Rumours of retrenchment

Dear Shelagh,

I have been working at a wonderful company for little over a year now and although I am less experienced than the others in my position, I feel like I am a significant contributor and I bring a lot to the table.

The problem is not that I feel like anyone disagrees, rather that, in the light of probable retrenchments on the horizon, I am at the bottom of a pretty great pile.

I don’t think I’m being overly sensitive when it comes to assessing my possible fate, but I don’t know where to go from here. Do I approach my bosses and ask them if I should be keeping my ear to the ground for a new job?

Do I secretly start looking for a new position without telling anyone in case they start to think I want to leave (I definitely don’t)?

 Reluctantly Retrenchable


Dear Reluctantly

That’s a horrible situation to be in, I agree. There’s little worse than giving your all to your job with the Sword of Damocles dangling over your head.

I think you should speak to your bosses. Tell them that you’ve heard rumblings about retrenchments and would like to know if you are likely to be affected. They may be reluctant to give you a direct answer, though, as retrenchment is not something that can be done on a whim; there is a series of steps that have to be taken and strict protocol to be followed. Counselling for staff members forms a part of that process.

If the indication is that the company is heading in that direction, tell them that you truly don’t want to leave, while reassuring them that you will continue to give them 100 percent for as long as you work there. Discuss with them your intention to start looking around, and request a good reference should the worst come to the worst. I’m sure your bosses will respect your honesty.

Regardless of their response, try to bear in mind that retrenching staff is a horrible thing to have to do; not only are they losing valued employees, but they are also facing the reality that business isn’t good. The retrench-or can quite easily become the next retrench-ee. I’ve been on both sides of that fence, and both positions are horrible.

I truly hope that the rumours are just rumours. Let me know!

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Workplace skills for 12-year-olds?

Dear Shelagh

I have just discovered your advice column and have to say I think it’s a brilliant idea.

I’ve just bought your book for my son who is in his third year at University and I just know it’s going to be a big help – I certainly found it very informative. Thank you for writing it!

My question is about my 12-year-old daughter. I would like to do more for her in the way of teaching her work-related skills. I realise I didn’t really teach my son anything practical (I’m a widowed mom, so there’s no one else to chip in) about job skills or CVs or anything and I want to get that right with my daughter.

Is there anything you can suggest that will help her as she grows up? She says she doesn’t want to read the book!

Concerned Mom


Dear Concerned

I’m so glad you like my column – and thank you for buying a copy of Your First Year of Work for your son. You have entirely made my day.

I can understand your daughter’s reluctance to read the book. I think twelve-year-old girls have enough on their plates as they move from childhood to womanhood, but I really do applaud your decision to teach her some ‘real life’ skills. Sometimes we moms just give up and do it ourselves – which has no long term benefits whatsoever.

Work-related skills for twelve-year-olds in seven easy bullet points:

  1. Teach her about the power of ‘earning’ by matching her allowance to certain extra household duties. I wouldn’t be too soft about this as paying your children to do the chores you least like is a perfect way to introduce her to the realities of work and reward. I haven’t cleaned out a fish tank or picked up dog poo in years.
  2. While I don’t believe that children should be financially rewarded for doing things they should be doing anyway, verbal recognition for keeping her room tidy, washing the supper dishes or making you a cup of tea will reinforce the small delight of knowing that her good deeds are appreciated.
  3. Teach her about money management by opening two bank accounts for her: one for short term savings (holiday money, or new boots) and long term savings (buying a new bike or an iPad). Be wary of lending her money; rather encourage her to save for whatever it is that she ‘needs!’ – and once her monthly allowance is gone, it’s gone.
  4. If you haven’t already started, teach her to cook – not only to cook, but to draw up a menu and shopping list; then go shopping with her so she can learn the value of things, what they cost and how prices vary.
  5. Let her be the boss of something; something for which she has to delegate responsibilities. This need not be a regular thing – perhaps an occasional family picnic or hike. Be there to guide her, but don’t take over. Let her learn from her mistakes (no plates at the picnic!) rather than pointing out the obvious. (This, I confess, is a message to self.)
  6. Consult her. Ask for her advice. When practical, present her with a situation related to home life, your work, an issue with a friend, etc. and ask her what she thinks the best solution would be. Listen to what she has to say, and give her feedback on the advice that you heeded.
  7. While parents sometimes have to lay down the law, allow yourself to negotiate with her: Perhaps she’d prefer to do the Sunday lunch dishes than clean up the dog poo; or perhaps she’s more of a morning person and would rather get up an hour earlier to study than miss her favourite TV show the night before. If that works for you, then be flexible. She will then learn to be flexible in return.

