You have entered the workforce at the uneasy top of a freaky boom cycle. You’ll look back on this job and laugh.
Q: I recently landed my first real job out of undergrad. While it’s a job that I find myself succeeding at when assigned to tasks, more often than not I am given no tasks. My team consists of myself and two males, one being my boss, and they are always busy. I have asked if there is anything I can do or learn, time and time again, only to be told: “No, you’re good.” Worst of all, I am often alone in the office, so when the phone rings or someone comes in or emails us, I can’t do anything, because I haven’t been trained to do anything.
I work over 55 hours a week and I don’t know how many more times I can refresh Twitter at work before I lose my mind. I feel that I’m wasting my talent and their time by being here. How do I diplomatically approach this with my boss? — Emily
A: I’m going to ignore the part where many of us just saw the phrases “I am given no tasks” and “I can’t do anything” and we all got that dreamy summer afternoon feeling — a soul-deep ASMR shiver. Shouldn’t you be spending those free and lovely empty hours working on your graphic novel, “Olivia Newton-John, Astronaut”? The world is giving you a gift! You’re sitting in an office alone with nothing to do, and you’re abusing yourself with the rotting meat-fountain of Twitter? Look at this job as a teaching moment and teach yourself something.
You, friend, have encountered a classic Nonsensical Entry-Level Job. Why is someone paying you to sit there for 55 (what!?) hours a week? Likely, it’s because “That’s how we’ve always done it.” Sure, it’s totally reasonable to spend five minutes with your boss each week to ask: “What more can I take on here?” (Note that none of that sentence was about how you feel or about fairness or your career path. Skip the preamble.)
It’s also possible that you will never get trained to do anything and your boss wonders why you haven’t picked up the skills by yourself or by osmosis. But none of this matters! You have entered the workforce at the uneasy top of a freaky boom cycle. Write your pretty poems on the clock. You’ll look back on this job and laugh.
Still ill (again)
Q: I have several chronic but stable medical conditions that sometimes cause me to miss work slightly more than average, though I try and attend as much as possible. Do I disclose and seek accommodations, or just keep pretending I have a particularly dodgy stomach or bad colds? — Anonymous
A: So, in the Proper World, which is a pocket universe that exists only in some sophomore philosophy seminar, you would have a cozy and empathetic meeting with your supervisor and a member of human resources. The latter would be named something fun like Larry and he’d have a big cheerful mustache! Together you could read the American guidelines about reasonable accommodations! And maybe you’d laugh and cry a little together as you discussed how you have so very many rights under the law (mmm, currently). And then you’d together figure out how to best do your job, in a way that improves your health, instead of hindering it.
Out here, in the world in which we live — well, there’s a reason we had to make all these laws. But also, your employer has the right to have an employee perform her job, and the consequences of unexplained or frequent absences might actually harm you as much as bias. Decide which path fits into your ethics and go boldly forward.
Baby’s first editor
Q: I work at a small law firm. Recently, the partners asked if I would write for our blog. My first piece was referred to a partner’s sister, an editor. When I saw her edits, I couldn’t recognize my piece. The partner only wanted to know if I accepted her sister’s edits. I did because I didn’t want to completely rewrite it or disappoint the partner. My question: Having never had anything reviewed by a professional editor before, is this the process? — Anonymous
A: *looks around nervously* The only way to save yourself from editors is to write like such an identifiable and idiosyncratic wing nut that they don’t even know where to start with your text and soon enough they move on to an easier victim or just decline to publish you.
Every job that isn’t hell is limbo
Q: I work for a Fortune 500 company in the Midwest. In August, our VP stated that myself and four others were no longer going to be doing our jobs. They had decided to consolidate our work into different sites. However it’s now December and we’ve not had any update as to when this will happen. We recently made an inquiry as to maybe when we might hear and were told “it’s not a priority.”
Do I sit and wait for my severance or start looking for a new job with a new company? Because I don’t trust them anymore. — Anonymous
A: In case you’re wondering if this is crazy, it is! Workers, despite providing most or all of the value of the business, are also puzzle pieces in the grand scheme of middle managers who solutioneer all day. Middle management is all about the act of imagineering toward a set of goals. And so your life is the consequence of someone whiteboarding in a room and issuing a sentence that starts off with “What if …” and always ends up like: “We move Bob’s team to the Lansing office, close the D.C. shop, and then fold all the remaining analytics people into the finance pod! Let us now repair to the blood-drinking room.”
But your situation is true for all of us. They just did something dumb (or maybe kind? But poorly?) and decided to give you an advance heads-up that your jobs were going to be some other kind of thing. (Maybe they will need you to wear rabbit suits to work every day? Or report to Vlad over in New Business and Regular Impaling?) The rest of us will just have to be taken by surprise.
Oh sorry: Yes, you should be looking for a new job. Opportunity is the only leverage that nonunionized labor has in a negotiation.
Work Friend is a cheeky New York Times advice column to help with careers, money and the sometimes grim, sometimes hilarious maze that is the contemporary office, from a rotating cast of advice-givers.