students: don’t make commitments you don’t intend to keep

A reader writes:

I am a college student working my way through school to (hopefully, someday) work in journalism. Currently, I am working at a private school as an after-school worker to pay the bills. I enjoy working with the kids, but the school is incredibly demanding. I only work about 15 hours per week in the afternoons, but somehow, this job has become the most rigid part of my already-busy schedule.

For instance, I had the opportunity to attend a four-day student media conference in Orlando, Fla. this year. Attending the conference would give me a lot of career advice, not to mention allow me the opportunities to meet some professionals in the field. The conference is in November. I provided the dates and asked for permission to leave work (for 2 of the 4 days…it’s a Thursday through Sunday conference) in August, the week before my work at the school began. The director of schools denied my request. Now, I understand that finding a replacement for teachers is difficult due to laws about adult/child ratios, etc. However, as a worker for this school, I give up my fall break, my spring break, and half of my Christmas break, because the school has more days on the calendar than my university. Furthermore, I will end up working well into my university’s summer term for the same reason. All of this was on an informal contract I signed at the beginning of the school year.

However, since I’m beginning to send my resume out for internship opportunities (I’m stating that I am seeking a summer/fall 2012 internship in order to finish out my contract with the school), I’m wondering what I will do if I’m offered a position that starts earlier than I am able to leave the school. The school I work for made it very clear that I should take the job seriously and that they expected me to work for the entire school year. However, I am looking for a job in the media, not in childcare. How inappropriate would it be for me to break my contract with the school? And how much notice should I give them?

If I’m understanding this correctly, when you agreed to take the job, you were clearly told that all the things that you’re now objecting to would be the case. Right? They even had you sign a contract, which seems to indicate that they really wanted to make sure that you understood what you were committing to.

You agreed to the terms of the job — including working the duration of the school year — because you wanted the paycheck. They held up their end of the bargain — they’re providing you with paid employment. But now you feel justified in breaking your end of the bargain because … the job isn’t in the field you want to be in? Which you knew when you signed up and committed to it?  How exactly is that their problem?

Brace yourself, because this is going to sound harsh:  Your whole stance here comes across as a little naive and entitled, as if you’re still functioning by student rules rather than by real-world rules. For instance, complaining that you’re giving up your fall break, your spring break, half of your Christmas break, and some of your summer term … well, you know that working adults don’t typically get any of those breaks, right?  If you had a problem with that, you shouldn’t have committed to this job.

Look, if you want to break your commitment and leave early, they can’t stop you from doing it. But yes, it would be unprofessional and you would be engaging in behavior that, as a responsible adult about to embark on a career, you really shouldn’t be engaging in.

This is the real world. When you make commitments, you’re expected to keep them. If you don’t, you will quickly find yourself with a reputation that will make it very hard to get hired for jobs in the future. I strongly suggest that you adhere to the original agreement you made and not start harming your reputation before you’ve even left school.

{ 77 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    I agree with the sentiment expressed here- the school was upfront with their demands on time and the student should have taken that at face value. Should she have found another job that worked with her expectations? Yes. But I will say that in my area many schools use college students as PT staff for after-school programs and that they are more flexible given their staff population. Flexible enough to have the students leave early in the summer? No. But two days for a conference? Yes. But if this school can’t find a temporary substitute for two days from its family, PTA or substitute staff, that is also a problem.

    1. GRA*

      This was my thought, too. I understand the school being upset about the contract being broken if the OP left before the end of the school year. But denying two days off? For a professional conference? That seems wrong.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        As I keep saying in this thread, we don’t have enough info to judge that. There could be a perfectly good reason for the denial (scheduling conflict, big event at the school that week, etc.).

  2. Anonymous*

    As someone who works in journalism, my advice would be this: Many media companies aren’t paying interns right now. I would explain to perspective publications that since they’re not paying, you need to complete this term in order to afford to work the internship. Many will be understanding.

    If someone hasn’t told you this yet, getting an internship is absolutely important to working in journalism when you leave school. Given the current market, you don’t have a prayer in the world that anyone is going to hire you if you leave college without an internship. Internships are way more important than attending a conference (that’s how I got my first job, not from rubbing elbows.) If your school has a student paper or television station, I would be applying there, especially if you don’t intern this summer and even if you don’t want to work in daily papers.

    When you go back to school in the fall, get a job waiting tables instead of working at this school.

