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Posts in "Interoffice Politics"
July 31, 2014
U.S. Capitol employees are reporting more claims of discrimination and harassment — a 20 percent increase from the previous year, according to a report released Thursday by the Office of Compliance.
In fiscal 2013, the OOC tallied 164 claims of workplace discrimination and/or harassment from employees working at the Capitol, anyone from a chief of staff to a Capitol Police officer. The 2012 figure was 134 allegations, but the increase is believed to be from more staffers coming forward, not because workplace conditions have changed.
The most common complaints were of discrimination or harassment based on race, followed by sex, gender or pregnancy, then disabilities or age. There were small numbers of allegations based on national origin and religion.
An example of such an allegation could be someone not receiving a promotion because of their gender or age.
“The OOC has prioritized outreach and education this year, so our hope is that the rise in the number of employees contacting our office with these issues [harassment and discrimination] is a byproduct of a more informed workforce,” said Scott Mulligan, deputy executive director of the Office of Compliance.
Claims of discrimination and/or harassment on Capitol Hill have remained relatively constant since 2009, according to the report. Employees who file requests for counseling often allege multiple types of discrimination, though not all employees who receive counseling decide to file formal complaints.
July 29, 2014
Before the age of emails, people would leave nasty voice mails. It was a quick and efficient way to get your message across without having the face-to-face encounter that so many people want to avoid. But now there is email. Don’t like the tone someone takes with a constituent? Put it in email. Saw some errors on that last press release? Fire off an email. Did something go through without your approval? Write that in an email and send it right off.
We’re all sending and receiving mean emails. Yes, some people call these emails “feedback” but let’s call it what it is: An unpleasant message that will likely ruin your day and cause you to whine to your friends that you need a new job, one with a boss who really understands and appreciates you.
Maybe that’s true. But mean emails are a part of life, especially on Capitol Hill, where such unfriendly messages can be the preferred mode of communication. Hill Navigator isn’t here to banish the mean email; we all need feedback, we learn from constructive criticism, and sometimes, even the best of us are just plain wrong. But there are ways to go about writing and receiving mean emails more effectively, which we hope can lead to more harmony for all. Full story
July 23, 2014
Every office has one: The person whom you aren’t quite sure how he landed a job. Or how she graduated college. Or managed to wear matching shoes.
It’s the office fool, the person so ridiculously unwise you can’t understand why he is still employed. But he is, and you have to work with him, even if he doesn’t know how to pronounce “Boehner” or correctly transfer a phone call.
Here’s the thing about fools: They are everywhere. They are elected to Congress, they craft legislation, answer phones, pitch reporters, all the while accidentally deleting your emails and preventing Metro doors from closing.
So how can one handle the swarm of fools ruining the day? Hill Navigator is not here to help banish fools. They are inescapable. If one fool goes away, another will pop in to take her place. But there are better ways to handle someone whose mere presence is an affront to effective offices everywhere. Full story
June 10, 2014
In 2004, during the debate for the now-defunct Federal Marriage Amendment, tensions on Capitol Hill for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community had reached unprecedented levels. Gay staffers were being singled out in an aggressive “outing” campaign, with hostile phone calls to their homes and offices, and even personal confrontations. Four staffers decided to take action, forming the Gay, Lesbian and Allies Senate Staff Caucus. ”It was imperative for the LGBT community to have a safe space,” said Jeffrey Levensaler, one of the founders of GLASS and currently deputy chief of staff to Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.
“People both on and off the Hill were just looking for someone to talk to,” said Lynden Armstrong, a GLASS co-founder who now works as director of communication and technology integration for the Senate sergeant-at-arms. “It was our first very public opportunity to support our community,” said Armstrong, who worked for Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., at the time. Full story
April 30, 2014
It’s not unusual to disagree with your party platform on some issues. But what happens when the disagreement includes your personal life? Even with recent sweeping policy changes — which Hill Navigator strongly endorses — not all gay staffers may feel at home on Capitol Hill. Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. I am a gay Republican staffer. I am quite comfortable with who I am and live my personal life openly, but am afraid to do the same with my professional life as I fear it may hold me back as I continue to advance my career on the Hill working for Republicans. Do you have any advice for my situation?
A. Republicans and Democrats alike have wide disparities in their political beliefs and subsequent expectations for their staffers. And LGBT issues have evolved rapidly; there are many members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, for whom your personal life would not be any issue whatsoever.
