The Workologist: A Buyout Offer Sounds Tempting but Risky


Your company says layoffs are coming, but is offering a generous package to those who leave voluntarily. Should you try to keep your job, or take the money and run?

CreditMaria Nguyen

Send your workplace conundrums to workologist@nytimes.com, including your name and contact information (even if you want it withheld). The Workologist is a guy with well-intentioned opinions, not a professional career adviser. Letters may be edited.

I work in a fairly competitive field in which jobs — good ones, anyway — can be hard to come by. I like mine, but my company has announced that it’s laying off workers. While this is terrible news, our union negotiated a buyout option: Essentially, one can volunteer to be laid off in exchange for better severance.

Trying to decide if I should take a buyout myself, I have mixed feelings. I feel passionate about the work, but my company has been undergoing changes I don’t necessarily love. Worse, I can’t stand my boss, and it’s hard for me to imagine that relationship getting any easier.

I’ve wanted to pursue a personal project for a long time, and taking a buyout — which would equal several months of pay — would allow me some time to do that. However, I’m worried that I won’t be able to find another job that’s as good as my current one when that money runs out.

NEW YORK

Layoffs are always stressful, but however this plays out, count yourself fortunate to have this sort of buyout option to consider. Not everyone does.

In some ways, you sound like a good candidate for taking the buyout. Consider the question through the lens of potential future regrets. Do you want to look back and realize that you put off that project so you could stay safely sheltered under the thumb of a boss you dislike? I doubt it.

There is no guarantee, of course, that your project will pan out. Or that you can claw your way back into the work force later, if you need to do that.

But at least you’ll have given your idea a shot, and treated this moment as an opportunity. Same goes for a worker who has, say, been considering a career switch or other work-related change. Or, for that matter, someone who might simply want to find another job as quickly as possible and sock away whatever the buyout sum may be.

The unpleasant truth is that if you’re being offered a buyout today, and your company’s fortunes don’t improve, then the next step may be a standard layoff a year from now. That would present all the challenges you face now, with much less opportunity.

This doesn’t mean every worker should automatically go for the buyout option. If you’re closing in on retirement, or your need for steady income trumps your interest in a transitory lump sum, or you simply love your job or your company, it might be worth it to hope that enough others accept buyouts so that your position is protected.

But anybody who is offered a buyout ought to take that offer as a moment for serious reflection. Even if you don’t want to leave your job now, it is wise to think about what’s going to happen if your company’s fortunes don’t improve. Update your résumé and start considering what you’ll do if (or when) you lose your job.

And for those who do take the buyout: Unless you’re deliberately using the money for a purpose like starting retirement or vacationing before an already arranged job, resist the temptation to simply take it easy.

Yes, a nice chunk of money in exchange for not going to work is on one level delightful. It offers breathing room to consider and explore new options. But you don’t want to look back on your buyout moment and realize that you goofed off until it was time to scramble desperately for a new gig, and you never quite got around to that passion project.

If you take the buyout, make it count.

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CreditGracia Lam

Confronting a Naked Truth

A gym has just opened in the building that I work in, and is available at no cost to tenants. My colleagues and I are delighted and use it regularly.

The locker room is small, and there is very little opportunity for privacy. After my morning workout, I shower and dress before work, as do others.

I wonder how to deal with the reality that now, as colleagues, we might be naked together. I am not personally uncomfortable with it, but others may be — either seeing their colleagues naked or being seen themselves. Also, I am the boss, which feels extra complicated.

Any suggestions for how to handle this?

SUSAN

Nobody in your office has to go to this gym — or any gym. A single visit would, from your description, establish the basic facts about the locker room and its limitations. From there, one could decide to make it a habit, find a different time to visit, join some other gym, work out at home or skip this activity altogether.

You’re right that individual feelings about these sorts of situations vary wildly: I’d rather change clothes in a truck stop bathroom stall than in a locker room with co-workers. But this is not a work space, nobody has to be there, and the parameters are evident.

Just keep work definitively out of this particular time and space, and go about your business with the same modesty anybody should exercise in a locker room of any size. The experience should be fine so long as nobody overcomplicates it. You’re smart to be aware, but don’t overcomplicate things yourself.