  3. Steve Berg*

    I agree with what you say about keeping one’s word and not breaking agreements no matter how inconvenient. I take issue with the title as it came in on my RSS feed, though: “something school should teach you: keeping your word”. That’s something parents should teach.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I changed the subject line right after publishing it. While definitely parents should teach this, I do think that (some) colleges are somehow enabling this sort of attitude in students.

      1. Anonymous*

        Some employers are enabling as well. I’m a manager, but not in charge of scheduling, for a retail store, and the scheduling manager lets the young kids get away with murder. I know that if you’re 16 and your parents plan a family vacation, you’re stuck with that. But when you’re 21 and do a no call/no show because of a preplanned student ski trip and the manager just shrugs it off…ack.

        We have one 21-year-old who shows up 15-20 minutes late on a regular basis, takes about four breaks a day when the rest of the cashiers only get meal breaks because the state requires it (and they have to wait until his break is over), and pads those breaks until they’re roughly twice as long as they should be. I’ve fired him three times and the scheduling manager (who’s higher up than me) always puts him back on the schedule, so now I’ve just given up. There’s nothing I like better at this point in my life than covering for the shortcomings of an adult child.

        Note that I’ve worked several retail jobs and noticed the younger workers being treated with similar deference when it comes to non-essential events with little or no notice given; it’s not like this manager is a total aberration.

  4. Student with the commitment*

    My issue here isn’t as much with the demanding qualities of the school because I did know that going in; I just wanted to illustrate why I would feel really terrible about potentially having to leave the school in order to pursue a job I really want to do. I guess I sounded a little whiney.

    I am being very forward about searching for internships, and I’ve actually found a couple of paid ones that I’m hoping to get, in which case it would make sense (to me) to leave the school. And I am currently being published as the News Editor of my university’s student newspaper. All good things–

    But I would hate to start my career off on an unprofessional tone, I see where you are coming with that. Is there any way to get around this? I’m applying for internships early enough that I’m starting to get calls for interviews, and I don’t want to turn any down because of my job at the school. Is it reasonable to ask a potential employer to wait until my contract with the school is over in May?

    1. KayDay*

      Umm, I think it’s totally reasonable to ask if your SUMMER internship can wait until May. In depends on the company of course, but internships don’t always have a set in stone start date (and if they do have a fixed start date, it will most likely be on the later side). Different universities all have different end dates, so it isn’t that weird that you have commitments through May. If you’re only talking about a week of overlap, see if you can work part time during that week (very politely explain that you committed to work at your part time job until May X). You will probably want to use your school as a reference for your first job once you graduate (even though it’s not related, you will want all the work references you can get), so I wouldn’t want to burn the bridge.

      1. KayDay*

        p.s. I had a pt job as an after school assistant (about 12 hrs/week) my sophomore year of college, completely unrelated to my career, and it was the best job I have ever had. Not only did I get paid to hang out on a playground, but I also got leadership experience, designed lesson/activity plans, was responsible for the safety of 30 children, etc. Obviously, a career-related internship is essential to getting a job, but, if you market it right, having the education experience on your resume can give you an edge.

  5. kbeers*

    I work in higher education and just want to point out the use of the term “real world” here…this is one of my pet peeves. The problem with college students is that they often both feel and are told that college is an alternate universe that is somehow different than the “real world”. As long as we all keep perpetuating this concept, our college students who are attempting to transition out of college and into the workforce (or who are attempting to interface with the workforce while still in college, as with the OP) will continue to struggle. Steve is partially correct- it is on parents to teach students about commitment, but this needs to be reinforced by everyone- by the companies hiring these students, by higher education administrators, by the folks who are helping students get their jobs, and so on.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I can see that, but then I’d argue that it’s on colleges to function more like the work world that students are going to encounter once they graduate. They may have legitimate reasons for not doing that … but then we’re back to it being a different world and language reflecting that.

      1. Katie*

        Agreed. Being a college student and having a full time job are not the same thing. Whether we call it the same thing or not really doesn’t change the fact that they *are* different and that students will have to make a major transition–one that, regardless of the language you use, they will probably struggle with.

        1. kbeers*

          College is a full time job if it’s done correctly. If you take 15 credit hours, you’re in class 15 hours a week. Add 2 hours of studying for each credit hour you’re taking and that adds up to 45 hours a week. I know students (the successful ones) who put more time into their academics than most people put into their full-time jobs; I also know people with “real” jobs who do less work than many college students. The problem is that college students should function as though their classes are their job, but too many people (including the media) make college seem like it’s one giant party. And most of us who went to college are guilty of perpetuating this perception of college by telling “war stories” about our time in college, few of which involve actual academic pursuits, and most revolving around alcohol and wild shenanigans.

