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Posts in "Getting Paid"
August 8, 2014
It turns out Capitol Hill isn’t without its perks, at least as observed by outsiders.
Hill Navigator received a number of responses on “I Was Told There’d Be Perks” from staffers and would-be staffers arguing that Capitol Hill does, in fact, have perks.
Hill staffers get health insurance, Metro benefits, books from the Library of Congress delivered to their door, underground parking, matching thrift savings plan contributions. There are options for student loan repayment, professional development, even staff trips to far-off places like Alaska or China.
There is a gym for staff, credit unions on both the House and Senate side, and professional organizations like the Office of Compliance that are dedicated to helping staffers out of uncomfortable situations.
So what other “perks” would be missing?
Being a congressional staffer is a great privilege with many benefits. But the traditional “perks” that one asks for — such as more time off, a bigger bonus or travel and entertainment budget — are still not part of the job culture. Rather, expanding responsibilities and knowledge is what most Hill staffers are seeking, including the questioner, and advice was given as such.
But for anyone who feels they need more out of their job on Capitol Hill, you’re right to keep pushing for more responsibilities and ways to learn. What constitutes a “perk” is a matter of perspective, and a rewarding job tends to have quite a few.
Read the original post: I Was Told There’d Be Perks
August 6, 2014
Think Capitol Hill jobs could use a few more perks? Don’t call an UberX just yet. Hill Navigator discusses the tangible benefits of working in Congress.
Q. I’ve been repeatedly asking about a pay increase in my office, but I’m running into a wall because the next most senior staffer in the office makes about the same as me and isn’t actively pursuing a raise. I got a title bump the last time I pushed for a raise, but now I can’t think of any title that I could ask for. What other perks can I ask for? The usual things from other jobs like more time off and working from home privileges seem out of place on the Hill. I want to be here constantly!
A. Never has so much advice been given in the question in which it was asked. You wanted a raise, you got a title bump. You did your homework, you found your salary isn’t likely to move. In your hunt for privileges, you found out you already love your job.
Hill Navigator has something for you: A handshake and congratulations.
You’ve already maneuvered yourself well on Capitol Hill. Your office likes you enough to give you a title change (and hopefully some more responsibilities to go along with it) and you’re now on par with the most senior staffer in your office.
You’re looking for perks and you’re missing the biggest one: Being in an office, and doing good work, in a situation where you can thrive.
But yes, yes, you already knew that. So why won’t Hill Navigator get back to telling you how to maximize your current role with perks?
Because perks aren’t part of the Capitol Hill culture. Titles, information, access to higher-ups and influence within your realm are the currency in which Hill jobs are traded. There is no AmEx or expense account, no glamorous office and private bathroom unless your name is the on the door (and even then, not all are so glamorous, nor private).
Working for the government inherently means you’re working for others, not for profit. Yes, you may get your cell phone bill reimbursed, but you’re not going to have an Delonghi espresso machine anytime soon. No one on Capitol Hill does.
My advice to you: Learn as much as you can, work diligently, and take heart that you’re in an office where you’re so thrilled to be there that more time off isn’t even something you’d enjoy.
Want more Hill Navigator? Did you know you can get Hill Navigator delivered to your inbox? Go to the right hand sidebar and sign up under “SUBSCRIBE VIA EMAIL.”
July 21, 2014
Matt Dennis wasn’t used to making reporters wait for a response. But when he was on paternity leave, his newborn son Jonah took priority over his boss, Democratic Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York, so he put the BlackBerry aside.
“I was still taking calls, and packaging all the calls and emails for when the baby was sleeping,” said Dennis, now spokesman for House Appropriations Committee Democrats. “The press corps understands. If they were on deadline and I wasn’t able to get back, they knew to go to my chief of staff.”
Dennis was lucky — he received 10 weeks of paid paternity leave. But elsewhere on Capitol Hill, it’s an uphill battle for men who work in the House and want to stay home with their newborn. Leave policies vary widely by office; not all offices have stated policies, and those that do sometimes offer little or no paid leave.
