I pushed back on my coworker’s bigotry: a success story

A reader writes:

This isn’t a question, I just wanted to reach out and let you know how much your blog has helped me get through this situation at work!

I work in healthcare, specifically pediatrics. I’ve worked in healthcare for over a decade, and I’ve been in some truly toxic workplaces, but the clinic I currently work in is not one of them! My boss is an amazing person, the literal dream boss. She listens, she isn’t afraid to jump in and work the front lines with us, she isn’t only open to feedback but actively encourages it. Plus, she is quick to let us know when we are appreciated.

The other day, I overheard one of our providers, Mallory, asking her nurse to properly document a transgender patient’s names/pronouns. The nurse, Cheryl, didn’t know how to do this (it doesn’t come up super often and she’s a newer hire, so this wasn’t a big deal), so I volunteered to walk her through it. Our electronic medical record has functions to facilitate this, so that you can look at a patient’s chart and immediately see names and pronouns while leaving legal names and biological sex unchanged for medical and insurance reasons.

As I was walking Cheryl through this, she immediately started making comments like, “I don’t have a problem with it, but…” and “None of my friends were like that in high school.” I responded that I didn’t have any friends who were twins in high school, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist back then, and she said, “This is a new thing, it just keeps happening younger and younger.”

Then, she said something along the lines of, “It’s just weird to me. I don’t understand it. Like, you’re supposed to call them ‘it,’ right? Mallory told me to just call them ‘it’.”

I was speechless!

After what felt like forever, but I’m sure it was only a second, I said, “No, never, never, ever call transgender patients that. Don’t call anyone ‘it,’ that’s really dehumanizing.”

The comment was bad enough on its own, but it’s even worse when you consider that I had literally just helped her document that the patient used she/her pronouns (!).

Afterwards, I felt like I handled the situation okay in the moment. I wish I had said a few other things, but I didn’t just let the comments slide in the moment, and I’m proud of myself for that. I’m generally the kind of person who does not like conflict and prefers to stay silent, but I spoke up.

But, as I thought about it more, I started to feel like it wasn’t enough and I realized I needed to say something to my boss.

Like I said, my boss (Lana) is really the dream boss. But I was still anxious about talking to her. Unfortunately, transgender rights is politicized, but I knew I had a solid foundation discussing it from a place of best practices for our patients, and our company policy is very inclusive. I also had to fight the voice in my head that said I was “tattling” on Cheryl.

Pre-COVID, Lana asked us all for feedback on in-service ideas/topics for staff meetings. She is amazing at having our monthly staff meetings revolve around exploring deeper topics and she has invited guests to speak with us. They aren’t just boring policy meetings, they are insightful and informative and enjoyable. Way back when she asked, I told her I thought we should do an in-service on transgender/non-binary patients and discuss best practices to support them, and she thought it was a good idea. But COVID disrupted things and our monthly staff meetings have been more like emergency sessions. So, I decided that I could use that conversation as a framework to discuss my interaction with Cheryl. Instead of just bringing her a problem, I could bring a solution too!

I decided to email her (patient care makes it difficult to carve out time to talk, plus I was anxious and wanted to write things down so I could organize my thoughts). Lana quickly responded to the email saying to talk with one of our mental health providers about planning an in-service (yay!), but she also sent me an IM asking to talk with her when I got a minute.

I went into her office. She asked me to close the door. I started panicking, and then she said, “I just want you to know that I was absolutely horrified by your email! What Cheryl said was completely inappropriate, and I’m just grateful that the patients or her parents didn’t overhear her, because that was not acceptable. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.”

She also mentioned that Mallory would never refer to a transgender patient as “it” and in fact Mallory is one of the providers who is most protective and knowledgeable about her transgender patients.

Reading your blog has given me the courage to speak up, and to do the right thing. I truly, truly love my patients and I knew I would feel awful if I didn’t say something and one of them got hurt by a fellow medical professional saying something so gross and dehumanizing. Plus, I now have the opportunity to streamline our transgender patient policy so all of our patients can come into our clinic safe in the knowledge that everyone, from the receptionist to their provider, will call them by their correct name and pronouns every time, and our office can be a safe place for them to get the healthcare they need!

Here’s what I love about this story:

* You don’t like conflict and prefer to stay silent, but you spoke up because you knew your voice was needed.

* Like most of us, afterwards you thought “I wish I had also said X or Y” but you got the important parts right (“this isn’t right / don’t do that”) and you don’t minimize that to yourself.

* You realized there was more you could do to help, and you did that too.

We have the rights and protections we have because people speak up, even when they’re uncomfortable. That work is not done. Let’s all keep doing it.

what to do (even now) if you’re stuck in a job you hate

I’ve always received a lot of letters from people who hate their jobs and want to leave, but since the pandemic started, a sizable portion of those people feel they have no way out. The job market makes them pessimistic about their chances of landing a new position, and with so many layoffs, they worry that even if they do get a job offer, the new role might not be as secure as the one they’d be leaving behind.

