I’m starting to hate my customers, employee wants a month off in our busy period, and more

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

1. I’m starting to hate my customers

I work in telephone based collections for a credit card and loan provider, but increasingly I’m getting frustrated by the attitude of the customers we deal with. I find myself uncharitably thinking that they’re lucky that we are willing to work with them to craft repayment plans as opposed to sending them straight to debt collectors.

Intellectually, I know there are a vast array of complex reasons why people fall into debt but it’s difficult to bear in mind when speaking to customers who have taken out dozens of pieces of technology on credit and they’re not able to repay these. They get frustrated and annoyed with us, and feel that we are treating them unfairly. Yet it is money they have borrowed from us and they are not able to repay it, I would hope my attitude doesn’t come through on the phone calls but I fear that my lack of patience is starting to show.

Try to keep in mind that you can’t know a stranger’s circumstances. You’re just seeing one very small piece of the picture with limited info. You don’t know if the person you’re talking to had an unexpected medical crisis, or a divorce, or lost their job, or all sorts of other things that can change a person’s financial situation without warning. But even if they did make bad financial decisions, a lot of people don’t get good (or any) financial education in this country, and credit cards companies employ armies of people to convince consumers they can afford to put purchases on credit.

Are there some people who are just flagrantly irresponsible deadbeats? Sure. But you have no way of knowing if you’re talking to one of them, or if you’re talking to someone who had a personal crisis blow their life up. You’ll do a better job — and be a generally kinder person — if you default to assuming it’s the latter, not the former. (If that doesn’t work, another trick: How would you want a bill collector to talk to someone you loved? Talk to them the way you’d hope someone else would talk to your grandma.)

2. Employee wants a month off during our busy period

I am a firm believer in using your vacation time – it’s part of your compensation package, you’ve earned it! – and am vocally supportive to my team members about taking time off and truly disconnecting when they do.

I have one team of four who work closely together, all pulling work from the same queue. Back in October, the team lead for this group asked for the entire month of December off to deal with a family issue. December is a busy month for us, and I knew it would put a strain on the rest of her team, but she’d already discussed it with her primary counterpart and come to an agreement on a division of labor that would minimize the impact, so I approved it. Today I got a request from a second employee in that same group to also take off four weeks of December and I’m torn.

Could the remaining two members cover it? Yes and no. Safety-critical work would get done. Other work would start to pile up. The team has annual goals on turnaround times, which they’re currently meeting, but the average would drop to a point they’d miss the target for the year. It would also mean starting the new year with a backlog and a turnaround deficit. In the circumstance of unexpected medical leave or a team member leaving of course we deal with the missed deadlines, but I’ll have a harder time explaining and excusing these missed deadlines when we’re fully staffed.

If I only approve two of four weeks the employee doesn’t lose anything – the vacation time will roll over. But I feel … icky. I hate the thought of denying PTO, especially when he’s a really strong performer and hasn’t taken any time off yet this year.

As a manager, is it worse to deny well-deserved PTO or to put the other team members in a position to have to pick up the slack / be penalized (via lower performance ratings) for missed deadlines? Is it fair that the team lead essentially had the same request approved just because she requested it first?

Giving only a week’s notice for four weeks off during your busy season is a really big request. It’s reasonable to say no, that’s our busy month and we’re already down one person. Yes, you approved it for someone else, but that was with more notice and when the coverage looked different. If you approve this request, it sounds like it would be a burden on other staff members and deadlines will be missed … and you’re saying people might even get lower performance ratings? If that’s the case, I don’t see how you can approve it, at least not without a really compelling reason (like a medical issue).

If you can give him two of those four weeks without those consequences, do that. And tell him you’ll work together to make sure he gets to take all of his vacation time next year — because he shouldn’t have ended up in a situation where he goes 11 months with no time off — but you can’t accommodate a full month on short notice during such a busy period. (And as with the letter-writer last week, it sounds like you need to be more proactive in general about ensuring people are taking time off throughout the year.)

3. How to deal with a complaining coworker

I have a coworker who really likes to complain. We work together on a fairly small team (four people) in a big organization and frequently have to collaborate with other departments. We both began working here last year during a really hectic and somewhat toxic transition, so she would often rant to me about things she found unreasonable. This wasn’t too bad, but I’ve never liked complaining, especially about other people. I felt like it was important for her to have some kind of emotional release, so I would mostly smile and say, “Yeah, that’s hard.”

Fast forward to a year later. Our managing team has been almost completely replaced, and I received a promotion within the same department. We no longer work the same position, but my coworker will still come to me and complain or even stop me when I walk in the mornings to start complaining. She’s been doing this about things that I find reasonable and using a high, mocking voice with exaggerated language that I’m certain none of our coworkers or partners actually use. I’m highly uncomfortable with this, especially as it’s in our workplace and I now work more directly with the people she complains about, but I’m worried that I’ve already set precedent by allowing her to complain to me in the same position. She’s very sensitive as well and tends to take any feedback personally. How can I tell her that it makes me uncomfortable without hurting her feelings?

If she’s sensitive and takes things personally, there might not be a way to do it without hurting her feelings — but that can’t be a reason for you not to speak up. The worst case outcome here isn’t that her feelings are temporarily hurt; the worst case outcome is that someone overhears her complaining to you and you sound like you’re agreeing. (Your “yeah, that’s hard” response could be interpreted that way — and really, any neutral response when she’s complaining about people you work with carries that risk.)

So you do need to shut it down. If you disagree with her, you could say “Hmmm, I don’t see it that way” or “I find Jane very easy to work with” or “wow, that’s really uncharitable to Jane” or so forth. I’d argue that your integrity demands that, especially if she’ll otherwise think you agree with her. And it’s possible that if you do that enough, she’ll no longer find it satisfying to complain to you and will stop on her own.

But if she doesn’t, you could try saying, “I’m finding we complain a lot when we talk, and I’ve realized I’m a lot happier at work when I don’t do that. So I’m trying really hard to avoid complaining, and I hope you’ll help me stick to that.” She might not like that, and that’s fine; you can’t control her feelings (and it’s unrealistic to try), only your own responses and boundaries.

4. Can I include links on my resume?

When (if ever) is it appropriate to add links in your resume or cover letter, if those links lead to work you’ve done?

I’m a children’s librarian and during 2020/2021 my library building was closed to the public, so we went virtual. This resulted in me making recordings of things like storytimes and book talks, which are now posted publicly on the library’s Facebook and YouTube pages. Now that I’m job searching, I’m wondering if it would be a good idea to put links to these videos in my resume, so a line on the resume might read something like: “Skilled at storytime for ages 0-3. *link*” (I’d probably word it better than that, but you get the idea). These are skills that I use daily in-person as a librarian, so it would be relevant to any employer to see my skills in those areas. However, unlike writers, or anyone else who has had to provide examples of their work when they apply to jobs, this is new territory for librarians.

You can include links! If you end up wanting to include more than two or three, consider creating a website with links to all of your stuff and then just linking to that site from your resume with a note about the specifics it includes.

5. A work Christmas market … for one

I just received a work email from the VP of HR with a calendar invite (using the company email and scheduling system) for a Christmas market in the office after work next week.

Turns out this “market” will sell beauty products from one employee’s personal business … and that’s it.

I’ve been with the company for 1.5 years, and have never seen anything like this before. It would be one thing if anyone could apply to sell their wares at this market, but I definitely didn’t see an email go around, and the market’s name cheekily refers to this employee.

This is weird, right? Is it worth speaking up, even though I’m just a contractor? I’ve never spoken with the VP of HR, and my manager seems unlikely to care. It just seems like weirdly preferential treatment in an otherwise normal office.

P.S. It does seem to be a legit small company and not an MLM.

It’s definitely weird. And it’s likely to cause resentment if there are other employees with side businesses or if it makes anyone feel pressured to buy things from this coworker. It also risks emboldening employees to start trying to sell products at work in the future (potentially including MLMs at some point).

All that said, as a contractor you’re not well positioned to speak up. Let it go and hope someone else raises it.

{ 508 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Those of you who suddenly have plus signs appearing within your user name: To fix it, you just need to edit the plus signs back to spaces in the user name field, and then post a comment with the box checked to save your name. That should fix it!

  2. New+Jack+Karyn*

    LW1: Maybe it’s time to make a change. If you looked around, could you find a different job with similar pay & benefits? It would definitely wear on me to work in collections.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        That was my thought as well. I have my least charitable thoughts when I’m stressed or frustrated (usually about something completely unrelated).

        Any time I think my cat is plotting against me, I know I need a vacation.

        1. On Fire*

          Um, doesn’t that just mean you have a normal cat? It’s my experience and understanding that all cats are plotting the imminent demise of all humans.

          Seriously, though, I’m excited about my upcoming vacation because I feel uncharitable toward just about everyone.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed. Certain jobs just wear on you, and require either take breaks because otherwise you just burn out, and can’t do the job as well anymore.

    2. Sandgroper*

      I did a chunk of time in call centre early in my career, on the ‘anything goes’ line for a Telco, after hours, and a lot of people sucked my will to live.

      We had some small petty in jokes, generally in dark humour, working graveyard shifts we got to recognise certain callers and so on and would support each other through that.

      But it was the sheer number of people who just never paid their bills that did my head in. Until I realised that the phone was the third thing they paid. After rent, and electricity, people pay their phones…. People will go without food to pay for their telephones. Sadly credit card and loans have more delays in payment because they won’t result in a direct impact like disconnection of service or eviction.

      Later I worked for a major national bank, sitting amongst the over due debt collection call centre (but doing different, strategic work), and all day long I heard people talking about when people would pay their bills. It was in that I realised that most people want to pay their bills they just don’t have capacity in that moment. The best ‘debt collectors’ were the ones who emphasised and took the time to listen to their clients, and then set up a payment plan that would work. When I set up some performance reporting the staff who were softer, kinder, without being a pushover/overly emotive, were more effective over time than those who bullied and pushed for payment in chunks NOW. That helped change our approach over time, and eventually this bank was the best nationally at recouping outstanding credit. Maybe see if you can reframe this in a way of kindness, knowing it will pay off?

      Also… reading up on WHY people are in debt, WHY they make crap decisions (people under stress make short term decisions, not long term, and crappy ones at that! Loads of studies on this)… helped me to understand what I was hearing all around me.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        There’s also so much terrible financial advice out there. I have a friend who was pushed to take out the maximum loans possible for college, because it was “free money”. Buy now, pay later (or in installments) is everywhere.

        Then there’s the false economies, like “make coffee at home” or “don’t buy avocado toast”. Giving up all of the little luxuries that make life pleasant is like an overly strict diet; at some point one’s willpower gives out, and the backlash is usually more far more damaging.

        1. Rex Libris*

          Personally, I get really annoyed with the “They shouldn’t have borrowed it if they couldn’t pay it back” song about student loans. Because at 19, with all of the predatory college and loan company financial “advisors” telling you “Oh, you won’t have to pay it back for years, and you’ll be making so much you’ll barely notice the payments” (direct quote) you really make mature, sound financial decisions.

          1. Hannah L*

            I get so annoyed with that too! I’m 30, and my whole life my family members and teachers all pushed college so hard and how you had to get an education because you didn’t want to end up like “”those people”” (meaning working a low wage or blue-collar job). Combine that with the pervasive “find your dream job!” notion that we also push as society and of course you will have literal children trying to go to college no matter the consequences. Which is how you get people like me who got a liberal arts degree with no job prospects and having to rethink your entire life.

            Fortunately, I’m pivoting careers somewhat successfully, but a lot of people don’t.

          2. Artemesia*

            I especially find it odious that my generation who had state supported tuition (I paid $345 a year at the flagship state school my freshman year which I could pay for with my minimum wage summer job) slagging the next generations who had the rug pulled from under them. Tuition at state schools is now born by students as state aid has dried up.

            We owe young people an education and today that means a college education. No one should go into massage debt to be educated.

            1. Random+Biter*

              +100

              I encouraged my grandmonsters to look at trade school *if* it was a type of work they wanted to do and to ignore all those people who insisted it had to be college-based. Now one of them makes bank as an HVAC/R tech.

            2. MigraineMonth*

              I don’t usually mention typos, but a family friend once went into massage debt. My parents offered to loan her money to go to massage school, and the low-interest repayment plan included massages.

              1. Sandgroper*

                The problem is we cannot correct typos on here I don’t think?

                My original comment (that this is a chain off), I meant to say “Empathise” not “emphasise”, but autocorrect has altered the meaning.

              2. bahb*

                Same with my partner!
                He’s no longer a massage therapist, but he still has to give his parents massages if they ask lol

          3. Starbuck*

            Right, as a 17 or 18 year old you’re supposed to somehow know better than all these older professional adults who are urging you to do this thing; and you’ve been in environments your entire childhood where you’re rewarded for following the advice/requests of adults. I know WE all know what a bad deal these loans are, but I still feel for teens. It’s really not their fault.

          4. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            Plus, a lot of people go into college with the idea that they’ll major in [high paying field], so the loans won’t be a big deal, and then discover that that particular major isn’t actually a good fit for them, or otherwise find a new passion (or the economy changes, or they end up in a lower-paying subfield). I remember being told when I was 17 and attending the loans info session that I “didn’t need to worry” about how many loans I was taking out since I was a computer science major and would be making plenty of money to pay them back. They had a chart of salary by field and everything!

            I mean, sure, there are some people who have computer-y jobs and make enough money that student loans are basically a rounding error, but of the people I sat in Computer Science 1 with, most of them were not also in 300 level Algorithms two years later, and even fewer went on to get high paying CS-related jobs, particularly since our department had no industry connections to help with job placement and was completely academic/math CS focused. It taught me how to program in C (although most programming was in pseudocode in the higher level classes), a lot of details about how different levels of memory work, and how to do big O analysis, but not, you know, how to write code in a production environment while dealing with a pre-existing codebase or anything “applied” like more industry-useful languages with more abstraction.

          5. That'sNotMyName*

            Yes! When I signed up for loans for law school, I didn’t have anyone knowledgeable to guide me and I felt like I was doing semi-informed guesswork. The financial aid office at my school gave the blanket advice of “invest in your future, max out your loans!” which I ignored because I knew the area of law I wanted to do is not particularly well paid. Luckily, a combination of good luck and good guesswork, made things manageable in the end. That doesn’t make me any better than those who are drowning in debt. Just luckier.

      2. FrenchCusser*

        I spend a year working for a debt collection agency when I was in college – not as a collector, but as a file clerk (this was the days before computers, everything was on index cards). I’d go around to the collectors’ desks, pick up their cards and file them away.

        The best collector in the agency was a woman who would take the time to listen to the clients’ sob stories (she’d even match their accents!) and then set up a payment schedule. I don’t know if she was really empathetic or just manipulative, but it worked.

        I always call it ‘the best worst job I ever had’ because I learned so much about human nature while I was there.

    3. Sylvan*

      +1

      Call center and customer-facing work can burn you out fast, especially if customers are ever aggressive. If you’re exhausted and you kinda hate everyone, look for a new job. It’s time.

      1. Verthandi*

        Very true. I managed to last a year and a half doing tech support over the phone. I burned out so badly that if my phone rang at home, I wouldn’t answer it. People would leave messages and I’d have to gather the courage to return those calls.

        It was a very bad workplace. Management treated us terribly and I tried to do something about it but management didn’t care that they were burning us out. At that point I’d thrown all my work karma into the trashcan by setting up that meeting. I did learn just how much management didn’t care, and you bet I told people.

        1. Sylvan*

          It’s good that you tried to work with management to improve things. And I relate to a lot of this comment, especially being uncomfortable with phones. When I started my current job, three years after leaving the customer service job, I noticed that some of my coworkers had the same kind of phone that I used to have. The ringtones made me nervous for a little while.

      2. Tio*

        First responders get what’s called “compassion fatigue,” and the LW’s burnout really reminds me of that. Definitely time to take a break and stay away from people for a bit.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma are totally a thing for customer service workers.

          Sometimes we’ll get a library card holder with really high fees on their account, and they feel really guilty about it and want to be reassured that they’re not bad people because they have debt and unreturned library books. I’ve heard so many stories about people’s genuine and terrible hardships. I waive the fees I’m allowed to waive and do my best to get people back to a place where they can borrow books again, but the stories weigh heavier and heavier the more you hear. At some point, you kind of hit your threshold of what you have the capacity to care/be compassionate about.

          It sounds like OP is in that place right now, and caring is getting really hard. I think people recommending a new job ar right, it’s probably the only way to reset that compassion.

      3. The OTHER Other*

        I worked in a call center for several years, and while it wasn’t debt collection, it was a high-pressure, high-turnover environment and the work was mostly very repetitive.

        It’s never a good sign when you develop contempt and resentment for the customers in any position dealing with the public. And sadly, it’s an easy attitude to develop in a call center when you don’t see the customers, and feel as though you’ve heard all the stories before. If you don’t have empathy, and a desire to help, you will not last.

    4. metadata minion*

      Yeah, that’s what I ended up doing after 12 years in a front-facing job. Besides the fact that I was falling in love with my current library niche, I had that same feeling of gradually resenting everyone. In the abstract, our students are wonderful and inspiring and lovely people. In specific, after 12 years if one of them asked me to fix the @#%@#$ scanner again I was going to throw something.

    5. lilsheba*

      My advice? GET OUT NOW. This job will suck out your soul, and you will end up hating everyone. I worked for a bank in the credit card department and I hated every second of it. I only did it because I was desperate for a job at the time and it was the only one that would hire me. But I managed to finally get out and get into a job that’s much more suited to me and in my actual field.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        I agree… LW it’s time to plan your escape from this job and look for something else.

        For me, this was the line that tipped it over the edge:

        1. Hannah Lee*

          … oops, that posted instead of pasting the quote:

          “They get frustrated and annoyed with us, and feel that we are treating them unfairly. ”

          The way that LW is using the words “us” and “we” made me wonder if LW’s stress at this job and burny-outy-ness is breaking down their boundaries between workself and realself. And when that happens it can be harder to have compassion, openness to the person on the other end of the phone and easier to become a stickler judging others for ways their behavior is harming the company. AND it increases the toll it takes on the LW as they are riding every wave as though it impacts them personally.

          1. MM*

            I also wonder if it’s a kind of self-defense. The reality of working as a collections caller is that you have signed up to do a job where you have to contact people who never want to hear from you, to make them have conversations they don’t want to have. It’s not really surprising that you don’t end up getting their most gracious and reasonable selves. I don’t know how OP feels about these facts, but if it were me I would be feeling intense guilt and some shame/conflict about my self-image. Transferring those feelings onto the customers (THEY are MAKING me feel bad, rather than, I feel bad in this position) is a common way that people psychologically survive this kind of situation.

    6. I am Emily's failing memory*

      Yeah, I think collections is one of those professions known to burn people out, and in most cases within 1-2 years representatives either get promoted out of having direct contact with the clients or they leave the field. You’re dealing with people who are backed into a corner, and invariably that means spending a large portion of every day being yelled at or insulted by people who react angrily to being backed into a corner, and a few of the clients will have heart-breaking stories that start to wear on the soul over time.

    7. Lana Kane*

      I’ve known a couple of people who worked in collections – one said it sucked the life out of her and she was out in a couple of years. The other made a career of it, and even though she found a way to make it work for her she told me it affected how she sees people in general. It’s tough work. I’ve done call center work and there just comes a point where I would, in fact, have shouted at my own grandma if she were acting the way so many people act when they feel they are entitled to it.

      How would it feel to start thinking of an exit strategy? If your heart soars at the thought, it’s time.

    8. Van Wilder*

      My aunt makes bad financial decisions. She’s a kind person and she works hard. But she has a learning disability and has impulse control issues. I like Alison’s last piece of advice about thinking of how you would want someone to talk to a family member.

    9. Annony*

      I was thinking the same thing. The OP sounds burnt out and suffering from compassion fatigue. That’s a hard job.

    10. Hudson*

      I was going to say the same thing. LW1, I used to be in a job where I constant interaction with people who needed assistance from the place where I worked, and my gut feeling is that you don’t hate your customers, you hate your job. I found that a lot of my patience and willingness to extend my fellow human a break returned when I stopped working a job I hated.

    11. DJ*

      Some customer work is high burnout as ppl tend to take out their frustrations on the faceless person at the other end of the phone. Especially if they don’t like what you’re telling them (usually something you don’t have control over). If possible make a job chance ASAP (allowing for time to find work that does have similar pay/benefits)

  3. Blue Moon*

    At the risk of oversharing- my family is currently in $30k of credit card debt. We had multiple items in our house fail at the same time. Some of them were structure and safety issues. We HAD to get them fixed. But our savings were already tapped out from a medical emergency with my toddler earlier in the year. All the house fixes went on our credit cards.

    If I had to deal with OP #1 and they treated me as though I were an irresponsible deadbeat, I’d probably cry. I already cry over our inability to pay off this debt. I don’t need people making me feel bad about it.

    Please try to have compassion for your customers OP #1. So many people are struggling right now.

    1. TIRED but happy*

      I also had a phenomenally hard year and was less than two months from bankruptcy. I still have a ton of debt.

      I had the most compassionate people at the bank who gave me a break when I thought I was going to sink.

      LW1, you sound like you may be in a super burnout and might need a break if refocusing doesn’t hurt.

      I am not sure about the commenter before me, but on paper I looked like a responsible person who made some bad choices until someone talked to me and realized it was a recession hitting a different part of the country (where I’d been trying to sell a house for three years, I’d eventually sold it at a loss two weeks later) than the boom area I was in and I was in an unsustainable situation.

      Right now a lot of people are where I am.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I was there with a house in the past. Had to move halfway across the country just as a glut of foreclosure houses* the same size as my house hit the market. So here I was, two week notice to move and not able to sell my house. I did finally sell it at a loss (though it was at least after a few years of renting it out so the values had come back up a little bit), but yeah it stunk not being able to get that house sold for what I’d paid.

        *150 foreclosure houses, it really was a glut, yay 2008

        1. Fishsticks*

          I was about to ask if it was in 2008 or early 2009 before I got to the end. God, what a mess the housing market was. I knew someone who just left the keys in the front door and walked away and let the bank take his house and it ended up working out better for him than literally anything he could have done attempting to pay.

        2. Loredena*

          2012 I moved due to family health issues. Took a year to sell my house at a very significant loss. I could not have taken the hit without family help (I know I’m privileged that I could get that help). Medical in this country bankrupts people every day

    2. Carl*

      I used to work for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee. Easily 30-40% of debtors were in bankruptcy bc of medical debt.

      There were a few gaming system, but that was rare. Maybe 5% of total? Less common than I would have thought.

      1. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        If it’s not medical deb for you or you human family, the beloved family pet’s vet bills are easily enough to set someone back.

        I know of a few people who wiped out whatever savings they had for Fluffy’s emergency surgery.

        1. Dust+Bunny*

          I spent all my stimulus and then some on a kitten I found at the park, and then medical bills for my long-term cats. I was glad to do it but I was also glad to have extra surprise money just in time.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          And it can add up extremely fast, with little idea of full total when you say yes to medical care with $X estimate but that doesn’t quite cover actual… and now you’ve spent $X+Y how can you lose Fluffy now… how bad can $Z more be anyway?

          1. Kevin Malone*

            Honestly, it’s like a car. You don’t want a car payment so you put in $X into it and then something else goes wrong and you feel like you should do it because you just put in more money and then you just put in money again….less emotional than your poor fluffy but its crazy.

        3. Someone Online*

          I just spent a thousand dollars on fluffy. I’m lucky to have had the money, but it’s tough for people who don’t have that in savings.

        4. Emotional support capybara (he/him)*

          Yep. I just dropped something to the tune of $2k at the vet (unfortunately that story does not have a happy ending). If your cat needs blood work, that’s triple digits right there. If he needs to go into the hospital for a week, that could be another grand, easy. And if the worst case scenario happens and you don’t have a yard to bury him in, even the “group” cremation where you don’t get the ashes back costs money.

          At this point in my life, that bill took a bite out of my savings account that I can make back in a few frugal months. Not so long ago a $2k bill would have wiped me out and then some.

        5. Loredena*

          I had that with my beloved and still young dog two years ago. I was fortunate that I’d been working tons of overtime just then and it paid my vet bills.

      2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        I used to clerk for a bankruptcy judge, and credit card companies would try to make their debt nondischargeable by saying that people must have known they wouldn’t be able to pay it back. I hated those arguments because the CC is a fully financially sophisticated business that should also know how much a debtor can afford and not give them more credit than that. But they do because they make it back through their enormous interest rates, while the buyer never gets out of the hole.

        1. AnonForThis*

          I had a friend on disability, which provided about $800/month in an area where you couldn’t get an efficiency for $400. Additionally, in order to stay on disability, her financial assets couldn’t exceed $2,000.

          Her credit card let her get over $6,000 in debt. I’m certain they knew exactly what they were doing.

        2. I am Emily's failing memory*

          Right?? If they think John Q Public obviously wasn’t going to be able to pay, they must have data supporting that conjecture, and if they had data that they believe showed he wasn’t going to be able to pay, then it’s on them for deciding to lend to them anyway. My mom always said that if you loan money to someone who’s in a tight spot, write it off in your mind as a gift and be pleasantly surprised if they repay you. It’s hard to climb out of a debt hole and some fraction of people won’t be able to do it.

        3. The OTHER Other*

          This makes me so angry. The CC companies are the ones with all the data and expertise, and they offer large amounts of credit to people that clearly have no means to pay it, or track record of being able to handle it. They collect so much in fees that by the time bankruptcy comes around they make money and the customers are left with discharged debts that will follow them for years.

          If I were the judge and a CC company attorney tried this “they must have known they couldn’t pay it” argument my immediate counter would be “then why did you extend the credit? How is it the individual “must have known” this while you with all your credit history and algorithms, did not? It sounds to me as though many credit offers are in bad faith.

          1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

            my personal favorite is how much of a hassle they make it every time I call to lower my credit limit, after they increased it on me again. NO, I cannot afford to have a credit limit that is more than half of what I will make in a year – if I ever used it, I would never be able to get it paid off. But they keep adding to the limit on the cards, and saying “are you sure you want to drop this? it’ll negatively impact your score, and besides, you might need this in an emergency…”

            I’ll go begging to my boss to advance me a paycheck first, thank you.

            1. Llama face!*

              You too, eh? I always tell them to keep the limit low and no I don’t want it increased without my permission. They are clearly trying to nudge me into spending more than I can pay off so they get interest charges. Credit card companies are inherently predatory and I wouldn’t even have a card if our system wasn’t set up so that I need one to get a good credit score (which seems to be required to ever buy a car or house or etc).

            2. MM*

              Credit scores are so transparently tools to discipline people into debt rather than ways of managing debt/avoiding defaults. It’s screamingly obvious when you pay the slightest attention to how they work. It makes me furious if I think about it too long.

              At one point, about 5-6 years ago, I could have paid off my smallest student loan in one fell swoop. But I was informed that that would hurt my credit score. (Because you see, paying off your debt–that thing that is supposed to be the moral imperative whenever these issues come up?–is bad for your score, while carrying it and paying on it incrementally is good.) So I didn’t. I could have saved so much in interest if I’d just done that when I could.

              1. Tom*

                That’s not quite it; the problem is that for some tom-fool reason, the “age of credit” factor in credit scores is based on your oldest *active* line of credit, rather than your oldest line of credit period.

                So if your student loans were your first line of credit, yes, it will hurt your credit score when you pay them off early. Otherwise it won’t.

