Career Coach offers advice for your workplace conundrums

Aug 20, 2014

Whether you work in a cubicle or a corner office, an assembly line or a sales floor, everyone could use a little career advice now and then. Our career coach, Joyce Russell, is here to help you solve your workplace conundrums, from how to ask for a promotion to how to deal with a difficult boss. Ask her your question now!

Want more? Read Joyce Russell's Career Coach columns.

Welcome to our August online chat.  I look forward to responding to your questions.



I have reached a place in my career where I feel stagnant. I would like to work with a career coach to help me evaluate whether it is how I'm approaching my job that needs adjustment, how I can tweak the work I do so it is more fulfilling, or whether what I am doing is simply no longer a good fit for me. And if the last, what type of role would more aptly suit my current passions and skill sets? Could you provide some advice on seeking out a career coach and how to determine if the individual is a good fit for me?

Great question and one that comes up fairly often. You did not mention how long you have been working since that might influence what you can do at this point. You could first complete some self-assessments or do some work on your own to better gauge what the issues are for you. Career Leader is a great tool that can be used to explore various career options and other types of careers you might consider. Gallup's strengths-finder 2.0 book also includes an assessment that helps you to see what your top strengths are, and what actions you can take based on your top talents. This might also help to determine what may be missing in your current job fit. For a career coach, you can refer to the International Coach Federation or the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches. Both can direct you to finding a coach that can assist you in understanding the questions you have now about your career.

Also, you may want to refer back to a Career Coach column I did on November 24, 2013 on this very topic since it is really important to people, and gives some additional tips.

Best of luck on your new discoveries!

I'm a senior manager at a government agency. However, my boss can often rail against anyone that he feels is not "towing the line", even if that person is simply trying to raise concerns before they become real issues. At this point, I feel that I can't talk to him because he won't listen. I also don't feel right going above him and complaining because then it will eventually come back to him and I will be in an even worse position. What can I do? For the first time in my long government career, I don't look forward to coming to work because the pride I took in the excellent job my staff did is now being undermined by my boss.

How well do you know your boss? Is this someone new or have you worked with him for a while? I ask since it may be important that you have opportunities just to talk with your boss in a social context to build a stronger relationship with him. While this may seem "distasteful", it is important that if you are going to try to influence him (with your ideas for change, etc) that he likes you (at least to some degree). Can you try to go to lunch with him or have coffee and try to find more common ground for the two of you? Maybe you have a similar hobby in common or you can learn more about his family, interests, favorite sports teams, etc. Some people don't like to do this (it feels like "playing up to the boss") and yet you really need some type of relationship with him to get him to listen to your work-related ideas, especially if you feel that he currently does not do this.  Also, do you also bring up good things that are happening in the office in addition to issues and concerns? Is your feedback somewhat balanced? There must be some good things that are going on (I hope) that you can comment on. But, you have to be genuine about this. Don't make things up.

Also, there is a great article in the Harvard Business Review in 2013 on influence. Check it out since it offers tips for how to influence others. Also, check out my article on March 10, 2013 on dealing with manipulators at work. Both of these articles should provide you with more tips. Good luck with this tough situation.



I work for a federal agency with a lot of older workers. They are difficult to work with because they feel they are entitled because of seniority. They have attitudes, are horrible at teamwork, and delegate when not authorized. Proverbial 'chips on shoulders'. How do I break that cycle?

Thanks for bringing this issue up. I do hear this a lot - whether it is with "entitled" millennials or "entitled" older workers. I think one of the biggest problems is that managers do not give "real" candid feedback. So, you may have inherited people who have never gotten the truth about their poor teamwork skills or negative attitudes. I think you have to have a good relationship with them first (so they are more receptive to hearing your feedback), and then you have to give them honest feedback. So, make sure to first get to know them as individuals (what are their interests, hobbies, etc).

Then, pick one primary issue to address, rather than the 20 things they are doing wrong. People can really only effectively process a smaller number of things to "work on". Give them specific behavioral feedback regarding that one big issue. In addition, using praise, recognition, and rewards with those who are doing the right things can also get the attention of those who are not. They may ask "where's their reward?" and that is your perfect opportunity to share some valuable feedback with them.

It is also important to discuss expectations with "entitled" employees. Maybe the job has changed or the workload has changed due to budget issues, layoffs, restructuring, etc. Having a conversation about what the expectations are for their job today is really important. They may resist new goals or objectives, but then they are making the choice to leave, rather than you pushing them out. Of course, you may still need to do that if you clarify expectations and they do not change.

Another thing to ponder - look at your work place and how it is set up. Some would say that we actually encourage entitlement in our work places by treating employees as if we are in a parent-child relationship rather than an adult-adult relationship. We "give" them tasks, feedback, and detailed instructions and they "take" those things from us, rather than figuring things out on their own. So, think about whether your firm is  helping them to be self-sufficient and accountable or the leaders are encouraging or enabling employees to be/feel "entitled".  Just something to think about.

Hi Joyce, I was concerned about a co-worker after a workplace injury. I felt that management didn't handle things very well. I went to the boss about it and while he did acknowledge that it was handled clumsily, he did not concede the main points. He referred back to our policy (which wasn't even followed). The co-worker provides support for me, though I don't manage her per se. I looked at OSHA guidelines and discovered our workplace policy is way out of step (woefully inadequate). Should I bring this up? And how?

Yes, this is really important. According to the Department of Labor, "Under the OSH Act, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace. OSHA's mission is to assure safe and healthful workplaces by setting and enforcing standards, and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance. Employers must comply with all applicable OSHA standards. Employers must also comply with the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act, which requires employers to keep their workplace free of serious recognized hazards". This is taken right from their website. 