I hope this helps. You sound like a fabulous mother!

Readers, I’m sure you have loads of other practical ideas for Concerned Mom. Please share them below.

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The woman in the ‘too’ red suit

Dear Shelagh

I recently started my first job at a large accounting firm. Obviously, we have to dress “corporate”. I am only a junior secretary, so I don’t have a lot of money, but I went out and bought three suits that I could afford. I have recently been called in to my manager’s office and told that my red suit is “too red” and that I need to tone it down a little. I have three suits that I wear on different days, and I’ve spoken to the other girls and they say that they have about the same. I feel that my red suit is being unfairly criticised. There’s nothing in the company rules that says we can’t wear red. Am I being unreasonable, or are they?

Red Suit


Dear Red

While it’s wonderful to read that you’ve recently landed your first job, I’m sorry that one of your early learning curves should be about something as seemingly small as a red suit. Welcome to the world of ‘unfair’.

My second job ever was for a banking institution way back in the day of synthetic fabrics too awful to describe. My work uniform was a hideous turquoise trilobal frock that clung and crept like a crepe bandage. I’ve never been much of a style queen, but I knew I had to do something to liven it up a little, so I added red – very red – tights and white platform baby doll shoes. I though I looked amazing; sadly the branch manager didn’t (there’s no accounting for taste) so I had to follow the trend of thick beige pantyhose. Fortunately we were visible to our clients only from the waist up, so the public didn’t get to see the granny tights.

What this amounts to is that I’m probably not the right person to advise you on this matter, so I sent your question to the impeccably groomed Janine Carley-James of Restyle You. Here’s what she has to say:

Dear Red

Unless you work for Virgin Atlantic Airways, a red suit just isn’t the ticket to fast track your career advancement. The colour red is not the issue here, rather the amount of it in one go. Do not fret however, your red suit can still earn its keep as part of your work wardrobe – just never both pieces together. Always separate them; for instance, the red jacket with grey pants/skirt. It could also work with smart jeans on casual Friday or, at a push, black pants/skirt. Take care with black as I think the contrast is too great for a bright colour to work with black, unless of course, you introduce another item such as a scarf or a blouse that combines both black and red in one garment.

The red skirt can be worn with a pretty neutral blouse/cardigan such as white or cream accented with a bold necklace. This way your ‘red’ will still be impactful but not over powering.

In future get more bang for your limited budget by buying separates rather than suits. This way you can combine creatively to give you exciting looks for each day of the week; you sound like a bold fun girl and that should never be squashed, just conveyed a little more subtly. – Janine

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Intern seeks greener grass

Dear Shelagh

I am a young woman in my first job – which is a paid internship, after which it will be possible for me to get a proper position at the company I’m working at. However, I believe I should keep my ears open for other opportunities, and I have listed my current employer as a reference on my CV. She is very angry that she keeps getting calls from potential employers checking my reference, and tells me that it shows that I’m not committed to my job. So I have two questions. The first is, must I be dishonest with her and pretend that I’m not looking for other opportunities? And the second is, what am I supposed to do about providing a reference if I’ve only ever had this job and I can’t use her?

Honest jobseeker


Dear Honest

Congratulations on finding a paying internship. I’m sure you know that there are thousands of graduates who aren’t as fortunate.

I can’t help wondering why you are looking for other opportunities when you already have an almost guaranteed place where you are. Is there something about the company that’s not working for you? Something about your employer? If so, consider addressing these issues before deciding to move on. If not, and if you are really just looking for greener grass, then perhaps it’s time for a rethink.

Put yourself in your employer’s shoes for a moment. Training and mentoring an intern is a time consuming and costly business. Sure, your employer gets something out of it too, but if she’s already talking about a permanent position, she will almost certainly continue to invest in you. But why should she bother to do this when you’ve let it be known that you’re using her as a stepping stone to greater things?

Why not take advantage of the wonderful opportunity that you have right now? Why not learn all you can, do your work with the utmost integrity and show your employer that she made the right choice in selecting you? If you decide in a year’s time that there are valid reasons for you to move on, then discuss this with her, rather than letting other potential employers be the messengers.

So, to answer your questions: there is no point in being dishonest and denying that you are looking for work elsewhere when she already knows this. If you are determined to leave, then do her the courtesy of letting her know why and ask her permission to use her name as a reference (this is always good practice). If she declines, then you are back to square one and must use your CV and academic testimonials to attract other prospective employers. If you decide that you do want to stay; apologise for putting her in such an awkward position, and commit to earning her respect.

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