Category Archives: work

Advice by moonlight

It’s 12:47 at night on Monday (Tuesday?).   Mondays are Mondays, which means it’s hard to get up in the morning, and they are long days, full of meetings, catching up on email, figuring out what I said I’d do over the weekend and didn’t, regular work, and then the highlight of my week, an hour with the kiddles at 826Michigan, followed by pub trivia.

This Monday was enhanced by a ribbon cutting ceremony at the library (a rather moving one at that), the excitement of losing my purse (I think/hope I know where I left it), and a young writer more interested in bolting out the door than crafting his personal nemesis.  So the columns, all in all, were left by the wayside until 12:47 or, by now, 12:50, when I’m tired but not sleepy.

And thus I offer a quick drive-by-fruiting (Mrs. Doubtfire?  Anyone?) of Prudence’s Monday live chat–which I always forget about until 12:47, or, by now, 12:51 on Monday (Tuesday?).

As Prudence says each week, (except, of course, this week when I want to quote it): Let’s get to it!


Yikes.  After reading the first three chat participants, I’m not sure “drive by fruiting” is the best approach after all.  Some pretty heavy stuff in this week’s chat.  Here’s a rundown, anyway, with key quotes included and sassy commentary withheld.  Have a look, if you want to read about:

  • “One of my close friends just announced his engagement to a woman he’s been dating for a few years. We’re happy for him, but many of us can’t shake the feeling that he’s making a mistake. In essence, the woman makes fun of him a lot in front of his friends, and not in a loving way.”
  • “A few months ago, my husband raped me in the middle of the night. He was asleep during the attack, and he believes that it is a disorder called sexsomnia…I feel like I will never be able to get over this and I will live in constant fear for the rest of my life…To make matters worse, I have recently started having an affair, because I needed someone to take away all of the pain….I still care about my husband, and I want to honor the commitment I made to him, but when I look at him all I see is a monster. Is there any hope that I can fall in love with him again, or should I cut ties and move on?”
  • “If you have done whatever you can to get any kind of income and you haven’t been able to find a stable job, do you take it as a sign that perhaps you’re supposed to be unemployed? I’m at my wits’ end, and this is how I’m thinking, more to save my sanity than anything else. What do you think?”
  • I work in a small, close-knit office. There is one “boss” to speak of, but we all work mostly independently. Most of our staff have advanced college degrees. My problem occurs during lunchtime. There have been quite a few times that the “boss” reaches on my plate and takes some food.

Thank God!  Something petty, at last!  From that point on, the chat is all over the map, with the nasty relatives, nosy friends, speech disorders, adultery, boozing, housekeeping (and lack thereof) and lazy co-workers we all like to see.

Not much cheery or inspirational in Prudence this week, I’m afraid.  Tell your friends not to marry jerks, ignore the jerks in your own lives, and do your jobs, everyone!  Happy Tuesday.  Since it’s now 1:08.


Commencement: It’s just the Beginning

It seems like this woman is trying to make her daughter out to be a an entitled, takes-it-all-for-granted lazypants, unprepared for the real world.  But…I just don’t buy it.  Check it out:

Dear Amy: My daughter recently graduated from college.

My husband and I paid for all of her expenses, though she held a part-time job.

We opened a bank account for her when she was a child. We added about $10,000 to this account when she started college.

Our daughter has spent all of her savings and paychecks throughout these four years on clothes and going out with friends.

I have berated her countless times on her spending habits.

Right before she graduated, she said she’d found an apartment to live in with her two friends.

I told her NOT to sign a lease because she couldn’t afford it.

She moved home and now has a full-time job ($14 an hour) and another side job while she looks for work in her field.

Her friends took the apartment and she goes there on weekends.

She assured me that she was not on the lease.

Of course, now I find out that she is. I am livid.

I told her she needs to either get someone to sublet the apartment or go ahead and move into it, but she will not be able to keep our car or have us pay any of her expenses.

She found a bus that can get her close to work but I am worried for her safety when she gets out of work at 10 p.m. and is waiting for a bus in a dangerous neighborhood.

She wants to buy our car, but with her track record I know she will not keep up with payments.

I think she needs to see what real life is all about but if something happened to her as she waited for a bus I would never forgive myself.

Any suggestions?