At Slate today, I wrote about how so many people feel trapped in miserable situations right now–  and what to do if you feel stuck in a job you hate. You can read it here.

Posted in Uncategorized

my boss complains constantly, mending things with a job I ghosted, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My manager complains constantly

My manager complains … a LOT. Their voice is very loud in a small office, so pretty much every one can hear. Our team consists of only three people on site — me, my coworker, and our manager. My manager has no one but us subordinates to complain to, and my poor coworker has to listen to 98% of the rants because their office is closer and they have worked here longer. Sometimes my manager makes disparaging comments about other subordinates who work at different locations. I say sometimes, but it is oftentimes. The rants are mostly about how incompetent so and so is, how overworked they are, how corporate expects them to drop everything to do this and that, blah blah blah.

What is the most professional way to deal with them when they bring their rants into my office (it really only happens when my coworker has to day off)? The rants are daily, annoying as hell, and frankly, make me not want to come to work.

Your options are pretty limited, unfortunately, since this is your boss. But there are a few things you can try when they’re talking to directly to you that, in combination, might cut down on it:

* You’re busy — “that sounds frustrating, well, I should get back to X so I can finish it up today.” … “Sorry, I’ve got to make this call” (and then pick up the phone and actually make a call if possible) … etc.

* You’re on the move, about to head to the kitchen/bathroom/copier. Stand up and actually go to those places. If your boss follows you back to your desk afterwards, as you get to your desk (or doorway if you have an office), stop and say something that signals the end of the conversation like, “That sounds really frustrating. Well, I better get back to it!” There’s something about reaching the end of the physical journey that reinforces the message.

* You’re relentlessly positive — “Oh, but I know Jean means well!” … “She’s so sweet though” … “He’s a good guy, I think.” … “I’m just glad we’ve got the work — better than the alternative!” .. etc. If you become an unsatisfying person to complain to, they may stop complaining to you.

The rest of the time: headphones.

2. Can I put tutoring friends and family on a resume?

My friend is finishing an MA soon and plans on applying to teach at small private schools. She’d be teaching in fields related to her MA, but the degree isn’t in education or anything (it’s along the lines of somebody with a degree in medieval English literature becoming a high school writing teacher). This is a pretty normal background for the schools she’s looking at, and she will have the requisite certification as well. But she really wants to convey on her resume that she does have relevant experience, at least at the entry level. She’s volunteered with a tutoring program for a while, but most of her experience is actually things like teaching younger family members various subjects (they’re homeschooled) or swapping tutoring with friends. She’s rarely had something like a volunteer supervisor or even concrete start and end dates. How can she best express this kind of experience on a resume?

Of course, she’ll be able to discuss it in cover letters and interviews as well, but I think she feels like her “relevant work experience” section looks rather thin without it.

I’d love to tell you there’s a way to do it, but that kind of experience with friends and family doesn’t really go on a resume. It’s similar to how you couldn’t put taking care of your own child on your resume when applying for child care work, or your work organizing family reunions when applying for event planning jobs. You don’t have the same accountability you’d have at a paid job (or a formal volunteer job), and an employer won’t be able to assess what kind of rigor your friend brought to it. She could also look as if she doesn’t recognize the ways that doing those things in a professional context are different from doing them with friends and family.

She could refer to that experience in her cover letter when talking about her interest in the work (briefly, not as a major focus), but keep it off the actual resume.

3. How do I mend things with a job I ghosted eight years ago?

About eight years ago, I worked at a very small nonprofit as the on-site manager for a housing facility. I was part-time, working about 30 hours over a weekend once or twice a month. I was the only staff on shift during these times, so not showing up was a pretty big deal.

After working there for about a year and a half (at age 23) I had a pretty severe personal trauma — a friend overdosed in my living room the day before my shift. In my distraught state, I just couldn’t pull myself together enough to show up or even call in. The very sweet executive director called several times and sent the police to check on me. I confirmed with the police that I was okay. The next morning, still dealing with the trauma and deeply mortified for not showing up to my shift, I again skipped work. I was so embarrassed by my behavior that I never called or showed up to work again. I totally ghosted.

I continued to progress in my career at other local nonprofits without this blight coming up. For better or worse, I also include this job on my resume. Now, I was offered a position as the executive director of a closely aligned organization (literally down the road). The new organization is a housing facility serving people in recovery from addiction, and my journey here is a direct result of that day eight year ago when my friend died. Much of the reason I ghosted was because I didn’t know how or if to address what happened, given stigmas around drug use.

It is a matter of time before I run into my former ED or my name comes up in conversation with a mutual colleague. I am not worried about this impacting my career, but I am still deeply ashamed and a bit worried about an awkward encounter. Should I email her and apologize now, eight years later? What do I even say? Do I bring up the overdose, given its current professional relevance?