The split is evident within House leadership. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., provides her staffers with 12 weeks paid paternity or maternity leave. Speaker John A. Boehner’s office offers two weeks of paid maternity or paternity leave as part of the national Family Medical Leave Act; the remaining 10 weeks are unpaid, though the Ohio Republican’s staff can use accrued vacation and sick days.
“Congress has, by tradition, delegated the responsibility of setting workplace rules to members themselves so this falls under that,” said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill.
June 25, 2014
For some of us, that answer is “yes.” It’s a reporter’s life’s for you.
And who can blame you? You can spend your day writing. You have readers. You can break news. You can write about issues you care about. It can be incredibly rewarding. So much so, that we all keep coming back every day to do it — Hill Navigator included.
Part of maintaining an effective advice column is knowing when someone else can provide the better answer; so when a question on cub reporting came in, Hill Navigator sought counsel from one of Roll Call’s own experts: Politics Editor Shira T. Center.
May 7, 2014
Maybe it’s the spring sunshine, or the abundant cherry blossoms, but Hill Navigator has noticed an uptick in questioners who have happily landed in their dream jobs and are asking what to do next. Make more contacts? Stay in touch with old ones? How to say thank you?
(Short answers: Yes, yes and a thank-you card.)
So this column is directed toward you, happy staffers. Here are some suggestions on what you can do next.
What? Is that some sort of typo? Surely Hill Navigator’s advice credentials must be fading already. Why on earth should a happy staffer interview for a job somewhere else?
Because it is best to interview when you are happy in your job. You can come to an interview with confidence and the ability to view the job objectively, rather than with the hangdog look of “please hire me” that tends to accompany desperate staffers who need to leave their job, posthaste.
The New York Times recently wrote that employers would rather hire people who are currently employed, rather than those looking for work. Hill Navigator argues this a step further and believes offices are more inclined to hire people who are happy in their current jobs, rather than those who are unhappy.
Here is why (and brace yourself for some armchair psychology). Happy staffers ARE all alike. If you’re the content, eager to work hard, friendly co-worker who organizes the March Madness pool and refills the coffee pot, then who WOULDN’T want to work with you? Happy offices want happy employees. Even the most savvy of us can have trouble hiding our true feelings if we’re dissatisfied in our job, and during the interview process this could inadvertently hurt your chances.
Still not sure you should be interviewing when you’re happy enough as is? Hill Navigator has a few more reasons for you to ponder.
1) It’s good to get out there. Maybe more offices are hoping to hire staffers with campaign experience, or maybe the salary range for your position has gone up. The best information is gleaned firsthand, and by taking the occasional interview you will know what your position is worth and what other skills you can brush up on.
2) Things change — sometimes quickly. If the ground shifts — a boss resigns, a CEO leaves or a company gets bought out and leaves the old staff behind — you don’t want to be caught without a lure in the water. Winds (and fortunes) can change overnight — just ask Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La., or Donald Sterling. Even if you’re happy where you are, know that situations change, for better and for worse, and you’d be wise to be prepared.
3) The better opportunity might be there. You might be happy in your job, but there might be something more suited to you. Maybe it’s a better location with an easier commute, maybe it’s a salary bump, or more (or less) travel. You won’t know unless you take the interview.
But take this advice to heart: Take an interview when it’s relevant to you, but if you know from the start the position is an ill fit, you can use your happy splendor of your current job to turn it down. Offices usually have a way of knowing when their star employees are interviewing elsewhere. It’s fine to keep them on their toes, but too many “afternoon doctor’s appointments” can give the wrong impression too.
And whatever you do, follow up with a thank-you note. Happy employee that you are, you probably knew that already.
April 23, 2014
Who said there was no drama in government work? How about when staffer health care benefits are coming under fire from lawmakers? Seems odd that the men and women trusted to run the government want to yank insurance coverage from their own staff, who largely make approximately 20 percent less than the competitive wages for their work. It may not be an episode of “Scandal,” but it’s frightening just the same.
