ask the readers: when everything is an emergency

From my sickbed, I’m posting a few questions for readers to answer. Here’s the next one.

A reader writes:

I am in a work environment where I have multiple people, usually project managers (my internal clients) coming to me with “emergencies” to fix. Generally, these “emergencies” are caused by someone other than me, I may not have much experience on a particular project, but somehow I’ve gotten thrown in to resolving it. Today, I had two new emergencies land on my plate. One – I’ve been asking for information on for months, and the other – wasn’t mine to solve (but I had to figure that out before I could push back).

I am a licensed professional electrical engineer, and I’m very good at my job, and very good at solving problems. I feel under-appreciated for being someone who can solve these problems. In fact, the whole environment feels like one big co-dependent relationship, with project managers and contractors playing roles of victim or narcissist, and I have to come in as rescuer, and I am SO over it.

My manager isn’t helping with this, and seems to think this is part of our job to handle these emergencies, and that we’re here to serve our customers. Only, today’s emergencies are getting in the way of the emergencies I was handed yesterday, and the regular work which has been scheduled for a while to handle these things.

None of these internal customers report to one another, and really could care less about each others “emergencies.”

I’ve asked for help, only, these emergencies come up so frequently and without warning, that setting boundaries becomes very difficult. But it is affecting my stress level, and my ability to focus on projects where I’m assigned, where, if I do a good and thorough job, fewer “emergencies” would be created later.

I have yet to find a good response to this anywhere. Please help!

What’s your advice for this reader?

{ 47 comments… read them below }

  1. Jeff Puckett*

    Welcome to my life.

    Part of my job is managing a team that is a “level 3 support” team of software developers. Level 3 is a fancy term for “the product expert can’t fix it, the engineers need to look at it.” Our product has a ton of bugs. This can be an impossible task.

    If you don’t have to work on it, don’t. Clarify with your manager that a particular emergency isn’t part of your job if it isn’t. It’s part of the co-dependent trap to step in and try to fix things that are broken that aren’t necessarily your responsibility.

    Track the number of hours you spend on your projects and the number of hours you spend on emergencies. Demonstrate how it impacts your deadlines and projects. Attempt to show some metrics or numbers that show how completing a project may result in less emergencies if possible.

    Track the source of the emergencies. Is there one source of them? Is there one person or one group in the company responsible for creating these, either raising these or making the mess? It could be someone crying wolf or it could be a someone or a group not doing a good job. CYA and pin it on someone else. Ignore people complaining too loudly (if you can).

    Those are some things I try. I hope that helps.

    1. Dawn*

      I agree with this. If you start tracking the number of emergencies that come up, the nature of them, and where they’re coming from, it will really bolster your case when you talk to your boss. He can’t ignore what’s in black and white right in front of him.

      Wow. Take out the term “electrical engineer” and throw in “banking” and there’s my life.

      The OP mentions that he is a very good problem solver and very good at his job. That’s a big part of why people come to him–he’s got the answers.

      1. Brian*

        I like this idea as well. It seems like your boss may be the kind who won’t respond to something you bring up if it’s the first instance, but may be more open to discussing something if there’s data to reflect the time you’re spending on these emergencies. That way, maybe you/your boss can find a more efficient way to handle all these fires and ultimately get them off your plate.

      2. Christine*

        “The OP mentions that he is a very good problem solver and very good at his job. That’s a big part of why people come to him–he’s got the answers.”

        Sounds exactly like my husband’s job!

  2. Katy O*

    The writer is obviously unsatisfied with their current employer and responsibilities. I would suggest looking elsewhere for a job. If you are as valuable as you believe you shouldn’t have much trouble convincing someone else of that.

    If your boss won’t “man up” in the mean time and you can’t get your point across to your customers it may be time for escalation. I find that most people appreciate honest over butt kissing so just be honest with them.

    Maybe the clients just need a little reality check!