Yes, email her! Say you’ve always been mortified about how you left that job and explain what happened (if you’re comfortable sharing it — if not, you could just say you had a personal emergency, but telling the truth shouldn’t reflect badly on you, especially with the work you’re now doing). Then tell her about the job you’re doing now. It’s likely that she’ll be relieved to hear from you and to know what really happened, and happy you’re doing okay now. You’ll also probably feel much better yourself!

And if it helps, we all have deeply unprofessional things we did when we were young, most of them without as good of a reason as you had. Good lord, read these.

4. Should I dig in or get out?

I work at a nonprofit and I strongly dislike my job and organization. I’ve been here for two years and have been actively trying to get a new job elsewhere. A year ago, my boss approached me about a significant promotion. For reasons that sort of escape me, it never went through. Part of this was my fault; I didn’t push it because I wanted to get out and wasn’t sure how it would look to the places I was applying if I got this big promotion and then was trying to leave. But there were also organizational reasons it didn’t happen – it wasn’t a priority for my boss, etc.

At this point, I am doing the job I would have gotten the promotion to do. My responsibilities since COVID hit (and we laid off a number of people) have increased dramatically. As you can imagine, this has only increased my desire to leave — I’m overworked, underpaid, and resentful that more keeps coming to my plate with no recognition. At the same time, I’m having a really hard time finding a new position. Should I push for a raise and a promotion that reflects the work I’ve been doing for the last eight months? Ask that less be put on my plate? Double down on applying elsewhere? Maybe all three?

Definitely double down on your job search since you want to get out, and it doesn’t sound like the promotion would change that.

But meanwhile, push for the raise and promotion that your boss originally floated — point out that you’re now doing the work of the promotion and would like to formalize it. Don’t worry that it will look odd to jobs you’re applying for; it’s not that weird to leave soon after a promotion, especially one that really just formalizes work you were already doing. And the alternative would be letting your job search lapse when you’re hoping to leave.

5. Mentioning academic honors in a professional bio

I’m wondering about conventions around mentioning graduation honors in your professional bio. I often speak or teach freelance and am asked to provide a professional bio. I graduated from a fancy college with magna cum laude honors. I include this in my resume when applying to jobs, and it seems clear that I should continue to do so. (I don’t include a GPA, and never have, since that would be redundant to the magna cum laude, but also unnecessary after a first job out of college.)

However, I’ve also been including “magna cum laude” in my professional bio when the convention of the institution to which I’m submitting a bio (university I’m speaking at, fellowship I’m in) is to include education information. For example, in a concluding sentence I will list, “[My name] holds a B.A. in [my major], magna cum laude, from [fancy Ivy league school].

Is it advisable to continue to include honors, when I am 15 years out from college? Or would that be seen as self-aggrandizing — even though the point of your professional bio is to share impressive accomplishments?

I probably wouldn’t. It makes sense to include it on your resume next to the degree, but 15 years out you’ve got other stuff that’ll be more relevant in a professional bio. (That said, it’s not a shocking faux pas if you choose to keep it.)

weekend open thread – January 16-17, 2021

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand.

Here are the rules for the weekend posts.

Book recommendation of the week: Dear Mrs. Bird, by AJ Pearce. Set in London during World War II, it’s about a young woman who hopes to become a journalist but accidentally ends up as the assistant to a ladies’ advice columnist … and begins to secretly write back to letter writers whose troubles the columnist deems too unpleasant to answer.

* I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.

it’s your Friday good news

It’s your Friday good news, with more accounts of success even in this weird time.

1. About two years ago, my worklife was becoming untenable – it’s one of those “family” places that was not quite toxic, but toed the line. Then I saw a posting for my dream job. I progressed to a final panel interview, which I felt was the best of my life. Then I waited, and waited, only to get a voicemail asking for a return call so I could be rejected in real-time. It was devastating–I thought I’d lost my one chance to get my dream job.

But then a year later, another “dream job” came up and I made it to the final interview. Again I was rejected by phone, but the recruiter was clear that I was a great candidate and the difficult decision came down to years of experience. I was disappointed but focused on my work, knowing that every additional day was another day of experience.

Well, it turns out there’s always another dream job. I’m happy to report that I accepted an offer last week for a position I could not be more excited about. It’s a great fit working with a fantastic team.

Your blog has been a beacon to me during this process. It helped temper expectations (you don’t have an offer until you have an offer!), prepare me for interviews, and handle rejection gracefully. It helped me navigate the offer and negotiation process. Now, as I prepare to give notice, I’m grateful for your resignation tips.

Thank you for your common sense advice, which truly helped save my sanity during this process. You and your readers are so appreciated!

PS: The night after I received an offer, I was unable to sleep, dreading the idea of quitting my job despite the toll it has taken on my health and family life. I scrolled twitter and what did I see? ThisImpeccable timing!

