updates: the client pushing religion, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. How can I explain I’m looking for more work-life balance without sounding like I’m lazy?

Hi! I was the work-life balance question asker in the podcast. Re-listening to my question, I am reminded of how exhausted and worn out I was, and the commenters could hear it too. But I’m so happy to share a great update!

After a year of intermittently looking for a new job (only as work allowed), I was able to use my network and your cover letter advice (my boss’s direct quote: “I am blown away by your cover letter!”) to land a new job that I’m beyond excited about, with a non-profit whose mission I’m very passionate about. I was direct in my interview about needing a better work life balance, and explicit that I have school aged kids and not being able to devote enough time to them was a big part of why I wanted to leave my prior position. I felt comfortable mentioning my kids because I knew my interviewer- now my boss- also has school aged kids; he is a former client of mine and we had worked together pretty closely in the past. They were quick to assure me multiple times that they take work life balance very seriously.

I’m just finishing my second week, and while COVID has made things even busier in my area than they presumably were before I was hired, I feel absolutely comfortable closing my laptop at an hour that feels shockingly early to me every evening, and not checking it again until the next morning. And the volume of emails received overnight suggests the rest of the organization works similarly.

I know you can’t know if something is a dream job until you’re in it, but my colleagues are great, the mission is awesome, the pay is good- even at a non-profit!- and the work is completely the direction I’d hoped to go, with work life balance included. I’m beyond lucky. Your cover letter and interviewing advice was invaluable, as were your thoughts on how to frame my need for better balance. Thank you for your site. It’s helped me many times.

2. Client is pushing religion on me (#2 at the link)

I was the one who had the client who kept asking if I’d accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. I took in your advice, advice from my boss, and from the commenters, and was prepared to state clearly the next time that it was an inappropriate thing for me to talk about…but there was no next time. She didn’t bring it up again at all, and she’s now received the assistance she needed, and thus will not be coming back to our office again.

Part of what helped, I think, was that as the number of people we were trying to help grew, we had to reconfigure how we engaged with them. Though I’m the only one who could do certain functions, we delegated information sharing tasks to other colleagues (as my calling 40 people at a time was just not practical, especially with some major language barriers in many cases.) It made me realize that, even within the constraints we were working within, there were still ways to share the load after all!

3. My bombastic coworker is pushing me over the edge (first update here)

Bombastic Coworker is gone. I was reminded of my letter a few days ago and decided to look her up. Sure enough a search for Cersei comes back with “No employees by that name found.”

As for why I decided to look her up, well sure enough I have a new person on my team that acts in much the same way. I’m so glad that I wrote you the first time because I’ve gone back to the letter to reread the advice as I struggle to deal with my new bombastic coworker. I’m a regular team member and she’s one of two team leads, so once again I’m not in much of a position to change anything. While I am taking the sit back and watch it unfold route, I have privately approached our manager and the other team lead with my concerns, and they’re working with the new coworker on that.

Also to all the people who cautioned me about disclosing things like personal financial troubles to my coworkers, I have taken the advice into consideration and it’s turned out to be both right and wrong. While I’ve only ever gone into detailed specifics with my manager and my closest work friend (we’ve become close enough that I don’t even consider her just a work friend) I’ve found a very open and sharing environment for that sort of thing in my workplace. In fact, it’s quite natural to bring it up as we work in that type of financial solutions, so it would be kind of like going out of your way to not talk about political views while working on a campaign team. We all support each other and often use our personal stories as a way to refer people to our products and solutions. I think my end of year numbers would be cut in half if I didn’t talk about it at work.

Once again, Alison, I thank you for responding, and thank you to the commenters for teaching me that this won’t be the last Cersei I have to deal with, and how to deal with any new one that may arise.

{ 26 comments… read them below }

  1. Jedi Squirrel*

    #3: I love this from the first update: “I managed not to murder Cersei”.

  2. Jedi Squirrel*

    From Alison’s first bit of advice:

    You should be kind externally, of course, but your private thoughts are your own.

    Yep. I used to tell my students this. You have to be nice to people on the outside, but it’s still fine not to like them, even me. You have my permission to not like people, as long as you are nice. Some of them were almost relieved because the attitude around school is that you should like school, you should like your classes, you should like your teachers, and you should like all the other students. Just no. Sometimes hell is just other people.

