The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

May 24, 2013

Career Coach Q&A: Handling a full- to part-time move, rumors of layoffs

By Joyce E.A. Russell
Special to The Washington Post

— Full time to part time

Q. I am in a job where I am underutilized — a lot of down time. It's a chronic problem at this workplace, and I've had lots of discussions with managers about it over the decade-plus I've worked here. I'm now within a decade of retirement age, and I'm at a point where I would like to pursue other interests to try to develop a more fulfilling career. I have plans and projects in that direction, but lack of time is hampering me. I'm not ready to quit altogether — at least, not yet. What is the best way to frame and manage a discussion with my manager about switching to a part-time schedule? I was going to suggest a trial period (three or six months).

A: It is a good idea to have the conversation with your boss. Prior to doing that, you might want to think about what aspects of the job you want to keep doing (i.e., what tasks and job functions). You might also want to think about what other job tasks are left (if you only work part time) so you can prepare your boss for what is left to do. If you also have someone else in mind who could do the rest of the work, that could also be helpful.

Layoffs?

Q. What is the best thing to do when there are layoff rumors at your company? How do I stay proactive with my own career while trying to keep morale alive and kicking for my employees?

A: So, you said "rumors" about layoffs. Can you go to HR or managers to learn the truth? You could also let them know how the employees feel. If there really are not going to be any layoffs and people think there are, this is a problem they could easily address. On the other hand, if there will be some layoffs, they could still share something with employees so everyone is not freaked out. Some companies really handle this well and others make a total mess of it — losing key employees because of unfounded fears.

Setting boundaries

Q. My partner is a new hire at an international company and is pretty high up on the food chain. Because of schedules, he often has calls at strange times and many calls are set up at the last minute. He doesn't seem to see a problem with this, but I think it is very unprofessional for co-workers to be so "on-the-fly" and not have any boundaries. But of course, my partner is still new and wants to make a good impression as well as handle things that are truly emergencies. Any tips for this situation?

A: You partner may just have a very different style of managing or working with others. Some people are very spontaneous with calls, meetings, etc., while others are very organized and set things up in advance. Perhaps a candid conversation will alleviate the issue.

Aloof boss

Q. My boss/supervisor is extremely aloof. I have more work than Superman could handle. I have been doing editorial work at a nonprofit a couple of years and really like my job. How can I get my workload reduced and get a pay increase if I can't effectively communicate with my boss?

A: If your boss is aloof, then your boss may like seeing things in print more than via face-to-face. If this is the case, you might want to document everything you do and then think about what you most want to do (which tasks) and what tasks you would like someone else to do. Also, think about it from your boss' perspective — what would it take to reduce your workload? Think about (and script out) what parts of your job you most want to do and what parts someone else (either currently there or not) can do, and how much that might cost him or her. To "solve" your issue, you may need to also solve his or her issue.

Networking

Q. I have been working in my profession for almost 15 years now. Over the years, I've heard my peers (both those in my profession and in other ones) talk about hearing from headhunters and recruiters, or hearing about job openings. I have to admit that I have never been contacted by a headhunter/recruiter, and have never had a former colleague/business acquaintance let me know of job openings. I'm pretty successful in my career (and my position is mostly stable), but all my jobs are the result of my efforts. Does that sound unusual? Part of me is concerned that if my job ever were to be in jeopardy (or if I wanted to change jobs or careers), I'd have a limited network to draw on.

A: Your situation is not that strange, and in fact, it is very common. I do think it is a good idea to establish a relationship and network with a recruiter or headhunter. You might ask some of your colleagues for names of headhunters that they feel really did a great job of representing them. Not all recruiters work for you — some work more for the firm. So, when asking colleagues, ask for names of recruiters who really were advocates for them.

Joyce E.A. Russell, an industrial and organizational psychologist, discussed workplace issues in a recent online forum. These are some excerpts.

Russell is the vice dean and 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 and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management.