2. (A note about timeline — received in 2020.) I work for a multinational company (BigCo) that is fond of reorganization — not necessarily to reduce headcount, just the kind of place that’s always centralizing what’s decentralized and vice-versa, tinkering with things every year.

I work in a function where the standard professional title has “Manager” in it. Let’s say I was a Manager, Llama Grooming before BigCo. At BigCo, “Manager” is officially (with huge exceptions) reserved for people managers, so I came in as a “Senior Grooming Technician, Llamas”. I’ve been here about five years, and have been reorganized twice without a promotion.

The second reorg was two years ago. As part of a top-down reimagining of my function, I was given more responsibility and authority in a narrower area. I was one of four people in my new role — the other three had Manager-level titles.

I have basically defined what my role is for my division of BigCo. A minor shuffle earlier this year moved my former role-mates into other areas, leaving me as Senior Grooming Technician covering both llamas and alpacas, and mentoring our new hire, the Manager, Vicuna Grooming, while also acting as unofficial Llama Hair Follicle Expert and spending a lot of time liaising with the Dromedary and Guanaco divisions and a pan-BigCo think tank focused on hair structure. I and the new Manager were the only people doing what we do, and I was doing that for two groups that were each larger than the one she handled.

I’ve been pushing for a Manager-level title for a little over a year; I thought I had a shot in last year’s review process, but it didn’t happen. Making it more complicated is that BigCo is very much a “move around to move up” organization — but I like what I’m doing.

I’ve had many conversations this year with my manager about potential career paths and what he sees as my strengths in my current role. He tried to make the case for a mid-year promotion for me, but that didn’t work. He’s been clear and honest with me about the possibilities, particularly since there was a de facto hiring freeze most of the year.

The 2021 budgets came through recently. My manager was approved to hire three new Manager-level roles, covering different aspects of my current job: Manager, Llama Grooming; Manager, Alpaca Grooming; and Manager, Llama Hair Follicles. I reached out to colleagues who I thought would be interested in the Alpaca job and had informational interviews with several about my role and what it entails; at least one of them applied for that job.

I applied for the Manager, Llama Grooming position. BigCo takes hiring seriously, so I had to go through an HR screening and then interview with my manager for what was basically the job I started the year with, only with a higher title. (I have to admit I was briefly worried what would happen if BigCo hired three new people to do all of the parts of my job.)

Soon before Thanksgiving, I got the offer. I am now Manager, Llama Grooming. Once the other positions are hired, I can transition the flex work off my plate and focus on my core job. And I couldn’t have had those conversations with my manager without Ask A Manager — more than that, I don’t think I could have made it through this year, doing basically three jobs, without AAM. BigCo is a good company, if a little weird in its own way: AAM gave me the tools to see what was both good & weird about it.

3. Long time reader, first time caller :) I just wanted to say thanks to you and the amazing commenters of AAM. I’ve been a reader for years now and learned so much. I’ve been in a stagnant job for a while now, working for a dysfunctional non-profit that paid very badly and seemed determined to disregard every industry best-practice in the world.

This fall I’d finally had enough and started a job hunt with your book by my side. I’m happy to report I found a job with a great team who hired me to do the work I’m most interested in! On your advice I did tons of salary research and negotiated for a salary in line with industry norms and my experience – a 50% increase from the terrible non-profit job.

I’m sure the new gig will bring its share of challenges, but I’m so excited to be doing something new. Many thanks again AAM, I couldn’t have done it without you!

open thread – January 15-16, 2021

It’s the Friday open thread! The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything work-related that you want to talk about (that includes school). If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to talk to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please do not repost it here, as it may be in my queue to answer.

quitting would destroy my company, I gossiped about a coworker, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Taking a better paying job would destroy my current company

I’m currently working in a small private practice as an optician. My manager is currently transitioning out because she found a better-paying job in a different field with room for growth, and I will be moving up to the manager position soon. We are trying to hire an optician for the role I’m moving up from. However, we are struggling to find anyone willing to work for such low pay; the pay is many dollars an hour less than the average. Furthermore, they are not willing to pay me the same wage my former manager was making, despite the fact that she was only working here two months longer than I have been and we have the same amount of experience in the field. It’s an accepted fact by people who have worked at the practice for over 10 years that there are no raises here. I’ll be paid $2 less per hour than my former manager, despite doing the same amount of work, if not more, as we can’t find anyone to take my current role. As a manager, I will still be making less than the average would be for my current role.

I also would like to find a better, more fairly-paying job in a field in which I can grow, but I know that if my manager and I were to both leave right now, it may actually ruin the small practice, as nobody would be in the role anymore, and despite the low pay, the role is crucial to the survival of the business. What should I do?

You’re feeling strangely loyal to a business that hasn’t treated you well!