        4. 2 Cents*

          Right? My MIL was bedridden for more than a decade. Two different credit card companies still extended her credit and fueled her TV shopping addiction. Then they were shocked! shocked! she didn’t have any assets to claim after her death.

          1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            After my grandfather died with no meaningful assess in his “estate”, the credit card companies tried to guilt us into paying his balance by saying things like “don’t you want to clear his good name?”

            His name is fine with us, but we already knew not to loan him money, which is why he was using a credit card rather than borrowing from family for this stuff to start with. (Any money or stuff we bought for him was definitely going to be a gift rather than a loan, since his two methods of generating money were fixing up bodywork on totaled cars that needed mostly labor rather than parts to be resellable and his music gigs, and once cars went to crumple zones rather than rigid metal bodies he could no longer make money fixing up totaled cars since they needed new parts rather than just labor. That left just music gigs, which had never paid as well as fixing cars before that and were more a source of “beer money” level income than “pay bills” level income, to supplement his pension and social security.)

            My mom just told them that we wouldn’t have loaned him money to start with, and would have told the credit card company not to if they’d asked us, so it was the credit card company’s problem that he owed them money and his estate couldn’t pay. I wonder how many families they guilted into paying money that way, though.

        5. JB (not in Houston)*

          I don’t know if it’s true, but in law school, my secured transactions professor told us that credit card companies referred to people who pay their bill fully each month as “deadbeats.” That was years ago, so even if was true then I don’t know if it still is, but that class and my bankruptcy class (taught by a bankruptcy judge) were eye-opening experiences.

          1. Starbuck*

            Oh yeah, if you’re on a no-fee card and you’re not carrying a balance that lets them charge you interest – you’re not making them much money! Of course they still get the transaction fees when you make a purchase, but those are paid from the merchants. If you’re earning rewards on top of that… they may even be losing money on you.

      3. That One Girl*

        I used to work for a bankruptcy attorney during the summers in college (so 2007-2011/12 just based on post college changes). We absolutely had some that had made terrible choices and were now facing the consequences of those choices, but most people were dealing with the recession, medical bills, etc. It was a really challenging place to work, particularly given how the office chose to hand out legal advice, but it was also very eye opening. Most people were not in debt because they had done something wrong. It’s a weird place to work, for sure.

          1. That One Girl*

            Oh, there is. It was a DEEPLY toxic environment where I was frequently (as a teenager) left as the only person in the office while the boss took most of the staff to drink at lunch – let me tell you how much people considering filing/actively filing bankruptcy enjoy having to sit in a lobby with a 17 year old trying to tell them “they’ll be with you soon” while panicking through trying to get them all to come back. But the main issue I had was that any time people came in looking at advice for their situation, the first thing they’d instruct was “stop paying your mortgage now.” And then a few months later they HAD to file bankruptcy because their house was about to be foreclosed on.

      4. Artemesia*

        Most bankruptcy is driven by medical bills, job loss or divorce. I remember when Elizabeth Warren who was a Republican at the time investigated bankruptcy assuming she would find a lot of abuse by people running up unnecessary debt then bankrupting out of it. She interviewed a bunch of people I know who work as bankruptcy trustees, judges etc. After her investigation she changed her views realizing that fraud and abuse was a tiny part of bankruptcy but that most were there due to medical catastrophe and job loss.

    3. Ellis+Bell*

      I got the impression that OP is more burned out by attitude than by the fact that people are in debt for stuff that’s not food. Also, sometimes people do go into debt for really baffling items when they are in chaos and have nothing to look forward to. My organisation works with families who can be in really dire straits, so they sort them out with food bank items, and like in your example there have been times we’ve provided a bunch of household items like multiple white goods and furniture because of course people need those things! Then they’ve turned around and gone into high interest debt for a gadget or a high end designer coat that costs more than our monthly salary their child will grow out of in months and it’s truly baffling. They say they need something to look forward to having, or that they need to impress people … and it’s such a common phenomenon I’m willing to accept this as a psychological need (at our school we’ve banned branded, non uniform coats to prevent some of this) when things are in freefall. But it is frustrating when you get a really aggressive attitude about it (also common, which inspires sympathy as well as frustration) and people want more help with the debt than is possible, and you’re tried to help them prevent going for credit as well.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        Yes! Definitely a psychological need. I read about a study (about refugee camps, I believe), that basically said that even when fundamental needs are at stake, after some time, people will choose to get something non-necessary instead. It seems to be a human need. One can only be in survival mode so long. Makes sense to me. And people get really defensive about it, probably because they don’t quite understand themselves why they did it.

        1. Chip Biffington*

          My dad was never good with money, but as he was slowly dying, he racked up a ton of debt. There’s a lot to unpack psychologically, but the consequence was he left a huge credit card mess for his children (cough daughters cough) to clean up.

          1. DJ+Abbott*

            Several years ago, I asked a financial advisor about this and he said relatives are not held responsible for credit card debt. He said the cards just right off the debt. I hope this hasn’t changed!
            I hope this hasn’t changed! So please don’t let them put this on you, check the laws and maybe see a lawyer.

            1. hamsterpants*

              In the US, the estate would be held responsible for the debt. So if Dad was sole owner on a house (asset) and also held $40k in credit card debt, the CC companies will legally be able to go after the $40k from the proceeds of selling the house.

              If Dad has no assets and only $40k in CC debt then the companies can’t legally collect that $40k from his surviving relatives.

              Lots of complications and details of course but that’s the gist in the US.

              1. Clisby*

                That was my understanding as well. They have a claim on the estate but not on individual heirs. I don’t think they even have a claim on life insurance payments unless the estate, vs. individuals, was the beneficiary.

              2. Tinkerbell*

                Yep. That said, even people who die with significant debts usually have SOME assets… and it can be really devastating to discover that the $200 you thought was in their bank account is actually -$5000 and can’t be put toward funeral expenses after all :-/

                1. Chip Biffington*

                  Yup. He had literally zero in savings. The credit card people halved his debt and waited until we could sell the house, but it was a lot of stress on top of all the other stress. And because he had other unpaid bills, we ended up selling the house for less than we probably could have, because we needed a lot of money sooner rather than later.

            2. Maggie*

              But when you’re the executor of someone’s complicated estate is still causes a lot of issues. You don’t just call up and say “one write off please”. It’s still months to years of never ending back and forth and paperwork and submitting certificates.

            3. The OTHER Other*

              This is basically correct, however there is often very little real difference between claims against the estate and the heirs having to pay the debts. The executor of the estate (often an heir) is left with a mess to handle, and the estate often lacks liquidity to pay debts.

          2. JSPA*

            Agree with DJ Abbot. From what I remember, the ESTATE is on the hook, but the family generally isn’t, unless you’ve cosigned or agreed to assume the debt. (If non-US, YMMV.)

            You may still do the calculus that you’d rather keep the family heirlooms and satisfy the loan some other way, but don’t get tricked into assuming debts that are not yours to pay.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              Family heirlooms, family farm or other business, great-grandma’s house that’s supposed to go to the newest generation… I could see a lot of reasons for this sort of situation being extremely painful.

        2. Sparkle llama*

          I would highly recommend reading the book Evicted for anyone who interacts with people in financial stress. It gave me such a better understanding of the reality of living in poverty and the reasoning behind decisions that don’t make sense to me because of my life experiences.

          1. laser99*

            Story time! My family used to own a bookstore. My mother cried reading the reviews. Not the actual book, mind you. I started the book but gave up when I got to the section on how evictions go through the roof in December, because people are so desperate to provide gifts for their children they use the rent money.

        3. MigraineMonth*

          This is one of the reasons all that “skip the Starbucks coffee and save $X/year” advice is nonsense. Taking that last little luxury away from someone who is already feeling stressed and deprived will almost always backfire. Willpower is a limited resource. (Anyone who has tried an overly-restrictive diet can attest to this.)

          1. Citra*

            Not to mention that most people on tight budgets aren’t going to Starbucks daily anyway. They’ve already cut “luxuries” as much as possible.

            1. Lana Kane*

              Exactly – it’s a non-starter of an argument. But everyone has known that one cousin of a best friend’s aunt who spent all their welfare money on Starbucks and manicures. /eyeroll

            2. Curmudgeon in California*

              This.

              When I was broke and about to be evicted, I was literally living on rice, eggs, a few frozen vegetables, and bouillon. I didn’t buy any luxuries as I tried to juggle rent, utilities and food, while still having transit money for a job search. No meals out, no sodas, no new clothes, nothing from a specialty shop. If I had extra, I might actually buy some hot dogs or other cheap meat. That was “splurging”.

              It sucked. I only was in that situation for a year, but it changed my whole attitude about money and stuff. I wouldn’t call it “character building”, but it definitely made me value having reserves and such more.

              After I had a medical issue had me unemployed, semi-disabled, and in enough debt that I had creditors calling me constantly. These jackasses wanted me to “ask my family” to bail me out. But my family had no money either. I actually bought an answering machine to handle the calls, they were so distressing. It’s not like I wanted to be out of work and recovering from a disabling medical issue. Even applying for disability would not have paid my bills. What little money I had coming in paid my rent and utilities. I was mostly living off of stored food (yay rice and beans.) My now spouse even liquidated their 401k to keep us housed. No money available to pay creditors.

              When someone is in dire straits, creditors come after housing, utilities and food. While I try very hard not to over-extend myself, getting laid off in my state means that I only can afford my mortgage on unemployment (it’s such a joke), and have to depend on what I’ve managed to save for utilities and health insurance. I try to get insurance on my cards, but it isn’t always available at a good price.

          2. I am Emily's failing memory*

            Exactly this. Most people can live a life of austerity for a fixed period of time. Few people can live a life of austerity indefinitely/forever, and it’s very easy to rack up a ton of debt with just a couple of small lapses where someone thinks, “I’m always struggling with money anyway and I deprive myself of everything, I wake up miserable and go to bed miserable, just once I’d like to be able to buy something I/my family wants, how much worse can it possibly make the already terrible situation I’m in either way?”

            There are multiple psychological factors in play here. The fact that our brains release dopamine rewards when we complete a purchase almost exactly the same way they do when we complete a task, and we are hard-wired to repeat behaviors that lead to dopamine rewards. The fact that willpower, as you note, is like a muscle that can’t bear weight indefinitely without rest.

            There’s also the fact that as a general rule we struggle to really comprehend large numbers, so once the cost of something or the amount owed gets large enough, even though our intellectual brain knows that say, $51,000 is $1,000 more than $50,000 and $1,000 is a lot of money, our gut brain can’t help feeling like $50K and $51K is “a rounding error, basically the same amount.”

            At the same time, the gut brain also feels like $50,000 is “a number so large that maybe it’s not even possible to ever pay it off with the $50-100 a month of disposable income I fork over every single month to service my deb.” And yet another well-documented psychological phenomenon related to our gut brain’s inability to comprehend large numbers, is that people are often paralyzed and unable to take any action at all if the problem seems too large for any one action to make a measurable difference. (This is why more people will give in response to a charity who tells them about one child they can sponsor for $20/month than they would to the exact same charity asking them to pitch in $20/month towards their work to end child hunger for 3 million children worldwide.)

      2. Irish Teacher*

        And while it probably doesn’t apply to the clients you are working with, it can also be a matter of pride/saving face. If somebody is really embarrassed about their financial situation and doesn’t want their friends knowing or the parents who scrimped and saved to put them through college, believing that would mean they’d be financially secure or clients where they want to put on a show of being successful so their clients will retain confidence in them, well, continuing to maintain one’s lifestyle can be important to somebody, even if they can’t afford it. Or heck, even their children. If people have teenage or pre-teen children and don’t want those children to know how bad things are, they may find it difficult to refuse their children’s requests for expensive items.

        And some people truly believe it’s a temporary thing. I can’t afford this now, but if I get it on credit, I’ll be able to pay for it when this bad patch passes.

        1. Other Alice*

          That’s what loan companies literally do. We can make this expensive item affordable for you! It’s just $10/$20/$50 a month!

          … Until all the low monthly payments pile up and people are buried. I worked 6 months at a similar place one summer and it was by far the worst job I ever had. I had to scan people’s applications and process their info, and sure sometimes I questioned whether Grandma needed a $4000 mattress, but I could be sure that some very convincing salesman had done a great job of convincing her that it was totally affordable on her pension and it would do her a ton of good to have a new mattress for her bad back. Until Grandma was behind on payments and people started screaming at her on the phone. Or the couple who had 4 kids and I questioned their decision to buy so many unnecessary things the year before the birth of their last — until I was told the kids were quadruplets and born premature and the couple had gone from financially okay & wanting one kid to food stamps.

          LW, it looks like this job is taking a toll on you, I hope you can take care of yourself.

          1. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

            My credit card online banking now offers this! I was appalled to see that any purchase over $100 on my credit card is now “eligible for installment plan.” Like, no!

            1. JSPA*

              Some countries have always had the installments option (much of europe?) and from what I can tell, people do not budget worse or rack up more debt as a result. Better than “6 months no payment.” That, to me, really encourages magical thinking.

              1. Other Alice*

                I *am* in Europe. Marketing for all sorts of installment payment has gotten worse recently. It really does lead people to buy above their means, especially people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

            2. Other Alice*

              I’ve seen a sharp uptick in offers of payment plans at checkout in the past few months. Amazon. PayPal. Online stores. My train ticket to visit family (about $20) could be bought in 3 easy, interest free installments! It’s a nightmare. People are struggling and companies are rushing to cash in.

              1. bamcheeks*

                YES — all these ClearPay and Klarna things that have started popping up everywhere. Really disturbing as a sign of the times.

              2. MigraineMonth*

                I do think it’s kind of hilarious when I go to buy a $10 item and they offer 5 installments of $2.50 each. I’m not great with arithmetic, but even I can see how much of a rip-off that is.

              3. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

                Yeah, every time I buy something online there’s always an offer of installments. If you aren’t already keeping detailed track of your budget, it’s easy to just get nibbled away at by all of these individually-small monthly payments from installment loans and subscription services. It’s really hard to think about money that way and really understand what you can afford on an ongoing basis versus understanding how much money you can afford to spend this particular month, so it’s easy to get in way over your head and not realize it.

            3. londonedit*

              The way it works in the UK is that you can either pay off your credit card bill in full when it’s due, or you can make a minimum payment, which is usually as little as £5. The problem is that any balance still on the card over and above the minimum payment is then subject to interest. There are some 0% interest cards around (or at least there have been, historically), which is fine – but if you don’t have a 0% credit card then the interest rate can be say 49.9% or 69.9% and that’s where people get themselves into serious trouble. If you’re only paying £5 a month then you’re keeping the wolf from the door, but you’re racking up more debt in interest all the time.

                1. Flowers*

                  Well not all of the BNPL do that – at least at the retailers I’ve shopped at. Klarna, Afterpay and Affirm offer installments interest free with no effect on credit. Otherwise, it is very easy to lose track and lose control.

              1. DJ+Abbott*

                But you can pay something between the minimum and the full balance, right? That’s what I always do.

              2. JSPA*

                That’s the basic credit card concept anywhere, I think? Feels like more people understand installments / split charges than understand compound interest.

            4. Irish Teacher.*

              During the boom of the early millennium, an Irish Bank had a commercial, basically encouraging young adults (and by “young,” I mean they got in trouble for one of the characters being shown in school uniform), to lie to get loans. They showed people who looked about 18-25 (one as I said, in school uniform), saying things like “I need a loan for college books,” while below was written “I need money for partying/a vacation with my friends.”

              So yeah. “We won’t ask too many questions. Come get a loan from us on the assumption you’ll be able to pay it back once you are earning.”

              Can we really blame young adults who took that as a good idea and took out loans for luxuries? Thinking of that campaign now, wow was it messed up.

              1. Iris Eyes*

                I wonder if that was more a PR campaign to keep people from pushing for legislation against some predatory lending practice more so than indoctrinating kids to buy whatever they wanted and treat a loan officer like a strict parent. If you can create the narrative that “all these whining kids lied and partied away the money” they are the bad guys rather than the mark in a legal scam.

              2. DJ+Abbott*

                (In the US) I got my first credit card at college, where they were being handed out to students. I maxed it out and missed payments and collectors yelled at me.

                I eventually got it paid off, and 33 years later I won’t do business with that bank because of the way they treated me.

            5. Bee*

              Mine does too, and honestly if I ever needed to charge something that I couldn’t pay off in the next billing cycle (surprise medical bill? emergency airfare home if something went horribly wrong on vacation?), it would be a much better deal than paying bits of it every month and letting the rest rack up interest. But applying that to EVERYTHING is for sure a trap.

      3. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        Yep. I have a coworker who is not good with money and suffers from Keeping Up with the Joneses and FOMO and buys things she shouldn’t. She struggles daily to stay afloat and she makes a very good salary

        She could easily be one of these people.

      4. Observer*

        and it’s such a common phenomenon I’m willing to accept this as a psychological need

        Yes, it is. And sometimes it’s more than a psychological need. For instance, if your kid is pretty much the only one in their class who doesn’t have expensive item X, and it’s causing significant issues, that’s a real problem. The school can be really good about overt bullying, but the kid can absolutely suffer from being “that” kid. (And sometimes it’s not even the KIDS in the class, but the teachers. And if you are already in PS, where do you take your kid?)

        Also, keep in mind that sometimes people feel like their life and financial situation is in free fall already, and they aren’t crawling out of the hole any time soon. What difference does 11 years vs 10 years make anyway?

        1. Kevin Malone*

          My mom refused to buy name brand stuff even though we could afford it if we wanted to. She thought it was dumb. Yes, I got made fun of in middle school a bit, but you know what, as an adult, I am so independent and don’t do things because “everyone else is.” And I teach that to my own kid. It definitely is a teaching moment – this is how we do things in this house and you should do things you think is right, not to go along with everyone else. I feel like society would be so much better if more people followed this thinking.

          1. Ellis+Bell*

            It’s a virtuous circle just as much as the other way is a vicious circle. My parents had the same ethos as your mother and we had a tight household budget to the extent they’d go to three supermarkets in one day to get the deals. The “we have nothing to prove to anyone else” mentality helped keep us inside that budget. Because we were safe, warm, well, fed, afloat, smartly dressed with the occasional treat, we didn’t need a fast mood boost and there were no chaotic emergencies to pay for. So, the circle of good choices continued. However I think once you’ve been without anything even averagely nice for ages, you’re already drowning, and you’re failing, it’s harder to feel that inner conference that your way is best and you’ve got it sorted.

          2. Malarkey01*

            You aren’t wrong but there’s a huge difference between we CHOOSE not to do x and I CANNOT do x. Making a choice empowers you, gives you options, and makes you feel in control of your life and you can assign positive traits to that choice. Being forced to take an action has almost the exact opposite effects.

            Looking at my child and saying I don’t think you need new shoes because we’re thrifty and you can still ring a little life out of that pair versus I think those look rough but I can’t afford to buy you shoes versus pay rent is completely different.

            I had a very kind friend open my eyes several years ago when I in a very privileged position was extolling the values of my minimalism and if everyone embraced it we’d be better as a society and economically. While missing the irony that any second I could decide nah never mind and go buy anything I wanted.

          3. Artemesia*

            We were stingy (I would be less so if I had to do it over) with our kids. I remember hearing my daughter at 14 who was being teased about not having name brand jeans tell her friend ‘If Calvin Klein wants to advertise on my butt, he can pay me, I am not paying him for it.’

            1. Observer*

              my daughter at 14 who was being teased about not having name brand jeans tell her friend ‘If Calvin Klein wants to advertise on my butt, he can pay me, I am not paying him for it.’

              Good for her!

              We were stingy (I would be less so if I had to do it over) with our kids.

              This speaks to what I was getting at. I do NOT think that a kid needs to get everything they want or ask for. But it is possible to go a bit too far. Over all it sounds like you didn’t do too badly (your daughter sounds like she really got it.)

              1. Gato Blanco*

                I agree that it is possible to go too far. I grew up in a well-to-do area where most kids were in designer clothes. My parents could have afforded to buy new girls’ clothes for me, but often dressed me in in my male cousin’s hand-me-downs until I was about 10, and supplemented with very obviously clearance rack items (still sometimes boys’ clothes if they were cheaper) to fill in the gaps. I was frequently made fun of and ostracized from the girls at school for this, and I think they went too far in the name of saving a buck. This was a small town, and I think this definitely contributed to me not really having close female friends until junior high school.

          4. Observer*

            Shrug.

            I’ve been the kid who didn’t have what others had. No real complaints, and it did teach me a lot. But looking back as an adult, I know that there were spots my parents really should have done “what everyone does”. (And I know that they came to realize that, because there were certain areas where they did change how they handled stuff.)

            Knowing that this is a choice you are making is empowering. But sometimes that’s not the whole story.

            There is a line that parents have to walk. Sometimes it’s good for a kid to learn that they don’t need to do / wear / have what everyone else has. Even if it leads to some discomfort. But sometimes, it just doesn’t work that way. The kid doesn’t come out stronger, with better values or in any way better off. And sometimes there is real harm to the kid.

            From the outside it’s really hard to tell which it is. So from the outside, you have no way to know whether the parents made a good or bad decision.

        2. MeepMeep123*

          >Also, keep in mind that sometimes people feel like their life and financial situation is in free fall already, and they aren’t crawling out of the hole any time soon. What difference does 11 years vs 10 years make anyway?

          My wife grew up poor – like, sometimes going hungry sort of poor – and that was her mentality when we first got together. She was earning good money, but she was in debt up to her eyeballs and overspent on all sorts of unnecessary things because, well, she was in horrible debt anyway and what difference does it make if it’s $100 more?

          Thankfully, I was able to help her get out of that mentality and we are on our way to debt-free now, but a lot of people get trapped that way.

      5. That'sNotMyName*

        Not to mention, if they bought that item online, they probably saw some blurb about paying for it in installments (e.g. Klarna) that makes the item seem more affordable, even if they don’t use the payment system. 4 x $30 can feel like less than $120, even when they’re really the same thing.

      6. Flowers*

        (There’s about 40+ comments on this sub thread so I haven’t read them all yet so apologies if I’m missing any information or context) but for me it’s a psychological need. I’ve maxed out my credit cards; maybe 20% is for legit medical needs, but the majority is just “fun” groceries and random crap because I haven’t slept well in almost 2 years and when I can’t sleep I shop. I haven’t had the easiest last few years but it’s a sick, crappy need that I have to have that *item* because it’ll somehow make me a better person instead of a deadbeat. In the end of 2020 I was in a good place financially, even paid off one Credit card. It’s frightening how quickly it went out of control.

        I looked into getting a loan to help pay it off and when I looked at a simulator on my banks’ website, wiping out my CC debt would raise my score by a tiny amount. So….take out $15k debt for 20 points? That sounds like a great idea ! (/s). I just make the minimum payments, I don’t know how I’ll ever climb out of it.

        1. DJ+Abbott*

          You need a hobby that doesn’t cost you money. :) At least, not very much money!
          Maybe a Shoppers Anonymous group too?

          1. Flowers*

            I joined a Shoppers Anonymous group a while back and….it wasn’t very helpful. A lot of posts were from people who said they spent all their grocery money (so they invited a lot of offers to help pay for food which seemed like a scam to me) or

            As for hobbies, sadly I have very little time and energy for them. I loved to read books and paint and draw and make floral arrangements, but it turned out that I enjoyed buying supplies for those things more :(

    4. Emmy Noether*

      It’s a common human reaction to seeing someone in difficulty to think “this could never happen to me, I’m careful/responsible/…”. It’s a bad reaction, because it puts blame on victims, and because it makes us close our eyes to our own risks.

      We like to think that financial difficulties happen to irresponsible people. But actually, having responsibilities also carries risk. Getting an education, buying a house? Responsible! Caring for children or other relatives? Responsible! Getting things fixed, taking care of one’s health? Responsible! But those things can all pile up in unfortunate ways and put one in difficulties.

      Even the people who bought a “luxury” item on credit… maybe this person has scrimped and saved all their life and could never claw their way out of the hole the were in. Maybe they’ve been dreaming of this thing, that is being sold to them constantly, for years. Maybe at some point they just… decided they weren’t going to cling to the edge forever and let go. Who am I to tell someone they can never, ever have anything nice? That’s some puritan bullcrap. Neatly saving up for a splurge is a middle class thing – because it assumes there is money there to save.

      I get the feeling LW is more in the “consumer goods” credit market, rather than things considered more essential (medical, housing,…). But do consider, LW, that this is just one part of their lives that you are seeing.

      1. SarahKay*

        I remember seeing a comment on AAM some months back that said “We’re all closer to being homeless than we are to being a millionaire” and it struck me as so, so true, and even more so now with prices rising hugely.
        And I absolutely understand the temptation to just buy something nice, to have whatever gadget is being marketed at us as the must-have, life-changing, most amazing thing ever, especially when everything else is grim. We’re human, we want to be the same as others, to fit in, and sometimes that leads to what might be objectively bad decisions but I think the thing to remember is that all of us have weaknesses, and thus try to be kind to others.

        1. Jackalope*

          It’s also important to keep in mind that if your circumstances change it’s hard to adapt to that. If you’ve had a specific level of spending that you’re used to, including discretionary income that you can spend on “fun stuff”, it’s really hard to pull back on that if your circumstances change suddenly. You’re used to budgeting for one amount of money, not significantly less, and if your income stream just dropped you probably also just went through a stressful situation so you may not be thinking clearly.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Yeah, I have to consciously pull back to my “unemployed, eeeeek!” budget. It’s hard, but I have to do it every few years with the cyclic recessions we have. Even when I’m not in my “going broke” phase I’m trying to save for emergencies like house/car/cat repairs. I want to have 6 months of “f you” money, and I seldom manage to achieve it before I have to spend it because I’ve been laid off again.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          What I learned from working food service is that almost all of us are one car accident away from financial ruin. Even if you have insurance, does the other driver?

      2. askalice*

        Oh, and the fact that we are relentlessly, endlessly targeted with advertising that is designed to engage us. Not just engage us, but tailored to trigger our hormones.
        In the day of social media there are other insidious pressures that can weaken our resolve and toy with our ability to practice self restraint. Impulse shopping is a marketing artform.

        1. RunShaker*

          When I was attending uni, my first year I didn’t notice credit card companies but oh boy my second year it was crazy. The various credit card companies were set up in quad (big gathering area for students) doing whatever they could to sign up new college students for credit cards. “You’re 18 & don’t need your parents permission!” A few years later, students loans program had big changes & were allowed to be offered by banks. I knew a lot of students that were living off credit cards & student loans to get through school “cause of you’ll have a great job when you graduate!” This was back in early/mid-90s, so I’m old but witnessing these changes to how credit was/is handled & as Alison said, no education on how to handle finances & money.
          I’ve also struggled with credit card debt, “living beyond my means,” & not doing what I needed to save. I’ve finally turn all that around but it can be easy to fall back into that hole.
          I also feel for you in reference to working in a call center & did that as well for very large bank based in NYC. That was soul sucking & customers were ugly.

          1. londonedit*

            When I went to uni (2000) all the banks offered special student accounts. If you signed up for X Bank’s student current account, you’d get a £25 book token or a free year’s student railcard (which gives you 30% off train fares). If you also signed up for X Bank’s credit card, you’d get another £25 book token or similar incentive. When I was at uni I had a £2500 spending limit on my credit card, and a £1500 overdraft on my current account. Which, yeah it was pre-credit-crunch etc, but that is an insane amount of credit to give an 18-year-old. Our student loans are all government-controlled and you can only get a set amount, so the banks absolutely played on the fact that they knew students would probably get themselves into debt. OK, you could say they were being helpful and offering credit so that young people without much money didn’t find themselves unable to pay for things, but it also absolutely did encourage reckless spending (I had more than one friend who honestly believed her overdraft was her money to spend, and was shocked to find out that there were fees and charges and that the first £500 or whatever of her student loan payment would have to go on her overdraft before she’d be back in the black).

