update: can you be spontaneous when you have a full-time job?

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer wondering if you can still be spontaneous when you have a full-time job? Here’s the update.

Thanks for responding to my letter! You and the commentators helped me feel more confident in my decision to not join my husband for a last minute outing.

There was a bit of discussion about my phrasing of taking a mental health day, and I’d like to provide more (lengthy) clarity on that. In the role I had prior to this job, I had started to work ungodly hours. There were occasions I would work 60 hours by Thursday. My manager would send me emails on company holidays and ask me to redo an entire project by the next day. He’d even send me a list of things on Sunday evening to have done by Monday morning. It only got worse when the pandemic hit. I would often be working until 11pm or even 1am. (Did I mention this was an entry level position?)

My husband saw my mental and physical health decline throughout this job. He tried to get me to take time off, but I felt like I never had an opportunity to do so. I finally spoke with my manager about working a more reasonable amount since I was burned out and my work-life balance wasn’t sustainable. My manager’s response was “well, everyone is doing it. It’s the expectation.” I was taken aback and at that point mentally resigned. So, I revved up my job search and landed my new position!

When I was job searching, my husband and I agreed that I would discuss work-life balance with the hiring manager. I asked about it in every single step of the interview process. Each person I met with whole heartedly said that their work day wraps up at 5pm. If there’s a big project or approaching deadline, they may work a little later or on the occasional weekend, but they all said it was rare. Regardless, my husband insisted that I not be afraid to take days off for my own mental health—he didn’t want to see me decline into my former self from my last position.

Once I started my job, everything was wonderful. My manager spoke with me at the beginning and told me that she encourages using all allotted PTO, and she specifically said to not be afraid to take a day or two if I just needed a break from work—this is what I was referring to via “mental health day”. I still think my husband was concerned at first though, which was why he was trying to coax me out of the house on that Friday early into the job.

However, my husband and I have had some changes! My husband no longer works nights and weekends—he has a new job much closer to home (he previously worked out of state) and specifically requested to work the same hours I do. We have nights and weekends together now! We take spontaneous weekend trips (think we’re heading to a national forest to camp this weekend) and get to spend much more time together.

Should another spontaneous-during-the-workday event pop up, I don’t believe my manager would have any qualms with me leaving a few hours early. I have had PTO approved for last minute trips this past summer, so it all has seemed to be pretty flexible. However, I expect those opportunities to be few and far between with our new compatible work lives.

As an aside, my former company wound up hiring 3 senior level positions to replace me and all the work I did. Kind of felt good for them to realize I was doing the work of three people (though a little too late).

Thanks again, Alison, for all that you do. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

{ 40 comments… read them below }

  1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    I’m just sorry they didn’t give you the salary of three senior employees for doing all that! Glad things are better now.

    1. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

      That was also my first thought.
      Though i am glad OP got out of there.

      Too bad there is not some kind of wage claim to be made.

  2. awesome3*

    A great update all around! I’m glad you and your husband have your schedules lined up now, that’s such a game changer.

  3. Calyx*

    It would be great if Alison got letters from leaders saying, “I realized too late what I had in a previous employee, after having to hire more than three more senior people to replace them. I’ve taken the lesson to heart and am looking at the rest of my team to make sure I am not undervaluing anyone else.” Have we ever had a letter like that?

    1. OrigCassandra*

      Funny how there aren’t a bazillion business books and articles on “How to Recognize You’re Overworking/Undervaluing Your Staff.”

      Appreciate AAM for being willing to say that’s what’s happening.

    2. Thursdaysgeek*

      Yeah, I want the updates from the other side, the managers writing in and complaining how hard it is to find entry level workers who will do high level work for 80 hours a week at entry level pay. I want to hear from managers who lost customers because their one load-bearing employee gave them only 2 weeks notice and then left!

      1. CalypsoSummer*

        There’s been a lot of news articles about managers and bidness owners whining because people don’t want to work irregular hours for $9 per, and end up sputtering, “People just don’t want to WORK any more! They want everything GIVEN to them!”

        Yeah, they do — they certainly do! Like, ohhhhh for instance, a living wage, decent benefits, PTO, a safe place to work — just all kinds of unreasonableness!

        1. Thursdaysgeek*

          I know – but I want them to write into AAM, because of the smackdown – a well turned phrase (which Alison can do) makes me happy.

          1. Julia*

            I might question this impulse. There’s too much glee about smackdowns on the internet. There’s not much less appealing than a big group of people hungry to see someone get their feelings hurt.

            1. Julia*

              Like, some of the most popular AAM letters have been smackdowns (the intern who petitioned for a better dress code, the employer who thought her employee was rude for asserting herself over paycheck issues) and it’s because we’ve all got this impulse to see people get smacked down. It’s a gross impulse and we should suppress it.