    1. Elm*

      I did the same thing! I remember the first time I told a middle school class “you don’t all have to be friends, you just have to be kind” a kid blurted out, “you’re the first teacher to ever tell us we were allowed to not be friends with everyone!” It was a K-8 school and the kids had been told “you HAVE to be friends with all of your classmates” their whole lives. And you know what? I think it made them even kinder, knowing they were allowed to feel what they felt and like who they liked as long as they weren’t being jerks.

    2. Tabby*

      Oh god this. I was a great student who hated school. Yes, all 12 years of it. And the pressure to love school just because I took my education seriously enough to not just goof off was exhausting. And the assumption that I would go to college… an IVY LEAGUE college, that I couldn’t afford even if I wanted to do it…


      Society really needs to stop doing that. I always tell kids who ask me that no, they’re not wrong to dislike school. It’s an obligation to be gotten over with for some, and that’s fine.

  3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    1) Unless you’re a workaholic whose primary goal in life is to work, work, and do nothing but work – there’s nothing wrong — in fact, it’s PROPER – to demand a good work/life balance.

    In my humble opinion, you should never view your job as your entire life mission – I have always viewed it as a vehicle to accomplish other things in life – family, home, vacations, good living. Now, I have known some people who DO view their work and their job as their entire life… and that’s fine, if it works for them.

    I’m sensing for poster #1 = that’s not you. The fact that you’re seeking a balance indicates that you want “more living, less job” — so – go for that.

    1. OP 1*

      I’m a lawyer by training and when I called into the podcast, I was on a partner track at a large national law firm. It had been what I’d thought I wanted since law school- except I was working All. The. Time. and had no time for kids, spouse, exercise, hobbies, or sleep. I actually really loved my work but not THAT much, which is why I found a new job (yay!) that also allows me to have a life. It’s really a measure of just how crazy the large law firm life is that I thought I’d be seen as lazy, when all I wanted was to have room in life for something besides work.

      Work isn’t just a vehicle for the rest of my life- I do love what I do. Fortunately, my new job is, in its mission, more fulfilling than my old one ever was. AND I have time to sleep enough and attend to my kids’ virtual schooling (I put in my notice just before they went to virtual school, and I’m SO grateful I didn’t have to do this 8 weeks while working my old job!!!).

      1. AnonyLawyer*

        I left my partner-track job at a large national law firm a few years ago. I completely understand the mindset and the pressures you are describing. Unfortunately, that industry still largely suffers from the all-work culture that offers some “accommodations” for kids or an alleged work/life balance. Congratulations to you on finding a more compatible work environment!

      2. Anon4This*

        Ah, BigLaw – that explains so much!

        The sad reality is that wanting a better work/life balance likely would be seen as “lazy” in BigLaw. I have worked in the space for years, and it’s in a league of its own (maybe with high-end finance and consulting) and totally insane, particularly to people who have “normal” jobs. The money is very hard to walk away from, but the lifestyle is murder.

        I truly wonder what’s going to become of BigLaw when the younger generations rise to power (big problem of BigLaw is that it’s very top-down, hierarchical, and skewed towards those who have a stay-at-home spouse managing the home front).

        1. OP 1*

          I had to do A LOT of internal work around the idea that I was lazy or “couldn’t hack it” when I decided to change jobs. The brainwashing is real! I finally allowed myself to reframe it as, yes, I’m smart enough to be good at this and COULD achieve if I dedicated everything and more to it- but I don’t WANT that, why ever would I want that?? It took many months for me to stop feeling like a job change meant failure. The culture is soooo skewed.

          Re: stay-at-home spouses: my office wasn’t that large but almost everyone in it was a partner. All but one either had a stay at home spouse (the men), no children (all the women except 3) or were part time (2 of the 3 women). It was maddening knowing I was trying to work and parent under radically different circumstances than others.

          1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

            First of all, GOOD FOR YOU, OP1!

            Second – I had a good job at a financial services firm – as an IS/IT guy. There was a period where they did a couple of “nasties” to me, but we managed to make peace. A few months later, a software firm asked me to come aboard, doing EXACTLY what I wanted to do. And there was a work/life balance – and I took a cut in some benefits to take the job. No regrets and I stayed there over 20 years.

            I had the new-found freedom to take vacations when I wanted to, spend my weekends with my wife doing fun things and not carrying a pager or cell phone, and only work 40 hours a week if I so chose.