            1. MigraineMonth*

              I’m in the US, and 18-year-olds are a goldmine for credit card companies. They charge crazy interest rates and have special requirements. Supposedly this is because they’re taking a huge risk extending credit to someone without any credit history, but they also make a parent with good credit cosign.

              Ten *years* after I graduated, I figured out that the poorly-labeled monthly charge on my Wells Fargo credit card was “credit card insurance”, a truly useless service I didn’t realize had been bundled with my student offer. (*#&$ Wells Fargo, the fraudulent redlining *#&*$.)

              On the other hand, you can’t opt out. I have a friend who was so worried about credit card debt she only used cash or debit. Now she’s an adult with no credit history who can’t rent a car.

              1. londonedit*

                We had a HUGE thing here in the UK until recently (they put a time limit on claims) about ‘PPI’ – payment protection insurance. You were meant to be told about it when you signed up for a loan or a credit card, but most people weren’t, it was useless anyway, and so people discovered they’d been paying a monthly fee for something they’d never agreed to. There was a whole thing where you could instigate a claim with the bank/lender and they’d have to pay you back if it was proven that you were mis-sold PPI.

                1. MigraineMonth*

                  Yes, it was PPI. A truly amazing service that charged me 3% of anything I spent on the card (not the amount rolling over from one month to the next) in order to cover the current balance on the card if I became unemployed or died. Presuming I knew that was an option, which I did not.

                  Fortunately, the only reason they got away with it for so long is that I barely used that card, so it wasn’t that much of a loss; I didn’t think to investigate it until all the sh*t was hitting the fan with Wells Fargo’s fraudulent accounts.

                  Thanks to the screwy way credit reporting works, I can’t even cancel the card without losing a bunch of my credit history, so it just sits there collecting dust and irritation.

              2. Ali+Nino*

                Sure, but I think the issue there is it’s kind of stupid not to allow an adult to rent a car because they have never used credit.

                1. DJ+Abbott*

                  Those are the rules, and the people behind the counter at the car rental place are not authorized to change them. Good luck even getting a message to the corporate suits who do make the rules.

                2. MigraineMonth*

                  Almost all car rental places in the US these days require either a credit card or an airplane ticket; presumably they need some sort of assurance that the person will return the car.

              3. Clisby*

                Yes, I’m in the US and my bank required me to co-sign for my 18-year-old to have a credit card. (He’s a college student.) I did, because I wanted him to learn something about using credit, but also lowered the card credit limit to $1000. He can’t do much damage.

                1. Koifeeder*

                  Be careful on that! I got my first credit card for college, with that same limit, and a year later they kicked it up to $3k. Because of my “good behavior,” of course.

                  Didn’t tell my dad about it either- I told him because I thought I’d actually been a responsible adult and it was exciting that the bank agreed.

              4. Media Monkey*

                in the UK you would have been able to claim back for unclear/ unagreed charges or insurances that you were obliged to take out. A lot of people claimed against banks and credit card companies for this.

          2. Grace*

            That got changed recently. I’m in college now, and while the banks are allowed to advertise on campus, they are absolutely not allowed to directly shill credit cards to students, take applications on-site, or anything else of that sort. (So now the strategy is that they get you to come in to the branch to set everything up, and there they give you the hard sell on the credit card.)

      3. sb51*

        Or the advice I’ve seen (that is completely reasonable IMHO) that if you’re trying to scrape yourself up out of poverty, having one “nice piece” of clothing/accessory can help you “pass” for grew-up-with-money when interviewing in competition with candidates who did, in fact, grow up with money. Or more “respectable” when trying to access any services. Especially for Black people trying to impress white interviewers, from what I’ve read. One nice coat/bag/belt/watch can make the rest of the outfit look “frugal” rather than “poor” and while no one should be taking that into account, people are people and have unconscious bias.

      4. Queer Earthling*

        I think prejudices like this (and yes, this is a prejudice, fed by classism and similar things) are a way people reassure themselves. They see someone who’s in debt (or fat, or with bad teeth, or flamboyantly queer, or whatever their thing is) and think, “Well, they’re experiencing difficulties because they made poor choices. As long as I never make those choices, I will never have to endure that suffering, and therefore, they have earned that suffering.” But ultimately…you didn’t make better choices, you made different choices, sometimes choices not available to other people, sometimes just different, and you were fortunate that yours went in a way that made you happy.

        Not all prejudice or bigotry are borne out of this situation, but it can help to try to feel compassion towards people in different situations, not only because (in this case) you’ll be less angry with them, but because you’ll be kinder to yourself if one of your choices doesn’t go the way you plan.

        1. JustaTech*

          Yes to this.
          I had a coworker who ended up with a bunch of credit card debt when she was hit by a drunk driver and it took more than a year for her insurance to pay out (the other guy sat in jail the whole time). But she needed a new car and to have her dogs checked by the vet (they were fine) and then she had all the not-immediate medical consequences of being rear-ended (lots of back/neck stuff) that wasn’t exactly covered by her medical insurance.

          One day at lunch she was just saying how excited she was that her case was finally going to court and she would get paid out and could pay off her credit cards when another of our coworkers (who had seen her right after the accident and knew exactly what had happened) wandered in and said “anyone who has credit card debt is an idiot.”

          And there I am, between this fool who doesn’t even know how deeply he just shoved his foot in his mouth and my very tough, very pissed coworker thinking “I can’t restrain her, where would we hide the body”, when the mortally insulted coworker walked out of the room.
          “What was that about?” says Dr Oblivious.
          “You just mortally insulted the coworker who *was* going to make your experiment work by calling her an idiot for something that isn’t her fault. Give her an hour and then go grovel an apology and *maybe* she won’t flay you alive.”
          “I did?”

          The thing was, he hadn’t meant to insult our coworker. He clearly thought he was talking about some kind of nebulous “them” who are “bad with money”. And if it had just been about medical debt we could have forgiven him a little, since he’s a Canadian. But to just make that kind of pronouncement without even thinking that not everyone is in the exact same situation was arrogant, infuriating, oblivious and frankly, dumb. And 100% on point for that guy.
          (I do not miss working with Dr Arrogant and Oblivious.)

      5. Robin*

        It is called “just world theory”: good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. A bad thing happened to this person so therefore they must have deserved it somehow; if I stay “good”, nothing bad will happen to me. If something bad *does* happen to me, then either I secretly deserved it and fall into a guilt spiral or somebody out there is messing with me and I deserve better.

        This is particularly prevalent in the US and goodness does it do a number on how we treat each other.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Between Puritan values and The Secret power of positive thinking, I am invincible! At least, as long as I send all my money to the Church of Prosperity Gospel.

        2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          This worldview is incredibly damaging, and you can hear it behind most questions asked after a misfortune — what, exactly, did you do or not do?! And I really hate how it leads to “everything happens for a reason”. That thought sounds innocent enough when you don’t get a job you want, but it’s straight violence when you extrapolate that to someone suffering from abuse, war, or cancer.

          I appreciate the callout about the “someone out there is messing with me” bit. I hadn’t really considered that angle. That sure explains a lot of entitlement and anger.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            “everything happens for a reason”

            I hate this phrase. It has f’ed so many people up in so many ways. When people say this to those who are grieving, or who have become disabled, it just plain hurts.

            Sometimes the “reason” is that chaos exists, life is subject to random events, and the universe is a cold, cruel place. Justice is what people can provide for each other. The universe and random chance care nothing about justice.

            1. 1LFTW*

              100% with you here. I feel like it’s a New Age version of the Prosperity Gospel mentioned above.

              People only say this to me once, because I respond with a dry lecture about causality. Their eyes kinda glaze over and then they go away.

    5. JSPA*

      Complete sympathy!

      I’m guessing that OP is, however, able to see details of purchases (the comment suggests it) and that “pile of medical debt” and “fridge” and “water heater” (for example) are not triggering the rage the same way that (say) PS5 console and gaming set up and huge TV, are.

      OP could perhaps focus on the fact that for some people, gaming is their income stream? Or that other sorts of cam work may be the best stopgap income stream they can manage, while housebound with long covid? Or that their job required them to supply their own computers to work remotely, and then laid everyone off, with minimal warning? Or they’re buying the items to pay back someone who fronted them cash, when they needed cash to fix the roof? Or indeed, that the big buy was a new stove, fridge, or washing machine, when the old one could no longer be fixed, but it was keyed in by a new cashier at the big box store who normally works electronics, and they entered the right price but wrong department code.

      Point isn’t that any one scenario has to be super-likely; just that there’s enough wiggle room for OP to hold onto their compassion over these seemingly indulgent purchases.

      1. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

        Yes! And also, willpower is a finite resource. There’s a ton of research showing that our capacity to say “no” to things we want diminishes over time, and also with fatigue & stress. The poorer we are, the more often we need to resist “temptation” – so one of the horrible paradoxes of poverty is that the poorer we are, the more likely we are to literally run out of the energy we need to resist impulsive purchases. (It’s like the “chocolate bar at the checkout” thing scaled up.)

        Having said all of which, I also totally sympathise with the OP! To some extent empathy is a finite resource too – we’re reaching the end of the academic year here & my patience with students (and colleagues for that matter) is wearing thin…

        1. Nobby+Nobbs*

          Yeah, I was reading something the other day from someone who’s done the responsible thing, scrimped and saved and gone without, over and over and had it wiped out by some emergency every time. At that point financial responsibility starts to feel like pointless masochism, you know? OP, I’m with the people saying call center bill collecting probably isn’t going to get better, and you should look for another field.

          1. Fishsticks*

            My husband and I have a running joke that every time we manage to save a little money, some new part of our house breaks and there the money goes! At least the dishwasher is giving us some advance notice, so we have time to prep for that. But the washing machine, the dryer, both of our cars, the water heater that essentially exploded and soaked through the walls… those were all fun surprises that wiped out every bit of savings we had clawed together, every time.

            1. Yoyoyo*

              Yup, we have a little joke that you never say anything good about money/finances near the car because it can hear you!

              1. DJ+Abbott*

                Long ago I worked in auto repair, and it did seem like cars have personalities. Some were cooperative, ran well, and total sweethearts. Others were always breaking something and being difficult.

          2. Jessica Ganschen*

            Yep, I was reading something similar, and they talked about how there are food banks and programs that will help you pay your rent, but not programs to help you buy the video games you wanted. And those programs usually want to know how much money you have, and they won’t accept an answer of, “But that 200 dollars is for video games,” so you might as well spend it on the video games and have zero dollars so that the rent program will help you out.

            1. Fishsticks*

              Consider the terrible position disabled people are put in, where they literally can’t have more than a couple thousand dollars altogether or their benefits get cut. There’s literally no reason for people who need disability help to save money and every reason for them NOT to.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          Not to mention, everything is more expensive when you’re poor. As the inimitable Sir Terry Pratchett put it:

          ‘The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money. Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles. But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet. This was the Captain Samuel Vimes “Boots” theory of socioeconomic unfairness.’

      2. Ayla*

        I know several people who’ve bought gaming systems, tablets, laptops, etc. in order to facilitate working from home while kids are doing distance learning or have no childcare over the past few years. These days those things can be pretty necessary sometimes!

        1. Media Monkey*

          in the uk at the start of the pandemic when we were only able to shop for necessities (non-essential shops/ cafes/ restaurants were closed) they closed off toy and electricals aisles in supermarkets. only people who do not have childcare responsibilities would agree that those items were not necessities during lockdowns with children!

          1. Emmy Noether*

            Similar situation here. They even closed outside playgrounds. Anyone who has ever had a toddler and no private outside space to play knows that public playgrounds and parcs are basically essential to survival.

            Bookstores fought it and got reclassified as essential.

        2. Artemesia*

          Single mothers struggling to raise kids often want those gaming systems to keep the kids inside and off the streets where they can easily get shot or pulled into bad situations.

          No one can really adequately supervise teens but poor families with single parents working long hours are particularly disadvantaged in this regard.

    6. L-squared*

      In fairness, it sounds like she more gets mad when people are acting like she is the bad guy for trying to get the money owed. And that, to me, is fair. It doesn’t seem like she is making assumptions on every call, just the ones that give her attitude.

      1. Malarkey01*

        And I’m not saying this to excuse anyones’ bad behavior, but you are usually calling people who are feeling vulnerable and stressed and they may be in a crisis situation. You are the latest reminder that they are failing to pay back their debt and are most likely getting their stress reactions. It’s a hard job.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I think that’s what it comes down to. All of this is true – bad things happen, loan providers seek out vulnerable people, poor people deserve nice things, all true. But this OP is employed to work with people who owe money, and that job is HARD. Regardless of how empathetic you try to be, regardless of how understandable individual cases may be, you’re picking up the phone over and over to have really hard conversations and often get treated badly for a situation you did not create. These roles have high burnout and high turnover and OP seems to be in the early stages of not being able to cope anymore.

        2. Le Sigh*

          I also think it’s possible OP is catching some of these folks in a bit of a straw that broke the camel’s back moment. There’s a decent chance OP isn’t the only debt collector calling them, which is hard enough, even when the debt collector is perfectly pleasant and trying to work with you. It’s also possible they’re getting calls from collectors who aren’t perfectly pleasant — and I have interacted with a few — who will go beyond the usual (explain what could you happen if you don’t pay, track you down), and will lie to you, harass family members (even if we haven’t heard from that cousin in years! truly I have no idea where he is, please stop leaving rude messages), or borderline threaten you. It’s not fair to OP, but if you’re the fifth call that week, it might be spillover stress.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            I’ve had debt collectors call other people in my town with the same last name (unrelated, but I knew them) and my ^##$%^#$&$ LANDLORD. This made me so mad that I made even more effort to not talk to them because it’s not nice to scream at people on the phone even if their companies are complete a$$holes.

            1. DJ Abbott*

              All the debt collectors I ever heard from her abusive hostile jerks. I often refused to work with them. There was one where I said I won’t work with you, but I’ll make a payment plan with your client, and I did. There was another where the first person I talked to was very nice, reasonable, and started making me a payment plan. The next day I got a call from her colleague who was verbally abusive. I refused to work with them too.

        3. inko*

          Yeah, I can imagine it becomes deeply demoralising to be on the receiving end of these reactions all the time, but also – working in collections you are absolutely going to get a lot of stress responses, including defensive anger, because you’re the person they really did not want to hear from.

        4. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

          I used to work in auto claims and most people talking to me were not having a good day. The majority of people aren’t trying to game the system, they are just trying to get back to normal.

          If a new job isn’t possible soon, focus on the wins, on the people you help. It won’t be everyone, but for many, you can help give them a path back to normal which will make a huge difference in their lives.

      2. Anon for this one*

        Yes. And I have a little story for her, about that:

        Basically, through a series of misfortunes and mishaps a couple of years ago (I won’t go into all the details, but we’d loaned money to my mother which she didn’t pay back, and at one point it was literally, “Pay this, or feed our kids?”), we had a credit card lapse to the point that a judgment was made against us. We, being fearful, assumed it would be like the last time this happened twenty-plus years ago, when we lost our jobs after 9/11, and it would be a lien on our home that we would pay when we sold the house or when we had the money. It wasn’t. One day, we went to check our bank accounts and realized everything in them, not just our accounts but our kids’s accounts, too, had been seized by a law firm.

        I called the firm. I was very upset. I understood what happened and why, but having them take the money from our children’s accounts, their money that they had worked for and saved (they both have part-time jobs), was really awful and embarrassing. The first thing I said to the woman was, “I know this isn’t your fault, but I am really upset.”

        She was an ANGEL. She replied, “Of course you are. I know this can be upsetting. What can I do to help you?”

        Within about ten minutes she had arranged for our kids’ money to be returned to them, and for us to set up a payment arrangement which was very flexible and affordable. She even asked several times if we were sure we could afford that, if we thought we would need more time, and told me to call if I ever thought we might have a problem. Through the whole process I genuinely felt like she cared. I even told her I thought she would yell at me, and she said something like, “If you’re in a situation where you’re talking to me, things are hard enough for you. You don’t need me to make it worse. I really just want to make this as easy for you as I can, that’s my job.”

        I have never forgotten that, or stopped being grateful for how painless she made the process and how kind she was. (I even wrote to her boss, and left a positive Google review.)

        Even those of us who anticipated this dreadful economy, where so many staple items have tripled in price, weren’t prepared for it to be this bad or for inflation to reach such record highs. Please, LW, remember that a lot of people borrowed that money at a time when they /could/ pay it back. They expected a raise, a loan, or simply for things to stay the same, and suddenly their weekly grocery bill went from $100 to $300, weekly fuel from $30 to $60, and there goes their paycheck. It’s not always irresponsibility or greed. Things are really tough out there right now.

        People expect you to be combative on the phone, LW. They’re used to being shamed by debt collectors. I wonder how their attitudes might change if you said right up front something like, “I’m not calling to yell at you, I just want to try to help you. I know it feels awful to have a debt like this hanging over your head.” It might not make a difference for everyone, but I bet for some it will. (I’m not saying you’re rude or combative on the phone, just that saying something like that at the start might disarm them.) Maybe if you look at your job as “helping people pay their debt,” instead of, “collecting the money they owe us,” that would help, too.

        And I agree that maybe you need a vacation or just a new job, too. But please try to remember how tough things are right now, and that a little kindness and understanding can go a long way.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          It takes a truly extraordinary person to turn debt collection into a caring profession. I don’t think I could do it.

          1. Gato Blanco*

            By the grace of God I am not even in a debt-collections situation right now and *I* felt comforted by this comment. Thanks so much for sharing. Awesome perspective.

    7. GreenDoor*

      Just to reiterate what Alison suggested – try and keep in mind that a great many people with debt are not deadbeats. I worked for a collection agency in the payment processing area. So many people would include notes with their payments. I saw the death certificates, the layoff notices, the divorce orders, the hospital bills from the under- and un-insured. I read so many letters from people utterly overwhelmed who just didn’t know where to begin. I read other letters that were clearly written by people struggling with a mental illness. I received one dollar in cash with a handwritten note profusely apologizing that “this is all I can spare this month.” It really helped train my brain to realize that the true deadbeats are in the minority.

    8. ferrina*

      A lot of people also don’t know the inner workings of the financial systems. They know their life and circumstances, but don’t know what the other side looks like from inside the debt industry. LW1, you know that you are a better option than debt collectors and that you’re trying to do the right thing; the customers don’t necessarily know that. They don’t know that you’re the better option. I suspect an unofficial part of your job is to educate them, and educating different people on the same thing over and over can be draining. Our brain doesn’t logically register that we’re talking to different people- it can leap to “I’ve said this a thousand times, why doesn’t this person know this?” This is super normal; I’ve found it helps to prepare a quick explanation that you give to everyone early on in the conversation. You will also need to do some emotional management too- this is really stressful stuff, and you need folks to see you as a teammate, not the enemy. That kind of constant diffusing also takes a mental toll.
      I hope you’re able to find strong strategies to take care of yourself. Good luck!

    9. Anon4This*

      A call from a collection agent triggered a mental health break for me and landed me in the psych ward for a week. Not that my mental health was her fault, but she was really mean, aggressive, and judgmental. What she didn’t know was that my husband had been unemployed for 3 years at that point and our kid had been in and out of the hospital all year. We had massive medical debt, were facing foreclosure, and were relying on food banks to feed the kids. I was working two jobs. The last thing I needed was someone treating me like a deadbeat when I was doing my best just to keep my kids alive.

    10. AnonInCanada*

      My heart goes out to you as well. I won’t even get into what I think of the American healthcare system right now, as so many people end up in your position due to medical debts caused by greedy private insurance companies who’ll find every possible way to deny either 1) coverage or 2) claims. But that’s a rant for another day.

      While there are many people put in your shoes for unforeseen reasons, there are also just as many who’ll take on all this debt because they think they’ve got a handle on it but suck at money management. I’m fortunately debt-free and hope to keep it that way. But I also know how one disaster can put you into financial ruin.

    11. Hannah Lee*

      BM, so sorry you’re going through that.

      I’ve been in difficult financial straits in the past and it is so stressful, though fortunately things are better now. A couple of weeks ago I had to go into my cable/mobile company’s office to straighten out an issue with my service and while I was there, there were multiple people coming in to pay their bill … and several were focused on paying just the minimum they could to prevent their service from being shut off. There were people who needed the service because they worked from home, or because they had a fragile or at risk family member who needed to reach them at all times or who they needed to be able to reach out to care providers for. So didn’t have cars and had to ask someone for a ride, or take a bus to get there. And in at least a couple of cases, the person had come in with enough cash to pay what needed to be paid that day, but the manager had shut down cash processing early for the day (like at 5:15 in a store that closed at 6pm, that people had rushed to get to before it closed – argh!@ – after work, after getting someone to watch their kids, when the could get a ride, etc) So he c(w)ouldn’t accept the cash they had, would only accept a bank check or credit card … and the customers would just be crushed; one was close to tears … they didn’t have an available credit card, their bank was already closed for the night or they had scraped together the cash they had and weren’t going to have any other funds until their next payday. “Could you please just take this money and mark my account okay so it doesn’t get shut off?” I was nearly in tears just listening to it for the couple hours I was there over a couple of days. I can’t imagine what it would be like to see that day after day.

      Sure, some of those people may have been imperfect in their financial choices, but a) who isn’t, and b) anyone can have an event out of their control that knocks them down financially (hello accident or serious illness of oneself or a family member) and c) the penalty for that to people who DON’T have resources to fall back on is much harder than it should be in a civilized society with the resources ours has.

    12. Coffee Bean*

      I am so sorry. That sounds like a really tough and stressful situation. I hope things improve for you.

    13. Meep*

      I am part of the “art community”. I see hundreds of people bad with money trying to sell art for $100+ that is only made to their taste because they had a financial emergency after financial emergency. These people are bad with money and anything they save, they spend because it is the one thing that brings them comfort. Heck, some of them do the same thing month after month after they deal with their emergency. They also are usually mentally ill and unable to seek treatment. That $100 piece of digital art is all they can afford when it comes to coping. Even if someone is financially irresponsible, they deserve compassion.

  4. TCO*

    OP 2: Is there a way you could help this employee take their other two weeks in January after the team lead is back? If they’re really burning out, having active help to take the rest of their PTO as soon as possible might be reassuring. Maybe they could even take four weeks straight if they started that leave later in December.

    But taking four weeks of vacation with little notice (or even with a lot of notice) is quite unusual in many workplaces, and I don’t think you’re obligated to say yes if it’s really not feasible. Have a conversation with this employee to figure out why they made this request (burnout? family emergency they didn’t want to mention? inability to use their PTO at other times of the year?) and see if you can work towards an alternative solution together.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      I agree! That’s very little notice for a lot of time off. You need to deny at least some of this so as not to have a negative impact on other team members, workflow, and performance ratings.

      As long it’s his own “fault” (his decisions) that he hasn’t taken any leave yet this year, you shouldn’t feel too bad about it. If previous requests (multiple) have been denied then that’s a different story

      But a month off during the busy season where it impacts others is a huge request and should have some extra special justification.

      1. OP2*

        Yes, no earlier vacation time was denied, he just didn’t request any! (Which I’ll need to keep an eye on in the future, apparently – for all my team members).

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          While your keeping an eye on your staff, maybe also keep track of who may have family far away – they may want/need a longer vacation just because of travel requirements.

          1. Ann Ominous*

            I wouldn’t start down that route. Many people have family far away who they don’t want to be around. And then you’d have to start tracking other personal details of various situations that might ‘merit’ more vacation time and that becomes really weird fast.

            You’re not positioned as a manager to decide who might have something they might want to take vacation for. Just that they ARE taking vacation, whether it’s a four day weekend to binge watch Netflix or go camping, or deal with family things, or pursue a retreat and certification.

            Your job is to tell people they get x weeks off per year and should be taking it. It’s only when there’s a conflict in coverage that you could be figuring out who has an important thing to deal with (family responsibilities for example) and who has a preference for a nice-to-do.

            1. Sandgroper*

              Agree! Also… starting to try to take personal situations into account ahead of other staff is a possible cause of resentment.
              People with children demand Christmas.
              People with family far away demand Christmas.
              People with partners who are far away demand Christmas.
              People who never get Christmas off just want it once every three or four years. They haven’t got kids, or long travel, but just want a few days every few years to feel like they aren’t carrying the can for the entire team and to relax and enjoy their family.

              Who gets Christmas? How to make it fair?

              Don’t start trying to pre suppose who has when.

              If anything needs to be done about forward planning scheduling, with such a small team it’s reasonable to put to them “We need this much coverage over this time, before I unilaterally put in place a policy, does anyone have suggestions how to keep this fair and reasonable?” And then let them work it out with you, but the idea of some getting Thanksgiving, some getting Christmas, and if you don’t get one this year you get a chance at it next year before those who did… and leave requests for this time are in x weeks before hand…and assessed in one sitting, not as they come in, and coverage is maintained at a minimum… should help even it out a bit.

              It’s unusual this year, because a staff member asked for the whole month off – maybe try to avoid that in the future too – I know there’s family things (and we don’t know what that family thing was, a month might be necessary!), but it might be best if in future you can say “I have other staff wanting leave in December too, can we balance some of your need for time off, and theirs?”

              1. Person from the Resume*

                It’s awfully convenient that this family issue came up right at the holiday season and a busy season for the offuce. I’m not saying this is faked. There’s logical reasons it could be including dealing with other family who can only get off or travel during the holidays.

                But did the team lead’s planning include considering and telling the rest of the team that their own December vacations may be curtailed because of her own?

                It’s just really curious that this very long vacation request came with such little notice. Your team lead took care of the same with lots more advanced notice.

                1. WellRed*

                  While I think it’s fine to deny the vacation request please remember that family issues aren’t something that can always be planned in advance. Nothing suspicious about it.

                2. L-squared*

                  I don’t know that this is a fair way to look at it.

                  Whatever the issue, the team lead made arrangements for it to work. Whereas this employee waited until the end of November to ask for all of December off. That is poor planning on their end.

                  It doesn’t sound like the team lead taking a month off meant no one else could have ANY time off, but it does mean this other person can’t also take the whole month.

                  Just because they are the team lead doesn’t mean they can’t plan their time off too.

                3. Katiekins*

                  I imagine the worker thinks it’s awfully INconvenient that a family issue is happening during the holidays and busy season.

                4. Drago Cucina*

                  Not necessarily suspicious. The same day my husband developed an abscessed tooth, his brother on the west coast had a minor stroke, and his brother on the west coast was hospitalized for an infection from his knee replacement. The fact that it was all over a Holiday weekend is coincidental. Driving him to the dental surgeon, making arrangements to visit both coasts is going to be time consuming and not fun.

            2. a clockwork lemon*

              Meh, I think this is very situation dependent. My team is split 50-50 between people whose families are local and people whose families are mostly thousands of miles away. The way we structure our PTO is very different and that’s useful information for my boss to determine coverage! I (and my colleagues who go abroad annually to visit family) would be a little annoyed if my boss kept pushing me to take a bunch of random Fridays or half days. That model actively takes away from time I get to spend with my family, especially since I’m having to work around other people’s schedules when planning visits. My coworkers don’t care and it makes no difference to them which week they spend at home playing video games in their underwear.

