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I’m Tracy Au and I have graduated from the Professional Writing program from university. I am an aspiring screenwriter, so this blog is used to promote my writing and attract people who will hire me to write for your TV show or movie. I write a lot about writing, TV, movies, jokes, and my daily life and opinions. I have another blog promoting my TV project at

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

"My co-worker yells at me"/ "My wife is dying. Would a prospective employer hire me?"

Sept. 12, 2016 "My coworker yells at me because of his own incompetence. What do I do?": I found this article in David Eddie's advice column.  This is a job advice and should have been in the business section of the newspaper.

The question

I have been working with a colleague for over six months. He is a receptionist, with lots of great experience. He is really good at what he does and everyone at the workplace likes him. Since my workplace is a small operation, he has to do some financial reporting. One of my responsibilities is to critique his work. I know he is not an expert in this area, so I have been pretty easy on him and never blamed him for his errors. But whenever he starts getting frustrated, he yells at me or gives me attitude. I have tried different ways to discuss his errors with him, but the situation does not improve. I am not his boss or supervisor, and this is also my first job. I don’t want to tell our supervisor because it will look like I am telling on him.

The answer

I know exactly how you feel and have been in similar situations many times. I think most people have.

It’s hard to know how to deal with a nasty and/or incompetent co-worker. One’s first impulse is to be noble and take Robert De Niro’s advice to young, would-be gangster Ray Liotta in Goodfellas: “Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut.”

(I love the gangsterish redundancy of that – “always keep your mouth shut” obviously would’ve covered it.)

But, well, my feelings on the matter have evolved over the years. I remember bouncing along in the bus on my way to my first real job, as a reporter for a tiny newspaper on Long Island called The East Hampton Star, the callow and jejune 22-year-old David Eddie, thinking: “My policy will be not only will I honestly admit to my mistakes, but will nobly ‘fall on the grenade’ sometimes for my colleagues and take responsibility for theirs.”

When my colleagues found out this was my policy, they started dumping their mistakes on me wholesale, and I was out of a job by the end of the summer.
Point being, your first duty is to yourself, and quite often, your colleagues will turn out to be unworthy of your scrupulous unwillingness to rat them out.

Get fired, then see what a pal this guy turns out to be. How worthy he was of your scruples. How quickly he returns your calls.

In other words, if he’s compromising your reputation or ability to perform your work properly, you need to protect yourself.

And here I’ll sound like a right little snitch, but you have a duty also to your boss and the company. They pay your bills, hello?

They need to know if there’s a weak link or a problem – especially in a small company.
This may seem like an obscure point, but bear with me: I recently read a very provocative and interesting book called Sapiens by Yuval Harari. It’s a weighty tome, full of thoughts and facts and history, but his essential thesis is this: The main reason behind the supremacy of homo sapiens over all other species (including bigger, faster hominids) is our ability to organize into large groups and accomplish things as a team.

He uses the odd example of nuclear weapons, which as he points out require co-operation from thousands of homo sapiens all across the planet – to mine the uranium, design the weapons, manufacture, oversee, etc.

But for a large co-operative entity (a “corporation”) such as that to function, you need lots of communication and information – especially about where to find the weak links, bottlenecks, obstructions and underperformers. And that information, Harari claims, tends to be conveyed via the medium of gossip.

In other words, gossip – especially gossip about underperforming members of a co-operative group – is hugely responsible for the success of our species.
(I suppose gossip about who’s shagging whom has an evolutionary function too, but he doesn’t really go into that.)

Therefore I would say not to feel too guilty about your urge to rat this guy out to your boss. It’s in your DNA! It’s for the good of the co-operative unit – your company.
Slight caveat, though: You say, “He does a really good job and everyone likes him.” Also that he has a lot of experience and it’s your first job.

So some humility and reflection is called for. Could it be that you’re in the wrong, and/or taking the wrong tack with him? And that you might be shooting yourself in the foot by complaining?

I don’t have enough information to pronounce on this score, but take a long look at the woman in the mirror before you act.

P.S. He “yells” at you? I hope that’s an exaggeration. Yelling’s out. That alone would propel me into the boss’s office to spill the beans.

Document, document, document. Cover yourself.

Donalda Duck
People who lack confidence often drag others down with them to make themselves look better and in this case it's you. I rarely agree with Dave, but in this instance I have to. If this person is impeding your ability to do your job effectively, you must protect yourself. Document everything, file it with a supervisor of yours and keep yourself "clean" in it all. Do it right, and don't let this person kill your career along with theirs.

I would definitely emphasize humility. Whenever you do approach your bosses/supervisor on this issue, preface your comments as you do in your letter. Note that 1) its your first job and hence you come with some hesitation, 2) you commend this guys work as a secretary and like him as a person, and 3) you understand his primary role is not in finance. That said, he is making mistakes and getting frustrated about it and it is having a negative impact on you and might have one on the company. Easy peasy. Imagine if you were the boss, wouldn't you want to know. Many people complain about management, but how can we expect people to manage when they don't have all of the information they should at hand. It takes us to ensure that they do.

Dec. 13, 2016 "My wife is dying.  Would a prospective employer hire me?": I cut out this article in the Globe and Mail on Mar. 9, 2015.  This was in the business section:

Are you facing a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine to Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to


My spouse is facing a terminal illness and I am her only caregiver.
My employer has allowed me to work from home some days, and on others I have taken a vacation day just to keep an eye on her. But my employer's actions have been less than supportive.

They expect me to not to miss deadlines despite emergencies at home, and set unrealistic goals that do not take into account my situation. Even without my home issues, the stress of my job has been taking its toll on my health. I need to look for work before my health degenerates further or I am fired.

My question is: Would a prospective employer take on an employee with a difficult shortterm situation?


Bill Howatt President of Howatt HR Consulting, Kentville, N.S.

Most employers have empathy for employees in your situation, and it appears even your employer has made some efforts to accommodate you. At the core of this issue is that each employer defines what they believe is fair, reasonable and what they can afford.

If you are looking for time off without pay versus time off with pay, these are two different requests. It appears you are looking for an employer who can accommodate your needs on short notice and who will pay you whether you are working or not.

When the stakes are high, it is valuable to step back and define exactly what you want from your employer. Write out your answer and be detailed. Then you will have framed your expectation for time off and money.

Before looking for another job, it is worth meeting with HR and
your manager. They know you are in a tough situation but they may be unaware of how you are feeling. If you have skills they value, they may be open to exploring what else they can do for you. Having a track record can be helpful in these kinds of cases.

Before adding more change to your life, this may be a prudent thing to do.
There are certainly lots of employers out there who care deeply about their employees.
However, as a new employee, it may be difficult to find an employer who is willing to compensate you if you are not able work within defined parameters.

Organizations create benefits programs to protect employees' income within limits they can afford. Insurance companies provide critical health and disability insurance to help employees bridge income gaps when their benefits run out or do not cover such situations. In your case, you will need to decide what you can afford to do, regardless of what your current or new employer is willing to do.


Kyle Couch President of Spectrum Organizational Development, Toronto

Caregivers in the workplace are becoming more common than many people realize. Therefore, more companies are developing programs and work policies to retain and attract talented employees who also have caregiver responsibilities.

While there is not a definitive list of employers that will be more supportive, be on the lookout for companies that tout programs to promote work-life balance, including parental support, flextime programs, and work-at-home potential. These companies all tend to take a long-term view of their employees, understanding that situations and lives change.
If you do pursue a new job, be sure your prospective employer is aware of the demands on your time, and get their commitment for support and flexibility.


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