—Distressed Mom

Arrgh!  “She needs to see what real life is all about”??  She has a job!  (Two jobs!) She wants to move out!  It’s the mom who keeps paying her bills and forbidding her to leave the nest.  This letter is written like a list of the daughter’s shortcomings.  But lets review:

Exhibit A: She held a part-time job, earning spending money for herself while she was in college.  The mother doesn’t say anything about her ever asking her parents to send cash, as some kids do.

As it happens, the mother doesn’t like the way her daughter spent this money, or the savings in her bank account.  And yet…the parents were covering all of her expenses, so she didn’t have any obligations.  What did the mom want?  For her daughter not to spend another cent on top of her covered expenses, out of gratitude or something?  She was earning money, and had no bills.  Of course she bought clothes and went out with friends.  Who wouldn’t?  What, exactly, was she supposed to do with her earnings?  And were these expectations made clear to her (so at least she’d know, even though I still maintain that it was her money to spend as she wanted).

Exhibit B: She graduated in four years, and is has a full-time job and a part-time job while looking for more specialized work.  How is she not experiencing the “real world,” or pulling her own weight?  It certainly doesn’t sound like she’s rolling in dough.  But as a young single woman with roommates?  ‘Sprobably enough to get by, sitting on milk crates and eating cereal.  She’s well on her way, or she could be, under different circumstances.

Exhibit C: Although she’s on the apartment lease with her roommates (and presumably has been paying rent all this time), she’s living at home.  She lied about this, and no, that’s not a good thing.  But while factors such as her access to a car, and the payment of other expenses by her parents, probably played a part in this decision, I also wouldn’t rule out her mother’s “forbidding” her to move out as a motivating factor.

I suspect she stayed home because it was easier than moving out.  Not easier than getting a job.  Not easier than finding a place to live.  Not easier than paying bills.  She’s already doing all that.  It was easier than pissing her mother off.

Exhibit D: Mom doesn’t want to sell her the car because “with her track record,” she won’t make the payments.  What track record?  According to the mom, she’s never had bills to pay at all.  The only example is the rent on the apartment she’s surreptitiously leasing–and, apparently, she’s managed to pay that rent all along.

I just don’t get it.  These parents need to stop paying her bills, and encourage her to move out.  Not because she needs a kick in the pants to become self-sufficient, but because she already is.  All she’s lacking is the backbone to stand up to her mom about it.

Compare this with the story of this mom, whose newly graduated daughter really is struggling to get her feet under her:

Dear Amy: We sent our daughter to the expensive private college of her dreams. We paid for school, so she has no loans to repay. Graduation was two months ago. Now that she is home, she will not make a serious attempt to look for work or an internship.

I forced her to volunteer for something, but it was very short term. I would be fine if she found an unpaid internship because I know the job market is not great for certain fields.

Her father seems to agree that she should be doing more, but he claims I am too hard on her (because I have pressed her to refresh her resume, make contacts, look for something to do and not sleep until noon, 2 p.m. or 4 p.m. every day). He also said we will have to wait until she is motivated.

With free room and board, Internet and a big-screen TV, she might never be motivated.

I made her go to a job workshop and a job club. They offered good suggestions and contacts, but she didn’t follow up.

Today she lied about submitting a resume, so I told her point blank that if she is not making a serious effort to find a job in her field starting now, I will find her a job at McDonald’s or in local retail.

I will also have to review her efforts and documentation each day, as if she were in kindergarten.

Hm.  These moms seem to have in common that they’ve paved the way for their kids, covered every expense and provided every opportunity along the way–and now they think that gratitude, serendipitous motivation, or the magical transformation caused by a hood and a mortarboard will somehow turn their kids into independent, self-sufficient money-making machines. And, even worse, when somehow that does happen, they can’t let go!

They complain about their kids not acting like adults, while they continue to treat them like infants.  Don’t they see the connection?

Also, maybe I’m reading too much into this, at least in the first mom’s letter, but I get a sense that, along with the hovering, there’s a lot of pressure on their kids to get not just any job, but the right job.  The mom in the second letter says she’s going to push her daughter into retail or fast food, basically, she implies, as a punishment.  No wonder her daughter is depressed, discouraged, and lying about her job prospects: she hasn’t found her dream job 2 months out of college, and is afraid of disappointing her mother.  Meanwhile, the daughter in the first letter has two jobs, and is looking for more, but still her mom is not satisfied.

It’s not clear to me what these parents want to see their kids accomplish the summer after they get out of school, but I sort of suspect that nothing will be good enough.  They’re afraid to see their kids fail, but they also don’t seem capable of letting them succeed on their own terms.  How sad.