              The issue with this request doesn’t seem to be the amount of time taken especially since someone else is taking the same amount of time in a big chunk. The issue is the timing of the ask.

              1. Spencer Hastings*

                And even people with their family close by might want to take a longer trip elsewhere (with or without their family) or go to a convention for one of their hobbies, etc, at various times of year. I usually only take those “random Fridays” toward the end of the year, when all my major time off has either been taken or scheduled.

                1. Hannah Lee*

                  Yeah, any model that presumes a manager knows how any given employee wants to, needs to or plans to use their vacation is going to be problematic.

                  The examples you mention, or as I’ve seen, usually the manager does not know every employee’s situation … maybe they don’t talk about family much, or don’t want to share details of their personal life, obligations, recreational preferences with they people they work with. Somebody “presuming” to know what would be their preference is likely to get it wrong.

          2. Bagpuss*

            No, don’t do this. It’s not your role as a manager plus it means that you are deciding that having family at a physical distance is more important than all the other things that might affect when and why someone wants time off .

            What you can reasonably do is be trnasparant about how requests are dealt with, andany limits on how long people can be off for at one time and how many people can be off at once (and whether there are busy or slack periods when those norms change), and keep an eye out for situations where someone is taking no / minimal time off and check in with them to encourage them to take it and to see if there are work related reasons they are not doing so (e.g. feeling they can’t go as others will be left with too much to do, or that others don’tpick up the slack so they come back to more work, or they feel someone else always books their preferred times first and they don’t get a chance, and then address those issues if needed.

          3. I should really pick a name*

            I would not suggest this. It’s making assumptions about what people want to do with their time.

            You can just let all your staff know that if they need longer vacations, the more notice the better.

          4. Dust+Bunny*

            No, don’t do this (and I say this as someone who lives over a thousand miles from her nearest extended family). It’s not your problem, which also means it’s not your business.

          5. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I do t mean OP has to approve this request – I would be thinking really long and hard about it, and probably deny the long and late vacation as well.

            I also live in an area where for about half of my town going to visit their family means a 20+ hour flight and visas and passports. People who have to make that sort of effort to visit family may want to be gone for more than a week is all that I mean. This however may be a local issue.

            1. Observer*

              Sure. But there are a lot of other reasons why people might want to take that much off. And there are plenty of people with distant relatives that do NOT want to travel to them.

              By singling out THIS ONE item and factoring that in, while not factoring in any other possible issue, you are creating an unfair and not really useful dynamic.

          6. Mockingjay*

            Many people want to take vacations in December. Logistically, that’s the time available due to school breaks, business slow-downs, tradition (we all go to Grandma’s house or we go skiing), expiring leave (no rollover or only some rollover), etc. Unfortunately December can also be busy for businesses: retail, end of year production wrap-up, funds expiration, and so on. Some people are planners and request leave ahead of time; others like last-minute impulse trips and charm the boss into agreeing to the time off (I’m the former, hubby is the latter, lol).

            Advice for the OP: pretty much what everyone else here has said. Grant part of the leave if you can. What I recommend for next year: make it clear that coverage is required during busy periods and all requests may not be granted. Encourage employees to take leave throughout the year. Important: Set a deadline for leave requests for busy periods. Requests have to be in by xx Month prior to each busy time; doesn’t have to be a firm decision, just a projection of what an employee might take. That gives you advance time to work out conflicts and ensure coverage. Of course last-minute requests due to illness or need can be considered, but overall, it’s reasonable to ask employees to schedule vacation/time off in advance.

          7. Annony*

            I think it would be better to put in place a deadline for requesting time off in December and evaluate all the requests at once with clear guidelines on what the basis will be for who gets approved and how long they can request (while also making clear that you will try to be flexible if there are extenuating circumstances).

        2. JSPA*

          If it rolls over anyway, have feelers out for,

          a) they want it now, because they’ll be putting in their two week’s notice at the end of December

          b) they want it now because of the short-staffing, because they’re too burnt out to deal with it.

          Either way, that might mean considering what you’d do if someone were more gone than 2 weeks, and incorporating that into your cost-benefit analysis.

          Because otherwise, this is shockingly short notice, in most workplaces, for that length of absence.

          It’s also possible they’re asking without much expectation, and will be totally fine with, “on such short notice, I can only give you two weeks.”

        3. Person from the Resume*

          Yes. It’s an individuals responsibility too, but it’s not bad to have some general policies and reminders in place.

          One thing that happens in my organization is that starting in October we’re reminded to ensure we have scheduled all our use or lose leave before the end of the year. We’re reminded and instructed several times.

          It’s not quite the same for this employee who won’t lose his leave, but since it’s a busy season for an office needing coverage you may want to have a discussion of who’s taking offf in December before the end of October and work it out in advance in the future.

        4. JayNay*

          hey OP, you mentioned feeling guilty if you don’t approve the second person’s vacation request, so here’s some perspective on that.
          If I were one of the other two team member, I’d be really frustrated if my manager approved two of my teammates to take time off during a really busy period and I had to bear the impact of that.
          So keep in mind you’re not just making decisions for that one employee, but for your entire team. I hope that helps ease any guilt you may have about denying part of this vacation request.

          1. doreen*

            It was only for a day – but I once ended up being only person of ten who was at work on Christmas Eve. I wasn’t mad at the supervisors – they had only approved three or four to be off. The rest had called in sick – which didn’t make the day any easier for me, but it did mean I didn’t blame the supervisors.

          2. Observer*

            So keep in mind you’re not just making decisions for that one employee, but for your entire team.

            Exactly. Part of your job as a manager is to juggle various priorities. And making sure that you have reasonable coverage is an obligation that you have to your other employees.

          3. OP2*

            Thank you for this. It does help to reframe it that I’m protecting their stress level by ensuring we’re not so short staffed.

        5. ferrina*

          I work in an industry that has an extreme busy season. About 2-3 months before busy season, I remind folks that Winter Is Coming, and encourage them to use their PTO to rest up for the busy season. I also remind them that non-emergency PTO may not be possible during the busy season, so take that planning into account. Then I try to accomodate all non-busy season PTO, and busy season PTO tends to be “That won’t be possible- once Deadline X is met, we can take some time off”

          This is pretty normal in my industry, and folks that take umbrage usually don’t thrive in our industry.

        6. Education+Mike+(she/her)*

          Ideally you would have said something earlier, and you should keep an eye on it next year, but requesting PTO is his own responsibility. At least in the states, asking for a month of is a really large/unusual ask and asking for a month off last minute during busy season is kind of tone deaf/ridiculous.

          Part of me does wonder if he didn’t feel like he COULD take vacation all year and is now feeling burned out, and if that’s something that you need to keep an eye on, but given the fact that this is your busy season and he knows someone is out for the whole time, this request just seems kind of weird and annoying.

          1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

            I would think in ANY industry (in the US), asking for a month off at once is a lot. And doing so with a week’s notice, really quite a lot! I can only assume the employee is there because there’s work to be done, so with only a week’s warning, the employer would need to scramble to find temp coverage and/or decide which work doesn’t get done (or which client’s appointments get canceled). And then on top of that, it’s the busy season, and there’s already someone out (someone who planned ahead and helped make a coverage plan and gave enough warning that prioritization decisions could be made).

            If I were the manager who received this request, the employee would have to explain to me why it was a true emergency situation.

        7. Darren*

          It sounds like you have a workload to leave problem.

          If they are only just meeting the targets now that would imply if this employee had taken his month of leave earlier someone would have had to pull overtime at some point to get back up to target.

          This can lead to a lot of pressure not to take leave especially if performance reviews are based on this.

          Also what happens if he quits/gets hit by a bus/etc? Does the rest of the team get poor performance reviews because they won’t hit the targets if he isn’t there for December?

      2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        I think a lot of Americans kind of don’t dare ask for leave? So there needs to be a system in place to make sure they do take leave. Even if it rolls over, because then it just get added to the next year’s leave entitlement and it’s even harder to fit it in.
        My previous employer didn’t let you use up unused leave from the previous year, but when you left, all unused leave had accrued and you were paid for it at that point.

        1. Education+Mike+(she/her)*

          This is kind of my thought also but then, if you don’t dare ask for time off, how do you suddenly ask for an entire month off? during busy season? When someone else is already out?

          It’s not super rational.

          1. doreen*

            In my experience, this isn’t always a matter of not daring to ask for time off. At my last job, vacation wasn’t use it or lose it – you could roll it over with one caveat. You could not have more than 40 days in the bank on April 1. For many years, the offices were practically ghost towns in March , because so many people took off two or three or four weeks to avoid being over the cap on April 1. It wasn’t because it was hard to get approval for time off . It might have been because we got a lot of time off and because the most common jobs had a lot of flexibility, so people didn’t take off Tuesday morning for the fourth grade play or Thursday afternoon for a medical appointment. It might have been because taking more than two consecutive weeks normally wouldn’t be approved but supervisors/managers were reluctant not to grant these requests when the alternative was that people would use the time. But whatever the reason was , it stopped pretty quickly once a new policy went into place specifying exactly what percentage of staff could be on pre-planned leave at a time.

    2. OP2*

      That’s a great suggestion re: committing to support January leave. I’ll mention it to him at our check in tomorrow!

      1. Introvert girl*

        My previous company (Europe) had a lot of expats working for them. All of them wanted to visit their families back home on Christmas. As not to discriminate between them and the locals my company decided to give everyone the option to work those weeks from home (their country of origin) during that period (with 2,5 official holidays around Christmas). This was seen as a big bonus.

        1. Sandgroper*

          I worked in a part of a company that had a Christmas Embargo. No significant changes or challenges were addressed for a two week period around Christmas/New Years, (software releases, network upgrades, system or policy changes, hires/fires/renews of staff, reviews, project check ins etc). Scrubbing everything but business daily essential work from the calendar freed up a LOT of capacity in those who worked, and meant that there was a lot more capacity for everyone to take some leave.

          1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            This is very sensible. Yes, here in Europe we often just have a holding operation at times when everyone wants time off. A lot of companies simply close for the first two weeks of August and the last week of the year, and employees only get to choose when to take the leave remaining.

            1. Change of name just for this one*

              The beauty of this was if you wanted to save up leave and use it at a different time of the year you could, and you would still have plenty of work to do during ‘embargo’ time, if you wanted.

              But this was a part of the company where this was possible, and obviously not a customer facing part. One year we had to break ranks and all come back in when a massive bushfire ripped through a major population area and took out network (we were a network design, infrastructure and management division) and a number of staff had to walk back into the office to get literally half the world connected again. But generally our work wasn’t day to day critical and thus we (as professional adults) could push stuff around, work the hours and days needed to get the job done (the official expectation of our work contracts!) and take time off when we needed.

              This whole situation taught me just how awesome it can be if you treat staff as professional adults, and most of them live up to your expectations. It shaped my management philosophy going forward for the better.

      2. kendall^2*

        It’s even possible that this could end up with a month off, but the month straddling Dec and January, showing you’re really trying to make it work (especially if there’s travel involved).

    3. Bagpuss*

      Does the team have access to a calendar showing when others are off? I am eondering whether he is looking to book the time becuase he has realised that the other team member is off and he doesn’t want to be having to cope with the extra work for a whole month.

      Also – do you have any formal policies / guidlines for PTO? If not, it may be worth producing some. For isntnacec , we do have provisions in the employee handbook whicjh explicitly set out that holiday requess are subject to coverage needs and give examples of what will nad won’t normally be approved (e.g. that it won’t generally be approved for a lawyer and their assistant to be off at the same time, each department has minimum required numbers etc) It means that the basis on which requests are considered and may be turned down in trnasparent.

      We also have a shared calendar where you can see who is off when (although not why, so others can’t see whether ethe time off is sick leave, holiday or compassionate leave, just that the person isn’t in the office) so everyone can check for conflicts before making a holiday request.

      I dont know whwther things like that would be helpful to ensure that people are not takenby surprise if you need to turn down a request.

      (Of course, there are times when it is appropriate to use discretion to allow someone to take time when it doesn’t fit the normal rules)

      1. Dust+Bunny*

        . . . he has realised that the other team member is off and he doesn’t want to be having to cope with the extra work for a whole month.

        If that’s the case, then it’s so nice of him to compound the problem for his other coworkers by also asking for time off.

      2. OP2*

        Each team member puts an appointment with their time off on everyone’s calendars, so he did know the team lead would be off.

        We do have formal PTO policies, but they govern ~30k employees and basically just say leave requests must be approved by your manager. Departmental needs are so varied I can’t imagine more specific guidance that would really apply to everyone.

    4. Grey Coder*

      I’ve worked places where the guideline was that if you wanted N days off, you needed to submit your request at least N days ahead of time. So if you wanted four weeks off, you’d need to request that at least four weeks in advance. Current job’s policy recommends two weeks notice for any time off, but says shorter notice for shorter absences can be agreed with your manager.

      1. dryakumo*

        My manager has similar guidance, along the lines of: “I consider a PTO request to be more of a notification to me than something I approve, but I request that you notify me a week in advance per day and a month in advance per week you want to take off. You know what work needs to be done and I trust you to make sure it gets handled in your absence.” Obviously illness and unforeseen circumstances come up, but I find it very reasonable.

    5. Clisby*

      Agreed. I don’t recall working anywhere that said you couldn’t take off 4 weeks at a time, but barring some medical emergency, I don’t think they’d have allowed that with short notice. The only people I can remember actually taking that much time at either my work or my husband’s were employees whose families were on the other side of the world, and travel was expensive enough (Australia, India, etc.), that it made sense to save up 4 weeks and to use at once. But they gave *months* of notice.

    6. higheredadmin*

      I think as noted in last week’s letter, you have to have a clear holiday policy and then remind people of it frequently and pro-actively. I’ve always had a minimum coverage rule, as well as a required notification period (excluding clear emergencies). If people don’t hit these marks, then tough nuts. As other commenters have noted, it is about what is fair for everyone, not just the person who has asked for the vacation time. I would also suggest that as you have staff who are not using their vacation that you monitor it carefully and encourage them to take it over the course of the year as opposed to hoarding it and then asking for a MONTH off at year end. (The option discussed in last week’s letter of closing your area doesn’t look to be feasible, but is there any way that you are able to front-load any of this work? Or push any of it back into January?)

  5. Zombeyonce*

    #4: Links can get unwieldy very quickly and you want them to be easily (and correctly) typed, so as short as possible. If you’re linking to something with even a medium-length URL, I recommend creating shortcut links somewhere like Bit.ly to use rather than putting down a long URL with a bunch of nonsense characters that are easy to mistype.

    1. DiplomaJill*

      Confused — why wouldn’t the pdf of the resume simply have active links in it? Why is there typing involved?

      1. Luva*

        Sometimes people print out resumes to distribute/read instead of distributing electronically. Also: never assume that someone reading your resume is going to visit links. I reviewed a resume recently that had important context for much of the work experience buried behind links; I wouldn’t expect most resume reviewers to click and read multiple linked sites. The links can add information if they want additional context/information, but the resume should stand on its own if the reader doesn’t visit any links.

        1. hamsterpants*

          Agreeing strongly. Screening candidates is time-consuming work. The last thing I’m going to do with a so-so resume in my (digital) hands is follow a bunch of links to troll deeper in hopes that the candidate has hidden their best content. Ya gotta lead with your best and that means putting it in the resume.

        2. MenolyYoga*

          Agree with this. My company’s HR turns the resume into a PDF immediately upon receipt so that there is no “white text” in the document. The PDF files are searched for the words in the job description to see if the applicants meet the minimum qualifications. If they search a MS Word document any white text (on white paper) will also be found and the resume may get passed to the manager when it shouldn’t have.

      2. Bit o' Brit*

        Particularly draconian security software can prevent you opening links in files of unknown origin – PDFs being a big one. It was incredibly frustrating how secure my work laptop was at a previous job. It was consumer electronics distribution, not a defense contract!

        1. hamsterpants*

          Cyber security is hugely important for any company with an electronic or online presence. Ransomware attacks have been absolutely devastating to many companies especially in the past few years.

          1. Bit o' Brit*

            True, but that security also prevented you from saving files to a flash drive to give to someone else, as well as prevented emailing them. Many a presentation was stalled by that particular feature.

    2. John+Smith*

      Whatever you, don’t be my colleague who printed her resume with hyperlinks but not the actual Web address (e.g, “see my web page here” with here underlined as the link). Still can’t believe it took 20 minutes to explain to her why a printed out version wouldn’t work….

    3. Warrior Princess Xena*

      Even better: would it be possible to throw together a portfolio website? There are website makers where you can put together a simple clean page, and if you’ve got links to your work already you could collate them together. Then say “I have a number of programs I’ve made at OPLibraryPrograms”. I know portfolios are more common with more artistic professions but this seems to be a great time for one.

      1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        This!
        I’d suggest Jimdo as a good option. They have a free plan, an easy to use builder, and are fully GDPR compliant (important if you happen to be in the EU).

    4. Kuddel+Daddeldu*

      I’d strongly argue against link-shortening services like bit.ly; for cyber security reasons many are taught to not click on them (as you have no way of knowing where they will take you, legit or not).
      A web page in your name is the more professional option. Nothing fancy; just a headline/brief intro (one paragraph) and a list of links, nicely categorized (you are a librarian after all!) is enough.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Try to make the link readable, if possible. Avoid spaces, dashes and other “special characters” because those are often encoded.

    5. Friendly Internet Stranger*

      A Link Tree might serve OP well here, then they can reference back to their Link Tree for examples.

    6. Raw Flour*

      Seconding a URL-shortener! Personally, I would not recommend this to a colleague in my industry (finance) because of the relatively high probability that a shortened URL is malicious, or at least looks malicious to our cybersec folks. In any other industry I can think of, it’s wise.

      1. English Rose*

        Thirding the URL shortener!

        But also suggesting a good LinkedIn profile with all relevant work linked there, which kills several birds with one stone. You then put your LinkedIn profile link in your CV (you can personalise profile URLs) and refer back to it in the text of your CV.

    7. prof daffodil*

      something I’ve seen in higher ed recently is people add a qr code that directs to their website on paper materials, in addition to a shortened url.

  6. Pennyworth*

    Re Christmas market – I would be really annoyed by it. Can you just not attend as it is out of hours? And if you have to attend, admire the merchandise and say cheerfully that you have completed all your shopping for this year. The less successful it is, the less likely it is to be repeated.

  7. Holly*

    #4, You could also do it like an academic librarian would, and file those under another section of published materials, presentations, and open educational resources etc. And then you can list them like citations with links.

  8. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    LW1: Call center work sucks. This may just be a red herring and what you really need is a new job or to move to a completely different vocation.

    1. Zorak*

      Yes my guess is that this is mostly resentment from dealing with, angry or difficult callers, And it’s manifesting and I focus on the fact that the callers are “at fault”, in the credit card company’s conception of things, so you feel like they have no right to be hostile/etc with you. But the real problem is that you’re in a job where you have to deal with upset people on the phone all day, and that’s always a punishing grind.

    2. John+Smith*

      Wholly agree. Call centres should be banned imho – humans generally are not designed to work in such ways and they generally impact negatively on mental health.

      1. Nikki*

        Call centers should be banned? That seems extreme. How would people contact companies to resolve a problem if there were no call centers?

        1. Raw Flour*

          While I cannot speak for John Smith, I think it is likely they are referring to outbound call centers, not inbound.

          I don’t believe working at an inbound call center to be a walk in the park either, but it’s a very different story than outbound.

    3. Watry*

      Agreed. Starting to genuinely hate the customers was the sign that finally got me out of retail. OP, these jobs are stressful and tend to be low-pay with no to crap benefits, which doesn’t help. Any chance you can take what you’ve gained and at least get into a different class of customer service? For instance, I went from thrift store retail to being the person who calls you when your security alarm goes off–massive improvement.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Starting to rant at my students was my sign that I needed to stop teaching.
        I was the victim of my own success: the boss realised that I was very patient and gave me all the students that everyone else complained about.

          1. laser99*

            Story time! My family used to own a bookstore. My mother cried reading the reviews. Not the actual book, mind you. I started the book but gave up when I got to the section on how evictions go through the roof in December, because people are so desperate to provide gifts for their children they use the rent money.

    4. Sylvan*

      Yes. That’s exactly my thought. Empathizing with people in debt, like other people have suggested, is important, but it won’t get you out of burnout.

      Honestly, I worked in customer service and cared about every call I got, and that was one of many reasons I didn’t last long.

    5. Ah Yes*

      100%. My first job was working at a call center when I was 15 years old. Now people wonder why I abhor (and have a borderline phobia of) the phone. I was a child but I was getting screamed and cussed at, and having lewd, nasty things said to me on a daily basis. One man who called in was literally masturbating on the phone while I talked to him (no, this wasn’t one of THOSE hotlines – it was just a message service for businesses), and I had no training or understanding of how to handle it. I was FIFTEEN and being paid like $8 an hour to deal with this. People on the phone (just like people online) seem to think that if they can’t see you, you’re not a real person and deserve to be dehumanized. It’s gross.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        yeah no way a 15yo should be dealing with that. Not even a 22yo of course, but some jobs do have to be done.

    6. mreasy*

      I think that someone who feels this judgmental about people taking on debt should not work directly with people who have taken on debt, call center or not.

    7. OP2*

      Sadly, no. We’ve got a mix of externally-generated requests (no control over when they come in, but tends to be a fairly steady flow) and the more safety-critical piece that has seasonal peaks and valleys due to the nature of our work.

      Most of the year we can cover everything while down 1 team member (as often happens with slow hiring for backfills). Which means fully staffed we have space for process improvements, special projects, etc., but winter has less time for those extras due to the seasonal influx, so add in a “normal” amount of holiday/vacation time and it can feel a bit like we’re a skeleton crew.

  9. my+8th+name*

    For LW 1, the line that caught my eye was “it is money they have borrowed from US and they are not able to repay it.” Maybe you didn’t mean it that way, and maybe its just be meaningless semantics. But, if it’s not, take a beat to remind yourself that this isn’t you/“us” vs them. They don’t owe you money, they aren’t frustrated with you, and you don’t have to take a defensive stance on behalf of your company. They are stressed about their financial situation and it has nothing to do with you, so try not to take it personally. Also, it may be hard, but don’t let the frustration cumulate if you can. By that I mean, do not take one call’s frustration into the next, if possible.

    1. John+Smith*

      It does sound like taking it personally, which is problematic. But then customers do the same thing. Lost count of the number of times disgruntled customers have said, for example, “I pay your wages!” (response: “Oh, you work in payroll? You can get a staff discount!”).

      Sure some customers may be financially feckless, but while you’re entitled to your opinions and however correct your opinions and thoughts are, it’s not your job to make judgements. Imagine if medical staff disproved of your activities/lifestyle and refused to treat you. Such jobs will take their toll on you and I’d be considering another career.

      1. Mid*

        I mean, customers giving a company money is indeed what pays wages. But customers aren’t taking LW’s money, they’re borrowing from a company. A company that counts on people being unable to pay them back, as that’s how they make a profit, from the interest on purchases.

        I agree that LW probably needs a break from that work. Taking work personally like that is never a good sign.

      2. MK*

        “I pay your wages” is nonsense, but “you are getting paid to provid a service to me” is not; and a lot of providers seem to forget that.

        1. YaetAnotherAnalyst*

          Even “you are getting paid to provide a service to me” often isn’t really true. Sometimes the call center folks are paid to enforce policy, or are paid to protect the company from legal liability, or are paid to tell someone that the company no longer thinks their money is worth putting up with them. It sounds like what LW is really getting paid for is recovering more of the debt than the company would get if they sold it to debt collectors.

          It’s soul-sucking, adversarial work and most folks can’t do it for very long unless they’re phenomenal at compartmentalizing. Probably LW has reached the point they should be looking for a new job.

          1. MK*

            Ok, make it “you are getting paid to deal with me”. These people aren’t an inconvenience, they are why the job exists.

        2. Going anon for this*

          I was a foreclosure attorney, and something that kept with me from when I started was one of the partners discussing that all of our defendants/people in foreclosure were still customers of our clients. One of the things I appreciated about that job was that there was a strong emphasis of treating all borrowers with respect.

    2. MK*

      The OP’s company lend these people money, probably without doing any due diligence about their ability to repay, and the only reason they are offering repayment plans is because it is in the company’s interest to do so instead of going to debt collectors. They aren’t “lucky”; if anything, it’s the OP who is “lucky” to have a job that wouldn’t exist without this incredibly exploitative system of money-lending.

      I am having difficulty sympathising with the OP; she took a job in collections for a moneylender, what kind of people did she think she was going to serve? A large part of the reason she is getting paid is to deal with people who aren’t making good financial desicions.

      1. Bagpuss*

        Presumably he has bills to pay and likes to eat. I doubt that she applied becasue her dream was to work in a call cnetre in collections.

        1. MK*

          I wasn’t judging the OP’s decision to work for this company. I meant that she knew (or should have known), when she took the job, that she was going to be dealing with people with significant credit card debt, which mostly, though not always, means people with bad financial habits and stressed about money. That’s the job.

          1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

            I’ve never understood this idea that people always need to prognosticate their own feelings based on limited information and then aren’t allowed to have any feelings that they didn’t sign up for in advance.

            1. MK*

              Huh? What limited information? If you take a job in collections for a credit card company, the kind of people you are going to be dealing with and the kind of work you are going to be doing isn’t obsure knowledge you couldn’t have known, it’s common sense. And you are allowed to have feelings, but other people are also allowed to think you shouldn’t be complaining, because you very much did sign up for this in advance. “I didn’t consider everything about this job” does not equal “I couldn’t have known”. And “Maybe I am not cut out for this job” is a more appropriate response than “Why do these people suck so much?”

              1. Sylvan*

                Okay, but pretty much everyone who works in a customer-facing role is immediately surprised at the degree to which people suck. I agree with Just Your Everyday Crone that employees should accept this with ease because they “should have known.” Anyway, does this help the OP in some way? Did they ask for you to feel bad for them?

                1. Sylvan*

                  Oh, cool, I edited the second sentence of this comment into nonsense. It’s not like I write for a living or anything. :/

                  That should read: “I agree with Just Your Everyday Crone’s comment about not understanding the idea that employees should accept a situation with ease just because they ‘should have known.'” The situation being, in this case, dealing with people who are in debt and struggling.

                2. MK*

                  It’s not about feeling bad for them. The OP asked for advice about dealing with their feelings, and Alison’s response, as well as a lot of the comments, seem to at least somewhat validating these feelings. My perspective, though it may be a bit harsh, is that the OP’s feelings aren’t valid: they are based on the premise that these people, whose needs and/or weakness have been exploited by the OP’s employer at least to some degree, are lucky to be receining her services as a favour from the company, and should be accommodating in return. Personally, in my work I have had to deal with poverty-stricken people trying to navigate the legal system; it hasn’t helped me to think that they might have been blameless in their predicament, but it has helped to accept that their attitude is expected from people in their situation.

                3. Sylvan*

                  MK, I was thinking of one of your earlier comments: “I am having difficulty sympathising with the OP; she took a job in collections for a moneylender, what kind of people did she think she was going to serve?”

                  There doesn’t seem to be any expectation that you would feel for the LW.

                  Anyway, the reframing that you’ve mentioned at the end of your more recent comment sounds very helpful.

              2. sundae (not so) fun day*

                Ehh… it’s one thing to know in your head that people will treat you like garbage, and it’s another thing to be on the receiving end of people screaming at you, cursing at you, etc.

