short answer Saturday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s short answer Saturday — seven short answers to seven short questions (also known as me clearing out my in-box). Here we go…

1. Mortified by feedback at work

I have a question regarding embarrassment at work. I’ve been unenthusiastic about my job recently, but I didn’t realize it was showing. I was called into a meeting with my 2 bosses today, and they told me that they could read my emotions all over my face and it looks like I hate my job. They basically said I’m creating a bad work environment and need to shape up. I’m mortified. I will absolutely have a better attitude about my job as long as I continue to work there, but now I can’t help thinking everyone at the office thinks I’m a miserable wretch. How should I deal with this feeling?

Be grateful they told you so that now you know, take the feedback to heart, and fix what they pointed out. Believe me, people get talked to all the time about all kinds of things, and in most cases they fix the problem and move on. Keep reminding yourself that this isn’t much of a big deal to anyone else, and they’re not focused on it in the way you are.

2. Can company take away someone’s hours if they miss a mandatory meeting?

My wife has recently been put into a managerial position and is being shadowed by the person who used to do the job. It came up today where someone didn’t show up for a staff meeting, and she was told to take their hours away until they show up for one. Is this legal? Can you write them up for a no-call, no-show instead, because they are mandatory?

Sure, it’s legal. If she’s wondering about the policy, though, she should ask about the reasons for it. In fact, she ask about the reasoning for anything that doesn’t make sense to her, because it’s much easier to enforce things when you understand why you’re doing it. (In this case, I’m betting that they have this policy because they’ve found it’s the only way they can really get people to show up for meetings.)

3. Promotion without increase in pay

I’ve been with my employer for 8+ years in three different positions that all panned out as lateral moves, despite promises of the big payoff to come that never did. A few months back, I was approached with a promotion regarding a new endeavor for the company. The new position will require me to manage all financial aspects of the company — a large leap from my current position. I’ve been told I’m the only capable candidate they have and they’ve already had me attend additional training sessions before making the official “offer.” At this point, I’m all they have.

Now the offer is in, and since the new company they are starting is in the early stages, they do not feel any increase in compensation is warranted at this time. Even though it would be great experience in a career path that intrigues me, I am left feeling under-appreciated and led further down the path of broken promises. How can I best decline the position in this situation without burning bridges?

Before you decline it, why not try negotiating? Say this: “I’m excited about the opportunity to do this work, but it’s a significant increase in responsibility and I’d need the compensation to reflect that. I was expecting something around $__.”

4. Checking in and out for bathroom breaks

My mother has worked for over ten years for her company. She was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome a year ago. Recently her supervisor informed her that she needs to check out when she goes to the restroom and then check back in upon return. This seems very odd to me. My first thought was FMLA, but after some research I think she’s protected under the ADA. Do you have any advice or tips for her to handle this situation?

IBS is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, so they do need to accommodate her need for additional bathroom breaks. However, I’m not sure if that would prevent them from requiring her to check in and out when she takes them, although I’d bet that they’d have trouble defending that in court. In any case, her first step should be to talk to HR (since they’re going to be more familiar with the ADA than her manager is; her manager might have no idea the ADA even exists).

5. Using examples in interviews from jobs that aren’t on your resume

As a student, I have many part-time jobs (and an internship) under my belt. At one point in time, I worked as a server for 2 months, but left because I was able to get more hours at my other part-time job and because serving really wasn’t my thing. Since I only worked there for 2 months, I don’t have this position listed on my resume. However, for the last month that I worked there, I also worked as a receptionist and attended university (this was during finals as well). I have found that a lot of interviewers like to ask time management questions, and I believe the fact that I worked 2 part-time jobs (with significant hours at both), attend university classes, studied for finals, and ended the year with a strong GPA really demonstrates my ability to time manage. Can I mention the serving job at the interview if it is not on my resume? Should I put the job on my resume even if I was only there for 2 months? Or should I use a different example to demonstrate this skill?

I wouldn’t put it on your resume since it was only two months, but I think it’s fine to use it as an example in interviews. People aren’t going to care that it’s not on your resume; that’s not uncommon with part-time jobs while you’re in school.