Vocations: When a Colleague Takes a Parking Space for People With Disabilities


Two colleagues seem to be using parking spots they don’t deserve. But deciding whether to bring this up with management depends partly on sorting the facts from rumors — and dubious assumptions.

CreditMaria Nguyen

Send your workplace conundrums to workologist@nytimes.com, including your name and contact information (even if you want it withheld). The Workologist is a guy with well-intentioned opinions, not a professional career adviser. Letters may be edited.

At my office, there are two employees who park in parking spaces for people with disabilities on a daily basis. Both have placards hanging from their rearview mirrors.

One of the employees has revealed that the placard is for his daughter, but he uses it all the time, even when she isn’t with him. The other employee doesn’t appear to be disabled in any visible way, and talk around the office is that he abuses a space, too.

Both employees work in the same department. Is it fair to bring this matter to their boss’s attention?

D.C.

The two cases you describe are actually distinct in important ways. I’ll address the latter first. Reporting a colleague to management based on unproven office scuttlebutt is rarely a good idea, and seems particularly inadvisable here. Just because someone doesn’t appear to have a disability doesn’t mean he or she might not qualify for a disabled parking permit.

At the federal level, the Americans with Disabilities Act sets a baseline for the availability of these spaces, and the Department of Transportation’s Uniform System for Parking for Persons with Disabilities lays out basic rules for who is eligible to use them, according to Rabia Belt, an assistant professor at Stanford Law School who focuses on disability and citizenship.

Certain cardiac, respiratory, arthritic or neurological conditions that limit someone’s mobility or ability to walk — even if they do so in ways that aren’t immediately visible — can easily qualify. (There could be additional qualifying conditions under state laws.)

Ms. Belt points out that an unfounded suspicion that lots of people take advantage of disability benefits by “faking it” is not uncommon. In fact, one of her graduate students is studying perceptions of “disability cons” for his dissertation.

“This can be a really big problem for people who do have disabilities,” Ms. Belt says. People with legitimate but not immediately visible disabilities get accusatory notes left on their cars, or are conspicuously photographed by apparently suspicious strangers in parking lots. And, she adds: “They have to deal with this gossip behind their back.”

In short, if you don’t actually know whether this colleague is misusing a permit, I’d say leave it alone.

But what about your colleague who, apparently, openly admits to a disability con? Well, if true, he’s definitely a jerk, and should be ashamed of himself. How would he feel if he took his daughter somewhere and couldn’t get the parking space she needed because all the spots for people with disabilities were taken up by cheaters like him?

Still, if you want to bring this to management’s attention, frame it as a management issue. Let’s say you yourself have a disability, and can’t use your space because of this guy. In that case, you should absolutely take action. Or if you believe other employees or visitors are similarly denied a space they deserve, that is also an issue management should legitimately want to know about.

Of course, you can also point this behavior out to the bosses because it just feels wrong and offensive: Even if he has never denied someone a space, he could, and that’s enough.

You just don’t want to come across as simply ratting out somebody who bugs you, or you’ll seem like a busybody and the problem may not be taken seriously. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t complain, you’re just better off reporting it as a company problem, not a personal one.

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CreditGracia Lam

Bothered by Service Worker Language

I’m bothered by people I encounter in a variety of service jobs (like bank teller, waiter, cashier) who wish me to “Have a blessed day.”

I know they mean well, but I find this offensive. What would be an appropriate reply? Do you recommend advising the employer about this behavior? I wouldn’t name names or even identify a particular branch/location.

E.G.

I think you’re right that these people mean well — and I’d try to focus on that.

It’s not clear to me how reporting the described behavior in such an abstract way would achieve anything. The more practical alternative would be to get specific: Report it directly to a manager, with the explicit threat of taking your business elsewhere.

Would that be worth it? Maybe if a bank teller (or whoever) followed up this anodyne statement with aggressive proselytizing, or demanded, “Don’t you want to wish me a blessed day?,” then you would do management a favor by pointing out that a front-line service worker seems to be prioritizing an agenda that isn’t the company’s — and likely alienating customers in the process.