Takin’ Care of Business

Hellooooo gentle readers (that’s just a glass of wine and the end of the co-rec softball season talking)….

You probably won’t have noticed–unless you subscribe to this blog’s feed–that I did a lot of housecleaning last night, evaluating and clearing out categories that had been used once, lamely, in three years.  (As the librarians would say, I was working on my “controlled vocabulary,” for example, consolidating the four terms I used for “parenting” into one).

If you do subscribe to the feed, you already knew this, or at least you knew that dozens of old posts, “edited” and “published” anew when I changed the categories attached to them, were clogging up your feed reader.  To all of you folks: sorry if this was annoying or confusing–and to those who actually said they liked looking back at old posts: thanks!

If you’re very, very observant, you may have noticed that I’m not the only one who’s had this problem.  Over in the sidebar, you’ll see a new feature: I’ve finally added a feed of all the major columns I read…so now you can see what’s new, and get to it right from here!  But it’s immediately apparent that Carolyn Hax is also having RSS woes.  This has been going on for over a week now–whole bunches of her back columns coming through at once.  She and the WaPo are well aware of the problem, but it doesn’t seem to be fixed yet.

But I, too, have been happy to revisit some of Carolyn’s old columns, even though they’re from just a few weeks, rather than a few years, back.  For example, this one, published while I was on vacation in July, came to light today:

Dear Carolyn:

I have a sticky situation at work. The company I work for often needs information from “Jane’s” organization. I have been in my field for a year, while Jane is seasoned in hers.

I feel intimidated by Jane, who can be short and abrasive on the phone, and usually speaks loudly, like she’s yelling at me. She hangs up as I am ending my remarks. Like “Good [click] bye.”

When our conversation is over, I feel small and a bit run over.

I don’t know how to deal with her rudeness and present myself as a professional who should be treated respectfully. I don’t want to be argumentative, and there really is no one above her I could talk to. Any suggestions?


Jane isn’t your mother, your mate, your close friend, your beauty contest judge, your doctoral review committee, the judge at your custody hearing or even the seen-it-all, public-weary power-tripper at the window of the DMV. You don’t need Jane to like you. You just need the information your job requires.

So, put on your business skin (read: elephant hide) over your thin personal skin, state your business and be done with Jane, while expecting the same from her. It’s both assertive and pragmatic. And if her hanging up on you shaves your Jane time to its absolute minimum, maybe that’s a gift.

Hear, hear!  These are words I could stand to take to heart, as, I wager, could many of us hypersensitive, overachieving young professionals.  So often, I’ll come home from work upset about how someone was “angry” or “disappointed” in me at work.  SK, saint that he is, hears me out, and then my dramatic tale ends in a long pause…and he invariably replies with, “um…that’s the end?” (why does this happen after every story I tell?)  He often gently follows up with, “I think it’s possible you may be reading too much into this.”

I hope I’m getting the hang of just doing my job the best I can, and not fretting so much about whether I’m everyone’s favorite….but it doesn’t hurt to have a reminder to wiggle into that skin before tromping through the jungle.  Or something.

Epic library etiquette fail….

…on my part, according to A Librarian’s Guide to Etiquette.

Sorry, co-workers.  And cats.

Auto-Reply: Out of Office

Gentle readers–if any of you are still out there–

Hello, and apologies that the only thing I’ve had to offer you in over a month is a Dutch tea towel.

(Digression: how can we get this phrase to catch on?  “You’re as cute as a Dutch tea towel!” perhaps, or maybe, in another direction, “she stayed with me for a month and didn’t bring so much as a Dutch tea towel as a hostess gift.”)

It’s been a busy, exciting summer, with lots of time on the road for business and pleasure, and not so many days at home, or in the office.  In that vein, now that I’m back at work it seems appropriate to revive the blog with an ongoing issue in Dear Abby (and possibly in your very own cubicle): co-workers who don’t [appear to] work.

It started with a letter from a bitter supervisor published back on June 1:

DEAR ABBY: I’m the supervisor of a small office. One of my biggest challenges is scheduling time off for the female employees. In my day, you didn’t take a day off unless you were very sick or your child was sick. Now they seem to want time off for everything from school events, sporting events, getting their nails done, their faces waxed or tanning appointments. I am amazed at the decline in work ethic.