            Also, the reality set in, that if I had stayed in the aforementioned job, I would have been dead in five years.

    2. Eliza*

      Yeah, the way I see it is that if you’re a doctor with Médecins Sans Frontières and your job is to go around the world to wherever there’s a crisis and render emergency medical aid, then it makes sense for most of your life to be built around doing that. If your job does not require you to regularly uproot your entire existence in order to deal with immediate matters of life and death, it’s fine to have other stuff going on in your life. Most people, even most people whose jobs ARE matters of life or death, fall into the latter category.

  4. Door Guy*

    #1) That’s what I brought up in my last job interviews – wanting a greater work/life balance. Brought up the hours, a recently missed school concert, and left it at that. Thankfully, they agreed that you need time for family (one of the managers I interviewed with flat out said that if my kid has a concert he would expect me to be there). I’ve been here for 15 months and they have held up to that standard 100%.

    There is more to your life than just work.

  5. Artemesia*

    I would think it even more important if working in the financial sector to not disclose any personal financial difficulties (Unless it could be in the form of ‘I can relate to that because when I first left school and started my first job, I made a similar mistake — and here is what I had to do to recover.’ ) But certainly no information that is remotely about your budgets and financials recently. You really shoot yourself in the foot when you disclose personal information on the job that makes it easy for others to dismiss your advise or expertise or lose respect for you.

    1. HS Teacher*

      I would even go further. When I worked in insurance, I was encouraged to have the agency handle my personal insurance. How about no. Yes, I missed out on the discount, but I don’t like to blur the lines between work and my personal life.

    2. lulu*

      Right, I really don’t understand that impulse. If it’s a sales shtick to relate to your clients, then this is the perfect time to rely on your fictional friend Mike: my friend Mike also had student’s debt, my roommate Mike used to rely on payday loan until he found this product, my baby cousin Mike was paying high interest rates on his credit cards debt until I advised him better, etc. With your coworkers? with your manager??? there is zero need to disclose anything. Who knows what your company is taking into account when deciding who to give a promotion to?

    3. Minnie*

      Also I don’t think political discussions ARE ok at work, even on a campaign. I would assume all support the candidate/ measure but beyond that who knows? This may be a job that promotes a “lifestyle” beyond just selling a product. I guess in that case it might be appropriate to share such personal information.

    4. OP3*

      To be clear, it is more of that vague phrasing of “hey, I did that sort of thing myself” and not “here’s three years of pay stubs.”

      Now can we please drop the subject about me deciding to discuss my financials with people? It works for me and my company. I only bring it up very occasionally and only to co-workers/clients I’m comfortable with. I got this lecture in the previous two posts. Enough.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      At the bottom of the posting are some bullet points, and the last bullet is “How can I explain I’m looking for more work-life balance without sounding like I’m lazy?”

      Just past that is this: “Or, if you prefer, here’s the transcript.”. Click that link to a REAL transcript (not a machine one like the Slate podcasts do).

  6. Jennifer Thneed*

    > and was prepared to state clearly the next time that it was an inappropriate thing
    > for me to talk about…but there was no next time.

    I have experienced this more than once. I’m beyond tired of an annoying situation, I puzzle thru my annoyance to clarity and think of the perfect reply or thing to say, and … never get the chance. It’s like the annoying person can sense a change in me and I never actually have to say the thing. Kind of a let down but I can live with that.

    1. OP2*

      I can see that, but honestly, for me it was a relief not to have to have the conversation!

  7. Elm*

    My second year of teaching, I had a new principal and when we did these “three things you want to improve on this year,” one of mine was “achieve a better work/life balance.” (My first year had been 16+ hour days every day, plus at least 10 hours over each weekend.) He spent the rest of the year making sure I wasn’t “slacking off” and would check to make sure I was still at work three or four hours after the school day ended. That wasn’t the worst thing he did, but I left at the end of the year. I experienced this reaction to the very idea of work/life balance from two other principals.

    I am no longer in education. This is in the top three reasons why, and I was VERY open about that in my interviews outside the field. “I know some times may require longer days or weekends at any job, but I need a reasonable work/life balance to be the norm.” It’s been almost a year since I left teaching and I’m STILL adjusting to being allowed to go home at the end of the day!

    1. OP 1*

      Good for you for finding something more reasonable! I’m guessing I’ll still be startled by just…not needing to work on weekends, for quite some time. I’m looking forward to it!

Comments are closed.