          Yes, AAM, professors and higher education administrators alike should step up their game and raise the expectations for students. I completely agree. The reality, though, is that colleges are businesses and, like any business, the colleges have to serve their customers. And our current customers (students) are used to getting what they want, when they want, and not having to really work for it. It’s a catch 22, because colleges need students in order to exist, but can’t fully do their jobs (educate students) because the majority of the students don’t want to work too hard to get their degree. Not sure how you solve that one.

          And now I’m getting off my soapbox.

          1. Lina*

            I agree with you. When I was in college I was taking 19-20 credit hours a semester. I couldn’t work and study at the same time, obviously.

            But the OP made a commitment and the school was clear to her that it wanted serious employees. OP should have bowed out then.

          2. GeekChic*

            THIS. The university I attended (back in the Dark Ages) still prides itself on the number of students it fails due to the rigorous nature of their coursework. I didn’t have time to work a part-time job when I was in university as the coursework was just too demanding.

          3. Ask a Manager* Post author

            kbeers, I’ll agree that school can often take the same amount of time as a full-time job, but the levels of responsibility and accountability are very different, and I think that’s a big distinction. I totally agree, though, on the problem colleges face with needing to “serve their customers.” However, colleges didn’t used to be that way; it’s been a fairly recent evolution, so it doesn’t seem impossible to imagine it being done differently.

            1. Sarah*

              Agree. The thing about school is, while there is a LOT of work, it is so often done on your own schedule. Yes, you have a deadline, but aside from class, you are rarely required to do things in specific hours. This is also becomes true in a lot of workplace jobs, but not in positions like the OP is describing.

              The bottom line is, in college, the main person counting on you is YOU. If you slack on something, you only hurt yourself.

              1. Jamie*

                Sarah makes the point which is at the crux of the real world vs. college debate: your decisions affect you.

                In the real world (business) your decisions affect your co-workers, your company, and your ability to support yourself.

                If you get the flu, have a family emergency, etc. and go to your professors extensions are generally forthcoming – when they can accommodate you without impacting others. By contrast your boss may feel just as badly for you, but the commitments are to the bigger picture – not just your needs.

                In college the work is all about your personal development – it’s very personal to the student. In the real world the work is about the work…if you find it personally fulfilling, great, but it’s not the point and it’s not about any one person.

          4. Katya*

            I agree that college, if you apply yourself, is equivalent to a full-time job. While I am not an academic myself nor do I plan to be, both of my parents are, and I think that it’s a particular discredit to those who are professional scholars to draw such a sharp distinction between “academia” and “the real world.” Yes, I recognize that there is a big difference between being a professional academic and being an undergraduate student at a typical four-year college, but I think that ultimately it is the same field, and considering college to be a vacation before the more “real” and “important” world of 9 to 5 work really disparages academia in general. Academic study IS a legitimate career for some people. I’d like to think that I took a serious approach to my studies in college, especially in terms of time spent doing work and engaging in academically enriching activities outside of the classroom. Like Lina, I don’t think I could have worked a part time job during that time and applied myself as thoroughly and successfully to my studies. (Of course, the option of not working isn’t available to everyone and I have great admiration for those putting themselves through college and achieving at a high level.) But I honestly think that working full-time, which I did during a gap year as well as summers during college, is easier than going to school. More boring, perhaps (I loved my job, but at times I was bored because it was mostly the same functions every day), but still easier. Of course, this isn’t true for every job.

              1. K*

                Both have accountability and consequences. They’re slightly different in the ways they play out, but not the vast distinction you keep touting.

              2. Katya*

                I find this remark a bit insulting. (I am interpreting your remark to mean that there is no, or a much lesser degree of, accountability and consequences in academia – please tell me if I am misinterpreting what you meant!) To me, this frankly isn’t true. Every field is different. To some people, academic study is their life’s project, and thus does relate very directly to “whether you eat or not.” For students on scholarships, their livelihood does depend on their performance at school. Academia isn’t some kind of magical, fairyland for the juvenile that’s devoid of legitimate substance or “consequences.”

              3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I actually do think that in a lot of ways, academia plays by different rules than the rest of the professional world, but in this case I was talking about students vs. non-students (not academic faculty vs. other professionals).

