First, let's dispatch the awkward question on your minds: What do you get your favorite workplace advice columnist for Christmas? Easy breezy. I'd like a robot butler and robot butler accessories, like a pepper mill and a silver tray on which he can deliver my nightly dish of ice cream.
As happens every holiday season, you will soon hear news reports and considerable hemming and hawing about the hours American workers "waste" at their desks buying gifts online.
Hogwash. There are a multitude of online — and real life — distractions available to us year-round. And while any distraction — from playing Fruit Ninja on an iPad to picking teams in an NCAA basketball tournament bracket — eats up a little time, none dooms the economy. People find ways to get their work done while indulging in a few diversions that keep them sane.
And if someone is spending too much time browsing for the perfect gift, managers will catch on when the work isn't done. The bosses can then intervene as needed.
So please, bag blanket corporate efforts to block workplace gift-browsing. LET MY PEOPLE SHOP!
On to your questions:
Q: My daughter-in-law works for a very big company and is paid for 40 hours a week, but she winds up working about 90 hours a week with no other compensation. Jobs are scarce, she is one of their best employees and she doesn't want to say anything. Do you have any advice?
— Anonymous, via email
A: Many companies are operating with smaller workforces but expecting the same amount of production. So your daughter-in-law is far from alone in feeling overworked and, given the general salary stagnation, underpaid. (Note to editor: More money, please!)
At the same time, the scary job market has people so spooked, they're afraid to complain about the vending machine being out of Snickers, much less wanting fewer hours or better pay.
I spoke with a rather smart fellow named Aubrey Daniels, author of "OOPS! 13 Management Practices That Waste Time and Money (and what to do instead)" and a clinical psychologist who has made a career out of applying the principles of behavioral science to the workplace.
He said the last thing anyone should be doing in this economic climate is going to the boss and asking for a raise or in any way complaining about working too many hours. It's better to take a more tactical approach.
First off, Daniels said, employees should remember that most bosses are too removed from day-to-day operations to have a strong sense of how much any individual is working: "I suggest you find an opportunity to sit down with the boss and say, 'Let me show you a list of the things I've been doing. I'd like your feedback on them. I want to make sure what I'm doing is adding value and helping you get the things done that you want to get done.'"
Rather than complaining, you're highlighting the work you're doing and asking the boss to help you do it better. With a little finesse, you'll sound like a conscientious worker and not a suck-up or a complainer. As Daniels put it: "It's a way you can brag without bragging."
There's no reason to expect that this will result in some immediate reward. But …
"What you do is basically set yourself up for later on," Daniels said. "When there is money, when there are other opportunities, the boss is likely to think of you first."
Q: My supervisor is being transferred to a different department. The position she is vacating has just been posted. Although it would mean a fantastic career move for me, I have decided not to apply. I remain committed to my job but am concerned that not applying for this position will be considered a negative.
— Anonymous, via email
A: I can relate. The Republican Party has repeatedly asked me to throw my hat in the presidential race, but each time I tell it "no." I just feel the best way to serve my country is by answering workplace-related questions and making as many inappropriate jokes as possible. (Also, my Ron Paul allergy would keep me out of debates.)
I consulted several career coaches, and all agreed that employees shouldn't worry about how management might perceive the decision to skip a move up the corporate ladder.
"I don't think it makes you lazy to not want to assume a different type of role," said Debra Wheatman, president of the New York-based Careers Done Write. "The people who take those positions or interview and then wind up taking them because they think it's expected often wind up leaving because it's not the job they wanted."
What these situations can present is a good opportunity for workers to examine where they want their careers to go. Wheatman suggests taking a piece of paper and writing your career interests and goals on one side and the job description on the other.
"Look at how it matches up," she said. "Is it 50 percent interesting to you? Is it 75 percent? Is it an exact match? Where does it fall?"
If the opportunity doesn't seem right, figure out what opportunities might be attractive.
And if you think management is expecting you to jump at an opening, explain honestly why you're passing on the job.
"Honesty is the best policy," Wheatman said. "You can say, 'I love my job and I love what I've been doing, but this particular role doesn't seem like the best fit.'"
Chances are, your bosses will admire you for being a straight shooter.
Gotta run. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is calling. Looks like I have to break his heart again.
TALK TO REX: Ask workplace questions — anonymously or by name — and share stories with Rex Huppke at email@example.com, like Rex on Facebook at facebook.com/rexworkshere and find more at chicagotribune.com/ijustworkhere.