This is a serious matter, and I think you should bring this back up to HR (if there is an HR group in your firm). If they can look into the issue, it enables you to now be less involved. If you do not have an HR group, is there a manager that you believe would listen and hear your views about this? If so, I would share your thoughts with them. This is important since employees should be able to work in a safe environment.

What advice do you give to a person who needs to make a career change but has been doing the same thing so long that a "comfort zone" has been established?

So, why does the person "need to make a career change"? This was not explained. Does the person want to make a change or does someone else feel the person should change? This is important since someone will not tackle a different career unless they have an incentive or they personally really want to do this. That is the first step.

Assuming they do want to make the change, they would need to next figure out what they want to do differently. Do they know what other career they want to move to? Or, do they need help in figuring out what other options they can take? If so, they can check out my article November 24, 2013 on tools you can use to get career help and make a career change.

It is really hard for people to leave a "comfortable" situation unless they have a strong incentive (more money, greater opportunities, more challenges, etc). They need to figure out how strong the incentive is for them to change, and then develop a specific plan (break it down into parts) to make that happen. Best of luck!

I think that lumping a group of coworkers in a group and stating they all think X or all do Y is counterproductive. While trends do exist in groups, each person has their own strengths, weaknesses, goals, values, priorities, etc. Figure out a way to deal with each coworker based on their unique personality.

Hi Joyce, I'm currently working as a freelance editor, doing work for two different companies. I'm applying for jobs in a different field (just finished my master's), many of which have online applications to fill out. They have a spot for "Company" or "Employer" and then position. I got around this on my resume by listing my job titles as the headings, so I could just have "Freelance Editor," then list the two companies below it. How should I handle it on the online applications? Do I list the name of the company for which I'm freelancing under "company/employer"? List "Self-employed" or "contractor"? It's also awkward when they have a block for salary because one of the jobs pays by the page (the other is hourly, so that's fine). I do upload a resume when I am able, most require filling out the online application, too. Suggestions? Thanks!

Great questions and maybe some of our readers can also chime in here. I would try to do what you have been doing - list Freelance editor for your employment.  Or, if the two firms are fine with you listing them (you might want to check first), you could list one of them. Only do this if it helps your case (i.e., is a big name firm or a competitor, etc). Otherwise, I would keep it as you have it now.The tricky part is that you are looking to break into a new field (having just gotten your masters) so your previous work may not be connected (I assume). If this is the case, then listing a company may not help your case. But, it is still good that they know you have been employed - makes you more attractive to them.

Also, if you can avoid the salary response that would be better for you. It is generally better for you as the applicant if you can  leave the salary question blank, put negotiable, or put "varies" or something else vague in that spot. From the employer's perspective, they want you to list the salary, but if you do, you might price yourself out of consideration for the job.

Best of luck in your new career, and congratulations on completing your masters!

Hi. A while back you graciously answered my question on why prospective employers don't value experience for mature workers without degrees. I am happy to report that after 18 months of active job searching my spouse finally landed a position in his field. Currently he is in another state in training. Just wanted to pass along to those still over 40 without degrees and searching. Hang in there!

Great news! Thanks so much for sharing this with our readers! It gives us all hope that employers will consider experience and not just education, even if the job search process takes a while.

I'd like to offer another perspective on older workers, of which I am one. I feel that it's the younger workers, whether they're peers or managers, who disrespect those of us who were doing this work when they were in junior high. I am rarely asked for my input, over-looked for training opportunities (even though I request such opportunities every time I've reviewed), and deprived of the assignments to most challenging work, while routinely given drudgery. I keep up with my field, am as capable with technology as anyone else in the office, and am a team player. I feel that younger mangers have given up on me simply because I'm over 50. I don't want to talk to a lawyer about it or file a lawsuit; I just want to be respected commensurate with my abilities and experience. I don't think that's too much to ask of younger workers.

Thanks for sharing this perspective. I also agree with your view and that is why I mentioned that we should look to examine what type of workplace we are "creating". There is a great book called ZAPP (an older book) that is a fable and talks about how we have set up our workplaces where we "sapp" or disempower individuals by not considering their views or opinions, instead of "zapping" them and really keeping them engaged at work.

We shouldn't be looking at a person's age when deciding who to "invest" in at work (with additional training or leadership opportunities, etc). Rather, we should talk to each employee with an open mind about what they want to contribute and how they want to grow professionally at work. All too often, we as managers, make assumptions about what employees want which is nowhere close to reality. Again, thanks for sharing your view.

I'm not really happy with my career choice but am stuck because I can't afford a pay cut. When do you know when to say when? When does it become better to enjoy what you do than be limited by pay?

You have to enjoy what you are doing - we all spend way too much time at work to not really enjoy it. That would be  miserable. Of course, there is reality - you also have to pay the bills. Can you work out a plan for your future which allows you to start thinking about making a career transition to something you would love (and work out specific action items to get there in some period of time) while still employed?

It is better to be planning your next move while still employed than to quit and then plan it. Just the planning alone could bring you some more "life" joy and positive hope for your future, which could also make your current job more "bearable." Also, are there any aspects of your current job that you can change to get into the things you are more passionate about? That might also be a good step. Can you talk to your boss about taking on different responsibilities or tasks that might be in better alignment with your interests? Sometimes managers don't know what else you might be interested in doing unless you tell them.


Thanks for your questions today. I look forward to our next online chat on Wednesday, September 17th from noon to 1 p.m. In the meantime, good luck with your job searches!

In This Chat
Joyce E.A. Russell
Joyce E.A. Russell is 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.
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