            1. Snow Hill Pond*

              I think there is a common misperception in academia that “The Real World” is easy because it is not as intellectually challenging as college. But this ignores all of the other challenges that await the graduate when he enters the workforce. That is, the luxury of focusing on one field of study at the expense of all else is generally given only during college.

              After you graduate, you may be lucky enough to land a job in your chosen field of study or you may not. But either way, you’ll be expected to handle every task that your employer gives to you, whether it be boring or exciting, and complete it with professionalism and competence. On top of that, you’ll have to run your own life, which means juggling bills, family, finding a home, becoming part of a community, retirement-planning, paying for your kids’ college, and any curveball life throws at you.

              IMO, the hard part of the RW isn’t that it is intellectually challenging (although it can be), it’s that it’s a multidimensional and unpredictable adult situation.

              Put another way, finding and succeeding in a career so that I can figure out how to put food on the table, heat the house, clothe my family, finance retirement, and fund the kids’ college eduation is a little mundane but requires more effort and discipline than writing a semester-ending term paper.

      2. Anonymous*

        This is exactly why I value work experience over internships. Give me someone who knows time management and how to handle equal priorities.

    2. Dawn*

      I’m in college right now (I’m 36) and it most definitely is an alternate universe.

      I had the advantage of being in the “real world” for 18 years before hitting the books and I don’t feel that college really prepares students for the working world, other than book learning and maybe a little bit of hands-on experience. Granted, I’m in a community college so I can’t speak to the experience of university or private college students. I can only speak about what I’ve experienced. Maybe the environment is different.

      It’s been my experience that most professors are pretty laid back in regards to tardiness to class, turning in assignments on time, grading, etc. Maybe this doesn’t sound like important stuff, but enforcing punctuality, expecting students to complete work on time and turn in work that isn’t riddled with careless mistakes prepares the student for the working world.

    3. Anonymous*

      As someone who is 23 and:
      1. Graduated from college a year and a half ago
      2. Worked as a TA during my senior year
      3. Now working in the “real world”

      Yes, College and the “Real World” are very different. The attitude that academia has and the rest of the world has is very different. Colleges coddle students too much these days, and it only looks like it’s getting worse. I think the biggest issue is that society treats college as “the best years of your life”, and people seem to go into College believing that.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I always wonder about older people who claim college years are the best years of anyone’s life. College might have the best conditions of life (generally speaking: fewer responsibilities, easily accessible pool of friends, flexible schedule, focus on personal fulfillment, etc.), but I doubt that most people are really happiest at that time of their life … not unless something goes very wrong later. In general, I think it’s a very confusing time of life for most people, and it’s not until later that you really learn how to arrange your life in ways that make you really happy.

        Off-topic, I realize.

        1. Anonymous*

          I’ve personally found that the people who think wistfully back on their college days as the best in their lives are the ones who seem like they partied away instead of studied, and are trying to frame the years in a positive light instead of one of regret.

          There are exceptions, of course, but the above has been the usual case in my experience.

  6. Lina*

    By the way, the skills you will gain at a school are transferable to other fields. Think communication (written and oral), collaborative work, sensitivity to diversity, organization and management (students, nonetheless). A good teacher will most likely be a good manager.

      1. KayDay*

        Have you ever tried to get three year olds to sit in a circle, be quite, and conduct an activity in an orderly fashion?

  7. Curious Intern*

    Looking slightly into the future for this OP, but what are your thoughts about the commitments make when accepting an internship? One thing that has proven to be frustrating for me is that many unpaid internships expect their interns to put a halt on their job search until the internship has concluded, at which point, the interns are politely ushered out of the door with some new experience and possibly references (if you’re lucky), but ultimately, still unemployed.

    I’m currently very lucky in that I managed to land an internship that is extremely supportive and understanding about my job search, but I’ve had more than five internships where I was expected to stick the full term and not apply for jobs. I also turned down two other internships before accepting my current one because I was unwilling to give up finding a job for more unpaid work and did not break the time commitments I would have needed to have made.

    1. A Nony Mouse*

      Hmm, I actually have found the opposite. Obviously, when you plan to go back to school, e.g. a summer internship before senior year, they would expect you to be there the whole time, but I know a bunch of people (I can think of 5 off the top of my head) who were interning the spring before or summer (and fall…and spring….) after graduation and had their internship managers help them find job leads. (the caveat being that they would expect you to give them at least 6 – 8 weeks of work or so before leaving). I’ve known unpaid interns who were given flexible hours so they could go on interviews. Could it be that perhaps you are either (a) not asking and just assuming or (b) asking too soon, like the first day, instead of waiting a few weeks?

