How to Deal with Extreme Coworkers

how to deal with extreme coworkersReaders, what’s your best advice for how to deal with extreme coworkers? We’ve talked about what to do when your boss has it out for you, as well as difficult coworkers who throw temper tantrums, but not in a while — so I asked lawyer/journalist Rebecca Berfanger to offer some advice… – Kat

Have you ever had a coworker or a supervisor who took things to the extreme at work? Maybe she screamed often or threw things, maybe she bragged about how she gave up sleep in order to put in longer hours, maybe she worked every holiday and weekend, or maybe she never took any breaks, not even to leave her desk or eat? Maybe she survived only on lattes? Did this coworker or boss expect you to be equally extreme in order to prove your loyalty to your job or clients? Was it actually an expectation of all coworkers — or just this one?

We’ve talked about difficult coworkers before, but this is more about those who know they are acting extreme and expect you to put up with them, or they believe that to be successful, you must behave in a similar way. If you’ve never had to work with an extreme person at work, consider yourself lucky. Studies have shown that a toxic work environment can cause extreme stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

So how can you deal with extreme coworkers?

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How to Deal When Your Boss Makes Rude Comments About Your Engagement Ring

boss makes rude comments about my engagement ring - advice from Corporette on how to dealOoh, here’s a great reader Q today: how to deal when your boss makes rude comments about your engagement ring. Here’s Reader C’s question:

I am recently engaged, and am having difficulty handling my boss’s reaction. Specifically, he makes “joking” comments about when I will be quitting now that I am engaged. He gave me a hard time for eating my sack lunch saying I “can obviously afford a $10 lunch given that ring.” He also asked me how much my ring was worth (it is a nice ring, but nothing extravagant, ~1.5 carats). I work at a Big 4 firm for reference and am a highly rated employee. Help! How should I handle this??

Wow… I have multiple angry emojis for your boss. We haven’t talked about diamond rings at work in a while, and I can’t wait to see what the readers say. (This has shades of some of our other discussions on sexism at work, including the offensive client who commented on how expensive a bag was, as well as our discussion on how to deal when you work with sexist pigs.)

For my $.02, I think that you need to take your boss aside and say something directly, because this goes beyond “razzing you like one of the boys in the office” or whatever it is HE thinks he’s doing. This is calling up stereotypes of women who quit as soon as they get married — the type who go to grad school for an “MRS.” SUPER fun stereotype, but it can be really harmful to the work environment as well as to your own career. Keep in mind, this is what he’s saying to your face — who knows what he’s saying behind your back? You might want to find another woman in your group to talk this out before approaching him, because she will hopefully know the different personalities at play.

Readers, what would your script with the boss look like? How would you handle it if your boss made rude comments about your engagement ring at work?

Picture via Stencil.how to deal when your boss makes rude comments about your engagement ring - image of a bride's ring finger

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Difficult Coworkers: Temper Tantrums, Crying, and More

difficult coworkers2017 Update: We still stand by this advice on how to deal with difficult coworkers, but you may also want to check out our more recent advice on how to deal with extreme coworkers

How do you deal with difficult coworkers, such as those who are overemotional or throw temper tantrums? Should the strategies for dealing with difficult coworkers differ if it’s a small office versus a big one? Reader M has a great question about dealing with an assistant prone to temper tantrums:

I’ve seen several postings about crying at work, but my question is about how to deal with temper tantrums. I have been at my 9-attorney firm for a year. The partner’s legal assistant also works for me. Several times, she has gotten so frustrated with the printer or other machines that she slams or throw things. Offering to help has not worked. How to respectfully deal with the inappropriate behavior? (This partner is rarely in the office, and the other does not get involved.) Or ignore it?

WOW. I’ve heard a lot about screamers in law firms (and have dealt with a few myself, even ducking a few flying redwelds and binders) but they were always high-level, super valuable employees — and I must say I always thought that was why they were able to get away with such behavior. Specialized knowledge, good relationships with clients, unique insights — but I’ve never heard of a fungible, easily-replaced employee throwing such tantrums and expecting to stay in their job. So I think you have to approach this with the presumption that she is NOT easily replaced, and if you make too many waves about this (as the new hire) then you will be the easier one to replace. A few quick ideas for how to deal:

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Should Your Work Friends Include Your Assistant?

Should Your Work Friends Include Your Assistant? 2017 Update: Administrative Professionals’ Day is April 26, 2017. You can check out our most recent thread on what we’re getting for our assistants on Administrative Professionals’ Day here

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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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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