                Like, when I took a job at McDonald’s in college, I knew it would involve people being awful to me. But it’s different to know that intellectually, and then to actually have to stand there and take it when someone screams in your face for not putting enough caramel in their sundae.

            2. MCMonkeyBean*

              In general I agree with that, but in this instance the feelings seem to be based on some incorrect premises that OP definitely needs to sort through.

          2. Dust+Bunny*

            If the LW isn’t supposed to judge her callers for their financial decisions, we can hold off judging her for hers, no? Because that’s almost certainly what led her to work here. I’ve known lots of people who worked at call centers and every single one of them would rather have been doing something else had a different job been available.

      2. Alan*

        Yes! The customers aren’t *lucky* the bank is offering them a repayment plan. The bank does this to maximize profits. Rather than selling the debt at a loss, they get the money back with interest, just over a longer time. I used to have an acquaintance who did very exploitative payday loans. I once heard her say, when asked about usurious charges, “I provide a service. It’s not my fault people are bad with money.” She’s right, of course, but her family didn’t have the business to help anyone. It was a huge moneymaker.

        1. MK*

          “It’s not my fault people are bad with money” is a highly debatable point, in my opinion. Maybe it’s not this specific person’s “fault”, but the industry as a whole is very much to blame for cultivating and promoting bad financial habits in the population.

          1. CeeBee*

            Letter writer #1, first – stop thinking that these people owe YOU money – you wrote – “they owe US money” – honey – they owe the company – stop taking ownership of the money.
            And yeah, be kind.

          2. Dust+Bunny*

            Then they can take it up with corporate and with the government rather than abusing an underpaid call center worker.

          3. Alan*

            Yes, good point. Not all people using her “service” are bad with money. In fact, I would guess it’s not even the majority. She had her businesses in poor parts of town. These were probably people who were just scraping by.

      3. len*

        Agreed. People are being extremely kind to a person who… does not seem inclined to kindness themselves. Good on y’all I suppose but to me this letter is beyond the pale and should prompt some soul-searching about how the LW understands the world.

    3. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      20 years ago I worked in collections for a short time and the idea that it was OUR money the person owed was definitely something pushed from management. “If they don’t pay then we can’t pay YOU! You won’t get a bonus, etc”

      Everyone advocating for showing them sympathy is the ethically the right thing, however managers want the most money collected. Compassionate repayment plans are usually met with “You need to ask them for more” OP 1 is likely getting pressure from both customers and the manager. It’s a very mentally draining job driven entirely by capitalism. It won’t get better OP1, find something else.

    4. Whoops*

      My young & stupid mistake was getting married too young & too quickly to a drinker with no money management skills. I got a divorce but not soon enough and then found out I was liable for some of the debt. I was angry at every collector that called.
      Eventually I learned it’s better to be nice & that call center collectors are people too.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        ah finally someone who acknowledges that they made mistakes and yelled at the wrong people!

    5. L-squared*

      That’s all good and well. But she is the representative of that company, and she is probably also getting unfair ire directed at her because of it. I think most of us have been there, and have to remind ourself of that. I’ve had more than one call with Comcast where I really had to make myself stay calm with the person on the phone. In my head, I know they have a script to follow (which makes it as difficult as possible to get actual assitance), but it can still be annoying as they are the person you are interacting with.

      If OP is having multiple rude people, lets not victim blame her here.

    6. Redaktorin*

      Yeah, this really stuck out to me.

      LW1, is your company going to share the money these customers pay back to you? Do they pay you a true living wage with all the benefits you need right now? Realistically, there is no “us” in your situation, just a group of extremely rich people who are lying to you about this “us” to make you do their dirty work faster and with less compassion.

  10. HannahS*

    OP1, I find that compassion comes easier to me when I understand that the other person’s life just kind of sucks right now; instead of thinking, “Ugh, why are they LIKE this,” I think, “Wow, this is actually really sad.” And it is. When I have someone at work screaming at me, threatening me, or trying to assault me, I still call security, still de-escalate the interaction as best I can, but instead of being angry with the person, I think about how a person who was really happy and content and living a great life wouldn’t behave that way; this person is obviously really suffering. It’s actually incredibly sad: this person has no other way to express their needs, and it probably causes them similar problems in life that it causes in brief interactions with me.

    In your setting, maybe it would help to remember that no one wants to be deeply in debt. They’re frustrated on the phone with you because the situation they are in really sucks, and they probably feel bad about it. They might feel embarrassed or ashamed, and sometimes those feelings come out sounding like anger. The fact that they feel you’re treating them unfairly might come from the fact that the world is deeply unfair, and they may have experienced a lot of unfairness that led them to the situation they’re in now.

    It might help to show compassion; it can be really disarming to people to say things like, “This sounds like a really difficult situation, and while I’m sorry we’re meeting under these circumstances, I think I can help. Let’s figure out the best payment plan for you so that we can move on” or, “This sounds like a frustrating situation. What would be most helpful to you right now?” If you’re feeling annoyed with them because they’re feeling annoyed with you and you express it in really subtle ways…the conversation can easily escalate.

    1. HannahS*

      Oh, also. What’s with “they borrowed money from us” ? Distance yourself. You are not your company. You just work there. They did not borrow money from you. They are not in any way depriving you of money. In fact, if everyone paid back their debts, your job would disappear! If someone in your workplace is using “us” vs “them” language, take it as a red flag.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        I used to work for a credit card company where my boss was really upfront about this: “This company (I nearly typed “we”) makes money off the people who’ve defaulted, or made a foolish decision or have had bad luck. They are the job, don’t be shocked that they exist.” That was helpful. That said, if you work in a call centre customers will make it personal and eventually everyone takes it personally.

      2. Going anon for this*

        When I worked in foreclosure, I had some clients at investors who would take cases so personally. Literally, these super high up, wealthy people who would be like “this person is in our house! They’re scamming us!” And I always thought it was absolutely ridiculous and dumb.

  11. Allonge*

    LW4 – I would make sure that the text is understandable without clicking on the link (what you put in your question is borderline for me), and that people know what to expect when clicking on the link (especially consider that YouTube will run an ad before the actual video but someone may think ‘oh, why is this ad linked’ if they have no context).

    People also print out resumes to evaluate, and I have known a few places that did not allow anything outside of the actual resume document to be evaluated, so they need some explanation.

    1. mlem*

      Emphatic agreement on making the reason for the link transparent and its destination clear. Many, many industries have to coach and even scare their staff into NOT following links if they can avoid it, because of the risk of phishing. (And it’s not just the employee at risk. Medical software companies are being heavily targeted so scammers can get legitimate-looking trappings for targeting hospitals and medical offices, which they then ransom. Librarianship seems *less* likely a target for that kind of thing … but there’s often a chain that can be constructed from nearly every position to a vulnerable target.)

    2. ecnaseener*

      Agreed, more clarity would be better – so something like “Skilled at storytime for ages 0-3. See a recorded session here: *link*”

  12. Allonge*

    LW1 – if the compassion route does not work for you, consider this: your company lends these people money (and that is your business model, that is what you are getting paid for / by).

    Being resentful of them for taking it is like working in a donut shop and judging people for eating donuts instead of salad. You can, but it has a fundamental conflict with what you are doing as a job.

    1. ButtonUp*

      Yes I was thinking this too. Their business model is pretty much dependent on people buying things they can’t quite afford, and lots of forces combine to lure consumers into that.

      I used to be more judgmental of people with financial issues caused by luxury spending, but after hearing from people I know who’ve been in that situation, I think it can often be more of a semi-compulsive behavior that you wish you could stop, similar (for me) to eating too much junk food or staying up too late.

      1. Splendid+Colors*

        And that’s just one segment of the overly-indebted people.

        Many people can’t come up with significant “rainy day savings” because they’re rent-burdened. So what do you do if the car you depend on for work/childcare transportation breaks down? You charge the repairs. What do you do if you get a big medical bill? You charge it or put it on a payment plan. Hit by a natural disaster? I’m pretty sure insurance doesn’t cover everything 100% or at least people have expenses they can’t wait for the claims process to cover.

    2. I Would Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Yeah. I appreciate all the comments on this thread about understanding difficult circumstances (and they are 100% right!) but compassion fatigue IS a thing and it is hard to override.

      I also work in a profession that requires that I be very patient with people who are often not making the best choices, and who don’t always understand the burden on our service. Mine is a health service, so a different situation to OP, but do sometimes use cognitive tricks when my emotional bucket is low.

      Things you can try:
      – Imagine you are playing the lead character in the start of a feel good Robin Williams movie. How would that character act?
      – Journal a little before/after work. Write out your frustrations and judgements. Then write out your value of not letting those judgements be the boss of your actions.
      – Think about the other people in the lives of the person you’re talking to. Sure, maybe they’re a jerk. But if you’re kinder to them they will be in a better mood for their kids, their spouse, their neighbors. Imagine how your kindness has a ripple effect.
      – Remind yourself that your kindness isn’t “letting them walk all over you”, that it is in fact a demonstration of the fact that you don’t let other people change your value. It is a sign of strength.

      And to reiterate what some other commentors have said: think about how you can take care of yourself. The best way to navigate fatigue is absolutely to be compassionate with yourself and take care of yourself.

      You can’t pour from an empty cup, as they say.

      1. WS*

        +1, I work in healthcare and during the early parts of the pandemic when I was working insane hours just trying to get medication supply sorted, it didn’t take much for me to break down or to get mad. The problem was on my end, because the people I was trying to assist who were getting mad at me were also stressed and scared – but I was the one with the power and knowledge in that situation.

        Two things that helped me get some compassion back: the first was setting hard limits on what I would accept from people (no swearing, no personal comments, no threats) and be ready to cut them off. Your workplace may have a policy on that, and if not, they really should. The second was leaving my work at work.

      2. WishIWasATimeTraveller*

        Yes to the compassion fatigue comment! It sounds like OP is worn out from being understanding in this situation and honestly that might mean that it’s time to get out for their own mental health. It sounds like they know all the reasons why their clients might be having trouble but extending compassion, even internally, takes a toll.
        It might be possible to change their mindset but it might also just be time to move on.

      3. Observer*

        I appreciate all the comments on this thread about understanding difficult circumstances (and they are 100% right!) but compassion fatigue IS a thing and it is hard to override.

        This is true. Which is why so many people are pointing to burn out. The OP, at minimum, needs to take a break. And probably needs to find another job.

        But in the meantime, it would probably be helpful if they stepped back and at least recognized some of their incorrect assumptions. Also, some self care. Your suggestions are good.

  13. AnonRN*

    LW 1- People in difficult situations tend to seek control in other ways. I’m a nurse and all the time I see patients who are in a bad medical situation. Sometimes it’s of their own causing, such as a drunk driver with an injury; sometimes not of their own causing such as a person with no modifiable risk factors who gets cancer. Everyone is different, but some react by seeming unreasonably hostile to us (we’re just trying to help!) or by being controlling (needing their pillow fluffed every 30 minutes and the water glass has to be exactly here on the table) or by being very passive/hopeless, etc…

    In no particular order things that help me detach from this include:
    1) remembering their behavior is almost never about me, it’s their reaction to the situation;
    2) doing my honest best to meet their needs within the limits of time, space, hospital policy, and doctor’s orders…if I know I’ve offered what I could and can’t do more, then I have to let it go;
    3) being clear about what I can offer, when I think I can deliver it, and making good on that promise while shutting down non-viable options (yes, your daughter can visit you and I will bring her a chair. no, she cannot bring your cat.)
    4) remembering that I can’t care more about a situation than they do. They have the right to make choices I wouldn’t. If I’m confident I’ve provided all the education and resources that I can then it doesn’t do ME any good to worry about it more than they are worried about it;
    5) setting limits on abusive language or disruptive behavior (hopefully your employer allows you to terminate calls);
    6) remembering that I get to go home at the end of my shift and they don’t (not in a gloating way! But my shift has a definite endpoint and their situation is not usually so cut and dry. I try my best while I’m at work and then I get to go. home.)

    Helping people is hard, though, and you’re not going to have the same reaction from any two people. Does your employer offer any resources for dealing with difficult calls/clients? Finding yourself unable to empathize or detach (letting it all get under your skin, taking it home with you, resenting people you’ve never met)…that’s burnout and it’s time to see if you can reframe the situation for yourself or change the situation (new job? different caseload?).

    1. Myrin*

      I think your 5th point is really important and while other commenters (and Alison) very rightly point out that compassion is always the way to go, I do think it needs to be specifically emphasised.

      I’ve worked in a store for four-and-a-half-years and have always found myself very patient and understanding even in the face of annoying, demanding, or even rude customers (which is weird because I’m actually pretty impatient and reactionary in my personal life but work!me somehow managed to switch to A Calm Personality).

      But I do remember one customer shortly before I left who really made me angry and where I felt some sternness was in order. The customer, a woman in her seventies, was clearly anxious and in pain – she’d had jaw surgery recently and was now facing multiple problems with her teeth (which is what she approached me about, various “tooth stuff”). But when I couldn’t show her what she wanted (even though I’d brought her exactly where the stuff she was ostensibly looking for was), she started using really abusive language along with swearing and yelling and getting in my face. So I mentally said “fuck you” and then told her in a stern voice that I’m sorry to hear about her situation but it’s hardly my fault and she can’t speak to me like that. She was clearly stunned and thankfully that was the moment her daughter swept in and patiently explained to her what I had also just explained to her about the different products. It became very obvious from how her daughter acted (and she actually came up to me later and apologised for her mother’s behaviour, explaining it a little bit) that not only were the women’s teeth falling out but she had some mental (age-related) problems as well which were apparently making her extra irritable.

      I absolutely felt sorry for her – I would be very anxious about my teeth coming loose, too! – but in that moment, it felt very empowering to just say “Stop. Don’t talk to me unless you can be civil!”.

    2. Jade Rabbit*

      Attitude is everything!

      Back in the early 1980s, when computers were not the most efficient, I worked at the company that took bookings for ‘good things’, as in it was a positive product that people looked forward to. Sometimes the bookings went wrong, very wrong (sometimes on our end, sometimes on customers’ end) and a small team were given the task of contacting the affected customers. One guy on the team would descend into shouting matches with the unhappy customers. Me, I took the opposite approach. I always told them I was there to help and – together – we would get everything fixed. I made two personal challenges: to get an apology from the customer if they shouted at me, and to end the call with a laugh between me and customer. I was given the toughest cases, while the other person was taken off the team (we got paid a little in ‘danger money’, which was why he did it), and other team members would give up in tears. Strangely no other colleagues would (could?) copy my approach. They viewed it as adversarial for some reason. I had a great time because it was never personal to me and I got all those extra $$.

      In #1, the people are asking for help. So let them know you are helping them and that’s why you’re there. And try for an apology from one and count it as a win.

      1. JSPA*

        I’d love a column entirely on, “how to prompt for collaborative attitude when callers or customers are legitimately ticked off.”

        As a customer, I’ve said, “Your new policies / new phone tree / reduced phone staffing / buggy computer system are hugely infuriating, especially when something’s gone wrong. I’m guessing that too many people are downright angry by the time they reach you. I’m going to assume you’re here to help. If there’s residual stress in my voice, I want you to know it’s not directed at you personally.”

        I don’t know how you’d prompt for that reaction in people who think of every worker as, “that freaking company,” without getting dinged for badmouthing your employer…but maybe there’s a way?

        I also find it very helpful if someone who’s hamstrung by policy lets me know what they can and can’t do. If they sound collaborative, even if they have minimal power and training (and are reading from a script), there’s hope.

        “I understand that you don’t write the rules. I understand that the rules stop you from fixing the problem. I understand that you’re telling me that you can’t escalate to a supervisor. Look, I don’t dislike you personally. You seem competent. I don’t want to be an angry customer. You don’t want the stress of dealing with an angry customer. But we need to fix this problem. So for your sake and mine, can you put me on hold for a few minutes, research who can help, and try again to escalate?”

        1. bamcheeks*

          I phoned up about a parcel not being delivered once (I was in, they’d left a card without ringing the bell) and I was cross. The guy who answered the phone was SO apologetic that I started to feel like a bit of a dick making a fuss: “Oh my goodness, that’s awful, no, I completely agree that they shouldn’t be doing that, that’s absolutely dreadful, I’m so sorry.” I ended up going, “Well, you know, it is just a parcel, it’s just some yarn I bought, so it’s fine, it’s just annoying, you know?–”

          I am sure it doesn’t work on everyone, but I actually still think of how that guy made me feel and try and get into the, “It’s not that big a deal, it’s probably just a mix-up” before I phone a call centre number. That said, I am wealthy enough that I am nearly always calling about stuff that is inconvenient but isn’t life/death/heating-or-food– I am sure it’s very different if you’re wondering whether the car’s going to get re-possessed or you won’t be able to feed yourself.

      2. Ann Ominous*

        “6) remembering that I get to go home at the end of my shift and they don’t (not in a gloating way! But my shift has a definite endpoint and their situation is not usually so cut and dry. I try my best while I’m at work and then I get to go. home.)”

        I use this myself! It is incredibly helpful as a perspective shifter.

    3. I Would Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      5) setting limits on abusive language or disruptive behavior (hopefully your employer allows you to terminate calls)

      This is a big one! It’s much easier to be patient with people if you know you have the power to end an abusive call.

    4. Humble Schoolmarm*

      So much 4!

      About a year ago, after some stressful changes to a family members health, I decided that 2021-2022 would be my “Year of Caring Less” (Or more tactfully, as my colleague helpfully suggested, “The Year of Better Boundaries”). Teachers are being pushed really hard to care more, give more, have parental-level relationships with our (136) students and it’s just more than I (we) can handle. Now, I teach middle school, so caring less than kids who aren’t developmentally ready to see the long-term consequences of their action is a non starter, but I can care less than my big bosses who keep telling me to care more with no resources (except pd about… the importance of caring more).
      This all sounds really callous, but honestly, it’s been hugely freeing. I’m more relaxed, having more fun, and not fantasizing about second careers. Ironically, I think it’s even improved my relationships because I’m not constantly fixated on how I’m not good enough or doing enough.

      1. Bt;dt*

        I’m a teacher who is voluntarily unemployed right now and I needed to hear this. Thank you, Schoolmarm :)

        And thank you to all the other commenters who have given tips on dealing with difficult people as well, I’m taking notes on this whole thread!

        1. Humble Schoolmarm*

          I’m really glad it helped! I hate seeing all the burnout happening to so many amazing educators.

      2. AnonRN*

        Schoolmarm, it only sounds callous if you haven’t been in that situation! And yes, there is absolutely context involved; I’m not gonna blame a dementia patient for forgetting their meds- I’m going to advocate for solutions! But the alert-oriented-I just don’t wanna patient…I can’t go home with them and make them take their meds. I can’t come to their house every day to check their blood pressure. They need to take ownership of their health management and if we’ve connected them to a free BP machine and automated pharmacy refills and they still don’t do the thing, the consequences are theirs to bear, even if it means a worse health outcome or repeated hospitalizations.
        This is, ultimately, what autonomy means: people have the right to make choices, even if the result of the choice seems bad. It’s very freeing to realize that I am not personally responsible for their choice. (How could I be, really? I’m not their jailer or their parent.) I’ll be here when they come back in again and give them the best resources I can, but I didn’t put them here.

    5. Observer*

      5) setting limits on abusive language or disruptive behavior (hopefully your employer allows you to terminate calls);

      I want to add my voice to all the people who are agreeing with this. Really, do set (reasonable) limits. If your employer doesn’t allow that, can you push back along with others in your call center?

  14. Former call centre*

    LW 1,

    I feel ya. When I did billing for a phone company, and you do it for a while it numbs you.

    All the cx you talk to, are having the worse time but you talk to people having their worse days all the damn time and it drains on you.

    And you start thinking “how are you so stupid? Of course calling long distance gets charges. And now you can’t pay? And you’re mad at me for this entire situation you started?”

    It’s hard to have empathy when it’s the same thing over and over again non stop.

    If you have the ability to take a break, it will do wonders. If you can’t, we had a group chat where we vented about the people we had to deal with—on non work devices with no names/cx info.

    1. Allonge*

      Yes, I think that for all that ‘show compassion anyway’ seems like good advice, it’s not very realistic even medium-term.

      Unless one is a saint, there is absolutely no way to be doing a job where you are dealing with people in difficult situations all the time and not get severe burnout and/or fed up with the customers. If you are able to offer genuine help (like as a nurse or something), then it’s probably worth it for a while (but you still get burnout).

      OP needs a break or another job.

      1. Undercover Regular*

        I agree. I understand why Alison and many commenters are stressing the importance of compassion, but I really think OP should be aiming to be LESS invested in these people and their life stories, not more. Of course she should aim to be as helpful/pleasant/professional as reasonably possible, but honestly, when you are dealing with dozens or hundreds of upset, angry people day after day you just can’t sit there forever telling yourself to just be nicer because what if they’re having a hard time. It doesn’t work.

        1. Humble Schoolmarm*

          Ironically, I found that when I adopted an attitude of “I can’t change your life situation for you. I can only offer the tools I have at my disposal to make things better. After that, it’s up to you.” I was taking my frustration far enough out of the situation that I could find that compassion again. Reminding me to be compassionate in the midst of compassion fatigue just made me cry.

    2. JSPA*

      Except that now, calling long distance doesn’t get charges. And even back-when, the long distance policies were very different in different countries; different with different providers; different if you grew up in a family that had some sort of inclusive plan, but not with the similarly-name plan from a different provider in a different state. And ads were sneaky; you’d call an 800 number thinking you were calling a local plumber, and not realize the guy who called you, asking you to call back, was not one area code over (not long distance, in your plan) but over the state border (long distance).

      Assuming a minimal level of familiarity with the stuff that’s most familiar to you is something we all do. (Your mechanic probably thinks it’s insane, if you don’t know what the weight numbers on your motor oil mean…because “everyone” knows that, and because everyone who puts oil in a car needs to get the right oil; but plenty of people don’t.)

      1. Ellis Bell*

        There is all of that, but also people are allowed to be stupid; many will be. It doesn’t negate their need for help. Similarly, OP is allowed to be drained.

        1. JSPA*

          Good point! Indeed, those who know the rules as well as the help line person does will only rarely have a reason to call. So the most reasonable expectation is that you’ll always disproportionally serve those who don’t quite understand things that most of your customers do understand.

          So indeed, there’s no IQ or social competence requirement or literacy requirement, to be a phone user.

          But it’s also dismissive to assume familiarity, and default to seeing stupidity.

          I (long ago) had a roommate who was excited that “the phones here do long distance,” because nobody in her family had a phone “like that.” The idea that there were minutes counted and charges assessed? That was as foreign to her, as, well, realizing that maybe I should dig further before she called home was, to me.

          I may have said, “you might want to check if that end of the state is long distance.” But if she reasoned, “no, if I dial it goes through without needing the operator and asking to call collect, so it’s fine,” that was reasonable on the basis of her experience. And she seemed super competent to me, because I had only recently learned how to call collect via the operator. So yeah, we work from different experiences, and come to very different default expectations.

          (This is reposted in the right place after posting glitch)

    3. cleo*

      Yeah, I was thinking that LW1 sounds burnt out and needs a break and other outlets for their frustration.

  15. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

    OP2, I agree that it is reasonable too turn down the PTO request. There are fields where no PTO is allowed during certain times of year: December in retail, April for tax accountants. Allowing two weeks is generous.
    I would look at the performance review goals because it is not fair to penalize/not reward people for things that are out of their control, like the situation you would be in with two people out during your busy month. You could also run into issues like a weak team member, someone leaving the job in December and it taking time to replace them, etc. It would cause a lot if resentment, and rightfully so, if people lost out on a raise after a year of hard work because of that. It reminds me of what I always hated about group projects in college. The entire group got one grade regardless of how much or how little each individual member did.
    There must be some way for you to create performance goals Based on the work of individual employees. People should be rewarded for their achievements not rewarded or punished based on what their coworkers do or don’t do. You could certainly include relationship with and support of coworkers, but you could evaluate that on individual behavior.

    1. Science KK*

      To build on your first paragraph, what happens if you have two folks out, then one of the remaining people has a family emergency? Gets the flu or COVID for a week? Falls and breaks something?

      If I was the one remaining person struggling to keep my head above water, knowing everyone was losing their bonuses/getting a bad review because of this situation, I’d be LIVID with my boss.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Oh god, in the covid era, you may end up too shorthanded not-deliberately as is. This person’s gotta be told no.

      2. OP2*

        The ratings are not so cut and dry as to screw anyone over in that circumstance, I promise! In fact, in 2020 we had one team member out for months on medical leave and another was brand new to the role, so still learning – we definitely didn’t hit the targets but still gave “exceeds expectations” ratings to 2/4, and “meets expectations” to the other 2, but it was very easy to explain that they deserved it despite not hitting the targets because of these extenuating circumstances.

        No single metric is going to get anyone a *bad* rating, and merit increases and bonuses are very generous to everyone meeting expectations, no worries there. But this has definitely given me something to think about as we draft next year’s goals, to try and come up with a different metric that more accurately captures the effort I see them putting in.

      3. OP2*

        The ratings are not so cut and dry as to screw anyone over in that circumstance, I promise! In fact, in 2020 we had one team member out for months on medical leave and another was brand new to the role, so still learning – we definitely didn’t hit the targets but still gave “exceeds expectations” ratings to 2/4, and “meets expectations” to the other 2, but it was very easy to explain that they deserved it despite not hitting the targets because of these extenuating circumstances.

        No single metric is going to get anyone a *bad* rating, and merit increases and bonuses are very generous to everyone meeting expectations, no worries there. But this has definitely given me something to think about as we draft next year’s goals, to try and come up with a different metric that more accurately captures the effort I see them putting in.

      4. Splendid+Colors*

        That was my reaction too. We’re not out of the pandemic, flu is nasty this year, there seems to be an epidemic of RSV in kids, and everyone is traveling again like there’s nothing to worry about so of course people are getting sick.

        And in winter, there can be “serious weather events” that will create even more problems.

        It just isn’t reasonable to have half of a 4-person team on PTO for a whole month in the busy season/year-end because that’s also when people will have unscheduled emergencies.

  16. Decidedly Me*

    LW2 – four weeks off with very little notice during the busy period just isn’t a reasonable request, even before bringing in the coverage issues. It’s not fun to deny time off requests, but it’s important to do so when it’s the right call. The fact that someone else got that time doesn’t mean that it’s unfair to tell the next person no. It’s not the same request; the circumstances were different for each one.

    The coverage issue is even bigger, though. Yes, the person asking for the time off won’t be happy if you say no, but how many others would suffer if you said yes? We had this happen recently. One of the supervisors I manage approved far too many people for the same day off because she felt bad saying no to some of them and that day was awful, and I mean really awful, for all that remained. It’s a customer facing role, so those that remained were overwhelmed, customers weren’t helped in a timely manner, which led to them getting upset and taking it out on those remaining folks. A back log occurred and it took another few days to recover from this. All my supervisors are now reminded that saying yes to one person when we shouldn’t hurts many more people than saying no to one.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        My manager has been known to say that “I need 75% of the staff at a minimum to get everything completed every shift. This means that I won’t approve more that 15% on annual leave for any given day, so I have an illness/personal emergency buffer.”

        It stinks to be the person told no – but if you get in a request (non emergency) super late, that is a potential answer. But my manager is also good about saying no, but let’s look at another date that may work.

