my internship is giving me back pain, asking for a raise during layoffs, and more

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

1. My internship is giving me back pain

I have suffered from chronic back pain for years. Not anything excessively severe, but the “student back” caused by anxiety and poor posture that has proved very difficult to reverse.

I am at a summer internship right now, and my primary role involves a lot of tasks that aggravate my pain. For example, my current project involves hunching over the ground for hours at a time. I have resolved to deal with this, because it’s part of my job and it’s work that needs to be done. However, it is definitely causing me a lot of discomfort. My main problem is that other people in the office, who are superior to me but not my direct supervisors, have also occasionally been asking me to do miscellaneous physical tasks. I get it—interns get grunt work, no issue with that—but moving boxes, etc. in addition to this project is seriously aggravating my issues, and the pain is starting to keep me up for hours at night. There are several other interns who could do these jobs, but I think I’m being asked most frequently because I am usually quick to jump on work that needs to be done (I hate being bored). I don’t want to sound whiny or like I want to get out of something unpleasant, and I don’t know what people will think about me doing so many tasks that are clearly not back-friendly for my immediate boss and then asking to get out of much easier/faster jobs. I also find it super awkward to think about essentially saying “no” to someone who is superior to me in the moment that they ask me to do something.

Should I just suck it up, take a painkiller, and ignore my back? It’s not excrutiating, just unpleasant. If not, is there a script that I could use to decline these tasks without sounding whiny or bratty?

Don’t just suck it up! Say something! I promise you that any halfway decent manager would want to know that this is happening and would be horrified if they found out after months of this that you’d been in pain and sucking it up because you didn’t think you could say anything.

It’s very, very normal to speak up when there’s a health-related reason that you shouldn’t do a task; it’s not whiny or bratty. In this case, I’d say this to your manager: “I’ve had chronic back pain for years, and it can be hard for me to do very physical tasks like moving boxes. Would it be possible to go to (other interns) first for that kind of thing?” She will say yes, and then you should say, “I wonder too if we can talk about a modification for the X work because right now I’m hunching over the ground for hours at a time, which is causing me some pain. Could we talk other ways I might be able to approach that, without the hunching?”

Then, going forward, when someone else asks you to move boxes or something similar, it will be fine to say, “I’m actually having some back issues that make it hard to do that, but let me get (other intern) for you and she can help.”

2. Will claiming unemployment benefits jeopardize my current job application?

I was laid off from my publishing job last month due to restructuring/downsizing. After weeks of applying, I’ve made progress with one company: I passed both a phone and in-person interview, was introduced to other members of the team, and even attended a networking event hosted by the company (unrelated to my application, but they were impressed with my initiative and involvement). Recently, I completed an editing test, which won’t be reviewed until next week when my prospective supervisor returns from a business trip out of the country.

Things are looking great, but, seeing as I still don’t have an offer, I need to be realistic. I also need to file for unemployment.

Which brings me to my question: because the state requires me to keep a work search record—in which it might verify all of my activities with this particular company—is there a chance that could actually jeopardize my application? I’m concerned any more contact with this employer might be interpreted as my badgering them, or worse: that I don’t have confidence I’ll be hired for this job, or that I’m somehow “undesirable” because I’m still unemployed. Am I being paranoid? Or should I omit this company from my work search record?

Don’t worry about this at all. First, it’s highly unlikely that the company will be contacted (verification is sporadic and sample-sized, when it happens at all). Second, if they are contacted, it’s not going to reflect poorly on you. It’s not you badgering them (it’s a contact from the state, not you), it doesn’t say anything about your confidence about the job (if anything, it would be alarming if you were 100% sure you’d get the job; it’s not alarming that you understand you might not), and they know that you’re unemployed so there’s no dirty secret there.

If you’re still nervous and want to be 100% sure, then you could certainly leave it off your work search record. But I really don’t think you need to worry about it.

3. Asking for a raise for a promotion in the middle of layoffs

My company is going through a massive reorganization. mostly due to a slow fundraising year and other financial constraints. I’ve been offered a new role that is essentially a promotion: increased responsibility leading a team and more direct reports. I’m excited to step into the position, particularly at an important moment for the organization. However, there was no discussion of an increase in salary during our initial discussion. If the reorg was happening for other reasons, I wouldn’t hesitate to ask for additional compensation given the new role and responsibilities and the complex year ahead. But with this reorganization came a quite a few layoffs, and I hate admit it, but I don’t want to seem ungrateful for the opportunity. Should I raise the issue of compensation given the circumstances? If so, do you have advice on how to bring it up without sounding off-key?

You absolutely should ask for a salary that reflects the market value of your new role and the increased contribution you’ll be making. It’s not ungrateful to ask to be paid what your work is worth. Otherwise, you’d basically be accepting a below-market salary because your company has had layoffs — which doesn’t make sense, or at least doesn’t make sense to accept without at least first having a conversation about it.

Say this: “I’m excited for this new role. I’d like to discuss adjusting my salary to reflect the increased responsibility and team size.”