If you leaving causes business problems for them, they’ll need to figure out how to solve them. Maybe they’ll realize they need to increase what they pay. Regardless, that’s for them to handle. You are not obligated to stay in a job that underpays you because they might struggle without you! If you’re that valuable to them, they should be paying you accordingly and they’re not. Don’t invest in their success at the expense of your own, especially when they’re not even remotely returning that favor.

(And for the record, even if they paid you well, you get to leave whenever you want to leave. These are business relationships, not personal ones. That’s by design! It’s okay to be okay with that.)

2. I gossiped and upset my coworker

I work in a mid-sized office with about 25 people. We are all roughly in our 20s and 30s. I was talking with a supervisor in another department when she expressed frustration with one of her employees — not that much, just that she is dealing with a lot. I then went to lunch and saw an ad for the same position posted on Indeed (previous employee trauma, I always check to see if my position is up there), and talked about it with a coworker in my department. We generically speculated what it might be. The office is growing, so we thought it could possibly be an internal transfer and they put it up for them to apply. But it’s also common knowledge that the employee in reference was on a PIP and we thought they might be heading out. The conversation was definitely very general and not specific.

I come in Monday to a full blown rumor mill situation with that employee thinking they are being fired and the supervisor upset that I would say that! I take full responsibility, I was the one that spoke about it and that’s on me, regardless of who spreads it. I apologized to the employee and their supervisor and said I truly didn’t mean to upset them and am so sorry they had to deal with it. I was given a verbal warning and told to not do that again.

Here is the thing, I’m not a gossiping person! I mostly stick to myself, but I made a poor choice and hurt someone. How do I let my company and the hurt employee know that this won’t be a pattern without completely walling myself off from everyone?

I know this isn’t a satisfying answer, but now that you’ve apologized, the only real way to show it is by demonstrating it through how you operate and that takes time. Going forward, be scrupulously professional and discreet and you should be able to repair any reputation damage.

But also … that supervisor who shared her frustration with you about the employee? That was a bigger breach than anything you did. She’s the one who had the real responsibility for discretion. Yes, you shouldn’t have shared what you heard, but she shouldn’t have said it to you in the first place. If she’s the person who chastised you, I hope she acknowledged her own responsibility as well.

(On top of that, if she’s already advertising someone’s position when they don’t know they’re going to be replaced, there are bigger problems here — although it’s not clear if that’s what the ad was.)

3. Negotiating salary when a job has less work from home than originally stated

I was recently approached by an in-house recruiter regarding an open position at an organization about 1.5 hours (one way) from my home. Since I live in a snowy climate and we’re in the middle of a pandemic, I asked during the initial phone conversation about the ability to work-from-home. She assured me that this position, an administrative one, would have the opportunity to work from home most days of the week. That sounded perfect! When she asked my salary range, I told her what I know to be in-line with the area and my needs, and she said that my range falls within their salary range as well. Perfect!

I was then contacted by the hiring manager for a Zoom interview, and it went really well. I have now had a phone call and another Zoom call with other members of the team, and everything seems to be moving closer to an offer.

However, through the course of these discussions, I’ve discovered that the recruiter was overly optimistic regarding the amount of work from home this position includes. For the first few months, I would be exclusively in the office — which are, of course, the worst months for winter weather. And even after that training period is over, I would still rarely be able to work from home more than one or two days per week, due to the nature of the position.

I’m still really interested, but would need more money than I originally stated due to the drive and extra time away from home. Assuming I receive an offer, is there any way to negotiate a higher salary, given the new information I have? I know you have said in the past that you can’t ask for more than you originally give them as a range. But I’m working with new info now.

Yes. You can say, “When we originally spoke, Jane told me I’d be able to work from home most days, with one to two days a week in the office. We’d discussed a salary range based on that understanding, but if the position is on-site most of the time, I’d be looking for something closer to $X.”

That said … a minimum of three hours a day commuting is a lot. Be sure you’re really up for that. (Would you have been interested if you’d known that from the start? Sometimes after you’ve invested in an interview process, it’s easier to convince yourself you’re okay with significant downsides like this. But make sure you really are because that is a huge bite out of your quality of life.)

4. When should I say that I’m interested in my boss’s job?

We recently found out our supervisor is transitioning to another role within the company. His supervisor told our team that as she starts looking for his replacement, we should let her know if we had any names of those we felt might be a good fit. They will only be posting the position internally for now.

I’m certainly interested in the position. Is it a good idea for me to speak up and sort of toot my own horn here? Or should I just silently apply for it once the job listing has been posted?

Speak up now and don’t wait. There’s rarely a downside to making your interest known at the outset, and there can be a risk in waiting (like that they may start to envision someone else in the job, get further in talks with someone else than you realize, etc.).

5. Changing my name because of a complicated family situation

My first name was given to me by my estranged father and was not the name my mother had planned for. Due to complications with my birth, she was not doing well and he swooped in to decide on my name when filling out all the official paperwork. In the end, she decided to go with it, but this has always bothered me. Coupled with the extreme abuse I suffered from him, it made me resent my name my whole life. I have tried different iterations and nicknames and they have all felt the same.