              1. Boof*

                Gotta agree here; leads to gross videos like the man who was harassing a woman for parking over the line a little… in a parking lot with plenty of other open spaces… just kinda seemed like being a bully but acting self-righteous about it.
                Prefer to see people learn to do better then get smacked down.

                1. Candi*

                  I like those who won’t do some self-reflection before complaining about how they were totally right about X, even though they already were told they were wrong about X, to get a little smackdown -for such people, deflating egos and downsizing arrogance is necessary to grow and learn.

                  I don’t want to see them keep getting smacked down, since that’s doesn’t teach them anything, and they’ll see continued harping on the topic as proof they were right and the problem is the world is against them. That doesn’t help anyone, least of all them and the people in their path.

                  (Continued smacking is also really boring -I’ve never gotten why people keep retreading the same old destructive stuff. It doesn’t do anything, and only harms.)

    3. Extroverted Bean Counter*

      I’m not sure if there’s been a letter like that, but I think my manager (well, my grandboss) could write it!

      From my perspective as an employee of the company who actually moved into that group knowing full well its reputation for just brutal hours, it was less that they undervalued the employees and more just overburdened them and [for a long time] shrugged it off with a “it’s a demanding group, what can ya do?” But then there was essentially 100% attrition, they hired some more heads (including me) and things are SO much better. My manager was an outside hire who really goes to bat for her subordinates and will kick things back up to the top if she thinks deadlines are unattainable. She’s not afraid of stating frankly what is or is not possible.

      I work some long hours, but not anywhere close to what the person in my role used to. More like a regular 40, with some 45’s and then 50 hours during crunch time which is SO NORMAL. And I’m empowered to be part of the solution to make this group one that the rest of the company doesn’t go “oh sh*t, are you okay???” when I tell them what group I work for.

    4. Mrieke89*

      Well, we did have that letter from the manager in the banking business which was all ‘we can’t find anyone to stay for 2 years and work a 100hr weeks anymore, what’s that all about?’ Which isn’t completely the same but feels related?

      1. Hlao-roo*

        For those who missed this letter, search “our highly-paid, overworked junior staff keep leaving just as we get them fully trained” in the archives (from October 26, 2021).

        Another related doozy of a letter where the manager totally missed the mark is “my best employee quit on the spot because I wouldn’t let her go to her college graduation” (July 5, 2016).

        And to balance things out a bit, I found two letters from managers who want to retain their employees:

        “am I too generous with my employees?” (January 10, 2018)
        “I’m constantly anxious that one of my employees will quit” (June 20, 2017)

        I don’t think these are quite what Calyx is looking for, but they’re as close as I could find.

      2. Candi*

        That one bugs me. The OP was claiming in the comments “well, the industry is all the same” re: hours and such -but usually people don’t knowingly move to other companies that treat them equally badly. Yet the movement to other companies in the industry was consistent.

        I just wish I’d figured out the wording of how to express that idea before comments closed.

        I think there have been a few letters/comments where people ask how to help a new manager repair a dysfunctional/damaged department.

      1. La Triviata*

        The one that first brought me to this site was a manager who asked if the work environment they’d created for their team was too exclusive. Turned out that, out of a team of mostly younger people, there was one somewhat older person who left and mentioned some things in their exit interview. Things like the rest of the team would leave for an extended time to pick up beer at a craft brewery, leaving the person alone to handle phones, etc. And, oh yeah, that a senior staff person was having an affair with a lower level staff person.

      2. Candi*

        They don’t need any self-awareness to write in. They just have to believe they are totally right, that a site run by a manager will, of course, will agree with the manager, or that an advice giver will side with the writer. Which last is like, have they ever read advice columns for an extended period? No advisor consistently agrees with their letter writers, there’s just a variable in how many agree vs disagree they publish.

        From here we have graduation boss, paycheck boss, exclusive team boss, jealous of attractive employee boss (they got better), and from the ranks, CEO’s wife caused LW to lose a job offer (probably not, LW had a bit of an attitude) and ghosting (after 3 years) boyfriend. That’s just off the top of my head (and a desire to not make the comment too long.)

        1. EmmaPoet*

          At least Exclusive Team Boss eventually got it. There were two updates, the first after she’d been fired for being a terrible boss (and the whole team got canned as well) where she said, “I get that I am a shitty manager unless you actually worked with me but I worked with friends for 5 years. I didn’t want the ex employee to begin with. So I wanted to make it uncomfortable for her to leave and didn’t think I’d lose my job in the process,” and wanted to sue the person she’d driven off the team.
          The next update came after she’d gotten some serious therapy, realized that she was terrible at management, and had made self-destructive choices which which rubbed off on her team. She sucked it up and read the comments, which stung a lot, but she took it on board and was trying to do better. She moved on and got a new job and seemed to be staying away from her old team, which was for the best for everyone involved.