6. Switching careers at 30

I’m a copy editor at one of the big six book publishers in NYC. When I first started in this industry, I was at a small company that published award-winning books. I knew everyone there and everyone was invested in the quality and (hopefully) success of the titles. After a year and a half, I took a position that was a promotion, gave me more autonomy, and a significant salary increase. But I hate it. We churn out books no one cares about, I’m constantly under a time crunch, and I barely have time to interact with people except through email, which means I’m very isolated. My boss is a micromanager, has insanely rigid policies that only work for him, and has praised me exactly two times in the 18 months I’ve been here. And that praise was in mandatory evaluations, and it was tepid at best. He has an incredibly high turnover in his department, and I feel like I’m just here because no one else wants to be, not because he thinks I’m good at my job. Not exactly motivating. I’ve gone on several interviews, but they always end up hiring someone with more experience.

I’ve recently become interested in marketing- and communications-type jobs. I already have a lot of the skills they require but lack any direct experience. I’m 30 and starting at the bottom again is scary and unappealing. Is there a way to make a switch without having to start over completely? I’m considering applying to graduate school for next fall, but that’s pretty much all I can come up with, which means waiting another year-plus to leave my current job. Any suggestions?

I wouldn’t assume graduate school is the way to go. You go to grad school when you want a job that requires it, and marketing and communications jobs don’t. Instead, I’d focus on getting actual experience — because otherwise you’re going to come out of grad school in the same position you’re in now, just with more debt. Look for nonprofits where you can volunteer to do marketing and communications work for them, and start building your portfolio that way.

7. When a powerful person offers to help get you a job

Currently, my uncle is president of the chamber of commerce in my area and formerly a very influential person in our state. I’m about to graduate from grad school and he’s offered to help get me a job, but I want to make sure that an extension of his largess doesn’t go to waste. This was his plan: I send him my resume and he sends me contact information for some firms that he believes will adding offices in our city or will begin to hire soon. I am then to submit a resume to HR (no public postings yet) and he’ll bring me up specifically with the VP/CEO in the next week or so when he is playing golf or having lunch with them. He will likely say that I am bright, have a math background and looking for analyst jobs.

Can you offer some advice on how to make the best of this situation and avoid the pitfalls? I am having difficulty even finding the HR contact information and unsure about the efficacy of blindly submitting something to them.

I’m not sure that sending your materials to HR is the best way to go; I’d think it would be more effective in this case to send them to your uncle’s contact, with a note saying that he suggested you contact them. But clear that with your uncle first.

{ 53 comments… read them below }

  1. Charles*

    #1. Mortified by feedback at work – look on this bright side too. OP, not only did they tell you; but, by telling you they consider you someone worth “fixing.” If you really were THAT bad they might not have bothered.

  2. ChristineH*

    #6 – Alison’s answer basically resonates why I am hesitant to pursue another degree or even continuing education courses (aside from those required by my social work license). In fact, I’m somewhat regretting having gone to grad school; yes I’ve made some awesome connections, but I’m not so sure this was the direction to take.

    To the OP: Don’t make the mistakes I did…try to find some contacts in the marketing and/or communications field and do some informational interviewing. Ask about the type of work that you’re interested in and find out what, if any, education or training is required and get some ideas of what might be some entry-level jobs to get you in the door.

    I also like the suggestion to volunteer at a nonprofit doing marketing or communication-type work. My one quibble: I’ve been trying to do some volunteering myself in the hopes of gaining experience in writing professional papers or grant writing. However, I’ve felt like this type of volunteering is best suited for those who already have experience in this type of work, not newbies looking to gain new experience. Am I right?

    1. AD*

      You need to look at the right non-for-profits, i.e. small ones. Lots of people think they want to get NFP experience, so they call up the American Cancer Society or Red Cross or something and ask to volunteer. Those groups have professional grant writers on staff. They don’t want to hand off something so important to a newbie volunteer.

      If you instead call up the local arts organization being run primarily by a volunteer board with maybe a single staff person, they are far more likely to let you do grant writing, because if they don’t hand it off to a volunteer, it isn’t going to get done at all.

      Also, specific to grant-writing, if you’ve written business cases or proposals at work, it’s pretty much the same thing.