Recently I decided on finally going by a different name. I don’t plan on changing it legally, more treating it as a nickname using my initials. Think first and last initials L. U. and starting to go by Lu. In my personal life this has (mostly) gone swimmingly. Being referred to by a name I truly like and not feeling a gut punch every time someone says my name is completely life-changing to a level I never could have guessed beforehand.

The difficulty is at work. I am on a small team who aren’t social but are very familiar and casual with each other. I also have a lot of interactions with a large section of a company. Thus far I haven’t asked anyone at work to call me by the new name and I can’t seem to figure out how to do it without it being totally socially awkward and/or stressful. This isn’t a gender transition and the reason behind the name change is a lot to explain to coworkers. I had originally not planned on transitioning my name professionally, but it is wearing me down to hear my old name all the time.

Good for you for making the switch! You can do it at work too. You don’t need to give everyone the back story — it should be enough to say in a cheerful, matter-of-fact way, “I’ve been going by Lu in my personal life and I’m now making the change professionally as well. Going forward, please call me Lu (which is the name formed by my first and last initials). Thanks!” You could give your manager a heads-up first (not because you really need to, but just because sometimes changes are easier when your boss is in the loop first).

If anyone asks what prompted the switch, you could just say, “Some family stuff — a long story” or “I’ve used Lu for while socially, just hadn’t made the change at work yet.”

is it a red flag when a job is posted for a long time?

A reader writes:

Is a job being posted for a long time a red flag about the business hiring? There is an organization I would like to work for and they’ve had a position they have been trying to fill for over a year. I do not qualify for the position, but I wonder if this sort of problem in hiring could be indicative of a bad work culture. There are some other things about this organization that give me some bad vibes, despite my interest in their work, but the difficulty filling this position is certainly something I am puzzled about.

I have been in a position to hire others and know that sometimes you have to reopen a search because the right candidate didn’t present themselves, but a year seems like a different category. Am I wrong in taking this as a reason to be cautious about this organization’s culture and hiring process?

Sometimes it’s a red flag but sometimes it’s not. The best thing to do is to ask.

Sometimes a company keeps a job advertised for a long time (or forever) because they’re pretty much always looking for people who can do Role X (and have multiple slots for Role X on their staff) and when they find good candidates, they hire them.

Sometimes, too, a job is legitimately hard to fill. I used to hire for a job that required being an extraordinarily talented senior-level manager and being able to teach that skill to others and being able to advise on a wide range of management challenges in real time with strong answers every time and being great at quickly establishing trust and rapport with sometimes skeptical audiences. Know how difficult that is to find in one person? Very. The role was open all the time, we hired about five people for it a year (separate slots), and were nearly always accepting applications.

Sometimes the organization in the midst of growing. They think they need to hire one Role X, and then they realize they’re going to need another so the ad stays up. Then they hire a second and before they know it their growth means they need a third.

Sometimes it’s just a perfect storm — like the first hire didn’t work out and the second hire left for a family emergency/relocation/health crisis soon after starting, and boom now the organization has been recruiting for a year when you put it all together.

But other times — many times — it does indicate a problem with the organization: They’re terrible at hiring, or their culture is awful and no one will stay, or their standards are unrealistic and they’re too quick to fire, or the job is a bait and switch so they keep losing people.

It’s often hard to know from the outside what the explanation is, but during the interview process you can ask about turnover and how long people typically stay. And if the job you’re applying for is the one that’s been open forever, it’s completely fine to say, “I noticed this role has been advertised for a while — can you tell me anything about that?” You can also ask, “How long did the last person in this role stay, and what caused them to leave?” and “What’s the typical tenure been in this role?” You won’t always get entirely straight answers, but often you will (and even when you don’t, you’ll still often get more information, even if it’s “wow, the interviewer seemed really uncomfortable talking about that”).

In your case, the fact that other things are already giving you pause about the organization makes it more likely that the long posting is probably a red flag. But that’s just a guess. If you’re really interested in them, I wouldn’t assume anything — see if you can get an interview and learn more.

can I keep working from home after my office re-opens?

A reader writes:

I’m a young professional who works with a major company making a very good salary for my area and age. I’m very lucky to have gotten this job, and I don’t want to leave it anytime soon.

Due to life circumstances I still live with my parents, and I haven’t gotten enough savings yet to move out on my own, even aside from the Covid situation. However, my parents are planning on moving within the year to another city.

I’m currently working from home due to the pandemic, but it’s been made clear that’s not going to be forever. Would it be weird to ask to keep working from home if/when the move occurs? I haven’t been working for the company for very long, but I’ve gotten good feedback from upper management and my team, so I’m pretty sure they would want me to stay if they could swing it. I’m pretty bad at advocating for myself at the best of times, so I’m not even sure how to approach this.