        1. Yoyoyo*

          This is what I told my coverage-based team, that I can only have so many people out on any given day to have the team function and get the work done without making the people working want to quit. I kept a calendar of time off which I sent out to the team every two weeks or so, and once my limit of people with any given day off had been met I made the day red and everyone knew that day was no longer open for PTO requests. Everyone seemed to appreciate that there had to be a buffer for unexpected absences, and that I was trying to protect them from having to cover too much in one day.

    1. Bit o' Brit*

      Yeah, even in the UK where we tend to have more annual leave, four consecutive weeks off is rare. I’ve never seen it approved for reasons other than family/medical emergencies or a honeymoon, while taking a week or two is usually a “by the way this is happening” conversation with a pro-forma request for approval.

      Though earlier this year we had three key managers off for the same two weeks just as development started on a huge, organisation-changing project. We were left with no decision-making power or project management, and months later are still feeling the consequences. So even shorter periods are an issue if it’s just the wrong time.

      1. londonedit*

        Absolutely. It’s perfectly normal here to take two weeks’ holiday in one go, but even for that you’re expected to give your boss a reasonable amount of notice, and four weeks would require special approval anywhere I’ve worked. It would definitely be too late at this point to ask for four weeks off in December unless there was some kind of sudden emergency going on. I’ve only really ever seen three/four-week holidays approved for things like honeymoons or big trips to Australia or whatever. Because we tend to have more annual leave here there’s a culture of people covering for colleagues when they’re off, but while that’s absolutely fine for a week or two it would – in my job, anyway – start to be stretched a bit thin by a four-week absence and you’d need enough notice to plan who was going to deal with which bits of work while the person was away.

        I’m also concerned that this chap hasn’t taken any holiday at all so far this year – that isn’t healthy!

        1. Other Alice*

          Yeah, I’m taking two weeks at the end of December and that’s pretty normal around here, but I submitted my request at the beginning of November. Any requests for more than 1 week of needs to be submitted at least a month in advance to arrange coverage. LW could tweak that to suit their needs. But it’s not unreasonable to say that if they don’t let you know in advance you might not be able to approve the request.

          I also suggest tracking PTO for your team, both used and accrued, so you don’t get to the end of the year and some people have taken no time off at all.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Former job: one of my coworkers had a month off on leave every year. He saved up his leave and was off for the full 30 days we had allocated (UK + 10 year service bonus).

          But his was for religious (Hajj) and family reasons and we always knew he’d be off that month.

          That’s the only time in my entire career I’ve ever seen someone take a whole 4+ weeks off.

      2. Rosemary*

        “I’ve never seen it approved for reasons other than family/medical emergencies or a honeymoon” — I am curious, is this because only people taking honeymoons request it? Or are honeymoons the only non-emergency reason considered “acceptable” for taking a long leave? If it is the latter…that is not OK.

        1. Bit o' Brit*

          I think it’s mostly social convention, the idea that a honeymoon is a “once-in-a-lifetime” event that’s more important than work, so businesses will bend their usual rules to accommodate it. A month is a long time to leave a position empty but not usually enough time to offer it as a fixed-term contract or secondment like a 3-6 month sabbatical or up-to-a-year parental leave.

          1. Rosemary*

            As a single person I would be livid if I requested to take a one month holiday and were denied, only to have my colleague be approved because their one month holiday was for a honeymoon.

            1. Heather*

              I can’t imagine this is an issue very often – how many people go on honeymoon for a whole month?
              (Yes I realize that’s the etymology and may have been typical at one point but I doubt it’s common anymore.)

    2. OP2*

      This is such a great point. I hesitate to make too many firm rules about coverage, because we are in a role where – barring an emergency (for which we have an on-call schedule) – we can have the whole team off for a couple days and it’s fine. But this situation makes me think I may need a few rough guidelines, at least in my own head, to help be consistent in the future and ensure no one gets overwhelmed.

      1. allathian*

        Even better if your guidelines are explicitly spelled out for your employees. It’s a bit late for this case, but maybe for next year, so that everyone knows what to expect?

        1. Tio*

          Yes, please be explicit. You can create very specific guidelines (the post about the manager not taking vacation from last week has some great suggestions) and TELL THEM. Don’t make them conform to rules in your head they don’t know about, that’s not fair. There’s nothing wrong with making explicit rules and giving them to everybody so everyone knows what they’re working with.

      2. Cait*

        And while I agree with Alison that you should continue to generally urge people to take time off consistently and unplug when they do, I don’t think you should feel the need to keep tabs on how often people are taking time off and addressing it if they don’t. I would find it odd if my boss came to me and asked why I haven’t taken time off in six months. Thoughtful, I guess but also… why are you counting? Maybe, if you notice someone hasn’t taken time off in a while you can say something like, “I really appreciate all the hard work you’ve been putting in these last X months! Any fun plans for a summer vacation?/Are you taking some time to see family this holiday?/etc.” and then just leave it at that. Continue your positive attitude toward time off but, ultimately, people are responsible for managing their own personal leave.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          I wouldn’t find it strange for a manager to ask about my leave. I’m entitled to it, but it’s the boss’s call when I take it. Asking means I get input on that, and it means they’re managing coverage properly, and it’ll help to avoid situations like the one OP is in now and the one they’d be in if they said yes to the employee’s requestion (not enough coverage) and also the one they’ll be when they say no (enough coverage, but John will be in a stinking mood all Christmas and might just call off sick to get out of work anyway and/or resign).
          A previous employer used to bring up summer leave at a meeting, we’d all say what we wanted and he would then agree to our plans. We did all discuss stuff amongst ourselves beforehand, make sure there’d be coverage, so he had no reason not to agree. It all worked out very well.
          He also hired interns who would provide backup coverage, although they weren’t ever expected to work alone.

        2. Observer*

          Thoughtful, I guess but also… why are you counting?

          Because that’s part of the JOB.

          “I really appreciate all the hard work you’ve been putting in these last X months! Any fun plans for a summer vacation?/Are you taking some time to see family this holiday?/etc.”

          No. On the one hand it’s just intrusive and on the other hand it’s coy and way too indirect.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Right. I ask quarterly if people are using vacation time, and if they don’t two quarters in a row I express concern and remind them that time off is part of their compensation. I also ask if they seem stressed/overwhelmed/burnt out if they have plans to take a break soon. And I’m monitoring time off for big overlaps that might need planning. This is normal management.

          2. Spencer Hastings*

            Yeah, way too coy. If you’re asking with your boss hat on (we want to make sure everyone gets the chance to take the time they’re entitled to! it doesn’t roll over! we need to get it on the schedule!), then ask that. If you’re asking just to make small talk, then the language would be different. But there’s no point in doing one and pretending it’s the other.

          3. Iris Eyes*

            Yes its part of the job. Depending on the company, the structure of the PTO, and local laws a large PTO bank can represent a real financial cost on the books. So it is both a managing people concern for a manager but also managing resources concern.

        3. Heather*

          >> I don’t think you should feel the need to keep tabs on how often people are taking time off and addressing it if they don’t

          Yes you should! this is a really important part of managing a team. You need to ensure people aren’t burning out and you need to remind people they’re entitled to their time off.

        4. Curmudgeon in California*

          No. Managers are responsible for work getting done in a timely manner. Managing the leave schedules of their direct reports us their responsibility so that a) everyone takes adequate leave during the year, b) not everyone takes leave all at once leaving no one to do the work, and c) so that workload and leaves are balanced out. It’s part of a manager’s job.

          My current manager brings up leave time in our weekly meetings, so that we remember to reserve our leave without screwing our teammates over. Yes, we negotiate with each other if there’s a really “in demand” date so that we have coverage. We even manage our flex time making up for working weekends so we don’t have everyone out that next Friday.

          We are working toward having at least two people trained on everything so that we don’t have any SPOF’s (single point of failure). We have a person in our organization already like that, but not in our group, so we already feel the pain when they are out. We don’t want to make it worse.

      3. Eldritch Office Worker*

        It’s perfectly reasonable to have different guidelines for different times of year, or a target minimum notice for more than a few days off, or any other general guidelines – especially when the team is so small. You can have everyone out for a few days, but presumably not all of December. Saying you’ll be as flexible as possible but here are a few general guidelines to make things fair for everyone is really, really, understandable. Better, even, for everyone to be on the same page.

        1. kiki*

          Yes, 100% agree. I get that sometimes it feels better to be like, “No rules! I’m 100% flexible!” but that also doesn’t set clear expectations for employees to make requests in a way that means they’re most likely to be approved. My job has a rule that if you’re planning to be away for more than 2 weeks, you should discuss it with your manager at least a month in advance. They have approved requests for less than two weeks out when the stars align, but for someone trying to make sure they can take a non-refundable trip, it’s important they know their request should be made sooner rather than later. And for this particular employee, knowing back in October that he shouldn’t plan to take a month off in December, the busiest time, would have helped him out here.

        2. JustaTech*

          Yes to this. Once (ever) I took 3 consecutive weeks off work and I gave my boss half a year’s notice and spent at least a month prepping everyone for my absence.

          Stuff still got messed up some while I was gone (my coworker Christiana had to take over training my coworker Betty and one day that went badly and even though they were both professional about it, it still took me months to smooth over when I got back, and in retrospect, why the heck did *I* have to do that?), but I also made sure to pick one of our less-busy times so it wasn’t terrible to get things set to rights when I got back.

      4. Student*

        My manager asks for about 2 weeks of advance notice to book PTO. It’s not a “firm” rule – she’ll likely approve a short leave with less notice – and doesn’t apply to unforeseen issues.

        That kind of guidance to your employees may help you out, and let them know where you’re coming from.

  17. Despachito*

    OP1 – if I understand it well, the first employee got the entire month off due to having to deal with a family emergency, and otherwise you would not have conceded it given the circumstances.

    The second employee seems not to be in such a situation, so it could be easier to refuse.

  18. LW5*

    LW5 here, thanks for answering my question! I’m the kind of person who prefers to speak up in these situations, but reflecting on past AAM advice, my gut was telling me not to rock the boat, so this was reassuring. After all, I’d really like to get hired on as a full-time employee sometime!

    1. Gremlins*

      I suspect a bunch of others will speak about it (everyone who has their own side business and feels the market is unfair, everyone who hates being sold to while at work and resents receiving a ‘sales pitch’ from a company executive, etc.) , and the VP of HR will soon realize that promoting one individual’s side hustle to the entire company is a really bad idea.

      1. Antilles*

        I think it’s a bad sign that the Vice President of Human Resources apparently doesn’t *already* recognize it’s a bad idea – and doubly so given that being both a senior exec and in HR means that there’s implicit power dynamics there.

        1. Petty Betty*

          Honestly, I’m already questioning the favoritism. Are the two people friends outside of work? Related in some way? Is the side hustle employee related to another c-suite level exec and *that’s* why they’re getting this kind of preferential treatment?

          This doesn’t pass the smell test.

    2. münchner+kindl*

      I was cynically thinking that if management approved this already, they are so tone-deaf that a lowly employee (let alone a contractor) speaking up won’t help either.

      If you want to get hired by this company, watch out for other red flags!

    3. JSPA*

      It may be your first above-the-horizon yellow flag about how the company operates as “family” (but only for a select group).

      Or (who knows) maybe they have decided to allow it for everyone, and it’ll just be a bizzare occasional irritant, and you’ll find out when the president’s day notecard sale gets promoted, and the valentine’s pin cusion hearts, and… and… and…

      Or maybe the VP of HR didn’t log out, and someone took advantage. (Or worse, that it’s phishing / a security breach.)

      Regardless, this is “give it private side-eye, if it’s considered problematic here, someone else will shut it down,” not, “make your oposition your calling card.” It’s not (yet) your circus. And even if it becomes your circus, they’re not (ever) your monkeys–unless you end up as president of HR.

      1. Antilles*

        Agreed with the last paragraph. Given OP’s role as a contractor whose manager won’t care, not sure there’s really anything to do here.
        Though since OP has never met the VP in 1.5 years, the easy out would be to either use the handy “Decline but do not send a response” option or just totally ignore the email – so you get lost in the shuffle unless the VP actually scours the list of attendees in detail.

    4. Persephone*

      You might be able to mention it to the person who you report to (or somebody you have rapport with) in conversation. Saying this makes you uncomfortable might help encourage them to speak up themselves if they don’t want to lose you. You aren’t a permanent employee so it’s easier for you to look at this, decide if it’s an accurate representation of the culture, and walk away, which they know.

      I.e. “This kinda feels icky—a sales session for one employee’s MLM seems really unprofessional, even if it is optional. Especially given how predatory MLMs can be.” (You could replace MLM with “personal business” and leave the second part out if you want to be gentler.)

      1. prof daffodil*

        I think part of the ick factor is it’s a product type that has a lot of MLMs and I wouldn’t want the door opened to that racket.
        Generously, maybe this person’s product is beloved and frequently requested so folks wanted a focused opportunity outside of work hours to patronize the business instead of taking random work time to do it? And HR didn’t see how it would read to those not in the know.

    5. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I am also one to comment and I applaud your restraint. I probably would say SOMETHING – something casual to the person I report to, maybe. “Oh yeah I got that email. That’s odd, isn’t it, to have a market for one person?” but then I’d drop it. Plant the seed. Don’t get too mixed up in it.

  19. Lemon fizz*

    LW3
    I wish I wasn’t a complainer but I am. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it. The thing that really shuts me down is when the person I’m talking to is unrelentlessly optimistic. One, it interrupts my flow, but two, it makes the complaining unenjoyable if someone refuses to participate. Optimistic people are seriously the worst to complain too.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I have a relative that is a constant complainer – I’ve told them more than once that “I am not the correct audience for this conversation” and then turned and walked away before they had a chance to contradict me. It didn’t always work in the family setting – but it may be more effective in a work setting because you can walk away to other tasks that are your responsibility.

    2. I Would Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      This is true in my experience and it is the technique I use when I don’t want someone to complain or vent to me. Even just an “oh yeah, I can see how that would annoy you, but personally I love how Jane always tells puns” — people will trend towards complaining to you less. I even had a colleague once tell me explictly that she didn’t gossip with me because I’m “too nice”. (This PSA brought to you by an American living in the UK ;)

      Just keep in mind that if it’s someone you love and whose complaints you’re invested in, then it’s not a good strategy. Also it can come across as a bit cloying. But hey, we gotta pick our poison.

    3. JSPA*

      Adding, if they are too tone-deaf or caught in their own complaints to notice, you can go for the nonsequitur version, or point it back at them.

      –“Jane and her blah blah blah suck”
      –“Oh, thanks for mentioning Jane, I need to thank her for ordering the frim frams so fast!”

      –“But her stinking blah blah…”
      –“Oh, are you finding that awkward? Funny, it’s working so well for me, maybe you should speak to IT.”

      –“I just hate how she blah blah blah”
      –“I’d hate to feel actual hate in the workplace, ha ha!”

      –“but don’t you hate how she blah blah..”
      –“no, I have to say, I’m pretty happy overall. Maybe being irked by Jane has become a habit, or a you thing, by now?”

      –“I just can’t talk to you anymore!”
      –“I’m sorry you feel that way, but I hope you’re not wishing for me to be more miserable.”

      –“I thought you understood!”
      –“I understood that we were both stressed during the changeover. Now I’m overall happy. I’d love for you to be happy too, but I don’t think the way to get there is by chewing on passing irritations or revisiting old complaints.”

      –[enters, looks daggers at you, goes and complains to someone else]
      –[smile in return, turn to your work, count your blessings]

    4. Linda*

      I picked up a tactic from Captain Awkward where I respond to repetitive complaining with “it sounds like you’re really frustrated, what are you going to do about it?” This has so far been successful, though I’m still working on using a warmer tone

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        “What are you looking for from me here?” has also been effective for me. Again warm, supportive even, but not buying into the negativity. If it’s just “vent, listen” usually I’ll let them (privately, ideally) but I won’t necessarily validate.

      2. Claire*

        I always feel like people who ask things like this are doing it as a sort of Virtuous Gotcha – like what they really mean is “I don’t want to hear complaints but I consider myself too polite to say that, so I’m going to come sideways at it in a sort of passive-aggressive manner and see if they catch the hint.”

        People who ask me that question tend to regret it, because I will tell them in great detail what I’m going to do and inevitably they were never interested in hearing the answer to that question to begin with, they just wanted me to know that they thought I was just whining.

    5. MigraineMonth*

      At my first full-time job, I complained a lot, which wound me up, so I complained even more. I think it was one of the factors in getting fired. Your coworker may be upset or cool towards you, but you might also be saving her job.

      One piece of advice I’ve heard for chronic complainers is to ask, “What are you going to do about that?” It certainly makes the audience less fun to complain to.

  20. Allonge*

    LW2 – I think it matters a lot why this person has not taken time off yet this year. We had a very similar situation where my boss declined four weeks’ leave in a buy period where we are alredy shortstaffed, but in this case the person in question was invited several times to take leave during the year and just did not, and then ended up with a lot of leave that will not roll over.

    This may or may not be the case for you but do think of what happened to make it so that your person has not yet taken leave – is it possible to?

    1. OP2*

      I honestly suspect year end snuck up on him and suddenly he had 8 weeks of the year left, 4 weeks vacation, and a big project wrapping up that meant early November was not an option.

      I’m definitely projecting a little – it happened to me a few times earlier in my career and I had years where I ended up taking every Friday off in Nov/ Dec to avoid losing days. I’ll be sure to check in with him that there aren’t any other factors at play, though.

      1. Allonge*

        I know this happens sometimes, but I am one of the people who just don’t get how the end of the year (or their birthday etc) comes as a surprise to anyone, let alone regularly. So on a personal level I have no advice here, sorry.

        Somewhat more constructively on the professional level: in our team we have a table to plan vacations and so we are all reminded at least 4 times per year that this is a thing. HR sends reminders from September about the rollover rules. So this can help if it’s not something you do already. But after this, I am also somewhat comfortable letting people lose some days unless there is a really good reason why they could not take them.

        1. Tio*

          Not a surprise exactly, but it’s easy to let time pass you by – I was going to plana spring vacation, but the car broke, better put it off until summer – summer comes and everybody’s got activities, running around, no good spot to take off time, I’ll just wait until fall – Fall comes and you have a big project, can’t leave because this is important, now its wrapping up and oh god it’s November? And I have 4 weeks of vacation left? everybody get in the car NOW.

          I also used to remind my teams about vacation time a LOT starting in summer, usually at the monthly meetings. I reminded them we can only have so many people off at the end of the year and figure it out now if possible, and we had limits on how close you can request things. I think LW2 definitely needs a better, more explicit system.

        2. Kit*

          I was just having a conversation with Spouse last night where we were discussing timelines for a planned rollout, and he mentioned “within two weeks” to which I pushed back, absolutely certain that it was longer than that.

          Well, it sure had been longer, back when they announced the schedule, but somehow my brain had not yet recognized that it was the end of November already, and so a mid-December release was going to be about two weeks out. Oops.

      2. londonedit*

        OP, don’t be afraid to remind/tell people that they need to use their holiday allowance. Every (UK) company I’ve worked for has always sent out emails reminding people to use their holiday and some have even had policies where you need to have X percentage of your year’s leave booked before the end of September, etc. Most companies either don’t allow holiday to roll over, or have limits (like 5 days, for example) on what can be taken over into the next holiday year, and they often also have a policy where any leave taken over from the previous year must be used in the first three months of the next year, or similar. So it’s really normal here for bosses/company owners to remind their staff to take their full holiday entitlement every year. If this chap is forgetting to take his holiday and then causing issues by suddenly realising he’ll have to take most of December off, that’s something you definitely need to address with him.

      3. Miss Muffet*

        This is where having a team meeting or even a group email next year – maybe in September or so – will help. Tell the team, we’re down to the last quarter. Please review your time off balance and plan for how you will use it up (if it’s use it or lose it, or to whatever balance they can roll over). My teams that have a busy 4th quarter then have everyone submit their time off (esp for holidays) by X date and then the manager can figure out if it works or if people need to make concessions. But having an X date deadline helps with “i got mine in in February!” So everyone has a reasonably equal chance at getting it approved. And tell people they shouldn’t book travel until it’s approved (and then be sure you review and approve in plenty of time for people to book flights).
        If you have to balance a couple of requests, I think you can work with the team to determine a system that feels fair. Sometimes, though, just saying to both parties, “hey – we need one of you to cover the day before thanksgiving for X reason, and I can’t give you both the day off,” will spur one of them to say, “oh I can work that day after all.”
        Having concessions in your back pocket to reward those people for giving it up can be helpful too. Another day later on? An additional day off the books for being the one to suck it up and come in? Agreement to work from home that day and just keep an eye on things but not need to be fully present in the office for the whole day? You can usually be pretty creative in a way that will make all but the crankiest employee happy with the compromise.

  21. WoodswomanWrites*

    #3, I was in a situation similar to the one you describe, with a co-worker and I both being relatively new at a time of upheaval, and at first I was okay listening with a lot going on. But after a while, I realized that a number of my colleagues complained about others and it was making it hard to work there. It’s okay to tell someone overtly that you don’t want to have those conversations anymore even if it was okay before.

    In my situation, I said I wasn’t comfortable with talking about someone who wasn’t present, and explained I couldn’t participate when the person they were complaining about didn’t know about it. Depending on the situation, I might go farther and tell them if they had an issue with that person, to discuss it with them and not me. Although sometimes it required reminding people more than once, it worked.

    (It turned that this was a widespread part of the culture. I ended up finding a different job where I didn’t have to deal with that negativity anymore.)

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I mentioned up above using “I am not the appropriate audience for this complaint.”

      I just thought of another I heard my dad use to a coworker once:” what is the end goal of this complaint?” He told me the point was, if there is some sort of issue preventing work from getting done a good manager does need to hear about it; but there is nothing wrong with shutting down the person who just wants to have a forty minute gripe fest because they are having a bad day, and feel like spreading their bad mood far and wide around the office.

  22. Sleepy*

    LW1. I think the ideas from Alison and others are great and ones I regularly use (cut me off? I guess you have to get the hospital to say good-bye to a dying loved one). But I think it should also be okay to politely tell someone that the way they are talking to you is unacceptable. Yes, people are stressed out and not actually mad at you, but you shouldn’t be their punching bag.

    1. BubbleTea*

      Similarly to your hospital example, if I’m frustrated by someone driving unnecessarily slowly in front of me, I like to imagine that they have a whole tray of fertilised duck eggs on the back seat. Imagining all those little ducklings-to-be makes me much more patient.

    2. Lana Kane*

      I would say this to my staff all the time. They were good people who would understand the stress their callers were under, but they were also hanging up and asking for 5 minutes to go cry. I would tell them so often that it wasn’t their job to be the punching bag, to send those callers to me, to end the call. It took a while for them to feel ok doing that, but I noticed an improvement when they did.

  23. Luna*

    LW1 – I hope your company is the one that allows its employees to bluntly tell people that, while you understand they are frustrated, you do *not* talk to employees in ways that are rude or harassing. Because come on. You don’t get paid enough to tolerate getting yelled at over something that isn’t your fault, do you?

  24. Not+in+your+timezone*

    LW1 there’s good advice above but I’m also in a difficult industry and I wanted to share my strategies.

    1) self care. MEDS (meditation, exercise, diet, sleep) every day.
    2) find a way to switch off at the end of the day. I mentally pack my day in a box and don’t open it again till morning. If I catch myself thinking about work off the clock I use deliberate strategies to stop – I’m really strict about this.
    3) I find something nice to think about every client and if I talk about them I say this first. It might be ‘she sounds nice’, ‘she’s got a lovely voice’, ‘she’s very organised/smart’, ‘she sure cusses creatively’ even the worst client is probably ‘very service savvy’ lol. Find something and lead with it.
    4) find someone with experience in your industry to talk this through with, every good worker at some time goes through this (because they care) and you have to be your own advocate.
    Best wishes to you.

    1. Ann Ominous*

      “If I catch myself thinking about work off the clock I use deliberate strategies to stop”

      Would you mind sharing some of those strategies? I really enjoyed the rest of your practical advice and was hoping for me :)

    2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I work with people receiving Unemployment Insurance and they are also often cranky and frustrated and doing job search in all of the self-destructive ways.

      I have to continue to remind myself that while I may have given the same information/advice 5 times today, it wasn’t to THIS customer, who has never heard it and should hear it with patience.

      I also often will say things like “OK, it looks like you’ve got a start” and “I hear this from a lot of folks who haven’t done this before.” Feeding them some strength before getting into the painful stuff is valuable to both of us.

      1. Jackalope*

        I too find it so helpful telling people things like, “No, you aren’t stupid [in response to them saying that they are]; lots of people struggle with this.” It’s not only true, but also helps them get out of a self-deprecating frame of mind and to a point where they’re mentally more able to get what they need from the conversation.

  25. I Would Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

    LW #3 – a goal of not wanting to hurt other people’s feelings is lovely, but if it runs up against the goal of being straightfoward, it’s nearly always kinder to priorize the latter. Pretending to tolerate someone while secretly gritting your teeth at them can build up resentment that can fester over time, and that’s not fair to her or you.

    You can always frame it as a you thing – eg: “I’m working on complaining less” or “My New Year’s Resolution is not to gossip.”

  26. calendars*

    I also think it’s egregious for the employee in letter #1 to take December off and then take December off again! Unless she has a space-time condition recognized by the ADA, it’s absolutely out of line. XD

  27. Irish Teacher*

    LW1, would it help to think about the drastic changes in circumstances that have happened over the last 10-15 years: firstly, the recession, then covid and now, the war in Ukraine.

    Back in the recession, an Irish charity said that some of those they were supporting had been in the millionaire class a few years earlier. I am sure some of those people would have made what seemed like frivolous purchases on credit. When you’re a millionaire, I’m sure many of the things you or I would consider luxuries are taken for granted. And why not? They had every reason to believe they would have no problem paying for them. And then the economy crashed in and though no fault of their own, their businesses ended up crashing and some of them may have lost more in an attempt to protect their company and employees.

    I have no doubt covid had a similar impact on businesses that were closed for long periods of time.

    It seems irresponsible that somebody bought a new car or went on holiday or bought expensive technology or whatever and now can’t afford to pay for it. Especially if you grew up on a lower income and these things were considered luxuries that you only spend money on if you have it left over and that you wouldn’t dream of going in to debt for. But for people who have always had money and have good jobs and have every reason to believe they will be receiving maybe a six figure salary for the foreseeable future, it is reasonable to take out loans on the grounds of that.

    And sometimes the unthinkable just happens, whether it be a worldwide recession or pandemic or something more individual like a serious illness, say cancer, that leaves you unable to work for a number of years. How many of us could continue paying our mortgages or rent if we lost our jobs unexpectedly? How many of us do have loans for things that are not strictly necessary and which we might struggle to pay if we turned up to work one day and found the company had closed unexpectedly?

    I can imagine it must be frustrating when they get mad at you when you are only trying to help and it sounds like a lot of them are being irrational, but debt is a very stressful thing and when people are genuinely worried about becoming homeless or not being able to feed their children or having debt collectors coming after them, I think it is understandable that they might not be the most rational. I don’t know if I would be. I hope I wouldn’t take it out on people who were trying to help me, but who knows? I don’t think many of us can say how we would react to something like that.

    It’s also possible this just isn’t the right job for you. It definitely wouldn’t be for me! And I know it’s not that easy to just “get another job.” But if you are finding it really stressful and frustrating, it might be worth at least looking around for something else.