      1. ChristineH*

        Problem is, the only experience I’ve had with grant writing is in reading and two courses. No hands-on experience. I was starting to look into grant opportunities for a small organization (2 professional staff, one admin) last year, but I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and could not get any direction from them because they were tied up with their own work. That’s my own fault…they told me this was an internship, but I think they really wanted a self-starter who could hit the ground running, something I was not prepared to do.

        1. fposte*

          Two courses is a lot more experience than most people get before writing their first grant! FWIW, many funding organizations have pretty clear guidelines available to the aspiring, so those can be a good place to start. And remember that getting turned down isn’t a big deal, so don’t avoid writing one just for fear of rejection.

    2. No. 6*

      Hi, #6 OP here. Thanks for the advice about grad school. I think I’ve found a possible job, actually, that I’m really excited about. As for volunteer work, I’ve been looking — and so many positions are only for students. But we’ll see!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        If you’re seeing positions that are only for students, you’re probably looking at unpaid internships. Volunteering is a little different — less structured, often, and open to all. It would be rare to see volunteer work posted as student-only.

        1. ChristineH*

          Alison – I’m not the OP, but have you ever seen internships (paid or unpaid) that are open to career-changers, not just students? I had two of those last year, but neither worked out.

      2. Freida*

        #6 OP, fellow publishing person here: I am sure you’re probably aware but you’re in a better spot than many since you have a skill that you can freelance! Great full-time copyeditors are very difficult to find (especially if you are also good with technology), and the work can pay really well–I know, I hire them. If you are miserable at your current job, could you just quit, freelance copyedit to make money (setting your own hours), and then have time to volunteer/intern to get experience in a new field? There are plenty of annoyances that go with freelancing, but a lot of people do it full time. The good ones are so busy that they have to turn down offers for work and/or can demand higher hourly rates.

  3. Piper*

    #6 – About marketing/communications jobs not requiring graduated degrees…yeah, that’s not always the case. Maybe they never used to require graduate degrees but now that college degrees have become ubiquitous, I have seen more and more companies either requiring a graduate degree or saying “graduate degree a plus” for more advanced positions in this field (more entry level jobs like the OP is looking at may not require it, but if she wants to continue in the field, a graduate degree + experience could help).

    I work in this field. I am almost finished with a graduate degree. I didn’t “need it,” but it gave me an edge in getting a recent job, and during my job hunt gave me an edge in getting interviews. My degree and thesis work was specifically called out by interviewers (and I’ve referenced it if it’s relevant in cover letters). The degree alone didn’t get me a job or interviews; I also have several years of experience, which counts for a lot.

    So, #6 OP, do you need a graduate degree right now? Maybe not for a more entry level position, but you can bet the farther up the ladder you go, the more important advanced degrees become.

    1. K.*

      It also depends on the industry. I used to work in marketing in publishing, actually, at the biggest house. I got my MBA, and the job I got post-business school (in marketing) required it. Now that I’m looking again, I’m seeing more “graduate degree required” lines in job descriptions and many of the other marketers I know (the ones I didn’t go to school with) have MBAs. There are a bunch of industries where it’s expected that the marketing staff have MBAs.

      Having said that, if you are going to get an advanced degree and go into marketing/communications, I would recommend getting an MBA over, say, a master’s in communications. It gives you a broader skill set and if you already have good writing skills, and I assume you do, the combination goes pretty far. The fact that I write well and have a solid understanding of business and don’t shy away from numbers has stood me in good stead.

  4. No. 3*

    Thanks for responding to my question. I would try to negotiate, but I know that they have already had meetings about how they don’t want to compensate me – my current boss tells me everything, and is urging me to decline. Those doing the hiring were shocked to hear that I even expected an increase…clearly shame on me for assuming a promotion would come with one! I have other concerns about the position as well (uncertainty of the future, to accept the position will require me to resign with the current company and lose seniority, etc) and I mentioned that I was struggling with the decision with the uncertainty as my primary stance. Late yesterday I received an email that they think they have come up with ideas to ease my concern and would like to speak with me Monday.

    So I tried my best to just walk away gracefully and not make it about the money, and now I’m right back in it again. Since I’d prefer to stay with the company I’d rather avoid getting into negotiating when to this point they’ve made it clear that I should be happy enough. On the same note, I now fear that they will come up with a plan where I’ll end up keeping my current position while being forced to do the new job too….