You can read my answer to this letter at Vice today. Head over there to read it.

how to become a slacker … with Laurie Ruettimann

I’ve long been an admirer of Laurie Ruettimann, since her days running Punk Rock HR, a hilarious blog where she called out the BS of HR. (The blog is no more, but she now has a podcast of the same name.) Laurie has always called it like she sees it without pulling any punches, and the way she sees it is (a) often different from the conventional wisdom and (b) right.

Laurie worked in corporate HR for big companies like Pfizer for years, grew to hate it, and now helps executives and HR leaders fix their companies and avoid toxic work environments … and she calls out a lot of bad behavior along the way.

Her book just came out this week and it’s great — Betting On You: How to Put Yourself First and (Finally) Take Control of Your Career. As I confessed to her after reading it, I find a lot of books about work dry or predictable or personality-free. But hers is the opposite of that: It’s personal and engaging and fun to read, on top of being smart, insightful, and genuinely useful. It’s packed with good advice that you don’t often hear — for example, why you can ignore advice like “always be looking for a job” — and she tells a ton of amusing stories along the way … from how she handled whole range of tricky situations during her years in corporate HR to the time her husband thought a therapist who asked him about self-care was asking about masturbation.

Laurie agreed to let me run a short excerpt from the book (it’s below), and she’s also given me a copy to give away to a reader here.

To enter to win a free copy: Read the excerpt below on professional detachment and leave a comment below with your thoughts. I’ll pick a winner at random (or rather, random selector software will). All entries must be posted in the comments on this post by Friday, January 15, at 11:59 p.m. ET. To win, you must fill out the email address section of the comment form so I have a way of contacting you if you’re the winner. Giveaway is open to U.S. entrants only.

And if you don’t win this giveaway, I hope you will buy yourself a copy!


Excerpted from
BETTING ON YOU: How to Put Yourself First and (Finally) Take Control of Your Career by Laurie Ruettimann.
Published by Henry Holt and Company, January 12, 2021. Copyright © 2021 by Albany Park Partners, Inc.
All rights reserved.

Work won’t make you happy. You make you happy. It’s time to deprioritize your career and instead prioritize the good stuff: relationships, community, sleeping, eating nutritious meals, and enjoying time away from the screen. What’s the secret? Where’s the hack to this magical, mystical life balance?

There is no quick fix, but here’s my advice: be a slacker.

How To Become A Slacker

There’s no universal definition for a slacker, but the word loosely describes a person who will do anything to avoid work.

Every family has one. Maybe it’s your cousin, uncle, or sister-in-law who always asks for money and never pays you back. Or maybe it’s a nephew who never has cash but always wears nice clothes and has the newest iPhone. (Not my nephews, though. They are terrific. One works as an IT professional, and the other is in elementary school.) Most families have one individual who fulfills the “kids these days” stereotype. Maybe it’s you.

Every team has a slacker, too. It can be someone who comes in late, leaves early, and doesn’t contribute much to a project. Sometimes it’s the person who isn’t overly concerned with professional relationships and does not care about the growth of a company. Work slackers are seen as opportunists who cheat the system and think they’ve got everybody fooled.

Slackerism was elevated to an art form in the late twentieth century with movies like Office Space and The Big Lebowski, characters like Ferris Bueller and Bart Simpson, and musicians like Kurt Cobain and Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins who told us, “The world is a vampire.”

But being jaded and cynical hit a snag at the turn of the century with the onset of the global financial crisis. People couldn’t afford to do anything other than put chicken in the bucket for the man, as Stephen Fry once wrote. Western culture also retooled itself around the birth of the social Web, the growth of interconnected communication tools, and the mass adoption of commercialized surveillance systems. It’s hard to opt out of the rat race and speak your true mind when you’re on Facebook and hustling for work. Companies scan your work computer and watch for sexual harassment and corporate espionage in your Slack messages. Algorithms monitor where you browse online and predict whether you’re about to quit. There’s even a program out there that can read your keystrokes and predict if you’re at risk for suicide. Yes, really.

Speaking of the hustle, it’s hard to be a slacker when our #hustleporn culture pushes you to be productive twenty-four hours a day. If you are lucky, you work for a company that gives you a work-from-home stipend to cover the cost of printer ink and pays you to freeze your eggs — but doesn’t guarantee you equal pay for equal work or make your life easier when you finally unfreeze those embryos. If you are unlucky, you are a hustler who works on contract and struggles to make ends meet. And who wants to be a slacker under either of those circumstances?

Slackerism is not only frowned upon at the office, it’s weaponized — especially if you’re a person of color. Your well-intentioned attempt at work–life balance might be somebody else’s excuse to throw you under the bus.

Now that I’ve painted a bleak image of slackers, let me flip the script and say that while nobody wants to be seen as the jerk with a poor work ethic, slackerism might save your soul.