  3. Anon y. mouse*

    Something’s messed up in your company’s work flow, and it sounds like you’re thoroughly sick of it. How high up the managerial ladder do you have to go to find someone who oversees both you and the people who are dumping emergencies in your lap? Depending on the size of your company and the types of executives you have, that person may be receptive to hearing your perception of what’s wrong and what a better way to structure projects might look like. Be really, really, really careful not to whine if you do this!

    Providing services to internal customers doesn’t mean allowing them to walk all over you. Having a boss that won’t back you up on that sucks.

  4. ashley*

    devise a fair, preferrably quantitative prioritization scheme, be open to everyone &then “yes, i’d like to help. however i shd let you know that this is in such and such place… low on the list”.

    1. Katie*

      This. The fact that the OP’s regular work isn’t getting done is concerning to me. Does this keep happening because the work OP is supposed to be doing isn’t that important, or because it is important but an unwarranted sense of urgency regarding these “emergencies” is causing their work to go undone, thereby creating more emergencies down the line? It’s important to figure out just how necessary and urgent these emergencies actually are (since it sounds like yesterday’s emergencies are forgotten as soon as today’s emergencies land in OP’s plate), and also to work out a better system of determining who is responsible for doing that work.

      Talk to your manager not about whether these emergencies are in your job description, but about how they should be prioritized, especially along with your regular work. If you still feel you have too much work, and not enough focus, after you get a system in place where work is clearly prioritized, talk to your manager about the fact that there is too much work for one person to do. As others have suggested, have data to back this up. It’s really important to track where your time goes week after week. If you can point out areas where your time is being misused, your manager will (assuming they are a decent manager) be interested to know where there are inefficiencies.

      I want to add, this is a really common problem, and it’s often really hard to resolve, since the problems tend to start much further up the food chain than the people most negatively impacted. Do your best to implement solutions at your level that mitigate the degree to which you are impacted by other people’s inability to do their jobs, but honestly, don’t expect that to change the overall culture of mismanagement in your workplace. Unless your manager has authority over all of your internal stakeholders, or has the ear of someone who does, you probably aren’t going to see the overall climate of urgency lessen.

  5. HR General*

    I think that a lot of work environments function (dysfunction?) this way. It sounds like your manager does not have a lot of clout, and may try to affirm his value by focusing on reactive, ‘service’ to other teams, rather than focus on long-term strategic priorities. You can track the hours spent on these emergency tasks ( a very rational strategy), as has been suggested, but in my experience if this is an ingrained viewpoint for your manager about what your team’s purpose and work are, you are better off looking for an environment and manager who realizes that occasional emergencies happen, but saying “how high?” when someone says jump is NOT the way to provide real value to an organization.

  6. Aaron*

    Dealing successfully with emergencies is a hugely valuable job skill–this basically describes every highly-paid lawyer’s job in America.

    I think you need to decide if you want this to be a recognized part of your job (and if so, you’d be compensated for it and have other workload reduced) or if you don’t want to be the one to deal with emergencies.

    If you don’t want to be the one to deal with emergencies (and it sounds like you don’t), I’d ask your boss to develop a plan to train some other employee to handle these situations, as a part of their job duties (“Hey, these fire drills seem to come up fairly regularly since we deal with so many managers, and it seems like I’m the guy you like running point on them. Which is great, but it’s not really what I want to be doing, and I can’t keep doing it indefinitely. Can we talk about how we’re going to ensure that, after say six months from now, I’m not going to have to keep doing this?”)

    Last, how regularly do these come up? If your boss doesn’t recognize how valuable it is for you to step in, have you thought about taking a vacation? Or even just declining once because of a “family issue” or something? If your boss doesn’t recognize how valuable the service you’re providing is (and it is a valuable service), it might not hurt to have a conversation after you show him what it’s like when you’re not available…

  7. Another Anon*

    A couple of things that would work in my environment and may or may not in yours – tell the person that today you’re slated to work on Bob’s problem first and then Ann’s, but if the requestor can arrange with one of them to delay their task and let his go first, you’d do whatever the two of them agree to. Another thing may be to remind the project manager that you expect to be included in project communication so that you know when your work will be needed.