      1. Curious Intern*

        It’s actually something that comes up in the interviews. I have had interviewers ask whether I would be continuing my job search (followed by an explanation on their part about how that would not work) or they’ll just say upfront that they expect their intern to dedicate her/himself fully for the full internship. Earlier during my intern career, I’d simply accept their terms in hope that the benefits would eventually outweigh the costs. Now that I’ve been doing unpaid internships for a year and a half though, I’m not quite as willing to make that sacrifice.

        All of my internships have been supportive of me going for job interviews and working my schedule around them, as long as it’s during the last month of the internship. That way, chances are if I did land a job, I would have already fulfilled most of my commitment.

        Secretly envious of the people you know while also being glad that their internship experiences worked out so well!

  8. Anonymous*

    When I was in school, I worked part-time and took a full course load. In addition, I worked all summer and even when I came back from college during the breaks I worked to try and save money for books and tuition. This is the real world.

      1. Anon2*

        So living in the “real world” means getting paid? Anonymous may have broken all kinds of commitments for all we know yet somehow because she said she worked all during college she’s in the real world but the OP, who is also working, is in student land? I don’t think that’s fair.

        I never had a paying job during college because I didn’t have time. I got my degree in three years instead of four (saved a year of tuition) and that included transferring schools. I took a full course load every semester and kept a high GPA. As a full time, hard working student I learned plenty of “real world” skills like time management, responsibility, organization etc.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Nope, I said this commenter was clearly living in the real world because she demonstrated a strong work ethic, worked over breaks (rather than feeling entitled to all that time off), and paid her own expenses.

  9. Anonymous*

    I think that I’m going to attend the same conference that the OP was.

    I cleared my calendar in advance for that conference. I knew that I’d be going to the conference in March, so I scheduled my classes and work commitments so they wouldn’t conflict with it. I also sent a note as soon as I could to the one teacher whose class I will be forced to miss, which she appreciated. When the OP’s request got denied, she could have refused to sign the informal contract.

    I understand both sides of this, but I feel like the OP could have taken another job. As she says herself, she doesn’t want to go into childcare. It’s far more important for her to get experience with writing. I’m the editor-in-chief of a student paper and many of my writers are journalism students who are trying to build up a portfolio of clips.

    The conference is not so much about rubbing elbows; it’s more about getting additional training on running a paper.

  10. Post-grad*

    As a recent grad who worked and interned at the same time during college, this is my advice to the OP:
    Depending on how big of a company it is where your internship would be, you may be one of many, many interns, and therefore not be able to build as many connections as you had hoped. By burning a bridge at the school that you are working at, you could be setting yourself up for a reference check in which the contact person at your internship may vaguely remember you while your contact at the school could give you a scathing reference. Or, you could look like you can’t handle a busy workload, which is a huge stigma that new grads already face.

    If your job hunt after college is anything like the one that recent grads now are facing, you will be lucky to even get an interview for ANY position in your field immediately after you graduate. Intern experience is hard to compare to the other candidates who could have 10 years of experience on you, since interns aren’t considered as valuable to a company as paid employees.

  11. davie*

    You’re being exploited and manipulated fullstop… this job is there to pay the bills, not your job of choice. Take your job of choice. They say you should take the job seriously??? thats emotional manipulation, as to me it seems like you do; otherwise you wouldn’t be posting on here or informing them about other areas of your life.. Personally I would keep other areas to yourself, tell them nothing, because when you do, they will use your conscience against you. Contracts are for suckers, or for those who want the contract. I bet you just wanted a job to pay the bills. The school know this and have probably experienced the same thing over adn over. thats why they try and trap you in a contract. they have no rights over your life. they cant fire you, infact, they wont fire you…how bad would they look? Be more assertive about things and stop letting the managers rule your life. sound like a bunch of stuck up, selfish, inconsiderate assess. They make out like their game is more important than yours. If you dont want to see the contract through…dont, do what you want, (within reason). They are obviously shite and desperate and perhaps of a poor standard, and profit based…e.g. more for less. because they wouldnt be so bothered about you seeing your contract through, as they would have another professional ready to step in, the student pupil ratio stuff is a blag; its because no-one wants to work in schools. Good luck with your career. by the way, have you ever thought about how this might be impacting on the students? they pick up your not fully happy being there, you have a right not to be ; tell this to the managers.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      How is it emotional manipulation to lay out their expectations of her very clearly, tell her straightforwardly that they need to be taken seriously as a condition of getting the job, and then expecting her to meet her commitment? “You have a right not to be unhappy” in the context of a work commitment is a bizarre statement.