4. Should I write a letter of recommendation for my student employee?

I have a really great young employee this summer – polite, professional, hard-working, accurate, all the good adjectives. He is a rising senior in high school. Would it be worthwhile to write a general recommendation letter for him? I would be, of course, delighted to write specific recommendation letters for specific purposes or serve as a reference by phone as well.

For adults, letters of recommendation from employers are generally pretty useless (with the exception of academia and, apparently, some parts of law), for all the reasons I talk about here. But with high school students, it can be different. They apply for the types of jobs where a glowing letter from a former manager might actually be read. If nothing else, it will probably thrill him to read your assessment of your work (and high school students rarely get that, since they’re generally not in jobs with written performance evaluations). So sure, go for it!

{ 100 comments… read them below }

  1. LisaLee

    Re #4: Even as an adult, there are occasionally times where somebody wants a general letter of recommendation from me. I actually just applied for a job today that wanted me to upload a letter of recommendation. Honestly I think these sorts of requirements are there as extra hoops to jump through more than anything else, but it will probably be good for your intern to have a letter in hand just in case.

    1. Crystal

      #4 Letter-writer here: I’m pleased, and a little surprised, to hear these are sometimes useful. I’m going to write a letter for him today!

      1. TootsNYC

        You’re probably planning on it, but be sure to include the line, “Please call me if you have any other questions,” and provide contact info.

        It will look more credible of you can write on letterhead and/or include your work email or phone. But it will also be helpful if you can put your personal email there as well, in case you ever move on from your job.

        Consider mentioning the idea of letter of recommendation to other young employees as a “carrot” they might achieve. Just stress, of course, that they have to earn it.
        It’s a form of “compensation” that kids don’t think about, and they also don’t think about their work reputation as being the powerful asset that it is.

      2. Muriel Heslop

        I’m a former high school teacher who supervises teens in a volunteer role. I’ve written several recommendation for college for both students and volunteers (and a few babysitters) and they’ve been very appreciative. You could offer to do that, if you like.

    2. Mean Something

      Here’s something else your intern can do with the letter: give a copy to his college counselor. Your comments can be incorporated into the counselor letter that is part of his college application. Any counselor should be thrilled to be able to say that the student’s fine qualities were also reflected in his summer job and to be able to give specifics about how.

  2. Sami

    OP#1- Pain is nothing to mess around with. I say this as someone with two chronic pain diseases. Take good care of yourself. And look into any possible accommodations that may work well for you.

    1. Joseph

      This.

      Without details, I can’t say for certain, but it’s very common to adjust tasks slightly and/or get a new tool to avoid painful/dangerous positions. Could you do a catcher’s squat or sit down instead of hunching over? If you’re hunching over repeatedly to pick stuff up, could you use a little grabber tool instead? And so on. Most bosses would have no issue with you modifying the *way* you’re doing the task as long as it still gets done.

      1. fposte

        And if you haven’t, talk to a doctor. What you’re describing sounds more serious than occasional use-based soreness.

        1. OP#1

          Is this something you’d talk to a regular doctor about? My family physician doesn’t think regular checkups are necessary for people in my age group, so I haven’t seen her in years. I’ve been trying to manage with chiro/massage and I’m considering physio, but going to my doctor hadn’t really occured to me. (I also dislike my doctor and we have a shortage in my region so the chances of getting a new one are slim.)

          1. Wehaf

            I don’t know what your insurance plan is (if any) but many will allow OB-GYNs to be primary care physicians – if you are female that may be an option. Or are there any convenient care facilities you could go to? A doctor there can probably provide you with basic tips, a note for your workplace (if necessary), and a referral to a specialist.

            1. Blurgle

              if OP is in Canada that’s so very much not the case (the mention of a doctor shortage has me wondering).

              In Canada you don’t go to the OB/GYN, ever, unless you’ve been referred there for a high-risk pregnancy, cervical cancer, surgery, etc. It’s a specialty and patients don’t see specialists unless they absolutely need to. Family doctors handle Pap smears, annual exams, uncomplicated childbirth in most provinces, etc. Most women never even meet an OB/GYN.

              1. OP#1

                Yep, Canadian. And I really really dislike my family doctor, but I’m thinking I’ll suck it up & go see her (and hope not to be dismissed and condescended to :/).

                1. Thermt

                  Massage therapist from Canada here. You don’t usually need a presciption for physio, only if your insurance requires it. Physio is you best bet for long term relief as they will teach you exercises and stretches that you can use for the rest of your life. GP are not always equipped to completely understand pain and muscular issues just due to the fact that they are generalists (don’t get me wrong, doctors are amazing for most things!). Physio will be an excellent tool to use for longterm benefit.

                2. Talvi

                  Are you a student? If your internship is in the same town as your university, you should be able to make an appointment at your university’s health clinic, which would let you see a doctor without having to go to your family doctor. You’ll have to check how your university handles appointments, though, because this can vary (e.g. drop-in was common at my undergrad university while my grad university requires appointments).
                  Alternatively, if your family doctor is part of a practice with multiple doctors, you may be able to get an appointment with a different doctor at that practice in spite of a doctor shortage.