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There have been far too many stories here of people’s bosses telling them stuff like this when it’s not entirely true, because they don’t want to lose them, so don’t rely 100% on what your boss is telling you.

      If you don’t want the job for other reasons, don’t take it. Just say clearly that you’re flattered by the offer but have made the decision not to accept it because of XYZ. But if the money would convince you to accept it, then say that.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh, and also the fact that they don’t want to give you more money doesn’t mean that they won’t give you more money if that’s the only way you’ll take the job. That’s very common.

      1. EM*

        Yes, this. People don’t get what they don’t ask for. Negotiating doesn’t have to leave everyone feeling uncomfortable. I negotiated the hourly rate (I’m part time) for my current job, and it wasn’t awkward at all. My boss named a figure, I said, “I was really hoping for X” and she said, “We can’t do X because of reason 1 and 2 but we can do Y”, which I more than happily accepted, since that was my target rate. :)

        Since you are considering turning down the offer, you have nothing to lose by negotiating. I think if you state in a straightforward and friendly manner that the only way you’d accept the position if you were paid X amount. The worst that can happen is that you don’t get that job. You have everything to gain by negotiating.

    3. Mike C.*

      Respectfully, unless you are a trust fund baby then your work is about the money. We all have financial responsibilities and if our paychecks suddenly stopped working to meet those obligations, we would be doing something else.

      Also you management is gaslighting you. Normal people, like yourself, reasonably expect to receive higher compensation for taking on additional work. If you want to work for free, I’m sure there are many charitable organizations who will be more than happy to take your time.

      1. Alisha*

        I agree with Mike – the organization is gaslighting you. Unfortunately, I see this far more often with female colleagues than with male colleagues: companies using emotional appeals to try and persuade them to to four jobs at a time without market-appropriate increases in compensation. In fact, I was about to step into a snakepit of a company staffed mostly by younger women who were severely underpaid and overworked because the male executives ensnared them with this exact emotional appeal – good thing they reneged because they thought the salary they’d offered me, which was somewhere between appropriate and 5K below market, was “outrageous” for recessionary times.

        Many women are socialized to accommodate other people’s feelings and to please them, and I’ve seen too many managers use this stereotype along with the tight economy to guilt and “should” women into overworking themselves. I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried the old “You should be happy to even have a job” line – a very popular, if transparent trick these days.

        A polite but firm request for an appropriate salary increase is the way to go. Don’t feel guilty for turning down the offer if they can’t or won’t meet your salary needs. Most companies wouldn’t hesitate to send their best workers packing to save a few bucks, so your job, likewise, is to be your own advocate.

        1. No. 3*

          Thank you again for all the responses.

          I do feel like I am being manipulated, and that being female feels like the main factor. I think that is also the stumbling block I have with even considering trying to negotiate. I can’t help but feel that they would have given me a completely different offer if I were a man – and my pride is taking a big issue with that.

          I’ll try to thicken my skin before I speak with them tomorrow…thanks again for the confidence and I’ll comment on how it all goes.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Remember that negotiating generally comes down to who is more willing to walk away. And you sound quite willing to walk away from this promotion, which gives you a lot of power!

      2. Samantha*

        This. Of course they have the money; they just don’t want to pay it out. If you don’t want to take it without an increase in pay (which you should absolutely be paid for) then don’t. Let them see how much it will cost to hire someone to do it then.

        1. JohnQPublic*

          Here’s something I’ve not heard mentioned until Samantha touched on it- what is the market rate for this position?

          The words ALL FINANCIAL ASPECTS leapt out at me, and it sounds like the term Chief Financial Officer fits the role the closest. If this is an existing company spinning off or starting a new company they should have the bankroll to do it right.

          A brief google search handed me a $325,000 salary, depending on location and size of company. Make sure you understand what they are asking you to do, and what most businesses (not just these guys) call that position, and then ask for the corresponding salary. For a new company you have to make a decision as well: ask for some stock in lieu of a portion of typical salary, or ask for a larger salary due to the uncertain nature of the company and it’s prospects.

          Point out that you’d be leaving all of the stability and benefits of your current job behind, and let them know how willing you are to walk away. For as much headache as this new position is likely to be I’d make them compensate you accordingly.