My advice to you is to speak to someone who has been in your shoes. Hill staffers are nothing if not resourceful, and in anticipation of questions like these (and before the days of Hill Navigator), staffers created the Gay, Lesbian and Allies Senate Staff Caucus in 2004, during the now-defunct debate over the Federal Marriage Amendment. GLASS celebrated its 10-year anniversary this week; it is a bipartisan organization with a focus on professional development and mentoring. This is the ideal place to start delving into how you can maximize your chances of professional success as you climb the party ladder.
But perhaps this is an issue that is a bit closer to home and you are unsure how your current office would react. If there is a co-worker you trust, consider being open and honest with him or her. If given a reason to believe your office will be accepting, then perhaps that is the cue you need.
And if this trusted person doesn’t give such an indication — though I hope very much that it is provided — then take the time to think about what it means to work in an office where you cannot be fully honest with your boss. The Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 provides some protection for Hill staffers from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation*, but even that might not be enough to maximize your growth and promotion opportunities. Every staffer disagrees with the boss on some issues, but sometimes there are deal-breakers. I hope, for your sake, that this is not it.
*But not all protections. Per the Office of Compliance, it is judged case by case until Congress passes legislation such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.
April 7, 2014
Everyone has bad days. The Metro breaks down (in a tunnel). Coffee spills (on your keyboard). And errors are made (that the boss catches). So how do you bounce back when you know you’ve erred? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. I’ve been on the Hill for almost six years. The first few years were smooth sailing. My boss and I had a decent (albeit not close) relationship, but he was pleased with me.
Two years ago, I made a mistake. I don’t think it was a major one, but he thought so. There was zero fallout from it, but he was very upset.
Since that time, my boss scrutinizes everything I say and do. I can’t have a conversation without my boss interrupting me with a million questions about information I haven’t given yet. He’s constantly challenging and second guessing me in nearly every discussion — even on the most mundane details. When I need to talk to him, I need multiple sources of proof before he’ll even look at me. My writing, which used to come back with minor edits, is now terrible, and everything I write must be rewritten. (He once returned something to me that the communications director wrote. He said it was terrible and wanted it redone. The communications director came over and claimed ownership. He looked shocked at the two of us and stomped off angrily. The item was never approved.)
Almost every conversation with my boss will come back to a hostile debate on whether or not I’m competent or if I care about my job. He has declared it open season on me.
If my boss can’t even trust me to know the location of a briefing I planned (and that did happen), I realize I can no longer work in this office. That’s a shame because I’ve dedicated so much to my job, but I’m literally exhausted. I’m also hurt that my own boss cannot grant me the latitude and flexibility he has given others.
In the meantime, how do I get through this very difficult situation? I fear I won’t get a good recommendation no matter what I do now, and I feel held hostage by this office. I cannot trust him or anyone else.
A. Yikes. Hill Navigator feels your pain. Even if your error was egregious — which you say it wasn’t — people should be able to make mistakes and move on. If the mistake was reprehensible, than the boss should have let you go, rather than stay there and wither under his thumb.
It’s time to start looking for another office.
Here is why: Your boss is not forgiving your past mistakes, his statement of forgiveness belies his actions. You feel “held hostage” and “cannot trust him or anyone else.” Neither of those bodes well for a good office environment where you can learn and grow professionally.
As for the recommendation, find someone you work well with in the office and ask them to be a reference. If you’ve truly given your best effort despite previous mistakes, that shows a dedicated work ethic and perseverance, which a future employer can appreciate. If the entire office is in cahoots with the unforgiving boss, see if a former co-worker can serve as the reference. If that still turns up nothing, then find people elsewhere who can vouch for your good work. It’s helpful to have a reference from a current job, but not necessary.
And whatever you do, leave on the best terms possible. Even if everyone is happy to see you go, continue to keep your head down and do good work. This way, at least you’ll give them a reason to miss you.
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March 18, 2014
We’ve all been there — qualified, hopeful, ready to hit the ground running but ultimately not the one picked for the job. But what happens when you aren’t even given a chance to apply? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. I’m an intern in a Senate office, and I truly love my job. Lately my office has been experiencing a lot of turnover: LA’s and LC’s moving on, and one of our old staff assistants moved back to the state to work in the state office. Instead of hiring a new staff assistant, the Chief of Staff and HR person decided to pick an interim from within the intern pool. They just decided to go with the oldest, (not me), and I was a little frustrated with the situation. If it would have been an interview process and I lost I would be fine with that, but the fact it was just a pick seems unfair.