    1. Persephone*

      My (very cynical) belief is that the general populace being financially illiterate is to the benefit of our lovely capitalist society. Debt collectors are predatory as hell and almost everybody who isn’t upper class has some form of debt (house, car, student loans, medical, credit cards, etc). I feel confident saying that’s intentional. Even those who are financially literate have to jump through hoops AND spend money to do so (consultation and application fees, etc).

      COVID-19 was profitable, the war in Ukraine is profitable, the current “inflation” is profitable—everything is about making money, including this.

  28. Lexi Vipond*

    LW1, looked at from another side, collection plans must make a reasonable amount for your company, or they wouldn’t offer them. So you’re doing your job, by getting payments started in some form and money coming in.

    That idea of catching more flies with honey than vinegar works better for me than ‘how would you want to be treated’, because if I HAD been a fool (which obviously not all these people have), I might not want to be treated TOO nicely…

    (I didn’t actually read it as very personal, just that the ‘us’ they’re getting angry at is the same ‘us’ they decided to borrow money from.)

  29. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP2 (taking all of December off) – This needs to be a conversation with the employee about 1. why they didn’t take time off during the year, and 2. (people will disagree with me on this) why the leave is needed. There may be more scope to make exceptions for something out of the ordinary rather than just because he has leave to use up.

    I’ve worked with people who did this and claimed it was because they didn’t get the opportunity to take it during the year or felt that there was never a good time, but then when December came round (our leave year was calendar year, like OP2s) the company had no choice but to approve it because the leave would be lost otherwise — and this is in the UK where companies are legally required to allow a certain amount of leave to be taken per year, so that was the only way the company could meet the legal requirement. One of the culprits of this said she did it every year (she’d been at the company about 15 years!) as a guaranteed way of getting a long break…

    It is really too late (assuming the letter was sent very recently) to request a month off with a week’s notice!

    Is there any possibility of getting an exception made to carry forward another week of leave so that they could carry forward 3 weeks (with a stipulation that the extra week must be used during January) and take 1 week?

    I wasn’t sure about the significance of starting the new year with a deficit in responses to requests. Surely if this is measured on an annual basis then the best time to have a deficit is the start of the year, since it gives almost a whole year to get the average back to where it needs to be!

    1. OP2*

      While the deficit would all level out at year end it’s easier to absorb a bad month late in the year than rebound from a bad start. We report out the YTD stats monthly, so if we start out missing the target it’s likely we’ll be in the red for several months while it inches back.

      To put some numbers behind it: If the target turnaround is 5 days and we start with an 8 day average in January it would take 3 months worth of 4 day averages (and 3 months of reports up to senior leadership that we’re not meeting our turnarounds YTD) to get back to 5. On the flipside if you’ve got 11 months of a solid 4.5 average then you can have a 10 day average in December and still be below 5 with positive report-outs the whole time.

  30. Persephone*

    LW1 – I get what you’re saying. This used to really bug me as well and it’s hard to remember to be considerate when you’re always getting frustrated. The trick is to get yourself to feeling neutral about it before trying for compassion.

    I did it by giving myself permission to stop caring. You’re frustrated because you care (or feel some measure of responsibility) for these people. But their circumstances have nothing to do with you. You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped, and you can’t teach someone who doesn’t want to learn.

    At my most pessimistic, my motto for this type of interaction was “Let them be stupid.” Obviously, that is not the only reason this happens, but giving myself permission to let them experience the consequences instead of trying to protect them made it easier to distance myself and approach neutrally.

    Now I look at this type of thing and think “The reason someone can get $Xk in debt is because this is how our society is designed” so even if they ARE being stupid, I can redirect any frustration elsewhere.

    1. PsychNurse*

      Yes, I was coming here to say the same. I’m a nurse, and a big part of our job is being compassionate toward people, even if they’re 100% responsible for their own misery. It’s easier once you realize you don’t have to FEEL compassion, you just have to ACT compassionately. I think it’s a waste of time to try to mantra yourself into believing that all of your customers just had a terrible run of bad luck. You can, instead, focus on providing everyone the information they need, keeping a neutral tone in your voice, etc. Inside your head, you can think whatever you think! Focus on your actions.

  31. AAM’s site goes to the bottom of the page after I comment*

    Has anyone been experiencing this? Lately whenever I submit a comment (either a parent comment or reply) the page reloads and puts me at the bottom of the page, so I have to scroll up and try to find where I was at.

    This has been consistently happening for at least a week now, I think. I’m using safari on iOS.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Any chance that you checked the box at the top of the comment section to keep comment replies collapsed? If so, the place where you replied is collapsed and thus not visible after the page reloads. You can fix it by unchecking that box.

  32. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    Yep. I have a coworker who is not good with money and suffers from Keeping Up with the Joneses and FOMO and buys things she shouldn’t. She struggles daily to stay afloat and she makes a very good salary

    She could easily be one of these people.

    1. bamcheeks*

      I learned that I was Reasonably Good With Money when I went shopping with a friend who I knew was struggling with credit card debt, and watched her talk herself into buying a pair of trousers because they were on sale and they would be really good for work. I was just stood there going, “But — but — but — it’s irrelevant how good they’d be for work if you can’t afford them???” I’d never thought of myself as particularly debt-averse, but it turns out I really am!

      (in this case: both middle-class, grew up with near identical family incomes and educational opportunities, just a VERY different attitude to debt!)

      1. bamcheeks*

        (that said, I tend to be pretty sympathetic to people who get into bad debt BECAUSE it’s not something I’ve ever been tempted to do– I don’t have that sense of “I made good decisions, why can’t you!” because there was never any point where I felt like I was actively turning down temptation!)

  33. Llama Llama*

    I would never open a link in a resume. It opens up the risk of malware/virus getting on the computer. Other people should not either. You do not know the person and do know not if that link is legitimate.

    1. Delta Delta*

      This is wise, but also tricky. I have been quoted as an expert in a couple different columns/articles, and I want to put that on my CV. But they’re only online at this point. I have links there and the titles, and if someone wants to check, I suppose they could google the title and find it that way or they could check the link.

      1. Llama Llama*

        Oh, I don’t doubt that people put lovely links in their resumes but since these random resumes are not coming from trusted sources people should not click on them. I am all for googling or going to the OP4 County Library to look at videos.

    2. Calamity Janine*

      i think there’s a way to do it, honestly, and the LW is set up to perfectly do that.

      it helps a lot that the link isn’t going to be to a random, hitherto unknown website, but instead an official youtube channel and official facebook page.

      the real trick, i think, is honestly laying it all out as you would an MLA style citation. the url can’t just float there alone. instead give all the information someone would need, and perhaps even more, to go find that video themselves. here’s the title, here’s the context, here’s the official page it was posted under, here’s the date on which it was posted.

      that way if someone is suspicious about the link, they can very easily find it themselves. or if they’re suspicious that someone really did do that work for those official sources, they can verify with all the info at hand.

      and if someone isn’t so suspicious about a video on youtube or facebook, then providing the full link comes off as a nice courtesy – you have shown your work, and given them full details, so now you can provide a link that saves them having to hunt this down on their own. it becomes a pleasant shortcut showing you respect their time instead of hitting so sketchily.

      …and, not gonna lie, it may actually be a nice plus for a Librarian to have a resume demonstrating some knowledge of citation types and, crucially, why we have citations and why that information is necessary. not sure how to elegantly weave that into a resume, mind you, but i’m sure someone in that profession will have better ideas. perhaps up to and including Chicago style, if you want to be eccentric…

  34. ArchivesPony*

    LW4
    Please take a look at HiringLibrarians website. She has a lot of new posts/interviews about websites in the profession.

    Also, I would suggest either having an section on your Resume that lists papers/presentations/etc. (though give it a different name. it’s early and I can’t think) and then list some of those youtube/online stuff. Then put the rest on a portfolio resume.

  35. Clearlier*

    LW3: could there be a coaching opportunity here? It’s perfectly reasonable to empathise with your colleague, tell them you’re concerned about the impact on their reputation for people overhear them. Ask if they think that there’s anything they can do to change their perspective. Coaching doesn’t needto be a senior to junior conversation.

  36. JSPA*

    Good point! Indeed, those who know the rules as well as the help line person does will only rarely have a reason to call. So the most reasonable expectation is that you’ll always disproportionally serve those who don’t quite understand things that most of your customers do understand.

    So indeed, there’s no IQ or social competence requirement or literacy requirement, to be a phone user.

    But it’s also dismissive to assume familiarity, and default to seeing stupidity.

    I (long ago) had a roommate who was excited that “the phones here do long distance,” because nobody in her family had a phone “like that.” The idea that there were minutes counted and charges assessed? That was as foreign to her, as, well, realizing that maybe I should dig further before she called home was, to me.

    I may have said, “you might want to check if that end of the state is long distance.” But if she reasoned, “no, if I dial it goes through without needing the operator and asking to call collect, so it’s fine,” that was reasonable on the basis of her experience. And she seemed super competent to me, because I had only recently learned how to call collect via the operator. So yeah, we work from different experiences, and come to very different default expectations.

  37. L-squared*

    #1. I agree with everything Alison said, but I also sympathize with the LW. Frankly, it doesn’t matter WHY or HOW they got into this debt. The fact is, its money they owe, and OP is working for a company trying to work out a repayment plan. If they choose to file for bankruptcy to get rid of it, that is their choice. But if you still owe the money, its not really fair to get angry with the people trying to get it back. To me, this is like people who write tickets for you being a few minutes over a parking ticket. Yeah, it sucks, but they are doing their job, and you DID go over your allotted time. So getting mad at the person for your choices is bad.

    #2. Yeah, don’t approve it. I get it, they want their vacation time. But its really not fair to do this to all the other employees, who will already be a bit stretched thin. A month off is a long time, and I couldn’t really imagine asking for that with only a week notice. Hell, I feel bad asking for more than a day or 2 with a week notice.

  38. David S*

    One thing that may help with employees wanting holiday time off is offering the option of remote work. I’ve had several of my staff confide in me that they really don’t want to use their vacation during Christmas but family expectations require them to be physically present.

    I agreed to let them be fully remote between Christmas and New Year’s. They “win” because they get to be with their family but can avoid some unpleasant family activities by saying “sorry, I have to work” while I win by having enough staff to cover a somewhat busy time.

  39. A_Pound_of_Obscure*

    #5: I worked as a contractor for many years. Rule #1: Never get involved in office dynamics! (The exception might be something that directly hurts you or hinders your ability to do your job; e.g., sexual harassment, theft, sabotage.) Keep your head down, be upbeat and friendly but still scrupulously professional (even in a casual environment), and do your work well. There’s nothing more damaging than to be a contractor who forgets they’re essentially a guest of that employer. I was offered a full-time position with my now employer because I lived and worked by these rules. Another contractor I know will probably not have their contract renewed because they have become too comfortable in their role and sometimes argue points with the employer that they have no standing to argue. These behaviors can affect your career more than you know.

  40. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    LW #3, are you me submitting questions in my sleep????

    I’ve been dealing with a similar situation and after months of doing what Alison suggested she has finally (largely) stopped bringing her complaints to me personally. However, she still brings them to literally everyone else and it’s frankly exhausting just to hear the amount of toxic negativity she brings every day.

    After I dealt with our personal interactions, I took the problem of the atmosphere she was creating to our manager. I was not the first person to raise the issue with her but our manager is a first-time manager and she hasn’t figured out how to get a handle on this problem yet. Admittedly, her predecessor wasn’t able to for the 15 years she managed this employee either so it’s hard to blame her…

    Anyway. I say all this to say: solidarity comrade. And doing what Alison said will likely shut down their interactions with you given enough time and repeating yourself and will be worth it even if it’s exhausting.

  41. H3llifIknow*

    So, the first letter re: collections reminded me of when I worked at a Credit Union during college. A early 20s male came in to cash his check. I let him know that I could cash or deposit it only if I used part of it to make his outstanding car loan payments (he was 2 behind, at 3 it’s eligible for repo). He became VERY angry and said, “How am I supposed to pay that when I make minimum wage!” I could just sit there thinking “but… but… you APPLIED for the loan knowing that!” I also worked for a credit card call center at one point, and the people who got UPSET about interest etc.. was mind boggling. Like, “do you understand how capitalism works? It sucks, but… it wasn’t a secret!”

      1. H3llifIknow*

        It was a <6 month old loan and his bi-weekly deposits hadn't changed. But, let me remind you–HE TOOK OUT THE LOAN.

        1. Claire*

          Yes? My point was that he might have been in different circumstances when he did, or anticipating a change in circumstances that didn’t come about. You’re making assumptions that you have no way of verifying and then getting angry at a customer for the story you’re telling yourself in your head.

  42. ckee*

    Agreed. I think the only solution is to leave the industry, and I think LW1 is wise to make note of the changes in their attitude and question what it might mean.
    My own belief is that, although it’s hard to imagine how society would function without credit cards, the industry is fundamentally predatory and LW1 is simply at the end of that chain of predation. I would therefore want to be on guard for signs that I had bought in too hard to my industry’s party line.

  43. Dr.+Rebecca*

    LW1: I would *love* to pay off my debt and pay everything going forward on time.

    Too bad I was stuck earning between $2500 and $3600 per 16 week semester as an adjunct lecturer for ten years.

    Now that I have a solid job, the collectors are circling like sharks. I’m doing my best, but if you can’t, and I mean this from the bottom of my soul, summon some compassion, you should try to find another job.

    Not that it’s that easy to find work. Maybe you could adjunct?

    1. Claire*

      I’m in the same situation. Too many years stuck working adjunct lecturing before I had an opportunity that let me give up on the idea of ever getting a tenure-track position (and the associated job and financial security), and during those years I was raising a child by myself.

      I think a lot of people really don’t understand just how many years financial problems can follow you, even after you “should” be able to pay debt off. I’ve paid off the amount I borrowed in student loans 3-4 times over and I still have $50K left. I have credit card debt from lean years that seems impossible to pay down even though I don’t use those cards, or any other credit cards, anymore.

      LW1, please give up the toxic idea that the people you’re calling somehow owe you, personally, money. They don’t. They owe you courtesy, but if you’ve ever been in the kind of debt you’re calling people about, you know that (a) you’re probably not the only company they’re getting debt collection calls from, and (b) the calls are constant, aggressive, and often really nasty. If you can’t muster compassion for people in bad circumstances, whether of their own making or otherwise, it’s time to move on.

      1. Dr. Rebecca*

        I’ve only recently stopped screening every single phone call from a number not already in my contacts, but my heart rate still jumps and my stomach still turns over when my phone rings. The things we do to people over money.

  44. Fishsticks*

    When I was young and needed a roof over my head and food to eat more than I needed principles to stand on, I worked for one of those payday loan places for about six months or so. One thing I learned was that the company heavily trained you, all via euphemisms and passive aggression, to see yourself as fighting AGAINST the people you were lending to. They wanted you to be aggressive, almost hostile, while layering a syrupy friendliness over the top to strong-arm people into paying the ridiculous interest rates.

    I was hired into management, which should have been a red flag – I was 22 and had no idea how to manage anything and hadn’t applied for management either. I quit the job the day after I had a gun pulled on me when expected to drive alone to someone’s home to try and get the money back.

    What DID work for me? Kindness. I spoke kindly to everyone, I sympathized and empathized, I talked about payment plans that would stretch things out, yes, but at least they were doable. I took us from 13% overdue to less than 6% in six months. But my district manager told me I had to go to peoples’ private property, their homes, to strong-arm them. He believed everyone was just making up reasons not to pay. I didn’t want to do that, and I fought it as hard as I could. The first and only time I did that was the day the gun was pulled on me. (The guy who did so and I talked it out, and he ended up being nice enough).

    My point here is that what worked was assuming the best, like Allison said, and keeping that assumption in my face and my voice when speaking to people. Nobody I was dealing with was just gallivanting around with the payday loan they had to take out to make rent that month, or to pay for their dog’s vet bills, or whatever. They were struggling, and having the person who they saw as lending them the money say, “I understand, here is my minimum payment plan, I’m not going to even try and force you to pay more than you can,” made all the difference in collections.

  45. Calamity+Janine*

    although i heard this applied to police work etc, this may help you as well LW1 –

    remember that to you this is the daily grind, but to them, it’s one of the worst and most stressful things in their life right now.

    that may not really help keep you from feeling burned out (which it sounds like you are). but the people you’re calling are going to be stressed out, angry at themselves, angry at the state of the world that got them here, and very much feeling backed into a corner. it’s a bunch of extremely volatile emotions. unfortunately you are the messenger for them. i’m not saying you have to be happy at being shot – just that they’re expecting a fight, and are in distress about it. if you can refocus on sympathy for them, it also means you can short-circuit those expectations. they’re expecting an opponent to fight – so if you come with sympathy and “i know, this sucks, but i have a way to help you out of this”, they’ll find not an enemy but an ally. some will just be so intent on lashing out that you end up dealing with that anyway. sucks but it’s true. some, however, will stop and listen.

    (and honestly you may be working doubly against the current, as by now, anyone calling you up about financial solutions is… more likely to be a phishing scam than legit. that will get people ready to fight and be suspicious all on its own.)

    1. Calamity Janine*

      okay fine yes this double post is half to fix my name but i think i may be on to something with that last parenthetical.

      phishing attempts and dubious scam calls are UBIQUITOUS. even trying to be careful about my information means that i get spam calls to real calls at roughly a 3:1 ratio. there’s the good ol’ classic of calling about my car’s extended warranty, there’s the charmingly baffling calls that are all in chinese, there’s the annoying ones where they are simply silent because their autodialer caught too many fish on the line and-or they were just checking to see if the phone number they have still connects to anything… and this isn’t even counting the sadly legal political spam calls. and that’s with the phone company promising that they’re doing some spam filtering upstream, too!

      add in to this that, if we’re being honest, the people with dire straits and low financial literacy are already your clientele for such loans… AND the perfect victims for these scammers.

      it’s really no wonder so many of them are immediately hostile. you’re rocking up as part of the aggravating noise that blankets their life. and if someone’s been gotten by a phishing phone scam, well, you probably sound just as legit! you are showing up wearing enemy armor and then getting frustrated at all the guards at the gate having guns trained on you.

      and unfortunately just about every caution of “hey i promise that i’m LEGIT when i am here calling you up to discuss your personal financial information and that you have a problem that you must buy into my program to fix” is…

      mostly gonna make you sound even more suspicious lol.

      so. how do you fix that?

      heck if i know. ultimately i think, as the meme in spanish goes that i’m about to slaughter i’m so sorry i took Latin in high school please forgive me – el problema es el capitolismo. but now you know that at least some of the hostility you may encounter is due to your business’s model of telemarketing for financial services, because you end up appearing – as the kids these days say – “hella sus”.

      1. Elenna*

        Oh, you get the Chinese ones too? I assumed I just got those because my family is actually from China. (And it’s doubly annoying because for a while I was the one who always picked up the family landline, because sometimes I got legitimate work calls there. But my Chinese isn’t good enough to consistently understand rapid-fire talking, so every so often I’d be like “hey mom/dad, you got a call in Chinese… it’s probably spam… but it could have been a friend of yours calling I guess?? idk???”)

        1. Calamity Janine*

          yep! doubly funny since i’m painfully white. for awhile i assumed it was merely the price of bargain hunting on taobao (what can i say, i love me some one-yuan specials and ain’t afraid of shopping services), but then my sister started getting them too… with an entirely different phone number, and entirely different shopping habits, in an entirely different state (and with a different married name to boot!). i guess the scammers must be purely running a numbers game.

          but boy, what a numbers game that must be…

  46. Gravel*

    LW1- For a little context of who you’re working for, banks and creditors would set up tables in the quad and student union of my college and offer students as young as 17 years old credit cards st 22% interest and if you signed up right then you’d get a free Frisbee and pizza coupon! Your company makes profit on people who take on a lot of debt at high interest and are slow to pay. Take morality out of the equation unless you are factoring yourself in, because you are part of that system. Maybe it’s time to find a new industry because it seems like you’ve been drinking the Kool Aid for too long.

    1. Irish Teacher.*

      As I mentioned above, during the boom, an Irish Bank did a TV ad campaign, showing college students lying to get loans in order to show how easy it was. Like one of the characters would say “I need the money for textbooks” and then it would show her thinking “I need it for a night out with my friends.” Looking back, it seems incredibly messed up. They were basically advertising “come in and lie to us to get money for things you don’t need before you may even have started earning.”

  47. Sunflower*

    #1 I’m sorry but my advise is look for another job. I know job hunting can be difficult but try anyway. It is not sustainable to work at a call center long term, especially when it’s about other people’s money. I know. I’ve been there.
    I was a shy meek person but customer service turned my heart into a lump of coal. It took years(!) out of the business before I got over a mild form of PTSD and to feel compassion again.

  48. Ama*

    OP#1 – I think there are a few things to pay attention to here

    1) credit card companies spend tons of time and brainpower figuring out how to talk to customers and get them to take out debt they will only make the minimum payments on. They don’t care if people can’t pay it all back, because they have algorithms calculating how much the person would have paid in interest before they get to that point. In everything from booths on college campuses to deliberately obfuscating terms, they find ways that people are vulnerable and they figure out how to take advantage of it. Your organization didn’t loan money to people out of a desire to be kind, and in fact they don’t want customers who are wealthy and financially organized enough to pay their balances in full every month. They want people to keep paying those minimum payments, and anyone who can’t keep up is just a statistical casualty.

    2) As Alison mentioned, people fall behind on their payments for different reasons. Some of those are due to truly awful life circumstances, some due to their own personal behaviour, but from the outside you have no way of knowing who is in which category. You just can’t. That leads to my third point…

    3) Victims are not always sympathetic. It’s a psychologically complicated phenomenon, where we sympathize with those who are hard done by but only if they act in a way that we deem acceptable. Someone who acts like a jerk to you could be having the worst day of their life. At the very least they’re in a stressful situation at the moment they’re speaking with you, by virtue of your job. They shouldn’t treat you like that, but remember that the interaction you have with them is a snapshot of them and not the whole picture. And yes sometimes people are jerks who have bad things happen to them.

    All of this is to say that I know it’s hard. But you are a part of a system that preys in vulnerable people, sets them up to live on a razor’s edge and pounces on them when they fall off. You don’t know their circumstances, and while we’re primed to find certain behaviour sympathetic, someone who doesn’t show those behaviours could have experienced something more heartbreaking than someone who acts in a way that evokes more sympathy. So I think you need to remove al judgement from the equation, unless you’re prepared to judge yourself for what you do. Detach, stay focused on your task, treat people with the kindness they deserve for being human even if you don’t know how they got into the situations they did, and don’t take it personally when they lash out because the real villain is unrestricted corporate greed and how it manipulates our society. Good luck, I know it’s hard!

  49. Susie*

    LW#1- I’m starting to dread answering my work phone, and I don’t work in debt collections, I work in a museum. Most of the calls are not too bad but since things have opened back up, we have encountered some really pushy, rude people. Recently, it’s scout parents who don’t seem to understand that “sold out” means no more room available. They don’t read the information, they skim and then miss important details. Or their leader sent out emails that they didn’t bother to check until 2 days before the event and when they finally call, it’s sold out. Sorry, no more room for 3 more scouts and parents, we are sold out.

    My last call with a scout parent went like this:
    Parent: I know your website says sold out, but I really need to get another adult in.
    Me: I’m sorry ma’am but we have no slots left.
    Parent: But it’s only 1 person!
    Me: I understand, but we have no slots left.
    Parent: Well, I heard some people cancelled.
    Me: I am looking at the ticketing page and it shows the event is sold out.
    Parent: Can’t you check with someone else? It’s only 1 person!
    Me: I’ll ask the person who runs the workshop. (put them on hold knowing the answer would be no)
    Me: The program manager says the workshop is sold out and there are no more slots.
    Parent: I can’t believe it! I just needed 1 more adult and scout.
    Me: So you needed 2 slots, not 1?
    Parent: stammers, mutters, sputters You sound frustrated that I even asked.
    Me: Ma’am I’m just telling you what I know.
    Parent: But you sound frustrated that I even asked. Maybe I’ll call around and hope someone is sick and can get in that way.
    Me: Good luck ma’am I hope you manage to get in.
    Parent: Bitch
    Me: Have a nice day.

    1. Dainty Lady*

      Good heavens. “Bitch”? The whole conversation is ludicrous but that was just gratuitous nasty hostility. Happy holidays, too, I’m sure!

    2. Aggretsuko*

      What part of “I’m frustrated because I told you no multiple times AND YOU KEPT ASKING OVER AND OVER AGAIN” do they not understand?!

  50. Breverton Writ Large*

    LW 1, as others have noted, you might need a job change. But not to sound too harsh? YOUR company is charging these customers 30% interest to loan them the money. YOUR company made the decision that this is how they want to make their money. If that’s your business model, then you accept the risks of doing that.

    Of COURSE they are going to dislike you. You didn’t do them a favor any more than a loan shark did them a favor. I’ve been where they are and I HEAPED abuse on the call center people who harassed me for the money that I owed them. That’s the nature of the game.

    If you work for a company in a field that is widely known for abusive practices, and that exists to exploit people in financial need, you have to be prepared for the fact they WILL hate you every bit as much as you’re starting to hate them.

  51. Observer*

    #2 – Time off

    I think you need to reframe this. This is not about you arbitrarily denying someone their legitimate time off. It’s about REASONABLE management.

    In my opinion, you would be doing the wrong thing by allowing this person to take 4 weeks in these particular situation. This is something that will keep the department from getting its work done and actually harm the other 2 people on the team. And what makes it worse is that your employee took no steps to mitigate the problem. Like if you had knows 2 months ago, you might have been able to manage things to that the group would not take as big of a hit. But 2 weeks notice for a 4 week absence is fairly ridiculous, even if the other employee were not out.

    There are some situations where I would not be saying this. But you are sufficiently staffed that people CAN take their time off. And you are clearly not arbitrary about denying people time. I think you are on very solid ground following Alison’s advice. And keep in mind that two remaining employees have needs that are just as important as this employee’s (non-emergency) needs.

  52. Delta Delta*

    #3 – I once had a similar coworker! I declared one month “No Complaint December” (or whatever month it was) and framed it to everyone that I was trying hard not to complain, and so I wasn’t going to entertain complaints from others. I declared my desk a No-Complaint Zone. If people tried to complain I just reminded them of my goal. Eventually they either stopped complaining or complaining to me. This worked like a charm on my coworker, because I could use my gimmick to shut her down immediately. Then, the next month, I just said I enjoyed the no-complaint zone and kept it going.

    Of course, this is different than trying to work out actual problems, but that’s not exactly complaining.

  53. Michelle+Smith*

    LW1: If you do not have empathy for the people you’re supposed to be serving, please find another job. Yes, people are going to be upset with you. Many of us find what you do for a living to be unethical, immoral, and repulsive. Doesn’t mean it necessarily is or that you should feel bad about it if you feel differently. But understand that, like police or bankers or landlords, people are going to have strong opinions and may not like you for what you do regardless of whether you think you’re actually helping them. Knowing that upfront can maybe help you detach some of the personal emotion you have tied up into your job. The forced “customers” (they didn’t choose to interact with you! remember that!) who don’t like you calling them don’t like you because of your job, it has nothing to do with who you are as a person. Customer service requires a lot of empathy and patience and not everyone is cut out to do it forever, as the emotional abuse you may receive can take a toll. The good news is that there are plenty of other jobs. You can find one, if you need to.