          1. No. 3*

            When they first approached me with the position, I thought of a title of controller would have been appropriate – or even junior controller considering I only have a bs and no CPA. At first, it will only be me and two others (CEO & CSO), so I’d run the books as well as light IT functions.

            I’m currently in the operations end of accounting, but over the years I also worked in other areas (auditing, etc) so I have well rounded experience of the big picture. I was told when they were trying to determine the job description that they originally suggested bookkeeper, which my current boss and others scoffed at. They were able to get it up to accounting manager, but that’s it. Still, the median income for this position is almost twice my current pay – which I wouldn’t have expected considering the circumstances. At this point I wouldn’t consider any # less than the low end of the scale.

            It’s difficult since I know I can’t blame these people for the past 8 years, but I refuse to start off in a different pay grade so far below the bottom.

            1. Anon1*

              My main worry would be the fact that they were looking at the position as being only at a bookkeeper level. If you’ve been mentally pigeon holed into that role , that is a major problem. I’d be very concerned that if the venture takes off, they’ll parachute someone in top of you.

              As far as titles and pay grades, it is firm and industry dependent. Some places are very loose with titles, others are very tight – so I’d focus more on what you believe the responsibilities would bring title wise and pay wise is the “core” company. I’ve seen VP positions in some companies translate to manager position in others with similar salaries.

            2. Long Time Admin*

              NEVER NEVER NEVER use the word “junior” in your job title. If you’re doing the work, you deserve the title and the pay! Remember – to their way of thinking, once “junior”, always a “junior”.

              Remember the Mary Tyler Moore show? They were paying Mary Richards (her character) less than the men who did the same job, because she was a woman. It wasn’t until she called them on the flaw in their argument that she got the money she deserved. (They said they paid the men more because they had families to support. It eventually hit her that, following that logic, they should be paying men with 5 children more than they pay men with 4 children. And they didn’t.)

          2. Samantha*

            Depends. Title of Controller could also do that position. Or a title of Senior Accountant. However both those positions earn a really decent salary (however not quite as much as a CFO).

  5. Riki*

    6 – I agree that you do not *need* a grad degree to get into marketing & communications. As a copy editor, you already have a solid writing and editing skills. Depending on the types of positions you are interested in, your experience can be more relevant than you think. I used to work for a qualitative marketing firm and writing was a huge part of my job. Also, don’t be afraid to make the switch! There are a lot of “successful” (financially) people out there who hate their careers.

    7 – What Alison wrote, or have your uncle pass along your resume directly to his friends. If you apply online, you run the risk of having your application getting lost in the system. Having good connections is supposed to make job hunting easier.

  6. Anonymous*

    Re: #6 — I am in my 40’s and have been officially switching into marketing from another field (I worked at a very high management level in a creative field with direct ties to advertising). I agree with the essence of AAM’s response in that your experience should lend itself nicely to the fields of marketing & communications, but I disagree with the assessment that further education is unnecessary. Yes, I initially found a job in marketing w/no experience, but that was when the job market was much better. When I realized that my last job was moving away, I began hunting again, convinced that my direct experience would open doors. Instead I found that I couldn’t make it past any of the web screening systems and the only places I was getting called by were small firms paying next to nothing wages.

    I enrolled in an MBA program (part-time, evenings) after I was officially laid off. Having the program–not even the degree yet–listed on my resume helped so much, it’s not even funny. Companies now perceive me as fully committed to my new career, rather than asking me why I don’t go back to it. The level of jobs I was interviewing for jumped dramatically, and I just landed a great new position that I start next week (yay!). Additionally I didn’t have a strong background on the business side–I knew the creative inside and out but nothing about calculating profit margins or ROI. My classes have really given me a much stronger foundation on business concepts and terminology, which added with my creative experience really makes me a much more valuable candidate. Like Piper said above, you might get work without a degree, but having one will definitely open up a lot more doors than not having one, especially with your creative skills.

  7. Steve G*

    #7 – Not sure your uncle’s help will actually get y0u ahead unless you have real FT experience and you just want help getting your resume to the top of the pile.

    1. Just Me*

      Agreed. Just be sure you are getting the job on your own merit and capablitlies.