As I read about the unemployment in our country, I would think people would be grateful to have a well-paying job with benefits — but the recession hasn’t slowed any of our female employees down one bit. What has happened to the old-fashioned work ethic that founded this country? (Maybe it went south along with the jobs?) And by the way, Abby, I am a female. — TAKES MY JOB SERIOUSLY

Yikes.  It sounds like this woman needs…..well, a day off.  Maybe a whole batch of them.

As Abby pointed out in her reply, if these women (really?  just the women?  Do men take no time off?  Or doesn’t she supervise any?) are simply making use of the paid time off included in their compensation package, then they’re within their rights to spend that time however they want.  Their salaries take into account their not working a certain number of days each year.  They should be expected to take this time, and so, for that matter, should the supervisor.

For the sake of the rest of the post, I make this assumption–that the requested time off she’s complaining about is paid vacation/personal time. If that’s actually not the case, it’s the supervisor who needs to grab the reins and regain control of the situation–meeting with employees, reviewing policies, instituting some sort of consequences, or just saying no.  But if employees want their own vacation days, and their boss resents it–well, now we’ve got something to talk about.  And so we shall.

Reader responses to this letter ran today, and varied widely.  Bits’n’pieces below:

I understand the frustration of “Takes My Job Seriously” (June 1), the supervisor who complained about her female employees requesting time off for kids’ school and sports events or beauty appointments. Over the last few years I have noticed a decline in work ethic across the board.

Phone calls go unreturned, workers stand around idle and errors are made on important forms. People seem to do the minimum necessary to make it to the end of the day, and supervisors aren’t much different — they allow this behavior. Years ago, people worked hard for their money. Now they hardly work.

[Grrrr….taking earned time off is not even a little bit the same as slacking off while on the clock]

“TMJS” fails to take into consideration the evolution of the work force. Not only are there more women working now, but we usually work far beyond the regular 9-to-5 grind. As a single mom, I need flexibility in my schedule to get everything done that’s demanded of me at work and at home. I take my laptop home every night and work after my son goes to sleep.  “TMJS” may feel superior because I’m not in the office as much as she is, but I’ll bet I work more hours per week. Technology now allows us the flexibility of choice.

[This is a really important point for folks peering over the cubicle wall and rolling their eyes at their colleagues’ empty chairs.  But it’s not something that should go unspoken between supervisors and employees.  If folks are leaving the office without officially taking time off because they intend to make up the hours remotely–well, a supervisor should sure be aware of and OK with the arrangement]

I supervise several younger women. Studies have shown that while these employees want to do a good job, they find it equally important to have “work/life” balance. I actually think they are smarter than we are. We tend to overwork and feel guilty if we take a day for ourselves. If they take the time they have earned and use it for what they enjoy — good for them.

[hear, hear!]

“TMJS” must have entered the work force when companies still took care of loyal, longtime employees by providing good benefits and job security. It paid to go the extra mile for your employer because you knew your company would return the favor when needed.

In recent years this has changed. Workers today realize that sacrificing their personal life for their professional one does not necessarily reap any benefits.

[another interesting point.  I’d venture–though with absolutely no evidence–that most young professionals entering the workforce today have no intention of staying at their first job more than five years.  It’s simply not a given that the job will even be available that long, for one thing. But there also may be no guarantee of regular advancement, promotion, or raises.  Moving forward in their career will most likely mean changing jobs.  Of course, this sword cuts both ways: why should employers offer long term benefits like, say, retirement matching, to employees that they only expect to have around for a couple of years?]

Although I’m a little annoyed with “TMJS” myself right now, I wonder if there may be practical ways she can improve the situation in her office, so that employees can take the time off they’re entitled to, and she doesn’t feel left in the lurch.  Her real problem seems to be, as she says, with scheduling people’s time off.  She’s frustrated by this, and turns her resentment back onto them and their personal choices.

As the supervisor,  she could set some policies–perhaps time off must be requested a month in advance, or no more than two employees may take vacation in the same week.  Maybe working remotely isn’t allowed, or must be logged/accounted for in a precise way.  Maybe vacation can only be taken in increments of days or half days, reducing the likelihood of odd hours-that-creep-to-three-hours personal errands.  She’s lucky to be in a position to institute or propose some changes–perhaps creative ones–to place reasonable limitations on her employees’ flitting about.

