The Bad Assistant: When To Switch, When to Fire

When to Fire a Bad Assistant | CorporetteWhat should you do when you’re stuck with a bad assistant, secretary or subordinate — and your assistant doesn’t assist? When is just time to switch assistants, or even fire the person? Reader K wonders:

We are a small (12 people) conservative professional investment firm serving high net worth clients. I recently moved from front office to portfolio assistant. The young woman who replaced me thinks she is doing a great job even though she was told by management that she needs to work on skills. She says she has a photographic memory and doesn’t take notes on anything I try to explain. I prepared “how to'” notes for her, but have had to print them for her repeatedly. She makes “to do” lists but rarely does items on the list. When I try to explain something, she has gotten up and walked off or continues to stare at computer screen. Her history shows that she is constantly on the Internet. I was told to monitor these things, but feel uncomfortable. I am working an extra 15 hours a week trying to do my new job and picking up slack on hers. Needless to say, I am stressed. Management is aware of issues, but not that I am really stressed out over this. How should I handle this?

Wow — I’m sorry, K, that sounds like it really stinks. You say she’s been warned; you say management is already aware of these issues. That all leads me to the following advice:

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Handling Business Lunches as the Only Vegetarian

work - dietary restrictionsWhat if you’re at a lunch meeting or other work event and there’s nothing you can eat as a vegetarian? What should you do, and how can you take steps to ensure you don’t find yourself in the same awkward situation again? In general, how should anyone with dietary restrictions handle a business lunch? Reader M wonders…

I went to a meeting today with a catered lunch. The options were turkey or chicken sandwiches. I am a vegetarian. This put me in the awkward position of not eating when the other four people in the room (all males of varying ages) were eating lunch. My question is: How should one deal with dietary restrictions at work or at events with work colleagues? Should I have contacted the assistant in charge of the lunch? My dietary restriction is voluntary, but there are many people out there who will literally become ill if they don’t follow certain dietary guidelines. I can usually find something, but there are the occasional times when I cannot. I also hate being an inconvenience. When I was interviewing for jobs, I actually ate dishes with meat a couple times to avoid an awkward situation or risking coming across as a picky eater.

Yikes — I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve been put in such a tough situation. We sort of discussed this when we talked about how to stick to your gluten-free diet at a business lunch or how to diet while working a corporate gig, but that was a while ago. What is the best way for anyone with a dietary restriction to handle a business lunch? I can’t wait to hear what the readers have to say.

I have a few ideas for how to deal with this:

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A Feminine Approach to Business Casual

Dressing Femininely at Work | CorporetteBusiness casual can be tricky — particularly when you’re transitioning from a conservative office.  But what if the culture at your company isn’t just business casual, but ultra-feminine business casual — and you’re still most comfortable in a gray suit?  When you’re in a new job and feeling pressure to dress a certain way to fit in — even getting critical comments from coworkers — what should you do? Reader E wonders…

I recently relocated and am in the middle of a career change, and I’m really stumped about how to dress for work. I work in a business casual environment in a small, Southern city. Women tend to dress hyper femininely here: today my boss is wearing a pink ruffled tunic over flowy trousers with embellished flats. The job is entry level, but it’s an important step career-wise. I’m all for dressing to fit with office culture. But, really, yikes.

Right now my pencil skirts, sheath dresses, flats, and cardigans are getting a lot of “why are you so dressed up?” and (from the office mean girl) “do you always wear such depressing colors?” I guess these are my questions: how far do I really need to go to fit in with office wardrobe culture? and how can I femme-up my wardrobe without looking like 5’10” wedding cake?

Hmmn.  Well.  It seems like a few things are going on here, some of which we’ve talked about before, such as transitioning a corporate wardrobe to a casual office, looking stylish and professional in a business casual office, as well as surrendering a bit to office culture (but as the song goes, don’t give yourself away). I may also detect a smidgen of . . .  judgment? superiority? in your email, which we’ve also talked about before when you take a job that’s beneath you.  I know all about finding your groove with one set of work clothes, having a rough time transitioning to a new office with a very different culture, and then feeling a bit like you’ve lost yourself in the process.  So I definitely have some thoughts, but I can’t wait to hear what the readers say.

