A reader writes:
I work in an office with my boss and one coworker. From the very beginning, it was agreed upon that I would only work two days out of the week. I accepted because I am a full-time college student, and it worked perfectly with my schedule and major.
I learned everything pretty much on my own. When my coworker needed a couple of days off, I agreed to help my boss out even though I had school. During my break from school, my coworker went on vacation and I took over her shifts plus some work that I had not been trained to do. I would come in early, stay late, get my boss’ coffee before I came into work, and took some work home with me. I did everything I could to help out while I was on winter break. My boss and coworker would always tell me I worked so hard. And I think I did, too. I really tried.
Now I am back in school, and he wants me to work more extra hours. He asks almost every day I work with a guilt-trippy tone.
“So you won’t be able to work extra hours, right?” No, I’m sorry.
“Just those two days, right?” That’s what we agreed on, yes.
“Didn’t you work more days at your last job?” No, I actually worked less hours.
“Aw, man. What am I gonna do?” I don’t know, maybe you shouldn’t have fired two employees when you were already understaffed? (I didn’t actually respond with that.)
I feel like he’s trying to take advantage of me and does not appreciate the me helping as much as I can. He actually fired an employee because “she couldn’t come in to work on days we agreed on.” FYI, said-employee’s very young daughter had a very serious surgery. Now, he’s even more short-staffed and is making me feel bad for working only on days that we agreed upon.
I make myself clear and stand my ground, but he won’t stop asking! I think I’ve made my boundaries clear, but he won’t stop fishin’ for a yes! I’m afraid that one day, I won’t be able to hold back how annoyed I am, and get fired. Is there any way to deal with this situation?
Rather than dealing with it instance by instance, raise the pattern with him.
For example, say something like this: “I noticed that you ask me a lot about working extra hours. I want to be really, really clear that I can’t work more hours than the two days we’ve agreed to. When I helped out when Jane needed some extra time off, that was a one-time thing and not something I can do again. I want to make sure that you know that you should only ever plan on me working (insert agreed-upon hours here) and that I’m not able to be a back-up or fill in at other times. When you ask me about working more, it concerns me, because I want to make sure that we’re both on the same page.”
If it continues after that conversation, just continue firmly saying no. Don’t feel guilty or like you have to justify your decision to him. Just keep repeating, “No, I can’t” and “Like we talked about before, I’m only available on Mondays and Thursdays.” Flat, matter-of-fact tone, and repeat, repeat, repeat.
If you try that for a while, he doesn’t let up, and you’re feeling aggravated and put-upon (and I can certainly understand why it might), you could say: “Like we talked about before, I’m never going to be able to work extra hours. It’s difficult when you keep asking me, because it feels like pressure to change my schedule, even though we’ve already agreed on it. Can we have an agreement that this will stay my schedule so that you don’t feel tempted to keep checking with me?”
That may or may not work; he sounds like a pushy guy. But that will at least assure you that you’ve run through your options, and at that point you’ll know that this is just part of the package of working for him (and then can decide if it’s worth the trade-offs or not).