      Nothing will irk co-workers more if they know you got in only because your uncle is someone powerful.

      If you get a job that way, if possible I would not mention the connection ( barring you don’t have the same last name ). And then make sure you forget the connection. It is your job to get and do well in and not use the connection if any issues arise.

  8. Steve G*

    #3. And I agree not to take it without a raise. Sure that new segment isn’t bringing in the bucks yet, but that’s not your problem. However, new branches of a business need even more work than existing businesses because there is no structure, modes of operations, and there will be lots of growing pains to deal with which may send the stress level through the roof for you.

    If you don’t accept it, they will end up having to hire someone much more expensive from the outside. Their problem.

    1. No. 3*

      I couldn’t agree more. That’s really the heart of the issue. In the meeting it was all rally the troops, we could be huge, when the time comes you’ll be compensated, etc. Go team. I should be excited to just be a part of it. Of course, if it doesn’t pan out I’ll have to claw my way back to where I am now. All risk…and at the moment no reward.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        I hate to say it, but this is the common drivel that people with no vision bring out. How it will be HUGE! HUGE! but when you ask them the path forward, they stare at you blankly. Lots of cheerleading, lots of noise, nothing else. I doubt these people know what they are doing.
        Honest people will pay you what you are worth. BTW, alot of women have problems negotiating for themselves. But when they mentally see themselves negotiating for their families, the guilt goes out of it.
        Look, you’ve already proven yourself – how many times? It’s time for them to ante up. It’s part of the game, so it is OK to ask for the money.

      2. Samantha*

        And don’t bet the farm on them following through with “when the time comes you will be compensated”. That’s way too vague in this day and age – lots could happen. If they don’t have the money now they shouldn’t be expanding. The only time I would say you should take no increase or a risk is if it’s your OWN company.

  9. Jamie*

    #1. While I agree that you should address their concerns, I would also look internally about why you’ve lost your enthusiasm for your work.

    I’ll admit that I’ve had times were my dissatisfaction with certain issues required me to deliberately feign enthusiasm and that’s exhausting and hard to maintain. I’d definately address the root cause and see if that helps.

  10. Anon.*

    #6 – Just curious, have you looked at any marketing or publicity jobs in the book publishing industry? In my experience, though I’m in Canada, a knowledge of the industry goes a long way in getting jobs, and it seems like you could grab a marketing or publicity co-ordinator position with the skills and experience you already have. Might be useful to look outside the Big 6 too, there are lots of avenues of publishing – school and higher education publishing, for example, has lots of marketing opportunities and generally higher salaries than trade publishers. Just a thought, if you still like the industry but want to change jobs.

  11. Lesley*

    #6 – I made this exact switch 2 years ago. I was an associate editor at a niche publisher and made the leap to marketing and communications at 30. I have a Masters in writing, but I don’t think it had anything to do with my making the switch (I actually thought it would help me move to a different publisher, but as I have absolutely no desire to move the NYC, it was kind of useless).

    There were two factors that helped me make the switch: 1) I took a contract gig. That definitely had its pros and cons, but it made the company willing to take a chance on me. Once I was on the team they realized how much they needed someone with strong writing and editing skills. 2) I had a great leader on my team who had a background in both marketing and publishing and she was able to see exactly how my skills fit her needs: Namely, as an editor I was used to working with ideas and had the ability to take others’ ideas and make them stronger.

    Nonetheless, since I’m not exactly entry level, I still have to battle the “7-10 years experience in communications” requirements when I only have 2 years with marketing/comms titles. It’s a tough, competitive market in this field (though not as competitive as publishing), but there are lots of opportunities. And as much as I LOVED and still miss publishing, there are plenty of opportunities to use my skills and be creative and be challenged. Good luck!

  12. Bonnie*

    #1 – the fact that you feel this way is a good sign. That may have been part of what your managers wanted to communicate to you. That the fact that you were unhappy was becoming part of how people in your workplace saw you. If you change you outlook or at least fake it until you leave, what people will start to think is how much happier you are and how much more they like working with you. That will make your workplace better for you and everyone else.

