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Office giving; Boss expects employees to donate

>Q: Our manager is involved with a lot of community groups and charitable organizations. She is also a physical fitness nut who runs in marathons for various causes. The problem is that whenever she participates in something, she sends the staff an e-mail asking for contributions.

We see no reason why employees should be expected to support their boss' outside activities, but we don't want to offend her and jeopardize our job security. However, this has become very irritating. Is there a polite way to tell our manager to stop these requests?

A: Managers should never ask employees for money, because the power imbalance hampers their ability to refuse. Even if these are worthy causes, your boss' ongoing solicitations are completely inappropriate.

The best way to address this issue depends on the size of your organization. In a large company, the human resources department will be your natural ally. Any professional HR manager will immediately understand the problem and have a talk with your boss.

But if this is a small business, a direct conversation may be necessary. A group discussion will carry less risk, so find a time when everyone is together, then describe your concerns in a noncritical manner.

For example: "We greatly respect all the work you do for charity. However, even if we support the cause, we can't necessarily make a donation. We hope you won't be offended if we are not able to contribute."

If these solutions don't seem feasible, another alternative is to individually respond to her e-mails with a polite refusal: "Unfortunately, I am not able to contribute at this time. However, I certainly admire the charitable work you are doing." If enough people decline, your manager will eventually get the message.

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>Q: After three months on the job, I have concluded that this is a toxic workplace. The owner and my boss argue constantly, then take their anger out on the staff. Employees never receive any praise and are always blamed if something goes wrong, so everyone spends a lot of time trying to cover their tracks.

I originally took this position just to have a paycheck, but now I feel trapped, because my long hours leave me no time to look for another job. Even though I'm a new graduate, I have enough savings to last for a year. Should I consider quitting?

A: Because managers tend to feel that hiring employed people is less risky, it's usually better to keep one job until you find another. If you leave now, you'll have to explain why you departed after only three months. Lacking first-hand knowledge of the situation, interviewers could easily assume that you were part of the problem.

Instead of returning to the ranks of the unemployed, start taking steps that might ultimately lead to a job offer. Research desirable employers, make networking contacts on Facebook or LinkedIn, get involved with community or professional groups. Focusing on a brighter future may help you tolerate this tension a little longer.

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>Q: Everyone in our office needs to concentrate, so the atmosphere is very quiet.

Unfortunately, the co-worker next to me constantly makes irritating sounds, such as humming, whistling or mumbling to herself. Her noises make it hard for me to focus on my work.

This woman is the kind of person who would intentionally get louder if I ask her to stop.

Her manager won't do anything about the problem. I can't move to a different cubicle, so what should I do about this?

A: Based on your description, you are not able to discuss the issue with your colleague, request help from management, or change your location. Given those limitations, a set of ear plugs would appear to be your only remaining option.

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