Office Coach: Stressed-out worker needs new mindset

Marie G. McIntyre
Tribune News Service

Q: After starting my new job, I realized that I’d made a serious mistake. My manager argues about everything and only communicates through email, even though she sits 3 feet from my desk. Instead of just turning around and speaking, “Debra” will actually email me that we need to talk.

Debra lies to management about project delays, blaming employees for her mistakes. She has thrown me under the bus so many times that I’m surprised I’m still standing. Her boss has completely checked out and spends most of his time on his private consulting business. He specifically told us not to bother him with our problems.

Although I’m looking for another job, I haven’t found one yet. I can’t bring my best self to the interviews because this place just keeps me too exhausted and worried. So what do I do now?

A: Your description makes this sound like an impossible dilemma. Your manager is incompetent, her boss doesn’t give a care and you’re too distraught to be an effective applicant. If the stress from this job prevents you from finding a new one, you will obviously be stuck forever.

Therefore, the initial step toward a solution is to change your view of this situation. By getting appointments with potential employers, you have actually succeeded with the first half of the job search process. Now you just need to learn how to ace the interviews.

Instead of blaming interview failures on workplace stress, begin “bringing your best self” by studying effective interview techniques. Present a professional image, show enthusiasm for the position, be ready to answer common questions. And never, ever complain to an interviewer about your current employer.

Q: One of my co-workers is not pleasant to be around. “Laura” regularly has coughing fits that cause her to hack up a lot of phlegm. Our manager says he can’t do anything because it’s probably a medical condition.

Recently, during a group lunch, Laura had a bad episode. She never apologized, but cleaned up the mess with napkins. She left them sitting in a pile on the table while the rest of us tried to eat. Although everyone was completely grossed out, no one said anything to her. What can we do?

A: You certainly win the prize for most disgusting question of the year. Regarding the restaurant incident, ignoring one embarrassing episode was kind. But if Laura repeats this behavior, someone should politely ask her to excuse herself whenever she feels an attack is imminent. Should she fail to comply, it might be time to stop inviting her to lunch.

As for your boss, he definitely has some options. He could justifiably ask Laura to head for the restroom when she feels a hacking fit coming on. Or if the coughing is continual, he might move her to a less-crowded area. Claiming to be powerless may simply be his way of avoiding an uncomfortable conversation.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.” Send in questions and get free coaching tips at, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.