              2. Wehaf

                Wow, I had no idea. In the US lots of women don’t have a regular family doctor, and may go decades without seeing one, but they’ll usually see they OB-GYN regularly.

          2. Is it Performance Art

            Yes, definitely. Your doctor should be able to identify the possible causes of your back pain or send you to someone who can like a physical therapist. You might also consider just going to a physical therapist. They’re medically trained and a lot of their work is back pain. Sometimes it’s as simple as strengthening exercises for certain muscles to take stress off of other muscles or joints.

          3. Michelenyc

            You definitely need to see your doctor. Most insurance plans require either a referral/script to start physio. It will definitely help you especially since you said in your letter you have poor posture. Chiro and massage will never fix the posture issue. Your body needs to essentially re-learn how to stand/sit correctly.

          4. TootsNYC

            any pain–or any illness–that lasts more than 3 days without seeming to get better should be discussed w/ a doctor. Any pain or illness that doesn’t go away completely with 5 to 7 days should be discussed with a doctor.

            Also–brush your teeth, floss, and see a dentist regularly so that tiny cavities can be filled before they eat away half your teeth and leave you with $6,000 in dental bills when you are 56.

          5. The Other Dawn

            Try an orthopedic doctor. I’m seeing one now for my lower back pain. He has me using a back brace, which is helping a lot since I sit all day at work. Good luck! Back pain sucks.

          6. danr

            Yes, talk to your regular doctor about the back pain. It may be helped by physical therapy and you’d need a prescription from the doctor to get it, and get it paid for by insurance. You may get a referral to an orthopedist. Go if you get one. My orthopedist explained that there two types of back pain in general. One type can by helped by physical therapy and excecises And one type needs surgery. I know people who have had the physical therapy and they say it works wonders. I had the second type and had surgery. It was classed as outpatient but I stayed overnight due to some other issues. It also worked very nicely.

            1. Wendy Darling

              Also I’m pretty sure the kind that can be fixed with physical therapy can turn into the kind that requires surgery if it’s aggravated enough, which is a really good argument to deal with any back pain early on.

              I was lucky — PT fixed me right up. My mother, however, needed surgery.

          7. Wendy Darling

            I had what I “affectionately” refer to as Grad Student Back, which is what happens when genetics gave you a crappy back and then you spent a bunch of time sitting in 1960s college chairs.

            Your GP is generally a good start — mine talked to me for a few minutes, made me stand on my heels, and then prescribed me physical therapy. Physical therapy and regular core strength exercise at the gym fixed me up (I actually paid for several sessions with a personal trainer to learn to exercise without hurting myself).

            It wasn’t a huge deal to fix once I got it treated properly, but by the time I got around to doing that my back was bad enough that I was losing strength in one leg. It took me probably 12 months to regain full flexibility in my left leg. Now that I know how bad that can turn out I take action sooner when I have a problem. If you can get in front of it now, that is *definitely* a good idea. Not being able to lean over for a year really stinks.

  3. SystemsLady

    OP 1: If you’re jumping on these things when nobody else is, it’s probably also true that the people asking you to move boxes have already noticed that! I very much doubt they’ll think you’re lazy.

    Don’t sweat it! It’s important to notice when your body’s telling you “no” and to take care of yourself. It’s ultimately good for your employer as well, and in my eyes, that’s an important skill to have in the workplace.

    For examole, I’m working with a lot of people who have burnt themselves so far out that their efforts to get things done faster are becoming actively detrimental to doing so. Their managers are getting frustrated and having to forcibly pull them on vacations, often with bad timing. If they recognized their own burnout as the project began to stretch on and requested time off in advance (mentioning the burnout if necessary), it wouldn’t be a problem!

    1. TootsNYC

      Also–I wouldn’t so much say, “I’ll get Other Intern” to handle that–I think that’s beyond your role. I think you should say, “I think Other Intern can probably handle that.”

      Also–talk to your other interns!

      Tell them your situation, and ask them to be the ones to handle the lifting most of the time.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I’m pro saying “let me get Jane to help you” because that way OP is still solving the problem for the person, not just sending them away in search of someone else.

  4. Milton Waddams

    #4: Letters of recommendation are useful if you work with a lot of folks reaching retirement age. Then when 5 years later someone insists that they cannot consider you without talking to your old boss (who is now off in Bermuda or perhaps dead from a heart attack), you have something to fall back on. :-)

    1. (Not anIRS) Auditor

      Yes! Especially if they haven’t been there long enough to have an annual review, a copy of the letter in their personnel file would allow hr to give a more useful reference if you are unavailable.

    2. Crystal

      #4 Letter-writer here: Excellent point! That’s come up in my office as well. A former co-worker has been using me as a reference because all three layers of his bosses over a 17-year span of employment have retired.