    2. Nichole*

      Wow. I also doubt that the school is considering the OP’s needs…because it’s not their job. They laid out the expectations, the OP accepted, and now the OP is realizing that maybe in practice it’s more difficult than in theory. Expectations are not equal to manipulation. I agree that most people expect some flexibility at work- as the first commenter said, it’s a little odd that they can’t adjust for a two day absence with advance notice-but part of the high school/college to career transition is learning how to navigate your personal life and goals around your work life and vice versa. The OP is asking for advice during the rough process of learning to do that, and encouraging the OP to blame the school for his/her tough spot instead of to honor committments and be responsible for the consequences of his/her own decisions doesn’t help. A sense of entitlement is useful in finding ways to make things someone else’s fault, but not terribly effective as a career strategy.

  12. Nate*

    I’m assume this gal has an at-will-contract. If that is the case then she has no real obligation to stay. If the school was serious about the length of time then they need to give her the same commitment they want from her.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No legal obligation, but certainly an ethical obligation, given the conversations that were had at the outset of her employment about the commitments they needed from her in exchange for offering her the job.

      It’s kind of like giving two weeks notice — you’re not required by law to do it, but if you don’t do it, you can assume that your reputation will be injured, you’ll burn the bridge, etc.

      1. Nate*

        I’ll agree she will probably burn a bridge but I can’t agree there is a real ethical obligation. Just like with a two week notice. If you don’t give a 2 week notice you’ll probably burn a bridge. However giving notice isn’t a matter of ethics.

        Employers who play the at-will contract game are the unethical ones. They want to commit to some time-line outside of the contract. However, the reality is they only want you to commit. They wouldn’t hesitate to let you go if it was best for them. Which is exactly why they used an at will contract and not a term based contract. Those kinds of gotcha games hardly have the force of ethics behind them.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          In what way is this a gotcha game? They said they’d offer her the job contingent upon her agreeing to certain things. She agreed to those things, and now she wants to renege on them. It’s breaking her word. She made a specific commitment. I’d say the exact same thing if an employer had made a specific commitment — for instance, if an employee had said “I’ll take this job but I need a guarantee that it will last for at least 12 months” and the company had agreed to that and then later reneged; that would be unethical.

  13. Anonymous*

    There is a specific reason why employers don’t included these kinds of terms in their contract. I.E. You must commit to staying for at least 12 months but we (the employer) are not going to make that same commitment to you. It’s not illegal to included them, but no court would enforce those kinds of terms through penalizing the employee. A court would only enforce the contract for term employment if both sides made the same commitment. Why? Fairness. Fairness is a component of ethics and employers are being unethical when they try and craft overly one sided agreement.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Right, but she agreed to something voluntarily, and they hired her because she gave her word. Believe me, there were plenty of other people who would have liked to have taken that job and who would have honored the agreement they made.

      1. Nate*

        I do believe you, but that kind of reasons could justify many unethical acts. I.E. We told him he would be paid under the minimum wage and he agreed.

  14. Rodney*

    I don’t think that it’s a big deal for OP to miss the days. If it is a big deal, the real question is: Which does OP value more? Choose one, move on with life. I think that OP has done all the right things here, and the director has shown no willingness to work with or try to find other options besides a flat “no”.

    Personally speaking, I’ve always treated my “requests” as a courtesy to my boss, whoever it was at the time. I’m telling you, well in advance, that I’m not going to be here for these dates. I’ve done this in both my “non-professional” life as a retail drone/manager and in my current “professional” life as an office type person. In all instances, my boss has been reasonable and understood that being flexible works both ways, not just me covering you when you need it. Perhaps I’ve just been lucky. Perhaps I’ve only worked with weak bosses who weren’t able to stand up to their employees. (Spoiler, I haven’t.) Or I’ve had bosses who understood the benefits of having (personal opinion) a dependable employee who’s flexible in his schedule. I’m leaning towards the latter, but YMMV.

    What’s the difference between the OP’s situation and if the OP has a flu/cold/other easily donated sickness? Her contract means she should be there anyway? Reason for OP not being there is immaterial, from a workplace standpoint. Either the person is there or not, why doesn’t/shouldn’t matter.