Thirty-eight Republican members of Congress are backing Sen. Ron Johnson’s lawsuit against the Obama administration over employee contributions to staff health care.
The lawmakers, including Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and John McCain, R-Ariz., on Monday filed an amicus brief in Wisconsin federal court, supporting Johnson’s challenge to the Office of Personnel Management rule on the issue. In response to a March 17 Justice Department request to dismiss the lawsuit, the GOP members argue that Johnson’s case deserves to be heard.
“The unlawful executive action at issue in this case is not an isolated incident,” the 35-page brief states. “Rather, it is part of an ongoing campaign by the Executive Branch to rewrite the Affordable Care Act (‘ACA’) on a wholesale basis.”
Hill Navigator was a Hill staffer once and recognizes that there are sacrifices to be made on the job: long hours, less sleep, plenty of weekends (and vacations) dominated by vote schedules and press releases. But health insurance shouldn’t be one of them.
Staffers are there to ensure members of Congress can more effectively do their jobs: through constituent service, research, communication and the day-to-day tasks that come with being an elected representative. Staffers are there to help Congress function; they are the hardworking people who literally keep the lights on in the buildings. Members turning their ire on staffers seems undeserved and ill-advised. The emperor could soon be wearing no clothes.
Congress will certainly pull its share of political stunts; it’s a disappointment that threatening to take away benefits from staffers has now become one of them.
March 12, 2014
It’s not every day someone chronicles the aftermath of a fall from grace.
But former Politico reporter Joe Williams did just that in his tell-all piece in The Atlantic, “My Life as a Retail Worker: Nasty, Brutish, and Poor.” Williams went to work at a sporting goods retail store, the only job he could find after an on-air gaffe and negative press about his personal life landed him out of a job and without many prospects.
“Of course, I had no idea what a modern retail job demanded. I didn’t realize the stamina that would be necessary, the extra, unpaid duties that would be tacked on, or the required disregard for one’s own self-esteem. “
Williams goes on to talk about the indignity of being searched after each shift, the extra unpaid duties including taking out mounds of trash and mopping bathroom floors. He touches on minimum wage and overtime — things Hill staffers are exempt from under the Fair Labor Standards Act but that are real issues for the rest of the working world. He also laments the great divide between his old life and new.
“Having once supervised an 80-member news division of a major metropolitan newspaper, the first weeks on my new job triggered a self-esteem meltdown. Flygirl, a supervisor half my age with a high school diploma, critiqued my shirt folding. I fruitlessly searched the shoe stockroom for the right size and style for an impatient customer. I silently prayed no one who knew me would come in during my shift.”
Hill Navigator recommends this as a read for anyone who constantly wonders about their own job happiness and well-being. Whether you are reading this sitting at your desk sorting constituent mail, drinking a latte at your best job ever or while wondering if your current job will ever promote you — now is as good a time as any to take stock that things can change. Quickly.
The people at the top — you included — do not always stay there for very long. It’s worth your time and energy to maintain your connections and continue to make new ones. Sure, it’s good to know lots of chiefs of staff, but keep in mind that the staff assistants won’t always be answering phones. They — like you and Joe Williams — are on the move to bigger and better things.
(h/t to Clinton Yates’s Lunchline for the recommendation.)
Capitol Hill got you down? Maybe you didn’t get the press secretary position you were so qualified for. Maybe your merit raise hardly amounted to a cost-of-living adjustment? Or perhaps the boss that loved you is retiring, or caught in some embarrassing scandal, and you’re done listening to people scream at you over the telephone.
Whatever it is, it’s not your day. Or week. Or year.
Hill Navigator has some advice for you, world-weary staffer. Hang in there. All careers have ups and downs. Even Barack Obama lost an election once. But he rebounded in due time, as you will. Hill Navigator has some tips to help you weather the storm, all the while maintaining your cool, calm facade.