  8. Will Weider*

    If you have project managers, there should not be that many surprises. There should be a clearer system of work where requests are prioritized.

    All organizations and work teams have inefficiencies, but, your organization appears to have low maturity regarding how they manage work. The best employees will approach this constructively, helping managers understand the problem, possible solutions and the positive impact of those solutions. If your manager is remotely intersted in doing a good job, they will react favorably. Some of the other suggestions are good ones to bring to your manager (quantify your time spent firefighting, develop prioritization approaches, publish what is on your plate).

    But, you have to approach this with a positive tone positioning the discussion on what is best for the company. As one other said, no whining.

    If you have children, think about how they behave when they don’t get their way. Their natural instinct is to pout. But, they are really more likely to get their way when they look at you with those big eyes and tell you how much they appreciate you.

    The statement “My manager…seems to think this is part of our job to handle these emergencies” is a little troubling. If your manager thinks that is your job, doesn’t that make it your job?

    As a manager you don’t want to hear that something isn’t you job. Your job is to pitch in and achieve the organization’s goals, even if the work hasn’t been well organized by management. You will gain credibility with management regarding the need for change if your motivation seems to stem from improving the organization, not making your life easier.

  9. Nathan A.*

    Here is the way I would approach it – if you have a manager, explain the process flow problem you are having. If the manager can not see it, use your chain of command.

    I would also try to draw a line on what is considered an “emergency”. If you have too many people approaching you with emergencies, then the definition of emergency needs to be rethought. If everyone that comes to you with work is using this term, you are going to have to pointedly set them straight by giving them an estimated completion time, emergency or not. If they can not handle the time you quoted, firmly state that they should look elsewhere for their emergencies to be resolved.

    I get the feeling that the poster hasn’t tried to address the situation up front outside passing comments and possibly passive-aggressive behavior. A direct word or two goes a long way.

    The other thing is that the poster knows that she is a rescuer, but does not address the behavior at hand. This, I believe, is the source of the stress.

  10. GeekChic*

    Hi OP: I’m in IT and provide support and development for 11 large organizations. Like your internal clients, each organization doesn’t really care what is wrong at the other organizations – only *their* problems are emergencies. To deal with this and still have time to work on the long-term projects that are on my plate I do the following:

    – Have a clear definition (agreed upon with my manager) of what really *is* an emergency and what the various priorities are [ex. The entire system is down? Priority 1 Emergency; One module is being a little slow? Priority 2,508].

    – Understand where long-term projects fit in on the priority list / timetable.

    – Say to the organizational clients: “I’ve received your trouble reports and it has X priority based on the other tasks on my schedule. Feel free to speak with my manager if you would like to discuss what my priorities should be.”

    – If my manager comes to discuss my priorities, make *them* choose something to fall by the wayside if they want me to do a new thing immediately that is not really an emergency based on our previous discussions. With some managers I have confirmed this choice in writing but I don’t always need to do this.

    Firefighting is part of my job, but these four steps ensure that all of my clients are treated fairly, that I am transparent about what my priorities are and that my manager and I are on the same page about those priorities.

  11. Chris*

    I have yet to work in a technical environment where taking care of problems was not in the job description. Anyway, I am part of a development team working on the underlying engine for some very popular business products. We have hundreds of thousands of the systems in existence. I have to deal with this type of situation on a regular basis and it can be good and bad. The upside is if you can handle the emergency load on top of your regular job duties, you can become very popular. I have this reputation and have my pick of the projects I want to work. I also get raises and bonus money most people don’t get. I get to answer the interesting questions and management trusts my answers.

    The downside is when someone’s hair is on fire; I have to deal with it. There are some long nights when troubleshooting. The trick is to set some reasonable boundaries to help you in work life balance. This does include telling your manager to take some “growaspine”. I refuse to carry a company mobile phone. My manager has both my private cell and home numbers. If there is a true emergency after hours, they have to go through him. Put it on him to make the call if it is true emergency. Most are probably not and can wait until the next day. It also lets him know what emergencies you are working after hours (if you are). If you don’t, they will run you ragged and put you on the path to burnout. I have been there as well and contemplated committing suicide. Then I thought about how freaking stupid it is for an organization to get me to that point. They didn’t want to change so I did, jobs.