Her supervisees are entitled to their vacation time.  They’re entitled to use that time how they wish, and this shouldn’t impact their boss’s opinion of them.  But they’re not necessarily entitled to take it without notice, whenever they feel like it. Finding the right balance here might save everyone’s sanity.  And I hope, while she’s at it, this woman takes a vacation.

How about you–do you feel guilty when you take a day off of work?  Does your boss make it hard for you to do so?  How do you account for personal errands during the workday?

Do you find yourself working from home in the evenings or on vacation and why?  Is is fear, passion, boundary issues, or some combination of all three?

A Little Help from the Lowlands

My colleague SK (not to be confused with my husband SK) was in the Netherlands last week speaking on a panel, and brought back for me this adorable postcard featuring  a Dutch tea-towel or dishtowel (I think) emblazoned with a ring of gnomes and toothbrushes (?), and the phrase “A Little Help.”  The original is in a textile museum in Amsterdam.  I love it!

On being–and paying–upfront

If there are two things I’ve learned from the advice columns, they’re 1) Don’t date married dudes and 2) Don’t expect to be paid for work if you haven’t billed for it.

Both were featured in Annie’s Mailbox today.

LW1 is depressingly predictable:

Dear Annie: I am at a crossroads and need your advice. For the past two years, I have been dating an older married man who works at my office. I started seeing him after my husband and I split up.

Our time together is limited. He comes over to my house once or twice during the workweek and spends some time with me every other weekend when my kids are with their father. We are in contact by cell phone, and I text him throughout the day and evening. We are never together in public unless it is out of town.

My problem is, he has told me he will leave his wife, but he hasn’t yet. When I don’t see him on a night he is supposed to come over, I get angry. He later apologizes, and I forgive him. This has gotten to be our regular routine.

I feel like I have wasted these past two years, but for some reason I keep coming back for more. Should I give up? — P.H.

Le sigh.

LW2, while perhaps less cliche than the “other woman,” is just as common.  Year after year, bitter doctors, lawyers, plumbers, roofers, and interior decorators write letters, complaining that their friends and family are taking advantage of their services in (what’s supposed to be) their off-time.

Thing is, though, most times the person complaining hasn’t made it clear what their services cost them–in time, expertise, or supplies–and therefore how much compensation they require.  For example:

Dear Annie: I respect and love my ex-brother-in-law, “Joe,” like my own kin.

I am a carpenter’s apprentice with excellent skills. Joe, along with several family members, called and asked for my help with some repairs on his home so that he could receive family and friends after his second wife died last year.

I agreed, for a fee, but didn’t specify the price. I told him I’d leave that up to him. The repairs were extensive. I fixed two roofs and the interior ceiling, replaced shingles, patched many holes throughout the house, put up window coverings and painted most of the interior.

Knowing that this is my livelihood and I am currently out of work, I expected to hear from Joe when I finished.

// //

I gave him a two-month grace period before I mentioned the money. He responded as if I were being disrespectful of the dead. He yelled at me and hung up the phone.

Now I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. Do I sue him for the repairs or let it go? — Sick and Tired in Connecticut

Should the XBIL have yelled and hung up the phone?  Of course not.  But clearly the arrangements had never been clear from the start.  How do you agree “for a fee,” without saying what the fee is?  How do you sue, when there was no agreed upon payment?  How is it a grace period, if the person you’re gracing isn’t aware that you’re counting down the days until you lower the hammer?

S&T and the XBIL should have reviewed the repairs, and S&T should have given an estimate.  It doesn’t have to be what he would charge a regular customer–of course he’s free to cut friends and family as good a deal as he wants.  But it’s asking for trouble to expect unspoken, unwritten, undecided payment.

Further, as an expert in the field, it’s not fair to ask non-experts to determine how much to pay.  Say the XBIL gave S&T $1,000.  No doubt that’s far less than the value of the repairs.  And yet it also seems like a pretty large sum to pay to a relative and friend doing some fashion of a favor.  Would S&T be affronted to be paid so little, or embarrassed to take so much?

Plus, how should the bereaved XBIL know what the going rate is for window repair and roofing, or when S&T expects to receive a check? Nobody wants to be taken advantage of, but most people don’t want to stiff their loved ones, either.  They just don’t know what’s appropriate.  I expect even if LW2’s phone call had gone well, and XBIL was eager to pay, he still would have asked, “how much do I owe you?”

It’s easy to think that with friends and family, talking about money will be awkward and unpleasant–so it should go unmentioned.  But the awkwardness of telling your buddy how much you’ll charge him to repair his roof is nothing compared to the awkwardness of attempting to sue him for not paying you the fee you didn’t ask for.