    As an aside to OP, is it seriously impossible to cover two (2) shifts of a caregiver with three months of lead time? There’s no other people willing to cover the shifts? No backup plans?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But she’s asking about ending her internship early, not taking those two days in November. (Although if we’re going to talk about those two days, it’s possible that they’re being overly rigid, but it’s also possible that there’s a good reason for the vacation request being turned down, such as someone else already having those days off or it being a particularly important week at the school for some reason.)

  15. Katya*

    I also work at an after-school program part time. Because the OP describes himself as a “teacher” (I don’t) perhaps the program he works for is more structured than mine. But I am still quite surprised that the program is so inflexible. The place I work is mostly staffed by college students (can the OP really be the only student who works there?) and is incredibly flexible with dates, giving extra hours, accommodating people who can’t work 5 days a week, etc.

    While I can understand how the email seems whiney – yes he shouldn’t have made a commitment to what he knew was a rigid schedule if he is so resentful of having to hew to this same schedule – I think that it’s ultimately not a big deal that he wants a few days off, and it seems really unreasonable that the employer cannot give him two days off that were requested over two months in advance. I also think that it’s not a big deal to leave the job in, say, May as opposed to June. If there is not a written contract saying “you must stay until June,” it doesn’t seem too unethical to me to quit a month early. Yes, his boss will have every right to be disappointed and upset, but those are just feelings, my impression from my own job is that this kind of childcare work is a readily fill-able job, and I think it’s entirely the OP’s prerogative to quit his job – as we’re not serfs, we are allowed to quit jobs. It may be unethical, but it’s still possible. If I were him, I’d feel really bad about it, but I’d still probably quit.

  16. Editor*

    The student who wants to attend a conference has given plenty of notice and would only miss two days of work. I understand that this is inconvenient for the employer, but the employer knew the student was a student, and the employer knows that sick days have to be covered. I think the employer is being overly rigid about the conference.

    On the other hand, working through college breaks and vacations and working until the end of the school year isn’t negotiable. Leaving early at the end of the year puts the employer in the worst possible position, with fewer people available to substitute and no chance of hiring a replacement just to fill out a few extra days. The student should deal with the agreed-upon schedule and apply for internships while noting that the first day of availability will be in June.

    For many faculty members and students, college is not the real world. The faculty environment, for instance, is loaded with politics and has crushing publish-or-perish obligations in the more prestigious schools, but a lot of flexibility regarding scheduling. The student environment is casual and flexible, social, and often not very political or hierarchical.

    So students come out of college having lost the sense of routine K-12 school had established for part of the year. And because no school goes all day all year round, most students haven’t been prepared by college for the rhythms of the work world. Colleges like the University of Cincinnati, which has students co-op and alternate a quarter of work with a quarter of study provide the best preparation. The extra year to complete the degree doesn’t matter as much because students graduate with real experience that has eased them into the real-world expectations of work. (Note — UC is moving to semesters.)

    Colleges with serious co-op programs bolstered by dedicated placement staff (so placement isn’t a side duty for professors) are the best way to prepare for work. Students should be lobbying their colleges to offer co-op programs in all majors.

  17. Anon*

    Although leaving the job will put the employer in a tight spot, the OP should really be thinking about what’s best for himself/herself. If the employer needs to make budget cuts and has to let some people go, the employer will feel bad about it but will still have to do it. If it’s true that the employer could end the contract at any time, shouldn’t the employee be able to do the same thing?

    I agree that it’s best to stick to your commitments and not make promises that you can’t keep. However, having a lot of job loyalty can make it difficult for someone to move on to the jobs that would make them successful. At the time of the interview, the OP probably thought he/she would be able to stay the whole time. Now that things have changed, should the OP make bad career choices just to save the employer some hassle?

    I don’t think it’s unethical to leave a job for a better opportunity, because there are no guarantees that the employer will be loyal to you and keep you around if there are budget problems. And in the interview, it’s not like you can say that you will leave for a better opportunity, because then you’ll never get hired. If you are the type of person that will leave, it’s best not to get jobs where there is a set contract or where it will be hard to replace you.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If you want to take ethics out of it, then if nothing else, the OP should keep her word because she should care about protecting her reputation, which will help her get jobs in the future.

      1. Anon*

        So ignoring the ethical question for a moment, since this job is outside of the OP’s chosen field, it seems unlikely that burning bridges here would have much affect on his/her career. The OP might lose a reference, but it’s unlikely that the current employer will know anyone in media. Of course, it’s possible that someone at the school just happens to have a cousin in media, and word will get around that the OP does not keep commitments, but that seems unlikely. Perhaps the benefit of taking on a new job that will help the OP’s career is worth the risk that her reputation might be tarnished?