      1. Blurgle

        At least it would corroborate the employee’s record, and it’s hard to have a conversation with a tombstone.

      2. Milton Waddams

        Well, realistically speaking a conversation won’t happen. Either HR will instruct everyone to remain silent out of fear of a defamation lawsuit, the reference will be blindly positive in a way that isn’t helpful (having been selected by the candidate), it will be blindly negative in a way that isn’t helpful (if they are of the “It’s not me, it’s HER!” type that you often find managing businesses with high turnover rates), or it will be one of those dangerous “read between the lines” references that inevitably lead to problems when someone inevitably decides that “not a good cultural fit (because it’s a [protected class])” is the same as “not a good cultural fit (because they are too slow and miss tight deadlines, which could be objectively assessed with a timed skills test without having to mutter out the side of my mouth)”.

        Letters of recommendation seem like a good compromise to me, as they provide the plausible cause that HR wants to reduce their anxiety (at least as much as any reference selected by an employee can), but without being a burden on references. As has been noted in other letter-writers’ woes, many references burn out on having to give yet another reference to their former employee because each new 9 month project’s HR manager wants to talk to every reference.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          But useful, nuanced references get given all the time, every day. They’re extremely common.

          No savvy hiring manager is going to rely on letters of recommendation — where you can’t ask questions, hear tone, follow up on the things you care most about, etc.

          1. ThursdaysGeek

            But as TootsNYC points about above, if the letters include contact information and a phrase about calling them for more information, then you can get the letter and also ask questions, hear tones, and follow up.

            I would never rely on JUST letters of recommendation, but I don’t see the problem with having them in addition to references.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      If they’re paid, yes. If they’re unpaid, it depends on whether they receive “significant remuneration” in some other form.

      But I don’t think the OP will even need to get into anything like a request for accommodation under the ADA; most the kind of wording I suggested in the post will be sufficient with most managers.

    2. MK

      Back pain with an “unpleasant” grade of intensity is unlikely to be considered a disability, unless there are other factors in play.

  5. Elizabeth the Ginger

    OP #4, that sounds really great. I’d also recommend that you tell your employee that you’re happy to send this letter to companies/colleges in the future – sometimes places that want a letter of recommendation want it to come straight from the source rather than through the recommendee.

    1. Crystal

      #4 Letter-writer here – I will indeed mention to the student and in the letter that I’m happy to talk to anyone who wants further details / answers to specific questions / to hear it from the source.

  6. Mabel

    #4: I had always thought that getting a letter of recommendation was a good idea for anyone. When I was working though college I was sure to get one from the employers I worked for. In my first post-college job they thought it very impressive that I had these letters and it made their job easier because they didn’t necessarily need to call my past employers.

    I still try to get them but my last employer utterly refused to write one for me and insisted if anyone needed to know about my work that they’d talk to them directly, I don’t know if that is a sign that I’ll be getting a bad reference from them in the future but who knows.

    So I think it is great to give out letters of recommendation when a good employee leaves. Even if it is not something that will be needed in the future, it certainly makes the employee feel appreciated and boosts their confidence in how they performed at the job.

    1. Crystal

      #4 Letter-writer here: I’ve never even considered it for a departing employee with a regular job. I’ve handed a couple of departing temporary workers in their early 20s a stack of my business cards and my personal contact info and encouraged them to use me as a reference. On the hiring side, I would much rather talk to the employer than read a letter when I’m hiring for a full-time regular employee. I want to ask questions that would help me figure out if this person is right for my open job. For a summer worker, or a scholarship program, or a high-turnover hourly worker situation I thought it might be too much effort and the letter would be handy. However, based on your comment, I’m going to give it more thought in the future!

      1. TootsNYC

        While in many situations, a hiring manager might want a conversation with a reference, the presence of a letter might give someone a couple of more points in the plus column. Not a ton, but it might make you take someone more seriously. It would me–at an entry level.

        Beyond an entry level, those letters wouldn’t mean much.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          In fact, once you’re past entry level, the letters can actually be a negative. Sometimes when I’m hiring for a mid-level or senior job, I get an applicant who includes some letters of recommendation with their initial application. At that level, it is always a marker of a candidate who isn’t right for the job; strong candidates have the savvy to know that those letters won’t be useful. (By “marker,” I mean “this is something strong candidates never do,” not “this is something I reject people over.”) It comes across as a little naive.

    2. Chocolate lover

      Many people won’t write a generic recommendation letter, so I wouldn’t necessarily take it as a sign of anything. None of my professional jobs have ever given someone a letter, and all of my potential employers insisted on talking to references personally, so a letter would have been a waste of the writer’s time. Generic letters often don’t address specific qualifications they may want or questions they may have. Even some of my professors in college wouldn’t write generic letters, though they were happy to write specific ones.

    3. Oryx

      I don’t think it’s a sign of anything other than them wanting to talk to people directly. In high-school I got letters from employers but I can’t imagine asking for them now as a professional working adult. They strike me as a little juvenile in the regular work force.

