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YOUR OFFICE COACH: Clueless lawyers need to grow up

Q: As a legal assistant, I have to deal with some very annoying attorneys. We all work in the district attorney's office, but the assistants are paid by the county, while the lawyers are paid by the state. There is a huge difference in pay scales...

Q: As a legal assistant, I have to deal with some very annoying attorneys. We all work in the district attorney's office, but the assistants are paid by the county, while the lawyers are paid by the state. There is a huge difference in pay scales, benefit programs and retirement plans.

The attorneys constantly talk about their new homes, fancy cars, lavish vacations, and plans for early retirement. That's OK, but they also seem to enjoy making fun of our low pay and inferior benefits. They say things like "you'd be better off working in fast food" or "you won't be able to retire until you're 80."

I've tried to brush this off, but I am becoming extremely resentful. So far I haven't confronted them, because getting upset might just encourage them to continue. How should I handle this?

A: The attorneys' pay may be high, but their maturity level is awfully low. Flaunting their superior compensation is not only juvenile and rude, but also self-defeating. They seem to be encouraging their assistants to look for better-paying jobs.

Avoiding an angry confrontation is smart, but that doesn't mean you have to suffer in silence. However, you don't want to be the lone protester, so ask other offended employees to join you in speaking up.

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One option is to try to enlighten your clueless colleagues. The objective is not to chastise them, but to help them understand the demoralizing effect of their cruel comments. If some of the attorneys seem to "get it," ask them to help make your case.

But if appealing to the perpetrators seems pointless, take your group and meet with the appropriate manager. Explain the business problems caused by the lawyers' thoughtless remarks. For example: "We thought you should know about an issue that's creating morale problems for the support staff. The attorneys constantly joke about how bad our salaries and benefits are. We're not complaining about our pay, but we are really tired of their insulting comments. We would appreciate your speaking to them about this."

Of course, a third alternative is to simply ignore them, while being silently thankful that you were brought up to have better manners.

Q: One of my co-workers manages to be absent whenever a critical project is due. I always pitch in and complete his work, because I don't want our department to look bad. However, I'm getting tired of covering for him. This guy is very defensive and edgy, so I'm reluctant to approach him about it. Talking with my boss hasn't helped. What else can I do?

A: You can stop doing his work. By covering for him, you ensure that neither he nor your boss will suffer any consequences from his slacker behavior. A few late projects might finally persuade your boss to act like a manager and deal with the problem.

(McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics." Send in questions and get free coaching tips at www.yourofficecoach.com .)

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