I also got stuck with all of the other interns tasks, which I am going to nail because I want to prove they made a mistake in not hiring me. I don’t really want to mention it to anyone in the office, because I don’t want to be ‘that guy’ who complains about not getting the job. The other intern is a good friend, but I would have killed for that job as a way to further prove myself and I just don’t know what to do now.
A. Keep doing what you’re doing.
Hill Navigator has heard of a lot of unusual hiring practices — picking someone who is the “oldest” might be a new one. It is not unusual to give a promotion based on length of tenure or seniority, if that is what you’re referring to. But let’s assume this was an arbitrary hiring decision, and had you been born in January and not July, the job could have been yours.
You’re correct; don’t be “that guy” who complains. But do take the time to connect with your direct supervisor about more ways you can position yourself for a full-time, paid job. It is no secret, nor is it unusual, that someone who interns on Capitol Hill will want to work on Capitol Hill. That pipeline exists for a reason.
Pick a time to talk with your supervisor and frame the conversation about your goals and the best way for you to get there. As you said, you don’t need to lambast the office for its unusual hiring practices. It’s also possible there are forces at work behind the scenes that helped your friend get the job. He might have earned it through sheer hard work, or the senator could have taken a particular liking to him, or his father could be a major campaign donor back home. (Don’t look so shocked. It happens.)
And take the time to work closely with your friend in his new post. At the rate the office turnover is happening, he could move up much faster than either of you anticipate. And then there will be another staff assistant opening, one you are well suited to be selected for.
March 11, 2014
It’s no news to anyone that Capitol Hill’s close quarters and young staffers produce some intraoffice dating scenarios. It’s only newsworthy when the congressman’s involved, but what happens when it’s just two lonely legislative assistants, quietly getting together after hours? Hill Navigator has some advice for everyone involved — bystanders included.
Q. I recently saw two of my coworkers out at a restaurant … and they were very close, like obviously on a date! They pretended not to see me but I don’t know what to say, if anything. It’s a very awkward position to be in! What do you think? Thank you!
A. Good news. Hill Navigator has a foolproof answer for you. Full story
February 11, 2014
So you’ve done it. Somehow — whether through good luck, hard work, a huge risk or just a big, karma-esque reward — you’ve landed your dream job. The pay is great, the hours are what you want, the experience is rewarding, and by all measures you’re succeeding in the role.
You’re sporting a Cheshire cat grin, a hard pin, an AmEx Black expense account, whatever it might be. You can’t believe how great this job is! You don’t even need to read a job advice column, you should be writing this yourself.
Hill Navigator is full of advice for aspiring job seekers and those who want to improve their situation. So in the spirit of fairness, we’re offering advice to those who have already mastered the game of job satisfaction, with the hope that one day, each reader will have a chance to be the recipient. Full story
November 25, 2013
Blame Congress. That’s what opinion polls seem to suggest that the general public does. But what if the problem isn’t Congress, but a set of ruthless co-workers? Hill Navigator discusses why competitive offices may not be confined to the Capitol.
Q. My office suffers from a bit of unhealthy competitiveness. What do you make of competition that puts individual performance over the goals of the member of Congress that we work for? This is clearly the case when co-workers undercut and subvert the work of others in order to appear more intelligent or capable. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a phenomenon anywhere other than Capitol Hill. Does such a dog-eat-dog mentality exist in the private sector? What is to be made of competition that puts individual performance over the goals of the employer?
A. Sorry to be the one to tell you, but no workplace — public or private — is exempt from the dog-eat-dog mentality you mention. Capitol Hill has it. The White House has it. Private companies have it. Even newsrooms have it!
Capitol Hill is brimming with high-achieving, goal-oriented masters of big ideas and small talk. You can’t get elected to Congress without it. You might land some incredible co-workers who will push you to do your best. But sometimes that same intense drive to be recognized for success can backfire, particularly when it comes at the expense of a co-worker.
What to do if you’ve landed in such an office? Full story
September 20, 2013
Capitol Hill offices commonly hire entry-level staff from their field of interns. (No, this is not a paid vs. unpaid internship story, but you can read those here, here and here). So what can an intern do to ensure a smooth transition to full-fledged staffer? Hill Navigator — a former intern herself — offers some words of wisdom below.
Q: I have been interning for a representative for a few months and was recently hired as a full-time staffer. I am beyond excited for my new job, but a little worried about the transition (both for myself and for other staffers) from intern to full time. What can I do to differentiate myself from my past role?