    4. Kate M

      Yeah, I hire people from intern level up, and I would never accept a recommendation letter. I prefer to ask my own questions of the reference, and hear their inflection/tone, or if over email get more specific answers to questions. If someone ever tried to give me a recommendation letter I would have to verify it anyway, so why not just go to them in the first place.

      Places that accept letters of recommendation without any verification, in my mind, are the type who just see references as a box to be checked, not as important information to be used in the hiring process.

      1. Kate M

        For high schoolers of course it’s fine, I meant to say. But anything above that, unless you’re in a specific field where letters of recommendation are the norm, I’d steer clear.

    5. TootsNYC

      If nothing else, that fact that you had those letters available says a lot about you, your sense of business norms and the important of a good work reputation, not to mention your organization. (I once hired someone because her take-home test got lost in the mail, and she’d made a copy before mailing it. [It arrived about 3 months after she’d started, postmarked appropriately.])

      I don’t think their refusal to write the letter says anything about the reference you’d get–it just means they don’t want to bother. They themselves probably wouldn’t value getting such a letter, and are assuming their counterparts wouldn’t either.
      For one thing, as you move on in your career, the more specific your jobs become, the less useful a general letter is, because it’s hard to pull out the examples, etc., in a meaningful way.

  7. Grace

    #1: I encourage you to seek out physical therapy. We successfully treat back pain all the time, can help with the poor posture, and teach body mechanics to help prevent injuries. You don’t have to resolve yourself to “just dealing with it.”

    1. OP#1

      It’s funny you should mention that, because it’s something I’ve been seriously considering. I do chiro and massage when I have cash to spare but frankly, I’m not good about following through on the exercises they give me on days the pain level isn’t too bad. I am moving at the beginning of September, and I’m thinking about waiting to find a physio in my new town and using the interim to try to be more committed to exercises, yoga, etc.

      1. Blurgle

        Physio is *much* more effective than chiro. It’s also safer and has more evidence behind it.

      2. TootsNYC

        >I’m not good about following through on the exercises they give me on days the pain level isn’t too bad. <

        I'm trying to think what to say to encourage you to follow through. I also don't do that well.

        But the person we're really cheating is ourselves. Maybe if we focus not on "I should do this" and "being committed," and instead on, "I like my muscles, I want to help them!" Think of your muscles as a little 4yo that will be so much happier and healthier when someone takes care of him/her. (bcs often us people do things for other people that we won't do for ourselves.)

        1. Mookie

          Exactly. I’ve got a chronic neck issue that needs babying and careful management and whenever I’m feeling less than motivated to spend fifteen minutes sorting it I just remember the basic rules that involve any unusual physical activity (gradual warm-up prior to followed at the end with long, static stretches to loosen anything taut and to increase flexibility). I wouldn’t dream of exercising without doing both because I know in the long run they’ll reduce soreness, allow me to get the most out of any routine, stave off injury, and over time improve my performance. Same with the neck. My quality of life and ability to do the things I want to would be tarnished if I were experiencing constant, low-grade pain. It’s worth the effort to treat, seek medical advice about, and avoid the things that exacerbate your back, LW, because you’re worth it.

      3. Temperance

        I’m in PT now, and I highly, highly encourage you to follow through. You aren’t going to make good progress unless you go through it correctly.

      4. Rana

        Can you set an alarm or something on your phone to remind you? Not that this is 100% foolproof (I can get really good at ignoring alarms that are inconvenient) but sometimes that’s all that’s necessary to get you out of an avoidance rut.

      5. Wendy Darling

        I also stink at following through with exercises. But I am a simple creature and I like nice things, so what worked for me was bribing myself. I have a TV show on Netflix I may ONLY watch when I’m at the gym. I will do my stretching exercise and then I can have a cup of coffee. I will do my stretching exercise and then I can play the next level of this game.

        I’d say go see someone NOW — you could be feeling worlds better by September if you started seeing a physical therapist now. I only saw mine for 8-12 weeks.

      6. Emilia Bedelia

        I’m doing PT for my knee, so this may not be helpful for you depending on what your exercises are, but I do some of them at work- I keep my exercise band in my desk, and I do knee extensions under my desk. I also do some of the standing exercises when I’m standing in line, walking around on the phone, etc- getting in the habit of doing them whenever I can was really helpful.

      7. J.B.

        I know the feeling and was the same way in my youth. Now approaching 40 I know I need to get a handle on this, and do exercises every.single.day. For now it requires an hour a day. Living without pain is worth it, and if I were younger and not as tied up in knots it might be more like 15 minutes a day.

    2. Young'n

      Can not stress this enough! Pt is a life saver. If your pain is so bad itkeeps you up at night you should be in pt.

      Also you can do the at and camel while lying on your side. Do you know how to get to neutral spine?

  8. Bowserkitty

    #1 – You say you’re an intern, so are you in your 20s? I too have back pain and arthritis issues and when I mention the pain to coworkers they tell me I’m too young for that stuff (-____-) They ease up when I say it runs in my family but it doesn’t make it any less annoying. I guess I have no real advice, just that I echo the advice Alison and others have given, and you have my sympathy!