  13. AnotherAdmin*

    # 4 To the OP/OP’s Mom: I have had IBS for most of my life, and was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease 11 years ago, so I know a bit about bathroom breaks. Has your Mom told her supervisor about her IBS? If not, I would suggest, first and foremost, that your Mom have a candid conversation with her supervisor, HR person, whoever, about her condition. People don’t know what they don’t know, and they can’t properly accommodate her if they aren’t fully aware of her situation. IBS (and Crohn’s) are not outwardly visible impairments, so until they are better informed, her bosses and/or coworkers may look on her bathroom breaks as an excuse to goof off – especially if she is taking a lot of them or if they are excessively long.

    I understand that talking about it might not be easy. When I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s I was an extremely private person and would have preferred to eat dirt than discuss my bowel issues. However, I eventually learned that discussing it as openly as possible (and without dramatics) is the key to having it viewed as a condition and not an excuse. Discussing it also helped dissipate the stress (that aggravates gut diseases) that came with trying to hide it, allowed me to have a sense of humor about it, helped me to learn more about managing my own illness from others, and even, without realizing it, create my own little army of Mother Hens (including the President of my company) who look out for me.

    I should also note that it is extremely important that your Mom do everything she can to take manage her condition well and not let it manage her. If she works hard at taking care of herself and being a rockstar at work, the people around her will see her efforts and will be that much more willing to help/accommodate her when she is not feeling up to par.

    1. I'm Like #4*

      Is this a call center? It may be as simple an answer as higher-ups needing to keep the phones covered as people come and go. (no pun intended)

      At my call center, we must have a certain percentage of operators available at a time, which means when nature calls, we must take turns answering it. We check in with each other so that one won’t go until another gets back. Not odd, just courteous to the others.

      If we had a coworker with IBS, I’m sure we’d be much more understanding toward her absence.

      1. Alisha*

        @#4: I was diagnosed with what we initially thought was IBS upon college graduation at age 21, but over the years, the symptoms have worsened, pointing to some type of IBD, perhaps a milder case than most, but well beyond the bounds of IBS symptoms. Ironically, my first job out of school was as assistant manager of a call center (graduated into a mild recession, so I took what I could get), and the rules of that call center stated that the low (wo)men on the totem pole had to call for ten hours a week and manage for thirty. I feel your mother’s frustration, empathize endlessly, and remember all too well how rough my calling days could be during a flare. I also know from that experience – and my experience interviewing at other call centers in my area during that recession – that many places cannot make exceptions for bathroom breaks, because part of a caller’s performance evaluation rides on how many minutes per shift they spend on the phone.

        Thus, I would pursue the path of doctor’s note requesting accommodation > look for a new job. Also speaking from experience, I know that in a tight economy, employers with rigid expectations in the workplace don’t take kindly to accommodation requests directly from employees. Sadly, the powers-that-be have successfully painted a picture of the average American worker as “lazy” and “entitled,” as well as an expendable commodity, and many business owners buy into this mindset because it lets them abdicate the responsibility of hiring and managing responsibly. Doctors can write ADA accommodations so that your mom’s specific condition is not named – only the accommodation requirements are enumerated. It’s a lot more difficult for a manager to argue with doctor’s orders, and it’s very, very illegal for them to fire someone with a documented disability, so unless they genuinely don’t care about the potential of being sued, they’ll either grant your mom an exemption to use the bathroom, or they’ll move her to a position where breaks aren’t timed.

        In the long run, she should look to move to a new job. I say this because some cases of IBS later wind up being IBD, and regardless of which bowel disorder your mom has, stress exacerbates flares. It’s in the best interests of anyone with a bowel disorder to work a job that allows them to manage the condition in the healthiest way possible, and call-center work doesn’t allow that, in most cases.

  14. danr*

    #6… Go for it. I did the same thing at about the same age. Changed my career track, started at the entry level (again) and wound up with 30 years at the company, moving around and doing very interesting things. I agree with AAM, don’t go to grad school unless you need the extra degree.

    1. Alisha*

      #6: I did what you did years ago, except it involved switching from print to technical design. When I made the switch, master’s degrees in my field were as rare as rainbows. My secret was building up a freelance business, and it’s still what I suggest to career-changers in creative fields today. While it’s true that certain large employers give candidates with master’s degrees priority, I know just as many aspiring marketers with masters who are sitting on the sidelines, with nary an offer in site, while they put their $50-100,000 loans in forbearance. Oddly enough, I’ve often been promoted over candidates with master’s degrees as well, because my real-world experience was viewed as more relevant to the market and more lucrative for my bosses than the theoretical and project work they completed in school.