    I am a firm believer managers are there to remove obstacles for you when doing your job. Let them play politics and all that jazz. Focus on what you need to do.

    1. Anonymous*

      I’m at that point currently, where I have frequent breakdowns just sobbing because I can’t handle the thought of another day at this job…the past 2 weeks I’ve had to not only beg my psychiatrist for some xanax to calm me down, but I’ve seriously thought of suicide because I feel so trapped. Irrational? Sure. But to someone just starting out in this career, I have little experience to peddle when looking for jobs, and I’m scared that I can’t find something else.

      However…I’m as brave as piglet, and I’ll survive. I would have devoted time this weekend to polishing my resume, but ironically I had to work from 8am to midnight both Saturday and Sunday so there wasn’t a chance. First spare moment I have…I’m blowing this popsicle stand. It’s not worth dying over.

      1. Chris*

        Anonymous, if you are feeling this way. It is not irrational. Please seek immediate help. If e-mailing Alison helps, employee help program, help hotline something.

  12. Wilton Businessman*

    Ah yes, four “this is your top priority” projects at the same time.

    IMHO, this is your manager’s problem. She needs to prioritize your work so you can work effectively on the problem you are tasked with. If she doesn’t know which is a higher priority, she needs to find out. If she doesn’t help, maybe a skip-level meeting with her manager is in order.

    I was once in the same type of position. I thought my manager had no clue and didn’t care as long as I got my work done. But when three people came to him and complained that I wasn’t getting their top priority done, he was taken by surprise that I wasn’t working on HIS top priority. Your manager is there to lead.

    1. Josh S*

      I’m gonna nitpick your choice of wording:

      This is your manager’s problem. She needs to prioritize your work so you can work effectively on the problem you are tasked with.

      Really, it’s your own job to prioritize your work. This should be done in cooperation/collaboration with your manager so that your priorities are aligned with her priorities/the company’s priorities. But it’s your responsibility.

      You can’t expect the manager to tell you, “First do project X, then project Y, then project K,” because that entails that your entire work flow needs to go through her. It’s unrealistic, and they are (or ought to be) paying for your ability to manage the work put in front of you.

      Rather it’s going to be, “Anything that has to do with the Kennedy Account should be given priority.” And then when the one-off occurs, and the Kennedy Account has a minor bug, but the Johnson Account has a HUGE issue, you can make the decision for yourself, or possibly consult to see which is the priority.

      I think that might be what you meant. But your wording left it unclear. Like you said, your manager is there to manage–not to make every decision in your day-to-day workflow.

      1. Wilton Businessman*

        I meant in this case the OP had too many “top priority” projects and needed help prioritizing them. Maybe prioritize was the wrong work, maybe workload management would have been a better phrase.

  13. Kimberlee*

    I might be wrong, but it sounds like you don’t so much mind the problem solving, you’re just pissed off that people seem to pass off whatever they think is an “emergency” on you when you feel like you’ve got other shit to do. You’re obviously smart, and good at your job, and have become recognized as someone who solves problems and handle many different kinds of tasks. You should start your own firm, organize it however you want, hire good people, and start trading on that reputation (and you can take on those “emergencies” as much as you want, can delegate others, not to mention that once you’re where the buck stops, those “emergencies” take on a whole new importance)!

    1. Lina*

      This sounds pretty annoying. Perhaps it’s time to hire another electrical engineer that can help you with some of your regular work? You can be the ‘problem solver’!

      If you describe your work as a co-dependent relationship then there is something seriously wrong!

  14. Harry*

    This is what I would do and it has worked VERY WELL in my field (IT). I would respond like this:

    “Thank you for your email (enter name here). I understand your urgency from your e-mail however my priorities will not allow me to address this issue until (enter future date). If this issue requires me to address this issue sooner, please have your line manager escalate this issue to my manager, (enter line manager email) and I will gladly take a look at it right away.”