Rescue Mission Gets Rear Ended

Dear Amy: In an effort to build team spirit, our office had a group outing. My friend, an administrative assistant in the firm, had a meltdown, cried and panicked about the group activity we were going to do.

Seeming to come to her aid, an elderly male principal in the firm calmed her down and offered to go for a walk in lieu of the outing. He then proceeded to persuade her to be his guest and visit the local women’s art museum.

Rather than view the paintings, he spent the entire time ogling my friend’s behind. Every time she looked at him, his eyes were on her backside. She told me it was creepy and made her feel very uncomfortable.

When they rejoined the group, this man’s face was so full of lust that he was dripping in it. As her friend, I’ve recommended she report this sexual harassment to the human resource office. But she’s afraid this man, given his position in the firm, will retaliate. He is still ogling her behind whenever he thinks no one is looking.

Should I report what I know? How can I help my friend? — Worried in D.C.

Gaaaaaah!  This is exactly why offices should not do these recreational team-building outings!

Ok, OK, I’m not really suggesting that without the opportunity provided by a day of corporate Whirlyball, this guy wouldn’t be a creepy lech.  I’m sure that he still would–in fact, Amy says in her response that he may be a “known ogler,” and I agree that that’s likely.  But the whole situation is just screwed up!

First, if you do your job well–the job for which you were hired–and you’re collegial with your colleagues, you should not be required to also play softball/do a high ropes course/go whitewater rafting/put on a giant padded sumo wrestling suit and attempt to tackle your co-workers.  That’s not what you were hired for.  It has nothing to do with your job.  It’s a waste of company time, talent and treasure (as it were). And it clearly totally failed to build team unity because…..

…an employee flipped out, and she got out of the activity.  OK.  Well, she probably wasn’t the only person who didn’t want to participate.  She’s clearly the only one who had an irrational, visceral reaction  (I actually totally get where she’s coming from.  Softball gives me heart palpitations.)  but there are probably plenty of others who found the activity unpleasant and/or a waste of time–and they still had to go. I think it’s ridiculous to require participation in this kind of thing, but if it is required, it should be for everyone.  If she absolutely could not participate without having a breakdown of some kind, she should quietly seek to be excused.  A company higher up, obviously, should not take her on a private field trip to the local art museum (conveniently getting himself out of the group activity and alone with her).

So she’s doubly at a disadvantage: in addition to being ogled by her superior, she’s going to be resented by her colleagues for  getting out of team building and stepping out with a heavy hitter–they may even question what went on between them when they disappeared all afternoon.  So just as she’s looking for support to report what’s going on, her colleagues are probably looking for an explanation for the special treatment…and it seems unlikely to be a positive one.

So much for team-building!

Another Professional Opinion on "Professional Women"

Earlier this summer, I (along with many other readers) objected to Kathy and Marcy’s (of Annie’s Mailbox) use of the term “professional woman” to denote “sex worker.” Originally, a female lawyer wrote in to protest, and M&K insisted the term was a “common” way to refer to sex work. I had never heard it that way, and a Google search revealed no connection between the two. Today, another professional woman–this one a scholar–weighs in:

Dear Annie: Your reply to “Professional Woman,” who complained about your use of the term to refer to a stripper, was way off base. Sure, most people probably knew that you were referring to some sort of sex worker, but how sexist is that?

In the 19th and even 20th centuries, the phrase “public woman” was used to refer to prostitutes on the assumption that any woman who would occupy public space without a proper male escort must be a prostitute. It provided a handy way to exclude middle- and upper-class women from public spaces, stigmatize working-class women (who appeared regularly in public spaces), and render as sexual prey all women who went out in public.

The double entendre implicit in the phrase “professional woman” undoubtedly serves a similar purpose, insinuating that sex work can be a profession for women and also that “professional women” are sexually available. It’s sexist and discriminatory. — Leigh Ann Wheeler, Associate Professor of History, Binghamton University (SUNY)

Who’s the Boss?