It would also be worth complaining if you are truly offended and this is a matter of principle. That’s a personal decision, but if you’re going to do it, be direct.

If you’re really just irritated, then I think the most appropriate response, delivered in the strictly neutral tone of polite indifference that is at the very heart of what makes a marketplace work in a vibrantly diverse society, is: “Thanks.”

Vocations: How to Deliver Packages Safely, for 55 Years


I follow the safe driving methods U.P.S. drills into us everyday. Since I’ve been with the company, they’ve preached safety.

Training includes simple vision rules, like the importance of scanning the big picture and keeping your eyes moving. Other rules stress timing, like when you’re stopped at an intersection behind another vehicle, to count one-two-three after the vehicle ahead has started to move before doing so.

Our delivery routes are arranged so that you’re always going with the flow of traffic, to keep us on one side of the street so we don’t cross over into oncoming traffic — that’s more efficient and safer than going back and forth across the roadway.

Once a year, a supervisor goes out with you to make sure you haven’t picked up any bad habits. You’ve got to be aware of your surroundings all the time: looking down side streets, checking your mirrors to see what’s going on. You just can’t pull out.

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Mr. Camp said U.P.S. helps keep drivers safe by laying out routes so they do not have to cross oncoming traffic.

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Laura McDermott for The New York Times

If someone’s driving is very erratic, I’d much rather him go by me, have him in front of me, than behind. That way, I can keep my eyes on him.

Do you have any driving tips?

Avoid left-hand turns. Make sure your mirrors are aligned. Never tailgate — leave enough space between your vehicle and others in front, back and on the sides.

There is a driving culture of weaving in and out, passing other cars too often and too quickly; if you get in a lane, stay there. Don’t cut people off.

In bad weather, adapt to the conditions. If there’s rain, snow or sleet — slow down. Assume other drivers are not as aware as you are; assume the other guy is daydreaming. A lot of good driving is common sense, but there’s a shortage of it.

The most important thing is to keep your mind focused. You’ve got to be observant all the time. I drive the same way in my car.

What do you think about driverless vehicles intended to make roads safer by eliminating human error?

Oh, my god, I’m so much against that. I’m not a good passenger. I’d rather be in command.

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Vocations: Fighting Disease Is a Battle Often Won With Spreadsheets


Had you originally thought you’d work in a hospital or private practice?

Yes. My father was a gastroenterologist, so between his practice and my medical training, I was only familiar with physicians who worked in clinical practice, did research or trained other physicians.

But during my residency at what is now NYU Langone Health, I started to have doubts. The high volume of patients was exhausting, and the fellowship offered an opportunity to think about whether being a clinician was the right fit.

The officers I’d shadowed during medical school went out into the field to the site of an outbreak, such as a cruise ship, and did what we called shoe leather epidemiology, pounding the pavement.

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Dr. Christina Tan meets with colleagues at the New Jersey Department of Health in Trenton.

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Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

What else attracted you to this role?

My predecessor was my supervisor during my fellowship.

One minute he was serving as a health expert, and the next he was communicating health risks. Following that, he was responding to a public health emergency or figuring out how to get resources for programs. He had to work with a variety of groups and make decisions really quickly, often with little information.

It was a cool thing to watch and confirmed my interest in this area.

What lessons are there from flu season?

Fortunately, the season has peaked, but we’re still seeing widespread flu activity that will most likely last through May.

The flu is unpredictable, which is why public health departments monitor it all year round.

For example, we saw the emergence of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic in the late spring, after seasonal flu ended that year.

We’ve learned that we need to ensure that public health and health care partners maintain vigilance in monitoring for flu and other emerging infections. We also need to maintain flexibility in our preparedness and response plans so we can adapt what we do, based on what the disease trends tell us.

Do you get out in the field these days?

Yes, but my team mainly plugs away at spreadsheets, looking at data. Most outbreak investigations are not glamorous or hyper-dramatic, like in the movie Contagion.

I’m also the assistant commissioner of the state Epidemiology, Environmental and Occupational Health division.

We often work with local health departments and health care facilities that are in the field interviewing patients and collecting specimens, including blood, sputum and stool, for lab testing, to confirm the presence of certain microorganisms.