    The ’emergencies’ will go away faster than you can say “that was easy!”. When they reach out to your directly, chances are, their line manager doesn’t have a clue they are passing the hot potato to others to resolve. Once they know that they’ll need to answer to their manager on why the issue became an ’emergency’, they will be more accountable to their work.

    Give it a try.

    1. Jamie*

      This is great advice.

      I am also in IT – and everyone’s issue is an emergency to them – so I the three basic points of my triage on my helpdesk portal. Emergencies are defined as any tech issue disrupting flow of business (phones/email/servers down, etc.) Everything else is assigned a classification based on the impact to business processes (medium or low).

      If you want to get bumped to the front of the line you can certainly explain to my boss why your printer issue which is causing you to walk all of three feet to another printer until I can get to it is more mission critical than any of the 40 higher priority things in the queue ahead of you.

      Define emergencies and triage.

  15. Anonymous*

    While there are some good suggestions here, many of them depend on having a supportive boss.
    You say:
    “My manager isn’t helping with this, and seems to think this is part of our job to handle these emergencies, and that we’re here to serve our customers.”
    Then the first thing you need to do is to fix that – make him recognize the stress you are under. I suspect you must have tried talking to him…But try again to prove to him/her is that this approach of working is coming in the way of you being effective – that the objective of “serving customers” IS being affected.

    He needs to acknowledge that if you are overloaded , the danger of delivering with reduced quality hovers (eg. yesterday’s emergencies not attended to effectively)

    a) See if you can quantify/document in some way the kind & amount of emergencies you are dealing with over a period of time, say a fortnight, and have a review with him
    b) Hopefully he understands, then you set down clear boundaries, priorities & escalation process with him . This will help you deal with the external pressure

    Unless you’re boss is supportive it can be hard to pull off push backs to others. You must, of course, clearly set boundaries as much as you can , but when the push back comes the boss must be there to back you up.
    If he doesnt then you need to take the high risk strategy of YOU making decisions on what IS an emergency and dealing with it. When an aggrieved party escalates your refusal to your boss, there’s an opportunity to discuss boundaries, priorities et al. But of course this can be an unpleasant option!

  16. fposte*

    As others have noted, I think the IT model is likely to be useful to you, and GeekChic in particular lays out some useful guidance for creating a triage policy. Which is what I think you need to create and run by your manager, checking to make sure you’ve understood the business’s priorities here. Another IT-like possibility is to create a ticketing system that allows people to check in without bothering you and see what the status of their query is.

  17. Joey*

    If your manager isn’t giving you direction take it upon yourself to prioritize based on your own judgement. Give clear expectations to the project managers in terms of completion time. The key is to keep your manager in the loop on how you’re prioritizing. That gives her an opportunity to adjust your priorities before and during your problem solving and heads off any complaints from your project managers.

  18. Anonymous*

    This could have been written by me. Been working 15+ hour days for months now, including weekends. Today is technically a company holiday, but here I am.

    I have a feeling that they’re keeping me so busy because they don’t want me to have the time to polish my resume/interview elsewhere. I don’t care if I have to pull an all-nighter, I’m leaving this place asap. The stress, the time away from my family (I’ve actually had to miss parent teacher conferences, etc. In fact, today is my youngest kiddo’s birthday, and if I push back about leaving in time to attend his party, I could likely get fired)…it’s not worth the measly salary. I know I should be thankful for any job in this economy, but…no, this is killing me.

    1. Mike C.*

      I used to work for a place like this, and you have my sympathies. Please find a way to “get sick” and leave for a few days. Consider sending your resume to a professional to polish up if you don’t have the time to do it yourself. That’s what I did and it worked out quite well for me.

      The bottom line is that your health is going downhill because of a schedule like this. I’m positive that you aren’t eating the best, not really exercising nor are your relationships with others in the best shape. You need to find a way out, and don’t be afraid to ask those who are close to you for help. Make it a priority to get that resume taken care of and find openings in your industry.

