What to say when you’re not sure what to say

From revealing a pregnancy to a potential employer to shutting down a whiny coworker, here's how to navigate difficult career conversations

As the space between work and not-work becomes ever more blurred, questions about how to do this thing we plug away at for 30 or 40 or 70 hours a week become all the more expansive. In Work Flow, we delve into the novel dilemmas created by the new ways we work, as well as timeless questions about ethics, gender assumptions, and toxic work situations (and how to escape them). How we work is an important component of how we live—and we’re here to help you do better at both.

Something messing with your flow? Unload your work problems here, and you’ll not only feel heard but you’ll also get unbiased, real-world advice. (That’s something your work sibling/spouse just can’t offer.) Tell us everything: ideasbywe@wework.com.

I am newly pregnant and looking for a new job. When do I have to tell a potential new employer that I have an impending due date? Is it required? Can they ask me?

Congratulations! This is one of those situations where time will tell, but given the newness of this event and your job search, I wouldn’t recommend sharing just yet, particularly when you’re doing initial meet and greets with various potential employers. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 makes it illegal to refuse to hire someone or to fire them on the basis of pregnancy, but (incorrect) prejudices and judgments about working moms are unfortunately all too real. If and when you do choose to disclose, there are ways to dispel that sort of reaction. According to a 2013 study, which showed that although pregnant job applicants received more “interpersonal hostility” than nonpregnant job applicants, pregnant job applicants who addressed the stereotypes, especially with regard to their personal levels of commitment and flexibility, were “nearly three times less likely to experience interpersonal discrimination than pregnant job applicants who say nothing to combat pregnancy stereotypes.”

The benefit to revealing, however, is that you can control the situation better, which is why, if you are obviously pregnant or have gone through a series of interviews with a company that you’re seriously considering, it’s probably time to share. In the first case, they likely know anyway; in the second, you’re going to have a baby, and it’s crucial to understand what sort of company you might be working for—their maternity policies, whether they’re family- and women-friendly, how your manager views working moms, and so forth. (You’ll feel this out through the interview process, which ideally will make the decision to tell or not—or take the job or not—a no-brainer.) I should note, also, that if you’re in a situation in which a company makes you an offer and they take it back after learning you’re pregnant, you may have a case for discrimination. But it’s a lot harder to make this case if you haven’t told them you’re pregnant in the first place. 

As with much in life, at least in general terms, the most efficient way forward is to be direct about what you need, and to take the information you receive and make a decision with that in mind. But, of course, specifics are everything, and what you need, exactly, is up to you to decide. If it feels too risky to tell, you can continue to keep your pregnancy under wraps—there’s no legal obligation for you to tell, and it’s not legal for a potential employer to even ask questions about your state or whether you’re starting a family soon (or to deny you a job on the basis of your answer). If they go there, they’ve shown you who they are. Use that information to determine what’s best for you and your family.

I’ve been in my position for a few years, with no promotion. But the original job description I was hired for is so different at this point from my actual job—my supervisors keep changing the goalposts, etc.—that there’s little overlap at this point. And frankly, I think I deserve more money, as the job I’m currently doing is a lot more challenging than what I was hired for. What are some ways I can approach this? In the past, when trying to address getting a raise or a promotion, I’ve been told I need to stick it out and be a team player. (It’s a really small company and people do wear a lot of hats, but it’s getting ridiculous, and I need some room for growth.)

If being a “team player” means you never get to advocate for yourself, well, that’s not a team you want to be on! The first thing I’d do is put together a comprehensive document accounting for your various job descriptions over time (even if unofficial). Do you have the initial job description you were hired for? Compare it to what you’re doing now, and make a list of all the additional duties or projects you’ve taken on (if you have them in writing, say, as an email request from your manager, keep them on hand as a  reference) as well as crossing out anything that you’re no longer doing (but which you can count as part of your skill set). Chronicle all the duties you’ve performed successfully over time, so you can show your manager not only that you’re a team player—who has done this, this, this, and also this, morphing to fit the needs of the company whenever necessary—but also so that you can put some sort of monetary value to the various roles. Clearly, you’ve grown and evolved at this company; what is the title and salary that reflects that? 

Here’s where a bit of outside research is also helpful: Can you find comparative salaries/wages for what you’ve done? Keep a list of that, too. Finally, you want to log the various goals of each position, and whether you’ve accomplished them. In each role or duty, can you show clearly how you’ve helped the company?

Then you’re ready to set up a meeting with your direct manager. Share all of this information, along with evidence of you being flexible and adaptable to the many changes, and how you’ve picked up the slack when called to do so. Remind them how long you’ve been with the company, and how you’ve, indeed, truly stuck it out, and kept learning and growing. Don’t be accusatory, no need to go there—yet. This is simply you making the very best case for yourself that: 1. You are integral to this company; 2. You have been a team player; 3. You are helping them make money/do the necessary business and want to continue to do so! and 4. You, therefore, should get more money/a promotion. 

On that, definitely think about what you want beforehand, whether it’s title, money, a very clear description of what your job is (and to cut out the constant changing of roles), or all of the above. You’ve probably already done this, but it might help to write it down, too. 

If you get a flat no or are told again that you’re not a team player or you just have to “stick it out,” you should start looking for a place that will value the multitude of skills you’ve learned at your current job and actually reward you for them. (Your skills and successes document will come in handy here.) Whether you actually move to a new company or simply leverage another job offer to make your situation better at your current gig, interviewing outside the company is often the best way to change the situation fast—monetarily and otherwise. Plus, it reminds you of just what you’re worth, what you might be able to do instead, and that you have the power to change what you don’t like. 

My coworker is always late to the office, and always has an excuse, and I’m sick of hearing it when I manage to get there on time regularly and live farther away. Do you have any perfect snarky comments I can deliver to get her to shut up about her transit woes? 

There are plenty of snarky comments you could go with, ranging from passive-aggressive to aggressive-aggressive. “Oh, did the horse and buggy/wounded snail/carrier pigeon/sea turtle you typically arrive on not show up again?” “It’s so unlucky that you constantly have travel issues when no one else does! That must be so frustrating for you!” “Wait, you work here?” and so on. But the best course of action is probably not snarky at all… it’s ignoring this person’s lateness and focusing on your own promptness, neither of which, I assure you, has gone unnoticed by your managers. 

If your coworker is constantly complaining directly to you (and not vocalizing the excuse to the entire office in an oh-crap-the-meeting’s-already-started move, which I’m imagining is the case), you can also feel free to take the calm and direct shut-them-down approach: Simply offer up a dispassionate “I’m sorry to hear that,” pop on your noise-canceling headphones, and get to work. Time’s a-wasting.

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