Do good work: All the time. Even if you are in a job you hate, do the job as well as you can. All of your co-workers are witnesses to your awesomeness; if they see you sulking or playing Candy Crush, that’s what they’ll remember. These people are the core of your soon-to-be-expanding network, so make sure they think you’re outstanding. Remember that being a stellar employee is easy to do in your dream job, but how you operate in the dire circumstances says more about your work ethic and professionalism.
Keep your standards: Do not be tempted by a quick fix, a few bucks, or even a snazzy title if you know this is not going to be what suits you long term. If you are not going to rock the job, then wait and find one that you will. Hill Navigator understands that sometimes we take jobs because we need — not want — them. But come up with some standards and do your best to stick to them. Whether it’s working for a member you feel invested in or getting a salary you feel suits your talents, take your job search slow rather than jumping into anything that waves a dollar or fancy title in front of your face.
Don’t make financial decisions on an empty stomach: Do not make any work-life-money decisions while caught up in the moment. Take time to think about what your options are — preferably in a situation outside of work when you’re well-rested and with a clear head.
Avoid the drama: You’re probably never going to get the “Jerry Maguire” “Who’s coming with me?” moment. You probably won’t even get the Bridget Jones or “Half Baked” versions either. Real job departures are quieter, more complicated and don’t involve goldfish. If you’re departing, there are loose ends to tie up, vacation days to cash out and health insurance to figure out. You don’t want to leave with a flourish; you want to leave with a plan.
Don’t let one represent all: Say you like your job and work, but there just happens to be one person whose vision/actions/attitudes are making you want to bolt. Think hard before considering making a drastic move on the basis of one person. If it’s a toxic office, yes, try and get out of there post-haste. But if it’s one person who is too big for her or his britches in an otherwise pleasant environment, see if you can thrive despite him or her. Connect with the co-workers you do get along with; find ways to collaborate on projects with those whose work style best complements your own. You’ll always have an oddball co-worker. Focus on steering your energy away from that person and toward more productive and effective people.
Recognize this is all part of the ups and downs of a career: You’ll kiss a lot of frogs before finding a prince, just as you’ll have stellar and dire moments in your long career. (Unless you’re Sheryl Sandberg, but most of us aren’t.) There will be a job well-suited to you, even if it’s not the one you have now. The bad doesn’t last, but the good doesn’t, either. Think of this as a test for how well you handle rough transitions. You’ll be glad you kept your wits about you.
January 15, 2014
“This is a business. And we keep punishing ourselves by eliminating the tools necessary to run our businesses properly.”
Such is the quote from a senior manager on Capitol Hill, responding to a survey by the Congressional Management Foundation as quoted in Wednesday’s Roll Call.
It turns out that salary freezes, health care benefit transitions and threats of additional cuts aren’t just bad for morale, they’re bad for business, too.
From the Guest Observer column written by CMF President Brad Fitch:
In a survey conducted by the Congressional Management Foundation, 81 percent of senior managers felt they would lose staffers as a result of the salary freezes, and 79 percent said staff would leave because of the health care benefit transition. Equally unsettling, when asked if they would look for another job in the next 12 months, four in 10 chiefs of staff and state/district directors said yes.
Fitch offers some advice to improve the situation on Capitol Hill: Engage the staff, give raises and bonuses, and maximize efficiency. But even the optimistic Fitch acknowledges the situation on Capitol Hill can be tough to change without buy-in from the boss:
Finally, the biggest obstacle to employing these strategies will be the toughest to overcome: the member. Politicians hate saying no, and have high expectations for themselves and the people they hire. But having that uncomfortable conversation with the legislator, asking what the office will not do, is the most critical component to adapting to these major changes to the office environment.
Here’s hoping for a better 2014 on and off Capitol Hill.
December 26, 2013
How has it been one year since Hill Navigator started giving workplace advice? It seems like not that long ago that we started asking for submissions about the concerns and questions Hill staffers have about their jobs. Sure enough, questions came in. People want to get on the Hill or get off the Hill. Staffers want more money or a date or a title change. And sometimes they just want to vent.
