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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Misery Loves Company

Dear Sue: I have recently moved into a new position. I have a good attitude and great customer service skills. I strive to treat everyone with respect, but it seems to be looked at as a weakness. I work with a bunch of people who are not into teamwork and not into respecting others. In fact, they put their energy into preying on people like me. I’ve been called “Polly Anna” because I try to be upbeat and positive. What do I need to do to get more respect?

- Polly Anna

Sue Says: You may never get the respect you want from people who lack respect for their jobs and themselves. It is wonderful to hear that you have a good attitude and care about your job. It would be nice if it could rub off on your coworkers, but you are probably a threat to them. After all, you are a reminder of what they should be, but are not. Remember, misery loves company. For reasons you may not know or understand, your coworkers are miserable and your upbeat attitude forces them to see that not everyone acts as they do. Don’t stoop to their level. Keep doing what you are doing – I can think of worse names to be called than Polly Anna.

Dear Sue: I feel very frustrated with a new system in our office. There are three of us who are administrative assistants and have been asked to cover the phones for three of our ‘bosses’ who each have their own phone lines and voice mail. You would think that having their own lines would make things easier, but it has become very complex to take calls around here.

For example, the other day I picked up an incoming call and the caller need information regarding a recent announcement, which falls into the communications department. The person in charge of communications was not in, but the assistant was so I transferred the call to her. She wrote down the message, but could not help the caller because she didn’t have the necessary information. Then she forwarded all of the details to me and to the other assistant just in case the person the call was intended for calls in. At this point three of us have the message. Every time we leave

our desk we are supposed to inform yet another person of the goings on, so then four people know all about the issue which was important, but not urgent, and intended for one person. We are all supposed to be ‘on guard’ and ready to deal with the issue.

That is the process for just one call, so you can imagine what it is like by the end of the day. I proposed that we use the voice mail of the person who would have the answer, but our CEO wants a person answering and talking with callers. How can this backup of a backup situation be resolved? I would appreciate your help.

- Wasting time

Sue Says: Wow, I don’t blame you for feeling frustrated. With time being a precious commodity, it sure seems as though a lot of time is wasted transferring messages within your organization. I certainly understand the CEO’s desire to have a live person answer the phones and be available to talk with callers, however, when it comes to leaving a detailed message, many people prefer to leave it in voice mail. The most logical solution, in my opinion, would be to have a live person take the initial call and then forward it to voice mail. I am not sure why the CEO doesn’t like that option, as it allows the caller to talk with a live person and leave a detailed message.

My suggestion is for that the three of you who are answering the calls request a meeting with your bosses and the CEO to discuss implementing a better system for taking calls and relaying messages. It is quite possible that they have no idea how inefficient the system is, and don’t realize how much time is being wasted handling each call. Once they see that time is being taken away from the more urgent and important tasks that need to be done, perhaps they will be more open to change.

If talking with them does not work, consider writing the message in an e-mail and sending a copy to all of the assistants and the person the call was intended for. This ultimately would save the time you spend calling or talking to each of the other assistants. The information would be accessible to everyone, but would only be referenced if and when it is needed. I hope this helps!

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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