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How to help boss clear his cluttered mind

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Linda J. LernerHow to help boss clear his cluttered mind
By Linda J. Lerner  |  September 7, 2008key

Q. My boss is a well-intentioned guy who always seems harried and overwhelmed. I've been working for him for five months after being transferred to his department where I was hoping to learn about a different area of the company. I have been with this company for eight years and this is my first transfer.
I am not kept busy and my requests for more assignments from my "overwhelmed and overworked" (his words) boss do not get him to give me much more than a smattering of duties than happen to be on his mind. His desk is a mess, and he's never able to find what he is looking for. Any suggestions for how I can get this guy to let go of some of his work and perhaps even teach me something new?
A. His cluttered desk and his cluttered mind are your primary clues for how to address this type of person.
My guess is that he desperately wants assistance and feels so overwhelmed by all the disarray that he cannot figure out how to get out of his own way long enough to delegate.
Some people are plagued by the belief that they are overworked to the point where they may lose the ability to differentiate what really is overload and what really is a normal day's work. Their self-image relies on their perspective that they are overburdened by their heavy workload and by their importance in the company.
Due to his self-image and its obvious link to his self-esteem, he needs to be approached in a way that suggests you do not disagree with his version of reality. His "cluttered" mind needs help to focus long enough to figure out that you can actually help him and which assignments he can give you. There is a part of him that believes it takes longer to explain to you what needs to be done than to do it himself.
Begin by setting up a meeting with him instead of just dropping by his desk. In this meeting, describe your years of experience in the company and why you chose to take the transfer to this department. Suggest that you both meet two times a week for a half-hour for him to show you what he is working on, or to have a 15-minute minilesson, or to delegate assignments to you. If he isn't prepared at these meetings, ask him what is the one thing that I could do for you today? Take any work from him, even low-level work, in order to expose you to his responsibilities and broaden your understanding of his work.
It's sort of like intelligence gathering. Agree to try this for a month and then both of you can evaluate how it is going.
If this approach is not productive, tell him you would like to offer your assistance to his boss, if he has no objection. Whether he says yes or no, he certainly will realize you are not going to settle for an unchallenging and slow-paced work situation. If all your efforts do not produce a fulfilling work experience, consider applying for a different job in the company or looking outside for the growth and challenge you need.

Employer should cover work-related injuries
Q. I am a contract employee for different companies sometimes working for a week and at other times working at an assignment for as long as six months. I get these different contract jobs through a temporary employment agency that I have been working with for over a year.
Recently I had to leave work for a few weeks because I developed carpal tunnel syndrome in my right hand and wrist as a result of repetitive keyboard work that I was doing. This employment agency has been understanding of my injury, and I am beginning to improve.
Since this injury occurred during and as a result of my working for this agency and my paychecks come from them, are they liable for my lost wages and possible medical bills?
A. If you were in fact an employee of the employment agency at the time of your injury, then you should be covered by the worker's compensation policy of that agency. Your employer will usually provide you with the forms needed to file for worker's compensation coverage. This should be done on the date the injury is reported or within a few days of the injury. Given that it appears this was not the case, you could now go to them and request these forms and provide them with your medical bills. If you qualify for worker's compensation coverage, you will also receive a percentage of your average pay for the weeks during which you were unable to work depending on the terms of your employer's worker's compensation insurance contract.

State law permits time off for voting
Q. With the primary election coming soon in Boston, I was wondering if the company that I work for can deny my request to leave work early to vote. I work in Weston but I live in Boston. I expect that my boss will say that a local primary election is no excuse for taking time off from my job. Are there any rules regarding this?
A. Whether an election is local, statewide, national, or a primary, there is a Massachusetts law that not everyone knows about. This law states an employer must give employees up to two hours off from work to vote. So whether you are in Weston, Worcester, or in Boston, the same law applies. The two-hour absence from work is to be after the polls open in the employee's voting precinct.
The employer is not required to pay you for the time that you take off to vote.
Employers are not required to post a notice or distribute the information informing employees of this law and their rights under it. Employers have the right to request that an employee provide the name of the precinct where they vote to confirm that the employee actually used the time to vote. Your request for the necessary time off, of up two hours, should be specific and in sufficient time in advance of the actual voting date.
Should vacation time be paid on last workday?

Q. I recently resigned from my position as an accounts receivable clerk after a year and a half in this job. I wrote a letter of resignation and I gave the required two weeks' notice. On my last day of work, I was not paid for the vacation time that was owed to me. I had an exit interview and the human resources representative informed me that I would not be paid for that time until the next normal pay cycle. I heard there was a law that required a company to pay you what they owe you on the last day you work for them. Is there a law about this?
A. Yes. This law, the Massachusetts Payment of Wages Act, considers what is a reasonable time for the terminated employee to wait to receive wages.
In a work situation where an employee resigns voluntarily, the employer must pay the Paid Time Off (PTO) amount, which includes vacation that has been accrued and is therefore owed to the employee, either on their last day of employment or in the next regular pay cycle. The Massachusetts Payment of Wages Act considers this a reasonable time for the terminated employee to wait. Therefore, in your situation, the decision of your employer is acceptable under the law.
If an employee is involuntarily terminated, for example, they were laid off or fired, then the employer must pay all monies owed on the last day of work. The Massachusetts Payment of Wages Act provides that all Paid Time Off that is accrued but not used must be included in the last paycheck.

Linda J. Lerner is an Executive Coach and a Human Resources Consultant to small businesses and to individuals. You can contact Linda here.
E-mail questions to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or mail to Job Doc, Boston Globe, Box 55819, Boston, 02205-5819.      
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Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 November 2009 12:59