      Look, if you lived elsewhere there would be laws against these sorts of schedules but you don’t. You need to get out before this job kills you. It doesn’t matter how terrible the economy is, you shouldn’t have to be “thankful” for a 100 hr/week job.

  19. LJL*

    I worked in a place like this. It sounds like OP’s problem isn’t the emergencies, it’s that so many emergencies aren’t really within OP’s purview. (I’ve worked in IT for many years….”my email isn’t working” and “the network is down” do not usually go to the same groups for resolution, even though to the end user it seems that it’s all IT.) I have found that a response like “actually, Other Group is better able to assist you with this. Let me put in a call to Javier to let him know of this issue.” Next issue: “actually, Third group can help you better. Let me put you in contact with Clara.” Emergencies get passed along to the right people quickly (and off OP’s plate), and users get quick resolution AND know who to contact in the future.

    1. Katie*

      The problem comes when you’ve become the end of the line for all these problems. When the person responsible doesn’t know how to handle an issue or isn’t capable, the work often gets passed along to the person with demonstrated ability to get s*** done. In many cases, these emergencies make it to you because the people who are supposed to be handling them can’t or don’t want to, and you don’t have any means of sending the work back UNLESS you come up with some sort of system that gives you a legitimate means to do so. A prioritization system that makes it clear when/if this work gets done is the best way to do this.

  20. Cassie*

    I’m in a similar situation with OP (except in an admin-support-type position) and this happens for routine, non-emergency situations. Part of the problem is that my boss is in a managerial position and people ask him if I can help them (or he volunteers me to help when they go and complain that they need help).

    My general philosophy is that if I can help, I will (assuming it doesn’t consume too much time and effort), but the prevailing notion that I am the go-to person, and that I end up having to take care of stuff because of the incompetence of my coworkers is frustrating. And that part is what really gets to me. Why do I need to do extra work, for no extra money, while everyone else is chatting about their social lives or where they’re going for lunch? It just seems unfair.

    I’ve thought about finding another job (I’m looking here and there), but I think based on my personality (and the relatively good work I do), I will probably end up in similar situations wherever. Having a good boss/manager who will step in and protect you from being taken advantage of by others is definitely key.

  21. ITgirl*

    I also had this exact situation where I used to work. Eventually I (after discussing with my manager) told people they could not contact me directly, and any emergency would have to go through myboss, who was responsible for managing my priority list. Whenever a new request came up, I would ask my manager where it fit on the existing priority list, and then I would proceed to work on whatever happened to be priority 1. This took the onus of determining task priority off me, the grunt, and when people started asking why their particular problem had not been looked at, I pointed them to my manager. Your manager will also be aware that work on other projects may eliminate some of these emergencies, but it’s up to them to schedule it in. It’s frustrating not to be able to work on projects, or to be pulled from one thing to another as priorities change, but your manager should soon see how inefficient this is and how much time your context-switching is costing the company, and should take it from there.

  22. Alice*

    I lived this for 4 years, except it was my manager who had total control over my projects and priorities. We had already worked out the whole “nobody gives you a task but me” situation, and that anyone asking me to do anything for them had to get my managers approval first.

    Everything was a top emergency priority. I was constantly pulled directly off of a project in favor of another, then pulled of the new project for yet another, or 5 minutes later (at the whim of my managers mood), I would be working on the original project gain, or yet another emergency, or everything all at once. I would have a plan worked out for time management to get all tasks done at once, then have everything change after I tried executing my plan to get the work completed properly.

    I confronted my manager, even proposed some suggestions to make the whole workload more organized and able to tackle, but he then blamed other departments in the corporation and said there wasn’t anything he could do about it, just be grateful I had a job in this economy. Then, our department was shut down, we were all laid off, including my boss.

    He offered some side-work after we had all been laid off, I accepted, and began experiencing the same poor management, without the corporation to blame – not to mention working eight 10 hour days straight due to his poor planning. Everything is always an emergency.