    1. MK

      It’s a very common misconception that back pain happens only to older people. When my sister, then age 14, complained of having backing pain, I thought she was joking/faking it to get out of chores, but, sure enough, she was actually dealing with a problem.

    2. OP#1

      I haven’t quite hit my 20s yet, so I’m *very* familiar with the “you’re too young to have back pain! hahaha” kind of reaction. (I’ve had these issues since around the age of 12, unfortunately.)

    3. Young'n

      There are so many people out there with back pain!

      My old boss had rhemitoid arthritis at 25.

      I was in a debilitating car accident at 23.

      Don’t let the judge-y strangers bother you.

    4. Koko

      The main takeaway I got from my 20s was that old age afflicts you at a surprisingly young age. Your back starts to hurt, you suddenly can’t stay up late or run on 4 hours of sleep a night anymore, you can’t drink like you used to.

      What a downward slide that decade was. It was the main reason I finally adopted a more active lifestyle. After seeing how much energy and stamina and resiliency I’d lost in my 20s I was determined not to experience similar losses in my 30s. Fear of aging turned out to be the best motivation I’ve ever had to stay in shape.

      1. the gold digger

        Fear of aging turned out to be the best motivation I’ve ever had to stay in shape.

        Me, too! (Plus vanity.) I have seen older people fall and not be able to get up and it has put the fear of the future in me – I no longer skip the abs and core work. And when I don’t feel like working out, I think about how angry my 80 year old self will be with the Now Me for not working out and how grateful the 80 year old me will be if the Now Me does the work.

  9. Drives me nuts

    #3 – Thank you Alison for encouraging people to seek raises and merit-based salary increases. I think too many people work at companies in financial trouble and feel scared or ungrateful to ask to be paid what they are worth. It never hurts to ask and the worst that can happen is they say no and then you decide if you want to keep working there.

    1. A

      OP#3 here – absolutely agree with the advice and the comment! Thanks for the affirmation. Under any other circumstance I wouldn’t even question it, I’ve just never gone through a situation like this and wanted to be sure I wasn’t being out of touch. Market value is the way to go.

  10. AdAgencyChick

    #1: although of course you should speak up and try to get a reduction in tasks that cause you pain, I also wonder whether your posture when crouching on the ground or lifting boxes is making things worse. Are you rounding your back at all? If so, pick up your chest, drop your butt, and see whether that feels better.

    This message brought to you by the Cult of CrossFit!

    1. Koko

      Speaking of CrossFit – upthread someone mentioned physical therapy, but personal training can also be great for mild levels of back pain. I had chronic back pain throughout my 20s that was only getting worse every year. It was posture-related, my unconscious instinct was toward bad postures so I woke up every morning with back pain from sleeping poorly overnight.

      Last year I started lifting weights with a personal trainer a couple times a week. It has all but cured me. I have made my back muscles so strong and actually retrained them in how to stand and sit and move correctly. My whole core is just way more solid and stable. I no longer have regular morning back pain, even if I haven’t done yoga in a few days. I still get back pain occasionally and need to do some yoga to crack my back (I recommend up dog for lower back and a supported back bend over a yoga ball with arms overhead for upper back).

      I can actually dead lift and squat my body weight now! I warm up with 95-105 lbs and it feels like nothing. A year ago 65 lbs would have my back aching the next day. It has made so many things in my life easier, even down to carrying groceries and cat litter in from the car.

      Weights can be risky if used improperly so until you know what you’re doing you definitely want to seek out a trainer who can teach you proper form, spot you, and give you corrections. Planet Fitness is a really affordable gym (here it’s $10/month and $100/year with no contract, and several times a year they run specials waiving the $100 annual fee) with training inclusive in the membership. If you can find a trainer to get you started lifting weights it could make a big difference for you!

      1. Christy

        So as much as I hate to recommend exercise for back pain, it really has helped me as well. I had scoliosis surgery when I was 12, and I still have a 30° curvature post-surgery, so I’ve had back pain my whole life. I saw a chiropractor for years, and for a long time that’s the only thing that managed my back pain.

        A few years ago, I started working out. Now I do yoga four times each week and cardio/weights also 4x/week. My back feels so much better now! Sure, I’ll occasionally get back pain still, but certainly not as often or as severely (unless I’m flying, which always wrenches my back).

        I know for me, for years I didn’t want to exercise because I was always coming from a place of pain. But the exercise has really, really helped with the pain. If you can get yourself started (even if it’s just slow pedaling on a recumbent bike like I did) it might help you as well.

  11. Bananas

    If the student is in high school, #4, the recommendation letter will probably come in handy if they are applying for college. A lot of my college apps required recommendation letters.

      1. zora.dee

        This. I made maannnyyy copies of my letters of recommendation for all the scholarship apps when I was transferring to a new college. I was also glad I already had a couple and didnt have to make any phone calls to get letters written just for applications.