    1. Michelle+Smith*

      And yes for added context, I have dealt with debt collectors. They were some of the worst interactions I was ever forced to have with others. Some of them I had to reach out to affirmatively because they screwed up my credit which negatively impacted my ability to pass character and fitness for the bar exam. I had to go through years of bank records to prove that I had actually already paid that debt, on time, and fight them to clear my name. The people I spoke to had no empathy, were very disgusted with me, and acted like it was my fault that their company or a company before them had dinged me for no good reason.

      The other time I had to deal with collections was my fault. I had to buy interview and then work clothes when I was graduating law school, and I charged that stuff to a credit card because I hadn’t started working yet and I didn’t think to take out a grad plus loan to pay for it instead. Fast forward a year. I was about to be HOMELESS if I didn’t find a new place to move right away, because I no longer qualified to stay in my housing. Lest you think I was some big shot, I was making $60,000 a year working more than 40 hours a week in the middle of NYC. Moving to Brooklyn cost me $4,000 between brokers fees, a rental van, and my security deposit. I couldn’t keep up with the student loan payments and the credit card payments on that salary with the increased financial burden and I defaulted on the credit card to make it work. Was it my fault? Yes. Did I make the best financial decision I could at the time once I was in over my head? Yes. I ended up eventually settling with the credit card company, but they were a huge pain to work with. I was just trying to keep sleeping indoors.

      1. Risha*

        I just want to echo your statement about collectors being some of the worst interactions. My mom and I had the exact same first/last name before I got married. But obviously different birthdays. Collectors would somehow find my contact info and accuse me of lying (when I said I’m the daughter). They would threaten to garnish my wage (can’t do that without a court order and you got the wrong person), threaten to send cops to my home (go ahead and try lol), threaten to come themselves and get the money (PLEASE try doing that lol). My parents had the same issues after they both got sick and could no longer afford monthly payments.

        It’s not their personal money, I don’t understand why so many are so aggressive. That collection job will lay them off without a second thought, then they will be in the same place as their customers. I had to report so many collection companies for using threats and illegal tactics. Some were very sweet and understanding, but I don’t think the nice ones are really cut out to be collectors, I mean that in a good way.

  54. Gigi*

    LW 1: I was in a very different job but experienced the same thing with helping people. It sounds to me like you started from a place of kindness, where all of the (excellent!) advice in these comments would’ve felt natural. What you have is called Compassion Fatigue. It’s a very real thing and my attitude about my work changed when I learned about it. Do a little googling on Compassion Fatigue and how to help it and see if that resonates with you. Big jedi hugs to you. It’s a crappy feeling. Good luck.

  55. MicroManagered*

    OP1 Part of my job is working with people who will need to repay money that isn’t theirs (think like your bank deposits money to your account by mistake and you’ve spent it before they realize). I’m also the last stop before Collections and legal action, and so your letter resonated with me.

    In addition to what Alison said about not knowing their circumstances, when they act frustrated/annoyed/hostile, I try to view it as part of a dance we’re doing. My part of the dance is to tell them they owe money and how to repay it. Their part of the dance is (initially) trying to see if being upset about the situation will change its outcome. In my case, it won’t (I work for a government entity) but I try to look at it like “I can’t blame them for trying.” Sometimes if you complain to the manager at McDonalds, they give you your Big Mac for free, you know? They’re just trying to see if that will work with me and it’s not personal. So my next step in the dance is the same as the first, tell them they owe money and how to repay it.

    I also think having very clear expectations from your boss will be helpful too. If the dance is just completely unproductive, do you have to try X number of times or days to communicate with the customer before letting them go to the debt collector? What will your boss support you doing if they are being openly hostile to you, etc.

  56. Observer*

    #1 – Call center job.

    I’m with everyone who says that you should at least take a vacation, and perhaps look for a different job. This work is HARD.

    But in the meantime, it’s worth thinking about what people have been saying here.

    You say that people are “lucky” that you are willing to work with them rather than sending them straight to collections. Except that it’s not “luck”. It’s a business decision that your employer has made, primarily because they know that they will get more money out of customers that way.

    You also say that “it’s difficult to bear in mind when speaking to customers who have taken out dozens of pieces of technology on credit and they’re not able to repay these.” I get it, but at the same time, I think you are overlooking something. “Technology” is not different than anything else. Just because something is technology doesn’t make it a luxury item. In fact some of these items (even higher end ones) are basic necessities for people to manage their work and / or school. This is ESPECIALLY true for people who are working from home, as so many companies are not providing the necessary technology and expect people to purchase their own.

    And even the generally discretionary items (eg game consoles) isn’t any different than any other item. The fact that it’s a technology splurge vs a non-technology splurge just does NOT matter. There are a lot of reasons why people make unwarranted luxury purchases, some better than others. But it’s not about making technology purchases.

    1. Calamity Janine*

      as someone who does play many a video game, a little insight about the technology also that could be really useful for LW1 to cultivate compassion –

      often that’s the stuff that keeps you sane when you’re struggling.

      once you get past the initial investment of the console, video games can be a surprisingly cost-effective means of entertainment, too. consider that many video games hit around the 40 hour mark. some others have replayability in order to pad that out, so you’re completing that video game multiple times in different fun ways. a game is considered ‘short’ if it’s 20 hours or less, and this may get remarked upon. meanwhile there are plenty of video games that go way beyond 40 hours of entertainment.

      now imagine trying to go to the movies for 40 hours of entertainment. it’s going to cost you way more than the 60 dollars of a new release video game, right? heck, factoring in concessions, it may even cost you more than the 60 dollars of that brand new video game *and* the few hundred dollars for the console.

      and you can’t really start a new game plus on a movie you’ve paid to see, either – you’ll have to buy a new ticket every time. you certainly can’t share movie tickets with your friends so that everyone gets a chance to see a movie as many times as they like without investing more money into it.

      plus there’s the additional costs of that movie theater we’re all sadly becoming aware of. you can’t really reserve an entire movie theater to yourself in order to be socially distanced, nor should you come to the movies while wracked with covid seeping from the boogers in your very nose. going out to see a movie, or even to a dinner with friends, is still something that is legitimately dangerous to many people – even with vaccines, the immunocompromised exist!

      a lot of games with online components also crucially give someone the chance to socialize when they’re stuck at home. maybe it’s because they’re sick, maybe it’s because they just don’t have the money to go out to the club, whatever. they still get to connect with friends and have a social life.

      as a disabled person who is often more-or-less housebound, let me tell you, LW1 – that frivolous technology has absolutely been a lifeline. i would have legitimately gone full bonkers yonkers without the ability to do something engaging and have a social life where i can do stuff with friends, even if it’s all in an online game.

      we’re still in the midst of a pandemic. i would bet odds are good, LW1, that you will be calling up people who thought they were going to be able to bounce back and pay off that temporary loan as they struggled in said pandemic, at which point life got worse for them. i’m sure that more than a few will be those who thought “i just need a little more until i can return to work”, only to end up disabled with long covid. and i bet there will also be plenty who thought “i just need a little more until i can find another job” only for industries to drop out of the bottom.

      there are really good reasons why people are out here struggling.

      and it may seem stupid to you, LW1, but sometimes that frivolous technology like a video game console is them desperately keeping sane. please don’t begrudge people that so hard.

  57. Abogado Avocado*

    LW#1, I am sorry you’re dealing with these feelings. You sound very conscientious and, as someone who worked for a non-profit that represented clients with different, but also very distressing issues, I can understand how awful it feels to start disliking your clients.

    Does your employer offer any training for dealing with difficult people and can you ask to attend such training? Additionally or alternatively, might there be an EAP you can make use of? Even if you do decide to job search, you still need methods that enable you to work at this job without further damaging your psyche.

    Maybe your workplace has provided these tools and you’re still burned out and, if so, I get it. But if not, why not ask if they can provide these tools? Seems to me that you cannot be the only employee of this business who has had to deal with the results of that stressful job. The way I see it, you’re experienced and know that the way you feel is unsustainable. If the company wants to retain the investment it has made in you, it makes sense for them to help you stay in your job by providing the means to do so.

    I wish you all the best.

  58. sc.wi*

    LW 1: When I started to feel that way in my community services position, I started looking for another job. Like you, I never let my internal frustration show, but I getting completely burnt out. There had always been rude, obnoxious, and entitled guests, but when I started to feel irritated by them daily, I knew I needed a change of scenery.
    Looking back, I can confidently say that was the best decision I made career-wise. And sanity-wise.

  59. Justme, The OG*

    LW #1: Been there, done that. That was when I realized my job was killing my soul and it was time to move on.

  60. TallGuy*

    LW1, if you don’t mind me stating the obvious: you sound burned out more than anything. (BTDT.) And honestly, yeah, it might be time to move on from your current job if you feel like that.

    Granted, you yourself need to be able to pay your bills lest you become your own customer, so that’s more of a medium to long term solution. But in the meantime…the way I coped was to find ways to distance myself from the situations that were frustrating to me. It sucked, but that was what got me through.

    In your case: I don’t think you’re really empowered to solve your clients’ debt problems, but you’re also the person that’s there in front of them. I think that might be a factor in your feelings – people think they’re yelling at an evil corporation, but they don’t stop to think that there’s an actual person on the other end of the line. It’s really hard to do, but try to approach it from that perspective – they’re not being “irresponsible” at you (as someone who has been irresponsible with money in the past: I’ll own my mistakes, and I don’t doubt that a lot of your clients aren’t entirely innocent), they’re doing it to Big Finance Corp.

  61. El l*

    OP2:
    Yeah, 4 weeks off – with little notice and no emergency reasoning given – wouldn’t fly almost anywhere. That’s a lot of other people covering for you there.

    When it’s your busy season (which your employee SHOULD know) and you’re already down an employee (which they may know but you should tell them) – it’s impossible.

    Next year, plan ahead. This year, make sure it rolls over and leave the PTO till January.

  62. Risha*

    LW1, I know it must be very difficult for you to hear people getting angry with you or blaming you for calling them. Does your job have any policy on abusive callers? I don’t work collections, but one of my jobs involves being on the phone. We give an abusive caller ONE warning to stop yelling/cursing/whatever, then we hang up. Everyone, including the CEO himself, will back us up. No one, no matter what your job is, should be forced to tolerate people screaming or cursing at them. And I don’t mean just cursing while talking to me, I mean actually cursing *at* me.

    On the flip side, try to be compassionate as well. Unless someone is a millionaire, anyone (including you OP) can find themselves in financial trouble. People get sick and can’t work, people get laid off, things in houses break at the worst time. Life happens.

    Let me tell you a story OP. My mom was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at the same time my dad just had his 2nd heart attack. She was always a stay at home wife and he was always the breadwinner. Well, he unexpectedly couldn’t work due to his heart attack, then they had astronomical medical bills due to my mom’s hospital and nursing home stay (even after insurance paid). Bill collectors were calling every 2 minutes it seemed. Some were threatening to send the cops over to their home (collectors aren’t allowed to threaten). A few were actually nice and understanding. My parents couldn’t afford even the $10 monthly credit card payment. At some point, my dad just said f it and stopped answering the phone.

    Things like this happen all over to anyone. No one is immune from a tragedy that wipes out every cent they owned. I hope you can start looking differently at the people you call and try to understand that they probably really wanted to pay the bill and didn’t want to end up in debt. Or maybe you need a different job because I imagine being a collector is mentally draining.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      I’m glad you make the difference between merely cursing (eg “Oh f***, I thought I’d paid that.”) and cursing at you (eg “You f***ing slimeball… “). Because it is a difference. One is about the circumstance, the other is just plain abusive of you.

      When I was disabled, unemployed and broke I actually got an answering machine because I just couldn’t handle the nasty collections people. These scum would call anyone they thought might even be related to force me to talk to them. They would threaten, try to guilt me into hitting up my broke family for a “loan”, whatever. They even called my landlord.

      I will admit, I personally don’t have a lot of sympathy for LW1, because people in their line of work have been pretty nasty to me over the years. I don’t take out loans with the intention of not paying, but sometimes life bites you hard. I have weathered quite a bit of abuse from collections people for something that isn’t really my fault. I also know that the brief stints I did in both outbound and inbound call centers turned me off of it. I’m sorry about the abuse they take, but their employer is in a predatory business, and they are being used as part of the predation.

  63. Yoga+Pants*

    #2 Before you approve 2 of the 4 weeks off or offer up next December take into account if this is feasible for your remaining workers. Having to do more work and stay later during the holiday season has never went over well anywhere I have worked. Don’t let the excess work all fall on the athesist/childless/single co-workers they still have plans and family and friends that do get togethers.

    From my past perspective any one person taking the entire holiday season off (valid reason or not) puts too much on everyone else and means people are having to miss plays, lunches, dinners etc.

  64. Calamity Janine*

    LW3, good news – we’re just at the perfect time of year to use it as an excuse.

    “you know, at thanksgiving one of my relatives mentioned practicing gratitude and how not focusing on the negative has really helped their outlook! i saw how they were positively glowing and asked what they did – and they told me about this shift they’re doing in their viewpoint. i’m not as good at it, though. but i’m already seeing such great benefits from it! it really is helping my life and productivity. i know it’s a little early for a new year’s resolution, but i wanted to get started as soon as possible! so, that’s why… [ insert reasonable boundary here about not wanting to listen to / respond to all the negativity ].”

    if you wanted an approach that’s less likely to hurt her feelings, but definitely leaves that boundary mushier, frame it as you asking for a favor from her that she can help with. she gets to feel not like you’re violating her sacred trust by no longer listening to her kvetching – but instead that she’s generously helping you in this new life goal, such is her beneficent importance. she can then be distracted preening proudly over her new station. …and you’ll still get her “helping you out” by following your reasonable no-complaining-dumping-on-me-plz boundary.

    is this a little passive-aggressive? well, yes. more than a little. but it’s still a tactic to consider using.

    …as is, honestly, going “oh Ferdwina, we’re friends, aren’t we? you know, you keep doing this thing where everything is negative, even when i know that Bobert didn’t actually say it like that and so on. i’m so concerned for you, it seems like you’re stuck in this negative spiral. i can tell it’s really burning you out and making you miserable! have you thought about calling up our EAP line and talking it over with a therapist or something? maybe even taking a bit of a vacation to clear your head, too? i just hate to see you suffer like this, especially when i can’t really do anything to help except sit and listen to you being in such pain!”

    is this bad advice? probably. but also, at some point, reasonable tactics are for reasonable people lol. this might be a useful bit of conversational judo. she’s trying to make sure her feelings and frustrations are the biggest thing in the room. except – whoops – here’s the leverage point where you can reverse that hold! your worry about her wellbeing is ostensibly about her enough that she doesn’t feel like you’re stealing her spotlight… but also, you are actually stealing her spotlight. and if she disagrees? well. cue puppy eyes and pained expression because you were only trying to help…

    if she’s sincerely thrashing around suffering, hearing someone say that might be what she needs to go “aw dunk, this IS an unhealthy spiral i’m stuck in!”. coming to it from a place of concern makes it harder to automatically her vs. the enemy the situation.

    if she’s just dedicated to being obnoxious… well, you’re now somebody who knows the rules of the game, too, and isn’t afraid to kick the ball to score that soccer goal against her. you’ve just made yourself less easy prey. and markedly less *fun* prey. you are now no longer rewarding to dump aggravations on, because you’ve stopped going along with it. so you have given her every incentive to move on.

    either way, you regain some of the power in the dynamic and give an ample signal that it needs to stop. and these “softer” approaches are also the perfect lead-up to a far harsher and more clinical “i said stop, that’s not negotiable” laying down of boundaries later.

    should you go for this right out of the gate? noooo.

    but if trying to lay down that boundary nicely fails, the passive-aggressive we’re-friends-aren’t-we is a good tactic to keep in mind. let her prove she’s not willing to be reasonable first, mind you. and honestly likely don’t do that at all! but it’s a potential ripcord to pull if you need to enact some emergency measures.

  65. Calamity Janine*

    here’s some bad advice for LW5:

    what if you just set up your own little table at the “employee craft fair” anyway.

    like it can be bake sale level plate of cookies or something. when you get corrected to pack it away, bust out your best skipping record impression: but it says it’s a christmas market, right? a christmas market? a market for christmas shopping? aren’t gingerbread cookies part of being a christmas market? aren’t nice cups of hot cocoa part of being a christmas market? why would you have a christmas market without those things? but you thought it was a christmas market? a market for christmas? the market specifically for christmas? kuzko’s poison I MEAN christmas market?

    if it’s in the name specifically for this one employee… well, precedent has been set. they’ve had Samanda’s christmas market. now it’s time for LW5’s christmas market! hooray! look you’ve made a fun little graphic for the announcement email and everything! it’s even on a different day so you’re not stepping on toes! surely nobody could have a problem with this, right?!

    just stonewall them with wide-eyed bafflement until they dig themselves into a hole and have a fit.

    …this will probably get your contract canceled or at least emphatically not renewed. so, yknow, don’t do that.

    definitely think about this scenario and giggle while imagining it in the shower, though

  66. Jacob*

    “Yet it is money they have borrowed from us and they are not able to repay it”

    They didn’t borrow money from you, though. They borrowed money from the hugely profit-making financial institution that employs you, and that institution did not lend out that money from the goodness of its little corporate heart. And that same financial institution will slash your pay, cut your benefits, or toss you out the door the very second it is no longer profitable to keep you around.

  67. Landrovan*

    I can’t believe the answer to #2. If my boss tell me my performance review will go down if my coworker take vacation, I would be mad at my boss. The review is in the wrong, not coworker. I would never go against a coworker because he want is vacation a certain time of the year.

  68. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP1: coming in late because I work in IT support and everything that could go wrong DID today – complete with being yelled at and sworn At because system X was down/internet was down and…

    …yeah, customer service jobs can really make you wish for a soundproofed room where you can scream sometimes. I did snap once at someone who kept doing something really damn idiotic and crashing the network and I regret that moment.

    It was also the time I realised that my mental health was crashing downward and the stress at work was just adding grease to the slope. And a jetpack. With nitrous.

    When you get to the point in any role where you’re actively hating people – be they customers or coworkers- it’s time for a break.

    I know now I can’t work retail or first line in the call centre because I can’t do it and stay sane. Third line and management is still filled with yelling customers but a lot fewer of them and I can handle it.

    One thing I try to remember is that yes, by a lot of measurements, my life is very hard and I’ve been through hell. However my stress/trauma/disability is not a benchmark for what others have to meet before I feel sympathy for them.

    And if I can remain calm, collected and as understanding as possible it might reduce the stress on them.

    Basically a net reduction in general human pain is my goal.

  69. Coco*

    LW #1
    I’ve previously worked a very similar job and I had to leave for basically the same reasons you describe. The root of the problem is those types of jobs are dripping with negativity. The overall situation is negative (debt sucks). The person you are talking to has a negative situation. Because you are a nameless faceless non human, people think they can get away with treating you negatively (lies, abusive language etc). Over time it builds resentment. I used to keep a tally, out of 100 calls per day, maybe 2 people were vaguely kind to me. I reached a breaking point where each day I would clock out, go to my car, and cry for about 20 minutes before driving home. Please don’t let it get to this point.

  70. Jen Scaffidi*

    OP2: In addition to creating clear guidelines around time off and coverage, one thing I’ve done in these situations is to bring the request to the team. This won’t work in every case, but I start by saying, “we already have X number of people off that day, so I can’t approve your request right now, but we can bring it to the team to see if they’re willing to carry the extra load.” Then, when we take it to the team, everyone is usually pretty willing to pitch in for each other. I’d say it’s a solid combination of clear guidelines and team culture, in that everyone knows what the rules are and that we can sometimes make exceptions to those rules to help each other out.

  71. New Mom*

    LW2

    I have sort of an addition to this question, if it gets buried maybe I’ll post it Friday?

    So my work is cyclical, and our busy season is the summer. My husband is from another country, which involves a very long flight and then another long car drive so when we go visit his family we really need to be there at least two weeks to make it worth it. Currently we only go over the winter holidays when it’s horribly cold and rainy in his home country. We now have two children and would like to start visiting his parents when it’s actually nice and sunny as two littles don’t want to be trapped inside all day for weeks.
    Well, the summer is our absolute busy season. I really want to ask to take 3-4 weeks off, but I just don’t know. I would be willing to work remote partially, but we really need all hands on deck. I sort of feel like if they can’t accommodate it, my only option would be to quit my job so that we could do this and that seems super risky to me. I’ve worked at my company for almost a decade so I’ve put in a lot of time, but with the nature of our work there is nothing to do to change the busy time (it relates to an external calendar that we can’t control). Does anyone have advice? Any success stories of being able to take time off during a busy period when it didn’t relate to an emergency?

    1. Observer*

      Perhaps it’s time to start looking for a different job. Don’t quit till you have something. But you are not tied to this employer and this job.

      Also, have a conversation with your management. Find out what’s feasible. Could you afford to take that time unpaid? And if you could would that enable your employer to hire a temp? Could you shift jobs around do you could take over more of someone else’s work remotely and they would take over some of the work you would normally do in person? You know your employer and your industry – try to do some brainstorming on potential solutions you could bring to your manager. And then talk to them. You’re not demanding and you’re not threatening. But you want to explore the possibilities.

  72. Observer*

    #1 Hating your clients.

    One other thing to keep in mind. Not to excuse people who misbehave to you, but to explain some of the negativity you may be hearing. A lot of debt collectors are just terrible. And that includes the “financial services” offices of many companies that try to get this money before it goes to collection. Sometimes the people are personally terrible, and sometimes they are just carrying out terrible policies. Including doing illegal stuff, lying and being incredibly offensive. And because of that some people come into any interaction with debt collectors with a lot of really heavy negativity.

    We’ve been fortunate to always be able to pay our legitimate bills, but I’ve had some really “interesting” experiences, nevertheless.

    Hospital hounding me (and threatening me) over a bill that should have been covered by insurance but wasn’t paid because they had coded it incorrectly (and not just by picky insurance standards. Any layperson could see the error) and they refused to correct it.

    A bill collector who claimed to have sent me multiple notices – never happened.

    A collector who told us that they don’t have to provide us any information about the bill, nor a copy of it etc. Like you’re claiming that I owe BigCorp $x00 and you don’t have to let me see a copy of the bill or anything about it? I’m just supposed to take your word for it? The collector actually told me “yes.”

    For me these were upsetting and even angering experiences, but mostly got resolved and were never close to be existential crises or even related to such. So I can be relatively detached about it. But someone who has had such experiences in a much more tense or difficult type of context could be coming to you with all of that anxiety and anger already in place. Again, I’m not excusing it – people need to keep those kinds of feelings from unfairly affecting other interactions with different people. But understanding how this sometimes happens could make it easier to distance yourself from it – at least once you get off the phone.

  73. Plain, Simple Tailored Resume*

    Re #4 – I’d say avoid having links all over the resume. Instead, have a one-pager website or use the featured section on LinkedIn and draw attention to that in the cover letter and include a link up in your header on the resume.

  74. Raida*

    5. A work Christmas market … for one

    Personally I would accept the invite and ask if they’d like interest for some other little stalls. With very very very little experience and a week’s notice I could bust out a few hundred each of a couple of types of biscuits. Just need some tongs and paper bags to put ’em in, away we go.

    Hell, I’d approach the one and only stall holder and ask their favourite flavours, make one batch for them called ‘[brand] christmas joys’ or some such because oh what fun right?!

  75. Michelle Smith*

    LW4: Alison’s idea about the website is what I chose to do. I never checked to see if anyone used it, but I actually like just having it anyway for branding. Something I found over time though is that links rot. I used to have a huge section linking to articles I wrote for a small newspaper, which all broke after a couple of years when the paper redesigned their website. Now I can’t retrieve the work I did! My strong suggestion to you, especially if those videos are on the library site but embedded from a media site like YouTube, is DOWNLOAD THEM. Save them to a drive (with permission, if you don’t own them) so that if those links ever break, you can reupload the media yourself and then link to it on your website. Never rely on other people’s hosting of your portfolio-like materials.

    As far as creating a website, I chose Weebly. I might make a different choice today, since they were recently acquired by Square and really seem to be pushing for online stores rather than the kind of site I’m running (which is basically an extended resume with writing samples, headshot, links to social media, etc. so people can research me and easily find what I want them to find). That being said, my site does still work. I purchased my name (michelle[legal last name].com) on NameCheap and I am NOT computer savvy but found it pretty easy to redirect it to the free weebly site. That way I don’t have to pay for hosting and I have a simpler URL to put on my resume, all for less than $12 a year. It’s a benefit too in case they print off my resume, but want to look at the website without finding the electronic version.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      Other thoughts for people who might be considering a website but need to host written materials, not video:
      – I used Scribd for this. It’s free. It makes my webpages look great because the PDF isn’t just a link to click on to download. The document displays right there on the page, no sketchy downloading required. The only thing is it can be a pain to retrieve your own document from there if you ever lose your PDF copy. Try to preserve anything you put on a service like that in a centralized location like a Dropbox or Google Drive.
      – Make it visually pleasing. It’s not necessary to be a graphic designer – just use the templates provided to make it look good to the eye. You can be more creative than you would on a resume because an ATS doesn’t have to parse the graphics.
      – Don’t forget to check out how the website looks on mobile. You don’t want all the stuff to be cut off or look weird if the hiring manager googles you on their phone instead of their desktop! I liked that Weebly had an editor that contemplates this which is another reason I chose it.

  76. Macaroni Penguin*

    OP1. Maybe it’s time for a new job. You’re saying that you’re starting to dislike your customers. Or, you just don’t care about them very much. To me, this sounds like employment compassion fatigue/burnout. If this is what’s happening, it wouldn’t be surprising. Credit recovery is a tough field. You’re doing with unpleasant situations and people who may not be their best selves. If you Don’t Want To Deal With That Nonsense Anymore, it could be worth looking for something new.

  77. It's Me*

    LW1. In addition to the personalization Alison suggests (“If this were someone you dearly loved, how would you hope someone in your position would speak to them?”), I would also recommend some radical DEpersonalization. You write “it is money they have borrowed from us.” There is no “us” here. It’s not your money. They are not delaying on $20 you lent them. It’s not coming out of your pocket. The more emotional distance you can rightfully place there, the better.

  78. Chrissy*

    LW#1 – I’ve been on the receiving end of such calls after getting behind on debts that I truly intended to repay. Maybe I’ve just had bad luck but nearly all of them were demeaning, intimidating, bullying, downright horrible experiences. Being behind is stressful enough without someone calling me at work to scream at me. What comes off as rude might very well be a person panicking and just trying to get off the phone quickly. I got to the point where I just stopped answering the phone because there’s no way to know if it’s going to be the rare person like you that’s actually willing to help. To this day, I have anxiety over answering and even making phone calls. I do everything in writing or online whenever possible.

  79. MSK*

    Sitting here thinking about the time I was waiting for a phone call about a parent’s death (they were in a different state, literally on their deathbed), and answered a call that turned out to be my credit card company calling to ask for money. Sorry, I was young and not as responsible as I should have been. But when I said I couldn’t talk to them because I was waiting for that other important call (20+ years ago, landline, no fancy features bc I was poor…) they laughed and told me I was lying.

    I mean, I know that a debt collection job must grate on their last nerve, and is probably horrible for one’s mental health. But 20+ years later, I still have that memory of being laughed at and called a liar while I was just trying to hold it together as a parent was dying. Folks behind in their payments are freaking humans, too. If one has a choice, it’s certainly a sign to move on when all compassion is lost for the people you have to work with. Preferably before you get to that point.

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