It’s tough to pick favorites, so consider this is a list of Hill Navigator columns that are worth a second read. And if you feel differently, let me know. Feedback from readers is one of the best parts of the job (though strangely, I have yet to receive the question about how to find work in a newsroom …)
1. The campaign vs. office debate. There are two sides to every political tale: the campaign and the office. Hill Navigator listed out some ways the congressional office is NOT the campaign trail, and some ways that the campaign trail is NOT your congressional office. Best bet for long-term happiness in congressional politics? Spend some time in both worlds. Just not simultaneously.
2. Interns! Hill Navigator might not have a column if not for people clamoring to work on Capitol Hill or interns trying to find their way to a fully paid position. And should interns be paid? The debate continues.
3. Best Flack Ever. I’ve been lucky enough to play for both sides of the reporter/flack ballgame. All too often, I receive pitches from people who haven’t done their due diligence to research my beat or newspaper. A little intelligence goes a long way toward getting your newsworthy item noticed.
4. You’re Not that Busy. At least, you shouldn’t be. I was inspired to write this after speaking with a dear friend who lamented not being able to get all of her work done. Hill staffers are hard-wired to say “yes” to any assignment, but putting some limits on what you can and can’t do might be the answer to finding time to relax and unwind — which, in turn, can make you more productive.
5. Maternity Leave. How is there not more written on the topic of the inconsistent and often abysmal leave policies for new parents? Hill Navigator explored what Capitol Hill offers for maternity and paternity leave. Spoiler alert: Hill Navigator is not yet done proselytizing on this topic. Expect a few more working-parent columns next year. And a baby picture thrown in for good measure.
Hill Navigator wishes you a wonderful holiday season. See you in January.
December 4, 2013
Think your office likes you? Really likes you? Sure, a manager can dole out praise and Christmas gift baskets with maple syrup straight from the home state. But when it comes to substantial raises, most offices plead indigent and offer a small cost-of-living adjustment. Hill Navigator is here to break the bad news, or at least prepare you for a better conversation.
Q. Thanks for your columns in the past about salary negotiations. As the year ends, I am thinking about my salary but also a year-end bonus. Do you have any advice? I know my office cries poverty but I think they have enough left in the budget to give us all a hefty bonus!
This might be the least popular Hill Navigator answer yet.
But I have bad news for you on salary negotiations. They don’t really work. Full story
November 18, 2013
It seems not too long ago that Hill Navigator was penning columns on maternity leave and the need for all working parents to be able to take time off without fear of losing a job or health insurance.
But even the best of maternity leaves come to an end.
Hill Navigator is back — in a full-time capacity — and waiting for your questions. Or your comments. Or angry tweets. Whatever it may be.
A word of thanks: I am particularly grateful to Roll Call’s editorial team for their flexibility in allowing me to file stories at odd hours and taking on a number of my editing duties in my absence. Particular thanks to Hill Navigator’s editor, Jason Dick, who made sure that each of the Hill Navigator posts ran on schedule, and to Roll Call’s social-media guru, Cyra Master, who made sure Hill Navigator was included on Roll Call’s social-media outlets each week.
I still believe that every new parent — especially those who work for our government right here in Washington, D.C. — deserve the option of maternity and paternity leave. Even with all the benefits that the Family and Medical Leave Act provides for some, congressional offices still have some catching up to do.
Until then, please keep sending all your questions, quirks and candid comments about all things Capitol Hill.
July 26, 2013
What happens to your life on Capitol Hill if you’ve got a baby on the way? While leave policies vary among offices, there are several key pieces of information and terms that might be helpful in making a graceful exit for maternity/paternity leave and knowing what to talk about in your office.
Hill Navigator is going to skip the section about how the stork arrives with a baby in tow. While this space may be ripe for a Sheryl Sandberg-esque conversation for what having a baby means for your career, this particular column will focus on the specifics of leave policies and how a staffer can better prepare for a significant life change. And for those curious about why I’m broaching this particularly personal topic, see the final question.