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Is a Vintage Movie Poster Acceptable Office Decor?

Is a Vintage Movie Poster Acceptable Office Decor? Is a vintage movie poster professional enough to hang on your office wall at a new job? Reader E wonders…

I just changed jobs and now have a ton of wall space. My mom graciously had a vintage Wizard of Oz poster professionally framed for me. I haven’t found a place for it in my house — is it too “cutesy” for work? (Pictured: Reader E’s poster.)

I work in state politics. As far as mirroring my boss — she has pictures of her family on the walls, some awards, etc. Alternatively, I have some D.C. pictures, etc., that would be more professional, but I wonder how I would match my accessories to those pictures — the pictures are more office-hallway professional-ish. Thoughts?

Interesting question, Reader E! We’ve talked about office decor before, but not in a really long time. As I’ve noted before, I think a lot of this comes down to a few factors:

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Joining the Office Fantasy Football League

fantasy football league at workShould you join the office fantasy football league — even if you hate sports and don’t want to commit the time? What about other guy-centric office hobbies? Reader S wonders…

What is the rule on joining the office fantasy football league (or other comparable sporting activity) when you don’t know or care about the sport? I want to fit in and seem like a team player, but I also don’t want to look like an idiot when I don’t know what I am doing.

For context, I am a junior associate in big law; however, I work in one of the mid-sized branch offices. One of the perks of working in the branch office is that the environment is smaller making it is easier to get to know your colleagues. On the flip side, working in a branch office means that if you do not participate in events, you may stick out like a sore thumb. To make matters worse, I am one of three (3!!) female attorneys in the office and I am the only female associate — and the men in the office LOVE fantasy football. I would love some advice on this one. Thanks!

Interesting question, S. I am also not a huge fan of sports (have I told my soccer story on this blog? I forget*), but sources tell me that fantasy football is still appropriate to talk about now, so let’s discuss. My $.02 here is similar to what I’ve said before (regarding topics such as saying no to sports at work, and joining the boys’ club with office hobbies like sports): Do it. Tell yourself you’ll do it for one season, and try to get into it — commit to spending a bit of time on it every week (see below). This is partly about getting into office culture, partly about networking, and partly about paving the path for women after you — to feel comfortable in the league or to get friendly enough with people in the office to create other kinds of office activities (i.e., changing the office culture). Hopefully after one season you’ll have stronger friendships in the office, and you may find you actually enjoy it. If you don’t, though, you’ll be much more informed next season about why you don’t want to do it — and may have some new office friends to suggest other office hobbies with.

Some practical tips from our source (i.e., Kate’s husband, who never skips the office fantasy football league): [Read more…]

When Your Client Hits On You

client-asked-me-outHow should you handle it when a client hits on you? We got an emergency email from reader K, who is getting a bit uncomfortable with a prospective customer:

I am a [physical product that attaches to buildings*] sales woman. During intermittent conversation with a prospective client I mentioned I am a dancer, he mentioned he used to take dance classes. He asked if my “honey” takes me dancing and I said (in hindsight, I should have just said yes) but I just said “our schedules don’t match up well.”

Later on we were talking about the project via text and he randomly says “we should go dancing!” I said (probably not the best response) “sure – maybe after we figure out these projects” to which he replied, “might have to see how good of a dancer you are first.”

What on earth do I say to that? I don’t want to lose the project (he owns 3 properties that he wants [physical product that attaches to buildings] on), but of course, I am also happily engaged, and not interested in dancing with strangers… all other conversations with him have been appropriate.

I saw there was another post along these lines but the context is a bit different and I’d love some advice from the horse’s mouth. HELP!

Eeesh. We have talked about the sexist client before (a client commented five times in one lunch on the OP’s beauty), as well as in the offensive client (who commented loudly about the price of his lawyer’s purse), but we haven’t talked about a direct request for a date before, and I’m curious to hear what readers say. Some thoughts:

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