but I thought we were friends” / “why is my friend betraying me”). (We had a great discussion on whether a boss should be respected vs. liked just last year.)

As to reader N’s question, how can you bring an office friendship with an assistant back to a collegial relationship? I’m curious to hear what the readers say here, but I think the answer is “very carefully.” My $.02 tips:

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Crying at Work: How to Deal

How to Handle Crying at Work | CorporetteOK, ladies and gents, let’s discuss: How do you keep from crying at work, whether due to personal reasons or as a reaction to something work-related? What are your best tips to prevent it, explain it if it happens, and clean up your face once you’re done?

First, in case it needs to be said: No one’s judging anyone when you’re crying about some horrible recent news — the death of a loved one, for example. But there can be a huge sliding scale of appropriateness and acceptability at different offices, depending on your boss, your team members, and so forth.

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Must-Read Business Books for Women

business books Which are the best books for women to read before they begin their careers? Which business books have been essential to you in the middle of yours? Are there any articles or general blogs that are essential reading as well? Reader E recently asked:

Been a regular reader for many years. I was wondering if you could do a round up of the working women books you recommend. I know NGDGTCO is often mentioned, but is there a certain set of books that you think women should read for work?

Very interesting! We’ve talked about some of the best books for becoming a better manager, as well as the best resources for becoming a leader, and I’ve even rounded up my favorite articles for working women — but we haven’t had a good open thread on point in a while. Here is my list of business books for women, but I’m curious what readers say:

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Answering Work Email at Home

Answering Work Email at Home | CorporetteDoes your boss send you emails at all hours? Are you expected to respond immediately to answer work email at home — either in a clear “policy” way or in an unspoken, pissy-but-won’t-tell-you-why way? Do you try to draw a line in the sand and purposely not reply during certain hours, even if you get the email? If you’re a supervisor or boss, do you make an intentional effort to not send email during nights and weekends? I’ve seen a lot of friends and readers bringing up this issue lately, so I thought we’d discuss.

Looking back — the BlackBerry hit the market when I was a second or third year in BigLaw. It was a sea change — before that you had to be sitting at a computer to log in to check your email.  I remember feeling like a rebel by setting my BlackBerry to turn off automatically every weeknight from 12am to 6 am, and (gasp!) 10 PM to 8 AM on weekends.  (I mostly did this because — without fail! — we’d get what amounted to a spam digest alert every single morning at 4 AM. My BB would vibrate loudly on the table in the tiny studio apartment I lived in then, waking me up and causing stress.)  Now that everyone has an iPhone, though, I feel like it’s every industry — no longer just lawyers, and no longer just high level employees.  For a while you could refuse to have work email on your phone, but I don’t even think that’s an option any more, at least for most workers. Of course, a lot of this comes down to “know your office” — as well as “know your boss.”

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Wearing Fun Glasses at Work

fun glasses at workDo you wear “fun glasses” to the office, either as a hipster statement or geek chic? Would you consider a bright and wacky pair of glasses for work, or do you try to stick to brown, gray, or metal frames? Do you judge colleagues if they’re obviously wearing Warby Parkers or “cool kid” glasses? Some readers used to joke that thicker-framed, geek-chic frames were birth control glasses — do you still think of certain styles like that? Do you switch glasses up based on your mood and outfit (treating them as jewelry or an accessory), or do you have functional pairs, like “important meeting” glasses or “working alone at office at night” glasses?

We’ve talked about some of my favorite spots for buying glasses online — I’m still addicted; I just got my first pair of Warby Parkers and another two pairs from GlassesUSA — but we haven’t talked about the propriety of geek chic glasses at the office in years. So let’s discuss.

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