This letter to Annie’s Mailbox really hit home for me:

Dear Annie: I work for a family company and am grateful to have a job in this economy. But while we employees have had benefits drastically cut, the owners have bought new luxury homes and cars and just returned from an overseas vacation that included a safari.
I am a loyal employee, but it seems we are the only ones making sacrifices for the good of the company. Morale is low, and I can no longer be the cheerleader I once was.
I want my employer to know that, despite how they have treated us, I will continue to do my best, but there are other employees who don’t feel this way. How can we get the boss to take a closer look at the message he is sending before everyone walks out? I still love this company and want it to succeed. — Unappreciated

Dear Unappreciated: The problem is, your boss knows that no matter how he treats his employees, it will be difficult for them to find another job in this economy. He takes advantage of the fact that, despite the grumbling, they are not likely to leave. This is a terrible way to treat the people who work for you.
Since you care about the health of the company, appoint yourself the spokesperson for the staff and see if you can get a few people together to speak to the boss privately. (There is safety in numbers.) Tell him he deserves to enjoy the fruits of his labor, but you’ve noticed it lowers morale when he appears to be flaunting his wealth at the expense of his struggling employees. Say that you want his company to be successful and a great place to work, and consequently, you worry when your fellow employees don’t feel valued and appreciated. Then ask how you can help.

While I understand why this person would feel frustrated and resentful, I see this situation from the other side, as well. My dad owns a small business and over the years has had many tough decisions to make about providing benefits for his staff, supporting branches in one, two, or three locations, all while keeping the company afloat.

At the end of the day, does he take home more than his employees? Yes he does. He also assumes all the risk, all the responsibility for keeping the company’s head above water. It’s his name on the lease, or the deed. It’s his catastrophe if the building floods or burns down (he’s been through both).

This writer’s situation is not the same as that of a bitter middle manager not caring to support the luxurious lifestyle of a high-powered exec. making 10-times his salary when they work at the same publicly traded mega-corporation. The rules are different.

This writer mentions a drastic cut in benefits–my dad personally feels the weight of trying to fairly provide benefits for his employees and their families. For small businesses, this is not easy, and it’s not cheap. He negotiates the best plan the company can afford, and no, it’s not great. And, yes, I’m biased, but to me that doesn’t mean he should put his personal investments and family savings–whether they be for the mortgage payment or for a vacation–into providing a cheaper insurance policy for 15-20 other people. (Not to mention that the cost of one personal vacation hardly equates to covering such business expenses over any ongoing period of time).

The business owner is not your parent, personally responsible for your expenses. He or she is your boss, and their first responsibility in that role is to the company. The line between a small business and its owner is a tough one to define. The owner takes on a great deal of personal investment and risk, and hopefully has a personal and personable relationship with his or her employees–but the owner’s number one job–at the risk of everyone’s unemployment–is keeping the business afloat.

Benefits have not been cut so the owner can pocket the extra cash and take a safari vacation. The fact that he took a vacation and has a nice car does not mean he’s “flaunting his wealth” at the “expense” of anyone. Almost certainly, benefits have been cut in order to make rent, utilities, and payroll. In other words, benefits have probably been cut so that jobs won’t be cut. And by the way, if the business owner is on the company plan, HIS benefits have been slashed, too.

In the end, it’s not the employees’ place to tell the owner how to spend his own money–just as it’s not the owner’s place to tell the employees how to spend theirs.

If the pay and benefits offered at this position aren’t enough to get by on, or are no longer worth the work, then it’s time to start looking for a new job. Yes, times are bad. But if your job is unworkable, that’s what you do. But if you like the job, the company, and the boss, you might try losing some of the bitterness.

K&M’s advice to ask the boss how to help boost up fellow employees and make sure that everyone feels valued is good, but it comes on the tail of stating, without any evidence, that the owner is Mr. Potter-like, sneering ironically from his wheelchair about his employees’ job-paralysis–it’s misleading (not to mention just made up), and certainly doesn’t give the writer the right attitude to take back to work.

Personal rant aside, what really bothers me about this is the way the employees seem to have turned on their boss. The boss has almost certainly always made more than the employees, so it’s not fair to be upset that that’s still the case. If he or she was fair-minded, honest, and treated employees well in good times, it’s also not fair to suddenly grow bitter and suspicious when things get rocky. If, on the other hand, the boss was a tightwad and a jerk all along (and that could be the case), they would have known that already, too–it’s not the vacation that makes that relevant.

The only specific change in the workplace that these disheartened employees have noted is the cut in benefits–which affects the boss just as much as the employees. Things are bad, but that’s not their boss’s fault. They seem to be looking for a scapegoat, someone to take the fall for the fact that things are rough all over. And unfortunately, that’s yet another common downside to being the boss.