❍❍❍

Deanna is the VP of communications for a digital media organization. She worked hard throughout high school and college as a student athlete and scholar, then she went back to school as a working mom to pursue her MBA. Deanna is known for being a creative and compassionate leader. She pushes people to be their best while also leading by example, and she doesn’t shy away from hard work.

Deanna is the antithesis of a slacker, but after fifteen years as a corporate executive, she felt burned out and came looking for career advice. She’s an “elder millennial” who feels a little too elderly. Could I help her get off the hamster wheel and into a job that wouldn’t kill her? Was it possible to keep her current level of income with a role that didn’t require so much time and energy?

Before working with me, Deanna was hunting for a new job but every opportunity sounded the same: endless hours on Slack and too much time spent managing corporate politics rather than doing the fun work of innovation.

“I’m exhausted. My team can see it. My family tells me I work too much. And I can’t keep taking Zoloft forever.”

When I asked Deanna about her sleeping and eating habits, she laughed out loud. With two kids under the age of six — and one following her lead by showing an interest in sports — she doesn’t eat or sleep well. This was Deanna’s life before COVID-19: early morning wake-ups, daycare, carpool, a long commute to and from work, little flexibility, lots of responsibility with her kids, a spouse with an executive leadership role who doesn’t do dishes, and hobbies and interests that go unexplored because there aren’t enough hours in the day.

“I used to do yoga and run 5ks. Now I just participate in meetings all day long and check other people’s PowerPoint decks for errors before they go to the board.”

Deanna was suffering from arrival fallacy, the feeling of disappointment you get when you reach your goals but the result isn’t what you expected. Instead of being happy with your salary and enjoying your work, you ask yourself, “Is this all there is? There must be more.”

There’s not.

It’s not uncommon to unlock the next level of your career and still feel unhappy. But it’s important to know that the feelings of contentment and personal accomplishment don’t come from working sixty hours and hearing “good job” from your boss. They come from confidence and maturity. You’re doing great work when you solve problems, learn something new, and then spend time away from the office to support the people and activities you love.

When I suggested being a slacker to Deanna — working less, leaving early, establishing boundaries, spending time with her family, exercising, reading, and redefining what it means to be happy — she tried not to laugh again in my face.

“No offense, but people are watching me. I can’t say no. They’ll think I’m lazy.”

I asked her to hear me out. “Since people are watching you, let’s teach them something. Pretend your company is a client instead of a family. If you didn’t have so much skin in the game, how would you do things differently?”

Deanna needed to learn the skill of professional detachment — staying committed to your job, doing great work, but redefining the role so it isn’t your sole identity.

She didn’t say no, but she didn’t like it.

“This sounds risky, and I don’t want to be seen as cold or disconnected.”

This is a legitimate concern. Women and people of color are held to a double standard at work. They must be buttoned up but warm, savvy but deferential to the team, and data-driven yet still compassionate. Deanna told me she was always available to her team, even after business hours, which meant she wasn’t present with her husband and children. It would confuse her colleagues, she argued, if she suddenly stopped answering texts in the evening without explanation.

We brainstormed ways to lock the phone up at night and discussed what it takes to create a work environment where it’s safe to establish boundaries.

How could she improve daily communications but limit after-hours texting? Is it possible to track and analyze “emergencies,” and work backward to create processes and behaviors that prevent them? And how could her team reach her if needed?

Deanna called a meeting and asked her team for input. Were they feeling stressed? Could they describe what it feels like to have an evening interrupted with a so-called work emergency? Deanna took the lead and shared her struggle with putting down the phone at night, and others chimed in with their stories. Soon, they all agreed that they needed common definitions for “emergency” and “work crisis.”

Deanna asked her team to create a rules-of-the-road template for communicating after hours. They decided that if something was an emergency, it required a physical call. If the phone rang, and it was from a colleague, they’d try to answer the call right away or call back as soon as possible.

How did it end up working?

Deanna told me emergencies dropped 90 percent. She now has extra time to focus on her top priorities: family and personal well-being. Her evenings are free for exercise, spending time with her kids, or sitting on the couch and binge-watching TV without worrying too much about what happened at the office earlier.

Now we just need her husband to do the dishes. But I’m not a miracle worker.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to checking my phone in the evening,” Deanna concluded. “But now I can really relax before I check my messages and get to bed.”

Not only does Deanna feel more balanced and connected, but she’s also taking this message to other parts of her organization. She’s partnered with her local HR manager to bring the work–life balance rules to other business units and teams within the company. Just recently, Deanna spoke on a panel at a leadership conference and sang the praises of professional detachment, honest communication, and personal accountability for well-being.

Professional detachment — the act of pausing, reflecting, and treating your job like a puzzle to solve instead of an extension of your identity — saved Deanna from leaving her company. She hasn’t labeled herself as a slacker, but I’ll do it for her. And you, too.

I’m thinking of making T-shirts.

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