Occasionally — particularly with some of the rarer diseases like imported Lassa fever — we’ll work in the field to further monitor hospital staff members that have been exposed, or to interview additional patients.

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Entrepreneurship: Finding the Right Corporate Message Isn’t Always Easy


Those companies also need to navigate potential pitfalls. As the firm’s website states, “In an unpredictable political landscape brands need to be acutely aware and cautious who they align with.”

Ms. Wintour, for one, seems to think starting a consulting firm is a good career move for Ms. Kuryk. “You could say we took a risk hiring Hildy back in 2013 — she came from politics and made no pretense that she knew much about the fashion world,” she said. “But the risk paid off. Hildy is smart, a quick study, and, best of all, her judgment is sound.”

Ms. Kuryk has two simultaneous goals with Artemis. The first is to make sure brands like Pepsi never release another ad like 2017’s disastrous conflation of Kendall Jenner, protest and the Black Lives Matter movement. The second is to reinvent the concept of corporate social responsibility by integrating it into every aspect of a company’s management, and not shunt it off, she said, to “a separate office down the hall.”

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“Companies are being asked and demanded to state their values,” said Ms. Kuryk, whose previous posts include national finance director for the Democratic National Committee and director of communications for Vogue magazine.

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Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Partly because of the reach of social media, partly because of a new era of civic engagement (some of it in response to the polarizing first year of the Trump administration), corporations are increasingly embracing message-based marketing. Examples include Nickelodeon’s going off the air for 17 minutes in solidarity with victims of gun violence, McDonald’s turning its golden arches upside down to mark International Women’s Day.

“Companies are being asked and demanded to state their values,” Ms. Kuryk said. “And how they seize this moment could pay massive business and messaging dividends for them.”

But not all such moves have gone smoothly, from that short-lived Pepsi commercial to the widely criticized Ram commercial, aired during the Super Bowl this year, that used a sermon from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to sell trucks, to the criticism (by, among others, Chance the Rapper) of Heineken’s series of commercials for its light beer and the tagline, “Sometimes, Lighter Is Better.”

“The Pepsi and Kendall Jenner thing — I was tearing my hair out,” Ms. Kuryk said. “I wanted to be there long before they shot it so I could say: ‘Hey, guys, I know some people. Let’s call them.’”

Born and raised in Manhattan, Ms. Kuryk graduated from Vanderbilt with a degree in political science. She worked in Bill Clinton’s White House and as a fund-raiser for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign before joining the finance wing of the Democratic National Committee.

With her business not yet a year old, Ms. Kuryk has picked up some splashy clients, including Nordstrom (a company about to open the first Manhattan location for its flagship brand, a men’s wear shop, at 235 West 57th), the news briefing service the Skimm, as well as Condé Nast, with a focus on Vogue and its high-profile Met Gala.

Ms. Kuryk’s experience of toggling between the private and public sectors could help her take advantage of the openings in a rapidly developing market.

“There’s huge demand right now for professionals who can teach businesses how to navigate these new consumer expectations and for corporations to take stances on political issues and practice good corporate social responsibility,” said Kara Alaimo, associate professor of public relations at Hofstra University.

“What’s astonishing is that we’re consistently seeing major brands who can’t seem to apply basic principles of how to make decisions when they’re taking stances on political issues,” she added.

And it will only become more important. A recent paper titled “The Dawn of CEO Activism,” published by the public relations giant Weber Shandwick, noted that millennials — consumers ages 18 to 35 — showed the greatest positive response to corporate activism.

Which raises a question: Isn’t this more of a gig for an actual millennial?

“You can’t have a millennial do this job, because you need someone who actually has some real experience — up and down,” Ms. Kuryk said.

Dr. Alaimo backed her up: “My feeling is you do want a seasoned professional. It’s not a case where a millennial can intuit what will work. You want to be making decisions based on research and best practices.”

And having some very well-known names in her corner can’t hurt.

“She treats everyone with respect and appreciation for the value of the role they play,” said Valerie Jarrett, the former senior White House adviser to Mr. Obama, who has worked closely with Ms. Kuryk over the years. “That’s the skill set that will make her very effective with clients.”

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