        Crystal: you are a very nice boss!

  12. Band geek

    LW1 – I get lower back pain when doing yard work. A friend suggested yoga. Search ‘Yoga Stretches for Lower Back Pain’ on You-tube. The beginner ones don’t require you to be a contortionist. I was skeptical, but kept at it for a couple weeks. I now have much less pain and greater flexibility than I’ve had in a long time. I’ve completely stopped taking Aleve. Hope that help Save!

  13. Graciosa

    Regarding #2, I just wanted to reinforce Alison’s assessment that this is nothing to worry about. If this happened at my employer – which given our size, seems very likely, probably relatively frequently – no one would think it even worth mentioning.

    Seriously, don’t turn this into a monster under the bed by worrying about it.

    1. Layoff Newbie

      #2 letter-writer here: Thank you to you and Alison for putting me at ease! I’m obviously overthinking this a little bit, but you never know. The unemployment process has been extremely complicated and thorough thus far, and I think it’s putting me on edge. (Though, that may be the state’s goal, eh? ;D)

      1. Long Time Reader First Time Poster

        I’ve been laid off several times, and it’s my opinion that that is TOTALLY the state’s goal, lol.

        Anyway, don’t worry about what a future employer might think — there’s NO shame in collecting unemployment benefits. You’ve paid unemployment insurance your entire career, and now you are collecting the benefits that you were insuring yourself to receive.

        And as far as the work search log goes — you need to be able to prove that you are actively searching for work during each week you collect benefits. In my state (yours may vary) that means keeping a log of all work search activities: reviewing job listings, sending resumes, networking, interviewing. In my state, the logs aren’t even reviewed (as far as I can tell) unless there is a discrepancy in your claim. In my three times collecting UI, I’ve only had anyone look at one once and it was just a confirmation that I was keeping a log, they didn’t collect it or follow up on the contacts.

        I’m willing to bet that no state’s UI office goes through these logs and contacts each contact found within — that would be a horrible waste of resources. Maybe a spot check here and there would be the most I’d expect. But I think you can feel safe in assuming that it’s not overly likely that anyone would reach out to your potential new company — and if they did? So what! Like I said, there’s no shame in collecting unemployment benefits.

  14. Hot Pink Squirrel

    #1, Are you otherwise in shape? How is your bed?

    Back pain can easily be caused by unbalanced muscle strength or a saggy mattress. Bending and lifting sometimes aggravate it but aren’t always the root causes.

    1. OP#1

      Hi. I am in very bad shape and have not been doing a good job taking care of myself, which is part of why I felt weird complaining about this– it’s sort of self-inflicted? I got a gym membership yesterday and I’m trying to get “into shape”, but I have no idea how to work any of the equipment so I’m stuck on the treadmill until further notice LOL.

      My bed is pretty good, but the dorm bed I was in during the school year definitely made things worse. I had a lot of anxiety issues as a kid & also spent a lot of time hunched over reading, so I think the tension and poor posture is the root of this.

      1. Rana

        Don’t be shy about asking your gym’s staff to show you how to work the machines; they want you to use them! Maybe commit to learning one new machine a week?

        And if your gym offers an appointment with a trainer as one of the benefits, take that opportunity. Even if you don’t do any of the exercises they suggest, the hands-on introduction to the gym can be really helpful.

      2. AcademiaNut

        I second the recommendation above of getting a referral from your doctor to an appropriate specialist. They can check if there are any underlying problems (not just bad posture and being out of shape). Then they can give you advice on what to do to improve core strength and flexibility without making things worse.

        Because if you’re doing things like weight lifting or yoga and are doing exercises the wrong way, or the wrong exercises, you can actually make things worse. For example, the repetitive motion of weight lifting tends to give me problems, and yoga helped my back, but gave me headaches (doing poses with poor core strength strained my neck) and for some reason was terrible for my hamstrings.

        I went to the doctor recently for upper back and neck issues – much like yours, not a major problem, but a minor, persistent one, and the result of years of bad posture. His recommendation was actually pilates, which hadn’t occurred to me before.

      3. fairyfreak

        Is there a pool at the gym? My husband has back issues, and swimming regularly had really helped him. Low impact, full body workout.

    2. J.B.

      I speak from experience – with chronic issues the OP is dealing with, he needs to see a physical therapist. There are a lot of different factors that may play in but the physical therapist should assess them and unwind them. (And if the physical therapist says here you go, here are your exercises bye that therapist isn’t the one to use.)

      Finding a good personal trainer is a great idea, and that person may be able to recommend a good physical therapist.