The key to understanding maternity/paternity leave policies on Capitol Hill is to know this: They are not the same for every office. All 535 fiefdoms make their own rules, which can be based on anything from time spent on staff to gender to what type of birth the mother has. So each guideline below is just that — a map for investigating what your office has to offer. Hill Navigator strongly encourages you to read your office handbook, contact the Office of Compliance (compliance.gov or 202-724-9250), and take stock of your accrued vacation and personal time before coming up with a plan. Full story
June 25, 2013
At the end of the day, we all want to get paid for our work.
Washington, D.C., the land of hard work and endless ambition, is also chock-full of taxpaying citizens with mortgages to pay or a rent check to write.
Compensation conversations can be awkward. Even the Congressional Management Guide for members’ offices states that clear conversations regarding compensation and expectations can be some of the most difficult — yet necessary — to have upfront.
A good manager makes employees feel valued, and part of that comes from salary. Unless it’s your name on the bronze plate on the door, you’re likely to have at least one co-worker who makes more than you.
So what do you do if you feel your salary is off-base? This week’s Hill Navigator broaches what happens when office compensation is called into question.
Q. I recently found out that my co-worker, who has the same job as I do, makes about $25K more than me. In terms of age and experience, we are about the same. He has been with the company a year longer than I have and probably made a bit more than I did (maybe $5-7K more) in his previous position. We were both hired internally to work on a new project our company recently launched.
I did get a salary increase from what I was paid at my previous position, but it was less than what I asked for. I was told the company could not afford to pay what I asked. But not long after that, they offered my co-worker a significantly higher amount.
One obvious difference between my co-worker and myself is that I am a woman and he is a man. Whether or not that is the reason behind the pay discrepancy, I think it needs to be addressed. However, I don’t want to jeopardize my co-worker in any way, or get him in trouble with our bosses. He doesn’t know that I know what he makes; I found out by accident through a mutual friend.
My co-worker is a nice guy and I don’t begrudge him the money he makes. I just want to be compensated fairly. What do I do?
A. There are a few pieces to keep in mind here.
One, your mutual friend might not be accurately reporting things.
Two, your co-worker’s negotiations could have been very different than yours. One of the most effective ways to get a raise is to have a competing job offer in hand. Or perhaps he has a unique skill set that your company was willing to pay extra to acquire.
Keeping that in mind, the best way to get a pay increase is not through rumors or hints. It’s through homework and research. Find out what people in your city and your industry with your age and experience are making. Any industry-related publication should have those details (for Capitol Hill staffers, there is always LegiStorm). Then, keep track of your accomplishments and goals for the long and short term within your company. Ask to schedule an annual (or semi-annual) review with your supervisor and come up with a plan for you to increase your compensation over time. Keep the conversation focused on YOU and YOUR work, not your co-workers’ actions and compensation.
Finally, if you think this is a case of discrimination, take a good, hard look at the situation. If your research gives you a clear picture, then ask to meet with your HR department or contact outside counsel. Unfortunately, Hill Navigator is not an attorney so I can’t offer you advice on legal matters. But I can tell you that knowledge is power. If you think you have a legal issue on your hands, then start documenting the process now.
May 23, 2013
Is your office affected by furloughs? This week, C. Simon Davidon’s bimonthly column in Roll Call is dedicated to explaining the rules for staffers on furlough who are trying to make extra cash.
The short answer: Don’t try to work at your old law firm. You’re better off sitting this one out.
Q. I am chief of staff for a member of the House with a question about how House ethics rules might impact staffers on furlough. The recent sequester has cut budgets for members’ offices, and we are working through how to deal with the cuts. I am wondering whether the rules would allow staffers to do part-time work with their former law firms if they are placed on furlough. I know that conflict-of-interest rules prohibit staffers from doing some types of outside work, including legal work for clients. But, would this restriction apply to staffers on furlough? And, would it apply even if the staffers were to do purely administrative work and perform no legal services at a law firm?
Read his full answer here.
And if you have any additional questions on handling the delicate etiquette matters that come with putting hardworking and often under-compensated staff on unpaid leave, send them in. All Hill Navigator submissions are treated anonymously.