    I am about to resign from this little side-work. I did become un-available to him last week (he wants me on-call 24/7, and I live an hour away), as I sincerely did have other personal responsibilities, and he became upset with me. I am afraid he will not give me a good reference. I have at least 4 stellar performance reviews from him, but the fact that I won’t put him above my own personal well being any longer seems to be the deal breaker for him. I can only hope he doesn’t become bitter with me for refusing to bend over backwards for him for good.

    My plan as of now is to call him and hopefully set up a time where we could meet and speak in person. I have even written myself a script to tell him that keeps me cool, calm, collected, and professional while trying to maintain a good reference from him. He is very moody and irrational, and it was a co-dependent working relationship in which I got totally caught up in and only therapy has helped me get out of. I made a mistake by continuing to work for this guy, but I only recently recognized my mistakes and why (because I started personal counseling).

    I’ve been reading all kinds of articles and comments here about all different topics, if anyone has any suggestions I’d be happy to hear them. Right now it feels that no matter what I do, I am not going to get a good reference out of this guy.

      1. Alice*

        Thank you for responding. That is a good point, I am now on unemployment anyways. I really can’t afford to work part-time for him.

        One other thing you’ve mentioned in another article about quitting your job, you said to be prepared for a counter offer. I can see him proposing a counter offer – if things go positively and civil – but I do not want to work for him anymore. It is very un-healthy for me and he is guilty of just about everything a bad manager is guilty of. I know the grass isn’t always greener, but I have certainly had much more tolerable managers in the past.

        He has a hard time not taking things personal, and I am afraid that if I refuse any possible counter offer, he may become upset with me. I am so tired of walking on eggshells, but I don’t know how to refuse a possible counter offer without offending him so I can finally move on with my life.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Tell him that you’re really grateful and appreciate him trying to help you out with work, but that you need to be focusing on a job search right now and you’re finding that side projects interfere with your ability to job search. I recently wrote about how it’s not true that job-searching is a full-time job, but I’d use that line with him anyway — tell him that you need to focus full-time on your search :)

          1. Alice*

            Thank you. I’m going to add some of this to my little script :)

            He may try to offer me full time salaried contract work (he likes to run people into the ground), eliminating my need to look for other full time work. But I don’t want to work for him. I guess I could tell him I need a shorter commute.

            Thank you so much for your help!

              1. Alice*

                Oh dear, telework, this is like a bad relationship and I need to break up ;P

                I will let you know, and thank you again for your help. This website is the best thing I’ve ever found on the internet about working in general.

                You rock :)

  23. Alice*

    Hello! I have an update. It took him 3 times to finally get it through his head that I was serious, I just repeated myself each time. What I mean is that I called him and read him my script and he was very understanding, however still tried to manipulate me into continuing to be on call for him, but I stood my ground. He called me again after this with another “emergency” pretending like we had never talked about anything. I ignored him and called him on my own time to repeat myself. He seemed understanding again, but still frustrated with me but I was able to end the conversation on a good note while reinforcing my position. Then the calls for support from him and his employees started coming, it was an emergency! I ignored it all for two whole days, then called him back on my own time. I felt I had nothing to lose at this point, it didn’t matter how hard I tryied to keep things positive and civil. I was right to wait a couple of days because it let his temper cool off and was finally getting the message without throwing a fit on the third call. He admitted to me that this “emergency” project really wasn’t worth it in the forst place and ended it. I was able to have a good conversation with him about our work together, where we may be going in the future, and most importantly for me, re-emphasising his importance as my reference. I made sure he knew how awesome and important he would be for me as a reference, that worked really well. I’m not saying this is how everyone should handle breaking up with your boss, but it in my situation it did work out for me to stay honest and personable with him while demanding my own self-respect. I knew I could ignore his calls and still be able to talk to him about it afterwards because I know how he is as a person. I know there’s a lot of “bosses” out there who would become livid with such behaviour, so I wouldn’t recommened it unless you really know what your doing. I hope this helps someone else out there understand that it is totally possible to stand up for yourself without getting exiled. Thank you for the support :)

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