  15. Phyllis B

    RE LW #2, I don’t know if UI is done the same in all US states, but where I live, you apply, get a determination of eligibility, and one week “in the hole” before you draw. (This is only for first applying. After that if you need to apply again, there is no delay.) You don’t have to list job searches until your first review. I’m saying all this to say, the application process takes a few weeks to play out. By this time you may already have been hired by this company, at which time you can tell the people at UI you no longer need benefits (but you are still entitled to them for the time you actually ARE unemployed.) Or you will know for certain that you have NOT been hired, and you will be glad to have already done your application process for UI. If you draw, your first review is (I think) 6 weeks. Don’t remember for sure because it’s been a number of years since I’ve needed it. It’s either this review or the next one that you have to list job searches. I believe they like to see at least three searches. Searches do not necessarily mean interviews. This could be enquiries about open positions you have seen advertised, or been told about. Then you can add this company if you wish. (The first time I drew in the eighties, you could go to a business, ask whoever you saw “are you hiring?” and that was considered a job search. Wouldn’t recommend that today.) :-)

    One piece of advice; once you start benefits, check your email diligently. That’s where you get your notices for reviews. Somehow mine went to junk mail and I missed my first review. I got locked out of the system and had to go to the office in person to get it straightened out. I got all my benefits, but that little snafu cost me two weeks with no money.

    1. OP#2

      Definitely appreciate that advice, Phyllis. Surprisingly, UI hasn’t changed all that much since the ’80s! Simply searching for job listings or networking with someone on LinkedIn counts! You make a REALLY great point about the timeline and the email/junk mail thing; I’ll definitely claim for these weeks I’ve been unemployed, and I’ll check spam frequently, just in case.
      Sorry to hear you had to go through this way back when, but I’m grateful that you shared your experience!

      1. Wendy Darling

        Also I had a gap of like 3 weeks between when I accepted the offer for my current job and when I actually started. And then another 3 week gap between when I started and when I got my first paycheck because my company pays monthly. I kept getting unemployment for the weeks before I started my job — thank goodness, because otherwise I wouldn’t have made it through to my first paycheck without seriously pillaging my savings.

  16. OP#1

    Thanks for answering my question Alison! The project that had me hunched over the floor has maybe an hour left, but I’m going to borrow your exact wording for anything else that comes up. (I am at work until around 8:30 pm this blog’s time, but I will try to pop back in periodically.) I did mention to my boss right gate sending this email that the project was hurtling my back, and she said I was being a “trooper”… But at least I feel like I’ve opened the door somewhat to a conversation if I end up with another job like the last one.

    1. Sarahnova

      Hi OP#1 – kind of tangential, but it sounds a bit like you were trying to hint to your boss that you couldn’t do any more lifting on this project, but she heard it as “I can still do it, I’m just a little sore afterwards”. In a workplace context, you really need to state what you can and can’t do directly, i.e. “I suffer from back issues, and this project is really hurting my back – I will need to get the other interns to support me with lifting instead”, or whatever. Always ask for what you need – don’t expect other people to intuit it.

  17. Osha

    #4– A general recommendation letter will come in very useful if he’s applying to scholarships. I applied to 30+ scholarships in Grade 12, all of which needed recommendation letters, and I definitely didn’t ask for a customized one for each individual scholarship– I had 3 from teachers, 1 from an employer, and 1 from a volunteer supervisor, and I mixed and matched them to suit the scholarship. Some of the bigger scholarships that had more specific focuses I did ask for some slight edits to the letters I’d been provided, though.

  18. TootsNYC

    #4–I wonder if it’s time for the kid to get a LinkedIn account, and then our OP#4 can write the first recommendation.

    I pay no attention to the “endorsements,” but I do read the recommendations. They’re not a substitute for a personal one, but it’s a small way to help.

    I told my college-age daughter that it would help a lot to start keeping good records of the places she worked, including exact dates, and who she worked for/with, bcs it’s hard to recreate.

    1. Crystal

      #4 Letter-writer here: Wow, I hadn’t even thought of that. I’ll suggest LinkedIn.

  19. Temperance

    LW #1: Speak to your supervisor about this. Let her know about your back issues, and ask her if she can help you to develop a plan to avoid pain-inducing tasks in the future. Getting her buy-in can be critical to getting out of this type of work in the future. People don’t *know* that you have back issues by looking at you; what they do know is that you helped John and Sue move boxes last week, so when something similar comes up, they think “I’ll ask intern, she did it yesterday.” If you explain that you have back issues, most people will understand and ask someone else.

    You can also talk to your supervisor about modifying tasks so they aren’t as strenuous on your back or ask for a different chair.

  20. Daisy Steiner

    #4 Please do write that letter! Even if it ends up having no professional purpose, I know that when I was high school age, receiving concrete, legitimate praise for something out in the ‘real world’ (not school or family) would have meant the absolute world to me. I don’t want to stereotype, but for me it was a delicate time self-esteem-wise and a letter of recommendation that I could keep and reread would have been hugely valuable.

    1. AthenaC

      Agreed – a few years ago, I got laid off from my job. I called my largest client to break the news to them, and 10 minutes after we hung up, I had a letter of recommendation in my email inbox from my main contact at that client.

      I don’t know if it helped my job search at all, but it really did reinforce to me that I was correct in believing myself to be good at my job! And that felt AWESOME!

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