      Because you live in New York, you’re luckier than most – you’re situated in one of the most vibrant and lucrative media markets in the world. The easiest and cheapest way to bridge your skills gap is to start doing freelance work in marketing. Buy a domain name through DreamHost or GoDaddy – it can cost as little as $10 to register a domain – and use a simple press-and-publish site like Blogger to build a personal website for yourself. That will be your first marketing project, and if you’ve done any work at the publishing company that would be of interest to employers, you can put it up on your new site too. Also be sure to include a professional summary, a resume, and any relevant skills so employers can tell at a glance how you can help them.

      Next, search your local Craigslist for part-time, freelance, and contract work. Start putting in bids for that work, and offer rates that are fair, but low. You’re going to be competing with people in third-world countries for that work in NYC, so you need to win on rates. Start with content and copywriting work, and also keep your eyes peeled for editing projects. As you acquire more work and more skills, you can branch out into other types of marketing and also increase your rates. Once you’ve built up some work samples, you can also devote a section of your Blogger site to writing articles that offer new insights on marketing. You can surely draw from your experience in publishing to start, but you’ll learn a lot about marketing through freelance work, so your topic list should grow quickly. By this point, you should feel comfortable establishing a professional Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook presence, so if you haven’t already, build up those and link them to your site.

      While you’re building up a portfolio with freelance and contract work, you can also look into low-cost or free continuing education courses to address any skill gaps you may have. CUNY may be a great place to start, but other schools in other cities also offer online classes, so you might want to set aside a weekend to Google your way around the continuing ed spectrum. In fact, you don’t really even need to pay for courses – between the blogs and the “official” sites like W3Schools, the internet offers a veritable treasure trove of how-tos and lessons on nearly every aspect of online marketing. Another colleague of mine liked, a subscription tutorial service. Check that out, too. I’ll even find myself buying used textbooks on (protip: always check the publication date and get the newest edition) because I’m more of a visual learner.

      Based on my own professional experience working with marketing teams, the key skills people are hiring for right now are: analytics (Google and Omniture), social media marketing, SEO/SEM, and basic literacy/ability in HTML and CSS.

      This entire process should only take about a year (or two, at most), and by then, you should be ready to make the jump to a marketing role – and you’ll have made money instead of spending it, in the process. Good luck!

      1. Sarah*

        This is fantastic advice. Be ready to face a lot of rejection when you start freelancing (it’s just part of the deal since there are so many freelancers out there), but if you stick with it, you’ll get some great experience, extra money, and more confidence. I’ve done this myself with freelance writing for various magazines, and it’s been a lot of fun. Gotta love those extra checks in the mail! It helped me deal with my frustration at work too because I didn’t feel quite so stuck. It shows a lot of iniative to future employers, and you’ll have legit projects and experience to talk about in interviews. Plus, if you don’t like it, you can back out and you won’t be stuck with an expensive grad school program you feel obligated to complete.

  15. Cary*

    For the person with the IBS question to me (as someone who has IBS and works in HR) it is not Ok to ask a EE to check in and out for bathroom breaks. As a) it’s humiliating to the person involved which I’m pretty sure isn’t in keeping with any accommodation rule as you should be able to accommodate and maintain the person dignity and b) when you gotta go you gotta go and several time I’ve been in the position where there was no way I was sticking around to tell someone I was heading to the bathroom.

    Also please tell your mom to check out . the diet plan their helped me get back to normal when medical doctors offered me absolutely nothing.

    1. KellyK*

      I would add to that that if you’re in a position where “checking out” matters (waiting on customers, manning the front desk, etc.) and you have a medical issue that includes really urgent bathroom breaks, you need to let the appropriate person know (at least in general terms) about the issue beforehand. That lets you and them both figure out how to handle it work-wise.

      I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask someone with IBS (or chronic UTIs, or hypermennorhea, etc., for that matter) to check in and out unless every employee is expected to check out for bathroom breaks. (And I don’t think that’s reasonable outside an environment where the manager really does need to know where everyone is every minute.)

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