  18. Andy*

    You should quit and go do the internship. You are young and this is exactly the time of your life when you should be taking risks to try to achieve your goals. Sure they might not be happy that you quit, but they’ll get over it. If the situation were reversed and they had to fire you then their “commitment” wouldn’t enter the picture. If they absolutely had to have you stay for the year they should have required a contract with a penalty for early termination.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Believe me, no future hiring manager is going to accept “she was young so it was okay for her to break her word.” What they’re going to see, if they know about it, is someone who breaks their word and therefore is unhireable.

      (Separately, there’s also the whole issue of simply being someone whose word means something, for your own sake.)

      1. HB*

        I’m sorry AAM, but I disagree this time. I think it is good advice to keep your commitments, but I think this is an exception where it might be more beneficial in the long run for OP to break his/her commitment. Having been in the exact same situation as OP several years ago, I can empathize and relate.

        I was working at an after-school-care job everyday of the week during grad school. It was an awesome gig- the kids were cute and funny, and I got paid to run around outside and play board games. Around Thanksgiving, I received an opportunity for a semester-long internship in my field in my hometown three hours away. I accepted the internship and gave the school notice that I would be leaving at the end of the semester. Were they pissed? Maybe, but they didn’t give me a hard time about it. The internship gave me valuable real-world experiences, networks and contacts that I still call upon today. I actually think this is a great real-world problem-solving experience for the OP – sometimes you have to make tough decisions and live with the consequences. The OP needs to weigh the pros and cons of each scenario and then go with the more attractive option (or, go with the least detrimental consequence).

        Luckily for me, I had several other other part-time jobs and internships, so the part-time school job was ultimately a blip on the radar of my professional life. However, if this is the OP’s only work experience, I agree with AAM – you NEED this experience/reference. If the OP has other accomplishments and experiences that are going to shine more brightly, this job doesn’t really matter, in the long run. An internship in OP’s career field may be more attractive to an employer than a part-time job in an unrelated field. If OP doesn’t have a history of breaking commitments, this one-time issue shouldn’t come back to haunt him/her too terribly. Chalk it up to a learning experience and move on.

        (Side note: OP, I completely agree with others that if you secure an internship for the summer and you only overlap by a week or a few days, work it out with both parties.)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It actually sounds like your own situation was different, in that — unlike the OP’s — they didn’t make a huge deal about the importance of staying for a specific amount of time, to the point of even having you sign something. When someone stresses that so much, and you give your word that you’ll do it, you need to keep your word. If you want your word to mean anything going forward.

  19. Anon*

    I think the root of the problem is that the OP said that she would definitely stay the year. Now that things have changed, she either has to break her word or miss out on good opportunities. A bad situation. Perhaps when accepting the job, the OP should have said something like, “right now, I have no plans to leave before the year is over, but things could change.”

    However, I think it’s unfair that the employer would ask the OP to stay the entire year without giving her the same commitment. The employer didn’t promise not to fire her for the whole year, after all. If they really need their employees not to leave, they should have a stronger contract, with penalties for leaving and penalties for firing. Right now, it’s unequal. Also, the employer doesn’t seem to care about the well-being of the OP’s career, since they won’t even let her take 2 days off to go to a conference.

    In general, I don’t think an employer should expect employees to stay around forever. Just like employees shouldn’t expect that an employer will be able to keep them around forever.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Come on, the duration of the school year is hardly “forever.” And if the OP didn’t like the one-sided commitment, she didn’t need to make it — and could have forfeited the job offer to someone who was willing to make the commitment.

      We also don’t have enough details to judge the refusal to give her those 2 days off. As I said earlier in the thread, there could be a perfectly good reason for that (scheduling conflict, big event at the school that week, etc.).

      1. khilde*

        I’m surprised at the number of people saying OP should just do the internship at the expense of her word to the school! I totally agree with you on this one, AAM. I’m 31 yrs old and sort of never believed that the entitlement mentality was that bad with people younger than me. But I’m beginning to see it in the tone of comments and questions lately!! Wow! I’m genuinely surprised.

  20. Anonymous*

    I just wanted to say that I really agree with AAM on this one.

    And, yes, you can go to school, a demanding school, with a full class load and still have a job, even a rigid scheduled job, and succeed. And not come out with the attitude that you are entitled to several vacations and breaks a year.

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