Q and A / HELP WANTED

Q and A

April 06, 2005

How to significantly cut your business traveling

Q. In a job that requires frequent travel, how do I manage to be away from home less and still do my job? H.U., Baltimore

A. The first thing to look at is whether the job really requires that much travel. Working from the home office is not only easier on you, but far more economical for your company.

Once you've established face-to-face relationships with your out-of-town contacts, a lot of tasks that once required travel can now be accomplished from your home office through wise use of the telephone, Internet, instant messaging and other electronic means.

If you carefully identify those tasks and get approval from your boss, you should be able to reduce your travel time significantly.

ELLEN KABCENELL WAYNE

assistant professor negotiations and conflict management

Q. What do I do when I'm expected to complete a task in a very specific way without any specific guidance? J.F., New York

A. First, be absolutely certain that there are no written formal guidelines or policies for performing the task or that co-workers have not forgotten to show you. This is not a question of incompetence on your part, but instead, a training issue.

Explain to your boss that you want to make sure you do the job right, but in order to do so, you will need specific instructions. If you have your own ideas on how to do it, this is a good time to show your boss you are a creative employee.

THOMAS MITCHELL

director of graduate programs in applied psychology

Q. My employee handbook says that I am an "at will employee," and that I can be fired (or leave) for any or no reason. What if there is an illegal, or false reason for being fired? Suppose there is discrimination against me (this is just a scenario); am I still able to fight it? Have I given up all legal rights by signing something like this? P.H., Columbia

A. The statement in the handbook does not change your rights. It just describes what is already the legal rule in Maryland and most other states, which is that employees work "at will" and can be fired for any or no reason.

There are many exceptions, including the discrimination laws that you mention. A common statement in employee handbooks that would change your rights is agreeing to submit all disputes with the employer to arbitration. That statement could take away your right to sue the employer in court.

MICHAEL HAYES

associate professor of law

Q. If I give a poor evaluation to one of my students but a senior colleague gives a more positive review, how do I reconcile that discrepancy without compromising my respect for the senior faculty member? A.U., New York

A. If you are concerned about losing respect for your colleague, there must be more to the situation than differing evaluations. Do you feel that this colleague is never willing to offer honest feedback? That you come off as the "bad guy?" That your differing judgments suggest different core values?

Consider your real concerns, and then schedule a time to discuss them with your colleague. Raise your concern about the differences in your assessments and compare notes. If you approach the conversation constructively, you both may be surprised at what you learn.

ELLEN KABCENELL WAYNE

University of Baltimore professors answer questions from readers about workplace issues. To submit a question, send it to working@baltsun.com or Working, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md., 21278-0001, or fax it to 410-783-2517

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