A: Congratulations on the new job. Presumably you’ve been promoted because you did outstanding work as an intern. So keep in mind that the skills and work ethic you exhibited initially are the same ones your office is likely hoping will continue. If you weren’t “too big” to make coffee as an intern, don’t be too big for it as a staffer. And if you excelled at a particular area — be it sorting mail or answering phones — keep doing that now. The new title and responsibilities are a strong testament to your previous success, so be careful not to change your ways too much.
One thing you’ll learn about Capitol Hill is that staffers respond to success. Show that you’re a willing and capable member of the team and they will start to treat you as such. And you’re already starting ahead of the gate — they saw your work and thought you’d be a great fit. Sounds like there is not too much changing you’ll need to do.
Have a question for Hill Navigator? Send it in.
September 10, 2013
Hill Navigator is coming up on six months of advice-giving. We’ve learned a handful of things along the way — mostly that job concerns aren’t confined to Capitol Hill and that even the most straightforward questions can have complicated answers.
But Hill Navigator has picked up on a broader theme in numerous job queries: How do you know if you are in the right job? Perhaps there is a better office, or a more appreciative boss or a bigger salary out there? But maybe this is an illusion, a classic case of the grass always being greener on the other side.
Work straddles our intimate and professional lives — we live off our paychecks, we share office space with co-workers, we spend most of our waking hours connected to our work lives. It’s understandable to evaluate whether our present job is the right fit.
But how to do so? For those who need something more tangible than a Myers-Briggs test, Hill Navigator may have a solution.
Hill Navigator has put together a set of four job satisfaction pillars to help you evaluate how well you and your job fit together. Each pillar can help determine how satisfied you are with your current position. After answering these questions, take a step back and see how important each of those criteria are to you as a person.
1. Autonomy: How much authority do you have over your day and your expertise? Do you create your own schedule or is your time managed by others? Do you have the ability to work more when you’d like and less when you’d prefer not to? Could you work from home in your pajamas if you so desired? Are you the master of your subject area, is your decree taken as is or is it challenged? How much control does your boss wield over your daily activities?
2. Compensation: Salary is the obvious one here, but compensation includes more than just the paycheck. What sort of benefits and perks does your office provide? This can be anything from days off to free espresso to parking passes. Does your office invest in its employees — yourself included? Is training for future positions and additional skills part of what your job includes, and how likely are you to be promoted from within?
3. Integral: Is your input valued? What is your place at the table? Are you a lifeguard who watches over your office or a lane-swimmer who doesn’t look up from your work? Are you sought after for your opinion, even on subjects that fall slightly outside your area of expertise? Or are major decrees handed down without your involvement? Do you feel your boss(es) value what you say and seek your input? If not, is this specific to you or to the company culture in general?
4. Value-add: This is the externality question: How do you feel about what you do outside the office? Are you saving the orcas and fulfilling a lifetime goal of making the world a better place? Do you feel your work makes a meaningful difference, and do you feel your contribution is part of that? Value-add satisfaction can be a key point for Capitol Hill staff in particular, where drafting legislation can be the impetus for national change, but in non-Hill jobs what you feel you are contributing can be just as meaningful.
So there are the Hill Navigator four pillars of job satisfaction: How does each one affect you, and how important is each one to you? The former question is a chance to reflect on your current job; the latter is a personal decision that might change over your own career and lifetime. For a young staffer with fewer financial needs, value-add might take precedence, but for parents who are eyeing a college fund, compensation may be most practical. For young families with long commutes, it might be autonomy that is paramount. For someone with a long history of success, how integral he or she is to the office might be what drives the conversation.
Again, this is just one of many frameworks designed to help evaluate your own job satisfaction. It’s a fickle world out there. The more you know about what is important to you in a job setting, the better prepared you can be.
Feel differently? Let Hill Navigator know. We’re still checking email.
July 16, 2013
Some career decisions we make early on can be reversible.
You can go back to school and get a second degree. You can switch jobs, or take steps to break into a new field. But what about your political party affiliation? In a town like Washington, D.C., can you make a switch from one party to another? Today’s Hill Navigator addresses that question with some tips for the would-be party-jumpers.
As always, Hill Navigator is nonpartisan and believes these tips would work just as well for a D or an R (or an I or G or …)
Q. The last few years I’ve worked with Republicans in my home state at the intern level and entry-level positions.
I then had some life-changing experiences to where I realized that I absolutely don’t share the same values as the Republicans and need to switch parties.