  4. Sans Serif*

    I know the satisfaction of a company having to replace you with more than one person. When I was in my mid-twenties, I had a lower level job in a marketing dept. Then a marketing manager quit and they gave me his job — in addition to mine. I was young and had energy so I just went with it. After about a year, I found a job doing what I really wanted – copywriting. I heard they had to replace me with two people — felt good. Although I was making peanuts at that point, so it was obvious I had been taken advantage of.

    1. ThisIsTheHill*

      Me too. I worked for a small NPO in my mid-20’s as an admin asst. The program coordinator left, so I ended up with most of his work on top of mine w/ only a $1/hr pay raise. We were growing a statewide educational program, so I had more than enough work & quickly got overwhelmed. When I moved across the state, they asked me to stay on in some capacity. Nope.

      They hired 3 people to replace me.

  5. Pikachu*

    LOL, I was also replaced by three people when I left my last job. Apparently “three full workloads” is the threshold for sanity.

      1. Candi*


        (Fires up Indeed.)

        And they wonder why people are crowding the businesses that treat workers decently.

  6. Maxie's Mommy*

    I was only replaced by two people. When I left they said “you didn’t tell us you were doing all THAT”, and I said yes I did, every time I asked for a raise and you said no.

      1. Candi*

        That is a song with many tunes on this site. Bad management never seems to be able to hear them, though.

    1. MAC*

      I’ve given notice at my current job, which really should be at least 1.5 if not 2 FTEs for what is expected/desired. My new role may turn out to be equally demanding (it’s a newly created position, so no baseline) but it pays 67% more than I’m currently making, so it still feels like a win. I don’t have a particular beef with my current company – smallish NP, everyone’s overextended and there aren’t resources to do anything about it – but the turnover rate in my 3.5 years is astronomical, only one person has been there more than 5 years.

  7. Jacey*

    So it turns out it’s hard to be spontaneous with THREE full time jobs! Well done, OP, on not just getting out of that mess but also landing a great next job :)

  8. Newbie101*

    So so glad for the OP and husband! Kudos for coping with everything while you worked hard to make things better. I hope you enjoy many peaceful weekends and spontaneous moments with your family

  9. Nonny*

    This proves exactly why we need to say NO I CAN’T DO THAT when our managers keep loading work on us. They have absolutely no incentive to hire more people to take the load off unless you tell them very clearly that you won’t be doing it all. When OP left, management was left with only one option–to hire more people. Sounds like OP is better off in the new job anyways, but makes me wonder how her boss would have reacted if she had put her foot down.

    1. Candi*

      There’s a 2017 or 2018 letter where Alison says to that LW to quit juggling and let the balls drop so the management in that letter would have to see how many problems were going on. (I think in that one an admin leaving and lack of a successful hire to replace them was part of the problem, but I can’t swear to it.)

      I’ve taken that to heart. I’ll take on additional tasks, but when it hits a certain point of avalanching into my non-work life, those balls are gonna get dropped, or remain on the counter in the first place.

  10. The Smiling Pug*

    This is why we all need to say “NO” when our employers keep throwing more work on us. It’s unmanageable workhours like this that spurred the Great Resignation.

  11. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    I get that the husband was worried about OP, but he was wrong to even ask her to take time off like that, knowing that she didn’t have the time to take. I might maybe have asked whether I could make the time up over the weekend.
    Talking with friends, we realised that for our male partners, what they were doing was always more important than what we were doing: if they were at work it was more important than taking us somewhere, if they were supervising the kids’ homework, it was more important than our work. They would never take time off to attend a social function we invited them to.

  12. midhart90*

    The key, in my experience, is to set boundaries early on. If you stick to the schedule and make it clear that nights and weekends are off-limits (and you don’t have to be forceful about it–if someone tries to reach out, just get back to them the following business day), people tend to respect that. However, once you allow that line to blur, it can be extremely difficult to go back.

    Now, if your boss has told you point-blank that extended hours are required, it becomes a question of whether this is someone you want to work for. But far too often people fall into a trap and worry about an expectation that may not even exist.

    Now, in terms of taking PTO on short notice, that one varies from place to place. I’d definitely wait until you have the time actually accrued, and it’s generally best to wait until you’ve been with the company for 90 days or so.

    Apart from that, in the absence of a formal policy specifying a minimum notice period, no reasonable manager will hold it against you for asking, even if they are unable to grant the request.

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