I’ve been on the Hill for about a year as a staff assistant for a moderate Republican.
How hard is this switch going to be?
A. Good news. You can make a political party switch — but you can only do it once. You won’t be able to build a résumé going back and forth between parties, but you will be able to make one giant leap across the aisle and stay there. During my time on the Hill, I knew a number of offices where someone had once worked for a different party. It’s not very common, but it happens for a variety of reasons, including the change of heart that you mentioned.
If this is something you’re certain you want to do, here are some guidelines:
Go local. The party switch is best explained with the home-state connection. If you’ve worked for your home-state member and now want to work for the opposite party, it is understandable that you would have started with the home-state connection before branching out for ideological reasons. Similarly, if you worked for one political party and then you have the opportunity to work for your home-state senator of a different party, your home-state allegiance may trump ideology.
In some cases, if an incumbent is defeated, his or her staff might have the opportunity to continue with the incoming member. This is more common in district and state offices but is not unheard of in Washington, D.C., particularly in administrative roles that are less focused on ideology.
Evaluate the opportunity. Switching parties can also be explained in terms of specific opportunities. If there is a particular member you admire, or a committee that you’d like to be part of, you can override your party allegiance to take that position. Again, you can only make the switch once. So be confident this is what you want to do before you go forward.
Get issue-specific. Switching parties can happen when your focus is one particular issue area — perhaps you are the orca expert on the Natural Resources Committee — and you’ve been asked to stay on with a new chairman. Your work on that issue can supersede party allegiance, particularly if you feel the chairman is someone who respects your work and worldview.
From your question, it seems that you’re in an entry-level position and want to make the switch but are not sure how. Understandably, any move can be hard, and party-switching is sensitive. Here are some tips on what you can do:
- Find someone from the opposite party who will help. Pick a person you can confide in, explain your situation and see whether they can help set up informational interviews. Be clear with your reasons and sure of your focus. Defectors can generate extra attention, so you may find yourself in the enviable position of having many people willing to talk to you and help seek out job opportunities.
- Figure out whom you want to work for. Would you be comfortable with a moderate, or someone at the party extreme? Is there a position you have your eye on, or do you want to stay in your home state? Come up with parameters and your informational interviews will be more effective.
- Talk to your boss. I realize it would be much easier to jump ship without looking back. But remember that your boss hired you and was the first person to give you the opportunity to work on Capitol Hill. Before you leave the office and political party, be upfront about what you’re doing and gracious for the chance to have worked in public service. And you’ll still be working in public service, just from the other side of the aisle.
July 9, 2013
With summertime comes an influx of Capitol Hill internships. For many, the intern experience can be a first foray into the professional world. But what if you land in an office where you don’t see exactly eye-to-eye with the boss? This week’s Hill Navigator discusses what happens when the interns have opinions of their own.
Q. I am about to start an internship in an office with which my own political beliefs do not exactly align. That isn’t to say I disagree with every policy stance, but there are definitely disparities. Is it common to see staffers and interns whose views aren’t in lock step with the platform of their respective party, and how do I prevent my dissenting views from ever becoming problematic?
A. I have good news for you: No matter where you work — unless it’s your name on the door — you’re going to disagree with at least some of your boss’s political beliefs.
The political spectrum doesn’t run just left to right. There are a host of complicated, intricate issues that require up-or-down votes. Sometimes bosses vote for or support things that we wished they didn’t, but such is life on Capitol Hill. The goal is to find someone to work for whom you respect as a person and can stand behind even on issues you wished they would vote on another way.
And even better news for you: There is an easy fix for making sure this does not become problematic. It’s called staying quiet. I know it’s tempting to voice your opinion in a congressional office, just as it’s tempting to yell at the TV when C-SPAN is on. But unless you are directly asked about a particular issue (and as an intern, you may have to wait until you’re a legislative assistant to get your opinion heard), your job is to support your boss, represent him or her well and learn all you can.
But take heart: Congress is not static. Opinions evolve, votes switch and, believe it or not, staffers change their minds, too. By using your internship experience to better understand the issues and your boss’s positions, you might surprise yourself.
Even if you walk away unchanged on your positions, you will have learned more about the opposing viewpoint. And best of all, you will have practiced being the consummate staffer who does not let his or her personal beliefs cloud professional judgment.
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.